Four days, seven challenges, several dozen competitors, but only two may become champions.
Marines from far and wide accept this annual challenge, and there is no exception this year at the 2019 High Intensity Tactical Training Championship aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., Sept. 9 through Sept. 12, 2019.
The championship has been hosted by Marine Corps HITT and Semper Fit for the past five years, and has evolved with every passing year. The HITT program’s primary mission is to enhance operational fitness and optimize combat readiness for Marines. The program emphasizes superior speed, power, strength and endurance while reducing the likelihood of injury.
“1-2 instructors have been pulled from major Marine Corps installations,” said Staff Sgt. Brandon Atkins, a force fitness instructor for Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C. and Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C. HITT centers. “We all came together to brainstorm what the Marines would be doing for the athletic events.”
Sgt. Miguel Aguirre, Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., competes in the fourth challenge of the High Intensity Tactical Training Championship at Butler Stadium aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., Sep. 10, 2019.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by James Frank)
The events for the championship are drafted by HITT instructors and confirmed by a board of various Marine Corps fitness specialists.
“It’s a grind, straight grit,” said Staff Sgt. Scott Frank, a competitor from MCB Camp Pendleton. “You can’t just be good at one thing.”
“You have to be well rounded physically and mentally.”
The seven events for the 2019 HITT Championship included a marksmanship simulator, combat fitness test, weighted run, combat swimmer challenge, obstacle course, pugil stick fight, BeaverFit assault rig, live-fire fitness challenge, and HITT combine.
“We run through it ourselves so we can understand what they are going through too,” said Atkins.
A U.S. Marine competes in the fourth challenge of the High Intensity Tactical Training Championship at Butler Stadium aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., Sep. 10, 2019.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by James Frank)
The intensity and nature of the challenges, create a risk of injury. To mitigate an ambulance is always on site and numerous medical personnel were present. The Marines are also being monitored closely by high-tech equipment that records their heart rates, core temperature and other vital information, which gives an in-depth idea of their overall health provided by Western Virginia University.
“The tactical drill was my probably my favorite because it included live-fire, and it was awesome to see how your body reacts to being under physical and mental duress,” said 1st Lt. Frances Moore, a competitor from MCAS Iwakuni, Japan.
The competitors are awarded points based on each timed event. The goal at the end of the competition is to have the most points. The championship culminates at the end of day four, when the scores have been determined and the male and female champions are awarded.
“They come in and train every single day and get coaching advice from all the staff,” said Frank. “Then I get to come here and actually see them put all that effort into the competition.”
This article originally appeared on Marines. Follow @USMC on Twitter.
The suicide vehicle reportedly hit a military convoy near Kandahar Airfield, a major US base in Afghanistan, according to a provincial spokesperson in a Stars and Stripes report.
The soldiers, who are reportedly in stable condition, are receiving care from US medical facilities, the Military Times reported. No coalition forces were killed after the attack, the Military Times reported.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, in addition to other attacks on Nov. 13, according to multiple reports. In western Farah province, eight Afghan police officers were reportedly killed in their sleep, after insurgents wearing night-vision goggles ambushed them in their beds.
President Donald Trump recently increased troop numbers in Afghanistan, where the US has been at war for 16 years. At least 15,000 US troops are deployed in the country, with plans to send more, according to US officials.
The U.S. wields the world’s biggest, most powerful Navy, but recent developments in China and Russia’s missile inventory severely threaten the surface fleet with superior range and often velocity.
But the U.S. Navy and Lockheed Martin have a variety of solutions in the works to tip the scales in the United State’s favor by going hard on offense.
For years, the Navy has focused on a concept called “distributed lethality,” which calls for arming even the Navy’s smallest ships with powerful weapons that can hit targets hundreds of miles out.
Yet Russian and Chinese ships and missile forces already field long-range precision missiles that can hit U.S. ships before the forces are even close.
Additionally, both Russia and China are working on hypersonic weapons that could travel more than five times as fast as the speed of sound. These weapons would fly faster than current U.S. ships could hope to defend against.
Lockheed Martin’s Chris Mang, vice president of tactical missiles and combat maneuver systems, told reporters at its Arlington, Virginia, office that “defense is good,” but “offense is better.
“People don’t shoot back when they go away,” he said.
Mang said that promising new missiles like the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile for ships and planes could hit the field by 2020, which would bolster the Navy’s strategy of “see first, understand first, shoot first.”
The LRASM boasts a range of well over 200 nautical miles, a payload of 1,000 pounds, and the ability to strike at nearly the speed of sound.
An anti-ship missile LRASM in front of a F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet. (U.S. Navy)
It also has a huge advantage that neither Russia nor China have come close to cracking: naval aviation. Lockheed Martin officials said U.S. Navy F-18s and long-range B-1B bombers could carry the LRASM as early as next year.
While the U.S. has been surpassed in missile technology in some areas, the Navy still has a considerable edge in radar technology and command-and-control that can provide intelligence to ship captains faster than its adversaries.
As for the hypersonic weapons meant to redefine naval warfare, Mang said they’re still a long way out. (The U.S. Air Force and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency are working on their own versions, though.)
An artist’s concept of an X-51A hypersonic aircraft during flight. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
“How far do they go?” Mang said of the hypervelocity weapons. “They tend to be fuel-consumption-heavy and thermally limited, so they go really fast for a very short distance. If you can shoot them before they get in range of you, that is a tactic.”
The Navy continues to improve and spread its Aegis missile-defense capabilities so the long-range missiles Russia and China have can be knocked out and the short-range hypersonic missiles they’re developing can be out-ranged.
Though adversaries out-range the U.S. Navy on paper, the U.S. military has and will never be defeated by figures on paper.
Instead, the U.S. and Lockheed Martin seem to be pushing forward with proven technologies that would bolster the United State’s ability to protect its shores.
North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un is not the madman he is often made out to be, a senior CIA official revealed Oct. 4.
