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VIGILANT Rising threats pose new challenges for U.S. military

‘A VOLATILE WORLD’ Defense secretary confronts global conflicts

FORGING AHEAD Pentagon opens up all combat roles to women

TRAINING DAY Massive exercises focus on troop readiness

LASER WARFARE Putting the ‘zap’ in new weapons systems










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DEFENSE Q&A Secretary Carter charts a course for DOD in his first year MIDEAST MISSIONS Focusing on a region in turmoil PACIFIC PIVOT Tensions keep U.S. and its allies on alert


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TRAINING DAY U.S. soldiers parachute in during an exercise at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

ARMY Emphasizing combat readiness NAVY Maintaining nuclear might MARINE CORPS Moving from ship to shore AIR FORCE Prioritizing air superiority NATIONAL GUARD Holding steady on deployments








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Jeanette Barrett-Stokes CREATIVE DIRECTOR


Michelle Washington

CYBER WARFARE Stakes are high in the battle to keep defense data safe F-35 FIGHTER New high-tech stealth jet nears the finish line DRONE DIGEST The latest in unmanned systems IMPROVISED THREATS Preparing for any danger LASER FOCUSED New weapons are now a reality


Christine Neff




Chris Garsson, Elizabeth Neus, Hannah Prince, Sara Schwartz DESIGNERS



Ashleigh Carter, Miranda Pellicano, Gina Toole Saunders, Lisa M. Zilka


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Matt Alderton, Mary Helen Berg, Carmen Gentile, Adam Hadhazy, Cindy Kuzma, Erik Schechter, Marc Selinger, Kirk Spitzer, Adam Stone, Stephanie Anderson Witmer




VP, ADVERTISING Patrick Burke | (703) 854-5914 ACCOUNT DIRECTOR




Justine Goodwin | (703) 854-5444


Lynnae Brown



Air Force Lt. Col. Christine Mau is the first female pilot in the F-35 fighter jet program.

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Cl Clockwise from top left: A U.S. Marine Corps vehicle co commander at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq; an F-16 at Tyndall Air Ai Force Base in Florida; Army 1st Lt. Elyse Ping Medvigy, the first female company fire support officer Me to serve in an Infantry Brigade Combat Team supporting Op Operation Enduring Freedom; and the aircraft carrier US Dwight D. Eisenhower. USS CPL. AKEEL AUSTIN/U.S. MARINE CORPS; AIR FORCE SENIOR MASTER SGT. BETH HOLL HOLLIKER/OHIO NATIONAL GUARD; STAFF SGT. WHITNEY HOUSTON/U.S. ARMY; PETT PETTY OFFICER 3RD CLASS JAMESON E. LYNCH/U.S. NAVY

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TRAINING DAY Troops hone their skills in joint exercises around the world HONOR THE FALLEN U.S. service members who lost their lives in 2015 HIGH-SEAS TRIBUTE Navy ships bear the names of fallen troops FINAL FRONTIER Armed forces prepare to open up all jobs to women THE BUDDY SYSTEM Army program lets friends, relatives enlist together LGBT IN THE MILITARY The year brings changes for gay, transgender troops UNIQUE JOBS Assignments can be anything but uniform in the services SHOPPING TRENDS A close-up look at commissaries SPOUSES KNOW BEST Popular bloggers offer advice, insights on military life CIVILIAN EMPLOYMENT Stepping up support for transitioning service members WHEN DUTY CALLS The three men awarded highest military honor in 2015







Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter meets U.S. Army troops at the Demilitarized Zone, which separates South Korea and North Korea, on Nov. 1 during an Asia-Pacific trip.

DEFENDING THE NATION Closing in on his first full year as defense secretary, Carter outlines strategies and goals

By Erik Schechter


SHTON B. CARTER PLUNGED into the deep end of the pool when he replaced Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense in February. Carter faces a world riven with conflict, from jihadi terrorism spreading in Europe to ongoing Russian interference in eastern Ukraine to chaos in Syria and Iraq. At the same time, he is addressing significant internal policy matters, such as how to clamp down on sexual assault in the armed services and overseeing the integration of women into all military combat roles. Unlike his predecessor, Carter has deep roots in the defense

establishment. From 2011 to 2013, he served as the deputy secretary of defense, and before that, he was the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics (ATL), spearheading procurement reform in the Department of Defense with the Better Buying Power initiative in 2010. He has also served as assistant secretary of defense for international security policy, sat on various defense advisory groups and won multiple civilian medals, including five DOD Distinguished Service Medals, the department’s highest honor. In November, USA TODAY conducted a written Q&A with Carter regarding his first year in office and the challenges the U.S. military is facing.





You took office in February. Let’s talk about your term so far. What would you count as some of your successes? What has been your knottiest challenge? CARTER: We live in a volatile world that presents numerous, highly complicated challenges to our national security. As secretary of defense, I must ensure the Pentagon is both postured to meet the threats of today while driving change so this institution can seize opportunities in the future. This year alone, we accelerated our campaign against ISIL, built a new playbook with NATO allies to address Russia’s aggressive actions and augmented support for allies and partners in Asia as China reclaims land in the South China Sea. We have made cyber an even higher priority, both in defense of our networks and in partnership with allies. At the same time, we have also taken important steps to make our department better connected to 21st-century talent, worked to rebuild bridges between the Pentagon and Silicon Valley and made a number of investments from which the department will be better suited to confront a next generation of threats.

“There should be no mistake: The United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, as U.S. forces do all over the world.”

We’ve been fighting a global war on terror for 14 years now. Osama bin Laden is dead. Mullah Omar is dead. We have built coalitions, shared intelligence, trained local fighters and conducted drone strikes from Yemen to Pakistan. But we still have groups like Boko Haram, ISIL and various al-Qaeda affiliates. What have we been doing wrong, and how do we defeat these groups once and for all? Even before ISIL’s attack on Paris, we had been working to accelerate the fight in Iraq and Syria — increasing airstrikes, targeting leaders, ISIL’s oil infrastructure and seeking to bisect the territory ISIL controls. We have learned from the past 14 years that it is not enough to defeat a barbaric group like ISIL. We must do so in a way that makes them stay defeated. This requires capable, local forces, motivated to hold and govern territory. We must also be prepared to address the challenge posed by terrorism for the long term. We are, therefore, building the structure for a transregional approach relying on infrastructure in Afghanistan, the Levant, East Africa and Southern Europe. These counter-terrorism hubs provide the U.S. a forward presence to respond to crises and enable our partners to address threats. Last year, Russia invaded and illegally annexed Ukraine’s Crimea. It is still supporting separatist rebels in the eastern part of the country, and it has CO N T I N U E D




THE POLICIES been developing the SSC-X-8 cruise missile in violation of the IntermediateRange Nuclear Forces Treaty. What are we doing to (a) counter Russia and (b) reassure our Eastern European allies that we will actually fight to protect them if need be? One of my major focuses of this year has been working with NATO allies and partners to develop a 21st-century playbook to address the challenge posed by Russia. We must be prepared as an alliance to defeat hybrid warfare, defend cyberspace and better integrate conventional and nuclear deterrence. At the same time, we also have to realize that in some instances, the principal weight of our leverage is economic and political and a stronger posture in the region must be integrated with the rest of our government’s power. We are taking a strong and balanced approach to deter Russia’s aggression, to help reduce the vulnerability of allies and partners while at the same time leaving open the possibility that Russia will change course and we can work together on some of our shared challenges. Both you and Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have recently spent SENIOR MASTER SGT. ADRIAN CADIZ time in the Asia-Pacific region. How Carter departs the USS Theodore Roosevelt in a V-22 Osprey after visiting the aircraft carrier in the South China Sea in November. are the threats posed by China and North Korea impacting the outlook of our allies? And will they cause the U.S. years of defense planning and raises dent with options to address future threats, international law. to speed up or adjust in some way the caps on annual defense spending by $25 across the full spectrum of operations, Meanwhile, the United States will current rebalancing plan to the Asiabillion, but it still falls $5 billion short around the globe. This is an important step continue to protect freedom of navigation Pacific region? of what the Pentagon wanted for fiscal in the modernization of our nuclear triad. and overflight — principles that have As a Pacific nation, a trading nation and year 2016. In what ways does this affect As the acquisition and operating environensured security and prosperity in this an ally and partner to so many nations military readiness for the next few ment evolves, the Air Force will continue to from Japan to India, the United States will region for decades. There should be no years? analyze the composition of the LRS-B and no doubt continue the rebalance. We are mistake: The United States will fly, sail and I appreciate the bipartisan effort that legacy fleets. operate wherever international law allows, strengthening our partnerships, our presled to a budget agreement that supports as U.S. forces do all over ence and posture in the The losing Boeing-Lockheed team our defense strategy, our personnel and the world. Asia-Pacific region, so is now protesting the LRS-B decision. their families and all elements of America’s that it continues to be a The two companies are claiming that national security and strength with In October, Northrop part of the world where “We must also the U.S. Air Force did not consider stable funding above sequestration levels. Grumman was everyone rises together. be prepared to new manufacturing techniques when Since becoming secretary of defense, I’ve awarded a contract U.S. support for these assessing whether their team was up consistently advocated for a multi-year to develop and begin principles is one of the address the to the bomber job. In your opinion, budget deal, and while this agreement early production of reasons that we have so challenge posed does Congress need to fix the protest does not restore every dollar the Defense the Long Range Strike many friends and allies mechanism so that a defense contractor Department requested for fiscal years 2016 Bomber (LRS-B), in Asia. They are drawn by terrorism for with a losing bid has to think real hard and 2017, reaching this compromise sends designed to penetrate to us because of our the long term.” before running off to the Government an important signal of strength to both our and survive highvalues and the benefits Accountability Office with a complaint? allies and our adversaries, and it tells our threat environments. our political, economic Ensuring that taxpayer dollars are people that their leaders can come together For now, the plan is and military capabilities efficiently and effectively spent requires an on their behalf to provide much-needed to build a total of 100 provide. open and transparent acquisition process, budget stability and certainty. LRS-Bs. But should the U.S. Air Force Along with many of our Pacific partners including the opportunity for participants The Defense Department will use the consider buying more than 100 LRS-Bs and nations across the world, the United to raise concerns. Although I am not able additional funds provided by this deal to to recapitalize the fleet if the Pacific States is deeply concerned about the to comment on the ongoing protest, the invest in the readiness of our force, in the really is the problem region of the pace and scope of land reclamation in the department is always willing to work with modernization of critical weapons systems, future? South China Sea, the prospect of further Congress on ways to make the process and in the technological advancements that The LRS-B is designed to operate militarization, as well as the potential more efficient. will propel us well into the 21st century. for these activities to increase the risk of effectively in anti-access and area denial One of the challenges is that we have not environments in multiple regions of the miscalculation. The United States does not received relief on many of the reforms we In early November, President Obama world. Our current assessment is that 100 take a position on the claims, and we make signed the Bipartisan Budget Act of aircraft will provide capacity for sustained no claims of our own. We want all parties 2015 into law. The budget gives you two combat operations and provide the presito resolve their disputes peacefully within CO N T I N U E D






SWEEPING CHANGES IN COMMAND 2015 brought key changes in personnel to the Department of Defense, starting at the top


A U.S. service member salutes Carter during the secretary’s visit in July to a Jordanian air base, where he met with troops and coalition officials involved in the fight against ISIL. have requested from Congress to reduce excess base capacity and retired old systems. We’re going to need flexibility from Congress to ensure we can do this in the near future. The U.S. military has had trouble attracting and retaining top talent. To correct this, you have pushed for a “Force of the Future” program that will “increase permeability of personnel and ideas between the public and private sector.” What are some of the specific initiatives that make up this program? And is there a danger that DOD personnel spending time at a particular company as corporate fellows might later show favoritism to that company? We want to make it easier for more of our people to gain new skills, experiences and perspectives to help keep us strong, creative and forward-thinking. We also want to improve our ability to recruit new talent among future generations that have a different view of professional advancement than the generations before them. The Corporate Fellowships, Entrepreneurs in Residence, and the Career Intermission Program that I announced at George Washington University in November are just some of the ways we will attract and incentive the best talent going forward. This is not about favoring any one company. On the contrary, we are looking to reach out to many different companies and organizations large and small to bring back new ideas and experience to the Department of Defense. In 2014, at least 10,400 servicemen and 8,500 servicewomen experienced

unwanted sexual contact. You’ve discussed the need for new ways to combat sexual assault and retaliation within the military. What solutions are being devised? Should military commanders be barred from adjudicating cases involving sexual assault? My highest priority is to the men and women who serve our nation every day, and I remain deeply concerned about the prevalence of sexual assault in the military. We must continue to build a culture that does not condone or ignore sexual harassment and sexual assault. While recent data shows evidence of progress in the Department of Defense’s ability to prevent and respond to sexual assault, we must build on these efforts as long as these problems persist. Everyone must know that they can and should report a sexual assault without fear of retaliation. To make this so, we are working to reinforce our military culture of core values. Further, we are updating our prevention strategy to stop these incidents before they happen. And we are making it clear that when victims are most vulnerable, their fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines have a responsibility to stand by them in solidarity and ensure they receive the treatment and support they deserve. A congressionally directed, independent panel of experts found no evidence to support that removing commanders from our justice system would improve prosecutions or increase reporting of the crime. Commanders are critical to the military justice system, and the adjudication process of these cases is important. Preventing sexual assault is everyone’s responsibility in the U.S. military.

Ashton B. Carter, a physicist and Yale University graduate whose lengthy tenure in the DOD included serving as deputy secretary of defense from 2011 to 2013, was confirmed by the Senate as secretary of defense in February. He succeeded Chuck Hagel, who resigned. Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., Marine Corps commandant and former commander of allied forces in Afghanistan, became the nation’s highest-ranking military officer when he began serving as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in October. He succeeded retiring Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey. Gen. Paul J. Selva, an Air Force command pilot and commander of U.S. Transportation Command at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois, was sworn in as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in July, becoming the nation’s second highest-ranking military officer. He succeeded Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., who retired. Eric K. Fanning became the acting secretary of the Army in November pending Senate confirmation of his nomination to the post. Fanning, who will be the military’s first openly gay service secretary once he is confirmed, had been appointed undersecretary of the Army, and has also served as Carter’s chief of staff and the undersecretary of the Air Force. He replaces John McHugh, the second longest-serving secretary of the Army.

Gen. Robert B. Neller, an infantry officer and commander of Marine Forces Command, replaced Dunford as Marine Corps commandant in September. Adm. John M. Richardson, a submarine officer and director of naval reactors, became chief of naval operations in September, succeeding Adm. Jonathan Greenert, who retired. Gen. Mark A. Milley, commander of U.S. Army Forces Command and a combat veteran of Panama, Iraq and Afghanistan, was sworn in as Army chief of staff in August. He replaced Gen. Raymond Odierno, who retired. Army Maj. Gen. Camille Nichols, a career contracting and acquisitions officer who served in Afghanistan and Iraq and in the first Gulf War, was named director of the DOD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office in June. Army Lt. Gen. Sean B. MacFarland was appointed by Carter in September to become the new commander general of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. As head of Combined Joint Task ForceOperation Inherent Resolve, MacFarland is the commander of counter-ISIL activities in both Iraq and Syria.

Contributing: David Jackson, Gregory Korte, Jim Michaels, Tom Vanden Brook






TAKING ITS TOLL A machine gunner with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, provides security at Al Taqaddum Air Base in Iraq in October in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. SGT. RICK HURTADO/U.S. MARINE CORPS

The war against the Islamic State intensifies as tensions mount at home


STEPPED-UP CAMPAIGN AGAINST Islamic jihadists in the Mideast and a decision to keep troops in Afghanistan continues to command the involvement of the U.S. military — and the attention of the American public — as 2015 comes to a close. In the air, U.S. and coalition forces are continuing airstrikes in Iraq and Syria as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, which is being waged against the Islamic State and killing thousands of Islamic State fighters even as more continue to replenish their ranks. On the ground, the U.S. is sending special operations troops to Iraq and Syria, and

President Obama recently committed to maintaining a significant number of troops in Afghanistan to assist the local government. These efforts come amid a rising tide of terrorist activity in recent weeks that’s heightened tensions at home: Coordinated attacks in Paris on Nov. 13 killed 130, and the Dec. 2 shooting deaths of 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif., were carried out by a husband and wife who officials say had been radicalized. Following a strategy session with top generals and national security advisers at the Pentagon on Dec. 14, Obama said that his administration is “moving forward with a great sense of urgency” against the

Since the summer, the percentage of attack A team of special planes dropping bombs during missions has operations troops also increased. In July will be sent to Iraq and August, half of the warplanes returned to to conduct raids, base without dropping free hostages weapons, Army Col. Steve Warren, the military’s and capture ISIL spokesman in Baghdad, said in December. By leaders. October, 60 percent of the planes attacked ISIL targets, and November’s figure was 65 percent. TARGETED ATTACKS A key part of the U.S. strategy in recent The U.S.-led bombing campaign that weeks has been to attack the oil smuggling began in August 2014 in Iraq and spread to that gives the Islamic State much of its Syria a month later targets ISIL fighters and revenue. equipment. Top military officials estimate The U.S. has also taken note of terrorist that the campaign has killed 23,000 Islamic leaders who have been killed, including State fighters, raising their death toll by “Jihadi John,” who the Pentagon is 3,000 since mid-October.

Islamic State. “ISIL leaders cannot hide, and our message to them is simple: You are next,” said Obama, who took note of successes — more bombs being dropped, more territory being regained, more allies joining the fight — but acknowledged that it’s not enough. “Progress needs to happen faster,” he said.



