Airman retired for pain finds freedom in rugby - We Are The Mighty
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Airman retired for pain finds freedom in rugby

Karah Behrend’s tattooed arms and wild blue hair aren’t the only reasons she stands out on the rugby field. It’s a relatively new hobby for Behrend, though her practiced technique paints a different picture. She performs with the intensity, coordination, and endurance of an experienced athlete.

And she does it all from the seat of her wheelchair, facing an opponent that the crowd cannot see.

“In 2015, a doctor handed me a sticky note with seven small life-changing letters on it,” the retired Senior Airman and Air Force Wounded Warriors Program member said. Those letters were CRPS/RSD.


She was diagnosed with a disease know as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome — a rare, largely untreatable and widely unknown neurological disease. According to the McGill Pain Index, it is the most painful chronic form of agony known to modern medicine.

“It rates above amputations, phantom limb and natural childbirth,” Behrend said. “It’s a lot to handle on the good days.”

But no one could see Behrend’s pain. It was hidden inside of her body, sending incorrect nerve impulses to her pain receptors. She said her invisible wound even damaged her way of thinking.

Airman retired for pain finds freedom in rugby

U.S. Air Force retired Senior Airman Karah Behrend, a member of the Air Force Wounded Warriors Program, poses for a photo at the Tactical Fitness Center on Joint Base Andrews, Md., Nov. 16, 2018.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Alyssa D. Van Hook)

“I was very sick and tired of feeling like I constantly had to prove myself, and prove the existence of this [disease],” said Behrend. “Everything was breaking down but you could not see it.”

After nearly two years of dealing with excruciating pain, Behrend decided to attend her first Air Force Wounded Warrior CARE event.

“Before that event, I was a recluse. I wasn’t functioning,” said Behrend. “But that first CARE event taught me to value myself and see past my disease and disability.”

Behrend said the introduction of adaptive sports guided her back to happiness. She decided she would no longer sit back and play defense in her own life.

She said she started participating in as many sports as possible, from basketball to shooting, and even won a gold medal at the Warrior Games. Wheelchair rugby, however, quickly became her passion.

“Adaptive sports gave me my life back,” she said.

At first, Behrend wasn’t wheelchair-bound — she still had the ability to walk, but in Wounded Warrior events, basketball and rugby competitors play in wheelchairs regardless of their mobility. It didn’t take long before Behrend found both success and enjoyment in the activity.

Wheelchair rugby combines elements of basketball, rugby, and handball. Devoting herself to the offensive position of “high pointer,” Behrend said she used her aggression to excel. Off the field, she constantly had to endure the unpredictable ebbs and flows of debilitating, chronic pain. On the field, she had an opportunity to reclaim some brief control in her life — in the form of attitude and effort.

Airman retired for pain finds freedom in rugby

Senior Airman Karah Behrend, Air Force Wounded Warrior, poses for a portrait with medals she won during the Wounded Warrior Trials in Las Vegas, NV March 13, 2018.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Alexandre Montes)

And much of that progression happened in spite of a huge obstacle — in June 2018, Behrend lost her ability to walk. It happened as a result of a car accident injury, which caused her disease to creep its way to her spinal column and confine her to a wheelchair permanently.

Making matters worse, the spreading of her CRPS also affected her ability to fully control her hands. That makes all her athletic endeavors all the more difficult.

Despite near impossible odds, Behrend presses on.

“I take my life 10 seconds at a time,” she said. “It helps me get through the pain, the frustration and the thoughts of not wanting to go on. It’s okay to have those thoughts and feelings. Allow them, accept them, and embrace them. Allow them to motivate you to do something bigger and badder, just to prove to yourself that nothing can ever stop you.”

“When I’m playing, it’s the only time I’m free and feel like myself again,” Behrend said. “No limitations, just free.”
Through AFW2, Behrend not only found her release through sports, but was welcomed into an irreplaceable support network of coaches, fellow wounded warriors and team leads.

One member of that support network, Ilyssa Cruz, said she witnessed Behrend’s resilience firsthand.

“I started my job at the end of April [2018],” said Cruz, a team lead for the Air Force North West Warrior CARE Event. “My first event was Warrior Games with the Air Force, and that’s where I met Karah. From the first time I met her till now, she has really progressed. She’s been kicking butt the past couple months, participating in event after event.”

This article originally appeared on DVIDS. Follow @DVIDSHub on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

A bird beat up a Marine Corps F-35B stealth fighter

A bird reportedly managed to bang up an F-35 stealth fighter to the tune of at least $2 million.

A Marine Corps F-35B Joint Strike Fighter was recently forced to abort take-off after a surprise bird strike, Maj. Eric Flanagan, a spokesman for 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, told Marine Corps Times. The fighter never took flight and “safely taxied off the runway,” but it didn’t escape the situation unscathed.

An initial assessment of the incident identified this as a Class A mishap, meaning that the $115 million aircraft suffered more than $2 million in damages. A safety investigation, as well as a more comprehensive damage assessment, are currently underway. Birds sucked into an engine’s intake can destroy an engine, forcing the plane to make an emergency landing.


It’s unclear what exactly happened to the bird, but odds are the end result wasn’t pleasant.

Birds like Canada Geese, which graze on grass at the edges of air fields, are a constant problem for military aircraft. Four years ago, a US military helicopter crashed in the UK, killing all four crewmembers after the aircraft collided with a flock of geese.

Airman retired for pain finds freedom in rugby

An HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter.

Between 1985 and 2016, bird strikes killed 36 American airmen, destroyed 27 US Air Force aircraft and cost the service almost a billion dollars, according to the 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs Office at Ellsworth Air Force Base. Between 2011 and 2017, the USAF experienced 418 wildlife-related mishaps, resulting in 2 million in damages, according to Military Times.

Federal Aviation Administration data, according to USA Today, revealed that in 2018 alone there were 14,661 reported bird strikes involving civilian aircraft in the US.

Ellsworth Air Force Base, home to a collection of B-1 bombers, has deployed bird cannons to keep its 0 million bombers safe from birds.

Last month, a hawk went head-to-head with an Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon during a routine landing at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, Task and Purpose reported. In that case, the hawk definitely lost.

The lastest incident is the third major mishap for an F-35B following last September’s crash and a fire back a few years back, according to Military.com.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Fighting fire with chainsaws

The sun was already bright and warm when I pulled up at the Twin Springs Preserve in Williamson County, Texas just before 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning. Stepping out of my car, I shielded my eyes to take in the dense stands of ash juniper and white oak trees against the cloudless blue sky. It felt unusually spring-like for early February; I opted to shuck my jacket.

