<![CDATA[Army Times]]>https://www.armytimes.comFri, 14 Jul 2023 04:21:55 +0000en1hourly1<![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[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[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[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
<![CDATA[82nd Airborne chorus to compete in America’s Got Talent, honor soldier]]>https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-army/2023/07/11/82nd-airborne-chorus-to-compete-in-americas-got-talent-honor-soldier/https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-army/2023/07/11/82nd-airborne-chorus-to-compete-in-americas-got-talent-honor-soldier/Tue, 11 Jul 2023 13:43:00 +0000The members of the 82nd Airborne Division All-American Chorus are set to audition for America’s Got Talent Tuesday night in a bid to become the country’s next top entertainers.

The unit’s chorus members who spoke with Military Times had previous music experience, but few expected a career in the Army to be the platform that would allow them to reconnect with their musical backgrounds.

For Sgt. Damarielis Vargas, who grew up in Puerto Rico surrounded by music and dancing, that opportunity came when she transitioned from the role of religious affairs specialist to a chorus member in the 82nd Airborne.

“I had spoken to [my staff sergeant] about how I don’t mind going to sing, but I’m a very shy person until you get to meet me,” Vargas told Military Times. “I took a leap of faith, and went and auditioned. All the pieces fell together to where I grew very close to [the other chorus members]. And we just all grew very close after my first audition, so everything just worked out.”

Tuesday’s performance will also afford the soldiers an opportunity to honor a fellow chorus member, Spc. Elijah Crawford, who died a week before the ensemble auditioned for the show.

But what song does an Army chorus perform to sing their way into the judges’ hearts while honoring past members? The group settled on the classic rhythm and blues composition “My Girl” by The Temptations.

The decision, Staff Sgt. Marcus Gilbert told Military Times, took hours of deliberation, but the top-10 hit of 1965 remains a meaningful classic for the chorus.

“It’s sort of an homage to the chorus of the past,” Spc. Oscar Roldan, who will be a soloist in tonight’s performance, told Military Times of the Motown hit. “Our brothers and sisters of the past chorus have always done this piece. ... It’s something we’re very good at and it’s a way to pay tribute to those that came before us.”

Based in Fort Liberty, North Carolina, the chorus represents the 19,000 soldiers who serve in the 82nd Airborne Division. The division specializes in forcible entry operations, during which soldiers parachute into areas to make way for further military operations. Soldiers of the 82nd are renowned for being able to deploy within 18 hours notice.

Tune into NBC Tuesday at 8:00 p.m. EST to see the performance and find out if the judges will advance the chorus into the next round of America’s Got Talent.

Staff Sgt. Javier Orona
<![CDATA[Ridley Scott’s ‘Napoleon’ epic looks poised to conquer]]>https://www.armytimes.com/off-duty/military-culture/2023/07/10/ridley-scotts-napoleon-epic-looks-poised-to-conquer/https://www.armytimes.com/off-duty/military-culture/2023/07/10/ridley-scotts-napoleon-epic-looks-poised-to-conquer/Mon, 10 Jul 2023 20:37:43 +0000The trailer for director Ridley Scott’s (“Gladiator,” “Black Hawk Down”) epic on the rise of French emperor and military mastermind Napoleon Bonaparte has arrived.

The aptly titled “Napoleon” stars Joaquin Phoenix (“The Joker”) as history’s most eponymous warlord. And by all appearances, the intensity of the ruthless conqueror’s rise from soldier to French emperor will be shown in vivid detail — and muted color.

While the film’s battlefield scenes appear as images of utter chaos, the trailer juxtaposes Napoleon’s thirst for power with his lust of romantic pursuits to get an artistic oeuvre about what it means to be a conqueror in all aspects of life.

“The film is an original and personal look at Napoleon’s origins and his swift, ruthless climb to emperor, viewed through the prism of his addictive and often volatile relationship with his wife and one true love, Josephine, played by Vanessa Kirby,” according to an Apple TV+ press release. “[It] captures Napoleon’s famous battles, relentless ambition and astounding strategic mind as an extraordinary military leader and war visionary.”

The trailer concludes with Napoleon lording over a bloody, wintry assault, bombarding soldiers as they fall through thin ice.

“I’m the first to admit when I make a mistake,” he says in the trailer. “I simply never do.”

“Napoleon” debuts in theaters on Nov. 22 before appearing on Apple TV+.

