Twin suicide bombings rocked Baghdad on Jan. 14, killing 38 people in the deadliest attack since Iraq declared victory over the Islamic State group last month, and raising fears ahead of national elections planned for May.
The bombers targeted the bustling Tayran Square, in the heart of the capital, setting off their explosive vests among laborers and street vendors during the morning rush hour. More than 100 people were wounded, according to police and hospital officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
No one has claimed the attacks, but they bore the hallmarks of IS.
Iraqi forces have driven IS from all the territory the extremists once held, but the militant group has proven resilient in the past and is likely to continue carrying out insurgent-style attacks. That could undermine Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who hopes to extend the country’s newfound sense of pride and unity in order to lead a diverse coalition to power in May.
Ambulances rushed to the scene as security forces sealed off the area with yellow tape. Slippers could be seen scattered about on the blood-stained pavement as cleaners hurried to clear the debris.
“It was a tremendous, I felt the ground shaking under my feet,” said Munthir Falah, a secondhand clothes vendor whose chest and right leg were pierced by shrapnel. He said he fell to the ground and lost consciousness before later waking up in a hospital.
The father of three said government forces had failed to secure the capital. “They think that Daesh is done,” he said, referring to IS by an Arabic acronym. “They don’t bother themselves to exert efforts to secure Baghdad.”
Einas Khalil, a Baghdad housewife, blamed the security breakdown on the country’s feuding politicians, many of whom are connected to different state-sanctioned militias or branches of the security forces.
We were expecting this because of the upcoming elections,” she said. “Every four years we have to live through this suffering because of political differences and disagreements.
Iraqi Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jabouri denounced the attack as a “cowardly act against innocent people” and called on the government to take all necessary security measures. Al-Abadi met security officials in charge of Baghdad, ordering them to root out militant sleeper cells, according to a brief statement issued by his office.
A deterioration in security could undermine al-Abadi’s claim to have vanquished IS and create an opening for his main rival, former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, to return to power.
Al-Maliki, who stepped down after IS swept across northern and central Iraq in 2014, was widely accused of pursuing sectarian policies that alienated the country’s Sunni minority during his eight years in power. Many of Iraq’s Sunnis, fed up with al-Maliki’s rule, initially welcomed IS as liberators from the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad.
The government has proposed holding elections on May 12, but parliament must approve the date. Sunni leaders have called for the vote to be delayed until the 3 million people still displaced from the fighting can return to their homes.
Victory over IS has come at an almost incalculable cost in Iraq, where entire neighborhoods in several cities and towns were completely destroyed in the fighting.
SWAN and other groups have long lobbied for a change in the policy excluding women from certain direct combat roles, such as infantry and artillery. They won that fight in 2013, when then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta ordered all military services to lift the ban on women in combat roles, giving them until January 2016 to fully integrate or ask for special exemptions.
Only the Corps asked for that exemption, which was overruled by Defense Secretary Ash Carter.
However, since Congress never passed a law on the issue, a Trump White House could just reverse the decision made by the Obama administration, or order exceptions to be made for certain services, such as the Marine Corps.
“It’s our earnest hope” the next administration will look at quality of service members rather than gender, said Germano, though some things Trump has said on the campaign trail cast doubt on whether that will be the case.
When asked in October by a former Army colonel what he would do about the “social engineering and political correctness” that had been imposed on the military, Trump seemed to agree that the military’s acceptance of transgendered troops and women in combat roles was wrongheaded.
“You’re right. We have a politically correct military, and it’s getting more and more politically correct every day,” Trump said. “And a lot of the great people in this room don’t even understand how it’s possible to do that. And that’s through intelligence, not through ignorance — believe me — because some of the things that they’re asking you to do and be politically correct about are ridiculous.”
Though he added: “I would say I would leave many of the decisions of some of the things you mentioned to the generals, the admirals, the people on top.”
As it stands right now, there’s at least one person in top leadership who seems to disagree with the policy change — Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford— who would be one of Trump’s closest military advisors, as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Others in the Republican Party seem to be weighing in ahead of Trump’s transition as well. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), a former Marine officer who has been floated as a potential pick for Defense Secretary, on Sunday called for a “counterrevolution” in the military.
“It doesn’t do anything to further our capacity as war fighters,” Hunter told The Washington Times of women being placed in infantry roles. “It doesn’t do anything to make us more effective or efficient at getting the job done and killing our enemies and protecting our allies. It’s just a distraction. It’s not like there are thousands of women getting into the infantry now. It will never be that way.”
Like Hunter and others, critics of the policy change have referred to it as “social engineering” within the military ranks. But Germano disagrees with that assessment, telling Business Insider it’s not social engineering but instead, expanding the pool of qualified applicants who can do jobs within the military.
“We believe that women who are highly-qualified for the position and can do the job should have the opportunity to do the job,” Germano said.
A reversal in policy wouldn’t just affect women who had planned to go into combat roles in the future. Since the military has been slowly integrating them into the force, some women would have to be taken out of the roles they had trained for alongside men and put back into non-combat jobs.
In October, the Army graduated 10 new female infantry officers, many of whom are now going through follow-on training before they will be assigned to infantry units. Another woman, Capt. Kristen Griest, transferred to the infantry in April after she became one of the first women to graduate from the Army’s Ranger School.
