The movie 12 Strong arrives in theaters Jan. 19 and tells the harrowing story of the first U.S. Special Forces mission in Afghanistan following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The following recounts the events of the Green Berets’ first mission in Afghanistan, as they sought to destroy the Taliban regime and deny Al-Qaeda sanctuary in that country.
The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania sent shockwaves throughout the world. While the tragedy prompted responses of love and comfort, it also inspired a sense of resolve and retribution. In fact, the sun hadn’t even set on the smoldering ruins of the World Trade Center when the Central Intelligence Agency, the U.S. military, and U.S. Army Special Operations Command began planning a response. They would rain fire on the terrorists who had claimed the lives of thousands of innocent Americans, and on the brutal regime in Afghanistan that had sheltered them.
Task Force Dagger
It was soon clear that the initial operation, named Task Force Dagger, would involve bomb drops and small teams of special operators who would link up with local warlords and resistance fighters known collectively as the Northern Alliance. The task force would train and supply the Afghans, coordinating between the U.S. and the various ethnic groups — many of which were historic enemies of one another.
The Army’s 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) eagerly took on the mission, despite little available intelligence on Afghanistan, and despite the fact that few Soldiers could speak Dari or Pashtun. The task force picked up a few phrases pretty quickly and worked using three-way translations with other languages they already knew, such as Arabic, Farsi, and Russian.
“You had all of the emotions going on from 9-11,” remembered Chief Warrant Officer 2 Brad Fowers, then a junior weapons sergeant on Operational Detachment A 574. It would be his first combat deployment, and his team wound up escorting future President Hamid Karzai into the country. “There was a lot of emotions, excitement, amazement. It was an extreme honor. Looking back on it now, it’s humbling. … It was a very privileged moment in our history to see how things unfolded and what so many are capable of doing.”
“We went carrying what we believed to be the hopes of the American people with us,” added Lt. Gen. John F. Mulholland, former USASOC commander, in a speech. In September 2001, he served as the 5th Special Forces Group (A) commander. “If there was any fear that we had, it was that we would be worthy of the American people … the people of New York, the people of Washington, the people of Pennsylvania, the people of our great country and all those … who lost people that day. So that was with us constantly, the fear that we would not be worthy of the American people.”
After almost two weeks of bombings, which kicked off Oct. 7, 2001, the first insertion was set for mid-October. As with any covert, nighttime flying operation, the dangerous mission was assigned to the Night Stalkers of the 160th Special Operations Regiment (Airborne), “the finest aviators in the world, bar none” according to Mulholland.
But the mission to insert the Green Berets into Afghanistan, flying from Uzbekistan over the Hindu Kush mountains — which could reach up to 20,000 feet and caused altitude sickness — was something else. The weather, sandstorms, and a black cloud of rain, hail, snow, and ice was so bad it delayed the first insertion by two days until Oct. 19 — an eternity for men who pledge to always arrive at their destination on time, plus or minus 30 seconds. The weather could change from one mile to the next, from elevation to elevation, and continuously caused problems throughout Task Force Dagger.
“Just imagine flying when you can’t see three feet in front of you for a couple of hours, landing or hoping the weather would clear so you could refuel, and then flying through the mountains all the while getting shot at and hoping our (landing zone) was clear,” recalled Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Baker, now of the SOAR’s Special Operations Training Battalion. Fifteen years ago, he was a young, brand-new flight engineer on his first combat mission.
I was proud and scared. … There was a lot of stuff going on. There was bad weather. A lot of people compared those first missions to Lt. Col. (James) Doolittle in World War II because we were doing stuff no one had ever done before. … We had a mission to make sure these Soldiers got in. … It was my first time ever getting shot at. That’s a pretty vivid memory. … It was war. I don’t think I’ve ever been any closer to my fellow brothers-in-arms than I was then. All we had was each other.
Veterans of the United States Armed Forces have always played an important role at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Take CIA’s predecessor organization, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), for instance. Founded by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt at the outset of World War II — and in the aftermath of the Japanese attack on U.S. naval forces at Pearl Harbor — the OSS began its life as a wartime body tasked with mandates to collect and analyze strategic information and to conduct unconventional and paramilitary operations.
At its peak, OSS employed almost 13,000 people: Two-thirds of the workforce was U.S. Army and U.S. Army Air Forces personnel. Civilians made up another quarter, and the rest were from the U.S. Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard. At the helm of OSS was World War I hero, General William “Wild Bill” Donovan. The story of CIA begins — and continues — alongside those of the U.S. military and its veterans.
Today, veterans comprise nearly 15% of CIA’s workforce, and we continue to serve alongside our military partners across the globe. CIA, the broader Intelligence Community, and the American people benefit tremendously from the insight and impact of veterans who bring to their work a wealth of experience and knowledge. They are mission-focused from day one and equipped with the skills CIA is looking for in its officers. Veterans often come into the building with the overseas experiences, clearances, and foreign languages that allow them to dive right into the action. A rich history of close collaboration between the military and CIA makes for a smooth transition from military to civilian service. While CIA is not a military body, its officers share that same commitment to mission and service. Veterans will find a familiar enthusiasm in the air at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.
