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North Korea Says It Will End Missile Tests, Close Nuclear Test Site

Posted: 20 Apr 2018 03:20 PM PDT

North Korea announced on Friday that it has suspended key elements of its nuclear program, including the launching of long-range missiles and the nuclear testing in the northern part of the country, the Associated Press reports.

"From April 21, North Korea will stop nuclear tests and launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles," the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said on April 20. "The North will shut down a nuclear test site in the country's northern side to prove the vow to suspend nuclear test.”

The shock announcement came ahead of North Korean dictator Kim John Un’s planned historic summit with South Korean president Moon Jae-in, the Washington Post notes, the first such meeting between the two countries in more than a decade.

Moon’s office also announced on Friday that the two Koreas had “opened a hotline between their leaders” ahead of the summit, Agence France-Presse reports.

On April 17, a report in South Korea’s Munhwa Ilbo newspaper quoted an official claiming that the North and South planned on announcing an official end to the military conflict that has existed between the two since the Korean Armistice Agreement of 1953 ended open hostilities in the Korean War.

According to the Associated Press, Friday’s decision was reached “in a meeting of the ruling party's full Central Committee which had convened to discuss a ‘new stage’ of policies” regarding the bellicose regime.

Looming beyond next week’s North-South summit lies the still-unscheduled meeting between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump, a historic confab that officials from the CIA to the Department of State are reportedly scrambling to prepare for.

This is a developing story and will be updated with new information as it becomes available.

The post North Korea Says It Will End Missile Tests, Close Nuclear Test Site appeared first on Task & Purpose.

John Chapman Died Alone On A Mountaintop Fighting Al Qaeda. Now He’s Getting The Medal Of Honor

Posted: 20 Apr 2018 01:12 PM PDT

It was March 4, 2002. American special operations forces were fighting to establish observation posts high above Afghanistan’s Shah-i-Kot Valley, as conventional troops continued their push through the valley floor below.

One of those men, Air Force Technical Sgt. John Chapman, was alone in the pitch-black, wounded and slowly regaining his consciousness in the thigh-deep snow of a 10,469-foot peak known as Takur Ghar, as scores of Al Qaeda fighters closed in.

For his actions earlier in the battle and for his incredible bravery on that peak, according to sources familiar with the matter, Chapman will be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor later this year.

And “Chappy” — as he was known by his teammates — will be the first Air Force service-member to receive the nation’s highest award for valor since the Vietnam War.

 

* * *

It was the second day of what would be the largest battle involving conventional U.S. troops in the Afghanistan War, called Operation Anaconda. But on that early Monday morning, the MH-47 Chinook helicopter that was supposed to ferry Chapman and the SEALs to Takur Ghar was late.

The operators were due to lift-off from their Gardez base around midnight and quietly land near the base of the peak before climbing to the top. But maintenance delays and pressure from senior officers forced Senior Chief Petty Officer Britt Slabinski, the team’s leader, to nix the safer approach, instead opting to “land the x” of the peak at around 3 a.m.

It would prove a gross miscalculation in retrospect.

Chapman, an Air Force combat controller, and six members of Navy SEAL Team 6 — callsign Mako 30 — were to helicopter-insert high above the valley so they could direct air strikes and provide intelligence for conventional troops below, who were attempting to flush out an estimated 200 to 300 lightly-armed Al Qaeda fighters, just five months after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

But both the American soldiers on the valley floor and on its peaks would soon learn the intelligence estimate was wrong: Not only were there closer to 1,000 fighters waiting for them, but they were outfitted with heavy machine-guns, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, and even some artillery, according to one Pentagon study.

And instead of attempting to flee, as many Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters did in the earlier battle of Tora Bora, these fighters intended to stay, and fight.

“The original battle plan did not survive initial contact with the enemy,” Army Gen. Tommy Franks, who monitored the battle as commander of U.S. Central Command, said later.

US Army

Before the pilot of “Razor 03” moved in toward the landing site above 10,000 feet, he got word the site was clear of enemy activity by an Air Force C-130 gunship loitering overhead. But he soon noticed an unmanned Soviet-made DShK heavy machine-gun, and as the team prepared to deploy, movement and signs of human activity were spotted on the mountaintop.

Seconds later, heavy machine-gun and RPG fire began peppering the helicopter. One RPG ripped through the aircraft’s fuselage, putting its mini-gun out of action, and small arms ripped through lines carrying hydraulic fluid, which began pouring out all over the helicopter’s rear ramp. In the chaos, one SEAL, Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts, slipped and fell from the back of the helicopter a short distance to the snowy ground.

