US in a hurry to question special operations in Africa - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

US in a hurry to question special operations in Africa

The deaths of four U.S. Special Forces soldiers in Niger last month have raised questions about America’s role in the fight against violent extremism in a sparsely populated region of Africa.


Before the October attack, in which at least four Nigerien soldiers were also killed, some members of Congress said they were aware of U.S. operations in Niger, but others — including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) — said they did not know U.S. troops were on the ground in Niger.

U.S. involvement includes more than 800 troops, according to Pentagon officials. There are also two drone bases in the country.

US in a hurry to question special operations in Africa
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaks with reporters about recent military operations in Niger Oct. 23, 2017, at the Pentagon. (DoD photo by Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley)

Niger and Burkina Faso want the U.S. to do more to support local governments in their fight against extremism, mainly by funding a new regional task force. The first-year operating budget for the five-nation force has been projected at $500 million. The United States is considering making a contribution of $60 million.

A decade of involvement

The heightened U.S. presence in the Sahel dates back to at least 2007, when the Pentagon established the United States Africa Command, AFRICOM. The command, based in Stuttgart, Germany, works with regional partners in Africa to strengthen security and stability. Since at least 2013, U.S. forces have conducted missions to train, advise, and assist in Niger, collaborating with local authorities to clamp down on armed extremists.

Niger has been a particularly important strategic partner in the region. During the Obama administration, the U.S. built drone bases in the capital, Niamey, and in the northern city of Agadez.

“Because the government of Niger has been a strong ally to the counterterrorism efforts, it’s been natural for the United States to station its counterterrorism forces in that country,” said Lisa Mueller, an assistant professor of political science at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota.

But the Green Berets’ deaths have brought new scrutiny to U.S. partnerships in the Sahel, and it is unclear how — or if — the Trump administration might shift its policy in the region.

US in a hurry to question special operations in Africa
A US Army Special Forces weapons sergeant observes as a Nigerien soldier bounds forward while practicing buddy team movement drills during Exercise Flintlock 2017 in Diffa, Niger, March 11, 2017. (Army photo by Spc. Zayid Ballesteros.)

Some activists and U.S. lawmakers are concerned that some regional partners have authoritarian governments. Even Niger, said Brandon Kendhammer, an associate professor and director of the International Development Studies Program at Ohio University, is “problematically democratic.”

Still, Kendhammer characterized U.S. involvement as a net positive. “It’s pretty clear that these investments do make a real difference in the ability of the region to provide its own security,” he said.

Seeking input has been key to that success, according to Kendhammer. Despite perceptions among some observers that AFRICOM works unilaterally, the command has a track record of seeking local expertise and wide-ranging perspectives, Kendhammer said.

Green Beret deaths

Pentagon officials expect to complete their investigation into the Niger attack in January.

Based on what is now known, the U.S. soldiers killed last month were involved in exactly the kind of work that troops stationed in the Sahel undertake, Kendhammer said.

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

A big part of that role involves training local forces via workshops and fieldwork. Training can cover everything from basic operations to advanced tactics, including rapid response to terrorist attacks. To maximize their impact, the U.S. follows a “train the trainer” model, Kendhammer said, working with elite local forces who, in turn, share knowledge and skills.

No one has claimed responsibility for the October attack, but the Pentagon suspects possible involvement by militants affiliated with the Islamic State group, one of several extremist organizations operating in the Sahel.

That presence typically involves local militants who pledge allegiance to an international organization like IS or al-Qaida. Such an affiliation might signal tenuous ties — occasional mention in an IS publication, for example — or ongoing communication with the broader network.

Either way, affiliating with an established terrorist organization can be more pragmatic than ideological. According to Kendhammer, the particular group alleged to be behind the Niger attack was previously affiliated with al-Qaeda and switched in 2015 or 2016 to find a better strategic partner.

The tactics employed by local militants hinge on undermining U.S. efforts. As VOA previously reported, it is likely that villagers in Tongo Tongo, where last month’s attack occurred, helped lure U.S. and Nigerien forces into a trap. The villagers’ willingness to assist militant groups reflects concerted efforts within those factions to build trust with local populations while fomenting contempt for America.

US in a hurry to question special operations in Africa
Tongo Tongo in Niger. (image Google Maps)

Daily Beast contributor Philip Obaji Jr. reported this month that residents of Tongo Tongo blamed the U.S. for a 2016 grenade attack that killed six children. No evidence has linked the U.S. to the incident, but local militant groups have pushed the narrative of an American-led slaughter to “win the hearts and minds of the local population,” Obaji wrote.

Also Read: Pentagon identifies 3 Bragg soldiers killed in Niger ambush — 4th found dead

Financial constraints

Governments in the Sahel say they need far more funding to carry out critical missions tied to two task forces: the newly-formed G5 counter-terrorism force and the Multinational Joint Task Force, a longstanding effort based in Chad that has been revitalized to fight Boko Haram.

Burkina Faso’s minister of foreign affairs, Alpha Barry, told VOA’s French to Africa service this month that the G5 force needs more help from the U.S., whose recent pledge will assist regional militaries but not the G5, according to Barry.

Despite its bases and troop deployments, U.S. investment in the Sahel, particularly in Mali and Niger, has so far been eclipsed, both financially and militarily, by the EU and France, Mueller said.

