Top Military Stories of 2016
Military.com today announced its list of top military stories of 2016. A collection of stories chosen by the editorial staff, this year’s picks include the new president-elect and his plans for the Department of Defense, whether or not women will be required to register for the draft, worries about “mission creep” in Iraq and Syria, and increasingly strained relations with other countries.
1. Trump Surges to Become Next Commander in Chief
Career-oriented troops favored Trump over Clinton by a 3:1 margin, according to a survey conducted by Military.com. Most black troops who responded, however, preferred Clinton. Trump wants to increase the size of the Army to about 540,000 active-duty soldiers, the Marine Corps to 36 battalions, the Navy to 350 surface ships and submarines, and the Air Force to at least 1,200 fighter aircraft. He has turned to retired military generals to fill key positions in his cabinet, including retired Marine Gen. James Mattis for defense secretary.
2. Services Eye New Firearms, Concealed Carry
The Army in September dropped Smith & Wesson from its Modular Handgun System competition for reasons that remain unclear. The Marine Corps has been conducting pre-deployment exercises with the M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle to evaluate it as the new service rifle for infantry battalions, the commander of 1st Marine Division, Maj. Gen. Daniel O’Donohue, told Military.com in November. The same month, the Pentagon released guidance allowing U.S. military personnel to carry privately owned, concealed firearms on base, a move that leaders had argued against before Congress. Lawmakers, meanwhile, want to know why the Army and Marine Corps don’t use the same rifle ammo.
3. Support Grows for Women to Register for Draft
The Senate in June voted 85-13 in favor of language that would have required women to register for the draft, as more progress toward gender equality in the military is made. Female soldiers, for example, have now graduated from the Army’s Armor Basic Officer Leader’s Course, in addition to Ranger School. It’s unclear whether the directive will be rolled back under President-elect Trump.
4. LCS Breakdowns Spur Program Overhaul
In a little more than a year, five of the Navy’s eight littoral combat ships were sidelined in a series of high-profile breakdowns or accidents that spurred renewed scrutiny and a reorganization of the $36.5 billion acquisition program. Its rising costs — the per ship price tag has jumped from $220 million to $470 million — may make it a target for President-elect Trump, who has already criticized the Air Force One and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programs as too expensive.
5. Deadly Aviation Accidents Prompt Readiness Questions
In January, two Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters collided off the coast of Hawaii, killing all 12 crew members on board. The month of June alone saw a fatal Blue Angels accident that occurred just hours after a Thunderbirds jet crashed after flying over the Air Force Academy’s graduation ceremony attended by Obama. In July, another Marine pilot was killed when his F/A-18 jet went down during training near Twentynine Palms, California. In September, an Air Force pilot was killed and another was injured after a two-seater U-2 trainer aircraft crashed in northern California.
6. Military Expands Maternity Leave, Transgender Benefits
The Pentagon in January set paid maternity leave for all services at 12 weeks. While the policy change doubled the Army and Air Force’s six-week policies, it cut by a third the Navy and Marine Corps’ generous 18-week leave policy announced last year by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus. The Pentagon requested authority from Congress to increase paid paternity days for new fathers from 10 to 14. Two months after the Pentagon lifted its ban on openly serving transgender troops in June, Tricare began covering transgender military family members and retirees.
7. Navy Commissions Futuristic Destroyer
The Navy commissioned its newest and most advanced destroyer, the USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000) in October. The ship may actually be too stealthy. A Maine lobsterman thought a 40- or 50-foot fishing vessel was approaching based on his radar, but it was actually the hulking 610-foot warship. The new technology, however, has its kinks. The Zumwalt in November was stuck in Panama for repairs after breaking down while passing through the Panama Canal en route to its San Diego homeport.
8. Shakeup at Parris Island After Muslim Recruit Suicide
The Marine Corps in March sacked a commander at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island in South Carolina — a day before announcing the suicide of a Muslim recruit, 20-year-old Raheel Siddiqui. Three former drill instructors will stand trial on charges of hazing and mistreating recruits and a fourth may also face charges. The review into Siddiqui’s suicide led to more investigations, revealing that a drill instructor had hazed another Muslim recruit by repeatedly throwing him into an industrial dryer and turning it on; and that drill instructors had attempted to cover up recruits’ hazing-related cases of muscle breakdown, or rhabdomyolysis, forcing them to drop out of training.
9. Mission Creep in Iraq and Syria for ISIS Fight?
The U.S. military in December announced plans to boost the number of special operations forces in Syria by about 200 from roughly 300 to some 500 as part of the fight against militants affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. Meanwhile, American troops maintained a hands-off role in Aleppo, the rebel stronghold that fell to Syrian government forces amid heavy bombardment from Russian airstrikes. The first U.S. troop to die fighting ISIS in Syria was identified as Senior Chief Petty Officer Scott Cooper Dayton, a decorated and highly experienced Navy explosive ordnance disposal specialist. The U.S. has also boosted its troop presence in Iraq to more than 5,000 service members to fight ISIS and now plans to keep some 8,400 American troops in Afghanistan next year.
10. US Sees Strained Relationships, Complex Threats Abroad
In July, after a coup attempt in Turkey, government officials closed airspace to military flights, grounding U.S. warplanes at Incirlik Air Base and preventing them from launching strikes against ISIS in neighboring Syria. Suspicious that American officials played a role in the failed coup, Turkish leaders floated the possibility of granting Russians access to the installation. While Turkey has pledged assured U.S. access to the base, it also wants to deepen ties with Russia — despite the assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey and U.S. intelligence that concluded Russia sought to influence the U.S. election through cyber-espionage. Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has pushed for closer ties with China, but China continues to enforce territorial claims in the region and heightened tensions with the U.S. in December when it seized and later released a U.S. Navy drone.
Bonus: For the First Time in 15 Years, Army Beats Navy!
Army football snapped its 14-game losing streak to Navy, winning 21-17 and beating its service academy rival for the first time since 2001. The game took place Dec. 10 at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore in front of a sold-out crowd that included President-elect Donald Trump. The Black Knights dedicated their season to cornerback Brandon Jackson, who died in September in a car accident, and wore Nike uniforms designed to honor the World War II-era 82nd Airborne Division.
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