Determining what type of explosives were used in an IED allows military intelligence to determine what methods insurgents are using to create or smuggle explosives. Tactical site exploitation teams swab IED components and test the residue to learn what the explosive is and how refined it is.
Troops can also swab suspected bombmakers hands or homes to prove insurgent activity, allowing U.S. forces or local military personnel to arrest probable insurgents.
3. Fingerprinting and DNA
Fingerprint and DNA collection help commanders track the movement of people around the battlefield and aid in the prosecution of insurgents. Investigators grab fingerprints and DNA from inside known areas of enemy activity, from weapons and material, and from suspected insurgents.
Where each matching sample appears on the battlefield will let commanders know if a known bomb maker is in a certain region and will increase the chance that an insurgent is caught at a checkpoint where troops have a fingerprint reader.
The military has also developed an automated tool that automatically tests the environment all the time. The Joint Chemical Agent Detector (M4A1) alerts troops to the presence of an agent, tells them what level of protection is likely required, and identifies the most likely agent being used against them.
5. Searching combat camera, public affairs, and satellite imagery for clues
Investigators and forensic technicians on the battlefield get precious few opportunities to collect data from many battlefields, especially if their side isn’t holding the ground at the end of the day. So they often collect data from military photographs and other imagery.
After massacres and other war crimes, criminals often hide all the evidence they can including the bodies of their victims. To bring closure to families and to aid in prosecution down the line, experts hunt out likely mass graves or other caches of hidden evidence.
7. Scanning the atmosphere to detect nuclear detonations and materials
After nuclear tests by foreign countries like North Korea, America and other countries use particle detectors to see how much nuclear material might have been detonated and to prove a detonation took place. During the Cold War, U-2 flights collected particles to learn what weapons the Cold War had in development.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the U.S. plan to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) was “ill-considered” and warned that Moscow will follow suit if the United States arms itself with weapons banned by the pact.
Putin spoke on Dec. 5, 2018, a day after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Washington would abandon the INF treaty unless Moscow returns to compliance with the accord within 60 days.
His remarks came shortly after the Russian Foreign Ministry said it received official notification that the United States intends to withdraw from the INF unless Russia remedies what Washington says is a serious violation of the treaty.
Putin claimed that the United States was seeking to use Russia as a scapegoat for the demise of the INF by accusing it of a violation.
BREAKING! Putin Responds To US Ultimatum: Russia’ll React Swiftly If Trump Withdraws From INF Treaty
“They are looking for someone to blame for this…ill-considered step,” Putin told journalists in Moscow, adding that “no evidence of violations on our part has been provided.”
It is “simplest” for the United States to say, ‘Russia is to blame,'” Putin said. “This is not so. We are against the destruction of this treaty.”
President Donald Trump announced in October 2018 that the United States would abandon the INF, citing the alleged Russian violation and concerns that the bilateral treaty binds Washington to restrictions while leaving nuclear-armed countries that are not signatories, such as China, free to develop and deploy the missiles.
Putin said he understands the second argument.
“Many other countries — there are probably more than 10 — produce these weapons, but Russia and the United States have restricted themselves in a bilateral fashion,” he said. “Now, evidently, our American partners believe that the situation has changed so much that the United States should also have these weapons.”
“What will be the response from our side? Very simple: We will also do this,” he said, indicating that Russia will develop and deploy weapons banned by the treaty if the United States does so.
The United States says that Russia has already done that by deploying the 9M729, or Novator, which Washington says breaches the ban on ground-launched cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 km.
In a joint statement on Dec. 4, 2018, NATO foreign ministers said that Russia has “developed and fielded a missile system, the 9M729, which violates the INF Treaty and poses significant risks to Euro-Atlantic security.”
The NATO ministers called on Russia to “return urgently to full and verifiable compliance,” saying it is now “up to Russia to preserve the INF treaty.”
Russian officials have repeatedly dismissed such demands and Putin gave no indication that Russia plans to abandon the 9M729, which it claims does not violate the treaty.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters on Dec. 5, 2018, that the official notice from the United States cites unspecified evidence of alleged Russian violations.
“The Russian side has repeatedly declared that this is, to say the least, speculation,” Zakharova said of the U.S. allegation. “No evidence to support this American position has ever been presented to us.”
Zakharova claimed that Russia has always respected the treaty and considers it “one of the key pillars of strategic stability and international security.”
Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, told foreign defense attaches in Moscow on Dec. 5, 2018, that a U.S. withdrawal from the treaty would be a “dangerous step that can negatively affect not only European security, but also strategic stability as a whole.”
At the NATO ministerial meeting on Dec. 4, 2018, Pompeo said that Washington would abandon the INF in 60 days unless Moscow dismantles the missiles, which he said were a “material breach” of the accord.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
(Photo by Gage Skidmore)
“During this 60 days, we will still not test or produce or deploy any systems, and we’ll see what happens during this 60-day period,” Pompeo told journalists in Brussels.
“We’ve talked to the Russians a great deal,” he said. “We’re hopeful they’ll change course, but there’s been no indication to date that they have any intention of doing so.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that although Moscow has a last chance to comply with the INF, “we must also start to prepare for a world without the treaty.”
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the U.S. ultimatum was an “escalation of the situation.”
Peskov accused Washington of “manipulating the facts…to camouflage the true aim of the United States in withdrawing from the treaty.”
In a tweet on Dec. 3, 2018, Trump expressed certainty that “at some time in the future” he, Putin, and Chinese President Xi Jinping “will start talking about a meaningful halt to what has become a major and uncontrollable Arms Race.”
Author’s note: The Islamic Republic of Iran doesn’t have diplomatic relations with the United States. In Iran, the media and the internet are closely monitored by the government. However, it’s impossible to keep track of everyone. And sometimes, despite the tremendous risk involved, an Iranian is eager to share their story and hit back at the pervasive propaganda that Iran’s government uses to control its people.
