World War II veteran Recil Troxtel turns 93 years old on April 17, 2019. He stares longingly out the window for much of the day, excited for the mail to arrive. When it finally does, he hops up in the hopes that there might be a personal letter or two, just for him.
With his birthday coming up, all he really wants is more mail. His fellow veterans and members of the military community are sure to step up and drop their friend Recil a line – right?
“He sits here in his chair looking out the window every day,” his daughter, Liz Anderson told KSWO, an Oklahoma ABC affiliate. “When the mail is here, he’s like the mail is here, we better go get the mail.”
Unfortunately, there’s not often anything in there for Recil. Now, the soon-to-be 93-year-old Oklahoma man is undergoing cancer treatment. His days of watching for the mail may be short, so maybe we shouldn’t wait for April 17th to roll around. Maybe we should send out greetings, letters, and good wishes to Recil right away. Send them to:
Recil Troxtel 2684 North Highway 81 Marlow, Oklahoma 73055
“I don’t get mail anymore,” Recil said. That’s about to change, buddy.
“It’s exciting when he gets it because he will sit there and hold it,” his daughter said. “Sometimes he won’t open it for an hour or two. Other times, he has a knife in his pocket, and he rips that knife out and rips that letter open to see what it is.“
His family tells KSWO that he didn’t always enjoy the mail, but he’s at an age now where receiving something doesn’t mean he’s getting a bill. It’s more likely a personal message.
In the wake of President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the nuclear deal signed with Iran and five other countries in 2015, Tehran has responded with one of its most frequent threats: closing the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow channel in the Persian Gulf through which roughly 30% of world’s oil flows.
“If Iran’s oil exports are to be prevented, we will not give permission for oil to be exported to the world through the Strait of Hormuz,” a Revolutionary Guards commander said in July 2018.
Coastal defenses and naval vessels would have a big role in that effort, but it would most likely revolve around one of Iran’s favorite military assets: sea mines, a vicious weapon that presents an acute challenge for a US Navy that is shifting between old and new mine-countermeasure systems.
Iran has laid mines at sea in past conflicts, and even these much less sophisticated weapons have disabled and nearly sunk US Navy warships.
The guided-missile destroyer USS Porter transits the Strait of Hormuz in May 2012.
(Photo by Alex R. Forster)
An asymmetric threat
“As far back as the early 1980s, Iran was mining waters in the Gulf to prevent oil tankers from coming in or out of ports in the Arab part of the Gulf — Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, etc. — and it has extensive experience in trying to also menace warships,” said Scott Savitz, a senior engineer at the Rand Corporation.
Sea mines remain “a big part of the Iranian approach,” said Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
The sea mines Iran used at that time were relatively unsophisticated — the mine that almost sank the frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts in 1988 was a World War I-era device — but mines it can deploy now are more advanced and more dangerous, with some warheads weighing nearly 2,500 pounds.
As of 2012, Iran was believed to have grown its supply of sea mines from about 1,500 during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s to more than 6,000, according to a report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
That stockpile is not as vast as those of North Korea, China, or Russia, which also rely on anti-access or area-denial approaches to limit movement in contested areas, but it includes an array of mines, such as cheap, conventional ones and more advanced “smart mines,” which may be able to track multiple targets, discern different types of ships, and avoid detection by lurking on or near the seafloor.
Advanced mines can be triggered by sound, pressure, or magnetic influence. But even conventional ones that require contact to detonate are a threat to US warships and other commercial vessels. Iran also has an array of ships to lay them — some can even be deployed through submarine torpedo tubes.
Iran’s naval forces are no match for the US Navy, but sea mines are asymmetric weapons that a weaker side can use to foil a stronger opponent — even one with the world’s strongest navy. They can be deployed to deny access or freedom of movement and can be used to escalate tensions more incrementally than would a cruise-missile attack on an enemy warship.
“The Iranians see [mines] as a good tool for them to be able to threaten to close the strait and do it in a way that they can threaten it and you don’t know that the mines are really there,” Clark said, “and then if they do have some mines out there, the damage they’re going to inflict is going to be more in terms of preventing people from freely going back and forth rather than having to kill a lot of people to make a point.”
“You can threaten the use of mines and actually not have any out there,” Clark added. “However, a very small number of mines … in a place where someone’s likely to run into one, and then that damages a ship, and then you can say that you’ve got a much larger field, even though you may not.”
The USS Avenger off the coast of Hawaii during the Rim of the Pacific exercise in 2004.
(U.S. Navy photo)
Speed and scope
The US has previously said attempts to deploy mines would draw a military response, but the Navy also has means to counter mines.
The service keeps several of its 14 Avenger-class ships stationed in Bahrain all year.
The ships are designed for anti-mine warfare, using sonar and video systems, cable cutters, and a mine-detonating device to neutralize mines. Their hulls are made of wood covered with fiberglass for lower magnetic resonance. The engines are also designed to lower the ships’ magnetic and acoustic signatures. This is exceedingly dangerous work for these ships and their explosive ordnance disposal teams, which involves getting close to lurking mines to find and neutralize them.
The Avenger-class ships based in Bahrain are “immensely capable” and have multiple capabilities for and approaches to mine warfare, Rand’s Savitz said. They are lightly armed, however, and would require escorts.
But the Avenger class is aging, and the problem for the US Navy is that the mine threat looms as it struggles to move from those ships and the MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopters that often accompany them to a newer platform that uses unmanned systems deployed aboard littoral combat ships.”
The US is in this transition from a more traditional minesweeping approach, where a minesweeper goes out and either drags minesweeping equipment behind it that physically entangles the mines or sets them off by magnetic influence,” Clark said.
