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Here’s How US Navy SEALs Take Down A House

Navy SEALs are all over the place. In books, at the movies, and on the news. But when they assault a target, they do so quickly and quietly, trying to get the job done before anyone realizes they’re around. Here’s how they do it.


Preparation

 

Here’s How US Navy SEALs Take Down A House
Photo: US Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Meranda Keller

The SEALs will plan their missions down to the finest detail and, when possible, rehearse it beforehand. They’ll review all intelligence and check all their equipment before heading out. When possible, they prefer to time their missions for early morning or late night when the U.S. military’s optical equipment gives them a major edge over the bad guys.

Insertion

Here’s How US Navy SEALs Take Down A House
Photo: US Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Anthony Harding

One of the hallmarks of the SEALs are the many cool ways they can arrive at an objective. Their name is even an acronym for sea, air, and land, the three avenues they’ll attack from. They can ride to the beach on a boat deployed from a ship or helicopter, they can parachute in, or they can even move in using clandestine submarines.

Establishing overwatch/security

Here’s How US Navy SEALs Take Down A House
Photo: US Navy

While part of the team moves to the target buildings to force entry, part of the team will split off and establish overwatch positions where they’ll keep an eye out for dangers like enemy reinforcements, people trying to escape the target building, and fighters attempting to maneuver on the other SEALs.

Forcing entry

Here’s How US Navy SEALs Take Down A House
Photo: US Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class William S. Parker

SEALs can’t afford to be stopped by minor things like steel doors or fortifications. They’ll go through windows, force open doors, or even blow out walls to get at their targets.

Assault through the house

Here’s How US Navy SEALs Take Down A House
Photo: US Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Eddie Harrison

Once inside, the elite sailors will go through the building and seek out their objective. SEALs train extensively on close quarters combat and urban operations, so they move quickly. As in the picture above, team members look in different directions to ensure they aren’t ambushed.

Exfil

Here’s How US Navy SEALs Take Down A House
Photo: US Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Anthony Harding

After grabbing or killing their target, it’s time to leave, or exfiltrate, the objective area. If the SEALs rode a boat in, they might take that back out to sea to link up with a Navy ship. They can also call in helicopter extractions, move out on foot, or take a swim to a rendezvous.

MIGHTY TRENDING

US destroyer sails through Chinese-claimed territory

US Navy warships sailed through the Taiwan Strait Jan. Jan. 24, 2019, in an apparent challenge to Beijing.

The Areligh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell and the Henry J. Kaiser-class fleet replenishment oiler USNS Walter S. Diehl conducted a Taiwan Strait transit, demonstrating “the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” US Pacific Fleet spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Tim Gorman told CNN.

“The US Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows,” he added.


The rhetoric in his statement is consistent with that used for freedom-of-navigation operations (FONOPs) and bomber overflights in the South China Sea, actions that tend to agitate the Chinese government.

After the USS McCampbell conducted a FONOP earlier this month, Chinese media responded with a warning that its military had deployed DF-26 missiles capable of sinking enemy ships in the South China Sea.

Here’s How US Navy SEALs Take Down A House

The USS McCampbell.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication 1st Class Bobbie G. Attaway)

While Taiwan Strait transits by US warships occurred infrequently in the past, the US has made these maneuvers routine in the past year, which has been characterized by rising tension between Washington and Beijing.

The US Navy sent the destroyer USS Stockdale and the replenishment oiler USNS Pecos through the strait in November 2018, just a few weeks after the destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur and the cruiser USS Antietam did the same in October 2018.

The destroyers USS Mustin and USS Benfold sailed the strait between mainland China and Taiwan for the first time in July 2018.

Here’s How US Navy SEALs Take Down A House

The Chinese government views Taiwan, a self-ruled democratic territory, as a renegade province, and is deeply concerned about foreign interference, particularly US military support.

Beijing feels it may embolden pro-independence forces. In a recent speech, Chinese President Xi Jinping made it clear that forceful reunification remains on the table.

A new Defense Intelligence Agency assessment of China’s military might explains: “Beijing’s longstanding interest to eventually compel Taiwan’s reunification with the mainland and deter any attempt by Taiwan to declare independence has served as the primary driver for China’s military modernization.”

“Beijing’s anticipation that foreign forces would intervene in a Taiwan scenario led the [Chinese military] to develop a range of systems to deter and deny foreign regional force projection.”

In a recent meeting with Adm. John Richardson, chief of US naval operations, Chinese Gen. Li Zuocheng asserted, “If anyone wants to separate Taiwan from China, the Chinese military will safeguard the national unity at all costs so as to protect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” according to the South China Morning Post.

Richardson said in Japan that the Taiwan Strait is an international waterway, and left the door open for the US to send an aircraft carrier through if necessary.

China sent military aircraft, specifically a Sukhoi Su-30 and a Shaanxi Y-8 transport plane, flying past Taiwan Jan. 22, 2019, causing the Taiwanese military to scramble aircraft and surveillance ships in response. China regularly conducts encirclement drills around Taiwan.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

How this storied Marine raid came back to bite America

The Raid on Makin Island is one of those operations that Marines point to with pride. The Marine Raiders that carried it out were among the best of the best. It even became the subject of a 1943 movie, Gung Ho!, starring Randolph Scott and Robert Mitchum. That raid was also a strategic blunder that, in a very real sense, screwed over the 2nd Marine Division assigned to take Tarawa about 15 months later.

You may be asking yourself, “how did a successful raid screw over the 2nd Marine Division more than a year down the line?” Well, it’s all connected to a series of events put in motion by the end of World War I.


At the end of The Great War, Japan was given the Marshall Islands under a League of Nations mandate. Under Article XIX of the Washington Naval Treaty, these islands (and any other islands in the Pacific) weren’t supposed to be fortified. As you might imagine, Japan didn’t abide by these terms.

On the same day as the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese swept over the Marshal Islands, seizing control, adding these land masses to a collection of Central Pacific claims. Japan quickly fortified both the Gilbert and Marshal Islands. From these bases, they hoped to whittle down the American fleet in the Pacific to the point where their smaller force could win a decisive battle.

Here’s How US Navy SEALs Take Down A House

U.S. Marine Col. Carlson and his staff consult during training for the Makin raid.

(USMC)

Around the time the United States attacked Guadalcanal, the 2nd Raider Battalion was sent to hit Makin Island. They went in on two submarines, USS Argonaut (SS 166) and USS Nautilus (SS 168). The intent was to gather intel about Japanese forces in the Central Pacific while distracting from Allied landings on Guadalcanal and Tulagi.

The raid went pretty well for the United States Marines. They killed 46 of the enemy, but suffered 30 casualties, including losing nine who became POWs and were later executed.

Here’s How US Navy SEALs Take Down A House

The Raid on Makin Island prompted the Japanese to reinforce Tarawa, which made landing on that island a very costly affair.

(US Navy)

Although it was tactical success, it had its consequences. It alerted the Japanese to the vulnerability of their bases in the Central Pacific — and they responded with reinforcements. The existing bases were further built up. When the Americans came knocking in November, 1943, the Japanese troops were dug in. Tarawa became a bloody fight.

Here’s How US Navy SEALs Take Down A House

The fact that nine Marines were left behind, taken prisoner, and later executed was not the worst consequence of the Makin Island raid.

(Photo by Groink)

The United States later returned to Makin Island as part of an island-hopping campaign. During the fighting, the Casablanca-class escort carrier USS Liscome Bay (CVE 56) was torpedoed and sunk by a Japanese sub, killing 644 American personnel.