Many have speculated that that a crazed Kim Jong Un might just wake up one morning and order a nuclear strike on another country, but experts and officials argue that this is an extremely unlikely situation, as the young dictator, while brutal, is a rational actor.
“Kim Jong Un is a very rational actor,” Deputy Assistant Director of CIA for Korea Mission Center Yong Suk Lee explained at a conference at George Washington University.
“The last person who wants conflict on the peninsula is Kim Jong Un,” he argued, asserting that Kim wants what all authoritarian rulers want — “he wants to rule for a long time and die peacefully in his own bed.”
“Bluster and rhetoric aside, Kim Jong Un has no interest in going toe-to-toe with combined forces command,” Lee explained. “That’s not conducive to his long-term rule.”
Lee, who has analyzed North Korea for more than two decades, also countered arguments that Kim needs to wage war to satisfy the hawkish demands of the North Korean elites. “Believe me, North Korean elites are not interested in getting their faces on a deck of cards and being chased after by [Joint Special Operations Command],” he said.
“Beyond the bluster, Kim Jong Un is a rational actor,” Lee said.
Assuming that Kim is not crazy, then a random attack on the US or an American ally is not realistic or in the interests of a regime that is focused on maintaining its existence.
“An out-of-the-blue attack is not conducive to his regime interests and his longevity,” Lee explained, adding that nuclear weapons and missiles give the North some strategic maneuverability. The CIA appears to assume that North Korea’s interests are regime survival, deterring US aggression, and gaining acceptance as a nuclear power.
North Korea’s strategic thinking is important to understanding its frequent provocations. “North Korea is clearly testing the tolerance of the United States and the international community to manage its increasingly provocative behavior aimed at establishing itself as a recognized nuclear and missile-armed state. They are raising the threshold for the United States and others to accept or press back against them,” argued Michael Collins, the Deputy Assistant Director of CIA for East Asia Mission Center.
“I expect that this tension will continue,” he said.
Lee actually suggested, as have officials in South Korea and Japan, that North Korea might engage in provocative behavior around Oct. 10, the anniversary of the founding of the North Korean communist party. The North has a tendency to mark major events with its own brand of fireworks.
But early indications show that rising nuclear tensions remained the elephant in the room.
“This winter has seen more snowstorms than ever, and rivers and mountains across the country are frozen,” Ri Son Gwon, the chairman of the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, said to open the discussion, according to Reuters.
“It would not be an exaggeration to say that inter-Korean ties were even more frozen, but public yearning for improved relations was so strong that today’s precious event was brought about,” he said.
He also expressed “high hopes” for the dialogue and promised an “invaluable result as the first present of the year” to South Korea.
All eyes on Panmunjom
In Panmunjom, the village in the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas where an armistice halted fighting in the Korean War, diplomats from the two countries labored while microphones and cameras recorded their every word and move.
Both South Korean President Moon Jae In and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had access to live streams of the discussions, but no special message was made to either leader, according to reports.
Even better, the highest-level talks between the countries since 2015 did not just focus on the Olympic Games, but veered into other important inter-Korean relations, as U.S. President Donald Trump and many others hoped they would:
North Korea will send performing artists and a taekwondo team to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea, as well as possibly a pair of figure skaters who may compete in the games.
The Koreas will reopen a military hotline, according to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency. Military-to-military hotlines serve as a first line of defense for de-escalation. Having the line in place greatly reduces the chance of accidental military escalation.
Denuclearization came up. Though CNN reports that North Korea’s delegation remained silent and did not respond to the mentions of South Korea’s aim that Pyongyang fully denuclearize, the issue was broached in talks with North Korea for the first time in years.
South Korea mulled relaxing bans on North Korean officials, who have not been allowed south of the DMZ since nuclear tensions ratcheted up. South Korea may also allow North Korean citizens to visit the games.
Additional discussion took place around whether North Koreans could march with South Koreans in the ceremonies around the games and whether families separated by the DMZ could be reunited.
In the short term, South Korea’s Winter Olympics seems to have gained a massive vote of confidence from its often troublesome neighbor.
The presence of North Korean performers, athletes, and citizens at the games all but guarantees that the games will go over without a hitch from Pyongyang.
In the longer term, the situation remains fraught. The US still rejects North Korea’s status as a de facto nuclear nation and refuses to talk without the precondition that Pyongyang must denuclearize.
But the talks have reversed the momentum of a spiraling series of nuclear threats and military escalations.
“Washington should build on what has happened so far to signal to Kim that the diplomatic door is being cracked open,” Joel Wit and Robert Carlin, two former State Department officials with experience with North Korea, wrote in The Atlantic.
Despite the risk that North Korea may be trying to trick the US and South Korea or stall until it can perfect its nuclear arsenal, there are few opportunities for dialogue and even greater risks involved with not talking.
At some point during the Trump administration, Russia told Defense Secretary Jim Mattis that it could use nuclear weapons in the event of a war in Europe — a warning that led Mattis to regard Moscow as major threat to the US.
According to “Fear,” Bob Woodward’s recently released book about turmoil in the White House, Moscow’s warning was in regard to a potential conflict in the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
The Baltics were part of the Soviet Union and have deep ties to Russia, which has sought to reassert influence there since the end of the Cold War. Those countries have tried to move closer to the West, including NATO membership.
According to Woodward’s account, the warning from Russia came some time during or before summer 2017, when the Trump administration was haggling over the future of the Iran nuclear deal.
At the time, President Donald Trump wanted to withdraw from the deal, claiming Iran had violated the terms.
Mike Pompeo, then the director of the CIA, and Mattis didn’t disagree with Tillerson, Woodward writes, but they responded to the president’s assertions more tactfully.
Mattis, long regarded as a hawk on Iran, had mellowed, according to Woodward, preferring other actions — “Push them back, screw with them, drive a wedge between the Russians and Iranians” — to war.
Defense Secretary James N. Mattis.
(Photo by Tech Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.)
Russia, Woodward then notes,”had privately warned Mattis that if there was a war in the Baltics, Russia would not hesitate to use tactical nuclear weapons against NATO.”
