Archive for May, 2021

SHAKO: Service Academies’ Graduations

Long Hard Road Over, But the Journey’s Just Beginning.

For the first time since 2019, America’s four military and naval service academies were able to hold traditional commencement events outdoors, with friends and families on campus, instead of viewing a video at home.

Annapolis, Maryland

At the U.S. Naval Academy graduation in Annapolis, Maryland on May 28, history was made when Vice President Kamala Harris became the first woman commencement speaker to address graduating midshipmen.

“Midshipmen, you are tireless; you are ambitious; you are a fierce fighting force,” the vice president said. “You are idealists in the truest sense; you are the embodiment of American aspiration, so hold onto that because in your career you may witness some of the worst of humanity.”

In her keynote address, Harris told the graduates they would take the same oath to the U.S. Constitution as she did during her vice-presidential swearing in — to support the nation’s Constitution and defend it against all enemies — an oath that has its roots in the founding of our nation. And no matter what changes in our world, the charge in this oath is constant, she said.

“Remember that, as you walk out into the world, because the world you all are walking into is rapidly changing,” Harris said.

(U.S. Navy photo illustration by Midshipmen 2nd Class Krystyna Bartocci)

The 1,084 graduates consisted of 778 men and 306 women. Of that number, 784 (547 men, 237 women) are now Navy ensigns. And 274 (212 men and 62 women) are now 2nd lieutenants in the Marine Corps.

After three cheers for those they leave behind, the newly commissioned U.S. Navy ensigns and Marine Corps second lieutenants of the U.S. Naval Academy’s Class of 2021 tossed their covers at the conclusion of the graduation and commissioning ceremony at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

 

Colorado Springs, Colorado

The 1,019 cadets graduating from the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado on May 26 heard that the balance and stability in the world which has existed for more than 75 years is now at risk. And, Army General Mark Milley — the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff —  told the recently-commissioned young officers that it will be their job to maintain a now fragile world peace.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Trevor Cokley)

Right now, Milley said, the United States is in great power competition with nations like Russia and China. That competition must not escalate, he told the new second lieutenants.

The threat landscape that exists now, Milley said, includes artificial intelligence, robotics, human engineering, hypersonics and long-range precision fires that all provide capability beyond what has ever existed in human history.

“The country that masters these technologies, combines them with doctrine and develops the leadership to take advantage of it — the side that does that best — is going to have a decisive advantage at the start of the next war,” Milley said. “It’s your challenge to be on that side. You will lead us as a nation, not just as an Air Force or a Space Force.”

(U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sergeant Laurel M. Richards)

When the speeches were over, the awards given and the commissioning complete, students-turned-officers threw their caps in the air as the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, the “Thunderbirds,” performed a fly-over.

 

West Point, New York

The 996 graduating cadets of the U.S. Military Academy’s Class of 2021 had Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, a retired Army general and West Point grad as their commencement speaker on May 22.

(DoD Photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jack Sanders)

Among those lessons were the value of being well prepared; learning to focus; following with loyalty; questioning with rigor, character, discipline, teamwork; mastering one’s trade; telling the truth; treating people with dignity and respect; and leading with honor, he said.

“Those values are the lasting legacy of West Point. Those are the guideposts that will steer you right when you face the hardest decisions of your lives,” he said.

Austin said the cadets will face new challenges and adversity in a rapidly changing world.

“You’re about to graduate into a changing country and a changing world where many of the old ways of doing business don’t hold up anymore,” he said. “You’re seeing raw divisions at home and the painful aftermath of the pandemic.

(DoD Photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jack Sanders)

 

New London, Connecticut

(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Matthew Thieme)

President Joseph R. Biden. delivered the keynote address at the Coast Guard Academy during the 140th Commencement Exercises on May 19. The Coast Guard Academy graduated 240 new officers along with seven international students.

In his remarks, the president noted the Class of 2021 “is just over one third women.” He noted he had recently nominated Vice Admiral Linda Fagan, an academy graduate form the Class of 1985, to be the Coast Guard’s first female four-star admiral. “We need to see more women at the highest levels of command,” Biden said.  “We have to make sure that women have the chance to succeed and thrive throughout their careers,” he added.