THE POLICIES “reasonably certain” was killed by a U.S. October, Army Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler drone strike in Syria on Nov. 12. Also known of Oklahoma, a Special Forces soldier who as Mohammed Emwazi, he appeared in went to the aid of Kurdish commandos, numerous Islamic state videos beheading became the first U.S. soldier to die in combat Western hostages. in Iraq since 2011. The U.S.-led coalition campaign appears KURDISH ALLIES to be rattling the militants and leading to In October, the Pentagon admitted that its defections from the ranks of Islamic State years-long effort to train and equip “moderfighters. ate” Syrian rebels was not working and But ISIL continues to field about 20,000 announced it would be to 30,000 fighters in Iraq “paused.” Only five of the and Syria as it draws thousands of recruits on more fighters from those TARGETED which millions of dollars two countries, and it AIRSTRIKES were spent actually made holds the key Iraqi cities it back to the battlefield. of Mosul and Ramadi as IN IRAQ AND The U.S. appeared to well as large portions of SYRIA gain a reliable ally over Syria and Raqqa, ISIL’s AS OF DEC. 9 the course of the year self-proclaimed capital in the Syrian Kurdish there. Airstrikes did help fighters known as the Iraqi forces retake the city People’s Protection Units, of Tikrit, the birthplace or YPG. Backed by U.S. of Saddam Hussein, and strikes advisers and airstrikes, Iraqi security forces are have been conducted the Kurdish fighters, along making gains in retaking by U.S. and with counterparts in Ramadi. coalition partners Iraq, have dealt blows to The U.S. is also seeking ISIL, including a Kurdish more help from other peshmerga-led attack countries to help wage that seized the strategic the fight against the village of Sinjar in northIslamic State. of those strikes ern Iraq in November. have been conducted by COMMITTING Carter has said he the U.S.: 4,005 in Iraq and MORE TROOPS remains “convinced that 2,841 in Syria a lasting defeat of ISIL in About 3,500 U.S. Syria will depend in part troops are in Iraq, mainly on the success of local, training and advising motivated and capable Iraqi security forces. ground forces.” ISIL’s staying power, sorties Complicating the war in part, has prompted have been flown by in Syria was Russia’s the Pentagon to deepen aircraft from U.S. and decision to join in the its involvement in Iraq partner nations as of fight on behalf of the and Syria. Secretary of Dec. 5 (estimated) besieged Syrian regime Defense Ashton B. Carter and President Bashar announced on Dec. 1 Assad. Though Russian that a team of special President Vladimir Putin operations troops will be professed to be targeting sent to Iraq to conduct billion the same enemies as the raids, free hostages and is the total cost of U.S., namely the Islamic capture ISIL leaders. He operations related to ISIL State, many of the initial also vowed to bolster from Aug. 8, 2014, to Nov airstrikes by Russian a team of 50 special 15, 2015; the average daily warplanes attacked the operators sent to train cost is $11 million for 465 rebel groups the U.S. is local forces in Syria. days of operation backing. Despite some calls for SOURCE: DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE The intervention led to the deployment of U.S. the U.S. and Russia signing ground forces, Carter has a memo of understanding told senators that adding that laid out safety a significant U.S. ground protocols for their air crews. force would be counterproductive and In late November, however, Turkey shot would “Americanize” the fight and result in down a Russian plane that crossed into its backlash. airspace, kicking off a diplomatic row. The But Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who chairs Pentagon has deployed fighter jets to Turkey the Senate Armed Services Committee, to protect slow-flying U.S. attack planes said he didn’t understand Carter’s logic and hitting Islamic State targets in Syria and to called for a U.S.-led international force to deter Russian aggression in the region. defeat ISIL. “We are not winning this war, and time is not on our side,” McCain said. During a raid to free 70 ISIL hostages in CO N T I N U E D



59,877 $5.2


In response to Turkey’s request to support its combat air patrol mission, the U.S. sent fighter jets to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, top, in November. And as the war against ISIL continued this year, U.S.-led coalition airstrikes in Syria and Iraq targeted the Islamic State, including this strike on Nov. 10 on an ISIL position near the town of Hole, Rojava, Syria.




In October, Obama announced that he was abandoning his plan to withdraw nearly all U.S. troops from Afghanistan, saying that a force of 9,800 would be kept in the country for most of next year and a contingent of 5,500 for 2017. “While America’s combat mission in Afghanistan may be over, our commitment to Afghanistan and its people endures,” Obama said in announcing a policy reversal that basically prolongs American involvement in the longest war in U.S. history. Obama, who had planned to reduce the number of U.S. troops to around 1,000, stressed the bigger residual force will not be engaged in combat operations. They will instead be involved in the “narrow but critical missions” of counter-terrorism operations and the ongoing training of Afghan security forces, he said. While Afghan forces have improved in recent months, he said, they are “still not as strong as they need to be” and require sustained U.S. assistance. The drawdown in Afghanistan from a fighting force that once topped 100,000 to 10,000 had signaled the start of a new mission: advising and assisting the stillwobbly Afghan Security Forces (ASG) in its effort to maintain a fragile democracy that barely extends beyond the city limits of the capital, Kabul. Though their numbers top 350,000, Afghan soldiers and police faced serious challenges in all corners of the country,

including the Taliban takeover of the northern city of Kunduz. The ASG managed to eventually force the Taliban from Kunduz with the help of U.S. airstrikes, which also led to the accidental bombing of a civilian trauma hospital run by Doctors Without Borders, killing 30 patients and medical staff in October. Army Gen. John Campbell, who commands the Afghanistan mission, called the bombing a “tragic mistake” caused primarily by human error. U.S. forces have remained on the sidelines of the fights, but IEDs and attacks resulted in the deaths of several American troops and contractors in 2015. Overall, the security condition in Afghanistan “worsened, but did not deteriorate catastrophically,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a security and intelligence expert at the Brookings Institution. “The transition process itself was about as well done as one could expect when you are dealing with a war zone and trying to hand off near full responsibility to an indigenous force created over the last decade fighting a determined enemy that NATO itself hasn’t managed to appreciably weaken in the time it’s been fighting the war,” said O’Hanlon. “I’m not sure it is realistic to have expected things to go better than they have.” Contributing: Oren Dorell, Carmen Gentile, David Jackson, Gregory Korte, Jim Michaels, Doug Stanglin, Tom Vanden Brook


Troops from the Syrian Democratic Forces, which includes Arabs and Kurds willing to fight ISIL, prepare to head to the frontline near the ISIL-held town of Hole, Rojava, Syria, Nov. 9.



U.S. airmen store munitions at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia in July in support of the war against the Islamic State.

The Air Force has fired more than 20,000 missiles and bombs in the air war against the Islamic State, depleting its stocks of munitions and prompting the service to scour depots around the world for more weapons and to find money to buy them, according to records obtained by USA TODAY. “We’re in the business of killing terrorists and business is good,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said in a statement. “We need to replenish our munitions stock. Weapons take years to produce from the day the contract is assigned until they roll off the production line.” The Air Force carries out most of the bombing runs that are occurring in Iraq and Syria. Navy and Marine pilots, and several other countries, also fly missions. The bombing runs have sent logistics troops scrambling to keep up with the demand. — Tom Vanden Brook






On a tour of the Demilitarized Zone in the Republic of Korea on Nov. 2, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. is briefed by a Republic of Korea soldier.



U.S. faces heightened challenges as it pivots to the west

By Kirk Spitzer


EW CHINESE ISLANDS, NORTH Korean missiles, a more assertive Japanese defense force and the ongoing U.S. military “rebalancing” toward the west were among the key issues dominating the

Asia-Pacific defense landscape in 2015. And with defense budgets rising across the region, the coming year looks as if it will be no simpler in this economically vital region. “The overall security situation in the Asia-Pacific region has gotten a bit worse and certainly more complicated in the

past year,” said Ralph Cossa, president of the Center for Strategic & International Studies’ Pacific Forum CSIS, a think tank in Honolulu. The Asia-Pacific region has become heavily militarized. Seven of the world’s 10 largest militaries and five of the world’s declared nuclear powers are located there,

according to U.S. Pacific Command. AsiaPacific defense spending by countries in the region grew by 27 percent from 2010, reaching $344 billion in 2014, according to the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London. The arms buildup is being led by China, which has seen double-digit increases in



THE POLICIES Military exercises conducted in Japan this October included U.S. Marines and Japanese soldiers practicing riot control, left, at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni. As part of Blue Chromite 16, a large-scale amphibious exercise, Marines built a bridge at Camp Hansen in Okinawa, Japan, below.


A satellite image taken in March shows vessels purportedly dredging sand at a reef in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. China has been creating artificial islands in the island group. AFP PHOTO/CSIS ASIA MARITIME TRANSPARENCY INITIATIVE/DIGITALGLOBE

annual defense spending for nearly two decades (it spent an estimated $216 billion on defense in 2014). “Over the past two decades, China’s People’s Liberation Army has transformed itself from a large but antiquated force into a capable, modern military. Its technology and operational proficiency still lag behind those of the United States, but it has rapidly narrowed the gap,” the RAND Corp. concluded in a recent report.


China has been pressing aggressive territorial demands across the region. It’s been engaged in a tense standoff with Japan over the Senkaku Islands — which China calls Diaoyu — in the East China Sea. And it has claimed nearly all of the strategic South China Sea, which also is

claimed in part or entirely by five other countries. China is backing up its claims — delineated by a so-called “nine-dash line” — by dredging to create artificial islands on seven geographic features in the Spratly Islands group. Several of those new islands include military-size airfields and deepwater ports that U.S. officials believe could be used to disrupt sea or air navigation in the vital waterway. The U.S. Department of Defense’s AsiaPacific Maritime Security Strategy noted that as of June 2015, China had reclaimed 2,900 acres of land in the South China Sea since its island-building campaign began in December 2013. “When one looks at China’s pattern of provocative actions towards smaller claimant states — the lack of clarity on its

sweeping ‘nine-dash line’ claim that is inconsistent with international law — and the deep asymmetry between China’s capabilities and those of its smaller neighbors — well, it’s no surprise that the scope and pace of building man-made islands raise serious questions about Chinese intentions,” said Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr. in a speech at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Canberra in March. Harris assumed command of the U.S. Pacific Command in May. U.S. officials reacted to the island-building campaign — belatedly, in the view of some critics — by sending a guided missile frigate, the USS Lassen, within 12 miles of one of China’s new islands in late October in a “freedom of navigation” operation CO N T I N U E D


“What’s pretty certain is that North Korea will not be giving up its nuclear weapons anytime soon.” — Ralph Cossa, Pacific Forum CSIS



THE POLICIES meant to assert navigational rights in international waters. China, which has claimed “indisputable sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and the adjacent waters,” condemned the action. The U.S. takes no position on competing sovereignty claims in the South China Sea but said that disputes should be resolved peacefully and that China’s new islands provide no territorial rights. Of the 35 “freedom of navigation” operations conducted by the U.S. Navy in 2014, 19 took place in Pacific Command’s area of operations. “We want a peaceful resolution of all disputes, and an immediate and lasting halt to land reclamation by any claimant,” Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter said earlier in the year. “We also oppose any further militarization of disputed features. … There should be no mistake MASS COMMUNICATION SPECIALIST 3RD CLASS PATRICK DIONNE/U.S. NAVY about this, the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, as we do all around the world.” The U.S. is heavily committed to the region. Some 368,000 military personnel are stationed in the Asia-Pacific, including 97,000 west of the International Dateline, and that force is slated to grow. The Navy plans to increase the number of ships assigned to the U.S. Pacific Fleet in areas outside of U.S. territory by roughly 30 percent over the next five years. By 2020, 60 percent of the Navy’s ships and planes will be based or home-ported in the Asia-Pacific region, including four of the Navy’s new Littoral Combat Ships (designed to operate near the shore as well as in open waters), which will rotate through port facilities in Singapore. This year has already seen a major buildup in naval forces. The newly upgraded aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan joined the U.S. 7th Fleet, based at YokoMASS COMMUNICATION SPECIALIST 3RD CLASS NATHAN BURKE/U.S. NAVY suka, Japan, earlier this year, replacing the The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan sails east of the Korean Peninsula in October. USS George Washington. During a live-fire drill in August, the USS Fitzgerald, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, fires a Harpoon missile. The Fitzgerald was on patrol in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility in the IndoAsia-Pacific region.

A MAJOR PLAYER The territory covered by U.S. Pacific Command includes:







Two new Aegis-class destroyers will join 7th Fleet this year, as well, and several older ships have been replaced with newer versions. U.S. naval forces on Guam added another attack submarine — for a total of four — this year and are expected to add a Joint High-Speed Vessel by 2018. A plan to shift some of the 19,000 Marines based in Okinawa, Japan, to a “more distributed model” is underway, with up to 2,500 Marines serving on rotational deployments to Darwin, Australia, by 2016-17.


Erratic, nuclear-armed North Korea remains a challenge, as well, and 25,000 U.S. troops are based in South Korea. North Korea is believed to have enough weapon-grade plutonium to be able to construct up to eight rudimentary nuclear weapons, though its ability to deliver them via ballistic missiles is still in doubt. “North Korea remains the biggest immediate challenge,” said Cossa. “What’s pretty certain is that North Korea will not be giving up its nuclear weapons anytime soon.” The North Korea threat, along with China’s growing strength and assertiveness, helped Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pass legislation — over widespread public opposition — that will ease long-standing, postwar restraints on Japan’s powerful, but low-profile military. Already, Japan is developing an amphibious warfare capability, building up intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets, and revising guidelines that will allow its Self Defense Forces to operate more closely with U.S. forces. “There’s no shortage of challenges that confront us,” said Harris at a change-ofcommand ceremony in Hawaii in May. “From North Korea and their quest for nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them inter-continentally. To China’s preposterous claims to — and land reclamation activities in — the South China Sea. To a resurgent Russia whose Pacific coastline boasts four strategic submarine and air bases and exceeds the distance from here to California. … This is hard work, but this is what we live for.”







THE DEPARTMENTS: ARMY U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley visits with troops in November at Fort Hood, Texas, where he spoke about readiness and observed a convoy live-fire exercise.


ARMY CHIEF OF STAFF Gen. Mark A. Milley, chief of staff since August, addressed some of the major issues confronting the service in written responses to questions from USA TODAY.


You’ve stated that your No. 1 priority is readiness, and the 2015 U.S. Army Posture Statement includes a goal of increasing readiness from 33 percent to 70 percent. What steps are being taken to achieve that goal? MILLEY: Combat readiness determines our ability to fight and win our nation’s wars. To achieve and sustain a high level of readiness and remain prepared for any contingency, we must man, train and equip our units to combat levels and lead them with highly competent and adaptive leaders of character. We are introducing the sustainable readiness model (SRM) to achieve this objective. The SRM is a comprehensive resourcing strategy that will empower commanders, is flexible and provides appropriately trained, manned, equipped and led forces to meet current

and foreseeable future demands. It will reduce the readiness roller coaster we have witnessed in the past and enhance the Army’s ability to preserve the readiness of the force balanced against forecasted and contingency response requirements. In light of a planned 40,000-troop cut over the next two years, how well is the Army positioned to deal with rising foreign threats such as those posed by Russia, the Islamic State and China? Despite budget-driven troop reductions, the Army remains capable of responding to threats by building and maintaining readiness across the entire Army — the regular Army, Army National Guard and Army Reserve. Our task to provide the nation with a ground military capability remains unchanged; that is, our ability to achieve national objectives across the spectrum of missions from humanitarian

assistance to state-on-state conflict. First, this capability is not measured solely by the number (capacity) of troops we have, but more importantly by the quality of our troops — quality people are the Army’s No. 1 resource. Second, we must develop and acquire the right technologies and review our systems and programs to repair, replace and acquire equipment and platforms. Third, develop the right doctrine, and fourth, develop the right force structure. We need to combine high-quality people with the right technology, doctrine and force structure to create overmatch against any threat. Our intent is to maintain that overmatch in a globally responsive posture that can rapidly respond and deliver decisive results to deter or defeat any enemy. If deterrence fails, I am confident in our ability to win when called upon by our nation against any threat, anytime, anywhere.

Changes to Basic Combat Training were to take effect in October. What are the goals behind some of the changes, including the new peer evaluations? My No. 1 priority for the Army is readiness, and everything we do must prepare us for combat. Basic combat training now encompasses tasks that train and enable soldiers to be more versatile, adaptive and proficient in foundational combat skills. Peer evaluations, drill sergeant counseling and greater emphasis on discipline, physical readiness, marksmanship and field craft are key to initially preparing soldiers for the rigors of ground combat. We want soldiers to internalize the seven Army values and display the courage, commitment and character of a warrior. Our soldiers must be able to think and adapt quickly to changes in the training environment similar to what they would experience in combat, and this starts in basic combat training. What is the single most effective thing you, the Army or the U.S. government can do to improve the quality of life for soldiers? Taking care of soldiers, their families and Army civilians underpins readiness and is a constant priority for all Army leaders. At the highest levels of the Army or the government, the most important task is to provide a consistent, timely and predictable budget that will allow us to plan and forecast appropriately to keep faith with soldiers and families. The most important quality-of-life program we can provide soldiers and families is to ensure soldiers are prepared for combat with the right personnel levels, the best equipment, tough realistic training and high-quality leaders. Additionally, a consistent, predictable budget will allow us to provide soldiers with a fair and competitive compensation package, enable career progression and educational development, while maintaining the right services and programs to sustain soldier and family resilience and thereby Army readiness. All of this contributes to overall readiness and has a direct impact on a soldier’s quality of life and it is expensive. Predictable and sufficient budgets allow us to take care of the soldier who will take care of the mission.






A squad of new soldiers takes the plunge on an endurance course during basic combat training at Fort Jackson, S.C., on Oct. 1. SGT. 1ST CLASS BRIAN HAMILTON/U.S. ARMY


By Matt Alderton

MUSCLE A force in transition keeps its eye on the prize: combat readiness

S THE U.S. MILITARY continues a rebalance to the Pacific from Iraq and Afghanistan, it finds itself waist-deep in transition, and for the U.S. Army, perhaps the most significant challenge in the immediate future is a restructuring that will reduce its total force. Driven by budget constraints — including the Budget Control Act of 2011 and subsequent sequestration, which together mandated nearly $1 trillion in defense spending cuts over the next 10 years — the reduction includes 15,000 active-duty soldiers in fiscal year 2016, another 15,000 in fiscal year 2017 and 10,000 more in fiscal year 2018. The Army will be left with an active-duty force of 450,000 soldiers,

down from 490,000 currently and a wartime high of 570,000 several years ago. “This is not a reduction the Army wanted to make; it is congressionally mandated,” said Army spokesman Lt. Col. Joe Buccino, who noted that cuts could get even deeper if sequestration returns. In that case, the Army could shrink to just 420,000 active-duty soldiers by the end of fiscal year 2019. Currently, cuts announced in July will be heaviest at three Army installations losing 2,500 soldiers or more apiece: uFort Benning, Ga., will lose 3,402 soldiers. uFort Hood, Texas, will lose 3,350 soldiers. uJoint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER), Alaska, will lose 2,631 soldiers. At Fort Benning and JBER, smaller battalion task forces will replace larger




A LOOK AT 2015


▲ The Army released new “Operational Camouflage Pattern” combat uniforms in July designed for better concealment across a wide range of environments. Soldiers must transition to the new uniforms by Oct. 1, 2019. MARVIN KRAUSE/U.S. AIR FORCE

U.S. Army paratroopers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, file onto a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III at Pope Army Airfield, N.C., in November during Ultimate Reach, an exercise focused on conducting strategic airdrop missions. infantry brigades. “We’ve cut a significant amount of fat and a significant amount of bone,” Buccino said. “Next, we start cutting into muscle.” It takes approximately five years to build and train a brigade combat team (BCT) from scratch, and over a year to turn a battalion task force into a brigade, said Buccino. Downgrading brigade combat teams could represent a hit to the Army’s ability to scale up quickly in response to new and emerging threats. Indeed, Army leaders worry about their capacity to address an increasing number of threats with a diminishing number of soldiers. “(Former) Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno and I have testified repeatedly that we are on the ‘ragged’ edge,” then-Secretary of the Army John McHugh told the Association of the U.S. Army in October. “Our BCT readiness level right now is at some 32 to 33 percent. Our standard is 60 to 70 percent.” McHugh said the department has been “increasingly diligent in using scarce dollars more efficiently, more productively, while simultaneously preparing for that next big thing.” But, he added, “a force can only be cut so much before it becomes ineffective. If America hopes to continue to rely on its Army, those limits, my friends, have been reached.” “The challenge in the future is … resourcing to meet the myriad requirements we have, which continue to go up,” said Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza, commander of the Army’s I Corps at Joint Base LewisMcChord near Tacoma, Wash., which

CHANGES TO BASIC COMBAT TRAINING As of Oct. 1, changes include: uModifying rifle marksmanship to include fewer weapons and to incorporate optics such as scopes and lasers. uImplementing phase testing, which requires soldiers to master one set of skills before being cleared to move on to another. uRevising values and discipline to include additional sexual harassment and assault response training, and the use of peer evaluations. uUpdating training in hand-to-hand combat, land navigation and first aid. uReincorporating camouflage training for better concealment.

focuses on the Pacific mission. Although the Army will retain most of its combat capabilities, he said, it could risk force readiness by eliminating the capacity for programs like Pacific Pathways, which keeps the U.S. engaged in the Pacific through small, forward-deployed units that participate in military and humanitarian exercises with allied nations. “My concern is: In the future, as you lose resources, what comes off the table?”

