While every veteran probably knows about the GI Bill, there are a number of other education benefits offered that they might be unaware of. Here are a few of them:
1. VA Work-study Programs
These work-study positions are part-time jobs, up to 25 hours a week, for students-veterans usually at local VA facilities (i.e. hospitals, Vet Centers, etc.) that allow veterans to earn extra money and gain experience while in school. The job may only pay minimum wage but since it is considered an education benefit it is tax free. To utilize this benefit a veteran must be enrolled at least three-quarters of the time and are using veteran education benefits, such as the GI Bill.
If you are a veteran working for the VA, a company, or non-profit that is dedicated to serving veterans you can apply to host a work-study program and employ your own student veterans.
2. Vocational Rehabilitation
Also known as Voc Rehab this is a benefit provided by the VA to assist veterans with service connected disabilities to obtain education or training in a new field. This can be particularly useful for veterans who have exhausted their GI Bill but wish to continue their education.
3. Veterans Upward Bound
A pre-college program designed to help veterans reintegrate into higher education after their service. Unfortunately there are only 49 programs nationwide, but they cover most states and many major universities. Check to see if there is a program in your area.
4. Veterans Success Program at your school
Much like the Veterans Upward Bound program, many colleges and universities have implemented their own in-house programs to assist veterans with the transition to college. The nationally recognized program at the University of Arizona offers specialized classes to help transitioning veterans and also has a VETS Center on campus.
5. State Veteran Education Benefits
Many states have enacted their own benefits for veterans, such as the Hazelwood Act in Texas, which pays the tuition of Texas veterans after they have exhausted their GI Bill. Other states have varying types of veteran assistance, check with the Veterans Services Representative at your school for more information.
6. Veteran Scholarships
Many veteran and unit organizations (i.e. the 82nd Airborne Division Association) offer scholarships to their members. A quick search for your unit’s association (or just asking your buddies) should get you started.
This post is reprinted with permission from NationSwell, new digital media company focused on American innovation and renewal.
When Eli Williamson returned from two deployments to the Middle East, his hometown of Chicago felt at times like a foreign battleground, the memory of desert roads more familiar than Windy City central thoroughfares. As he relearned the city, Williamson noticed a strange similarity between veterans like himself and the young people growing up in tough parts of Chicago. Too many had witnessed violence, and they had little support to cope with the trauma.
Applying the timeworn principle of leaving no soldier, sailor, airman or marine behind, Williamson co-founded Leave No Veteran Behind (LNVB), a national nonprofit focused on securing education and employment for our warriors. Williamson formed the organization based on “just real stupid” and “crazy” idealism: “You know what?” he says. “I can make a difference.” Since work began in 2008, with a measly operating budget of $4,674 to help pay off student loans, LNVB has eliminated around $150,000 of school debt and provided 750 transitional jobs, Williamson says.
“Coming out of the military, every individual is going to have his or her challenges,” says Williamson, who served as a psychological operations specialist and an Arabic linguist in Iraq in 2004 and in Afghanistan in 2007. “We’ve seen veterans with substance abuse issues, homelessness issues.” Additionally, at least one in five veterans suffer from PTSD, and almost 50,000 are homeless and 573,000 are unemployed.
Williamson started the group with his childhood friend Roy Sartin. They first met in high school, when they joined choir and band together. “I think we’ve been arguing like old women every since,” Williamson says. Both joined the U.S. Army Reserves while at Iowa’s Luther College and were mobilized to active duty during their senior year after the Twin Towers fell. Williamson finished his education at the Special Warfare Training Center at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, while Sartin put his learning on hold.
Upon return, both struggled with crippling interest rates on their student loans. Sartin received a call from the loan company saying that he needed to make a $20,000 payment. “Although I had the funds, it was just enough to get myself back together. So, for me, the transition wasn’t as tough, but I was one of the lucky ones.” Williamson got a bill for $2,200 only 22 days before the balance was due. Desperate, he took to the streets playing music to cover the costs.
