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 TACTICAL

The Marine Corps tested a skateboard unit in the 1990s

Before the days of the Iraq War made training to fight in urban centers a necessity, the Marine Corps was being proactive with the idea that the U.S. Military might have to capture some cities during a war. Urban combat exercises became a focal point after the Battle of Mogadishu, culminating in the large-scale Urban Warrior exercises in 1999.

One of the innovations tested in Urban Warrior was the development of the combat skateboard.


Urban Warrior was a test by the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory to test the effectiveness of Marines fighting in large urban areas, which the Corps predicted would materialize on the world’s coastlines. The urban area was more than just another terrain for fighting. It came with its own set of obstacles to overcome including lack of shelter, lack of resources and the ease of booby-trapping rooms, trash, and even entire buildings.

The idea was that conventional U.S. Military power would be limited in an urban environment with a large civilian population and the potential for collateral damage. American tanks, munitions, and other go-tos of the arsenal of democracy would be useless in such an environment. On top of that, disaster relief and humanitarian assistance would have to accompany the fighting to prevent the devolution of the city into another Stalingrad.

Since the Corps knew what wouldn’t work, Urban Warrior was a chance to see what would work.

Airman retired for pain finds freedom in rugby

Like these spiffy “new” Urban BDUs.

On top of weapons, strategies, and uniforms, the Marines who landed and took over parts of Chicago, San Francisco, and Oakland in 1999 also tested a number of tactical ideas at their makeshift proving grounds, including the combat skateboard.

The Marines used store-bought, off-the-shelf, skateboards during Urban Warrior to detect tripwires in buildings and draw sniper fire, among other uses. What the Marines really took away from its experimentation with combat skateboards is that standard knee and elbow pads were useless for American troops fighting in urban centers and specialized ones would have to be obtained.

Airman retired for pain finds freedom in rugby

Lance Cpl. Chad Codwell, from Baltimore, Maryland, with Charlie Company 1st Battalion 5th Marines, carries an experimental urban combat skateboard which is being used for manuevering inside buildings in order to detect tripwires and sniper fire. This mission is in direct support of Urban Warrior ’99.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Christopher Vallee)

Also tested by Marines in urban combat exercises were paragliders and bulldozers, which Marines dubbed “the bulldozer from hell.”

MIGHTY CULTURE

LCAC pilot tells his story about he came to ‘hover’

The wind blows viciously as it sweeps across the open waters, but the sound of gum being popped out of the pack is a familiar feeling that Senior Chief Quartermaster Steve Schweizer will never forget, even after retirement. It’s something that he takes on every mission, a lucky charm that he’ll leave behind when he walks out of the Assault Craft Unit Four (ACU-4) facility for the very last time.


“I won’t fly without it,” said Schweizer. “I’ve actually been on the ramp getting ready to go and I was feeling my pockets and thought ‘oh it’s not there, no I have to run back inside I know it’s in my desk.’ I’ll look at the water, look at the weather, and I’ll just kind of almost go into a quiet place, like just relax. I know that as soon as that mission starts, it’s ‘go go go’, it’s stress, it’s just operational, operational, operational.”

Schweizer first thought of joining the Navy after being unsure what he wanted to do in life.

“I took half a semester of college and realized it wasn’t what I wanted to do,” said Schweizer. “I had an uncle in the Navy who I didn’t talk to very much, but I told him I decided to join the military and he told me how much fun he had in the Navy so I figured I may have made the right decision.”

Schweizer first joined the LCAC program in 2004 and enjoys what he does.

“I’ve been here for fifteen years and I love what I do,” said Schweizer. “I love flying the crafts, I love teaching people how to fly the crafts, and I like our mission.”

Schweizer began running as a hobby before his 2014 deployment, describing it as an escape and a stress reliever.

“I just put my music on, go for a run, and I just tune everything out,” said Schweizer. “It’s just my relax time, my alone time. It’s definitely one of those things where it’s like if you think of work all the time, if you think of the stress of your job all the time, it’s going to get to you, so it’s my outlet.”

The program has a very high attrition rate and has a difficult training pipeline.

“This is a 90×50 foot hovercraft, it weighs about 200 thousand pounds,” said Schweizer. “You’re controlling it with three different controls. Your feet are doing one job and both hands are doing separate jobs. It takes a lot of coordination and it’s not easy.”

Training in the simulator and manning the live craft are completely different, and requires a lot of attention.

“You always have that heightened sense of awareness,” said Schweizer. “Anticipation of what the craft is going to do and how to counteract it. Never take anything for granted.”

On a small craft that is only manned by five personnel, personnel develop a closer relationship with crew members quicker, Schweizer explained.

“They develop that bond because you know that person has your back, or you know that person is looking out for you,” said Schweizer. “I know my crew, I know their families, I know what they like to do in their spare time, they know that if they’re ever in trouble they know they’ll call me first, or they’ll call one of their crew members first.”

This article originally appeared on All Hands Magazine. Follow @AllHandsMag on Twitter.

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6 important things you need to learn before World War III

The future is coming, and if you’re in the military that means a return to the wars of the past where troops fought in large armies and task forces for bits of land on far flung battlefields.


With an ever more aggressive China and Russia pushing against America and its allies around the world, Pentagon planners believe troops have to be ready to fight near-peer rivals the next time the balloon goes up.