Lanza said. “The world is more dangerous when the U.S. is not leading, and we cannot lead as effectively when we are shedding tens of thousands of people from our military,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. If the Army must face more threats with fewer soldiers, it wants to ensure its remaining forces are ready for anything. On Oct. 1, it introduced changes to basic combat training to better prepare troops for an increasingly diverse mission set. “The basic combat training program of instruction was redesigned, frankly, because the world has changed and we have changed,” said Maj. Gen. Anthony Funkhouser, commanding general of the U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training. “We’re moving away from being an army at war to being an army in preparation. We’ve got to be prepared to go whenever and wherever our nation asks us to.” As a result, the training will be viewed through a global lens. “In the past, we were doing very theater-specific tasks (tailored to Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom),” such as operating in the desert, countering improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and conducting convoy operations, said Funkhouser. “Now we’re replacing a lot of that to train soldiers on the fundamentals to be more versatile, adaptive and proficient in their foundational warrior tasks and battle drills,” he said. “We’ve increased the rigor in general.”

uThe Army in August selected a new all-purpose vehicle to replace thousands of retiring Humvees, awarding a $6.7 billion contract to Wisconsin-based truck maker Oshkosh Corp. Oshkosh will manufacture 16,901 Joint Light Tactical Vehicles (JLTVs), including 5,500 for the Marine Corps. U.S. Army Major General (Retired) John M. Urias, executive vice president of Oshkosh Corporation and president of Oshkosh Defense, said in a statement that the vehicle will provide “the ballistic protection of a light tank, the underbody protection of an MRAP-class vehicle and the off-road mobility of a Baja racer.”


▲ Stryker armored vehicles were deployed north of the Arctic Circle for the first time during Operation Arctic Pegasus in November, demonstrating the Army’s cold-weather capabilities and testing readiness. The joint, multi-agency exercise took place just weeks after Russia announced plans to permanently install a military unit in the Arctic by the end of 2018.




CHIEF OF NAVAL OPERATIONS Adm. John M. Richardson, chief of naval operations since September, addresses operational readiness.


Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John M. Richardson visits with U.S. sailors in Bahrain in October as part of a round-the-world tour. The following are excerpts from Adm. John M. Richardson’s speech at the 2015 Navy Birthday Ball in October:


E ARE CHANGING THE equation — taking everything we own and making it more lethal — making things harder and more

uncertain for our potential adversaries. We are employing our forces in creative ways; enhancing all of our power at and from the sea. Our sailors deployed around the globe this year, delivering forward presence and projecting hard and soft power every single day: uThe George H.W. Bush carrier strike

group and those that followed her provided airstrikes over Iraq and Syria — for 54 days; it was our nation’s only combat option. uSailors from the LCS USS Fort Worth, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 11 and Coastal Riverine Squadron Three trained with Bangladeshi, Indonesian and Singaporean sailors in Exercise Carat 2015 a few weeks ago.

uUSNS Comfort’s crew provided medical, engineering and veterinary services to 11 Central, South American and Caribbean countries during a six-month deployment this year. uA few weeks ago, USS Carney transited to Tota to become the fourth ballistic missile defense ship forward deployed to Spain. uAnd underpinning all this, submariners on the USS Maine and SSBNs (ballistic missile submarines) like her conducted routine deterrence patrols around the world — standing 100 percent ready as they have since 1960. This level of operational readiness is enabled by an incredible Navy team. … And it is this team that ensures we have the most up-to-date equipment, the most efficient logistics support, the best training and ultimately the strongest fleet in the world. We are ready now. But, as in the past, an ever-changing strategic environment demands that our fleet adapt to meet new challenges. I think that we here in this room, this group of naval professionals and our supporters, we can all sense a re-orientation to the maritime domain. Rising powers around the world are turning to the sea to improve their prosperity and their security. Ninety percent of trade travels by sea, and the sea lanes by which it travels are becoming more contested. This makes the Navy’s role all the more important. This role is made even more challenging by the fact that we live in an increasingly interconnected world. We say it often, but it’s true. It’s not just the seas that connect us anymore; it’s also the vast global flow of information that binds us together and speeds up the rate of change. The world will only grow more complex, but this complexity favors our nation. Our diversity, the quality of our ideas … these characteristics leave us poised to compete … if we are bold. We can’t predict the future, but we can develop a force that can respond and adapt faster. In an environment in which the pace of change is rapidly increasing, we must learn faster — see, decide, act and assess — to react to and, in fact, pace the rate of change and outpace any of our adversaries’ challenges. We must be creative, take the initiative and increase our advantages at sea.





THE DEPARTMENTS: NAVY The Ohio-class ballisticmissile submarine USS Tennessee conducts routine operations in the Atlantic Ocean in January.

UNDERWATER BALANCING ACT Navy prioritizes the replacement of aging nuclear subs

By Matt Alderton


HE U.S. NAVY CELEBRATED its 240th birthday on Oct. 13. As sailors celebrated, however, Navy leadership was busy contemplating a less immediate, yet far more pressing, event: the eventual retirement of the nation’s nuclear ballistic submarines, or SSBNs. The current Ohio-class of SSBNs is scheduled to retire at a rate of one sub per year beginning in 2027. By then, however, the average age of the subs will be 42, and replacements for the fleet that contains half the U.S. nuclear arsenal are not a sure thing. “(The Ohio) was designed as a 30-year ship class; that we’re going to 42 years on that ship class is extremely impressive,” said Vice Admiral Joseph Tofalo, com-

mander of U.S. Submarine Forces. “But that’s it. There is no more margin. We will be at the design limit at that point.” The four oldest Ohios, which began patrolling in 1981, already have been converted to conventionally powered, non-nuclear missile platforms known as SSGNs. Replacing the remaining 14 is the Navy’s No. 1 priority, according to Tofalo, who said the Navy’s SSBN(X) Ohio Replacement Program must deliver a new class of Ohio subs by 2029 in order to maintain the nation’s current maritime capabilities. “(The Ohio) needs to be recapitalized so we can prevent major power war for another seven decades.” If it sounds serious, it is, according to naval expert Mackenzie Eaglen, a resident fellow in the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies at the American Enterprise

Institute. “The threat of nuclear war, you could argue, is lower today in the absence of the sort of superpower rivalry we saw at the height of the Cold War,” Eaglen observed. “At the same time, however, the number of nuclear states has gone up. … It would be foolish for the United States to give away its nuclear power when the number of nuclear states is rising by the decade.” The issue is all about deterrence. Ohio subs currently carry 50 percent of the nation’s nuclear arsenal, and that number is slated to rise. In 2018, when the U.S. reduces its nuclear arsenal under the terms of its “New START” nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia, the subs will be carrying 70 percent, said Tofalo. “Keeping its nuclear arsenal up to date is one way the Navy projects credibility,”


STILL WATERS RUN DEEP The Navy’s 14 Ohio-class nuclear ballistic submarines: uAre designed for stealth and to serve as a deterrent. uServe as an “undetectable” launch platform for Trident II D5 missiles. uAre at sea, on average, for 77 days, followed by 35 days in port for maintenance. SOURCE: U.S. Navy




A LOOK AT 2015 uThe USS Seawolf submarine concluded a six-month mission in the Arctic in August as part of a larger effort by the Navy to increase focus, presence and readiness there in response to threats from climate change and competing states such as Russia.


▲ Several months ahead of the Pentagon announcing that all military combat positions would be open to women, the Navy had already indicated in August that it would open its elite SEAL teams to women who can pass the demanding BUD/S training course. uAlso in August, maternity leave for female sailors was tripled from six weeks to 18 weeks as part of a Navy-wide effort to attract and retain more women.


U.S. sailors assigned to the USS Stethem cast off lines to a tug as they get underway in Sasebo Harbor, Japan, in November. The Stethem, a guided missile destroyer, was patrolling the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

Eaglen added. Credibility at sea is especially important going forward, according to Tofalo. “The last 10 to 15 years, we’ve been primarily supporting a land war in the Middle East, so our emphasis has been on power projection at shore,” he said. “The next 10 to 15 years are going to have a different emphasis with a reorientation to high-end maritime warfare (in the Arctic and the Pacific). … That’s why Ohio replacement is so important.” Under the SSBN(X) Ohio Replacement Program, the Navy wants to replace the 14 existing Ohio subs with 12 new, modernized variants that, collectively, will cost an estimated $100 billion to build. Its cost means the Navy will need additional funding to proceed with the replacement program — a tall order in austere times. “The Ohio Replacement Program is the same size annually as the Navy’s entire shipbuilding budget, which today builds about seven to nine ships a year depending on what we’re building,” Eaglen said. “That’s not realistic. You can’t just build one

submarine a year and abandon all the other things you need to build.” The Navy set the technical baseline for the Ohio Replacement Program in October as part of the acquisition approval process, outlining the program’s technical requirements and cost specifications. The program is awaiting a decision from the Defense Acquisition Board — a thumbs-up would allow the Navy to release a request for proposals and award a design contract by fall 2016. In order to have new Ohios in the water by the time the old ones expire, the Navy must commence construction on the first SSBN(X) by 2021. Eaglen said funding is tied up in a larger debate about nuclear policy in general, including whether the U.S. should pursue long-term nuclear disarmament. “From here, it’s about forcing lawmakers to have a debate about the future of our nuclear deterrence policy for the next 50 years; if they can agree that our policy should be to modernize the Navy, presumably the money — at least some of it — will come.”


▲ In August, the Navy announced changes to its Physical Fitness Assessment (PFA), a twice-yearly test assessing sailors’ physical readiness. Previously, sailors with too much body fat failed the entire PFA; beginning next year, however, they will be allowed to complete the remainder of the PFA with stipulations. The change is a move to retain good sailors by focusing on overall fitness. uThe aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan arrived at its new homeport in Yokosuka, Japan, in October. The ship, which recently completed a yearlong modernization program, is considered one of the most powerful ships in the U.S. Navy. Its transfer to the 7th Fleet area of operations in Japan is part of the U.S. military’s rebalance to the Pacific. The Navy plans to base as much as 60 percent of its fleet in the Pacific region by 2020. uThe aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt returned to the U.S. in October after six months in the 5th Fleet of operations in the Middle East, where it launched strikes against ISIL in Syria and Iraq as part of Operation Inherent Resolve. It was the first time since 2007 that the U.S. has not had an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf. With five of its 10 carriers undergoing maintenance or repairs, the Navy said it is operating at a carrier “deficit.”



THE DEPARTMENTS: MARINE CORPS Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert B. Neller, center, visits with troops in the chow hall at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., in October.


MARINE CORPS COMMANDANT Gen. Robert B. Neller, commandant since September, addressed some of the major issues confronting the service in written responses to questions from USA TODAY.


Marines are responding to crises around the world, participating in the pivot to Asia and protecting U.S. embassies. What’s the greatest challenge the Marine Corps faces in order to get the job done on all fronts? NELLER: We are fortunate to have fit, disciplined, resilient, problem-solving Marines poised and ready to respond to crises around the world. We receive tremendous support from Congress, and I believe we could accomplish much more with consistent funding. It would allow us to address modernization more aggressively, while operating and innovating in the manner our nation has come to

expect of its Marine Corps. How significant is the planned Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV) program to the future of the Marine Corps? The Marine Corps is the nation’s expeditionary force in readiness and maintains the unique ability to project power from the sea. The ACV, with its improved speed and armor, will allow Marines to operate more effectively in the littorals — the coastal zones where 70 percent of the world’s population and resources reside. How easy or difficult will full integration of women into combat roles be for the Marine Corps?

First, it is important to clarify the fact that female Marines have been integrated and serving in combat for years. All Marines, whether in the infantry or logistics, man or woman, train and deploy for combat. It’s what we do. Secretary (of Defense Ashton B.) Carter’s decision opens all military occupational specialties (MOSs) to women and allows female Marines to be assigned to previously closed combat units in jobs they already perform. We are well informed by our combat experience, including the performance of all Marines over the previous 14 years of conflict, as well as two years of studies, to assist in our implementation efforts. Marines pride themselves with their ability to adapt to change, and we will move out

immediately on implementation, while at the same time ensuring all Marines meet the demanding standards of our Corps. What is the single most effective thing you, the Marine Corps or the U.S. government can do to improve the quality of life for Marines? I want to focus on a few areas: increase unit readiness for combat, provide demanding training and better equipment, improve the professional development of our force, and all the while remain faithful to Marines and their families. If we continue to progress in these areas, we will improve the quality of both our Corps and the lives of our Marines and help them be successful.





THE DEPARTMENTS: MARINE CORPS Lance Cpl. Seth Taylor, a field radio operator with Combat Logistics Battalion 24, 24th MEU, communicates as a landing craft transports Marines and equipment ashore in Djibouti for training in March.

FROM SHIP TO SHORE Marines focus on strengthening amphibious capabilities as they confront global challenges

By Marc Selinger


S THE U.S. MARINE Corps shifts its focus to hot spots around the world, the ability to move quickly from ship to shore is receiving renewed attention. Over the years, as Marines were fighting insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq, protect-

ing ground troops from roadside bombs became a priority, and heavily armored trucks known as Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles became ubiquitous. But as the U.S. military has reduced its involvement in those countries, the emphasis is shifting to supporting Marines in their ship-to-shore, or “amphibious,” role. Faster decision-making and enhanced

interoperability with allied troops have also moved up on the priority list. To support its multifaceted operations, the Marines are investing in a “highly unique menagerie of systems,” said Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis at the Teal Group, an aerospace and defense industry consulting firm. These systems include rotorcraft, fighter jets and ground


The shorter and easier-to-carry M4 carbine will be the standard infantry rifle “for its improved accuracy, mobility and lethality,” the Marines announced in October. The M4 replaces the iconic M-16.




A LOOK AT 2015 uIn light of Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, joint warfare exercises with allied troops is expected to remain high on the Marine Corps’ agenda in 2016. Col. James Donnellan, deputy commander of Marine Corps Forces in Europe and Africa, said his command is developing plans to participate in Cold Response, a U.S. European Command-led exercise in February and March in Norway that will involve several NATO allies.

U.S. Marine Gunnery Sgt. Mickey Eaton fires an M4 carbine during an exercise aboard the USS Anchorage off the coast of San Diego in March. SGT. JAMEAN BERRY/U.S. MARINE CORPS

vehicles that storm the beaches. The MV-22 Osprey, with tilt rotors that allow it to take off like a helicopter, has twice the speed, six times the range and three times the payload of the CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter it’s replacing, according to Naval Air Systems Command. Although the Osprey had a series of technological problems during its long development phase (resulting in a series of fatal crashes), they’ve largely been addressed over the years. The Corps has placed in service about two-thirds of the 360 aircraft it plans to buy and is already exploring potential upgrades. “The V-22 has been a game-changer,” Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, deputy commandant for Marine aviation, said at the Modern Day Marine exposition in Quantico, Va., in September. The Marines went from the CH-46 helicopter, which “had about a 75mile radius, to an airplane now that’s got a 450-mile combat radius and flies most of the time above the small-arms threat.” In Europe this fall, U.S. Marines displayed the MV-22’s amphibious capabilities and the ability to operate with allies during Trident Juncture 15, billed as the largest NATO exercise in the past 10 years. There, Osprey missions included transporting allied troops from a British ship to Spain for a simulated assault. The Osprey isn’t the only rotorcraft on the Marine modernization plate. The Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion heavy-lift helicopter flew for the first time in October in Florida, kicking off a 2,000-hour flight test program. The new Stallion is “expensive” but


The Marines’ MV-22B Osprey tilt rotor aircraft can carry up to 24 combat troops from ships and land bases.

“basically unstoppable” because a replacement is needed for the decades-old CH-53E Super Stallion, Aboulafia said. The Marines plan to begin fielding the new helicopter in 2019 to transport troops, equipment and supplies from ships to land. The unmanned K-MAX helicopter, which transported millions of pounds of cargo for nearly three years in Afghanistan, is now being studied for use in shipboard operations. Marines have “already proven that it’s expeditionary,” Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh, deputy commandant for combat development and integration, said at a K-MAX demonstration at Modern Day Marine. “Getting it off the ship — that’s the second thing that I think from a requirements standpoint that we’re going to need.” The F-35B Lightning II fighter jet, which can take off on short runways and land ver-

tically, has overcome most of its technical glitches and will be more capable than the aging AV-8B Harriers it will replace aboard amphibious assault ships, which look like small aircraft carriers, Aboulafia said. The Marines have also awarded contracts to build prototypes of the wheeled Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV), which is designed to carry Marines from ship to shore and then provide armored protection on land. It is supposed to replace many of the Corps’ Assault Amphibious Vehicles, which have been in service since 1972. “Tactical ship-to-shore mobility is critical to our success across the range of military operations,” then-Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. said in the 36th Commandant’s Planning Guidance for 2015, noting that the Corps will “continue to prioritize the fielding of a self-deploying, high-speed amphibious combat vehicle.” The Marines are also participating in an Army-led program to build a new light truck — the ship-transportable Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) will replace thousands of aging Humvees, providing better crew protection and off-road mobility. And to make its leadership structure more streamlined and nimble, the Marines in August put a single officer based in Germany — Maj. Gen. Neil Nelson — in charge of Marine Corps Forces Europe and Africa. Previously, two generals based in the U.S. were in charge of those forces. “The presence of a single commander at the (headquarters) significantly improves our ability to address concerns on both continents,” said Capt. Richard Ulsh, a spokesman for the new command.

uIn May, six Marines and two Nepalese soldiers on a relief mission were killed in the crash of an UH-1Y Venom helicopter in Nepal following an earthquake there that killed thousands. Also in May, two Marines died as the result of the hard landing of an MV-22 Osprey during a training exercise in Hawaii. uFour Marines and a Navy sailor were fatally shot July 16 in Chattanooga, Tenn., when a man from Hixson, Tenn., opened fire on two military installations. uFollowing an unprecedented Marine Corps study, results released in September revealed that participating all-male ground combat squads were faster, stronger and more lethal in most cases than units that included women, who also were reported to experience higher injury rates during physically demanding training.


