Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments - We Are The Mighty
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Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments

The Army is reinstating a program to provide its personnel a temporary pay bump for deployments longer than nine months.

Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston announced the change over the weekend, calling the move a way to ease the burden on personnel as the Army continues to work on ways to “create more predictable deployment cycles.”

Some 180,000 Army active-duty, National Guard, and reserve personnel remain mobilized or forward-deployed, according to Army officials. Known as “hardship duty pay-tempo,” the new benefit will dole out up to $495 a month for personnel whose deployments have been extended past nine months.

Grinston, who was sworn in as the 16th sergeant major of the Army in August 2019, announced the change over the weekend on both Twitter and Instagram, reflecting an ongoing effort by the Army’s most senior enlisted member to improve morale and leadership by reaching out to troops over social media platforms.

As part of his outreach effort, Grinston held a Thanksgiving town hall meeting with a cross-section of personnel from the Army’s Air Defense Artillery branch to discuss issues related to the Army’s operational tempo. Deployment length was one of the hot topics.

“One of the major problems was deployments regularly being extended past the original 9 months,” Grinston tweeted on Sunday, describing the outcome of the Thanksgiving meeting.

Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston speaks with Redstone senior leaders about quality of life services on the installation during a visit Aug. 5, 2020. Photo by Alyssa Crockett, courtesy of DVIDS.

While the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq now require a fraction of the manpower they once did, Army personnel are still deployed to those theaters as well as in myriad other locations worldwide — not only to fight terrorism, but to deter America’s near-peer adversaries of China and Russia in ways reminiscent of the Cold War.

In addition to additional counterterrorism operations in Africa and Syria, Army troops also frequently rotate in and around Eastern Europe in training exercises and deployments to deter Russian aggression. Army personnel are also in Ukraine, continuing a training mission that dates back to 2015 — one year after Russia invaded. That worldwide presence puts on a strain on Army personnel and their families, especially with the added burden of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to law, service branch secretaries can authorize supplemental hardship duty pay when a mobilization or deployment “requires the member to perform duties in an operational environment for periods that exceed rotation norms.”

“This doesn’t give you time back with your family, but I hope this shows that Army leaders are LISTENING, and your service makes a difference,” Grinston tweeted on Sunday, adding: “I told you People First meant aligning time and money to help Soldiers. We have to get this right. More details coming soon.”

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

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Here are the best military photos of the week

The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:


AIR FORCE:

F-15E Strike Eagles, assigned to the 494th Fighter Squadron from Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, rest on the flightline at Los Llanos Air Base, Spain, Sept. 16, 2016. During Tactical Leadership Programme 16-3, U.S. service members trained side by side with NATO allies and partners, preparing them to meet future security challenges as a unified force.

Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments
U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Emerson Nuñez

A B-52H Stratofortress taxis down the runway during Prairie Vigilance 16-1 at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., Sept. 16, 2016. As one leg of U.S. Strategic Command’s nuclear triad, Air Force Global Strike Command’s B-52s at Minot AFB, play an integral role in nation’s strategic deterrence.

Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments
U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class J.T. Armstrong

ARMY:

A U.S. Army Special Operations Command Soldier walks across a rope bridge during the 2016 Best Warrior Competition at Fort A.P. Hill, Va., Sept 27, 2016.

Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments
U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Jada Owens

The U.S. Army protects our Nation and its vital strategic interests, preventing conflict through forward presence, building partnerships, and conducting operations around the world.

Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments
U.S. Army photo

NAVY:

PHILIPPINE SEA (Sept. 22, 2016) Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Demetrice Cox secures an MH-60s Sea Hawk helicopter, assigned to the “Golden Falcons” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 12, with chocks and chains on the flight deck of the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG 62) during Valiant Shield 2016.

Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Andrew Schneider

APRA HARBOR, Guam (Sept. 25, 2016) The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), flagship of Carrier Strike Group Five is moored in Apra Harbor, U.S. Naval Base Guam (NBG), after the completion of Valiant Shield 2016.

Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Elijah G. Leinaar

MARINE CORPS:

Cpls. Jakob Stark and Michael Sleeting riding in a UH-1Y Huey helicopter during COMPTUEX off the coast of Southern California.

Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Gunnery Sgt. Robert Brown Jr.

Lance Cpl. Rick Mercer emerging from the tree line during the Advanced Infantry Course in Kahuku Training Area.

Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Aaron S. Patterson

COAST GUARD:

A U.S. Coast Guard HC-144 Ocean Sentry pilot from Coast Guard Aviation Training Center Mobile, Alabama, surveys the Apalachicola, Florida, area with night vision goggles for damage caused by Hurricane Hermine, Sept. 2, 2016. Hurricane Hermine was a Category 1 hurricane was the first hurricane to make landfall in Florida since 2005 before proceeding up the east coast of the United States.

Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments
U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lexie Preston

Crewmembers from Coast Guard Station Honolulu transport members of the Honolulu Police Department Specialized Services Division aboard a 45-foot Response Boat-Medium offshore of Honolulu, Sept. 26, 2016. Station Honolulu served as a platform for HPD to conduct underway ship-boarding exercises aboard the Star of Honolulu.

Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments
U.S. Coast Guard photos by Petty Officer 2nd Class Tara Molle

FAN SUBMISSION:

Tripler Army Medical Center air evacuation from Hickam Airfield.

Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments
Photo by SGT. Gary J Real

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4 crimes you learn to commit in the military

We’re not saying everyone in the military does these things, just that it’s almost impossible to complete an enlistment without someone either encouraging you, or even teaching you, to:


1. Commit petty theft

Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments
(Photo: U.S. Navy)

“Gear adrift is a gift” and similar maxims are just cute ways of saying that it’s sometimes okay to steal. But it’s not. There’s no law that says it stops being government property or someone else’s personal property if they forgot to lock it up or post a guard.

This includes “acquiring” needed items for the squad by snatching up unsecured gear or trading for someone’s off-the-books printer. We know you have to get your CLP, but at least try to get some from the armorer before turning to theft.

2. Smuggle alcohol through the mail

Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments
If their breath never smells minty fresh, maybe get suspicious of their constant mouthwash use.

It’s only legal to ship alcohol through the United States Postal System if you have a license or if it’s in a product like mouthwash. Of course, that mouthwash isn’t supposed to be 80 proof.

But every time a unit gets ready for deployment, the veterans start talking about the super illegal practice of asking family members to pour vodka into empty mouthwash bottles, mix in a few drops of blue and green food coloring, and send it to the base in the mail. Many of the old timers are just making jokes, but it still spreads the knowledge of the tactic. (Which this article also does. Crap.)

3. Lie on federal forms

Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments
The Defense Travel System is reasons 1-3 that no one should ever re-enlist. (Photo: U.S. Air National Guard Master Sgt. Christopher Botzum)

Let’s be honest, perfectly filled out Defense Travel System vouchers and unit packing lists are the exception to the rule. Sometimes, this is because it’s hard to track every little change in a connex’s contents or a trip. But other times, it’s because units on their way out the door on an exercise or deployment are willing to put whatever they need to on the paperwork to get it approved.

It’s an expedient way to get the mission done, but it’s also a violation of Title 18 United States Code 1001, which prohibits false claims to the federal government. Of course, no one is going to prosecute when a connex shows up with three more cots than were on the list, but don’t listen to the barracks attorney telling you that the per diem is higher if you just change this one thing in DTS.

4. Abuse prescription medication

Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments
Perfectly legal in training and combat, actually a crime when using it to avoid a hangover with a prescription. (Photo: U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Nicholas Farina)

Most troops aren’t out there injecting illegally acquired morphine, but most people would probably be surprised to learn that intravenous saline is a prescription medical device (yeah, saltwater in a bag). So are those 800mg Motrins.

And teaching a bunch of troops to give saline injections to each other does help them save lives in combat, but it also prepares them to tack an extra criminal charge onto their alcohol-fueled bender when they get home and stick themselves with a needle to try to avoid getting hungover (which, seriously guys, stop giving yourselves IVs while drunk).

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This declassified US intelligence report from 1990 is one of the most terrifying things you’ll ever read

The 1983 US-Soviet “war scare” is one of the most controversial episodes of the Cold War.


Now we finally know it was also one of the most dangerous, thanks to a February 1990 reportpublished by the National Security Archive at George Washington University this week after a 12-year Freedom of Information Act battle.

Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The US and Soviets were dangerously close to going to war in November 1983, the bombshell report found, and the Cold War-era US national-security apparatus missed many warning signs.

That 1983 “war scare” was spurred by a large-scale US military exercise in Eastern Europe called Able Archer that the Soviets apparently believed was part of allied preparation for a real war.

The Soviet military mobilized in response.

US-Soviet relations had definitely plunged in the early 1980s, but since then experts have debated how close the US and Soviets had come to the abyss during Able Archer.

Had the Soviets really believed Able Archer was preparation for a preemptive strike? Was the intensifying rhetoric of high-ranking Soviet leaders in the run-up to Able Archer meant for domestic consumption, or was it a reflection of actual fears? Was the 1983 Soviet military mobilization intended as internal and external political messaging, or as sincere preparation for war?

Most important, would the Soviets ever have struck first — and were their conditions for a first strike close to being satisfied during Able Archer?

We now have some of the answers.

On October 24, the National Security Archive published the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board report on the war scare. The 1990 study is the US intelligence apparatus’ final word on just how close the world came to war in 1983, and how aware American decision-makers were of the state of play.

Its conclusions are chilling, even 32 years later.

It turns out the Soviets believed the US wanted to launch a nuclear first strike. The US fell victim to the inverse error and didn’t think the Soviets were serious about preparing for war, partly because they didn’t think the Soviets thought the US wanted to launch a nuclear first strike. As a result, US military and intelligence decision-makers didn’t believe that anything out of the ordinary was happening during Able Archer.

They couldn’t have been more wrong. Following are the main findings in the report.

Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Soviet leadership and intelligence agencies thought the US was planning to fight and win a nuclear war. In the early 1980s, in response to a US nuclear-modernization drive, “Soviet analysts calculated that the US intended [new generations of ballistic missiles] as a means for developing a first-strike force.” The Soviets may also have “calculated that NATO’s decision to field 600 Pershing IIs and cruise missiles was not to counter their SS-20 [intermediate-range missile] force, but yet another step towards a first-strike capability.”

