If you’re a suburban mom in Iowa, your PT is a Cruiser.
And this is what your husband does to unwind. Check out his award-winning ride. (Photo via Flickr,
Rex Gray, CC BY 2.0)
If you’re a tumbler in the circus, your PT is a Barnum.
And if you’re an aspiring Industrial Age robber baron played by Daniel Day Lewis, your PT is an Anderson.
But if you served in the military, your PT is an acronym, meaning Physical Training. And your PT comes with a silent F, which might officially stand for “fitness,” but back on testing days, probably stood for an f-word you used frequently to grumble and bitch.
In the service, PT sucks. That goes without saying. And yet, as a civilian, you’re still doing it. Nowadays, you do PT voluntarily and brag about your preferred brand to anyone who will listen. You pay $100/month for a nice, clean place (close to work!) to do it in. You pay someone extra to play your drill instructor, someone who’s motivational but not too mean. Let’s face it. You have become
enmired in hypocrisy
And there’s only one man who can pull you free.
Max doesn’t do PT, he is PT. He’s Physically Titanic, Proactively Tactical, Pyrotechnically Triumphant, and Proudly Terse. He’s a Prehensile Tyrannosaurus with Possible Telekinesis and a full Power Train warranty. Also, he will Put a Trace on your phone if you try to weasel out of this workout.
In this episode, Max is sending you back to PT. No frills. No gym. No equipment. No excuses. Just minute after minute of good old fashioned body weight conditioning drills stacked up in supersets for you to grovel and bitch your way through .
Welcome back to Performance Testing, Puddy Tat.
Watch as Max casually bats aside your nonsense, in the video embedded at the top.
‘Tis the season for the giving of gifts. ‘Tis also the season of FOMUG (Fear Of Messed Up Gifting). We get it. It’s hard out there for an elf. Team WATM would like to offer you some guidance.
For the grill master or pit mistress:
~ a pack of spice rubs from the kitchen of a Vietnam vetrepreneur ~
“One of the beauties of being a human being is that you have the ability to adapt.”
Gene (Cappy) Holmon is a force at a farmer’s market. I’d know. All it took him was five minutes talking to my wife about his local Los Angeles line of dry rub spices and she came straight home and put me in a headlock until I promised to include Cappy’s Dry Rub in the Mighty Holiday Gift Guide.
And she doesn’t really like meat. But she’s sure got a thing for Cappy.
I caught up with Holmon this week and got the 411 on how an Army veteran who was disabled during the Tet Offensive in 1968 first transitioned to a busy career as a FedEx Distribution Hub Director before pivoting to become the Meat Spice King of Los Angeles. Brace yourself. It involves losing an arm.
Holmon had been in Vietnam about 6 months when he was injured in combat, suffering damage from both AK-47 rounds and what he assumes was an RPG. Medics amputated his right arm above the elbow in a field hospital before sending him to Japan for recovery.
“…I was pretty depressed…I think it was probably three days before I actually looked to see if my arm was still there…I was in an amputee ward and I saw a lot of guys, you know, like me but with both legs gone…or both legs and an arm or something like that and at that point I said, well, hey, I’m not that bad off…At that point I just decided to get better.”
Holman returned home to San Francisco and studied business management at USF on the G.I. Bill. Then he returned to his previous employer, UPS. He quickly rose through the ranks to Division Manager of UPS Hub Operations for all of Arizona, New Mexico and Southern Nevada. That’s when FedEx poached him to help implement their new Super Hub Distribution Center in Memphis.
And as he tracked across the American South for business, he sampled the many flavors of sauce, spice and smoke upon which Southern culinary tradition pins its most heartfelt pride.
By the time he retired, Holmon was experimenting with his own blends of dry rub spices, perfecting his grill skills, and winning praise for his cooking at family events. When California Cottage Law went into effect in 2013, Holmon’s wife Paulette urged him to offer his blends to the public and Cappy’s was born. But because Cottage Law permitting initially limits sales to direct-to-consumer, Holman found that he’d have to adapt from being the distribution genius behind the scenes to being a grassroots-level, Face-of-the-Brand at farmer’s markets and local boutique grocery stores.