▲ In November, the new commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Robert B. Neller, ordered a “comprehensive and holistic” review of physical fitness evaluations and body composition standards, with recommendations due by July 1, 2016.




AIR FORCE CHIEF OF STAFF Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, chief of staff since 2012, addressed some of the major issues confronting the service in written responses to questions from USA TODAY.


In light of technological advances by the Russians and Chinese, will new aircraft like the F-35 and the Long Range Strike Bomber, when fully operational, be enough to maintain a capability gap and ensure air superiority? WELSH: The capability gap the United States Air Force has enjoyed over other air forces for decades is closing, and it’s closing fast. Without fifth-generation fighter capability, we’ll be unable to conduct operations inside integrated enemy air defenses against fifth-generation threats without risk of significant loss of life. Make no mistake: There are countries in the world developing this technology as we speak — and they’ll share that technology with partner nations throughout the world. According to operational analysis, any major conflict scenario requires 100 bombers to provide the sortie rates necessary to be successful and to simultaneously provide nuclear deterrence; that’s why we


Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, right, meets with RPA (remotely piloted aircraft) pilots of the 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada in March. The service has been putting a priority on retaining RPA staffing. need the LRS-B. We’re going to face threats created by adversaries’ advances and supported by their allies. The risk we face can be measured in the lives of the men and women who serve our Air Force and our nation. If we fail to take notice, airpower will no longer be an asymmetric advantage for the U.S. military. The impact of losing the strategic edge would be catastrophic. What’s your assessment of the progress being made in the air war against ISIL? We’ve been more aggressive in target selection. We’re constantly looking for ways to keep the pressure on. Commanders responsible for conducting these operations have worked tirelessly to ensure the men and women doing the job are set up to succeed ... and those men and women have performed brilliantly. This is a street-smart, resilient enemy. It’s going to take some time. Is the Air Force having success in re-

cruiting and retaining enough remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) operators? Recruiting really hasn’t been a problem, but we are worried about retaining pilots, sensor operators, even the great maintenance professionals who keep our RPA fleet flying. The entire community’s enormously taxed. We’re driving toward a robust RPA enterprise. The first step is fully manning career fields within that mission area and getting ahead of the training curve. We have the ability to do this — but must get the training pipelines healthy. We have to start training more people than we lose each year — the current math just doesn’t work. We need to man the community at a higher level, but first we’ve got to convince airmen there’s a dynamic and rewarding future in RPAs. We have tremendous talent in the RPA business, but it’s going to take some time to put all the pieces of the solution in place. The contribution of our RPA force has been extraordinary! They deserve stability and a survivable battle rhythm; we are fully

committed to getting this right. What is the single most effective thing you, the Air Force or the U.S. government can do to improve the quality of life for airmen? Airmen want to feel valued. They want to be trained and educated. They want to be able to take care of their families ... and they want to do meaningful work. Most of them aren’t worried about making a lot of money, that’s not why they come into this business. In order to recruit — and retain — the highest caliber airmen, we have to create an Air Force culture where every airman feels valued; where they believe they have a voice; where their contributions make a difference; and where people want to hear what they have to say. The best thing we could do is create an environment in which they can become the very best in the world at what they do ... and care for their families while they do it. That’s really all they ask. We owe them that ... and so much more.







Service focuses on replacing aging planes and upgrading for the future


A 95th Fighter Squadron pilot from Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida begins preparations to fly an F-22 Raptor, the Air Force’s newest fighter, at Ämari Air Base in Estonia in September. By Marc Selinger


FTER MANY YEARS OF debate and planning, the Air Force is on a path to begin replacing its aging aircraft and perform upgrades that will keep some of the existing fleet operational until their successors are delivered. But experts caution that current and future Air Force leaders face a difficult task in fitting all of these equipment modernization efforts into a military budget that’s expected to have little wiggle room for the foreseeable future. The Air Force is flying with some aging equipment. It received its last B-52 bomber and KC-135 refueling tanker in 1962 and 1965, respectively. Fifty-plus years later, both planes remain part of the backbone

recently committed to of the nation’s warfighting developing and building the fleet, with some pilots flying On a Mission Long Range Strike Bomber aircraft once flown by their In the war against (LRS-B), a stealthy new grandfathers. the Islamic State in aircraft intended to replace “On average, our the B-52 as well as the B-1 aircraft are over 27 years Iraq and Syria, the bomber. The total estimated old. Twenty-five years of Air Force is taking cost for the program is continuous combat operathe lead in airstrikes. $80 billion. tions have taken their toll,” Planes in use have “That’s a budget-buster,” said Maj. Robert Leese, an included F-15E, F-16, said Richard Aboulafia, an Air Force spokesman. “These F/A-18 and F-22 aviation consultant at the factors make modernizing fighters, B-1 bombers Teal Group, an aerospace our Air Force an absolute and remotely piloted and defense industry necessity.” aircraft. consulting firm. If Air Force The need is particularly SOURCE: U.S. Air Force funding doesn’t grow pronounced as nations such significantly, the bomber as Russia and China are or other programs could developing technologies eventually face cuts. meant to assert their air superiority. The Air Force acknowledges that paying In a long-awaited move, the Air Force

for a host of new aircraft will not be easy amid persistent budget constraints. “Each year, it becomes more difficult to balance the Air Force portfolio,” Leese said. “We are focused on getting the best warfighter capability for the resources we are allocated.” “Affordability is absolutely the watchword for all of this,” said Andrew Hunter, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The 2020s are “where the rubber’s really going to hit the road, and there will probably be some uncomfortable decisions that have to be made.” Major programs include:


The Air Force announced in October that it had chosen Northrop Grumman to



THE DEPARTMENTS: AIR FORCE A U.S. Air Force F-15E gets ready to take off from RAF Lakenheath in England in November to support operations in Iraq and Syria.

A LOOK AT 2015


▲ The Air Force announced in January that Boeing will build a new Air Force One to replace the existing presidential transport plane. It will be a modified version of the 747-8 commercial airliner and cargo carrier. SENIOR AIRMAN ERIN TROWER/U.S. AIR FORCE

ment to reach its goal of 1,763 F-35As, which, along with versions for the Marine Corps and the Navy, is the DOD’s most costly acquisition program to date. Hunter said a major challenge will be reducing the per-unit production costs.



The Boeing-built KC-46A Pegasus tanker comes in for a landing following its first test flight in Washington on Sept. 25. The Air Force plans to buy 179 of the refueling tankers. build the LRS-B, which is meant to fly long distances and survive advanced enemy air defenses. “The threat environment that we face today has evolved through the introduction of advanced air defense systems and the development of much more capable surface-to-air missile systems, which effectively push our older bombers ... farther and farther away from the fight,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said in making the announcement. “The LRS-B will allow the Air Force (to) operate in tomorrow’s high-end threat environment,” and give the U.S. the capability “to launch from the continental United States air strikes that would be able to strike any location in the world,” James added. The plan is to buy 100 bombers and

begin fielding them in the mid-2020s. Hunter said affordability was a big part of the competition, noting that the Air Force has committed to keeping the procurement cost at $550 million per plane. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is currently reviewing a protest filed by Boeing Company and Lockheed Martin, claiming the selection process was “fundamentally flawed.” The GAO has until mid-February to decide whether the Air Force should redo the competition.


The Air Force says its newest fighter, the stealthy, conventional-takeoff-and-landing F-35A Lightning II, which will replace the F-16 and A-10, is on track to achieve initial operating capability in 2016. But the Air Force faces many more years of procure-

The new KC-46A Pegasus refueling tanker completed its first flight test in September, and the first 18 combat-ready jets are due for delivery by August 2017. The Air Force is slated to buy 179 KC-46As in a $49 billion program. The service has learned in recent years that its programs need to be less aggressive to remain affordable, Hunter said. For instance, the Air Force dropped several ambitious ideas for the KC-46A, including that it be “rapidly reconfigurable” to carry cargo or people, he said. “They managed to stay away from putting in requirements that would have caused a need to substantially modify a commercial platform to get the job done.”


The Air Force expects to spend billions to maintain and modernize existing aircraft. Upgrades for the B-52 include new electronics and communications equipment and an increase in the number of satellite-guided bombs it can carry. Boeing announced in October that it has received a $4 billion contract to upgrade the Air Force’s F-15 fighter fleet with a new electronic warfare system to detect and counter advanced air and ground threats and better protect air crews. The F-15, Aboulafia said, “needs all sorts of work to keep it relevant conceivably to 2030 and beyond.”


▲ In June, the Air Force awarded a $30 million contract to Raytheon Missile Systems for the aircraft-launched Small Diameter Bomb II (SDB II), a petite, precision-guided bomb designed to be accurate even under adverse weather conditions. uWorking to reinvigorate its nuclear force, the Air Force in July put a four-star general in charge for the first time since the end of the Cold War. The mission of Gen. Robin Rand, the new commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, is to restore institutional muscle and assert more influence. uFour Air Force F-22 Raptors arrived in Germany in August to begin the stealth fighter’s first European deployment, a training exercise. The activity is part of U.S. efforts to bolster NATO amid Russian military intervention in Ukraine. — Contributing: Robert Burns, The Associated Press



THE DEPARTMENTS: NATIONAL GUARD Gen. Frank J. Grass, center, chief of the National Guard Bureau, along with other officers and advisers, lands in the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt to visit National Guard troops in June.


By Matt Alderton

HOLDING STEADY O Guard deployments continue to support U.S. efforts overseas

N DEC. 15, 2011, the United States declared the Iraq War officially “over.” Four years later, however, the National Guard continues to conduct missions in Iraq in support of ongoing U.S. military operations. “What we have over there is approaching 10,000 individual soldiers for 2015,” according to Col. Chip Lynn, Mobilization and Readiness Division chief of the Army

National Guard, who said U.S. Central Command — which includes Iraq and Afghanistan, plus 18 other countries in the Middle East — is home to two-thirds of deployed personnel in the Army National Guard on any given day. “That’s held pretty steady for the last three years.” For a time, with the Iraq War over and the war in Afghanistan winding down, it looked as though the Guard’s presence in the Middle East would diminish. But with budget cuts forcing the U.S. Army to reduce its active-duty force and President Obama




A LOOK AT 2015 uThe Army’s controversial Aviation Restructure Initiative (ARI) moved forward in 2015. It’s a five-year cost-cutting plan to retire the active Army’s Vietnam-era OH-58 Kiowa scout helicopters and replace them with AH-64 Apache attack helicopters taken from the National Guard. ARI is expected to save the Army as much as $1.1 billion a year, but would leave the Guard without combat choppers. According to National Guard spokesman Rick Breitenfeldt, the Army National Guard will transfer up to 48 Apaches to the active Army by March 31, 2016. In exchange for its Apaches, the Guard will receive approximately 110 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, the transfer of which began this summer. “The Army National Guard is working with the Army to achieve the right force combination for fighting America’s wars, defending the homeland and building global partnerships,” Breitenfeldt said. uIn July, a National Guard battalion — the First Combined Arms Battalion, 252nd Armor Regiment Alpha Company from Fayetteville, N.C. — assumed command of the Multinational Battle Group-East (MNBG-E) Forward Command Post in Kosovo, which comprises multinational elements supporting the NATO peacekeeping operation known as Kosovo Force, or KFOR. The Guard has been a consistent presence in Kosovo since NATO established KFOR in 1999 and is part of a sizable Guard contingency in the former Eastern Bloc. SEAN RAYFORD/GETTY IMAGES

As part of its response to domestic emergencies, the Army National Guard helps residents off a transport vehicle near Georgetown, S.C., in October after heavy flooding. announcing in October that U.S. forces would remain in Afghanistan through at least 2016, that no longer seems the case, Lynn said. “We were planning to have a smaller footprint, but now it looks like we’ll be maintaining our footprint.” The Army announced in July that it would reduce its active troops to 450,000 by 2018 (a 21 percent reduction from a wartime high of 570,000 soldiers in 2012). But it will reduce the size of the Army National Guard (which also responds to domestic crises such as wildfires and floods) by just 6.5 percent, from 358,200 soldiers to 335,000. “A lot of people assume that the Guard has gotten out of the deployment business, since we’ve drawn down in Iraq and Afghanistan. But in reality, we have continued to provide (support across the region),” said retired Tennessee Army National Guard Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Gus Hargett, president of the National Guard Association of the United States. “The Guard is the primary combat reserve of the Army,” Hargett explained. “If they’ve got to use combat forces that are larger than their capacity, they’re going to have to come to the Guard.” Given the escalating conflict in Syria and the war against ISIL, the potential for combat remains. For now, however, Lynn said Guard missions in areas such as Kuwait, Qatar, Egypt and Bahrain — all of which saw Guard deployments in 2015 — are focused primarily on base support operations, engineering, training and mentoring of foreign militaries, and command and control. “Most of it is what’s considered basic blocking and tackling in our business,” said Lynn, who noted that the Guard also main-

A Scout Sniper Team marksman from the 2nd Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment, 53rd Brigade Combat Team in the Florida Army National Guard, calibrates his rifle scope at a training range in Djibouti in October.


Tech. Sgt. Audrey Belmonte, a medical technician deployed from Charleston Air National Guard Base, W.Va., prepares for a medical evacuation mission at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan in November.

tains activities in the Middle East through its State Partnership Program, which pairs U.S. states with foreign militaries to achieve coalition building through joint training, exercises and operations. Of 70 Guard partnerships around the world, five are within U.S. Central Command: Kazakhstan is paired with Arizona, Jordan with Colorado, Kyrgyzstan with Montana, Tajikistan with Virginia and Uzbekistan with Mississippi. “In that region, the State Partnership Program is not as robust as we would like it to be (because) part of the conditions to be a partner with a state is having a stable government and a professional military. We’ve been laying the groundwork and building that capability, and we look forward to it in the future,” Lynn said. “The Guard has got to be both an operational reserve and a strategic reserve,” Hargett said.


▲ In August, the Florida Army National Guard’s 2nd Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment deployed to the Horn of Africa to conduct security operations in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. The Horn of Africa is one of several regions around the world where the Guard has a persistent active presence; others include Kosovo, the Sinai Peninsula, Guantanamo Bay and Afghanistan.



WEAPONS & TECHNOLOGY Hawaii Air National Guardsmen evaluate network vulnerabilities during a cybersecurity exercise at the University of Hawaii in June.



Defense Department is on a mission to strengthen nation’s cybersecurity By Adam Stone


ITH HACKERS PROBING THE vulnerabilities of military networks at an astounding rate, the Pentagon is stepping up its war on

cyber threats. “Every conflict in the world today has a cyber dimension,” said Navy Adm. Michael S. Rogers, commander of U.S. Cyber Command, in testimony before a congressional subcommittee in March, adding that hackers probe military networks’ vulnerabilities “thousands of times every hour.” In a document released in April on its

cyber strategy, the Department of Defense described its military networks as a compelling target on the cyber landscape. The military network is “a patchwork of thousands of networks across the globe, and DOD lacks the visibility and organizational structure required to defend its diffuse networks effectively,” the DOD stated. Finding cybersecurity solutions is challenging: Bad actors in cyberspace move fast, leaving government defenders playing a perpetual game of catch-up. But DOD agencies and others in government have joined forces, breaking down old silos in order to work in closer coordination. The push for an effective unification of

military cyber defenses began in 2009 with the launch of U.S. Cyber Command (Cybercom), a body tasked with coordinating all cyber efforts of the U.S. military. That command is nearly at full strength, Rogers told a House Armed Services Committee panel in March. “We have a target of about 6,200 personnel in 133 teams, with the majority achieving at least initial operational capability by the end of fiscal year 2016,” said Rogers, who is also director of the National Security Agency (NSA). These teams, drawn from all the armed services, are known collectively as the “cyber mission force.” In January 2015, DOD went a step farther

with the creation of a new Joint Force Headquarters (JFHQ), which will handle the operational work of cyber defense, freeing up Cyber Command leadership to focus on strategic thinking. The organization will “mount an active defense of (military networks), securing their key cyber terrain and being prepared to neutralize any adversary who manages to bypass their perimeter defenses,” Rogers said. The Pentagon is backing cyber defense in a big way, with a cybersecurity budget that has grown from $3.9 billion in 2013 to an CO N T I N U E D





WEAPONS & TECHNOLOGY Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter’s visit to Silicon Valley, Calif., in April included a stop at the headquarters for Facebook.

ON ALERT U.S. Army Cyber Command, a service element of U.S. Cyber Command, announced in July that it had launched its Cyber Support to Corps and Below (CSCB) pilot program, which trains brigade combat teams to protect and defend themselves against cyber attacks and to operate in a degraded cyberspace environment. The pilot so far has included two rotations at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) in Fort Polk, La. — Matt Alderton SGT. 1ST CLASS CLYDELL KINCHEN/DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE

magazine early this estimated $5.5 billion year. in fiscal year 2016. THE PENTAGON Experts say close DOD released a coordination is vital new cyber strategy CYBERSECURITY in the effort to defend in April, citing goals BUDGET IS AN an entity as sprawling that included building ESTIMATED and complex as the U.S. and maintaining the defense networks. force and capability for “The challenge is cyberspace operations, in trying to make a and defending DOD, cohesive enterprise the U.S. and U.S. environment from interests. what has grown Cyber attacks can BILLION up as independent, involve a variety of service-related, specific targets and goals, FOR FISCAL YEAR 2016 architectures with no including theft of overarching security personal data, attacks profile,” said retired on the nation’s infraRear Adm. Robert E. Day Jr., the former structure and manipulation of information. commander of Coast Guard Cyber ComA direct hit to the military can even involve mand and present head of cyber consulting the theft of blueprints and other critical firm Bob Day & Associates. “There are just documents with sensitive information. so many pieces to it.” “Any time new weapons systems come Cybercom is developing the in-house online, those become points of emphasis,” tools it needs to respond swiftly to changing said Todd Thibodeaux, CEO of the technolattack vectors, because bad actors often ogy industry group CompTIA. “Why do adapt their strategies faster than developers the stealth fighters (that) the Chinese put can generate responses. in place look so much like the ones we are To that end, Cybercom has brought building?” on board its own software developers in Documents leaked by former NSA order to work around the lengthy military contractor Edward Snowden suggest that acquisitions process and speed the pace plans for the Pentagon’s F-35 stealth fighter of response, said Maj. Gen. Paul Nakasone, jet were, in fact, hacked by China, which commander of U.S. Cyber Command’s Cyber was first reported in Germany’s Der Spiegel


National Mission Force, at a recent gathering of the Association of the United States Army. Planners are also reaching outside government for solutions. In October, Cybercom issued a request for proposals on the government purchasing site FedBizOpps. gov. The five-year, $460 million solicitation seeks industry support to unify Cybercom resources, centralize cyberspace operations and support the armed services’ infrastructure to safeguard against cyber attacks. In an effort intended to benefit national defense in a number of ways, including cybersecurity, the DOD is working to forge ties with cutting-edge tech players in Silicon Valley, Calif. DOD recently opened the Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental facility at Moffett Field in California. With partners from across all military branches, the research facility’s team of active duty, civilian and key reserve personnel aims to build strong technology development ties to innovators in Silicon Valley and beyond. As a bridge between the private sector and DOD, the innovation unit will scout for breakthrough and emerging technologies that could further the defense mission. Program managers already are looking at novel technologies in underwater mapping, and taking note of companies that are putting into orbit small, highly capable, satellites, DOD has reported. “DOD has not had a great deal of luck

going to Silicon Valley in the past because defense acquisitions are very difficult to master,” said Martin Libicki, senior management scientist at the RAND Corp., a nonprofit research organization. “It’s a huge timesink to try to figure out how to conform to federal acquisition requirements.” In an April speech at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter spoke of the need to work with the private sector. “I’ve been pushing the Pentagon to think outside our five-sided box, and invest in innovation here in Silicon Valley and in tech communities across the country,” said Carter, who also met with tech industry leaders there, including Facebook executives. “Now we’re taking another step forward.” Carter revealed a previously undisclosed Russian effort to hack a DOD network (repelled by department cyber defenders) and discussed the need for teamwork when it comes to cyber defense. “To build our vital cyber force, we’re going to need to use new ways to attract talent through new privatesector exchange programs that let people from outside contribute to our mission and then return here to the valley,” he said. Carter encouraged the private sector to become a “key player” in the cyber fight. When it comes to cybersecurity,” “we’re going to have to work together on this one,” he said.








