Entries in Pentagon (60)


Partial Remains of Some 9/11 Victims Went to Landfill

NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A Pentagon report released Tuesday revealed for the first time that some ashes from the cremated, unidentified partial remains of victims of the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pa., had been sent to a landfill.

The revelation was made in three brief mentions in a report released Tuesday by an independent Pentagon panel headed by retired Gen. John Abizaid.   The panel had been tasked with correcting procedures at the Armed Forces Mortuary at Dover Air Force Base, which had been accused of “gross mismanagement.”

The earlier review corroborated allegations made by whistle-blowers that in two instances very small amounts of body tissue had been lost at the facility which serves as the main arrival point for the remains of service members killed in Afghanistan and Iraq.

For much of the past decade, the mortuary at Dover has contracted a medical waste company to cremate and incinerate any small unidentified portions of bone or tissue from service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan that might remain after the identification process has been completed.

From 2003 to 2008, the waste company disposed of any remaining ashes in a southern Virginia landfill, but that policy changed in 2009 and any remaining ashes are now disposed of at sea.  Before the policy change, the ashes of the partial remains of at least 274 service members had been disposed of in the landfill.

When the reports first surfaced in November, Air Force officials said they only had paperwork going back to 2003 and were unclear when the practice actually began. But the report released Tuesday found the practice actually began a year earlier, with some of the unidentified partial remains of victims of the  Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the Pentagon.

A brief mention in the report says, “This policy began shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, when several portions of remains from the Pentagon attack and the Shanksville, Pa., crash site could not be tested or identified.

"These cremated portions were then placed in sealed containers that were provided to a biomedical waste disposal contractor,” the report continues.  “Per the biomedical waste contract at that time, the contractor then transported these containers and incinerated them.”

The report makes no mention of how many remains from Sept. 11 victims may have been disposed in this manner.  Presumably they could not be identified because there was no DNA matter remaining in the small charred pieces of tissue that may have remained.

Dover Mortuary officials assumed that no remains would be left, but after an inquiry they were told “that there was some residual material following incineration, and that the contractor was disposing of it in a landfill. The landfill disposition was not disclosed in the contractual disposal agreement.”

The 9/11 attack on the Pentagon killed 184 people when a hijacked airliner crashed into the building. Another 40 passengers were killed aboard the plane that crashed into a Shanksville, Pa., field after passengers struggled to take control of the airplane from hijackers.

It is unclear if the families of 9/11 victims were aware that unidentified remains had gone to contractors and then to the landfill, or if they had given previous consent, as has been the case with the families of military service members.  

The families of military service members are provided with forms on which they can sign off on the disposition of any portion of remains that could not be identified or are found after most of the remains have been turned over to families for burial.

In a statement, James Laychak, president of the Pentagon Memorial Fund, whose brother Dave died in the 9/11 attack, said his organization was aware of the report. Although he said the fund had not received a copy, “We are grateful for the willingness of the Department of Defense and other members of the subcommittee to conduct the independent review."

“We appreciate the department’s commitment to meeting the highest standards of care for the remains of our fallen heroes.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Pentagon Eases Restrictions on Women Serving in the Military

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- America’s fighting women are getting closer to the front lines.

The Pentagon announced rule changes Thursday regarding the roles of women in the military that must first be approved by Congress before taking effect as soon as this summer.

Basically, nearly 14,000 combat support positions will be available to female service members that will put them near the front lines although they still won’t be allowed to join infantry combat units.

Once only reserved for men because the jobs were at the combat brigade level, the new positions will now be available at the lower battalion level and include communications, intelligence and logistical jobs.

Most of the women affected by the changes are enlisted in the Army, which deploys the greatest number of ground combat units.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Will US Navy Name Ship After Gabrielle Giffords?

Gabrielle Giffords with her husband Mark Kelly. ABC/Ida Mae Astute(WASHINGTON) -- Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is coming to the Pentagon on Friday as Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announces the name of the Navy’s newest ship. Her visit has set off speculation that the Navy might name the ship after her.

Also in attendance at Friday afternoon’s brief ceremony in the Pentagon Courtyard will be Roxana Green, the mother of 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green. Green was among those killed in last year’s deadly shooting rampage in Tucson that targeted Giffords as she met constituents outside a supermarket.

Navy spokespersons are not commenting on whether their presence at Friday’s event is tied to the ship’s name and they are not providing any clues about what the ship’s name might be.

