The United States started to deliver weapons to Kurdish fighters closing in on the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa, Syria, the Pentagon said.
Spokesman Eric Pahon said the May 31 weapons delivery to the Syrian Kurds included small arms and ammunition. It marks the beginning of a campaign to better equip Kurdish allies that the U.S.-led coalition believes are the best fighting force against the Islamic State, even though arming them has infuriated NATO ally Turkey.
Turkey considers the Kurdish fighters to be terrorists. The U.S. has promised to mete out the equipment incrementally, based on the mission, to ensure weapons aren’t used by Kurdish groups in Turkey.
On May 30, Kurdish-led fighters in Syria closed within about 2 miles (three kilometers) of Raqqa, where they expect to face a long and deadly battle. Roadside bombs and other explosive devices are believed to be planted along their routes and inside the city.
U.S. officials have said the weapons deliveries will include heavy machine guns, ammunition, 120mm mortars, armored vehicles and possibly TOW anti-tank missiles. They said the U.S. would not provide artillery or surface-to-air missiles.
Separately May 30, the Pentagon ratcheted up threats against pro-Syrian government forces patrolling an area near the Jordanian border where the U.S.-led coalition is training allied rebels. Officials described the pro-government forces as Iranian-backed.
The U.S. dropped leaflets warning the forces to leave the area and American military officials said the same message was conveyed in recent calls with Russian commanders. Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said the leaflets told the pro-government forces to leave the established protected zone, which is about 55 kilometers around an area where U.S. and coalition forces have been operating.
Less than two weeks ago, the U.S. bombed Iranian-backed troops who were in that same area of Syria and didn’t heed similar warnings to leave.
According to Syrian and U.S. officials, the bombing killed several soldiers and destroyed vehicles and other weapons and equipment.
Davis said the U.S. has seen the militias operating in the desert around Tanf. The area has been considered a “deconflicted” zone under a U.S.-Russian understanding.
“Hundreds” of pro-government forces are in the region, Davis said, but he was unsure how many are actually inside the zone.
Pentagon officials said they were not certain if those troops are Syrian, Iranian, Hezbollah or from other militias fighting on Assad’s behalf. At the Tanf military camp near the Jordanian border, U.S. special operations forces have been working with a Syrian opposition group in operations against IS.
Prosecutors have accused a man of sending threatening and harassing messages on Instagram to relatives and friends of people killed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida.
Brandon Fleury, a resident of Santa Ana, California, said he sent the threatening messages for nearly three weeks using numerous Instagram accounts, according to a criminal complaint filed in the US District Court of Southern Florida and seen by INSIDER.
“One post threatened to kidnap the message recipients, while others sought to harass the recipients by repeatedly taunting the relatives and friends of the [high school] victims, cheering the deaths of their loved ones and, among other things, asking them to cry,” the affidavit said.
Following the search warrant on his home, Fleury said he created multiple Instagram profiles referencing Nikolas Cruz, who is accused of killing 17 people in the Parkland shooting.
Nikolas Cruz being arrested by police in Florida, Feb. 14, 2018.
At least five accounts with usernames such as “nikolas.killed.your.sister,” “the.douglas.shooter,” and “nikolasthemurderer,” were traced to an IP address linked to Fleury’s home during the course of a law-enforcement investigation.
Some of the messages contained emojis with applauding hands, a smiling face, and a handgun:
“I killed your loved ones hahaha”
“With the power of my AR-15, I erased their existence”
“I gave them no mercy”
“They had their whole lives ahead of them and I f—–g stole it from them”
“Did you like my Valentines gift? I killed your friends.”
“Little [AS] will never play music again,” one message said on New Year’s Eve, in an apparent reference to the death of 14-year-old student Alex Schachter, who performed in the school’s marching band and orchestra.
Fleury said in a statement that he posted the messages “in an attempt to taunt or ‘troll’ the victims and gain popularity,” according to the FBI. Fleury also said he had a “fascination” with Cruz and other mass shooters, and specifically targeted the victims’ family, who he said were “activists” with large followings on social media.
Multiple news outlets cited authorities who said Fleury did not show remorse for his actions.
Law-enforcement officials investigated similar threats made on Instagram in 2018. Two days after the Parkland shooting, a 15-year-old Florida teen was arrested on charges of threatening to kill people in the same school district. The teen at the time “appeared to be remorseful and claimed his post was a joke,” according to the Broward Country Sheriff’s Office.
This article originally appeared on INSIDER. Follow @thisisinsider on Twitter.
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service is reportedly looking into allegations that a company which runs military housing at one of California’s largest bases is scamming its residents out of money they don’t owe.
Lincoln Military Housing has reportedly been trying to get military residents to pay hundreds of dollars more than they owe for energy bills, according to statements from families obtained by We Are the Mighty. And if the residents don’t pay up, the Lincoln Military Housing’s San Onofre district office allegedly threatens to have the service members and their families evicted, these families claim.
The exact number of families who have received these eviction notices is unknown, though WATM spoke with multiple military spouses and service members who had been notified by their commands that Lincoln was ordering them out of their homes just before the Christmas holidays.
