Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Green Berets and Afghan commandos announce capture of ISIS stronghold

U.S. and Afghan special operations troops in one of their largest joint operations captured a stronghold that Islamic State fighters claimed as their local capital, military officials said Saturday. No Americans or Afghan troops were killed in the offensive, which the U.S. military said killed 167 fighters from the Islamic State group – also known as ISIS or Daesh – and involved a complex multipronged attack on Gurgoray, a town purported to be the group’s capital in Deh Bala district in Nangarhar province. “This area, two months ago, was controlled by Daesh,” Brig. Gen. John W. Brennan Jr., commander of NATO forces in eastern Afghanistan, said at a special operations outpost in Deh Bala. “We pushed them into the mountains, so they cannot harm the people here.”

The U.S. and Afghan offensive involved five Special Forces teams and three Afghan commando companies. In total, 600 members of the U.S. Army Special Forces, also known as Green Berets, participated in the mission, which began in April and continued into June, a U.S. military officer said. Checkpoints manned by U.S. Special Forces, Afghan commandos and police now rise high above the valleys of Deh Bala, while American fighter-bombers continue to blast the Gurgoray Valley to stifle movements there by ISIS remnants.

Nangarhar province is one of the few places Americans continue to fight alongside Afghan forces in battle, and it has also been the deadliest spot for U.S. servicemembers, with a third of American combat deaths occurring there last year. Sgt. 1st Class Mihail Golin, a Green Beret, died during a foot patrol in Nangarhar in January and was the first U.S. combat death of 2018 before the death of another servicemember in an insider attack Saturday.

The finger-like mountain ridges and wheat-filled valleys of Deh Bala district in Nangarhar have long provided shelter to insurgents – the Taliban, al-Qaida and now ISIS. The district’s center lies 21 miles south of Jalalabad, the provincial capital where ISIS claimed recent deadly suicide attacks, and 11 miles west of Aachin, where the U.S. military in April 2017 dropped the largest bomb in its arsenal, “the mother of all bombs,” on an ISIS cave network. Due to its location on the border with Pakistan, Deh Bala served as a key supply route for ISIS. “ISIS was using this site as a site to prepare and stage high-profile attacks,” said Lt. Col. Joshua Thiel, commander of 3rd Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group.

Examples of attacks staged in the region include a bombing that killed 12 at a gathering of key religious gathering in June and another bombing that killed eight at a cricket match last year, Thiel said. When ISIS first arrived in the area, reportedly around 2014, the militant group used its money reserves to convince locals to join them. U.S. and Afghan officials said the group then began taxing and extorting locals, killing those who did not comply and selling off the region’s trees and minerals.

The militant group beheaded a police officer following an attack two months ago, said Ghulam Sakhi, commander of the 200 Afghan Local Police in the district. “In the beginning, ISIS seemed really nice,” Sakhi said through a translator. “All the people liked them. They were good with the people, but then by the time they were beheading people, people realized they were not good people.”

A team of Green Berets and Afghan commandos arrived in Deh Bala and dug into a position on a ridge overlooking the Gurgoray Valley on April 28, Thiel said. This position, Observation Post Krakken, was east of Gurgoray and fired down into the valley as other U.S. and Afghan forces built up a larger base, Camp Blackbeard, near the Deh Bala district center. “They put the capital under fire for about 30 days as they built up this space,” Thiel said while at Camp Blackbeard.

Machine gun and mortar fired rose up from Gurgoray and valley below OP Krakken, and U.S. airstrikes pounded the valley as ISIS fighters dug in. Afghan soldiers fasted during the day and ate only at night during the offensive, which overlapped with the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, Thiel said. Then helicopters filled with Green Berets and Afghan commandos landed on ridgelines to the northwest of Gurgoray on May 30 and built outposts overlooking Gurgoray. This maneuver placed ISIS fighters under attack from both west and east, Thiel said.

ISIS fighters had built their defense to guard against an attack from the east, through the valley leading from OP Krakken to Gurgoray, Thiel said. Militants emerged from their positions and attacked the Green Berets and Afghan commandos to their west. Heavy airstrikes called in by Afghan commandos killed more than 100 ISIS fighters.

Article from Stars and Stripes

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Military Retirees TRICARE Dental Plan Changing

Military retirees and their families will have to change their dental plans for 2019 by switching over from the TRICARE Retiree Dental Program to the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Program.

According to the Office of Personnel Management, the TRICARE Retiree Dental Program will end on December 31, 2018, requiring those enrolled in the program to switch their coverage over to one of 10 dental plans under the FEDVIP program. Automatic enrollment will not occur when the TRICARE dental plan ends, meaning that recipients will have to actively chose plans during the FEDVIP open enrollment season, which takes place November 12 through December 10.

The change is prompted by the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017, which granted eligibility for certain TRICARE members to transition over to benefits offered under FEDVIP.

In addition to retirees and their families, members of the Retired Reserve, non-active Medal of Honor recipients, survivors and family members of active-duty service members also have the option to enroll in dental and one of four vision plans under FEDVIPS. This is the first time that most military families will have the option to sign up for vision benefits, though they must be signed up for a TRICARE Health Plan to be eligible. According to OPM, this change could impact approximately 5.4 million individuals.

Article from the Federal Times

Monday, July 9, 2018

WWII paratrooper, 82nd Airborne legend dies

One of the original members of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment — and one of fewer than 2,800 All American paratroopers to have made all four World War II combat jumps with the 82nd Airborne Division — has died. Retired 1st Sgt. Harold Eatman was 102. He died Friday at home in Matthews, North Carolina, the 82nd Airborne Division announced this weekend.

“Harold Eatman was among the generation of All American paratroopers who defeated Nazism, liberated Europe, and inspired many generations of paratroopers to follow,” said Lt. Col. Joe Buccino, spokesman for the 82nd Airborne, in a statement. “We always say that when you wear the Double A patch, you walk among legends. One of those legends has passed.”

Eatman was one of fewer than 2,800 paratroopers to have made all four World War II combat jumps with the 82nd Airborne Division — in Sicily, Salerno, Normandy and Holland. Fewer than 16 now remain living, according to the 82nd Airborne. Eatman volunteered to serve in the Army in 1942, according to the 82nd Airborne. He served in H Company, 505th Regimental Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, from October 1942 through September 1945.

His awards and decorations include the French Legion of Honor, the Bronze Star Medal, the Purple Heart, two Army Commendation Medals, and the Senior Parachutist Badge with four bronze stars.

“Some of my first memories of my grandfather are looking through an old, leather-bound edition of ‘Saga,’ the World War II history of the 82nd Airborne,” Eatman’s grandson, Micheal Kelly, told the 82nd Airborne. “I made my first five jumps with his wings in my pocket for luck, and he pinned my wings on me at graduation from jump school. My grandfather influenced my whole life.” “The 82nd is part of my family’s history, and my family is part of the division’s history,” Kelly added. “My grandfather was the first paratrooper in my family, but not the last. Myself, my older brother and his son all served in the 505.”

Article from the Army Times

Monday, July 2, 2018

Navy Master Chief Refused to Quit

Navy Master Chief Raina Hockenberry remembers everything from that day in 2014 when an Afghan soldier shot her five times. She was serving as the senior enlisted leader position for Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan. Hockenberry was part of a group visiting a basic training facility for Afghan soldiers.

"We stopped for our last briefing of the day, and one of the Afghan soldiers just opened fire through a window," she told reporters at the Pentagon Wednesday describing the green-on-blue attack that wounded 13 other military personnel that day. "He just started shooting." Hockenberry suffered two gunshot wounds to the right leg, shattering her tibia. She was shot once in the groin and twice in the stomach.

While at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, "people tended to assume that I would be medically retired; I can understand why, but I just didn't see it." Four years later, she won eight gold medals in the recent Warrior Games in Colorado Springs and now serves on the USS Port Royal at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. In four months, she plans to participate in the Invictus Games in Sydney, Australia.

"I was severely injured, to the point where medical retirement made sense, but I can't imagine not serving in the military; it's part of who we are and my fellow brothers and sisters in the military, we all believe in what we do, and to not stand with them is something that I couldn't imagine," Hockenberry said. "Through the help of a lot of people, I managed to come back and now ... I am back on a ship hopefully showing that an injury or an illness doesn't stop you from continuing."

