American military officials say U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have pushed within three kilometers of Islamic State’s de facto capital in Syria, and that the major battle for control of Raqqa “could begin in the coming days.”
Speaking to reporters from Baghdad, Colonel Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the U.S.-led counter ISIS coalition, said the SDF was “poised around Raqqa” after gaining 350 square kilometers from IS in Syria in the last week.
The forces are within three kilometers of Raqqa to the north and east and within about 10 kilometers of the city to the west, Dillon said.
“The fight for the city could begin in the coming days, “a U.S. military official separately told Voice of America on the condition of anonymity. “The encirclement of Raqqa is almost complete.”
That move has placed the United States at odds with NATO ally Turkey, which contends the SDF’s Syrian Kurdish militia is a terrorist group affiliated with the outlawed PKK, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a terror group that has been battling the Turkish state for many years.
Dillon said the SDF had instructed Raqqa citizens to leave the city ahead of the fighting, with nearly 200,000 people already displaced. Camps for displaced citizens have been established around the Syrian city, Dillon added, with SDF screening sites in place to prevent IS militants from escaping among the fleeing civilian population.
Meanwhile, U.S. military officials said Iranian-backed pro-regime forces were continuing to violate a deconfliction zone set up around the al-Tanf army base, where special forces are training Syrian militias.
Dillon said the coalition had communicated to the “small element” of forces that they were considered a threat and needed to leave the zone.
“We want them out of there,” he told reporters June 1 from Baghdad.
Dillon said the forces violating the deconfliction zone had stopped establishing defensive positions after coalition airstrikes targeted their tanks and equipment two weeks ago, but had remained a little more than halfway into the established zone, which has a radius of 55 kilometers from the al-Tanf base.
“It’s not like they’ve dipped their toe into the deconfliction zone. They’re well inside it,” said Dillon.
Additional pro-regime reinforcements have not entered the deconfliction zone, Dillon said, but forces just outside the zone at al-Tanf are reinforcing their positions and bringing in combat-type assets, including tanks and artillery systems.
“All these things put together present a threat to the coalition forces,” he said.
The Air Force is allowing its pilots, navigators and airmen who wear flight suits to roll up their sleeves whenever they’re not on in-flight duty, according to a new memo.
The latest policy, first published on the popular Air Force blog John Q. Public, mimics what airmen who wear the Airman Battle Uniform are already allowed to do when they’re not performing official duties, said Air Force spokesman Maj. Bryan Lewis.
“The flight suit sleeve policy was updated to align with the Airman Battle Uniform coat [shirt] wear policy,” Lewis said in an email Monday.
The change amends Air Force Instruction 36-2903, “Dress and Personal Appearance of Air Force Personnel,” which already states in the case of the ABU that “commanders may authorize sleeves to be rolled up on the ABU coat; however, the cuffs will remain visible and the sleeve will rest at, or within 1 inch of, the forearm when the arm is bent at a 90-degree angle.”
“Regardless as to whether the sleeves are rolled up or unrolled, the cuffs will remain visible at all times,” the AFI says.
Similarly, airmen who wear a Flight Duty Uniform or Desert Flight Duty Uniform can roll or tuck their suit sleeves under, Lewis said, and “are now approved to pull the sleeves up to within 1 inch of the elbow using the Velcro, already incorporated in the suit, to hold them in place.”
Lt. Gen. Mark Nowland, deputy chief of staff for operations, enacted the change — effective immediately — on Jan. 23, according to the memo.
Airmen “will still be required to have sleeves rolled down to the wrist when performing aircrew duties in-flight,” Lewis said — for example, while flying or on the flight line.
The previous policy for flight suits stated airmen could have their sleeves rolled under “if not performing in-flight duties.” However, the rolled-under sleeve “will not end above the natural bend of the wrist when the wearer’s arms are hanging naturally at their side.”
Lewis could not say if similar provisions for flight suits were made in the past.
As The Drive pointed out, this means Russia will buy more of the 70-year-old tanks than it will of its new T-14, and it indicates how Russian President Vladimir Putin has changed course after failing to modernize his military.
A Russian Army T-14 Armata tank.
T-14: The NATO killer that died in budget cuts
The T-14 in 2015 cast a menacing figure. Russia, previously crippled by debt and still shrugging off the collapse of the Soviet Union, had updated its main battle tank, something Western countries had only done incrementally.
With automatic loading, an unmanned turret, reactive and active armor, and a bigger gun than any Western tank, Moscow had announced its focus on a return to the kind of conventional ground war that rocked Europe throughout the 21st century.
But like with many Russian defense projects, the bark proved worse than the bite. In the following years, Russia announced the T-14 wouldn’t see mass production. Instead, Russia would upgrade its capable T-80 and T-90 tanks which were seeing combat in Ukraine and Syria.
While the upgraded T-90 tanks proved effective in those battlefields, they lacked the propaganda boost of a new, unstoppable tank afforded Putin.
A World War II-era Soviet T-34 tank during the 2018 Moscow Victory Day Parade.
Pivot to the past
Putin’s bet on the T-14 as the future face of Russia’s military power failed, but, ever resourceful, Russia has now pivoted to the past.
Soviet tankers with T-34s in the eastern front of WWII fought in grueling battles that eventually saw Adolf Hitler’s Nazi forces overwhelmed and the Soviet flag planted atop the Reichstag in Berlin.
Putin has frequently tried to revise and leverage the Soviet’s hard-fought success in World War II to bolster nationalism and support for his aggressive government, which stands accused of war crimes in Syria and backing separatist forces in Ukraine.
To say that Amber Smith comes from a military family is an understatement. Her great-grandfather was in World War I, her grandfather was in World War II, and her father was a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne. Both of her parents were pilots. Both of her sisters are military pilots.
