Six years ago, Marine Gunnery Sgt. Jared Coons grappled with the grief of the death of his father. Mark Coons, 54, left part of his estate to his son, who in turn has taken that gift to help wounded troops, children and families.
Coons gave some $25,000 to the Marine Corps’ Wounded Warrior Regiment and Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society. A $100,000 check covered two-thirds of the cost to build a playground for special-needs kids at the YMCA in his hometown of Hannibal, Missouri. An $85,000 donation benefitted local schools.
Smaller but still sizable donations funded outdoor camps and horse therapy programs.
The Marine Corps also recognized Coons for his charity. At a November 2013 ceremony at the Pentagon, it gave him the 2012 Spirit of Hope Award for his “extraordinary philanthropic contributions” of over $238,000 and noted his “generous and philanthropic character epitomizes the spirit of Bob Hope and was in keeping with the highest traditions” of the services.
But last year, Coons found himself in legal hot water. Why? He dug into his wallet several times in 2014 while serving as the logistics chief with a Japan-based Osprey squadron, VMM-262.
Tempo was high, he said, as the squadron was preparing to chop to another command for a shipboard deployment and prepping for training exercises in the region. Logistics are complicated business in the western Pacific, where units are further from military supply lines and stateside support.
Once, crunched for time, Coons spent about $1,400 to rent three large trash bins to haul away another unit’s property left in a Futenma Marine Corps Air Station hangar on Okinawa. Another time, he paid $1,450 to fund commercial Internet services from a contingency supply vendor for an exercise deployment to Clark Air Base in the Philippines.
The unit needed internet access so the Marines could track flight activities and do their daily work to meet the mission, he said. But there wasn’t enough time to wait for the waiver from Washington, which would likely come too late. So he decided to cover the cost and file for reimbursement.
Coons, a 15-year veteran, said it wasn’t the only times the squadron came up short with getting supplies and equipment the Marines needed.
“We had a very high mission tempo and we rarely received the support we needed,” he said. Higher-ups “should have supported the squadron better than it did.”
Coons contends he had the OK from his boss to get those mission-essential purchases. But he saw no reimbursement. Instead, the squadron, with a new commander in charge, in July 2015 ordered an investigation into his 2014 purchases. Coons was counseled for “unauthorized commitment of personal funds.”
But it didn’t end there. After a contingency mission to Nepal following an earthquake there, the squadron blamed Coons for several general-purpose tent poles in palletized GP tents, which he initially had signed out for but which later had missing parts. The Marine Corps valued those poles at $2,288 – his attorney says the parts are worth less than $100 — and it garnished his pay to cover that bill.
Jane Siegel, a retired colonel and Marine Corps judge advocate now in private practice near San Diego, said the Marine was “pressured” to sign a form that he’d agree to the garnishment from his military pay. He did it so he could take requested leave, which she said was subsequently wrongly cancelled and meant the loss of $1,147 airline ticket for his short trip to the U.S.
The money garnished was “20 times the amount he actually owed” for the missing poles, Siegel wrote in an appeal to Marine Corps Forces Pacific command in Hawaii to right the wrongs, order a new investigation and reimburse the gunnery sergeant for $6,276, in all.
“This is about fundamental fairness and admission that the red tape does not keep up with the mission tempo,” she wrote. “When the mission absolutely, positively has to be done, call the Marines. This is what the gunny was trying to ensure.”
Coons has few options left for redress. Last year he rotated back to the states and is stationed at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center in California and he’s spent this year trying to recoup the money for things he said the squadron needed overseas. Commanders up the chain agreed with the investigation, blaming Coons for requesting reimbursement.
He’s hit dead ends with 1st Marine Aircraft Wing and III Marine Expeditionary Force’s Inspector General, all which have rejected his appeals to reinvestigate. Most recently, the Defense Department’s IG refused to reopen the case.
“We want someone to investigate. He wants a fair hearing – and he hasn’t gotten one,” Siegel said, calling Coons “an outstanding” Marine. “It’s not so much about the money. To him, it’s about the fact that he had to do these things. He had to outlay the money for the Internet, because he’s just that kind of a Marine.”
When Mykola Reshetnuk first heard the blasts at just after 3 in the morning, he just buried himself deeper in his blankets and stayed in bed. But with the deafening reports seeming to get closer and closer, the 57-year-old Ukrainian got worried and left. And with good reason.
Seconds later, a shell tore through his house.
Reshetnuk, a pensioner, doesn’t live in a war zone. Instead, he is one of around 12,000 residents forced out of their homes after ammunition stored at a military depot near the town of Ichnya, about 135 kilometers northeast of Kyiv, began exploding early on Oct. 9, 2018, sparking a huge blaze that the Defense Ministry suggested was the result of “military sabotage.”
After the deployment of repurposed tanks and aircraft to the scene, officials said on Oct. 11, 2018, that the depot fire had finally been “extinguished completely.”
“I rushed out. I was hiding over there, in a ditch,” he told RFE/RL one day earlier, motioning to the side of a nearby road spotted with rubble and debris. “Everything was blasting, exploding around me.”
Off in the distance, explosions periodically punctuated his words.
As the smoke clears from the blaze, Reshetnuk and others may be forgiven for feeling like they live in a combat zone.
Rows of houses for kilometers around the Chernihiv region depot bear the scars of incoming armaments that were launched by the heat of the blaze.
Charred frames of homes that were occupied just days ago continued to smolder as people returned to survey the damage.
A couple walked their bikes down one of the town’s narrow roads, careful to avoid the potholes from the hundreds of shells that rained down and now lay littered about the town.
“Did you get everything?” shouted one Emergency Services employee as crews armed with metal detectors and shovels scanned nearby yards after reports that some unexploded devices were still embedded in the ground.
They doubled back on his command, fearing the damage one overlooked hole in the ground could wreak on an unsuspecting victim. No casualties have been reported from the fire, and officials are hoping to keep it that way.
“From 3 a.m. to 8 a.m., we were hiding in the cellar. It was impossible to get out,” said Reshtnuk’s neighbor, Serhiy Ishchenko.
“We returned and the neighbor’s house and fence were in flames. All we could do was try to contain it so that the blaze wouldn’t spread to other buildings.”
Pointing to how the explosions appeared to go off at intervals in different parts of the depot, Ukrainian authorities blamed saboteurs.