But Hockenberry's journey to recovery was not an easy path. She was in inpatient care at Walter Reed for four months, where she soon asked for a laptop so she could continue working. "That laptop was huge to me," Hockenberry recalls. "That laptop made me stop being a patient and put the power of being a senior chief back."

She did outpatient rehab for about six months at Walter Reed and then spent six months at Tripler Army Medical Center as an outpatient. Hockenberry then returned to Walter Reed for another nine months for more surgery and rehab. In 2016, she got the chance to return to Afghanistan as part of Operation Proper Exit, a non-military trip sponsored by the Troops First Foundation. "They take service members who were injured in Iraq and Afghanistan back," Hockenberry said, explaining that she was the first women to participate in the program.

While she was in Afghanistan, she said she visited 11 different forward operating bases, including her own, and talked to troops serving there. "A lot of young troops out there go out there and are like 'I just want a piece of the action,'" she said. "This is a harsh reality of what that action could be. "It was a very humbling experience."

Hockenberry still wears a leg brace to help her walk. "I lost a lot of muscle in my right leg, so from the knee down, I wear a device ... to assist with walking; it takes the pressure off my tibia," she said. That didn't stop her from taking up rowing, powerlifting, cycling and swimming. "You can always do anything; it's just you might do it funny, so I definitely do things funny," Hockenberry said.

She won two gold medals in cycling, two golds in rowing and four golds in swimming, an event she set four records in as well. "I didn't medal in powerlifting," Hockenberry said softly, with an exasperated tone. "But I plan on medaling in in the Invictus in powerlifting." Aboard ship, she services as the personnel administrative officer, "but the great thing about being on a ship is you are everything and anything, so -- firefighting, antiterrorism, medical -- you name it, we are it," she said.

After the Invictus Games, she plans to focus on her ship. "They have given me such a great opportunity ... the fact that my command was willing to take someone coming off an injury, I owe them a lot," she said. As for the future, Hockenberry said she plans on serving "until I am no longer effective." "Whether that is three years or four years or 10, as long as I can make a difference every day, and I know I am making a difference every day, and I can serve my country in an operational function -- I'm gonna stick around."

Article from Military.com

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Garlin Murl Conner, WWII Hero, receives Medal of Honor

Army Lt. Col. Lloyd Ramsey wrote home in 1945 to tell his father to make no mistake about the unassuming little guy with the country twang from Kentucky who might be calling. "He's a real soldier," Ramsey said of Garlin Murl Conner, one of his lieutenants in the 3rd Infantry Division. "He probably will call you and, if he does, he may not sound like a soldier, will sound like any good old country boy, but to my way of seeing, he's one of the outstanding soldiers of this war, if not the outstanding," Ramsey said.

Conner, a native of what was then called Aaron, Kentucky, had been on the front lines from 1942-1945 as the 3rd ID went from Africa to Sicily and Italy, then to France and on across the Rhine. He sustained seven combat wounds and was credited with three Purple Hearts, according to Army accounts. He earned four Silver Stars, a Bronze Star, the French Croix de Guerre and the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC). Conner is believed to be the second most-decorated soldier of World War II after Audie Murphy, another 3rd ID soldier who would become a Hollywood cowboy star, although Conner did not receive the Medal of Honor.

Today, 73 years after his "above and beyond" actions against attacking German tanks on Jan. 24, 1945, in a snow-covered French forest, President Donald Trump will formally make the posthumous presentation of the Medal of Honor to Conner, who died at age 79 in 1998. Eighty-nine-year-old Pauline Lyda Wells Conner, or "Miss Pauline" as she is known in the Kentucky hill country, will accept the award for her late husband.

In the letter to his father, the late Ramsey, who retired as a Major General, said that Conner's DSC was awarded in haste in the effort to get him out of the fight and on his way home. "He has the DSC, which could have been, I believe, a Congressional Medal of Honor, but he was heading home and we wanted to get him what he deserved before he left," Ramsey wrote in the letter which became part of the record in the court battle to upgrade the DSC. Note: The medal is presented by the President "in the name of Congress" but the official title is "Medal of Honor."

"He was a humble man and he was my hero," Pauline Conner said Monday at a briefing with a military historian and Army Maj. Gen. Leopoldo Quintas, commander of the "Dog Faced Soldiers" of the 3rd ID. Conner loved his farm life in Albany, Kentucky, where they raised cattle, corn and tobacco, she said. "He loved his family, he didn't talk about what he did," she said, but the war never left him.

He kept his experiences through 28 months of combat, 10 campaigns and four amphibious landings to himself, she said, but then there were the recurring nightmares. "I'd wake him up. He wouldn't say anything. He'd just go out on the porch, sit there and smoke, hours at a time," she said.

Calling In 'Danger Close' On the Germans

"He fought to get into the fight," Quintas said of Conner's actions on Jan. 24, 1945. He had been recuperating from being shot in the hip. The bullet "went through his thigh and came out the hip joint," Pauline Conner said. The injury would bother him for the rest of his life but Conner was anxious to get back to his unit. He was like that, Pauline Conner said. She said he had previously been shot in the jaw, knocking out a tooth. "I've still got the tooth at home," she said.

Conner ignored the doctors in the field hospital and somehow got back to Company K, 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division. Ramsey had made him the S-2 Intelligence officer to keep him back at headquarters and possibly out of harm's way, but Conner volunteered for yet another dangerous mission. Conner wasn't even supposed to be in the battle because of his hip wound, said Dr. Erik Villard, of the Center for Military History. "You just have to realize the level of heroism he displayed. It is remarkable," he said.

The 3rd ID had been moving south and east in the effort to get to the Rhine as part of Operation Grand Slam. German Panzer units backed by about 600 infantry moved against the Americans, seeking to split their forces. The German forces included several of their top of the line Mark VI "Tiger" tanks, Villard said. The U.S. troops were in a forest near the French town of Houssen. Conner, with his ever-present Thompson submachine gun, ran into the clear ahead of the 3rd ID's positions, unspooling telephone wire as he went. He dropped into a shallow irrigation ditch. Now he was a "spotter" for Lt. Col. Ramsey and the howitzers of the 10th Field Artillery Battalion, Villard said.

"He basically called in artillery on himself," Villard said, and devastated the German advance. For three hours, he remained in the ditch directing artillery fire despite the enemy closing to within five yards of his positions, his medal citation said. He was credited with "disintegrating the powerful enemy assault force and preventing heavy loss of life in his own outfit."

Another Conner Battle, This Time With the Army And a Federal Court

From time to time after the war, Ramsey would visit with Murl and Pauline. She said Ramsey would occasionally ask about pressing to upgrade the DSC. Pauline said her husband wouldn't hear of it. He didn't want to appear to be "bragging" on himself. He had four brothers who served in World War II and a fifth who served in Korea. He didn't want to appear to be putting himself above others who served.

That changed when Richard Chilton, a former Army Green Beret, came to the red-brick Conner home in Albany, Kentucky. Chilton was looking for information on his uncle, who had served with Conner and was killed in the amphibious assault on the Italian town of Anzio. It was at Anzio that Conner received a battlefield commission, from Tech Sergeant to Lieutenant. Conner was frail at the time, confined to a wheelchair and unable to speak. He pointed Chilton to a closet, where an old Army duffel bag contained a cardboard box with his medals and military records.

Pauline said she had never seen it before. Chilton was astonished at Conner's military record and began a campaign to upgrade the DSC to the Medal of Honor. In 1997, the Army's Board for Correction of Military Records rejected an application for an upgrade and rejected an appeal in 2000. Luther Conner and others began assisting in the case. The staff for Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Kentucky, found three letters in the National Archives from Conner's buddies in the 3rd ID, confirming Conner's actions on Jan. 24, 1945.

