- The Washington Times - Friday, February 4, 2000

Sub games

U.S. intelligence agencies detected what some officials are calling an "unprecedented" deployment of two Russian submarines off U.S. coasts last year.

The first Russian Oscar II-class submarine sailed from northern Russia last summer to the Mediterranean, then on to areas off the eastern United States.

"We played with it," said one military officer, referring to the silent underwater tracking efforts of U.S. hunter-submarines.

Then a second Oscar II sailed from the Russian Far East and loitered around Hawaii, home port of the U.S. 7th Fleet, in time for a U.S. missile test over the Pacific. This Russian submarine then sailed to waters off San Diego where in October it spent a week following U.S. warships based there.

The targets: the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis and the amphibious landing ship Essex. "It was watching the Stennis and the Essex," one official told us.

The submarine was engaged in intelligence collection operations as well as ship-targeting.

After the Southern California deployment, the Oscar II went north to waters near Washington's Puget Sound, home port for U.S. ballistic missile submarines.

U.S. intelligence analysts viewed the unusual submarine deployments as Russia's negative reaction to NATO's bombing campaign in Kosovo. "The Russians were saying 'We're still a power,' " the official said.

The boats are among Russia's most modern and lethal attack submarines. They are equipped with 24 SSN-19 Shipwreck cruise missiles and high-explosive or nuclear warheads that travel up to 345 miles at nearly twice the speed of sound.

The submarine also is capable of firing long-range torpedoes that can home in on the wake of a ship and can travel at speeds up to 30 knots.

The last time a similar deployment was detected was July 1997 when the Oscar II submarine Pekov shadowed several U.S. aircraft carriers off Washington state. Three years earlier, another submarine conducted operations off the East Coast.

Gay inquisition

We've talked to military personnel who have taken the Pentagon's unprecedented survey on attitudes toward homosexuals. Most don't like it.

We recently obtained a copy of the confidential, 33-question test. The Pentagon wants to know if the troops have ever heard jokes about homosexuals or derogatory remarks, on or off base.

One question asks, "How often have you heard offensive speech, derogatory names, jokes or remarks about homosexuals in the last 12 months on your installation?"

Said an officer, "I believe the survey itself is politicized and wrong and a lot of people are answering the survey because they have to. They see themselves played as pawns for a political agenda."

Asked how his colleagues reacted, this source said, "They think it's a joke. They think it's a political move. They think it's based on the election coming up."

First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is running for the Senate from New York, and Vice President Al Gore and Bill Bradley, all say they want open homosexuality allowed in the military.

Another source said it's clear to him the survey sends a message that you shouldn't criticize homosexuals for any reason.

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen ordered the Pentagon inspector general's office to survey 38 installations worldwide following the brutal murder of a Fort Campbell, Ky., soldier perceived to be homosexual by his soldier assailant. He also has ordered homosexual sensitivity training for all troops.

"To the extent that you have a situation that's developed at Fort Campbell which is absolutely a horrible situation, I want to know is that isolated?" he said. "Is there something more involved? That's one of the reasons I wanted to make sure that the policy is being effectively implemented."

The Medal of Honor

President Clinton on Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. in the White House's East Room will award the congressional Medal of Honor, the nation's highest, to Alfred Rascon.

Mr. Rascon displayed tremendous courage on March 16, 1966, during a firefight in the Vietnamese jungle. The Army medic rushed through machine-gun fire and grenade explosions to treat wounded soldiers. Twice he took shrapnel when he sprawled his body over injured colleagues.

His gallantry went even further. When his outnumbered unit was about to be overrun, he took more fire as he retrieved an abandoned machine gun and brought it to another soldier to ward off close-in attackers. Severely wounded, Mr. Rascon refused to be evacuated until every last platoon member was loaded on a helicopter.

"To me, it has nothing to do with me," Mr. Rascon says from his office at the Selective Service System, where he serves as inspector general. "It ends up being recognition for those members of the reconnaissance team. To this date, until I die, I was never a hero. I was a medic taking care of my friends. As for valor, valor was a common occurrence by everybody."

Now 54 and living in Howard County, Md., Mr. Rascon might never have gotten the recognition he deserved if not for a chance encounter years later with former platoon mates at a reunion.

Some wondered why he had not yet received the Medal of Honor. Mr. Rascon was learning for the first time that those he saved had recommended him for the citation, only to have the paperwork lost in the bureaucracy.

His buddies picked up the paper trail again and, during the 1990s, the Army chain of command approved the award.

The heroics of March 16, 1966, stay with him today in the form of lost hearing, busted knees and an injured back.

Short takes

* Louis Harris Inc. has released its yearly national poll asking citizens to rank their faith in various institutions. Once again, the U.S. military won first place, ahead of medicine, education and the U.S. Supreme Court.

The bottom five: the federal government, Congress, organized labor, the press and, finally, law firms.

* Army Lt. Col. Ralph Zimmerman rattled the top brass last year by authoring a biting message to his commanding general. He lamented what he called the Army's embrace of political correctness at the expense of combat readiness.

Col. Zimmerman retired this week. But his campaign goes on. The Desert Storm veteran is the new president of Soldiers for the Truth. It bills itself as a group of grass-roots reformers committed to informing Congress and the media about readiness shortfalls.

"I will continue to serve in the front lines of the reform movement just as if I would fight from a tank, as a crew member when in charge of a tank battalion," he said in a message to members.

* Senate Republicans said the White House plans to pay for infrastructure construction improvements on the Navy bombing base in Vieques, Puerto Rico, with funds from the Housing and Urban Development Department, not the Pentagon.

The HUD funding plan is part of the deal reached last week to give the Navy limited use. It angered Senate aides who noted that the housing agency always complains it doesn't have enough money but suddenly came up with an extra $50 million for Vieques.

The politics of the deal also left a strange odor: Housing Secretary Andrew M. Cuomo is said to be planning a run for governor of New York. Spreading money in Puerto Rico will help garner votes among New York City's large Puerto Rican community, the aides said.

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