There have been other major explosions and fires at Ukrainian arms depots in recent years, amid fighting between government forces and Russia-backed separatists who hold parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, a few hundred kilometers southeast of the depot site.
The war has killed more than 10,300 people since it began after Russia seized Crimea in 2014 and fomented separatism following the ouster of Moscow-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled after months of pro-European unrest in Kyiv.
Cease-fire deals signed in Minsk in September 2014 and February 2015 have failed to end the bloodshed despite near-constant dialogue among European, Russian, and U.S. officials over ways to resolve the four-year crisis.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
In March 2017, a massive firestorm at a munitions depot near the eastern city of Kharkiv prompted the evacuation of about 20,000 residents within a 20-kilometer radius of the site.
And in September 2017, more than 30,000 people were forced from their homes after artillery warehouses on a military installation exploded in the Vinnytsya region, southwest of Kyiv.
Authorities have frequently blamed the blasts on sabotage, and the government has allocated 100 million hryvnyas (.6 million) for the protection of the country’s ammunition-storage facilities.
But that does little for Reshetnuk as he surveys the damage to his home.
“The furnace is the only thing left here. Where will I keep myself warm now? What will I do in winter? How will I rebuild my house? My monthly pension is just 1,400 hryvnyas,” he says, spreading his hands to the sky to show how his house no longer has a roof.
As I have written elsewhere, the Army’s leadership has taken a number of bold steps to reform its sclerotic acquisition system. Army Secretary Mark Esper and Chief of Staff General Mark Milley have set ambitious goals for a revamped acquisition system. Secretary Esper has spoken of reducing the time it takes to formulate requirements from an average of five years to just one. General Milley wants new capabilities ten times more lethal than those they replace. Getting there, he suggested in a recent speech, is as much a matter of attitude and culture as it is about technology:
I’m not interested in a linear progression into the future. That will end up in defeat on a future battlefield. If we think that if we just draw a straight line into the future and simply make incremental improvements to current systems, then we’re blowing smoke up our collective fourth point of contact…
There is no question that the Army’s leadership is all-in on acquisition reform. This does not mean that success is assured. It is natural for the current system to resist change, marshaling all the weapons of law, regulation, custom, and habit to retard or even negate progress towards the goals of a faster and more effective way of designing and procuring new capabilities. In a recent RollCall article, Under Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy recommends that elements within the current acquisition system will present the hardest challenge as they attempt to preserve their “bureaucratic rice bowls.”
As aggressive as the Army acquisition reform program has been, they could be bolder still. Here are three additional initiatives that should be pursued.
3. Restructure the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for acquisition technology and logistics (ASA/ALT)
One of the major problems the current reforms is intended to address is the stovepipes that exist between requirements formulation and capabilities development and procurement. The proposed solutions, including the creation of Futures Command, do not go far enough. Currently, Army Material Command (AMC), the organization that oversees the actual development and production of new capabilities, reports to the Chief of Staff. However, by law, AMC’s Program Executive Offices (PEOs), which manage specific programs also report to the Secretary of the Army through the ASA/ALT.
This creates an inherent conflict of interest for the PEOs who are responsible both for program execution and oversight. There will be a natural tendency for PEOs to exploit this organizational contradiction to pursue their own interests and maximize their freedom of action. But this is more than just a bureaucratic problem. There are reports that some PEOs have been told by Army lawyers that they cannot participate in the work of the newly-created Cross Functional Teams. The current system also runs counter to Congress’ efforts to allow the Service Chiefs greater authority over the acquisition process.
Army leadership needs to change this system. The logic of the current reform campaign dictates that the entire acquisition process be placed under the Army Chief of Staff. The role of the Assistant Secretary of the Army should be limited to oversight, assessment, and review of the work done by AMC and the PEOs. Clearly, this will require action on the part of Congress to rewrite the current law. But the Army needs to make a case for restructuring ASA/ALT.
2. Seek Relief from the onerous requirements of the Congressional appropriations process
The current defense budget appropriations process requires the Services to produce detailed descriptions, called exhibits, of the programs they are pursuing, including the specific quantities and types of equipment to be procured as well as the funds required. A lack of specificity in these documents often results in the appropriations committees refusing to fund a request.
The problem is that the Services’ budgets must go through an elaborate review and vetting process at multiple levels before a defense budget is actually submitted to Congress. Consequently, they may be up to two years out of date. But if changes are required, a reprogramming request must be submitted, which is a laborious process in itself.
This has been a particular problem of late in the procurement of munitions since the Services, particularly the Air Force and Army, did not anticipate two years ago how many weapons would be expended in the fight against ISIS. It is already a serious problem in areas such as cyber and communications systems where the technology cycle time is measured in months, not years. But if the Army can accelerate the acquisition system, it will become a problem in multiple areas.
The Army, really all the Services, need to work with the appropriations committees to revamp the budget document process. There needs to be a way of promoting flexibility for the PEOs while allowing for Congressional oversight. This could involve building off-ramps or alternative pathways into the reports that can be executed without triggering the need for a reprogramming request.
1. Make aggressive use of available rapid acquisition authorities
In the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress gave the Department of Defense the authority to waive virtually all procurement regulations in order to rapidly acquire critically needed capabilities. Congress also expanded the power of the Services to employ other transactional authorities to speed up the acquisition process. The current Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, Ellen Lord, has proposed using these new authorities to reduce contracting times by fifty percent.
To date, the Army has not taken advantage of these new authorities. The Army needs to walk through the open door provided by Congress and senior leaders of the Department of Defense. The Secretary and Chief of Staff need to identify a set of candidate capabilities that could be acquired using the new authorities. This has both a practical and symbolic value. There are a number of capability gaps that would benefit from the introduction of an interim solution.
More importantly, the use of rapid acquisition authorities is a demonstration of how serious Army leaders are about changing the risk-averse, “all the time in the world” acquisition culture. The Army has shown it can terminate programs that are failing or no longer meet warfighters’ needs. It must show that it is just as capable of making rapid decisions when it comes to procuring new capabilities.
Implementing organizational change is hard; altering an institution’s culture is even more difficult. The key to success is to go big and fast. The Army needs an even bolder program for reforming its acquisition system.
Ralph Stepney’s home on a quiet street in north Baltimore has a welcoming front porch and large rooms, with plenty of space for his comfortable recliner and vast collection of action movies. The house is owned by Joann West, a licensed caregiver who shares it with Stepney and his fellow Vietnam War veteran Frank Hundt.
