How to make a great living room obstacle course - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

How to make a great living room obstacle course

Long before obstacle-course races became the dad fitness fad du jour, kids enjoyed crawling, jumping, and swinging from station to station in PE class. And they still do, even if not all of them want to train for a Mini Mudder. Most young kids have a good notion of what obstacle courses are (the world looks like one when you’re small enough) so getting them to race through homemade gauntlets is fairly easy and, when it comes to tiring them out, incredibly effective. It’s an activity that naturally builds on itself because kids will want to provide feedback on specific obstacles and courses can have endless permutations, at least until someone breaks something. The perfect obstacle course should be challenging, silly, and easily deconstructed or reconstructed. But, most importantly, it should be safe ⏤ so no fire pits!


Prep Time: About 30 minutes.
Entertainment Time: 20 minutes to two hours.
Energy Expended by Child: Mostly physical, unless you want to throw in a puzzle or two.

What You Need:

  • Things to jump over, onto, or from. Interlocking foam play mats and tumbling mats are great. So are ropes, toys, cushions, and very stable pieces of furniture.
  • Things to crawl under or through. If you don’t already have a play tunnel, pull a sheet taut and have them crawl under it, army style.
  • Things to throw. Make a station where aim is important. Throwing is a skill very young kids can develop.
  • Things to balance on. An extra piece of woods in the shed can be a balance beam. So can a floorboard if everyone agrees it’s surrounded by lava.
  • If you’re setting an outdoor obstacle course up in the backyard, there are plenty of ready-to-buy obstacles, as well.

How to Play:

The best way to play ‘Obstacle Course’ is by building several stations, each with their own challenge. Depending on the age of the kids, they can help with this part. Here’s an example (note that writing it down can be helpful and make comprehension part of the game):

  1. Balance beam.
  2. Knock down all the cans.
  3. Jump from block to block.
  4. Ride the tricycle across the living room while making a silly face.
  5. Crawl through the tunnel.
  6. Drag a heavy thing past the line.
  7. Walk a ping pong ball with a spoon.
How to make a great living room obstacle course

The individual stations can be anything and are only limited by space and imagination. You can add special challenges as kids figure out how to manage certain obstacles. It’s also important to note that stations can reoccur in each running of an obstacle course. It is, for instance, a great idea to get kids to jump multiple times between activities that require more precise muscle control. This forces kids to engage different muscles and tires them out.

It’s also important to note that obstacle course are not merely physical. They are based on rules. It’s good to establish a points system that informs timing (plus 10 seconds for falling off the balance beam) because it incentivizes kids to really do the thing while turning you into a referee and arbiter of success, which puts you in a better position to encourage certain approaches or dish out positive feedback so kids feel like they’re making progress over time. If they aren’t, it also puts you in a prime position to obscure that fact.

To that end, it’s smart to make yourself one of the obstacles. Make kids dodge balls you’re throwing, chase you down, or play the levels game. This allows for you to make the course increasingly difficult and gets you directly involved, which is likely to ramp up interests (kids are predictable like that). On that same note, it’s a good idea to try to do the course — the parts you can fit through — to set a baseline time for your kid to beat. A bit of competition, no matter how silly, provides kids with a way to compete with mom and dad and understand their abilities and bodies in relation to other people’s. This leads to an ability to do a kind of athletic self-assessment that can be helpful later in life. It also tends to lead to absolute exhaustion.

Wrap Up:

Obstacle courses are a great way for your kids to burn off excess energy. And if they ever get tired of the same old course, change the theme or turn it into a narrated adventure: Superhero tryouts, ninja training, find the hidden treasure. Younger kids will especially enjoy embarking on the course as a character on an expedition. In the end, not only is it satisfying to watch your kids challenge themselves but also to watch them enjoy something you all built … even if it was made with couch cushions.

This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Oracle founder backs nemesis Amazon in supporting US military

In a wide-ranging interview with Fox Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo, Oracle founder and executive chairman Larry Ellison had a few choice things to say about Google’s newfound disdain for the U.S. military.

“Well I think it’s actually kind of shocking. Here Jeff Bezos and I absolutely agree,” Ellison said, in a rare show of kind words for the competitor that Ellison spends most of his time these days trash-talking.


Bartiromo had asked Ellison about the fight going on in the cloud computing industry over a massive cloud contract from the Department of Defense. The DoD will award the whole contract, worth about billion, to just one company. By all accounts the winner is expected to be Amazon Web Services. Oracle is one a handful of cloud competitors fighting tooth and nail to grab a portion of the contract away from AWS.

In recent weeks, cloud competitor Google dropped its bid for the contract. Google cited a new policy not to use its technology for military purposes., a policy that came about after an employee uprising on the matter. Google also admitted it was dropping the bid because its cloud hadn’t yet achieved all the government certifications that the DoD was asking for.

How to make a great living room obstacle course

Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

(Flickr photo by Nguyen Hung Vu)

Fox’s Bartiromo suggested that there’s some hypocrisy with Google’s policies: it doesn’t want to do work for the US DoD but Google is reportedly trying to return to the Chinese market with a search engine that the Chinese government can sensor.

Ellison agreed.

“I think U.S. tech companies who say we will not support the U.S. Military, we will not work on any technology that helps our military, but yet goes into China and facilitates the Chinese government surveilling their people is pretty shocking,” he said.

To be fair, numerous Google employees are also protesting the company’s plans to return to China, just as they protested the military work. So the situation is more about whether Google yields to employee protests about China rather than a double-standard in the company’s business ambitions. If Google’s management had its way, it would presumably be doing business with both the military and China.

Bezos has also spoken out against Google’s policies.”If big tech companies are going to turn their back on the Department of Defense, this country is going to be in trouble,” Bezos told Wired in October 2018.

Bezos doubled down by donating million to With Honor, a political action committee fund trying to get more veterans elected to Congress.

