The US and NATO are boosting their presence in a hotspot for military activity near Russia - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

The US and NATO are boosting their presence in a hotspot for military activity near Russia

The long-awaited announcement about the redeployment of thousands of US troops currently in Germany finally came at the end of July.

US officials, including Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Gen. Tod Wolters, who heads US European Command, outlined the moves and the strategic reasoning behind them. President Donald Trump immediately undercut their remarks, but their references to the Black Sea reflect how the region is a growing point of tension with Russia.


“We’re moving forces out of Central Europe, Germany, where they had been since the Cold War,” Esper said. “We’re following, in many ways, the boundary east [to] where our newest allies are, so into the Black Sea region” as well as Poland and the Baltics.

The shift means European Command will “now be able to rotate units in perpetuity in multiple locations,” including the Black Sea, which “dramatically improves our operational capability,” Wolters said.

‘The Kremlin sees that’

Moscow, the most powerful Black Sea state, invaded neighboring Georgia in 2008. Tensions have remained high since Russia’s 2014 seizure of Crimea from Ukraine.

“The Black Sea region is what the Kremlin uses launch its operations in Syria and Libya and the Eastern [Mediterranean],” Ben Hodges, who commanded US Army Europe between 2015 and 2017, told Insider. “It’s how they influence everything that goes on in the Balkans and the Caucuses as well as obviously Ukraine and Moldova.”

Hodges is one of many who criticized the redeployment of European Command forces, arguing it doesn’t improve readiness and that the manner in which it’s being done hurts NATO.

“Having said that, I always welcome any additional focus on the Black Sea region, because I think that … needs to be a much higher priority,” Hodges said, adding that Esper’s suggestion that a Stryker brigade could be deployed to the region was “a very good idea.”

“Increasing [NATO] naval presence in the Black Sea region really is even more important,” as the Turkish, Romanian, Bulgarian, and Ukrainian navies are “still not a match for the Russian Black Sea Fleet,” Hodges said.

Hodges cautioned that the coming months — with an ongoing drought in Crimea, US and Ukrainian elections, and Moscow’s major Kavkaz-2020 military exercise in southwestern Russia — could see more Russian action.

Concerns about more aggressive moves by Moscow have risen on other occasions since 2014, and experts have said seizing more Ukrainian territory now amid that drought doesn’t make much political or logistical sense for Moscow.

But the combination of factors creates an opening, Hodges said.

“Given the inconsistent response by this administration in the United States, and other than EU sanctions on Russia there hasn’t been that much in the way of real, firm response in the region” to Russian actions, Hodges said. “I think the Kremlin sees that.”

The US and NATO are boosting their presence in a hotspot for military activity near Russia

Ukrainian navy ships during exercise Sea Breeze in the Black Sea, July 21, 2020. (US Navy/Courtesy of Ukrainian Navy)

‘The increasingly important Black Sea’

In June, Adm. James Foggo, outgoing commander of US naval forces in Europe, said eight US ships spent about 120 days patrolling the Black Sea last year and “routinely” conduct “complex exercises” like Sea Breeze with allies and partners.

The US military has increased its presence in the area in recent years, and the 20th iteration of Sea Breeze, a Ukrainian-US exercise with other Black Sea and NATO nations, was the latest example.

“Every visit to the Black Sea encompasses working together with our partners and growing our interoperability,” Cmdr. Craig Trent, commanding officer of Navy destroyer USS Porter, told Insider. “Together, we executed a complex, multi-warfare exercise all without stepping foot ashore for face-to-face planning due to COVID mitigations.”

The US and NATO are boosting their presence in a hotspot for military activity near Russia

US sailors conduct simulated small boat attacks from USS Porter during Sea Breeze, July 22, 2020. (US Navy/Interior Communication Electrician 2nd Class Jeffrey Abelon)

This year it included more than 40 ships and aircraft from eight countries. The Porter was there on its third Black Sea patrol in five months.

The destroyer “conducted surface action group tactical maneuvering, over-the-horizon surface targeting, air defense, and anti-submarine operations,” Trent said.

The Porter worked with a US P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft “to share a common tactical maritime picture” and “with Ukrainian tactical aircraft during the air-defense exercises,” Trent said.

The P-8A worked with ships and aircraft, including Ukrainian Su-27 fighter jets, on undersea warfare and air-intercept training, Cmdr. M. Trever Plageman, head of Patrol Squadron 47, told Insider. (Russian planes frequently intercept US aircraft over the Black Sea, including during Sea Breeze.)

The US and NATO are boosting their presence in a hotspot for military activity near Russia

USS Porter and an Air Force MC-130J exercise together during Sea Breeze, July 20, 2020. (US Navy)

The Black Sea “provides complex training opportunities, which enhance aircrew proficiency for littoral undersea warfare,” Plageman said. “Of equal importance was the cooperative interaction with allies and other partner nations, which improved our squadron’s interoperability within the increasingly important Black Sea region.”