World War I hero, General William “Wild Bill” Donovan, helmed the pre-CIA OSS.
CIA is committed to the continued to developing relationships with veterans, and in May of 2013, it chartered the American Veterans Employee Resource Group (AVERG) to serve as a link between the veteran workforce and Agency leaders. The group is committed to goals that include the hiring and retention of veterans, education and engagement on veteran matters, continued career development and frequent community networking opportunities. AVERG offers veterans an important link to Agency leadership — one that ensures CIA’s continued investment in veterans and the unique perspectives they bring to an important mission.
Every day, but especially this week when we celebrate Veterans Day, CIA honors the commitment of its veterans who continue to serve and continue the fight in defense of freedom.
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
The Post’s sources warned against making definitive conclusions on the attack, as the investigation was still ongoing, but said the methods of the hack suggested it was state-sponsored. Private investigators also identified the techniques as those previously used in attacks attributed to Chinese hackers, Reuters reported.
Marriott, which operates more than 5,800 properties in more than 110 countries, says it is the top hotel provider to the US government and military personnel.
Marriott is the top hotel provider to the US government and military personnel.
The hotel chain announced in late November 2018 that about 500 million customers had their personal data breached in the attack, which began four years ago.
About 327 million of them had information like their name, phone number, and passport number taken, while an unspecified number had their credit card details taken.
The Trump administration has been planning to declassify US intelligence reports that show China’s efforts to build a database with the names of US government officials with security clearances, the Times reported.
People involved in the company’s private investigation into the breach also said the hackers may have been trying to collect information for China’s spy agencies, rather than for financial gain, Reuters reported.
Passport numbers, which are not usually collected in data breaches, may have been a particularly valuable discovery for the hackers, the Post said.
Beijing has denied responsibility for the attack.
Geng Shuang, a spokesman for the country’s foreign ministry, told reporters: “China firmly opposes all forms of cyber attack and cracks down on it in accordance with the law. If offered evidence, the relevant Chinese departments will carry out investigations according to the law. We firmly object to making groundless accusations on the issue of cyber security.”
US-China tensions over trade and cyber policies are mounting. Here, Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump in 2017.
(Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)
Reports of Beijing’s involvement in the Marriott breach comes amid mounting tensions between the US and China over trade tariffs and cyber policies.
Washington has been planning to issue a series of measures that include indictments and possible sanctions against Chinese hackers, The Times and Post both reported.
Beijing is currently reeling over the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the CFO of Chinese telecom giant Huawei and the daughter of the company’s founder, over her alleged involvement in Iran sanction violations.
The United States Military is good at its job and, understandably, a little cocky about it. That cockiness got the U.S. Strategic Command in hot water on New Years Eve 2018 when it posted a tweet about being able to drop something “much bigger” than the ball that drops in New York City’s Times Square every year.
In a move the House Armed Forces Committee members called “tacky,” the official Twitter account of the United States Strategic Command sent a tweet featuring a music video of B-2 bombers hitting targets during a training exercise – 30,000 pound Massive Ordnance Penetrators – also known as “bunker busters” – on a test range.
#TimesSquare tradition rings in the #NewYear by dropping the big ball…if ever needed, we are #ready to drop something much, much bigger.
Watch to the end! @AFGlobalStrike @Whiteman_AFB #Deterrence #Assurance #CombatReadyForce#PeaceIsOurProfession… pic.twitter.com/Aw6vzzTONg
— US Strategic Command (@US_Stratcom) December 31, 2018
U.S. Strategic Command is the body that maintains and commands the United States’ nuclear arsenal. A Strategic Command spokesperson told CNN the post was intended to remind Americans that the United States military was on guard and had its priorities in order, even on a holiday like New Years Eve.
The command was later forced to apologize for the tweet, via Twitter.
The video itself was one created by airmen based at Whiteman Air Force Base, Miss. and is less than a minute long. According to the Aviationist, it likely wasn’t filmed recently but is one of the first videos to show a dual dropping of Massive Ordnance Penetrators.
As the holiday season begins to wind down, people are starting to reflect on their resolutions and goals for the new year. 2020 not only marks the beginning of a New Year, but the start of a new decade! Don’t let the hype get you in a frenzy. Here are 5 tips rocking your 2020 military spouse goals.
Listen! Rome wasn’t built in a day. Your enthusiasm to do it all is admirable, but DO NOT set yourself up for failure. Apply the SMART Goals method in your plans for 2020. You want to ensure your goals are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-based. What does that mean? Don’t just set a goal to start a million-dollar business. Instead, set a goal to start an online virtual assistant business by Second Quarter 2020. First Quarter, you will have established your LLC, EIN, and business bank account. By the end of Second Quarter, your business will be operating with a goal of at least ten new clients. This example is more realistic and you can actually see if you are meeting your benchmarks for success.
You can write your goals in your planner, but why not get creative? Vision Board or Vision Mapping Parties are a great way to have fun while creating a visual representation of your goals. Vision Board parties are a fun and interactive way to celebrate the coming year. All you need is poster board, old magazines, scissors, glue, and other decorative items to make your board unique. Cut out pictures or words from magazines that represent what you want to accomplish for 2020. Kids can also create their own vision board. While enjoying snacks and drinks, reflect over the past year. Did you meet your 2019 goals? How can you do things differently? What worked for you? What didn’t work?
