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‘12 Strong’ Isn’t The Afghan War Movie We Deserve, But It’s The One We Want

Posted: 09 Jan 2018 01:50 PM PST

Long ago — before the War on Terror devolved into a game of whack-a-mole; before MRAPs, and IEDs, and ROEs, and PTSD, all that other mundane stuff —  a small group of Green Berets rode into battle against America's enemies in the most glorious way possible: on horseback. The year was 2001. The commandos, a 12-man team codenamed Operational Detachment Alpha 595, were the first U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. For weeks, they galloped alongside a faction of the Northern Alliance and beat the britches off a much larger Taliban force. It was an extraordinary display of unconventional warfare. By mid-November, the Taliban had abandoned Kabul, and Osama Bin Laden was hightailing it to Tora Bora. Were the War on Terror a blockbuster Hollywood movie, the credits would probably start rolling right about there.

That movie debuts on Jan. 19. Starring Chris Hemsworth as Capt. Mitch Nelson, the leader of ODA 595, and Michael Shannon as his steely-eyed second-in-command, 12 Strong is being touted as "the declassified true story of the horse soldiers." That's a bit of an exaggeration. ODA 595's mission in Afghanistan stopped being a secret on Nov. 16 2001, when then-secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld showed reporters a photograph of a bearded commando on a horse and explained that the man was one of the Green Berets directing air strikes against Taliban and al-Qaeda targets in northern Afghanistan. The soldiers' tale was also told in Doug Stanton's 2009 nonfiction book, Horse Soldiers, upon which the film is based — hence "true story."

But did everything depicted in 12 Strong happen in real life? No, of course not. It's a Hollywood film. ("This is a fictional portrayal — don't lose sight of that," the real-life "Nelson," Mark Nutsch, told the Tampa Bay Times.) But more than that, it's a Hollywood film about U.S. special operations.

As far as Hollywood is concerned, there are two versions of the War on Terror. One is a hopeless quagmire that has left an entire generation of military veterans psychologically traumatized. The other is a gallant romp fought by elite commandos. Moviegoers much prefer the latter. In terms of box office success, Zero Dark Thirty, American Sniper, and Lone Survivor — all heavily dramatized films exalting the awesomeness of Navy SEALs — top the list of movies about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by a very wide margin. Even Act of Valor, a film about Navy SEALs (played by actual Navy SEALs) that boasts a stunningly cruddy "25% fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes, outearned Kathryn Bigelow's similarly budgeted The Hurt Locker — which won six Oscars, including for Best Picture — by more than $30 million. The numbers say it all: Critics like films that make us feel conflicted about our nation's current wars; most people who pay to see films, however, don't.

Related: The Army’s Guide To Waging War On Horseback Is Brilliant And Ridiculous >>

Epic gun battles; rock-hard muscles slathered in grease and human blood; explosions that send guys somersaulting like rag dolls through the air; a clear objective; an enemy that stands up and fights like a man; a grand finale: That's what the people want. Aside from a handful of scandals and a few exhilarating moments that seemed pivotal at the time, but ultimately did little or nothing to move the ball forward, the War on Terror has been a bit of a snoozefest. 17 years on, all of the lives and dollars we've poured into Iraq and Afghanistan haven't paid off the way they were supposed to. There's been no "raising the flag on Iwo Jima" moment. No sooner had Bin Laden's bullet-ridden corpse been consumed by the fishes than the Islamic State emerged. Iraq is still not a beacon of democracy, and the Taliban is thriving. But if you thought Hollywood couldn't manage to squeeze at least one more Saving Private Ryan out of this quizzical little war, you're clearly unfamiliar with the work of Jerry Bruckheimer.

Screenshot YouTube/Warner Bros. Pictures

Michael Shannon as Chief Warrant Officer Hal Spencer in ’12 Strong’

What do Top Gun, Pearl Harbor, Black Hawk Down, all have common? Well, for one thing, they all star Hollywood hunks: Tom Cruise (Sexiest Man Alive 1990), Ben Affleck (Sexiest Man Alive 2002), Josh Hartnett (just a really handsome guy). They're also all big-budget patriotic American war dramas produced by Bruckheimer. The famed producer's latest project is cut from similar cloth. As 12 Strong's Nelson, Hemsworth (Sexiest Man Alive 2014) does a fine job channeling his inner Thor to give audiences the sort of mythical, all-American pipe-hitter they love to see vanquishing terrorists on the filmic battlefield. And while not a single helmet makes an appearance in this film, the tactics are sound. A cadre of former and currently serving U.S. special operators — including Nutsch, who is retired — were involved in the production to ensure it passes the bullshit test in that regard, at least.   

