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Westlake Legal Group > fox-news/us/military/army

Changes to grueling Special Forces course draw scrutiny, there’s ‘balancing act’

CAMP MACKALL, N.C.–Deep in the dark North Carolina woods, a small white light flickers in the heavy underbrush. It’s after midnight and a soldier is taking a risk by turning on his headlamp to find his way.

The overnight land navigation test is just one hurdle in the grueling, monthslong course to join the Army’s elite Special Forces, and using the light violates the rules. Just the night before, at least 20 commando hopefuls had either committed a disqualifying failure or given up in the drenching rain.

“We got a light!” barks an Army instructor from the front seat of his truck as he patrols the woods. Almost instantly the tiny white beacon goes out as the soldier spots the truck headlights and tries to escape detection.

Westlake Legal Group AP19283842270023 Changes to grueling Special Forces course draw scrutiny, there’s ‘balancing act’ fox-news/us/military/army fox-news/us/military fnc/us fnc d63a714f-afe8-528e-99d3-e8a0c9d489f4 Associated Press article

A soldier from the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School plots his next movement while completing the Special Forces Assessment and Selection night land navigation course near Hoffman, N.C., on May 7, 2019. (Ken Kassens/U.S. Army via AP)

For the nearly 200 candidates scrambling through Hoffman Forest at Camp Mackall, the struggle to become a Green Beret is real. But Army commanders are making sweeping changes to shorten and revamp the course. The aim is to meet evolving national security threats and to shift from a culture that weeds out struggling soldiers at every point to one that trains them to do better.

The changes that are beginning now have led to resentment among some Special Forces that the brass wants to make it easier to pass the qualification course as a way to boost lagging recruiting numbers and ensure that women will eventually qualify. The fear, such critics say, is that Green Berets will become weaker and “dangerously less capable than ever before.”

Army leaders insist the changes reflect the military’s need to adapt to evolving security threats from Russia, China, Iran and others foes. They say the nearly two-year course had to be shortened, so some training will be done when soldiers get to their units, where it can be tailored to the specific needs of the region.

Westlake Legal Group AP19283842265050-1 Changes to grueling Special Forces course draw scrutiny, there’s ‘balancing act’ fox-news/us/military/army fox-news/us/military fnc/us fnc d63a714f-afe8-528e-99d3-e8a0c9d489f4 Associated Press article

A soldier from the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School checks a compass while completing a land navigation course during Special Forces Assessment and Selection near Hoffman, N.C., May 7, 2019. (Ken Kassens/U.S. Army via AP)

“Today’s qualification course is for exactly the type of Green Beret we needed for 2008. It is not what we need for 2028,” said Maj. Gen. Kurt Sonntag, who until recently was commander of the Army Special Operations Center of Excellence, which includes all the Special Forces training. “We need to reestablish our forte, which is our ability to work with partner forces, developing their capabilities to provide an advantage for them and the United States against our adversaries — North Korea, Iran, and China and Russia.”

Sonntag and other commanders, current and former instructors and students at the Special Forces training base at Camp Mackall spoke with The Associated Press during a rare, two-day look at the course, including observation of the overnight land navigation test.

The more than 6,700 Army Green Berets are highly trained commandos who usually work in 12-person teams that are often used for specialized combat and counterterrorism operations and to train other nations’ forces in battle skills. About a dozen died in combat this year, mainly working with Afghan forces fighting the Taliban; others are training troops in up to 60 countries.

The changes were driven by discussions with senior leaders, including Maj. Gen. John Deedrick, commander of 1st Special Forces Command, who told Sonntag he wanted soldiers to come out of the course with solid basic skills that can be sharpened when they get to their units.

“If you try to make them an expert in everything, you’re gonna give me a Swiss Army knife that can do a little bit of everything but isn’t real good,” he said in an interview in his Fort Bragg office. “I’d prefer to have him very good at the basics and then let me tailor what he’s gonna do in the long run.”

The new course drops some training, shifts some around and eliminates gaps in the schedule. For example, language training will now come after soldiers graduate the course, becoming a skill to learn rather than one needed to pass to stay in the course.

Also, because the new Pentagon strategy is focused on threats from China and Russia rather than wars against insurgents, some counterterrorism skills will be tailored to specific regions and taught after soldiers are in their units.

Senior Army leaders endorse the changes.

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said Sonntag “really grinded through this to make adjustments to the course to make it more effective and streamline the amount of time they’re in the schoolhouse” so they get to their assigned units more quickly. The new training, he said, will be more relevant to current threats.

The changes, however, caused an uproar among some instructors in the Special Forces community.

In a lengthy and anonymous 2017 email, a Green Beret instructor argued that “career-focused leaders” have eroded standards in the qualification course in order to meet graduation quotas. The email charged that allowing women to compete for special operations jobs was also responsible because commanders want to “markedly lower the standards enough to ensure that any woman attempting this path will have absolutely no issue achieving it.”

It complained that soldiers who failed a skill or fitness test weren’t weeded out, but allowed to continue or given a second chance.

The path to becoming a Green Beret consists of several phases, beginning with a grueling assessment and selection phase where commanders believe they can identify soldiers who cannot make the grade or do not belong. The bulk of those who try out fail. Some who get injured or fail are allowed to return and try again.

In the 2019 budget year, more than 3,000 soldiers showed up for the assessment phase, with 936 passing and going on to the qualification course. Of those, about 70 percent graduated and donned the Green Beret.