Her parents’ love of flying sparked her interest, and she started flying private planes at a young age. As she got older she started considering a career in aviation, specifically military aviation. Then in 2003, she was introduced to a future she didn’t know was possible.
“I talked to the Marines, I talked to the Air Force, and I talked to the Navy because I didn’t even know the Army had aviation,” Smith says. “I grew up in fixed wings. Never once did the thought of helicopters cross my mind.”
The other three branches told her the same thing: get a college degree and then come talk. But Smith just wanted to join the military as an aviator. When she spoke to the Army they told her could still be a pilot, just flying helicopters instead of planes. Smith’s experience as a civilian pilot allowed her to join before finishing her degree through the Warrant Officer Flight Training Program.
While still in college and before joining the Army, Smith met her parents at an air show where helicopter rides were offered. She hopped in to see if a helicopter was really something she wanted.
“I went on this helicopter flight and I was immediately hooked,” she remembers. “I was like, ‘this is for me. I love it!’ I didn’t even want planes anymore, give me a helicopter.”
After basic training and Warrant Officer Candidate School, she went to flight school where she met her bird: the OH58 Kiowa Warrior Helicopter. The Kiowa Warrior is a light attack reconnaissance helicopter; a two-seater carrying a fifty cal machine gun and 7-shot 2.75 in (70 mm) Hydra-70 rocket pods, configurable for Hellfire missiles.
“I loved my time flying the Kiowa,” Smith recalls. “I knew that was the best and most bad ass flying I would ever do in my life.”
Her mission was direct support for ground forces, looking for IEDs, providing aerial security for convoys, and responding to troops in combat (TICs). Smith deployed with her unit, the 101st Airborne Division, to Iraq from 2005, where she made Pilot in Command. She went to Afghanistan in 2008, where she made Air Mission Commander, seeing combat in a combat arms role years before the ban on women in combat ended.
“Before they lifted the restriction, aviation was the only branch within what was called Combat Arms – now it’s maneuvers, fire, and effects – but it was the only Combat Arms branch that allowed women,” Smith says.
Her views on women in combat is simple: there needs to be a mission standard, not a gender standard.
“As long as the standards remain the exact same as today, I think women should be given the opportunity to try it,” Smith says. “I don’t believe in quotas or lowering standards but I don’t think it should matter if you’re a man or a woman. If you can do the job and contribute to the mission that’s what matters.”
The Army’s proposed integration plan includes first adding female officers to leadership roles within combat units. Amber Smith think it’s a smart move but the plan for and acceptance of women in combat jobs will take time.
“Reducing the standards creates resentment,” she says. “When I got to my unit in 2004, women were very rare in the Kiowa Warrior community. I worked very hard to do my job and contribute to the mission. As soon as they realized that, I was a part of the team.”
Smith left the military in 2010, but while she was in, she completed a Bachelor’s in Professional Aeronautics from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. After transitioning, she earned her Master of Science in Safety, Security, and Emergency Management with a specialization in Homeland Security from Eastern Kentucky University.
While in graduate school, she noticed that too often the media lacked a credible veteran’s point of view.
“It’s important the American people need to hear the perspective of people who have been on the operational side of national security,” she says. “People who have been to war and have seen the enemy everyone talks about on TV every day.”
Smith started a blog and got published wherever she could. Within three months, the calls for television appearances started. Her career just took off from there. She just completed her first book, Danger Close: One’s Woman’s Epic Journey as a Combat Helicopter Pilot in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“2015 was the year of my book,” Smith says. “I wrote it myself, I didn’t have a ghostwriter or anything. I wanted to preserve my voice. The Kiowa Warrior is an incredibly effective tool on the battlefield, essential in the two theaters of war. Nobody knows about it, all anybody knows about is the Apache. So I want people to know who we are and what we did.”
Smith is now a Senior Fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum and Senior Military Advisor for Concerned Veterans for America. She is also a writer and television commentator on national security issues, foreign policy, and military operations. She regularly appears on Fox News, Fox Business, CNN, and MSNBC.
After five days, over 70 tested events and hundreds of evaluated standards, the U.S. Army named its top drill sergeant in a ceremony hosted by the Center for Initial Military Training, or CIMT, the lead in the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, or TRADOC, for all initial entry training.
Staff Sgt. Earnest J. Knight II, representing Fort Jackson, S.C. and the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant Academy, is the 2019 U.S. Army Drill Sergeant of the Year.
Staff Sgt Benhur Rodriguez, representing Fort Sill, Okla. and the Fires Center of Excellence, was named runner up to the 2019 Drill Sergeant of the Year and also received an award for the highest physical fitness score during the competition. In the event the primary selectee is unable to perform his duties, Rodriguez will assume the role.
By design, the competition is one of the most physically demanding and mentally tough challenges any soldier may face in a competition. The Army level event tests and highlights the professionalism and readiness of the U.S. Army by testing the drill sergeants that are responsible for training the total force.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Earnest J. Knight II, Drill Sergeant Academy, with camouflage face paint at a Camp Bullis shooting range. Knight is the 2019 U.S. Army Drill Sergeant of the Year.
(Photo by Jose E. Rodriguez)
The annual event was conducted at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston and Camp Bullis, Texas for the first time since the Drill Sergeant of the Year was established 50 years ago.
Not only did the Health Readiness Center of Excellence, based at Fort Sam Houston, have a candidate in the competition, but the support of their staff and soldiers, along with CIMT planners, were crucial to the success of the event.
