An Army spouse has found her purpose after overcoming homelessness and creating her own organization that gives back.
When Marla Bautista was 18 years old, she was thrown out of her home by her abusive step-father with only a trash bag of clothes and a teddy bear that belonged to her deceased mother. For almost two years she lived a transient lifestyle staying in shelters, with friends and on the streets. It was the generosity of a local Catholic church that changed the trajectory of Bautista’s life.
“There were volunteers who handed out sandwich bags with hygiene items and they didn’t want anything from us. It was just ‘this is for you because you need it.’ And that was something that truly touched my heart. I promised myself that if I ever overcame that situation of homelessness that I would do the same,” she said.
Bautista and her husband, Staff Sgt. Ulisses Bautista, started serving their community as a family in 2011 and would later become The Bautista Project Inc. They began by using their own funds to distribute meals and hygiene bags for the homeless. Their nonprofit now provides basic living essentials, educational resources, support groups, veterans services and community resources for reintegration.
The impact they’ve created near their assigned duty stations has fostered an environment where the homeless can feel like they belong. With this, PCS’ing affects the Bautistas differently.
“Every time we move, we feel like we are leaving a community behind,” she said. But due to the vast amount of homeless in the U.S., there is always a new part of the community to impact.
In the state of Florida alone there are over 28,000 homeless Americans, of which 1500 are local to Hillsborough County in Tampa where the Bautistas currently reside. Although homelessness in America has decreased by 12% since 2007, according to the National Society to End Homelessness, there are still over 567,000 homeless people in the US.
The Bautistas have served the homeless population in Germany, Colorado Springs, New York and now Tampa.
Within a week of PCS’ing to south Florida, they were volunteering in a shelter.
“We have to reintegrate ourselves in that new community,” she adds.
Consistency matters. Her entire family goes out twice a month with meals and care packages, and instead of giving and going, they sit and interact with the locals in need. They get to know them and eventually build friendships.
In 2018 Bautista, with a desire to do more, began reaching out to her fellow military spouses and Facebook friends. With their help, her nonprofit has been able to provide winter jackets, gift a color printer to a shelter, create a small library of free books, raise funds to host a Christmas party at a homeless shelter getting what she calls “real gifts” for the attendees and shelter volunteers and distribute disposable masks. They also continue to collect uniforms to make belonging blankets for homeless youth in group homes or shelter setting.
The Army has been a vehicle allowing them to help in different parts of the world and Bautista’s husband shares her passion for giving to those in need, including homeless veterans. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs reports that as of January 2019 there were 37,085 homeless veterans in the U.S.
Bautista doesn’t judge any of them. “We’ve all fallen on hard times before. It just looks different for everyone,” she said.
One simple thing that she says anyone can do to start giving back is to purchase four gift cards at an essentials store or fast-food restaurants.
“That’s just and you can hand those out,” she says, adding that something this small can provide a meal for a person and the act can change their life.
To donate to The Bautista Project Inc. visit www.thebautistaprojectinc.org. You can purchase items from their Amazon Wishlist or donate directly to their nonprofit.
Former Navy SEAL Andy Stumpf wants to raise $1 million for the Navy SEAL Foundation, a non-profit that supports the families of fallen SEALs, by jumping out of a plane at 36,500 feet. His jump aims to break the wing suit overland distance world record of 17.83 miles.
Please help Andy raise $1 million for the Navy SEAL Foundation by donating to his GoFundMe page.
One of the benefits of being in the military is that the services place a great value on training and education. Throughout a 20-year military career, service members will have the opportunity to attend schools ranging from learning how to jump out of planes all the way to how to use Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. If we could offer one critique, it is that we don’t have more opportunities to learn across the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard.
Recently, I was able to jump the divide and learn from a Navy pilot. I grabbed a new book by Guy “Bus” Snodgrass about his unique experience as an instructor at one of the most premier schools in the military: TOPGUN School. The book, titled TOPGUN’s Top 10: Leadership Lessons from the Cockpit, is part memoir, part leadership book and an extremely quick read at less than 200 pages. Bus recounts how the lessons he learned as a pilot at TOPGUN helped him throughout his military career, and I also found them worthy of application in my line of work in the Army.
We had the opportunity to catch up to Bus and talk to him about his book and about the important role writing and reading played in his military career.
WATM: TOPGUN’s Top 10 is packed full of valuable and insightful lessons. When you were going through the course and later instructing, did you realize that you were learning these leadership skills or did the realization come after the fact?
Bus: I’ll give you the quintessential TOPGUN response: It depends.
Some lessons, like, “Nothing Worthwhile Is Ever Easy,” and, “Focus on Talent, Passion and Personality,” were apparent while I was serving as a TOPGUN Instructor. Others, like, “Don’t Confuse Activity with Progress” and, “Never Wait to Make a Difference,” started at TOPGUN but also benefit from experiences serving alongside Secretary of Defense James Mattis and other senior leaders.
To be honest, the seeds for each of these lessons were planted back in high school because of terrific mentors from my church, community, and Scouting.
WATM: In the book, you make the point that the world is full of noise (social media, news media, things in life that don’t matter). How did Top Gun teach you to focus and what role has focus played in your professional career?
Bus: We call this “compartmentalization” in the aviation community — the ability to push aside distractors and focus solely on the task at hand. As I share in the chapter titled, “Stay Calm Under Pressure,” the ability to prioritize and sort fact from fiction is a critical trait, one that saved my life on a number of occasions.