“The class of 2021, you have it all. You really do. And we need you badly,” Biden said, adding: “that’s not hyperbole; the country needs you.

“The press always asks me,” he continued “why I’m so optimistic about America’s chances in the world. And I’ve said from the time I decided to run, ‘Because of this generation.’ You’re the most progressive, best-educated, least prejudiced, most open generation in American history. We need you badly. You’re ready; it’s time to get underway.”

May 31, 2021 at 2:13 am 2 comments

FRIDAY FOTO (May 28, 2021)

The Long Gray Line.

(U.S. Army Photo by Cadet Tyler Williams) Click on photo to enlarge the image.

The graduating class of cadets march across the reservoir bridge to Michie Stadium for graduation ceremonies at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York on May 22, 2021.

It was the first West Point graduation since 2019 where cadet families were allowed to attend. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, friends and family couldn’t witness the ceremony in person in 2020.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, a retired Army four star general and West Point graduate, was the commencement speaker for the Class of 2021.

We’ll have more details on this commencement and all the other service academy graduations in a roundup on Monday (May 30).

May 28, 2021 at 11:24 am Leave a comment

SHAKO: TWO HEROES, TWO WARS Part II:

The Navy Hospital Corpsman.

In recent weeks, the heroics of two men, one a soldier, the other a sailor, have come to our attention at 4GWAR Blog. To give each their due, we’ve decided to tell their stories separately in a two-part posting. Today, May 27, 2020 is the second installment.

Most Decorated Active Duty Corpsman Retires.

Petty Officer 1st Class Luis Fonseca, the U.S. Navy’s most decorated active duty hospital corpsman and a recipient of the Navy Cross for heroism in Iraq, retired at a May 14 ceremony in San Diego, California.

Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Luis Fonseca receives a flag from his son during a retirement ceremony held at  Fonseca was the Navy’s most decorated active duty hospital corpsman, and received the Navy Cross for heroism with the Marines in Iraq. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Luke Cunningham)

The Marine Corps does not have its own combat medics. That role is filled by Navy hospital corpsmen, better known simply as corpsmen. Fonseca served two combat tours with the Marines in Iraq in 2003 and 2005, and one tour with the Marines in the War in Afghanistan from November 2003 to May 2004. During that first tour in Iraq, serving with the First Marine Expeditionary Force as a 23-year-old hospitalman apprentice, treated and evacuated under heavy small arms and machine gun fire, five Marines severely wounded when a rocket-propelled grenade knocked out their armored vehicle and set it ablaze.

It happened during the Battle of Nasiriyah, the first major battle fought in Iraq by U.S. forces. For those actions, Fonseca was awarded the Navy Cross, the second-highest U.S. military decoration for valor in combat.

Here is the citation for the medal:

Hospitalman Apprentice Luis E. Fonseca, Jr., stands with his Navy Cross citation for heroism during the battle of An Nasiriyah, Iraq, in March 2003. . (U.S. Navy photo by Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Wayne Nelms)

“The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Hospital Apprentice Luis E. Fonseca, United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism in action against the enemy while serving as Corpsman,  Amphibious Assault Vehicle Platoon, Company C., First Battalion, Second Marines, Regimental Combat Team Two, Task Force Tarawa, First Marine Expeditionary Force, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom on 23 March 2003. During Company C’s assault and seizure of the Saddam Canal Bridge, an amphibious assault vehicle was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade inflicting five casualties. Without concern for his own safety, Hospitalman Apprentice Fonseca braved small arms, machine gun, and intense RPG fire to evacuate the wounded Marines from the burning amphibious assault vehicle and tend to their wounds. He established a casualty collection point inside the unit’s medical evacuation amphibious assault vehicle, calmly and methodically stabilizing two casualties with lower limb amputations by applying tourniquets and administering morphine. He continued to treat and care for the wounded awaiting evacuation until his vehicle was rendered immobile by enemy direct and indirect fire. Under a wall of enemy machine gun fire, he directed the movement of four casualties from the damaged vehicle by organizing litter teams from available Marines. He personally carried one critically wounded Marine over open ground to another vehicle. Following a deadly artillery barrage, Hospitalman Apprentice Fonseca again exposed himself to enemy fire to treat Marines wounded along the perimeter. Returning to the casualty evacuation amphibious assault vehicle, he accompanied his casualties South through the city to a Battalion Aid Station. After briefing medical personnel on the status of his patients, Hospitalman Apprentice Fonseca returned North through the city to Company C’s lines and to his fellow Marines that had been wounded in his absence. His timely and effective care undoubtedly saved the lives of numerous casualties. Hospitalman Apprentice Fonseca’s actions reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions to the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.”

