Listen

Tom Bowman

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.

In his current role, Bowman has traveled to Syria as well as Iraq and Afghanistan often for month-long visits and embedded with U.S. Marines and soldiers.

Before coming to NPR in April 2006, Bowman spent nine years as a Pentagon reporter at The Baltimore Sun. Altogether he was at The Sun for nearly two decades, covering the Maryland Statehouse, the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Naval Academy, and the National Security Agency (NSA). His coverage of racial and gender discrimination at NSA led to a Pentagon investigation in 1994.

Initially Bowman imagined his career path would take him into academia as a history, government, or journalism professor. During college Bowman worked as a stringer at The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, Mass. He also worked for the Daily Transcript in Dedham, Mass., and then as a reporter at States News Service, writing for the Miami Herald and the Anniston (Ala.) Star.

Bowman is a co-winner of a 2006 National Headliners' Award for stories on the lack of advanced tourniquets for U.S. troops in Iraq. In 2010, he received an Edward R. Murrow Award for his coverage of a Taliban roadside bomb attack on an Army unit.

Bowman earned a Bachelor of Arts in history from St. Michael's College in Winooski, Vermont, and a master's degree in American Studies from Boston College.

The Army is now getting back to large-scale training, after several months preparing to hold off that invisible foe: the coronavirus.

Back in May at its massive training base in the Mojave Desert, the Army practiced taking temperatures, isolating soldiers who tested positive and socially distancing.

It was all in preparation for 4,000 National Guard soldiers from 20 states who arrived recently at Fort Irwin, Calif., for two weeks of training at this vast swath of deserts and mountains the size of Rhode Island.

With coronavirus cases on the rise in southern and western states, U.S. military medical personnel are once again being called upon to help.

Army officials have announced that some 740 military health professionals are being sent to Texas and California.

The new deployments come several months after thousands of military medical personnel, including two hospital ships, one on each coast, were sent to help governors and mayors in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Last year, Australian Defense Minister Christopher Pyne, flanked by his senior officers, was answering questions from reporters. Then he was asked a question that centered on politics.

As Pyne began to answer, one of those officers, Gen. Angus Campbell, Australia's chief of defense, strolled over and tapped him on the shoulder. Pyne seemed almost startled.

"My apologies," Campbell said. "I might ask that the military officers step aside when you're answering these questions."

With that the assembled officers walked off.

The Navy is mobilizing 1,629 reservists to support aircraft carrier and submarine maintenance at its four public shipyards starting next month, officials said.

The mobilization will help reduce the maintenance backlog that has developed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In March, Naval Sea Systems Command authorized weather and safety leave for shipyard personnel who fell under the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's "high risk" category for extreme complications tied to the COVID-19 virus.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

At the end of June, several thousand National Guardsmen from 15 states will descend on Fort Irwin in California's Mojave Desert for two months. The Army is already gaming out how to keep them healthy and able to train during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Inglewood Army recruiting station is tucked into a strip mall in a gritty part of Los Angeles. Its neighbors are a liquor store, fast food outlets and palm trees. Inside are the familiar posters: smiling soldiers with the slogans "Army Strong" and "Army Team."

Sergeant First Class Nathan Anslow runs this station. He points to something new just inside the door. A stack of questionnaires — coronavirus screening forms. It's the first stop for potential recruits.

The Army has announced it is again shipping recruits to basic training, following a two-week pause that was put in place to make sure COVID-19 mitigation measures were operating at all four Army training centers.

U.S. Army Capt. Cedric Pollard strolls into the business district of Tal Tamr, Syria, like a mayor at election time.

"Hello, how are you," he says, greeting everyone who comes out to see the Americans. Polland, a former school teacher from Orlando, has a commanding presence with a friendly demeanor. Kids dart along beside him, pulling his sleeve to get his attention. His soldiers hand out lollipops.

Tens of thousands of guardsmen could be called up to help state efforts to combat the coronavirus in the coming weeks and months, the head of the National Guard Bureau said.

"This could quickly blossom," Gen. Joseph Lengyel told Pentagon reporters Thursday.

At the moment, just over 2,000 members of the National Guard are assisting governors in 27 states, doing things such as helping with testing and transportation. Lengyel said that number could double by this weekend.

There are some 450,000 Guardsmen in the Air Guard and National Guard.

Updated 8:38 p.m. Sunday ET

The Trump administration is planning to announce on Monday that more than 20 Saudi students receiving military training in the United States will be sent back to their home country, according to two U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

The expulsions come in the wake of a Pentagon review of the Saudi officer who opened fire last month at a naval base in Pensacola, Fla., leaving three young sailors dead and wounding eight others.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Why did Bob Neller join the Marines?

"I needed a job," the top Marine officer says nonchalantly.