TOPGUN accomplishes this feat by focusing on an awareness regarding the harm caused by distractions. You never have enough time in any given day to accomplish all that is asked of you. You’re flying high-performance fighter jets to the very edge of your capabilities. Like stoicism, you have to learn to master yourself before you can master the events around you.
WATM: Out of all the lessons you learned at TOPGUN, which one was the most valuable to you? And now that you are out of the military, has that one changed?
Bus: “Never Wait to Make a Difference” remains my favorite lesson. We can all accomplish some absolutely incredible results, many on a level well above our pay grade or position in an organization, if we commit to making a positive difference each and every day.
I’d say this lesson is first among equals… and remains so to this day.
WATM: I know you’re an avid reader and have published articles throughout your military career, did those two practices give you a competitive advantage in your military career?
Bus: Yes, I believe so, especially if you desire to make an outsized impact to your organization. A significant number of leaders who rise to senior levels of responsibility have embraced authorship: Gen. H.R. McMaster, Secretary James Mattis, service chiefs, senior enlisted, and many more.
Writing forces you to prioritize and align your thoughts, which also helps you to better understand what you care about and stand for. Publishing, whether in a professional journal or to a wider audience, significantly increases your chances of influencing others. Publishing also teaches us to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. It’s no small task to put your thoughts into the public domain but like any muscle, the more you use it, the easier the exercise becomes.
WATM: Since we’re talking about reading, what book or books have been the most influential to you as a leader?
Bus: Each book can be paired with a situation or an experience in our life.
In high school, I really enjoyed Stephen King, Tom Clancy and Isaac Asimov — large chapter books that engaged my interest and imagination. As I started college, I really enjoyed reading biographies about senior political and military leaders, people faced with tough choices and limited resources. Then, as I gained seniority in uniform, I began to read more “ancient” history.
Reading is the least expensive form of learning. It opens doors into worlds we might never experience ourselves, teaches us lessons paid for by others, and generates increasingly complex ideas as our awareness grows. All these elements help accelerate us along our path to making an ever greater — and wider — impact!
March 16, 2006 started like most days for the soldiers of Alpha Company, 2/87 Infantry, 10th Mountain Division. A small patrol received their mission briefing and headed out to meet the elders of a remote village in Paktika Province, Afghanistan. The weather was warming up, signaling the start of the fighting season, and the soldiers knew it. But they didn’t know one of them would soon be hit by an RPG.
“There was definitely a sense of uneasiness,” Lt. Billy Mariani told ABC News. “There was an air about them of, you know, maybe something was going to happen.”
There was no way for the soldiers to know just how intense that something was going to be.
After four hours of driving, the patrol approached the village. They were ambushed by Taliban fighters using small arms and RPGs. As the convoy fought its way out of the kill zone, one of the vehicles, carrying Staff Sgt. Eric Wynn, Pvt. Channing Moss, and the platoon medic Spc. Jarod Angell, was struck by three RPGs.
One of the rounds pierced the front windshield of the vehicle, nearly taking off Sgt. Wynn’s face in the process, and struck Moss, who was in the gunner’s turret, in the left hip. The impact threw him against the vehicle while the round shattered his pelvis, tore through his abdominal region, and lodged in his right thigh. The tailfin was still sticking out the other side. Moss was still alive and still conscious.
“I smelled something smoking and looked down,” Moss said. “And I was smoking.”
Moss was lucky Doc Angell was seated below him in the Humvee. The medic got right to work dressing the wound. He bandaged Moss and secured the unexploded ordinance protruding from Moss to keep it from exploding. Lt. Mariani received the wounded report from Sgt. Wynn and called for a MEDEVAC, but he left out one crucial detail: one of his wounded was a potentially ticking bomb.
As the firefight died down, the MEDEVAC came in to evacuate the wounded but immediately noticed the RPG tailfin sticking out of Moss. The Army has a policy against transporting patients in Moss’ condition as they pose a risk for a catastrophic event that could bring down the helicopter. Fortunately for Moss, these brave souls had no intention of leaving a wounded soldier to die. After a quick conferral, the crew decided to load and evacuate him.
The helicopter landed safely at the aid station at Orgun-E where Moss was handed over to a surgical team. Going against protocol once again the surgical team, assisted by an EOD technician on the base, began the process of removing the live round from Moss’ abdomen.
Army policy states that soldiers wounded with unexploded ordinance are to be put in a blast secure area and treated as expectant (that is to say they aren’t going to make it) but Maj. John Oh and Maj. Kevin Kirk just simply could not do that.
To determine just how dangerous this surgery would be, the team first had to x-ray Moss to see what they were dealing with. They were fortunate, the main explosive of the warhead had come off before entering moss. However, there was still enough explosive and propellant remaining to kill Moss and maim anyone working on him.
After an intense surgery that required them to wear body armor to protect themselves, they were able to remove the unexploded round from Moss and save his life. The trauma to Moss’ internal organs was intense and a significant portion of his large intestine had to be removed.
Moss was transferred through the usual evacuee route going through hospitals in Afghanistan and Germany before arriving at Walter Reed. He would need several more surgeries and a great deal of physical therapy, but he would eventually recover to the point of being able to walk with a cane.
After being discharged from the Army, Moss returned to Georgia to attend college and raise his family.