They were trying to land in Al Qaeda’s back yard.

With his aircraft now heavily-damaged, the pilot struggled to keep it aloft in the thin air before evacuating the site and crash-landing about four miles away. Despite this near-death experience, Chappy brushed it off to the helicopter’s crew, according to Connecticut Magazine: "Aw, don't worry about it. I've felt harder [parachute landing falls],” he said, recalling a technique airborne soldiers use to minimize hard impacts.

Now on the ground, Chapman, according to the citation for the Air Force Cross he posthumously received in 2003, immediately performed his own specialized job of combat control — coordinating air strikes and handling communications — with precision, attempting to both protect the team and rescue Roberts, who had activated his infrared strobe to signal his position to friendly forces, still alone on the mountain above.

"Any Grim, any Nail, this is Mako 30," Chapman said over the radio, reciting callsigns for AC-130 Spectre Gunships overhead. "We've just had a crash-landing and need some perimeter security."

Afterwards, Chapman “directed the gunship to begin the search for the missing team member. He requested, coordinated, and controlled the helicopter that extracted the stranded team and aircrew members,” according to his Air Force Cross.

Less than an hour after Razor 03 went down, another MH-47 helicopter landed nearby. After a brief discussion, a new plan was hatched: The crew of Razor 03 would stay in place while Razor 04 brought Chapman and the SEALs back to Takur Ghar to rescue Roberts. But an Orion P-3 surveillance aircraft spotted approximately 40 enemy fighters approaching their current position, forcing them to instead load up on Razor 04 and go back to Gardez — the weight of that many people and the thin air made returning to the peak impossible — where they could drop off the crew of the damaged helicopter and then return to the fight, according to Defense Media Network.

* * *

john chapmanUS Air Force

Although he had only been with Slabinski’s SEAL Team for a matter of months before Takur Ghar, John Chapman, 36, had spent over a decade in Air Force Special Operations.

Born on July 14, 1965 in Springfield, Mass., Chapman grew up in Windsor Locks, Conn., not far from Bradley International Airport and its Air National Guard contingent. The third of four children, Chapman’s father Gene had served in the Air Force for a few years in the early 1960s. He met their mother Terry while serving at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey.

“You just always wanted [John] around,” his sister, Lori Longfritz, said. “He made good times better and bad times not so bad." Often, he played the role of the “family clown” who could make jokes in the face of adversity, according to The New York Post, like one time as a child when he stuffed a book down the back of his pants before he was to be spanked.

Chapman was a standout athlete, playing on both his high school’s diving and soccer teams. Lori described her brother as confident — someone who was “good at most anything he tried.” And she emphasized his dedication to the mission and to the team — even as a teenager — perhaps foreshadowing the heroism he would show later in life.

In one example from high school, his sister said, Chapman was frustrated with his soccer coach, who had taken him out of the game a number of times and yelled at him on the sidelines. “He went over to my mom at halftime and said, 'I can't tell you how much I just want to kick the ball into the other team's goal.' And then he said, 'but I can't do that to my team.'"

Staying in Connecticut after he graduated high school wasn’t in the cards for Chapman. He only completed about a year of college at the University of Connecticut, before he came home with news of what he really wanted to do with his life.

"I think he went to my dad first and said, 'I think I'd like to join the Air Force,'" Lori said. His father counseled him and said it was a good idea, to which he replied: “Well good, because I've already signed up.”

He enlisted in the Air Force in Sep. 1985, training as an information systems operator, which kept him more or less behind a computer all day. “He didn’t like it,” she said. “But he had promised my mom he would at least try something safe.”

Chapman kept his word, serving with the 1987th Information Systems Squadron at Lowry Air Force Base in Colorado until 1989. But eventually he volunteered for special operations and joined the ranks of Air Force combat controllers (CCT) — a community so small that most people, including some Air Force service-members, don’t even know it exists.

Still, the path to becoming a CCT is on par with other special operations fields: In addition to almost a year of training that certifies them as FAA air traffic controllers, combat controllers learn airborne operations, survival, diving, and other specialized skills. And their training continues even after they are placed alongside groups of Army Special Forces or Navy SEALs, where they are expected to be a team’s guardian angel of sorts, calling in close-air support missions and talking in helicopter rescues from the heavens above.

“Their motto, ‘First There,’ reaffirms the combat controller’s commitment to undertaking the most dangerous missions behind enemy lines by leading the way for other forces to follow,” the service says on its official website.

