Friday, September 30, 2011

More US Soldiers Committed Suicide than Died in Combat



For the second year (2010) in a row, more US soldiers killed themselves (468) than died in combat (462). “If you… know the one thing that causes people to commit suicide, please let us know,” General Peter Chiarelli told the Army Times, “because we don’t know.”  Suicide is a tragic but predictable human reaction to being asked to kill – and watch your friends be killed – for a war based on lies.  Perhaps being forced to bag the mangled flesh of fellow soldiers could be another reason why some are committing suicide.
Body Bagging… ever heard the term?  Soldiers in the Marine Corps’ Mortuary Affairs unit at Camp Al Taqaddum, Iraq, are given this job… of collecting and cataloging the bodies of dead marines. They sift through the remains of the soldiers, from prom photos to suicide notes and love letters — and put their remains and effects into bags, metal boxes and refrigerators. (clarify please – are you talking about their physical remains/bodies and their effects – ie. photos, etc. or both?)  One soldier, Jess Goodell, recounts a marine brought into the unit still breathing. She frantically called to her superiors, to which they simply replied, “wait.” She watched while he died. When she returned to the US, Goodell like many others, was diagnosed with deep depression, substance abuse, PTSD and anxiety.
Sources:
“Death and After in Iraq”, Chris Hedges, Truthdig, March 21, 2011. http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_body_baggers_of_iraq_20110321
“More US Soldiers Killed Themselves Than Died in Combat in 2010,” Cord Jefferson,  Good, January 27, 2011.
 http://www.good.is/post/more-us-soldiers-killed-themselves-than-died-in-combat-in-2010
“Can You Face the True Consequences of War? The Horror of Bagging Soldiers’ Bodies in Iraq,” Chris Hedges, Alternet, March 21, 2011.
http://www.alternet.org/world/150322/can_you_face_the_true_consequences_of_war_the_horrors_of_bagging_soldiers%27_bodies_in_iraq/?page=1
“Ten Reasons the Iraq War Was No Cakewalk,” Medea Benjamin and Charles Davis, Alternet, March 18, 2011 http://www.alternet.org/world/150297/ten_reasons_the_iraq_war_was_no_cakewalk

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Army to cut nearly 50,000 Soldiers over 5 years













The Army is preparing to launch in March a five-year, nearly 50,000-soldier drawdown, using a combination of accession cuts and voluntary and involuntary separations, similar to the post-Cold War drawdown of the 1990s, according to Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick, service personnel chief.
Bostick, the Army G-1, said the pending drawdown initially will focus on the temporary 22,000-soldier increase launched three years ago to support the Afghanistan troop surge.
These soldiers can be removed from the force primarily through offsets in accessions and retention, sources say.
The second phase of the drawdown involves 27,000 soldier spaces that were added to end strength during the Grow the Army program, leaving the service with 520,400 active-duty soldiers on Sept. 30, 2016.
Gen. Ray Odierno, the service’s new chief of staff, said in early September that the Army probably will be cut beyond the 520,000-soldier level now planned.
Bostick said “it’s not so important what the end number will be, but what will the ramp be to get to the final total? We don’t want a steep drop off.
“We can do this, and we will manage it just as we have done in the past,” said Bostick, who is pending Senate confirmation to become the chief of engineers.
“We feel that with the demand going down in Iraq and Afghanistan, and given the time to conduct a reasonable drawdown, we can manage (the force reduction) just as we have managed drawdowns in the past.”
Information provided by Bostick’s staff indicates the Army is considering all options for reducing end strength, including:
• Buyouts
• Voluntary and involuntary separations
• Retirements.
Officials note that statutory authority for some of the separation incentives used in the 1990s, such as the Special Separation Bonus, have expired. The Army has asked Congress to extend or reinstate a range of force-shaping authorities, officials said.
Those Cold War-era incentives included:
• Financial incentives.
• Temporary reductions in the service obligation incurred for promotion to the senior field-grades.
• Authority to conduct selective early retirement boards.
“We are currently reviewing the lessons drawn from the 1990s as captured in reports by the Army, Congressional Budget Office and the other services to ensure that we retain as much experience as possible from the ongoing conflicts (in Iraq and Afghanistan),” said a member of Bostick’s staff.
“As in the 1990s, the Army may need to conduct involuntary separations to meet mandated end-strength, but we will do everything we can to shape the force through competitive promotions, reclassifications and voluntary separations before we take harsher measures,” the official said.
Some force-shaping tools added to Army policy over the past two years include new, and stricter, retention control points for enlisted soldiers, a Qualitative Management Program to separate retirement-eligible senior noncommissioned officers who do not measure up to Army standards of behavior and performance, and the elimination of selective continuation for certain categories of officers who are twice passed over for promotion.
After several years of growth, promotions to the ranks of sergeant through sergeant major stalled two years ago at about 45,000 annually when Army end strength leveled off, and are unlikely to return to the record levels of 50,000 to 55,000 seen during Grow the Army.
Selection rates to drop
G-1 officials said with significant reductions to end strength scheduled through fiscal 2016, officers can expect to see adverse effects on promotion pin-on-points and selection opportunity.
“The Army will continue to promote its most qualified and experienced officers based on potential and performance, but selection rates almost certainly will decrease across all grades as end-strength requirements are reduced,” said a G-1 official.
“For example, our captain inventory is slightly above authorized strength so we will begin to reduce promotion opportunity rates to captain with the fiscal 2012 board (that convenes Nov. 30),” the official said.
The pin-on-point for advancement to captain also will increase, so that officers, on average, will spend 42 months as a lieutenant, rather than 38.
G-1 officials expect that pin-on-points for the field-grade ranks will remain consistent with the past few years, which have been slightly ahead of the promotion point goals of the Defense Officer Personnel Management Act, the law governing the accession, promotion, separation and retirement of officers.
“The Army is committed to retaining as much of the hard-won experience our officer corps has gained over the past decade of conflict,” said an official.
“We will bring our selection rates back toward DOPMA goals as smoothly as possible, however promotion selection will become more competitive for all Army officers in the coming years,” said the official.
Under DOPMA, the selection opportunity goals are 90 percent for advancement to captain, 80 percent for major, 70 percent for lieutenant colonel and 50 percent for colonel.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Hell and Back Again