After talking with other vets, the two realized that many didn’t qualify for the military’s debt repayment programs. That’s when they started going out to financial sources for “retroactive scholarships” for our country’s defenders. And they sought employment opportunities for former military members to help cover the rest.
Jobs and debt relief for our nation’s warriors are the main focus of LNVB, but the group oversees several initiatives, including S.T.E.A.M. Corps, which pairs vets with science, technology, engineering, arts, and math experience with at-risk youth. More than 200 students have graduated from S.T.E.A.M., but Williamson, director of veteran affairs at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, points to a more intangible benefit of his non-profit’s work: the ability for veterans “to articulate a larger vision of themselves … is our advocacy mission,” he says.
“Veterans can paint a vision for where our country needs to be, and the only reason we can do that is because you realize that you are part of something larger than yourself,” Williamson adds. “That’s a fundamental value that veterans can share, as they leave military, with the communities that they come back to.” For those who’ve just returned home from Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, in other words, service is just beginning.
The Defense Ministry said Oct. 3 in a statement carried by the Interfax news agency that the maneuvers involve over 60 Topol, Topol-M, and Yars missile launchers.
All those types of nuclear-tipped ICBMs are mounted on heavy trucks, making it more difficult for an enemy to spot and destroy them. The ministry said the drills are spread across vast area from the Tver region northwest of Moscow to the Irkutsk region in eastern Siberia.
The maneuvers follow massive war games conducted last month by Russia and Belarus that caused jitters in some NATO countries, including Poland and the Baltics.
The Russian military has intensified its combat training amid tensions with NATO over Ukraine.
It turned from a localized problem to pandemic – first hundreds, then thousands, then tens of thousands were infected. The 2014 West Africa Ebola outbreak grew exponentially worse despite efforts to slow its spread. Similarly, Polio was once one of the most serious communicable diseases the world faced, but today, it is nearly eradicated due to vaccine development. The Ebola virus is just as lethal, but there is no Food and Drug Administration-approved vaccine for it… yet.
The Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Chemical and Biological Technologies Department partnered with the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases and Merck to develop a vaccine to protect warfighters and the public against future Ebola outbreaks.
Scientists at USAMRIID completed four non-human primate studies to evaluate the protective efficacy of Merck’s Ebola vaccine, V920. Researchers also tested the vaccine in clinical trials within the United States, Canada, Europe, and Africa.
USAMRIID examined the durability of immunogenicity and protection post-vaccination correlation. This data will be pivotal in extrapolating human immune response statistics. Further, researchers will also use the information to predict populations at risk for Ebola.
Conducted at USAMRIID’s biosafety level 4 laboratories, this joint effort will be instrumental when applying for licensure with both the FDA and the European Medicines Agency.
DTRA’s continued effort to enhance the combat support mission also advances public health services by developing innovative technologies that protect against biological threats.
The acting secretary of the Navy said Thursday that he suspects the number of coronavirus cases aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt will eventually be “in the hundreds.”
The first coronavirus cases aboard the flattop were reported Tuesday of last week. At that time, there were only three cases. The number had climbed to 114 by Thursday.
“I can tell you with great certainty there’s going to be more. It will probably be in the hundreds,” Thomas Modly, the acting Navy secretary, told reporters at the Pentagon Thursday afternoon.
He said that none of the 114 that have tested positive had been hospitalized. “The ones that are sick are exhibiting mild or moderate flu symptoms. Some are exhibiting no symptoms. And, some have already recovered,” he said.
The ship is currently in Guam, where the Navy is in the process of removing thousands of sailors from the ship and testing the entire crew.
On Wednesday, Modly told reporters 1,273 sailors, roughly one-fourth of the crew, had been tested. At least 93 tests had come back positive.
Capt. Brett Crozier, the ship’s CO, wrote a letter warning that “the spread of the disease is ongoing and accelerating.” He called for the removal of the majority of the crew from the ship as soon as possible. “Sailors do not need to die,” he wrote.
