In a hearing before the House Appropriations Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Subcommittee, Wilkie said veterans who have earned the Purple Heart will be placed “at the front of the line when it comes to claims before the department.”
According to Wilkie, the change is in “recognition of wounds taken in battle.”
He didn’t provide details on how the change will be implemented but said it is among the many improvements the department is making as part of the claims and appeals modernization effort.
The new process, created under the Appeals Modernization Act, gives veterans three choices for appealing their claim, including providing new evidence to the original reviewer; having a more senior adjudicator review the decision; and appealing to the Board of Veterans Appeals.
Wilkie described the change as part of a 21st-century transformation at the department.
The VA appeals backlog, which will be handled by the legacy system of appealing decisions to the board, stands at roughly 402,000 cases.
The new system will not only be used for disability compensation claims decisions, it will tackle decisions on education and insurance applications, vocational rehabilitation, caregiver benefits and claims with the National Cemetery Administration, according to the VA.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
A Marine corporal may have come up with a brilliant way to treat a gunshot wound the moment a bullet pierces body armor.
Cpl. Matthew Long, a motor transport mechanic, designed a tear-proof package filled with a cocktail of blood clotting and pain-killing agents that sits behind body armor, which would be released instantly if pierced by a bullet. Though Marine body armor, called “flak” jackets, come with small arms protective insert (SAPI) plates to stop bullets, they can have trouble stopping multiple rounds.
Long’s invention, if fielded, would render first aid immediately, without a Marine having to do anything. The seemingly-simple tweak could save lives when a medic is not immediately available.
The corporal was selected as a winner for his invention in September during the Corps’ Logistics Innovation Challenge.
“We thought we’d get one, maybe two ideas, but thanks to your support, we got hundreds,” Lt. Gen. Mike Dana said in a video announcing the winners. “We’re going to send all winners out to DoD labs to prototype their idea. These ideas might end up in the Marine Corps.”
Long and the nearly two dozen other winning projects will be considered for further use by the Marine Corps. As part of this, challenge winners are being partnered with government-affiliated labs to prototype, experiment, and implement their idea.
Other winners include a team of enlisted Marines who came up with a way to make affordable 3d-printed drones, an officer with an idea for a wrist computer, and glasses made for medical tele-mentoring.
Soldiers aren’t likely to don space suits and blast off into space to fight an enemy, the head of Army Space Command said this week.
But the domain is going to play a big role in the way the Army trains and fights in the future, Lt. Gen. James Dickinson, commanding general of Army Space and Missile Defense Command, told reporters at the annual Association of the U.S. Army meeting in Washington, D.C.
“We need to make sure we’re going to be able to protect what we have in space,” the three-star said. “But I don’t think that lends itself necessarily to formations in space.”
Space as a future conflict zone led President Donald Trump to direct Pentagon leaders last year to create a Space Force. The U.S. has since stood up Space Command, a new unified combatant command that’s serving as a precursor to the future Space Force.
“Space is very important,” Dickinson said. “It’s gotten a lot of national senior leader attention over the last year or so, and the Army is excited to be part of that.”
The service is developing a new space training strategy, he added, which will likely be completed in the next three or four months. That could lead to changes across the force about how soldiers train for ground fights.
There are a lot of space-based tools on which soldiers currently rely, he said, that could be jammed or degraded by adversaries. The Army will need to place soldiers at the unit level who understand those risks and challenges.
“We need soldiers that are subject-matter experts who know about space in formations,” Dickinson said.
The Army’s upcoming training strategy could suggest how those formations will be organized, he said. It’s also going to outline how security challenges in space will affect future operating environments.
“The training strategy … will give you fundamentals on what we need to look for as far as environments we’re going to operate in and what we see in terms of those formations and who will be in those types of formations,” he said.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
Traveling about half the time of the year as a recruiter, Staff Sgt. Jon McCoy heavily relies on his wife to take care of their toddler and home.
“The whole reason why I’m here is the support that my wife is able to provide,” he said Feb. 4, 2019, before a ceremony at the Pentagon to honor some of the Army’s best recruiters.
Stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington, McCoy is one of two warrant officer recruiters who handle the western region from Colorado to as far as South Korea.
While he may rack up some frequent flyer miles during his travels, he also gets numerous soldiers to stay in the Army or troops in other branches to join it.
In the first quarter of fiscal year 2019, McCoy had 150 individuals continue their careers as warrant officers in the Army — about one-third of all warrant officers boarded during that time.
Army Secretary Mark T. Esper honored McCoy and 12 other recruiters for their efforts this past quarter.
Secretary of the Army Mark T. Esper, left, Under Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy and Army Vice Chief of Staff James McConville recognize Staff Sgt. Jon McCoy during an awards ceremony for recruiters at the Hall of Heroes, Pentagon, Washington D.C., Feb 4., 2019.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Nicole Mejia)
“Readiness remains the Army’s top priority. Don’t doubt that. And you can’t achieve readiness without the right people,” Esper said. “It’s our recruiters serving across the country who are finding our nation’s best and brightest to join our ranks.”
Accessions are also now a crucial priority after Esper recently directed the Army’s recruiting efforts to modernize and give recruiters the resources they need to connect with qualified applicants.
Improvements to marketing and a larger presence in 22 target U.S. cities are also underway to bring greater awareness to the opportunities found within the Army.
Before the ceremony, Esper said he spoke to the group of recruiters and listened to their challenges and how they overcame them.
“The key to success is simple,” he said they told him. “It takes passion, it takes commitment, it takes honesty and transparency. That’s what America’s youth are looking for in a recruiter. That’s what their parents, their pastors, their counselors expect of us.”
Born and raised in Guam, Sgt. 1st Class Jesse Lujan works as a recruiter in Hagatna at the same station where he chose to enlist in the Army about 15 years ago.
Lujan, an aviation operations specialist, was able to sign up 19 recruits this past quarter.
“I’m able to relate to them and let them know that there’s more out there and that the Army is a stepping stone to help you get there,” he said.
Secretary of the Army Mark T. Esper, right, speaks during an awards ceremony for recruiters at the Hall of Heroes, Pentagon, Washington D.C., Feb. 4, 2019.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Nicole Mejia)
He also strives to be a positive member of his community. He often volunteers to help his daughter’s Girl Scouts troop, joins in cleanups of the coastline, and helped collect ,000 worth of items as part of relief efforts for Typhoon Mangkhut, which hit Guam in September.
“We’re just not there to recruit and bring people in,” he said. “We actually give back anytime that we can get.”
About 10,000 recruiters are spread out over 1,400 locations around the world, said Maj. Gen. Frank Muth, commander of the Army Recruiting Command.
“These recruiters here stand in the trenches everyday as the face of the Army,” Muth told the audience. “Their accomplishments this past quarter is a testament to their professionalism, dedication and laser focus on the mission.”
Being a recruiter still remains a difficult task to ensure the Army fills its ranks with quality applicants.
Only 29 percent of today’s youth are able to meet the minimum requirements to join the service, Esper said, and only 4 percent of them have the propensity to serve.
On top of that, the service is up against the greatest economy in decades, he said.
“This is a challenge that we must overcome,” Esper said. “We have no other choice. Failure is not an option.”
But that task should not rest solely on the shoulders of a few, he said, adding all soldiers need to educate people on the opportunities the service offers.
“Recruiting is everyone’s responsibility,” he said. “It’s the Army’s mission, not just ours. We are all recruiters.”
U.S. Army Master Sergeant John Hartley Robertson, a Green Beret, was in a helicopter shot down over Laos in 1968. His body was never found and was presumed dead. His name is on the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. and the Army officially lists him as Killed In Action.
In 2013, a fellow vet named Tom Faunce claimed to have traced the men killed in the crash to those taken prisoner by the North Vietnamese Army around the same time. The men were taken prisoner and tortured, but Faunce claims the men all survived. The claims sparked renewed interest in finding and repatriating possible POWs remaining in Vietnam for so long after the war.
In a documentary film called Unclaimed, Faunce teamed up with Emmy-winning director Michael Jorgenson to find a man they thought to be Robertson, then 76-years old, 44 years after the crash. The missing Green Beret was supposedly living in a village of south-central Vietnam. The man had no memory of being Robertson, had no memory of his children, his own birthday, or even the English language.
