On behalf of the upcoming film Last Flag Flying, Amazon Studios partnered with We Are The Mighty to donate two World Series tickets to a lucky veteran in the Los Angeles area.
When Army veteran Greg Alaimo was told he’d won tickets to the World Series, he couldn’t believe it. “You won’t believe it either!” he told We Are The Mighty.
Alaimo, a Vietnam War veteran and Bronze Medal recipient, had assisted the Los Angeles Dodgers in finding recommendations for Vietnam War veterans for their Hero Of The Game. After Alaimo received the final list (which includes men like Medal of Honor recipient Ray Vargas and Charlie Plumb, who was a POW for 6 years during the war), he realized he wanted to meet the men on it.
“The heroes they chose are amazing. I called my contact and thanked him for allowing me to participate. I then asked if I could purchase two tickets. He regretfully indicated no tickets were available. I wanted to visit with those chosen for this is the first time the Dodgers have honored Vietnam veterans at a World Series.”
That’s when Amazon teamed up with We Are The Mighty to give out another set of tickets.
“When I was contacted about winning the tickets I thought it was a joke. I’m holding two great tickets for [Game Two] and I’ll meet those representing all Vietnam Vets — amazing.”
They’re not the only “amazing” ones. Alaimo has an impressive service history himself — during Active Duty and beyond. After fighting in Vietnam with the First Infantry Division, Alaimo returned home and became “the go-to guy” if veterans need help. A member of American Legion Hollywood Post 43, Alaimo says it’s important for him to connect with the veteran community because he doesn’t want them to be treated the way he was after he returned from Vietnam.
“They need to know we respect them and are grateful for their sacrifice, as well as the sacrifice of their families.”
Alaimo will be taking his good friend, and fellow veteran advocate, Charlie Cusumano with him to the game. We asked who they’ll be rooting for:
Marines and sailors from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit participated in exercise Trident Juncture 18 in Iceland and Norway during October and November 2018. Trident Juncture is the largest NATO exercise held since 2002 and allowed for military forces to operate in a collective defense scenario.
Marines initiated the exercise in Iceland where they executed an air assault and conducted cold weather training to prepare for the live exercise in Norway. The cold weather training allowed Marines to rehearse establishing a bivouac location and familiarized them with their gear in Iceland’s high winds and driving rain.
“We need to exercise our capabilities in different locations so we can plan for different variables,” said Lt. Col. Misca Geter, the executive officer with the 24th MEU. “The weather and terrain of Iceland forces us to plan around those factors.”
After Iceland, the 24th MEU moved on to Norway who hosted the live exercise portion of Trident Juncture. Norway provided another challenging environment for Marines to train in that would not otherwise be possible in the United States. The unique climate and terrain allowed the Marines to demonstrate their proficiency in the cold weather, precipitation, and high altitude.
Marines and sailors offload light armored vehicles from a landing craft air cushion on Alvund Beach, Norway during an amphibious landing in support of Trident Juncture 18, Oct. 30, 2018.
(Photo by Lance Cpl. Margaret Gale)
The culminating event for the 24th MEU came Oct. 29-31, 2018, when they executed an amphibious landing and air assault in Alvund and Gjora, Norway, respectively. Eleven amphibious assault vehicles, more than 50 HMMWV’s, and six light armored vehicles were delivered ashore during the amphibious landing. More than 20 other vehicles were moved from ship to shore and approximately 1,000 Marines were transported ashore by surface or air connectors. The air assault saw a company of Marines from Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines insert into Gjora, secure the landing zone, and set the conditions for follow on operations. While ashore, Marines rehearsed tactics in conjunction with NATO allies to defeat the notional enemy forces.
“The training Trident Juncture 18 provided is important because we have Marines who have never deployed, been on ship or operated in the cold weather environment that Iceland and Norway have,” said Sgt. Maj. Chris Garza, the 24th MEU Sergeant Major. “We had the opportunity to operate with the United Kingdom Royal Marines, who are one of our NATO partners. The Royal Marines have a history much like ours and it has been a great opportunity to train with them. We now know our capabilities with the Royal Marines and look forward to working with them in the future.”
U.S. Marines secure a landing strip after disembarking from Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallion during air assault training at Keflavik Air Base, Iceland, Oct. 17, 2018, during Exercise Trident Juncture 18.
