<![CDATA[Army Times]]>https://www.armytimes.comFri, 14 Jul 2023 04:18:09 +0000en1hourly1<![CDATA[House Dems bail on defense bill as GOP votes to repeal abortion policy]]>https://www.armytimes.com/congress/2023/07/13/house-dems-bail-on-defense-bill-as-gop-votes-to-repeal-abortion-policy/https://www.armytimes.com/congress/2023/07/13/house-dems-bail-on-defense-bill-as-gop-votes-to-repeal-abortion-policy/Thu, 13 Jul 2023 23:21:05 +0000WASHINGTON ― House Democrats are jumping ship on the traditionally bipartisan defense authorization bill after Republicans passed amendments overturning the Pentagon’s new abortion travel policy and restricting transgender medical care.

Republican leaders put the amendments to the fiscal 2024 National Defense Authorization Act on the floor to placate the Freedom Caucus, which had threatened to stall procedural votes on the $874 billion bill.

An amendment from Rep. Ronny Jackson, R-Texas, passed 221-213 to ban the military from providing troops with paid travel leave to receive abortions in states where it’s no longer legal. Another amendment from Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont., passed 222-211 to ban sex reassignment surgery and hormone therapy for transgender troops.

“It’s outrageous that a tiny minority of Republicans is getting to dictate what exact amendments come to the floor,” said Rep. James McGovern of Massachusetts, the top Democrat on the Rules Committee, which controls floor amendments. There are at least 45 members in the Freedom Caucus. McGovern accused Republicans of turning a “bipartisan bill to a hyper-partisan one by loading it up with every divisive social issue under the sun.”

After the amendments passed, Democrats who usually support the defense bill announced that they would now vote against final passage. The House’s No. 3 Democrat, Rep. Pete Aguilar of California, said he would vote against the final bill because of the amendments. Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee who helped usher it to the floor last month, told Defense News that he would now vote against it as well.

Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., a veteran and Armed Services Committee member supportive of the original bill, also vowed to vote no.

“I’m not going to support a bill that directly attacks the men and women who have sworn an oath to defend this country and give their life to this country,” said Crow. “I’m not going to bail Republicans out.”

The loss of Democratic support means Republicans can only afford a few defections within their party for final passage and rely on fiscal conservatives who typically oppose the defense bill. Earlier on Thursday, House Oversight Committee Republicans held a hearing hammering the Pentagon for its repeated failures to pass an audit, highlighting the growing clout among fiscal conservatives within the party.

But Rules Committee Chairman Tom Cole, R-Ark., told Defense News “I feel pretty good about where we’re at,” expressing optimism Republicans would stick together and pass the final bill in a vote expected on Friday.

The House Appropriations Committee advanced a separate defense spending bill in June over Democratic objections to similar language that would overturn the Pentagon’s abortion and transgender medical care policies. Should the House pass defense legislation overturning those policies, it will run into opposition from the Democratic-held Senate and the White House.

However, the Freedom Caucus failed to secure enough support to ban Ukraine military aid. An amendment from Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., to impose a blanket ban on all security aid to Kyiv failed 70-358.

A narrower provision from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., would have cut $300 million in long-term aid to Kyiv from the bill’s Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. The Taylor Greene amendment also failed 89-341.

The House also voted down 217-198 an amendment from Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., that would have undone the bill’s language restricting the Biden administration’s efforts to retire the B83 megaton gravity bomb, which is 80 to 100 times more powerful than the bomb the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima. Blumenauer’s amendment put him in line with the White House, which released a statement earlier this week asking Congress to remove the B83 language.

The House Rules Committee has put 370 amendments to the bill on the floor and votes are expected to continue through Friday.

Chip Somodevilla
<![CDATA[Russian general’s dismissal reveals new crack in military leadership]]>https://www.armytimes.com/flashpoints/ukraine/2023/07/13/russian-generals-dismissal-reveals-new-crack-in-military-leadership/https://www.armytimes.com/flashpoints/ukraine/2023/07/13/russian-generals-dismissal-reveals-new-crack-in-military-leadership/Thu, 13 Jul 2023 18:26:33 +0000MOSCOW — A Russian general in charge of forces fighting in southern Ukraine has been relieved of his duties after speaking out about problems faced by his troops, a move that reflected new fissures in the military command following a brief rebellion by mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Maj. Gen. Ivan Popov, the commander of the 58th army in the Zaporizhzhia region, which is a focal point in Ukraine’s counteroffensive, said in an audio statement to his troops released Wednesday night that he was dismissed after a meeting with the military brass in what he described as a “treacherous” stab in the back to Russian forces in Ukraine.

Popov said the military leadership was angered by his frank talk about challenges faced by his forces, particularly the shortage of radars tracking enemy artillery, which resulted in massive Russian casualties.

“The top officers apparently saw me as a source of threat and rapidly issued an order to get rid of me, which was signed by the defense minister in just one day,” he said. “The Ukrainian military has failed to break through our army’s defenses, but the top commander hit us in the rear, treacherously and cowardly beheading the army at this most difficult moment.”

In this photo released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Thursday, June 8, 2023, Maj. Gen. Ivan Popov, the commander of the 58th Army, is seen in a photo at an undisclosed location. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

Popov, who uses the call name “Spartacus,” addressed his troops as “my gladiators” in the audio message released by retired Gen. Andrei Gurulev, who commanded the 58th army in the past and currently serves as a lawmaker. The 58th army consists of several divisions and smaller units.

The 48-year-old Popov, who has risen from platoon commander to lead a large group of forces, has encouraged his soldiers to come directly to him with any problems — an easygoing approach that contrasted sharply with the stiff formal style of command common in the Russian military. Russian military bloggers say he’s widely known for avoiding unnecessary losses — unlike many other commanders who were eager to sacrifice their soldiers to report successes.

“I faced a difficult situation with the top leadership when I had to either keep silent and act like a coward, saying what they wanted to hear, or call things by their names,” Popov said. “I didn’t have the right to lie for the sake of you and our fallen comrades.”

Many military bloggers argued that Popov’s dismissal eroded troop morale at a time of relentless Ukrainian attacks. One blogger, Vladislav Shurygin, said it has dealt a “terrible blow to the entire army,” while another, Roman Saponkov, described it as a “monstrous terror attack against the army’s morale.”

Russian general believed to be detained in aftermath of Wagner mutiny

In a sign that many in Russian officialdom share Popov’s criticism of the military leadership, Andrei Turchak, the first deputy speaker of the upper house of parliament and head of the main Kremlin party United Russia, strongly backed the general, saying that “the Motherland can be proud of such commanders.”

Andrei Kartapolov, a retired general who heads the defense affairs committee in the lower house, also said the Defense Ministry should deal with the issues raised by Popov.

News of Popov’s dismissal added to the blow that Russian troops received when another senior officer, Lt. Gen. Oleg Tsokov, was killed Tuesday by a Ukrainian missile strike.

Popov’s remarks about the need to rotate his exhausted troops that have been fighting the Ukrainian counteroffensive since early June, reportedly angered General Staff chief Gen. Valery Gerasimov, who shrugged them off as panicky and promptly ordered his dismissal.

Gerasimov was shown meeting with military officers Monday in a video released by the Defense Ministry, the first time he was seen since last month’s abortive rebellion by Prigozhin, who had demanded his ouster. The uproar fueled by Popov’s dismissal could further erode the position of Gerasimov, who has faced broad criticism for his conduct of the fighting in Ukraine.

Pro-Kremlin political analyst Sergei Markov noted that Popov’s statement echoed criticism of the top brass by Prigozhin. However, he added that the general’s statement wasn’t a rebellion, but instead a call for intervention by President Vladimir Putin.

“Such public disputes at the top of the Russian army isn’t a show of force,” he said.

During the June 24 revolt that lasted less than 24 hours, mercenaries from Prigozhin’s Wagner Group quickly swept through the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don and captured the military headquarters there without firing a shot before driving to within about 200 kilometers (125 miles) of Moscow.

Prigozhin called his mercenaries back to their camps after striking a deal to end the rebellion in exchange for an amnesty for him and his mercenaries and permission to move to Belarus.

The rebellion represented the biggest threat to Putin in his more than two decades in power and badly dented his authority, even though Prigozhin said the uprising wasn’t aimed against the president but intended to force the ouster of Gerasimov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. The Wagner chief was harshly critical of their conduct of how they have conducted the action in Ukraine.

On Monday, the Kremlin confirmed Prigozhin and 34 of his top officers met with Putin on June 29, a startling announcement that raised new questions about the terms of the deal with Wagner. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wagner’s commanders pledged loyalty to Putin and said they were ready “to continue to fight for the Motherland.”

Putin has said Wagner troops had to choose whether to sign contracts with the Defense Ministry, move to Belarus or retire from service. While details of the deal remain murky, uncertainty also has surrounded the fate of Gen. Sergei Surovikin, the deputy commander of the Russian group of forces fighting in Ukraine who reportedly had been detained for questioning about his ties to Prigozhin.

Speaking in Helsinki on Thursday after a NATO summit, U.S. President Joe Biden said he is not certain about what fate awaits Prigozhin.

“I’m not even sure where he is,” Biden said. “If I were he, I’d be careful what I ate, I’d be keeping an eye on my menu. But all kidding aside ... I don’t know. I don’t think any of us know for certain what the future of Prigozhin is in Russia.”

The Defense Ministry said Wednesday that mercenaries of the Wagner Group were completing the handover of their weapons to the Russian military, part of the Kremlin’s efforts to defuse the threat it posed.

<![CDATA[Army colonel gets $975,000 in sex assault case against Hyten]]>https://www.armytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2023/07/13/army-colonel-gets-975000-in-sex-assault-case-against-hyten/https://www.armytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2023/07/13/army-colonel-gets-975000-in-sex-assault-case-against-hyten/Thu, 13 Jul 2023 17:56:02 +0000A retired Army colonel has reached a court settlement of nearly $1 million in a sexual assault lawsuit against Air Force Gen. John Hyten, who served as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The settlement with the U.S. government ends more than four years of investigations, reviews and congressional digging into the matter, which delayed — but ultimately did not defeat — Hyten’s nomination for vice chairman in 2019. He served two years and did not seek a second term.

Army Col. Kathryn Spletstoser, who served as Hyten’s aide in 2017, filed the lawsuit, and in the settlement reached in U.S. District Court in California on Wednesday, the federal government will pay her $975,000.

FILE - Army Col. Kathryn Spletstoser speaks to members of the media following Gen. John Hyten's confirmation hearing to be vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 30, 2019. (Andrew Harnik/AP, File)

“It is my sincere hope that the successful outcome in my case will embolden other survivors of military sexual violence to come forward — no matter how high ranking the perpetrator,” she said in a statement Thursday.

In an interview with The Associated Press in 2019, Spletstoser said Hyten subjected her to a series of unwanted sexual advances by kissing, hugging and rubbing up against her in 2017 while she was one of his top aides. She said she repeatedly pushed him away and told him to stop, and that he tried to derail her military career after she rebuffed him.

Hyten vigorously denied her allegations during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in July 2019, with his wife seated behind him and Spletstoser looking on from a short distance away. An internal Air Force investigation determined there was insufficient evidence to charge him or recommend discipline. And a senior Air Force official said at the time that investigators also found no evidence Spletstoser was lying. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss personnel matters.

It is not uncommon for the U.S. government to pay out large sums of money to settle lawsuits, but a sexual assault case against such a high ranking military officer is far more rare.

The number of reported sexual assaults in the military has increased nearly every year since 2006. And while the services have made inroads in making it easier and safer for service members to come forward, it still remains a highly unreported crime.

Hyten’s nomination was delayed for months while senators pored over thousands of pages of documents and interviewed the general and Spletstoser. The eventual Senate vote of 75-22 to confirm him reflected a bit more opposition than most military nominations, which usually get near-unanimous support.

Ten of the “no” votes came from female senators, including Vice President Kamala Harris, who was then a senator from California, and Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, a survivor of sexual assault while in college and the only Republican to vote against him.

Spletstoser’s attorney, Ariel Solomon, said in a statement Thursday that the legal payout “stands out as the only known settlement paid by the government for a sexual assault case brought against a member of the United States military.”

Associated Press writer Eric Tucker contributed to this report.

Andrew Harnik
<![CDATA[Fort Knox cadets taste Army life: walkouts, expired MREs, bad water]]>https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-army/2023/07/13/fort-knox-cadets-taste-army-life-walkouts-expired-mres-bad-water/https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-army/2023/07/13/fort-knox-cadets-taste-army-life-walkouts-expired-mres-bad-water/Thu, 13 Jul 2023 15:27:57 +0000Worker protests. Suspended dining services. Expired rations. Water supply cutoffs.

Reports of conditions at this year’s ROTC Cadet Summer Training (CST) at Fort Knox, Kentucky read like dispatches from a neglected outpost or underfunded sleepaway camp, not a flagship officer training program managed by the biggest branch of the wealthiest military on earth.

Thousands of college-aged officers-in-waiting have congregated at the base for a months’ worth of classes and field drills designed to imbue the Army’s next generation of “tough, adaptable leaders” with the skills needed to “thrive in ambiguous and complex environments.”

For some aspiring lieutenants, the ambiguous and complex environment that awaited them at CST may have been more than they bargained for.

Tales of shoddy provisions and contracting woes began flooding social media platforms in late June. Army Times sifted through the rumors, contacting base officials and CST participants to separate fact from fiction.

The deluge began, as with most contemporary digital scandals, with a viral TikTok video. The eleven-second clip, which has amassed 1.5 million views since hitting the platform July 3, showed dozens of Fort Knox employees gathered in a driveway chanting, “No Pay, No Work” in rhythmic unison. Other clips uploaded to the video-sharing service capture the scene from different angles.

Cadets, cadre, and other CST support personnel — speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press — said the walkout occurred during the final week of June outside Sprocket 1, the cadre’s principal dining facility (DFAC).

The videos’ bold-texted captions claimed the protesting DFAC employees hadn’t been paid in over a month. Richard Patterson, a spokesperson for U.S. Army Cadet Command (USACC), acknowledged in a statement to Army Times that the command “terminated the food service contract that supported the Warrior Restaurants for CST on July 1st due to the contractor not fulfilling its obligations.” Patterson declined to say whether or not unpaid wages precipitated the termination, deflecting the matter to the contracting company. Army Times was unable to confirm whether the DFAC employees had gone without pay prior to the walkout.

The strike and subsequent contract debacle derailed the program’s dining operations. The cadre’s DFAC shut down until July 5, when base leadership hired a new temporary food service provider. USACC shifted Army cooks to the chow line to keep other cadet dining facilities up and running.

Base leadership relied on extra stockpiles of Meals, Ready-to-Eat to plug the gaps in the food supply. Adding to the displeasure of replacing hot meals with pre-packaged feed, trainees found that many of the distributed MREs had expired.

Patterson confirmed to Army Times that “some of the MREs at Cadet Summer Training have passed their inspect/test date stamped on the MRE cases by the manufacturer,” but stressed that the out-of-date packets had been tested before distribution and were safe to eat.

