The Air Force is allowing its pilots, navigators and airmen who wear flight suits to roll up their sleeves whenever they’re not on in-flight duty, according to a new memo.
The latest policy, first published on the popular Air Force blog John Q. Public, mimics what airmen who wear the Airman Battle Uniform are already allowed to do when they’re not performing official duties, said Air Force spokesman Maj. Bryan Lewis.
“The flight suit sleeve policy was updated to align with the Airman Battle Uniform coat [shirt] wear policy,” Lewis said in an email Monday.
The change amends Air Force Instruction 36-2903, “Dress and Personal Appearance of Air Force Personnel,” which already states in the case of the ABU that “commanders may authorize sleeves to be rolled up on the ABU coat; however, the cuffs will remain visible and the sleeve will rest at, or within 1 inch of, the forearm when the arm is bent at a 90-degree angle.”
“Regardless as to whether the sleeves are rolled up or unrolled, the cuffs will remain visible at all times,” the AFI says.
Similarly, airmen who wear a Flight Duty Uniform or Desert Flight Duty Uniform can roll or tuck their suit sleeves under, Lewis said, and “are now approved to pull the sleeves up to within 1 inch of the elbow using the Velcro, already incorporated in the suit, to hold them in place.”
Lt. Gen. Mark Nowland, deputy chief of staff for operations, enacted the change — effective immediately — on Jan. 23, according to the memo.
Airmen “will still be required to have sleeves rolled down to the wrist when performing aircrew duties in-flight,” Lewis said — for example, while flying or on the flight line.
The previous policy for flight suits stated airmen could have their sleeves rolled under “if not performing in-flight duties.” However, the rolled-under sleeve “will not end above the natural bend of the wrist when the wearer’s arms are hanging naturally at their side.”
Lewis could not say if similar provisions for flight suits were made in the past.
North Korea demanded $2 million from the US for medical care provided to Otto Warmbier, a US college student who was detained in Pyongyang, where the young man slipped into a mysterious coma from which he would never awake, the Washington Post’s Anna Fifield reports.
North Korea required the US to agree to paying the $2 million before releasing Warmbier, according to The Post, but the bill went unpaid immediately after Warmbier’s return.
North Korea sentenced Warmbier to 15 years of hard labor in the country’s notorious prison camps that harbor thousands of political prisoners. His alleged crime was trying to take a poster from a hotel. North Korea deemed this a “hostile act against the state.”
He was released in the summer of 2017 after several rounds of negotiations with the North Koreans. When Joseph Yun, the State Department’s go-to guy on North Korea at that time, and Michael Flueckiger, a doctor, arrived in the North Korean capital, they were surprised to find that negotiations were far from over as Warmbier lay unresponsive in a North Korean intensive care unit.
“I didn’t realize what a negotiation it was going to be to secure his release,” Flueckiger reportedly said, explaining that the North Koreans expected him to write a report on the care Warmbier had received. While the doctor dealt with that issue, Yun was being handed a million medical bill.
North Korea billed US million for care of Otto Warmbier
Yun called then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who called President Donald Trump. Yun was instructed to sign off on the bill, two sources told The Post.
Warmbier’s family celebrated the boy’s return, but that joy was short lived. Warmbier died shortly after returning, as doctors saw no way to save him.
North Korea claimed Warmbier contracted botulism and went into a coma after taking a pill to help him sleep, despite reports that he was tortured. At the time, doctors examining Warmbier found no evidence of physical abuse. Flueckiger reported that the Warmbier had received “really good care,” an observation the Warmbier family disputes.
“Would I have lied to get him out of there? Maybe I would have. But I didn’t have to answer that question,” he revealed.
The president previously tweeted that Otto “was tortured beyond belief by North Korea.”
Later, Trump would take Kim’s word for it that he had no knowledge of anything bad happening to Warmbier. This prompted a firey rebuke from the Warmbiers.
Fred and Cindy Warmbier, Otto’s parents, sued North Korea over their son’s untimely death. A US judge ruled in their favor, stressing that it was appropriate to punish North Korea for the “torture, hostage taking and extrajudicial killing of Otto Warmbier.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
An effort to withdraw the 1,000 remaining US troops in northern Syria is underway, after new intelligence shows US forces in the crosshairs of a Turkish offensive against the Kurdish-backed Syrian Defense Forces (SDF) and a possible planned counter-attack.