(Photo by Sgt. Devin Andrews)
The large-scale exercise validated the 24th MEU’s ability to deploy with the Navy, rapidly generate combat power ashore, and set the conditions for offensive operations under challenging conditions. Trident Juncture strengthened the bond between the Navy-Marine Corps team and integrated NATO allies and partners, particularly the United Kingdom’s Royal Marines, who embarked with the 24th MEU in Iceland.
“It’s been interesting to integrate with U.S. Marines,” said Marine Declan Parker, a heavy weapons operator with anti-tanks 3 troop, 45 Commando. “We have had the opportunity to learn about their weapons systems and tactics. This exercise will aid the troops in future deployments”
The Royal Marines, with X-Ray Company, 45 Commando, worked in conjunction with the 24th MEU and assets from Marine Aircraft Group 29 to rehearse their tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel proficiency. During the TRAP, approximately 30 Royal Marines loaded into two CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 366 while two U.S. Marines served as isolated personnel to be recovered. The Royal Marines were attacked by the notional enemy multiple times which allowed them to maneuver on the enemy while a U.S. Marine called for close air support which was delivered by a UH-1Y Venom with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 269. The effective enemy suppression allowed the Royal Marines to deliver both isolated U.S. Marines safely to the awaiting CH-53.
U.S. Navy pilots land the MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter during air assault training at Keflavik Air Base, Iceland, Oct. 17, 2018,.during Exercise Trident Juncture 18.
(Photo by Sgt. Devin Andrews)
“The fact that we were able to integrate [the Royal Marines] with Marine Corps aviation is a great training value for both of our forces,” said U.S. Marine Capt. Jacob Yeager, a member of the 24th MEU who was embedded with the Royal Marines during the TRAP. “U.S. Marine Corps aircraft delivered UK Royal Marines into a landing zone to recover two isolated U.S. Marines. That’s significant.”
As the exercise comes to a close, Marines are now more lethal and capable of operating in unique terrain and climate while exposed to the elements that the mountainous terrain presents.
“Trident Juncture has been an extremely beneficial training exercise,” said Cpl. Zachary Zupets, an anti-tank missile gunner with 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines, 24th MEU. “The cold weather [in Norway and Iceland] is not the same back in North Carolina, it gets cold, but it isn’t the same kind of cold. This exercise has taken us out of our element and forced us to apply the things that we have learned and how to operate in this type of environment. We definitely had some fun out there. I think it was an amazing experience and my guys and I really enjoyed it.”
Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader who lives in constant fear of assassination, has reportedly hired Russian ex-KGB bodyguards to protect him in case of an attempt on his life.
Japan’s Asahi Shinbum reported that Kim hired about 10 former KGB counter-terrorism agents to train his bodyguards on how to detect and respond to terrorist attacks.
The KGB, the former Soviet Union’s main security and spy agency, had decades of practice in defending high-value targets against attempts at regime change.
The source told Asahi Shinbum that Kim was particularly scared of US advanced-weapons systems, like the Gray Eagle drone the US is set to operate in South Korea in 2018.
However, it’s unclear how counter-terrorism bodyguards could protect Kim against a drone high in the sky raining down bombs.
South Korean media has reported that the US and South Korea have been working together on a “decapitation force” to kill the North Korean leader in the event that Pyongyang becomes intolerably aggressive.
Kim has a history of going to extreme measures to shore up his reign over North Korea, with some reports saying he killed his half-brother Kim Jong Nam to thwart a Chinese-backed coup attempt.
The Army has made it easier to grant waivers for marijuana use as part of its effort to meet recruiting goals. The service has also increased spending on recruiting bonuses to over $420 million, compared to just $8.2 million in fiscal year 2014.
According to a report by USA Today, the Army has been dipping into so-called “Category Four” recruits to try to meet a goal of recruiting 80,000 new soldiers, up from 69,000 new soldiers in fiscal year 2017.
The report stated that about 2 percent of the 69,000 recruits were from that category, which involves people who score in the bottom third of ASVAB tests.
The Army says that these waivers are not going to compromise quality, but the low unemployment rate has caused challenges.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Snow told the paper.
One of the ways that the Army is trying to meet the challenge is to grant more waivers to prospective soldiers who admit to using marijuana. The authority for the waivers has been delegated to recruiting officers who hold the rank of lieutenant colonel.