The residents, all of whom claim they are paid up on rent, all spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal from the housing office in question.
According to one couple who spoke to WATM, an eviction notice was sent to them in early December in response to an article that appeared on the website USMC Life, which is run by military spouse Kristine Schellhaas.
“This program has been hurting our military families since its inception,” Schellhaas told WATM in a statement. “Our families should be able to live on base without the financial burden and threat of eviction from poorly executed billing.”
Schellhaas wrote about the couple on her site in December, calling for the housing office to look into its exorbitant energy bills over the previous two months. Though Schellhaas declined to use their real names, the couple had posted about their frustrations in a Facebook neighborhood group page after being threatened with eviction.
Schellhaas indicated that NCIS was investigating the allegations. When reached for comment, NCIS said it was “unable to comment on an ongoing investigation.”
The residents of the San Onofre II district aboard Camp Pendleton claim that, until roughly two months prior, their bills had been at or below the grace period, meaning they were not billed for utilities.
According to documents obtained by WATM, the residents all saw extreme hikes that had nothing to do with increased power usage.
Lincoln Military Housing declined to respond to multiple requests for comment on these allegations.
Lincoln Military Housing takes part in a program where, if residents manage to conserve energy, they can receive money back from the housing office. If they go over the allotted amount, they pay extra.
The energy bills are managed by a company called Yes Energy Management. The premise behind the company is simple — they are essentially a paid middleman for the middleman. Basically, Lincoln Military Housing — who is contracted by the Department of Defense to manage the housing on some military installations — pays Yes Energy Management to send an electric bill to the base residents.
Rather than having the actual electric company send the bill directly to the residents, both Lincoln Military Housing and Yes Energy Management oversee these bills privately — effectively eliminating any contact between the resident and the electric company.
Each of the homes is fitted with a third party Yes Energy meter that the company uses to determine how much electricity has been used.
The way the system works is that each neighborhood gets their energy usages during a trial period combined and an average is determined by Yes Energy. Those who are above that average get penalized. Those who are below it get rewarded.
Once the residents pay their bills every month, Yes Energy pays the actual energy company, takes its fee from the remainder, and sends what’s left back to Lincoln Military Housing, according to residents.
One of the problems, according to the residents of San Onofre II, is that the neighborhoods they live in weren’t built to have their energy usage measured individually. The residents say that an unnamed employee at their housing office explained that things like Camp Pendleton street lights are wired into their houses, which means that the residents are responsible for paying much more than just their own electric bill.
One resident told We Are the Mighty, “It’s just me and my husband, so when we received the outrageous bills we said something about it and come to find out, our house was hooked up to several street lights.”
Other residents allege that, in addition to paying for the streetlights, empty houses around them drive their monthly usage allotments down. Because there are no residents in those homes, according to neighbors, there is no usage – severely impacting the average usage in that community.
That isn’t a hard thing to imagine, considering Yes Energy has this on its website:
Neither of these theories exactly explain why an entire group of residents suddenly saw a significant increase in their bills despite not having changed anything in their homes, residents say.
Several residents say they questioned their bills, first going directly to Yes Energy; they claim that Yes Energy told them that the issue was not with them or the energy provider and that they should be speaking with the housing office regarding the way the communities were built.
These same residents allege that they then took their concerns to base housing, where it took months for just a handful of them to receive any type of response. Those that were fortunate enough to get a response also received messages that hinted Yes Energy was to blame for the outrageous bills.
Chelsea Levin, a service coordinator for Lincoln’s San Onofre Housing office, wrote in an email to a resident dated Dec. 7, “I am e-mailing as a follow up regarding the issues you have been having in the home with the Yes Energy account. I wanted to let you know that we are now waiting on the utility company to make the changes.”
The email is in response to a phone call placed to the housing office in September, according to the resident who provided the original email.
So where does that leave the residents?
Right where they were, for now.
The resident who originally spoke with Schellhaas alleges that they were served an eviction notice the day after Schellhaas’s post went live. According to that resident and the resident’s active duty spouse, the housing office contacted the service member’s command to deliver the notice.
In a Facebook post, the resident said that Lincoln cited the resident’s use of salty language in a phone call with the office as the reason they were being evicted.
The resident claimed that the office gave that reason directly to the service member’s command.
“They’re saying I was verbally abusive,” the resident wrote.
When We Are the Mighty reached out to the couple, the resident responded, “I feel as if the housing office saw the article that was posted in USMCLife and that is what caused them to call this morning as well as tell us we were being evicted.”
Other residents who spoke with us cited a fear of retaliation after it became public information that the original residents in Schellhaas’s story were being evicted. One resident wrote: “If you wouldn’t mind, could you please not mention our names or resident IDs? He’s a Marine.”
And another resident wrote to us regarding her husband’s concern about her speaking with us, “He’s terrified we will get evicted. I kept trying to reassure him, but the longer I was looking [at our bill] the more he started to freak out. … He says he’d rather get screwed than be homeless.”