Local solutions

Concerns about lack of funding and efforts to demonize the U.S. may have a common solution: more local initiatives and buy-in. But bringing those solutions to fruition is easier said than done.

“In U.S. government discourse about West Africa, [we tend] to talk about the need for everything to be regionally oriented and for everything to be an African solution to an African problem. And those are good ideas in principle, but they don’t always translate directly into obvious policy,” Kendhammer said. “Not every regional initiative is going to be the right regional initiative. Not every local solution is going to be the local solution that’s actually going to solve the problem because countries have different interests.”

Read More: This timeline shows how the Niger operation went down

In the end, countries’ interests will dictate how well a solution works. In the Sahel, that’s complicated by a diverse host of local players, each with its own economic and security concerns.

For Niger, fighting extremism is less about combating a homegrown threat and more about securing its borders. “It might be tempting to look at Niger – a country that is approximately 99 percent Muslim in its population – and assume that Nigeriens are radicalizing. And as far as I can tell, that’s just not the case,” Mueller said.

Instead, threats have spilled into the country from all sides, putting Niger in the crosshairs.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Navy veteran reportedly arrested for ricin poisoning

The suspect behind several suspicious letters that were sent to the White House and the Pentagon in early October 2018 has reportedly been taken into custody.

Authorities took the suspect, previously identified as a former Navy sailor, into custody Oct. 3, 2018, CNN first reported, adding that a crew has started clearing the suspect’s residence.



The envelopes, which were intercepted by the Secret Service and the Pentagon’s mail room staff, reportedly tested positive for ricin, a potentially deadly substance, especially in a pure, powdered form. The letters sent to the Department of Defense were addressed to Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson. The letter sent to the White House was addressed to President Donald Trump.

US in a hurry to question special operations in Africa

The White House.

(Photo by Daniel Schwen)

The suspect was identified by a return address on one of the letters sent to the Pentagon, Fox News reported on Oct. 3, 2018.

While the FBI has been spearheading the investigation, the Pentagon has been providing regular updates to reporters.

On Oct. 1, 2018, the Pentagon Force Protection Agency detected a suspicious substance during mail screening at the Pentagon’s remote screening facility,” DoD spokesman Col. Rob Manning told Business Insider in an emailed statement, further explaining that “all USPS mail received at the Pentagon mail screening facility yesterday is currently under quarantine and poses no threat to Pentagon personnel.”

Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White provided additional information on Oct. 3, 2018, revealing that at least one of the letters sent to the DoD contained castor seeds, from which ricin is derived.

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

Articles

The controversy surrounding Guantanamo Bay has existed longer than you think

US in a hurry to question special operations in Africa
Wikipedia


Early Tuesday morning, Obama announced a four-part plan to ensure the closing of Guantanamo Bay, a goal that has eluded the president since he promised to shutter the facility during his 2008 campaign.

The plan would bring some of the 91 remaining detainees to maximum security prisons in the United States, while others would be transferred to foreigns countries. Although Obama called on Congress to lift a ban barring the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the U.S., the White House has also left open the possibility of unilateral action should Republican lawmakers refuse to cooperate.

“The plan we’re putting forward today isn’t just about closing the facility at Guantanamo,” Obama said to the nation from the Roosevelt Room. “This is about closing a chapter in our history.”

With history in mind, it seems significant that the speech was given on this day, in this venue. Exactly 113 years ago, following the Spanish-American War, Teddy Roosevelt signed an agreement with Cuba to lease parts of Guantanamo Bay to the United States for use as a naval station.

This agreement was actually a follow-up to the Platt Amendment, a 1901 resolution that dictated seven conditions for the withdrawal of United States troops from Cuba, along with an eighth condition stipulating that Cuba include these terms in their new constitution. The amendment gave the United States full control over a 45 square-mile portion of Guantanamo Bay, in order to “enable the United States to maintain the independence of Cuba.” The deal was officiated on behalf of the Cubans by Tomás Estrada Palma, an American citizen who would become the first president of Cuba.

A cartoon protesting the Platt Amendment | Wikipedia A cartoon protesting the Platt Amendment | Wikipedia

Three decades later, the 1934 Cuban–American Treaty of Relations repealed most provisions of the Platt Amendment as part of FDR’s “good neighbor policy.” The effort, ostensibly intended to give the Cuban government greater sovereignty, made the lease on Guantanamo permanent unless the United States abandoned the base or both countries agreed to terminate the agreement. The new treaty also updated the yearly lease payment from $2000 in U.S. gold coins to $4035 in U.S. dollars. This amount has remained unchanged in the 82 years since.

Since the Cuban revolution of 1959, the Castro government has cashed only one of these checks (this one supposedly by accident), keeping the rest untouched as a means of protest against what they consider an “illegal” occupation. According to the U.S., cashing even one check renders the treaty valid.

The use of Guantanamo as a prison began in 1991, following the overthrow of Haiti’s first democratically-elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. While the CIA secretly leant support to death squads killing Aristide’s supporters, the White House announced that it would be using Guantanamo as a “tent shelter” for those fleeing violence in Haiti. Of the 30,000 refugees interned at Guantanamo, those who presented discipline problems were held on a site that would later become Camp Xray, also known as the Guantanamo detention camp.