Other than the National Anthem, there really isn’t another song out there that evokes the pride of country like Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” So when the iconic singer teamed up with the United States Air Force band to perform it during COVID-19, it’s no surprise the rendition is truly breathtaking.
Home Free – God Bless the U.S.A. (featuring Lee Greenwood and The United States Air Force Band)
Army Chorus and Lee Greenwood sing a capella God Bless the USA impromptu at the Winter Classic
While Greenwood never served, he has long supported the troops and military community. In a 2000 interview with Military.com, Greenwood was asked why he thought the song has such a powerful message for the military. He responded:
“I knew we had a song that touched the heart of the public. I knew that it was a song that gave proper salute to the military and its job. I knew that it honored those that had died, and I knew it made people stand up. I actually wrote those words: “I’d proudly stand up and defend her still today,” [meaning] even though pride had been gone in the past, it’s back and we should stand up at any time and defend this free country. So those who are away from home, it has much more impact on. I am a world traveler as well, and have been with the USO for 15 of the world USO tours with my celebrity cast. It does mean much more. You’re in another country where you’re subject to attack, and you long for the protection of the United States and all the things you find familiar about it.”
Here’s to you, Mr. Greenwood. Thanks for continuing to serve all of us.
A U.S. Marine was killed in a freak accident on August 4 after a tree fell on him during physical training at his California base.
Lance Cpl. Cody Haley, 20, was working out in a wooded area at Camp Pendleton with members of his unit when the incident took place. While on a run, the Marines tried to move a log they were unaware was holding up a dead tree, which fell on top of Haley and killed him, according to a source familiar with the matter.
A native of Hardin, Iowa, Haley had deployed in 2016 with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit. He was awarded the National Defense Service medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service medal, and the Sea Service Deployment ribbon, the Marine Corps said.
“We are heartbroken at the tragic loss of a member of the Marine Corps family, and we will do all we can to comfort the family, friends and colleagues of the deceased,” the Corps said in a news release to the Marine Times.
In the summer of 2007, in a bizarre incident shown live on Russian television, scientists accompanied by a couple of senior politicians descended 4,300 meters to the floor of the Arctic Ocean in two Mir mini submarines. Divers then planted a Russian flag on the seabed, and Russia officially notified the United Nations that it was claiming the ridge as part of its sovereign territory.
In effect, the Chinese did the same kind of thing when they decided to start building islands in the South China Sea by dredging sand from the bottom of the ocean.
In both cases, the countries were creating new sovereign territory.
One implication of their declaration was that anyone traveling within the 12-mile limit defined by international law was traversing through their sovereign waters, and could only do so subject to their approval.
A Russian flag planted by from a submarine undersea at the North Pole.
So the question is: why do American policymakers care about seemingly insignificant tracts of land so far away from America’s shores?
International law and American concerns
International law is pretty clear. You can’t declare any territory submerged under the sea outside the conventional 12-mile limit as your own, although you may have some privileges in the waters that lie immediately beyond it. You certainly can’t build up some land to above the waterline, thus creating an island, and call it part of your own territory. And in neither case can you legitimately control access by other vessels. Indeed, no international commission has upheld the Russian or Chinese claims. But that hasn’t stopped either the Chinese or the Russians from trying.
Americans, however, are pretty emphatic when it comes to denying such claims have any legitimacy.
In the Russian case, American policymakers were understandably caught off guard and bemused by this strange symbolic act.
But, at the same time, American policymakers have a right to be worried. Climate change could vastly increase sea traffic through the Arctic Ocean. And the future implications of Russian control of these sea-lanes have lots of potential downsides, given recent friction over Ukraine and Syria.
In the Chinese case, Americans were caught off guard and bemused when they shouldn’t have been.
The Chinese have been making claims for a long time about their sovereignty over huge portions of both the East and South China Sea. But in this case, Americans are worried about what China’s control of these waterways might do now to these commercial shipping lanes. Every year an estimated 50% of the world’s total of commercial trade plus oil passes through the area.
Global trade and American national security
The question of why we do care isn’t as obvious as it may seem.
America’s policymakers declare that the maintenance of global trade and commerce is in its national security interests. So America needs to keep these shipping lanes open to what they call “freedom of navigation.”
What that means is that they can send an Aegis class destroyer (so this was a powerful ship, not the equivalent of a coast guards vessel) and sail it past the Subi Reef (think of an island so small it would drive you mad if it was deserted and you had to live on it alone). It’s the equivalent of a drive-by — just to send a message.
Then you put the US secretary of defense on an aircraft carrier, the USS Roosevelt, and do it again — just to ensure that both the Chinese and America’s important regional allies understood the message:. “This isn’t your territory — and our mighty navy is not about to allow you to push us out.”
You might understandably assume that the Chinese, with their huge volume of exports, would also want to maintain open seas. And that the Russians would want to ship oil and gas to keep their economy afloat by water. So there is nothing to worry about.
But that’s where more modest concerns about global trade are replaced by those about deeper, hardcore national security interests. For Americans there is a difference between “our” open seas and “their” open seas.
Freedom of navigation and American doctrine
A central element of American national security doctrine is the notion of “Freedom of Navigation” or FON.
In effect, we (Americans) assert our right to sail where we want, when we need to. Behind that, however, is the deeply embedded concept of “control of the commons..”
Military historian Alfred Thayer Mahan popularized this idea over 130 years ago. He stressed the importance of America’s navy in ensuring the free flow of international trade. The seas were his “commons.”