With my back to the road and neighborhood, I could imagine this area north of Austin as the verdant forest it once was. But the human population of Williamson County has tripled over the last several decades, encroaching on the wildland. In 2009, the county bought 175 acres to create a preserve and mitigate against the destruction of natural habitat. In addition to wild turkeys, foxes, deer, and raccoons, Twin Springs is home to several threatened or endangered species, including the bone cave harvestman spider, Salido salamander, and golden-cheeked warbler.


The beauty and peacefulness of the preserve belie a hidden danger. Here, the forest floor is strewn with grasses, shrubs, and the litter of fallen leaves and branches. In hot, dry conditions, those materials become tinder. All it takes is a sustained wind and an errant spark—from a discarded cigarette, say, a car’s exhaust system, or a lightning strike—for the tinder to catch fire. Unchecked, the flames can climb to the upper canopy and then quickly spread from tree to tree.

Airman retired for pain finds freedom in rugby

Cleaning up after the West Fire that hit Alpine, CA, in 2018.

Canopy fires are intense, fast-moving, and virtually unstoppable says Kyle McKnight, an Emergency Management Specialist with Williamson County. “A canopy fire could very rapidly progress to these homeowners, causing millions of dollars of losses and potentially loss of human life as well,” he said. “Look at what is happening in California. We’ve seen a huge loss of life and property.”

id=”listicle-2646945029″ OF PREVENTION VS. OF CURE

Greater Austin, which includes Williamson County, ranks fifth in the nation among metropolitan areas at risk for wildfires according to a recent report by CoreLogic, an online property data service. The only areas at greater risk are all in California.

Rather than wait to react to the inevitable wildfires, Williamson County officials put together a comprehensive plan to mitigate risk. “According to FEMA, [the Federal Emergency Management Association], on average, every id=”listicle-2646945029″ spent in mitigation results in of saved cost from fighting the fires and recovery from damage,” says McKnight. In some areas with more expensive real estate, he says, the return is as high as for every id=”listicle-2646945029″ invested in prevention.

The Williamson County mitigation plan calls for creating a 50-foot wide shaded fuel break along the perimeter of Twin Creeks Preserve, McKnight explains. The idea is to take out debris and shrubs, and remove tree limbs up to about 8 feet above ground, leaving the shaded canopy to keep the forest cooler and discourage the growth of flammable understory plants.

Airman retired for pain finds freedom in rugby

Clearing a blowdown on a road after Colorado’s Spring Creek fire.

What Williamson County didn’t have, however, was the budget or manpower to carry out the work. That’s where Team Rubicon came in. For two weekends in February, teams of about 50 volunteers—known by Team Rubicon as Greyshirts—worked steadily to make the forest and surrounding neighborhoods safer by creating a shaded fuel break.

A BLUE-SKY OPERATION

The morning I arrive, the preserve is a beehive of activity. The insistent buzz of chainsaws and mechanical drone of woodchippers cut through the morning air. It smells amazing, like walking into a freshly built cedar closet.

Oscar Arauco, the Texas State Administrator for Team Rubicon, has me don a hard hat, goggles, and earplugs before we survey the worksite. As we walk, he explains that Team Rubicon coordinates “gray skies” operations to provide relief after disasters such as Hurricane Harvey, which roiled the Gulf coast in 2017, and “blue skies” prevention operations such as this that help mitigate risk. Often, Team Rubicon uses such mitigation work to further educate and train sawyers and other Greyshirts, too.

Like 70% of the people involved in Team Rubicon, Arauco is a military veteran, having served for 28 years as a U.S. Army artillery officer and chaplain. (The remaining members are affectionately known as kick-ass civilians, he explains.) Once Team Rubicon identifies a need and defines a project, a call for help goes out to members living within a 450-mile radius. With the exception of a couple of paid project managers, everyone here is a volunteer. Most have driven in for the weekend and are bunking on cots at the nearby First Baptist Church of Georgetown.

Airman retired for pain finds freedom in rugby

Clearing debris for fire mitigation in the Twin Springs Preserve.

Arauco points out that the busy work site is well organized into sets of three teams, each supervised by a strike leader. People known as “sawyers” use pole saws and chainsaws to take out tree limbs and vegetation up to the 8-foot mark. “Swampers” carry the woody material to the perimeter where the “chippers” feed it into wood chippers to turn it into mulch that goes back into the preserve.

I’m struck by the diversity of Greyshirts and the lack of traditional hierarchies—a young woman is just as apt to be leading a team as an older man. That’s one of the things Arauco says he likes most about his work. “I love that Team Rubicon values service over any other factor,” he says. “There are no age- or gender-specific roles. It’s all about pulling your weight and getting the job done.”

FORMER ARMY MEDIC TURNS HER FOCUS TO HEALTHY FORESTS

M.D. Kidd, who takes a break from the chainsaw to talk, is one of the younger faces in the group. She served as a medic in the U.S. Army from 2011 to 2015 and then trained as a wildland firefighter for the Southwest Conservation Corp in Colorado. In 2017, she joined Team Rubicon and underwent training to become a regional chainsaw instructor. Now a full-time college student majoring in sociology and public health, Kidd says she would eventually like to work for the Peace Corps. For her, volunteering with Team Rubicon is the way to serve both people and the environment.

She points out that fire is a natural part of the cycle for healthy forests, but for more than a century people have focused on suppressing fires, leaving the tinder-like material to build up. “The longer we suppress fires and leave the fuel sitting there, the worse it is in the long run,” she said. “So efforts that mitigate the risk of fire are hugely important. As with medicine, I think prevention is really the way to go.”

Airman retired for pain finds freedom in rugby

To mitigate against fire, Greyshirts take tree limbs out up to the 8-foot mark.

Kidd and others say a big reason they volunteer on mitigation projects like this for Team Rubicon is the break from routine it provides, and the camaraderie. “The reason I am so passionate about this organization is that it provides a purpose for veterans,” says Patrick Smith, a 23-year U.S. Army veteran who is coordinating logistics for the operation. Smith works as a Deputy Sheriff in charge of animal cruelty for Harris County and as a physician’s assistant at Memorial Herman Hospital in Houston. “Team Rubicon takes our skills and experience and finds a place where they can be put to good use,” he says.

Greyshirt Keith Elwell, a former project engineer for the defense industry, joined in 2018 after seeing people in Houston trying to cope with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey on the news. “Man, I’m sitting there just watching. I’m thinking ‘I’ve got some skills. I can help. I can do stuff’,” he says. He has now gained enough training and experience as a sawyer to mentor others.