The vast military camp was on the outskirts of a small city. The soil was nearly frozen. There wasn’t a tree or any greenery in sight. Concrete buildings made up the complex where Farhad (a pseudonym for his real name) would receive his two months of mandatory military training. He wore light brown and dark green fatigues, a belt, and a pair of poorly manufactured combat boots.
First, Farhad marched for a while. After that, his picture was taken, along with the other conscripts. He then was shown to his barracks and bunk. While many training camps in Iran don’t permit leaving the base, he was allowed to go home every weekend.
Iranian soldier in basic training barracks.
(Screenshot of video posted on Youtube by Persian_boy.)
“Soldiers need food. Their food was shitty — rice with little pieces of meat — and this helped to lessen expenses,” he said.
The food may have been bad but remaining connected to his family was one of the benefits. He and the others there were allowed to call home anytime after 5 PM using the phone booths set up on the grounds of the camp.
As for the training he received, Farhad called it a “joke,” especially the shooting portion.
The firearm he was issued — a Heckler Koch G3 — has been around since 1959. If he would have been part of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC, or Sepâh), he would have been issued an AK-47 instead. According to Farhad, you go out on the range one time and shoot a dozen bullets. Your results are written on a scorecard, and then it’s back to marching. “You march a lot,” he recalled.
Farhad further described what he learned about weapons: “Not much. Effective range. Pure fire range. Caliber. Rate of fire. Weight. How many bullets they take. How to discharge. How to aim. How to safely check a weapon. How to clean your weapon. How to carry it. How many ways there are to carry it. Different types of weapons in the military. Things like that.”
In addition, he didn’t receive any combatives or medical training. “They aren’t trying to make soldiers. They want a work force,” Farhad said.
More so than actually training in combat or tactics, the Islamic Republic of Iran is interested in creating soldiers submissive to its religious ideology. Farhad said that religious indoctrination was a major part of his training experience, but he and many others didn’t take the sermons seriously. In fact, they would question and mock the mullah’s lecture whenever they had the chance.
“The mullahs really got frustrated with us,” Farhad said. “No one cared about them and made fun of them when they could and laughed and argued with them and put holes in their arguments all the time.”
Iranian soldiers marching.
(Screenshot of video posted on Youtube by Persian_boy.)
When asked if this resulted in a consequence for him or anyone else involved, Farhad said no. “We didn’t get in trouble. Pretty much everyone was doing it.”
Even the non-commissioned officers (NCOs) in the camp didn’t follow the written rules that governed it.
One night on watch duty, Farhad smelled something weird. There was a little place outside of the chow hall that was mostly blocked from view, and when he looked out there, he saw two NCOs smoking. It didn’t take long to figure out they were smoking marijuana, which is a felony for a soldier in the Iranian military. He investigated further in the morning, finding remnants from dozens of marijuana cigars on the ground.
Farhad’s boots and the frigid cold gave him the biggest problems, though. In addition to the blisters all over his feet from marching, he also had an infection to keep at bay. And despite how cold it was, the military didn’t provide their conscripts with warm enough clothing. During a particularly cold watch duty assignment, he and the others on duty passed around a poncho, each using it for a few minutes to keep warm.
When training concluded, there was a ceremony where everyone dressed their best, but, unlike basic training graduation in America, family and friends were not permitted to attend. To his recollection, only one conscript failed to complete the training.
Farhad then spent two years in the Iranian military, which only solidified the negative impression he started with.
“It’s such a shitty, unreliable, broken system,” he said. “Whenever I see these websites talking about Iran’s military might, it makes laugh. They have no idea what they are talking about.”
Two photographs are taken and then merged into one. The single image reveals a person looking at their reflection in the mirror, in different clothing. It seems a simple concept, but when applied to veterans, photographer Devin Mitchell’s Veteran Art Project gives a powerful view of military service and the back stories of the individuals underneath the uniform.
“I don’t interview them, all I ask is if they’re [a] veteran and if I can come and take their picture,” Mitchell told The Washington Post’s TM Gibbons-Neff. “This is an opportunity for people to speak without having to say something.”
And Mitchell’s photos speak a thousand words.
In one photo posted to Mitchell’s Instagram page, uniformed Marine Cpl. Brad Ivanchan looks out at his veteran self, now in civilian attire. His rolled up pants reveal both legs replaced with prosthetics, a result of his stepping on an improvised explosive device in Sangin, Afghanistan, The Post reported.
There are others, many of which break the stereotype of the “typical” veteran. There is Leyla Webb, a Muslim woman, who dressed in traditional Islamic garb for her photo shoot. Eric Smith wrote “Pride” in red ink on his chest as he looks to himself putting on his Army uniform, signifying his service as a gay soldier.
“A lot of veterans feel they’re misunderstood,” Mitchell told Yahoo News. “And they don’t have a voice or platform. Even though these pictures don’t have audio, I feel they still speak very loudly.”
It’s up to the individual veteran how they want their photo to be taken. Some are photographed in full dress uniform, while others may wear combat gear. Perhaps one of the most powerful images thus far is from Dave and Daphne Bye, two Marines once married who took their photographs together, despite their recent divorce.
“I think it’s important for everybody to understand that even though we looked happy on the outside and that we truly did try for us and our daughter there’s only so much you can do when the issues are within yourself,” Daphne told The Post, noting the couple’s struggle with post traumatic stress disorder.
Now a junior at Arizona State University, the 27-year-old Mitchell began his project as a photo essay that would hopefully get him into graduate school. Despite finding it difficult to find veterans to shoot initially, his goal now is 10,000 photos, and his email inbox has been flooded with requests.
Since he’s still a student, Mitchell — who completes classes remotely from where he lives in Los Angeles — has limited means to travel to veterans. If you’d like to participate (especially in the L.A. area), you can email him here.