GAME CHANGER F-35 fighter jet sets a course for operational readiness despite some turbulence



By Carmen Gentile


HE PENTAGON IS PINNING its aviation hopes on the F-35 Lightning II, a supersonic jet bred for stealth and lethality that’s poised to help the U.S. maintain air superiority on a global scale. Through nearly a decade and a half of aeronautical innovation, as well as technological glitches and delays that put it several years behind schedule, one of the world’s most advanced — and costliest — aircraft has been tested, revised and put through its paces by military pilots who’ve flown it on thousands of training missions so far. As of Oct. 20, 162 F-35A STATS F-35s have been ▶ Wingspan: 35 feet delivered through ▶ Length: 51.4 feet the U.S. Joint Strike Fighter Program, ▶ Speed: Mach 1.6 which will purchase a Note: Some measurements total of 2,443: 1,763 vary for the F-35B and for the Air Force and F-35C. 680 for the Navy and the Marine Corps. ▶ The F-35A for the Air Force, designed for conventional takeoffs and landings, is expected to be operational in August 2016. ▶ The F-35B for the Marine Corps is capable of short takeoffs and vertical landings near combat zones. The Marines announced in July that the jet has achieved initial operating capability. ▶ The Navy’s F-35C, which is designed to operate from aircraft carriers, has an initial operating date of late 2018.

Contributing: Matthew Patane

With estimated acquisition costs of nearly $400 billion, the jet is the Pentagon’s “most costly and ambitious acquisition program,” the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in April.

‘WAR-WINNER’ NEW EXPECTATIONS One of the jet’s advantages lies in its ability to identify and hit targets from several miles away and disappear with nary a trace, said Mike Rein, director of F-35 communications at Lockheed Martin, the F-35’s manufacturer. Officials say the F-35 was designed to serve in a very different capacity than its predecessors and note that reports of the plane not faring well in a mock dogfight with an F-22 is like comparing apples to oranges. “Modern jets do not dogfight like the movie Top Gun. … That is a bygone era,” Rein said. “If you’re waiting for Maverick to flip his canopy over and wave at the guy below, that’s just not going to happen. The F-35 is going to be several miles away, lock onto its target, fire and be gone.”

An F-35A sits on the tarmac at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, one of several U.S. installations where the fighter jets are based. SOURCES: DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE; LOCKHEED MARTIN; GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY OFFICE


The F-35 is “a flying sensor computer that sucks in an enormous amount of data, correlates it, analyzes it and displays to the pilot on his helmet,” Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work said at the Reagan Defense Forum in November. “We are absolutely confident that F-35 will be a war-winner.” The plane’s advanced sensor package enables the aircraft to gather and process “more information than any fighter in history, giving operators a decisive advantage over all adversaries,” the Air Force said. Lauded for its ability to fly undetected, the F-35 is finished with a coating — the specifics of which are classified — that enhances the jet’s stealth and radar-absorbing capability. The multirole fighter can carry more than 3,500 pounds of ordnance in stealth mode.

The helmet for F-35 pilots has high-tech attributes and issues all its own. A key feature is the information that’s displayed directly on the helmet’s visor, including air speed, altitude and threat detection. And thanks to the jet’s system of sensors and cameras, the visors allow pilots to virtually see through their planes to the sky around them and the land below. “The F-35 has a lot of different sensors and all that information gets projected onto the pilot’s helmet and visor,” said Joe DellaVedova, Department of Defense public affairs director for the F-35 program. “It’s a very smart aircraft.” The helmets, estimated to cost about $400,000 each, are custom-built for each pilot and require two days of fittings. The helmet will be getting a modification. In October, the Air Force said it set a 136-lb. minimum weight requirement for F-35 pilots due to safety concerns that may involve both the helmet and ejection seat, which, in some circumstances with lighterweight pilots, was found to cause “an unacceptable risk of neck injury during parachute deployment.” Revisions are expected to include a lighter helmet.







The Navy’s X-47B, an unmanned combat air system intended for aircraft carriers, successfully completed its final test objective — an autonomous aerial refueling off the coasts of Maryland and Virginia in April. The maneuver is the firstever aerial refueling of an unmanned aircraft.



An EQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned surveillance and reconnaisance aircraft operating in support of the war against ISIL in Southwest Asia reached a 500-sortie milestone, having flown nearly 13,000 hours, on Nov. 11, the Air Force announced. The EQ-4 is outfitted with a battlefield airborne communications node to improve communications between ground and air forces. TECH. SGT. FRANK MILLER/U.S. AIR FORCE

Military makes strides in developing and managing the power of unmanned systems in 2015 ▼ FULL CIRCLE

An improved unmanned aircraft system, known as the Raven Gimbal, was delivered to select units at Fort Hood, Texas, in August. Among the upgrades to the Army’s hand-launched reconnaissance and surveillance drone: Its camera now rotates 360 degrees so that the Raven itself doesn’t have to shift positions.



To address “a critical shortage of remotely piloted aircraft pilots” for its MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones, the Air Force in May announced a series of incentives to alleviate and boost stressed and overworked operators, including bonuses of $15,000 per year that could extend up to nine years. The department also launched a program aimed at boosting morale by addressing the concerns of both the pilots and their families.



In a first for the U.S. Navy, a submarine launched and recovered an underwater drone — the 10-foot-long Remus 600 — used in a military operation. The attack submarine USS North Dakota was deployed to the Mediterranean Sea for the test.




The Army paired reconnaissance drones with AH-64 Apache helicopters for the first time in January. RQ-7B Shadows with the 1st Armored Division’s 3rd Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment at Fort Bliss, Texas, “will tell the Apache where and when the enemy is present,” Staff Sgt. Timothy Fry said in an Army news story.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus appointed the first deputy assistant secretary for unmanned systems and added a new office, Unmanned Warfare Systems, so all aspects of unmanned systems are “coordinated and championed.” Sources: Department of Defense, The Associated Press



WEAPONS & TECHNOLOGY Gunnery Sgt. Mayco O. McKeever of the Joint ImprovisedThreat Defeat Agency uses a Minehound dual-sensor metal detector, which can detect underground IEDs, during a demonstration at Fort Belvoir, Va., in November.


IEDS Pentagon retools a combat support agency to take on new improvised threats By Erik Schechter


HE JOINT IED DEFEAT Organization (JIEDDO) was once a multibillion-dollar juggernaut in the Pentagon’s war against improvised explosive devices (IEDs). But resources began to dwindle with the withdrawal from Iraq and drawdown in Afghanistan, and now the much-reduced agency has a new name and mission. Recast in March as the Joint Improvised-Threat Defeat Agency (JIDA), the organization, which reached initial operating capacity in October, will take on and prepare troops for more than just IEDs. JIDA will counter a wide array of so-called “improvised threats”— basically, everything the enemy can devise: small makeshift drones, crude tunnels, improvised chemical and biological weapons or repurposed gunship rockets mounted on the back of a pickup truck. The common elements are innovation and surprise, explained Lt. Gen. Michael Shields, JIDA’s new director and former deputy director for operations and intelligence at JIEDDO. “I’m thinking about our adversaries using readily available tools, materials, technologies to create a broad range of simple, inexpensive but effective threats,” Shields said. JIDA officials are hashing out a formal definition of “improvised threat” (in the meantime, it’s anything the secretary of defense says it is, they noted). Ben FitzGerald, director of the Technology and National Security Program at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, D.C., believes the






In 2005, U.S. Marines inspect the wreckage of a vehicle after a roadside bomb killed 14 Marines and a civilian interpreter near Haditha, Iraq. The proliferation of IEDs led to the creation of the agency that was the precursor to the Joint Improvised-Threat Defeat Agency. basic reorientation makes sense. “The next IED is not going to be an IED,” FitzGerald said he told the last JIEDDO director, Lt. Gen. John Johnson, in August 2014. To counter, and even anticipate, improvised threats, JIDA will have to be vigilant, well-informed — and, for the Department of Defense, uncharacteristically fast, because, as Shields noted, insurgents don’t sit through a whole Program Objective Memorandum cycle for their weapons. They find what they need in military castoffs and commercial off-the-shelf products, and they quickly slap it all together. Accordingly, JIDA is aiming to deliver new capabilities to the warfighter in under two years. In the works, for instance, is a collection of sensors, known as the Standoff Suicide Bomb Detection System, that JIDA showed off at Fort Belvoir, Va., in November, according to an Army news story. The system can help screen individuals from a distance to help determine whether they’re carrying explosives. JIDA, currently housed within the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for

Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics — counter-IED measures. JIDA, by contrast, OUSD (AT&L) — has far fewer resources limits training on emergent capabilities to than did JIEDDO, which, at its peak, the remaining U.S. troops in the field, in received $4 billion a Afghanistan, as well as year and employed local security forces. almost 3,000 people. The agency does not Indeed, when fully conduct home station JIDA will counter stood up as a combat training, a responsibila wide array of support agency in ity which has “largely 2017, the pared-down gone back over to the “improvised JIDA will have a base services,” he said. threats” — budget of $114 million JIDA also has the (not including overseas potential to scale up basically, everything contingency operations and ask for more money the enemy can funding still being for a solution, and it determined) and 400 can compensate for devise: small military and civilian its modest budget by makeshift drones, personnel. collaborating with other Shields acknowlstakeholders on the crude tunnels ... edged that resources same issue. gunship rockets. are tighter now, but he As for keeping track also noted that JIDA of emerging threats, the has trimmed some combat support agency responsibilities. still has personnel at Previously, JIEDDO focused on three “the tactical edge.” Plus, it can leverage lines of attack: defeat the roadside bomb, the experience of contractors — like those disrupt the insurgent network that Shields recently met at Train Advise Assist built and placed it and train troops in Command (TAAC)-South, which is part of

NATO’s Resolute Support Mission. “I just got done with the team that is supporting TAAC-South in Kandahar,” he said, “and collectively, there’s probably over 15 years of experience with that JIDA-embedded team.” JIDA also has a seat on the Warfighter Senior Integration Group, a DOD-wide forum established in 2012 to help recognize and respond to operational surprises that pop up during contingency operations or in anticipation of them. And the combat support agency works with countries that are part of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance to follow developments in other parts of the world. As for solutions, JIDA will develop them in coordination with partners such as service labs, federally funded research and development centers and the new Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental. It remains to be seen how the agency will run once fully established. JIEDDO aimed to rush solutions to the field, an approach that sometimes produced successful sensors but also yielded items like the ill-fated lightning bomb-zapper. It was also criticized for poor financial management and use of debatable metrics. Organizational visibility for any JIEDDO successor is also a question. When JIEDDO was formed in 2006, the U.S. military faced a clear and persistent threat: IEDs. By 2013, IEDs were responsible for more than half of all American fatalities in the global war on terror, so it was easy to keep senior leadership invested in the JIEDDO cause. “The impact of IEDs on our forces was so significant that it provided a lot of focus,” said FitzGerald. Without “a clear and compelling problem,” he said, it’ll be challenging to maintain senior leadership support of JIDA. There is also a location issue for JIDA. For the moment, the agency is under OUSD (AT&L), and Shields would certainly like it to remain there because it gives him easier access to R&D sources. But that could change. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016, which President Obama signed in late November, requires DOD to revisit JIDA’s alignment. Basically, there are three possible homes for JIDA: the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (which is still under AT&L), U.S. Special Forces Command or one of the military services. Daniel Gouré, vice president of the Lexington Institute, a public policy research organization in Washington, D.C., said the realignment will “destroy” JIDA because it will lose its autonomy and separate pot of funding. But David Small, chief of public affairs for JIDA, said that, wherever the combat support agency lands, it “will ultimately retain the unique capabilities the JIEDDO had brought to the department.”






Lasers move from sci-fi to reality as Navy fields first fully deployed weapon By Adam Hadhazy


LTHOUGH THE U.S. NAVY’S $40 million Laser Weapon System (LaWS) just looks like a backyard telescope on steroids, this piece of equipment may herald the future of warfare — not only at sea, but in the air and on the ground. The first weapon of its kind the Navy has ever deployed, LaWS is mounted on the deck of the USS Ponce, which is based in the Persian Gulf region. In a series of successful tests run in late 2014 after its installation, LaWS’ invisible, infrared beams of energy knocked out various unmanned targets, including a small speedboat and a drone. LaWS, the first fully approved laser weapon system for any military department, is but one of several examples of cutting-edge, so-called

directed-energy weapons systems potentially entering service in the U.S. military over the next decade. This trend would buck those of the last half-century, when the military spent billions of dollars on research but ultimately axed numerous dead-end laser programs. “After a multi-decade quest in search of directed-energy weapons, we’re finally on the verge of things you could put on a vehicle, deploy in combat and have them be useful,” said Paul Scharre, a senior fellow at the


The Laser Weapon System (LaWS), installed aboard the USS Ponce operating in the Persian Gulf region, is the first fully approved laser weapon system in the U.S. military.






In November 2014, then-Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert reviewed the control console for the Laser Weapon System (LaWS) aboard the USS Ponce. In a series of tests in late 2014, directed beams of energy from LaWS were successfully fired at targets. Center for a New American Security, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. Many experts are keen on directed-energy weapons’ battlefield benefits, especially the potentially unlimited ammunition. “This idea of unlimited magazine capacity? That’s the holy grail you’re chasing,” said Scharre. “It could dramatically change how we think about munitions and warfare.” Other major advantages over conventional, projectile weapons include pinpoint accuracy and vastly reduced cost. Missiles can cost millions of dollars each, yet the Navy has reported that a single zap from LaWS adds up to what you might find in your couch cushions — just 59 cents. “At less than a dollar per shot, there’s no question about the value LaWS provides,” said Rear Adm. Matthew L. Klunder, then the Navy’s chief of naval research, in a December 2014 press release. “Laser weapons are powerful, affordable and will play a vital role in the future of naval combat operations.” To further improve on the “lethality” of solid state laser weapon systems, the Department of Defense announced in October that it had awarded a $53 million contract to Northrop Grumman Space and Mission Systems Corp. for a Solid State High Power Laser Weapon System Demonstrator program for the Navy. The enthusiasm for lasers extends to other branches of the military as well. “Directed-energy weapons are an area

adoption. For instance, the systems HOW DOES reaching maturity today are far smaller in scale, LaWS WORK? expense and scope than, say, the Strategic Defense A so-called solid Initiative of the 1980s — dubbed “Star Wars,” which state laser, LaWS envisioned shooting down works by pumping ballistic missiles with high-powered, megawatt energy into a HONING THE lasers. material infused LASER’S FOCUS Instead, analysts with chemical Although the DOD’s see lower-powered funding for directedlaser systems, such as the elements. These energy weapons has 33-kilowatt LaWS, taking energized elements out smaller threats such as plummeted from a high of nearly $2.5 billion in 1989 unmanned aerial vehicles, emit light, which is to nowadays less than also known as drones. amplified by mirrors These unpiloted aircraft $400 million annually, the technology has nonetheare becoming ever cheaper and then directed less progressed, nurtured to build, fly and possibly out of the material by developments in the weaponize. commercial sector and A swarm of bombtoward a target. academia. carrying drones could “We’re shifting from, overwhelm the traditional ‘Can I have the physics missile- and bullet-based working in my favor?’ to ‘Can I have a defenses of a ship close to shore, draining system people are interested in and field its ammunition and delivering a lethal it?’ ” said Spiro Lekoudis, director of payload. weapons systems, acquisition, technology But a never-empty, lightning-fast firing and logistics for the DOD. “The discussion system in the mold of LaWS could counter is of when, not if, it’s going to happen.” just such an asymmetric, future threat. A shift in tactics regarding how directed“If (enemies) can launch swarms of energy weapons might actually be used low-cost kamikaze drones, then a weapon has further moved the needle toward their like LaWS might be pretty appealing,”

we’re headed toward, and we’re going there at a fairly good pace,” Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, commander of the Air Force’s Air Combat Command, said at a conference in September. “I think it’s a lot closer than people think it is.”

For now, LaWS’s energy source is a stand-alone diesel generator. But laser weapons could be hooked right into the electrical system of a boat, vehicle or jet. Because laser weapons heat up as they fire over and over again, keeping them cool and functioning properly in a realistic combat scenario remains a tough technical challenge, Lekoudis said. Even so, the Navy has hopes of scaling LaWS’ descendants up to the severalhundred-kilowatt range and beyond, powerful enough to fry incoming cruise and ballistic missiles. The deployed prototype of LaWS, meanwhile, is still being put through its paces in the Persian Gulf region. Although no new demonstrations have been announced, the engineers behind LaWS aim to make it more robust and reliable. “The objective of the LaWS team onboard Ponce is to push this system and see what breaks and why,” said Lt. Ian McConnaughey, spokesman for the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which includes the USS Ponce.


