MIGHTY CULTURE

NATO is trying to up its game in the waters around Europe

Shrinking ice coverage in the Arctic has drawn the attention of NATO, Russia, and other countries to the high north, where the promise of more accessible waterways means potential military and commercial competition.

Since Russia’s 2014 seizure of Crimea and incursion in Ukraine, however, NATO members have been concerned about Moscow’s actions closer to home, and developments in recent weeks indicate the alliance is focusing on securing waterways around Europe, in the Baltic and Mediterranean seas and the eastern Atlantic — all areas that could be contested in a conflict with Russia.

Below, you can see what NATO is being warned about, and what the alliance is and isn’t doing to address it.


A Russian Ilyushin Il-22 Bizon and a Su-27 Flanker, flying along the Baltic coast, May 14, 2019.

(UK Ministry of Defense)

The Baltic Sea, bordered by six NATO member countries and with Russia’s second-largest city, St. Petersburg, at its eastern end, has always been a busy area.

Encounters between NATO forces and Russian forces at sea in the Baltic and in the skies over Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, where NATO members carry out air patrols, have been on the rise since 2014. (The air policing mission has actually been going on since 2004.)

That encounters include an incident this summer in which a Russian Su-27 fighter escorting Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s plane turned into a NATO jet, forcing it away.

These tensions have come with military buildup as well.

Starting in 2016, NATO deployed some 4,500 troops in battle groups to the Baltics and Poland. Since the end of 2017, Sweden, which like Finland is not part of NATO, has sent new military forces to Gotland Island, which it had withdrawn from in 2005.

In Kaliningrad, an exclave that is home to Russia’s Baltic Fleet, Moscow has deployed new weaponry, including nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, and upgraded facilities, including what appear to be active nuclear-weapon storage bunkers.

Summer 2019, Russia also set up a helicopter base on Gogland, a small island between Finland and Estonia. Estonian officials played down the military significance, but the base is still seen as a Russian move to assert its power in the region and keep its neighbors guessing.

The guided-missile destroyer USS Bainbridge participates in a photo exercise during exercise Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) in the Baltic Sea, June 9, 2018.

(US Navy/Mass Comm. Specialist 1st Class Theron J. Godbold)

NATO countries along the Baltic have sought a more robust presence, and Germany has taken the lead.

Among NATO members, Germany, which has been criticized for the paucity of its defense spending and the quality of its armed forces, has taken the lead and tried to bring NATO and the EU closer together on Baltic security.

Vice Adm. Rainer Brinkmann, deputy chief of the German navy, said in September 2019 that Russia was the “one main challenge” in the Baltic and that Western partners “must take appropriate measures to cope” and “to prevent the Baltic Sea from being a ‘mare clausum,'” or “closed sea.”

Like its neighbors, Russia has legitimate reasons to be in the Baltic, but the number of actors there, each with their own national and commercial interests, make it a delicate situation, according to Christopher Skaluba, director or the Transatlantic Security Initiative at the Atlantic Council.

“I think [the Russians] know that aggressive actions in the Baltic are likely to get the attention, in a way they probably didn’t want, of the NATO nations and Sweden and Finland.”

“The Baltic is pretty small place. There’s a lot of players. That piece of it gets really ugly really quick,” Skaluba told Business Insider in October 2019. “I think for lots of reasons, there are more incentives to avoid [conflict] than there are to … catalyze it.”

An F-35B fighter jet aboard the British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, Oct. 13, 2019.

(LPhot Kyle Heller/UK Ministry of Defence)

A new battle of the Atlantic.

Russia’s navy is increasingly active in the North Atlantic, and though the level of that activity and the size of Russia’s navy don’t appear to reach that of the Cold War, it has set NATO on edge.

Growing tension between NATO members and Russia in the Atlantic has been called “the fourth battle of the Atlantic,” following World War I and II and the Cold War.

The UK in particular has struggled to keep up, calling on NATO allies to help track Russian subs thought to be lurking in and around British waters.

“In 2010, a Royal Navy ship was called on just once to respond to Russian navy ships approaching UK territorial waters. Last year we had to respond 33 times,” the UK’s then-defense minister, Gavin Williamson, said in May 2018.

The Royal Navy has built new aircraft carriers, equipping them with Britain’s first F-35s, and acquired US-made maritime patrol aircraft after scrapping its Nimrod patrol aircraft in 2010.

Royal Navy frigate HMS St Albans is currently the Nations on call warship for escorting foreign warships.

The UK and its allies in Europe want to keep “a critical choke point” between them open.

While any conflict in the Atlantic today is likely to look much different than previous battles, it’s likely to involve the English Channel and waters around it, especially the North Sea — at least that’s the concern of the five European countries who effectively revived the Cold War-era “Channel Committee” November 2019.

The pact signed on Nov. 7, 2019, by senior navy leaders from Germany, France, the UK, Belgium, and the Netherlands pledges to “harmonize” naval purchasing plans, potentially to include common procurement, according to Defense News.

But the countries also want to increase personnel exchanges and joint training and eventually recognize the professional qualifications of service members across the group.

“The Channel area is the front door to Central Europe and an important gate to the Baltic Sea,” the text of the pact says. “It is the critical choke point for the maritime traffic between the United Kingdom and continental Europe.”

The committee is also another military tether between mainland Europe and the UK, whose future relations with the rest of the continent remain in doubt amid the turmoil of Brexit.

The Mediterranean has also become a venue for what the US and others see as an emerging great-power competition.

NATO members in southern Europe have been focused on immigration from the Middle East and North Africa and the threat of terrorism emanating from those regions.