Sgt. 1st Class Kyle Specht, HRCoE’s Senior Drill Sergeant and Sgt. 1st Class Gabriel Hulse were the CoE’s lead planners for the event. They were both honored with an Army Commendation Medal presentation during Aug. 22, 2019’s ceremony. Six other HRCoE soldiers were also recognized for their significant contributions to the planning and execution of the competition.
U.S. Army Cmd. Sgt. Maj. Edward Mitchell, CIMT Command Sergeant Major (right), presents U.S. Army Sgt. Earnest Knight II, Drill Sergeant Academy with the Drill Sergeant of the Year award.
(Photo by Jose E. Rodriguez)
Specht, who was recently selected for promotion to Master Sgt. and was himself a Drill Sergeant of the Year competitor in 2018, discussed how HRCoE was honored to conduct the 50th Anniversary of the Drill Sergeant of the Year Competition on behalf of CIMT and TRADOC as the newest CoE within the Combined Arms Center and TRADOC.
“Every Drill Sergeant competitor gave 100% and it was inspiring to see their individual resolve and how each rose to the challenge and represented their respective CoEs and the noncommissioned officer corps as a whole,” said Specht. “Command Sergeant Major Mitchell and his staff outlined the expected standards of excellence and vison and allowed us, the mission command, to take ownership and host this historic event.”
U.S. Army Sgt. Earnest Knight II, Drill Sergeant Academy, firing an M9 at the mystery event.
(Photo by Jose E. Rodriguez)
The 2017 Drill Sergeant of the Year, Sgt. 1st Class Chad Hickey and the 2017 Platoon Sergeant of the Year, Staff Sgt. Bryan Ivery, as the CIMT representatives, conducted two site visits, multiple initial planning reviews, and were on site over a week prior to the event validating test components. Specht continued, “The success of the event is really a demonstration of what cohesive teams can accomplish with 61 dedicated support noncommissioned officers, CIMT and our staff.”
The 2019 Drill Sergeant of the Year competition was rigorous, highly structured and covered a broad base of subject areas at a relentless pace. The noncommissioned officers were evaluated in marksmanship, unknown distance road marches, individual warrior tasks, collective battle drill tasks, modern Army combatives, written exams, drill and ceremony, leadership, oral boards, and much more for the honor of being recognized as the top drill sergeant in the Army. The competitors, who truly had to be prepared for anything also took the Army Physical Fitness Test that is the current test of record and the new Army Combat Fitness Test that becomes the Army’s physical test of record in October 2020.
U.S. Army Sgt. Earnest Knight II, Drill Sergeant Academy on a ruck march.
(Photo by Jose E. Rodriguez)
Cmd. Sgt. Maj. Edward Mitchell, CIMT Command Sergeant Major, said each event is designed to stress the candidates and push their limits physically and mentally to determine if the drill sergeant’s performance, abilities or professionalism become degraded.
Mitchell believes the competition is an extreme example of what all drill sergeants face in their daily tasks of training the Army’s newest recruits. He said that though many things in the Army have changed since he was a Drill sergeant from 1995 to 1998, “the soldierization process has not changed in the last 50 years. Drill sergeants are still tasked with turning ordinary citizens into soldiers.”
U.S. Army TRADOC hosts the 2019 U.S. Army Drill Sergeant of the Year (DSOY) Competition
(Photo by Sean Worrell)
On the first day of competition, Mitchell described the logic of putting these “soldier makers” to such an extreme test to determine the best of the best. “The drill sergeant that we select will be the number one drill sergeant in the Army as well as the TRADOC enterprise,” said Mitchell. “Sometimes you are going to be tired from what you do [as a drill sergeant], but we need that individual to still be able to be in front of soldiers and be able to be professional, no matter the conditions.” He explained how drill sergeants across the Army epitomize that type of endurance and professionalism each day.
Knight’s road to victory story makes for a good example. He said, “I started my quest to become the Drill Sergeant of the Year in 2017 when I was assigned to Fort Leonard Wood. I made it to the 2nd quarter Maneuver Support Center of Excellence Competition that year and lost.” Hickey, who helped plan this year’s competition eventually became the Maneuver Support Center of Excellence, or MSCoE’s winner that year and subsequently the 2017 U.S. Army Drill Sergeant of the Year.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Benhur Rodriguez, Fires Center of Excellence (right), with Cmd. Sgt. Maj. Edward Mitchell, CIMT Command Sergeant Major, receiving the award for the highest physical fitness score during the competition.
(Photo by Jose E. Rodriguez)
When he was transferred to Fort Jackson last year, Knight was, once again, encouraged to pursue the top drill sergeant prize through a competition at the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant Academy; he won the Fort Jackson competition earlier this year to allow him to compete and win this week.
“I really appreciate moments like that,” Knight recalled, speaking of his original loss at the MSCoE. “As drill sergeants we are expected to be subject matter experts so we can tend to think we know everything. Having a humbling experience like competing against other highly qualified people who just out performed you, leaves you two options: better yourself or just accept that someone got the better of you.”
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Benhur Rodriguez, Fires Center of Excellence, going through the low crawl obstacle at Camp Bullis.
(Photo by Jose E. Rodriguez)
The 2019 Drill Sergeant of the Year Competition began with 12 of the most proficient, determined and rugged drill sergeants in the Army representing Basic Combat Training, One-Station Unit Training, and Advanced Individual Training. There was one reservist, the rest were active duty noncommissioned officers. They had all won division level competitions at their home stations to earn the right to compete at the Army level.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Benhur Rodriguez, Fires Center of Excellence, runner up at the 2019 Army Drill Sergeant of the Year Competition, instructs Soldiers on the correct method of conducting a drill and ceremony maneuvers.
