The HMS Queen Elizabeth — the largest and most powerful carrier the Royal Navy has ever built — set sail on June 26 for the first time.
With a price tag of about $3.8 billion, it’s also Britain’s most expensive ship ever built. Still, the juice might be worth the squeeze.
“I think there are very few capabilities, by any country, that are as symbolic as a carrier strike capability,” commanding officer Captain Jerry Kyd told reporters on June 26. “These are visible symbols of power and power projection.”
Manned by a crew of 1,000 sailors, the ship is 919-feet long, weighs 65,000 tons, and can hold 40 jets.
After achieving an awesome air-to-air kill ratio of 15-to-one, the F-35 trounced ground targets at the US Air Force’s Red Flag exercise — and now the world’s most expensive weapons system may finally be ready for the front lines.
For the first time ever, the F-35 competed against legacy aircraft and simulated surface-to-air missile batteries at “the highest level threats we know exist,” according to a statement from Lt. Col. George Watkins, an F-53 squadron commander.
“Just as we’re getting new systems and technology, the adversary’s threats are becoming more sophisticated and capable,” said Watkins, nodding to the expansive counter-stealth and anti-air capabilities built up by the Russians and Chinese over the years.
But the F-35 program has long carried the promise of delivering a plane that can outsmart, outgun, and out-stealth enemy systems, and the latest run at Red Flag seems to have vindicated the troubled 16-year long program. Not only can the F-35 operate in heavily contested airspace, which render F-15s, F-16s, and F-18s as sitting ducks, but it can get more done with fewer planes.
“I flew a mission the other day where our four-ship formation of F-35As destroyed five surface-to-air threats in a 15-minute period without being targeted once,” said Maj. James Schmidt, a former A-10 pilot now flying F-35s.
Four planes taking out five SAM sites in 15 minutes represents nothing less than a quantum leap in capability for the Air Force, which prior to the F-35 would have to target threats with long-range missiles before getting close to the battle.
“We would shoot everything we had at that one threat just to take it out. Now between us and the (F-22) Raptor, we are able to geo-locate them and precision target them,” Watkins said, adding that F-35s are so stealthy, “we can get close enough to put a bomb right on them.”
But that’s only one of the multi-role F-35’s jobs. After obliterating ground threats, F-35 pilots said they turned right around and started hammering air threats.
The F-35 came out of Red Flag such a ringing success that Defense News reports that the strike aircraft is now being considered at the highest levels for overseas deployments.
“I think based on the data that we’re hearing right now for kill ratios, hit rates with bombs, maintenance effectiveness … those things tell me that the airplane itself is performing extremely well from a mechanical standpoint and … that the proficiency and skills of the pilots is at a level that would lead them into any combat situation as required,” Brig. Gen. Scott Pleus, head of the Air Force’s F-35 integration office told Defense News.
With that success on record, Pleus will now consider deploying a small group of six to eight F-35s overseas as part of a “theater security package” to help train and integrate with US allies.
UK and Australian contingents participated in this installment of Red Flag. Both countries plan to buy and operate the F-35 in the near future.
The US and its coalition partners have dropped more bombs on Afghanistan in the first ten months of 2018 than any year in the past five years, the US military revealed Nov. 29, 2018.
Between January and October of 2018, the US-led coalition dropped 5,982 bombs in support of Operation Freedom Sentinel and Operation Resolute Support, significantly more than the previous years.
Coalition strike aircraft flew 6,584 sorties during that time, 783 of which involved the release of a weapon, the US Air Forces Central Command’s Combined Air Operations Center disclosed in its monthly Airpower Statistics report.
The Trump administration made airpower a priority for the war in Afghanistan. With the relocation of Air National Guard KC-135 refueling tankers from Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar to Kandahar last fall, the US-led coalition has been able to increase the number of airstrikes against the Taliban and other enemy combatants.
In addition to the refueling tankers, a number of A-10C Thunderbolt attack aircraft, HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters, and MQ-9 Reaper drones were also shifted to Kandahar, Military.com reported Nov. 28, 2018.
A U.S. Air Force MQ-9A Reaper.
The US and its coalition partners have made progress in the fight against ISIS, but while the number of bombs falling on Afghanistan is on the rise, the coalition continues to struggle to secure victory against a surging and brutal Taliban foe.