Over his nearly 22 years of naval service, Fonseca received three Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals; two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals; two Combat Action Ribbons, (which are awarded to those who have actively participated in combat in a given theater); the Presidential Unit Citation; two Meritorious Unit Commendations; two Navy “E” Ribbons; two Good Conduct Medals; a National Defense Service Medal; the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal; the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal; the Humanitarian Service Medal; four Sea Service Deployment Ribbons; a Navy and Marine Corps Overseas Service Ribbon; a NATO Medal; a Rifle Marksmanship Medal (Expert); a Pistol Marksmanship Medal (Expert); as well as campaign medals for both Afghanistan and Iraq, according to the website Task & Purpose.

And that made Fonseca the most highly decorated active duty corpsman.

Fonseca and his wife, Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Christina Fonseca, who officially retired in February 2021, retired together in a joint ceremony at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego on May14. The couple have a combined 46 years of Naval service.

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SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress, or parade, uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.

May 28, 2021 at 12:40 am 2 comments

SHAKO: TWO HEROES, TWO WARS Part I

The Army Ranger.

In recent weeks, the heroics of two men, one a soldier, the other a sailor, have come to our attention at 4GWAR Blog. To give each their due, we’ve decided to tell their stories separately in a two-part posting starting today May 27, 2020.

Korean War Hero Receives Medal of Honor 71 Years Later

President Joe Biden presents the Medal of Honor to retired Army Col. Ralph Puckett Jr. for conspicuous gallantry during the Korean War at a White House ceremony, May 21, 2021.

More than 70 years after he led a company-sized Army Ranger unit in an attack and holding action against hundreds of Chinese troops on a frozen Korean hilltop, retired Army Colonel Ralph Puckett Jr. was awarded the highest U.S. military decoration for bravery at a White House ceremony May 21.

President Joe Biden placed the Medal of Honor around the neck of Colonel Puckett for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty during combat actions at Hill 205 in the vicinity of Unsan, Korea, on November 25th and 26th, 1950.

“Today, we are hosting a true American hero and awarding an honor that is long overdue — more than 70 years overdue,” Biden said. After decades of lobbying by retired military — including soldiers in Puckett’s company — aware of what the young lieutenant did in Korea — the U.S. Army awarded him the Medal of Honor.

“Colonel, I’m humbled to have you here today,” Biden said. Noting — that when Puckett first learned of the award he said “Why all the fuss? Can’t they just mail it to me?” — the president said: “Colonel Puckett, after 70 years, rather than mail it to you, I would’ve walked it to you. You know, your lifetime of service to our nation, I think, deserves a little bit of fuss.”

In Korea, Puckett served as an infantryman and company commander with the Eighth Army Ranger Company, which he led during a daylight attack of Hill 205. While his men were pinned down and under enemy mortar, machine-gun and small-arms fire, he ran across an open area — three times — to draw enemy fire, thereby allowing his Rangers to locate and destroy the enemy machine gun, and to seize the hill, according to the Army.

Puckett inspired and motivated his 57-man company, in zero-degree weather at night, to repulse five assaults by a 500-man battalion supported by intense mortar barrages. Puckett called for artillery support, which decimated attacking enemy formations.

