<![CDATA[Military Times]]>https://www.militarytimes.comMon, 22 May 2023 03:47:49 +0000en1hourly1<![CDATA[Hopes for debt limit deal as June deadline looms]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2023/05/22/hopes-for-debt-limit-deal-as-june-deadline-looms/https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2023/05/22/hopes-for-debt-limit-deal-as-june-deadline-looms/Mon, 22 May 2023 00:00:00 +0000House lawmakers hope they’ll have good news on the debt ceiling to bring back to constituents when they head home for Memorial Day events next weekend.

White House officials and congressional leaders have signaled they could have a deal to raise the country’s debt limit — and avoid a series of potential economic catastrophes — in the next few days. Administration representatives have been negotiating directly with House Republican leaders for the last week on the issue, and have publicly voiced optimism that a solution can be found soon.

‘Devastating’ debt default threatens troop pay, defense programs

Treasury officials have said the country is likely to run out of borrowing power around June 1 absent new legislation from Congress. If that happens, troops paychecks, veterans benefits and a host of other federal debts may not be paid on time, if at all.

The Senate is on recess this week, but could be called back into town on short notice if a debt limit deal is reached. The topic has been the main focus of both chambers for the last few weeks, delaying regular work on the defense budget for fiscal 2024 and the annual defense authorization bill.

Tuesday, May 23

House Veterans' Affairs — 10 a.m. — 360 Cannon
COVID-19 Funding
Department officials will testify on how pandemic funding was used and what money remains available to the agency.

House Appropriations — 10 a.m. — 2359 Rayburn
Military Construction/VA Budget
The full committee will mark up the fiscal 2024 appropriations plan for Veterans Affairs and military construction projects.

House Foreign Affairs — 2 p.m. — Visitors Center H210
State Department Budget
State Department officials will testify on the fiscal 2024 budget request for operations overseas, with a specific eye towards Europe.

House Homeland Security — 2 p.m. — 310 Cannon
Outside experts will testify on security threats posed by China.

Wednesday, May 24

House Veterans' Affairs — 8 a.m. — 360 Cannon
VA Information Technology
Department officials will testify on information technology challenges and improvements.

House Appropriations — 10 a.m. — 2359 Rayburn
Homeland Security Appropriations
The full committee will mark up the fiscal 2024 appropriations plan for the Department of Homeland Security.

House Small Business — 2 p.m. — 2360 Rayburn
Veteran-Owned Small Businesses
Outside experts will testify on challenges for veteran-owned small businesses.

House Foreign Affairs — 2 p.m. — Visitors Center H210
U.S. Arms Exports
State Department officials will testify on arms exports to Australia, England and other allies.

Evan Vucci
<![CDATA[Zelenskyy denies Ukrainian city of Bakhmut occupied by Russian forces]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/flashpoints/ukraine/2023/05/21/zelenskyy-denies-ukrainian-city-of-bakhmut-occupied-by-russian-forces/https://www.militarytimes.com/flashpoints/ukraine/2023/05/21/zelenskyy-denies-ukrainian-city-of-bakhmut-occupied-by-russian-forces/Sun, 21 May 2023 15:37:14 +0000HIROSHIMA, Japan — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Sunday that Russian forces weren’t occupying Bakhmut, casting doubt on Moscow’s insistence that the eastern Ukrainian city had fallen.

Responding to a reporter’s question about the status of the city at the Group of Seven summit in Japan, Zelenskyy said: “Bakhmut is not occupied by the Russian Federation as of today.”

Ukraine’s Zelensky at G7 summit as world leaders sanction Russia

“We are not throwing people (away) to die,” Zelenskyy said in Ukrainian through an interpreter. “People are the treasure. I clearly understand what is happening in Bakhmut. I cannot share with you the technical details of what is happening with our warriors.”

The fog of war made it impossible to confirm the situation on the ground in the invasion’s longest battle, and a series of comments from Ukrainian and Russian officials added confusion to the matter.

Zelenskyy’s response in English to a question earlier at the summit about the status of Bakhmut suggested that he believed the city had fallen to Russian forces, and he offered solemn words about its fate.

When asked if the city was in Ukraine’s hands, Zelenskyy said: “I think no, but you have to — to understand that there is nothing, They’ve destroyed everything. There are no buildings. It’s a pity. It’s tragedy.”

In this grab taken from video released by Prigozhin Press Service on Saturday, May 20, 2023, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the owner of the Wagner Group military company shakes hands with his soldiers, in Bakhmut, Ukraine. (Prigozhin Press Service via AP)

“But, for today, Bakhmut is only in our hearts. There is nothing on this place, so — just ground and — and a lot of dead Russians,” he said.

Zelenskyy’s press secretary later walked back those previous comments.

Ukrainian defense and military officials said that fierce fighting was ongoing. Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar even went so far as to say that Ukrainian troops “took the city in a semi-encirclement.”

“The enemy failed to surround Bakhmut, and they lost part of the dominant heights around the city,” Malyar said. “That is, the advance of our troops in the suburbs along the flanks, which is still ongoing, greatly complicates the enemy’s presence in Bakhmut.”

And the spokesman for Ukraine’s Eastern Group of Forces, Serhii Cherevaty, said that the Ukrainian military is managing to hold positions in the vicinity of Bakhmut.

“The president correctly said that the city has, in fact, been razed to the ground. The enemy is being destroyed every day by massive artillery and aviation strikes, and our units report that the situation is extremely difficult.

“Our military keep fortifications and several premises in the southwestern part of the city. Heavy fighting is underway,” he said.

It was only the latest flip-flopping of the situation in Bakhmut after eight months of intense fighting.

Only hours earlier, Russian state new agencies reported that President Vladimir Putin congratulated “Wagner assault detachments, as well as all servicemen of the Russian Armed Forces units, who provided them with the necessary support and flank protection, on the completion of the operation to liberate Artyomovsk,” which is Bakhmut’s Soviet-era name.

Russia’s Defense Ministry also said that Wagner and military units “completed the liberation” of Bakhmut.

At the G-7 in Japan, Zelenskyy stood side by side with U.S. President Joe Biden during a news conference. Biden announced $375 million more in aid for Ukraine, which included more ammunition, artillery and vehicles.

“I thanked him for the significant financial assistance to (Ukraine) from (the U.S.),” Zelenskyy tweeted later.

The new pledge came after the U.S. agreed to allow training on American-made F-16 fighter jets, laying the groundwork for their eventual transfer to Ukraine. Biden said Sunday that Zelenskyy had given the U.S. a “flat assurance” that Ukraine wouldn’t use the F-16s jets to attack Russian territory.

How US support for pilot training could pave path to F-16s for Ukraine

Many analysts say that even if Russia was victorious in Bakhmut, it was unlikely to turn the tide in the war.

The Russian capture of the last remaining ground in Bakhmut is “not tactically or operationally significant,” a Washington-based think tank said late Saturday. The Institute for the Study of War said that taking control of these areas “does not grant Russian forces operationally significant terrain to continue conducting offensive operations,” nor to “to defend against possible Ukrainian counterattacks.”

In a video posted on Telegram, Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin said the city came under complete Russian control at about midday Saturday. He spoke surrounded by about a half-dozen fighters, with ruined buildings in the background and explosions heard in the distance.

Russian forces still seek to seize the remaining part of the Donetsk region still under Ukrainian control, including several heavily fortified areas.

It isn’t clear which side has paid a higher price in the battle for Bakhmut. Both Russia and Ukraine have endured losses believed to be in the thousands, though neither has disclosed casualty numbers.

Zelenskyy underlined the importance of defending Bakhmut in an interview with The Associated Press in March, saying its fall could allow Russia to rally international support for a deal that might require Kyiv to make unacceptable compromises.

Analysts have said Bakhmut’s fall would be a blow to Ukraine and give some tactical advantages to Russia but wouldn’t prove decisive to the outcome of the war.

Bakhmut, located about 55 kilometers (34 miles) north of the Russian-held regional capital of Donetsk, had a prewar population of 80,000 and was an important industrial center, surrounded by salt and gypsum mines.

The city, which was named Artyomovsk after a Bolshevik revolutionary when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, also was known for its sparkling wine production in underground caves. Its broad tree-lined avenues, lush parks and stately downtown with imposing late 19th-century mansions — all now reduced to a smoldering wasteland — made it a popular tourist destination.

When a separatist rebellion engulfed eastern Ukraine in 2014 weeks after Moscow’s illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, the rebels quickly won control of the city, only to lose it a few months later.

After Russia switched its focus to the Donbas following a botched attempt to seize Kyiv early in the February 2022 invasion, Moscow’s troops tried to take Bakhmut in August but were pushed back.

The fighting there abated in autumn as Russia was confronted with Ukrainian counteroffensives in the east and the south, but it resumed at full pace late last year. In January, Russia captured the salt-mining town of Soledar, just north of Bakhmut, and closed in on the city’s suburbs.

Intense Russian shelling targeted the city and nearby villages as Moscow waged a three-sided assault to try to finish off the resistance in what Ukrainians called “fortress Bakhmut.”

Mercenaries from Wagner spearheaded the Russian offensive. Prigozhin tried to use the battle for the city to expand his clout amid the tensions with the top Russian military leaders whom he harshly criticized.

“We fought not only with the Ukrainian armed forces in Bakhmut. We fought the Russian bureaucracy, which threw sand in the wheels,” Prigozhin said in the video on Saturday.

The relentless Russian artillery bombardment left few buildings intact amid ferocious house-to-house battles. Wagner fighters “marched on the bodies of their own soldiers” according to Ukrainian officials. Both sides have spent ammunition at a rate unseen in any armed conflict for decades, firing thousands of rounds a day.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has said that seizing the city would allow Russia to press its offensive farther into the Donetsk region, one of the four Ukrainian provinces that Moscow illegally annexed in September.

Elise Morton reported from London, and Susie Blann from Kyiv, Ukraine. Elaine Kurtenbach and Adam Schreck contributed to this report from Hiroshima.

<![CDATA[How US support for pilot training could pave path to F-16s for Ukraine]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/flashpoints/ukraine/2023/05/21/how-us-support-for-pilot-training-could-pave-path-to-f-16s-for-ukraine/https://www.militarytimes.com/flashpoints/ukraine/2023/05/21/how-us-support-for-pilot-training-could-pave-path-to-f-16s-for-ukraine/Sun, 21 May 2023 15:14:01 +0000The U.S. has once again buckled under pressure from European allies and Ukraine’s leaders and agreed to provide more sophisticated weapons to the war effort. This time it’s all about F-16 fighter jets.

Ukraine has long begged for the sophisticated fighter to give it a combat edge as it battles Russia’s invasion, now in its second year. And this new plan opens the door for several nations to supply the fourth-generation aircraft and for the U.S. to help train the pilotsPresident Joe Biden laid out the agreement to world leaders meeting in Hiroshima, Japan, on Friday, according to U.S. officials.

So far, however, the U.S. has provided no details and said decisions on when, how many, and who will supply the F-16s will be made in the months ahead while the training is underway. Details on the training are equally elusive. U.S. officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss decisions not yet made public.

FILE - A U.S. Air Force F-16 refuels in mid-flight from a KC-135 Stratotanker during a Red Flag exercise over The Nevada Test and Training Range on Feb. 10, 2014. (John Locher/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP)

Still, with this decision, the Biden administration has made a sharp reversal, after refusing to approve any transfer of the aircraft or conduct training for more than a year due to worries that it could escalate tensions with Russia. U.S. officials also have argued against the F-16 by saying that learning to fly and logistically support such an advanced aircraft would be difficult and take months.

Here is a look at the fighters, why the U.S. has been reluctant to provide them to Ukraine and what is known and not known yet about the decision.

Why does Ukraine want F-16 fighter jets?

Ukraine has pressed for Western jets since the very earliest stages of the war, insisting that the sophisticated aircraft would give them a leg up in the war and allow them to strike Russian forces.

Nearly a year ago, two Ukrainian fighter pilots who asked to be identified by their callsigns “Moonfish” and “Juice” met with reporters in Washington to argue for getting the F-16 Fighting Falcons, which have more advanced radars, sensors and missile capabilities.

In February, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov held up a picture of a warplane when he was asked in Brussels what military aid his country needed. And earlier this month Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said during a visit to Germany that he was pushing for allies to forge a “fighter jet coalition” that would provide Ukraine with the combat planes it needs to counter Russia’s air dominance.