It can’t have been too hard. Insider knowledge: Cappy is a peach. As soon as you meet him, you’re sipping the paprika-flavored Kool-Aid.
Cappy’s has since expanded to online sales, which is where we wholeheartedly recommend that you go to order yourself one or several of his blends in time for Holiday cooking. Cappy’s Dry Rubs are great on meats, obviously, but check out how well they crossover to fruits and vegetables. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.
The 2017 We Are The Mighty Holiday Gift Guide is sponsored by Propper, a tactical apparel and gear company dedicated to equipping those who commit their lives to serving others. All views are our own.
Speaking of Propper, they’re giving away twelve tactical packs filled with gear from our Holiday Gift Guide. Click this link to enter.
A submarine that just missed serving in World War II may soon find itself making one last dive off the coast of Florida.
According to WPTV.com, the Balao-class submarine USS Clamagore (SS 343) could be towed to a point off Palm Beach County and sunk as an artificial reef. The vessel is currently at the Patriot’s Point Museum in Charleston, South Carolina, along with the Essex-class aircraft carrier USS Yorktown (CV 10) and the Allen M. Sumner-class destroyer USS Laffey (DD 724).
According to the South Carolina Department of Archives and History, the Clamagore is the only surviving GUPPY III-class submarine in the world. Nine GUPPY III-class submarines were built. According to a web page serving as a tribute to these diesel-electric submarines, most of the vessels modified under the Greater Underwater Propulsion Power Program were scrapped, sunk as targets, or sold to foreign countries.
The reason she is going to wind up becoming a reef? The report from WPTV states it is about money.
“The museum up in Charleston is losing money and they would really like to unload this as quickly as possible,” Palm Beach County Commissioner Hal Valeche told the TV station. The alternative to turning the 2,480-ton submarine into an artificial reef is to scrap her.
“We wanted to honor the people that served on it, we wanted to honor the submarine service in general,” Valeche said.
Several organizations are trying to save the Clagamore for continued service as a museum. A 2012 FoxNews.com report indicated that at least $3 million was needed to repair the vessel.
The Army also has options for those who want to serve as commissioned officers. Which option is best depends on your education level, where you want to go to school, and your age or family status.
Enlistees can also join the Army Reserves or Army National Guard directly.
Students at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state take the Test for Adult Basic Education to improve their general technical score on the Armed Service Vocational Aptitude Battery, Aug. 27, 2010.
(Photo by Spc. Alicia Clark)
First, you’ll need to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB.
The ASVAB is a multiple-choice exam that will help determine what jobs you qualify for in the military. Each service has its own minimum standards, according to Military.com, which provides practice tests for those who want to prepare.
Recruiters gather with high-school students for an education event where they learned about Army operations and procedures, in December 2018.
Otherwise, it’s important to remember a few things when you’re at the office:
You have no obligations until you sign a contract.
Make sure you understand whether the job you want has openings — if not, you may want to consider waiting until it does.
You’ll eventually need to pass a medical exam.
Army Gen. George W. Casey, Jr., the Army’s chief of staff, administers the oath of enlistment to 26 recruits in New York City.
(Army photo by D. Myles Cullen)
Once you decide to enlist, the recruiter will take you to a Military Entrance Processing Station, or MEPS.
If you haven’t taken the ASVAB already, you’ll take one when you get to the MEPS.
If you have, you’ll undergo a medical exam, speak with a counselor about job opportunities and the enlistment contract, and take the enlistment oath.
US Army soldiers from One Station Training Unit low crawl through an obstacle course during their first week of basic training in Fort Benning, Georgia.
(US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Teddy Wade)
Basic Combat Training, has three phases.
After “reception week,” recruits enter Red phase — basic tactical training and Army heritage and tradition are hallmarks of this phase, as is the physical-fitness test. This phase is meant to break down individual recruits’ confidence in order to train them to work as unit during the next phase.
Next, they enter White phase, where they will start to rebuild confidence and learn marksmanship and combat training.
The last step is Blue phase, during which they will be trained to use weapons like grenades and machine guns and conduct field training and 10- and 15-kilometer marches.
Once they graduate, they will move on to advanced training in their specific job fields.
Cadets enter Michie Stadium for their graduation ceremony at West Point — 936 cadets crossed the stage to join the Long Gray Line in May 2017.