Following Bush Sr.’s disputed decision to send the exiles back to war-torn Haiti, the Supreme Court ruled that the Haitians were not entitled to U.S. rights because Guantanamo Bay fell under the sovereignty of Cuba. Interestingly, this rationale for the United States not technically having sovereignty over the land would come up again, twelve years later, as George W. Bush’s administration argued that Guantanamo prisoners should not be constitutionally entitled to habeas review.

This is all to say that, even before it became an international symbol for the War on Terror, the policies leading to and enforcing the U.S. ownership of Guantanamo Bay have been extremely controversial. As renewed attention is focused on the use of Guantanamo as a terrorist detention center, it’s well worth considering how this small Cuban harbor became a U.S.-run prison in the first place.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is how long South Korea thinks it will take to conquer the North

The U.S. and South Korea are developing new wartime operations plans to achieve rapid victory over the North should conflict occur, the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff revealed Monday.


“We are drawing up a new operational plan while re-estimating overall conditions, including our capabilities in accordance with North Korea’s new advanced threats,” Gen. Jeong Kyeong-doo said, amid reports that previous war plans were pilfered by Pyongyang’s hackers, according to NK News.

The South Korean military is still unsure exactly what North Korea got its hands on, but among the stolen military documents are believed to be joint war plans and Seoul defense strategies. These plans were created several years ago, and North Korea’s capabilities have dramatically improved since then, as the regime now has an intercontinental ballistic missile and a staged thermonuclear bomb designed to level cities.

The new strategic plans are intended to secure victory for the allies in the shortest possible time while minimizing casualties. The plan involves “incapacitating core targets early on” while going on the offensive and striking deep into North Korean territory, according to a Yonhap News Agency report.

US in a hurry to question special operations in Africa
The Yalu River is a natural and political border between North Korea and China.

“We will reinforce the intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) assets to detect signs of the enemy’s provocations,” the general said. “We will also expand all-weather mid and long-range high-power precision strike capabilities to neutralize the enemy’s asymmetric warfare capabilities in the early stages.”

“This concept secures the initiative by going on the offense early and establishes conditions for unification by rapidly expanding the battlefield deep into the enemy’s territory,” he explained.

The goal is to secure victory within one month, should conflict break out on the peninsula.

The South also intends to boost its three-stage defense strategy, which consists of the Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation (KMPR) system, the Kill Chain pre-emptive strike program, and Korea Air and Missile Defense (KAMD) system, in concert with the U.S.

US in a hurry to question special operations in Africa
KCNA photo

North Korea naturally has its own wartime plans.

Although the exact details are unknown outside of the rogue regime, there is some evidence that the North would attempt to delay American intervention for at least three days to take all control of all of Korea. Some suspect that North Korea might use its intermediate and long-range missiles to keep the U.S. at bay, hindering America’s ability to reinforce the troops fighting in South Korea.

Whether or not the Kim regime is ultimately interested in war is debatable, but the prevailing theory is that Kim Jong Un is developing a nuclear deterrent for regime survival, a goal which cannot be achieved through war, as the conventional and nuclear forces of the allies would almost certainly overwhelm any capabilities possessed by the regime.

Articles

Coalition launches 84 strikes against ISIS as Iraqi army squeezes Mosul

Coalition air power had a busy Veterans’ Day Weekend while attacking the Islamic State of Iraqi and Syria, also known as ISIS.


US in a hurry to question special operations in Africa
A U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker from the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron refuels a F-15 Strike Eagle in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Nathan Lipscomb)

Across Iraq and Syria, 84 airstrikes were carried out against the terrorist group, 27 of which were around the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, which Iraqi forces have been trying to liberate from ISIS since October.

The attacks took place as Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited the region. Iraqi forces are moving towards the city, in an offensive expected to take months, according to a DOD News article.

“In my judgment, what Mosul does is reduce ISIL inside of Iraq back to an insurgency with terrorist actions and get them to a level where Iraqi security forces with a minimum level of outside support will be able to manage the violence inside Iraq,” Dunford said. “It denies ISIL freedom of movement and sanctuary inside Iraq.”

The terrorist group was in retreat as their eastern defenses around Mosul collapsed, and the Iraqi Army claimed to have secured the Intisar district of the city, and was moving into the neighborhood of Salaam.

As Coalition forces move in, there have been reports of increasing atrocities carried out by ISIS. According to VOA news, one video released by the terrorist group showed four children — none older than 14 — being forced to execute alleged spies. ISIS had developed “hand grenade” drones and was using them around Mosul.

In other news about the fight against ISIS, the BBC reported that ISIS carried out a half-dozen bombings around Baghdad, and a tweet from CombatAir reported that a Russian MiG-29K Fulcrum operating from the Admiral Kuznetsov was lost.

According to a Nov. 11 release, 24 air strikes were carried out by coalition forces, seven of which took place near Mosul. The Mosul-area strikes destroyed or damaged seven mortar systems, an artillery system, three vehicles, and two weapon caches. Other targets hit that day included a command and control node, oil production facilities, three supply routes, fighting positions, heavy machine guns, a storage container, and a bulldozer.

