Thousands of soldiers in training head home for the holidays - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

Thousands of soldiers in training head home for the holidays

Thousands of Soldiers and their families are traveling home for the holidays, including about 44,000 trainees and cadre from initial-entry training centers.


The Soldiers are participating in a two-week Holiday Block Leave beginning Dec. 18, said Michael Brown, a training analyst at the U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training’s Initial Entry Division.

These Soldiers are in various training sites across the U.S., going through Basic Combat Training, One Station Unit Training, Advanced Individual Training, the Basic Officer Leadership Course, and Warrant Officer Basic Course, he said.

Normally, about 3 to 5 percent of these Soldiers choose to remain at their installation and not travel home, he added. For those who stay behind, units coordinate several Morale, Welfare, and Recreation activities for them, including attending professional sporting events.

Maj. Gen. Pete Johnson, commander, U.S. Army Training Center and Fort Jackson, South Carolina, was at Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina Dec. 18, granting media interviews about the holiday travel. Around him were thousands of Soldiers trainees awaiting flights.

Thousands of soldiers in training head home for the holidays

Holiday Block Leave gives Soldiers a chance to reconnect with their families, he said. About 7,000 Soldier trainees were traveling out of Fort Jackson on Dec. 18, “by trains, planes, and automobiles” and by buses, too, he added.

Planning for this mass exodus is like planning for the D-Day landings, he added, describing the logistical challenges of packing all the Soldiers out, giving them their safety and Army Values briefings, and getting them to their preferred modes of transportation.

Most of those Soldiers will be telling the Army story back home, he said, and some will even have “embellished war stories.”

Most of them are young, as young as 17, he noted, but sprinkled among them are “elder statesmen,” some as old as 39. They are from every state in the Union.

Johnson praised the volunteers at the airport’s USO lounge, who are particularly busy this time of year giving Soldiers a place to relax while awaiting their flights.

Also Read: Watch Stephen Colbert’s Hilarious Stint In Army Basic Training

Pvt. Seth Akavickas was at the airport in Charlotte Dec. 18, waiting for a flight to take him home to Wausau, Wisconsin.

Soldiers in training at Fort Jackson were given personalized assistance getting home by ticket vendors, Akavickas said. His ticket vendor got him discounted round-trip tickets for $480, which was a good deal, he noted.

Feb. 28 is when Akavickas began his Basic Combat Training, so he’s experienced life in the Army for some time now. Currently, he is in Advanced Individual Training and will graduate Feb. 1.

Akavickas said he has mixed feelings about Holiday Block Leave. On the one hand, he’ll be able to spend time with his family over the holidays. But on the other hand, he said he’d kind of like to stay and finish training.

However, he added, the vast majority of Soldiers in training whom he’s spoken with are delighted for the break.

After AIT, Akavickas will return to Wisconsin to work as a human resource specialist in the National Guard. He said he plans to attend college through the ROTC program and then try to get commissioned in four years. He wants to make a career in the Army.

Pfc. Madeline Sallee was also at the Charlotte airport Dec. 18. She was heading home to Minnesota, on leave from Basic Combat Training and very happy to see her friends and family.

Thousands of soldiers in training head home for the holidays
New U.S. Army soldiers in basic combat training wait for further in-processing after receiving their initial haircuts January 16, 2008, at Fort Jackson, S.C. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Micky M. Bazaldua)

Sallee said the rest over break will be very good, particularly after some arduous training that included a 15-kilometer rucksack march and a lot of other physical activity.

The hardest part of training, she said, was spending the night outside when the temperature got down to 16F. “We were all shivering,” she added, despite being used to cold in her home state.

Sallee will graduate Feb. 1 and will become a logistical specialist. She said one of the benefits about basic was making a lot of new friends.

Staff Sgt. Domenic Buscemi, a drill sergeant from Fort Jackson, was also at the airport in Charlotte Dec. 18. He said drill sergeants accompany their Soldiers to help facilitate movement through the airport and to ensure standards of discipline are adhered to at all times.

Soldiers in training are required to travel in uniform, which means they are still representing the Army even while they are away, he said.

Buscemi also relayed some of the benefits of Holiday Block Leave. It serves to boost morale and motivation and gives Soldiers a chance to recharge.

It also gives them time to reflect on their experiences and spread their short-but-memorable Army story back in their communities, he said.

When the Soldiers return, Jan. 3, they will have retained about 70 percent of their basic military knowledge, so there will be some re-learning, he said, along with re-establishing their military discipline.

Thousands of soldiers in training head home for the holidays
(U.S. Army National Guard photo by Pfc. Andrew Valenza)

Soldiers don’t get to travel home in the middle of their training cycle during the rest of the year, he noted. On Thanksgiving, they’re given one day off, but that’s not time enough to travel home for most.

Fifteen years ago, Buscemi was a Soldier in training at Fort Benning, Georgia. It was summer and it was hot, he said, much tougher than winter training weather-wise.

Buscemi said he’ll return to Fort Jackson today, take a day of rest, then pile into the car with his wife and drive to her family’s home in Oklahoma where they will spend the holidays.

Brown admitted that the break in the training cycle is tough on drill sergeants, who have to re-teach numerous tasks, including discipline and customs and courtesies, when the Soldiers return from leave.

However, he said “the break is also good for trainees who come back with a little more pride about training to be a Soldier.”