<![CDATA[Former Army financial adviser accused of defrauding Gold Star families]]>https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-army/2023/07/10/former-army-financial-adviser-accused-of-defrauding-gold-star-families/https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-army/2023/07/10/former-army-financial-adviser-accused-of-defrauding-gold-star-families/Mon, 10 Jul 2023 16:21:19 +0000An Army Reserve major who allegedly abused his position as an Army financial counselor to defraud Gold Star families has been indicted, officials announced July 7.

Caz Craffy, who also goes by “Carz Craffey,” was charged with 10 counts, including six counts of wire fraud, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey.

“Stealing from Gold Star families whose loved ones made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our nation is a shameful crime,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in the statement. “Predatory conduct that targets the families of fallen American service members will be met with the full force of the Justice Department.”

Craffy allegedly used his position as a financial adviser to encourage Gold Star families to invest their survivor benefits in investment accounts he managed as part of his outside, private employment. Many of the grieving families mistakenly believed that these actions were done on behalf of and with the Army’s authorization, the Justice Department said.

As a result of the alleged scheme, which officials say involved excessive and risky trades, the families lost a fortune while Craffy pocketed high commissions.

The Washington Post first reported on Craffy’s purported misdeeds in February, shedding light on the potential need for greater oversight of the military’s financial counselors, which has since earned attention in Congress.

Craffy began his Army Reserve service in June 2003, according to a service verification form shared with Military Times. He deployed during Operation Iraqi Freedom and remains assigned to the 353rd Civil Affairs Command, which is based out of New York, the record shows.

His time as a financial counselor for the Army’s Survivor Outreach Services began in November 2017, but his employment with the Army ended January 4, Bryce Dubee, an Army spokesperson, told Military Times via email.

“We are not able to comment on the specifics of his departure due to Privacy Act restrictions,” Dubee added.

In his role, Craffy was responsible for providing general financial education to surviving beneficiaries. However, without telling the Army, Craffy simultaneously maintained outside employment with two separate financial investment firms, the Justice Department said.

Between roughly May 2018 and November 2022, Craffy received millions from Gold Star families to invest in accounts he privately managed, the department said. During that time he allegedly executed trades repeatedly without the families’ authorization. The Gold Star family accounts lost more than $3.4 million, while Craffy personally raked in more than $1.4 million in commissions drawn from the family accounts, the Justice Department said.

In one particularly egregious offense, Craffy misappropriated $50,000 from the account of a minor whose parent died on active duty, the Securities and Exchange Commission said in a release.

Following reporting from the Post, lawmakers on Capitol Hill introduced an amendment to the House version of the annual defense bill that seeks to require financial counselors employed by the Department of Defense to submit disclosures to ensure they do not have conflicts of interest. Whether the amendment will make it into the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act remains to be seen.

Craffy is now barred from association with any member of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, and faces a lengthy prison sentence and substantial fines if convicted.

The wire fraud and securities fraud charges are each punishable by a maximum of 20 years in prison, the Justice Department said. The SEC also filed a civil complaint against Craffy based on the same and additional conduct.

Military Times requested comment from Craffy via social media but did not immediately hear back. Craffy’s attorney Mark A. Berman declined Military Times’ request for comment.

Alex Brandon
<![CDATA[Russian fighter jets harass American drones over Syria — again]]>https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/07/09/russian-fighter-jets-harass-american-drones-over-syria-again/https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/07/09/russian-fighter-jets-harass-american-drones-over-syria-again/Sun, 09 Jul 2023 15:40:09 +0000BEIRUT — Russian fighter jets have “harassed” American drones over Syria for the third day in a row this week, the U.S. military said.

Tension between Russian and U.S. troops is not uncommon in Syria as both countries conduct patrols on the ground as well as overflights. Syria’s 12-year conflict has left half a million people dead and over 1 million wounded.

The U.S. military said in a statement that Friday’s encounter lasted for about two hours during which three MQ-9 drones were “once again harassed” by Russian fighter aircraft while flying over Syria.

“Russian aircraft flew 18 unprofessional close passes that caused the MQ-9s to react to avoid unsafe situations,” Lt. Gen. Alex Grynkewich, head of U.S. Air Forces Central Command, said in a statement.

Rear Adm. Oleg Gurinov, head of the Russian Reconciliation Center for Syria, said earlier this week that the Russian and Syrian militaries have started a six-day joint training that ends Monday.

Gurinov added in comments carried by Syrian state media earlier this week that Moscow is concerned about the flights of drones by the U.S.-led coalition over northern Syria, calling them “systematic violations of protocols” designed to avoid clashes between the two militaries.

