Strava drew on data from devices like Fitbits or smartphones that people use to track workouts such as runs or bike rides. But fitness-tracker users skew Western, young, and active. In countries like Niger, the heat map appears to highlight the activity of US troops on military bases keeping fit.
The result is potentially damning for the US military’s operational security.
Previously covert bases may have been exposed, and highly trafficked locations within known bases have been highlighted.
Additionally, some users may have left the trackers on while going about normal business. Important supply routes and key daily routines have most likely been picked up by the heat map.
“In Syria, known coalition (ie US) bases light up the night,” the military writer and analyst Tobias Schneider wrote.
“Some light markers over known Russian positions, no notable colouring for Iranian bases … A lot of people are going to have to sit through lectures.”
But the most dangerous element of the heat map isn’t the aggregated lines — it’s the potential to determine which person drew which line. Anyone who gains access to Strava’s data, legally or otherwise, can then track a specific person’s movement, Jeffrey Lewis points out at the Daily Beast.
A user who works out frequently at a known military base, say a missile base, and then uses the app at another location may draw attention to a previously unknown site of interest.
This data could inform both state and nonstate actors as to where to attack in the case of war.
The US is not alone in being exposed — apparent Chinese joggers in the South China Sea contributed data to the Strava map, as did workers on Taiwan’s secret missile bases. But the US’s larger presence around the globe means it has more to lose.
After the map came out, internet users in short order identified some of the most sensitive US military sites around the world.
Here Lewis seems to think US troops are running around the US’s nuclear weapons in Turkey.
But interestingly enough, the Pentagon, which is the headquarters of the Department of Defense, the biggest office building in the world, and the best-known US military command center in the world, is dark.
Over the years, the British have taken a good many significant artifacts back to England with them. To its credit, the British Empire did an excellent job of preserving those relics. Still, plundering any country’s cultural treasures is kind of an a-hole thing to do. But there is one set of priceless antiquities that the British can feel good about rescuing and returning.
This one isn’t their fault.
One of the most troublesome incidents of the U.S.-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years was the theft and complete loss of priceless cultural treasures from the distant fields and local museums around these two countries. Many of the things looted in the chaos of these two conflicts may never be seen again. Not so for nine sculpted heads from the Fourth Century AD. These were intercepted at London’s Heathrow Airport in 2002 on a flight from Pakistan. The British Museum took control of the sculptures and restored them – but how did they get there?
It’s because the Taliban are the a-holes in this situation.
They usually are the a-holes in any situation.
These statue heads would have been atop artworks in the Buddhist temples of the ancient kingdom of Gandhāra some 1,500 years ago. The kingdom of Gandhāra straddled parts of what is today India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan at the time. As for what happened to the temples and the statues, the Taliban blew them up with dynamite. The terror group’s biggest destructive act was the use of anti-tank mines on Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Temples, which destroyed the beautiful pre-Islamic statues along the temple walls. The heads that were found in London were probably smuggled through Pakistan and on their way to the black market.
After their discovery, the British Museum was called in to document and catalog the priceless ancient sculptures. The heads will be on display in the museum for a short time, but will then be returned to the people of Afghanistan.
“Our working dogs are selfless in everything they do simply to please their handlers and those who work with them,” said Sergeant Major (retired) Jeremy Knabenshue, a veteran who worked as a K9 handler in the U.S. Army. “They give everything they have — to include their lives — without question to protect their pack.”
During a recent interview with Coffee or Die, Knabenshue spoke about his relationship with Weblo, his Military Working Dog (MWD). After a stint as an MP, Knabenshue became a K9 handler for a Special Missions Unit working alongside some of the most elite operators in the world. His work there, particularly his relationship with Weblo, had a profound impact on him. He served with that unit until retirement.
“When I was first assigned Weblo, he was a beatdown dog from Holland that flinched at every sudden move,” Knabenshue said. “I spent every single day for a year going to work to spend time with him and build our relationship until we deployed.”
(Photo courtesy of Jeremy Knabenshue.)
On Knabenshue’s first deployment, Weblo was shot. They were working with a squad from 3rd Ranger Battalion, and Knabenshue credits the dog’s actions for saving his life. He treated Weblo, and “that night of saving one another’s lives solidified our bond to one another.”
“Personality-wise he was one of the guys.” Knabenshue said. “He was more than just a dog or a tool. He lived with us and was part of the team.” That relationship extended onto the battlefield as well — they had reached such a strong point of mutual understanding that few words had to be spoken. They moved together, fought together, and hit objectives together — all as one.
One night in Afghanistan, Knabenshue, Weblo, and an assault force of American operators boarded a helicopter and flew toward an enemy position. They expected to make their way to the target building when they landed, but chaos erupted as soon as the wheels touched the ground. People were running erratically, weapons were being fired, and they had to fight just to get to the objective — which should have been a simple 10 minute walk.
(Photo courtesy of Jeremy Knabenshue.)
As they made it to the target compound, they began to move along one of the exterior walls. The next step would have been to hit the front door and assault the compound as usual; Knabenshue sent Weblo up front to check for booby traps before breaching.
When Weblo turned left instead of right, Knabenshue said that his first instinct was to become frustrated — now instead of breaching, he had to grab another assaulter and go get this dog who appeared to be distracted or disobedient. However, when they discovered Weblo, his jaws were clenched on a man clutching an AK47, who was lying in wait for an unsuspecting soldier to enter the breach.
