Marine Corps News

Chinese ship accused of looting iconic WWII shipwrecks
6 hours, 24 minutes ago
Chinese ship accused of looting iconic WWII shipwrecks

An illegal Chinese salvage operation is suspected to have raided two iconic World War II wrecks.

An illegal Chinese salvage operation seized by Malaysian authorities Sunday is suspected to have looted two iconic World War II shipwrecks, USNI first reported.

Scrap steel, aluminum, brass fittings and ammunition believed to have belonged to the British ships HMS Prince of Wales and the HMS Repulse — both designated war graves — were discovered by Malaysian authorities aboard the Chinese cargo ship Chuan Hong 68, according to the BBC.

The ship was boarded and searched after authorities found the vessel was not authorized to anchor in the waters under Malaysian jurisdiction.

“We are distressed and concerned at the apparent vandalism for personal profit of HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse,” Dominic Tweddle, the director general of The National Museum of the Royal Navy, wrote in a statement. “We are upset at the loss of naval heritage and the impact this has on the understanding of our Royal Navy history.”

On Dec. 10, 1941, just three days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Royal Navy ships were attacked and, having no aerial defense, quickly sunk by Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft. The strike killed some 842 sailors and is considered one of the worst disasters in British naval history.

The shocking loss forced the navy to reevaluate how it had fought for centuries — pivoting away from the Mahanian notion that “Big ships with big guns, concentrated into a single, undivided battle fleet, and infused with an overriding purpose to wipe the enemy off the face of the sea” was the way to rule the waves, according to historian Ian Toll.

Carrier strike groups were in. Antiquated battleship tactics were out.

Of the loss, Prime Minister Winston Churchill recalled in his postwar memoirs: “In all the war, I never received a more direct shock. … As I turned over and twisted in bed the full horror of the news sank in upon me. There were no British or American ships in the Indian Ocean or the Pacific except the American survivors of Pearl Harbour, who were hastening back to California. Across this vast expanse of waters, Japan was supreme, and we everywhere were weak and naked.”

Today, the battleship HMS Prince of Wales rests upside down 223 feet beneath the waves near Kuantan in the South China Sea. The battlecruiser HMS Repulse lies several miles away from its sister ship.

The alleged Chinese looting, which has reportedly become common over the past several years, sparked outrage and concern from both the British and their allies. In 2017, The Guardian reported more than 40 Australian, Dutch and Japanese warships had been destroyed by looting operations in the same waters off Indonesia and Singapore.

Old shipwrecks are increasingly targeted by scavengers “for their rare low-background steel, also known as ‘pre-war steel’. The low radiation in the steel makes it a rare and valuable resource for use in medical and scientific equipment,” according to the BBC.

The U.S. Navy has expressed concern over the safety of the cruiser USS Houston, which sank just south of the same area during the Battle of Sunda Strait on March 1, 1942. More than 650 U.S. sailors and Marines died when the Houston sank.

While the wrecks remain a key part of World War II history, they are most importantly the gravesites for sailors and Marines entombed within.

“A strategy is vital to determine how to assess and manage these wrecks in the most efficient and effective manner,” Tweddle stated. “Above all, we must remember the crews who served on these lost ships and all too often gave their lives in the service of their country.”

This story originally appeared on

Claire Barrett - June 1, 2023, 10:58 am

5 minors arrested after crowd attack on Marines at California pier
23 hours, 50 minutes ago
5 minors arrested after crowd attack on Marines at California pier

Video footage apparently shows two of the Marines in the fetal position on the ground to protect themselves from blows.

Five juveniles were arrested Tuesday for allegedly taking part in a Friday attack by a crowd on three off-duty Marines in California, according to local police.

A viral video taken of the San Clemente, California, pier appears to show one person out of a crowd of young people take a swing at one Marine, who then ran toward him, prompting a series of punches from the teens.

Later footage apparently shows two of the Marines in the fetal position on the ground to protect themselves from blows.

One of the Marines, Hunter Antonino, told CBS affiliate KCAL that the confrontation began when the Marines asked the teens to stop lighting fireworks.

Three Marine infantrymen stabbed outside California bar

Deputies from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department were dispatched to the pier at 9:50 p.m. Friday, the department said in a news release Tuesday.

When they arrived, they found two male Marines had been injured. First responders rendered medical aid, but the Marines declined to be taken to the hospital, according to the news release.

As deputies investigated the incident, they learned that a third male Marine had been assaulted, the news release stated.

On Tuesday, investigators from the sheriff’s department arrested four male teens and one female teen they believed were involved, on charges of assault with a deadly weapon other than a firearm, according to the release.

Unconfirmed allegations that the Marines had been acting belligerently and inappropriately with the teenagers circulated on social media following news of the arrest.

The investigation is ongoing, “due to the nature of the incident and the large number of individuals involved,” the sheriff’s department stated in the release.

The department said it wouldn’t release more information about the suspects because they were juveniles.

The department didn’t respond by publication time to a Marine Corps Times request for comment.

San Clemente is located in southern California, not far from Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, where I Marine Expeditionary Force is located.

The Marine expeditionary force “is aware and looking into the incident” involving three of its Marines, the unit said in a statement to Marine Corps Times.

“I MEF is committed to supporting local authorities in this ongoing investigation,” the statement read. “No additional information will be made available at this time as this incident is under investigation.”

San Clemente Mayor Chris Duncan in a Facebook post Wednesday praised the sheriff’s department for the arrests, adding, “Now we work with law enforcement, schools, and parents to ensure nothing like this happens again in our town.”

Irene Loewenson - May 31, 2023, 5:32 pm

Graphic novel tells story of World War I’s ‘most outstanding soldier’
1 day ago
Graphic novel tells story of World War I’s ‘most outstanding soldier’

"General John Pershing recognized Samuel Woodfill as the most outstanding soldier of the First World War."

Maj. Samuel Woodfill’s Army career is the stuff of legend. It’s no surprise that, as a result, the Association of the United States Army released a graphic novel detailing the acts of heroism that earned him his Medal of Honor.

“General John Pershing recognized Samuel Woodfill as the most outstanding soldier of the First World War,” according to AUSA.

On Oct. 12, 1918, in the midst of the Meuse-Argonne offensive, then-1st Lt. Woodfill was with the 60th Infantry near the town of Cunel, France, when their advance came under heavy fire.

“Followed by two soldiers at 25 yards, this officer went out ahead of his first line toward a machine-gun nest and worked his way around its flank, leaving the two soldiers in front,” his citation reads.

As Woodfill approached, the machine gun firing stopped and four German soldiers attacked. Woodfill shot three and “attempted to club the officer with his rifle.”

A panel from the AUSA Medal of Honor graphic novel showing the exploits of Samuel Woodfill. (AUSA)

After a struggle, Woodfill shot the soldier with his pistol.

His unit continued the advance until it was met with yet another machine gun barrage.

“Woodfill rushed ahead of his line in the face of heavy fire from the nest, and when several of the enemy appeared above the nest, he shot them, capturing three other members of the crew and silencing the gun,” according to the citation.

The unit then encountered a third machine gun nest manned by five German soldiers, which Woodfill took out with his rifle. He tried but failed to subdue two additional troops with his revolver. Instead, he took up a pick-axe in the trench and engaged them in close-quarters combat.

“Inspired by the exceptional courage displayed by this officer, his men pressed on to their objective under severe shell and machine-gun fire,” the citation notes.

For these acts of valor, Pershing presented the Medal of Honor to Woodfill on Feb. 9, 1919.

But Woodfill’s story started much earlier in his hometown of Madison, Indiana, where he attempted to join the Army at age 15 to fight in the Spanish-American War. Turned down, he joined in 1901 when he was 18.

In 1917, he was made and officer and promoted to the rank of second lieutenant.

Woodfill served in the Army until retiring in 1923, but was recalled in 1942 at the outset of World War II.

“He was given special clearance to serve and, at 59, was still an excellent marksman,” according to the Defense Department archives. “But he hit the mandatory retirement age of 60 in 1943, so his third bout of service was short-lived.”

Woodfill died in 1951 and was buried in Indiana, however, in 1955, his remains were reinterred at Arlington National Cemetery — next to Pershing.

You can download a free copy of this graphic novel here.

Sarah Sicard - May 31, 2023, 4:58 pm

Biden’s pick to lead the Marine Corps helped design its new vision
1 day, 9 hours ago
Biden’s pick to lead the Marine Corps helped design its new vision

President Joe Biden nominated Gen. Eric Smith Tuesday to serve as the next commandant of the Marine Corps.

WASHINGTON — Before Gen. Eric Smith first walked the Pentagon’s E ring as a top Marine Corps leader, the career infantry Marine led forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa, South America and the Pacific.

And beginning in summer 2019, as the deputy commandant for combat development and integration, he started working with Commandant Gen. David Berger on a plan to transform the Marine Corps.

In that role, and then as the No. 2 Marine, he helped draft blueprints for a complete overhaul of the service ― known as Force Design 2030 ― with the goal of turning a Corps shaped by two decades of land wars into one able to compete against Chinese forces in particular.

Now, he could carry on the Corps’ transformational trajectory.

The White House nominated Smith to serve as the next commandant of the Marine Corps, ensuring stability for the force modernization vision that Smith himself helped craft.

The Biden administration sent its pick to Congress Tuesday, according to a congressional website.

Then-Lt. Gen. David H. Berger, right, the outgoing deputy commandant for Combat Development and Integration, transfers command to Lt. Gen. Eric M. Smith at Lejeune Field, Quantico, Virginia, in 2019. (Cpl. Cristian L. Ricardo/Marine Corps)

Several of Smith’s former colleagues described the general as a personable, down-to-earth leader who cares deeply about the Marines under his command.

Maj. Gen. Benjamin Watson, the commanding general of 1st Marine Division, said, “Gen. Eric Smith is an extraordinarily positive and engaged leader, with an emotional IQ well above the average.”

“I found him to be one of the most supportive bosses I’ve ever had.”

From Texas to the Pentagon

Smith was born in Kansas City, Missouri, and raised in Plano, Texas, according to his official Marine Corps biography. Even now, he often makes reference to his Texas upbringing, and he is a fan of the Texas Rangers and country music.

He attended Texas A&M University — a public school with a strong emphasis on preparing military officers — on a Navy ROTC scholarship, following in the footsteps of his older brother.

In August 1984, in the first days of Smith’s sophomore year, a new member of the university’s Corps of Cadets, Bruce Goodrich, died after three juniors hazed him for an hour in the hot Texas weather. The tragedy stunned the campus.

While there’s no public record of Smith discussing Goodrich’s death, it’s an event that would have shaped his experience at the university and his formative years as a midshipman.

As a senior, Smith served as the commander of the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band, a precise marching band made up of the university’s Corps of Cadets, according to the university’s yearbook.

He met his wife, Trish, on a blind date at the football stadium, according to a profile on the Texas A&M fundraising foundation’s website.

After receiving his commission in 1987, Smith became an infantry officer — a path that most commandants have taken. He served in Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm before returning to his alma mater as an NROTC instructor, Marine Corps Times previously reported.

He has made several other deployments: to Liberia and Venezuela early in his career, to Iraq twice and to Afghanistan for a one-year deployment.

On his first deployment to Iraq, he was shot at least once, in the leg while moving from one base to another, he told NBC News in 2005.

But, as he prepared for a second deployment to Iraq, he told the interviewer he was more concerned about maintaining the Corps’ legacy than about getting shot at again.

Then-Lt. Gen. Eric Smith, III Marine Expeditionary Force commanding general, boards the amphibious assault ship Wasp (LHD 1) while underway off the coast of Okinawa, Japan, in 2018. (Lance Cpl. Hannah Hall/Marine Corps)

“We have a saying that the Marine Corps is like a little glass Christmas ornament, if you will,” he said. “You can drop it, but only once. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

“And the people who built the legacy that we live on, this eagle, globe and anchor, from Iwo Jima, they’re gone,” he continued. “You can’t apologize to them for soiling the reputation of the Marine Corps.”

As a general officer, Smith went on to lead Marine Corps Forces Southern Command, in 2015; 1st Marine Division, from 2017–2018; and III Marine Expeditionary Force, from 2018–2019.

He also had stints as the senior military adviser to the defense secretary and as the assistant deputy commandant for plans, policies and operations.

Retired Marine Col. Robert Work, a former deputy secretary of defense who worked closely with Smith when the general served as Work’s senior military adviser nearly a decade ago, said, “Eric Smith is the consummate professional: Intelligent, knowledgeable, empathetic and civil.”

“He was unafraid to tell me when I was about to do something wrong or had done something wrong,” Work said.

Force Design 2030

As the commander of III Marine Expeditionary Force, headquartered in Okinawa, Japan, Smith got a first-hand look at the forces at the heart of the Corps’ Force Design modernization.

The Force Design 2030 overhaul started with a basic premise: China is the United States’ pacing threat and is making great strides in boosting its maritime forces.

If the Marine Corps, itself a maritime force, wanted to play a role in deterring China, the Corps needed to reshape itself.

Smith played an integral part in the plan’s development and early execution while serving as deputy commandant for combat development and integration.

Jeopardizing national security: What is happening to our Marine Corps?

As part of Force Design 2030, the Corps has made changes, such as shedding heavy gear like tanks, upgrading to longer-range weapons, building a web of sensors, empowering small unit leaders, investing in the lift and logistics to support distributed operations, and more.

Though Force Design 2030 generally has found acceptance at the top levels of the Defense Department and in Congress, it sparked an extraordinary — and public — backlash from retired Marine leaders.

Several retired generals penned opinion essays decrying Force Design and urging the Marine Corps and Congress to halt the overhaul, which they said would leave the service less prepared to confront a range of crises.

Despite the criticism, Berger repeatedly has said that classified intelligence supports the direction the force is moving in. The ascension of his No. 2, Smith, to the No. 1 job in the Corps would confirm the service will continue on that path.

Then-Maj. Gen. Eric Smith (third from left) stands with Gen. Robert Neller, then-Lt. Gen. David Berger, and Sgt. Maj. Ronald Green during the 75th anniversary commemoration of the landing of Marines on Guadalcanal. (Cpl. Samantha Braun/Marine Corps)

Despite the inherent complexity of the Force Design effort, Smith often simplifies the message with his signature Texas anecdotes.

In a panel discussion at the Navy League’s Sea Air Space conference in April, Smith compared the lack of deployed Marine expeditionary units on amphibious ships to the lack of security at his hometown convenience store.