Ellison also told Bartiromo, “I think it’s very important that U.S. technology companies support our country, our government. We are a democracy. If we don’t like our leaders, we can throw them out. If you don’t like the leaders in China, you can … fill in the blank.”

He went on to say he views China as a big threat to the U.S. these days.

“I think our big competitor is China, and that if we let China’s economy pass us up — if we let China produce more engineers than we do, if we let China’s technology companies beat our technology companies, it won’t be long that our military is behind technologically also,” he warned.

Here’s a segment of the interview where he discusses China.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Lists

7 nasty ways Kim Jong Un executes people

Kim Jong Un doesn’t take well to being dissed. Remember how North Korea threatened Sony over The Interview? Though, one has to like the fact that in that film, Kim became a firework to the tune of Katy Perry’s Firework.


So, here are some of the ways Kim knocks off those who dissed him. This dissing can take the form of trying to steal a propaganda poster (which lead to a fatal prison stay), possessing the Bible, or even having American or South Korean films in your possession. So, how might Kim do the deed?

Here are some of the ways he’s offed those who angered him in the past:

7. Dogs

Everyone’s starving in North Korea. That includes man’s best friend. Kim Jong Un, though, is reportedly more than willing to feed dogs. Guess he’s trying to spin himself as an animal lover with this method.

How to make a great living room obstacle course
(Jeremy Bender/ Business Insider)

6. Anti-Aircraft Guns

This is probably the most notorious method. Kim is known to have used this method on one high-ranking official by the name of Ri Jong Jin who fell asleep during a meeting where the North Korean dictator was giving a speech. He and another official who suggested policy changes were blown to smithereens at Kim’s orders.

How to make a great living room obstacle course
ZU-23-2 Anti-Aircraft Gun (Photo: Wikimedia)

5. VX

Kim Jong Un used this deadly nerve agent earlier this year to kill his half-brother, who was seen as a threat. This hit took place in Kuala Lampur, showing that North Korea’s dictator can find a way to kill people he wants dead – even when they flee the hellhole that is North Korea. What’s really awful is how persistent VX is.

How to make a great living room obstacle course
(YouTube screen grab from John Mason)

4. Machine Guns

Kim Jong Un has also used regular ol’ machine guns on enemies. One reported instance was on an ex-girlfriend, although she later turned up alive. He did use this method to knock off the engineers and architects who designed and built a 23-story building that collapsed and killed 500 people, though.

How to make a great living room obstacle course
(Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

3. Burned with Flamethrowers

Flamethrowers are considered some of the scariest weapons when wielded in war. Kim Jong Un turned them into a very nasty method of execution for an official who was running a protection racket.

How to make a great living room obstacle course
This Marine sprays his deadly flamethrower at in enemy building. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

2. Blown up with a Mortar

When Kim Jong Un wants you to mourn, you’d better mourn. One high-ranking official in the North Korean military was busted “drinking and carousing” after Kim Jong Il died in 2011. He got the death penalty, which was carried out by making him stand still while a mortar was fired, obliterating him.

How to make a great living room obstacle course
Lance Cpl. Joshua D. Fenton loads a round into an 81 mm Mortar during a deployment for training exercise at Fort. Pickett, Va., Dec. 11, 2016. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Shannon Kroening)

1. Poison

When Kim Jong Un executed his uncle, his aunt was understandably upset. Kim. Though, wasn’t very consoling to his bereaved aunt, and had her poisoned in May 2014.

How to make a great living room obstacle course
Photo by Olivier Saint Hilaire

Yeah, Kim Jong Un can be real nasty when he wants you to go. So, either don’t cross the Pyongyang Psycho, or if you do…make it really worth it.

MIGHTY TRENDING

In first DoD-wide audit, every military branch failed

The first-ever audit of the of the $2.7 trillion enterprise that is the Defense Department identified widespread problems in cybersecurity, but found little in the way of savings that could offset potential budget cuts in 2019, according to Pentagon and Congressional officials.

Without going into detail, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, in a statement on the report, said the audit identified “multiple material weaknesses” across the department but also provided “invaluable information that will help us target and prioritize corrective actions.”


David Norquist, the Pentagon’s comptroller and prime mover behind the audit, said no glaring instances of fraud were found but the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Special Operations, and the Transportation Command all received failing grades.

“We didn’t pass. That’s the blunt and bottom line. We have issues and we’re going to fix them,” Norquist said.

That was to be expected in a first-time audit, Norquist told defense reporters in a Pentagon news conference shortly before the audit’s release on Nov. 15, 2018.

How to make a great living room obstacle course

David Norquist, the Pentagon’s comptroller and prime mover behind the audit.

(DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)

“If you’re not fixing it, the auditors will come back in exactly a year and find you didn’t fix it,” Norquist said before the report’s release. “And they’re going to come the next year, and the next year until you fix it, so each year I’ll be able to tell you how many findings we closed.”

Occasionally, the auditors turned up problems that turned out not to be problems, Norquist said, which is what happened when they went looking at Hill Air Force Base in Utah.

The Hill database listed million-worth of missile motors as broken and in need of repair. When the auditors went to look at them, the motors were found to be in working order — it was a problem in labeling, the audit report said.

One of the “material weaknesses,” as Mattis put it, was in the area of cybersecurity throughout the department, Norquist said.

“Our single largest number of findings is IT security around our businesses,” Norquist said, and it “reflects the challenges that the department faces in IT security.”

One area of concern was in security clearances for personnel and “terminating user access when they depart,” Norquist said.

The department also had to do a better job of “monitoring sensitive users, people who have special authorities, making sure there is careful monitoring to that,” Norquist said. “Our single largest number of findings is IT security around our business systems. We thought this was likely.”

Mattis has been pushing DoD managers to find efficiencies and savings on contracts and operations to fund improvements in the lethality and readiness of the force, and also to guard against potential budget cuts in the new Congress.

President Donald Trump has already warned that he could ask for five percent budget cuts in 2019 across all government departments.

