An honorable carry ceremony July 27, 2018, at Osan Air Base, South Korea, transferred 55 boxes of remains believed to be of Americans missing in the Korean War. The boxes were received Aug. 1, 2018, in an honorable carry ceremony in Hawaii.
“We are guardedly optimistic the 1 August repatriation is the first tangible action of others, with which we will be able to account for more of our missing from the Korean War,” the director of DPAA, Kelly McKeague, said at today’s White House media briefing.
The August 2018 repatriation and homecoming was a “poignant manifestation” of the commitment secured by President Donald J. Trump and the pledge by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at their June 2018 summit in Singapore, he said.
McKeague highlighted the return of a dog tag of Army medic Master Sgt. Charles H. McDaniel. “It was a sole personal effect returned by the North Koreans,” he said, adding that the return of the remains is the first step toward talks to resume joint field recovery operations. The dog tag was returned to McDaniel’s sons.
Joint recovery operations in North Korea were suspended in 2005 due to security concerns by then-President George W. Bush.
A United Nations Honor Guard member carries remains during a dignified return ceremony at Osan Air Base, South Korea, July 27, 2018.
(Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kelsey Tucker)
McKeague described the recovery effort as a humanitarian endeavor and said he is encouraged that the June 2018 summit and North Korea’s reaffirmation to resume recovery operations may lead to further cooperation. He said the contacts are being treated as military-to-military contacts.
The time it will take to match the remains to a service member will be DNA-intensive and take months or years, DPAA lab director John Byrd said.
“At no time did we expect there to be one body, one box. Nor did the North Koreans try to pitch it that way to us when we were in Osan,” Byrd said, citing as an example the return of remains over five years the 1990s.
“Out of those 208 boxes over those five years, we estimated, after DNA sampling, 400 individuals. Now from that, 200 were Americans,” he said.
Initial inspections indicate the recently returned remains are in moderate to poor condition and do not contain any remains of animals, Byrd said.
Sacred obligation to recover missing Americans
There are 7,700 Americans missing from the Korean War, McKeague said.
The DPAA mission is to search for, find and account for missing Defense Department personnel from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Gulf War and other recent conflicts. More than 82,000 Americans remain missing from those conflicts, with 34,000 believed to be recoverable, according to DPAA.
“The fact that the United States of America vigorously pursues the fullest possible accounting of our missing reflects our values as a nation,” McKeague said. “The sacred obligation, if not moral imperative, remains a high priority for the Department of Defense.”
The Parkland community is petitioning the government to provide a military funeral with full honors to a slain 15-year-old cadet student, who helped students flee danger during the Florida school shooting Feb.14, 2018.
Peter Wang died in his junior ROTC uniform helping students, teachers, and staff escape from the shooting rampage at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Seventeen students and teachers died.
Lin Chen, Wang’s cousin, told The Sun-Sentinel that she was not surprised to learn of his actions.
“He is so brave. He is the person who is genuinely kind to everyone,” she told the publication. “He doesn’t care about popularity. He always liked to cheer people up. He is like the big brother everyone wished they had.”
Jesse Pan, a neighbor, told the paper that Wang was “very polite, smart” and had hoped one day to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point to be of “service to our country.”
An online petition started on Feb. 16, 2018, urges Congress to honor Wang with a burial fit for a military hero.
“Peter Wang, 15, was one of the students killed in Florida this past week,” the petition states. “He was a JROTC Cadet who was last seen, in uniform, holding doors open and thus allowing other students, teachers, and staff to flee to safety. Wang was killed in the process. His selfless and heroic actions have led to the survival of dozens in the area. Wang died a hero, and deserves to be treated as such, and deserves a full honors military burial.”
JROTC does not provide basic training so it does not count as “being in the military.” Wang’s funeral would require intervention from the government.
By the following morning, nearly 20,000 people had already signed the petition. It needs to gather 100,000 signatures by March 18, 2018 to get a response from the White House.
A dusting of snow and unease fell over Ukraine one day after Russian Coast Guard vessels fired on and detained three Ukrainian military ships and their crews off the Crimean coast, igniting rioting outside the Russian Embassy and public demands for retaliation.
The Nov. 25, 2018 incident marked the most significant escalation of tensions in the shared Sea of Azov in 2018 and the first time since Russia’s unrecognized annexation of Crimea four years ago that Moscow has publicly acknowledged opening fire on Ukrainian forces.
Here’s what went down, what has happened since, and what it all could mean:
What happened and where?
The Ukrainian and Russian versions of events differ, with each blaming the other for instigating the incident.
Kyiv said the Russians’ actions violated a 2003 bilateral treaty designating the Sea of Azov and Kerch Strait as shared territorial waters and the UN Law of the Sea, which guarantees access through the strait.
Russian officials said the Ukrainian ships were maneuvering dangerously, requiring the strait to be temporarily closed for security reasons. Moscow has since announced the reopening of the strait after using a cargo ship to block passage beneath a controversial new bridge connecting Russia with occupied Crimea.
But what isn’t disputed is that a Russian Coast Guard vessel, the Don, slammed into a Ukrainian Navy tugboat as it escorted two military vessels toward the Kerch Strait in the direction of the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, which lies on the coast of the inland Sea of Azov. A series of dangerous events followed.
