AI May Enhance Tradecraft, Prevent Geopolitical Surprises

AI May Enhance Tradecraft, Prevent Geopolitical Surprises Says Military’s Top Spy

Contributed by Debbie Gregory

Army Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley Jr., the Pentagon’s “top spy,” hopes advances in artificial intelligence (AI) can get a jump on global conflicts when they ignite overnight.

“My core mission is to make sure that the secretary of defense is never surprised,” said Ashley.

Ashley became the 21st Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency on October 3, 2017. He formerly served as the Army Deputy Chief of Staff, G-2, where he was the senior advisor to the Secretary of the Army and Army Chief of Staff for all aspects of intelligence, counterintelligence and security.

“AI and machine learning will be a huge enhancement” to tradecraft and other skills defense analysts use to avoid blind spots,” he said.

Using algorithms to sort through massive amounts of information can take some of the burden off defense analysts, but it doesn’t come without challenges, Ashley said.

“We look very closely at the technology development. Obviously, there’s some breakout things — we watch the AI side of the house, the hypersonics, counter-space, [and] what they’re doing with regard to subs, if you’re following the maritime piece of that as well,” he said. “They’re in the trials for their first carrier. They got an old one from the Russians; now they’re building their own.”

“When an analyst sits in front of a senior leader, they always say, ‘Based on reporting, based on sources, based on what I have seen I have a moderate [degree of confidence]’ or if you see a national assessment that says ‘I have a high-degree of confidence,’ it goes back to sourcing and analytic tradecraft,” he said.

“You never want to be in a position where you say, ‘Well, the computer told me so,'” he continued. “Part of the challenge we have now, and I think really the opportunity is, as we look at algorithms, as we look at machine learning and AI, is developing a degree of confidence within the AI, a degree of confidence within the algorithm.”

DIA will have to test these algorithms “to be able to prove that it can in fact come back with a high-degree of confidence that the analysis that it’s doing is correct,” Ashley added.

Ashley wants to ensure that the Machine-assisted Analytic Rapid-repository System, or MARS, is at initial operating capability before he leaves office in two years. MARS will take advantage of modern technologies in storage, cloud computing and machine learning to allow analysts to interact with data and information in a more dynamic fashion, rather than static.


Petition Calls Out Moving Industry on PCS Issues

Petition Calls Out Moving Industry on PCS Issues

Petition Calls Out Moving Industry on PCS Issues

Contributed by Debbie Gregory

Every year thousands of military service members and their families pack up and move on military orders. All of their valuables and household goods are packed up by contracted strangers, loaded onto a truck and driven across country. In a perfect world, everything would arrive at its destination, in the same condition it was in when it left. But a petition to “Hold Military Moving Companies Accountable,” started by a frustrated military family member, has over 100,000 signatures, a good indication that this is far from reality.

The story behind the petition is easy enough to figure out. With $2.3 billion spent on moving services, the Department of Defense might just be the single largest moving services customer in the world.

Many military families on the move have experienced hardships because of unexpected delays in pickup or delivery of their household goods. In late July, U.S. Transportation Command officials said about 10 percent of military members who had moved at that point had experienced delivery delays. There have been complaints about the quality of work, too, which has resulted in loss and damage for some families.

“Military families are tired of how things with the current moving system are being handled,” wrote the military spouse who runs the Military Spouse Chronicles Facebook page, in initiating the petition

Moving is a stressful activity under the best of circumstances. Officials at U.S. Transportation Command have urged families to reach out to their household goods/transportation offices to learn about their options for assistance, including reimbursement for expenses caused by delays in delivery or pickup.

Among the suggested solutions from Military Spouse Chronicles is to have move coordinators and quality assurance inspectors properly trained in being a mediator between the military family and the moving company and its crews. Another solution, long proposed by a number of advocates in the military community, is to have less frequent moves.

Army Evaluates Drone Retrieval Device that Operates from a Moving Vehicle

Army Evaluates Drone Retrieval Device that Operates from a Moving Vehicle


Army Evaluates Drone Retrieval Device that Operates from a Moving Vehicle

Contributed Debbie Gregory

The Army is looking to integrate more robot technologies, from 3-armed super-soldiers to tiny drones that support squad-level surveillance. Recently, a new drone-retrieval system was introduced that could make it easier for Army units to collect their drones after a mission.

The Talon, a device made by Target Arm, sits on the back of a moving vehicle and is able to catch drones of all sizes. The prototype was presented at an industry day at the Maneuver Center of Excellence (MCoE) at Fort Benning, Georgia.

