Give the gift of remembrance - We Are The Mighty
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Give the gift of remembrance

Wreaths Across America (WAA) is a national non-profit organization best known for remembering fallen veterans with wreaths placed each December at Arlington National Cemetery. However, the organization and its mission to Remember, Honor, Teach, is much more.

In the beginning, founder, Morrill Worcester, a 12-year-old paper boy in Maine won a trip to Washington D.C., where Arlington National Cemetery became an inspirational location. His pilgrimage served as a consistent reminder, through career and life, that opportunities stemmed from the values and freedom afforded to us by our nation’s veterans.

After years of hard work, Morrill founded Worcester Wreath Company in Harrington, Maine. In 1992, Worcester Wreath had a surplus. Morrill saw this as his opportunity to honor our veterans with hopes of returning to Arlington. With the aid of Maine Senator Olympia Snowe (ret.), the first 5,000 wreaths were placed that year at Arlington National Cemetery. As plans were underway, other individuals and organizations shared Morrill’s spirit and working together built an annual mission that went unnoticed for many years.

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In 2005, a photo surfaced of Arlington covered in snow, adorned with wreaths. This picture became a viral internet sensation! After, thousands of requests poured in, from people wanting to help emulate the Arlington success on the local level, prompting the official formation of Wreaths Across America the national nonprofit in 2007.

The newly formed 501c3 began its national effort by sending seven ceremonial wreaths to every state (one for each branch of the military, and for POW/MIAs). The ceremonies took place in nearly all of the 50 states and Washington, D.C., with a focus on family during the holidays. As the organization grew from volunteer support, a network of local groups and cemetery locations began to emerge.

Presently a small, but dedicated staff and more than 7,000 core volunteers across the country, work tirelessly on year-long programs that help accomplish this ongoing mission to Remember, Honor and Teach. That number grows to more than 2 million, a third of whom are children, who participate in the annual wreath laying events nationwide!

What does it mean to sponsor a wreath? It means you’ll honor an American hero at one of more than 2,500 locations nationwide this year on Wreaths Across America Day… a day that’s been set aside to pay tribute to their sacrifices.

This year, National Wreaths Across America Day is Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020.

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We can only do this with YOUR support. Your sponsorship will ensure that a wreath is hand- crafted of all-American balsam and hand-tied with a red velvet bow will be sent to one of our participating locations, where a volunteer will place it on the marker of a fallen hero. That volunteer will then “say their name” to ensure that the legacy of duty, service and sacrifice of that veteran is never forgotten.

Give the gift of remembrance this holiday season and join a grateful nation in saying “thank you” to our veterans. Visit www.wreathsacrossamerica.org to sponsor a wreath for a participating location near you!

This article originally appeared on Military Families Magazine. Follow @MilFamiliesMag on Twitter.

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This U.S. Marine went to Somalia and became a warlord

Hussein Farrah Aidid left the United States Marine Corps and attempted to be a warlord like his father, Mohamed Farrah Aidid, who is a central figure in the story of Black Hawk Down.


Mohamed Aidid was the leader of the Habr Gidr clan, who vied for power in the wake of the fall of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre’s Somali regime. Aidid not only diverted food aid and relief supplies, his fighters ambushed 24 Pakistani peacekeepers. The United Nations offered a $25,000 reward for his capture, and he was targeted by Task Force Ranger. TF Ranger’s hunt for Aidid led to the ill-fated Battle of Mogadishu that resulted in the death of 18 American troops.

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Aidid had four wives. His first wife, Asli Dhubad, gave birth to five children. Hussein Farrah Aidid was the first of those five. He was born in a remote area of Somalia in 1962. At the age of 14, he emigrated to the United States at a time when Somalia was ruled by the dictator Barre whose authoritarian government was enjoying a brief thaw in relations with the U.S. Hussein graduated from high school in Covina, California two years later before enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Aidid was an artilleryman, assigned to Battery B, 14th Marines at the Marine Corps Reserve base in Pico Rivera, California. He deployed in support of Operation Restore Hope, the U.S.-led task force in Somalia whose aim was to disrupt the personal army of Mohamed Farrah Aidid. The elder Aidid controlled the strongest faction in the ongoing power struggle in the country.

