Troops and tattoos go hand in hand like brand-new sports cars and high interest rates. It’s easy to single out the troops who got their first tattoo by picking simply it out of the catalog at the parlor.
It’s a shame, but not enough attention is given to the troops that do it right. If you want to join the few who have tasteful, well-done ink, here’s a few things you should know.
Do some research
First and foremost, you should never get something on a whim. Tattoos are (mostly) permanent and if you don’t want to go through the painstaking, costly, and expensive process of trying to prove this statement wrong, do your homework first.
Whatever you’re planning on getting is worth a few days of research, seeing as you’re stuck with it for the rest of your life. Think hard about what you’re actually getting — make sure it doesn’t have any other meaning. Consider where you’re planning on putting it, too. And even if you’re getting something as simple as lettering, make sure everything is spelled properly.
Find a proven artist
Chances are that going to your buddy in the barracks who just got a tattoo gun isn’t the best option. They may be good at drawing with pencils, but this is an entirely new realm of art.
Pick someone with skill and loads of experience. When you go into the tattoo parlor, you should ask to see their portfolio. If they’ve got a big-ass book filled with beautiful works, you’re in good hands. If they just show you pictures from their social media and have no way of proving it’s their own work, you might as well get the cheap one from the barracks newbie.
Be prepared to shell out some cash
Good tattoos (like the one below) will cost you a pretty penny, but not all expensive tattoos are good.
Yes, a good artist knows they’re good and will ask you to shell out plenty of dough for their talent. Don’t automatically associate price and quality, but also know that you often get what you pay for.
Take your time with the artist
Just as with step one, you’ve got all the time in the world to deliberate before you must live with the ink forever. If they say they need a day or two to sketch out what you’re asking, do not argue. Good tattoo artists actually need that time.
This is also when you and the artist can take time to make revisions. Your input is valuable — it’s also (partially) your art — but there’s a balance to strike here. Don’t go overboard on suggestions or you may annoy the only person who can make sure you’re not getting a pink, fluffy unicorn tattoo on your back.
Give them a challenge
Good tattoo artists love a challenge. Almost every single one got into the business because they love art — not because they wanted to make the same copy-and-paste design over and over.
Now, we’re not saying there’s something wrong with getting the classic Eagle, Globe, and Anchor (like every other Marine), but if you add some more flair to it, they’ll be more invested in your work.
Be prepared for multiple sessions
If all you want is just something small and simple, congratulations on your new tattoo! Proceed to the next step. If you’re going for something big across your back, full sleeves, or anything with intricate details, there are only so many hours in the day.
Be sure take care of what they’ve done in the time between sessions.
Get what you need to take care of your new ink
Listen to every word your tattoo artist says about tattoo care. They speak from experience. Don’t waste all of that time and money on a tattoo and let it all go to waste because you were too lazy to keep it clean.
Buy the good lotion. Keep it wrapped until they say you can unveil it. Be careful in the shower and expect to have some ink “bleed” out — that’s normal. Whatever you do, don’t pick the scabs. That’s your body’s way of keeping the ink in there.
*Bonus* Tip your artist
Even if you spent a lot of money on your tattoo, don’t forget to leave them a tip. They’re still in a service industry, after all.
Everyone will tell you that getting tattoos is addictive. So, if you’re planning on going back because you like the artist’s work, they’ll remember that you tipped and be extra attentive next time.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has been teasing a Russian artificial intelligence plan for months, promising to unveil it by “mid-June.” The first details have finally been announced, and the plan is surprisingly modest. But since this is a country whose state media thought a man in a costume was a real robot, it’s really not clear how Russia takes the lead where China and the U.S. are already humming along.
On June 20, Russia released the first details of its AI strategy, including a 0 million pledge in support for their 14 centers of study based at universities and scientific organizations. If 0 mil sounds like a lot, realize that America has OpenAI which was launched with id=”listicle-2638945543″ billion, DARPA launched the AI Next Campaign with billion, and venture capitalists in the U.S. dropped .3 billion on AI investments.
Meanwhile, Russia hasn’t announced any government research on the level of DARPA, and its private investment is paltry, possibly because Russia has little to no protections for private property, so the state can take any AI products created there at any time for its own use.
Russian President Vladimir Putin Speaks with Chinese President Xi Jinping June 5, 2019, during a series of Russian-Chinese talks.
(Office of the President of Russia)
That’s not to say there’s no development going on in Russia. Alphabet, Google’s parent company, recently bought one Russian AI company, implying it must have had some tech worth shelling out cash for. But it now belongs to an American company, and Alphabet has purchased dozens of competitors around the world but only found something worth scooping in Russia once.