“Think of a drive-through Venus flytrap,” said Don Sando, deputy to the commanding general of MCoE. Currently, combat vehicles are limited to line-of-sight targeting and surveillance systems.

Talon is a very “simple design, applicable to any vehicle, wheeled or tracked. That’s very innovative in my judgment,” said Sando.

“I was like, ‘Hey, that is simple, yet elegant,'” he said. “The ability to launch and recover aircraft from a moving platform really helps our ground formations on a battlefield, where we know they have to move quickly. Anytime you stop, you become a target.”

While there were no demonstrations at the industry day event that was held in late August, many of the companies brought white papers to showcase new technologies that might meet the needs of the service’s new Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) Initial Capabilities Document, said Col. Thomas Nelson, director of Robotics Requirements at Benning.

Many of the industry day attendees will take part in experiments scheduled for November and December in the United Kingdom, said Lt. Col. Nick Serle, commanding officer of the U.K. Infantry Trials and Development Unit.

“That really ties into the great partnership that we have between [Benning’s] Maneuver Battle Lab over here and the work that we do back in the U.K.,” Serle said.


Marine Will Serve Almost 3 Years for Stealing From Toys for Tots

Marine Will Serve Almost 3 Years for Stealing From Toys for Tots

Marine Will Serve Almost 3 Years for Stealing From Toys for Tots

Contributed by Debbie Gregory

A 33-month prison sentence and restitution to the tune of $534,044 is the immediate future of former Staff Sgt. Christopher Aragon.

Aragon used his position as a Toys for Tots program coordinator to make payments to himself and defraud the Marine Corps. Toys for Tots is a program run by the United States Marine Corps Reserve which distributes toys to children whose parents cannot afford to buy them gifts for Christmas.

The program was founded in 1947 by reservist Major Bill Hendricks.

Aragon, 32, served as a supply chief for 3rd Force Reconnaissance Company and was the unit’s coordinator for its Toys for Tots program. Aragon will also have to pay $20,044.70 in restitution to the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation.

According to court documents, between December 2013 and August 2016, Aragon conspired with his wife, Teneshia Aragon, and Dana Davis, owner of the Runway Café in Mobile, Alabama, to defraud the Marine Corps by using an issued credit card to make unauthorized payments to himself as well as submitting false documents, invoices and unit rosters.

But the Corps picked up on the bogus charges during an audit and found serious discrepancies.

An investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and Defense Criminal Investigative Service ultimately resulted in Aragon’s prosecution.

In May, all three defendants plead guilty to trying to defraud the Marine Corps.

Dana Davis was sentenced to six-months in prison in August and Teneshia Aragon was sentenced to five years of probation with six months of that as home confinement on September 10th.

Christopher Aragon was ordered to undergo “three years of supervised release after finishing his term of imprisonment, pay a $100 mandatory special assessment, receive mental health treatment, and undergo credit restrictions following his release”.

Education Center at the Vietnam Veterans Wall Scrapped

Education Center at the Vietnam Veterans Wall Scrapped

Education Center at the Vietnam Veterans Wall Scrapped

Contributed by Debbie Gregory.

In a stunning move, the board of directors of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF) announced that after a strategic review of the Education Center project, there will be a shift of focus to online resources, handheld technology, education staff, mobile exhibits and partnerships rather than continue efforts to construct a physical building on the National Mall.

The long-stalled plan to build the education center next to the iconic “Wall” is being scrapped for lack of funding and general interest.

Chairman John Dibble said in a statement that “funding simply has not materialized” for the project, which originally was to have dealt with the history, context and legacy of the Vietnam War.

The memorial, dedicated in 1982, was the brainchild of Vietnam Army Veteran Jan Scruggs, who founded the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and served as the president of the foundation until he retired in 2014. Scruggs spearheaded the VVMF’s legislative effort to get Congress to authorize the memorial and approve its location on the National Mall, and he shepherded the memorial’s controversial design past the United States Commission of Fine Arts and other federal and local agencies.

Scruggs announced the concept for the education center in 2000. At a symbolic groundbreaking in 2012, Scruggs said the center would also serve as a temporary memorial for the fallen of Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The veterans of Vietnam know what it is like to wait for a memorial — a healing place — to be authorized and constructed. Today’s heroes shouldn’t have to wait. Our goal is to have the education center at the Wall open in time to welcome home our last troops returning from Afghanistan,” he said at the time.

With a projected cost of approximately $84 million, the funds raised were just a little more than half of what was needed.

In the statement released by Dibble, he said, “We know many veterans and supporters are disappointed in this outcome. We also are disappointed that the early enthusiasm and support did not result in a completed building. Since the idea was developed in early 2001, the world is a very different place.”


