Individuals suffering from PTSD may lose their families, careers, or even commit suicide. These were the challenges JJ Selvig was facing as it crept into his life seven years into his service.
And the death of his friend put Selvig over the edge.
“An unauthorized absence and an other than honorable discharge, I went home,” Selvig said in the video below. “I blamed the Marines, my family, myself, my destroyed relationships; then Sam committed suicide, and my narrative changed.”
Building on his military service as a foundation, he deployed to Hurricane Sandy with Team Rubicon to honor his friend’s death.
“The cuts and scrapes from broken wood and shingles covered me while uncovering me at the same time, a light began to flicker inside,” he said.
With each Team Rubicon deployment, the feelings of sadness and anger faded as he as he became a leader again. He was creating positive change in people’s lives, and it was helping him become a better person inside and out.
“I’m still human; I’m never going to not have rough edges,” he said. “But Team Rubicon helped sand them down as much as possible.”
Watch Selvig tell his uplifting story in this short three-minute video:
In the first week of February 2018, insiders in the Israeli aviation industry told Haaretz that Saudi Arabia reportedly granted approval to Air India to fly direct from Delhi to Tel Aviv using its airspace.
Reuters confirmed that Air India said it is planning direct flights to Israel, and sought permission from Saudi Arabia to fly over its territory, which would significantly reduce flight times by more than two hours.
Saudi Arabia’s aviation authority denied reports that it already granted Air India’s request.
However, there was no indication that it would not consider the request in the future.
If the air route is confirmed, it would mark the first time Saudi Arabia would allow commercial flights to fly to Israel using its airspace and would mark a significant shift in strategic policy that has shaped the region for decades.
Currently, Saudi Arabia does not recognize Israel and has instated a ban on flights traveling to Israel from using its airspace for more than 70 years.
But news of Saudi Arabia potentially easing its airspace regulations may add concrete evidence to reports of the country’s warming ties to Israel.
Israel and Saudi Arabia have shared goals
Several reports have surfaced showing covert cooperation between Israel and Saudi Arabia, who currently maintain no diplomatic ties.
One key issue the two have reportedly bonded over is curbing common-enemy Iran’s continued expansion in the Middle East.
Iran has openly threatened to annihilate Israel many times over the serious decades-long conflict between the two countries.
Saudi Arabia and Iran’s conflict dates back to a centuries-old divide between Sunni Muslims, who make up the majority in the Saudi Kingdom, and Shiites who govern Iran. The two officially severed ties in 2016, after Iranian protesters set fires in the Saudi Embassy compound in Tehran.
While the two countries have been coy about reports of exchanging intelligence, Israel has been upfront about its “covert” contacts with Saudi officials amid common concerns over Iran.
Representatives from the two countries shared the stage at an event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations in 2015 and discussed their common interest in opposing Iran. Anwar Eshki, a retired major general in the Saudi armed forces and Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, admitted that they’ve been quietly conducting diplomacy on Iranian issues since 2014.
In 2017, a leaked diplomatic cable confirmed longtime rumors of Israel and Saudi cooperation. In the cable, Israel instructed its overseas embassies to encourage support for Saudi Arabia in its battle against Iranian-proxy Hezbollah.
Kobi Michael, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, told Al Jazeera that Iran remains a major threat to many countries across the Middle East.
“Unfortunately, the U.S. left a vacuum in the region which was filled by the Russians in Syria and by the Iranians and their proxies in other parts of the Middle East,” he told Al Jazeera.
“Israel is perceived as the most reliable potential ally. Therefore the Saudis understand pretty well that it is a good time to be good friends with Israel,” he said in the interview.
The Crown Prince is ushering in a new era
Saudi’s young Crown Prince is also seen as a key piece to understanding the timing of Israel and Saudi Arabia renewed relations.
The ambitious Mohammed Bin Salman has been spearheading a reform of Saudi’s domestic and foreign policy, which includes reevaluating its regional alliances, and aggressively opposing Iranian influence, according to Al-Arabiya.
