While a team of Special Operations forces trains this week at Mountain Home Air Force Base, its commander is seeking greater authority to "move his forces faster and outside of normal Pentagon deployment channels."
A report in this morning's New York Times said that Adm. William McRaven, who leads the Special Operations Command, wants his "elite units who have traditionally operated in the dark corners of American foreign policy" to have a larger role. Among other elite assignments, Special Ops and Navy Seals oversaw the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
According to the Times, military and Congressional officials have embarked on a quiet lobbying campaign to push through the initiative while Special Operations Command is expected to see certain growth in its budget and personnel when a new Defense Department spending plan is released today.
Special Operations Forces and other military units have descended on Mountain Home this weekend for a series of joint training exercises at the Air Force base.
The Mountain Home News reports that increased flying activity and aircraft noise from the exercises is scheduled to continue through Saturday, Feb. 18. U.S. Special Forces are described as "an elite group of men and women" trained to defend the nation against terrorist networks.
The Pentagon announced late Friday that up to 10,000 Air Force jobs are scheduled to be grounded next year.
U.S. Air Force Secretary Michael Donley said the eliminations would include 3,900 on active duty, 5,100 Air National Guardsmen and 900 from the Air Force Reserve.
Donley said the Air Force also expected to save $8.7 billion over five years by retiring 123 fighters, 133 transport planes and 30 aircraft used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
The National Guard Association expressed alarm that half the personnel cuts were scheduled to come from the Air National Guard. Retired Maj. Gen. Gus Hargett, president of the guard association, told the Associated Press that the plan "reduces the Air Force's ability to quickly respond to unforeseen contingencies in the future."
Full details of the cuts will be contained in the White House's fiscal 2013 budget proposals, which will be unveiled Monday, Feb. 13.
Wounded in Iraq in 2005, Sgt. Jerry Weir, now of the Canyon County Sheriff's Office, today received the Purple Heart six years after his injury.
After 18 years out of the National Guard, Weir enlisted in Idaho's 116th Brigade Combat Team of the U.S. Army. In 2005, while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Weir's convoy was struck by a roadside improvised explosive device.
"I was a part of Alpha team on a 24-hour mission in Kirkuk, [Iraq]. It was a large mission, and we were in the lead element of it," said Weir. "There were four of us that took the hit."
Upon returning home, Weir sought the Purple Heart for his injuries, but due to an error, he "fell through the cracks," according to Sen. Jim Risch.
"Over the years, Jerry has been attempting to get the Purple Heart, but has fell through the cracks because of the federal paperwork," said Risch. "'Jerry', I said, 'You're dealing with the federal government, these things happen.'"
Testimony will resume Monday in the court martial hearing of an Army staff sergeant accused of masterminding a series of war crimes in Afghanistan. Boise Pfc. Andrew Holmes has already been sentenced to seven years behind bars for his role in the murder of a 15-year-old Afghan boy in January 2010. He was one of six soldiers charged with being part of a so-called "kill team," slaying Afghan civilians while deployed in Kandahar Province. Five of the six have pointed to a superior, Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, as their ringleader.
On Friday, Gibbs contradicted the accounts of his fellow soldiers, saying that as far as he knew, each of the killings "was legitimate."
When his lawyer Phil Stackhouse asked Gibbs why he took fingers from the corpses, the soldier said he wasn't proud that he had done so.
"In my mind, it was like keeping the antlers off a deer you'd shoot," said Gibbs. "You have to come to terms with the things you're doing. Bodies in general didn't mean anything to me."
Gibbs, whose trial is being held at Joint Base Lewis McChord outside of Seattle, is fighting 16 charges, including premeditated murder and assault. He faces up to life in prison if convicted.
President Barack Obama said Friday he is committing military force to help fight a central African guerrilla group accused of terrorizing civilians in several countries.
In a letter to Congress, Obama announced an initial deployment of 100 combat-equipped personnel to act as "advisers to partner forces" that are targeting the Lord's Resistance Army, a guerrilla force originally from northern Uganda. The president informed Congress through the War Powers Act.
"For more than two decades, the LRA has murdered, raped and kidnapped tens of thousands of men, women and children in central Africa," said Obama. "The group continues to commit atrocities across the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan. Regional military efforts have thus far been unsuccessful."
An initial U.S. military team deployed to Uganda on Wednesday and additional forces are to be sent during the next month.
Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach writes about his new sense of pride in this morning's Huffington Post.
Fehrenbach, of Mountain Home Air Force Base, recounts his 20 years of service, during which he was deployed six times as a weapons system officer. He flew combat missions over Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. But in 2008, he was accused of violating the military's ban on homosexuality and placed on desk duty. His military career hung in the balance.
"But all the while, I had to keep a secret that could mean the end of a career that I loved," wrote Fehrenbach.
And now, the decorated aviator breathes easier as the policy of Don't Ask, Don't Tell has formally been eliminated.
"Today, I find relief and closure as I take a step back to remember all of the gay and lesbian soldiers who currently serve, have served, or have tragically lost their lives fighting for the freedoms this country's established," wrote Fehrenbach. "Their service is legitimate and they will no longer serve in vain. Today, gay service members will do their duty with their honor, dignity, and integrity intact. It is truly a proud day!"
To make the list, a school must rank in the top 20 percent nationwide. G.I. Jobs lists an 11 percent military enrollment, financial benefits like scholarships and the ability to deploy and return without losing financial aid, and veteran resources like counseling and social networking events, among the reasons Boise State made the cut.
A news release from Boise State lauded the ranking.
“With such a large population of active military and veterans, Boise State is consciously creating a campus culture that provides these service men and women, as well as their families, with the support and resources they need to be successful college students,” said Mara Affre, director of enrollment services at Boise State, who has responsibility for the university’s veteran outreach programs. “It is important to us as a university that their service to our country is recognized and rewarded in a way that demonstrates the Boise State community’s appreciation for their sacrifice.”
The complete list can be seen here.
Almost two weeks after the first wave of Idaho soldiers returned from Iraq, the last 10 or so are expected to land on U.S. soil today. More than 1,500 members of the 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team have been making their way home in what the military refers to as "chalks," or waves. All of them first landed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington for demobilization before flying commercially back home.
On Sept. 8, Citydesk and a handful of reporters from other news outlets accompanied Col. Tim Marsano of the Idaho Air National Guard on a C-12 Huron to Lewis-McChord, where Idaho soldiers are completing their demobilization checklists—which include medical and dental reviews, a mental-health assessment, and a session with a chaplain among the tasks—before being flown home. The process takes about 10 days for each soldier, even with a team of nearly 125 people acting as a support group to efficiently shepherd the troops from place to place, help track their progress and ensure that they're getting the basics like food and water taken care of.
But in between all the appointments returning soldiers must get through before getting home, there is plenty of downtime.
Michael Knighton, 19, from Pocatello, has spent much of that time talking to his wife, whom he's seen little of since their wedding day nine months ago.
Nearly all of the Idaho soldiers deployed in Iraq with the Idaho Army National Guard 116th Calvary Brigade have arrived back in the United States.
Since Aug. 7, Maj. Dan Johnson has headed up a "white cell" at Joint Base Lewis-McChord with a team of about 125 people helping to demobilize the troops. Maj. Johnson and his team help get the troops through the processing checklist they must complete before they fly home, including everything from organizing transportation and getting the troops fed.
Citydesk will have more on this story tomorrow.