But Russian naval forces are a constant presence in the Mediterranean, traveling to and from Moscow’s bases in the Black Sea and and its base in Tartus, Syria, which is Russia’s only such facility outside the territory of the former Soviet Union.

With the ongoing civil war in Syria, the eastern Mediterranean has also become a venue for military operations, with Russian subs demonstrating their new ability to strike targets on land with missiles.

The Russian presence around the Mediterranean and Black seas, Iran’s presence in Syria, and antagonistic intra-alliance relations with Turkey all present security challenges for NATO, according to a recent Atlantic Council report.

“As the south becomes more congested and contested, and great-power competition intensifies, NATO defense, deterrence, and containment mission in the south is increasingly urgent and more complex,” the report states.

US Navy destroyer USS Carney fires it MK 45 5-inch lightweight gun at night while on patrol in the Mediterranean Sea, Sept. 11, 2016.

(US Navy photo by Mass Comm. Specialist 3rd Class Weston Jones)

The lack of a strategy in the Mediterranean could have more serious consequences for the alliance as a whole, according to one deputy secretary general.

NATO has made a lot progress improving its defense and deterrence against Russia since 2014, “but it was more talk than action when it came to addressing problems in the south,” Alexander Vershbow, a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council and coauthor of the report, said during its presentation October 2019.

“This theme figured prominently in my farewell address to the North Atlantic Council three years ago, and unfortunately the situation hasn’t changed all that much since then,” added Vershbow, who was deputy secretary general of NATO and US ambassador to Russia.

According to the report, “many of the conventional defense and deterrence challenges associated with NATO’s east are now reemerging in the south,” including enhanced Russian anti-access/area-denial capabilities, provocative actions in the Black Sea, and hybrid activity on the ground.

Though NATO has taken steps to remedy its shortcomings in the Mediterranean — such as setting up a “hub of the south” at Joint Forces Command in Naples, Italy — establishing a maritime-focused enhanced southern presence there could be a way to counter Russia and sharing the burden of doing so among members, Vershbow said.

“Russia is back with a vengeance in the eastern Mediterranean and in the Black Sea,” which adds a geopolitical dimension to NATO’s need to project stability and bolster defense and deterrence, Vershbow added.

“The lack of an effective southern strategy could put alliance solidarity at risk if the publics in the southern NATO countries see the alliance as failing to address what they consider to be their priority concerns,” Vershbow said. “It could undermine their willingness to share the burdens of collective defense against Russia, and everybody loses in that scenario.”

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

Putin buys WWII tanks for propaganda boost after T-14 program fails

Russia put on an intimidating show of force in 2015 by unveiling the T-14 Armata main battle tank, which represented a bold new design billed as an unstoppable NATO tank killer.

Russia was to make and field 2,300 T-14s by 2025, but as of 2019 only has some 100 on order and less than two dozen operating in tests, The Diplomat reports.

Four years later, Russia has scrapped plans to reproduce the tank that sputtered and stalled in Moscow’s Red Square in the 2015 Victory Day parade, and found an older tank to do its job instead.


Russia on Jan. 10, 2019, announced it had bought 30 WWII-era T-34 battle tanks from Laos, which it said were combat-ready, but would be used in parades and making WWII movies.

As The Drive pointed out, this means Russia will buy more of the 70-year-old tanks than it will of its new T-14, and it indicates how Russian President Vladimir Putin has changed course after failing to modernize his military.

A Russian Army T-14 Armata tank.

T-14: The NATO killer that died in budget cuts

The T-14 in 2015 cast a menacing figure. Russia, previously crippled by debt and still shrugging off the collapse of the Soviet Union, had updated its main battle tank, something Western countries had only done incrementally.

While the US was adapting its M1 Abrams tank to urban combat against weaker enemies in Iraq, Russia had devised a tank designed to kill other tanks.

With automatic loading, an unmanned turret, reactive and active armor, and a bigger gun than any Western tank, Moscow had announced its focus on a return to the kind of conventional ground war that rocked Europe throughout the 21st century.

But like with many Russian defense projects, the bark proved worse than the bite. In the following years, Russia announced the T-14 wouldn’t see mass production. Instead, Russia would upgrade its capable T-80 and T-90 tanks which were seeing combat in Ukraine and Syria.

While the upgraded T-90 tanks proved effective in those battlefields, they lacked the propaganda boost of a new, unstoppable tank afforded Putin.

A World War II-era Soviet T-34 tank during the 2018 Moscow Victory Day Parade.

Pivot to the past

Putin’s bet on the T-14 as the future face of Russia’s military power failed, but, ever resourceful, Russia has now pivoted to the past.

Soviet tankers with T-34s in the eastern front of WWII fought in grueling battles that eventually saw Adolf Hitler’s Nazi forces overwhelmed and the Soviet flag planted atop the Reichstag in Berlin.

Putin has frequently tried to revise and leverage the Soviet’s hard-fought success in World War II to bolster nationalism and support for his aggressive government, which stands accused of war crimes in Syria and backing separatist forces in Ukraine.

A state-funded film titled “T-34,” which tells the story of a Russian tank crew escaping a Nazi camp, smashed box office records in Russia in January 2019. The Associated Press reported that any criticisms of the film have been silenced.

Now Russia will seek to use the T-34s in other propaganda spectacles, it said.

Russians have every reason to be proud of their country’s massive sacrifice in WWII and the tanks that have operated for seven decades.

But the tanks, be they T-34s or T-14s, won’t lift Russians out of poverty or allow them to enjoy any new opportunities.