Previously, only two-stars grant the waiver.
The increased waivers may be an unintended consequence of the legalization of marijuana for either medicinal purposes or recreational use in a number of states. According to Me2 Enterprises, a number of jobs in Washington are going unfilled because people cannot pass drug tests, despite that state’s legalization of marijuana.
Federal law still prohibits marijuana use.
This is not the first time that the military has dipped heavily into the Category Four pool. During the height of the fight against insurgents during Operation Iraqi Freedom, the services at times saw the “Category Four” portion of the recruit pool reach levels of over four percent, exceeding the Pentagon’s cap.
A US Navy flattop deployed to the Pacific has been flying a battle flag featuring Captain America’s iconic red, white and blue shield, photos from the ship’s deployment show.
The USS America (LHA-6), the first of a new class of amphibious assault ship, chose its battle flag, also known as a house flag, just before it deployed to the Indo-Pacific late last year.
The ship, the fourth to bear the name America, went for the superhero treatment.
“The iconic Captain America symbol — the First Avenger for this first-in-class fifth-generation amphibious assault ship — was the perfect fit,” Capt. Luke Frost, the ship’s commanding officer, told Insider.
Frost said the flag choice was “bold, graphic, with a clear patriotic and easily-identifiable association with the name ‘America.'”
In the vast Marvel Comics universe, Captain America, whose alter ego is Steve Rogers, is a patriotic supersoldier who fought the Axis Powers before being trapped in ice and revived in the modern age.
An experimental serum gave the Army soldier his power, but it is his almost-indestructible circular vibranium shield that is most representative of the character created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in the 1940s.
Captain America is more than just Rogers. Others, such as close friend and Air Force veteran Sam Wilson, aka The Falcon, have also taken up the shield and the captain’s mantle to carry on the fight. And now, a ship filled with Navy sailors and Marines have made the fictional weapon its emblem in a show of joint warfighting at its best.
The first US naval vessel to bear the name “America” was a 74-gun ship of the line, the first ordered for the Continental Navy. The name was passed on to a troop transport vessel and later to a Kitty Hawk-class aircraft carrier.
The current USS America, which was commissioned in 2014, is different from other amphibious assault ships in that it lacks a well deck and features increased space for aviation assets.
The Navy and the Marines have used the ship for “Lightning Carrier” experiments, which have involved loading the ship up with a heavy configuration of around a dozen F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters.
In photos from the amphibious assault ship’s recent deployment, a lighter configuration of the fifth-generation fighters can be seen on the America’s deck as the new battle flag flies above.
Battle flags are a Navy tradition with a long history.”From Oliver Hazard Perry’s ‘Don’t Give Up the Ship’ flag at the Battle of Lake Erie to George Dewey’s ‘FIGHT!’ flag in the Battle of Manila and into the modern era, battle flags or ‘house flags’ have been used to motivate, rally, and inspire ship’s Sailors and Marines,” the America’s CO told Insider. “These flags express unit pride and the fighting spirit of the crew.”
In addition to its new flag, the America also features a number of other star-spangled decorations, such as the doors of the RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM) launcher cells, The Drive, which first reported the ship’s new flag, noted.
Ron Rosser was a patriot and a hero. The Medal of Honor recipient who reenlisted in the Army to avenge his brother, died in August 2020 at the age of 90.
Army Master Sgt. Ron Rosser served for three years in the post-World War II Army in Japan and Germany and then reenlisted in June 1951 with a single purpose in mind: revenge for the death of his younger brother Richard, who was killed in action in Korea.
Rosser was sent first to Japan. He then volunteered for combat and fought with his command to get a place at the front, eventually landing a spot with Company L, 38th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division.
In an oral history recording for Arlington National Cemetery, Rosser said that Big Army couldn’t understand his motivation for demanding to go to Korea. “I made up my mind that you can’t kill my brother and get away with it,” Rosser said.
Company L participated in both Bloody Ridge and the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge. Bloody Ridge lasted over three weeks, and there were an estimated 2,7000 casualties. The Battle of Heartbreak Ridge was a month-long battle in the Korean War and was one of several major engagements in the hills of North Korea, just a few miles north of the 38th Parallel.
Then, Company L was ordered to take a hill occupied by the Red Army near the town of Ponggilli. Rosser reports that he estimated at least three battalions on the hill, all in heavily fortified positions. The battle began with only 170 men from Company L. Shortly after maneuvers began, the temperature dropped to 20 degrees below zero.
