Outside The Wire

First soldiers from the 173rd arrive in Poland

Poland troops

Soldiers with the 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team stand in formation April 23 at Swidwin Air Base in Poland. The paratroopers, part of a company-sized contingent, will begin exercises with Polish troops in a series of new training activities throughout the Baltic region. (Photo by Col. Rumi Nielson-Green/Army)

The first soldiers from the 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team have arrived in Poland as part of military exercises that are meant to reassure NATO members that border Russia of the alliance’s commitment to defend them.

The soldiers arrived Wednesday at Swidwin Air Base to conduct exercises with the Polish troops that are in addition to regularly scheduled exercises in the region, such as Saber Strike, Rapid Trike and Combined Resolve II, according to a U.S. Army Europe News release.

Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia will each receive a company-sized unit with the 173rd, a Defense Department spokesman said on Tuesday. The companies will spend a month conducting live-fire exercises and other training with local military forces, after which they will be replaced by new units. The exercises are expected to continue for the next several months.

For more, see our interactive special report on the U.S. military’s ramp up in Eastern Europe.

Team USA men’s hoops plans trip to West Point in August

Kevin Durant, left, shakes hands with Cpl. Cody Stanton after a 2012 Team USA practice in Washington. The 2014 team will work out at West Point in August. (Associated Press photo by  Alex Brandon)

Kevin Durant, left, shakes hands with Cpl. Cody Stanton after a 2012 Team USA practice in Washington. The 2014 team will work out at West Point in August. (Associated Press photo by Alex Brandon)

The nation’s best basketball players — give or take a few superstars — will practice at the U.S. Military Academy in August, just weeks before heading to Spain to defend their world title.

It’ll be unfamiliar territory for the players. But the coach knows his way around.

Mike Krzyzewski, a 1969 West Point alum who spent five years as the Black Knights head coach before leaving for greener — and bluer — pastures in 1980, will lead Team USA to his alma mater for an Aug. 18 workout as part of the NBA’s Hoops for Troops program.  The league announced a number of military outreach efforts last week involving NBA, WNBA and Team USA players; the U.S. women’s team, for example, will work out at the Naval Academy for nearly a week in early September.

Kevin Durant and Kevin Love lead a long list of NBA superstars who committed to play in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, which begins begins Aug. 30 in Spain. Other top-tier members of the 28-man Team USA roster, which was released in January, may skip the event, resting up for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.


Team USA men’s head coach Mike Krzyzewski during his playing days at West Point, alongside then-Army head coach Bobby Knight. (U.S. Military Academy photo)

Among those likely not heading to West Point or anywhere else with the 2014 club: Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul. Still, Durant and Co. should be favored by a few dozen when the team kicks off the tournament against Finland.

The military outreach program dates back to 2012, when troop-Team USA interactions included a speech to the team by Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey.

Krzyzewski took over Team USA in 2005. He ranks first all-time in wins in top-tier college basketball; his coach while a player at Army, Bobby Knight, ranks third.


Senate candidate’s commercial features his drill sergeant — who does not make him do pushups

Arkansas Republican Congressman Tom Cotton got his “Full Metal Jacket” on by having his drill sergeant endorse him in an ad for his Senate campaign.

Cotton, who served as an Army infantry officer in Iraq and Afghanistan, is expected to be the Republican candidate who will run for the U.S. Senate in November’s midterm elections against the incumbent, Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor. In a March interview with NBC News, Pryor criticized Cotton for using his military record as part of his campaign.

“I think that it’s part of this sense of entitlement that he gives off, that almost is like, ‘I served my country; therefore, let me into the Senate,” Pryor said. “That’s not how it works in Arkansas.”

In the 30-second ad, Cotton responds to Pryor’s “sense of entitlement” remark by introducing his former drill sergeant, whom he praises for teaching him accountability, humility and putting the unit’s needs first – traits which he says have stuck with him.

Army Reserve Master Sgt. George Norton responds to Cotton’s kind overtures by making his former recruit stand attention, telling Cotton that he still needs to refer to him as “Drill Sergeant Norton” and issuing a stern warning at the end of the ad: “You’re on thin ice, Cotton.”