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Three US Marines, from an Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit, examine a Somali tank, a US made M47, that was captured in the raid of Somali Warlord General Aideed’s weapons cantonment area. This mission is in direct support of Operation Restore Hope. (U.S. Navy photo by PHCM Terry Mitchell)

The UN mandate was to “establish as soon as possible a secure environment for humanitarian relief operations in Somalia.” Essentially, Restore Hope aimed to protect the delivery of food and other humanitarian aid, keeping it from falling into the hands of Aidid’s personal army. The Marines deployed the younger Aidid because he was the only one in the ranks who could speak Somali.

He returned to the U.S. and became a naturalized citizen. In 1995, Aidid told his command he would miss drill for a while because he was traveling outside the U.S. He returned to Somalia and began preparing for his role in the Habr Gidr militia.

The elder Mohamed Farrah Aidid continued his struggle for power, even declaring himself President of Somalia in 1995, a declaration no country recognized. He was shot in a battle against former allied warlords in July 1996 and died of a heart attack during surgery.

Hussein was declared his father’s successor at age 33. The man who left the Marines as a corporal was suddenly a general.

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The younger Aidid vacillated between being more conciliatory than his father to being as warlike as his father. Initially he vowed to crush and kill his enemies at home and overseas. He continued his father’s policies, especially the pacification of the countryside, which most saw as an authoritarian power grab. Forces loyal to Aidid were known to rob and kill civilians in their controlled territories. Other allied factions left the young leader’s camp because they did not see dedication to the peace process.

The younger Aidid eventually softened, renouncing his claim to the presidency and agreeing to UN-brokered peace agreements in 1997. An ardent anti-Islamist, he assisted the Bush Administration in tracking down the flow of arms and money through Mogadishu, gave up the sale and use of landmines, and helped Somali government forces capture the capital from the al-Qaeda-allied Islamic Courts Union in 2006. He was hired and fired as deputy Prime Minister, Minister of the Interior, and Minister of Public Works. He defected to Eritrea in 2007.

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Hussein Farrah Aidid as Deputy Prime Minister of the Somali Transitional Government

”I always wanted to be a Marine,” he told The Associated Press. ”I’m proud of my background and military discipline. Once a Marine, always a Marine.”

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America’s most expensive weapons system ever just hit another snag

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Lockheed Martin


America’s most expensive weapons system ever just hit another snag.

The F-35 Lightning II, Lockheed Martin’s fifth-generation fighter jet, is expected to miss a crucial deadline for successfully deploying its sixth and final software release, referred to as Block 3F.

Block 3F is part of the 8 million lines of sophisticated software code that underpin the F-35.

In short, if the code fails, the F-35 fails.

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Lockheed Martin

The latest setback for the F-35 stems from a 48-page December 11 report from Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon’s top weapons tester.

According to Gilmore, the stealth fighter won’t be ready by its July 2017 deadline.

As first reported by Aviation Week, the DoD report says “the rate of deficiency correction has not kept pace with the discovery rate,” meaning more problems than solutions are arising from the F-35 program.

“Examples of well-known significant problems include the immaturity of the Autonomic Logistics Information System (aka the IT backbone of the F-35), Block 3F avionics instability, and several reliability and maintainability problems with the aircraft and engine.”

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US Air Force

One recommendation Gilmore gives for the F-35’s latest woes is to triple the frequency of weapons-delivery-accuracy tests, which are executed once a month.

Adding more tests to the troubled warplane will most likely add to the cost overruns and schedule delays, but Gilmore says decreasing testing to meet deadlines will put “readiness for operational testing and employment in combat at significant risk.”

According to the DoD report, the Block 3F software testing began in March, 11 months later than the planned date.

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US Air Force

The nearly $400 billion weapons program was developed in 2001 to replace the US military’s F-15, F-16,and F-18 aircraft.

Lockheed Martin’s “jack-of-all-trades” F-35s were developed to dogfight, provide close air support, execute long-range bombing attacks, and take off from and land on aircraft carriers — all the while using the most advanced stealth capabilities available.

Adding to the complexity, Lockheed Martin agreed to design and manufacture three variant F-35s for different sister service branches.

The Air Force has the agile F-35A; the F-35B can take off and land without a runway, ideal for the amphibious Marine Corps; and the F-35C is meant to serve on the Navy’s aircraft carriers.

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Lockheed Martin

Despite the Block 3F software setback, the Marine Corps last year declared an initial squadron of F-35s ready for combat, making it the first service branch to do so.

The standard for readiness the Marines used, referred to as initial operational capability, is determined separately by each service branch when the aircraft has successfully demonstrated various capabilities.