Alfred Thayer Mahan 1840 – 1914.
Mahan argued that the British Empire was able to retain its commercial and military advantage by ensuring its ships could go anywhere. And that it could deny anyone else from doing so, if needed, in times of war. The overriding lesson is that wars are not won on the land. They are won on the sea by denying your adversary access to resources.
Today, Mahan’s work remains a core element of America’s military doctrine. It is taught to America’s naval officers at their major training academy where he himself once worked and where his work is still regarded as having biblical significance. But it no longer is just applied to commercial trade. It now is applied to the access of its military in all kinds of commons — in the air, on the sea, in space and even in cyberspace.
So American policymakers become frustrated when they believe Chinese hackers spy on the US or they build islands because it demonstrates that the US can’t “control” that commons.
But the sea remains the priority when it comes to controlling the commons.
And Chinese sovereignty over the South China Sea offers the prospect that a key trading route located in a narrow strip of water between land masses either side, what they call a chokepoint could be closed by the Chinese, in the future, if not today.
(US Department of Defense)
The Malacca Strait on the Western end of the South China Sea is one chokepoint — the immediate object of the US’ concern. The Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, where much of the world’s oil passes through, is another. And, at least according to the US Congressional Research Service, the Arctic Ocean, where the Russian planted their flag, could become another.
So this leaves the Americans with an abiding dilemma.
They are saddled with a grand military doctrine built on the principle of keeping the globe’s key access points freely accessible to the US. The barely audible counterpart is that it should maintain a capacity to deny that access to any potential adversary in case of war. The doctrine, however, in practice can itself engender conflict — as we saw with the Chinese.
America may have a much bigger military capacity and even newer technologies that allow it to fight conventional wars. But defending the open seaways is expensive and often counterproductive. The Chinese, for example, are the world’s largest importer of fossil fuels and China is far more dependent on foreign oil than the newly fossil fuel independent United States.
So critics ask why the US is defending the Persian Gulf when the Chinese are the prime beneficiaries?
The answer, it appears, has far more to do with military strategy than with global commerce.
When it comes to military history, the Guinness Book of World Records – like the rest of the public – only knows what it’s allowed to know. For the longest time the Guinness Book gave the award for the longest continuously submerged patrol to the HMS Warspite – one of the Royal Navy’s storied names.
While there have been longer patrols the mission of the Warspite happened at the height of the Cold War, prowling the waters around the Falkland Islands after the end of the UK’s war with Argentina.
This Warspite was the eighth vessel to carry the name.
The Warspite had a number of innovations that made it perfect for its 1983 submerged mission. It was the first Royal Navy vessel navigated entirely by gyroscope. Its nuclear-powered engines, along with air conditioning, purification systems and electrolytic gills allowed it to be submerged for weeks at a time. The longest time below the waves wasn’t even its first record. During a 6,000-mile journey in the far east, the submarine did the entire run submerged, earning the then-record for longest distance submerged. But breaking records wasn’t the Royal Navy’s mission, it was countering the Soviet Union.
No naval force on Earth was better at penetrating the USSR’s maritime boundaries than the Royal Navy. Warspite was specially suited for spy missions in the cold waters of the Arctic. Its ability to sneak into the areas undetected allowed them to watch the Soviet Navy at work and listen to their uncoded communications. But its record-breaking underwater patrol didn’t come against the USSR, it came while watching Argentina.
The now-decommissioned HMS Warspite.
The ship had just completed a complete, three-year refit after a massive fire nearly caused the captain to scuttle the ship. It was finished just in time for the United Kingdom to go to war with Argentina over the latter country’s invasion of the Falkland Islands. In a rush to get into the action, the crew of the Warspite shrugged off the six-month trial period and dashed for the war.
She didn’t see much action in the war, but its patrol afterward was the stuff of legend at the time. The ship and its crew spent more than 112 days aboard ship and underwater, keeping the Argentine Navy at bay.
Without Rick and Morty, Westworld, or Game of Thrones, Sunday nights are getting fairly thinned out with regards to binge worthy TV shows. Luckily we still have The Walking Dead, a great show that keeps fans watching every week because of the fantastic cast of characters living out the zombie apocalypse fantasy we all think about.
One of the key components of the show is the over indulgence of firearms. Makes sense, right? Zombie apocalypse would need plenty of nobodies to pack some heat to survive. Not everyone can be a bad ass with a crossbow or katana.
However, people who have actually seen a firearm cringe when they see how the weapons are actually portrayed.
Some things can be hand-waved away by the user being a idiot and no one correcting them in the apocalypse (I’m looking at you, everyone with sh*tty trigger discipline!).
Other times the writers throw in a spotlight piece of dialogue, such as when someone gets a headshot on a walker from maybe 500 yards and someone else says, “Wow! That’s impressive!” and they respond with “I wasn’t aiming for that one.”
This is called “hanging a lantern” on stretches of the imagination (but it still doesn’t explain the max effective range on a 9mm Glock).
This list is ranked from “Okay, I guess the show creators are taking some creative freedom with that” to “Wait… what? But why… what?”
Minor non-specific spoilers ahead if you care about spoiler tags.