"From a technical standpoint, we had a checklist of things we wanted to make sure we did and didn't do, especially the things that are telltale signs that it isn't authentic, or that the military community would roll their eyes at," Hemsworth told Task & Purpose in a recent phone interview. "Also, just working with these guys and getting a real sense of the type of person it takes to be in the military — to put yourself in harm's way for the safety of other. It was inspiring and hugely motivating to get this story right and do the story justice."

But why is this story important now? Why has the opening phase of the War on Terror — a war that has cost hundreds of thousands of lives, plunged the Middle East into a deeper state of perpetual chaos, and fueled the rise of radical Islam — been immortalized with a 16-foot bronze statue of a horseback commando looking over Ground Zero?  Americans overwhelmingly supported military action against the perpetrators of 9/11. ("Our shared mission, to eradicate terrorism, is a noble one," The New York Times editorial board wrote five days after the attack. "The rewards for victory would be immense — a safer world and a planetary commitment to cooperation and tolerance.") President George W. Bush made it explicitly clear from the start that we were in this for the long haul — "It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated," he said on Sept. 20, 2001 — but I think most of us believed that the same military that had just pulled off a succession of lighting-fast victories against standing armies in Latin America, the Middle East, and the Balkans would make short work of the savage cave-dwellers who brought our towers down.

Screenshot YouTube/Warner Bros. Pictures

Scene from ’12 Strong’

Bruckheimer has described Hollywood as "the transportation business." The job of filmmakers, he said, is to "transport audiences from one place to another." 12 Strong transports us to a reality in which America got its revenge. It's a very short express ride, with no other stops.            

I don't typically like films about the War on Terror. Even the corniest depictions of soldiers being killed in combat or committing suicide make me cry like a baby. Maybe that has something to do with the fact that the version of the Afghan War I experienced, many years after ODA 595 and their local allies routed the Taliban from Mazar-i-Sharif, involved a lot of guts and very little glory.

Not a single American soldier dies in 12 Strong. Not once does a character throw up his hands and say, "What the fuck are we doing in this shithole country, anyways?" The mission is crystal clear. The battles are fought the way battles are supposed to be fought: with tanks, and artillery, and honor, and opposing armies clashing across distinct battlelines. There are no civilians to hide behind. Every bullet fired, every grenade thrown, every 500-pound bomb dropped from the sky hits a combatant.

And there a lot of bombs. We see them fall and explode from every angle. Director Nicolai Fuglsig covered the Kosovo conflict as a photojournalist and documentarian. He has a keen eye for the beauty of combat. The War on Terror has never looked so good. You should see it.

The post '12 Strong' Isn't The Afghan War Movie We Deserve, But It's The One We Want appeared first on Task & Purpose.

Anna Mae Hays, The US Military’s First Female General, Dies At Age 97

Posted: 09 Jan 2018 12:25 PM PST

Anna Mae Hays, a legendary Army nurse and the first woman in the U.S. armed forces to wear the insignia of a brigadier general, has died at the age of 97, the Allentown Morning Call reported on Jan. 7.

Hays made history when, then a colonel in charge of the Army Nurse Corps, she was promoted to one-star rank by Army Chief of Staff Gen. William Westmoreland on June 11, 1970. She used her role to advocate for women in the military, establishing herself as one of the major civil rights heroes of modern U.S. military history.

"She was an amazing woman who accomplished some great things and lived life on her terms," her niece Doris Kressly told the Morning Call. Kressly added that she didn't feel a sense of loss, because her aunt "lived a magnificent life and I'm glad she got to live it the way she did."

Hays' ascent to flag rank marked "the first time a female general officer had been promoted in the western world since Joan of Arc," Westmoreland declared at the time. But Hays won't just be remembered just for her pathbreaking elevation in the U.S. armed forces. She saw herself as a caregiver and soldier first and foremost — and she helped transform the face of modern Army medicine.