“There is no place that I’d rather be. … I love the quiet of living here, the help we get. I thank the Lord every year that I am here,” Stepney, 73, said.
It’s a far cry from a decade ago, when Stepney was homeless and “didn’t care about anything.” His diabetes went unchecked and he had suffered a stroke — a medical event that landed him at the Baltimore Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
After having part of his foot amputated, Stepney moved into long-term nursing home care at a VA medical facility, where he thought he’d remain — until he became a candidate for a small VA effort that puts aging veterans in private homes: the Medical Foster Home program.
(Photo by Lynne Shallcross)
The $20.7 million-per-year program provides housing and care for more than 1,000 veterans in 42 states and Puerto Rico, serving as an alternative to nursing home care for those who cannot live safely on their own. Veterans pay their caregivers $1,500 to $3,000 a month, depending on location, saving the government about $10,000 a month in nursing home care. It has been difficult to scale up, though, because the VA accepts only foster homes that meet strict qualifications.
(Photo by Lynne Shallcross)
For the veterans, it’s a chance to live in a home setting with caregivers who treat them like family. For the Department of Veterans Affairs, the program provides an option for meeting its legal obligation to care for ailing, aging patients at significantly reduced costs, since the veterans pay room and board directly to their caregivers.
Cost-effectiveness is but one of the program’s benefits. Stepney and Hundt, 67, are in good hands with West, who previously ran a home health care services company. And they’re in good company, watching television together in the main living room, going to elder care twice a week and sitting on West’s porch chatting with neighbors.
(Photo by Lynne Shallcross)
West, who considers caring for older adults “her calling,” also savors the companionship and finds satisfaction in giving back to those who spent their young lives in military service to the U.S.
“I took care of my mother when she got cancer and I found that I really had a passion for it. I took classes and ran an in-home nursing care business for years. But my dream was always to get my own place and do what I am doing now,” West said. “God worked it out.”
The Medical Foster Home program has slightly more than 700 licensed caregivers who live full time with no more than three veterans and provide round-the-clock supervision and care, according to the VA. Akin to a community residential care facility, each foster home must be state-licensed as an assisted living facility and submit to frequent inspections by the VA as well as state inspectors, nutritionists, pharmacists and nurses.
Unlike typical community care facilities, foster home caregivers are required to live on-site and tend to the needs of their patients themselves 24/7 — or supply relief staff.
“It’s a lot of work, but I have support,” West says. “I try to make all my personal appointments on days when Mr. Ralph and Mr. Frank are out, but if I can’t, someone comes in to be here when I’m gone.”
VA medical foster home providers also must pass a federal background check, complete 80 hours of training before they can accept patients, plus 20 hours of additional training each year, and allow the VA to make announced and unannounced home visits. They cannot work outside the home and must maintain certification in first aid, CPR and medicine administration.
(Photo by Lynne Shallcross)
But one prerequisite cannot be taught — the ability to make a veteran feel at home. West has grown children serving in the military and takes pride in contributing to the well-being of veterans.
“It’s a lot of joy taking care of them,” she said of Stepney and Hundt. “They deserve it.”
To be considered for the program, veterans must be enrolled in VA health care; have a serious, chronic disabling medical condition that requires a nursing home level of care; and need care coordination and access to VA services. It can take up to a month to place a veteran in a home once they are found eligible, according to the VA.
The veterans also must be able to cover their costs. Because medical foster homes are not considered institutional care, the VA is not allowed to pay for it directly. The average monthly fee, according to the VA, is $2,300, which most veterans cover with their VA compensation, Social Security and savings, said Nicole Trimble, Medical Foster Home coordinator at the Perry Point VA Medical Center in Maryland.
Pilot program takes off
Since 1999, the Department of Veterans Affairs has been required to provide nursing home services to veterans who qualify for VA health care and have a service-connected disability rating of 70 percent or higher, or are considered unemployable and have a disability rating of 60 percent or higher.
The VA provides this care through short- or long-term nursing home facilities, respite care, community living centers on VA hospital grounds, private assisted living facilities and state veterans homes.
Shortly after, the VA Medical Center in Little Rock, Ark., launched an alternative — a pilot program that placed veterans in individual homes, at an average cost to the VA of roughly $60 a day, including administration and health care expenses, compared with upward of $500 a day for nursing home care.
(Photo by Lynne Shallcross)
And because veterans who are enrolled in the Medical Foster Care program must use the VA’s Home-Based Primary Care program, which provides an interdisciplinary team of health professionals for in-home medical treatment, the program saves the VA even more. One study showed that the home-based care has yielded a 59 percent drop in VA hospital inpatient days and a 31 percent reduction in admissions among those who participate.
More than 120 VA medical centers now oversee a Medical Foster Home program in their regions, and the VA has actively promoted the program within its health system.
It also has attracted bipartisan congressional support. In 2013, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced a bill to allow the VA to pay for medical foster homes directly.
In 2015, former House Veterans Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) introduced similar legislation that would have allowed the VA to pay for up to 900 veterans under the program.
And in May, Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) raised the issue again, sponsoring a bill similar to Miller’s. “Allowing veterans to exercise greater flexibility over their benefits ensures that their individual needs are best met,” Higgins said in support of the program.
A guardian ‘angel’
Foster care has been a blessing for the family of Hundt, who suffered a stroke shortly after his wife died and was unable to care for himself. Hundt’s daughter, Kimberly Malczewski, lives nearby and often stops in to visit her dad, sometimes with her 2-year-old son.
(Photo by Lynne Shallcross)
“I’m not sure where my father would be if he didn’t have this,” she said. “With my life situation — my husband and I both work full time, we have no extra room in our house, and we have a small child — I can’t take care of him the way Miss Joann does.”
Trimble, whose program started in 2012 and has five homes, said she hopes to expand by two to three homes a year. The VA will remain meticulous about selecting homes.
“There is a strict inspection and vetting process to be a medical foster home,” Trimble said. “We only will accept the best.”
It also takes a special person to be an “angel,” as the caregivers are referred to in the program’s motto, “Where Heroes Meet Angels.”
Stepney and Hundt agree West has earned her wings. On a recent cruise to Bermuda, she brought Stepney and Hundt along.