Official Site
Winner (Grand Jury Prize - 2011 Sundance Film Festival)
Winner (Cinematography Prize - 2011 Sundance Film Festival)

"Vivid and Moving" -Entertainment Weekly
"Extraordinary... Hard to Shake" -Indiwire
"A Must See!" -GQ

Documentary about Marines in Afghanistan and the effects it has when they come home

Trailer:

Hell and Back Again - Trailer from New Video on Vimeo.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Know What You're Talking About

WASHINGTON, Sept. 20, 2011 -- The official end today of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law reflects the American values that military members uphold, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said today.

"Thanks to this change, I believe we move closer to achieving the goal at the foundation of the values that America's all about -- equality, equal opportunity and dignity for all Americans," he told reporters during a Pentagon news briefing.

Panetta reaffirmed his dedication to all who are serving and ensuring everyone who wishes to serve has the opportunity to do so regardless of sexual preference.

"As secretary of defense, I am committed to removing all of the barriers that would prevent Americans from serving their country and from rising to the highest level of responsibility that their talents and capabilities warrant," he said. "These are men and women who put their lives on the line in the defense of this country, and that's what should matter the most."

Panetta credited several groups for helping prepare the Defense Department for the implementation of the repeal.

"I want to thank the repeal implementation team and the service secretaries, along with the service chiefs, for all of their efforts to ensure that DOD is ready to make this change, consistent with standards of military readiness, with military effectiveness, with unit cohesion, and with the recruiting and retention of the armed forces," he said.

"All of the service chiefs have stated very clearly that all of these elements have been met in the review that they conducted," Panetta said. "Over 97 percent of our 2.3 million men and women in uniform have now received education and training on repeal as a result of these efforts.

"I also want to thank the Comprehensive Review Working Group for the work they did on the report that laid the groundwork for the change in this policy," he added.

Panetta also lauded Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for his commitment to the repeal of the 1993 law.

"And above all, I'd like to single out Admiral Mike Mullen," he said. "His courageous testimony and leadership on this issue, I think, were major factors in bringing us to this day. And he deserves a great deal of credit for what has occurred."

Mullen said he steadfastly believed repealing the law was the right thing to do.

"I testified early in 2010 that it was time to end this law and this policy," he said. "I believed then, and I still believe, that it was, first and foremost, a matter of integrity."

"It was fundamentally against everything we stand for as an institution to force people to lie about who they are just to wear a uniform," Mullen added. "We are better than that."

The chairman said the repeal will strengthen the DOD and emphasize positive values.

"Today, with implementation of the new law fully in place, we are a stronger joint force, a more tolerant force, a force of more character and more honor, more in keeping with our own values," he said.

Mullen also emphasized the Defense Department is well prepared for implementation of the repeal.

"I am convinced we did the work necessary to prepare for this change, that we adequately trained and educated our people, and that we took into proper consideration all the regulatory and policy modifications that needed to be made," he said.

"I appreciate [Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's] confidence in me, and his kind praise," Mullen said. "But today is really about every man and woman [in uniform] who serves this country, regardless of how they define themselves."

Panetta said the long-awaited repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" brings the nation closer to true equality.

"Thanks to this change, we move closer to achieving the goal that is at the foundation of American values -- equality and dignity for all," he said.



Original Link

Sunday, September 18, 2011

91-year-old war vet cleared in fatal shooting


A World War II-era Army veteran who said he was forced to defend himself last year, slaying a man at his northeast Houston home, has been cleared by a Harris County grand jury.
Jack Hands, 91, fatally shot a younger man who threatened to kill him during an altercation.
This week, a panel declined to indict Hands on one count of murder and a possession of a prohibited weapon charge.
The younger man was among the unemployed, down-on-their-luck or drug-addicted folks who had been helped by Hands, then 90. The nonagenarian offered odd jobs and lent money - even to people who stole from him, neighbors said.
The shooting happened last September in the 6200 block of Antha near Eastex Freeway and Tidwell. Police released Hands without charges after questioning him.
Reached by phone Friday, Hands said the incident happened when the younger man came into the house and grabbed a 9 mm automatic weapon.
"He wouldn't give me the gun. I was trying to take it from him," said Hands, a retired security guard who lives with his black Labrador retriever, Night. "He was determined to go out of here with that gun. I grabbed him and slung him around and the gun flew out of his hand. That's when I started working on him with my fists."
Then, the older man got his sawed-off shotgun. When the younger man tried to grab that weapon, Hands fired.
Hands said he'd like authorities to return the three weapons confiscated during the investigation. He said he began carrying the 12-gauge Stevens shotgun at age 9 to protect himself from "alligators, bad snakes and bad dogs" he encountered in the swamps of his native Georgia.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Tougher APFT


