The last time the world saw Marine veteran Austin Tice, he had been taken prisoner by armed men. It was unclear whether his captors were jihadists or allies of Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad who were disguised as Islamic radicals.

Blindfolded and nearly out of breath, Tice spoke in Arabic before breaking into English:"Oh Jesus. Oh Jesus."

That was from a video posted on YouTube on Sept. 26, 2012, several weeks after Tice went missing near Damascus, Syria, while working as a freelance journalist for McClatchy and the Washington Post.

Now that Tice has been held in captivity for more than seven years, reporters who have regular access to President Donald Trump need to start asking him how he is going to bring Tice home.

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It sure would be nice to know what the hell is going on in Afghanistan. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently claimed the U.S. military had killed more than 1,000 Taliban fighters in little more than a week – because body counts worked so well in Vietnam – and President Donald Trump said during his speech commemorating the 18th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks that the United States had gone on the offensive against the Taliban.

"The last four days, we have hit our enemy harder than they have ever been hit before, and that will continue," Trump said, without elaborating further.

It's clear that Afghanistan is the new hotness, but the only people who aren't talking about how the strategic situation has changed since Trump abruptly ended peace talks with the Taliban via tweet are the U.S. military leaders in charge of actually fighting the war.

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An aerial view of the Pentagon building in Washington, June 15, 2005. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld defended the Guantanamo prison against critics who want it closed by saying U.S. taxpayers have a big financial stake in it and no other facility could replace it at a Pentagon briefing on Tuesday. (Reuters/Jason Reed JIR/CN)

Beloved readers: Your friendly correspondent is about to leave on vacation, so The Pentagon Run-Down is taking a hiatus until Sept. 13, by which time this reporter should have recovered from whatever debilitating disease he caught on those God-forsaken germ tubes that we call "airplanes."

No kidding. When this reporter accompanied former Defense Secretary James Mattis – blessed be his name – to India and Afghanistan last year, he came back with a nasty cough and a case of pink eye. (Turned out I was patient zero because other reporters on the trip came down with the same plague after returning.)

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On Friday, the Brazilian rainforests were burning, the stock market was plunging, and the international dispute between the United States and Denmark over Greenland ground on; but the real crisis in the Pentagon was that the Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen in the building's food court had run out of chicken sandwiches.

In retrospect, the chicken sandwich shortage should have been expected. On Aug. 12, Popeyes tweeted that its new grilled chicken sandwich would be better than sex: "Chicken. Brioche. Pickles. New. Sandwich. Popeyes. Nationwide. So. Good. Forgot. How. Speak. In. Complete. Sandwiches. I mean, sentences."

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This photo taken on Oct. 7, 2018, shows a billboard that reads "The State Central Navy Testing Range" near residential buildings in the village of Nyonoksa, northwestern Russia. The Aug. 8, 2019, explosion of a rocket engine at the Russian navy's testing range just outside Nyonoksa led to a brief spike in radiation levels and raised new questions about prospective Russian weapons. (AP Photo/Sergei Yakovlev)

It's been more than a week since a mysterious Russian nuclear accident roughly 600 miles north of Moscow and only the Kremlin and those killed know what happened.

What is known is something exploded on Aug. 8 at a naval weapons testing range near the village of Nyonoksa. The Russian government's official account of the accident has changed several times since then, but the country's weather agency recently confirmed that radiation levels jumped to 16 times greater than normal after the blast.

U.S. media outlets have reported that a nuclear-powered cruise missile named the SSX-C-9 Skyfall likely exploded during testing. President Donald Trump appeared to confirm as much when he tweeted on Aug. 12 that the United States had gleaned useful information from "the failed missile explosion in Russia."

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Airmen assigned to the 1st Air and Space Communications Operations Squadron perform pushups during a physical training session on Ramstein Air Base, Germany, March 14, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Timothy Moore)

The topic of this week's opus is physical fitness, and that is laughably ironic considering this reporter could never meet any of the military services' height and weight standards. (Your humble narrator once considered opening a restaurant called "Pvt. Pyle's Forbidden Fruit," which would only sell jelly donuts.)

As you beloved readers likely already know, at least 31 percent of Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 are too overweight to serve in the military. For those young men and women who are physically fit enough to enlist or get commissioned, the rigors of initial training are only the first hurdle.

Once in the military, service members must regularly pass physical fitness tests, and as the Defense Department prepares to fight big wars again, some of the services have made their physical standards more demanding.

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