In short, the Raid on Makin Island was a big morale boost for the United States, but that early attack exposed weaknesses on a small scale and arguably made the Central Pacific much more costly in the grand scheme of things.

MIGHTY CULTURE

What exactly happens when the queen dies?

HailCaesoo asks: What all happens when the queen of England dies?

Queen Elizabeth II has reigned over the UK and the Commonwealth for almost seven decades, but it turns out what happens when she sheds this mortal coil has been planned out in detail going all the way back to shortly after she ascended the throne in the 1950s, with the Queen herself planning some of the elements.

As you might imagine, the whole affair includes an amazing amount of pomp and circumstance, though this was not always the case, or at least not nearly to the extent we see today in various Royal ceremonies. For example, going back to the funeral of King George IV it is noted in the book Royalty Inc: Britain’s Best Known Brand,

Dozens of pickpockets arrived in Windsor and lifted watches and money from sightseers who had turned up to see if any celebrities were attending. The funeral itself, hurried through in St. George’s Chapel at nine o’clock in the evening, was largely undignified. The congregation crowded in, jostling for the best seats, and then chatted noisily among themselves. ‘We never saw so motley, so rude, so ill-managed a body of persons,’ The Time’s’ correspondent reported… At least the undertakers were not drunk, as they had been at the funeral of George’s daughter and heir, the Princess Charlotte who died in childbirth in 1817.

As for his successor, William IV’s, coronation,

William only reluctantly agreed to have a ceremonial coronation and the money spent on the occasion was less than a fifth of that expended on his brother’s behalf ten years earlier… Among the other changes to royal protocols, the new King opened the terraces at Windsor Castle and the nearby great park to the public access and reduced the fleet of royal yachts. All this, his lack of pomposity and his visceral dislike of foreigners, particularly the French, tended to endear him to the populace…. When William IV himself died in June 1837, there was also a private funeral at Windsor and, if not quite as undignified as George’s had been, it was a perfunctory affair.

The ultra elaborate more public ceremonies now associated with the monarchy wouldn’t begin in earnest until the late 19th century, in part because of public protest over not being included in many of these events. For example, there was significant backlash over the fact that the 1858 wedding of Princess Victoria and Prince Friedrich Wilhelm had not been more public. As noted in a contemporary report by the Daily Telegraph at the time, the people lamented the “growing system of reserving the exclusive enjoyment of State ceremonials and spectacles for particular classes.”

Here’s How US Navy SEALs Take Down A House

In 1867, British journalist Walter Bagehot would postulate of all of this, “The more democratic we get, the more we shall get to like state and show, which have ever pleased the vulgar.”

That said, initial efforts to improve things were apparently somewhat lackluster. For example, the eventual Marquess of Salisbury, Lord Robert Cecil, after watching Queen Victoria open parliament in 1860, stated:

Some nations have a gift for ceremonial. No poverty of means of absence of splendour inhibits them from making any pageant in which they take part both real and impressive… In England the case is exactly the reverse. We can afford to be more splendid than most nations; but some malignant spell broods over all our most solemn ceremonials, and inserts into them some feature which makes them all ridiculous.

Nevertheless, by the time of Queen Victoria’s death things had started to improve somewhat, though this particular funeral ceremony too was almost made “ridiculous”. You see, while pulling the cart containing the queen’s coffin up a steep hill, a harness on one of the horses snapped, with the result being two of the other horses rearing back and bucking. The result of all of that, in turn, was the Queen’s coffin coming extremely close to being ejected from the carriage. Had it done so, it would have gone careening down the steep hill, possibly ejecting the Queen’s body at some point…

As for her successor, Edward VII, he would double down on improving public ceremonies, essentially turning every opportunity for pageantry into an elaborate affair and including the public as much as possible. Notably, upon his death in 1910, he had his body placed in a coffin at Westminster Hall with over 400,000 people reportedly coming to see it, helping to popularly bolster the old practice of certain members of the monarchy lying-in-state in the UK.

This all now brings us to the exact plan for what happens when Queen Elizabeth II dies. Code — named Operation London Bridge, meetings have been held a few times per year in the over six decades since the plan was originally created in order to tweak it as needed with the times, with the overarching plan going over every possible contingency the architects can think of.

Here’s How US Navy SEALs Take Down A House
Giphy

Beyond logistical plans by the government, in more recent times, British news outlets have also had in place pre-planned obituaries, with some TV outlets rumored to occasionally rehearse the broadcasts they will give to announce the Queen’s death, right down to what they’ll wear.

If you’re wondering — a whole lot of black, including black ties for the men, extras of which are actually kept on hand at the BBC just in case needed on short notice. This reportedly became a thing after Peter Sissons of the BBC inadvisably wore a red tie when announcing the Queen Mother’s death. Certain members of the general public did not react kindly to this.

Moving back to the official side of things, to begin with, first, immediately upon her death the Queen’s private secretary, Edward Young, will send a coded message to the Prime Minister, with the message originally “London Bridge is down”. However, given the whole point here of using such a coded message is to help reduce the chance of premature leaks of the news of the Queen’s death, it’s possible the exact coded phrase has been changed since that one was discovered. (If you’re curious, when King George VI died, the code was “Hyde Park Corner” and for the death of the Queen Mother “Operation Tay Bridge” was used.)

Here’s How US Navy SEALs Take Down A House

George VI and British prime minister Clement Attlee (left), July 1945.

From there various entities, such as the media, will be officially notified and the Radio Alert Transmission System (RATS) will be activated announcing the death to the public. That said, it’s likely given social media is a thing that the news will leak much quicker that way to the wider public.

This all essentially kicks off a 12 day sequence of events, outlined in the plan as D-day (the day of the Queen’s death), D+1, D+2, etc. (Interestingly this is also exactly the reason the famed military operation now commonly known as D-Day is called such — just standing for “Designated day”, allowing for ease of coordinating a sequence of events when the actual start date is unknown, or in some cases where there is a desire for it to be kept as secret as possible.)

Perhaps the most noteworthy thing of all that will occur on D-day, beside the Queen’s death, is Prince Charles will assume the position of King, even though actually being sworn in as King will not take place until the following morning.

As for the coronation ceremony, this can potentially take many months to finally take place. For example, Queen Elizabeth II’s own coronation after the death of King George VI on February 6, 1952, did not take place until almost a year and a half later, on June 2, 1953. In this case, the decision to wait this lengthy period was made by Winston Churchill.

That said, there is some speculation that Charles’ coronation will be relatively swift in comparison in order to forestall any momentum building in public sentiment that may push for an abolishment of the monarchy, especially given the relatively lesser popularity of Prince Charles compared to the almost universally loved Queen he is replacing. To help further forestall such from happening, steps have been actively taken in recent years to try to bolster Charles’ profile among his subjects.

Here’s How US Navy SEALs Take Down A House

Prince Charles.

It should also be noted here that Prince Charles may choose to not become known as “King Charles III”, as he is free to choose any of the names from his full name of Charles Philip Arthur George. From this, there is some speculation that he may wish to honor his grandfather King George by taking the name King George VII or he may go with King Philip after his own father.

In any event, after Charles takes the oath the day after the Queen’s death, Parliament will be called to session that same day (the evening following King Charles’ oath) to swear allegiance to him. Likewise, police and military forces under his rule will also be called wherever they are to swear their allegiance to their new King.