Goals can sometimes feel overwhelming, especially when looking at the end game. Try deconstructing your goal by working backwards. What are the steps needed to meet your overall goal or vision? How can you focus on smaller tasks to better track your progress? If you have a goal of saving ,000 for a family vacation, don’t let the number intimidate you. Break it down into more manageable parts. How much would you need to save each quarter, each month, each week? What does that look like? Does it mean you pack your lunch more during the week or downgrade to a lower cable package? Saving per week may be less scary than ,000 per year, but the outcome is the same.
This person can be your spouse, best friend, or anyone in your circle that is willing to hold you accountable. Sometimes it’s best to find someone who is also looking for the same type of accountability for themselves. This would be something similar to a Battle Buddy in the Army or Wingman in the Air Force. Your partner will help you stay focused, remind you to keep going, and be an overall support for you.
Don’t be so hard on yourself. The purpose of having clear goals and intentions is so you’re not stressed. If you don’t quite meet all of your goals, it’s okay. Celebrate your wins along the way for additional encouragement. This is where you can really lean on your accountability partner. You may have to adjust some things throughout the year. Take the lessons learned and implement that into your vision to improve your likelihood of success.
This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.
The military needs innovative ideas from small businesses and entrepreneurs now more than ever, said Under Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy.
McCarthy spoke Feb. 21, 2019, at Muster DC, an event in the nation’s capital for military veterans aspiring to be entrepreneurs.
“If you look at the history of the Department of Defense, we were at our best when entrepreneurs were doing business with us,” he said.
As an example, he cited that the first jeeps for World War II were actually designed and built by a small motor company called American Bantam in Butler, Pennsylvania. Later, the design was shared with Willys-Overland and Ford to produce the jeeps on a larger scale.
1941 American Bantam Jeep Prototype.
DOD was at its best when small businesses brought their ideas and “partnered with big corporations to scale out those ideas,” McCarthy said.
“We got away from that for the last several decades,” he said, adding the Army’s practice has been to put out 1,000-page requests for proposals, or RFPs, specifying the exact size and weight of each component of a system.
Businesses maybe had a better solution, he said, but they would never share it, because that’s not what they were incentivized to do.
That culture needs to change, McCarthy said, and that’s one reason the Army Futures Command was organized. It’s why soldiers have been placed alongside tech innovators at an “accelerator hub” in Austin, Texas.
The purpose of Futures Command is to drive innovation, he said, “so that we can do business faster. So small businesses don’t get their cash flow crushed waiting years for us to make a decision.”
Out of more than 800 programs that the Army oversees, eight have been granted a special “transactional authority” to do business differently, he said.
The Futures Command has eight cross-functional teams: long-range precision fires, next-generation combat vehicle, future vertical lift, Army network, air and missile defense, soldier lethality, synthetic training environment; and assured positioning, navigation and timing.
A soldier with the 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade loads a Stinger onto an Avenger Air Defense System during a live fire training exercise at Pacific Missile Range Facility Barking Sands, July 24, 2018.
(U.S. Army photo by Capt. Rachael Jeffcoat)
The Army needs a “quick win” in these eight programs, McCarthy said, in order to change the acquisition culture and to keep ahead of near-peer adversaries. The U.S. military has enjoyed a vast technological advantage for years, he said, but competitors are quickly catching up.
McCarthy said he’d like to see soldiers in accelerator hubs across the country so entrepreneurs will have easy access to pitch their ideas.
Entrepreneurs who are military veterans have an advantage, he said, because they are resilient and can deal with stress. They know how to organize and plan.
When getting ready to leave the Army, where he served as a Ranger, McCarthy said at his first interview in Manhattan, he was asked what he knew about finance.
“I said, ‘Nothing. But I know how to plan and I know how to organize and there would be nothing you can put me through that I hadn’t been through already in the form of stress and pressure,'” he said.
After the interviewer stopped laughing, McCarthy said he took a chance and hired him. The company even held the job open for a year, because soon afterward, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks occurred and McCarthy agreed to stay in the Army for a deployment before going to work in New York.
Veterans are not afraid to engage, he said, and have commitment. “Nobody wants to follow a leader that hedges,” he said. “They want somebody that’s playing ‘double-in’ every day.”
Veterans have some of the key attributes business leaders need to have, he said, “especially if they’re going to start their own business.”
Other talents the Army needs most right now include systems engineering and software coding, McCarthy said.
Weapons systems are sophisticated and have millions of lines of coding, he said.
Most failures of weapons systems in the past came from not having the right systems architecture, he said, which resulted in weapons not being able to communicate with other platforms.
The U.S. Defense Department on Monday identified the two soldiers killed last week by a suicide bomber at the Bagram airbase in Afghanistan as from the 1st Cavalry Division based at Fort Hood, Texas.
Army Sgt. John W. Perry, 30, of Stockton, California, and Pfc. Tyler R. Iubelt, 20, of Tamaroa, Illinois, were killed Nov. 12 at the airfield north of the capital, Kabul. The soldiers were assigned to Headdquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Special Troops Battalion, 1st Sustainment Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, the statement said.
