In April 1945, being a German submariner was a dangerous prospect. Allied sub hunters had become much more effective and German u-boats were being sunk faster than they could be built. Technical breakthroughs like radar and new weapons like the homing torpedo were sinking the Germans left and right.
For the crew of U-1206, the greatest threat was actually lurking in their commander’s bowels. German Navy Capt. Karl-Adolf Schlitt was on his first patrol as a commander when he felt the call of nature and headed to the vessel’s state-of-the-art toilet.
While Allied subs had toilets that flushed into a small internal tank that took up needed space in the submarine, the Germans had developed a compact system that expelled waste into the sea. The high-tech system even worked while the sub was deep underwater.
Unfortunately, the toilet was very complex. By doctrine, there was a toilet-flushing specialist on every sub that operated the necessary valves. The captain, either too prideful or too impatient to search out the specialist, attempted to flush it himself. When it didn’t properly flush, he finally called the specialist.
The specialist attempted to rectify the situation, but opened the exterior valve while the interior valve was still open. The ocean quickly began flooding in, covering the floor in a layer of sewage and seawater. The specialist got the valves closed, but it was too late.
The toilet was positioned above the battery bank. As the saltwater cascaded onto the batteries, it created chlorine gas that rapidly spread through the sub and threatened to kill the crew. Schlitt ordered the sub to surface.
The sub reached the surface about 10 miles from the Scottish coast and was quickly spotted by British planes. One sailor was killed as the sub was attacked. The order was given to scuttle the ship and escape. Three more sailors drowned attempting to make it to shore. The other 37 sailors aboard the U-1206 were quickly captured and became prisoners of war.
Luckily for them, the war was nearly over. The sub sank April 14, 1945. Hitler killed himself April 30 and Germany surrendered May 8.
The U.S. Navy issued a warning to China’s Navy over Instagram this week, telling China that it doesn’t want to “play laser tag” with the U.S. Navy with their destroyer-based laser weapons.
Last month, a Chinese People’s Liberation Army-Navy destroyer pointed a military grade laser weapon at a U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon, which is an aircraft designed specifically for various types of sea-based warfare, including anti-submarine operations. According to Defense Department reports, the P-8A was flying approximately 380 miles west of Guam when it encountered a Chinese destroyer believed to have been the Hohhot, among the latest and most advanced destroyers in China’s fleet.
The destroyer reportedly shined a laser weapon at the P-8A, though the laser caused no injuries or immediately recognizable damage. The aircraft is being inspected further for issues. Despite the low level of threat the laser posed, the U.S. Navy has been taking this attack quite seriously, recognizing it as a test, both of their weapon’s efficacy and of the American response.
While the Navy’s warning on Instagram seems almost playful, the U.S. Navy isn’t messing around when it comes to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, nor are they kidding about their laser weapons. The U.S. currently has a number of laser weapons under development, and just recently deployed one aboard the USS Dewey aimed at “dazzling” or blinding and confusing drones.
This isn’t the first time the U.S. has had reports of being engaged with Chinese lasers, nor is it the first time these two naval powers have found themselves in a staring contest over China’s claims of sovereignty throughout the region. The United States and the international community recognize China’s claimed ownership of the South China Sea as illegal, but China’s Navy has been rapidly expanding to enforce their claims in recent years.
China’s claims over the South China Sea are shown in red.
With neither China nor the U.S. backing down in the Pacific, and laser weapons becoming more commonplace by the day, it seems entirely likely that this won’t be the last round of laser tag between our two navies.
American intelligence isn’t the only one who goes around “sheep dipping” its elite military members for clandestine service. The term means taking a military member out of uniform to do work for an intelligence agency, so as not to commit an act of war. The CIA is well-known for doing it, but we now know Israel does, too.
Israel’s intelligence agency, Mossad, creates some of the best spies in the world. So when they have a really well-placed operative, it doesn’t make sense to risk blowing their cover on a risky, high-profile assignment. That’s where the Caesarea branch comes in.
Caesarea, named for the ancient town (now ruins) in Israel built by King Herod the Great, is one of the most closely guarded areas of Mossad’s inner workings. It was founded in the 1970s by famed Israeli spy Michael Harari and quickly became one of its important operations because the world was a very different place for Israelis back then.
The main problem was that terrorism was proliferating in the world, which included the kidnapping and murdering Israeli citizens. Mossad and the Israel Defense Forces would rescue them if possible. If not, Caesarea would be the ones to avenge them. Using a specialized task force inside Caesarea called “Kidon” (or “bayonet”), which is made up of former IDF special operators, they would be Israel’s assassination squad.
With possibly hundreds of spies in place throughout the Arab world, they could easily identify and reconnoiter possible targets. When not actively working on an assassination plan, Caesarea collects information and conducts surveillance on possible enemy targets. Kidon is then sent in to end the threats or enact biblical justice.
Of course, given the incredibly secretive nature of Mossad and its operatives, not much about the organization can be confirmed beyond the fact that it exists. A number of prominent journalists have written about various targeted killing operations allegedly conducted by Caesarea and Kidon but the sources for those stories are unknown.