MIGHTY CULTURE

5 next-level ways to celebrate Independence Day

With the Fourth of July nearly upon us, let’s consider how we go about celebrating the independence of the United States. American-as-f*ck movies, barbecues, and brews (before we go ahead and start our own explosive light show) are the most popular ways to go about it.

But there’s nothing wrong with upgrading a few of those ideas.

Thousands of soldiers in training head home for the holidays
Beware of going Full Veteran.

Related: 8 veteran AF ways to celebrate Independence Day

Right now, everyone is thinking of celebrating July 4th in the same way you are — and that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with however you want to celebrate independence; that’s the beauty of it. But there’s also nothing wrong with constantly trying to outdo each other in a race to create the best party either.

It’s time to Manifest Destiny all over your backyard with these simple ways to upsell everyone on American democracy.


Thousands of soldiers in training head home for the holidays

“Yeah, spruce ale. Prove me wrong.” – Ben Franklin

1. Upgrade your brew to something an American Patriot might drink.

Since Budweiser is now owned by a Brazilian-Belgian transnational conglomerate, it’s hard to call it the official beer of America’s independence. And while there are many more American beers not yet owned by other countries, we might as well drink what the Founding Fathers drank. Now we just need to find out what this was…

Luckily for us, Yards Brewing Company already did. Using letters and other documents written by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Ben Franklin, the brewers recreated a golden ale, porter, and spruce ale, each of which were once brewed by the Fathers themselves.

2. Upgrade those movies.

I know, the story of a Maverick fighter pilot who plays by his own rules gives you a massive bard-on. But did you know there are other movies that make Top Gun look a high school kid’s fevered daydream while dropping some real knowledge on you?

For example, First Blood, while fictional, has all the same badassery of Top Gun without being so over-the-top that it’s laughable. And it comes with a real message at the end.

Thousands of soldiers in training head home for the holidays

Philadelphia, home of Benjamin Franklin, has to use sparklers.

3. Take advantage of state laws when buying fireworks.

The great thing about these United States is that powers not reserved for the Federal government are delegated to the States — and the Feds don’t give a damn about fireworks. So, just because it might be illegal to purchase in one state doesn’t mean you can’t drive to another to pick up your 4th of July Arsenal of Democracy ammunition.

Sorry, Pennsylvania.

Thousands of soldiers in training head home for the holidays

Even if you prefer the hot dog, you can even expand those flavors, like with Chicago-style dogs.

4. The meats.

Burgers and hot dogs are classics. No one will argue with you there. But that doesn’t mean that’s all you have to make. There are a lot of crowd-pleasing ways to use those coals you got fired up: brisket, pork chops, steaks, chicken, ribs… the list is endless.

And while the meat is where good BBQ starts, remember the many flavors of America. There’s the tangy mustard-based sauce of the Carolinas (try that with some cole slaw). Or maybe you’re into a heavier, smoky Kansas City-style sauce. There are many to choose from — don’t skimp out.

Thousands of soldiers in training head home for the holidays

“We already have Tim Hortons. Next stop, Ottawa.”

5. Succeed where the Revolutionaries failed.

In 1775, Col. Benedict Arnold tried to capture Quebec and free the Canadians from the British yoke. Outnumbered, cold, and outgunned, he was turned back in a rout. It ended the American excursion in Canada during the Revolution — but it doesn’t have to be forever. Arnold tried to invade Canada in November.

SAD.

This is July and they’ll never expect it.

Articles

Two U.S. troops killed in 2 days of war operations

Two U.S. troops have been killed in two days of fighting, one in Afghanistan and one in Iraq, according to press releases from the Department of Defense.


Thousands of soldiers in training head home for the holidays
(U.S. Army photo by Spc.Christopher Brecht)

The Pentagon has not released the names of the casualties. It is standard policy to not release names until 24 hours after the notification of the next of kin.

On Oct. 19, a military service member was killed in Kabul when an attacker fired on an entry control point at Camp Morehead, according to a U.S. Central Command Press release. The incident is currently under investigation.

“Anytime we lose a member of our team, it is deeply painful,” said Gen. John W. Nicholson, commander of U.S. Forces – Afghanistan and Resolute Support. “Our sympathies go out to the families, loved ones and the units of those involved in this incident.

Then, on Oct. 20, another U.S. service member died from wounds sustained in Northern Iraq. The Operation Inherent Resolve press office released the following tweet:

Reuters has reported that an anonymous official said that the wounds were sustained near Mosul where the U.S. is supporting a massive offensive by the Iraqis, the Kurds, and other local forces. Most U.S. troops there are staying away from the front lines, but ISIS has attempted to take the fight to Americans in artillery and logistics camps according to notes in the Operation Inherent Resolve strike releases.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This soldier searched for peace and balance after his deployment

Jeff Slater was an Army small weapons expert who served in Iraq. He later volunteered for route clearance duty where his job was to intentionally run over IEDs.


On his return home, Slater struggled with depression and feelings of isolation. But he stayed focused on the goal of finding his own enlightenment.

Slater has many striking tattoos, including one on his chest of a hand grenade with wings and the word “Serenity” above it.

“I see the world as a balance between beauty and hate,” Slater says. “Serenity isn’t freedom from the storm. It’s finding peace amidst the storm.”