"I too wanted to serve"

Born in 1920, Hays had just graduated from the Allentown General Hospital School of Nursing and the American Red Cross when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. After learning of the devastation in Hawaii, Hays felt bound by duty to serve her country. "The war was declared on 7 December 1941, and from that time until I joined in May of 1942, the papers were full of stories about individuals serving their country," Hays told the Army Heritage Center Foundation in 1983. "[B]eing a nurse, I too wanted to serve my country."

Anna Mae Hays first female military generalArmy Medicine History Department Archives)

Anna Mae Hays after enlisting in the Army Nurse Corps in 1941.

Hays spent her deployments caring for U.S. troops in some of the world's most desolate areas. After enlisting in the Women's Army Corps, she deployed with the 20th General Hospital to India in 1943 to support soldiers developing overland supply lines with China. After the defeat of the Axis, Hays nurse remained on active duty and deployed to Korea with the 4th Field Hospital as part of the famous 1950 Inchon Landing.

"If you would ask me what are the first things you can remember about Korea, I would say its cold weather, odor, and its stark-nakedness. It had nothing," she told the Army Heritage Center. "And, when I compare Korea with my experiences in World War II, I think of Korea as even worse than the jungle in World War II, because of the lack of supplies, lack of warmth, etc., in the operating room."

After rising to the rank of colonel and serving as head ER nurse at Walter Reed (and, just a month later, acting as a private nurse to President Dwight Eisenhower during his hospitalization there), Hays was sworn in as the 13th chief of the Army Nurse Corps in 1967. That was the same year that new legislation opened the doors for female officers to rise within the U.S. armed forces' ranks by removing caps on the number of colonels and lieutenant colonels in the ANC.

A glass ceiling

Hays herself attended President Lyndon B. Johnson's signing ceremony for that bill in 1967. "I can recall, as the senior female officer, that I was called upon to read the citation when a Legion of Merit was presented to one of our Army nurses who had just returned from Vietnam," she told the Army in 1983. "I just couldn’t believe that I, just little me, was reading a citation in the East Room of the White House."

Her ascension through the ranks was not met kindly; the resurgent women's rights movement was not entirely embraced by "tradition-minded" leadership of the Women's Army Corps. (According to the Washington Post, Westmoreland presented Hays with "a brassy kiss" on the mouth along with her new silver star, jokingly stating that it was part of "a new protocol for congratulating lady generals.")

Hays fought back. She pushed Army leadership to relax strict standards governing women in the armed forces on multiple issues. "We started talking about maternity leave in the form of ordinary and excess leave for female officers," Hays said in 1983. "This was finally authorized by Army Regulation in January 1970. Of course, at that time it was for the married officer."

A lasting legacy

Anna Mae Hays first female military genearlU.S. Army photo

The official Army portrait of Brig. Gen. Anna Mae Hays after her promotion in 1970

Hays' broader legacy is built on more than just gender-advancement. According to the Army Heritage Center, Korea exposed her to the latest post-WWII medical advancements, from antibiotics to the airborne medevac, and she spent her four years as chief of the ANC during the Vietnam War convincing the Army "that nursing was important enough to spend money on — a hard sell at that time," as Army Office of Medical History historian Sanders Marble told the Washington Post.

Her visits to Vietnam in the 1960s further convinced her that Army medicine needed to change. She began to share her concerns "on the conditions of our hospitals; effectiveness of our personnel, not only the Army Nurse Corps officers, but other officers of the Army Medical team; on the evacuation procedures; on supplies, whether they were in short supply; on the dire need of dieticians, physical therapists, and psychiatrists to be assigned in Vietnam, etc," she told the Army in 1983.

She became the guiding force behind the Army Nursing Contemporary Practice program, established at the height of the conflict in 1968, to modernize the service's use of nurses. She established new training programs and oversaw a major jump in the numbers of nurses deployed in downrange. She was responsible for major changes in how the nursing staffs helped shape Army medical policy. She raised standards and personally helped recruit talented nurses and caregivers. Thanks to Hays, nurses became a critical component of how the U.S. military practices emergency medicine.

Though Hays retired from the military nearly half a century ago, her service to the nation continued to define her life. "One day being responsible to the Surgeon General for 21,000 men and women, who represented one-fifth of the more than 103,000 Army Medical Department personnel, and then the next day, not having any responsibility, is quite an adjustment to make," Hays said of her retirement in 1983. "I've missed the Army. I miss being part of a moving, dynamic situation."


The post Anna Mae Hays, The US Military's First Female General, Dies At Age 97 appeared first on Task & Purpose.