The report documents how this fear of an American first-strike morphed into a kind of corrosive conventional wisdom. In 1981, the KGB formally sent out instructions to monitor possible NATO war preparations, noting that it is “of special importance to discover the adversaries’ concrete plans and measures linked with his preparation for a surprise nuclear-missile attack on the USSR and other Soviet countries.”

Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments
Photo: flickr/mightyohm

The report flatly states that “KGB bosses seemed already convinced that US war plans were real.”

“KGB officers in [Moscow] agreed that the United States might initiate a nuclear strike if it achieved a level of overall strength markedly greater than that of the Soviet Union. And many agreed that events were leading in that direction,” the report added.

In reality, the US was never contemplating a first-strike. One of the more worrying aspects for the Able Archer incident, in the report’s view, is that “Soviet leaders, despite our open society, might be capable of a fundamental misunderstanding of US strategic motives.”

Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments
Photo: Department of Defense

The Soviets realized they were becoming weaker and thought they’d probably lose the nuclear war they believed the US might be planning. Once the Soviets started thinking in terms of a possible nuclear war, they began to realize they didn’t stand much of a chance of winning it.

As the report states, “There was common concern that the Soviet domestic situation, as well as Moscow’s hold on Eastern Europe, was deteriorating, further weakening Soviet capacity to compete strategically with the US.”

Moscow was in a seemingly weak position for a number of reasons, including an economic slowdown, political unrest in Soviet-dominated Poland, the deployment of the Pershings to Eastern Europe, and the diplomatic fallout from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

Intriguingly, the report describes a Soviet computer system that analyzed thousands of strategic variables to determine the Soviet Union’s strength relative to the US. The Soviet leadership would reportedly consider a preemptive nuclear strike if the computer ever found that Soviet power had fallen to 40% or below of US power. It reached 45% at points during the run-up to Able Archer.

The Soviets also determined that growing US missile strength would decimate the Soviet nuclear capabilities in a first strike to the point that a second strike would soon become ineffectual or even impossible. As this chart from the report demonstrates, the adversaries’ nuclear strike capabilities were drifting ever further apart:

Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments
Photo: National Security Archive

 

The Soviets responded by moving to cut the launch preparation time of second strike nuclear platforms like submarines and battleships from several hours to just 20 or 30 minutes. After a point, second-strike nuclear missions became the primary focus of Soviet bomber-crew training, according to the report. In the conventional realm, the Soviets began calling up reservists, sending Spetsnaz paramilitaries to the Eastern European front line, deploying nuclear-capable artillery pieces in Eastern Europe, and even converting tractor factories for tank production.

In the psychological realm, Soviet leaders grew paranoid, realizing the balance of power that had defined their country’s entire strategic outlook would soon be a thing of the past.

It was in this context that the US’s Able Archer exercise began in November 1983.

There were some odd things about Able Archer, and the Soviets’ response to it.The Soviets’ concern about Able Archer is understandable, at least in the context of their lager paranoia. Able Archer included the airlift of tens of thousands of US troops to Central European front-line areas. The operation had a notable nuclear component to it as well.

“We are told that some US aircraft practiced the nuclear warhead handling procedures, including taxiing out of hangars carrying realistic-looking dummy warheads,” the report states.

The Soviets responded as if war was imminent. As the National Security Archive summary of the document puts it, “Warsaw Pact military reactions to Able Archer 83 were … ‘unparalleled in scale’ and included ‘transporting nuclear weapons from storage sites to delivery units by helicopter,’ suspension of all flight operations except intelligence collection flights from 4 to 10 November, ‘probably to have available as many aircraft as possible for combat.'”

Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments
Photo: US Archives

In the US, everybody missed everything. The Soviets were serious about preparing for a possible impending nuclear war, and the US didn’t even know it.

Soviet activities around the “war scare” didn’t make a single presidential daily briefing. The US military realized the Soviets were at a higher state of alert but didn’t change their defense posture in response. Two later intelligence community reports on the incident also misinterpreted Soviet actions.

Indeed, one of the heroes of the war scare is Lt. Gen. Leonard Perroots, the US Air Force’s assistant chief of staff for intelligence in Europe during Able Archer. Perroots did nothing to change the US military’s alert status or readiness even as the Soviets were acting on a deep-seated fear of a possible US first strike. This, of course, was because Perroots wasn’t receiving any intelligence suggesting this fear was underlying Soviet mobilizations. The US had missed just about every clue.

The report calls Perroots’ inertia “fortuitous, if ill-informed.” Had the US military changed its operating procedure in Eastern Europe, it would only have escalated tensions and enhanced the chances of an accidental war.

The phrase “fortuitous, if ill-informed” sums up the entire 1983 war scare. The two sides misunderstood the other’s intentions, actions — indeed, their entire worldview — so badly that war nearly broke out.

The superpowers created a situation where simply doing nothing was an unwitting and perhaps civilization-rescuing act of courage.

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5 things Marine Corps recruits complain about at boot camp

Marine Corps boot camp is a slice of hell that turns civilians into modern-day Marines.


With constant physical training, screaming drill instructors, and so much close-order drill recruits eventually have dreams about it, spending 12 weeks at boot camp in Parris Island, South Carolina or San Diego, California can be difficult for most young people.

Having stepped off a bus and onto the yellow footprints at Parris Island on Sep. 3, 2002, one of those young people was me. While in hindsight, boot camp really wasn’t that bad, I thought then that it was the worst thing ever. While writing this post, I thought I would speak in general terms, but since my mother kept all my correspondence home, I figured I would go straight to the source: my original — and now-hilarious-to-read — letters back home.

Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments

Drill instructors are the worst.

Having a crazy person with veins popping out of their neck scream in your face and run around a barracks throwing stuff can be quite a shock to someone who was a civilian a week prior. Although I later learned to greatly respect my DI’s, I didn’t really like them at the beginning, as my first letter home showed.

“Our DI’s are complete motherf—king a–holes. There’s no other way to describe them,” I wrote, before including a great example: “Today they sprayed shaving cream and toothpaste ALL OVER the head and we had to clean it up. Yesterday, threw out all of our gear, had to change the racks, and sh– was flying.”

Sounds about right.

Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments
Photo: Cpl. Octavia Davis

My recruiter totally lied to me.

It’s a running joke in the Marine Corps (and the greater military, really) that your recruiter probably lied to you. Maybe they didn’t lie to you per se, but they were selective with what they told you. One of my favorites was that “if I didn’t like my job as infantry, I could change it in two years.” That’s one of those not-totally-a-lie-but-far-fetched-truths.

In my initial letter, I took issue with my recruiters for telling me that drill instructors don’t ever get physical. Most of the time they won’t touch you, but that’s not exactly all the time.

“Oh, by the way, recruiters are lying bastards. They [the drill instructors] scream, swear a lot, and choke/push on a daily basis,” I wrote. (It was day three and I was of course exaggerating).

Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments

Mail takes forever to get there.

Getting mail at boot camp is a wonderful respite from the daily grind at boot camp, but letters are notoriously slow to arrive. In my letters home, I complained about mail being slow often, since I’d ask questions in my letters then get a response of answers and more questions from home, well after I was through that specific event in the training cycle.

“Sometimes I write more letters than everyone back home and I have way less time to do it,” I wrote in one letter.

Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments

The other recruits were terrible.

I’m sure they said the same thing about me. Put 60-80 people from completely different backgrounds and various regions of the United States and you’re probably going to have tension. Add drill instructors into the mix constantly stressing you out and it’s guaranteed.

Then of course, there’s the issue of the “recruit crud,” the nickname for the sickness that inevitably comes from being in such close proximity with all these different people.

Throughout my letters home, I complain of other recruits not yelling loud enough or running fast enough. “They don’t sound off and we are getting in trouble all the time,” I wrote. No doubt I was just echoing what the drill instructor has given us as a reason for why he was bringing us to the dreaded “pit.”

Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments

Getting “pitted” is the worst five minutes of your life.

Marine boot camp has two unique features constantly looming in the back of a recruit’s mind: the “pit” and the quarterdeck. The quarterdeck for recruits is the place at the front of the squad bay where they are taken and given “incentive training,” or I.T. — a nice term for pushups, jumping jacks, running-in-place, etc — for a few minutes if they do something wrong.

But for those times when it’s not just an individual problem — and more of a full platoon one — drill instructors take them to sand pits usually located near the barracks for platoon IT. Think of them as the giant sandboxes you played in as a kid, except this one isn’t fun. For extra fun, DI’s may play a game of “around the world,” where the platoon is run from one pit to another.

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The Air Force is running out of bombs to drop on ISIS

The United States Air Force is dropping so many bombs on Daesh (aka ISIS) targets in Iraq and Syria, that it’s running out of them. Not that there are no bombs at all in the Air Force arsenal, but the Air Force’s supply chain is having a hard time keeping up with the number of bombs the ISIS threat requires.


“We are now expending munitions faster than we can replenish them,” Air Force chief of staff Gen. Mark Welsh said in a statement.

Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments
Master Sgt. Adam, middle, NCO-in-charge of conventional maintenance, preps the KMU-572 fins for assembly onto the MK-82 munition in Southwest Asia. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Master Sgt. Carrie Hinson)

The top Air Force General estimates at least 20,000 bombs were dropped on ISIS targets since the air campaign against the terrorist organization started last year. B-1 bombers are dropping bombs in record numbers, leaving munitions supplies in the region at record lows. Gen. Welsh called the need to replenish funds and munitions a “critical need.”

The Air Force now has an estimated 142,000 guided munitions and 2,300 Hellfire missiles, used in drone strikes.

Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments
From America, with love: Six GBU-38 munitions are dropped by a B-1B Lancer aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Andy Dunaway)

In the first ten months of the American response to ISIS in 2015, Air Force fighters and bombers dropped munitions during half of their 18,000 sorties (a sortie is a single air mission with a takeoff and landing). In 2014, one third of sorties flown used weapons.

The White House recently signed the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, which allowed for more funding to fight the air campaign in Iraq and Syria. In a televised statement to the nation, President Obama also asked Congress for a new Authorization for Use of Military Force in early December to provide funding for further operations against ISIS.

Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments
Good thing the Air Force upgraded its B-1 Bomber fleet in 2011 so it carries three times the payload.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Shannon Hall)

The American public is ready for an expanded fight against ISIS, including looser rules of engagement and a more aggressive air campaign. Congressional Republicans are even calling for an American ground force, which the Iraqi government has repeatedly denied.