America does have a major rival for AI supremacy though, and it might actually be in first place. China spends more on AI research than the U.S. does. According to Thomas Davenport, a government-run venture capital firm in China has promised over billion in research money for AI. And individual cities have dropped huge money as well. Tianjin, a port, has slated billion in research monies.
America has many more groups investing in AI than China, but China is likely investing more overall—even on the venture capital side—than the U.S., according to Davenport.
So, yeah, the idea of a come-from-behind victory for Russia seems far-fetched, but the fight at ranks 1 and 2 is still undecided, and victory is important. Artificial intelligence will likely give a massive advantage in every aspect of war as well as in a lot of industrial and economic applications.
One of the less-exciting participants in Saber Strike 2018 is actually one of the most important strategic elements of the United States: the Maritime Prepositioning Force. Recently, the ships in this force helped conduct multi-national training exercises in Eastern Europe.
The ships that make up this force might not look like much. They’re devoid of firepower and they’re slow (at least when compared to littoral combat ships or destroyers). They rarely deploy from their bases and they’re certainly not winning any beauty pageants any time soon. And yet, these are some of the most vital ships when it comes to giving America a strategic position in conflict.
That’s because these ships facilitate the rapid deployment of troops.
USNS William B. Baugh (T-AK 3001) in 2008, the lead ship of the first class of maritime prepositioning ships purchased in the 1980s.
(Photo by Jack Workman)
The whole idea came about in the 1970s. The United States had just seen the Ayatollah Khomeni take over Iran — and needed to rapidly respond to the crisis. The British had a small territory in the Indian Ocean called Diego Garcia. It wasn’t an ideal launching point, but it had to do. So, the United States set up a squadron of these ships, loaded up with gear for a rapidly-deployable force, in response.
In the 1980s, this concept was expanded to include three Maritime Prepositioning Squadrons. One was stationed at Diego Garcia, another in the Mediterranean Sea, and a third in the Marianas. Each could support a Marine Expeditionary Brigade for 30 days. That would buy time enough for heavier forces to arrive — or for the bad guys to reconsider their position.
A HMMWV offloads from a maritime prepositioning ship during Saber Strike 2018. These ships carry gear and supplies to support Marine units.
(DOD photo by Cpl. Anthoney Moore)
The MPF was used in practice in 1990 after Saddam Hussein’s regime invaded Kuwait. The United States sent the Division Ready Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division and the 7th Marine Expeditionary Brigade — backed up by two carriers — to draw the famous “line in the sand.” The US was able to deploy so quickly by using the Maritime Prepositioning Squadron based at Diego Garcia. By quickly delivering a force to the theater, Saddam was deterred from going any further as the bulk of American forces arrived.
Today, two of those squadrons remain — one in the Marianas and the other at Diego Garcia — but both remain crucial strategic elements. In essence, they serve as a deterrent — international would-be thugs know that if they misbehave, they’ll have 15,000 very angry Marines paying them a visit very promptly.
President Donald Trump on May 29, 2018, praised the “solid response” to a letter he sent North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in which he canceled a planned summit between the two leaders.
After Trump sent the letter on May 24, 2018, many of Asia’s top negotiators spent the weekend in a flurry of diplomatic activity with the goal of saving the summit, which had been scheduled for June 12, 2018, in Singapore.
“We have put a great team together for our talks with North Korea,” Trump tweeted on May 29, 2018. “Meetings are currently taking place concerning Summit, and more. Kim Young Chol, the Vice Chairman of North Korea, heading now to New York. Solid response to my letter, thank you!”
When Trump called off the summit, citing North Korean anger and hostility, it came as a shock to US allies and journalists alike.
Two days later, Kim had a surprise meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, an attempt to get the summit back on track.
In talking to South Korea, North Korea seemed to put aside its anger and recent hostility, agreeing to attend meetings with Seoul it had canceled in protest of US-South Korean military exercises. It also reaffirmed its aim for denuclearization.
Notably present at the meeting was Kim Yong Chol, a high-ranking official with ties to North Korea’s spy service.
Kim Yong Chol has been singled out for sanctions by the US. He is accused of masterminding an attack on a South Korean navy ship that killed 46 people and of involvement in the 2014 cyberattack on Sony Pictures.
If Kim Yong Chol arrives in New York, it will represent the highest-level North Korean to visit the US since 2000, NK News reported.
“At best, this will give US officials a better understanding of North Korea’s position and steer the summit in a more realistic direction,” a former State Department Korea Desk officer, Mintaro Oba, told NK News. “At worst, tense meetings will cloud or poison the atmosphere, calling the summit into question once again. It’s hard to tell which direction is more plausible right now.
“We can also probably expect that some in Washington may raise concerns about the optics of meeting with an official with Kim Yong Chol’s past of provocations.”