Recently, Schellhaas was tasked with updating Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joe Dunford’s wife Ellyn on “hot-button” issues facing the military community.
In preparation for that meeting, she collected energy data from 17 base homes and four off base homes. What she found was that base residents were charged nearly 45 percent more for comparable energy usage off base. An entire breakdown of her findings can be reviewed here.
Schellhaas issued this statement to We Are the Mighty in regards to the entire energy program:
“I believe there hasn’t been enough due diligence in its implementation and no one authority has demonstrated that the organizations can be made accountable for their actions,” she said. “Privatized housing blames Yes Energy and vice-versa, meanwhile our families are suffering.”
The Department of Veterans Affairs has spent the last two years transforming how it interacts with veterans, taking the best ideas from all over (including the business world) to upgrade your customer experience. Here are nine improvements — big and small — you may not believe.
1. A new call number that’s easy to remember.
Can’t remember which of our more than 1000 phone numbers to call? Me neither. Now, we only have to call one phone number: 1-844-MyVA311. The number will route you to the right place. If you do know the right number to call, you can still call that number.
2. Someone to actually answer your call.
The only number I can ever remember is number for disability claims and other benefits. Believe it or not, people are actually answering the phone now, on average in under five minutes. Employees in some of our contact centers report veterans temporarily forgetting why they called because they are stunned by how quickly someone answered the phone.
3. One call does it all.
Veterans in crisis are no longer asked to hang up and dial the Veterans Crisis Line. This month our medical centers, benefits line and MyVA311 will automatically connect callers to the Veterans Crisis Line if they “press 7.”
4. Total online resource.
Working toward one website and logon – Vets.gov – that now lets you discover, apply for, track, and manage the benefits you have earned, all in one place. One site, one username, one password. Track the status of your disability claim, apply for your GI Bill, and enroll in health care, on a site that’s mobile-first, accessible (508 compliant) and designed based on Veteran feedback. All Veteran-facing features will be migrated to vets.gov by April 2017!
5. Now you can actually find your service center.
Have you ever tried to use the VA.gov facility locator? If you have, you know it was essentially an address that you had to copy and paste into Google maps and hope for the best.
Now, we have one on Vets.gov that uses Google maps — and provides an initial set of VA services at those facilities. Try it here.
Additionally, maps are notoriously bad at being accessible to screen readers, but the Vets.gov facility locator is accessible and has been tested with blind and low vision veterans.
6. There’s an app for that.
Veterans can call or text the VCL with just one click from a mobile device using vets.gov.
7. No more waiting.
When you’re sick or in pain, you really want to see a doctor that day and now you can. Same-day appointments in our clinics are available when a provider determines a veteran has an urgent or emergent need that must be addressed immediately.
8. Claims are processed faster.
In 2012, some received disability claim decisions after more than two years. Now, after a series of people, process and technology changes, claims take an average of 123 days to complete. But VA is taking it a step further, looking at how it can improve veterans experiences around the compensation exam.
9. Taking out the middleman.
Need hearing aids or glasses? No need to see your primary care physician just to get a referral. Go ahead and make an appointment directly with both optometry and audiology.
These are just nine ways the VA is joining the modern world to better serve you. Watch for more.
The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:
A C-130J Super Hercules from the 37th Airlift Squadron fires flares as it performs anti-aircraft fire tests during exercise Carpathian on May 9, 2016, in Romania. The 37th AS, from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, began participating in off-station training deployments with Romania as early as 1996, allowing the U.S. Air Force to work with NATO allies to develop and improve ready air forces capable of maintaining regional security.
Phase technicians from the 455th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron work on an F-16C Fighting Falcon during routine phase maintenance at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, May 18, 2016. Phase inspections are performed on aircraft every 300 flight hours and involve procedural maintenance actions that require robust attention to detail.
A 2d Squadron 2d Cavalry Regiment infantryman suppresses opposing forces with a M240B machine gun during Exercise Spring Storm in Voru, Estonia, May 14, 2016. Approximately 6,000 military personnel from the U.S., Finland, German Bundeswehr, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom’sHM Armed Forces and Canadian Armed Forces participated in the annual Estonian Army Land Defense Forces training exercise.
Soldiers assigned to 3rd Infantry Division, move to their battle position in a M1 Abrams during the Strong Europe Tank Challenge (SETC) at 7th Army JMTC’s Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany, May 11, 2016.
PACIFIC OCEAN (May 17, 2016) Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) 2nd Class Michael Allen, assigned to amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6), directs an AV-8B Harrier from Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 311 on the ship’s flight deck. America is an aviation centric amphibious assault ship that supports small-scale contingency operations of an expeditionary strike group, to forcible entry missions in major theaters of war. The ship is currently conducting maritime training operations off the coast of California.
GUAM (May 17, 2016) U. S. Navy Sailors assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit (EODMU) 5 land and retrieve their parachutes in Guam after a high altitude-low opening parachute jump. EODMU5 conducted counter improvised explosive device operations, renders safe explosive hazards and disarms underwater explosives.