Since then, he says, he’s “been all over the place”—from clearing trees felled by a fierce storm in Wisconsin to tearing down homes destroyed by Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Florida to cleaning up after the Mississippi River Flooded in Vicksburg, Tennessee. “There are all different roles and no two situations are the same,” he says. “I’ve been fortunate enough to help people on the worst day of their lives.”

OVER TWO WEEKENDS, MONTHS GET WHITTLED AWAY

It’s hard to put into words how meaningful the mitigation effort is to the county officials and inhabitants of this scenic area, says Mark Pettigrew, a Trails and Preserves Steward for Williamson County. We sat down on a couple of flat rocks in front of the trailhead and he gestured to the activity around us. “I’m one of only two main employees for the Williamson County Conservation Foundation. To get all this done would have taken us months and months,” he says.

Pettigrew points to the area in front of us, where the preserve abuts a busy road and neighborhood. The teams are mostly finished here and it looks like an arboretum with a wide, mulched path shaded by a graceful canopy of trees. “The most hazardous area is along this road and we’ve got the whole place completely cleared out and ready to go,” he says. “It’s phenomenal.”

Without the help of the Team Rubicon Greyshirts, it’s not clear when—or if—fire mitigation in the preserve would get done. As the county’s Emergency Management Specialist, McKnight says he knows that there’s currently no budget for the work. Grants often require extra steps and cost matching. “It’s a creative strategy for getting projects like this done,” says McKnight. “It requires a minimal investment on our behalf—some food and porta-potties—and we’re saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in labor costs. It’s a win-win.”

By the time I’d wrapped up, the day had shaped up to be unseasonably warm with low humidity—pleasant, but concerning, too, given what I had learned about wildfire risk. Climate change is bringing wave after wave of record heat to the Austin area. Last September was the hottest on record, with nearly three straight weeks of triple-digit temperatures.

On the way back to my car another Team Rubicon Greyshirt, Sam Brokenshire, stopped me. He wanted me to leave with a sense of scale for just how much the group had accomplished. At the end of the two-weekend project, he says, the team will have removed about 4,000 cubic yards—about 90 dumpsters worth—of brush.

Seeing people out working for the common good means a lot, says Brokenshire. “Yesterday, a guy from the neighborhood pulled up to thank us for the work we are doing,” he says. “That makes it all worth it.”

Airman retired for pain finds freedom in rugby

Some of the Team Rubicon Greyshirts who worked on the Williamson County fire mitigation project.

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


MIGHTY TRENDING

Dennis Rodman might attend the world’s most important meeting

Former NBA star Dennis Rodman will reportedly be in Singapore when President Donald Trump is scheduled to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in a landmark summit on June 12, 2018, according to sources cited in a New York Post report on June 5, 2018.

“No matter you might think about his presence. One thing’s for sure the ratings will be huge,” a source said in the report. “A lot of times in situations that involve complex diplomacy, countries like to identify ambassadors of goodwill and whether you agree with it or not Dennis Rodman fits the bill.”


Rodman has developed a rapport with Kim over the last several years, so much so that he made two trips to the reclusive nation and is one of the few American citizens to have met with its leader. Kim is widely believed to be a fan of the 1990s Chicago Bulls. Rodman was on the team from 1995 to 1998, playing alongside the legendary Michael Jordan.

Rodman has a connection to Trump, who hosted NBC’s reality TV show, “The Apprentice.” In 2013, Rodman was fired by Trump on the show, after misspelling Melania Trump’s name on a promotional poster as “Milania.”

Airman retired for pain finds freedom in rugby
President Donald Trump
(Photo by Gage Skidmore)

Rodman will reportedly arrive in Singapore on June 11, 2018, and could have some role in the upcoming negotiations, sources told the Post, but it’s unclear what that role could be.

Rodman, who fancies himself a sports ambassador to North Korea, said that he did not “want to take all the credit” for laying the groundwork for the summit.

“I don’t want to sit here and say, ‘I did this. I did that.’ No, that’s not my intention,” Rodman told the celebrity gossip outlet TMZ in April 2018. “And I’ve always asked [Kim] to talk to me because he wants the people of North Korea — and the government over there asked me to talk to Donald Trump about what they want and how we can solve things.”

The meeting between Trump and Kim will be held at the Capella Hotel in Singapore. It will be the first such dialogue between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Korea starts removing border defenses in promising peace drive

North and South Korean troops have started to disarm their heavily fortified border as part of reconciliation efforts between the nations.

Starting on Oct. 1, 2018, Seoul and Pyongyang began removing all the land mines from the Joint Security Area (JSA), located along the 155-mile Demilitarized Zone separating the two countries.


The project will take place over the next 20 days, according to the South’s defense ministry. The move is part of the agreement reached between the South’s President Moon Jae-In and the North’s Kim Jong Un in September 2018 in Pyongyang, where they promised to halt “all hostile acts” against each other and remove threats of war.

Airman retired for pain finds freedom in rugby

Ri Sol-ju, Kim Jong-un, Moon Jae-in, and Kim Jong-sook during the 2018 inter-Korean summit.

The deal also calls for the removal of guard posts and weapons from the JSA. According to Reuters, the troops who remain will be unarmed. The JSA is the only point on the border where troops from both sides come face to face.

The two sides have already taken steps to cool tensions in the region.

Early 2018, South Korea removed its propaganda loudspeakers which it used to blast anti-Pyongyang messages along the border.

And North Korea symbolically moved its clock forward 30 minutes to align with its Southern neighbor in an act of unity.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Here’s why China and Russia can’t beat US stealth fighters

China and Russia say their radars and detection systems can see US stealth fighters, but Western experts expect American fifth-generation fighters like Lockheed Martin’s F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter to dominate for decades.

US rivals have been fielding tougher anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities, including modern, next-level air defenses, designed to weaken the penetrating power of advanced US air assets, especially American stealth fighters and bombers.

The reality is that US fifth-generation fighters are large pieces of metal. They are not invisible, and they can be seen at certain points on the electromagnetic spectrum. Russia and China have both developed capabilities that could allow them to detect a stealthy US aircraft. Still, stealth fighters remain an invaluable part of the US arsenal.


“Countries buying [the F-35] know it’s going to be the winner for decades,” Rebecca Grant, a national security analyst and the author of “The Radar Game: Understanding Stealth and Aircraft Survivability,” told Business Insider.

Airman retired for pain finds freedom in rugby

A Marine F-35B Lightning II.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King Jr.)

“The beauty of fifth-gen,” Grant explained, is “it relies on more than one type of technology. It isn’t fragile, and you can’t shatter it with one breakthrough.”

China, like the Soviets before them, has been looking at long-range, long-wave radars. An over-the-horizon radar with this type of capability is referred to as China’s “first line of defense.”