IOCs are announced prematurely, however, in that all tests and upgrades to the aircraft, such as the Block 3F software update, have not necessarily been completed.

Still, Gen. Joseph Dunford, then the commandant of the Marine Corps, in July declared initial operational capability for 10 F-35B fighter jets.

The Air Force is expected to declare IOC for its F-35As later this year, and the Navy plans to announce IOC for the F-35Cs in 2018.

Even so, America’s most expensive warplane’s turbulent march to combat readiness is far from over.

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Lockheed Martin

Here’s the full report from the Department of Defense

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This is how the Old Glory Relay brings veterans and their communities together

Team Red, White  Blue’s mission is to enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity. This effort is focused on bridging the civilian-military divide through a shared interest in physical activity like running, hiking, CrossFit workouts, and yoga classes, along with participating in social and service-oriented events. Spread across 199 chapters all over the world, the 110,000-member veteran’s group established in 2010 is geared toward creating a place for former servicemembers to meet and do a little PT — and invite their friends and family along to join them.


But while having lots of members and a host of chapters across the country is a great thing for a young veteran service organization, there’s a challenge in keeping it all connected. That’s why Executive Director Blayne Smith and his colleagues decided to link up with Team Red, White  Blue’s various members with a little run among friends.

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(WATM Photo: Tim Kolczak)

And what if this little run wasn’t so little? What if it spread across the entire country?

“We really wanted this to be a unifying event for the organization and to demonstrate the power and the inspiration that comes with a community of veterans working on an epic undertaking together,” Smith said. “We figured if we could run a single American flag averaging 60 miles a day … that would be a demonstration of the good that we could do together if we all worked together formed as a team and committed to a big goal.”

So in 2014, on a shoestring budget and with just a couple company reps doing most of the logistical legwork, the Old Glory Relay was born. Now spanning 4,216 miles and involving upwards of 1,300 runners and cyclists, the 2016 Old Glory Relay will see an American flag passed between participants — including veterans and their supporters — down the West Coast, across the desert Southwest, through the Deep South, and ending in Tampa, Florida, after 62 days culminating in a Ruck March on Veterans Day.

“For this year we decided to go even bigger. It’s a bit more ambitious, it’s a longer route but more members and more chapters will get to participate,” Smith said. “There’s something really powerful about running a few miles carrying an American flag. It’s really invigorating to run with it and hand it off to the next person knowing you’ve done your part to get it across the country.”

With the support of the presenting sponsor, Microsoft, along with other partners, Amazon, Westfield and Starbucks, the race began at the Space Needle in Seattle on Sept. 11. The relay will be following a route through Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles through the end of the month. The relay then turns east, through Phoenix, Tucson and San Antonio before crossing the South through the Florida Panhandle to Tampa.

Team Red, White  Blue has done a ton of legwork to prepare for the relay, mobilizing local chapters to help carry the flag and get their communities energized to cheer runners along. Smith said school kids, local police and fire stations and residents along the way all turn out to motivate the runners and keep the relay going. And while the event is geared toward unifying the chapters and its members in a good cause, it’s the spirit of shared sacrifice and appreciation for the men in women who served in uniform that really makes the Old Glory Relay special.

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(WATM Photo: Tim Kolczak)

“This is what happens when you slow people down enough to move on foot through a town with an American flag and see what happens. All those human connections start to happen,” Smith said. “America is a beautiful place. But the most beautiful terrain in America is the human terrain, and you don’t see it if you don’t slow down. And that’s what this is all about.”

You can support Team Red, White Blue and the Old Glory Relay by following the Old Glory Relay website, sharing your own photos and videos with the hashtag #OldGloryRelay, and by tracking Old Glory via the “OGR Live” webpage for up-to-the-minute information on the runners’ and cyclists’ status.

Text OGR to 41444 to learn more and donate!

MIGHTY TRENDING

It’s official: Lloyd Austin is the first Black Defense Secretary

Members of the Senate on Friday confirmed Lloyd Austin, a retired Army four-star general, to run the Defense Department — a historic move that gives the military its first Black defense secretary.

Senators confirmed Austin’s nomination in a vote of 93 to 2. Austin is the second member of President Joe Biden’s Cabinet to be approved, following Avril Haines as director of national intelligence on Wednesday.

Austin arrived at the Pentagon just after noon Friday to be sworn in and begin work.

He tweeted immediately following the vote that he’s proud to be the first African American to hold the position.

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“Let’s get to work,” he said.