Speaking on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” on Oct. 13, 2019, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said President Donald Trump directed the national security team to begin a “deliberate withdrawal” of US forces from northern Syria.
“In the last 24 hours we learned that [Turkish forces] likely intend to expand their attack further south than originally planned and to the west,” Esper said.
“We also have learned in the last 24 hours […] the Kurdish forces, the SDF, are looking to cut a deal if you will with the Syrians and the Russians to counter-attack against the Turks in the north. And so we find ourselves is we have American forces likely caught between two opposing advancing armies and it’s a very untenable situation.”
Esper specified that the withdrawal, which he said will done “as safely and quickly as possible,” is of troops from northern Syria, which is where he says most of US forces in the country already are.
US forces had been repositioning in northern Syria over the course of the week prior, as Trump announced that several dozen troops would shift away from the Kurdish forces – a move criticized as opening the door for Turkey to attack the Kurds, who have been US allies in the fight againt ISIS.
Trump has denied that the US is enabling the Turkish offensive, calling it a “bad idea.” However, the move to reposition troops stemmed from a call between Trump and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Since then, Turkish forces have entered Kurdish territory in Syria and overtaken a key border town. Artillery fire nearly hit a small group of US forces stationed in a Kurdish-controlled town on Oct. 11, 2019, too. ISIS members imprisoned in Syria have indicated a plan for jailbreaks amid the conflict, and a video emerged Oct. 19, 2019, that appears to show some ISIS members escaping in the aftermath of a Turkish attack.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The Pentagon is about to realize its dream of having a drone warship to hunt foreign stealth submarines.
Meet the ACTUV (Antisubmarine warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel) — a crewless,140-ton, 132-foot-long robotic ship unveiled in Portland’s Willamette River on Thursday.
“This is a big, big, deal,” Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work said.
“It looks like a Klingon Bird of Prey,” he added, admiring the vessel’s narrow bow.
“It’s extremely inexpensive compared to a manned system and it takes men and service women out of harms way. So why wouldn’t we want to do this?”
The ACTUV, pronounced “active,” costs $15,000 to $20,000 a day to operate, according to the Department of Defense. It was conceived in 2010 by Darpa, the Pentagon’s developmental wing responsible for testing emerging military technologies.
And those expenses are chump change compared with the operating costs of an aircraft carrier or submarine.
Staffing the ACTUV costs an estimated $684,900 a day.
“You can afford to use it in ways or think about using it in ways that would be too dangerous for a manned vessel,” Scott Littlefield, the ACTUV’s program manager, told Business Insider. “Like taking it into a minefield or taking it within range of somebody else’s weapons.”
“I don’t think we’ll ever get away from sailors on big ships,” he added, “but I could imagine a future in which we have a mixture of manned and unmanned systems working together.”
In short, ACTUV advances the US’s robotic-warfare abilities by supplementing the Navy’s manned fleet.
‘These will be everywhere’
The ACTUV’s completion comes as Russia and China, near-peer adversaries to the US, expand and update their navies.
According to NATO Vice Adm. Clive Johnstone, there is now more reported activity from Russian submarines in the North Atlantic than at any time since the Cold War. At the same time, China claims the majority of land in one of the most disputed areas on the planet: the South China Sea, which is home to $5 trillion in annual global trade.
To that end, the tit for tat over crumbs of territory in the South China Sea isn’t for nothing.
“This will operate wherever the United States Navy operates,” Work told Business Insider. “It can operate in the South China Sea. It can operate in the Baltic Sea. It can operate in the Persian Gulf. And it can operate in the middle of the Atlantic or the middle of the Pacific.”
“These will be everywhere,” he said.
The ACTUV’s sophisticated sonar system allows the unmanned vessel to hunt submarines, detect torpedoes, evaluate threats, and avoid small objects at sea — all while traversing the ocean at a top speed of 27 knots, or 31 mph.