But Trump’s team, previously thought to be unprepared for the summit, also saw a big change over the last weekend of May 2018.
The US ambassador to the Philippines, Sung Kim, traveled to North Korea for talks. He took part in denuclearization talks with North Korea a decade ago and is highly regarded in that capacity.
With the summit’s originally scheduled date now less than two weeks away, Trump’s letter to Kim has whipped the region into a flurry of activity that appears for now to have saved diplomacy.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Being a commo guy doesn’t afford too many opportunities to do fun stuff. Sure, there are the radio operators who are right on the heels of the platoon leader but, nine times out of ten, they’re stuck sitting by the radio in either the vehicle or operations center.
Hours are spent just waiting, listening to a tiny speaker in case anything goes on. You can’t do anything else — you’re just sitting there. If you’re monitoring comms at 0400 and there’s no mission going on, you’re still stuck there. And, of course, the one moment you decide to close your eyes longer than a blink, sh*t gets real.
It’s not all boredom, though. Some of the things you hear over the net make it all worthwhile.
Don’t worry. No one blames you.
(U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Cameron Boyd)
Troops screwing off
When radio operators are certain that no one is listening, they’ll drop all radio etiquette. Suddenly, everyone will just start making jokes to one another. It’s not uncommon to hear a guy in one of the guard towers bluntly ask, “when the f*ck is that chow coming?”
Because, apparently, wars aren’t won by troops with filthy mouths
(U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Kap Kim)
Ops Sgt. Major scolding fools
Despite the point above, you’re never completely clear to openly talk like you would on a cell phone. If you try, you’re likely to get a stern reminder from whoever is in the ops center to “please maintain proper radio etiquette.”
If you’re unlucky and the S-3 Sergeant Major is that one that catches you, they’re going to knife-hand you so hard through the hand mic that you’ll start standing at parade rest on-mission. Technically, they break that “oh so precious” radio etiquette when chewing someone out, but no one ever calls them out for it. Probably because it’s damn funny to hear.
“Sir, you want us to what? Are you out of your fu… Roger, out,” said every NCO ever.
(U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Cameron Boyd)
There’s a perpetual pissing contest in the military. Each young-buck officer will get a wild hair up his or her ass and insist that things be done their way — regardless of whether its the best idea. This stubbornness will almost always be met by a non-commissioned officer who has the opposite idea.
It’s like witnessing the meeting between an unstoppable force and an immovable object. Thankfully, the hand mics are push-to-talk or else they’d hear us laughing our asses off.
Totally worth it to blast Toto’s ‘Africa’ over and over again.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Josh Cox)
There always seems to be one or two commo guys who figure out how to play music over the net. Some will just hold the tunes right up to the mouthpiece while others will figure out how to splice a W-4 with an auxiliary cord. I’m not going to tell you outright how to do it, but open up a manual and learn which prong connects to outgoing voice — there’s your head start.
Regardless, it’s an appreciated morale boost when someone plays some good music and it turns hilarious when they playing from way out of left field.
It’s hard to say “Splash, out” without a big ol’ grin.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Matt Navarra)
Calls for fire
There are only two words in the military lexicon that can immediately bring excitement to everyone: “Shot, over.”
An inexplicable wave of joy comes over the platoon when a radio guy calls into the mortars, artillery, or air support. Imagine a child on Christmas morning about to open up a present that could obliterate one square kilometer of Earth — oh, boy!
Bullsh*ting is a solid 95 percent of what a lower enlisted does on any given day anyways. Why would that change if you gave them a radio?
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Thea Roun Sm)
All of the smack talk
There are channels for every unit. One of them is used to talk to command back at base and others are used to communicate with the vehicles. But if you know which channels your boys are on, you can sh*t talk about everyone else not on it.
This includes people in the command, the unit, other troops, local nationals, allied forces — everyone is fair game.
There are so many rich, incredible facts surrounding the World War II-era Netherlands American Cemetery near Maastricht. It lies along a highway that saw some of history’s most memorable names – Caesar, Charlemagne, and Napoleon, just to name a few. In the 20th Century, Hitler’s Wehrmacht also used the road to capture the Netherlands and Belgium and bring them into the Nazi Reich.
What rests there now is a memorial and cemetery to those who fought to liberate the country from the grip of the Nazi war machine. The locals have never forgotten who died there and, from the looks of things, they never will.
The cemetery is meticulously well kept. A memorial tower overlooks a reflecting pool and at the base of the tower is the stature of a mother grieving over her lost son. Elsewhere on the grounds is a list of the battles and operations fought by U.S. servicemen during World War II, the names of those 8,301 men buried on the grounds, and the names of those 1,722 who went missing while fighting in the Netherlands.