Chapman’s first tour of duty took him to Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa, Japan in the early nineties. Then in Oct. 1995, he transferred to the 24th Special Tactics Squadron at Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina, where he lived with his wife, Valerie, and daughters Madison and Brianna.

But even before 9/11, his family would know little of his work, due to the secrecy it entailed.

“Anytime he deployed somewhere,” Lori said. “I'd say 'where you going?' and he'd just say, 'yep.'" But after the attacks, she knew her brother would be deployed in response. “It was pretty clear,” she said.

“As a daddy, he didn't want to leave his babies," his mother, Terry, told The Post. “But as a soldier, he wanted to go and serve his country and, as he said, 'kick ass!'”

* * *

As Razor 04 made its way back from Gardez, Neil Roberts, the SEAL still stranded on the peak, “defiantly fought” the Al Qaeda fighters closing in on his position until he was overwhelmed, and apparently executed. A Predator drone that had come on station overhead saw him being dragged away by three enemy fighters who attempted to decapitate him, though Roberts’ fellow SEALs were not aware of this.

Shortly before 5 a.m., Razor 04 returned to Takur Ghar and was almost immediately met with a barrage of heavy machine-gun fire. But this time, the pilot dropped into a small pocket of dead space that couldn’t be reached by the DShK machine-gunner’s 12.7x108mm bullets, allowing the six remaining operators to file out of the helicopter’s ramp and finally claim a small piece of Takur Ghar.

The peak was a perfect site for an observation post, or in this case, an Al Qaeda sanctuary. Now on the ground, under heavy fire and trudging through snow, the team could see that enemy fighters had dug trenches and bunkers on the vantage point, allowing them line of sight far into the valley.

Chapman shot and killed at least two enemy fighters shortly after insertion, according to his Air Force Cross. Alongside SEAL Team Leader “Slab,” the pair engaged multiple enemy positions and cleared out a small bunker, before Chapman was hit by enemy fire.

Department of Defense

A bunker on Takur Ghar dug by Al Qaeda fighters.

According to his Air Force Cross, Chapman “exchanged fire with the enemy from minimum personal cover until he succumbed to multiple wounds.” At that point, Slab, under heavy machine-gun fire and with grenades being tossed nearby, could see through his night-vision goggles that Chapman’s infrared aiming laser had stopped moving, according to The New York Times. “He’s dead,” Slab told his teammates, before withdrawing down the mountain so the C-130 gunship flying overhead could pound Al Qaeda positions.

But a recent Air Force analysis of video captured by the Predator drone overhead, reported by The Times in 2016, tells a different story. The low-quality drone footage showed one man in a bunker defending himself against two others, eventually killing one with a rifle shot. The Predator feed was later paired with video taken from the C-130, offering a clearer picture of what happened.

“It was really grainy. But there was still somebody up there fighting, and you could see that,” Kenny Longfritz, Chapman’s first sergeant at 24th STS, said of the Predator drone footage he viewed after the battle. There was no doubt in his mind, or among many others in the squadron, that it was John.

As the Times reported, briefing slides prepared by the Air Force said that Chapman was unconscious at the time Slab believed him dead. Minutes after the SEALs moved down the mountain, Chapman came to and crawled into the bunker at around 5:25 a.m., where he sought cover. At 6 a.m., fighters fired a rocket-propelled grenade toward him as another rushed the bunker, which Chapman dispatched with a rifle shot.

A few minutes later, another Al Qaeda fighter attempted to crawl toward Chapman’s position, but the Air Force sergeant killed him in hand-to-hand combat. As the sun began to rise amid the sound of the cavalry coming — Razor 01 and 02 helicopter chalks carrying a quick reaction force of 35 Army Rangers — Chapman rose from the bunker to provide cover fire, but he was struck twice in the chest by Al Qaeda machine-guns, killing him instantly.

"That doesn't surprise me one bit that he would do something like that,” Longfritz said. “He always put the needs of others in front of his own.”

Department of Defense

The Razor 01 helicopter that brought a quick reaction force of Army Rangers to Takur Ghar, which crash landed after being hit by an RPG.

"Is it within John's character to go on and do this? Without a question," Slabinski told The Times. "If John did this stuff, I want him to get recognized."

In a ceremony at the White House to take place some time this year, he finally will.