Also on hand for the event will be former Rep. Ike Skelton who, along with Mabus, will ”reveal” a placard that will have the name of the ship on it. Skelton is a former chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

Giffords is still recovering from the gunshot wound to her head that she suffered during last January’s shooting incident. Just two weeks ago, she stepped down from Congress. She will be at the White House Friday morning as President Obama signs into law the last piece of legislation that she had proposed as a member of Congress.

The ship being named on Friday will be the Navy’s 10th Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), a new type of ship designed to bring the Navy fighting power into shallow coastal areas. The first two ships in this class were called Freedom and Independence, but since then the conventional practice has been to name the other ships in the class after a city.

The Navy has also named ships after living persons with some recent examples being the aircraft carrier USS George HW Bush and the submarine USS Jimmy Carter.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Pentagon to Lift Some Restrictions on Women in Combat

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Pentagon on Thursday will propose rule changes that will allow more women to formally serve in jobs closer to the front lines.

Defense officials say as many as 14,000 positions could be opened up, though the restrictions on women serving in infantry combat units will remain in place.

The rule change reflects the ongoing reality that in a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, women were already dying in combat with the blurring of the traditional definition of front lines.  Nearly 300,000 women have served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and 144 of them have died in those conflicts.

The rule change is included in a report required by Congress as part of last year’s Defense Authorization Bill that has been overdue for months.  The new rules likely will not go into effect until the summer if Congress raises no objections to the change.

Women will still be barred from serving in infantry combat units, defense officials say, but the changes will formally open up new positions at the combat battalion level that, until now, have been off-limits.

The new jobs opening up for female service members will be combat support positions, including communications, intelligence and logistical positions, defense officials add. Typically, these jobs have been made available at the combat brigade level, but not at the lower battalion level, which was deemed too close to combat situation.  

However, the insurgent nature of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has blurred the line for combat situations. That often meant that all units likely could be exposed to some combat, including units where women were allowed to serve.

For example, in Iraq it was a regular occurrence that units that were technically not combat units were seeing combat. For example, women have been allowed to serve in military police units for years, but when those units were dispatched to Iraq to provide security and training, they were often under risk of attack.    

In 2005, Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester, serving with a military police unit in Iraq, became the first woman to receive the Silver Star since World War II.  Hester received the medal for valor for her role in fighting off a large insurgent attack on her convoy.

The rules to be announced Thursday will apply to all of the military services, but will have the greatest impact on the Army, given the large number of ground combat units it has.

A year ago, the Military Leadership Diversity Commission recommended that the military lift the ban on women serving in combat units.

The advisory panel of current and retired military officers said that keeping women from serving in combat units was an obstacle to promotions and career advancement.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Pentagon: Fewer Soldiers, More Drones Will Save Money

TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Defense Secretary Leon Panetta detailed Thursday how the Obama administration plans to achieve $487 billion in cuts over the next decade, in part by reducing the number of ships, planes and troops but continuing to fund elite special forces -- and support technologies like unmanned drones.

Panetta will request a Pentagon budget of $525 billion for fiscal year 2013, a $6 billion reduction from last year's budget and $33 billion less than what had been forecast a few years ago. The administration will also ask for another $88.4 billion to maintain the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan, a reduction from the $115 billion being spent this year.

Panetta told reporters that the impact of the cuts will be far-ranging, "make no mistake, the savings we are proposing will impact all 50 states, and many districts across America."

Anticipating the tough fight the proposals will likely face on Capitol Hill, Panetta said they "will be a test of whether reducing the deficit is about talk or action."

The plan presented Thursday reflects the new military strategy released earlier this month that shifts the military's attention away from the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan towards Asia and the Middle East.

To that end the Pentagon will continue to fund the resources that enable it to project its power into those regions, such as the development of a new long-range bomber and maintaining the Navy's fleet of aircraft carriers at 11. One of the Navy's new Combat Littoral ships will be based in Singapore and patrol craft will continue to operate out of Bahrain.

There are interesting plans to "acquire an afloat staging base for support to ISR, Special Operations Force, and countermine missions." Very little is known about this proposed facility, which one Defense official said was intended for deployment to Asian waters. ISR is the acronym for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, Pentagon shorthand for drones, so presumably the platform will increase the projection of drone activity to that part of the world.

It was also announced Thursday that the Air Force will also be asked to ramp up by 30 percent the number of Combat Air Patrols (CAPs) that its Predator drones fly daily, from 65 to 85. Referred to as CAPs, Combat Air Patrols usually require three Predator drones rotated daily to carry out 24-hour surveillance missions. An Air Force official says the service already has available the drone aircraft needed to ramp up to 85 CAPs but will need extra manpower and equipment assigned to the mission to carry it out on a long-term basis.