The letter leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle and then quickly made headlines everywhere.
The acting Navy secretary accused the CO of mishandling information by distributing the letter outside the chain of command in a way that made it susceptible to being leaked. He said that Crozier exercised “poor judgment” and that his letter caused unnecessary panic among sailors and military families.
“I have no doubt in my mind that Capt. Crozier did what he thought was in the best interest and well-being of his crew,” Modly said. “Unfortunately, it did the opposite.”
Tony Wells’ journey from Marine to leading USAA’s brand wasn’t easy. But his diverse career after his service made him the perfect person for the job.
“I grew up in the Washington D.C. area and obviously there is a very heavy military presence there,” Wells explained. His mother was a teacher and his father a pharmaceutical representative, both successful in their own right. “I was very fortunate to have a number of family members that either served or had connections.”
Although he eventually became a proud Marine, it wasn’t always the plan.
Recruited by the Naval Academy to play basketball as a senior in high school, it was the first time Wells really considered a career in the military. His maternal grandfather served during World War II as a Steward and Driver for a Navy captain. As a Black American, it was one of the few jobs they were allowed to hold within the military during that time period. “For him, it was an absolute moment of pride when I graduated from the Naval Academy many years later,” Wells shared. “The idea that his grandson would be a Marine officer was just a dream come true.”
So, why did Wells choose becoming a Marine over a sailor? As a midshipman during his junior year, he was assigned to a Marine unit. “We went to Bridgeport, which is where Marines do mountain warfare training. I just had an unbelievable time and seeing the relationship between the staff NCOs and officers, for me it was just a different experience…It felt more like what I wanted to embody as a military leader,” Wells shared.
In 1986, Wells commissioned as a Marine Corps Infantry Officer and headed to the fleet. Wells shared that being an “Officer of Marines” was the greatest job he’s ever had. “Being of service to country and for me, having those basic leadership philosophy foundation approaches ingrained early has served me well,” he said.
Wells deployed with the 1st Battalion 8th Marines out of Camp Lejeune to the Mediterranean. He was a rifle and weapons platoon commander during this time. He then had the opportunity to become a company commander. “It was a very unique opportunity for me as a 1st Lieutenant,” he said. Wells served under Michael Hagee, who would go on to become the Commandant of the Marine Corps.
After PCSing to Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, Wells had the opportunity to take on a secondary MOS and was trained to be a Public Affairs Officer. When he returned to San Diego after completing his training, the first Gulf War began. Wells found himself on the evening news…Wells found himself on the evening news, briefing the nation on how recruits were handling training as they prepared to deploy. “It was a great leadership experience and a great practical opportunity for me to transition. That became how I ended up transitioning to civilian service,” he explained.
Wells dove into his new civilian career with Nissan, working as their Corporate Communications Manager and eventually an Advertising Manager. After almost six years with Nissan, he moved on to other various marketing roles for different companies and industries. While working for one of them about 20 years later, he had a conversation with USAA.
“It was like coming home. I’ve been a USAA member since I was at the Naval Academy,” Wells shared. “It’s just been a tremendous experience around this idea of how important the mission is. I would say my whole business career I haven’t experienced the pull of the mission and alignment since the Marine Corps.”
Although Wells said he’s worked for some truly great companies, purpose is inherent within USAA. So is perspective. “When I have a tough day or think it’s been rough. I know that somewhere there is a cold, wet and hungry Marine who is in danger while protecting our country and our way of life,” he said.
As he looks back on his life, Wells is quick to recognize what he called deep blessings and great opportunities. “For me, Black History Month is about paying homage to the folks who have come before and the great sacrifice and accomplishments that Black Americans have had that may have gone unrecognized,” Wells explained.
Not only did his grandfather serve in the Navy, his cousin was a Montford Point Marine, one of the first Black Americans to enlist in the Marine Corps. In 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt issued an executive order requiring fair employment practices and banning discrimination.