Chapman’s family was notified sometime in March that he would be awarded the Medal of Honor, according to several sources familiar with the matter. A source familiar with the Medal of Honor awards process told me the time between family notification and the award ceremony in Washington is typically a matter of weeks.

The White House declined to comment.

* * *

Chapman receiving the nation’s highest honor will mark the end of a long road for his family, beginning with the devastating news of his death in 2002, and followed by lingering questions around what really happened on the mountain that have emerged in the years since.

“16 years later and people are still talking about him and asking about him,” his sister Lori said. “And that, to a family member, means more than anyone can imagine."

The sergeant’s family was initially told he was killed when his helicopter crashed following the initial assault of Takur Ghar, The Hartford Courant reported. His mother was told that he died instantly.

Later, news came that Chapman was indeed on the mountain peak, where he shot and killed a number of fighters before he succumbed to his wounds. But the spot where he was left for dead by the SEALs, according to a survey of the site afterward, was not where his body was later found.

And as drone footage later reviewed by the Air Force showed, Chapman, alone and surrounded, kept fighting back for more than an hour.

john chapmanUS Air Force

“We knew there was more to it then just step off, shoot a couple of people, and get killed,” Lori said.

The split-second decision made by Chief Slabinski to evacuate the peak, in the years since, has remained controversial, which he acknowledged in his interview with The Times: "They're going to say: 'Yep, it's all your fault. You left him up there, behind, alive,'" Slabinski said. (Slabinski could not be reached for comment on this story).

Some in the combat controller community certainly see it that way, according to one CCT source, although others chalk it up as a tough call amid the fog of war. The latter view is held by Chapman’s sister, Lori, who doesn’t fault Slab for his decision to withdraw.

“I'll never ever believe that Slab left him there on purpose,” she said. “He truly believed that John was dead. And then they did what they needed to do to keep from getting killed themselves."

WATCH NEXT:

The post John Chapman Died Alone On A Mountaintop Fighting Al Qaeda. Now He’s Getting The Medal Of Honor appeared first on Task & Purpose.

Before He Died, Avicii Gave Us One Of Dance Music’s Greatest Military Tributes

Posted: 20 Apr 2018 12:34 PM PDT

DJ and recording artist Avicci died on Friday in Muscat, Oman, of undetermined causes, Variety reported today.

EDM is not a musical style typically associated with patriotic themes, which tend to be more the province of country artists and metal bands. But with the video for "Hey Brother," released in 2013, the Swedish-born musician, born Tim Bergling, gave us an unexpectedly moving tribute to the U.S. armed forces.

Bathed in gauzy light, the video depicts a Mayberry vision of America in the late sixties, with two young brothers riding bikes and catching fireflies. As the younger boy digs through a box of his father's military keepsakes, scenes from the Vietnam War are intercut with the action back home. Sparklers from a Memorial Day barbecue fade into old footage of napalm being dropped and artillery rounds fired. A penny flattened on a stretch of railroad tracks dissolves into the brass button on a Marine's dress blues as he prepares to bury a fallen comrade in a local military cemetery. And as the song's inescapable fanfare blares, we see another Marine playing taps.

In the end (spoiler alert), it turns out that the older brother is in fact the ghost of the kid's father, who was killed in combat. "Why do you have to go, Dad?" he asks in voice over. "Promise," comes the reply, "I'll be back in no time." Either that, or the young boy thinks of his older brother as the father he lost. Something like that.

As sappy as it sounds, the video does tug at the heartstrings. True, it's no "Fightin' Side of Me" or "God Bless the USA" or even a "Bumper of My SUV." But admit it, when you hear it in the grocery store, the song is actually kind of a banger.

Avicci retired from live performing in 2016, citing health issues, including pancreatitis connected to excessive drinking, according to Variety.

So long, brother.

Avicii in

The post Before He Died, Avicii Gave Us One Of Dance Music's Greatest Military Tributes appeared first on Task & Purpose.

A Small Part Is Causing Big Problems For The Army’s Apache Fleet

Posted: 20 Apr 2018 12:04 PM PDT

Boeing's AH-64 Apache helicopter is the aerial attack dog of the U.S. Army, its M230 chain gun designed to perforate and intimidate targets in the field. But after three decades, the Army's putting the attack copter on ice ahead of a come-to-Jesus moment — so to speak.

The Army in February ceased accepting deliveries of the AH-64E Apache variant from Boeing due to concerns over a "critical safety" issue, Defense News first reported on April 19 — namely, a lack of confidence in the main rotor retaining nut (like the "Jesus nut” on the UH-1 Iroquois, as in "Jesus keep me safe from catastrophic failure") that keeps rotor blades from tearing loose from the copter mid-flight.

