In 2019, the Army approved a new rifle qualification and individual weapons training strategy. The old qualification, the automated record fire, was developed back in 1956. Since then, the Army’s battles and the way it fights them have changed. The new qualification, the rifle and carbine qualification, was developed with the same principle as the Army Combat Fitness Test. It more holistically assesses a soldier’s ability to employ situational awareness, safe weapon handling, and core marksmanship competencies.
Due to COVID-19 considerations, full integration of the new rifle qualification in 2020 was slowed. However, more and more units in both Forces Command and Training and Doctrine Command are starting to test their soldiers on the new standards.
Training and evaluation for the rifle and carbine qualification is broken down into six tables: preliminary marksmanship instruction and evaluation, pre-live fire simulation training, magazine and shooting position drills, grouping and zeroing, practice qualification, and qualification. “Soldiers start by receiving a series of classes on how to properly zero the rifle, whether it’s a bare rifle or with optics,” said Staff Sgt. Tadeysz Showers, assigned to the 25th Sustainment Brigade. “Soldiers received classes on laser bore sight, Minute of Angle (MOA), zeroing process, windage, ballistics, and also received EST training and practiced position changes before going to a live range.”
The rifle qualification consists of four firing phases for which soldiers will employ four magazines with 10 rounds each. 40 targets will pop up on their own or in groups for varying lengths of time depending on their distance. Soldiers will fire from the standing unsupported, prone unsupported, prone supported, kneeling supported, and standing supported positions. A barricade is used to simulate cover and provide a more stable shooting position for supported fire. Transitioning between positions and changing magazines are integrated organically into the course of fire in order to more closely simulate real-world combat situations. “The old rifle qualification did not help in combat situations, so they incorporated magazine exchanges and position changes by yourself to represent combat,” said Staff Sgt. Tadeysz Showers, assigned to the 25th Sustainment Brigade. “No matter the military occupational specialty (MOS), any MOS can teach a Soldier how to do this new weapons qualification.”
Whereas commanders could previously dictate whether or not their soldiers could shoot “slick” without their body armor and helmet, the new rifle qualification requires soldiers to wear them. Magazines are retained on the soldier’s gear rather than laying ready on the ground or on a sandbag in order to more closely simulate a combat situation. The first shot of the qualification will be on a close-range target from the standing unsupported firing position. From there, soldiers will transition into the prone unsupported firing position and engage the next nine targets through a port in the bottom of the barricade. The last 30 targets will appear in three waves of 10 with soldiers conducting magazine and firing position changes on their own in between.
The new qualification also includes guidance for night and CBRNE shooting. Soldiers will be expected to utilize night-vision goggles, IR lasers, and gas masks to engage targets under adverse conditions. The inclusion of these variables reflects the Army’s return to training for a near-peer fight against conventional armies. Additionally, soldiers will no longer be given alibis. Previously, if a soldier experienced a weapon malfunction during their course of fire, they could be given the opportunity to re-shoot. Now, soldiers will be expected to assess and clear the malfunction during the course of fire and continue to engage targets. Any missed targets during this time will count against them. While this can make the qualification more difficult, it encourages soldiers to build the muscle memory necessary to address such variables under stress.
Some aspects of the old rifle qualification have carried over though. Soldiers are still required to hit 23 of the 40 targets in order to qualify. 23-29 hits earns a Marksman qualification, 30-35 hits earns a Sharpshooter qualification, and 36-40 hits earns an Expert qualification. “This new weapons qualification is more combat oriented with changing positions, changing magazines and engaging the targets,” said Sgt. Octavius Moon assigned to the 25th Sustainment Brigade. “This will help Soldiers shoot better as well as make ranges faster and have more Soldiers qualified. It helps Soldiers become more knowledgeable about their weapon as well.”
In the military, we’ve been trained to dress, work, and even negotiate. Here are a few of the most common military “pet peeves” that can be turned into positives while adjusting to civilian life.
1. Attention to detail
You notice EVERYTHING! How one dresses, how their hair is a little more shaggy, or their desk is a little more crowded…
USE IT! Focus your attention to detail toward what they do well, compliment them, and turn your attention toward editing yourself, your work and your portrayal of yourself. Civilians do not know the world you’ve come from, and won’t appreciate it until you let them in. Teach them through actions to focus on a RELEVANT set of details.
2. To be early is to be on time
Unless you’re using the “European” or “island time” mentality, you’ve been accustomed to being 15 minutes early to everything. That’s great, and your pet peeve for others just being “on time” should be dismissed. Why? Simply because YOU were holding sentry, observing the area. And though others may have missed something, in your opinion, you can be their eyes and ears and report as needed. Your pet peeve for them has now become an asset. Hey, take those 15 minutes to meditate! A little spiritual centering never hurt anyone.
3. Doing the ‘right’ thing when no one is looking
Veterans adjusting to civilian life still have Integrity. Have it. Just because you may notice that your co-workers lack it: BE the example, and begin to teach your ways through assertive practice. Don’t be a tattle-tale, but teach the benefits of integrity. The honest worker is not only trustworthy, but loyal. Loyalty is leadership.