Slater’s story is part of War Ink: 11 for 11, a video series presented by We Are The Mighty.  The series features 11 combat veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan using tattoos to tell their stories on and off the battlefield. Each week for 11 weeks, a different tattooed veteran will share his or her story.

Do you have a tattoo that tells the story of your war experiences? Post a photo of it at We Are The Mighty’s Facebook page with the hashtag #WeAreTheMightyInk. WATM will be teeing up the coolest and most intense ones through Veteran’s Day.

Video Credit: Rebecca Murga and Karen Kraft

Articles

Army lab integrates Future Soldier Technology

Thousands of soldiers in training head home for the holidays
YouTube


Lighter weight protective body armor and undergarments, newer uniform fabrics, conformal wearable computers and integrated sensors powered by emerging battery technologies — are all part of the Army’s cutting-edge scientific initiative aimed at shaping, enhancing and sustaining the Soldier of the Future.

The U.S. Army has set up a special high-tech laboratory aimed at better identifying and integrating gear, equipment and weapons in order to reduce the current weight burden placed on Soldiers and give them more opportunities to successfully execute missions, service officials said.

A main impetus for the effort, called Warrior Integration Site, is grounded in the unambiguous hopef reducing the weight carried by today’s Army infantry fighters from more than 120-pounds, down to at least 72-pounds, service officials explained.In fact, a Soldier’s current so-called “marching load” can reach as much as 132-pounds, Army experts said.

“We’ve overloaded the Soldier, reduced space for equipment and tried to decrease added bulk and stiffness. What we are trying to do is get a more integrated and operational system. We are looking at the Soldier as a system,” Maj. Daniel Rowell, Assistant Product Manager, Integration, Program Executive Office Soldier, told Scout Warrior in an interview during an exclusive tour of the WinSite facility.

Citing batteries, power demands, ammunition, gear interface, body armor, boots, weapons and water, Rowell explained that Soldiers are heavily burdened by the amount they have to carry for extended missions.

“We try to document everything that the Soldier is wearing including weight, size and configuration – and then communicate with researchers involved with the Army’s Science and Technology community,” he added.

The WinSite lab is not only looking to decrease the combat load carried by Soldiers into battle but also identify and integrate the best emerging technologies; the evaluation processes in the make-shift laboratory involve the use of computer graphic models, 3-D laser scanners, 3-D printing and manequins.

“This is not about an individual piece of equipment. It is about weight and cognitive burden – all of which contributes to how effective the Soldier is,” Rowell said.

Thousands of soldiers in training head home for the holidays
U.S. Soldiers assigned to 3rd Platoon, Fox Company, 2nd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment provide security during a village meeting near Combat Outpost Mizan, Zabul province, Afghanistan. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Nathanael Callon

The 3-D printer allows for rapid prototyping of new systems and equipment with a mind to how they impact the overall Soldier system; the manequins are then outfitted with helmets, body armor, radios, water, M-4 rifles, helmets, uniforms, night vision, batteries and other gear as part of an assessment of what integrates best for the Soldier overall.

In addition, while the WinSite is more near term than longer-term developmental efforts such as the ongoing work to develop a Soldier “Iron Man” suit or exoskeleton, the Army does expect to integrate biometric sensors into Soldier uniforms. This will allow for rapid identification of health and body conditions, such as heart rate, breathing or blood pressure – along with other things. Rapid access to this information could better enable medics to save the lives of wounded Soldiers.

Lighter weight fabrics for uniforms, combined with composite body armor materials are key elements of how the Army hope to reach a notional, broad goal of enabling Soldier to fight with all necessary gear weighing a fraction of the current equipment at 48-pounds, Rowell explained.

WinSite is primarily about communication among laboratory experts, scientists and computer programmers and new Soldier technology developers – in order to ensure that each individual properly integrate into the larger Soldier system.

Life Flip

These are really nice f****** watches

Watches can be incredibly personal—after all, they’re worn every day throughout many of life’s ups and downs. Why shouldn’t you have one that serves as a reminder of all the hard work you’ve done and the things you’ve accomplished? For veterans and first responders, NFW watch company allows them to do just that.


NFW was started by George Fox, who left a 10-year career at Timex to focus on making watches in his vision, without compromising quality or price point. He accomplishes this goal by spending money on what really matters — the watches — instead of high-priced marketing. For 13 years, his company has been growing steadily with a supportive fan base, especially among the military. He also believed that he could do good with his craft, which has been realized through NFW’s partnerships with charities that support veterans and first responders.

Thousands of soldiers in training head home for the holidays
NFW watches in the field Courtesy of NFW’s Facebook page.

The first partnership started in 2011, when George was approached by a Special Forces Unit to create a special watch for them, with their insignia engraved on the face. He met with unit representatives in Fort Bragg, N.C., and broached the idea of allowing the public to buy the watches as a way to show support and raise funds for the Special Forces Association. This idea was enthusiastically received and the watch was a success.

Also read: This is how Sam Adams will help launch your vet-owned business

This first collaboration between military and small business was the start of a series of charity watches that celebrate Operation Enduring Warrior, the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation, Honor Flight, and first responders. Fifty dollars from each sale goes to the charities and nonprofits that support veterans. These watches do more than just advertise the organization. They also serve as a constant reminder to the wearer of the qualities that are endemic to the men and women who served and continue to serve under that symbol. Taya Kyle, Chris Kyle’s widow, said, “It’s great that the watches raise money for CKFF. But the best thing these watches do is every time someone wears one, sees one, or comments on one, it helps keep Chris’ spirit alive.”