Ukraine’s leaders have argued that the F-16 is far superior to their existing fleet of Soviet-era warplanes. In response to those pleas, the U.S. has found ways to deliver some of the advanced capabilities without providing the actual jets.

For example, Air Force engineers found ways to modify the HARM air-to-surface anti-radiation missile so that it could be carried and fired by Ukrainian-flown MiGs. The missile and its targeting system enable the jet to identify enemy ground radars and destroy them.

Why has the US balked?

Repeatedly for months senior U.S. officials — from Biden on down — had flatly rejected sending F-16s to Ukraine, when asked publicly. And the U.S. had so far declined to allow other countries to export their U.S.-made Falcons to Ukraine.

As recently as Monday, after Zelenskyy reiterated his desire for F-16s and other jets, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby was asked if the U.S. had in any way changed its position on F-16s not being the right focus for military aid. Kirby said, “No.”

Asked similar questions in recent months, Biden also declined to approve the F-16s. In one instance earlier this year he was asked why he opposed sending them, and he responded, “Because we should keep them here.”

U.S. officials at the Pentagon have insisted that the military aid the U.S. was providing to Ukraine was based on what the country needed most to fight the war. So the emphasis has been on sending air defense systems and millions of rounds of rockets, missiles and other ammunition — as Ukraine prepares for a much expected spring offensive.

The other key reason, however, is the ongoing concern that sending fighter jets to Ukraine would enrage the Russians, provoke President Vladimir Putin and possibly escalate or broaden the war.

Well, on second thought ...

Despite all the concerns, the U.S. has proven again and again during the war that it can change its mind.

Early on the U.S. balked at sending Patriot missile batteries, longer-range missiles or tanks. And in each case, it eventually succumbed to pressure from allies and agreed to send the increasingly advanced weapons.

Of note was the recent turnabout on M1A1 Abrams tanks. For months the U.S. had said the Abrams was too complicated and required too much logistical support for Ukrainian troops. Under escalating pressure from European nations that wanted to send Ukraine their own tanks, the U.S. finally agreed to send 31 Abrams to Ukraine. Training is expected to begin soon.

The F-16 approval has been a long, slow slog. Despite public insistence — for months — that there was no movement on the F-16s, the Pentagon in March brought two Ukrainian Air Force pilots to the Morris Air National Guard Base in Tucson, Arizona, to familiarize them with the F-16 and learn how pilots are trained.

U.S. officials refused to discuss the event publicly, but privately they said the two pilots flew F-16 simulators and got a feel for the training. The U.S. Air Force, meanwhile, got insight into how long it would take for an experienced Ukrainian fighter pilot to learn the F-16′s more advanced systems. Officials determined that realistically it could be done in about four months, if the pilots were already trained to fly their own Soviet-era fighters.

What we still don’t know

According to U.S. officials, Biden told leaders in Japan that the U.S. will participate in the F-16 training, and that decisions on providing the jets will come later.

Officials said it’s still not clear if the U.S. will simply allow other nations to send F-16s to Ukraine, or if the U.S. will also send some. And there are no estimates on how many of the jets will be provided or when. Officials acknowledge that it will not be in time for the anticipated spring offensive.

And while officials said the training will begin soon, it isn’t yet clear where it will be, how many pilots will be trained and how long it will take.

The U.S. Air Force has two F-16 air wings in Europe: the 31st Fighter Wing at the Aviano Air Base in Italy and the 52nd Fighter Wing at Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany. The U.S. also routinely sends F-16 fighters in and out of Europe on a rotational basis in smaller groups.

Aijaz Rahi
<![CDATA[US and allied naval commanders in Mideast transit Strait of Hormuz]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-navy/2023/05/21/us-and-allied-naval-commanders-in-mideast-transit-strait-of-hormuz/https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-navy/2023/05/21/us-and-allied-naval-commanders-in-mideast-transit-strait-of-hormuz/Sun, 21 May 2023 14:18:09 +0000ABOARD THE USS PAUL HAMILTON IN THE STRAIT OF HORMUZ — The Mideast-based commanders of the U.S., British and French navies transited the Strait of Hormuz on Friday aboard an American warship, a sign of their unified approach to keep the crucial waterway open after Iran seized two oil tankers.

Tensions in the Persian Gulf have been volatile since Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers collapsed, following the U.S.’ unilateral withdrawal five years ago. The incredibly rare, joint trip by the three navy chiefs aboard the USS Paul Hamilton, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, saw three fast boats of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard approach the vessel at one point.

Navy to boost rotations of ships, aircraft in Strait of Hormuz

Guardsmen stood by uncovered machine guns on their decks, while sailors aboard the Paul Hamilton similarly stood by loaded machine guns as others shot photographs and video of the vessels. An Associated Press journalist also accompanied the allied naval commanders.

While the Guard kept its distance from both the Paul Hamilton and the passing British frigate HMS Lancaster, their presence showed just how tense passage for vessels can be in the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a fifth of global oil supplies passes.

“Iran has seized or attacked 15 ships in the last two years. Eight seizures and seven attacks,” Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, who oversees the U.S. Navy’s Mideast-based 5th Fleet, told the AP. “So the shipping industry is mindful of what the security posture looks like in the region. We have the ability to positively impact that influence and that’s what we’re doing now.”

Cooper said Iran’s Guard ships Friday came within 1,000 yards (915 meters) of the Paul Hamilton, which is based out of San Diego.

The U.S. has viewed securing the Middle East’s waterways, particularly the Strait of Hormuz, as key since then-President Jimmy Carter’s 1980 speech vowing to use military force to protect American interests in the wider Persian Gulf. While focused then on the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, the Carter Doctrine’s vow to allow “the free movement of Middle East oil” now pits the U.S. against Iran, which has seized a series of oil tankers since the collapse of its nuclear deal with world powers.

U.S. Navy sailors work in the Combat Information Center of the guided-missile destroyer Paul Hamilton in the Strait of Hormuz Friday, May 19, 2023. (Jon Gambrell/AP)

Last week, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told journalists that America planned to make “a series of moves to bolster our defensive posture” in the Persian Gulf, while criticizing Iran’s recent seizures of tankers. Cooper said the joint trip on the Paul Hamilton represented part of that push, with the aim of having more coalition ships passing through the strait on a regular basis.

“The volume of commerce that flows through the Strait of Hormuz — it is critical to the world’s economy,” he said.

For its part, Iran long has bristled at the American presence in the region. After Kirby’s remarks, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani issued a lengthy statement accusing the U.S. of “creating and intensifying instability and insecurity in the Persian Gulf region for decades with its interventionist and destructive policies.”

However, Kanaani also specifically mentioned the U.S. “seizing and confiscating some Iranian oil cargoes in international waters.” The suspected American seizure of the Suez Rajan, a tanker linked to a U.S. private equity firm believed to have been carrying sanctioned Iranian crude oil off Singapore, likely sparked Tehran to recently take the Marshall Islands-flagged tanker Advantage Sweet. That ship carried Kuwaiti crude oil for energy firm Chevron Corp. of San Ramon, California.

There was no immediate reaction in Iranian state media nor from the Guard about the Paul Hamilton’s trip from the Persian Gulf out through the strait to the Gulf of Oman. However, it was unlikely the Iranians immediately knew that the American, British and French commanders had been aboard the vessel, though at least one Guard member aboard the fast boats was studying the Paul Hamilton with a pair of binoculars.

Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the trip.

On the trip through the Strait of Hormuz, at least one Iranian drone watched the Paul Hamilton. Meanwhile, an U.S. Navy Boeing P-8 Poseidon also was overhead. U.S. forces also routinely fly drones in the region as well, while a Navy task force also has put some drones out to sea.

Securing the Strait of Hormuz has been a challenge since the Carter Doctrine — and deadly. The so-called 1980s “Tanker War” involved American naval ships escorting reflagged Kuwaiti oil tankers through the gulf and the strait after Iranian mines damaged vessels in the region. The U.S. Navy even fought a one-day naval battle against Iran at the time, as well as accidentally shot down an Iranian commercial airliner, killing 290 people.

Former President Donald Trump’s decision to unilaterally withdraw from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers sparked new challenges from Iran in the region. Tehran seized tankers, while the Navy also blamed Iran for again using mines against shipping. The Trump administration came up with its Sentinel program, which also involved it and partner nations escorting ships in the region. But tensions with Europe after the nuclear deal’s collapse didn’t see a wide buy-in with the program.

This renewed effort under President Joe Biden does not appear to involve escorting individual ships, but trying to put more allied forces in the region. Already, the U.S. has brought A-10 Thunderbolt IIs and a submarine in the region to try to deter Iran.

America also could bring more ships into the Persian Gulf. The end of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the war in Ukraine and American concern over China’s expansion in the South China Sea, has halted routine carrier deployments in recent years.

For now, Cooper pointed to the presence of his British and French colleagues — Commodore Philip Dennis, the commander of the United Kingdom Maritime Component Command, and Vice Adm. Emmanuel Slaars, the joint commander of the French forces deployed in the Indian Ocean — as a sign of the resolve of America and its partners.

This is “part of our increase in presence in the region, which was described by the White House last week, and that’s now in execution,” Cooper said.

Jon Gambrell
<![CDATA[Ukraine’s Zelensky at G7 summit as world leaders sanction Russia]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/flashpoints/ukraine/2023/05/20/ukraines-zelensky-arrives-in-hiroshima-for-g7-summit-as-world-leader/https://www.militarytimes.com/flashpoints/ukraine/2023/05/20/ukraines-zelensky-arrives-in-hiroshima-for-g7-summit-as-world-leader/Sat, 20 May 2023 18:15:00 +0000HIROSHIMA, Japan (AP) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy arrived Saturday in Japan for talks with the leaders of the world’s most powerful democracies, a personal appearance meant to galvanize global attention as the nations ratcheted up pressure on Moscow for its 15-month invasion of Ukraine.

Bolstering international support is a key priority as Ukraine prepares for what’s seen as a major push to take back territory seized by Russia in the war that began in February last year. Zelenskyy’s in-person visit to the G7 summit comes just hours after the United States agreed to allow training on potent American-made fighter jets, laying the groundwork for their eventual transfer to Ukraine.

Host nation Japan said Zelenskyy’s inclusion stems from his “strong wish” to participate in talks with the bloc and other countries that will influence his nation’s defense against Russia.

“Japan. G7. Important meetings with partners and friends of Ukraine. Security and enhanced cooperation for our victory. Peace will become closer today,” Zelenskyy tweeted upon his arrival on a plane provided by France.

A European Union official, speaking on condition of anonymity to brief reporters on the deliberations, said Zelenskyy will take part in two separate sessions Sunday. One session will be with G7 members only and will focus on the war in Ukraine. Another will include the G7 as well as the other nations invited to take part in the summit, and will focus on “peace and stability.”

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said that President Joe Biden and Zelenskyy would have direct engagement at the summit. On Friday, Biden announced his support for training Ukrainian pilots on U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets, a precursor to eventually providing those aircraft to Ukraine.

“It is necessary to improve (Ukraine’s) air defense capabilities, including the training of our pilots,” Zelenskyy wrote on his official Telegram channel after meeting Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni, one of a number of leaders he talked to.

Zelenskyy also met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, their first face-to-face talks since the war, and briefed him on Ukraine’s peace plan, which calls for the withdrawal of Russian troops from the country before any negotiations.

Russia’s deputy defense minister, Alexander Grushko, accused Western countries of “continuing along the path of escalation,” following the announcements that raised the possibility of sending F-16s to Kyiv.

The G7 vowed to intensify the pressure in its joint statement Saturday.

“Russia’s brutal war of aggression represents a threat to the whole world in breach of fundamental norms, rules and principles of the international community. We reaffirm our unwavering support for Ukraine for as long as it takes to bring a comprehensive, just and lasting peace,” the group said.

G7 leaders have faced a balancing act as they look to address a raft of global worries demanding urgent attention, including climate change, AI, poverty and economic instability, nuclear proliferation and, above all, the war in Ukraine.

China, the world’s No. 2 economy, sits at the nexus of many of those concerns.

There is increasing anxiety that Beijing, which has been steadily building up its nuclear weapons program, could try to seize Taiwan by force, sparking a wider conflict. China claims the self-governing island as its own and regularly sends ships and warplanes near it.

The G7 on Saturday said they did not want to harm China and were seeking “constructive and stable relations” with Beijing, “recognizing the importance of engaging candidly with and expressing our concerns directly to China.”

They also urged China to pressure Russia to end the war in Ukraine and “support a comprehensive, just and lasting peace.”