Sonntag said unqualified troops should be dropped. But that once soldiers make it through the assessment phase, the focus should be on training them to meet the standards.

Former instructors told The Associated Press that the course has changed often over the decades. Chris Zets, a retired Green Beret who worked as a course instructor, said the attrition rate shot up in recent years as the training expanded and instructors added more intermittent fitness tests and requirements. Commanders, including Sonntag, were asked to figure out why.

“You can ratchet it up and up and up and up to the point where you don’t graduate anybody and nobody volunteers to come here,” said Zets, who went through the course in 1979. “So, yeah, we’ve increased the standards, but then you don’t have anybody going to the force. So there’s a balancing act.”

Under the new program, once soldiers pass the assessment phase, they move to small unit tactics and survival training, then four months of more specialized job instruction, and then six weeks of exercises and other training before graduation.

“I want somebody physically fit, culturally astute, morally straight, understands small unit tactics and how to apply that with a partner force. And someone who can problem solve. You give me that raw material coming out of the course and we’ll do just fine,” said Deedrick, the commander of 1st Special Forces Command.

Others, however, say the uproar over the changes was a troubling sign.

“The danger of one unqualified officer making it through to command a Special Forces team is a balance that requires difficult choices,” said retired Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc, a former Special Forces commander. He said some instructors were concerned with exceptions being made for some soldiers in the course. “If they are concerned, I am concerned,” he said.

And, he said, the fact that they resorted to an anonymous email suggested they feared retribution or did not feel comfortable going to leadership.

In fact, several instructors associated with the email posting ended up facing discipline or getting forced out — triggering charges that Sonntag sought revenge for the criticism.

Senior Army officials said a board of inquiry into Sonntag’s actions cleared him of any wrongdoing. In all but one case, officials and internal documents say, the soldiers were disciplined for infractions unrelated to the email, ranging from assault and travel fraud to being absent without leave and using government computers to promote a personal online business.

One soldier was charged with writing the email, lying about it and using his job to promote a personal business, the internal document said.

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Officials, however, also acknowledge there were lingering concerns about Sonntag fostering a toxic command climate and failing to communicate well enough with the troops about the changes in the course. While he was cleared of wrongdoing, Sonntag was not promoted and instead has decided to retire, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss personnel issues.

Westlake Legal Group AP19283842265050-1 Changes to grueling Special Forces course draw scrutiny, there’s ‘balancing act’ fox-news/us/military/army fox-news/us/military fnc/us fnc d63a714f-afe8-528e-99d3-e8a0c9d489f4 Associated Press article   Westlake Legal Group AP19283842265050-1 Changes to grueling Special Forces course draw scrutiny, there’s ‘balancing act’ fox-news/us/military/army fox-news/us/military fnc/us fnc d63a714f-afe8-528e-99d3-e8a0c9d489f4 Associated Press article

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Turkey’s Syria invasion: Member of US Special Forces says, ‘I am ashamed for the first time in my career’

Westlake Legal Group us-syria Turkey's Syria invasion: Member of US Special Forces says, 'I am ashamed for the first time in my career' Melissa Leon Jennifer Griffin fox-news/world/world-regions/middle-east fox-news/world/conflicts/syria fox-news/us/military/army fox-news/person/donald-trump fox news fnc/world fnc ca65e2e9-7477-5c32-9fc7-13c30e96c9ab article

A member of U.S. Special Forces serving alongside the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Syria told Fox News’ Jennifer Griffin on Wednesday they were witnessing Turkish atrocities on the frontlines.

“I am ashamed for the first time in my career,” said the distraught soldier, who has been involved in the training of indigenous forces on multiple continents. The service member, whom Griffin described as “hardened,” is among the 1,000 or so U.S. troops who remain in Syria.

“Turkey is not doing what it agreed to. It’s horrible,” this military source on the ground told Griffin. “We met every single security agreement. The Kurds met every single agreement [with the Turks]. There was no threat to the Turks — none — from this side of the border.”

TURKEY SAYS GROUND FORCES HAVE INVADED NORTHERN SYRIA; MULTIPLE CIVILIANS REPORTED DEAD

President Trump said the U.S. would pull its troops from northeast Syria on Sunday, a move considered a blow to the U.S.-backed Kurds by many analysts and political observers. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan later announced a military operation in the region that he said was to “neutralize terror threats” and establish a “safe zone.”

At least seven civilians have been killed in strikes in northeastern Syria since the assault began on Wednesday, according to activists and a war monitor. Turkey later announced that its ground forces had invaded the region to fight the Kurds.

“This is insanity,” the concerned U.S. service member said. “I don’t know what they call atrocities, but they are happening.”

Griffin called it one of the hardest phone calls she has ever taken.

U.S. military officials told Fox News the president ordered the military not to get involved in the Turkish strikes, after the Kurds requested air support.

Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria are guarding thousands of captured Islamic State (ISIS) fighters, now without the help of the U.S. in the area.

TRUMP ‘WENT OFF SCRIPT’ DURING CALL WITH ERDOGAN, SENIOR MILITARY SOURCE REVEALS

The Special Forces member said the Kurds have not left their positions guarding detainees. In fact, “they prevented a prison break last night without us,” the military source on the front line said. “They are not abandoning our side [yet].”

“The Turks are hitting outside the security mechanism,” according to the source, who said the Kurds are “pleading for our support.”