Thousands of soldiers in training head home for the holidays
NFW’s Special Forces Nous Watch benefitting the Green Beret Foundation.

To showcase these watches, NFW relies on the men and women who served in the honored units and wear their timepieces with pride. By not using the traditional watch marketing techniques, such as hiring celebrity endorsers, they are able to keep the watch costs down, allowing more people to wear this reminder of their service every day.

Recently, NFW was chosen to make watches for Medal of Honor recipients, further cementing the company’s relationship with our service men and women, and exemplifying the integrity that George Fox based his company on. He believes that his work with veterans had been more than repaid tenfold, as he has learned from their grit, ingenuity, and spirit. He also feels that it has helped him become a stronger father to his children, allowing him to model strength and integrity. In his spare time, George volunteers with the organizations, such as helping World War II veterans on Honor Flights and running with Operation Enduring Warrior in Spartan Races.

Thousands of soldiers in training head home for the holidays
George Fox doing the Spartan Race with Operation Enduring Warrior.

You can follow NFW on Facebook and Twitter, and see their products in action, from fan photos posted to their Instagram.

What does NFW stand for? Rumor says it’s “Nice F**king Watch,” which they are.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Russia admits to violating airspace, blames it on a ‘device malfunction’

An alleged incursion into South Korea’s airspace on July 23, 2019, was down to a “device malfunction” from its aircraft, Russian officials reportedly said to the South Korean government.

Russia’s defense ministry said it would “immediately launch a probe and take necessary steps,” a South Korean official said of the incident, according to Yonhap News and Reuters.

Russian military officials were said to have expressed “deep regret.”

South Korea’s claim of an apology from Russia has not yet been verified. Business Insider had contacted Russia’s Ministry of Defence for comment.


The alleged apology comes after Russia’s defense ministry denied its aircraft intruded into South Korean airspace.

South Korean F-15K and F-16K fighter jets were scrambled after two Russian Tu-95 bombers accompanied by two Chinese H-6 bombers crossed into Korea’s air defense identification zone.

Thousands of soldiers in training head home for the holidays

An F-15K Slam Eagle from the South Korean air force.

(US Air Force Photo)

The Russian aircraft were joined by their Chinese counterparts in what was the first long-range joint air patrol, according to South Korean officials.

A Russian A-50 observation aircraft was also spotted by South Korean and Japanese forces. The South Korean military said it fired flares and hundreds of machine-gun rounds near the Russian aircraft after it went beyond violating its air defense identification zone — a buffer around airspace controlled by a country — to intrude on its airspace proper.

In a statement, Russian military officials denied its Tu-95s received nearby fire but did not mention its A-50 aircraft, Reuters reported.

Thousands of soldiers in training head home for the holidays

Russian Air Force Tupolev Tu-95.

Russia accused South Korean jets of “unprofessional maneuvers” and miscommunication.

China claimed the airspace was not an exclusive territory for South Korea.

Russia has been accused of frequently coming close to violating the airspace of numerous countries, including the US and UK.

In May 2019, US F-22 stealth fighters were scrambled after Russian Tu-95s entered Alaska’s air defense identification zone.

After the Russian bombers left the zone, they returned with Russian Su-35 fighter jets, according to the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Coast Guard starts the new fiscal year with big narco sub busts

After several years of increases, Coast Guard seizures of cocaine at sea declined slightly during fiscal year 2019, but that fiscal year ended and the 2020 fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1, 2019, and runs to Sept. 30, 2020, began with major busts.

During the 2018 fiscal year, Coast Guard personnel removed 207,907.6 kilograms, or just under 208 metric tons, of cocaine worth an estimated $6.14 billion, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Barry Lane said in an email.

The amount of cocaine removed by the Coast Guard is the sum of all cocaine physically seized by Coast Guard personnel and all cocaine lost by smugglers due to Coast Guard actions, according to a Homeland Security Department Inspector General report for fiscal year 2018.


Thousands of soldiers in training head home for the holidays

US Coast Guard personnel unload bales of cocaine from a “narco sub” in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, Oct. 23, 2019.

(US Coast Guard)

The amount of cocaine lost by smugglers is at times “an intelligence-based estimate of the quantity of cocaine onboard a given vessel that is burned, jettisoned, or scuttled in an attempt to destroy evidence when Coast Guard presence is detected,” according to the report.

The 2019 total is the second year of decline, following the 209.6 metric tons seized in 2018, according to the Inspector General report. The 223.8 metric tons seized in 2017 was up from 201.3 metric tons in 2016 and 144.8 metric tons in 2015.

Narco subs

The Coast Guard has led efforts to intercept narcotics coming to the US by sea from South and Central America, working with partners in the region through Operation Martillo, which involves ships and aircraft scouring the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific.

High-seas busts happen regularly, yielding not only drugs and drug smugglers but also intelligence on the groups behind the shipments.

In July 2019, the Coast Guard’s newest cutter, Midgett, caught a “narco sub” carrying 2,100 pounds of cocaine and three crew in the Eastern Pacific Ocean as the cutter made its first trip to its homeport in Hawaii.