North Korea, which has been testing missiles at a torrid pace, must completely abandon its nuclear bomb ambitions, “including any further nuclear tests or launches that use ballistic missile technology,” the leaders’ statement said.

The green light on F-16 training is the latest shift by the Biden administration as it moves to arm Ukraine with more advanced and lethal weaponry, following earlier decisions to send rocket launcher systems and Abrams tanks. The United States has insisted that it is sending weapons to Ukraine to defend itself and has discouraged attacks by Ukraine into Russian territory.

“We’ve reached a moment where it is time to look down the road again to say what is Ukraine going to need as part of a future force, to be able to deter and defend against Russian aggression as we go forward,” Sullivan said.

Biden’s decisions on when, how many, and who will provide the fourth-generation F-16 fighter jets will be made in the months ahead while the training is underway, Biden told leaders.

The G7 leaders have rolled out a new wave of global sanctions on Moscow as well as plans to enhance the effectiveness of existing financial penalties meant to constrain President Vladimir Putin’s war effort. Russia is now the most-sanctioned country in the world, but there are questions about the effectiveness.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida separately held one-on-one talks with leaders, including Modi, who is hosting the gathering of G20 world leaders later this year.

India, the world’s largest democracy, has been measured in its comments on the war in Ukraine, and has avoided outright condemnation of Russia’s invasion. While India maintains close ties with the U.S. and its Western allies, it is also a major buyer of Russian arms and oil.

The latest sanctions aimed at Russia include tighter restrictions on already-sanctioned people and firms involved in the war effort. More than 125 individuals and organizations across 20 countries have been hit with U.S. sanctions.

The leaders began the summit with a visit to a peace park dedicated to the tens of thousands who died in the world’s first wartime atomic bomb detonation. Kishida, who represents Hiroshima in parliament, wants nuclear disarmament to be a major focus of discussions.

The G7 leaders also discussed efforts to strengthen the global economy and address rising prices that are squeezing families and government budgets around the world, particularly in developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The group reiterated its aim to pull together up to $600 billion in financing for the G7′s global infrastructure development initiative, which is meant to offer countries an alternative to China’s investment dollars.

Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni will skip the last day of the G7 because of floods earlier this week in northern Italy, which claimed at least 14 lives and devastated dozens of hamlets and towns.

“Biden, who scrapped plans to travel on to Papua New Guinea and Australia after his stay in Japan so that he can get back to debt limit talks in Washington, is also meeting with leaders of the so-called Quad partnership, made up of Japan, Australia, India and the United States.

The G7 includes Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Canada and Italy, as well as the European Union.


Associated Press writers Zeke Miller, Elaine Kurtenbach and Mari Yamaguchi in Hiroshima, Japan, and Joanna Kozlowska in London contributed to this report.

Stefan Rousseau
<![CDATA[Wagner Group claims Bakhmut fallen; Ukraine says fighting continues]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/05/20/wagner-group-claims-bakhmut-fallen-ukraine-says-fighting-continues/https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/05/20/wagner-group-claims-bakhmut-fallen-ukraine-says-fighting-continues/Sat, 20 May 2023 17:55:00 +0000KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The head of the Russian private army Wagner claimed Saturday that his forces have taken control of the city of Bakhmut after the longest and most grinding battle of the Russia-Ukraine war, but Ukrainian defense officials denied it.

In a video posted on Telegram, Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin said the city came under complete Russian control at about midday Saturday. He spoke flanked by about half a dozen fighters, with ruined buildings in the background and explosions heard in the distance.

However, after the video appeared, Ukrainian deputy defense minister Hanna Maliar said heavy fighting was continuing.

“The situation is critical,” she said. “As of now, our defenders, control certain industrial and infrastructure facilities in this area.”

Serhiy Cherevatyi, spokesman for Ukraine’s eastern command, told The Associated Press that Prigozhin’s claim “is not true. Our units are fighting in Bakhmut.” In a statement on Facebook, the Ukrainian General Staff said “heavy battles for the city of Bakhmut do not stop.”

Mykhailo Podolyak, chief of staff for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said “this is not the first time Prigozhin has said ‘we seized everything and are dominating’.” He also suggested that the Wagner chief’s statement was aimed at drawing attention away from Zelenskyy’s recent highly visible trips overseas, including to the Group of Seven summit in Japan on Saturday.

Fighting has raged in and around Bakhmut for more than eight months.

If Russian forces have taken control of Bakhmut, they will still face the massive task of seizing the remaining part of the Donetsk region still under Ukrainian control, including several heavily fortified areas.

It is not clear which side has paid a higher price in the battle for Bakhmut. Both Russia and Ukraine have endured losses believed to be in the thousands, though neither has disclosed casualty numbers.

Zelenskyy underlined the importance of defending Bakhmut in an interview with The Associated Press in March, saying its fall could allow Russia to rally international support for a deal that might require Kyiv to make unacceptable compromises.

Analysts have said Bakhmut’s fall would be a blow to Ukraine and give some tactical advantages to Russia but wouldn’t prove decisive to the outcome of the war.

Russian forces still face the enormous task of seizing the rest of the Donetsk region under Ukrainian control, including several heavily fortified areas. The provinces of Donetsk and neighboring Luhansk make up the Donbas, Ukraine’s industrial heartland where a separatist uprising began in 2014 and which Moscow illegally annexed in September.

Bakhmut, located about 55 kilometers (34 miles) north of the Russian-held regional capital of Donetsk, had a prewar population of 80,000 and was an important industrial center, surrounded by salt and gypsum mines.

The city, which was named Artyomovsk after a Bolshevik revolutionary when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, also was known for its sparkling wine production in underground caves. Its broad tree-lined avenues, lush parks and stately downtown with imposing late 19th century mansions — all now reduced to a smoldering wasteland — made it a popular tourist destination.

When a separatist rebellion engulfed eastern Ukraine in 2014 weeks after Moscow’s illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, the rebels quickly won control of the city, only to lose it a few months later.

After Russia switched its focus to the Donbas following a botched attempt to seize Kyiv early in the February 2022 invasion, Moscow’s troops tried to take Bakhmut in August but were pushed back.

The fighting there abated in autumn as Russia was confronted with Ukrainian counteroffensives in the east and the south, but it resumed at full pace late last year. In January, Russia captured the salt-mining town of Soledar, just north of Bakhmut, and closed in on the city’s suburbs.

Intense Russian shelling targeted the city and nearby villages as Moscow waged a three-sided assault to try to finish off the resistance in what Ukrainians called “fortress Bakhmut.”

Mercenaries from Wagner spearheaded the Russian offensive. Prigozhin tried to use the battle for the city to expand his clout amid the tensions with the top Russian military leaders whom he harshly criticized.

“We fought not only with the Ukrainian armed forces in Bakhmut. We fought the Russian bureaucracy, which threw sand in the wheels,” Prigozhin said in the video on Saturday.

The relentless Russian artillery bombardment left few buildings intact amid ferocious house-to-house battles. Wagner fighters “marched on the bodies of their own soldiers” according to Ukrainian officials. Both sides have spent ammunition at a rate unseen in any armed conflict for decades, firing thousands of rounds a day.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has said that seizing the city would allow Russia to press its offensive farther into the Donetsk region, one of the four Ukrainian provinces that Moscow illegally annexed in September.

<![CDATA[Army colonel charged with sexually assaulting fellow officer’s wife]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-army/2023/05/19/army-colonel-charged-with-sexually-assaulting-fellow-officers-wife/https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-army/2023/05/19/army-colonel-charged-with-sexually-assaulting-fellow-officers-wife/Sat, 20 May 2023 00:33:55 +0000An Army colonel who was fired from his post in October as commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division has been formally charged with sexually assaulting a fellow officer’s wife.

Army officials “referred charges upon Col. Jon Meredith to a general court-martial on April 21, 2023, and Col. Meredith was arraigned at Fort Cavazos, Texas on May 15, 2023,” according to a statement from 1st Cavalry Division spokesperson Lt. Col. Jennifer Bocanegra.

“The charges include two specifications of abusive sexual contact and two specifications of conduct unbecoming an officer,” the statement continued. “Charges are merely accusations, and the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty.”

A charge sheet obtained by Army Times states that Meredith stands accused of violating UCMJ Articles 120 and 133 — rape and sexual assault, and conduct unbecoming of an officer, respectively — for the alleged actions last summer at Fort Hood, which has since been renamed Fort Cavazos.

The charge sheet reads as follows:

“In that Col. Jon Meredith, U.S. Army, a married man, did, at or near Fort Hood, Texas, on or about 23 July 2022, wrongfully grope the breast, inner thigh, and crotch of Ms. [redacted] and repeatedly kiss her on the mouth, when the Accused knew that Ms. [redacted] was then the civilian wife of [redacted] Army officer who was at the time participating in a field training exercise, and while the Accused knew that [redacted] and Ms. [redacted] daughter were present in the house, and that under the circumstances the Accused’s conduct was unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman.”

Meredith was fired from his post due to loss of confidence, Army Times previously reported. He commissioned in 1996 and was assigned commander of 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division in May 2021.

He is scheduled to face court-martial August 14-18, 2023, Bocanegra told Army Times.

Separately, Meredith’s wife, Col. Ann Meredith, was relieved as commander of the 89th Military Police Brigade, at Fort Cavazos in February due to a “loss of confidence in her judgment,” Army Times previously reported.

She later claimed on social media that her firing was due to a text message she sent that was considered to be interfering with her husband’s investigation, Stars & Stripes reported at the time.

Editor’s note: This article was updated after publication with a statement from Army Public affairs clarifying that Col. Jon Meredith is scheduled to face court-martial August 14-18, 2023, not in October, as originally reported.

Capt. Jonathan Camire
<![CDATA[B-2 stealth bombers to return to flight after 5-month delay]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-air-force/2023/05/19/b-2-stealth-bombers-to-return-to-flight-after-5-month-delay/https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-air-force/2023/05/19/b-2-stealth-bombers-to-return-to-flight-after-5-month-delay/Fri, 19 May 2023 22:33:52 +0000The Air Force’s B-2 Spirit stealth bombers will resume flying May 22, following five months of safety inspections after one caught fire last December, the service confirmed Friday.

Gen. Thomas Bussiere, the head of Air Force Global Strike Command, approved the nuclear-capable fleet’s return to normal operations on May 18, command spokesperson Brus Vidal said.

“We successfully accomplished all necessary actions to safely return to full flight operations,” Vidal said. “Our ability to deliver nuclear deterrence and provide long-range strike was never in doubt.”

Whiteman AFB's only runway reopens after B-2 bomber accident

He did not answer whether the Air Force found issues with the fleet that required fixing before the jets could fly again, or whether any bombers are still out of commission.

It’s unclear what the Air Force was looking for as it surveyed the Spirit fleet in the aftermath of its second mishap in two years.

On Dec. 10, 2022, an undisclosed in-flight malfunction forced a B-2 crew to make an emergency landing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, where firefighters extinguished flames at the scene. No one was injured, Whiteman’s 509th Bomb Wing said.

The Air Force has not yet released a public version of its investigation into that accident.

The incident came about a year after another Spirit bomber’s landing gear failed, causing it to skid off of Whiteman’s runway and into the grass with one wing on the ground. The mishap cost the Air Force nearly $10 million.

The service hasn’t said whether that B-2, or the one that caught fire in December, have returned to regular operations.

Global Strike stressed during the pause that the B-2s could still be dispatched on the president’s orders or in support of homeland security in an emergency.

B-2 accidents are rare: Before 2021, the most recent recorded incident was in fiscal 2015, according to the Air Force Safety Center. That was preceded by a fire that heavily damaged one bomber in 2010. Another B-2 was destroyed in a crash upon takeoff in Guam in 2008.

The Air Force’s fleet of 19 operational B-2s at Whiteman have flown long-range strike and surveillance missions since the 1990s, from NATO’s Operation Allied Force in Yugoslavia to campaigns against the Islamic State group in the wider Middle East and Africa.

Not-so-stealthy: B-2 bomber caught on Google Earth

The two-pilot aircraft can tote up to 40,000 pounds of nuclear and conventional munitions and have participated in rotational deployments around the world aimed at preventing Russian and Chinese aggression toward the U.S. and its allies.

But the fleet is expensive to fly and has struggled to stay in top shape. The B-2s logged a 52.8% mission-capable rate in fiscal 2022, meaning just half of the jets were able to perform at least one key mission in flight, the Air Force said May 15. That metric has fallen nearly 6 percentage points since the previous fiscal year.