A Department of Defense release on Nov. 12 reported that five out of 23 strikes that day took place near Mosul. Those five strikes hit a fighting position; five mortar systems; two tunnel entrances; two heavy machines guns; four vehicles; a vehicle bomb; and a weapons cache. The other 18 strikes blasted a number of other targets, including a headquarters building; six oil wellheads; five fighting positions; and six ISIS “tactical units.

Mighty Moments

NFL Falcon is sending military widow and son to the Super Bowl

Atlanta Falcon offensive lineman Ben Garland knows the meaning of service, but he took the NFL’s Salute to Service program to the next level.


Each year for Veteran’s Day, the NFL pays tribute to our nation’s servicemembers in a number of ways, but one of the most meaningful is during November’s Salute to Service. Players wear the initials of the fallen on their uniforms, the NFL donates money to non-profit organizations like the Pat Tillman Foundation or TAPS, and military families are invited to meet their favorite teams and experience some VIP fun.

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3 year-old Cooper Dean with his new BFF, Ben Garland. (Image via TAPS)

A captain in the Colorado Air National Guard, the Veteran’s Day events are particularly meaningful to Garland. In 2017, he wore the initials of Air Force veteran Robert Dean, who took his own life in June 2016. At the game, Garland met Dean’s wife, Katie, and their 3 year-old son, Cooper, and the meeting left a lasting impression on him.

Related: Here’s how the Atlanta Falcons honored fallen heroes

On Dec. 11, Garland was honored for his community service with his team’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award and he decided to invite Katie and Cooper as his guests — what they didn’t know was that he had a big surprise in store for them.

US in a hurry to question special operations in Africa
Ben Garland surprises military widow Katie Dean and her son, Cooper, with Super Bowl tickets. (Image via TAPS)

When accepting his award, Garland invited them onstage and presented them with tickets to the 2018 Super Bowl.

“No matter what I’m doing, I give my full effort to that,” said Garland in an interview with CNN.

US in a hurry to question special operations in Africa
3 year-old Cooper Dean wears a helmet with his father’s initials, borrowed from Atlanta Falcon Ben Garland. (Image via TAPS)

Whether in the military, on the field, or helping others, it’s clear Garland lives by the Air Force Core Value of “Service Before Self.” From visiting cancer patients in hospitals, to fighting human trafficking with SōDE Solution, to helping families like the Deans, Garland proves how impactful service after service can be.

“This incredible connection with Ben Garland and the Dean family is just extraordinary and means so much to Katie and Cooper,” said Diana Hosford, vice president of sports and entertainment at TAPS. “Ben being in the Air Force just like their fallen hero and also being so kind, caring and thoughtful just like the man they loved and lost, makes this bond even stronger.”
MIGHTY CULTURE

WATCH: As death toll rises, Italian Air Force delivers hope

As haunting images from Italy of overcrowded emergency rooms and horror stories of Coronavirus flood social media, the Italian Air Force flew with a message of strength for her people. It was a reminder of pride for the country, unity in the face of grave danger and a prayer of resilience for a country beleaguered by an enemy we haven’t seen before: COVID-19.

Set to the backdrop of Giacomo Puccini’s ‘Nessum Dorma,’ performed by Luciano Pavarotti, the flyover is beautiful, chilling and more than anything … full of hope. Translated to English, the last lyrics of the song are, “I will prevail. I will prevail. I will prevail.” You will, Italy. And America will, too.

Watch the flyover:


www.youtube.com


MIGHTY TACTICAL

Army says artificial intelligence could be a game changer

The Army is looking at artificial intelligence to increase lethality, and a senior Army official said the key to A.I. is keeping a proper level of decision-making in the hands of soldiers.

Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology Dr. Bruce Jette spoke about artificial intelligence, modernization and acquisition reform Jan. 10, 2019, at a Defense Writers Group breakfast.


Jette said response times against enemy fire could be a crucial element in determining the outcome of a battle, and A.I. could definitely assist with that.

“A.I. is critically important,” he said. “You’ll hear a theme inside of ASA(ALT), ‘time is a weapon.’ That’s one of the aspects that we’re looking at with respect to A.I.”

US in a hurry to question special operations in Africa

Dr. Bruce Jette, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, discusses artificial intelligence and modernization with reporters at the Defense Writer’s Group breakfast Jan. 10, 2019.

(Photo by Joe Lacden)

Army Under Secretary Ryan McCarthy has been very active in positioning the Army so that it can pick up such critical new technology, Jette said.

Artificial intelligence technology will play a crucial role in the service’s modernization efforts, Jette said, and should incrementally increase response times.

“Let’s say you fire a bunch of artillery at me and I can shoot those rounds down and you require a man in the loop for every one of the shots,” Jette said. “There’s not enough men to put in the loop to get them done fast enough,” but he added AI could be the answer.

He said the service must weigh how to create a command and control system that will judiciously take advantage of the crucial speed that technology provides.

A.I. research and development is being boosted by creation of the Army Futures Command, Jette said.

Smoother process

One year after the Army revamped itself under the guidance of Secretary Mark T. Esper and Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley, the service has seen significant improvements in the acquisition process, Jette said.

The Army identified six modernization priorities and created new cross-functional teams under Futures Command, to help speed acquisition of critical systems.

One change involves senior leaders meeting each Monday afternoon to assess and evaluate a different modernization priority. Jette said those meetings have resulted in a singular focus on modernization programs.