For Hundt, it was the first time he’d been on a boat. And Stepney said it was nothing like the transport ships he and his fellow troops used in the late 1960s: “Well, I’ve gotten to travel, but it was mainly two years in Vietnam, and there weren’t any women around.”
When asked why she brought the pair along, West said caregiving is “a ministry, something you really have to like to do.”
“And you know how the saying goes,” she said. “When you like what you do, you never work a day in your life.”
It was one of the most dangerous and daring raids of World War II, and it resulted in the most medals of honor bestowed on America’s airmen from any battle in any war.
In the summer of 1943, the U.S. Army Air Force launched the audacious Operation Tidal Wave, an effort to destroy the largest supply of oil production for the German war machine in Ploesti, Romania.
The Ploesti oil fields produced a third of all Axis oil in Europe, so it was a prime target for an Allied attack. But unbeknownst to the Allies, it was also one of its most heavily defended cities in Europe — second only to Berlin.
Flying from Benghazi, Libya, a force of five bomb groups – the 98th and 376th from the Ninth Air Force and the 44th, 93rd, and 389th from the Eighth Air Force – (totaling 177 B-24 Liberator bombers) conducted the raid. The most effective way to strike the targets was to come in at tree-top level and use bombs with delayed fuses to allow planes to clear the area before detonation.
The force would have a series of troubling events before they even reached Ploesti.
In the early morning hours of August 1, 1943, just after the bombers began their mission, an overloaded bomber crashed on take-off and later the lead plane winged over and crashed into the sea.
As the raid approached its target, the 98th Bomb Group fell behind, separating the planes into two groups. Then a navigational error sent the lead group away from Ploesti and toward Bucharest. Realizing their mistake, the 93rd, led by Lt. Col. Addison Baker, turned north toward the refineries. Seeing this, the 376th, led by Col. Keith Compton and mission commander Brig. Gen. Uzal Ent, also turned toward the target but turned away to look for a better entry point when they hit the anti-aircraft defenses.
The overwhelming ground fire soon overwhelmed many of the planes during the attack, and the pilots did everything they could to maintain course and strike their target.
In a final act of heroism, the pilots of a shot up plane tried to gain enough altitude for the crew to bail out but were too late – the plane crashed into the target, killing all on board.
Pilots Lt. Col. Baker and Maj. Jerstad were both awarded the Medal of Honor.
The 376th, unable to find a suitable line to the main refineries, was ordered to bomb targets of opportunity before coming home. One six-plane element breached the defenses and hit its target but was ineffective.
Just as the remnants of the 93rd and 376th were leaving the target, the straggling 98th and 44th, which followed the correct course, arrived with the fifth group, swerving north to hit a separate compound.
Due to the confusion, the first groups over the target hit anything they could. This meant the next two groups approached with their primary targets already in flames. To make matters worse, not all of the planes evacuated the target area, so pilots already dodging smoke and ground fire had to watch out for other bombers too.
Despite the hellacious conditions, Col. John Kane’s 98th Bomb Group and Col. Leon Johnson’s 44th Bomb Group flew on and attacked their targets with precision. For their bravery and leadership, both men were awarded the Medal of Honor.
While the 98th and 44th fought their way through Ploesti, the 389th attacked the Campina facility to the north. Though more lightly defended than the main facility, the bombers still encountered heavy resistance.
Lieutenant Lloyd Herbert Hughes’ plane was hit numerous times in its fuel tanks and streamed fuel as it entered the target area. Motivated by duty and mission, he flew his plane into the inferno to hit his target. His own plane caught fire. Hughes attempted a crash landing but he and five other crew died. The enemy captured the rest. Lt. Hughes received the Medal of Honor for his devotion to duty.
The top turret gunner, Sgt. Zerrill Steen, continued to fire on enemy positions until his ammunition was exhausted. Steen was part of an air crew under Lt. Robert Horton. Horton’s plane was heavily damaged and went down, killing nine of the 10 crew. Sergeant Steen was captured and awarded the Distinguished Service Cross while in captivity.
Of the 89 returning planes, over a third were unfit to fly afterward. Five pilots received the Medal of Honor, three of them posthumously.
The high cost of the mission did not bring about great success. While the refinery at Campina was put out of action for the remainder of the war, the losses in oil production were repaired within weeks.
Due to the losses suffered by the attackers, August 1st came to be known as ‘Black Sunday.’
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has told lawmakers that the United States intends to impose sanctions on firms that continue to help Russia build a natural-gas pipeline to Europe as he sought to dispel concerns about Washington’s commitment to halt the controversial project.
“We will do everything we can to make sure that that pipeline doesn’t threaten Europe,” Pompeo told a senate hearing on July 30, adding: “We want Europe to have real, secure, stable, safe energy resources that cannot be turned off in the event Russia wants to.”
Pompeo told the panel that the United States has already been in touch with some companies working on Nord Stream 2 about the risks they face if they don’t halt their activities.
The State Department and Treasury Department “have made very clear in our conversations with those who have equipment there the expressed threat that is posed to them for continuing to work on completion of the pipeline,” he said.
The United States opposes the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which would run under the Baltic Sea and double Russia’s direct natural gas exports to Germany while bypassing Ukraine.
Washington claims the pipeline would increase Europe’s dependence on Russian gas while also hurting Ukraine, which stands to lose billions of dollars in gas-transit fees.
‘Frustrations’ With Germany
Work on the nearly billion project, which is more than 90 percent complete, was halted in December after the United States passed a law that imposed sanctions on vessels laying the pipeline, forcing Swiss-based AllSeas to pull out.
Russian vessels are now seeking to finish the project, but they require help from international companies such as insurers and ports, which Pompeo has now threatened to sanction.
Pompeo earlier in the month announced that he was removing guidelines from a 2017 Congressional bill that exempted the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from sanctions amid signs that Russia was taking steps to complete the project.
During the July 30 hearing, Senator Ted Cruz (Republican-Texas) said he had discussed Nord Stream 2 in “considerable depth” with President Donald Trump a day earlier during their trip to Western Texas, a major energy producing region.
Texas potentially benefits from the continued delay of Nord Stream 2 as it opens the possibility of more U.S. liquefied-natural-gas exports to Europe. Russia has accused the United States of using energy sanctions as a “weapon” to open up new markets for its oil and gas industry.
Cruz said Trump expressed “frustrations” with the leadership of Germany, which continues to support the Nord Stream 2 project.
U.S.-German relations have suffered under Trump, who recently announced he would be pulling about 12,500 troops from the country.