The Crown Prince is also shaping Saudi’s cultural ethos. In November 2017, Salman made waves by purging anti-American and anti-Jewish clerics, making a strong indication that Saudi Arabia is seeking rapprochement with its Jewish neighbor and U.S.-ally Israel.
And by December 2017, Israel invited the Crown Prince to visit the country to discuss regional peace, and described the nation as the “leader of the Arab world.”
Experts say the Salman’s rise to power and widespread calls for reforms have allowed for a modern partnership with Israel to grow.
Associate professor with the Gulf Studies Program department at Qatar University Mahjoob Zweiri told Al Jazeera: “The political changes in Saudi Arabia and the desire to consolidate power is the main reason why these relations with Israel were opened.”
As the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program barrels toward its final major testing process before full-rate production, program leaders say a much-discussed comparison test between the beloved A-10 Thunderbolt II and the new 5th-generation fighter is very much still in planning and could kick off as soon as April 2018.
In a roundtable discussion with reporters at the F-35 Joint Program Office headquarters near Washington, D.C., on Feb. 28, the director of the program said the final test and evaluation plan is still being constructed. That will determine, he said, when the A-10 vs. F-35 test begins, and whether it happens in the main test effort or in an earlier, more focused evaluation.
“The Congress has directed the [Defense Department] to do comparison testing, we call it,” Vice Adm. Mat Winter said. “I wouldn’t call it a flyoff; it’s a comparison testing of the A-10 and the F-35. And given that the department was given that task … that is in [the] operational test and evaluation plan.”
Initial Operational Test and Evaluation, or IOTE, is set to begin for the F-35 in September 2018. But two new increments of preliminary testing were recently added to the calendar to evaluate specific capabilities, Winter said.
The first increment, which was completed in January and February 2018, took place at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska and evaluated the ability of the aircraft to perform in extreme cold weather conditions, with a focus on the effectiveness of alert launches. The results of those tests have yet to be made public.
The second increment, set to begin in April 2018, will focus on close-air support capabilities, reconnaissances, and limited examination of weapons delivery, Winter said. The testing is expected to take place at Edwards Air Force Base in California and other ranges in the western United States.
Questions surrounding the F-35’s ability to perform in a close-air support role are what prompted initial interest in a comparison between the aging A-10 “Warthog” and the cutting-edge fighter in the first place.
The requirement that the two aircraft go up against each other was included as a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act for 2017 amid congressional concerns over plans to retire the A-10 and replace it with the F-35.
In an interview with Military.com in 2017, Air Force Brig. Gen. Scott Pleus, then-director of the F-35 program’s integration office, said he expected the A-10 to emerge as a better CAS platform in a no-threat environment.
But the dynamics would change, he said, as the threat level increased.
“As you now start to build the threat up, the A-10s won’t even enter the airspace before they get shot down — not even within 20 miles of the target.”
In 2011, First Lady Michelle Obama and Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden launched Joining Forces; an initiative to encourage public and private sectors to support the military community. The program dissolved under the previous administration but with Dr. Biden’s husband being sworn in as 46th president, the incoming first lady appeared eager to relaunch it.
Joining Forces called for a commitment of support in education, employment and wellness not just for the military member or veteran, but their families. At the original launch ceremony, President Obama called for “every segment of American society, not to simply say thank you but to mobilize, take action and make a real commitment to supporting our military families.” After six years, the initiative boasted new legislation in all 50 states and 1.25 million military community members hired.
Serving military families appears to be something close to the incoming First Lady’s heart. Her father was a Navy Signalman during World War II. Her late Step-Son Beau was an officer in the Army National Guard and deployed to Iraq while her husband was the Vice President. Despite leaving Washington, D.C. behind in 2017 – and watching Joining Forces end – Biden continued her work with military families through the Biden Foundation.