In 2014, the case went before a federal district court in Kentucky which ruled that the statute of limitations had run out on an upgrade for the DSC. The case went back to the Army's Board for Corrections of Military Records, which said that the three letters found in the Archives constituted new evidence "sufficient to warrant a recommendation." "I just can't say enough about Rich Chilton," Luther Conner said. "There's just no doubt that he [Murl] deserved it." "I have truly been appreciative of all the help people have given me," Pauline Conner said. "I'm so thankful I can get to see this in my lifetime."

Article from Military.com

Monday, June 25, 2018

VA reveals its veteran suicide statistic included active-duty troops

For years, the Department of Veterans Affairs reported an average of 20 veterans died by suicide every day – an often-cited statistic that raised alarm nationwide about the rate of veteran suicide. However, the statistic has long been misunderstood, according to a report released this week. The VA has now revealed the average daily number of veteran suicides has always included deaths of active-duty service members and members of the National Guard and Reserve, not just veterans.

Craig Bryan, a psychologist and leader of the National Center for Veterans Studies, said the new information could now help advocates in the fight against military and veteran suicide. “The key message is that suicides are elevated among those who have ever served,” Bryan said. “The benefit of separating out subgroups is that it can help us identify higher risk subgroups of the whole, which may be able to help us determine where and how to best focus resources.”

The VA released its newest National Suicide Data Report on Monday, which includes data from 2005 through 2015. Much in the report remained unchanged from two years ago, when the VA reported suicide statistics through 2014. Veteran suicide rates are still higher than the rest of the population, particularly among women. In both reports, the VA said an average of 20 veterans succumbed to suicide every day. In its newest version, the VA was more specific.

The report shows the total is 20.6 suicides every day. Of those, 16.8 were veterans and 3.8 were active-duty service members, guardsmen and reservists, the report states. That amounts to 6,132 veterans and 1,387 service members who died by suicide in one year. The VA's 2012 report stated 22 veterans succumbed to suicide every day – a number that’s still often cited incorrectly. That number also included active-duty troops, Guard and Reserve, VA Press Secretary Curt Cashour said Wednesday.

VA officials determine the statistic by analyzing state death certificates and calculating the percentage of veterans out of all suicides. The death certificates include a field designating whether the deceased ever served in the U.S. military.

Information in the 2012 report wasn’t as complete as the newer ones. At the time, only 21 states shared information from their death certificates. California and Texas, which have large veteran populations, were two of the states that didn’t provide their data. “Since that report was released, we have been closely collaborating with the [Department of Defense] to increase our level of accuracy in reporting,” Cashour wrote in an email.

Following the release of the new National Suicide Data Report on Monday, some veteran advocates responded on social media with questions. One person said the community was “thrown off.” Bryan said the situation “highlights a common source of confusion regarding who is and who is not considered a ‘veteran.’”

Heidi Kar, a project director at the nonprofit Education Development Center and a clinical psychologist with expertise in veteran suicide, said she had previously understood the statistic to be a veteran-only number. Overall, Kar thinks the VA put more emphasis in its latest report about suicide as a public health issue that requires the help of multiple agencies and community-based groups. The report shows that of the 20.6 veterans and servicemembers who died by suicide every day, six had recently used VA health care services. The suicide rate among the people who didn’t receive VA care increased faster than ones who did. “The biggest message is that suicide prevention is everyone’s job,” Kar said. “It’s a problem for active duty, it’s a problem for vets, it’s a problem for the elderly and for young people. So, the response has to be multidimensional, and different sectors have to problem-solve together.”

The VA said in a statement that it’s working with the Defense Department and the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to publish 2016 suicide statistics in the fall. The agency said it’s part of an ongoing review of millions of death records that could lead to improvements in the VA’s suicide prevention programs.

To contact the Veterans Crisis Line, veterans, service members or their families can call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1. They can also text 838255 or visitveteranscrisisline.net for assistance.

Article from the Stars and Stripes

Sunday, June 24, 2018

3rd Special Forces Group welcomes new leader

For the first time in his career, there’s no chance that Col. Bradley D. Moses will return to the 3rd Special Forces Group. After becoming the group’s first “homegrown” commander two years ago, Moses helped welcome a new leader on Thursday during a Fort Bragg ceremony.

Col. Nathan J. Prussian, most recently a fellow at Duke University, is the new commander of the unit, which officials said is the most combat-deployed unit in the Special Forces regiment in recent years. Picture at right: COL Bradley D. Moses, right, relinquished command of the 3rd Special Forces Group to COL Nathan J, Prussian at Fort Bragg 21 June 2018.

Moses joined the 3rd Special Forces Group in March 2002, the same year the unit assumed responsibility for all special operations forces in Afghanistan. The group remained focused on the country for most of Moses’s career, but in recent years at turned its focus to a new challenge — combating terrorism in north and west Africa.

That mission hasn’t been easy, said Maj. Gen. Edwin J. Deedrick Jr., the commanding general of 1st Special Forces Command. Deedrick, who oversaw the change of command, noted the sacrifices the group has made in recent years.

The group lost soldiers in non-combat incidents in Kenya, Niger and Mali. Four of its soldiers were killed in an ambush near Tongo Tongo, Niger in October. And another was killed in Somalia earlier this month.

The losses are a testament to the difficult mission 3rd Special Forces Group soldiers have undertaken in Africa, Deedrick said. “The continent of Africa is huge,” he said. “It’s three times the size of North America. The threats that have taken root in Africa are also huge.”

Citing violent extremist organizations in Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Libya, Egypt and Somalia, Deedrick said threats in Africa threaten to spread into Europe and “our very homeland.” What the soldiers of 3rd Special Forces Group have done to stem those threats is important work, he said.

Moses, who had served in the 3rd Special Forces Group as a team leader, company commander and battalion commander before assuming command of the group, said the efforts have not been easy, but the group has emerged from the challenges stronger than is has ever been.

“The group has never been more of a family as it is right now,” he said. “This is a culture that has been developed on hard-earned combat deployments and a change in area of responsibility.” That change was not taken lightly, Moses said. And some in the Army had concerns about whether it was the best idea.

“The reality is you were best suited for it,” he said. “This is a purpose driven unit that focused all of its efforts into combating violent extremists, working by, with and through partners, surrogates and allies to degrade a global threat.”

Deedrick said there was no better leader to oversee the transition. “His understanding of this unit, its history, its lineage and its regional alignment could not have been better,” Deedrick said.

But most importantly, Moses led with “absolute distinction” and provided strength amid the group’s recent loses. And his wife, Stacy, provided countless hours in support of families of those lost and those injured.

“Brad does not quibble. He doesn’t obscure facts. He simply stands up for his unit, his formation and he tells it the way it really is,” Deedrick said. And Stacy has gone above and beyond what has been expected of her, he added.

Deedrick said there was no leader better suited to following Moses than Prussian, whom served with Deedrick in the Philippines, Iraq and, more recently, Syria. While Moses served most of his career in 3rd Group, Prussian in a newcomer. Like Moses, he was commissioned in 1995. And both men began their careers in the 82nd Airborne Division before completing the Special Forces Qualification Course in 2002.

But Prussian served in the 1st Special Forces Group and has served as a policy advisor in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict and commanded a battalion in the 1st Special Warfare Training Group at Fort Bragg. Now, he inherits one of the most trained and ready units in the Army, Deedrick said.

And Moses will next serve as chief of staff of U.S. Army Special Operations Command. “Brad has taken the 3rd Special Forces Group to new heights,” Deedrick said. And now Prussian will be tasked with building on those efforts and improving the unit even more.

Moses said Prussian is the right man for that job and said he was proud of the group’s roughly 2,600 soldiers. “Thanks for allowing me to be a teammate,” he said.

Article from the Fayetteville Observer

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

British SAS Sergeant killed six Taliban in pitch-black, Viet Cong-style tunnel fight

Reports have surfaced of a 29-year-old British SAS sergeant’s fight against fleeing Taliban terrorists in an underground cave complex in Afghanistan in January. The Daily Star Sunday reported that the soldier from central England managed to shoot three terrorists and kill another three with a claw hammer while in near complete darkness in a series of underground tunnels less than 2 feet wide and 4 feet high. The soldier was part of a joint British and Afghan special forces operation launched against a Taliban base in northern Afghanistan, the Daily Star reported.

