The thing about your regular habits in the military is that they are sometimes literally drilled into you. Chances are good you still have the urgent desire to remove your hat when you walk into a building. You probably fall into lock-step when anyone starts walking next to you and feel incredibly uncomfortable with the idea of putting your hands in your pockets. These are just the little things you’ve done for years, things you may not even notice.
There are many, many other things you probably do notice that you probably wish you could break – because you look ridiculous.
“I don’t know what you have planned for the weekend, Wayne, but I’m out.”
The bug-out bag in your trunk.
This one isn’t that big a deal. You’re basically ready to deploy to somewhere at a moment’s notice, even though you don’t need to be. Luckily, only the people who see inside your trunk (and probably also in your closet) will know about this one. But lo and behold, you are prepared for almost any eventuality, no matter when it happens. House fire? All set. Earthquake? Ready to go. Zombie apocalypse? Absolutely. Your go-bag contains food (probably an MRE), important papers, a water filter, and anything else you’ll need to survive or walk away with in case stuff hits the fan. Even if you don’t have this, you think you need to get one.
To the rest of the world, you might look like a crazy survivalist, but they’ll be dead, and you’ll be alive so who cares?
Does the driver of the vehicle you’re riding shotgun in need to know if he or she is clear on the right or left? That doesn’t matter because you’re going to tell them, and probably do it a little louder than your indoor voice. If, for some reason, there is some kind of vehicle or other object on the way, you’ll be sure to let them know exactly what it is and how far away it is from the vehicle. If not you’re letting them know: CLEAR RIGHT.
Extra points if you feel the need to fill up at half a tank and/or check the pressure of every tire, including the spare.
How to gain credibility in one easy photo.
Staring at everyone’s shoes.
Sure, that guy who interviewed you was the senior reporter for the local news channel, but it looks like he polished his shoes with a Hershey bar and was thus slightly less deserving of your respect. He probably also has terrible attention to detail as all people with rough-looking shoes must have, right? You know who those people are because you’re staring at shoes for a few seconds upon meeting literally anyone and everyone.
Eating too fast.
How does it taste? We may never know. Veterans could eat an entire Thanksgiving dinner during a Lions-Packers commercial break.
Carrying everything in your left hand.
When you’re in the military, this is not only a regulation, it just makes sense. How are you supposed to salute when your right hand is full? The answer is that your right hand should always be empty. When you’re out of the military, this is so ingrained in your muscle memory that you’ll carry a whole week’s groceries in one hand while your right is completely free.
When you find out White Castle has a free meal for veterans.
Moving with a sense of purpose for things that don’t warrant it.
There’s no reason to make a beeline for the prime rib at Golden Corral, but the actions of hundreds of veterans on Veterans Day would make one think otherwise. There’s a high probability veterans get annoyed at civilians who don’t move through the taco bar fast enough.
The JETS handheld targeting system “is a paradigm shift” in how field artillery can be used on the battlefield, Lt. Col. Michael Frank, product manager for Soldier Precision Targeting Devices, said in October. The system could turn a howitzer or the Paladin self-propelled artillery weapon “into a giant sniper rifle,” he added.
Twenty soldiers from the 8th Field Artillery Regiment and 377th Parachute Field Artillery Regiment recently put the system through its paces in a wide range of scenarios at Fort Greely, the Army said in a release.
The troops used the system’s infrared imager and color-day imager to detect and identify vehicles and personnel at various distances, determining whether each was a friend or adversary. They also tested the system in a simulated urban environment, clearing buildings, rooftops, and rooms in order to observe enemy forces in the area.
“Since the system is smaller, you don’t have to worry about bumping it around when clearing a building,” Sgt. Nicholas Apperson, of the 377the Parachute Field Artillery Regiment, said. “If you have to switch buildings, disassembling and reassembling the system is much quicker than other targeting devices.”
Soldiers were also placed at random rally points anywhere from 500 meters to 2 kilometers from their designated observation posts. After moving to their observation posts, they set up their systems and found targets all around them. They then set up fire missions and sent them to a simulated fire-support team using the new Precision Fires-Dismounted system, an app on the Nett Warrior device, which is an Android-enabled smartphone.