Master Sgt. Robertson’s family believed he could have survived the event and even claimed to have supporting documentation that he had been held in an NVA prison. Jorgenson maintained the U.S. government has had proof of Robertson’s survival since 1982, but did not do anything with the information.
Still, the filmmaker was skeptical and went to Vietnam with Faunce believing they would uncover a hoax. The man who would be Robertson, now calling himself Dan Tan Ngoc, said he was held, beaten, and tortured but eventually released into t he care of a local nurse, whom he married and with whom he later had children.
The Army fingerprinted Dan Tan Ngoc at a U.S. Embassy, but said it was not enough to prove Dan Tan Ngoc was indeed John Hartley Robertson. The film shows a reunion of the man who would be Robertson meeting a fellow vet he trained and Robertson’s own sister, Jean, who said “There’s no question. I was certain it was him in the video, but when I held his head in my hands and looked in his eyes, there was no question that was my brother.”
Except, he may not be.
In 2014, DNA testing proved Dan Tan Ngoc could not be John Hartley Robertson. Robertson’s niece, Cyndi Hanna, called the result “very disappointing.” Yet, the Robertson family still believes Ngoc is their missing loved one. Gail Metcalf, daughter of Robertson’s sister, Jean bases this on a oxygen isotope analysis performed on the man’s tooth. The family set up a Go Fund Me page to help raise money for DNA testing and Master Sgt. Robertson’s repatriation. Salt Lake City’s IsoForensics Inc., performed the test for the filmmakers and came to the conclusion it is “very likely” Ngoc grew up in U.S., a result the family takes to heart.
“We only want to do right by my Uncle John,” Metcalf told Stars and Stripes. “If that means exploring the possibility that the U.S. government has made a mistake or that the man claiming to be my uncle is actually another lost American and doesn’t know who he is, we intend to seek the truth on our own terms.”
This is often done by the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, attached to the 403rd Wing, based out of Keesler Air Force Base near Biloxi Mississippi.
According to a release by the 403rd Wing, WC-130J Super Hercules weather reconnaissance planes have already made 10 flights into Hurricane Harvey, presently a Category 2 storm slated to reach Category 3 when it makes landfall in Texas.
Each plane has a crew of five: a pilot, co-pilot, a weather reconnaissance officer, a navigator, and a loadmaster.
During the flights through Harvey, the Airmen made dozens of passes through the eye of the hurricane, braving the strong winds in the center of the storm. On each pass, a device known as a “dropsonde” is released, providing data on dew point, pressure, temperature, and of course, wind speed and direction.
That data is sent out immediately to the National Hurricane Center.
“As the Hurricane Hunters, our data is time sensitive and critical for the [National Hurricane Center],” Maj. Kendall Dunn, 53rd WRS pilot explained. “This storm is rapidly intensifying.”
You’d think these pilots would be full-time Air Force, but you’d be way off. These gutsy crews who brave the wrath of nature are with the Air Force Reserve – meaning that many of them are taking time off from their regular lives to serve their country. You can see them in action monitoring Hurricane Harvey in the video below.
In a time before pocket-sized supercomputers and super sturdy G-Shock watches, the precise timekeeping required for military operations was accomplished with complex yet robust timepieces powered by a compressed spring and a series of gears, wheels, and levers. Today, while the advent of wearable computers has made this technology obsolete, watch enthusiasts and military buffs alike can celebrate the fact that the official watch of the French Air Force has been made available for purchase by the general public for the first time.
Founded in 1948 by Henry Louis Belmont, Yema went on to become one of the premiere French watchmakers of the 20th century. Those that aren’t familiar with the history of watchmaking may be surprised to learn that English and French watchmakers were the premiere artisans of the industry before the Swiss. In fact, the Swiss rose to the horological prominence that they hold today because farmers would manufacture copied parts of English and French timepieces during the cold Swiss winters. Even Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf, a massive anglophile himself, started his watchmaking career in London before high taxes, the outbreak of WWI, and anti-German sentiment in Britain forced him to relocate to Switzerland.