Few actors play a salty old veteran better than Clint Eastwood. Eastwood was drafted into the Army during the Korean War, but never quite made it over to the Korean Peninsula. He was a swimming instructor at Fort Ord and survived a plane crash where he had to swim to safety. Four years later, the onetime soldier was one the silver screen, in 1955’s Never Say Goodbye. Ever since, the veteran’s life has been a critical aspect of many of his onscreen characters, of which there have been many.
Mitchell Gant, “Firefox”
Clint Eastwood plays Gant, a Vietnam veteran and pilot who’s assigned to sneak into the Soviet Union and steal the most advanced fighter aircraft ever built. Part action-adventure, part spy thriller, Firefox may not wow you today, but the character of Mitchell Gant is a fun one. He is a former USAF prisoner of war who was held captive in Vietnam, but now, because he speaks Russian (his mother was Russian), he gets to embark on a top-secret spy mission to infiltrate the USSR.
Frank Corvin, “Space Cowboys”
Space Cowboys doesn’t just have Clint Eastwood, it has a digitally young version of Eastwood as Frank Corvin shows his disappointment with the Air Force for abandoning his crew’s mission to go into space. After 40 years and the crew much aged, Eastwood’s Corvin, along with Tommy Lee Jones, James Garner, and Donald Sutherland, get their chance to show off the right stuff. There aren’t many movies about the USAF test pilots’ glory days, and Space Cowboys is a great example.
Walt Kowalski, “Gran Torino”
Clint Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a Korean War veteran who is very content with the way things are, even as the rest of his world is crumbling around him. Kowalski is very much prejudiced against Koreans, long after the war ended. This fact is only highlighted when a Korean family moves in next door, and the youngest son attempts to steal his well-kept 1972 Gran Torino. Gran Torino features at least one of Eastwood’s most badass lines: “Ever notice how you come across somebody once in a while you shouldn’t have f**ked with? That’s me.”
Josey Wales, “The Outlaw Josey Wales”
Josey Wales is a farmer turned Confederate bushwhacker who ends the Civil War on the run from Union soldiers, but Josey Wales wasn’t fighting for the Confederacy, not really. He was fighting to avenge the murder of his family by pro-Union militias. With a bounty on his head, Wales is joined by a group of extraordinary adventurers who help Josey Wales on his quest to stay alive, stay free, and escape to Mexico. He gets revenge against the man responsible for his family’s death, but his escape is a lot less of a shootout than expected.
Way before that, though, Josey Wales wipes out a whole unit with a Gatling gun.
Pvt. Kelly, “Kelly’s Heroes”
In the closing days of World War II, Private Kelly – once a Lieutenant Kelly, who ended up court-martialed for a failed infantry attack – gets wind of million in gold bars hiding just behind enemy lines. While his unit is halted near the town of Nancy, Kelly enlists some of his men to go AWOL and make a dash for the gold. They fight their way to the gold against overwhelming odds. When they can’t fight anymore, they offer the Germans a cut of the action.
Luther Whitney, “Absolute Power”
Luther Whitney is a Korean War veteran who left the military and became one of the world’s best and most formidable cat burglars. While robbing the home of a wealthy industrialist, he witnesses the President of the United States attempt to sexually assault the rich man’s wife. She fights him off until she’s killed by the Secret Service, who attempt to cover up the episode. After being framed for the killing, Luther decides to use his skills, along with evidence he took from the crime scene to re-frame the President.
With Ed Harris, Gene Hackman, Scott Glenn, and Dennis Haysbert, there’s so much testosterone in this movie, it might as well be a war film.
Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Highway, “Heartbreak Ridge”
When Gunny Highway stands up to his Major and says “with all due respect, sir, you’re beginning to bore the hell out of me” while smoking a cigar, it was the one time I wanted to join the Marine Corps.
Harry Callahan, “Dirty Harry”
All badass characters who came before and after are all trying to live up to one character: “Dirty” Harry Callahan. A hard-boiled cop who operates using his own set of rules, Harry Callahan remains cool under fire but gets heated when the bad guys win. Not much is known about Dirty Harry, and you pretty much have to watch the whole series to get a picture of the character. We don’t even find out he was a Marine until the second Dirty Harry movie, Magnum Force, when we learn Harry didn’t finish his 20 years. In the final film, The Dead Pool, Harry drinks from a Marine Corps mug.
On May 12, 2018, two U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor jets were launched from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, to intercept and visually identify two Russian Tu-95 Bear bombers flying off Alaska, north of the Aleutian Islands, in the ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone).
ADIZs may extend beyond a country’s territory to give the country more time to respond to possible hostile aircraft: in fact any aircraft flying inside these zones without authorization may be identified as a threat and treated as an enemy aircraft, leading to an interception and VID (Visual Identification) by fighter aircraft.
According to NORAD, the Russians were “intercepted and monitored by the F-22s until the bombers left the ADIZ along the Aleutian Island chain heading west,” and, as usual, remained in international airspace.
Nothing special then, considered that these close encounters occur every now and then, as reported in 2017.
What’s a bit more interesting this time is the fact that the Russian Air Force has released some details and footage about the training activities conducted by its long range bombers. During the last round of “winter period” training, five long range missions were launched involving strategic missile carriers Tu-160 and Tu-95MS, as well as long-range Tu-22M3 bombers: these flights brought the Russian aircraft over the Pacific, the Arctic Ocean, Japan, East China, Black, Barents, Norwegian, Northern, Bering and Okhotsk Seas.
On May 12, 2018 mission off Alaska, the F-22s (that were filmed while shadowing the Bear, as the clip below shows) remained with the Tu-95s for 40 minutes.
“As for the last such flight, only one pair of US Air Force F-22 fighters have escorted our aircraft. Just one, it says that a certain effect of surprise has worked. Usually, during the execution of such flights, we are escorted to five or seven aircraft, while escorts are carried out by fighters of various states. I want to note that during this flight no one intercepted anyone. US Air Force planes accompanied our aircraft in the airspace over neutral waters. The pilots acted in the air correctly. No violations were recorded,” said commander of long-range aviation Lieutenant-General Sergei Kobylash in an article published by Zvezda.