The House and Senate on Thursday cleared the way for Austin to be confirmed after both chambers approved the waiver he needs to serve as defense secretary. He’s been out of uniform for less than the seven years required by law after retiring from the Army in 2016.

The House approved the waiver in a vote of 326 to 78 Thursday afternoon. The Senate followed suit, 69 to 27.

Austin said in a video message posted earlier this month that becoming the first Black defense secretary would be an honor and privilege. But it’s not the first time he’s broken barriers in his career.

Austin was the first African American to command an infantry division in combat. He was also the first African American to be vice chief of the Army and, later, the first Black general to lead U.S. Central Command.

“It shouldn’t have taken this long for us to get here,” he said. “There should’ve been someone that preceded me.”

Austin steps into the role as defense secretary at a time when the military is facing renewed scrutiny over the issue of racism and extremism in the ranks.

Several troops have beenforced out of the military in recent years forbelonging to white supremacist groups orposting racist comments online. Military leaders across the force are reviewing policies that might inadvertently discriminate against some troops.

Austin told lawmakers Tuesday that he was committed to addressing those problems once he became defense secretary.

The military community is also overrepresented among those arrested following the Jan. 6 siege at the U.S. Capitol. Nearly one in five, or almost 20%, of the people who have been charged over their alleged involvement in the attack appear to have a military history, NPR reported this week. Only about 7% of all American adults are military veterans, NPR noted.

Defense leaders also warned last week that homegrown extremist groups aretrying to recruit military members and veterans to join their causes.

Lawmakers from both parties have said Austin is the right person to lead the Defense Department at this time, despite not meeting the seven-year “cooling-off period” required to serve in the civilian leadership position.

Several senators said ahead of Friday’s vote that they would confirm Austin. Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat who’s on the Senate Armed Services Committee, called Austin an exceptionally qualified leader with a long and distinguished career.

Still, both Reed and Sen. Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Congress should not overlook the importance of the law that bars recently retired leaders, like Austin, from serving as defense secretary.

“I’ll vote today to confirm a clear patriot with an impressive career,” McConnell said. “But I’ll cast that vote with the understanding that our new secretary of defense specifically commits to balancing civil-military relations, empowering civilian leaders at the Pentagon and playing an active role in the inherently political budget process to get our forces what they need.”

The retired Army general is the second retired officer to get a waiver in four years. Congress granted one to Jim Mattis when President Donald Trump nominated him to be SecDef a few years after he retired from the Marine Corps.

The two Republican senators to vote against Austin’s confirmation were Mike Lee of Utah and Josh Hawley of Missouri.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

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Here are the most likely US targets for a nuclear attack

Since the Cold War, the US and Russia have drawn up plans on how to best wage nuclear war against each other — but while large population centers with huge cultural impact may seem like obvious choices, a smarter nuclear attack would focus on countering the enemy’s nuclear forces.


So while people in New York City or Los Angeles may see themselves as being in the center of the world, in terms of nuclear-target priorities, they’re not as important as places in states like North Dakota or Montana.

Stephen Schwartz, the author of “Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of US Nuclear Weapons Since 1940,” says that after the Cold War, the US and Russia shifted from targeting each other’s most populous cities to targeting each other’s nuclear stockpiles.

This map shows the essential points Russia would have to attack to wipe out the US’s nuclear forces, according to Schwartz:

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Skye Gould/Business Insider

This map represents targets for an all-out attack on the US’s fixed nuclear infrastructure, weapons, and command and control centers — but even a massive strike like this wouldn’t guarantee anything.

“It’s exceedingly unlikely that such an attack would be fully successful,” Schwartz told Business Insider. “There’s an enormous amount of variables in pulling off an attack like this flawlessly, and it would have to be flawless. If even a handful of weapons escape, the stuff you missed will be coming back at you.”

Even if every single US intercontinental ballistic missile silo, stockpiled nuclear weapon, and nuclear-capable bomber were flattened, US nuclear submarines could — and would — retaliate.

According to Schwartz, at any given time, the US has four to five nuclear-armed submarines “on hard alert, in their patrol areas, awaiting orders for launch.” Even high-ranking officials in the US military don’t know where the silent submarines are, and there’s no way Russia could chase them all down before they fired back, which Schwartz said could be done in as little as five to 15 minutes.

But even a strike on a relatively sparsely populated area could lead to death and destruction across the US, depending on how the wind blew. That’s because of fallout.