This animation from Darpa depicts how ACTUV will hunt targets at sea:
While at sea, ACTUV will communicate information back to a military control center as well as to nearby Navy vessels and aircraft.
“There is no reason to be afraid of a ship like this,” Work said. “This is a ship that’s going to do what we tell it and nothing more.”
“The US military doesn’t really have the luxury of picking where it has to go, and the fact that the Navy has to be in all of those environments, that is what national security is all about, being able to do all of that,” Dr. Arati Prabhakar, the director of Darpa, told Business Insider.
Stand by for more testing
While ACTUV has already passed a few preliminary tests, the vessel must still undergo another two years of open-water trials with the Navy.
The Navy is slated to begin those tests in the summer 2016, in waters off San Diego.
If all goes well, the Navy hopes the vessel enters service by 2018.
For the second time in two years, the Coast Guard is relaxing its policy on tattoos in what officials say is an effort to widen the pool of eligible service recruits.
According to a new policy document released Oct. 3, 2019, Coast Guard recruits and current service members may now sport chest tattoos as long as they are not visible above the collar of the Coast Guard operational dress uniform’s crew-neck T-shirt.
The new policy also allows a wider range of finger tattoos. One finger tattoo per hand is now authorized, although the location of the tattoo is still restricted. It must appear between the first and second knuckle. And ring tattoos, which were the only kind of finger tattoo previously authorized, will be counted as a hand’s finger tattoo, according to the new guidance. Thumb tattoos are still off-limits.
Finally, in a change from previous guidance, hand tattoos are also allowed. While palm tattoos remain out of bounds, Coasties and recruits can sport a tattoo on the back of the hand as long as it is no more than one inch in any dimension. One finger and one hand tattoo are allowed on each hand, according to the new policy.
The Coast Guard released a graphic to explain its new tattoo regulations.
“I am pleased to see the Coast Guard’s new tattoo policy reinforces a professional appearance to the public while adopting some of the very same tattoo standards that are now acceptable among the public,” Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Jason Vanderhaden said in a statement. “The new tattoo policy will expand our recruiting candidate pool and provide those already serving in the Coast Guard with a few new options.”
The Coast Guard last updated its tattoo policy in 2017 with rule tweaks that offered a little more leniency. Chest tattoos were allowed to creep up to one inch above the V-neck undershirt, where previously they had to remain hidden; ring tattoos were authorized.
Unlike some other services, the Coast Guard has not restricted tattoo size of percentage of body coverage on tattooable areas, but the 2017 policy stated that brands could be no larger than four by four inches and could not be located on the head, face or neck.
The other military services have all issued updates in recent years to address concerns in the active force and current trends in the recruitable population.
In 2016, then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter warned that services’ tattoo policies could be preventing otherwise eligible young people from serving. As the percentage of prospective recruits who can meet fitness, education and background standards shrinks, the service branches have even greater incentive to remove secondary barriers to service.
The Army loosened its tattoo policy in 2015, saying society’s view of body ink was changing; the Navy thrilled sailors with a significantly more lenient set of rules in 2016. The Marine Corps also released a relaxed 2016 tattoo update, and the Air Force did a 2017 about-face, allowing airmen to sport coveted sleeves.
Military officials have said they’re working to find the line between professionalism and practicality when it comes to tattoos.
“This is not an episode of [History Channel show] Vikings, where we’re tattooing our face. We’re not a biker gang, we’re not a rock and roll band. We’re not [Maroon 5 lead singer] Adam Levine,” then-Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller told Military.com in 2017. “You can get 70 percent of your body covered with ink and still be a Marine. Is that enough?”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
US military commanders deeply appreciate the autonomy and hands off approach the Trump administration takes to battlefield operations, Operation Inherent Resolve commander Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend told Pentagon reporters Aug. 31.
Townsend explained that the Trump administration has “pushed decision making into the military chain of command,” as opposed to the widespread micromanagement of military operations seen under the Obama administration. “I don’t know of a commander in our armed forces who doesn’t appreciate that,” he said.
“Our judgment here on the battlefield in the forward areas is trusted. And we don’t get twenty questions with every action that happens on the battlefield and every action that we take,” Townsend said. “I think every commander that I know of appreciates being given the authority and responsibility, and then the trust and backing to implement that.”