This man had not been spotted by anyone on the assault force nor by the air assets circling in the sky — but he was spotted by Weblo.
(Photo courtesy of Jeremy Knabenshue.)
This was how it went for six deployments — two to Iraq and four to Afghanistan. When they weren’t in a combat zone, training took them deep into the jungle, over rigorous mountain terrain, and helocasting into the water.
When Weblo came to the end of his military service, he went to live with Knabenshue. No longer under threat of death or permanent injury, their friendship continued to grow. And then Weblo was diagnosed with cancer.
As the dog’s health steadily declined, Knabenshue knew it was time to have him put down comfortably. He contacted a trusted veterinarian to set the date. But one day he took special notice of the airfield near his house, and an idea came to him. Knabenshue knew a truck wouldn’t suffice for Weblo’s last ride — he deserved more.
(Photo courtesy of Jeremy Knabenshue.)
On March 8, 2016, everything fell into place. When Weblo and Knabenshue stepped onto the airfield and heard the thundering of the helicopter rotors, the dog’s chest swelled. Knabenshue swears that, for a moment, Weblo once again looked like a young working dog barreling across the Afghan countryside.
Also on the helicopter was the veterinarian. As they circled in the sky, Weblo felt the wind in his fur as he had so many times before among his fellow warriors. Following a painless injection, Weblo quietly, comfortably passed on.
After they landed, Knabenshue carried Weblo back to his truck to say goodbye.
“There will never be another Weblo for me,” Knabenshue later wrote on his blog. “I miss him daily and wish that somehow he could still be here. His death hit me far harder than any of the deaths of friends I’ve lost over the years. He was more than a pet or partner, he was an extension of myself as I was a part of him. His ashes are now placed on a shelf over my bar so that he can still look over and protect us.”
Adding large numbers of new next-generation destroyers will substantially change the Navy’s ability to conduct major maritime warfare operations by enabling surface forces to detect enemy attacks at much farther distances, launch long-range strikes with greater precision and destructive force, and disperse offensive forces across much wider swaths of ocean.
The US Navy has awarded deals for 10 new high-tech DDG 51 Flight III Destroyers and built in options to add even more ships and increase the “build rates” for construction of new warships — all as part of a massive strategic push to accelerate fleet growth and usher in a new era of warfighting technology for the Navy.
Six of the new destroyers will be built by Huntington Ingalls Industries in a billion deal, and four of them were awarded to General Dynamics Bath Iron Works for .9 billion, according to a Navy announcement. The acquisition is a multi-year procurement intended to reach from this year through 2022.
“We also have options for an additional five DDG 51s to enable us to continue to accelerate delivery of the outstanding DDG 51 Flight III capabilities to our Naval force,” James F. Geurts, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, said in a written Navy statement.
Meanwhile, the Navy has now started construction on its first new Flight III DDG 51 surface warfare destroyer armed with improved weapons, advanced sensors and new radar 35-times more sensitive than most current systems, service officials announced.
USS Cole and two other Arleigh Burke-class vessels docked at Naval Station Norfolk in July 2009.
Construction of the first DDG-51 Arleigh Burke-class Flight III Destroyer is part of a sweeping Navy and Pentagon effort to speed up delivery of new warships and expand the surface fleet to 355 ships on an accelerated timeframe.
Navy Flight III Destroyers have a host of defining new technologies not included in current ships such as more on-board power to accommodate laser weapons, new engines, improved electronics, fast-upgradeable software, and a much more powerful radar. The Flight III Destroyers will be able to see and destroy a much wider range of enemy targets at farther distances.
In fact, a new software and hardware enabled ship-based radar and fire control system, called Aegis Baseline 10, will drive a new technical ability for the ship to combine air-warfare and ballistic missile defense into a single system.
The AN/SPY-6 radar, also called Air and Missile Defense Radar, is engineered to simultaneously locate and discriminate multiple tracks.
This means that the ship can succeed in more quickly detecting both approaching enemy drones, helicopters and low flying aircraft as well as incoming ballistic missiles.
The Raytheon-built AN/SPY-6(V) radar is reported by developers to be 35-times more powerful than existing ship-based radar systems; the technology is widely regarded as being able to detect objects twice as far away at one-half the size of current tracking radar.
The farther away ship commanders can see approaching threats, across the spectrum of potential attack weapons, the faster they are able to make time-sensitive decisions about which elements of a ship’s layered defense systems should be used.
The AN/SPY-6 platform will enable next-generation Flight III DDG 51s to defend much larger areas compared with the AN/SPY-1D radar on existing destroyers. In total, the Navy plans as many as 22 Flight III DDG 51 destroyers, according to a previously completed Navy capabilities development document.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Joshua Adam Nuzzo)
The AN/SPY-6 is being engineered to be easily reparable with replaceable parts, fewer circuit boards and cheaper components than previous radars, according to Raytheon developers; the AMDR is also designed to rely heavily on software innovations, something which reduces the need for different spare parts, Navy program managers have announced.
Service officials say the new ship uses newly integrated hardware and software with common interfaces will enable continued modernization in future years. Called TI 16 (Technical Integration), the added components are engineered to give Aegis Baseline 10 additional flexibility should it integrate new systems such as emerging electronic warfare or laser weapons
In early 2018 the ship’s program manager Capt. Casey Moton said that special technological adaptations are being built into the new, larger radar system so that it can be sufficiently cooled and powered up with enough electricity. The AMDR will be run by 1000-volts of DC power.
