Remembering The Lost Troops Of Operation Eagle Claw, The Failed Iranian Embassy Hostage Rescue Mission

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The wreckage of the downed EC-130 lost during Operation Eagle Claw in 1980.

HISTORY
Remembering The Lost Troops Of Operation Eagle Claw, The Failed Iranian Embassy Hostage Rescue Mission

on April 24, 2017

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In the early hours of April 25, 1980, President Jimmy Carter made a sober announcement to the nation: An attempt by U.S. military forces rescue the 52 staff held hostage at the American embassy in Tehran since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, had ended in a catastrophic failure without even engaging the enemy.

According to Carter, equipment failure aboard several of the eight RH-53D Sea Stallion helicopters launched from the USS Nimitz led the president to abort the mission. But during the strike forces’ withdrawal, one of the Sea Stallions collided with an EC-130. Five airmen and three Marines were killed in the ensuing explosion.

“There was no fighting; there was no combat,” said Carter. “We were all convinced that if and when the rescue operation had been commenced that it had an excellent chance of success … To the families of those who died and who were wounded, I want to express the admiration I feel for the courage of their loved ones and the sorrow that I feel personally for their sacrifice.”

The botched rescue operation is widely credited with costing Carter re-election in a crushing defeat to former California Gov. Ronald Reagan during the 1980 presidential election. (Mark Bowden, the journalist best known for the story that became “Black Hawk Down,” authored a remarkable timeline of the operation of Operation Eagle Claw in a 2006 issue of The Atlantic).

But as our friends at Soldier Systems point out, their sacrifice was not in vain. In fact, it led to the development of the modern special operations capability we know today.

In May 1980, the Joint Chiefs of Staff commissioned a Department of Defense’s Special Operations Review Group to evaluate the underlying causes of the botched rescue mission, examining every stage from planning and organization to mission command and control. Led by former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. James L. Holloway III, the so-called Holloway Report concluded that the “ad-hoc nature” of Eagle Claw’s organization and planning created too much room for error.

The eight U.S. armed forces servicemen killed during Operation Eagle Claw

“By not utilizing an existing JTF organization,” Holloway and his fellow senior military officers wrote, “the Joint Chiefs of Staff had to start, literally, from the beginning to establish a JTF, create an organization, provide a staff, develop a plan, select the united, and train the force between the first mission capability could be attained.”

Within a few years, the Holloway report catalyzed not only a sweeping reorganization of the Department of Defense but the creation of the United States Special Operations Command, a unified command apparatus to ensure that a lack of inter-service communication didn’t yield another unforced error for special operators downrange.

Despite the perception of Operation Eagle Claw as a failure, the sacrifices of those eight American servicemen were not in vain. The botched mission “pointed out the necessity for a dedicated special operations section within the Department of Defense with the responsibility to prepare and maintain combat-ready forces to successfully conduct special operations,” as airman Luke Kitterman wrote Monday.

Without that failed mission, we likely wouldn’t have elite units like Delta Force, Army Rangers, Navy SEALs on the front lines of the Global War on Terror. Those eight servicemen may have died without firing a shot, but without them, U.S. special operations wouldn’t be what it is today.

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Jared Keller is a senior editor at Task & Purpose and contributing editor at Pacific Standard. Follow Jared Keller on Twitter @JaredBKeller
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Who Knew: Birds And B-52 Bombers, Don’t Mix Well Together

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘TASK & PURPOSE)

The wreckage of a B-52H Stratofortress bomber after crashing in Guam.

NEWS
How A Flock Of Birds And Mechanical Failure Downed A B-52 Stratofortress Bomber In Guam?

on April 24, 2017

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Nearly one year after a B-52H Stratofortress bomber crashed shortly after takeoff at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, the U.S. Air Force has finally identified the culprit: a flock of goddamn birds.

Well, sort of. An investigation by Air Force Global Strike Command concluded that the crash, which took place during a routine training mission on May 19, 2016, was caused by a mechanical failure during an aborted takeoff, military officials announced Monday. But the initial release by the Accident Investigation Board initially attributed the crash to a “bird sighting,” stating that the pilot had “analyzed visual bird activity and perceived cockpit indications as a loss of symmetric thrust required to safely attain flight.”

Crew members’ accounts of the incident in the full Global Strike Command paint a distinctly more “Miracle on the Hudson” picture. From Air Force Times:

An accident investigation board found that the accident began when the pilot of the B-52 — which was assigned to the 5th Bomb Wing’s 69th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron — saw birds ahead at wing level as the plane was conducting a “high-speed, heavy-weight” takeoff during a routine training mission. The co-pilot then heard and felt a ” ‘couple of thuds’ that sounded like something hitting the aircraft,” the report said.