Here are six things American troops need to be ready for if this generation’s Cold War turns into World War III:

1. Patrols will have to deal with enemy surveillance at all times

 

Airman retired for pain finds freedom in rugby
A U.S. Marine keeps watch during a field operation at the Jungle Warfare Training Center in Okinawa, Japan. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Kelsey M. Dornfeld)

One of the worst things for the average Joe on the ground will be avoiding an enemy’s persistent surveillance. Near-peer rivals have a blanket of drones, satellites, and electromagnetic sensors that will spot Marines and soldiers and their radio transmissions.

Patrols will have to attempt to avoid detection when possible, but be ready to move quickly and often even when the enemy is looking. Because a single, low-flying drone can provide up-to-the-second targeting data to an enemy mortar team, automatic weapons teams and riflemen won’t be able to stay in one place for long.

2. Every firefight will become a multi-dimensional slugfest within minutes

Airman retired for pain finds freedom in rugby
Soldiers conduct a 120mm live-fire training exercise at Camp Atterbury, Indiana, on Aug. 13, 2016. (Photo: Army Sgt. Jarred Woods)

In World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, U.S. troops had to deal with the fact that enemy spotters could quickly feed their locations to air and artillery assets, triggering an air battle overhead and an artillery duel on the ground.

In a future conflict, this will be even worse as both sides employ drones and automatic sensors that find enemy troops and relay targeting data to supporting planes, artillery units, and electromagnetic warfare specialists.

Any fight larger than a couple of squads duking it out will likely see an air battle develop overhead and an intense duel to jam the opponent’s communications in the electromagnetic spectrum.

3. Leaders must be ready to go completely analog

Airman retired for pain finds freedom in rugby
A Marine checks an azimuth for the next point during a land navigation course at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Oct. 28, 2015. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Dalton Precht)

Speaking of which, all the high-tech bells and whistles will become nearly useless if the jamming on each side gets too intense. Soldiers and Marines are already practicing land nav with pencils, compasses, and paper maps while the sea services are digging up old sextants for celestial navigation.

Headquarter companies will now need to plant their antennas far from the operations center so that missiles which hunt electromagnetic transmissions won’t home in on communication arrays and wipe out the command team.

Expect buried phone lines, mobile radios with whip antennas, and redundant systems to make a comeback.

4. Cooperation between branches will be more challenging — and essential

Airman retired for pain finds freedom in rugby
An F-35C takes off from the deck of the USS George Washington. (Photo: U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kris R. Lindstrom)

All this will make it harder for the different military services to talk to one another, but they have to be able to coordinate quickly since ubiquitous sensors and fast-moving weapons mean that forces in trouble need help in seconds to survive.

Marines fighting ashore at the next Battle of Guadalcanal can’t wait for Chesty Puller to get to the ships and personally direct naval artillery. Whether or not the radio operator can find an unjammed radio channel and get a coded message out will decide whether air and artillery support will arrive in time to matter.

5. Medics and physician assistants will have to treat patients for hours or days in the field on their own

Airman retired for pain finds freedom in rugby
Marines and sailors prepare to carry a simulated casualty using a field-expedient stretcher during the jungle endurance course at the Jungle Warfare Training Center on Marine Corps Base Camp Smedley D. Butler. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Diamond N. Peden)

 

With the dynamic fighting on the front, troops will likely be wounded and killed at staggering rates not seen since the Vietnam War. While China and Russia are more likely to observe the Geneva Conventions than insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan were, the military can’t count on being able to quickly and safely evacuate the wounded.

To deal with the increased risk to injured personnel, the Army is spearheading a “telemedicine” effort that would allow medics in the field to send data and photos to surgeons in hospitals who would then walk the medic through necessary treatment options.

6. Mission loads will be heavier, and forces will have to be more self-sufficient

 

Airman retired for pain finds freedom in rugby
Florida Army National Guard soldiers conduct a 12-mile ruck march in South Carolina on April 4, 2016. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jorge Intriago)

Medical evacuations won’t be the only missions that become more challenging. Aerial resupply will be a risky maneuver when top-tier missile systems are hunting American planes and helicopters. To adapt to this, ground pounders will need to carry extra gear with them through the jungles of the Pacific or across the plains of Eastern Europe.

Chemical treatments for water will help keep liquid weight from climbing too high, but troops will need extra food, batteries, and ammo in case the helicopters can’t get in. The Pentagon is looking into some high-tech gizmos like powered armor to help with this increased weight, but most of it will rest on the muscles and bones of the troops.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

How an unarmed F-111 downed an enemy without firing a shot

The F-111 Aardvark didn’t have a lot of air-to-air kills – it just wasn’t designed to be in aerial combat. It was a supersonic nuclear bomber and recon plane. But a fighter it was not. What it did have was an electronic warfare variant that could help the Air Force control the skies in a particular battlespace. Unlike their combat-ready counterparts, these EF-111A Ravens didn’t have defenses if they were attacked in the air.

So when the unarmed variant scored the only aerial kills in the history of the F-111, it was a memorable occasion.


Airman retired for pain finds freedom in rugby

Normally, it’s just dropping bombs. Not this time.

(U.S. Air Force)

When the United States and its coalition allies launched Operation Desert Storm in 1991, it’s safe to say it took Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Army and Air Force by surprise. The opening minutes surprised a lot of people, and no one more so than USAF pilot James Denton and Electronic Warfare Officer Brent Brandon – as well as the Iraqi Mirage pilot who was trying to shoot their two-seater EF-111A down.