In a statement on the audit, Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, the outgoing chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, urged against using the audit as an excuse to cut military funding.

The audit should be used to make the military “more efficient and agile,” Thornberry said, and “it should not be used as an excuse for arbitrary cuts that reverse the progress we have begun on rebuilding our strength and readiness.”

Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, who has called DoD a “.7 trillion enterprise” when all the ships, planes, tanks, missiles, salaries, and buildings are counted on top of the budget, agreed with Norquist that failures uncovered by the audit were to be expected in the first attempt.

“We never thought we were going to pass an audit, right? Everyone was betting against us that we wouldn’t even do the audit,” Shanahan told defense reporters on Nov. 15, 2018.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The 5 best and worst cities for veterans to live in 2018

There are now an estimated 19.6 million American military veterans living in the United States, and that number is only going to rise. While veterans face a lot of the same economic and social pressures as lifelong civilians, we also tend to face a few different issues as we reintegrate into civilian life — and where we live can make as much a difference for us as it does for our children.

It’s an important decision to make, so why not do the research? Luckily, WalletHub did it for us.


The highly-popular personal finance website compared the largest 100 U.S. cities and indexed them for key factors of livability, affordability, and veteran-friendliness. What the latter means is that the cities have important resources and opportunities for veterans. Things like services to aid transition from military life, finding employment with military skills, and opportunities for growth are weighted in the rankings. Also important to study is access to VA facilities and services in these cities.

Related: A new study shows your chances of achieving the ‘American Dream’

You can read all about the methods WalletHub used to grade the cities and see each city’s grade on the WalletHub website. There, you can also see how each is ranked overall versus the 99 other biggest cities in America, along with each city’s rank according to job opportunities, economic factors, veteran quality of life, and veteran health issues.

How to make a great living room obstacle course

1. Austin, Texas

It should come as no surprise that a hip city in Texas came in at number one. Austin makes the top of many lists and a home for veterans is not going to be different. The city is 20th in the health rank for veterans, but overall quality of life is rated very highly.

How to make a great living room obstacle course

2. Scottsdale, Ariz.

Arizona is another historically military-veteran friendly state. Scottsdale actually beats Austin in many weighted areas, but its overall health ranking is much, much lower, leaving it at number 2 on the list.

How to make a great living room obstacle course

3. Colorado Springs, Colo.

The Air Force doesn’t choose poorly when it comes to quality of life, anyone who’s spent a day on an Air Force installation can attest to that. The home of the Air Force Academy has the highest quality of life of any of America’s top 100 cities, while ranking high on quality of the economy.

How to make a great living room obstacle course

4. Raleigh, N.C.

Job opportunities and the chances of economic growth are high in Raleigh, higher than any other city in the top five. It has some work to do in the health category, as far as veterans’ healthcare needs are concerned, but getting a good job with promotion potential can make the difference for a veteran family.

How to make a great living room obstacle course

5. Gilbert, Ariz. 

There may be many people who are surprised to see a city with a population of just above 208,000 make the top-five list of best places for veterans, but this Phoenix suburb offers great economic growth opportunity and a high quality of life for vets.

How to make a great living room obstacle course

96. Baltimore, Md.

Does ranking in the bottom five mean that Baltimore is a terrible place to live? Not necessarily. It means that of America’s 100 biggest cities, Baltimore has some work to do to attract veterans, especially in terms of quality of life and economic growth opportunities. No one wants to end up in a city that doesn’t grow with them.

How to make a great living room obstacle course

97. Fresno, Calif.

Fresno, with just under a half million people, is not the worst of the worst in any of the four rankings that comprise its overall 97th position. In terms of jobs and the local economy, it’s a better city than the other bottom five, but not by much.

How to make a great living room obstacle course

98. Memphis, Tenn.

It’s surprising to see Memphis make the bottom of the list, but while the economic factors for veterans fare better than other cities on the bottom of the list, jobs, veteran health, and overall quality of life for vets suffer in Memphis.

How to make a great living room obstacle course

99. Newark, N.J.

Newark is actually more toward the middle of the the overall 100 on the list when it comes to veteran health care, but it sits at dead last for veteran jobs and quality of life.

How to make a great living room obstacle course

100. Detroit, Mich. 

Poor Detroit has taken a beating over the past few years. While the Michigan city ranks dead last on the overall list of American cities for veterans to live, it doesn’t take last place in any of the four factors that comprise the list.

And, since it’s a proven fact that a large veteran population can strengthen communities, maybe the Motor City is exactly where we should be headed.

MIGHTY SURVIVAL

Army asks 10,000 recently separated soldiers to come back for virus fight

After thousands of Army retirees responded to a voluntary recall request for those in health care fields to help the service fight the spread of the novel coronavirus, officials quietly issued another call-out — this one to recently separated troops in the Individual Ready Reserve.

On March 29, the Army’s Human Resources Command sent messages to nearly 10,000 soldiers in the IRR asking for volunteers to put the uniform back on, Lt. Col. Emanuel OrtizCruz, an Army spokesman, confirmed to Military.com. The messages went out to those who had served in military occupational specialties including family nurse practitioner; critical care nursing; emergency nursing; nurse anesthetists; generalist nurse; and respiratory specialist, he said.


How to make a great living room obstacle course

The newest voluntary recall request was issued just days after President Donald Trump issued an executive order authorizing the military services to recall members of the Selected Reserve and the IRR to active duty in light of the strain the global pandemic is placing on the force.

While each service has slightly different IRR parameters and requirements, troops typically join the IRR for a period of four or five years following the conclusion of their active-duty service. A service member may have a contract that stipulates four years on active duty, but a total mandatory service obligation of eight years; the balance of that service is completed in the IRR. Troops in the IRR receive no pay and don’t need to drill, but may participate in periodic muster events — and they must remain ready for the possibility of involuntary recall by presidential order.

The Army, however, is beginning by soliciting as many volunteers as it can to meet medical provider gaps created as a result of deploying mobile field hospitals to urban regions in the U.S. hardest hit by the virus.