US in a hurry to question special operations in Africa

Artificial intelligence, robotics and advanced manufacturing were the theme of the April-June 2017 issue of Army ALT magazine and its cover art is shown here.

(US Army photo)

“There’s much more of an integrated, collegial, cooperative approach to things,” Jette said.

The service took a hard look at the requirements process for the Army’s integrated systems. This enabled the Army to apply a holistic approach in order to develop the diverse range of capabilities necessary to maintain overmatch against peer adversaries, Jette said. One result is, the Army will deliver new air defense systems by December 2019, he said.

“I don’t deliver you a Patriot battery anymore,” Jette said. “I deliver you missile systems. I deliver you radars. I deliver you a command and control architecture.”

Now, any of the command and control components will be able to fire missiles against peer adversaries and can also leverage any of the sensor systems to employ an effector against a threat, he said.

“We’re looking at the overall threat environment,” Jette said. “Threats have become much more complicated. It’s not just tactical ballistic missiles, or jets or helicopters. Now we’ve got UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), I’ve got swarms. I’ve got cruise missiles, rockets, artillery, and mortars. I’ve got to find a way to integrate all this.”

A retired Army colonel, reporting directly to Esper, Jette provides oversight for the development and acquisition of Army weapons systems. He said that his role in the modernization efforts is to find a way to align procurement with improved requirements development processes.

This article originally appeared on the United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

Articles

VA chief takes aim at veteran homelessness

The new Veterans Affairs chief shares the goal set by former President Barack Obama’s administration of ending homelessness among veterans, but says it’ll take longer than his predecessor predicted.


Reducing the number of homeless veterans nationwide from roughly 40,000 to 10,000 or 15,000 is an “achievable goal” for President Donald Trump’s administration, VA Secretary David Shulkin told The Associated Press during a visit to Rhode Island on Friday.

“This is a continuous problem of people finding themselves in economically difficult situations and then being out on the street or going from shelter to shelter,” Shulkin said.

Homelessness among veterans has been effectively ended in Virginia, Connecticut and Delaware and in more than 40 communities. The outgoing head of the VA, Robert McDonald, said in January that “we should be there” nationwide within a couple of years.

US in a hurry to question special operations in Africa
Secretary of Veterans Affairs, the Honorable David J. Shulkin, visits the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, April 27. Shulkin, who visited the medical center for the first time, spoke with various providers throughout the facilities to learn about the medical care given at the hospital. (Photo by Megan Garcia, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Command Communications)

Shulkin, who formerly was VA undersecretary of health under Obama, said on Friday, “We’re still looking at a multi-year process.”

While advocates are encouraged to hear Shulkin’s commitment, some wish he was more ambitious.

“My personal take is, the VA secretary is being cautiously optimistic about what can be achieved and not wanting to kind of set the administration up for a missed goal,” said Lisa Vukov, who works to prevent and end homelessness in the Omaha, Nebraska, metropolitan area. “I’m a firm believer in setting your goals big because you achieve more that way.”

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, said veteran homelessness can be ended during the Trump administration.

“There’s no reason we can’t achieve it if enough resources are dedicated to the fight,” said Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

Shulkin said some veterans offered housing by the VA prefer other alternatives and high real estate prices and a shortage of available housing in some parts of the country make it hard to house veterans there. He sees the biggest challenge in Los Angeles.

Democratic Mayor Eric Garcetti said homelessness in Los Angeles is a long-term crisis, but the city has housed more than 8,000 veterans since 2014 and he’s fighting to ensure all veterans have a safe place to call home. Los Angeles voters approved a bond in November to raise $1.2 billion for up to 10,000 permanent units.

Navy veteran Chris N. Cardenas said there are some veterans who refuse help or have trouble accessing benefits because of mental illness or substance abuse issues, but 40,000 homeless veterans is far too many.

“That’s a very high number,” Cardenas said. “It can get down to zero for the ones that want the help.”

Cardenas, 52, said he stopped working as a deliveryman in Santa Fe because of problems with his right knee in 2013 and became homeless after he used up his savings. He moved into an apartment in the Santa Fe area in 2016 with the help of a VA grant program and is now a student at the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos.

“I’m at a loss for words because it’s so great,” he said. “It makes you feel like a functioning person in society.”

To get homeless veterans into permanent homes, the Obama administration used a program that was created in 2008 and combines rental assistance from the Department of Housing and Urban Development with case management and clinical services from the VA, so-called HUD-VASH vouchers. Some areas of the country currently have a waiting list for a voucher, including Los Angeles.

While programs for helping homeless veterans received funding increases in fiscal 2017, there’s less money for new HUD-VASH vouchers. There’s $40 million available, compared to $60 million for new HUD-VASH vouchers in 2016 and $75 million in 2015, according to HUD.

“We urge the VA to prioritize finishing the job and I have absolute confidence the new secretary has that commitment,” said Chris Ko, director of homeless initiatives for the United Way of Greater Los Angeles. “We need to see that commitment exercised in additional federal resources.”

Shulkin said he’s committed to maintaining the voucher program and continuing strategies that are working, such as housing people first and then pointing them toward help to confront the root cause of their homelessness.

Articles

The Air Force is joining the race to bring back American rocket superiority

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Flickr


For the last decade, Russian-made engines have been propelling US national security satellites into space.

