This is why the Army keeps the Specialist rank around - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why the Army keeps the Specialist rank around

If you look at the enlisted ranking system put in place by every branch of the United States Armed Forces, everything makes a good deal of sense. You start at the bottom — generally at E-1, but there are ways to get in at a higher pay grade — and work your way up to a certain point where you become an NCO. Officers have their own linear path, starting at O-1, and warrant officers are half way between the two.

But the Army has its very own conundrum with the E-4 ranks. Years ago, the hierarchy of ranks looked a little different: it went private first class, then corporal, then sergeant. Today, both specialist (the highest junior enlisted rank) and corporal (the lowest NCO rank) share the same pay grade. This means that, in a sense, being a specialist is just like being a corporal — only without the NCO benefits.

To understand the specialist rank we know it today, you’ll have to look back at the Army’s long-gone specialist ranks.


This is why the Army keeps the Specialist rank around

The same insignia that would later be used for private first class.

(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Felicia Jagdatt)

In 1920, there was a consolidation that distilled 128 different rank insignia and titles into just seven. The results of this consolidation left us with something similar to what we use today — with a few key differences.

Since warfare involves much more than just general “infantrymen,” there was a need to identify the support soldiers, those who were specialists in their given field of expertise. Back then, it was assumed that all 5th-grade soldiers (corporals) fully understood what their job entails, but there needed to be a way to offer a little incentive to a privates to become known as a “private/specialist,” which was the name of the MOS at the time. That incentive came in the form of bonus pay — despite being paid more, a private/specialist was still officially of lower rank than a private first class.

The insignia of the private/specialist was a single chevron with a single rocker.

This is why the Army keeps the Specialist rank around

Think of the difference like today’s version of a master sergeant and a first sergeant. Same pay grade, same respect, but two very different positions and mentalities.

(U.S. Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret)

The next major overhaul came in 1942 when a need arose to differentiate between those who earned their rank because of how good they were at their job and those who earned it because of leadership abilities. And so the “technician” ranks were created, ranging from technician fifth grade (or “tech/5”) up to technician third grade (or “tech/3”).

They were distinguished from their peers by placing a ‘T’ under their chevrons. For all practical purposes, a technician third grade and a staff sergeant were on equal footing — same pay and same respect — but the staff sergeant was in a leadership position while the tech/3 was more of an instructor.

This is why the Army keeps the Specialist rank around

The joke used back then was “the NCOs may have been the backbone of the Army, but the specialists were the brains.”

(National Archives)

The final shakeup came in 1955 when these two previous iterations of separating specialists in their given field from general leadership culminated an entirely new ranking system — the specialists. This took the original insignia of the 1920s private/specialist, inverted it, and added the Army Eagle to it. Promotions within the specialists meant adding another rocker to the top instead of a chevron.

A young private could prove themselves ready to enter the non-commissioned officers as a corporal — or they could focus on their MOS as a specialist. Between the years 1959 and 1968, it was entirely possible to make it all the way to E-9 as a specialist. Throughout the years, the highest achievable rank dwindled down and down until 1985, when only the Spec/4 remained.

Since all other grades of specialists were obsolete, the rank is now just called “specialist.” In essence, the rank holds the same meaning as it did in the 1920s — except now it’s more of a holdover rank before most E-4s make sergeant.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Here’s what you need to know about Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is rapidly becoming the driving force behind his Middle East kingdom and one of the most powerful people in the world.


The 32-year-old royal has influenced Saudi Arabia’s military, foreign policy, economy, and even day-to-day religious and cultural life.

Crown Prince Mohammed — or MbS, as he’s widely known — is also widely seen to be the muscle behind Saudi Arabia’s recent anti-corruption purge. The heir to the throne, Crown Prince Mohammed is consolidating power in a way Saudi Arabia hasn’t seen in decades.

This is why the Army keeps the Specialist rank around
President Donald Trump speaks with Mohammed bin Salman, Deputy Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, during their meeting Tuesday, March 14, 2017, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Meet the powerful prince who could reshape the Middle East:

Not much is known about Crown Prince Mohammed’s early life. He is the eldest son of King Salman’s third wife, and reportedly spent much of his time shadowing his father. A 2015 New York Times article details how unexpected his rise has been, noting that his three older half-brothers “all have distinguished résumés and were once considered contenders for top government roles.”

Crown Prince Mohammed holds a bachelor’s degree in law from King Saud University in Riyadh and served in various advisor roles for his father. He likes water sports, such as water skiing, as well as iPhones and other Apple products, according to the New York Times profile. The article also notes that Japan is his favorite country and he visited there on his honeymoon.

Also Read: Saudi Arabia just accused Lebanon of declaring war

Despite his supposedly lacking background, Crown Prince Mohammed reportedly was angling for a future in government. “It was obvious to me that he was planning his future — he was always very concerned about his image,” a family associate told The New York Times, noting that Prince Mohammed did not smoke, drink alcohol, or stay out late. That doesn’t mean he’s not impulsive, though. Crown Prince Mohammed reportedly bought a yacht, the Serene, for approximately 500 million euros after spotting it while vacationing in the south of France. The former owner, Russian vodka tycoon Yuri Shefler, moved off the yacht that day.

Crown Prince Mohammed first made international headlines in January 2015, when he took over for King Salman as defense minister when his father ascended to the throne following the death of King Abdullah. He was 29 years old when he took on the job. Now 32, Crown Prince Mohammed remains the world’s youngest defense minister.