A vintage advert for the Superman (Yema)
Despite the transition of watchmaking prominence to the Swiss during the 20th century, Yema found great success through their partnerships. Their racing chronograph, the aptly named Rallygraph, was worn by Formula 1 icon Mario Andretti. The year 1982 saw a Yema become the first French watch worn in space when French Spaceman Jean-Loup Chrétien wore a Yema Spationaute 1 on a 10-day space trip. However, Yema’s most famous collaboration was with the French Air Force.
A French fighter pilot carries his flight helmet while wearing the Yema Superman FAF Black edition (Yema)
In 1963, Yema introduced the Superman dive watch. Developed for diving professionals, the watch possessed a water-resistance rating of 300m. In comparison, the 1963 Rolex Submariner 5513 was rated for 200m. The Superman was also equipped with a patented bezel-locking mechanism that prevented the timing bezel from being adjusted accidentally once it was set for a dive. These features, coupled with the watch’s toughness, durability, and French origin, made the Superman the natural choice for the French Air Force to equip both its pilots and rescue divers.
Although Yema survived the Quartz Crisis of the 1970s, an industry culling that killed off numerous traditional watchmakers, they were purchased by the Seiko Corporation in 1988. The company was sold back into French hands in 2004 and embarked on a mission to revive the tradition of French watchmaking. Although Yema does utilize off-the-shelf movements from Switzerland, the company spent four years developing a completely in-house caliber. The MPB1000 is the first proprietary automatic movement to be engineered and built by Yema, and the obvious choice to power their top-of-the-line models.
With the release of their very own French-made movement, Yema continued to rebuild their reputation using their strong heritage. In 2020, Yema again became the official timekeeping partner of the French Air Force and released the Superman French Air Force edition watch. Based on the standard Superman design, the FAF edition was designed in collaboration with French airmen including pilots and ground personnel. The watches are available in a variety of configurations to fit the preferences of any buyer. Case diameter can be had in 39mm or 41mm, finish can be had in either brushed stainless steel or with a black PVD coating, and the movement can be either a quartz-powered Swiss Ronda 515 or Yema’s automatic MPB1000 mentioned earlier. While all models bear the French Air Force red, white, and blue roundel on the case at 6 o’clock and on the crown as well as the French Air Force logo on the caseback, the automatic MPB1000-equipped models are limited to 1,948 pieces each for the steel and black models and are engraved with their series number.
(Left to right) Yema’s President Frank Minost, General Manger Christopher Bôle, French Air Force Chief of Staff General Lavigne, and Yema’s Brand Manager William Germain (Yema)
As a result of COVID-19, the initial release of the Superman FAF edition was delayed. However, Yema persisted and on June 26, Yema delivered the Superman FAF Black Limited Edition #0001/1948 to the French Air Force Chief of Staff, General Phillipe Lavigne. Priority delivery continued to French Air Force personnel until, eventually, orders by the general public were shipped. Additionally, Yema is donating up to 12.5% of FAF edition sales to the official French Veterans Foundation, FOSA. Today, limited edition models are still available and ready to ship internationally from Yema’s workshop in Morteau.
Before you go writing off the French Air Force, keep in mind that they are one of, if not the oldest military air service. They can trace their roots back to the French Army Air Service which predates even the Royal Flying Corps, the predecessor to the RAF. Today, the French Air Force has seen extensive combat action in the War on Terror flying combat missions in Mali, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. French pilots of the 21st century carry on their branch’s long legacy of warfighting and their watches are ready to accompany them into the skies.
Ships at sea have long had to contend with efforts to sink them. Traditionally, this was done by busting holes in the hull to let water in. Another way of putting a ship on the bottom of the ocean floor is to set the ship on fire (which would often cause explosions, blowing holes in the hull).
These days, however, threats to ships have become much more diverse and, in a sense, non-conventional. Chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) weapons have emerged as threats to seafaring vessels.
Marines train for a chemical weapons attack on civilians. While chemical weapons have often been used on land, they can also be used against ships.