Some weapons buys will continue, but will be delayed by a few years, notably the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which is intended to replace most of the fighter jets in the Army, Navy and Marines. Also delayed will be the Army's Ground Combat Vehicle, and the Navy will delay by a year the purchase of a new submarine and an amphibious assault ship.

Other weapons in development were canceled outright, including the JLENS Missile, the JAGM missile, and the Block 30 version of the Global Hawk surveillance aircraft. All were projects that were found to offer the same capability as existing weapons, but at a higher cost.

With the Army no longer required to be large enough to conduct sustained counterinsurgency campaigns like it did in Iraq and Afghanistan, it will go down from 45 brigades to 38, part of a planned reduction of 80,000 soldiers from 570,000 to 490,000. The Army will also begin emulating a practice long used by its Special Forces. Army brigades will be pre-focused for certain parts of the world so that they become expert in local languages and culture.

The already-planned reduction in the number of Marines will be larger than expected as it is reduced in size from 202,000 to 182,000. The reduction in forces for both services will still leave them larger than they were prior to 9/11.

The Air Force will lose six of its 60 fighter squadrons -- estimated to be between 108 and 144 aircraft -- as well as 27 of its oldest giant C-5A cargo planes and 65 of the oldest C-130s still flying. Seven Navy cruisers and two amphibious ships will be retired early.

Attempting to tackle the rising costs in military benefits, Panetta announced that the Defense Department would recommend increases in health care enrollment fees, pharmacy co-pays and deductibles paid by retirees under the age of 65.

Panetta also recommended that Congress form a commission to review military retirement benefits. He said any binding recommendations the panel arrived at would not affect any military members serving at the time, but only apply to new recruits.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Pentagon Shooter Pleads Guilty

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- An ex-Marine who caused a terror scare at the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery last summer pled guilty Thursday to firing shots at military buildings in the Washington, D.C. area.

Yonathan Melaku, then 22, was arrested on June 17, 2011 after he was seen in Arlington National Cemetery at night with a backpack. The backpack allegedly contained a package labeled ammonium nitrate, a common fertilizer than can be used in explosives, spent firearm ammunition and a notebook referencing the Taliban, Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.

After his arrest, FBI agents searched his Virginia home and found a list of bombmaking components as well as a video of Melaku shouting "Allahu Akbar" as he fired his gun at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in October 2010. The shots did $90,000 worth of damage to the museum windows.

On the video Melaku states, "That's a military building and that's the building I'm going to be targeting....Last time I hit them, they turned off the lights for like...four or five days....Punks! Now, here we go again. This time, I'm gonna turn it off permanently. Alright. Alright, next time I turn on this video, I'm gonna be shooting them. That's what they get....That's the target. That's the military building that's going to, gonna get attacked."

According to an FBI affidavit, the items on the alleged bombmaking list were "consistent with the requirements for a time power unit and firing mechanism of an improvised explosive device (IED). Those items, combined with Ammonium Nitrate, would in fact make up several significant components required for the manufacture of an IED."

Agents also conducted a review of Melaku's computer and found "numerous documents concerning bomb-making and explosives," according to the affidavit in the case.

Melaku pled guilty to firing at the Pentagon, the museum and two military recruiting centers and agreed to a 25-year sentence.

Melaku, an Ethiopian native, is a naturalized U.S. citizen and joined the U.S. Marine Reserves in 2007 where he has risen to the rank of lance corporal in the Combat Engineer Support Company, according to the FBI. He has never been deployed abroad, but was awarded the National Defense Service Medal and the Selected Marine Corps Reserve Medal.

The military shootings began Oct. 17, 2010, at the Marine Corps Museum, when someone fired at least 10 bullets at the building. Two days later, six or seven shots were fired at the Pentagon, and bullets became embedded in the building's blast-proof windows. On Oct. 26, shots were fired at a Marine Corps recruiting center in Chantilly, Va.

The shooter struck a second time at the Marine Corps museum on Oct. 29, then hit a Coast Guard recruiting station in early November.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


US Army Suicide Rate Falls by 9%

ISAF/Pfc. Cameron Boyd(WASHINGTON) -- The Pentagon announced Thursday that the suicide rate among active duty soldiers and those in the National Guard and Reserve had fallen in 2011 for the first time in four years.

Suicides dropped nine percent, from 305 in 2010 to 278 last year.  However, the number of soldiers killing themselves is far higher than the 200 suicides reported in 2008.

Still, Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the outgoing vice chief of staff, praised the military's efforts to really begin addressing the problem by identifying soldiers engaged in risky or self-destructive behavior.