Also on that evening, the new King will address the nation for the first time in that role. In her own such broadcast, Queen Elizabeth, among other things, swore “I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”

This is a good thing as we’ve previously noted the monarch of the UK is for all intents and purposes above the law in virtually every nation in the world, not just their own. On top of that, from a legal standpoint, their power in their own little empire is almost absolute for a variety of reasons, though of course, Queen Elizabeth II at least has very rarely used any of this authority.

Here’s How US Navy SEALs Take Down A House

Queen Elizabeth II waving to crowds.

But given this, as you might expect it’s quite important that the person made monarch in Britain is mentally stable and trustworthy as it would take a literal revolution or rebellion to take such powers away from that person from a legal standpoint, assuming said British monarch did not wish to have those powers taken. This would also place the military, police, Parliament and others in the awkward position of having to very publicly break their sworn oaths to said monarch to take their powers away against their will.

Going back to the Queen, what exactly happens to her body directly after her death will depend on where she is at the time, with Operation London Bridge attempting to plan for any contingencies. For example, should she die in her frequent summer home at Balmoral Castle in Scotland a special Scottish ceremony is planned before her body will be sent back to London. In this case, along with appropriate preservation being done, her body will be placed in Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh for a short time, and then her coffin carried to St. Giles’s Cathedral where a service will be held.

After this, the coffin will be put aboard the Royal Train at Edinburgh Waverley railway station and then will make its way down to London where it will be ultimately placed in Buckingham Palace. Given mourners will likely throw flowers and other things at the train as it passes, plans are in place to have another train follow behind shortly thereafter to clear the tracks as needed before the tracks are put back in general use.

On the other hand, should she die abroad, a jet from the No. 32 Royal Squadron will be dispatched with the Queen’s coffin to collect her body. (And if you’re wondering, yes, such a coffin is already made and waiting in case of a Royal’s death — called the “first call coffin”, kept by the Leverton Sons royal undertakers for when it’s needed.)

Wherever it’s coming from, the Queen’s body will, as alluded to, make its way to the Throne Room of Buckingham Palace and be held there for at time. Four days after her death, her coffin will be placed in Westminster Hall, available for public viewing almost 24 hours a day for four days.

Given approximately 200,000 people went to view the Queen Mother’s coffin in 2002, it’s expected the number going to view Queen Elizabeth’s coffin will be vastly more than this.

Here’s How US Navy SEALs Take Down A House

The Queen Mother’s funeral carriage.

Finally, the night before the funeral takes place, special church services will be held across the UK to commemorate the death of the head of the Church of England. The funeral will then take place the following day, with said day being deemed a national holiday.

On that day, the coffin will be carried from Westminster Hall to Westminster Abbey where approximately 2,000 guests will be invited into the Abbey to witness the funeral directly, with the service conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury. After that ceremony is over, the the Queen will likely be laid to rest in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.

Finally, at some yet undetermined point after the mourning period, the coronation of the new King will take place, which will also be a national holiday.

As for other logistics, with the change to the new King, various official things like certain physical money, stamps, etc. will switch from Queen Elizabeth’s visage to the King’s, and an awful lot of official documents and the like that formerly said “her” and “Queen” will be switched to “him” and “King”, such as the national anthem having the words slightly altered to “God Save the King”.

Bonus Fact:

Along with being the only person in the UK to not need a passport when traveling abroad, the Queen similarly doesn’t need a driver’s license to drive either. This is because, like passports, driver’s licenses are issued in her name. So she’s allowed to simply vouch for her own driving ability in person should she ever be pulled over.

Now, you’d think given her status and wealth, the Queen would never drive anyway, but you’d be wrong, though she did a few months back voluntarily cease driving on public roads at the urging of her security team who worried about the elderly Queen’s safety in driving on public roads at her age. But before that, it turns out the Queen loved driving and cars. In fact, during WW2 the Queen (then a princess) badgered her father to let her do her part for her country and subsequently ended up serving as a mechanic and driver with the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service at the tender age of 18. (She’d actually registered to serve at age 16 but King George wouldn’t allow it).

The Queen took her position incredibly seriously, becoming, by all accounts, a competent mechanic and driver, trained to fix and drive a host of military and suburban vehicles.

Fast-forwarding a bit through history, a humourous story about the Queen’s driving prowess comes from 1998 when she was visited at her estate in Balmoral, Scotland by the then Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. The story was later revealed to the world by one-time Saudi ambassador Sherard Cowper-Cole.

Knowing Abdullah’s stance on the rights of women and the fact that women are essentially banned from driving in Saudi Arabia (there’s technically no law that says women can’t drive, but licenses are only issued to men), the Queen, demonstrating quintessential British passive aggressiveness, offered the Prince a tour of her palace grounds.

Here’s How US Navy SEALs Take Down A House
Giphy

Dutifully, the Prince agreed and the pair headed outside where a large Land Rover bearing the Royal insignia was parked. After waiting for the Prince to climb into the passenger seat where he no doubt assumed a chauffeur would drive the pair around, the Queen then nonchalantly climbed into the driver’s seat and proceeded to drive the car, much to the Prince’s astonishment. According to ambassador Sherard, the Prince was extremely nervous about this arrangement from the start.

Things didn’t get better for him.

The then 72 year old Queen, knowing that Abdullah had never been driven by a woman before and no doubt observing his anxiety, decided to mess with him by purposely driving as fast as possible on “the narrow Scottish estate roads”.

As she sped along at break-neck speeds, the Crown Prince screamed at the Queen through his interpreter to slow down and pay closer attention to her driving. The Queen, ignoring his admonishments completely, continued pleasantly chatting away as if she wasn’t doing her best Fast and the Furious impression. We can only imagine Abdullah’s reaction if the Queen had mentioned to him that she never got her driver’s license…

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

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MIGHTY CULTURE

First naval aviators graduate new USAF pilot training program

The first two student naval aviators graduated from the U.S. Air Force’s Pilot Training Next (PTN) program at Randolph Air Force Base (AFB) just outside of San Antonio, Aug. 29, 2019.

The PTN program is a course of instruction designed to train military pilots at a lower cost, in a shorter amount of time, and with a higher level of proficiency leveraging emerging technologies to create a dynamic training environment.

The PTN program individualizes training, adjusting to each student pilot’s strengths and weaknesses. It integrates virtual reality (VR), advanced biometrics, artificial intelligence (AI), and immersive training devices (ITD) with traditional methods of learning.


“The most appealing part of this program is we step away from the common denominator or one-size-fits-all training that has to be done on a certain timeline,” Det. 24 Commander U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Ryan Riley said. “With PTN we have been able to focus more on competencies and the focus of the individual student. We tailor the training to you, and that is a very different mindset shift and that is what I am most excited about.”

Here’s How US Navy SEALs Take Down A House

A T-6A Texan II aircraft prepares to conduct a tough-and-go landing on Randolph Air Force Base, Texas.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by 1st. Lt. Pawel Puczko)

Navy instructors selected Ensigns Charles Hills and Seth Murphy-Sweet for the PTN program in lieu of the standard Navy Primary Flight Training phase. This joint training effort is a step toward integrating emerging technologies into Navy’s flight training curriculum. Now Hill and Murphy-Sweet are ready to move forward to the advanced stage of flight training with the Navy’s Training Air Wing 2 at Naval Air Station Kingsville, Texas.

“I think a big thing with this program was the ability to utilize the VR, get the experience and pacing down for each flight realtime,” Hill said. “This benefited all the students – being able to chair fly while being able to see the whole flight rather than to have to use your imagination. This helped in getting the motor skills while we were able test it out in VR and see how the exact input corresponds to a correct output.”