4. Active listening
Having drill sergeants and MTIs for motivation make for a quick lesson in active listening! However, civilian folks do not have a comparative analysis for this quick and dirty “study.” Again, BE the example, be a mentor. Engage. Listen. Decide. Reply. Print it and put it on your desk. Through your actions, and your awareness of this personal lacking in others, you are building your relationships around you passively; and believe me, they’re watching, and learning. Just remember, listening has no words…so truly LISTEN.
Use your pet peeves to your advantage while adjusting to civilian life by modifying your perception of the situation these are seen in. Simply because you are a modeled machine with certain values and habits does not mean that those around you do not possess these same values; they may just be dormant, culturally unpracticed, or uncultivated. As always, we live to teach whether we want to or not, so speak softly, and rather than “carry a big stick” as Teddy Roosevelt would have you, carry your arsenal of tools in a positive light.
The deaths of four U.S. Special Forces soldiers in Niger last month have raised questions about America’s role in the fight against violent extremism in a sparsely populated region of Africa.
Before the October attack, in which at least four Nigerien soldiers were also killed, some members of Congress said they were aware of U.S. operations in Niger, but others — including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) — said they did not know U.S. troops were on the ground in Niger.
U.S. involvement includes more than 800 troops, according to Pentagon officials. There are also two drone bases in the country.
Niger and Burkina Faso want the U.S. to do more to support local governments in their fight against extremism, mainly by funding a new regional task force. The first-year operating budget for the five-nation force has been projected at $500 million. The United States is considering making a contribution of $60 million.
A decade of involvement
The heightened U.S. presence in the Sahel dates back to at least 2007, when the Pentagon established the United States Africa Command, AFRICOM. The command, based in Stuttgart, Germany, works with regional partners in Africa to strengthen security and stability. Since at least 2013, U.S. forces have conducted missions to train, advise, and assist in Niger, collaborating with local authorities to clamp down on armed extremists.
Niger has been a particularly important strategic partner in the region. During the Obama administration, the U.S. built drone bases in the capital, Niamey, and in the northern city of Agadez.
“Because the government of Niger has been a strong ally to the counterterrorism efforts, it’s been natural for the United States to station its counterterrorism forces in that country,” said Lisa Mueller, an assistant professor of political science at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota.
But the Green Berets’ deaths have brought new scrutiny to U.S. partnerships in the Sahel, and it is unclear how — or if — the Trump administration might shift its policy in the region.
Some activists and U.S. lawmakers are concerned that some regional partners have authoritarian governments. Even Niger, said Brandon Kendhammer, an associate professor and director of the International Development Studies Program at Ohio University, is “problematically democratic.”
Still, Kendhammer characterized U.S. involvement as a net positive. “It’s pretty clear that these investments do make a real difference in the ability of the region to provide its own security,” he said.
Seeking input has been key to that success, according to Kendhammer. Despite perceptions among some observers that AFRICOM works unilaterally, the command has a track record of seeking local expertise and wide-ranging perspectives, Kendhammer said.
Green Beret deaths
Pentagon officials expect to complete their investigation into the Niger attack in January.
Based on what is now known, the U.S. soldiers killed last month were involved in exactly the kind of work that troops stationed in the Sahel undertake, Kendhammer said.
A big part of that role involves training local forces via workshops and fieldwork. Training can cover everything from basic operations to advanced tactics, including rapid response to terrorist attacks. To maximize their impact, the U.S. follows a “train the trainer” model, Kendhammer said, working with elite local forces who, in turn, share knowledge and skills.
No one has claimed responsibility for the October attack, but the Pentagon suspects possible involvement by militants affiliated with the Islamic State group, one of several extremist organizations operating in the Sahel.
That presence typically involves local militants who pledge allegiance to an international organization like IS or al-Qaida. Such an affiliation might signal tenuous ties — occasional mention in an IS publication, for example — or ongoing communication with the broader network.
Either way, affiliating with an established terrorist organization can be more pragmatic than ideological. According to Kendhammer, the particular group alleged to be behind the Niger attack was previously affiliated with al-Qaeda and switched in 2015 or 2016 to find a better strategic partner.
The tactics employed by local militants hinge on undermining U.S. efforts. As VOA previously reported, it is likely that villagers in Tongo Tongo, where last month’s attack occurred, helped lure U.S. and Nigerien forces into a trap. The villagers’ willingness to assist militant groups reflects concerted efforts within those factions to build trust with local populations while fomenting contempt for America.
Daily Beast contributor Philip Obaji Jr. reported this month that residents of Tongo Tongo blamed the U.S. for a 2016 grenade attack that killed six children. No evidence has linked the U.S. to the incident, but local militant groups have pushed the narrative of an American-led slaughter to “win the hearts and minds of the local population,” Obaji wrote.
Governments in the Sahel say they need far more funding to carry out critical missions tied to two task forces: the newly-formed G5 counter-terrorism force and the Multinational Joint Task Force, a longstanding effort based in Chad that has been revitalized to fight Boko Haram.