“He said, ‘I’ve never found it to be useful,'” Mr. Trump said, describing the general’s view of torturing terrorism suspects. He added that Mr. Mattis found more value in building trust and rewarding cooperation with terror suspects: “‘Give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I’ll do better.'” He added: “I was very impressed by that answer.”
Torture, Mr. Trump said, is “not going to make the kind of a difference that a lot of people are thinking.”
It amounts to a “remarkable” reversal for the president-elect, as the Times put it. It also somewhat contradicts the position of Trump’s national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who has said that “all options are on the table.” Before he campaigned for Trump, however, Flynn criticized the practice.
The debate over waterboarding in enhanced interrogations has a larger legal barrier than what President George W. Bush faced in the past. While Bush authorized the practice after the 9/11 terror attacks through legal memos, President Barack Obama ordered the practice to stop through an executive order. That order was later codified into law in 2015.
Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in March that the use of waterboarding is “inconsistent with the values of our nation.” Dunford previously served as Mattis’ deputy at 1st Marine Division.
Three multistate coalitions have formed, in the northeast, west, and midwest, to coordinate measures to reopen their economies, but they have yet to make concrete plans.
That’s because the reopening plans are dependent on various factors, like controlling the rate of infections and hospitalizations, making testing and contact tracing more widespread, making sure healthcare facilities are properly equipped to handle another resurgence, and employing social distancing practices in the workplace.
Some of these states (Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina), were among the last to issue stay-at-home orders, doing so in April after many other states already had in March.
In several of the states that have begun to reopen, however, the number of new cases of COVID-19 seem to still be steadily rising. Where most cases early in the outbreak were reported primarily in urban areas like New York and Seattle, recent analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation indicates that from April 13 to April 27, rural counties saw an average 125% increase in new coronavirus infections, leaping from 51 to 115 new cases per 100,000 people.
Here are the states beginning to reopen their economies.
Alabama’s Gov. Kay Ivey lifted the state’s stay-at-home just 26 days after it began, and reopened beaches and retail stores.
Alabama had one of the shortest-lived stay-at-home orders, which began on April 4 and ended on April 30. Now, retail stores may operate at 50% capacity and beachgoers must stay 6 feet apart. Hair and beauty salons remain closed, and restaurants are restricted to takeout only.
Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy permitted some restaurants and nonessential services to begin reopening on April 24, with certain restrictions.
Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy allowed some restaurants and nonessential services to reopen for business, with certain restrictions. Open restaurants must take reservations and refuse walk-ins, they can be filled to only 25% capacity at one time, customers must either dine alone or with members of their household (meeting up with friends is not allowed), and restaurants must provide hand sanitizer for guests to use. Also, restaurant employees must wear protective face masks while working.
Governor Dunleavy also eased restrictions on public gatherings, saying that they can include people from different households, as long as individuals stay six feet apart. If you plan on singing or projecting your voice, however, the minimum distance apart is 10 feet.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis initiated a new ‘safer at home’ order on April 27, allowing elective medical procedures to resume and curbside delivery options for retail stores.
Colorado’s stay-at-home order expired on April 26, replaced by a “safer-at-home” policy that permitted some businesses to open their doors. Childcare facilities could reopen under certain safety measures, including keeping rooms to less than 10 children, staggering meal times, and frequently sanitizing common areas. Some retail stores and beauty salons began reopening on May 1, allowed to operate at 50% capacity.
Gyms and nightlife destinations remain closed, however, and restaurants are still restricted to take-out service. Schools will remain remote for the rest of the semester.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ stay-at-home order expired April 30, and he allowed some beaches in northern Florida to reopen as early as April 17.
On Friday, April 17, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis allowed some beaches in northern Florida to reopen, The Associated Press reported, even though the state has continued to see an increase in coronavirus cases.
In a press conference, he said that some counties could start reopening their beaches if they wanted to, adding that it was important for people to get fresh air, the AP reported. “Do it in a good way,” DeSantis said. “Do it in a safe way.”
Gatherings of 50 or more people are still banned, and people are encouraged to socially distance on the beach as they exercise or do activities like surfing, reported Business Insider’s Dominic-Madori Davis. But photos showed hundreds of locals flooding Jacksonville Beach, apparently without adhering to social distancing guidelines.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp allowed many businesses, including gyms and movie theaters, to reopen in phases beginning in April.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp allowed businesses to begin reopening in phases over the weekend, he said during a news conference on Monday, April 20.
Gyms, hair salons, barbershops, fitness centers, and massage-therapy centers were allowed to reopen on April 24, as long as they follow social distancing and “regular sanitation,” reported Business Insider’s Jake Lahut. On Monday, restaurants, private social clubs, and movie theaters could also reopen. But bars, night clubs, amusement parks, and other businesses will remain closed pending further advice from public-health experts.
Kemp didn’t give much specific detail, but said businesses should “adhere to the minimum basic operations.”
Kemp said Georgia’s rate of new infections had flattened. In response to backlash about the decision, Kemp told Fox News that “it’s a tough balance.”
“We are talking about a few businesses that I closed down to help flatten the curve, which we have done in our state,” he said. “But for us to continue to ask them to do that while they lose everything, quite honestly, there are a lot of civil repercussions of that, mental health issues. We are seeing more patients in our trauma centers in our state.”
But both President Donald Trump and local mayors have criticized the decision. “I told the governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp, that I disagree strongly with his decision to open certain facilities,” Trump said on April 22.
Kemp didn’t issue a statewide stay-at-home order until April 3, saying during a press conference at the time that a key part of his decision was that “we didn’t know … until the last 24 hours” that asymptomatic carriers of the coronavirus could infect other people.
Idaho Gov. Brad Little initiated a four-phase process to reopen the state, beginning May 1.
Idaho’s stay-at-home order also expired on April 30, and Gov. Little enacted a four-stage reopening plan over the months of May and June. The first stage began on May 1 and allowed daycares, childcare centers, summer camps, and places of worship to reopen. Other nonessential business may begin reopening during the second phase, which starts May 16.
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s stay-at-home order expired on May 1, and a partial reopening began May 4.
Gov. Eric Holcomb rolled out a multi-phase plan that involves different reopening dates for different counties. Retail businesses and restaurants may operate at 50% capacity, and personal services salons may see customers by appointment only. Office workers can return to work in small or staggered groups.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds allowed gyms, libraries, and other venues to reopen in certain regions on May 1.