It’s alleged that the unit began in the wake of the 1972 Munich Massacre, in which Palestinian terrorists from the group Black September took the Israeli Olympic team hostage at the 1972 Summer Games in West Germany. Mossad Operatives took revenge on the planners and perpetrators of the attack through targeted assassinations. The Israelis dubbed the mission Operation Wrath of God.
Kidon was also assumed to be involved in the 1997 attempt to kill Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Amman. There, they used a unique poison sprayed into the terror leader’s ear. The operatives were chased down by Meshaal’s bodyguards, who turned them over to Jordanian authorities.
In this incident, Meshaal was saved only by the intervention of King Hussein of Jordan, who threatened to withdraw from its peace treaty with Israel unless the Israelis provided the antidote to the poison, which they quickly did. Kidon is also said to have participated in similar targeted killings during the two Palestinian intifadas, which saw massive unrest among Palestinians and numerous terror attacks inside Israel.
Kidon and Caesarea are so secretive, even the domestic Israeli news agency Haaretz describes it as “the Mossad within Mossad.” The secretive nature also lends itself to a number of Israeli and international conspiracy theories, including hiring Monica Lewinsky to embarrass President Bill Clinton and killing Princess Diana.
The one thing anyone outside Mossad knows is that Kidon exists. And that’s all anyone may ever know for certain.
Featured image: IDF Special Forces soldiers, November 2019, Source: Israeli Defense Forces Spokesperson’s Unit
It looks like the Department of Defense is finally retiring the Cyber Awareness Challenge training. Sure, it’s outdated, uses graphics from the early 2000s, and barely scratches the surface of cybersecurity in a world where new threats emerge every other minute. But the campiness is what made it so ridiculous that it was enjoyable.
I just want to throw out there that everyone freaking hated that training when it came out. Eventually, everyone started to like it in spite of it being silly – kind of like Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. Then as soon as too many people started to actually enjoy the ridiculousness of it… They pull the plug on it.
Coincidence? I think not.
Pour one out for the dude who always believed in your cyber security abilities when you doubted yourself. Jeff, you’re never going to be forgotten. These memes are for you.
(Meme via Infantry Follow Me)
(Meme via Not CID)
(Meme via Coast Guard Memes)
(Meme by Yusha Thomas)
(Meme via Disgruntled Vets)
(Meme via Valhalla Wear)
(Meme via Uniform Humor)
(Meme via SFC Majestic)
(Meme via Army as F*ck)
(Meme via Pop Smoke)
(Meme via Decelerate Your Life)
(Meme by Ranger Up)
(Meme via The Salty Soldier)
BONUS: You guys have a good, safe, and UCMJ-free four-day weekend! Happy Easter.
In the famous words of my old First Sergeant… “Don’t do dumb shit.”
There is no greater historical example of an unstoppable force hitting an immovable object than the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. Afghanistan is a mountainous, landlocked, harsh country that makes it very difficult for a great power to bring the full might of that power to bear against the locals. Naval forces are out and, in some area, so is air support. The harsh climate and vast nothingness and remotely populated areas makes supply lines difficult to establish and even harder to defend. But the Soviet Union opted to try anyway, invading in force in 1979.
Under Afghan King Mohammed Zahir Shah, the country was actually developing and modernizing fairly well… until his cousin Mohammed Daoud Khan overthrew him in 1973. He established an Afghan Republic and everything went to hell — for many reasons. Five years later, the Pashtun Nationalist government was overthrown in favor of a Communist regime and Afghanistan became a Cold War battlefront.
Communism did not sit well with the people in rural areas, who weren’t used to the control (and taxes and land reforms) of a Communist central government. So, they started fighting back. Then-President Nur Mohammed Taraki asked the Soviet Union to help quell angry protests against a government that suddenly decided to execute so many of them for failing to comply with Communist reforms. That’s when Hafizullah Amin, the Communist Prime Minister, killed Taraki and seized power.
Then, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev stepped in.
People like this.
Seeing Afghanistan descending into chaos and worried that the Islamic Revolution in Iran might spread to Afghanistan and other traditionally muslim Soviet Socialist Republics, the USSR decided to move in — and pretty much failed from day one, which was Christmas Day, 1979.
At this point, the Soviets needed to do four things: legitimize the Communist central government in Kabul, rebuild the Afghan Army, destroy resistance to the new government, and win the hearts and minds of the common people they couldn’t directly control.
“Ownership” being the operative word.
1. They could not establish the Communist government’s legitimacy
Failure was immediate, beginning with the man at the top. After just months in power, Amin was out. Literally. One of the first governmental changes the Soviets made was to kill Amin and replace him with Babrak Kamal. This turned the image of the Soviet invasion from one of an intervention to stabilize the government to one of ownership over Afghanistan.
These guys, remember?
2. They did not break the back of the resistance
While they were able to take the major cities, as well as transportation and communications centers, the Red Army quickly pushed tribal warlords into the mountainous regions, where they resolved to begin the Islamic Revolution that nobody had thought about until the Soviets invaded in the first place. Instead of conquering the country, they managed to unite Afghanistan’s disparate population against them.
There’s no Russian translation for “off the beaten path.” Apparently.
The one advantage the Red Army had over mujahideen fighters was their fleet of Hind helicopters. These allowed the Soviets to move people and equipment fast over long distances and into the high mountains. This silver lining lasted until the mid-1980s, when Stinger missiles began to appear in jihadi arsenals. With accurate anti-aircraft missiles, the mujahideen now had the ability to protect their mountainous hiding places and forced the Soviet Union to switch to a tactic of conducting nighttime raiding on enemy targets.