Thousands of soldiers in training head home for the holidays

US Coast Guard personnel unload bales of cocaine seized from a “narco sub” in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, Oct. 23, 2019.

(US Coast Guard)

“Narco sub” is often used as a catch-all term, sometimes describing true submarines or semi-submersibles but usually referring to low-profile vessels.

They are all typically hard to spot in the open ocean, but the Coast Guard has seen a resurgence of them.

In September 2019, Coast Guard cutter Valiant tracked down another narco sub in the eastern Pacific, pursuing the 40-foot vessel over night and into the early morning. It was stopped with 12,000 pounds of cocaine aboard, but Coast Guard personnel were only able to offload about 1,100 pounds because of concerns about its stability.

The Valiant’s seizure closed that fiscal year, and the crew of the cutter Harriet Lane opened the current one with another, stopping a semi-submersible smuggling vessel in the Eastern Pacific on October 23 and seizing about 5,000 pounds of cocaine.

Boarding teams from the Harriet Lane got to the smuggling vessel just before midnight, taking control of it before four suspected smugglers aboard could sink it using scuttling valves.

Thousands of soldiers in training head home for the holidays

US Coast Guard personnel aboard a “narco sub” stopped in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, Oct. 23, 2019.

(US Coast Guard)

‘A mission enabler’

Coast Guard officials have pointed to narco subs as a sign of smugglers’ ability to adapt to pressure.

The service has pursued what Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz has called a “push-out-the-border strategy,” sending ships into the Pacific to bust drugs at the point in the smuggling process when the loads are the largest.

But Schultz and other officials have cautioned that the service can see more than it can catch.

In the eastern Pacific, where about 85% of the cocaine smuggling between South America and the US takes place, the Coast Guard has “visibility on about 85% of that activity,” Schultz told Business Insider in November 2018. “Because of the capacity — the number of ships, the number of aircraft — [we act on] about 25% to 30% of that.”

Stopping drugs, as well as the Coast Guard’s other missions, are opportunities to employ new technology, Schultz said in October 2019.

“That counter-drug mission, where you’re trying to surveil the eastern Pacific Ocean … you can take the entire United States and turn it on a 45-degree axis and drop it there, it’s the equivalent of patrolling North America with five or six police cars out of Columbus,” Schultz said during an event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“You’ve got to bring some technologies in … We’ve fielded small unmanned systems, the Scan Eagle, on the back of our national-security cutters,” Schultz added. “We haven’t fielded them all out yet, but hopefully by the end of next year every national-security cutter will have a Scan Eagle. That’s a mission enabler.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Articles

From Odysseus to Odierno, ‘Warrior Chorus’ revives the classics

Peter Meineck is a New York University professor who had the idea to get American combat veterans – from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan – to read classical literature. These are the Classics, with a capital C, stories from the ancient Mediterranean worlds of Greece and Rome. They are filled with tales of great wars, the men who fought them, their voyages home, and what they found when they got there. These are the tales of warriors whose names echo through history: Odysseus, Philoctetes, Ajax, Hector, and many more.


Thousands of soldiers in training head home for the holidays

Who better to read and interpret them now than the warriors of today? The combination of modern warriors and Classical terminology is what gives Meineck’s project its name: Warrior Chorus. In a Greek tragedy, the chorus was a group of players who would comment on the main action. They could simply talk or they could sing and dance. It’s an apt summation of what veterans do at Meineck’s Warrior Chorus. The veterans relate to the stories very differently than a Classics student, or even someone with a Ph.D.

“The veterans interpret the stories based on their own experience of service,” says Nathan Graeser from the University of Southern California’s Department of Social Work. USC is an important partner in Warrior Chorus.  The success of the program at New York’s Aquila Theatre (where Meineck is the founder and Artistic Director) earned a large grant for its work from the National Endowment for the Humanities. It’s now a national initiative focused on three regional centers in New York, Austin, and Los Angeles. USC is the partner bringing it to Southern California.
“This is about a public conversation with these classics,” Graeser says. “To engage in a deeper conversation about how the ethics and dilemmas of war are still in existence and how we see those through our current veterans, from Vietnam and further on.”

Graeser is not just a social worker but also a member of the Armed Forces. As a chaplain in the National Guard, he sees the power of service and the need to make the unique experiences more meaningful to those in the military.

Thousands of soldiers in training head home for the holidays
A classical Greek Chorus as depicted on pottery from the era.

“The [Classical] chorus is interjected throughout a story. It doesn’t advance the story at all. It’s something that just comments on everything happening in the story,” Graeser explains. “The Warrior Chorus is really a way for warriors to one, have a voice in the public but also to offer some insights and their own perspectives to the public as a public.”

After the study period, the students produce live stagings, readings, workshops, lectures, and other presentations of their reflections based on their study of the books and their own interpretations. Warrior Chorus is centered around four themes, each of which are particularly insightful for present-day veterans to focus on and repaint their own understanding. They develop their own interest within the program and are guided by Warrior Chorus scholars. The most important aspect is that veterans present their own interpretation through their unique skills and interests.

Thousands of soldiers in training head home for the holidays
A Warrior Chorus performer at the Aquila Theater in NYC

“Those that serve in today’s context, where the majority of people have not served, get back and now they are able to share their voice and be the modern day chorus,” He says. “Their’s is a definitive commentary on what it’s like to serve.”