“The last year has been a very interesting time in America. I think the murder of George Floyd really caused folks to reassess race relations. I think it’s very interesting that the military has such a long history of being the first to integrate but at the same time recognizes there’s still a lot of work to be done,” he said. Military leadership spanning across every branch of service was quick to condemn the murder of George Floyd and begin a deeper examination of their own houses for racism.
USAA joined them, issuing their own statement and commitment to fighting racism.
“Despite the discord and division we often see in America right now, I still remain hopeful…there are many, many more people committed to being on that journey to get back to the Constitution, which is just this idea that all are men created equal,” he shared. “I just think that the best is yet to come and I continue to believe that the military will play an instrumental role in making that transition a reality.”
This Marine spent his life living and breathing a servant-leadership mentality, honoring all who came before him. Although Wells may have left the Corps behind years ago, he found his new home in USAA by serving them and all other service members.
When Wells was asked if had any last words for readers, he smiled. “Semper Fi.”
The U.S. Army will continue with its Modular Handgun System effort despite heavy criticism from the service’s own chief of staff who called it too bureaucratic and costly for a low-tech item such as a pistol.
Army acquisition leaders recently attended a high-level meeting with Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley to determine what to do about the Modular Handgun System, or MHS, effort — keep as is, restructure or cancel it and start over, according to an Army acquisition official, who asked to remain anonymous because he is not authorized to speak to the media.
“The decision was to stay the course with MHS,” the official said.
This will likely ease a lot of worry from gun-makers competing in the effort since Milley has made no secret about his contempt for service’s effort to replace the current M9 9mm pistol.
The general has used recent public appearances to chastise a bureaucratic acquisition system for making it overly complicated to field equipment in a timely manner, citing the service’s MHS effort as a prime example.
But behind the scenes, Milley moved beyond criticism. His office recently asked the Army Special Operations Command’s G-8 office, which oversees fielding of equipment, if there is room for the Army to join its pistol contract to buy Glock 19s, according to another Military.com source who asked to remain anonymous because he is not authorized to speak to the media.
The compact Model 19 is one of Glock’s most popular handguns. New Glock 19s retail for $500-$600 each. USASOC is currently paying a base price of about $320 for each Glock 19, the source said.
With that price, the Army would pay about $91.8 million if the service were to buy 287,000 pistols, the quantity requirement outlined in the MHS effort, which is currently set to cost at least $350 million.
“The thing no one is talking about is the can of worms the chief has opened,” the Army acquisition said.
“I think it is good that the Army leadership is taking a bigger role in acquisition. On the other hand, there are huge risks when people like the chief have wrong or incomplete information, or jump into the middle of an active competition, the source said. “There are certain things one does not do, unless one is willing to live with the consequences.”
In this case, consequences mean the possibility of protests or lawsuits by gun makers participating in the MHS completion.
“Enough companies have submitted bids for there to be a good MHS competition,” the acquisition official said. “No one is saying how many that is or who they are. If they include the larger companies … it increases the prospects for litigation because they have the requisite resources, and that is what they do.”
Milley’s stance on MHS continues to draw attention from Congress.
Sen. Joni Ernst, a Republican from Iowa, questioned senior Army officials about it at an April 5 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s Airland Subcommittee hearing.
“This has been a real big issue,” she said. “Why is it so difficult for the Army to buy a basic item like a pistol?”
Lt. Gen. John M. Murray, deputy chief of staff of the Army’s office for programs, or G-8, agreed that the service has been down a “torturous path” on the handgun program.
“I will guarantee you [Gen. Milley] is involved with the testing, requirements and source selection, when we get to that point, in every intimate detail,” Murray said, describing how he has had “several very long and painful meetings with him in the past week or two and dug into how we got where we are and how do we fix this.”