Burkina Faso’s minister of foreign affairs, Alpha Barry, told VOA’s French to Africa service this month that the G5 force needs more help from the U.S., whose recent pledge will assist regional militaries but not the G5, according to Barry.
Despite its bases and troop deployments, U.S. investment in the Sahel, particularly in Mali and Niger, has so far been eclipsed, both financially and militarily, by the EU and France, Mueller said.
Concerns about lack of funding and efforts to demonize the U.S. may have a common solution: more local initiatives and buy-in. But bringing those solutions to fruition is easier said than done.
“In U.S. government discourse about West Africa, [we tend] to talk about the need for everything to be regionally oriented and for everything to be an African solution to an African problem. And those are good ideas in principle, but they don’t always translate directly into obvious policy,” Kendhammer said. “Not every regional initiative is going to be the right regional initiative. Not every local solution is going to be the local solution that’s actually going to solve the problem because countries have different interests.”
In the end, countries’ interests will dictate how well a solution works. In the Sahel, that’s complicated by a diverse host of local players, each with its own economic and security concerns.
For Niger, fighting extremism is less about combating a homegrown threat and more about securing its borders. “It might be tempting to look at Niger – a country that is approximately 99 percent Muslim in its population – and assume that Nigeriens are radicalizing. And as far as I can tell, that’s just not the case,” Mueller said.
Instead, threats have spilled into the country from all sides, putting Niger in the crosshairs.
While the Air Force has gotten the F-35A to its initial operating capability, the service is having a ton of other problems — problems that could place the ability of the United States to control the air in doubt.
According to a report by FoxNews.com, the service is short by about 700 pilots and 4,000 mechanics. This is not a small issue. A shortage of well-trained pilots can be costly.
F-16s fly beside a KC-135 during a refueling mission over Ramstein Air Base, Germany. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Preston Cherry)
In World War II, the United States had a strict policy of rotating experienced pilots back to the states. This is why John Thach, the inventor of the Thach Weave, had only seven kills in World War II, according to Air University’s ace pilots list.
He was sent back to train the pilots needed to fly the hundreds of F6F Hellcats and F4U Corsairs. By contrast, Japan kept pilots on the front line until they were shot down or badly wounded. It cost them experience.
Maintenance personnel also matter. A fighter on the flight line does no good if it can’t fly, and the mechanics are the folks who keep it functional. The thing is, no mechanic — no matter how good he or she is — can fix two planes at once.
So why is the United States Air Force facing this much of a shortage? An Air Force release notes that the decline took place over the last ten years, but was exacerbated by the sequestration cuts of 2011.
“The risk of manpower shortage is masked and placed on the backs of Airmen,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein said in that release. “Because if you go back and look at the data and the way we measure readiness, did we taxi? Yes. Did we launch? Yes. Did we make the deployed destination and accomplish the mission? Yes.”
But accomplishing the mission came at a price, Goldfein explained. “What’s masked is the fact that the shortage of people has fundamentally changed the way we do business in terms of the operational risk day to day.”
When asked for a comment by the writer, Elaine Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness said,
“I’m not aware of an official survey to confirm what may be going on, but it appears that the mystique of being an [Air Force] pilot has been eroded by a combination of budget cuts and social agendas; e.g., Air Force Secretary Deborah James’ Diversity Initiative Fact Sheet. Mandates such as this clearly indicate that qualifications and high standards are not very important, and certain types of applicants need not apply.”
Donnelly also pointed to aircraft readiness issues in the Navy and Marine Corps, as well as the many aging airframes in the U.S. inventory.
Also of note – FoxNews.com noted that in 1991, the Air Force had 134 fighter squadrons. Today, there are only 55, marking a reduction of 59% in the number of fighter squadrons.
A single man earned the nickname “wilderness ninja” after he successfully evaded more than 1,000 uniformed police officers, helicopters, and vehicles in Pennsylvania – not unlike the character of John Rambo in the movie First Blood. Unlike Rambo, however, Eric Frein wasn’t just minding his own business. He’s a convicted terrorist and murderer who killed a state trooper and wounded another before he was apprehended.
Frein was a war re-enactor who loved the Balkan Conflict.
There’s no mistaken identity in this case. In 2017, Eric Frein was convicted of murdering a Pennsylvania state trooper while wounding another. He was sentenced to die in a decision that was upheld three times. Frein was an avid war re-enactor, self-taught survivalist, and expert marksman who had extensive firsthand knowledge of the Poconos, where he eluded law enforcement officers. He even managed to avoid being tracked with heat-sensitive cameras. The war gamer was driven by his beef with law enforcement, who called in every available agent to assist in the hunt.
U.S. Marshals, the ATF, FBI, and state and local police scoured county after county for the man they say spent years planning the murder of police officers as well as his escape into the forests and hills. Many survival specialists told the media that Rein seemed to be an expert-level survivalist who was likely hiding in caves and below dense underbrush to hide his movement.
U.S. Marshals injured Frein’s face during his apprehension.
