The Air Force munitions stockpile in Guam recently received a ten percent boost, according to the U.S. military.
A total of 816,393 munitions assets valued at over $95 million dollars were delivered to Andersen Air Force Base between Aug. 21 and Sept. 30, 36th Wing Public Affairs revealed in a statement Wednesday.
“The inbound munitions ensure required assets are available in theater to support national objectives,” explained Maj. Erik Schmid, 36th Munitions Squadron commander. “The munitions will increase the overall availability of day-to-day training assets and War Reserve Material stocks to support warfighting capabilities,” the statement introduced.
The commander of the Pacific Air Forces addressed the severity of the North Korean threat Monday while warning that the U.S. military remains ready to fight should that course of action be required.
“The North Korean nuclear weapons and missile development program is truly a threat to us all,” Pacific Air Forces commander Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy said in Seoul, South Korea, adding, “While the United States will always seek peace over war, we remain poised to defend our ideals, our allies, and those who help preserve these international rules and norms.”
The strategic air assets located at Andersen Air Force Base facilitate America’s continuous bomber presence in the Asia Pacific and are regularly used to warn North Korea of the dangers of threatening the U.S. and its allies.
B-1B Lancers, powerful bombers that are no longer nuclear capable but carry the largest conventional payload of any U.S. bomber, are regularly sent to Korea to train alongside South Korean and Japanese forces, conduct practice bombing raids, and carry out flybys near the inter-Korean border. These flights typically follow North Korean provocations, such as missile and nuclear tests.
With memories of the intense bombing campaigns of the Korean War still fresh in mind, Pyongyang tends to express outrage about the threat posed by U.S. flights around the peninsula. North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho recently suggested that North Korea has the right to defend itself and could move to shoot down U.S. aircraft that get too close.
The Army is working on a future Bradley Fighting Vehicle variant possibly armed with lasers, counter-drone missiles, active protection systems, vastly improved targeting sights, and increased on-board power to accommodate next-generation weapons and technologies.
Also designed to be lighter weight, more mobile, and much better protected, the emerging Bradley A5 lethality upgrade is already underway — as the Army works vigorously to ensure it is fully prepared if it is called upon to engage in major mechanized, force-on-force land war against a technically advanced near-peer rival.
As the Army pursues a more advanced A5, engineered to succeed the current upgraded A4, it is integrating 3rd Generation Forward Looking Infrared sensors for Commanders and Gunners sights, spot trackers for dismounted soldiers to identify targets and an upgraded chassis with increased underbelly protections, and a new ammunition storage configuration, Col. James, Schirmer Project Manager Armored Fighting Vehicles, said earlier this Fall at AUSA.
BAE Systems, maker of the Bradley, told Warrior the platform’s modernization effort is designed in three specific stages. The first stage in the modernization process was the Bradley Track Suspension to address suspension upgrades, BAE statements said. The subsequent Bradley A4 Engineering Change Proposal, soon to enter production, improves mobility and increases electrical power generation. More on-board power can bring the technical means to greatly support advanced electronics, command and control systems, computing power, sensors, networks, and even electronic warfare technologies.
Maj. Gen. David Bassett, former Program Executive Officer for Ground Combat Systems, described the upgrades in terms of A3 and A4 focusing upon the Bradley from the turret ring down — leading the A5 effort to more heavily modernize Bradley systems from the turret up. This includes weapons sights, guns, optics, next-generation signals intelligence, and even early iterations of artificial intelligence, and increased computer automation.
During several previous interviews with Warrior, Bassett has explained that computer-enabled autonomous drones will likely be operated by nearby armored combat vehicles, using fast emerging iterations of artificial intelligence. These unmanned systems, operated by human crews performing command and control from nearby vehicles, could carry ammunition, conduct reconnaissance missions, test enemy defenses or even fire weapons – all while allowing manned crews to remain at a safer stand-off distance. At one point, Bassett told Warrior that, in the future, virtually all armored vehicles will have an ability to be tele-operated, if necessary.
Also, while Army Bradley developers did not specifically say they planned to arm Bradleys with laser weapons, such innovation is well within the realm of the possible. Working with industry, the Army has already shot down drone targets with Stryker-fired laser weapons, and the service currently has several laser weapons programs at various stages of development. This includes ground-fired Forward Operating Base protection laser weapons as well as vehicle-mounted lasers. A key focus for this effort, which involves a move to engineer a much stronger 100-kilowatt vehicle-fired laser, is heavily reliant upon an ability to integrate substantial amounts of mobile electrical power into armored vehicles.
President Xi Jinping said China will “fight the bloody battle against our enemies” in a speech on March 20, 2018, striking a nationalistic and hawkish tone.
In his closing speech of the country’s annual legislative meeting, Xi discussed the benefits of China’s socialism, the Belt and Road initiative, and a string of domestic policies, zeroing in on Hong Kong and Taiwan.
“We are resolved to fight the bloody battle against our enemies … with a strong determination to take our place in the world,” Xi said, according to CNN.
Xi also said any separatist action to seek independence in these territories would be doomed to fail.
“The Chinese people have strong determination, full confidence, and every capability to triumph over all these separatist actions. The Chinese people and the Chinese nation have a shared conviction which is not a single inch of our land will be and can be ceded from China,” Xi said.