The relatively new program is being improved with each iteration and allows a more tailored approach to learning in comparison to traditional flight training from the instructor’s perspective. Instructors use a collaborative learning environment to evaluate and analyze students and subsequently make corrections and improvements.

Here’s How US Navy SEALs Take Down A House

Ensign Charles Hill (left) and Ensign Seth Murphy-Sweet stand with their graduating Pilot Training Next (PTN) class on Randolph Air Force Base, Texas.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by 1st. Lt. Pawel Puczko)

PTN First Assignment Instructor Pilot (FAIP) U.S. Air Force Capt. Jake Pothula shared his views on just how the program differs from the traditional syllabus.

“I went through traditional training,” he said. “The biggest difference with the PTN program is the fact that we aren’t tied to a very rigid, unforgiving syllabus, so students have the ability to choose their own training or have it be molded by instructor pilots who have the students’ individual best interest in mind. In traditional Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) you get more flying hours, but PTN students get a lot more simulator time. The students probably get three times as many hours in the sim than a traditional UPT student would. It’s something they could do at their own pace and choose what they want to do. I would say that these students have a very different set of skills. They excel at understanding their place in a larger mission and understanding what their aircraft is going to do especially in the cases of large field or large force exercises. I feel they definitely have a better grasp on more abstract concept such as mission management.”

Integrating new technologies such as ITDs allows students to gain experience using real-world scenarios. Students can not only fly the strict patterns and procedures they learn from their books, but also integrate air traffic control decondition as well as other aircraft.

“I think the unique and most exciting aspect with where PTN is going is the partnership with the Navy and Air Force,” Riley said. “With this partnership the Navy has loaned us eight T-6B Texan II aircraft. The manufacturer modified the avionics to what we call the T-6B plus, which has software specifically built for the PTN program mission.”

Here’s How US Navy SEALs Take Down A House

Commander Air Force Recruiting Brig. Gen. Jeannie Leavitt speaking at the Pilot Training Next (PTN) class graduation on Randolph Air Force Base, Texas.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by 1st. Lt. Pawel Puczko)

Adding Navy instructors and students to the PTN program brings a unique perspective since training in the T-6B Texan II is new to the Air Force. VR simulators add a new and exciting element to the PTN program and draws parallels to the gaming industry, which could help attract new accessions.

Today the Navy’s Primary Flight Training phase uses simulators and VR trainer devices to augment the traditional curriculum, which allow students better familiarity with aircraft controls and their areas of operations. Technology within fleet aircraft and the aviation community at large is constantly advancing, and as we move forward simulators and ITDs will play an increasingly significant role in the way we train our military aviators.

CNATRA, headquartered in Corpus Christi, trains the world’s finest combat quality aviation professionals, delivering them at the right time, in the right numbers, and at the right cost to a naval force that is where it matters, when it matters.

This article originally appeared on United States Navy. Follow @USNavy on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The US Army is sending 20,000 troops across the Atlantic to see if they have the ‘bandwidth’ to fight a major war

US Military Sealift Command cargo ship USNS Benavidez and US-flagged merchant vessels MV Resolve and MV Patriot set off across the Atlantic for Europe last month, escorted by guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf through a path made by the Eisenhower carrier strike group.


Crossing the Atlantic isn’t new for the Navy, but this exercise — a convoy operation simulating an opposed transit — is the first of its kind since 1986.

“We may not have been doing it for the last 35 years, but we have had … to conduct convoy operations around the planet,” Capt. Andrew Fitzpatrick, Vella Gulf’s commanding officer, told reporters last week. “So we’ve put some of those concepts and lessons learned into how we’re executing this particular operation.”

The convoy comes ahead of this spring’s Defender-Europe 20, a massive multinational exercise to which the US is shipping 20,000 troops and much of their gear — the largest deployment of US-based forces to Europe in 25 years.

Defender-Europe 20 will feature “a fictional near-peer competitor” in a future “post-Article V environment,” an Army planning official said last year, referring to NATO’s collective-defense provision.

Like the Navy’s convoy, the Army-led Defender-Europe 20 is about practicing old skills to confront new challenges.

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USNS Benavidez in the Atlantic, February 26, 2020.

US Navy/MCS 3rd Class Jordan R. Bair

The right bandwidth

Preparations for Defender-Europe 20 began in January, when US personnel loaded vehicles and equipment for rail transport to US ports.

The first combat power arrived on February 20, when US Army tanks and other vehicles rolled into the port of Bremerhaven in Germany. Participating countries will stage equipment at 14 air and seaports in eight European countries as the exercise gets underway.

Another 13,000 pieces of equipment will be drawn from Army Prepositioned Stocks in northwest Europe and deployed across 18 countries for training — ground convoys will cover some 2,500 miles to stage the exercise.

Defender-Europe 20 will end with US and partner forces cleaning training areas, returning equipment to those stocks, and for US troops, redeployment to the US.

Like crossing the Atlantic, getting around Europe isn’t new, but doing so now will test skills that haven’t been used much in the years after the Cold War, when the US presence in Europe dwindled and NATO’s ability to rapidly deploy atrophied.

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A M1 Abrams tank was the first piece of combat power to roll into Europe for Defender-Europe 20, in Bremerhaven, Germany, February, 20, 2020.

US Army/Sgt. Benjamin Northcutt

“I’m concerned about the bandwidth to be able to accept this large force,” Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters, head of US European Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on February 25, when asked what challenges he expects the exercise to present.

“I’m also concerned about road and rail from the center portion of Germany … all the way to the eastern border,” Wolters said.

“Because we have the appropriate resources, we now possess a white-team capability to examine our speed of move from west to east, and we also have enough white-cell individuals to assess how safely we get stuff through Bremerhaven and to the next point,” Wolters added. “Bandwidth with respect to size and speed are my greatest concerns.”

This exercise “will allow us to see ourselves at all three levels — tactical, operational, strategic,” Gen. Gus Perna, head of US Army Material Command, which oversees installations, maintenance, and parts, told reporters in February.

“It will reinforce where we think we are tactically as far as material readiness,” Perna added. “Can we mobilize ourselves out of the barracks and the motor pools, move to the ports and the airfields, and then strategically project ourselves to some place across the ocean?”

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Tracked vehicles are unloaded from US vessel ARC Endurance at Bremerhaven, Germany on February 21, 2020.

US Army/Jason Johnston

Counting every second

Since Russia’s 2014 intervention in Ukraine, the US military has boosted its presence in Europe and increased its logistical capability there, disembarking in new places and using new methods to get around.

“On the logistics side of the house, the environment in Europe has to be mature enough to be able to absorb 20,000 soldiers and get those soldiers to the right prepositioned locations to be able to grab the appropriate gear that they’re supposed to get to their foxhole and be able to execute,” Wolters said.

“What we want to do is count every second that it takes to get the soldier from the first point of entry all the way to his or her foxhole to be successful … and we anticipate that there will be some snags,” Wolters said.

Wolters credited the European Defense Initiative, started after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, with making Defender-Europe 20 possible.

EDI has “funded the rotational brigade combat teams that go to Poland, and that teaches all of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines how to lift and shift larger quantities of forces across the Atlantic and to do so without any harm,” Wolters told the committee.

EDI also funded “our emergency contingency air operations sets for the Air Force, and our deployable air base systems for the Air Force,” Wolters said. “We’ve also been able to dramatically improve our airfield infrastructure and the reception infrastructure in the eastern part of Europe to where it is equipped today to safely receive those resources and effectively get those resources where they need to go.”