(DoD photo by Senior Airman Daniel Owen, U.S. Air Force)
Nuclear weapons are obvious threats. If a ship is in very close proximity to the detonation of such a weapon, it’d quickly be reduced to radioactive dust. Further out, the blast wave and extreme heat would cause fires and do serious damage. Don’t take my word for it, check out Operation Crossroads. In a test, two nuclear blasts sank a number of retired ships, including the Japanese battleship Nagato and the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga (CV 3) that had survived many battles in World War II.
Chemical, biological, and radiological threats, though, are a bit more insidious. They don’t do direct damage to the warship, but can kill or incapacitate the crew. A warship without a crew faces some serious trouble. Thankfully, there’s a way to detect and mitigate such threats.
The Baker shot from Operation Crossroads — with the Japanese battleship Nagato on the left.
Currently, a Finnish company known as Environics is developing gear that monitors for CBRN threats. Once the alarms sound, the ship’s crew can then seal off the ship into a citadel. Afterwards, the decontamination process can begin.
While the use of chemical and biological weapons has been banned by international treaties, recent events in Syria show that, sometimes, political agreements don’t hold weight. Thankfully, systems like those from Environics will crews potentially in danger a way to protect themselves.
Over the past nearly 40 years, the now 93-year-old Mugabe has gone from an African independence hero to being widely perceived as an authoritarian tyrant.
Here’s a look at the life and career of the controversial Zimbabwe leader:
Robert Gabriel Mugabe was born February 21, 1924 in what was then Southern Rhodesia. The territory had been in British control since 1888.
Mugabe was born on a Catholic mission near Harare, now Zimbabwe’s capital, and educated by Jesuit priests. He first got work as a primary school teacher.
He moved to South Africa to attend the University of Fort Hare, known at the time as a center of African nationalism.
Mugabe is often compared with South African leader Nelson Mandela, another Fort Hare graduate who went on to lead his country out of white rule. While both men were revolution leaders, critics note the diverging paths they took once in power.
Returning to Southern Rhodesia, Mugabe became involved in politics. At the time, the country was dominated by white minority rule. Below, a Rhodesian government soldier holds African villagers at gunpoint in 1977, as they’re interrogated about anti-government guerrilla activity.
Perhaps the embodiment of white minority rule was Ian Smith, below on the right. Named prime minister of Southern Rhodesia in 1964, Smith quickly declared independence from Britain in 1965, naming the country Rhodesia. “The white man is master of Rhodesia. He has built it, and he intends to keep it,” Smith said.
Smith ruled over Rhodesia until 1980. He said in 1966 that “The white man is master of Rhodesia” and declared in 1976 that there would be no black majority rule, “not in a thousand years.”
Mugabe spent 10 years in jail — from 1964-1974 — for opposing white rule. While in prison, he earned three degrees, adding to four he already had.
Upon his release, he eventually gained leadership of the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army, which was locked in a brutal civil war with the Smith-led white government. Mugabe became known as the “thinking man’s guerrilla,” espousing Marxist ideas.
At the end of the war, Mugabe was elected Zimbabwe’s first black leader in 1980. His party, Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), was swept into power. Here he is emerging from parliament following its official opening, alongside his wife Sally.
Mugabe was quickly welcomed on the international stage, speaking at the United Nations General Assembly in 1980 as Zimbabwe became a newly admitted member.
Things started to change as Joshua Nkomo — a former Mugabe ally during their shared fight for an independent country — emerged as Zimbabwe’s leading opposition figure. Below are Mugabe, left, and Nkomo, right, as revolutionaries in 1976.
In 1982, Mugabe initiated military action in Matabeleland against perceived uprisings, blamed on Nkomo.
Mugabe sent North Korean-trained army units in to Matabeleland. Mass graves were later discovered — prompting accusations of genocide — and human rights groups estimated that 20,000 people died.
His first wife, Sally, seen by many as the only person capable of restraining him, died in 1992.
In 1996, Mugabe married his former secretary Grace Marufu, who eventually went on to become almost as controversial as her husband.
Mugabe became president of Zimbabwe in 1990, after serving as the country’s prime minister. During the decade, the government took increased control of the economy and land redistribution continued, in an effort to move the country’s prosperous white-owned farms to black ownership.