“Mattis, with agreement from Dunford, began saying that Russia was an existential threat to the United States,” Woodward adds, referring to Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, who is chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Woodward offers no additional context for the warning, nor is it totally clear why that detail is included where it is in the book.
Most nuclear-armed countries have policies that would allow their first-use in a conflict.
Imagery released early 2018 indicated ongoing renovations at what appeared to be an active nuclear-weapons storage site in Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave on the Baltic Sea, south of Lithuania.
“Features of the site suggest it could potentially serve Russian Air Force or Navy dual-capable forces,” a Federation of American Scientists report on the imagery said. “But it could also be a joint site, potentially servicing nuclear warheads for both Air Force, Navy, Army, air-defense, and coastal defense forces in the region.”
‘Tactical nuclear weapons as a leveler’
Tactical nuclear weapons typically have smaller yields and are generally meant for limited uses on the battlefield. Strategic nuclear weapons usually have higher yields and are used over longer ranges.
Some experts prefer the term “non-strategic nuclear weapons,” as the use of nuclear weapons would have both tactical and strategic implications. Mattis himself has said there is no such thing as a “tactical” nuclear weapon, as “any nuclear weapon used at any time is a strategic game-changer.”
Russia and the US have more than 90% of the world’s nuclear warheads, though Russia’s arsenal is slightly larger. Pentagon officials have said Russia wants to add to that arsenal, violating current arms-control treaties.
During the Cold War, the Soviets expected Western countries to use nuclear weapons first and had plans to use nuclear weapons against NATO targets in the event of war, using larger-yield devices against targets like cities and smaller-yield ones — “tactical” nukes — against NATO command posts, military facilities, and weapons sites.
An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, Aug. 2, 2017.
(US Air Force photo)
The size of Russia’s current stockpile of non-strategic nuclear weapons is not known, though it’s believed to be much smaller than that of the Soviet Union.
It’s not totally clear how Russia would use “tactical” nuclear weapons — the Congressional Research Service has said Russia appears to view them as defense in nature — but they are seen as compensating for Russia’s conventional military shortcomings. (US interest in “low-yield” nuclear weapons as a deterrent has also grown, though critics say they would raise the chance of US first-use.)
Russia has fewer “strategic” nuclear weapons than the US, and “tactical” nuclear weapons may be more handy for Moscow’s shorter-range, regional focus, Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, told The National Interest in late 2017.
“Russia’s conventional forces are incapable of defending Russian territory in a long war,” Kristensen said. “It would lose, and as a result of that, they have placed more emphasis on more usage of tactical nuclear weapons as a leveler.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Whether she’d posted a personal-best time or suffered a collision on the track, Emily Sweeney would flash her trademark smile to fans, media, or anyone who watched her compete. Even when sliding during frigid winter storms in challenging conditions, the New York National Guard Soldier kept smiling.
But for six months during the winter and spring of 2014, that bright-eyed grin couldn’t hide bitter disappointment.
A charismatic Olympic hopeful, Sweeney had entered the 2013 World Cup season as a favorite to make the 2014 Winter Games. When Sweeney lost the final spot on the 2014 U.S. Luge Team, missing the Olympics for the second time, she shut herself off from the sport to which she had dedicated most of her life.
“It’s something that I’ve wanted for so long and it’s something that’s very tangible for me,” said Sweeney, who in December, finally qualified to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.
For Sweeney, the road to PyeongChang could be described as anything but easy.
Tough matchup hits close to home
Photos and murals of past Olympians adorn the walls of the Lake Placid Olympic Training Center. Medals of previous Olympic greats in bobsled, figure skating, and luge sit encased in the facility’s trophy room.
Some former Olympic competitors still work at the facility, including former silver medalist Gordy Sheer, Team USA’s director of marketing and sponsorship. Sweeney, like other Olympic hopefuls, spent much of her youth here.
As a seven year old, Emily idolized her older sister, Megan, who competed in the luge program at the junior levels. She later joined the USA Luge program herself, after participating in a “slider search” in Rhode Island at age 10. Her sister remained a hero to her.
“I wouldn’t be here or be the person I am today without her,” Emily said. “I was really pushed by Megan from early on because I saw the potential of what I could be through her and that was really inspiring to me.”
After she turned 16, Sweeney showcased tremendous speed on luge tracks across the globe. And she demonstrated enormous potential in the sport in her first year competing.
During the 2009 World Cup season, Sweeney began competing at a higher level. She built her luge resume by nabbing Norton Junior World Champion honors and earning bronze medals at the Junior World Cup in Winterberg, Germany and a gold medal at Park City, Utah.
And during the 2009 season, Emily began to beat her older sister and some of her national team peers during practice runs and some competitions. During one World Cup competition in Park City, Utah, she called her parents with concerns about competing with her sister and hero.
“She was very upset,” said Sweeney’s mother, Sue. “She was worried that she was going to beat Megan in the race and it would be the end of Megan’s (Olympic bid).”
Dreams of the Olympics, of course, had always been on her sister’s mind, and her own as well.
“I’ve always wanted that moment of walking in on opening ceremonies,” said Sweeney. “That is the epitome of what I want … to walk in with my whole team and have ‘USA’ on our backs.”
Later that year, during the final World Cup competition in Lillehammer, the final two spots for the 2010 Olympic team came down to two competitors. Both wore the name “Sweeney” on their uniforms.
Jarred by the prospect of beating her idol, the sisters made a pact to leave everything on the floor on their next competition.
Emily went on to lose to her sister in a race off at the Olympiacenter in Norway, falling by two tenths of a second. Due to a medical waiver, another team member took the final spot for the 2010 Vancouver team, while Emily remained on stand-by as an Olympic alternate. Emily still traveled to British Columbia to cheer on her sister from the stands.
“Going to the Olympics and watching her was difficult,” Emily said. “I’m glad I went, I’m glad I supported her. I wouldn’t have changed that for the world. But it was tough standing on the other side of the track watching my dream happen.”