The Red Army was completely dug in, and they had the advantage. Rosser gave his radio to another soldier and decided to charge alone to the Red Army front line. He stopped at an outcropping to assess the situation.
Recorded as part of the oral history for Arlington, Rosser said that he considered how much trouble he’d been through to reach that point and that there was no use wasting the day. “I let out a war whoop and jumped in the trench. I just charged straight into them,” he said.
Rosser was armed with only a carbine and a grenade, a fact that’s noted on his Medal of Honor citation. He gained the top of the kill, killed two enemy soldiers, and then went back into the trench. He killed five more enemies as he advanced, often relying on hand-to-hand combat at times.
But Rosser kept advancing, sometimes relying on his rifle as a club. When he ran out of ammunition, he returned to his position to reload. Rosser said that all he was trying to do was protect the men he was responsible for in his unit. He worried that if he didn’t attack, the Red Army would charge down the hill and decimate Company L.
Of the 170 soldiers in the unit, 90 were killed, 12 were captured, and 68 wounded. As Company L retreated, the Red Army didn’t fire any shots at them.
On his Medal of Honor citation, it states that he killed “at least 13 enemy,” but Rosser counts the number as more than 40.
“The purpose of me doing all that crazy stuff was trying to stop them,” he said in the oral history.
Rosser was awarded the Medal of Honor in a June 1952 ceremony at the Rose Garden in the White House. After President Truman read the citation, he turned to Rosser and said, “Personally I’d rather have [the medal] than be president.”
Once pinned, someone told Rosser that now not only did all officers have to salute him, but so too did the president. He was sure someone was pulling a fast one on him. While not an official regulation, it’s a time-honored custom that shows respect, whether or not the Medal of Honor recipient is in uniform.
Rosser was in the Army until 1968. He repeatedly volunteered several times for combat following the death of another brother, who was killed in action in Vietnam. The Army denied Rosser’s request for combat. He retired as a Sgt. First Class but was later promoted to Master Sgt.
Of being a Medal of Honor recipient, Rosser said it could have been awarded to anyone he served with. “I didn’t do anything they didn’t do. I was just lucky enough to survive it.”
Big Slick is giving away a Tesla in support of Children’s Mercy Kansas City.
If you haven’t heard of Big Slick, it’s a fundraiser designed to raise support for the cancer center at Children’s Mercy, one of the nation’s top pediatric medical centers. In 2010, U.S. Marine Rob Riggle teamed up with Paul Rudd and Jason Sudeikis to host a poker tournament, raising over $120,000 in their first event.
Since then, they’ve recruited more help and raised over $8 million through sponsorships, a live auction, and online fundraising campaigns like this one, hosted by Prizeo.
Here’s how to win:
Win a Midnight Silver 2019 Tesla Model 3 plus “Junk in the Trunk”
Win a Midnight Silver 2019 Tesla Model 3 plus “Junk in the Trunk”
For only a donation in support of Children’s Mercy Kansas City, you can win a Midnight Silver 2019 Tesla Model 3 with celebrity “junk in the trunk” (surprise goods from David Koechner, Eric Stonestreet, Rudd, Sudeikis, and Riggle himself).
The more money you donate, the more entries you get in the raffle.
And this isn’t one of those things where you have to pay taxes on your new amazing car — it’ll be delivered to your (CONUS) door with all sales tax and delivery fees covered.
As reported in our conversation with Riggle, “for a week he worked 12-on-12-off, clearing the twisted wreckage that was piled six stories high around where the twin towers of the World Trade Center had proudly stood just days before. On the seventh day, the operation was changed from search-and-rescue to search-and-recovery. With all hope gone that more victims might be found alive among the concrete and steel and with the danger of more collapses gone, the heavy machinery was brought in to remove the rest.”
So it’s no surprise that in addition to working on his professional career as an entertainer, Riggle devotes his time to helping others.
Promotions are an exciting event in a military career, and celebrating them comes standard. The question, however, comes in what type of celebration to expect — essentially, how big is too big? And what’s the “norm” for each rank and service branch?
Because everyone who gets promoted to a new rank is presumably doing so for the first time, there’s a steep learning curve. You can talk to others or attend services of those ahead of you in order to learn what’s expected by you as the service member.