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Dangerous radioactive fallout zones shrink rapidly after a nuclear explosion. Bruce Buddemeier/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

The US has strategically positioned the bulk of its nuclear forces, which double as nuclear targets, far from population centers. But if you happen to live next to an ICBM silo, fear not.

There’s a “0.0 percent chance” that Russia could hope to survive an act of nuclear aggression against the US, according to Schwartz.

So while we all live under a nuclear “sword of Damocles,” Schwartz said, people in big cities like New York and Los Angeles most likely shouldn’t worry about being struck by a nuclear weapon.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Kabul says it’s freed 149 hostages from Taliban

The Taliban has reportedly rejected an offer by the Afghan government for a cease-fire, with militant commanders vowing to carry on their attacks after Taliban fighters in the north seized nearly 200 hostages from a convoy of passenger buses.

A Taliban spokesman said Taliban leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhunzada on Aug. 20, 2018, rejected President Ashraf Ghani’s offer a day earlier of a “conditional” cease-fire with the Taliban to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.


The cease-fire was meant to begin on Aug. 20, 2018, and run for three months, conditioned upon Taliban participation.

But the Taliban spokesman told Reuters by telephone on Aug. 20 that Akhunzada had rejected the new offer on grounds that it would only help the U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan.

“Our leadership feels that they’ll prolong their stay in Afghanistan if we announced a cease-fire now,” the Taliban spokesman said, declining to be identified.

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Taliban leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhunzada

An official in Ghani’s office said the Afghan government would continue its military operations against the Taliban if the militants did not respect the cease-fire.

Rescue Operation

Afghan officials say government security forces on Aug. 20, 2018, freed 149 people who had been taken hostage by the Taliban several hours earlier in the northern province of Kunduz.

Nasrat Rahimi, deputy spokesman for Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry, told RFE/RL that the militants continued to hold 21 others hostage on Aug. 20, 2018, after they ambushed a convoy of passenger buses traveling to Kabul for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.

He said fighting in the area had halted while Afghan authorities used local elders as intermediaries in negotiations with the Taliban for the release of the remaining hostages.

The buses were stopped in the province’s Khan Abad district, an area under Taliban control — prompting a battle against government forces deployed in a rescue operation.

Rahimi said the rescue operation had killed at least seven Taliban fighters before the militants fled the scene. He said the Taliban had left behind the 149 freed hostages because the militants were unable to transport all of the group due to the rescue operation.

Rahimi said the remaining 21 hostages were taken by the Taliban to an undisclosed location. He said none of them were government employees or members of Afghanistan’s security forces.

However, a Taliban spokesman said the militants were conducting their own investigations to determine if any of the remaining hostages work for the Afghan government or security forces.

Sayed Assadullah Sadat, a Kunduz provincial council member, said earlier on Aug. 20, 2018, that the buses “were packed with people and maybe there were army soldiers and police” among those taken hostage.

Mohammad Yusouf Ayubi, the head of the Kunduz provincial council, said he thinks the Taliban were looking for government employees or members of the security forces.

Abdul Rahman Aqtash, the police chief in neighboring Takhar province, says the passengers were from Badakhshan and Takhar provinces.

The Western-backed government in Kabul has been struggling to fend off the Taliban and other militant groups since the withdrawal of most NATO combat troops in 2014.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

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Airman goes viral for pumping breast milk during triathlon

When Jaime Sloan realized that she was on pace to set a personal record at the Ironman 70.3 in Tempe, Arizona in October 2018, she decided not to stop to pump breast milk as she had planned. Instead, the 34-year-old Air Force Staff Sergeant pumped while running, placing the milk in a CamelBak water bottle which she carried for the remainder of the race.


“I had brought my hand pump and I just decided to go for it. I was making good time and I just didn’t want to stop and lose the time on my race,” explained the mom of two, who gave birth to her second child back in March 2018. She admitted that she was “nervous at first that I would get some weird looks or even get disqualified due to nudity, but I did my best to cover up and make it work.”

Jaime Sloan Airman mom pumps breast milk while completing Ironman 70 3

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At first, a couple of people were concerned, mistaking her breastfeeding cloth as bandages. But once they realized what she was doing, Sloan says the reactions were very positive, adding, “I did get some looks from women but they were just big smiles.”

And pumping certainly didn’t slow the active duty airman down. With her husband, Zachary, and daughter Henley, 2, cheering her on, Sloan finished the race (which includes swimming for 1.2 miles, biking for 56 miles and then running 13.1 miles) in six hours, 12 minutes and 44 seconds — a full 30 minutes faster than her previous best.