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US Army troop carrier vehicles are put on railcars during an Army Prepositioned Stock movement, the first in support of Defender-Europe 20, at Coleman Barracks in Mannheim, Germany, January 28, 2019.

US Army/Spc. Elliott Page

But EDI funding has been particularly important for the Army’s Prepositioned Stocks.

Two years ago, “we weren’t mature enough with respect to the prepositioned stockpiles to have a soldier show up at location X and be able to grab resources. Today, we can do that,” Wolters said. “We know the fitness of the resources, and now we’ll be able to examine the speed at which they can get to the foxhole and be able to execute.”

Those stocks keep heavy equipment like tanks and critical supplies like ammunition at forward locations so troops can deploy, equip, and move to the front line.

Perna, head of Army Material Command, said last month that his command was working on another prepositioned stock to be located where Wolters and the head of US Army Europe, Lt. Gen. Christopher Cavoli, felt it was needed.

“I can envision where Defender 2020 might illuminate several things” about those stocks, Perna said. “Is it in the right place? Do we need to adjust? Do we want to set up alternate sites to keep everybody guessing about what we’re doing? Is there a better place to put things for better advantage?”

“I also think coming out of Defender 20 might be a thought process of, ‘Hey, we need more … or we need different from what we have,'” Perna added.

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US Army Reserve soldiers check vehicles at Fallingbostel, 30 miles outside of Bergen-Hohne, Germany, for Defender-Europe 20, February 8, 2020.

US Army/Maj. Joseph Bush

‘Shoot, move, and communicate fast’

In his testimony, Wolters expressed concern about road and railways in eastern Germany, but transportation infrastructure throughout Eastern Europe has been a persistent worry.

In addition to a tangle of customs rules and transport regulations, railway sizes often vary between countries in that part of Europe, meaning delays as cargos cross borders. Roadways there are often narrow and, in some cases, can’t handle heavy vehicles — a particular problem for Eastern Europe’s many aging bridges.

All this would be complicated in wartime, as Russia, which used to control much of Eastern Europe, is familiar with the weak points. (Russia is “not overly pleased” with Defender-Europe 20, Wolters said.)

NATO and the European Union have also devoted resources to improving local infrastructure. NATO also set up two new commands to oversee movements like those underway for Defender-Europe 20. Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia, oversees operations in the Atlantic, while Joint Support and Enabling Command in Ulm, Germany, oversees allied armor and troop movements in Europe.

Limitations on civilian infrastructure, particularly in the Baltics and Poland, are “an issue that all of Europe was very, very aware of in the mid-’80s, and they are getting themselves reacquainted with it today,” Wolters said.

“They understand the imperative of making sure that we have bridging programs in the regions in the northeast and the southeast of Europe to ensure that we can shoot, move, and communicate fast.”

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

Articles

Here are 10 things everyone experiences in jump school

The U.S. Army Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia is where U.S. military members of all branches go to become military parachutists. The school is three weeks of intense physical drills, training on towers, and of course, “jumping out of a perfectly good airplane” five times to earn the coveted silver parachute badge (also known as “jump wings”).


Here are 10 things Airborne students will encounter when going through Jump School:

1. Black Hats

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Airborne Instructors in 1977

An Airborne instructor’s nametag may read “Jones” but students will address him or her as “Sergeant Airborne.” New Airborne trainees are received by the school’s instructors known as “Black Hats,” because of their headgear, a simple black baseball cap with their rank and wings display on the cap.

The instructors are mostly Army personnel, but the Marine Corps Air Force, and Navy also provide instructors since the school is open to all eligible DOD service members. Black Hats are skilled parachutists who are responsible for training Airborne students, and they do with ‘tough love. They will make their students repeat physical drills and exercises over and over until they get it right.

No matter how exhausting, they won’t stop until a student gets it right. They are doing it for the trainees own well-being.

2. The Airborne Shuffle

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Army 2nd Lt. Nelson Lalli runs with an Airborne School classmate to report in after his first jump.

Not to be confused with the popular dance the ‘Cupid shuffle’ or the Chicago Bears Super Bowl shuffle, the Airborne shuffle is not a dance nor is it fun. This shuffle refers to the pace or speed of a formation run during Airborne school. It is typically about a 9-minute mile.

The shuffle is meant to build stamina, not speed. At Airborne School, trainees run everywhere especially in combat boots or with their equipment. The Airborne shuffle is also commonly known for the short choppy steps students take on the aircraft before the jump out, just like the cadence “Stand up, Hook up, Shuffle to the door.”

3. Wearing Helmets all day

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At Jump School, aspiring paratroopers will wear their helmet everywhere they go. Students will run and train with it on every day. The chin strip and helmet pads will reek so bad after the first week of training that a squirt of Febreze is simply not enough to contain the smell of sweat and bacteria.

4. Falling all day

Airborne students will spend a lot of time hitting the ground during Jump School. Learning how to properly fall during a parachute landing is a core fundamental taught at the Basic Airborne Course. This is especially true when doing parachute landing fall (PLF) drills. Trainees will jump off platforms of different heights into large pits over and over until they get it right. Airborne students can expect to do hundreds of PLFs before they leave the school.

Along with PLFs, trainees will jump from tall towers like the 34-foot tower to learn proper aircraft exiting techniques and the iconic 250-foot tower, although not all Airborne class get to do the tower.

Just remember to “keep your feet and knees together!”

5. The smell of Bengay in the morning

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Week one, ground week, focuses on the proper landing fall techniques, emphasizing the importance of keeping feet and knees together during a landing to prevent injuries. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Kuande Hall)

Before long, the smell of Bengay, the over-the-counter analgesic cream used to relieve muscle and joint pain, will fill the barracks each morning to help students with their joint and muscle pain.

6. Swing Landing Trainer

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A student practices proper landing techniques on the Swing Landing Trainer.

The Swing Landing Trainer is not fun. Students are strapped into a harness to step off a platform and swing back and forth. The discomfort experienced on this device when swinging, especially for male students, is terrible. Students will continue to swing on the harness until they are released by the Black Hats. Trainees must perform several proper PLFs to pass this stage of training.

Most hit the ground like a stack of potatoes.

7. “Hurry up and wait” goes to a whole new level

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Airborne Students wait to board an aircraft.

Finally, it’s jump week… but the wait isn’t over. Students will wake up early, run to the chute shed, rig up, and just wait and wait for many hours. Students are not allowed to sleep or talk as they wait. It’s the ultimate example of “hurry up and wait.”

8. A mix of emotions

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Time to jump! There’s certainly level of excitement and fear at this point, as jumpers hook up to the static line and prepare to jump. Some people question their judgement at this point, as butterflies flutter in their stomachs and thoughts of “why the hell am I doing this” circle in their head. For others, this is the best moment of their life!

9. Jumping Out

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Paratroopers with 1st Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division (Advise and Assist Brigade), exit a C-130 aircraft Feb. 12, 2010, at Al Asad Airbase, Iraq, as part of the largest airborne training exercise conducted by U.S. forces in Iraq since the beginning of the war. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Michael J. MacLeod)

Probably the two most common reactions: “This is awesome” or “Holy Shit!”