But Frein was no genius. On Sept. 12, 2014, he opened up on the Pennsylvania State Troopers Barracks in Blooming Grove, Pa. with a .308-caliber rifle, killing Cpl. Byron Dickson III and wounding Trooper Alex Douglass. He was living in his parents’ home at this time and driving his parents’ Jeep. While speeding away from the scene, he lost control of the vehicle and drove it into a nearby swamp. He escaped and walked home, leaving his Social Security Card and shell casings from the incident inside the Jeep. It was discovered by a man walking his dog three days later.
By then, Frein was long gone.
The shooter escaped into the Poconos of Northern Pennsylvania for nearly two full months, evading capture, leaving booby traps and pipe bombs, and using the terrain to his advantage. He was almost caught on a few occasions, including a visit to his old high school. He managed to stay free until Oct. 30, 2014, when U.S. Marshals chased him down in a field near an abandoned airport.
Frein was arrested with the handcuffs of Byron Dickson, the officer he killed.
Eric Frein, of course, pled not guilty to all the charges slapped on him, including first-degree murder and attempted murder. It didn’t matter though, but after some legal wrangling, Frein was convicted of all charges, including two counts of weapons of mass destruction in April 2017. He was sentenced to die by lethal injection and awaits his sentence to this day.
But while the markets may have seen violent swings in the immediate aftermath of the vote to leave, the longer-term political ramifications of a Brexit are interesting to consider, too.
Earlier in the day, Eurasia Group President Ian Bremmer tweeted that the Brexit is “the most significant political risk the world has experienced since the Cuban Missile Crisis.”
When asked to explain what he meant by that comparison, Bremmer told Business Insider in an email: “Yes it’s a significant shock for the near term. But it’s the tipping point it reflects longer term that really matters. Much, much more G-Zero.”
The term “G-Zero world,” coined by Bremmer and political scientist David F. Gordon, refers to a power-vacuum world in which “major powers set aside aspirations for global leadership – alone, coordinated, or otherwise – and look primarily inward for their policy priorities.”
In this kind of environment, global governance institutions become confrontational hotspots, and, as a result, economic growth and efficiency slows.
As for the Brexit, it has “enormous long-term and structural impact” and “critically undermines the Transatlantic Alliance – the most important alliance in the postwar era,” Bremmer said.
It “sharply weakens and probably leads to eventual disintegration of the UK” and “also ends further EU integration,” he said, “while the Brits need to be maximally punished by EU countries to ensure there isn’t a path for further exit.”
For what it’s worth, Bremmer isn’t the only one who warned of long-term political ramifications of a Brexit, including less EU integration going forward.
Ahead of the Brexit vote, a Citi Global Economics research team led by Ebrahim Rahbari, Willem Buiter, and Tina M. Fordham expressed similar sentiments in a note:
“We are very skeptical that the Eurozone and EU would respond to Brexit with attempts to deepen integration in the near-term. … Opposition to further European integration is fairly widespread across EU countries, both north and south and both debtor and creditor countries. We would therefore mostly expect a ‘freeze’ in terms of integration even though some areas may well see further headway (e.g. for existing initiatives in various areas, including banking union, capital markets union or energy union or some movement towards a Eurozone chamber in the European Parliament).”
Similarly, earlier in the week, a Deutsche Bank research team argued that in light of upcoming European elections and ongoing large-scale economic and political challenges like the migrant crisis, Europe is unlikely to see deeper coordination:
“Beyond the immediate risk events of the Brexit referendum and Spain election, geopolitical agenda remains in focus. This backdrop makes policy progress very unlikely as domestic politics drive the agenda [leading to] limited room for country-level structural reform [and] little progress toward EU or eurozone reform or integration.”
The team added that “policy uncertainty is and will remain high,” and noted that policy uncertainty in Europe is now around 2011-12 levels comparable to those during the height of the eurozone crisis.
Iran’s judiciary says the country has executed a man convicted of providing information to the United States and Israel about a top Iranian commander later killed by a U.S. drone strike in Iraq.
“Mahmud Musavi-Majd’s sentence was carried out on Monday morning over the charge of espionage so that the case of his betrayal to his country will be closed forever,” the judiciary’s Mizan Online website reported on July 20.
Iranian authorities in June said Musavi-Majd passed on information about the whereabouts of Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ (IRGC) elite Quds Force, who was killed in a U.S. air strike near Baghdad in January.
The judiciary said last month that Musavi-Majd’s death sentence had been upheld by the Supreme Court and would be carried out “soon.”
The execution came a day after three men linked to anti-government protests last November received stays from the death penalty amid a massive social-media campaign calling for Iran to halt state executions.
In retaliation for Soleimani’s killing in the early hours of January 3, an Iranian ballistic-missile strike on an Iraqi air base left some 110 U.S. troops suffering from traumatic brain injuries.
Hours later, Iranian forces shot down a Ukrainian passenger airliner taking off from Tehran, killing all 176 people on board. Iran blamed a misaligned missile battery and miscommunication between soldiers and superior officers.