The Afghan government’s control of the country has been slipping over the past few years, falling from 72 percent in 2015 to just over half in the third quarter of 2018. In that period, Afghanistan lost 28,529 security force personnel, the Afghan president said in November 2018.
The US continues to suffer losses as well.
Five US troops were killed in November 2018, one to an insider attack, one to accidental friendly fire, and three to an improvised explosive device. Thirteen US service members have died fighting in Afghanistan in 2018, as US forces have largely shifted to advise, assist and training missions.
The Taliban “are not losing right now, I think that is fair to say,” Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said. “We used the term stalemate a year ago and, relatively speaking, it has not changed much.”
Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
(DOD photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro)
“We do believe the Taliban know that at some point they do have to reconcile,” Dunford added, stressing that the key is to pressure the Taliban, which has also suffered heavy losses, to eventually negotiate.
Reporters from the Washington Post recently questioned President Donald Trump on America’s presence in Afghanistan. “We’re there because virtually every expert that I have and speak to say if we don’t go there, they’re going to be fighting over here. And I’ve heard it over and over again,” he replied.
He further remarked that there is talk of peace, but added that he was unsure if that is a real possibility.
Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon Nov. 28, 2018, Mattis said the peace process is “picking up momentum,” but did not go into additional detail.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The gym echoed with sounds of bodies hitting the floor as instructors watched their students wrestle each other to the ground.
The students trained tirelessly for the past week and were showing signs of wear and tear: cuts, bruises, and red, sweaty faces steaming with pain.
This is the Phoenix Raven Qualification Course, perhaps the most rigorous training program in the Air Force Security Forces world. The Air Mobility Command’s Phoenix Raven program centers on the concept of specially trained security forces airmen flying with and protecting AMC aircraft around the world.
The trained airmen are to “provide close-in security for aircraft and airfields that AMC has deemed as having inadequate security,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. Joseph McGuire, 421st Combat Training Squadron Phoenix Raven Qualification Course instructor. “We guard the aircraft, protect the personnel, and whatever else is on board.”
This particular class, however, is different: instead of taking place at the program’s training hub at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey, it was conducted by a mobile training team sent to U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa headquarters here.
The students in the course came from three squadrons in the Kaiserslautern Military Community: the 86th and 435th Security Forces Squadrons, and the 569th United States Forces Police Squadron.
Vigorous physical training
The course involves vigorous physical training sessions, Armament Systems and Procedures Baton training, use-of-force scenarios, combatives classes, and live-fire training, as well as 15 academic classes.
McGuire added that it is not uncommon for some students to fail the course and get sent home. A few have already washed out since they started Jan. 22.
“It is extremely hard,” he said. “You have to be mentally and physically tough. You have to have heart. You have to have dedication … and mental tenacity. And you have to be able to make proper decisions while being in a stressful environment.”
Students who graduate from the program receive the Raven tab, which they may wear on their uniform, and also a coin with their Raven number.
Canadian filmmaker Paul Gross was never a soldier, but he has great respect for them. He comes from a military family; his grandfather and his father both served. Gross ended up in the arts, but he believes that soldiers represent their countries with an enormous amount of dignity and honor and they should be acknowledged for that.
“A soldier signed a piece of paper at one point, saying ‘I am willing to die for my country,'” Gross says. “That’s an extraordinary fucking thing. Did you ever sign such a piece of paper? I know I sure as shit didn’t.”
Gross wrote, directed, and stars in Hyena Road, a film about a Canadian Forces effort to build a road into the heart of enemy-held territory in Afghanistan. Gross plays Pete Mitchell, a sage intelligence officer responsible for convincing the local warlords to stop planting improvised explosive devices along the construction path .
“My character is loosely based on this real officer who was my guide,” Gross says. “Through this intelligence guy I started to learn stuff about Afghanistan. Not just the combat, I started to learn about Afghans.”
Mitchell needs to understand Afghan culture as he tries to bring a mysterious former Mujahid known as “the Ghost” to his side of the fight. The Ghost, played by Niamatullah Arghandabi, is a local Afghan elder who has a hidden identity as a legendary warlord who disappeared after the Russians withdrew.