“The U.S. Army is reaching out to gauge the interest of IRR Soldiers who would be willing to assist with COVID-19 pandemic response efforts should their skills and expertise be required,” OrtizCruz said.

It’s not clear how many soldiers the Army needs to fill its staffing gaps and whether it will be able to meet the need with a voluntary recall alone. To date, the service has ordered the deployment of three mobile field hospitals — each staffed with about 330 soldiers — to New York City and Seattle.

Officials are still processing waves of volunteer responses from a call-out to 800,000 Army retirees from medical fields. OrtizCruz told Military.com on Monday that the service had received some 17,000 responses.

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Human Resources Command, he said, is still processing and validating requests, and sorting them by specialty. It’s not immediately clear how long it will be before the first volunteers can re-don their uniforms. Lt. Gen. Raymond Scott Dingle, the surgeon general of the Army, told reporters last week that the first step for the service would be to ensure that all volunteer qualifications and certifications are valid and up to date.

“Then once we do that, we will plug them into all of our medical treatment facilities as required in support of the mission,” he said.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

US taxpayers have reportedly paid an average of $8,000 each and over $2 trillion total for the Iraq war alone

The human costs of war are huge and crippling. The financial costs can be, too.


According to a new estimate by the Costs of War co-director Neta Crawford, US taxpayers have paid nearly $2 trillion in war-related costs on the Iraq war alone.

Newsweek estimated that the total for the Iraq War comes out to an average of roughly $8,000 per taxpayer. The figure far exceeds the Pentagon’s estimate that Americans paid an average of $3,907 each for Iraq and Syria to date. And in March 2019, the Department of Defense estimated that the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria combined have cost each US taxpayer around $7,623 on average.

The Costs of War Project through Brown University conducts research on the human, economic, and political costs of the post-9/11 wars waged by the US. Stephanie Savell, a co-director of the Cost of Wars Projects, told Insider it’s important for Americans to understand exactly what their taxes are paying for when it comes to war-related expenses.

“As Americans debate the merits of U.S. military presence in Iraq and elsewhere in the name of the U.S. war on terrorism, it’s essential to understand that war costs go far beyond what the DOD has appropriated in Overseas Contingency Operations and reach across many parts of the federal budget,” Savell said.

How to make a great living room obstacle course
Iraqi Freedom

Breaking down the financial costs of the Iraq War

The Pentagon had been allotted approximately 8 billion in “emergency” and “overseas contingency operation” for military operations in Iraq from the fiscal year 2003 to 2019, including operations fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria. However, Savell says the actual costs of the war often exceed that of the Congress-approved budgets.

“When you’re accounting for the cost of war, you can’t only account what the DOD has spent on overseas contingency funds,” Savell told Insider. “You have to look at the other sets of costs including interest on borrowed funds, increased war-related spending, higher pay to retain soldiers, medical and disability care on post-9-11 and war veterans, and more.”

According to their estimates, the cost of the Iraq War to date would be id=”listicle-2645054426″,922 billion in current dollars — this figure includes funding appropriated by the Pentagon explicitly for the war, spending on the country by the State Department, the care of Iraq War veterans and interests on debt incurred for the 16 years of the US military’s involvement in the country.

Crawford says that war-related spending in Iraq has blown past its budget in the 16 years military forces have been in the country, estimating a nearly 2 billion surplus in Iraq alone.

The increases to the Congressionally approved budgets were used to heighten security at bases, for enlistment and reenlistment bonuses, to increase pay to retain personnel, and for the healthcare costs of servicemembers.

Aside from the Defense Department costs, the State Department added approximately billion to the total costs of the Iraq War for USAID on Iraq and Syria. Meanwhile, 9 billion has been spent on Iraq war veterans receiving medical care, disability, and other compensation.

The US has gone deep into debt to pay for the war. That means it has interest payments.

As expected, that taxpayer dollars are going towards war-related expenses including operations, equipment, and personnel. But a surprising amount of the costs are to pay off the interest on the debt the US has accrued since going to war.

“People also need to know that these wars have been put on a credit card, so we will be paying trillions on war borrowing in interest alone over the next several decades,” Avell told Insider.

Since the US launched its “Global War on Terror” in Iraq and Afghanistan — and later Yemen, Pakistan, and other areas — the US government has completely financed its war efforts borrowing funds. A Cost of War Projects report estimated the US government debts from all post-9/11 war efforts “resulted in cumulative interest payments of 5 billion” on a trillion debt.

The financing method departs from previous international conflicts, where the federal government either raised taxes or issued war bonds to finance war-related expenses. According to Boston University political scientist Rosella Cappella-Zielinski, tax payments accounted for 30% of the cost of World War I and almost 50% of the cost of World War II.

Borrowing from both domestic and foreign sources, Crawford estimates the US has incurred 4 billion in interest on borrowing to pay for Pentagon and State Department spending in Iraq alone.

While the money spent on the Iraq War may seem staggering, the Costs of War estimates the US has spent over .4 trillion total on all of its “War on Terror” efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the related violence in Pakistan and Syria.

Defense Department spokesperson Christopher Sherwood told Insider that the Defense Department dedicates id=”listicle-2645054426″.575 trillion for war-related costs, with an average of spending .2 billion per month on all operations for the fiscal year 2019.

Sherwood said that the department’s costs go towards war-related operational costs, such as trainings and communications, support for deployed troops, including food and medical services, and transportation of personnel and equipment.

How to make a great living room obstacle course
Press conference in Al Fadhel

upload.wikimedia.org

The human costs of the Iraq War are even harder to track

The US invaded Iraq in 2003 on the belief that Saddam Hussein had, or was attempting to make, “weapons of mass destruction” and that Iraq’s government had connections to various terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda. Although the invasion initially had overwhelming support from the American public and the approval of Congress, it is now considered one of the greatest foreign policy blunders in US history.