The soldiers were also deployed with maneuver units to walk ridgelines. Upon receiving simulated intelligence reports about enemy targets along their routes, the soldiers had to set up their systems and quickly acquire targets.
They averaged 40 fire missions on each 10-hour day.
Frank praised the system’s accuracy and compact design, and the soldiers testing it at Fort Greely lauded it for similar reasons.
“Its light weight makes it easy to take it out on a mission and utilize it to its fullest capability,” said Pfc. Anthony Greenwood of the 8th Artillery Regiment.
“The JETS system is definitely much lighter and a lot easier to pick up and learn all the functions quickly,” Staff Sgt. Christopher McKoy, also of the 8th Field Artillery, said in the Army release. “It is so simple that you can pick it up and learn it in five minutes.”
The Army currently has the Lightweight Laser Designator Rangefinder for targeting purposes, but it is larger and heavier than the JETS, weighing about 35 pounds. It’s also considered a crew-served system, though it is operated by a single soldier.
The JETS target-locator module weighs less than 5.5 pounds and the entire system, including a tripod and batteries, weighs about 20 pounds.
JETS underwent testing during 2017, including airdrop tests at Fort Bragg in North Carolina in August as well as operational testing at Fort Greely in October 2017.
The Pentagon has known for at least two decades about failures to give military criminal history information to the FBI, including the type the US Air Force didn’t report about the accused Texas church killer who assaulted his then-wife and stepson while serving as an enlisted airman.
The Air Force lapse in the Devin P. Kelley case, which is now under review by the Pentagon’s inspector general, made it possible for him to buy guns before the murderous attack Nov. 5 at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Twenty-six people were killed, including multiple members of some families. About 20 other people were wounded.
Rep. Mac Thornberry, the Texas Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said he was appalled at the Air Force mistake and unsatisfied by its plans to investigate the matter.
“I don’t believe the Air Force should be left to self-police after such tragic consequences,” he said, adding that he fears the failure to report domestic violence convictions may be more widespread.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Nov. 7 he has directed the Pentagon inspector general to review circumstances of the Kelley case and “define what the problem is.”
At its core, the problem is that military criminal investigative organizations have too frequently, for too long, failed to comply with rules for reporting service members’ criminal history data to the FBI.
As recently as February 2015, the Pentagon inspector general reported that hundreds of convicted offenders’ fingerprints were not submitted to the FBI’s criminal history database. The report found about a 30 percent failure rate for submitting fingerprints and criminal case outcomes. It did not determine the reasons for the lapses.
In February this year, the inspector general’s office launched a new review to assess compliance with updated reporting requirements. A spokesman, Bruce Anderson, said that review is ongoing.
The problem has persisted much longer.
A February 1997 report by the Pentagon inspector general found widespread lapses. Fingerprint cards were not submitted to the FBI criminal history files in more than 80 percent of cases in the Army and Navy, and 38 percent in the Air Force.
Failure to report the outcome of criminal cases was 79 percent in the Army and 50 percent in the Air Force, the report said. In the Navy, it was 94 percent.
“The lack of reporting to the FBI criminal history files prevents civilian law enforcement agencies from having significant information on military offenders,” the report concluded. It cited several reasons for the lapses, including ambiguous Pentagon guidelines and a lack of interest among the military services in submitting information to an FBI viewed as chronically overburdened with data.
“In their view, little benefit in solving cases is achieved by providing timely information,” the report said.
The 20-year-old review was prompted by an act of Congress rather than a specific instance, like the Kelley case, in which a reporting lapse allowed a violent offender to purchase weapons. Federal law prohibited him from buying or possessing firearms after his conviction. But because it was never added to the FBI’s database for background checks, Kelley was able to buy his guns.