Among the honored dead are seven Medal of Honor recipients and a Major General. In all, it’s a remarkable site with historic significance. The most significant thing about the 65-acre Netherlands American Cemetery is who takes care of each American gravestone.
Since 1945, the Dutch people in the area have adopted individual graves, keeping the site clean and maintaining the individual memorials. They ensure that flowers adorn their adopted grave and that the name and deeds of the American interred there are never forgotten. They actually research the entire life of their adopted fallen GI. Some of them adopt more than one.
“Ever since the end of WWII, people have adopted the graves of these men and women out of a deeply heartfelt gratitude for the sacrifices that they made for our freedom,” local Sebastiaan Vonk told an Ohio newspaper. “They truly are our liberators and heroes.”
The American Cemetery is one of the largest in the world. Its upkeep and memory are so important to the locals whose families saw the horrors of Nazi occupation. Even those separated by the 1945 liberation of the Netherlands by a generation or more still hold those names dear and are taking their remembrance project one step further – remembering their face.
A new effort, The Faces of Margraten, seeks to collect photos of the men who died or went missing in liberating the Netherlands from Nazi occupation. On Dutch Memorial Day, the group displays personal photos of more than 3,000 of those interred in the cemetery, holding an event that “brings visitors face-to-face with their liberators.”
This is not the armor, but it is made of spiderweb.
Ten years from now, you might be on patrol with new super lightweight body armor. If you feel something tingling, cool it – you aren’t Spider-Man, but your vest might be made from spider silk – and you probably just need to drink more water. The latest armor under consideration by the U.S. Army isn’t a new kind of porcelain or chemical composition over kevlar. It’s spider stuff.
Making clothing from spider stuff isn’t necessarily new, but mass-producing it might be. The photo above is of a vest made of silk from the Golden Orb Spider, native to Madagascar. It took the designers eight years and a million spiders to make the vest, but the designers of the new body armor aren’t going for anything so intricate.
Ballistic spider silk panels.
Spider silk is a protein-rich liquid that dries into a solid filament that can vary in composition depending on what the spider is doing with the web, such as weaving a web for food or creating an egg sac. It’s flexible, able to stretch well beyond its original length, stronger than steel, and most importantly, can create a mesh able to stop a bullet. But until recently, no one has been able to create enough of the stuff to actually make and test viable options for stopping bullets.
Researchers from Utah State University were able to program the DNA of silkworms to integrate spider proteins into their own silk. Silkworms even spin the silk into threads on their own. The result is twice as strong and elastic as silkworm silk and can be created on an industrial scale. The result was able to stop a slow-moving .22-caliber round with only four layers. Standard Kevlar armor uses 33 layers.
A bullet can penetrate 29 layers of kevlar.
In 2018 Kraig Biocraft Laboratories announced it was creating panels like those shown above in large quantities for the United States Army. The fabric, called “Dragon Silk,” was also created without using entire colonies of spiders, who were more likely to eat one another than live in peace and create fabric. Kraig Biocraft created silkworms similar to those created at Utah State, using patented genetic proteins. Beyond standard body armor, the company may be the first to create real, popular protection for the groin area.
“After years of research and investment, developing this ground-breaking technology, we are very excited to now see it in the hands of the U.S. Army,” stated Jon Rice, COO. “For me, personally, and for the Company, the opportunity to help protect the brave men and women whom dedicate themselves to our protection is a great honor.”
The greatest divide in the U.S. Military is between grunts and the POGs. For as long as this divide has existed, the higher-ups have been trying to find ways to close this gap. To you peacemakers, we say, “good luck.”
Today, we offer insight on how an infantryman can earn respect from their rear-echelon counterparts.
Even though every other job in the military exists to support the infantry, it’s a good idea to stay humble when interacting with a POG. After all, it’s a team effort.
5. Teach POGs how to wear their gear
If you see a POG wearing their gear all f*cked up, just pull them aside and give them a hip-pocket class on wearing it right. That is all.
4. Help a POG learn infantry tactics
It might be a headache introducing grunt concepts to a POG, but teaching them how to properly clear a room helps build friendships and better teamwork.
This one might save your life one day — and this’ll give POGs something to show their friends back home.
3. Get a damn haircut
POGs generally always have access to haircuts. So, of course, they expect that every grunt ought to keep clean as well — even after spending several weeks in the field or in a place where the only barbers are in your platoon.
And most of the so-called “barbers” learned to cut hair from YouTube tutorial videos.
2. Don’t act like your experience gives you rank
This one undoubtedly grinds a POG’s gears. Even if you have numerous deployments under your belt, respect everyone’s rank and speak to them with tact.