The American troops are doing “nothing,” the source lamented. “Just sitting by and watching it unfold.”

Troops on the ground in Syria and their commanders were “surprised” by Trump’s withdrawal decision Sunday night.

Of the president’s decision, the source said: “He doesn’t understand the problem. He doesn’t understand the repercussions of this. Erdogan is an Islamist, not a level-headed actor.”

TRUMP PULLS BACK TROOPS FROM NORTHERN SYRIA AHEAD OF TURKISH ASSAULT, PENTAGON OFFICIALS ‘BLINDSIDED’

“The Kurds are as close to Western thinking in the Middle East as anyone,” said the longtime member of Special Forces. “It’s a shame. We are just watching. It’s horrible.”

“This is not helping the ISIS fight,” the military source said.

Many of the ISIS prisoners “will be free in the coming days and weeks,” he predicted.

Trump told reporters Wednesday afternoon that the captured terrorists were “really bad people who should go back to Europe.”

“We said to various countries, we’d like you to take your people back. Nobody wants them, they’re bad,” Trump said, saying that “maybe the Kurds […] if not them, Turkey” would deal with the ISIS fighters.

TRUMP CALLS TURKEY ASSAULT ON SYRIA A ‘BAD IDEA’ AS KURDS REPORT CIVILIAN DEATHS

“The Kurds are sticking by us,” the Special Forces source stressed to Fox News. “No other partner I have ever dealt with would stand by us.”

American troops were disappointed in the decisions being handed down by senior leaders, the source on the ground added.

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Westlake Legal Group us-syria Turkey's Syria invasion: Member of US Special Forces says, 'I am ashamed for the first time in my career' Melissa Leon Jennifer Griffin fox-news/world/world-regions/middle-east fox-news/world/conflicts/syria fox-news/us/military/army fox-news/person/donald-trump fox news fnc/world fnc ca65e2e9-7477-5c32-9fc7-13c30e96c9ab article   Westlake Legal Group us-syria Turkey's Syria invasion: Member of US Special Forces says, 'I am ashamed for the first time in my career' Melissa Leon Jennifer Griffin fox-news/world/world-regions/middle-east fox-news/world/conflicts/syria fox-news/us/military/army fox-news/person/donald-trump fox news fnc/world fnc ca65e2e9-7477-5c32-9fc7-13c30e96c9ab article

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Nearly two dozen paratroopers injured in Mississippi Airborne exercise: report

Nearly two dozen paratroopers were injured while conducting a training exercise in Mississippi on Wednesday night, according to a report.

The troops were jumping from a C-130 aircraft when the wind blew them away from their intended drop zone, Laurel, Miss.’s WDAM-TV reported.

Several of the 89 paratroopers landed in a group of pine trees. Some of the injured soldiers were taken to a hospital and others had to be rescued after their parachutes become tangled in the trees.

ARMY IDS FORT CAMPBELL SOLDIER KILLED IN WEAPONS TRAINING ACCIDENT

Westlake Legal Group paratroopers-1 Nearly two dozen paratroopers injured in Mississippi Airborne exercise: report fox-news/us/us-regions/southeast/mississippi fox-news/us/military/army fox-news/us/military fox news fnc/us fnc Brie Stimson article 9e7828fd-5a9e-5b96-86b6-fef45132f3fb

U.S. paratroopers conduct an airborne operation from a C-130 Hercules aircraft on Juliet Drop Zone near Pordenone, Italy, Sept. 24, 2014. (Dept. of Defense )

“At this time we’re tracking 22 injuries with 15 treated by medics in the field and seven transported to local hospitals,“ John Pennell, chief of media relations for U.S. Army Alaska, said, WDAM reported.

Staff Sgt. John Healy, with the 177th Armored Brigade at Camp Shelby, said none of the injuries were life-threatening.

The Mississippi National Guard released a statement just after midnight Thursday that read in part, “Airborne Operations all bear an inherent risk … We are grateful for overwhelming support that we have received from units here on Camp Shelby as well as local first responders. The entire community has come together to ensure that we are able to provide expert treatment to any Soldiers who were injured during the Airborne Operation.”

“Once all Soldiers have been accounted for, our goal is ultimately to continue training. Despite the challenges that we currently face, Soldiers always place the mission first.”

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The operation was part of a 10-day training exercise.

Westlake Legal Group paratroopers Nearly two dozen paratroopers injured in Mississippi Airborne exercise: report fox-news/us/us-regions/southeast/mississippi fox-news/us/military/army fox-news/us/military fox news fnc/us fnc Brie Stimson article 9e7828fd-5a9e-5b96-86b6-fef45132f3fb   Westlake Legal Group paratroopers Nearly two dozen paratroopers injured in Mississippi Airborne exercise: report fox-news/us/us-regions/southeast/mississippi fox-news/us/military/army fox-news/us/military fox news fnc/us fnc Brie Stimson article 9e7828fd-5a9e-5b96-86b6-fef45132f3fb

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DOJ seeks reinstatement of Army reservist fired from civilian job over military obligations

Westlake Legal Group iStock-doj DOJ seeks reinstatement of Army reservist fired from civilian job over military obligations Melissa Leon fox-news/us/us-regions/southeast/mississippi fox-news/us/military/army fox-news/us/military fox-news/politics/justice-department fox-news/politics/judiciary/federal-courts fox news fnc/us fnc article 2a748822-f77f-5e99-959d-2585d061ab35

An Army reservist in Mississippi, fired from a civilian job because of his military service obligations, should be reinstated, the Justice Department said in a complaint filed Monday in federal court.