Subpar grub still slipped past inspectors. One member of the instructor cadre told Army Times that a number of cadets under their purview received moldy MREs. Several cadre personnel said they struggled to carve out time for DFAC meals (when they were available) because of demanding schedules. Limited options forced some cadets to buy food off-base with their own money.

Multiple sources told Army Times the dining situation had largely stabilized by July 7. Yet that semblance of normalcy was again disrupted the following week.

On the morning of July 10, Cadet Summer Training personnel received a message from Knox leadership ordering them to “refrain from drinking from all freshwater sources except the water point at Densberger and bulk water at LSA Baker,” two facilities on base. The warning also prohibited trainees and staff from refilling water containers at “any water points or any buildings on Fort Knox.” (Some cadre members reported never receiving official notice of water issues.)

Later that afternoon, Hardin County’s water authority diagnosed the problem as a “water main break” — a burst pipe — that sapped water pressure across the entire installation. County officials issued a boil water advisory in response, prompting base officials to set up “multiple potable water points throughout Fort Knox and the training area to ensure cadets and cadre had fresh drinking water,” according to Patterson. The county ultimately lifted the advisory Wednesday afternoon.

Few training participants — past or present — seemed surprised by the turbulence.

“USACC willfully ignores [quality of life] for Cadre and Cadets every summer,” one ROTC graduate vented in response to a comment request from Army Times. “Same BS, different year.”

The title of an anonymous blog post detailing the DFAC drama framed the issue in blunter terms: “CST cadre aren’t real people.”

Master Sgt. Ryan C. Matson
<![CDATA[Oath Keeper Army vet Rhodes’ jail term too short, says Justice Dept ]]>https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/07/13/oath-keeper-army-vet-rhodes-jail-term-too-short-says-justice-dept/https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/07/13/oath-keeper-army-vet-rhodes-jail-term-too-short-says-justice-dept/Thu, 13 Jul 2023 14:10:00 +0000WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department is appealing the 18-year-prison sentence handed down for Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, as well as other far-right extremists’ punishments that were shorter than what prosecutors had sought, according to court papers filed Wednesday.

While Rhodes received a lengthy sentence for seditious conspiracy and other convictions, the 18-year term was below the recommended range under federal guidelines and less than the 25 years the Justice Department had asked for in one of the most serious cases to go to trial in the Capitol attack.

Defendants routinely appeal their convictions and sentences, but it is more unusual for prosecutors to challenge the length of a prison term imposed by judges who have wide discretion when handing down punishments. Rhodes’ was the longest sentence that has been handed down so far in more than 1,000 Capitol riot cases.

Rhodes’ attorney, James Lee Bright, called the government’s decision to appeal “surprising.” At his sentencing hearing in May, a defiant Rhodes claimed to be a “political prisoner,” criticized prosecutors and the Biden administration and tried to play down his actions on Jan. 6.

The Justice Department filed notices in court that they they intend to appeal the sentences of other Oath Keepers, including Florida chapter leader Kelly Meggs, who was convicted of seditious conspiracy alongside Rhodes and sentenced to 12 years behind bars.

Three other Oath Keepers tried with Rhodes were acquitted of the sedition charge but convicted of other felonies. Four Oath Keepers were convicted of the seditious conspiracy charge at a second trial in January.

An attorney for Meggs declined to comment Wednesday.

During a series of sentencings for the Oath Keepers in May, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta agreed with prosecutors that Rhodes and the other Oath Keepers’ actions could be punished as “terrorism,” increasing the recommended sentence under federal guidelines. But the judge ultimately went below — in some cases far below — the sentence prosecutors were seeking for each defendant.

The Justice Department’s announcement came after it suffered a rare setback in a related case involving Oath Keepers associates. A former “Jesus Christ Superstar” actor was acquitted Wednesday of conspiring with members of the far-right extremist group to obstruct Congress in the Capitol attack.

James Beeks — a Florida resident who was playing Judas in the traveling production of the musical when he was arrested — was cleared of conspiracy to obstruct Congress’ certification of the 2020 election and civil disorder after a trial in federal court. Mehta convicted Beeks’ co-defendant, Ohio resident Donovan Crowl, of the same charges after hearing evidence without a jury.

Beeks is only the second Jan. 6 defendant to be acquitted of all charges after a trial. Beeks represented himself at trial, though he was assisted by a lawyer who served as stand-by counsel and delivered his closing argument. Approximately 100 others have been found guilty of at least one count after a trial decided by a jury or judge, and more than 600 have pleaded guilty.

The trial for Beeks and Crowl was what’s called a “stipulated bench trial,” which means the judge decided the case based on a set of facts that both sides agreed to before the trial started. Such trials allow defendants to admit to certain facts while maintaining a right to appeal any conviction.

Prosecutors had previously charged Beeks with other lower-level offenses — including illegally entering the Capitol — but agreed to only go to trial on the two felony offenses and dismiss the remaining counts.

Prosecutors say Beeks and Crowl were part of a group of Oath Keepers wearing paramilitary gear who stormed the Capitol alongside the mob of Trump supporters. Beeks joined the Oath Keepers in December 2020 and drove to Washington from Florida before meeting up with a group of extremists ahead of the riot, prosecutors said.

Beeks, who was also a Michael Jackson impersonator, wore a jacket from Jackson’s “Bad” World Tour along with a helmet and was carrying a homemade shield during the riot, according to court papers.

Mehta said Beeks — unlike other Oath Keepers charged with riot-related crimes — didn’t post any messages on social media or exchange text messages with other extremists that could establish what his “state of mind” was leading up to the Capitol riot. The judge also cited a lack of evidence about what Beeks did inside the Capitol that could support a conviction for interfering with police.

“His actions must rise and fall on their own,” the judge said.

Beeks was arrested in November 2021 while he was traveling in Milwaukee with the “Jesus Christ Superstar” tour. He told reporters after the verdict that it “feels like a huge burden” has been lifted of his shoulders.

Beeks acknowledged that he joined the Oath Keepers through the group’s website but said he never met or communicated with any of his alleged co-conspirators before Jan. 6. He said never knew of any plan to attack the Capitol and mistakenly believed the Oath Keepers “were the good guys.”

“I met up with the wrong people,” he said. “I lost my whole career. (Jan. 6) is like a scarlet letter.”

Crowl was part of the Ohio State Regular Militia led by Jessica Watkins, who was acquitted of seditious conspiracy but convicted of other serious charges in the trial alongside Rhodes. In December 2022, Crowl sent a message in a group chat that included Watkins that said “law abiding citizens are fix’n to ‘act out of character’... Time for talk’in is over.”

Crowl’s attorney, Carmen Hernandez, said her client was exercising his First Amendment free speech rights on Jan. 6 without any intent to obstruct Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s 2020 electoral victory.

“His conduct was no different than that of many Americans who’ve gone to Congress to peacefully protest and have not been charged with felonies,” Hernandez wrote in an email.


Richer reported from Boston.

Dana Verkouteren
<![CDATA[House Republicans argue for discipline of ‘bad apples’ at VA]]>https://www.armytimes.com/federal-oversight/congress/2023/07/12/house-republicans-argue-for-discipline-of-bad-apples-at-va/https://www.armytimes.com/federal-oversight/congress/2023/07/12/house-republicans-argue-for-discipline-of-bad-apples-at-va/Wed, 12 Jul 2023 22:21:08 +0000House lawmakers discussed a bill Wednesday that would expedite firing of U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs employees and limit appeals of those decisions.

Republicans have called it a restoration of accountability for veterans and Americans who are “fed up with bad VA employees” not being appropriately disciplined, said House Veterans Affairs’ Committee Chairman Mike Bost, a Republican from Illinois.

“Veterans are at the core of the mission, not bureaucrats,” he said at the hearing.

VA does not support the bill, saying when there appears to be a delay in addressing a case of misconduct, which Bost questioned, it’s not because the agency is lacking power to deal with it. It’s because it takes time to conduct a thorough investigation, said Rondy Waye, executive director of Human Capital Programs at the agency.

A perceived delay on the front end would be there whether the agency used the bill’s procedures or not, he added.

The Restore the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability Act, introduced last month by Bost and supported by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), clarifies similar legislation signed by President Donald Trump in 2017. However, that law has been mired by legal challenges at federal courts, the Merit Systems Protection Board and the Federal Labor Relations Authority.

Lewis Ratchford, the agency’s chief security officer, said in his statement that VA is concerned the bill would continue to throw up time-consuming legal objections, “creating uncertainty and potentially leading to a continued pattern of overturned disciplinary actions.”

For that reason, Secretary Denis McDonough said in March the agency wouldn’t be using some of the authorities, saying that the law “wasn’t really helping us manage our workforce as much as it was getting us in front of federal judges and other administrative bodies,” Military Times previously reported.

Patrick Murray, the legislative director at Veterans of Foreign Wars, said while the original law may have been rendered inert by legal interference, the new bill would fill gaps and allow for proper implementation.

For several years, and increasingly so as the agency has taken on more services for burn pit victims, Congress has been on the VA’s doorstep asking about workforce accountability. In 2014, there were questions about whether employees were being appropriately dismissed in connection with a scandal about juked performance metrics.

Montana Republican Matt Rosendale said the 2017 act led to a 50% increase in removal actions.

Trump signs VA accountability measure into law

“I have yet to understand why this legislation is necessary right now when VA has been clear that they already have the authority they need to discipline employees,” said Mark Takano (D-Calif.), ranking member on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, in an emailed statement to Federal Times. “I am concerned about the due process issues we saw with the 2017 law, with VA spending a lot of time in court over the last few years for legislation they said left them no better off.”

“Under the old law, employees were often subject to discipline or termination that was completely out of line with the alleged poor performance or misbehavior,” said Randy Erwin, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, to Federal Times. “Right now, the department is experiencing a staffing crisis. Should the VA Accountability Act be restored, these issues will only be exacerbated, and our nation’s veterans will suffer the consequences.”

Some those who opposed the 2017 bill have said the Restore Act’s underlying philosophy resembles that of Schedule F — a plan by the Trump administration to curb employment protections and due process that are inherent to the merit-based civil service.

Part of the bill proposes aligning disciplinary processes for middle managers with those used for the Senior Executive Service, prompting concerns that more severe consequences intended for high-profile employees would become applicable to lower GS-level or wage-grade supervisors when the nature of the work is not necessarily the same.

There’s also concern from agency leaders that harsher policies will create a chilling effect while the agency is going through hiring surges to accommodate implementation of an August law that expands health care coverage for possibly millions of veterans who were exposed to toxic fumes from burn pit fires.

“If you diminish the rights to VA employees below those for the rest of the government, below the doctors and nurses and others, for example, caring for active duty military, [you have] a situation where the VA can’t recruit effectively,” said Daniel Horowitz, AFGE’s deputy legislative director.

Unions are also balking at a provision of the bill that says procedures would supersede collective bargaining agreements.

The VA has the second-largest federal workforce behind the Department of Defense with nearly 400,000 employees and issues roughly 4,900 to 5,000 disciplinary actions a year on average.

“We need to consider what is best for veterans and VA and whether this is something VA actually needs,” Takano said.

With reporting by Military Times’ Leo Shane.

Staff Sgt. Jackie Sanders
<![CDATA[Nearly 80 years after going MIA in WWII, US soldier accounted for]]>https://www.armytimes.com/veterans/2023/07/12/nearly-80-years-after-going-mia-in-wwii-us-soldier-accounted-for/https://www.armytimes.com/veterans/2023/07/12/nearly-80-years-after-going-mia-in-wwii-us-soldier-accounted-for/Wed, 12 Jul 2023 18:50:55 +0000BOSTON — A U.S. Army soldier from Massachusetts reported missing in action while his unit was involved in fighting against German forces in Italy during World War II has been accounted for, the military said.

The remains of Pvt. Wing O. Hom, of Boston, were identified in April using both anthropological and mitochondrial DNA analysis, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced Tuesday.

Hom, 20, went missing in February 1944 during fighting near the town of Cisterna di Latina, south of Rome.

A member of Company B, 7th Infantry Regiment, 3d Infantry Division, Hom’s body was not recovered and he was never reported as a prisoner of war, officials said. He was declared dead in February 1945.

A set of remains recovered near the hamlet of Ponte Rotto, about 3 miles (5 kilometers) west of Cisterna di Latina, could not be identified and were ultimately buried at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery in Nettuno, Italy.

Those remains were disinterred and sent for analysis and identification in 2021 after a DPAA historian studying unresolved American losses during the Italian campaign determined they possibly belonged to Hom.

Hom will be buried in Brooklyn, New York, on Oct. 11, the DPAA said.

<![CDATA[China sends planes, navy ships towards Taiwan in forceful display]]>https://www.armytimes.com/flashpoints/china/2023/07/12/china-sends-planes-navy-ships-towards-taiwan-in-forceful-display/https://www.armytimes.com/flashpoints/china/2023/07/12/china-sends-planes-navy-ships-towards-taiwan-in-forceful-display/Wed, 12 Jul 2023 18:34:43 +0000TAIPEI, Taiwan — China sent navy ships and a large group of warplanes, including fighter jets and bombers, toward Taiwan over two days, the island’s defense ministry said on Wednesday, before its annual military exercises aimed at defending itself against a possible invasion.

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army sent 38 warplanes and 9 navy vessels around Taiwan, between 6 a.m. Tuesday to 6 a.m. Wednesday. From Wednesday morning until noon time, the military flew another 30 planes, among which included J-10 and J-16 fighters.

Of these, 32 crossed the midline of the Taiwan Strait, an unofficial boundary that had been considered a buffer between the island and mainland. Later on Wednesday, another 23 planes crossed the midline.

Taiwan is scheduled to hold the annual Han Guang exercise later this month, in which its military will hold combat readiness drills against preventing an invasion. It will also conduct the annual Wan’an exercises aimed at preparing civilians for natural disasters and practicing evacuations in case of an air raid.

China claims self-ruled Taiwan as its own territory and in recent years has shown is displeasure at political activities in Taiwan by stepping up the number of military planes sent toward Taiwan. In the past year, it has also started sending its navy vessels, as well as drones to circle the waters near the island.

In Tuesday and Wednesday’s maneuvers, the PLA flew H-6 bombers in a large loop to the south of Taiwan, traveling past the island before looping back towards China’s southern coast.

Its largest military drills in recent years were in response to former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last August. It fired missiles over the island in a significant escalation and the military exercises disrupted trade lanes in the Taiwan Strait and forced airplanes to reroute their flights.

In April, the PLA held large-scale combat readiness drills in the air and waters around Taiwan in response to the island’s President Tsai Ing-wen meeting with the current U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

<![CDATA[North Korea fires its first ICBM in three months]]>https://www.armytimes.com/flashpoints/2023/07/12/north-korea-fires-its-first-icbm-in-three-months/https://www.armytimes.com/flashpoints/2023/07/12/north-korea-fires-its-first-icbm-in-three-months/Wed, 12 Jul 2023 18:16:03 +0000SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea test-fired its first intercontinental ballistic missile in three months on Wednesday, days after it threatened “shocking” consequences to protest what it called provocative United States reconnaissance activity near its territory.