Meanwhile, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is similarly working out the kinks with its High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System (HELLADS), intended for use on aircraft. Unlike the Navy with its large ships, the Air Force faces the challenge of cramming laser equipment onboard a relatively tiny fighter jet, said Scharre. The issue of tight spaces means aircraft munitions have also been historically limited, making a directed-energy weapon case all the stronger. To this end, HELLADS has shown promise, having graduated from the lab to field tests that began in May at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. HELLADS will be aimed at rockets, mortars, vehicles and surface-to-air missiles — all targets of interest for the Air Force. “I could see a very compelling use case for laser weapons for all the services,” said Scharre. “They’re potentially a major paradigm shift in how we think about not only defensive, but offensive capability.” Despite all their advantages, though, directed-energy weapons’ transition from pipe dream to test-range workhorse to actual combat asset is far from assured. “As we said in a report we put out earlier this year: ‘No bucks, no ‘Buck Rogers’,” said Scharre, referencing the 20th-century science fiction hero. “There’s this almost universal enthusiasm for directed-energy weapons, but the DOD will need to stay focused and do more.”




TRAINING DAYS Large-scale exercises take aim at troop readiness


OMBAT-READY TROOPS DON’T MATERIALIZE overnight. Just ask any of the soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors who participate in extensive and intensive military exercises at home and abroad as part of their training. In 2015, numerous maneuvers were conducted, many of them in cooperation with allied forces and all of them with the goal of enhancing readiness. From California and Texas to Spain and Japan, U.S. troops have crossed the country and circled the globe to participate in military exercises designed to prepare them for any eventuality.


Troops participating in the Network Integration Evaluation 16.1 (NIE) exercise in September at White Sands Missile Range’s Space Harbor in New Mexico used a variety of technologies to communicate. The inflated sphere behind them contains a satellite dish. The exercise, which brought together U.S. and allied forces, focused on both experimentation and readiness.





Operation Jade Helm 15, a two-monthlong military training exercise that touched off conspiracy theories earlier this year, occurred across a wide swath of the Southwest this summer. Conducted primarily on private property and at military facilities, Jade Helm brought together some 1,200 troops — including members of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command and troops from all four branches of the service — for training in unconventional warfare. Jade Helm took place in seven states — Texas, Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Utah and New Mexico. “The diverse terrain in these states replicates areas Special Operations soldiers regularly find themselves operating in overseas,” the Army said in a press release. — USA TODAY

Small, off-the-shelf drones were evaluated for potential benefits to the military during Network Integration Evaluation 16.1. JOHN HAMILTON/U.S. ARMY


White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico hadn’t seen this much activity in more than 33 years, when space shuttle Columbia landed there in 1982. But one Sunday in September, the skies over the White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) — where the Space Harbor is located — were filled with waves of huge C-130 and C-17 airplanes from the U.S. Air Force’s Pope Field in North Carolina. Reminiscent of scenes from World War II films, the planes dropped 600 paratroopers with the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division as well as equipment to be tested and evaluated; they even unloaded a couple of helicopters. The efforts were all part of Network Integration Evaluation 16.1 (NIE), a joint military forces training exercise (the largest NIE ever) that focused on both experimentation and readiness, Brig. Gen.

Terry McKenrick said in an Army news story. Conducted primarily at WSMR and Fort Bliss, Texas, from Sept. 25 to Oct. 8, NIE incorporated some 9,000 U.S. and coalition soldiers representing 14 NATO partners, including Great Britain and Italy. At WSMR, the air space — 40 miles wide by 100 miles long — is restricted to military aircraft. For the airdrop, Space Harbor, which closed in 2011, offered runways that hadn’t been improved or used extensively in years, meaning conditions more closely approximated those U.S. troops might encounter overseas. The training exercise included a simulated air assault of Space Harbor, with paratroopers recapturing the airfield from “enemy” forces. NIE, which also collected soldier evaluations of technological and scientific advances that are in the early stages of development, is considered a key part of Army modernization efforts. Soldier evaluations were conducted this year across numerous platforms, including

Army vehicles, off-the-shelf drones and their potential capabilities, and energy conservation systems, according to Army news stories. “You could see it in their eyes that they (soldiers) are excited to be part of influencing the future of the Army,” said battalion commander Lt. Col. Raphael Heflin of Fort Bliss’ 142nd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion. About 150 soldiers from the battalion were tasked with testing equipment. NIE also focused on improving the coalition network and communication flow with U.S. allies. “Any future operation we do will be done with another nation and potentially a series of other nations,” said British Brig. Gen. Robin Sergeant, commander of the 12th Armoured Infantry Brigade. “The only way you can do those operations well is to have invested beforehand and make sure you can operate, communicate and work together.” — Steve Ramirez, Las Cruces (N.M.) Sun-News, and David Burge, El Paso (Texas) Times


Exercise Southern Strike 16 included anti-hijacking training on board a plane at the Mississippi Air National Guard Combat Readiness Training Center in Gulfport, Miss.



A joint-force training exercise conducted at the Mississippi Air National Guard’s Combat Readiness Training Center in Gulfport, Miss., Exercise Southern Strike 16 focused on air-to-air combat as well as air-to-ground and special operations forces training opportunities. Southern Strike, held Oct. 26 through Nov. 6, included units from all branches of the service. Parts of the exercise were also carried out at the Camp Shelby and Camp McCain Joint Forces Training Centers in Hattiesburg and Grenada, Miss. Approximately 750 sorties were flown. — USA TODAY




Marines with 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, fire mortars during Large Scale Exercise 15 at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms in California in August.


Just after dawn one Sunday in August, amphibious assault vehicles rumbled across the barren desert in a remote area on the sprawling grounds of Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif. Soon after, a long line of trucks, hauling artillery, appeared over a hill, the convoy kicking up huge dust clouds on its way to the battlefield. A few miles away, Harrier jets and helicopters from Marine Aircraft Group 29 waited on a flight line, armed and ready to fly at a moment’s notice. The air and ground assets were getting ready to deploy to the “battlefield” for livefire training during Large Scale Exercise 2015 (LSE-15), which was designed to enable live and virtual training for the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., and all four elements of the Marine Air Ground Task Force: command, ground, air and logistics. This scenario-driven military operation focused on small-scale conventional warfare and included coalition partners from the United Kingdom and Canada. Troops were being trained for eventual deployment in crisis situations in unstable parts of the world. About 4,900 Marines and sailors were involved in the exercise, which began in the virtual realm in mid-July and ended Aug. 20. Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 366, also known as the “Hammerheads,” and its bevy of CH-53E Super Stallion heavy-lift cargo helicopters — the largest and heaviest helicopter in the U.S. military — and Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 167 “Warriors,” consisting of UH-1Y Venom and AH-1W Super Cobra helicopters — were among those participating in the exercise. — Denise Goolsby, The (Palm Springs, Calif.) Desert Sun




A B-1 bomber takes off from Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., in 2012. B-1s from the base and B-52s from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota will make use of the newly expanded Powder River Training Complex.

The first large-scale exercise in a huge bomber training area over the Northern Plains took place in early December in the expanded Powder River Training Complex over the Dakotas, Montana and Wyoming. Forty-one aircraft — bombers, fighter jets and refueling tankers — practiced maneuvers in the 35,000-square-mile airspace. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., called the exercise a success. It was “designed to train aircrew under realistic scenarios,” the Air Force said. The FAA approved the expansion of the Powder River complex earlier this year after

several years of study and public comment. The expansion roughly quadrupled the training airspace, making it the largest over the continental U.S. The move came over the objections of some residents of the region who worry about military planes disrupting civilian flights, rural communities and ranching operations. Advocates say it will boost military training while reducing costs. The airspace will primarily be used by B-1 bombers from Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota and B-52 bombers from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota. — The Associated Press








A U.S. Marine armored vehicle exits a U.S. Navy hovercraft and is driven along a beach south of Lisbon, Portugal, during NATO’s Trident Juncture in October. More than 36,000 personnel from NATO allies and partner nations participated in exercises held across southern Europe from Portugal to Italy.


Trident Juncture, NATO’s most fearsome display of military might in more than a decade, was a choreographed large-scale movement of soldiers, ships and planes meant to hone its capabilities as well as transmit an unmistakable signal to Russia and other possible foes. The U.S.-led alliance’s aim was to train and exercise, but it was also “sending a very clear message to our nations and to any potential adversary,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said during a news conference in late October. “NATO does not seek confrontation,” Stoltenberg said. “But we stand ready to defend all allies.” For three weeks starting Oct. 21, more than 36,000 personnel from all 28 NATO allies and eight partner nations, as well as more than 160 aircraft and 60 warships, took part in exercises across a broad swath of southern Europe stretching from Portugal to Italy. The No. 1 objective of the maneuvers was to ensure NATO’s beefed-up Response Force is up to the job, and that the U.S. and its allies can respond promptly and in unison to a crisis. — John-Thor Dahlburg, The Associated Press




An airman assigned to the 435th Security Forces Squadron, Ramstein Air Base, Germany, heads to his rally point after parachuting from an aircraft in Nurmsi, Estonia, during a landing that was part of Saber Strike 15. A multinational exercise, Saber Strike was led by U.S. Army Europe and took place in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland in June.

During Exercise Malabar 2015 in October, the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier, left, sailed alongside an Indian tanker, center, and a Japanese destroyer as part of a replenishmentat-sea exercise in the Indian Ocean. Malabar was meant to foster naval cooperation between the three countries and demonstrate a U.S. presence in the region.







HONOR THE FALLEN We pay tribute to the U.S. service members who lost their lives while supporting Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Freedom’s Sentinel and Operation Inherent Resolve in 2015.

Army Spc. John M. Dawson, 22, of Whitinsville, Mass., died April 8 in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when he was attacked by small-arms fire while he was on an escort mission.

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Anthony E. Salazar, 40, of Hermosa Beach, Calif., died April 13 at an air base in southwest Asia in a non-combat-related incident.

Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Devon J. Doyle, 21, of Alamosa, Colo., died May 16 in Manama, Bahrain, in a noncombat-related incident while on liberty.

Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Ryan D. Burris, 24, of Lisle, Ill., died May 21 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, in a noncombat-related incident at Zayed Military City.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Pablo A. Ruiz, 37, of Melbourne, Fla., died May 24 in Bagram, Afghanistan, in a noncombat-related incident.

Krissie K. Davis, 54, of Talladega, Ala., a member of the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) at Anniston, Ala., and part of a civilian workforce, was killed June 8 during an indirect fire attack on Bagram Airbase, Afghanistan.

Army Pfc. Monterrious T. Daniel, 19, of Griffin, Ga., died June 12 in Camp Buehring, Kuwait, in a non-combat-related incident.

Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Jason P. May, 38, of Chesterfield, Mich., died June 29 on board USS Essex (LHD 2), of non-combat-related causes while the ship was at sea.

Army Master Sgt. Peter A. McKenna Jr., 35, of Bristol, R.I., died Aug. 8 in Kabul of wounds when he was attacked by enemy small-arms fire.

Air Force Capt. Matthew D. Roland, 27, of Lexington, Ky., died of wounds suffered Aug. 26 when the vehicle he was traveling in was attacked near Camp Antonik, Afghanistan.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Forrest B. Sibley, 31, of Pensacola, Fla., died of wounds suffered Aug. 26 when the vehicle he was traveling in was attacked near Camp Antonik, Afghanistan.

Army Spc. Kyle E. Gilbert, 24, of Buford, Ga., died Sept. 21 in Bagram, Afghanistan, in a non-combat-related incident.

Navy Seaman Philip Frazier Manes, 21, of Fairfax, Va., died Sept. 27 in Manama, Bahrain, of a non-combat-related incident.

Air Force Capt. Jonathan J. Golden, 33, of Camarillo, Calif., died Oct. 2 in the crash of a C-130J Super Hercules aircraft at Jalalabad Airfield, Afghanistan.

Air Force Capt. Jordan B. Pierson, 28, of Abilene, Texas, died Oct. 2 in the crash of a C-130J Super Hercules aircraft at Jalalabad Airfield, Afghanistan.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Ryan D. Hammond, 26, of Moundsville, W. Va., died Oct. 2 in the crash of a C-130J Super Hercules aircraft at Jalalabad Airfield, Afghanistan.




Air Force Senior Airman Quinn L. Johnson-Harris, 21, of Milwaukee, died Oct. 2 in the crash of a C-130J Super Hercules aircraft at Jalalabad Airfield, Afghanistan.

Air Force Senior Airman Nathan C. Sartain, 29, of Pensacola, Fla., died Oct. 2 in the crash of a C-130J Super Hercules aircraft at Jalalabad Airfield, Afghanistan.

Air Force Airman 1st Class Kcey E. Ruiz, 21, of McDonough, Ga., died Oct. 2 in the crash of a C-130J Super Hercules aircraft at Jalalabad Airfield, Afghanistan.

Air Force Maj. Phyllis J. Pelky, 45, of Rio Rancho, N.M., died Oct. 11 in the crash of a British Puma Mk2 helicopter in Kabul.

Air Force Master Sgt. Gregory T. Kuhse, 38, of Kalamazoo, Mich., died Oct. 11 in the crash of a British Puma Mk2 helicopter in Kabul.

Army Master Sgt. Joshua L. Wheeler, 39, of Roland, Okla., died Oct. 22 in Kirkuk province, Iraq, from wounds received by enemy small-arms fire during an operation. THINKSTOCK


U.S. undertakes major expansion of national cemeteries By Stephanie Anderson Witmer


MAJOR EXPANSION OF national cemeteries is underway to provide burial space for an estimated 2 million more eligible veterans and their family

members. The National Cemetery Administration (NCA) within the Department of Veterans Affairs is overseeing the program, which is the largest expansion of the system since its inception during the Civil War 150 years ago. The VA maintains 131 national cemeteries that provide the final resting places for more than 4 million military veterans and their family members. Plans call for adding 18 new locations and increasing the size and capacity of many of the existing burial grounds. Ronald E. Walters, NCA’s interim undersecretary for memorial affairs, said the NCA discovered gaps in its service coverage after reviewing policies in 2011 and 2013 and receiving feedback from veterans’ families. A revision has since lowered the required veteran population density for the construction of a new national cemetery from 170,000 veterans residing in a 75-mile radius to 80,000 veterans.


Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, above, in San Diego is closed to new burials. Miramar National Cemetery now serves veterans there.


The VA is establishing five new national cemeteries — one in western New York, one in southern Colorado and one in Omaha. In Florida, the Tallahassee National Cemetery and Cape Canaveral National Cemetery were both dedicated earlier this year. The NCA is also working to address the needs of veterans and their families, whether they live in urban or rural areas. Under its Urban Initiative, the VA wants to add five columbarium-only cemeteries for cremations in New York City, Los Angeles, Indianapolis, San Francisco and Chicago.

Through a Rural Initiative designed to better serve less-populated locations, a new national burial ground was dedicated in Yellowstone County, Mont., in 2014, and additional burial grounds are slated for North Dakota, Wyoming, Wisconsin, Utah, Maine, Idaho and Nevada. The NCA also says it is making an ongoing effort to expand and preserve its existing cemeteries, currently overseeing about 20,500 developed acres of cemetery space. All new and existing cemeteries will be outfitted with GPS and GIS technology to help locate graves. Information kiosks at national cemeteries will remain in use. The NCA also has a

National Gravesite Locator on its website ( These technologies both assist and educate visitors, because the NCA aims to do more than just provide burial benefits and interment space, said Mike Nacincik, chief of communications and outreach support for the NCA. “Part of our mission is also to memorialize and honor veterans, as well as bury them,” he said, “and that means telling their story and the story of the military, how military service has changed, how conflict has changed and how veterans have, in many ways, shaped the country.”






USS RAFAEL PERALTA An Arleigh Burkeclass destroyer, the USS Rafael Peralta was christened at Bath Iron Works in Maine on Oct. 31. Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta died in 2004 in Iraq after shielding fellow Marines from a grenade blast.


USS JASON DUNHAM Marine Cpl. Jason L. Dunham covered a grenade with his helmet and body to shield fellow Marines in Iraq in 2004. The USS Jason Dunham is an Arleigh Burkeclass destroyer. U.S NAVY VIA THE ASSOCIATED PRESS; ROBERT F. BUKATY/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS



Warships honor soldiers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan By David Sharp


EROES FORGED IN AFGHANISTAN and Iraq are having their names bestowed on a new generation of warships. More than a decade after U.S. boots hit the ground in the Middle East, two new U.S. Navy destroyers bearing the names of Americans who died there are already in service and a third, the USS Rafael Peralta, named for a Marine killed 11 years ago in Iraq, was christened in October at Bath Iron Works in Maine. Sgt. Rafael Peralta was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for heroism after he covered an insurgent’s grenade with his body

to protect his fellow Marines on Nov. 15, 2004. Born in Mexico City, Peralta came to the U.S. with his family, attended high school in San Diego and enlisted in the Marines soon after receiving his green card. Peralta became one of the most celebrated Marines from the Iraq War for heroism shown in close-quarters combat against insurgents in Fallujah. The USS Rafael Peralta, a guided-missile destroyer, is one of a handful of U.S. Navy warships to be named for Mexican Americans, and it’s believed by naval historians to be the first to be named for someone actually born in Mexico, according to Scot Christenson of the U.S. Naval

Institute. Cmdr. Brian Ribota said the ship’s crew of approximately 300 will strive to honor the legacy of a Marine who loved his country so much that he had only three things on his bedroom wall: the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights and his Marine boot camp certificate. “He’s the true American story of immigrating to the United States and loving this place so much that he sacrificed his life for all,” Ribota said. The Peralta is one of four destroyers named for a serviceman who died in Iraq or Afghanistan. The USS Jason Dunham, named for a Marine killed in 2004 in Iraq, and the USS Michael Murphy, named for a Navy SEAL killed in 2005 in Afghanistan, are already on duty. The future USS Michael Monsoor, named for a Navy SEAL killed in 2006 in Iraq, is also being built at Bath Iron Works. The USS Peralta is an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer that uses powerful computer and phasedarray radar equipment, known as the Aegis Combat System, to simultaneously wage war with aircraft, missiles, submarines and surface warships. David Sharp writes for The Associated Press.

USS MICHAEL MONSOOR Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael A. Monsoor, a Navy Seal, died after throwing himself on a grenade in Iraq in 2006 to protect his teammates. The ship named for him is being built in Maine. U.S. NAVY


USS MICHAEL MURPHY Lt. Michael P. Murphy, a Navy SEAL, sacrificed his life to assist his team during a gun battle in eastern Afghanistan in 2005. The USS Michael Murphy is an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer.



THE TROOPS Lance Cpl. Alyse Griffis, a landing support specialist, provides security as part of a drill in the Basic Combat Skills Course at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in California in November.


Armed forces prepare to open all combat jobs to women

By Lolita C. Baldor


EMOVING THE FINAL BARRIERS that kept women from serving in combat, Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter announced in early December that all military jobs would be open to women, including the most dangerous commando posts.