While it’s somehow hard to believe that the large strategic bombers caught someone by surprise, the video is interesting, especially the short part where you can see a pair of F-22s from the window of a Russian Bear.
This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.
Trump’s new Iran policy calls for an economic crackdown following the withdrawal from the Iran deal, a buildup of anti-Iran military alliances with the US’s regional partners, and a media campaign to heat up already simmering civil unrest in the country.
But, while the circumspect approach mirrors Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign that helped force North Korea and China to change their tunes, this time he’s opened with an offer for a summit.
“I’m ready to meet anytime they want to,” Trump said of Iran during a joint press conference with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on July 30, 2018. “No preconditions. They want to meet? I’ll meet.”
Iran, theoretically, has a lot to gain from improved relations with the US. Since the US withdrawal from the Iran deal, Iran’s currency has taken a nosedive, soaring up to around 120,000 rials to a dollar. In August and November 2018 Iran faces two new waves of sanctions that will shut off their access to US banking and oil exports.
Though the US sanctions post-deal will be unilateral and not as strong as the pre-deal UN-imposed sanctions, fear angering the US, the world’s largest economy, will likely scare off Europeans who are otherwise committed to the deal.
In short, Trump withdrew from the Iran deal, likely imposed tremendous cost and stress on Tehran’s economy, and Iran has responded by staying in the deal and trying to portray itself as a good actor worthy of the world’s support against US hegemony. For the moment, Trump is having his cake and eating it too.
A ‘kiss the ring’ moment from Trump to Iran would be deeply humiliating
Iran’s parliament, for the first time ever, has called up Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to grill him on the foreboding economic downturn. Iran watchers consider Rouhani a moderate who spent considerable political capital in negotiating with the US and the West to cast the Iran deal.
But now, Iran finds itself having signed away its nuclear ambitions for almost none of the economic rewards promised by the west.
Ali Motahari, the deputy speaker of Iran’s parliament who is seen as part of Iran’s moderate camp, said that to negotiate with Trump now ” would be a humiliation .”
Other figures in Iran’s government dismissed the idea as non starter, saying the nuclear deal represented the talks they supported, and having that ripped up made future conversations untenable.
Instead, Iran hopes to improve relations with Europe, who it hopes will brave US sanctions to continue to buy its oil. But as many of Europe’s businesses are exposed to the US’s massive financial reach, it’s hard to imagine Iran doesn’t take a haircut on its potential future earnings.
Meanwhile, Trump has, in short order, laid down a remarkable track record with summits, especially with US adversaries. “I’ll meet with anybody. I believe in meetings,” Trump said on July 30, 2018.
If Trump helped North Korea’s image, imagine what he could do for Iran.
A Trump summit has its appeal
Trump became the first US leader to meet with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, the world’s worst human rights violator. Kim agreed to only vague, symbolic or non-binding moves to help the US while Trump heaped praise on the leader and defended his brutal regime.
Iran, similarly, could hold a summit with Trump, but its political culture forbids such a thing. Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran has cast itself as standing up to the US with fierce opposition. Its senior government figures chant “death to America.” Iran’s navy holds the dubious operational goal of destroying the US Navy . Domestically, Rouhani already stuck his neck out for the US with the Iran deal.
For Iranian leaders to smile and shake Trump’s hand would symbolize a deep capitulation and recognition that the US holds tremendous power over Tehran, and that their values of opposing US hegemony stand subordinate to their will to survive economically, for which they’ll need a benevolent Trump.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
With the announcement of the B-21 Raider, the United States has begun the process of developing a replacement for the B-1B Lancer and the B-52 Stratofortress. But the United States is not the only country looking for a new bomber. Russia wants to get one, too.
According to a Facebook post by Scramble Magazine, the Tupolev design bureau is making major progress on the PAK-DA program. PAK-DA stands for, “perspektivnyi aviatsionnyi kompleks dal’ney aviatsii,” which is Russian for, “prospective aviation complex for long-range aviation.”
The magazine noted that Tupolev has reportedly already delivered a number of production models, including smaller-sized replicas for wind-tunnel tests and a full-scale mock-up. The PAK-DA will reportedly be a flying wing design similar to the B-2 Spirit, which first flew in 1990, with advanced features, like stealth technology and carrying all of its weaponry in internal bays.
According to Russian news, the Kremlin sees this as a potential replacement for the Tu-95 “Bear,” Tu-160 “Blackjack,” and Tu-22M3 “Backfire” bombers in service. Some estimates speculate that Russia is planning to introduce the plane into service as early as 2025, while others estimate 2030. The B-21 Raider is expected to have an initial capability in the 2020s, according to a 2016 Air Force release.
However, the upgraded Tu-160M2 version of the Blackjack will enter serial production in 2020, with the first flight scheduled to take place this year. 50 Tu-160s are on order for Russia, according to World Air Force 2018. The document also notes that the Russian Air Force has a total of 68 Tu-22M3 Backfires, 42 Tu-95 Bears, and 16 Tu-160 Blackjacks currently in service.
Compare these numbers to the United States Air Force’s bomber count. The USAF has a total of 75 B-52H Stratofortresses, 60 B-1B Lancers, and 20 B-2 Spirits on inventory. The Air Force plans to order 100 B-21s.
Marine Corps veteran and beloved character actor R. Lee Ermey was missing from the “In Memoriam” segment of the 2019 Academy Awards telecast.
Ermey, who passed away in April 2018, is best remembered for his role as Gunny Hartman in Stanley Kubrick’s classic movie “Full Metal Jacket,” a legendary performance that should have made him a lock to be included in the video segment.
Ermey also played memorable roles in “Se7en,” “Mississippi Burning,” “The X-Files,” “Toy Story 2” and that 2003 remake of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” He also hosted the TV shows “Mail Call” and “Lock ‘N Load With R. Lee Ermey.”