Norton, who was not in uniform in the campaign ad, issued a statement through Cotton’s campaign praising the candidate for demonstrating “the values of integrity and selfless leadership that we teach in the Army.”

“No one who’s ever met Tom would get the idea that he felt ‘entitled’ to anything,” Norton said in the statement. “Tom always put the unit ahead of himself, and he was an excellent soldier. I’m confident he’ll be an excellent U.S. senator as well.”

To comply with regulations limiting political activity for U.S. service members, the campaign ad contained two disclaimers to make clear that neither Cotton nor Norton were speaking on behalf of the Defense Department, said campaign spokesman David Ray.

“Tom’s disclaimer reads: ‘Congressman Cotton was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army. Use of his rank, job titles and photos in uniform do not imply endorsement by the Department of Defense or any Service Branch,’ ” Ray said in an email to Army Times on Monday.

“Sgt. Norton’s disclaimer reads: ‘George Norton is a member of the U.S. Army Reserve. His military rank, job title, and appearance in this ad do not imply official sponsorship, approval, or endorsement by the Department of the Army or the Department of Defense.’”


8 months out, sports site declares Army-Navy game ‘not even close’

Cadets take the field before the 2011 Army-Navy game at FedEx Field in Landover, Md. Army lost to Navy that year by six points; a columnist at one of the largest sports websites says this year’s game won’t be anywhere near that close. (Staff photo by Mike Morones)

The U.S. Military Academy enters its 2014 football season with a new coach, an experienced roster (all major statistical leaders are back from 2013) and a high-ranking cheering section.

But about a week before the Black Knights’ annual spring game and five months before the season starts, a columnist for a major sports site has found Army lacking, at least when it comes to the year’s biggest — or, depending on your level of fandom, only — game.

Bleacher Report ranks the Army-Navy rivalry as one of “10 College Football Rivalry Games That Won’t Even Be Close in 2014.” It’s not exactly a controversial conclusion given Navy’s winning streak over the Black Knights, which was extended to a series-record 12 games with a 34-7 drubbing in December. It doesn’t help that Navy’s returning quarterback is the subject of Heisman Trophy talk, or that the Black Knights have finished above .500 exactly once since going 10-2 in 1996.

But before last year, the two previous Army-Navy games were decided by a combined 10 points. And Bleacher Report’s claim that Army coach Jeff Monken is about to get “his first introduction to what this game is all about” could be debated. Strongly.

The post has more than 62,000 views and 300 comments since it went live Thursday, but we want your take on the rivalry, which will re-ignite Dec. 13 in Baltimore. Have you already ruled out an upset, or are you buying the turnaround talk? Let us know in the comments.

NSFW safety brief singer’s superiors definitely in on the joke

Don’t worry, the singer of the salty safety brief is safe–from punishment.

Superiors at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, were in on the joke when Pfc. Michael Davis sang an acoustic anti-drunk-driving song, in spite of the foul language.

In fact, 1st Sgt. Travis Cook said Davis — a Christian singer-songwriter — is “straight-laced as they come,” and was simply adapting how Cook curses for emphasis while delivering the weekly briefings. The NCO was grateful Davis’ creative take grabbed the attention of his 130-plus battle buddies, helping the safety message sink in.

“Like the whole Army, we’re confronting DUI’s, and when we do safety briefs, with the repetition of, ‘don’t drink and drive,’ you just see these guys’ eyes glaze over,” Cook said.

The song’s refrain is the signature line of Cook’s safety briefs, “Alaska will f—ing kill you.”

In a humorous fashion, the tune stresses the dangers of drunk driving, falling for strippers and tangling with the local wildlife (the last one, a lesson Cook said he learned firsthand when he nearly bumped into a giant moose while out hiking). Not to mention Alaska’s subzero temperatures.

“Alaska is an amazing place to be, but it’s also amazingly dangerous,” Cook said. “This state will kill you.”

For Davis, it all started when one of his team leaders discovered Davis’ talents as a Christian singer-songwriter and shared a video of him with their platoon leadership.