10. Pinning of the Wings

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After completing five parachute jumps, Lt. Col. Kay Wakatake has her wings pinned on by Sgt. 1st Class Raymond Richardson at Fort Benning, Georgia. (Photo by Captain Greg Peterson)

The pinning of parachute wings is the crowning achievement of three weeks of training. The badge is pinned (or slammed) on the graduate’s chest. This rite of passage solidifies an individual as a member of the Airborne family. The best part of all of this: You’re no longer a leg!

MIGHTY CULTURE

These hot rod racers are made from military drop tanks

Military drop tanks are attached under fighters and bombers, giving them extra fuel to extend their range, but easily falling away if the plane gets in a fight and needs to prioritize agility and weight over range. The drop tanks are light, aerodynamic, empty shells when not filled with fuel, and that actually makes them a great starting point for hot rods.


Why Warplane Fuel Tanks Make Great Hot Rods

www.youtube.com

And the hot rod community noticed these tanks during the Cold War, with some innovative spirits snapping them up to create tiny, fast cars. Now, these “lakesters” are quick racers that humans will cram themselves into to race across salt flats and other courses.

Many of these racers are made from World War II tanks like those used on the P-38 Lightning, the plane the F-35 Lightning II is named for. The P-38’s drop tanks were made of steel, like many of them in World War II, and its 300-gallon capacity was just big enough to allow for a motor and driver.

Getting ahold of a steel drop tank to convert was easy for a few decades after World War II, but enthusiasts now have to look harder for longer to find one of the few remaining, unconverted drop tanks.

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A P-38 Lightning with its drop tanks during World War II.

(Public domain)

And they aren’t likely to get much help from the military. Modern militaries have often opted for more exotic materials for new drop tanks, reducing their weight and, therefore, the fuel usage of the plane. A lighter drop tank costs less fuel, and so provides more range, but the composite materials aren’t always great for racers.

It will only get worse, too. Drop tanks have a massive drawback for modern planes: They increase the plane’s radar signature while reducing the number of weapons it can carry. So the military and the aviation industry are shifting away from drop tanks, opting instead for “conformal fuel tanks.”

These are auxiliary tanks made to fit like a new, larger skin on an existing plane. They’re a little harder to install, and they can’t be jettisoned in flight, but they extend range with less drag and a much lower radar penalty. And they can be packed tighter to the body of the jet, allowing the plane to keep more of its agility than it would have with heavy tanks hanging from its wings.

Sorry, racers. Keep looking for the World War II-classics.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Military identifies 2 sets of Korean War remains from July

The US has successfully identified two American service members from among the remains North Korea returned in July 2018 as part of the agreement signed by President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore.

“We will notify the family first,” John Byrd, the director of scientific analysis at the US Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency explained to Reuters Sept. 10, 2018. The two US service members, who were identified through DNA analysis and historical documents, are believed to have died in late 1950 in an area near the Chongchon River, where US forces suffered heavy losses during the Korean War.


The fight where the two service members likely died was characterized as a “huge battle,” as an estimated 1,700 missing US troops are suspected to have fallen there.

“One of the reasons that we were able to identify them so quickly [was because their remains] were more complete than usual so it gave us more to look at and narrow down the identity with,” Byrd told The Wall Street Journal. One of the deceased is presumed to be African-American.

The condition of some of the remains is decidedly better than that of others.

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The honor guard assigned to the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command move a flag-draped case from a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft during an honorable carry ceremony at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Aug. 1, 2018.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Apryl Hall)

Researchers and analysts at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii have so far sampled 23 of the 55 sets of remains returned in late July 2018. The US military estimates that more than 7,000 US troops who lost their lives during the Korean War remain unaccounted for. The US is still in talks with North Korea on the return of additional sets of remains of US war dead.

A United Nations Command delegation led by US Air Force Major General Michael Minihan met with North Korean officials at Panmunjom Friday to discuss “military-to-military efforts to support any potential future return of remains,” AFP reported Sept. 11, 2018.

The return of the remains is probably the most visible and concrete achievements of the president’s summit with the North Korean leader, as denuclearization talks appear to be at an impasse. Despite setbacks in the nuclear negotiations, North Korea has maintained its moratorium on weapons testing, has toned down its rhetoric, and attempted to downplay the threatening nature of its arsenal, as was evidenced by its decision not to feature ICBMs in its most recent military parade.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

US Marines celebrate successful assaults with British counterparts

Marines and sailors from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit participated in exercise Trident Juncture 18 in Iceland and Norway during October and November 2018. Trident Juncture is the largest NATO exercise held since 2002 and allowed for military forces to operate in a collective defense scenario.

Marines initiated the exercise in Iceland where they executed an air assault and conducted cold weather training to prepare for the live exercise in Norway. The cold weather training allowed Marines to rehearse establishing a bivouac location and familiarized them with their gear in Iceland’s high winds and driving rain.


“We need to exercise our capabilities in different locations so we can plan for different variables,” said Lt. Col. Misca Geter, the executive officer with the 24th MEU. “The weather and terrain of Iceland forces us to plan around those factors.”

After Iceland, the 24th MEU moved on to Norway who hosted the live exercise portion of Trident Juncture. Norway provided another challenging environment for Marines to train in that would not otherwise be possible in the United States. The unique climate and terrain allowed the Marines to demonstrate their proficiency in the cold weather, precipitation, and high altitude.

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Marines and sailors offload light armored vehicles from a landing craft air cushion on Alvund Beach, Norway during an amphibious landing in support of Trident Juncture 18, Oct. 30, 2018.

(Photo by Lance Cpl. Margaret Gale)

The culminating event for the 24th MEU came Oct. 29-31, 2018, when they executed an amphibious landing and air assault in Alvund and Gjora, Norway, respectively. Eleven amphibious assault vehicles, more than 50 HMMWV’s, and six light armored vehicles were delivered ashore during the amphibious landing. More than 20 other vehicles were moved from ship to shore and approximately 1,000 Marines were transported ashore by surface or air connectors. The air assault saw a company of Marines from Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines insert into Gjora, secure the landing zone, and set the conditions for follow on operations. While ashore, Marines rehearsed tactics in conjunction with NATO allies to defeat the notional enemy forces.

“The training Trident Juncture 18 provided is important because we have Marines who have never deployed, been on ship or operated in the cold weather environment that Iceland and Norway have,” said Sgt. Maj. Chris Garza, the 24th MEU Sergeant Major. “We had the opportunity to operate with the United Kingdom Royal Marines, who are one of our NATO partners. The Royal Marines have a history much like ours and it has been a great opportunity to train with them. We now know our capabilities with the Royal Marines and look forward to working with them in the future.”

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U.S. Marines secure a landing strip after disembarking from Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallion during air assault training at Keflavik Air Base, Iceland, Oct. 17, 2018, during Exercise Trident Juncture 18.

(Photo by Sgt. Devin Andrews)

The large-scale exercise validated the 24th MEU’s ability to deploy with the Navy, rapidly generate combat power ashore, and set the conditions for offensive operations under challenging conditions. Trident Juncture strengthened the bond between the Navy-Marine Corps team and integrated NATO allies and partners, particularly the United Kingdom’s Royal Marines, who embarked with the 24th MEU in Iceland.

“It’s been interesting to integrate with U.S. Marines,” said Marine Declan Parker, a heavy weapons operator with anti-tanks 3 troop, 45 Commando. “We have had the opportunity to learn about their weapons systems and tactics. This exercise will aid the troops in future deployments”

The Royal Marines, with X-Ray Company, 45 Commando, worked in conjunction with the 24th MEU and assets from Marine Aircraft Group 29 to rehearse their tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel proficiency. During the TRAP, approximately 30 Royal Marines loaded into two CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 366 while two U.S. Marines served as isolated personnel to be recovered. The Royal Marines were attacked by the notional enemy multiple times which allowed them to maneuver on the enemy while a U.S. Marine called for close air support which was delivered by a UH-1Y Venom with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 269. The effective enemy suppression allowed the Royal Marines to deliver both isolated U.S. Marines safely to the awaiting CH-53.