The pilot and co-pilot then saw three of the plane’s four engines on the right wing “quickly spooling back” and losing thrust necessary to safely get off the ground. The oil pressure spiked on the wing’s fourth engine — which suggested to the pilot that it was also about to fail — and the plane experienced a “noticeable left-to-right yawing motion,” according to the report.

An aborted takeoff is worrying on its own, but this is where things actually got out of control. According to Air Force Times, the B-52’s drag chute failed to inflate, leaving the aircraft to exceed the upper limit of its brakes and skid off the runway. After coming to a halt 300 feet beyond the runway, the fuselage quickly burst into flames, prompting the crew to bail.

Only one of the seven crew members aboard the B-52H suffered minor injuries, but the resulting fire completely destroyed the $112 million aircraft, one of 102 that entered service starting in May 1961. Boeing produced 744 total B-52s for the Pentagon starting in 1955.

Despite the proximity of the bird sighting and “thuds” reported by the co-pilot, the AFGSC report determined that birds likely didn’t actually strike the B-52. The investigation found “no evidence of any organic material being processed through the engine,” so far that “all of the debris found in the engine consisted of pieces of coral, dirt, and grass that was processed through the engines when they contacted the ground.”

“I don’t think they found any evidence, but the plane was burned up,” Global Strike Command spokeswoman Carla Pampe told ABC News, assuring them that the various mechanical issues surrounding the aircraft’s drag chute and brakes “do not indicate any larger issues among the B-52 fleet.” (Good thing the Pentagon’s fleet of Vietnam-era B-52s is slated for a much-needed modernization plan.)

We look forward to watching Clint Eastwood’s film adaptation of the incident.

President Trump Needs To Stop Treating The ‘Purple Heart’ Like A Game Show Prize

Trump Needs To Stop Treating The Purple Heart Like A Game Show Prize

on April 23, 2017

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On Saturday afternoon, President Donald Trump took to Twitter to let the country know how excited he was to be heading to Walter Reed Medical Center to meet with wounded warriors.

Getting ready to visit Walter Reed Medical Center with Melania. Looking forward to seeing our bravest and greatest Americans!

When he arrived, Trump held a brief ceremony to award a Purple Heart medal to Army Sgt. 1st Class Alvaro Barrientos, who was wounded in Afghanistan on March 17.

“When I heard about this … I wanted to do it myself,” Trump said during the ceremony. “Congratulations on behalf of Melania and myself and the entire nation. Tremendous.”

😑 😑 😑

Shakin’ my damn head.

There’s nothing congratulatory about receiving a Purple Heart. No service member signs up for the military hoping to get a leg blown off, or a bullet lodged inside them. No service member is banking on ending up paralyzed for the rest of their life, or left with chronic pain that they have to cope with on a daily basis.

Sgt. 1st Class Alvaro Barrientos doesn’t think he’s won something. But, when he signed up for the Army, he knew it was a possibility that he could be injured, or even killed, and he did it anyway. Every service member knows the risk and they choose to put themselves in harm’s way regardless.

Trump still doesn’t seem to get that.

This isn’t the first time he has treated the Purple Heart like some kind of prize you get at the bottom of a cereal box. In August 2016, after retired Lt. Col. Louis Dorfman handed him his own Purple Heart, Trump said, “I always wanted to get the Purple Heart. This was much easier.”

Trump doesn’t seem to understand that no one wants a Purple Heart, because you don’t earn it without giving something up in return. As Elana Duffy wrote last year, “I didn’t want the award because I knew it meant at least a piece of me would be left behind. We didn’t get the award; we each traded something for it. We traded our brains, our limbs, and many times our lives for that piece of metal.”

Until Trump acquires some awareness of what military service actually entails, he should just smile and nod and stick to these five words, “Thank you for your service.” Once he masters those, then he can move onto more complex phrases like, “You have inspired the future generation with your courage and sacrifice.”

But, for now, he needs to keep it simple before he ends up chest-bumping a combat veteran for “winning” the Medal of Honor.