The Porter also worked with the US Air Force on “air defense and surface-to-air integration of systems,” Trent said.

During Sea Breeze, US Air Forces Europe led a one-day mission with Navy and Space Command assets “to train US forces to integrate, operate, and communicate while executing all domain operations,” according to a release.

It included F-16s that “conducted training scenarios” using Joint Air-to-Surface Missile cruise missile tactics. The JASSM is a long-range “precision standoff missile” designed “to destroy high-value, well-defended targets.” US Special Operations Command Europe also sent an MC-130J aircraft “to exercise special operations forces insertion.”

Sea Breeze concluded on July 26, but on August 2, the Navy and Air Force conducted a similar exercise in the area — with live weapons.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Iran won’t touch the Baghdad rocket attack with a ten foot pole

On Sunday, May 19, 2019, a rocket tore through the night skies across Baghdad near a museum by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. It did no major damage, but the sound of the rocket explosion was almost heard around the world, amid increased tensions and a buildup of troops between the United States and Iran.

The Islamic Republic and all of its proxies want the world to know it had nothing to do with such an attack.


The US and NATO are boosting their presence in a hotspot for military activity near Russia

“Nope nope nope nope nope nope nope nope.” – Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, probably.

The only thing damaged by the attack was the security guard shack near the museum. If it hadn’t exploded, it might have gone entirely unnoticed. But it did explode, and it was fired near the U.S. Embassy in a country known to be controlled by Iran. No group claimed responsibility, but a mobile rocket launcher was found in the area. Now militias aligned with Iran in and around Baghdad are publicly denouncing the attack, an unusual move for the Islamic Republic, who usually doesn’t seem to care who thinks they did anything.

Iran’s military projects power to maintain Iran’s regional military power by keeping the instability and the fighting outside of Iran. Like the United States Army Special Forces, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and Quds Force will go into a nearby country, mobilize sentiment against a common foe, then teach people to fight their enemy. Iran-backed militias were on the front lines against ISIS, and many Shia insurgents fighting U.S. troops in the Iraq War had Iranian backing.

Not this time.

The US and NATO are boosting their presence in a hotspot for military activity near Russia

Iran-backed Shia militias were even incorporated into Iraq’s state security forces. How do you like those Humvees?

As the United States evacuated diplomatic personnel and President Trump warned Iran about its forthcoming total destruction, Iran was quick to backpedal away from the tense talk of recent days. Even its supporters in Iraq were quick to distance themselves.

“If war is ignited, everyone will be burned,” said Hadi al-Ameri, a militia commander and politician who represents militias, including Iran-backed factions, from across the spectrum. Even the most hardline, pro-Iran political parties denounced the attack.

But even if Iran or a pro-Iranian militia did not fire the rocket attack, it still leaves the question of who did fire the rocket and why.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Veterans Crisis Line has answered more than three million calls

Since its launch in 2007, the Veterans Crisis Line has been an invaluable resource for Veterans nationwide — answering more than 3 million calls and initiating the dispatch of emergency services to callers in crisis nearly 78,000 times.


Veterans Crisis Line responders have also engaged in nearly 363,000 chats through the anonymous online chat service added in 2009, and we’ve answered more than 81,000 texts since our text messaging service began in November 2011.

I say all of this to show that from the start, the Veterans Crisis Line staff has consistently looked for more opportunities to better serve Veterans, and that desire to expand our services hasn’t slowed down.

Related: 9 ways the VA says it’s joining the modern world

The No Veterans Crisis Line Call Should Go Unanswered Act took effect in 2016, and we’ve responded with steps designed to provide the best support possible. From employing staggered shift scheduling for better coverage during periods of high call volume to formalizing our intensive training program and incorporating the latest evidence-based practices, we are always working to enhance our ability to serve Veterans.

New call center in Kansas

Most recently, we implemented an automatic transfer system: With the push of a button, a local VA Medical Center can directly connect a Veteran to the Veterans Crisis Line. Soon, we will greatly expand call capacity with the opening of a third call center in Topeka, Kan.

The US and NATO are boosting their presence in a hotspot for military activity near Russia
(Photo courtesy of VA)

The results of these efforts have already begun to show, as virtually every call we receive is answered by a Veterans Crisis Line responder with specific training to provide support to Veterans and Service members. In 2017, just 0.3 percent of calls to the Veterans Crisis Line were rolled over to non-VA crisis line operators, and that percentage fell to 0.07 in December.

We’re committed to providing the support that our Veterans have earned. If you’re experiencing a crisis or having thoughts of harming yourself, the Veterans Crisis Line can help. More than 500 responders are ready to answer your call, because they believe no Veteran should be without support in a time of need. You served your country, and we’re here to serve you.