Other Hollywood legends left out of the tribute include Verne Troyer (Mini-me in the “Austin Powers” movies); the incredible Dick Miller (best known for playing a WWII vet in the “Gremlins” movies); Danny Leiner (director of the classics “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle” and “Dude, Where’s My Car?”); Carol Channing (Oscar-nominated for her role in “Thoroughly Modern Millie”); Sondra Locke (Oscar-nominated for her role in “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter”); and the director Stanley Donen (“Charade,” “Singin’ in the Rain” and the unfortunate 80s sex comedy “Blame It on Rio.”).
We can all take a moment to remember Ermey with the “Left from Right” clip from “Full Metal Jacket.” RIP, Gunny.
At this spot on the western side of the Dnieper River in central Ukraine, some 30,000 Soviet soldiers died under Nazi artillery during World War II. Yet, on this hot June day, there’s nothing to suggest that this particular place was once on the deadliest front of the deadliest war in human history.
“What horrors happened here,” says my 55-year-old Ukrainian father-in-law, Valeriy Deriy, who is a Red Army veteran of the Cold War. “Can you imagine?”
We’ve hired a zodiac boat for the day, embarking from a yacht club in the riverside town of Horishni Plavni. To get to the so-called Island of Death, our captain weaves through narrow, overgrown channels that branch off the main course of the Dnieper River.
Tucked away in a dense forest on the island, there’s an old Soviet war memorial. You’d hardly notice it from the water, unless you knew what to look for. Valeriy explains that one can still find evidence of war in the surrounding woods. Old artillery pieces, bullets, rifles, and boots. That sort of stuff.
“Some people want to forget the past. But it’s impossible,” he tells me. “It’s always there.”
Between August and December 1943, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union fought the battle for the Dnieper River. It was one of World War II’s largest battles, comprising some 4 million soldiers stretched along a nearly 900-mile-long front.
After Nazi Germany’s defeat at the Battle of Kursk, the Soviets pressed their advantage and pushed the Nazis back across Ukraine. The third longest river in Europe, the Dnieper — which runs roughly north to south down the middle of Ukraine to the Black Sea — was a natural physical obstacle for the advancing Red Army.
The Nazis took to the heights on the western bank to set up their artillery, which they used to devastating effect. The Red Army crossed the river under heavy fire, improvising makeshift means to get across. Soviet losses were staggering — accounts vary, but roughly 400,000 Red Army soldiers died in the Dnieper River battle of 1943.
The Other Side
Earlier, Valeriy and I stand at a spot on the opposite, eastern bank of the Dnieper River.
“My great-grandfather said the water ran red with blood in the war,” Valeriy says as we stand on the riverbank, looking to the other side.
Valeriy explains that his great-grandfather fought in that Dnieper River battle, and he crossed the river at this very spot. Right where we’re standing. I’m left a bit speechless.
His great-grandfather couldn’t swim, Valeriy continues, but Soviet commanders would have him shot if he’d refused the crossing. So he held on to a log for flotation and kicked his way across. Somehow, he survived.
“It was October, and the water was already very cold,” Valeriy says, shaking his head. “What a nightmare.”
Today, at this spot where so many died in World War II, there’s a simple old Soviet memorial crumbling, halfway reclaimed by the forest. A dilapidated Soviet tank and artillery piece sit in the foliage, too. But that’s it. You have to rely on your imagination to appreciate what happened here.
There’s not a cloud in the sky and the hot breeze feels good on my face. On a day like this, it’s hard to appreciate what happened here about 77 years ago. I can hardly imagine the fear felt by Soviet soldiers as they stood at that same spot on the river shore, looking to the far side like lost souls about to cross the River Styx.
And then I remember what it was like to stare across no man’s land in eastern Ukraine. I remember the fear I felt under the Russian artillery and sniper shots. And I imagine, at least a little, what those Soviet soldiers must have felt.
The trench lines in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region — where Ukrainian troops have fought a war since 2014 to keep a Russian invasion force at bay — are only about five hours away by car. We could be there by dinner, if we wanted to.
True, we’re much too far from the trenches to hear the daily rumble of battle, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. The war is always there.
Standing on the riverbank, Valeriy says to me: “History has been hard on Ukraine. But things will get better. We’re fighting for our democracy, just like your country did. And we’ll win it, too. Just like you did. I still have hope that my daughter and my grandchildren will see an amazing, free Ukraine.”
Still looking across the river, facing the same divide his great-grandfather once faced, Valeriy adds: “We’ll get there.”
Valeriy never served in Afghanistan. He was posted instead to East Germany and worked in signals intelligence, a specialty that paved the way for his future civilian career as a German language interpreter.
“It was an unwritten rule in the Soviet army that only one brother would have to be in Afghanistan at a time,” Valeriy explains. “And my brother went in my place.”
Valeriy’s older brother, Sergiy, was drafted into the Red Army and served in the war in Afghanistan from 1982 to 1984.
In fact, both brothers had volunteered for the war. But their mother had secretly gone to military officials and asked that only one son be allowed to go. Sergiy ultimately volunteered without Valeriy’s knowledge. It wasn’t until their mother died in December 2012 that Valeriy learned the truth.
Sergiy was a sergeant in a signals unit deployed near the Salang Tunnel in the Hindu Kush Mountains. The combat he experienced was terrible, Sergiy tells me, but he doesn’t go into much detail about the war very often. And when he does, his eyes adopt a distinctly distant look, as if he’s looking past me, in an attempt to articulate memories that no words could ever really recreate.
Today, both Deriy brothers live in the town of Horishni Plavi — it’s where my wife, Lilya, grew up.
On a warm June afternoon, our family gathers at a park by the Dnieper River to grill shashlik — Ukraine’s version of a barbecue. Both Sergiy and Valeriy are wearing NASA baseball caps, gifts from me and my wife.