189,000 soldiers were killed in direct war deaths and 32,223 injured, Cost of War estimated. Meanwhile, the deaths of hundreds of thousands of service members due to war-related hardships remain difficult to track.

The Costs of War Project believes calculating the total costs of war — economic, political, and human — is important to ensure that Americans can make educated choices about war-related policies.

“War is expensive — in terms of lives lost, physical damage to people and property, mental trauma to soldiers and war-zone inhabitants, and in terms of money,” Cost of War researcher Heidi Peltier wrote.

In 2016 and leading up to 2020, President Donald Trump has campaigned on a promise of pulling American troops out and ending “these ridiculous wars” in the Middle East. However, Trump deployed more troops to the country after an attack on the US embassy in Iraq.

The Pentagon originally requested less than billion of that amount for Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq and Syria — however, the Crawford believes that budget may be blown after more troops were sent into a war zone that was meant to be winding down.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY SURVIVAL

The value of open source intelligence in a pandemic environment

The extreme and necessary measures taken to restrict the spread of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) have impacted the day-to-day lives of everyone around the globe. From schools and jobs to sports and entertainment such as restaurants, bars and movie theaters – all been closed or impacted. The federal government has not been spared as the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has directed agencies to utilize telework to the maximum extent possible.


Many Federal agencies are able to adapt to this new paradigm and can provide provisions for their employees to access the necessary government networks from home using government furnished laptops and sensible security protocols. Not to say there won’t be hiccups in this process. The scale and speed of this shift to telework are unprecedented, and there will certainly be challenges as government workers and contractors shift to this new reality. What is certain is that the nature of work has changed for the foreseeable future.

How to make a great living room obstacle course

What has not changed is our adversaries attempts to leverage and exploit this vulnerable situation for their own gain. Recently, a cyber-attack on the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) by a presumed state actor attempted to overload the Department’s cyberinfrastructure. As the lead agency in the pandemic response, HHS is the trusted source for the latest pandemic information. When trust in the source is compromised or threatened, the public loses confidence and the results can be confusion at best, panic at worst.

The need for keeping our government networks secure is vital for agencies to accomplish their missions.

While many government workers and contractors are adjusting to remote work, there are several groups of workers that cannot. These include our first responders, military members, medical staff and other critical roles that are essential to the day-to-day security of our nation.

Another large group that must continue onsite work are those in the intelligence community. The critical work they carry out every day, often unseen and unheralded, must continue regardless of pandemics, natural disasters, or other events. This work goes on in secure facilities and on secure networks that keep the information safe and to prevent such events as those faced by HHS. As noted by Thomas Muir, the Pentagon’s acting director of administration, and director of Washington Headquarters Services, “You will not have the capacity, obviously, to log on to a classified system from your home, you will be required to perform those duties at the workplace.”

However, with these challenges comes an opportunity for our IC leaders. How much of the work conducted in our nation’s most secure facilities must be classified? Gen Hyten, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was addressing this question even before the pandemic by saying, “In many cases in the department, we’re just so overclassified it’s ridiculous, just unbelievably ridiculous.”

Case in point, at the agency I support, I needed a parking pass for the visitor’s parking lot. This would allow me to park my vehicle a little closer to the building until my permanent parking pass became available. I searched the unclassified or “low side” systems on the building’s operations site but could not find an option to request or print a pass. I asked a colleague if they could point me in the right direction, and she pointed me to the classified or “high side” system. I must have had a perplexed look on my face because she just rolled her eyes and shrugged. Keep in mind, this pass would not allow me access into the building, I would still need to pass multiple other security measures before I could get to my desk.

The path of least resistance in the name of security has caused simple items to become overly secured. The still secure networks of the unclassified systems provide adequate security for mundane administrative tasks such as parking passes and numerous other similar items. While this is a small example and only represents a minor inconvenience to me, it is indicative of a larger problem across the IC to default to classifying all information out of routine, on the side of extreme caution, or in some cases, simply convenience. Of course, the challenges with over-classification are not new and have been documented in the past.

But what if it didn’t have to be this way?

With the explosion of publicly available information, there is more data available today than ever before and growing at an exponential rate. Leaders and organizations are no longer looking for needles in haystacks, they are looking for specific needles in mountains of other needles. Sifting through this data requires the assistance of computers through machine learning and artificial intelligence to find patterns and insights that were previously only available in the most classified environments.

This is not your father’s open-source intelligence or OSINT. The days of the Early Bird emails and newspaper clippings are long gone. The data available includes everything from shipping to industry financials to overhead imagery. All of this is available to commercial companies that are able to pay subscriptions to data providers. Hedge funds, insurance companies, and other industries that are assessing risk use this data on a daily basis to make financial decisions. Our adversaries have much of the same or similar data available to them and are using it to make informed decisions about us.

Not only is this information readily available, but it is also accessible from outside secured classified environments. Work in the open-source community continues unabated as long as there is a reliable internet connection with sensible security precautions enabled and information from data providers.

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Many long-time IC members will immediately scoff at the use of OSINT and say that it does not meet the rigor of the classified environment. That may have been true years ago – however, with the speed of social media and availability of technology, events that used to take weeks to assess are now unfolding in the public eye instantaneously, and in some cases, real-time. One only has to look at the Iranian shootdown of Ukraine International Airlines flight 752 as a good example. Iran denied the aircraft was shot down and challenged Western governments to provide proof. Within just a few days, a Twitter user shared a video of what was clearly a missile hitting the plane, and the Iranian government quickly backpedaled and admitted they had made a mistake.

This type of definitive proof was not something that was widely available even 10 years ago, yet is nearly ubiquitous today. There must be a change in culture in the IC as new methods are adopted to supplement traditional methods and sources. In his article “Open Sources for the Information Age,” James Davitch succinctly captured these challenges, “As breaking the current paradigm is difficult, but essential, if the IC is to assume a more proactive posture. Barriers to this goal include organizational inertia, the fear of untested alternative methods, and the satisfaction of answering simpler questions, no matter how illusory their utility.”