Sloan, who has also completed 2 full Ironman races in the past, wants other women to realize that if she can do it, they can, too: “I hope that [my story] can encourage other women and mothers and really anyone who has a lot going on in their lives. No matter what, if someone believes they can do something, they can make it happen because it is possible.”

This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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New stunning documentary shows the reality of the drone war through the eyes of the operators

A new documentary, “National Bird,” exposes the secret drone war being carried out in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and elsewhere from the ground level of the strike and from the perspective of three military operators who used to pull the trigger.


“When you watch someone in those dying moments, what their reaction is, how they’re reacting and what they’re doing,” Heather Linebaugh, a former drone imagery analyst, says in the film. “It’s so primitive. It’s really raw, stripped down, death.”

Also read: Osprey crash shows how dangerous Marine aviation can be

Though unmanned systems have been used for many years to carry out surveillance, it wasn’t until after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks — on February 4, 2002 — that a drone was armed and used for targeted killing. That 2002 strike apparently killed three civilians mistaken for Osama bin Laden and his confidantes, a theme that went on to play out again and again.

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US Air Force photo

Armed drones have operated since in Afghanistan and many other countries in which the U.S. is not at war, including Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan. They have been used to strike militants and terror leaders over the years — a program accelerated under the Obama administration — but it has come at a deadly cost, with thousands of innocent civilians killed, to include hundreds of children.

“I can say the drone program is wrong because I don’t know how many people I’ve killed,” Linebaugh says.

Linebaugh and two others, introduced only by their first names Daniel and Lisa, tell equally compelling stories from their time in the military’s drone program. The film gives them a chance to shine a light on what is a highly secretive program, which officials often describe as offering near-surgical precision against terrorists that may someday do harm to U.S. interests.

Instead, the three offer pointed critiques to that narrative, sharing poignant details of deaths they witnessed through their sophisticated cameras and sensors. The most disturbing thing about being involved with the drone program, Daniel said, was the lack of clarity about whom he killed and whether they were civilians.

“There’s no way of knowing,” he says.

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Screenshot via www.liveleak.com

Though the testimony of the three operators is compelling, the documentary’s most important moments come from a visit to Afghanistan, where the documentary showcases a family that was wrongly targeted by a strike. It was on February 21, 2010, when three vehicles carrying more than two-dozen civilians were hit by an Air Force drone crew.

“That’s when we heard the sound of a plane but we couldn’t see it,” one victim says.

Filmmaker Sonia Kennebeck mixes witness statements with a reenactment of overhead imagery and voices reading from the transcript prior to the strike. A later investigation found that the operators of the Predator drone offered “inaccurate and unprofessional” reporting of what they saw.

During the incident, the drone operators reported seeing “at least five dudes so far.” Eventually, they reported 21 “military-age males,” no females, and two possible children, which they said were approximately 12 years old.

“Twelve, 13 years old with a weapon is just as dangerous,” one drone operator says. The operators never got positive identification of the people below having weapons.

That’s because the group consisted only of innocent men, women, and children, according to the documentary. Twenty-three Afghan civilians were killed, including two children aged seven and four.

“We thought they would stop when they saw women, but they just kept bombing us,” the mother of the children says.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, then the commander of U.S. forces in the country, apologized for the strike. Four officers involved were disciplined.

The documentary cuts through the defense of drones as a “surgical” weapon that only kills the bad guys. As many reports have made clear, the US often doesn’t know exactly who it is killing in a drone strike, instead hazarding an “imperfect guess,” according to The New York Times, which is sometimes based merely on a location or suspicious behavior.

That imperfect guess has often resulted in the death of innocent locals — or, as was the case in 2015, the death of two men, an American, and an Italian, who were being held hostage by militants.

As Daniel points out in the documentary, the presence of drones on the battlefield has only emboldened commanders, who no longer have to risk military personnel in raids and can fire a missile instead. That viewpoint only seems to be growing, as the technology gets better and drones continue to proliferate around the world.

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Airman 1st Class Christian Clausen | US Air Force

The drone may continue to be the “national bird” of the U.S. military for a long time, but perhaps the documentary can start a conversation around their use and whether they create more terrorists, as has been argued, than they are able to take out.