The 1990s also saw some of the first public uprisings against Mugabe, as students and workers took to the streets to protest the seemingly increasingly authoritarian government.
“Officially, Zimbabwe remains a parliamentary democracy, but in reality Mugabe presides over the country as a tyrant in the classical sense of the word: an autocrat who rules exclusively for his own gratification, with contempt for the common good,” Philip Gourevitch wrote in a 2002 New Yorker profile.
The new century saw Zimbabwe’s economy crash, shrinking by more than a third from 2000 to 2008. Unemployment skyrocketed to more than 80%.
Much of the blame for Zimbabwe’s economic woes could be blamed on the land reform programs, which amped up in 2000, as black war veterans violently took over white-owned farms, a move Mugabe supported.
By the end of the decade, Zimbabwe was hit was hyperinflation, abandoning its currency in 2009.
Despite both popular and political pressure, Mugabe refused to give up power. In 2008, Mugabe said “only God” could remove him from office.
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, writing from Zimbabwe in 2010, reported that many black citizens wanted a return to white rule. “It would have been better if whites had continued to rule because the money would have continued to come,” one 58-year-old farmer told Kristof. “It was better under Rhodesia. Then we could get jobs. Things were cheaper in stores. Now we have no money, no food.”
Mugabe’s age became increasingly apparent as he entered his 90s. A public and well-documented fall in 2015 was confusingly denied by the government.
As Zimbabwe prepared for general elections in 2018, there were few indications that the country would soon see the likely end of the world’s longest serving leader.
Mugabe’s rapid downfall started in mid-November, following the expulsion of two consecutive vice-presidents and the rise of Mugabe’s wife, Grace.
“Gucci” Grace Mugabe, as she has come to be known for his lavish spending in the face of the country’s poverty, had seen her own standing in Zimbabwe’s government quickly rise since taking over the ZANU-PF women’s league in 2014.
The Zimbabwe army took to the streets of Harare on November 15, placing the capital and the Mugabe family under military control.
On November 19th, Mugabe was widely expected to announce his resignation — but didn’t. Zimbabwe’s parliament has now pledged to impeach him if he doesn’t leave office.
Mugabe finally announced his resignation on Nov. 21.
In boot camp, Marine recruits must endure a 54-hour training event under intense mental and physical distress.
During the exercise, recruits will hike over 45 miles while taking on several obstacles that require strong problem-solving and teamwork. Every moment of the event is highly structured, planned well in advance, and done under strict Marine supervision. Toward the end of their days-long test, each recruit must negotiate one of the toughest hikes up one of the steepest hills in Camp Pendleton, best known as the “Reaper.” This is the final test before earning the title of U.S. Marine.
(Photo by Marine Sgt. Benjamin E. Woodle)
As darkness still blankets the recruits outside their berthing area, drill instructors blare their high-decibel horns to awaken those who are about to experience the Reaper. The young troops quickly pack up their heavy gear and begin the last 9.7-mile hike of basic training as they approach the 700-foot-tall hill.
As each recruit ascends the hill, the fatigue of spending days on minimal rations and little sleep sets in. Each of the recruits must now motivate one another to overcome the struggle and make it up the tall hill. This final hike pays homage to the brave Marines who willed themselves to the top of Mount Suribachi, securing the area from their Japanese enemy.
(Photo by Joe Rosenthal)
This final test of fortitude is just the beginning of a long career for these soon-to-be Marines, as life in the Corps is just as tough as the last 13-weeks they’ve endured. Pushed by an overwhelming amount of motivation, recruits surpass obstacles they didn’t know even existed before boot camp.
Recruits approach this final challenge, charging as hard as they can, screaming out war cries, and pushing their bodies beyond limits. Before they know it, they’ve reached their ultimate goal: becoming a United States Marine.
(Photo by Marine Lance Cpl. Mary Ann Hill)
Overcome with emotion, the young Marines open their palms to receive their Eagle, Globe, and Anchor from a once-demanding drill instructor, who now calls them a brother.
Check out Hard Corp Cadences‘ video below to witness this impressive final boot-camp test.