Some experts say North Korea likely launched its developmental, road-mobile Hwasong-18 ICBM, a type of solid-fuel weapon that is harder to detect and intercept than its liquid-fuel ICBMs. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un previously called the Hwasong-18 the most powerful weapon of his nuclear forces.

The missile, fired from North Korea’s capital region around 10 a.m., flew about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) at a maximum altitude of 6,000 kilometers (3,730 miles) before landing in waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, according to South Korean and Japanese assessments. They said the missile was launched at a high angle in what observers say was an apparent attempt to avoid neighboring countries.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said the missile flew for 74 minutes — the longest flight time recorded by any weapon launched by North Korea. The previous record of 71 minutes was registered during the test flight of the liquid-fuel Hwasong-17 ICBM last year.

South Korea’s military called the launch “a grave provocation” and urged North Korea to refrain from additional launches. Matsuno denounced North Korea’s repeated missile launches as “threats to the peace and safety of Japan, the region and international society.”

In a trilateral phone call, the chief nuclear envoys of South Korea, Japan and the U.S. agreed to sternly deal with North Korean provocations and boost their coordination to promote a stronger international response to the North’s nuclear and missile programs, according to Seoul’s Foreign Ministry.

The launch came while South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida were attending the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania. In an emergency meeting of South Korea’s security council convened by video in Lithuania, Yoon warned North Korea would face more powerful international sanctions due to its illicit weapons programs.

North Korea’s ICBM program targets the mainland United States, while its shorter-range missiles are designed to hit U.S. regional allies like South Korea and Japan.

Since 2017, North Korea has performed a slew of ICBM tests, but some experts say the North still has some technologies to master to possess functioning nuclear-armed missiles capable of reaching major U.S. cities.

The North’s ICBM test in April was the first launch of the Hwasong-18. After that launch, Kim said the missile would enhance the North’s counterattack capabilities and ordered the expansion of his country’s nuclear arsenal to “constantly strike extreme uneasiness and horror” in its rivals.

Missiles with built-in solid propellants would be easier to move and hide, making it difficult for opponents to detect their launches in advance. All of North Korea’s previous ICBM tests used liquid fuel.

Kim Dong-yub, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said Wednesday’s launch appeared to be the North’s second flight-test of the Hwasong-18.

Earlier this week, North Korea released a series of statements accusing the U.S. of flying a military spy plane close to its soil.

In a statement Monday night, Kim’s sister and top adviser, Kim Yo Jong, warned the United States of “a shocking incident” as she claimed that the U.S. spy plane flew over the North’s eastern exclusive economic zone eight times earlier in the day.

The U.S. and South Korea dismissed the North’s accusations and urged it to refrain from any acts or rhetoric that raised animosities.

“I would just say that we continue to urge (North Korea) to refrain from escalatory actions,” Matthew Miller, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, said Tuesday. “As a matter of international law, (North Korea’s) recent statements that U.S. flights above its claimed exclusive economic zone are unlawful are unfounded, as high seas freedoms of navigation and overflight apply in such areas.”

North Korea has made numerous similar accusations over U.S. reconnaissance activities, but its latest statements came amid heightened animosities over North Korea’s torrid run of weapons tests since the start of last year. Some observers say the North wants to use an expanded weapons arsenal to wrest greater concessions in eventual diplomacy with its rivals.

“Kim Yo Jong’s bellicose statement against U.S. surveillance aircraft is part of a North Korean pattern of inflating external threats to rally domestic support and justify weapons tests,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul. “Pyongyang also times its shows of force to disrupt what it perceives as diplomatic coordination against it — in this case, South Korea and Japan’s leaders meeting during the NATO summit.”

Kim Dong-yub, the professor, said Wednesday’s launch was likely made under the North’s previously scheduled weapons build-up programs to hone Hwasong-18 technologies, rather than a direct response to the NATO gathering or the alleged U.S. spy plane flight.

The Hwasong-18 is among an array of high-tech weapons that Kim Jong Un has vowed to introduce to deal with what he called escalating U.S. military threats. Other weapons on his wish-list are an ICBM with multi-warheads, a spy satellite and a nuclear-powered submarine. In late May, North Korea’s launch of its first spy satellite ended in failure, with a rocket carrying it plunging to the ocean soon after liftoff.

Some experts say North Korea might ramp up weapons tests around July 27, the date for the 70th anniversary of the signing of an armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War. North Korea calls the date “the V-Day” or “the War Victory Day.”

“Pyongyang might be manufacturing tensions ahead of its Victory Day to further strengthen solidarity domestically after having failed its first spy satellite launch in May, and then justifying future provocations by first unleashing a stream of threats and harsh rhetoric about U.S. spy planes,” said Duyeon Kim, an adjunct senior fellow with the Center for a New American Security.

U.N. Security Council resolutions ban North Korea from engaging in any launches using ballistic technologies. But China and Russia, both permanent members of the council, blocked the U.S. and others’ attempts to toughen U.N. sanctions on North Korea over its recent ballistic missile tests.

Yamaguchi reported from Tokyo.

Ahn Young-joon
<![CDATA[Gore meets Hallmark: ‘The Channel’ is a disastrous Marine heist movie]]>https://www.armytimes.com/off-duty/military-culture/2023/07/12/gore-meets-hallmark-the-channel-is-a-disastrous-marine-heist-movie/https://www.armytimes.com/off-duty/military-culture/2023/07/12/gore-meets-hallmark-the-channel-is-a-disastrous-marine-heist-movie/Wed, 12 Jul 2023 17:35:21 +0000If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to watch a movie about U.S. Marines replacing the protagonists in the beloved-but-brutal Grand Theft Auto video game franchise, look no further than “The Channel.”

“After their bank heist goes wrong, a desperate criminal, his out-of-control brother, and their motley crew of ex-marines must escape New Orleans and the determined FBI agent who pursues them,” reads the film’s official synopsis.

“Ex-Marines,” for the uninitiated, is about the most offensive thing one can label anyone who has donned the Eagle, Globe and Anchor. Including it in the film’s promotional materials is essentially a titanic red flag from the jump.

Written and directed by William Kaufman (”The Hit List,” “Daylight’s End”), the film ultimately leaves viewers asking, “Has anyone involved in this project ever met a Marine?”

The gist of the story is a band of cash-hungry Marines organizes a New Orleans bank heist that goes completely awry. The film’s two main characters, Jamie (Clayne Crawford) and Mic (Max Martini) are not only brothers in arms, they’re brothers in the familial sense as well.

In one scene, in order to presumably sell the audience on the authenticity of the Marine experience, Mic tells a story to the heist crew about a “haji” he saw “going to town on a f—n’ donkey” during a deployment to Afghanistan’s Helmand Province. The cringeworthy story cuts the tension for the nervous bank robbers as they adjust plate carriers, arm up, and carry out the crime.

But things don’t go according to plan.

As the robbers leave the bank, the FBI engages in an all-out guerilla-style shootout with the heist crew in what appears to be a residential neighborhood — collateral damage be damned.

Contrary to the military mantra of “No man left behind,” the brothers in fact do desert all of their fellow Marines and leave them for dead. Oh well.

Ultimately, though, that’s only one issue in a series of problems plaguing the film. It’s 95 head-scratching minutes of destructive romance, night vision flashbacks to combat in Afghanistan, FBI vendettas, gang wars and a Hallmark-level plot about a father’s love for his child. Oh, and everyone’s accents are all over the map — think Southie boys from “The Departed” — despite the film taking place in Louisiana.

And then there’s a nightmarish scene in which gang members expecting a cut of the heist money take the brothers hostage and threaten to dissolve their bodies with sulfuric acid. As their lives hang in the balance, we learn that for Mic, this lifestyle choice is all about dying a warrior, but for Jamie, the heist was to prove he’s a good husband and a reliable father to his sickly daughter. Awww.

On the upside, the gunfights are pretty fun, and it’ll certainly scratch an itch if you’re tingling for a heist film with gratuitous violence.

For all its gore, however, the movie ends happily on an island in the sun — everyone in white linen — with a lesson about what it means to be a good parent.


“The Channel” gets a limited release July 14, 2023.

<![CDATA[Biden nominates Mingus as next US Army vice chief of staff]]>https://www.armytimes.com/land/2023/07/12/biden-nominates-mingus-as-next-us-army-vice-chief-of-staff/https://www.armytimes.com/land/2023/07/12/biden-nominates-mingus-as-next-us-army-vice-chief-of-staff/Wed, 12 Jul 2023 16:59:23 +0000WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden nominated Lt. Gen. James Mingus to become the Army’s next vice chief of staff, according to a notice in the Congressional Record.

Mingus, who will pin on a fourth star if confirmed by the U.S. Senate, comes from the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, where he has served as director since June 2022. He joined the staff in October 2020 as director for operations.

Over the last year, one of his duties has included serving on a new high-level team focused on rushing military aid to Ukraine.

A 1985 graduate from Winona State University in Minnesota, Mingus was commissioned as 2nd lieutenant through the Army Reserve Officers Training Corps. He became a platoon leader in 5th Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division, Seventh Army in Germany in 1988, serving there for four years.

He joined the 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg (now Fort Liberty), North Carolina, in 1992. Mingus also took command of the Long Range Surveillance Detachment, 1st Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment there and became the aide-de-camp to the 82nd’s commander.

The three-star also commanded another Long Range Surveillance Company within the XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg.

Mingus took a three-year teaching job in 1997 as an assistant professor of military science at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. Then he attended the Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Following his time in academia, Mingus joined the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment at Hunter Army Airfield in Georgia, serving as a liaison officer and operations officer. Later he would take command of the regiment’s Regimental Special Troops in 2007.

Returning to Fort Bragg in 2003, he became the chief of the Joint Planning Group with Joint Special Operations Command.

If confirmed, Mingus would work closely with Gen. Randy George, who is nominated to be the next Army Chief of Staff. Both have been commanders of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson, Colorado. George commanded the brigade from 2008 through 2010 and Mingus replaced him in 2010.

Mingus later returned to Fort Carson in 2015 as the 4th ID’s deputy commanding general (maneuver) after a time at US Central Command, MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, as the chief of the Commander’s Action Group and a stint in the J-5 directorate as the deputy director of the Special Plans Working Group.

Mingus also served as director of the Mission Command Center of Excellence at the US Army Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth for two years. Then he took command of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg until 2020.

George, who is the current vice chief, testified today in a confirmation hearing to become the next Army chief of staff before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Biden nominated him to be the next chief in April.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville will retire from military service next month.

Sgt. Michelle Blesam
<![CDATA[Army vet accused of stealing and crashing Humvee at Fort Stewart]]>https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-army/2023/07/12/army-vet-accused-of-stealing-and-crashing-humvee-at-fort-stewart/https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-army/2023/07/12/army-vet-accused-of-stealing-and-crashing-humvee-at-fort-stewart/Wed, 12 Jul 2023 15:02:18 +0000An Army veteran accused of crashing a military vehicle July 10 into the front of the 3rd Infantry Division’s headquarters at Fort Stewart, Georgia, was arrested and booked, officials from the post said.

The retired soldier, Treamon D. Lacy, 39, was charged with theft of government property and destruction of government property, Kevin Larson, a spokesperson for the installation, said in a release.

The incident occurred at approximately 10 a.m. on Monday, when an Army Humvee slammed into the front entrance of the division headquarters. Photos quickly circulated on social media showing the Humvee smashing into the glass door entrance of the building, under a sign with the division’s nickname, “Rock of the Marne.”

“Lacy is a retired Army [s]oldier, a status that allows him to access the installation,” Larson noted. Exactly when the Humvee was taken, and any motive behind the collision, remains unclear.

The incident poses questions about the security of military vehicles across installations following a similar incident earlier this month when a Humvee was stolen from a National Guard armory in Santa Rosa, California, and was later seen being driven recklessly nearby.

Fort Stewart police and Army Criminal Investigation Division agents detained Lacy immediately following the incident, Larson said, adding that no injuries were reported and there is no additional threat from the event to the community.

Lacy reportedly took the Humvee from the “87 BSSB motor pool” on base, according to a criminal complaint filed with the United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia.

Estimated damages to the building are over $1,000, the court filing noted.

Lacy served in the Army from June 2002 to July 2013 as a wheeled vehicle mechanic, the release said. He obtained the rank of staff sergeant and deployed twice to Iraq, it added.

“Based on the mode and precision with which the Humvee was driven, I believe that [Lacy] intentionally drove the Humvee into Building 1′s front doors,” Jordan M. Poe, a special agent with Army CID, said in the complaint.

Army Times reporter Davis Winkie contributed to this story.

Editor’s note: This story was updated on July 12 at 11:02 a.m. EST with additional information from a criminal complaint filing.

(Courtesy of US Army WTF Moments/Twitter)
<![CDATA[NATO deepens Ukraine ties but doesn’t set clear path for membership]]>https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/07/12/nato-deepens-ukraine-ties-but-doesnt-set-clear-path-for-membership/https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/07/12/nato-deepens-ukraine-ties-but-doesnt-set-clear-path-for-membership/Wed, 12 Jul 2023 12:30:00 +0000VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) — NATO leaders gathered Wednesday to launch a highly symbolic new forum for ties with Ukraine, after committing to provide the country with more military assistance for fighting Russia but only vague assurances of future membership.

U.S. President Joe Biden and his NATO counterparts sat down with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the new NATO-Ukraine Council, a permanent body where the 31 allies and Ukraine can hold consultations and call for meetings in emergency situations.

The setting is part of NATO’s effort to bring Ukraine as close as possible to the military alliance without actually joining it. On Tuesday, the leaders said in their communique summarizing the summit’s conclusions that Ukraine can join “when allies agree and conditions are met.”

“Today we meet as equals,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday at a joint news conference with Zelenskyy. “I look forward to the day we meet as allies.”

The ambiguous plan for Ukraine’s future membership reflects the challenges of reaching consensus among the alliance’s current members while the war continues, and has frustrated Zelenskyy even as he expressed appreciation for military hardware being promised by Group of Seven industrial nations.

“The results of the summit are good, but if there were an invitation, that would be ideal,” Zelenskyy said, through a translator.

Despite his disappointment, the Ukrainian leader was more conciliatory on Wednesday than the previous day, when he harshly criticized the lack of a timeline for membership as “unprecedented and absurd.”

“NATO needs us just as we need NATO,” he said alongside Stoltenberg.

Ukraine’s future membership was the most divisive and emotionally charged issue at this year’s summit. In essence, Western countries are willing to keep sending weapons to help Ukraine do the job that NATO was designed to do — hold the line against a Russian invasion — but not allow Ukraine to join its ranks and benefit from its security during the war.

“We have to stay outside of this war but be able to support Ukraine. We managed that very delicate balancing act for the last 17 months. It’s to the benefit of everyone that we maintain that balancing act,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said Wednesday.

Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins, whose country lies on NATO’s eastern flank and has a long, troubled history with Russia, said he would have preferred more for Ukraine.

“There will always be a difference of flavor of how fast you would want to go,” he said. However, Karins added, “at the end of it, what everyone gets, including Ukraine, and what Moscow sees is we are all very united.”