#6. Cocking your weapon multiple times
This one isn’t specific to just The Walking Dead. If you’ve never picked up a weapon before, you might think guns are ready to jump into bang-bang mode at any moment. This doesn’t happen in reality. A weapon won’t fire a round if there’s no round in the chamber. And it is possible that they did chamber their weapon off-screen — not everything in life is cinematic enough to make good cinema/television.
But this isn’t like weapon maintenance and cleaning. Even more egregious is when they show the same weapon being cocked when they’re about to start fighting. And then again when they’re seconds away from a fire fight. Possible? Totally. But we’d see that round that was chambered a few minutes ago fly out. Just going to gloss right over the manual cocking sound of a revolver being applied to semi-auto pistols, but you catch the drift.
I won’t bore you with my rant on how there’s never any brass on the ground, unless it’s for a cool low-angle “after battle” shot (Television Series “The Walking Dead” by AMC)
#5. Who needs a rear sight post anyways?
Quick run down on how aiming works: Think of when you were looking at the stars. If you line up a tree with, say, a fence post and sit in the same spot days later. You can observe the movement in the sky. You lined up the object at four points. The star, the tree, fence post, and your eye. You need two points between your eye and the star to keep positioning just right in a straight line.
In the case of a firearm, that straight line is also the barrel. Take away a sight post, that straight line is skewed. All of this means that it won’t hit jacksh*t, and the characters wasted their time zeroing their weapons.
Or maybe no one needs to zero their weapon in the zombie apocalypse…
#4. Who needs an eye to look through the scope anyways?
Okay. Maybe they’re so intertwined with their weapon that it becomes second nature. Like previously mentioned, everyone is an expert as shooting walkers from god knows how far. The rifle being brought up to the shoulder may just be out of second nature.
What about our characters that don’t have their dominant firing eye? What the hell are they even aiming at?
Apparently everyone types this in before every episode of the show, because unless it’s for dramatic tension, no one runs out of ammunition. The world is ending. It’s a constant worry in the show to find food. But ammo? Nah. We got it covered.
#2. Misunderstanding what certain bullets do
Last science rundown: Newton’s Third Law of Motion. All forces between two objects exist in equal magnitude and opposite direction. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
In firearm science, this means that the kickback from firing a weapon will hit the target with a similar kick, accounting for minor air resistance and many other factors. So if you were to shoot a handgun at someone, they are hit with the same force. It’d hurt like a b*tch, but no one is flying through a window.
Same works the other way around to. If you shoot a M2 .50 Caliber machine gun into the engine block of a civilian jeep, it won’t just ding off like some dirt.
#1. Head shots for days against zombies, but no one can seem to hit a human for some reason
Why whyWHY can no one hit a single living person? Plot armor must be a hell of a thing. At least the Stormtroopers have a reason for why their aim ‘sucks’.
The police official’s testimony seems to confirm a May 2017 report from The Asahi Shimbun, which described Kim Jong Nam meeting a Korean-American who Malaysian officials suspected was a U.S intelligence agent.
According to the report, the two met on Feb. 9 and Kim’s computer showed a record of a thumb drive being inserted, which some have speculated was used to offload vital information to the suspected U.S. agent. The report includes a photo that purports to show the two meeting, though the suspected agent’s face is cropped out. On Jan. 29, the police official seemed to confirm the encounter took place.
While reports about Kim’s life say he was a gambler with no ambitions to rule North Korea, he would make sense as someone whom the U.S. — and even China — would want to groom and leverage to possibly remove Kim Jong Un from power.
At 34 years old, Kim Jong Un could lead North Korea for another three to five decades. While his leadership makes obvious its hostility to the U.S., he is also no fan of China.
Citing three sources, Nikkei Asian Review reported in August 2017 that top government officials in China and North Korea seriously considered a plot to remove Kim Jong Un in 2012, however the plot reportedly fell through and resulted in the dictator having his own uncle killed.
Unlike his predecessors, Kim Jong Un has never visited Beijing nor had Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Pyongyang. Kim Jong Un has never met with another head of state, and has increasingly been viewed as out of Beijing’s control, while threatening the U.S. with nuclear weapons.
Kim Jong Un has effectively put a giant nuclear target on China’s borders, and risks having his country overthrown and occupied by U.. troops. Kim also has had top officials with ties to China brutally assassinated with packs of dogs or anti-aircraft guns, according to reports.
As a result, both the U.S. and China have plenty of reason to wish for something to end Kim Jong Un’s rule over North Korea. Because North Korea is ruled by the Kim family dynasty, Kim Jong Un could theoretically be replaced with another Kim in a relatively bloodless coup.
Such an opportunity may have proven too enticing for both the U.S. and China to pass up, and too risky for North Korea to ignore.
Kim family infighting becomes geopolitical
An anonymous source told South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo in November 2017 that Chinese authorities blocked a plot from seven North Korean assassins to enter the country and kill Kim Han Sol, the son of Kim Jong Nam.
Though North Korea denies any involvement in the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the same country that has worked to build up a nuclear arsenal while under the heaviest sanctions on earth might not think twice about offing a member of the Kim family to protect from coups orchestrated by outsiders.
Kim Han Sol, another legitimate Kim, now fears for his life as he represents the heir to a bloodline that could unseat one of the world’s most brutal rulers.
After a chaotic week of unforced errors courtesy of President Donald Trump, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats calmly explained that Russia’s efforts “to undermine our basic values,” “divide us from our allies,” and “wreak havoc with our election process” are “undeniable,” grimly concluding: “We’re under attack.” Noting that “the very pillar…of democracy is the ability to have confidence in your elected officials—that they were elected legitimately,” Coats added, “We have to take every effort to ensure that happens in this upcoming election and future elections.”