Air Force records show Kelley initially faced charges of domestic violence for seven alleged incidents in 2011 and 2012. Five were withdrawn as part of a plea agreement, including two involving Kelley pointing a loaded gun at his wife. He pleaded guilty to striking, choking, and kicking his wife and hitting his stepson “with a force likely to produce death or grievous bodily harm.”
He was sentenced in November 2012 to one year in confinement and reduction in rank to E-1, the lowest enlisted rank. He was given a bad conduct discharge, which was carried out in 2014. The officer overseeing the case was Robin Rand, then a three-star general and now the four-star commander of Air Force Global Strike Command in charge of the service’s bomber force and nuclear missiles.
Edward Snowden, the man who exposed the breadth of spying at the US’s National Security Agency, has warned that an uptick in surveillance amid the coronavirus crisis could lead to long-lasting effects on civil liberties.
During a video-conference interview for the Copenhagen Documentary Film Festival, Snowden said that, theoretically, new powers introduced by states to combat the coronavirus outbreak could remain in place after the crisis has subsided.
Fear of the virus and its spread could mean governments “send an order to every fitness tracker that can get something like pulse or heart rate” and demand access to that data, Snowden said.
“Five years later the coronavirus is gone, this data’s still available to them — they start looking for new things,” Snowden said. “They already know what you’re looking at on the internet, they already know where your phone is moving, now they know what your heart rate is. What happens when they start to intermix these and apply artificial intelligence to them?”
It’s a standard fundraiser in the vein of GoFundMe and Kickstarter with the rewards provided by John Oliver and HBO’s Last Week Tonight.
The “Most American Day Ever” is the name of the sweepstakes. By making a donation, you’re entered to win. Different donations get different rewards, starting with these:
A French Press with coffee and two campaign mugs signed by John Oliver
Digital Thank You card
A personalized video message from John Oliver
An exclusive show memorabilia salmon signed by John Oliver
An Official Last Week Tonight script signed by John Oliver
There are other offerings, like T-shirts, mugs, or the simple virtue of making a donation to a worthy cause.
Team Rubicon is not your standard relief organization. They describe their mission as “Bridging the Gap” — referring to providing disaster relief between the moment a disaster happens and the point at which conventional aid organizations respond. This “gap” is primarily a function of time; the crucial window following a disaster when victims have traditionally been without outside aid. When the “Gap” closes – once conventional aid organizations arrive – Team Rubicon moves on.
The Most American Day Ever includes being picked up at the airport in New York in a Ford pickup truck, VIP tickets for you and a guest to a taping of “Last Week Tonight” where Oliver will throw a football at you “Tebow-Style.” You’ll also sit at John’s desk and get a tour of the studio.
To enter, go to Omaze.com/LastWeek, make a donation to Team Rubicon, get a chance to meet John Oliver, and help support veterans supporting disaster relief worldwide.
This isn’t the first time troops and veterans have rushed head-first into danger to aid civilians. During the horrific Las Vegas shooting in October, many veterans risked their lives to bring innocent people to safety and treated their wounds. In 2015, two Marines overpowered a gunman on a train in France. There are many examples of troops and veterans going above and beyond for citizens; but today, Second Lieutenant Robert McCoy, this one goes out to you.
Around 7:40 a.m. Dec. 18, an Amtrak train took a turn too fast, going 80 mph (129 kph) in a 30 mph (48 kph) zone, and derailed, plunging into the Southbound I-5 outside of Tacoma, Washington. On the scene was Second Lieutenant Robert McCoy from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, just next to the derailment site.
“I saw many people that were just paralyzed with fear and I don’t blame them at all. I mean, it was kind of a hard situation to watch unfold.” He tells KCPQ of Dupont, Washington. “The train is going south and I’m just kind of driving, just driving, and I hear a loud noise and I look up and I see the train and it hits the concrete walls on the side and when it hits the walls — the walls kind of exploded— and the train just falls off. I see the train fall and it kind of falls on itself… and it hits three vehicles that were in front of me — a semi, an F-150, and a Kia Soul.”
“I couldn’t afford to be scared, I couldn’t afford to be shocked. I had to do what I am called to do and focus and channel that and help these people around me get to safety as best as possible.”