While this has proven to be a good approach in the past, the time has come for a new breed of rocket engine that’s American-made.

On Feb. 29, the US Air Force — who runs the national security launch missions — announcedthat it will invest up to $738 million to put an end to America’s reliance on the Russian-made RD-180 rocket engines.

RD-180 engines currently power the Atlas V rocket, which is owned and run by the United Launch Alliance (ULA) aerospace company.

And over the last 10 years, the Atlas V has helped ferry expensive and sensitive national security payloads into space for the Air Force.

But in recent years, as political tensions grew between the US and Russia, ULA’s use of the RD-180 engines has come under fire.

After the Crimean crisis in 2014,Congress called to permanently terminate the Air Force’s reliance on Russian-made rocket engines by building a program that would see functional, American-made rocket engines by the end of 2019.

Now is the right time

As part of its announcement on Feb. 29, the Air Force said it will award ULA up to $202 million, which will go toward the construction of ULA’s new Vulcan rocket — scheduled to launch for the first time in 2019.

Vulcan is expected to run on rocket engines designed and constructed by the American aerospace company Blue Origin, which is owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

US in a hurry to question special operations in Africa
Blue Origin

But Blue Origin isn’t the only company working on taking back America’s role as a leader in rocket propulsion systems.

In direct competition is the rocket propulsion manufacturer company Aerojet Rocketdyne, which just got a major vote of confidence.

The rest of that $738 million the Air Force is willing to invest — which equates to a whopping $536 million — was dedicated to Aerojet Rocketdyne.

Right now, Aerojet is constructing its AR1 rocket engine, which the company says could be used to propel the Atlas V, Vulcan, as well as other rockets currently under development.

While ULA has contracted with Blue Origin to build its BE-4 rocket engines for the Vulcan rocket, ULA also has a contract with Aerojet, as back up.

If Blue Origin’s efforts to build the BE-4 rocket engine falter, then ULA will turn to Aerojet’s AR1 to power the Vulcan.

ULA and Aerojet have until Dec. 31, 2019 to design, build, and test its new engines.

“While the RD-180 engine has been a remarkable success with more than 60 successful launches, we believe now is the right time for American investment in a domestic engine,” Tory Bruno, ULA’s president and chief executive officer, said in a release.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Army wants to see ‘explosive power’ in new physical fitness test

The general overseeing fitness for the U.S. Army hopes to see the proposed Army Combat Readiness Test approved next spring and, in time, become the service’s standard physical fitness test of record that all soldiers must pass.


The service is in the middle of the Army Combat Readiness Test, or ACRT, pilot, exposing soldiers to the six-event fitness test designed to better prepare them for the rigors of combat than the current three-event Army Physical Fitness Test, or APFT.

The ACRT was developed, at the request of Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, to better prepare soldiers for the physical challenges of the service’s Warrior Tasks and Battle Drills — the list of key skills all soldiers are taught to survive in combat.

US in a hurry to question special operations in Africa

“As we look at physical fitness, we now know in order to be physically fit in support of the Warrior Tasks and Battle Drills — what we know we need to do for combat readiness — we have to be physically fit across five fitness domains,” said Maj. Gen. Malcolm Frost, who oversees the ARCT as commanding general of the U.S. Army Center of Initial Military Training.

Only two of those domains — cardiovascular endurance and muscular endurance — are supported by the current APFT, which consist of push-ups, sit-ups and a two-mile run, Frost said.

“There are three domains of physical fitness that are not addressed by that test but are nonetheless necessary … and those are muscular strength, explosive power, and speed and agility,” he said.

‘We Aren’t Where We Want to Be’

“We have world-class equipment … but do we have world-class soldiers that are world-class athletes at world-class level fitness? The answer is probably not one that we would want, meaning if you look at a lot of indicators from an individual physical readiness fitness standpoint, we aren’t where we want to be,” Frost said.

In 2016, the Army had 43,000 soldiers who were non-deployable, he said, adding that in fiscal terms, that equates to a loss of about $3 billion.

“Another staggering figure,” Frost said, is that about 78,000 soldiers were above a body-mass index of 30 percent.

“Musculoskeletal injuries about 500,000 a year; 10 million limited-duty days per year — that’s nearly $1 billion,” Frost said.

“To put it in fiscal terms is fine, but more importantly it is the lack of readiness due to some sort of physical fitness or readiness aspect — whether it’s injury, whether it’s being overweight or whether it is being non-deployable for a medical reason,” he said.

US in a hurry to question special operations in Africa
Sgt. Jared Bruce, a combat engineer from the 36th Engineer Brigade, flips a tire as part of the Soldier Readiness Test during the 2017 Forces Command Best Warrior Competition at Fort Bragg, N.C., Aug. 20. | U.S. Army photo by Spc. Hubert D. Delany III

The ACRT is made up of six events:

Strength Deadlift:

This muscular strength test mimics movements required to safely and effectively lift heavy loads from the ground, then jump, bound and tolerate landing. The exercise is a strong predictor of a soldier’s ability to lift and carry a casualty on a litter and to lift and move personnel and equipment.

Standing Power Throw:

Soldiers toss a 10-pound ball backward as far as possible to test muscular explosive power that may be needed to lift themselves or a fellow soldier over an obstacle or to move rapidly across uneven terrain.