“Not everybody is a freakin’ terrorist. We need to just get out of that mindset,” says Lisa, a former Air Force technical sergeant, in the documentary. “Imagine if this was happening to us. Imagine if our children were walking outside of their door and it was a sunny day, and they were afraid because they didn’t know if today was the day that something was going to fall out of the sky and kill someone close to them. How would we feel?”

MIGHTY TRENDING

Vote for MISSION: MUSIC Finalist Jericho Hill

UPDATE: THE VOTING IS NOW CLOSED AND THE WINNER WILL BE ANNOUNCED ON MONDAY, SEPT. 25, 2017 AT WE ARE THE MIGHTY!

Welcome to the finals for Mission: Music, where veterans from all five branches compete for a chance to perform onstage at Base*FEST powered by USAA. CLICK THE BUTTON BELOW TO VOTE every day to determine the winner!

Jericho Hill is a band created by Army veteran Steve Schneider and Navy corpsman McClain Potter. They began writing music together in 2012 while studying at Shoreline Community College just north of Seattle, bonding over their military experiences.


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From left to right: Steve Schneider (U.S. Army), McClain Potter (U.S. Navy).

In 2014, Steve and McClain invited friends to play with them, including singer Malcolm Williams, drummer Adam Birchman, and bassist Nick Skinnell, officially creating Jericho Hill, a reference from “The Dark Tower,” a book McClain read during deployment. The band is united by the military, whether they themselves wore the uniform or a family member.

They found that music was not only healing for them, but a way to share stories with others. The military was a strong influencer for their music, which has evolved to bring awareness to issues like suicide, trauma, and depression.

One of the traditions of Jericho Hill is to play an as-yet unrecorded song “Great Day to be Alive” during their shows as a tribute to the friends they have lost. They also work hard to connect with other veterans and musicians, demonstrating how music can help vets readjust to civilian life.

Return to the voting page and check out the other finalists!

For every vote, USAA will donate $1 (up to $10k) to Guitars for Vets, a non-profit organization that enhances lives of ailing and injured military veterans by providing them with guitars and a forum to learn how to play. Your votes help those who served rediscover their joy through the power of music!

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MIGHTY CULTURE

The Perks of PCSing: Turning a move into an adventure

Having been married to someone in the military for almost a decade at this point, there are two things I learned quickly that will almost always be true. The first is that no matter what, there will always be at least one MRE somewhere in your house. The second, is that you will have to move. You will move a lot, you will move often, and there is a high likelihood you will have to move somewhere unfamiliar. While PCS and other forms of military travel are put on temporary hold right now, it can still be helpful to think of ways to make some of the more stressful, and sometimes more time consuming aspects, work for you.

Any move, military or otherwise, comes with obvious stressors and things to consider. From prospective jobs, future school districts, housing, and arguably the most stressful: trying to convince your friends to help pack the moving truck. While there are options in the military to have your things professionally packed and moved, my husband and I have always taken the more hands-on approach. Albeit more tedious, it has kind of become tradition for us. It gives us one last chance to say goodbye to friends we’ve made, pay them in pizza and beer and convince them that we really didn’t mean to pack some of those boxes so heavy.


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I’ve gotten a lot of great advice from people over the years about the best way to adjust to a new duty station. It’s easier when you have built in ice breakers like school aged kids or more social hobbies, but overall, everyone learns to adjust in their own way. Something else that seemingly less significant or explored is the actual act of getting from point A to point B.

Even during the anxiety and uncertainty of our very first move, my favorite part of a PCS has always been hitting the road and making conscious efforts to plan our route in a memorable way. Our duty stations have been all over the country, so we’ve been able to cover some significant ground in a relatively short amount of time. There’s something about taking what is typically deemed more utilitarian and turning it into its own experience that really seems to feed the soul.

When I think about some of my favorite memories with my husband and kids, I think about our PCS roadtrips. Our oldest son visited the Grand Canyon and traveled through 23 states before his first birthday. We spent an entire day driving around Albuquerque, NM visiting filming locations from Breaking Bad, which admittedly was more of a personal bucket list item, but my husband had control of the radio that day, so we found a happy compromise.

Our youngest son travelled from Oregon to Louisiana before he was even born (nothing goes better with being seven months pregnant than driving 7 hours a day for a week straight). Both of our boys have managed to get really close to crossing off all 50 states since they’ve been our roadies. We’ve made our way through the good, the bad and the ugly of truck stops, hotels and roadside attractions–few things compare to some of those alien museums in Roswell, which really have the potential to encompass all three traits seamlessly.