(US Army photo by Michelle Eberhart)
If you’re applying for a ROTC scholarship or admission to the Military Academy at West Point, the process starts online.
You’ll apply for West Point on the academy’s admissions page. Once you submit a questionnaire, you’ll be assigned a candidate number to finish the process.
Requirements to enter the academy are slightly higher than they are to enlist. Competitive SAT or ACT scores are a must, as are a physical-fitness exam and recommendations from teachers or counselors at your high school.
You’ll interview with an academy alumnus and also have to complete a separate application process for a nomination, usually by a senator or congressional representative.
ROTC cadets take a break from Leader Development and Assessment Course training.
(US Army photo)
Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC).
ROTC scholarships may be awarded to high-school students who wish to pursue a four-year degree at a civilian college.
The Army’s service obligation after graduation is four years on active duty and four years in the Army Reserves. Under some circumstances, like a lack of active-duty billets, students can go straight into the reserves. (Candidates can also enlist directly into the Army Reserve.)
Officer candidates with Washington National Guard troops disembark a morale flight on a CH-47 Chinook helicopter.
(US National Guard photo by Maj. Matt Baldwin)
Officer Candidate School (OCS).
OCS is meant for enlisted service members or civilians who already hold a four-year degree and want to become a commissioned officer.
Here’s a quick look at a few of our favorite stories of the week:
In early April 2016, U.S. Marine Corps veteran Charlie Linville departed the U.S. with The Heroes Project founder Tim Medvetz. Their destination was Nepal and their third attempt to reach the summit of Mount Everest, the top of the world. Semper Fi!
The Syrian Democratic Forces coalition launched a new campaign to advance toward the ISIS capital at Raqqa.
To say that Gurkhas are simply soldiers from Nepal would be a massive understatement. They are known for their exceptional bravery, ability, and heroism in the face of insurmountable odds. A great example is Dipprasad Pun, who singlehandedly held his post against more than 30 Taliban fighters.
Have you ever wondered why there’s so much hype surrounding CrossFit? Well, it seems veterans are benefiting from the intense workouts in more ways than one.
Take Air Force Veteran Rachel Escolas for example. She tried out CrossFit for the first time while on deployment in Kandahar in October of 2012. After deployment, she had a burning passion for the sport and eventually became certified as a trainer in 2014 while founding her own CrossFit gym, CBUS Lifting Co.
CrossFit benefits the veteran community in several ways.
Air Force veteran Rachel Escolas powers through the workout of the day at her gym, CBUS Lifting Co.
It’s no secret that as soon as military personnel are shipped off to boot camp or basic training, fitness becomes heavily incorporated into their lifestyle. Physical activity becomes second nature, and is essential to keeping in the best shape for performing day-to-day duties.
With its dynamic arrangements of barbell work, Olympic lifts, strength training, and more, CrossFit can kick anyone’s a** into shape. CrossFit requires discipline and dedication, qualities that already run deep among every branch of the military. The trainers are like drill sergeants that don’t cuss. They don’t let anyone slack and they keep an eye on proper form, correcting when necessary.
There’s nothing like sharing the pain of a workout with others.
Do you remember waking up at 3:00 or 4:00 am to run in formation, in the cold, heat, sleet, or snow? Who would have thought that veterans would grow to miss that nonsense? Behind any grueling physical fitness routine is camaraderie that stems from accomplishing goals collectively, as a team.
When veterans get out of the military, there’s often a gravitation toward working out in a team environment, like the one CrossFit provides. There’s a sense of community that’s built into a CrossFit gym that’s unlike any other. Regular gyms are fine places for lifting and letting off steam, but fostering more than surface-level acquaintances there is a rarity.
Navy veteran and CrossFit trainer Isabel Beutick states, “Crossfit, for me, has kept me in tight circles. I loved the camaraderie I had in the Navy, and that’s the same feeling I get when doing CrossFit. That tight-knit community.”
Certified CrossFit Trainer and Navy veteran Isabel Beutick, demonstrates how to achieve proper form in an overhead squat.
Although there have been major medical advancements throughout the years, an increasing number of veterans come back with combat-related injuries, both physical and mental. It has become evident that, for many, pills are not the solution. Alternative means of healing are helping mend bodies and minds.