A Marine attending the Military Police Basic Course, runs to cover during a field training exercise at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., May 11, 2016. The purpose of the course is to provide entry level pipeline and lateral move Marines the knowledge and skills to become disciplined, motivated and capable of performing the duties and responsibilities of military occupational specialty 5811, Military Police.
Marines with I Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) provide security while other Marines conduct fast-rope inserts from a UH-1Y Huey with HMLA-267, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, May 9. 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company (1st Anglico), I MEF, facilitated a helicopter rope and suspension technique training package for U.S. Marines and Royal British Commandos.
My name is 1/c Kevin Alvarez and I will be taking you through the events that occur during commencement week leading up to graduation for the class of 2016! Pictured above is the sunset regimental review that took place last night in honor of Rear Admiral Rendon, Superintendent, United States Coast Guard Academy.
Step 1 of 3: 186 First Class Cadets line up and make their way to Cadet Memorial Field where they will soon be handed their diplomas and be commissioned as officers.
National veterans nonprofit The Mission Continues is launching a new program that positions veterans to be catalysts for long-term change and positive impact in communities facing daunting challenges. The inaugural Mass Deployment program will send hundreds of veterans and volunteers to participate in a week-long service engagement that will jump-start a long-lasting transformation in a city or community identified with a particularly high level of need.
For the first-ever event of its kind – dubbed Operation Motown Muster – The Mission Continues will bring more than 75 military veterans to Detroit to partner with more than 200 local veterans and community volunteers. Following Operation Motown Muster, The Mission Continues will maintain a sustained veteran volunteer presence in Detroit over the next several years to continuously support local nonprofits invested in revitalizing local neighborhoods.
“With the skills, leadership and experience they cultivated in the military, veterans are uniquely positioned to help accelerate Detroit’s comeback,” said Spencer Kympton, U.S. Army veteran and president of The Mission Continues. “We’re looking forward to an impactful week of service that will make a difference for the people who continue to call Detroit home and that will inspire others to take action and make a long-term positive impact in the community.”
Home to nearly 700,000 residents — many of whom are already hard at work shaping the future of their city — Detroit was a prime location for The Mission Continues’ inaugural Mass Deployment. During Operation Motown Muster, The Mission Continues veterans and local volunteers will add much-needed capacity to local organizations that are carrying on Detroit’s revitalization efforts. Projects planned for Operation Motown Muster include:
Refurbishing facilities at Central High School and Priest Elementary School to foster a safe and inviting environment for students to learn and the community to congregate.
Beautifying parks and future green spaces in the Osborn neighborhood, creating much-needed safe play spaces in a community that is home to one of Detroit’s highest concentrations of young people.
Converting vacant lots and portions of the Chene Ferry Market into clean, vibrant spaces for community events and an urban farm to help restore the once-thriving working-class neighborhood.
The Mission Continues has operations across the country that engage veteran volunteers every day to have a deep impact on critical challenges facing underserved communities. Veterans participate in operations by serving with The Mission Continues either as a member of a Service Platoon, undertaking regular service missions that leverage veterans’ skills and leadership to make a positive impact, or as an individual The Mission Continues Fellow, embedding as a skilled volunteer with one of the operation’s nonprofit partners for a period of six months.
Operation Motown Muster is happening from June 25-29. To learn more about The Mission Continues’ programs and opportunities to get involved, visit www.missioncontinues.org.
The Marine Corps is most famous for stripping away one’s individuality at boot camp and spitting recruits out 13 weeks later as Marines, formed into bands of brothers (and sisters).
But those bonds were tested when some of its strongest, toughest competitors battled one other in the second-annual High-Intensity Tactical Training Tactical Athlete Championship. When the dust settled after the fourth day of competition, the top male and female Marines were crowned “Ultimate Tactical Athlete.”
Sgt. Calie Jacobsen chewed up the final obstacle course event and took the top prize among 13 women who competed along 19 men to vie for bragging rights in the Aug. 15-18 service-wide competition at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station in San Diego, California.
Jacobsen, 23, a nondestructive inspection technician at Miramar, spent eight weeks preparing for the championship and held the lead going into the final event, the obstacle course. The other women wouldn’t make that easy, but it was her strongest event. “I wasn’t planning on winning. I just wanted to go out there and do good,” she said. “The females definitely were at a higher level than I was expecting to see.”
Jacobsen and the male winner, Cpl. Ethan Mawhinney, each received a championship belt and 53-pound kettle bell.
Mawhinney, a 22-year-old from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, beat 18 other male Marines in his second shot at the service championship. He placed sixth last year in the inaugural contest. “I trained a lot harder for the prelims this year,” said the Marine air-ground task force planner from Camp Allen, Virginia. Winning “was surreal. I had left last year really hoping to take the title.”
HITT is like CrossFit, but for and by Marines. That means using brute strength, endurance and determination to survive tactical battles against fellow Marines on the athletic field, in the water and on the paintball battlefield.
“Competition was tough,” said Lance Cpl. Isaac Namowicz, an admin clerk with Marine Security Guard headquarters and this year’s Quantico Marine Corps Base, Virginia, HITT champ. “There’s a lot of passion.”