Amanda Sloat, senior director of European affairs for the U.S. National Security Council, defended the summit’s decisions.

“I would agree that the communique is unprecedented, but I see that in a positive way,” she told reporters on Wednesday.

Sloat noted that Ukraine will not need to submit a “membership action plan” as it seeks to join NATO, although she said “there are still governance and security sector reforms that are going to be required.” The action plan is usually a key step in the process that involves advice and assistance for countries seeking to join.

Symbols of support for Ukraine are common around Vilnius, where the country’s blue-and-yellow flags hang from buildings and are pasted inside windows. One sign cursed Russian President Vladimir Putin. Another urged NATO leaders to “hurry up” their assistance for Ukraine.

However, there’s been more caution inside the summit itself, especially from Biden, who has explicitly said he doesn’t think Ukraine is ready to join NATO. There are concerns that the country’s democracy is unstable and its corruption remains too deeply rooted.

Under Article 5 of the NATO charter, members are obligated to defend each other from attack, which could swiftly draw the U.S. and other nations into direct fighting with Russia.

Defining an end to hostilities is no easy task. Officials have declined to define the goal, which could suggest a negotiated ceasefire or Ukraine reclaiming all occupied territory. Either way, Putin would essentially have veto power over Ukraine’s NATO membership by prolonging the conflict.

Wednesday’s commitments will include a new G7 framework that would provide for Ukraine’s long-term security.

The British foreign ministry said the G7 would “set out how allies will support Ukraine over the coming years to end the war and deter and respond to any future attack.” The ministry added that the framework marks the first time that this many countries have agreed to a “comprehensive long-term security arrangement of this kind with another country.”

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said in a statement that supporting Ukraine’s “progress on the pathway to NATO membership, coupled with formal, multilateral, and bilateral agreements and the overwhelming support of NATO members will send a strong signal to President Putin and return peace to Europe.”

Sloat said the commitments will show Russia “that time is not on its side.”

Moscow reacted harshly to the G7 plan.

“We consider this extremely ill-judged and potentially very dangerous,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. He added that “by providing security guarantees to Ukraine, they’re infringing on Russia’s security.”

Although international summits are often tightly scripted, this one has seesawed between conflict and compromise.

At first leaders appeared to be deadlocked over Sweden’s bid for membership in the alliance. However, Turkey unexpectedly agreed to drop its objections on Monday, the night before the summit formally began. The deal led to boasts of success from leaders who were eager for a display of solidarity in Vilnius.

“This summit is already historic before it has started,” Stoltenberg said.

Erdogan has not commented publicly on the deal, over Sweden’s membership, even during a Tuesday meeting with Biden where Biden referenced “the agreement you reached yesterday.”

However, Erdogan appeared eager to develop his relationship with Biden.

The Turkish president has been seeking advanced American fighter jets and a path toward membership in the European Union. The White House has expressed support for both, but publicly insisted that the issues were not related to Sweden’s membership in NATO.


Associated Press writers Karl Ritter and Liudas Dapkus contributed to this report.

Pavel Golovkin
<![CDATA[Republican effort to cut DoD watchdog alarms anti-extremism advocates]]>https://www.armytimes.com/flashpoints/extremism-disinformation/2023/07/12/republican-effort-to-cut-dod-watchdog-alarms-anti-extremism-advocates/https://www.armytimes.com/flashpoints/extremism-disinformation/2023/07/12/republican-effort-to-cut-dod-watchdog-alarms-anti-extremism-advocates/Wed, 12 Jul 2023 09:00:00 +0000When Rep. Mark Alford, R-Mo., declared his intentions in June to eradicate what he called “wokeness” in the U.S. military, he set his sights on abolishing a federal watchdog that investigates the Pentagon’s programs for diversity, anti-extremism and sexual harassment prevention.

The first-term congressman wants to cease the flow of federal dollars to the deputy inspector general for diversity and inclusion and extremism in the military, a job created by Congress only two years ago within the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General. Alford introduced an amendment to the 2024 defense policy bill to eliminate the position. It failed its first vote – and even if passed, it’s not likely to survive negotiations with the Democratically controlled Senate – but he’s not done pursuing it.

Since the position was established at the start of 2021, Theresa Hull, who holds the job, has built a 22-person team that oversees the Pentagon’s diversity, equity and inclusion policies and tracks how the Defense Department handles cases of sexual harassment and assault. Her office also analyzes the department’s actions to prevent and respond to extremist and criminal gang activity in the ranks.

“I absolutely believe in the value of our work and that it should continue,” Hull said in an interview with Military Times.

Alford’s measure is part of a push by conservatives to target the military’s anti-extremism and diversity, equity and inclusion policies, which they argue are driving out some service members and hampering recruitment. Anti-extremism experts and advocates for diversity initiatives met the effort with ire, and Alford’s measure in particular startled some who saw it as a political attack and an attempt to undo recent progress to improve military culture.

“It’s thinly veiled bigotry,” said Wendy Via, a co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism. “I can’t think of a place more than our armed services where we need to do all we can to create a safe and trusting environment. These people are putting their lives on the line to defend our country, and they have to trust the person next to them.”

A step ‘too far’

Alford, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, tried to attach the measure to this year’s National Defense Authorization Act, a legislative package that sets the department’s annual budget and includes a multitude of Pentagon policies.

The amendment failed to garner enough support June 22 when the committee approved its version of the defense policy bill after 14 hours of debate. Two Republicans joined Democrats to block the measure. One of those Republicans, Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., said the amendment “went too far” in stamping out military training regarding diversity, equal opportunity, racism and sexual harassment.

Bacon, an Air Force veteran, supported another amendment offered by Alford to prohibit federal funds from going toward the Pentagon’s Countering Extremism Work Group, which was stood up in 2021 to root out extremism in the ranks. That amendment remains part of the committee’s defense bill, as do measures prohibiting defense officials from sponsoring drag shows on military bases and banning “critical race theory” at service academies, among other conservative priorities.

“I supported multiple amendments that reduced [diversity, equity and inclusion] and [critical race theory] training in the military. But I thought two measures, to include this one, went too far,” Bacon said of Alford’s measure to eliminate the deputy inspector general position. “We can’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Let’s get rid of the extreme training, but we must preserve the basic standards of the military.”

Both the House and Senate armed services committees advanced their versions of the defense policy bill at the end of June, and work on the measures is expected to continue this week. Once the House and Senate have each approved their bills, a conference committee will convene to reconcile the differences.

Though Alford’s amendment failed to make it into the House bill, his office is still working on next steps for the idea. The congressman is “not done working to weed out these types of programs and ideologies,” said Austin Higginbotham, Alford’s deputy chief of staff.

“In order to properly defend our country, we must eliminate all woke ideologies from our military,” Alford said. The Associated Press defines “woke” as “a slang term that originally described enlightenment or awakening about issues of racial and other forms of social justice. Some people and groups, especially conservatives, now use it in a derogatory sense implying what they see as overreactions.”

“We should not be wasting man hours and taxpayer dollars on programs that do nothing to benefit our military but rather hamper recruitment and retention efforts,” Alford added. “It is absolutely essential that we prioritize readiness, innovation, and the welfare of our service members over any divisive, non-military focused ideologies.”

D’Wayne Thorpe (center), a U.S. Army Kansas City Recruiting Battalion recruit, recites the U.S. Army Oath of Enlistment, Aug. 18, 2022, in St. Joseph, Missouri. (Spc. Alvin Conley/Army)

Tackling a recruiting crisis

The military is experiencing a recruiting crisis, with the Army missing its fiscal 2022 goal by 15,000 soldiers, a shortfall expected to worsen this year. Elected officials and military leaders are blaming myriad factors, from public health, a booming civilian jobs market and negative perceptions of military service. Recruiters told Military Times they fault the military’s new medical records platform, which ended a longstanding practice of applicants glossing over their medical issues when applying to join.

Alford is among a group of Republican lawmakers who have repeatedly blamed the recruiting problems on President Joe Biden’s administration and the Pentagon’s work under his leadership to ramp up diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. They also point to a military-wide “stand down” against extremism in 2021 as having tarnished the military’s reputation.

Republican frustrations with the military’s diversity, equity and inclusion policies were on display Tuesday during a Senate confirmation hearing for Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown Jr., Biden’s choice to lead the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Mo., took issue with diversity goals for recruitment that were described in a 2022 memorandum signed by Brown and other Air Force leaders, accusing them of “cultural Marxism.”

“This administration has infused... [diversity, equity and inclusion] politics into our military,” Schmitt said. “It is a cancer on the best military in the history of the world.”

In response, Brown underscored that merit would still determine entry into the Air Force and explained that the recruitment goals were aimed at better reflecting the demographics of the nation. The memo noted that, “these goals are aspirational … and will not be used in any manner that undermines our merit-based processes.”

Despite assertions that focusing on diversity and extremism prevention harms recruitment, advocates argue those policies actually help. Cutting the deputy inspector general for diversity and inclusion and extremism in the military – the watchdog for those programs – would only worsen recruitment, argued Allison Jaslow, CEO for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

“The idea that we should eliminate a position that’s important to ensuring that our military has the best culture possible for our troops would be ridiculous on any day. But in the midst of a recruiting crisis, it’s senseless,” Jaslow said.

The Department of Defense Office of Inspector General highlights every year the major challenges facing the Pentagon. For fiscal 2023, the IG reported that recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce was one of those obstacles, citing the increased competition with the private sector and a shrinking pool of eligible recruits. Given that problem, one of Hull’s plans for her office is to shed light on how the Pentagon could better recruit and retain a diverse force.

“When potential recruits can’t identify with their military, they’re less likely to join. They need to be able to see that diversity to know that they would feel included and belong,” Hull said. “Without focused oversight, we’re missing opportunities there.”

Uncovering and reporting extremism

Congress created Hull’s office through the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, which was approved in 2020. At the time, the issue of ideological extremism in the ranks was becoming more visible. The FBI notified the Pentagon that it had opened criminal investigations into 143 current or former service members in 2020, 68 of those cases involving domestic extremism.

The issue of veterans and service members engaging in extremist violence has been studied more closely in the few years since. Researchers at the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism analyzed three decades of extremist attacks and reported in June that a military background is the most commonly shared characteristic among extremists who committed or plotted mass casualty attacks from 1990 through 2022, more so than criminal histories or mental health problems.

And since the law creating Hull’s position went into effect in early 2021, the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General stood up an entire component around diversity, equity and extremism that she now leads. Her office has so far launched investigations into the medical waiver process for military recruiting and how the military supports dual-military spouses, among other issues. One continual task for the office is oversight of the Pentagon’s anti-extremism efforts.

When creating Hull’s position, Congress mandated that the office submit an annual report to lawmakers about the effectiveness of the military’s programs to prevent and respond to extremism. The office has so far issued two of those reports, and in both urged the Pentagon to establish standard policies across the services to track and report instances of extremist activities in real time.

Hull said that military leaders are working to implement those policies, but it remains uncertain whether they’ll be in place before it’s time to issue the office’s 2023 update this December. It will be difficult to compare the number of extremist activities by year or discern whether the Pentagon’s prevention efforts are working until a standardized reporting system is created, Hull said.

“Because there are different services and different offices that retain this information, there wasn’t a central database that was being maintained,” she said. “Not having a centralized system has been an issue.”

Amy Cooter, a research fellow with the Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism, is an expert on domestic militia groups and has initiated a study into how those groups recruit veterans and service members. Based on her study so far, Cooter believes the military should increase diversity efforts, rather than do away with them. A more diverse force means more opportunity to challenge the stereotypes some troops may have learned in homogeneous communities and stop them from being radicalized against other races, she said.

Cooter described Alford’s attempt to abolish Hull’s position as “politically motivated,” adding, “unfortunately it’s the opposite of what we should be doing, both for unit cohesion and long term risks of radicalization.”

This story was produced in partnership with Military Veterans in Journalism. Please send tips to MVJ-Tips@militarytimes.com.

<![CDATA[Gen. Randy George, once admonished, is now Army chief in waiting]]>https://www.armytimes.com/land/2023/07/12/gen-randy-george-once-admonished-is-now-army-chief-in-waiting/https://www.armytimes.com/land/2023/07/12/gen-randy-george-once-admonished-is-now-army-chief-in-waiting/Wed, 12 Jul 2023 00:52:51 +0000WASHINGTON — “What the hell are we doing here?”

That was the question then-Col. Randy George asked then-Lt. Col. Brad Brown when he first visited Combat Outpost Keating in Afghanistan in late 2008.

Ahead of their official deployment to Afghanistan, the two were attending a memorial service for the most recent commander of the base, who had been killed by a roadside bomb that exploded nearby, Brown recalled in an interview with Defense News. That commander wasn’t the first soldier to die there or the last.

Brown said it was clear to George the outpost, along with several others in the northeast region of the country, needed to close.

COP Keating, nestled in a valley and surrounded by insurgents roaming the mountains, relied almost entirely on support from helicopters because the single road leading to the post was difficult to access for anything larger than a Humvee.

The outpost had been named for 1st Lt. Ben Keating, who died when his vehicle fell off a cliff near the base, but closing the facility proved difficult.

Afghanistan in 2008, Brown said, “really became sort of a cyclical process where you just go, you do your time, you try not to get anybody killed and you leave and hand it over to the next guy.”

“For Randy, that wasn’t good enough,” Brown said.

George declined requests for an interview ahead of the Senate confirmation process.

“The guy that may have established that base ... as a battalion commander is now a division commander,” Brown said. “When you say, ‘Well, this is a stupid place to put a base,’ you’re effectively telling the person who did that, that was dumb, it was a mistake and everybody that fought there and died there wasted their time.”

George still wanted to move forward and eventually received approval, but in fall 2009, before it could be closed, the vulnerable outpost was nearly overrun by Taliban fighters. The attackers killed eight U.S. soldiers and four Afghan army soldiers defending the outpost.

In a 2017 Army video, George recounted how the troops “were in a very difficult position in very difficult terrain at the bottom of a mountain, basically the bottom of a hole and were attacked by more than 300 Taliban.”

After an investigation into the attack, Brown and a captain received formal reprimands, while George and a second captain received admonishments — a similar but less severe form of administrative punishment. George continued to seek to close COP Keating and other remote outposts, shuttering them by the end of his year-long deployment.

“He did everything to ensure that the people that were there got every bit of support that they could get,” Brown said. “I always felt that he was in our corner.”

Now George, the vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army, is nominated to become the service’s top uniformed officer and the principal military adviser to Army Secretary Christine Wormuth. Former colleagues say he will benefit from his experience working to advocate for troops, like he did for those who defended COP Keating, as recruitment and retention are expected to take center stage.

At the same time he’ll have to manage the pressure on force structure, he is also set to face tightened budgets and a push to get dozens of key modernization programs to troops.

“He’s getting squeezed on all fronts,” said Tom Spoehr, a retired Army three-star general who is now with the Heritage Foundation. “He’s getting squeezed on manpower, is being squeezed on money and ... for the foreseeable future, there’s going to be trade-offs that need to be made.”