Just because that brand-new second lieutenant is fresh out of college and has no military experience doesn’t make them less of a Marine. Always say sh*t like, “with all due respect, sir,” before jumping directly into, “kiss my lower-enlisted ass, sir.”
Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton is the home of the 1st Marine Division. The base also hosts the Marine Corps School of Infantry West. Spanning over 125,000 acres, it is one of the largest bases in the Marine Corps. Moreover, the base’s large training area serves as a natural resource preserve. A base sign seen from Interstate 5 famously reads, “Camp Pendleton U.S. Marine Corps Base Preserving California’s Precious Resources.”
Indeed, Camp Pendleton preserves many natural resources that might otherwise be lost. In fact, the base is home to 19 threatened or endangered species. There is, however, one unique species that calls Camp Pendleton home that is no longer threatened or endangered.
In the 1800s, the bison was nearly hunted to extinction. Throughout the century, an estimated 50 million bison were killed. By the end of the century, there were only a few hundred left. Luckily, preservation and breeding efforts have since brought the species back from the edge of extinction. Federally protected lands like Yellowstone National Park now serve as safe havens for these incredible animals. What many people don’t know is that Camp Pendleton is one of these protected lands.
In 1973, the world-famous San Diego Zoo introduced the plains bison to Camp Pendleton as a gift. Between then and 1979, a total of 14 bison were brought to the base. Since then, the bison population has multiplied. Last surveyed in 2015, the Camp Pendleton herd now numbers approximately 90 bison. Incredibly, this is one of only two wild conservation bison herds in California. The other is on Santa Catalina Island off the southwest coast of Los Angeles.
Today, the bison is categorized as near-threatened. This is an amazing achievement considering that the species nearly went extinct just over 100 years ago. Thanks to conservation efforts and protected lands like Camp Pendleton, the bison population now exceeds 500,000 and continues to grow.
When a country needs to replace increasingly obsolete fighters but can’t afford to buy new ones from the manufacturer, getting them second-hand is always an option. Croatia has found themselves in that very boat recently while seeking to upgrade their air force.
A MiG-21 Fishbed with the Croatian Air Force. These aircraft were left after the violent breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
Wikimedia Commons photo by Tomislav Haraminčić
According to a report by Agence France Presse, they found a solution in the form of 12 Lockheed F-16 Fighting Falcons from the Israeli Air Force. The total cost of this deal was €403 million, nearly 0 million USD. That might seem pricey, but it’s a great deal when compared to the 5 million per new F-16 that Iraq paid, according to a 2011 Time Magazine report.
This Israeli F-16A shot down six and a half enemy planes and took part in the 1981 Osirak reactor strike. Israel retired these planes in 2015, but some will have new life in Croatia.
Wikimedia Commons photo by Zachi Evenor
Israel’s used Falcons provide a cheap upgrade
Currently, the Croatian Air Force has 12 MiG-21 Fishbed fighters on inventory. The Fishbed entered service with the Soviet Air Force in 1959. Almost 11,500 Fishbeds were produced by the USSR and the plane was widely exported, seeing service with dozens of countries, including Vietnam, North Korea, Serbia, and Iraq. The MiG-21 is equipped with a twin-barrel 23mm cannon as well as AA-2 Atoll and AA-8 Aphid air-to-air missiles. It has a top speed of 1,381 miles per hour and an unrefueled range of 741 miles.
Compared to the newer F-16, the Fishbed looks like ancient technology. An Air Force fact sheet reports that the F-16 Fighting Falcon has a top speed of 1,500 miles per hour and a maximum range of over 2,000 miles. The F-16 is capable of carrying out a wide variety of missions. While the AFP report did not state which model of F-16s Israel is selling to Croatia, GlobalSecurity.org notes that Israel retired its force of F-16A/B models in 2015.
Not Israel’s first used plane sale
This is not the first time that Israel has sold off old warplanes. Argentina bought IAI Nesher fighters from Israel that saw action in the Falklands War. Additionally, a private company acquired former Israeli Air Force A-4s, which will soon see action in a multi-national exercise hosted by the Netherlands.
During a 2005 combat tour in Afghanistan Stout was wounded and transitioned back to Kansas City, Missouri. Like many wounded warriors, he struggled with physical and mental injuries. He knew that he felt better when in the company of other veterans and, for a short time, worked as a veteran counselor connecting vets to services they needed. But it wasn’t enough.
“I often would use my own money to put up vets in a hotel room,” Stout said. “I felt like there must be better way to get vets the services they needed, as well as housing.”
With its focus first on the great Kansas City, Missouri area, VCP wants to use the region as the blueprint for achieving similar successes in cities across the United States. Long term, they aspire to eliminate veteran homelessness nationwide.