Nor will they fight in wars, as they’ve always been pawns in a propaganda game deftly executed by Putin to scare the West with paper tigers and feed the public with empty stories of bygone greatness.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

U.S. personnel injured ahead of massive war games

Tens of thousands of NATO troops have converged on Norway for Trident Juncture, the alliance’s largest military exercise in nearly two decades.

The exercise officially starts on Oct. 25, 2018, but the arrival of thousands of troops and their equipment in the harsh environs of the North Atlantic and Scandinavia hasn’t gone totally smoothly.

On Oct. 23, 2018, four US soldiers were injured in a roadway accident as they delivered cargo to Kongens Gruve, Norway, in support of the exercise.


“The accident occurred when three vehicles collided and a fourth vehicle slid off the pavement and overturned while trying to avoid the three vehicles that had collided,” the US Joint Information Center said, according to Reuters.

One of the soldiers was released shortly after being hospitalized, and as of late Oct. 23, 2018, the three others were in stable condition but still under observation, according to the information center. The troops and their trucks were assigned to the Army’s 51st Composite Truck Company, stationed in Baumholder, Germany.

A US Army Stryker vehicle completes an uncontested wet-gap crossing near Chełmno, Poland, June 2, 2018.

(US Army photo by 1st Lt. Ellen Brabo)

US ships taking part have also encountered trouble.

The amphibious dock landing ship USS Gunston Hall, part of a group of ships carrying a Marine Corps contingent to the exercise, returned to port in Reykjavik, Iceland, on Oct. 22, 2018, after heavy seas caused damage to the ship and injuries to its sailors.

The US 6th Fleet, which oversees operations in the Atlantic around Europe, said the ship’s well deck and several of the landing craft aboard it were damaged. The Gunston Hall returned to port for a damage assessment, though there was no timetable for its completion, the fleet said.

The sailors who were injured received medical treatment and returned to duty.

A landing craft enters the well deck of the USS Gunston Hall to embark for Trident Juncture 2018, Oct. 3, 2018.

(US Navy photo by Mass Comm. Specialist 3rd Class Colbey Livingston)

The amphibious transport dock ship USS New York, also on hand for the exercise, also returned to Reykjavik “as a safe haven from the seas until further notice,” the fleet said.

A 6th Fleet spokesman told Navy Times that the seas were challenging “but not out of the [Gunston Hall’s] limits” and that the USS New York “will remain in port until it is safe to get underway.”

The Gunston Hall and the New York were part of a group led by the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima that left the US in October 2018, carrying some 4,000 sailors and Marines.

That group carried out a simulated air assault in Iceland and has been doing cold-weather training in preparation for Trident Juncture.

US Marines with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit hike to a cold-weather training site in Iceland, Oct. 19, 2018.

(US Marine Corps photo)

It’s not clear if the absence of the Gunston Hall and the New York will affect the exercise, the 6th Fleet spokesman told Navy Times.

Trident Juncture will include some 50,000 soldiers, sailors, marines, and other personnel from each of NATO’s 29 members as well as Sweden and Finland. The drills will be spread across Scandinavia and the waters and airspace of the Baltic Sea and the North Atlantic.

Massing men and machines for such exercises rarely goes off without problems.

In June 2018, as some 18,000 personnel from 18 countries took part in the Saber Strike 18 exercise in Eastern Europe, four US Army Stryker armored vehicles collided during a road march in southern Lithuania.

Fifteen soldiers were taken to a local hospital, 10 of whom were held for overnight observation, but all returned to duty.

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

MIGHTY MOVIES

5 of the top reasons you should know this operator

It has been said that all men are created equal. If you have spent any time in uniform, then you know that just simply isn’t true. Some of us are just better, faster, smarter, stronger individuals.


Such is the case with August O’Neil. Not only is he one of the world’s elite as an Air Force Pararescueman, he has multiple gold medals from multiple international events that he won after he lost a limb in Afghanistan.

His life is the stuff that movies are made about, literally. Here are the top five reasons you should know August O’Neil.

Related: This is the Air Force’s lowest ranking Medal of Honor recipient

5. Well, he’s literally an operator

August O’Neil joined the Air Force in 2005 and graduated from his pipeline training in 2008. If you aren’t aware of the level of elite physical ability and mental capacity you need to become a PJ, here’s a quick rundown:

First, you have to pass what was once known as the Indoctrination Course. Indoc alone has a fail rate north of 80% and that is just the door to get through to more training. That ‘more training’ equates to literal years spent learning the job.

It doesn’t get much more operator than August O’Neil… It just doesn’t. (Photo by Matthew J. DeVirgilio)

4. First amputee to return to USAF

After suffering such an injury, many of us would go to some dark places. O’Neil has made it his complete life’s mission to get back to his team.

As of late 2017, he was medically cleared and re-certified on many of his required tasks. O’Neil will likely be the first amputee ever to return to active duty in the Air Force.

Just about back to a new normal (Photo by Taylor Curry)

3. Warrior Games

O’Neil reportedly kept his injured leg just so he could compete at the Warrior Games. He ended up winning 5 golds in various swimming events.

Yes, that’s correct. With one functional leg and the other having been through 20 surgeries, he won five different medals.

For added sh*ts and giggles, O’Neil also won gold for Kayaking at the Valor Games in 2013.

Kai has really been man’s best friend to O’Neil. (Photo by Senior Airman Justyn M. Freeman)

2. Invictus Games

The Invictus games are right up there with the Paralympic Games and were created by Prince Harry. They are coming up on their third games this year and you can be certain that amazing things will happen there, too.

The games are aimed directly at the global injured veteran community, so it should be no surprise that O’Neil participates.

