A U.S. Navy officer charged with hazing and maltreatment of sailors is facing a general court martial.
The Virginian-Pilot reported April 18 that the unnamed lieutenant commander is accused of verbal abuse and retaliating against a sailor who asked to stop being called Charlie Brown. Court documents say the officer told the sailor to carry a Charlie Brown cartoon figurine at all times.
The officer also allegedly punched a chair next to a sailor and yelled at someone for more than an hour. The officer is also accused of lying about his actions.
If the U.S. experience in Iraq and Afghanistan should have taught us anything, it’s that no war can be expected to just be that easy, especially if the ultimate goal is regime change. This is something that military leadership generally recognizes—especially since those conflicts are still going on after more than a decade. For those who have not experienced it, however, it can be easier to forget.
And we might have been fighting Iran for a significant chunk of that period.
The Iranians are definitely outgunned, as the Washington Post reported on June 21, 2019. But as the Post reports and as the Millennium Challenge Exercises go to show, a war with the Islamic Republic could be a very costly one. In the Millennium Challenge, Retired Marine Gen. Paul van Riper was tasked with leading the fictional Iran against a U.S. carrier force. The short version is that Van Riper wiped the floor with the U.S., using only assets Iran had in the real world.
Iran’s numbers are substantial, more than a million men in arms against an invader, not counting the Revolutionary Guards, which numbers around another 150,000 troops.
That’s just in terms of manpower. Keep in mind Iran used human waves very well during the eight-year Iran-Iraq War. While Iran is pretty much using the same planes, F-4 and F-14 fighters, as it did against Iraq in the 1980s, they do operate with a powerful anti-air missile screen. Even with their best pilots, however, this may not be enough to keep the U.S. from getting total air superiority, and Iran has a plan for that.
In order to keep naval forces at bay, the Islamic Republic Army is expected to use small-boat tactics for use against a much larger enemy, swarming around and laying mines while hassling international shipping, which could be the most dangerous casualty of such a war. The biggest issue is still yet to come.
Iranian proxies like Hezbollah are another region issue.
Iran has tens of thousands of unconventional troops and fighters with proxy forces in the region, projecting Iranian power and influence from its borders with Afghanistan in the east all the way throughout Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon in the west and beyond. These proxy forces have been harassing American and allies positions for decades. Any outbreak of open hostilities will only embolden those forces to step up their attacks against U.S. troops and ships in the Persian Gulf region.
The United States enjoys a superior technological and numerical advantage over Iran, but the Iranians aren’t going to just crumble and surrender to helicopters the way Iraqi forces have done in the past.
For centuries, many civilizations have tried (for one reason or another) to subdue or kill the Russian Bear.
Most of them failed.
To successfully plant their flag atop the Kremlin, an invader must consider a few things that’ll certainly affect the outcome before mobilizing forces and gassing up the fleet.
1. The Russian Winter.
Pro Tip: Pack your woobie.
In 2014, Vice’s Oscar Rickett askedIHS Jane’s military expert Konrad Muzkya just what it would take to conquer Russia and just how a nation might go about it. His first question is one that sticks in the minds of any student of military history: How does anyone beat the Russian winter?
With Napoleon and Hitler waiting with bated breath in the next world, Muzkya replies with his belief that guided munitions, nuclear weapons, and modern power projection capabilities nullify this historical advantage.
“Any potential conflict with the West would most likely be fought in the air, space, and sea,” he told Vice. “Any use of land forces would be limited to capturing strategically important facilities — bridges, airfields, and the like.”
2. The size of Russia.
To give the failed invaders a little credit, the Russia conquered by the Mongols was a fraction of the size it was during the 19th and 20th centuries. But a little secret to the Mongols success might be preparation. The Khans took 17 years to finish off the Russians.
It wasn’t a lack of manpower, either. At the time of the French Invasion, Napoleon’s Grande Armée numbered 680,000 troops.
To give some perspective, that’s like deploying half of all the active U.S. military troops as riflemen. Which is a terrible idea.
Trying to conquer Russia is the equivalent of invading the U.S. twice, in terms of land mass. Just moving from St. Petersburg to Moscow is 400 miles. It took the Allies more than two months to reach Paris from the Normandy — which is just 167 miles away.
Russia is 6.6 million square miles of cold, cold, cold, nothing. Which presents another problem entirely.
3. There’s nothing there.
Everything after Moscow is flyover country. An invading country can’t just not go into the steppe. Once the Russian people figured out the occupiers won’t go into the wilderness, that’s exactly where the insurgency will take root.
Even getting to all the nothing will take a Herculean effort. The Russian Army mans an estimated 280,000 effective fighting soldiers. When the going gets tough, it has to be assumed they will use the same human wave-style tactics used against the Nazis in WWII.