“We are the place that says ‘yes’ first and figures everything else out later,” Stout said. “We serve anybody who’s ever raised their hand to defend our Constitution.”
Homelessness is one of the major contributors to the high suicide rate of veterans, he said. According to the latest 2016 Department of Veterans Affairs study, that rate is 22 per day among younger veterans aged 18 to 34.
In the VCP program, veterans get more than just a home; they get a community of like-minded veterans supporting each other.
“It’s very much like the barracks lifestyle, except that each veteran has their own home,” Stout said. “They’re taking care of each other. We also have a community center for them to gather and share camaraderie.”
The founders of VCP say on their website they are a team of “connectors, feelers, and doers on a mission to help our kin, our kind. We move with swift, bold action, and will always serve with compassion.”
Stout and his partners use their military logistics prowess to ensure that their housing communities are located along convenient bus lines and provide every veteran a free bus pass to allow easy transportation.
“We like to have them say, ‘What do you provide?’ That way we can ask them, ‘What do you need?’ And then we can start being the connectors,” Stout said. “At least 60 percent of the people that we serve, we’re serving them because of a poor transition from the military.”
And it’s thanks, in part, to his work with that community that he’s accumulated a wealth of good advice on how to survive the transition from the military into the civilian world.
Chris Stout, Army veteran and Founder of the Veterans Community Project.
Chris Stout’s top 5 transition tips
Connect with other veterans in your community. They will have learned lessons and have guidance more valuable than a brochure.
Ask for assistance before it’s too late. When Plan A doesn’t pan out, be prepared to execute a Plan B and ask for help pulling yourself out of the hole.
You’re not alone. You’re not the first to struggle with the VA, and you’re not the first to struggle with home life. Know that there are people who understand and can help sort it out. Often, when veterans transition, they view it as if they are the only ones traveling this road or the first blazing the trail. That’s not the case
If you’re a veteran, act like one. That means accepting responsibility, be on time, hold yourself accountable, have integrity and do not act entitled.
Work as hard as you did while you were in the service each and every day. It doesn’t matter what you decide to do when you get out; if you keep the drive, you will be OK.
The 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade deployed in March 2018 to Afghanistan to carry out the inaugural mission for the newly-created SFAB concept. The brigade returned in November 2018, and leaders say their experience there has proven successful what the Army hoped to accomplish with the new kind of training unit.
Army Brig. Gen. Scott Jackson, 1st SFAB commander, spoke May 8, 2019, at the Pentagon as part of an Army Current Operations Engagement Tour. He said the Army’s concept for the new unit — one earmarked exclusively for advise and assist missions — was spot on.
During their nine-month deployment to Afghanistan, Jackson said the 800-person brigade ran 58 advisory teams and partnered with more than 30 Afghan battalions, 15 brigades, multiple regional training centers, a corps headquarters and a capital division headquarters.
“That’s nearly half of the Afghan National Army,” he said. “I believe we could only accomplish our mission and reach these milestones and validate the effectiveness of an SFAB because the Army got it right — the Army issued us the right equipment, and provided us the right training to be successful. But most importantly, we selected the people for this mission . . . the key to our success is the talented, adaptable, and experienced volunteers who served in this brigade.”
Jackson outlined two key lessons learned from the unit’s time in Afghanistan. First, they learned their ability to affect change within those they advise and assist was greater than they thought.
Sgt. 1st Class Jeremiah Velez, center, an advisor with the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade’s 3rd Squadron, interacts with Afghan Command Sgt. Maj. Abdul Rahman Rangakhil, left, the senior enlisted leader of 1st Kandak, 4th Brigade, 203rd Corps, during a routine fly-to-advise mission at Forward Operating Base Altimur, Afghanistan, Sept. 19, 2018.
(Photo by Sean Kimmons)
“As our Afghan partners began to understand the value of 1st SFAB advisors, they asked us for more,” Jackson said. “So our teams partnered with more and more Afghan units as the deployment progressed.”
Another lesson, he said, was that persistent presence with partners pays off.
“Units with persistent partners made more progress in planning and conducting offensive operations and in integrating organic Afghan enablers like field artillery and the Afghan air force than unpersistent partnered units,” Jackson said.
Those lessons and others were passed to the follow-on unit, the 2nd SFAB, as well as to the Security Force Assistance Command.
Another observation: the Afghan military is doing just fine. They’re in charge of their own operations. And while U.S. presence can provide guidance when needed — and it is asked for — the Afghans were proving successful at doing their own security missions without U.S. soldiers running alongside them. It turns out that just having an SFAB advise and assist presence has emboldened Afghan security to success.