Big or small, salute them all!
It doesn’t matter if you’re getting your first promotion or your 10th, it’s something to be excited about! Enjoy your achievement and bask in the progress of your career. Don’t overlook a promotion for it being “small,” but rather take time to pat yourself on the back.
This is a big deal; you’ve earned it!
Early career promotions
Consider that, earlier in one’s career, promotions will come faster. It’s easier to climb the ranks your first few years in. There’s nothing wrong with this, only to keep in mind that in years to come, promotions won’t come as easily, or as frequently.
It’s a good idea to communicate this to friends and family, too. So they aren’t expecting fast pay jumps … and to give them a better idea of how the military works. In fact, it’s a good idea to keep your loved ones in the know for a better communication process about your future.
Pinning and pomp and circumstance
No matter what rank you’re pinning, there will be some type of ceremony. Keep in mind that, depending on the circumstances, they could be a big deal, or something simple. For instance, if deployed, you might have a fast “here’s your new rank” get together. While, when stateside, you can invite loved ones and plan an actual event.
In general, you get to choose someone to pin (or velcro) on your new rank. Decide who you want this person to be, whether a family member, co-worker or someone else who’s made a profound influence in your life. Ask them in advance, and if they aren’t associated with the military, coach them on what/when to add said insignia.
Promotion ceremonies usually come with much tradition and history. These traditions will vary based on branch, unit and career path. Be sure to get in on the fun and play up whatever will take place. As a member of each branch, you’re likely to know what’s ahead and how the ceremony will play out.
For instance, army members might exchange coins, Marines will march in and out of their promotion stance, and so forth.
Reaching the big jumps
When reaching higher ranks, more is expected on promotion day, most notably a cake! Sources say, even at 8 a.m., a cake will be eaten, and showing up without one is simply not done.
Whether enlisted or an officer, upper ranking soldiers will host a reception to celebrate their big day, and the size of that reception often depends on the rank itself. In general, this is usually E7 or O4 and above, while E9 or O5/O6 will host an even larger celebratory event. Each branch will have its own nuances, so check with those in your unit, or scour the net for best practices with each upcoming promotion.
When a promotion sits ahead, consider the best way to celebrate. Not only to bask in your achievements but to follow within military traditions based on your achievement and branch.
Thundering jets above Colorado Springs the morning of May 9 bid a final farewell to a native son who went missing 48 years ago on a mission to bomb the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
It was a sound that Capt. Roger Helwig loved. Helwig, who was born in Trinidad and raised in Colorado Springs, was a free spirit known for meticulous honesty oddly melded with a wild streak that drove him to seek adventure in the sky.
“He was a tremendous guy,” said retired Maj. Jack Schnurr, a flight school friend, after an Air Force Academy memorial for the captain.
Helwig loved the F-4 Phantom and new bride Carol in what some joking called equal measures when he flew off for his second tour in Vietnam in 1969.
“He didn’t have to be there,” Schnurr said. “He volunteered to go back.”
On his first tour overseas, Helwig flew in the second seat of the F-4, running the plane’s weapons systems and electronics as a GIB, the military acronym for “guy in back.”
After he came home, Helwig got more flight training and headed back to war as the guy in front.
He was a forward air controller, one of the legendary “fast-FACs” who ranged far and wide over Southeast Asia spotting targets for troops on the ground.
During his final flight, Helwig and Capt. Roger Stearns were 10 miles west of Vietnam on a mission to stop the flow of arms and troops that fueled the Viet Cong insurgency. Flights against targets in neutral Laos, though, were something the Air Force avoided discussing in public.
Records say the two had just bombed a target, and the jet was trailing a mist of fuel before it exploded. Searchers later found shredded parachutes and the remains of a life raft, but they didn’t find Helwig or Stearns.
In 1990, a Defense Department team returned to the crash site and found Stearns’ remains. Helwig stayed missing until last summer.
His widow got a visit from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency in August. Searchers had found a tiny talisman at the jungle site: Helwig’s dog tag.
“It was surreal when I held that in the palm of my hand,” Carol said May 9. “It was as if I was reliving the past.”
Dozens gathered at the academy May 9 to relive the past with her and tell stories about the 26-year-old pilot.
Lt. Col. Mike Newton, a chaplain, told mourners they need to remember Helwig’s courage.