The DDG Flight III’s will also be built with the same Rolls Royce power turbine engineered for the DDG 1000, yet designed with some special fuel-efficiency enhancements, according to Navy information.
The AMDR is equipped with specially configured cooling technology. The Navy has been developing a new 300-ton AC cooling plant slated to replace the existing 200-ton AC plant, Moton said.
Before becoming operational, the new cooling plant will need to have completed environmental testing which will assess how the unit is able to tolerate vibration, noise and shocks such as those generated by an underwater explosion, service officials said.
DDG 51 Flight III destroyers are expected to expand upon a promising new ship-based weapons system technology fire-control system, called Naval Integrated Fire Control – Counter Air, or NIFC-CA.
The technology, which has already been deployed, enables ship-based radar to connect with an airborne sensor platform to detect approaching enemy anti-ship cruise missiles from beyond the horizon and, if needed, launch an SM-6 missile to intercept and destroy the incoming threat, Navy officials said.
Navy developers say NIFC-CA presents the ability to extend the range of attack missiles and extend the reach of sensors by netting different sensors from different platforms — both sea-based and air-based together into one fire control system.
The system hinges ship-based Aegis Radar — designed to provide defense against long-range incoming ballistic missiles from space as well as nearer-in threats such as anti-ship cruise missiles.
Through the course of several interviews, SPY-6 radar developers with Raytheon have told Warrior Maven that simulate weapons engagements have enabled the new radar to close what’s called the “track loop” for anti-air warfare and ballistic missile defense simulations. The process involves data signal processing of raw radar data to close a track loop and pinpoint targets, Raytheon developers said.
The radar works by sending a series of electro-magnetic signals or “pings” which bounce off an object or threat and send back return-signal information identifying the shape, size, speed or distance of the object encountered.
The development of the radar system is hastened by the re-use of software technology from existing Navy dual-band and AN/TPY-2 radar programs, Raytheon developers added.
The guided-missile destroyer USS Arleigh Burke transits the Chesapeake Bay on its way back into port.
(U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class RJ Stratchko)
AN/SPY-6 technology, which previously completed a Critical Design Review, is designed to be scalable, Raytheon experts say.
As a result, it is entirely plausible that AMDR or a comparable technology will be engineered onto amphibious assault ships, cruisers, carriers, and other platforms as well.
Raytheon statements say AN/SPY-6 is the first truly scalable radar, built with radar building blocks — Radar Modular Assemblies — that can be grouped to form any size radar aperture, either smaller or larger than currently fielded radars.
Raytheon data on the radar system also cites a chemical compound semi-conductor technology called Gallium Nitride which can amplify high-power signals at microwave frequencies; it enables better detection of objects at greater distances when compared with existing commonly used materials such as Gallium Arsenide, Raytheon officials explained.
Raytheon engineers tell Warrior that Gallium Nitride is designed to be extremely efficient and use a powerful aperture in a smaller size to fit on a DDG 51 destroyer with reduced weight and reduced power consumption. Gallium Nitride has a much higher break down voltage so it is capable of much higher power densities, Raytheon developers said.
This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.
Army Spc. Charles Choi, 32, originally from South Korea, has a bachelor’s degree and a master’s in statistics from Cornell University. He has education and skills that make him a highly valued prospect for the military, but he hasn’t made it to Basic Combat Training after signing up with the Army Reserve.
He has been waiting for two years.
Yes, I’m in limbo,” Choi said in an interview with Military.com. “I’m still waiting for the security clearance to be completed.”
Choi is one of several non-citizen enlistees who joined the military through the Military Accessions Vital To National Interest program, and spoke with Military.com about how they’ve been stuck waiting months or years for clearances and security screenings to process.
The program, created to attract those with highly sought skills for military service, has been essentially suspended amid political battles over immigration policy. Of the estimated 10,400 troops who have signed up to serve through MAVNI since 2008, more than 1,000 now face uncertain futures. Some can’t risk the wait.
For Choi, that’s especially true.
“Delays are so long and we have a finite length to our visas and that’s where the real problem comes in,” he said.
His visa will expire in less than a year.
“So if they just keep us in limbo and if we run out of visa status, then we cannot work or drive,” he said. “It’s a very screwed-up situation.”
The complex history of MAVNI
In 2012, well before MAVNI fell victim to the nation’s ever-shifting immigration policies, then-Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno invited Sgt. Saral Shrestha to his Pentagon office for a photo op and a congratulatory grip-and-greet. Shrestha, who was born in Nepal, had just won the Army’s “Best Warrior” competition.
Shrestha, who earned citizenship through MAVNI, was honored later that year at the annual Association of the U.S. Army’s convention as the “Soldier of the Year.”
(U.S. Army photo by Teddy Wade)
Shrestha’s motto is “Mission first, soldiers always.” He said that “MAVNI was a blessing” in his progress from student visa to the Army and then to taking the oath as a citizen.
In March 2018, Army Sgt. Santosh Kachhepati, a combat medic with the 62nd Medical Brigade with two tours in Afghanistan, was selected for the Enlisted to Medical Degree Preparatory Program, or EMDP2. He will begin his studies to become a doctor at George Mason University in Virginia in the fall.