When platoon leadership suggested that Davis adapt Cook’s legendarily profane safety briefs into a song for the weekly brief, Davis feared it would not be compatible with his sacred style. But he soon got over his initial discomfort with help from some platoon mates–who pitched in on the lyrics.

“The safety brief has some crazy words in it … I said, ‘I don’t know, I’ll just do it,’” said Davis, 30, raised in Arcanum, Ohio.

Davis dashed off the tune in under an hour, and his performance more than a week ago was posted to U.S. Army WTF! Moments, winning tons of support. He and Cook couldn’t be more delighted.

“I’m thrilled over everything on Facebook and the acknowledgement for a great soldier,” Cook said. “The chain of command at brigade and battalion level have been nothing but supportive.”

For Davis, the attention has been “overwhelming,” not to mention the new confidence feeding his Christian singing-songwriting aspirations.

“It’s definitely given me some encouragement,” Davis said. “It’s definitely been a boost for what I do with my Christian songs.”


Keeping up the fight for the real “Inglourious Basterd”

The Office of Strategic Services Society will continue its fight to see Frederick Mayer receive the Medal of Honor, even after Army Secretary John McHugh declined to reopen the case. 

“We’re the OSS Society! We never stop fighting,” group president Charles Pinck wrote in an e-mail.

The OSS Society is a nonprofit organization that celebrates the accomplishments of the OSS during World War II.

The society renewed its push to recognize Mayer in March, when President Obama presented the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for valor, to 24 soldiers from World War II, Vietnam and Korea who didn’t receive the recognition they deserved because of their race or ethnicity.

The group then sent a letter to McHugh asking him to take action. Its request follows an earlier one from Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who represents West Virginia, Mayer’s home state. 

Mayer, dubbed the “real ‘Inglourious Basterd,’” is a Jewish refugee from Germany and a naturalized American citizen. He was recruited by the OSS, the World War II predecessor to the CIA, according to the OSS Society.

He then volunteered to lead Operation Greenup, one of the most daring and successful missions behind German lines. Mayer’s actions were portrayed in the award-winning documentary “The Real Inglorious Bastards,” and in Patrick O’Donnell’s book, “They Dared Return: The True Story of Jewish Spies Behind the Lines in Nazi Germany.”

In a March 31 letter to Rockefeller, McHugh wrote:

“As you know, on May 9, 2013, the Army Board for Correction of Military Records thoroughly reviewed Mr. Mayer’s case, and determined an upgrade to either a Distinguished Service Cross or the award of the Medal of Honor was not supported by the evidence of record. Unfortunately, the information provided with your recent letter does not provide new, material evidence of a heroic act in combat by Mr. Mayer. It is new evidence that would provide a compelling case for reconsideration of his award, not his Jewish heritage. Accordingly, I regret that I cannot support your request for further review in this case.”


Soldier sings salty song of safety

Why can’t all safety briefs be like this?

A guitar strumming soldier at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson spiced up his safety brief with an acoustic number that cautioned, “Alaska will f—ing get you, if you drink and drive.”

Wear condoms, avoid falling for strippers and not to mess with wildlife, crooned the soldier, identified in the comments at U.S. Army WTF! moments as a member of Comanche Company 1-501st Parachute Infantry Regiment.

Though most of the lyrics are unprintable on this family blog, it’s grabbier than the average safety brief, and the nearly three-minute clip elicits peals of laughter from the off-camera crowd.


UK sniper get six Afghan insurgents with a single round

A sniper from 4th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, peers through his scope June 5 to observe a target during the brigade's fires support coordination exercise, or FSCX, on Fort Bragg, N.C. Shooters from around the world are to compete in the 2014 U.S. Army Special Operations Command International Sniper Competition. (Sgt. Adonis Williams/Army)

A sniper from the 82nd Airborne Division, peers through his scope June 5 to observe a target during an exercise on Fort Bragg, N.C. A British sniper in Afghanistan reportedly killed six insurgents with a single bullet when he hit a suicide bomber’s trigger switch.  (Sgt. Adonis Williams/Army)

A British sharpshooter in Afghanistan has redefined the term, “badass.”