The first friction occurred on Wednesday morning when Russian military aircraft “engaged in unsafe and unprofessional behavior” as three U.S. MQ-9 drones were conducting a mission against the Islamic State group, the U.S. military said. On Thursday, the U.S. military said Russian fighter aircraft flew “incredibly unsafe and unprofessionally” against both French and U.S. aircraft over Syria.

The U.S. and France are part of an international coalition fighting IS that once controlled largest parts of Syria and Iraq where the extremists declared a caliphate. Despite IS defeat in Iraq in 2017 and in Syria less than two years later, the extremists still carry out deadly attack in both countries.

On Friday, a drone attack by the U.S.-led coalition killed a man in northern Syria who was riding a motorcycle. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, said the man was an IS militant.

Russia joined Syria’s conflict in September 2015 and has since helped tip the balance of power in favor of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces. Russian warplanes still carry out attacks against the last major rebel stronghold in Syria’s northwest.

On any given day there are at least 900 U.S. forces in Syria, along with an undisclosed number of contractors, who partner with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.

“We continue to encourage Russia to return to the established norms of a professional Air Force so we can all return our focus to ensuring the enduring defeat of ISIS,” Grynkewich said, using a term to refer to IS.

Gurinov, the Russian officer, warned that the increase of “uncoordinated flights” for the coalition’s drones leads to escalation and “Russia is not responsible for the safety of these flights.”

<![CDATA[US drone strike kills Islamic State group leader in Syria]]>https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/07/09/us-drone-strike-kills-islamic-state-group-leader-in-syria/https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/07/09/us-drone-strike-kills-islamic-state-group-leader-in-syria/Sun, 09 Jul 2023 15:17:41 +0000A U.S. drone strike killed an Islamic State group leader in Syria hours after the same MQ-9 Reaper drones were harassed by Russian military jets over the western part of the country, according to the Defense Department.

Three Reapers had been flying overhead searching for the militant on Friday, a U.S. defense official said, when they were harassed for about two hours by Russian aircraft. Shortly after that, the drones struck and killed Usamah al-Muhajir, who was riding a motorcycle in the Aleppo region, said the official, who was not authorized to publicly discuss the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity to describe details of the military operation.

The official said al-Muhajir was in northwest Syria at the time of the strike, but that he usually operated in the east.

It was not immediately clear how the U.S. military confirmed that the person killed was al-Muhajir; no other details were provided.

In a statement Sunday, U.S. Central Command said there are no indications any civilians were killed in the strike. The military was assessing reports a civilian may have been injured.

Friday was the third day in a row that U.S. officials complained that Russian fighter jets in the region had conducted unsafe and harassing flights around American drones.

Lt. Gen. Alex Grynkewich, head of U.S. Air Forces Central Command, said in a statement that during the Friday encounter, the Russian planes “flew 18 unprofessional close passes that caused the MQ-9s to react to avoid unsafe situations.”

The first friction occurred Wednesday morning when Russian military aircraft “engaged in unsafe and unprofessional behavior” as three American MQ-9 drones were conducting a mission against IS, the U.S. military said. On Thursday, the U.S. military said Russian fighter aircraft flew “incredibly unsafe and unprofessionally” against both French and U.S. aircraft over Syria.

Col. Michael Andrews, Air Forces Central Command spokesman, said the Thursday incident lasted almost an hour and included close fly-bys, by one SU-34 and one SU-35 and that they deployed flares directly into the MQ-9.

U.S. officials said the drones were unarmed in the earlier flights, but were carrying weapons on Friday, as they were hunting al-Muhajir.

“We have made it clear that we remain committed to the defeat of ISIS throughout the region,” said Gen. Erik Kurilla, commander of U.S. Central Command, in the statement.

Rear Adm. Oleg Gurinov, head of the Russian Reconciliation Center for Syria, said this past week that the Russian and Syrian militaries had started a six-day joint training that ends Monday.

Gurinov added in comments carried by Syrian state media that Moscow was concerned about the flights of drones by the U.S.-led coalition over northern Syria, calling them “systematic violations of protocols” designed to avoid clashes between the two militaries.

