Tom Bowman

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

In his current role, Bowman has traveled to 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.

A Russian warplane shot down over the Turkish border on Tuesday crashed in an area of Syria that advocates want to protect with a no-fly zone, or even a "safe zone" — fenced off from attacks by the Syrian regime or extremist groups like the Islamic State.

President Barack Obama could be close to nominating the first-ever woman to become the head of a military combatant command, Pentagon sources tell NPR.

The U.S. military divides the world into areas of responsibility run by four-star generals and admirals, but none has ever been female. Obama wants to change that before the end of his term, Pentagon sources say, by naming a woman to take command of U.S. Northern Command, which also runs the well-known North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD.

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Russia joined the combat in Syria without coordinating its approach with the United States. Now planes from both nations are bombing targets in Syria.


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An extraordinary image at the United Nations yesterday, Vladimir Putin as peacemaker. Russia's president stood before the general assembly sounding ready to lead peace efforts in Syria.


Hundreds of Vietnam combat helicopter pilots, their families and Gold Star families planted a tree in Arlington National Cemetery on Friday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first U.S. combat troops entering the Vietnam War.

The group called it the largest gathering of pilots, with 1,000 expected, says Bob Hesselbein, president of the Vietnam Helicopter Pilot Association, which is holding a five-day meeting in Washington that ends on Saturday.

Lance Cpl. Paula Pineda relaxes at a picnic table not far from her barracks in Camp LeJeune, N.C. She's in a crisp uniform and has a ready smile. It's one of the few breaks she's had in months — and she can finally laugh about Carl.

"Carl — our special, heavy, unique dummy," she says.

It was back in March, in the heat of the Mojave Desert in California, that Pineda — sweaty and grimy and just 5-foot-2 — struggled to help pull Carl the dummy out of her armored vehicle, along with another Marine, Julia Carroll. It was part of an exercise to rescue an injured crewman.

The southern Afghan city of Kandahar was the birthplace of the Taliban and has long been considered one the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan.

But the city has grown peaceful in recent years, and much of the credit has been given to an American ally: Lt. Gen. Abdul Raziq, the provincial police chief.

On a recent day, the most feared man in Kandahar is slumped in a cheap blue plastic chair on a wide patio. He's slight and wiry, with a shy smile. He could be mistaken for a security guard at this palatial home of marble and chandeliers.

Fuel trucks, cargo trucks and buses zip north along Highway One toward Kabul, just like any other morning. They seem not to notice what's above them on a vast desert plateau that overlooks the highway in Zabul province in southern Afghanistan.

Dozens of soldiers and police mill about, awaiting orders. There are armored vehicles, towed artillery, an ambulance and a long line of Humvees. Each one has a massive Afghan flag snapping in the breeze, like banners from some ancient army.

Brig. Gen. Viet Luong sits on a case of MREs, the soldiers' daily meals. He's inside a cavernous hanger at an Afghan army base outside the southern city of Kandahar.

A couple dozen American and Australian soldiers lounge on green cots lining the sides. Banners of U.S. military units hang on the walls. Between the troops is a 6-foot-tall shipment of Girl Scout cookies.

Luong's job is to train the Afghan military to fight a guerrilla force, the Taliban. But he's willing to talk about another guerrilla war, long ago.

The call comes into the Afghan battalion headquarters, a small concrete building that once housed American Green Berets. The Taliban are attacking a police checkpoint under construction in the foothills of Nangahar Province in eastern Afghanistan, a short distance from the border with Pakistan.

The Afghan soldiers gather in a line, lifting their palms and praying for a safe mission. They hop in their trucks and head up a winding dirt road. The unfinished checkpoint can be seen in the hazy distance.

With the U.S. combat role over in Afghanistan, the country's security now depends on men like Sgt. Maj. Faiz Mohammed Wafa, one of the leaders of the Afghan commandos.

On this day, the Afghan sergeant is screaming at trainees at Camp Commando, a training center built by the Americans in the hills south of Kabul. Two dozen trainees are seated in the dirt in full combat gear. Wafa is trying to teach them the proper way to clear a house, searching room to room for insurgents.

"I told you 10 times," he says. "Hold your weapons correctly!"

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Vice President Joe Biden says that the self-proclaimed Islamic State is no longer on the move in Iraq.