The tough new Army Physical Readiness Test may be getting tougher as officials consider three key changes:
• The addition of dead-hang pull-ups — perhaps to replace push-ups.
• Doubling the rower from one minute to two minutes.
• Returning to a two-mile run.
The changes result from an analysis of statistical data and comments from the rank and file, said Maj. Gen. Richard Longo, deputy commanding general of Initial Military Training at Training and Doctrine Command.
The Army Physical Fitness School, which played a key role in designing the new test, has completed 8,000 of 10,000 initial tests that will build the test’s scoring scales. But the effort “is not just number crunching,” Longo said. “We are listening to some incredibly insightful soldiers and leaders and collecting new and good ideas on the test.”
And the introduction of pull-ups is at the top of that list.
Replacing push-ups with dead-hang pull-ups was among the first things considered when officials began to develop the new test.
Second, officials are adamant that the new test remain gender neutral, with identical events for men and women. There will be different scoring standards based on physiological differences, but female soldiers would be required to do dead-hang pull-ups.
“The average [for women] might be three or four pull-ups,” Longo said. “Excellent might be seven. Poor might be one. So that means each additional pull-up might be worth 25 points. I don’t know if that’s what we want.”
The initial answer was to introduce new standards for push-ups. They are tougher and better replicate the motion of a soldier pushing someone away to get position of dominance or pushing himself up from a prone position. But soldiers at all ranks have said they want pull-ups added, and Longo said he agrees with them because the exercise is “a better measure of that which we ask our soldiers to do in combat.”
Longo is including pull-ups when thousands of soldiers at Fort Bliss, Texas, take the new test Sept. 13-20.
The Marine Corps also is considering an overhaul of its Physical Fitness Test that would require women to do pull-ups to obtain a perfect score. A June 17 plan recommends that women be allowed to score up to 70 points for maintaining the existing flexed-arm hang for 70 seconds. They would need to do pull-ups to make up the remaining 30 points. Another option under consideration is to give 75 points for one pull-up with five points awarded for each additional pull-up. A perfect score would be obtained with six pull-ups.
Male Marines are given five points for each pull-up, with a minimum requirement of three. They can get a maximum of 100 points with 20 dead hangs.
A second change that will be tested at Fort Bliss is doubling the rower from one to two minutes.
The rower has a very steep bell curve and there is not a lot of variation, Longo said. Officials want to know if extending the rower to two minutes can better measure the difference between a soldier with good overall body fitness and one who can bust out a high number in one minute, but is spent afterward.
Most soldiers average 36-37 rowers in one minute, based on age and gender. In the current test, male trainees at Fort Jackson, S.C., average 62 sit-ups in two minutes, while female trainees average 61, according to Army data.
The third possible change — keeping the run at two miles instead of the new 1.5-mile distance — will not be tested at Fort Bliss because the Army already has ample data, Longo said.
“For the physiologist and the statistician, 1.5 miles is all I need to measure fitness,” Longo said. “But commanders have said resoundingly to me that they want it to stay two miles. While 1.5 miles measures all we need to measure about your cardiovascular fitness, that other half-mile measures the other piece of the heart – the piece that keeps you going in Afghanistan at 10,000 feet with an 80-pound ruck. That’s compelling to me.”
A final set of tests will be conducted by month’s end at Fort Lee, Va., to close a “statistical gap” that exists because there is not enough data from women over 30 to get a good sample. The final recommendations will follow a three-month analysis and will be presented to leadership at the beginning of 2012. Longo expects a final decision by April, followed by a six-month transition and full implementation by Oct. 1, 2012.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Uniforms


















CADPAT - Canadian Disruptive Pattern (CADPAT) is the computer-generated digital camouflage pattern currently used by the Canadian Forces. CADPAT is designed to reduce the likelihood of detection by night vision devices. The basic uniform consists of a wide brim combat hat, helmet cover, shirt, jacket, trousers, fragmentation vest and Tacvest. It was the first digital pattern introduced. The pattern was copyrighted upon its introduction.  Source



Bunny - This complete mascot costume includes: oversized character mascot head with terrific facial details & mesh eyes, plush body with attached tail and zipper in back, mitts, spats, and parade big feet. Oversized mascot heads are made of foam, lined in latex and covered with faux fur. Carrot sold separately. Vision for this mascot is through the eyes.  Source



Flecktarn - (German: "spotted camouflage"; also known as Flecktarnmuster, Fleckentarn or simply Fleck) is a 3-, 4-, 5- or 6-colour disruptive camouflage pattern. The use of spots creates a "dithering" effect, which eliminates hard boundaries between the different colours in much the same way the squares in the newest digital camouflage patterns do. The pattern is designed for use in temperate woodland terrain. It has been adapted as desert camouflage by varying the colours.  Source



Multicam - a single camouflage pattern designed to help the wearer hide in varied environments, seasons, elevations, and light conditions. It is a 7-color, multi-environment camouflage pattern developed by Crye Associates in conjunction with U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center (also known as U.S Army Natick labs). The pattern was on the race to replace the 3-color desert and Woodland patterns, but originally lost to the Universal Camouflage Pattern (UCP) in 2004, seen in the Army Combat Uniform. However, it has been newly commissioned in 2010 and will be replacing the UCP pattern over time for use by US Army Units serving in Afghanistan, Under the Designation OCP or Operation Enduring Freedom Camouflage Pattern.  

It is already used by some American Special Operations units and law enforcement agencies. 