“I consider this opportunity to be an Army physician an honor and a privilege to serve the medical needs of our soldiers who risk their lives protecting this nation,” Kachhepati said, according to a release from Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
JBLM said that Kachhepati, also from Nepal, “came to the United States to attend college at the University of Texas at Arlington. He graduated U.T.’s Nursing Program with Honors in 2013.”
“He enlisted in Army in 2014 through the Military Accessions Vital to National Interest program, which allows certain qualified non-citizens to enlist in the U.S. military and thereby gain eligibility for U.S. citizenship,” JBLM said.
MAVNI began in 2008 as a one-year pilot program with the goal with the goal of bringing in non-citizen recruits with language or medical skills for the nation’s counterinsurgency wars and giving them a fast track to citizenship in return.
Adm. Eric Olson, then-commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, said at the time that MAVNI recruits were “operationally critical” to the military’s needs. But the program from the onset was caught up in political immigration debates and the high command’s security concerns.
The program was suspended in 2009 over fears of insider threats in the ranks when Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hassan, a psychiatrist born in the U.S., shot and killed 13 people and wounded more than 30 others in a rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, on Nov. 5 of that year.
The restrictions were lifted again in 2012, shortly after Shrestha won the “Soldier of the Year” award. Since then, MAVNI recruits have performed higher on entrance tests and had lower attrition rates than native-born troops, according to military data. But the program reached a turning point in September 2016.
(U.S. Army photo by Cain Claxton)
The beginning of the end for MAVNI came in the form of a September 2016 memo to the service secretaries from Peter Levine, then the acting under secretary for personnel and readiness.
Levine said that the MAVNI pilot program “is currently set to expire on Sept. 30, 2016.”
As it turned out, that wasn’t quite so.
In the same memo, Levine said that “changes in the enclosed guidance will strengthen and improve the execution of the MAVNI program.”
He said that for MAVNI in the coming year, “the maximum number of accessions will be: Army — 1,200; Navy — 65; Marine Corps — 65; and Air Force — 70.”
Despite the language suggesting the program’s continuation, Pentagon spokespeople said the program was effectively allowed to end October 2017, when tighter screening procedures were put in place for MAVNI recruits who had already signed up.
Mattis looks to save MAVNI
In a memo in July 2017, to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Pentagon personnel and intelligence officials warned of the “espionage potential” from foreign-born recruits.
“While the Department recognizes the value of expedited U.S. citizenship achieved through military service, it is in the national interest to ensure all current and prospective service members complete security and suitability screening prior to naturalization,” the memo said.
Foreign-born recruits would have to “complete a background investigation and receive a favorable military security suitability determination prior to entry in the active, reserve, or Guard service,” the memo said. “Those in the MAVNI program and other foreign-born recruits may have a higher risk of connections to Foreign Intelligence Services.”
(DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jette Carr)
However, Mattis, in a session with defense reporters in October 2017, said he was looking for ways to keep MAVNI alive despite the 2016 Levine memo that had again suspended the program.
“We are taking the steps obviously to save the program, if it can be saved,” Mattis said. “And I believe it can.”
In January 2018, on board his plane en route to Vietnam, Mattis held out the possibility that MAVNI could be renewed once enhanced vetting procedures were ironed out.
Mattis said that an internal examination had found that procedures were lax in screening MAVNI recruits.
“We were not keeping pace with our usual standard,” he said.
“We’ve got to look people’s backgrounds, and if you have a lot of family members in certain countries, then you come under additional scrutiny,” he added. “Until we can get them screened, we can’t bring in more.
“You’ve got to be able to screen them as they come in, rather than get them in and then you send them off to a unit and they say, ‘By the way, they don’t have security clearance yet.’ And then they say, ‘Well, thanks very much, but I can’t use them.’
“So it’s simply a matter of aligning the process, the recruiting process with the usual screening process,” Mattis continued. “There’s nothing more to it.”
Don’t go climbing Mount Kilimanjaro
The changes in the rules since 2016 have left more than 1,000 recruits already accepted into the military in a state of bureaucratic limbo with time running out on their visas while they await security clearances.
Choi, the Korean Army specialist, described filling out a form that required him to list his travel to foreign countries over the last seven years. He didn’t list a trip to Tanzania to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, which had occurred more than seven years before he filled out the form.
Six months later, an Army investigator gave him a call. They had found out about the trip to Tanzania and needed some “points of clarification,” Choi said. “The way they do it is just really not organized at all. It’s kind of clear this was made up on the fly.”
Choi said his battalion commander has urged him to look at the possibility of attending Officer Candidate School.
Army Reserve Pfc. Alan Huanyu Liang, 24, is also caught up in the same screening logjam while waiting to report to BCT. He was born in China, has been living in the U.S. for six years and has a bachelor’s degree from University of California, Los Angeles.
He signed his contract under the MAVNI program in May 2016.
“Since then, my life has been drastically changed by this program,” he told Military.com. “From the day I signed my contract, I have been eagerly waiting for my ship day [to BCT].”
(U.S. Navy photo by Scott Thornbloom)
Now, he said, it has been almost two years and no progress has been made since he signed his contract.
“I have been drilling every month since I was in-processed into my unit, and I witnessed people coming later to the unit than I did get shipped and came back with a uniform,” he said. “I really, really envy them. I wish one day I can be in that uniform and serve like a real soldier. I keep asking my recruiter and all I am told is to wait.”