If you or a Veteran you know is in crisis, call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, text to 838255, or chat online at www.VeteransCrisisLine.net to get immediate help.

For more information about the Veterans Crisis Line, visit www.VeteransCrisisLine.net. For more information about VA’s mental health resources, visit www.mentalhealth.va.gov.

Mighty Moments

NFL Falcon is sending military widow and son to the Super Bowl

Atlanta Falcon offensive lineman Ben Garland knows the meaning of service, but he took the NFL’s Salute to Service program to the next level.


Each year for Veteran’s Day, the NFL pays tribute to our nation’s servicemembers in a number of ways, but one of the most meaningful is during November’s Salute to Service. Players wear the initials of the fallen on their uniforms, the NFL donates money to non-profit organizations like the Pat Tillman Foundation or TAPS, and military families are invited to meet their favorite teams and experience some VIP fun.

The US and NATO are boosting their presence in a hotspot for military activity near Russia
3 year-old Cooper Dean with his new BFF, Ben Garland. (Image via TAPS)

A captain in the Colorado Air National Guard, the Veteran’s Day events are particularly meaningful to Garland. In 2017, he wore the initials of Air Force veteran Robert Dean, who took his own life in June 2016. At the game, Garland met Dean’s wife, Katie, and their 3 year-old son, Cooper, and the meeting left a lasting impression on him.

Related: Here’s how the Atlanta Falcons honored fallen heroes

On Dec. 11, Garland was honored for his community service with his team’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award and he decided to invite Katie and Cooper as his guests — what they didn’t know was that he had a big surprise in store for them.

The US and NATO are boosting their presence in a hotspot for military activity near Russia
Ben Garland surprises military widow Katie Dean and her son, Cooper, with Super Bowl tickets. (Image via TAPS)

When accepting his award, Garland invited them onstage and presented them with tickets to the 2018 Super Bowl.

“No matter what I’m doing, I give my full effort to that,” said Garland in an interview with CNN.

The US and NATO are boosting their presence in a hotspot for military activity near Russia
3 year-old Cooper Dean wears a helmet with his father’s initials, borrowed from Atlanta Falcon Ben Garland. (Image via TAPS)

Whether in the military, on the field, or helping others, it’s clear Garland lives by the Air Force Core Value of “Service Before Self.” From visiting cancer patients in hospitals, to fighting human trafficking with SōDE Solution, to helping families like the Deans, Garland proves how impactful service after service can be.

“This incredible connection with Ben Garland and the Dean family is just extraordinary and means so much to Katie and Cooper,” said Diana Hosford, vice president of sports and entertainment at TAPS. “Ben being in the Air Force just like their fallen hero and also being so kind, caring and thoughtful just like the man they loved and lost, makes this bond even stronger.”
Articles

The Air Force just bolted on a bunch of boneyard parts to get its Galaxies up in the air

On July 17, Air Mobility Command chief Gen. Carlton Everhart ordered all 18 of the Air Force’s C-5 cargo planes at Dover Air Force Base to halt operations and undergo inspections after two of the aircraft had landing-gear malfunctions in less than a 60 day period.


Two days later, Everhart extended the stand-down to all 56 of the Air Force’s C-5s, ordering them all to undergo maintenance assessments.

The ball-screw assembly on the C-5 Galaxy, the largest plane in the Air Force, was causing problems with the landing gear’s extension and retraction, according to Air Force Times.

The C-5’s nose landing gear uses two ball-screw drive assemblies working together to extend and retract, according to the Air Force. If one of the assemblies doesn’t work, the gear can’t operate. (The Dover stand-down came a little over a year after the C-5M Super Galaxies stationed there achieved the highest departure-reliability rate in their history.)

The US and NATO are boosting their presence in a hotspot for military activity near Russia
USAF photo by Airman 1st Class Elizabeth Baker

Inspections revealed that the parts needed to fix the malfunctions are no longer made. But, Everhart told Air Force Times, maintenance personnel were able to get the needed parts from the aircraft “boneyard” belonging to the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base near Tucson, Arizona.

As of September 1, 38 of the Air Force’s 56 C-5s were back in service. By Sept. 4, three of them had been sent to support hurricane relief efforts in Houston.

“Returning the C-5 to service so quickly is a maintainer success story. I can’t say enough about our maintainers’ ingenuity, hard work, and pride,” Everhart told Air Force Times, adding that his command was looking at adaptive techniques, like 3D-printing, to supply parts and predictive maintenance to catch malfunctions before they happen.

The US and NATO are boosting their presence in a hotspot for military activity near Russia

The Air Force’s “boneyard” in Arizona (there is more than one “boneyard“) provides long-term storage for a wide array of mothballed or unused aircraft — more than 3,800 as of mid-2016. Though they languish under the desert sun, low humidity in the air and low acid levels in the soil make it a good place to keep aircraft.