George is set to appear Wednesday at a confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

In your corner

George, who was born in Iowa, graduated from West Point in 1988. He began his career as an infantry officer and served in Desert Storm as a lieutenant in the 101st Airborne Division.

He initially deployed to Iraq in 2003 as deputy commander of the 173rd Airborne Brigade based in Italy, and again in 2004 as the commander of the 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment.

According to colleagues who saw him lead, like Brown, he quickly gained a reputation as relatable and a supporter of his troops.

Retired Lt. Gen. James Pasquarette, who worked with George multiple times in his career, told Defense News George is authentic.

“That’s what makes him connect with soldiers,” he said.

At a conference in Asadabad, Afghanistan, in late 2009, George sought common ground with the audience of Afghan leaders.

“I came from a very small, small village town like many of you find right here,” he told them, according to an Army video. “My father was a farmer, he didn’t have a lot of land. We weren’t a very wealthy family and we relied on the government to help us contribute to society. We relied on the government to help protect us and provide the right environment to raise a family.”

Gen. Randy George is shown in his 1988 West Point yearbook. (Courtesy of West Point).

While serving as a brigade commander in Afghanistan, George outfitted his entire brigade with lighter equipment, Brown said, including armor, knee pads and sleeping bags, to cope with challenging mountainous terrain.

“We were famously the first unit to go in in like non-standard boots,” Brown said.

George bought high-quality hiking boots — two pairs for every soldier in the unit — even though the shoes weren’t Army-approved, Brown said.

“It’s breaking the norms that the Army has that are so ingrained about uniformity and what’s issued,” he added.

When George was serving as I Corps commander at Joint Base Lewis McChord in Washington state during the COVID-19 pandemic, he walked the base with his wife Patty, a fellow West Point graduate, stopping people along the way to see if he could help them, Shane Pospisil, who was I Corps’ command sergeant major at the time, told Defense News.

Those conversations almost always led to action, Pospisil said; if George couldn’t solve the problem, he’d contact the person to explain why.

During this stint, George secured funding to fix the runway at the base and identified private money to open the first Defense Department Children’s Museum there, Pospisil said.

George prefers face-to-face interactions over video teleconferences or phone calls, the sergeant major noted. He often chose to walk around the base with Pospisil and other staff to discuss work rather than hash things out in the office.

His focus on respectful connection also extended to those whom he met for less-favorable reasons, according to retired Maj. Gen. Pat Donahoe. The two-star general’s retirement was delayed in 2022 due to an inspector general investigation into his social media conduct, which threatened to see his retirement pension docked.

George was the Army’s messenger about his fate, Donahoe recounted in an exclusive January interview. But rather than focusing on Donahoe’s social media policy violations, or the media controversy they caused, the once-admonished vice chief wanted to hear how the Army could improve its administrative investigation processes and modernize its approach to social media.

“He took notes through the whole 45 minutes; he was inquisitive; he wanted to understand my perspective,” Donahoe recalled, noting the “cordial and professional” interaction was their first.

Soldiers assigned to the 15th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division meet with U.S. Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Randy George on Nov. 4, 2022, at Fort Irwin, California. (Staff Sgt. Matthew Lumagui/U.S. Army)

Challenges ahead

Just as he did in closing Keating and other remote outposts in Afghanistan, George will face a series of strategic decisions if confirmed as Army chief of staff.

George would take command of an Army that has struggled in recent years to meet recruiting goals. As a result, it has reduced its end-strength numbers and its objectives even as Army officials want to see the force grow.

The Army’s planned end strength in fiscal 2024 is 452,000 active duty troops. In FY23, the Army planned for a force of 473,000. The service expected in its FY23 budget to increase its end strength back to 485,000 active duty soldiers within five years, but is now projecting 464,000 active duty troops in FY28.

War is raging on in Ukraine, and the Army continues to send weapons and equipment in large numbers as it works to rapidly replenish stock. The Army is expected to soon decide how much it will need to replenish munitions expended in the war in Ukraine to ensure the right balance of stock to support allies and partners while preparing for potential large-scale wars in the future.

And the Army is pushing hard to modernize, investing billions in over 35 new programs meant to help the service be able to fight near-peer adversaries across all domains. This modernization initiative follows years of failure to develop and procure new weapon systems and could face headwinds due to projected flat budgets and higher inflation.

His past suggests George will prioritize soldiers and their families, according to many of his former colleagues.

Recruiting and budget issues will likely be George’s biggest challenges and he’s already tackling these issues as vice chief of staff, Spoehr, the Heritage analyst, told Defense News.

George has shown he’s willing to make hard decisions, said Tony DeMartino, a retired Army colonel, who served with George multiple times throughout his career, including in Afghanistan. “The Army needs that, the Army doesn’t need to muddle along.”

It is not the first time Wormuth and George have worked together, which will be beneficial, Brown said. George collaborated on the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review Wormuth led as under secretary of defense for strategy, plans and forces. At the time, George was deputy director for regional operations and force management in the J-3.

If confirmed, George and Wormuth together will likely have to make tough decisions when it comes to how it meets ambitious modernization goals using newer tools like Army Futures Command to usher in not just new tech, but redesigned formations that make sense for evolving warfare against near-peer enemies.

Brown said he hopes George will “break the model [and] be innovative,” rather than accepting the “way we’ve always done it.”

Sgt. Daphney Black
<![CDATA[Marine vet who avoided spotlight found purpose before death in Ukraine]]>https://www.armytimes.com/veterans/2023/07/11/marine-vet-who-avoided-spotlight-found-purpose-before-death-in-ukraine/https://www.armytimes.com/veterans/2023/07/11/marine-vet-who-avoided-spotlight-found-purpose-before-death-in-ukraine/Tue, 11 Jul 2023 22:28:43 +0000Even as a kid, Ian Frank Tortorici rejected the limelight.

His father, Jon Frank, liked to express his pride in him by posting photos and videos of him on social media.

But the boy would insist, “Don’t put me on Facebook.”

When Frank uploaded a video of his son’s wrestling highlights to YouTube — “he had a move, a cradle, he just mastered that move,” Frank recalled — Tortorici wrote in the comments, “To whom it may concern, I do not condone this video.”

So Frank knows that when his son volunteered to fight in Ukraine, it wasn’t because he wanted attention. And he knows that his son, who was killed June 27 at age 32 in what Frank said was a missile strike in Kramatorsk, wouldn’t have wanted people to make a fuss over his death.

Ukraine lessons take center stage in Marines’ new information warfare plan

But Frank said he feels he has to get his son’s story out.

“I just have to, because he’s not here and he can’t stop me,” he said in an interview with Marine Corps Times on Friday. “I have to tell the world who he is.”

The father said, “I didn’t know who he was.”

One of five children, Tortorici “was always a guardian,” his younger brother, Taylor Frank, wrote in a Facebook statement July 3. Taylor Frank, who often was in the hospital as a kid, remembered his brother reading to him or distracting him with funny faces so he wouldn’t notice the needles.

Tortorici developed an interest in the military at age 14, when he decided to do Devil Pups, a program that gives youth a taste of life in the Marine Corps. He loved it, Jon Frank said.

As a teen, Tortorici considered the Navy Reserve as a way to pay for college but spoke to a Marine recruiter with prompting from his dad, a Marine veteran. That was it: He became a Marine reservist.

The young man grew up with the last name Frank and served in the Marine Corps under that name but adopted Tortorici, his great-grandfather’s name, as an adult.

He changed his name the way he did everything else in life, according to his father. He announced once, with little fanfare, that he would do it, and then he did it.

Tortorici served in the Reserve as a data systems technician beginning in 2009 and left as a corporal, according to Marine spokeswoman Yvonne Carlock. His Reserve end of current contract was listed in the Marine Corps’ databases as 2016, according to Carlock, though Jon Frank said his time in the Reserve ended the year prior.

He was activated for 10 months at Miramar, California, where he was part of Marine Wing Support Squadron 473, though he never got sent on his expected deployment to Bahrain, Jon Frank said.

Tortorici didn’t fit in with the “bravado” of the Corps, and he didn’t like to tell people he was a Marine, his father said.

After graduating from Seattle Pacific University, the young man tried out teaching and tech but decided to become a law enforcement officer for the National Park Service and later for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In his time off, Tortorici would strap on a backpack and explore Europe — especially Eastern Europe, according to Frank.

It was there that Tortorici met a young Ukrainian woman, who would become his girlfriend, Frank later learned.

When Russia’s war in Ukraine began in February 2022, Tortorici’s girlfriend urged him to provide humanitarian aid rather than volunteer on the front lines, as she later recounted to Frank.

But Tortorici signed up with the Ukrainian International Legion, a group of foreign citizens fighting for Ukraine.

Characteristically, he kept that decision to himself, until March 2022, when Tortorici told Frank via an out-of-the-blue secure message that he had gone to volunteer in Ukraine.

‘I’ll come home when it’s over’

Throughout the next 15 months, Tortorici would fight in seminal battles across Ukraine, according to Frank.

Sometimes, he shared details; other times, he went silent for weekslong stretches during which his father feared the worst.

Frank noticed from the messages that his son had changed, had become bolder. Prouder.

In photos, his kit always looked spiffy, and it was clear to Frank that Tortorici took immense pride in every part of his uniform. That was unusual for Tortorici, who once had bought the cheapest car he could find in the Sunday newspaper, with vinyl seats and roll-up windows, Frank said.

When his father asked him to come home, Tortorici invariably responded, “I’ll come home when it’s over.”

In late June, Tortorici had some time off from fighting on the front lines. He told Frank he was heading to Kramtorsk, Ukraine.

When Frank saw news on Telegram of a Russian missile strike hitting a restaurant in that city, he worried. His son rarely splurged, but when he did it was on things that made him laugh and on food.

Frank messaged Tortorici but got no response.

A few days later came the call from the State Department.

With his death, Tortorici became at least the fifth U.S. Marine veteran to be killed volunteering in Ukraine.

The other Marine vets known to have died in the war in Ukraine are former Sgt. Cooper “Harris” Andrews, 26, killed in April; former Cpl. Pete Reed, 33, killed in February; and retired Capt. Grady Kurpasi, 50, and Willy Joseph Cancel, 22, each killed in April 2022.

The State Department has discouraged Americans from volunteering in Ukraine, although Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has welcomed foreign volunteers.

After Tortorici’s death, his grieving father heard more about his son’s last year and a quarter from those who fought alongside him.

His comrades said Tortorici showed no fear and always insisted on being the first to hit the trenches, according to Frank.

They said he thrice had an instinct to move positions, saving himself and others from artillery fire each time. They said he would push back with officers if he believed something wasn’t right, and the officers would listen because they respected his battlefield experience.

“I’m learning so many things about him,” Frank said. “I just don’t understand how that’s my son. It’s not my son who they’re talking about. He’s not a warrior. And to them, that’s all he is. Somebody who was born to do this.”

Tortorici will never get to live out what his father said was his plan of marrying his girlfriend and raising a family with her on a farm in Eastern Europe.

But one consolation for Frank is that his son, in fighting for Ukraine with the men on his team, finally found a place he felt like he belonged.

“Everybody’s sharing pictures with me,” Frank said, “and I’ve never seen his face so happy in his whole life.”

Editor’s note: This story was corrected July 13 to clarify the end date of Tortorici’s Marine Corps service and the type of car he bought.

<![CDATA[Draft defense bills disagree on Army Combat Fitness Test’s future]]>https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-army/2023/07/11/draft-defense-bills-disagree-on-army-combat-fitness-tests-future/https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-army/2023/07/11/draft-defense-bills-disagree-on-army-combat-fitness-tests-future/Tue, 11 Jul 2023 22:27:14 +0000Congress isn’t always known for compromise.

But for 62 years straight, the House and Senate have settled their differences and passed the annual National Defense Authorization Act, which sets military policy and authorizes later funding bills.

And with the Senate’s top defense legislators officially filing their version of the bill Tuesday, one of many impasses to overcome concerns the future of the Army Combat Fitness Test. Both legislative chambers want change, but their proposals sharply differ.

The embattled combat fitness test finally became the Army’s record test for active duty troops on Oct. 1, 2022 following a bumpy multi-year implementation period.

The House’s bill, which had its amended text filed on June 30, would direct the Army to adopt “sex-neutral physical fitness standards” for combat jobs on the ACFT.

Meanwhile, the Senate version’s authors want the test entirely replaced with the old Army Physical Fitness Test. The combat test, if the Senate has its way, would be downgraded to “a supplemental tool to assess physical fitness.” Army leaders, including Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston, have described the old test as inferior and anathema to the service’s effort to transform its fitness culture.

The Senate bill would also micromanage any changes to the classic test’s two minutes of push-ups, two minutes of sit-ups, and its two-mile run. The Army would need to pilot any tweaks to the test for “at least 24 months,” brief the proposed changes to Congress, and then wait “one year after” the briefing to formally put them in place.

The idea to eliminate the combat test came from Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said a Senate aide familiar with negotiations. It’s not clear why Cotton pushed for the change, and his staff did not immediately respond to questions from Military Times.

The defense policy bill still has a long road ahead before either of the proposed changes go into law — meaning it’s impossible to predict which proposed change to the ACFT (if any) will prevail.

First, the House and Senate must each finalize and approve their respective versions of the law. Then the two chambers will appoint a handful of lawmakers to a conference committee, where they negotiate to reconcile discrepancies between the two bills. Then both chambers must pass the compromise bill before it goes to President Joe Biden for signature.

<![CDATA[Army vet paralyzed from run-in with police gets $20 million settlement]]>https://www.armytimes.com/veterans/2023/07/11/army-vet-paralyzed-from-run-in-with-police-gets-20-million-settlement/https://www.armytimes.com/veterans/2023/07/11/army-vet-paralyzed-from-run-in-with-police-gets-20-million-settlement/Tue, 11 Jul 2023 19:06:42 +0000SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A Northern California man who was left paralyzed after he was slammed to the ground during a traffic stop won a $20 million settlement, one of the largest in the state’s history, officials announced Tuesday.

Gregory Gross, an Army veteran who lives in Yuba City, sued the police department in 2022 after police officers used “pain compliance” techniques and expressed disbelief when he repeatedly cried out, “I can’t feel my legs.” Police officers also dismissed Gross when he said, “I can’t breathe,” while being held facedown on the lawn outside a hospital, video released by Gross’s lawyers shows.

Gross was accused of driving drunk and causing a slow-speed collision in April 2020.

Gross was left with a broken neck, and he underwent two surgeries to fuse his spine. He said the officers’ use of force left him unable to walk or care for himself, and he now needs round-the-clock nursing care for the rest of his life.

“We are not against the police,” said Attorney Moseley Collins, who represents Gross. “We are for the police, but we are against police brutality when it occurs.”

The settlement is among one of the largest police misconduct settlements in California history. In May, the state agreed to pay $24 million to the family of a man who died in police custody after screaming, “I can’t breathe,” as multiple officers restrained him while trying to take a blood sample.

As part of the settlement, Yuba City will also start randomly auditing officers’ bodycam footage and reviewing use of force incidents, police Chief Brian Baker said. He apologized to Gross at a news conference Tuesday.