(Photo by Jose E. Rodriguez)
Officially, the competition lasts four days with most evaluated events conducted in a field environment at Camp Bullis beginning on Monday, Aug. 19, 2019. The last field event was completed by six o’clock in the morning on Day Four. In actuality, tested events began on Sunday with “Day Zero” elements that included height and weight measurements, written tests and an oral board held at Fort Sam Houston. Board questions, from seven command sergeants major, led by this year’s board president, Cmd. Sgt. Maj. Michael Gragg, U.S. Army Medical Command Sergeant Major, were exhaustive on a variety of military and U.S. government related questions.
All of the remaining 10 competitors that outlasted the rigors of the week were honored during the recognition ceremony at Fort Sam Houston mere hours after they completed their last event at Camp Bullis: a 12 mile road march.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jeffrey C. Lullen, Health Readiness Center of Excellence, firing an M9 at the mystery event. In this lane while firing from the standing, kneeling, and prone positions the competitors first fired the M4 rifle then transitioned to the M4 pistol.
(Photo by Jose E. Rodriguez)
When Knight was asked how he thought he was able to win over so many other highly qualified candidates, he said it came down to who was able to be more resilient, the most well-rounded, and maybe even who wanted it the most. Knight said he spent any small windows of free time during the competition studying and refreshing his memory on a wide range of subjects.
Knight explained, “Some [competitors] would take the opportunity to eat, some would take naps or got on their phones. I just spent a lot of time studying during the downtime to make sure I stayed in the zone; I didn’t want to open the door to distractions or self-doubt.” Though the competitors weren’t aware of what would be required of them at any given time, he said that many of the notes he studied ended up being on test events so that made him even more energized to put his time to good use.
U.S. Army Sgt. Michael B. Yarrington, 108th Training Command, on the reverse climb obstacle during the first day of competition.
(Photo by Jose E. Rodriguez)
“I kept the junior soldiers, the trainees, in mind at all times,” said Knight. Soldiers in training are often in situations where they don’t exactly know what is going to happen next. “They don’t have the privilege or luxury of just taking a nap or picking up their phone when they want to.” He explained that soldiers are always told to study during any break in training, “During downtime a drill sergeant will always tell a trainee, ‘pull out your smart book’ so I just felt like this was a great opportunity to bring myself back to the basics.”
Knight pointed out that this strategy for success is not a technique he invented for this competition, it is in the Drill Sergeant Creed: “I will lead by example, never requiring a soldier to attempt any task I would not do myself.”
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. John K. Cauthon, Maneuver Center of Excellence drill instructor, Ft. Benning, Ga., cools himself down after the M4 stress shoot event.
(Photo by Sarayuth Pinthong)
As the 2019 Drill Sergeant of the Year, Knight will be reassigned to CIMT and TRADOC; he will report to Fort Eustis, Va. in 60 days. Knight, a 25 Victor, Combat Documentation Production Specialist, “Combat Camera” by trade is used to telling the Army story through photos. For 12 months, his tenure as the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant of the Year, he will serve as a sort of ambassador, called upon to be the example of the resilient, professional, and highly proficient drill sergeant that he just proved himself to be.
U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class William Hale (left), Foxtrot Company 232nd Medical Battalion range safety officer, Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, hands out ammunition for the M4 stress shoot event.
(Photo by Sarayuth Pinthong)
List of 2019 U.S. Army Drill Sergeant of the Year Nominees in alphabetical order:
Staff Sgt. Mychael R. Begaye, Army Training Center, Fort Jackson, S.C.
Staff Sgt. John K. Cauthon, Maneuver Center of Excellence, Fort Benning, Ga.
Sgt. 1st Class Frank D. Dunbar III, Combined Arms Support Command, Fort Lee, Va.
Staff Sgt. Ariel D. Hughes, Army Aviation Center of Excellence (USAACE), Fort Rucker, Ala.
Staff Sgt. Lillian C. Jones, Cyber Center of Excellence, Fort Gordon, Ga.
Staff Sgt. Earnest J. Knight II, Drill Sergeant Academy, Fort Jackson, S.C.
Staff Sgt. Jeffrey C. Lullen, Health Readiness Center of Excellence, Fort Sam Houston, Texas
Staff Sgt. Matthew T. Martinez, Intelligence Center of Excellence, Fort Huachuca, Ariz.
Staff Sgt. Matthew A. Mubarak, Defense Language Institute, Monterey, Calif.
Staff Sgt. Benhur Rodriguez, Fires Center of Excellence, Fort Sill, Okla.
Sgt. 1st Class Marianne E. Russell, Maneuver Support Center of Excellence, Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.
Sgt. Michael B. Yarrington, 108th Training Command, Charlotte, N.C.
Juan Guaidó, the Venezuelan opposition leader who declared himself interim president in January 2019, appeared to be in hiding as the country’s military leaders declared their support for his rival, President Nicolás Maduro.
The whereabouts of Guaidó, 35, remains unknown after he symbolically swore in as the country’s interim president on Jan. 23, 2019, before tens of thousands of supporters, promising to remove Maduro from power.
Guaidó has said that he needs support from three groups: The Venezuelan people, the international community, and the military, The Associated Press reported.
He hasn’t passed all three tests yet.
The long list of countries supporting his claim — including the US, the EU, and most of Venezuela’s neighbors — gives him a good argument that he has persuaded the international community.
President Nicolás Maduro.
It is difficult to measure Guaidó’s popular support, though his rallies have pulled in huge crowds. Tens of thousands of Venezuelans marched in support of Guaidó in January 2019.
The upcoming Army Combat Fitness Test is intended to improve soldier readiness, transform the Army’s fitness culture, reduce preventable injuries, and enhance mental toughness and stamina.