Puckett was initially awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions on Hill 205 in 1951. He served in Vietnam in 1967, where he received a second Distinguished Service Cross. Throughout his career, he received two Silver Star medals (the nation’s third-highest award for bravery in combat); two Legion of Merit honors; two Bronze Star medals with V device for valor and five Purple Heart medals for wounds suffered in action. Then there’s ten Air Medals; the Army Commendation Medal; and the World War II Victory Medal, among other citations and awards.

Then an Army 1st lieutenant, Ralph Puckett Jr. went above and beyond the call of duty as the Eighth Army Ranger Company’s commanding officer during a multi-day operation in North Korea that started on November 25, 1950. He received the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for military valor, 71 years later.

During his career, Puckett qualified as a master parachutist and glider trooper. He also earned the coveted U.S. Army Ranger Tab, the Army Combat Infantryman Badge and the Lancero Badge from Colombia.

As a recent graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, then-1st Lt. Puckett had limited infantry training and no combat experience when he was tasked with forming and leading a provisional Ranger company at Camp Drake, Japan, in August 1950. Ranger units were a fixture in American armies in the 18th and 19th centuries. The modern Rangers created as a special operations force during World War II, were disbanded after the war. However, 15 Ranger companies, including Puckett’s, were created during Korea.

Hundreds of soldiers volunteered for the unit, which allowed Puckett to select his men based on their weapons qualification scores, duty performance, athletic ability and personal desire to serve as an Army Ranger.

Puckett included several soldiers of color, just a few years after the long racially-segregated U.S. military began to integrate, according to the Washington Post.

The Eighth Army Ranger Company relocated to then-Pusan, Korea, where they began what was expected to be seven weeks of specialized training at the Eighth Army Ranger Training Center. Soldiers who could not meet the standard were cut from the company and replaced with allied Korean soldiers, known as KATUSAs.

After taking Hill 205, the Rangers came under heavy mortar and machine-gun fire as Chinese forces entered the Korean conflict against U.S. and United Nations forces. It would be the first of six battalion-sized attacks against Puckett’s unit.

For details on the battle, click here. Severely wounded, Puckett ordered his Rangers to leave him behind to ensure their safety. Two Rangers ignored that order, fought back against the Chinese force as they crested the hill and dragged Puckett down to safety. Privates First Class Billy G. Walls and David L. Pollock were each awarded the Silver Star medal for their own heroism in saving Puckett, the Post reported.

Tomorrow: TWO WARS, TWO HEROES Part II: The Navy Hospitalcorpsman

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SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress, or parade, uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York

May 27, 2021 at 5:40 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (May 21, 2021)

Jingle-Jangle Jets.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Alexander Cook) Click on photo to enlarge image.

Two U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II joint strike fighters and two French Dassault Rafale fighter aircraft break formation May 18, 2021 over France. The flight was part of Atlantic Trident 21, a joint, multinational exercise involving forces from the United States, France and the United Kingdom.

The exercise is aimed at enhancing fourth(Rafale)  and fifth generation (Lightning II) fighter integration, combat readiness and fighting capabilities, through complex air operations in a contested environment.

The F-35s are assigned to the 4th Fighter Squadron, at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. The Rafales are assigned to the 1/4 Gascogne Fighter Squadron, 113 at Saint-Dizier-Robinson air base, France.

New Material

BTW, we understand that in French, Rafale means something along the lines of a “gust” (as in sudden wind). In French-speaking military circles it can also mean “a burst of [gun] fire.”

We figure 4GWAR visitors know what lightning is, but did you know the F-35 is called Lightning II to honor another Lockheed-manufactured warplane: The U.S. Army Air Force P-38 Lightning of World War II.  The unique-looking P-38 was flown by the top-ranked U.S. air ace, Major Richard Bong, who shot down 40 Japanese planes. His closest rival, Major Thomas McGuire, shot down 38 Japanese aircraft before he was killed in January 1945.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the legendary French aviation pioneer and writer (The Little Prince), was flying a photo reconnaissance (unarmed) variant of the P-38 when he disappeared over the Mediterranean in July 1944.