Iranian officials did not say whether Musavi-Majd’s case was linked to Iran’s announcement in the summer of 2019 that it had captured 17 spies working for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
It said some of them had been sentenced to death.
The report comes after Iran’s judiciary announced on July 14 that a former Defense Ministry worker convicted of selling information to the CIA had been executed.
Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said on July 14 that Reza Asgari had been in touch with the CIA during his last years serving at the Defense Ministry and sold the agency information about Iran’s missile program.
Esmaili said Asgari was executed a week earlier, adding that he had worked in the aerospace department of the Defense Ministry and retired four years ago.
A recent online protest against executions has been joined by many Iranians — including ordinary citizens as well as intellectuals, former politicians, and prominent artists.
In the face of the protest, Iran’s judiciary ordered a retrial for Amir Hossein Moradi, 25, Said Tamjidi, 27, and Mohammad Rajabi, 25.
Their lawyers said they were maintaining hope that the sentences could be reversed.
But the head of Iran’s judiciary, hard-line cleric Ebrahim Raisi, downplayed that possibility.
“You should listen to protests, but unrest and riots that endanger the country’s security are our red line,” Raisi said on July 20.
The three were among many who were arrested in a brutal crackdown against demonstrators who took to the streets in dozens of cities and towns across Iran in November 2019.
Analysts said the social-media campaign was unprecedented in its scope and the level of participation of Iranians both within and outside Iran.
Amnesty International recorded 251 executions in Iran during 2019, making Iran second to China in state executions.
Clouds make way for the first pass of combat controllers from the U.S. and Polish forces as they free fall out of an MC130J Commando during a culmination exercise near Krakow, Poland recently. The joint team is determined to put all their recent training into action as they steer their parachutes onto the calculated target.
“We are in Poland to strengthen our already capable POLSOF allies by advising them on how we conduct special operations air land integration,” said the 321st Special Tactics Squadron commander, assigned to the 352nd Special Operations Wing, based in the United Kingdom. “This will give our Polish allies the ability to survey, secure and control an austere airfield anywhere in Poland.”
The exercise was based on a real-world scenario which featured jumping into and seizing an unimproved airfield, where they completed tasks such as deploying undetected into hostile combat and austere environments, while simultaneously conducting air traffic control and command and control.
Pararescuemen from the U.S. Air Force’s 321st Special Tactics Squadron assigned to the 352nd Special Operations Wing in England, conduct a medic response scenario during a culmination exercise near Krakow.
(Photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Pena)
“The CULMEX was our final chance to see everything we’ve trained with our Polish counterparts,” said the 321st STS mission commander. “The 321 STS is extremely impressed with the high level of partnership and competency demonstrated by the soldiers of the Polish Special Operations Forces from Military Unit NIL.”
By sharing methods and developing best practices, U.S. and NATO partners around the world remain ready to respond to any potential real-world contingencies in Eastern Europe.
The team deployed to Poland months prior, in order to build upon Polish Special Operations Command’s ability to conduct special operations air-to-land integration.
“We’ve been planning for two months,” said a 321st STS combat controller. “We’ve practiced basics of assault zones, air traffic control, completing surveys and what we call the global-access piece; our capability to find airfields anywhere in the world to forward project highly trained manpower and equipment whenever needed.”
Along with developing joint leaders, this deployment gave the units the opportunity to establish professional development at the tactical level.
A combat controller from U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command’s 321st Special Tactics Squadron assigned to the 352nd Special Operations Wing in England, prepares to free fall out of an MC130J during a culmination exercise near Krakow.
(Photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Pena)
“It helped us to learn our job better too; I feel like anytime you’re training with another unit, it makes you that much better at your own skills. It allowed some of our younger guys to become leaders and put them in positions where they may not have been before,” said a 321st STS combat controller.
“We are very proud of our relationship with POLSOF and other NATO allies,” said the 321st STS commander. “We look forward to building and maintaining our abilities to conduct special operations (air-to-land) integration in Europe as a joint and ready force.”
Through these types of joint training exercises, special operation commands across the force stand ready to operate anytime, anyplace.
“This will ultimately increase the reach and the responsiveness of U.S. and NATO forces, deterring enemy aggression in Eastern Europe,” said the 321st STS commander. “Should the day come where we have to fight together in combat, I am confident in our joint capabilities.”
A newly released investigation from a submarine mishap in 2015 that caused some $1 million worth of damage shows that an inexperienced crew was given the go-ahead to complete a tricky return-to-port mission in the dark, despite warnings from the commanding officer that they weren’t ready.
The Ohio-class submarine Georgia ran aground in the predawn hours of Nov. 25, 2015, the day before Thanksgiving, as it prepared to return to port at Kings Bay, Georgia, to replace a failed towed array sonar. While conducting a scheduled pick-up of a new pilot at Fort Clinch, Florida, near the entrance to St. Marys River, which approaches the base, the sub inadvertently exited the channel, then collided with a buoy amid the crew’s efforts to re-orient. The grounding occurred as the crew worked to get clear of the buoy, the investigation shows.