CrossFit is not just an outlet for mental stress, there are many attentive trainers out there invested in providing workable modifications to compensate for physical injuries. With the right trainer, there’s nothing stopping a veteran from completing a CrossFit workout, no matter the ailment.
Above, Army Veteran Juan Puentes says, “CrossFit is hard sh*t. It reminds me of all the challenging sh*t I did in the military.”
Although CrossFit promotes a team mentality, there’s also an element of competition. To put it lightly, veterans are extremely competitive. Daily workouts are timed and everyone knows who comes in first and last. Now, we’re not saying we should focus on this entirely, but it kindles the fire in veterans to keep pushing.
Throughout your CrossFit experience, trainers keep track of daily goals on a whiteboard or online. This data helps the competitive veteran see their progress and the progress of others and gets them ready to compete in national tournaments.
The ‘Murph,’ dedicated to Navy Seal Michael P. Murphy, is only one of many WOD’s created to honor fallen warriors.
Hero WODs (workouts of the day) honor fallen service members and provide a way to bridge the civilian-military divide. Most veterans find it complicated to connect with civilian friends, family, and co-workers because they’ve experienced things that are, frankly, hard to explain.
What’s unique about CrossFit’s Hero WODs is that everyone is aware that the workout honors a fallen service member. People truly give it their all on these particular workout days. These workouts create a bond between civilians and veterans that’s truly fascinating to witness.
In its continued efforts to develop and deploy artificial intelligence to address some of the nation’s toughest defense challenges, the Defense Department, in coordination with Army Research Lab, hosted its second AI Industry Day on Nov. 28, 2018.
More than 600 attendees from 380 industry, academic, and government organizations participated in the event in Silver Spring, Maryland, to discuss the department’s progress in AI and identify partnership opportunities.
Dana Deasy, DOD’s chief information officer, discussed the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center established in 2018.
“DOD is open for business in AI,” Deasy said. “Our goal is for the JAIC to have and deliver the capabilities to solve very large, unique problem sets that touch multiple services. To this end, we’ll build out data sets, infrastructure and tools that the [Defense Department] components can use.”
Accelerating adoption of capabilities
The center will help DOD accelerate the adoption of AI-enabled capabilities, scale AI’s department wide impact and synchronize the department’s AI activities to expand joint force advantages.
Dana Deasy, DOD’s chief information officer.
Although JAIC is in its early stages, officials said, it is already composed of about 25 representatives from across the Defense Department. Ultimately, the JAIC is building toward a distributed model, with a main office in the national capital region and satellite locations to leverage and foster innovation districts throughout the United States.
During the event, Air Force Lt. Gen. John N.T. “Jack” Shanahan, director of defense intelligence for warfighter support, provided an update on the Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Functional Team’s work on Project Maven.
“AWCFT used the last year to deliver initial operational capabilities and apply lessons learned to improve subsequent capability deliveries,” Shanahan said. “We have come a long way, and the partnerships we forged with industry and academia have been essential to success.”
Project Maven is a fast-moving effort launched in April 2017 to accelerate the department’s integration of big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning into DOD intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance programs.
And just all on the same day, the Army gets rid of their ACU-UCP uniforms, and the Navy ditches their NWU Type I’s. Now it’s all about the more practical OCP’s and NWU Type III’s. Meaning, the Navy no longer rocks their blueberries, and the Army can no longer hide on Grandma’s couch.
Now that we’re no longer wearing those dumb designs, can we all agree that they were stupid to begin with? I mean, don’t get me wrong. The ACU’s were like wearing pajamas compared to the BDU’s but the color pallet was clunky, they had pockets on their knees for God knows why, and the pants always ripped right down the crotch at least once per working party.
Whatever. So long, ACU’s and Blueberries. You won’t be missed. Anyways, here are some memes.
At age 25, Monica Rosario was diagnosed with stage three colon cancer, a diagnosis that would start her on a personal battle, not only for her future as a Soldier, but for her life.
“When they told me, I felt very numb,” Rosario remembered. She was a first lieutenant serving as a company executive officer in the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Bragg, North Carolina at the time.