It’s the first time we’ve all been together since the coronavirus lockdown was lifted on June 5, and we’re in good spirits. We make toast after toast until our legs are a little wobbly. We’ve brought along an iPhone speaker and grill the meat while we cycle through a playlist of staple rock hits — songs by bands like the Scorpions, Led Zeppelin, Metallica. That’s my in-laws’ favorite kind of music. Mine too.
We end up cooking more meat than we could ever hope to eat in a day. And we maintain a steady pace with the cognac toasts. And, as it’s prone to do, the conversation between Valeriy, Sergiy, and myself returns to the ongoing war in Ukraine’s east.
“The Russians were never our friends. Stalin invaded us, and now Putin has, too,” Sergiy says. “The only county that ever really cared about us was the United States.”
“We’ll never forget what your country has done for us,” he adds, speaking specifically about America’s delivery of Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine.
Then Valeriy abruptly stands.
“Please,” he says, beckoning me to shake his hand, “I want to shake the hand of a citizen of the country that put a man on the moon.”
I stand and shake my father-in-law’s hand and feel proud of my country. And I’m particularly proud that he’s proud of my county, too.
A generation ago, we would have been enemies. Our countries were poised at opposite ends of the earth, ready to unleash nuclear Armageddon to destroy one another.
Today, we are a family.
No One Forgets
Located on the east bank of the Dnieper River, roughly 190 miles southeast of Kyiv, Horishni Plavni was founded by Soviet youth volunteers in 1960 as a place to live for workers in the nearby iron-ore mines.
Originally, the city’s name was “Komsomolsk,” a reference to the All-Union Leninist Young Communist League, or “Komsomol.” The town was renamed Horishni Plavni in 2016 as part of Ukraine’s decommunization laws—a set of measures that went into effect in 2015 to curb Russia’s cultural influence.
Across the country, all Soviet-era names of settlements and roads have been changed to new Ukrainian ones. All reminders and relics of the Soviet Union have been removed or made illegal — including playing the Soviet national anthem and displays of the hammer and sickle flag.
Horishni Plavni’s main thoroughfare was once called Lenin Street. Now it’s named Heroes of the Dnieper River Street. The statue of Vladimir Lenin that once stood in the city center is gone. Only an empty pedestal remains — a common sight in Ukraine these days.
Yet you can’t totally erase the past. World War II is too deeply ingrained in Ukraine’s national psyche, and its physical environment, to ever be forgotten.
Soviet-era war memorials still stand around Horishni Plavni. At a riverside park, children play on the marble ramps of a towering, Soviet-era war memorial. In a nearby field, a row of Soviet tanks are on permanent display. Teenagers sit in the shade of the turrets and drink beer and listen to music.
Despite all their years living under Soviet propaganda, my father-in-law and uncle-in-law have a surprisingly pro-American perspective on the war.
“The Soviet Union could have never won without American help under lend-lease,” Valeriy tells me, referring to the American policy from 1941 to 1945 to provide materiel assistance to the Soviet Union’s war effort.
“And thank God the Allies landed in France,” Valeriy adds. “Otherwise Stalin would have taken over all of Europe.”
No War Ever Ends
After our shashlik picnic is over, Sergiy visits his brother’s apartment, where my wife and I are staying. He brings with him a photo album from his time in the Soviet army, including his deployment to Afghanistan in the 1980s.
I’m thrilled to have a look and listen to his stories from the war.
Sergiy recalls how his commander in Afghanistan justified the Soviet war by the need to defend the Soviet Union from U.S. nuclear missile strikes.
“We were told that America was evil, and that we were fighting in Afghanistan to defend the world from America,” Sergiy tells me. “It was all a lie, of course.”
Incredibly, Sergiy bears no ill will toward the country — my country — that was responsible for the death of many of his comrades.
“The Soviet Union did the same to America in Vietnam,” Sergiy says of America’s covert effort from 1979 to 1989 to arm and finance Afghanistan’s mujahideen fighters to fight against the Soviets. “It was the Cold War, and we were enemies. And that’s what enemies do to each other.”
Now, Sergiy has welcomed me — an American veteran of another war in Afghanistan — into his family with open arms. More than that, I’d even say that Sergiy and I share a special bond because we share a common battlefield. We remember the same places, and in some cases, the same enemies. Sometimes, as I’ve learned, former enemies actually have more in common with each other than they do with their fellow citizens who know nothing about war.
As he goes through the old photos, Sergiy’s face flashes with various contradictory emotions. Pride and pain. Nostalgia and regret. For Sergiy, war was both the worst and the best experience of his life. Therein lies that great paradox that faces all soldiers who’ve home to live in peace.
If war was so terrible, why do we sometimes miss it?
Sergiy, for his part, remembers his friends from the army fondly. But there’s a dark cloud, too, that hangs over every good memory.
“The Soviet Union lied to me. They lied to all of us,” Sergiy says as he flips through the photo album’s pages.
He pinches his lips and slowly shakes his head.
“They wasted so many lives,” he adds.
Soldiers rarely fight for the reasons dictated to them by the governments that send them to battle. Rather, once the bullets start flying, a simple sense of duty to defend one’s friends, and to not disappoint their expectations, is what inspires one to act courageously.
Yet, once soldiers are separated from their wars for a while — either by time or by distance — the moral clarity of duty may erode, leading them to question the justice of their individual actions in combat. The simple kill-or-be-killed morality of combat no longer shields them from thoughtfully considering the consequences of the things they did in war.
In many ways, life in peace is much more complicated than life in war. That was certainly true for my uncle-in-law. Although Sergiy came through the war in Afghanistan physically unscathed, he was left irrevocably jaded about Soviet communism.
In 1985, just a year after his discharge from the Soviet Army, Sergiy began law studies at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, Ukraine’s premier university.
“I felt so at peace. Finally, no war, no suffering. Only a bright future,” Sergiy recalls of his arrival in Ukraine’s capital city to begin his studies.