This is why the Army keeps the Specialist rank around
Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sits with Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s newly appointed Minister of Defense, after meeting with King Salman bin Abdelaziz Al Saud of Saudi at the Royal Court in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on May 7, 2015. (Photo from U.S. State Department)As defense minister, he has become the leading backer of Saudi Arabia’s ongoing war with Houthi rebels in Yemen. Crown Prince Mohammed has also reportedly been a driving force behind the Gulf countries’ efforts to isolate Qatar. Although it’s still unclear, there are reports that Crown Prince Mohammed had a large part to play in Saudi-linked Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri’s resignation, submitted while he was in Saudi Arabia on Nov. 11. Each of these moves can be viewed as part of a broader campaign to increase pressure on Saudi Arabia’s regional rival, Iran.

Along with his role as defense minister, Crown Prince Mohammed was also given control of Saudi Aramco, the kingdom’s state-owned oil company. In 2016, Crown Prince Mohammed announced a long-term economic plan, called Vision 2030, which aims to remove Saudi Arabia’s economic dependence on oil. More recently, in October, he announced a $500 billion mega-city that will be powered completely by renewable energy, called NEOM.

Crown Prince Mohammed has made headlines recently for wading into Saudi Arabia’s culture wars, calling for a return to “a more moderate Islam.” He was also seen to be behind the landmark decision earlier this year to allow Saudi women to drive.

Read Also: This female WWII veteran terrified a Saudi King while driving him around

As he’s gained influence, Crown Prince Mohammed has started to edge out some major Saudi power players. Prince Mohammed bin Nayef was crown prince and interior minister until June 2017, when Prince Mohammed took over. Additionally, one of the biggest names implicated in the recent anti-corruption arrests was Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, the head of Saudi Arabia’s National Guard.

With these two men out of the picture, Crown Prince Mohammed effectively controls the three pillars of Saudi Arabia’s security apparatus — the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of the Interior, and the National Guard — in an unprecedented consolidation of power.

This is why the Army keeps the Specialist rank around
Former U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter places his hand over his heart as the national anthem plays during an honor cordon to welcome Saudi Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud to the Pentagon, May 13, 2015. The two defense leaders met to discuss matters of mutual interest. (Photo from US Department of Defense)

Crown Prince Mohammed started developing ties to the US early on. King Salman sent Crown Prince Mohammed as one of two delegates to the US when the monarch pulled out of a 2015 Gulf summit. Crown Prince Mohammed “struck us as extremely knowledgeable, very smart,” former President Barack Obama told the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya network. “I think wise beyond his years.”

He has struck up a strong relationship with the new administration, meeting with President Donald Trump early in his presidency. As defense minister, Crown Prince Mohammed has also met several times with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. He has also reportedly become friendly with another powerful millennial, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner.

When his father dies, Crown Prince Mohammed will become something Saudi Arabia has never seen — a young ruler set to stay in power for decades.

MIGHTY TRENDING

US establishes positions to block ISIS escape

U.S. forces are establishing observation posts in Northeast Syria to further deny escape routes to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve told Pentagon reporters today.

The spokesman said the observation posts will be set up to deter ISIS fighters that try to flee the middle Euphrates River valley into Turkey to the north.

Army Col. Sean Ryan, speaking via teleconference from Baghdad, updated reporters on ongoing operations in Iraq and Syria to defeat ISIS.


This is why the Army keeps the Specialist rank around

Defense Secretary James N. Mattis speaks.

(DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)

“These observation posts will provide additional transparency and will better enable Turkey’s protection from ISIS elements,” Ryan said.

Defense Secretary James N. Mattis announced the observation posts last week in a press briefing with Pentagon reporters.

The move follows close consultation and collaboration with Turkey, both at the military and State Department levels, according to a DOD News report.

U.S. to keep military presence in Syria

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ISIS Operative Arrested

Also in Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces arrested a senior ISIS official accused of involvement in the assassination of Sheikh Bashir Faysal al-Huwaidi, an Arab chieftain in Raqqa, Ryan said.

“This targeted operation undermines the enemy’s ability to operate in the shadows, and allows the SDF to ultimately eliminate sleeper cells that continue to threaten civilians and prolong their demise,” the spokesman added.

The U.S.-led coalition and its partners will continue to fight the terrorists and degrade their capabilities, he said.

“It’s important to take the fight to the enemy [and] we must continue to consolidate our considerable gains,” Ryan said.

Near Manbij, the alliance between Turkish and U.S. forces in the Combined Joint Patrols allows forces to continue to deny terrorists access to the area, he added, and noted that over time, it has become a community that is thriving.

“This stability is the direct result of the focus of our NATO ally Turkey and through cooperation with local officials from Manbij,” the spokesman said.

ISIS remnants are fortifying their positions and digging in for a protracted campaign, Ryan said.

“We should remain patient [because] fighting will continue to be intense as we continue to pressure the enemy into smaller and smaller spaces,” he said. “This is the last real physical terrain held by enemy forces, and they will continue to wage a resistance as they steadily lose relevance.”

This Militia is Threatening American Troops in Syria | NYT – Visual Investigations

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Iraq Border Security

Along the Syria-Iraq border, the 8th Iraqi Army Division continues to reinforce border security by engaging and repelling ISIS militants as they try to flee the offensive in the middle Euphrates River valley, Ryan said.

“Iraqi units continue to conduct coordinated strikes even as ISIS elements probe border positions with vehicle-borne [improvised explosive devices], motorcycles, small-arms fire and mortars,” he added.