While it was not clear if China’s president was referring to any particular incident, state-run media one day earlier threatened “military pressure” and drills would resume if US and Taiwanese officials began visiting one another under the new Taiwan Travel Act.
China considers the self-ruled, democratic island to be a province of China that will one day be reunified with the mainland. Beijing refuses to have diplomatic relations with any nation that treats Taiwan as a country, and relations between China and Taiwan worsened since Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s independence-leaning leader, became president in 2016.
Xi, who oversees all Taiwan affairs, also focused on reunifying Taiwan and China during a major speech to the Communist Party in 2017. Analyzing that speech, some experts estimate that Xi’s is hoping for reunification by 2050 — by peaceful means, or by force, if necessary.
In 2013, Xi said the issue needed to be resolved, and couldn’t be passed on “from generation to generation.” Even still, Taiwan has noticed a tougher stance coming from Xi of late as he begins to focus on his goal of “national rejuvenation.”
Xi also focused on increasing the “national identity” and patriotism of citizens in Hong Kong and Macau.
On March 20, 2018, Human Rights Watch issued a report on plans for Hong Kong legislators to discuss a law that criminalizes the insulting of the Chinese national anthem. The punishment for those who alter the lyrics, score, or sing in a derogatory manner, could be up to three years in prison.
“Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has played down fears the bill could be politicized, saying it merely aims to encourage ‘respect’ for the anthem. Yet she has not acknowledged citizens’ concerns about forcing their political loyalty to Beijing, or how mainland authorities’ frequently jail people for peaceful criticism,” Maya Wang, Human Rights Watch’s senior researcher on China.
“Enacting this law will merely remind Hong Kong people just how tenuous their rights to free speech are.”
An excerpt of Xi’s speech:
“We will continue to implement One Country, Two Systems principle: Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong, Macau people governing Macau, and a high degree of autonomy in the Special Administrative Regions (SARs). We will continue to stick to the constitution and basic laws in governing the two regions and support the SARs and its chief executives in implementing its functions and supporting Hong Kong and Macau in integrating into the larger picture of the country.
We will continue to strengthen and foster the national identity and patriotism of people in Hong Kong and Macau SARs and maintain long-term stability and prosperity in Hong Kong and Macau SARs.
We should continue to stick to the One China principle, 1992 consensus, advance the development of cross-strait relations, and expand the economic and cultural exchanges between the two sides. By doing so, we will make sure that people both in Taiwan and the mainland will share in the development and improve its well-being and also advance the unification of the country.
We should safeguard the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country and achieve full reunification of the motherland. This is the aspiration of all Chinese people and this is also in line with the fundamental interests of the Chinese nation. Faced with this very important question of our nation and history, any action that aims to separate the country is doomed to fail.
And these separatist actions will be met with the condemnation of the people and the punishment of the history. The Chinese people have strong determination, full confidence and every capability to triumph over all these separatist actions. The Chinese people and the Chinese nation have a shared conviction which is not a single inch of our land will be and can be ceded from China.”
Martial law came into force across a large swath of Ukraine on Nov. 28, following a clash at sea that Kyiv called an “act of aggression” by Moscow and Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed was ploy to boost his Ukrainian counterpart’s popularity ahead of an election in March.
Ukraine introduced martial law in 10 of its 27 regions — including all of those that border Russia or have coastlines — after Russian coast-guard craft rammed and fired on three Ukrainian Navy vessels off the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea on Nov. 25 before seizing the boats and detaining 24 crew members, six of whom were wounded.
Ukraine imposes martial law as tensions with Russia escalate
In two days of hearings, courts in Russian-controlled Crimea ordered all 24 to be held in custody for two months pending possible trial, defying calls from Kyiv and the West for their immediate release and also signaling that the Kremlin wants to cast the incident as a routine border violation rather than warfare at sea.
The detention period can be extended, and the Ukranians face up to six years in prison if convicted on charges of illegal border crossing.
Seems #Russia will try to barrel through aftermath of the #KerchStrait confrontation by treating it as a court case. 15 of 24 #Ukraine sailors already sentenced to 2 months pretrial detention, including three in Kerch who must be the wounded. Other 9 expected today.
In his first public comments on the incident that increased already high tensions between Kyiv and Moscow and sparked concerns of a widening of the simmering war between Ukrainian government forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, Putin reiterated Russia’a accusation that the Ukrainian boats trespassed in Russian waters — a claim Kyiv has denied.
“It was without doubt a provocation,” Putin told a financial forum in Moscow.
He claimed that the confrontation was orchestrated by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who opinion polls indicate faces an uphill battle in his expected bid for a second term in an election now officially scheduled for March 31.
“It was organized by the president ahead of the elections,” Putin said, adding that Poroshenko “is in fifth place, ratings-wise, and therefore had to do something. It was used as a pretext to introduce martial law.”
Putin claimed that the Ukrainian “military vessels intruded into Russian territorial waters and did not answer” the Russian coast guard. “What were they supposed to do?”
“They would do the same in your country. This is absolutely obvious,” he said, responding to a question from a foreign investor at the forum.
While laying the blame squarely on Ukraine, Putin — whose country could face fresh Western sanctions over the clash — also sought to play it down, saying it was nothing more than a border incident and calling martial law an exaggerated response.