According to the Ukrainian Navy, the transfer of its vessels from the port of Odesa to the port of Mariupol was planned in advance. It said that while en route on Nov. 25, 2018, the ships had radioed the Russian Coast Guard twice to announce their approach to the Kerch Strait but received no response.
Hours later, as the boats approached the strait, they were intercepted by Russian Coast Guard vessels. A video recorded aboard the Don and shared by Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov appeared to show the chaos that ensued, including the moment that the Russian vessel collided with the Ukrainian tugboat. The tugboat suffered damage to its engine, hull, and guardrail, according to the Ukrainian Navy.
Ukrainian authorities said the Russian forces subsequently opened fire on its vessels, badly damaging them. Russia said its forces fired on the Ukrainian boats as a matter of security.
As the incident unfolded, Russia blocked the Kerch Strait — the only passage to and from the inland Sea of Azov, which is jointly controlled by Russia and Ukraine — by anchoring a freighter across the central span of its six-month-old Crimean Bridge.
At least six Ukrainian servicemen were said to have been wounded, including two seriously, a National Security and Defense Council official and a Foreign Ministry official told RFE/RL on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment officially to journalists. They said around midday on Nov. 26, 2018, that there had been no contact with 23 sailors aboard those vessels. The ships and crew were detained and brought to the Russia-controlled port in Kerch, in annexed Crimea.
Early on Nov. 26, 2018, Kerch FM, a local radio station and news site, published photographs and a video of what it claimed were the detained Ukrainian Navy vessels moored at the port in Kerch.
Meanwhile, Poroshenko’s permanent representative for Crimea, Borys Babin, told the 112 Channel that at least three of six wounded Ukrainian servicemen had been transferred to Moscow for medical treatment. Russian Ombudswoman Tatyana Moskalkova reportedly told Ukraine’s Hromadske TV that three others were being treated at a hospital in Kerch.
Poroshenko calls for martial law. what would that mean?
From Kyiv’s perspective, the sea skirmish marked a significant escalation in a long-running conflict and perhaps the opening of a new front at sea. Until then, the fighting in eastern Ukraine, where government forces have battled Russia-backed separatists since April 2014, had been mostly a land war fought in trenches and with indiscriminate heavy artillery systems, albeit with mounting confrontations at sea as Russia bolstered its military presence there.
At an emergency cabinet meeting after midnight on Nov. 26, 2018, Poroshenko called on parliament to support a declaration of martial law to respond to Russia’s attacks and its effective blockade of the Sea of Azov. His call was heeded by parliament speaker Andriy Parubiy, who convened an extraordinary session for the late afternoon.
Some are uneasy about Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s desire to introduce martial law.
With a powerful coalition in parliament supporting Poroshenko, passage was virtually assured. Even some members of parliament who frequently oppose the coalition quickly voiced support for the measure, including Self Reliance party leader and Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadoviy.
But some lawmakers expressed concern about the move. Mustafa Nayyem, a member of Poroshenko’s party who is often critical of the president, wrote on Facebook that “the president must indicate the JUSTIFICATION of the need to impose martial law, the BORDER of the territory in which it is to be introduced, as well as the TERM for its introduction.”
“In addition,” Nayyem argued, “the document should contain an exhaustive list of constitutional rights and freedoms of citizens that would be temporarily restricted.”
The proposal from the National Security and Defense Council that Poroshenko announced he had signed on Nov. 26, 2018, listed some of these things, according to a text published on the president’s official site.
The initial text called for partial mobilization, the immediate organization of air-defense forces, tightened security at borders with Russia, increased information security, an information campaign to present facts about Russia’s “aggression,” increased security around critical infrastructure, and more. It can reportedly be canceled at any time.
The text reportedly made no mention of the scheduled presidential election in March 2019, which some critics fear could be postponed. But presidential adviser Yuriy Biryukov said before the decree was published that Poroshenko’s administration would not do that, adding that there would be no restrictions on freedom of speech.
As passed by lawmakers later on Nov. 26, 2018, martial law was to be imposed from Nov. 28, 2018. The order sets out extraordinary measures including a partial mobilization, a strengthening of Ukraine’s air defenses, and several activities with broad wording — such as unspecified steps “to strengthen the counterintelligence, counterterrorism, and countersabotage regime and information security.”
Martial law will be introduced in areas of the country most vulnerable to “aggression from Russia.”
Poroshenko and the martial law decree say it is necessary for national security. Specifically, the decree states it is “in connection with the next act of armed aggression on the part of the Russian Federation, which took place on Nov. 25, 2018, in the Kerch Strait against the ships of the Naval Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.”
Beyond that, he hasn’t said much else about the timing or aims.
The introduction of martial law represents an extraordinary and unprecedented move. No martial law was imposed during Russia’s occupation and annexation of Crimea in early 2014 nor at any point since hostilities began a month later in eastern Ukraine — even when Ukrainian soldiers and civilians were dying at the height of fighting that summer and in early 2015.
Back then, Ukrainian officials worried publicly that a declaration of martial law could severely damage the country’s ailing economy and disrupt cooperation with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Today, the economy has seen some recovery and the IMF recently promised Ukraine another financial bailout.