Gross made two trips to Afghanistan to visit the Canadian Forces fighting there. The second time, he decided to film everything he could. He didn’t have a story at the time. A lot of that footage wound up in the final cut of Hyena Road. He talked to a lot of soldiers and took a lot of notes. When he returned to Ontario, he wrote a screenplay.
“Everything in the movie is pretty much based on stuff that I either heard or witnessed or was sort of common knowledge,” Gross says. “In other words, I didn’t make up anything.”
The film also features a very non-traditional actor in Arghandabi. He now serves an advisor to the Afghan government, and in 1979 he was a mujahid during the Soviet invasion.
“Since he was a kid, he was fighting Soviets,” the director says. “When he was 16, he was living in a cave coming out with Stinger missiles to knock down helicopters. I dragged him out and made him an actor.”
The director met the Arghandabi at Kandahar Airfield while on a visit there in 2011.
“I sat down with this guy and talked with him through an interpreter for about two and a half hours,” Gross recalls “I thought to myself, ‘I could spend the rest of my life with this guy and I would not understand one thing about him.’ That’s how different our cultures are.”
‘The Ghost’ told Gross of the time he met Osama bin Laden. To him Bin Laden wasn’t a fighter; he was a “clown.”
“It’s the weirdest thing,”Gross remembers of Arghandabi. “Talking to these people who knew all these bad guys. Bin Laden was one of the baddest guys we ever thought of, and [Arghandabi] thought he was a clown.”
Gross wants people to walk away from the film entertained, but also better informed because in his opinion, everyone should understand what it is they’re asking their military forces to do.
“That doesn’t mean you have to be against war,” Gross says. “It’s just that most of us wander around with blinders on. We should know what our neighbors, our cousins, our friends are doing there because we’re the one sending them there.”
Hyena Road is in theaters and on iTunes on March 11th.
Adjacent to the FDR Memorial, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial sits on a four-acre site along the National Mall’s Tidal Basin. It shares a direct site line between the Lincoln and the Jefferson memorials.
The MLK memorial is one of the few at the Mall to have an official address. Its address is 1964 Independence Avenue, SW, in honor of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a prominent leader of the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s. He became an iconic figure because of his use of nonviolent resistance and powerfully moving speeches. King led the March on Washington in 1963, where he gave his legendary “I Have a Dream” speech on the Lincoln Memorial’s steps. The bas-relief statue is intended to give the impression that King overlooks the Tidal Basin toward the horizon. Cherry trees that are at the site bloom every year during the anniversary of King’s death.
The memorial opened in 2011 after more than twenty years of planning, fundraising, and construction, making it the newest at the National Mall. It’s the fourth in Washington, DC, to honor a non-president and the first to honor a man of color. The site is designed to be a lasting tribute to Dr. King’s legacy. This isn’t the first memorial to a person of color in Washington DC, but it is the first memorial of a person of color o or near the National Mall. Dr. King’s memorial is the fourth non-president to be memorialized in such a way.
The centerpiece of the memorial is a 30-foot statue of Dr. King. His likeness is carved into the Stone of Hope and emerges from two large boulders, the “Mountains of Despair.” Text from the “I Have a Dream” speech is cut into the rock of the Stone. “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” A 450-foot long inscription wall includes excerpts from King’s sermons and speeches. On the crescent-shaped wall, fourteen of King’s quotes are inscribed, the earliest from the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott in Alabama and the last from his final sermon in 1968, delivered at the National Cathedral in Washington DC, just four days before his assassination.
A ceremony dedicating the memorial was initially scheduled for Sunday, August 28, 2011, the 48th anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech, but it was postponed until October 16, the 16th anniversary of the 1995 Million Man March.
The memorial is the result of the early efforts of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. King was a member of that fraternity while he attended Boston University to complete his doctorate. King was heavily involved with the fraternity after he graduated. He delivered the keynote speech at the fraternity’s 50th-anniversary banquet in 1956. In 1968 after King’s assassination, Alpha Phi Alpha proposed erecting a memorial for Dr. King in Washington, DC.
In 1996, Congress authorized the Secretary of the Interior to allow Alpha Phi Alpha to create a memorial on the Department of Interior Lands in the District of Columbia. Congress gave the fraternity until 2003 to raise $100 million and break ground. Two years later, the Washington DC Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation, Inc was established to manage the memorial’s fundraising efforts and design.