The Los Angeles program is nearly finished with its study period and its veteran students will soon be creating their classical pieces for public consumption.

“I have been amazed at the great sense of solidarity between [the veterans] them as they’ve explored,” Graeser recalls. “As they’ve put pieces together in their own lives based off of what had happened 3,000 years ago, they come to say to themselves thing like: ‘No one ever listens to your story when you come home. Crazy. Oh my gosh, it’s always been this way.’ There’s something wonderfully normative about that, that they just feel like they’re suddenly in good company.”

MIGHTY SURVIVAL

The Chinese military’s exploitation of the coronavirus pandemic

In Davos in 2017, Xi Jinping painted a vision of a China-led globalist world. The Chinese Communist Party’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic gives us a taste of Chinese global leadership: it includes a breathtaking degree to which other nations, desperate for transparency and reciprocity in the form of detailed information and medical supplies, have been left in a lurch, and therefore vulnerable to Chinese coercion. This is not an opportunity for cooperation with China. This is not a moment for a reprieve in America’s competition against the communist regime; it is a harrowing foreshadowing of what is at stake if we lose.

Competition with China spans the spheres of economics and diplomacy, but undergirding the entire effort is American hard power. It is our military, both our military capabilities as well as our willingness to employ them, that keeps Chinese territorial expansion at bay. And even during a global pandemic of Beijing’s making, Beijing’s military has been very busy. It is why the United States must follow through with the Pentagon’s plans to recapitalize our strategic deterrent and other military plans meant to deter Chinese aggression.


Thousands of soldiers in training head home for the holidays

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted the United States and its partners to pause wargaming exercises that are meant to reassure allies and bolster readiness to protect the health of its military members. In contrast, China has not slowed down provocative, offensive military maneuvers. Beijing just days ago conducted naval drills near Taiwan’s shores, has continued to buzz Taiwan’s airspace, it sank a Vietnamese fishing vessel in international waters, and according to State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus, the Chinese government has continued to make developments on military bases China built on reefs and islands on which it erroneously claims sovereignty.

Defense officials have repeatedly warned that the first island chain is vulnerable to Chinese aggression. Nested in that first island chain are Taiwan and Japan, valuable allies, and who will be critical allies in the U.S. effort to weaken China’s leverage and expose its malign behavior. They are among others in the larger Indo-Pacific region to include India and Australia that will anchor our cooperative efforts to defend national sovereignty against CCP authoritarianism.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper has said the Pentagon is committed to mission readiness during the pandemic. He also told Congress in February that the “highest priority remains China, as its government continues to use — and misuse — its diplomatic, economic and military strength to attempt to alter the landscape of power and reshape the world in its favor, often at the expense of others.”

While deterring China and assuring allies entails much more than our strategic deterrent, the cornerstone for deterring military aggression of the worst kind is our nuclear arsenal. The nuclear modernization strategy laid out in the Trump Nuclear Posture Review must continue to move forward on time, and the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be a pretext for delays.

The cost of the entire nuclear enterprise is roughly 5 percent of all national security spending devoted to the recapitalization, sustainment, and operations. The Obama administration began the modernization effort, and the Trump administration has determined to carry it through while adapting it based on the actions of China as well as Russia.

Defense officials have warned that in addition to Russia, China presents formidable nuclear challenges, and the trends are not headed in the right direction. Although China refuses to be transparent about its nuclear program, the United States knows China has significant capabilities that leverage cutting edge technology and assesses China is likely to at least double the size of its nuclear arsenal by the end of the decade. Additionally, China’s nuclear weapons are central to China’s military plans and intentions.

Despite the significant continuity between administrations about nuclear modernization, there will be efforts to cancel or delay some components of the force, and dealing with pandemics will be used as a pretext. For years, ideologically motivated groups have focused on the intercontinental ballistic missiles, or “land-based leg” of the triad, specifically, as an opportunity to find financial savings. Some have argued against eliminating the leg altogether while some argue it makes more sense to continue to extend the life of the current fleet, the old Minuteman IIIs with Cold War era technologies, rather than pursue its replacement called the Ground-based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD). But military leaders have repeatedly warned that the decades’ old Minuteman IIIs would have trouble penetrating future air defenses, and the cost to pursue GBSD will not be more expensive than another life extension program that would leave the United States underprepared. Now is not the time to delay the next generation of our nuclear weapons.

Conventional weapons are also necessary to deter Chinese aggression. Remember, the aim is to deter the aggression in the first place, rather than respond once China decides to act on its malign intention to attack U.S. bases or territory of a sovereign nation. The United States can do this if it convinces Beijing it has the will and capability to retaliate defensively in response to an offensive act of aggression such that Beijing will regret the decision.

Thousands of soldiers in training head home for the holidays

So, in addition to the nuclear program, there are meaningful changes underway. For example, the U.S. Marine Corps is focused on deploying a force in the Indo Pacific theater in cooperation with our allies, which is inside the range of China’s massive missile force. This force would be so formidable and with so many targets distributed throughout the region that it allows the U.S. military a high degree of resiliency. The USMC also wants offensive long-range missiles, drones, and rocket artillery, and lots of them. Notable, now that President Trump withdrew from the dated INF Treaty due to Russian cheating, the USMC can have the range of missiles it needs. The United States will also need a mix of defensive systems with the ability to intercept the first rounds of missile attacks to preserve the U.S. ability to respond and with more options at its disposal. This offense-defense mix that includes passive and active defenses will complicate Beijing’s calculations and will dissuade an initial move and preserve peace.