There could be other reasons, as some on Ukrainian social media pointed out after the president’s proposal was made public.
Poroshenko’s approval ratings have declined dramatically in recent months. He’s now lagging far behind his highest-profile opponent, former Prime Minister and Fatherland party leader Yulia Tymoshenko. Some Ukrainian and foreign observers have suggested that Poroshenko, who has tried to capitalize on the threat from Russia with a three-pointed election slogan — Army! Language! Faith! — might benefit from playing up Russian hostilities.
Also, under martial law, some fear Poroshenko could try to cancel or postpone elections. For its part, Ukraine’s Central Election Commission reportedly statedthat holding elections under martial law would be possible.
Meanwhile, in Russia, President Vladimir Putin’s own approval ratings have sunkin recent months as Russians vented anger over controversial pension reforms. Putin’s purported order to special forces to seize the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine came in March 2014, with his approval ratings sagging.
But tensions in and around the Sea of Azov have been mounting for some time, with the Ukrainian military and Border Guard Service telling RFE/RL in August 2018 that it felt like only a matter of time before the situation would worsen.
How did we get here?
Confrontation has been brewing in and around the Sea of Azov and Kerch Strait for months, if not years, as RFE/RL reported from Mariupol in August 2018.
The situation began ramping up in May 2018, when Russia opened a 19-kilometer, rail-and-highway bridge over the Kerch Strait connecting mainland Russia with the annexed Crimean Peninsula. The bridge’s low height restricted the types of merchant ships that could pass, decreasing traffic to service Ukrainian ports in Mariupol and Berdyansk. For those cities, their ports are economic lifelines.
Both sides increased their military presence in the Azov region. And Kyiv accused Moscow of harassing ships bound for Mariupol and Berdyansk. Ships operated by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) have since detained more than 150 merchant vessels, holding them for up to several days, at considerable cost to the companies and the ports.
Each side has detained the other’s vessels. In March 2018, Ukraine’s State Border Guard Service detained a Russian fishing boat and impounded it in Berdyansk. In November 2018, Russian Border Guards seized a Ukrainian fishing boat and impounded it in the Russian port of Yeysk, about 60 kilometers southeast of Mariupol.
How will the international community respond?
An emergency United Nations Security Council meeting held later on Nov. 26, 2018, failed to offer any solutions.
Much of the international community, which dismissed Russia’s claim to Crimea in a UN vote in 2014, has largely sided with Ukraine.
Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland said free passage of the Kerch Strait was guaranteed by the 2003 treaty signed by Russia and Ukraine. “The Agreement must be respected. It is of utmost importance to avoid any further escalation in the region,” he said in a statement.
Chrystia Freeland, the Canadian foreign minister, tweeted her support for Kyiv. “Canada condemns Russian aggression towards Ukraine in the Kerch Strait,” she wrote. “We call on Russia to immediately de-escalate, release the captured vessels, and allow for freedom of passage. Canada is unwavering in its support for Ukraine’s sovereignty.”
U.S. Special Envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker, who has been particularly critical of what he calls “Russian aggression” against Ukraine, tweeted, “Russia rams Ukrainian vessel peacefully traveling toward a Ukrainian port. Russia seizes ships and crew and then accuses Ukraine of provocation???”
But U.S. President Donald Trump did not name either country in a brief response to a reporter’s question about the confrontation. “Either way, we don’t like what’s happening. And hopefully they’ll get straightened out. I know Europe is not — they are not thrilled. They are working on it too. We are all working on it together,” Trump said.
Statements of condemnation were welcomed in Kyiv, but some Ukrainian officials privately expressed to RFE/RL their frustration with such statements. What they would prefer, they said, is for their international partners to apply fresh, harsh sanctions against Russia over the skirmish.
What’s Russia’s next move?
With Ukraine under martial law, this is perhaps the biggest lingering question. The short answer is that no one knows.
Russia’s flagship news program claimed the Kerch Strait incident was a Ukrainian provocation ordered from Washington in a bid to sabotage an upcoming meeting between President Donald Trump and Putin at this week’s Group of 20 (G20) summit in Argentina.
If Russia’s state media provide any indication, the Kremlin might well play up the incident as a demonstration of Ukrainian aggression and perhaps a pretext for further actions against Ukraine. But what kind of actions remains to be seen.
The Russian Foreign Ministry, in a statement, offered no specifics but warned the Kyiv “regime and its Western patrons” of “serious consequences” of the skirmish at sea.
“Clearly, this is a well-thought-out provocation that took place in a predetermined place and form and is aimed at creating another hotbed of tension in that region and a pretext for stepping up sanctions against Russia,” the ministry said.
“We are hereby issuing a warning to Ukraine that Kyiv’s policy, pursued in coordination with the United States and the EU, that seeks to provoke a conflict with Russia in the waters of the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea is fraught with serious consequences.”
It added: “The Russian Federation will firmly curb any attempts to encroach on its sovereignty and security.”
When Jessica Pearce Rotondi lost her mother to breast cancer in 2009, she had no idea of what she would gain: the chance to become a part of her military family’s history. The unexpected journey took her from her childhood home in Massachusetts to the lush mountains of Laos, where her airman uncle was shot down in 1972.