In addition to the cultural challenges, there are logistical and financial considerations that must be addressed. A recent RAND study titled “Moving to the Unclassified, How the Intelligence Community Can Work from Unclassified Facilities” addresses many of the pros and cons of the tactical considerations and how leaders might address them. Perhaps the most significant advantages are the intangibles that the RAND authors noted, “The advantages of remote-work programs include greater access to outside expertise, continuity of operations, and increased work-life offerings for recruitment and retention.”

While OSINT is not the panacea for all intelligence challenges, it is a worthwhile tool for a leader to exploit this INT to its fullest potential. As we adapt to the new realities of telework and ways of operating, it is a good time for our IC leaders to advocate for a new way to operate outside of the secure environment.

This article originally appeared on Real Clear Defense. Follow @RCDefense on Twitter.

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WWII ‘Ghost Army’ may be up for Congressional Gold Medal

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National Archives


In the crucial months following the D-Day invasion, the clever foxes of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops repeatedly fooled the Nazis by deploying a Ghost Army; a phantom division of mocked-up tanks, vehicles, and artillery. The artists, actors, designers, and audio-technicians who made up the unit managed to deceive the Nazis on more than 20 occasions.

Now, more than seventy years later, a bipartisan congressional movement seeks to reward the tricksters for their efforts. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) and Rep. Annie Kuster (D-N.H.) have introduced a bill called “The Ghost Army Gold Medal Act,” according to the Washington Times. “It is finally time that the American people recognize their ingenuity and selflessness which saved countless American and Allied lives,” Mr. King says. “The Ghost Army deserve their due.”

The bill has picked up over 30 co-sponsors in the House, with a companion bill being introduced in the Senate. There are currently surviving “Ghost vets” in 11 states and the District of Columbia. If the Ghost Army is awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, they will be joining other specialized WWII units such as the Monuments Men, the Doolittle Raiders, and the Native American Code-talkers.

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Plate of Peas Production | YouTube

Though the 23rd was made up of only 1,000 men, they were often able to dupe the Nazi army into believing they numbered closer to 30,000. They did this by strategically placing dummy tanks, trucks, and artillery within enemy line of site, while blasting sound effects of heavily armed infantry on giant boom boxes, while could be heard from more than 20km away. This was often enough to distract the enemy long enough for the non-inflatable Allied Army to get into position on the crucial front lines of Normandy to the Rhine River. It’s estimated that these tactics saved tens of thousands of soldiers’ lives.

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National Archives

The ingenuity of the 23rd wasn’t limited to battlefield theatrics. Actors within the Ghost Army impersonated U.S. general and hi-ranking officers in European towns, brazenly discussing fake military plans over casks of wine and fooling German spies. Architects and set designers even constructed dummy camps and airfields, complete with tents and laundry drying on clotheslines, and fake convoys of empty trucks ferrying back and forth.

Hollywood has taken notice, as well, and a “Ghost Army” film is currently being developed by “American Sniper” actor Bradley Cooper and producer Todd Philips.

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Hello, Seaman: Navy ditches ratings after review

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Rear Adm. speaks to the crew of USS Iwo Jima during an all hands call. | US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Andrew Murray


The Navy is jettisoning its complex ratings system to make sailors’ jobs more understandable and allow them to more easily transfer occupations.

The move, which allows sailors to be addressed by rank, such as seaman, petty officer and chief, aligns the service for the first time with the other three military branches, which address troops by rank instead of job specialty.

“I’ve never heard of a Marine who introduced himself as ‘Infantry Corporal Smith,’ ” Cmdr. John Schofield, a spokesman for Navy Personnel Command, told Military.com. “This is exactly what every other service does; it completely aligns us with the other services. I would just say that it makes complete sense in terms of putting more emphasis on rank and standardization.”

The changes are the result of an eight-month review initiated by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus in January in as part of an effort to make job titles gender neutral as women entered previously closed fields.

In June, Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. Robert Burke announced that the review was being expanded with input from the master chief petty officer of the Navy and other senior leaders to examine ways to make job descriptions more inclusive, improve the job assignment process, and facilitate sailors’ transition between military jobs or into civilian ones.

A Navy administrative message published Thursday announced that the ratings system that included job and rank information — intelligence specialist first class or chief hospital corpsman — is being replaced with a four-digit alphanumeric Naval Occupational Specialty, or NOS, parallel to the military occupational specialties used by the Marine Corps, Army and Air Force.

Sailors in ranks E-1 to E-3 will be addressed as “seaman;” those in ranks E4 to E-6 will be called petty officers third, second or first class; and those in ranks E-7 to E-9 will be called chief, senior chief or master chief, in keeping with their paygrade, according to the message.

“There will no longer be a distinction between ‘Airman, Fireman, and Seaman.’ They will all be ‘Seamen,’ ” the message states.

The new NOSs will be categorized under logical job fields, similar to the organizational system used by the other services. According to a ratings conversion chart provided by Navy officials, the old ratings of Navy diver, explosive ordnance disposal specialist, and special warfare operator will be classified as NOS E100, E200 and E300, respectively.

Schofield said sailors will be able to hold more than one NOS, a shift that will allow them to collect a broader range of professional experience and expertise while in uniform. Each NOS, he said, will be ultimately matched with a parallel or similar civilian occupation to “enable the Navy to identify credentials and certifications recognized and valued within the civilian workforce.”

“This change represents a significant cultural shift and it is recognized that it will not happen overnight, but will take time to become fully adapted,” the message states.

While the review began with an eye to gender neutrality, the ranks of “seaman” in the Navy and “midshipman” at the Naval Academy will stay, Schofield said. The terms were allowed to remain, he said, because they are ranks, not job titles.

While the new NOSs will largely retain the original ratings titles, some — such as yeoman — may change to become more inclusive or more descriptive of the sailors’ jobs. The updated list of job titles is still being finalized, Schofield said.