In 1999, the US Commission of Fine Arts and the National Capital Planning Commission approved the memorial’s site location.
ROMA Design Group was selected out of 900 candidates from 52 countries to create the memorial. On December 4, 2000, a marble and bronze plaque was laid by Alpha Phi Alpha members to dedicate the site. Shortly after, a full-time fundraising team began the promotional campaign for the memorial. The groundbreaking ceremony was held on November 13, 3006, in West Potomac Park.
By August 2008, leaders at the foundation estimated it would take an additional 20 months to construct the memorial with a final cost of $120 million. By December of that year, the foundation had raised about $108 million, including contributions from celebrities, large corporations, and other nonprofits, as well as the NBA, NFL, and filmmakers George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. US Congress provided $10 million in matching funds as well.
Construction began in December 2009 and was completed two years later. As with all other memorials at the National Mall, the MLK memorial is free and open to the public.
Considered the deadliest sniper of all time, Simo Hayha joined Finland’s Civil Guard at the age of 17 and quickly established himself as an excellent marksman. It was here that he honed his skills with the Mosin-Nagant, developing a talent that the Soviets would soon come to fear.
Hayha regularly practiced his warfighting craft by accurately firing his bolt-action rifle 16 times per minute at a target 500-feet away — which is a challenging task.
In 1939, the Soviet Union invaded Finland in what would become known as the “Winter War,” or the Russo-Finnish War.
Although the Finns were highly outnumbered, they had the home-field advantage and turned to guerrilla-style fighting to defend their territory from the encroaching Red Army.
In the beginning, Hayha found himself fighting against an enemy force of 4,000 with just 31 other men at his side.
On Dec. 31, 1939, Hayha scored 25 kill shots while dressed in all white to perfectly camouflage himself among the snow-covered terrain. The talented marksman would stalk his targets in freezing temperatures for several hours. Using the surrounding snow, Hayha packed himself deep within the frozen ground to decrease his chances of being noticed.
Hayha preferred using iron sights instead of optic scopes as other snipers had grown to favor. Although it was harder to get a fix on a target, using iron sights helped him avoid detection from light reflected off the scope.
As Hayha tallied up his kills, he was given a nickname that would write him into the history books — “The White Death.”
He tallied 505 kills, the highest count from any significant war. All of the kills were accomplished in fewer than 100 days — meaning he averaging over five per day. Hayha ended up getting wounded in the war; shot by an explosive bullet which nearly took off his lower left jaw.
He survived the wound and continued to live a long life. Hayha passed away in a veteran’s nursing home in 2002 at the age of 96.
Check out Simple History’s video below to learn more about this talented sniper’s record-setting life.
Promotions are an exciting event in a military career, and celebrating them comes standard. The question, however, comes in what type of celebration to expect — essentially, how big is too big? And what’s the “norm” for each rank and service branch?
Because everyone who gets promoted to a new rank is presumably doing so for the first time, there’s a steep learning curve. You can talk to others or attend services of those ahead of you in order to learn what’s expected by you as the service member.
Big or small, salute them all!
It doesn’t matter if you’re getting your first promotion or your 10th, it’s something to be excited about! Enjoy your achievement and bask in the progress of your career. Don’t overlook a promotion for it being “small,” but rather take time to pat yourself on the back.
This is a big deal; you’ve earned it!
Early career promotions
Consider that, earlier in one’s career, promotions will come faster. It’s easier to climb the ranks your first few years in. There’s nothing wrong with this, only to keep in mind that in years to come, promotions won’t come as easily, or as frequently.
It’s a good idea to communicate this to friends and family, too. So they aren’t expecting fast pay jumps … and to give them a better idea of how the military works. In fact, it’s a good idea to keep your loved ones in the know for a better communication process about your future.
Pinning and pomp and circumstance
No matter what rank you’re pinning, there will be some type of ceremony. Keep in mind that, depending on the circumstances, they could be a big deal, or something simple. For instance, if deployed, you might have a fast “here’s your new rank” get together. While, when stateside, you can invite loved ones and plan an actual event.