Army Special Forces Medic Receives Medal of Honor

Army Special Forces Medic Receives Medal of Honor

Army Special Forces Medic Receives Medal of Honor

Contributed by Debbie Gregory

A former Green Beret medic who fought his way up a mountain in Afghanistan and braved enemy rocket-propelled grenades and sniper fire to treat wounded soldiers will receive the Medal of Honor, the military’s highest honor.

On October 1st, Ronald J. Shurer II received the upgrade to the Silver Star he had been previously awarded for his actions in April 2008.

Former Staff Sgt. Shurer II, who served with the 3rd Special Forces Group,  had been deployed to Afghanistan’s Shok Valley in Nuristan province. His task, as a medic, was to support operators who were hunting high-value targets of the Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin, a militia group that had a foothold in the Shok valley.

“As the team navigated through the valley [April 6, 2008], a firefight quickly erupted, and a series of insurgent sniper fire, rocket-propelled grenades, and small arms and machine gun fire forced the unit into a defensive fighting position,” Army officials said in a release.

Shurer’s unit received word another unit was pinned down at another location and had sustained multiple casualties. Shurer moved quickly through a hail of bullets toward the base of the mountain to reach the pinned-down unit. While on the move, he stopped to treat a soldier wounded in his neck by shrapnel from a RPG blast.

“With disregard for his own safety, Sergeant Shurer took off through a hail of bullets and began scaling the rock face to get to the casualties,” his Silver Star citation states. “During initial movement to the base of the mountain, he treated a teammate wounded by shrapnel to his neck from an RPG blast that blew him off his feet.”

Then Shurer continued to fight his way down to the pinned-down forward troops, killing multiple insurgents.

“Under intense insurgent fire, Sergeant Shurer reached the pinned-down element of his ODA and immediately rendered aid to four critically wounded U.S. and ten injured commandos,” the citation reads. “He treated multiple life-threatening gunshot wounds until additional teammates arrived.”

“Sergeant Shurer rendered life saving aid to four critically wounded casualties for more than five and a half hours,” the citation reads. “As the lone medic at the besieged location, and almost overrun and fighting against nearly 200 insurgent fighters, Sergeant Shurer’s bravery and poise under fire saved the lives of all wounded casualties under his care.”

Using some nylon webbing that he found, Shurer also helped evacuate three critically wounded soldiers down a near-vertical 60-foot cliff, all while avoiding rounds of enemy gunfire and physically shielding the others from falling debris caused by numerous airstrikes.

Shurer is the 11th soldier to receive the Medal of Honor for heroism in Afghanistan. He now lives in Burke, Virginia, near Washington, D.C., with his wife Miranda and two sons, 10 and 7.

Army Misses Recruiting Goal

For the First Time Since 2005, Army Misses Recruiting Goal

For the First Time Since 2005, Army Misses Recruiting Goal

Contributed by Debbie Gregory

The Army fell short of its recruiting goal for 2018, missing its mark for the first time since 2005.

The Army has been looking to grow its force strength in the face of growing threats from competing world powers such as Russia and China. The service branch has fallen short by about 6,500 soldiers, despite an extra $200 million spent on bonuses and approving some additional waivers for bad conduct or health issues.

Army leaders said they signed up about 70,000 new active duty recruits in the fiscal year that ended September 30.  The Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps all met their recruiting goals for 2018.

Despite the shortfall, Maj. Gen. Joe Calloway, the Army’s military personnel management director, said the 70,000 recruits who did enlist this year is the most the service has attracted since 2010. He said the Army chose to focus on taking in high-quality recruits instead of ensuring it met its goal with borderline applicants.

Calloway believes the Army’s shortfall was due to the strong American economy and increased competition from private sector employers who can pay more.

Only about 30 percent of 17- to 24-year-olds can meet the mandatory requirements for consideration for military service, which consists of a combination of physical, mental and background attributes. Additionally, only about 13 percent of that population is interested in military service, according to the Pentagon.

“We made a decision to raise the quality of our recruits despite the tough recruiting environment,” the Army said in a statement. “As we look to 2019 and beyond, we have laid the foundation to improve recruiting for the Army while maintaining an emphasis on quality over quantity.”

To keep up with changing times, the Army is adjusting its  recruiting efforts, including a new focus on reaching potential recruits through social media and interactive gaming, and in locations where recruiting has typically been weak, such as major metropolitan areas.

New Campaign Aims to Support Military Spouses

New Campaign by the Second Lady Aims to Support Military Spouses

New Campaign by the Second Lady Aims to Support Military Spouses

By Debbie Gregory

The Second Lady of the United States, Karen Pence, is using her new cachet to call around on behalf of military spouses, looking to help them overcome the challenges that come with being wed to active-duty service members.