This type of radar can detect stealthy aircraft. The drawbacks, however, are the low resolution and lack of a real-time target-grade track, which make it difficult to cue in missiles to kill the incoming fighters, Justin Bronk, an air combat expert at the Royal United Services Institute, told BI.

China is also extending its air defense capabilities out to sea with its newer, more advanced warships, as well as working to improve the Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radars on Chinese aircraft.

The country is also pushing for breakthroughs in infrared in addition to more theoretical research, such as exotic quantum radars and entangled photons.

Airman retired for pain finds freedom in rugby

An F-22 Raptor.

(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Justin Hodge)

“I see China working hard to erode some of the advantages by improving their own capabilities and the way they operate, but fifth-gen still presents a very tough challenge for China to counter,” Grant told BI, adding that “even if China improves in one area, there are still advantages that go with the whole fifth-gen package.”

“It’s pretty much exactly the same for the Russians,” she said. “There’s not a magic breakthrough technology that’s going to make stealth obsolete overnight.”

That’s not to say it can’t be done. The US is, according to The National Interest, looking at a combination of long-wave infrared search and tracking systems, high-speed data networking, and algorithms for advanced multi-point sensor fusion. All of that takes time to develop and integrate into a country’s force.

Russia is currently developing the S-500 surface-to-air missile system, which the country claims will have the ability to intercept stealth aircraft, something the weapon’s predecessors have struggled to do. It’s impossible to know how the system will actually perform until its fielded.

S-500 Prometheus missile defense system

www.youtube.com

Grant explained that American stealth assets remain very powerful signaling tools. Potential adversaries, she pointed out, “don’t know where it’s going to be. They can’t detect it the same way. There is an element of uncertainty.”

Earlier this year, the US deployed B-2 Spirit bombers to Hawaii to train alongside F-22s. The US military said in a statement at the time that the move showed the world “that the B-2 is on watch 24 hours a day, seven days a week ready to protect our country and its allies.”

Both China and Russia are developing their own fifth-generation fighters. They include the Chinese J-20 and the Russian Su-57, each of which has its own merits but still trails behind US programs. The Chinese military is also developing the H-20 stealth bomber.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY MOVIES

Vietnam just banned ‘Abominable’ movie because of a map

Vietnam outlawed Dreamworks’ new animation “Abominable” on Oct. 14, 2019, because it showed a map acknowledging China’s claim to a disputed part of the South China Sea.

Multiple countries — including China, Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines — have overlapping claims to the sea. Beijing claims a large portion of it as its own, and calls the U-shaped region demarcating it as the “nine-dash line.”

Dispute over waters near Vietnam flared in October 2019 after Vietnam claimed a Chinese ship rammed and sank a fishing vessel.


A still from “Abominable” circulating widely on Twitter on Oct. 13, 2019, showed a map clearly showing a variant of the dashed line in the South China Sea.

“We will revoke [the film’s license],” Ta Quang Dong, Vietnam’s deputy minister of culture, sports and tourism, told the country’s Thanh Nien newspaper on Sunday, Reuters reported.

The decision was directly a response to the map scene, Reuters added, citing an employee at Vietnam’s National Cinema Center.

The movie, directed by “Monsters, Inc.” writer Jill Culton, follows a young Chinese girl who wakes up to find a Yeti on her roof, and and is led on to a journey to the Himalaya mountains to find his family.

The Vietnamese-language edition of the movie — titled “Everest: The Little Yeti” — premiered in the country on Oct. 4, 2019, Reuters reported. It appeared to play for nine days before the culture ministry banned the movie.

Sen. Tom Cottons of Arkansas criticized the ban on Oct. 15, 2019, saying in a tweet that Dreamworks’ display of the nine-dash line was an example of “kowtowing to the Chinese Communist Party by American liberal elites.”

Oct. 9, 2019, broadcasters at ESPN used a map of China which incorporated Taiwan and the “nine-dash line” as part of its territory, sparking fresh criticism among Beijing’s critics.

Country sovereignty is a sensitive topic in China too: Multiple Western designer brands have also landed in hot water in China for identifying the semi-autonomous cities of Hong Kong and Macau as countries, rather than Chinese regions.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Air Force Strikers are figuring out how to be competitive

Airman Magazine sat down with Gen. Tim Ray, the Air Force Global Strike Command commander, for an in-depth interview. The below excerpts highlight how the command continues to innovate and explore the art of possible. There are only historical traces of Strategic Air Command; these Airmen are now Strikers. Excellence and teamwork is in the job description; they’re attracting talent and working hard to keep it in-house, building the world’s premiere nuclear and conventional long-range strike team.


“This is about figuring out how to be competitive.” – General Timothy M. Ray

vimeo.com

Airman Magazine: What does it mean to be a “Striker”?

Gen. Tim Ray: Strikers stand on the shoulders of giants like Schriever, Doolittle, Arnold and Eaker. That’s our heritage. We understand that air and space power is not about perfection; it’s about overcoming obstacles and challenges. Strikers are in a business that no one else can do. Strikers know the score; and the score is that there are no allied bombers out there. There are no allied Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. What we do every day as a Striker is the foundation of the security structure of the free world. This fact is viewed in the eyes of our adversaries and it’s viewed in the eyes of our allies. In a very important way, there’s a lot riding on our Airmen, and we have to get it right every day.

Airman Magazine: What are some of the challenges Global Strike is facing and some of the conversations and solutions your team is coming up with?

Gen. Tim Ray: For us it’s to think about the competitive space we’re in, when the Cold War ended; there really was only one team that stopped competing at this level, of great power competition—the United States. We enjoyed a world order that was to our benefit. Now we have players on the scene with regional reach and capacity, and also global capacity, and we’ve got regional players who want to make sure that they have more sway. So think North Korea, Iran, China and Russia. So how we compete with them is not something that you can take lightly. When you step back and think about it, in this long-term strategic competition, how do we compete?

One of the things I’m very proud of in the command is what we’ve done with our weapons generation facility. Here’s an example: the old requirements for how you would build that were very expensive and somewhat outdated. We brought in a cross-functional team from across the Air Force. We gave everybody a right and left limit and we made them really think about this thing. The outcome of that effort is an option to re-capitalize our facilities at a third of the cost. We’re saving hundreds of millions of dollars that’ll have better security and better capacity. I think that’s the kind of business game we need to continue to play; to go and provide great, relevant capabilities, much more affordable for who we are as an Air Force and who we are as a military. I think that’s how we continue to take this particular thing on, is thinking about the context, what do we have to do to find ways to solve those problems.