The EF-111A Raven came under attack from an Iraqi Dassault Mirage Fighter in the first minutes of Desert Storm, Jan. 17, 1991. This was troubling for many reasons, most notably because the EF variant of the F-111 didn’t have any means of protecting itself – it wasn’t supposed to be an aerial fighter. But that was going to change, for at least this one and only time.

Airman retired for pain finds freedom in rugby

The EF-111A Raven variant.

(U.S. Air Force)

For the Iraqi, the EF-111A was a great target of opportunity. He had just evaded an F-15C and managed to enter through the screen of F-15 and F-16 fighters that were supposed to be escorting the EF-111A. The Iraqi attempted to shoot the Raven down with missiles, but well-timed chaff and flares took care of the enemy incoming. When missiles didn’t work, the Mirage switched to guns. Brandon switched from countermeasures to piloting skills.

The EF-111A was originally flying just 1,000 feet above the desert floor, so Denton decided to take it lower and use the plane’s terrain-following radar to stay above the desert and not fly into the ground. The Iraqi pilot wasn’t so lucky. As Denton and Brandon tag-teamed their way above the terrain, Denton saw his opportunity, banking hard into a climb that took him well above the desert. The Iraqi, so focused on his target and not the dark terrain below, slammed hard into the ground, exploding into a fireball that lit up the night.

It was the first F-111 aerial kill in the airframe’s history. It would end up being the only aerial kill for the F-111, and it was done without so much as a weapon fired from the American plane.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The US just sent Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine

The United States has confirmed to RFE/RL its delivery of American-made, Javelin antitank missile systems to Ukraine in a move that is welcome in Kyiv but will almost certainly enrage Moscow amid a four-year conflict that pits Russia-backed separatists against Ukrainian national troops.

“They have already been delivered,” a U.S. State Department official confirmed on April 30, 2018, in response to an RFE/RL query on the handover of Javelins.


In a statement posted on Facebook, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko also confirmed the delivery and said his country continues “to strengthen our defense potential in order to repel Russian aggression.”

“I am sincerely grateful for the fair decision of [U.S. President] Donald Trump in support of Ukraine, in defense of freedom and democracy,” Poroshenko wrote. “Washington not only fulfilled our joint agreement, it demonstrated leadership and an important example.”

A shipment of lethal aid would appear to deepen U.S. involvement in the simmering conflict and mark at least a symbolic victory for Ukraine in its effort to maintain Western backing in the ongoing conflict.

After months of heated debate in Washington and, reportedly, much reluctance on the part of U.S. President Donald Trump, the White House was said to have approved the Javelin sale in December 2017.

Airman retired for pain finds freedom in rugby
President Donald Trump

That announcement sparked a sharp rebuke from Moscow, with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov accusing the United States of “fomenting a war.”

Two sources who wished to remain anonymous as they were not authorized to speak publicly about it — one in Ukraine and the other in the United States — confirmed the Javelin deliveries to RFE/RL ahead of the State Department announcement.

Neither disclosed when the missile systems arrived in Ukraine, whether all the promised missiles and launchers had been sent or where they were being stored; or whether Ukraine’s military had begun training on Javelins. But one of the sources added that the Javelins were delivered “on time.”

The State Department provided no details beyond the confirmation of the delivery.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has lobbied hard to Western officials for more weapons, in addition to limited supplies of nonlethal aid from Washington and European allies so far and U.S. approval of commercial weapons sales.

Airman retired for pain finds freedom in rugby
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko

A $47 million U.S. military-aid package approved in 2017, and confirmed in March 2018, specified 210 Javelin antitank missiles and 37 Javelin launchers, two of them spares, for Kyiv.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in December 2017, that U.S. military assistance to Ukraine was intended to bolster that country’s ability to “defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to deter further aggression.”

Kyiv and Western governments say Moscow has armed and coordinated Ukrainian separatists as well as provided Russian fighters to help wrest control of swaths of territory that border Russia since Moscow seized Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014.

The Javelins’ delivery is likely to spur a response from Moscow, which rejects accusations of involvement despite mounting evidence that includes weapons movements and cross-border artillery barrages, captured Russian troops, and intercepted communications.

Responding to the approved delivery of the missiles to Kyiv in December 2017, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said arming Ukraine would further inflame tensions between Moscow and Washington and push Ukraine “toward reckless new military decisions.”

Airman retired for pain finds freedom in rugby
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova

Since 2015, the U.S. has provided Ukraine with $750 million in nonlethal aid, including Humvees, night-vision equipment, and short-range radar systems.

There has been a recent uptick in fighting between Ukrainian soldiers and Russian-backed separatist forces, according to reports from the Ukrainian Defense Ministry and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Special Monitoring Mission (OSCE SMM).

A 3-year-old cease-fire deal known as Minsk II has helped to reduce the intensity of the fighting, but it has not ended the war.

The Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in March 2018, that while the Javelin sale would “contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by improving the security of Ukraine” and “help Ukraine build its long-term defense capacity to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” it “will not alter the basic military balance in the region.”

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

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5 problems infantry Marines will understand

Marine infantrymen thrive on hardship. Whether it’s training and deploying to austere environments, learning to do more with less, or figuring out how to catch Z’s anywhere, grunt life in the infantry is very different from the rest of the Marine Corps.