Another MAVNI recruit, who didn’t want her name used, told Military.com that she has been at a training base for two years after completing BCT while awaiting additional screening that would let her go to AIT, or Advanced Individual Training.
In the meantime, she does paperwork.
“You need the favorable adjudication [Military Service Suitability Determination] to go to AIT,” she said. “I’m between a rock and a hard place. It’s kind of ridiculous, but I am still motivated by the idea of serving.”
Lawyer who built MAVNI pushes to save it
“There’s an epic bureaucratic fight going on,” said Margaret Stock, a lawyer and former Army lieutenant colonel who was instrumental in planning and initiating the MAVNI program while still in the service.
“It’s an appalling example of bureaucratic incompetence,” she said of the efforts to kill the MAVNI program and subject those who have already signed up to endless screening.
“They’re saying the MAVNIs are some kind of security threat,” Stock told Military.com, but “there is no specific threat” that justify strictures that would kill a program that has already proven its worth.
“They pose the same threat that U.S. citizens would,” said Stock, the recipient of a MacArthur “Genius Grant” fellowship.
To meet a range of emerging threats, “we need these people,” she said. “What we don’t need is people sitting on a base for 18 months doing nothing because of background checks.”
Getting supplies to Marines ashore is growing more complex as new threats reach the space between ships and the beach, so leaders are looking to high-tech self-driving ships to get the job done.
The Navy’s mysterious 132-foot-long autonomous Sea Hunter vessel could move fuel, ammunition, and other heavy supplies from large ships out to small teams of Marines, sea service leaders said May 8, 2019, at the Sea-Air-Space expo outside Washington, D.C.
“If we can do what we’ve demonstrated with Sea Hunter … with logistics, to program that connector to meet that force at a location to sustain them and provide them with what they need, that is where we’re going to have to practice, practice, practice and learn and adapt our structure to be responsive to that,” said Rear Adm. Jim Kilby, director of warfare integration.
Sea Hunter, an entirely new class of unmanned sea surface vehicle.
(US Navy photo)
Marines and sailors recently practiced sustaining ground troops operating at various points ashore during amassive amphibious exercise called Pacific Blitz. During that exercise, it became clear they must leverage the distance unmanned vessels can travel without risk to personnel, Brig. Gen. Stephen Liszewski, director of operations for Marine Corps Plans, Policies and Operations, told Military.com.
“The unmanned piece is the untapped potential,” Liszewski said. “We know that is one way we can get after this ability to operate in a more distributed and lethal environment.”
Ideally, the services would use a mix of drone aircraft and unmanned ships to get the job done, he added. There are times when they’ll need the speed and range of unmanned aircraft, he said, but they can’t carry everything.
Sea Hunter, an entirely new class of unmanned sea surface vehicle.
(US Navy photo)
“With a surface connector, you’re going to be able to move larger volumes of things, particularly if you’re talking ammunition or bulk liquids like water or fuel,” Liszewski said. “Clearly, aviation speed or range is what you get, but it’s not one or the other. You’ve got to have both [surface connectors and air assets].”
The screams of a fellow soldier trapped inside his armored vehicle pierced through the radio.
Apparently surrounded by the enemy with no more ammunition, the soldier cried for help saying his crew had all been killed.
But with his radio keyed open and no one able to talk back to him, then-Spc. 4 Dave Garrod and others in Bravo Troop, 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, could only listen to the desperate pleas.
“It was a knee knocker,” Garrod recalled as his 25th Infantry Division unit raced down to Tan Son Nhut Air Base, which was under siege by enemy forces. “I had no idea what we were driving into.”
On Jan. 30, 1968, the Vietnam War escalated as enemy forces launched surprise attacks during the country’s New Year holiday.
Then-Spc. 5 Dwight Birdwell, middle, seen on top of a tank during the Vietnam War. Birdwell and other Soldiers with the 25th Infantry Division’s 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment helped defend Tan Son Nhut Air Base in a Tet Offensive attack Jan. 31, 1968.
About 85,000 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese army fighters rushed across the border to attack over 100 cities and towns in southern Vietnam in an attempt to break a stalemate in the war.
Weeks of intense fighting ensued causing heavy losses on both sides.
Before they could repel many of the attacks, thousands of U.S. and South Vietnamese troops would die. Tens of thousands of enemy fighters were also killed.
While not largely deemed a victory for the enemy forces, which suffered a greater toll, the attacks did trigger many in America to rethink U.S. involvement in the protracted war.
Tan Son Nhut
One of the enemy’s main targets was Tan Son Nhut, a key airbase near Saigon where the Military Assistance Command Vietnam and the South Vietnamese air force were headquartered.
After reports of Viet Cong fighters attempting to invade the airbase on Jan. 31, 1968, soldiers with 3rd Squadron’s Charlie Troop responded to the call.
As they drove toward the airbase in the early morning hours, then-Spc. 5 Dwight Birdwell remembers seeing no civilians along the highway — typically a bad omen.
Photos of Dwight Birdwell before he deployed to Vietnam.
Birdwell had seen attacks before during his tour, he said, but they were mainly mines or other small arms weapons fired by a hidden enemy. This day would be different.
When they arrived just outside the airbase, his unit’s column of tanks and armored personnel carriers suddenly stopped.