“Now they’re transitioning to the use of unmanned vehicles to do a lot of this,” he added. “So they’ll have an unmanned ship drive out … sweep gear behind it to pick up mines, and they’ll have unmanned vehicles go around and hunt for mines that might be on the seafloor” or otherwise submerged.
But other cost overruns, delays, and malfunctions — like the cancellation of the Remote Minehunting System after nearly a billion dollars and almost two decades of work — have hindered the mine-countermeasure program.
Mine-countermeasure systems in general “don’t get as much attention as they need,” Clark said. “It’s not a sexy part of the Navy.” Older systems, he said, “could’ve been replaced a long time ago, or at least improved before this became an issue.”
The shift between older platforms and newer systems with limited capabilities is “a huge liability” for the Navy, Clark said.
“They’re in the middle of this transition, so they don’t have these unmanned systems really completely tested out and fully fielded, and so there’s still a lot of the traditional sweep gear and traditional approaches,” he said.
The Sea Dragon, which is the Navy’s oldest helicopter in service, was supposed to retire in 2005. But the service has yet to find a replacement for the heavy-lift helicopter, which can haul a variety of minesweeping gear and deploy anywhere in the world within 72 hours. The Avengers, introduced in the early 1990s, have also had their service lives extended, requiring upgrades.
Those ships and helicopters remain capable, but they aren’t “scalable,” meaning they “can’t ramp it up when there’s a minefield,” Clark said. Those systems aren’t necessarily a problem because they’re old, he added, they’re “just limited in speed and scope.”
The Remote Minehunting System and an AN/AQS-20 mine-hunting sonar being brought aboard the littoral combat ship USS Independence during testing of the mine-warfare mission module package in 2012.
Timelines and risks
The issues facing US mine-countermeasure systems do not mean Iran has a clear advantage, however.
“While the Persian Gulf is not wide, it’s big enough that Iran would have to cover a swath in order to prevent ships from going through it without encountering mines,” Savitz said. “So it would be challenging for them.”
Moreover, because it lacks refining capacity, Iran needs to be able to ship oil and refined products in and out.
“It would be cutting its own throat if it tried to shut down all traffic in the Gulf,” Savitz said. “If it leaves open a significant pathway, then others can potentially use it too.”
If Iranian ships start behaving in ways that indicate they’re laying mines, “that can be interdicted,” Savitz added. And the US would watch closely for any effort to reseed minefields that had been cleared.
“That’s the best mine-countermeasure solution of all, is to catch the adversary laying the mines or to detect roughly where the mines are laid,” to focus mine-countermeasure efforts, Savitz said.
A naval aircrewman preparing a Q-24 sonar side-looking vehicle to be lowered into the Persian Gulf from an MH-53E Sea Dragon during mine-countermeasure training on May 18, 2017.
(US Navy photo by Mass Comm. Specialist 1st Class Joshua Bryce Bruns)
But the scalability issue would loom over any effort to track down and clear mines from the area.
“Mine countermeasures is also typically a slow area of warfare that requires intense attention to detail, so it also entails thinking about trade-offs between timelines and risk,” Savitz said. “How quickly a water space can be opened up after … mine countermeasures have begun depends on what level of risk is acceptable.”
Former Adm. James Stavridis, who was the supreme allied commander in Europe before retiring in 2013, told CNBC in July 2018 that, should Iran try to use its military to close the Strait of Hormuz, the US and its partners “would be able to open it in a matter of days.”
That time frame is not so certain. It depends on how large the Navy and its partners believe the affected minefield to be.
“If it’s the whole Strait of Hormuz, the Navy says that could take weeks,” Clark said. While many modern tankers have features like double hulls that could mitigate some mine risks, closing or restricting access to the Gulf would upend the global economy.
Stavridis may have meant the US and its partners could clear a “very narrow channel” through a minefield during that period, Clark added, but that would slow down traffic, and each ship would need an escort. There would be “much less access than was previously available,” he said.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
But back then he was just Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim Al Badry, a civilian detainee. He was one of some 80,000 detainees who were held at one of four detention facilities throughout Iraq. They were a mix of petty criminals and insurgents captured in house raids over the course of the war.
It was the Iraqi government who released Baghdadi.
Eventually, the 2008 U.S. Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq would set the terms for closing the prison system and moving the detainees to Iraqi custody. The American government was primarily concerned with some 200 prisoners they deemed most dangerous.
Baghdadi was not one of them.
At the time of his release, Baghdadi and the others who were released were considered “low level” and not much of a threat. After his release, he gravitated to the insurgent group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, which came to be known as Al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Zarqawi was killed by U.S. forces in 2006. The Americans continued to systematically eliminate AQI’s leadership. In 2010, Baghdadi was promoted to a leadership position in what was left of the network.
No one really knows how Baghdadi rose in the ranks. When his name was revealed as one of the group’s leaders (which then started calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq), no one in U.S. intelligence knew any of their names. The seeds of what would become ISIS were sown.
Security at shipping ports around the US, including testing containers and vessels for biological and radiological hazards, is a top priority to preventing terrorism, US Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said July 20.
As he rode aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Aspen, near the Port of Los Angeles, Kelly viewed an array of new equipment used to test for radiation and biological threats.
“The threat always changes, so we always have to be on top of that,” Kelly said as the vessel cruised through the Pacific Ocean off Southern California.
While he was aboard, members of the Coast Guard conducted a training demonstration, simulating the boarding of a ship with a radiological threat.