There are also some problems specific to the infantry community. We came up with five, but if you can think of some more, leave a comment.

 

Airman retired for pain finds freedom in rugby

1. Physical training often consists of “death runs” and they feel just like it sounds.

Physical training is a part of being a Marine, but it’s much more demanding as an infantryman. Life in the grunts usually means waking up early to go on a “death run,” which isn’t that far off the mark. While the Marine physical fitness test (PFT) has a timed three-mile run, grunts can expect to go way beyond that.

On “death runs” that I’ve personally been on — also known jokingly as “fun runs” — our platoon commander or platoon sergeant would take us on runs over the seven-mile mark at an insane pace. And for extra fun, sometimes we wore gas masks. Gotta love it.

2. Your platoon commander is guaranteed to get you completely lost at some point.

When he’s not running you into the dirt, your platoon commander is supposed to be planning missions and leading. But sometimes that means leading you into who-knows-where. It’s a running joke that second lieutenants are terrible at land navigation, but it’s not that far off. He’s guaranteed to get you lost at least once. Let’s just hope it only happens in training.

3. I hope you’re ready for the non-grunt company First Sergeant who wants to “get back to the basics.”

Infantry Marines hold the 0300 military occupational specialty, as do their officers with 0302. But since company first sergeants perform mostly administrative duty (compared to Master Sergeants who remain in their field), they aren’t required to hold the infantry MOS. Although plenty of them do come up from the infantry ranks, some come from completely unrelated fields.

Grunt first sergeants are usually focused on the mission of the infantry (locating, closing with, and destroying the enemy), but first sergeants outside of the MOS sometimes focus on “getting back to the basics” — aka cleaning the barracks, holding uniform inspections, and marching properly. These are all good things for junior Marines to be exposed to in their careers. Just don’t expect them to like it.

4. Excuse me sir, do you have a moment to talk about prickly heat?

Training in the field can lead to some weird physical problems for grunts. In humid places, Marines can expect something called “prickly heat” — a very annoying rash that develops after sweating profusely. When you’re out in the field for days or weeks and not able to take a shower, that tends to happen quite a bit.

Then of course, there’s that terrible smell you develop. But luckily, you’re around a bunch of other people who smell terrible so you don’t even notice. Great success!

Airman retired for pain finds freedom in rugby
Photo Credit: DoD

5. Range 400.

This legendary training range is a rite of passage for infantry Marines. With machine guns firing over their heads and mortars dropping down in support, grunts rush forward to attack a fortified “enemy” position in 29 Palms, California. It sounds awesome, and it is. It’s also an ass kicker.

“It’s the only range in the Marine Corps where overhead fire is authorized,” Capt. Andy S. Watson explained in a Marine Corps news release. “We are also granted a waiver to close within 250 meters of 81mm mortar fire. Normally, it is only 400 meters. Therefore, Range 400 gives Marines a realistic training experience of closing close into fires. They can’t get that anywhere else in the Marine Corps.”

DON’T MISS: 13 Signs You’re An Infantryman

OR WATCH: Life in the Marine Corps Infantry

MIGHTY TRENDING

The logic behind decapitating terrorist groups

Disrupting terrorist networks is inherently difficult, and success is difficult to measure. Clandestine by nature, these groups generally hide their internal functions, institutions, and various chains of command. While a potentially vast cadre of fighters, sympathizers, and suppliers wait in the wings, the outside world only glimpses a few leaders, who often serve as figureheads for their organizations.

With little else to go on, states often make targeting these leaders a key priority. From the Shining Path in Peru to ISIL in Syria and Iraq, security forces carry out operations to capture or kill mid- and upper-level leaders in the hopes that their absence will be the knockout blow necessary to defeat a terrorist organization. Recent attention has turned to ISIL leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, who is rumored to be still alive. Intelligence gathering and planning is likely underway in multiple countries to capture or kill the man who continues to lead one of the world’s deadliest terror groups. But is leadership decapitation, as this strategy is known, effective?


Leadership decapitation rests on a simple principle: taking out a key player in a terrorist group in the hope that his or her absence destroys morale and slows the group’s operational tempo. Such strategies can target both leaders – who may hold symbolic and strategic importance – and tactical experts who might be hard to replace, like bomb makers. The policy has played an important role in U.S. counterterrorism policy since 9/11, recently receiving praise from Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

While the logic is clear, the strategy’s results are mixed and depend on the terrorist group’s internal dynamics. Smaller, younger groups – variously defined – are more susceptible to the effects of leadership decapitation, as are groups without an established bureaucracy. Group type is thought to play a role as well, with religiously-oriented groups being better able to withstand the loss of a leader. Most vulnerable are groups that lean heavily on a single, charismatic leader who plays a central role in the organization.

Airman retired for pain finds freedom in rugby

Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

Leadership decapitation has ended some groups. The capture of Abimael Guzman and 14 other leaders of the Shining Path in 1992 quickly reduced the group to a shadow of its former self. The group struggled to recover after the capture of Guzman, who exercised near-total control. After the assassination of Fathi Shaqaqi in 1995, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) struggled to find a capable successor and only recovered years later.