The service plans to retire the fleet in the next 10 years to make way for the B-21 Raider, a more advanced stealth bomber that can carry both conventional and nuclear weapons.

Tech. Sgt. Heather Salazar
<![CDATA[Texas Senate votes for death benefits for National Guard at border]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/home/left-column/2023/05/19/texas-senate-votes-for-death-benefits-for-national-guard-at-border/https://www.militarytimes.com/home/left-column/2023/05/19/texas-senate-votes-for-death-benefits-for-national-guard-at-border/Fri, 19 May 2023 22:25:00 +0000This story was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Texas National Guard service members on state missions like Operation Lone Star would be guaranteed a $500,000 death benefit if they die in the line of duty under a bill approved Friday by a unanimous Texas Senate.

The bill would give guaranteed death benefits to National Guard troops on state deployment, putting them on par with benefits offered to law enforcement officers serving on Gov. Greg Abbott’s border security mission. Currently, soldiers and airmen on Operation Lone Star are not guaranteed death benefits because they are serving on state, not federal, orders.

The issue came to light in April 2022 when Bishop Evans, a 22-year-old soldier serving on Operation Lone Star, died while trying to rescue migrants from the Rio Grande. He was posthumously promoted to sergeant and awarded the Lone Star Medal of Valor at his funeral.

Evans had a life insurance policy that helped his family pay for his funeral costs, but his death highlighted the need to provide death benefits to state troops on the mission.

House Bill 90 by Rep. Jared Patterson, R-Frisco, was dubbed the Bishop Evans Act and his family traveled to Austin from North Texas to support the bill. Last month, the House made the bill retroactive so it could apply to Evans and other soldiers who died while serving on Operation Lone Star.

“This bill is named after Sergeant Bishop Evans, who drowned in the Rio Grande River while on active duty attempting to rescue individuals who were attempting to swim across the river,” Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, said before Friday’s vote. “He was certainly a hero, and I’m proud to present this bill to the Senate.”

About 4,000 troops continue to serve on the border security mission, which began in March 2021. Problems have included late or missing pay for the troops, squalid living conditions and a rash of suicides tied to the mission. The Legislature has spent more than $4 billion on Operation Lone Star, blowing past the budget it set for the mission in 2021.

House Speaker Dade Phelan made the legislation one of his session priorities.

The Senate made some amendments to the bill to clarify language on how the money would be paid out. Patterson, author of the bill, said he expects to ask the House to approve the Senate changes to send HB 90 to Abbott, who can sign the bill, let it become law without his signature or veto it.

The bill’s passage would end a yearslong effort by the state’s military leaders to persuade lawmakers to provide death benefits for National Guard troops on state active-duty missions. Former state Rep. John Cyrier, a Republican from Lockhart who serves in the Texas State Guard, had tried the past two sessions to pass death benefit legislation, but those efforts failed to gain momentum.

Patterson’s bill goes beyond previous efforts by expanding worker’s compensation to cover post-traumatic stress disorder developed during state active duty and by expediting workplace injury claims filed by troops.

If the bill becomes a law, it would go into effect in September, and families of troops who died as part of Operation Lone Star could begin applying for death benefits.

Erin Douglas contributed reporting.

<![CDATA[Feds holding alleged Discord leaker Jack Teixeira until trial]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/flashpoints/extremism-disinformation/2023/05/19/alleged-discord-leaker-teixeira-remaining-in-custody-until-trial/https://www.militarytimes.com/flashpoints/extremism-disinformation/2023/05/19/alleged-discord-leaker-teixeira-remaining-in-custody-until-trial/Fri, 19 May 2023 21:35:07 +0000Jack Douglas Teixeira, the Air National Guard member accused of leaking classified military documents on a social media server, will remain in federal custody until his trial begins, according to a court ruling Friday.

Teixeira, 21, is charged with violating the Espionage Act for allegedly leaking information he accessed with a top-secret security clearance and posting them to a Discord server, a social media platform popular in the gaming community.

The decision came after federal prosecutors argued in a court document that Teixeira hid “unsavory aspects of his character” from public view, citing violent and racist views from Teixeira’s online social media accounts.

Prosecutors said Teixeira revealed that he had hidden his extremist views from security clearance inspectors by scouring his online presence and downplaying a racist incident, which led to school detention as a “misunderstanding.” Prosecutors said Teixeira “certainly did not reveal—and potentially took action to actively conceal—the significant volume of racist, antisemitic, and violent rhetoric he posted online lest his true nature and character prevent him from achieving his objective.”

Teixeira’s defense attorneys had argued that others accused of violating the Espionage Act had been allowed to stay out of jail ahead of their trial, and listed multiple examples, like former Department of Defense analyst Lawrence Franklin. The FBI charged Franklin in 2005 with three counts of espionage-related crimes. Franklin did not need to serve pre-trial confinement but did receive a 12-year sentence, such was the severity of his crimes.

The prosecuting team presented comments from Teixeira’s social media accounts, obtained by the FBI, that showed Teixeira harbored extremist views. In one video described in the court document, Teixeira uses ethnic and racial slurs while holding a rifle at a weapons range.

One Discord user suggested Teixeira create a blog account to share top secret documents Teixeira allegedly bragged he had access to. He replied: “shooting myself in the back of the head twice isnt something im fond of .... none of this is public information ... and making a blog would be the equivalent of what chelsea manning did.”

Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning, formerly known as Bradley, was convicted of espionage offenses in 2013 for leaking classified information to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

At least two National Guard commanders have been suspended from their duties after findings that Teixeira had been warned on at least two occasions that he was handling sensitive information incorrectly, and the National Guard unit has been stripped of its intelligence mission while an internal investigation is ongoing.

Federal agents arrested Teixeira on April 13, 2023 after he allegedly posted dozens of highly classified U.S. military documents that included assessments of real-time events in Ukraine, and evidence of spying on U.S. allies.

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

Margaret Small
<![CDATA[Vietnam-era Medal of Honor recipient receives Special Forces honor]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-army/2023/05/19/vietnam-era-medal-of-honor-recipient-receives-special-forces-honor/https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-army/2023/05/19/vietnam-era-medal-of-honor-recipient-receives-special-forces-honor/Fri, 19 May 2023 20:06:07 +0000A legendary Green Beret added another honor to his distinguished resume on May 12 when he was inducted as a distinguished member of the Special Forces Regiment.

Retired Col. Paris Davis, who received the Medal of Honor last year for his actions leading a Special Forces team in 1965 during the Vietnam War, was recognized at a Special Forces Association event held at the Army Navy Country Club in Arlington, Virginia.

Then a captain, Davis was leading a pre-dawn raid on an enemy camp near Bong Son, on June 18 of that year when all hell broke loose. In what became a 19-hour battle, every member of his team was wounded. But Davis disobeyed an order to withdraw and leave behind some of his troops — he instead sprinted repeatedly into a flooded rice paddy, working his trigger with the pinky of a grenade-shattered hand, and rescued them one at a time.

Retired sergeant major and future CIA operator Billy Waugh, whose April New York Times obituary lauded him as “Godfather of the Green Berets,” would have been captured that day had Davis not hauled him off the battlefield on his shoulders.

A man, a medal and what it takes to lead

Davis retired from the Army in 1985 after commanding the 10th Special Forces Group, then-headquartered at Fort Devens, Massachusetts. But he left the service without its highest award for valor, partially because the paperwork recommending the Black officer for the medal was lost at least twice.

After receiving a Silver Star for the battle, Davis always told reporters that he’d forgotten about the misplaced nomination. But his soldiers never did — they were the ones who pushed for the officer to be reconsidered for the medal in recent years.

“I only have to close my eyes to vividly recall the gallantry [of Davis],” Waugh said in a 2016 statement supporting the upgrade petition, according to the New York Times.

The final upgrade approval came around nearly two years after former acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller wrote a 2021 opinion article in USA Today to say he feared that bureaucratic requirements could keep Davis from receiving the deserved honor. Davis was awarded the Medal of Honor on March 3 at the White House by President Joe Biden.

The Army’s John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School — commonly known as SWCS — runs the Distinguished Member of the Regiment program to recognize major achievements and contributions to the service’s special operations community by special forces, civil affairs or psychological operations troops.

The SWCS commander, Brig. Gen. Will Beaurpere, lauded Davis’ achievements in a speech marking his formal induction.

The event also honored members of Thailand’s special forces units and the Americans of the 46th Special Forces Company, where Davis served a tour, that trained them throughout the Cold War. The southeast Asian country’s ambassador to the U.S., Tanee Sangrat, was in attendance.

<![CDATA[DoD pauses debt collection for retirees overpaid due to Navy error]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/pay-benefits/military-retirement/2023/05/19/dod-pauses-debt-collection-for-retirees-overpaid-due-to-navy-error/https://www.militarytimes.com/pay-benefits/military-retirement/2023/05/19/dod-pauses-debt-collection-for-retirees-overpaid-due-to-navy-error/Fri, 19 May 2023 19:11:09 +0000When Capt. Mark Bailey retired in 2021 after 30 years in the Navy, he soon realized something was off with his retiree pay.

It was too high, so the pilot sent a letter to the Defense Finance Accounting Service, which oversees all of the military’s active duty and retired pay.

To his surprise, a DFAS official called him and assured him that his retiree pay was correct, based on the information the Navy provided.

But this spring, like more than 1,200 other Navy retirees, Bailey has been told the Navy did, in fact, miscalculate his retirement pay, and he could need to return that overpayment.

“Having spent 30 years in the Navy, it’s not surprising to me. This is a significant administrative error,” the 55-year-old father of three said. “I’m sure DFAS is looking at the Navy like, what the hell did you do to us? It’s a Navy mistake.”

Navy error upends pay for more than 1,200 retirees

The Navy announced Friday that DFAS has agreed to a three-month pause in any debt collection for the 1,283 retirees who have been overpaid.

That pause aims to give impacted retirees the time to file a debt waiver application, Chief of Naval Personnel spokeswoman Capt. Jodie Cornell said in a statement.

“Further, the pause of debt collection will be extended beyond the initial three-month period for all retirees that file a waiver application within three months of the date of their DFAS debt letter,” he said. “For these retirees, the debt collection pause is extended until a final determination is made on their waiver application.”

Roughly $7 million was overpaid to retirees, with the overpayments ranging from $35 to more than $70,000, according to media reports and DFAS spokesman Steve Burghardt.

The median overpayment amount is $2,700, he said, and official debt notification letters were sent out this week.

If an agreement cannot be reached, Burghardt said DFAS can institute an involuntary reduction of a retiree’s monthly benefit, up to 15 percent of their “net disposable pay.”

“DoD also retains the right to pursue other collection methods, as necessary,” he said.

Bailey said he expects he will have to pay back about $10,000 in overpayments due to the Navy’s error.

“I’m not in any way, shape or form saying I should keep that money,” he said. “I understand I’m entitled to a certain amount of retirement and I was overpaid. The challenge is now, what options will I be given to repay that?”

The Navy pay calculation error occurred because of an issue with the Navy’s Standard Integrated Personnel System, or NSIPS, which botched some retiree pay calculations from 2019 to February.

Another NSIPS error has caused Navy doctors and dentists to see their active-duty service time miscalculated, a misstep first reported by NBC News earlier this month.

While officials have blamed a “software issue” for messed-up retiree pay for 1,283 retirees, Cornell said in an email this week that “NSIPS performed precisely as the business rules dictated.”

But those business rules were wrong, and Cornell said the Navy first discovered the pay error in November.

“A resulting internal audit identified a business rule error, which was then updated in January 2023,” she said. “NSIPS completed system changes to implement the new business rules on 2 Feb. 2023.”

<![CDATA[Rules for military base visitors still missing after years of waiting]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2023/05/19/rules-for-military-base-visitors-still-missing-after-years-of-waiting/https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2023/05/19/rules-for-military-base-visitors-still-missing-after-years-of-waiting/Fri, 19 May 2023 18:25:04 +0000A bipartisan group of lawmakers is demanding that Pentagon officials move ahead with department-wide standards for how visitors can access military bases, work that was supposed to be completed more than four years ago.

The move has the potential to affect millions of individuals who access hundreds of sites around the globe annually. At present, the rules are a patchwork of different policies depending on which service runs the base, where the facilities are located and what extra requirements local commanders have decided to mandate.

