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Just before sunset on Jan. 12, 2016, 10 American sailors strayed into Iranian territorial waters in the Persian Gulf, a navigation error with potentially grave consequences. On their way to a spying mission, the Americans had set sail from Kuwait to Bahrain. It was a long-distance trek that some senior commanders in the Navy's 5th Fleet had warned they were neither equipped nor trained to execute.
Surrounded by four boats operated by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the U.S. sailors, in two small gunboats, surrendered rather than opening fire. The officer in charge of the mission later said he understood that had a firefight erupted, it could well have provoked a wider conflict and scuttled the controversial nuclear deal the two countries were poised to implement in mere days.
The Navy dialed up an elaborate rescue mission to free the sailors from tiny Farsi Island involving fighter jets and a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group. But the return of the sailors was ultimately secured peacefully. The nuclear deal went forward with the U.S. providing sanctions relief and unfreezing billions in Iranian assets in exchange for Tehran's promise to curb its nuclear ambitions.
President Donald Trump explicitly invoked the 2016 incident last week as he weighed actions against Iran amid rising tensions. Trump told Time magazine that his predecessor, Barack Obama, had mishandled the high-stakes confrontation, a mistake he would not make. “The only reason the sailors were let go is that we started making massive payments to them the following day," Trump said. “Otherwise the sailors would still be there."
But a ProPublica investigation makes clear that Trump's repeated claims about the captured sailors – Obama's weakness; that the money was improper – obscure the more troubling realities exposed by the Navy's 2016 debacle in the Persian Gulf. The Farsi Island mission was a gross failure, involving issues that have plagued the Navy in recent years: inadequate training, poor leadership, and a disinclination to heed the warnings of its men and women about the true extent of its vulnerabilities.
Now, the Navy, and the 5th Fleet based in the Persian Gulf, are staring at the possibility of a military conflict, standing ready for a commander in chief who lacks a permanent secretary of defense and is thus more dependent on uniformed military leaders.
ASHINGTON — Immigrants serving in the U.S. military are being denied citizenship at a higher rate than foreign-born civilians, according to new government data that has revealed the impact of stricter Trump administration immigration policies on service members.
According to the same data, the actual number of service members even applying for U.S. citizenship has also plummeted since President Donald Trump took office, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reported in its quarterly naturalization statistics.
"The U.S. has had a long-standing tradition of immigrants come to the U.S. and have military service provide a path to citizenship," said retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, a senior adviser to the liberal veterans advocacy group VoteVets.org. "To have this turnaround, where they are actually taking a back seat to the civilian population, strikes me as a bizarre turn of events."
According to the most recent USCIS data available, the agency denied 16.6% of military applications for citizenship, compared to an 11.2% civilian denial rate in the first quarter of fiscal year 2019, a period that covers October to December 2018.
The fiscal year 2019 data is the eighth quarterly report of military naturalization rates since Trump took office. In six of the last eight reports, civilians had a higher rate of approval for citizenship than military applicants did, reversing the previous trend.
The Navy is bringing increased strike power to U.S. forces in the Pacific with a new deployment, the service said in a statement.
The untold story of the men who died in the USS Saturn inferno — and why the Navy's inquiry remained classified for decades
Waverly Sykes ran up the gangway into the billowing smoke at Pier 5.
"Chief, there are men trapped in that hold!" workmen on the deck of the USS Saturn shouted.
The Norfolk Navy Yard fire chief could hear the cries of the men below as fire hoses were laid on the deck. He grabbed one and descended the ladder behind his assistant chief, battling flames on his way down into the smoke and fume-filled atmosphere of the ship's third hold.
The firefighters knocked down flames overhead and on the bulkhead. A pile of cork about 6 feet high was on fire on the ship's starboard side. The flames there seemed more stubborn than the rest. They doused them with water and kicked the pile over with their boots until the flames were snuffed out.
Sykes made his way over to the port side of the ship where he stumbled against something soft. He switched on his flashlight and held it close to the object. It was a man.
Another fireman rushed over to help, turned on his light and discovered a second victim.
"Great God, chief! There are some more men over this way!"
All available ambulances were summoned from the city of Portsmouth, Cradock, South Norfolk, Portlock and Western Branch. By the time all the shipyard workmen were accounted for, 15 were dead and 20 injured.
They died battling a 60-day deadline to return the Saturn to its service as a World War II supply ship.
WASHINGTON — Lt. Cmdr. Jennifer Pollio could not believe what she was hearing from the Navy's top officer.
It was Jan. 25, 2018, and Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations, was addressing an auditorium filled with Navy attorneys. One officer asked a question that touched on a sensitive topic: two collisions of warships in the Pacific in the summer of 2017 that left 17 sailors dead in the Navy's worst maritime accidents in decades.
The Navy had recently announced that it would criminally prosecute the captains of the vessels and several crew members for negligence leading to the fatal accidents. The questioner wanted to know whether officers now had to worry about being charged with a crime for making what could be regarded as a mistake.
Richardson answered by saying that he could not discuss pending cases. As a bedrock principle of military law, commanders cannot signal a preferred outcome. But then, almost as an afterthought, he attempted to reassure the man that the collisions were no accidents.
“I have seen the entire investigation. Trust me, if you had seen what I have seen, it was negligent," Richardson told the audience, according to court records.
OFF THE COAST OF NORFOLK, Virginia -- The scenario: Neo-Nazi terrorists with a cache of radioactive material have taken over a three-deck tour boat out of Miami full of frightened tourists.
The rescue team: an elite cadre of Coast Guard operators with specialized training in ship boarding. Their uniforms were non-standard — some even wore high-top sneakers — but they sported arm patches bearing a common motto: "Nox Noctis est Nostri," The Night Is Ours.
These are the Coast Guard's little-known Maritime Security Response Teams, the closest the Department of Homeland Security-owned service gets to military special operations. Their profile in special ops-style ship boardings and close combat has loomed larger as the service as a whole takes on more strategic roles in national security despite budget constraints. In fact, Coast Guard MSRTs, as they're called, are now deployed to the Middle East, playing an increasingly significant role in drug-interdiction and anti-piracy operations around the Persian Gulf.