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Lauren Katzenberg is the cofounder and managing editor of Task & Purpose. Follow Lauren Katzenberg on Twitter @Lkatzenberg
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The Army’s New Modified Stryker Has A Special Laser Surprise For ISIS

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The Army’s New Modified Stryker Has A Special Laser Surprise For ISIS

on April 17, 2017

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In their fight against ISIS, American troops face a dangerous and unpredictable new threat on foreign battlefields: weaponized drones specially designed for suicide missions. And while all branches of the military are exploring advanced gear for combat troops that will counter the new threat of “flying IEDs,” the Army has already whipped up a special armored vehicle to keep soldiers out of harm’s way.

Last week, the Army unveiled a specially modified Stryker Infantry Carrier Vehicle (ICV) prototype outfitted with a special surprise for ISIS militants: an experimental laser weapon that can shoot down enemy drones without firing a single round — or making a sound.

Dubbed the Mobile High Energy Laser (MEHEL), the Army showed off the Stryker at the Maneuver Fires Integrated Experiment (MFIX) at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, blasting more than 50 remote-controlled test targets out of the sky with its 5 kilowatt laser cannon. Here’s the Army account of the test:

On a television screen in a nearby tent off Thompson Hill — a range used during the 10-day Maneuver Fires Integrated Experiment here — observers watched the black and white output of those sensors on two flat-screen televisions, April 12. A crosshair was centered on the screen. When what appeared to be a drone entered the frame, the crosshairs locked on to it and followed it.

After a few attempts to destroy the drone with the laser, the drone fell from the sky, crashing to the ground. Not a bullet was fired, and no sounds were made by the system that accomplished the kill.

“We were skeptical at first, when we were first briefed we’d be shooting down drones with lasers,” the MEHEL commander, Army Capt. Theo Kleinsorge, said of the demonstration. “We achieved a success rate well beyond what we expected we’d have and we are excited to see this go to the next step of the experiment, shooting beyond the horizon, and showing this technology can solve the problem.”

This Mobile High-Energy Laser-equipped Stryker was evaluated, April 12, during the 2017 Maneuver Fires Integrated Experiment at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

The Army’s Stryker Brigade Combat Teams, already a favorite combat support platform for decades, were slated for upgrades as of 2016, including a medium-caliber cannon and Javelin anti-tank missiles. But given the emerging threats posed by ISIS UAVs, the MEHEL seems like an appropriate pivot for the Pentagon. The War Zone has a great breakdown of the MEHEL’s specs:

A basic Stryker ICV weighs in at nearly 16.5 tons, has a top speed of over 60 miles per hour on improved roads, and usually carries a .50 caliber M2 machine gun or a 40mm Mk 19 automatic grenade launcher. The MEHEL still has a machine gun, but its main weapon is a five kilowatt laser. On top of the laser, the vehicle had has powerful cameras to detect and track targets, as well as electronic warfare equipment. The latter system can try and crash an unmanned aircraft by jamming the signal from its control station, as well as try and pinpoint the location of those sites.

This isn’t the first time the Army has experimented with direct-energy weapons to counter enemy drones. In 2016, the Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command demonstrated the High Energy Laser Mobile Test Truck (HELMTT), outfitted with a 10 kilowatt laser director, during last year’s MFIX.

“Our team did a great job,” SMDC Technical Center HELMTT demonstrator program manager Adam Aberle said at the time. “We absolutely blew lots of stuff up.”

Despite the spectacular test at the 2017 MFIX, it’s unclear when the MEHEL will actually deploy downrange to Afghanistan and Iraq. But based on the excitement of program managers and observers on hand to watch the MEHEL in action, lasers can’t hit the battlefield soon enough.

“It’s mind-blowing stuff to think you are shooting a laser at something,” Spc. Brandon Sallaway said of the MEHEL test at Fort Sill. “Sometimes it’s hard to fathom.”

Military Veterans Having To Hide In The Country They Served

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Unwanted: An Army Veteran Hiding In The Country He Served
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A disabled Army veteran and illegal immigrant living in hiding in the United States shares his story.

David is sore most days. It’s his back and his hands, mostly, but to be honest, it’s all the joints. He’s deaf in one ear, blind in one eye, and walks with a cane. He’s 67 and has arthritis most everywhere you can have it. But there’s some pain that age doesn’t inflict. Terrible thoughts, the stuff of bad dreams. For him they’re memories, and all too real.

David, who served stateside in the Army during the Vietnam War, is clean these days. He kicked his heroin habit and stopped boozing years ago. He stays away from painkillers too, for a different reason: They don’t play nice with his dialysis treatment. He goes to a Department of Veteran Affairs hospital every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday — three hours each time — and he can’t sleep when the needle is in him. It’s thick as a nail and sends shooting pain through his arm when he changes position. There’s a television in the room, but the volume is usually turned way down, so David just sits there in a recliner and tries not to move too much. It leaves him exhausted, sore, and hungry, and he doesn’t like to drive after he gets treatment. He rarely drives anyway.