Ultimately, the sub was able to return to port to assess damages, which were mostly cosmetic, save for the ship’s screw propeller, an acoustic tracking device and an electromagnetic log meter that measured the sub’s speed. The Georgia was taken into dry dock in December 2015 for assessment and the costly repairs.
The investigation, which was completed in March 2016 but just released to Military.com this month through a public records request, found that the “excessive speed” of the sub as it approached the pilot pick-up made it more difficult for the crew to control the ship, and that the tugboat carrying the pilot was positioned poorly, making the maneuver more complex.
Ultimately, though, blame for running aground is laid at the feet of the commanding officer. In the wake of the incident, the commander of Georgia’s blue crew, Capt. David Adams, was relieved of his post due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command. Like all submarines in its class, Georgia has two identical crews — a blue and a gold — that alternate manning and patrols.
“His inability to effectively manage the complexity of the situation and failure to respond to the circumstances in a manner sufficient to protect the safety of the ship and crew is beneath my expectations for any CO,” an investigation endorsement by Rear Adm. Randy Crites, then-commander of Submarine Group 10, reads.
In his detailed and thorough endorsement of findings, Crites also dismisses the notion that maneuvering in the dark and with a green crew was what led to the sub’s disastrous mishap.
“Ultimately, had this crew (and the Pilot) executed the same plan in the same manner during broad daylight, there is nothing in the ship’s planning effort, demonstrated seamanship, or response to tripwires that indicates the outcome would be any different,” he said.
While coming in for the brunt of the blame, Adams was not alone in being designated for punishment. Crites indicated his intent to take administrative action against the sub’s executive officer; chief of boat; navigation/operations officer; weapons officer, who was the officer of the deck; and assistant navigator. He also said he’d issue non-punitive letters of caution to the commander of Submarine Squadron 16 and his own chief of staff and director of operations — all Navy captains — for failure to take appropriate action toward resolution regarding Adams’ concerns around the sub’s transit into port.
The Ohio-class guided-missile submarine USS Georgia (SSGN 729) exits the dry dock at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Georgia, following an extended refit period. Georgia is one of two guided-missile submarines stationed at the base and is capable of carrying up to 154 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles.
The 475-page investigation, which includes witness statements, logs and other supporting documentation, offers insight into what those concerns were. In a Nov. 24 email to the commodore of Squadron 16 marked “confidential,” Adams, the Georgia blue crew commander, lays out his qualms about the plan he has been ordered to execute, particularly the predawn return to port for a brief one-day stop with a crew that had spent just three weeks underway together on a new ship.
“CO/XO/NAV have not piloted into Kings Bay in the last 20 years. All of the untoward [incidents] I know of occurred between [St. Marys] and Fort Clinch,” he wrote. “My assessment is that this is not a prudent plan for [return to port] … Having just been at sea for a few weeks, I have not built enough depth. I am concerned about the fatigue level of my command element.
“Given an all day evolution and subsequent [underway], we will have spent the majority of 36 hours awake and are set to pilot out and submerge on the mid-watch at 0330.”
The two-page memo, it appears, was never received and read by Submarine Squadron 16’s commodore, Capt. John Spencer. But Adams testified he had relayed the same concerns face-to-face with Spencer days before, on Nov. 22. He also discussed the same issues, he said, in a follow-up phone call.
This much is clear: the plan wasn’t called off, and the mission was cleared to proceed. But murky communication dogged the lead-up to the operation, and later the mission itself.
Spencer and others testified that Adams had been given leeway to “slow things down a little” if he felt uncomfortable. Adams said he believed any delay would have been viewed as insubordination.
On the day of the mishap, communication was also flawed, in ways that underscore the crew’s unfamiliarity with each other, and possibly the sleep deprivation that had left some members running on just two to three hours of rest.
According to the investigation, as the Georgia approached the point at which it was to meet with the tug and pick up the pilot — the navigation expert who would drive the ship into port — it became clear that the tug was well west of its expected position. The sub, meanwhile, was approaching too fast and slowing too gradually. The investigation found it was still making 15 knots, or about 17 miles per hour, when it passed the set “all stop” point. That speed and positioning would make every maneuver that followed more risky and difficult.
Initial attempts to communicate with the tug and the pilot aboard via radio were unsuccessful, and the planned transfer happened late. Adams did not want to scrap the transfer and proceed into port without the pilot, the investigation found, because of the challenges of pulling into port without one.
When the sub exited the channel at the west end of the Fort Clinch basin, the crew’s communication skills faced a major test. The assistant navigator recommended to the navigator that the sub go to “all back emergency,” a call the navigator then passed to the bridge. The officer of the deck seemed to agree, but said nothing, the investigation found. Adams, however, overrode the order, believing it would not work, and ordered “all ahead full” instead. He started directing the officer of the deck, but did not fully take control of the sub or give direct orders to the helm, the report states.
Despite a series of maneuvers — right hard rudder, left hard rudder, all ahead full, right hard rudder — the sub collided with Buoy 23 in the channel. But the worst was still to come.