Before discussing some of the efforts the U.S. might take in response to Vladimir Putin’s Russia, it’s worth recapping what Moscow has been doing.
Using cyber-technologies, social media, and false-front organizations, Russia has carried out strategic-influence operations targeting political-electoral systems in 27 countries, including the U.S., Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Lithuania, Poland and several other NATO allies.
Freedom House reports that Russia has “deepened its interference in elections in established democracies through…theft and publication of the internal documents of mainstream parties and candidates, and the aggressive dissemination of fake news and propaganda.” Kristofer Harrison, who worked in the State Department and Defense Department during the administration of President George W. Bush, points to examples at Bloomberg, Reuters, the New York Times and other reputable news organizations.
Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event in Fountain Hills, Arizona, before the March 22, 2016 primary.
(Photo by Gage Skidmore)
Moscow’s goal in these actions, according to a U.S. intelligence report, is to “undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process” and “undermine the U.S.-led liberal democratic order.” Moscow may be succeeding.
A plurality of Americans (45 percent) believe Russia leaked hacked material to impact the 2016 election, and 68 percent of Americans express concern that Russia will interfere in future elections. Beyond the U.S., just glance at recent headlines: “Russian hackers are targeting Macron,” blares a France24 report. “Russia used Twitter bots and trolls ‘to disrupt’ Brexit vote,” reads a headline from The Times of London. “Merkel warns of Russian cyberattacks in German elections,” Deutsche Welle adds.
Add it all up, and both the evidence of Russian interference and the worry regarding future interference serves to undermine democratic institutions all across the West.
In this light, NSC-68, the pivotal national-security document penned in 1950 that provided a roadmap for waging the Cold War, seems strangely relevant. NSC-68 noted that Moscow’s “preferred technique is to subvert by infiltration and intimidation,” that “every institution of our society is an instrument which it is sought to stultify and turn against our purposes,” that institutions “that touch most closely our material and moral strength are obviously the prime targets,” that Moscow’s objective is to prevent those institutions “from serving our ends and thus to make them sources of confusion in our economy, our culture and our body politic.”
Yes, NSC-68 was a response to the communist Soviet Union. However, it pays to recall that post-Soviet, post-communist Russia is led by a former KGB intelligence officer who was trained in the dark arts of disinformation and influence manipulation. His intelligence agencies and cyber-soldiers have triggered a cascade of scandals that are paralyzing our government, sowing confusion and undermining public confidence in our institutions.
Consider: Russia’s hacking into U.S. political campaigns, manipulation of social media and use of weaponized leaks first eroded support for the Clinton campaign; then undermined the legitimacy of the Trump administration; and finally, as former CIA official Mark Kelton concludes, helped “advance Putin’s over-arching goals of degrading American power, denigrating American ideals, and driving a wedge between President Trump and the U.S. intelligence community.”
President Barack Obama’s too little, too late and toothless “cut it out” warning to Putin as well as Trump’s obsequious echo of Putin’s promise that “it’s not Russia…I don’t see any reason why it would be” have failed to address this threat. Both leaders have overlooked a basic truth in dealing with dictators: All that matters when interacting with Putin, and his kind are actions — theirs and ours. What Churchill said of his Russian counterparts remains true of Putin and his puppets. “There is nothing they admire so much as strength, and there is nothing for which they have less respect than for weakness.”
Barack Obama meets with Vladimir Putin outside Moscow, Russia on July 7, 2009.
(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Here are some pathways policymakers could take to change Putin’s calculus and raise the costs of his malign actions.
1. Defend the Homefront against Foreign Intrigue
In his farewell address, Washington warned about the “insidious wiles of foreign influence” and the “mischiefs of foreign intrigue,” urging his countrymen “to be constantly awake” to such dangers.
The good news amidst all the troubling news is that key institutions—Congress, federal and state agencies, and the press—have been awakened to the dangers posed by Russia’s strategic-influence operations. Day by day, these institutions are exploring and exposing Russian intrusion into the U.S. political system.
Several Senate and House committees are investigating Russia’s reach, which is altogether appropriate. But to restore and preserve the integrity of America’s institutions, Congress should create a joint committee of seasoned members—with fact-finding and legislative authority—dedicated to a) monitoring, investigating and exposing attempts by Russia and other foreign entities to interfere in the U.S. political-electoral system; b) identifying individuals and entities in the U.S. that collaborate with or work on behalf of hostile governments like Russia; and c) securing necessary, sustained funding to help state and county election agencies shield themselves from foreign intrusion.
That last point highlights the genius of America’s decentralized election system. Its highly diffuse nature—with the electoral process governed not by some national agency, but rather by 50 states and 3,141 counties—makes it difficult for a foreign power to manipulate outcomes. Even so, evidence of Russian efforts to penetratelocal election systems and acquire firms that handle voter-registration data are raising flags. Federal resources can help expose these efforts and harden these targets.
2. Take the Fight to Russia
Even as they stand up their new committee—call it the Joint Select Committee on Election Integrity—congressional leaders should reopen the U.S. Information Agency, which was shut down in 1999, after decades of countering Moscow’s Cold War propaganda. Former DNI James Clapper proposes “a USIA on steroids to fight this information war a lot more aggressively than we’re doing right now.”