The commandos involved in the operation successfully destroyed the base, but several Taliban, including a high-value senior commander, were able to flee into an underground cave complex. When no Afghan commandos volunteered to enter the tunnels, the SAS soldier took it upon himself to complete the mission. The soldier managed to crawl into the narrow tunnel, but with no room for a long-barreled weapon, took only his Glock 9mm pistol.

For 30 minutes, he relied on sound, smell and touch to track and kill six terrorists in the pitch-black, suffocating environment. The soldier used his Glock to kill the first three Taliban he encountered, but when he went to shoot the fourth, his pistol jammed, according to the Daily Star report. Using a claw hammer, the soldier successfully fought and killed the remaining three militants before emerging from the tunnels soaked in blood.

The soldier, an Iraq veteran, called the 30-minute fight the most difficult of his military career. For at least an hour after returning above ground, the solider was unable to speak due to his level of distress.

Article from the Military Times

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Happy 243rd Birthday to the U.S. Army

June 14th marks the 243rd birthday of the United States Army, when in 1775, the fledging Continental Congress authorized the enlistment of riflemen to serve the 13 United Colonies for a period of one year. In the beginning, Congress authorized only ten (10) companies of riflemen, called Colonialists, and these were the first forces directly raised by Congress as opposed to the militias created by the respective States.

In a move designed to give a inclusionary look to the fledging colonial Army and broaden support across the colonies, Congressional delegate John Adams of Massachusetts, pushed to have a Commander chosen from one of the Southern colonies, and on 15 June 1995, Congress unanimously chose George Washington from Virginia. Washington had been a key participant in the military planning committees of Congress, and known for his experience in the French and Indian War. Congress gave Washington the charter to proceed to Massachusetts and take charge of the Army of the United Colonies and capture or destroy all armed enemies. His was also to prepare and to send to Congress an accurate strength return of that army.

The Infantry Branch was created. de facto, by virtue of Congress approving the raising on ten companies of riflemen on 14 June 1775 and constituted on 3 June 1784, as the First American Regiment, hence the Infantry Branch is the oldest branch of the US Army. Other branches of the Army and their dates of creation.

Adjutant General's Corps, 16 June 1775. The post of Adjutant General was established 16 June 1775, and has been continuously in operation since that time. The Adjutant General's Department, by that name, was established by the act of 3 March 1813, and was re-designated the Adjutant General's Corps in 1950.

Corps of Engineers, 16 June 1775. Continental Congress authority for a "Chief Engineer for the Army" dates from 16 June 1775. A corps of Engineers for the United States was authorized by the Congress on 11 March 1779. The Corps of Engineers as it is known today came into being on 16 March 1802, when the President was authorized to "organize and establish a Corps of Engineers ... that the said Corps ... shall be stationed at West Point in the State of New York and shall constitute a Military Academy." A Corps of Topographical Engineers, authorized on 4 July 1838, was merged with the Corps of Engineers in March 1863.

Finance Corps, 16 June 1775. The Finance Corps is the successor to the old Pay Department, which was created in June 1775. The Finance Department was created by law on 1 July 1920. It became the Finance Corps in 1950.

Quartermaster Corps, 16 June 1775. The Quartermaster Corps, originally designated the Quartermaster Department, was established on 16 June 1775. While numerous additions, deletions, and changes of function have occurred, its basic supply and service support functions have continued in existence.

Army Medical Department, 27 July 1775. The Army Medical Department and the Medical Corps trace their origins to 27 July 1775, when the Continental Congress established the Army hospital headed by a "Director General and Chief Physician." Congress provided a medical organization of the Army only in time of war or emergency until 1818, which marked the inception of a permanent and continuous Medical Department. The Army Nurse Corps dates from 1901, the Dental Corps from 1911, the Veterinary Corps from 1916, the Medical Service Corps from 1917, and the Army Medical Specialist Corps from 1947. The Army Organization Act of 1950 renamed the Medical Department as the Army Medical Service. On 4 June 1968, the Army Medical Service was re-designated the Army Medical Department.

Chaplains, 29 July 1775. The legal origin of the Chaplains is found in a resolution of the Continental Congress, adopted 29 July 1775, which made provision for the pay of chaplains. The Office of the Chief of Chaplains was created by the National Defense Act of 1920.

Judge Advocate General's Corps, 29 July 1775. The Office of Judge Advocate of the Army may be deemed to have been created on 29 July 1775, and has generally paralleled the origin and development of the American system of military justice. The Judge Advocate General's Department, by that name, was established in 1884. Its present designation as a corps was enacted in 1948.

Air Defense Artillery and Field Artillery, 17 November 1775. The Continental Congress unanimously elected Henry Knox "Colonel of the Regiment of Artillery" on 17 November 1775. The regiment formally entered service on 1 January 1776.

Armor (Cavalry), 12 December 1776. The Armor branch traces its origin to the Cavalry. A regiment of cavalry was authorized to be raised by the Continental Congress Resolve of 12 December 1776. Although mounted units were raised at various times after the Revolution, the first in continuous service was the United States Regiment of Dragoons, organized in 1833. The Tank Service was formed on 5 March 1918. The Armored Force was formed on 10 July 1940. Armor became a permanent branch of the Army in 1950.

Ordnance Corps, 14 May 1812. The Ordnance Department was established by act of Congress on 14 May 1812. During the Revolutionary War, ordnance material was under supervision of the Board of War and Ordnance. Numerous shifts in duties and responsibilities have occurred in the Ordnance Corps since colonial times. It acquired its present designation in 1950.

Signal Corps, 21 June 1860. The Signal Corps was authorized as a separate branch of the Army by act of Congress on 3 March 1863. However, the Signal Corps dates its existence from 21 June 1860, when Congress authorized the appointment of one signal officer in the Army, and a War Department order carried the following assignment: "Signal Department—Assistant Surgeon Albert J. Myer to be Signal Officer, with the rank of Major, 27 June 1860, to fill an original vacancy."

Chemical Corps, 28 June 1918. The Chemical Warfare Service was established on 28 June 1918, combining activities that until then had been dispersed among five separate agencies of Government. It was made a permanent branch of the Regular Army by the National Defense Act of 1920. In 1945, it was redesignated the Chemical Corps.

Military Police Corps, 26 September 1941. A Provost Marshal General's Office and Corps of Military Police were established in 1941. Prior to that time, except during the Civil War and World War I, there was no regularly appointed Provost Marshal General or regularly constituted Military Police Corps, although a "Provost Marshal" can be found as early as January 1776, and a "Provost Corps" as early as 1778.

Transportation Corps, 31 July 1942. The historical background of the Transportation Corps starts with World War I. Prior to that time, transportation operations were chiefly the responsibility of the Quartermaster General. The Transportation Corps, essentially in its present form, was organized on 31 July 1942.

Civil Affairs, 17 August 1955. The Civil Affairs/Military Government Branch in the Army Reserve Branch was established on 17 August 1955. Subsequently re-designated the Civil Affairs Branch on 2 October 1959, it has continued its mission to provide guidance to commanders in a broad spectrum of activities ranging from host-guest relationships to the assumption of executive, legislative, and judicial processes in occupied or liberated areas.

Military Intelligence, 1 July 1962. Intelligence has been an essential element of Army operations during war as well as during periods of peace. In the past, requirements were met by personnel from the Army Intelligence and Army Security Reserve branches, two-year obligated tour officers, one-tour levies on the various branches, and Regular Army officers in the specialization programs. To meet the Army's increased requirement for national and tactical intelligence, an Intelligence and Security Branch was established in the Army effective 1 July 1962, by General Orders No. 38, 3 July 1962. On 1 July 1967, the branch was re-designated as Military Intelligence.

Aviation, 12 April 1983. Following the establishment of the U.S. Air Force as a separate service in 1947, the Army began to develop further its own aviation assets (light planes and rotary wing aircraft) in support of ground operations. The Korean War gave this drive impetus, and the war in Vietnam saw its fruition, as Army aviation units performed a variety of missions, including reconnaissance, transport, and fire support. After the war in Vietnam, the role of armed helicopters as tank destroyers received new emphasis. In recognition of the growing importance of aviation in Army doctrine and operations, Aviation became a separate branch on 12 April 1983, and a full member of the Army's combined arms team.