When Biden was elected president, many within the military community began to speculate when and if now-FLOTUS would bring back Joining Forces. “Joe and I have always believed that as a nation, we have many obligations. But we only have one truly sacred obligation — to properly prepare and equip our troops when we send them into harm’s way, and to care for them and their families both while deployed and when they return home, because your sacrifice deserves nothing less,” Dr. Biden stated, speaking to the Military Child Education Coalition’s virtual conference on November 17, 2021.
Just days ago, the Bidens officially relaunched Joining Forces.
On a call with military family organizations, Thursday January 14, 2021, Dr. Biden announced that an Executive Director for Joining Forces had been chosen. It was a familiar face; former Deputy Director of Joining Forces, Rory Brosius. “I know the love and strength and resilience that makes this community so unique, and it’s such a joy to be a part of it and a privilege to really have the chance to serve it,” Biden said during the virtual announcement.
Brosius is a spouse to a Marine Corps veteran. “This is my community, and it’s one I care deeply for. The world has changed since Joining Forces started in 2011. And I know that we have work to do to make sure that we are as timely and as targeted as we need to be. I take my mandate and our bias for action very seriously,” Brosius said during the announcement.
Biden has stated in multiple interviews that there is more work to be done in order to adequately and effectively support military families. On the virtual call she stated that Joining Forces will “get to work on Day One.”
The soon-to-be first lady appeared excited on the virtual call, sharing that, “The weight and the beauty of this responsibility, of the trust the American people have given us, will never leave me and I’m grateful and excited and most of all ready to get to work with all of you.”
What’s for dinner? No really, we are all tired of cooking the same things, so can we have some new ideas? Quarantine has the vast majority of folks cooking more than normal. And naturally, we want to switch it up a little.
Don’t get bored from cooking the same dishes over and over again. Instead, use your current duty station to help provide some inspiration.
Start by looking at where you’re stationed and what local fare they have to offer. Then consider what dishes you can find around town and how you could be making them at home. Simple? Sure. But it’s also an easy way to switch up your current menu.
Go straight to restaurant menus, or Google based on town or local ingredients for even more variety.
What base is home-for-now?
Southern states have soul food and countrified home cooking. There’s pimento cheese (YUM), chicken salad galore, and about as much banana pudding as you can stand.
In the Midwest there’s BBQ, deep-dished pizzas, so many casseroles, Cincinnati-style chili and bierocks.
Overseas you’ll find European dishes, Hawaiian fare, sushi and noodle dishes — but in their true forms, not Americanized versions.
And that’s only the beginning.
Fresh ingredients for the trying
Finally, you can find new ingredients to inspire your cooking by checking out local markets. Now is a great time to support small businesses, but they’re also hot spots for items you don’t normally use. Ask a worker for recommendations (from a distance) for some insider experience while you’re at it. Or, when planning your garden, add in some unique locally based plants.
As a military family, one of the biggest perks is the chance to move around and experience new cultures. Just because you’re stuck at home doesn’t mean you can’t still use your location to try new things. Consider cooking outside of your comfort zone — while drawing inspiration from the locals — for tasty new dishes that the whole family can enjoy.
On June 5th, seven veterans of the Battle of Midway joined about 1,000 people aboard a retired US Navy aircraft carrier to mark the 75th anniversary of the turning point in World War II’s Pacific Ocean theater.
Two F/A-18 Hornet fighter planes, blocked by clouds, thundered above the USS Midway, a Navy carrier that was commissioned in 1945 to commemorate the battle. The carrier was decommissioned in 1992 and has been in a military museum in downtown San Diego since 2004.
Well-wishers lined up to shake hands with 102-year-old Andy Mills and other wheelchair-bound Midway veterans after a 90-minute ceremony that recounted how the landmark battle unfolded. One Midway veteran came from hospice care.
The 1942 battle occurred six months after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor after Navy code breakers broke complex Japanese code to reveal a plan to ambush US forces. The Japanese planned to occupy Midway, a strategic U.S.-held atoll 1,300 miles northwest of Pearl Harbor, and destroy what was left of the Pacific fleet.