Staff Sgt. 1st Class Jason Sims Sr. served with the Coahoma County Sheriff’s Office for four years, between 2014 and 2018, before he was fired because he also taught leadership courses at Fort Knox, Ky., during that time, the Justice Department alleged on Tuesday.

Sims’ firing is a violation of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) of 1994, which protects service members’ civilian jobs when they are called to fulfill military obligations, the department said. USERRA also protects troops from discrimination due to their status with the military.

The DOJ says Sims should be reinstated and paid back wages and benefits.

AIR FORCE ARMS B1-B BOMBER WITH HYPERSONIC WEAPONS

“Our nation has made a commitment to protect the civilian jobs of its service members while they serve our country,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband said. “Federal law frees members of the armed forces from the stress associated with the fear they will be fired because they were called to military service.”

The Army Reserve allows soldiers to serve in the military part time while also holding full-time civilian jobs.

ACTIVE-DUTY MILITARY SUICIDES SPIKE TO RECORD HIGH, PENTAGON REPORT SAYS

“The legal rights of the members of our armed forces, who routinely make personal sacrifices to protect our nation, must be respected,” U.S. Attorney William Lamar said. “The Department of Justice is committed to protecting those rights, so that these brave men and women can return from their service to their civilian jobs with the full benefits to which they are entitled.”

The Department of Labor referred Sims’ request to the Justice Department following its’ own Veterans’ Employment and Training Service investigation.

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Westlake Legal Group iStock-doj DOJ seeks reinstatement of Army reservist fired from civilian job over military obligations Melissa Leon fox-news/us/us-regions/southeast/mississippi fox-news/us/military/army fox-news/us/military fox-news/politics/justice-department fox-news/politics/judiciary/federal-courts fox news fnc/us fnc article 2a748822-f77f-5e99-959d-2585d061ab35   Westlake Legal Group iStock-doj DOJ seeks reinstatement of Army reservist fired from civilian job over military obligations Melissa Leon fox-news/us/us-regions/southeast/mississippi fox-news/us/military/army fox-news/us/military fox-news/politics/justice-department fox-news/politics/judiciary/federal-courts fox news fnc/us fnc article 2a748822-f77f-5e99-959d-2585d061ab35

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Active-duty military suicides spike to record high, Pentagon report says

Westlake Legal Group pentagon092019 Active-duty military suicides spike to record high, Pentagon report says Melissa Leon fox-news/us/military/navy fox-news/us/military/marines fox-news/us/military/army fox-news/us/military/air-force fox-news/us/military fox-news/politics/defense/pentagon fox-news/politics/defense fox news fnc/us fnc e2ff41ac-cb93-5dd8-9dcb-b2c8b0a040cf article

Suicide rates among active-duty U.S. service members reached a record high in 2018, according to a Defense Department report released Thursday.

The suicide rate among active duty service members was 24.8 suicides per 100,000 service members last year, the Pentagon‘s Annual Suicide Report (ASR) found, up from 21.9 in 2017 and 21.5 in 2016. In 2013, there were 18.5 suicides per 100,000 service members.

The report also found that 541 service members were confirmed or believed to have died by suicide last year, up from 511 in 2017. Of those deaths, 325 took place among active-duty service members, while 81 were among members of the Reserves and 135 were among the National Guard.

“There is still much more work to be done,” the department said while acknowledging it has “made strides in establishing an infrastructure for preventing military suicide by aligning our strategy with the public health approach.”

The ASR found that those service members who died by suicide were primarily enlisted men under 30 who used a gun to kill themselves, the department said.

The National Guard had the highest suicide rate, with 30.6 deaths per 100,000 members, the report says, while the Reserve component saw 22.9 deaths by suicide per 100,000 Reservists, according to the data.

The Army, Navy and Marine Corps all saw the rate of suicides go up as well as the overall numbers, with only the Air Force showing a decrease. Army suicides went from 114 to 139, while the Marines went from 43 to 58 and the Navy went from 65 to 68. The Air Force dipped from 63 to 60.

The report estimates that there were also 186 reported suicides among military spouses and dependents in 2017, the most recent year for which data is available. This was also the first time the Pentagon reported on military family deaths by suicide.

ONE KILLED, THREE WOUNDED IN BLACK HAWK HELICOPTER CRASH IN LOUISIANA 

Despite the worrying trends, the report says that after adjusting for age and sex, military suicide rates — except those among National Guard members — were roughly equivalent to rates in the larger U.S. population.

“Based on findings from the ASR, the department will use a multi-faceted public health approach to target areas of greatest concern, specifically young and enlisted members, as well as National Guard members, and continue to support our military families,” the report states.

In a joint statement Acting Army Secretary Ryan D. McCarthy Army Chief of Staff Gen. James C. McConville called the ASR’s findings “disheartening and disappointing.”

“Suicide is devastating to families and units, and tears at the fabric of our institution,” they said. “Leadership at every level must build cohesive ‘teams of teams’ supporting our brothers and sisters to our left and right. The more we know about each other, the better equipped we are to recognize a call for help.”

“We will continue to take a hard look at the challenges we face with suicide to ensure the proper resources are in place to protect those at risk,” the officers added.