Former Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper.
Likewise, NATO commander Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti urges Washington to “bring the information aspects of our national power more fully to bear on Russia.” He recommends strengthening and unleashing the Russian Information Group (a joint effort of U.S European Command and the State Department) and the State Department’s Global Engagement Center (a project charged with countering foreign disinformation).
Further up the ladder, the United States could respond in kind to Putin’s assault on the West’s political systems. It’s not difficult to imagine the U.S. executing a cyber-operation that turns Putin’s stage-managed elections into a full-blown farce: returns showing Leonid Brezhnev finishing second or Czar Nicholas II winning a few oblasts or no one at all winning. Putin would get the message.
3. Shore up the Infrastructure
Arguing that democracy “needs cultivating,” President Ronald Reagan helped create the National Endowment for Democracy “to foster the infrastructure of democracy.”
Similarly, perhaps it’s time for the world’s foremost groupings of democratic nations—the G-7, European Union, NATO and its partners in Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia—to create a pool of resources to reinforce and rebuild the infrastructure of liberal democracy, monitor and expose Moscow’s cyber-siege of the West, and help those countries under information-warfare assault preserve the integrity of their democratic institutions.
4. Deploy Additional Instruments of National Power
Finally, the United States should offer moral support to democracy inside Russia and along Russia’s periphery. “A little less détente,” as Reagan argued, “and more encouragement to the dissenters might be worth a lot of armored divisions.”
Toward that end, Washington should provide a sturdy platform to human-rights activists, journalists and political dissidents from Russia; use high-profile settings to highlight Russia’s democracy deficit; and draw attention—relentlessly and repeatedly—to Putin’s assaults on human rights, civil society, religious liberty and political pluralism.
To his credit, Trump took this very tack vis-à-vis North Korea during his 2018 State of the Union address. It’s time to use the bully pulpit in the same way against Putin. If the president is unable or unwilling to do so, leaders in Congress and at relevant agencies must fill the vacuum, as Coats and FBI Director Christopher Wray recently have.
Hard-power tools can serve as an exclamation point to these words: More defensive weaponry could flow to Ukraine to protect Ukraine’s fragile democracy; rotational deployments in the Baltics and Poland could be made permanent to reassure NATO’s easternmost members; NATO could stand up an Allied Command-Arctic to checkmate Putin’s next landgrab; the U.S. could deploy its vast energy reserves, in Gen. Martin Dempsey’s words, “as an instrument of national power” to make Russia’s oligarchs feel the consequences of Putin’s actions.
Revelations of Russian interference are troubling. But they are also clarifying. In light of its actions, there should be no question as to whether Putin’s Russia is a friend, no illusions that Putin can be mollified by promises of “resets” or post-election “flexibility,” no doubts about Moscow’s motives, no debate over the threat posed by a revisionist Russia.
The task ahead is to fully expose Russia’s reach into our political system, strengthen our institutions to harden them against another wave of foreign influence, and defend liberal democracy at home and abroad.
The Army’s “live-fire” combat exercises involve large-scale battalion-on-battalion war scenarios wherein mechanized forces often clash with make-shift, “near-peer” enemies using new technologies, drones, tanks, artillery, missiles and armored vehicles.
The Army is expanding its training and “live-fire” weapons focus to include a renewed ability to fight a massive, enemy force in an effort to transition from its decade-and-a-half of tested combat experience with dismounted infantry and counterinsurgency.
Recent ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have created an experienced and combat-tested force able to track, attack and kill small groups of enemies — often blended into civilian populations, speeding in pick-up trucks or hiding within different types of terrain to stage ambushes.
“The Army has a tremendous amount of experience right now. It has depth but needs more breadth. We’re good at counterinsurgency and operations employing wide area security. Now, we may have to focus on ‘Mounted Maneuver’ operations over larger distances,” Rickey Smith, Deputy Chief of Staff, Training and Doctrine Command, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
While senior Army leaders are quick to emphasize that counterinsurgency is of course still important and the service plans to be ready for the widest possible range of conflict scenarios, there is nonetheless a marked and visible shift toward being ready to fight and win against a large-scale modernized enemy such as Russia or China.
The Army, naturally, does not single out these countries as enemies, train specifically to fight them or necessarily expect to go to war with them. However, recognizing the current and fast-changing threat environment, which includes existing tensions and rivalries with the aforementioned great powers, Army training is increasingly focused on ensuring they are ready for a mechanized force-on-force type engagement.
At the same time, while large-scale mechanized warfare is quite different than counterinsurgency, there are some areas of potential overlap between recent warfare and potential future great power conflict in a few key respects. The ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, over a period of more than a decade, involved the combat debut of various precision-guided land attack weapons such as GPS guided artillery and rocket weapons.
Weapons such as Excalibur, a GPS-guided 155m artillery round able to precisely destroy enemy targets at ranges greater than 30-kilometers, gave ground commanders an ability to pinpoint insurgent targets such as small gatherings of fighters, buildings and bomb-making locations. Guided Multiple-Launch Rocket System, or GLMRS, is another example; this precision guided long-range rocket, which can hit ranges up to 70-kilometers, was successful in killing Taliban targets in Afghanistan from great distances, among other things.
These kinds of precision munitions, first used in Iraq and Afghanistan, are the kind of weapon which would greatly assist land attack efforts in a massive force-on-force land war as well. They could target key locations behind enemy lines such as supplies, forces and mechanized vehicles.