US Special Envoy to the counter-Islamic State coalition Ambassador Brett McGurk told reporters in early August that gains against ISIS have “dramatically accelerated” under the Trump administration, highlighting the terror group’s loss of territory.
President Donald Trump repeatedly emphasized that US rules of engagement were too restrictive in the ISIS fight during the 2016 campaign. Throughout the early months of his presidency he has loosened rules of engagement and launched dozens of drone strikes under looser authorities.
“There is a sense among these commanders that they are able to do a bit more — and so they are,” a US defense official told the Wall Street Journal in April in the midst of high tempo operations against the terrorist group.
With at least five littoral combat ships needing time in the repair yard after engineering problems, and USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) suffering her own power plant problems, the Navy took another hit when USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) ended up on the binnacle list as well.
According to a report by USNI News, the 16,000-ton destroyer suffered a seawater leak in an auxiliary system for one of the ship’s propeller shafts. The destroyer is currently undergoing repairs at Norfolk Navy Yard. The repairs are expected to take up to two weeks.
The Zumwalt has had other issues – the new integrated power system caused extensive delay – and was cut from a planned purchase of 32 destroyers to three. Each ship in the class is armed with two 155mm Advanced Gun Systems, the largest guns to see Navy service since the retirement of the Iowa-class battleships. The vessels also carry 30-millimeter Mk 46 Bushmaster II chain guns, and twenty four-cell Mk 57 vertical launch systems. They have a top speed of over 30 knots.
The three vessels being built with cutting-edge technology will cost a total of $22 billion, including $9.6 billion for RD. Each of the three hulls, therefore, is bearing $3.2 billion in RD costs. Had the original 32 ships been procured, the per-ship RD burden would have been only $300 million per ship.
The cut in program size nearly led to the entire cancellation of the program under Nunn-McCurdy, which requires that the Department of Defense notify Congress if unit cost exceeds estimates by 15 percent. When the unit cost exceeds estimates by 25 percent, Nunn-McCurdy requires that the program is to be terminated unless DOD can certify that certain conditions have been met.
In a release about the incident, the Navy noted, “Repairs like these are not unusual in first-of-class ships during underway periods following construction.”
The US believes North Korea fired a missile shortly before midnight Japan time, or 11 am EST July 28, a defense official confirmed to Business Insider — and initial estimates indicate it could be the longest-range missile ever tested by the Hermit Kingdom.
“I can confirm that we detected a launch of a ballistic missile from North Korea,” Lt. Col. Christopher Logan told Business Insider. “We assess that this missile was an intercontinental ballistic missile, as had been expected” Capt. Jeff Davis later said in a Pentagon release.
Ankit Panda, a senior editor at the Asia-focused news website The Diplomat, cited a US source as saying that the missile flew for 47 minutes, reaching an altitude of 2,300 miles and traveling 620 miles. Such a long flight time and high crest suggest a tremendous range.
While North Korea had already demonstrated an intercontinental range with the July 4 test of its Hwasong-14 ICBM, the missile launched July 28 appeared capable of reaching New York or Washington, DC. Yet as with the previous launch, it is unclear whether North Korea has developed the technology to accurately deliver a nuclear warhead to the US mainland.
The missile on July 28 may have landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone, according to the Japanese public broadcaster NHK.
As launching an ICBM at full range could easily be interpreted as an act of war, North Korea lofts its missiles on a steep angle. Therefore a missile that flies only a few hundred miles toward Japan can still demonstrate a range of many thousands of miles.
For weeks, US intelligence monitoring North Korean military sites had predicted another missile test. July 27 marked the Day of Victory in the Great Fatherland Liberation War, a North Korean holiday celebrating the end of the Korean War on July 27, 1953.
North Korea has a pattern of launching missiles on historically significant dates, like its July 4 debut of an ICBM, but the weather July 27 was poor, possibly preventing a launch.
Typically, North Korea waits until the day after a launch to release photos or video from the event, which researchers analyze for insights into Pyongyang’s shadowy missile program.