“When [Adams] asked [the lookout] if the ship hit buoy 23, [the lookout] informed the CO that he did not care about the buoy, but thought the ship was going to run aground on the beach forward of the ship,” the investigation states.
As grounding looked imminent, the Georgia asked the driver of the C-tractor tugboat if the tug could cross in front of the sub on the starboard, or right, side, and push the bow around. The tug master refused, according to the investigation, worried that the water was too shallow.
The sub ended up, as the lookout put it, “hitting Fort Clinch.”
In this file photo from July 12, 2018, Gen. John E. Hyten, commander, U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), views the dry dock at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Georgia. The base is home to six of the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines that make up the most survivable leg of the nuclear triad and support strategic deterrence.
The mishap, and the misgivings that preceded it, came against the backdrop of a Navy grappling with a culture in which overworked and unready crews were regularly put underway in service of operational needs. After two separate deadly destroyer collisions in 2017, service leaders found, among other things, that a “‘can-do’ culture” had undermined safety and led to unduly high operational tempo and fatigue.
“The can-do culture becomes a barrier to success only when directed from the top down or when feedback is limited or missed,” the Navy’s comprehensive review of the destroyer mishaps, released in October 2017, found.
Whether these factors came into play with the Georgia is more difficult to say.
In a statement for the investigation, Adams emphasized that he took full responsibility for what had transpired.
“Despite my significant reservation – expressed face-to-face, on the phone, and In emails with staff and leadership … concerning the risks of proceeding Into Kings Bay In the dark with an inexperienced team, when my requests to delay [return to port] one hour later were denied, I failed in my command responsibilities by driving to achieve mission success at the expense of appropriately acting to mitigate risks to increase our margin of safety,” he said.
“In retrospect, I should have loitered at [St. Marys] until I was satisfied that the risks were commensurate with the mission gain.”
Reached for comment by Military.com, Adams, who retired in 2016, referred to a public statement he had released at the time of his relief, in which he called the actions that caused the grounding “mine alone.”
“I ask that my lapses not be used to denigrate the terrific service of the Sailors and families of GEORGIA BLUE,” he said at the time “After thirty years of serving in the world’s finest Navy, my only regret is that I will miss sailing with them again to stand against our nation’s enemies.”
But the fact that some above Adams were also warned offers insight into how the higher command viewed the incident.
Crites faulted Spencer, the Squadron 16 commodore, with “failure to provide his ship a plan with adequate margin to safety, specifically in not providing sufficient guidance and training to his staff that developed the plan in his absence and not aggressively pursuing complete resolution of the ship’s requested arriva through personal intervention with the Type Commander staff.”
The chief of staff and director of operations for Submarine Group 10, Crites said in the report, had failed to “pursue acceptable resolution to the concerns they had with the plan for the ship’s arrival.”
Holly Carey, deputy public affairs officer for Submarine Force Atlantic, declined to say whether all administrative actions recommended by the investigation were carried out.
“What I can tell you is that the Navy is confident that leadership took appropriate corrective actions against several personnel assigned to the squadron and submarine based on the findings of the investigation,” she said.
“Following the investigation, which concluded in 2016, leadership took appropriate accountability measures and has taken all necessary steps to prevent a recurrence in the future. USS Georgia, and her current crew, serve proudly today among the U.S. Submarine Force and has leadership’s full confidence to protect the interest of the United State and allies.”
North Korea is ready for both dialogue and war, state-run news agency KCNA said Feb. 19, 2018.
In an op-ed, KCNA said the US is trying to derail inter-Korean relations by keeping military options on the table.
“It is obviously an expression of a hideous attempt to block the improvement of inter-Korean relations and again coil up the military tension on the Korean peninsula,” KCNA said.
Using the country’s official name, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the article also said, “the DPRK is fully ready for both dialogue and war,” and that it would be “naive and foolhardy” for the US to “hurt” North Korea.
The statement came shortly after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told 60 Minutes he would continue diplomatic efforts with North Korea “until that first bomb drops.”
“We don’t know precisely how much time is left on the clock,” Tillerson said on Feb. 18, adding that the US will keep up its policy of maximum pressure until Pyongyang tells him they are ready to talk.
Tillerson’s messaging reiterated that of Vice President Mike Pence, who told The Washington Post the US approach is one of “maximum pressure and engagement at the same time.”
North Korea’s latest statement seemed to be directly responding to these two interviews, saying the vice president and secretary of state are “vying with each other to build a world of public opinion.”
Pyongyang also seemed particularly aggrieved by the US State Department’s change to its travel advisory January 2018. Travelers to North Korea are now warned to draft a will, designate a power of attorney and discuss funeral plans with loved ones before their visit.
“The Trump group spouted jargons that tourists should write a will before making a trip to the DPRK. If the U.S. dares to ignite a war against the DPRK, there will be left no one to keep a written will and bury a coffin,” KCNA said.
Master Fitness Training instructors work tirelessly to coach soldiers from across the Army in developing new ways to prepare them for combat, while in the process, helping increase readiness and lowering profiles up to 40%, says the fitness school NCOIC.