When Japanese planes began bombing Midway, American torpedo planes and bombers counter-attacked in waves, bombing and sinking four Japanese carriers on June 4. The fighting continued for another three days before the United States proved to be victorious.
Adm. John Richardson, chief of U.S. naval operations, told the audience that a string of “effective but decisive” actions led to a victory with razor-thin room for error.
“In hindsight, when you review the Battle of Midway, you can see like a series of strokes of amazing luck. And when you put those strokes together, it’s like a miracle occurred at Midway. It trends towards the miraculous,” he said.
Anthony J. Principi, who served as secretary of veterans affairs from 2001 to 2005, wrote in the Military Times that that Navy commanders made “coordinated, split-second, life-and-death decisions.”
“We won because luck was on our side, because the Japanese made mistakes and because our officers and men acted with great courage amidst the chaos of battle,” he wrote.
The Midway, which has more than 1 million visitors a year, has hosted college basketball games, parties during the Comic-Con pop culture extravaganza, and TV tapings for shows like ABC’s “The Bachelor.”
National K9 Veterans Day, March 13, is a day set aside to honor commemorate the service and sacrifices of American military and working dogs throughout history.
It was on March 13, 1942, that the Army began training for its new War Dog Program, also known as the “K-9 Corps,” according to American Humane, marking the first time that dogs were officially a part of the U.S. Armed Forces.
The rest, as they say, is history. Officially a part of the service, the dogs of war span centuries and include such heroes as Sgt. Stubby, the original war dog, Chips, the most decorated dog in World War II, Lex, who retired with his fallen owner’s family, and Cairo, the Navy SEAL working dog on the bin Laden raid.
Today’s military dogs are valued as important members of their military units and even have their own retirement ceremonies, awards and medals, and memorial services.
The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they’re always capturing what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:
A U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer assigned to the 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, deployed from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, taxis on the flightline July 26, 2017, at Andersen AFB, Guam. The normal/routine employment of continuous bomber presence (CBP) missions in the U.S. Pacific Command’s area of responsibility since March 2004 are in accordance with international law are vital to the principles that are the foundation of the rules-based global operating system.
U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Josean Arce, 33rd Helicopter Maintenance Unit weapons section weapons expediter, conducts a systems post-load check on a GAU-18 50-caliber machine gun attached to an HH-60 Pave Hawk from the 33rd Rescue Squadron July 26, 2017, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Airmen in the weapons section maintain, install, remove, and safeguard all armaments and items associated with the HH-60 gun mounting and ammunition handling systems for the 33rd Rescue Squadron.
Paratroopers from 1st Battalion, 143rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade conduct Squad Live Fire in Cincu, Romania during Exercise Swift Response 17.
U.S. Army paratroopers assigned to Company A, 307th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, load into the back of a C-130 Globemaster III assigned to the 8th Airlift Squadron during Operation Panther Storm 2017 at Fort Bragg, N.C., July 24, 2017. Panther Storm is a deployment readiness exercise used to test the 82nd Airborne Division’s ability to rapidly deploy its global response force anywhere in the world with only a few hours’ notice.
Seaman Tanoria Thomas from Shreveport, La., signals an amphibious assault vehicle, attached to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, into the well deck of the amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland (LSD 48) after the completion of Talisman Saber 2017. Talisman Saber is a biennial U.S.-Australia bilateral exercise held off the coast of Australia meant to achieve interoperability and strengthen the U.S.-Australia alliance.
Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) 3rd Class Christian Prior prepares to raise the ensign on the fantail aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) during morning colors. Iwo Jima is in port conducting a scheduled continuous maintenance availability in preparation for their upcoming deployment.
A Marine documents a call-for-fire during a live-fire range at Camp Lejeune, N.C., July 26, 2017. The purpose of this field operation is to test and improve the unit’s capabilities by putting the Marines into a simulated combat environment. The Marine is with 1st Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment.
Marines with “The Commandant’s Own” U.S. Marine Drum Bugle Corps perform “music in motion” during a Tuesday Sunset Parade at the Marine Corps War Memorial, Arlington, Va., July 25, 2017. The guest of honor for the parade was the Honorable Robert J. Wittman, U.S. Representative from the 1st Congressional District of Virginia, and the hosting official was Lt. Gen. Robert S. Walsh, commanding general, Marine Corps Combat and Development Command and deputy commandant for Combat Development and Integration.
U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Patrick Armstrong (left), commanding officer of U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Maple, rides aboard a Canadian Coast Guard small boat near Barrow, Alaska, after meeting with members of the Canadian Coast Guard aboard ice breaker Sir Wilfrid Laurier, July 24, 2017. The crews of Sir Wilfrid Laurier and fishing vessel Frosti, a Canada Department of Fisheries and Oceans-commissioned boat, went on to lead the way through the ice east of Barrow, Alaska, in support of U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Maple’s transit through the Northwest Passage to the Atlantic Ocean.
Crew members aboard a Coast Guard 24-foot Special Purpose Craft-Shallow Water boat from Station Chincoteague, Virginia, ignite orange smoke signals to mark slack tide and the beginning of the 92nd Annual Chincoteague Pony Swim in Assateague Channel, July 26, 2017. Thousands gathered to watch Saltwater Cowboys swim a herd of wild ponies from Assateague Island to Chincoteague Island.
On September 11, 2007, Russia announced to the world that it had successfully tested the world’s most powerful nonnuclear bomb.
The “father of all Bombs,” (FOAB)named in response to America’s smaller “mother of all Bombs,” has the power of a nuclear bomb but does not produce chemical or radioactive fallout.
“The results of tests of the aviation explosive device that has been created have shown that it is comparable with nuclear weapons in its efficiency and potential,” Alexander Rukshin, deputy chief of the Russian armed forces, told Russia’s ORT First Channel in 2007.
“The main destruction is inflicted by an ultrasonic shockwave and an incredibly high temperature. All that is alive merely evaporates. At the same time, I want to stress that the action of this weapon does not contaminate the environment, in contrast to a nuclear one.”
The lack of environmental damage from the FOAB is as a double-edged sword as it makes the bomb less likely to cause the sort of massive destruction that a nuclear bomb would produce through fallout. This lack of fallout, though, also heightens the chances that the FOAB would be used in a military confrontation.
The FOAB, according to RT, is a thermobaric bomb. This sort of weapon explodes in midair, which ignites a fuel-air mixture.
This then proceeds to cause an incredibly hot and powerful outward blast that vaporizes targets and can collapse structures. The FOAB can produce blasts and aftershocks as powerful as a nuclear blast.
The blast from the FOAB is equivalent to a blast yield of 44 tons of TNT. The FOAB has a destruction radius of nearly 1,000 feet.
Everything within that area becomes superheated to the point that surfaces melt, and the ground takes on an almost moon-like quality.
In addition, the burning of gases within the vicinity by the blast produces a vacuum, which can compound damage by dragging nearby objects toward the epicenter of the explosion.
South Korea is planning to arm its newly-formed special forces unit, known as the “decapitation unit,” with suicide drones and other lethal weapons to take out North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, according to the Korea Herald.
The South Korean Defense Ministry announced on Dec. 6 that the decapitation unit was allocated $310,000 for weapons and equipment, and an anonymous Defense Ministry official told the Herald that the unit will receive $24 million altogether.
The “equipment includes suicide drones, surveillance drones, and grenade machine guns,” the defense ministry official told the Herald.
The decapitation unit is an army brigade consisting of 1,000 special operators. It was established on Dec. 1 with the aim of assassinating Kim and his top leaders.
It’s expected to be modeled off SEAL Team 6, but it’s not yet operational as it requires more equipment, such as low-flying aircraft to take the operators into North Korea, the Herald reported.
South Korean officials have been openly discussing the formation of the unit since summer 2015. It’s considered strange for a government to freely talk about assassinating world leaders.
Just before the 1st Marine Division advanced on the Iraqi city of Nasiriyah on March 23, 2003, Maj. Gen. James Mattis pinned a star onto each collar of his assistant division commander, Col. John F. Kelly. He was now a brigadier general, and the first to be promoted on the battlefield since the Korean War.
Not far from there, another colonel in the unit named Joe Dunford was leading his regimental combat team.
By the end of the campaign, they had fought together in places like Nasiriyah, Al Kut, and eventually Baghdad. The division they were in — along with the US Army and UK armored elements — carried out one of the most aggressive, high-speed attacks in history, and 1st Marine Division’s ground march was the longest in the history of the Marine Corps, for which it earned the Presidential Unit Citation.
Those three officers went on to become four-star generals. Mattis retired in 2013 as the commander of Central Command, while Kelly retired as commander of US Southern Command in 2016. Dunford became commandant of the Marine Corps, and eventually chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where he remains.
All three remain good friends. And if President-elect Donald Trump’s picks for his Cabinet are all confirmed, they’ll once again be serving together — only this time, it’ll be in the White House.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis
Mattis has often been praised by senior leaders at the Pentagon as both a strategic thinker with an encyclopedic knowledge of history and an incredible leader. His legendary status among Marines mainly originated from his command of 1st Marine Division, where he popularized its motto, “No better friend, no worse enemy.”
The 66-year-old retired general is the only pick that has a legal roadblock in front of him. A 1947 law, updated in 2008, requires military officers to be out of uniform for at least seven years before leading the Pentagon. Mattis would need a waiver, which Republicans have already signaled support for.
When asked recently if he was concerned by Mattis as Trump’s pick, Gen. Joe Dunford just said, “No.”
If confirmed, Mattis would replace Defense Secretary Ash Carter, who supports Mattis and called him “extremely capable.”
Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly
John Kelly just accepted Trump’s request for him to serve as the head of the Department of Homeland Security, according to CBS News.
Like Mattis, he is a blunt speaker who opposes the closure of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.
“What tends to bother them is the fact that we’re holding them there indefinitely without trial. … It’s not the point that it’s Gitmo,” he told Defense One earlier this year. “If we send them, say, to a facility in the US, we’re still holding them without trial.”
Kelly is also the most senior-ranking military official to lose a child in combat since 9/11. His son, Lt. Robert Kelly, was killed by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan in 2010.
If confirmed, Kelly would replace Jeh Johnson.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joe Dunford
Joe Dunford is the last of the three generals who is still in uniform. He served briefly as commandant of the Marine Corps before President Barack Obama nominated him as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs in May 2015. He earned the nickname “Fighting Joe” during his time with 1st Marine Division.
Dunford has been in the Marine Corps for 39 years, less than Mattis’ 44 years and Kelly’s 45. His chairmanship term is scheduled to run through 2017. Though the Joint Chiefs are not part of the president’s Cabinet, they are appointed by — and serve as the top military advisers to — the president.
Trump is likely to replace many of Obama’s appointees, but Dunford may not be one of them.
Typically, Joint Chiefs chairmen serve two terms, and having comrades like Mattis and Kelly in Dunford’s corner would make it much harder for Trump to replace him.
Trump has floated other generals and admirals for his Cabinet, including Gen. David Petraeus for secretary of state and Adm. Michael Rogers for director of national intelligence. Michael Flynn, his controversial choice for national security adviser, is a retired lieutenant general who headed the Defense Intelligence Agency.
These choices don’t come without pushback. Some, like Phillip Carter, a former Army officer with the Center for a New American Security, have argued that Trump’s reliance on retired military brass for traditionally civilian-led organizations could jeopardize civil-military relations.
Russia is preparing to mount what could be one of its biggest military exercises since the Cold War, a display of power that will be watched warily by NATO against a backdrop of east-west tensions.
Western officials and analysts estimate up to 100,000 military personnel and logistical support troops could participate in the Zapad (West) 17 exercise, which will take place next month in Belarus, Kaliningrad, and Russia itself. Moscow puts the number significantly lower.
The exercise, to be held from Sept. 14-20, comes against a backdrop of strained relations between Russia and the US. Congress recently imposed a fresh round of sanctions on Moscow in response to allegations of interference in the 2016 US election.
The first of the Russian troops are scheduled to arrive in Belarus in mid-August.
Moscow has portrayed Zapad 17 as a regular exercise, held every four years, planned long ago and not a reaction to the latest round of sanctions.
NATO headquarters in Brussels said it had no plans to respond to the maneuvers by deploying more troops along the Russian border.
A NATO official said: “NATO will closely monitor exercise Zapad 17, but we are not planning any large exercises during Zapad 17. Our exercises are planned long in advance and are not related to the Russian exercise.”
The US vice-president, Mike Pence, discussed Zapad 17 during a visit to Estonia in July and raised the possibility of deploying the US Patriot missile defense system in the country. The US may deploy extra troops to eastern Europe during the course of the exercise and delay the planned rotation of others.
The commander of US Army Europe, Lt Gen Ben Hodges, told a press conference in Hungary in July: “Everybody that lives close to the western military district is a little bit worried because they hear about the size of the exercise.”
The Russian armed forces have undergone rapid modernisation over the last decade and Zapad offers them a chance to train en masse.
Moscow blames growing west-east tensions on the expansion of NATO eastwards and in recent years the deployment of more NATO forces in countries bordering Russia. NATO says the increased deployments are in response to the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2013.
Russia has not said how many troops will participate in Zapad 17, but the Russian ambassador to NATO , Aleksander Grushko, said it was not envisioned that any of the maneuvers would involve more than 13,000 troops, the limit at which Russia – under an international agreement – would be obliged to allow military from other countries to observe the exercise.
Russia could, theoretically, divide the exercise into separate parts in order to keep below the 13,000 limit. Western analysts said the last Zapad exercise in 2013 involved an estimated 70,000 military and support personnel, even though Russia informed NATO in the run-up it would not exceed 13,000.
Igor Sutyagin, co-author of Russia’s New Ground Forces, to be officially published on September 20 said, “unfortunately, you can’t trust what the Russians say.” He said, “one hundred thousand is probably exaggerated, but 18,000 is absolutely realistic.”
He did not envisage an attack on the Baltic states, given they are members of NATO . “Well, there are easier ways to commit suicide,” he said. But Putin is a master at doing the unexpected, he said, and Russia could take action elsewhere, such as taking more land in Georgia.
In a joint paper published in May, Col Tomasz Kowalik, a former special assistant to the chairman of NATO’s military committee and a director at the Polish ministry of national defense, and Dominik Jankowski, a senior official at the Polish ministry of foreign affairs, wrote that Russia had ordered 4,000 rail cars to transport its troops to Belarus and estimated that could amount to 30,000 military personnel.
Adding in troops already in place in Belarus and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad as well as troops arriving by air, it might be the largest Russian exercise since 1991.
NATO said its biggest exercise this year, Trident Javelin 17, running from Nov. 8-17, would involve only 3,000 troops. Trident Javelin 17 is to prepare for next year’s bigger exercise, Trident Juncture 2018, which will involve an estimated 35,000 troops.
The NATO official added: “We have increased our military presence in the eastern part of the alliance in response to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and its military buildup in the region. We have four multinational NATO battle-groups in place in the Baltic states and Poland, a concrete reminder that an attack on one ally is an an attack on all. However, NATO’s force posture is not in reaction to Zapad 17.”
During the Cold War, Zapad was the biggest training exercise of the Soviet Union and involved an estimated 100,000 to 150,000 personnel. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was resurrected in 1999 and has been held every four years since.