3 US Military Veterans Reportedly Detained Trying To Enter War-Torn South Sudan

Alex Zwiefelhofer
Photo via Alex Zwiefelhofer | Instagram

Three U.S. military veterans, including an AWOL 82nd Airborne Division soldier, were reportedly detained on June 21 while attempting  to cross the border into war-torn South Sudan from neighboring Kenya, according to U.S. Army W.T.F.! Moments.  

Pfc. Alex Zwiefelhofer, 20, was reportedly taken into custody alongside Craig Austin Lang, a former Army soldier, and former Marine William Wright-Martinovich. According to U.S. Army W.T.F.! Moments, the trio were detained by members of the South Sudan Defense Forces, the country’s regular army previously known as the Sudan People’s Liberation Army.

The detention of Zwiefelhofer, Lang, and Wright-Martinovich appears to be the first news of American "foreign fighters" attempting to enter South Sudan.

It is unclear what the veterans were doing in the region, but posts on Zwiefelhofer’s Facebook and Instagram accounts suggest that he had been serving as a volunteer soldier or mercenary in Ukraine as recently as last month. U.S. Army W.T.F.! Moments reports that both he and Lang had served with the same militia in eastern Ukraine.  

The duo are not the only Americans volunteers known to have fought with militias in Ukraine. In 2014, Mark Gregory Paslawsky, a 55-year-old investment banker from New York, was killed in combat there.       

“[Zweifelhofer] is in Kenyan custody at this time,” Lt. Col. Joe Buccino, an 82nd Airborne Spokesman, said in a statement to Task & Purpose. “We (the 82nd Airborne Division) [do] not know his intent or motivation. Authorities are working to get him back to the U.S. We do not know how long this will take.”

Buccino told Army Times the 82nd Airborne is working with U.S. authorities in the area and “trying to coordinate [Zweifelhofer’s] movement to military control,” so the soldier can be brought back to the States to face military justice. Zwiefelhofer joined the Army in 2015 and went AWOL in October of last year, according to Army Times.

Little is known about Wright-Martinovich, except that he graduated from Marine boot camp in December 2012, according to U.S. Army W.T.F.! Moments. Lang, on the other hand, has surfaced in the news before: A Vice article published in June of last year described him as a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who was once arrested for attempting to murder his wife after she sent him videos of her sleeping with other men.     

An unnamed State Department official told U.S. Army W.T.F.! Moments that the three Americans are being held by the Kenyan national police while the State Department and FBI investigate. Meanwhile, a department official provided Army Times with a vague  statement: “Whenever a U.S. citizen is detained or otherwise in need of assistance overseas, the department works to provide all appropriate consular assistance. Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment.”    

The Republic of South Sudan, as it’s formally known, gained  independence from Sudan in 2011 and has been embroiled in a brutal civil war since 2013. Both government and rebel forces have been accused of serious abuses against civilians, according to Human Rights Watch.

The situation in South Sudan has been made worse by the onset of famine earlier this year. And while the famine has subsided, almost two million people in the country are currently on the brink of starvation, according to Al Jazeera.

American veterans have surfaced as volunteer fighters and mercenaries in multiple conflict zones around the world in recent years. A report published by London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue in August 2016 estimated that more than 100 Americans — many of them military veterans — had joined militia groups in Iraq and Syria to fight ISIS.    

Some of the Americans who volunteered to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria, many of whom were recruited via social media through the same unofficial channels, subsequently traveled to Ukraine to participate in the war raging in the eastern part of the country.


An Austrian Jagdkommando K9 unit conducts training (Austrian Armed Forces photo)

An Austrian soldier was apparently killed by two military working dogs that he was charged with feeding, the Austrian Ministry of Defense announced on Thursday.

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Conflict photographer Lynsey Addario has seen a hell of a lot of combat over the past twenty years. She patrolled Afghanistan's Helmand Province with the Marines, accompanied the Army on night raids in Baghdad, took artillery fire with rebel fighters in Libya, and has taken photos in countless other wars and humanitarian disasters around the world.

Along the way, Addario captured images of plenty of women serving with pride in uniform, not only in the U.S. armed forces, but also on the battlefields of Syria, Colombia, South Sudan and Israel. Her photographs are the subject of a new article in the November 2019 special issue of National Geographic, "Women: A Century of Change," the magazine's first-ever edition written and photographed exclusively by women.

The photos showcase the wide range of goals and ideals for which these women took up arms. Addario's work includes captivating vignettes of a seasoned guerrilla fighter in the jungles of Colombia; a team of Israeli military police patrolling the streets of Jerusalem; and a unit of Kurdish women guarding ISIS refugees in Syria. Some fight to prove themselves, others seek to ignite social change in their home country, and others do it to liberate other women from the grip of ISIS.

Addario visited several active war zones for the piece, but she found herself shaken by something much closer to home: the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, South Carolina.

Addario discussed her visit to boot camp and her other travels in an interview with Task & Purpose, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

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My brother earned the Medal of Honor for saving countless lives — but only after he was left for dead

"As I learned while researching a book about John, the SEAL ground commander, Cmdr. Tim Szymanski, had stupidly and with great hubris insisted on insertion being that night."


Editor's Note: The following is an op-ed. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Task & Purpose.

Air Force Master Sgt. John "Chappy" Chapman is my brother. As one of an elite group, Air Force Combat Control — the deadliest and most badass band of brothers to walk a battlefield — John gave his life on March 4, 2002 for brothers he never knew.

They were the brave men who comprised a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) that had been called in to rescue the SEAL Team 6 team (Mako-30) with whom he had been embedded, which left him behind on Takur Ghar, a desolate mountain in Afghanistan that topped out at over 10,000 feet.

As I learned while researching a book about John, the SEAL ground commander, Cmdr. Tim Szymanski, had stupidly and with great hubris insisted on insertion being that night. After many delays, the mission should and could have been pushed one day, but Szymanski ordered the team to proceed as planned, and Britt "Slab" Slabinski, John's team leader, fell into step after another SEAL team refused the mission.

But the "plan" went even more south when they made the rookie move to insert directly atop the mountain — right into the hands of the bad guys they knew were there.

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Photo: ABC News/screenshot

Federal court judge Reggie Walton in Washington D.C. has ruled Hoda Muthana, a young woman who left her family in Hoover, Alabama, to join ISIS, is not a U.S. citizen, her attorneys told AL.com Thursday.

The ruling means the government does not recognize her a citizen of the United States, even though she was born in the U.S.

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Editor's Note: This article by Gina Harkins originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. -- The Marine Corps could train as many as eight co-ed companies at boot camp each year, and the general overseeing the effort is hitting back against those complaining that the move is lowering training standards.

"Get over it," Maj. Gen. William Mullen, the head of Training and Education Command told Military.com on Thursday. "We're still making Marines like we used to. That has not changed."

Mullen, a career infantry officer who has led troops in combat — including in Fallujah, Iraq — said Marines have likely been complaining about falling standards since 1775.

"I'm assuming that the second Marine walking into Tun Tavern was like 'You know ... our standards have gone down. They're just not the same as it they used to be,'" Mullen said, referring to the service's famous birthplace. "That has always been going on in the history of the Marine Corps."

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