Two American contractors also were killed in the blast and 16 other U.S. service members and a Polish service member were injured.
The attacker was a former Taliban militant who had joined the peace process in 2008 and had since taken a job at the base, Bagram District Governor Haji Abdul Shokor Qudosi told ABC News on Sunday.
About 14,000 Americans, including service members and contractors, are based at Bagram. The base was closed to Afghan workers immediately following the attack and the U.S. Embassy in Kabul also closed for business.
The attack occurred while U.S. service members at the base were preparing for a five-kilometer race as part of Veterans Day events.
A later statement from Fort Hood said that Perry joined the Army on Jan. 31, 2008, as a Test, Measurement and Diagnostic Equipment (TMDE) maintenance support specialist. He had been assigned to 1st Cavalry Division Sustainment Brigade since Aug. 21, 2014.
Perry was on his second tour in Afghanistan. He deployed to Afghanistan when the U.S. involvement there was called Operation Enduring Freedom from August 2010 to July 2011. He deployed in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in September 2016.
Perry’s awards and decorations included the Purple Heart Medal, Bronze Star, three Army Commendation Medals, one Army Achievement Medal, two Army Good Conduct Medals, National Defense Service Medal, and Afghanistan Campaign Medal with two campaign stars.
He also had received the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Korean Defense Service Medal, Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon, Army Service Ribbon, three Overseas Service Ribbons, North Atlantic Treaty Organization Medal, Combat Action Badge and Driver’s and Mechanic Badge.
Iubelt had been in the Army less than a year, the statement said. He entered the Army on Nov. 23, 2015, as a motor transport operator and had been assigned to 1st Cavalry Division Sustainment Brigade since May 6, 2016. He deployed to Afghanistan in September.
Iubelt’s awards and decorations include the Purple Heart Medal, Bronze Star, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with campaign star, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon and Combat Action Badge.
Perry and Iubelt were among about 500 1st Cavalry Division soldiers who deployed to Afghanistan in the late summer of this year in a regular rotation of troops to help train the Afghan military.
The deploying soldiers were part of the Fort Hood division’s headquarters and its sustainment brigade headquarters, Lt. Col. Sunset Belinsky, the 1st Cavalry Division’s division’s spokeswoman, said at the time. They deployed to Bagram Airfield to replace the 10th Mountain Division headquarters, which had served as the planning leader for U.S. Forces-Afghanistan since November of 2015.
The deployment in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel was expected to last about 12 months, Belinsky said. Operation Freedom’s Sentinel is the United States’ continuing mission to train and advise the Afghan National Security Forces in their fight against the Taliban and other insurgent networks.
Maj. Gen. John C. Thomson III, who took command of the 1st Cavalry Division last January, was leading the deployment, taking over duties as the U.S. deputy commanding general for support in Afghanistan.
The deaths of Perry and Iubelt were the second and third in combat for the 1st Cavalry Division in recent weeks. On Oct. 20, Sgt. Douglas J. Riney, 26, of Fairview, Illinois, died in Kabul of wounds received from what was suspected to be an “insider attack” by an individual wearing an Afghan army uniform. American contractor Michael G. Sauro, 40, of McAlester, Oklahoma, also was killed in the incident.
Riney and Sauro had been on a mission for the Afghan Defense Ministry when they drove up to the entry point at an Ammunition Supply Point on the outskirts of Kabul, Army Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland, spokesman for U.S. Forces-Afghanistan and the NATO Resolute Support mission, said in a briefing to the Pentagon late last month.
“They had not started the inspection” when a man wearing an Afghan army uniform opened fire, Cleveland said. The gunman was shot dead by Afghan security.
Cleveland said the U.S. could not confirm that the incident was an insider, or “green-on-blue,” attack since the Afghans had yet to identify the gunman.
Riney entered active-duty service in July 2012 as a petroleum supply specialist, the military said. He had been assigned to the Support Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, at Fort Hood, Texas, since December 2012.
Riney was on his second tour to Afghanistan. His awards and decorations included the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Army Commendation Medal.
Sauro was assigned to the Defense Ammunition Center, McAlester Army Ammunition Plant, in Oklahoma, the Defense Department said. He traveled to Afghanistan in September for his third deployment and was scheduled to return to the U.S. in March.
A U.S. soldier and two other U.S. civilians employed by the Defense Ammunition Center were injured in the incident. The soldier was reported in stable condition at the time. Civilian Richard “Rick” Alford was in stable condition and civilian Rodney Henderson suffered minor injuries, the center said, adding that they will both return to the U.S., The Associated Press reported.
The attack came as the U.S. was proceeding with President Barack Obama’s plan to draw down the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan from the current number of about 9,500 to 8,400 by the end of this year.
The drawdown was taking place as the U.S. considers its troop and monetary support under the administration of President-elect Donald Trump for Afghanistan, where the U.S. has been at war for 15 years.
Afghanistan policy was not a main topic of debate between Trump and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton during the campaign.
A critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin used a drone to fly his hard drives out of his high-rise apartment shortly before police raided his home.