T-Push-Up:

In this event, soldiers start in the prone position and do a traditional push-up but, when at the down position, they move their arms outward and then back in to do another push-up. It is a test of soldier’s ability to push an opponent away during man-to-man contact, push a vehicle when it is stuck, and push up from cover or off the ground during evade and maneuver.

Sprint/Drag/Carry:

As they dash 25 meters five times up and down a lane, soldiers will perform sprints, drag a sled weighing 90 pounds, and then hand-carry two 40-pound kettle bell weights. This can simulate pulling a battle buddy out of harm’s way, moving quickly to take cover, or carrying ammunition to a fighting position or vehicle.

Leg Tuck:

Similar to a pull-up, soldiers lift their legs up and down to touch their knees or thighs to their elbows as many times as they can. This exercise strengthens the core muscles since it doubles the amount of force required compared to a traditional sit-up.

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Sgt. Michael Smith, a multichannel transmission systems operator from the 58th Signal Company, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), drags a simulated casualty as part of the Soldier Readiness Test during the 2017 Forces Command Best Warrior Competition at Fort Bragg, N.C., Aug. 20 | U.S. Army photo by Spc. Hubert D. Delany III

Two-Mile Run:

This is the same running event as on the current APFT. In the ACRT, run scores are expected to be a bit slower due to all the other strenuous activity.

Part of the ACRT pilot, which is expected to continue into 2018, is working out how leaders will administer the six-event tests.

“Part of the challenge is if we are going to do six events, there is a scope and scale challenge to this — you can’t take a week to test a battalion,” Frost said. “You have got to be able to move a company through at the same pace you move a company through to do the APFT.”

There is also the challenge of figuring out the correct sequence to the events, he said.

“We have been able to test 50 soldiers in 75 minutes using 10 lanes, so this is doable; it’s executable with the right equipment,” Frost said.

The plan, he said, is to present the data collected so far in the pilot to Milley “in the next couple of months” and hopefully get a decision to move forward.

If approved, program officials will finalize the test protocol and other details before going back to Milley sometime next spring for final approval to start rolling the ACRT out in 2019 so soldiers can start training for it, Frost said.

“There has got to be a transition period,” Frost said. “You have to give them time to ramp up to it.”

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Noncommissioned officers and Soldiers take a break to recover after completing the Soldier Readiness Test during the 2017 Forces Command Best Warrior Competition at Fort Bragg, N.C., Aug. 20. | U.S. Army photo by Spc Liem Huynh

Soldier Performance Training Centers

As a simultaneous effort, he said, the Army will launch a pilot program next year to develop “soldier performance training centers,” which feature the right equipment and resources to help soldiers prepare for the ACRT.

The plan is to put these centers in gyms at three installations and staff them with experts such as trainers, physical therapists and nutrition counselors. Eventually, centers would be established all over the Army, Frost said.

The centers will also need equipment for soldiers to train for the ACRT — pull-up bars, sleds for dragging weight, deadlift bars, weights and medicine balls.

A battalion set of this equipment to create 10 test lanes retails for about $12,000, but the Army will likely be able to get equipment for less, Frost said.

“If we buy this at scale, it will be much, much, much less, and a lot of this equipment is already out there so we have to kind of inventory what we have and then figure out what the need is,” he said.

“And that doesn’t mean every battalion is going to get it,” Frost said. “You may have a brigade set and every battalion is not going to take the ACRT on the same day, so there are a lot of things we can look at.”

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Cpl. Mark Combs, an explosive ordnance disposal specialist from 52nd Ordnance Group, participates in the obstacle avoidance challenge as part of the Soldier Readiness Test during the 2017 Forces Command Best Warrior Competition at Fort Bragg, N.C., Aug. 20. | U.S. Army photo by Spc Liem Huynh

Transition Period

But there has to be a transition period before the ACRT can replace the APFT as the test of record, Frost said.

“Whether it is one year or two years, you train on one test — the other test is a test of record; maybe there is a transition period where both of them can be a test of record,” he said. “And eventually, you fade the APFT out — kind of like you did the gray PT uniform — and then the ACRT is the enduring test of record.”

There also has to be time for the Army to figure out the policy, legal and administrative factors involved with instituting a new test of record since there will be punitive and administrative measures that occur for soldiers who are not able to pass it.

“We are going to need feedback from the field, but my gut tells me before it becomes the test of record, it’s probably two years — so one year to train for it. Another year, maybe it could be a test of record maybe as an option with the APFT,” Frost said. “Then at the end of two years, the APFT is faded away, and the ACRT is the only test of record.”

Articles

General Mattis told a touching story about his 94-year-old mother at his confirmation hearing

In his opening statement at his confirmation hearing Thursday, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis said it would be an honor to serve again, mentioned myriad challenges in the world, and brought up a touching personal story about his mother — showing how his family’s military ties and career have come full circle.


“Finally, on a personal note, I’ve worked at the Pentagon twice in my career,” Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “A few people may know I’m not the first person in my family to do so, when, in the wartime spring of 1942, my mother was 20 years-old and working in military intelligence. She was part of the first government employees to move into the still unfinished Pentagon.”