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U.S. Navy pilots land the MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter during air assault training at Keflavik Air Base, Iceland, Oct. 17, 2018,.during Exercise Trident Juncture 18.

(Photo by Sgt. Devin Andrews)

“The fact that we were able to integrate [the Royal Marines] with Marine Corps aviation is a great training value for both of our forces,” said U.S. Marine Capt. Jacob Yeager, a member of the 24th MEU who was embedded with the Royal Marines during the TRAP. “U.S. Marine Corps aircraft delivered UK Royal Marines into a landing zone to recover two isolated U.S. Marines. That’s significant.”

As the exercise comes to a close, Marines are now more lethal and capable of operating in unique terrain and climate while exposed to the elements that the mountainous terrain presents.

“Trident Juncture has been an extremely beneficial training exercise,” said Cpl. Zachary Zupets, an anti-tank missile gunner with 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines, 24th MEU. “The cold weather [in Norway and Iceland] is not the same back in North Carolina, it gets cold, but it isn’t the same kind of cold. This exercise has taken us out of our element and forced us to apply the things that we have learned and how to operate in this type of environment. We definitely had some fun out there. I think it was an amazing experience and my guys and I really enjoyed it.”

This article originally appeared on the United States Marine Corps. Follow @USMC on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Taliban, the government, and Islamic State: Who controls what in Afghanistan?

After 18 years of fighting, the Afghan war is at a deadly stalemate.

Afghanistan is divided among government forces backed by international troops, the Taliban and its militant allies, the Islamic State (IS) extremist group, and a collection of smaller foreign terrorist groups.


The United States and the Taliban signed a landmark agreement in February aimed at “bringing peace to Afghanistan.” That deal foresees a power-sharing arrangement between the Afghan government and the Taliban, and the full withdrawal of all foreign troops.

As a Taliban delegation arrived in Kabul for talks on prisoner releases and the Afghan government and the Taliban prepare to launch direct peace talks, most of the country is fiercely contested and ravaged by violence, with warring factions pursuing a “fight-and-talk” strategy.

WATCH: Some 900 Taliban members were freed from Afghanistan’s largest prison outside Kabul as part of a prisoner swap under a cease-fire deal on May 26.

The Government

The Afghan government controls the capital, Kabul, provincial capitals, major population centers, and most district centers, according to Resolute Support, the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan.

Around 30 percent of Afghanistan’s 407 districts are in government hands, the Taliban commands some 20 percent, and the rest of the country is contested, according to Long War Journal (LWJ), a project run by the Foundation for Defense Of Democracies, a Washington-based think tank.

The LWJ’s “living map,” based mostly on media reports, is the only publicly available source that tracks district control in Afghanistan, after Resolute Support stopped assessing territorial control and enemy-initiated attacks over the past two years.

Afghan security forces have been on the defensive since NATO’s combat mission in Afghanistan ended in 2014, losing much-needed assistance with logistics, air support, and intelligence.

Resolute Support is training, advising, and assisting the 273,000-strong Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police. Additionally, the Afghan government employs around 20,000 militiamen who are part of the Afghan Local Police.

Meanwhile, a separate U.S. counterterrorism force is combating foreign terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and the IS group and also elements of the Taliban. The United States also funds and supports special Afghan paramilitary units.

The Afghan forces have a large numerical advantage: There are an estimated 60,000 full-time Taliban militants and some 90,000 seasonal fighters.

But government forces are suffering from record casualties, high attrition, and low morale. That is widely blamed on a resurgent Taliban, ineffective leadership in the armed forces, and chronic corruption.

President Ashraf Ghani said in January 2019 that about 45,000 Afghan soldiers and policemen had been killed since he took office in September 2014 — or a staggering 849 per month. In 2018, the government stopped publicizing fatalities.

“The internationally recognized and elected government doesn’t have a monopoly on the use of force nor control over the majority of the country,” says Jonathan Schroden, a security expert with the U.S.-based nonprofit research and analysis organization CNA, who has provided assessments on the security situation in Afghanistan to the U.S. military and Congress.

The Taliban, which claims to be a government in exile, “has eroded much of the government’s control but cannot do so to the point of becoming the recognized government,” Schroden says.

The result, he says, is a “strategic stalemate.”

Government forces had been in an active defensive mode since a weeklong reduction-of-violence agreement preceding the U.S.-Taliban deal. But after two devastating terrorist attacks this month that the government blamed on the Taliban, Ghani ordered government forces to go on the offensive.

The political crisis over the disputed presidential election in September also affected the government’s military posture. There were fears of civil war after Ghani’s leading challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, threatened to form a parallel government and proclaimed himself the president, a scenario that threatened the cohesion of the security forces.

The standoff was resolved after Ghani and Abdullah signed a power-sharing deal — their second after consecutive elections — on May 17.

“The government faced serious challenges for months,” says Obaid Ali, an expert on the insurgency at the Afghanistan Analysts Network, an independent think tank in Kabul. “The government didn’t have a military strategy because the leadership was focused on the internal crisis after the presidential election’s outcome and the U.S.-Taliban talks.”

Ali says the months-long political feud sank morale and complicated logistics within the security forces.

The Taliban

The Taliban controls more territory than at any time since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 toppled the fundamentalist group from power.

The fundamentalist militant group’s leadership fled to neighboring Pakistan, where it allegedly received sanctuary, training, and arms, an accusation Islamabad has denied. From its safe havens in Pakistan, the Taliban has waged a deadly insurgency against Afghan and international troops.

The Taliban has been following what security experts call an “outside-in” strategy that was effectively employed by other insurgencies in Afghanistan, including the mujahedin who fought Soviet and Afghan government forces in the 1980s.

From its sanctuaries in Pakistan, the Taliban captured rural areas of Afghanistan and consolidated control over larger swaths of the countryside while generating recruits and resources. In recent years, the Taliban has encroached on more populated areas with the aim of isolating and then seizing them.

The militants have twice briefly seized control of the northern city of Kunduz, the country’s fifth-most populous.

“The Taliban has so far been successful in seizing and contesting ever larger swaths of rural territory, to the point where they have now almost encircled six to eight of the country’s major cities and are able to routinely sever connections via major roads,” Schroden says.

“The major thing holding the Taliban back at this point is the government’s supremacy of the air and its superior strike forces in the form of the commandos and special police units. But those units are being worn down and the Afghan Army has been slowly failing as an institution for the past five years.”

The Taliban insurgency has been a unifying cause for some smaller foreign militant groups.

Around 20 foreign militant groups are active in Afghanistan, including Pakistani extremist groups like the Pakistani Taliban, Lashkar-e Jhangvi, Lashkar-e Taiba, Jaish-e Muhammad, and Central Asian militant groups including the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), the Islamic Jihad Union, and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a militant group fighting for Uyghur independence in China.

Ali says the Taliban has ties to some of these foreign militant groups. “Some of these groups operate under the Taliban umbrella,” he says. “They can’t operate in Afghanistan without the Taliban’s permission. Each of these groups has a unique relationship with the Taliban — operationally, ideologically, or economically.”