But the new test leaves one question: How do soldiers train safely?
First Sgt. Daniel Ramirez, the first sergeant for Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, First Army, answered this question for his soldiers by partnering with a local functional fitness gym. He and fifteen other soldiers of the Detachment recently attended a four-day, in-depth class at Foundation in East Moline, Illinois on proper techniques for lifting, squatting, and other exercises essential to safe completion of the ACFT. The goal of the workshop was to “Train the Trainer,” enabling First Army personnel to be subject-matter experts in advising their teammates on safe and efficient methods of exercise.
“We want to get everyone on the same page technique-wise so we can prevent injuries,” said Ramirez. The Foundation coaches, Ramirez said, were ideal instructors, due to their knowledge and experience.
Soldiers of First Army practice lifting techniques and proper lifting posture at Foundation in East Moline, Illinois.
Command Sgt. Maj. Todd Sims, Command Sgt. Maj. First Army, also attended the training. He agreed with the idea of partnering with fitness professionals to learn the fundamentals.
“It’s crucial to have a better understanding of what we are asking our soldiers to do,” explained Sims. “By working with professionals in this, it’s only going to build our knowledge base when we go back and train the rest of the team.”
Brandon Bartz, Co-Owner of Foundation in East Moline, Illinois, observes Soldiers of First Army practicing their technique that will be used during the standing power throw of the Army Combat Fitness test.
Brandon Bartz and Josiah Lorentzen, owners of the Foundation, instructed the soldiers in the proper exercise techniques.
“We just want to help the soldiers get ready for the new test,” explained Bartz. “We just want all of you to be able to train effectively and safely.”
In addition to developing First Army’s philosophy as a team of Fit Army Professionals and preparing for the fitness test, the event also strengthened ties to the local community and the Rock Island Arsenal.
Josiah Lorentzen and Brandon Bartz, Owners of Foundation, in East Moline, Illinois, demonstrate the proper dead lift technique to First Army Soldiers.
“It’s awesome to work these soldiers, said Lorentzen. “They are close to home, so we love getting to work with them whenever we can.”
The Army Combat Fitness Test becomes an official for record test staring in October of 2020.
NATO does not want “a new Cold War” with Russia, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said at the end of a four-day parliamentary assembly of the alliance.
“We are concerned by…[Russia’s] lack of transparency when it comes to military exercises,” Stoltenberg said on October 9 in the Romanian capital, Bucharest.
He mentioned the Zapad exercise that Russia held with Belarus in September, which brought thousands of troops close to NATO’s eastern members and caused concerns about Moscow’s intentions given its military interference in Ukraine.
At the same time, Stoltenberg said: “Russia is our neighbor…. We don’t want to isolate Russia; we don’t want a new Cold War.”
He said the 29-member alliance has stepped up jet patrols over the Black Sea in “response to Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine.”
Romanian and Bulgarian pilots have conducted air exercises in the Black Sea in recent months, designed to reassure NATO members after Russia’s interference.
Russia occupied and seized control of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, and backs separatists in a war that has killed more than 10,000 people in eastern Ukraine.
At the end of the parliamentary session in Bucharest, NATO also announced the launch of a new multinational force in Romania, its latest move to protect its eastern flank and to check a growing Russian presence in the Black Sea.
Initially, a small force composed mostly of troops from 10 NATO states including Italy and Canada as well as host Romania, the land, air, and sea deployments are expected to complement some 900 U.S. troops already in place separately throughout the country.
“Our purpose is peace, not war,” Romanian President Klaus Iohannis told the session.
“We are not a threat for Russia, but we need a long-term NATO strategy; we need dialogue from a strong position of defense and discouragement,” he said.
As a Military Working Dog handler in the US Marine Corps, I got to work with some of the best trained dogs in the world.
These dogs can sniff out bombs that have been buried underground, sniff out drugs that are hidden in ceiling tiles, take down a man three times their size, and track a person long after they’re gone to find criminal suspects or lost kids.
As a handler paired up with an explosive detection dog, my job was to train him, maintain his skills, keep him healthy, make sure he got exercise, and make sure he was healthy. After graduating from dog handling school, I was paired with my first dog, Kuko.
As a new handler with an experienced dog, I had to get up to his level before we could be an effective team. Once I got there, I could start teaching him new things to take our team to the next level.
While you may not be training your dog to find bombs buried in mud or drugs hidden in a car bumper, there are some keys to training dogs that will apply no matter what skills you are trying to teach.
Airman 1st Class John Fountain, a military working dog handler, with MWD Deny on the Obedience Obstacle course at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, April 24, 2019.
(Air Force photo by Airman Jesse Jenny)
1. You have to build a relationship.
The first thing you do upon meeting your new MWD is begin to build rapport. If you take home a brand-new puppy, you begin training by establishing a relationship with the dog. With so many dogs in a unit’s kennel, handlers take turns dropping food pans for the dogs twice a day.
However, when a handler partners with a new dog, it’s a good idea to let that handler drop their dog’s food for a few days to establish a good bond. The dog begins to associate the handler with good things.
This was particularly important with our, shall we say, “crankier” dogs. While our dogs weren’t trained to be mean, they aren’t the friendliest dogs either. They have a serious job to do, and they are serious dogs.
I’ve seen handlers get bit by their own dogs more than a few times. Two of the best dog teams in my first unit had scars from their dogs. Training too hard, too fast with a dog that doesn’t trust you yet can lead to frustration on both sides and usually doesn’t lead to good results.
US Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Eliot Fiaschi takes a moment to brush his partner Meky’s teeth during a break while on duty at the Djibouti Pier, April 23, 2009.