The Iraqi air force on Nov. 20 launched two airstrikes targeting an ISIS weapons facility and a building that housed 30 ISIS fighters, Ryan said, adding, “This operation also signifies the ability of the Iraqi security forces to protect its border and uproot cells.”

In Mosul, Iraqi forces, backed by coalition air support carried out a security operation in Menkar village that resulted in five enemy fighters killed.

“[This] operation demonstrated ISF are strengthening their intelligence gathering to disrupt enemy operations and protect the Iraqi citizens from bombings and kidnappings,” the spokesman said.

Another successful ISF operation resulted in the death of an ISIS senior leader, code-named Katkut, Ryan said, adding that the operative was known to have planned and conducted attacks in Hadr, southwest of Mosul. He was killed in Saladin province after fleeing from the scene of an attack earlier in the week.

(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDOD)

MIGHTY MOVIES

How ‘Game of Thrones’ went WW2 in the penultimate episode

Major spoilers ahead for Season 8 Episode 5.

I mean character spoilers, though. Turn back if you have enjoyed watching Daenerys Targaryen rise from being sold and raped to become the just ruler of Slaver Dragon Bay before returning to Westeros and fighting alongside her people. In The Bells, Daenerys goes from being the Breaker of Chains to Queen of the Ashes in an instant, destroying all of King’s Landing and, of course, the internet.

She’d already won the battle…so why did she do it?

Let’s talk about Fat Man and Little Boy.


Hiroshima Atomic Bomb (1945) | A Day That Shook the World

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On August 6, 1945, the United States released a nuclear weapon over the Japanese city of Hiroshima, killing 140,000 people. Three days later, the U.S. dropped a second bomb, this one over the city of Nagasaki, killing 40,000 more instantly, while thousands more would die of radiation poisoning.

Eight days later, Japan formally surrendered to the Allied forces, effectively ending World War II.

Last night on Game of Thrones, Daenerys Stormborn defeated the military protecting Cersei Lannister…but she made the choice to raze King’s Landing and the Red Keep to the ground with dragonfire anyway.

Why?

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The only reasoning I can accept is that she needed to demonstrate the full capabilities of her power so that none would challenge her again. Her logic is that a weapon of mass destruction is justified to ultimately save the lives of the rest of the kingdom.

In other words, she made the decision to nuke Japan to end the war.

Also read: How Daenerys used tactics that made the Red Baron famous

If you’re like me and you’ve been thrilled to watch the strongest most bad ass female protagonist ever and she’s your Khaleesi and your Mhysa and, yeah, she burns her enemies a little but whatever who wouldn’t then yes, this hurts.

Many people have argued that this was not an out-of-character arc.

To those people I say Drogon can eat you all…but here we are.

This is why the Army keeps the Specialist rank around

She had her reasons.

When American scientists successfully employed an atomic bomb in 1945, President Harry S. Truman was faced with a decision. He tasked a committee of advisors to deliberate whether to use the bomb against Japan (by then, Germany had already surrendered). Ultimately, the men decided to use the bomb rather than prolong the war.

The alternative was an invasion of Japan, which would have cost (American) money and lives.

Truman always stood by his decision.

Also read: 7 secret weapons Allied soldiers would’ve faced while invading Japan

If Daenerys Targaryen truly believes that she is not only the rightful ruler of the Seven Kingdoms, but also the best ruler, then it is conceivable that she would pursue victory at all costs. In the episodes leading up to her conquest of King’s Landing, she realized that she didn’t have the support or loyalty of the North that was promised to her by the Starks — not even from her lover-turned-rival Aegon Targaryen Jon Snow.

So I guess in her hangry moment up there on her battle buddy she decided she would have to show everyone what she was capable of — so that fear would cause them to comply.

This will obviously not go over well from the holier-than-thou Starks in what promises to be the crankiest series final ever.

This is why the Army keeps the Specialist rank around

See you next week.

MIGHTY HISTORY

You have to hear Muhammed Ali’s take on North Korea

Dennis Rodman wasn’t the first professional athlete to visit North Korea. He probably won’t be the last either. In 1995, Japanese pro wrestler – as in, WWE-level sports entertainment pro wrestler – invited fellow wrestling superstar Ric Flair and boxing legend Muhammed Ali to visit the Hermit Kingdom with him on a goodwill tour.

It didn’t take long for “The Louisville Lip” to speak his mind, even in the middle of the most repressive country on Earth.


This is why the Army keeps the Specialist rank around

This is what happens when you get on the wrong side of Muhammed Ali.

Ali was never one to keep his thoughts to himself – and he always accepted the consequences. In 1967, he was stripped of his title, sentenced to five years in prison, and fined ,000 for not obeying his call to be drafted saying, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong.”

While Ali did not end up going to prison, his stance left him nearly broke and destitute, exiled from boxing for years. The experience didn’t curb his mouth one bit. He has always put his money where his mouth is, even when his voice was ravaged by Parkinson’s Disease.

This is why the Army keeps the Specialist rank around

But even a debilitating degenerative disease couldn’t stop him from lighting the Olympic torch in 1996.

So when The People’s Champion was invited to visit the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in 1995, it should have been a surprise to no one that he would still speak his mind. Japanese wrestler Antonio Inoki invited Ali and fellow wrestler Ric Flair on a goodwill tour of the country in 1995. The group was part of the DPRK’s International Sports and Cultural Festival for Peace. Also coming with the group was Rick and Scott Steiner, Road Warrior Hawk, Scott Norton, Too Cold Scorpio, Sonny Onoo, Eric Bischoff, and Canadian Chris Benoit.