"We stopped accepting deliveries of new AH-64 Echoes because of a strap pack nut that we believe to be really suspect," Brig. Gen. Thomas Todd told Defense News, adding that Boeing had pursued a redesign of the faulty component at a "very thorough but expeditious pace over the last six months."

The failure of such small and crucial item likely caused the in-flight rotor separation and crash of an Apache in Galveston, Texas on December 28, 2016, killing both soldiers on board. That incident involved an AH-64D variant of the attack copter that's endured some 90 mishaps in the last decade.

apache ah-64E attack helicopter jesus nutU.S. Army/Spc. Alajuwan D. McCoy

Three new AH-64E Apache helicopters taxi onto the 7th Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment Heavy Attack Reconnaissance Squadron's flight line March 22, 2014, at the Hood Army Air Field in Fort Hood, Texas.

The AH-64E variant, the last Apache model procured from Boeing before the Army committed to its Future Vertical Lift program, has seen its own share of technical problems. According to data compiled by Military Times, the Echo was involved in at least 7 of the 133 aviation mishaps that have occurred since 2013, the same year the Army first accepted the chopper into its fleet. As recently as April 7, two soldiers were killed when their Echo crashed during a routine training mission near Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

Nut failure isn't a new problem for the Apache: A magnetic-particle examination of the Army's grounded fleet following a crash of the newly-adopted Apache in 1987 revealed several cracked rotor hub retention nuts, according to 1992 report from U.S. Army Aviation Systems Command (the predecessor to the modern Army Aviation and Missile Command). Although the issue was traced back to a fabrication problem, the nut failure may conjure shades of the growing pains that first plagued the fleet decades ago.

But the freeze is particularly startling amid the U.S. military's growing aviation mishap crisis, one that's killed more service members than those killed while serving in Afghanistan under the Operation Freedom's Sentinel mission in the past year. It also comes at a bad time for the Army's broader helo fleet: a July 2017 Pentagon inspector general audit found that AMCOM "did not effectively manage airframe condition evaluations" for the UH-60 Black Hawk utility copters and its HH-60M MEDEVAC variant.

Related: The Biggest Problems Facing Military Aviation, According To An Army Aviator »

The problems facing the Army's Apache AH-64E fleet will only worsen the Army's aviation crisis. After all, "fewer flyable aircraft mean that pilots are flying fewer hours, especially non-deployed units," as Army aviator Crispin Burke observed at The Long March on April 11. "Less training, in turn, can equal more mistakes." One shortage feeds the other — a problem that both the Army and Boeing are clearly working overtime to address.

"Airworthiness and safety of our fleet is paramount. We put nothing higher than that," Todd told Defense News. "We expect Boeing as well as anybody that provides a product to the U.S. Army to put a good-faith effort forward in addressing efforts like this any time, and again we look forward to returning a great capability of the Echo model to the fleet soon."

WATCH NEXT:

UPDATE: This article was updated to more accurately reflect the broad evolution of the term ‘Jesus nut,’ with thanks to Crispin Burke. (Updated 4/20/2018; 3:200 pm EST)

The post A Small Part Is Causing Big Problems For The Army's Apache Fleet appeared first on Task & Purpose.

We Veterans Get Upset About The Dumbest Crap

Posted: 20 Apr 2018 12:02 PM PDT

It’s another week, and yet another overblown scandal led by the internet veteran outrage police.

This time it’s over a dumb reenlistment video starring an Air Force National Guard master sergeant and her dinosaur hand puppet. After the video was posted by a popular Air Force Facebook page and subsequently went viral, the National Guard commander went ballistic and fired the colonel who conducted the reenlistment, reassigned the master sergeant, and even fired the goddamn camera man.

Yes, the camera man.

Good job, everybody.

To be clear, I’m not excusing the behavior depicted in the video. Was it unprofessional to recite the oath using a dinosaur hand puppet? Yes, it was. It also turns out that the video was made for the woman’s kids. Does that make it any better?

But how about the fact that, in just about every case of a reenlistment ceremony I’ve ever heard of, the person reenlisting gets to choose how they want to do it? That often leads to people reciting their oath in stormtrooper costumes, at weird locations, or with guns to their head. Sometimes they even happen underwater. If there’s anything that qualifies as mocking what the Air National Guard commander called “such a cherished and honorable occasion,” it’s probably a shirtless sailor reciting the oath while wearing board shorts and scuba gear.