We take the time before our move to look at a map and see what’s out there. Sure, there are days where it really is about getting up early and putting in those long hours to get some mileage under our belt, but we always try to counter that with something fun. Sometimes it can feel like “making the best out of a bad situation” if the move comes at an inopportune time, or there are outside factors at play.

One of the realities of being a military family is having a lot of things decided for you. That can seem like a daunting thing, and I would be lying if I said there weren’t times where it was really hard for us in one way or another.

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At the end of the day it’s about looking for those silver linings in the inevitable. Taking stock in the situation and being able to make it into something you can look back on and appreciate having been in that place at that time. So many things in life are done with the outcome in mind, not the process. Military members and military families will undoubtedly spend a lot of time going from point A to point B, it comes with the territory. What that does however, is offer up the opportunity for adventure. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, but sometimes it’s worth taking a detour.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

MIGHTY TRENDING

USAF combat controller will get a Silver Star for 5-day fight

The Air Force plans to upgrade a combat controller’s Bronze Star Medal to a Silver Star for exemplary action while engaged in combat in Afghanistan in 2006.


Chief Master Sgt. Michael R. West, assigned to the 720th Operational Support Squadron, will receive the Silver Star, the military’s third-highest valor award, during a ceremony at Hurlburt Field, Florida, on Dec. 15, Air Force Special Operations Command said in a release.

West was originally awarded the Bronze Star in 2007.

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(Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

“West will be honored for his role in securing the safety of 51 Special Forces Soldiers and 33 coalition partners during a five-day offensive operation in support of Operation Medusa,” the release said.

“Over the period of five days and two climactic battles, West delivered more than 24,000 pounds of precision ordnance credited with more than 500 enemy killed in action,” AFSOC said.

His upgrade comes as a result of a comprehensive Defense Department-wide review of awards from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even though the Air Force announced eight valor upgrades in totality this year, new evidence shed light on West’s case, 24th Special Operations Wing spokeswoman 1st Lt. Jaclyn Pienkowski told Military.com.

“With time, additional statements were provided that more completely captured Chief West’s actions during Operation Medusa,” Pienkowski said. “Once the package was complete, the Air Force considered totality of his actions and deemed the appropriate award to be a Silver Star Medal.”

“During this process, the Air Force was committed to properly recognizing our service members for their service, actions and sacrifices, and that those valorous service members were recognized at the appropriate level. It was important to ensure the award package was complete when it was reviewed,” she said.

Also Read: This Warthog pilot will receive the Silver Star 14 years after saving troops in battle

West, a master sergeant at the time, was involved in two dynamic battles over five days within the Panjwai Village, according to his official award citation.

West was a Joint Terminal Attack Controller supporting Special Forces teams tasked “to conduct offensive operations in support of Operation Medusa,” a Canadian-led mission during the second battle of Panjwaii in the Zhari and Panjwaii districts of Kandahar Province against Taliban fighters, the citation said.

While exposed to direct enemy fire, West’s “mastery of air to ground operations” allowed for the NATO teams to employ a strategic advantage “with over 88 fixed and rotary wing attack; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms; and medical evacuation assets in the area,” the citation said.

That included bombers, fighters, and MQ-1 Predator drones “to eliminate the enemy threat and allow the coalition forces to safely seize their target location,” according to West’s “Portraits in Courage” story. He was featured in the program in 2007.

West called in roughly “130 close air support missions,” the Portraits in Courage release said.

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An AC-130U gunship from the 4th Special Operations Squadron, flies near Hurlburt Field, Fla., Aug. 20. The AC-130 gunship’s primary missions are close air support, air interdiction and force protection. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Julianne Showalter)

His actions “on numerous occasions either prevented friendly forces from being overrun, or directly enabled friendly forces to break contact and regroup while minimizing casualties,” the citation said.

Twelve Canadian soldiers lost their lives over the course of the battle, with dozens more wounded, according to figures from Veterans Affairs Canada; A British reconnaissance plane also crashed in Panjwai during the offensive, killing all 14 on board.

At the time it had been “the most significant land battle ever undertaken by NATO,” according to Canada’s CBC News.

Canada regards Operation Medusa as one of its most successful operations. Earlier this year, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan exaggerated he was the grand “architect” of the operation, but later retracted his comments. Sajjan served in Afghanistan at the time as a liaison between Canadian commanders and local Afghan leaders, according to the Global News.

Whether or not West’s valor elevation may be the last medals upgrade for this year remains unclear.

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