Members of the Coast Guard’s new California-based Maritime Safety and Security Team descended from helicopters with assault rifles and stormed the ship. Kelly watched from a deck above as they charged up stairwells and searched the ship as part of the exercise. Other crew members climbed up ladders from a smaller boat that pulled alongside.
“What they do, they do for you,” Kelly said.
As the vessel passed stacks of shipping containers at the Port of Los Angeles, Kelly said it is essential for law enforcement and Coast Guard personnel to constantly train and be prepared for any threats.
Kelly said he believes the current security levels at US shipping ports is adequate, but his agency must continue to research new technology to keep up with changing threats. His biggest concern, he said, is contraband, including illegal drugs that are shipped in from other countries.
“It is all about protecting the nation and doing it as fast as we can so normal legal commerce, normal legal people can come in and out of the country and be inconvenienced at the minimum,” Kelly said.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier has been guarded for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, nonstop since July 2, 1937. The Tomb Sentinels that protect the site are the best of the best the U.S. Army has to offer and nothing short of Armageddon is going to break that discipline. By the time Hurricane Sandy hit the D.C. area in 2012, it was a “superstorm,” expected to kill more people and cause more damage than any hurricane since Katrina in 2005.
That didn’t faze Sgt. Shane Vincent one bit.
“This is what we all volunteer to do,” Staff Sgt. Michael Buelna, the commander of the first relief, told ABC News. “For us we don’t really think anything of it, it’s what we do.”
When the Sentinels due to stand watch during that timeframe found out they could be without power and food for an extended period of time, they brought extra. And they also brought MREs. They were as prepared as anyone else for a hurricane. The difference was they would be standing in it for their shifts and shift changes.
Like other government sites, the cemetery was closed by order of the Federal government. There would be no visitors, no crowds, no curious onlookers to catch the changing of the guards. The Tomb Sentinels would still guard the tomb, exposed to the elements, with their M-14 rifles – the unknown soldier would not be left alone. There were only a few slight differences in their routine.
Instead of Army dress blues, the six Tomb Sentinels on duty wore wet-weather ACUs. Instead of “walking the mat” for 21 paces back and forth, they would operate from “The Box,” a small guard shack made of green cloth. They also wouldn’t have to be at attention for the duration. It was more than ceremonial guard duty, the men of the 3rd Infantry Regiment would have to stay vigilant during the storm.
For Sgt. Vincent, it presented an opportunity. He’d told his fellow Tomb Sentinels that if the time ever came, he would volunteer for a full day of guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – something that had never been done before.
“I stayed out there for the entire shift,” said Vincent. “I was the one that was out there, others would come and show love and spend time with me out there.”
As for Sandy, Sgt. Vincent, he was unimpressed, saying it was a basic storm, the worst of it only came when the winds picked up and even then, he enjoyed watching the rain fall sideways. He even walked the mat a few times.
The United States Marine Corps recently announced plans to refurbish 23 F/A-18C Hornets from “the boneyard” at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base to address a shortage of usable airframes. Seven more will be transferred from the Navy’s inventory to help address the shortage.
How short were the Flying Leathernecks? On average, a typical Marine squadron of 12 Hornets had only four operational planes. The shortage has had some serious effects on Marine Corps aviation, notably in deeply cutting training hours for pilots. Such a cut is bad news. A rusty pilot can make mistakes – mistakes that could result in a mishap that leaves the plane totaled, and a pilot killed or injured.
While some media reports paint this as a response to a very bad situation (and let’s face facts, the state of Marine Corps aviation – and naval aviation overall, for that matter – could be a lot better than it is), the fact remains that this is a highly-public case of a major investment paying off. This is because the “boneyard” is not really a boneyard. In fact, it is, if you will, comparable to an NFL’ team’s practice squad.
Officially, the boneyard is called the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, or AMARG, formerly known as the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center (AMARC). In essence, it is a place where the United States military puts its extra aircraft for safekeeping. Davis-Monthan Air Force Base is very suited for this purpose. Located near Tucson, Arizona, the low humidity, and the fact that the soil doesn’t contain a lot of acid makes it a good place for the long-term storage of aircraft. There are a lot of planes there currently – over 3,800 as of June 15 of this year.
Here are a few highlights of the inventory that the 309th AMARG has on hand in addition to the 30 F/A-18C Hornets (of which 23 will be refurbished): 95 B-52G Stratofortresses, 12 B-52H Stratofortresses, 18 B-1B Lancers, 101 A-10 Thunderbolts, 47 A-6 Intruders, 50 Harrier GR.7 and GR.9 jump jets, 107 F-4 Phantoms, 166 F-15s, 484 F-16s, 64 F/A-18As, 31 E-2 Hawkeyes, 147 P-3 Orions, and 170 KC-135s. That is a lot of planes, to put it mildly.
To put it in terms of squadrons, this is a total of about seven bomber squadrons, eleven attack squadrons, 41 fighter squadrons, five airborne early warning squadrons, a dozen maritime patrol squadrons, and 14 squadrons of tankers. It’s almost a whole `nother Air Force! And this is what the investment in AMARG buys. In a major war, it would take time to ramp up production of fighters, bombers, attack planes, transports, and other planes. AMARG’s plane, while older than the ones on the front line, can still prove to be very valuable assets in buying time to get new planes built.
In the case of what the Marines are doing now, the 30 F/A-18Cs are doing just that. In essence, the Marines get two and a half more squadrons of their primary multi-role fighter to buy time for the F-35B to become operational. It is a stop-gap measure that, in essence, is being taken because the Marines made a pair of bad decisions in the past – to wit, putting all their eggs in the F-35B basket, and not buying into the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet as the Navy did.