Does that change your opinion of dino-puppet-gate? I think it should.

If not, I’m guessing you must have been the epitome of faithful service while you were in, where you never even thought of dodging evening colors. You certainly never drank underage, berated one of the new guys to your unit, or ever insulted one of the officers appointed over you to one of your buddies in formation.

The truth of the matter is that we in the veteran community often get outraged over the absolute dumbest shit in the world, and this is just one of many examples. Veterans have gotten angry over college students attempting to wear camouflage, high schools not allowing recent basic training graduates to wear military uniforms in lieu of a cap and gown, or a small community trying to get a Navy officer to stop or at least turn down the volume when he blasts Taps over loudspeakers every night at 8 p.m.

Are these really the things we should be upset about? Are these the issues that matter most within the veteran community?

They are most certainly not.

Meanwhile, there are veterans struggling with homelessness or stuck in a backlog trying to get benefits through the VA, or continuing to kill themselves at an alarming rate. Sexual assault cases in the military went up 72% between 2012 and 2016. Our politicians are still waging a seemingly endless war, and most recently, expanded the mission in Afghanistan of supporting an inept military and corrupt government that hasn’t changed in over a decade.

Aren’t you outraged over that?

Why aren’t you angry enough to leave nasty comments on the story of how Defense Secretary Jim Mattis tried to get Congress to at least do some level of oversight and be involved in the decision-making process before striking Syria? Why aren’t you posting in your private Facebook groups and your hundreds of thousands-strong Facebook pages about the more than 47 service members dying over the past year in aviation mishaps?

Maybe it’s because these things aren’t meme-worthy, nor do they get the immediate incitement and engagement that words like “women in the infantry” or “transgender” ignite.

But they are the issues we should care about, and they are the issues that we can change through our tremendous power. Yeah, that’s right. The veterans community is really powerful. In the past, it organized massive protests to get its earned benefits and to bring about the end of an un-winnable war.

Now it gets people fired over stupid videos.

“This is the kind of bullshit that makes people not want to serve,” Nick Palmisciano, a former Army officer who now runs Ranger Up, said in a recent video (I don’t recommend reading the comments). “We’ve all done stupid things. If you put a bunch of veterans together, what are the stories about? We’re telling stories about the dumb things we did that should have got us in trouble or maybe did get us in trouble, and how fun it was as a community.”

The veteran community is squandering the power it once held firm. We keep getting up in arms over what are often minor issues, which then get blown way out of proportion through social media. If our community used just an inkling of its power, perhaps our leaders would be challenged to actually explain to the American people how we’re supposed to win in Afghanistan, among other worthwhile initiatives.

But by all means, keep getting pissed off about a female soldier’s hair coming down below her shoulders, or a homeowner’s association maintaining common standards for how residents can decorate the front of their condo.

I’ll be among the rational veterans in the space, getting worked up about things that actually fucking matter.

I hope you can join me.

code red news

The post We Veterans Get Upset About The Dumbest Crap appeared first on Task & Purpose.

‘Far Cry 5’ Taught Me To Stop Worrying And Love The Apocalypse

Posted: 20 Apr 2018 08:51 AM PDT

Want to know how to incite an armed uprising by a bunch of doomsday cultists in a rural Montana county, and possibly kick-off the apocalypse? Far Cry 5 will show you.

Released March 27, Far Cry 5 is the latest in a dozen games, spin-offs, and expansions in the open-world first-person-shooter franchise, and fortunately, Task & Purpose had a chance to "review" it on Xbox One, make a bunch of silly mistakes, and lose hours of sleep during work nights, so you don't have to. (But you totally should.) Be warned though, the prices get steep, ranging from $51 to $90 depending on the platform and whether you splurge on the special editions.

The storyline feels like the fever dream of a liberal arts graduate who thinks everything West of New York and East of California is middle America, and is worried that we're just one downed cell-tower away from an armed insurrection by hillbilly religious extremists. This game is everything I expect from 2018: it’s violent, beautiful, funny, immersive, and overflowing with deep-seated fears and (mostly) self-aware caricatures.

Here's the basic premise: You're a rookie deputy in fictional Hope County, Montana, and you're tasked with helping a federal marshall issue an arrest warrant for Joseph Seed, the leader of the Project at Eden’s Gate, an armed cult led by Seed and his trio of equally batshit siblings: Faith, Jacob, and John. But this is less of a cult and more a fanatical army that's taken over most of the area and is waiting for a reason to go to war. That's where you come in. These loons have a prophecy that someone will come and try to take their leader, and that will signify that the world is coming to an end.