<![CDATA[On NATO’s eastern flank, this soldier rose to the challenge]]>https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-army/2023/07/09/on-natos-eastern-flank-this-soldier-rose-to-the-challenge/https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-army/2023/07/09/on-natos-eastern-flank-this-soldier-rose-to-the-challenge/Sun, 09 Jul 2023 14:00:05 +0000He’d seen it coming — everyone in the Germany-based 2nd Cavalry Regiment did — but Justin Bolin remembers the day that everything changed.

In late 2021, as months of warnings that Russia would invade Ukraine rose to a crescendo, Master Sgt. Bolin was the regiment headquarters troop’s first sergeant. If something happened, the service’s only Europe-based brigade combat team would have to load up its Stryker combat vehicles and respond.

“Going into the Christmas block leave period, right before the Russian invasion, we all had this ominous sense of, ‘Hey, go enjoy your vacation. But...keep your bag ready to go because something’s popping off in the east,’” he recounted in a phone interview with Army Times. Bolin will soon attend the Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas.

Soon after his return to Germany in early 2022, Bolin received a phone call — his “lightbulb moment,” as he described it.

“‘You need to deploy the regiment to Romania within the next two weeks,’” he recalled being told. “‘We don’t know what [we’ll be] doing, but we have to take this whole regiment and move it forward.’”

As the headquarters first sergeant, Bolin was ultimately responsible for getting the regiment’s staff set up and ready to operate at Romania’s Mihail Kogălniceanu Air Base. There wasn’t a plan in place. But Bolin knew the base from a previous mission, and he knew who to call for support from other commands and agencies.

U.S. Army Strykers from 2nd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, convoy at Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany. (Staff Sgt. Jose Ibarra/Army)

Less than a month after the regiment arrived, Russian troops advanced across the border into Ukraine, reigniting the largest land war seen in Europe since World War II. Bolin’s unit was the first to respond, and others quickly followed as the Army rapidly expanded its forward-deployed presence there.

As the nascent conflict matured, NATO countries realized that Kyiv’s government wasn’t going to quickly fall as had been anticipated, so aid and equipment began pouring into Ukraine. While the country’s experienced units slugged it out with Russia, Kyiv’s fresher, inexperienced troops needed to quickly get up to speed.

Enter Bolin, yet again. After handing the reins in Romania to the 101st Airborne Division and returning to Germany, the seasoned cavalry scout transferred from the 2nd Cavalry headquarters to become the operations sergeant major for its 2nd Squadron.

Soon he received a new mission. The squadron was to train Ukrainian troops. Bolin said his four combat deployments and experience as a drill sergeant were essential for designing the training plans, which were tailored for the largely novice troops that Ukraine had sent.

“The soldiers were 100% on board…and we had a lot of support to make these training events happen,” he said. “I looked at my first sergeants and every single one of them had a face of confidence — most of them were former drill sergeants [and] a couple Ranger Battalion guys.”

As Ukraine’s summer counteroffensive plays out in the country’s east, Bolin is holding his breath. He agreed that watching his former trainees put their skills into use evokes “complex” feelings.

Master Sgt. Justin Bolin, third from right, joins seven of his colleagues from the 2nd Cavalry Regiment in an undated photo. (Courtesy of Justin Bolin)

“People not in the know, they turn on the news and they see blips on screens, and they see soldiers pushing back against the Russian aggression,” he explained. “For a lot of us in the [training] circle … these are husbands, fathers, wives, farmers, mechanics — these aren’t your typical soldier that we think of. These are people who want a home to come home to so that way they can raise their family.”

Bolin said the Ukrainians’ determination echoed what he saw in Americans after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. “Everyone was on the same page for the same cause,” he recalled.

He joined the Army a few years afterward in 2004 and quickly learned the meaning of quality training and leadership when he deployed to Baghdad with 1st Squadron, 10th Cavalry Regiment immediately after graduating from training in 2005. There Bolin received an Army Commendation Medal with valor device for his response to an IED strike that killed two of his mentors.

Master Sgt. Justin Bolin said watching his former Ukrainian trainees put their skills into use evokes complex feelings. (Army)

That day and other challenges in his career, Bolin explained, have made him passionate about fostering community among veterans who sometimes just need an understanding ear. He volunteered to coordinate a Thanksgiving event in Germany, and also volunteered with the Vilseck High School Junior ROTC program.

See all Military Times’ 2023 Service Members of the Year honorees.

<![CDATA[Top enlisted Marine to become the military’s top enlisted leader]]>https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-marine-corps/2023/07/08/top-enlisted-marine-to-become-the-militarys-top-enlisted-leader/https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-marine-corps/2023/07/08/top-enlisted-marine-to-become-the-militarys-top-enlisted-leader/Sat, 08 Jul 2023 16:08:29 +0000The Marine Corps’ senior enlisted leader will become the senior enlisted leader in the whole U.S. military.