Also Read: ’12 Strong’ showcases the best of America’s fighting spirit

Just before the opening moments at the Invictus Games in 2016 (Photo by Joshua L. DeMotts)

1. Immortalized in film

A feature film, That Others May Live, about O’Neil’s life from the moment he was injured to the present, has begun to gain some real traction. It is currently in pre-production with Paramount Pictures attached.

The proposed film will chronicle O’Neil’s life following the incident (Photo by Krista Rose)

Articles

America’s Mosul strategy might just lead to ‘ISIS 3.0’

The U.S.-backed coalition effort to retake the city of Mosul officially began Monday, but experts say the end of the battle against ISIS is far from over.


Pentagon officials warned reporters before the operation began that ISIS was likely to convert to insurgency after losing the city of Mosul. “If anything, it’s gonna be more difficult,” is how Canadian Army Brig. Gen. Dave Anderson described the coming fight against ISIS as an insurgent force.

The retaking of Mosul highlights the Obama administration’s central belief that retaking territory from ISIS constitutes victory against the group. “It’s as if we’ve decided by taking territory back, they won’t be terrorists anymore,” Dr. Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute previously told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

As ISIS reverts to a guerrilla insurgency, Iraq must begin to grapple with the underlying sectarian tensions that threaten to engulf it after the defeat of ISIS. The operation to retake Mosul is composed of the U.S., Iraqi Security Forces, Kurdish Peshmerga, Iranian-backed Shiite militias, and Turkish troops. Each group has its own vested interest in the future of Mosul and greater Iraq.

“What has emerged from the conflict is a complex patchwork of ethnic, tribal and religious militias that claim fief over particular territories,” Ramzy Mardini of the Atlantic Council leveled a stark warning on the administration’s pursuit of defeating ISIS in a recent op-ed for The New York Times.

Shiite militias participating alongside Iraqi Security Forces in anti-ISIS operations have well known ties to humanitarian atrocities against Sunni civilians. The United Nations estimates nearly 1.5 million civilians remain in Mosul, and if Sunni citizens are harassed or outright killed by militias it could lend sympathy to defeated ISIS terrorists. ISIS’s history lies in a guerrilla insurgent force that capitalized on sectarian tensions to seize territory.

Retired Army Gen. David Petraeus parroted Mardini’s thinking in August, saying failure to stabilize post-ISIS Iraq could lead to the rise of another version of ISIS.  “The challenge of Mosul and Nineveh is the considerable number of ethnic groups, religious sects, tribes and other elements that make up the province.”

Ultimately, Petraeus warns the biggest challenge in Iraq is not the defeat of ISIS, but is “to ensure post-conflict security, reconstruction and, above all, governance that is representative of and responsive to the people.” He warns, “Failure to do so could lead to ISIS 3.0.”

Content created by The Daily Caller News Foundation is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a large audience. For licensing opportunities of our original content, please contact licensing@dailycallernewsfoundation.org.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This is what it was like to train right next to North Korea

With things starting to look up on the peninsula, it’s hard to believe that, in 2014, we were sitting around waiting to see what, exactly, was going to be the straw to break the Korean camel’s back reignite the (technically still-ongoing) Korean War. Thankfully, the North was wise enough to know not to f*ck with a Marine Corps infantry battalion. Regardless, we kept training for the worst.

We don’t have to tell you it’s cold on the Korean peninsula; you can read about that elsewhere. No, what you’re here for is to know what it was like for a Marine to be sitting three miles from the Korean Demilitarized Zone for a month and a half.


We took the training more seriously at the time.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

Scary at first…

Yeah, it was. At the time, of course, we continuously called NK’s bluff because they did bark a lot for decades following the Armistice, but they’re enough of a loose cannon that some of us didn’t want to get complacent. It was better to assume that they were going to do something and we would be the first on the scene.

We went on a DMZ tour and found out just how close it actually was.

(Photo courtesy of the author)

Of course, we didn’t realize how close we were to the DMZ until North Korea launched a few missiles. My company had been out on a range, police calling in the middle of the night when we noticed a couple of shooting stars streak across the sky. It was a beautiful site. That is, until we went back to base and saw that they were definitely missiles…

It didn’t help that the base didn’t have any ammunition for the first couple of weeks. We were basically sitting ducks, and if North Korea had known any better, it could have been huntin’ season.

The biggest training challenge was the temperature.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Caleb T. Maher)

…then it was boring…

After the edge wore off, we became super bored. It didn’t help that we were on a base that was small enough for you to be able to throw a rock from one end and hit some POG working on a Humvee on the other. The training itself wasn’t bad. It was all easy stuff. But it was the heavy amount of downtime that really threw us for a loop.

Seriously, so much Friends.

External hard drives containing anything from games to movies to adult entertainment were passed around the platoon. Cigarettes, smoked all the way to the butt, were deposited into the butt can at least five times per day (more when the temperature was above 50 degrees). In fact, we probably broke the record for how many times you can watch Friends from beginning to end in a single week.

The ROK Marines were honestly pretty cool.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Ryan Mains)

…until the ROK Marines showed up.

It was a major snoozefest up until the Republic of Korea Marine Corps showed up. Then it quickly turned into a dog-and-pony show on top of the snooze fest. Then, training became much more frequent, so it quelled our boredom. We ended up forgetting that North Korea existed during that time, you know, except when our Battalion Commander reminded us during every formation.

My platoon before a major training op that was called off because the range was set on fire.

All in all, training next to North Korea was hyped up beyond what it actually was. There was a lot of anxious excitement at first and then it was just, “what show are we watching today?” For a first deployment, I definitely expected a lot more, but, thankfully, it wasn’t any more exciting than it was because, you know, fighting in the cold would suck.