New Trump Executive Order Takes Aim At America’s Veteran Suicide Crisis

Posted: 09 Jan 2018 08:58 AM PST

President Donald Trump is expected to sign an executive order this afternoon that will expand mental health coverage options for transitioning veterans, Veteran Affairs officials confirmed to Task & Purpose this morning.

The order, "Supporting Our Veterans During Their Transition from Uniformed Service to Civilian Life," is specifically geared toward combating veteran suicide, Military Times' Leo Shane first reported. An estimated 20 U.S. veterans die by suicide each day, and President Trump last year tasked incoming VA Secretary David Shulkin with getting that number to zero.

“That is just an unacceptable number and we are focused on doing everything we can to try to prevent these veteran suicides,” Shulkin said during a phone conference with reporters Jan. 9.

The new executive order would focus on veterans who are at the highest suicide risk: those who recently separated from the service. The order gives the Departments of Veterans Affairs, Defense, and Homeland Security 60 days to create a "Joint Action Plan" for "seamless mental health care" to service members exiting the military, according to Military Times.

Related: The Suicide Contagion: How The Effort To Combat Veterans' Suicide May Be Making It Worse »

"Transition from the military to the civilian workforce is a challenge for any veteran," Lou Celli, the American Legion's national director of veterans affairs and rehabilitation, told Task & Purpose via email. "Some veterans have more difficulty with this than others, and we see this expansion of mental health care and suicide prevention programs to be part of an important safety net."

Just half of transitioning service members who need mental health treatment seek it — and only half who seek help actually receive adequate care, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The numbers for veterans in their first year out of uniform are stark, compared with their active duty peers: Recent vets are nearly three times more likely to commit suicide than those still in uniform, according to a study from the Naval Postgraduate School. And close to one-fifth of veterans returning from in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or depression, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Veterans who leave the service with "bad paper" discharges — disciplinary separations that can bar recipients from collecting VA education, disability, and medical benefits — wouldn't qualify for new benefits under the executive order. However, they do have access to emergency care mental health services through the VA, under a program Shulkin launched last year.

When the executive order's proposed safeguards kick in, service members will have the ability to opt out, according to senior administration officials. Veterans enrolled in the 12-month program will have access to mental health care through the Veterans Health Administration, as well as private providers through the VA's CHOICE program.

The plan is expected to cost "a couple hundred million dollars a year," paid with existing funds from the VA and Defense Department's budgets, the Washington Post reports.

The Department of Homeland security's involvement serves to ensure transitioning members of the Coast Guard have access to the program, Military Times reports.

If you're thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) to reach a trained counselor. Use that same number and press "1" to reach the Veterans Crisis Line.

The post New Trump Executive Order Takes Aim At America’s Veteran Suicide Crisis appeared first on Task & Purpose.

A Foreign Navy Screwed Up Its New $3 Billion Nuclear Missile Sub By Leaving Its Hatch Open

Posted: 09 Jan 2018 08:22 AM PST

The modern submarine is not a simple machine. A loss of propulsion, unexpected flooding, or trouble with reactors or weapons can doom a sub crew to a watery grave.

Also, it's a good idea to, like, close the hatches before you dive.

Call it a lesson learned for the Indian navy, which managed to put the country's first nuclear-missile submarine, the $2.9 billion INS Arihant, out of commission in the most boneheaded way possible.

The Hindu reported yesterday that the Arihant has been out of commission since suffering "major damage" some 10 months ago, due to what a navy source characterized as a "human error" — to wit: allowing water to flood to sub's propulsion compartment after failing to secure one of the vessel's external hatches.

Water "rushed in as a hatch on the rear side was left open by mistake while [the Arihant] was at harbor" in February 2017, shortly after the submarine's launch, The Hindu reports. Since then, the sub "has been undergoing repairs and clean up," according to the paper: "Besides other repair work, many pipes had to be cut open and replaced."

Related: T&P’s Coverage Of Foreign Militaries »

It's hard to articulate how major a fuck-up this is, but Kyle Mizokami does a good job at Popular Mechanics: Indian authorities ordered the pipe replacement because they "likely felt that pipes exposed to corrosive seawater couldn’t be trusted again, particularly pipes that carry pressurized water coolant to and from the ship's 83 megawatt nuclear reactor." For context, a submarine assigned to Britain's Royal Navy narrowly avoided a complete reactor meltdown in 2012 after the power sources for its coolant system failed.