David dialysis

“I’m scared to,” he says.

He could get pulled over, and then the cop might run a background check. David lives in Los Angeles, his home for half a century. He didn’t used to be afraid to go out on the road. Though he entered the country legally with his family in 1967, David — who asked not be identified by his real name — is now considered an illegal immigrant.

These days, he spends most of his time inside, watching television, keeping up with the news and cooking. Occasionally he cleans, but he has trouble getting around, so he doesn’t do it often. It’s not fear of prison keeping David cooped up indoors. He’s been behind bars, several times actually. But the possibility of getting deported back to Mexico terrifies him.

If it happened again, it’d be the fourth and final time, he says. A lot of things would have to go wrong for that to occur, but the stakes are high, and very real.

If he’s caught, he’ll serve time — 10 years, the cops told him. In fact, illegal re-entry into the United States by someone previously deported for a crime is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. After that, he’d be deported, again.

“I’ll die if I go back.”

How would he survive in Mexico? His whole family is here in the states. He doesn’t work anymore, he can’t, but he gets a check from the VA — every first of the month — and that’s where he goes for his kidney failure treatment. He’s covered, 100%, but there are no VA hospitals in Mexico and David is uninsured and afraid that his health will worsen if he’s deported.

“I know I’m breaking the law,” he says, “but what else can I do? I’ve been here for 50 years already.”

David is one of hundreds of military veterans who have been deported from the country they served. In 2015, as many as 65,000 residents with green cards — which allow them to live and work in the states legally — were serving in the armed forces. And while the military can be a fast-track to citizenship, it’s not guaranteed. Service members still need to apply for it, and not all of them do. David never got around to it.

“I know I’m breaking the law,” he says, “but what else can I do? I’ve been here for 50 years already.”

Immigrants legally living in the United States who are convicted of what are called aggravated felonies — which can include anything from a bar fight or drug possession to forgery or any theft resulting in a sentence of more than two years — may lose their status as legal residents. After their incarceration, they are deported back to their country of origin. For many, it’s a place they haven’t seen since they were children. Once that happens, it’s highly unlikely they’ll ever become a U.S. citizen.

For repeat offenders like David, it’s virtually impossible.

No one knows how many immigrant veterans have been deported in total — not even the Department of Homeland Security, the agency charged with handling and tracking these deportations. Deported Veterans Support House, an advocacy group based in Mexico, says it has helped 300 veterans who have been deported to 36 different countries. Other advocacy groups estimate that the number of veterans deported may be in the thousands.

David’s family left their home in Mexicali, Mexico, for the United States when he was 12. The states offered opportunity. It’s the whole reason people come here. “More work, more money, more everything,” he explains. “Everybody that came from another country, we came for the same thing. To better ourselves.”

David’s family lived in Calexico, California, for a time, then moved to San Diego, and finally to Los Angeles where they settled and put down roots.

“My mom and dad, they’re buried right here in L.A,” he says.

It was a family of 12 kids, five boys, seven girls. They’re all either legal residents or U.S. citizens like his four kids — two boys, two girls — and his three grandkids. David is the only one who isn’t a legal resident or citizen.

“I started using drugs, and that’s what fucked me up,” he explains. “Nobody used drugs in my family but me. I’m embarrassed. I’m the only one with a criminal record. The only one without papers.”

He’s also the only one who volunteered to serve during the Vietnam War.

He enlisted in 1974 when he was 19. Early on in his military service, David was sexually assaulted by a fellow soldier.

David doesn’t like to talk about it. It brings him pain. He enlisted because he wanted to go to Vietnam, and instead this happened. “What kind of shit is that?” he asks. The guy who did it was older than him, and was kicked out of the Air Force before finding his way into the Army. That’s where he found David.

The trauma lingers.

“I was like a new fish in the tank. I was a kid … I was sexually abused. Ever since that shit happened to me I haven’t been the same. I know that.”

David doesn’t know if the man ever hurt anyone else.

“I don’t know what happened to him. I don’t know, and I don’t want to know.”

The incident stayed with David for more than 40 years. Post-traumatic stress disorder, that’s what the VA diagnosed him with, along with other ailments relating to his sore joints and kidney failure.

David served during the tail-end of the war as a welder stationed at Fort Lewis in Washington state, and started using heroin shortly after being assaulted. He sought solace in getting high, because it felt good, and because it was available.