However, not all groups fall into these categories. With its deep roots in a conflict that extends back decades, raids and airstrikes have killed a number of Al-Shabaab leaders, yet it continues to carry out deadly attacks, including an October 2017 truck bombing that killed more than 500 Somalis. Al-Qaeda has suffered the loss of a number of key leaders, including founder Osama Bin Laden and leaders of its Yemeni and Syrian branches. Despite these losses from 2011 to 2015, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) managed to hang on and even expand its operations in Yemen until coordinated US-UAE operations in 2016 forced the group to engage in direct combat, which reduced – but did not eliminate – the threat posed by the group in Yemen.

Perhaps no group is more emblematic of resilience in the face of leadership decapitation than ISIL itself. Airstrikes, battles, and military operations have killed many of the group’s leaders within Syria and Iraq and its numerous regional affiliates. Despite this, the group has proven capable of finding replacements. When ISIL’s chief strategist and number two, Mohammed al-Adnani, was killed in late August 2016, the group announced his replacement about two months later. ISIL continues to maintain the ability to launch deadly attacks via its worldwide cells and those inspired by its calls to violence, from Afghanistan to Indonesia to Egypt.

As evidenced above, ISIL does not fit the profile of terrorist groups vulnerable to the effects of leadership decapitation. Its well-known penchant for bureaucracy has allowed slain leaders to be quickly replaced. While the loss of ISIL leaders has likely impacted the organization, it arguably has been affected to a greater degree by the overwhelming firepower directed at the organization from every level, not just its leaders. US strikes have pounded the group’s military positions, financial stores, and its fighters at every level, not just its leader. The redundancy within ISIL’s organization and the lack of a single, charismatic leader mean that finding competent replacements is not a life or death decision for the terror group.

Airman retired for pain finds freedom in rugby

Lt. Col. Rod Coffey and the insurgent flag his unit captured in Diyala Province, Iraq, in 2008. The same banner would eventually be used by the Islamic State.

(U.S. Army photo)

The most frightening aspect of ISIL’s lethality comes from the cells and sympathizers strewn across the world. Central leadership can plan and order these attacks, but cells with organic roots in localized conflicts can also plan and influence their own operations. While ISIL has been reduced to a sliver of its former territory in Iraq and Syria, the threat posed by its worldwide affiliates is unlikely to disappear with Baghdadi.

To be fair, the choice to pursue terrorist leaders is not a purely strategic calculation. Arguments about the effects of leadership on terrorists’ operational capacity mean little to those who have lost loved ones or live in fear because of terrorist attacks. And when dealing with groups that have almost no public presence, targeting leaders is often one of the only options available. It would be unwise to dismiss these other considerations for pursuing a decapitation strike out of hand, just as it would be unwise to assume that killing Baghdadi or any other leader is necessarily a knockout blow.

There is little doubt that ISIL, while still dangerous, is a weakened organization. Recent success in pushing back the group – a refreshing change from 2014 and 2015, when it appeared ready to roll over much of Syria and Iraq – is owed to several factors. A growing international recognition of the threat posed by ISIL, a crackdown on those traveling to and from Syria and Iraq, and overwhelming firepower directed against the group in Syria, Egypt, Iraq and elsewhere have all played a role in reducing the threat. However, there is little reason to believe that what threat remains of ISIL would disappear with Baghdadi, especially in light of the group’s demonstrated resilience and commitment to terror.

This article originally appeared on Real Clear Defense. Follow @RCDefense on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Can military spouses be buried in veterans cemeteries?

You may know that most veterans can be buried in state and national veterans cemeteries for little or no money, but what about their spouses and other dependents?

Your spouse may be eligible to be buried with you in a veterans cemetery at little or no cost. However, if you and your spouse have divorced and they have remarried, they probably aren’t eligible. Dependent children may also be eligible. Some parents of those killed on active duty may also be eligible.

As always, only veterans with an other-than-dishonorable discharge (and their dependents) qualify for this burial benefit. There are also other restrictions against those found guilty of certain crimes.


Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery is run by the Department of the Army. As such, it has rules that are a bit different than National Veterans Cemeteries, which are run by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The cemetery is also running out of space for new burials.

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Arlington National Cemetery.

Therefore, burials and inurnments, the placing of cremated remains in a large wall, are limited to specific groups. Currently, burial at Arlington National Cemetery is open to:

  • Members who died on active duty and their immediate family
  • Retirees and their immediate family
  • Recipients of the Purple Heart or Silver Star and above, as well as their immediate family
  • Any honorably discharged prisoner of war who died after Nov. 30, 1993, and their immediate family

Veterans and their dependents as well as some retired reservists are eligible for inurnment in the cemetery.

The cemetery will furnish a headstone/marker for both the veteran and dependents.

National veterans cemeteries

These cemeteries are run by the VA. There are currently 136 national cemeteries in 40 states and Puerto Rico. Locate a VA cemetery near you.

Burial is available to any veteran with an other-than-dishonorable discharge, as well as their dependents. The VA will furnish a headstone/marker for the veteran and dependent.

VA National Cemeteries

State veterans cemeteries

Many states have their own veterans cemeteries. Eligibility is similar to VA national cemeteries, but may include residency requirements.

Most states provide free burial and a headstone for the veteran; many charge a fee less than id=”listicle-2636201112″,000 for eligible dependents.

State veterans cemeteries

Other cemeteries

The VA may provide a free headstone or marker for all eligible veterans buried at any cemetery worldwide; however, it doesn’t pay the cost of placing the marker. Some states will reimburse this cost.