Al-Qaeda is a largely diminished force, with only several hundred fighters in Afghanistan. But it remains a crucial part of the Taliban insurgency. The two groups have been longtime partners and are co-dependent, according to experts.

According to the U.S. State Department, the “implementation of the U.S.-Taliban agreement will require extensive long-term monitoring to ensure Taliban compliance, as the group’s leadership has been reluctant to publicly break with Al-Qaeda.”

Under that deal, the Taliban committed to “preventing any group or individual, including Al-Qaeda, from using the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies.”

A January report from the UN’s Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team stated that ties between Al-Qaeda and the Taliban “continue to be close and mutually beneficial, with Al-Qaeda supplying resources and training in exchange for protection.”

Islamic State

Afghan security forces said on May 11 that they had captured the IS group’s regional leader for South Asia, Abu Omar Khorasani, in an operation in Kabul.

This was the latest in a string of recent setbacks for the group.

In April, Afghan security forces in the southern city of Kandahar captured the leader of the IS branch in Afghanistan, Abdullah Orakzai, along with several other militants.

According to the United Nations, since October 2019, over 1,400 IS fighters and affiliates have surrendered to Afghan or U.S. forces.

The U.S. military said the IS group’s stronghold in the eastern province of Nangarhar was “dismantled” in November 2019 due to U.S. air strikes, operations by Afghan forces, and fighting between the Taliban and IS militants.

The U.S. military said around 300 IS fighters and 1,000 of their family members surrendered.

The fighters and family members who did not surrender have relocated to Pakistan or the neighboring province of Kunar, a remote, mountainous region along the border with Pakistan, it added.

The U.S. military estimates that there are between 2,000 and 2,500 IS fighters active in Afghanistan.

Ali says that the IS group has bases in a few districts of Kunar Province, and they are also likely present in parts of neighboring Nuristan Province, another remote, mountainous province. But he says recent reports that IS militants were active in northern Afghanistan are “unreliable.”

“The group has lost most of the territory it held in eastern Afghanistan,” Ali says. “The recent operations against IS have severely weakened them and most have gone underground.”

But he says the recent arrests of IS fighters and leaders in major urban areas shows that there are still IS “sleeper cells” in the country.

Most IS fighters are thought to be former members of Pakistani militant groups, especially the Pakistani Taliban.

“There are a smaller number of Afghans, Central Asians, and even fewer from other regional countries,” Ali adds.

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

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This is why Fallujah is one of the Marine Corps’ most legendary battles

On Nov. 10, 1775, a man named Samuel Nicholas went to Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, Penn. There he began a recruitment process to put sharpshooters on Naval vessels to protect them. He also wanted to create a landing force for some of the most intense battles in the Revolutionary War.


Those that signed became the very first United States Marines. Over the centuries, Marines gained status as their very own military branch and earned a reputation as one of the most hardened, violent, and distinguished fighting forces in military history.

 

From here, it would be easy to go into the long and honorable history of the Marine Corps. Instead, it’s important to focus on a more recent Marine Corps birthday, one of which took place during The Battle of Fallujah. Though the Marine Corps’ birthday has landed on many the days of battles over time, Fallujah is the most recent and was called, “the biggest urban battle since the battle of Hue City in Vietnam.”

The Battle of Fallujah was the biggest battle of the Iraq War yet many don’t know about the battle itself, let alone a significant day in this battle. It marked some of the fiercest fighting the U.S. military had seen in some thirty years.

The city had been a stronghold for insurgent forces since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Different coalition forces tried to secure the city and bring order — to no avail; coalition troops backed out of the city and it quickly grew into a bastion for all enemy fighters in the area.

 

Marines were sent to start taking over the city in early 2004, but many political problems arose and the advance was stopped. They made quite a big push, but were quickly told to pull out. November then came, and the Marines were sent in again to liberate the city and eliminate the enemy from of every inch of it.

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(Official U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Ruben D. Maestre)

 

The 10th of November was three days into the second battle. By this time, the enemy inside began to mount a major defense – a complex, formidable one. I started the battle with an entire machine gun squad, until mortars rained down on a street where were pulling security. Once the smoke started to clear, only two of us were what remained of a seven-man machine gun squad.

Many Marines of 3rd battalion 1st Marines engaged in grueling house-to-house fighting. Our platoon crashed through a door of a house and engaged in one firefight after another. It seemed as if everyone was wounded from enemy small arms fire and indirect fire, like RPGs and mortars. Still, we all continued the fight, clearing houses of multiple enemy occupants. Some houses were even leveled to take out any enemy defenses and personnel who might have been hiding within. Why send in men when a single good Bangalore can do the job?

 

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U.S. Marine Corps

But this day felt different from any other day of the battle. That’s when many of us suddenly realized was it was the Marine Corps Birthday, “OUR” birthday. Instead of getting drunk and eating lobster and steak, we were doing the one thing every Marine trains for, thinks about, and begs to do.

We were celebrating our birthday in the heat of battle.

While Marines celebrate our birthday every year with exuberance and tradition, some of us remember Fallujah, the birthday that exemplified what it means to be a United States Marine.

Feature image: U.S. Marine Corps/ Lance Corporal James J. Vooris

MUSIC

Why ‘Rooster’ was the greatest song to honor a father’s service

Alice in Chains was a widely-successful Grunge band in the 1990s. Alongside Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden, they helped define an entire generation of musicians. While songs like Would? and Man in the Box are their most well-known, Rooster is the most beloved within the military community.


Jerry Cantrell Jr., the guitarist, co-vocalist, and songwriter, was the son of a Vietnam War veteran, Jerry Cantrell Sr. The younger Cantrell watched his father deploy twice and never talk about what happened in Vietnam. He watched as his father struggled with PTSD throughout his childhood until, eventually, it destroyed his family.

So, he wrote a song dedicated to his father and his experience in Vietnam.

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The name, Rooster, is a play on three meanings: It was a childhood nickname of his father’s. ‘Rooster’ was also a nickname for M60 machine gunners because the muzzle flash looked like a rooster’s tail. It’s also a play on how the Vietnamese saw 101st Airborne Division soldiers who wore the Screaming Eagle on their sleeves. It’s said that because bald eagles aren’t native to Vietnam, the locals referred to 101st soldiers as “chicken men” or “roosters.” All three meanings perfectly describe Jerry Cantrell Sr.

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Trust me, as a vet who served in the 101st, this song became our unofficial anthem. (Photo courtesy of the National Archive)

The lyrics run deep with symbolism calling back to Vietnam. Cantrell Jr. was only able to piece together little things from what he heard his father occasionally say.

“Walking tall machine gun man.

They spit on me in my homeland.

Gloria sent me pictures of my boy.

Got my pills ‘gainst mosquito death,

My buddy’s breathing his dying breath.

Oh, God, please won’t you help me make it through.”

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In a 1992 interview with Guitar for the Practicing Musician, he was asked if his father ever heard the song. He did, but only once live. Cantrell Jr recalled,

Yeah. He’s heard this song. He’s only seen us play once, and I played this song for him when we were in this club opening for Iggy Pop. I’ll never forget it. He was standing in the back and he heard all the words and stuff. Of course, I was never in Vietnam and he won’t talk about it, but when I wrote this, it felt right… like these were things he might have felt or thought. And I remember when we played it he was back by the soundboard and I could see him. He was back there with his big gray Stetson and his cowboy boots — he’s a total Oklahoma man — and at the end, he took his hat off and just held it in the air. And he was crying the whole time. This song means a lot to me. A lot.
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