Gov. Kim Reynolds extended the state’s emergency declaration until May 27, but allowed businesses (including restaurants, gyms, libraries, and indoor malls) to reopen in select counties beginning May 1, under social distancing restrictions.
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly began to lift the state’s lockdown measures on May 4.
Kelly’s “Ad Astra” plan breaks the reopening into three phases, which allowed some businesses to reopen May 4 as long as social distancing measures were in place, and crowds were limited to no more than 10 people.
The initial phase will last 14 days. Bars, casinos, fitness centers, museums, hair salons, and swimming pools will remain closed, and large community events will remain prohibited.
Phase two of the plan will start no earlier than May 18 and will allow childcare facilities, libraries and some organized sports facilities to reopen.
Maine Gov. Janet Mills extended a new ‘safer at home’ order through May 31, but allowed some businesses to reopen on May 1.
Beginning May 1, residents of Maine were able to resume hunting and fishing, go to drive-in movie theaters, get car washes, and visit beauty salons, under set social distancing restrictions.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz extended the state’s stay-at-home order until May 18, but allowed certain nonessential businesses to begin reopening on May 4.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves began easing restrictions on April 27, but backtracked the reopening after COVID-19 cases spiked in the state on May 1.
Restaurants and some retail stores began reopening on April 27 in Mississippi, and were told to operate at 50% capacity and maintain six feet of space between customers, while tattoo parlors, beauty salons, and gyms to remain closed. However, when the state’s infections and death count reached a new high on May 1, Governor Reeves decided to put additional reopening on hold.
Missouri’s stay-at-home order expired May 3, and Gov. Mike Parson has since reopened restaurants and stadiums.
Gov. Mike Parson allowed the reopening of movie theatres, sports stadiums, and other large venues, encouraging patrons to maintain social distancing regulations. Retail spaces are restricted to maintaining customers at 25% capacity.
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock allowed select retail businesses to reopen on April 27, and restaurants and bars to resume dine-in service on May 4.
Places of worship were permitted to open on April 26, and told to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people that make social distancing difficult. Restaurants, bars, distilleries, and breweries were allowed to reopen on May 4 if they adhere to social distancing guidelines.
Businesses where sanitation and social distancing is less possible, such as gyms, music venues, movie theaters, and bowling alleys, were to remain closed.
Nebraska never had a stay-at-home order, and on May 4, Gov. Pete Ricketts eased restrictions to allow personal services businesses to reopen.
As of May 4, Gov. Pete Ricketts allowed dine-in restaurants to operate at 50% capacity. Beauty parlors and tattoo shops may also open, with a limit of serving 10 customers at one time.
Nevada’s stay-at-home order is in effect until May 15, but Gov. Steve Sisolak allowed all retail businesses to operate via ‘curbside pickup’ beginning May 1.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said certain areas upstate (not New York City) may be able to partially reopen beginning May 15.
Gov. Cuomo has placed some of the heaviest restrictions in the country on New York state, and has been hesitant to lift any so far. He is closely adhering to guidelines set by the CDC, requiring officials to show a steady, continual decline in new coronavirus infections in their area over a two-week period before considering reopening nonessential businesses.
Regions in New York that do meet this criteria by May 15 and are permitted to reopen will have to follow strict sanitary and social distancing precautions. While the infection rates in upstate areas may be more promising, Cuomo said that “unless a miracle happens,” it’s highly unlikely that New York City or nearby counties downstate will be able to anytime soon.
North Dakota never had a statewide mandatory stay-at-home order, and Gov. Doug Burgum invited most businesses to reopen when they want to beginning May 1.
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum placed restrictions on schools, gyms, dine-in restaurants and bars, and movie theaters in early April through the end of the month. Other businesses which weren’t told to close were welcome to reopen at any time, the governor said.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine initiated a multi-phase reopening plan to begin May 1, with veterinarians and dentists allowed to return to work.
In Ohio, medical procedures, dental offices, and vet clinics were allowed to reopen on May 1. Later in the month, on May 12, retail stores can reopen with certain restrictions. Gov. DeWine has yet to say when beauty salons or dine-in restaurants will be able to welcome customers again.
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt began a three-phase plan on April 24, and allowed personal care services such as spas, nail and hair salons, and pet groomers to reopen.
Under relaxed guidelines in Oklahoma for personal care businesses, customers must make appointments ahead of time and the business should maintain social distancing protocols as much as possible by staggering appointment times.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster opened up beaches and some businesses previously deemed nonessential on April 21.
South Carolina was one of the last to issue a statewide stay-at-home order from all the states that issued such orders, doing so on April 7.
On April 20, Gov. McMaster said that department stores and some other businesses previously deemed nonessential would be allowed to reopen if they abided by social distancing guidelines. That includes clothing stores, furniture stores, and florist shops, reported Josiah Bates for Time.
“We are still in a very serious situation … we must be sure that we continue to be strict and disciplined with our social distancing,” McMaster said in a press conference. “Our goal was to cause the most damage possible to the virus, while doing the least possible damage to our businesses. South Carolina’s business is business.”
South Dakota never had a stay-at-home order, and Gov. Kristi Noem began encouraging a ‘back to normal’ approach in late April.
Gov. Noem encouraged local people and businesses to resume activities, but also to be careful and maintain social distancing as much as possible. When asked about potential surges of COVID-19 infections, Gov. Noem said she will handle those locally as they come.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee allowed restaurants to resume dine-in operations on April 27, and retail stores reopened on April 29.
In Tennessee, gyms were allowed to reopen on May 1 under rules to operate at 50% capacity and maintain a clean and sanitized environment. Reopened restaurants must also follow additional restrictions, including using disposable menus, limiting each table to six customers, and eliminating shared condiment stations.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott allowed restaurants and movie theaters to begin operating on May 1, at 25% capacity.
Malls, retailers, and dine-in restaurants reopened in Texas on May 1 at reduced capacity. Curbside delivery and to-go service has already been permitted at certain eateries since since April 27. Gyms, bars, and salons remain closed.
On May 1, Gov. Greg Abbott concurred with the dangers of reopening the state on a private phone call with members of the state legislature and Congress, according to an audio recording obtained by local Texas political site Quorum Report. He had publicly acknowledged the week earlier that “It’s only logical to see there would be an increase and the number of people that test positive.”