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NORAD tracking Santa on Christmas Eve started with a misprinted phone number

This year, NORAD — the North American Aerospace Defense Command  — celebrates the sixtieth anniversary of tracking Santa’s progress as he delivers presents to the good boys and girls of the world. Every year on Christmas Eve, NORAD purports to track Santa Claus as he leaves the North Pole and delivers presents to children around the world. This year, starting at 12:01 am on December 24, interested folks can track Santa via NORAD’s Santa Tracker Website, mobile phone apps, and through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Google+ via the handle @NORADSanta.


Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments
Volunteers monitor phones and computers while tracking Santa Claus at the NORAD Tracks Santa Operations Center on Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. More than 1,200 volunteers from across the base and community join to cover shifts spanning the 23 hours of tracking that the North American Aerospace Defense Command hosts annually. (Photo by Air Force Master Sgt. Chuck Marsh)

The program started somewhat by chance on December 24, 1955 when a Sears department store placed an ad in a Colorado Springs newspaper telling children they could telephone Santa Claus. However, the telephone number printed was erroneously that of the Crew Commander on duty at the Continental Air Defense Command Operations Center (CONAD), NORAD’s predecessor.

Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments
Santa visited Peterson AFB for his NORAD mission brief in preparation for Christmas Eve Dec. 16. People can find out where Santa is Dec. 24 all day by calling NORAD at 1-877-Hi-NORAD or by visiting www.noradsanta.org. (Photo by: MC2 (AW) Bansil, Jhomil,) NORADSanta

Santa visited Peterson AFB in 2014 for his NORAD mission brief in preparation for Christmas Eve. (Photo by: MC2 (AW) Bansil, Jhomil)

Air Force Colonel Harry Shoup was on duty that night and told his staff to give all children who called in a “current location” for Santa Claus — and a Christmas Eve tradition was born, now known as the “NORAD Tracks Santa” program. 

Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments
Colonel Harry Shoup, USAF

OnStar subscribers can press the button in their vehicles and ask for Santa’s location, Windows Phone users can ask Cortana, and starting at 6 a.m. Eastern Time, the kids can just dial  toll-free number 1-877-Hi-NORAD (1-877-446-6723) or send an email to noradtrackssanta@outlook.com.

NORAD’s Santa operation has come a long way. Today it seems as complex as the hunt for Osama bin Laden but when it first started it was just a number children could call.

Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments

Shoup’s children, Terri Van Keuren, 65, Rick Shoup, 59, and Pam Farrell, 70, told NPR’s StoryCorps about how the tradition began.

Terri remembers her dad had two phones on his desk, including a red one. “Only a four-star general at the Pentagon and my dad had the number,” she says.“The red phone rang one day in December 1955, and Shoup answered it, Pam says. “And then there was a small voice that just asked, ‘Is this Santa Claus?’ “

His children remember Shoup as straight-laced and disciplined, and he was annoyed and upset by the call and thought it was a joke — but then, Terri says, the little voice started crying.

“And Dad realized that it wasn’t a joke,” her sister says. “So he talked to him, ho-ho-ho’d and asked if he had been a good boy and, ‘May I talk to your mother?’

Read the full story of Col. Shoup establishing NORAD Santa Tracker at NPR’s StoryCorps.

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That time 4 Royal Marines strapped themselves to attack helicopters and rode into a Taliban compound

In January 2007, a group of Royal Marines threw together a crazy mission to rescue a wounded Marine trapped inside the compound. To get him back, four Marines strapped themselves to the outside of Apache helicopters and rode back into the compound.


The situation arose after an attack on Jugroom Fort went sour quickly. The Brits assaulted in armored vehicles with artillery and Apache support, but the insurgents returned a heavy volume of fire when the Marines dismounted. Poor communication during the raid led to a friendly fire incident and another miscommunication led to the Marines withdrawing without Lance Cpl. Mathew Ford.

After rallying back up, the Marines quickly realized Ford was missing and one of the two Apaches on the battlefield spotted what appeared to be a human silhouette just inside the compound with his infrared sensors. The Royal Marines quickly devised the plan to strap two Marines each to two Apaches and have them land just outside the compound. They would recover Ford, who appeared to be severely wounded, and then ride back out.

The men called for nearby NATO assets to assist and American A-10s and a B-1 came in to help. The B-1 kicked off the assault by dropping four JDAMs onto the opposite side of the compound from Ford. According to a report published in War is Boring, the American pilots were shocked by what they saw during the mission.

Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments
Photo: Youtube

“As I passed ahead of one Apache,” an unnamed pilot wrote, “I glanced high left to see a man, leaning over the stubby helicopter wing, unloading his rifle on the enemy. We matched with 30-millimeter and rockets.”

That’s right, the Marines were firing their rifles while strapped to the helicopters.

When the Apaches landed at the fort, there wasn’t enough space for both helicopters at the planned landing zone. So one Apache landed just outside the walls while the other landed inside the compound. The Marines quickly detached themselves and began searching for Ford. When one pair of Marines headed in the wrong direction, an Apache pilot jumped out of his bird to show them the way.

As the A-10s provided fierce covering fire, the Brits found Ford and carried him back to the helicopters. They managed it just in time. At three minutes after landing, the insurgents had recovered enough to begin firing on the parked Apaches. The Marines and pilots got away at five minutes without suffering further casualties.

The Apaches rushed Ford to medical aid before returning to base, barely making it before they ran out of gas. Unfortunately, Ford had died of his wounds sometime before the rescue attempt.