In some ways, the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program — which pairs National Guard elements with partner nations worldwide — started with a tuba.
“The Latvian military band needed a big tuba,” said retired Air Force Maj. Gen. John Conaway, the 22nd chief of the NGB and “father” of the SPP. “And we hauled a tuba over there.”
The trip with the tuba was part of the early planning stages for the program, which turns 25 in 2018.
“We delivered that tuba to the Latvian band and they were amazed to get it,” said Conaway. “That started the program with the first, initial visit.”
That first visit lead the way to a program that now has 74 partnerships with countries throughout the world. But it all started with three: Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
“We were received in grand fashion in all three places,” said Conaway, referring to that initial trip. Where it would go from there, he added, was then still unknown.
“We didn’t know what was going to happen,” he said. “But, we had the visit. That was the start.”
That first visit was the result of a simple directive from Army Gen. John Shalikashvili, then-supreme allied commander in Europe with NATO, and who would be appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1993.
“He called me up and said “we’ve got to help these new emerging democracies [in the Baltics],'” said Conaway, adding that after additional planning with Pentagon officials, he formed a small team and they started working with the State Department. That led to meeting with the presidents of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, as well as military officials in those countries.
“It looked like they wanted our help and we started talking about putting liaison officers from the National Guard on orders with them,” said Conaway. “Our role was to help make the transition [to democracy] as smooth as we could.”
The idea of liaison officers grew into tying specific Guard elements with specific countries.
“The [team] and I huddled and thought, “We’ve got tons of Lithuanians and Lithuanian-Americans living in Pennsylvania,'” Conaway said. “It fit. We’ll tie Lithuania to the Pennsylvania National Guard.”
(U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen)
The idea grew from there.
“There were a lot of Latvian-Americans in Michigan, so we got with the adjutant general [of the Michigan National Guard] and tied them together with Latvia,” said Conaway. “There are Estonian-Americans in Baltimore, and so we tied [Estonia] together with the Maryland National Guard.”
Conaway added there was little precedent to follow while developing the program.
“We were doing this off the back of an envelope back then,” he said. “It was happening so fast.”
By the time Conaway retired in November 1993, the SPP had 13 partnerships, primarily with former Eastern Bloc countries in Europe.
The following years saw new partnerships added from across the globe.
“It’s grown to 74 partnerships and that’s been an incremental growth of about two to three partnerships a year,” said Air Force Col. Donald McGuire, chief of the international affairs branch at the NGB.
As the program has expanded, the process for adding new partnerships has become more refined.
First, the country has to request to be a member of the program, said McGuire, adding that input from the State Department and the combatant command — the U.S. military command element overseeing specific geographic regions — goes along with that request.
“They collectively decide that this is a good country we want to nominate for selection into the program,” said McGuire, adding that from there staff work is done to determine the best course of action with pairing up elements for a partnership.
“It’s very analytical what the staff here does,” said McGuire. “They put a lot of hard work and brain cells against making sure they’re doing a good analysis to give the chief [of the NGB] the best recommendation they can.”
The long-term success of the program has come about, in part, from that intrinsic relationship with both the State Department and the combatant command, said McGuire. The SPP is nested with the command’s theater security cooperation plan and the State Department’s country study plan.
“It’s in tune with the combatant commanders, therefore, it’s in tune or synchronized with the National Defense Strategy,” McGuire said.
Building relationships, said McGuire, is one of the hallmarks of the program.
“This provides, perhaps, the most well-known and established international partnership capability the National Guard is involved with,” he said. “These are relationships that have grown over the course of time and continue to grow.”
Those relationships have not only seen partners in the program train together, but also work together in the wake of natural disasters and large-scale emergencies.
It’s also seen co-deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan and other areas.
“You wouldn’t have these countries and units deploying together, necessarily, if they didn’t already have this relationship.”
McGuire added that’s a significant element.
“That tells you a lot about the program,” he said. “These co-deployments are real-world operations, named contingencies that represent the next level of collaboration and coordination.”
Building collaboration and coordination is also key to building greater regional security, said Army Brig. Gen. Christopher F. Lawson, the NGB’s vice director of strategy, policy, plans and international affairs.