Smith spoke of the Mr. Ed food store that he and his brothers would visit, which had a sign in the window that read, “This establishment is protected by an armed security guard three nights a week. You guess which three.”

“Sounds like Texas bravado,” Smith said. “It sounded like deterrence — I didn’t know what deterrence was then, but the older I got, though, and in my current job, I realize that’s not deterrence, that’s an invitation, because that’s four nights a week” without protection.

Smith has spoken repeatedly about the need to maintain a fleet of at least 31 amphibious ships, and the fight over the future of that ship fleet would certainly follow Smith into the commandant’s seat.

During the Ash Carter Exchange on Innovation and National Security May 9, Smith was asked to preview what else was upcoming for Force Design 2030 — items he himself would oversee if confirmed as the next commandant.

Then-Maj. Gen. Eric Smith, the commanding general for 1st Marine Division, speaks with Marines about training and current events in Twentynine Palms, California, in 2017. (Cpl. Justin Huffty/Marine Corps)

He spoke of standing up a second Marine littoral regiment, a new kind of unit that emphasizes Force Design principles, which will be based in Japan. He also mentioned increasing the number of Navy Marine Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System anti-ship missile batteries, and fielding loitering munitions, or suicide drones, to make distributed forces more lethal and survivable.

Asked if he was worried about the success of Force Design 2030 once its chief architect retires, Smith said no.

“It’s fact-based and threat-informed,” he said.

Watson noted Smith was “the quarterback behind the initial implementation of Force Design 2030″ but also “has also been the driver behind the wargaming, experimentation and analysis that has led the Corps to Force Design 2030 refinements over time.”

Smith’s ‘No. 1 priority’

Smith also has made a name for himself in the way he’s cared for Marines, his former senior enlisted advisers said.

Soon after Smith took command of III Marine Expeditionary Force, he tasked Sgt. Maj. Mario Marquez with improving the quality of life for troops and their families.

The changes to long-standing policies that Smith made as part of this effort boosted morale, said Marquez, who is now retired.

The general loosened restrictions on how late Marines could stay out after work, he made it easier for junior enlisted Marines to get authorization to drive, and he drove changes that made it cheaper for families to move to and from Okinawa, Japan.

“Taking care of people is his No. 1 priority and always has been,” Marquez said.

The retired sergeant major said he believed Smith, if confirmed, would bring that attitude and focus to the Corps’ top job.

Even as Smith made some rules more lax as the head of III Marine Expeditionary Force, he still cared deeply about discipline, according to Marquez.

“Customs, courtesies and iron-clad discipline is what keeps you alive on the battlefield,” Smith said on the BruteCast podcast in August 2022.

Smith himself previously has spoken about the importance of looking out for the men and women he leads.

In a November 2018 Marine article, a Marine asked the then-commanding general which superpower he’d want to have.

“I’d probably want to be able to read minds so I know what people are really thinking,” Smith said.

“It’s hard, the older you get and the more senior you are, people don’t want to tell you stuff. I ask them, ‘Hey, Marines, how’s it going? Everything’s fine? You’re getting all the repair parts you need?’ and they say, ‘Sir, everything’s fine. Yeah, we got everything,’ when it’s not good and they don’t.”

As the two-star in charge of 1st Marine Division in 2017, he led a crackdown on hazing that ended with nearly 30 Marines confined to the brig and at least 18 administratively separated. A Marine Corps Times investigation later confirmed the division had a serious hazing problem.

Judges from the United States Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals in February 2018 rebuked Smith for showing “personal interest” and bias in going after those accused of hazing.

The judges pointed in particular to Smith’s sharply worded emails to other leaders, including one in which he complained, “I’ve just been flipped the bird by lots of” lance corporals.

Despite the reproach Smith received from the appeals court, he soon pinned on a third star and served as the leader of some of the most prominent commands in the Corps.

Smith earned a reputation for being a skilled, hard-working Marine, in addition to being kind, according to retired Sgt. Maj. Tom Eggerling, who served as the top enlisted Marine for Combat Development Command while Smith was its commanding general.

Well before they met or worked together, Eggerling heard other Marines say of Smith, “He’s going to be the commandant one day.”

Now, that may finally happen. But all Defense Department nominees currently face a hurdle: Sen. Tommy Tuberville, a Republican from Alabama, is blocking a list of military nominees that will grow to include service chiefs for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, and dozens of other flag and general officer positions for commands around the globe.

Tuberville is protesting a Pentagon policy related to abortion and has thus far not shown any signs of backing down and allowing the Senate’s vetting and confirmation process to continue.

Eggerling recalled walking through the barracks at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, with Smith when they came across a young Marine on duty who mentioned that he had just gotten promoted to corporal that day.

Smith asked the corporal, “Can you call your mom?”

Smith and Eggerling spoke with the young Marine’s mother on FaceTime, telling her how proud they were of him, Eggerling recalled.

“Eric Smith is as genuine as they come,” Eggerling said.

Irene Loewenson, Megan Eckstein - May 31, 2023, 8:22 am

Auditors: Over 1 million F-35 spare parts lost by DoD and Lockheed
1 day, 23 hours ago
Auditors: Over 1 million F-35 spare parts lost by DoD and Lockheed

GAO said some defense officials believe the true amount of lost spare parts may be even higher.

WASHINGTON — More than 1 million F-35 spare parts worth at least $85 million have gone missing over at least the last five years, according to a new Government Accountability Office report criticizing the program’s supply tracking.

Auditors said that because the government doesn’t have its own system tracking those parts, officials may not truly know how many spare parts are actually in the global spares pool, where they are, or their total value.

As a result, “the full quantity and value of these [lost] spare parts may be significantly higher” than the 1 million tally determined by the main contractor, Lockheed Martin, the document reads.

And disagreements between Defense Department offices and the main F-35 contractor, Lockheed Martin, over how to categorize missing parts are holding up the government’s effort to create its own reliable system to keep track of the parts, the GAO report states.

In short, the F-35 program can’t know whether contractors are properly managing spares, according to auditors, who have tracked losses going to back to 2018.

In a statement to Defense News, Lockheed Martin said the tally of spare parts listed as lost in the report cover the last two decades of the program.

Lockheed Martin said it is working with the F-35 Joint Program Office and the Defense Contract Management Agency to make sure they have the documentation needed to support disposing of components that staff judged to be “excess, obsolete or unserviceable.”

“Lockheed Martin manages F-35 spare part inventory in compliance with contract requirements,” the company told Defense News. “We continue to partner with the Joint Program Office to increase insight into spare part availability and support fleet readiness.”

The F-35′s program office said in an email to Defense News that it also agreed with GAO’s recommendations on ways to improve tracking of spare parts — but said “we know where the vast majority of F-35 spare parts are in the global supply chain.”

The Defense Department office pointed to the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement rules that said programs should strive to have their recorded inventories accurate about 95% of the time, and said the F-35 program exceeds that goal.

“At this time, our error rate is around 1%,” the program office said. “While this is considered much better than the government goal of 5%, we will continue to work with the services and our industry partners to improve spare parts accountability and drive readiness for our warfighters.”

The JPO also said that F-35 spare parts are now being tracked through a non-government system, but that it is working with industry to move the data to a government system.

The international F-35 program, which includes the United States and other nations such as the United Kingdom, Norway, Italy, Canada, Israel, Japan and South Korea, has what GAO called a “unique” system for managing its spare parts. All participants in the program worldwide have access to a global pool of spare parts — everything from engines, tires, landing gear and support equipment down to bolts and screws — that the Defense Department owns until a part is installed on a fighter.

But while DoD owns the spare parts that all nations flying F-35s rely upon, Lockheed Martin, which builds and repairs most of the F-35′s air frame, and Pratt & Whitney, which handles the F-35′s engines, manage the global pool. Those parts are stored in more than 50 domestic and international facilities run by contractors other than Lockheed and Pratt.

Part of the problem with parts tracking lies in the Pentagon’s decision a decade ago to shift course on who owns them, GAO said. Originally, the U.S. military didn’t intend to own those parts, GAO said, but in 2012 the F-35 program issued a memo that said they belong to the U.S. government until they’re installed on a fighter.

But the Pentagon didn’t draw up a plan to maintain accountability over those F-35 parts and equipment, GAO said, as Lockheed and Pratt continued to be responsible for them and provide data on them.

Auditors also said the vast majority of lost F-35 parts don’t get adjudicated to review the circumstances behind their loss, figure out whether the government or a contractor was responsible and identify the root causes of what caused a part to go missing.

Of those 1 million lost spare parts over the last five years, Lockheed Martin submitted about 60,000 parts worth about $19 million to the JPO to be adjudicated, GAO said. The JPO finished adjudicating fewer than 20,000 missing spare parts.

Lost parts that were not reported to the JPO include 35 actuator doors worth more than $3.2 million, and 14 batteries worth more than $2.1 million, which were lost in the last three months of 2019, the report said.

A debate that has been going on since 2015 between several Pentagon offices and the two main contractors over how these parts should be categorized is also hampering efforts to better track parts. The JPO, Pratt, the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, and the Defense Contract Management Agency’s aircraft propulsion office believe these spare parts should be considered government-furnished property, GAO said.

But Lockheed and DCMA’s office in Fort Worth, Texas, disagree, GAO said.

The JPO wants Lockheed Martin to report lost parts in a system called the GFP Module, which tracks government-furnished property, GAO said. The JPO said it is working with the Pentagon and Lockheed to figure out how to make that happen, considering Lockheed doesn’t consider these parts to be government-furnished property — but those talks “are in the early stages,” GAO said.

The F-35 program also has more than 19,000 parts in the global spares pool that are unusable because they are either extra, obsolete, or unserviceable, GAO said. Those parts have been sitting anywhere from a few months to five years while the site personnel have awaited instructions on how to dispose of them.

Some of these parts can be reused elsewhere within DoD, donated to other organizations such as state governments, sold as scrap, or destroyed, GAO said. But because Lockheed is not using the GFP Module to ask the JPO for instructions on what to do with these parts, it is instead informing the JPO about unusable parts on an “ad hoc” basis, the report said.

GAO auditors recommend in their report that William LaPlante, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, take steps to make sure all spare F-35 parts worldwide are categorized in the right way and are accountable under a contract, and update policies to make it clearer when parts are considered government-furnished property.

Auditors also said LaPlante should work with the F-35 program executive officer, Lt. Gen. Michael Schmidt, to issue a process for contractors to report lost spare parts, and to make sure instructions are issued on how to get rid of excess or otherwise unusable spare parts, until those parts are entered into the GFP Module to be adjudicated or track their disposal.

Stephen Losey - May 30, 2023, 5:40 pm

Harbor security boat sinking probe reveals lax command leadership
2 days, 4 hours ago
Harbor security boat sinking probe reveals lax command leadership

One junior sailor reported that he had seen his chief “maybe five times in two years," according to the investigation.

The sinking of a harbor security boat on the perimeter of Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, Washington, in January, which injured three junior sailors onboard, took place within a command that featured “a hands off approach and a lack of senior oversight in critical areas,” according to an investigation into the mishap obtained by Navy Times.

Three master-at-arms third class were onboard the boat on the evening of Jan. 19 when it struck a concrete security buoy along the water security perimeter of the base, which is home to several ballistic missile submarines.

The boat belonged to the Navy’s Strategic Weapons Facility Pacific and the involved sailors were assigned to that command but were detailed to Marine Corps Security Force Battalion Bangor, a unit stationed there to guard the boomers and the focus of the investigation.

While the names of the three sailors onboard the boat don’t appear in the heavily redacted copy of the released report, at least one of them suffered a broken rib in the sinking, and the total cost of damages and salvaging the boat came to nearly $1.3 million.

Investigators found that “leadership and junior personnel” in the Marine Corps security battalion could not articulate basic guidance for this kind of work, and they criticized the command for creating requirements “that are in line with higher policies but have not been followed or verified as effective by their owners.”

Harbor security boat strikes barrier and sinks, injuring three sailors

“Creating requirements without effective follow-through creates the illusion of procedural compliance, giving false comfort that leadership and supervisor understand duties and responsibilities,” the investigation states.

One involved sailor reported that he had seen his chief “maybe five times in two years.”

“Regardless of which recommendations are ultimately adopted, the (Marine Corps Security Force Battalion Bangor) must align, streamline and simplify all associated directives, policies and programs,” the investigation states. “Responsibility and authority must be clearly codified and appropriate training and procedures established to prevent a similar outcome.”

Two of the three involved sailors received nonjudicial punishment, while two other sailors in the command “received other disciplinary actions,” according to Strategic Weapons Facility Pacific spokeswoman Brandie Klaahsen.

Klaahsen did not answer emailed questions about what specific reforms have been implemented within the command following the sinking.

“Following the investigation, a thorough evaluation was conducted, and appropriate corrective actions and disciplinary measures were taken,” she said in a statement. “A safety stand down was directed that emphasized professional knowledge, safety, risk mitigation and communication.”

The boat crashed into the concrete buoy at 7:19 p.m. that night, and “a thorough review” of the three sailors’ training qualifications showed they were invalid due to improper screenings and “final qualification approval below the authorized level,” the report states.

One sailor recalled that while they were out on the perimeter sweep, he told the coxswain driving the boat to slow down before they crashed into the concrete buoy.

“I said something to the Coxswain about speed and hazard three times,” the sailor recalled. “There was no reaction as we hit the buoy. I yelled at the Coxswain to make the MAYDAY call.”

Navy salvages security patrol boat that sank in Washington

That sailor said the entire starboard side of the boat quickly went underwater and he had to do a combat side swim because of an arm injury.

That sailor noted he had had six chiefs since arriving at the command in 2020 and that those onboard did everything in their power to avoid the incident.

“We have some Coxswains that are very aggressive drivers,” the sailor told investigators. “Port Operations will routinely call to the boats for excessive speed and doing tricks.”

Another sailor onboard estimated they were going 20 knots but were only supposed to go 10 knots in restricted visibility.

“It was foggy, or either it was foggy because there was a lot of residue on the window which we had to keep wiping off,” that second sailor said. “We were going faster than we were supposed to.”

That sailor said all they remember is waking up on the pier.

“I have no memory of being pulled out of the water but remember my clothes being wet,” the sailor said.

The boat’s driver that night recalled having to wipe the windows as they kept fogging up, and that the boat drifted closer to the security barrier.

“By the time I saw the buoy, it was too late,” the sailor recalled, adding that he did not assign the crew to be lookouts or watch the radar.

That sailor said he couldn’t sleep for three days after the crash due to his injuries.