When you chopper into their fortified camp without back up and try to do just that, it sets off a shitstorm called "the reaping" — the forced introductionation of the county's residents — that you're stuck trying to sort out over the next several weeks, or however long it takes you to power through the game.

Far Cry 5 has a bit of a military vibe that goes beyond the surplus of camo, combat boots and 5.11 Tactical gear — there's a decent cast of veteran characters. First there's Grace, a sharpshooter and post-9/11 veteran from a military family. Grace joins your rag-tag resistance after you help her protect the tombstones of relatives killed in "the war" from a group of "peggies" — the game's pejorative name for the followers of the Project at Eden's Gate. There's also Dutch, who is is probably a Vietnam vet based on the plaques and unit memorabilia in his doomsday prepper bunker. Not all of the ex-service members in the game are on your side though.

As a veteran... I think you should join this cult./Courtesy of Ubisoft.

Jacob Seed, the eldest brother of the family, is in charge of training the cult's militia, which he does by "culling the herd" which really means he just up and kills weak or unwilling recruits. He's a Gulf War vet, and wants to make sure you know it, just look at the dog tags, high and tight, operator beard, and the fatigues decked out with badges and an 82nd Airborne patch. After all, nothing says "thank me for my service," like waging a war against the very country, and values, you fought to defend while in uniform.

Assuming you don't read every note you come across in the game, the characters' backstories — along with all those details that might make them relatable, or believable — are left vague. The result is that everything and everyone comes off as a caricature that's just recognizable enough for a player to get the joke or the reference, but not so true-to-life that anyone is likely to actually take offense.

There's the grouchy Hurk Drugman Sr. whose run for Senate, already hampered by those "Obama lovers," he says, was utterly derailed by the cult uprising. The cultists, for their part, point to Washington as proof that the end is nigh, saying "just look who's in charge." And there's the off-hand quips from NPCs about liberals "coming for our guns." (Thankfully for you, nobody successfully disarmed Hope County. If they had, you'd be screwed.)

As far as the gameplay goes, Far Cry 5 is pretty standard for the franchise — it has a massive open world, where you have to liberate individual zones before finally taking on the cult's leader, Joseph Seed. But that can sometimes feel like a grind, so my advice is to bounce between the different areas so you spend less time grinding side missions and more time in the story.

If rampaging around rural Montana is more your style, there's some new toys, like WWII-era war planes, seaplanes tricked out with mini-guns, and attack helicopters bristling with ordnance. And of course, there are tons of customizable weapons; explosives; and perks to fit how you play, too. Wanna go in guns blazing and soak up enemy fire? Get the health buffs and extra weapon slots. If stealth is more your thing, splurge on suppressors and upgrade your ability to do cinematic (and unrealistic, but awesome) takedowns.

But you don't always want to go at it alone, and you don't have to. You can team up with characters that you recruit through the story. If you're less of a people person, you can befriend animal companions, like a grizzly bear named Cheeseburger, a cougar called Peaches, and Boomer, the loveable dog who mangles your enemies and brings their discarded weapons back as trophies.

Good boy, Boomer. Who's a loveable murder mut? Yes, you are!/Courtesy of Ubisoft.

So, if you're looking for a way to temporarily destroy your social life, Far Cry 5 is probably a good bet. Sure, it has a co-op mode, but let's be honest, nobody comes to Hope County for the company. We came to watch the world end.

And thanks to those maniacs at Eden's Gate, that's probably what we'll get.

WATCH NEXT:

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14 Lessons for Transitioning: A Collection By Long March’s Council Of The Former Enlisted

Posted: 20 Apr 2018 07:00 AM PDT

1. Stay in touch with some of the people you were there with. No one is going to listen or care as much as they do about that part of your life and probably no one will ever understand it as much as they do, so don’t lose touch and check on each other.

2. At the same time, try to make civilian friends. The military is an important part of who you are, but don't let it be the entirety of your identity. Sure, civilians might not understand deployments or military culture, but they do understand sports, homework, popular movies, the best restaurants in town, and all the other things that interest you and will affect your life going forward. If you find yourself only associating with fellow veterans, ask yourself if that's because civilians are rejecting you, or whether it's because you're rejecting them. So, like the Girl Scouts teach: "Make new friends but keep the old/ One is silver and the other is gold."