The men involved in the rescue attempt received awards for their valor. One of the pilots involved in the mission wrote a book, “Apache: Inside the Cockpit of the World’s Most Deadly Fighting Machine,” where he detailed his time in Afghanistan and the mission to rescue Lance Cpl. Ford.

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Pentagon reveals covert Chinese fleet disguised as fishing boats

The Pentagon’s new report on China’s developing military capabilities exposes the fighting force on the front-line of China’s quest to control the seas.


The Chinese Maritime Militia, a paramilitary force masquerading as a civilian fishing fleet, is a weapon for gray zone aggression that has operated in the shadow of plausible deniability for years. Supported by the People’s Liberation Army Navy “grey hulls” and Chinese Coast Guard “white hulls,” the CMM “blue hulls” constitute China’s third sea force.

The CMM engages in “low-intensity coercion in maritime disputes,” according to the Department of Defense report.

Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments
A Pentagon report reveals that China has a covert fleet of fishing trawlers intended to wreak havoc in the maritime ‘grey areas’ of the South Pacific. (US Navy photo)

“China has used coercive tactics, such as the use of law enforcement vessels and its maritime militia, to enforce maritime claims and advance its interests in ways that are calculated to fall below the threshold of provoking conflict,” the report explains. For instance, after the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague discredited China’s claims to the South China Sea last July, Beijing dispatched the CMM to the territories China aims to control.

“China is building a state-owned fishing fleet for its maritime militia force in the South China Sea,” the Pentagon report introduced.

China presents the CMM as a civilian fishing fleet. “Make no mistake, these are state-organized, -developed, and -controlled forces operating under a direct military chain of command,” Dr. Andrew Erickson, a leading expert on Chinese naval affairs, explained during a House Committee on Armed Services hearing in September.

The maritime militia, according to the Pentagon, is a “subset of China’s national militia, an armed reserve force of civilians available for mobilization to perform basic support duties.” In the disputed South China Sea, “the CMM plays a major role in coercive activities to achieve China’s political goals without fighting, part of broader [People’s Republic of China] military doctrine that states that confrontational operations short of war can be an effective means of accomplishing political objectives.”

The Department of Defense recognizes that the CMM trains alongside the military and the coast guard. A 2016 China Daily article reveals that the maritime militia, a “less-noticed force,” is largely “made up of local fishermen.” The article shows the militia training in military garb and practicing with rifles and bayonets.

“The maritime militia is … a component of China’s ocean defense armed forces [that enjoys] low sensitivity and great leeway in maritime rights protection actions,” explained a Chinese garrison commander.

Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments
A helicopter attached to Chinese Navy ship multirole frigate Hengshui (572) participates in a maritime interdiction event with the Chinese Navy guided-missile destroyer Xi’an (153) during Rim of the Pacific. (Chinese navy photo by Sun Hongjie)

The CMM is not really a “secret” weapon, as it has made its presence known, yet throughout the Obama administration, government publications failed to acknowledge the existence of the maritime militia. “We have to make it clear that we are wise to Beijing’s game,” Erickson said in his congressional testimony.

The CMM harassed the USNS Impeccable in 2009, engaging in unsafe maneuvers and forcing the U.S. ship to take emergency action to avoid a collision. The maritime militia was also involved in the 2011 sabotage of two Vietnamese hydrographic vessels, 2012 seizure of Scarborough Shoal, 2014 repulsion of Vietnamese vessels near a Chinese oil rig in disputed waters, and 2015 shadowing of the USS Lassen during a freedom-of-navigation operation. China sent 230 fishing vessels, accompanied by several CCG vessels, into disputed waters in the East China Sea last year to advance China’s claims to the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands administered by Japan.

Commissar of the Hainan Armed Forces Department Xing Jincheng said in January that the members of the Maritime Militia should serve as “mobile sovereignty markers.” He stated that this force is responsible for conducting “militia sovereignty operations” and defending China’s “ancestral seas,” territorial waters “belonging to China since ancient times.”

“I feel that the calm seas are not peaceful for us,” he said. “We have to strengthen our combat readiness.”

While the maritime militia has been mentioned by Navy officials, as well as congressional research and commission reports, the new Department of Defense report is the first high-level government publication to address the third sea force. “The fact is that it is there,” U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Scott Swift said in November, “Let’s acknowledge that it is there. Let’s acknowledge how it’s being command-and-controlled.”

Dragging the maritime militia into the light significantly limits its ability operate. “It is strongest—and most effective—when it can lurk in the shadows,” Erickson wrote in the National Interest.

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5 reasons why Ronald Reagan was a great commander-in-chief

The passing of Nancy Reagan gives occasion to think back on the Reagan years and their impact on the warfighting capability of the American military. Here are five things that the Reagan administration gave to the troops that endure today:


Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments
The Reagan presidency began in a dramatic manner on January 20, 1981. As Reagan was giving his inaugural address, 52 U.S. hostages, held by Iran for 444 days, were set free. (National Archives photo)

1. Reagan’s defense spending was the hallmark of his presidency

Reagan believed the Cold War policies of Containment and Détente were both outmoded. He opted for a new way forward with a strategy determined by his National Security Council. This theory was one of a long-term strategic offense and was neither reactive or proactive. The strategy was designed to pressure the Soviets through a massive military buildup, which raised defense spending from $214 billion in 1982 to $258 billion in 1983. The Soviet Union was compelled to raise its defense spending from 22 percent to 27 percent of GDP. The total number of uniformed personnel didn’t change much, but the Bradley Armored Fighting Vehicles, F-117 Stealth Fighters, Apache Helicopters, and M-1 Tanks that rolled over Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Army in 1991 did so because Ronald Reagan helped put them there.

Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments
A view of an Iraqi T-72 main battle tank destroyed in a Coalition attack during Operation Desert Storm near the Ali Al Salem Air Base (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Joe Coleman)

While most historians (and former Soviet officials) agree the Soviet Union collapsed under its own weight, Reagan’s defense policies, including providing $1 billion worth of support to Afghan Mujahideen, certainly sped up the process.

2. Reagan began the tradition of presidents saluting U.S. troops

President Obama caught some flak from the U.S. right wing a while back when he saluted U.S. Marines with a Starbucks cup in his hand. Obviously, while rendering a salute holding something in the right hand is a no-go (which is why you’d be hard pressed to find military members in uniform holding briefcases in their right hand on base), the tradition of the President saluting military personnel is just that: tradition.

Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments
President Reagan salutes a military cadet (wikimedia commons)

The fact is, military members do not salute while in civilian clothes. The tradition started with President Reagan in 1981 and even then, it was a curious thing. Reagan had served in the Army Air Corps during WWII and likely knew salutes weren’t rendered out of uniform, it also means he knew it was a courtesy, and allowed the airmen and Marines who transported him to drop their salute after he returned it. Plus, the Commander-In-Chief can do what he wants. RHIP.

3. He raised the military’s pay and gave them better gear for the fight

General Edward Meyer, Army chief of staff under President Reagan, warned him that the Army was a “hollow force,” beaten around by the Vietnam War. When Reagan took over, Meyer’s assessment of the Army for the new President found one full of racial conflict, drug and alcohol problems, and full of recruits who were barely qualified to join. He also opened large training centers for the military, such as the Army’s National Training Center in California’s Mojave Desert. Meyer to the President the military needed to be told by the top person that they were honored and appreciated, and President Reagan took the time do just that.

Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments
(White House photo)

Reagan gave the military a much-needed pay raise. He modernized attack aircraft, like the F-14 Tomcat and F-15 Strike Eagle. The Navy grew from 479 combat ships to 525. The military soon rolled out the B-1 Bomber, Trident Attack Submarines, and Peacekeeper Missiles. M-1 Tanks replaced aging M-60 tanks used in Vietnam. Jeeps gave way to Humvees, and money flooded into training centers. He also made sure the right men were in them. It was a military an American would be proud to join.

“Regardless of the political consequences, Reagan bought us what we needed,” Reagan’s Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger to The Baltimore Sun. “You can see it today.”

4. Reagan improved the morale of the force by shaking off the spectre of Vietnam

The 40th President believed the United States needed a win. Like a college football team in week one, he scheduled an easy start to what could have been a tough season. With the Cold War in full swing, the Gipper gave the troops the warmup they would have needed to fight the Russians, consequences be damned.

Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments
82nd Airborne artillery personnel load and fire M102 105 mm howitzers during Operation Urgent Fury. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. M.J. Creen)

After ordering 7,000 U.S. troops to storm the beaches of the tiny Caribbean island, President Reagan declared “Our days of weakness are over!” in a speech to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. “Our military forces are back on their feet and standing tall.” After the United Nations condemned the invasion, the President replied: “It didn’t upset my breakfast at all.”

5. Reagan’s ‘Good Cop, Bad Cop’ routine kept the peace with the Soviets

During his first term, he famously called the Soviet Union an “Evil Empire,” a phrase which worried critics of the U.S. military buildup at the time and earned him the dreaded “warmonger” label. Worried that his hard stance hurt his image, Nancy encouraged the president to have a direct relationship with Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet General Secretary. President Reagan reconsidered his strategy.

Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments
Gorbachev and Reagan sign the INF Treaty at the White House in 1987 (National Archives photo)

In his 2004 book Nancy: A Portrait of My Years with Nancy Reagan, senior presidential adviser Michael Deaver wrote that Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko once asked her, “Does your husband believe in peace or war?” Nancy told the Russian minister Reagan wanted peace and that she would remind him of that every night.

She also said that she would whisper it in Gromyko’s ear as well.

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Don’t pack a lip with that shrapnel-flavored snuff

Bring it in, take a knee, drink some water. You need to read this before you start popping that little can and getting a pinch — there’s a recall on Copenhagen, Skoal and Husky, which sucks, we know, but might save you some additional mouth pain.


It’s one thing to mix MRE instant coffee or Rip It powder in with your dip. But potentially mixing shrapnel in is quite another.

Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments
Is there some JDAM in there? (DoD photo)

Since four to five times as many military members use smokeless tobacco as their civilian counterparts (and given an average DoD expenditure of more than $1.6 billion per year on tobacco-related medical care), we reckon this is a warning that oughta get out there.

The recall comes from the U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co., a subsidiary of Altria Group Inc. It’s a voluntary recall, applying to all products coming out of its Franklin Park facility in Illinois. Among them are a number of the company’s most popular products, including Cope Long Cut Straight (overseas military only), Skoal Long Cut Wintergreen (overseas military only) and about three dozen other flavors.