Lawmakers say they want that simplified. In a letter to senior defense leaders sent May 19, the 12 Republican and Democratic lawmakers — a group led by Rep. Mark Alford, R-Mo., and including multiple members of the House Armed Services Committee — said changes are needed to ensure the safety of both troops stationed at sites and visitors with legitimate business on base.

“All of this has a profound impact on those with legitimate reasons to get on base, including military veterans seeking healthcare, Gold Star Families wanting to visit the gravesite of a loved one, household goods movers charged with relocating our troops, and truck drivers that deliver arms and ammunition, parcel packages, and food and retail goods that are destined for commissaries and exchanges,” the group wrote.

Here’s why some bases aren’t allowing spouses to accompany their newly eligible veteran to shop

“Businesses especially are feeling the impact of the current approach, and some have already or are considering pulling back from serving the Defense Department as a customer due to the high level of difficulty.”

The issue of base access has surfaced repeatedly in recent years as issues like commissary access for veterans and support service expansion for military families have evolved. Most sites require military identification and a vehicle search before entry, though other entry requirements can vary significantly.

Defense officials had promised clarity on base access rules “in late 2018 or 2019″ in communications with Congress five years ago. But the final rules have yet to be announced.

The lawmakers also expressed concerns that military leaders will adopt new rules without any public review, potentially leading to confusion and frustration as visitors attempt to visit installations.

“Standards must be workable and structured to ensure that visitors can have a high level of confidence in compliance before they arrive at the gate,” they wrote. “After all this time, it would be a shame for the Department to publish something that simply does not work.”

Defense Department officials declined to comment on the letter, saying they would respond directly with the congressional offices involved.

Lenny Ignelzi
<![CDATA[WWII-era Flying Fortress planes grounded over safety issue]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-air-force/2023/05/19/wwii-era-flying-fortress-planes-grounded-over-safety-issue/https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-air-force/2023/05/19/wwii-era-flying-fortress-planes-grounded-over-safety-issue/Fri, 19 May 2023 17:42:44 +0000The Federal Aviation Administration recently issued a directive to ground all Boeing B-17E, F and G models of the Flying Fortress aircraft.

The interim move, published on May 17, is meant to address concerns over a wing-related safety issue with the World War II-era airplanes. It requires inspections of the “wing terminal-to-spar chord joints” and subsequent repairs, if necessary.

“The FAA is issuing this [airworthiness directive] because the agency has determined the unsafe condition described previously is likely to exist or develop in other products of the same type design,” the agency said in the document.

The agency estimates this decision affects 18 U.S.-registered airplanes, approximately three of which are currently in flying condition while several others are undergoing restoration. One additional Flying Fortress is in operation in the United Kingdom.

WWI-era biplane loses war against gravity (again)

Some in the warbird community anticipated the ruling and ceased flight operations in advance as a precaution.

The Yankee Air Museum in Michigan decided in April to stop flying its B-17G “Yankee Lady,” according to according to HistoryNet. The other flyable Flying Fortresses impacted include the Arizona-based “Sentimental Journey” and the Ericson Aircraft Collection’s “Ye Olde Pub” in Oregon.

This is not the first time the B-17 has yielded concerns with the wing spars. The FAA previously issued an airworthiness directive in 2001, which called for inspections to detect cracking and corrosion of the wing spar chords, bolts and bolt holes.

Separately, in November 2022, one of the historic B-17 military planes collided and crashed with another vintage aircraft during an airshow in Texas, killing six people aboard the planes.

This current airworthiness directive goes into effect on June 1, though comments are being taken until July 3.

Kristen Wong
<![CDATA[What the Army’s top enlisted soldier was like as a drill sergeant]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-army/2023/05/19/what-the-armys-top-enlisted-soldier-was-like-as-a-drill-sergeant/https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-army/2023/05/19/what-the-armys-top-enlisted-soldier-was-like-as-a-drill-sergeant/Fri, 19 May 2023 16:58:05 +0000More than two decades since he served as a drill sergeant at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston has not aged a day, nor has he lost his edge, or his focus on the service’s values.

That was the gist of a recent post on the popular Army subreddit by Chief Warrant Officer 3 Blake Furman. In the post, Furman recounted what it was like to have the Army’s top enlisted leader as his drill sergeant, and did so in the time honored tradition of current and former service members: By telling a story from basic training about an instructor absolutely ruining lives because someone else screwed up.

About 24 years ago, in the winter of 1998, before his career with the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division, or his current post at Training and Doctrine Command, where he teaches special victim courses for criminal investigations, Furman was a young private, sitting in a crowded classroom with 60 other soldiers with Echo Battery, 1-22 Field Artillery Battalion, and a furious Sgt. 1st Class Grinston.

The story takes place during one of those welcome breaks in basic training when soldiers file into a large auditorium for a traditional class with guest presenters. The respite took a turn, however, when one of the junior soldiers decided to whistle at the guest instructor as she walked to the stage.

Silence descended and hell was soon to follow, with Grinston as its herald. There would be only one chance to avoid mass punishment: Whoever whistled needed to step forward.

No one moved, presumably due to complete and utter fear — the kind that paralyzes entry-level trainees living under the iron fist of their instructors.

For the next 50 minutes, the class went on with the Army staff judge advocate lecturer running through the course material as if nothing was amiss. Meanwhile, the future sergeant major of the Army loomed over his charges, eyes roving the seats, searching for the one. By the end of the lecture, no one had come forward to take responsibility, and so responsibility would be shared by all.

“What makes it even worse is that you know he’s right,” Furman told Army Times. “It’s not fury over nonsense just to screw the privates for random stupid rule violations that they made up. You know he is 100% justified in that absolute rage.”

Once the class was finished, Grinston ordered the battery to exit the auditorium. The soldiers headed back toward their building, made their way past it and formed up near the unit’s laundry facilities and bathrooms.

Then, as many have before and since, they endured a gauntlet of physical exercises. Corrective training, as it’s called, is a rite of passage for all who serve and a common training technique, wherein drill sergeants use physical training as a disciplinary tool, but with the added benefit of soldiers getting some more PT in during the day.

“It was constant and continuous,” Furman said, adding, “they would give us breaks, but the breaks would be the exercises where you don’t move, like putting your arms out and just holding them there. Like, ‘We know you’re at muscle failure for push-ups, so we’re going to give you a break. Stand up and put your arms out.’ That kind of stuff.”

And so it continued.

“They just rotated through each one, changing muscle failure to a different group, so eventually in a half-hour you could get back to that group again, and muscle fail it again,” Furman said.

With the caveat that some of the details are hazy, given the gap in time, Furman noted that throughout it all, Grinston, who was the unit’s senior drill sergeant, hammered home the why behind the training: “Reinstilling Army values, talking about how harassment is not tolerated, this type of behavior is not tolerated, every soldier is equal, we don’t treat anybody different because of their race, gender, nationality and that type of behavior would not be tolerated in the military.”

Looking back on that day in 1998, Furman says it helped shape his view of service in the Army and “that harassment of that type would not and should not be tolerated in the military.”

Grinston, for his part, has not forgotten either, telling Army Times, “I remember that story very clearly,” he said. “I’ve never tolerated harassment in any form. I hope those soldiers understood that after our corrective training and continue to live by the values instilled at initial entry training.”

Based on the Reddit thread that surfaced nearly a quarter of a century later, it certainly seems at least one — and likely many more — remember the lesson well.

The original Reddit post has been edited lightly for style and clarity:

Picture this: A small, flat, auditorium style room, elevated stage up front. Chairs filled with baby soldiers, still with mama’s milk on their lip.

An easy training day, random classes by outside presenters. Get the instructors on stage, sit down somewhere, make sure the trainees don’t fall asleep. Try not to kill anyone.

Last class, then the drill sergeants get to go home. The end is almost here.

Ethics and EO, guest instructor, SJA Office.

1457: Stage is empty. A soft cacophony of voices from rebellious but terrified privates.

1458: CPT (random female SJA) walks onto the stage with SFC Grinston.

1458.03: A loud, crisp, clear, cat call whistle ...

1458.04: Pure … silence …

1458.05: Mid-stride, like a slow motion movie, SFC Grinston slows his gate and cocks his head toward the soldiers, with a “what the f*@k did I just hear” face. The face of a man who can’t comprehend what just happened. The face of a man that knew right from wrong … and he just heard the voice of evil call out across the aether. A face of a future SMA, that WOULD see justice.

But who would pay? No one would (or did) admit to the crime. Who would pay? That face said they would all pay. Everyone will pay.

50. Long. Minutes... of EO training. CPT (SJA) taught slide by slide, as though all was right in the world. Meanwhile, SFC Grinston stood at the edge of the stage, arms crossed, burning eyes.

50 minutes knowing it was coming. Would he find the offender? Or would we all …


30. Those eyes ...

20. He can’t actually … kill one of us … can he?

10. Please, it wasn’t me.


CPT (random): ‘Thank you for the wonderful presentation.’ Turns to the soldiers.

[Grinston]: “Battery … ATTENTION! Formation OUTSIDE! You have 2 minutes to fill your canteen.”

That was the first of 3 times we filled our canteens that evening…

<![CDATA[Military exchange online shoppers can now buy Home Depot appliances ]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/pay-benefits/mil-money/2023/05/19/military-exchange-online-shoppers-can-now-buy-home-depot-appliances/https://www.militarytimes.com/pay-benefits/mil-money/2023/05/19/military-exchange-online-shoppers-can-now-buy-home-depot-appliances/Fri, 19 May 2023 16:45:48 +0000Looking for a new dryer, refrigerator or other major appliance? Eligible military exchange shoppers in the continental United States; Oahu, Hawaii; and Puerto Rico now have the option of buying these products through a partnership with The Home Depot.

The items can be purchased via the online exchange store or at exchanges on five Army and Air Force bases. Home Depot will schedule delivery and installation of the appliances, which include washers and dryers, refrigerators, freezers, dishwashers, countertop or built-in microwaves, ranges, cooktops, ovens and hoods. The home improvement chain will also provide customer service for all deliveries and installations.

The exchanges have sold major appliances, but the primary motivation for this partnership is to provide better service to customers, especially in delivery, officials have said. Stores that don’t have Home Depot appliances on hand will still sell them and offer delivery. By June, sales associates will have a mobile checkout system to help customers browse The Home Depot inventory and buy an appliance.

“In addition to providing a significantly expanded selection of major appliances, exchange orders will be fulfilled using The Home Depot’s existing capabilities to provide efficient and dependable delivery,” said Tom Shull, director and CEO of the Army & Air Force Exchange Service.

Those five exchanges with Home Depot major appliance showrooms are Fort Moore, Georgia; Fort Cavazos, Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph and Dyess Air Force Base, Texas; and Fort Sill, Oklahoma. By October, another 60 Home Depot appliance showrooms will be added to exchanges across the continental United States.

Authorized shoppers across all military branches can also shop for these appliances at shopmyexchange.com, including: including all active, reserve and retired military members and their dependents; Department of Defense civilians and retirees; and honorably discharged veterans who have confirmed their eligibility to shop at ShopMyExchange.com.

The Home Depot officials anticipate rolling out the program with the Navy Exchange and Marine Corps Exchange stores later this year.

The purchases are tax-free and the prices will be 1% lower than the price available at Home Depot stores and its website, said spokeswoman Stephanie Meyering.

In general, Home Depot offers a 10% discount to military members, veterans and their spouses who register through their website using Sheer ID. But that 10% discount doesn’t apply to appliances, whether in Home Depot stores or online, said Meyering. That’s also stated on their website. That 10% discount will also not apply to appliances bought through the exchanges.

As always, you should still do some comparison shopping before you buy.

<![CDATA[US Navy may accelerate investments to extend some Ohio subs’ lives]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/naval/2023/05/19/us-navy-may-accelerate-investments-to-extend-some-ohio-subs-lives/https://www.militarytimes.com/naval/2023/05/19/us-navy-may-accelerate-investments-to-extend-some-ohio-subs-lives/Fri, 19 May 2023 15:55:27 +0000STEWART AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.Y. — The U.S. Navy may begin investing in life extensions for some Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines earlier than expected, with the service secretary telling a crowd that spending could begin in fiscal 2025.

The Navy requires at least 10 of these submarines are available for operations at any given time. These ballistic missile submarines lurk in waters around the globe with nuclear missiles onboard, their sole mission being to remain hidden and ready if called upon in a doomsday scenario.

As a hedge against shortfalls in the 2030s as the Ohio class reaches the end of its life and the Columbia class enters service, the Navy has considered extending select Ohio boats by a few years. In November, submarine community leaders said a decision would be made by FY26 so work could start in FY29.