A command-directed investigation anticipated to be released by Air Force Global Strike Command in coming weeks will show that Lt. Col. Paul Goossen was removed from command of the 69th Bomb Squadron Nov. 27, 2018, because penis drawings were discovered on a moving map software displayed on the nuclear-capable B-52’s Combat Network Communication Technology (CONECT), according to a source familiar with the incident.
The system, used to display common data such as pre-planned routes for sorties and target coordinates, captured the data for post-sortie debriefs. Screengrabs of the images were later used for laughs at an end-of-deployment party, sources said.
“Any actions or behavior that do not embody our values and principles are not tolerated within the Air Force,” said Air Force Global Strike spokesman Lt. Col. Uriah Orland in response to Military.com’s request for comment.
Orland would not confirm the contents of the CDI, but added the zero-tolerance policy “includes creating or contributing to an unhealthy, inappropriate work environment.”
A B-52 Stratofortress.
During the 69th’s deployment to Al Udeid Air Force Base, Qatar, between September 2017 and April 2018, penis drawings were repeatedly created by members of the unit and were captured as screengrabs for a CD montage, the source said. The montage was played at the end of the deployment, and then left behind and later turned in to officials. The suggestive material prompted an investigation.
The Air Force on Nov. 27, 2018, said Goossen was removed “due to a loss of trust and confidence from his failure to maintain a professional workplace environment.”
Col. Bradley Cochran, commander of the 5th Bomb Wing, initiated the investigation, which concluded Oct. 31, 2018, said Maj. Natasha Cherne, spokeswoman for the 5th Bomb Wing.
Goossen took over as the squadron commander in summer 2017, Cherne said in November 2018.
Goossen was commander of the 69th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron when the B-52 flew its last missions against the Islamic State before the B-1B Lancer took over the mission in the Middle East, according to the Air Force.
During its eight-month deployment, Air Force units to include the 69th launched “834 consecutive B-52 missions without a maintenance cancellation,” while targeting ISIS and Taliban fighters across the U.S. Central Command region, the service said in a release.
Lt. Col. Paul Goossen speaking to the president during a conference call.
(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Patrick Evenson)
“Having the 69th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron be selected to receive a morale phone call from the President of the United States is a true Christmas gift and a real honor,” Goossen said of the phone call. “We feel fortunate to represent all Air Force deployed personnel and we are humbled to have the opportunity out of so many deserving units,” he said in the release.
Even though the 69th’s drawings were restricted to the cockpit, the latest incident follows a spree of aerial maneuvers from various units over the last year throughout the military involving illustrated penises.
As American forces became embroiled in the conflict in Vietnam it was quickly apparent to commanders that they were fighting a war for which they were not prepared.
The guerrilla warfare and hit-and-run tactics of the Viet Cong were difficult to counter, especially for conventional forces. Luckily, our allies, the British, had already developed a tactic that they had used to great effect in Malaya.
Facing a communist insurgency of their own, but with limited resources, the British had developed specialized teams to track the enemy through the jungle and destroy them. This tactic was so effective the British would employ it against insurgencies all across the empire.
Knowing the French tactics had been insufficient, and not wanting to meet the same fate, Gen. Westmoreland sent observers to the British Jungle Warfare School in Malaya to see if the tactics could be adopted by American forces.
Impressed by what they saw the Americans made a deal for the British to train fourteen teams, to be known as Combat Tracker Teams, at the British Jungle Warfare School. Due to British neutrality, the soldiers to be trained traveled on official government passports and used only British gear while in training so as to maintain secrecy and low-visibility.
The basic organization of the Combat Tracker Teams consisted of two to four sections of five-men. The section was composed of a team leader, a visual tracker, a cover man, a radio operator, and a dog handler with a well-trained Labrador retriever. Not typical for combat operations the Labs were highly-effective in Vietnam. They were effective trackers, quiet in the field, and, most importantly, due to their even-temperament could more easily change handlers – a prized-quality for an army rotating men out of country, but often heart-breaking for their handlers.
The teams were in for intense training once they arrived in Malaya. For the dog handlers training was three months long, for everyone else it was two months. The cadre consisted of British and New Zealand SAS as well as Gurkhas, who usually played the enemy to add to the realism. Wash out rates were high.