After she missed a shot at Vancouver, Emily would make a life decision that would set the foundation for life after luge.
An athlete and a soldier
Jack Sweeney, Emily’s grandfather, had long been an inspiration in Emily’s life. While she would prepare meals for him, he’d relay stories to her about his days in the Navy. Emily said her grandfather instilled in her a sense of pride for her country and also inspired her to join the Army National Guard.
Joining the military sparked a change in Emily. She often took a leadership role during basic combat trainng at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. She did the same during her advanced individual training there, where she learned to be a military policeman. She even graduated with honors from the Army’s military police school.
Once in the Army, Emily also opted to join the World Class Athlete Program.
“I thought it was a great avenue of opportunity,” Emily said of her decision to join the Army. “I knew I wanted to continue being an athlete, but I didn’t want to only be an athlete. I wanted something else to pursue beyond my athletic career.”
After joining the Guard, Emily became more of a leader for USA Luge as well, not only competing for the program, but also helping the program identify and recruit talented youth to the sport during talent searches.
Sochi slips away
Around Thanksgiving 2013, Sweeney knew it. Her parents, as they checked at the World Cup standings online also knew: Emily would not be competing at the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia.
A season that began with promise, instead led to complications with her sled, dealing with minor injuries and slower finish times on the World Cup circuit.
After her final races had finished for 2013, Sweeney sat in her hotel room. Her boyfriend, Italian luge team member Dominik Fischnaller, brought her a cup of her favorite ice cream.
And then for six months, Sweeney walked away from the sport to which she had dedicated a great chunk of her childhood. Instead of weight training and spending hours on the track, Sweeney removed herself from any luge or exercise activities. Instead, she retreated to her home in Lake Placid and contemplated her future in the sport.
“I went from being an Olympic hopeful, training at 100 percent,” Emily said, “to just stopping everything.
“I was really at a point where I said, ‘What’s the point?’ What’s the point of doing this if I’m not getting the results I’m wanting?’ It took a while, I closed myself off.”
She began working as a waitress and hostess at local restaurants. And while she’d visit her ailing grandfather in neighboring Saranac Lake, she mostly cut herself off from family and dealt with struggles the best way she knew: internally.
“We lost her for a while,” Sue said. “It was tough. She didn’t even watch the (2014 Winter) Games.”
“Emily had to refine her sliding and her motivation,” Megan said. “It took her a long time. But I think that’s normal when you have a dream and become so disappointed … It was very, very tough because she knows she’s good.”
The Army gets her rolling
In May 2014, Emily remained withdrawn from the luge community. It would be just the wakeup call she needed to get back on track with her sport.
She received orders to attend Warrior Leader Course (now the Basic Leader Course) that spring at Fort Dix, New Jersey. During the month-long course, she took tests on her leadership skills, land navigation and various drills to prepare to become a noncommissioned officer .
After giving up her strict luge-related training routine and regular exercising, Emily had lost muscle mass. She’d dropped 20 pounds from her 5-foot-5-inch frame. As a result, for the first time since enlisting in the Guard, she failed to score a 300 on her Army Physical Fitness Test.
“(WLC) kind of pulled me out,” said Sweeney. “It gave me a schedule that I had to adhere to again. I kind of got back into the military mode and then after that I got back into my training.”
Shortly after graduating WLC, Sweeney resumed luge-related activities. She began lifting weights again, and changed her routine, and began working out at JEKL gym in Plainville, Connecticut. There Sweeney took part in grueling gymnastics-based training to strengthen her core muscles using various gymnastics apparatus pieces including rings, the high bar and parallel bars.
“It definitely put me in my place pretty quickly,” Sweeney said.
The old Emily had returned, away from the luge track too. She began reconnecting with friends. She spoke with family members more often.
And that familiar smile came back.
“Everybody always kids her about her smile — she always has a big smile on her face,” said her mother, Sue. “But it’s true — it’s part of who she is. Once you start to see her smile coming back, you know she’s starting to feel much more like herself.”
In December 2015, during World Cup competition on their home track in Lake Placid, Sweeney and teammates Erin Hamlin and Summer Britcher swept the field. It marked the first time the U.S. women knocked out the dominant German team.
“We’re more of a force to be reckoned with now,” Sweeney said.
During a fall, Sweeney suffered injury to her wrist that required surgery in 2016, proving to be a minor setback. But she bounced back to stellar marks in 2017.
“The (wrist) injury really didn’t worry me,” USA Luge coach Bill Tavares said. “For her it was all mental. When I knew that she was mentally strong coming into this year then there was no worry on my part.”
Hitting her stride
The 4,242-foot luge course in Winterberg, Germany presents a daunting challenge to competitive lugers. Those who accept its challenge must enter the course’s labyrinth in near-perfect form. In November, Sweeney and her USA teammates traveled to Winterberg to face the mighty German team that built an Olympic juggernaut on this course.
At the track’s midpoint, a turn drops competitors into the labyrinth where sled speeds multiply.
After placing second earlier in the World Cup competition at on this track, mishaps on one of her runs sent Sweeney tumbling out of contention and she thought she missed her chance to clinch an Olympic berth.
But then she bounced back later that day to take her first World Cup gold in the sprint race, upsetting 2014 Olympic champion, Germany’s Natalie Geisenberger, on her home course. Instead, her shot at an Olympic berth would have to wait.
When dealing with the difficult highs and lows of competing against the best in the world, she turned to Grandpa Sweeney. Emily said her grandfather helped keep her grounded and objective while remaining committed to her family and country.
“He’s probably a big part of her personality,” Sue said. “He’s always been one of her best friends. And she’s looked to him for advice.”
As Sweeney begins final preparations for the Winter Games, she will do so with a heavy heart. Jack Sweeney passed away at age 88 on Jan. 3. Emily said her grandfather helped keep her grounded and objective while remaining committed to her family and country.
Olympian at last
Sweeney learned that she had reached the pinnacle of her career unceremoniously — not by an announcement on the track, or from posting a career-best time — but in a text.