He went to Officer Candidate School the summer before his senior year at the University of Virginia with the intention of then going to law school.

"The law school thing didn't work out," he recalls, "and I wanted to get married, and my parents were getting divorced, and I didn't have any money. And the Marine Corps said, 'Hey come do this for 2 1/2 years.' And I said, 'Sure.' "

It stretched to 44 years.

President Trump will nominate acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan as secretary of defense, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted Thursday.

"Acting Secretary Shanahan has proven over the last several months that he is beyond qualified to lead the Department of Defense, and he will continue to do an excellent job," Sanders tweeted.

President Trump has said he wants to move away from "endless wars," and suggested cutting half of the 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Now the State Department is looking at cuts of its own in Afghanistan.

NPR has obtained talking points written by staff at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. It says the embassy is too big and calls for a "comprehensive review" to determine that it's "right-sized for the long-term."

Here's a key paragraph in the one-page document.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The Pentagon is sending thousands more active-duty troops to the U.S.-Mexico border. Orders were signed today for an initial deployment of 2,400 troops with more to follow. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman joins us now with more. Hi, Tom.

Updated at 5:15 p.m. ET

The White House is working to identify federal dollars that could be redirected to construct a border wall, if President Trump invokes his emergency powers to do so.

Updated at 6:35 p.m. ET

More troops are expected to be deployed to the Southern border to construct or upgrade 160 miles of fencing and provide medical care to a steady stream of migrant families arriving from Central America, according to military sources.

The deployment and fence construction along the California and Arizona borders would be paid for by the Pentagon, from the Department of Defense's discretionary funding.

Guards of honor carry a photo of Brig. Gen.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Army Gen. Mark Milley, the service's top officer who was nominated Saturday by President Trump to be the next Joint Chiefs chairman, is a rarity among senior military officers. He did not attend one of the service academies, but is an Ivy League graduate.

And he played on Princeton's hockey team.

Updated at 7:25 p.m. ET

The Department of Homeland Security has asked several federal agencies to send civilian law enforcement officers to the border, according to a DHS official. These agencies include the Departments of State, Justice, Energy, Transportation, Labor and Interior, the DHS official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

President Trump is expected to extend the deployment of thousands of U.S. troops to the U.S.-Mexico border into January rather than withdrawing the personnel in the middle of December, Pentagon officials tell NPR. The move would further extend the rare deployment of active-duty troops at the Mexico border, rather than just National Guard personnel.

Now that the Democrats have won control of the House of Representatives, the question is this: Will there be more oversight of U.S. military operations?

One Capitol Hill aide told NPR that there likely will be greater focus by Democrats on the way ahead in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, where U.S. troops are on the ground, training local forces and going after terrorist enclaves.

Updated at 5:05 p.m. ET

The U.S. military will send approximately 5,000 support troops to the U.S.-Mexico border, the Pentagon announced on Monday.

The exact number could be slightly higher or lower, a Pentagon official told NPR. The official said the deployment is being done to support the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection.

The uniformed troops are likely to be active-duty Army personnel, with perhaps some members of the Army Reserve and Marines. There are already 2,100 National Guard members deployed to the border.

The U.S. military command in Afghanistan has acknowledged that an American general was wounded during a deadly insider attack in the southern city of Kandahar last week. Initially, the command described him only as an "American service member."

On Thursday, Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Smiley was in a meeting at the Kandahar governor's compound with senior American and Afghan officials. Just before the meeting broke up, an Afghan guard suddenly turned his weapon on those present.

Until now, British historian Max Hastings has mostly focused his research on World War II. His collection of works includes some fine books, including Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945 (one of my favorites).

But in his new tome, Hastings has taken on the Vietnam War.

The skinny boy says he's 12, though he looks years younger. He points to a crayon drawing he created this summer, when he arrived at a U.S. government-supported childcare center in Raqqa, Syria.

It's mostly colored in black. There's a tank. An aircraft. A crude figure of a man with a wispy beard holding an oversized gun.

"This is when ISIS shelled my home," he says. "My sister and niece were killed. Just like that, two missiles."

In the picture, there's a red tongue of flame rising from the roof of his home.

The Air Force must expand its operational squadrons by some 25 percent in the coming years, officials say, to deal with the growing military might of China and Russia and to protect the homeland and continue to fight violent extremists.

"What we know now from analysis, what everyone in this room knows by experience," said Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson at a military conference outside Washington on Monday, is that "the Air Force is too small for what the nation expects of us."

Here's something to ponder: how do you define a war game? And when is it a military exercise, or just simply..."training."

That's at the heart of some confusion between the White House and the Pentagon, an institution that doesn't - unlike President Trump - use the term "war game."

The president suspended one large military exercise and a couple of smaller ones in a good faith gesture with North Korea in June, an effort to spur talks about the country's nuclear program.

Pages