“We saw enormous offensive maneuver generated, and not just at the brigade level,” said Army Lt. Col. Brain Ducote, commander of the 1st Battalion, 1st SFAB. “They weren’t overdependent. They were able to execute offensive operations themselves. It was a huge confidence builder when we were sometimes just present. Even if we didn’t support them, just us being there gave them the confidence to execute on independent offensive operations.”
Confidence is contagious
Ducote said that the confidence moved from brigade level down to battalion, or “kandak” level. Commanders there also began running their own offensive operations, he said.
“They believe in themselves,” the lieutenant colonel said. “The Afghan army has tremendous freedom of maneuver and access to areas where they want to go. If they put their mind to it and they say we’re going to move to this area to clear it . . . they are good at it. And they can do it. Would they, given the choice, want advisors with them? Absolutely. Why not? But let there be no mistake: the Afghans are in the lead, and the Afghans can do this.”
Advisors with the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade’s 3rd Squadron and their 3rd Infantry Division security element exit UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters during a routine fly-to-advise mission at Forward Operating Base Altimur, Afghanistan, Sept. 19, 2018.
(Photo by Sean Kimmons)
Ducote said Afghan success is evident by their expansion of the footprint they protect, such as in Kunar and Kapisa provinces, for instance.
“[There are] all sorts of provinces where they expanded their footprint and influence,” he said. “And the people absolutely support their security forces.”
Also a critical takeaway from Afghanistan and an indicator of the value of the SFAB mission there is the authenticity of relationships between SFAB advisors and Afghans.
Building real relationships
During their nine months in theater, the 1st SFAB lost two soldiers to insider threats. Army Capt. Gerard T. Spinney, team leader for 1st Battalion, 1st SFAB, said that what happened after the attacks revealed the strength and sincerity of the relationship between Afghan leadership and SFAB leadership.
Army Cpl. Joseph Maciel was working for Spinney in Tarin Kowt District, Afghanistan. He was killed there by an Afghan soldier in July 2018 — a “green on blue” threat.
“His sacrifice will never be forgotten,” Spinney said. “But we still had to continue advising afterward. That day, my partner, a kandak commander . . . wanted to come see me.”
Spinney said the Afghan soldier who had killed Maciel didn’t belong to this commander — but that commander still wanted to meet with him.
Afghan soldiers listen to a map reading class taught by Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Davis, an advisor with 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade, Sept. 18, 2018.
(Photo by Sean Kimmons)
“He was very adamant coming to see me,” Spinney said. “He was angry. He was embarrassed. He was determined to rid [his own] unit of anything like this. And it was sincere. During the deployment he lost many soldiers. I had to sit with him and almost echo the same sympathies. I think the relationship got stronger.”
“You have to be there with them, good times and bad times, successes and failures,” the captain said. “That’s how you build trust, that’s how you show you care. He was there for us that day. Our relationship survived. And I’d say from that point on he wanted to make us feel safer. From that point on we saw differences in security . . . they took care of us because they wanted us there.”
Jackson said that insider threat might have derailed the 1st SFAB mission. In fact, he said, he suspects that was the intent of the enemy that carried out those threats. But it didn’t happen that way, he said.
“It didn’t derail the mission,” Jackson said. “Despite a brief pause maybe, as we reassessed what happened and what we needed to do both on the Afghan side and the American side, in the end our relationship was stronger.”
The SFAB concept was first proposed by Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley. And since then, Jackson said, the Army has put a lot of effort into ensuring the success of the SFAB mission. That includes, among other things, training, people and gear.
Ducote said the equipment provided to 1st SFAB was critical to its success in Afghanistan.
Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Davis, an advisor with 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade, teaches a map reading class to Afghan soldiers Sept. 18, 2018.
(Photo by Sean Kimmons)
“These teams are operating at distance, in austere environments,” Ducote said. “In some cases without electricity. We need the right equipment to be able to extend the trust that we give to them, and the trust that we extend to them. We want that to be manifested through the right equipment — communications specifically.”
He said the gear that proved essential to SFAB success included medical, communications and vehicles — and all were adequately provided for by the Army.
“The Army got it right what they gave us,” Ducote said. “We were able to do that mission, at distance.”
Back home now for six months, Jackson said the brigade is back to repairing equipment, replacing teammates and conducting individual and small-unit training to prepare for its next mission. He said their goal is to provide the Army a unit ready for the next deployment, though orders for that next mission have not yet come down.
The advise and assist mission is one the Army has done for years, but it’s something the Army had previously done in an ad hoc fashion. Brigade combat teams, for instance, had in the past been tasked to send some of their own overseas as part of security transition teams or security force assistance teams to conduct training missions with foreign militaries. Sometimes, however, the manner in which these teams were created may not have consistently facilitated the highest quality of preparation.