The initial address to the trainees was often quite shocking to them. They were told the problem with the American army was that it was more focused on rank than knowledge. And that by the time they were done, they would feel more at home in the jungle than the North Vietnamese themselves.
After surviving the grueling training, the first teams returned to Vietnam in 1967 to be assigned to combat units. The team assigned to the 101st Airborne Division was told they must go through the division’s finishing school before they would be allowed in the field. Part-way through the first day it became obvious to the cadre that the trackers knew more than they could possibly teach them and they were passed through the course on the spot.
According to their group’s website, once in country, the Combat Tracker Teams were to “reestablish contact with the ‘elusive enemy’; reconnaissance of an area for possible enemy activities; and locate lost or missing friendly personnel.”
Once the troops hit the ground, they knew why their trainers had pushed them so hard – keeping up with a dog in the jungle while staying absolutely silent, as well as being alert and constantly ready for action is very hard work.
But that work paid off for the Americans. It was common to hear from the grunts about how the enemy could just “melt back into the jungle.” And that was where the trackers came in. Pushing out well ahead of the line infantry units no detail was too small for either the visual tracker or the working dog to pick up.
John Dupla, a combat tracker with the 1st Cavalry Division, said “we were taught to develop a sixth sense, utilizing methods Native American scouts used, such as looking for broken twigs and turned over leaves and rocks.”
Depending on the conditions and situation either the visual tracker or the dog handler and his lab would lead the team. Always right behind him was the cover man. Since the point person’s attention was focused on searching for trails and clues the cover man became his lookout, providing protection.
Although the unit’s mission was often not to directly engage the enemy, sometimes it was unavoidable. As one combat tracker related “if you got into something, you shot your way out.” Ideally, the trackers would locate the enemy and call the infantry behind them into the fight.
However, as the Viet Cong became aware of the effectiveness of the trackers they sought ways to counter them. Retreating groups would often send a contingent off in a different direction to draw the trackers away from the main force and into an ambush. One Combat Tracker Team lost their visual tracker and cover man to enemy snipers in this manner.
Despite their effectiveness many American commanders simply did not understand how to properly employ the trackers. Their small size and the secrecy of their training meant few in the infantry understood how they operated. They were sometimes thought of as scouts and to simply walk point for a larger formation.
The program was disbanded in 1971 as American drew down forces in Vietnam. The trackers were broken up and folded into their parent infantry units. Veiled in secrecy and lacking the notoriety of Special Forces the legacy of the Combat Tracker Teams quietly faded away.
There is no doubt though that the Combat Tracker Teams were effective, saved lives, and made life much harder for the enemy.
This week marked the 18th anniversary of the September 11th attacks and the beginning of the longest war in American history. Chances are, you’ve probably had the same conversation with your comrades, coworkers, friends, or whomever about where you were when you heard about the attacks.
Now that it’s been 18 years, that means that if you’re still in the military, you could now have that same conversation with a young private/airman/seaman and be greeted with the response of, “Oh, I wasn’t even born yet!”
Man — now I feel old when I tell people I was skipping some middle school class to play Pokemon on my Gameboy in the bathroom and came back to everyone watching the news. I can honestly say that I’ve never skipped class since that day.
Don’t worry. I get it. You’re now probably thinking about how old you are because you were doing something much more mature than I was seven years before I could enlist. Just wait for a few weeks when kids who were just sent off to Basic/Boot Camp on their 18th birthday graduate. There’s going to be some serious dog and pony shows for them and I bet it’ll be all over the news. Then you’ll really feel old!
Anyways, now that I’ve given you some existential dread about your own aging — here are some memes!
The retired U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Jim Mattis used to doubt the need for the U.S.’s massive stockpile of nuclear weapons, but he has changed his tune since joining President Donald Trump’s administration as secretary of defense.
In 2015, Mattis questioned whether the U.S. still needed ground-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, as he found the risk of accidental launches a bit troubling. When the Senate was confirming him as Trump’s secretary of defense, Mattis refused to offer his support for a program to update the U.S.’s air-launched nuclear cruise missile.
But now, Mattis has signed off on a new nuclear position that not only will modernize the ICBMs and cruise missiles but also calls for the creation of two new classes of nuclear weapons.