Dec. 14, after having dinner with her parents and returning to the Lake Placid training facility, Sweeney received a message from her mother, Sue.
“See you in PyeongChang,” the text read.
Sweeney’s mother had been tracking the Nation’s Cup live stream on her phone. The Nation’s Cup was a pre-qualifying event for the World Cup later that week. Had Raychel Germaine qualified for the World Cup, she could have potentially knocked Emily out of Olympic competition. But she didn’t, and the final Olympic women’s luge slot went to Emily.
“It was just a peaceful moment,” Sweeney said, “I was stunned.”
She received congratulations from Fischnaller, her boyfriend of eight years. Then came a flood of 30 messages and well wishes from family, friends and teammates.
“I’m really happy for her,” teammate Summer Britcher said. “I know how hard she works. I’m very happy that she’s met this goal and I’m really excited to compete alongside her in (32) days.”
Sweeney will join 2014 Bronze medalist Hamlin and Britcher on the USA roster in PyeongChang in February. The impact of reaching her dream did not hit her until after finishing World Cup competition in the women’s sprint race Dec. 16, Sue Sweeney said.
A heavy snow blanketed Lake Placid’s Mount Van Hoevenberg Dec. 16, and athletes faced a wind chill so bitter that exposed fingers and toes could feel like frozen blocks of ice. During the women’s sprint race, Sweeney posted an efficient run in these slick conditions, but a mishap at turn seven hurt her final time, eventually knocking her out of sprint qualification. Unfazed, she posted a better time in her second run.
The weight of realizing her Olympic dream began to creep in. Still clad in her helmet and orange and blue leotard, Sweeney waved to her 80 supporters, family and friends. And once more she flashed her wide grin.
“Emily’s missed two Olympic teams very narrowly,” Sheer said. “In 2014 … that was a real tough one for her. It takes a certain type of person to be able to bounce back from something like that and to be able to keep fighting and I give her all the credit in the world.”
Then after 15 minutes of speaking with local and national media members, Sweeney locked arms with her older sister, rosy-cheeked from the stinging wind chill. Standing amid swirling snowflakes, Megan whispered into her younger sister’s ear:
“I’m so proud of you,” Megan said.
Next stop: South Korea
When Emily dons the USA colors at PyeongChang next month, she knows he will be representing more than herself. She will also represent WCAP, the National Guard and the U.S. Army. Sweeney, who currently ranks eighth in the International Luge Federation women’s singles, will join fellow WCAP athletes Matt Mortensen in men’s doubles and singles competitor Taylor Morris.
At 24, the Olympics will wrap Sweeney’s fourteenth year in the sport and she plans to bring home a medal for her team.
“Going to the Olympics isn’t enough for me,” Sweeney said “I want to go to the Olympics and do something. So it’s not over — the work isn’t over.”
One soldier was killed and seven others were injured during training Thursday on Fort Bragg.
Staff Sgt. Alexander P. Dalida, 32, of Dunstable, Massachusetts, died during the demolition training that was part of the Special Forces Qualification Course, according to U.S. Army Special Operations Command. The cause of death is under investigation.
Dalida was a student in the Special Forces Engineer Course and was assigned to 1st Special Warfare Training Group at the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School.
A spokesman for USASOC said the others injured in the training were students and cadre at the Special Warfare Center and School, which trains the Army’s Special Forces, civil affairs and psychological operations soldiers.
He said the soldiers were transported by air and ground to Womack Army Medical Center for care.
Womack is one of the Army’s largest hospitals and has the busiest emergency department in the force. Its staff regularly trains to handle so-called mass casualty events that could otherwise sow problems when numerous injured soldiers are brought into the hospital at one time.
Lt. Col. Rob Bockholt, the USASOC spokesman, said officials were not ready to comment on what might have caused the injuries or the severity of the other injuries.
In a statement, leaders within the Special Warfare Center and School said their thoughts and prayers were with Dalida’s family and friends.
“Our primary focus right now is to care for his loved ones,” said Col. Michael Kornburger, commander of the 1st Special Warfare Training Group. “We will honor Staff Sgt. Dalida and help his family in their time of need.”
“The special operations community is a close-knit family,” added Maj. Gen. Kurt Sonntag, the commanding general of the Special Warfare Center and School. “At the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, we consider every student who enters our institution a part of our SWCS family. Staff Sgt. Dalida’s death is a reminder that a soldier’s job is inherently dangerous.”
The Special Forces Qualification Course, which can last up to two years, is the process by which soldiers train to become Special Forces soldiers, colloquially known as Green Berets. Officials have previously said fewer than one in eight soldiers who try make it through the grueling course, which mostly takes place on Fort Bragg, nearby Camp Mackall and surrounding training areas.
Dalida had served in the Army for 11 years, officials said. He enlisted in September 2006 and trained at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and Fort Eustis, Virginia.
Prior to attending Special Forces Assessment and Selection, officials said he served in aviation units.
Dalida’s awards and decorations include the Air Medal, Army Commendation Medal with one oak-leaf cluster, Army Achievement Medal with oak-leaf cluster, three Army Good Conduct medals, the Combat Action Badge, Aviation Badge, Parachutist’s Badge and Air Assault Badge.
In response to the incident, several elected leaders expressed sympathies for those injured.
“Please join Susan and I in praying for the families and soldiers injured today,” tweeted North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis.
Sen. Richard Burr said he also was praying for the soldiers and would follow news of the injuries closely.
Gov. Roy Cooper made similar remarks, also on Twitter.
And Rep. Richard Hudson, whose district includes Fort Bragg, said he also would monitor the situation.
“Renee and I are sorry to hear about today’s training accident at Fort Bragg,” Hudson said in a statement. “We will continue to pray for the soldiers who were injured and their families.”
The injuries are the latest in a string of unrelated incidents during military training.
On Tuesday, a soldier at Fort Hood, Texas, died during medical evacuation hoist training, according to officials.