The US Army has recently approved the use of MultiCam for the 173rd Airborne Brigade deployed to Afghanistan.  Source



MARPAT - (short for MARine PATtern) is a digital camouflage pattern in use with the United States Marine Corps, introduced with the Marine Corps Combat Utility Uniform (MCCUU), which replaced the Camouflage Utility Uniform. The pattern is formed by a number of small rectangular pixels of color. In theory, it is a far more effective camouflage than standard uniform patterns because it mimics the dappled textures and rough boundaries found in natural settings. This is caused by how the human eye interacts with pixelated images. It is also known as the "digital pattern" or "digi-cammies" because of its micropattern (pixels) rather than the old macropattern (big blobs).

The United States Marine Corps has patented MARPAT, including specifics of its manufacture.  By regulation, the pattern and items incorporating it, such as the MCCUU and ILBE backpack, are to be supplied by authorized manufacturers only and are not for general commercial sale, although imitations are available such as "Digital Woodland Camo" or "Digital Desert Camo".

MARPAT is also important in that it identifies warfighters as Marines to their enemies, while its camouflage simultaneously helps Marines to remain concealed. This was demonstrated by a Marine Spokesman who, when MARPAT was launched, said, "We want to be instantly recognised as a force to be reckoned with. We want them to see us coming a mile away in our new uniforms."  Source



Tiger - (a.k.a. Tigerstripe) is the name of a group of camouflage patterns developed for close-range use in dense jungle during jungle warfare by the South Vietnamese Armed Forces/US Forces. It derives its name from its resemblance to a tiger's stripes. It features narrow stripes that look like brush-strokes of green and brown, and broader brush-strokes of black printed over a lighter shade of olive or khaki. The brush-strokes interlock rather than overlap, as in French Lizard pattern (TAP47) from which it apparently derives. There are many variations: R.D. Johnson counted at least 19 different versions in early drafts of Tiger Patterns, his definitive work on the subject, although it is unclear if these are all different print patterns, or if they include color variations of a few different print patterns.  Source

Thursday, September 1, 2011

In case you guys didn't hear, Google is now allowing deployed U.S. service members!

From Google's blog:

"We understand that it’s not always easy or affordable for our troops serving overseas to call friends and family at home, so starting today we’re making it completely free for all uniformed military personnel with valid United States Military (.mil) email addresses to call the United States, right from Gmail.

There are two easy steps to enable free calling from Gmail (detailed instructions):
  1.  Add your valid .mil email address to your Google Account
  2.  Click on the Call phone link at the top of the Gmail chat roster and install the voice and video Gmail plugin if you haven’t already.
  3.  And don’t forget that for friends and family at home in the U.S., calling troops abroad is as little as $.02/minute.

Similar to free calling within the U.S., free calling to the U.S. for service members will be available for at least the rest of 2011.

We recognize and appreciate the sacrifices U.S. troops make when they serve abroad, and we’re proud to help make it a little bit easier for them to stay connected and hear a familiar voice." -- Link

Big ups to Google for doing this!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Pentagon Evacuation due to Earthquake


Click here for original link
By Bob Lewis - The Associated Press
Posted : Tuesday Aug 23, 2011 15:09:27 EDT

MINERAL, Va. — The most powerful earthquake to strike the East Coast in 67 years shook buildings and rattled nerves from South Carolina to Maine on Tuesday. Frightened office workers spilled into the streets in New York, and parts of the White House, Capitol and Pentagon were evacuated.

There were no immediate reports of deaths, but fire officials in Washington said there were at least some injuries.

The National Cathedral said its central tower and three of its four corner spires were damaged, but the White House said advisers had told President Barack Obama there were no reports of major damage to the nation’s infrastructure, including airports and nuclear facilities.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake registered magnitude 5.8 and was centered 40 miles northwest of Richmond, Va.

Two nuclear reactors at the North Anna Power Station, in the same county as the epicenter, were automatically taken off line by safety systems, said Roger Hannah, a spokesman for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The earthquake came less than three weeks before the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, and in both Washington and New York it immediately triggered fears of something more sinister than a natural disaster.

At the Pentagon, a low rumbling built until the building itself was shaking, and people ran into the corridors of the complex. The shaking continued there, to shouts of “Evacuate! Evacuate!”

The Park Service closed all monuments and memorials on the National Mall, and ceiling tiles fell at Reagan National Airport outside Washington. All flights there were put on hold.

In lower Manhattan, the 26-story federal courthouse, blocks from ground zero of the Sept. 11 attacks, began swaying, and hundreds of people streamed out of the building.

The New York police commissioner, Raymond Kelly, was in a meeting with top deputies planning security for the upcoming anniversary when the shaking started. Workers in the Empire State Building spilled into the streets, some having descended dozens of flights of stairs.

“I thought we’d been hit by an airplane,” said one worker, Marty Wiesner.

Another, Adrian Ollivierre, an accountant, was in his office on the 60th floor when the quake struck: “I thought I was having maybe a heart attack, and I saw everybody running. I think what it is, is the paranoia that happens from 9/11, and that’s why I’m still out here — because, I’m sorry, I’m not playing with my life.”

New York District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance was starting a news conference about the dismissal of the sexual assault case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund, when the shaking began. Reporters and aides began rushing out the door until it became clear it was subsiding.

On Wall Street, the floor of the New York Stock Exchange did not shake, officials said, but the Dow Jones industrial average sank 60 points soon after the quake struck. The Dow began rising again a half-hour later and finished the day up 322 points.