Flair and Inoki would headline two main events from Pyongyang’s May Day Stadium in front of more than 150,000 North Koreans. Muhammed Ali was just a wrestling fan. But when they arrived in the North Korean capital, things immediately got weird for the athletes.

This is why the Army keeps the Specialist rank around

Inoki, Flair, and Ali in Pyongyang 1995.

Their passports were confiscated, and they were assigned a “cultural attache” who followed their every movement and marked their every word. They were not left alone, even for a moment, even as they discussed the show they would put on later that night. One night, the group was sitting at a large table eating dinner with North Korean bigwigs, when one of the officials began some big talk about how North Korea could take out Japan and/or the United States whenever they wanted.

In his biography Ric Flair described Ali speaking up, his voice clear and loud as if his Parkinson’s Disease didn’t exist, saying:

“No wonder we hate these motherf*ckers.”
This is why the Army keeps the Specialist rank around

Antonio Inoki and Muhammed Ali in Pyongyang for the 1995 International Sports and Cultural Festival for Peace.

When they were ready to go, Ric Flair was asked to say a few words about how great North Korea is and how much the United States paled in comparison. Flair demurred, instead thanking the North Koreans for their hospitality and complimenting them on their capital city.

Muhammed Ali was not asked to say anything before leaving.

MIGHTY MOVIES

6 times war movies totally altered reality

The best war movies are oft-told tales of heroes or of strange and surprising history. To revisit these scenes is to be reminded of these stories and the heroes that made them real.


But we all realize that many of these stories are exaggerated or changed slightly to be more dramatic – and we end up liking the new history better. And sometimes as we watch we are reminded that we haven’t properly honored those who starred in the real-world events. Other times, the movie makes us revisit what’s happening in our own lives.

1. ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ changes bedouin quality of life.

When Peter O’Toole was filming “Lawrence of Arabia,” his rear end was sore from his camel’s saddle. During the scene where T.E. Lawrence assists Arabs in capturing the Red Sea port city of Aqaba, O’Toole used a rubber sponge under his saddle to ease the pain.

This is why the Army keeps the Specialist rank around

To be fair, that looks terribly painful. So it’s totally understandable that the Bedouins hired as extras began using the sponge in their daily lives. #spongeworthy.

2. A film propels an actor into the annals of history.

The 1938 Russian movie “Alexander Nevsky” is about a Russian knight who defeated a superior Swedish army on the river Neva in 1240.

During WWII, the Soviet Union awarded the Order of Alexander Nevsky to tens of thousands of Red Army officers for heroism. The medal features the image of Nevsky – except no one ever knew what Nevsky looked like.Instead, the image on the medal was that of Nikolai Cherkasov, who portrayed Nevsky in the movie.

This is why the Army keeps the Specialist rank around

3. Rhodes gets a colossal new name.

A bay on the Greek island of Rhodes is now named after American actor Anthony Quinn, after his stunning performance in “the Guns of Navarone.”

This is why the Army keeps the Specialist rank around

Quinn plays a Greek resistance fighter in WWII in the film, but he actually spent much of WWII in Albania – organizing resistance fighters.

4. The church of the 82nd Airborne is in France.

After “The Longest Day” hit theaters in 1962, the parishioners of the Sainte-Mère Église church featured in the film constructed an effigy of Pvt. John Steele hanging from the church tower. The real Steele (portrayed in the film by Red Buttons), actually landed on the church’s bell tower on D-Day.

This is why the Army keeps the Specialist rank around

The church’s stained glass also shows paratroopers landing next to a praying Virgin Mary, holding a baby. This is a French town so ‘Merica, it belongs in Iowa.

5. “The Battle of Algiers” becomes a COIN training film.

In 2003, the American Directorate for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict screened the 1966 film to the U.S. military’s top commanders at the Pentagon.

This is why the Army keeps the Specialist rank around

The briefing was a called “how to win a battle against terrorism and lose the war of ideas.” A big jump for a film that was once banned in many places in the world.

6. Gunny Hartman gets Staff Sgt. Ermey a promotion.

Years after he retired from the Marine Corps, R. Lee Ermey was promoted to Gunnery Sergeant. The reason was his performance as Gunnery Sgt. Hartman in Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket” was so iconic, the Corps thought it only fitting to make the rank fit the man.

This is why the Army keeps the Specialist rank around

Ermey is the only Marine to be promoted after his retirement. Look at his face. That’s pride.

MIGHTY TRENDING

What an Abrams crew thinks of Russia’s newest tank

Crew members of a US Abrams tank were giving me a tour of their tank on the sandy training grounds of Fort Bliss when I asked them what they thought about Russia’s next-generation T-14 Armata tank.

At first, they were a little taken aback and looked at each other as if they weren’t sure whether they should answer. But they agreed to give their opinions when I said I wouldn’t publish their names.

“T-14’s got a three-man crew,” one specialist said, sitting behind the .50 caliber gun atop the Abrams. “All the crew’s in the hole, so it sounds pretty safe.”


Also read: Russia claims its T-14 Armata tank can run on Mars, because why the hell not

The T-14 is part of Russia’s new Armata Universal Combat Platform, which is based on a single chassis that can be used for other Armata vehicles, such as the T-15 (or Terminator 3) and Koalitsiya-SV.