Special Forces, 9 April 1987. The first Special Forces unit in the Army was formed on 11 June 1952, when the 10th Special Forces Group was activated at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. A major expansion of Special Forces occurred during the 1960s, with a total of eighteen groups organized in the Regular Army, Army Reserve, and Army National Guard. As a result of renewed emphasis on special operations in the 1980s, the Special Forces Branch was established as a basic branch of the Army effective April 9, 1987, by General Orders No. 35, 19 June 1987.

So it would be appropriate to raise a glass to the United States Army today - without it, this country would not exist. But also remember that the Army is comprised of men and woman from diverse backgrounds and beliefs, but share one common principal and that is stepping up to pledge their life to defense of the principles that founded this country, the greatest country history has known.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Battling Depression And Suicide Among Female Veterans

The suicide rate for female veterans has soared 85 percent in recent years, leading the military, VA and advocacy groups to try new ways to improve women's mental health care during and after service. One key focus: how to tailor the sometimes tricky jump from the military to the civilian world.

Women's experiences in the military are different from men's, so their transition needs to be different, too, said retired Army Col. Ellen Haring, director of research for the advocacy group Service Women's Action Network (SWAN). "The experiences you have on active duty carry with you, and then they manifest as mental wellness challenges as veterans," she said. "When you're transitioning out of the service, or when you return from a combat deployment to come back to a stateside demobilization and try to return to family or community, that's a challenging period."

When that transition doesn't go well, the cost can be terrible. Female veterans are nearly 250 percent more likely to kill themselves than civilian women. While male veterans also are more likely than their civilian counterparts to commit suicide, their rate is 18 percent higher.

When Deana came back, something had changed

Deana Martorella Orellana, who for much of her career as a Marine was stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C., is among those who couldn't make the transition to civilian life work. "She was beautiful, a smart kid, really smart," said her mother, Laurel Martorella, of Arnold, Md.

And Deana was something more than that. She was a junior high soccer whiz who made the boys on the field seem frozen in place. She was so athletic, say those who knew her, that watching one of Deana's games then, or later in high school or college, could make you just stop and savor the sheer wonder of human potential. "She really excelled at anything she tried," said her mother.

And eventually, she tried the Marines. Her mother said Deana beat everyone - male or female - on the physical tests at boot camp. Then, in 2010, she deployed to a particularly combat-torn part of Helmand Province in Afghanistan. There, Deana was assigned to a small female team that was attached to a male infantry unit. The team worked with the Afghan women and children they encountered.

When Deana came back, something had changed, said her family. One of Deana's siblings, Robin Jewell, said the problem had to do with something Deana saw or experienced involving Afghan children, but Deana never opened up about the details. "She said that she didn't see things the same, and she could handle everything except for the kids," Jewell said. "And I don't know what that means. She just didn't talk."

After she returned to North Carolina in 2013, her rental home burned down, and a man she knew was charged with arson. She wasn't home, but the incident shook her. She loved being a Marine - she had the Corps' eagle, globe and anchor insignia tattooed nearly the size of a basketball on one flank - but decided to leave the service in 2015 when her enlistment ended. She stayed close to Camp Lejeune, tending bar and working as a personal trainer. She was planning to earn a college degree in exercise science.

But problems piled up. Deana moved out of her boyfriend's home, said her mother. She was charged with driving drunk. Then she was charged again. She was reaching a tipping point. "Deana was very much a perfectionist," said Jewell, "and I think that in her eyes this was a huge failure."

On March 4th, 2016, Deana went to the VA for help, her mother said. VA officials later told the family that Deana agreed to counseling. But just hours after the VA appointment, Deana asked a friend to drop her at the house where she had lived with her boyfriend, who wasn't home. She went in the bedroom and retrieved a .45-caliber handgun. She sat on the floor and leaned against a wall. That's how her body was found.

"She wrote a note," said her mother, sitting at Jewell's kitchen table in Maryland. "But not a real note," Jewell added. "Not a Dear John." Her mother recalled what it said: "I'm sorry, call 911, take care of the dog, don't come in the bedroom."

Medical examiners' reports have a line listing valuables found with a body. Deana was wearing a fitness band and a plastic bracelet. In her pocket was a sheaf of handwritten inspirational quotes. Words, as they say, to live by.

She had been out of the Marines only a few months. VA has recently received data showing that a startlingly high number of suicides come in the first days, weeks and months after veterans leave the military, and mental health experts there say they're looking at how to use that data to improve the chances of making things go right for freshly-minted veterans.

A VA official later told her family that Deana had PTSD related to combat — which she had never even told them that she had experienced — and from the house fire. Somehow in moving from regimented military life back into the civilian world, Deana hadn't connected with someone who could keep her from feeling like her PTSD and other problems were piling too high.

Additional stresses for female troops

Deana's family doesn't blame the VA or military. They just think if the process had been better ... different somehow ... maybe Deana would have sought help earlier. "The soldiers themselves don't fully understand to say, 'I need the help,' " Jewell said. "Military members aren't taught to be able to ask for help when it's time, and therefore the VA system is unable to learn how to provide said help because neither side is connecting."

Ellen Haring, the research expert with SWAN, has studied the effects of serving in the tiny women's teams in combat zones like Deana did. Haring isn't familiar with Deana's specific case, but says the role creates stresses beyond the obvious ones of combat. Women may be pulled from the support networks in their own units and sent to locations where they see heavy fighting.

Often, even back on base between missions, while the men are decompressing, the women may feel like they can't let down their guard because of the possibility of sexual assault. "So they return to units that didn't know where they had been," Haring said. "They didn't have the same kind of bonding opportunities with the people that they had served with."

A need for human connections

SWAN has just released a half dozen recommendations on the mental health needs of women service members and veterans. They were based on a poll that gauged the mental health needs of veterans and women on active duty. A key recommendation is to establish stronger social support groups and networks for military women.

Air Force veteran Cat Corchado has already helped do that in Charlotte, N.C. She helps lead local meetings of a new network called Women Veteran Network, or WoVeN. The meetings are only for female veterans, and they've started in a host of locations around the country over the past few weeks, thanks to a grant from the Walmart Foundation and with support from the VA. The idea is to build connections and community among women veterans.

Human connections are crucial for mental health, and especially when women are just getting out of the service, said Corchado. "The military really made it seem like all you do is this, this and this, and you need LinkedIn and you'll be good," said Corchado, who's a personal trainer and real estate agent.

Once out of the service, though, she didn't feel tied in to any kind of support. "You get into this free fall and you don't know how to climb back out of it," Corchado said. "But I didn't realize until years later that every veteran, but especially female veterans go through that free fall."

The VA says it has a host of suicide prevention efforts underway, including a system that harnesses the power of big data to identify veterans at particular risk. It analyzes more than 60 characteristics, including gender, age, geographic location, drug prescriptions and medical history. The VA can check in with veterans whom the system flags.

The agency also has been trying to train veterans and their families about gun safety, said Megan McCarthy, the VA's deputy director for suicide protection. "One of the reasons we think why women veterans die by suicide at higher rates than civilians do is because they are more likely to attempt suicide with a firearm than civilian women," McCarthy said. "Firearms are a very lethal method of suicide."

Data show that women who get VA care are less likely to kill themselves. But of the 20 or so male and female veterans a day who do commit suicide, about 14 aren't in the VA's care. "We are really working hard to try to understand more about those 14 veterans who die by suicide each day who aren't in VA healthcare and make sure they have the good care and support that they have earned," McCarthy said.

More information from the VA about suicide prevention and mental health, including crisis contacts, can be found at:


All of SWAN's recommendations for improving mental healthcare for military women can be found at:


More information on Deana's foundation is at:


Article from NPR

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

D Day, or the Allied invasion of Normandy in Operation Overlord during World War II, codenamed Operation Neptune, bring the largest seaborne invasion in history. The operation began the liberation of German-occupied northwestern Europe from Nazi control, and laid the foundations of the Allied victory on the Western Front.