“Sending a loved one away and not knowing if they’ll walk through the door again is an incredible sacrifice,” Rotondi said.
It’s a sacrifice her mother’s family made multiple times. For not only was her Uncle Jack shot down alongside his AC-130 crew during the “secret war” in the neutral nation of Laos, her grandfather — Jack’s father — fell from the sky too, spending two and a half years in a German POW camp during WWII.
As “What We Inherit: A Secret War and a Family’s Search for Answers” so arrestingly confesses in its first sentence, Rotondi comes from “a family that loses children.”Rotondi spent a decade researching and writing her debut novel, a deeply personal family memoir and obscure history lesson released this April. Historical supporting evidence, it turns out, would be hard to come by.
Read more about Vietnam War vets traveling to find answers.
“Much about what happened in Laos has only recently been declassified. I embedded photographs of some of the reports and letters I found directly into the book, because I wanted to recreate that sense of expectation to show how the force of a single document can change a family’s hopes,” Rotondi, a Brooklyn resident, said. “Getting CIA officers, refugees and former soldiers on the record about their role in the war was a slow exercise in trust-building but led to some incredible conversations.”
Before her mother’s death, conversation about Rotondi’s uncle and grandfather’s wartime experiences were few. A chance discovery of a hidden-in-the-closet file cabinet just hours after her mother’s passing launched Rotondi onto what would eventually become “What We Inherit.” It involved thousands of hours of research, sifting through redacted files, yellowed newspaper clippings and maps of questionable accuracy.
Rotondi, whose work has been published in the likes of The Huffington Post and The History Channel, traveled to Southeast Asia in 2013 to locate her uncle’s crash site. She was not the first family member to do so; she was simply retracing her grandpa’s steps through Laos as he obsessively searched for answers about his missing son years earlier.
The process of writing her family’s tragedies reminded Rotondi of the incredible strength of military families.
“I had the incredible privilege of speaking to other families of the missing for this book, and the biggest takeaway from them was the strength of the unspoken bond between military families,” she said. “I read somewhere that we never truly die until our name stops being spoken aloud. There is power in talking about our lost and missing veterans — especially with the next generation.”
“What We Inherit,” a book worth reading, ensures that will never happen on Rotondi’s watch.
A crowdfunding campaign has launched to reunite two World War II veterans who fought against each other during the war and became as close as brothers after the war. The mission is to bring the two World War II veterans together again for a mini-documentary in Normandy, France.
They fought each other in Tunisia, Africa; however, they reunited decades after, and became friends, even as close as brothers. Sadly, there is not much time left, it may be even the last opportunity to do so. Graham lives in the United Kingdom and Charley in Germany, with their health decreasing and them getting older each day, it may be the last opportunity to have them meet again. But with your help, they may be able to reunite one more time and have their last encounter and story told in a mini-documentary.
This is their story
In late March 1943, Allied and Axis forces prepared for one of the fiercest battles of the World War II African campaign near Mareth, Tunisia. It was here, where after four months on the run, Rommel’s Africa Corps took one of its last stands. Enclosed on one side by rocky, hilly terrain and the Mediterranean on the other, capturing Mareth proved a difficult proposition for the British Eighth Army.
In order to outflank the Axis forces, the British 8th Armored Brigade, along with New Zealand infantry swung southwest and then north through an inland mountain pass to attack the Axis troops from behind.
They ran into the German 21. Panzer Division. Karl Friedrich “Charley” Koenig, only newly arrived in Tunisia as a 19-year-old officer candidate, waited for his first combat as a loader in a Panzer IV of Panzer-Regiment 5.
Across the hardscrabble Matmata hills, Sherman tanks of the Sherwood Ranger Yeomanry Tank Regiment readied themselves for the attack. In one sat machine gunner and co-driver Graham Stevenson. Graham had fought at the battle at El Alamein and bailed out of a tank as a 17-year-old. Taking part in the hard fighting all along the way from Alamein through Tunisia, he had just barely reached the tender age of 18.
On March 23rd, Panzer Regiment 5 and the Sherwood Rangers tanks stalked one another and engaged in individual tank battles. Shells whistled loudly by Charley’s tank, his experienced commander advising calm. Their Panzer IV would not be knocked out on this day, but it would not be for long.
The next day, a radio signal warned the Germans of an incoming RAF Hurricane IID tank buster attack. Scrambling out of their Panzer IV, Charley’s crew moved side-to-side as Hurricanes swept in from all directions at nearly zero altitude firing their powerful 40-millimeter cannon.
An accurate Hurricane pilot hit the rear of the tank, shortly before a lone British artillery shell, fired out of the blue, made a direct hit on their front deck. A half-track arrived in the night to tow them to the be repaired. Charley was now out of the way, while Graham and his crew took part in the Tebaga Gap battle on March 26th, the Shermans and the Maori infantry inflicting a severe mauling on the 21. Panzer-Division.
Graham survived Africa and returned to England with the Sherwood Rangers to train in Sherman DD swimming tanks for the invasion of Normandy. Due to a slight disagreement with a commanding officer that landed him in the guardhouse, he came in on Gold Beach, Normandy a bit later than his Sherwood Ranger comrades.