The incident is also quite an embarrassment — and strategic concern — for the Indian Armed Forces. A Russian Akula-class attack sub modified to accommodate a variety of ballistic missiles, the Arihant represented a major advance in India's nuclear triad after its completion in October 2016. (India in 1974 became the 6th country to conduct a successful nuclear test.) Indeed, the Arihant's ability to deliver K-15 short-range and K-4 intermediate-range nuclear missiles was envisioned as a powerful deterrent against India's uneasy nuclear state neighbor, Pakistan.

"Arihant is the most important platform within India's nuclear triad covering land-air-sea modes," the Hindu reports. Well, it's important if it works — and it probably helps to make your submarine watertight.

This is just some sloppy, dangerous seamanship, and the Indian Navy better get its act together fast. Either that, or perhaps follow the Royal Navy's lead and install the 2001-era Windows XP as an operating system on all your most vital vessels. That way, you can blame the blue screen of death instead of "human error" for the next critical foul-up. Although even outdated software probably knows enough to dog down on all the hatches.


The post A Foreign Navy Screwed Up Its New $3 Billion Nuclear Missile Sub By Leaving Its Hatch Open appeared first on Task & Purpose.

What We Know About North Korea’s Latest High-Level Talks With The South

Posted: 09 Jan 2018 06:46 AM PST

North Korea and South Korea sent 20 diplomats to the “truce village” on Tuesday, where the two states, technically still at war since 1953, talked about the coming Winter Olympics.

But early indications show that rising nuclear tensions remained the elephant in the room.

“This winter has seen more snowstorms than ever, and rivers and mountains across the country are frozen,” Ri Son Gwon, the chairman of the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, said to open the discussion, according to Reuters.

“It would not be an exaggeration to say that inter-Korean ties were even more frozen, but public yearning for improved relations was so strong that today's precious event was brought about,” he said.

He also expressed “high hopes” for the dialogue and promised an “invaluable result as the first present of the year” to South Korea.

All eyes on Panmunjom

north korea talks winter olympicsAFP/Getty Images

South Korea’s Unification Minister Cho Myung-Gyun (right) shakes hands with North Korean chief delegate Ri Son-Gwon (left) as they exchange joint statements during their meeting at the border truce village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) dividing the two Koreas on January 9, 2018. North Korea will send its athletes to the Winter Olympics in the South, the rivals said on January after their first formal talks in more than two years following high tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program

In Panmunjom, the village in the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas where an armistice halted fighting in the Korean War, diplomats from the two countries labored while microphones and cameras recorded their every word and move.

Both South Korean President Moon Jae In and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had access to live streams of the discussions, but no special message was made to either leader, according to reports.

The goods delivered

While many have maligned the talks as a North Korean attempt to drive a wedge between the U.S. and South Korea, the talks resulted in a few tangible results on their first day.

Even better, the highest-level talks between the countries since 2015 did not just focus on the Olympic Games but veered into other important inter-Korean relations, as President Donald Trump and many others hoped they would:

  • North Korea will send performing artists and a taekwondo team to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea, as well as possibly a pair of figure skaters who may compete in the games.
  • The Koreas will reopen a military hotline, according to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency. Military-to-military hotlines serve as the first line of defense for de-escalation. Having the line in place greatly reduces the chance of accidental military escalation.
  • Denuclearization came up. Though CNN reports that North Korea’s delegation remained silent and did not respond to the mentions of South Korea’s aim that Pyongyang fully denuclearize, the issue was broached in talks with North Korea for the first time in years.
  • South Korea mulled relaxing bans on North Korean officials, who have not been allowed south of the DMZ since nuclear tensions ratcheted up. South Korea may also allow North Korean citizens to visit the games.

Additional discussion took place around whether North Koreans could march with South Koreans in the ceremonies around the games and whether families separated by the DMZ could be reunited.

Long-term implications

north korea talks winter olympicsIm Byung-shik/Associated Press

Three North Korean soldiers look at the south side as a South Korean soldier stands guard while Korean War veterans from U.N. forces visit to commemorate the 62nd Anniversary of the Korean War Armistice Agreement, at the border village of Panmunjom, which has separated the two Koreas since the Korean War, in Paju, South Korea, Friday, July 24, 2015.

In the short term, South Korea’s Winter Olympics seems to have gained a massive vote of confidence from its often troublesome neighbor.