Opinion polls in Ukraine suggest that Poroshenko faces an uphill battle in his expected bid for a second term in a presidential election scheduled for March 31.
Some Kremlin critics suspect that it was Putin who orchestrated the clash, in an attempt to bolster his own approval rating amid anger in Russia over plans to raise the retirement age.
In earlier comments at the same conference, Putin said he hopes he will meet with U.S. President Donald Trump on the sidelines of a G20 summit later this week in Argentina, as planned.
Trump cast doubt on the meeting on November 27, telling The Washington Post that he might not meet with Putin as a result of the confrontation between Russia and Ukraine, adding: “I don’t like that aggression. I don’t want that aggression at all.”
The Ukrainian parliament late on November 26 voted to impose martial law for 30 days in the provinces that Poroshenko said are the most vulnerable to “aggression from Russia.”
The 10 provinces all border Russia or Moldova’s breakaway Transdniester region, where Russian troops are stationed, or have coastlines on the Black Sea or the Sea of Azov close to Crimea.
Among other things, martial law gives Ukrainian authorities the power to order a partial mobilization, strengthen air defenses, and take steps “to strengthen the counterintelligence, counterterrorism, and countersabotage regime and information security.”
It is the first time Ukraine has imposed martial law since Russia seized Crimea in March 2014 and backed separatists fighting Kyiv’s forces in a war that erupted in the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk the following month.
Those moves, which prompted the United States, the European Union, and others to impose sanctions on Russia, followed the downfall of a Moscow-friendly Ukrainian president who was pushed from power by a pro-European protest movement known as the Maidan.
While Russian forces occupied Crimea before the takeover and are heavily involved in the war in eastern Ukraine, according to Kyiv and NATO, the clash in the Black Sea near Crimea was the first case in which Russia has acknowledged its military or law enforcement forces have fired on Ukrainians.
Before Putin made his comments, the Kremlin called the introduction of martial law a “reckless” act that “potentially could lead to the threat of an escalation of tension in the conflict region in the southeast” of Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the Russian military said it will bolster the defenses of Russian-controlled Crimea by add one S-400 surface-to-air missile system to the three already deployed there.”
The new air-defense missile system will soon be put on combat duty to guard Russian airspace,” Colonel Vadim Astafyev said. State-run news agency RIA Novosti said the system will be operational by the end of the year.
Moscow claims that Crimea is part of Russia, but the overwhelming majority of countries reject that and still consider it to be part of Ukraine.
Poroshenko said that Russia’s actions threatened to lead to a “full-scale war” and accused Moscow of mounting a major buildup of forces near Ukraine.
“The number of [Russian] units that have been stationed along our entire border has increased dramatically,” Poroshenko said in a television interview late on November 27, adding that the number of Russian tanks has tripled. Russia has not commented.
The clash in waters near Crimea was by far the biggest confrontation at sea after more than four years of war between Kyiv and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, where more than 10,300 civilians and combatants have been killed.
It followed months of growing tension over the waters in and around the Kerch Strait, where Russia opened a bridge leading to Crimea in May.
The strait is the only route for ships traveling between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, where Ukraine has several ports.
In comments to The Washington Post published on November 27, Trump said he was considering canceling his scheduled meeting with Putin on the sidelines of a Group of 20 (G20) summit in Buenos Aires on November 30-December 1.
Trump told The Washington Post he was waiting for a “full report” from his national-security team about the incident.
“That will be very determinative,” Trump told The Washington Post. “Maybe I won’t even have the meeting…I don’t like that aggression. I don’t want that aggression at all.”
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said on November 28 that “preparations are continuing, the meeting was agreed.”
“We don’t have any other information from [U.S. officials],” he said when asked about Trump’s comments.
Meanwhile, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert urged European states to do more to support Ukraine and said Washington wants to see tougher enforcement of sanctions against Russia.
European Union leaders said they were considering ratcheting up sanctions on Russia for illegally blocking access to the Sea of Azov over the weekend and because of its defiance of calls to release the Ukrainian crew members.
On November 27, Russian courts in the Crimean cities of Simferopol and Kerch ordered 15 of the Ukrainians to be held in custody for two months. Hearings for the other nine on November 28 produced the same result.
The mother of detained sailor Andriy Eyder, Viktoria Eyder, told RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service in the Black Sea port city of Odesa that her son was “wounded and is hospitalized in Kerch.”
The court rulings put the sailors in a situation similar to that of several Ukrainians, including film director Oleh Sentsov, who are being held in Russian prisons and jails for what Kyiv and Western governments say are political reasons.
With reporting by RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, the Crimean Desk of RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa, BBC, Interfax, and RIA
Eugene Sledge and several classmates intentionally flunked out of their studies in order to enlist during World War II. Sledge chose the Marine Corps infantry and was trained as a 60mm mortarman before being assigned as a replacement in the 5th Marine Regiment. Pvt. Sledge joined K Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines after the Battle of Cape Gloucester in preparation for the assault on Peleliu. Sledge and the rest of the 1st Marine Division attacked Peleliu on September 15, 1944.