It’s also reportedly equipped with an autoloader for its 125mm high-velocity cannon, compared to the Abrams’ 120mm gun.

And the specialist zeroed in on the autoloader.

“You looked around in here,” he said. “You see how sandy it is? You need something that’s going to work in all terrain.”

“Generally, I think the Russians like to build things that — like the AK, you can throw it through the mud and it’ll keep shooting,” the specialist said. “I feel like with the T-14, they got their eye off the ball, trying to be fancy.”

This is why the Army keeps the Specialist rank around

The specialist also said that a crew member can load the cannon faster than current mechanical autoloaders.

“So, what’s the point of an autoloader?” I asked.

“If the ammunition is so heavy, and so long — it’s a small turret here,” the specialist said. “The T-14 has gotten around that by having an entirely automated turret. What happens though, if something goes wrong in the middle of battle, and somebody’s gonna have to get up in there, get out of their position? I don’t know.”

“Let’s say there’s a misfire,” another crewmember interjected. “How much work would it take to get that machine open, get that breach open, and get down in there?”

Related: This new, more deadly version of the M1 Abrams tank is on its way to the fight

I then asked what they thought about Moscow’s goal of eventually making the T-14 a completely unmanned tank.

“Maintenance-wise, an unmanned tank is going to be really difficult,” the specialist said. “All I do is maintain tanks … and these tanks still go down.”

Despite unveiling the tank in 2015, Russia has still not mass-produced the T-14 due to the high cost of the platform. Moscow initially said that it would produce 2,300 T-14s by 2020, but late last year said it would only produce 100 T-14s by 2020.

Articles

Mattis says ISIS militants are caught in a military vise

Expelled from their main stronghold in northern Iraq, Islamic State militants are now trapped in a military vise that will squeeze them on both sides of the Syria-Iraq border, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said.


Mattis arrived in the Iraqi capital on an unannounced visit August 22 just hours after President Donald Trump outlined a fresh approach to the stalemated war in Afghanistan. Trump also has vowed to take a more aggressive, effective approach against IS in Iraq and Syria, but he has yet to unveil a strategy for that conflict that differs greatly from his predecessor’s.

In Baghdad, Mattis was meeting with senior Iraqi government leaders and with US commanders. He also planned to meet in Irbil with Massoud Barzani, leader of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region that has helped fight IS. Mattis told reporters before departing from neighboring Jordan that the so-called Middle Euphrates River Valley — roughly from the western Iraqi city of al-Qaim to the eastern Syrian city of Der el-Zour — will be liberated in time, as IS gets hit from both ends of the valley that bisects Iraq and Syria.

This is why the Army keeps the Specialist rank around
DoD photo by Air Force Staff Sgt. Jette Carr

“You see, ISIS is now caught in-between converging forces,” he said, using an alternative acronym for the militant group that burst into western and northern Iraq in 2014 from Syria and held sway for more than two years. “So ISIS’s days are certainly numbered, but it’s not over yet and it’s not going to be over any time soon.”

Mattis referred to this area as “ISIS’s last stand.”

Unlike the war in Afghanistan, Iraq offers a more positive narrative for the White House, at least for now. Having enabled Iraqi government forces to reclaim the Islamic State’s prized possession of Mosul in July, the US military effort is showing tangible progress and the Pentagon can credibly assert that momentum is on Iraq’s side.

The ranking US Air Force officer in Iraq, Brig. Gen. Andrew A. Croft, said that over the past couple of months IS has lost much of its ability to command and control its forces.

This is why the Army keeps the Specialist rank around
Members of the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service present Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, a flag from Bartilah, a town recaptured by the Iraqi army just outside of Mosul from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique Pineiro.

“It’s less coordinated than it was before,” he said. “It appears more fractured — flimsy is the word I would use.”

Brett McGurk, the administration’s special envoy to the counter-IS coalition, credits the Trump administration for having accelerated gains against the militants. He said August 21 that about one-third of all territory regained in Iraq and Syria since 2014 has been retaken in the last six or seven months.

“I think that’s quite significant and partially due to the fact we’re moving faster, more effectively,” as a result of Trump’s delegation of battlefield authorities to commanders in the field, McGurk said. He said this “has really made a difference on the ground. I have seen that with my own eyes.”

It seems likely that in coming months Trump may be in position to declare a victory of sorts in Iraq as IS fighters are marginalized and they lose their claim to be running a “caliphate” inside Iraq’s borders. Syria, on the other hand, is a murkier problem, even as IS loses ground there against US-supported local fighters and Russian-backed Syrian government forces.

This is why the Army keeps the Specialist rank around
ISIS patrol the streets of Raqqa, Syria. Image from Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently.

The US role in Iraq parallels Afghanistan in some ways, starting with the basic tenet of enabling local government forces to fight rather than having US troops do the fighting for them. That is unlikely to change in either country. Also, although the Taliban is the main opposition force in Afghanistan, an Islamic State affiliate has emerged there, too. In both countries, US airpower is playing an important role in support of local forces, and in both countries the Pentagon is trying to facilitate the development of potent local air forces.

In Iraq, the political outlook is clouded by the same sectarian and ethnic division between Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish factions that have repeatedly undercut, and in some cases reversed, security gains following the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003.

An immediate worry is a Kurdish independence referendum to be held September 25, which, if successful, could upset a delicate political balance in Iraq and inflame tensions with Turkey, whose own Kurdish population has fought an insurgency against the central government for decades. McGurk reiterated US opposition to holding the Iraqi Kurdish referendum.