In Washington, the National Cathedral said cracks had appeared in the flying buttresses around the apse at one end. “Everyone here is safe,” the cathedral said on its official Twitter feed. “Please pray for the Cathedral as there has been some damage.”

Shaking was felt as far south as Charleston, S.C., and as far north as Maine. It was also felt on Martha’s Vineyard, off the coast of Massachusetts, where Obama is taking summer vacation and was starting a round of golf when the quake struck at 1:51 p.m. EDT.

Obama led a conference call Tuesday afternoon on the earthquake with top administration officials, including his homeland security secretary, national security adviser and administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Around Mineral, Va., a small town close to the epicenter, people milled around in their lawns, on sidewalks and parking lots, still rattled and leery of re-entering buildings. There was at least one aftershock.

All over town, masonry was crumpled, and there were stores with shelved contents strewn on the floor. Several display windows at businesses in the tiny heart of downtown were broken and lay in jagged shards.

Carmen Bonano, who has a 1-year-old granddaughter, sat on the porch of her family’s white-frame house, its twin brick chimneys destroyed. Her voice still quavered with fear.

“The fridge came down off the wall and things started falling. I just pushed the refrigerator out of the way, grabbed the baby and ran,” she said.

By the standards of the West Coast, where earthquakes are much more common, the Virginia quake was mild. Since 1900, there have been 50 quakes of magnitude 5.8 or greater in California alone. There have been 43 of magnitude 6 of greater.

Quakes in the East tend to be felt across a much broader area.

“The waves are able to reverberate and travel pretty happily out for miles,” said U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Susan Hough.

More than 12 million people live close enough to the quake’s epicenter to have felt shaking, according to the Geological Survey. The agency said put the quake in its yellow alert category, meaning there was potential for local damage but relatively little economic damage.

The USGS said the quake was 3.7 miles beneath the surface, but scientists said they may never be able to map the exact fault. Aftershocks may help to outline it, said Rowena Lohman, a seismologist at Cornell University. There were at least two aftershocks, magnitudes 2.2 and 2.8.

The last quake of equal power to strike the East Coast was in New York in 1944. The largest East Coast quake on record was a 7.3 that hit South Carolina in 1886. In 1897, a magnitude-5.9 quake was recorded at Giles County, Va., the largest on record in that state.

A 5.8-magnitude quake releases as much energy as almost eight tons of TNT, about half the power of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. The earthquake that devastated Japan earlier this year released more than 60,000 times more energy than Tuesday’s.

The Virginia quake came a day after an earthquake in Colorado toppled groceries off shelves and caused minor damage to homes in the southern part of the state and in northern New Mexico. No injuries were reported as aftershocks continued Tuesday.

On the East Coast, Amtrak said its trains along the Northeast Corridor between Baltimore and Washington were operating at reduced speeds and crews were inspecting stations and railroad infrastructure before returning to normal.

In Charleston, W.Va., hundreds of workers left the state Capitol building and employees at other downtown office buildings were asked to leave temporarily.

“The whole building shook,” said Jennifer Bundy, a spokeswoman for the state Supreme Court. “You could feel two different shakes. Everybody just kind of came out on their own.”

In Ohio, office buildings swayed in Columbus and Cincinnati, and the press box at Progressive Field, home of the Cleveland Indians, shook. At least one building near the Statehouse was evacuated in downtown Columbus.

In downtown Baltimore, the quake sent office workers into the streets, where lamp posts swayed slightly as they called family and friends to check in.

John Gurlach, air traffic controller at the Morgantown Municipal Airport in West Virginia, was in a 40-foot-tall tower when the earth trembled.

“There were two of us looking at each other saying, ‘What’s that?’” he said, even as a commuter plane was landing. “It was noticeably shaking. It felt like a B-52 unloading.”

Immediately, the phone rang from the nearest airport in Clarksburg, and a computer began spitting out green strips of paper — alerts from other airports in New York and Washington issuing ground stops “due to earthquake.”

The earthquake caused a stir online, where people posted to Facebook and Twitter within seconds and described what they had felt. The keywords in posts, or hashtags, included “DCquake,” “VAquake” and “Columbusquake,” an indication of how broadly the quake was experienced.

“People pouring out of buildings and onto the sidewalks and Into Farragut Park in downtown DC,” Kevin Madden, a Republican strategist, posted on Twitter.

Quake photos and videos also made the rounds. A handful were authentic. Many more were not — they were favorite earthquake scenes from Hollywood blockbusters or footage of people shaking their glasses and plates at an Olive Garden.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Surviving the Cut: 160th Special Ops Aviation Regiment "Nightstalkers"

With extraordinary, unprecedented access, Surviving the Cut takes viewers into the intense world of military elite forces training. From divers and snipers to para-rescue men and bomb specialists, the elite and how they earn a place in the coveted units are the focus in this compelling all new series. This episode features the U.S. Army's 160 Special Ops Aviation Regiment; the "Nightstalkers". -The Discovery Channel

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Taliban Who Downed Helo Killed in Airstrike

An airstrike involving American fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft killed the Taliban leader responsible for the ambush that killed 38 U.S. and Afghan forces over the weekend, according to the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan.

The Tuesday airstrike killed Mullah Mohibullah and another insurgent who fired the shot that brought down a CH-47 Chinook on Aug. 6, killing the 30 U.S. troops aboard.

Military officials announced the airstrike Wednesday morning. Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, told reporters about the mission during a video conference at the Pentagon.