So, that’s what it’s like to train next to North Korea.

Articles

The top 15 military memes of 2015

2015 was a great year with a lot of hilarious military meme wars. Here are 15 of WATM’s favorite from the past year. Share your favorites on our Facebook page.


1. Because 2015 was the year of “F-ck ISIS.”

And nothing gets that point across as well as a giant flying pig that fires grenades and rockets while dropping bombs.

2. While American ground troops have seen little combat against Daesh, they have been getting ready.

Just wait till ISIS feels the full effects of Anti-Terrorism Level 1.

3. ISIS was making headlines, but most troops were still just trying to pass inspection:

Those pants may be ready in time, but that sling is UNSAT.

4. 24-hour operations took their toll:

5. Because someone needs to make the ground parade ready.

They probably get a Combat Action Badge for hitting a mouse with a mower.

6. The Air Force is the chess club of the military.

It may be the smartest, but no one is jealous.

7. Seriously LT, it’s for your own protection.

And also our protection. You are definitely not ready for an AT-4.

8. How about, “All the shots, all the kills?”

We just need a little more ammo.

9. The worst way to find out your old unit wasn’t exactly “up-to-regs”:

You know the old unit is hastily burning all the evidence before the MPs show up to ask questions.

10. The 5.56mm flash bulb.

Lighting the way to victory, one trigger pull at a time.

11. Motorpool says it’s user-level maintenance.

It’s not deadlined if the commander says to risk it.

12. Cross the mafia at your own risk.

Even the commanding general knows he can’t win without them.

13. The Army is a 9-5 job that starts at 0300.

The armorer had to be there at 0115.

14. ‘Twas beauty that killed the beast.

No really, she killed him. With a knife hand. Like, she literally chopped him up using the side of her hand. Marines are dangerous.

15. When chief has more years in service than most of the ships:

See you in 2016!

MIGHTY TRENDING

Disabled vets and retirees will get the biggest raise in 7 years

Military retirees, those who receive disability or other benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs, federal retirees, and social security recipients will see a 2.8 percent pay raise in their monthly checks in 2019.

It is the biggest Cost Of Living Allowance (COLA) increase in seven years, equaling as much as $369 a month for those at the top of the retirement pay charts.


Each year military retirement pay, Survivor Benefit Plan Annuities, VA Compensation and Pensions, and Social Security benefits are adjusted for the rate of inflation.

Retirement pay increase

Thanks to the increase, the average military retirement check for an E-7 with 20 years of service will go up by a month, while an O-5 with the same time in uniform will see a 6 monthly increase.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Heather L. Rodgers)

Retirees who entered military service on or after Aug. 1, 1986 and opted in for the Career Status Bonus (CSB/Redux retirement plan), have any COLA increases reduced by 1 percent, so they will see a 2019 increase of 1.8 percent or monthly for an E-7 with 20 years of service, or each month for an O-5 with 20 years of service.

VA disability increase

Disabled veterans will also get a bump. The average VA disability check will go up about per month for those with a 10 percent rating, and for those rated at 100 percent.

Other federal retirees and beneficiaries

Military retirees and VA beneficiaries aren’t the only ones who benefit from the COLA increase. Civil Service retirees, and Social Security recipients will also see the 2.8 percent jump in their monthly checks as well.

For Social Security recipients, the monthly increase will mean an extra per month for the average beneficiary.

Largest COLA bump in years

This annual COLA is determined by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which is a measurement of a broad sampling of the cost of consumer goods and expenses. The CPI is compared to the previous year, if there is an increase there is a COLA. If there is no increase, there is no COLA.

The COLA affects about one in every five Americans, including Social Security recipients, disabled veterans, federal retirees, and retired military members.

In 2017, the COLA increase was 2.0 percent; in 2017, retirees saw a 0.3 percent increase.

Keep up with military pay updates

Military pay benefits are changing all the time — make sure you’re up to date with everything you’ve earned. Join Military.com for free to receive updates on all your military benefits, delivered directly to your inbox.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

Social-distancing hobbies that will help decrease your stress level

2020 sure hasn’t been the most relaxing year, now has it? If you’re anything like me then you’re over everything.

You don’t even want to scroll social media anymore because it makes your blood pressure rise. I have always been able to fall down the Instagram rabbit hole into trashy reality TV star drama to zone out for a bit, but now even that isn’t possible because they are on hiatus due to quarantine too! So, what am I doing to try and rid myself of some of the negative energy surrounding me these days? How do I disconnect after hearing the newest updates on what it will be like to teach for the 2020-2021 school year? Well, sometimes whiskey. But more recently I’ve been looking into healthier ways to deal with my stress and try to zone out for a bit.


First up is yoga. 

Now, I am hardly the lithe yogi you see in the movies. I used to laugh at the idea of doing yoga to relax. Mainly because I would get so in my own head about not being bendy enough to traditional-looking enough to be in a yoga class. But now I find that it is actually a great way to get out of my head. While I’m still glad no one can see me doing downward dog from the comfort of my living room, I like the soothing music, the calm tone of the yoga instructors, and the 30 minuets a day I carve out for just my own well-being. If you aren’t sure where to start with a yoga routine head to YouTube, one of my favorites is MadFit. She is just very encouraging and calming, even laughing at herself when she falls out of a pose.

I have a friend that turns to meditation when the stress levels are getting too high. 

He told me a quote once that stuck with me. “Meditate 20 minutes every day. And if you don’t have the time, then do 40.” It took me a moment to realize what he was saying. It means that you NEED to make time for the things that will help you be healthy, physically and mentally. While I am not big on meditation myself, I can find a few moments to do some deep breathing when yet another news update rolls across my screen.