The Army launched its long-awaited XM17 MHS competition in late August to replace its Cold War-era M9 9mm pistol. One of the major goals of the effort is to adopt a pistol chambered for a more potent round than the current 9mm. The U.S. military replaced the .45-caliber 1911 pistol with the M9 in 1985 and began using the 9mm NATO round at that time.
Gun-makers had until Feb. 12 to submit proposals to the Army.
The request for proposal calls on gun-makers to submit packages that include full-size and compact versions of their handgun as well as hundreds of thousands of rounds for testing.
One of Milley’s biggest criticisms of MHS is that the testing program is scheduled to last two years and cost $17 million.
In a break from tradition, the Army is also requiring competing firms to prove that they are capable of delivering millions of rounds of pistol ammunition per month in addition to delivering thousands of new handguns per month, according to the request.
The competition will also evaluate expanding or fragmenting ammunition, such as hollow-point bullets, that have been used by law enforcement agencies for years. The Army’s draft solicitation cited a new Defense Department policy that allows for the use of “special purpose ammunition.”
The paramilitary wing of influential Iraqi cleric Muqtada al Sadr on Dec. 11 agreed to disband its forces and hand over its cache of weapons to the Iraqi government, making it the first Shia militia to lay down its arms in the aftermath of Islamic State’s defeat in the country.
During a televised speech Dec. 11, Mr. al-Sadr called upon the government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to allow members of his militia, known as Saraya Al-Salam, to join Iraqi security forces or take positions within the federal government. He also demanded Baghdad “look after the families of the martyrs” who were killed during the three-year war against ISIS via compensation and support.
Other Shia paramilitaries, such as the Iranian-backed Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba’, a militia force of roughly 10,000 fighters, vowed last month to turn over any heavy weapons it had to Iraqi security forces once Islamic State had been driven from the country. Despite such promises, Mr. Sadr’s forces remain the only Shia militia under the Popular Mobilization Forces or PMF banner to hand over its arms to government forces.
At its height during the fight against ISIS, Saraya Al-Salam held sway over 2,000 square kilometers of Shia-dominated territory in northern Iraq, mostly in Nineveh province. Militia spokesman Safaa al-Timeemi told the Washington Times last September that the group would acquiesce to Baghdad’s control — but only if Mr. Sadr made the order.
“We commit to the direction and orders of [Muqtada al-Sadr],” Mr. al-Tameemi said during an interview in Baghdad at the time.
“If he says we should be part of this new organization, then we will. If not, then we will not,” he said, adding the militia “are not a replacement for the [Iraqi] army but we are in support of the army,” he said.
The Sadr group’s decision to disarm comes as other Iranian-backed paramilitaries with the PMF, with the direct backing of military commanders in Tehran, gained more popular support in Shia enclaves newly liberated from ISIS control.
That expanding support has allowed Iran to lock in so-called “Shia Crescent” of influence across the heart of the Middle East, assembling a network of Tehran-backed proxy forces now spanning from nation’s border with Iraq all the way to Lebanon. And in Iraq “the PMF is the guarantor” of the land bridge tying Tehran to the Mediterranean, Sarhang Hamasaeed, the head of Middle East Programs at the U.S. Institute of Peace, told The Times earlier this month.
Prior to the rise of ISIS in Iraq, Mr. Sadr’s Mahdi Army and other Sadrists battled U.S. and coalition forces in Najaf and Sadr City during some of the worst fighting of the American occupation of the country in mid-2000. A known Shia hardliner, Mr. Sadr’s position had begun to soften as other Iranian-backed paramilitaries with the PMF gained more popular support in Shia enclaves newly liberated from ISIS control.
A September meeting between Mr. Sadr and Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was seen as an effort by Riyadh to hedge its bets against increased Iranian influence in Iraq. Mr. Sadr was reportedly invited at the time by the crown prince and Saudi Arabia’s former ambassador to Iraq Thamer al-Sabhan, to the country for “discussions of common interest” between the kingdom and Iraq.