It never occurred to Rosario, now a captain at Fort Leonard Wood awaiting her pickup in Engineer Captain’s Career Course, that the reason for her frequent visits to her doctor could be so dire. Doctors kept telling her she was just dehydrated and needed to go home and rest.
During one emergency room visit in January of 2015, however, a doctor inquired about Rosario’s frequent medical issues, and her responses prompted him to recommend a colonoscopy.
Her mother and father, who lived not far away in her hometown of Fayetteville, North Carolina, accompanied her to the appointment. That’s when they learned it could be cancer. The diagnosis was confirmed at a follow-up exam.
“It really hit [my mom] harder than it hit me,” Rosario said. “She was more emotional than I was because I had no idea what I was getting into.”
Rosario’s mentor and commanding officer at the time, Capt. Chinyere Asoh, said she understood what Rosario was about to endure.
“I served as a commander and, each day, I heard news of Soldiers going through the worst unimaginable concerns of their lives, but I stayed strong for them and their families,” Asoh said.
When Asoh heard the news her executive officer had cancer, she couldn’t hide the emotion.
“For me, this was different,” Asoh admitted. “My fighter [Capt. Rosario] was going down, and there was nothing I could do. The day I found out, I called my battalion commander as I cried.”
Rosario approached her situation from another perspective — one inspired by former ESPN anchorman, Stuart Scott, who fought a seven-year battle with cancer. Scott lost that battle in 2015 at age 49.
“Whenever you are going through it, you don’t feel like you are doing anything extraordinary because you are only doing what you have to do to survive,” Rosario said.
Rosario confessed that, while she was undergoing treatment, it made her uncomfortable when people called her a hero. There was nothing she was doing that made her special, she believed.
“When you have to be strong and you have to survive, you don’t feel like you are doing anything special,” she said.
The Army provided Rosario with the time and support she needed in order to devote herself to recovery, she said.
“I can say the Army served me when I needed it most, and I am forever grateful,” she said. “I know there were many times I could have quit. I could have settled for someone telling me I should medically retire. But I knew the Army had more in store for me.”
Rosario said it took about two weeks to recover from her surgery before she could start chemotherapy. Following six months of chemo, it took another two months before she was able to resume her physical training.
She fought hard to keep herself ready to return to full-duty so she could continue her career. Her will to fight was an inspiration to her husband.
“My wife is literally the strongest person I know,” said Bernard McGee, a former military police officer. “She has been through it all and has mustered the strength to take on even more challenges. She is a true warrior.”
“Monica is a true fighter, and I am happy to state that she is a survivor,” Asoh said. “Her illness did not define her. Rather, it broadened her view of life.”
Rosario credits positive thinking and the support of her Army family for keeping her in the Army so that she could make it to Fort Leonard Wood to complete the Engineer Captain’s Career Course.
“The Army’s resiliency training has instilled in me the ability to stay strong and stay resilient in all aspects of life,” she said. “Being resilient has helped me and still helps me on a daily basis. Seeking positive thought, and staying away from negative thoughts impact how we feel and how we live every day.”
It was once the most heroic thing a soldier could do. They’d strap themselves up with the barest of combat essentials and jump out of the back of a perfectly good aircraft into uncertain danger — often ending up miles away from their intended drop zone and, sometimes, completely on their own.
Combat jumps led the Allied Forces to victory in WWII. These same tactics were employed during the Korean War and Vietnam War and, eventually, were used by Rangers and Green Berets in Grenada and Panama. When it came time for the Global War on Terrorism, well, let’s just say there are only a handful of combat jumps that come without asterisks attached.
It should be noted that this list cannot be exhaustive, as there are likely some jumps that that have yet to be declassified. Also, there were many airborne insertions done in-theater, but those don’t qualify you for the coveted “mustard stain,” so they don’t make the list.
The following are the only jumps that have happened since September 11, 2001 that satisfy all the requirements to fully classify as combat jumps.