Marines traded tips and even encouraged each other during the championship, but each had a mission: Win. “You’re a brother, but at the same time, you are trying to beat everyone,” Mawhinney admitted. That included the male 2015 Ultimate Tactical Athlete, Cpl. Joshua Boozer.
Boozer, ammo tech with 1st Tank Battalion at the Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif., was champ this year at his home base but met his match at Miramar.
“It’s not easy competition,” he said, catching his breath after enduring the “500 Yard Power Shuffle” where competitors did nearly a dozen events including tire flips, box jumps, dummy carry, weighted sled pull and push and a variety of weight lifts — on a sweltering athletic field. It was the longest event, time-wise.
The Marine Corps organized its first HITT competition last year, held at Twentynine Palms. Like last year, Marines learned events’ details at the start of the competition, so they didn’t really know what they’d face.
Ryan Massimo, the Corps’ HITT program manager and event coordinator, said the intent is to include some base-specific events – this year’s “Maneuver Under Fire” took place at Miramar’s paintball park – with physical challenges that reflect the strength and conditioning program. Last year, the run up and down the desert base’s hills while lugging heavy items made “sugar cookies” of a weakened competitor.
This year’s championship included a timed water event, the “Amphibious Tactical Challenge.” Competitors in boots and utes swam multiple laps bearing their pack and rubber rifle, and then they traversed the pool, diving and ducking with a pack under markers before cranking out 10 (men) or 5 (women) pushups wearing the pack. “It did definitely throw a curve ball for some people,” Mawhinney said.
Namowicz said he struggled in the pool.
“I was not expecting all that weight. It felt like cinder blocks,” he said. “My upper body was getting tired.”
At times, he’d talk to himself as he pushed weighted sleds or carried 35-pound ammo cans and 120-pound dummies in the sweltering heat. “I just kept saying, ‘Finish this.’ You have people in the stands pushing you, and it just keeps you motivated,” he said. “You just want to be done.”
Jacobsen hadn’t real plans to become competitive until the Miramar HITT Center coordinator encouraged her to the local HITT combine challenge. “I didn’t know how big it was, that it was Marine Corps-wide,” said the Nebraska native. “We just went in unassuming.”
And she finished first among the women, getting the ticket to compete against other installation winners for the championship.
She’s a HITT convert. The isolation workout she previously did for weightlifting “isn’t applicable to everyday life,” she said. Interval training demands endurance and strength and “is a lot more applicable to everyday life. That’s definitely changed my mindset.”
Thin crowds watched this year’s competition, but Jacobsen said she was glad to see her station commander and sergeant major on the sidelines. “It’s an awesome event, and it needs to be more widely broadcast,” she said.
It’s certainly not as well-known as the military’s most famous tactical-physical competition, the “Best Ranger.”
The 60-hour event at Fort Benning, Georgia, pits Army Rangers against each other in two-man teams to test their skills, including land navigation, small-arms firing, obstacles and, in true Ranger style, parachuting.
Not to be outdone, Marines run the less-known but still grueling and gung-ho “Recon Challenge” at Camp Pendleton, California. After a predawn swim in the Pacific, two-man Marine Recon and Marine Raider (and Navy recon corpsmen) teams run in boots-and-utes with rucksack and weapon, enduring a nonstop series of grueling events in the pool, on the range and along Pendleton’s roller-coaster scrubby hills.
A close parallel to the HITT championship may be the Army’s “Best Warrior” competition, a four-day contest where soldiers complete tactical challenges, written exams and fitness events in more battlefield-like environments. The top 10 soldiers and 10 noncommissioned officers who’ve bested their local competitors will vie for the title at this year’s contest, to be held Sept. 26-Oct. 3 at Fort A.P. Hill, Virgina. The Army National Guard held its own contest on June 22 at Joint Base Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Events included a 14-mile ruck march.
The Air Force’s 1st Air Support Operations Group put airmen through grueling individual challenges and 22 events over a week in July for “Cascade Challenge 2016.”
The contest, held at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska this year included navigating the wild Alaskan forests with body armor and 50-pound rucksack.
The Navy takes a different tack in sailor competition. Its surface fleet of destroyer, cruiser and frigate crews each year showcase their athletic and professional naval skills during “Surface Line Week.” Sailors went toe-to-toe in firefighting drills, valve packing, welding, small-arms shooting, sailing and stretcher-bearer races. Team events include dodgeball and soccer, so fun is the operative word.
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.
Korean War veteran Ed Portka, 90, was honored along with his stepson as the Pittsburgh Steelers hosted the Cincinnati Bengals on national television.
Former Maj. David Reeser, who commanded an Army diving company in Europe 28 years ago, accompanied his stepfather, a former first lieutenant, onto the field for the Steelers’ “Salute Our Heroes” recognition during a short break following the third quarter of the game.
“I’m excited about it,” Portka said about his upcoming recognition, just before the game, offering that he was “looking forward to it,” but a little hesitant.