On April 18, 1943, a flight of U.S. 16 P-38s intercepted and shot down the plane carrying Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the architect of Japan’s naval strategy in the Pacific including the attack on Pearl Harbor. Yamamoto was killed.

May 21, 2021 at 8:33 am Leave a comment

ARCTIC NATION: Exercise Northern Edge, Monitoring Russian Activities in the High North.

DEFENSE

Exercise Northern Edge

An F-15EX fighter jet from the 53d Wing takes off from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska in support of joint training exercise Northern Edge 2021.  (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt Savanah Bray)

Approximately 15,000 U.S. service members recently concluded a joint training exercise hosted by U.S. Pacific Air Forces between May 3-14, 2021.

The exercise took place on and above the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, the Gulf of Alaska, and temporary maritime activities area. NE21 is one in a series of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command exercises designed to sharpen Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps joint force skills.

Various units practiced tactics, techniques, and procedures; to improve command, control and communication relationships; and to develop cooperative plans and programs.

Northern Edge provided high-end, realistic war fighter training to develop and improve joint interoperability. It also enhanced the combat readiness of participating forces.

The 53rd Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, in Florida, conducted operational tests of the F-15EX fighter jet, which features upgraded computing, sensors and weapons. Northern Edge will be the “first look at large force integration” for the new jet, including with fifth-generation F-35 stealth fighters, the Air Force said.

More than 25 units, almost 200 aircraft and five naval ships — including the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt — participated in Northern Edge 2019.

The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) transits the Gulf of Alaska, May 7, 2021, during Exercise Northern Edge 2021 (NE21). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Brandon Richardson)

Navy, Air Force and Marine aircraft executed flight missions during NE21 demonstrating seamless, joint combat capabilities. The Roosevelt conducted more than 300 aircraft launches and traps {arrested landings), and embarked squadrons completed more than 830 flight hours during NE21. The Marine Wing Support Detachment, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 164 (Reinforced), established a forward arming and refueling point at Cold Bay — identified as an advanced naval base — to provide around 85,000 pounds of fuel to multiple joint aircraft.

The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) ashore from the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) served as the lead element at Cold Bay. The Makin Island ARG executed various air and amphibious operations from amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD 8), and amphibious transport docks USS San Diego (LPD 22) and USS Somerset (LPD 25) while maneuvering over the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex.

Soldiers wrap up a joint forcible entry operation during Northern Edge at Fort Greely, Alaska, on May 11, 2021. The exercise is designed to improve joint combat readiness.  (U.S. Army photo by Benjamin Wilson)

Army units participating in Northern Edge included the 25th Infantry Division’s 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne) and 3rd Expeditionary Air and Space Task Force from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska.

The 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, U.S. Army Alaska, conduct a Joint Forcible Entry Operation into Allen Army Airfield during exercise Northern Edge 21. Soldiers from the 17th Field Artillery Brigade at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state also joined the drills.

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Bear Watching

The Air Force general heading U.S. European Command says more Navy destroyers and Air Force strike fighters are what he needs to monitor — and deter — Russia’s aggressive behavior from the Arctic to the Black Sea, your 4GWAR editor wrote for Seapower magazine.

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Donald Cook approaches the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Tide-class replenishment tanker Tidesurge for refueling at sea, Octobeer 18, 2019. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Damon Grosvenor)

“I see a concerted effort on behalf of Russia’s maritime forces in the Baltic, in the Barents and Black seas,” General Tod Walters told a Congressional committee April 15 during a hearing on national security challenges and U.S. military activities in Europe.

Improving overall strategic indications and warnings (I&W), as well as command and control (C2), “starts with two destroyers to improve our ability to see undersea and it also culminates with F-35s, Wolters said , referring to the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter.

There are four destroyers already based in Rota, Spain, which Wolters described as “the workhorses of deterrence,” projecting U.S. presence into the Mediterranean and Black seas and then back out again and up to the Arctic. Two more, also to be based in Rota, are required because of a consistent increase in Russian undersea activity in the Greenland-Iceland-United Kingdom gap. The historic maritime chokepoint in the 20th century is an access lane to the Atlantic Ocean for Arctic-based Russian subs. “The destroyers’ participation in undersea warfare, C2 and I&W is absolutely, positively critical,” Wolters said.