“I have not been told of guidance regarding speed at night,” he said. “I was trained by aggressive drivers.”

As the crew abandoned ship, they were not wearing “mustang” suits for the cold water, but their flotation devices were on.

He added that he had done hundreds of similar sweeps and that the concrete buoy’s sway depends on the weather.

The investigator wrote that, while the crew complained of intermittent fog and low visibility, “multiple senior personnel and rescue crew” said there was no inclement weather that night.

“The statements of the three boat crews may have been an attempt to corroborate stories to lessen or affect the outcome of the investigation,” the report states.

Among the investigation’s recommendations is one that crews be made aware of weather and water temperature reports so they can bring along required safety equipment.

Correction: an earlier version of this report misstated the number of sailors who received non-judicial punishment. Two sailors were NJP’d.

Geoff Ziezulewicz - May 30, 2023, 12:36 pm

How Marines brought order to the skies during the Kabul airlift
2 days, 10 hours ago
How Marines brought order to the skies during the Kabul airlift

Working under a tailgate-style tent to shield them from the baking sun, the Marines handled about 110 flights per day with no aircraft mishaps.

For more than two weeks in August 2021, during the frenzied evacuation of more than 124,000 at-risk Afghans and ­Americans from Kabul, it was United States ­Marines who ran a key part of the operation: air traffic control.

The Air Force led the evacuation, ­ferrying people out on roughly half of its 222 C-17 transport jets and caring for evacuees throughout their journeys out of Afghanistan. Airmen have since gotten widespread recognition for the central role they played in the airlift, even as the Biden administration has come under criticism for its handling of the evacuation.

But more than 2,000 Marines, a majority of them from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, also assisted in the evacuation, providing security for Hamid Karzai International Airport and processing the many evacuees.

And a small team of Marines from the 24th MEU, using one hand-held radio to coordinate with aircraft, helped manage the chaos as planes flew in and out of the airport at all hours.

Three Marines so far have received Bronze Stars for efforts coordinating air support; they, along with a fourth ­Marine air traffic controller, spoke with ­Marine Corps Times in interviews in fall 2022.

Controlling aircraft

At first, on Aug. 13, 2021, only four ­Marines from the 24th MEU’s Marine Air Control Group-28 Detachment flew to ­Kabul from Kuwait after having sailed to the Arabian Sea on amphibious assault ships.

The information available to them at that point had given them only a “vague understanding” of the airport’s operations, said Gunnery Sgt. Julio JoseMendez, one of those four Marines. But the Marines did what they could to prepare with the time and resources they had.

The Marine Air Control Group-28 ­Marines had gained much of their knowledge about Hamid Karzai International Airport online while on the ship that had taken them east, using laptops connected to the ship’s spotty Wi-Fi, according to JoseMendez.

Air traffic controllers typically have to be much more familiar with the particular airspace before they are qualified to operate there, said Master Sgt. Kevin Haunschild, one of the four Marine Air Control Group-28 Marines deployed on Aug. 13, 2021.

But meeting with the civilian contractors handling air traffic control helped give the Marines a better sense of air traffic control at the airport.

“And then August 15 happens, and everything goes crazy,” JoseMendez said. “That’s when the Taliban took over Kabul.”

Marines look back 1 year after the Abbey Gate attack

The Marines helped the civilian air traffic controllers relocate to a more ­secure control tower. As a crowd of evacuees started to encroach on that tower, the ­Marines held them back — using “non-lethal crowd control measures,” according to the summary of action for ­JoseMendez’s Bronze Star. At the same time, U.S. military helicopters also flew over the crowd to disperse them.

Capt. Zackary Dahl, the officer in charge of the Marine Air Control Group-28 element said the Marines did it as humanely as possible: by talking with them and telling them to push back. The people in the crowd were scared and just trying to get help, he stressed.

On Aug. 15, 2021, Haunschild was tasked with rescuing an Afghan air traffic controller who was stranded in a crowd of people that included both Afghans desperate to flee the country and some members of the Taliban. Haunschild and a soldier wended their way through the crowd, bringing body armor to the civilian and taking him to their tactical truck.

While they were on the way back to safety, gunfire from an unknown source sprayed the truck, Haunschild recalled. But the mission was successful. Both the civilian and his “mission-essential radio equipment” were safe, the Marine Corps later said in a news release about a Bronze Star Haunschild received.

By Aug. 16, 2021, the civilian controllers had evacuated the airport altogether. That left two Marine Air Control Group-28 air traffic controllers — Haunschild and JoseMendez — to coordinate planes’ ­arrivals and departures.

That day, thousands of people swarmed the runway, according to Haunschild. Marines tried to grab onto some of them to prevent them from getting in front of the planes. But as one C-17 was about to take off, the crowd surged forward again.

Despite Marines’ best efforts, some ­Afghans, desperate to leave their country, clung to the bottom of the plane.

Haunschild remembers hearing lots of yelling as it became clear what these people were trying to do. But as the plane took off and they dropped from the sky, a silence fell.

At one point that night, small arms fire hit the dirt and portable toilet six feet from where the Marines were operating, according to JoseMendez’s summary of action.

Already tired from barely sleeping the past few days, the two nevertheless monitored the radio and the sky nonstop ­except for occasional short naps, until 10 more troops from Marine Air Control Group-28 flew in on Aug. 17, 2021.

With the arrival of then-Sgt. Ian Chryst, an air traffic controller who is now a staff sergeant, the three Marines could work in 12-hour shifts. The long, busy days blurred together, JoseMendez said.

“That’s a long time to control aircraft, especially with the amount of aircraft that was coming in and out of the airport,” Dahl said.

On Aug. 20, 2021, a few air traffic controllers from the Air Force joined the team, according to Haunschild, who said the additional controllers provided a great relief for the Marines.

The Marines slept in barracks at the airport, and on the way to the control point, they would walk through the processing facility where the refugees awaited their futures with all their possessions in small bags, Chryst recalled. He said it was like a small cardboard city. Walking past it was a humbling reminder for him of the adversity the refugees were going through, and of what privilege he had in being a U.S. citizen.

Working under a tailgate-style tent to shield them from the baking sun, the ­Marines handled about 110 flights per day with no aircraft mishaps, according to JoseMendez’s written justification for his Bronze Star. They were close to the aircraft, close enough that the landing and taking off were loud in their ears, ­according to Chryst.

Dahl coordinated the sharing of information from the air traffic control tent to the airport’s joint operations center to 33 agencies representing 31 allied and coalition nations, according to his award citation.

The captain likened the process to a game of telephone: A Marine would sit in the tent, take notes on what the radio communications and send that information to the joint operations center, which would relay it to the agencies.

“[It] was instrumental to the entire ­operation — knowing where aircraft are at, how many people are on the ­aircraft, how much fuel is on the aircraft, how much cargo was on the aircraft,” Haunschild said of Dahl’s work. “That’s the kind of information that was being passed around in real time, and he was able to create that.”

One persistent challenge the air traffic controllers faced was preventing vehicles from crossing the runway. The Marines had the ability to communicate directly with airplanes but not with other vehicles, JoseMendez said. At times, vehicles and people crossed onto the tarmac with little heed for the airplanes.

An entire platoon of soldiers was about to across the tarmac one day as aircraft were scheduled to be landing soon, ­according to JoseMendez; he caught their attention and told them to walk on the grass on the side of the taxiway and watch for even the smallest of dots in the sky before crossing.

In one extremely close call, three ­vehicles veered onto the runway just as a British Royal Air Force plane was taking off. The pilot later told news outlets that he had to speed up his takeoff to avoid a deadly crash. As it was, the plane missed a bus full of evacuees by approximately 10 to 15 feet, the pilot told Sky News in September 2021.

JoseMendez and Chryst watched the near miss unfold. The hair on ­JoseMendez’s chest and back stood up.

“All I could do, honestly, was pray, ­because, at that point, it was too late to say anything,” Chryst said.

‘Never be forgotten’

On Aug. 26, 2021, MACG-28 Marines heard what sounded like an explosion and saw a cloud of smoke rising from the south end of the airport.

Dahl immediately radioed to the joint operations center.

“Hey, we saw some kind of explosion — I don’t know what it is — at Abbey Gate,” Dahl recalled saying.

The Marine Air Control Group-28 would later learn that an Islamic State affiliate had set off a bomb at the gate, killing as many as 170 Afghan civilians and 13 American service members: 11 Marines, one Navy corpsman and a soldier.

One of those Marines, Sgt. Nicole Gee, was part of the 24th Marine Expeditiona

ry Unit. Some of the Marines had gotten to know her on their amphibious assault ship, the Iwo Jima.

Gee’s death was tragic in its own right, JoseMendez said, and it changed the way Marines from her MEU perceived their own security.

“It kind of hit home,” said Chryst, who had had limited interactions with Gee but had heard that she was an exceptional Marine. “I was like, ‘I know her.’ It was one of those things you don’t expect to happen. We thought we were just going there to get people out.”

The Marine Air Control Group-28 team left Kabul on Aug. 31, the deadline the Biden administration set for the evacuation.

Leaving Afghanistan came with complicated feelings for Chryst.

“I was relieved, for sure, getting out of there, but we felt like we could have gotten more people out,” he said. “But we were given a deadline we had to meet.”

“We weren’t thinking about it as much when we were there — we were worried about our mission — but as soon as I got back home, it was actually set in how large of a deal it was that my Marines saved all of those lives,” Dahl said.

In fall 2022, Dahl and JoseMendez received Bronze Stars for meritorious service in recognition of their efforts in Kabul. In January 2023, Haunschild also received a Bronze Star for meritorious service.

That makes it a total of 11 Marines who have received that award for the Kabul evacuation, according to spokesman Maj. Jordan Cochran. Two more Marines — Maj. Benjamin Sutphen and Cpl. Wyatt Wilson — have been awarded the Bronze Star with a “V” to designate valor in combat, according to Cochran.

Approximately 2,100 Marine Corps personnel participated in the operations at Kabul International Airport, according to Marine spokesman Capt. Ryan Bruce.

JoseMendez said that while he appreciated the award, he felt his actions weren’t deserving of a Bronze Star.

“The award I wanted was a 12-pack of a nice IPA and a crisp high five,” he said.

It has now been more than a year and a half since the conclusion of the airlift.

On Aug. 26, 2022, Chryst said, he took time to reflect on the 13 service members who had died in the Abbey Gate bombing.

“They made the ultimate sacrifice, and it’ll never be forgotten,” Chryst said. “I don’t think there’s going to be a year that’s going to go by that I’m not going to sit back and think about it.”

With the Taliban back in control of Afghanistan, the evacuation remains a source of controversy in the United States. Critics continue to call out a lack of planning at the highest levels of the Biden administration, emphasize that tens of thousands of Afghan allies remain trapped under Taliban rule and question — given the Taliban’s resurgence — whether it was worth intervening in ­Afghanistan in the first place.

But Haunschild said that he was still proud of the work that American troops did during the evacuation: “They did a phenomenal job for what they had to work with.”■

Irene Loewenson - May 30, 2023, 7:02 am

Crucial days ahead as debt ceiling deal goes for vote in Congress
2 days, 10 hours ago
Crucial days ahead as debt ceiling deal goes for vote in Congress

A key test will come Tuesday afternoon when the House Rules Committee is scheduled to consider the package.

President Joe Biden says he “feels good” about the debt ceiling and budget deal negotiated with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy as the White House and congressional leaders work to ensure its passage this week in time to lift the nation’s borrowing limit and prevent a disastrous U.S. default.

Biden spent part of the Memorial Day holiday working the phones, calling lawmakers in both parties, as the president does his part to deliver the votes. A number of hard right conservatives are criticizing the deal as falling short of the deep spending cuts they wanted, while liberals decry policy changes such as new work requirements for older Americans in the food aid program.

Vets benefits, VA staff paychecks and more endangered by debt fight

A key test will come Tuesday afternoon when the House Rules Committee is scheduled to consider the package and vote on sending it to the full House for a vote expected Wednesday.

“I feel very good about it,” Biden told reporters Monday as he left Washington for his home in Delaware.

“I’ve spoken to a number of the members,” he said, among them Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, a past partner in big bipartisan deals who largely sat this one out.

“I spoke to a whole bunch of people, and it feels good,” Biden said.

To those progressive Democrats raising concerns about the package, the president had a simple message: “Talk to me.”

As lawmakers size up the 99-page bill, few are expected to be fully satisfied with the final product. But Biden, a Democrat, and McCarthy, a Republican, are counting on pulling majority support from the political center, a rarity in divided Washington, to join in voting to prevent a catastrophic federal default.

Wall Street will open early Tuesday morning delivering its own assessment, as the U.S. financial markets that had been closed when the deal was struck over the weekend show their reaction to the outcome.

McCarthy acknowledged the hard-fought compromise with Biden will not be “100% of what everybody wants” as he leads a slim House majority powered by hard-right conservatives.

Facing potential blowback from his conservative ranks, the Republican speaker will have to rely on upwards of half the House Democrats and half the House Republicans to push the debt ceiling package to passage.

Overall, the package is a tradeoff that would impose some spending reductions for the next two years along with a suspension of the debt limit into January 2025, pushing the volatile political issue past the next presidential election. Raising the debt limit, now $31 trillion, would allow Treasury to continue borrowing to pay the nation’s already incurred bills.

Additionally, policy issues are raising the most objections from lawmakers.

Liberal lawmakers fought hard but were unable to stop new work requirements for people 50 to 54 who receive government food assistance and are otherwise able-bodied without dependents. The Republicans demanded the bolstered work requirements as part of the deal, but some say the changes to the food stamp program are not enough.

The Republicans were also pushing to beef up work requirements for health care and other aid; Biden refused to go along on those.

Questions are also being raised about an unexpected provision that essentially gives congressional approval to the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a natural gas project important to Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., that many Democrats and others oppose.

At the same time, conservative Republicans including those from the House Freedom Caucus say the budget slashing does not go nearly far enough to have their support.

“No one claiming to be a conservative could justify a YES vote,” tweeted Rep. Bob Good, R-Va.

This “deal” is insanity,” said Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C. “Not gonna vote to bankrupt our country.”

All told the package would hold spending essentially flat for the coming year, while allowing increases for military and veterans accounts. It would cap growth at 1% for 2025.

The House Rules Committee has three members from the influential Freedom Caucus who may very well try to block the package from advancing, forcing McCarthy to rely on the Democrats on the panel to ensure the bill can be sent to the House floor.