According to Altria…

“USSTC initiated the recall after receiving eight consumer complaints of foreign metal objects, including sharp metal objects, found in select cans. In each case, the object was visible to the consumer and there have been no reports of consumer injury. Complaints have been received from consumers in Indiana, Texas, North Carolina, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Ohio.”

The FDA is apparently aware of the complaints and the voluntary recall and is investigating.

Chances are if you’ve ever served, you’ve either used “smokeless tobacco” — i.e. snuff — or worked alongside or deployed with someone who has. Its use is ubiquitous, in both line and support units. The Millenium Cohort Study of 2012 made the relationship between combat and smokeless tobacco use very clear.

Overall, troops who were deployed but did not see combat were almost one-third more likely to take up a smokeless tobacco habit than their non-deployed counterparts. Those odds were two-thirds to three-quarters higher for troops who were in combat or who deployed multiple times.

DoD wide tobacco use in the military has declined since an Iraq War high, but it’s still far higher than the general civilian population and continues despite numerous measures taken discourage or even forbid it. Such regs as AFI 40–102, SECNAV 5100.13E, Army Regulation 600-63, and numerous local regulations like the one below for gyrenes are in place, but their impact is fairly anemic.

(5) Use of smokeless tobacco is prohibited during briefings, meetings, classes, formations, inspections, and while on watch. (6) The expectoration of smokeless tobacco waste is confined to heads within government buildings aboard this installation. The expectoration of smokeless tobacco waste within or from government vehicles is not permitted.

The reasons for that are many, and doubtless require little articulation here…stress relief, boredom, a boost to stay awake during long hours and night operations are the most often cited.

As long as assorted chumps are shooting at us in faraway places, that’s not likely to change either.

You can find further details in this press release from Altria.

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The first ‘battle’ of World War II was a Nazi war crime

Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments


The beginning of World War II started with a brutal Nazi war crime.

On Sep. 1, 1939, German soldiers began their invasion of Poland, triggering the outbreak of World War II. The shelling of a Polish garrison at Westerplatte is commonly believed to be the first shot fired in the war, but the beginning actually happened five minutes prior, according to Deutsche Welle.

At 4:40 a.m., the town of Wieluń was bombed by the Luftwaffe as most of its 16,000 residents slept. There were no anti-aircraft, military, or economic targets of any importance, in the sleepy town just 13 miles from the German border. The target of the bombing was civilians.

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Nick Siekierski translates this article from a Polish newspaper:

Overall, 380 bombs fell on Wieluń, weighing a total of 46 tons. The first ones hit the All-Saints Hospital. 32 people died there – patients and staff. These were the first victims of the German air raids during World War II. The next target was the oldest parish church in Wieluń, St. Michael the Archangel, built in the beginning of the 14th Century. The Piarist building was the only surviving structure on the old square.

In total, as a result of the attack on Wieluń by the German air force, which lasted until 2pm, over 1200 people died. Certain sources note as many as 2,000 victims. Bombs dropped by the Stukas (Junkers Ju 87) destroyed 75% of the city. 90% of the city center was destroyed.

The people of Wieluń were the first to experience the German tactic of “blitzkrieg” (lightning) war, which was later used during the invasions of Belgium, North Africa, the Netherlands, and France. Just minutes after the bombing of the town began, the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein began its bombardment of Westerplatte.

Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments

Two days later, Britain and France declared war on Germany, and the conflict lasted for six years at the cost of millions of lives. When it was all over in 1945, it ended with the surrender of the Nazis, and the exposure of the most shocking and brutal war crime the world had ever seen.

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Top Army leaders may kill ‘Death by Powerpoint’

In a move geared to reduce the bureaucratic overhead for soldiers who’re supposed to get straight to the business of fighting wars, Sec. of the Army Eric Fanning and Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley announced a plan to cut down on PowerPoints and other mandatory briefings suffered by soldiers throughout the world.


Army okays hardship pay for extended deployments
Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning and Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley during a press conference at AUSA. (Photo: Ward Carroll)

Federal News Radio originally reported the top Army leaders’ comments during the 2016 Association of the U.S. Army annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

“We essentially made a decision that if it’s Army-directed — which, unfortunately, a lot of it is — then we’re going to leave it up to the commanders to figure out how to get their soldiers trained,” Fanning said, “rather than have them walk through the mandatory PowerPoints we create at headquarters and send out to you in the field.”

So local commanders would get the option of skipping certain training classes to focus on preparing for war. This wouldn’t necessarily result in less training for soldiers, but it would result in more targeted training. An infantry squad would be more easily found in the field than a classroom.

And anyone in the Army could testify that units spend too much time in briefing halls, theaters, and chapels doing PowerPoints. Yes, there are so many troops who need so many classes that it is routine for chapels to be used for briefings and PowerPoint presentations.

Milley shared how bad the list of required classes had grown.

“At the end of the day, the last document I saw was 12 pages of single-spaced, nine-point type listing all of the activities a company commander and a first sergeant have to do, mandated by us. It’s nuts. It’s insane,” he said.

Unfortunately for company commanders, Milley and Fanning seem to have been specifically discussing requirements from the Department of the Army and made no mention of requirements from other levels of command.

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