A United States Air Force B-52H Stratofortress, accompanied by four Saudi Arabian F-15C Eagles, conducts a low pass over Prince Sultan Air Base, Saudi Arabia, Nov. 1, 2019. The B-52H, deployed from Barksdale Air Force Base, La., is part of a Bomber Task Force operating out of RAF Fairford, England. The aircraft is a long-range strategic bomber capable of delivering massive amounts of precision weapons against any adversary. The bomber conducted a sortie to the U.S. Central Command area of operations in order to conduct interoperability training with Saudi partners in support of our shared regional security interests. Strategic bombers contribute to stability in the CENTCOM and U.S. European Command (EUCOM) areas of operation, and when called upon, they offer a rapid response capability for combatant commanders. This mission to CENTCOM follows the B-1B Lancer mission to PSAB last week, again demonstrating the U.S.’s commitment to the defense of allies and partners.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Daniel Snider)

Airman Magazine: Can you talk about the atmosphere of how we handled things back during the Cold War and how, in today’s great power competition, things are different?

Gen. Tim Ray: With the Cold War, there was bipolarity and a set number of competitors. With the Warsaw Pact and Soviet Union versus everybody else; we had the lead. Now we have multi-polarity with competitors like China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, violent extremist organization challenges; they are now part of the equation. So you have to think more broadly about this global situation.

Things are in this conversation now that weren’t back then, space, cyber, hypersonics, the information domain, the internet, what happens in social media, all those influencers. That’s a very different game when you start to understand what’s really going on out there.

Airman Magazine: How do you maintain a vector and vision for the command in an ever-changing competitive space?

Gen. Tim Ray: When you read the book Why Air Forces Fail, we see that there’s no loss based on a lack of tactics, techniques, or procedures. It’s always for a lack of ability to adapt to what’s going on. So when I think about that particular space, you have to realize this is really more of a chess game. So you can’t try to win every move. But you have to avoid being put on the chess board without options, and that’s how the enemy is playing the game. So you need to know how you get to checkmate on the enemy. And certainly when it comes time to maneuver on the board, you think more strategically. When you consider that dynamic, so how the Soviet Union dealt with us, they tried to win every day, and it didn’t work for them. So we step back and consider what’s going on, you have to set a pace to build margin and to compete that is sustainable.

Airman Magazine: What does the Global Strike Command of 2030 look like?

Gen. Tim Ray: The command in 2030 understands readiness and capacity as an ecosystem. How we tend to look at it these days is fairly numerical. And as you begin to modernize and change you have to think about it as an ecosystem. You have to think about the rate at which you can bring new technology on. You have to think about it in the rate at which you can keep it relevant for the conflict ahead of you, and put those capabilities in on time. You have to understand the training requirements, and the manpower.

So we’re standing up our innovative hub that’s connected to AFWERX—StrikeWerx. We’ve got great connections with academia here locally, and then building that more broadly. So that innovative space, that data, that ecosystem approach, means that I think we can be much more capable of keeping that margin in play, and doing it as affordably as we possibly can. So that piece, that’s an important part of just the organize, train, and equip.

We’re absolutely tying ourselves to space in a very formal way because that’s a big part of how we’re going to operate. Multi-domain command and control, multi-domain operations, means many sensors, many shooters. And to be able to connect them all together, I tell you, if you’re serious about long-range strike, you’re very serious about multi-domain operations, because that’s how we’re going to do this. And so it’s a big part of who we are.

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An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during a developmental test at 12:33 a.m. Pacific Time Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Clayton Wear)

Airman Magazine: How important is it to develop and adopt simulation training technologies that are compatible across the command and that are scalable to an Air Force level?

Gen. Tim Ray: Starting locally at each of the wings, we’re beginning our own efforts to use augmented and virtual reality. It’s already in play in a couple of our wings. Certainly I see the ability to bring artificial intelligence into that, to make sure that we’re doing really smart stuff. We can measure human performance now more accurately, and so you can compare that to a standard.

I’m a huge fan of simulation. There’s a lot of things you can do, but there’s also some real-world things that you’ve got to do. So you’ve got to keep those two things in balance. Not one before the other, but really it’s about putting them together correctly to give you the best trained Airmen, and that you’re relevant. I see us continuing to work down that line. I believe that all the new platforms that we’re bringing on with the new helicopter (MH-139 Grey Wolf), certainly the B-21, the new ICBM, and the new cruise missile, all those capabilities I think we have to bake in the virtual reality, augmented reality, dimensions to training, and the maintenance and the support and the operations. I think that’s got to be foundational, because it’s a much more affordable and more effective way to go.

Airman Magazine: General Goldfein said when it comes to the nuclear enterprise, that there might be a great cost to investing in it, but the cost of losing is going to be much higher. Can you expand on that statement?

Gen. Tim Ray: When you think of our nuclear triad, it must be looked at through the lens of the Chinese triad. Which is not big, but it’s a triad and modernized. The Russian triad which is large and modernized. Then, look at our triad through the minds of our allies and partners. That’s the context. And we don’t get to pick our own context. We don’t get to pick how we want to manage that. That’s the reality of how this operates.

Airman retired for pain finds freedom in rugby

Airmen from the 90th Missile Maintenance Squadron prepare a reentry system for removal from a launch facility, Feb. 2, 2018, in the F. E. Warren Air Force Base missile complex. The 90th MMXS is the only squadron on F. E. Warren allowed to transport warheads from the missile complex back to base. Missile maintenance teams perform periodic maintenance to maintain the on-alert status for launch facilities, ensuring the success of the nuclear deterrence mission.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Braydon Williams)

Airman Magazine: How important is our commitment to our allies in this fight?

Gen. Tim Ray: What you’ll find is that, whatever happens in the nuclear realm, will need to play out in the capitals of all of our allies. What it is and what it isn’t, what it means and what it doesn’t mean. Because there are countries out there who are, on a routine basis, asking themselves whether they need to build a nuclear program. And because we’re doing what we do, the answer to that is no, they don’t have to. So there is a counter-proliferation dimension here. Back in the Cold War there was the United States, there was the UK, the French, and the Russians. Now there’s India, Pakistan, you’ve got North Korea, and China and so on. You’ve got a very different world. We don’t need more of those. It simply complicates it and makes it more difficult. So it has to play out in our minds, how we intend to stay the course in a way that works. That’s the difficult piece.

Airman Magazine: The Minuteman III was placed in the ground in 1973. As we look at updating those systems, moving toward more integrated, how do you look at the security aspect of that when it comes to the ICBM capability?