The Pentagon can’t successfully defend the nation by excluding half the population from combat roles, said Carter. “We are a joint force, and I have decided to make a decision which applies to the entire force,” Carter told a news conference Dec. 3. “There will be no exceptions.” Carter said the decision was part of his commitment to build a force of the

future. Any man or woman who meets the standards should be able to serve, Carter said, and he gave the armed services 30 days to submit plans to make the change. The services have until April 1 to accommodate women in all roles. “While at the end of the day this will make us a better and stronger force, there still will be problems to fix and challenges





THE TROOPS to overcome,” Carter said. “We shouldn’t diminish that.” The order opens the final 10 percent of military positions to women and allows them to serve in the most demanding and difficult jobs, including those in special operations forces such as Army Delta units and Navy SEALs. Women currently make up about 15 percent of the 1.4 million U.S. service members and nearly 17 percent of all officers, according to DOD statistics. There are 213,600 male-only jobs in the military in 52 specialties, most in infantry units in the Army and Marine Corps. On Dec. 4, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the Obama administration would work with Congress to consider changing the selective service law that would make women eligible for the draft. In recent years, women have steadily moved into many jobs previously open only to men, including on Navy submarines, in Army artillery units and as Night Stalkers, the elite special operations helicopter crews best known for flying Navy SEALs into Osama bin Laden’s compound in 2011. In 2015, three female soldiers — two in August and one in October — became the first to graduate from the Army’s grueling two-month Ranger course. The decision to open all combat jobs took months of study and vigorous debate. The landmark decision satisfies a 2013 order to eliminate the 1994 Direct Ground Combat Exclusion Rule, which barred women from thousands of military jobs, as of Jan. 1, 2016. The services submitted their plans at the end of September and had the option to request exceptions to the rule if evidence supported their appeal. The Army, Navy, Air Force and Special Operations Command all said they would not seek any exceptions and would recommend removing the ban on women in dangerous combat jobs. Only the Marine Corps sought to keep some jobs closed. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. was the Marine Corps commandant at the time and said that the Marines should be allowed to keep women out of certain front-line combat jobs. He cited studies showing that mixed-gender units aren’t as capable as all-male units. Months of testing, the Marine review said, found that women often couldn’t


First Lt. Shaye Haver, left and above, who tackled mountaineering training in Army Ranger School, was the first of two women to graduate and earn a coveted Ranger tab in August. J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

carry as much weight or shoot as well as the men. Allowing women to compete for ground combat jobs, it concluded, would make the Marine Corps a less-efficient fighting machine. Carter said he came to a different conclusion, adding that the integration of women into the combat jobs will be deliberate and methodical and will address the Marines’ concerns. In a prepared statement, Dunford said he provided his best military advice on the issue, and now his focus is “to lead the

full integration of women in a manner that maintains our joint warfighting capability, ensures the health and welfare of our people, and optimizes how we leverage talent across the joint force.” A spokesman for the Marines, Maj. Christian Devine, said in a statement that the Corps will immediately begin to implement the change, but will maintain the standards of the force while also working to “optimize individual performance.” Notably, Gen. Joseph Votel, head of U.S. Special Operations Command, said

BY THE NUMBERS Percentage of women in each branch of the armed forces, prior to Dec. 3, 2015









Source: U.S. armed forces

his office also did extensive analysis and decided not to keep any of the high-risk, high-pressure commando jobs closed. Votel said that integrating women into certain jobs in recent years, including as Night Stalkers and in cultural support teams in Afghanistan, benefited the force. “If candidates meet time-tested and scientifically validated standards, and if they have proven that they have the physical, intellectual, professional and character attributes that are so critical to special operations, they will be welcomed into the special operations forces ranks,” Votel said. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said Congress will use the 30 days to review the implications of the decision. Lolita C. Baldor writes for The Associated Press. Contributing: Mary Helen Berg, Jim Michaels, Tom Vanden Brook




Newlyweds Britney Damuth and Michael King shipped out to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri under the Army’s revived buddy program.



Bring your friends and family along when you enlist in the Army

By Tom Vanden Brook


EET NEWLYWEDS AND BATTLE buddies, Army Pvts. Britney Damuth and Michael King. Married Oct. 20 — “my 19th birthday,” Damuth said — the couple from Longview, Texas, shipped out days later to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. They enlisted through a revived Army recruiting program designed to let friends, including husbands and wives, join the service, train together and spend a year together at their first post. Enlisting, Damuth said, “was kind of a random thing. We both wanted to better ourselves for different things in life other than East Texas.” The couple will train to become combat engineers, a specialty that recently opened to women. Engineers build bridges, clear landmines and destroy obstacles.

“She really chose that more than I did,” said King, also 19. “We both like blowing stuff up.” For the Army, the program, which had been suspended more than 10 years ago, takes aim at one of the top reasons young people don’t enlist. “They don’t want to leave friends and family,” said Kelli Bland, a spokeswoman for the Army’s recruiting command. So bring your friends and family along, the Army says. Through October, 168 people had signed up — 147 men and 21 women. The program — the Buddy Team Enlistment Option — has attracted other husband-and-wife teams, a brother-andsister pair, twin brothers and batches of pals from high school, said Patricia Crowe, an Army recruiting official. The Army would like the program to grow to 1,000 recruits. Every new soldier counts. The Army, for the fiscal year that

offers a welcome respite ended Oct. 1, struggled from filling out forms, to meet its annual goal of “(Enlisting) was undergoing medical 59,000 recruits. It needs exams and staring at 62,500 for the current kind of a random books. Training also year. thing. We both means an end to their The Army dropped the honeymoon, such as it buddy program about 10 wanted to better is. They have been told years ago after officials ourselves for they’ll be separated for struggled to meet the at least 15 weeks during commitments it had different things in training, save for 11 days made. life.” at Christmas. The toughest to keep, “I think I’ll like it a Crowe said, was allowing — Army Pvt. Britney Damuth lot,” Damuth said. “I like soldiers to deploy being surrounded by a together for three years. bunch of other females The new version that enjoy doing the same thing I do.” ratchets back to allowing buddies to Like it enough and the Army may have stick together from basic and advanced the two for life. individual training to their first permanent “We talked before we got here about post for 12 months. both retiring in the Army if it’s what we For Damuth and King, basic training, like to do,” Damuth said. which began for them in November,






HISTORIC FIRSTS Policy revisions and studies herald welcome changes for LGBT troops

By Cindy Kuzma


RMY STAFF SGT. PATRICIA King lives in two worlds. Born and enlisted as a man, she came out as transgender in January 2015. She’s on hormone therapy and has legally changed her name, passport, Social Security information and driver’s license. But despite her colleagues and superiors at Fort Carson, Colo., knowing about her gender identity, the Department of Defense officially recognizes her as male. “I have to adhere to male standards even though everywhere else in my life I present as, and live genuinely as, a female,” she said. Although she hopes for a day when she can focus solely on her job without the added concerns, King said she’s grateful that her higher-ups respect her identity and have done their best to support her. As recently as this past year, that might not have been possible. While challenges remain for the estimated 12,000 transgender and nearly 50,000 gay and lesbian service members, “this has been a historic year” for LGBT military personnel, said Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, an independent research institute that studies sexual minorities in the military. Gay and lesbian service members have been allowed to serve openly since the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2011. And while transgender men and women in uniform can still face discharge for coming out, that policy is now under review following an announcement by Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter in July that a working group would be formed to study the implications of lifting the transgender ban. “The Defense Department’s current regulations regarding transgender service members are outdated and are causing uncertainty that distracts commanders from our core missions,” Carter said in a statement. Brad R. Carson, acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, leads the group. Working with senior representatives from across the military, the group is tasked with considering all practical challenges to welcoming transgender


individuals to open service and presenting policy recommendations to Carter in January. Under a draft plan obtained by USA TODAY, the transgender ban would be lifted on May 27, 2016. The group began with the presumption that there was no reason not to lift the ban, but will address any objective, practical impediments, said DOD spokesman Matthew Allen. “The department needs to be deliberate and think through the impacts of full integration of open transgender service members into the Armed Forces in order to get it right, and we’re committed to getting it right,” he said. Carter also took the power of discharging transgender service members out of the hands of low-level commanders. Now, all administrative discharges for military personnel diagnosed with gender dysphoria or who identify themselves as transgender must be approved by Carson. This “in practice is a moratorium on



TRANSGENDER AND NEARLY 50,000 GAY AND LESBIAN SERVICE MEMBERS transgender discharges,” Belkin said. In another advance for the LGBT movement, Carter announced at the DOD’s fourth annual LGBT Pride Month Ceremony in June the expansion of the military’s equal opportunity policy to cover gay and lesbian troops.

“Discrimination of any kind has no place in America’s armed forces,” Carter said. The ruling benefits gay and lesbian troops who, while no longer threatened with discharge, could still be turned down for promotions and other opportunities. “Before this, they could say: ‘She is married to a woman; we are not even going to consider her for this position because she is gay,’ ” said Ashley Broadway, president of the American Military Partners Association and the wife of Army Lt. Col. Heather Mack. Soldiers who face harassment from peers also have an avenue for recourse, she added. “Now that these protections are in place, that soldier can go to their command. Now it’s coming down from the top,” Broadway said. “I think this year — 2015 — finally solidifies for the most part that LGBT service members and their families are being treated fairly and with respect.” Contributing: Tom Vanden Brook





THE TROOPS Staff Sgt. Jacob Bintliff, who teaches survival skills — such as starting a fire — to airmen at Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington, has found his calling.


The military boasts hundreds of jobs that make careers in the armed forces anything but uniform. Four service members with unique duties share their experiences. By Stephanie Anderson Witmer




Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington In 2012, Air Force Staff Sgt. Jacob Bintliff had been working in construction management since his graduation from college four years before. Prior to college, he’d served in the Marine Corps for five years, and he found himself longing for that same sense of purpose and pride he’d had as a Marine. As a child, Bintliff spent a lot of time outdoors with his family hunting, fishing and hiking, so when he saw a job description



THE TROOPS Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Blake Midnight participates in underwater photo training off the coast of Guantanamo Bay in Cuba in November.

for an Air Force SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) specialist, Bintliff knew he’d found the perfect occupation. “Initially, it sounded fun. Spending time in the woods, doing survival stuff, that’s always appealed to me on a personal level,” he said. “That’s what caught my attention, but really deep down, I was looking for something that was selfless, something that had a larger impact.” As a SERE specialist, Bintliff, 33, of Naples, Fla., teaches survival skills to other airmen at the SERE school at Fairchild Air Force Base near Spokane, Wash., one of three in the U.S. “The SERE specialist career field is designated to giving personnel who are at risk of isolation skills and confidence so they can return with honor,” he said. SERE students must be proficient in basic survival skills, from procuring food and building fires to navigating in the wilderness and avoiding detection. In preparation, Bintliff had to undergo rigorous SERE training, learning how to survive alone in virtually every type of environment — from a desert to the open water. He teaches between 40 to 80 airmen for two weeks, detailing survival principles and putting that knowledge to the test in the field. The key to success, Bintliff said, is mental toughness: “Almost anybody can learn the skills, but we really need to show students how to deal with harsh, austere conditions.” That sense of fulfillment he was looking for? He’s found it. “With this job, I get to teach people the skills they would need if they ended up in one of the worst situations imaginable,” he said. “Knowing I could potentially save someone’s life or give them the skills to even avoid that situation really means something to me.”



Being a photographer might be a glamorous pursuit in some places, but it’s anything but in Navy Combat Camera. These mass communication specialists (MCs) must be able to deploy with just 24 hours’ notice to capture and tell the visual stories of combat, humanitarian efforts, natural disasters and other missions. “What makes Combat Camera unique and separates us from other MCs is our training,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Blake Midnight. It is vast, varied and lengthy to ensure these sailors can embed, deploy and work


with any unit in any situation. They receive top-notch photography and videography training, but they also receive small-arms weapon training and learn navigation skills and how to work with ground forces. Combat Camera photographers also go through Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) school, which Midnight attended outdoors in Maine — in February. “That’s another thing that makes COMCAM assets unique,” he added. “We’re trained in case of the worst situation.” Midnight is also the lead diver for the Navy’s underwater photography team, an elite group of 12 sailors who receive scuba and special underwaterphotography training. Since he joined the Navy in 2007, Midnight, 33, of Dansville, N.Y., has taken photographs documenting missions as varied as the recent recovery of the Civil War-era CSS Georgia, the fatal shootings at military installations in Chattanooga, Tenn., and international countermine exercises

in the Strait of Hormuz between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. The rotation is challenging, Midnight said, particularly because he has two sons, ages 7 and 1. He typically deploys for six months, comes home for six, then deploys again. “There’s a huge commitment to be here,” he said. “You need to be on top of your game, you need to be a squared-away sailor, for sure, and you need to have everything together at home, because the job they’re asking us to do at Combat Camera is not an easy one.” Still, Midnight knows the value of his work. “We can reach places other photographers can’t,” he said. “I think it’s very important to continue to get to those hard-to-reach places and show what people there are doing — not just how the people there are living but how American men and women are interacting with them and making a positive difference.” CO N T I N U E D



THE TROOPS Members of the Caisson Platoon ride in the funeral procession for Army Maj. Gen. Harold J. Greene at Arlington National Cemetery in August 2014. Cpl. Jake Kausen, below, is a rider in the platoon.



SOLDIER, CAISSON PLATOON Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va.

Before he joined the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), Army Cpl. Jake Kausen’s experience with horses was limited to a handful of rides at summer camp. Now, he works with equines every day as a member of the Caisson Platoon. In the 2½ years since he’s joined the platoon, Kausen, 22, of Lake Forest, Calif., has ridden in nearly 530 full-honors military funerals at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia to help continue a longestablished tradition of a horse-drawn caisson carrying the caskets of service members. The platoon averages seven full-honors funerals per day, Kausen said, with members rotating duties that also include cleaning stalls, barn maintenance, bathing and caring for the horses and polishing 360 pieces of brass on their gear. The platoon also participates in a variety of events, including the popular “Spirit of America” pageant (which tells the story of the U.S. Army) and presidential inaugural parades. The training is meticulous and rigorous

for both animals and humans. The horses, for instance, must be desensitized to distractions that might startle them in public — cars, gunfire from graveside salutes, even a stray plastic bag blowing across their path. “You have to have a lot of patience,” Kausen said. “Every horse is different, just like with people. You’ll be trying to get them to do something and they just won’t get it, so you have to take breaks and keep your composure.” Platoon riders have learned how to keep their bodies still and rigid in a posture of solemn military attention, communicating with their horses through the tiniest of micromovements. Although Caisson Platoon rides in multiple funerals day after day, its members treat each ceremony with solemnity and respect, even learning the names and biographies of each service member. “Every funeral we do is usually somebody’s first and last time seeing this, so we try to make it the same every time,” Kausen said. “There’s no room for mistakes.”


FOOD SERVICE SPECIALIST Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, S.C.

Staff Sgt. Jacob Ballard’s passion for cooking began in high school in Rhode Island, and it’s taken him all the way to Parris Island, where he is a food service specialist and Marine aide to the commanding general. During a meeting with a recruiter after high school, Ballard, 28, learned he could cook in the Marine Corps, just as he’d been doing in his high school’s vocational culinary-arts program. “I thought, ‘At the very least, maybe I’ll be fed well, so I’ll do that,’ ” he said. He plans and prepares dinners, receptions and other official functions and oversees renovations and maintenance at his general’s quarters. Prior assignments have taken him to California, Arizona, Washington, D.C., aboard the USS John C. Stennis, and Camp Bastion in Afghanistan. Regardless of where or what he’s cooking, Ballard said it’s all about service and “keeping (Marines) happy and keeping them in the fight. “Food service is one of those jobs that can easily get overlooked when you think of the big-picture military,” he explained, “but if you’ve ever spoken with a deployed Marine, they’ll tell you, ‘Chow is morale.’ If you’re in a bad situation but you’re being fed well, it may be one of the only bright spots of your entire day.” Like any good chef — and Marine — he


Staff Sgt. Jacob Ballard, a food service specialist and Marine aide at Parris Island, S.C., says the job is about keeping Marines happy and “in the fight.”

keeps his cool under pressure, whether he’s feeding hundreds of hungry Marines, cooking without running water or serving VIPs such as retired Army general and former Secretary of State Colin Powell. He’s even wowed food-world celebs such as Rachael Ray — in 2014, Ballard cooked pimento-cheese fritters during a special Veterans Day segment on her talk show. He’s won numerous military and civilian cooking competitions, including a Chef of the Quarter contest sponsored by the Marine Corps that earned him a spot in an eight-week course at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America.






GOING BANANAS Best-selling products worldwide in FY 2015 Bananas

13.8 million bunches


’TIL YOU 93% lean ground beef

4.8 million packages

80% lean ground beef

4.4 million packages



DeCA’s Better for You Shopping program includes a focus on consuming more produce as part of a healthy lifestyle. Items having the biggest jump in sales from fiscal year (FY) 2013 to fiscal year (FY) 2015: bananas, strawberries, red seedless grapes, green seedless grapes and russet potatoes.

From bananas to sushi — and everything in between — military personnel and their families ring up billions of dollars in sales at commissaries around the world. Like every other enterprise, the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) keeps close tabs on transactions, so USA TODAY asked DeCA about some of the top items on customers’ shopping lists. Here’s a by-the-numbers look at today’s commissaries.

1 = 1 million


$4,500 $1,500 How much a family of four who are regular commissary shoppers can save on their total annual grocery bill

How much a single service member who is a regular commissary shopper can save on his or her total annual grocery bill



Total annual sales in 2015

Total customer transactions in 2015




The number of commissaries located in the U.S. and 13 other countries


million pounds Weight of grocery items collected by commissaries for area food banks through the Feds Feed Families campaign in 2015






Commissaries with the biggest sales in FY 2015

The top ice cream flavor was vanilla in all its many varieties, including homemade, French and extra creamy.

Fort Belvoir, Va.

$93 million

ADDED ATTRACTIONS Pearll Harb Pe Harbor, Ha Hawaiiii

$88.5 million

Specialty-item sales in many commissaries included: Rotisserie chickens


$1 million

NO. 1 Bananas were most popular at the three top-selling commissaries. Other favorites, depending on the location, included limes, lemons, Hass avocadoes, eggs, 2 percent milk and navel oranges.

Party cakes

Naval Base San Diego



$2.7 million

$1.3 million

$87.3 million


Holidays or events that generate the greatest sales (totals include the entire week before)

The commissaries sold 7.3 million pounds of broccoli, 5.2 million pounds of iceberg lettuce and 3.2 million pounds of sweet potatoes.

GAME DAY One of the biggest single shopping days of the year is typically the Saturday before the Super Bowl. In 2015, commissaries rang up $28.63 million in sales on Supe Super Bowl Saturday.







$140.9 in 2014

Top-selling items by unit were jellied cranberry sauce, condensed cream of mushroom soup and plain cream cheese.

$134.6 in 2014

Top sellers were plain cream cheese, condensed cream of mushroom soup and boneless, skinless chicken breast.

$117.2 in 2015

Popular items were soda, jumbo chicken wings and boneless, skinless chicken breast.





MARRIED TO THE MILITARY Spouses give their all to support and care for their families


SA TODAY ASKED FOUR women who blog about their lives as military spouses for insights and advice about being a part of the U.S. military. Here are the questions and their responses:

uWhat do you like best about being a military spouse, and is there a particular aspect you would change if you could? uPlease describe a challenge you’ve encountered as a military spouse and how you’ve overcome it. uWhat’s your most important advice for dealing with a spouse’s deployment? uWhen you arrive at a new post, what are your top priorities?