In his first day of hedgerow fighting, untested and frightened infantrymen escorting his tank fled under fire, leaving Graham and his tank commander to conduct their own reconnaissance. Just steps outside of his tank, Graham was hit and nearly killed by German machine gun fire. As an artery bled out, his life hung on a thread. Luckily, a nearby aid station saved his life. But his war ended there.
Charley’s career ended in May, 1943, when he was taken prisoner by the Americans and transported to camps in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Belgium, and England before returning home in 1947. Even decades later, he could never forget the war in Africa, and his honorable opponents.
In 1991, he sought out the Sherwood Rangers and found Ken Ewing, head of the southern branch of the Sherwood Rangers Old Comrades’ Association. It wasn’t long before they became like brothers. After Charley attended ceremonies for the regiment in Normandy and Holland, he was invited in as a member of the Association, where he was accepted wholeheartedly by the remaining British World War II veterans, including Graham, who was in the same tank crew with Ken.
Now, Graham and Charley are the only members of Sherwood Rangers Old Comrades’ Association left alive who fought in Africa 75 years ago. Their friendship, which has transcended the brutality of war to reveal that mutual respect, healing, and reconciliation can exist between former enemies, sends a powerful message to future generations.
Heather Steele, Founder and CEO of non-profit organization World War II History Project, has launched a $25,000 crowdfunding campaign to make this reunion and filming of a mini-documentary happen. You can help make this possible — I’ve spoken with Heather and she’s incredible passionate to make this happen. There are various perks available for your kind donations from getting personalized postcards from the Veterans to flying in a WWII bomber or riding a tank!
We know it’s hard to keep track of military lingo and technical terms, that’s why we’ve published so many guides (Air Force, Marine Corps, Army, Navy). But there are some terms that the media — especially Hollywood — just can’t stop getting wrong when referring to the military.
Bazooka refers specifically to a series of anti-tank rocket launchers used from World War II through the Vietnam War. American troops today do not fire bazookas. There are modern rocket launchers that do the job the bazooka was once used for, but they have their own names, like the “AT-4” and the “SMAW.”
Bombs are explosive devices that are not propelled. They can be placed somewhere, they can be launched, or they can be dropped, but they are not propelled along their route. They may be guided. Rockets are like bombs, except they are propelled along their route without any type of guidance. The fins don’t move and the projectile can’t turn. Missiles are like rockets except they can turn, either under the instructions of an operator or according to an automated targeting system. One of the most common errors is referring to the Hellfire Missile as a Hellfire Bomb.
Marines are not soldiers, though they have been referred to as “soldiers of the sea” in past recruiting posters. In the U.S., people not in the Army are not soldiers, especially so for Marines — who will strongly protest being painted with that brush. “Troops” or “service members” are the umbrella terms that refer to all the members of the military.
The military doesn’t have Hummers. They have High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles with the acronym HMMWV, commonly pronounced “Humvee.” Hummer is a civilian, luxury knockoff of the HMMWV. Anyone who has seen the inside of a HMMWV knows that it is not a “luxury vehicle.”
Not everyone in charge of troops is a commander. For instance, the highest-ranking officer in each branch, the branch chief of staff, doesn’t actually command anything and is not a “commander.” Neither is their superior, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The only people who are “commanders” have the word “command” in either their rank or job title.
It’s not strictly a military term, but much is made of Air Force reports of UFOs by conspiracy theorists and alien enthusiasts. Without getting into an argument about whether or not aliens are real, UFOs are just unidentified flying objects. The Air Force recording 12,618 of them from 1947 to 1969 does not mean that alien spacecraft have flown 12,618 or more sorties over American soil. It means that there have been 12,618 recorded sightings or sensor contacts of objects in the air. A balloon in an unexpected spot can be recorded as an unidentified flying object.
Specifically, this is not shorthand for civilian deaths or a “euphemism.” It is an official term that refers to damage done to any unintended target in any way during an attack. When American bombs were dropped on German trains that were later found to be carrying American prisoners of war, that’s collateral damage to friendly elements. When missiles launched against a bomb maker’s home also damage a nearby mosque, that’s collateral damage.
Of course the most tragic instances of collateral damage are when people, including civilians, are accidentally killed. But those aren’t the only instances of collateral damage.
Machine guns and sidearms are guns. Most soldiers and Marines are carrying rifles. While it would be nice if the news media would use the more exact term “rifle” when referring to rifles, they can get a pass because the civilian definition of gun does include rifles. Entertainment media needs to learn this lesson though, since troops in movies and T.V. would never call their “rifle” a “gun.” It’s drilled into service members with the same ferocity as the meaning of “attention” or the proper way to salute.
The Afghan government is struggling to recover control of districts lost to Taliban militants while casualties among security forces have reached record levels, a U.S. government watchdog says.
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) highlighted in its latest quarterly report on Oct. 31, 2018, the heavy pressure on the government in Kabul.
“The control of Afghanistan’s districts, population, and territory overall became more contested this quarter,” the agency said.
The Taliban have still not succeeded in taking a major provincial center despite assaults on the provinces of Farah and Ghazni in 2018, but they control large parts of the countryside, the SIGAR report says.