It was the first visit back to Saudi Arabia for the controversial Iraqi Shia cleric since 2006, al Jazeera reported at the time. Saudi Arabia officially reopened its embassy in Iraq in 2015, after a 25-year diplomatic absence in the country, according to the report.
Thousands of U.S. troops who have deployed in support of the mission against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, are now eligible for a new medal, officials announced.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter made announced the creation of the Operation Inherent Resolve medal during a change of command ceremony on Wednesday at U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida.
Carter segued into the announcement while noting that CentCom’s outgoing leader, ArmyGen. Lloyd Austin, and his successor, Army Gen. Joe Votel, have both “across their careers … demonstrated what can be described as inherent resolve.
“It is fitting then, that as we mark the change of command between these two leaders, that we introduce today the Inherent Resolve Campaign Medal,” the secretary said.
“I am pleased to announce today, by the president’s order and upon [Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr.] and my recommendation, that our sailors, soldiers,airmen, and Marines serving in Iraq and Syria as part of Operation Inherent Resolve are eligible for this medal and distinction,” he added.
“As we continue to accelerate our counter-ISIL campaign, we will continue to depend upon the men and women of CentCom,” Carter said. “It is you who provide us the flexibility to respond to any threat across a critical region.”
President Barack Obama on Wednesday issued an executive order establishing the medal to service members who “serve or have served in Iraq, Syria, or contiguous waters or airspace on or after June 15, 2014.”
With the operation still going on, an end-date for medal eligibility has yet to be established.
To qualify for the new medal, a service member must have been present in Iraq, Syria or the contiguous waters or airspace of either country on or after June 15, 2014, for at least 30 consecutive or 60 non-consecutive days, according to the Defense Department.
Service members who were killed or were medically evacuated from the campaign theater due to wounds or injuries immediately qualify for award, as do members who engaged in combat.
Troops awarded the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal for their service in Iraq and Syria after the start of Operation Inherent Resolve remain qualified for the older medal. They can apply to their military branch to be awarded the new medal, but may not receive both medals for the same act, achievement or period of service, officials said.
Service members serving deployed outside of Iraq and Syria for Operation Inherent Resolve will continue to be awarded the expeditionary medal.
Howard Banks is a WWII veteran who was injured while protecting Old Glory. Not in Europe or the Pacific, but in front of his Texas home.
The 92-year-old Banks is legally blind, but could spot someone trying to tear down the American flag posted in front of his house in Kaufman, Texas. When he went out to see what was happening, he was pushed to the ground.
Banks didn’t stay down for long. Just the previous year, vandals took down his U.S. flag, shredded it and then tore up his Marine Corps. Still holding on to the railing, Banks stood back up, ready to meet his attackers.
But they ran off. Banks was left with a twisted knee and some other bruises, but his flags were intact. Neighbors moved to help the 92-year-old, whose flags were still there. Banks attributed his dedication to the flag as more than just defending his property and his Marine Corps heritage.
“We’ve honored our flag all that time and doggone it, with our political climate the way that it is, we need something to rally around and that’s our flag,” Banks told the local Fox affiliate. “Once a Marine, always a Marine. I try to live that way.”
In the days since, Banks was surprised with a gift from Honor Flight, whose mission is to help older veterans by flying them to Washington, D.C., free of charge so they can visit their war’s memorial.
Banks’ neighbors moved in quickly to assist him. He now has security cameras in place to monitor his flags.
The Army has awarded Medals of Heroism, the service’s highest medal for Reserve Officers’ Training Corps cadets, to the three JROTC students killed defending their classmates from a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida on Feb. 14, 2018.
The Medal of Heroism, awarded to students Peter Wang, Alaina Petty and Martin Duque, recognizes JROTC cadets whose achievements “involved the acceptance of danger and extraordinary responsibilities, exemplifying praiseworthy courage and fortitude.”
All three students were among the 17 people killed by former Stoneman Douglas High School JROTC cadet, Nikolas Cruz. According to eyewitness accounts, Wang was last seen holding a door open to allow his fellow students to escape. The Army confirmed the news, first reported by The Daily Beast to Task Purpose on Feb. 20, 2018.