The Navy’s message to sailors is that the process isn’t over yet, and it’s not setting timelines for the completion of the ratings changeover.

“Changes to personnel management processes, policies, programs and systems will proceed in deliberate and thoughtful phases that will enable transitions that are seamless and largely transparent to the fleet,” the message states. “Fleet involvement and feedback will be solicited during each phase of the transformation. All aspects of enlisted force management to include recruiting, detailing, advancements, training, and personnel and pay processes are being carefully considered as we move forward.”

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Let’s talk about the U.S. Navy Poseidon lased by Chinese destroyer during a routine patrol in the Philippine Sea

A U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon was hit by a weapons-grade laser during a routine patrol above international waters on February 17, 2020. The incident happened in the Philippine Sea approximately 380 miles west of Guam, where it was targeted by the laser belonging to a People’s Liberation Army Navy’s destroyer with hull number 161, according to the official statement, which should be the Type 052D Destroyer “Hohhot”.

The laser was not visible to the naked-eye and was detected by the Poseidon’s sensors. The P-8A, assigned to Patrol Squadron (VP) 45 and based at NAS Jacksonville (Florida), is currently deployed in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations and operates from Kadena Air Base (Japan). No damage or injuries to the Poseidon and its crew were reported.


The U.S. Navy deemed the destroyer’s actions unsafe and unprofessional, adding also that this incident violated the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES), a multilateral agreement reached at the 2014 Western Pacific Naval Symposium to reduce the chance of an incident at sea, and a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between U.S. Department of Defense and the Ministry of National Defense of the PRC regarding rules of behavior for safety of air and maritime encounters.

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People’s Liberation Army Navy’s Type 052D Destroyer “Hohhot”.

(Photo: China Military)

The official statement didn’t provide much details about the laser, other than noting it was weapons-grade and not visible to the naked-eye. However, it is worth noting that the Chinese military is developing multiple laser systems for various applications. In particular, the PLA Navy was testing last year the prototype of a tactical laser system intended for land applications and for use aboard the new Type 55 destroyers for both for air defense and close-in defense, as alternative to the HHQ-10 surface-to-air missile. China didn’t release details about the system, other than showcasing it on the national TV channel. However, the system bears some resemblance to the AN/SEQ-3 Laser Weapon System or XN-1 LaWS, developed by the U.S. Navy and tested in 2014 aboard the USS Ponce.

The LaWS is designed to work against low-end asymmetric threats with scalable power levels up to 30 kW. While working at low power, the laser can act as an Active Denial System (ADS), a non-lethal system for area denial, perimeter security and crowd control, while in high power mode it can be used to disable sensors and engines and also detonate explosive materials. During testing, the laser was directed by the Phalanx CIWS (Close-in Weapon System) Fire Control Radar and successfully hit targets mounted aboard a speeding small boat, a Scan Eagle Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) and other moving targets at sea.

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Similar incidents happened also in the last two years, however this is the first time the incident is directly attributable to the Chinese military. Back in 2018, a U.S. C-130 Hercules was targeted by a visible laser while the aircraft was flying near China’s Djibouti base, resulting in minor injuries to two pilots. In 2019, Australian Navy helicopter pilots flying from the HMAS Canberra were hit by lasers in the South China Sea during a cruise from Vietnam to Singapore, requiring them to perform a precautionary landing.

This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.

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This ceremony honored the special bond shared by K-9s and their handlers

Laura Miller apologized more than once for getting emotional as she spoke at the Airborne Special Operations Museum on Monday.


But after seeing battle-hardened Special Forces soldiers dissolve into tears at the loss of their dogs, she said the love these men felt for their dogs — and of the dogs for them — can lead to tears at times.

Miller, a retired veterinarian technician who served 26 years, including 10 with caring for Special Operations Forces dogs, spoke to a crowd of several hundred about the sacrifices of military dogs — and the number of military lives they have saved.

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DoD Photo by Pfc. Brian Domzalski

“To see these big, strong soldiers break into tears over the loss of their dog, you realize this is a special bond,” Miller said. “There is a love that runs deeper.”

“The love for their dog and of the dog for their handler…” she paused as the emotion of the moment again caught her. “Just appreciate everything. Life is too short. The evidence of that is right here.”

She waved over to the nearby ASOM Field of honor, where more than 600 flags caught a light breeze.

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DoD Photo by Airman Shawna Keyes

In addition to the ceremony, the ASOM offered a series of concerts, exhibits, and first-person displays. Military experts offered visitors hands-on experience with military equipment from World War I through the Vietnam era.

Ron Wolfe, a retired Army sergeant, let youngsters try on his flak jacket and helmet from Vietnam, laughing when they complained about their weight and heat.

“Yeah, they can get a bit heavy,” Wolfe said. “Just wait until you had to wear them all day in the summertime.”

The ASOM K-9 Memorial honors more than 60 trained dogs who have died in service to Special Forces as well as partner groups in Great Britain and Australia. It was dedicated in 2013.

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How the Marines and the Navy work together on the high seas

The seven-month odyssey of a “blue-green” flotilla that saw combat in Yemen and Syria and conducted training exercises across a large swath of the globe demonstrates the enduring importance of the Navy-Marine Corps team overseas, commanders of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit said May 24.


Departing San Diego on Oct. 14, the 11th MEU and the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group reportedly supported a Jan. 29 raid in Yemen in which a Navy SEAL — Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens — was killed. They also brought artillery and infantry troops to Kuwait for later duty, providing firepower to Kurdish partners besieging Raqqa, the Syrian city that doubles as the capital for the terrorist Islamic State.

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U.S. Marines with Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369 (HMLA-369), 3d Marine Aircraft Wing, exits a CH-53E Super Stallion upon return from a deployment with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., May 12, 2017. Friends and family members welcomed home Marines from the 11th MEU’s Command Element during a homecoming ceremony. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Clare J. Shaffer/Released)

The howitzers manned by the Marines conducted more than 400 fire-support missions in Syria, firing more than 4,500 shells at ISIS targets, according to the 11th MEU.