This is why the Army keeps the Specialist rank around
Photo courtesy of Kurdish YPG Fighters Flickr.

“We believe these issues should be resolved through dialogue under the constitutional framework, and that a referendum at this time would be really potentially catastrophic to the counter-ISIS campaign,” McGurk told reporters in a joint appearance with Mattis before they flew to Iraq.

With the Iraqi military’s campaign to retake the northern city of Tal Afar now under way, Mattis has refused to predict victory. He says generals and senior officials should “just go silent” when troops are entering battle.

“I’d prefer just to let the reality come home. There’s nothing to be gained by forecasting something that’s fundamentally unpredictable,” he told reporters traveling with him over the weekend.

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Afghanistan is producing record numbers of opium

Afghanistan set new records for opium production in 2016 despite an $8.5 billion USD counternarcotics campaign investment by U.S agencies, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction’s (SIGAR) stated in its latest quarterly report to Congress.


The report said that opium production increased 43 percent in 2016, while poppy eradication hit a 10-year low and was “nearly imperceptible.”

It said that the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) conduct an annual survey with financial contributions from the United States and other donors.

UNODC estimated that the potential gross value of opiates was $1.56 billion USD — or the equivalent of about 7.4 percent of Afghanistan’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) — in 2015.

This is why the Army keeps the Specialist rank around
Afghan contractors unload bags of fertilizer at the Nawa district government building compound in the Helmand province of Afghanistan Oct. 13, 2009. The Afghan government is distributing the fertilizer to residents to support alternatives to poppy. (DoD photo by Lance Cpl. Jeremy Harris, U.S. Marine Corps)

“The latest 2016 UNODC country survey estimates opium cultivation increased 10 percent, to 201,000 hectares, from the previous year,” the report said adding that “the southern region, which includes Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan, Zabul, and Daykundi provinces, accounted for 59 percent of total cultivation. Helmand remained the country’s largest poppy-cultivating province, followed by Badghis and Kandahar.”

“Deteriorating security conditions, a lack of political will, and the Afghan Ministry of Counter Narcotics’ ineffective management all contributed to the paltry eradication results in 2016,” the report said.

Poppy “cultivation remained near historically high levels compared with the past several decades.”

Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s “narcotics industry — coupled with rampant corruption and fraud — is a major source of illicit revenue,” the report said.

The “opium trade provides about 60 percent of the Taliban’s funding.”

“Since the collapse of the Taliban government, the opium trade has grown significantly and enabled the funding of insurgency operations. Taliban commanders collect extortion fees for running heroin refineries, growing poppy, and other smuggling schemes,” according to the report.

“Powerful drug networks, mainly run by close-knit families and tribes, bankroll the insurgency and launder money. There have been media reports and allegations of corrupt government officials participating in the drug trade,” it said.

This is why the Army keeps the Specialist rank around

The Taliban is an Islamic extremist group that ruled Afghanistan until the U.S military intervention following the Sept. 11, 2001, al Qaeda attack in New York and Washington, D.C. that killed more than 3,000 people. The Taliban allowed al Qaeda to use Afghanistan as its training base for attacks against the U.S. and other western nations.

“Traffickers provide weapons, funding, and material support to the insurgency in exchange for protection, while insurgent leaders traffic drugs to finance their operations,” the report said.

Afghanistan “remains the world’s largest opium producer and exporter — producing an estimated 80 percent of the world’s heroin.”

John Sopko, head of SIGAR, recommended that President Donald Trump establish “a U.S counternarcotics strategy, now years overdue, to reduce the illicit commerce that provides the Taliban with the bulk of their revenue.”

MIGHTY CULTURE

Rangers vs. SEALS: Who’s had more impact in the War on Terror?

U.S. Navy SEALs — the elite Special Operations group with a name that has earned its reputation around the world. If people know the name of one elite unit, it’s probably the Navy SEALs.

U.S. Army Rangers — as old as American history itself, they have presented themselves as masters of both conventional and unconventional warfare time and time again. During the Global War on Terror (GWOT), they have evolved into a precision special operations force (SOF) and gained extensive combat experience, particularly in Afghanistan and Iraq.


Both are intensely involved in the GWOT, and both have had resounding successes and serious losses. As modern warfare continues to evolve, which one of these SOF units has delivered more impact in the War on Terror?

This is why the Army keeps the Specialist rank around

Navy SEALs train at the John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

(Photo by John Scorza, courtesy of U.S. Naval Special Warfare Command)

When discussing the U.S. Navy SEALs, it’s important to distinguish between the SEAL Teams and SEAL Team Six. SEAL Team Six (sometimes referred to as the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, or DEVGRU) belongs to the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and is tasked with executing a broad scope of special missions that often have a direct impact on the United States’ foreign policy and national security strategy. Most notably, they were responsible for killing Usama Bin Laden in 2011.

The other SEAL teams are under the purview of the Naval Special Warfare Command (NSWC) and conduct special operations, often against terrorists and insurgents. This can be confusing since the vast majority of U.S. troops in foreign engagements from Afghanistan to Syria are fighting “terrorists,” but SEAL Team Six specializes in it.

This is why the Army keeps the Specialist rank around

Navy SEALs conduct operations in Afghanistan alongside Afghan partners.