"The jury's still out, but the momentum is in the right direction," Biden said in a speech at National Defense University in Washington, in advance of a visit next week by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

Biden laid out the destructive path of ISIS — also called ISIL — citing the collapse of the Iraqi Army, the fall of Mosul and the "slaughter" and "ethnic cleansing" that followed.

More than a dozen Marines from Alpha Company fan out across California's Mojave Desert, far into the distance. Machine-gun fire gives them cover. The small forms dash ahead. Some drop to one knee, others fall on their stomachs, firing at pop-up targets.

Only one woman is part of this group. Until last fall, Sgt. Kelly Brown was fueling helicopters and trucks. Now she's running with an assault rifle.

It's a recent morning out in California's Mojave Desert, and Marine Lance Cpls. Paula Pineda and Julia Carroll are struggling to pick up and maneuver Carl. He's a 220-pound dummy, and a stand-in for a wounded Marine.

Carroll's knees buckle for a moment, but as a dusty wind picks up, the two women pull Carl off their light armored vehicle. They carry him to safety, careful not to let his head drag on the rocky ground.

Both women are out of breath.

Pineda is 5 foot 2. On the back of her helmet is a piece of masking tape with the words "Mad Max."

In the dry and craggy hills of California's Mojave Desert, Capt. Ray Kaster tries to shout over the din of a machine gun to be heard by Alpha Company, the unit of Marines he's working with during a month of rigorous instruction at Twentynine Palms training center.

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The American command in Afghanistan has for the first time in six years classified detailed statistics about the Afghan security forces — everything from equipment and training to attrition.

Gen. John Campbell, who is leading the NATO coalition's non-combat mission in Afghanistan, said he now considers all that sensitive operational information that could help the Taliban.

Campbell said he decided to classify details about the Afghan forces because they could be used by insurgent fighters to threaten both Afghan and U.S. forces.

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On this last day of 2014, America's troops in Afghanistan are still a combat force.

On Thursday, their mission changes.

"We will be ending our combat mission in Afghanistan, obviously because of the extraordinary service of the men and women in the American armed forces," President Obama said during a recent visit with Marines and their families in Hawaii.

But there will still be more than 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

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Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit



NPR — along with seven public radio stations around the country — is chronicling the lives of America's troops where they live. We're calling the project "Back at Base."

Lance Cpl. Jasmine Abrego is an office clerk who dreams of becoming a warrior.

She's flat on her stomach in the dirt, in full combat gear. Suddenly she pops up, slings a 44-pound metal tripod on her back and lurches forward in a crablike run. Finally, she slams the tripod to the ground. A male Marine slaps a .50-caliber machine gun into place.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, defended the Obama administration's new strategy to fight the group called the Islamic State. The two officials were testifying before a Senate committee and were questioned on key aspects of the strategy, including whether a more U.S. troops might be needed on the ground in Iraq.

Warning: This report contains descriptions and an image that could disturb some readers.

The savage and protracted conflict in Syria has left more than 170,000 dead. Now, there are allegations of torture and killing of political prisoners opposed to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Those allegations appear to be supported by evidence: tens of thousands of photographs.

The man who says he took the pictures worked as a military police photographer for the Assad regime and defected last year.

President Obama says that up to 300 U.S. military personnel will be heading to Iraq to advise Iraqi forces, not to serve in combat. But the proposal raises more questions: Will those U.S. forces heading out with Iraqi troops be armed? What are the rules of engagement? And how long will they stay?

Even as the Taliban released a video of Army Sgt. Bergdahl's release, questions continue to surround his initial disappearance. Bergdahl has said he was captured by the Taliban while lagging behind on a patrol. In a classified report produced in 2010, the Army paints him as a soldier troubled by U.S. policy, but it does not go so far as to call him a deserter. Still, many wonder whether Bergdahl planned to return before his capture.

With the U.S. military out of Iraq and winding down in Afghanistan, the U.S. Army, which peaked with a force of around 570,000 a few years ago, was supposed to drop to around 490,000 troops.

But U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that's still too big.

"An Army of this size is larger than required to meet the demands of our defense strategy," Hagel told a news conference in February.

The year is 1984: A Soviet defector dashes across the Korean border — chased by North Korean troops. American troops shield him and open fire on the North Koreans. There are dead and wounded on both sides.

Now, 30 years later, one of those Americans is finally receiving his medal for bravery.

Mark Deville was just 19 on that November day in 1984, part of an American Army unit patrolling the tense border between North and South Korea.