Wanting to better understand the effectiveness of the fitness program, Master Sgt. Joseph Komes, U.S. Army Physical Fitness School noncommissioned officer in charge, used a roster based on thousands of soldiers, all previously certified at the school, and sent a questionnaire to understand the school’s effectiveness.
Shortly after, the responses started pouring in.
“What I started seeing was that trainers were increasing their unit readiness,” he said. “The way I measured unit readiness was only by PT scores and profile rates, because, I’m just one guy in an office trying to figure out if what we’re doing is working.”
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Michael J. MacLeod)
Komes also determined individual units, armed with certified fitness trainers, decreased their profile rates by close to 40%. However, Komes added, “I don’t know if those individuals were on a two-week profile and they just ended up falling off during the training program or what.”
That said, the responses were useful and answered his question. In addition, it gave fitness instructors at the school a better understanding of how worthwhile their program is, and with the Army Combat Fitness Test in its second phase of implementation, the timing couldn’t be better, he said.
Scheduled to be the test of record in October 2020, the ACFT is the Army’s largest physical fitness overhaul in nearly four decades. Like physical readiness training, something the instructors are experts in, the ACFT is part of a larger “reset” to build a more combat-ready force.
To meet the demands of the six-event ACFT, instructors from the school have already certified thousands of soldiers from around the Army to develop physical programs to bring back to their units. In addition, the selected soldiers are trained on a variety of skills vital to the ACFT, including how to set up the testing field, as well as supervising and grading the test.
According to Komes, in the past, physical training programs “lost touch” with combat readiness. Regarding PT, soldiers were forced to “run four days out of the week and ruck on the fifth,” which led to injuries and an overall decrease in a soldier’s lethality.
Georgia Army National Guard Soldiers conduct a sunrise run during annual training at Fort Stewart, Ga., Jan. 11, 2017.
(U.S. Army photo by Capt. William Carraway)
He added, “That’s just the way PT was always done, and it’s our job is to help soldiers sit down and strategically assess their mission, and prevent injuries from happening. [They should think] Okay, I have a training event nine weeks from now — where we’re going to enter a building and clear room — how do we physically, and safely prepare for this?”
That’s where the master fitness trainer comes in, he said.
“These days, we have better knowledge to increase overall unit performance during a deployment,” he said. “[Master Fitness Training instructors] are doing their best to implement that [knowledge] and shape the future for the Army.”
When fitness instructors certify trainers, they’re thinking of each individual soldier and the unique needs required to be successful — even at that basic level, he said.
“We’re looking at them as individuals and not just as just a big mass,” Komes said. “I think with the ACFT around the corner, it seems like that’s the mindset that’s important, because every person has their own requirements.”
Komes added, it’s vital for trainers to know their soldiers and know what they need to be successful on the ACFT.
“Our trainers understand that we have to physically prepare individuals to complete the Army’s mission,” he added. “It’s very humbling for us to give soldiers, from all three components of the Army, the tools to succeed because the folks who leave here go back to those individual soldiers.”
“Everyone is different,” he said. “Some soldiers could be attached to National Guard units, and implementing a PT program once a month is challenging, or they could be military police and work odd shifts.”
Being able to “crack the code and see the challenges from different perspectives” is a daily task the trainers and instructors grapple with, he said, adding, that “having a fitness trainer all the way down to the platoon level” would be ideal. However, the trainers who leave the fitness school only reach the company level, for active duty.
U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Danny Gonzalez, Recruiting and Retention Command, New Jersey Army National Guard, carries two 40-pound kettlebells during the Army Combat Fitness Test
(New Jersey National Guard photo by Mark C. Olsen)
“We already know each individual is different, but each individual platoon is different, too,” he said. “Each platoon is training for a different goal.”
That’s also where certified master fitness trainers come in, he added. “Certified trainers are able to go to their units with a wealth of knowledge, and look at essential task list and identify the most daunting task and develop a physical fitness program based on those tasks to increase the overall performance.”
When Komes first arrived at the fitness school in 2012, the ACFT wasn’t a thought on anyone’s mind. Today, it seems to be everyone’s first thought, he said.
This change leaves the instructors with a large responsibility on their backs — to ensure the force is ready. But, it’s a responsibility they carry with pride, he said.
“When we conduct MFT training, we ensure each certified trainer has a plan for their unit,” he said, adding thousands of certified trainers are among the force already.
“They’re out there, they’re already in units, and hopefully commanders understand what they bring to the fight,” Komes said.
For soldiers uneasy with the ACFT, Komes recommends they reach out to their local master fitness trainer, or identify who it is through their chain of command.
The Master Fitness Training Course is broken into two phases — a self-paced, 60-hour online phase and a two-week, 76-hour in-residence phase. The curriculum covers everything from exercise science, PT program design, leadership, physical fitness assessment and unit physical readiness programs, aligned with current Army doctrine and regulations.
After graduating from the course, soldiers are equipped to advise units on physical readiness issues and monitor unit and individual physical readiness programs.