It’s not unusual for the Air Force to pull parts, or even entire planes, from the sprawling facility.

In summer 2016, the Marine Corps announced that it planned to refurbish 23 F/A-18C Hornets stored at the base in response to a shortage of usable aircraft. In October 2016, after a 19-month restoration process, the Air Force returned to service a B-52H Stratofortress bomber that had been mothballed at Davis-Monthan.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Army might have weaponized ticks and released them in the US

Ticks are some of the dirtiest disease-carrying bugs on Earth. They can carry any number of pathogens, bacterias, and viruses – a single tick bite can infect a human with more than one of those at any given time. The point is ticks don’t need any help to be terrible disease vectors.

But you couldn’t tell that to the U.S. Army, who apparently doesn’t have an off switch.


The US and NATO are boosting their presence in a hotspot for military activity near Russia

“… and that’s how I made cancer airborne and contagious. Go Army, beat Navy.”

The U.S. House of Representatives voted to require the Pentagon’s Inspector General to tell the public if the Army weaponized disease-ridden ticks and then released them into the continental United States between 1950 and 1975. The vote came as part of a vote on amendments related to the 2020 defense authorization bill, which was passed the next day.

A very important aspect of the request is finding out if the military released the ticks on purpose or if the release came as an accident. Congress also required the Pentagon to provide the House and Senate Armed Services committees with a detailed report on the scope of the experiment.

The US and NATO are boosting their presence in a hotspot for military activity near Russia

How would you vote on this measure?

Ticks can cause Lyme Disease, Typhus, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Meningoencephalitis, Hemorrhagic Fevers, paralysis, and even an allergy to meat. The House vote was only to force the Pentagon to acknowledge and deliver a report on whether or not the military released weaponized ticks, despite a ban on such experiments implemented by the Nixon Administration. The vote, however, would not require the Pentagon to reveal what the ticks were carrying, though advocates of the bill are primarily interested in the spread of Lyme Disease, which affects 300,000 to 400,000 new people every year.

The Senate bill did not have the weaponized ticks amendment and it remains to be seen if the reconciled bill bound for the President’s desk will include it.

Articles

This video shows Taliban fighters trying to imitate SEAL Team 6

The Taliban last week released a 70-minute propaganda video, titled “Caravan of Heroes #13,” in which they imitated US special forces, the Military Times first reported.


While much of the video shows how the Taliban conducts ambushes and assaults, the first 10 minutes of it shows militants replete with tactical garb and weapons, and employing their tactics.

The video is unusual, since most Taliban videos show their fighters wearing turbans and beards, the Military Times reported.

 

The US and NATO are boosting their presence in a hotspot for military activity near Russia
Screengrab from released Taliban video

“The Taliban want to show their supporters and potential recruits that they are a professional force capable of defeating the Afghan government and the coalition,” Bill Roggio, editor of FDD’s Long War Journal, told the Military Times.

“The Taliban has touted its “special forces” in the past, in previous videos, however this video definitely kicks it up a notch,” Roggio said.

Check out the Military Times’ compiled video here.

Articles

This is why Poland wants those Patriot anti-air missiles

Designed to blast aircraft, missiles and even drones out of the skies with deadly precision, the American-made MIM-104 Patriot missile system has been sought after by a number of countries over the last 30 years to defend their sovereign territories from threats in the air.


After expressing interest in the Patriot system for years, and failing to develop a suitably-priced medium/long range air defense missile of its own, Poland will finally get its hands on a group of eight Patriot batteries pending the signing of a deal worth billions of dollars with the United States.

Poland, a former satellite republic under the Soviet Union’s scope of influence, was previously armed almost entirely with Soviet-built hardware, including 1960s-era SA-5 Gammon surface-to-air missiles. However, in the years since the fall of the USSR, most of what was once the best Eastern Bloc military technology on the market has become almost entirely obsolete.

With the Eastern European nation formally joining NATO in the 1990s, and with a plethora of aged and below-standard military equipment in the country’s possession, Poland has begun the process of pushing its armed forces through a gradual yet massive overhaul that will see it retain a degree of relevancy against potential aggressors, especially Russia.

The US and NATO are boosting their presence in a hotspot for military activity near Russia
A Patriot missile test launch using the PAC-3 surface-to-air missile (Photo US Army)

At the top of the country’s wishlist is a new advanced missile defense system with the ability to deal with aerial threats in a quick and effective manner. With Russian military activity ramping up near its borders, the recent forceful annexation of the Crimea, and a general distrust for all things Russian anyways, Poland has not so subtly let the U.S. know it wants the air defense umbrella the Patriot can provide.