A video posted to YouTube shows Sergey Boyko operating the drone as police try to enter his apartment in the city of Novosibirsk, Siberia, to confiscate his electronics around 10 a.m. Sept. 12, 2019, local time.
He then answers his front door, where loud banging can be heard.
“Some people are pushing the door to the apartment,” Boyko tweeted on Sept. 12, 2019, around the same time the video was taken.
Boyko’s apartment was one of 200 houses and offices linked to Navalny’s foundation across 41 cities on Sept. 12, 2019, according to Navalny.
The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation — Russia’s federal anti-corruption agency — warned last Sept. 8, 2019: “Searches are being carried out at a number of FBK employees’ residences, the organization’s office, and other locations.”
The raids on FBK-linked venues led to “a dozen laptops, hard drives, flash drives, phones, bank cards, and even smart watches” being taken, with some staff members having their bank accounts blocked since, according to a statement posted to Boyko’s website.
Footage broadcast by independent media outlet Romb showing a police raid on an Alexei Navalny supporter on Thursday. It’s not clear whose house this is.
On Sept. 13, 2019, Boyko wrote on Russian social-media site VK that his brother Vadim’s house was raided at 7 a.m. that morning, even though “he is not involved in politics and yesterday’s drone didn’t fly to him.”
Boyko did not say where the drone or his hard drives went.
The raids on Navalny’s allies came on the same day pro-Putin candidates lost ground in nationwide elections Sept. 8, 2019.
The Desert Storm portion of the 1990-1991 Gulf War lasted only 100 hours, not only because the combined land forces of the Coalition gathered against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was overwhelming and talented – it was – but it was also the contribution of two of the U.S. Navy’s biggest floating guns that drew a significant portion of Saddam’s army off the battlefield.
Shelling from the 16-inch guns of the USS Missouri and USS Wisconsin made it all possible, playing a crucial role in a conflict that would end up being their last hurrah.
Here comes the boom.
Everyone knew a ground assault on Iraqi-occupied Kuwait was coming and had been for months. The only question for the Iraqis was where it would come from. Iraqi forces had been on the receiving end of a Noah’s Ark-like deluge of bombs and missiles for the past 40 days and 40 nights. Iraq believed the Coalition would make an amphibious landing near Kuwait’s Faylaka Island, when in reality the invasion was actually going into both Iraq and Kuwait, coming from Saudi Arabia.
If the Coalition could make the Iraqis believe an amphibious invasion was coming, however, it would pull essential Iraqi fighting units away from the actual invasion and toward the Persian Gulf. It was the ultimate military rope-a-dope.
Here’s what really happened.
The best way to make Saddam believe the Marines were landing was to soften up the supposed landing zone with a naval barrage that would make D-Day look like the 4th of July. The USS Missouri and USS Wisconsin were called up to continuously bombard the alleged landing beaches – and they sure made a spectacle of it. The Iraqi troops were supposedly shocked and demoralized, surrendering to the battleships’ reconnaissance drones as they buzzed overhead, looking for more targets.
It was the first time anyone surrendered to a drone. No one wanted to be on the receiving end of another Iowa-class barrage. But the Marine landing never came. Instead, the Iraqis got a massive left hook that knocked them out of the war.
With ISIS continuing to fight, Russia and China throwing their weight around, and budget shortfalls becoming bigger and bigger problems, the Department of Defense will definitely need strong leadership in the form of a commander-in-chief and his political appointees in the months immediately following the inauguration next year.
Here are 7 important decisions he or she will have to tackle:
1. Will the U.S. pressure China to get off of contested islands, force them off with war, or let China have its way?
America has a vested interest in navigational freedoms in the South China Sea. Many allies transport their oil, other energy supplies, and manufactured goods through the South China Sea and the U.S. Navy uses routes there to get between the Pacific and Indian oceans.
Currently, a few sets of islands in the area are contested, most importantly the Spratly Islands. In addition to controlling important sea routes, the area may hold vast supplies of oil and natural gas. The most optimistic estimates put it second to only Saudi Arabia in terms of total oil reserves
China is deep in a campaign to control the South China Sea by claiming historical precedent and by building new bases and infrastructure on them. An international tribunal ruling on the issue will likely side against China shortly, but China probably won’t accept the decision.
That leaves a big decision for the next president. Does America recognize Chinese claims, back up U.S. allies in the area through diplomatic pressure, or begin a military confrontation that could trigger a major war?
2. How dedicated is the U.S. to the NATO alliance and deterring Russian aggression?
For decades, America’s presence in NATO was unquestionable. Candidates might argue about specific NATO policies, but membership was a given. Now, a debate exists about whether NATO might need to be adjusted or a new, anti-terror coalition built in its place.
America pays more than its fair share for the alliance. Every member is supposed to spend 2 percent or more of its GDP on defense, but only America and four other countries did so in 2015. Even among the five who hit their spending goals, America outspends everyone else both in terms of GDP and real expenses. The U.S. is responsible for about 75 percent of NATO spending.
And NATO was designed to defeat Russia expansion. Though members assisted in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, they’ve struggled with what the alliance’s responsibilities are when addressing ISIS. For those who think ISIS should be the top priority, there’s a question about why the U.S. is spending so much time and energy on a European alliance.