The current COVID-19 pandemic will impact all areas of the U.S. government and reshuffle initiatives and divide attention. But it’s vital to appreciate the severity of China’s actions, that China is the cause of this historic crisis, and that its military is exploiting it to gain an advantage over the United States in the near and long term. The United States must work to ensure they fail.

This article originally appeared on Real Clear Defense. Follow @RCDefense on Twitter.

Articles

Veterans in Congress call for ban exemptions for Iraqi interpreters

Iraqi nationals who risked their lives to help American troops in wartime should not be subject to a recent executive order halting immigration from Iraq, a bipartisan group of lawmakers wrote in a letter to President Donald Trump on Monday.


The letter, a joint effort by Reps. Duncan Hunter, R-California, and Adam Kinzinger, R-Illinois, asks Trump to grant the request of Defense Secretary James Mattis to exempt Iraqi military interpreters, aides and allies from the scope of the order. Both Hunter and Kinzinger are veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, respectively.

The letter was also signed by Reps. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio; Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon; Seth Moulton, D-Massachusetts; and Peter Welch, D-Vermont. Stivers and Moulton are also veterans. Moulton, a Marine Corps veteran of Iraq, has publicly discussed bringing his own interpreter to the United States on a Special Immigrant Visa.

Related: Time is running out to help thousands of American allies who’ve been left behind

“We made a promise to the men and women who served alongside us on the battlefield, and we must uphold that promise to leave no man behind,” Hunter and Kinzinger said in a joint statement. “We urge the president to honor Secretary Mattis’ requests, and stand up for those who stood by our military and American personnel. For the safety of these courageous individuals and their families, and in the interest of our national security, it’s critical that we make this exception and do so swiftly.”

On his own, Moulton has taken an even stronger stance in full opposition to Trump’s executive order. In a statement, he warned that closing doors to immigration would fuel antipathy against the U.S. and help Islamic State radicals recruit new suicide bombers.

“His policies literally put our troops’ lives at risk — I’ve heard this loud and clear when I have visited them overseas,” he said. “They also prove he has zero understanding of our country’s values and no intention of defending our Constitution.”

Trump’s executive order, published Jan. 27, put an immediate temporary halt to immigration from seven countries, including Iraq. The order caused immigrants currently in transit to be taken into custody, including Hameed Khalid Darweesh, who had reportedly worked for the U.S. government in Iraq for more than a decade. Darweesh, who was granted a Special Immigrant Visa on Jan. 20, was ultimately released into the U.S. a full day later.

Thousands of soldiers in training head home for the holidays
Spc. Alaa Jaza, an Arabic linguist, advises Iraqi Army soldiers with the 73rd Brigade, 15th Division, on how to set battle positions to avoid friendly fire during a training event at Camp Taji, Iraq, March 25, 2015. | U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Cody Quinn, CJTF-OIR Public Affairs

A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, told reporters Monday that the Defense Department is making a list of Iraqis who had worked to help U.S. troops for submission to the government agencies carrying out the executive order.

Special Immigrant Visas were created in 2008 for the express purpose of providing a special path for people from Iraq and Afghanistan who had assisted American troops to resettle in the United States, a recognition that these individuals and their families often faced greater danger because of their service.

“It is important that a special exception is made for the consideration of individuals who directly supported American personnel overseas,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter. “We respectfully ask that you take this action to ensure these individuals are not put in any further danger. Doing so would send a strong signal to those who show such immense courage to advance U.S. security interests at a risk to their own safety, as well as the many veterans and warfighters who’ve relied on the service of these individuals for their own protection and to accomplish their objectives.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

Pentagon says everyone who watches terrorist video helps ISIS

The Pentagon is refusing to confirm whether a disturbing video released by the Islamic State actually shows the Oct. 4, 2018 ambush in Niger that killed four soldiers, and a DoD spokesman warned reporters that they would be helping ISIS if they even reported on its very existence. A quick sampling of media that have reported on it: The New York Times, Fox News, and the BBC.


According to the Pentagon, you aid ISIS by even watching the shocking video, which appears to show how the soldiers were unable to get out of a killzone, first using a vehicle for cover and then running in the open, where one of them was felled by enemy fire.

Also read: New photos may show ambushed US troops killed in Niger

“ISIS is suffering significant losses in both personnel and territory and they are using this type of propaganda as a desperate recruiting tool,” Col. Rob Manning told reporters March 5, 2018. “We ask the media and the public and all responsible entities not to aid these terrorists in recruiting efforts by viewing or bringing to attention these images, these videos. You are complicit in amplifying ISIS propaganda video if you do that.”

The fallen soldiers were reportedly part of a 12-member Army Special Forces unit that was accompanying about 30 Nigerian troops when they were ambushed by up to 50 militants. An investigation into the attack is ongoing.

The video includes footage from the soldiers’ helmet cameras that was later captured by the Islamic State. It shows one of the soldiers being dragged toward cover and another falling to the ground after being hit; he is later shot again. It is unclear whether any media outlets paid ISIS to obtain the video.

Because the Defense Department did not create the video, defense officials are unable to determine if it is authentic or if it has been digitally manipulated, said Manning, who has not seen the video.