If President-elect Trump decides to change the policy back, he would deal with pushback from the courts. A 2012 lawsuit filed by four female service members who claimed that being excluded from some roles was a violation of their constitutional rights is still ongoing.
The DoD tried to have the suit dismissed after the ban was lifted, but it still remains in litigation — in part because the next president could single-handedly deny those women those rights in the future.
“If we have a Republican president, we may well be in the same position we were when we filed this complaint, a categorical exclusion of all women from combat units,” Steven Perry, an attorney for the four women, told a judge in federal court, according to the Military Times.
The Judge agreed with that assessment and set the next court date for January 12 — eight days before Trump is inaugurated as president.
Regardless of the final status of women in combat roles, it’s clear that women have been involved in combat through the Global War on Terror. Two of the plaintiffs in the 2012 suit were wounded and awarded the Purple Heart medal, and many other women have served alongside male infantrymen in Iraq and Afghanistan on “female engagement teams.”
The new defense chief, a former Boeing employee, has reportedly been extremely critical of Lockheed Martin’s embattled F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter in private meetings, raising questions about whether he is biased in overseeing the largest weapons program in history.
Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, who took over when Jim Mattis resigned, spent over 30 years at Boeing before joining the Department of Defense in 2017 as the deputy secretary of defense.
Though he signed an ethics agreement recusing himself from matters involving Boeing, Shanahan has continuously bashed the F-35, a key program for one of Boeing’s top competitors, in high-level meetings at the Pentagon and at other private gatherings, Politico reported on Jan. 9, 2019, citing former government officials who heard Shanahan make the comments.
US Air Force F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter crew chief Tech. Sgt. Brian West watches his aircraft approach for the first time at Florida’s Eglin Air Force Base in 2011.
(US Air Force Photo)
A former senior Defense Department official told Politico that Shanahan described the F-35 stealth fighter as “f—ed up” and said its maker, Lockheed Martin, “doesn’t know how to run a program.”
“If it had gone to Boeing, it would be done much better,” the former official recalled Shanahan saying, Politico reported.
Lockheed beat out Boeing in the Joint Strike Fighter competition, with the Department of Defense ultimately picking Lockheed’s X-35 — which became the F-35 — over Boeing’s X-32 in 2001. Had Boeing been awarded the contract, the military’s JSF might look very different.
A former Trump administration official told Politico that Shanahan “dumped” on the aircraft regularly and “went off” on the program in 2018.
“He would complain about Lockheed’s timing and their inability to deliver, and from a Boeing point of view, say things like, ‘We would never do that,'” the former official said.
In other private meetings, the former official added, Shanahan has called the program “unsustainable,” complaining about the cost of the stealth fighters, with separate versions built for the Navy, the Marines, and the Air Force. The F-35 is expected to cost more than id=”listicle-2625627238″ trillion over the life of the program, making it the most expensive weapon in US military history.
Maintainers from the 388th Maintenance Group preparing an F-35A for its mission.
(United States Air Force photo by Todd Cromar)
Current administration officials, however, told Politico that Shanahan’s comments were being taken out of context, stressing that he was not advocating for Boeing.
“I don’t believe that’s the case at all. I think he’s agnostic toward Boeing at best,” one official said, adding, “I don’t think there’s any intent to have Boeing favored in the building.”
It’s not the first time Shanahan’s loyalties have been called into question. The Pentagon is said to be planning a request for id=”listicle-2625627238″.2 billion for 12 Boeing F-15X fighter jets, a decision that was made at Shanahan’s urging, Bloomberg reported.
Air Force leaders had previously said there was no reason to buy these advanced fourth-generation fighters because they lack the necessary stealth capabilities provided by fifth-generation planes like the F-35, according to Defense News.
Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan.
Shanahan’s office told Politico he remained committed to his recusal. In public, he has spoken highly of the F-35 program.
“I think we can all agree that it is a remarkable aircraft, with eye-watering capabilities critical to the high-end fight,” he added. “I tip my hat to its broad team of government, industry, and international partners. Having worked on programs of similar size and complexity, I have enormous respect for your talent and commitment.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The AC-130 just got its signature weapon back – and many in the public may not have known it was gone.
According to a report by Strategypage.com, the decision ends a 12-year hiatus on the powerful cannon, which has been used on versions of the Spectre gunship since 1972 – along with two 20mm Vulcan cannon and a 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft gun in the AC-130H. The AC-130U replaces the two 20mm guns with the 25mm GAU-12 used on the AV-8B Harrier.
The decision had been made to halt use of the 105mm gun in favor of missiles like the AGM-114 Hellfire and AGM-176 Griffin as well as the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb. The problem was, the need for guns didn’t go away. The Air Force started out by adding the 30mm Bushmaster II chain gun. This helped out, especially when troops were in close contact or there was a need to avoid collateral damage.
The gun’s rounds were also a lot cheaper than the missiles – even though the guns are only really useful at night.
The “boots on the ground” and the crews, though, kept making the case to bring the 105mm gun back. So, the Air Force tested a new mount for the 105mm gun. While previous incarnations of the AC-130 had the gun mounted to the side, now the gun will be fired from the rear of the plane.