So the question before the next president is, should America continue to dedicate diplomatic and military resources to a Europe-focused alliance when ISIS continues to inspire attacks in America and Europe while threatening governments in the Middle East?
3. What part of the world is the real priority?
To use the cliche, “If everything is a priority, nothing is.” The American military does not have the necessary size and resources to contain both Russia and China while fighting ISIS and other terrorist organizations. The next U.S. president will have to decide what is and isn’t most important.
Alliances can help the U.S. overcome some of the shortfalls, but each “priority” requires sacrifices somewhere else. The next president will have to decide if protecting Ukranian sovereignty is worth the damage to negotiations in Syria. They’ll have to decide if the best use of military equipment is to park it in eastern Europe to deter Rusia or to send it to exercises in Asia to deter China.
Obama spent most of his administration trying to pivot to Asia while Middle Eastern and European crises kept forcing America back into those regions. Where the next president decides to focus will decide whether Russia is contained, China is pushed off the manmade islands, and/or if ISIS and its affiliates are smothered.
4. What is America’s role in the ongoing fight against ISIS and is there a need for more ground troops?
On the note of transferring forces, those vehicles that could be redirected from supporting NATO or conducting exercises could be set to Iraq, Syria, and other countries to fight ISIS, but is that America’s job?
Though America’s invasion destabilized the region, Iraq’s rulers asked U.S. troops to leave before putting up a half-hearted and strategically insufficient response to ISIS. So the next president will have to decide whether America owes a moral debt to prop up the Iraqi government and Syrian rebels and whether it is in America’s best interest to do so.
The answer to those two questions will fuel the biggest one, should America deploy additional ground forces (something generals are asking for), risking becoming mired in another long war, to stop the rise of ISIS and other terrorist groups in the region?
5. How long will the Air Force keep the A-10?
The struggle between A-10 supporters and detractors continues to rage. Air Force officials and A-10 detractors say the plane has to be retired due to budget constraints and the limited ability to use the plane in a contested environment. Proponents of the A-10 insist that it’s the cheapest and most effective close-air support platform.
The battle has nearly come to a head a few times. The Air Force was forced by Congress to keep the A-10 flying and finally agreed to a showdown between the A-10 and F-35 for some time in 2016. The critical analysis of the results will almost certainly come while Obama is still in office, but the A-10 decision will likely wait until the next president takes office.
The decision will officially be made by the Air Force, but the president can appoint senior officers sympathetic to one camp or the other. Also, the president’s role as the head of their political party will give them some control when Congress decides which platforms to dedicate money to supporting.
So the new president will have to decide in 2017 what close air support looks like for the next few years. Will it be the low, slow, cheap, and effective A-10 beloved by ground troops? Or the fast-flying, expensive, but technologically advanced and survivable F-35?
6. How much is readiness worth and where does the money come from?
Sequestration, the mandatory reduction of military and domestic budgets under the Budget Control Act of 2011, puts a cap on U.S. military spending. The service chiefs sound the alarm bell every year that mandatory budget cuts hurt readiness and force the branches into limbo every year.
The next president, along with the next Congress, will have to decide how much military readiness they want to buy and where the money comes from. To increase the percentage of the force that is deployed or ready to deploy at any one time without sacrificing new weapons and technology programs, money would need to be raised by cutting other parts of the federal budget or raising taxes.
So, what size conflict should the military always be ready for? And where does the money for training, equipment, and logistics come from to keep that force ready?
7. How many generals and admirals should the U.S. have?
Former Secretaries of Defense Chuck Hagel and Robert Gates both proposed serious cuts, and the Senate Armed Services Committee has recently floated a 25 percent reduction in the total number of general officers.
Not only would this significantly cut personnel costs since each general and their staff costs over an estimated $1 million per year, but it would reduce the bureaucracy that field commanders have to go through when getting decisions and requests approved.
Considering the fact that the president is the commander-in-chief of the U.S. Armed Forces, it would make sense for presidential candidates to have some military experience. But veterans have often struggled in their bids for the White House.
While these five men all had plenty of experience in government — and at least a little experience in uniform — they all fell short in a bid for the leader of the free world:
1. Michael Dukakis
A former Army private, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis held a commanding lead early in the 1988 presidential race in which he faced then-Vice President and fellow veteran George H. W. Bush. But Dukakis spent the early weeks of the general election finishing up governor work and vacationing while Bush closed the 17 percent polls gap and took the lead.
As the race ramped up in the summer of ’88, Dukakis worked to take back the initiative. Under criticism that he would be soft on defense, he conducted a photo op in an M1 Abrams tank, but he looked so ridiculous in the tank that the journalists covering it burst out laughing in the stands. The resulting photos sank his campaign, and Bush won in a landslide.
2. George H.W. Bush
And how about President George H. W. Bush? He struggled four years later and lost his re-election bid to Bill Clinton. Bush, a World War II Navy vet, announced his candidacy at a high point in his popularity, right after the completion of Operation Desert Storm.
But soon after his announcement, public perception shifted and people began to question whether America pulled out of Iraq too soon as well as whether Saddam Hussein should have been allowed to remain in power. Meanwhile, economic stagnation and new taxes soured Bush’s appeal on domestic issues. Clinton won the presidency and Bush left office.