And on Wednesday, 15 Marines at Camp Pendleton, California, were injured when their amphibious vehicle caught fire during a training exercise. Eight of the Marines were taken to a burn center in nearby San Diego, officials said. Three were listed in critical condition as of Wednesday afternoon and five were in serious condition.
All three incidents are under investigation.
On Thursday, Sen. John McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the recent deaths and injuries were a “constant reminder of the daily dangers faced by service members as they prepare to defend our nation abroad.”
“In the past few months, we have seen far too many reports of death and injury to service members due to accidents during training,” McCain said. “Four times as many service members died during routine training in the last three years than in combat. These incidents demonstrate the current over-taxed state of our military both at home and overseas, and the failure of Congress and the president to give our troops the training, resources and equipment they need.”
The Fort Bragg incident is believed to be one of the largest training accidents outside of airborne operations in recent years for the nation’s most populous military installation.
In 2014, one soldier was killed and seven others were injured during an artillery training exercise. Other mass casualty incidents on post since that time have been related to motor vehicle wrecks or parachute jumps.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.
Heightened tensions in the East Asia region increased after Japan scrambled F-15J Eagle fighters in response to Russian military activity.
According to a report by the Daily Mail, the first incident involved a pair of Tu-95 “Bear” strategic bombers. Japan then scrambled the Eagles, which are locally-built versions of the F-15C Eagle in service with the United States Air Force.
The Russians later sent two pairs of maritime patrol planes. One consisted of Tu-142 “Bears,” the other were Ilyushin Il-38 “May” aircraft.
The actions come as the United States and Japan are planning what Reuters called a “joint show of force” in the East China Sea. The United States has sent the Nimitz-class carrier U.S. Carl Vinson (CVN 70) to the area as the tensions have risen, and Japan reportedly plans to deploy destroyers alongside the American carrier.
In March 2017, the United States and Japan conducted joint drills, and Japan sent their newest carrier, the Izumo to the South China Sea.
The Tu-95 “Bear” is Russia’s primary strategic bomber. According to the Naval Institute Guide to World Military Aviation, it has a range of 8,100 nautical miles without aerial refueling.
Depending on the version, it can carry up to 16 AS-15 “Kent” cruise missiles that have nuclear or conventional warheads. The plane can also carry anti-ship missiles or regular bombs.
The Tu-142 is an antisubmarine-warfare aircraft based on the Tu-95. This plane was exported to India in the 1980s, and it served until late March 2017, when it was replaced with P-8 Poseidon aircraft.
The Il-38 is a maritime patrol aircraft that is smaller than the Tu-142. According to the Naval Institute Guide to World Military Aviation, the Il-38 has a range of 3,890 nautical miles, a top speed of 390 knots, and can carry up to 11,000 pounds of ordnance.
The Il-38 was involved in a February 2017 incident in which the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) was buzzed.
Martial law came into force across a large swath of Ukraine on Nov. 28, following a clash at sea that Kyiv called an “act of aggression” by Moscow and Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed was ploy to boost his Ukrainian counterpart’s popularity ahead of an election in March.
Ukraine introduced martial law in 10 of its 27 regions — including all of those that border Russia or have coastlines — after Russian coast-guard craft rammed and fired on three Ukrainian Navy vessels off the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea on Nov. 25 before seizing the boats and detaining 24 crew members, six of whom were wounded.
Ukraine imposes martial law as tensions with Russia escalate
In two days of hearings, courts in Russian-controlled Crimea ordered all 24 to be held in custody for two months pending possible trial, defying calls from Kyiv and the West for their immediate release and also signaling that the Kremlin wants to cast the incident as a routine border violation rather than warfare at sea.
The detention period can be extended, and the Ukranians face up to six years in prison if convicted on charges of illegal border crossing.
Seems #Russia will try to barrel through aftermath of the #KerchStrait confrontation by treating it as a court case. 15 of 24 #Ukraine sailors already sentenced to 2 months pretrial detention, including three in Kerch who must be the wounded. Other 9 expected today.
In his first public comments on the incident that increased already high tensions between Kyiv and Moscow and sparked concerns of a widening of the simmering war between Ukrainian government forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, Putin reiterated Russia’a accusation that the Ukrainian boats trespassed in Russian waters — a claim Kyiv has denied.
“It was without doubt a provocation,” Putin told a financial forum in Moscow.
He claimed that the confrontation was orchestrated by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who opinion polls indicate faces an uphill battle in his expected bid for a second term in an election now officially scheduled for March 31.
“It was organized by the president ahead of the elections,” Putin said, adding that Poroshenko “is in fifth place, ratings-wise, and therefore had to do something. It was used as a pretext to introduce martial law.”
Putin claimed that the Ukrainian “military vessels intruded into Russian territorial waters and did not answer” the Russian coast guard. “What were they supposed to do?”
“They would do the same in your country. This is absolutely obvious,” he said, responding to a question from a foreign investor at the forum.
While laying the blame squarely on Ukraine, Putin — whose country could face fresh Western sanctions over the clash — also sought to play it down, saying it was nothing more than a border incident and calling martial law an exaggerated response.
Opinion polls in Ukraine suggest that Poroshenko faces an uphill battle in his expected bid for a second term in a presidential election scheduled for March 31.
Some Kremlin critics suspect that it was Putin who orchestrated the clash, in an attempt to bolster his own approval rating amid anger in Russia over plans to raise the retirement age.
In earlier comments at the same conference, Putin said he hopes he will meet with U.S. President Donald Trump on the sidelines of a G20 summit later this week in Argentina, as planned.
Trump cast doubt on the meeting on November 27, telling The Washington Post that he might not meet with Putin as a result of the confrontation between Russia and Ukraine, adding: “I don’t like that aggression. I don’t want that aggression at all.”
The Ukrainian parliament late on November 26 voted to impose martial law for 30 days in the provinces that Poroshenko said are the most vulnerable to “aggression from Russia.”
The 10 provinces all border Russia or Moldova’s breakaway Transdniester region, where Russian troops are stationed, or have coastlines on the Black Sea or the Sea of Azov close to Crimea.