3 SAILORS ASSIGNED TO USS GEORGE H.W. BUSH COMMIT SUICIDE IN SAME WEEK

Defense Secretary Mark Esper addressed suicide among service members on a visit to Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia earlier this week after three Navy sailors assigned to the Norfolk-based USS George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier committed suicide in separate incidents last week.

“You mourn for the families and for their shipmates,” he said, the Daily Press reported. “I wish I could tell you we have an answer to prevent future further suicides in the armed services. We don’t.”

“We believe engaged leadership, focused training and education will promote a supportive environment, prevent high-risk behaviors and increase Army readiness,” McCarthy and McConville also said.

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“The Army is about people and our team, and we are focused on strengthening resilience, increasing help-seeking behaviors and reducing suicides. To assist our command teams and first-line leaders, we have developed leader visibility tools and enhanced resilience and suicide-prevention training and education,” they noted.

“Seeking help is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of strength,” the leaders stressed. ” All of us are responsible for the care and safekeeping of our teammates and their families, and for being there for one another and encouraging those in need to get help.”

Fox News’ Jennifer Griffin contributed to this report.

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One killed, three wounded in Black Hawk helicopter crash in Louisiana

Westlake Legal Group Black-Hawk One killed, three wounded in Black Hawk helicopter crash in Louisiana Vandana Rambaran fox-news/us/us-regions/southeast/louisiana fox-news/us/military/army fox-news/us fox-news/tech/topics/us-army fox news fnc/us fnc article 2b9b5903-1319-59cf-91d6-6bcae4201015

One soldier is dead and three others injured after an Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crashed Thursday morning at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana.

One soldier was taken to Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital, and the other two were taken to Rapides Regional Hospital in Alexandria, Louisiana, Kim Reischling, a Fort Polk spokeswoman, told Military.com.

ARMY BUILDS NEW BODY ARMOR 14-TIMES STRONGER IN THE FACE OF ENEMY FIRE

The three wounded soldiers suffered minor injuries but are in stable condition, Reischling said. The family of the deceased soldier was notified but per base protocol, the identity will not be released until 24 hours after the family is contacted.

The helicopter, which was based in Fort Polk and part of the 1-5 Aviation Battalion, was enroute to pick up a soldier suffering from a heat-related injury during training when it went down around 12:15 a.m.

“One of their biggest missions on Fort Polk is to fly medevac and they were on their way to pick up a routine injury out in the training area,” Reischling said. “There are accidents out there, minor ones, soldiers get overheated, soldiers sprain their hands, stuff like that.”

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Fort Polk trains between 4,000 to 5,000 soldiers a year at JRTC, she added.

The cause of the crash remains unknown but is being investigated by the U.S. Army Aviation Safety Center at Fort Rucker, Alabama.

Westlake Legal Group Black-Hawk One killed, three wounded in Black Hawk helicopter crash in Louisiana Vandana Rambaran fox-news/us/us-regions/southeast/louisiana fox-news/us/military/army fox-news/us fox-news/tech/topics/us-army fox news fnc/us fnc article 2b9b5903-1319-59cf-91d6-6bcae4201015   Westlake Legal Group Black-Hawk One killed, three wounded in Black Hawk helicopter crash in Louisiana Vandana Rambaran fox-news/us/us-regions/southeast/louisiana fox-news/us/military/army fox-news/us fox-news/tech/topics/us-army fox news fnc/us fnc article 2b9b5903-1319-59cf-91d6-6bcae4201015

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Iraqi linguist, now US soldier, recalls 7,474-mile journey of American flag buried in Iraq for 11 years

It became a simple yet nearly unthinkable mission: Recover a precious American flag buried in the dirt somewhere in Iraq.

For Staff Sgt. Ahmed, that flag is so much more than mere stars and stripes.

Ahmed, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, served as an Iraqi translator during the early years of the Iraq War. After becoming one of the 1st Battalion “Bandits,” 37 Armored Brigade, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team’s most-trusted and valuable linguists, the soldiers decided they wanted to give him Ahmed an American flag in 2004.

“I was so excited and happy,” Ahmed recently told Fox News. “It was the first American flag I had ever touched. It was one of those happy moments.”

Westlake Legal Group Fort-Bliss-flag Iraqi linguist, now US soldier, recalls 7,474-mile journey of American flag buried in Iraq for 11 years Melissa Leon fox-news/world/world-regions/iraq fox-news/us/personal-freedoms/proud-american fox-news/us/military/army fox-news/us/military fox news fnc/us fnc d40bb19d-dc44-5537-b33a-010bdfce1ebf article

An encased flag is displayed during a ceremony at the 1st Battalion, 37th Armored Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division motor pool. (U.S. Army photo by: Sgt. Michael West/2nd ABCT, 1st AD Public Affairs)

Ahmed began translating for the Americans in April 2003 in Baghdad. He worked for the 1-37’s command team during local meetings and on missions.

He says earned his team’s trust one night on a mission beyond the fence when he rounded a corner and walked into the muzzle of an AK-47. He immediately put up his hand to push the muzzle away, and the Iraqi squeezed off a shot before running into the bushes, Ahmed recalled.

The American soldiers saw him differently after that night and realized how valuable he was to them, Ahmed said. “I became the guy who was about to be killed and would have died.”

After that, he started to accompany the team everywhere.

One day in 2004, the team went on its last mission before being sent to a different location outside Baghdad. A soldier with whom Ahmed had become best friends, Sgt. Scott Larson, was killed.