3. Jimmy Carter
Don’t feel too bad for Bush. He only got his vice presidential spot in the first place by kicking another Navy veteran turned president, Jimmy Carter, out of the top job. Carter faced trouble early in the election due to dwindling popularity, the ongoing Iran Hostage Crisis, and economic troubles. Carter had to beat down a primary challenge from Senator Ted Kennedy before the general election.
In the general election, Bush and presidential candidate Ronald Reagan toured the country, ridiculing Carter over and over. Carter tried to counter by calling Reagan a right-wing radical, but the Republican ticket won a massive victory and even picked up enough Senate seats to regain control of the legislature for the first time in 28 years.
4. John McCain
John McCain grew up as Navy royalty, with both a father and a grandfather who were four-star admirals. He became a popular senator after his own Navy career that included more than 5 years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
McCain actually lost two presidential bids. In the 2000 primary, he won New Hampshire but lost South Carolina and most Super Tuesday states before withdrawing from the race and endorsing George W. Bush, then the governor of Texas.
In 2008, he attempted to follow Bush to the presidency. He won the primary but the 2008 recession turned opinions against the Republicans and Sen. Barack Obama launched a big-data-based campaign that got him ahead of McCain in the polls. McCain earned a respectable 46 percent of the popular vote but lost most battleground states and suffered a 173-365 electoral defeat.
5. Adlai Stevenson
Adlai Stevenson and David Dubinsky shake hands on stage at an AFL convention, September 1952. (Photo: Kheel Center via Flickr)
Gov. Adlai Stevenson was a former sailor and a former special assistant to the secretary of the Navy. He was defeated three times in bids for the presidency, falling each time to a more popular veteran.
In 1952 Stevenson ran against Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower only eight years after Eisenhower led the Allies to victory in a world war. He suffered a crushing defeat, then came back in 1956 to be beat even worse.
In 1960 he ran against John F. Kennedy for the Democratic nomination but refused to campaign until the night before the convention. He came in fourth.
Kennedy, also a former sailor, received the nomination and won the presidency. Kennedy eventually named Stevenson as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
A four-man team of soldiers sits in a nondescript building on Fort Belvoir, Va., each at his own desk, surrounded by three monitors that provide them individual, 3D views of an abandoned city.
On screen, they gather at the corner of a crumbling building to meet another team — represented by avatars — who are actually on the ground in a live-training area, a mock-up of the abandoned city. They’re all training together, in real time, to prepare for battles in dense urban terrain.
That’s the central goal of the Synthetic Training Environment (STE) — immersive, integrated virtual training — presented during a Warriors Corner session at the 2018 Association of the United States Army (AUSA) Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington. The Army has been working toward this kind of fully immersive training experience for decades, and leadership hopes to have it operational as early as 2025.
In May 1993, Army RDA Bulletin dedicated several articles to the concept and execution of distributed interactive simulation (DIS), “a time and space coherent representation of a virtual battlefield environment” that allowed warfighters across the globe to interact with one other as well as computer-generated forces, according to John S. Yuhas, author of the article “Distributed Interactive Simulation.”
Better, faster, stronger
While the name of the program seems to emphasize individual simulation units, its overarching purpose was to bring together thousands of individuals and teams virtually in real time. Central to DIS was the idea of interoperable standards and protocol, allowing each community — “trainer, tester, developer, and acquisitioner” — to use the others’ concepts and products, Maj. David W. Vaden wrote in “Vision for the Next Decade.”
The article explained that “distributed” referred to geographically separated simulations networked together to create a synthetic environment; “interactive” to different simulations linked electronically to act together and upon each other; and “simulation” to three categories — live, virtual and constructive. Live simulations involved real people and equipment; virtual referred to manned simulators; and constructive referred to war games and models, with or without human interaction.
DIS has much in common with STE. Both provide training and mission rehearsal capability to the operational and institutional sides of the Army (i.e., soldiers and civilians). They even share the same training philosophy: to reduce support requirements, increase realism and help deliver capabilities to the warfighter faster.
Users of STE will train with live participants and computer simulations, with some units training remotely. However, STE takes virtual reality training to a new level altogether by incorporating advances in artificial intelligence, big data analysis and three-dimensional terrain representation.
Current training simulations are based on technologies from the 1980s and ’90s that can’t replicate the complex operational environment soldiers will fight in. They operate on closed, restrictive networks, are facilities-based and have high overhead costs for personnel, Maj. Gen.
Maria R. Gervais, commanding general for the U.S. Army Combined Arms Training Center and director of the STE Cross-Functional Team, said in an August 2018 article, “The Synthetic Training Environment Revolutionizes Sustainment Training.”
Those older technologies also can’t support electronic warfare, cyberspace, and megacities, the article explained. For example, soldiers in the 1990s could conduct training using computers and physical simulators — like the ones showcased in Charles Burdick, Jorge Cadiz and Gordon Sayre’s 1993 “Industry Applications of Distributed Interactive Simulation” article in the Army RDA Bulletin-but the training was limited to a single facility and only a few networked groups; the technology wasn’t yet able to support worldwide training with multiple groups of users in real time, like the Army proposes to do with the STE.