Gen. Tim Ray: Security on all dimensions for the nuclear portfolio is so critical. You have to have a very high degree of assurance there. What we’re doing is a priority

You now have a challenge with the old ICBM. When, not if, you need to make a modernization move for a new component, you have a phenomenal integration bill. Right now, we don’t own the technical baseline, which means we have to pay a very high price for that. It was not built to be modular, so now we have to have a lot more detailed engineering, and it’s going to take a lot longer to do that. And it’s less competitive, because there’s only handful of people, maybe one or two places which might even want to take that on.

For the new system, the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent, there’s a different value proposition there. One, it’s modular in design. It’s mature technology. It’s built to be in the ground for a long time. We’re talking about a two-third reduction in the number of convoys, which is a significantly safer world. It’s two thirds fewer openings of the site to do work on it, and to expose it to the outside. You’ll have a more modern communication capability, which means you can design in a much more cyber-resilient capability, and you can look at redundant paths. So I think at the end of the day, the value proposition of being able to make affordable modernization moves or changes to reduce the security challenge, and to bring in that modern technology that you can now work on in a competitive environment, that’s just a much smarter way of doing business.

Airman Magazine: You mentioned the Air Force just acquired a new helicopter which your command will be utilizing. Can you please talk about the acquisition of new technology for your command?

Gen. Tim Ray: There’s a formula for affordability. You need to have mature technology. You have to have stable requirements. You need to own the technical baseline so that you don’t have to pay the prime contractor extra money to go fix it. You need to be modular so that you can make very easy modern modifications without it having to be an entirely new engineering project. So you just have to reengineer that one piece to interface with it all. Then you’ve got to get it on the ramp on time, and then begin your modernization plan. That’s the formula. That’s exactly how the new helicopter played out in a competitive environment. It was the best option. I think we’re going to find it’s going to meet our needs quite well. That’s going to be a tremendous help, and I think it’s going to go faster than fielding a brand new system. So we’re modifying something that has the capacity to be modified. I think it’s a great, great success story.

Airman retired for pain finds freedom in rugby

The MH-139A Grey Wolf lands at Duke Field, Fla., Dec. 19, 2019, before its unveiling and naming ceremony. The aircraft is set to replace the Air Force’s fleet of UH-1N Huey aircraft and has capability improvements related to speed, range, endurance and payload.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King Jr.)

Airman Magazine: The Air Force has the great responsibility of being entrusted with the most powerful weapons on the planet. What’s your view in being part of such a huge responsibility?

Gen. Timothy Ray: It is a tremendous responsibility to be in charge of two thirds … On a day to day basis, to be in charge of two thirds of the country’s nuclear arsenal, while there may be some instability, the world without these particular capabilities would be very different. I believe it’s important for us to look at it beyond simply day to day stewardship. If you really think about it, it’s not just the global strike portfolio, or the Air Force portfolio, or even the DoD, the Department of Defense, this is the nation’s arsenal. And the nation’s arsenal, and our leadership role in the world, and the role we play, there’s a tremendous application across the planet. So that just underscores how important it is on a day to day basis.

This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Lockheed Martin dreams of F-35 killer

Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter has cost more money than any weapons system in history, but a bright new idea from the same company could see its best bits gutted and slapped into the world’s deadliest combat jet: The F-22.

The F-22’s development started in the 1980s, when computers took up much more space. That didn’t stop Lockheed’s engineers from building a 62-foot-long, 45-foot-wide twin-engine fighter jet with the radar signature of a marble.


The F-22 even kicked off a new category of fighter. Instead of air superiority, like the F-15, F-22s wear the crown of air dominance, as it can dogfight with the best of them or pick them off from long range before it’s even seen.

The F-35 benefits from stealth in much the same way, but with a smaller frame, smaller weapons loadout, and a single engine, it mainly works as shorter range missions with a focus on hunting down and destroying enemy air defenses, rather than aerial combat.

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An F-22A Raptor (top) from the 43rd Fighter Squadron at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., and an F-35A Lightning II joint strike fighter from the 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., fly over the Emerald coast Sept. 19, 2012.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jeremy T. Lock)

The F-35 can do this much better than the F-22 because it’s got newer technology and compact computing and sensors all around it.

So Lockheed has proposed, as Defense One reported, putting the F-35s brains, its sensors and computers, inside an F-22 airframe for an ultimate hybrid that would outclass either jet individually.

Instead of a sixth-generation fighter — a concept that the US has earmarked hundreds of millions for and which strains the imagination of even the most plugged in military planner as the world hasn’t even adjusted to fifth generation fighters — why not combine the best parts of demonstrated concepts?

“That can be done much, much more rapidly than introducing a new design,” David Deptula, a retired Air Force lieutenant general who now leads the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, told Defense One.

But what seems like a giant windfall for the US, having on hand two jets that could be combined into the best the world’s ever seen, could actually upstage the F-35, which has only just now started to make deliveries to US allies.

The US will spend a solid trillion dollars on the F-35 program, and will export it to NATO and Asian allies, but while the jet solves a lot of problems around modern air combat, it’s not a one-size-fits all solution.

In that way, an F-22/F-35 hybrid could preserve the best parts of both jets in a new and powerful package that could put the US miles beyond anything its adversaries can touch, but in doing so, it could kill the F-35 before it even gets a chance to prove itself.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Everything you ever wanted to know about guidons

You might know that a guidon represents a unit and its commanding officer. And you might know that when the commander is inside the office or building, their guidon is displayed for everyone to see, and when the day is done, the guidon is retired for the evening.

Guidons are part of military culture, but you might be surprised to know the history of them. Let’s take a look at how guidons came to be part of our military and their storied history.

During change of responsibility ceremonies or change of command ceremonies, the passing of the guidon is an important step and key signifier that something significant is taking place. If you’ve spent any time on a military installation, chances are you’ve seen this ceremony (or something like it):


Four people stand in formation, with a guidon bearer at the front. The guidon bearer is usually the senior enlisted member or first sergeant of a unit, and that person generally stands behind three officers. At an appointed time, the guidon bearer hands the guidon to the outgoing commander who presents it to the presiding officer after saying something along the lines of, “Sir/Ma’am, I relinquish command.”

Then there’s a quick hustle and change of positions and the presiding officer passes the guidon to the incoming commander, who hands it back to the guidon bearer and says something like, “Sir/Ma’am, I accept command.”

Listening to this kind of ceremony will undoubtedly reveal this the passing of the guidon is a ceremony which goes back hundreds of years and that the guidon itself was once an essential part of a battlefield posture. Flags and guidons proclaiming unit colors and insignia date back hundreds of years. Today’s guidons used by our military trace their heritage to the small flags used by cavalry units in Europe during the late 1700s and early 1800s.

History of the guidon and the Army Guidon

As we know it today, the guidon came to the military in 1834 with the first cavalry units called dragoons. The top half of the Hudson was red, and the bottom half was white with the letters “U.S.” stitched in white. The company letter was stitched in red.