Chiarelli said, "I think we've at least arrested this problem and hopefully will start to push it down.  For all practical purposes … it has leveled off."

Overall, the Army's rate of suicides is 24 per 100,000 soliders, but it's much higher among those who served in either Iraq or Afghanistan -- 38 per 100,000.  Both rates are higher than that of the civilian population, which is 19 suicides per 100,000.


The wars and multiple deployments are blamed for the rise of suicide deaths as well as for an increase in sexual assaults and instances of domestic and child abuse.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


New Pentagon Strategy Calls for Leaner, But Still Dominant, Military

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Pentagon’s new military strategy unveiled Thursday will result in a “smaller and leaner” military force, but one that President Obama insists will maintain America’s military superiority around the world.

Though no Defense budget spending information was presented on Thursday, the new strategy provides hints at potential personnel cuts that will be announced in a few weeks.

Entitled “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense,” the new strategy lays out a vision for what the American military will look like by 2020.

The president made a rare appearance in the Pentagon briefing room to provide the first details of the military strategy review begun in early 2011 that was designed to guide the anticipated $450 billion in defense spending cuts slated to take place over the next decade.

“Our military will be leaner, but the world must know the United States is going to maintain our military superiority,”  Obama said.   

With the end of the U.S. involvement in Iraq and with significant troop reductions slated for Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the new strategy serves as a roadmap for where the military should prioritize its resources in the lean budget years to come.

“We will of necessity rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region,” the eight page document states, reaffirming a point that Obama and other senior administration officials have emphasized recently.


The shift away from Iraq and Afghanistan also means there will be less of a need to maintain the increased number of Army soldiers and Marines required to conduct a counterinsurgency fight.  U.S. forces “will no longer be sized to conduct large-scale, prolonged stability operations” says the strategy.  That statement translates into smaller Army and Marine forces.

The Army and Marines were already planning to reduce their numbers beginning in 2015, but the strategy unveiled did not provide specific information whether they would be reduced beyond current planning.

However, a U.S. official confirms to ABC News that the Army will likely drop to 490,000 soldiers from its current end-strength of 570,000 -- a deeper cut than a planned cut of 520,000.  That force strength will still be 10,000 more soldiers than were in the Army the year before 9/11.

The Marines are currently at 202,000 and had already planned to reduce their number to 186,800, a figure that will still be more than 10,000 higher than the number of Marines who were serving prior to 9/11.

The Navy will retain its fleet of 11 aircraft carriers and won’t be reduced to 10 as some national security analysts had speculated.  Maintaining that number of carriers should make it easier for the Navy to continue to project U.S. power in the Asia-Pacific region and the Middle East where for the past few years the Navy has maintained a two carrier presence for much of the year.

Another main highlight of the strategy released on Thursday is that it does away with the Cold-War era requirement that the military be able to fight two wars simultaneously.

Seeking to ease any concerns that dropping the requirement could leave the U.S. vulnerable if it has to face multiple threats, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said, ”We can confront more than one enemy at a time.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Obama Slashing US Troop Numbers as Part of Defense Strategy 

Kevin Lamarque-Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama will join Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey at the Pentagon on Thursday to announce the new defense strategy going forward.

Although troop numbers won't be announced Thursday, the UK Daily Mail is reporting Obama's cuts reduce the strength of the military by tens of thousands of troops.

Now that the war in Afghanistan is drawing down and U.S. troops have been pulled out of Iraq, the Pentagon needs to reassess where its money will go, especially since billions of dollars will be cut from the Department of Defense's budget.  That's where a new strategy comes in.

Obama will be the one to announce the changes.  He's going to the Pentagon "because he's personally led the development of the new defense strategy, working in close consultation with Secretary Panetta, Chairman Dempsey, and other senior civilian and military Department of Defense officials," says a senior U.S. official.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Panetta Ready to Announce Pentagon's Future Roles and Missions

TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Facing huge cuts in his operating budget, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will outline this week how the Pentagon will function in a new age of austerity.

As much as $450 billion will be cut from the Defense Department's budget over the next decade with more than 50 percent of the reductions coming before 2018.

At the still unannounced press conference, Panetta will talk about the roles of the military over the next 10 years, its missions and how it will adapt to global changes.

Among other things, the Pentagon will earmark $500 million for the U.S. Office of Security Cooperation in Iraq and put off construction of the CVN-79 John F. Kennedy aircraft carrier by two years.

With tensions growing in the Pacific Rim due to the rise of China and the uncertainty of North Korea's new regime, the U.S. also plans to bolster its presence in the region -- a plan first mentioned by President Obama during his trip there last November.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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