The House aims to vote Wednesday and send the bill to the Senate, where Majority Leader Chuck Schumer along with McConnell are working for a quick passage by week’s end.

Senators, who have remained largely on the sidelines during much of the negotiations between the president and the House speaker, began inserting themselves more forcefully into the debate.

Some senators are insisting on amendments to reshape the package from both the left and right flanks. That could require time-consuming debates that delay final approval of the deal.

Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia is “extremely disappointed” by the provision greenlighting the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline, his office said in a statement. He plans to file an amendment to remove the provision from the package.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina complained that the military spending increases are not enough. “I will use all powers available to me in the Senate to have amendment votes to undo this catastrophe for defense,” he tweeted.

But making any changes to the package at this stage seems highly unlikely with so little time to spare. Congress and the White House are racing to meet the Monday deadline now less than a week away. That’s when Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said the U.S. would run short of cash and face an unprecedented debt default without action.

A default would almost certainly crush the U.S. economy and spill over around the globe, as the world’s reliance on the stability of the American dollar and the country’s leadership fall into question.

Lisa Mascaro, Aamer Madhani, The Associated Press - May 30, 2023, 6:52 am

On Memorial Day, Biden lauds fallen troops who ‘dared all, gave all’
3 days, 1 hour ago
On Memorial Day, Biden lauds fallen troops who ‘dared all, gave all’

The president called on Americans to ensure that their “sacrifice was not in vain.”

President Joe Biden lauded the sacrifice of generations of U.S. troops who “dared all and gave all” fighting for their country and called on Americans to ensure that their “sacrifice was not in vain” as he marked Memorial Day with the traditional wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

Biden was joined by first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Harris’ husband, Douglas Emhoff, for the 155th National Memorial Day Observance. He had a moment of contemplation in front of the wreath, which was adorned with flowers and a red, white and blue bow, and then bowed his head in prayer.

At the heart of Memorial Day, an appreciation of duty to one’s country

“We must never forget the price that was paid to protect our democracy,” Biden said later in an address at the Memorial Amphitheater. “We must never forget the lives these flags, flowers and marble markers represent.”

“Every year we remember,” he said. “And every year it never gets easier.”

Avery Carlin of Arlington, Va., rests by the headstone of her uncle, Army Cpl. Michael Avery Pursel, as she visits Section 60 at Arlington National Cemetery with her family on Memorial Day, May 29. (Alex Brandon/AP)

Biden has taken pride that his administration has overseen a time of relative peace for the U.S. military after two decades of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

It’s been nearly 21 months since Biden ended the United States’ longest war in Afghanistan, making good on a campaign promise to end a 20-year-old “forever war” that cost the lives of more than 2,400 U.S. service members. The war, however, ended in chaotic and deadly fashion on Biden’s watch in August 2021.

The U.S. now finds itself leading a coalition of allies pouring tens of billions of dollars in military and economic aid into Ukraine as it tries to repel the Russian invasion, which appears to have no end in sight.

President Joe Biden holds his hand on his heart as he stands with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley during the playing of

While making clear that he has no desire for U.S. troops to enter the conflict, Biden has maintained that he sees the Russian effort to grab territory as an affront to international norms and has vowed to help Kyiv win, sending artillery, tanks and drones and recently agreeing to allow allies to train Ukrainian military on American F-16 jets.

Biden connected the sacrifices of some 400,000 Americans buried at Arlington to the work of U.S. troops deployed around the world today, saying the impact of the fallen men and women “goes far beyond those silent stones” of the solemn burial ground.

‘Snapshot of their memories:’ Gold Star widow reflects on Memorial Day

“We see the strength of our NATO alliance built from the bonds that were forged in the fires of two World Wars,” Biden said. “We see it in the troops still standing sentinel on the Korean Peninsula, preserving the peace side by side with allies. We see it in every base, every barrack, every vessel around the globe where our military proudly serves and stands as a force for good in the world.”

Raphael Michel, 7, of Washington, visits the grave of a soldier, with whom his father served, in Section 60 at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day, May 29. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

During the Arlington ceremony, Biden also spoke of the need to care for U.S. service members on and off the battlefield.

“We have only one truly sacred obligation: to prepare those we send into harm’s way and care for them and their families when they come home and when they don’t,” Biden said.

Memorial Day is for those we’ve lost, on the battlefield and at home

The president noted legislation he had signed expanding federal health care services for millions of veterans who served at military bases where toxic smoke billowed from huge burn pits, commonly used by the military until several years ago to dispose of chemicals, tires, plastics and medical and human waste.

Before Monday’s ceremony at the Arlington, Virginia, cemetery, the Bidens hosted a breakfast at the White House for members of veterans organizations, military service and family organizations, surviving families of fallen U.S. troops, senior Department of Defense officials and other administration officials.

The president and the first lady were scheduled to return to their home near Wilmington, Delaware, later Monday to spend the rest of the federal holiday.

Krista Meinert touches the headstone of her son in Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day. Marine Lance Cpl. Jacob Alexander Meinert, of Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, was with 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, when he stepped on a landmine in Helmand  province, Afghanistan, Jan. 10, 2010. (Alex Brandon/AP)

Aamer Madhani and Rebecca Santana, The Associated Press - May 29, 2023, 4:02 pm

‘Ghosts of Beirut’ spotlights decades-long CIA hunt for terror leader
5 days, 23 hours ago
‘Ghosts of Beirut’ spotlights decades-long CIA hunt for terror leader

The 25-year manhunt launched in the wake of the 1983 Beirut bombings form the basis of the four-part Showtime series “Ghosts of Beirut."

When Milton Bearden was questioned in 2013 about the similarities between terrorist leaders Osama bin Laden and Imad Mughniyah, the 30-year veteran of the CIA quickly assessed both of them as “pathological killers.”

Likeness between the two, however, ended there. It was the cunning brutality of Mughniyah — an elusive Lebanese-born mastermind responsible for more American deaths than any other individual prior to 9/11 — that earned him a place among the CIA’s top targets.

“There was always a nagging amateurishness about bin Laden — his wildly hyped background, his bogus claims,” Bearden told author Mark Perry in a 2013 story in Foreign Policy. “Bin Laden cowered and hid. Mughniyeh spent his life giving us the finger.”

Mughniyah was killed in 2008 in Damascus, decades after his reported orchestration of some of Hezbollah’s most deadly terror attacks in Beirut, including the U.S. embassy and Marine barracks bombings of 1983 that killed over 350 people total.

The bomb that killed him — a device triggered by agents in Tel Aviv that was hidden in the spare tire of a vehicle along his walking route — marked the culmination of a joint operation between the CIA and Mossad, Israel’s national intelligence agency.

The decades-long search for Mughniyah, who was also known as al-Hajj Radwan, now form the foundation of the four-part Showtime series “Ghosts of Beirut,” a massive undertaking shepherded by Emmy Award-winner Greg Barker (“Manhunt: The Inside Story of the Hunt for Bin Laden”).

The dramatic retelling, which oscillates between early-1980s Lebanon and 2007 Iraq, weaves in journalistic research and first-hand accounts of CIA and Mossad officials to produce a spy thriller that, while technically fictionalized due to the classified nature of some subject matter, is delivered with “truth at its core,” Barker told Military Times.

“We’re telling it as a fictional story, but I wanted it to be as authentic as possible,” Barker said. “So, that meant talking to numerous sources about what might have happened or what they think happened.”

One source consulting on the series was Douglas London, a Marine Corps veteran who spent 34 years with the CIA’s clandestine service and came to understand Mughniyah’s reputation over the course of 17 years overseas.

“Mughniyah had a great deal of ingenuity,” London told Military Times. “What made him particularly effective was his ability to go beyond what had been done and to be inventive.”

Suicide bombing, in particular, became a staple of Mughniyah’s terror operations. The method was popularized during his rise to power and developed into a routine threat in the conflicts that followed.

“The idea of martyrdom for Islamic terrorist groups was unheard of at the time,” said London, who now teaches at Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies. “Suicide is forbidden by the Quran, but Hezbollah, with Iran’s support, was able to put another stamp on it — just like we saw al-Qaida and the Islamic State put their own stamp on things. He was very inventive in finding ways to sow chaos and fear.”

High-profile kidnappings were also employed, including the broad daylight abduction of CIA station chief William Buckley in March 1984. Buckley had only just assumed the role after agency officer Robert Ames was killed in the April 1983 blast that rocked the U.S. embassy and sent a shock through the Reagan administration.

Buckley’s kidnapping was unlike any act of terror the agency had encountered. It suggested meticulous surveillance and intelligence gathering, not knee-jerk decision making.

“It was new, the idea that they could touch us directly,” London said.

Buckley was tortured extensively for 14 months and died on June 3 the following year. His remains would not be returned stateside until 1991.

“They show that they can do that, that no one is immune from them. We make extensive and trying efforts over a long period of time to get him back; we fail utterly,” a senior CIA official recalled in an interview with PBS. “Bill Buckley being taken basically closed down CIA intelligence activities in the country. It was a tremendous blow.”

From bombings to kidnappings, Mughniyeh’s bold but calculated sway began to leave its mark around the globe, with terror operations stretching from Lebanon and Iraq to Israel and Argentina.

In his destructive wake, a trail of mangled bodies, innumerable families torn apart. Mughniyeh’s barbaric influence, mimicked by those who have sought to replicate his actions in the years since, continue to scar the region.

“He was in his own league,” Barker said.

The events, portrayed in the series over a 25-year span leading up to Mughniyeh’s assassination, catalyzed introspection among CIA agents and the rest of the intelligence community. Whatever hubris existed, London said, had to be reined in.

“That was a wake up call that you should never dismiss your enemy,” London said. “Unfortunately, it was a lesson that took a little bit of time for us to adapt to, but adapt we did.”

“Ghosts of Beirut” is augmented by American, Lebanese and Israeli perspectives, and charts a course for Mughniyeh’s ruthless tale through an endlessly evolving landscape of regional politics and the rise and fall of its most violent players.

The show stars Amir Khoury as Imad Mughniyeh in 1982, Hisham Suleiman as Mughniyeh in 2007, Dina Shihabi as Lebanese-American CIA agent Lena Asayran, and Dermot Mulroney as CIA officer Robert Ames. It is executively produced by Avi Issacharoff and Lior Raz (”Fauda”) and Daniel Dreifuss (”All Quiet on the Western Front”).

Stream “Ghosts of Beirut” now on Hulu and Paramount+.

Jon Simkins - May 26, 2023, 6:19 pm

Advice from a Marine who smashed 3 kettlebell-swing world records
5 days, 23 hours ago
Advice from a Marine who smashed 3 kettlebell-swing world records

Sgt. Maj. Steven Burkett has even swung some kettlebells with then-Commandant Gen. Robert Neller.

In the summer of 2017, Marine Sgt. Maj. Steven Burkett was all set to become the world champion in most weight lifted by kettlebell swings in one hour.

After training consistently for months, the 5′11″, 192-pound sergeant major felt confident he could break the Guinness World Record, which captures the total weight swung by a male in repetitions across 60 minutes.

The CrossFit gym in Carlsbad, California, near his base of Camp Pendleton, turned his attempt to set a new record into a small spectator event.

“We had cameras, we had judges, there were like 100 people in the room, the whole nine yards,” said Burkett, now the top enlisted Marine at School of Infantry–West at the same base.

A Marine is Guinness world champ in burpees per minute

A kettlebell is a ball-shaped weight with a sturdy handle attached to it. To swing a kettlebell, weightlifters bring it between their legs and then hoist it above their heads.

The record captures the most weight swung cumulatively over the hour. His goal was to complete 950 swings of a 53-pound kettlebell in an hour, to break by a wide margin a previous record that equated to 892 swings.

Well into the record attempt, the skin on his hands ripped, slowing him down. He fell short of the record by about 50 reps.

Embarrassed and demoralized by his failure, he didn’t touch another kettlebell for months.

“I fell into feeling sorry for myself,” Burkett said. “Like, ‘Oh, it just wasn’t for me. I could have set the world record, though.’ Like the dudes who are like, ‘I almost joined the Marine Corps.’”

When he moved to a new unit, in embassy security, Marines there who had seen the video of his record attempt asked him if he planned to try again.

“These younger Marines were, almost, calling me on my bullcrap,” he said. “They were like, ‘Really? You came that close and you did all that training, and you’re just not going to do it?”

Burkett said his Marines’ apparent disappointment in him spurred him to start training again.

In 2018, on the Marine Corps birthday of Nov. 10, he set the record for most weight lifted in an hour — even though the skin on his hands ripped again.

When he got sent to Guantanamo, Cuba, other troops there found out about his passion for “jacking” kettlebells, as he calls it. Burkett formed the Guantanamo Kettlebell Club and hosted training sessions that at times included more than 100 people, he said.

While in Cuba, he found out about two other kettlebell records: most weight swung in one minute and three minutes. He shifted his training away from endurance and toward pure power, and knocked out those two records.

Meanwhile, someone else broke his hour record by a few reps.

Burkett knew he wanted to reclaim the record. But he didn’t want to eke out a new record by a little bit, only for it to get broken again weeks later.

Instead, his mentality was, “I need to put up a number so big that nobody ever tries to even attempt the one-hour record again.”

So he did.

He has now amassed a healthy Instagram following at @sergeantmajorkettlebell, more than 11,000. When he met then-Commandant Gen. Robert Neller, the general asked him, “Are you the kettlebell guy?”

Whenever someone asks Burkett that, his response is, “Yeah. Do you want to lift some kettlebells?”

The now-70-year-old Neller took him up on the offer and, according to Burkett, was “super strong.”

Burkett also recently garnered official Marine Corps recognition, winning “2022 Male Athlete of the Year” for the Camp Pendleton, California, Marine base. He is also a finalist for the Corps-wide title.

Now, he is partnering with an exercise physiologist to write a book, called “Jacking Bells,” about his story and training method.

But Burkett wasn’t always a star athlete. In high school, he said, he was a “nondescript average football player and track guy,” the kind who started on the varsity team but only in senior year.

He enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1994, according to his official bio. He signed an open contract and ended up in supply administration, he said.

A few years later, he went to Marine Security Guard School and was assigned in Paris and Ankara, Turkey, according to his bio. He has had multiple deployments as a staff noncommissioned officer, including to Iraq and Mongolia.

As a Marine, Burkett kept himself in shape, optimized for the running and pullups that the Corps expects of its troops, he said.

“From all appearances, I looked like I was Marine Corps healthy, but I would always have little back injuries whenever I would carry gear — just little things,” he said. “I just don’t feel like I was very strong.”

But while stationed in Washington state in 2013, Burkett joined a CrossFit gym on a whim and learned there about the principles of weightlifting.

As he prepared for a deployment to Iraq in 2016, he wanted to stay in shape, but there wasn’t gym equipment where he was going. So he packed a single 53-pound kettlebell.

His goal was to do 300 swings each day. At first, he had to do them in sets of 15 or 20, spread out throughout the day. But as the months passed, he became able to knock out the 300 swings in one workout.

At one point, he mentioned to one of his workout buddies back in California that he had done 500 swings in under 30 minutes. The friend asked if there was a world record for kettlebell swings.

“That was like the first moment it even entered my mind that there was a world record,” Burkett said.

Advice from ‘Sgt. Maj. Kettlebell’

Burkett said his approach involves doing larger sets to build power over time, rather than throwing a lot of power into each individual swing.

Don’t train just by swinging kettlebells, he said; also involve them in squats, lunges and presses. You don’t have to relegate these exercises to the gym — Burkett said he keeps one or two kettlebells in his car at all times.

Form matters. Imagine there’s a laser beam coming out of your chest: That beam shouldn’t touch the ground. Keeping the chest up is a way to keep pressure off of the back, Burkett said.

When a workout gets uncomfortable, focus on your aspirations, and push through.

Break long workouts into shorter chunks in your mind. Rather than thinking “I have to make it to 30 minutes,” focus on making it to 10 minutes, then 15.

“I think that’s a good principle for Marines,” Burkett said. “If you look at your entire four-year enlistment or you look at an entire deployment or you look at a whole training field op, that’s hard. But can you think about this next thing that you’re doing or the next little mini accomplishment that you can give yourself?”

Burkett said there’s another lesson for Marines in his kettlebell journey. The standard advice that mainstream kettlebell organizations offer is to keep the number of reps low in training, according to the sergeant major. Burkett has done the opposite, and it helped him smash records.

“It’s important when you’re setting out in life that you need to have mentors and people who can guide you,” he said. “But if you just follow someone else’s advice or playbook, you can only do either what they’ve done or what they have intended for you. You’ve got to set out your own path in life.”

Irene Loewenson - May 26, 2023, 6:07 pm

Military prepares for disaster relief on Guam after massive typhoon
5 days, 23 hours ago
Military prepares for disaster relief on Guam after massive typhoon

Airmen at Andersen AFB are working to reopen runways, while other military units are preparing to assist Guam residents.

The military is launching disaster and humanitarian relief efforts on Guam after Typhoon Mawar ravaged the island earlier this week, causing massive damage, power outages and water shortages.

The strongest typhoon to hit the territory of roughly 150,000 people since 2002, Mawar briefly made landfall around 9 p.m. Wednesday as a Category 4 storm at Andersen Air Force Base on the northern tip of the island, weather service officials said.

Rivers spilled over their banks in the wake of the storn, which ripped roofs off homes, flipped vehicles and shredded trees.

Andersen officials said Friday that airmen had conducted an initial damage assessment to restore the base to mission-ready status and are currently working on bringing back power and water to the base, while other military units are preparing to step in to assist.

A top priority is clearing the airfield from debris so that outside agencies can provide assistance and supplies as part of recovery efforts, according to Brig. Gen. Paul Fast, 36th Wing commander.

The Hagatna River overflows it's banks and encroaches into the Bank of Guam parking lot in Hagatna, Guam, Thursday. The Category 4 typhoon pummeled the U.S. Pacific territory with howling winds, torrential rain and a life-threatening storm surge as residents hunkered down. (Rick Cruz/The Pacific Daily via AP)

“Thankfully, no member of Team Andersen was seriously injured,” Fast said in an Air Force statement. “Currently, our top priority is sustaining life and ensuring the well-being of our members, but we are also prioritizing opening our airfield to bring in aid for the island.”

Military sends away ships as Super Typhoon Mawar closes in on Guam

The Air Force said it’s in the process of restoring operations to the base exchange, commissary, fuel station and medical services.

The Air Force also recommended against visiting beaches “due to high levels of bacteria that may result in minor and more serious illnesses when being exposed to contaminated water, such as sore throats, meningitis, encephalitis and severe gastroenteritis.”

Other military units are also expected to jump in and assist with recovery efforts.

The Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group and the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit are poised for U.S. Indo-Pacific Command to tap them to provide humanitarian and disaster relief in Guam, a defense official told Military Times.

The Makin Island ARG includes the amphibious assault ship Makin Island, and amphibious transport docks Anchorage and John P. Murtha.

The 1st Marine Aircraft Wing and the 3rd Marine Logistics Group, both based in Okinawa, Japan, are also standing by waiting for tasking, the defense official said.

These efforts would fall under the Defense Support of Civil Authorities construct, which permits the military to assist the U.S. and its territories during disasters.

Congress mandates more oversight on Pentagon plans for defending Guam

It’s unclear when exactly Indo-Pacific Command will formally task these Marine Corps assets with ther assistance efforts, although the defense official said it could happen as early as Friday. INDOPACOM did not respond to a request for comment from Military Times by deadline.

High waves from Typhoon Mawar batter the coast of Ipan in Talofofo, Guam, Wednesday. Many residents remain without power and utilities. The storm ripped roofs off homes, flipped vehicles and shredded trees. (Rick Cruz/The Pacific Daily via AP)

The central and northern parts of Guam received more than 2 feet of rain as the eyewall of Mawar passed. The island’s international airport flooded and the swirling typhoon churned up a storm surge and waves that crashed through coastal reefs and flooded homes.

“We are waking up to a rather disturbing scene out there across Guam,” said Landon Aydlett, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, in a briefing streamed online. “We’re looking out our door and what used to be a jungle looks like toothpicks — it looks like a scene from the movie ‘Twister,’ with trees just thrashed apart.”

Trees stand stripped of leaves following Typhoon Mawar outside Hagatna, Guam, Thursday. (Grace Garces Bordallo/AP)

“Most of Guam is dealing with a major mess that’s going to take weeks to clean up,” he added.

Airmen carry bottled water at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, passing overturned cars en route. (Air Force)

The storm is expected to move northwest for days over a large, empty expanse of ocean and enter the Philippine region late Friday or early Saturday. Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said on Facebook that officials are preparing, and that the storm could bring heavy rainfall and flooding.

The storm could threaten Taiwan next week. Mawar regained its status as a super typhoon on Thursday, with winds reaching 150 mph. By early Friday, they had strengthened to 175 mph, according to the weather service.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Diana Correll, Megan Eckstein - May 26, 2023, 5:52 pm

Defense secretary tells Naval Academy graduates they’re ready to serve
6 days, 1 hour ago
Defense secretary tells Naval Academy graduates they’re ready to serve

“Class of 2023, wherever your career takes you, remind the world of what you stand for," Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said.

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told newly commissioned officers at the U.S. Naval Academy on Friday that they are ready to “defend our democracy with honor, courage and commitment.”

Austin, speaking during the ceremony at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, acknowledged the Navy’s role in training allies, helping expand Ukraine’s maritime capabilities in its fight against Russian invasion and bringing relief to international conflict zones.

“Class of 2023, wherever your career takes you, remind the world of what you stand for — and what America stands for: Honor. Courage. And commitment. Democracy. Liberty. And the rule of law,” Austin told 1,018 graduates at the academy’s commissioning ceremony.

The secretary said naval officers have a special understanding of the power of teamwork, and “we need that spirit for the crucial mission that you’re all here to shoulder.”

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III awards a diploma at the U.S. Naval Academy's Class of 2023 graduation ceremony May 26. (Chad J. McNeeley/DoD)

Austin said U.S. Marines are training alongside allies in Japan and the Philippines to strengthen deterrence in the Indo-Pacific. He also said the Navy is driving forward the AUKUS partnership with Australia and the U.K.

In Europe, he said, U.S. sailors are operating shoulder-to-shoulder with NATO allies.

He told the graduating class that their leadership will be at the center of American efforts for a more peaceful future.

“Our competitors openly challenge that vision,” he said. “They want to replace the hard-won postwar system of rules and rights with a lawless world of autocracy and aggression. But the American flag atop a U.S. Navy ship has long been the symbol of hope for a more free and secure world.”

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III awards a diploma at the U.S. Naval Academy's Class of 2023 graduation ceremony in Annapolis, Md. (Chad J. McNeeley/DoD)

The secretary noted that the class rose to the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic in their first year at the academy.

“It separated you from your classmates as you were just starting to feel like a family, but you hung in there,” Austin said. “You took care of each other.”

Newly commissioned U.S. Navy ensigns take the oath of office during the U.S. Naval Academy's Class of 2023 graduation ceremony May 26. (Chad J. McNeeley/DoD)

The class included 751 men and 267 women. There were 744 graduates who were commissioned as Navy ensigns, including 539 men and 205 women. There were 257 commissioned as second lieutenants in the Marine Corps, including 198 men and 59 women. The newly commissioned officers will serve at least five years.

President Joe Biden addressed Naval Academy graduates last year, and Vice President Kamala Harris delivered remarks in 2021.

Newly commissioned U.S. Marine Corps second lieutenants take the oath of office during the U.S. Naval Academy's Class of 2023 graduation ceremony. (Chad J. McNeeley/DoD)

Brian Witte, The Associated Press - May 26, 2023, 3:55 pm

Memorial Day help needed at Arlington after record flower donations
6 days, 4 hours ago
Memorial Day help needed at Arlington after record flower donations

Just last week, the Memorial Day Flowers Foundation was not sure if they’d be able to put a flower at little more than 80,000 graves.

The Memorial Day Flowers Foundation is calling for volunteers to help place flowers at Arlington National Cemetery gravesites ahead of Memorial Day after a record week of donations left the organization with more flowers than available hands to distribute them.

Just last week, the foundation announced donations for flowers had “dried up,” with just 80,000 flowers out of the 300,000 goal readily available. Now, following a week of record donations, those numbers are on target — and then some.

“We need additional volunteers on Sunday to help,” the foundation’s executive director Ramiro Penaherrera said in a release. “You are needed to visit gravesites throughout the cemetery and place flowers. This is an excellent way to honor our fallen troops and veterans for Memorial Day.”

The organization currently has more than 2,500 volunteers signed up to distribute flowers, with total flower numbers expected to easily surpass the previous donation record of 220,000 in 2019. The exact total won’t be known until organizers unpack pallets on Saturday.

Those in the Washington area looking to volunteer can go to Arlington National Cemetery on Sunday, May 28, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The Memorial Day tradition of placing flowers at the graves of fallen troops — one that started as “Decoration Day” — began on May 30, 1868, on the heels of the nation’s bloodiest war in history.

The Memorial Day Flowers Foundation joined the effort in 2011 and has been placing flowers at the gravesites of fallen service members ever since. The organization started by placing 10,000 roses at graves in the cemetery, and eventually expanded to cemeteries around the country through the help of donors, businesses and volunteers.

“We are so grateful to the American public and the generosity of our floral importers, who are literally donating thousands of flowers by the pallet, to ensure our fallen military heroes are honored this year,” Penaherrera said in the statement. “This outpouring of support shows the patriotic spirit of so many Americans.”

Zamone Perez - May 26, 2023, 12:56 pm

From Civil War to mattress sales, Memorial Day full of contradiction
6 days, 4 hours ago
From Civil War to mattress sales, Memorial Day full of contradiction

Memorial Day is a time to mourn the nation’s fallen troops, but has also been about taking time off, since the 1860s.

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — Memorial Day is supposed to be about mourning the nation’s fallen service members, but it’s come to anchor the unofficial start of summer and a long weekend of discounts on anything from mattresses to lawn mowers.

Auto club AAA said in a travel forecast that this holiday weekend could be “one for the record books, especially at airports,” with more than 42 million Americans projected to travel 50 miles or more.

But for Manuel Castañeda Jr., 58, the day will be a quiet one in Durand, Illinois, outside Rockford. He lost his father, a U.S. Marine who served in Vietnam, in an accident in California while training other Marines in 1966.

“Memorial Day is very personal,” said Castañeda, who also served in the Marines and Army National Guard, from which he knew men who died in combat. “It isn’t just the specials. It isn’t just the barbecue.”

But he tries not to judge others who spend the holiday differently: “How can I expect them to understand the depth of what I feel when they haven’t experienced anything like that?”


It’s a day of reflection and remembrance of those who died while serving in the U.S. military, according to the Congressional Research Service. The holiday is observed in part by the National Moment of Remembrance, which encourages all Americans to pause at 3 p.m. for a moment of silence.

Members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment also known as The Old Guard place flags in front of each headstone for

The holiday stems from the American Civil War, which killed more than 600,000 service members — both Union and Confederate — between 1861 and 1865.

There’s little controversy over the first national observance of what was then called Decoration Day. It occurred May 30, 1868, after an organization of Union veterans called for decorating war graves with flowers, which were in bloom.

The practice was already widespread on a local level. Waterloo, New York, began a formal observance on May 5, 1866, and was later proclaimed to be the holiday’s birthplace.

Yet Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, traced its first observance to October 1864, according to the Library of Congress. And women in some Confederate states were decorating graves before the war’s end.

But David Blight, a Yale history professor, points to May 1, 1865, when as many as 10,000 people, many of them Black, held a parade, heard speeches and dedicated the graves of Union dead in Charleston, South Carolina.

A total of 267 Union troops had died at a Confederate prison and were buried in a mass grave. After the war, members of Black churches buried them in individual graves.

“What happened in Charleston does have the right to claim to be first, if that matters,” Blight told The Associated Press in 2011.

In 2021, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel cited the story in a Memorial Day speech in Hudson, Ohio. The ceremony’s organizers turned off his microphone because they said it wasn’t relevant to honoring the city’s veterans. The event’s organizers later resigned.

Members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment also known as The Old Guard, place flags in front of each headstone for

Someone has always lamented the holiday’s drift from its original meaning.

As early as 1869, The New York Times wrote that the holiday could become “sacrilegious” and no longer “sacred” if it focuses more on pomp, dinners and oratory.

In 1871, abolitionist Frederick Douglass feared Americans were forgetting the Civil War’s impetus — slavery — when he gave a Decoration Day speech at Arlington National Cemetery.

“We must never forget that the loyal soldiers who rest beneath this sod flung themselves between the nation and the nation’s destroyers,” Douglass said.

His concerns were well-founded, said Ben Railton, a professor of English and American studies at Fitchburg State University in Massachusetts. Even though roughly 180,000 Black men served in the Union Army, the holiday in many communities would essentially become “white Memorial Day,” especially after the rise of the Jim Crow South, Railton said.

Meanwhile, how the day was spent — at least by the nation’s elected officials — could draw scrutiny for years after the Civil War. In the 1880s, then-President Grover Cleveland was said to have gone fishing — and “people were appalled,” said Matthew Dennis, an emeritus history professor at the University of Oregon.

By 1911, the Indianapolis 500 held its inaugural race on May 30, drawing 85,000 spectators. A report from The Associated Press made no mention of the holiday — or any controversy.


Dennis said Memorial Day’s potency diminished somewhat with the addition of Armistice Day, which marked World War I’s end on Nov. 11, 1918. Armistice Day became a national holiday by 1938 and was renamed Veterans Day in 1954.

An act of Congress changed Memorial Day from every May 30th to the last Monday in May in 1971. Veterans objected: “They didn’t want to be just some random Monday that people could forget about,” Dennis said.

In 1972, Time Magazine said the holiday had become “a three-day nationwide hootenanny that seems to have lost much of its original purpose.”

People wait for their bags in Charlotte, N.C., 3/25/23.  Auto club AAA said this summer could be “one for the record books, especially at airports,” with more than 43 million Americans projected to travel 50 miles or more.  (AP Photo)

Even in the 19th century, grave ceremonies were followed by leisure activities such as picnicking and foot races, Dennis said.

The holiday also evolved alongside baseball and the automobile, the five-day work week and summer vacation, according to the 2002 book, “A History of Memorial Day: Unity, Discord and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

In the mid-20th century, a small number of businesses began to open defiantly on the holiday.

Once the holiday moved to Monday, “the traditional barriers against doing business began to crumble,” authors Richard Harmond and Thomas Curran wrote.

These days, Memorial Day sales and traveling are deeply woven into the nation’s muscle memory. This weekend, 2.7 million more people will travel for the unofficial start of summer compared to last year — despite inflation, according to AAA.

Jason Redman, 48, a retired Navy SEAL who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, said he’ll be thinking of friends he’s lost. Thirty names are tattooed on his arm “for every guy that I personally knew that died.”

He wants Americans to remember the fallen — but also to enjoy themselves, knowing lives were sacrificed to forge the holiday.

Ben Finley, The Associated Press - May 26, 2023, 12:45 pm

Army vet, Oath Keepers leader gets 18 years for plotting Jan. 6 attack
6 days, 22 hours ago
Army vet, Oath Keepers leader gets 18 years for plotting Jan. 6 attack

Lengthy jail sentences show judges will hold those responsible for deadly violence of Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

A federal judge Thursday sentenced Army veteran and Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes the toughest sentence yet following the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot: 18 years in prison on charges of seditious conspiracy for his role in plotting the attack. His deputy, Kelly Meggs, got 12 years.

The sentence was the longest in the more than 1,000 Capitol riot cases so far, sending a clear message that those who took part in storming the U.S. Capitol, aiming to overturn the 2020 presidential election results, will be held accountable for the deadly violence unleashed that day. The steep sentences clash with the narrative spun by some in the GOP aiming to portray the melee as peaceful protest.

Rhodes’ federal sentencing follows similar tough sentences for the neo-Nazi Proud Boys, but is likely to have even wider impact.

“For the past 12 plus years he has played an outsized role with the militia movement and other similar anti-government extremists,” said Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism.

Prosecutors had asked District Judge Amit Mehta to sentence Rhodes for 25 years, based on his leadership role, as well as invoke a provision that allows courts to hand out harsher sentences for terrorism. But the Rhodes’ defense countered that he’d served in the military, the Associated Press reported, and was honorably separated from the Army after serving two years and seven months on active duty.

“Eighteen years is still a very substantial sentence,” Pitcavage said. “It’s the longest Capitol storming sentence to date.”

Out of the around 500 people sentenced for charges related to storming the Capitol, the next longest sentence belongs to Peter Schwarz, who will serve 14 years behind prison bars.

Immediately after Mehta handed down Rhodes’ sentence Thursday, he sentenced Kelly Meggs, the leader of the Oath Keepers’ Florida chapter, to 12 years – the third-longest sentence for a Capitol rioter. According to court documents, Meggs had discussed planning an alliance with another extremist group, the neo-Nazi Proud Boys, ahead of the Capitol riot.

Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, speaks during a rally outside the White House in Washington. (Susan Walsh/AP)
Ringleader Rhodes

Rhodes, 58, started the Oath Keepers, an anti‐government, right‐wing fringe group, in 2009, at a time when militia groups made a resurgence after the election of Democratic President Barack Obama. The militia groups grew by the hundreds and Rhodes’ stuck out as a clear influencer targeting military members, veterans, firefighters and police in its recruitment efforts, Pitcavage said.

Rhodes’ was among the most high profile cases to come out of the Capitol riot, during which supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed the building in an attempt to stop Congress from certifying the 2020 election results.

Rhodes’ lawyers argued the Oath Keepers made no explicit plan to storm the Capitol and stop President Joe Biden’s victory. However, prosecutors presented evidence of Rhodes sending encrypted messages to his membership following the 2020 election, telling them to refuse to accept the election result and saying, “We aren’t getting through this without a civil war… prepare your mind, body, spirit.”

During a call with members a few days later, Rhodes outlined a plan to stop the transfer of presidential power, which included preparations for the use of force, according to the indictment.

Of the 180 individuals with military backgrounds who were charged with participating in the Capitol riot, 21 were members of the Oath Keepers, according to data from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, known as START. A total of 30 Oath Keepers were present at the Capitol that day, the Department of Justice said.

Along with Rhodes and Meggs, four other members of the Oath Keepers were found guilty of seditious conspiracy in the attack, including Joseph Hackett, Roberto Minuta, David Moerschel and Edward Vallejo. Members Jessica Watkins, Kenneth Harrelson, and Thomas Caldwell were convicted of other felony charges related to the attack, but they were acquitted of seditious conspiracy.

The arrest of Rhodes and Meggs effectively shuttered the group, said Michael Jensen, a senior researcher at START, which tracks the criminal activity of extremist groups. The Oath Keepers operated through a hierarchy, which made it difficult for members to continue after the arrest of their leaders.

“Putting the leadership in jail has crippled that organization. It’s defunct at this point,” Jensen said. “The structure was organized under the central leadership or Rhodes. When he and his lieutenants were put away, the whole thing crumbled.”

The group recruited veterans by appealing to their oaths to defend the U.S. Constitution, the ADL said in a 2015 report. The Oath Keepers told veterans that conspirators were taking over the government and asked them to pledge to disobey unconstitutional orders, referring to a conspiracy theory about the government confiscating Americans’ guns. The group stoked paranoia and fanned anti-government sentiments to give its members purpose, the ADL said.

A 2022 leak of an Oath Keepers membership database revealed the names of hundreds of current and former military personnel, elected officials and police. In total, 117 troops serving in the military, 11 serving in the reserves and another 31 military contractors and affiliated civilians were identified.

Members of the group often acted as vigilantes. The Oath Keepers formed their own armed patrol during protests in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014, following the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, and they patrolled the site of the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Some members showed up with firearms to polling locations in 2016 and 2022, allegedly to discourage voter fraud. They also offered security to business owners who defied COVID-19 safety measures.

Earlier this month, four members of the Proud Boys, three of whom with military backgrounds, were also convicted of seditious conspiracy in the Capitol riot. Thursday’s sentencing of Rhodes and Meggs could signal how much time prosecutors will seek in those cases. Former Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, along with members Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs and Zachary Rehl, are scheduled to be sentenced in August and September.

A person on Monday pauses in front of Stars of David with the names of those killed in a deadly shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. (Matt Rourke/AP)
Domestic Terrorism?

Thomas O’Connor, a member of The Soufan Group, said in the future, domestic terrorism may be the best way to charge people like Rhodes and Meggs, if only such a charge existed.

“After many of these incidents, they come out and say this is an act of domestic terrorism. But in all reality, there is no penalty for the actual charge of domestic terrorism.” O’Connor said federal prosecutors needed to find other criminal violations for the actions he said fall under the definition of domestic terrorism.

In other cases where the prosecution may not prove seditious conspiracy, O’Connor said a charge of domestic terrorism may accurately capture the intent of some crimes, like the Tree of Life shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh or the Charleston black church shooting.

“In the Dylan Roof case, he was charged with very serious crimes of homicide and hate crimes federally,” O’Connor said. “But because they’re domestic terrorists, we can’t charge someone and actually identify them as a terrorist because there’s no ability to do so.”

Prosecutors argued that groups like the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, far-right anti-government groups, rushed to the Capitol to prevent a federal process from taking place in a deliberate effort to prevent transitioning the presidential office and duties from former president Donald Trump to current president Joe Biden.

Mia Bloom, an expert on extremist radicalism, said the lengthy sentences indicate that the judicial system takes domestic terrorism seriously.

With nearly 1 in 5 of Capitol rioters charged as veterans or active-duty service members in the military, Bloom said the issue of military extremism remains a pertinent issue despite recent efforts to downplay its prevalence among the Department of Defense.

Bloom called a recent study issued by RAND misleading, adding fuel to the fire of conservative efforts to remove military extremism from DOD line of sight. The study found that military members were as likely to harbor extreme beliefs as the rest of the American public, although the study authors noted their survey required veterans to self-identify as extremist.

“We didn’t have a pro-Jihad group in Congress after 9-11 but we have a section of Congress that refuses to consider right-wing terrorism is terrorism,” Bloom said.

This story was produced in partnership with Military Veterans in Journalism.

Allison Erickson, Nikki Wentling - May 25, 2023, 7:20 pm

US, South Korea troops hold large live-fire drills
1 week ago
US, South Korea troops hold large live-fire drills

The South Korean and U.S. militaries have conducted large live-fire drills near the border with North Korea.

SEOUL, South Korea — The South Korean and U.S. militaries conducted large live-fire drills near the border with North Korea on Thursday, despite the North’s warning that it won’t tolerate what it calls an invasion rehearsal on its doorstep.

The drills, the first of five rounds of live-fire exercises through mid-June, mark 70 years since the establishment of the military alliance between Seoul and Washington. North Korea typically reacts to such major South Korean-U.S. exercises with missile and other weapons tests.

Since the start of 2022, North Korea has test-launched more than 100 missiles, but none since it fired a solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile in mid-April. It says the tests are a response to expanded military drills between the U.S. and South Korea, but observers say North Korea aims to advance its weapons development and then wrest greater concessions from its rivals in eventual diplomacy.

The U.S.-South Korean firing exercises, called “Combined annihilation firepower drills,” are the biggest of their kind. The drills have been held 11 times since they began in 1977, according to the South Korean Defense Ministry.

The drills involved 2,500 troops and 610 weapons systems such as fighter jets, attack helicopters, drones, tanks and artillery from South Korea and the United States, according to the South Korean Defense Ministry. The most recent exercises in 2017 drew about 2,000 soldiers and 250 weapons assets from both countries.

The drills simulated artillery and aerial strikes on front-line North Korean military facilities in response to an attack. The troops later practiced precision-guided attacks on simulated targets in the rear areas to “completely annihilate” North Korean military threats, according to a ministry statement.

The South Korean army's drones fly during South Korea-U.S. joint military drills at Seungjin Fire Training Field in Pocheon, South Korea, Thursday, May 25, 2023. (Ahn Young-joon/AP)

It said South Korea will seek to establish “peace through overwhelming strengthen” to counter North Korean threats.

North Korea didn’t immediately respond to the start of the drills. Last Friday, its state media called the drills “a typical North Korea-targeted war rehearsal,” saying it “cannot but take a more serious note of the fact” that the exercises are held a few kilometers (miles) from its frontier.

The North’s Korean Central News Agency said the U.S. and South Korea would face unspecified consequences over “their madcap nuclear war racket.”

Earlier this year, the South Korean and U.S. militaries conducted their biggest field exercises in five years. The U.S. also sent the nuclear-powered USS Nimitz aircraft carrier and nuclear-capable bombers for joint exercises with South Korea.

USS Ronald Reagan pulls into Busan, South Korea, after 5 year absence

Moon Seong Mook, an analyst for the Seoul-based Korea Research Institute for National Strategy, said North Korea could use the South Korea-U.S. drills as a pretext to resume testing activities. He said domestic issues such as North Korea’s push to increase agricultural production during the rice-planting season could still affect its decision on weapons tests.

“North Korea can’t help feeling some burdens over the South Korea-U.S. joint firepower drills being held for the first time in six years and in the strongest manner,” Moon said.

In a meeting last month, U.S. President Joe Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol announced steps to reinforce their deterrence capabilities such as the periodic docking of U.S. nuclear-armed submarines in South Korea, strengthened joint training exercises and establishment of a new nuclear consultative group. Biden also issued a blunt warning that any North Korean nuclear attack on the U.S. or its allies would “result in the end of whatever regime” took such action.

Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, said the Biden-Yoon agreement revealed the two countries’ “most hostile and aggressive will of action” against the North. She threatened to further strengthen her country’s nuclear doctrine, saying, “The pipe dream of the U.S. and South Korea will henceforth be faced with the entity of more powerful strength.”

Worries about North Korea’s nuclear program grew after the North last year passed a law authorizing preemptive use of nuclear weapons. Many foreign experts say North Korea does not yet possess functioning nuclear-armed missiles.

Hyung-Jin Kim, The Associated Press - May 25, 2023, 2:23 pm

Oath Keepers founder gets 18 years for Jan. 6 seditious conspiracy
1 week ago
Oath Keepers founder gets 18 years for Jan. 6 seditious conspiracy

Rhodes called himself a “political prisoner” and said his only crime is opposing those who are “destroying” the country.

The founder of the Oath Keepers extremist group was sentenced Thursday to 18 years in prison for orchestrating a weekslong plot that culminated in his followers attacking the U.S. Capitol in a bid to keep President Joe Biden out of the White House after the 2020 election.

Stewart Rhodes is the first person charged in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack to be sentenced for seditious conspiracy, and his sentence is the longest that has been handed down so far in the hundreds of Capitol riot cases.

It’s another landmark in the Justice Department’s sweeping Jan. 6 investigation, which has led to convictions against the top leaders of two far-right extremist groups that authorities say came to Washington prepared to fight to keep President Donald Trump in power at all costs.

Prosecutors had urged the judge in Washington’s federal court to put Rhodes behind bars for 25 years, saying he remains a threat to American democracy.

In remarks before the judge handed down his sentence, Rhodes called himself a “political prisoner” and said his only crime is opposing those who are “destroying” the country.

U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta agreed with prosecutors to apply enhanced penalties for “terrorism,” under the argument that the Oath Keepers sought to influence the government through “intimidation or coercion.” Judges in previous sentencings had shot down the Justice Department’s request for the so-called “terrorism enhancement” — which can lead to a longer prison term — but Mehta said it fits in Rhodes’ case.

“Mr. Rhodes directed his co-conspirators to come to the Capitol and they abided,” the judge said.

Defense lawyer, Phillip Linder denied that Rhodes gave any orders for Oath Keepers to enter the Capitol on Jan. 6. Linder told the judge that Rhodes could have had many more Oath Keepers come to the Capitol “if he really wanted to” disrupt Congress’ certification of the Electoral College vote.

Rhodes, of Granbury, Texas, was found guilty in November of seditious conspiracy alongside Florida chapter leader Kelly Meggs, and four other Oath Keepers were convicted of the rarely used charge during a second trial in January. Three of Rhodes’ co-defendants were acquitted of seditious conspiracy but convicted of other crimes.

It was one of the most consequential cases brought by the Justice Department as it has sought to prove that the riot for right-wing extremists like the Oath Keepers was not a spur-of-the-moment protest but the culmination of weeks of plotting to overturn Biden’s election victory.

Proud Boys

Rhodes’ sentencing comes just weeks after former Proud Boys national chairman Enrique Tarrio was convicted of seditious conspiracy alongside other leaders of his far-right group for what prosecutors said was a separate plot to block the transfer of presidential power. The Proud Boys will be sentenced in August and September.

Rhodes’ lawyers say he should be sentenced to the 16 months he has already served behind bars since his January 2022 arrest. In seeking leniency for Rhodes, his lawyers cited his military service and told the judge that Rhodes’ writings and statements were all “protected political speech.” Rhodes’ attorneys plan to appeal his conviction.

Meggs is expected to be sentenced after Rhodes later Thursday and two other Oath Keepers will be sentenced Friday. Four other defendants convicted of seditious conspiracy will be sentenced next week.

The judge canceled the sentencing hearing scheduled this week for another defendant — Thomas Caldwell of Berryville, Virginia — as the judge weighs whether to overturn the jury’s guilty verdict against Caldwell for obstruction and a documents tampering charge.

The convictions were a major blow for the Oath Keepers, which Rhodes founded in 2009 and grew into one of the largest far-right anti-government militia groups. Recruiting past and present members of the military and police officers, the group promotes the belief that the federal government is out to strip citizens of their civil liberties and paints its followers as defenders against tyranny.

The defense tried to seize on the fact that none of the Oath Keepers’ messages laid out an explicit plan to storm the Capitol. But prosecutors said the Oath Keepers saw an an opportunity to further their goal to stop the transfer of power and sprang into action when the mob began storming the building.

‘Civil war’

Messages, recordings and other evidence presented at trial show Rhodes and his followers growing increasingly enraged after the 2020 election at the prospect of a Biden presidency, which they viewed as a threat to the country and their way of life. In an encrypted chat two days after the election, Rhodes told his followers to prepare their “mind, body, spirit” for “civil war.”

In a conference call days later, Rhodes urged his followers to let Trump know they were “willing to die” for the country. One Oath Keeper who was listening was so alarmed that he began recording the call and contacted the FBI, telling jurors “it sounded like we were going to war against the United States government.”

Another man testified that after the riot, Rhodes tried to persuade him to pass along a message to Trump that urged the president not to give up his fight to hold onto power. The intermediary — who told jurors he had an indirect way to reach the president — recorded his meeting with Rhodes and went to the FBI instead of giving the message to Trump. Rhodes told the man during that meeting that the Oath Keepers “should have brought rifles” on Jan. 6.

The longest sentence previously in the more than 1,000 Capitol riot cases — 14 years in prison — was handed down this month for a man with a long criminal record who attacked police officers with pepper spray and a chair as he stormed the Capitol. Just over 500 of the defendants have been sentenced, with more than half receiving prison time and the remainder getting sentences such as probation or home detention.

The Associated Press - May 25, 2023, 1:13 pm

Russian private army chief says handing off Bakhmut to main army
1 week ago
Russian private army chief says handing off Bakhmut to main army

Wagner chief Prigozhin says he lost 20,000 troops in the fight for the industrial city.

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The head of the Russian private military contractor Wagner claimed Thursday that his forces have started pulling out of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine and handing over control to the Russian military, days after he said Wagner troops had captured the ruined city.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, Wagner’s millionaire owner with longtime links to Russian President Vladimir Putin, said in a video published on Telegram that the handover would be completed by June 1. There was no immediate comment from the Russian defense ministry.

It was not possible to independently verify whether Wagner’s pullout from the bombed-out city has begun after a nine-month battle that killed tens of thousands of people. Prigozhin says he lost 20,000 troops in the fight for the industrial city.

Ukraine’s deputy defense minister said Thursday that Wagner units have been replaced with regular troops in the suburbs but Wagner fighters remain inside the city. Ukrainian forces still have a foothold in the southwestern outskirts, Deputy Minister of Defense Hanna Maliar said.

Prigozhin’s Bakhmut triumph delivered a badly needed victory for Putin, whose invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has lost momentum and now faces the possibility of a Ukrainian counteroffensive using advanced weapons supplied by Kyiv’s Western allies.

Top Ukrainian presidential advisor Mykhailo Podolyak said Thursday that Ukraine’s counteroffensive was already underway, cautioning that it should not be anticipated as a “single event” starting “at a specific hour of a specific day.”

Writing on Twitter, Podolyak said that “dozens of different actions to destroy Russian occupation forces” had “already been taking place yesterday, are taking place today and will continue tomorrow.”

Prigozhin has a long-running feud with the Russian military leadership, dating back to Wagner’s creation. He has also built a reputation for inflammatory — and often unverifiable — headline-grabbing statements that he later backtracks on.

During the 15-month war in Ukraine, he has repeatedly and publicly chastised Russia’s military leadership, accusing them of incompetence and failure to properly provision his troops as they spearheaded the battle for Bakhmut.

Wagner’s involvement in the capture of Bakhmut has added to Prigozhin’s standing, which he has used to set forth his personal views about the conduct of the war.

“Prigozhin is … using the perception that Wagner is responsible for the capture of Bakhmut to advocate for a preposterous level of influence over the Russian war effort in Ukraine,” the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank, said.

His frequent critical commentary about Russia’s military performance is uncommon in Russia’s tightly controlled political system, in which only Putin can usually air such criticism.

His flat statement of what he would do over the next week in Bakhmut came a day after he again broke with the Kremlin line on Ukraine. He said its goal of demilitarizing the country has backfired, acknowledged Russian troops have killed civilians and agreed with Western estimates that he lost more than 20,000 men in the battle for Bakhmut.

Meanwhile, Russia unleashed a barrage of Iranian-made Shahed 36 drones against Kyiv in its 12th nighttime air assault on the Ukrainian capital this month but the city’s air defenses shot down all of them, Ukrainian authorities said Thursday.

The Kremlin’s forces also launched 30 airstrikes and 39 attacks from multiple rocket launchers as well as artillery and mortar attacks across Ukraine, the Ukrainian military said.

At least one civilian was killed and 13 others were wounded in Ukraine on Wednesday and overnight, the Ukrainian presidential office said Thursday.

In other developments Thursday:

— Russia and Belarus signed a deal formalizing the procedure for deploying Russian nuclear weapons on Belarusian territory. Control of the weapons will remain with Moscow. Putin had announced in March that his country planned to deploy tactical, comparatively short-range and small-yield nuclear weapons in Belarus.

— The Russian Foreign Ministry announced that five Swedish diplomats are to be expelled from the country. A statement said the decision is a response to Stockholm’s “openly hostile step” to declare five employees of Russian foreign missions in Sweden “personae non grata” in April. Moscow additionally announced its decision to close its consulate in Goteborg in September, as well as its “withdrawal of consent” to the activities of the Swedish consulate in St. Petersburg.


Morton reported from London.

Susie Blann and Elise Morton, Associated Press - May 25, 2023, 10:50 am

South Korea launches first commercial-grade satellite
1 week ago
South Korea launches first commercial-grade satellite

The domestically built three-stage Nuri rocket lifted off with a payload of eight satellites, including one to verify radar imaging technology.

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea successfully launched a commercial-grade satellite for the first time Thursday as part of its growing space development program, as rival North Korea is pushing to place its first military spy satellite into orbit.

The two Koreas, technically in a state of war, have no military reconnaissance satellites of their own and both are eager to possess them. The South Korean launch Thursday will likely assist its efforts to develop a space-based surveillance system.

The domestically built three-stage Nuri rocket lifted off from a launch facility on a southern island with a payload of eight satellites, including a main commercial-grade satellite whose mission is to verify radar imaging technology and observe cosmic radiation in a near-Earth orbit.

Science Minister Lee Jong Ho later told a televised news conference that the launch was successful, saying it proved the rocket’s reliability and South Korea’s potential to operate various satellites and explore space.

Lee said seven of the eight satellites including the main one were successfully released from the rocket. He said more time is required to confirm the release of the eighth satellite.

“Today, we confirmed that dreams can come true,” South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol wrote on Facebook. “I hope our future generations have a great dream and challenge while looking at the Nuri rocket soaring into space.”

The launch boosted South Korea’s hopes of catching up with Asian neighbors such as China, Japan and India in a regional space race. Lee, the science minister, said South Korea plans to conduct three more Nuri rocket launches by 2027 and will seek to develop more advanced launch vehicles.

The launch was initially scheduled for Wednesday but was postponed at the last minute due to a technical problem.

Last year, South Korea used a Nuri rocket to place a “performance verification satellite” in orbit, becoming the world’s 10th nation to send a satellite into space with its own technology. But that launch was primarily designed to test the rocket.

Many experts say Thursday’s launch will also help South Korea accumulate technologies and knowhow to operate military spy satellites and build long-range missiles.

South Korea is expected to launch its first spy satellite later this year. It currently relies on U.S. spy satellites to monitor North Korean facilities.

Lee Choon Geun, an honorary research fellow at South Korea’s Science and Technology Policy Institute, noted that the satellite launched Thursday is designed to be placed in a sun-synchronous orbit, which is typically used for reconnaissance satellites.

South Korea already has missiles capable of reaching all of North Korea. But experts say it needs longer-range missiles to prepare for future security threats from potential adversaries China and Russia.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula remain high following North Korea’s barrage of missiles tests since the beginning of last year. Some of the tests demonstrated its potential ability to launch nuclear strikes on the mainland U.S. and South Korea and Japan.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is seeking to develop more sophisticated weapons systems, including a spy satellite, to cope with what he calls intensifying U.S. and South Korean hostilities. Analysts say Kim wants to use an expanded weapons arsenal to win greater concessions from Washington in future dealings.

“North Korea must be so concerned about the South Korean satellite launch Thursday because much of Kim Jong Un’s interest now is in possessing a spy satellite,” said Moon Seong Mook, an analyst for the Seoul-based Korea Research Institute for National Strategy. “He has a strong desire to launch a spy satellite before South Korea does.”

Recent commercial satellite imagery of North Korea’s main launch center in the northwest shows activities that suggest “a new level of urgency in making the site ready to accommodate satellite launches,” 38 North, a North Korea-focused website, said Wednesday. It said the images indicate progress on a new launch pad is moving forward “at a remarkable pace.”

Last week, Kim examined a finished spy satellite and approved a plan for its launch during a visit to the country’s aerospace agency.

The spy satellite disclosed in North Korean state media doesn’t appear sophisticated enough to produce high-resolution imagery. But Lee, the expert at the Science and Technology Policy Institute, said it is likely to be capable of monitoring deployment of U.S. strategic assets such as an aircraft carrier and the movements of South Korean warships and fighter jets.

Hyung-Jin Kim, The Associated Press - May 25, 2023, 10:00 am

Austin hopes F-16 training for Ukrainian pilots will begin in weeks
1 week ago
Austin hopes F-16 training for Ukrainian pilots will begin in weeks

F-16 jets will bolster Ukraine in the long run but not necessarily as part of a spring counteroffensive against Russia.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Thursday he hopes that training for Ukrainian pilots on American-made F-16 fighter jets will begin in the coming weeks, bolstering Ukraine in the long run but not necessarily as part of an anticipated spring counteroffensive against Russia.

Austin spoke as defense leaders from around the world assembled for a virtual meeting to discuss the ongoing military support for Ukraine. They were expected talk about which countries will provide F-16s, and how and where the pilot training will be done.

The officials will also get an update on the war effort from Ukrainian leaders, including preparation for that anticipated counteroffensive and how the allies, who have faced their own stockpile pressures, can continue to support Kyiv’s fight against Russia.

“We’re going to have to dig deeper, and we’re going to have to continue to look for creative ways to boost our industrial capability,” Austin said before the military leaders began their closed session. “The stakes are high. But the cause is just and our will is strong.”

European countries have said they are talking about which countries may have some of the F-16s available. The United States had long balked at providing the advanced aircraft to Ukraine, and only last weekend did President Joe Biden agree to allow other nations to send their own U.S.-made jets to Kyiv.

“We hope this training will begin in the coming weeks,” Austin said. “This will further strengthen and improve the capabilities of the Ukrainian Air Force in the long term. And it will complement our short-term and medium-term security agreements. This new joint effort sends a powerful message about our unity and our long-term commitment to Ukraine’s self-defense.”

The leaders will also likely discuss Ukraine’s other continuing military needs, including air defense systems and munitions, artillery and other ammunition.

It was not immediately clear whether they will make any firm decisions on the F-16 issue, but initial steps have begun.

Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, said Tuesday that training for Ukrainian pilots had begun in Poland and some other countries, though Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said training was still in the planning phase. The Netherlands and Denmark, among others, are also making plans for training.

“We can continue and also finalize the plans that we’re making with Denmark and other allies to start these these trainings. And of course, that is the first step that you have to take,” Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren said, adding that initial discussions about who may have F-16s available to send is underway.

Ukraine has long sought the sophisticated fighter to give it a combat edge as it battles Russia’s invasion, now in its second year.