Now it is known as Kandahar Airfield, home to the ISAF command, several NATO nation’s commands, a TGI Fridays, and a pond full of human excrement.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Tony Wickman)
Just 38 days after the horrific attacks of September 11th, the 75th Ranger Regiment sent 200 of their most badass Rangers to meet with the 101st Airborne Division 100 miles south of Kandahar, Afghanistan — the last bastion of complete Taliban control in Afghanistan. The Rangers landed on a derelict strip of land and expected heavy resistance. In actuality, they found just one, lone Taliban fighter who presumably sh*t himself as 200 Rangers dropped in on him.
There, they established a sufficient forward operating base, called FOB Rhino, which opened the way to take back Kandahar for the Afghan people.
Fun fact: they technically beat the next entry by a few days, forever solidifying their bragging rights.
The 75th Rangers, who are featured heavily on this list, led the way into Iraq by making combat jumps into Iraq in March, 2003 — the first in Iraq since Desert Storm.
The Rangers landed in the region a few weeks earlier by airborne insertion to capture the lead operational planner of the September 11th attacks. They accomplished this within three days of touching boots to the ground. The next wave of 2nd Battalion 75th Rangers came to secure al-Qa’im and Haditha before making their way into Baghdad.
If you didn’t know about this one… Don’t worry. Literally everyone in the 173rd will remind you of this whenever their personal Airborne-ness is brought into question.
(U.S. Army photo by Specialist Adam Sanders)
Operation Northern Delay
In the early morning of March 26th, 2003, 996 soldiers of the 173rd Airborne Division jumped into the relatively empty Bashur Airfield and stopped six entire divisions of Saddam’s army from continuing on to Baghdad.
This marked the first wave of conventional troops in the region and the beginning of the end of Saddam’s regime. This was also the only jump conducted by conventional USAF airmen as the 786th Security Forces Squadron also jumped with them.
Come on, 75th Rangers! You guys are leaving out all the good, juicy details of your classified missions!
Various Regimental Reconnaissance Detachment jumps in Afghanistan
Very little is known about the last two publicly-disclosed combat jumps, as is the case with most JSOC missions, other than the fact that they were both conducted by the 75th Ranger Regiment’s Regimental Reconnaissance Company Teams 3 and 1.
RRC Team 3 jumped into Tillman Drop Zone in southeast Afghanistan on July 3rd, 2004, to deploy tactical equipment in a combat military free-fall parachute drop.
This was the last RRC time made a jump until Team 1 jumped five years later on July 11th, 2009, into an even more remote location of Afghanistan — but this time, scant reports state that the jumps including a tandem passenger to aid in deploying tactical equipment.
We’ll just have to wait for the history books to be written, I guess.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has softened America’s stance on possible talks with North Korea, calling it “unrealistic” to expect the nuclear-armed country to come to the table ready to give up a weapons of mass destruction program that it invested so much in developing. Tillerson said his boss, President Donald Trump, endorses this position.
Tillerson’s remarks Dec. 12 came two weeks after North Korea conducted a test with a missile that could potentially carry a nuclear warhead to the U.S. Eastern Seaboard — a milestone in its decades-long drive to pose an atomic threat to its American adversary that Trump has vowed to prevent, using military force if necessary.
“We are ready to talk anytime North Korea would like to talk. And we are ready to have the first meeting without preconditions,” Tillerson said at the Atlantic Council think tank.
He said that the North would need to hold off on its weapons testing. This year, the North has conducted more than 20 ballistic missile launches and one nuclear test explosion, its most powerful yet.
“Let’s just meet and we can talk about the weather if you want to. We can talk about whether it’s a square table or a round table if that’s what you are excited about,” Tillerson said. “But can we at least sit down and see each other face to face and then we can begin to lay out a map, a road map, of what we might be willing to work towards.”
Although Tillerson said the goal of U.S. policy remained denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, he added it was “not realistic to say we’re only going to talk if you come to the table ready to give up your program. They’ve too much invested in it. The president is very realistic about that as well.”
Baik Tae-hyun, spokesman of Seoul’s Unification Ministry, said of Tillerson’s comments that Seoul wishes for talks to “happen soon” if they contribute to the goal of finding a peaceful solution for the North Korean nuclear problem.
He said Washington and Seoul both maintain a firm stance that North Korea’s nuclear weapons cannot be tolerated and should be completely discarded in a peaceful way.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement later that day that: “The President’s views on North Korea have not changed.”