“In order to promote greater peace and stability in the world long into the future, we will need a program like the SPP because it helps nations transition from security consumers to security providers,” he said.
For Conaway, the continued growth of the program is more than he imagined 25 years ago.
“It is beyond my wildest dreams and imagination that it would be this passionate and this popular and the good the National Guard has done,” he said. “Here we are, 25 years after it started and the National Guard is just as enthusiastic as ever.”
The pairing of the West Virginia National Guard with Qatar was announced in April 2018, and McGuire said additional partnerships are in the coordination phase.
“We have a few more partnerships in the queue,” he said, adding he sees continued growth of the program over the next 25 years and beyond.
“It really is the entry point to a lot of good things that happen,” McGuire said.
Every year, thousands of motorcyclists descend on Sturgis, South Dakota for days of camaraderie, fanfare and riding. Despite COVID-19 restrictions, this year’s rally is still happening. Here are 5 wacky sights you have to see to believe.
The human bowling ball named Short Sleeve Sampson is considered by some as a rite of passage at Buffalo Chip and the Sturgis Rally. With his assistants, Lady Victoria and Summer, the midget wrestling icon lines up to be hurled down the lane at a set of bowling pins. Seeing country-music star Zac Brown partake in the action is like an odd cherry on top of a wacky sundae. That said, Zac Brown is joined on the list of midget bowlers by other famous artists like Rob Zombie, John 5 and Eric Church.
(Rapid City Journal)
2. The kangaroo at the wedding
When Lady Victoria married Marco Webber at the 2009 Sturgis Rally, she was escorted down the aisle by Jack the Kangaroo of Roo Ranch. Lady Victoria noted that her previous marriage ceremonies were very traditional and wanted to change things up. For his services, Jack received a BreathSavers mint, a favorite treat of his.
(Rapid City Journal)
3. Rhett Rotten and the Wall of Death
Sure, you could argue that it’s simple physics: counteracting gravity with sufficient velocity and centrifugal force. But, there’s just something fantastic about a man riding his motorcycle around on a wall. Did we mention that the wall is 12 feet high, 30 feet wide and 81 years old? If only Humvees were as reliable as the Wall of Death.
(Rapid City Journal)
4. Riding through a beer wall
If you’re riding, it means you’re not drinking. So what’s the next best thing? How about riding through the drink? Bursting through a wall of cold ones results in a fantastic display of foam that we can only imagine must be supremely refreshing and satisfying.
(Rapid City Journal)
5. A man in a barrel
This one is pretty self-explanatory. We’ll just leave it here for you to enjoy.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley warned his officer corps they shouldn’t expect the comforting conditions of bases in Iraq and Afghanistan in future conflicts, according to a Thursday speech in Washington, D.C.
Milley emphasized that future wars against enemies with similar technological capabilities won’t have many of the creature comforts of the forward operating bases in the Middle Eastern wars.
Soldiers and contractors wait on a Popeyes line after the grand opening of the South Park food court July 4, 2012 at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. The Army’s hard-charging chief of staff says future wars won’t feature amenities like Burger King, Popeyes, Pizza Hut, and a Village Cuisine. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Gregory Williams)
“There’s an entire generation of officers now that think — their own experience in combat is to fight from Victory base, or Bagram base, or fixed sites, where you have access to a variety of comfort items, if you will. Pizza Huts and Burger Kings and stuff like that,” he stated.
Milley continued that it was unlikely future wars would entail soldiers being on a base for a protracted period of time saying, “The likelihood of massing forces on a base for any length of time certainly means you’re going to be dead. If you’re stationary, you’ll die.”
He added, “we have got to condition ourselves to operate — untether ourselves from this umbilical cord of logistics and supply that American forces have enjoyed for a long time.”
Milley added that a plus side of this new type of combat will grant more autonomy to troops in the field, saying, “A subordinate needs to understand that they have the power and they have the freedom to disobey a specific order, a specified task, in order to accomplish the purpose.”
He explained, “If you knowingly walk over the abyss because you’re following this task and this task and this task, but you don’t achieve the purpose, you’re going to get fired.”
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