The Army presented Petty’s family with her Medal of Heroism at a Feb. 19, 2018, memorial service, according to The Daily Beast, while Duque’s family will receive his medal on Feb. 24, 2018. Wang’s family received his medal during his Feb. 20, 2018, memorial service.
“It’s my understanding that this is an open casket service and the family requested their son be buried in his JROTC uniform,” U.S. Army Cadet Command spokesman Michael Maddox told Task Purpose. “The JROTC Heroism medal will be on his uniform, but a second ‘keepsake’ medal will be given to the family.”
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports that the U.S. Military Academy planned on providing the Wang family with a letter posthumously accepting Peter to West Point Class of 2025:
Broward County Public High School system’s JROTC program claims an average enrollment of 7,650 students in 28 of its 34 schools annually. According to the Wang family, proceeds from a Peter Wang Memorial Fund GoFundMe campaign will support the JROTC program at Stoneman Douglas, whose members exhibited exemplary acts of heroism during the shooting.
“Awards for other possible Cadets are going through a review process, to include the two Cadets who were on the news,” Maddox told Task Purpose. “However, the immediate focus right now is on supporting the funerals with dignity and honor, so deserved by these cadets and their families.”
Two U.S. F-22 Raptor stealth fighters intercepted two Russian Su-25 fighter jets Dec. 13, conducting multiple maneuvers, firing warning flares, and, in one instance, aggressively flying to avoid colliding with one another, U.S. officials tell Military.com.
The Su-25s — single-seat, twin-engine aircraft — “flew into coordinated coalition airspace on the east side of the Euphrates River near Abu Kamal, Syria, and were promptly intercepted,” Air Forces Central Command spokesman Lt. Col. Damien Pickart told Military.com in an email.
The F-22s, the U.S.’ most advanced fighter aside from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, were in the area providing air cover for partner ground forces conducting operations against the Islamic State, he said.
“The F-22s conducted multiple maneuvers to persuade the Su-25s to depart our deconflicted airspace, including the release of chaff and flares in close proximity to the Russian aircraft and placing multiple calls on the emergency channel to convey to the Russian pilots that they needed to depart the area,” Pickart said.
During one maneuver, a Su-25 flew so close to an F-22 “that it had to aggressively maneuver to avoid a midair collision,” he said.
The F-22 also trailed a Su-35 after it flew across the river into territory deemed unsafe to coalition aircraft.
“The incident lasted approximately 40 minutes before the Russian aircraft flew to the west side of the river. During and following the encounter, coalition leaders at the [Combined Air Operations Center in Al Udeid, Qatar] contacted the Russians on the deconfliction line to de-escalate the situation and avert a strategic miscalculation,” Pickart said.
AFCENT officials said the Russians had “verbally agreed” in November through the deconfliction line that they would remain west of the Euphrates River, and the coalition would operate to the East, he said.
“Since agreeing to this deconfliction arrangement, the Russians have flown into our airspace on the east side of the river 6-8 times per day, or approximately 10 percent of the Russian and Syrian flights,” Pickart noted.
“If either of us needs to cross the river for any reason, we’re supposed to first deconflict via the line,” he said. “It’s become increasingly tough for our pilots to discern whether Russian pilots’ actions are deliberate or if these are just honest mistakes.”
Officials have said recently that coalition aircraft — more than a dozen air forces cooperating to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria — are concerned about the shrinking airspace.
“The coalition’s greatest concern is that we could shoot down a Russian aircraft because its actions are seen as a threat to our air or ground forces,” Pickart said. “We train our aircrew to take specific actions and to make every attempt possible to de-escalate the situation wherever possible.”
He continued, “We are not here to fight the Russians and Syrians — our focus remains on defeating ISIS. That said, if anyone threatens coalition or friendly partner forces in the air or on the ground, we will defend them.”