Portka served as a platoon leader in an engineer unit under the 1st Cavalry Division in Korea. He was responsible for breaching minefields and other obstacles during offensive operations and installing minefields to protect U.S. defensive positions.
“We did a lot of dirty work,” Portka said. “It was specialized work.”
He said every chance they got, they detonated mines by firing their M-1 rifles at them rather than risking lives.
Second Lt. Ed Portka, prior to deploying to Korea with an engineering unit under the 1st Cavalry Division, where he was responsible for breaching minefields.
(U.S. Army photo)
Portka served in Korea from 1952-53. One of his memories was of meeting Gen. Matthew Ridgway, 8th Army commander, during a battlefield circulation, just after Portka’s platoon finished clearing a minefield near Pusan, Korea.
“He was down-to-earth,” Portka said of Ridgway.
The Korean War armistice agreement was signed on Portka’s 24th birthday, July 27, 1953, just before he redeployed home. He said it was quite a birthday present.
After the war, Portka was an architectural draftsman with George M. Ewing Company in Washington, D.C. He later managed the firm’s Philadelphia office and was the project manager for the design of Veterans Stadium, home of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Reeser was stationed in Europe in the early 1990s, where he served as a platoon Leader and then as commander of a diving detachment. After leaving the military, he founded an engineering firm, Infrastructure Engineers, that performs underwater bridge inspections.
Reeser now lives in Florida and his stepfather in Atlanta, but said he returns to Pittsburgh every chance he gets to take his stepfather to Steeler games.
At the end of their recognition on the field, both veterans aggressively waved Pittsburgh Steeler “terrible towels.” The Steelers beat the Bengals 27-3.
As American forces became embroiled in the conflict in Vietnam it was quickly apparent to commanders that they were fighting a war for which they were not prepared.
The guerrilla warfare and hit-and-run tactics of the Viet Cong were difficult to counter, especially for conventional forces. Luckily, our allies, the British, had already developed a tactic that they had used to great effect in Malaya.
Facing a communist insurgency of their own, but with limited resources, the British had developed specialized teams to track the enemy through the jungle and destroy them. This tactic was so effective the British would employ it against insurgencies all across the empire.
Knowing the French tactics had been insufficient, and not wanting to meet the same fate, Gen. Westmoreland sent observers to the British Jungle Warfare School in Malaya to see if the tactics could be adopted by American forces.
Impressed by what they saw the Americans made a deal for the British to train fourteen teams, to be known as Combat Tracker Teams, at the British Jungle Warfare School. Due to British neutrality, the soldiers to be trained traveled on official government passports and used only British gear while in training so as to maintain secrecy and low-visibility.
The basic organization of the Combat Tracker Teams consisted of two to four sections of five-men. The section was composed of a team leader, a visual tracker, a cover man, a radio operator, and a dog handler with a well-trained Labrador retriever. Not typical for combat operations the Labs were highly-effective in Vietnam. They were effective trackers, quiet in the field, and, most importantly, due to their even-temperament could more easily change handlers – a prized-quality for an army rotating men out of country, but often heart-breaking for their handlers.
The teams were in for intense training once they arrived in Malaya. For the dog handlers training was three months long, for everyone else it was two months. The cadre consisted of British and New Zealand SAS as well as Gurkhas, who usually played the enemy to add to the realism. Wash out rates were high.
The initial address to the trainees was often quite shocking to them. They were told the problem with the American army was that it was more focused on rank than knowledge. And that by the time they were done, they would feel more at home in the jungle than the North Vietnamese themselves.
After surviving the grueling training, the first teams returned to Vietnam in 1967 to be assigned to combat units. The team assigned to the 101st Airborne Division was told they must go through the division’s finishing school before they would be allowed in the field. Part-way through the first day it became obvious to the cadre that the trackers knew more than they could possibly teach them and they were passed through the course on the spot.
According to their group’s website, once in country, the Combat Tracker Teams were to “reestablish contact with the ‘elusive enemy’; reconnaissance of an area for possible enemy activities; and locate lost or missing friendly personnel.”
Once the troops hit the ground, they knew why their trainers had pushed them so hard – keeping up with a dog in the jungle while staying absolutely silent, as well as being alert and constantly ready for action is very hard work.
But that work paid off for the Americans. It was common to hear from the grunts about how the enemy could just “melt back into the jungle.” And that was where the trackers came in. Pushing out well ahead of the line infantry units no detail was too small for either the visual tracker or the working dog to pick up.
John Dupla, a combat tracker with the 1st Cavalry Division, said “we were taught to develop a sixth sense, utilizing methods Native American scouts used, such as looking for broken twigs and turned over leaves and rocks.”
Depending on the conditions and situation either the visual tracker or the dog handler and his lab would lead the team. Always right behind him was the cover man. Since the point person’s attention was focused on searching for trails and clues the cover man became his lookout, providing protection.
Although the unit’s mission was often not to directly engage the enemy, sometimes it was unavoidable. As one combat tracker related “if you got into something, you shot your way out.” Ideally, the trackers would locate the enemy and call the infantry behind them into the fight.