Air Force F-16s and an AC-130H, as well as Army AH-64 Apache helicopters conducted the operation, a spokesman for NATO troops in Afghanistan told Air Force Times.

The F-16s dropped GBU-38 and GBU-54 bombs, and the Spectre fired its 105mm and 40mm cannons. The Apaches attacked insurgents with 30mm cannons.

Mohibullah’s death came after an “exhaustive manhunt” stemming from “multiple intelligence leads and tips from local citizens,” according to a release from the International Security Assistance Force, the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan.

The two men were killed while trying to flee the country. Troops tracked the men into a wooded area of the Chak district of Wardak province. The F-16 then dropped the bomb, killing Mohibullah, the shooter and several others.

Army Times Link

Monday, August 8, 2011

More Details from the Helicopter Crash

KABUL, Afghanistan — International military forces worked on Monday to recover every last piece of a Chinook helicopter that crashed over the weekend, killing 30 American troops, seven Afghan soldiers and an Afghan interpreter, NATO said.

German Brig. Gen. Carsten Jacobson, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, told reporters that troops had secured the crash site in a rugged area of eastern Wardak province and nobody was being allowed in or out of the area while the investigation was ongoing.

Jacobson said the coalition still had not yet determined the exact cause of the crash, but some officials have said the heavy and lumbering transport helicopter was apparently shot down. Officials said the helicopter was hit as it was flying in and approaching the area.

"We are still investigating this incident so we have no picture of what was the cause for the incident. That is what the investigation is basically all about," Jacobson said.

The helicopter was ferrying a group of Navy SEALs to reinforce a group of Army Rangers who were under fire. It remains unclear if the Rangers and SEALs were taking part in a night raid to capture or kill an insurgent leader.

Another NATO helicopter made a hard landing Monday in eastern Paktia province, the U.S.-led coalition said. It did not report any casualties and said the cause of the hard landing was under investigation. The coalition said there was no enemy activity in the area at the time.

The helicopter was a CH-47 of the same type that crashed on Saturday. It was flying in to pick up special operations troops, but apparently suffered a mechanical failure and crash-landed, an officer in the war zone said. He could not be named because he was not authorized to comment publicly. The crew was rescued by the troops.

The fatal crash on Saturday highlights the risks confronting the U.S.-led coalition as it looks to rely more on special operations forces while reducing the overall number of troops in Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

A current and a former U.S. official said the Americans included 22 SEALs, three Air Force members and a dog handler and his dog. The two spoke on condition of anonymity because military officials were still notifying the families of the dead.

All but two of the SEALs were from SEAL Team 6, the unit that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan last May, officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information. None of the SEALs killed in the crash took part in the bin Laden mission.

The Rangers, special operations forces who work regularly with the SEALs, secured the crash site in the Tangi Joy Zarin area of Wardak province, about 60 miles southwest of Kabul, one of the officials said.

Many of the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was still ongoing.

Eight Taliban fighters were also killed in the battle, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement.

Jacobson said that despite the tragedy, the coalition was undeterred in its mission.

"The incident as tragic as it was in its magnitude will have no influence on the conduct of operations It was a tragic day. It was a tragic loss," Jacobson said. "The campaign is going to continue. We will continue to relentlessly pursue the enemy in the fight that we are taking too them."

SEALs, Rangers and other special operations troops are expected to be the vanguard of the American military effort in Afghanistan as international military forces start pulling out, handing over control to the Afghan forces they have spent billions of dollars arming and training.

Special operations troops are expected to remain in the country after the troop withdrawal for counterterrorism missions and advisory support. Just how many will remain has not yet been negotiated with the Afghan government, but the United States is considering from 5,000 to 20,000, far fewer than the 100,000 U.S. troops there now.

Special forces are frequently used to target insurgent commanders as part of an effort to force the Taliban's leadership to agree to a negotiated peace. The operations, mostly in the form of night raids, are often carried out by Afghan and coalition special operations forces.

Night raids have drawn criticism from human rights activists and infuriated Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who says they anger and alienate the Afghan population.

Army Times Link

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Deal to Cut Defense Spending

WASHINGTON — Cuts to defense spending in the debt reduction bill could total nearly $1 trillion over 10 years — more than double what President Obama had proposed earlier this year — and sap American military might worldwide, say analysts and members of Congress.

Budget cutters may have to consider slashing costly defense systems like the U.S. military’s replacement fighter jet or increase health-care premiums for working-age military retirees to comply with a debt reduction deal that may cut as much as $900 billion from the U.S. military over 10 years.

“They could do this responsibly,” said Todd Harrison, a budget expert at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. “The reality is that it will be very difficult.”

Thomas Donnelly, a military analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, said the Pentagon cuts won’t require “long knives so much as chain saws.”

Harrison estimates the reductions in defense spending could rise to $900 billion over 10 years.

The proposed cuts would force critical weapons systems to be trimmed or eliminated along with reductions in military personnel and training while at war, Donnelly said.

“The question will be what do we do when we get a shock to our system like 9/11?” Donnelly said. “The fact is we haven’t turned down wars, not even President Obama.”

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., has argued that there is “excessive” military spending that can be eliminated in part by scaling back U.S. commitments overseas. But even Obama’s choice for chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, told the Senate last week that $800 billion in defense cuts “would be extraordinarily difficult and very high risk,” prompting some on Capitol Hill to withhold support for the debt-ceiling deal.

Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., chairman of a House Armed Services Committee on military readiness, voted against the bill and described the cuts to the military services as “staggering.” He said the deal would require the Army and Marine Corps to shed needed troops “in a world that’s not getting any safer.”

Among the areas likely to attract budget cutters attention:

• Retirees pay $230 a person or $460 a family each year, along with small co-payments for various types of care. The fees have not gone up since 1995.

• The Joint Strike Fighter, or F-35, is to replace an aging fleet of Harrier jets and protect troops in infantry assaults. The cost: $385 billion for 2,457 jets.

• The size of the ground forces. Army has about 550,000 soldiers, up about 40,000 since 2006. There are about 200,000 Marines, up from 175,000. The Pentagon already has planned to cut 27,000 soldiers and 20,000 Marines by 2015 to save about $6 billion in 2015 and 2016.

If the cuts are targeted, Harrison said, the Pentagon could be forced to make tough choices but still maintain a potent force.

“This will really forces (the military) to rethink its strategy,” Harrison said. “That’s not always a bad thing.”

Last week, in a Congressional hearing on military readiness, the No. 2 officers of the armed services said the services could absorb $400 billion in cuts that President Obama had proposed prior to the debt deal cuts. Anything more would be a problem.

“If they would exceed $400 billion, we would start to have to make some fundamental changes in the capability of the Marine Corps,” said Gen. Joseph Dunford, assistant commandant.

ArmyTimes Link:

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

New Army Physical Fitness Test (3/3)

ArmyTimes Link: http://www.armytimes.com/news/2011/04/army-test-takers-offer-advice-opinions-on-new-prt-040211w/

Roughly 10,000 soldiers at eight locations will take the new physical and combat readiness tests over the next four months to help officials establish scoring scales.

As an eager Army awaits the details, soldiers have been sharing their views on the new fitness test. They have voiced full support, utter frustration — and everything in between.

The Army’s top officer said that the new dual-test approach is “a good innovation” and that it is time for change.

“It is focused on measuring the things ... that they need in combat,” Gen. George Casey, Army chief of staff, said in an interview with Army Times. “It's moving a little bit away from endurance being everything, aerobic endurance, and to measuring different strengths.”

Capt. LaRue Robinson, an administrative law attorney at Fort Knox, Ky., also gave thumbs up, saying the new PT test will go “miles” in preventing future injuries.

“The old one did a terrible job of measuring total physical fitness, and sit-ups are bad for your back and spine,” she said in an email to Army Times. “I know many soldiers will complain … but most will see the benefits sooner or later.”

Sgt. Tony Yang isn’t so sure. A member of the 12th Psychological Operations Battalion in Mountain View, Calif., Yang liked the idea of a new test but found the changes “puzzling.”

“The test will take twice as long to conduct and require more resources than a good stopwatch and a track,” he said in an email to Army Times. “Reservists who have little time outside of battle assembly to train to excel in the new PT test will suffer disproportionately compared to the active duty army, [which has] free, convenient gym facilities, mandated PT sessions and daily scrutiny.”

Monitoring form also may prove challenging. Although many instructors said the standing long jump consumes “a ton of time,” others saw the rower as the most challenging to administer.

“There are really a lot of points to watch,” said Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Heilman, a drill sergeant with Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment. “Even experienced graders can get burnout just paying attention,” he told Army Times.

James Culak, an ROTC cadet at the University of Tampa, ditched the traditional running, push-ups and sit-ups and implemented the PRT program this semester. The battalion’s APFT average has increased, and overuse injuries have decreased.

“It is a shame that we have been in combat for almost 10 years and we are just now beginning to implement a new PT test that will be more combat specific,” Culak said in an email to Army Times. “How many soldiers could we have saved from [medical retirement] had we just implemented a better system of preparing their bodies physically for the demands of combat, instead of worrying how many times they can flex their spines in two minutes?”

But self-described “old timer” Sgt. First Class Laurie Schultz is concerned about how older soldiers will handle the new events.

“I believe that this PT test forced on anyone over 40 is asking for major injuries,” she said. “Asking anyone over 50 to perform an APFT is wrong.”

This concern was echoed by Col. Kevin Madden, defense and Army attaché in Seoul, South Korea. He said in an email to Army Times that it was right to shorten the run and push-ups to a more “anaerobically demanding” distance and time, but feels the standing long-jump should be axed.

“The inclusion of an event that cannot be substantially improved unless incredible effort is invested ... is not an effective measure of readiness or fitness — just genetic potential,” said Madden, who has more than three decades of experience coaching track and field at all levels and disciplines. “Consideration should also be given to the degradation of the fibers, ligaments and tendons caused by aging. After age 30, the ability to jump becomes significantly impaired. Continuous jumping will accelerate the development of arthritis and bursitis in all but the most hearty of soldiers.”

Rather than focus on the new events, many soldiers such as Staff Sgt. Michael Howard are simply happy to see the end of sit-ups.

“They are bad for your cervical spine,” the North Carolina National Guard paramedic said. “I can't do them as well as the other events. I can still hump a 40-pound ruck up a mountain and run like a deer. So what does making sit-ups measure? Nothing.”

A number of others were unhappy that pull-ups weren’t included in the new test. Hertling agreed that the pull-up is the best measure for upper body strength. But he and the team of 16 fitness and nutrition experts that built the test didn’t include pull-ups because they wanted men and women to do the same exercises.

“Some folks will say it’s too hard and some folks will say it’s too easy,” Hertling said. “But once they apply this, they’ll find this approach to training and testing is the right way to achieve and maintain the type of fitness today’s soldier needs.”