While this puts an end to the famous pylon turn, it also means the AC-130 can hold twice as many 105mm howitzer rounds as it used to.
Testing of the new mount was finished in 2017, and will go on the new AC-130J Ghostrider, which will replace older AC-130H, AC-130U, and AC-130W aircraft by 2021.
Back in the 1980s, when it still existed, the Soviet Union maintained a number of “friendly” relationships with a variety of African and Asian nations, mostly for the purposes of selling military hardware to counter the West.
One such nation was Libya, which opted to arm and equip its military with a variety of Soviet products, including MiG and Sukhoi fighters for its air force.
At the time, the USSR was also in the process of shopping around its Mil Mi-25 Hind-D, the export variant of the Mi-24 Hind helicopter. The Hind was a fairly unique vehicle at the time, as it was built from the ground up as a heavily-armed attack gunship with the ability to accommodate a maximum of eight fully-armed soldiers in an extremely cramped bay directly behind the cockpit. The Hind could therefore deliver special forces teams to the battlefield and remain in the area of operations for air support, or function solely as a very well-armed gunship, akin to the role the two-seater AH-1 Cobra played for American ground forces during the Vietnam conflict.
In contrast, the U.S. primarily used helicopters like the UH-1 Huey to deliver (and extract) troops from the battlefield, and they were moderately armed at best (in comparison to the Hind) with door-mounted machine guns serving as defensive weaponry more so than in the offensive role.
Now, around the time of the Hind’s introduction into service in the late 70s, the Central Intelligence Agency, along with British intelligence services, sought to learn more about this big Soviet helicopter. Interest heightened when word broke that Ethiopia pressed an export Hind into combat successfully. The Hind then quickly made an appearance in Afghanistan during the Soviet Union’s controversial involvement there, operating to great effect against mujaheddin fighters towards the beginning of the conflict.
Western intelligence needed to get a better look at the Hind and its heavily-armored airframe, especially for the purposes of determining whether or not an American equivalent needed to be designed, built, and fielded as a counter to the Hind’s capabilities.
An opportunity for such a look finally presented itself in the form of the discovery of a Libyan Mi-25 left behind in Chadian territory in 1987.
Historically, Libya and Chad weren’t exactly on the best of terms. Their strained relationship was mostly the result of repeated attempts from Libyan-backed rebel groups to usurp the Chadian government. Constant Libyan attempts to occupy sovereign territory belonging to the Republic of Chad didn’t do much to help their situation either.
When Chadian troops were finally able to fully expel Libyan forces from their borders in 1987, the retreating Libyans abandoned a considerable amount military hardware that would have otherwise bogged down and hindered their egress. Among the treasure trove of armored vehicles, guns, and light artillery stranded in the desert was a Hind-D in relatively good condition, parked on an old airfield ramp at Ouadi Doum.
The CIA, after confirming that such a helicopter did indeed exist at that particular location, quickly set its sights on recovering the helicopter, or at least as much of it as possible, before the Libyans knew about their missing gunship.
All this would have to be done through a covert operation. After negotiating with (and eventually gaining permission from) the Chadian government through diplomatic channels, the CIA enlisted the Department of Defense’s help, and both began planning the extraction of the abandoned helicopter to American-controlled facilities, where it would be taken apart and analyzed in details.
There’s a saying in the military that goes along the lines of: “Gear adrift is a gift”. Christmas was about to come very early for a bunch of CIA analysts and military technical experts.
Mount Hope III was the name bestowed upon the operation. The very first order of business was wrangling up a group of pilots skilled (and crazy) enough to perform the mission to perfection.
The preparation phase, creatively code-named Mount Hope II, began in April of 1987 in New Mexico. The dry, desert conditions would add a layer of realism to the training. CH-47 Chinooks from the 160th’s Echo Company were modified to bear the weight of the Hind-D, judged to be somewhere in the ballpark range of 17,000 to 18,000 pounds.
Chinooks are already able to sling-load different pieces of military equipment, including the Humvee utility vehicle. But there’s a huge difference between a four-wheeled Humvee and an oversized Mil-25. Load-bearing hooks needed to be reinforced, the engines and transmissions needed to be checked and tuned, and the relatively ideal placement of the carcass of the Hind underneath the Chinook needed to be determined.
Practice commenced in dark, low-light conditions. Six large blivets of water weighing roughly the same as the Hind were strapped to the underside of a Chinook. The Night Stalkers flying the Chinook were then supposed to fly to a “Forward Support Base” (or FSB for short) after stopping twice to refuel.
The first dry run went off without a hitch, so the next test was to strap an actual airframe similar to that of the Hind in terms of size and weight and perform the test run once again under the same conditions. The Night Stalkers once again proved themselves and their aircraft and in good time, Mount Hope II was completed, meeting or exceeding the expectations of the CIA and Department of Defense’s overseeing officers.
They were now ready for the real thing.
On May 21, the order to execute Mount Hope III was handed down from the Oval Office, and the Night Stalkers immediately geared up, loading two Chinooks aboard a C-5 Galaxy heavy airlift jet, departing for Germany first, and later on to the Ndjamena airfield in southern Chad.