The presence of North Korean performers, athletes, and citizens at the games all but guarantees that the games will go over without a hitch from Pyongyang.

In the longer term, the situation remains fraught. The US still rejects North Korea’s status as a de facto nuclear nation and refuses to talk without the precondition that Pyongyang must denuclearize.

But the talks have reversed the momentum of a spiraling series of nuclear threats and military escalations.

“Washington should build on what has happened so far to signal to Kim that the diplomatic door is being cracked open,” Joel Wit and Robert Carlin, two former State Department officials with experience with North Korea, wrote in The Atlantic.

Despite the risk that North Korea may be trying to trick the US and South Korea or stall until it can perfect its nuclear arsenal, there are few opportunities for dialogue and even greater risks involved with not talking.

More from Business Insider:


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Air Force Special Operators Honored For Airdrop In Afghanistan Under Intense Fire

Posted: 09 Jan 2018 05:52 AM PST

The MC-103J Commando II airplane rumbled low to the ground, nearing the intense firefight below where a team of American special operators and allied commandos were encircled by Taliban fighters in a remote part of Afghanistan.

One Green Beret had been killed and another soldier had been seriously wounded. The remaining force was out of water and nearly out of ammunition – each soldier with as little as one magazine of rounds left. They were in danger of being overrun.

But the MC-130J crew refused to hesitate, even as insurgents turned machine guns and anti-aircraft artillery toward the burling turbo-prop transport plane. Taking heavy fire, the crew made life-saving calculations and decisions necessary to drop a combat load of water, food and ammunition to the American and allied fighters below, ultimately allowing them to hold off the attack and survive the Jan. 5, 2016 encounter, according to Air Force award citations and documents.

On Jan. 5, exactly two years to the date of that mission, two of the six Air Force special operators manning the MC-130J that day were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for their heroic actions that ensured the success of the mission, said Air Force Brig. Gen. William Holt II, the director of operations for Air Force Special Operations Command. All six members of the crew have been approved to receive the decoration, he added.

air force special operators Distinguished Flying Cross U.S. Air Force photo

Capt. Charlotte Raabe and Senior Airman Gary Bjerke were each awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on Jan. 5, 2018.

"They didn't hesitate because there were friendly forces on the ground inside that compound that were under fire from 360 degrees," Holt said Friday, moments before pinning the Distinguished Flying Cross on Capt. Charlotte Raabe and Senior Airman Gary Bjerke during a ceremony at Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico. "The crew had to perform quickly, at low level, during mid-day, under intense enemy fire, and that's exactly what they did."

Raabe, then a first lieutenant, was serving as the combat systems officer aboard the MC-130J aircraft. She was credited for making on-the-fly calculations to direct the pilots away from incoming artillery rounds and, eventually, into the proper position to make a precision airdrop, according to the citation for her award.

"Although her aircraft was struck multiple times by enemy fire, [Raabe's] decisive actions and expeditious recalculation of the combat airdrop led to the successful resupply," it read.

U.S. Air Force photo

Capt. Charlotte Raabe was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on Jan. 5, 2018.

Meanwhile, from the rear of the aircraft, Bjerke, the crew's loadmaster, watched the incoming fire as he prepared to drop the supplies, which had to land within 50 meters of the American troops or risk falling into enemy hands, his award citation read.

"Bjerke notified the pilots they were taking fire, despite the high potential for surface to air engagement, Airman Bjerke diligently prepared the resupply bundles for airdrop as the aircraft flew through the effective lethal range of small arms and anti-aircraft artillery," the citation stated. "… Under direct fire from enemy forces, Airman Bjerke's decisive actions and initiative led to the successful resupply … of the Special Forces team, halting any further loss of life."

The crew understood the dire situation on the ground, Bjerke said.

"It did not set in that we were taking fire until the ramp and door had opened," he said in an Air Force statement. "I distinctly remember hearing the cracks of the bullets passing behind the aircraft. The only thing I could think of was this resupply needed to be executed successfully."

U.S. Air Force photo

Senior Airman Gary Bjerke was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on Jan. 5, 2018.

In addition to the Distinguished Flying Cross awards, the MC-130J crew from the 9th Special Operations Squadron additionally received the Lt. Gen. William H. Tunner Award for the most outstanding airlift crew in the Air Force, Holt said.