“I was really devastated,” Ahmed said. “He was a good friend of mine.”

‘ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE MISSION’: THE 8,000-MILE NONSTOP FLIGHT TO SAVE A US SOLDIER’S LIFE

It had been Larson’s idea to give Ahmed an American flag, the soldier recalled. The team signed the flag for Ahmed and left, and the Iraqi continued to translate for the U.S. into 2005.

Ahmed kept his flag in heavy-duty plastic bags, still carefully folded exactly as the Americans had given it to him, tucked into a Nike gym bag.

“I put it in those bags to protect it from the dirt and keep it white,” he explained.

When he switched bases, he was supposed to leave behind all associations with Americans or sources.

He kept the flag.

Westlake Legal Group FS_American_Flag Iraqi linguist, now US soldier, recalls 7,474-mile journey of American flag buried in Iraq for 11 years Melissa Leon fox-news/world/world-regions/iraq fox-news/us/personal-freedoms/proud-american fox-news/us/military/army fox-news/us/military fox news fnc/us fnc d40bb19d-dc44-5537-b33a-010bdfce1ebf article

Ahmed took it with him when he left the base for the last time. He was dressed in a disguise so that he wouldn’t be recognized. The minivan taking Ahmed south to Baghdad approached an armed checkpoint.  Guards would likely grill him about his associations with the Americans — especially if they saw the flag.

“My brain was fight-or-flight, thinking I’m about to get killed because I have an American flag in my hand,” he said.

Ahmed told the driver he wanted to get out near a residential area instead. Ahmed crossed the busy freeway and looked around. The guards were busy interrogating the van he had just exited and hadn’t seen him.

At that moment, he decided to bury the flag.

He looked for a landmark that wouldn’t move over time and saw a telephone pole. Then he picked a distinctive house, which he assumed was home to a local leader or dignitary.

“This guy isn’t going to move, I thought. He had a very big house,” Ahmed explained.

STRANGERS PACK FUNERAL FOR VETERAN WITH NO KNOWN FAMILY, FRIENDS: ‘HE WILL NOT BE ALONE’

He picked a spot in the ground a few feet from the telephone pole, found a rusty flattened can and started digging.

He tightened the straps on the gym bag “and buried everything. I was worried I would get caught,” he said.

“If they had come over, they would have seen me. I was worried other people in the neighborhood would see me,” Ahmed said. “At that time, if you’re digging a hole, you don’t look good. You were either planting something bad or you were trying to attack someone.”

With that, he left the flag that had meant so much to him, got into another van and “continued with my life,” as Ahmed tells it.

He came to the United States in 2008, where he took the oath of enlistment to support and defend the Constitution and became an American soldier.

DEPORTED ARMY VETERAN RETURNS TO US FROM MEXICO IN NEW BID TO BECOME CITIZEN

Ahmed, now 37, lives with his wife and child in California and serves in the Active Guard Reserve.

“Now is the time for me to say all of this because I have only two years in the Army left,” Ahmed told Fox News. “I want every soldier to take pride in what they have, every person in the U.S., I want them to take pride in how they honor those who served before them, those who serve right now and those who lost their lives, regardless of their personal views of the war.”

In 2016, his parents wanted to visit the U.S. and witness the birth of his child.

“My dad asked me, ‘What do you want?’ I really wanted only one thing,” Ahmed said — for his father to retrieve the American flag, 11 years after he’d tucked it away underground.

He gave his father specific instructions on where to find something buried — not mentioning it was an American flag until his father found the bag and was safely home.

It took several trips to the residential neighborhood in the early-morning hours to locate the pole, find the house, then pinpoint the spot where the flag had been hidden.

On one fateful trip, his father was on the phone with Ahmed when he found something.

“I told him to hang up, get [the bag out of the ground] and get out. He opened it and said it was an American flag,” Ahmed recalled.

Westlake Legal Group iStock-baghdad Iraqi linguist, now US soldier, recalls 7,474-mile journey of American flag buried in Iraq for 11 years Melissa Leon fox-news/world/world-regions/iraq fox-news/us/personal-freedoms/proud-american fox-news/us/military/army fox-news/us/military fox news fnc/us fnc d40bb19d-dc44-5537-b33a-010bdfce1ebf article

This skyline of downtown Baghdad with rooftops and terraces is a very typical urban view seen all over the Middle East.

“My dad made fun of me in the beginning,” he said. “They thought I buried a gold brick.”

“They were proud of me, and I was proud of him to do such a courageous thing,” the soldier said.

More than 11 years and 7,474 miles later, Ahmed was able to hold his prized banner again. It was unstained — still “white as new.”

“I wanted the whole world to see how the creases are still there,” he said with pride. “When I unfolded it, only once, the creases you see are still there from the day the Americans handed it to me in 2004.”

WORLD WAR II VETERAN REQUESTS 100 CARDS FOR 100TH BIRTHDAY, GOES VIRAL

That was 15 years ago. He still recalls details from his time with the Americans during the early years of the war: All those times in the field, all those times we went on missions, I felt my role as a linguist was to bring those cultures closer to each other.”

The flag represents that, and much more.

“Every signature on that flag — it means something to me,” Ahmed said.

Holding the flag again was an accomplishment, he added.

“All of my accomplishment is in that flag. The relationship, the camaraderie, the hard work we put in together.”

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On Sept. 11, Ahmed visited the 1-37 Bandits at Fort Bliss in Texas, his framed flag in tow, and he spoke to soldiers.