The Army was to temporarily deploy an ADVON (advanced echelon) scouting and reconnaissance team to the location for around two weeks to keep an eye out for enemy forces, who weren’t all that far away from the airfield.
The French government added their support to the mission by sending over a contingent of soldiers to cover the operation on the ground and a set of Mirage F.1 fighter jets to provide top cover for all aircraft involved. A C-130 Hercules tactical airlifter would land at one of the Forward Arming and Refueling Points (FARPs) to provide fuel for the Chinooks on their way back to the FSB during the mission.
After arriving at Ndjamena on June 10, Night Stalker pilots and crew unloaded their Chinooks from the gargantuan Galaxy.
On June 11th, they proceeded with the mission as they had previously planned. The mission would see the Night Stalkers fly over 500 nautical miles under the cover of darkness, and would then pick up the abandoned Hind right at daybreak. An advance team (Chalk 1) flew to Ouadi Doum to ensure that the site was relatively secured for the incoming Chalk 2 Chinook and to prep the Hind for removal.
As I mentioned earlier, a large element of Libyan military forces were still highly active in the area, even after most had been expelled from Chad’s borders during the previous year’s conflict.
The slightest hint of military action nearby would have likely sparked a firefight and a subsequent international incident if it was discovered that the United States was actively trying to remove Libyan military hardware from the desert, even though the Hind was abandoned in Chadian sovereign territory.
The ADVON team had reported back with a detailed threat analysis, highlighting the fact that the Libyans were definitely still in the region.
Chalk 1, having been inserted at Ouadi Doum, cleared the location and quickly rigged the Hind for extraction while the Chalk 2 Chinook hovered close above, allowing for the team to sling-load the airframe to the waiting helicopter. Chalk 2 then left the area to return to Ndjamena. After covering Chalk 2’s extraction, Chalk 1 loaded up and got the hell out of Dodge.
The Libyans were totally clueless of what was happening just miles away from their positions.
Chalk 2 stopped twice to refuel, at one point on a French Foreign Legion airfield, rendezvousing with the Air Force C-130s at each location.
However, not long after stopping at FARP 2, the mission hit a slight snag in the form of an unanticipated 3000 ft sand storm. The Chinook bearing the weight of the Hind was now only 45 minutes out of home base.
Hauling ass, Chalk 2 reached Ndjamena just ahead of the storm, flying through near-zero visibility and setting down with little time to spare. Waiting a little over 20 minutes in their helicopters for the storm to move onward, the Night Stalkers finally loaded their aircraft and their newly-acquired prize into the Galaxy they arrived in, and within 36 hours were back on American soil.
After 67 hours in-country, the mission was completed; an unmitigated success. Mount Hope III was also the very first major operation where the Night Stalkers used their CH-47s.
Kim Jong Un may enjoy being photographed frequently, but his desire to be at the center of state media attention may be irritating ordinary North Koreans.
Kim’s recurring presence in North Korean newspapers, like the Rodong Sinmun, now means major state visits must be commemorated with dozens of Kim photographs per issue, Daily NK reported Dec. 18.
On Dec. 9, Kim’s visit to Samjiyon in Yanggang Province was announced in the newspaper with 60 photographs from the location, with 50 out of the 60 pictures including Kim.
The attention-seeking Kim is drawing criticism from North Koreans, who say he is trying to repair his image following the execution of his uncle-in-law Jang Song Taek.
One North Korea source told Daily NK the “very common” photographs are a problem for smokers.
“People don’t like it,” the source said. “Among workers, who are looking for spare newspaper to roll up a cigarette, it is becoming increasingly hard to find a fragment without a portrait of Kim Jong Un.”
North Korea law forbids people from using pictures of Kim in derogatory ways, and travelers to North Korea have previously told UPI they are not allowed to fold a crease across a picture of Kim’s face or damage an image of him in newspapers.
Kim may be tightening his grip as he concludes his fifth full year in power.
Analysts at Seoul’s Institute for National Security Strategy said Dec. 18 that Kim has purged top officials Hwang Pyong So and Kim Won Hong, less than a week after a South Korean newspaper reported Hwang may have been expelled from the Workers’ Party for taking bribes.
The INSS also said economic sanctions could hit the elites, and Kim could purge more economic officials to assign blame as conditions worsen in the country, Yonhap reported.
Germany’s military has been struggling with a variety of organizational and technical problems, like equipment shortages, debates over funding, and troop shortfalls.
Manpower in particular is a lingering issue for the Bundeswehr, which has shrunk since the end of the Cold War and further reduced after mandatory military service was ended in 2011.
From a high of 585,000 personnel in the mid-1980s, German troop levels have fallen to just under 179,000 as of mid-2018. In 2017, the Bundeswehr had 21,000 unfilled positions, and half of the force’s current members are expected to retire by 2030.
In mid-2016, Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said the Bundeswehr had to “get away from the process of permanent shrinking.” (Women weren’t allowed to be in the armed services until 2000.)
Von der Leyen said she would remove the 185,000-person cap on the military and add 14,300 troops over seven years — a total that was upped to 20,000 in 2017.
Ursula von der Leyen with German soldiers during a visit to the Field Marshal Rommel Barracks, Augustdorf.