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Marines’ Arctic Mitten Search

The U.S. Marine Corps is looking for new extreme cold weather gear for combat units training to fight in subzero Arctic conditions.

Starting in late February, according to Military,com, Marine Corps Systems Command began looking at the commercial cold weather gear market for new trigger finger mittens, base-layer long underwear and a hat that sounds like a modern version of the beloved GI pile cap, according to three request-for-information solicitations.

A Marine with Marine Rotational Force Europe 21.1 (MRF-E), Marine Forces Europe and Africa, communicates with Leathernecks down range during Exercise Arctic Littoral Strike in Blåtind, Norway, March 30, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Corporal  Patrick King)

The Marines want ideas on a new USMC Trigger Finger Mitten System that will replace the current Extreme Cold Weather Mitten Shell & Liner, according to a March 3 solicitation. Trigger finger mittens offer the warmth of a mitten while featuring a separate trigger finger so combat troops can still fire their weapons.

“The trigger finger design shall enable the wearer to move their first finger independently from the rest of the hand, but if needed move their first finger into the larger finger compartment to warm up as needed,” according to the solicitation, Military.com noted.

So far, all three cold weather items are slated to come in the color known as “coyote brown.”

 

 

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Nuclear submatine USS Toledo (SSN-769) in the Arctic Ocean 2020. (U.S. Navy Photo by MC1 Michael B. Zingaro)

ARCTIC NATION is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military and environmental developments in the Far North. The 2013 U.S. National Strategy for the Arctic Region described the United States as “an Arctic Nation with broad and fundamental interests” in the region. “Those interests include national security protecting the environment, responsibly managing resources, considering the needs of indigenous communities, support for scientific research, and strengthening international cooperation

 

 

May 16, 2021 at 11:58 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (May 14, 2021)

Bright Lights, Big Airplane.

(Army photo by Staff Sergeant Christopher S. Muncy) Click on the photo to enlarge the image.

Soldiers from the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division and Britain’s 2nd Battalion, Parachute Regiment, board a C-17 Globemaster III airlifter at Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina on May 7, 2021.

The paratroopers were on their way to  Defender-Europe 21, a massive training exercise designed to build readiness and interoperability between the United States its NATO allies and partner militaries.

The exercise, which is taking place over vast stretch of Europe from the Netherlands to Greece, will integrate approximately 28,000 multinational forces from 26 nations to conduct nearly simultaneous operations across more than 30 training areas in 12 countries.

For example, during the week of  May 9, the Virginia class submarine USS New Mexico, arrived in Tromso, Norway. Exercises will be on-going in Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Germany and North Macedonia.

In addition to U.S. Army, Air Force and Navy units, 2,100 National Guard soldiers from Alabama, Florida, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia are participating.

It has taken months to roll out the operation.

In March, equipment and personnel from the United States began moving to Europe. In April U.S. Army Pre-positioned Stocks were drawn from sites in Germany, Italy and the Netherlands — then moved to various training areas via truck convoy, rail or barge. That phase of the exercise demonstrated U.S. Army Europe and Africa’s ability to maintain a deterrent posture in northern Europe while concurrently shifting forces to other areas of the theater of operations. The bulk of activities are occurring in May.

May 14, 2021 at 11:00 pm Leave a comment

AROUND AFRICA: China’s Growing Influence in Africa; Nigeria Wants AFRICOM HQ Relocated from Germany to Africa

China Worries AFRICOM Chief

The top U.S. military officer in Africa says he is concerned about China’s growing commercial and military influence there — including plans to locate a large naval port somewhere on the continent’s Atlantic coast.

West Coast of Africa (CIA World Fact Book)

In an interview with The Associated Press, U.S. Army General Stephen Townsend said Beijing is looking to establish a port capable of hosting submarines or aircraft carriers on Africa’s western coast. Townsend said the Peoples Republic of CFhina (PRC) has contacted countries stretching from Mauritania to Namibia, intent on establishing a naval facility. If realized, that prospect would enable China to base warships in its expanding Navy in the Atlantic as well as Pacific oceans, the AP reported.