“It was the right Marine air-ground task force to provide supportability, mobility, and lethality,” 11th MEU spokesman Maj. Craig Thomas said during a news conference May 24 at Camp Pendleton. “The Marines supported local Syrians who are fighting to rid ISIS from their country.”

Also read: Marines arrive in Syria to support assault on ISIS capital

Citing the classified nature of the Yemen operations, Thomas said he couldn’t comment on that raid.

His report card for the MEU comes during a series of debates not only about America’s policies toward Yemen and Syria but also grumbling concerns about the future of Marine expeditionary units.

Experts continue to fret about how Marine battalions will conduct their amphibious missions in an age of super-fast and precise, long-range anti-ship-air missiles, plus Pentagon budget woes that appear to prioritize submarines and destroyers over amphibious assault ships like the Makin Island.

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Sailors man the rails aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD 8) in 2012. | (Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Dominique Pineiro/Navy)

That flagship vessel returned to San Diego on May 15. It and the fellow amphibious assault ships Somerset and Comstock combined to carry more than 4,500 sailors and Marines, spending three months in the Pacific Ocean and four months in the waters off the Middle East and Africa.

Beyond the combat operations in Syria, the group held exercises in Hawaii, Guam, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, Djibouti, Oman, and the Persian Gulf. Marines also stood ready to evacuate the embassy in the South Sudanese capital of Juba during hostilities there — the sort of mission that makes an amphibious ready group and Marine expeditionary unit “the 9-1-1 organization from the sea,” 11th MEU commander Col. Clay Tipton said.

Retired Marine Col. Mark Cancian — a senior adviser with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, D.C. — echoed Tipton’s perspective that the MEU remains a lasting example of flexible armed response from the sea.

“What makes a Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force so valuable is the ability of the Marines to mix and match capabilities,” Cancian said. “That’s what they’re doing and that’s what they should be doing.”

And that’s particularly important for Syria because how the Marines were used dovetails with President Donald Trump’s foreign policy goals — defeat the Islamic State without putting too many boots on the ground, he added.

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U.S. Marines with Fox Company, Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines (BLT 2/1), 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), conduct a Table 3 combat marksmanship course of fire as a part of sustainment training on the flight deck of the USS San Diego (LPD 22). (U.S. Marine Corps photos by Gunnery Sgt. Rome M. Lazarus)

“The thing that the Marine Corps can provide that’s really needed is fire power for allies like the Kurds or Iraqis — artillery, mortars, aircraft,” Cancian said. “So far, Trump’s policy has been adamant about not using infantry, except in a limited role to protect artillery and other units that are on the ground to add firepower for allies.”

If the mission in Syria grows, Cancian could envision Marine and Navy logistical heft toting more supplies to Kurdish militias or the Free Syrian Army, perhaps even occupying an airfield and using it as a forward operating base. The Corps also could deploy more artillery observers and so called “Joint Terminal Attack Controllers” who call in airstrikes, but Cancian doubts the White House would land a large number of “boots on the ground.”

“The tough question on Syria is the same as the one in Iraq: What happens next, after ISIS is defeated? … That’s a huge fork in the road for the Trump administration, but it’s still months away,” he predicted.

Potential rivals at sea such as Russia, China, and Iran increasingly field anti-ship and surface-to-air missiles that can be fired from hundreds of miles away. Large amphibs, their hovercraft and lumbering armored troop carriers that take hours to wade ashore and unload, would be punished by precision missiles, experts contend.

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Marines assigned to the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) board an MV-22 Osprey, assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 163 (Reinforced) on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD 8). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Devin M. Langer)

The Makin Island is one of the world’s largest amphibs. But it’s also considered a transitional vessel, with similar but superior high-tech “Big Deck Amphibs” like the San Diego-based America poised to share space in the piers.

The America, and up to 10 of its planned sister warships, will feature bigger fuel tanks and storage capacity along with hardened decks to support the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter, the next-generation aircraft that takes off and lands vertically. In other navies, those ships would be considered aircraft carriers — a point that has sparked questions about whether the Navy favors that capability over its traditional mission of putting Marines ashore.

“The answer, to me, is that we had better prepare to fight for command of the sea,” said James Holmes, a professor of strategy at the U.S. Naval War College and a former Navy surface warfare officer who is widely considered one of the world’s top experts on maritime battle. “As the greats of sea power tell us, you have to be able to win command of the sea if you want to use the sea to do things like conduct amphibious landings.

“So we need to be ready to do these things, but chances are there will be delays while we fight our way into the theater, reduce shore-based missile batteries and on and on. Sea power is no longer just about navies,” he added.

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Assault amphibious vehicles (AAVs) with the AAV platoon, Echo Company, Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), leave the well deck of the dock landing ship USS Comstock (LSD 45). (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Melissa Wenger/Released)

Holmes believes the Marines might fret about the future of the amphibious fleet because ongoing studies have called for converting some assault ships into light aircraft carriers and replacing them with other vessels when they’re retired, but the Navy must strike the right balance.

“As far as priorities, certainly the types of ships we need to defeat our enemies and take command of the sea must take precedence,” he said, adding that it’s “a lot easier to improvise a fleet of amphibious transports than it would to improvise destroyers or nuclear-powered attack submarines.”

In a major war, like a potential Pacific-wide bout with China, the traditional mission of the amphibs likely wouldn’t end.

Holmes said Marines could be called to seize islands, much as they did in World War II. Cancian added that the Corps also might return to traditional missions like coastal artillery batteries, working alongside the Army and other services to to defend anti-ship missile batteries on the islands and shoals peppering the Pacific Ocean.

That concept is still a work in progress.

“The bottom line is that there’s no answer about the ultimate future of the ships and the marine expeditionary units, but we do know that in peacetime they’re very useful,” Cancian said. “You’re seeing in the Middle East just how useful they are.”

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