“North Korea is acting in an unsafe way not only toward Japan, China, and South Korea, but the entire world. North Korea’s actions are not good for anyone and certainly not good for North Korea,” she said.
In public, Trump has been less sanguine about the possibilities of diplomacy with Kim Jong Un’s authoritarian government, which faces growing international isolation and sanctions as it pursues nuclear weapons in defiance of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions. In October, Trump appeared to undercut Tillerson when he said he was “wasting his time” trying to negotiate with North Korea, just as Tillerson said the U.S. had backchannel communications with the North.
Trump, who has traded insults with Kim, kept up his tough talk. As he signed a $700 billion defense authorization bill that includes additional spending on missile defense, he referred to North Korea as a “vile dictatorship.”
“We’re working very diligently on that — building up forces. We’ll see how it all turns out. It’s a very bad situation — a situation that should have been handled long ago by other administrations,” Trump said.
Tillerson did not indicate that North Korea had signaled a new readiness to talk, but said that “they clearly understand that if we’re going to talk, we’ve got to have a period of quiet” in weapons tests.
Tillerson stressed that the U.S. would not accept a nuclear-armed North Korea, as it flouts international norms and might spread weapons technology to non-state groups in ways that other nuclear powers have not.
In a rare admission of discussion of a highly sensitive topic, Tillerson said Washington has discussed with Beijing how North Korea’s nuclear weapons might be secured in case of instability there.
“The most important thing to us would be securing those nuclear weapons that they have already developed and ensuring that nothing falls into the hands of people who we would not want to have it. We’ve had conversations with the Chinese about how that might be done,” Tillerson said.
It appeared to be the first public recognition from an administration official that the U.S. has discussed North Korean contingencies with China, which fought with the North against the U.S. in the 1950-53 Korean War. The Trump administration has held a series of high-level dialogues with Beijing this year, and U.S. and Chinese generals held rare talks in late November about how the two militaries might communicate in a crisis although U.S. officials said the dialogue wasn’t centered on North Korea.
Tillerson said that the U.S. has assured China that in the event that American troops had to cross northward of the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, it would retreat back south once stability returned.
“That is our commitment we made to them. Our only objective is to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, and that is all,” Tillerson said.
Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said Tillerson’s proposal for direct talks with North Korea without preconditions was overdue and a welcome shift in position, but both sides needed to demonstrate restraint.
“For North Korea that means a halt to all nuclear and ballistic missile tests, and for the United States, refraining from military maneuvers and overflights that appear to be practice runs for an attack on the North,” Kimball said. “If such restraint is not forthcoming, we can expect a further escalation of tensions and a growing risk of a catastrophic war.”
Last week, the United States flew a B-1B supersonic bomber over South Korea as part of a massive combined aerial exercise involving more than 200 warplanes. North Korea says such drills are preparations for invasion.
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, who is believed to support sending additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, will determine if the approximately 9,800 U.S.troops currently deployed there should be reinforced. Trump gave Mattis similar authority over troop levels in Syria and Iraq in April.
A formal announcement on ceding the authority to the Defense Department is expected June 14. The move comes earlier than anticipated; it was expected that any action on changes in U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan would come after mid-July, when the administration’s strategy review is completed.
Giving more authority to the Pentagon allows military leaders more latitude in planning and conducting operations. Options were developed to deploy up to 5,000 more U.S. troops, including hundreds of Special Operations forces, to augment the international coalition force of about 13,000 troops presently in Afghanistan. About 2,000 U.S. troops there are currently assigned to fight al-Qaida and other militant groups.
Mattis told the Senate Armed Service Committee on June 13 to expect the Trump administration to unveil its Afghan strategy within weeks.
“We are not winning in Afghanistan right now, and we will correct this as soon as possible,” Mattis said in testimony.
Days later, another Flanker mimicked the move over the same waters, zooming in front of a P-8 and exposing the sub hunter aircraft to its jet exhaust.
Top U.S. officials in Europe and the Defense Department said the incidents involved Russian pilots behaving in an unsafe, unprofessional manner. Experts argue that, while the intercepts expose a pattern of behavior from the Russian military, they also show that Russia is willing to capitalize on the publicity the aerial maneuvers bring, even during a global pandemic.