Guidons remained unchanged for the U.S. military until 1862 during the Civil War. The shape of the cavalry guidon didn’t change, but the colors were altered to a stars and stripes pattern. This change stayed in place until 1885 when the guidon was changed back to the red over white design.

Just one year later, artillery companies were authorized use of guidons. Engineer units were allowed to carry guidons in 1904. Also, in 1904, the Army standardized the design and use of colors and branch insignia. For example, the scarlet background and yellow crossed cannons came to represent artillery, just like the semaphore flags on orange backgrounds represent Signal Corps.

Headquarters elements of Army commands, along with garrisons, centers, schools, and elsewhere are authorized guidons of specific design and color. These usually follow the design of the unit’s Organizational Flag.

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Air Force Guidons

The first aviation guidon was authorized in 1916 for use by the 1st Aero Squadron while in service on the Mexican border. Since aviation was part of the Signal Corps, the first Air Force guidon was orange with the Signal Corps crossed flags stitched above an outstretched eagle. These two elements were used for early military aviator badges, and the design was officially announced in a special regulation change to the wartime uniform of WWI. A recommendation in 1919 was to make the Air Force guidon green piped in black with a wing propeller and the letters/numbers of the unit stitched in white. That change was rejected because it was feared the black flag might be associated with “piracy.” As we know it, the yellow eagle in use on Air Force guidons came into being in 1962 and has remained unchanged since.

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Marine Corps Guidons

Marine Corps guidons are always rectangular with a scarlet field and gold lettering with an eagle, globe, and anchor centered in the middle. Recruit training units don’t have any branch of service indicated on their guidons. Boot camp platoons only display the platoon number. Fleet Marine Forces units have “FMF” about the Marine Corps emblem.

All non-infantry and artillery reserve units display “USMCR” on their guidons, while all infantry, artillery, and active units show “USMC” on their guidons. Regimental level numbers are displayed on the lower-left corner, unless a higher/lower command numeral provides better identification.

One of the only units authorized a second guidon is Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines. C-Company 1/7 is authorized a white guidon with a skull and crossbones. Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines are authorized white markings on a black guidon, with a crossed rifle and shattered paddle and Ka-Bar inset behind a black heart logo.

Unlike the Army, no additional attachments are authorized, like streamers or bands.

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Navy Guidons

Navy ships and squadrons are authorized a unit guidon while ashore that must be swallowtail shaped with a blue background and white text. The Navy guidon shows a fouled anchor within a diamond, which is the same insignia as the Naval Infantry Flag. Before WWII, the Navy used a red flag for artillery ships. OCS companies carry blue guidons with white lettering that shows a white bulldog.

The Colors

When viewing flags in a military setting, the order is important. First is the national flag, next to the U.S. Army flag, the USMC flag, the Navy flag, then the Air Force flag, and finally the flag of the Coast Guard. However, when the Coast Guard is operating as part of the Navy (as in during war), the Coast Guard flag comes before the Air Force flag.

Guidons are an integral part of the military culture, not just because they represent the commander’s presence or were once used as a sight-point on the field. They represent the shared history of our military and our culture.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This European city has been destroyed by invaders 44 times

“War ends only when it has carved its way across cities and villages, bringing death and destruction in its wake,” Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev wrote President John F. Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Americans are pretty lucky when it comes to where they are on the map. Only a handful of times in the country’s history has war ever come home to its cities and villages.

The Revolution, the British burning Washington, DC, the Civil War, Pearl Harbor, and 9/11 are just a few attacks on American soil that come to mind — luckily, the Cuban Missile Crisis ended without that kind of a conflict. The aforementioned attacks are also spread out across the nation’s nearly 250-year history.

Other nations aren’t so lucky.


Airman retired for pain finds freedom in rugby

Airman retired for pain finds freedom in rugby

Here’s an ink drawing from the 1600s.

Belgrade, the capital and largest city in Serbia (the former Yugoslavia), is one of those who has not enjoyed such luck. Its location on the crossroads of the Sava and Danube Rivers and its fertile valleys means it will always be an attractive area to any potential invader.

But it’s also right on the path from European Turkey into the heart of Western Europe. You can’t invade the Middle East from Europe without going through Belgrade and, as logic would have it, you can’t invade Europe from the Middle East without passing Belgrade either. All told, the city has been completely destroyed and rebuilt 44 times and has seen 115 different wars.

It’s amazing just how many different art styles throughout the years depict the destruction of Belgrade.

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Here’s an Ottoman miniature of another Siege of Belgrade.

Flashback to pre-historical times: As mentioned, a land so well suited for growing crops is going to be settled rather quickly by the early Slavic farmers of Europe. The area’s inhabitants were first known as Thracians and Dacians before the area was conquered by Celts, who ruled for more than 200 years.

Until Belgrade was captured by Rome.

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To be fair, Attila razed cities like it was his job. Because it was.

Rome held the city for some 400-plus years until the Roman Empire was split in two. Roman Dacia was on the edge of the Eastern Roman Empire and they could not protect it properly. In 441, the city we call Belgrade was captured and razed by Huns, who sold its population off into slavery.

The Huns held the city for more than ten years before the Romans could come recapture it, but it was soon taken again, this time by Ostrogoths. It was quickly captured and retaken in succession by the Eastern Romans, Avars, and later, Attila the Hun.

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“Here they come… Shit, there goes the city. Again.”

After Attila, the Romans (now called Byzantines) wrestled for control over the city with Avars, Gepids, Hungarians, and Bulgarians for some 400-plus years. The city saw armies of the first, second, and third crusades march through it as the Serbian Empire began to establish itself in the area. That empire was relatively short-lived, however, and Belgrade was firmly in Hungarian hands.

Until it wasn’t. The site became a focal point for the ongoing Ottoman-Christian struggle in the Balkans. Eventually, the Ottomans captured the city, destroyed it, and sent its Christian population to Istanbul in chains. But it thrived under Turkish rule and became an appetizing target for the rising Hapsburg Empire based in Austria.

The two powers fought over the city of Belgrade all the way through the First World War, even though Serbia was an independent kingdom for much of the time.

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Who not only mine the streets, but also spray paint the old buildings. Good work, a-hole.

After World War I, Serbia becomes part of the greater Yugoslavia, which was great for Belgrade until Yugoslavia joined the Axis pact. The citizens rebelled and declared the twenty-something (and anti-Axis) Peter II the rightful king and the one calling the shots on Yugoslavia’s foreign relations. The only answer the Axis had was to bomb the sh*t out of Belgrade and invade with literally every Axis power available.