The fight for the island was supposed to be short but dragged on for more than two months before the island was secure. It was during the fighting on Peleliu that Sledge began keeping a journal of his experiences tucked in the pages of his bible. The fight for the island had so decimated his division that they would not be fit for action again for over six months.
The 1st Marine Division next saw action during the bloody battle for Okinawa. After 82 intense days of combat, the island was secured and the Marines began preparing for their next mission, the invasion of Japan. Fortunately, the atomic bombs forced a Japanese capitulation and Sledge and the 5th Marines instead were sent to Beijing for occupation duty. Sledge was discharged from the Marine Corps in February of 1946 at the rank of corporal.
Despite being out of the war, the experiences he had continued to plague him. He felt out of place back in Alabama, being around people who had not experienced the war. As he stated in an interview with PBS, “As I strolled the streets of Mobile, civilian life seemed so strange. People rushed around in a hurry about seemingly insignificant things. Few seemed to realise how blessed they were to be free and untouched by the horrors of war. To them, a veteran was a veteran – all were the same, whether one man had survived the deadliest combat or another had pounded a typewriter while in uniform.”
While at the Registrar a clerk reviewing his military transcripts asked him if “the Marine Corps taught you anything useful?” To which he replied “Lady, there was a killing war. The Marine Corps taught me how to kill Japs and try to survive. Now, if that don’t fit into any academic course, I’m sorry. But some of us had to do the killing — and most of my buddies got killed or wounded.”
Along with his difficulties with civilians, Eugene Sledge also found himself a changed man. Prior to the war, he had been an avid hunter but when he came back, he found the experience too much to bear. During one particular hunt, Sledge’s father found him weeping after having to kill a wounded dove, saying he could no longer bear to witness any suffering. The conversation was an important one. His father suggested he could substitute bird watching for hunting. This would be a turning point in Sledge’s transition and help guide his career.
Sledge threw himself into his studies at Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University), as the studying seemed to help with the flashbacks. In science, he found a subject that would keep him sane and complimented his new passion for observing nature. He completed his bachelor’s degree in only three years, graduating in 1949 with a degree in Biology. He returned to Alabama Polytechnic in 1953 as a graduate student and research assistant before earning his Master’s in Biology in 1955.
Despite his rigorous study keeping many of the bad memories at bay, the war was still with him. At the urging of his wife, he returned to the journal he kept during the war and began work on his memoirs. Then from 1956 to 1960 Sledge attended the University of Florida where he received his Ph.D. in Biology. Dr. Sledge returned to Alabama and became a professor of Biology at the University of Montevallo in 1962.
Dr. Sledge continued to teach at the university until his retirement in 1990. During that time, he also continued to work on his own memoirs. His first book, With the Old Breed: at Peleliu and Okinawa, was published in 1981. Unlike most autobiographical war memoirs, Sledge’s book was written very academically and included cited sources. There is no shortage of authenticity to it, as he describes in gory detail, his experiences from the war. Combined with his academic pursuits, the writing of his book allowed Sledge to finally put the war behind him.
Eugene Sledge died in 2001 but his memory lives on. In 2002, his second book, China Marine: an Infantryman’s Life after WWII, was published. Then in 2007, it was announced that “With the Old Breed” was being used as source material for the HBO miniseries “The Pacific.” “With the Old Breed” is also on the Commandant’s Reading List.
The United States must confront Russia for providing weapons to the Taliban for use against American-backed forces in Afghanistan, top U.S. military officials said Monday.
At a news conference with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis at his side, Gen. John Nicholson, the American commander in Afghanistan, wouldn’t provide specifics about Russia’s role in Afghanistan. But said he would “not refute” that Moscow’s involvement includes giving weapons to the Taliban.
Earlier Monday, a senior U.S. military official told reporters in Kabul that Russia was giving machine guns and other medium-weight weapons. The Taliban are using the weapons in the southern provinces of Helmand, Kandahar and Uruzgan, according to the official, who briefed journalists on intelligence information on condition of anonymity.
Russia denies that it provides any such support to the Taliban, which ruled Afghanistan until the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. Russia says contacts are limited to safeguarding security and getting the hard-line religious fundamentalists to reconcile with the government — which Washington has failed for years to advance. Russia also has promoted easing global sanctions on Taliban leaders who prove cooperative.
Asked about Russia’s activity in Afghanistan, where it fought a bloody war in the 1980s and withdrew in defeat, Mattis alluded to the increasing U.S. concerns.
“We’ll engage with Russia diplomatically,” Mattis said. “We’ll do so where we can, but we’re going to have to confront Russia where what they’re doing is contrary to international law or denying the sovereignty of other countries.”
“For example,” Mattis told reporters in the Afghan capital, “any weapons being funneled here from a foreign country would be a violation of international law.”
Mattis met with President Ashraf Ghani and other senior government officials just hours after the nation’s defense minister and Army chief resigned over a massacre of more than 140 Afghan troops at a military base last Friday.
The insurgent assault was the biggest ever on a military base in Afghanistan, involving multiple gunmen and suicide bombers in army uniforms who penetrated the compound of the 209th Corps of the Afghan National Army in northern Balkh province on Friday, killing and wounding scores. The death toll was likely to rise further.
Referring to the Russians again, Nicholson said “anyone who arms belligerents who perpetuate attacks like the one we saw” isn’t focused on “the best way forward to a peaceful reconciliation.”