In 2015, Polish defense officials announced their intent to work with Raytheon, the creator and manufacturer of the Patriot, to buy eight missile batteries with a percentage of the system’s components built in Poland. But the deal, projected at $7 billion at the time, didn’t really materialize until earlier this week during a state visit by President Donald Trump.

That’s when Polish officials confirmed their country’s armed forces would begin receiving the Patriots it wanted for a little under $8 billion.

Currently, 14 countries including the United States operate the Patriot system, with a number of them having actually deployed the missile in combat situations against hostile aircraft, missiles and drones. Poland will be the 15th such country pending the signing of this multi-billion dollar deal.

The US and NATO are boosting their presence in a hotspot for military activity near Russia
Marines examine a Patriot battery aboard MCAS Futenma, Japan (Photo US Marine Corps)

The Patriot, originally designed in the early 1980s, received its combat baptism during the Persian Gulf War, engaging and destroying Iraqi Scud missiles with chemical warheads aimed at Israeli cities. In more recent history, the system has seen action in Iraq during the 2003 invasion, and in Saudi Arabia and Israel to ward off missile and drone attacks.

The Patriot achieved its first aircraft kill in 2014 in Israeli service after downing a Syrian Su-24 Fencer which penetrated protected airspace.

Among Poland’s other military modernization aims are the procurement of submarine-launched cruise missiles, UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopters, and the construction of a series of watchtowers and observation posts on its border with the Kaliningrad Oblast region to keep an eye on any nearby Russian military activity.

Additionally, the country has discussed buying more F-16 Fighting Falcons and possibly brand new F-35A Lightning II stealth fighters for its air force.

MIGHTY TRENDING

How VR has helped prosecute a Nazi guard

There’s a common refrain in Germany, “This is the last Nazi trial.” The country keeps striving to hold Nazis from World War II, especially those who worked in concentration camps, accountable for their crimes against the world and against those Europeans that the Third Reich deemed undesirable. But as many camps were dismantled after the war and survivors of the camps are dying of old age, it’s hard to collect evidence against individuals for crimes perpetrated in the 1930s and 40s.


But now, forensic virtual reality is helping jury members and judges see exactly what crime scenes, including concentration camps, looked like, and that’s helping German prosecutors go after former concentration camp guards and staff. This could allow Germany to assign culpability to perpetrators of the Holocaust until the last accomplice has died.

How Virtual Reality Helps Catch Nazis

youtu.be

Take the case of Reinhold Hanning. He was, undeniably, a guard at Auschwitz Concentration Camp. During Hanning’s time at the camp, 170,000 people were killed, most of them Jewish, most of them in gas chambers. As an SS sergeant, Hanning would likely have been involved in the “selection” process, where some prisoners were sent to the chambers and some to hard labor.

But prosecutors had to prove that Hanning was involved in that process or that he knew the process resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths. It wasn’t enough to prove that he was at the camp. It wasn’t enough to prove that he worked there. They had to prove that he knew his actions contributed to murder.

If that was proven, he could be convicted as an accomplice to 170,000 murders. But, how do you prove that he must have known about the gas chambers and that he must have known what the results of their use were? After all, he claimed that he had never seen a prisoner gassed and that he didn’t know people were being killed.

The US and NATO are boosting their presence in a hotspot for military activity near Russia

Prisoners in advanced state of starvation in a concentration camp liberated by the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, Sergeant Lucien Lapierre of the New Brunswick North Shore Regiment.

(Donald I. Grant, Library and Archives Canada)

And, nearly all the records from the time have been lost or destroyed. And most of the camp was either torn down or has fallen apart in the years since World War II. While some concentration camps survive today, that is because they’ve been maintained as museums and memorials to the atrocities. The camps were not designed or constructed to last 100 years.

But prosecutors had a modern tool in their arsenal for prosecuting murderers and other criminals in the modern day: forensic virtual reality. Experts went to crime scenes and imaged the site with lasers, digitally recreating the area in 3D down to the blood splatters on the walls. Prosecutors asked the experts if they could recreate a concentration camp, instead.

Engineers turned to maps of the camp and compared those to measurements taken over four days at what remains of Auschwitz. Then members of the jury and the court were given VR headsets and a tour of the camp, complete with the views from the areas where Hanning lived and worked.

If Hanning could see how the selection process sent people to the gas chambers to die, then the jury could convict. And when the jury saw Hanning’s views from the tower, it became clear that he must have known that the camp was used to kill people, that his actions contributed to that, and that his actions allowed it to continue.

Hanning was found guilty, thanks to a digital recreation of a long-lost site. It should be noted, though, that he appealed this decision and that he died while his case was on appeal. In the German system, that means his case ended on appeal; it did not end with a standing conviction.

But VR could help prosecutors make other convictions in the coming years for the atrocities of World War II, so the last Nazi prosecution might not come until the last Nazi accomplice has died.

Articles

There’s now a criminal review into the Afghan army’s combat uniform program

The head of US oversight for Afghanistan told lawmakers July 25 that the Pentagon’s wasteful purchase of untested camouflage uniforms for Afghan forces is under criminal investigation.


Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, John Sopko, special inspector general for Afghanistan Reconstruction, said the Defense Department spent $94 million on a proprietary camouflage pattern — known as HyperStealth Spec4ce Forest — for Afghan army forces “without determining the pattern’s effectiveness in Afghanistan compared to other available patterns.”

The effort resulted in $28 million in excess costs to the US taxpayer and, if unmodified, Sopko said, this procurement “will needlessly cost the taxpayer an additional $72 million over the next 10 years.”

Sopko’s investigation also found that the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, or CSTC-A, could not identify the total amount of direct assistance spent on Afghan uniforms — nor could it account for the total amount of uniforms actually purchased due to poor oversight and poor recordkeeping.

The US and NATO are boosting their presence in a hotspot for military activity near Russia
John Sopko. Photo from Special IG for Afghanistan Reconstruction via Flickr

“These problems, Madam Chairwoman, are serious. They are so serious that we started a criminal investigation related to the procurement of the [Afghan National Army] uniforms,” Sopko told the committee.

As a result of the investigation, he added, “I am going to announce today that we believe it is prudent to review all of CSTC-A’s contracts related to the procurement of organizational clothing and individual equipment in Afghanistan.”

The investigation’s embarrassing findings recently prompted Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to scold the Pentagon bureaucracy, describing the episode as emblematic of an attitude in the Pentagon that allows poor spending decisions to be excused, overlooked, or minimized.

Rep. Vicky Hartzler, the Missouri Republican chairwoman for the Oversight and Investigations subcommittee, asked how the forest camouflage pattern was selected over other more economical patterns that are owned by the Defense Department.

The US and NATO are boosting their presence in a hotspot for military activity near Russia
Afghan National Army soldiers standing out against their environment. Army photo by Pfc. David Devich.

Sopko said Afghanistan’s minister of defense was never shown any Defense Department-owned camouflage patterns.

“He was basically shown only the patterns owned by one company,” Sopko said. “The only options we gave the minister of defense were the proprietary patterns. The bigger problem is no one ever did an assessment as to what type of camouflage is best in Afghanistan.

“Basically, what we were told by CSTC-A, and we are researching this right now, is the minister of defense liked this color, so he picked it,” he said.

Peter Velz, director for Afghanistan Resources and Transition for the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Policy, agreed with Sopko’s report, saying that a “DoD organization with expertise in military uniforms should conduct an analysis of whether there might be a more cost-effective uniform design and camouflage pattern that meets operational requirements.”

The US and NATO are boosting their presence in a hotspot for military activity near Russia
Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Roger S. Duncan

“We believe this is the best way to determine the merits of the report’s claim that DoD may have spent as much as $28 million over 10 years on uniforms that may be inappropriate for Afghanistan’s operational environment,” Velz said.

The appropriate Pentagon experts have begun developing a plan for the study, which is expected to begin in the coming weeks, he added.

It’s unclear if Velz’ office is aware that the US Army conducted an exhaustive camouflage study, which featured an operational evaluation of multiple camouflage patterns — including HyperStealth, in Afghanistan. The effort resulted in the Army selecting Crye Precision’s MultiCam pattern in 2010 as the service’s official pattern for Afghanistan.

Since then, the Army has adopted its new Operational Camouflage Pattern, a government-owned pattern that closely resembles MultiCam.

The US and NATO are boosting their presence in a hotspot for military activity near Russia
Afghan National Army Sgt. Sarajadin, an instructor at Joint Sustainment Academy Southwest. Photo from Special IG for Afghanistan Reconstruction via Flickr

Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., asked what else the subcommittee can do to help prevent these types of mishandled contracts.

Sopko said that holding these types of hearing is important, but so is making sure “tough, hard questions are asked.”

“One question you could ask, and I think the full committee should ask, is how many people identified by my office, by the DoD office, or by [the Government Accountability Office] have actually lost their jobs because of wasting taxpayers’ dollars,” Sopko said.

“Send that letter to the Department of Defense … I bet you no one. We identify these problems; no one is held accountable,” he said.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Operation Song changes tune for military community

Thank you for your service isn’t enough. Although service members are proud to wear the uniform and serve their country, their devotion often comes at a cost and with a heavy weight. Operation Song is working with the VA to help carry that burden, through music.

Nashville Grammy and Dove-nominated songwriter Bob Regan knows good music. He’s written a string of hits for the famous guitar-town over multiple decades and knows the power of a song. In the early 2000s he began touring for the Armed Forces Entertainment overseas. From the Emirates to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Djibouti, Japan, Western Europe and Kosovo, he met several service members whose stories stuck with him. Regan was made aware of the large number of service-related injuries and the difficulty of transitioning after service.