Among other things, martial law gives Ukrainian authorities the power to order a partial mobilization, strengthen air defenses, and take steps “to strengthen the counterintelligence, counterterrorism, and countersabotage regime and information security.”
It is the first time Ukraine has imposed martial law since Russia seized Crimea in March 2014 and backed separatists fighting Kyiv’s forces in a war that erupted in the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk the following month.
Those moves, which prompted the United States, the European Union, and others to impose sanctions on Russia, followed the downfall of a Moscow-friendly Ukrainian president who was pushed from power by a pro-European protest movement known as the Maidan.
While Russian forces occupied Crimea before the takeover and are heavily involved in the war in eastern Ukraine, according to Kyiv and NATO, the clash in the Black Sea near Crimea was the first case in which Russia has acknowledged its military or law enforcement forces have fired on Ukrainians.
Before Putin made his comments, the Kremlin called the introduction of martial law a “reckless” act that “potentially could lead to the threat of an escalation of tension in the conflict region in the southeast” of Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the Russian military said it will bolster the defenses of Russian-controlled Crimea by add one S-400 surface-to-air missile system to the three already deployed there.”
The new air-defense missile system will soon be put on combat duty to guard Russian airspace,” Colonel Vadim Astafyev said. State-run news agency RIA Novosti said the system will be operational by the end of the year.
Moscow claims that Crimea is part of Russia, but the overwhelming majority of countries reject that and still consider it to be part of Ukraine.
Poroshenko said that Russia’s actions threatened to lead to a “full-scale war” and accused Moscow of mounting a major buildup of forces near Ukraine.
“The number of [Russian] units that have been stationed along our entire border has increased dramatically,” Poroshenko said in a television interview late on November 27, adding that the number of Russian tanks has tripled. Russia has not commented.
The clash in waters near Crimea was by far the biggest confrontation at sea after more than four years of war between Kyiv and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, where more than 10,300 civilians and combatants have been killed.
It followed months of growing tension over the waters in and around the Kerch Strait, where Russia opened a bridge leading to Crimea in May.
The strait is the only route for ships traveling between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, where Ukraine has several ports.
In comments to The Washington Post published on November 27, Trump said he was considering canceling his scheduled meeting with Putin on the sidelines of a Group of 20 (G20) summit in Buenos Aires on November 30-December 1.
Trump told The Washington Post he was waiting for a “full report” from his national-security team about the incident.
“That will be very determinative,” Trump told The Washington Post. “Maybe I won’t even have the meeting…I don’t like that aggression. I don’t want that aggression at all.”
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said on November 28 that “preparations are continuing, the meeting was agreed.”
“We don’t have any other information from [U.S. officials],” he said when asked about Trump’s comments.
Meanwhile, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert urged European states to do more to support Ukraine and said Washington wants to see tougher enforcement of sanctions against Russia.
European Union leaders said they were considering ratcheting up sanctions on Russia for illegally blocking access to the Sea of Azov over the weekend and because of its defiance of calls to release the Ukrainian crew members.
On November 27, Russian courts in the Crimean cities of Simferopol and Kerch ordered 15 of the Ukrainians to be held in custody for two months. Hearings for the other nine on November 28 produced the same result.
The mother of detained sailor Andriy Eyder, Viktoria Eyder, told RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service in the Black Sea port city of Odesa that her son was “wounded and is hospitalized in Kerch.”
The court rulings put the sailors in a situation similar to that of several Ukrainians, including film director Oleh Sentsov, who are being held in Russian prisons and jails for what Kyiv and Western governments say are political reasons.
With reporting by RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, the Crimean Desk of RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa, BBC, Interfax, and RIA
James Zumwalt is a retired Marine lieutenant colonel who served in the Vietnam war, the 1989 intervention into Panama and Operation Desert Storm. The son of the late Navy Adm. Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr., he’s also a best-selling author, speaker and business executive. The views expressed in this commentary are his own.
On Jan. 2, 2000, less than 48 hours into a new millennium, the U.S. Navy lost a 20th-century hero and revered, visionary leader.
Adm. Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr., 79, had succumbed to mesothelioma — a lung cancer caused by asbestos exposure, incurred during his naval career. He died at Duke Hospital in Durham, North Carolina.
As a grieving family focused on making preparations for a funeral to be held Jan. 10, 2000, at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, Marine Col. Michael Spiro stepped forward to escort the remains home.
Spiro had served as Zumwalt’s Marine aide, initially during the Vietnam war and later when the admiral was promoted to the Navy’s top position as (the youngest ever) Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) in the summer of 1970.
Zumwalt had been most impressed with Spiro’s professionalism and sense of duty. As CNO, the admiral was about to embark upon various programs that would shake up the naval service. He knew success turned on having a loyal staff in place to support his changes.
When Zumwalt asked Spiro to join him at the Pentagon, there was no hesitation on the colonel’s part. Immediately accepting, Spiro knew by doing so, time spent working for Zumwalt’s Navy was not time spent working in a Marine Corps billet to further his own career. Yet, driven by a sense of personal loyalty, Spiro answered the admiral’s call. The two men developed a close friendship.
As CNO, Zumwalt faced enormous challenges implementing changes that TIME magazine credited with bringing the U.S. Navy “kicking and screaming into the 20th century.”
With re-enlistment rates at an all-time low in 1970, Zumwalt focused on making the Navy a much more people-oriented service. His changes eventually leveled the playing field for all serving — especially for long, over-looked minority service members.
Meanwhile, Spiro, who might well have gone on to make brigadier general had he elected to leave Zumwalt and take a Marine Corps command billet, opted instead to serve at his friend’s side.
Spiro was committed to helping Zumwalt achieve his goal — and with him, Zumwalt did. By the time the admiral retired in 1974, the Navy’s re-enlistment rates had tripled. The evidence the playing field for minorities has successfully been leveled today can be found by examining the faces of the Navy’s top leadership.
Although Spiro retired in 1976, he donned his Marine Corps uniform during the first week of January 2000 to escort Admiral Zumwalt’s remains home from North Carolina.