The amphibious landings were preceded by extensive aerial and naval bombardment and an airborne assault—the landing of 24,000 American, British, and Canadian airborne troops shortly after midnight. Allied infantry and armored divisions began landing on the coast of France at 06:30. The target 50-mile (80 km) stretch of the Normandy coast was divided into five sectors: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword. Strong winds blew the landing craft east of their intended positions, particularly at Utah and Omaha. The men landed under heavy fire from gun emplacements overlooking the beaches, and the shore was mined and covered with obstacles such as wooden stakes, metal tripods, and barbed wire, making the work of the beach-clearing teams difficult and dangerous. Casualties were heaviest at Omaha, with its high cliffs. At Gold, Juno, and Sword, several fortified towns were cleared in house-to-house fighting, and two major gun emplacements at Gold were disabled, using specialized tanks.

The Allies failed to achieve any of their goals on the first day. Carentan, St. Lô, and Bayeux remained in German hands, and Caen, a major objective, was not captured until 21 July. Only two of the beaches (Juno and Gold) were linked on the first day, and all five beachheads were not connected until 12 June; however, the operation gained a foothold which the Allies gradually expanded over the coming months. German casualties on D-Day have been estimated at 4,000 to 9,000 men. Allied casualties were at least 10,000, with 4,414 confirmed dead.

Of course, D Day also is sacred to Paratroopers, Rangers and Special Forces.

Paratroopers of the US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, numbering over 13,000 men, were delivered by Douglas C-47 behind German lines with the primary objective of capturing two bridges over the River Merderet and destroying two bridges over the Douve. The British 6th Airborne Division, on the eastern flank, was assigned to capture intact the bridges over the Caen Canal and River Orne, destroy five bridges over the Dives 6 miles to the east, and destroy the German gun batteries overlooking Sword Beach. Free French paratroopers from the British SAS Brigade were assigned to objectives in Brittany from 5 June until August in several operations. Watch the movie "A Bridge Too Far."

Two hundred men of 2nd Ranger Battalion, scaled the100 foot cliffs at Pointe du Hoch using grappling hooks, ropes, and ladders in order to destroy the coastal gun battery located at the top. The Rangers became isolated, ran out of ammunition and eventually were relieved but not before suffering 135 KIA/WIA. Pointe du Hoc is now part of 75th Infantry lore.

The British Special Operations Executive (SOE), the British version of the American OSS, orchestrated a massive campaign of sabotage implemented by the French Resistance, destroying rail system, communications lines, and electrical facilities tying up German forces and degrading movement and Command and control. The French Resistance's sabotage efforts resulted in the destruction of 52 locomotives and rail lines cut in over 500 places, isolating Normandy from Germany reinforcement and resupply by 7 June.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Syria - Battle pitting Russian Mercenaries against U.S. SOF Elements

If you remember months back where Russian Wagner Group Mercenaries led Syrian forces in an attack on a Syrian Defense Force (SDF) outpost near Deir al-Zour Syria. The following story by the New York Times outlines the details. Two separate American groups - one of Delta Force and 75th Infantry Rangers with SDF counterparts and a nearby Green Beret team with their counterparts. This is what the legends (and movies) are made of - 40 Americans versus 300 to 500 Russians and Syrians armed with Tanks and Artillery.

The artillery barrage was so intense that the American commandos dived into foxholes for protection, emerging covered in flying dirt and debris to fire back at a column of tanks advancing under the heavy shelling. It was the opening salvo in a nearly four-hour assault in February by around 500 pro-Syrian government forces — including Russian mercenaries — that threatened to inflame already-simmering tensions between Washington and Moscow.

In the end, 200 to 300 of the attacking fighters were killed - some estimates report 500 Syrians-Russians killed. The others retreated under merciless airstrikes from the United States, returning later to retrieve their battlefield dead. None of the Americans at the small outpost in eastern Syria — about 40 by the end of the firefight — were harmed.

The details of the Feb. 7 firefight were gleaned from interviews and documents newly obtained by The New York Times. They provide the Pentagon’s first public on-the-ground accounting of one of the single bloodiest battles the American military has faced in Syria since deploying to fight the Islamic State. The firefight was described by the Pentagon as an act of self-defense against a unit of pro-Syrian government forces. In interviews, United States military officials said they had watched — with dread — hundreds of approaching rival troops, vehicles and artillery pieces in the week leading up to the attack.

The prospect of Russian military forces and American troops colliding has long been feared as the Cold War adversaries take opposing sides in Syria’s seven-year civil war. At worst, officials and experts have said, it could plunge both countries into bloody conflict. And at a minimum, squaring off in crowded battlefields has added to heightened tensions between Russia and the United States as they each seek to exert influence in the Middle East.

Commanders of the rival militaries had long steered clear of the other by speaking through often-used deconfliction telephone lines. In the days leading up to the attack, and on opposite sides of the Euphrates River, Russia and the United States were backing separate offensives against the Islamic State in Syria’s oil-rich Deir al-Zour Province, which borders Iraq.

American military officials repeatedly warned about the growing mass of troops. But Russian military officials said they had no control over the fighters assembling near the river — even though American surveillance equipment monitoring radio transmissions had revealed the ground force was speaking in Russian.

The documents described the fighters as a “pro-regime force,” loyal to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. It included some Syrian government soldiers and militias, but American military and intelligence officials have said a majority were private Russian paramilitary mercenaries — and most likely a part of the Wagner Group, a company often used by the Kremlin to carry out objectives that officials do not want to be connected to the Russian government. “The Russian high command in Syria assured us it was not their people,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told senators in testimony last month. He said he directed Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “for the force, then, to be annihilated.” “And it was.”

Amassing forces

The day began with little hint of the battle that was about to unfold. A team of about 30 Delta Force soldiers and Rangers from the Joint Special Operations Command were working alongside Kurdish and Arab forces at a small dusty outpost next to a Conoco gas plant, near the city of Deir al-Zour.

Roughly 20 miles away, at a base known as a mission support site, a team of Green Berets and a platoon of infantry Marines stared at their computer screens, watching drone feeds and passing information to the Americans at the gas plant about the gathering fighters.

At 3 p.m. the Syrian force began edging toward the Conoco plant. By early evening, more than 500 troops and 27 vehicles — including tanks and armored personnel carriers — had amassed. In the American air operations center at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, and at the Pentagon, confounded military officers and intelligence analysts watched the scene unfold. Commanders briefed pilots and ground crews. Aircraft across the region were placed on alert, military officials said.

Back at the mission support site, the Green Berets and Marines were preparing a small reaction force — roughly 16 troops in four mine-resistant vehicles — in case they were needed at the Conoco plant. They inspected their weapons and ensured the trucks were loaded with anti-tank missiles, thermal optics and food and water.

At 8:30 p.m., three Russian-made T-72 tanks — vehicles weighing nearly 50 tons and armed with 125-millimeter guns — moved within a mile of the Conoco plant. Bracing for an attack, the Green Berets prepared to launch the reaction force. (U) At the outpost, American soldiers watched a column of tanks and other armored vehicles turn and drive toward them around 10 p.m., emerging from a neighborhood of houses where they had tried to gather undetected.

A half-hour later, the Russian mercenaries and Syrian forces struck. The Conoco outpost was hit with a mixture of tank fire, large artillery and mortar rounds, the documents show. The air was filled with dust and shrapnel. The American commandos took cover, then ran behind dirt berms to fire anti-tank missiles and machine guns at the advancing column of armored vehicles.

For the first 15 minutes, American military officials called their Russian counterparts and urged them to stop the attack. When that failed, American troops fired warning shots at a group of vehicles and a howitzer. Still the troops advanced.

Then American warplanes arrived in waves, including Reaper drones, F-22 stealth fighter jets, F-15E Strike Fighters, B-52 bombers, AC-130 gunships and AH-64 Apache helicopters. For the next three hours, American officials said, scores of strikes pummeled enemy troops, tanks and other vehicles. Marine rocket artillery was fired from the ground.

The Green Beret reaction team sped toward the fight. It was dark, according to the documents, and the roads were littered with felled power lines and shell craters. The 20-mile drive was made all the more difficult since the trucks did not turn on their headlights, relying solely on thermal-imaging cameras to navigate. As the Green Berets and Marines neared the Conoco plant around 11:30 p.m., they were forced to stop. The barrage of artillery was too dangerous to drive through until airstrikes silenced the enemy’s howitzers and tanks.