3. Keep working out and being physical. Sounds stupid and simple, but running, hiking, climbing, kayaking, swimming, or doing Tae Bo in your basement helps the body feel active and purposeful. Physical fitness and physical stress is a key component to military service and also a good way to work through depression and trauma (even though it may be the last thing you want to do). 

4. Learn a hobby. Anything. Ideally you can do in the middle of the night, when you can't sleep, like painting or playing guitar or reading ancient history.

5. Pets are good. And they'll love you even when you don't love yourself.

6. Religious services can be good, even if you are not religious. You are part of a community, there tends to be some emotional honesty, and some sense of the higher purposes of life. You'll also find out about opportunities to volunteer. (See next item.)

7. Volunteer work is good, especially if you are between jobs. You can help people who need it (like teaching English to refugees), serve a higher purpose, and feel better about yourself.

8. Find a cause. One thing that's powerful about being in the military is the sense of contributing to something bigger than yourself. You're not just an individual, you're serving your country, your community back home, and your comrades to your left and right. One of the things that is most jarring about transitioning is suddenly being an individual attending school or getting a job primarily for your own benefit. Find a cause to volunteer for or a community organization to get involved in, and give yourself that sense of higher purpose again.

9. Give your life structure. Going from the military to civilian life or school is to move from a highly structured environment to a highly unstructured one. Many transitioning veterans struggle with this. Ease your transition by building accountability for yourself into your schedule. Instead of working out on your own, sign up for a class or a running group that meets at a specific time. Intentionally build routines for studying, chores, and leisure, and incorporate contact with others into those routines in order to keep yourself accountable.

10. Tone down your f*cking language. Most civilians aren't accustomed to hearing two or three profanities in every sentence. Generally, be careful of sounding too aggressive, demanding or dark.

11. When civilians ask you about your military experience, it is best to converse one-to-one. If they get intrusive and ask The Question , deflect with humor. (That is, "Did you kill anyone?")

12. When an old buddy begins to lose it, if he is from your unit, do what you can to help, within reason. But don't try to carry it by yourself. Aim to get him or her to professional help ASAP.

13: Don't mistake your veteran status for being an expert on geopolitics, Islam, Afghan tribal relations, etc.

14: In civilian life it is OK to walk on the grass. Even to lie down on it. Just look first. Civilian dogs can be nasty, and humans too.

Got some more? Please post in the comments. The more of these lessons, the better. What have we left out? What helped you make the transition back to civilian life?

The Council of the Former Enlisted was created by Tom in order to boost the voice of enlisted vets in the world of military commentary. It is an informal organization that whose members discuss their thoughts with each other, and sometimes write columns for the Long March. If you are interested in getting on the waiting list to be a member, please e-mail Tom at the address over on the left next to the postage stamp photo of him.

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Meet Sergeant Stubby, The Most ‘Decorated’ Dog Of World War I

Posted: 20 Apr 2018 04:00 AM PDT

Stubby was a stray bull terrier adopted in 1917 by a soldier, Robert Conroy, during the latter's training with the U.S. 26th "Yankee" Division on the grounds of Yale University.  Smuggled by Conroy onto a troopship bound for France, Stubby is said to have participated in four campaigns and 17 battles.  He has been called the most decorated war dog of World War I and was even presented with a gold medal from the Humane Education Society by Pershing in 1921.

The charismatic canine is the subject of a new animated movie, "Sgt. Stubby." I saw it with my two youngest children and it is surprising good – sincere and sentimental, but not maudlin, well-paced, with an adequate amount of technical detail (despite the occasional mistake).  The movie does an admirable job of threading the needle of being pro-military without being jingoistic and is arguably the most positive portrayal of the World War I era of the last 75 years. It packs a lot of history into its fairly brief run time, incorporating doughboy interactions with French poilus and civilians, the Spanish Flu epidemic, fear of gas, the service of naturalized Germans in the AEF, and the fighting that took place right up to the morning of the armistice.  It is both kid- and adult-friendly, and I hope it finds an audience.

John Throckmorton is a business executive who lives with his family north of Atlanta.  He served for 20 years as an infantry officer with assignments at Fort Bragg, Fort Hood, Fort Benning, and in Iraq.  His great-grandfather was a machine gun officer with the U.S. 35th Infantry Division (and ironically saw the start of the next war while serving a senior staff officer with the U.S. Army's Hawaiian Department on December 7th, 1941).  His World War I reading list can be found here:  https://taskandpurpose.com/american-expeditionary-force-books/

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