Sgt. 1st Class Jeremiah Velez, an advisor with the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade’s 3rd Squadron, flies in a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter on his way to Forward Operating Base Altimur, Afghanistan, Sept. 19, 2018.
(Photo by Sean Kimmons)
The SFAB units, on the other hand, are exclusively designated to conduct advise and assist missions overseas. And they are extensively trained to conduct those missions before they go. Additionally, the new SFABs mean regular BCTs will no longer need to conduct advise and assist missions.
The Army plans to have one National Guard and five active-duty SFABs. The 1st SFAB stood up at Fort Benning, Georgia, in early 2018. The 2nd SFAB is based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, but is now deployed to Afghanistan. The 3rd SFAB, based at Fort Hood, Texas, is now gearing up for its own first deployment. The 4th SFAB, based at Fort Carson, Colorado, is standing up, as is the 54th SFAB, a National Guard unit that will be spread across six states. The 5th SFAB, to be based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, is still being planned.
“As subsequent SFABs come online, it creates a huge capacity for the rest of the combatant commands in the world,” Jackson said. “I would be confident to say that there are assessments ongoing to see where else you could apply SFABs besides Afghanistan.”
At the U.S. Army’s Sniper School at Fort Benning in Georgia, students undergo some of the most grueling training the force offers.
“Sniper school is one of the hardest schools in the military, not physically, but mentally,” Staff Sgt. Brian Moran, one of the 11 instructors who oversees the training, told the Army News Service.
Army snipers face demanding missions and often operate with little or no support, and the training at Fort Benning tests their ability to work in isolation and under pressure.
Below, you can see some of the rigorous and, for many, overwhelming training that Army sniper candidates endure:
12. Over 300 candidates start the seven-week Sniper School course at Fort Benning each year. In early August, 46 soldiers were on hand for the first day. Each had already met demanding criteria, including navigation and marksmanship evaluations, physical-fitness tests, and psychological examinations.
11. “Snipers are often deployed in small two-man teams, which requires a great deal of mental fortitude to remain focused on the task at hand,” said Moran, the Sniper School instructor. “If individuals have difficulty being isolated, there is a potential for mission failure.”
10. After a battery of physical-fitness tests on the first day, candidates are taught to make a ghillie suit — a camouflage suit that uses foliage to break up the outline of the soldier’s body.
9. The first test of their new concealment comes hours later, crawling hundreds of feet through tall grass and a ditch filled with water, mud, rocks, and vegetation.
8. Part of the exercise requires students to carry and drag one another — testing their ability to help their comrades if one is wounded or incapacitated in the field. “The object of this training is to teach students that being a sniper can be a difficult and dirty job,” Moran said. “These are the conditions that snipers will often find themselves in.”
7. The second week of training sends them into the field to stalk a target, putting students’ patience and camouflage to the test. The Georgia heat and a variety of critters combine with instructors using high-powered optics to suss out prospective snipers. Stalking requires close attention to detail and “a high tolerance for discomfort,” Moran said. “Most of the students who are dropped from the sniper course have failed because of their lack of discipline.”
6. Also during the second week, sniper candidates are taught to do reconnaissance, which is part of their secondary mission to collect and report battlefield information. Snipers who can operate with little support and carry out those missions, Moran said, can aid commanders at every level. “Snipers are force multipliers,” he told Army News Service.
5. The third week mixes classroom work with firing on a range. Students are taught how to communicate with spotters, and they fire 80 to 120 rounds a day at targets ranging from 300 meters to 800 meters away. Starting in week three, students are paired up and alternate turns as sniper and as spotter. The duos are trained to work in tandem to track targets and defend themselves.
4. After the soldier’s third week, the trials turn from physical to mental. The fourth week adds night-fire and limited-visibility firing scenarios. Record-fire tests see snipers paired with spotters and given five targets and a seven-minute time limit. The pressure becomes too much for some, and three students were sent home.
3. Week five challenges sniper candidates to hit targets at unknown distances, as well as moving targets. “Students must learn how to properly lead their target so the round will impact a given position when the target will be there,” Moran said. Two more students were sent home.
2. The demands do not slack in week six. They are taught to use new weapons, like the M9 pistol or the M107 .50-caliber sniper rifle, and to fire from unstable platforms or other positions. The seventh week, known as the “employment phase,” challenges students to plan and carry out a mission after receiving an operational order.
1. The course culminates in week seven with time-limited road march to a range for a “final shot.” Given two bullets and one target, students must calculate range and engage, with their scores determining honor graduate and “top gun” status for graduation. At graduation on September 22, just four of the 46 students remained. “The training in sniper school is hands down the best I’ve received in the Army,” said Sgt. Stephen Ray, a member of the 1st Armored Brigade who graduated No. 1 in the class — Top Gun.