Data from Afghanistan’s NATO-led Resolute Support mission showed that government forces had “failed to gain greater control or influence over districts, population, and territory this quarter”, SIGAR said.
As of September 2018, it said the government controlled or influenced territory with about 65 percent of the population, stable since October 2017.
Afghan National Army soldiers prepare to depart from Afghan base Camp Maiwand in Logar province to go on a routine patrol.
(NATO photo taken by U.S. Navy Lt. Aubrey Page)
However, it reported that only 55.5 percent of the total 407 districts were under government control or influence, the lowest level since SIGAR began tracking district control in 2015.
SIGAR quoted the Resolute Support mission as saying the average number of casualties among Afghan security forces between May 1 and Oct. 1, 2018, was “the greatest it has ever been during like periods.”
Figures for casualties suffered by Afghan security forces are no longer available after Washington in 2017 agreed to Kabul’s request to classify the numbers.
Before that, according to figures published by SIGAR, there were more than 5,000 casualties each year.
General Joseph Votel, head of U.S. Central Command, said last month that Afghan casualties were increasing from 2017.
Over the past several months, the entirety of Germany’s submarine fleet has gone out of action, the Bundeswehr, its armed forces, has outsourced helicopter training to a private company because its own helicopters are in need of repair, and more than half of the Bundeswehr’s Leopard 2 tanks, its most common model, were out of order, with just 95 of 244 in service.
Those are only the latest reports of German military deficiencies.
In spring 2017, the Bundeswehr contingent deployed to a peacekeeping mission in Mali was left hamstrung when heat, dust, and rough terrain knocked half its vehicles out of commission. In early 2016, it was reported that German reconnaissance jets taking part in the fight against ISIS couldn’t fly at night because their cockpit lighting was too bright for pilots.
In early 2015, as Berlin was preparing to send fighter jets to Syria, a military report emerged saying that only 66 of the air force’s 93 commissioned fighters were operational — and only 29 were combat-ready. In 2014, German troops tried to disguise a shortage of weapons by replacing machine guns with broomsticks during a NATO exercise.
Germany has high standards for its military equipment, experts say, and it’s believed that the country could mobilize much of its equipment in a short period if needed. Berlin also drew down its forces in 2011 in order to focus on asymmetrical warfare. It reversed course years later in light of Russian action in Ukraine and renewed concerns about conventional warfare, but much of that equipment has to be reacquired.
Those shortages of gear may hinder recruiting efforts, as the German military transitions from a conscripted force to an all-volunteer one. (The Bundeswehr’s recruitment drive has been criticized for targeting 16- and 17-year-olds.)
But the German military’s shortcomings have added to the country’s internal political debates, and Germany’s contribution to Europe’s collective defense is also facing scrutiny.
Hans-Peter Bartels, the parliamentary commissioner for Germany’s armed forces, has said while more limited operations may still be possible, the country’s military is not prepared for a larger conflict.
“The hard currency, which should be used to measure the success of the minister, is the Bundeswehr’s readiness for action,” Bartels told The Washington Post of Germany’s defense capacity, referring to Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen. “And this readiness has not improved over the last four years but has only gotten worse.”
Germany’s center-left Social Democratic Party, of which Bartels is a member, was part of a governing coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union, of which von der Leyen is also a member, but the SDP moved into the official parliamentary opposition after a disappointing showing in the September elections.
The SDP and CDU agree that Germany’s military — with 178,000 personnel and much-outdated equipment — needs improvement, but the SDP has balked at the CDU’s push to increase the defense budget to 2% of GDP by 2024. Industry estimates put 2017 defense spending at about 1.13% of GDP.
Such an increase would require Germany to grow military spending from 37 billion euros in 2017 to more than 70 billion euros by 2024, according to Deutsche Welle.
The two parties reached a preliminary agreement in early January that would boost defense expenditures to 42.4 billion euros in 2021, but the projected expansion of Germany’s economy would mean that sum would still only be a little over 1% of GDP. (The agreement did not specifically mention NATO members’ agreed-upon defense-spending target of 2% of GDP.)
Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, an SDP member, has called expanding defense spending t0 2% of GDP a “pretty crazy idea,” and the SDP is not the only party resisting such an increase. The legacy of World War II and the Cold War have made some in Germany wary of military expansion, and others have argued the German military doesn’t have enough uses for such a rapid influx of defense funds.
Spending 2% of GDP on defense would bring Germany to the level agreed upon by NATO member countries, but the country’s political parties disagree on whether that agreement is actually binding.
President Donald Trump publicly scolded NATO members for “not paying what they should be paying” in 2017 and admonished Germany for owing the U.S. “vast sums of money” in March that year. Berlin dismissed that assertion, but the U.S. and other officials have continued to push Germany over its defense spending.
François Hollande (left), President of France, and Angela Dorothea Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, have a talk during the Meeting of the North Atlantic Council at the level of Heads of State and Government at the NATO Summit 2014, Newport, Wales, The United Kingdom. (NATO photo by Edouard Bocquet)
Wolfgang Ischinger, chairman of the Munich Security Conference and Germany’s former envoy to Washington, echoed accusations that Germany wasn’t contributing its fair share, saying it was “undignified” for Germany’s only contribution to the fight against ISIS to be reconnaissance flights.