“You’ve been in my thoughts since this tragedy was brought to my attention,” Baker said to Gross. “On April 12th, 2020, we missed the mark. And for that, Mr. Gross, I’m sorry.”

Gross said the police reforms are important to make sure what happened to him isn’t repeated. He’s donating $20,000 to California Peace Officers’ Memorial Foundation.

“I’m glad that they did something and took it serious,” Gross said Tuesday. “I couldn’t understand how someone could be in a position of authority and was acting like that and treating another human being like that.”

Deronda Harris, Gross’ partner of 13 years, said she’s grateful to see the settlement finalized.

“It’s nice to finally have closure,” Harris told The Associated Press.

Gross also filed separate lawsuits in 2021 against Rideout Memorial Hospital in Marysville, along with the University of California, Davis Medical Center, alleging their actions contributed to his condition. Collins declined to comment on the status of the lawsuits, citing confidentiality.

In the police body camera video supplied by Gross’ lawyers, an officer is seen twisting Gross’ already handcuffed arms and forcibly seating him on a lawn. At one point, officers slammed him on the ground and held him facedown as Gross repeatedly cried out that he couldn’t feel his legs and he couldn’t breathe.

“Mr. Gross, we are done with your silly little games,” an officer tells him.

In September 2021, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law barring police from using certain facedown holds that have led to multiple unintended deaths. The bill was aimed at expanding on the state’s ban on chokeholds in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.

Rich Pedroncelli
<![CDATA[Is Barbie a Chinese communist sympathizer? GOP lawmakers weigh in]]>https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/07/11/is-barbie-a-chinese-communist-sympathizer-gop-lawmakers-weigh-in/https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/07/11/is-barbie-a-chinese-communist-sympathizer-gop-lawmakers-weigh-in/Tue, 11 Jul 2023 19:03:23 +0000A movie about plastic dolls, not nuclear weapons, has caused political uproar among some conservatives over its depiction of a dashed line off the coast of a child-like drawing of Asia — markings that somewhat resemble territorial border claims by China in the South China Sea.

Outside of Barbie world, the horseshoe-shaped nine-dash line has been used by the Chinese government since the 1940s as a claim of up to 85% of the South China Sea. The film’s drawing drew attention to such claims, angering Republican lawmakers just a couple weeks ahead of the movie’s July 21 theatrical release.

“While it may just be a Barbie map in a Barbie world, the fact that a cartoonish, crayon-scribbled map seems to go out of its way to depict the [Peoples Republic of China]’s unlawful territorial claims illustrates the pressure that Hollywood is under to please CCP censors,” Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wisc., who chairs the House select committee on the Chinese Communist Party, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last week.

Many countries bordering the South China Sea, including Malaysia and the Philippines, have long-disputed the claims made by Beijing.

In 2016, the international court in the Hague, Netherlands, also rejected China’s claims to the region, where nearly one-third of global goods transit en route to ports around the globe, according to a report on U.S.-China economic cooperation. The U.S. Navy has also routinely sailed through the region as part of freedom of navigation operations.

The territorial depiction in Barbie, meanwhile, so angered Vietnam, which claims part of the South China Sea, that the film was banned in the country, according to a report by Variety.

A spokesperson for Warner Bros. Film Group, however, said viewers have been reading too much into the map.

“The map in Barbie Land is a child-like crayon drawing,” the spokesperson told Variety. “The doodles depict Barbie’s make-believe journey from Barbie Land to the ‘real world.’ It was not intended to make any type of statement.”

But even if Barbie is just a Barbie girl in a Barbie world, that hasn’t stopped some politicians from decrying the dire implications a movie about plastic dolls could have when it comes to the near-peer threat out of Beijing.

“Hollywood & the Left are more concerned with selling films in Communist China than standing up to the regime’s human rights abuses,” Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., said in a tweet. “The ‘Barbie’ movie’s depiction of a map endorsing Beijing’s claims to the South China Sea is legally [and] morally wrong and must be taken seriously.”

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has accused Hollywood of appeasing the Chinese government to ensure the approval of film distribution in the populous country. Other organizations like the National Basketball Association have also been slammed by critics for catering to the Chinese government in order to protect growing business interests in the country.

“China wants to control what Americans see, hear, and ultimately think, and they leverage their massive film markets to coerce American companies into pushing CCP propaganda — just like the way the Barbie film seems to have done with the map,” a spokesperson for Cruz told Military Times.

<![CDATA[CQ Brown decries hold on nominations in hearing to head Joint Chiefs]]>https://www.armytimes.com/air/2023/07/11/cq-brown-decries-hold-on-nominations-in-hearing-to-head-joint-chiefs/https://www.armytimes.com/air/2023/07/11/cq-brown-decries-hold-on-nominations-in-hearing-to-head-joint-chiefs/Tue, 11 Jul 2023 18:30:32 +0000WASHINGTON — Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown avoided setting off any major fireworks during his Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday to serve as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, maintaining his reputation as a nonpartisan officer.

But he forcefully laid out the impact that a blanket Senate hold on hundreds of senior military confirmations, including his own, is having on the readiness of the joint force.

“We have strong deputies, but at the same time they don’t have the same level of experience going forward,” Brown told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “In addition to the senior officers, there’s a whole chain of events that goes down to our junior officers. And that has an impact.”

Brown said the holds on senior military officers instated by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., also prevents junior officers from moving up the chain of command, hindering their careers. He noted that if the Senate doesn’t promote the senior officers, they remain in their current positions, “blocking the spot for someone else.”

Additionally, he said it impacts the families of staffers and junior officers as well, preventing them for planning their futures amid uncertainty over where they’ll be based.

“Whether it’s school, whether it’s employment, whether it’s the fact that they already sold their home because they thought they were going to move and are now living in temporary quarters, that creates a challenge,” said Brown. “We will lose talent. The spouse network is alive and well, and the spouses will compare notes.”

Tuberville started a blanket hold on senior military confirmations in February, demanding that the Pentagon rescind its new policy providing paid travel leave for troops to travel to receive abortion services if they’re stationed in states where it’s no longer legal. He was not in the room when Brown outlined the impact his military holds have had.

Democratic lawmakers are reluctant to devote limited floor time to confirming otherwise non-controversial military nominees usually confirmed unanimous consent, even for senior leaders like Brown. Senate Armed Services Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., noted on Monday that it would take 84 days to confirm all 253 promotions held up on the Senate floor if senators did nothing but vote on them for eight hours a day.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who chairs the military personnel panel, noted that Tuberville’s hold will soon affect approximately 650 military confirmations, significantly lengthening that 84-day timeline.

‘Nonpartisan’ aims as chairman

President Biden in May nominated Brown, 60, to be the nation’s next top military officer. If confirmed, he would succeed current Joint Chiefs chairman Army Gen. Mark Milley.

During his hearing, Brown was praised by most senators for his experience and leadership ability, and he appeared to have broad support on the committee.

Brown stressed to senators how important it is to maintain the military’s distance from politics in his hearing, and pledged to set a personal example of remaining nonpartisan if confirmed as chairman. Still, he could not avoid questions on several controversies that have ensnared the armed forces in recent years, including racial and diversity issues and the COVID-19 vaccine.

Brown said he would expect the rest of the force to exhibit the same nonpartisanship he promised to demonstrate — but he also asked civilian leaders not to pull the military into political debates.

“We need to stay out of politics, and stay nonpartisan, nonpolitical,” Brown said. “And at the same time, advocate that our civilian leadership not to bring us into political situations.”

A simmering debate over whether diversity and inclusion initiatives were appropriate in the military erupted late in the hearing, when Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Mo., began his questioning of Brown by asking, “Do we have too many White officers in the Air Force?”

Schmitt criticized Brown for signing onto an Aug. 9, 2022, memo titled “Officer Source of Commission Applicant Pool Goals,” that updated the service’s racial, gender and ethnicity demographic goals for the pool of officer applicants.

That memo, which was also signed by Air Force Sec. Frank Kendall, then-Undersecretary Gina Ortiz Jones, and Space Force Chief of Space Operations Gen. Jay Raymond, called those applicant goals “aspirational,” and called for Air Education and Training Command and the U.S. Air Force Academy to come up with diversity and inclusion outreach plans to achieve those goals.

Schmitt pointed to the memo’s goal of having an applicant pool that is 67.5% White, and characterized it as saying that is what the service’s population of officers should be. This, Schmitt said, would amount to “a reduction, essentially, of about 9% of the White officers.”

Brown said the memo was on application goals, not what the actual makeup of the officer corps should be, and that the percentages were based on nationwide demographics.

The Air Force was not advocating for racial quotas, Brown told Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., which are against the military’s policy.

During the hearing, Brown said the Air Force’s efforts to improve diversity are important to give airmen of all backgrounds a chance at excelling.

“All they want is a fair opportunity to perform,” Brown said. “And by providing that fair opportunity, they do not want to be advantaged or disadvantaged or discounted based on their background.”

In his own roles as a fighter pilot, instructor and commandant of the Air Force Weapons School, Brown said that he wanted to earn all his advancements based on his own merits, not because of his background.

“I didn’t want to be the best African-American F-16 pilot,” Brown said. “I wanted to be the best F-16 pilot.”

Recruiting challenges

At the same time, he said, the Air Force needed to make an effort to reach out to multiple populations across the nation, so they know what opportunities are out there, while not compromising on their qualifications or merit.

“Young people only aspire to be what they know about,” Brown said. “If they don’t know anything about the military, and we don’t outreach to them, we may miss some tremendous talent. But they’ve got to be qualified, because we’re a merit-based organization.”

And with the military facing serious recruiting challenges, Brown said it will be even more important for officials such as himself to “reconnect with the nation” and talk about the opportunities military service can provide.

Some Republican senators also pressed Brown on what he would do as chairman to restore to service about 8,000 troops who were kicked out of the military for refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Brown indicated an openness to allowing some of those discharged troops to reapply and return to service on a case-by-case basis, as long as the vaccine refusal was the only negative mark on their record. But he noted that, as chairman, he would not be in the chain of command to make such decisions, and could only offer his advice to leaders of the individual services.

Schmitt said allowing those troops to reapply isn’t good enough, and said they should be reinstated with rank and back pay.

Lessons from Ukraine, and modernizing

Brown also endorsed multiyear procurement as a means to bolster munitions production, pointing to the Pentagon’s fiscal 2024 budget request for multiyear authorizations to buy items like the Patriot surface-to-air guided missile system and the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System. He argued that doing so would “help provide predictability to the defense-industrial base, to their supply chains and to their workforce.”

He noted that the war in Ukraine has “exposed” underlying issues in the defense-industrial base, such as the ability to surge munitions production. Additionally, he endorsed a Pentagon plan to transfer weapons from U.S. stockpiles to Taiwan under the same authority that President Joe Biden has used to arm Ukraine.

Brown said that munitions sent to Ukraine and Taiwan “are somewhat different just based on the environment that they’re operating in, but there are some that are similar.”

Asked about lessons drawn from the Ukraine war, Brown said the conflict has highlighted the importance of air power.

“From my own perspective as an airman, the value of airpower and having watched what either side has been able to do or not do, but the value of innovative air defense and how that’s been helpful to the Ukrainians in defense of their nation,” said Brown.

He also highlighted how logistics challenges have hampered Russia’s would-be-conquest of Ukraine, and the difficulty of measuring a military’s will to fight. Additionally, he said it stressed the value of using intelligence before a crisis occurs.

In his three years as Air Force chief of staff, Brown has pushed his service to modernize and prepare for a fight against an advanced adversary such as China — an effort he dubbed Accelerate Change or Lose.

Brown reiterated the importance of modernizing to be able to meet a new threat, even if it means sacrificing one’s “own parochial interests.”

That can be a challenge, he acknowledged. But he pledged to carry that mindset into his new role heading the joint chiefs, if confirmed.

“The challenge there is having all of our service members understanding the big picture, and why this is so important, why we need to modernize, and what’s at stake,” Brown said. “Then you step away from your own parochial interests and then we do what’s best — not just for your part of the organization, but what’s best for the entire organization.”

Alex Wong
<![CDATA[Families seek answers 50 years after fire destroyed veterans’ records]]>https://www.armytimes.com/veterans/2023/07/11/families-seek-answers-50-years-after-fire-destroyed-veterans-records/https://www.armytimes.com/veterans/2023/07/11/families-seek-answers-50-years-after-fire-destroyed-veterans-records/Tue, 11 Jul 2023 18:22:49 +0000The apocalyptic scene is still burned into Mike Buttery’s memory 50 years later: Black smoke billowing from the top floor of the Military Personnel Records Center; bits of paper wafting through the air as dozens of firefighters tried desperately to stem the inferno.

“They’d hit it (the paper) with the water, and the water would knock it back up in the air, and then it would float around some more out there,” Buttery, then a janitor at the center, recalls of the wind-whipped paper swirling around the massive six-story building outside Saint Louis.

As he watched from a safe remove, Buttery could only think of the millions of veterans — like himself — whose records were being consumed and “how in the world would they get their benefits.”

“It immediately went through my mind that those people were losing whatever history there was of their service,” Buttery, who served with the Army in northern Vietnam, said during a recent interview from his home in a rural area southwest of the city.

The July 12, 1973, fire in Overland, Missouri, consumed an estimated 16 to 18 million personnel files, the vast majority covering the period just before World War I through 1963. It’s believed to be the largest loss of records in one catastrophe in U.S. history.

It is an event that dogged untold veterans, forcing them to fight once more — this time for benefits, medals and recognition they’d earned. It echoes to this day — in the struggles of families seeking to document the achievements and sacrifices of loved ones, or to bury them with full military honors; and in the efforts of conspiracy theorists, still searching for proof of a nefarious plot behind what government investigators long ago wrote off as most likely the careless act of a single man.

More than anything, it highlights the monumental, ongoing effort to reclaim the history that, at the time, seemed irretrievably lost.

This photo provided by the National Archives and Records Administration shows damaged records after a massive fire at the Military Personnel Records Center in Overland, Mo., near St. Louis, which started on July 12, 1973. (National Archives via AP)

If the records center was meant to inspire awe, mission accomplished.

“Its size is difficult to comprehend, even when one is inside,” Walter W. Stender and Evans Walker, who were with the Federal Records Centers, wrote in a 1974 article in The American Archivist titled, “The National Personnel Records Center: A Study in Disaster.”

“The sheer bulk alone makes a strong impression on the viewer, and the vast scale tends to overwhelm the quiet St. Louis suburban community of Overland where the building rises on a seventy-acre site,” they wrote. “The building, 728 feet long, 282 feet wide, six stories high, presents an impassive façade to the world with its rather bland curtain wall of glass and aluminum.”

Built for the Department of Defense in 1956, the facility was later turned over to the National Archives and Records Service, then part of the General Services Administration. By the time of the fire, the military records center and a nearby one for civilian records had been merged into the National Personnel Records Center.

Walker and Stender, then assistant archivist for the records centers, said the 1.6 million-square-foot building “reflected careful planning.” But “in actual function,” they concluded, “it was not a successful records center.”

There were some sprinklers on the first and second floors, but none in the stacks, and no firewalls between records storage areas.