“I have no idea what it took to fly 100 missions in Vietnam, each one of them harrowing,” Newton said. “But he strapped it on every time.”
Carol remembered the kind but kind of crazy young man she met when he was riding his motorcycle from Arizona to Washington, D.C.
She knew she was competing with a twin-engined jet for Helwig’s affection.
“He loved flying,” she said.
Helwig left no children to mourn him, but a wide array of friends came to the Air Force Academy cemetery to remember.
The academy supplied an honor guard, rifle team, and a bugler to play taps.
The 24 notes of Taps lay heroes to rest. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher S. Muncy)
Air Combat Command offered up four F-15 Eagle fighters to blaze overhead in the missing man formation.
Carol supplied her own touch. Bells played a last waltz for the man she loved — the theme song of Doctor Zhivago, the first film they had seen together.
And as the bells played, quiet voices whispered the song’s tale of love long lost but reclaimed.
“Somewhere, my love, there will be songs to sing. Although the snow covers the hope of spring.”
Three nurses and a physician’s assistant have resigned from an Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs facility after maggots were discovered in a veteran’s wound.
The center in Talihina, Oklahoma, has reportedly had staffing issues.
According to a report by the Tulsa World, the veteran, Owen Reese Peterson, 73, who served during the Vietnam War, arrived at the center with an infection prior to his Oct. 3 death.
Oklahoma Secretary of Veterans Affairs Myles Deering, a retired major general in the Oklahoma National Guard, claimed that Peterson “did not succumb as a result of the parasites” but instead died from sepsis.
According to WebMD.com, sepsis is a “serious medical condition” that is triggered when chemicals released to fight an infection in the body instead cause inflammation. It can lead to organ failure and death. As many as half of those with severe cases of sepsis end up dead.
“During the 21 days I was there, … I pleaded with the medical staff, the senior medical staff, to increase his meds so his bandages could be changed,” Raymie Parker, Peterson’s son, told the Tulsa World. Parker claimed that his requests were “met with a stonewall” by senior medical personnel and administrators.
“The Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs is required to maintain certain staffing levels and currently is unable to meet them,” Oklahoma State Sen. Frank Simpson, Senate Committee on Military and Veterans Affairs chairman, said. “At Talihina, they had to reduce the population of veterans there due to the inability to staff the facility.”
The four personnel resigned prior to the commencement of termination proceedings. In 2012, the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs was rocked when two veterans — 86-year-old Louis Arterberry and 85-year-old Jay Minter — died in the Claremore Veterans Center. Minter died after he was scalded in a whirlpool, and Arterberry died of a stroke.
A physician’s assistant was indicted on two counts of second-degree murder and two counts of caretaker neglect. He ultimately served a 90-day jail sentence.
If it hasn’t started already, then a new arms race is almost certainly about to get under way, arms-control experts and analysts warn.
With his announcement that Russia has developed new strategic weapons, including a nuclear-powered missile that he said can fly indefinitely and evade U.S. missile defenses, President Vladimir Putin grabbed the attention of policymakers, military experts, and legislators from Washington to Berlin.
He made clear that was the intention and laid the blame on a 16-year-old grievance over a collapsed arms control treaty with the United States.
Moscow and Washington, which combined hold some 93 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons, have both made clear shifts in policy regarding their arsenals.
“We’ve really seen an about-face, particularly in the last 10 years, where the arms-control regime that we inherited from the Cold War is under severe stress,” John Baker, an analyst and strategist with the Ploughshares Fund, a disarmament advocacy group, told RFE/RL.
“We’re at the beginning of a new arms race,” he warned.
‘We are just now waking up’
Putin boasted of nuclear-capable weapons in service and in development that include an underwater drone and a low-flying cruise missile, both of which were showcased in his nearly two-hour speech to lawmakers and other senior officials, complete with a montage of computer animation and launch footage.
But Matthew Kroenig, a professor at Georgetown University and author of the book The Logic Of American Nuclear Strategy, suggested the United States and Russia were already well into an arms race, whether or not Washington was aware of it.
“Russia has been in an arms race with the United States for the past decade, and we are just now waking up to that fact. So we may be entering a new arms race, but that is not the worst possible outcome,” Kroenig said. “The worst outcome is doing nothing as an enemy builds weapons to engage in aggression against you and your allies.”