This wasn’t the first time that AMARG has helped the Marines. During the War on Terror, the Marines pulled heavy-lift helicopters from AMARG to meet needs in Iraq and Afghanistan, a classic example of the type of situation AMARG was intended to address. In the case of the F/A-18s being pulled out, this is more a case of mitigating the consequences for the Marine Corps decision to not buy into the Super Hornet and buying more time to get the F-35 operational. In essence, AMARG has bought time for the military to get new planes on-line. Again, it has fulfilled the measure of its creation.
But that’s what happened to Sigurd the Mighty, a man born as a commoner who went on to be a great military leader under Olaf the White, a Viking sea king.
It all started when Sigurd’s older brother, Earl Rognvald of Moeri, lost a son while serving King Harald in the invasion of islands of Shetland, Orkney, and Hebrides. Harald expanded Rognvald’s holdings by granting him the Orkney and Shetland islands, but Rognvald wasn’t interested in ruling those islands. So he returned to Norway and passed the title and lands of the Earl of Orkney to his brother, Sigurd, in 875.
Sigurd was pretty lucky to get an earldom all to himself, and he appears to have taken the responsibility seriously. He led troops during multiple campaigns and became known as Earl Sigurd the Powerful.
(Peter Nicolai Arbo, Public domain)
But he had trouble controlling the lands he had captured for the king. He built a stronghold in the Moray area of Scotland to project power, but the Norse were not popular that deep into Scottish land. So a local leader, Maelbrigd, became a thorn in Sigurd’s side.
Sigurd sought to end his struggles with Maelbrigd once and for all. The men agreed to meet in honorable combat with 40 men each. But Sigurd didn’t trust Maelbrigd to fight honorably, so he did that classic thing where he cheated first. He brought 40 horses, but he put two men on each horse. Maelbrigd, on the other hand, did fight honorably.
The 80 men of Sigurd’s force won. Big surprise. And Sigurd told them to strap the heads of their enemies to the horses to celebrate. Sigurd, of course, strapped Maelbrigd’s head to his own horse.
But Sigurd had a sore on his leg. And Maelbrigd’s teeth rubbed against that sore and infected it. In one of the most unlikely kills in history, Maelbrigd killed his foe from beyond the grave with a mouth full of bacteria.
Sucks to be Sigurd.
By the way, you can learn more about the struggle between the Norse and Scottish for Orkney and the surrounding lands in The Orkeyinga Sagaavailable here.
The A-10 Thunderbolt II is often lovingly referred to as the “grunt of the skies,” referring to the nickname given to U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps infantry troops. If the A-10 is the Air Force’s grunt, then its pilots are gonna need some things broken-down “barney style” – that is to say, into as few basic instructions as possible.
Have no fear, the U.S. Air Force did just that for pilots who might have encountered the Soviet Union’s T-62 main battle tank. In order to teach the grunts of the sky how to take one of them down, the Air Force issued this marvelous coloring book.
So right from the get-go, you can totally judge this book by its cover. Sure it’s been photocopied a few times and is looking a little rough, but this is not exactly the kind of technical manual you see in film and television. The book is designed to inform pilots about just where the rounds from their GAU-8 Avenger cannon are most likely to penetrate a tank’s armor – because while the A-10’s main cannon is an anti-armor weapon, it’s not an anti-tank weapon. Still, the rounds do have a chance of penetrating the T-62’s armor, but only from certain angles.
That’s what this coloring book is for.
As you can read for yourself, the idea of even an A-10 attacking the USSR’s T-62 Main Battle Tank head-on is absurd. The GAU-8 rounds, even being depleted uranium, will not penetrate the armor and slope of the Soviet tank’s armor. It even addresses common misconceptions from casual observers, like the idea of taking out the tank’s treads. Even the armor-piercing incendiary round will simply put holes in the tank’s tread.
Also, try finding an Air Force manual that personally insults the pilots these days.
Here’s how to get to the meat inside all that armor plating – through the soft underbelly. The manual describes at what range and angle the API rounds can hit a T-62 ad penetrate to the main crew cabin. The T-62’s sides offer the least protection from the Warthog’s main cannon at its sides and its wheels. Coming in a very precise angle will allow the airborne grunt to get through its armor plating.
Just like many tanks of the era, the rear of the T-62 is one of its most vulnerable spots, from many, many angles and ranges. Despite including an anal sex reference, this Air Force instruction manual is really helpful in determining just where the best place to hit the main battle tank is. Even if the GAU-8 can’t penetrate the crew through the back door, it can still hit the engine and drive gear, shutting down the tank’s advance.
This diagram shows what to do when the tank’s crew – a crew of pinko commie atheists – is outside the hull of the vehicle. The answer is, duh strafe those swine! As for hitting the tank from the side, an A-10 pilot isn’t going to have much luck getting through the turret that way. But he could penetrate the side plates, and there’s always the possibility of hitting the tank from directly above it.
The whole point is that the GAU-8 Avenger isn’t going to be effective if a pilot just swoops in from whatever angle he wants. He’s got to hit these pinko swine from a specific angle to penetrate its armor, just like any of the armor troops on the ground.
The 308th Fighter Squadron was reactivated in a ceremony at Luke Air Force Base, Nov. 30, 2018. The squadron will house the Royal Netherlands Air Force’s and the Royal Danish Air Force’s F-35A Lightning IIs, in a training partnership.
With Lt. Col. Robert Miller assuming command, the fighter squadron is scheduled to begin operations in December 2018.