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert never enacted a stay-at-home order, and eased other restrictions starting May 1.
Dine-in restaurants, public parks, and gyms reopened in Utah on May 1, and Gov. Gary Herbert increased limits on public gatherings from 10 people to 20 people, provided they adhere to social distancing protocols. Schools, however, remain closed.
Vermont’s stay-at-home order is in effect through May 15, but Gov. Phil Scott allowed certain businesses to reopen on April 27.
Governor Phil Scott allowed “outdoor retail spaces” to return to in-person shopping on April 27, with a restriction of 10 shoppers at one time. Outdoor farmers markets also reopened on May 1, under rules to “transition away from shopping and social events, to primarily a food distribution system.”
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice’s new ‘safer at home’ order began on May 4, and allowed restaurants to open for outdoor dining.
Beginning May 4, hair salons, barbershops, and pet groomer were allowed to resume operations, and must maintain social distancing and proper sanitation between customers.
Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon had never put in place a stay-at-home order, and he began lifting other restrictions May 1.
On May 1, Gov. Gordon allowed the reopening of gyms, beauty salons, barber shops, massage parlors, and tattoo shops, among other personal service businesses.
Other states are slated to partially reopen later in May, including New Jersey, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.
China is showcasing its powerful new hypersonic anti-ship cruise missile, which could raise the stakes as tensions flare between China’s military and the US Navy.
China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) unveiled the CM-401 short-range anti-ship ballistic missile at Airshow China in Zhuhai, the country’s largest military and commercial aviation exhibition.
“The system is intended for rapid and precision strikes against medium-size ships, naval task forces, and offshore facilities,” a CASIC representative told IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly.
The Chinese state-affiliated Global Times, citing a press release from the company that produced the weapon, reported that the missile can travel at speeds roughly six times the speed of sound.
The speed and unpredictable flight patterns made possible through mid-flight changes to the trajectory make the missile much more difficult, if not impossible, to intercept.
The CM-401s are assumed to fly on a “skip-glide trajectory,” The War Zone reported, citing graphics detailing the capabilities of the new system.
“The weapon has the potential of destroying a hostile vessel with one hit,” the paper reported, citing a Chinese military expert. The CM-401 is believed to include an independent phased array radar in the nose for terminal targeting.
The missile, which has a maximum range of 180 miles, can be launched from a shore-based launcher or from a ship-based launch-canister. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy’s new Type 055 destroyers could potentially carry the CM-401 missiles, The National Interest reported, although it is possible the vessel will carry a longer-range variant.”The country will possess greater deterrence against hostile sea attacks, especially from large vessels like aircraft carriers,” a military expert told the Global Times.
Other Chinese anti-ship systems include the DF-21D and DF-26 ballistic missiles, as well as the YJ-12 and YJ-18 supersonic anti-ship cruise missile and a handful of subsonic cruise missiles. The development of a hypersonic strike platform represents a potentially-alarming advancement in stand-off anti-access, area-denial (A2/AD) technology, a consistent challenge for the US military.
The CFT has nothing to do with combat, Kuwait isn’t a real deployment, not every Marine is a rifleman, stop piggybacking off the XO—every service member has thought these things in some form at one point or another. You may have even said it aloud to a buddy. Putting a military spin on Dude With a Sign, Veteran With A Sign takes these thoughts that we have all had and actually says them.
VWAS is an Instagram page that started in March 2020 as a writing project by a f̶o̶r̶m̶e̶r̶ Marine named Zach. He served two tours in Afghanistan as an infantryman and held every position in a Marine infantry squad up to squad leader. “GWOT was hot and COIN was cool,” Zach said as he recalled the intensity of combat operations over a decade ago. After separating from the Marine Corps, Zach continued to support his brothers and sisters in arms working for Centerstone, a nonprofit national network that offers essential behavioral healthcare to veterans. Like most veterans, Zach started following military memes as a way to connect with the community. However, he found that most of the memes were the same; heavy handed, punching down, and generally negative in nature. He decided to try something different.
As quarantines went into place across the country and people went internal both literally and on the internet, Zach saw an opportunity to test out his idea and seized it. His first sign read, “Take motrin Drink water Change your socks.” This military cure-all was followed by other popular sayings like “Hurry up and wait” and “Standby to standby.” VWAS’s posts are meant to help veterans with a type of humor that serves as a common language across the services. “Everything’s with a wink and a smile,” Zach said. However, the community was slow to catch on. The number of followers was low and Zach found that people just weren’t getting the joke. “It was annoying,” he recalled. By May, he wondered if he shouldn’t just shut the whole thing down. However, seemingly overnight, the community got the joke.
Early on, Zach began consulting with his Marine Corps buddy Jay. The two served together in Afghanistan with Zach becoming Jay’s squad leader on their last deployment. “We stayed in touch after the Marines,” Jay said, “but we went from good friends to best friends with VWAS.” While working toward a business degree, Jay helped to direct the social media strategy of the page and grow its followership by tagging friends, sharing posts, and trying to line up just the right hashtag. When Zach considered shutting it down, the page was hovering around 600-800 followers. The next day, it had jumped to 1,200. In a week, it more than doubled to 2,500. After a week and a half, VWAS had over 10,000 followers. “We found a common unified voice for the page,” Jay said.
Zach (left) and Jay (right) hold signs written by the other (veteranwithasign)
As the page grew, so did its message. Zach and Jay realized the social responsibility that had been placed on them and crafted their posts accordingly. While they still made humorous signs like “Mortarmen Are Infantry That Can Do Math”, they also used their platform to bring attention to serious topics with signs like “Text Your Buddies…It Could Save A Life” and “Where Is Vanessa Guillén??” The two also carefully crafted the identity of the page with the character of the Warfighter. Wearing OD green skivvies, black sunglasses, and a hat, the Warfighter persona aims to focus attention on the message of the sign while also representing all types of veterans. “Anyone who puts on the uniform is fighting the war,” Jay said. From S1 and supply to mechanics and logisticians, “everybody is the warfighter in their own way.” Zach says that the concept was inspired by the 2006 film V for Vendetta, in which a masked man fights against a fascist tyrannical government. V’s face, hidden by a Guy Fawkes mask, is never seen in the film and the mask becomes a symbol of freedom and rebellion against the oppressive regime. Jay reinforced this idea when he talked about donning the skivvies, hat, and shades to hold up a sign. “In that moment, I’m the Warfighter.”