Dependents aren’t eligible for this benefit; however, some states may provide a headstone to dependents.

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

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These American units will be first on the scene if World War III erupts

It seems like every week brings another potential flashpoint for global conflict. North Korea acts like it wants to go 12 rounds over its nuclear program. China threatens war to protect its control of Taiwan and the South China Sea. Russia stages major exercises near NATO borders and is currently occupying two regions of Ukraine.


And that’s without touching the cluster that is the ongoing conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

But Americans can still sleep soundly because its military keeps teams ready to deploy at a moments notice, projecting power to any part of the globe within hours.

Related video:

These are the U.S. military units who, in conjunction with NATO and other allies, would be in charge of drawing first blood in a knockdown fight. We modeled the conflict based on the war in Syria erupting into something larger, but the scenario would play out similarly in other regions of the world.

Listen to the author and other vets discuss this World War III scenario on the WATM podcast.

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1. U.S. Air Force’s first move is to achieve air superiority.

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The F-22 Raptor. Photo by: US Air Force Senior Airman Brittany A. Chase

The Air Force is likely going to find itself the first one in the ring. Strikes in Syria fall under U.S. Central Command, but command and control for a conflict that spills into Turkey would shift to U.S. European Command.

As USEUCOM began coordinating the other military branches, the Air Force in Europe would defend itself and allied air forces. The six F-16s temporarily based in Turkey would likely be the first to fire. As they begin intercepting Russian jets, the Air Force would likely send in some of the other F-16s stationed around Europe and the four F-22s deployed there in order to achieve air superiority over Turkey.

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F-16s. Photo: US Air force Staff Sgt. Siuta B. Ika

Within 24 hours, the Air Force would dispatch 1-2 “Rapid Raptor” teams. Each consists of four F-22s that can refuel in the air as they race to any spot on the planet in 24 hours. Their support crew and additional equipment follow them in a C-17. The rest of the planes in each squadron would come later.

And of course, the Air Force would support necessary ground operations. In Jul., A-10 pilots practiced operating from an abandoned Warsaw Pact Airfield in Poland and proved they could fly from nearly anywhere.

2. The Navy moves to protect major ships from submarine attack and push Russian assets back in the Mediterranean.

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Photo: US Navy Patty Officer 2nd Class Evan Kenny

The U.S. Navy 6th Fleet covers the Mediterranean and Black Seas and would find itself in a fierce fight if it suddenly had to secure itself from a full spectrum attack by Russia.

Putin commands an impressive fleet of extremely quiet submarines and the surface vessels of Russia’s Black Sea fleet are also impressive.

But the 6th Fleet has been preparing for these possibilities, training with allied navies with a focus on anti-submarine warfare. The destroyers of 6th Fleet have been conducting patrols through the Mediterranean and training to operate in the Black Sea.

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Photo: US Navy Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Brien Aho

Currently, the 6th Fleet has no aircraft carrier or Marine expeditionary unit, but the USS Harry S. Truman is on its way to 5th Fleet and could be sent through the Suez Canal to 6th Fleet if necessary. Until the actual carrier arrived, the planes could fly missions supporting 6th Fleet by launching from the Truman and grabbing gas from a tanker over the Middle East on their way to the Mediterranean.

Also, other ships could surge from the U.S. into the fight if required. The USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) recently left the Arabian Sea and could be sent back if necessary. The USS H. W. Bush (CVN 77) is in Norfolk going through training exercises.

3. Marines quickly secure U.S. nationals and evacuate embassies while preparing for a massive fight.

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Photo: US Marine Corps Staff. Sgt. Robert L. Fisher III

Marines stationed at vulnerable embassies throughout eastern Europe would quickly evacuate embassy personnel and destroy classified information. Obviously, the Moscow embassy would face the shortest timeline.

Deploying to back these Marines up, recover downed aircrews, and evacuate civilians as required is the Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response–Africa. SPMAGTFCR-AF recently trained on how to work with regional allies and quickly deploy their 500 troops, six Mv-22s, and two KC-130Js.

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Photo: US Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Rebekah Adler

Marines deployed to the Black Sea Rotational Force in Romania would provide expertise and assist in defending Romania’s coast from potential attacks by Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. Marines across the rest of the continent would prepare to repulse a land invasion from Moscow.

4. The Army looks to hold the line across over 750 miles of border.

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Photo: US Army

U.S. Army Europe has units across the continent, but most of the major unit headquarters are in Germany. USAREUR soldiers would rapidly deploy from there to plus up smaller garrisons. This deployment would include the paratroopers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, the Strykers of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, and the helicopters of the rotational aviation task force in Europe.

They would be backed up by the Global Response Force from the 82nd Airborne Division in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

5. Supporting all of this activity would be the special operators of Special Operations Command Europe.

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Photo: US Army Spc. Travis Jones

Special Operations Command Europe has operators from the Army, Navy, and Air Force. The Army fields its oldest Special Forces group, the 10th, in Europe. Navy Special Warfare Unit 2 mostly supports forward deployed SEAL platoons but could also pivot missions to leading a Naval Special Warfare Task Unit that would support U.S. European Command.

Meanwhile, the Airmen of the 352nd Special Operations Group would plan the complex air missions supporting these other operators. The Air Force special operators from the 321st Special Tactics Squadron would provide pararescue, air traffic control, and reconnaissance capabilities.