Given the sophisticated planning behind the attack, he also said “it’s quite possible” that the Pakistan-based Haqqani network was responsible. The Taliban claimed it carried out the attack.
Nicholson recently told Congress that he needs a few thousand more troops to keep Afghan security forces on track to eventually handling the Taliban insurgency on their own. The Trump administration is still reviewing possible troop decisions.
Mattis on Monday offered a grim assessment for Afghan forces fighting the Taliban.
“2017 is going to be another tough year,” he said.
Kabul was the final stop on Mattis’ six-nation, weeklong tour. He is the first member of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet to visit Afghanistan. As part of the administration’s review of Afghan policy, Trump’s national security adviser, Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, visited Kabul last week to consult with Nicholson and Afghan officials.
The war began in October 2001. The U.S. has about 9,800 troops in Afghanistan. They ended their combat mission against the Taliban in 2014 but are increasingly involved in backing up Afghan forces on the battlefield.
The following is an Op/Ed written by Ken Falke. The opinions expressed are his own.
There’s an important day of commemoration on March 29th — or in some U.S. States, March 30th — that goes unnoticed until the nightly evening news or a stumble on social media. This very special day is Vietnam Veterans Day, or in some states, “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day.”
In 1974, President Nixon established this commemoration to recognize the contributions of the men and women who served during this unpopular war and tumultuous time in our history.
Vietnam War memorial. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons | InSapphoWeTrust)
While many will rightly mark the day with speeches, tributes, and celebrations fitting for this great generation, there is a more meaningful way to honor our Vietnam veterans and all veterans. That honor is to provide them new and innovative ways to improve their mental wellness and reintegration into their communities.
Approximately 2.7 million young men and women served in Vietnam — about the same number that have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since September 2001. While all serving since 9/11 volunteered, few realize that almost two-thirds of Vietnam veterans volunteered to serve as well.
Even though Vietnam was an unpopular war, 91 percent of Vietnam Veterans said they were glad they served in the war, and one-quarter said they would do it again. What these numbers show is the incredible commitment to service that our Vietnam-era veterans share with the post-9/11 veteran generation.
But there are disturbing similarities as well. The current veteran suicide rate of 20+ per day is well publicized; though that the average age of the veteran is 55 years old is less known. PTSD rates from both generations hover around 30 percent.
Additionally, Vietnam veterans struggled — and many still do — with the same challenges that today’s veterans face: PTSD, anxiety, drug, and alcohol dependency, and family and work stability. By a percentage comparison, of the 591 Vietnam prisoners of war (POWs) only 4 percent had symptoms of PTSD.
So why did POWs who experience what would be considered the most traumatic experiences seem to fare so well?
Many suggest the leadership of Admiral James Stockdale while a POW in the “Hanoi Hilton.” His leadership provided purpose, mission, and direction as a team to “return with honor.”
Often, the sense of purpose provided by leadership during transitions facilitates growth to occur. While the DOD, the VA, and other organizations work hard to care for our veterans, the element of leadership seems to be lost after service and veterans fall into a “no-man’s land” that lacks wellness, a clear mission, and renewed purpose.
Why have we made so little progress in mental wellness for our returning warriors?
Many experts, including the Journal of American Medical Association, suggest that our reactive approach to combat related stress such as PTSD doesn’t work. Indicators show that our current approach has made little progress since the Vietnam War, and some suggest since World War I.
We are repeating minimally effective practices where veterans are offered medication, which largely attacks symptoms and leaves them as diminished versions of themselves, or talk-therapy provided by well-intended but often ill-equipped therapists, and cased in stigma.
Though the VA has announced plans to hire 1,000 additional mental health professionals, more therapists will not fix the inadequacies of the current approaches.
How can we do better?
First, expand public-private partnerships. The private sector and nonprofit organizations have developed new approaches to veteran wellness and reintegration that could be expanded. These approaches leverage training (which is compatible with military personnel and veteran culture) and new technology that could “triage” veterans and provide skills to facilitate Post-traumatic Growth before the need for medication or therapy.
Second, we need to recognize and address the stigma associated with therapy. While veterans — and civilians — can gain some benefit from talk-therapy and medication, one can only grow by learning the skills associated with growth. This requires a holistic training approach that veterans understand and allows them to thrive, not just survive.
Finally, innovation costs money. The President’s proposed budget has a 6 percent increase to the VA’s budget; much of it to focus on health care. While this is positive, we need to use new funds to create innovative solutions, not further outdated practices. While the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan continue and future threats remain, veteran mental health issues will likely worsen.
This March 29th and 30th we will stop to honor and welcome home our Vietnam veterans. While speeches, ceremonies, and commemorations will recognize their sacrifice, to truly honor their service — and the service of those that follow — we should facilitate growth and purposeful lives they truly deserve and welcomes them home.
A US service member died in a non-combat incident in Afghanistan Sept. 4, 2018, marking the second American death in two days in the war-torn country.
The incident is currently under investigation, according to an Operation Resolute Support press statement that was decidedly short on details. The fallen’s name will be released 24 hours after the individual’s next of kin have been notified.