At the plant, the commandos were pinned down by enemy artillery and burning through ammunition. Flashes from tank muzzles, antiaircraft weapons and machine guns lit up the air. At 1 a.m., with the artillery fire dwindling, the team of Marines and Green Berets pulled up to the Conoco outpost and began firing. By then, some of the American warplanes had returned to base, low on either fuel or ammunition.

The United States troops on the ground, now roughly 40 in all, braced their defenses as the mercenaries left their vehicles and headed toward the outpost on foot. A handful of Marines ran ammunition to machine guns and Javelin missile launchers scattered along the berms and wedged among the trucks. Some of the Green Berets and Marines took aim from exposed hatches. Others remained in their trucks, using a combination of thermal screens and joysticks to control and fire the heavy machine guns affixed on their roofs.

A few of the commandos, including Air Force combat controllers, worked the radios to direct the next fleet of bombers flying toward the battlefield. At least one Marine exposed himself to incoming fire as he used a missile guidance computer to find targets’ locations and pass them on to the commandos calling in the airstrikes.

An hour later, the enemy fighters had started to retreat and the American troops stopped firing. From their outpost, the commandos watched the mercenaries and Syrian fighters return to collect their dead. The small team of American troops was not harmed. One allied Syrian fighter was wounded.

The number of casualties from the February 7th fight is in dispute. Initially, Russian officials said only four Russian citizens — but perhaps dozens more — were killed; a Syrian officer said around 100 Syrian soldiers had died. The documents obtained by The Times estimated 200 to 300 of the “pro-regime force” were killed.

The outcome of the battle, and much of its mechanics, suggest that the Russian mercenaries and their Syrian allies were in the wrong part of the world to try a simple, massed assault on an American military position. Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the United States Central Command has refined the amount of equipment, logistics, coordination and tactics required to mix weapons fired from both the air and ground.

Questions remain about exactly who the Russian mercenaries were, and why they attacked. American intelligence officials say that the Wagner Group, known by the nickname of the retired Russian officer who leads it, is in Syria to seize oil and gas fields and protect them on behalf of the Assad government. The mercenaries earn of a share of the production proceeds from the oil fields they reclaim, officials said.

The mercenaries loosely coordinate with the Russian military in Syria, although Wagner’s leaders have reportedly received awards in the Kremlin, and its mercenaries are trained at the Russian Defense Ministry’s bases. Russian government forces in Syria maintain they were not involved in the battle. But in recent weeks, according to United States military officials, they have jammed the communications of smaller American drones and gunships such as the type used in the attack. “Right now in Syria, we’re in the most aggressive E.W. environment on the planet from our adversaries,” Gen. Tony Thomas, the head of United States Special Operations Command, said recently, referring to electronic warfare. “They’re testing us every day.”

article from the The New York Times, 24 May 2018

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Army's Recruiting Crisis - The Scariest Part According to Tim Kennedy

SFA Chapter IX Commo Sergeant Comment: Warning,......there is Adult - Team Room language included in this article. If you don't know who Tim Kennedy is, then here is a brief: Kennedy served in the 7th Special Forces Group deploying in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom multiple times, and being awarded the Bronze Star Medal with "V" device for valor. Recently Kennedy interjected into the debate over CIA Director nominee, Gina Haspel who allegedly played a role in enhanced interrogation of Terrorists during the Bush administration. Kennedy said "waterboarding is not torture" and posted a video of himself being voluntarily water boarded by friends. Perhaps best known to the public for his Mixed Martial Arts career, Kennedy fought professionally and retired with a record of 18 wins and 6 losses.

The Army’s been having a hell of a time filling its ranks. In late April, the service announced it would not meet its goal of picking up 80,000 new active-duty soldiers, with only 28,000 new recruits halfway through the annual recruiting cycle. Although Army Sgt. Maj. Daniel Dailey told the Associated Press that the branch had reduced its target to 76,500 new recruits, he insisted that higher reenlistment rates (86%, compared to 81% in years past) were making up the difference.

But there’s a subtler consequence to the Army’s recruiting problem: its potential to undermine the effectiveness of Army Special Forces. Green Beret turned UFC superstar Tim Kennedy eloquently pointed that out on The Joe Rogan Experience on May 17. “[For] Special Forces specifically, we are gonna have the biggest deficit of eligible… population, to select from,” Kennedy said of the Army’s recruitment troubles. “You have to have a certain level of intelligence, a certain level of physicality, just to be eligible for Special Forces to pick you… that pool is the smallest that has ever been in history.”

Now, I’ve jabbed Kennedy before about some of his more rambunctious public missives (see: backyard waterboarding), but he knows exactly how intense the Special Forces Qualification Course is, having gone through it himself. So why can’t today’s American youngsters hack it in the Green Berets? Because they’re fat, lazy fucks, that’s why.

“Kids are playing video games, they’re not eating, Cheetos, less participation in sports … I mean, if you could just go to a high school and look at a high schooler now compared to 20 years ago, it’s a different thing,” Kennedy said. “We weren’t, like, barely getting kids past obesity 20 years ago. Now in a high school, if you walk into a classroom half the kids are obese.”

“So you think this is just because they’re sedentary … because they’re playing video games and fucking around online all day?” Rogan asked. “It’s not just… it’s not me thinking this,” Kennedy responded. “It is us absolutely, quantifiably, saying ‘We do not have enough people to pick from.’”

He’s not wrong. While U.S. Army Forces Command and U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command officials told the Fayetteville Observer in February that they were striving to “fundamentally change the culture of fitness” within the Army, officials outside the military see America’s young fatasses as a “looming national security crisis.” A recent report revealed that some 71% of young Americans were ineligible to serve in the armed forces — a third of them because they were overweight.

Considering that Army Special Forces personnel are increasingly on the front lines of the Global War on Terror (beating the crap out of ISIS fighters in Niger, wading through vicious firefights against ISIS in Afghanistan, and so on), it’s likely, based on Kennedy’s logic, that Green Berets will likely experience the consequences of the Army recruitment crisis earlier and more acutely than any other part of the U.S. armed forces — and that’s going to end up as just one more obstacle to America’s road to extricating itself from the forever wars.

“We just need people like we’ve never needed them before,” Kennedy said. “It’s scary.”

Article from Task and Purpose

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Navy Cross recipient and Marine behind iconic Fallujah photo retires

A recipient of the Navy Cross and Marine behind one of the most iconic photographs from the Iraq War retired from the Corps after 34 years of service. Sgt. Maj. Bradley Kasal handed over the reigns as sergeant major of I Marine Expeditionary Force to Sgt. Maj. James Porterfield at a ceremony held at Camp Pendleton, California, on May 18. Kasal was appointed I MEF sergeant major in February 2015. “I want every Marine and sailor to understand they enlisted for a reason and a purpose,” said Kasal in a command release. “That purpose was to do something better, to swear to support and defend the constitution, and to be a part of something greater. I ask the Marines and sailors to always be proud of that.”

Kasal was awarded the Navy Cross in 2006 for his heroic actions during one of the Corps’ most hallowed battles in Fallujah, Iraq, Operation Phantom Fury on Nov. 13, 2004. Freelance photographer Lucian Read snapped one of the most iconic pictures of the war showing a blood-soaked Kasal still gripping a pistol and Ka-bar knife exiting a house under the aid of fellow Marines.

Kasal, then a first sergeant with 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, had entered the house after learning Marines were pinned down inside. The first sergeant and another Marine were severely wounded in the legs from enemy fire. Insurgents threw hand grenades to finish off the wounded Marines but Kasal “rolled on top of his fellow Marine and absorbed the shrapnel with his own body,” according to the award citation.

Kasal refused medical attention until other Marines were treated. A statute of Kasal’s storied heroics and the famous photograph was unveiled at the Wounded Warrior Battalion-West aboard Camp Pendleton in November 2014. “The monument is a symbol of camaraderie that’s important to Marines, not only in combat but in the healing process as well,” Robin Kelleher, president of Hope for the Warriors, which contributed to constructing the monument, said in a news release. “There’s a saying, ‘Never leave a Marine behind’, and I think the monument exemplifies that. It gives wounded warriors hope, and hope is important for them to be able to recover.”