Part 1 Here
Part 2 Here

Monday, April 4, 2011

New Army Physical Fitness Test (2/3)

ArmyTimes Link: http://www.armytimes.com/news/2011/04/army-test-takers-offer-advice-opinions-on-new-prt-040211w/

The PRT program replaced the 10-year-old physical fitness field manual and incorporates sprinting, climbing drills and other high-intensity exercises that mimic the challenges soldiers face in combat. Everything in the test is covered in the training.

Frank Palkoska, director of the Army Physical Fitness School, said operational units using PRT are seeing a 20- to 30-point improvement in the current test. But this Army-wide program still lacks wide participation. Many units are still using the old program, or electing to go with popular fitness programs sweeping the nation.

But Sgt. First Class Cornelius Trammell said, “If you want to be successful in combat and in your career, you need to get on with the PRT and train your soldiers properly.”

“All of the stuff in the PRT is implemented out here,” he said. “If you do PRT right, you’re going to fly through this test.”

Shoenfelt, a 12-year infantryman who regularly scores a 300 on the PT test, had just finished the CRT, which may replace one of the two PT tests soldiers do each year. He called that test a “smoker” that challenged a lot of muscle groups that hadn’t been challenged before.

He demonstrated the CRT with fellow instructor Trammell. The duo wore the Army Combat Uniform with helmet and rifle for the CRT, which kicks off with a 400-meter run followed by an obstacle course. The soldiers pushed through low hurdles, high crawls and over-under obstacles that tested individual movement techniques. Next was a 40-yard casualty drag of a 180-pound litter, followed by a 40-yard run with 35-pound ammo cans atop a balance beam.

With muscles burning, the pair conducted point, aim and move drills followed by a 100-yard ammo can shuttle sprint. The CRT wrapped up with a 100-yard agility sprint.

Trammell came in at 5 minutes flat. The wheeled vehicle mechanic, who scored a 278 on the last PT test, said his thighs were still feeling the effects of the casualty drag. Shoenfelt was 13 seconds behind him. As they caught their breath, a lean and weathered general offered his blunt philosophy behind the CRT.

“When it comes time for the current test, people who are in shape don’t prepare for it while others cram in the weeks ahead,” said Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, who as deputy commanding general for initial military training was chief architect of the new test. “With this test, even if you are in great shape, it will get the best of you if you are not prepared.”

There was no argument from a winded Hernandez, who described the new test as “more physically demanding.” Foster said it is a “better measuring tool.”

“You can be fat and out of shape and pass the old APFT. That’s impossible with this one,” she said.

“There is a key difference between readiness and fitness,” Hertling said. “This test is about readiness. It’s about soldiers being ready to be a tactical athlete.”

Part 1 Here
Part 3 will be posted later this week.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

New Army Physical Fitness Test (1/3)

ArmyTimes Link: http://www.armytimes.com/news/2011/04/army-test-takers-offer-advice-opinions-on-new-prt-040211w/

And with good reason. Staff Sgt. Timothy Shoenfelt, drawing deep breaths and dripping with sweat, had just completed his first run of the new combat readiness test. He was one of four instructors from the Army Physical Fitness School to test the new fitness tests March 1.

Two weeks later, more than a dozen drill sergeants took the Army Physical Readiness Test before administering it to 137 basic-training soldiers.

Despite the vast differences in ages, body sizes, years of service and gender, all participants gave similar advice to an Army that awaits the change: Get ready. And you can do that by following two simple rules, they said.

• First: Give attention to form. The five-event physical fitness test marks the first change to the test in more than 30 years. Knowing the rules and right form for each event will enhance your scores. The wrong form will hinder your success.

For example, don’t take your good push-up scores for granted. The days of free-styling push-ups with wide arms or closed hands are over. Now, the index finger has to be aligned with outside of the shoulder. And it is harder than it sounds.

Sgt. First Class Jason Waller found out the hard way. The 18-year veteran saw his number of push-ups cut by half because of the restricted position and inability to rest.

“New soldiers don’t have as much of an issue with the form, because that is how they are taught to do push-ups,” he said. “But for soldiers who have been in awhile, there will be some breaking of old habits.”

This was clear for Staff Sgt. Danica Foster, a drill sergeant at the physical fitness school who demonstrated the events March 1. The observer quickly put her efforts to an end when Foster paused halfway through the push-ups to get a better position, much to her dismay.

Pfc. Joseph Kalsic said 20 percent of his push-ups didn’t count because his hands were too far apart.

“It’s all in the form,” he said.

In the rower event, about 10 percent of reps were not counted because they were not done properly. Participants had trouble keeping their feet together.

“I always maxed out on sit-ups, but only scored in the low 30s on the rower,” said Staff Sgt. Abner Baker, a drill sergeant. “I don’t know how many I did that didn’t count. You definitely need to learn to do them right.”

One thing that leads to a breakdown of form is the abdominal burn that results, said Staff Sgt. Luis Hernandez, a drill sergeant at the physical fitness school.

“When you’re doing a sit-up, you’re using abs and part of your legs,” he said. “With the rower, it is all abs — and you can feel it.”

And even something as simple as placing a wooden block behind the starting line, a requirement of the 60-yard shuttle run, can prove catastrophic.

“I saw soldiers running hard, but they would drop the block too soon,” said Pvt. Jeremy Tilley. “The drill sergeants kept telling them, but people kept doing it and it cost them a lot of time.”

Parts 2 and 3 will be posted this week.