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Tom Bowman

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President Biden stood in the Roosevelt Room at the White House and declared the end of U.S. involvement in the war in Afghanistan. He spoke from the same spot where former President George W. Bush announced the beginning of the war 20 years ago with a bombing campaign.

"It's time to end America's longest war," Biden said. "It's time for American troops to come home."

On a recent weekday, some three dozen Marines and civilians filed into an auditorium at Henderson Hall, a Marine support center on a hill above the Pentagon.

They were there to talk about extremism in the ranks.

They reviewed their oath to defend against any enemy foreign or domestic, learned about active service members arrested for stockpiling weapons as members of neo-Nazi and other extremist groups, and took part in a wide-ranging discussion that included race, values and how to report suspicious activity.

The Chinese pilots push the throttles on their heavy bombers as the music in the video builds to dramatic, Hollywood-style swirling strings. Radios crackle while the planes rise and stream across the ocean. Suddenly, missiles unleash with a whoosh. Fireballs and bouncing debris rise from the targets: Hawaii and Guam.

US SYRIA STRIKE

Feb 26, 2021

The U.S. has carried out an airstrike in Syria against an Iranian-backed militia target. The move appears to be in response to a series of rocket attacks against U.S. targets in Iraq.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

So what are the options as U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin meets his counterparts by video conference? NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman has covered the Afghanistan war for many years and is on the line once again. Tom, good morning.

Less than two weeks after hundreds of rioters — including current and former service members — converged on the Capitol and broke through the doors, threatened lawmakers and injured and killed police, retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin appeared before a Senate committee for his confirmation hearing.

"The job of the Department of Defense is to keep America safe from our enemies," he told members of the Armed Services Committee. "But we can't do that if some of those enemies lie within our own ranks."

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Donald Trump campaigned hard on military issues.

He vowed to bring "endless wars" to a close, "rebuild" the fighting forces and compel allies to pay their fair share, saying the U.S. would no longer be "suckers."

That message resonated among voters and helped propel him to the White House in the 2016 election. Among troops, he seemed to enjoy fairly strong support. A Military Times poll showed that 46% had a favorable view of him at the start of his term, 10 points higher than President Barack Obama had in January 2017.

Updated at 10:15 p.m. ET

By choosing Lloyd Austin to be his defense secretary, President-elect Joe Biden is making history.

Austin, a retired four-star Army general and West Point graduate, would be the first African-American to lead the Pentagon, the world's largest employer with more than 2.2 million servicemembers and a civilian work force that numbers more than 700,000.

In the past 10 days, President Trump has fired the defense secretary as part of a leadership shake-up at the Pentagon. His administration has announced troop cutbacks in Afghanistan and Iraq. And the president huddled with his national security team and discussed possible military action against Iran.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Defense Secretary Mark Esper has been "terminated," President Trump wrote in a tweet, and will be replaced by Christopher C. Miller, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center.

"Chris will do a GREAT job," Trump tweeted shortly after noon. "Mark Esper has been terminated. I would like to thank him for his service."

Sources say Esper already had a resignation letter ready to go — because Trump threatened to fire him in June over a disagreement about using active duty troops to quell street protests — and had recently updated it.

Nov. 3 promises to be an Election Day unlike any other, and public safety entities say they're preparing for tensions and the possibility of violence.

Poll workers are usually the first line of defense in case of disputes between voters, though they may be backed up by private security guards. Some local election authorities say they'll be adding guards, and Washington state's King County says it will post guards to ballot drop boxes that in other years have been unattended.

After nearly two decades of fighting, the Trump administration is trying to bring an abrupt end to the war in Afghanistan, and the U.S. military is trying to manage that end effectively.

Last week, President Trump tweeted that American troops "should" be home from Afghanistan by Christmas, while National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien said in a Las Vegas speech that the number of troops there will drop to 2,500 early next year.

Nearly 500 national security experts – both civilians and former senior uniformed officers — have endorsed Joe Biden for president, saying the "current president" is not up to "the enormous responsibilities of his office."