What was a problem in the past for armies who had to forage for food or move supplies by train is not a problem for a global power like the U.S. military. All the same, after Moscow, there isn’t much in the way of infrastructure for things like tanks or places suitable for airfields — all things insurgent partisans in the area will have a field day targeting.
4. One thing at a time.
Anyone who wants to invade Russia should probably clear their schedule. The Mongols drove through the country because it was on the way to where they were going anyway. The Nazis were still fighting in North Africa and preparing for the invasion of Britain when Hitler launched Barbarossa. Napoleon was fighting an insurgency of his own in Spain.
The United States and NATO, if they were to invade Russia, should probably withdraw from all the other conflicts they have around the world and concentrate on the problem at hand. Once there, keeping a unified front would be of the utmost importance.
An invader shouldn’t expect to actually conquer anything. In almost every invasion of their motherland, the Russian people have resorted to scorched-earth tactics — burning or otherwise destroying everything that might be of use to an enemy. As Muzkya notes in the Vice article, the Russians still move troops using trains. That hasn’t changed since WWII. It’s likely not much else has either.
5. Bring some friends … and an Air Force.
Muzkya cites an estimate of a half-million troops being necessary to properly subdue Afghanistan. He also notes that Russia is 26 times the size of Afghanistan and has a population of 143 million. Afghanistan has just 30 million. Even the Chinese military with its massive available manpower would have a difficult time creating a sustainable drive across Russia.
But a military campaign is more than just people these days. The Russian Navy can’t project power in the same way the U.S. can – or anyone else, really. The country has only one aircraft carrier, and that deploys with a tugboat in case it breaks down.
The Russian air force, however, is still on the relative cutting edge, even if that edge isn’t as sharp as it once was. It has a fighter that can compete with the Air Force’s F-22 Raptor. Russia’s bomber force isn’t relevant in a defensive war because it’s more likely they’d use a nuclear attack before a conventional bombing campaign on their own soil.
6. Be prepared to die.
As for the use of nuclear weapons, Muzkya says that Russia has the right to use them to defend itself and any invader needs to be prepared for that.
“Russia possesses second-strike capability,” he says. “And unless you’re ready to take a nuclear hit from Russia — which no one can — you need to embrace the notion of a total annihilation of your country.”
He predicts that Russia – all 6.6 million square miles of it – would be turned into a nuclear wasteland in the event of an invasion from China or the West, so talking about who wins is irrelevant.
Let’s face it. As 2016 has shown, we live in a dangerous world.
Furthermore, there are real problems and challenges at the Pentagon, like $125 billion in “administrative waste” over the last five years.
In less than a month, a new team takes charge, which is to be lead by retired Marine Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis, President-elect Donald Trump’s choice to serve as Secretary of Defense.
So, what are some of the challenges that “Mad Dog” and his team will face?
1. Getting the nuclear house in order
Most of America’s strategic delivery systems are older than music superstar, sometime actress, and veteran serenader Taylor Swift.
Of the two that are younger than her, only one isn’t “feeling 22” as the hit song puts it. In fact, in some case, very outdated tech is being used. How outdated? Try 8-inch floppy disks in an era when a micro SD card capable of holding 128 gigabytes costs less than $40.
Don’t get us wrong, most civilian employees at the Department of Defense do a lot of good. But as the active duty military dropped from 1.73 million in Sep. 2005 to just under 1.33 million in Sep. 2016, the civilian workforce increased from 663,866 to 733,992, according to Pentagon reports.
California Republican Rep. Ken Calvert noted in a Washington Examiner op-ed that the ratio of civilian employees to uniformed personnel is at a historical high.
There was $125 billion of “administrative waste” over the last five years. That money could have bought a lot of gear for the troops. This needs to be addressed as soon as possible, with Iran and China, among other countries, getting a little aggressive. The DOD’s business is to fight wars, and a little refocusing on military manpower might be needed.
3. Acquisition Reform
It is taking longer to deliver weapon systems to the troops, and they are getting more expensive.
Do we have to look to the 1970s for acquisition reform? (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
The Air Force announced the B-21 Raider earlier this year. But it might not be in service until the mid-2020s at the very earliest — and the B-52 isn’t getting any younger. The F-35 has taken almost 15 years to reach an initial operational capability after the winner was chosen in 2001.
By comparison, Joe Baugher notes that the F-111 took about five years from the selection of General Dynamics to the first planes reaching operational squadrons — and that drew controversy back then.
4. Cyber warfare
With some of the hacks that have gone on, it’s amazing that so many people find this a snoozer. Keep in mind, this October, a massive cyberattack cost companies over $110 million — enough to buy a F-35B.