“They’re looking for a place where they can rearm and repair warships. That becomes militarily useful in conflict,” said Townsend, who heads U.S. Africa Command. The People’s Liberation Army Navy opened a base on Africa’s East Coast in Djibouti in 2017. “Now they’re casting their gaze to the Atlantic coast and wanting to get such a base there,” the AFRICOM commander said.

The U.S. base in Djibouti – Camp Lemmonier, a former French Foreign Legion post – is America’s only permanent base on the African continent (See story below). The U.S. and PRC bases are only 12 kilometers (just under 7.5 miles) apart, near the strategic Horn of Africa that overlooks waterways (Red Sea, Gulf of Aden) that link Europe via the Suez Canal with the Indian Ocean and South Asia.

In written testimony submitted to the U.S. House Armed Services Committee April 20, Townsend noted the PRC has been investing heavily in Africa, pledging $60 billion in infrastructure and development — and increasing arms sales to African countries.

“Beijing’s activities in Africa are outpacing those of the United States and our allies as they seek resources and markets to feed economic growth in China and leverage economic tools to increase their global reach and influence. The People’s Republic of China has 52 embassies in Africa, three more than the U.S., and they continue to expand their base in Djibouti into a platform to project power across the continent and its waters—completing a large naval pier this year,” Townsend told the congressional panel.

U.S. Army General Stephen Townsend, head of U.S. Africa Command, testifies before Congress in April 2021. (U.S. Africa Command Public Affairs photo)

“Beijing seeks to open additional bases, tying their commercial seaport investments in East, West and Southern Africa closely with involvement by Chinese military forces in order to further their geo-strategic interests,” he added.

Other U.S. commanders have raised similar alarms about PRC expansionist activities. Your 4GWAR editor has reported about China’s actions in the Western Hemisphere (U.S. Southern and Northern Commands) and the Indo-Pacific region, for the SEAPOWER website.

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Nigeria Wants AFRICOM HQ in Africa

Nigeria’s embattled president wants U.S. Africa Command to move its headquarters from Germany to the African continent, as armed violence and terrorist attacks continue in West Africa’s Sahel region.

From left to right: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria Mary Beth Leonard, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, and Nigerian Geoffrey Onyeama meet virtually April 27, 2021. (U.S. State Dept. screen capture)

In a virtual meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on April 27, Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari said the United States should consider moving its military headquarters for Africa, to help battle a series of recent clashes with armed rebels, as well as continued efforts to push back on militant Islamist groups like Boko Haram, The Hill website reported.

“Considering the growing security challenges in West and Central Africa, Gulf of Guinea, Lake Chad region and the Sahel, weighing heavily on Africa, it underscores the need for the United States to consider re-locating AFRICOM headquarters… near the theatre of operation,” said Buhari, according a statement issued by the presidency, Reuters reported.

Nigerian security forces face multiple security challenges including school kidnappings by armed gangs in its northwest and piracy in the Gulf of Guinea as well as the decade-long insurgency by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram, which also carries out attacks in neighboring Niger, Cameroon and Chad, the news agency noted. (See story below).

In the latest incident, at least seven police officers were killed in Nigeria’s oil-rich Rivers State on May 7. Gunmen opened fire on a checkpoint in the southern state, then drove to two police stations, killing officers and burning patrol cars, the BBC reported. Police killed two of the attackers but are searching for those who escaped. It was not clear who was behind the killings, but the region has seen a surge in separatist attacks on police, BBC noted.

Dissatisfaction with Buhari’s handling of the security threats has grown in recent weeks among civil society, political and religious groups. A former army general, Buhari was elected in 2015 and re-elected in 2019 on promises to subdue jihadist extremists, who have killed over 36,000 and displaced more than two million. But six years later, things are getting worse. Boko Haram is expanding its enclaves in Nigeria’s northwest, while banditry, kidnappings and communal violence is on the rise, the VoA site noted. Nigeria’s military said it will uphold the country’s democracy and warned against plots to overthrow Buhari.