Addressed to "Our Fellow Citizens," the 489 national security experts include 22 four-star officers. The letter never mentions President Trump by name.

Agi Hajduczki, a research scientist at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, opens a large freezer and takes out boxes of DNA. She is part of a team making a COVID-19 vaccine.

Hajduczki places a small, clear plastic tray under a piece of white paper on the table of her lab. The tray is dimpled. Pale yellow fluid can be seen under the dozens of dimples.

Some of the dimples are clearly more yellow than others.

During a press conference at the White House on Labor Day, President Trump lashed out at Democratic rival Joe Biden, claiming the former vice president threw open the borders, shipped away jobs and sent America's youth to fight in "crazy endless wars."

Then the president veered into talk of the military, taking aim at the Pentagon brass and separating them from the rank-and-file troops.

The Army is now getting back to large-scale training, after several months preparing to hold off that invisible foe: the coronavirus.

Back in May at its massive training base in the Mojave Desert, the Army practiced taking temperatures, isolating soldiers who tested positive and socially distancing.

It was all in preparation for 4,000 National Guard soldiers from 20 states who arrived recently at Fort Irwin, Calif., for two weeks of training at this vast swath of deserts and mountains the size of Rhode Island.

Turkish Rear Admiral Mustafa Ugurlu, a top officer at a NATO training command in Norfolk, Va., was just wrapping up a meeting when an aide rushed up to him.

"There is something happening in Turkey," he said on that July day in 2016.

A major bridge was closed to traffic in Istanbul and Turkish Armed forces were staging a coup. Tanks were in the streets. Helicopters and war planes streaked across the sky.

Ugurlu remembers trying to call senior officers in Turkey. He couldn't get through.

The No. 2 American military officer, Air Force Gen. John Hyten, says the Pentagon must do more to create a diverse force and also must deal with the rising problem of sexual misconduct by looking for answers outside the military.

Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made his remarks in a wide-ranging interview with Steve Inskeep on NPR's Morning Edition.

With coronavirus cases on the rise in southern and western states, U.S. military medical personnel are once again being called upon to help.

Army officials have announced that some 740 military health professionals are being sent to Texas and California.

The new deployments come several months after thousands of military medical personnel, including two hospital ships, one on each coast, were sent to help governors and mayors in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Last year, Australian Defense Minister Christopher Pyne, flanked by his senior officers, was answering questions from reporters. Then he was asked a question that centered on politics.

As Pyne began to answer, one of those officers, Gen. Angus Campbell, Australia's chief of defense, strolled over and tapped him on the shoulder. Pyne seemed almost startled.

"My apologies," Campbell said. "I might ask that the military officers step aside when you're answering these questions."

With that the assembled officers walked off.

The Navy is mobilizing 1,629 reservists to support aircraft carrier and submarine maintenance at its four public shipyards starting next month, officials said.

The mobilization will help reduce the maintenance backlog that has developed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In March, Naval Sea Systems Command authorized weather and safety leave for shipyard personnel who fell under the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's "high risk" category for extreme complications tied to the COVID-19 virus.

When he was defense secretary, Robert Gates would often say there are more people in military bands than in the State Department's Foreign Service. The Pentagon could always get funding, while State was often cut in the budget process.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Updated 5:17 pm ET

It was the summer of 1917. America had declared war on Germany a few months earlier, and young men were streaming into the Army by the tens of thousands.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

At the end of June, several thousand National Guardsmen from 15 states will descend on Fort Irwin in California's Mojave Desert for two months. The Army is already gaming out how to keep them healthy and able to train during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Inglewood Army recruiting station is tucked into a strip mall in a gritty part of Los Angeles. Its neighbors are a liquor store, fast food outlets and palm trees. Inside are the familiar posters: smiling soldiers with the slogans "Army Strong" and "Army Team."

Sergeant First Class Nathan Anslow runs this station. He points to something new just inside the door. A stack of questionnaires — coronavirus screening forms. It's the first stop for potential recruits.

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