As the fight progressed past the opening salvos, the branches and their subordinate units would slip into the NATO command structure with many U.S. troops deploying as part of NATO’s Rapid Deployable Corps.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is how NATO’s budget really works

Since taking office, President Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized NATO over how the alliance is funded and pressured other member states to increase defense spending.

In the process, he has made a number of misleading claims about NATO, distorting how it works and why it exists in the first place.

On July 12, 2018, Trump reiterated his criticism of NATO in a tweet, stating, “Presidents have been trying unsuccessfully for years to get Germany and other rich NATO Nations to pay more toward their protection from Russia. They pay only a fraction of their cost. The U.S. pays tens of Billions of Dollars too much to subsidize Europe, and loses Big on Trade!”


Trump added, “All NATO Nations must meet their 2% commitment, and that must ultimately go to 4%!”

The president is correct that his predecessors also pressured other NATO member states to increase defense spending, but his claim that member states must pay the US for “protection” misrepresents how NATO works.

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The North Atlantic Treaty was signed by US President Harry S. Truman in Washington, on April 4, 1949, and was ratified by the United States in August 1949.

NATO’s roots

NATO is an alliance that was formed in the wake of World War II as the US and its allies sought to counter the Soviet Union’s growing influence in Europe and beyond.

The alliance was founded upon the notion of collective defense, meaning an attack on one member state is considered an attack on all of them. This is precisely why NATO, for example, rallied behind the US in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks and has sent many troops to fight and die in places like Afghanistan over the years.

Collective defense requires collective spending

Accordingly, every NATO member state contributes to a relatively modest direct budget: a roughly id=”listicle-2586418750″.4 billion military budget and a 0 million civilian budget.

Overall, the US provides about 22% of this budget based off a formula that accounts for the national income of member states.

Beyond the direct budget, NATO came to an agreement in 2014 that each member state will increase their own defense spending to 2% of their respective gross domestic product by 2024.

At present, NATO has 29 members and few have reached this goal — only five NATO members are expected to meet the 2% target by the end of the year. Meanwhile, the US spends roughly 3.6% of its GDP on defense, as its military budget in 2017 was approximately 8 billion.

There is no penalty for not reaching the 2% goal; it’s simply a guideline, and most member states have increased defense spending even if they haven’t reached that goal quite yet.

Moreover, NATO estimates collective defense spending among all member states will total more that 6 billion in 2018. US defense spending accounts for roughly 67% of this, but it’s also true the US has the highest defense budget in the world by far and this is linked to both its strong economy and internal politics.

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President Donald Trump and NATO Secretary General Jens Stolenberg participate in a joint press conference, Wednesday, April 12, 2017.

(Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Here’s Trump’s big issue with NATO

Trump wants other NATO member states to increase defense spending — and soon.

On July 11, 2018, he tweeted, “What good is NATO if Germany is paying Russia billions of dollars for gas and energy? Why are there only 5 out of 29 countries that have met their commitment? The U.S. is paying for Europe’s protection, then loses billions on Trade. Must pay 2% of GDP IMMEDIATELY, not by 2025.”

There is an underlying truth to Trump’s criticism of NATO that the US spends a significant amount of money and provides an extraordinary amount of resources and manpower to the protection of Europe and Asia. But the US benefits a great deal from this, and US involvement in NATO has long helped it solidify its role as one of the globe’s leading powers, if not the most powerful country in the world.

Moreover, Trump’s remarks on NATO seem to suggest that Europe must pay the US for protection from Russia, when this is not how the alliance is meant to function. Not to mention, Trump already has a dubious relationship with Russia at a time when much of the world, especially Europe, is concerned about its aggressive military activities.

In this context, Trump’s criticism of NATO has been condemned by politicians on both sides of the aisle in the US as well as by other world leaders and foreign policy experts.

Trump caused a crisis at the NATO summit over the issue of defense spending

Trump reportedly broke diplomatic protocol on July 12, 2018, by referring to German Chancellor Angela Merkel by her first name, and his intense demands regarding defense spending saw NATO leaders enter a special emergency session.

After the session, Trump said NATO member states had agreed to quickly increase spending.

“We’re very happy and have a very, very powerful, very, very strong NATO. Much stronger than it was two days ago,” Trump said in an unscheduled statement.

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

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The reasons why you should shoot with both eyes open, according to a Green Beret

For years, military sharpshooting instructors taught their students to close their non-dominant eye as a fundamental of shooting. The idea behind this practice is to lower the activity of the half of the brain that isn’t technically being used, freeing it from distractions.


Over the years, well-practiced shooters have determined that closing one eye helps you line up your target more easily. So, why keep both eyes open?

Former Army Green Beret Karl Erickson will break down for you.

Related: This MARSOC recruiting video looks like a Hollywood movie

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Green Beret Karl Erickson spent 25 years proudly serving in the military.

When a hectic situation arises, and you need to draw your weapon, you’re going to experience physical and physiological changes. Most noticeably, the gun operator’s adrenaline will kick up, prompting the “fight or flight” response.

During this response, the body’s sympathetic nervous system releases norepinephrine and adrenaline from the adrenal glands, which are located right above your kidneys, as shown in the picture below.

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Once these naturally produced chemicals surge through your bloodstream, your heart rate increases and your eyes dilate and widen.