BEST PART: My favorite part of the military lifestyle is the inevitable close friendships. We have friends all over the country from so many different backgrounds. The nature of the military profession brings both the service members and their spouses together so quickly! In my experience, the hardest part about these relationships is they rarely last longer than three years. We say goodbye to friends so often, but we try our best to make time for visits whenever we travel! CHALLENGE: After our most recent move, our daughter decided to schedule her arrival on the same day we received our household goods shipment. I am convinced my husband worked even harder than I did laboring, as he went to our empty home after the birth to oversee our movers. I remember walking into a house full of boxes the next day, carrying our newborn daughter, with no sheets on the beds or silverware in the kitchen. My resourceful Marine hung the shower curtains with zip-ties until we found the hooks a few weeks later. Eventually we finished unpacking, but we are still finding the inventory stickers on our furniture nearly a year later!


Kourtney Martin advises finding a place to belong when moving to a new post. ADVICE: If possible, maintain strong and honest communication with your spouse. Understand you and your spouse are facing different, but equally challenging circumstances. While maintaining the home front, my biggest piece of advice is to surround yourself with positive people. Sure, we all have the nights we want to crawl under the covers for a good Netflix marathon, but these nights are best few and far between. Find friends to build you up and lend encourag-

ing advice during deployments! NEW POST: After PCS’ing two times in one year, I learned how important it is to plug yourself in. I’ve made the mistake of waiting too long to find a niche and losing out because of it. Whether personally or professionally, find a place to belong! We’ve found great community living in base housing and at our church! CO N T I N U E D

KOURTNEY MARTIN Wife, mom and blogger/photographer Spouse: Stephen Martin, U.S. Marine explosive ordnance disposal technician Children: 2 Current post: Camp Lejeune, N.C. Hometown: Shawnee, Kan. The Martins and the Marines blog is a snapshot of Kourtney’s life with her high school sweetheart, their two sweet redheads, and their military adventures. uInstagram @martinsandthemarines







Lisa Smith Molinari, right, discovered she was stronger than she realized.

THE MEAT & POTATOES OF LIFE by Lisa Smith Molinari

BEST PART: Remember “It’s not just a stone-washed denim. But every time job, it’s an adventure”? It’s not just a we move, I turn back into that awkward slogan, it’s the truth. I’ll admit there were seventh-grader, unsure of how to make stretches in our 21 years of marriage that new friends. Somewhere along the way, I didn’t feel adventurlearned that it takes paous, like the years we tience and hard work. LISA SMITH MOLINARI lived in the suburbs It might take months to Freelance writer and I was lucky to find good friends, but shower because I thanks to our multiple Spouse: Capt. Francis M. Molinari, had three kids under moves, I’m lucky that I deputy commander/chief of staff the age of 5. And I’ll now have many. of U.S. Naval War College concede that moving Children: 3 every few years ADVICE: Military crippled my career as spouses mean well, Current post: Naval Station an attorney. But had I but can scare the Newport, R.I. not married my Navy living daylights out of Hometown: Indiana, Pa. husband, I might’ve you when it comes never fallen in love to deployments. The Meat & Potatoes of Life with the beauty of Big Before my husband’s blog serves up a weekly helping Sur while stationed in yearlong deployment, of relatable stories about the California. I might’ve my friends painted realities of marriage, parenting never experienced a frightening picture and military life. the culture shock, of mental instability, fascination and afternoon bottles of newfound pride that wine and kids running uFacebook comes with being an rampant in mismatched TheMeatandPotatoesofLife American stationed socks eating nothing overseas. I might’ve but Fruit Loops. But never left Pittsburgh, so I’m grateful that I soon found that I was stronger than I the military brought adventure to my life. realized. I took charge, created a routine and thrived. Ignore the chatter. CHALLENGE: In seventh grade, I was an awkward, chunky adolescent with a bang NEW POST: Schools, period. If I find good roll, metal braces and just enough fashion educational programs where my kids fit sense to know that my favorite orange in, I’ll gladly live in a cardboard box under sweater was out of style. Years later, an overpass. Well, maybe not that, but the after marrying a Navy man, you’d think point is that as a mother, my happiness is I would’ve left my social awkwardness almost always dictated by our children’s back in the 1980s with banana clips and well-being.

BEST PART: As a military spouse, I like a comfortable new normal as soon as that, no matter how tough things get, possible. Parenting solo creates both what I am doing to support my spouse emptiness and opportunity. I focus on the is for the greater good of our country. opportunity to build closer bonds with Frequent moves and and among my sons. We continuous worrying institute new routines ERIN ROVAK HENDERSCHEDT make life stressful, but and start both fun and Teacher, writer my role is integral to the therapeutic traditions success of my husband’s to distract from the Spouse: U.S. Navy Capt. work, and for that, I am hole left by their Tom Henderschedt proud. dad’s temporary, but Children: 4 long, absences. As the CHALLENGE: We have “Commander In Chief at Current post: East Asia moved 11 times. The Home,” the spouse must Hometown: St. Louis biggest challenge manage it all, helping I’ve encountered as the service member and The Deployment Diatribes, a military spouse is children through the (News from The Commander in adapting to life in some tough times. Chief @ Home), offers helpful of our overseas postings. information and tells tales of NEW POST: When our Making a comfortable the adventure that is military family first arrives at a life in a far-flung foreign family life. new post, I work hard home takes a lot of to make the new house work. The sights, sounds a home as quickly as and even smells can uTwitter @BTDTmom possible. I make sure assault the senses; and to unpack our sons’ coping with the culture personal items before anything else so shock is very difficult for everyone in the that their surroundings feel familiar. My family. Obstacles include: finding schools, husband and I even hand-carry the boys’ doctors and familiar foods. Nothing is favorite items like books, toys and video simple, every day brings a new challenge, game consoles. I hang the pictures on the but it’s all worth it in the end because the walls and make our new home as much kids get exposed to culture and experilike the last one as is feasible. I focus on ences they’d never have if we stayed nothing else until the household goods closer to home. are unpacked and put away. Feeling ADVICE: My husband has deployed more comfortable and cozy at home is key to than half a dozen times. He was once settling into a new posting for any military gone for 21 months. When he deploys, family, no matter how seasoned. the most important thing I do to help our CO N T I N U E D family deal with his absence is establish


Making a house a home for her family is a priority for Erin Rovak Henderschedt, right.



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CAMMO STYLE LOVE by Rheanna Christine

When her husband is on assignment, Rheanna Christine looks for activities that help her come out of her “deployment shell.”

BEST PART: One of the greatest things that I’ve experienced as a military spouse is the people that I’ve met. Whether those are business connections or friendships, it continues to amaze me the people that cross my path. And while I truly love it and feel as if I was meant to be the wife of an airman, I wish that younger military spouses were encouraged to step up and be a part of making this community great, whether in family programs, FRG’s (family readiness groups), unit events, Key Spouse programs and larger advocacy organizations. Young military spouses have so much to offer and have experienced things that generations before have not. The millennial spouse is a “new breed” of spouse, and one that should not be discounted simply because of age. CHALLENGE: One of the biggest challenges that I have faced as the spouse of both an active-duty and a traditional Guardsman is

RHEANNA CHRISTINE Freelance writer and blogger Husband: Christopher, Nevada National Guard Children: 3 Current post: Virginia Hometown: Sacramento, Calif. Cammo Style Love is a military family and lifestyle blog. uInstagram @RheChristine

simply being understood. National Guard families are frequently lost in the shuffle of military support services and simply go without. The days of serving one weekend a month, two weeks in the summer, have long since gone, but yet we are still fighting to be acknowledged by leadership, programs and services. You may frequently

hear from a Guard family that they don’t feel that they matter, and that no one understands their service or what they go through. ADVICE: One of the ways to survive a deployment is to find that thing that makes you come out of your “deployment shell” and thrive. Take a dance class; enroll in a college course or something at the rec center. During one deployment I retaught myself to crochet and learned to knit. During another, I issued myself a reading challenge. NEW POST: Plugging into my local community is my top priority when arriving at a new location. I immediately start looking for a church, a mom’s group and a place to volunteer. They will be what ties you to the community and be your support system. Having experienced all levels of available support, we realized that tying ourselves to our community made for a much better experience.



• • • •

Traditional O.R. Hybrid O.R. Catheterization Lab Intensive Care Unit





DOD steps up efforts to prepare transitioning service members for the future By Adam Stone


S THE NATION BRACES for a new wave of veterans making the transition to civilian life, the Pentagon is nearly done rolling out an overhaul of a support program that it says vastly improves upon the old model. Some 200,000 military personnel are expected to pass through the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) this year, and that number is expected to hold steady over each of the next five years as the Depart-

ment of Defense continues to fine-tune TAP to help separating soldiers transition smoothly into the civilian workforce. TAP has always looked good on paper. Warfighters leaving the military services could access the program for career advice, tips on education and guidance on managing their finances. But in years past, the information was thin, and the presentation worse. Critics once even dubbed the program workshops “death by PowerPoint,” saying they lacked the education and training that’s critical to effectively transition.

In response, officials have been rolling out a broad range of changes to TAP, said Justin M. Ward, congressional specialist and spokesman for the DOD’s Transition to Veterans Program Office (TVPO), which leads the TAP overhaul. Under an updated curriculum known as Transition GPS (Goals, Plans, Success), troops participate in pre-separation counseling, a core curriculum that helps them become “career-ready,” and individual training tracks. CO N T I N U E D







Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez talks to troops about civilian career opportunities during a transition summit in Hawaii in July. STAFF SGT. CHRISTOPHER HUBENTHAL/U.S. AIR FORCE

Among the changes: uParticipation in Transition GPS is mandatory for troops leaving the military. uDeparting service members must conform to career-readiness standards and have an individual transition plan (which must be verified by their commanders), as well as a 12-month post-separation financial budget. uThe program has been extended to five days, with as many as 88 hours in supplemental classes. The more intensive pre-separation program is not just desirable but necessary, said Susan Kelly, director of TVPO. She pointed out, for example, that 70 percent of Marines and more than half of Army soldiers enter the military straight out of high school and leave after four years. That’s thousands of young men and women in their early 20s who may have never written a résumé. TAP now requires a heightened level of

readiness. Those who tion to social media. plan to pursue career Driven by participant Some 200,000 technical training must input, they’ve also show an application developed a briefing on military personnel package with résumé Department of Veterans are expected to and references in order Affairs benefits aimed to complete the course. specifically at reservpass through the “We want to be sure they ists, and have tried to Transition Asget those in order before streamline some of the they separate,” Kelly said. college-related informasistance Program Service members tion. (TAP) this year. going on to college must “What we’ve learned have a full application over the last couple of completed and must years is that business have a documented and corporations see appointment with an academic adviser at veterans bringing significant value into their school of choice. their organizations, and they want early Since the 2014 completion of a TAP access to that talent,” Kelly said. rollout on 206 military installations, VeteOrans and businesses might not organizers have been looking for ways to always know how to find one another, she continue improving the system. One goal said, “and so we want to be that pipeline.” in 2016, based on employer feedback, is to An emphasis on generating community provide a more fully fleshed-out introducsupport for veterans puts DOD right in line

with themes playing out at the VA. Officials there have been expanding a nationwide public/private collaboration effort meant to address issues related to veteran education, training and employment. The Veterans Economic Communities Initiative, which launched this spring in 25 cities and is set up to expand to 25 more, brings together local and national partners to coordinate career services for veterans, service members and military families. Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter echoed this theme in a July address to the National Association of Counties. “Our men and women in uniform don’t come from the Pentagon,” he said. “They come from your communities. We recruit from your communities. Our service members and their families live in your communities while they’re serving, including our CO N T I N U E D







VETERANS FIND SUPPORT IN PRIVATE INDUSTRY An increasing number of employers are realizing that actively recruiting and hiring veterans is good for both their companies and their communities. These five award-winning companies are among those that do it best.

Soldiers at Fort Sill, Okla., participate in a Transition Assistance Program (TAP) workshop, which is required for service members who are leaving the military. BEN SHERMAN/FORT SILL CANNONEER

Guardsmen and reservists. And when they leave military service, they’ll once again be in your communities.” DOD is now tapping a range of governmental partners to develop and deliver content, including the VA, the departments of Labor and Education and the Small Business Administration. Cooperation between the DOD, VA and Labor is central to what Rosye Cloud, senior adviser for veterans employment at the VA, calls a “whole government approach” to handling the drawdown. In the realm of on-the-job training and apprenticeships, for instance, while Labor is working with employers to develop these programs, the VA is getting the word out that veterans can use the Post-9/11 GI Bill for a tax-free monthly stipend — up to $18,000 — while apprenticing. In another instance of interagency cooperation, the Department of Agriculture and the TVPO announced in September that agriculture would be incorporated into career training and counseling programs,

offering information on farm loans, training and conservation programs. “Rural America disproportionately sends its sons and daughters to serve in the military. When service members return home, we want them to know that rural America has a place for them — no matter where they’re from,” Agriculture Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden said in a statement. “This expanded collaboration between USDA and DOD will help to ensure that returning service members know that there are a wide variety of loans, grants, training and technical assistance for veterans who are passionate about a career in agriculture, no matter their experience level.” At the end of the day, planners at DOD are also hoping that part of a veteran’s transition will include keeping that uniform handy. One more TAP requirement: Document that you have talked to a recruiter from the Reserve component. “The military still wants first shot at keeping our best folks,” Kelly said.

Hilton Worldwide One of the world’s largest hospitality companies, Hilton Worldwide helps veterans and military spouses find work around the globe. Many positions are home-sourced call-center jobs, meaning employees can work from home, even when they move. In 2013, Hilton announced plans to hire 10,000 veterans by 2018, and has already hired about 7,600. The company also donates millions of its Hilton HHonors points to veterans who are traveling for an interview or for job training. ujobs.hiltonworldwide. com/en/why-choose-us/ military CVS Health CVS Health trains its hiring managers to read the résumés of veteran applicants to more effectively interview them. It also partners with Edge4Vets, a program that helps

transition veterans into the workplace. CVS Health recruiters have relationships with more than 16 military installations across the U.S., and the company plans to open its Talent Connect Center at Fort Bragg, N.C., by early 2016. diversity/veterans Walmart On Memorial Day 2013, Walmart implemented the Veterans Welcome Home Commitment, which pledged to offer a job to anyone who’d served honorably and had separated in that year, with a goal of hiring 100,000 veterans by 2018. It’s already surpassed that figure, so the company raised its projection to 250,000 veterans by 2020. Walmart’s Military Family Promise program guarantees Walmart associates will have a job at a new site if their family is relocated. uwalmartcareerswith Union Pacific Railroad The railroad needs a range of positions filled, from mechanics and electricians to managers. And veterans are used to the 24/7, on-call, non-traditional schedule

common in the railroad industry. UP blends more traditional face-to-face recruitment and career fairs with innovative approaches, including its Military Leadership Program that has base commanders hand-picking recruits to attend daylong management training. General Mills Many of the food company’s opportunities are supply-chain jobs with roles that fall into manufacturing, engineering and logistics; these teambased, goal-oriented positions fit well with veterans’ training and experiences. The company’s Veterans Network, launched in 2010, has roughly 300 members and was created to enhance veteran-recruitment efforts and offer leadership development to veteran employees. It created a Veterans Employee Guide to assist managers and human resources representatives with helping veterans transition to a civilian workplace. ucareers.generalmills. com/working-here/ us-military — Stephanie Anderson Witmer






President Obama awards the Congressional Medal of Honor to retired Army Capt. Florent Groberg during a ceremony at the White House in November. Earlier in the year, Obama posthumously awarded the medal to two World War I soldiers: Pvt. Henry Johnson, top, and Sgt. William Shemin. FROM LEFT: COURTESY OF THE U.S. ARMY; CHIP SOMODEVILLA/GETTY IMAGES; ARMY TIMES

GIVING THEIR VERY BEST Nation’s top honor awarded to three soldiers in 2015

By Gregory Korte


HE NATION’S HIGHEST MILITARY honor was bestowed in November on an Army captain who rushed a suicide bomber attacking his patrol in Afghanistan three years ago. But retired Army Capt. Florent Groberg said the Congressional Medal of Honor belongs to the “true heroes” — the four Americans killed in the attack — and their families. “The medal is the greatest honor you can ever receive,” Groberg said. “So I’m honored, overwhelmed, but I hope to become the right carrier for them and better myself as a human being for the rest of my life.” Groberg, or “Flo,” was born in France in 1983, grew up in Bethesda, Md., and became a U.S. citizen the same year he graduated from high school. He competed on the track and cross-country teams at the University of Maryland, where he

worked hard to shave seconds off his times, President Obama said Nov. 12 at a Medal of Honor ceremony in the East Room of the White House. “As he found out later, a few seconds could make all the difference,” Obama said. “Training. Guts. Teamwork. What made Flo a great runner also made him a great soldier.” Groberg was on his second deployment to Afghanistan in 2012, serving on a personal protection detail for Army Col. James Mingus, now a brigadier general. While on that detail on Aug. 8, his patrol was ambushed in a coordinated attack involving motorcycle decoys and two suicide bombers. Groberg spotted the first bomber, grabbing him by his vest and pushing him back until he fell, triggering an explosion that knocked Groberg back 15 or 20 feet — breaking his leg and rupturing his eardrum — and causing the second bomber’s vest to detonate prematurely with minimal impact. Groberg, who spent nearly three years

recovering, is retired from the military and now serves as a civilian at the Department of Defense. The nation honors heroes like Groberg, Obama said, “because on his very worst day, he managed to summon his very best.”


Army Sgt. William Shemin and Pvt. Henry Johnson demonstrated conspicuous gallantry during World War I, but were overlooked for the nation’s highest military honor for nearly a century. Shemin was Jewish. Johnson was African American. Obama rectified those decades of apparent discrimination this year, posthumously granting the prestigious award to both men during a June 2 ceremony at the White House. “We are a nation, a people who remember our heroes,” Obama said. “We never forget their sacrifice, and we believe it’s never too late to say thank you.” The medals were made possible by

a provision in a defense bill passed last December, which waived the time limits for Shemin and Johnson to receive the medal. Ordinarily, top military honors must be awarded within five years of the act. Johnson was in a unit known as the “Harlem Hellcats,” which was attached to French forces; the unit was unable to serve in a combat role with the U.S. Army. He was standing sentry with another soldier one night in May 1918. His citation states that during a sudden attack by a German raiding party, Johnson mounted a brave retaliation, including hand-to-hand combat, which resulted in several enemy casualties, pushed back the Germans and prevented his wounded comrade from being captured. Shemin was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in France over three days in August 1918. He left the safety of his entrenched position and repeatedly exposed himself to heavy machine gun and rifle fire to rescue wounded soldiers, according to his citation.





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