With Kasal’s retirement, Porterfield has taken over as the sergeant major for I Marine Expeditionary Force. “I am both honored and humbled to continue to lead the legacy of I MEF,” Porterfield said in a command release. “Throughout our history I MEF has been the warfighting organization that our country and nation has leaned on.”

Article from the Marine Corps Times

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Special Forces Secretly Help Saudis Combat Threat From Yemen Rebels

For years, the American military has sought to distance itself from a brutal civil war in Yemen, where Saudi-led forces are battling rebels who pose no direct threat to the United States. But late last year, a team of about a dozen Green Berets arrived on Saudi Arabia’s border with Yemen, in a continuing escalation of America’s secret wars.

With virtually no public discussion or debate, the Army commandos are helping locate and destroy caches of ballistic missiles and launch sites that Houthi rebels in Yemen are using to attack Riyadh and other Saudi cities. Details of the Green Beret operation, which has not been previously disclosed, were provided to The New York Times by United States officials and European diplomats. They appear to contradict Pentagon statements that American military assistance to the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen is limited to aircraft refueling, logistics and general intelligence sharing.

There is no indication that the American commandos have crossed into Yemen as part of the secretive mission. But sending American ground forces to the border is a marked escalation of Western assistance to target Houthi fighters who are deep in Yemen.

Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia and a member of the Armed Services Committee, on Thursday called the Green Berets mission a “purposeful blurring of lines between train and equip missions and combat.” He cited the report in The Times and called for a new congressional vote on the authorization for the use of military force — a war powers legislation used by three successive presidents in conflict zones around the world.

Beyond its years as a base for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen has been convulsed by civil strife since 2014, when the Shiite Muslim rebels from the country’s north stormed the capital, Sana. The Houthis, who are aligned with Iran, ousted the government of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, the Americans’ main counterterrorism partner in Yemen.

In 2015, a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia began bombing the Houthis, who have responded by firing missiles into the kingdom. Yet there is no evidence that the Houthis directly threaten the United States; they are an unsophisticated militant group with no operations outside Yemen and have not been classified by the American government as a terrorist group.

The Green Berets, the Army’s Special Forces, deployed to the border in December, weeks after a ballistic missile fired from Yemen sailed close to Riyadh, the Saudi capital. The Saudi military said it intercepted the missile over the city’s international airport — a claim that was cast in doubt by an analysis of photos and videos of the strike. But it was enough for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to renew a longstanding request that the United States send troops to help the kingdom combat the Houthi threat.

A half-dozen officials — from the United States military, the Trump administration, and European and Arab nations — said the American commandos are training Saudi ground troops to secure their border. They also are working closely with American intelligence analysts in Najran, a city in southern Saudi Arabia that has been repeatedly attacked with rockets, to help locate Houthi missile sites within Yemen.

Along the porous border, the Americans are working with surveillance planes that can gather electronic signals to track the Houthi weapons and their launch sites, according to the officials, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the mission publicly.

During a meeting on Capitol Hill in March, senators pressed Pentagon officials about the military’s role in the Saudi-led conflict, demanding to know whether American troops were at risk of entering into hostilities against the Houthis. Pentagon officials told the senators what had already been said publicly: that American forces stationed in Saudi Arabia only advised within the kingdom’s borders and were focused mostly on border defense. “We are authorized to help the Saudis defend their border,” Gen. Joseph L. Votel, the head of United States Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 13. “We are doing that through intelligence sharing, through logistics support and through military advice that we provide to them.”

On April 17, Robert S. Karem, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the United States had about 50 military personnel in Saudi Arabia, “largely helping on the ballistic missile threat.” The Green Berets have stepped in to deal with an increasingly difficult problem for the Saudi military. Their presence is the latest example of the expanding relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia under President Trump and Prince Mohammed.

Mr. Trump’s first overseas trip after taking office was to Riyadh, nearly one year ago. By contrast, President Barack Obama regularly criticized Saudi Arabia for civilian casualties inflicted by its bombing campaign in Yemen, and blocked arms sales to the kingdom. In March, as Prince Mohammed met with Mr. Trump and top national security officials in Washington, the State Department approved the sale of an estimated $670 million in anti-tank missiles in an arms package that also included spare parts for American-made tanks and helicopters that Saudi Arabia previously purchased.

“Saudi Arabia is a very wealthy nation, and they’re going to give the United States some of that wealth hopefully, in the form of jobs, in the form of the purchase of the finest military equipment anywhere in the world,” Mr. Trump said at the time. He called Prince Mohammed “more than the crown prince now” and displayed a poster featuring military aircraft worth $12.5 billion that the United States had agreed to sell to Saudi Arabia.

The American military’s support for the Saudi campaign against the Houthis is different from the Pentagon’s campaign against other militants in Yemen. Over the past two years, American-backed government troops from Yemen and the United Arab Emirates have expanded a shadowy war in Yemen’s central and southern regions. The effort has targeted more than 3,000 members of the Qaeda affiliate and its tribal confederates, driving them into the rugged, mountainous interior.

Last year, as part of Mr. Trump’s intensified campaign against terrorist organizations, the United States launched more than 130 airstrikes in Yemen, according to United States Central Command. Most of the strikes targeted Qaeda militants; 10 were launched against Islamic State fighters. By comparison, the American military launched 38 strikes in Yemen in 2016; airstrikes have continued this year.

Officials said American support for the Saudi-led coalition against Houthi rebels, a campaign that includes the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Egypt, was initially outlined in a 2015 document known as the Rice memo, named after Susan E. Rice, who was then Mr. Obama’s national security adviser.

The memo detailed military assistance and was intended to keep the United States out of offensive operations against the Houthis, focusing instead on helping the Saudis secure their border. Under the Trump administration, the scope of those guidelines appears to have grown — as evidenced by the addition of American surveillance planes and the Green Beret team.

The Saudi air campaign in 2015 initially was aimed at stockpiles of older Soviet ballistic missiles that were first used in Yemen’s 1994 civil war. The Saudi military reckoned those weapons could fall into Houthi hands. In April 2015, after a month of strikes, the Saudi-led coalition said it had accomplished its goals of destroying the missiles and the equipment used to launch them. But that June, Houthi rebels launched their first salvo of ballistic missiles, aimed at Khamis Mushayt, a Saudi city roughly 60 miles from the Yemen border.

Since then, Houthis have launched dozens of missiles, including shorter-range modified antiaircraft missiles and imported Iranian munitions. The White House and State Department have seized on the attacks to condemn not only the rebels but their Iranian supporters, underscoring the administration’s increasing hard line against Tehran. “Iran destabilizes this entire region,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during a visit to Riyadh on Sunday. “It supports proxy militias and terrorist groups. It is an arms dealer to the Houthi rebels in Yemen.”

Since 2015, Mr. Karem said, Houthi rebels have launched more than 100 ballistic missiles and many more rockets against major population centers, international airports, military installations and oil infrastructure — all within Saudi Arabia. In the first four months of this year, the Houthis launched more than 30 missiles — roughly on par with the number fired in all of 2017, according to data compiled by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Saudi forces trying to counter weapons from Yemen’s west coast — like the Houthi-held port in Al Hudaydah, where officials in Riyadh believe components of the missiles are shipped — have only two viable options, said Michael Knights, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The first is to find the missiles where they are stored, which requires an extensive amount of intelligence, Mr. Knights said. The second is far harder: to attack the launch sites, he said. “They have a very difficult problem,” Mr. Knights said.

Houthi rebels could hide mobile missile launchers anywhere from inside culverts to beneath highway overpasses. They are easily moved for hasty launches. Dealing with that problem requires a well-orchestrated system by the Saudi-led coalition, extending from satellites to troops on the ground, to ensure aircraft can find and quickly destroy the missile launchers. “In a mobile-missile environment, that’s a challenge,” Gen. David L. Goldfein, the Air Force chief of staff, said in an interview.

Article from the the New York Times