The sniper killed killed six insurgents with a single bullet after hitting the trigger switch of a suicide bomber whose device then exploded, The Telegraph reported.

The 20-year-old marksman, a lance corporal in the Coldstream Guards who was not named, reportedly hit his target from 930 yards away, killing the suicide bomber and five others around him caught in the blast.

“The guy was wearing a vest. He was identified by the sniper moving down a tree line and coming up over a ditch,” said Lt. Col. Richard Slack, commanding officer of 9/12 Royal Lancers told the newspaper. “He had a shawl on. It rose up and the sniper saw he had a machine gun.”

“They were in contact and he was moving to a firing position. The sniper engaged him and the guy exploded. There was a pause on the radio and the sniper said, ‘I think I’ve just shot a suicide bomber’. The rest of them were killed in the blast.”

The sniper was using an L115A3 Long Range Rifle, the British Army’s most powerful sniper weapon, The Telegraph reported.

Slack said the sniper prevented a major attack by the Taliban, as a second suicide vest packed with 44lbs of explosives was found nearby.

The incident in Kakaran in southern Afghanistan happened in December but has only now been disclosed as Britain moves towards the withdrawal of all combat soldiers by the end of the year.

The same sniper, with his first shot on the tour of duty, reportedly killed a Taliban machine-gunner from 1,465 yards.


Honoring the “real ‘Inglourious Basterd’”

Continuing its push to see Frederick Mayer receive the Medal of Honor, the Office of Strategic Services Society on Sunday sent a letter to Army Secretary John McHugh urging him to reopen the case.

The OSS Society, a nonprofit organization that celebrates the accomplishments of the OSS during World War II, last week released a statement saying it believes Mayer, the “real ‘Inglourious Basterd,’” deserves the nation’s highest award for valor.

The society’s statement came as the White House tomorrow will present the Medal of Honor to 24 soldiers from World War II, Vietnam and Korea who didn’t receive the recognition they deserved because of their race or ethnicity.

Mayer, a Jewish refugee from Germany and a naturalized American citizen, was recruited by the OSS, the World War II predecessor to the CIA, according to the OSS Society.

He then volunteered to lead Operation Greenup, one of the most daring and successful missions behind German lines. Mayer’s actions were portrayed in the award-winning documentary “The Real Inglorious Bastards,” and in Patrick O’Donnell’s book, “They Dared Return: The True Story of Jewish Spies Behind the Lines in Nazi Germany.”

Courtesy EX-POW Bulletin

Courtesy EX-POW Bulletin

Mayer, now 92 and living in West Virginia, said the OSS Society contacted him about their efforts.

“They told me they’re not giving up,” he said. “I appreciate that, but it’s been turned down twice. I don’t expect anything to happen.”

The soft-spoken man also said he was not motivated by medals or awards.

“I did my job, and that’s all that really mattered,” he said. “I didn’t do it to get a medal, that’s for sure.”

Read the letter to McHugh here; read more about Mayer’s actions here.

“Real Men” makes mini-celebs out of Korea-based soldiers


A handful of soldiers from the 2nd Infantry Division have become mini-celebrities in South Korea after appearing on a popular (and somewhat cheesy but hilarious) reality television show about the Korean military.

“Real Men” features Korean celebrities experiencing some aspect of military life while being embedded with South Korean troops, Stars and Stripes reported.

In a three-minute YouTube clip, the Americans are shown with their Korean counterparts. The men laugh and joke, as one soldier is first said to resemble “Home Alone” star Macaulay Culkin, then Voldemort as portrayed by Ralph Fiennes in the “Harry Potter” movie series.


“People will ask me about it and want to take pictures with me; everyone from little kids to grown men and women,” Staff Sgt. Jesse Kennedy, one of three soldiers who was featured prominently in the episode, told Stars and Stripes. “Before, nobody knew who I was, and now everybody knows who I am.”

Nearly three dozen 2nd Infantry Division soldiers appeared on the episode, which was taped in January and aired several times last month, according to Stars and Stripes. The soldiers, all with 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, lived and trained alongside their South Korean counterparts at a 17th Infantry Division base for two days, with the experience culminating in a raid on a mock village, the paper reported.