That approach has general support among the governing parties, though not without qualifications. Defense experts and politicians have said that any foreign recruits should be offered citizenship, lest the force become “a mercenary army.”
Another strategy that has been underway for some time is the recruitment of minors. The Bundeswehr has mounted a media campaign to bring in Germans under 18.
The military’s official YouTube channel has over 300,000 subscribers, and its videos have garnered nearly 150 million views.
The Bundeswehr Exclusive channel, which posts video series, has more than 330,000 subscribers, and its videos — like the six-week series called “Mali” that followed eight German soldiers stationed with a UN peacekeeping force in the West African country — have drawn more than 68 million views.
The service is also active on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, among other social-media sites. The army’s recruitment spending in 2017, about million, was more than double what it spent in 2011.
And since that year the service has signed up more than 10,000 minors, according to Reuters. 2017 saw a record 2,128 people under the age of 18 sign up, 9% of all recruits and an 11.4% increase over the previous year.
“I wanted to experience something and to get to know my own limits, to see how far I can go,” said Marlon, who joined the Germany army a few months before he turned 18.
Because of his age, he needed his mother’s permission to join, which she was happy to give. He told Reuters that she is now pleased that her formerly messy son is now more organized.
‘This is not a normal profession’
After the destruction of World War II and the division of the Cold War, the military is still a controversial topic for Germans. Many are skeptical of the service, reluctant to spend more on it, and wary of overseas military operations.
The Bundeswehr still struggles with the legacy of the Nazi Wehrmacht, and instances of far-right extremism in the ranks strain civil-military relations. Some military officers wear civilian clothes to and from work to avoid the stigma attached to their duties.
That attitude may be changing among younger Germans.
A recent survey of 20,000 students there found that the military was the third most attractive place to work, behind the police in first place and sports brand Adidas. Marlon told Reuters that a career in uniform was much more appealing than working on a car-production line.
A German infantryman stands at the ready with his Heckler Koch G36 during a practice exercise in 2004.
But the recruitment of minors has proved to be an especially contentious issue.
Some politicians and children’s rights advocates have criticized the government for the approach, describing it as misleading and decrying the precedent it could set.
The record recruitment numbers indicate that von der Leyen “clearly has no scruples,” Evrim Sommer, a legislator from the pacifist Left Party, said in early 2018, after requesting Bundeswehr recruitment data.
“Young people should not be used as cannon fodder in the Bundeswehr as soon as they come of age,” Sommer added at the time. “As long as Germany recruits minors for military purposes, it cannot credibly criticize other countries.”
Ralf Willinger from the children’s rights group Terre des Hommes told Reuters in August 2018 that recruiting minors is “embarrassing and sends the wrong signal.”
“It weakens the international 18-year standard, encouraging armed groups and armies from other countries to legitimate the use of minors as soldiers,” he added.
Germany military officials have said their recruitment efforts are in line with international norms and stressed that they need to compete with private-sector employers to attract personnel.
The German military also has rules in place about what minors can do while in uniform. While they undergo training like adult recruits, they are not allowed to stand guard duty or take part in foreign missions, and they are only allowed to use weapons for educational purposes.
The Defense Ministry has also said that minors have the ability to end their service any time in the first six months.
To some, those stipulations don’t change the fundamental nature of what the military is training minors to do.
“This is not a normal profession,” said Ilka Hoffman, a board member of the GEW Union, which represents education and social workers.
“In no other profession does one learn to kill, and is one confronted with the danger of dying in war,” Hoffmann added. “That is the one difference.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The Defense Department announced Dec. 30 a renewed effort to ensure veterans are aware of the opportunity to have their discharges and military records reviewed, according to a DOD news release.
Through enhanced public outreach; engagement with veterans’ service organizations, military service organizations, and other outside groups; as well as direct outreach to individual veterans, the department encourages all veterans who believe they have experienced an error or injustice to request relief from their service’s Board for Correction of Military/Naval Records or Discharge Review Board, the release said.
With Friday’s announcement, the department is reaffirming its intention to review and potentially upgrade the discharge status of all individuals who are eligible and who apply, the release said.
Additionally, all veterans, VSOs, MSOs, and other interested organizations are invited to offer feedback on their experiences with the BCM/NR or DRB processes, including how the policies and processes can be improved, the release said.
In the past few years, the department has issued guidance for consideration of post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as the repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and its predecessor policies, the release said. Additionally, supplemental guidance for separations involving victims of sexual assault is currently being considered.
The department is reviewing and consolidating all of the related policies to reinforce the department’s commitment to ensuring fair and equitable review of separations for all veterans, the release said.
Whether the discharge or other correction is the result of PTSD, sexual orientation, sexual assault, or some other consideration, the department is committed to rectifying errors or injustices and treating all veterans with dignity and respect.
Veterans are encouraged to apply for review if they desire a correction to their service record or believe their discharge was unjust, erroneous, or warrants an upgrade.
The commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific told Congress he lacks the spy aircraft needed to verify any “denuclearization” agreement that might come out of the proposed summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.
“I don’t have enough because there isn’t enough to go around,” Adm. Harry Harris, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, said of the available intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) assets at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee March 15, 2018.