But it didn’t last. In April 1986, an explosion ripped through reactor No. 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
The Chernobyl plant is located only about 60 miles north of Kyiv. And so, spooked by the threat of radiation, Sergiy was unsure whether he should stay in Kyiv to finish his law degree. The reborn optimism and happiness he’d felt just a year earlier, fresh from his wartime service, quickly gave way to feelings remembered from the war — dark feelings that he’d wanted to forget forever.
“When I was in Afghanistan, I always felt like death was chasing me,” Sergiy remembers. “And when I came back to Ukraine, I thought I could be free from that fixation on death. But Chernobyl happened, and here death finally caught me. A long and painful death. I remember I said to myself, ‘How ironic, death didn’t catch me in the war, but it did in civilian life.'”
Sergiy ultimately stayed in Kyiv to finish his law degree. After graduating from law school in 1991, he returned to his hometown of Horishni Plavni (then called Komsomolsk). The Soviet Union broke apart that year, further upending his world.
When Ukraine’s economy subsequently collapsed in the 1990s, Sergiy ultimately abandoned his law career and took up work as a hired hand. It was his only option to make a living. He never went back to practicing law.
My uncle-in-law, who is a devoutly religious man, has struggled with his demons from Afghanistan. And his family life has had its ups and downs. But he’s never given up hope for his country, even as Ukraine has gone through revolutions and an unfinished war to finally free itself from Russian overlordship.
“I try to stay positive, despite everything that’s happened to our country,” Sergiy says. “It would be so wrong not to believe in our future. I always have hope. It’s just a matter of time. Our future generations will be truly happy and free.”
As young men, Soviet propaganda told Valeriy and Sergiy that America was their mortal enemy. Yet, as older men, they’ve both shown the remarkable moral courage to abandon their former worldviews and embrace the promise of democracy.
Above all else, Valeriy and Sergiy now believe in the justice of freedom and democracy rather than conformity and communism. And the two Red Army veterans wholeheartedly believe that the United States is a force for good and a beacon of hope for freedom-loving people around the world.
It’s true that history hasn’t been kind to Ukraine, and my in-laws have not led easy lives.
Yet in spite of everything, their faith in America remains unbroken. And, with America’s promise lighting the way, they still extoll the justice of their own country’s democratic path, no matter its attendant hardships.
In the end, they choose to reject their Soviet past but not forget it. When the work of building a democracy gets tough, as it so often does, they look to the past to remember what they’re working so hard to achieve.
“Democracy hasn’t been easy, but I’d rather live as a free man than go back to the way things were before,” my father-in-law says.
Freedom, after all, usually means more to people who’ve experienced the alternative.
Prosecutors have accused a man of sending threatening and harassing messages on Instagram to relatives and friends of people killed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida.
Brandon Fleury, a resident of Santa Ana, California, said he sent the threatening messages for nearly three weeks using numerous Instagram accounts, according to a criminal complaint filed in the US District Court of Southern Florida and seen by INSIDER.
“One post threatened to kidnap the message recipients, while others sought to harass the recipients by repeatedly taunting the relatives and friends of the [high school] victims, cheering the deaths of their loved ones and, among other things, asking them to cry,” the affidavit said.
Following the search warrant on his home, Fleury said he created multiple Instagram profiles referencing Nikolas Cruz, who is accused of killing 17 people in the Parkland shooting.
Nikolas Cruz being arrested by police in Florida, Feb. 14, 2018.
At least five accounts with usernames such as “nikolas.killed.your.sister,” “the.douglas.shooter,” and “nikolasthemurderer,” were traced to an IP address linked to Fleury’s home during the course of a law-enforcement investigation.
Some of the messages contained emojis with applauding hands, a smiling face, and a handgun:
“I killed your loved ones hahaha”
“With the power of my AR-15, I erased their existence”
“I gave them no mercy”
“They had their whole lives ahead of them and I f—–g stole it from them”
“Did you like my Valentines gift? I killed your friends.”
“Little [AS] will never play music again,” one message said on New Year’s Eve, in an apparent reference to the death of 14-year-old student Alex Schachter, who performed in the school’s marching band and orchestra.
Fleury said in a statement that he posted the messages “in an attempt to taunt or ‘troll’ the victims and gain popularity,” according to the FBI. Fleury also said he had a “fascination” with Cruz and other mass shooters, and specifically targeted the victims’ family, who he said were “activists” with large followings on social media.
Multiple news outlets cited authorities who said Fleury did not show remorse for his actions.
Law-enforcement officials investigated similar threats made on Instagram in 2018. Two days after the Parkland shooting, a 15-year-old Florida teen was arrested on charges of threatening to kill people in the same school district. The teen at the time “appeared to be remorseful and claimed his post was a joke,” according to the Broward Country Sheriff’s Office.
This article originally appeared on INSIDER. Follow @thisisinsider on Twitter.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called for Russia to withdraw its troops from breakaway regions in Georgia while also pledging deeper security and economic support for Tbilisi.
“The United States unequivocally condemns Russia’s occupation on Georgian soil,” Pompeo said in opening remarks to the annual U.S.-Georgian Strategic Partnership in Washington on May 21, 2018. “Russia’s forcible invasion of Georgia is a clear violation of international peace and security.”
Russia has troops stationed in Georgia’s Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions that remained after a 2008 war in South Ossetia between Russian and Georgian troops.
Moscow and a few other nations have recognized the two separatist regions as independent countries.
Pompeo also repeated U.S. policy that Washington supports Georgia’s eventual membership in NATO.
Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili said after a meeting with Pompeo that U.S. support for a peaceful resolution to Russian troops in Georgia “is of highest importance to our country and regional stability.”
Kvirikashvili added that Georgia’s membership in the military alliance would be a “clear added value for Euro-Atlantic security.”
NATO promised Georgia eventual membership in 2008.
Kvirikashvili said U.S. involvement in infrastructure projects in Georgia, like the Anaklia deep-sea port on the Black Sea coast, would help attract economic interest to the area.