The world’s vast oceans and seas offer seemingly endless spaces in which adversaries of the United States can maneuver undetected. The U.S. military deploys networks of manned and unmanned platforms and sensors to monitor adversary activity, but the scale of the task is daunting and hardware alone cannot meet every need in the dynamic marine environment. Sea life, however, offers a potential new advantage. Marine organisms are highly attuned to their surroundings — their survival depends on it — and a new program out of DARPA’s Biological Technologies Office aims to tap into their natural sensing capabilities to detect and signal when activities of interest occur in strategic waters such as straits and littoral regions.
The Persistent Aquatic Living Sensors (PALS) program, led by program manager Lori Adornato, will study natural and modified organisms to determine which ones could best support sensor systems that detect the movement of manned and unmanned underwater vehicles. PALS will investigate marine organisms’ responses to the presence of such vehicles, and characterize the resulting signals or behaviors so they can be captured, interpreted, and relayed by a network of hardware devices.
“The U.S. Navy’s current approach to detecting and monitoring underwater vehicles is hardware-centric and resource intensive. As a result, the capability is mostly used at the tactical level to protect high-value assets like aircraft carriers, and less so at the broader strategic level,” Adornato said. “If we can tap into the innate sensing capabilities of living organisms that are ubiquitous in the oceans, we can extend our ability to track adversary activity and do so discreetly, on a persistent basis, and with enough precision to characterize the size and type of adversary vehicles.”
Beyond sheer ubiquity, sensor systems built around living organisms would offer a number of advantages over hardware alone. Sea life adapts and responds to its environment, and it self-replicates and self-sustains. Evolution has given marine organisms the ability to sense stimuli across domains — tactile, electrical, acoustic, magnetic, chemical, and optical. Even extreme low light is not an obstacle to organisms that have evolved to hunt and evade in the dark.
However, evaluating the sensing capabilities of sea life is only one of the challenges for PALS researchers. Performer teams supporting DARPA will also have to develop hardware, software, and algorithms to translate organism behavior into actionable information and then communicate it to end users. Deployed hardware systems operating at a standoff distance of up to 500 meters must collect signals of interest from relevant species, process and distill them, and then relay them to remote end users. The complete sensing systems must also discriminate between target vehicles and other sources of stimuli, such as debris and other marine organisms, to limit the number of false positives.
Adornato is aiming to demonstrate the approach and its advantages in realistic environments to convey military utility.
“Our ideal scenario for PALS is to leverage a wide range of native marine organisms, with no need to train, house, or modify them in any way, which would open up this type of sensing to many locations,” Adornato said.
DARPA favors proposals that employ natural organisms, but proposers are able to suggest modifications. To the extent researchers do propose solutions that would tune organisms’ reporting mechanisms, the proposers will be responsible for developing appropriate environmental safeguards to support future deployment. However, at no point in the PALS program will DARPA test modified organisms outside of contained, biosecure facilities.
DARPA anticipates that PALS will be a four-year, fundamental research program requiring contributions in the areas of biology, chemistry, physics, machine learning, analytics, oceanography, mechanical and electrical engineering, and weak signals detection.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is now paying a veteran $500,000 to settle a lawsuit, in which the veteran alleged he suffered heart damage because of delays in care.
John Porter, an Air Force veteran who served in the Vietnam War, sued the VA in 2016, saying that the staff at the Des Moines, Iowa VA medical center failed to inform him for years that he was suffering progressive heart failure, The Associated Press reports.
Porter recounted that he first went to the Des Moines VA in 2011 because he was beginning to feel chest tightness. Subsequent tests revealed that he might be suffering from heart problems. Another test three weeks later indicated that his heart was only performing at half the ideal level, according to the text of the lawsuit. Still, no one informed Porter that the test was essentially showing progressive heart failure, even though he continued to experience fatigue and dizziness.
It was only when Porter visited a VA hospital in Phoenix three years later in 2014 that doctors examined old tests from the Des Moines facility and told Porter the results.
Russia’s political-military leadership frequently criticizes the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) for its enlargement and for staging military exercises close to Russian borders. This pattern has intensified since Russia’s intervention in Ukraine in 2014 and the subsequent downturn in its relations with the United States and its allies.
Surprisingly, therefore, Moscow’s official reaction has been somewhat muted during the current run up to the active phases of NATO’s largest exercise in Europe in 25 years—though some Russian military experts have been making critical comments to the media.
On January 23, the US Department of Defense confirmed that a redeployment of United States military personnel had commenced, transferring forces from the homeland to Europe as part of the NATO exercise Defender Europe 2020. The wide-spanning maneuvers will focus on the Baltic States, Poland and Georgia, involving more than 36,000 personnel from 11 countries (Lenta.ru, January 26, 2020).
Russian news outlets have highlighted that this year’s Defender Europe exercise scenario is based on a war breaking out on the continent in 2028, between NATO and an enemy close to its borders. Additional reports stressed the scale of the exercise, with 28,000 U.S. military personnel participating, including the deployment of 20,000 from the United States. Referring to the magnitude of the drills, Vadim Kozyulin, a professor at the Russian Academy of Military Sciences, compared them to the 1983 Able Archer, which resulted in Soviet forces being placed on alert.