As if on cue, thousands of tracer rounds began to pepper the vehicles in front of his tank from both sides of the highway. Enemy fighters then jumped onto the vehicles, shooting inside of them.
“All hell broke loose,” Birdwell recalled.
A bullet then struck Birdwell’s tank commander right through the head and he collapsed inside the tank. Birdwell pulled him out, he said, and passed him over the side for medical treatment, which kept him alive.
Birdwell took command of the tank. By that time, all the vehicles ahead of him had been wiped out or were unable to return gunfire. Enemy fighters also set some ablaze after they failed to drive off with them.
“There was a lot of confusion and pandemonium,” he said.
His tank fired its 90 mm cannon toward the enemy while he shot off rounds from the .50-caliber machine gun to hold the enemy back.
Birdwell’s unit was stuck in the middle of an enemy invasion as hundreds of fighters had already crossed the highway and penetrated the airbase to his left. On his right side, even more fighters — some just 50 feet away — prepared to join the assault.
“They were getting close,” he recalled. “I could see their faces quite well.”
Around the same time he ran out of ammunition, a U.S. helicopter was hit and made an emergency landing behind his tank.
Spc. 4 Dave Garrod, left, poses for a photo with Spc. 5 Ed McKenna and Spc. 4 Joe Carlton during their tour in the Vietnam War.
“I thought that this is unreal,” Birdwell said. “Somebody is filming a movie.”
He jumped down from the tank and ran toward the helicopter. Once there, he grabbed one of the helicopter’s M-60 machine guns the door gunners had been using and returned to his position.
After a few minutes of firing rounds at the enemy, something hit the machine gun — likely an enemy bullet. The impact, he said, sprayed shrapnel up into his face and chest.
With the M-60 now destroyed, Birdwell said he took cover in a nearby ditch. He and a few soldiers then grabbed some M-16 rifles and grenades and moved to a closer position behind a large tree.
There, they exchanged gunfire and tossed grenades over the road until the enemy started to fire a machine gun at them.
As the barrage of bullets cut into the tree, it sounded like a chainsaw chewing it down.
“We were in a very desperate situation,” he said.
Around that time, Garrod’s Bravo Troop began to roll into the area.
Soldiers in a different platoon within Charlie Troop also arrived to suppress the attack from inside the base.
“After pulling on line we started laying down fire,” Garrod recalled, “and trying to keep it as low as possible so as not to fire on Charlie Troop on the road.”
Garrod and other soldiers were then pulled away to help wounded crewmen near a textile factory from which the enemy had been commanding its attack.
Once there, he ran over to a tank that had been hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. Inside, he could see the tank’s loader who could not move due to his legs being seriously wounded.
“Being a small, skinny guy, I jumped down in the hatch and without thinking put him on my shoulders and stuck him up through the hatch,” he said.
Later that day, the intensity of the battle hit home for Garrod as he rested in the shade of his vehicle.
Dave Garrod, fifth from right, poses for a photo in front of a Vietnam War memorial near where the Tan Son Nhut Air Base attack occurred on Jan. 31, 1968.
He lifted his canteen up to take a drink when an awful smell overcame him.
“When I looked down on my flak jacket, there was a hunk of flesh from that loader,” he recalled. “It’s something that’s etched into your mind forever.”
Almost 20 soldiers from the squadron were killed and many more wounded as they defended the airbase that day. About two dozen South Vietnamese troops were also killed along with hundreds of enemy fighters.
Garrod earned an Army Commendation Medal with valor device for his actions and a Purple Heart in another mission a few days later. Birdwell earned a Silver Star and a Purple Heart.
The squadron was also awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.
Thirty years later, Garrod and other veterans traveled back to the site on the anniversary of the offensive as a way to find closure for what they saw that day.
They also visited a statue in a nearby park that honors those who were lost or suffered as a result of the battle.
Because of the devastation the war had caused, Garrod expected to see animosity on the faces of the Vietnamese people.
“Instead we found gracious, friendly people,” he said. “Even the veterans from the north whom we met … greeted us with hugs. It was very surprising. They had definitely moved on.”
The U.S. Marine Corps didn’t allow black men into its ranks until 1942, months after America joined World War II and decades after the Army and Navy began accepting black troops. But that delayed start means that cameras were common when the first black Marines earned their Eagle, Globe, and Anchors. Here are 15 photos from those first pioneers.
(Writer’s note: These images come from the National Archives which have a whole section dedicated to black troops in World War II with over 250 images. The captions below were updated for language and clarity, but the information contained comes from that archive. You can find more images and historical context by visiting them here.)
Richard Arvin Overton was already 35 years old when he fought at Pearl Harbor. Now, 73 years after the end of World War II and his service in the Pacific Theater, the 112-year-old is alive and kicking. Today, the City of Austin and its Mayor, Steve Adler, even came out to wish America’s oldest veteran a happy birthday.
Find out how to live your life like Richard Overton lived his.
Overton is still completely independent — he lives on his own, walks where he wants (albeit with the aid of a cane), and drives where he needs to go. He enjoys cigars, good whiskey, and dating his “lady friend.”
That also happens to be Richard Overton’s big, anti-aging secret, which he shared over a few drinks with We Are The Mighty’s Orvelin Valle during the celebration.
“The secret to life,” Overton says, “is Scotch and cigars.”