The Russian military “feels as if it’s necessary to let everybody know that they’re still on the world stage, that they’re still on the scene, and that they have pretty good military power,” said retired Gen. Frank Gorenc, the former commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe. Gorenc, an F-15 Eagle pilot, headed the command during Russia’s annexation of Crimea, when the U.S. sent sophisticated aircraft such as the F-22 Raptor to the theater in show-of-force missions to deter Russian aggression.
“It’s not only the pandemic, which obviously is keeping the western countries occupied, but also the oil [crash] too,” he said in an interview this week.
In recent weeks, Russia, one of the world’s leading oil exporters, was also hit by the unprecedented collapse in the market for crude oil.
“Declining powers have to do [something],” Gorenc said.
Opportunity to Go Viral
Unlike the Cold War, when pilots would return to their squadron and file a debrief of an aerial intercept, then simply move along to their next mission, being buzzed or barrel-rolled is gaining more visibility with the help of social media, said Doug Barrie, senior fellow for military aerospace for the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a London-based think tank.
“You know, it goes kind of viral,” Barrie said. “So you wonder if there’s an element of that, of how it plays on social media and in wider Western media, whether or not if it’s valuable.”
Notably, the recent incidents involved Russia’s multi-role Su-35 fighter jet, which has received improvements over the last few years — a significant upgrade from other aircraft used in past intercepts, such as the Su-27 Flanker or the Su-24 Fencer, Barrie said.
“It’s perhaps unsurprising that these aircraft have been bumped into [the rotation] more often than we’ve previously seen them; the imagery of the Flanker is great,” he said.
“The Su-35 is a highly capable airplane that they produce,” Gorenc added. “They’re obviously … trying to sell it. And this is a good way to show it off.”
Gorenc stressed that, while these incidents tend to flare up once in a while, pilots need to stick to the rules of engagement and try to be as predictable as possible.
The 1972 bilateral Russia-U.S. agreement “Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas,” followed by Incidents at Sea Agreement (INCSEA), are accords that establish basic “rules of the road” for both countries to safely navigate near one another.
Holding Russia accountable for its behavior in international airspace can be tricky, Barrie explained. “To some extent, these things are difficult to kind of legislate around because it really comes down to the units, the pilots [and their behavior],” he said.
More often than not, intercepts are conducted in a safe manner, but errors happen because of a loss of communication or a human or technical mistake, officials have said.
For example, then-Gen. Petr Pavel, the former chairman of the NATO Military Committee, told reporters in 2018 that most aerial scrambles are seen as “routine.”
“From time to time, we can see some measures as provocative, especially in the areas that we exercise … both to the ships and in the air,” he said. “But it’s up to the captain [or pilot] to judge if it’s dangerous or not.”
Last week, Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters, NATO supreme commander and head of U.S. European Command, described the first incident on April 15 as the result of “unprofessional” conduct by a Russian fighter pilot acting on his own, rather than a deliberate attempt by Moscow to provoke an incident.
“My conclusion at this point is that it was probably something more along the lines of unprofessional as opposed to deliberate,” Wolters said April 16.
“Given the unpredictability, you have to make sure that you maintain a safe distance and don’t assume anything. Don’t assume that they even see you, because they may not see you,” Gorenc said.
Not Backing Down
Like the U.S., it’s unlikely that Russia will back down from what it sees as military priorities despite the pandemic, Barrie said.
“We’re not completely dissimilar. … You can see the messaging coming out of these NATO nations, including the U.S., which says, ‘OK, we recognize a pandemic is an enormous problem … but [we’re still] taking care of the day-to-day national security needs,'” he said.
Air Force Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, head of U.S. Northern Command, told reporters Tuesday that the U.S. military should be mindful that rivals like Russia will look to test any weaknesses among the U.S. and its allies during the coronavirus crisis.
“We are postured and maintain that ability to respond at a moment’s notice,” he said.
On Friday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper renewed the message. “Our adversaries are not standing down,” he said. “We will continue to make sure that the [Defense Department] is ready to protect the USA.”
Barrie added: “The Russian Su-35 incident, in part, is simply a reflection of that [response]. It is simply a reflection of Russia doing what it does.”