In general, you get to choose someone to pin (or velcro) on your new rank. Decide who you want this person to be, whether a family member, co-worker or someone else who’s made a profound influence in your life. Ask them in advance, and if they aren’t associated with the military, coach them on what/when to add said insignia.
Promotion ceremonies usually come with much tradition and history. These traditions will vary based on branch, unit and career path. Be sure to get in on the fun and play up whatever will take place. As a member of each branch, you’re likely to know what’s ahead and how the ceremony will play out.
For instance, army members might exchange coins, Marines will march in and out of their promotion stance, and so forth.
Reaching the big jumps
When reaching higher ranks, more is expected on promotion day, most notably a cake! Sources say, even at 8 a.m., a cake will be eaten, and showing up without one is simply not done.
Whether enlisted or an officer, upper ranking soldiers will host a reception to celebrate their big day, and the size of that reception often depends on the rank itself. In general, this is usually E7 or O4 and above, while E9 or O5/O6 will host an even larger celebratory event. Each branch will have its own nuances, so check with those in your unit, or scour the net for best practices with each upcoming promotion.
When a promotion sits ahead, consider the best way to celebrate. Not only to bask in your achievements but to follow within military traditions based on your achievement and branch.
Army reservists deployed to Europe were wrongly denied housing allowance payments, subjected to humiliating criminal investigations, and forced into debt by the service after the Army “willfully disregarded” its own policies to refuse benefits owed, according to a federal court complaint.
The complaint, filed in April 2018, in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, accuses the Army of “gross negligence,” saying it caused financial and professional damage by intentionally denying benefits it should have paid.
The lawsuit also says the soldiers faced threats that “jeopardized their careers and security clearances by flagging them as subjects to fraud or larceny investigations.”
The dispute began in 2016 after reservist soldiers deployed to Europe and received benefits authorized by the Army, which included basic housing allowance, or BAH, for their stateside homes. They also received overseas housing allowance, or OHA, in Europe after being ordered by the Army to live off post because of a lack of available housing.
The benefit is spelled out in the Joint Federal Travel Regulations, which govern how allowances are paid: “A Service member called/ordered to active duty in support of a contingency operation is authorized primary residence-based BAH/OHA beginning on the first active duty day . . . This rate continues for the duration of the tour.” Army regulations reiterate the policy.
Months into their respective deployments, the finance office at U.S. Army Europe decided the benefits should no longer be paid, said Patrick Hughes, the Washington attorney representing the seven soldiers who filed the lawsuit.
Army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Nina Hill declined to comment on the case, citing “ongoing litigation.”
The Army Reserve and National Guard officers, who were dispatched to Europe for contingency operations, are seeking to restore their benefits and abolish Army-imposed debts that have been levied.
Over the past two years, Hughes said, soldiers have seen entire paychecks wiped out through wage garnishments as the Army seeks to collect on debts that range from $13,000 to $94,000.
Investigated, reprimanded, indebted
Hundreds of reservists could have been affected by the Army’s actions, Hughes said.
The court is expected to respond to the complaint within 30 days. If it’s accepted as the proper venue, the soldiers will move to certify the case as a class-action lawsuit that other reservists could join.
“You do need power in numbers to get action to be taken in these situations. We are trying to address it at a massive scale,” Hughes said. “This an effort to resolve the issue in its entirety for everyone.”
In some cases, soldiers were issued general officer reprimands, which are often considered career-killers.
Col. Bradley Wolfing, one of the plaintiffs in the case, successfully appealed his reprimand, which was the result of being “erroneously placed under investigation by the Army’s CID, and ultimately punished for BAH fraud on or about March 24, 2017,” the complaint says.
A grade determination review board determined Wolfing satisfactorily served as a colonel and was allowed to retire as such, the complaint states.
In conjunction with that ruling, Defense Financing and Accounting Services reviewed the case and “concluded that the Army’s decision to ignore (the Joint Federal Travel Regulation) and deny COL Wolfing his primary residence location BAH entitlement was erroneous.”
That conclusion will likely factor into any future litigation.
“This DFAS opinion is of great significance, because its analysis is applicable to virtually all of those affected by the Army’s primary residence location BAH entitlement denial,” the complaint says.
Still, the Army continues to garnish soldiers’ wages, a move the complaint says “amounts to gross negligence.” The Army indebted Wolfing for $94,000.