“The flag finally made it home,” Ahmed told the Defense Department after the trip. “I think of these soldiers every day when I put on my Army uniform and display the flag on my shoulder. Today, I did not see faces and ranks, but as I looked around, I saw the Old Ironsides patch and friendships that will last a lifetime.

“Larson did not live to see his flag again, but these soldiers did.”

Westlake Legal Group Fort-Bliss-flag Iraqi linguist, now US soldier, recalls 7,474-mile journey of American flag buried in Iraq for 11 years Melissa Leon fox-news/world/world-regions/iraq fox-news/us/personal-freedoms/proud-american fox-news/us/military/army fox-news/us/military fox news fnc/us fnc d40bb19d-dc44-5537-b33a-010bdfce1ebf article   Westlake Legal Group Fort-Bliss-flag Iraqi linguist, now US soldier, recalls 7,474-mile journey of American flag buried in Iraq for 11 years Melissa Leon fox-news/world/world-regions/iraq fox-news/us/personal-freedoms/proud-american fox-news/us/military/army fox-news/us/military fox news fnc/us fnc d40bb19d-dc44-5537-b33a-010bdfce1ebf article

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US Army soldier allegedly discussed bombing major news network, fighting in Ukraine

Westlake Legal Group iStock-doj US Army soldier allegedly discussed bombing major news network, fighting in Ukraine Stephen Sorace fox-news/us/us-regions/midwest/kansas fox-news/us/terror fox-news/us/military/army fox-news/us/crime fox news fnc/us fnc fc96bd27-5c76-5a06-a66a-3829908a210c article

An American soldier at Fort Riley in Kansas has been arrested after allegedly discussing an attack on a major U.S. news network, sharing instructions on building a bomb and targeting Beto O’Rourke, authorities announced Monday.

Jarrett William Smith, 24, was charged with one count of distributing information related to explosives and weapons of mass destruction, the Department of Justice said in a news release.

SOLDIER ARRESTED WITH TWO OTHERS IN DEATH OF STEPFATHER FOUND IN OKLAHOMA CEMETERY

Smith, a private first class infantry soldier, allegedly spoke to an undercover FBI agent last month and discussed plans to conduct an attack in the U.S. He said he was looking for more “radicals” like himself and mentioned killing members of the far-left group Antifa, according to an affidavit.

He allegedly suggested a major American news network, the name of which was redacted from the affidavit, could be the target of a vehicle bomb.

“A large vehicle bomb. Fill a vehicle full of [explosives] then fill a ping pong ball with [commonly available chemical] via drilling, then injection. Put the ball in the tank of the vehicle and leave. 30 minutes later, BOOM,” Smith allegedly said.

Smith again engaged in conversation with an undercover FBI agent on Friday, allegedly having an exchange over a person who would make a good target to kill. He appears to refer to 2020 Democratic presidential contender and former Texas congressman O’Rourke.

“FBI: You got anyone down in Texas that would be a good fit for fire, destruction and death?

SMITH: Outside of Beto? I don’t know enough people that would be relevant enough to cause a change if they died.”

In December of last year, he offered to teach others over Facebook chat how to make cellphone explosive devices “in the style of the Afghans,” according to the affidavit.

A year before joining the Army, Smith expressed a desire to join the violent, far-right Ukrainian paramilitary group called Azov Battalion, officials said.

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Smith joined the Army June 12, 2017, and was transferred to Fort Riley, Kan., on July 8.

He could face a maximum of 20 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000, if convicted.

Westlake Legal Group iStock-doj US Army soldier allegedly discussed bombing major news network, fighting in Ukraine Stephen Sorace fox-news/us/us-regions/midwest/kansas fox-news/us/terror fox-news/us/military/army fox-news/us/crime fox news fnc/us fnc fc96bd27-5c76-5a06-a66a-3829908a210c article   Westlake Legal Group iStock-doj US Army soldier allegedly discussed bombing major news network, fighting in Ukraine Stephen Sorace fox-news/us/us-regions/midwest/kansas fox-news/us/terror fox-news/us/military/army fox-news/us/crime fox news fnc/us fnc fc96bd27-5c76-5a06-a66a-3829908a210c article

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Army recruit, 18, dies after ‘medical emergency’ at Fort Jackson

Westlake Legal Group 1542160137_e7392a9267_k Army recruit, 18, dies after 'medical emergency' at Fort Jackson Melissa Leon fox-news/us/us-regions/southeast/south-carolina fox-news/us/us-regions/southeast/north-carolina fox-news/us/military/army fox news fnc/us fnc article 996699a5-3125-58ab-86ce-65fddcb93032

An 18-year-old soldier-in-training has died after experiencing a “medical emergency” ahead of a training exercise at Fort Jackson in South Carolina, Army officials said Saturday.

The soldier from North Carolina was pronounced dead at Providence Hospital, according to Fort Jackson commander Brig. Gen. Milford Beagle, Jr. Hospital staff said the death was not heat-related, according to base officials.

“The tragic loss of a soldier, our nation’s most precious resource, is devastating to the families, friends and teammates,” Beagle said.

The soldier-in-training was “preparing to do physical training in his battalion area” when he died, Fort Jackson said in a separate statement.

“Our deepest condolences & support to the 3rd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment ‘River Raiders’ on the loss of a soldier-in-training,” the base said.

The soldier’s name is being withheld pending notification of next of kin.