In response to questions from Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Nebraska, Harris said Navy P-3 Orion surveillance aircraft, Air Force RC-135 Rivet Joint signals intelligence, and WC-135 Constant Phoenix “sniffer” aircraft are vital to his mission monitoring North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
All three aircraft are “critical to intelligence collection,” he said, adding the WC-135 is taking on added importance following the stunning announcement that Trump had agreed to meet with Kim.
“I don’t know where we’re going to end up with the talks,” Harris said, “[but] I do see demand increasing, clearly” for the use of the WC-135 and its ttop-secretequipment that can collect atmospheric samples and determine whether nuclear testing has taken place.
The WC-135 “helps me understand the nature of North Korea’s nuclear testing,” he said.
The problem with ISR assets, Harris said, is that other combatant commands want them and they must be allocated by the Pentagon’s Joint Staff.
“The WC-135, I have to ask for it and, when I ask for it, I get it,” he said.
Harris had a suggestion for Trump that is a wrinkle on President Ronald Reagan’s “trust but verify” axiom for arms reductions negotiations. In the case of talks with North Korea, “I think it’s distrust but verify,” he said.
“We have to enter this eyes wide open,” Harris said, but “the fact that we’re talking at all has a positive framework about it. We haven’t lost anything by talking … the opportunity to engage has value itself regardless of the outcome.”
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who set the stage for the potential Trump-Kim summit by inviting North Korea to the Winter Olympics and then getting an offer from Kim to meet, pushed ahead with preparations for the negotiations.
Moon’s chief of staff, Im Jong-seok, said a high-level negotiating team would meet with North Korean counterparts later in late March 2018 to lay the groundwork and set the agenda for Moon’s anticipated meeting in April 2018 with Kim at the Panmunjom peace village in the Demilitarized Zone, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.
“This inter-Korean summit should be a turning point for fundamentally addressing the issue of peace on the Korean peninsula,” Im said.
Yonhap quoted Moon as saying, “Our firm stance is that we can’t make concessions [on denuclearization] under any circumstances and conditions” in the negotiations.
Trump caused a flap on his own agenda for the talks in mid-March 2018 when his comments at a private fundraiser leaked. He appeared to suggest that he might pull U.S. forces out of South Korea unless the U.S. received more favorable terms on trade agreements.
“We have a very big trade deficit with them, and we protect them,” he said, The Washington Post reported. “We lose money on trade, and we lose money on the military. We have right now 32,000 soldiers on the border between North and South Korea. Let’s see what happens.”
Trump glossed over the trade issue in a phone call to Moon on March 16, 2018 in which he renewed his commitment to go ahead with the summit, probably at the end of May 2018, although a time and place have yet to be set.
A White House readout of the phone call said Trump “reiterated his intention to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un by the end of May 2018. The two leaders expressed cautious optimism over recent developments and emphasized that a brighter future is available for North Korea, if it chooses the correct path.”
In his appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Harris was characteristically blunt on issues in the region.
Harris noted that his testimony would be his last before the committee. He will soon retire after 39 years of service and has been nominated by Trump to be the next ambassador to Australia.
On the North Korea talks, Harris said, “As we go into this, I think we can’t be overly optimistic on outcomes. We’ll just have to see where it goes if and when we have the summit. North Korea remains our most urgent security threat in the region.”
“This past year has seen rapid and comprehensive improvement in North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear capabilities despite broad international condemnation and the imposition of additional United Nations security resolutions,” he said.
“It is indisputable that KJU [Kim Jong-un] is rapidly closing the gap between rhetoric and capability,” Harris added. “The Republic of Korea and Japan have been living under the shadow of North Korea’s threats for years; now, that shadow looms over the American homeland.”
He scoffed at the notion that the Trump administration had been considering a so-called “bloody nose” strategy that would involve limited strikes on North Korea to rein in Kim’s nuclear ambitions.
“We have no bloody nose strategy. I don’t know what that is. The press have run with it,” Harris said.
“I’m charged with developing, for the national command authority, a range of options through the spectrum of violence, and I’m ready to execute whatever the president and the national command authority directs me to do, but a ‘bloody nose’ strategy is not contemplated,” he said.
The strategy that does exist, Harris said, is for full-spectrum warfare that would obliterate the North Korean threat.
“We have to be ready to do the whole thing, and we are ready to do the whole thing if ordered by the president,” he said.
By way of farewell, Harris said that during his time at PaCom, “I have had the tremendous honor of leading the soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, Coast Guardsmen, and Department of Defense civilians standing watch for the largest and most diverse geographic command.
“These men and women, as well as their families, fill me with pride with their hard work and devotion to duty. I’m humbled to serve alongside them,” he said.
A weapons sergeant with the 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) who heroically fought up a mountain through a barrage of enemy fire to help rescue his detachment members will receive the Medal of Honor.
The White House announced today that Master Sgt. Matthew O. Williams went above and beyond the call of duty during an operation on April 6, 2008. Williams — a sergeant at the time of the operation — was assigned to Special Operations Task Force-33 in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom.
Williams will receive the highest military award for valor at a White House ceremony, Oct. 30, 2019. A “Hall of Heroes” induction ceremony at the Pentagon is slated for Oct. 31, 2019.