Soviet forces were concentrated in a mass along major highways in the country and in a series of fortified positions throughout their controlled areas. Outside of those areas, neither economy of forces nor consistent supply lines were ever established.
A map of areas controlled by insurgent groups in Afghanistan in 1985.
In places like Khost, Soviet dominance was never even established. The Red Army established a helicopter base on the outskirts of the city, but the city itself spent 11 years under siege from the Mujahideen forces, cut off from the rest of Soviet operations. When a relief column came to the base in 1987, they reset the siege as soon as the Russians left.
The Soviet Union’s previous experience with invading other countries was limited to East Germany, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. Afghanistan and its people have little in common with the methods of fighting that work in Europe. The tactics employed by the Soviets were mostly of overwhelming firepower, including scorched-earth policies, carpet bombing, and the use of chemical weapons, none of which won them many friends among the people of the country they were trying to win over.
Soviet ground forces in action while conducting an offensive operation against the Islamist resistance, the Mujahideen.
3. The Soviets did not win over the hearts and minds of Afghan people
A narrative quickly formed that atheist Communists and traditionally Orthodox Christian Russian invaders were on a mission against Islam. Those Afghan warlords that were pushed out of major urban centers and villages came down from the mountains as a united Islamic front, the mujahideen. With the Cold War in full swing, the United States decided to help fuel the fire by supplying the mujahideen with weapons and equipment to help their jihad against the USSR.
Fighters and money flowed into the mujahideen’s ongoing guerrilla war against the Soviet Union from all corners of the Islamic world. Between 1980 and 1985, the Red Army stomped the mujahideen in a series of battles in the Panjshir Valley against the forces of rebel leaders like Ahmad Shah Massoud. But Massoud would always live to rebuild his forces and come back at the Russian bear.
The Soviets could win as many pitched battles as they wanted, kill as many Afghan fighters as possible, but the endless tide of money and men would mean that the battles would just be fought over and over. Search-and-destroy missions were not going to pacify Afghanistan. In fact, all it did was either kill the population or turned them into refugees — a full one-third of Afghanistan’s population was killed or fled during the Soviet occupation.
“Set it up like this, it goes bang. Good work, comrade.”
4. The Afghan Army was never an effective force
The Red Army brought in allied advisors from friendly countries to train the Afghan Army in warfighting methods more appropriate than the methods they actually used. Cuban troops who were familiar with insurgency operations from places like Angola and Ethiopia trained the burgeoning Afghan government troops, but the consistent lack of actual combat experience in these tactics wasted a lot of the time they could have spent creating a veteran fighting force.
Furthermore, the inefficient communications and logistics involved with large-scale Soviet operations did little to convince the nascent Afghan troops that their training methods and lessons had any real applicability in real-world fighting. When the Russians left and the Soviet Union fell, many of these trained fighters defected to the mujahideen, leading to the fall of the Afghan Communist regime.
The Soviet Union would stay in Afghanistan until February 1989. They still supported the Communist Afghan government against the mujahideen, which continued until the USSR collapsed in on itself in 1991. In April 1992, mujahideen troops under Ahmad Shah Massoud captured Kabul. But the factional violence within the jihadists didn’t stop and another civil war began.
This time, the victors were an upstart group of hardline Islamists, known as the Taliban.
The loss of the submarine ARA San Juan this past November is the most significant loss of a submarine since an explosion sank the Russian Oscar-class nuclear-powered guided-missile submarine Kursk in 2000. All 44 sailors aboard the German-designed Type 209 diesel-electric submarine were lost when it went on eternal patrol.
ARA San Juan pierside.
(Photo by Martin Otero)
It took over four months, but the story of what happened to the San Juan was finally revealed in August of 2018. According to a report by TeleSurTV.com, the submarine suffered a fire in her forward battery compartment on Nov. 15, 2017, after seawater went down the submarine’s “snorkel.”
The crew of the sub fought the fire for two hours as the submarine descended. The vessel then reportedly imploded, instantly killing all 44 sailors on board. Claims that the submarine was in poor material condition were denied by the Argentinean Navy. A massive rescue effort, which included a Lockheed P-3 Orion and a Boeing P-8 Poseidon from the United States Navy, went on for weeks before the search was called off.
USS Cochino (SS 345) departing on her last mission. One civilian engineer was killed when she was lost, as well as six sailors from USS Tusk (SS 426).
In the years after World War II, the United States lost two Balao-class diesel-electric submarines. In 1949, USS Cochino (SS 345) suffered a pair of battery explosions that sank the ship despite a 14-hour effort to save the vessel. One civilian engineer on the Cochino and six sailors from USS Tusk were lost.
In 1958, USS Stickleback (SS 415) was taking part in a training exercise when she lost power, broached the surface, and was rammed by the John C. Butler-class destroyer escort USS Silverstein (DE 534). Efforts by the crews of both vessels, plus the submarine USS Sabalo (SS 302), the destroyer escort USS Sturtevant (DE 239), and the submarine rescue ship USS Greenlet (ASR 10) to save the Stickleback failed. The sub sank, but all aboard were rescued.