“It’s bittersweet to leave the 62nd FS, but fortunately I’ll continue to fly and instruct at the 308th FS,” Miller said.
Throughout the next two years, the Dutch and the Danish air forces will be sending their jets to populate the squadron and help Luke AFB’s mission of training the world’s greatest fighter pilots.
“The 308th FS is the fourth F-35 squadron at Luke, but the most important part of this activation is that we will be with two partner nations,” said Miller. “In a few weeks, the Dutch will start their F-35 training followed by the Danes.”
Col. Mathew Renbarger, 56th Operations Group commander, passes the 308th Fighter Squadron guidon to Lt. Col. Robert Miller, 308th FS commander, during an assumption of command ceremony, Nov. 30, 2018, at Luke Air Force Base.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Aspen Reid)
Before final arrangements were made, Lt. Gen. Dennis Luyt, Royal Netherlands Air Force commander, paid Luke AFB a visit. During the visit he was given a tour of the base and of the Academic Training Center where all of the F-35 pilots learn how to fly.
After thorough examination of the training facilities, Dutch air force members were given a walk-through of the new fighter squadron building.
Under Miller’s watch, the 308th FS’s goal is to train as efficiently as the rest of Luke AFB’s fighter squadrons.
“As we stand up the 308th FS we will emulate the 62nd FS nation to the best of our ability,” said Miller. “In time, we’ll challenge to be the best F-35 organization.”
Miller said challenging the status quo is the mindset at Luke AFB.
“The trust that we build at Luke with our partners is critical to our success on the battle field. The opportunity to train, learn and be together is unparalleled elsewhere,” said Miller. “We are changing the way our Air Force and other nations prepare for war.”
The Marine Corps is in the market for a new body scanner that can help officials equip Marines with the best-fitting body armor and gear — and it will even show how to squeeze leathernecks wearing full battle rattle into tactical vehicles.
The service recently published a solicitation for a full-body high-resolution anthropometry scanner capable of capturing 3D images of individuals, still and in motion, for the purpose of collecting data on what the average Marine looks like.
According to the solicitation, posted June 24, the scanner must be able to capture at least 20 seconds of motion, with at least 10 frames or full scans per second and a minimum of 30 different body measurements.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
In every parking lot on every military installation is a bumper sticker that reads, “not all heroes wear capes!” It’s a great message and all, but it’s always fun to speculate what life would be like if each branch of the U.S. Armed Forces was a superhero. What super powers would they have?
So, in a completely tongue-in-cheek response to a nice and sweet bumper sticker, here’s what the superhero branches would be.
Powers: Generic super strength, speed, and durability.
Weakness: Entirely bland.
The largest and most self-sustaining branch among the Armed Forces would also be the most run-of-the-mill superhero.
In comic books, nearly every protagonist who gets superpowers pretty much just checks off the standard hero boxes: super speed, super strength, super durability, etc. Now, this doesn’t make for a bad superhero, but it’s also not the most interesting. A perfect fit for the most average branch of the Armed Forces.
Coasties are a part of the Armed Forces. They’re not always attached to the Department of Defense, but they’re still brothers-in-arms. The Puddle Pirates are out there constantly fighting the good fight, but no one really gives a damn about them. If they are remembered, it’s by other vets mocking them for being essentially the Navy National Guard.
On the bright side, at least the Coast Guard has one superhero: Spectrum, whose superpowers vary greatly. One of which she, coincidentally, shares with the U.S. Coast Guard – not being noticed.
Slosh, plop, slosh, plop. The noise my boots made with every step seemed deafening. 20 or so Iraqi Special Forces soldiers and I were doing our best to be sneaky on our way to the target building, but it was the wet season, so Iraq’s infamous moon dust had already made the transition to sticky tar-like mud.
Slosh, plop, slosh, plop. Our boots, caked in mud at this point, were getting worse with every step. We might as well have been a middle school orchestra doing sound checks.
Before we got too close to our target house, I needed to remind the commander of the platoon I was advising about a key point we neglected on our last mission. “Remember, get one ladder up and clear the courtyard before the other ladder goes up and everyone starts jumping over the wall,” I whispered in my best broken Iraqi Arabic. I had to simultaneously motion with my hands to mimic a wall, a house, and a ladder. I wasn’t sure what was more confusing, my Arabic or the goofy hand gestures.
Luckily, the commander was used to whatever an American trying to speak in his native tongue sounded like, so he nodded in the affirmative, which could mean “yup, got it” or “whatever, dude.” I guess we’ll see in a few minutes, I thought to myself. Fortunately, it only took seconds.
“Fuck’n Yalla!” he said with a huge grin, blasting me with his ashtray breath. Guess we’re good then.
Our not-so-sneaky infil became a comically loud trot of mud-caked boots as we closed in on the target house. The Iraqi Special Forces soldiers stacked up on the wall outside the house, and the commander was directing traffic. The first ladder went up and a soldier climbed up and deliberately swept the courtyard with his rifle before stopping at the door into the house.
With security posted, another ladder was placed against the wall. The other soldiers began silently scaling the wall, entering the courtyard, and stacking on the house in preparation for breaching the door.
The third Iraqi in the stack emerged with a mini batting ram, cocked it back, and slammed it into the door. A sharp metallic clash rang out as the door flew inward and the soldiers flowed into the house.
Up to this point, the Iraqis had been as silent as possible and relied only on streetlights to see, but now that the front door had been violently breached, the gig was up. They flicked on their “white lights” — the tactical flashlights they attached to their AK47s to illuminate rooms they were clearing — and started shouting commands to each other and whoever was inside as they methodically moved from room to room. Speed, surprise, and violence of action. Check, check, check.