Expanding the VWAS community, Zach and Jay started taking suggestions from followers who had a message that they wanted to share. Working with Zach and Jay to craft and home the message, the follower would then don the Warfighter outfit, assume the identity, and hold up their sign for the world to read. One such collaboration was with a veteran and former law enforcement officer who goes by the Instagram name donutoperator—the sign read, “Military Experience Doesn’t Equal Law Enforcement Experience.” Another major expansion for VWAS came when Tim Kennedy shared a post in which Zach held up a sign reading, “No One Hates Successful Veterans Like Veterans” while his friend held one reading, “He Sucks”.
“Wives aren’t the only ones wanting to be called by rank” (veteranwithasign)
“There’s a current cultural problem with the veteran community. It feels as if we eat our own,” Kennedy said in his sharing of the post. “We need to be supporting each other. We need to back each other.” While Zach and Jay hope to continue to grow the page as a forum of free speech, there’s no room on VWAS for negativity. The page receives dozens of DMs and comments on a daily basis, and while Zach and Jay like to respond to all of them, they simply ignore the constant suggestions to do signs bashing on veteran-owned apparel or coffee companies.
“That’s just being a bully,” Jay said, “and no one likes a bully.”
On the other hand, many DMs to the page come from concerned friends looking for resources to provide to battle buddies who they think might be suicide risks. Zach and Jay take the time to identify the most appropriate and effective resources and pass the information on with best wishes. “That’s what this is all about,” Zach said, “helping veterans laugh more and hurt themselves less.” While veteran suicides have gone up since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, VWAS wants to do more than just acknowledge the problem or point fingers at the VA. “That doesn’t solve anything,” Zach said. “Instead, I look at it like, ‘They’re doing what they can do and we’re doing what we can do.'”
Doing 22 push-ups for 30 days on Facebook can be a good way to bring awareness to the problem of veteran suicide, but there is a simpler course of action that addresses the problem directly. Call your buddies. Take the time to talk, catch up, and ask how they’re doing. Let them know that you care about them and are always there for them. The feeling of loneliness and hopelessness that tragically brings so many veterans to take their own lives can be combated with a phone call from a friend.
Be that friend.
Here are some resources designed to prevent veteran suicide:
Veterans Crisis Line—1-800-273-8255 and press 1
Veterans Crisis Line for deaf or hard of hearing—1-800-799-4889
It sometimes seems like military service grants you some sort of extra-sensory bullsh*t detection superpower. This is apparently true in Venezuela, where soldiers were forced to keep a close watch on one another to keep them from deserting as another sham election for the world’s sh*ttiest dictator drew nearer in 2018.
Desertions, rebellions, and treason were rife within its ranks as the army became less and less able to feed and pay its soldiers, much less fight a war with them. The world waited to see what this dumpster fire of a president would do about it.
Nicolas Maduro always looks like he really needs an epi-pen.
When an army is deserting at a rate almost four times as high as previous years, not only does its leadership need to stop the bleeding, but they also need to figure out how to defend their homeland. Nicholas Maduro also needed to figure out how to use them to maintain his grip on power while rigging the 2018 election.
As the soldiers guarding polling places kept an eye out for any terrorists, saboteurs, or actual legal votes, what they probably really thought about is how to ditch that awful job and make more than the two dollars a day the Venezuelan government paid them.
Three faces in this photo are screaming to be anywhere else.
One Sergeant Major who has served for 20 years told Business Insider he hasn’t had a full fridge for a long time. His old Christmas bonus used to buy furniture, clothes, and toys for his family but now can only afford three cartons of eggs and two kilos of sugar. With that kind of depreciation, it’s easy to see why Venezuela is losing more than just a few good men. “President” Maduro blames a conspiracy led by the United States for losing his army – He says the U.S. is planning to invade Venezuela.
If the U.S. intends to invade his country, how will he defend it with a poorly paid, fed, and equipped army? Ask his Grandma to help?
Maduro addressed the entire country, slamming President Donald Trump and the U.S. government for its use of economic force and military threats to force Maduro out of power. He launched a two-day military training exercise, encouraging civilians to enter the armed forces reserve or join civilian militias to help repel a military invasion.
Another means of control are another group of armed civilians, called colectivos. These are fervently pro-Maduro militias who have been trained to keep the local populace in line since the days of Hugo Chavez. Unlike soldiers of Venezuela’s regular Army, there’s nowhere they can defect to: It’s Maduro or death for them.
These civilians are funded by the government and act as a paramilitary group and internal security service. If a military intervention from outside ever does come, they will be systematically hunted down and prosecuted by their fellow Venezuelans for their years of violent reprisals against dissidents and extra-judicial killings.
There is a proverbial 800-pound gorilla that the United States Army is facing. Well, more like 110 pounds. That’s the weight some soldiers have to haul on their backs. And it’s a big problem.
“We [now] have Soldiers in their late teens and early 20s and they’re getting broken sometimes in training before they see a day in combat,” Zac Wingard, a mechanical engineer for the Army Research Laboratory’s Weapons and Materials Research Directorate, was quoted in an Army release as saying during the Association of the United States Army’s Global Force Symposium.
How to prevent this? One solution is to give the troops a third arm. Yeah, you read that right. The Army Research Lab has a prototype third arm for troops that will hang off their body armor.
The device, which weighs about 4 pounds, is currently in testing at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds. Currently, the third arm is being used to help re-direct the weight of weapons, currently M4 carbines, onto a soldier’s body.
“With this configuration right now, we can go up to 20 pounds and take all of that weight off of the arms,” mechanical engineer Dan Baechle said.
During the testing, troops have been wearing sensors to determine how much muscle activity is occurring. Eventually this system could be used with other weapons, like the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon or the M240B machine gun. But it might not end there – troops could be able to carry more powerful systems, since the recoil won’t be directly impacting them.
“We could potentially look at very high recoil systems that aren’t going to beat up on the soldier like they normally would,” Baechle said. There are also application for other tactical needs, like shooting around corners, close-quarters combat, and other fighting techniques.
But it might not just be about helping to shoot a weapon. Troops could also use the third arm to hold shields or keep a weapon ready while using other tools to breach barricades.
That said, before this system goes into the field, they will try to make sure it can be rugged enough to handle whatever the battlefield throws at it.