As the towers fell and the nation reeled on Sept. 11, 2001, a team of New York Air National Guardsmen at the Northeast Air Defense Sector (NADS) in rural Rome, New York were tasked with searching for missing plans and scrambling fighters in response to the attacks.
Since renamed the Eastern Air Defense Sector, Air Guardsmen there were at the center of the military’s air response on that day. On duty for a NORAD training exercise, Vigilant Guardian, they now have a unique view on the events of Sept. 11, 2001, thanks to their roles in the response.
New York Air National Guard Maj. Jeremy Powell was a 31-year-old tech sergeant taking part in Exercise Vigilant Guardian when 9/11 occurred. He was the first military person to learn about the hijackings after taking the initial call from the Federal Aviation Administration’s Boston center. Master Sgt. Stacia Rountree was a 23-year-old senior airman working as an identification technician. Vigilant Guardian was her first major NORAD exercise.
Like every other American, Powell and Rountree remember that day vividly. Here are eight things they recall about the day that you might not know.
After Sept. 11, 2001, this is what the NEADS operation floor looked like. Above the Q-93 (the large green radar scope) is the NORAD contingency suite that was installed immediately after 9/11 to provide radar data of the entire country.
(Master Sgt. Stacia Rountree, Eastern Air Defense Sector)
It was not a drill
It took some time for NEADS to realize 9/11 was a real-world scenario and not part of the exercise. Once they did, there was even more confusion trying to find the missing planes, which always seemed to be a step ahead of them.
“We were treating all the information we got as real-time, not understanding that it was coming to us late,” said Rountree, who basically became a liaison between the FAA and the military for the rest of that day.
“We were trying to figure out departure destination, how many people were on board, how big the aircraft actually was, and factoring all of that stuff in. That way the [F-15 and F-16] fighters, when they got airborne, would know that they had the right plane in sight,” she said.
“I stayed on the phone for 12-14 hours, just calling all the bases and asking how quick the fighters could get armed, get airborne, and if they could go to a certain location,” Powell said.
There was little time between FAA call and the first crash
Just 10 minutes elapsed between the time Powell took the first call to NEADS about the hijackings to when the first plane, American Airlines Flight 11, hit the North Tower — not enough time to get fighters into the air.
According to the 9/11 Commission’s report, the call from the FAA’s Boston center came into NEADS at 8:37 a.m.
“8:46 is when I scrambled the first fighters [from Otis Air National Guard Base, Massachusetts], and then 8:53 they were airborne,” Powell said.
But it was too late to help American 11, which hit the World Trade Center’s North Tower at 8:47 a.m.
There were several more reports of hijackings over the day
By the time the day was over, Rountree said there were probably 19 or 20 planes that she and the other ID techs had investigating as possible hijackings. Only the initial four — American 11, United Airlines Flight 175, American Airlines Flight 77 and United Airlines Flight 93 — were the real deal.
At one point, there were reports that American 11 was still airborne. Air traffic controllers likely confused it with American 77, which was somewhere over Washington, D.C. air-space.
Rountree said she tried to contact the FAA’s Washington Center to get a position on it, while Langley Air Force Base fighters were trying to get to the capital.
New York Air National Guard Maj. Jeremy Powell, a tech sergeant on 9/11, was asked to play himself in the Paul Greengrass film “United 93” about the passengers who kept the fourth hijacked plane from reaching its destination in Washington, D.C. Powell, pictured here in a screen grab from the film, said he believed the movie was as spot-on as you could get, as far as what happened at NEADS was concerned.
“It was probably only a couple of minutes, but to me, it seemed like a lifetime. Then we got the reports that the plane hit the Pentagon,” Rountree remembered. “I was actively trying to find that plane, and I felt that we may have had some time. We didn’t.”
Fighter pilots were ready to make the ultimate sacrifice
The fighters were meant only to shadow potentially hijacked planes, but Rountree said there was discussion of those pilots making the ultimate sacrifice.
“In case their weapons were out, and if we would have had to use force, they were discussing whether or not those guys would have to go kamikaze,” she said, meaning some pilots were considering risking their own lives by using their planes to stop hijacked jetliners. “It was scary, when you thought about the possibility of them having to do that.”
There was a moment of hope for Flight 93
While all of the crashes were shocking, Rountree said that, for her, United 93 was the saddest. They had been trying to find the plane on radar and had called the FAA to get an updated position.
“They said, ‘It’s down,’ and we were thinking it landed,” Rountree remembered. But when they asked for landing confirmation, the info was clarified — it crashed. “For us, you had that glimmer of hope, and then… .”
NEADS was evacuated September 12
The day after 9/11, NEADS was evacuated because there was an unknown plane up at the time, and no one was supposed to be airborne.
“There were fighters coming back from air patrol over NYC … so our commander had them go supersonic over to where we were so they could figure out what it was. They thought it was heading toward us,” Rountree said.
It turned out to be a harmless floatplane, and it was forced to land.
9/11 changed the role of the air defense sectors
“Back then, the primary focus was that we were looking out at people coming to attack us from the outside,” Powell said. “We weren’t really focused on the inside.”
“Nobody thought that somebody would go ahead and utilize planes that were in the U.S. to do something, so our radar coverage was indicative of that,” Rountree explained. “Now, our coverage has definitely increased. It’s night and day versus then.”
The sector now has new and evolving technology.
“Our computer systems are bigger and better. … You should see all of the radars that are now hooked up. Everything the FAA sees, we see. We are much more actively involved in the identification of all aircraft in the United States,” Powell said.
Before 9/11, Rountree said they couldn’t always get in touch with critical personnel at the FAA centers. Now they can.
“We really didn’t have to talk to the various Air Traffic Control Center supervisors. Now, we have instant lines with everybody,” she said.
The military has been monitoring the skies over the U.S. ever since.
“A lot of people didn’t even realize that we were probably there, or what we even do, which could be a good thing,” Powell said. “It reinforces the idea that somebody’s always watching you, especially in the sky. The FAA’s there — that is their airspace — but the military is, too.”