However, as the Viet Cong became aware of the effectiveness of the trackers they sought ways to counter them. Retreating groups would often send a contingent off in a different direction to draw the trackers away from the main force and into an ambush. One Combat Tracker Team lost their visual tracker and cover man to enemy snipers in this manner.
Despite their effectiveness many American commanders simply did not understand how to properly employ the trackers. Their small size and the secrecy of their training meant few in the infantry understood how they operated. They were sometimes thought of as scouts and to simply walk point for a larger formation.
The program was disbanded in 1971 as American drew down forces in Vietnam. The trackers were broken up and folded into their parent infantry units. Veiled in secrecy and lacking the notoriety of Special Forces the legacy of the Combat Tracker Teams quietly faded away.
There is no doubt though that the Combat Tracker Teams were effective, saved lives, and made life much harder for the enemy.
The world knows little of the Islamic State terror group’s brutal leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, but a new article from counterterrorism expert Will McCants provides one of the most extensive accounts yet of his background.
McCants, director of the Project on US Relations with the Islamic World at the Brookings Institution, wrote an upcoming book on the Islamic State — aka ISIS, ISIL, and Daesh — and researched Baghdadi’s life to explain his rise to become one of the most wanted terrorists in the world.
Since Baghdadi became the self-proclaimed “caliph” of ISIS in 2014, he has only appeared in public once, at a mosque in Mosul, Iraq. He was rumored to have died in an air strike earlier this year, but ISIS subsequently released a statement from him along with proof that he was still alive.
Even with new information about his life tricking out in the press, Baghdadi — aka Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Al-Badri — remains a mysterious and reclusive figure.
Here’s what we know now about his background, as laid out by McCants in his Brookings essay:
Baghdadi was raised in a lower-middle-class family in Iraq. His relatives claimed to be descendants of the Prophet Muhammad.
His father taught at a mosque. When Baghdadi was a teenager, he led neighborhood children in Quran recitations.
Baghdadi’s family had ties to late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party. Two of his uncles were involved with Saddam’s security services, and two of his brothers served in the military under Saddam. One died during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.
Members of Baghdadi’s family were also thought to be Salafis, who follow a strict form of Islam that has been associated with ISIS’ extreme interpretation.
Baghdadi was thought of as a quiet type, but when he read the Quran, his “quiet voice would come to life” and he would pronounce “the letters in firm, reverberating tones,” according to McCants.
He was also known for having a temper. Once, when he saw women and men dancing together at a wedding, he got upset and forced them to stop.
Even in his youth, Baghdadi developed a reputation for being pious and following a strict interpretation of Islam. His nickname was “The Believer,” and one of his brothers told McCants that Baghdadi “was quick to admonish anyone who strayed from the strictures of Islamic law.”
Baghdadi wasn’t a strong student in high school, but he went on to earn a doctorate degree in Quranic studies. He reportedly wanted to study law for his undergraduate degree, but his grades weren’t good enough, so he studied the Quran instead.
He became a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, a group that seeks to establish Islamic states across the Middle East, but his views were more extreme than those of many of the others in the group. Baghdadi was reportedly drawn to the extremists, including his older brother, who wanted to overthrow un-Islamic rulers.
Outside his religious studies, Baghdadi was fond of soccer. He was the star of a soccer club at a mosque at which he taught, and people compared him to the famous Argentinian player Lionel Messi. (This fits with an interview published earlier this year with a man who said he knew Baghdadi before he became ISIS’ “caliph.”)
Baghdadi is thought to have two wives and six children. McCants reports that the caliph’s first wife, Asma, was the daughter of Baghdadi’s maternal uncle.
He was initially involved with al-Qaida, which sent him to Syria after he was released from his detainment at the US-run Camp Bucca in Iraq in the early 2000s. There, he was tasked with “ensuring that AQI’s online propaganda was in line with its brand of ultraconservative Islam,” according to McCants. Today, ISIS is known for its online propaganda that’s highly effective at recruiting young people to join the terror group.
After ISIS broke away from al-Qaida, he was put in charge of religious affairs in some areas of Iraq. He became valuable to ISIS because the group needed religious scholars to establish legitimacy.
This telling of Baghdadi’s background suggests that his radicalization began long before he was imprisoned at Camp Bucca in the early 2000s. Although he was captured as a “civilian detainee” while he was visiting a friend who was wanted by American authorities, it’s clear Baghdadi had already begun forming his extremist ideology by this point.
These details water down the notion that Baghdadi was radicalized while in American detention.
And Baghdadi likely knew what he was doing.
“For the ten months he remained in custody, Baghdadi hid his militancy and devoted himself to religious instruction,” McCants wrote.
He was also able to meet and befriend ex-Baathists who would later join him in ISIS. The group’s leadership is now thought to be made up largely of former Saddam loyalists, but that doesn’t mean Baghdadi isn’t devout or that he’s just a religious figurehead for the organization.