Sgt. Maj. Troy Black, the sergeant major of the Marine Corps, will take the role of senior enlisted adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Nov. 3, when Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Ramón “CZ” Colón-López is set to retire from that role, according to a Pentagon news release Friday.

“This is truly humbling, and I am honored,” Black said in a statement to Marine Corps Times. “It will be a privilege to serve as the senior enlisted leader for the Department of Defense. Our focus will remain on readiness and warfighting, and I am committed to advocating for every service member and their families.”

The current chairman, Army Gen. Mark Milley, made the selection, according to the release. Milley is required by law to depart his role in early October.

Air Force Gen. CQ Brown has been nominated to replace Milley, but a monthslong hold on senior military nominations by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Alabama, could leave the joint chiefs without a confirmed chairman in place. If that occurs, Navy Adm. Christopher Grady, the vice chairman, temporarily will perform the duties of chairman, Defense News previously reported.

The chairman of the joint chiefs is the top uniformed officer in the military, who has no authority to command forces but is the principal military adviser to the White House. Black will serve as “the chairman’s direct tie to the enlisted force,” according to the release.

According to a Pentagon webpage explaining the role, “the SEAC’s exact duties may vary, though the SEAC generally devotes much time traveling throughout the Department of Defense observing education, training and communicating to the total force, (active, reserve, retirees, veterans and military families).”

Black’s current job in the Marine Corps is similar: to advocate for and communicate with enlisted Marines. As sergeant major of the Marine Corps since 2019, Black has spoken up for enlisted Marines’ quality of life and mental health in particular.

He also has played the role of motivator in chief, who is adamant that “Marines do it different.”

“Sgt. Maj. Black’s three-and-a-half decades of experience as an infantry Marine, a leader of Marines, and advisor to commanders at all levels makes him the ideal leader for this role,” Gen. David Berger, the Marine commandant, said in a statement to Marine Corps Times on Saturday. “It’s great to see he will continue to set the example for all our warfighters in the Joint Force.”

Black enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1988 and became a machine gunner, according to his official bio. He has made several deployments, including to Iraq and Afghanistan.

What naming a ship after Fallujah means to those who fought there

While deployed to Afghanistan in 2010 as sergeant major of 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, he ran several hundred yards across unswept territory to recover a Marine who had been killed by an improvised explosive device, Military.com reported. That action earned him a Bronze Star marked with a “V” for valor.

Black has served in units and roles across the Corps, including as a drill instructor at Parris Island, South Carolina, where he met his wife, now-retired 1st. Sgt. Stacie Black.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in terrorism and counterterrorism studies from the online National American University and graduated in 2011 from the military’s Joint Special Operations Forces Senior Enlisted Academy, according to his bio.

Black will be the fifth person to serve as senior enlisted adviser to the chairman, following the creation of the role in 2005, according to the Pentagon release. He will be the second Marine, after Sgt. Maj. Bryan Battaglia, who held the job from 2011 to 2015.

Sgt. Maj. Carlos Ruiz, the sergeant major of Marine Corps Forces Reserve and Marine Corps Forces South, will take over as the top enlisted Marine on Aug. 8, the Corps announced in June.

<![CDATA[Afghan interpreter who risked life for US troops shot and killed in DC]]>https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/07/08/afghan-interpreter-who-risked-life-for-us-troops-shot-and-killed-in-dc/https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/07/08/afghan-interpreter-who-risked-life-for-us-troops-shot-and-killed-in-dc/Sat, 08 Jul 2023 12:00:00 +0000WASHINGTON (AP) — At 31 years old, Nasrat Ahmad Yar had spent most of his adult life working with the U.S. military in Afghanistan before escaping to America in search of a better life for his wife and four children.

He found work as a ride-share driver and even managed to send money back to Afghanistan to help family and friends. He liked to play volleyball with friends in the Washington suburb where many Afghans who fled their country now live. At 6 feet 5 inches, he had a powerful serve.

On Monday night, worried about making rent, he went out driving and was shot and killed in Washington. No suspects have been arrested, but surveillance video captured the sound of a single gunshot and four boys or young men were seen running away. Police have offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.