Although America’s space shuttle was not the budget-friendly platform it was intended to be, the program was so successful that the Soviet Union decided to build their own. Unbeknownst to most, they actually did, and it even flew in space.
On April 12, 1981, NASA’s Space Shuttle Columbia roared to life for the first time. As the shuttle’s three powerful main engines ignited, they burned a swimming pool’s worth of fuel every 25 seconds, thrusting the 4.4 million pound shuttle into the sky with an astonishing 37 million horsepower. In just eight and a half minutes, the shuttle would expend all of the fuel in its massive orange fuel tank and burn through its two solid-fuel rocket thrusters.
If you were to start an 80’s sitcom just as the Columbia launched that day, the space shuttle would go from zero to 17,500 miles per hour before the first commercial break.
The success of Columbia’s first mission was an exciting time for the United States, but on the other side of the globe, it left Moscow in a sour mood. The Soviets had been watching America’s space shuttle program mature, thanks to America’s more media-friendly approach to space travel. In fact, by Columbia’s first launch, the Soviets had already begun development on their own space shuttle–one that bore a striking resemblance to NASA’s new crown jewel.
Using the Cold War as rocket fuel
The American space shuttle program had roots that reached all the way back to the Apollo era, but the concept itself wasn’t presented to the public until 1972. Two years later, as NASA’s efforts were beginning to take shape, a secret meeting was held in the Kremlin between the head of the Soviet Union’s Military-Industrial Commission, Vladimir Smirnov, and the Soviet leader at the time, Leonid Brezhnev.
While the Americans had always done a good job of dressing their space efforts up as nothing more than the pursuit of science and national pride, the military applications of such a vehicle were clear. America’s space shuttle would allow for the launch of bigger, more complex spy satellites, allow crews to fly into orbit to conduct maintenance or repairs, and, most importantly, allow for the vessel itself to be re-used–theoretically driving down the price of orbital operations. Among the Soviets, there was also the fear that this new spacecraft could be used as some sort of orbital bomber.
“Such a vehicle is like an aircraft. It is capable, through a side maneuver, of changing its orbit in such a way that it would find itself at the right moment right over Moscow, possibly with dangerous cargo,” Smirnov explained in the meeting.
Just as defense officials in the United States may have over-estimated (or intentionally inflated) the threat posed by the Soviet Union’s various military and technological programs, Smirnov and his supporters knew that it was in their best interest to really sell the idea that the American shuttle posed a serious threat to Soviet interests.
“They began to use the shuttle to frighten Leonid Illyich Brezhnev and they explained to him that damned shuttle could zoom down on Moscow at any minute, bomb it to smithereens and fly away,” a Russian journalist wrote in 1991, just before the Soviet Union fell.
“Brezhnev understood, yes, of course, an alternative weapon is necessary.”
The Cold War was ripe with this sort of military one-upmanship, both as a means to gain a military advantage, and as a public means of validating each nation’s respective economic models. Every American success the Soviets couldn’t match was seen as a defacto argument in favor of capitalism by leaders in Moscow.
In effect, admitting that they couldn’t build their own shuttle would mean acknowledging that the Soviet system was falling short of the scientific, engineering, and material capabilities of America’s government model. This ideological conflict was the very bedrock of the Cold War, and just ten years before the Soviet Union would collapse under the weight of its own failure, things were already beginning to look bleak. The Soviet Union needed a win, and Smirnov was able to convince Brezhnev that a Soviet space shuttle could be just that.
The Soviet’s secret Space Shuttle program begins
By early 1976, the Communist Party’s Central Committee and the Soviet Council of Ministers gave their approval to move forward with plans to develop a new shuttle. Heading up the secret effort was Col. General Alexander Maksimov, a military official tasked with managing the Soviet’s existing military space programs. Two scientists, V. P. Glushko and Gleb Lozino-Lozinskiy, were also tasked with leading the effort, but among those involved, there was no doubt that the new shuttle program, dubbed “Buran,” would be a distinctly military endeavor.
“It is no secret to anyone in our sector … that the Energia-Buran system was ordered from us by the military,” said Yuri Semenov, developer of the Energia booster program. “It was said at meetings on various levels that American shuttles, even on the first revolution, could perform a lateral maneuver and turn to be over Moscow, possibly with dangerous cargo. Parity is needed, we needed the same type of rocket-space system.”
Initially, the Soviets considered restarting a previous space-plane program called “Spiral.” Development had ended on the small space-plane concept more than a decade prior, however, and Soviet officials noted that the intended use of “Spiral” wouldn’t offer anything close to the capability offered by America’s forthcoming shuttles.
Stealing the Space Shuttle
With the Americans making steady progress on their own space shuttle program by the late 1970s, the Soviet leadership recognized how far behind they were. If they were going to keep pace with NASA, they would need to find a way to expedite the design process without backtracking to their canceled Spiral program. While the decision to scrap Spiral was made based on its limited capability, many within the Soviet Union were frustrated by the seemingly schizophrenic approach to developing orbital platforms.
“The Spiral was a very good project but it was another mistake for our government. They said Americans didn’t have a space shuttle [back then] and we shouldn’t either and it was destroyed. Then, after you made your space shuttle, immediately they demanded a space shuttle. … It was very crazy of our government.”