These physical changes occur because the human brain is screaming to collect as much information as possible. When these events take place, it becomes much more challenging for the shooter to keep their non-dominant eye closed.

Thoughtfully attempting to keep that non-dominant eye shut can potentially derail the shooter’s concentration, which can result in a missed opportunity for a righteous kill shot.

Also Read: How to kick in a door like a Special Forces operator

So, how do we practice shooting with both eyes open?

When using shooting glasses, spread a coat of chapstick across the lens of the non-dominant eye. This will blur the image and help retrain the brain to focus a single eye on the target, and, over time, will eventually lead to good muscle memory.

Check out Tactical Rifleman’s video below to learn the technique directly from a Green Beret badass.

(Tactical Rifleman | YouTube)
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The top 6 drinking games to keep troops entertained over a weekend

The military has a multitude of traditions involving alcohol that one generation passes onto the next. The Marine Corps has a tradition called Mess Night, which is essentially a unit wide drinking game in our dress blues. It gets messy, ridiculous and fun. However, you don’t have to dress like a Marine to drink like one. Here are 6 drinking games to keep troops entertained over a weekend at the barracks.

1. Movies

Play with a group of three or greater sitting in a circle. The second player is the person sitting to the first player’s right. The first player says a movie title, the second player says a movie title that starts with the same letter the previous title ends with (example: First player says ‘Jurassic Park,’ second player has to say a movie that starts with ‘K’). The third player does the same until someone can’t think of a movie title and drinks. Movies that start with ‘the’ in the title will instead start with the first letter of first actual word in the title. If a title starts and ends with the same letter the rotation reverses. Players can only name a movie title once per round. When a player loses, the round resets and all titles are fair game again. If a player needs time to think they can drink their beer until it is finished and lose.

2. Never have I ever

The first player states ‘Never have I ever..’ and finishes the sentence with something they have never done but will cause the most amount of players to drink. The next player does the same until all drinks are gone. For hardcore mode, each player holds up three fingers and puts one down when they have done the act that’s mentioned and takes a shot instead.

3. Most Likely

Similar to Never Have I Ever, players sit in a circle and say something that is most likely someone in the group would do. The group counts down from three and everyone points to whomever is the person most likely to do what the player said. That person drinks and it becomes their turn to say something. If there is a tie both players play rock, paper, scissors and the loser drinks instead.

4. Paranoia

This is a great for parties as an ongoing drinking game during the evening. A random player whispers something to another in the form of a question. The receiving player points to a person playing the game and shouts their name. If the person who is being pointed at wants to know the question that was asked they must drink to hear it.

5. Beer Pong

drinking game

I had to include this staple drinking game because it is as American as apple pie. Two teams, single or doubles, face off across a table with cups of water shaped into a cone. Set aside beers equal to the number of cups. Each team must shoot a ping pong ball into the other team’s cups and if they make it an opponent must drink a beer. The side with no cups loses and must drink the other the other teams remaining beers.

Note: House rules vary, it is important to declare them before the match starts. The host is in charge of stating the rules before playing. Rules could be: if reracks are allowed and how many, what happens when a ball double bounces and makes it, if an auto loss happens when a player is holding a cup and another ball is thrown into that cup, etc.

6. Kings Cup – Marine Corps Version

There are several variations for the set up of Kings cup, also known as ‘Kings’. The Marine Corps version has a deck of 52 cards placed in a circle around a can of beer. Players sit in a circle and take turns picking up a card. Each card has a rule that must be followed. When that player’s turn is over they place the spent card under the tab of the beer can. If the seal is broken before the end of the game the player who broke the seal must chug the can. The following are the most common rules for each card in the game.

Ace: ‘Waterfall’ The player who reveals the card declares ‘Waterfall’ and all players drink in order starting from the left until the circle is complete. No one can stop drinking until the first player stops and others stop in turn. If the player before you does not stop you cannot stop either.
Two: ‘You’ Pick two people to drink. You can also pick one person and make them drink twice.
Three: ‘Me’ Take a drink.
Four: ‘Floor’ last person to touch the floor drinks.
Five: ‘Thumbs’ Also known as ‘Thumb Master’ the player who picks this card can place their thumb on the table. When other players see the thumb on the table, they must also place it on the table. The last person to place their thumb drinks. The next player to pick a five is the new ‘Thumb Master’.
Six: ‘chicks/males’ All males drink. If females are playing, their card is ‘four’ instead of ‘floor’.
Seven: ‘Heaven’ The last person to place their hand in the air drinks.
Eight: ‘Mate’ – Pick someone in the group, whenever you drink they drink until someone picks up another eight.
Nine: ‘Rhyme’ Choose a word, and the person to your left has to think of a word that rhymes with it. Repeat until someone uses a word that was already used or hesitates. That person loses and drinks.
Ten: ‘Categories’ pick a category, and everyone must go round the circle taking it in turns to name something within that category. If someone hesitates or repeats a word already used they drink.
Jack: ‘Rule’ Make up rule that is followed for the rest of the game.
Queen: ‘Question’ Just like Thumbs, you ask a question and if a person answers they must drink. This is an ongoing role until someone else picks up a queen. The key is to ask nonchalantly so they have their guard down and you get them to drink.
King: ‘Pour/Drink’ – The player who reveals the last King card must drink the beer in the center.

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