The Distinguished Flying Cross is the nation's oldest award for military aviation accomplishment. The vast majority of the awards are received for extraordinary achievement, Holt said.

"Very, very few are awarded for heroism in combat," the general said. "Both of these are valor awards for heroism in combat … joining a very small group of military aviators. These are two exceptional Americans right here."


©2018 the Stars and Stripes. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


The post Air Force Special Operators Honored For Airdrop In Afghanistan Under Intense Fire appeared first on Task & Purpose.

Report: Mattis And Tillerson Are Trying To Talk Trump Out Of Striking North Korea

Posted: 09 Jan 2018 05:22 AM PST

The Trump administration is debating a “bloody nose” attack on North Korea, recent reports say, with the president’s inner circle split and apparently teetering between endorsing a strike and holding out hope for diplomacy.

Both The Telegraph and The Wall Street Journal have portrayed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis as trying to caution President Donald Trump against a strike, and the national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, as advocating it.

The reports come after months of mixed messages and dozens of shifts in the U.S.’s stance on North Korea.

The bloody-nose strategy, which calls for a sharp, violent response to some North Korean provocation, puts a lot of weight on the U.S.’s properly calibrating an attack on North Korea and Pyongyang’s reading the limited strike as anything other than the opening salvo of an all-out war.

For that reason, even the limited strike envisioned by North Korea hawks carries a tremendous risk of global — and possibly nuclear — catastrophe.

Is this why the Trump administration never seems to agree on anything?

AUMF tillerson mattis war authorization north korea nuclear missile attackPhoto via Associated Press

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, right, and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, testify before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on “The Authorizations for the Use of Military Force: Administration Perspective” on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Oct. 30, 2017.

In mid-December, Tillerson made headlines by appearing to announce a major change in the U.S.’s North Korea policy.

“We’re ready to talk anytime North Korea would like to talk, and we’re ready to have the first meeting without precondition,” Tillerson said.

Asked specifically about the apparent shift, the White House said, “The president’s views on North Korea have not changed.”

Meanwhile, McMaster flew to the opposite end of the spectrum, saying the chance of war was “increasing every day” and telling BBC News the U.S. would “compel the denuclearization of North Korea without the cooperation of that regime” if needed.

Mattis, characteristically, has been tight-lipped on the subject.

Throughout his presidency, Trump has also appeared all over the map on North Korea, alternating between relishing the opportunity to negotiate with the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, and taunting him about the size and power of his nuclear arsenal. At one point, Trump directly undercut Tillerson, telling him he was “wasting his time” trying to talk to North Korea.

For now, the nays seem to have it, but they might not hold out

north korea nuclear war mattisPhoto via Rodong Sinmun

North Korea leader Kim Jong Un and his men review plans for a missile launch.

On Tuesday, North Korea and South Korea are expected to hold their first official talks in two years, ahead of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in February.

Trump has expressed cautious optimism about the talks, and the U.S. and South Korea have agreed to halt annual military exercises, a major irritant to North Korea, until the end of the Paralympics in mid-March.

Kim, meanwhile, has expressed hope that the games will proceed safely, and the extreme tensions of the past year seem to have slightly thawed.

But trouble looms in a persistent story centered on Tillerson’s shaky footing in the White House.

Multiple outlets have reported in the past few months that Trump’s team has considered replacing the secretary of state with Mike Pompeo, the current CIA director, who is thought to be on the hawkish side and could shift the balance of opinions in the Oval Office.

If the U.S. were to attack North Korea, the fate of the world could be in Kim’s hands

tillerson mattis trump north koreaU.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Sinthia Rosario

An M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System assigned to the 1st Battalion, 18th Field Artillery Regiment, 210th Field Artillery Brigade, 2nd Republic of Korea/United States Combined Division, fires an MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile into the East Sea off South Korea, July 5, 2017.

The U.S. most likely has the tools and expertise to pull off a decisive, clean attack that would humiliate and batter North Korea.

The logic of a limited strike, though, ultimately assumes a limited response, and that Kim would not initiate the destruction of his country by the U.S. by retaliating against the loss of a few troops, ships, or missiles.

If Kim were to take the hit without retaliating, he would retire to a gravely weakened position and international standing, setting a precedent for the US reaching out and striking whenever provoked.

If Kim were to retaliate, we could have what Mattis has predicted would be “a war more serious in terms of human suffering than anything we’ve seen since 1953” wherein millions could die.

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