In April 2008, Williams joined 14 other Special Forces operators and roughly 100 Afghan commandos on a mission to take out or apprehend high-value enemy targets that were operating out of a mountain-top village within Shok Valley.
Then-Sgt. Matthew Williams with other team members assigned to 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne), wait on a hill top for the helicopter exfiltration in eastern Afghanistan, late spring 2007.
(Master Sgt. Matthew Williams)
Shortly after the joint force dropped into the area and organized into elements, the lead command and control team started their treacherous hike up a near-vertical mountainside toward the objective.
It did not take long for the adversary to respond. A barrage of heavy sniper and machine-gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades rained down on the team’s location.
In the ensuing chaos, the lead element was pinned down at a higher elevation and isolated from the larger military force. Further, they had sustained injuries and were requesting support.
In response, Williams organized a counter-assault team and led them across a waist-deep, ice-cold fast-moving river, and fought their way up the terraced mountain to the besieged lead element’s location.
Joined by his team sergeant, Williams positioned his Afghan commando force to provide a violent base of suppressive fire, preventing the enemy force from overrunning the team’s position. In turn, the actions of Williams and his team allowed the first command and control element to consolidate and move the casualties down the mountain.
As Williams worked to defend the force’s position, an enemy sniper took aim and injured his team sergeant. With disregard for his safety, Williams maneuvered through an onslaught of heavy machine-gun fire to render aid.
Then-Sgt. Matthew Williams assigned to 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne), conducts long-range weapons training at Camp Morehead, Afghanistan, during the fall of 2009.
(U.S. Army Master Sgt. Matthew Williams)
Once his team sergeant was secure, the joint team egressed off the mountainside. Williams descended with his team sergeant off a near-vertical 60-foot cliff to a casualty collection point and continued to provide first aid.
With more injured soldiers coming down the mountainside, Williams ascended through a hail of small arms fire to help with their evacuation, and also repair his operational detachment commander’s radio.
As Williams returned to the base of the mountain with three wounded soldiers, enemy forces maneuvered to their position in an attempt to overrun the casualty collection point. Williams and the Afghan commandos quickly responded with a counter-attack and courageously fought back the attacking force.
As the medical evacuation helicopter arrived, Williams exposed himself to insurgent fire again to help transport casualties. Once the injured were secure, Williams continued to direct Commando fires and suppress numerous enemy positions. The team’s actions enabled the evacuation of the wounded and dead without further casualties.
The entire Shok Valley operation lasted for more than six hours. During that time, Williams and the joint force fought back against about 200 adversaries, all while they were subjected to a series of friendly, danger-close air strikes.
Williams is the second member of his detachment to receive the Medal of Honor for this operation. The president presented Staff Sgt. Ronald Shurer II the Medal of Honor at a White House ceremony Oct. 1, 2018.
President Donald Trump toured the US’s last tank facility on March 20, 2019, in a move to highlight the impact of his soaring defense spending in a politically crucial state.
The Joint Systems Manufacturing Center in Lima, Ohio, has been building Army tanks and armored vehicles since World War II. It nearly shuttered in 2012 under the drastic “sequestration” cuts, but it now produces about 11 tanks a month and employs a growing workforce of 580.
The plant’s assembly line is roaring back under Trump’s defense spending hikes, including $718 billion proposed for fiscal year starting in October 2019.
“In terms of economic security, the Trump defense budget is helping to create good manufacturing jobs at good wages, including in communities like Lima that have fallen behind economically,” Peter Navarro, White House director of trade and manufacturing policy, wrote in a New York Times op-ed. “The revitalized Lima plant will directly employ a little more than 1,000 employees.”
Main entrance to Joint Systems Manufacturing Center. An M1A1 Abrams sits on a display platform to the left of the entrance gates.
Here’s a history of the sprawling tank plant, a still-operating legacy of World War II America’s so-called arsenal of democracy.
World War II
The facility opened in 1942 and soon began to build and test vehicles to be sent to the Pacific and European theaters. It built M-5 Light Tanks and T-26 Pershing tanks, according to the website Global Security. By the end of the war it had processed 100,000 combat vehicles.
The facility is owned by the US Army and operated by a contractor.
An expansion began after the Korean War broke out in 1950. The Army built new structures, including two massive warehouses that each had 115,000 square feet of storage, according to an official history of the site.
Construction fell off sharply after the war and didn’t pick up much during the Vietnam War.
The Army introduced the M-1 Abrams in 1980 and called it a “supertank” that would be faster, better armored, and have more firepower than is predecessors.
The early M-1 Abrams tanks weighed 60 tons, carried a 105 mm cannon, and could speed across fields at 30 mph. The armor used a “new super alloy, composite-material” to protect against rockets and artillery, according to the history.
105-mm M1 Abrams tank of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment at Grafenwöhr Training Area in Germany, 1986.
Chrysler Defense began production of the M-1 tanks at Lima in 1979.
In 1980, the first M-1 Abrams rolled out of Lima. It was named “Thunderbolt,” in homage to the name Gen. Creighton Abrams gave to his tanks in World War II, according to Global Security.