You can also turn into your grandma to relax. 

Don’t laugh! There has been a huge upswing in 20- 30-year old’s learning to crochet and knit these days! Maybe yarn crafts aren’t your thing, but you get creative in some other way. Painting, writing, coloring curse words in an adult coloring book. Any of those things help you focus on the task at hand and get you out of your head and your problems for a while. I know that when I wasn’t focused on the scarves I was knitting on deployment (I’ve been an 80 year old woman in a 30 year old body for a long time), I’d end up having to take the whole thing apart and start over. While I never quite mastered anything bigger than a baby blanket, just having something to keep my hands busy that wasn’t my cell phone seemed to calm me.

There is also the option to go get some fresh air. 

Going on a hike or a bike ride or even just walking the dog are all socially-distanced approved activities still. Get out of the house and get your sweat on. Remind yourself from a beautiful mountain top that there is more to this world than the four walls you may feel trapped in these days. Daily I take my dog on a walk that should take us about 10 minutes. However, he likes to stop and smell EVERYTHING. His pace forces me to slow down and enjoy the feeling of the sun on my face. If you live somewhere coastal, you can drive on down to the water and let the sound of the waves calm you the same way. Just get out of the house. Stretch your legs. Breathe deeply and return home refreshed.

Are these things too tame for you? 

Because not everyone is looking to get their Zen on, and I understand that. If that’s the case, see if you can’t swap the yoga videos for some kickboxing instead. And maybe instead of wandering the beach you can see if your local shooting range is practicing safe social distancing standards. I’ll admit that as much as I love relaxing with a good book, there is a serious adrenaline rush that makes me calm down just as much when I have torn apart a target or two on the range. Plus, it makes me feel better knowing my aim isn’t getting rusty…

So, whatever it is that makes you feel a little less frazzled, make time for it. Make it a priority the same way you do your job, your family, your faith. You schedule everything else that is important to you, why not schedule in some time to make sure your mental health can be kept on track with some relaxation too?

This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

U.S. could send more advanced weapons to Ukraine

The United States is considering sending more lethal weaponry to Kyiv to build up its naval and air defenses, Washington’s special envoy for Ukraine said, as concerns mount that Russia may be stepping up operations in coastal waters.

In an interview with RFE/RL on Sept. 13, 2018, Kurt Volker blamed Russia for fueling the conflict. He also said that Washington and Moscow still have serious differences over a possible United Nations peacekeeping force that could be deployed to help bring an end to the fighting in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Volker said he thought that Russian President Vladimir Putin was unwilling to negotiate much of anything related to the conflict at least until after Ukraine’s presidential elections in March 2019, or with “[Ukrainian President Petro] Poroshenko still in power.”


Volker said he has made several overtures to his Russian counterpart, Vladislav Surkov, since their last meeting in Dubai in January 2018, but he has received no response.

In January 2018, Surkov showed interest in the idea of a phased deployment of peacekeepers, Volker said. Since then, however, the Russians “have backed away and have some objections.”

Another meeting is possible, he said, but “right now, there is nothing scheduled.

“Since fighting broke out between government forces and Russia-backed fighters in April 2014, more than 10,000 people have died and more than 1 million have fled their homes.

Russia has repeatedly denied financing and equipping the separatist forces in Donetsk and Luhansk despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, insisting that the fighting was a civil, internal conflict.

Sea Defense

In recent months, Russia has stepped up naval operations in the shared Sea of Azov, where, Volker said, “Ukrainians have virtually no naval capability or limited capability, so [the Russians] feel they can assert dominance there.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Ukraine’s lack of robust naval and air-defense capabilities is a weakness Volker said Washington looks set on addressing.

“I think that’s going to be the focus as we develop the next steps in our defense cooperation,” he added.

International negotiators have twice reached a framework for a cease-fire and a road map for peace, known as the Minsk peace accords. Both have failed to hold.

That is due in large part to the fact that Russia continues to flood the territory with fighters and arms, Volker said.

In August 2018, monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe documented — using drone footage — convoys of military trucks crossing to and from Ukraine and Russia on a dirt road under the cover of darkness. Early September 2018, the monitors said another convoy had been spotted in the area.

Russia has not responded to accusations that it was behind the convoys.

Volker also criticized Kyiv, which he said was not doing enough to reach out to Ukrainians living in separatist-held territories. He said Poroshenko’s government has also failed to develop a reintegration plan for when the conflict does end.

Preliminary ideas, he said, “[do not] enjoy strong political backing and there is little emphasis that this should be a priority for the Ukrainian government to figure out how it can reach its own citizens and be as proactive as possible in trying to make their lives better.”

“It’s a shame because those people [living in separatist-held areas] have gone through a lot. It causes them to be very sour on the government in Kyiv,” he added.

He highlighted the cases of elderly people, “people with the least mobility,” and said Kyiv should work with the Red Cross to help get government pensions to those people.

Changing U.S. Policy?

Volker’s appointment, in July 2017, came amid concern that U.S. President Donald Trump was looking to soften Washington’s position on the Ukraine conflict, and Russia’s role in it.

However, the Trump administration has all but continued U.S. backing for Ukraine, a policy set in place by his predecessor, Barack Obama, after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014.

President Donald J. Trump and President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine at the United Nations General Assembly.

(Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Washington has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in military equipment and training to the Ukrainian armed forces, and sanctions imposed for the annexation and for fueling the conflict remain in place.

More notably, the Trump administration in early 2018 sent Ukraine 210 advanced antitank missiles known as Javelins, a move Obama had resisted for fear of antagonizing Moscow.

“It’s true that we haven’t achieved anything on the ground and we haven’t gotten Russia to really resolve the conflict,” Volker said. “So we have to keep that under advisement.

“On the other hand, what we’ve done over the last year has been very important,” he said.

“We’ve created a policy framework for the United States; we’ve coordinated that with our allies, specifically France and Germany; we’ve given clear support for Ukraine and restoring its sovereignty and territorial integrity; we’ve clarified Russia’s responsibility here,” he said.

In August 2018, Trump suggested in an interview that he would consider lifting Ukraine-related sanctions against Russia “if they do something that would be good for us.”

Asked about Trump’s commitment to Ukraine, Volker said that everything the United States has done for Kyiv “has been done with the president’s approval, so there’s no policy gap.”

“The way I read what the president is doing, [he] is trying to keep a door open for Putin to be able to climb down, negotiate some kind of agreement, see if we can reduce the risk of conflict, see if we can actually create peace in Ukraine,” he said.

“At the same time, the policy has been to continue to layer on additional steps of pushback on Russia and support for Ukraine as a way to induce Russia to negotiate,” he said.

Featured image: Kurt Volker, the special representative of the U.S. State Department for Ukraine.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY MOVIES

The ‘Black Widow’ trailer came at us like a Russian spy in the night

The teaser trailer for Marvel Studios’ Black Widow is here and if you don’t have the soundtrack already pumping in your blood, then you need to re-watch with the sound on.

We’ve always thought of the MCU’s Natasha Romanov as a woman with no family and no past, just a bunch of red in her ledger, but this trailer hints at something more.


Taking place between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, Scarlett Johansson’s standalone film is rumored to be the last for the original Avengers and the first for Phase Four. It doesn’t look like it will disappoint.

Take a look:


Marvel Studios’ Black Widow – Official Teaser Trailer

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Watch the trailer:

In what appears to be a nice Russian-spy-family-reunion, Romanov is surprised by a guest who matches her fighting style move-for-move. Yelena Belova (played by Midsommar’s Florence Pugh, who is having a great year) is another alumna of the Red Room. Also to join in are David Harbour’s (Stranger Things) Red Guardian/Alexei Shostakov and Rachel Weisz’s (The Mummy) Iron Maiden/Melina Vostokoff.

There’s even a nice dinner scene with comedic relief and everything.

Romanov and her “sis” have unfinished business with their “family.”

Looks like the villain will be Taskmaster, who, in the comics, injected himself with SS-Hauptsturmführer Horst Gorscht’s primer, giving himself genius-level intellect and superhuman athleticism. He’s a master combatant, swordsman, marksman, and mimic.

Black Widow, Marvel Studios

At San Diego Comic-Con, a fight scene showed Taskmaster’s ability to mimic the movements of his adversary. Given that Romanov’s fighting technique was always so unique compared to the other Avengers, this should make for a visually exciting film. We can also hope for fun cameos (Robert Downey Jr. is already rumored to be one of them).

Directed by Cate Shortland (Lore), Marvel Studios’ Black Widow will open in theaters May 1, 2020.

Lists

6 surprising things that are against the laws of war

They may seem like they’re tying troops’ hands behind their backs — especially given that today’s wars are very different from those when the former laws of war were written — but there’s a good reason why certain rules have been imposed to protect troops in combat.


Though not every country ratified all of the protocols of the Geneva Convention, and fewer still signed the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, many still hold to the general provisions and restrictions.

The laws of war contain a lot of things that make sense. Don’t hurt civilians. Don’t attack places of worship or medical aid. They may seem small at first glance, but they are a line US troops cannot cross.

While the major laws of war are well known, there are some provisions that may surprise the average reader.

#1: Filing down your bullet. (The 1899 Hague Declaration IV,3 and Geneva Convention Protocol I Art. 35)

(Screen grab via YouTube)

There is always the loophole of “military necessity” — that’s why flamethrowers are okay, because they have an actual purpose if used on foliage and clearing tunnels.

So while hollow points are legal, filing down a bullet to make in improvised dum-dum round is a no no. The purpose of doing that is to cause unnecessary harm.

So that 5.56 round some jackass took a Multi-tool to to “make it hurt more” committed a serious offense.

#2: A chaplain picking up a weapon. (Geneva Convention Art. 24)

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Sean Campbell)

If troops become shipwrecked or parachute out of a destroyed aircraft, they now have non-combatant status. They’re technically out of the fight.

The most protected service member in the ranks is still the chaplain, who should never enter combatant status.

Regardless of their denomination, chaplains have a duty to uphold the spiritual, moral, and religious well-being of everyone on the battlefield. They will enter combat zones, but only to provide aid. To date, 419 U.S. Chaplains have died in war and eight Medals of Honor were bestowed to chaplains.

It is a part of their duty to never lose non-combatant status to help the needs of all. Picking up a weapon immediately revokes that status. If you ever wondered why armed chaplain assistants are so valuable, that’s why.

#3: Taking war trophies. (Fourth Geneva Convention. Art. 33-34)

There’s a fine line between taking a souvenir and pillaging.

Anything you take off the battlefield is pillaging — even if it belonged to an enemy combatant. It is subject to strict regulations after it’s turned over for inspection and clearance. If it’s a weapon, it must also be made unserviceable at the expense of whomever is taking it back.

Stashing it goes against tons of laws.

#4: Putting a large Red Cross on your equipment for combat operations. (Geneva Convention Protocol I Art. 85)

(U.S. Army photo by Spc. JD Sacharok, Operations Group, National Training Center)

The Red Cross, Red Crescent, Red Crystal, and Red Shield of David are all protected as the international symbol for medical aid. When it is painted on a vehicle or on an armband, it lets everyone know that they are only there to render aid. Like chaplains having protections, so too do medics if they are performing aid and evacuation.

If a combat medic takes up arms, they lose their status as a non-combatant, which has been the norm in modern conflicts. If they drop their weapon to give aid, they regain that status.

But the red cross symbol doesn’t give you noncombatant status. If the symbol is on a piece of equipment, such as a first aid kit or pack, it is only signifying that the contents are for first aid.

#5: Not protecting journalists. (Geneva Convention Protocol I Art. 79)

Legendary BBC War Corespondent, Robin Duff, on D-Day (Image via BBC)

War corespondents are just as protected as any other civilian on the battlefield. They must never pick up arms or else they losing their status. The difference between members of the press and other non-combatants is that they are required by their job to be in the middle of a firefight to report what is happening.

In the modern era, journalists have been easier and more valuable targets than ever. If one is embedded in a unit, no matter how pesky and nosy as they seem, they are valuable assets to the war effort and still must be protected.

#6: Insulting prisoners of war. (Third Geneva Convention. Arts. 13-16)

Writer’s Note: For the final point on this list, there will not be a photograph of a prisoner of war, regardless of nationality, in reference to their mistreatment.

One of the goals of the Hague and Geneva Convention was to protect the rights of prisoners of war. They must be given medical attention (Art. 15). They keep the civil capacities they had at the time of capture (Art. 14) and must always be treated humanely (Art. 13).

The definition of humane treatment covers no physical mutilation (including torture). This also means you must provide protection from acts of violence, intimidation, and verbal insults.

It doesn’t matter who the person is or what they did before they are captured, they are now a prisoner of war.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This is what happened when a newspaper called John Wayne a ‘fraud’

John Wayne never was able to join the military — when the draft first started in 1939, the then-unknown actor had a 3-A deferment because he was the sole supporter of four children — but that didn’t stop him from hopping in an armored personnel carrier and mounting an invasion with the 5th Armored Cavalry Troop. He had a cigar clenched in his teeth.

He was about to lead the U.S. Army in an invasion of Harvard University.


In January, 1974, the Duke invaded Harvard Square with some of the Army’s finest in response to a letter he received from the campus satirical newspaper, The Harvard Lampoon. In the letter, the paper said,

“You’re not so tough, the halls of academia may not be the halls of Montezuma and maybe ivy doesn’t smell like sagebrush, but we know a thing or two about guts.”

The paper then challenged the conservative Wayne to come to Harvard, a place The Harvard Lampoon described as, “the most intellectual, the most traditionally radical, in short, the most hostile territory on Earth.” They were challenging the actor to come to Harvard and debate against the students who called him, “the biggest fraud in history.”

Wayne accepted.

The letter was purely goading, but John Wayne wasn’t about to let that bother him — he took the opportunity to visit in style.

He mounted the procession from the halls of The Harvard Lampoon’s on-campus castle, then drove to the door of the Harvard Square Theater through policemen, television crews, ‘Poonies dressed in tuxedos, students, and even some Native American protesters. There was even a marching band in his honor. In the heart of liberal Harvard, the conservative actor was met by thousands of admirers.

After signing autographs for a while, he took the stage. The first thing representatives of The Harvard Lampoon did was present Wayne with a trophy — made of just two brass balls. It was created just for him and awarded simply for coming to Harvard.

“I accepted this invitation over a wonderful invitation to be at a Jane Fonda rally,” he joked.

The Duke graciously accepted the award, noting that their previous guest was porn starlet Linda Lovelace and that seeing his invitation in a unmarked brown envelope was akin to being asked to lunch with the Borgias, a reference to the historical family’s propensity for murdering their guests.

With the pleasantries out of the way, Harvard’s debate with John Wayne, a spokesman for the right, began. Taking questions from the audience, the Duke sat on a chair on the stage. The New York Times described the debate as one with “little antagonism, the questions often whimsical and the actor frequently drew loud applause.”

John Wayne was a conservative in his political views, but he answered the students’ questions thoughtfully and honestly, often with a wry smile. Asked what he thinks of women’s lib, he said:

“I think they have a right to work anywhere they want to [long pause] as long as they have dinner ready when we want it.”

The only question he seemed to rebuff was one asked about his testifying against fellow Hollywood personalities during the Communist witch hunts of the 1950s, which led to some being placed on the infamous Hollywood blacklist. The actor said he could not hear the question, even when it was repeated.

“Is your toupee made of mole hair?” One student asked. “No,” the Duke replied. “That’s real hair. It’s not my hair, but it’s real hair.”

Today, John Wayne and Harvard doesn’t seem like a controversial mixture. In 1974, however, the students at Harvard were very much anti-establishment and John Wayne was a symbol of everything they mistrusted about their country, its history, and its government — especially while the Vietnam War and the draft remained a very recent memory.

By 1974, Wayne’s career was threatened by his well-known politics, so it’s not really an exaggeration to say the actor was on his way into hostile territory. The Lampoon ended up doing what amounted to a celebrity roast with Wayne and he took it with a smile, even adding some funny jabs of his own:

“Has President Nixon ever given you any suggestions for your movies?” a student asked. “No, they’ve all been successful,” came the reply.

John Wayne never lost his sense of humor over politics — a lesson we should all take to heart today, liberal and conservative alike. What could have been a moment of sharp political divisiveness was settled with good humor and in the end, thunderous applause.

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