‘ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE MISSION’: THE 8,000-MILE NONSTOP FLIGHT TO SAVE A US SOLDIER’S LIFE

“I ask for your patience and consideration for our fallen brother’s extended family until the next-of-kin notification is complete and we are able to release his name,” Beagle added.

Officials said the soldier’s cause of death is under investigation.

PENTAGON ANNOUNCES MORE US TROOPS, BUT ‘NOT THOUSANDS’ MORE, WILL DEPLOY TO MIDEAST

The commander said  “separate investigations” will take place to “determine the facts behind the incident and provided in time to our soldier’s family, who rightly deserve this information.”

Fort Jackson is home to the Army’s main center for Basic Combat Training, often known as “boot camp.” The base trains 50 percent of those soldiers in boot camp and more than 60 percent of women entering the Army every year, it says.

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Westlake Legal Group 1542160137_e7392a9267_k Army recruit, 18, dies after 'medical emergency' at Fort Jackson Melissa Leon fox-news/us/us-regions/southeast/south-carolina fox-news/us/us-regions/southeast/north-carolina fox-news/us/military/army fox news fnc/us fnc article 996699a5-3125-58ab-86ce-65fddcb93032   Westlake Legal Group 1542160137_e7392a9267_k Army recruit, 18, dies after 'medical emergency' at Fort Jackson Melissa Leon fox-news/us/us-regions/southeast/south-carolina fox-news/us/us-regions/southeast/north-carolina fox-news/us/military/army fox news fnc/us fnc article 996699a5-3125-58ab-86ce-65fddcb93032

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‘Almost impossible mission’: The 8,000-mile non-stop flight to save a US soldier’s life

Westlake Legal Group c5942644-US-troops-Afghanistan 'Almost impossible mission': The 8,000-mile non-stop flight to save a US soldier's life Lucas Tomlinson fox-news/world/conflicts/afghanistan fox-news/us/military/army fox-news/us/military/air-force fox-news/us/military fox news fnc/us fnc article 608aa2d8-bb0c-58c2-8e04-04d3b20fa25d

The Taliban have stepped up attacks across Afghanistan after President Trump scrapped high-level peace talks between Afghan and Taliban leaders at Camp David earlier this month.

This week alone, three major suicide attacks killed dozens of people, including 26 at a campaign rally for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. The Taliban claimed responsibility for all the attacks.

In all, 17 U.S. troops have been killed and more than 100 wounded, some of them severely.  One of them — a special operations soldier — lost his right arm and leg last month after a grenade exploded during close-quarters combat.

Three military aircraft, 18 medical personnel, 24,000 gallons of fuel and 26 gallons of blood were spent to save the life of this critically wounded soldier, whom Fox News agreed not to identify at the request of the U.S. military.

Officials credit a recent decision to have assault forces carry blood on the battlefield, as well as and lifesaving surgery at Bagram Airbase.

More than 100 troops stood in line outside the base hospital to donate blood to help their wounded brother-in-arms. Then the Air Force sprang into action to bring him home.

A C-17 flight crew based at Dover Air Force Base flew from Germany to Afghanistan on short notice, then made the 8,000-mile non-stop journey to Texas.

RETIRED SEAL MCRAVEN SAYS US WILL BE IN AFGHANISTAN FOR ‘VERY LONG TIME’

“The crew members that were on board, we kind of know what was at stake should anything fall out of line,” said Maj.  Dan Kudlacz, the aircraft commander for the mission dubbed REACH 797. “I know I didn’t really get great sleep the night prior just because I knew what was at stake.”

The mission required two night time mid-air refuelings, one over Europe and the other over Maine. For Kudlacz, it was the first time this type of mission had been attempted in his career.

“To do it with air medical evacuation patients on board was definitely something that I have never heard of,” he said.

“There was quite a bit of critical urgency to this,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. Andrew Hathaway, the C-17 loadmaster.  “You could hear in their voice the stress of the pilots when they were calculating the fuel.”

C-17 crew chief Staff Sgt. Terrance Williamson said there was no question the flight was a high priority.

“We knew like we had to get this done,” he told Fox News. “We could make this almost impossible mission happen.”

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Nineteen hours after taking off from Afghanistan, the C-17 landed in San Antonio to transport the soldier to Brooke Army Medical Center.  The Air Force flight crew had completed their mission without breaking the sacred oath among U.S. forces in combat.

“You can expect that we, being the United States military, are going to do everything that we can in our power and we are going to spare no expense to bring you home,” Kudlacz said.

The soldier was still in critical condition Friday night.

Fox News’s Ben Florance and Mary Beth Hughes contributed to this report

Westlake Legal Group US-troops-Afghanistan 'Almost impossible mission': The 8,000-mile non-stop flight to save a US soldier's life Lucas Tomlinson fox-news/world/conflicts/afghanistan fox-news/us/military/army fox-news/us/military/air-force fox-news/us/military fox news fnc/us fnc article 608aa2d8-bb0c-58c2-8e04-04d3b20fa25d   Westlake Legal Group US-troops-Afghanistan 'Almost impossible mission': The 8,000-mile non-stop flight to save a US soldier's life Lucas Tomlinson fox-news/world/conflicts/afghanistan fox-news/us/military/army fox-news/us/military/air-force fox-news/us/military fox news fnc/us fnc article 608aa2d8-bb0c-58c2-8e04-04d3b20fa25d

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