-Georgi Grechko, Soviet Cosmonaut
Despite the frustrations of those involved and the Soviet Union’s impending collapse, at the time, the Soviet space program remained among the best in the world. Its scientist and engineers had racked up victory after victory in the first rounds of the Cold War’s space race, putting the first satellite, animal, and man into orbit before the Americans. NASA may have thrown a knockout punch with the moon landing in 1969, but the Soviets were far from down for the count. If America could design a space shuttle, it was entirely plausible that the Soviets could too. The only question was: Could they do it fast enough to keep pace with NASA?
Without help, the answer seemed to be a resounding no, but the Soviets were no strangers to reverse engineering American technology. For instance, in the late 1950s, the Soviets got their hands on one of America’s highly capable air-to-air missiles, the AIM-9 Sidewinder, through a deal brokered with China (and one pilot’s incredibly good luck). The Soviets were able to glean a great deal of information about missile technology from the single missile they acquired and rapidly put Soviet variants of the missile into production. A space shuttle, however, would certainly be a lot tougher to steal… but as it turned out, they wouldn’t have to.
America’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA, was a civilian agency that was clearly delineated from America’s military. While this separation may have been more about aesthetics than function (nearly every space effort had military implications), NASA did not treat its shuttle program like it was the development of a weapon system at all. As a result, documentation and even plans for the shuttle were all considered unclassified–and readily available to the public. In fact, much of the material the Soviet Union needed was hosted on commercial databases, making the effort to gather these documents one of the first (if not the first) case of digital espionage.
“Documents acquired dealt with airframe designs (including the computer programs on design analysis), materials, flight computer systems, and propulsion systems. This information allowed Soviet military industries to save years of scientific research and testing time as well as millions of rubles as they developed their own very similar space shuttle vehicle.”
-The 1985 CIA analysis on “Soviet Acquisition of Militarily Significant Western Technology”
With all the technical information they needed, construction on the Buran began in 1980, and within just four years, the Soviets were able to unveil their strikingly familiar-looking space shuttle. Despite the clear aesthetic resemblance, however, the Buran did depart from the American design in a number of important ways.
First and foremost, rather than housing the shuttle’s main engines within the spacecraft itself, the Soviets chose to simply attach their shuttle to their super-heavy lift Energia rocket. It was also designed and built to operate autonomously, making it capable of completing orbital missions without a crew on board. Perhaps the most significant departures from the American shuttle were the four jet engines mounted on the rear of the aircraft that would offer the vehicle powered flight. However, despite there being images of these jet engines on the Buran, they were not present as the spacecraft prepared for its first orbital flight.
On November 15, 1988, seven and a half years after the Space Shuttle Columbia lifted off from Kennedy Space Center, the Buran launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The Soviet space shuttle did not have a crew on board, which may have been seen as an appropriate precaution. Less than 20 years earlier, three cosmonauts died after their Soyuz 11 spacecraft depressurized in space. Four years prior to that, cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov was killed in the first-ever launch of the Soyuz spacecraft. While crew safety was likely a consideration, by 1988, the Soviet Union was already amid political turmoil. Killing another crew in a space launch would not have helped the situation.
The Buran first reached low earth orbit on the back of its massive Energia rocket. From there, it boosted itself into a slightly higher orbit before circling the planet twice and beginning reentry. Without its jet engines, the Soviet space shuttle would have to glide back to its runway at the Baikonur Cosmodrome just like the American shuttle. Unlike the American shuttle, however, the Buran had no pilot on board to manage the descent.
In a resounding success for the ship’s autonomous systems, the Buran touched down shortly after reentry, making what some called a “flawless” runway landing. In fact, upon closer inspection, the Buran’s heat shielding seemed to have faired even better than America’s first shuttle launch. With new data to work with, the Soviets began preparing for another launch that would never come.
Three years after the Buran’s first and only successful flight, the government of the Soviet Union collapsed, and with it, any hope of ever putting the Soviet space shuttle Buran back into orbit.
Hardeep Grewal was a 29-year-old Air Force computer operations specialist suffering a mild case of pneumonia when he deployed to Saudi Arabia and a series of other Southwest Asian countries in 2003.
The staff sergeant stayed ill and returned to the United States “looking like a scare crow,” he said. He was diagnosed with asthma, which would require two medications daily for the rest of his life. By December 2004, Grewal was medically discharged with a 10 percent disability rating and a small severance payment.
The Air Force physical evaluation board “lowballed me,” he recalled in a phone conversation on April 25, 2018, from his Northern Virginia home. “They were trying to get rid of people” from a specialty that, after offering an attractive reenlistment bonus, quickly became overmanned.
Grewal promptly applied to the Department of Veterans Affairs for disability compensation and his initial VA rating was set at 30 percent. Full VA payments were delayed until Grewal’s Air Force severance was recouped.
Twelve years later, in August 2016, he got a letter inviting him to have his military disability rating reviewed by a special board Congress created solely to determine whether veterans like him, discharged for conditions rated 20 percent disabling or less from Sept. 11, 2001, to Dec. 31, 2009, were treated fairly.