It was there in the hot desert of Afghanistan that he began to wonder if weaving their stories into a song might bring peace.

Regan founded Operation Song in 2012 and started at the VA Medical Center in Murfreesboro, TN. “Eight hundred and fifty songs later, we have veterans from all the way back to World War II, spouses, children and parents. None of this was planned out but the need was there so we just kept going,” he explained.

Initially, Operation Song was working specifically with the post 9/11 veterans but that quickly changed. “At the VA, we started to see a lot of Vietnam Veterans and then Korean War veterans. Once in a while we were getting a World War II veteran too. There’s not many of them left. We began to seek them out and we’ve been honored to tell some of their stories while they are still with us,” Ragan said.

He shared that for the first seven years, it was intensely busy and he was trying to do everything as Operation Song continued to grow. With support and sponsors, they were able to bring in Kyle Frederick as the Executive Director, who had a background as a songwriter, musician and nonprofit manager.

The US and NATO are boosting their presence in a hotspot for military activity near Russia

(Operation Song)

“I love it. It makes perfect sense to me; I have family members that are veterans. I understand the concept and it is a great thing,” Frederick said. “We are fortunate to have great writers just down the road. These men and women who can listen for a few hours and literally a few hours later there is a work of art that’s therapeutic. It never doesn’t work.”

“Songwriters are really skilled at taking all these pieces and hanging them on an arc with a melody. I think what makes it so effective is when we work with veterans that have PTSD and traumatic brain injuries, is that they come in and say, ‘I could never write a song.’ We tell them, ‘Good, you are the perfect candidate,'” Ragan said with a laugh.

The songwriters tell them to just share whatever they want, starting with a simple conversation. The magic and healing begins from there. The guitar starts strumming and the songwriter takes those pieces of their lives, crafting them into a song. Regan shared that watching the veterans’ faces as the songs come alive is worth more than anything. “Over and over we’ve been told ‘I’ve never told that to anyone before,'” Ragan said.

The US and NATO are boosting their presence in a hotspot for military activity near Russia

(Operation Song)

For several years they’ve been working with survivors of Military Sexual Trauma, bringing peace through melody and storytelling. As they were creating healing for veterans, they realized there was more they could do for the families of those veterans. Spouse retreats started and they began serving the children of veterans, too.

One memorable song, Lima Oscar Victor Echo, tells the story of falling in love with a service member, a song military spouses everywhere can relate to. One of the lines of the chorus is strikingly raw, saying, “I wasn’t ready for this mission but I guess I’m signed up, too.” The song highlights not only the reality of sacrifices made by spouses of service members but the love that makes it worth it all.

Operation Song also began bringing healing to Gold Star Families.

Nanette West lost her son, Kile West, to a roadside bomb in 2007 while he was deployed to Iraq. He died trying to rescue others who were trapped, receiving the Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his heroism. Nanette journeyed to Iraq in 2011 to retrace her son’s steps, spending two years there as a defense contractor. The experience brought her closure and the music she created with Operation Song, peace.

The words of the song are a stark reminder of the cost of our almost 20-year war: “You swore to bring your troops back against all the odds and you kept your promise to every single one. If you could, I know you would stay. You gave your life on Memorial Day but I’m prouder than you could ever know. Even though it’s hard to let you go, so many miles away from home. You’ve always been the braver one. My hero, my soldier, my son.”

Nanette helped perform My Hero My Soldier My Son with Jenn Franklin at the Grand Ole Opry in August 2020. There were no dry eyes in the audience.

Although COVID-19 has made it near impossible to work in person for song writing, Operation Song isn’t letting that stop them. Instead, they are using technology to their advantage. “We’ve discovered that we can reach more people. We were like, ‘Wow, this works online,'” Frederick said.

“It’s been incredibly rewarding for me and the best thing I’ve ever done,” Regan shared. While he’s loved his long and successful career as a songwriter, using his abilities to give back to those who serve and sacrifice has been the joy of a lifetime. Despite writing over 850 songs for the military community since 2012, they are just getting started. Operation Song’s mission says it all: Bringing them back, one song at a time.

To learn more about Operation Song and the incredible work they are doing for our country’s military, veterans and their families, click here.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Russian hackers now aim for US power and water systems

The United States, for the first time, is blaming the Russian government for an ongoing campaign of cyberattacks that it says is targeting the U.S. power grid, water systems, and other critical infrastructure.


A U.S. security alert published on March 15, 2018, said that Russian government hackers are seeking to penetrate multiple sectors that U.S. consumers depend on for day-to-day necessities.

Those targeted in the attacks, which began in March 2016 or earlier, include energy, nuclear, water, aviation, and manufacturing, the alert said.