He grabbed what gear he had in his truck — tourniquets and a CPR mask — and rushed to the teetering train cars. He and another volunteer climbed on a damaged semi-truck to reach survivors. They carried people who were ejected from the train to safety, away from the highway. Next, he noticed a woman dangling out of a train. Her daughter was trying to bring her back in so McCoy picked her up and brought her to a safe spot.
Second Lieutenant Robert McCoy saved 15 people before the police and firefighters arrived.
That said, the Brits will find that the U.S. Marines will do things a bit differently than Her Majesty’s lads. Here are a few things the Brits will need to do to make life “Oorah!” for American Leathernecks.
1. Schedule regular beer runs
The Brits may need to borrow a Supply-class replenishment ship just to have enough beer on hand for the Marines. You see, no thanks to Josephus Daniels the U.S. Navy doesn’t allow alcohol on board its vessels.
Royal Navy ships, on the other hand, are “wet,” and with the heat on carrier decks, Marines will get thirsty. The Brits will need sufficient supplies of Coors Lite to keep the Marines happy.
Oh, yeah, and when it comes to the harder stuff – figure that it might not hurt to have extras on stock. But they can leave the brandy and sherry ashore.
2. Ditch the tea and pile up the energy drinks
Earl Gray is not what most Marines will drink around 5:00pm. Forget even offering it.
Energy drinks on the other hand, are popular amongst all American service members. To fully understand how popular they are, keep in mind that according to a 2016 DOD release, Monster was the most popular cold beverage sold in the exchanges. In 2009, one exchange store reported selling 1,000 cans a week, according to an Army release.
Come to think of it… you may need a second replenishment ship for all the Monster that will be consumed. We’re sure Military Sealift Command will give a discount for leasing two Supply-class ships.
3. Stock coffee … and lots of it
While we’re talking about pick-me-ups, it may not be a bad idea to remember that the Marines will also drink coffee — and lots of it.
Leroy Jethro Gibbs from “NCIS” is not an aberration. The grouchiness if he doesn’t have his coffee – that’s not an aberration, either.
And the Marines have to have it.
That photo above was taken during the Battle of Iwo Jima. Trust me, if Leathernecks had their coffee during Iwo Jima — and did what they did there — you don’t want to see what Marines do without their coffee.
That might take a third Supply-class replenishment ship, by the way. MSC has to have a discount for leasing three, wethinks.
4. Add a rifle range
The Marines’ motto is, “Every Marine a Rifleman.” Even the jet jockeys.
So, you’re gonna need a range so the Marines can qualify on the M16A4 rifle and the M9 pistol. That means you’ll need a good backstop, plenty of ammo, and plenty of spare magazines for both (luckily the British L85 rifle uses the same magazines as the M16).
5. Brush up on what real football is
Also, depending on the time of year, you will be in football season.
No, we’re not talking the game with the black-and-white round ball. That’s soccer.
We’re talking real football. Eleven on a team, yes, but beyond that, the Brits will need to know the intricacies of the 46 defense, what “Cover 2” means, and just who Tom Brady, DeMarcus Ware, and Ezekiel Elliot are — among others.
Also, don’t even think of mentioning Manchester United in the same breath as the Chicago Bears. Just don’t.
Sgt. Trey Troney credits training he received from his unit’s medics for helping him save a man’s life after an accident on Interstate 20 near Sweetwater, Texas, Dec. 22, 2018.
Troney, 20, was on his way home to Raleigh, Mississippi, a small town about 1,085 miles east of Fort Bliss, for Christmas when he saw the accident at about 2 p.m. and pulled over.
Seeing Jeff Udger, of Longview, Texas, slumped over the steering wheel of his truck, Troney asked two other men to help him pry open the door. Udger had a bad gash on his head, and Troney took off his brand new “Salute to Service” New Orleans Saints hoodie and wrapped it around Udger’s head to help stop the bleeding.
At this point, Udger was still conscious enough to make a joke about it, Troney said.