A rash of fires in the previous year prompted the government to conduct a study of the facility, which was released in the fall of 1972.

“The study concluded that the facility was at high risk for a devastating fire, pointing to the storage containers (cardboard, not metal), the lack of overhead sprinklers, and the ebb-and-flow of employee hours as three particular concerns,” according to a recent blog post by Jessie Kratz, Historian of the National Archives.

Less than a year later, Kratz noted, the worries were validated: the center was “vastly unprepared for fire.”

Buttery says that was apparent, even to a janitor.

“It was so hot and so dry,” Buttery says of the file areas.

“All that paper was packed in cardboard boxes on metal shelving,” says Bill Elmore, a janitor assigned to the sixth floor. “Basically, from the floor to the ceiling.”

The former Air Force crew chief, who was working there under a veteran readjustment program, was nearing the end of his eight-hour shift when he overheard a man pounding on the doors. The man, whom a guard described as having “long hippie-type hair,” shouted that smoke was pouring out of the upper floor windows.

It was 12:11 a.m., July 12.

Elmore noticed a fellow janitor and veteran, Terry Davis, sprinting up the stairs. He followed, hoping to reach the firehoses near the escalators.

What he saw is “etched in my memory.”

“I saw Terry running back towards the very door I had just opened with a scared look on his face,” Elmore says. “And a wall of smoke moving behind him faster than he could run.”

Elmore, Buttery and the others watched from a grassy hill as the windows exploded.

“There was a glow from the top of that building that was just, I mean, it was right up against the clouds,” says Buttery. “There was nothing that was going to stop it, that fire. It had too much fuel.”

According to a GSA investigation, janitor John Staufenbiel was the last person known to have been on the sixth floor. It was 12:05 a.m.

Neither he nor two other custodians who later joined him on the freight elevator reported smelling smoke “or seeing any signs of fire,” the report said.

This photo provided by the National Archives and Records Administration shows the damaged sixth floor and roof of the Military Personnel Records Center in Overland, Mo., near St. Louis, after a massive fire that started on July 12, 1973. (National Archives via AP)

The fire was not declared officially extinguished until the morning of July 16.

It had burned so hot that steel-reinforced concrete columns on the sixth floor buckled, portions of the collapsed roof slab supported only by file cabinets. So much water was poured on the fire that holes had to be knocked in the outer walls to let it drain; eventually, bulldozers were hoisted onto the fifth floor, and what was left of the top story was shoved off the side.

The search for a cause would be daunting. But arson was already front and center.

An investigation found there had been 11 fires in the two and a half years leading up to the conflagration. Six of the incidents were classified as suspected arson, three “identified with careless smoking or disposal of smoking material.”

Elmore says the FBI was clearly “looking for somebody to hang this thing on.” At one point, he says agents led him to a small room and shut off the lights.

“And they turned one of those desk lights into my face, and they stood on the other side of the light in the dark room asking me questions,” he says, including whether he’d smoked on the roof and about “any anti-war feelings or thoughts I might have.”

Buttery says agents came to his home and “stayed almost half the night,” questioning not only him, but his wife.

In addition to looking into reports of faulty fans and undersized extension cords, agents ran down tips that “dissident employees” or someone of Asian “extraction” might have been involved in the fire (the Vietnam War was still raging at the time).

According to a nearly 400--page, partially redacted FBI investigative file, a summer employee was quizzed about any “left-wing or militant-type individuals” employed there. Workers were grilled about their marijuana use.

Eventually, the probe turned to something far more mundane.

A custodian had been going around telling colleagues that he might have started the fire. They passed that on to investigators.

Three months to the day after the fire, the man confessed to agents: Around 11 p.m., he’d snuck up to the sixth floor to smoke and had stubbed out his cigarette on one of the shelves.

The man had been hired by a private organization that provided disabled workers for federal installations. U.S. Attorney Donald J. Stohr told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that it would be difficult to prove intent.

The case was presented to a federal grand jury on Oct. 31, 1973. The panel declined to return an indictment.

This photo provided by the National Archives and Records Administration shows the damaged sixth floor and roof of the Military Personnel Records Center in Overland, Mo., near St. Louis, after a massive fire that started on July 12, 1973. (National Archives via AP)

Fires at the U.S. Capitol, and the War and Treasury Departments during the 19th century claimed uncounted records and objects from the republic’s founding, and a 1921 blaze destroyed nearly the entire 1890 federal Census. But while each “helped to diminish the cultural heritage of this nation,” Stender and Walker wrote, none equaled the 1973 inferno.

The center housed roughly 52 million Official Military Personnel Files, or OMPFs.

The OMPF is like a diary of a veteran’s service, containing every duty station, award, promotion and disciplinary action from enlistment to discharge. It is a kind of one stop shop for veterans seeking a job, medical benefits, insurance or government loans.

These OMPFs can also contain items such as telegrams, letters, photographs and testimonials — sometimes hundreds of pages — that might not exist anywhere else.

Some files were lost from every branch of the service. But Army and Air Force records suffered most.

The flames consumed 80% of Army personnel files for people discharged between Nov. 1, 1912, and Jan. 1, 1960. For the Air Force, it’s estimated that files for 75% of personnel discharged from Sept. 25, 1947, through Jan. 1, 1964, with names that began after “Hubbard, James,” were lost.

The sixth floor was also home to what is commonly referred to as the VIP or — as Elmore has heard some call it — “secrets” vault.

In addition to the personnel files of all veterans working at the center, as well as those of close relatives who served, the vault held the records of “persons of exceptional prominence” or, as it’s sometimes put, from “the famous to the infamous” — former presidents like Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy; gangster John Dillinger and serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer; actors Jimmy Stewart and Burt Lancaster; even Adolf Hitler’s nephew, William, and a Navy mascot named Billy Goat.

“The intense heat of the fire turned the vault into a huge oven and roasted its total content to the consistency of slightly burned toast,” a 1979 report from the Army Adjutant General’s Office said. “Practically every paper in the vault came out with charred, blacked edges and almost complete loss of flexibility.”

Of the records stored in the vault, 1,694 were destroyed or damaged.

Roughly 6.5 million records salvaged from the fire — known as “B” or “burned files” — are kept in climate-controlled warehouses to avoid any further degradation. They aren’t disturbed unless someone requests them.

To the naked eye, many of the pages appear to be nothing but a “black smudge,” says NPRC Director Scott Levins. But technicians can use infrared cameras to reveal what’s beneath that charred mess.

When someone requests a file that was lost, research technicians comb morning reports, unit rosters, payroll lists and other source documents looking for proof of the veteran’s service.

“We’re looking for a date of entry, a separation and a character of service,” says Levins. “And if we can find those three data points from official government records, then we can issue a document ... so veterans can get benefits.”

To date, the center has partially reconstructed nearly 5.5 million records.

Given the periods involved, most of the veterans whose records were destroyed have likely died. Levins says historians and family genealogists seeking to fill out those veterans’ histories are “the real pain point.”

“I have helped countless families find answers, closure, and peace,” says Chicago-based genealogist Jennifer Holik, who has been doing military research for more than a decade. “The fire has been a major obstacle to overcome.”

This photo provided by the National Archives and Records Administration shows the clearing of rubble after a massive fire at the Military Personnel Records Center in Overland, Mo., near St. Louis, which started on July 12, 1973. (National Archives via AP)

Even before the grand jury closed the criminal case, an interagency committee had concluded that the fire’s cause “Cannot be Determined.”

But there are some who will never accept that it was an accident.

One theory Levins has heard is that the fire was started to destroy records connected to Church of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. Although the Air Force records destroyed began with “Hubbard, James,” L. Ron Hubbard served in the Marine Reserves and Navy, and those files now reside in the “vault” area. (Technically no longer a vault, NPRC has an area in the stacks “with greater security controls which contain Specially Protected Holdings,” Levins says.)

Some veterans have even suggested to Levins that the government set the fire “`so they wouldn’t have to pay my benefits.”

One person who still thinks it might have been arson: Elmore.

“The fire was way too big, way too fast,” he says.

Elmore was one of five people who reported the alleged smoker’s admission to the FBI, but he never believed him.

“He wanted attention,” Elmore says of the man. “Anything that he said to any of us, we all took with a huge grain of salt.” (The Associated Press has learned the man’s name but could not locate him or determine if he is still alive.)

Elmore, 75, can’t help wondering if the fire might have been connected to Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal. G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt, leaders of the so-called plumbers who broke into Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Washington hotel, were both veterans.

Levins says there is no definitive list of what was inside the vault in 1973, but that the files of Liddy (Army) and Hunt (Army/Navy) are very much extant. Hunt’s Army record was “impacted by the fire”and partially reconstructed,” Levins says.

Following the fire, Buttery and Elmore helped launch a non-profit veterans service center in St. Louis that helped thousands of former service members find jobs and obtain benefits. Elmore later started a small business, since closed, helping veterans obtain their records.

The former janitors are still friends. But Buttery doesn’t share his buddy’s suspicions.

“I mean, a spark would have ignited, it would have been like a pile of leaves, pile of dry leaves,” says Buttery, 71, who operates a construction business. “I think if anything, it was an accident.”

Ashley Cox, a preservation specialist at the National Archives and Records Administration, and NARA Preservation Technician Tom Schmidt assess a record's condition at the National Personnel Records Center in Spanish Lake, Mo., near St. Louis, on June 2, 2023. (Sean Derrick/National Archives via AP)

In 2011, the same year Levins became director, the NPRC moved into a shiny, modern facility on the other side of St. Louis County. The old building, one story shorter than before, remains vacant.

A half century after the fire, Levins still has a team of around 20 people working full-time on about 6,900 fire-related cases.

If there was a silver lining to the fire, Levins says, it’s that it led to advances in records management, storage and restoration.

The government pioneered vacuum-drying methods to salvage water-logged records, developing safety standards that were later adopted by the National Fire Protection Association.

The VA is methodically digitizing the center’s paper records. Between that and redundant backup procedures, Levins is confident something like this can never happen again.

In 1995, a special task force of the National Archives and Records Administration — now an independent agency — concluded that military personnel files were “permanently valuable.” Under a 2004 agreement with the Department of Defense, all OMPF’s will eventually be turned over to NARA and “will never be destroyed,” Levins says.

“I tell the veterans, `In a sense, you’ve been immortalized, because your military record will be kept for the life of the republic,’” he says. “It will be kept for the same length of time as the United States Constitution.”

<![CDATA[1864 letter recounts Confederate soldier’s masturbation addiction]]>https://www.armytimes.com/off-duty/military-culture/2023/07/11/1864-letter-recounts-confederate-soldiers-masturbation-addiction/https://www.armytimes.com/off-duty/military-culture/2023/07/11/1864-letter-recounts-confederate-soldiers-masturbation-addiction/Tue, 11 Jul 2023 17:23:07 +0000An 1864 letter sent by Confederate Lt. William Dandridge Pitts to assess the wellbeing of his brother Charles is up for auction — and its contents are brimming with remarkably different strokes.

In the handwritten note, Pitts, an officer who served in the 40th Virginia Infantry until his resignation in late 1862, asks the superintendent of the Staunton-based Western Lunatic Asylum, where Charles was being kept as an inmate, to keep him apprised of his brother’s condition.

Once a private in the same outfit as his brother, Charles was discharged from the Confederate Army shortly after the outset of the Civil War due to an unspecified “illness,” according to documentation reviewed by Live Auctioneers.

At least part of that affliction, based on the professional opinion of Charles’ pre-asylum physician and the accounts of numerous soldiers who served alongside him, was chronic masturbation.

“I have had some conversation with the physician who attended my brother previous to his going to the asylum,” Lt. Pitts wrote to the superintendent, “and he advises me to inform you of the fact, that he had learned from some of my brother’s associates, who were in [military] camp with him, that he was addicted to masturbation, while in camp. He (the physician) is also persuaded of this fact from the conversations he has had with my brother.”

“I missed this scene in Gettysburg,” tweeted historian James Taub, the associate curator at the Museum of the American Revolution who first shared the letter to Twitter.

“Director’s Cut,” another user responded.

The poor soldiers forced to bear witness to Charles’ ailment were no doubt scarred, their visages imprinted with thousand-yard stares well before ever being baptized in the fires of armed conflict.

To this day, desperate cries of “It’s Johnny Reb, not Johnny Rub!” echo throughout the South, particularly in Pitts’ home state of Virginia, which labels itself as “for lovers” instead of for onanism.

The condition of the letter, meanwhile, appropriately titled “[Civil War] Soldier Addicted to Masturbation,” is considered “very fine, with only very minor wear and original fold lines,” according to the item’s listing.

The auction, which includes the unusually paired tags of “Civil War” and “Erotica,” is slated to conclude in mid-August. The current bid is $125.

<![CDATA[Sweden’s rocky road from neutrality toward NATO membership]]>https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/07/11/swedens-rocky-road-from-neutrality-toward-nato-membership/https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/07/11/swedens-rocky-road-from-neutrality-toward-nato-membership/Tue, 11 Jul 2023 15:40:00 +0000VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) — When long-neutral Sweden applied for NATO membership together with Finland, both expected a quick accession process.

More than a year later, Finland is in, but Sweden is still in the alliance’s waiting room.

New entries must be approved by all existing members and as NATO leaders meet for a summit in Vilnius, Sweden is missing the green light from two: Turkey and Hungary.

A major obstacle was overcome Monday when Turkey’s president agreed to send NATO’s accession documents to the Turkish Parliament for approval, something he had refused to do for more than a year.

That means Sweden is now close to becoming NATO’s 32nd member, though not quite yet over the finish line. Here’s what to know about Sweden’s tumultuous road toward joining the alliance.


For a country that hasn’t fought a war in two centuries, the decision to join NATO was huge. Sweden declined to take sides during both world wars and throughout the Cold War, embracing neutrality as core to its security policy and even its national identity.

Though it tweaked its status to “nonaligned” after joining the European Union in 1995 and gradually increased cooperation with NATO, Stockholm until last year ruled out applying for membership, with public opinion firmly against it.

As late as November 2021 — three months before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine — then-Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist promised that Sweden would never join NATO while his center-left Social Democrats were in office.

Then the war started. As Russian tanks rumbled across the Ukrainian border and missiles struck Kyiv and other cities, public opinion shifted in both Finland and Sweden. Even Hultqvist and the Social Democrats made a U-turn, and in May last year Sweden and Finland jointly applied for NATO membership.


Most observers expected Sweden and Finland’s applications to be fast-tracked, since they already fulfilled the membership criteria and the Ukraine war added urgency. Twenty-eight NATO countries ratified the accession protocols swiftly.

But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had a different idea. He said Turkey could not welcome the Nordic nations as NATO allies unless they cracked down on groups that Ankara views as security threats, including the banned Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which has led a decades-long insurgency in Turkey.

Sweden has accepted more than 1 million refugees in recent decades, including tens of thousands of Kurds from Turkey, Iran and Iraq. Some of them sympathize with the PKK, which is designated as a terrorist group by the European Union.