Despite the scale of Defender Europe 2020 not even coming close to Able Archer 1983, a number of the upcoming exercise’s features may well cause concern for the Russian defense establishment (Lenta.ru, January 26, 2020). Kozyulin asserted, “Such large-scale exercises will seriously aggravate the situation. Moreover, the main events will be held in Poland, Georgia and the Baltic countries, which not only border Russia, but also [exhibit] an unfriendly attitude toward our country” (Km.ru, January 27).
These reports also stressed a number of aspects of the exercise that may help explain the lack of an official response from Moscow thus far. Defender Europe will become an annual NATO exercise with a large-scale iteration planned for even-numbered years and smaller versions occurring in between. US military personnel will constitute the bulk of the force this year, with European allies collectively providing only 8,000 personnel.
As Russian analysts expect, moving the forces, equipment and hardware will prove quite challenging to the North Atlantic Alliance forces. Moreover, Defender Europe 2020 is the first exercise of its kind, which may have persuaded Russia’s defense leadership to cautiously study the exercise in all its various elements before responding to it (Km.ru, January 27, 2020; Lenta.ru, January 26, 2020; Rusvesna.su, January 25, 2020).
In a detailed commentary in Izvestia, the Moscow-based military analyst Anton Lavrov assesses the implications of the exercise, and identifies areas that will be closely monitored by Russia. Lavrov notes that Defender Europe will work out how the Alliance will fight a “war of the future” by testing an experimental strategy and some of its latest military equipment, adding, “Almost 500 American tanks, self-propelled guns and heavy infantry fighting vehicles, hundreds of aircraft, [as well as] tens of thousands of wheeled vehicles will take part in the exercises.”
The force buildup for the maneuvers will continue until April, and then NATO will conduct a series of drills forming part of the overall exercise. Crucially, this will provide an opportunity for the US to road-test its latest doctrinal development, namely “multi-domain battle,” which adds space and cyberspace to the traditional domains of land, sea and air. Lavrov states, “The concept will be tested in a series of command and staff exercises of the allied forces” (Izvestia, January 26, 2020).
The exercise divides into three related elements: transferring 20,000 US troops from the homeland to Europe and back again, moving US personnel based in Europe, and conducting a series of smaller exercises alongside allied forces.
Lavrov also points to the fact that Defender Europe 2020 will rehearse both defensive and offensive operations. One feature of the offensive operational aspects relates to US airborne forces conducting three joint airborne assault landings. In each case, the leading role is assigned to US forces. In the drop into Latvia, they will be joined by forces from Spain and Italy; in Lithuania, they are aided by personnel from Poland; and an additional multilateral airdrop is planned for Georgia (Izvestia, January 26, 2020).
As noted, one key challenge relates to the logistical tasks of moving troops and equipment over such vast distances. US military personnel and equipment will land at airports across Europe and seaports in Antwerp (Belgium), Vlissingen (Netherlands), Bremerhaven (Germany) and Paldiski (Estonia).
Russian military expert Vyacheslav Shurygin explained the nature of the challenge: “The transport infrastructure of Europe has not encountered such large-scale movements of military equipment for a long time.” Indeed, the redeployment of forces and hardware involved cannot be compared to standard US battle group rotations (Izvestia, January 26, 2020).
Clearly, one of the objectives of the exercise is to assess the efficiency of these deployments into a potential theater of military operations. Lavrov adds, “Even for the modern US Army, the transfer of heavy tank and infantry divisions from continent to continent is a difficult, lengthy and expensive task. Twenty thousand units of equipment that the Americans will use in the maneuvers will arrive from the US, and another 13,000 will be received by the military from storage bases on the spot.
In Europe, there are now four large storages of American military equipment. Each one has everything, from tanks and artillery to trucks and medical vehicles, to equip a tank brigade. Another similar base is being built in Poland and will be commissioned in 2021″ (Izvestia, January 26, 2020).
One commentary in the Russian media stressed not only that NATO was deploying forces for exercises close to Russia’s borders but pointedly also referenced Belarus, which fits with Moscow’s scenario planning for its Zapad series of strategic military exercises: “However, the fact that such a powerful group of US and NATO forces is practicing deployments near the borders of Belarus and Russia, against the background of a growing American military presence in Poland and the Baltic countries, is a matter of concern” (Rusvesna.su, January 25, 2020).
It remains to be seen whether Russia’s political-military leadership will continue to be cautious about Defender Europe, restricting its criticism to public rhetoric, or if it will ultimately try to engage the Alliance in political or information warfare on this front.
Just one year after President Trump signed Executive Order 13822, VA has made significant strides forward in its mission to provide mental health care to transitioning service members and veterans during the first 12 months after separation from service, a critical period marked by a high risk for suicide.
The executive order mandated the creation of a Joint Action Plan by the departments of Defense, Homeland Security and VA. The plan was accepted by the White House in May 2018 and has been underway since that time.
According to Dr. Keita Franklin, executive director, suicide prevention for VA’s Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, all 16 tasks outlined in the Joint Action Plan are on target for full implementation by their projected completion dates, seven out of the 16 items are complete and early data collection efforts are showing positive results.
Transitioning service members can now register for VA health care early
Partnerships within the Veterans Health Administration and the Veterans Benefits Administration’s Office of Transition and Economic Development, are actively providing, through the Joint Action Plan, transitioning service members with the opportunity to register for VA health care pre-transition during the Transition Assistance Program. This is a new option for service members, who before were provided with information for independent registration, however, were not provided with the opportunity for facilitated registration.