While speaking at a May 5 defense innovation roundtable in Newburgh, New York, Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro said the service has “now determined five where we can actually extend those service lives, and in the ’25 budget we’re [planning on] putting in money to make that investment so we can extend those lives.”

Del Toro told Defense News in a May 18 statement that this new timeline is his intention but remains subject to the 2025 budgeting process.

The Navy has already extended the life of the entire Ohio class, from 30 years to 42 years. In 2020, submarine community leaders acknowledged that while the Navy couldn’t extend the entire class again, it could look at each individual hull and determine if any were in good enough physical condition to continue operations for a few more years.

The replacements for the Ohio boast, the Columbia class of ballistic missile submarines, is on schedule; Navy leadership said it fell a few months behind a more aggressive goal but is still on track to meet its contractual construction schedule.

Prime contractor General Dynamics Electric Boat and its suppliers have been able to devote significant attention to the lead ship, bought in FY21, due to a three-year gap between the first and second boats. There’s a two-year gap between the second and third boats, and beginning in FY26 the Navy will buy the remaining 10 at a pace of one per year.

“There is still the mountain to climb: When we go to one Columbia a year, starting in 2026 for 10 straight years, there’s hiring that’s required” at Electric Boat and at its suppliers, the acting assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, Jay Stefany, told Defense News in September 2021 when discussing the potential life extensions.

“So if you were to ask me, I’d say Columbia No. 1, pretty high confidence. Columbia No. 2, yeah, pretty high as well. But when we start going three, four, five, six, seven, all in a row ... that’s the risk,” he said.

MC1 Rex Nelson
<![CDATA[Why Ukraine’s spring offensive still hasn’t begun]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/05/19/why-ukraines-spring-offensive-still-hasnt-begun/https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/05/19/why-ukraines-spring-offensive-still-hasnt-begun/Fri, 19 May 2023 15:45:00 +0000WASHINGTON (AP) — For months, Western allies have shipped billions of dollars worth of weapons systems and ammunition to Ukraine with an urgency to get the supplies to Kyiv in time for an anticipated spring counteroffensive.

Now summer is just weeks away. While Russia and Ukraine are focused on an intense battle for Bakhmut, the Ukrainian spring offensive has yet to begin.

Last week Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said it’s been delayed because his country lacks enough Western weapons to succeed without suffering too many casualties. Weather and training are playing a role too, officials and defense experts say.

Officials insist the counteroffensive is coming. Preliminary moves by Ukraine to set the conditions it wants for an attack have already begun, a U.S. official said on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.

A look at the factors delaying the counteroffensive and the preparations both sides are making in anticipation of it starting soon.


A big part of the delay is the weather. It’s taken longer than expected for Ukraine’s frozen ground to thaw and dry, due to an extended, wet, cold spring, which has made it difficult to transition into an offensive.

Instead, the ground has retained a deep mud that makes it more difficult for non-tracked vehicles to operate.

The mud is like a soup, the official said. “You just sort of sink in it.”


In the past few months, tens of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers have been trained by the U.S. and allies for the fight. But the final Ukrainian battalion the U.S. is currently training is just finishing its course now.

This final class brings the total number of Ukrainians the U.S. has trained for this fight to more than 10,700. Those forces have learned not only field and medical skills but advanced combined arms tactics with the Stryker and Bradley armored fighting vehicles and Paladin self-propelled howitzers. It also includes highly skilled forces who were trained to operate the Patriot missile defense system.

According to U.S. Army Europe-Africa, more than 41,000 additional Ukrainian troops have been trained through programs run by more than 30 partner nations.

Soon a new phase will begin: The U.S. will start training Ukrainians on Abrams tanks at the Grafenwoehr Training Area in Germany. But the Ukrainians won’t wait for the tank training to be finished before they launch their counteroffensive, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told reporters in late April.


In just the past five months alone, the U.S. has announced it would send more than $14 billion in weapons and ammunition to Kyiv, most of which is being pulled from existing stockpiles in order to get the supplies to Ukraine faster. NATO and Western allies have responded too, pledging billions in tanks, armored vehicles and air defense systems.

But a lot of that gear still hasn’t arrived, said Ben Barry, a former British intelligence official who is now the senior land warfare fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

For example, of the approximately 300 tank systems pledged — such as the Leopard 2 tanks promised by countries including Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain and Germany — only about 100 have arrived. Of the 700 or so pledged fighting vehicles, such as British Marauders and U.S. Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, only about 300 have arrived, he said.

Ukraine will also need enough ammunition on hand to sustain a higher tempo fight once the counteroffensive begins, When it comes to the ammunition needed, Ukraine’s chief military logistician will also have a strong say in when the army is ready to launch, Barry said.

In just one munition — the 155mm howitzer round — Ukraine is firing between 6,000 and 8,000 rounds per day, Ukrainian parliamentary member Oleksandra Ustinova told reporters in April.


Both Russia and Ukraine are taking steps in anticipation of the counteroffensive.

Russia has approximately 200,000 troops along a 1,000-kilometer (620-mile) battle line, dug in using the same type of trench warfare tactics used in World War I, a Western official said on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

These troops are not as highly trained as Russia’s initial invading force, which sustained heavy casualties. But they are defended by ditches, minefields and dragon’s teeth — above ground triangle-shaped concrete barriers that make it difficult for tanks to move.

Meanwhile, Ukraine has begun shaping operations, such as targeting Russia’s forward lines with long-range artillery fire. That may indicate that Ukraine is about to push forward on that location — or it could be a decoy to draw Russia’s attention from its actual planned first strike, the official said.

When Ukraine does try to punch through those lines — whether in a limited area or a complex campaign carried out in multiple locations — that will be the likely indicator the offensive has begun, both Barry and the Western official said.

Barry said when Ukrainian brigades start crossing into Russian-held territories and try to attack the first line of Russian defenses, “that’s going to be a dead giveaway I think.”


Associated Press reporter Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.

<![CDATA[Hoax alert: tale of homeless vets booted because of immigrants false]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/veterans/2023/05/19/hoax-alert-tale-of-homeless-vets-booted-because-of-immigrants-false/https://www.militarytimes.com/veterans/2023/05/19/hoax-alert-tale-of-homeless-vets-booted-because-of-immigrants-false/Fri, 19 May 2023 13:30:36 +0000A news story blaming White House immigration policies for causing more than 20 homeless veterans to be booted from their temporary shelters is now being denounced as an elaborate hoax, with the New York lawmaker at the center calling it a heartbreaking affront to his work to help veterans.

The fallout of the false report spread much further than the New York suburb where it started. The case drew national attention from conservative outlets and mainstream media, and furthered political fights over whether the federal government is doing too much to help new immigrants and not enough to help struggling veterans.

The incident began on May 12, when the New York Post reported that about 20 veterans staying in a Newburgh, N.Y., hotel had been kicked out by management to make room for incoming migrants being housed through county funding. Leaders from the Yerik Israel Toney Foundation said they had to scramble to find new housing overnight to keep the veterans from ending up back on the street.

VA aims to help 38,000+ homeless veterans again this year

In response, New York State Assemblyman Brian Maher — himself a Navy veteran — introduced legislation to prohibit any such future harm to veterans. He blamed “the failure of the federal government to better manage the migrant crisis” as the reason for the veterans’ plight. In an interview with Military Times, Maher said he had worked closely with the foundation for years and spoke to several individuals who said they were displaced by the moves. He was also given bank records showing hotel payments by the non-profit on behalf of the veterans.

But as the story was picked up by national media, details began to unravel. Veterans Affairs officials said they had no record of any direct work with the New York charity, or any reports of veterans in need of help from local partners. They also said their requests to speak with the veterans were refused by foundation leaders.

On May 17, the Mid Hudson News reported that hotel officials had no record of any payments by the Yerik Israel Toney Foundation or of homeless veterans using their location for temporary housing.

Maher said he confirmed a day later that the veterans in question never existed, and that the incident was made up in an misguided attempt by foundation officials to draw attention to veterans issues.

“My heart is broken,” he said. “This looks to have been a complete and elaborate lie. [The foundation] had a lot of people working on this, and I had trust in them. But in the end, this did not happen.”

Foundation Executive Director Sharon Finch did not respond to requests for comment. Maher said he spoke with her on Thursday and she admitted the fraud. He has called for an investigation by the New York State Attorney General into the foundation in light of the incident.

On Friday, the Mid Hudson News spoke to seven local homless veterans who said they were recruited by the foundation to lie about their experiences as part of the scheme.

Despite the lies, Maher said he is undeterred in his opposition to President Joe Biden’s immigration policies and their potential effects on states like New York. But he conceded that in this case, the concerns were unfounded.

Whether the retraction gets as much attention as the initial news reports remains to be seen.

Veterans who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness can call the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at 877-424-3838, or visit the department’s web site for available resources.

Michael Nagle
<![CDATA[Fur-midable: US Air Force pairs Angry Kitten jammer with Reaper drone]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/electronic-warfare/2023/05/19/fur-midable-us-air-force-pairs-angry-kitten-jammer-with-reaper-drone/https://www.militarytimes.com/electronic-warfare/2023/05/19/fur-midable-us-air-force-pairs-angry-kitten-jammer-with-reaper-drone/Fri, 19 May 2023 13:05:13 +0000WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force meshed fearsome with furry in tests of electronic warfare equipment aboard a widely used drone.

The service’s 556th Test and Evaluation Squadron in April completed initial ground and flight testing of an MQ-9A Reaper outfitted with the Angry Kitten ALQ-167 Electronic Countermeasures Pod, a cluster of components contained in a vaguely cat-shaped tube.

The successful trials at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, focused on providing electronic attack from the Reaper, a General Atomics Aeronautical Systems product typically used to collect intelligence or conduct reconnaissance. The pod is derived from technology developed by the Georgia Tech Research Institute, which in 2013 described the project as using commercial electronics, custom hardware and novel machine-learning for flexibility.

“The goal is to expand the mission sets the MQ-9 can accomplish,” Maj. Aaron Aguilar, the 556th Test and Evaluation Squadron assistant director of operations, said in a statement May 13. “The proliferation and persistence of MQ-9s in theater allows us to fill traditional platform capability gaps that may be present.”

Electronic warfare, or EW, is an invisible fight for control of the electromagnetic spectrum, used to communicate with friendly forces, to identify and suppress opponents, and to guide weapons. Dominance of the spectrum will be critical in a fight with China or Russia, the two most significant national security threats, according to U.S. defense officials.

The Air Force is trying to reinvigorate its EW capabilities after years of neglect; the service in September announced a “sprint” to dig up deficiencies, seek needed resources and identify next steps.

Testing of electronic warfare package for Army’s AMPV expected in 2024

Lt. Col. Michael Chmielewski, the 556th Test and Evaluation Squadron commander, in a statement said electronic attack aboard a Reaper is “compelling.” The Air Force previously used Angry Kitten in training, outfitting aggressor squadrons with the gear to harass trainees and simulate dizzying electronic barrages.

“Fifteen hours of persistent noise integrated with a large force package will affect an adversary, require them to take some form of scalable action to honor it, and gets at the heart of strategic deterrence,” Chmielewski said.

Angry Kitten’s name is a brew of inside joke and design goals, according to a 2013 Newsweek report. It is also a departure from the typical terror-inducing military moniker: Hellfire missile, Predator drone, Stryker combat vehicle.

Roger Dickerson, a senior research engineer with the Sensor and Electromagnetic Applications Laboratory at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, in 2015 told C4ISRNET that although the pod has “an admittedly slightly silly name,” it represents “very serious technology.”

“We’ve been working hard to improve the capabilities and the readiness of the war fighters in our sponsor organizations: the Army, the Navy and especially the U.S. Air Force air combat community,” Dickerson said at the time.

Robert Brooks
<![CDATA[Guardsman Jack Teixeira, Pentagon leak suspect, due back in court]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/05/19/guardsman-jack-teixeira-pentagon-leak-suspect-due-back-in-court/https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/05/19/guardsman-jack-teixeira-pentagon-leak-suspect-due-back-in-court/Fri, 19 May 2023 12:30:55 +0000A judge is poised to decide Friday whether a Massachusetts Air National Guard member accused of leaking highly classified military documents will remain behind bars while he awaits trial.

Jack Teixeira is due back in federal court in Worcester, Massachusetts, where a magistrate judge is expected to hear arguments on prosecutors’ request to keep the 21-year-old locked up before issuing his ruling.