(Photo by Tech Sgt. Dawn Price)
2. Groom your dog every day.
Grooming your dog helps build the relationship, keeps the dog clean and healthy, and lets you check them over from the tip of their nose to the tip of their tail for any problems. With hair covering most of them, dogs can have serious issues developing that you can’t see until you brush them.
If your dog is running around in wooded areas, check in their ears, their paws, and in between their paw pads for ticks. Even with preventative medication, ticks can bite dogs and infect them with multiple diseases that can be devastating or deadly. Even a small cut on the paw can turn into something bigger if not treated properly, and dogs that don’t feel good aren’t good students.
One of our dogs contracted a tick-borne disease that nearly killed him. While we never found the tick, the dog tested positive for Babesia. He only survived because his handler had noted that he seemed more and more lethargic over the course of about three days.
Because she was watching him closely, she noticed when his gums and tongue went pale, indicating a serious problem. He was rushed to the vet, where aggressive treatment saved his life. His recovery was long and difficult and led to his retirement, but the vets and vet techs care about the dogs and will save them if possible.
Airman 1st Class John Fountain, a military working dog handler, with MWD Deny on the Obedience Obstacle course at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, April 24, 2019.
(Air Force photo by Airman Jesse Jenny)
3. Consistency is key.
During this rapport-building time, start laying the foundations for the training that you want to do with your dog.
Don’t let them get away with things that you won’t accept later. Reward good behavior with praise, attention, play, or treats. Once training begins, consistency is going to be key to getting good results.
If you are training the dog to sit, set the dog up to succeed by training in the same area every time. Keep your voice the same. Don’t change the way you say the command. Don’t give the command unless you are prepared to reward.
A military working dog team completes a detection training scenario in Southwest Asia, Jan. 10, 2017.
(US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tyler Woodward)
4. Training takes time.
You can’t rush dog training. Some dogs pick things up faster than others. MWDs are trained for four to seven months in basic skills before they are officially called an MWD. If your dog isn’t grasping basic tasks, you can’t move on to the more advanced. Basic obedience, (the sit, down, and stay) is the foundation of all further training.
Take your time to master the basics, and refresh them from time to time. MWDs are professionals with years of experience, and they get obedience refresher training almost every day. It’s much easier to maintain proficiency than it is to fix a problem that you have let slide for too long.
US Air Force Staff Sgt. Brandon Stone, a military working dog handler, braces for impact as military working dog, Cola, attempts to detain him during a K-9 demonstration exercise, Aug. 17, 2017.
(US Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Bradly A. Schneider)
5. Dogs have bad days too.
Say you’ve been training your dog for weeks. He’s performing well, and then one day he just refuses to work for you. He won’t sit. He seems bored, antsy, tired, or just lazy.
Don’t get mad, and don’t continue to correct the dog if it isn’t working. Dogs have their bad days too. Sometimes they just don’t want to work. If you try to force it, you will become frustrated and angry, which hardly ever leads to good results. Recognize that there might be a medical issue at play. Sick dogs aren’t usually enthusiastic students.
During an evaluation at my last base, a dog wouldn’t stay in the sit. The handler couldn’t get the dog to stay after multiple corrections. The evaluator took a close look and saw that the dog was positioned on an ant hill and had fire ants biting his legs. Continuing to correct the dog in that situation would be ineffective and would harm the good rapport between dog and handler.
Recognize that your dog is a living, breathing creature that has feelings and emotions.
US Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Victor Longoria shares a playful moment with his partner, Timmy, after a training session, April 16, 2009.
(Photo by Tech Sgt. Dawn Price)
6. Dogs need to have fun.
Recognizing that dogs are living, breathing creatures, they need to have fun. If the dog only ever sees you for training, you are missing a big part of the relationship.
Take your dog out and let him run, play with toys, lay in the sun, take a break, and just be a dog. It will make for a happy dog that wants to please you by doing the right thing when training. In a strong dog team, the dog’s desire to please the handler provides as much motivation as the toy or the treat.
My first dog was not especially affectionate, and I wouldn’t say that he ever loved me in the way that a pet loves its owner. He had handlers before me, and he would have more after me, but we still had a strong bond, which made us an effective team.
I took him out, let him play, tossed a ball for him, let him lay in the sun, and took him for long walks with no commands. He knew when it was time to work and when it was time to play, and he trusted that if he did what I asked and made me happy, good things would come to him.
Staff Sgt. Cody Nickell, a military working dog handler, works with Topa to get him accustomed to being in a Huey helicopter, at Yokota Air Base, Japan, July 26, 2018.
(US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Donald Hudson)
7. Not every dog is going to be able to learn every task.
Between buying carefully selected dogs from Europe and breeding their own at Lackland Air Force Base, the military goes through a lot of dogs. Not every dog makes it as an MWD. They fail out for a variety of reasons, from health issues to behavioral issues. Some dogs just aren’t cut out for the type of work that MWDs do.
We had a dog that didn’t want to bite people. She was sent after a decoy wearing the bite sleeve, and she faked a leg injury instead of chasing him down. The vet determined that nothing was wrong with her, she just didn’t want to bite.
If your dog just isn’t getting it, it might be the dog.
While you probably (hopefully) aren’t training your dog to bite people, you might find that your dog won’t sit, won’t drop the ball, or won’t stay for longer than a second. Keep in mind that some breeds of dogs are known for their willingness to learn, and others are not.
Don’t adopt a working dog breed and keep it inside all day without exercise. That’s how houses get destroyed. Do your research and adopt a dog that is going to fit in with your lifestyle and not a dog that you saw in a movie and you think looks cool.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres on Monday urged countries to immediately stop waging conflicts around the world in light of a “common enemy.”
