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A culture that fosters sexual assaults and sexual harassment persists despite prevention efforts, a new Pentagon study shows

Any service member can repeat back what they’ve learned about preventing sexual assault in required training, but a study released by the Defense Department on Thursday shows that the military still has a long way to go when it comes to stamping out not only assaults, but the toxic and harassing command cultures that set…

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A culture that fosters sexual assaults and sexual harassment persists despite prevention efforts, a new Pentagon study shows

Any service member can repeat back what they’ve learned about preventing sexual assault in required training, but a study released by the Defense Department on Thursday shows that the military still has a long way to go when it comes to stamping out not only assaults, but the toxic and harassing command cultures that set the stage for sexual violence. The study was part of a congressionally mandated yearly report from the Pentagon. The study involved conducting focus groups to get the force’s feedback on the existing sexual assault prevention efforts to determine what’s working and what isn’t. That feedback reveals that young service members are as vulnerable as ever to unwanted advances both from their peers and authority figures. While they generally believe their senior leadership is committed to their safety, it’s mid- and junior-level leaders who are either not modeling proper behavior or are turning a blind eye when they see problems arise. “Today I bent over to get something. And I didn’t know there was anybody behind me,” a female junior enlisted Marine told one of the focus groups. “Bent over to grab something really quick and a sergeant is behind me and said, ‘Oh, don’t tempt me.’” Overall, the annual report found that sexual assault reports were up 3 percent in fiscal year 2019, for a total of 6,236. But Nate Galbreath, the deputy director of the Pentagon’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, said this year’s study did not ask service members to anonymously report assaults. “I can’t tell you whether or not the crime rate went up,” Galbreath told reporters. Surveys that ask troops to anonymously report sexual assaults are conducted on even-numbered years. Galbreath’s office estimates that the number of sexual assaults that are reported to authorities is now around 30 percent of total assaults committed, versus the 7 percent figure established when DoD first stood up the office more than a decade ago. “For the first 10 years of the program, we did see quite a bit of progress,” he said, estimating that the prevalence of sexual assaults fell from about 34,000 in 2006 to 14,000 in 2016. “But then in 2018, we came to you and we saw an uptick in the rates, largely in women.” And especially women ages 18 to 24, during their first terms of service. 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One junior enlisted female Marine told a focus group: “When I first got here, all the people in my shop specifically, they live on third deck and I got put on first deck. … And when I asked why, they said it’s because I was going to get raped if I lived on third deck.” The Pentagon’s Office of People Analytics conducted 61 focus groups last fall, speaking to 493 service members ― including some local sexual assault and harassment prevention advocates ― at eight installations. Dozens of anecdotes included in the report show that for many troops, a culture of weekend binge drinking coupled with apathetic ― or even predatory ― supervisors continues to plague the services. “One of our prevention efforts over the past year focused on preparing leaders at all levels to better reach our youngest service members who are most at risk,” Galbreath said in a statement. “Helping our newest enlisted leaders and supervisors create healthy unit climates will benefit our military and all those who serve.” Reports of harassment increased 10 percent in 2019, he told reporters. “I think over the last few years, the Navy’s taken a big step toward sexual assault prevention,” a male senior enlisted sailor told a focus group. “And it’s every time you turn around, we’re having to do some type of All Hands Call, face-to-face trainings. They do SAPR Awareness months, and while it may not be 100-percent effective, I think the effort that they are putting into it, and the amount of time, money, and training I think they’re pushing it as hard as they can.” But it’s down at the lower levels, according to the report, where the message isn’t always put into practice. “We see it in our annual trainings, kind of the requirement that we got to check off,” a female junior Marine officer told a focus group. “But where I would like to see it is people actually calling each other out for stuff that influences the culture of that. Like being okay with people saying really [derogatory] things towards men or women in that case and be like, ‘Hey, let’s keep that out of the workplace.’ I haven’t seen that.” ‘Bad choices’ While the research shows that junior enlisted troops have respect for their senior leaders, those younger troops say it is their the mid-level enlisted leaders who are sometimes failing to set the tone and police unacceptable behavior. “…participants indicated that leaders who allow inappropriate behaviors to persist and who participants perceived to not care about preventing sexual assault and sexual harassment create an unhealthy environment for coworkers, lowers the standard for acceptable behaviors, and allows for the escalation of inappropriate behaviors, such as lewd comments and jokes,” according to the report. And troops notice how much or how little their leaders do in the face of harassment. “I think people take sexual assault way more seriously… People have banter and they’re like, ‘It’s harmless, it’s just talk.’ Sexual harassment culture leads to sexual assault, so when something bad actually happens, then it’s actually taken seriously,” a junior male enlisted airman told a focus group. Per focus group feedback, there are environments within the force where not only are supervisors taking advantage of their junior troops, they are methodical about it. “Seniors grooming their subordinates and making those targets of opportunity happen,” one Army SHARP coordinator told a focus group. “For instance, I’m a senior, I’m going to make you feel special, I’m taking you through the grooming process, then I’m going to invite myself or create a poker game at your residence, and I’m going to invite everybody. However, when I get there, I am going to target you. I’m going to get your spouse totally ripped, drunk, and they’re going to pass out, then I’m going to take advantage of you.” Sexual harassment has been identified as part of that grooming process, as DoD research has shown that command climates identified as toxic, especially where harassment is concerned, have a high correlation with sexual assaults. “In general, participants indicated that sexual harassment at their installations includes lower level behaviors such as staring, gawking, making sexual jokes or comments, sharing explicit images, and repeated attempts at unwanted relationships,” according to the report. “However, sexual harassment is not always identified correctly, and definitions of sexual harassment can differ among genders. Participants expressed that lower level sexual harassment behaviors are not always properly addressed when they occur due to service members’ perceptions that the behaviors are not serious or are harmless.” But that kind of behavior can and does escalate. “In the work center, usually that person says a joke. It may be somebody who has already said inappropriate jokes, and [they] look and see who reacts, who is offended, who doesn’t say anything, who laughs, and they know [how] far they can go,” a Navy SAPR coordinator said. “They may go from a joke here to a touch there, and they just build that over time, so when the big thing happens, they were building up to that. That’s why they’re able to keep doing it, because then they know, ‘I know she’s not going to say anything. I know he’s just going to laugh.’” But that lack of understanding of what harassment looks like, and how to deal with it, can also apply to sexual assault. “With the younger sailors, they don’t necessarily know how to identify what actually is sexual assault or would be classified as harassment,” a Navy SAPR coordinator said. “Some may think, ‘Oh, I got drunk this night. I don’t know what happened. I woke up in this other person’s bed or whatever the case may be.’ They don’t realize that that’s assault, as opposed to someone that’s been in for a little while longer, that have sat through enough bystander intervention trainings, that have gone through the different types of training, they know whether I remember it or not, I know I can’t say that I fully 100 percent consented to what happened last night.” Alcohol plays a major role in many military sexual assaults, as does the close quarters. For some, that’s just an accepted part of the culture. “First time away from home, for most of them. And you’re giving them a job, and then you’re like, ‘Hey, on the weekends, we’re going to put you in the middle of this complex where essentially everybody just parties. Okay, go. Don’t do anything bad.’ I mean, bad decisions are going to be made and it’s the nature of it,” a male junior Marine officer said. “You can obviously do all the things that, as leaders, you should be to educate your Marines on how not to do things to put themselves or the Marine Corps, or any of their friends in a negative situation, but they’re 18- and 19-year-old kids, sometimes bad things are going to happen because sometimes you’re going to make dumb choices.” ‘The male gender’ There are a few tropes you will hear, and that service members reported to the focus groups, when you ask how about SAPR training: one is that the check-the-block PowerPoint presentations just don’t resonate, and another is that they focus too much on male perpetrators and female victims. “I feel like it is heavily pressed upon the male gender to be in compliance with those regulations,” a male senior enlisted airman said. “And I feel as though in our culture it is not looked at enough about [female service members] and being the aggressors and heavily weighing on that in our culture. Sorry, but especially if you have male leadership, they tend to look the other way when it is a female [perpetrator] and they tend to just ignore it. It could be completely outright, explicit and they tend to ignore it more.” There is also not as much attention paid to male-on-male harassment and assault in training, largely because that often occurs in a hazing context, which the culture views as different from other assaults. “A lot of our male victim cases I’ve seen especially recently begins with them having a hazing. Things that we identify more as hazing and more certainly harassment, then leading up to what’s classified as the sexual assault,” a Marine Corps SAPR coordinator said. “There is an opportunity there to notice or report that behavior at the other levels before it’s something that escalates and again, both specifically in male cases, we’ve seen the intent to haze and/or harass before its acted on.” While the vast majority of sexual assault reports filed each year involve a male perpetrator and a female victim, Pentagon research has estimated that while 43 percent of women report their assaults, only 17 percent of men do. Some estimates have placed the number of male survivors of military sexual assault are higher than that among women, partly a reflection of the fact there are simply more men in the military. “A lot of people talk about how many female [service members] get assaulted, but more male [service members] on this base get assaulted on a daily basis than female [service members] do. It’s one-a-day for male [service members] because of the grunt barracks,” a female junior enlisted Marine said. “Men are [explicit] each other and they’re raping each other and that’s so [explicit] up and nobody wants to talk about that. And they feel underrepresented because in the Step Up training, all there is is this female [service member’s] getting assaulted at a party and no male [Service members] are being talked about at all.” Accountability The problems are compounded when troops feel like their disclosures aren’t taken seriously. Sometimes they aren’t believed, they said, but other times, the rank, gender or job title of the perpetrator seems like a free pass. “They say that there is a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to SHARP incidents, like if you sexually assault somebody, if you sexually harass somebody, automatically you’re getting kicked out. And that’s not always the case,” a female Army noncommissioned officer said. “You know, it’s happened where seniors are sexually harassing, sexually assaulting junior enlisted soldiers, whether that be junior officers, NCOs, period, junior soldiers. It’s happening. And their rank is being used to favor them like, ‘Oh, well they’re a lieutenant colonel’ or ‘they’re this, they’re that.’ Like it was a lapse in judgment.” “It’s like they say, ‘Oh, sexual assault isn’t tolerated.’ But then you have people who get charged with it and they’re still here and to me it’s like a joke,” a female junior enlisted Marine said. “It’s basically saying [to] the victim, like, ‘Well, okay, I’m sorry for you, but this man he still deserves to have a job. He still deserves to be here.’ It’s like a laugh in the face honestly. It’s like a slap in the face too, I guess.” In 2018, then-Defense Secretary James Mattis issued a memo calling for commanding officers to flex their Uniform Code of Military Justice muscle, rather than falling back on administrative and non-judicial punishments to handle misconduct. His letter wasn’t just about sexual assaults, but it underscored a key aspect of tackling the issue. Lawmakers, notably Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, have in recent years called for sexual assault prosecutions to be taken out of the chain of command, arguing that COs have proven that they lack the will or the understanding to properly adjudicate sexual assaults. Criminal action, one metric to show how the military is handling the issue, was largely stagnant in 2019. Of 3,716 reports investigated in last year, 63 percent of them — or 2,339 cases — were recommended for commander action, according to the report. Of those, commanding officers took action on 1,629 cases, including 794 courts-martial, 360 non-judicial punishments and 474 adverse administration actions, including involuntary discharge from the service. While the number of courts-martial and NJPs stayed about steady from 2018, to 2019, Galbreath said, administrative actions rose ― indicating that in some cases, commanders were choosing to either slap perpetrators on the wrist or unload them from the service, rather than take harsher action. “I am tired of the statement I get over and over from the chain of command: ‘We got this, Ma’am. We got this,’ ” Gillibrand told Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville in May 2019, after reading DoD’s 2018 SAPR report. “You don’t have it. You’re failing us. The trajectories of every measurable are going in the wrong direction.” ‘Healthy relationships’ Another common piece of feedback about SAPR training is that it focuses too much on “what not to do.” “SAPR/SHARP responder participants recommended incorporating trainings on how to have healthy relationships based on the common characteristics of sexual assault cases, including misunderstandings and trespassing on personal boundaries in both platonic and romantic relationships,” according to the report. That recommendation echoes some experts invited to speak at the Naval Academy last year, as it hosted a summit on campus sexual assault. Young people largely develop their attitudes and behavior around sexual relationships in high school, and may come onto campus or into the military having already survived a sexual assault or just not having any healthy reference for relationships. While the report does not delve into the root causes of these dynamics among service members, some of the focus group responses point to a pattern. “Although some male participants highlighted their female leadership as evidence that gender discrimination is not an issue at their installation, other male and female participants noted that gender discrimination at their installation or in their unit manifests in a number of different ways,” according to the report. Gendered physical fitness standards have long been a point of contention between male and female troops, using the fact that women can run more slowly and doing fewer push-ups as a sign of their inferiority. “Participants pointed to differences in physical fitness standards, female service members’ inaccessibility to certain ‘working’ jobs, and leadership favoritism of one gender over the other as recurring issues faced by male and female service members,” the reported continues. “Embodying different standards can create the perception that a promotion is not earned or that someone was placed in a particular job based on their gender rather than their qualifications.” Damaging stereotypes against women also abound. “Some participants pointed to their perception that female service members manipulate male service members and/or military systems to get ahead or avoid deployment,” according to the report. “These perceptions only add to workplace hostility and may continue systemic gender discrimination rather than to dispel gender-based misperceptions and bolster workplace camaraderie.” While that is a tougher battle to wage, Galbreath said that OPA is working on tools for commanders to get a better read on those types of damaging attitudes and behaviors in the context of command climate surveys they already undertake. “We want to make sure we’re providing commanders with more actionable information with regard to the climate challenges that their units face,” he said. “Someone literally got raped in a fan room, and they’re the one being extricated off the ship, the person who got raped. Rather than the other person, because, ‘Oh, the other person is more mission oriented.’” — Junior Enlisted, Male, Navy “[Mission-first mentality is] having no understanding of individual needs or what your Airmen are going through and driving everything has to be perfect. And if you mess up even once, then you’re ostracized, and the mission matters more than people. And it really should be people first because if you take care of the people, the mission’s going to happen.” — Junior Officer, Female, Air Force

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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. Sign up for the Air Force Times Daily News Roundup Don’t miss the top Air Force 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 Air Force Times Daily News Roundup. 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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