When asked why the Pentagon cannot authenticate this particular video, Manning did not answer directly.

“No. 1, this is terribly difficult on the families — the images alone,” Manning said. “No. 2, this is an ISIS-produced and developed propaganda video. I cannot confirm or verify — the department can’t verify — at this current time any portion of it.”

Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, head of U.S. Africa Command, has completed an investigation into the ambush, which is now being reviewed by Defense Secretary James Mattis, Manning said.

More: This is the general demanding answers for the families of the soldiers who died in Niger

AFRICOM announced on Jan. 24, 2018 that it was also investigating the video after it was posted on Twitter by a user named Mohammed Mahmoud Abu Maali, Military Times reported. The tweet with the video was later deleted.

The Twitter user claimed that some of the pictures had been taken by one of the soldiers caught in the ambush and ISIS captured the images after the soldier was killed, according to Military Times.

Four U.S. soldiers died in the attack: Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, and Sgt. La David T. Johnson.

Johnson’s body was recovered two days after the ambush. Although local villagers initially told media outlets that it looked as though Johnson had been captured and then executed by ISIS, a military investigation ultimately found that he died in a firefight, the Associated Press reported.

Related: 9 places where ISIS is still a major threat

News of the deaths of American soldiers in Niger sparked a brief public debate about why U.S. troops are in the African country. Although a small number of U.S forces have been in Niger for years, most Americans had no idea that the U.S. military is operating there, or why.

One reason why the general public was caught off guard is the U.S. government has not made clear that U.S. mission in Niger and other African countries involves combat operations, said Bill Roggio, a senior fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank in Washington.

“There’s a fine line between advisory missions and actual combat missions, and in this case, special operations forces accompanied a patrol of Nigerian forces in what should be considered a combat zone,” Roggio told Task Purpose in January 2018. “When this happens, you’re liable to get into combat.”

For example, U.S. special operations forces in Somalia are increasingly being caught up in combat while their official mission is to advise and assist local forces, he said.

More reading: Here’s how to get real about the ISIS threat

Since President Trump took office, the U.S. military has also launched airstrikes against al Shabaab in Somalia and ISIS in Libya. It’s time for the U.S. government to be explicit that the military has a combat role in Africa, Roggio said.

“That would answer a lot of questions,” he said. “Then people wouldn’t be wondering why did we lose four U.S. soldiers in Niger in an ambush? They were lost because they were in an advisory role that brought them into combat. If you are clear about that at the outset, then you don’t have to ask those questions.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

Doctors save sailor with appendicitis in rough seas

Electrician’s Mate Fireman Samuel Guidroz was more than 4,500 miles away from home when he was awakened by a sharp pain in his abdomen on the morning of Nov. 27, 2018.

The 20-year-old Sailor, assigned to the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship USS Somerset (LPD 25), tried to treat the day like any other day spent underway in the Pacific Ocean. But the discomfort in his stomach soon drove him to the ship’s medical bay.

“I had a nauseating feeling in my lower abdomen,” said Guidroz, from his bed in the ship’s recovery ward. “They ran some x-rays and a few additional tests.”

“Fireman Guidroz came to us, and we were able to determine he had acute appendicitis,” said Cmdr. Jeffery Chao, the surgeon for Littoral Combat Group One (LCG-1).

Thousands of soldiers in training head home for the holidays

Two landing craft air cushions (LCAC) assigned to Assault Craft Unit (ACU) 5 fly behind the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship USS Somerset (LPD 25), Nov. 23, 2018

(U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kyle Carlstrom)

Chao said it was fortunate that the fleet surgical team happened to be there on the Somerset to augment the ship’s capabilities. The fleet surgical team is attached to Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) 3, which is currently embarked on USS Somerset as part of LCG-1. If they had not been there, surgery aboard USS Somerset would not have been an option.

But not everything was working in Guidroz’s favor.

“The sea state at the time was a bit rough, so it made me nervous,” Guidroz said. “The doctors eased my mind though, assuring me it was the right thing to do.”

The LCG-1 fleet surgical team and the Sailors aboard USS Somerset acted immediately. The officer of the deck turned the ship to the steadiest course available. The maneuver
significantly lessened the ship’s motion in the water, allowing the medical personnel to do their work with precision. Then they prepared for surgery.

When Guidroz awoke, he felt groggy but relieved.

“Everything went great. Just like it would have if I had been back at a regular hospital,” Guidroz said.

9/11 Tribute Ship – USS Somerset

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Chao says he expects Guidroz to make a full recovery in the next few days.

“This was a great learning experience to know the medical capabilities out here are far greater than my initial expectations,” Guidroz said. “It feels good knowing and having that assurance that something like this can be taken care of out here at sea. I can’t thank the medical team enough for what they did.”

Since the surgery, Guidroz has been in contact with his family at their home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

“They were happy this was able to be done here on the ship, and even a bit surprised,” Guidroz said. “Being away from them was different at first, but I’ve made some new friends out here. And it’s important, I think, having people close to you when you’re away from home.”

USS Somerset is a San Antonio-class amphibious transport docking ship, based out of San Diego. LCG-1 is deployed to the U.S. 4th Fleet area of operations in support of the Enduring Promise Initiative to reaffirm U.S. Southern Command’s longstanding commitment to the nations of the Western Hemisphere.

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