“The biggest European Union state is all for victory over Islamic State in Syria and Iraq; we take photos, but we leave the dirty business of shooting to others,” he told Reuters in late January.
“We should not develop the reputation of being one of the world’s best freeloaders,” he added.
The debate has not been limited to German voices.
During a visit to Germany at the end of January, U.S. Army Secretary Mark Esper, a former Raytheon executive, said he would take the German government at its word that it would increase defense spending to the 2% target, but he cautioned against falling short.
“It’s important for all of our NATO allies to live up to their commitments,” Esper said. “If not, it weakens the alliance, clearly, and Germany is such a critical member of NATO.”
Russia has summoned the Japanese ambassador and accused Tokyo of deliberately ramping up tensions ahead of a planned visit by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for talks with President Vladimir Putin on formally ending World War II hostilities.
The dispute over the chain — which Russia refers to as the Southern Kuriles and Japan calls the Northern Territories — has prevented Moscow and Tokyo from a signing of a formal peace treaty to end World War II.
Soviet forces seized the islands at the end of the war, and Russia continues to occupy and administer the territory, although it has allowed visits by former Japanese residents and family members in recent years.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said recent Japanese government statements represented an apparent attempt to “artificially incite the atmosphere regarding the peace-treaty problem and try to enforce its own scenario of settling the issue.”
The ministry cited Tokyo’s remarks about the need to prepare island residents for a return of the chain to Japan and about dropping demands for Moscow to pay compensation to former Japanese residents of the islands. It also took issue with Abe’s comments that 2019 would see a breakthrough in the negotiations.
“Such statements flagrantly distort the essence of the agreements between Japanese and Russian leaders to accelerate the talks’ progress” and “disorientate” members of the public in both countries, the Russian ministry said.
It said Japan was attempting to “force its own scenario” on Russia over the talks.
Following Kozuki’s meetings at the Russian ministry, Japan’s Foreign Ministry was quoted by Russian state-run TASS news agency as saying Tokyo would continue negotiations with Russia on a peace treaty “in [a] calm atmosphere.”
The Japanese ministry said Kozuki explained Tokyo’s position on the matter to Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov, but it did not provide details.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov.
“The Japanese government will continue the negotiations process in the framework of its main position — to resolve the territorial dispute and then signing a peace treaty,” the ministry added.
Russia’s position on the Kuriles remains unchanged, that Japan must accept the outcome of World War II, including Russia’s sovereignty over the disputed islands, the Russian ministry stressed.
Russia has military bases on the archipelago and has deployed missile systems on the islands.
Abe is tentatively scheduled to visit Russia on Jan. 21, 2019, for talks with Putin on the peace treaty, Russian news agencies have reported.
The two leaders met in November 2018 and agreed to accelerate talks to formally end World War II.
In an interview published on Dec. 17, 2018, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda that Moscow could hand Japan the two smaller islands, Shikotan and a group of islets called Habomai, if Tokyo “recognizes the results” of World War II — something he said Tokyo was “not ready for yet.”
Recognition of the results, in Russia’s eyes, means that Japan would have to accept Russian possession of the disputed islands as legal, potentially ruling out any further dispute or claims by Tokyo on the two larger, more populated islands, Iturup and Kunashir.
The sacrifice of a Soldier is not measured by the medals he wears. The unfathomable courage in a split second is when the real sacrifice is made. Bravery is cultivated in the most critical hours of our lives; in a decision that is often not intentional, but innate.
For CPT (RET) Florent Groberg, his hardest battle came after the fight. August 8, 2012, changed his life forever. Eight seconds was the only separation between life and death. From this tragedy rose a man who is fiercely passionate about leadership, mental health advocacy and sharing stories about the heroes we’ve lost. But those eight seconds took something from him. Here is the story of CPT Groberg’s unexpected bravery.
In an interview with We Are The Mighty, Groberg said, “After the ceremonies, the awards and the newly acquired celebrity, I was alone. My new life was hard. Being in the hospital was hard. The surgeries, the pain and the lack of sleep and privacy only made matters worse. For years I wasn’t myself. I was angry that I was alive. I survived, and my brothers didn’t. They were leaders that had families. Kennedy had a wife and one-year-old twins. I was single. I had no one, only survivor’s guilt. Four of my brothers were killed that day: August 8, 2012.
“The day started off as normal, well, as normal as it can be downrange. We were headed to a meeting in the governor’s province. This was a green zone, so not much ever happened there. I was working as the security detachment commander. The task was simple: Get everyone to and from the meeting safely. Easy enough, right? Our team proceeded to travel outside of the wire. We were carrying high ranking officials that day, so of course, precautionary safety measures were in place.
“As we traveled further outside of the wire, I received notification that the security detail at our arriving destination had dispersed. This left me with an eerie feeling. Two motorcycles approached our convoy on the bridge. I noticed a structure to the left … someone was standing there. As the motorcycles stopped, the drivers dismounted and began to flee. The person near the building began walking toward us.
“He had on a suicide vest.