“It is time to put armed conflict on lock-down and focus together on the true fight of our lives,” Guterres said, referring to the coronavirus pandemic that has placed numerous countries on lockdown. “The virus does not care about nationality or ethnicity, faction or faith. It attacks all, relentlessly.”
“Meanwhile, armed conflict rages on around the world,” Guterres said, adding that health networks in “war-ravaged countries” have since collapsed.
Due to the pandemic that has killed over 16,100 people and infected more than 367,000, Guterres said it was “time to put armed conflict on lockdown” and called for an “immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world.”
The novel coronavirus spread across the world from China sometime late last year, according to health officials. At least 168 countries and territories reported cases of the coronavirus, prompting the World Health Organization to label it a pandemic on March 11.
China, where the epicenter of the coronavirus took root, appeared to make progress in stemming the number of infections by imposing strict lockdowns, according to its government. The country reported 39 new cases on Sunday, seven fewer cases from the day before.
In other parts of the world, however, the number of cases continues to increase. Italy saw the highest number of coronavirus-related fatalities, surpassing China, with 6,077 deaths. The US reported 483 deaths as of Monday afternoon.
“To warring parties, I say, ‘Pull back from hostilities. Put aside mistrust and animosity. Silence the guns, stop the artillery, end the airstrikes,'” Guterres said.
“End the sickness of war and fight the disease that is ravaging our world,” he added. “It starts by stopping the fighting everywhere. Now.”
A number of elite units from multiple nations are gathered to train at an air base, with over 100 aircraft sitting on the flightline for a two-week exercise.
Sounds like just another Red Flag, right? Wrong.
This exercise is a “flag,” but it’s not at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. Instead, it’s taking place in Israel. And appropriately enough, it’s known as Blue Flag.
While several Red Flag exercises are held each year in the U.S., the Israelis hold one Blue Flag every two years. In 2013, four countries took part. This year, according to DefenseNews.com, seven will be in the skies over the Middle East nation: the United States, France, Germany, India, Italy, Poland, and of course, Israel.
One big difference between Red Flag and Blue Flag is the fact that Blue Flag doesn’t have a lot of head-to-head action between the participants. The exercise usually puts the 100 or so planes in as a multi-national “Blue Force” dealing with an external “Red Force.”
Week one of Blue Flag is spent getting familiar with the area. The second week is the actual combat exercise, usually involving the Red Force trying to hit friendly targets. The Blue Force tries to stop them, in a variety of missions, both air-to-air, and air-to-surface.
Past Blue Flags have drawn rave reviews from the United States Air Force.
“The Israelis provided an excellent training environment, which offered us the opportunity to learn from each other and to take advantage of good airspace, surface threat replicators, and challenging scenarios,” said Lt. Col. John Orchard after Blue Flag 2013 in an Air Force release. “It was a real pleasure integrating with our Israeli, Italian and Greek partners who all offer unique tactical, strategic and cultural perspectives.”
While the nightlife may be very different from the Vegas strip — and it’ll be a little harder to find a good ham sandwich between sorties — Blue Flag 2017 promises to be very interesting for the participants.
Military vehicles in an underground facility at US Marine Corps Prepositioning Program-Norway, September 9, 2015. US Defense Department/Glenn Fawcett
A major Marine Corps force redesign is bringing big changes that could soon filter down to a secretive cave complex in Norway that the Corps has used since the Cold War.
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger said last year that the Corps needed to get rid of “big, heavy things” and build a more mobile force for naval expeditionary warfare in contested areas — namely the Asia-Pacific.
The Corps plans to cut its overall force 7% by 2030, shedding infantry battalions, eliminating helicopter squadrons, and getting rid of all of its tanks.
Marines in California have already said goodbye to their tanks, and more could leave soon, including those in a cave complex in Norway’s Trondheim region, where the Corps has stored weapons and other equipment for decades.
Entrances to the Bjugn Cave Facility in Norway with equipment outside to be taken to Estonia for a military exercise, June 30, 1997. US Defense Department
The Corps’ Force Design 2030 “is a worldwide program aimed to make our force posture around the globe even more strategic and effective. As such, it calls for a divestment of certain capabilities and increases in others,” Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a spokesman for Marine Corps forces in Europe and Africa, said in an email.
The Marine Corps Prepositioning Program in Norway “will continue to support US Marine Corps forces for bilateral and multi-lateral exercises” in European and Africa, Rankine-Galloway said.
“We expect that Marine Corps prepositioned equipment will be updated to meet our service’s needs, with excess equipment to be removed and newer equipment to be added to the prepositioned facilities,” Rankine-Galloway added.
Rankine-Galloway didn’t say what equipment that might be, but in the Force Design 2030, Berger said the Corps is “over-invested in” weapons like “heavily armored ground combat systems (tanks) [and] towed cannon artillery” and had “shortfalls” in rocket artillery, air-defense systems, and long-range unmanned aircraft.
Marine Corps leaders say savings from those cuts will pay for high-tech gear needed to counter China, Russia, and others.
M1A1 Abrams tanks and other equipment during a modernization of equipment at Marine Corps Prepositioning Program-Norway, August 13, 2014. US Marine Corps/Master Sgt. Chad McMeen
A changing strategic game
The Marines’ underground storage in Norway’s Trondheim region dates to 1982, when the US and Norway agreed to preposition supplies and equipment in six climate-controlled caves there, allowing the Corps to store equipment closer than the US East Coast and “minimize the time necessary to form for combat.”
Much of the equipment there was withdrawn for the invasion of Iraq in 2003. A decade later, the Corps expanded its stocks, reportedly allowing tanks and other heavy vehicles to be stored there for the first time.