“I waited like almost two months to apply because I didn’t know if somebody was pulling my leg,” Grewal said. “I talked to a lot of people, including a friend at Langley Air Force Base, to find out if it was legit. He said other service members he knew who had gotten out were saying, ‘Yeah, it’s legit. You can look it up.’ “
Grewal had to wait 18 months but he received his decision letter from the Physical Disability Board of Review (PDBR) in April 2018. It recommends to the Air Force Secretary that Grewal’s discharge with severance pay be recharacterized to permanent disability retirement, effective the date of his prior medical separation.
If, as expected, the Air Force approves a revised disability rating to 30 percent back to December 2004, Grewal will receive retroactive disability retirement, become eligible for TRICARE health insurance and begin to enjoy other privileges of “retiree” status including access to discount shopping on base.
Congress ordered that the PDBR established as part of the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act after a mountain of evidence surfaced that service branches had been low-balling disability ratings given to thousands of service members medically separated over a nine-year period through recent wars.
The PDBR began accepting applications in January 2009. So far only 19,000 veterans have applied from pool of 71,000 known to be eligible for at least a disability rating review. All of them were medically-discharged with disability ratings of 20 percent or less sometime during the qualifying period.
A bump in rating to 30 percent or higher bestows retiree status including a tax-free disability retirement and TRICARE eligibility. And yet only 27 percent of veterans believed eligible for a rating review have applied. Indeed, applications to the PDBR have slowed to a trickle of 40 to 50 per month.
For this column, Greg Johnson, director of the PDRB, provided written responses to two dozen questions on the board’s operations. Overall, he explained, 42 percent of applicants receive a recommendation that their original rating be upgraded. Their service branch has the final say on whether a recommendation is approved but in almost every instance they have been.
To date, 47 percent of Army veterans who applied got a recommendation for upgrade, and 18 percent saw their rating increased to at least 30 percent to qualify for disability retirement.
For the Navy Department, which includes Sailors and Marines, 34 percent of applicants received upgrade recommendations and 17 percent gained retiree status. For Air Force applicants the approval rate also has been 34 percent, but 21 percent airmen got a revised rating high enough to qualify for disability retirement.
The top three medical conditions triggering favorable recommendations are mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress, back ailments and arthritis.
As Grewal learned, decisions are not made quickly. The current wait, on average, is eight to 12 months, Johnson said. But that is faster than the 18-to-24-month wait that was routine in earlier years.
Also, veterans need not fear that a new review will result in a rating downgrade. The law establishing the PDBR doesn’t allow for it.
Once received, applications are scanned into the PDBR data base and the board requests from the service branch a copy of their physical evaluation board case file. Also, PDBR retrieves from VA the veteran’s treatment records and all documents associated with a VA disability rating decision.
After paperwork is gathered, a PDBR panel of one medical officer and two non-medical officers, military or civilian, reviews the original rating decision. All panelists are the rank of colonel or lieutenant colonel (for Navy, captain or commander) or their civilian equivalents. The board has 34 voting members plus support staff, which is more than PDBR had in its early years, Johnson said.
The wait for a decision is long because of the time it takes to retrieve records, the thoroughness of the review and the complexity of the cases, Johnson said.
About 70 percent of applicants have been Army, 20 percent Navy or Marine Corps veterans, 10 percent Air Force and less than one percent Coast Guard.
PDBR notification letters have been sent to eligible veterans at last-known addresses at least twice and include applications and pre-stamped return envelopes. Grewal said he had moved four times since leaving service which might be why he never heard of the board before the notification letter reach him in 2016.
At some point Congress could set a deadline for the board to cease operations but it hasn’t yet. The board advises veterans, however, to apply as soon as they can. The longer they wait, it notes on its website, “the more difficult it may be to gather required medical evidence from your VA rating process, your service treatment record or other in-service sources [needed] to assess your claim.”
If an eligible veteran is incapacitated or deceased, a surviving spouse, next of kin or legal representative also can request the PDBR review.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.
Last week rapper Nicki Minaj performed a concert in Angola, which is not necessarily a big deal except she reportedly received $2 million dollars for the show from Unitel, a mobile phone company owned by the family of Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos. Dos Santos has been in power in Angola for 36 years and is widely considered a dictator.
Minaj posted photos of herself with the President’s daughter Isabel dos Santos on her Instagram, saying:
“Oh no big deal…she’s just the 8th richest woman in the world. (At least that’s what I was told by someone b4 we took this photo) Lol. Yikes!!!!! GIRL POWER!!!!! This motivates me soooooooooo much!!!!”
According to an open letter to Minaj from the The Human Rights Foundation, the Dos Santos family make their money through “exploiting Angola’s diamond and oil wealth to amass an illegitimate fortune while maintaining control over all branches of the government, the military, and civil society … it his policy to harass, imprison, or kill politicians, journalists, and activists who protest his rule.” Minaj performed the show anyway, which she has a right to do. There are no limitations for visiting or working in Angola.
There is still the stigma of legitimizing what is one of the top most corrupt governments in the world (the most in southern Africa). But Nicki Minaj is not the first star to perform for a questionable government. Here’s a rundown of a few other A-listers who’ve been willing to make despot’s toes tap:
1. Jennifer Lopez -Berdymukhamedov’s Turkmenistan
“We wish you the very, very, happiest birthday,” Lopez said to Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov before singing to him at a huge celebration in his central Asian country.