“He was so generous. He was so nice. He was always trying to help the people,” said Rahim Amini, a fellow Afghan immigrant and longtime friend. He said Ahmad Yar always reminded him, “Don’t forget the people left behind.”

Jeramie Malone, an American who came to know Ahmed Yar through her volunteer work with a veteran-founded organization bringing former Afghan interpreters to safety, also was struck by his generosity.

“He always wanted to be giving more than he was receiving and he was just really extremely kind.” In America, Malone said, “all he wanted was a chance.”

Amini said Ahmad Yar had worked for the U.S. military for about a decade as an interpreter and doing other jobs, seeing it as a way to help pave the way for the next generation in Afghanistan to have a better life.

While the U.S. has had a Special Immigrant Visa program for Afghans who worked closely with the U.S. government to come to America since 2009, Amini said his friend didn’t want to apply right away, preferring to stay in Afghanistan, where he felt needed.

He remembered Ahmad Yar saying: “I have guys here I need to support. ... When I feel that they don’t need my support then I can go to America.”

Then, in August 2021, the U.S. pulled out of Afghanistan and the Taliban took over.

Mohammad Ahmadi, Ahmad Yar’s cousin, was already in America after also working for the U.S. military. The two talked on the phone about how to get Ahmad Yar and his family out of Afghanistan. Ahmadi said his cousin could see the Taliban soldiers walking through the streets of Kabul and was worried they would discover he’d been an interpreter for the U.S. military.

“He said, ‘I don’t want to get killed in front of my wife and kids,’” Ahmadi said. When he wasn’t able to get out of the crowded Kabul airport, Ahmad Yar went to northern Afghanistan in hopes of getting into Uzbekistan. When that didn’t work, he and his family went to the northwestern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, where he and his family were able to get on a flight to the United Arab Emirates and then eventually travel to America.

Even when laying low in Mazar-e-Sharif, Nasrat would go out of his way to assist other Afghans who also had come to escape the Taliban — greeting them on arrival to the strange city, bringing their families to stay with his, and feeding them, while all waited for flights out, Malone said.

“Nasrat was very different, because even though he was needing help, he was always helping me,” she said.

While waiting at the interim transit camp in the United Arab Emirates, he asked for writing supplies for the children so he could teach them English before they arrived in the U.S., Malone said. “It was really important for him for his kids to get an education and for them to ... have opportunities they never would have had in Afghanistan.”

His eldest child, a girl, is now 13, and the others are boys, ages 11, 8 and just 15 months old.

The family went first to Pennsylvania, but Amini said his friend was robbed there and decided to move to Alexandria, in northern Virginia just outside Washington. Amini said Ahmad Yar told him he’d fled to the U.S. “to be safe and unfortunately I’m not safe here.”

In northern Virginia, they both ended up being ride-share drivers and lived about two miles (three kilometers) from each other. Like many in the Afghan diaspora there, they chatted throughout the day in a WhatsApp group text. And they played in a weekly volleyball game. Ahmad Yar was really good and no one could block his serve, Amini said.

Amini said they spoke Monday evening and the next thing he knew he was woken up by another Afghan friend who’d somehow heard that Ahmad Yar had been killed.

In disbelief, Amini began frantically calling his friend. But it was the police who finally answered the phone: “The police officer said: ‘I’m sorry. Unfortunately he’s not alive anymore.’”

Ahmad Yar will be laid to rest on Saturday. His wife is still in shock, said Ahmad Yar’s cousin, Ahmadi. But she said she and her husband had the same goal in coming to America — to provide a future for their children.

She told Ahmadi: “I have the same goal for them. They can go to school. They can go to college and become educated and good people for the society.”


Follow Santana on Twitter @ruskygal.

Sait Serkan Gurbuz
<![CDATA[White House defends giving cluster bombs to Ukraine]]>https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/07/07/white-house-defends-giving-cluster-bombs-to-ukraine/https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/07/07/white-house-defends-giving-cluster-bombs-to-ukraine/Fri, 07 Jul 2023 20:20:00 +0000WASHINGTON — The Biden administration will provide cluster munitions to Ukraine, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Friday, vowing the U.S. will not leave Ukraine defenseless and asserting that Kyiv has promised to use the controversial bombs carefully.

The decision comes on the eve of the NATO summit in Lithuania, where President Joe Biden is likely to face questions from allies on why the U.S. would send a weapon into Ukraine that more than two-thirds of alliance members have banned because it has a track record for causing many civilian casualties. And it was met with divided reactions from Congress, as some Democrats criticized the plan while some Republicans backed it.