Changes to what the Marines store in Norway would come as the Corps alters its troop presence in the country.
US Marine Corps High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle stored at Marine Corps Prepositioning Program-Norway, February 10, 2020. US Marine Corps/Cpl. Joseph Atiyeh
Hundreds of Marines have been stationed in Norway on six-month rotations since 2017, but Norway’s military said earlier this month that the US would reduce that force.
Rankine-Galloway told several outlets the Corps wasn’t drawing down but rather adopting shorter, “episodic” deployments aligned with exercises — sometimes bringing more troops to the country than are there now — that allow it to balance Arctic warfare training with larger-scale training “as a naval expeditionary force.”
“We expect US Marine Corps forces deployed to the Nordic region to train and be prepared to fight in accordance with the Commandant’s vision for the force and that this transformation will make both US Marine Corps, allied, and partner forces more lethal and capable together,” Rankine-Galloway told Insider.
The Marines’ year-round presence in Norway angered Russia, whose border with Norway is near sensitive sites on the Kola Peninsula belonging to the powerful Northern Fleet, which oversees Russia’s nuclear ballistic-missile subs.
Russian missiles have changed “the strategic game” in the region, according to Thomas Nilsen, editor of Norway-based news outlet The Barents Observer.
“Living on the Norwegian side of the border, we don’t see a scenario of a Russian military invasion trying to capture” northern Norway, Nilsen said at an Atlantic Council event in February.
Weapons like the Kinzhal hypersonic missile could be launched from Russian fighter jets and within minutes strike airbases in those Scandinavian countries, Nilsen said.
Aircraft at those bases, like Norway’s F-35s, are “what Russia is afraid of,” Nilsen added. “Those capabilities on the Scandinavian side that might … disturb their deploying of the ballistic-missile submarines.”
Newsweek estimated that the total for the Iraq War comes out to an average of roughly $8,000 per taxpayer. The figure far exceeds the Pentagon’s estimate that Americans paid an average of $3,907 each for Iraq and Syria to date. And in March 2019, the Department of Defense estimated that the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria combined have cost each US taxpayer around $7,623 on average.
The Costs of War Project through Brown University conducts research on the human, economic, and political costs of the post-9/11 wars waged by the US. Stephanie Savell, a co-director of the Cost of Wars Projects, told Insider it’s important for Americans to understand exactly what their taxes are paying for when it comes to war-related expenses.
“As Americans debate the merits of U.S. military presence in Iraq and elsewhere in the name of the U.S. war on terrorism, it’s essential to understand that war costs go far beyond what the DOD has appropriated in Overseas Contingency Operations and reach across many parts of the federal budget,” Savell said.
Breaking down the financial costs of the Iraq War
The Pentagon had been allotted approximately 8 billion in “emergency” and “overseas contingency operation” for military operations in Iraq from the fiscal year 2003 to 2019, including operations fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria. However, Savell says the actual costs of the war often exceed that of the Congress-approved budgets.
“When you’re accounting for the cost of war, you can’t only account what the DOD has spent on overseas contingency funds,” Savell told Insider. “You have to look at the other sets of costs including interest on borrowed funds, increased war-related spending, higher pay to retain soldiers, medical and disability care on post-9-11 and war veterans, and more.”
According to their estimates, the cost of the Iraq War to date would be id=”listicle-2645054426″,922 billion in current dollars — this figure includes funding appropriated by the Pentagon explicitly for the war, spending on the country by the State Department, the care of Iraq War veterans and interests on debt incurred for the 16 years of the US military’s involvement in the country.
Crawford says that war-related spending in Iraq has blown past its budget in the 16 years military forces have been in the country, estimating a nearly 2 billion surplus in Iraq alone.
The increases to the Congressionally approved budgets were used to heighten security at bases, for enlistment and reenlistment bonuses, to increase pay to retain personnel, and for the healthcare costs of servicemembers.
Aside from the Defense Department costs, the State Department added approximately billion to the total costs of the Iraq War for USAID on Iraq and Syria. Meanwhile, 9 billion has been spent on Iraq war veterans receiving medical care, disability, and other compensation.
The US has gone deep into debt to pay for the war. That means it has interest payments.
As expected, that taxpayer dollars are going towards war-related expenses including operations, equipment, and personnel. But a surprising amount of the costs are to pay off the interest on the debt the US has accrued since going to war.
“People also need to know that these wars have been put on a credit card, so we will be paying trillions on war borrowing in interest alone over the next several decades,” Avell told Insider.
Defense Department spokesperson Christopher Sherwood told Insider that the Defense Department dedicates id=”listicle-2645054426″.575 trillion for war-related costs, with an average of spending .2 billion per month on all operations for the fiscal year 2019.
Sherwood said that the department’s costs go towards war-related operational costs, such as trainings and communications, support for deployed troops, including food and medical services, and transportation of personnel and equipment.
The human costs of the Iraq War are even harder to track
The US invaded Iraq in 2003 on the belief that Saddam Hussein had, or was attempting to make, “weapons of mass destruction” and that Iraq’s government had connections to various terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda. Although the invasion initially had overwhelming support from the American public and the approval of Congress, it is now considered one of the greatest foreign policy blunders in US history.
The Costs of War Project believes calculating the total costs of war — economic, political, and human — is important to ensure that Americans can make educated choices about war-related policies.
“War is expensive — in terms of lives lost, physical damage to people and property, mental trauma to soldiers and war-zone inhabitants, and in terms of money,” Cost of War researcher Heidi Peltier wrote.
The Pentagon originally requested less than billion of that amount for Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq and Syria — however, the Crawford believes that budget may be blown after more troops were sent into a war zone that was meant to be winding down.