General Dynamics Land Systems bought Chrysler Defense in 1982. The plant became the sole US tank factory in when the Detroit Arsenal Tank Plant closed in 1996.
The deep sequestration budget cuts nearly shuttered the plant in 2012, and tank production languished under the Obama administration, which oversaw counter-insurgency wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where a large force of tanks wasn’t needed.
In 2017, the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center was producing about one upgraded M-1 tank a month; a year later it was producing about 11, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Two factors have seen the Lima’s tank plant roar back to life: Trump’s massive defense-spending hikes and the US’s assessment that rivalries with China and Russia are now the country’s foremost threat.
Deterring a major power like them may rely on the US Army fielding the upgraded, 80-ton Abrams tanks now rolling off Lima’s assembly lines.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
When Toni Gross stood at the entrance of the Dover Fisher House for Families of the Fallen, she had no idea what to expect.
The previous hours were a blur, filled with grief and disbelief. It was July 2011, and she and her husband and daughter learned that Army Cpl. Frank Gross, their only son and brother, had been killed by an IED while serving in Afghanistan.
He was 25. And just like that, a mere few weeks into deployment, he was gone.
“We were just numb,” Toni Gross said.
The day after learning of Frank’s death, the Grosses traveled from Oldsmar, Florida to Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, expecting to stay at “some place like a Hampton Inn” for the dignified transfer of Frank’s body. But instead, just across the street from the runway, they spent 24 hours at the Dover Fisher House for Families of the Fallen — a house created by Fisher House Foundation specifically for loved ones of those who have fallen through combat.
“It was a wonderfully comforting experience, and everything we could possibly think of— all of our needs, food, everything — was taken care of,” Toni Gross said. “We were able to spend time focusing on why we were there: grieving the loss of our son.”
That’s exactly what the chairman and CEO of Fisher House wants to hear. Ken Fisher is a third-generation leader of one of America’s most successful family-owned real estate development and management companies, but he is also expressly passionate about honoring veterans while assisting their families.
The foundation offers several programs to support military families through critical times, like the Hero Miles program and a scholarship program for military children, spouses, and children of fallen and disabled veterans. In 2019 alone, more than 32,000 families were served, according to its website.
There are 87 Fisher Houses located on 25 military installations and 38 VA medical centers, with several more in the works. Run by the Fisher House Foundation, Inc., each Fisher House provides free lodging for military families whose loved ones are receiving medical treatment nearby.
The Fisher House at Dover, however, is special for many reasons, Fisher says, because “it was built to honor the ultimate sacrifices of those who wear the uniform.”
Those who stay there aren’t waiting for a recovery but a goodbye to their airman, soldier, Marine, sailor or Coastie.
“I think the Fisher House at Dover does more than just provide lodging,” Fisher said. “It’s important that these families who have made the ultimate sacrifice understand that there are Americans that are very grateful.”
The Fisher House at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware. Photo Roland Balik.
Built in just a few months in 2010, the Fisher House at Dover is equipped with nine guest suites that have seen approximately 3,700 guests since its opening. The average length of stay is 24 to 48 hours, with a typical family consists of six to 10 members.
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Michelle Johnson watches over each one. As house manager, it’s her job to make sure each guest has every need — and every want —taken care of.
One family with small children, for example, stayed at the house over Halloween. Staff members purchased costumes and took them trick-or-treating. Another time, they cooked a traditional holiday dinner for a family receiving their loved one’s body over Christmas.
“[These families] are experiencing a very difficult point in their lives, and grieving comes in different ways, so we make sure the Fisher House staff members takes care of those families,” Johnson said. “Giving them the care that they need and providing them with any comfort required.”
Toni Gross’ experience with staff members made such an impact that she now volunteers regularly at a Fisher House in Florida. Similarly, Ken Fisher, whose 87-year-old father served in the Korean War, calls the houses his “passion.”
“The House at Dover is particularly relevant as we approach Memorial Day, even while we’re in the grip of a pandemic,” he said. “In the end, we can never ever forget what has been done, what has been given to us, this freedom. That what we hold most dear above everything else — that came at a cost.”
And for families who have experienced that cost, like Toni Gross, it is “comforting” to have a place of refuge during such a difficult time.
“My family and I are grateful to the Fisher House Foundation for our stay at Dover Air Force Base. While it was a solemn time, it was comforting to know that the staff there all understood why we were there and were able to accommodate us during our darkest hours,” Gross said.
Staff Sgt. Eugene Leonard served in the Marine Corps during World War II and was wounded in action. But he never lost a love for aviation, also serving in the Air Force and as an airplane mechanic in his civilian life.
Staff Sgt. Eugene Leonard (Youtube screenshot)
So, for his 99th birthday, one friend decided to pick up the former Marine’s spirits after Leonard became a widower and moved to the Phoenix area, Fox10Phoenix.com reported.
What was selected for that task was another World War II veteran — a restored B-17 Flying Fortress bomber.
In a day and age where we lose 492 World War II veterans a day, according to the National World War II Museum, those few remaining are a link to the heroic history of that conflict.
The same can be said for the planes. In this case, one World War II vet was able to give another one a brief pick-me up.
Here is Fox10Phoenix’s report on Staff Sgt. Leonard’s flight: