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The Army’s outgoing leadership: Where the service stands, and where it’s aiming

As the top Army leadership changes and the newcomers grow accustomed to their roles, there remains much to be done to prepare the Army’s brigade combat teams and individual soldiers for potentially the next big fight. The wheels set in motion over the past four years to address what outgoing Chief of Staff Gen. Mark…

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The Army’s outgoing leadership: Where the service stands, and where it’s aiming

As the top Army leadership changes and the newcomers grow accustomed to their roles, there remains much to be done to prepare the Army’s brigade combat teams and individual soldiers for potentially the next big fight.

The wheels set in motion over the past four years to address what outgoing Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley saw as a “fundamental change in the character of war” are still turning, and Milley’s replacement appears set on maintaining that momentum.

When Milley took over four years ago, lawmakers, think tankers and soldiers told him they needed to retool and overhaul the institution to modernize the force.

“Everyone said that there’s no way in four years you’re going to be able to actually produce the new equipment and the doctrine in the organizations. That won’t happen in your four years as chief,” Milley told Army Times in an interview before the Aug. 9 change of command ceremony.

“And they’re right,” Milley added. “They said the most you can do is really crank on readiness to get the current force to the highest level of readiness that you can do. That’s what we’ve been doing.”

Currently, about 50 percent of the Army’s 58 brigade combat teams across the force are at the highest levels of readiness. That’s up from about 33 percent four years ago, but the Army’s goal is double that.

“We’re not where we need to be,” Milley said. “I would still like to shoot for 66 percent on a day-to-day basis and I think it’s a realistic goal. We’ve had good budgets so it’s dependent upon two primary endpoints — money and time.”

“If things stay good on the budget and stay good on op tempo, we’ll reach that 66 percent in the next, I don’t know, call it 24 to 36 months.”

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Milley is taking over as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, so meeting that goal now falls to Gen. James C. McConville, the Army’s new top officer.

At the same time, Sergeant Major of the Army Daniel A. Dailey has also stepped down, retiring from the service and handing the reins to Command Sgt. Maj. Michael A. Grinston, who is now the Army’s 16th SMA. A decorated artilleryman, Grinston is coming from the senior enlisted role with Army Forces Command, the provider of campaign-ready land forces to combatant commanders.

That experience will help Grinston as the Army is still actively engaged in combat in the Central Command area of responsibility.

“When I became the chief, we were really struggling with maintaining the operational readiness rates, the fully mission capable rates of the various vehicle fleets, both air and ground,” Milley said. “Today, that’s much better. And the big difference is the incredible work that Army Material Command has done and the units have done in terms of maintaining the equipment, but really significant is getting a flow of spare parts.”

Traditionally, readiness is measured by training and equipping of the force. But for a people-based organization like the Army, “the long pole in the tent for readiness” involves manning, according to Milley.

“So manning is the real key thing to maintaining high levels of readiness,” Milley said. Over the past several chiefs, non-deployable rates for soldiers hit highs of 16 percent.

“Doesn’t sound like much, but out of a million-strong Army, that’s a 160,000 people who can’t get on a plane to go,” Lt. Gen. Thomas Seamands, Army deputy chief of staff for personnel, said at a June event in Washington, D.C.

Last year, the new “deploy or get out” policy made deployability a condition of employment. It said that if a service member is non-deployable for a period of 12 months or more, they’re subject to being separated from the armed forces. That policy has dropped the non-deployable rate to roughly 5-6 percent on average across most Army units, according to Milley.

And although the wars in the Middle East are ongoing, the deployment-to-dwell ratios over the past year and a half show a significant decrease in the toll those conflicts take on the force.

Army Special Forces, for instance, now has a 1:1.9 ratio, meaning for whatever amount of time they’re deployed, the soldiers spend almost double that at home station.

Going back to 2011, Army Special Operations Command’s most well-rested forces were getting a dwell ratio of only one-to-one, according to the service. Other oft-utilized soldiers are looking better rested these days as well.

Terminal High Altitude Area Defense and Patriot missile battery troops have a 1:5 and a 1:1.8 dwell ratio, respectively. Those numbers don’t count forward-based assets at places like South Korea or in Europe.

For non-forward-based infantry brigade combat teams, which have dealt the most with the Afghanistan and Iraq missions, the dwell ratio stands at 1:2.3. When forward-based IBCTs are included, the number jumps to 1:3.7. And Army Guard IBCTs have a 1:5 dwell ratio.

FORT IRWIN, Calif. — Soldiers from the Expeditionary Cyber Support Detachment, 782nd Military Intelligence Battalion (Cyber), support the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division at the National Training Center. (Capt. Adam Schinder/Army)

“Special operations have a very high ops tempo. And recently, I think you’re looking at, we’ll call it the last 24 months, the majority of casualties killed and wounded have been special operation forces,” Milley said. “If you include the forces that are working with them, the conventional forces, then that would account for all the causalities.”

Those deaths are mostly happening in Afghanistan, a war that is edging close to being two decades old. The conflict is nowhere near as costly as the surge years circa 2010 and 2011, but it remains an ongoing factor in determining ops tempo and readiness rates.

McConville’s first message to the force echoed many of the same priorities his predecessor has delivered. A career aviator who commanded the 101st Airborne Division, McConville is stepping into Milley’s former job after serving as the vice chief, meaning he’s overseen and assisted with much of what has been done so far to prepare the United States for an era of renewed great power competition.

How big of an Army do you need?

Coming into the role as chief, Milley pushed hard to grow the size of the Army. His team looked at how big the service has historically needed to be to fight the kind of major wars the new National Defense Strategy is focused towards, while still maintaining the campaign momentum underway in the Middle East.

“About 725,000 in 18 divisions in the regular Army was the size of the Army when I was commissioned as a second lieutenant 40 years ago,” Milley said, comparing that force to the much smaller one he inherited as chief and the size that is needed for the new NDS. “If you do the analysis — and we’ve done all kinds of analysis on it — you get a size of the force that is significantly bigger than the low numbers that were being discussed four years ago.”

The service is striving to grow to a 500,000-strong active-duty force by the end of the next decade, and it ended 2019 with 478,000 troops.

But when Milley came in as chief four years ago, there was talk of scaling the Army down to about 420,000 soldiers.

“There were even some people saying take the active-duty regular Army down to 320,” he said. “My predecessor fought hard against that. I fought hard against that. Congress was very supportive. DoD was supportive. White House was supportive when we had the change of administration.”

“I think those conversations are largely over,” he added. “They’re never completely over. If the budget were to go into these budget control acts sequestration, then I think those conversations would come back.”

In order to meet the Army’s 500,000-soldier goal, the service has been pushing hard on recruiting. But the Army’s effort fell short last year, missing its recruiting goal by several thousand new troops.

The old plan was to grow the force by 4,000 troops per year. Now, senior leaders are looking at 2,000 additional troops per year as the target.

“We went after 70,000 [recruits] last year. That’s big numbers,” the outgoing SMA, Dailey, told Army Times. “We went after 68,000 this year. That’s big numbers. These are like 2007, 2009 numbers when we were growing the Army in rapid scale and in the heat of combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Infantry soldiers-in-training assigned to Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 19th Infantry Regiment, 198th Infantry Brigade, conduct close quarter battle (CQB) training. (Patrick A. Albright/Army)

This year, the Army is on track to bring 68,000 soldiers into the active force, about 15,000 into the Reserve, and 39,000 into the Guard, according to officials.

But with a booming economy and historically low unemployment rates, potential recruits aren’t clamoring to join up as much as past years. By focusing on 22 major cities, such as Chicago, Denver and Los Angeles, and dialing into old or forgotten markets, the Army says it’s found a way to tap into more potential soldiers without resorting to waivers like it has in past years.

Part of that also involved taking the recruiting mission this year and making it an Army-wide initiative and not just one relegated to Recruiting Command, Dailey said.

“The environment in America changes every day,” Dailey said. “The Amazons and Walmarts will come replace you. So it made us realize that we’ve got to change the way we market. We’ve got to find out where the markets are. We’ve got to get back into some markets. We’ve got to create new markets.”

Army leaders have made headway with city and school officials, staged events and even put up an Army team for E-Sports competitions to get into the gaming market.

The service also relocated its marketing division from Arlington, Virginia, to Chicago, where traditionally some of the largest marketing firms in America reside.

“If you want to play in somebody’s backyard, you’ve got to go to their backyard. You can’t live down the street and play baseball with everybody else,” Dailey said. “That’s why Army Futures Command went down to Austin, [Texas].”

Modernizing a maneuver force

That new Austin-based four-star command is a cornerstone of the Army’s modernization initiative. The command is designed to streamline and speed up the acquisition process, helping companies bend metal and get new equipment to troops faster.

“We determined that there was too much bureaucracy, too much overheard. It wasn’t streamlined,” Milley said. “There was no unity of command, no unity of effort. Priorities weren’t straight, clear and being adhered to. Resources weren’t piled in there. So we had to overhaul that whole thing. One of the things it led to was Army Futures Command which you saw open its doors a year ago.”

Although the command hasn’t actually produced anything yet, it has set up its modernization priorities: long-range precision fires, next-generation combat vehicles, future vertical lift platforms, a mobile and expeditionary Army network, air missile defense capabilities and soldier lethality. Underneath each of those are dozens of specific programs.

Those priorities are unlikely to change during McConville’s tenure.

“There’s a lot of people who’ve tried. But no,” Milley said. “I mean the whole point of priorities is to keep them narrowly focused.”

The priorities were derived from how the U.S. Army fights and where the service has gaps. “The American way of war, so to speak,” Milley said, is through “maneuver warfare.”

The Army is reinvigorating training for soldiers on the FIM-92 Stinger, a man-portable air defense system, to help provide short-range air defense at the unit level. (Chin U. Pak/Army)

“A lot of people think that we are an attrition-based force. We are not. We are a maneuver force. We highly value maneuver.”

Maneuver is the combination of fires and strategic and tactical movement. The Army’s strategic movement is largely accomplished through the Air Force and Navy, so the Army gets to focus mostly on the tactical part.

“That’s why the very first priority is to reinvigorate fires and specifically we saw a gap in long-range precision fires,” Milley said. “We used to have an incredible capability with artillery and we ripped that apart over the last 20 years in order to convert a lot of artillery units and infantry units and so on.”

Then there’s the tactical movement portion.

“Our rotary aircraft and our ground vehicles are very old. The M1 [Abrams] tank, for example, was brought into service when I was commissioned as a second lieutenant 40 years ago,” Milley said.

So the service needs new tracked vehicles and lift platforms. Tying it all together is supposed to be a sophisticated information sharing network that can withstand the cyber attacks of future wars.

A Stryker from the 2nd Cavalry Regiment fitted with the Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station-Javelin negotiates the terrain of the Hohenfels Training Area, Germany. (Spc. Robert Douglas/Army)

But none of that matters if you can’t defend your soldiers from the missile attacks and rotary- and fixed-wing aircraft that a peer competitor would field. That means the service needed to reinvigorate its missile defense capability.

Theater-level assets, like THAAD and the Patriot batteries, still exist. But the Army let unit-level air defenses wither over the past two decades.

“We as an Army became very, very comfortable with being protected by the U.S. Air Force,” Milley said. “And the U.S. Air Force has swept the skies very quickly … That won’t hold true if you’re talking about China or Russia.”

The last priority is getting new gear to soldiers, including new rifles, night vision optics, body armor and even advanced simulators to offer realistic combat training for everyone from the dismounted soldier to a tank commander.

“We already do it with pilots. We spend you know $10 million or something like that to train an F16, a F35 pilot,” Milley said. “Well we spend $10,000 a year to train a rifle squad. So we can do better than that as a nation. And the synthetic training environment offers us an opportunity to do that.”

“Again, we’re a soldier centric force,” he added. “We’re a labor centric force. Not necessarily platform centric.”

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US sends mechanized troops back into Syria

Bradley fighting vehicles have headed back into eastern Syria, the Pentagon announced Friday, a move that comes after a tense encounter with Russian forces left four U.S. troops lightly injured last month. The return of mechanized units also comes as the U.S. military deployed Sentinel radar and increased the frequency of fighter jet patrols over…

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US sends mechanized troops back into Syria

Bradley fighting vehicles have headed back into eastern Syria, the Pentagon announced Friday, a move that comes after a tense encounter with Russian forces left four U.S. troops lightly injured last month. The return of mechanized units also comes as the U.S. military deployed Sentinel radar and increased the frequency of fighter jet patrols over U.S. forces in that part of Syria, according to U.S. Central Command spokesman Navy Capt. Bill Urban. “These actions are a clear demonstration of U.S. resolve to defend Coalition forces in the [Eastern Syria Security Area], and to ensure that they are able to continue their Defeat-ISIS mission without interference,” Urban said in an emailed statement. “The Defense Department has previously deployed Bradleys to northeast Syria pursuant to these goals.” Bradleys from the 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team were last sent to Syria in late October 2019 to guard oil infrastructure from Islamic State militants, officials said at the time. They were quietly pulled out after roughly a month when combined patrols with Turkish forces “never materialized” and the “mission requirements changed,” a military official in the region previously told Army Times. The armored vehicles sent back this month belong to 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, out of Fort Bliss, Texas. The unit is deployed to the Middle East in support of Operation Spartan Shield, which is based in Kuwait. Sign up for the Army Times Daily News Roundup Don’t miss the top Army stories, delivered each afternoon (please select a country)United StatesUnited KingdomAfghanistanAlbaniaAlgeriaAmerican SamoaAndorraAngolaAnguillaAntarcticaAntigua and BarbudaArgentinaArmeniaArubaAustraliaAustriaAzerbaijanBahamasBahrainBangladeshBarbadosBelarusBelgiumBelizeBeninBermudaBhutanBoliviaBosnia and HerzegovinaBotswanaBouvet IslandBrazilBritish Indian Ocean TerritoryBrunei DarussalamBulgariaBurkina FasoBurundiCambodiaCameroonCanadaCape VerdeCayman IslandsCentral African RepublicChadChileChinaChristmas IslandCocos (Keeling) IslandsColombiaComorosCongoCongo, The Democratic Republic of TheCook IslandsCosta RicaCote D’ivoireCroatiaCubaCyprusCzech RepublicDenmarkDjiboutiDominicaDominican RepublicEcuadorEgyptEl SalvadorEquatorial GuineaEritreaEstoniaEthiopiaFalkland Islands (Malvinas)Faroe IslandsFijiFinlandFranceFrench GuianaFrench PolynesiaFrench Southern TerritoriesGabonGambiaGeorgiaGermanyGhanaGibraltarGreeceGreenlandGrenadaGuadeloupeGuamGuatemalaGuineaGuinea-bissauGuyanaHaitiHeard Island and Mcdonald IslandsHoly See (Vatican City State)HondurasHong KongHungaryIcelandIndiaIndonesiaIran, Islamic Republic ofIraqIrelandIsraelItalyJamaicaJapanJordanKazakhstanKenyaKiribatiKorea, Democratic People’s Republic ofKorea, Republic ofKuwaitKyrgyzstanLao People’s Democratic RepublicLatviaLebanonLesothoLiberiaLibyan Arab JamahiriyaLiechtensteinLithuaniaLuxembourgMacaoMacedonia, The Former Yugoslav Republic ofMadagascarMalawiMalaysiaMaldivesMaliMaltaMarshall IslandsMartiniqueMauritaniaMauritiusMayotteMexicoMicronesia, Federated States ofMoldova, Republic ofMonacoMongoliaMontserratMoroccoMozambiqueMyanmarNamibiaNauruNepalNetherlandsNetherlands AntillesNew CaledoniaNew ZealandNicaraguaNigerNigeriaNiueNorfolk IslandNorthern Mariana IslandsNorwayOmanPakistanPalauPalestinian Territory, OccupiedPanamaPapua New GuineaParaguayPeruPhilippinesPitcairnPolandPortugalPuerto RicoQatarReunionRomaniaRussian FederationRwandaSaint HelenaSaint Kitts and NevisSaint LuciaSaint Pierre and MiquelonSaint Vincent and The GrenadinesSamoaSan MarinoSao Tome and PrincipeSaudi ArabiaSenegalSerbia and MontenegroSeychellesSierra LeoneSingaporeSlovakiaSloveniaSolomon IslandsSomaliaSouth AfricaSouth Georgia and The South Sandwich IslandsSpainSri LankaSudanSurinameSvalbard and Jan MayenSwazilandSwedenSwitzerlandSyrian Arab RepublicTaiwan, Province of ChinaTajikistanTanzania, United Republic ofThailandTimor-lesteTogoTokelauTongaTrinidad and TobagoTunisiaTurkeyTurkmenistanTurks and Caicos IslandsTuvaluUgandaUkraineUnited Arab EmiratesUnited KingdomUnited StatesUnited States Minor Outlying IslandsUruguayUzbekistanVanuatuVenezuelaViet NamVirgin Islands, BritishVirgin Islands, U.S.Wallis and FutunaWestern SaharaYemenZambiaZimbabwe Subscribe × By giving us your email, you are opting in to the Army Times Daily News Roundup. “The mechanized infantry assets will help ensure the force protection of coalition forces in an increasingly complex operating environment in northeast Syria,” said Col. Wayne Marotto, spokesman for the Inherent Resolve mission. “The coalition forces remain steadfast in our commitment of ensuring the enduring defeat of Daesh [ISIS].” U.S. and Russian officials traded blame in late August after troops from both countries collided in northeast Syria while on patrol. A Russian vehicle sideswiped a light-armored American one, injuring four U.S. troops, while two Russian helicopters flew about 70 feet over top the altercation, U.S. officials said following the incident. For their part, Russian officials said U.S. troops were blocking their ground patrol and Russian military police “took the necessary measures to prevent an incident and to continue the fulfillment of their task.” Though the U.S. and Russian militaries have protocols to prevent such incidents, there have nevertheless been less worrisome altercations periodically over the past year. Russian forces are in the country backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and have long called for U.S. troops to leave. “The United States does not seek conflict with any other nation in Syria, but will defend Coalition forces if necessary,” Urban added in his statement. Despite the loss of ISIS’ territorial caliphate and the slaying of its leader last year in a U.S. raid, the extremist group has continued to launch deadly attacks in Iraq and Syria. There are roughly 500 U.S. troops in Syria’s northeast guarding oil fields from ISIS and working alongside the Syrian Democratic Forces.

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It’s been a bad week on social media for military appreciation

For a nation enamored with yellow ribbons, PDA for men and women in uniform, and shouting “Support Our Troops” into the void until our lungs collapse, we sure seem to know very little about the individuals being supported. At least that’s one takeaway from a series of recent military-themed social media gaffes on the part…

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It’s been a bad week on social media for military appreciation

For a nation enamored with yellow ribbons, PDA for men and women in uniform, and shouting “Support Our Troops” into the void until our lungs collapse, we sure seem to know very little about the individuals being supported. At least that’s one takeaway from a series of recent military-themed social media gaffes on the part of accounts run by government departments and U.S. officials. Friday yielded multiple mistakes of the sort when, first, the U.S. Department of State extended the U.S. Air Force a happy 73rd birthday wish that was accompanied by an image featuring F/A-18 Hornets flown by the Navy’s Blue Angels. The image, which depicts the obvious blue and gold color scheme unique to the Navy’s flight demonstration squadron, includes one plane that even shows the underside of its wings, a part that universally includes “US NAVY” painted in size 11-million block font. The U.S. Navy Blue Angels demonstrate the capabilities of the F/A-18 Hornet at the 2019 Marine Corps Air Station Miramar Air Show on MCAS Miramar, Calif., Sept. 28. (Pfc. Mackson/Marine Corps) Echoing the State Department, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., sent the Air Force some birthday well wishes that, again, were accompanied by the Navy’s world-renowned team. Never a state to be outdone, Texas Congressman John Carter ramped up the Air Force birthday-Blue Angels whoops parade with a jumbled image featuring an F-22 Raptor, the Blue Angels, and his campaign insignia. Even the mistakes are bigger in Texas. Sign up for the Early Bird Brief Get the military’s most comprehensive news and information every morning (please select a country)United StatesUnited KingdomAfghanistanAlbaniaAlgeriaAmerican SamoaAndorraAngolaAnguillaAntarcticaAntigua and BarbudaArgentinaArmeniaArubaAustraliaAustriaAzerbaijanBahamasBahrainBangladeshBarbadosBelarusBelgiumBelizeBeninBermudaBhutanBoliviaBosnia and HerzegovinaBotswanaBouvet IslandBrazilBritish Indian Ocean TerritoryBrunei DarussalamBulgariaBurkina FasoBurundiCambodiaCameroonCanadaCape VerdeCayman IslandsCentral African RepublicChadChileChinaChristmas IslandCocos (Keeling) IslandsColombiaComorosCongoCongo, The Democratic Republic of TheCook IslandsCosta RicaCote D’ivoireCroatiaCubaCyprusCzech RepublicDenmarkDjiboutiDominicaDominican RepublicEcuadorEgyptEl SalvadorEquatorial GuineaEritreaEstoniaEthiopiaFalkland Islands (Malvinas)Faroe IslandsFijiFinlandFranceFrench GuianaFrench PolynesiaFrench Southern TerritoriesGabonGambiaGeorgiaGermanyGhanaGibraltarGreeceGreenlandGrenadaGuadeloupeGuamGuatemalaGuineaGuinea-bissauGuyanaHaitiHeard Island and Mcdonald IslandsHoly See (Vatican City State)HondurasHong KongHungaryIcelandIndiaIndonesiaIran, Islamic Republic ofIraqIrelandIsraelItalyJamaicaJapanJordanKazakhstanKenyaKiribatiKorea, Democratic People’s Republic ofKorea, Republic ofKuwaitKyrgyzstanLao People’s Democratic RepublicLatviaLebanonLesothoLiberiaLibyan Arab JamahiriyaLiechtensteinLithuaniaLuxembourgMacaoMacedonia, The Former Yugoslav Republic ofMadagascarMalawiMalaysiaMaldivesMaliMaltaMarshall IslandsMartiniqueMauritaniaMauritiusMayotteMexicoMicronesia, Federated States ofMoldova, Republic ofMonacoMongoliaMontserratMoroccoMozambiqueMyanmarNamibiaNauruNepalNetherlandsNetherlands AntillesNew CaledoniaNew ZealandNicaraguaNigerNigeriaNiueNorfolk IslandNorthern Mariana IslandsNorwayOmanPakistanPalauPalestinian Territory, OccupiedPanamaPapua New GuineaParaguayPeruPhilippinesPitcairnPolandPortugalPuerto RicoQatarReunionRomaniaRussian FederationRwandaSaint HelenaSaint Kitts and NevisSaint LuciaSaint Pierre and MiquelonSaint Vincent and The GrenadinesSamoaSan MarinoSao Tome and PrincipeSaudi ArabiaSenegalSerbia and MontenegroSeychellesSierra LeoneSingaporeSlovakiaSloveniaSolomon IslandsSomaliaSouth AfricaSouth Georgia and The South Sandwich IslandsSpainSri LankaSudanSurinameSvalbard and Jan MayenSwazilandSwedenSwitzerlandSyrian Arab RepublicTaiwan, Province of ChinaTajikistanTanzania, United Republic ofThailandTimor-lesteTogoTokelauTongaTrinidad and TobagoTunisiaTurkeyTurkmenistanTurks and Caicos IslandsTuvaluUgandaUkraineUnited Arab EmiratesUnited KingdomUnited StatesUnited States Minor Outlying IslandsUruguayUzbekistanVanuatuVenezuelaViet NamVirgin Islands, BritishVirgin Islands, U.S.Wallis and FutunaWestern SaharaYemenZambiaZimbabwe Subscribe × By giving us your email, you are opting in to the Early Bird Brief. (Screengrab @JudgeJohnCarter) Navy officials eventually caught on to the trend of gross misidentification. “Happy birthday @usairforce, but we’re not giving you the @BlueAngels,” the Navy Chief of Information account tweeted. “Aircraft carriers are also only @USNavy.” Most of the proofreading-free accounts wisely deleted their misguided well-wishes once they arrived at the realization that a plane in the air does not automatically render it an Air Force plane. But thanks to Politico editor and dad joke connoisseur Dave Brown, there remains a treasure trove of commemorative screenshots. Aim high pic.twitter.com/VUsN1TOfO8— Dave Brown (@dave_brown24) September 18, 2020 Still, the Air Force’s birthday was just another example of a profound lack of basic military understanding by those who so often boast of military adoration until blue in the face. A campaign arm of the Republican National Committee and President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign, for example, recently circulated a “Support Our Troops” graphic featuring silhouetted Russian soldiers — one holding a Russian-made AK-74 rifle and another a German-made G36K — underneath three Russian MiG-29 fighter jets, a slip-up first reported by Politico. In theory the sentiment is not incorrect, since there was no specification on which troops are being supported. Still, it was just one of the litany of military-related social media fallacies to emerge during this week alone. The image, which was poached from a Shutterstock photo, was created by Russia-based photographer Arthur Zakirov, who confirmed to Politico that the campaign image was “a completely recreated scene from various photographs of mine.” “Today you hear about the Kremlin’s hand in U.S. politics,” he joked. “Tomorrow you are this hand.” In Soviet Russia, troops support you. The image marked another foreign service miscue for the administration, which, in 2015, tweeted a campaign graphic featuring Nazi Waffen SS World War II reenactors in the bottom right corner. [email protected] has deleted the tweet (finally) but here’s the pic, Waffen-SS very clear at bottom pic.twitter.com/Kv1GsdKQkw— John Schindler (@20committee) July 14, 2015 But don’t fret about a politicized slant on military-themed miscues — these inaccuracies on the part of politicians are a bipartisan pastime. Presidential hopeful Joe Biden made headlines recently for exhibiting a concerning pattern of recounting military stories that never actually happened. In 2019 Biden recalled a harrowing tale of a Navy captain in Afghanistan that was flooded with acts of extraordinary valor. “This is the God’s truth,” Biden told the meeting hall in New Hampshire. “My word as a Biden.” Interviews conducted by the Washington Post of more than a dozen troops, commanders and Biden campaign personnel, however, revealed that nearly every detail of “God’s truth” was false. Biden, the Post reported, appeared to combine portions of three separate events into a single story. Then there was 2012, when the Democratic National Convention showcased glorious footage of Russian ships steaming powerfully across open seas as a way to honor U.S. troops and their service. (As our friend Paul Szoldra over at Task and Purpose points out, there truly is a tweet for all occasions.) No surprise. @DNC displayed Russian ships in tribute to vets http://t.co/Q6BpWj0I Did they mean to honor the Russians?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 12, 2012 Military-centric miscues on social media may occur relatively often, but seldom is the source of the mistake the military itself. On September 16, the U.S. Army’s official Twitter account tweeted a composite graphic featuring a soldier flanked by the words “I will never quit,” a line taken from the service’s Soldier’s Creed and Warrior Ethos. The U.S. Army tweeted and deleted this graphic from its official account on September 16, 2020. It features a British soldier, a U.S. Marine Corps helicopter (center), and several South African helicopters (background). The text of the tweet asked, “How do you live the #WarriorEthos?” Twitter users may have found the message more inspiring if the soldier, or any of the helicopters, actually belonged to the U.S. Army — or even the United States. Thanks to the blue patch on his right shoulder and the bullpup-style –– a distinct design in which the rifle’s magazine is located behind the trigger assembly –– SA80 assault rifle, Twitter users quickly identified the figure in the foreground as a British Army soldier. Noting the helicopters in the image, Darren Olivier, a South African military analyst and director of the African Defence Review, tweeted that that “the foremost helicopter is a USMC CH-33 and the helicopters in the background are all from a South African Air Force flypast featuring two Oryxes, two Rooivalks, three A109s, a BK-117 and a [South African Air Force Museum] Alouette III.” The Twitter account Angry Staff Officer, a semi-pseudonymous page operated by Maine National Guard officer Jonathan Bratten, tweeted, “A photo of a British soldier, a USMC helo, and some other foreign rotary winged aircraft? C’mon y’all, this isn’t that hard.” “Sometimes people make mistakes, and that is what happened in this case,” an Army spokesperson said in reference to the since-deleted tweet. Sgt. Maj. Mike Lavigne, sergeant major of Army Public Affairs, responded to the gaffe, saying, “Thank you for the dozens of DMs and tags. This is not the way the Army does business. 99% of our social media game is strong, but when it’s not, someone is held accountable and from today on, that’s me. See something wrong? I’m your POC.” Lavigne might be your POC for social media mishaps, but if you need articles that elicit a response of, “This isn’t news,” I’m your huckleberry.

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Special tactics airman drowned after ‘buddy pair’ system not followed in 2,000-yard swim

The training swim test in which a special tactics airman drowned March 19 was conducted without the usual “buddy team” system typical for such swims, an Air Force investigation found. The report did not reach any conclusions about exactly what caused Airman 1st Class Keigan Baker to drown in St. Andrews Bay, Florida, near Panama…

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Special tactics airman drowned after ‘buddy pair’ system not followed in 2,000-yard swim

The training swim test in which a special tactics airman drowned March 19 was conducted without the usual “buddy team” system typical for such swims, an Air Force investigation found. The report did not reach any conclusions about exactly what caused Airman 1st Class Keigan Baker to drown in St. Andrews Bay, Florida, near Panama City, while attempting to swim 2,000 yards. But, it said, the rules of the combat dive course stipulate that such 2,000-yard swims should be conducted with each swimmer paired up with and tethered to another swimmer of comparable ability to ensure a swimmer doesn’t get separated and into trouble. That was not done in this case. Baker had also taken two Unisom, an over-the-counter sleep aid, the night before the swim without medical authorization, in violation of Air Force instructions and the dive class policy. Its ingredients were still present in his blood at the time of his autopsy, the report said. Baker, 24, was a combat controller who enlisted in the Air Force in June 2018 and was assigned to the Special Tactics Training Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Florida, in January 2020. He was originally from Longview, Washington, and received a bachelor of arts degree from Eastern Washington University. He was on temporary duty to the Air Force Combat Dive School at the Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center at Naval Support Activity Panama City, Florida. The dive school, officially known as the 350th Special Warfare Training Squadron, Detachment 1, teaches students basic diving, advanced rescue diving principles and advanced combat diving fundamentals. Students at the dive school are required to finish a 2,000-yard surface swim — more than a mile — in simulated combat gear, to check each student’s swimming ability. Like his classmates, Baker wore a mask, a load-bearing vest with a pair of 2-pound weights to simulate ammunition magazines, a personal flotation device, a dive tool and a rubber AR-15. The swim in which Baker drowned took place on the fourth day of his class. Baker and his classmates took part in multiple physical activities, including a 1,000-yard surface swim while wearing gear, during the first three days. 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This surface swim was supposed to begin at 6 a.m. March 19, but a fog forecast prompted instructors to push it back three hours. Baker’s classmates said he appeared to be in good spirits, and they noticed nothing out of the ordinary, aside from mentioning soreness in his hip flexors the previous few weeks. During this swim, eight instructors and a safety diver took part — two more instructors than the minimum requirement. But there were a few changes from standard procedure, the report said. The ammunition pier that usually serves as the finish point was under construction, so the instructors instead used a floating barge about 100 yards east of the ammo pier to drop the buoy marker that served as the finish line. They also shifted the starting buoy marker 100 yards to the east of its usual location. There was also a privately owned, 65-foot yacht anchored in the swim path, the report said. An instructor checked to make sure there were no fishing lines coming from the yacht, and did not ask the yacht to move. There was also more boat traffic than usual during the swim, which the report said was attributed to the later than usual start of the swim, as well as people trying to get out on the water due to the coronavirus stay-at-home restrictions. At one point, an instructor on a boat broke away from the group of student swimmers to stop two civilian boats from entering the training area. Another instructor on a boat also directed a fishing boat away from the swim lane, and later directed swimmers around the 65-foot yacht. The students began the swim at about 10:15 a.m. Almost immediately, the swimmers noticed the current was pushing them northwest, though it wasn’t strong enough to present a safety risk. The student who was closest to Baker said he seemed to be having no trouble swimming, but after about 100 yards, that student lost track of who was swimming near him. Another student swimmer followed Baker, who was the stronger swimmer, for a while without noticing anything wrong. Baker pulled away from that student around the time they approached the yacht, and the student lost sight of him. One by one, a little after 11 a.m., the students began to reach the finish point. The instructors first realized something was wrong when two students still had yet to report their times, but only one student could still be seen swimming. The instructors took head counts, but Baker was nowhere to be found. The instructors began looking for him, and soon called the dive school superintendent to report a student was missing and ask for search and rescue help. In all, 87 personnel on 18 boats, a police helicopter, and a C-130 — including five dive teams and assets from the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and Bay County Sheriff’s Office — searched for Baker for hours. A Fish and Wildlife Conservation boat ultimately detected something underwater on sonar at about 4:15 p.m. A diver soon found Baker’s body, which was then recovered. He was declared dead at 4:30 p.m. His dive gear was intact, the report said, and there was no sign he tried to activate his personal flotation device. There was also no sign of trauma or broken bones. The report concluded there was confusion among the dive school staff on the necessity of the buddy-pair system during 2,000-yard surface swims. The rules say buddy pairs should be used, and “buddy lines” are standard training equipment, the report said. But some instructors at the school felt swimming in pairs was inappropriate when they were supposed to be individually evaluating students. Two weeks before Baker’s death, the report said, several dive school instructors discussed using buddy pairs, and the “prevailing sentiment” was that they should be used for the 2,000-yard swim. Two days before the fatal swim, an instructor briefed the students on surface swims. The approved slide presentation listed buddy pairs and buddy lines, but the instructor told the students neither would be used for surface swims. This contradiction during the briefing contributed to instructors’ confusion, the report said. An instructor brought it up with the staff superintendent, who confirmed that buddy lines would not be used for surface swims and that they were to be individual assessments. The report said Baker was in good physical and mental health, though he was reported to use over-the-counter medication to help him sleep. He had some musculoskeletal problems common to special warfare airmen, the report said, but performed well at the fitness test and swims conducted earlier that week. “As a community, special warfare operators are driven, highly motivated individuals who strive to push themselves to the limits of their physical abilities,” the report said. Baker “was no exception, and fellow classmates classified him as one of the smartest and strongest in the class.” The report does not reach a firm conclusion as to what caused Baker to become incapacitated and drown, but lists several factors that may have contributed to it. Baker told an instructor that morning he had taken two Unisom capsules the night before the swim, and commented at breakfast that morning that he felt fatigued, the report said. His autopsy showed he had diphenhydramine levels in his blood of 54 nanograms per milliliter, the report said, more than the levels required to produce sedative effects. Diphenhydramine, or DPH, is the active ingredient found in Unisom. However, the report acknowledged that post-mortem changes can affect blood concentrations of substances between the time someone dies and the autopsy, and the blood measurements cannot reliably indicate the actual levels of DPH in his blood at the time of his death. Baker wore a full wetsuit during the swim for increased buoyancy, the report said. The wetsuit also would keep swimmers warm in cold conditions, but carried the risk of the swimmer becoming uncomfortably warm when swimming aggressively in warm weather. The weather and water conditions that day were mild, the report said, but an exertional heat injury could not be ruled out as a potential cause of his incapacitation. Exertional heat injuries typically happen when someone is strenuously exercising in a warm environment, the report said, as well as when loaded up with clothing, equipment and protective gear. The possibility of a heat injury can be increased by drugs and other substances that impair sweating, the report said. “Development of fatigue from exercise in the heat is multifactorial and associated with several physiologic processes, but the probability is amplified when combined with gear that both inhibits heat release and adds weight/drag, substances that can alter thermoregulation and psychomotor performance (antihistamine), and drive to perform at maximal effort,” the report said. Baker’s autopsy found no signs of head trauma, bone fractures or trauma to anything other than his lungs, which showed the effects of drowning. There was no evidence he had suffered a heart attack, stroke, or pulmonary embolus, had a seizure, or vigorously struggled while drowning, the report said. The autopsy findings did not support a diagnosis of heatstroke, the report said, but heat could not be ruled out as a factor.

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