And the Pentagon needs to tighten its defenses — this past June, over 130 bugs were found when DOD offered “bug bounties” to so-called “white hat” hackers. While it’s nice a lot of the bugs were found… did the “white hats” miss any?
5. Old Equipment
Age isn’t just striking the nuclear force. Many of the systems used for conventional warfare are old as well. In a commentary for the Washington Examiner, Representative Ken Calvert (R-CA) noted that many F-15 Eagle fighters are over 30 years old. To put this into context, take a look at how old three music superstars are: Taylor Swift is 27, Ariana Grande is 23, and Ke$ha is 29. It’s past time for recapitalization.
In the 1980s, the U.S. Army needed to be able to rapidly deploy a sizable force to face off against heavy forces. But that requirement created two problems: Most light forces were little more than speed bumps against tanks, and it took a long time to deliver a heavy force – and their supplies – to a likely theater outside of Europe or South Korea. So the Army began to explore ways to create a light force that could hold its own.
Enter the 9th Motorized, a force that proved it’s utility in several big exercises during the mid-1980s, most notably in Border Star 85 when the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment lost badly to the 3rd Brigade of the 9th Motorized. The Army’s strategy seemed to be playing out in a good way.
But a change at the top of the Army detoured the promise of the 9th. The new Army Chief of Staff favored the light infantry division concept over the motorized division. Ultimately, four active light infantry divisions (the 6th, 7th, 10th Mountain, and 25th) were formed, with one more, the 29th, in the National Guard. Later, the 9th, as well as the 6th and 7th Infantry Divisions, were deactivated after the fall of the Berlin Wall as the budget ax fell.
The 9th Infantry Division first made use of Fast Attack Vehicles; basically, souped-up dune buggies that special operations units had used during Desert Storm. The Army later went with the M1114 High-Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicle, or HMMWV.
The signature tool used in the front-line battalions was the Mk 19 automatic grenade launcher. With a range of almost 2500 yards, the Mk 19 could send one grenade a second onto a target. The grenade blasted lethal fragments 50 feet from the point of impact. The Mk 19 was also able to take out light armored vehicles. While it might not have been enough to take out a BMP or T-72, the Mk 19 could wreak havoc on supply convoys or rear-area headquarters units. Depending on the table of organization and equipment, a front-line battalion with the 9th Motorized could have had almost 100 of these powerful weapons.
The 9th Motorized also made heavy use of the BGM-71 TOW missile to deal with the threat posed by tanks and infantry fighting vehicles. The TOW had a reputation as a reliable tank-killer, with a range of almost two and half miles and a 13-pound warhead. The TOW provided a heavy punch when the Army decided not to use a ground-launched version of the AGM-114 Hellfire. Infantry assigned to the 9th Motorized also made use of the FGM-77 Dragon anti-tank missile. With a range of just under a mile, the Dragon added to the firepower of the division, despite its drawbacks.
Would something like the 9th Motorized Division’s organization work today? With the FGM-148 Javelin, and the development of lightweight UAVs, it may be worth bringing back the concept – particularly in the fight against ISIS.
That visit to North Korea was Pompeo’s second in a month, which in itself represents a drastic step up in the level of official contact between the North Korean and US governments.
Kim has repeatedly proposed talks with world leaders about the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which was a US precondition for talks. Kim has asked for few concessions in return for his promise to denuclearize.
Trump’s administration has laid out a number of ambitious goals for the negotiations, which include permanent, irreversible, verifiable denuclearization of North Korea before sanctions are lifted.
Singapore had not been widely suggested in advance as a likely location for the summit.
But a number of factors make it a logical choice: It has diplomatic relations with both countries, hosts a North Korean embassy, has a good position in Southeast Asia, and can play the part of a neutral third party.
Other candidates had been Mongolia, also a neutral country, and the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.
Being deployed to a war zone can sometimes mean intense firefights, well-concealed IEDs, and the overall fear of the unknown. These are just a few of the many dangers many of our service members face on a daily basis.
When our troops gear up to leave the wire they put on their armor, chamber a round into their rifles and some quietly recite a prayer to themselves before heading out.
But sometimes these presumably calm foot patrols can go south in a matter of moments.
Marines depart their entry control point on a foot patrol heading toward the bazaar in Now Zad district, Helmand province, Afghanistan. (Source: USMC Life)
So imagine leaving the outpost unarmed in the face of this uncertainty. That’s what happens on so-called MEDCAP missions.
MEDCAP — which stands for “medical civil action program” — is a process where allied medical personnel exit the semi-safe confines of their FOBs and treat the local populous of their sickly alignments and injuries.
In hopes of gaining the locals’ trust, the medical staff typically don’t wear their protective body armor or carry their side arms to the events.
In several cases, the medical team ends up treating the enemy’s wounds which they may have sustained while battling allied forces — not cool.