The munitions — which are bombs that open in the air and release scores of smaller bomblets — are seen by the U.S. as a way to get Kyiv critically needed ammunition to help bolster its offensive and push through Russian front lines. U.S. leaders debated the thorny issue for months, before Biden made the final decision this week.

Sullivan defended the decision, saying the U.S. will send a version of the munition that has a reduced “dud rate,” meaning fewer of the smaller bomblets fail to explode. The unexploded rounds, which often litter battlefields and populated civilian areas, cause unintended deaths. U.S. officials have said the U.S. will provide thousands of the rounds, but provided no specific numbers.

“We recognize the cluster munitions create a risk of civilian harm from unexploded ordnance,” he told a White House briefing. “This is why we’ve deferred the decision for as long as we could. But there is also a massive risk of civilian harm if Russian troops and tanks roll over Ukrainian positions and take more Ukrainian territory and subjugate more Ukrainian civilians, because Ukraine does not have enough artillery. That is intolerable to us.”

But Marta Hurtado, speaking for the U.N. human rights office, said Friday “the use of such munitions should stop immediately and not be used in any place.”

A cluster bomb, including its bomblets, is on display at the Spreewerk ISL Integrated Solutions weapons decommissioning facility near Luebben June 23, 2009. (AFP via Getty Images)

Colin Kahl, the under secretary of defense for policy, said the U.S. will give Ukraine the most modern cluster munitions that have far lower dud rates. He said the bombs have been tested five times between 1998 and 2020, and the U.S. is confident the rate of unexploded duds is below 2.35 percent. While he declined to say how many the U.S. will send now, he said the U.S. has “hundreds of thousands” of cluster munitions available for Ukraine at the low dud rate.

He said the key reason to provide the bombs is to keep Ukraine in the fight.

“Things are going a little slower than some had hoped,” Kahl said in a Pentagon briefing. “So this is to make sure that the Ukrainians have the confidence that they have what they need. But frankly, also that the Russians know that the Ukrainians are going to stay in the game.”

Kahl said the Ukrainians have provided written assurances that they will not use the munitions in urban areas that are populated by civilians and that there will be a careful accounting of where they are employed.

Questioned at length about the decision, Sullivan said the U.S. consulted closely with allies before making the final decision, noting that even allies who have signed on to a ban of the bombs “have indicated, both privately and many of them publicly over the course of today, that they understand our decision.”

Allies “recognize the difference between Russia using its cluster munitions to attack Ukraine and Ukraine using cluster munitions to defend itself its citizens and its sovereign territory,” he said. The U.S. “will not leave Ukraine defenseless at any point in this conflict, period.”

Still, U.S. reaction was mixed. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., called the decision “unnecessary and a terrible mistake.” And Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said the civilian risk lingers “often long after a conflict is over.” Meanwhile, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, backed the move, saying Ukraine needs access to weapons Russia already is using.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, some cluster munitions leave behind bomblets that have a high rate of failure to explode — up to 40% in some cases. With a claimed rate under 3% for the supply to Ukraine, U.S. officials said there would be fewer unexploded bombs left behind to harm civilians.

A convention banning the use of cluster bombs has been joined by more than 120 countries that agreed not to use, produce, transfer or stockpile the weapons and to clear them after they’ve been used. The United States, Russia and Ukraine are among those who have not signed on.

Ryan Brobst, a research analyst for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said that while the majority of NATO members have signed on to the cluster munitions ban, several of those nearest Russia — Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Romania and Turkey — have not.

“The most important of those are Poland and Romania,” Brobst said, noting that the U.S. weapons will probably go through those countries en route to Ukraine. “While some allies raise objections, this is not going to prevent (cluster munitions) from being transferred into Ukraine.”

The cluster munitions are included in a new $800 million package of military aid the U.S. will send to Ukraine. Friday’s package, drawn from Pentagon stocks, will also include Bradley and Stryker armored vehicles and an array of ammunition, such as rounds for howitzers and the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, officials said.

The remains of a Russian missile that dropped cluster bombs in a residential housing complex is lodged in the ground near the complex on June 27, 2022 in Sloviansk, Ukraine. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Providing the cluster bombs will also ease the pressure on limited U.S. ammunition stockpiles. The U.S. has been taking massive amounts of 155 mm rounds from Pentagon stocks and sending them to Ukraine, creating concerns about eating into American stores. The cluster munitions, which are fired by the same artillery as the conventional 155 mm, will give Ukraine a highly lethal capability and also allow them to strike more Russian targets using fewer rounds.