“In a single month, more than 34 percent of the nearly 8,000 transitioning service members who attended the TAP modules in person registered for VA health care before, during or after their class attendance date,” Franklin said. “One of the joint goals of this effort is to reduce barriers to care. By getting transitioning service members registered into the VA health care system earlier, we are able to get them the mental health care they need much quicker.”
The TAP curriculum is also modified to incorporate a new military lifecycle module on community integration resources. This module informs transitioning service members about community organizations as well as how to identify and check them.
“Because of the updates to TAP, 81 percent of the transitioning service members in TAP during the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2018 said they felt informed about the mental health services available to them,” Franklin said. “This modification reinforces the important role of community partners, such as Veteran Service Organizations.
Emergent mental health care available to more service members than ever before
Through the coordinated efforts of DoD, DHS, and VA, certain former service members may receive emergent mental health care from VA. Additionally, any newly transitioned veteran who is eligible can go to a VA medical center, Vet Center, or community provider and start receiving health care right away.
As part of the effort to provide mental and behavioral health care, VA is using telemental health technology to reach those service members who may not have easy access to a VA facility and implementing eligibility training for employees at the field level.
“Mental health care is something that we want to make available as widely as possible,” said Dr. David Carroll, executive director, Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention. “The efforts under this executive order are one way that we can make that happen. We have the greatest respect for the men and women who have served in our nation’s armed forces, and we will not relent in our efforts to connect those who are experiencing an emotional or mental health crisis with lifesaving support.”
Looking ahead: Early contact and predictive analytics
While proud of how far the program has come since May, Franklin acknowledged that there is still some time before all of the Joint Action Plan goals will be fully implemented. However, there are several goals underway that will be complete in the coming months, including:
Within the next six months, the veterans Benefits Administration will establish caring messaging and reach to all transitioning service members and veterans to inform them about a variety of resources including health care enrollment, education benefits, and more.
By April 2019, DoD, DHS and VA will establish a way forward for an integrated data environment and inter-agency analytical platform that can support development of a joint approach to predictive modeling.
“This executive order was established to assist in preventing suicide during a critical period – the first-year post-separation from military service. However, the completed and ongoing work of the executive order and Joint Action Plan will likely impact suicide prevention efforts far beyond the first year,” Franklin said. “We are working diligently to increase coordinated outreach, increase access to care and focus our efforts beyond just the first-year post-separation. We are working to promote wellness, increase protective factors, reduce mental health risks, and promote effective treatment and recovery as part of a holistic approach to suicide prevention.”
The efforts created under Executive Order 13822 and the Joint Action Plan are all key components of VA’s public health approach to suicide prevention. Combined with VA’s other suicide prevention programs, these efforts will provide a full continuum of evidence-based mental health care that can help prevent a suicidal crisis before it occurs. Using a public health approach to suicide prevention, VA continues to focus care on high-risk individuals in health care settings, while also encouraging comprehensive collaboration with communities to reach service members and veterans where they live, work, and thrive.
“Just as there is no single cause of suicide, no single organization can end suicide alone,” Franklin said. “We’ve been able accomplish and implement some great things from the executive order and Joint Action Plan in the last year, but there other important and valuable efforts ongoing and in our future, too. That’s why VA is working to educate partners, other government agencies, employers, community organizations, and more, on the available mental health and suicide prevention resources available – both inside and outside of VA.”
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
Corporal Legend, a mascot who has served as a Parris Island morale booster since 2011, passed away Sept. 17, according to a release from the depot.
The English Bulldog was found unresponsive and taken to the depot’s veterinary clinic where he was pronounced dead, according to the release. It states a funeral ceremony will be held on Oct. 13 at 2 p.m. at the depot’s mascot cemetery.
Cpl. Legend, the depot’s 20th mascot, was diagnosed with a heart condition earlier this year and placed on a limited work schedule pending his retirement, according to the release.
“Legend was a very relaxed dog, ” Lance Cpl. Alicia Stull, administrative clerk with Headquarters and Service Battalion along with Legend’s caretaker since August 2016, said in the release. “It taught me how to be more patient as a person, since he was a very laid back dog.”
As a moral booster, he participated in the motivational run on family day, the depot’s morning colors ceremony, and graduation, the release states.
Cpt. Legend enlisted in the Marine Corps on Nov. 4, 2011 and graduated from Hotel Company, 2nd Recruit Training Battalion, as an honor graduate, earning him meritorious private first class. He was preceded by Sgt. Archibald Hummer, who died in September of that year.
“Each time I left my room he would run behind me and look at me like I was never going to come back,” said Stull. “So I always took him with me wherever I went. He was like my baby.”
Opha Mae is set to take over the post as the depot’s first female mascot. She is currently in training with Platoon 4044, Papa Company, 4th Recruit Training Battalion and is scheduled to graduate on Nov. 17, 2017.
“She is excited about anything or everything you put in front of her,” said Cpl. Cameron Philips, an administrative clerk with Headquarters and Service Battalion. “She is very social and energetic; her people skills are why she will fulfill her new roll excellently.”