“Well, this is Cowboy country, so I don’t know how I feel about you wrapping me up in a Saints hoodie,” Udger told Troney.
Soon after, however, Troney noticed that the left side of Udger’s chest wasn’t moving, and he realized Udger had a collapsed lung. Troney ran back to his Jeep, hoping he still had some first aid supplies left from the brigade’s recent rotation at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California. Sure enough, he had a Needle Chest Compression, or NCD, and an Individual First Aid Kit, or IFAK, so he grabbed them and ran back to Udger.
The scene of the accident on Interstate 20 near Sweetwater, Texas.
While his training made the use of the NCD second nature for Troney, he had to think fast after the NCD needle was too small to reach into Udger’s collapsed lung and relieve pressure.
Finding a ballpoint pen, he had an idea. He tore off the ends of the pen and took out the ink so it was just a hollow tube.
“I took the NCD and put it right in the hole and kind of wiggled (the pen) in with my hand in between the ribs and you just started to see the bubbles come out of the tip, and I was like, ‘OK, we’re good,'” said Troney.
The state trooper who had just arrived asked, “Did you just put an ink pen between his ribs?”
“I was like, ‘I did,'” Troney said. “And [the state trooper] was like, ‘he’s on no pain meds,’ and I said, ‘oh, he felt it, but he’s unconscious. He lost consciousness as I was running back to my Jeep because he had lost a lot of blood.'”
When the ambulance arrived about 10 minutes later, the paramedics credited Troney with saving Udger’s life, and the state trooper bought him food at the truck stop up the road. Still, Troney said he was afraid Udger might try to seek legal action if he had made any mistakes. To the contrary, Udger, as soon as he recovered enough to respond, has been contacting government officials, the media and Troney’s chain of command — all the way up to his brigade commander, Col. Michael Trotter — and telling them how thankful he is for Troney’s actions.
“In an urgent situation [Troney] showed amazing patience and continuous care,” said Udger in an email. “He kept talking to me and acted as if the situation was no pressure at all.”
In a phone interview, Udger said he is glad Troney left behind his email address so he could contact him, and he has offered to replace Troney’s hoodie. Troney said the loss of the hoodie means nothing to him and there is no need for Udger to replace it.
Doctors expect him to make a full recovery, said Udger.
Troney, a field artillery cannon crewmember assigned to Battery C, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, said the medics made sure soldiers knew the basics of combat medicine, and often reinforced and extended that training in between Howitzer fires in the field. Also, in El Paso’s 100-degree heat in the field, they would trade coveted DripDrop hydration packets for demonstrated knowledge of combat medicine.
Soldier Uses Ballpoint Pen, Football Sweatshirt To Save Man’s Life After Car Accident
“We train over and over; it’s like muscle memory. Not to sound biased, but at 2-3 … they’re some of the best combat medics that I’ve ever met,” said Troney.
Capt. Angel Alegre, commander, Btry. C, 2nd Bn., 3rd FA Regt., 1st SBCT, 1st AD, said he has worked with Troney for about a year and recently became his battery commander. Knowing Troney, his actions at the accident scene do not surprise him, he said.
“Put simply, he is a man of action and excels in times of adversity. It’s what he does best,” Alegre said. “Sgt. Troney is very attentive and places great emphasis on all Army training. To be available when needed as a Combat Lifesaver [Course] qualified [noncommissioned officer], and especially to have the IFAK readily available sitting in his vehicle, many could say is nothing short of a miracle.”
Troney has set the example and represented the battery, the battalion and the brigade very well, Alegre said.
“I will speak for all when I say we are very proud of one of our own, one of our best and brightest, being ready and able to answer when called upon to help someone in need,” Alegre said.
Troney said he has been in the Army for about three years and the incident taught him how his training can help others outside the Army.
“I was in a pair of jogging pants and a T-shirt on the side of a highway and somebody’s life depended on me slightly knowing a little bit [about emergency medical care],” Troney said. “It wasn’t anything crazy [that I knew], but to [Udger], it was his world.”