Kahl said the cluster bombs are not a permanent solution, but more of “a bridge” as the U.S. and allies work to increase the production of the 155 mm rounds.

So far the reactions from allies have been muted. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stressed on Friday that the military alliance takes no position on cluster munitions and it is a decision that allies will make. And Germany, which has signed the ban treaty, said it won’t provide the bombs to Ukraine, but expressed understanding for the American position.

“We’re certain that our U.S. friends didn’t take the decision about supplying such ammunition lightly,” German government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit told reporters in Berlin. “We need to remember once again that Russia has already used cluster ammunition at a large scale in its illegal war of aggression against Ukraine.”

Oleksandra Ustinova, a member of Ukraine’s parliament who has been advocating that Washington send more weapons, noted that Ukrainian forces have had to disable mines from much of the territory they are winning back from Russia. As part of that process, Ukrainians will also be able to catch any unexploded ordnance from cluster munitions.

The last large-scale American use of cluster bombs was during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, according to the Pentagon. But U.S. forces considered them a key weapon during the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, according to Human Rights Watch. In the first three years of that conflict, it is estimated the U.S.-led coalition dropped more than 1,500 cluster bombs in Afghanistan.

AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee and Associated Press writers Geir Moulson, Ellen Knickmeyer, Lorne Cook, Nomaan Merchant and Frank Jordans contributed to this report.

<![CDATA[Texas Guardsman won’t face civilian charges for migrant shooting]]>https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-army/2023/07/07/texas-guardsman-wont-face-civilian-charges-for-migrant-shooting/https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-army/2023/07/07/texas-guardsman-wont-face-civilian-charges-for-migrant-shooting/Fri, 07 Jul 2023 18:59:00 +0000A Texas National Guard soldier who shot a migrant in the shoulder on Jan. 13 in Mission, Texas, won’t face civilian criminal charges despite conflicting accounts of the event, according to media reports and government officials.

Before the shooting occurred, Spc. Angel Gallegos chased migrants into an abandoned home alongside another soldier and a Border Patrol agent while assigned to Texas’ state-run border mission, Operation Lone Star, according to an internal Texas Military Department document previously obtained by Military Times and The Texas Tribune, and a law enforcement investigation report obtained by Stars & Stripes.

Military Times and The Texas Tribune first reported the shooting as part of a broader investigative partnership examining the mission and its struggles.

Haste and planning failures doomed Operation Lone Star’s troops to suffer

The Texas Rangers, an investigative arm of the state’s Department of Public Safety, led the investigation, which agency spokesperson Ericka Miller confirmed was complete. The agency also plays a major role in the border mission.

Miller referred further queries to the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office, which Stars & Stripes reported declined to bring charges against Gallegos. The county prosecutors, reached by Military Times, did not provide information on the case before this story’s publication deadline.

Gallegos told investigators he accidentally fired his M17 handgun during a physical struggle with migrant Ricardo Rodriguez Nieto, according to witness statements obtained by Stars & Stripes.

According to the internal document, which was based on initial statements from the soldiers, Rodriguez Nieto tried to flee through a window and fought Gallegos with his fists and elbows when the soldier tried to detain him.

But Rodriguez Nieto, who was unarmed, told a different story. Rodriguez Nieto claimed he was across the room from Gallegos when the soldier fired, according to Stars & Stripes, and other migrants detained at the scene did not describe an altercation in their statements. Neither the other soldier nor the Border Patrol agent witnessed the shooting.

The Texas Military Department, which oversees Guard members on the mission, did not respond to questions about military discipline for Gallegos. Although courts-martial are permitted under the Texas Code of Military Justice for troops activated in a state-controlled status, they are rare.

In an unsigned emailed statement, the agency told Military Times that soldiers “assigned to Operation Lone Star are authorized to use the minimum level of force necessary to control the situation and defend themselves or others.” But the statement did not address whether Gallegos was within those guidelines.

Gallegos is not the only soldier to accidentally fire his weapon while activated for Operation Lone Star, a multibillion-dollar mission intended to curb the number of migrants entering Texas. Spc. DaJuan Townes was killed by a colleague in an accidental shooting before a training event on Feb. 7, 2022, at Fort Clark Springs near Brackettville.

Editor’s note: This story was updated on July 7 at 2:59 p.m. EST with a statement from the Texas Military Department.