You’ll never catch Overton without a pocket full of cigars and, while you might think they’re hazardous to his health and well-being, it seems they’re doing more good than harm. He passes every medical test the doctors (and the DMV) can throw his way.
Although he drives himself because he thinks too many people around his neighborhood drive crazily, he isn’t afraid of anything, even at his advanced age. He even remarked that he feels completely comfortable sleeping with his doors unlocked at night.
“You see a soldier with a gun,” he once told National Geographic (while holding his issued M1 Garand rifle), “you don’t see him turn around and come back this way.”
But that stress-free life starts with a good cigar or twelve. He often smokes a dozen or more per day. He doesn’t inhale, though, saying there’s no point.
“Forget about swallowing it,” Overton says. “There’s no taste to it. It just makes you cough.”
Not inhaling his cigars is what he calls “the healthy way.” This lifestyle also includes a diet of milk, fish, corn, and soup. But the 112-year-old vet also starts his day with about four cups of coffee and ends each by eating butter-pecan ice cream.
And, sometimes, he adds whisky to the mix
He doesn’t spend his money on buying things he doesn’t need and he definitely doesn’t use credit cards. He’s been driving the same truck for decades, which he paid for with cash. Still, it’s a far cry from his first car – a Ford Model T.
To live like America’s oldest veteran, just live a stress-free life. Start with the simple pleasures, like ice cream, whisky, and cigars. If you don’t take his advice, that’s fine. As he says, “that’s your bad luck.”
United States government security officials announced that a Russian-built Venezuelan aircraft “aggressively” shadowed an American aircraft over the Caribbean sea.
The US Southern Command, which is the agency responsible for security cooperation and operations in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean, tweeted to condemn the incident, which it said happened during an American mission that was monitoring for illegal trafficking.
“[Venezuela] SU-30 Flanker “aggressively shadowed” a U.S. EP-3 aircraft at an unsafe distance July 19, 2019, jeopardizing the crew & aircraft. The EP-3 was performing a multi-nationally recognized & approved mission in international airspace over [the Caribbean Sea.]”
The tweet also slammed Russian President Vladimir Putin for offering military assistance to the country’s far-left leader Nicolas Maduro. The US, in addition to most Latin American and European countries, recognizes opposition leader Juan Guaidó’s claim to be the rightful leader of Venezuela.
“This action demonstrates [Russia’s] irresponsible military support to Maduro’s illegitimate regime underscores Maduro’s recklessness irresponsible behavior, which undermines [the international] rule of law efforts to counter illicit trafficking.”
The US Southern Command reportedly said in a statement that the aircraft was “flying a mission in approved international airspace” when it “was approached in an unprofessional manner by the SU-30 that took off from an airfield 200 miles east of Caracas.”
‘The US routinely conducts multi-nationally recognized and approved detection and monitoring missions in the region to ensure the safety and security of our citizens and those of our partners,” the command added.
Venezuela has been home to widespread chaos and unrest after a US-backed bid by the Venezuelan opposition to remove Venezuelan President Maduro failed in April 2019 after senior Venezuelan government and military officials flaked on promises to switch sides and instead stood by the president.
The movement to oust Maduro had enjoyed widespread civilian support but previously failed to gain support from the military.
The effort came months after Guaidó declared himself interim president of Venezuela in January and urged the military to turn against Maduro.
Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron’s relationship looks set to get even closer, with reports indicating that the French president will be the first world leader to make a full state visit to Washington, DC.
According to the AFP news agency, Macron plans to visit the U.S. capital in late April, and will be the first foreign leader to be given the full pomp of a state occasion, which includes a meal in the White House’s State Dining Room.
The apparently warm relations between Trump and Macron is a contrast to the strained relationship between Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May.
May was the first world leader to visit Trump after his inauguration, but images of the two holding hands just before Trump embarked on his controversial travel ban were political kryptonite in Britain.
An invitation from Queen Elizabeth for Trump to make a state visit to Britain was accepted, but has been repeatedly delayed, while British activists have prepared large-scale street protests for when the final date is set.
Trump and Macron differ on policy significantly, including their stance on the European Union, the Iran deal, and U.S. participation in the Paris climate change agreement.
Their initial meeting appeared tense and was dominated by an awkward, combative, white-knuckle handshake. But since then the men seem to have got on fine, with the reported state visit seeming to be further evidence.
The term UFOs, which stands for “unidentified flying objects,” is now used less frequently by officials, who have instead adopted the term “unidentified aerial phenomena,” or UAP.
Another image from a video showing a UFO filmed near San Diego in 2004.
(Department of Defense)
Neither the term UFO nor UAP means the unknown object is deemed extraterrestrial, and many such sightings end up having logical, and earthly, explanations.
Gradisher also said the videos were never cleared for public release. “The Navy has not released the videos to the general public,” he said.
Susan Gough, a spokeswoman for the Pentagon, previously told The Black Vault that the videos “were never officially released to the general public by the DOD and should still be withheld.”
Gradisher told Vice the Navy “considers the phenomena contained/depicted in those three videos as unidentified.”
He told The Black Vault: “The Navy has not publicly released characterizations or descriptions, nor released any hypothesis or conclusions, in regard to the objects contained in the referenced videos.”
The Department of Defense videos show pilots confused by what they are seeing. In one video, a pilot said: “What the f— is that thing?”