Troney said one of the things Udger told him in an email will always mean a lot to him: “Young man, you will always be my hero. Continue to give back to this world and the people in it. You truly will never know when you will make a life-changing impact to someone.”
Troney said he learned from the incident that you never know what a person might need.
“You’re just there and you might have what they need,” said Troney. “He needed an ink pen to the ribs. Luckily I had an ink pen.”
It’s a new world for military movies, a world where realism is just as important as the story. While movies like Heartbreak Ridge, The Hurt Locker, and Three Kings are memorable and entertaining, they just aren’t grounded in reality. That’s a big problem for a lot of veterans. It’s difficult to be immersed in a story set in your world when everything you see is slightly off in some way.
But the filmmakers behind Tango Down want to do more than produce a film that gets it right; they want to be able to produce other veteran films — with as many veterans working the films as possible. That vision just starts with Tango Down.
That’s where Andrew Dorsett and Rick Swift come in. They are Marine Corps veterans who decided to start writing after leaving the service.
Dorsett was in Marine Corps aviation between 1998 and 2010. After he got out, he became pretty sick of the corporate world and decided to start writing.
“Veterans are the most critical audience you can have,” says Swift. “One chevron out of place and you’ve lost them. And so many feel like Hollywood just doesn’t get it.”
Swift has loved movies his entire life and became a writer as soon as he got out of the Corps (he also writes a review blog called Film Grouch). He soon started working with actress Julia Ling (Chuck, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip) on the web series Tactical Girl. Now Ling, Swift, and Dorsett are collaborating on their short film, Tango Down.
“It’s very important to work with veterans when creating stories like this one, because they have the real experience,” says Micah Haughey, a producer on the film.
Where Tactical Girl was a funny, tongue-in-cheek series, Tango Down is a serious film, with a serious subject. It’s a film by veterans, for veterans. Still, don’t assume that’s what Tango Down is about. The team is serious about their work with the veteran community, but Tango Down isn’t about PTSD.
“There will be some levity in it,” says Swift. “It’s geared towards the veteran community, so there’s going to be some inside jokes that only veterans will get with insider things that only veterans will understand.”
The film is about the bonds formed through military service. It’s a film with action – but not so much an action film – that shows how real veterans might overcome significant challenges using the morals and integrity instilled in them through military service. From Afghanistan to the U.S., the film follows the paths of two friends after they leave the military.
If that sounds vague, you’re right. The filmmakers are careful not to give too much away.
“It’s going to be controversial,” says Dorsett. “It’s not about the broken veteran and that’s an important part. But it’s a very positive message. No politics, no criticism of policy. It’s a character study. We aren’t taking ourselves too seriously. We laugh, we crack jokes, but we know when to be serious.”
There are number of veteran-produced movies that made or are currently making the rounds on social media. Most famously was the film Range 15, an entirely crowdfunded effort by a group of prominent veterans to make “the best military movie ever.” Marine Corps veteran Dale Dye is pushing project designed to be as historically accurate as possible. And they all want to include as many veterans as possible.
So does the team making Tango Down. But Dorsett, Swift, and Ling aren’t just trying to make a movie, they’re trying to build a community of veterans who come together to make movies. In their view, a lot of veterans are adrift right now, seeking a voice. They want to show the world that vets have talent and don’t want to be viewed as a faceless mass.
Tango Down wants them to come and rejoin a unit with a mission – the first of hopefully many opportunities, including feature-length films.
“For all of the veterans working on Tango Down, there’s a genuine mission behind it to connect veterans, to create a community where veterans actually can connect with each other,” says Ling. “At the same time, we hope civilians can watch it and say ‘Wow, I appreciate the military a little bit more after watching this film.'”
To learn more about Tango Down or to see how you can be part of the community, visit their website. To help fund the film and the community, donate here.
Russia and neighboring Belarus have begun a joint military exercise near NATO’s eastern flank that has fanned already deep tensions between Moscow and the West.