He continued:

“She had come to America as an infant and lives today on the banks of the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest. Little could she imagine in her youth that more than 90 years after she immigrated to this country and 75 years after she first walked through the doors of the War Department, one of her sons would be sitting here in front of you today.”

Mattis is right about that. A neighbor and close friend of his mother in Richland, Washington told a reporter in December that she was amazed at what he had accomplished in his career, and apparently his mother said “I can’t even believe he’s my son.”

Neither his mother nor other family members made the trip to Washington, D.C. to see the 66-year-old retired general testify. When asked by Republican Sen. John McCain whether he wanted to recognize any family members in the audience, Mattis quipped: “Thank you Senator. They are safely west of the Rockies.”

Before Mattis spoke, former Secretary of Defense William Cohen testified in support of the general and also mentioned his 94-year-old mother, who he said he was a “devoted son” to. Cohen also mentioned Mattis remains a member of a local food bank in the area.

There were many other big takeaways from the roughly three-hour hearing, which included Mattis’ strong views on Russia, his insistence on being more aggressive against ISIS, and the need for a clear cyberwarfare doctrine.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Meet Mighty Milspouse Ashley Keller

Ashley Keller was frustrated. Why was every prenatal workout she found on YouTube too slow or beyond extreme and not safe for her baby?

The triathlete Army officer was no stranger to fitness. Upon her graduation from West Point, she was offered the opportunity to train for the Olympics, but turned it down to pursue serving her country in a traditional way.


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“My husband Luke got his mid-tour leave from a year long deployment and a government paid ticket to anywhere in the world,” Keller explained. “He sacrificed that ticket on a flight to West Point, New York to support my graduation from the Academy. We got married two days later, honeymooned to Costa Rica and he flew back to Iraq and I headed to Fort Leonardwood for Engineer Officer Basic Training. The Army then gave me a choice: go be a platoon leader like I had spent the last four years at West Point preparing to do or be sponsored by the Army to train at the World Class Athlete Center in Colorado for the next triathlon Olympics. [Training in Colorado] would mean not serving our country as I hoped to do, and it would post me across the country from Fort Bragg, where my new husband was stationed. I also knew one injury in triathlon [training] could foil all Olympic prospects and didn’t want to sacrifice my marriage for it.”

Keller had forfeited her Olympic dreams in favor of service, but never sacrificed her love of sport, representing the U.S. Army in NBC’s Spartan: Ultimate Team Challenge and competing in the notoriously grueling Ironman races. When she became pregnant with her first baby, Keller longed for workouts that were challenging, yet effective.

“So I got certified and nerded out on scholarly articles about training,” Keller says. “I’d rush home over lunch breaks, change out of my Army uniform, and record ten to fifteen minute prenatal workouts with a cheap camera propped up on index cards on my countertop. I thought there might be some women out there who also wanted more challenging prenatal workouts.”

As it turns out, there were quite a few women. Keller quickly built a community of online followers and her passion for fitness and educating women online grew. After five and a half years of active duty service and a deployment to Afghanistan, she separated from the Army to pursue fitness full time and GlowBodyPT was born.

Today, Keller has an online following of more than 40,000 on social media and offers free workout videos on her Youtube channel, as well as customized plans through her website, featuring specialized workouts for prenatal and post-pregnancy.
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“A couple of months ago I launched my newest and favorite plan to date: The 10 Minute Plan,” Keller said. “It was a year in the making while my husband was deployed, raising a newborn and running GlowBodyPT.”

When asked why specifically targeting the mom community is so important, Keller smiled knowingly.

“Fitness does more than just make your body look good, it transforms how you feel about yourself,” she said. “Fitness empowers you to have patience, more energy and more drive, to pour into your marriage and your kids. Staged workout videos in white studios don’t resonate with me. When you follow my workout videos it’s like working out with a friend in your living room who says it how it is, teaches you how to train and makes the best use of every single minute of your time, because I know you don’t have time to waste.”

5 MIGHTY QUESTIONS

What piece of advice would you give to fellow military spouses?

Put yourself out there to make a couple of good friends every time you move. I tell my friends, “You are my people!” Give them your number and let them know, sincerely, you are here for them day or night no matter what they need. Follow through. Having your tribe and fueling those relationships is what makes the military community what it is.

What is your life motto?

God, use me for your purpose.

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What inspires you about the military community?

Only military families know the sacrifices we make as service members and spouses. How it feels to wonder if your spouse got back safe from a mission. Wondering if everybody is okay when there is a communications blackout. Missed holidays and birthdays. Lonely nights. Phone calls as you try to make conversation without talking about sensitive information related to your spouse’s everyday life. Consoling crying children who miss Daddy. I love the military community because there is a shared sense of respect, reverence, family and sacrifice.

What has been your toughest professional challenge?

I got my front teeth knocked out, elbow broken, wrist casted, stitches across my lips, chin and both palms during a Half Ironman bike crash a couple of years ago. The top four athletes racing all got rushed to the ER. The injuries lasted for months and I didn’t get permanent teeth for over a year. My husband was away at a military school when the crash happened and I came home the next day to two kids, one of which I was potty training and the other who put on my socks for me the next morning because it hurt to move my hands.

What’s your superpower?

I actually care about every single woman who does my plans, and her progress. Bigger companies just don’t have the capacity to pour into others at this level.