(U.S. Naval Special Warfare Command)

In short, SEAL Team Six is conducting complex missions like hostage rescue; high-level, low-visibility reconnaissance; and direct-action raids against high-value targets (more in the vein of Delta Force, their Army counterpart). The other SEAL Teams have a different overall mission, though overlap does exist. The clear-stated mission on paper is to conduct maritime-based missions, but that is certainly not the end of it. Special operations units are versatile, and today’s SEALs are often training friendly foreign forces, conducting direct-action raids in and outside of large American engagements, or performing their legacy mission of carrying out maritime missions.

SEALs are currently conducting operations in war zones around the world; not all of the teams are relegated to Afghanistan and Syria. They have recently worked in the Philippines, Djibouti, Central America, and South America, to name a few places. They are not necessarily running direct-action raids in all these places. For example, conducting FID (Foreign Internal Defense) with a host nation could mean accompanying local groups on missions, or it could simply mean training them on basic infantry tactics and calling it a day.

This is why the Army keeps the Specialist rank around

A Navy SEAL conducts training with a SEAL Delivery Vehicle (SDV).

(U.S. Naval Special Warfare Command)

Rangers, on the other hand, are more specific when it comes to geography. You’re not going to run into a Ranger platoon in the middle of Ethiopia, and Rangers aren’t going to be the ones tasked with hostage rescue missions off the Ivory Coast. For the most part, they go to places where there is a large American presence (or where the military wants there to be one), where the fighting is heavy and the missions are frequent, and they can roll up their sleeves and get busy. They are a precision strike force, but they are precise amid large military efforts.

While Rangers also conduct FID missions, especially in Afghanistan, their purpose revolves around kill/capture missions on a day-to-day basis.

This is why the Army keeps the Specialist rank around

Rangers from the 75th Ranger Regiment prepare to conduct an airfield seizure.

(75th Ranger Regiment)

Seizing an airfield is to Rangers as a maritime raid is to the SEALs. The 75th Ranger Regiment is known for its ability to take an airfield from enemy control, though this hasn’t actually been conducted for years. Most of the time, Rangers are conducting kill or capture raids in Afghanistan. In fact, they were credited with killing or capturing over 1,900 terrorists during a recent deployment to Afghanistan. They have had a presence in Syria as well.

As terrorism and insurgent-type tactics have been more common among the enemies of the United States (in contrast to conventional military tactics), the need for special operations units has skyrocketed. Rangers, SEALs, and other elite groups have found themselves bearing that weight, evolving rapidly, and fulfilling the needs of a constantly changing battlefield.

This is why the Army keeps the Specialist rank around

A Ranger from the 75th Ranger Regiment conducts close quarters combat training.

(75th Ranger Regiment)

These units are required to have a breadth of skillsets, intensive training, and a specific state of body and mind — however, that doesn’t mean that every deployment is rife with firefights and explosions. Many Ranger deployments to Afghanistan have ended with no shots fired; many SEALs will deploy to countries around the world without conducting any raids.

So, who has the greatest impact on the GWOT?

This is why the Army keeps the Specialist rank around

Rangers often use helicopters to get to their objective.

(75th Ranger Regiment)

Many of these conversations — Rangers versus SEALs versus MARSOC versus PJs versus Green Berets — devolve into a “which one is better” conversation. However, each has their task and function, and asking whether one is better than the other is like asking if a cardiac surgeon is “better” than a neurosurgeon — it depends on if you need heart surgery or brain surgery. The better informed find themselves asking: “Who is better at a maritime interdiction?” “Who can take this airport?” “Who has a presence in this area?” These are the practical questions that warrant practical answers, and those are the ones that matter on the practical battlefield.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

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This is what happens when your father was your drill instructor’s drill instructor

If Marine Corps boot camp is a bitter slice of hell, then drill instructors are the demons who dish it.


Now imagine what basic training would be like if your drill instructor was your father’s recruit and knew it. That’s exactly what happened to Reddit user hygemaii.

 

This is why the Army keeps the Specialist rank around
Gunnery Sergeant Shawn D. Angell gently corrects a trainee. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

You’d expect one of two things to happen: you get favorable treatment because your father treated your DI to a rose garden — highly unlikely — or you become your DI’s reprisal punching bag for everything your father put him through as a recruit — probably more realistic. Here’s how the story played out, according to hygemaii (mildly edited for grammar and curse words):

Related: 4 of the funniest boot camp stories we’ve ever heard

“My best military story is my own boot camp story. I decided to join the Marine Corps almost on a whim after planning to join the Air Force for most of my senior year in high school.

“Same old story of AF recruiters seeming like they didn’t give a sh-t about their appearance or job and the Marine recruiter putting out max effort all the time and always being presentable. I was a pretty easy mark for the USMC because my dad was in the USMC; I grew up on bases all over the U.S. until we moved to the little farm town in North Florida where I went to high school.

“Since I was 18, I basically did all the paperwork myself, found a job series I liked, signed, the whole nine yards, my dad didn’t know anything until I told him I was going to MEPS and joining the Marines. He was overjoyed, obviously. He loved the Corps and regretted getting out after 12 years.

“Now the story gets funny. My dad was a drill instructor when he was in the Marines. I remembered living on Parris Island but didn’t think much of it. When I got my ship date for boot camp, my dad called some old friends and I ended up in a Company who’s First Sergeant was an old friend of my dad’s — they served on the drill field together all those years ago. So through some sort of crazy coincidence, I end up in a platoon with a drill instructor who was a recruit under my dad (6-7 years prior to me going to boot camp).