Moscow and Minsk say the Zapad (meaning, “West”) 2017 exercise, scheduled from Sept. 14 to 20 in Belarus and parts of western Russia, is officially set to involve 12,700 troops.
But Western officials have said the maneuvers could include some 100,000 personnel in what they call a Russian show of power amid the ongoing standoff with the West over Russian aggression in Ukraine.
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite was among those who voiced alarm about Zapad 2017, saying the military exercises are a sign that Russia is preparing for a serious conflict with NATO.
“We are anxious about this drill…It is an open preparation for war with the West,” she told reporters.
“This is designed to provoke us, it’s designed to test our defenses, and that’s why we have to be strong,” British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon told the BBC on Sept. 10.
Russia, meanwhile, has pushed back against what it portrays as Western alarmism over the drills, the first to be held in close proximity to NATO member states since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.
Moscow insists that the size of the exercise will not cross the 13,000-troop threshold that, under Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe rules known as the Vienna Document, would require it to notify other countries and open the maneuvers to observers.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused the West on Sept. 14 of “whipping up hysteria” over its military exercises.
“We reject complaints of these exercises not being transparent,” Peskov told a conference call with reporters. “We believe that whipping up hysteria around these exercises is a provocation.”
Colonel General Andrei Kartapolov, commander of Russia’s Western Military District, said in an interview published by the Russian military’s official Krasnaya Zvezda newspaper on Sept. 13 that the number of troops and hardware used in the drills “will fully comply with the Vienna Document.”
The Zapad exercise is held every four years in rotation with drills in other parts of Russia.
Western governments have responded to Russia’s 2014 seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and backing of separatists in eastern Ukraine with several waves of economic and other sanctions targeting Moscow.
NATO has also bolstered its presence in its easternmost member states that were dominated by Moscow during the Cold War and remain concerned about the Kremlin’s intentions in the region.
Belarus, where part of the Zapad 2017 exercise is being held, borders Ukraine as well as NATO members Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia. The drills are also being staged in Russia’s western exclave of Kaliningrad, which lies between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in Estonia last week that the military alliance would send three observers.
“But these invitations fall short from the transparency required by the OSCE: briefings on the exercise scenario and progress, opportunities to talk to individual soldiers, and overflights of the exercise,” Stoltenberg told reporters on Sept. 6 during his visit to a NATO contingent in Tapa, Estonia.
“We will monitor the [Zapad 2017] activity closely, and we are vigilant but also calm, because we don’t see any imminent threat against any NATO ally,” Stoltenberg added.
In an interview with Reuters in Berlin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s foreign policy adviser Kostiantyn Yeliseyev said on Sept. 14 that Zapad 2017 is “very dangerous since they are taking place just near the border with Ukraine.”
Yeliseyev added that the exercises’ purpose is to “destabilize the military situation close to the border with NATO member states” and to “keep as long as possible Russian military troops and weaponry near the [Ukrainian] border and then to use them as a platform for a possible future offensive operation.”
Russia, which has repeatedly accused NATO of stoking regional tensions through enlargement after the fall of the Iron Curtain and deployments in Eastern Europe in the aftermath of the Ukraine crisis, has called Western concerns about the Zapad drills baseless, saying the exercise is “purely defensive.”
Kartapolov told Krasnaya Zvezda that in addition to the stated 12,700 troops — around 7,200 from Russia and 5,500 from Belarus — Zapad 2017 included about 70 aircraft and up to 680 pieces of military hardware, including tanks, artillery units, and ships,
During the drills, the joint Russian-Belarus operations are targeting a theoretical adversary attempting to undermine the government in Minsk and establish a separatist stronghold in western Belarus.
This scenario echoes Russian concerns over what Moscow calls Western-orchestrated political revolutions in its backyard, most notably in Georgia in 2003 and in Ukraine, where President Viktor Yanukovych, a Kremlin ally, was ousted in early 2014.
The United States and the European Union have repeatedly rejected such allegations, calling those events the result of grassroots anger against corrupt regimes in the former Soviet republics.
Watch Russia kick off the Zapad ’17 exercises in video below.