“The drugs were everywhere.”

By the time he left the military in 1976, David was hooked. For a while the money he made as a welder supported the habit. There was a lot of work — different jobs in a lot of different places — but after a while it didn’t pay well enough to keep pace with his drug use. Eventually, that led to run-ins with the police.

One night in 1983, David was with a girl he knew, robbing houses. She’d break in and grab the stuff; David would drive. This time, although they got away as usual, someone got a look at his plates. That was enough.

“Heroin, it takes away your freedom, your family, your money, your job, everything.”

He was arrested for breaking and entering, which earned him two years in a prison in Tehachapi, California. His conviction meant he lost his status as a legal resident, so after he served his time, David was picked up by Immigration and Custom Enforcement agents and deported.

After he was dropped off in Tijuana, Mexico, David turned around and came back the same day — he went right through the entry point into the United States.

“I crossed the border like nothing. Like an American citizen. They let me go right in.”

But by 1986, he was back in the same spot. This time it was for breaking into a car. David insists that he was just an unwitting participant. “I was hanging with the wrong people,” he says. “Every time that something happens to me, it’s someone else. It’s just the way it is with me.”

The second time bought him another two years at Tehachapi, but he was out in one. ICE agents dropped him off in Nogales. And just like before, he turned around and came right back across the border.

In between his visits to prison, David was in and out of the county jail — sometimes just for a few days, other times for weeks, occasionally months. One time, he went in for 90 days, got out and started drinking, and wound up with another 90-day hitch.

At some point after his second deportation, David did a six-month stint in the L.A. county jail. Finally, he decided he’d had enough.

“It was just too much, man,” he says. “I couldn’t even enjoy drugs anymore. So I stopped.”

By this time his first marriage was over and his daughter was a teenager. David went to a church in his neighborhood and told them he wanted to get clean, so the priest sent him to a Christian home for 15 months.

David arrest

“I got out and I was clean. I was working, I had my car, and everything. I didn’t have papers, though.”

From the late 1980s until the early 2000s, things were better. David didn’t use, didn’t drink. He found stable work in his trade, welding, and eventually became the foreman at a company in southern California. He worked there for 16 years. He remarried and had three more kids with his second wife.

Then one night in 2003, ICE agents showed up at his home. He doesn’t know how they found out he was undocumented, or that he had a record. He doesn’t remember much of what happened — just that it was late, and that they knocked first.

“I said I didn’t do nothing. They said, ‘You’re illegal,’ and I said ‘Okay.’”

David served another two years, this time for illegal re-entry, and was sent to a federal penitentiary in Arizona before being deported to Nogales. And once again, he came back, though the border crossing was more difficult and more costly than it had been in the 1980s.

David says he met a group of guys in Mexico who charged him $2,000 before taking him to an opening in the border fence. From there, he made it back to Los Angeles, but things were different this time. His work disappeared. He and his second wife divorced. And later that year, the health problems began.

These days, David lives alone.

He has a lot of time to think about the mistakes he’s made and there’s a lot of regret, especially about his drug use.

“That was my life” he says. “I messed up. What I was doing is heavy. Heroin, it takes away your freedom, your family, your money, your job, everything … It’s nasty man. I learned to stay away.”

“This is my country,” David says. “I know it’s illegal being here. I feel bad, but I don’t have a choice.”

An illegal immigrant in a country he once served, he considers himself an American, even if he’s not a citizen, or even a legal resident.

“This is my country,” David says. “I know it’s illegal being here. I feel bad, but I don’t have a choice.”

David doesn’t like to talk to his kids and grandkids about what might happen to him if he’s discovered, he says. It’s hard to explain to them that though he’s spent 50 years of his life in the states, he’s not supposed to be here.

“They don’t understand it. They know. They talk about Trump — that he’s gonna send me to Mexico, and they go, ‘Why? What’s he gonna send you there for?’ They know, but they don’t understand.”

So he stays at home, and he waits, anxiously wondering if he’ll hear another knock at the door, like last time. He even changed his information on his driver’s license recently. He used his eldest daughter’s home address — she’s a U.S. citizen. At least that way, ICE might show up at her place first, and he might have a head’s up that they’re coming for him.

“I’m mostly just waiting for ICE to knock on my door.”

His family lives about 15 to 20 minutes away in a nearby city. He visits with them when he can. But usually, if he leaves the house, it’s to go to the VA — Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. It’s a short trip by car, and he’s very, very careful to stay within the speed limit.

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