“I very much expected that when the US military addressed the videos, they would coincide with language we see on official documents that have now been released, and they would label them as ‘drones’ or ‘balloons,'” John Greenwald, the curator of The Black Vault, told Vice.
“However, they did not. They went on the record stating the ‘phenomena’ depicted in those videos, is ‘unidentified.’ That really made me surprised, intrigued, excited, and motivated to push harder for the truth.”
The Times spoke with more pilots, who spotted objects in 2014 and 2015, this year. One of the pilots told the outlet: “These things would be out there all day.”
These pilots, many of whom were part of a Navy flight squadron known as the “Red Rippers,” reported the sightings to the Pentagon and Congress, The Times reported.
The pilots said the objects could accelerate, stop, and turn in ways that went beyond known aerospace technology, The Times added.
They said they were convinced the objects were not part of a secret military project like a classified drone program.
An F/A-18F Super Hornet taking off from the USS Harry S. Truman in the North Atlantic in September 2018. Red Rippers crew said they saw mysterious objects while in flight.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kaysee Lohmann)
“Navy pilots reported to their superiors that the objects had no visible engine or infrared exhaust plumes, but that they could reach 30,000 feet and hypersonic speeds,” the Times report said.
Hypersonic speed is more than about 3,800 mph — five times the speed of sound.
The 2004 video and one of the 2015 videos were also shared by The To Stars Academy, a UFO research group cofounded by Tom deLonge from the rock group Blink-182, in December 2017. The group released a third Department of Defense video in 2018 that Gradisher told The Black Vault was filmed on the same day as the other 2015 video.
The group hints at non-earthly origins of the videos, claiming they “demonstrate flight characteristics of advanced technologies unlike anything we currently know, understand, or can duplicate with current technologies.”
Gradisher, the Navy representative, told Vice the Navy changed its policy in 2018 to make it easier for crew to report unexplained sightings as there were so many reports of “unauthorized and/or unidentified aircraft entering various military-controlled training ranges and designated airspace.”
VA and the Kristine Yaffe Lab at the University of California, San Francisco, have taken a new approach to understanding the association of mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) — with and without loss of consciousness (LOC) — with dementia among veterans. Their recent study, one of the largest in the United States, included 178,779 veterans in the VA health care system who were diagnosed with various levels of TBI severity.
The study found that TBI with and without LOC are both associated with a heightened risk of developing dementia. Even mild TBI without LOC was associated with more than a twofold increase in the risk of a dementia diagnosis.
The study was part of the Chronic Effects of Neurotrauma Consortium (CENC), a federally funded research project devised to address the long-term effects of mild TBI in military service members and veterans. CENC is jointly funded by VA and the Department of Defense.
TBI is a complex physiological condition that can arise when a brain experiences trauma, either directly or indirectly, during any of a variety of moderate to catastrophic events. TBI has been researched and studied in-depth by some of the world’s leading neurologists, neuropsychologists, neuropsychiatrists and other leading mental health experts. Their goal is to develop treatments, tools and resources to help those affected by TBI return to their previous, or close to their previous, quality of life and cognitive ability. TBI among veterans is a key focus area of VA physical and mental health care, and VA conducts research every day to help unravel the intricacies of TBI’s symptoms and effects.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Clayton Cupit)
In the past 10 years, researchers and clinicians have confirmed that TBI may be a risk factor for dementia, but they have yet to determine why. Some professionals think dementia may be related to the injury itself, while others believe that head trauma may cause toxic and abnormal proteins associated with dementia to build up over time.
Advice for veterans experiencing symptoms of TBI
Evaluation by a physician is critical to help identify and address symptoms of TBI. TBI can be difficult to diagnose because it has many causes, such as motor vehicle collisions, sports-related injuries and falls. Among veterans, TBI may be caused by a single event, such as an IED blast, but also may occur over time as a result of repetitive jolts to the head or neck. If you have had a recent head injury, or if you had a head injury in the past and are concerned about recent changes in your memory, consult your physician for a screening.
During a TBI evaluation, you and your doctor will discuss what caused your injury and ways to deal with any physical, cognitive and behavioral symptoms, such as difficulty concentrating and headaches. You also will explore how these symptoms affect your daily life. Your doctor may recommend counseling to help you learn ways to manage the effects of TBI. Because a TBI can affect the way the brain functions, medications may be needed or changed to assist in recovery and coping.
Although there is a slightly elevated risk for dementia among those who have experienced TBI, that does not mean everyone with TBI is at risk. TBI is only one of many risk factors for dementia, including genetic markers, that are being studied. No matter what risk factors you may have, it’s important to maintain an overall healthy lifestyle, monitor your heart health and try to remain mentally and physically active.
The future of TBI and dementia research
The VA health care system recognizes that more research is needed to further understand and provide the best health care to veterans with TBI. This study suggests that veterans with TBI — in particular, older veterans — should be monitored and screened at regular intervals for any signs of memory changes. Research collaboration among VA, universities and national organizations such as the National Institutes of Health will continue to expand our knowledge of TBI and related conditions and opportunities to prevent and treat them.
About the VISN 21 MIRECC
VA’s VISN 21 MIRECC is committed to improving the clinical care of veterans with dementia and with post-traumatic stress disorder through the development of innovative clinical, research and educational programs. This center’s approach is to identify risk factors for cognitive decline in older veterans and to develop and implement novel countermeasures to minimize this decline.