Having become an Annapolis resident after his own retirement, Spiro, for years after the admiral’s death, often visited the gravesite. Brushing off winter leaves or recently-cut summer grass, Spiro occasionally left a rock on the headstone. The significance of this custom, lost to many today, is a sign of respect a friend had visited.
The year Zumwalt died, then-President Bill Clinton announced the Navy would build a new class of warship — unlike any other ever built. A stealth ship, it was to be the world’s largest destroyer. The ship would bear Zumwalt’s name.
Sixteen years after Clinton’s announcement, USS ZUMWALT became a reality. Built by General Dynamics Corp.’s Bath Iron Works in Maine, this magnificent vessel is now to be commissioned Oct. 15, 2016, in Baltimore.
After her commissioning and official entry upon the Navy’s active ships registry, USS ZUMWALT will depart from Baltimore, undertaking a most unique mission.
Col. Spiro, 86, passed away on Nov. 28, 2015. As was his wish, he was cremated.
Upon the USS ZUMWALT’s arrival in Baltimore in October, Spiro’s son, Peter, will present his father’s remains to the ship’s commanding officer. Following her Baltimore departure, somewhere in route to her homeport of San Diego and at the mandatory distance offshore, USS ZUMWALT will come to a dead stop. The ship’s crew will then conduct a brief ceremony rendering Spiro final honors as the colonel’s ashes are committed to sea.
Sixteen years earlier, Col. Spiro was honored to escort Admiral Zumwalt’s remains home. Later this year, the USS ZUMWALT seeks to return the honor.
The Russian military recently tested a short-range ballistic missile interceptor that’s meant to detonate a small-yield nuclear warhead in the air over Moscow to prevent a nuclear strike.
But there are a couple of problems with that, mainly that a nuclear blast over Moscow would already provide an electro-magnetic pulse effect that would cripple the city’s electric grid.
The system, called the A-135 AMB, also highlights differences in philosophies between the US and Russia when it comes to missile defense. The US builds missile interceptors that hit to kill, requiring a high degree of precision and guidance. The US’s THAAD missile defense system, for example, doesn’t even have a warhead.
Russia’s solution to the complicated problem of hitting an incoming warhead at many times the speed of sound is to nuke a general area of the sky.
While the US tries to station its nuclear weapons far from population centers, Russia has 68 of these 10 kiloton interceptors all around Moscow, its most populous city. Unfortunately, even in the most careful settings, nuclear mishaps occur with troubling regularity.
Additionally, as Jeffrey Lewis, the founding publisher of Arms Control Wonk writes, interceptor misfires do happen, and with a nuclear tip, that could mean catastrophe.
“It is not clear to me that, if a nuclear-armed interceptor were used over Moscow against a flock of geese, that the Russian command-and-control system would understand it was one of their own or survive the EMP effects. Then all hell might break loose,” writes Lewis.
The fact that the Kremlin is willing to have 68 nuclear devices strewn about Moscow speaks to how much they fear an attack that would threaten its regime security.
More than 60,000 defiant music fans joined Ariana Grande at her One Love concert at the Old Trafford Cricket Ground in Manchester June 4, as they stood together in the face of extremism and pay tribute to those killed in terror attacks.
The American singer’s manager Scooter Braun said the Manchester gig now has a “greater purpose” than ever after the country’s second terror attack in two weeks.
Niall Horan, Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Coldplay, Pharrell Williams, The Black Eyed Peas, Usher, Take That, Robbie Williams, Mumford Sons and Little Mixtook to the stage and performed for free to raise at least £2m towards the We Love Manchester Emergency Fund.
Bono and his U2 bandmates sent an emotional video message to the huge audience at the One Love Manchester gig.
Currently in America on their Joshua Tree tour, which played Chicago June 4, he paid tribute to the victims of the terrorist attack and sent a message of support to those affected.
“All our hearts are with you. All our hearts are with Manchester and with the UK and so many of our friends in this great city.
“We’re broken-hearted for children who lost their parents and parents who lost their children from this senseless, senseless horror,” he said.
“There is no end to grief, that’s how we know, there’s no end to love, a thought we’re holding onto for these people. We’ll see you again when the stars fall from the sky.”
On June 3 seven people were killed and nearly 50 injured after three men drove a van into a crowd on London Bridge and set upon people in a crazed knife rampage.
Despite the atrocities, fans including those injured in the Manchester Arena on May 22, headed to the venue in their droves, proudly wearing clothes emblazoned with the slogan, “We stand together”.
In between renditions of Giants and Rule The World, Gary Barlow told the crowd: “Thank you everybody for coming out tonight, thank you for everybody watching at home, thanks to Ariana for inviting us tonight.
“Our thoughts are with everyone that’s been affected by this.
“We want to stand strong, look at the sky and sing loud and proud.”
Barlow then introduced his former band mate, Robbie Williams. Williams serenaded the crowd with his song Strong, changing the words to, “Manchester we’re strong”.
Concert-goers began queueing outside Lancashire Cricket Club’s Old Trafford ground from 8.30am ahead of the One Love Manchester gig.
The event marked Ariana Grande’s first return to the stage since suicide bomber Salman Abedi detonated a device.
All Grande fans who attended the gig on May 22 were offered free passes to the benefit concert.
Grande’s manager Mr Braun said all the acts involved had shown “unwavering” support.
Questions were raised by fans about whether the One Love benefit gig would still go ahead in the wake of the latest terror attack in London.
However in a statement Mr Braun said: “After the events in London, and those in Manchester just two weeks ago, we feel a sense of responsibility to honor those lost, injured, and affected.
“We plan to honor them with courage, bravery, and defiance in the face of fear.
“Today’s One Love Manchester benefit concert will not only continue but will do so with greater purpose.
“We must not be afraid and in tribute to all those affected here and around the world, we will bring our voices together and sing loudly.
“All artists involved have been unwavering in their support this morning and today we stand together. Thank you,” he added.