In 2016, the Army launched criminal investigations into the reservists who received the benefits that the Army itself had authorized when the reservists were mobilized.
“Basically, I was criminally processed, all because they are saying I shouldn’t (have been) collecting BAH for my Connecticut residence. I was stunned,” said Capt. Tim Kibodeaux, an intelligence officer with 27 years in the National Guard.
Criminal Investigation Command agents fingerprinted him and took his mug shot for their records during the investigation.
The Army levied a $50,000 debt on Kibodeaux for BAH payments it says he wasn’t entitled to and has repeatedly garnished his wages, the soldiers’ complaint says. Meanwhile, he hasn’t received about $16,000 in owed benefits.
The six other service members in the complaint are in similar situations.
“My credit has been completely ruined,” Kibodeaux said. “I am disgusted at this point. We think about 340 people were affected by this.”
At least 140 soldiers were snared in the BAH investigation in Europe, according to the complaint, which cites information relayed by the Criminal Investigation Command.
Given the high numbers of reservists who have been rotating through Europe in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve — the campaign to deter Russian aggression in the region — the lawsuit says that the numbers are likely much higher. If the complaint grows, millions of dollars could be at stake in future litigation.
One concern now, Kibodeaux said, is that lower-ranking reservists could have been intimidated into silence and may be unaware that their rights to certain benefits have been violated.
“Several Plaintiffs were informed through their chain-of-command that any future inquiries into this issue would be met with negative consequences, and that the denial of the housing entitlement was a final decision,” the complaint says.
Kibodeaux said he and his colleagues never received a clear explanation from the Army why benefits were taken away or why they were subjected to criminal investigations.
During the probe, Kibodeaux said, he told Army finance officials about the regulation that allowed for the allowance. He said the Army investigators told him they didn’t recognize the policy, which for decades has allowed reservists on deployment overseas to receive BAH for their home of record.
(Photo by Timothy Hale)
“They said, ‘We don’t go by that. We go by the active duty one,'” Kibodeaux said.
When Kibodeaux pointed out the military’s regulations governing allowances for reservists to a criminal investigator, the agent’s response was, “We just do what finance tells us to do,” Kibodeaux said.
In recent years, the military has struggled to interpret federal regulations dealing with living allowances.
In 2013, a reinterpretation of overarching State Department regulations by the Defense Department put nearly 700 civilians in debt by cutting off their housing allowances. Special waivers were required to eliminate debts that in some cases reached six figures.
Europe-based reservists have also been affected by new interpretations of long-standing regulations. In 2013, the Army decided to stop paying BAH to reservists who lived in Germany and deployed on Army missions in other parts of Germany that were hours away from their home.
The Army, which imposed debts on about 10 soldiers at the time, never fully explained its legal rationale for changing the rules.
Service members and civilians who have gotten caught up in benefits disputes have complained that there is little internal recourse in a one-on-one fight with the military bureaucracy over benefits. And the idea of taking on the federal government in a lengthy court fight also is daunting and costly.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.
Colonel Allison Black, a female Airman, made history earlier in the summer by becoming the vice commander of the 24th Special Operations Wing. She is the first female to command at that level in the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC).
And yet this is not Col. Black’s first. Earlier in her career, she became the first female navigator in an AC-130H Spectre gunship to participate in combat operations. The different variants of the AC-130 are an invaluable asset to ground forces and they provide extremely effective close air support.
“It’s a great honor to serve the Special Tactics community as their vice wing commander,” said Col. Black in a press release. “I’m now a direct part of the machine that I’ve directly supported my entire aviation career from the air. I couldn’t ask for a better teammate than Col. Matt Allen. He’s a dedicated leader and consummate professional who deeply cares about our people. As Col. Allen’s vice, it’s my role to follow his lead and drive the organization toward a successful future.”
U.S. Air Force Col. Allison Black is the vice commander of the 24th Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field, Florida. The 24th SOW is U.S. Special Operations Command’s tactical air-to-ground integration force and the Air Force’s special operations ground force, leading operations in precision strike, global access, personnel recovery and battlefield surgery. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Rachel Williams)
Col. Black began her career as an enlisted Survival, Evasion, Escape, and Resistance (SERE) specialist in 1992. She commissioned in 1998 and became an AC-130 navigator and later combat systems officer. She then headed the Operational Integrated Communications Team at the Pentagon and then served as the operations officer and later commanding officer of the 319th Special Operations Squadron. Before assuming her current assignment, she spent a stint at the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) headquarters.