West Africa’s Sahel region is in the grip of a security crisis as groups with ties to al Qaeda and Islamic State attack military forces and civilians, despite help from French and United Nations forces.

In Niger, unidentified gunmen killed 16 soldiers and wounded six others in an ambush in the country’s southwest, security sources told Reuters on May 2.  The attack on an army patrol occurred the day before in the Tahoua region of the West African country, near where raids killed 137 civilians in March. It is unclear who carried out the attack.

In Cameroon, Anglophone separatists entered a French-speaking village in the West region and killed four government soldiers. The military says the separatists took weapons and freed suspects from prison before returning to their hideouts in the English-speaking North-West region. Cameroon’s separatists have been fighting since 2017 to create an independent English-speaking state in the majority French-speaking country’s western regions, VoA reported.

The conflict has cost more than 3,000 lives and forced 550,000 people to flee to French-speaking regions of Cameroon or into neighboring Nigeria, according to the United Nations.

Buhari’s request Blinken was a reversal of previous President Umaru Yar’Adua’s opposition to AFRICOM command establishing a presence on African soil. In fact, when then-President George W. Bush created the U.S. military’s sixth geographic combatant command there was a pretty large outcry in Africa that this was just another imperialistic move by a Western power. Only one country – Liberia – offered to host AFRICOM’s headquarters, but U.S. officials decided to keep the headquarters in Stuttgart Germany.

The April 27 U.S.-Nigerian meeting came a week after one of Africa’s longest-ruling leaders, Idriss Déby, the president of Chad, died in clashes with rebel groups.

Deby had been with troops battling rebel groups based across the northern border in Libya at the time of his death, though the exact cause was not immediately clear, the New York Times reported.

The late Chadian president had long been considered an ally of the U.S. and France in the fight against Islamist extremists in the region, though rebel groups had repeatedly attempted to overthrow the government over his management of Chad’s oil wealth and crackdowns on political opponents.

*** *** ***

Unrest in Chad after President’s Death.

In the immediate aftermath of the death of Chad’s president, Idriss Déby, a transitional council of military officers named Déby’s son, Mahamat Kaka, interim president, Reuters reported. The council also announced that an election for the next president will be held in 18 months. Until then, the government and National Assembly have been dissolved, and the country is under a nationwide curfew, according to the New York Times.

However, opposition to the undemocratic power shift is growing. The African Union has called for an end to military rule in Chad. The African Union’s Peace and Security Council voiced “grave concern” about the military takeover which put 37-year-old General Mahamat Déby Itno in charge and saw parliament dissolved, the BBC reported.

Opposition parties have also condemned what they called a “dynastic coup”.

Meanwhile, Chad’s ruling military council are seeking support from its central African neighbors in fighting rebels who they say endanger a smooth return to civilian rule.A delegation sent to Cameroon told the neighboring state’s president that without peace, a transition to civilian rule will be impossible. Chad’s opposition says the military rulers should immediately step down if they genuinely want peace to be restored.

Abdelkerim Idriss Deby, deputy director of cabinet Abdelkerim, said Chad has been witnessing a series of protests and deadly rebel attacks that are threatening its unity since Deby died, according to VoA, He said Chad’s military council has sent him to all member states of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community to explain plans the military leaders have for a smooth transition to civilian rule. He said Chad needs the assistance of its neighbors for peace to return.

May 8, 2021 at 11:57 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (May 7, 2021)

Eerie.

(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Technical Sergeant Jon Alderman)

American and Uzbek Special Operations Forces, wearing night vision glasses, conduct training operations as part of Exercise Southern Strike, on April 25, 2021.

Southern Strike 2021 is a joint annual large scale, joint and international combat exercise, which features counter insurgency, close air support, non-combatant evacuations, and maritime special operations. Hosted by the Mississippi National Guard, Southern Strike aims to increase combat readiness across all branches of the U.S. Military.

May 6, 2021 at 10:54 pm Leave a comment


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