I watched as their lights reached the second floor, and then my radio crackled to life. “Joe, wrap it up. It’s fucking turkey time!”
Shit, that’s right, I thought. It’s hard to track holidays with the constant grind of combat operations and training. I walked into the training compound that the Iraqis had just assaulted and found their commander. “Hey brother, great job on the ladder — big improvement from last time,” I said. “That’s it for tonight, we are on standby for ops this week.”
He nodded, gave me a fist bump, and motioned for his soldiers to exit the house.
They didn’t need to be convinced. They slung their weapons, lit cigarettes, and joked and exchanged slaps on the back just like soldiers have since man first formed armies. The life-or-death business of war is too important to take too seriously.
I wished them “Tisballahhair,” or “good evening,” as I began my muddy slog back to the team house. The cool breeze coming off the Tigris River filtered through the rain-soaked palm trees, bringing with it a pleasant jasmine scent. During my first winter in Iraq, I was amazed that the smell of the city in the late fall and winter was so refreshing. But off in the distance, I could still hear the occasional bursts of gunfire and explosions mixed with the echoes of a call to prayer and horn blasts. Such was life in Iraq in 2004.
The life-or-death business of war is too important to take too seriously.
Even though I was far from home on Thanksgiving, I was living my childhood dream. I was a 24-year-old U.S. Army Green Beret on my second combat deployment living in the middle of Baghdad with my Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) training the Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) and advising them on actual combat operations — which included everything from tracking down bad guys to conducting raids to kill or capture them.
And there was no shortage of work to go around. We were located in northern Baghdad on the western bank of the Tigris, caught between the Shia enclave of Kadhimiya and the Sunni stronghold of Adimiyah. That put us right in the middle of the action, which is exactly where a modern Green Beret wants to be.
Our Saddam Hussein-era military barracks were within a combat outpost secured by a company of the U.S. Army’s 2nd Cavalry Division. Before the invasion, our home away from home was one of Hussein’s most feared prisons, run by his dreaded secret police. When we moved in, several of the Iraqis had horrific stories about being tortured there, and some even refused to work there. The Iraqi commander eventually brought in a local religious leader to bless the barracks and ensure no evil spirit lingered in the erie corridors of our compound.
As was the case everywhere that early in the war, our living conditions were spartan, but we made the best of it. Our team house was a simple one-story concrete building fortified with sand bags over the windows and on the roof. We had a makeshift porch with a large grill that was glowing with charcoal and wafting smoke tinged with the sweet smell of bacon. Take that, jihad, I thought as I kicked my boots against the wall of the house in an effort to knock the mud off.
I opened the door and rounded the corner into our living room and kitchen area, where the smell of turkey and stuffing overpowered the scents of Copenhagen, gun oil, and coffee that normally permeated the house.
“What’s up, man? How’d the house go?” asked Matt, our Special Forces medic. Like most SF medics, Matt had a reassuring calm and sharp intellect that made him an asset on any mission. But what made him unique was that he could have been a stand-up comedian if he ever decided to hang up his green beret. At least once a day he had me laughing so hard it hurt — most recently performing a hilarious parody of Al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi’s manifesto.
“It went well — hopefully we fixed our wall issue,” I replied.
“Inshallah habibi — grab a plate of chow!” Matt said, gesturing to our kitchen table, where Thanksgiving dinner was waiting. I happily obliged.
“Joe, your jundis are having ladder issues? That’s weird” The sarcastic comment came from Stu, our team’s intelligence sergeant.
I knew that was coming. Stu had been on the team for several years and was part of 5th Group’s legendary initial push into Afghanistan in 2001. He was built like a linebacker and always plotting a prank. ODAs are tight, which means you never live down your screw ups; all you can do is smile and hope your skin gets thick — fast. A few of the other guys laughed. So did I. Here we go…
“Wait, what happened?” asked Jeremy, our communications sergeant. Jeremy had been on the team for years but missed our last trip due to a broken neck he sustained during training. He was a good ol’ boy from Missouri and sounded like Boomhauer from “King of the Hill,” so naturally the Army gave him the job that required him to talk on the radio.
“Oh shit, that’s right, we have to tell you this one!” Matt replied. Well, at least Matt would make the story funny, I thought as I scooped some cranberry sauce onto my turkey.
“Dude, so no shit there we were,” Matt said, opening with the proper war story preamble, “assaulting a huge-ass compound out west — some deck-of-cards clown’s house, which was awesome. The mission had everything: helo infil with fast ropes to the roof, a wall breech, the door gunners even lit up a guard tower. Pretty awesome op.” Matt was now standing to make more room to add animation with his hands.
“It was going great until we were trying to get over this big-ass wall with these shitty ladders, and Joe, loaded with way too much bullshit, breaks a rung on the ladder, gets mad, throws the ladder to the side and tries to ninja climb over the 8-foot wall. He gets caught by his kit on the wall, so I get under him and push his ass over the wall like combat Winnie the Pooh!” Matt explained, reenacting my finest hour.
“Well, that’s a technique,” Jermey said with his normal deadpan wit. Everyone got a good laugh. All I could do was finish fixing my plate and find a place to sit. Gary, our engineer, was my best bet.
Gary was a wiry backwoods Southerner, and we went to Special Forces Selection and the Special Forces Qualification Course together. He had just earned a valor award for his calm under enemy fire during a raid in Samara, but you wouldn’t peg him as a Green Beret — or the guy who would remain calm while getting shot at for that matter.