The Biden administration’s decision was a sharp reversal after refusing to approve any transfer of the aircraft or conduct training for more than a year because of worries that doing so could escalate tensions with Russia. U.S. officials also had argued against the F-16 by saying that learning to fly and logistically support such an advanced aircraft would be difficult and take months.

Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, said this week that the U.S. decision on the F-16 was part of a broader long-term commitment to meet Ukraine’s future military needs. He said the jets would not be relevant in any counteroffensive expected to begin shortly.

Lolita C. Baldor and Tara Copp, Associated Press - May 25, 2023, 9:50 am

Revolver of Confederacy’s Jefferson Davis fetches $470K at auction
1 week ago
Revolver of Confederacy’s Jefferson Davis fetches $470K at auction

A revolver worn by Confederate States of America President Jefferson Davis on the day of his surrender fetched a pretty penny.

A revolver worn by Confederate States of America President Jefferson Davis on the day of his surrender fetched a pretty penny at an auction Saturday, which, by the time the final item sold, brought in a whopping $22 million in revenue.

On its own, the silver-plated pistol — and a slew of authenticating paperwork, including military records, first-hand accounts, newspaper articles, family letters and chain-of-ownership records — settled for an astounding $470,000.

The weapon’s primary significance dates back to May 10, 1865, when Davis was captured by U.S. Cavalry troops in Irwin County, Georgia. Present for Davis’ surrender, which came approximately one month after Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in Appomattox, Virginia, was Michigan 4th Cavalry Cpl. John Hines, who took possession of the revolver but would claim ownership of the item for an unusually brief period, according to the pistol’s records.

(Rock Island Auction Company)

Moments after Davis presented Hines with the pistol, friendly fire erupted just up the road as troops from Wisconsin and Ohio confused the Michigan detachment for enemy personnel.

“Just as we got into the road bang, bang went the guns ... and they kept a going all excited,” recalled 4th Michigan soldier William Linsley in an 1886 eyewitness account published in the Michigan-based Alma Record.

“I fell in behind a pine tree,” Linsley continued. “I had fired two shots and was putting a load in my gun when they hollered, ‘Cease firing. You are firing on your own men.’ We had two killed and three wounded.”

One of the deceased was John Hines.

“He was shot in the mouth, come right out the back of his head,” recalled Linsley. “Captain Hudson just rode up and he says take out what things he has in his pockets. We took out Jeff Davis’ revolver, the one Jeff gave him when he surrendered, and his pocket book and some other trinkets.”

Select reports note that Davis, who was accompanied by family, attempted to escape during the commotion, with some of the more sensationalized accounts suggesting he took flight disguised in women’s clothing.

“The story was heavily embellished in the press, with some going so far as to suggest Davis was actually wearing a woman’s bonnet and a full hoop dress,” the auction documents note.

An 1865 cartoon depicts Jefferson Davis' alleged escape attempt in a hoop skirt. (J. L. Magee via the Library of Congress)

Linsley’s first-hand account corroborates elements of those stories.

“Mrs. Davis stepped out of the tent [and] asked if they would allow her mother to go down to the brook and get a pail of water. ... As he (Jeff) walked out he had on a riding dress and shawl over his head, he looked like an old woman. [But] his spurs picked up his dress behind him and showed his boots and the guard stopped him and made him back to the tent.”

Davis’ revolver, meanwhile, which had briefly been in the possession of John Hines, was taken by the deceased soldier’s brother, Edwin, and passed down through subsequent generations of the Hines family — most recently by Edwin’s great granddaughter Linda Lee Hines Inman — until its May 20 auction.

“This revolver is one of the most historic and important American artifacts ever offered at public sale and is perhaps the most important Confederate artifact known to be privately held,” the auction note accompanying the pistol reads. “It was his personal revolver of choice under the most dire conditions and is similar in historical scope to The War Pistols of Hamilton, The Bull Moose Colt of Theodore Roosevelt and the President U. S. Grant Remington Revolvers, all previously sold by Rock Island Auction.”

Also among the most profitable items auctioned Saturday was a World War II German Krieghoff FG42 Type I paratrooper rifle, which sold for $411,250.

Jon Simkins - May 24, 2023, 8:05 pm

Army bomb tech, three other troops dominate Food Network’s ‘Chopped’
1 week, 1 day ago
Army bomb tech, three other troops dominate Food Network’s ‘Chopped’

A civilian chef didn't know what to do with the powdered eggs in round three.

Amid the military mini-season finale of “Chopped: Military Salute,” a spinoff of Food Network’s classic high-pressure competition show, one competitor likely felt right at home working against the clock.

The Army’s representative in the finale, Sgt. 1st. Class Brian Colvin, a former explosive ordnance disposal technician, sported a prominent reminder of his previous job — a headband adorned with the Master Explosive Ordnance Disposal badge, which is awarded to troops who have spent nearly 10 years in a bomb disposal role.

Colvin and three counterparts from the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps each deployed explosive flavors to win branch-specific competitions that qualified them for Tuesday’s final round. The four active duty chefs, who all currently serve as culinary instructors or enlisted aides to senior leaders, competed as a team against individual current and former “Chopped” judges.

Competitors on “Chopped” craft improvised exquisite dishes against a running clock from a basket of surprise ingredients.

Their first mission was the appetizer round against celebrity chef Amanda Freitag, using a mishmash of supplies that included a flag-shaped cake topped with fruit. Freitag defeated the troops after throwing together a spring duck with strawberry glaze served with crispy baby artichokes atop a potato and yampee purée.

However, the service members prevailed in the main course of surf and turf — go figure. They also had a lucky break when their opponent, Chef Eric Adjepong, suffered a set back after his cooking station blew up (perhaps because he isn’t a bomb technician) and caught fire, distracting him just enough that his durian mochi became “a little bit gelatinous and melted,” the judges said.

The dessert round against Tiffani Faison, an Army brat and long-time “Chopped” judge, was little more than mop-up duty for the “military task force,” as the judges kept calling them. The chaotic conclusion’s ingredients included apple pie with ice cream, starfruit, powdered eggs and hot dogs.

Colvin described the powdered eggs as “an Army favorite.” We at the Military Times Observation Post believe that all Americans are entitled to express their own opinions — members of our staff have fought to protect this very freedom. We also want to express our opinion: Colvin’s opinion on powdered eggs is bad and wrong.

According to his official bio, which was provided to Military Times after publication, Colvin joined the National Guard in 2004, completing Basic Training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and medical training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. He moved on to active duty service in 2006, and was stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, with the 101st Airborne Division as a field medic. From there, he went on to attend Explosive Ordnance Disposal School at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Later, he went on to serve as a recruiter in the Fort Lauderdale, Florida area, and most recently, he became the first EOD technician selected to serve as an enlisted aid; a role he currently serves in at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania. His military education includes the Basic Leaders Course, the Advanced Leaders Course, and the Senior Leaders Course.

Colvin’s awards, according to his bio, include the following: the Army Commendation Medal with four oak leaves; Army Achievement Medal, with 5 oak leaves; Army Good Conduct Medal, with 4 knots; the National Defense Service Medal; the Iraq Campaign Medal; Global War on Terrorism Service Medal; Armed Forces Service Medal; the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal; Non-Commissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon; Army Service Ribbon; Overseas Service Ribbon; Meritorious Unit Citation; Basic Recruiting Badge; Gold Recruiting Badge; Combat Medic Badge; Expert Field Medic Badge; Basic EOD Badge; and the Senior EOD Badge.

As for the “Military Salute” edition of “Chopped,” First Lady Jill Biden also made an appearance, and invited the military chefs to cook for her family over the upcoming July 4 holiday.

But she didn’t eat any of the powdered egg-based dishes.

Editor’s note: This article was updated at 3:30 p.m. with additional information from Sgt. 1st Class Brian Colvin’s service record.

Davis Winkie - May 24, 2023, 3:31 pm

Gerard Butler’s ‘Kandahar’ requires degree in international relations
1 week, 1 day ago
Gerard Butler’s ‘Kandahar’ requires degree in international relations

Although “Kandahar” feels a like desert "The Fast and the Furious" meets Tom Clancy, there is a lot of warranted wistful reflection about the way the gr

Rudyard Kipling once wrote, “A fool lies here who tried to hustle the East.”

And although he was writing of India, the phrase seems prophetic of director Ric Roman Waugh’s “Kandahar,” a film that, by the end, yields no shortage of fools laid bare under the desert sun. The problem, however, is that it would be difficult for anyone without an advanced degree in international relations to understand exactly how they all got there.

“Kandahar” stars Gerard Butler (“300,” “Plane”) as Tom Harris, an MI-6 agent on loan to the CIA. Viewers will be forgiven, after watching the film’s trailer, for believing this to be a spy movie with a timely Afghan translator twist — in fact, that is not at all the case.

Mapping out the plot lines of the film’s whirlwind of events would make the conspiracy board in the “Charlie Work” episode of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” look almost sane.

The premise: After destroying an Iranian nuclear plant, Harris sets off on a final mission alongside a former translator named Mo (Navid Negahban), which he has just days to complete in order to make it home in time for his daughter’s high school graduation.

Along the way, a Pentagon leaker reveals his identity to a British journalist, who is then kidnapped by the Iranians. Despite the success of Harris’ Iran mission, the CIA thinks the men should be neutralized.

Meanwhile, Pakistani and Indian double agent Kahil (Ali Fazal) seeks to nab the pair so the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) can auction Harris off to the highest bidder. Kahil, who pursues them by motorcycle, sees the men as his ticket away from the desert.

“Just because of the lay of the land, you’re stuck,” Fazal told Military Times. “You’re stuck in the middle of all these mercenaries and human life has become almost entirely inconsequential.”

Pursued from all angles, Harris and Mo must get to Kandahar for a final chance at an extraction. But before they can, the pair are captured by the Taliban.

A CIA handler (Travis Fimmel) sets out to rescue them, so he hires Afghan commandos to pose as ISIS and attack the base. This prompts the Taliban to call Kahil to bring in ISI reinforcements against what they believe are ISIS forces.

Convoluted? Yes. But while the film’s weakest point is that it’s rather hard to follow, it is also perhaps what makes the story most authentic. Middle Eastern geopolitics are complex, and the West’s attempts to simplify the region’s conflicts while ignoring its many shades of grey have caused the resurgence of the popular “graveyard of empires” trope.

And although “Kandahar” feels a bit like Tom Clancy meets a desert-based “Fast and the Furious,” there remains plenty of warranted reflection about the way greed has torn apart the region. Even those who do good seemingly do it for themselves. Those who have been exiled to the barren desert all want to go home — though many of them, like Harris and Mo, can hardly remember what that means.

“We’ve chosen a very sensitive geographical location for this to pan out,” Fazal said. “I really hope that people see that in the madness, we’ve lost the sensitivity to human life, the value of life.”

“Kandahar” hits theaters on May 26.

Sarah Sicard - May 24, 2023, 12:21 pm

Marine leaders to get subordinate reviews, but it won’t affect promotion
1 week, 1 day ago
Marine leaders to get subordinate reviews, but it won’t affect promotion

The Marine Corps initially touted 360-degree reviews as an evaluative tool that could help identify toxic leaders and prevent them from getting promoted.

The Marine Corps is asking some leaders’ subordinates and peers to review them anonymously, but it won’t use the feedback for promotion decisions.

The Marine Corps initially touted 360-degree reviews as an evaluative tool that could help identify toxic leaders and prevent them from getting promoted. But now, as the Corps tests out the reviews on a select group of leaders, it has decided to use them only for professional development, Marine spokesman Maj. Jordan Cochran told Marine Corps Times.

“When we began conducting our background research on how to execute a 360-degree review we identified incongruities with our objectives when used as an evaluation tool,” Cochran said in a statement Monday. “These incongruities are not a concern when the tool is used strictly for development purposes.”

The 360-degree reviews come as part of a larger revamp of the Marine Corps’ personnel policies, known as Talent Management 2030. The Corps is billing the reviews as a way to improve the quality of leaders.

Here’s how the Marine Corps plans to oust toxic leaders

In the initial Talent Management 2030 document, released in November 2021, Marine commandant Gen. David Berger wrote that feedback from 360-degree reviews would be incorporated “into the selection board and assignments processes to ensure that this important input is properly considered by those selecting and assigning our future leaders.”

But in the few years since then, the Marine Corps has reworked 360-degree reviews into “a development opportunity for our leaders which will ultimately lead to more self-awareness and a higher quality of Marine,” Cochran said in the statement.

A pilot program, launched in 2023, is for now limited to lieutenant colonels and colonels and their sergeants major, according to a Marine administrative message Thursday. Leaders at that level typically are in charge of battalions or regiments.

“We started there because it’s a manageable population and they’re the ones who have the most influence over Marines,” Gen. Eric Smith, the assistant commandant, said on the BruteCast podcast in August 2022.

Those leaders will receive assessments based on the anonymous polling of one to three supervisors, three to seven peers and five to 10 subordinates.

For now, the leaders being evaluated will nominate their raters. Once the pilot program has completed, though, any 360-degree reviews would include randomly selected raters, according to the Marine message.

“The feedback will be presented in a detailed report that the Marine will use to construct a development plan that leverages their identified strengths and addresses any blind spots,” the Marine message stated.

A more senior Marine will also review that report.

The current assessments are a test run, according to the Marine message. The Marine Corps is still refining the questionnaire and the administrative process.

In 2024, the pilot program will expand to selected Marines from the ranks of gunnery sergeant through colonel, from across the three Marine expeditionary forces, according to the Marine message.

After that, it will be up to Marine Corps leadership to decide whether to make 360-degree reviews a program of record.

The 360-degree reviews are far from a fringe idea. Top companies, ranging from Netflix to Goldman Sachs, have put similar programs into place.

Yet while many companies use 360-degree reviews for development purposes, like training, it’s less common for them to use it for evaluations, according to a 2015 Rand report.

The report cautioned the military against using 360-degree reviews for evaluations, noting that the approach could “engender paranoia and distrust in the system.”

The anonymous nature of the responses — which is meant to encourage honesty — could backfire, according to the report.

“In a high-stakes situation, such as promotions, raters could be dishonest in attempts to positively or negatively impact board selection decisions with no potential for recourse,” the report read.

The Marine Corps awarded the contract for the pilot program to Envisia Learning, a company that focuses on 360-degree reviews, according to Cochran.

The contract will last until the end of fiscal year 2023 in the fall, with the Corps maintaining the option to extend the contract through fiscal year 2024 before making a final decision on whether to make the program permanent.

Irene Loewenson - May 24, 2023, 11:00 am