Also read: Hackers are not afraid to commit cyber attacks against the US

The alleged breaches by Russian hackers were cited by the U.S. Treasury Department as one reason for imposing a new round of sanctions on Russia on March 15, 2018.

The Department of Homeland Security and FBI said in the alert that a “multi-stage intrusion campaign by Russian government cyber actors” has targeted small commercial facilities “where they staged malware, conducted spear phishing, and gained remote access into energy sector networks.”

The US and NATO are boosting their presence in a hotspot for military activity near Russia
Military and civilian computer network analysts with the California Army National Guard Computer Network Defense Team tackle a simulated virus attack. (Photo by Capt. Kyle Key)

The alert said the FBI and the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center determined that the ultimate objective of the cyberattacks is to “compromise organizational networks.”

U.S. intelligence officials have said cyberattacks on critical U.S. infrastructure could do significant damage to the economy if they cause extensive blackouts or major disruptions of transportation systems, the Internet, or other essential sectors.

Related: The NSA chief is unauthorized to fight Russian cyber attacks

The Russian intrusions reported on March 15, 2018, did not appear to cause such large-scale disruptions.

However, U.S. officials have been concerned about the possibility of damaging disruptions ever since suspected Russian hackers succeeded at causing temporary power outages affecting hundreds of thousands of customers in Ukraine through cyberattacks in 2015 and 2016.

Moreover, U.S. officials said they believe that the Russian military perpetrated the “NotPetya” cyberattacks in June 2017 that caused the most extensive and costly damage to global businesses in history.

The US and NATO are boosting their presence in a hotspot for military activity near Russia
Screenshot of the splash screen of the payload of the original version of Petya.

The NotPetya virus spread quickly across the world, paralyzing computers and resulting in billions of dollars in damage through disruptions in shipping, trade, health care, and other industries, the U.S. Treasury Department said.

U.S. cybersecurity official Rick Driggers told reporters on March 15, 2018, that the Russian breaches of U.S. critical infrastructure thus far have been limited to business networks and have not affected any plant’s control systems.

More: The Air Force wants cyber weapons that can knock out Russia’s air defenses

“We did not see them cross into the control networks,” he said, but “we know that there is intent there.”

U.S. intelligence officials recently testified that the Kremlin appears to believe it can launch hacking operations against the West with little fear of significant retribution. Russia denies trying to hack into other countries’ systems.

Articles

Sesame Street launches a new series on difficult topics for military kids

This month, Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit that owns “Sesame Street,” released a new line of educational resources geared toward topics of race. This comes alongside their ongoing platform that is geared toward military families and the unique challenges that they face. Additional programs have been developed around topics of the pandemic and how to talk with kids about COVID-19. 

Together with sponsor USAA, the brand compiled a series of content including videos, original songs, downloads that kids can read and/or color and a long list of apps. All of these are free for parents to download and use to more appropriately talk with their kids about tough subjects. There are also add-ons covering specific military topics to give parents and caregivers tips on how to have difficult conversations with kids. 

The US and NATO are boosting their presence in a hotspot for military activity near Russia

The organization has been providing military-based content for kids nearly for 15 years through their nonprofit branch. However, new material has been added focusing on racial literacy, self-care and coping strategies for kids dealing with racism. It’s their hope to provide kids the knowledge they need to understand big issues, as well as the developmental abilities on how to deal with the feelings that come with them, they said. 

“Military and veteran families practice service in everything they do, and they live their lives with purpose – values that help them confront injustices like racism,” Dr. Jeanette Betancourt, Senior Vice President of US Social Impact, Sesame Workshop, said. “In a military kid’s world, it’s common to see people of all races and backgrounds living, working, and playing together. Military parents and caregivers can help their children become good citizens of the world by using that unique opportunity to talk openly about racism and celebrate who they are inside and out.”

The US and NATO are boosting their presence in a hotspot for military activity near Russia

Topics covered on the website include:

  • Injuries and care-giving
  • Military homecomings
  • Military to civilian life
  • Relocation
  • Deployments
  • Grief
  • And more

Race-related topics include: 

  • How to talk about race
  • Being proud of one’s features
  • Family histories
  • Self-love and worth
  • Dealing with feelings and expression
  • And more

Sesame Street also offers learning resources on topics that affect civilian families, such as divorce and incarceration, through their program, Little Children, Big Challenges family support services.

Professional development resources are available for teachers, social workers and others who work with children on both topics. Check out the videos, or sign up for ongoing courses, such as webinars and events. 

Families can watch the videos, listen and sing along to songs and engage in other ways, such as downloading the free Sesame Street apps (including those associated with the above topics), download PDFs with activities, or play online games. Versions are available in English and Spanish. 

The resources are available at SesameStreetinCommunities.org and sesamestreetformilitaryfamilies.org/

Do Not Sell My Personal Information