This is why the Army keeps the Specialist rank around
A Drill Instructor whispers loving words of encouragement to Marines who needed some motivation. (U.S. Marine Corps)

“I have a very distinct name, and on the second day after we got our real drill instructors, as he was going through roll call, the drill instructor suddenly fell quiet. After a couple of seconds, he said my name, perfectly pronounced, and I knew I was f**ked.

“He said ‘[Last name], I bet there aren’t too many [Last names] in the world like that, are there?’ Sir, no sir. ‘Was your daddy a Marine in the 90’s Lastname?’ Sir, yes sir. ‘F**king good, [Last name], good. Get on my quarterdeck now.’

“I spent the rest of boot camp unable to make myself invisible. It spread from my drill instructor to drill instructors from other platoons, even other companies. It was f**king miserable. I felt bad for my rack mate, because at one point for about three days I had to move my entire rack to the quarterdeck and he was just along for the ride, so he caught a lot of it, too.

“It made graduating really special, in retrospect, to finally get the kind words from that drill instructor, but man that sucked. I’m pretty sure this entire thing was set up by my dad and his buddy, but they both deny it, and there’s no way to prove it.

“It was funny seeing my drill instructor stand a little straighter when he saw my dad at graduation.”

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Memorial Day 2018 by the numbers: a quick look

Memorial Day is a time to remember the lives lost to preserve American freedom. It’s a solemn holiday most often spent by sharing a day off with loved ones, usually around a grill with a cold one in your hand. But as you enjoy a burger and a beer and share laughs with friends and family, take a minute to remember everyone who can’t be with their loved ones.


It’s really astonishing just how many people celebrate Memorial Day in America by having a cookout, watching a parade, and enjoying a frosty beverage. In fact, a staggering sixty percent of American households will spend one day during the Memorial-Day weekend at a barbecue — second only to Independence Day. Memorial Day is the second biggest period for beer sales in America and $1.5 billion will be spent on meat and seafood.

Even more astonishing is the number of volunteers that go out to cemeteries to plant the Stars and Stripes on the graves of fallen troops and veterans. While 1.5 million people watch more than a thousand active duty service members in the National Memorial Day Parade and 900,000 people gather for the Rolling Thunder Memorial Day motorcycle rally in our nation’s capital, over 260,000 graves at Arlington National Cemetery will be adorned with flags by volunteers.

More than 45 million men and women have served the United States in a time of war (you know, doing that thing we all got our National Defense Service Medal for) and more than 1.35 million American men and women have died fighting in armed conflicts around the globe. So, with all these numbers in your head, remember that the most important of all is “three.” At 3:00 p.m. on Memorial Day, Americans everywhere will put down the burger, turn off the TV, and take a moment in silence.

The National Moment of Remembrance is where we forget our personal and political differences for and come together as a nation to remember those who lost their lives fighting for our rights, freedoms, and privileges as Americans — so we can enjoy that burger, watch that TV, and ride our motorcycles.

So, take a moment. 3pm, Memorial Day. Be there.

Here are a few more interesting numbers surrounding Memorial Day.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Marines will soon get these new night-vision goggles

Marines will have better situational awareness on missions in dark areas thanks to new night-vision goggles.

The Binocular Night Vision Goggle II, or BNVG II, is a helmet-mounted binocular that gives operators improved depth perception at night, and uses white phosphor image intensification technology to amplify ambient light, with a modular thermal imaging overlay capability. BNVG II helps Marines identify potential buried explosive devices, find hidden objects in foliated areas and safely conduct tasks that require depth perception.

Marine Corps Systems Command began fielding the BNVG II to force reconnaissance and explosive ordnance disposal Marines this spring, and full operational capability is planned for early 2019.


The BNVG II includes a binocular night-vision device and a clip-on thermal imager, or COTI. The BNVD amplifies the small amount of existing light emitted by stars, the moon’s glow or other ambient light sources and uses the light to clearly display objects in detail in very dark conditions. The COTI uses heat energy from the Marine’s surroundings to add a thermal overlay that allows the image to be viewed more clearly, helping Marines with situational awareness in conditions with little to no light.

Enhanced Vision

This is why the Army keeps the Specialist rank around
Aviation Ordnanceman Airman Kishawn Tucker peers through night vision binoculars.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Brian Caracci)

“The BNVG II helps Marines see enemies at a distance, and uses the COTI to detect ordnance or power sources for an explosive device that gives off heat,” said Nia Cherry, an infantry weapons program analyst. “The COTI intensifies Marines’ ability to see anything in dark conditions, rain, fog, dust, smoke and through bushes that the legacy binoculars couldn’t.”

The BNVG II is a follow-on to the legacy, battle-proven AN/PVS-15 binocular, but offers more features, such as the COTI, for increased survivability. The BNVD component is a compact, lightweight, third-generation, dual-tube night -vision goggle with an ergonomic, low-profile design. It offers superior situational awareness compared to the AN/PVS-15 used by reconnaissance Marines and the single-tube AN/PVS-14 monocular night-vision device used throughout the rest of the Marine Corps, officials said. It mounts to the enhanced combat helmet and may be used individually or in conjunction with the COTI.

“In March 2018, we held an exercise in San Diego where Marines provided positive feedback on their ability to easily maneuver with the goggles,” said Joe Blackstone, optics team lead in infantry weapons. “The depth perception provided by the BNVG II enhances precision and increases the operator’s survivability while on missions with limited lighting.”

This article originally appeared on the United States Department of Defense. Follow @DeptofDefense on Twitter.

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