Gervais presented a promotional video during “Warriors Corner #13: Synthetic Training Environment Cross-Functional Team Update,” which said the STE will provide intuitive and immersive capabilities to keep pace with the changing operational environment. The STE is a soldier lethality modernization priority of the U.S. Army Futures Command.
“With the STE, commanders will conduct tough, realistic training at home stations, the combat training centers and at deployed locations. The STE will increase readiness through repetition, multi-echelon, multidomain, combined arms maneuver and mission command training. And most importantly, the STE will train soldiers for where they will fight,” said Gen. Robert B. Abrams, then-commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command, in the same video. Abrams is now commander of United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command, U.S. Forces Korea.
Today, simulations in the integrated training environment do not provide the realism, interoperability, affordability and availability necessary for the breadth of training that the Army envisions for the future. The STE will be able to do all that — it will be flexible, affordable and available at the point of need.
“This video helps us get to shared understanding, and also awareness of what we’re trying to achieve with the synthetic training environment,” Gervais said during the AUSA presentation. “But it also allows us to understand the challenges that we’re going to face as we try to deliver this.”
“We don’t have the right training capability to set the exercises up,” said Mike Enloe, chief engineer for the STE Cross-Functional Team, during the presentation. “What I mean by that is that it takes more time to set up the systems that are disparate to talk to each other, to get the terrains together, than it does to actually have the exercise go.”
The Synthetic Training Environment will assess Soldiers in enhancing decision-making skills through an immersive environment.
(US Army photo)
The Army’s One World Terrain, a 3D database launched in 2013 that collects, processes, stores and executes global terrain simulations, has been the “Achilles’ heel” of STE from the start, Enloe said. The Army lacks well-formed 3D terrain data and therefore the ability to run different echelons of training to respond to the threat. The database is still being developed as part of the STE, and what the Army needs most “right now from industry is content … we need a lot of 3D content and rapid ways to get them built,” Enloe said. That means the capability to process terrain on 3D engines so that it can move across platforms, he said, and steering clear of proprietary technologies. The STE is based on modules that can be changed to keep up with emerging technologies.
The Army also needs the ability to write the code to develop the artificial intelligence that will meet STE’s needs — that can, to some extent, learn and challenge the weaknesses of participants, he said.
Retired Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, 32nd vice chief of staff of the Army, emphasized during the presentation that the Army needs to move away from the materiel development of the STE and focus on training as a service. “I believe that a training environment should have two critical aspects to it,” he said: It should be a maneuver trainer, and it should be a gunnery trainer.
Changing the culture
Brig. Gen. Michael E. Sloane, program executive officer for Simulation, Training, and Instrumentation (PEO STRI), said the leadership philosophy of STE’s development is about fostering culture change and getting soldiers capabilities faster. “We have to be proactive; the [cross-functional teams] have to work together with the PEOs, and we’re doing that,” he said. “Collectively, we’re going to deliver real value to the soldier, I think, in doing this under the cross-functional teams and the leadership of the Army Futures Command.”
Many organizations are involved with STE’s development. The U.S. Army Combined Arms Center-Training and the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command capability managers are working requirements and represent users. PEO STRI is the materiel developer. The U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence is responsible for the infantry, armor and combined arms requirement. And finally, the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology (ASA(ALT)) serves as the approval authority for long-range investing and requirements.
With the Futures Command and ASA(ALT) collaborating throughout the development of STE, Sloane believes the Army will be able to reduce and streamline acquisition documentation, leverage rapid prototyping, deliver capabilities and get it all right the first time.
Soldiers prepare to operate training technologies during the STE User Assessment in Orlando, Fla., in March 2018.
(Photo by Bob Potter)
Gervais reminded the AUSA audience in October that she had spoken about STE at the annual meeting two years ago, explaining that the Army intends to use the commercial gaming industry to accelerate the development of STE. “I did not believe that it couldn’t be delivered until 2030. I absolutely refused to believe that,” she said. In 2017, the chief of staff designated STE as one of the eight cross-functional teams for Army modernization, aligning it with soldier lethality.
Since then, STE has made quite a bit of progress, Gervais said. The initial capability document for the Army collective training environment, which lays the foundation for STE, was approved in 2018. The Army increased its industry engagement to accelerate the development of STE, according to Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley’s direction, which led to the awarding of seven other transaction authority agreements for One World Terrain, followed by a user assessment in March 2018. In June, Secretary of the Army Dr. Mark T. Esper and Milley codified STE in their vision statement. “We’re postured to execute quickly,” Gervais said.
In the meantime, she said, there has been a focused effort to increase lethality with a squad marksmanship trainer in the field to allow close combat soldiers to train immediately. The Army also developed a squad immersive virtual trainer. “We believe we can deliver that [squad immersive trainer] much quicker than the 2025 timeframe,” she said.
STE is focused on establishing common data, standards and terrain to maximize interoperability, ease of integration and cost savings, Gervais said. With the right team effort and coordination, she believes STE can be delivered quickly. Perhaps in a few short years, STE can achieve the lofty goal that DIS had for itself, according to Yuhas: Revolutionize the training and acquisition process for new weapon systems.