The commander of 24th SOW, Colonel Matt Allen, said that “With any leadership team, you want to have people that cover each other’s blind spots and are able to bring the best out of the organization. Not only does Col. Black have a rich history as an aircrew member within AFSOC, but she also has key insights working on staffs within U.S. Special Operations Command and she is a female colonel, which provides really good insight as we look at our diversity and inclusion aspects of the force to make sure that we’re making good organizational decisions on bringing in the first wave of female operators onto the line.”
Based in Hurlburt Field, Florida, the 24th SOW is one of the three special operations wings in the Air Force. The unit is one of the most decorated in the entire Air Force. Airmen assigned to Wing’s units have received six Air Force Crosses, 32 Silver Stars, and hundreds of Bronze Stars with the Valor device (respectively, the second, third, and fourth highest award for valor under fire); the Air Commandos have also received 105 Purple Hearts, while 17 have made the ultimate sacrifice.
Special Tactics Airmen during a training exercise (U.S. Air Force).
The 24th SOW commands 14 Special Tactics, training, and support squadrons. In addition, two Air National Guard squadrons fall under 24th SOW and augment the organization as needed.
“Let’s just make a difference. Let’s exploit what I have learned throughout my career on operations, risk management, and regulations,” added Col. Black. “Let’s uncover all of that and let’s roll up our sleeves and use that to make our community stronger and more effective. Let’s exploit technology and work to define what the future holds. We need to determine what niche capabilities our current Special Tactics force must bring to the future fight.”
Before Col. Black’s appointment, the special operations community achieved a historic milestone with the graduation of the first female Soldier from the modern Special Forces Qualification Course. The female Green Beret became the first to don the coveted Green Beret and join an operational team – Captain Katie Wilder had been the first woman to pass the old version of Special Forces training in the 1980s but only received her Green Beret after a legal saga and never joined an operational team.
Days after winning the prestigious Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament, the excitement had not left John Cruise’s voice.
“The biggest fish I caught before this tournament was an 849-pound giant Atlantic bluefin tuna,” said Cruise, a major in the Marines. “I’ve caught many bluefin in the 600- to 700-pound range over the years, but that marlin is a special breed. What a feat, I’ll leave it at that.”
Cruise, 47, is the captain of the Pelagic Hunter II, a 35-foot outboard. He and mates Riley Adkins and Kyle Kirkpatrick won with a 495.2-pound marlin that they battled for 5½ hours Friday. That catch was only two-tenths of a pound heavier than the second-place fish and earned Cruise’s boat more than $223,000 in winnings.
The Big Rock tournament began June 8 and concluded Saturday in Morehead City, North Carolina. It attracted more than 200 entrants, including Catch 23 — a yacht owned by Michael Jordan. The Hall of Fame basketball player’s crew brought in a 442.3-pound marlin early in the tournament.
The Pelagic Hunter II was one of the smaller boats in the field.
“We have boats up to 85, 90, 100 feet that fish the tournament that have crews of eight or 10 people,” said Crystal Hesmer, the tournament’s executive director. “For a 35-foot boat … to bring the winning fish to the dock is just heartwarming and wonderful.”
Cruise, a major stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, has run a charter-boat company for 12 years. He followed his father, who fought in the Vietnam War, and his uncle into the Marines and has served for 22 years.
Growing up in New Jersey, his love of fishing was sealed about the time he received his first rod when he was 5 years old.
“The buzz has been beyond belief,” Cruise said of winning Big Rock.
The Pelagic Hunter II competed against boats with far wealthier owners, larger crews and access to greater technology. Because of their sheer size, bigger vessels can handle unfavorable weather or ocean conditions better.
Still, despite being a first-time entrant who said he had not fished for marlin before the tournament, Cruise did not lower his crew’s expectations. He told Adkins and Kirkpatrick that he expected to win.
“I don’t play around, man,” he said.