Drones are another area of potential overlap. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan featured a veritable explosion in drone technology and drone use. For example, the Army had merely a handful of drones at the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Now, the service operates thousands and has repeatedly relied upon them to find enemy locations, spot upcoming ambushes and save lives in combat. These are the kinds of platforms which would also be of great utility in a major land war. However, they would likely be used differently incorporating new tactics, techniques and procedures in a great power engagement.
“This is not back to the future…this is moving towards the future where Army forces will face adaptive enemies with greater lethality. This generation of Army leaders will orchestrate simultaneous Combined ArmsManeuver and Wide Area Security” Smith said.
Nevertheless, many Army leaders now experienced with counterinsurgency tactics will need to reexamine tactics needed for major conventional warfare.
“You have a generation of leaders who have to expand learning to conduct simultaneous ‘Combined Arms’ and ‘Wide Area Security” Smith said.
“The Army has to be prepared across the entire range of military operations. One of these would be ‘near-peer’ operations, which is what we have not been fighting in recent years,” Smith explained.
Massive Land War “Decisive Action”
The new approach to this emerging integrated training is called “Decisive Action,” Maj. Gen. Wayne Grigsby, Commander of the 1st Infantry Division, said.
Grigsby explained that live-fire combat at Fort Riley, Kan., affords an opportunity to put these new strategies into effect.
“Every morning I could put a battalion on the north side and a battalion on the south side – and just joust working “Combined Arms Maneuver.” I can do battalion-on-battalion and it does involve “Combined Arms” live fire,” said Grigsby. “Because of the airspace that we have here – and use the UAS – I can synchronize from 0-to-18,000 feet and do maneuver indirect fire.”
This includes the use of drones, Air Force air assets, Army attack aviation along with armored vehicles, artillery, tanks and infantry units equipped for small arms fire, he explained.
Some of the main tactics and techniques explored during “Decisive Action” live fire exercises include things like “kill what you shoot at,” “move to contact,” “synchronize indirect fire,” and “call-in 9-line,” (providing aircraft with attack coordinates from the ground), Grigsby said.
Grigsby explained that “live-fire” combat exercises now work to incorporate a wide range of emerging technologies so as to better anticipate the tactics, weapons and systems a future enemy is likely to employ; this includes the greater use of drones or unmanned systems, swarms of mini-drones in the future, emerging computing technology, tank-on-tank warfare tactics, electronic warfare, enemy aircraft and longer-range precision weaponry including anti-tank missiles, guided artillery and missiles.
In order to execute this kind of combat approach, the Army is adapting to more “Combined Arms Maneuver.” This warfare compentency seeks to synchronize a wide range of weapons, technologies and war assets in order to overwhelm, confuse and destroy an enemy force.
Smith likened “Combined Arms” to being almost like a symphony orchestra where each instrument is geared toward blending and contributing to an integrated overall musical effect.
In warfare, this would mean using tank-on-tank attacks, indirect fire or artillery, air defenses, air assets, networking technologies, drones, rockets, missiles and mortar all together to create a singular effect able to dominate the battlespace, Smith explained.
For example, air assets and artillery could be used to attack enemy tank or armored vehicle positions in order to allow tank units and infantry fighting vehicles to reposition for attack. The idea to create an integrated offensive attack – using things like Apache attack helicopters and drones from the air, long-range precision artillery on the ground joined by Abrams tanks and infantry fighting vehicles in a coordinated fashion.
Smith also explained how preparing for anticipated future threats also means fully understanding logistics and sustainment — so that supplies, ammunition and other essentials can continue to fortify the war effort.
Current “Decisive Action” live fire training includes an emerging emphasis on “expeditionary” capability wherein the Army is ready to fight by tonight by rapidly deploying over large distances with an integrated force consisting of weapons, infantry, armored vehicles and other combat-relevant assets.
At the same time, this strategy relies, to some extent, on an ability to leverage a technological edge with a “Combined Arms” approach as well, networking systems and precision weapons able to destroy enemies from farther distances.
In order to incorporate these dynamics into live-fire training, Grigsby said the battalion -on-battalion combat exercises practice a “move to contact” over very large 620 kilometer distances.
“This builds that expeditionary mindset,” he explained.
The U.S. special peace envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, has questioned the Taliban’s determination to end the 17-year war, after the group’s representatives refused to meet with an Afghan government-backed negotiating team.
“We have to wait and see their forthcoming steps,” Khalilzad told Afghan news agency Ariana News on Dec. 20, 2018, according to a translation of the interview provided by the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
Khalilzad said that, while he was certain the Afghan government wanted to end the conflict, it was unclear whether the Taliban were “genuinely seeking peace.”
Khalilzad’s remarks came after his latest face-to-face meeting in December 2018 with the Taliban, which was held in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates and was also attended by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
The U.A.E. hailed the talks as “positive for all parties concerned.”
And the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Khalid bin Salman, said that the meetings will produce “very positive results by the beginning of next year.”
But the Taliban would not meet with a 12-person Afghan delegation, Khalilzad said, describing the decision as “wrong.”
“If the Taliban are really seeking peace, they have to sit with the Afghan government ultimately to reach an agreement on the future political settlement in Afghanistan,” the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan said.
The Taliban has refused direct talks with the Afghan government, which it says is an American puppet.