Teixeira, who faces charges under the Espionage Act, is accused of sharing secret military documents about Russia’s war in Ukraine and other top national security issues in a chat room on Discord, a social media platform that started as a hangout for gamers.

Prosecutors said in court papers filed this week that Teixeira was caught by superiors months before his April arrest taking notes on classified information or viewing intelligence not related to his job.

He was twice admonished by superiors in September and October, and again observed in February viewing information “that was not related to his primary duty and was related to the intelligence field,” according to internal Air National Guard memos filed in court.

The revelations have raised questions about why Teixeira continued to have access to military secrets after what prosecutors described as “concerning actions” related to his handling of classified information.

Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh was questioned Thursday about why Teixeira’s leaders did not take action after the concerns were raised. Singh referred to the Justice Department and Air Force investigations, and said those concerns and potential lack of response to them were areas the inquiries would examine.

Teixeira has been in jail since his arrest last month on charges stemming from the most consequential intelligence leak in years.

Magistrate Judge David Hennessy heard arguments on detention from lawyers late last month, but put off an immediate decision and scheduled a second hearing for Friday. The judge has said he expects to rule Friday.

The high-profile case is being prosecuted by the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office, whose leader — U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins — is expected to resign by the end of the day Friday after two federal watchdog agencies found she committed a slew of ethical and legal violations.

Teixeira has not yet entered a plea. His lawyers are urging the judge to release Teixeira to his father’s home, noting he didn’t flee when media outlets began publishing his name shortly before his April 13 arrest. His lawyer told the judge last month that Teixeira “will answer the charges” and “will be judged by his fellow citizens.”

Teixeira’s lawyers noted in court papers this week there have been many Espionage Act cases in which courts have approved release or the government did not seek to keep the person behind bars pretrial.

During last month’s hearing, prosecutors told the judge that Teixeira kept an arsenal of weapons before his arrest and had a history of violent and disturbing remarks.

Teixeira frequently had online discussions about violence, saying in one November message that he would “kill a (expletive) ton of people” if he had his way, because it would be “culling the weak minded,” according to prosecutors. Years earlier in high school, he was suspended when a classmate overheard him discussing Molotov cocktails and other weapons as well as racial threats, prosecutors said.

The Justice Department said Teixeira used his government computer in July to look up mass shootings and government standoffs, including the terms “Ruby Ridge,” “Las Vegas shooting,” “Mandalay Bay shooting,” “Uvalde” and “Buffalo tops shooting” — an apparent reference to the 2022 racist mass shooting at a Buffalo supermarket.

Investigators believe Teixeira was the leader of an online private chat group on Discord called Thug Shaker Central, which drew roughly two dozen enthusiasts who talked about their favorite types of guns and shared memes and jokes. The group also held a running discussion on wars that included talk of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The leaked documents appear to detail U.S. and NATO aid to Ukraine and U.S. intelligence assessments regarding U.S. allies that could strain ties with those nations. Some show real-time details from February and March of Ukraine’s and Russia’s battlefield positions and precise numbers of battlefield gear lost and newly flowing into Ukraine from its allies.

Margaret Small
<![CDATA[Investigation: Four sailor suicides from same command not connected]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-navy/2023/05/19/investigation-four-sailor-suicides-from-same-command-not-connected/https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-navy/2023/05/19/investigation-four-sailor-suicides-from-same-command-not-connected/Fri, 19 May 2023 00:22:27 +0000Editor’s note: This report contains discussion of suicide. Troops, veterans and family members experiencing suicidal thoughts can call the 24-hour Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-8255, texting 838255 or visiting VeteransCrisisLine.net.

The suicides of four sailors assigned to the same unit in Virginia within a span of 28 days late last year were not directly connected, according to a service investigation released Thursday. But the losses all involved sailors who had accessed Navy mental health services and were dealing with “family, financial, medical and career-related factors.”

Electronics Technician 2nd Class Kody Decker died by suicide on Oct. 29 and Electronics Technician Seaman Cameron Armstrong took his life on Nov. 5, while Machinist’s Mate Fireman Deonte Autry died by suicide on Nov. 14.

All three men were 22-years-old. Twelve days later, on Nov. 26, Fire Controlman 2nd Class Janelle Holder, 39, ended her life as well.

The investigating team assessed that “access to personally owned firearms and unwillingness to surrender access to lethal means, to include the use of gun locks, was a causal factor in the deaths.”

All four were in their first enlistment as they grappled with various life challenges.

The sailors were all in a limited-duty, or LIMDU, status at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center in Virginia, a sprawling command responsible for overseeing the area’s ship maintenance and a place to put sailors who required LIMDU status.

There was a lack of communication between MARMC coordinators and military treatment facilities, and this “fractured” situation led to “blind spots” when it came to LIMDU sailors seeking mental health assistance, which investigators cited as a contributing factor in the deaths.

Limited-duty sailors were also not properly managed or monitored within the command.

The military may be required to start tracking suicides by job assignments

When the sailors accessed Navy mental health services they all appeared to receive “timely and dedicated medical care for their respective condition,” according to the report.

While command climate surveys at MARMC were not filled out by many of the sailors or civilians working there, interviews done by investigators did not reveal a toxic command climate.

Since the deaths, MARMC has added on-site mental health and resiliency counselors, along with chaplains, to address “a need that was unfulfilled prior to the four deaths.”

Because large regional maintenance centers are fast-paced, industrial environments, they are not well-suited for managing and overseeing LIMDU sailors, investigators wrote.

If the Navy wishes to keep putting limited-duty sailors at the Mid-Atlantic and Southwest Regional Maintenance centers, the investigation found, it will need to beef up billets to address oversight shortfalls.

The USNS Hunter prepares to undock at Lyons Shipyard Inc. in Norfolk, Virginia, in November 2019. The Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center managed the ship's maintenance Availability. (Hendrick L. Dickson/Navy)

MARMC struggled to implement the Navy’s suicide prevention program, but investigators noted that those struggles reflect “broader issues that have been documented across the Navy regarding the effectiveness” of that prevention effort.

The investigation recommends 25 reforms to how the regional maintenance centers look after such sailors, as well as reforms to better track these sailors elsewhere in the Navy.

Navy spokeswoman Lt. Alyson Hands said Thursday that implementing the full list of recommendations “will take time and resourcing.”

“The Navy will continue to work diligently with our partners in Congress to ensure full and timely funding for the critical steps to ensure our Sailors receive the quality of service they deserve,” Hands said.

Already, MARMC has received additional chaplains and other support personnel and is approved to hire additional mental health counselors, she said, and gun locks have been provided to hundreds of command members.

A long-term campaign is being planned so that MARMC leadership can better understand morale and mental health crises, and a cross-Navy effort is in the works to better care for and track sailors who find themselves in a limited-duty status.

“Suicide is complex and rarely the result of a single stressor,” Rear Adm. Eric Ver Hage, who commands the Navy Regional Maintenance Center, wrote in his endorsement of the investigation. “It is often difficult to pinpoint the specific cause of suicide, but based on this investigation, to understand the causal and contributing factors in these four cases, we have taken steps to effect positive lasting change within the MARMC and greater (Regional Maintenance Center) populations to prevent similar tragedy in the future.”

ET2 Kody Decker

Earlier in 2022, Decker had been an “early promote” recommendation, with his supervisor noting his “outstanding” work as a petty officer third class aboard the amphibious assault ship Bataan.

He was posthumously promoted to second class after his death and left behind a wife and 8-month-old son, according to the investigation.

Keeping firearms out of easy reach key to preventing military suicides

Shipmates remembered “his outgoing personality, infectious attitude and strong communication skills.”

But the investigation suggests life on Bataan took a toll on the young sailor. The ship was high tempo “even when the ship was in-port, with no time off,” and that harsh environment was listed as a contributing factor to his mental health stressors.

Decker first sought help in August and started going to therapy after experiencing suicidal ideations and relying on alcohol as a coping mechanism.

“Decker stated that he was worried that his suicidal ideations might progress into actions in the future,” the investigation states. “He also admitted to keeping a loaded firearm at his bedside for protection and was resistant to having his personal firearms secured.”

During five days of inpatient therapy, Decker said he was thinking of leaving the military and becoming an electrician.

After reporting to MARMC in August, he continued to receive mental health care and the investigation notes “steady improvement in his mental health” after leaving sea duty.

New 988 suicide prevention hotline gives vets, troops an easier option for emergency care

“A potential intervention opportunity” was missed when the command official in charge of drug and alcohol abuse treatment was not informed of Decker’s alcohol abuse diagnosis.

On the evening of Oct. 29, Decker was found dead in his vehicle in the parking lot of a Kroger grocery store in Virginia Beach.

ETSN Cameron Armstrong

Shipmates remembered Armstrong as a quiet sailor who generally kept to himself in the workspace, but who enjoyed anime videos and sometimes spoke of the admiration he had for his spouse.

But Armstrong struggled with obesity, and the investigation found that the restrictions put in place during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic negatively impacted his physical and mental health.

He reported being anxious and depressed in 2019.

In 2021, he told a mental health provider “that the military was a major stressor to him, that he wanted to get out of the Navy, and that he often does not want to get out of bed.”

“The provider stated that further evaluation was necessary to determine suitability for continued military service,” the investigation states.

After arriving at MARMC, Armstrong answered “yes” when a supervisor asked if he wanted to kill himself.

That supervisor put Armstrong in touch with the MARMC suicide prevention coordinator and arranged to meet him at the ER.

There, Armstrong told his supervisor he no longer wanted to kill himself and just wanted to go on leave, and his supervisor told him that was fine.

Investigators noted that “continuity of care” was a contributing factor in Armstrong’s death, but that the young man was also “occasionally a noncompliant or uncooperative medical patient.”

Marital stress also played a role in his issues.

Navy, Marine Corps offer gun locks to prevent suicide

“Potential intervention opportunities were missed when ETSN Armstrong was not provided the full range of support during periods of crisis,” according to the investigation.

He was not referred to a mental health program or screened for alcohol dependency, which might have provided command officials with a better understanding of what he was going through.

Armstrong was also issued consecutive physical fitness assessment waivers with no follow-on action and was non-deployable for more than 12 consecutive months, These moments were listed as missed chances to intervene and help him further.

He was found dead by a civilian friend in his Norfolk apartment on Nov. 5.

MMFN Deonte Autry

Autry was remembered as a caring young man who looked after those around him.

“He could draw a crowd with his sense of humor,” the investigation states. “He was an optimistic, bubbly guy that loved to joke around. He talked about his family and visiting them.”

Neurological issues led Autry to leave the carrier George Washington and report to MARMC in a LIMDU status after he lost consciousness on the carrier while on watch.

Medical providers never communicated any medical concerns or patient information about Autry to MARMC.

Despite the health issues and multiple seizures, Autry’s lead petty officer recalled him “seeming excited and happy” about his upcoming medical appointments.

It ‘keeps us awake’: Navy leaders say sailor suicides are huge concern

He was found dead in his Newport News apartment Nov. 14 after he didn’t show up for work.

Roughly 20 sailors attended his Nov. 26 funeral in Marshville, North Carolina, including old friends from George Washington and new friends he made at MARMC.

Investigators were unable to determine if his medical condition and prescribed medications played a role in his death.

“Leading up to the day of his suicide, there were no findings that point to a reason or crisis event in MMFN Autry’s life that would create a concern for or a suspicion of suicide,” the investigation states.

FC2 Janelle Holder

Holder enlisted at the age of 39. She had always wanted to serve but weight issues had prevented that earlier in her life.

She reported to the guided-missile destroyer Gonzalez and was remembered as a “key contributor” to the combat systems missile division.

Holder first sought help in March 2020 at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Virginia, claiming suicidal ideation.

Despite her struggles, Holder was ranked first out of 17 petty officers third class in her division and was dubbed a “top notch operator” in her June 2021 evaluation.

But suicidal thoughts continued. She continued to seek treatment, at one point asking for a new provider because the old one had suggested administrative separation and she wanted to stay in the Navy.

She also suffered from a herniated disc and “debilitating back pain” that impacted her quality of life and left her bedridden at times once she was on LIMDU and transferred to MARMC.

Holder took her life on the evening of Nov. 26.