McCants concluded: “The bare facts of Baghdadi’s biography show an unusually capable man. … Although the New York Times recently reported that he himself is making arrangements for a succession in the event of his demise by devolving many of his military powers to subordinates, his blend of religious scholarship and political cunning won’t be easily replaced.”
The US cyber strategy needs some major improvements if the country hopes to defend itself against threats from China, Russia, and other adversaries, according to a report released this week by a bipartisan group of senators.
Among its 80+ recommendations are the creation of a “national cyber director” overseen by new congressional committees on cybersecurity, more personnel trained in cyber operations, and increased funding to ensure federal agencies like the Department of Homeland Security and Election Assistance Commission are equipped to carry out increasingly complicated missions.
“The U.S. government is currently not designed to act with the speed and agility necessary to defend the country in cyberspace,” concluded the report, the result of a year-long study by the Cyberspace Solarium Commission, a group created by Congress in 2018.
“We want this to be the 9/11 Commission Report without the 9/11,” Sen. Angus King, one of the commission’s co-chairs, told Cyberscoop, adding that the group is “trying to urge and foment change without a catastrophic event.”
To accomplish that goal, the commission suggested the US adopt a “layered cyber deterrence” strategy. Broadly, that involves encouraging allies to promote responsible behavior in cyberspace, shoring up vulnerabilities in private and public networks that enemies could exploit, and being able to retaliate against attackers.
“China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea all probed U.S. critical infrastructure with impunity,” the report said, while globally connected networks allowed criminals to commit cyber theft and extremist groups to raise funds and recruit followers.
“American restraint was met with unchecked predation,” the report said, advocating that the US take a more active role in deterring bad actors.
However, the report did not address some of the more controversial topics surrounding cybersecurity, like encryption — a frequent target of US Attorney General William Barr and others in law enforcement — and which offensive capabilities the US might be willing to give up to secure similar agreements from adversaries.
The Cyberspace Solarium Commission was modeled after President Dwight Eisenhower’s Project Solarium, which was formed in the 1950s to help the US devise a new foreign policy strategy around the Cold War, showing that the US is fundamentally rethinking how it’s approaching new digital battlegrounds as the nature of warfare evolves.
It’s no surprise that the U.S. military is constantly trying to stay on the bleeding edge of technology to give its troops the upper hand. But what might raise eyebrows is how deep they’re thinking about every strategic and tactical advantage.
What also might not be so obvious is the civilian tech out there that’ll help troops on the ground in the future.
1. DNA reconfiguration to resist radiation.
Researchers at the university of Tokyo isolated the cells of a microscopic organism called the tardigrade. It looks like a fat cross between a walrus and an anteater, but the little guy is resistant to boiling temperatures, extreme cold, crushing pressures, and intense radiation that would instantly kill any human.
The December 2016 issue of Foreign Policy magazine reported the same researchers added the resistant DNA to human cells in a petri dish and bombarded the cells with X-ray radiation. They found that human cells configured with tardigrade DNA were 40 percent less damaged than regular human cells – resistant enough to withstand the radiation on the surface of Mars.
2. Bomb-detecting spinach.
It’s not just for Popeye anymore. A research team at MIT embedded nanoparticles onto spinach plants and when these particles come in contact with explosives, they bind together, causing a reaction that gives off an infrared signal and can be alerted to mobile phones via wifi.
Not only does the plant modification detect explosives in soil, but it can also detect them in groundwater. Moreover, the plant can be used to decontaminate soil and take reclaim environmentally damaged Earth.
3. Solar Cell Uniforms.
Not solar-powered uniforms, solar power uniforms – wearable solar cells. the University of Central Florida estimates a typical rucksack weighs 60-100 pounds and is full of devices that require batteries — NVGs, radios, and GPS devices, to name a few. Those same researchers estimate that U.S. troops in Afghanistan carry 16 pounds of batteries for every 72-hour mission. Wouldn’t it be great if they didn’t have to carry that extra weight?
That’s why they developed a supercapacitor, a strip of electronic ribbon they want to interweave with cotton for American uniforms. The new fatigues would come with clip-on adapters to use in charging their needed devices. The troops would be walking solar panels, never running out of juice while on the mission.
The tourniquet is a long-standing staple of the battlefield and has been since before recorded history. The standard tourniquet has come a long way in that time; strips of torn cloth are now specially designed for ease of use and maximum pressure. But now it’s about to make its biggest leap ever.
The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, N.Y., is developing a “neural tourniquet” that is placed on a wound to electronically stimulate the spleen, ordering the red blood cells to clot wounds everywhere on a body. So far, researchers note that clotting with the e-tourniquet begins in as little as three minutes, cutting blood loss by 50 percent and bleeding time by 40 percent.
5. Electric training headphones.
The Halo Sport is currently in the realm of Olympic athletes. It’s a $700 headphone device containing electrodes that send an electrical current to the brain’s motor cortex. This strengthens the connection between the brain and muscles, improving muscle memory – giving athletes a bigger edge in competition.
If training with the Halo Sport gives athletes a performance edge in training, it could probably do wonders for getting new recruits and foreign armies up to speed on the tactics of future battlefields.