“We eating or waiting for Mom and Dad?” Gary asked as he spit Copenhagen into one of the ever-present dip bottles that lined our house floor. “Mom and Dad” were Mike, our senior noncommissioned officer, or more simply known as the team sergeant; and Trevor, our team leader and only commissioned officer. Neither was Mom or Dad specifically, but together they were a couple.
“Hey, come eat!” Stu yelled into the office that adjoined our living room where Mike and Trevor would send reports back to our headquarters. These were definitely the good old days of limited connectivity and little to no micromanagement from higher headquarters. Sure, we still checked in over the radio with them daily, but it was mostly asking for forgiveness and not permission. Unfortunately, that dynamic has been replaced by nearly nonstop emails, messenger chatting, and teleconferences from every nook and cranny of today’s battlefield.
Our leadership duo emerged from the back office, Mike in the lead. He grew up in the infantry and had seen combat in the first Gulf War, Kosovo, the initial push into Afghanistan, and was on his second Iraq deployment. He was the most experienced guy on the team, an aggressive leader, and gave us a ton of space to succeed.
Trevor was Mike’s commissioned counterpart, a humble officer who had every reason not to be: he was a West Point graduate who knocked out all of the Army’s hardest training by the time he was a captain. He also had the ability to understand every detail of what we were doing and how it tied into the big picture.
“Happy Thanksgiving three-five … again,” Mike said as he piled turkey onto his plate and sat down at our gaudy wood and fake-gold kitchen table. Trevor grabbed a plate last and sat next to Mike, our team now almost complete.
“Intel update!” Josh said as he entered the room and took a seat with his plate of turkey, stuffing, and jelly-looking cranberry sauce. Josh had also been in SF for several years and was now running the Iraqi recon element that collected intel for our Iraqi Special Forces companies to action.
It was normal for meals to be interrupted by intel updates, and Thanksgiving was no exception, so all eyes were on Josh. It had been a hell of a trip so far, with summer fighting in Najaf against Sadr’s boys, chasing Zarqawi and his hostages on every backstreet of Baghdad, another away game in Samara, followed by Operation Phantom Fury in Fallujah. The more information we could get, the better — you never knew when the next shithead would pop up for a round of whack-a-mole.
But today would not be one of those days.
“No ops tonight — beer light’s on, nerds,” Josh said, as he pulled a green 22-ounce Tuborg “tall boy” out of his cargo pocket. “Right, Mike?” he asked, with a smart-ass grin, deferring to our senior NCO for the official approval.
“I did say, happy Thanksgiving …” Mike said, motioning for Josh to pass him a beer.
Josh was more than happy to oblige. He cracked open our refrigerator and passed around a combination of Tuborg, Hienekens, and Efes tall boys, graciously provided by our Iraqi Christian friends. They didn’t mess around when it came to beer. “It’s like they know no one in Iraq wants just a pint of beer,” Josh said. “The tall boy is their standard.”
But just like any other Thanksgiving, you always seemed to be waiting on the weird uncle to show up.
“Where is Seaux?” Mike asked suspiciously. Seaux, named after the famous Johnny Cash song, may be the origin of the phrase “stranger than fiction.” If he’s not, he definitely lived up to it. Seaux had fought in Grenada with the 82nd Airborne, then joined the French Foreigin Legion, but eventually found his way back into the U.S. Army and had served in every war the U.S. had been in from Mogadishu to Iraq. It probably comes as no surprise that Seaux loved going native and spent most of his time with a few Iraqis doing recon work.
“I’m coming — don’t you flatlanders know I eat dinner at 4PM sharp?” Seaux grumbled from his room. “No respect for seniors.”
When Seaux hung out with us, he did so either dressed as a viking or as a native American, complete with a bow and arrow he used to shoot flaming arrows across the Tigris. Like I said, stranger than fiction.
Before long, he emerged from his room and caught the beer that Josh tossed to him.
But just like any other Thanksgiving, you always seemed to be waiting on the weird uncle to show up.
“Cheers, fuckers!” Stu said, as he made a toasting motion. The rest of the team unceremoniously made the motion in return, cracked their beers, took a sip, and dug into their dinner. We may not have been home for Thanksgiving, but in our line of work, sitting down as a team — a family — for turkey that day seemed more like home in some ways than what we would have had back in the States.
“We’re lucky this year,” Trevor said with a grin. “The B Team busted their asses to get every ODA a turkey. Worked out well for everyone but Two-Three …” ODA 523 was just across the river from us, and we often supported each other on missions and shared intel a few times a week.
“Do tell, sir,” Jeremy said.
“Well, they drove one of their Mercedes to pick up their turkey in the Green Zone, and when they were coming back in to their base, I guess the kid on guard didn’t know it was them and lit up their car with his machine gun!” Trevor explained.
Everyone paused; there’s nothing friendly about friendly fire.
For the first couple of years of the war in Iraq, Special Forces ODAs in major Iraqi cities acquired local cars to drive around town so that they could conduct reconnaissance and low-profile assaults. That technique was a double-edged sword though. It worked great in that we could avoid contact with the enemy until we wanted to make it and got a great feel for Iraq at the street level. However, the most dangerous part of these operations was the re-entry to friendly lines. The guys guarding the gate were usually very young soldiers and were used to seeing military vehicles. Suffice it to say, that at two years into the war, all of us had stared down the barrel of U.S. weapons with our hands up screaming “I AM AN AMERICAN!” a few times.