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“Leave us alone, literally everyone ever!”

Of course, this means the city had to be retaken by the Allies, who decided to bomb the city into oblivion… on Easter. It was then captured by the Red Army and Communist Partisans under Josip Broz Tito. The city (and Yugoslavia) remained firmly in Tito’s good hands until the Balkan Conflicts of the 1990s, where it was bombed by NATO forces.

And the locals have not forgotten.

MIGHTY MOVIES

This milspouse made the latest cut on ‘American Idol’

American Idol is back this year on ABC with Ryan Seacrest and new judges Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan. They’ve just announced the Top 24 and there’s a military spouse who’s made it this far in the competition.

Jurnee (just one name and she says it’s real) is an 18-year-old hostess from Denver, CO. Her wife, Ashley, serves in the U.S. Army.


Check out Jurnee’s audition video below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=01XhRdvPZxY

www.youtube.com

After Hollywood Week, Jurnee learned she made it to the Top 24 and performed Never Enough for her Idol Showcase. Ashley, who’s soon to be deployed, made it to Los Angeles for the performance.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JRMBMs6ZLPw

www.youtube.com

Longtime Idol viewers will notice the way that the producers are presenting her (ahem) journey means that they’re setting up Jurnee to have a long run on the show (if she continues to perform with the ability she’s demonstrated so far). We’ll be tuning in and following her progress in the weeks to come.

MIGHTY HISTORY

What exactly is Iran’s shadowy Quds Force?

For many Americans, it can be tough to understand exactly how Iran’s military apparatus stacks up against our own. Both nations manage their defense efforts in fundamentally different ways due to necessity, cultural differences, and internal politics. The U.S. Military does not operate within America’s borders except under very specific circumstances, it receives its funding through Congress, and perhaps most importantly, there’s no question as to where its loyalties lie.


The Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran, however, function in a very different way, with its elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) overlapping many of the roles occupied by the nation’s formal Army and garnering the vast majority of the nation’s defense budget. The IRGC also operates a number of legitimate Iranian businesses, securing alternate funding sources while compounding power and influence over the nation’s economy and government. When Iranian citizens take to the streets to protest, it’s the IRGC that suppresses their efforts with brutal precision.

In April of this year, the United States chose to designate the IRGC as a terror group, but deep within the organization’s structure, a small sect of the IRGC has already carried that distinction for over a decade: the IRGC’s secretive foreign intervention arm, the Quds Force.

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Quds Force operations are divided into 8 directories, shown here in different colors.

(WikiMedia Commons)

The Quds Force are tasked with clandestine operations outside of Iran

Because Iran isn’t capable of fielding a large and modern military that can stand toe to toe with giants like the U.S., the IRGC’s Quds Force has adopted a unique approach to projecting the nation’s power beyond Iran’s borders. The Quds Force operates entirely within the shadows, supporting foreign terror groups and militias, conducting attacks and assassinations, gathering intelligence, and doing anything else Iran needs to keep hidden behind a veil of plausible deniability.

Some Quds Force operatives could be compared to CIA handlers tasked with developing local intelligence assets. Others are more like American Green Berets, tasked with training and equipping foreign military forces. These troops are also known to engage in unconventional warfare operations themselves, often in the form of terror attacks, assassinations, and kidnappings.

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Quds Day celebration in Iran, 2017.

(Mohammad Ranjbar via WikiMedia Commons)

They get their name from the city of Jerusalem

Iran’s long-standing beef with Israel permeates throughout the nation’s military apparatus, but none so directly as the Quds Force, also commonly referred to in Iran as Al-Quds. In Arabic, Al-Quds actually means Jerusalem, or literally translated, “The Holy One.” They didn’t adopt this name as a respectful nod to the ancient city under Israeli control, but rather as a lasting reminder of their long-standing goal to recapture Jerusalem for the Arabic People.

Iran also celebrates Quds Day, though not as a direct affirmation of support for the military unit. Quds Day, which has now spread throughout like-minded groups of the Middle East and even as far off as London, is a day dedicated to parades, fiery speeches, and other demonstrations meant to denounce Israel and Zionism. This year, Iran’s Quds Day celebrations also included burning American flags and effigies of President Donald Trump.

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Iran can’t go toe to toe with the U.S. and they know it, so they found a way around it.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Clayton Cupit)

They specialize in asymmetric warfare because they know the U.S. is stronger

Asymmetric warfare is, in a nutshell, a war between opponents with vastly different levels of resources or capabilities. Iran lacks the technological, diplomatic, and financial strengths the United States leans on to both deter and win armed conflicts, and as a result, they’ve opted not to fight on those terms.

In the modern era, this asymmetric approach has earned the Quds Force close friends in the form of terror organizations with similar extremist goals. Some, like Hezbollah, were even founded through Quds Force interventions. Even the Taliban, a group the Quds Force once fought side by side with American force against, has become an ally, bolstering Iran’s defenses along Afghanistan’s Western Border.

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We’re pretty sure they make their ghillie suits out of confetti though.

(Javad Hadi via WikiMedia Commons)

No one is sure exactly how many troops are in the Quds Force

America’s Special Operations Command (USASOC) maintains a total force of about 33,000 troops, but it’s nearly impossible to tell how those numbers stack up against the Quds Force. Because of the secretive way in which subset of the IRGC operates, estimates have ranged from the low thousands to as many as 50,000 total troops, but to a certain extent, either number would be misleading.

Because a primary role of the Quds Force is to establish friendly militias and fighting forces inside the borders of other nations, the Quds Force total number doesn’t actually reflect the group’s force projection capabilities. With operations ranging from Syria to Venezuela, Iran’s influence over loosely affiliated fighting organizations the world over makes the danger presented by the Quds Force more difficult to quantify than conventional, or even many unconventional, military units.

Airman retired for pain finds freedom in rugby

Specialized IEDs purpose built to penetrate armor began appearing in Iraq as a result of Quds Forces.

(U.S. Air Force photo)

The Quds Force is already responsible for hundreds, if not thousands, of American deaths

Declassified defense documents have linked the Quds Force to a rash of IED attacks in Iraq that claimed the lives of hundreds of U.S. service members during combat operations in recent years. These attacks utilized an explosively formed projectile, or EFP, designed specifically to be effective against armored vehicles like American troops utilize in combat zones. Iran’s special operations troops have also been involved in a number of insurgent attacks against U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq since 2003.

The Quds Force was implicated in the bombings of the U.S. Embassy, annex, and Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 and 1984, along with a long list of other terror attacks. It’s important to note, however, that the Quds Force tends to advise and support rather than directly participate in these operations, granting Iran the deniability they need to avoid open war with the United States.