Some analysts cast doubt on even whether the weapons were operational. At least one U.S. news report cited unnamed intelligence officials as saying a test model had even crashed recently in the Arctic.
“It looks like they tested the thing. It’s likely that the concept worked, but it is not clear how close it is to an actual [militarily useful] weapon,” Pavel Podvig, a Swiss-based researcher of Russian weaponry, told RFE/RL by e-mail.
Stephen Schwartz, an analyst and author of the book The Costs And Consequences Of U.S. Nuclear Weapons said the design of the nuclear-powered cruise missile echoed a U.S. weapon tested in the 1950s and 1960s, with a nuclear “ramjet” engine.
“It was an especially nasty concept. The reactor was unshielded, emitting dangerous levels of gamma and neutron radiation. And as it flew, it would spew radioactive fission fragments in its exhaust, including over allies en route to the U.S.S.R.,” he said.
Podvig, meanwhile, cautioned against drawing parallels with the weapons buildup that defined the U.S.-Soviet relationship in the late 1950s or the ’80s.
“It’s not an arms race in the sense that it’s not upsetting any balance and will not drive quantitative increases in the number of missiles or warheads. But these systems will definitely complicate the situation and will make it more accident prone. They are also rather difficult to bring into the arms-control framework,” he told RFE/RL.
“I guess we will have to go through a period when people have to realize that things are getting dangerous to take actions. So, I hope we will get through this in the long run, but it is going to get worse in the short term.”
A grievance that Putin explicitly mentioned in his speech — and one that the new missile appears aimed at — is the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which curtailed the ability of Moscow and Washington to develop missile-defense systems. The 1972 treaty was one of the most important Cold War agreements because missile defense was believed to be destabilizing in how the two countries calculated nuclear strategies.
In 2002, then-President George W. Bush pulled out of the treaty unilaterally. Putin complained at the time that the decision was “erroneous” but said there was little Moscow could do.
Since then, U.S. engineers have pushed forward with antimissile systems, like the Aegis, angering Moscow by placing elements of that system in Eastern Europe. U.S. President Donald Trump has called for $12.9 billion for missile-defense programs in his 2019 budget.
The Aegis systems, which U.S. officials have insisted would be ineffective against Russia’s huge and sophisticated arsenal, is one of the issues Russia has cited for the near collapse of another Cold War agreement: the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty.
Russia has deployed a missile in direct violation of the treaty, U.S. officials assert. That has led to calls by a growing number of Republican lawmakers, and a line-item in the U.S. defense budget, for developing a new U.S. cruise missile.
‘Destabilizing and unnecessary path’
In his State Of The Union speech in January 2018, Trump called on Congress to “modernize and rebuild our nuclear arsenal.”
“Putin described the rationale for the new weapons largely in terms of broken U.S. promises on arms control and paranoia about U.S. missile-defense systems,” said Kingston Reif, an analyst at the Arms Control Association.
“Russia and the United States are heading down a destabilizing and unnecessary path,” he warned.
Putin also cited Trump’s recently unveiled U.S. Nuclear Posture Review, a policy document laying out how and when Washington will use nuclear weapons. The review appears to loosen guidelines for their usage, including by deploying low-yield nuclear weapons for limited strikes.
“We will interpret any use of nuclear weapons against Russia and its allies no matter how powerful they are, of low, medium or any other yield, as a nuclear attack,” Putin said. “It will trigger an immediate answer with all the consequences stemming from it.
The other core arms treaty governing U.S.-Russian arsenals is known as New START, which, notably, was signed in 2010 by Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, and Putin protege Dmitry Medvedev.
Early March 2018, both countries announced they had met the treaty’s obligations to cut their arsenals.
But the treaty also expires in 2021. And growing anger in Congress about Kremlin policies in Europe, the Middle East, and elsewhere, combined with Trump’s own apparent embrace of U.S. weapons, means fears are growing that the treaty will expire, removing any restraints on weaponry.
In a new paper published by the Arms Control Association and released before Putin’s announcement, Madelyn Creedon, a former top administrator with the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration, had one conclusion to draw from the ongoing policy shift.
“In short, prepare for a new arms race,” she said.
Legendary blues guitarist B.B. King died today at the age of 89. King was renowned for his signature playing style and his singing voice. He was also one of the first blues “crossover” artists, making a big dent on the rock music charts with his cover of “The Thrill is Gone,” which became a hit for him in 1969. Over the years King shared the stage with many major acts including Aerosmith, the Rolling Stones, and U2.