The vice president’s wife has announced a new campaign that allows military spouses be reimbursed by the federal government for licensing or certification renewal costs. She sees these spousal challenges as key to military readiness. Unhappy spouses lead to unhappy service members who eventually will quit. Mrs. Pence wants to elevate, encourage and thank military spouses.

“In the Trump administration, we feel it is imperative we support our military spouses and children,” said Mrs. Pence. “Spouses do so much and ask for so little.” She referred to them as the “backbone” of their families.

Mrs. Pence, who has a son in Marine flight school and a daughter-in-law in graduate school, said she wants to be a voice for military spouses.

The effort seems to be a follow-up to Joining Forces, Michelle Obama’s and Jill Biden’s initiative to care for military families. Mrs. Pence wants to apply her influence to try to make a difference.

“Nobody elected me, nobody voted for me,” Mrs. Pence said. “They don’t want me writing policy, and I don’t intend to. But what I do know I could do is I can speak to as many spouses as possible and encourage them and uplift them and connect them.”

Mrs. Pence has participated in numerous round table discussions with spouses from all branches of the U.S. military in the nearly two years since she assumed her new role, both around the U.S. and in other parts of the world. She and the vice president have lived in 14 homes during their 33-year marriage, so she gets it.

Mrs. Pence also highlighted another issue Thursday: helping kids cope with having a deployed parent.

She was handing out “comfort kits” to children that include an animated video, a guided journal and a teddy bear. She and the spouses of nearly 30 members of Congress assembled 500 of the kits last week.

Tricare Coverage Changes for the National Guard and Military Reserve

Tricare Coverage Changes for the National Guard and Military Reserve

Tricare Coverage Changes for the National Guard and Military Reserve


Contributed by Kris Baydalla-Galasso

TRICARE, the health care program for uniformed service members, retirees, and their families in the U.S. and around the world, has been expanded for Reserve Component members in transition. Active duty servicemembers and their families receive TRICARE coverage without any annual or monthly fee, but that’s not the case for National Guard and Reserve personnel.

Prior to now, traditional Guardsmen and Reservists coming off more than 30 days of active duty were limited to 180 days of fee-free TRICARE coverage only if they were activated in support of war or overseas efforts. While this was helpful in times of conflict or contingency operations, it didn’t help Reservists and Guardsmen assigned to stateside efforts such as hurricane relief. When not activated, Guardsmen and reservists qualify for Tricare Reserve Select, a purchased care option which carries a monthly premium, deductibles, and out-of-pocket costs.

Congress signed the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act into law in 2017, but the changes went into effect just last month. Now, Guardsmen and Reservists can enjoy 180 days of TRICARE coverage after any 30-day activation.

Not addressed by this legislation was the problem specific to dual-service technicians in the National Guard. As federal civilian employees, they are ineligible for TRICARE benefits. Legislative alterations to this rule have been tabled in the past due to cost factors.

GPS Devices Banned for Troops on Deployment

GPS Devices Banned for Troops on Deployment

GPS Devices Banned for Troops on Deployment

Contributed by Debbie Gregory

Deployed service members will no longer be allowed to use fitness tracking apps or other wearable technology such as Fitbits and iWatches that rely on geolocation, according to a new Pentagon policy.

“The rapidly evolving market of devices, applications, and services with geolocation capabilities presents a significant risk to the Department of Defense (DoD) personnel on and off duty, and to our military operations globally,” according to an August 3rd  memo written by the  Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan.

The discovery that geolocation capabilities can expose locations of bases and important facilities based on where the geo-tracking stops prompted the policy change. Data firm Strava’s January release of a heat map revealed the locations and pathways of military installations around the globe due to user data on fitness apps such as Polar Flow. The global map reflected more than 1 billion paths that the Strava app tracked, but patterns and locations of U.S. service members could be garnered from zooming in on sensitive or secured areas.

The new policy does not require a total ban and only affects service members at operational bases or locations. Personnel working at the Pentagon will still be allowed to use the devices. Additionally, it doesn’t prohibit service members from having the devices with them when they deploy, as long as the geolocation services are disabled. With that said, each on-site commander will have final say as to what gadgets they will allow.

“These geolocation capabilities can expose personal information, locations, routines, and numbers of DoD personnel,” Shanahan wrote, “and potentially create unintended security consequences and increased risk to the joint force and mission.”

In some cases, the geolocation services will be allowed to be turned on after a security review, according to the new policy.