Human Rights Watch calls the Berdymukhamedov regime “one of the most repressive in the world, marked by new levels of repression.” Berdymukhamedov seized power in 2007 after the only person more mad than he is, Saparmurat Niyazov, died. (Niyazovchanged his language’s word for bread to his mother’s name, renamed the month of September after the book he wrote, and once tried to build a permanent structure made out of ice in the middle of the desert). Berdymukhamedov proceeded to honor himself with a giant bronze and gold statue of his likeness in the Turkmen capital of Ashgabat.
Leaked diplomatic cables confirm Queen Bey and Company performed gigs at parties thrown by Qaddafi’s sons Hannibal and Mutassim in Italy and St. Barths. All four claim they donated their fees to earthquake relief in Haiti. Also, Lindsay Lohan was there.
Hannibal escaped Libya during the civil war that ousted his father. He was briefly taken captive in Lebanon this month but was set free soon after. Mutassim got his around the same time as his father, when he was captured by Libyan rebels outside of Sirte. The rebels stabbed him in the throat.
3. Nelly Furtado – Also Muammar Qaddafi’s Libya
Around the same time as Beyoncé’s work with the Qaddafi family came out, Furtado self-identified on Twitter. She was paid $1 million to perform for the family at an Italian hotel in 2007. (Which seems remarkable because few can name two Nelly Furtado songs without googling her, and the Qaddafis liked her enough to buy an entire concert.) Still, Furtado wasn’t Colonel Qaddafi’s true love. We all know who that was:
The singer promised to give the money away to an unnamed charity. In 2012, she released a song called Arab Spring.
4. Michael Jackson – King Hamad’s Bahrain
It’s hard to call a U.S. ally a dictatorship, but while half their bicameral legislature features elected officials, the other half is appointed by the King who can rule by decree. When the late King of Pop fled there in 2005 after being acquitted of child molestation charges, the Khalifa family provided for him in exchange for a private show and a recorded album.
While the singer took the money from the dictator, he never made good on the promise of a performance or a recorded album, so maybe Jackson was performing a service by swindling the monarch.
5. Sting – Karimov’s Uzbekistan
In 2009, Sting performed for a man who’s best known for boiling his enemies alive. Islam Karimov’s rule was celebrated via a festival funded and planned by his daughter, Gulnara Karimova, the “Uzbek Princess.”
The Uzbek regime is the dictatorship likened closest to North Korea. Karimov is so power mad, he sees his daughter’s popularity as a threat, jailing her and her family in her home. Sting accepted a $2 million payment for his performance. Sting refused to apologize, saying he believed that boycotts only isolate dictator-ruled countries. Karimov banned Sting’s music shortly afterward because the Police alum called him a dictator.
6. Lionel Richie – Qaddafi’s Libya. Again.
Richie was the first to perform for the dictator’s family inside Libyan borders, though it was a celebration of Qaddafi surviving a U.S. attack on his compound in Tripoli, in front of the bombed-out compound which Qaddafi never rebuilt. The singer has never spoken about the performance.
7. James Brown, B.B. King, Bill Withers – Mobutu Sese Seko’s Zaire
Sese Seko put on a festival celebrating his rule in what he called Zaire (now called the Democratic Republic of the Congo) in 1974. The dictator, who would go on to embezzle $5 billion, put up the cost of the Zaire 74 Festival, which was promoted by famed boxing promoter Don King as part of the build up to the Mohammed ali-George Foreman fight (dubbed the “Rumble in the Jungle”).
8. Kanye West – Nazarbayev’s Kazakhstan
The rapper was hired to perform at the wedding of Kazakh dictator Nursultan Nazarbayev’s grandson. The former Russian Soviet Republic is sharply criticized by human rights organizations for its serious violations and deteriorating situation.
Yeezy was paid a reported $3 million for his appearance, which was recorded on Twitter and Instagram. Kanye West was able to express himself at the mic, unlike the rest of Kazakhstan, a nation suffering a harsh and unprecedented crackdown on freedom of expression and political plurality with the imprisonment of outspoken opposition and civil society activists.
9. Mariah Carey – José Eduardo dos Santos’ Angola
Yeah, same dictator, same place. Carey performed in Angola in 2013 at the behest of her manager, Jermaine Dupri, whom she would fire the next year.
This wasn’t the first time Carey performed for a dictator. In 2010, she publicly apologized for a 2008 New Year’s celebration performance, which is a nice segue to . . .
10. Mariah Carey – Qaddafi’s Libya
She was paid an undisclosed sum for performing for the Qaddafi family at a private residence in St. Barth’s. As part of her penance, she reminded everyone how much money she regularly gives to charity even as she pocketed her payment and released a statement:
“I was naive and unaware of who I was booked to perform for, I feel horrible and embarrassed to have participated in this mess. Going forward, this is a lesson for all artists to learn from. We need to be more aware and take more responsibility regardless of who books our shows. Ultimately we as artists are to be held accountable.”
With sequestration and troop drawdowns forcing the military to record low levels of readiness, the requirements for joining the U.S. armed forces have become more stringent, and the pool of eligible recruits has become smaller. Out of the 34 million 17-24 year olds in the U.S. only 1 percent are both eligible and inclined to pursue military service, according to the Defense Department.