“Somehow, no one got hurt, the kid on the gun lit up the engine block,” Trevor continued. “Marty and Lee bailed out, and the car caught on fire and ruined their turkey!” All of us laughed at the cartoonish mental image of our buddies dodging some private’s hail of machine gun fire and their turkey getting cooked early. Like many things in war, the closest of calls would usually end up as a fun story to laugh about later. And sometimes … they didn’t.
“Yeah, man. Better than last year when we got tossed out of the big Army chow hall because POTUS was coming and we looked like pirates,” Josh said with a laugh. He was referring to our last deployment when a high-strung mess officer rudely told us we couldn’t eat Thanksgiving dinner unless we were in uniform. We wanted to eat, but not that bad.
What we didn’t know at the time was that President George W. Bush was coming to eat with the troops at the chow hall we were trying to get into. In hindsight, it made sense why hooligans like us were turned away. There are plenty of perks that come with wearing the green beret, but sometimes it can work against you.
Looking around our makeshift living and dining room, I felt very grateful to be sitting there with my brothers. This was our second Thanksgiving together in combat; we didn’t know it at the time, but we’d be doing the same drill the next year on the Syrian border.
The mood would be far more somber for that dinner. Our luck would run out by then, and we would have lost two teammates by the time we sat down for turkey again. Sergeant First Class Brett E. Walden and Army Sergeant First Class Robert V. Derenda paid the ultimate sacrifice, and their families are in my thoughts this Thanksgiving.
In retrospect, I guess we were all just getting warmed up. Most of us cracking beers in our Baghdad team house in 2004 would spend more Thanksgivings with teammates in combat zones over the next 14 years than with our actual families. Holidays spent in makeshift living spaces, living feet away from each other and always in-between intense combat operations, would become normal for all of us — and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Even then, I knew the bonds I forged with those men in that room would last for the rest of my life. After our third combat deployment, most of us had to move on to other assignments. All of us stayed in the fight and made efforts to stay in touch though. Josh and I forged a tight bond in Baghdad that remained long afterward. In fact, when I married my warrior soulmate, Shannon — a special operator herself — she insisted that Josh and his son be at every Thanksgiving and Christmas we shared as a family.
But what I didn’t know was how all of them would be there for me 14 years later, during the darkest hour on the worst day of my life … the day I found out my wife, Senior Chief Petty Officer Shannon Kent, was killed in action while hunting ISIS in Syria alongside three other courageous Americans: Scotty Wirtz, a former U.S. Navy SEAL; Ghadir Thahir, a Syrian-American linguist; and Jon Farmer, a Green Beret Warrant Officer, from the 5th Special Forces Group — my old group. I had not seen most of my brothers from Three-Five in more than 10 years, but it didn’t matter. They were there for me, they cried with me, and they are still there for me and my sons to this day.
Unlike that Thanksgiving next to the Tigris in 2004, cracking jokes and telling stories over a modest turkey dinner, this Thanksgiving is going to suck. I can’t believe it has been almost a year since I last saw my wife in person. But what I am beyond thankful for is my sons, the short time I had with Shannon, and the love of my teammates. The bonds formed in the horrors of combat are lasting and unbreakable.
Take the time this Thanksgiving to reach out to your brothers and sisters in arms — talk about the good times and work through the bad. Be there for each other because you never know when you’ll need them the most.
In 1940, the evacuation of allied forces from the beaches of Dunkirk commenced as approximately 338,000 troops were loaded into small boats over the course the rescue.
Also known as “Operation Dynamo,” German forces conducted hellish air raids killing the numerous troops that attempted to flee the area.
In the mix of all that chaos was 20-year-old Bill Lacey, a rifleman in the 2nd Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment. Reportedly, Bill had already boarded a relief boat but decided to give up his seat to make room for a wounded man and leaped off the vessel.
Back on land, Bill turned around to see that the boat he had exited from was now well underway — without him.
He quickly located a raft and thought he could use it to rejoin the boat that was sailing off in the distance. As he took hold of it, he realized the raft was useless as it had two bullet holes poked through it.
As gunfire erupted in all directions, Bill witnessed German troops rounding up British stragglers taking them prisoner. Unsure of what the future held, he decided to make a run for it and take his chances surviving on his own.
Headed in the opposite direction as the armed Germans, he maneuvered south, hoping to run into other British troops.
Bill made his way into the woods and traveled deep into the hostile countryside not knowing how he was ever going to make it home.
His mission was to stay out of sight, as German patrols were consistently roaming the area.
He got rid of his issued uniform, hid his weapon, and donned clothes he had stolen from nearby washing lines to help blend into the local population. Bill was forced to drink from streams and eat handfuls of straw dipped in margarine.
“I had to learn to stay alive in the same way a wild animal would,” Bill states in an interview. “My only thought was to survive from one day to the next.”
Since he didn’t speak French, he nodded to locals if they attempted to interact with him. Then, one day after four long months of surviving on scraps, Bill finally saw an opportunity to make it home.
Bill spotted a fishing boat that was tied down to a small pier and began to format a plan in his head. After the sun went down that evening, he carefully made his way to the small vessel, slipped off the moorings, quieting boarded, and steered off toward the English coast.
The forgotten soldier arrived at the shoreline near Dover, England, weak with hunger and clad in ratty clothes. Soon after, he was arrested and transported to an Army base where intelligence officers interrogated him — they didn’t believe his traumatic story.
Luckily, they checked many French newspapers and found articles about a British soldier reportedly on the run who stole food from farmhouses. There was also a report about a fishing boat from the pier that went missing.
After proving himself, Bill was recruited into the British special operation division and completed several more years of service — finally retiring in his early fifties.
Sadly, the hero and survival expert passed away at the age of 91, but his Dunkirk legacy will live on forever.