Seeking to address Erdogan’s concerns, Finland and Sweden signed a deal with Turkey at last year’s NATO summit in Madrid. They agreed to resume weapons exports to Turkey that were suspended following a 2019 Turkish incursion into Kurdish areas in northern Syria, tighten anti-terror laws and step up efforts to prevent PKK’s activities in their countries.

When Swedes elected a center-right government last September, negotiations with Turkey were expected to become a little easier because the previous Social Democratic government had been burdened by its support for Kurdish militants in Syria with links to the PKK.

But things got complicated in January when pro-Kurdish activists briefly hung an effigy of Erdogan from a streetlight outside Stockholm’s City Hall. Soon after, an anti-Islam activist from Denmark burned the Quran outside the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm.

If the purpose was to stall Sweden’s NATO bid by infuriating Turkey, the protests had the desired effect: Ankara froze NATO talks with Sweden, while allowing Finland to join in April. Conservative Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson’s government spent months trying to repair the damage.

Just as relations appeared to be improving, a refugee from Iraq staged another Quran-burning protest last month outside a mosque in Stockholm, dimming hopes that Turkey would unblock Sweden’s accession before the NATO summit in Vilnius.


The anti-Erdogan protests have gathered pro-Kurdish and far-left demonstrators in Sweden. Some participants have waved PKK flags. Meanwhile, the Quran burnings were carried out by a far-right activist from Denmark and a Christian refugee from Iraq. They might not have gotten much attention if it weren’t for the NATO spotlight, but with Ankara keeping a close eye on developments in Sweden, the protests made headlines in Turkey and other Muslim countries, where leaders slammed Sweden for allowing them. That provoked a discussion in Sweden about whether Quran-burning can be considered incitement to hatred, which is illegal, or a lawful expression of opinion about a world religion.

Swedish officials are trying to assure Turkey that Sweden is not an Islamophobic nation, stressing that the government does not condone Quran-burnings but cannot stop them, citing freedom of speech. The government’s strong condemnations of the protests have caused a backlash domestically with critics accusing Kristersson of bending over backward to placate Turkey.

The protests have also raised suspicions of Russian interference. As soon as Sweden launched its membership bid, the country’s security service warned that Moscow might increase influence activities during the application process. However, no proof has emerged of Russian links to the protesters.


Turkey’s holding up of Sweden’s NATO bid irritated the United States and other allies. Some analysts suggested Turkey was using its leverage to press for upgraded F-16 fighter jets from the U.S. While both Turkish and U.S. officials have said the Swedish accession process and the F-16 upgrades are not connected, President Joe Biden implicitly linked the two issues in a phone call to Erdogan in May.

“I spoke to Erdogan and he still wants to work on something on the F-16s. I told him we wanted a deal with Sweden. So let’s get that done,” Biden said.

Just before departing for NATO summit in Vilnius on Monday, Erdogan came up with yet another demand. He said European countries should reopen long-frozen talks to let Turkey into the European Union. “When you pave the way for Turkey, we’ll pave the way for Sweden as we did for Finland,” he said.

After Erdogan met separately with Kristersson and EU Council President Charles Michel in Vilnius, NATO’s secretary general announced a breakthrough: Erdogan was ready to send Sweden’s accession protocol to the Turkish Parliament in return for deeper cooperation on security issues and Swedish support for reviving Turkey’s quest for EU membership.

While celebrating the agreement as a “very big step on the road” toward NATO membership, Kristersson stopped short of calling NATO membership a done deal, noting it was unclear when the Turkish Parliament would make its decision.


Unlike Turkey, Hungary has not given a reason for why it hasn’t yet ratified Sweden’s NATO membership. Hungary pursued close economic and diplomatic ties with Russia before the war. Since it started, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has refused to back Ukraine with weapons and argued against European Union sanctions on Moscow.

During a visit to Vienna last week, Orban denied that Hungary was delaying Sweden’s membership bid.

“We support the Swedish accession, but the Hungarian parliament has not yet ratified the decision,” he said. “We are in constant contact with the NATO secretary-general and the Turks. So if we have something to do, we will act.”

Many analysts believe that Orban is waiting for Erdogan’s next move and that Hungary will approve Sweden’s accession if Turkey looks likely to do the same. That’s what happened with Finland’s accession.

___ Associated Press writers Justin Spike in Budapest and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.

Mindaugas Kulbis
<![CDATA[As Russia’s war on Ukraine drags on, what is NATO doing to help?]]>https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/07/11/as-russias-war-on-ukraine-drags-on-what-is-nato-doing-to-help/https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/07/11/as-russias-war-on-ukraine-drags-on-what-is-nato-doing-to-help/Tue, 11 Jul 2023 15:30:00 +0000VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) — With Russia’s war on Ukraine in its 17th month, and Western countries sending increasingly hi-tech and long-range weapons and ammunition to help President Volodymyr Zelenskyy defend his country, it’s easy to lose track of where NATO stands.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg — the top civilian official at the world’s biggest security alliance — routinely praises allies for helping Ukraine’s troops to fight back. But when he does, Stoltenberg is talking about individual member countries, not NATO as an organization.

As a NATO summit in Lithuania’s capital begins Tuesday, here’s a look at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and what it’s doing to help Ukraine.


The 31-nation military alliance provides only non-lethal support to Ukraine: Fuel, combat rations, medical supplies, body armor, winter uniforms and equipment to counter mines, chemical and biological threats and drones.

NATO makes its decisions by consensus, and not all member countries agree on sending weapons. The alliance does not impose sanctions, although some of its members do through other organizations like the European Union.


NATO is helping Ukraine’s armed forces to modernize and shift from Soviet-era equipment and military doctrine to modern NATO gear to allow its army to work seamlessly with allied forces. NATO is also helping to strengthen Ukraine’s defense and security institutions.

That assistance is designed to ensure that Ukraine can join NATO at some point in the future, well after the war is over. U.S. President Joe Biden and his counterparts — who are meeting for a summit in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius — have promised that the country will eventually gain membership.


NATO’s primary goal since Russia began building up its troops around Ukraine in 2021 has been to reinforce its own territory, particularly the countries on its eastern flank — so near to Russia, Ukraine and Belarus — from Estonia in the north down to Romania on the Black Sea.

With the war now in its 17th month, NATO wants to deter Russian President Vladimir Putin from broadening the conflict to allied territory farther west.

Around 40,000 troops are on standby along the eastern flank. About 100 aircraft take to the skies in that territory on any given day, and a total of 27 warships are operating in the Baltic and Mediterranean Seas this month. Those numbers are set to rise.

Under new plans to be endorsed in Vilnius, NATO aims to have up to 300,000 troops ready to move to its eastern flank within 30 days. The plans divide its territory into three zones — the high north and Atlantic area, a zone north of the Alps, and another in southern Europe.


The forces and materiel that NATO drums up for its own defense come from the member countries. NATO has no weapons of its own. The battleships, warplanes, missiles and potential pool of more than 3 million personnel are owned and supplied by member states, mostly at their own cost.

The only equipment NATO has is a fleet of early warning radar planes and some surveillance drones.

The NATO alliance, with its main headquarters in Brussels and military base in Mons, Belgium, is open to any European nation that wants to join and can meet the requirements and obligations. Finland entered in April, and its Nordic neighbor Sweden is on the cusp of joining its ranks.

The Soviet Union, during the Cold War, and Russia have been major preoccupations since the organization was founded in 1949, and in many ways remain the NATO’s reason for being.


The United States is without doubt the biggest and most influential member. It spends more on its own military budget than all the others combined. It also pays almost a quarter of NATO’s common funding for infrastructure and collectively owned equipment.

So, Washington has a big say in how things are run, and smaller allies long to train and work with U.S. forces because it gives them access to equipment and expertise that they cannot afford alone.


The North Atlantic Council meets at ambassadorial level most weeks in Brussels, and less often at the ministerial and heads of state levels, and are chaired by Stoltenberg.

In essence, the former Norwegian prime minister runs the headquarters located near the Brussels airport, a sprawling, cavernous edifice that cost over 1 billion euros to build.

Stoltenberg does not order the allies around. His job is to encourage consensus and speak on their behalf publicly as a single voice representing all 31 members.


On the ground, NATO has helped to keep peace in the Balkans and fought the Taliban-led insurgency in war-torn Afghanistan before the group took control of the country — the alliance’s biggest-ever operation. It was launched after the United States triggered its “all for one and one for all” common defense clause in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

It is the only time the clause, known as Article 5, has been used. That security guarantee is the reason Finland and Sweden sought to join NATO and why Ukraine and other countries in Europe also want in.

Morris MacMatzen
<![CDATA[Zelenskyy says NATO’s ‘absurd’ plans for Ukraine fall short]]>https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/07/11/zelenskyy-says-natos-absurd-plans-for-ukraine-fall-short/https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/07/11/zelenskyy-says-natos-absurd-plans-for-ukraine-fall-short/Tue, 11 Jul 2023 14:45:00 +0000This story has been updated as of 1145am EDT.

VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) — NATO leaders agreed Tuesday to allow Ukraine to join “when allies agree and conditions are met,” the head of the military alliance said, hours after President Volodymyr Zelenskky blasted the organization’s failure to set a timetable for his country as “absurd.”

“We reaffirmed Ukraine will become a member of NATO and agreed to remove the requirement for a membership action plan,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters, referring to a key step in joining the alliance.

“This will change Ukraine’s membership path from a two-step path to a one-step path,” he said.

Although many NATO members have funneled arms and ammunition to Zelenskky’s forces, there is no consensus among the 31 allies for admitting Ukraine into NATO’s ranks. Instead, the alliance leaders decided to remove obstacles on Ukraine’s membership path so that it can join more quickly once the war with Russia is over.

Zelenskyy pushed back sharply against the decision.

“It’s unprecedented and absurd when a time frame is set neither for the invitation nor for Ukraine’s membership,” Zelenskyy tweeted as he headed to the summit. “While at the same time, vague wording about ‘conditions’ is added even for inviting Ukraine. It seems there is no readiness to invite Ukraine to NATO or to make it a member of the Alliance.”

Asked about Zelenskky’s concerns, Stoltenberg said that the most important thing now is to ensure that his country wins the war, because “unless Ukraine prevails there is no membership to be discussed at all.”

The broadside from Zelenskyy could renew tensions at the summit shortly after it saw a burst of goodwill after Turkey agreed to advance Sweden’s bid to join NATO. Allies hope to resolve the seesawing negotiations and create a clear path forward for the alliance and its support for Ukraine.

Officials have drafted a proposal, which has not been publicly released, on Ukraine’s potential membership. U.S. President Joe Biden expressed support during a meeting with Stoltenberg, but Zelenskyy wrote on Twitter that he was not satisfied.

“We value our allies,” he said but added that “Ukraine also deserves respect.”

He also said: “Uncertainty is weakness. And I will openly discuss this at the summit.”

Zelenskyy is expected to meet with Biden and other NATO leaders on Wednesday.

There have been sharp divisions within the alliance over Ukraine’s desire to join NATO, which was promised back in 2008 even though few steps were taken toward that goal.

Stoltenberg wrote in Foreign Affairs on Monday that the alliance would “upgrade our political ties” by forming a NATO-Ukraine Council, which would be “a platform for decisions and crisis consultation.”

In addition, the Baltic states — including Lithuania, which is hosting the summit — have pushed for a strong show of support and a clear pathway toward membership for Ukraine.

However, the United States and Germany urged caution. Biden said last week that Ukraine was not ready to join. Members of NATO, he told CNN, need to “meet all the qualifications, from democratization to a whole range of other issues,” a nod toward longstanding concerns about governance and corruption in Kyiv.

In addition, some fear that bringing Ukraine into NATO would serve more as a provocation to Russia than as a deterrence against aggression.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said allies were debating the “precise nature” of Ukraine’s pathway to membership. However, he promised that the summit would demonstrate how Russian President Vladimir Putin’s hopes for fractures within NATO will go unfulfilled.

The dispute over Ukraine stands in contrast to a hard-fought agreement to advance Sweden’s membership. The deal was reached after days of intensive meetings, and it’s poised to expand the alliance’s strength in Northern Europe.

“Rumors of the death of NATO’s unity were greatly exaggerated,” Sullivan told reporters triumphantly on Tuesday.

According to a joint statement issued when the deal was announced, Erdogan will ask Turkey’s parliament to approve Sweden joining NATO.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, another holdout, is expected to take a similar step. Hungary’s foreign minister said Tuesday that his country’s ratification of Sweden’s NATO membership was now just a “technical matter.” Erdogan has not yet commented publicly.

The outcome is a victory as well for Biden, who has touted NATO’s expansion as an example of how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has backfired on Moscow.

Finland has already become the 31st member of the alliance, and Sweden is on deck to become the 32nd. Both Nordic countries were historically nonaligned until the war increased fears of Russian aggression.

Because of the deal on Sweden’s membership, “this summit is already historic before it has started,” Stoltenberg said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that NATO’s expansion is “one of the reasons that led to the current situation.”

“It looks like the Europeans don’t understand their mistake,” Peskov said. He warned against putting Ukraine on a fast track for NATO membership.

“Potentially it’s very dangerous for the European security, it carries very big risks,” Peskov said.

Biden and Erdogan were scheduled to meet Tuesday evening, and it was unclear how some of the Turkish president’s other demands will be resolved. He has been seeking advanced American fighter jets and a path toward membership in the European Union. The White House has expressed support for both, but publicly insisted that the issues were not related to Sweden’s membership in NATO.

“I stand ready to work with President Erdogan and Turkey on enhancing defense and deterrence in the Euro-Atlantic area,” Biden said in a statement late Monday.

The phrasing was a nod to Biden’s commitment to help Turkey acquire new F-16 fighter jets, according to an administration official who was not authorized to comment publicly.

The Biden administration has backed Turkey’s desire to buy 40 new F-16s as well as modernization kits from the U.S. It’s a move some in Congress, most notably Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J, have opposed over Turkey blocking NATO membership for Sweden, its human rights record and other concerns.

In Washington, Menendez said he was “continuing to have my reservations” on providing the fighter aircraft to Turkey. If the Biden administration could show that Turkey wouldn’t use the F-16s belligerently against other NATO members, particularly its neighbor Greece, and meet other conditions, “then there may be a way forward,” Menendez told reporters.

Biden is on a five-day trip to Europe, with the NATO summit as its centerpiece.

The president spent Monday in the United Kingdom, meeting at Windsor Castle with King Charles III and in London with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

He met Tuesday with Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda, emphasizing his commitment to transatlantic cooperation, before he joined the NATO gathering.

“Nothing happens here that doesn’t affect us,” Biden told Nauseda. The White House said Nauseda presented Biden with the Order of Vytautas the Great, the highest award a Lithuanian president can bestow. Biden is the first U.S. president to receive it.

After the summit ends Wednesday, Biden will travel to Helsinki. On Thursday, he will celebrate Finland’s recent entry into NATO and meet with Nordic leaders.


Associated Press writers Aamer Madhani, Zeke Miller, Lisa Mascaro and Darlene Superville in Washington, Justin Spike in Budapest, Hungary, and Lorne Cook in Vilnius, Lithuania, contributed to this report.

Efrem Lukatsky