“I ran toward him, to keep him away from the others. SGT Mahoney helped me. [The bomber] detonated his vest. The blast sent me flying. Another bomber was near and prematurely detonated his device. I was severely wounded, but alive.
“Lying in the hospital, I replayed the scenario over and over. Wondering what I could’ve done differently to save my brothers. I was heavily medicated and suicidal. My brain became my own worst enemy. I felt like a failure. I didn’t feel worthy of being alive. I wasn’t myself. My thoughts were constantly racing. I needed out.
“I learned a lot about myself during those two years. I learned that anyone is susceptible to PTS and it’s okay to be vulnerable. We just don’t have to hold onto those thoughts. During my hospital stay, Travis Mills visited me and reminded me of my purpose. I needed that. I had a new mission — honoring my brothers by telling the stories of their bravery. In order to understand true patriotism, we must be willing to forgo our personal needs and put our country first. I did that. Not for a medal. I was just doing my job. I was willing to fight for what I was proud of.”
On November 12, 2015, CPT Florent Groberg was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama, in a White House ceremony. In the ceremony, President Obama said, “On his very worst day, he managed to summon his very best. That’s the nature of courage — not being unafraid, but confronting fear and danger and performing in a selfless fashion. He showed his guts, he showed his training; how he would put it all on the line for his teammates. That’s an American we can all be grateful for.”
Countless veterans, service members and civilians agree. Krista Simpson, who lost her husband SSGT Michael Simpson recently had the opportunity to hear CPT Groberg speak at the Military Influencer Conference. Her reaction to his speech was profound. “There is something so remarkable about a leader who has the courage and intelligence to allow his people to guide him through something that can be life or death,” she said. “The humbling honor to serve his country wasn’t lost on Medal of Honor recipient, CPT Florent Groberg from the moment he put on the uniform.
“I sat in the audience watching this brave man downplay the highest honor our country awards a soldier with deep admiration. He hates being called a hero. Flo believes the heroes are the families of the men and women who gave their lives in service to our nation. He acknowledged that there were families missing out on a life with their loved ones. Tears streamed down my face as he looked at me, nodding in recognition for the final sacrifice my husband, SSG Michael H. Simpson, made May 1, 2013. It’s men like Flo and our great nation that ignite the pride I have for his sacrifice.”
CPT Groberg was medically retired, awarded the medal of honor and wrote a book about his experience:8 Seconds to Courage: Soldier’s Story from Immigrant to the Medal of Honor. He’s involved with organizations like Bravo Sierra, which helps strengthen the physical and mental wellness of current service members and veterans. CPT Groberg advocates for the mental well-being of our service members. If you are struggling with something, please speak up. CPT Groberg has a few suggestions on how you can remain mentally resilient during tough times.
Go have a conversation with someone you trust.
Don’t go through it alone. Keeping it in only leads to negative consequences.
Remember: It’s okay to be hurt. Take responsibility for your healing, get help.
Don’t be judgemental. Listen to your troops. Understand the cause of their discord.
Continue to evaluate the mental well-being of your troops. Incorporate training that will help eliminate the stigma of mental illness. Talk about TBIs, PTS and life after war.
Remember: Not every individual suffers the same. No one solution will fix it all. Be vigilant but remain open.
And as CPT Groberg so aptly stated, “There is an opportunity to strengthen our troops. Banding together will make us healthier and a stronger fighting force. Turn the lessons from failed missions into paths that lead to success.”
Veterans in California will soon be able to adopt dogs and cats from public shelters for free.
The more than two million veterans living in that state will have adoption fees waived at public shelters beginning Jan. 1, 2020, if they show their driver’s license or ID card with the veteran designation on it to shelter personnel. So those wanting a new puppy or kitten from Santa may have to wait a few weeks after the holiday if they want to get the discount.
Although the bill waives adoption fees, additional costs such as licensing and microchipping may apply.
While the language of the new law specifically mentions only dogs and cats, other animals — including reptiles, livestock, and birds — may also be available for free adoption depending on the individual shelter’s policies.
The law limits the free dog and cat adoptions to one every six months.
Private shelters are not affected by the new law.
State Sen. Ling Ling Chang (R-Diamond Bar), who introduced the bill, said, “This is a big win for veterans and shelter animals. I’m glad we can reduce the barriers for bringing together veterans seeking companion animals and pets in need of a home.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
The US Coast Guard rescued a Navy pilot whose jet crashed in the Atlantic Ocean off the Florida Keys.
Lt. Russ Chilcoat said in a news release the pilot ejected and was rescued in early August with no apparent injuries. The crash happened some 20 miles (32 kilometers) southeast of Key West. The pilot, whose name wasn’t released, was the only person on board.
A US Navy Northrop F-5N Tiger II assigned to Fighter Squadron Composite 111 “Sun Downers” launches from Boca Chica Field of Naval Air Station Key West, Florida. (US Navy photo)
Chilcoat says parts of the F-5N were recovered but the rest is under about 3,000 feet (900 meters) of water. He says the Navy has no immediate plans to recover the aircraft.
The pilot is attached to Fighter Composite Squadron 111, the “Sun Downers,” based at Naval Air Station Key West. Officials say the jet was conducting training operations and the cause of the crash wasn’t immediately known.