Here are the nine most common reasons civilians are disqualified from service:
Following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the United States led a coalition of forces to invade Afghanistan. The mission, known officially as Operation Enduring Freedom, was intended to destroy the al-Qaeda terrorist organization that had masterminded the 9/11 attacks and to topple the Taliban regime that had sheltered Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda within its fundamentalist stronghold. The Taliban had held most of Afghanistan in thrall since 1996, imposing its extreme version of Islam on the populace and perpetrating a well-documented list of human rights abuses.
The invasion began on Oct. 7, 2001 with air strikes against Taliban defensive positions and al-Qaeda training grounds in Kabul, Kandahar, and Jalalabad. Most of the Taliban’s outdated surface-to-air missiles, radar, and command units were destroyed on the first pass, along with its modest fleet of MIG-21 and Su-22 fighters. Having crippled the Taliban defensive response, the Coalition Forces Command gave the Afghan Northern Alliance the go-ahead to begin a ground invasion, with U.S.-led coalition forces providing air and ground support.
The groundwork for large-scale military action in Afghanistan had been laid in secret in the weeks following 9/11 by a small CIA liaison team codenamed ‘Jawbreaker.’ The team had staged covertly in the Panjshir Valley, north of Kabul, in order to coordinate with the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. During the same period, President George W. Bush formally demanded that the Taliban relinquish bin Laden to the U.S. for prosecution and destroy al-Qaeda bases, brooking no discussion nor negotiation of terms.
They will hand over the terrorists, or they will share in their fate.
By November 12th, the Taliban was routed in Kabul. Three weeks later, Kandahar, the last Taliban stronghold, was captured, driving Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar into hiding and the remaining al-Qaeda forces into the mountains of the Tora Bora region. Skirmishes continued between al-Qaeda and anti-Taliban indigenous forces, as U.S. Special Forces teams worked to locate the mountain caves into which al-Qaeda leadership had retreated. However, by the time the caves were captured, Osama bin Laden had escaped into neighboring Pakistan. He would remain at large until 2011, when he was finally apprehended and killed by SEAL Team 6.
In the vacuum of governance left by the expelled Taliban, a grand council of Afghan tribal leaders was assembled under the leadership of Hamid Karzai. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was established by the U.N. Security Council to handle security in the region. Karzai was elected President in 2004 in Afghanistan’s first ever democratic elections. But even as Afghanistan began to take its first wobbly steps as a young democratic nation, the Taliban was regrouping on the Pakistan border. Soon they launched a wide-ranging insurgency, conducting guerilla-style attacks on Afghan Security Forces and targeting members of the new administration. Despite the continued intervention of U.S. military might in the region, the insurgency continues.
On December 3, Brian’s mother posted a video of him reciting his poem on her Facebook wall. At the time of this writing, the video had been shared over 103,700 times. The video was intended to be shared with friends and family, but it had such a powerful effect that it was published to YouTube in order to mitigate comments to her Facebook account.
Brian delivers a powerful and sincere peek into his scars of war that were inspired by a grocery bagger’s clueless comments.
Clearly upset, he took to poetry to express his experience.
The U.S. Navy’s Fleet Week has kicked off with a parade of ships, including patrol, destroyer and assault vessels that pulled into New York Harbor.
The U.S. Army Garrison Fort Hamilton military base held a salute to the ships on May 24. The USS Kearsarge amphibious assault ship carried out a seven-gun salute to Fort Hamilton, which replied with a 15-gun salute.
“New York has always had a close relationship with the military,” U.S. Coast Guard Anthony Giovinco, U.S. Navy Vietnam veteran and chief of staff and secretary of the United Military Veterans of Kings County Memorial Day Parade, said in a statement. “The sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen are treated very well here. This is a tradition that is important to me. It brings back fond memories of the years I spent in the military.”
The USS Kearsarge was accompanied by vessels including the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Lassen; the Ticonderoga-class cruisers USS Monterey and USS San Jacinto; and Canada’s Kingston-class coastal defense vessel HMCS Glace Bay, among others.
“Fleet Week New York is a way for the general public to view and experience the maritime sea services while allowing us to show our appreciation for our Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen,” U.S. Army Spc. Tanner Butler, who is assigned to Fort Hamilton, said. “I feel, that since 9/11, it is really important for the people of New York to experience these things and to remember that our fellow Sailors, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen are there for us.”
New York City residents can inspect the vessels while service members are allowed to roam the city and enjoy perks such as free subway rides and baseball tickets. About 4,000 sailors,Marines and Coast Guardsmen are anticipated to participate this year. There will be a special screening of the 1986 film Top Gun in New York City’s Intrepid Sea, Air Space Museum.
“Fleet Week New York, now in its 29th year, is the city’s time-honored celebration of the sea service,” the Navy said in a statement. “It is an unparalleled opportunity for the citizens of New York and the surrounding tri-state area to meet sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen, as well as witness firsthand the latest capabilities of today’s maritime services. The weeklong celebration has been held nearly every year since 1984.”
In 2013, the Navy canceled Fleet Week due to spending cuts amid a sequester. The event would have cost the Navy an estimated $10 million, while the New York City metropolitan area lost an estimated $20 million in revenue.