“We must look reality in the eye and see the world as it is, not as we wish it to be,” Mattis wrote in the review, perhaps an acknowledgment that, as secretary of defense, Mattis learned something about U.S. national security that changed his mind.
The nuclear review, rolled out this year along with new national defense and national security strategies, points to a U.S. more focused on combating major powers like Russia and China. Before joining the president, Mattis openly questioned the purpose of U.S. nukes: Do they exist only to deter attacks? Or do they have an offensive value?
In the years since 2015, when Mattis spoke of reviewing the U.S.’s 400-some hair-triggered nuclear ICBMs, the world was a different place but starting to change. China was building islands in the South China Sea, and Russia had only just swept into Crimea.
Now the U.S. has resolved to match Chinese and Russian military strength and change up the rules of engagement. The nuclear review advocates using nuclear force against nonnuclear attacks, like massive cyber campaigns targeting U.S. infrastructure.
Mattis has always offered thoughtful answers and pledged to operate on the best information he had on the topic of nuclear weapons, but he has clearly done an about-face since joining the Trump administration.
The abrupt change in Mattis’ nuclear posture prompts the question: What new information did he receive upon joining the Trump team?
“Welcome to another exciting episode of when is America gonna start acting like the great country we keep telling ourselves we are?” asked Jon Stewart in a press conference in September. He went on to remind the crowd that he’d spent the previous fifteen years trying to get Congress to support 9/11 first responders who were sick as a result of their heroism that day.
“When it was done, we thought it was done, but it turns out that the warfighters that were sent to prosecute the battle based on the attack of 9/11 now suffer the same injuries and illnesses that the first responders suffered from. And they’re getting the same cold shoulder from Congress,” he declared.
The speech came with announced legislation that would deliver care for veterans who suffered from health problems directly related to burn pits, open air fires that were commonly used to dispose of waste at military sites in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to The Washington Post, “the legislation would declare certain illnesses among combat veterans as linked to toxic burn pits, removing barriers of proof of exposure that advocates have said are too high.”
As of Sept. 11, 2020, the VA claimed that “research does not show evidence of long-term health problems from exposure to the burn pits.”
The VA does, however, acknowledge the following:
“Toxins in burn pit smoke may affect the skin, eyes, respiratory and cardiovascular systems, gastrointestinal tract and internal organs. Veterans who were closer to burn pit smoke or exposed for longer periods may be at greater risk. Health effects depend on a number of other factors, such as the kind of waste being burned and wind direction. Most of the irritation is temporary and resolves once the exposure is gone. This includes eye irritation and burning, coughing and throat irritation, breathing difficulties, and skin itching and rashes. The high level of fine dust and pollution common in Iraq and Afghanistan may pose a greater danger for respiratory illnesses than exposure to burn pits, according to a 2011 Institute of Medicine report.” According to the Washington Post, U.S. contractors and military veterans destroy enormous amounts of waste, including vehicle parts, lithium-ion batteries, solvents, and amputated limbs, by soaking them in jet fuel and burning them in open-air pits, “some larger than a football field.”
In his speech, Stewart pointed out the similarities between the contamination on 9/11 and the burn pits overseas — especially the use of jet fuel as an accelerant. “Jet fuel as the accelerant at Ground Zero and jet fuel as the accelerant in these burn pits. So our veterans lived twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week next to toxic smoke, dioxins, everything. And now they’re being told, ‘Hey man, is that stuff bad for ya? I don’t know. We don’t have the science.’ It’s bullsh**. It’s bullsh**. It’s about the money.”
Hundreds of thousands of veterans are left to advocate on their own, Stewart explained, which is why he and a team of lawmakers have stepped up to demand that Congress go on record and be held accountable for their decisions in this matter.
The legislation was proposed to Congress by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.). The measure would grant presumption of exposure to veterans with certain conditions and who served in one of 33 countries where troops were deployed after the 9/11 attacks, Gillibrand said.
The VA opened a burn pit registry which allows eligible veterans and service members to document their exposures and report health concerns through an online questionnaire. Over 200,000 participants have already completed and submitted the registry questionnaire.