<![CDATA[Accounting error means Pentagon can send more weapons to Ukraine]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/flashpoints/ukraine/2023/05/19/accounting-error-means-pentagon-can-send-more-weapons-to-ukraine/https://www.militarytimes.com/flashpoints/ukraine/2023/05/19/accounting-error-means-pentagon-can-send-more-weapons-to-ukraine/Fri, 19 May 2023 00:07:49 +0000The Pentagon has overestimated the value of the weapons it has sent to Ukraine by at least $3 billion — an accounting error that could be a boon for the war effort because it will allow the Defense Department to send more weapons now without asking Congress for more money.

The acknowledgment Thursday comes at a time when Pentagon is under increased pressure by Congress to show accountability for the billions of dollars it has sent in weapons, ammunition and equipment to Ukraine and as some lawmakers question whether that level of support should continue.

It also could free up more money for critical weapons as Ukraine is on the verge of a much anticipated counteroffensive — which will require as much military aid as they can get. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has previously said the offensive was delayed because they did not yet have everything they needed.

The error was caused when officials overvalued some of the systems sent to Ukraine, using the value of money it would cost to replace an item completely rather than the current value of the weapon. In many of the military aid packages, the Pentagon has opted to draw from its stockpiles of older, existing gear because it can get those items to Ukraine faster.

“During our regular oversight process of presidential drawdown packages, the Department discovered inconsistencies in equipment valuation for Ukraine. In some cases, ‘replacement cost’ rather than ‘net book value’ was used, therefore overestimating the value of the equipment drawn down from U.S. stocks,” said Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh.

When will the war in Ukraine end? Experts offer their predictions.

She added that the mistake hasn’t constrained U.S. support to Ukraine or hampered the ability to send aid to the battlefield.

A defense official said the Pentagon is still trying to determine exactly how much the total surplus will be. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said the comptroller has asked the military services to review all previous Ukraine aid packages using the proper cost figures. The result, said the official, will be that the department will have more available funding authority to use as the Ukraine offensive nears.

The aid surplus was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

To date the U.S. has provided Ukraine nearly $37 billion in military aid since Russia invaded in February 2022. The bulk of that has been in weapons systems, millions of munitions and ammunition rounds, and an array of trucks, sensors, radars and other equipment pulled from Pentagon stockpiles and sent quickly to Ukraine.

Members of Congress have repeatedly pressed Defense Department leaders on how closely the U.S. is tracking its aid to Ukraine to ensure that it is not subject to fraud or ending up in the wrong hands. The Pentagon has said it has a “robust program” to track the aid as it crosses the border into Ukraine and to keep tabs on it once it is there, depending on the sensitivity of each weapons system.

There also is a small team of Americans in Ukraine working with Ukrainians to do physical inspections when possible, but also virtual inspections when needed, since those teams are not going to the front lines.

In late February, the Pentagon’s inspector general said his office has found no evidence yet that any of the billions of dollars in weapons and aid to Ukraine has been lost to corruption or diverted into the wrong hands. He cautioned that those investigations are only in their early stages.

<![CDATA[Navy vows quality of life reforms for carrier sailors in shipyards ]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-navy/2023/05/18/navy-vows-quality-of-life-reforms-for-carrier-sailors-in-shipyards/https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-navy/2023/05/18/navy-vows-quality-of-life-reforms-for-carrier-sailors-in-shipyards/Thu, 18 May 2023 22:52:24 +0000The Navy is revamping manning requirements, living conditions and mental health access for sailors assigned to aircraft carriers undergoing maintenance in the shipyards, according to a quality of service investigation released by the service Thursday.

The reforms announced by the sea service come after a separate investigation into the rash of suicides among sailors assigned to the carrier George Washington revealed how the challenging work environment at a Newport News, Virginia, shipyard had negatively affected their quality of life.

The report presented 48 recommendations to the Navy, including beefing up mental health resources, improving parking options and other basic amenities, and executing manning shifts, among other items.

“We recognize many of the recommendations will require significant resourcing solutions, and we’re working through that process now with the full attention of the highest levels of Navy leadership,” Adm. Daryl Caudle, the head of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, told reporters Thursday. “Our actions going forward will speak to how seriously we take this issue, and we will not rest until we are certain that our Navy is providing the quality of service standards that our sailors and families deserve.”

Navy leaders didn’t cite specific target dates for implementing the recommendations, but Caudle said service leaders “didn’t sit on our hands” during the early phases of the GW investigation. They jumped in to improve mental health resources, remove sailors from the ship, provide better food options and make changes to parking.

“I’m extremely encouraged with the speed that they’re moving on this thing and how passionate they are about making meaningful change [for] our sailors,” Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy James Honea told reporters Thursday.

The earlier investigation, released in December, found that three deaths over the course of six days in April 2022 were not related. However, the report also characterized the ship’s psychologist and the behavioral health technician as “overwhelmed,” and said sailors in need of help encountered a backlog of roughly four to six weeks for initial appointments.

That prompted Naval Air Force Atlantic’s launch of the quality of service investigation to evaluate ways to improve the quality of life for sailors assigned to aircraft carriers undergoing a mid-life refueling and complex overhaul, known as an RCOH. The George Washington has been undergoing its RCOH at Newport News Shipbuilding since August 2017 after being based in Yokosuka, Japan, for seven years.

The investigation determined that the working environment for sailors assigned to the George Washington during its overhaul was poor, and damaged efficiency and effectiveness. It also stymied the execution of quality of life programs.

There were too few supervisors to provide necessary training, mentorship and quality of life oversight for sailors, it found. In addition, accommodations provided by Huntington Ingalls Industries did not have the capacity for crews from two carriers — the GW and the Stennis —and did not meet Department of Defense standards. The crew’s move aboard the GW was also premature, according to the report.

USS George Washington suicides investigation reveals systemic issues

Within the crowded shipyard environment, sailors also had to cope with “disjointed and dispersed parking” with “episodic shuttle transportation” and long walks from the shipyard to the carrier.

The report advised the Navy to remove first-term sailors from an assignment to an aircraft carrier within one year of entering RCOH until after it comes out of the shipyard. This aims to reduce the number of sailors most at risk to quality of life challenges and also to eliminate strains on the chain of command.

“By reducing the number of first tour Sailors and optimizing the number of Sailors to the mission of RCOH, the Navy will effectively improve quality of life by reducing the support requirement to crew, freeing crew for other CVNs, and decreasing prolonged out-of-rate work and subsequent dissatisfaction,” the investigation said.

The report advised Program Executive Office Aircraft Carriers to conduct an analysis looking at more parking alternatives for sailors and other changes.

“Improving basic amenities, such as reducing distant parking challenges, providing convenient and available food options and offering fitness convenience and access, all centralized for basic efficiency and functionality, will increase the overall quality of life and quality of service for Sailors assigned to aircraft carriers during RCOH,” the report said.

The investigation also led to a call for the service to expand the number of medical mental health providers, advising the Department of Defense, the Navy and the chief of naval operations to “prioritize mental health clinician recruitment and retention to ensure adequate clinical services for all Sailors, particularly those assigned to aircraft carriers.”

Caudle said that immediately following the first investigation into the George Washington suicides, the Navy moved to improve mental health resources, including bolstering behavioral health technicians assigned to the carrier.

“We’re now trying to understand how to build that out more fully and to ensure that where the highest risk populations are, that we go after those areas first,” Caudle said.

But there are challenges, given that the Navy is competing with high demand in the civilian sector amid a national shortage of mental health care providers, he said.

“So, we’re working through mechanisms to ensure the compensation packages that we can offer in this [are] competitive in that space,” Caudle said.

USS George Washington returning to Japan next year

A total of 70 sailors died by suicide in 2022 — an increase from 59 suicides in 2021 and 65 in 2020, according to the Navy.

In January, Navy senior leaders acknowledged that suicides across the fleet are a major concern that they are attempting to address. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said at the Surface Navy Association conference in January that the issue is a “vexing” problem for the Navy, and current efforts to improve mental health are not sufficient.

“The connectedness between us and amongst us is really, critically important,” Gilday said. “The first line of defense even goes below chief petty officers in terms of understanding, or trying to understand, what’s going on in the day-to-day lives of our shipmates. And if anything, our message is, ‘Stick around. We need you. We can help you.’

“There are multiple ways that we can do it, yet it’s still a vexing problem because people still choose to take their lives,” he said. “And so I would tell you, that’s what keeps us awake at night.”

The George Washington, which was originally set to conclude its RCOH in 2021, is now expected to wrap up that maintenance this year. The carrier is set to return to Japan, replacing the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan, which has served as the forward-deployed carrier since 2015.

Troops and veterans experiencing a mental health emergency can call 988 and select option 1 to speak with a VA staffer. Veterans, troops or their family members can also text 838255 or visit VeteransCrisisLine.net for assistance.

<![CDATA[Lawmaker: Hold commanders accountable for timely transition assistance]]>https://www.militarytimes.com/education-transition/2023/05/18/lawmaker-hold-commanders-accountable-for-timely-transition-assistance/https://www.militarytimes.com/education-transition/2023/05/18/lawmaker-hold-commanders-accountable-for-timely-transition-assistance/Thu, 18 May 2023 21:16:10 +0000With the vast majority of troops not starting the Transition Assistance Program early enough to ensure a smooth exit from the military, some lawmakers are seeking more accountability from unit commanders and the Defense Department.

Timely TAP completion should be incorporated into unit commanders’ performance metrics, to ensure service members have time to start the process at least one year before their separation date, as is required by law, said Rep. Derrick Van Orden, R-Wisconsin, chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs economic opportunity subcommittee, during a hearing Wednesday.

“I strongly recommend you do that,” Van Orden told the DoD official who oversees TAP. “These service members and the Department of Defense will not take this program seriously until commanders are held accountable, which means they’re not getting promoted,” he said.

The full-year requirement was implemented with the fiscal 2019 National Defense Authorization Act; before that it had been 90 days. But in December 2022, the Government Accountaibility Office reported that between April 1, 2021, and March 31, 2022, 70% of service members had not started the transition assistance process a year before separating.

The result of that failure is lost opportunities, which can make a difference to service members’ future success, said Dawn G. Locke, GAO’s director of strategic issues, in testimony before the subcommittee.

For example, troops who start the process late may not be able to participate in DoD’s SkillBridge program, which provides on-the-job training with civilian employers during the last six months of military service. They may also miss the chance to apply for a disability rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs and possibly get a decision about their disability benefits before leaving active duty, she said.

GAO auditors were given a variety of reasons for the delays, including deployments, lack of commander support and medical discharges, Locke said.

The idea to include TAP compliance in commanders’ performance metrics came from the field, Locke said. GAO didn’t look at data on whether commanders were being held accountable, but at the five installations they visited and across the services, auditors were told they were not.

Another suggestion auditors heard was to incorporate TAP into DoD’s mission. “If TAP were part of that mission, it might be given a higher priority,” she said.

The Transition Assistance Program is administered by the Defense Department, but a number of federal agencies work together to deliver and assess the program. Both DoD and the VA deliver part of the core curriculum. The TAP interagency governance structure includes senior officials from DoD and VA, the departments of Education, Homeland Security and Labor, the Office of Personnel Management and the Small Business Administration.

Military transition classes are falling short, lawmakers warn

Alex Baird, acting director of the Defense Support Services Center, said the department and the services were in the process of implementing the one-year mandate when the pandemic hit. They then had to shift from mostly in-person training to virtual training online.

“Each service is working to get back on track,” he said.

Part of each service’s corrective action plan is to make it a commander’s program and determine how to hold commanders responsible, he said.

“I need to get all of our commanders to the 365 days” (before separation to start TAP), he said, adding that he also needs IT infrastructure in place to help researchers assess the effectiveness of TAP and measure long-term outcomes.

There’s not enough information to determine if TAP is successful, Locke agreed, and DoD needs to make better use of the data. DoD and its partners are sponsoring a number of studies on TAP outcomes, she said, which will help them determine how quickly service members get jobs and how much they earn.

Van Orden questioned whether just one lead agency should be accountable for the program. “There needs to be a captain of the ship,” he said, and asked Baird whether he would be opposed to having VA be the lead agency.

“We work as a team,” Baird said. “I don’t think it makes a difference who you make lead.”

Four of five leaders of private entities that work closely with veterans, who testified in a second panel, said they would support having VA as the lead agency.

Rep. Mike Levin, D-California, pressed Baird on which agency’s mission statement makes more sense program leadership: DoD’s mission to provide the military forces needed to deter war and ensure our nation’s security; or the VA’s mission to fulfill President Lincoln’s promise to care for those who served in the military, their families, caregivers and survivors.

Baird conceded TAP is more in line with the VA mission.