Shortly after the winning marlin hit the lure, Cruise said it jumped between seven and 10 times. The big fish was on the surface, about 50 miles out in the Atlantic Ocean, when another boat almost ran over it. Just as the crew got the marlin close to the boat, it suddenly turned and went deep underneath the water.
The fish came up and went down a few times before the Pelagic Hunter II boated her.
“It was an exciting battle,” Cruise said.
Cruise said his crew lost a much larger fish earlier in the tournament when it snapped the line. They measured the marlin they brought to the docks and knew it did not meet the tournament’s 110-inch requirement to qualify.
They were unsure whether it would exceed the 400-pound minimum until the official weight was announced.
“She looked thick,” Cruise said. “She looked big, but we weren’t sure.
“We were just in shock, and we’re still on Cloud 9. We’re stunned, and we’re enjoying the moment.”
The Israeli military has formally acknowledged for the first time its destruction of a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007, saying the airstrike removed a major threat to Israel and was a “message” to others.
Israel’s announcement on March 21, 2018, about Operation Out of the Box was widely seen as a veiled warning to archenemy Iran as it builds up its military presence in Syria.
Israel has warned against the establishment of a permanent Iranian military presence in Syria, particularly in areas close to Israel, and in February 2018, it shot down an Iranian drone that it said entered its airspace.
“The message from the attack on the nuclear reactor in 2007 is that the state of Israel will not allow the establishment of capabilities that threaten Israel’s existence,” Israel’s military chief, Lieutenant General Gadi Eizencot, said.
“This was our message in 2007, this remains our message today, and will continue to be our message in the near and distant future,” he said.
Israel’s decision to go public and justify the decade-old strike against Syria comes after repeated calls in recent months by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the United States and the international community to take tougher action against Iran, which is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s closest ally.
Netanyahu has repeatedly warned that Israel will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon — “not now, not in 10 years, not ever” — or to build missile factories in Syria that could threaten Israel, or provide advanced weapons for Hizballah, the Iran-backed Shi’ite group in Lebanon.
Throughout Syria’s seven-year civil war, Israel has carried out well over 100 air strikes, most believed to have been aimed at suspected weapons shipments destined for Hizballah forces operating alongside Assad’s forces in Syria.
Iran did not immediately respond to Israel’s warning and disclosure about its previous strike against the Syrian facility.
The Israeli military’s announcement was accompanied by the release of newly declassified materials, including photographs and cockpit video said to show the moment that an airstrike destroyed the Al-Kubar facility in the desert near Deir al-Zor, an area that was later overrun by the Islamic State extremist group.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has said it was “very likely” that the site “was a nuclear reactor that should have been declared.”
Syria, a signatory of the 1970 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, has always denied that the site was a reactor or that Damascus engaged in nuclear cooperation with North Korea, which is believed to have supplied the reactor.
A video of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un crying about his country’s terrible economy while surveying its coast is said to be making the rounds among the country’s leadership — and it could be a sign he’s ready to cave in to President Donald Trump in negotiations.
The defector reportedly said the video surfaced in April 2018, and high-ranking members of North Korea’s ruling party viewed it, possibly in an official message from Kim to the party.
In April 2018, North Korea had already offered the US a meeting with Kim and was in the midst of a diplomatic charm offensive in which it offered up the prospect of denuclearization to China, South Korea, and the US.
The defector speculated that the video was meant to prepare the country for possible changes after the summit with Trump.
Really strange video
In North Korea, Kim is essentially worshipped as a god-like figure with an impossible mythology surrounding his bloodline. Kim is meant to be all powerful, so footage showing him crying at his own inability to improve his country’s economics would be a shock.
Kim’s core policy as a leader had been to pursue both economic and nuclear development, but around the turn of 2018, he declared his country’s nuclear-weapon program completed.
Experts assess with near unanimity that Kim doesn’t really want to give up his country’s nuclear weapons, as he went to the trouble of writing the possession of nuclear weapons into North Korea’s constitution.
Instead, a new report from the CIA says Kim simply wants US businesses, perhaps a burger joint, to open within the country as a gesture of goodwill and an economic carrot, CNBC reports.
Big if true
Trump has made North Korea a top priority during his presidency and has spearheaded the toughest sanctions ever on Pyongyang. In particular, Trump has been credited with getting China, North Korea’s biggest ally and trading partner, to participate in the sanctions.