Tom Bowman | WAMC

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.

Agi Hajduczki, a research scientist at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Infectious Diseases, opens a large freezer and takes out boxes of DNA. She is part of a team making a COVID-19 vaccine.

Hajduczki places a small, clear plastic tray under a piece of white paper on the table of her lab. The tray is dimpled. Pale yellow fluid can be seen under the dozens of dimples.

Some of the dimples are clearly more yellow than others.

During a press conference at the White House on Labor Day, President Trump lashed out at Democratic rival Joe Biden, claiming the former vice president threw open the borders, shipped away jobs and sent America's youth to fight in "crazy endless wars."

Then the president veered into talk of the military, taking aim at the Pentagon brass and separating them from the rank-and-file troops.

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.

Turkish Rear Admiral Mustafa Ugurlu, a top officer at a NATO training command in Norfolk, Va., was just wrapping up a meeting when an aide rushed up to him.

"There is something happening in Turkey," he said on that July day in 2016.

A major bridge was closed to traffic in Istanbul and Turkish Armed forces were staging a coup. Tanks were in the streets. Helicopters and war planes streaked across the sky.

Ugurlu remembers trying to call senior officers in Turkey. He couldn't get through.

The No. 2 American military officer, Air Force Gen. John Hyten, says the Pentagon must do more to create a diverse force and also must deal with the rising problem of sexual misconduct by looking for answers outside the military.

Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made his remarks in a wide-ranging interview with Steve Inskeep on NPR's Morning Edition.

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.

Updated 5:17 pm ET

It was the summer of 1917. America had declared war on Germany a few months earlier, and young men were streaming into the Army by the tens of thousands.

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.

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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.

"Shocking and unprecedented," that's how ousted Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer describes President Trump's intervention in the Navy SEALs Trident scandal. Spencer was fired this week over the controversy.

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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.

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Pfc. Anthony Blankenship points to mold on the grout of his bathroom and a greenish mildew stain around the tiles next to the toilet.

"That's kind of a mold pattern growing underneath," he says. "Workers at times just put new grout over the mold. At times, contractors wouldn't show up at all for problems ranging from clogged plumbing to faulty ventilation ducts."

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.

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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.

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