King was also a military veteran, although he only served for a short time. He was inducted into the U.S. Army toward the end of World War II but released immediately following boot camp after officials ruled him as “essential to the war economy” based on his experience as a tractor driver.
An enlisted leader is proving the Coast Guard’s reach extends far beyond America’s coastlines.
Bahrain is the epicenter of the Combined Maritime Forces — a partnership comprised of 33 different nations dedicated to combating terrorism and piracy, while promoting maritime safety. Command Master Chief Lucas Pullen, the first Coast Guard member to hold a senior enlisted leadership role for a coalition force, serves as its liaison. The decision to put him in that position instead of a sailor was done purposefully, he says.
Since the CMF operates as a part of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, a coastie brings objectivity, Pullen explained. In the midst of extensive Navy operations, him being in the Coast Guard more clearly defines his position and role.
“With this there are no blurred lines on who does what, I am able to specifically make sure things are working for the coalition side of things,” Pullen said.
The Oklahoma-native enlisted in the Coast Guard in 1998 to become a Boatswain’s Mate, a rating that is the operational core of almost every mission. After completing basic training, he was assigned to Small Boat Station South Padre Island, Texas, according to his official biography. As an operator, he gained experience “in maritime law enforcement to include fisheries, counter-narcotics, and counter-migrant operations, as well as search and rescue, and maritime security operations.”
Pullen’s extensive 22-year Coast Guard career prepared him for his new role as the senior enlisted leader of the CMF. He now works directly with senior military leaders from the multi-national partnership to promote security and stability across 3.2 million square miles of international waters.
“As a command master chief, one of my main jobs is the people and their families,” he said.
Working directly with members of the coalition has been an incredible experience, Pullen added. He described a typical day as starting with sharing Arabic coffee with a Kuwaiti leader and ending with tea and scones with the British. He loves the diversity and continuous ability to learn from the other nations’ military leaders, he said, also expressing his position in Bahrain will serve him well for further Coast Guard positions, although none will probably be as unique and involved.
Prior to Bahrain, the Pullen family was stationed in Guam — a duty station the kids did not want to leave. Marcy Pullen, who has moved 10 times with her husband, didn’t initially think she and the couple’s children would be eligible to PCS to Bahrain. It is typically an unaccompanied tour but a waiver changed that.
Photo courtesy of Candice Baker.
“I didn’t hesitate, I said let’s go,” she said.
Her husband praised his family’s resiliency and strength. Their oldest son, Tucker, is 17 and about to start college. If he attends the same college all four years, it’ll be the longest he’s ever lived anywhere.
Adjusting to life in Bahrain has included a unique set of experiences for the family, due to the political influence, culture, and customs. Seated to their left could be a fellow military kid while on their right, a Saudi Arabian royal.
Sixteen-year-old Cheyenne shared her struggle with not being able to just go explore or do things independently off base because it isn’t safe, especially for girls. Bahrain is a very conservative country where most women are either hidden or extensively covered when in public. But Levi, 13, also says there’s some good to being a military kid in Bahrain.
“I loved getting to do new things like learning how to play cricket with the Australian military kids. You get all of these amazing experiences that are out of the way and interesting,” he said.
All of the kids did agree on one thing: the food is amazing. One of their favorite things to eat is Baklava, a sweet dessert dish made with nuts and honey.
Pullen also credits the Coast Guard with preparing his family for such a unique assignment in the Middle East.
“Our quality of life thought process is very different from the other branches. I think we are very resilient as a service because we go into these remote locations without big military bases. We pick up all the military challenges without the resources there to support us,” he explained.
Marcy Pullen echoes his sentiment, reflecting on how hard it was as a new Coast Guard spouse and mom. She takes those lessons and experiences with her, using what she’s learned to help all military families who may be struggling to adjust to life in Bahrain.
Lucas and Mary Pullen Photo courtesy of Candice Baker.
With one year left in Bahrain, travel remains high at the top of their bucket list — though COVID-19 and tensions overseas have heavily restricted movement. As the Pullen family reflected on their journey, they agreed each move has brought new lessons and memories. They eagerly anticipate their next Coast Guard adventure that can take them anywhere.