Going out unarmed is one thing, but sitting in the same place — sometimes for hours — unprotected in a combat zone is downright terrifying. And one of the biggest dangers comes from suicide bombers, who can sometimes get close enough to detonate themselves or even fire their weapon before getting checked by the guards.
Fifty years ago, Israel was backed into a corner. Egypt had closed the Strait of Tiran – essentially denying Israel access to the Red Sea. The situation was dire, and Israel knew it had to act.
On June 5, 1967, Israel launched Operation Focus. The objective was to neutralize the Arab air forces, particularly those from Egypt. According to the Israeli Air Force web site, the operation was a smashing success.
You can now see that operation — as well as other parts of the Six-Day War — the way Israeli Defense Force pilots saw it.
During that war, the Israeli Air Force carried out strikes on airfields and other ground targets. They also were in a fair number of dogfights. The best plane the Israelis had at that time was the Dassault Mirage III, a single-seat fighter that had a top speed of 1,312 miles per hour, a range of 1,000 miles, and the ability to carry up to 8,800 pounds of ordnance along with two 30mm cannon.
The Six-Day War saw Israeli Mirage IIIs take on MiG-21 Fishbeds, MiG-19 Farmerss, Hawker Hunters, MiG-17 Frescos, Su-7 Fitters, Il-28 Beagles, and a variety of transports and helicopters.
The Israelis lost 46 aircraft and 24 pilots, but in return had killed almost 400 enemy planes, and had control of the skies within hours of the conflict starting.
You can see what it was like for Israeli pilots in the video below, taken from the Israeli gun camera films. The compilation starts with the airfield strikes that were part of Operation Focus. Not just bomb runs, but also the strafing passes on aircraft that were caught on the ground.
The gun-camera footage then shows the Israeli pilots as they score kills in dogfights. Finally, the video shows the interdiction strikes against Arab ground forces.
The new National Biodefense Strategy is a living document designed to counter man-made and natural biological threats, National Security Advisor John Bolton said during a September 2018 White House briefing.
“This is critical, we think, for our defense purposes looking at the range of weapons of mass destruction the United States our friends and allies face,” he said.
While nuclear weapons are an existential threat to the United States, chemical and biological weapons also pose dangers to Americans. Bolton noted that biological weapons often are called “poor man’s nukes” and said the biodefense strategy aims at countering that threat.
“What we’ve done is establish a Cabinet-level biodefense steering committee to be chaired by the Department of Health and Human Services,” he said. “This is the approach best suited for carrying out the strategy operationally.” HHS Secretary Alex Azar will chair the committee.
Participating agencies include the departments of Defense, Agriculture and Homeland Security, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency and others.
Bolton stressed that this is just one part of the nation’s biodefense strategy and does not encompass what the U.S. offensive response would be to a biological attack. He also said the strategy will evolve as needed. As new techniques or new medical treatments or new threats emerge, he added, the strategy will change.
A nurse takes a patient’s pulse in the influenza ward at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., near the end of the Spanish Flu epidemic, Nov. 1, 1918. Fresh air was believed to help prevent the spread of the disease, which killed 50 million to 100 million people worldwide. Pandemic flus such as this are rare, occurring just three times in the 20th century, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
(Library of Congress photo)
Azar, who also spoke at the briefing, noted that the strategy has to cover a range of threats, from nation-states to individuals. He noted that the anthrax attack of 2001 was launched by an individual, while the Spanish Flu outbreak in 1918 that infected a quarter of all Americans and killed almost 700,000 was natural.
The threats are real and growing, Azar said. The world is growing more urbanized and interconnected, which speeds the spread of infectious threats. He noted the early summer 2018 Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “Such is the ease of travel between countries now that just in the DRC, more than 100,000 people are being screened at border crossings every day,” he said. “We also face accidental and man-made threats. Today’s rapid technological advances have great potential to improve public health and human health, but they also create the opportunity for new kinds of threats and for more and more actors to make use of biological weapons.”
The strategy looks to promote research into combating pandemics and coordinating response to attacks or outbreaks. It looks to work with allies, the United Nations’ World Health Organization, the Red Cross and others.
Featured image: National Security Advisor John Bolton.
Although Hollyanne Milley is probably best known for being the spouse of the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, she’s so much more. On Veterans Day, she saved a veteran’s life. And, it probably wasn’t the first time.
Milley is a nurse with over 30 years of experience. She spent almost 20 years as a critical care nurse and has been a cardiac nurse for 15 years. Milley has maintained her career throughout her husband’s journey to becoming the top leader for the United States Armed Forces. Milley was attending a Veterans Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery when she witnessed a veteran collapse behind her. Without hesitation, she quickly jumped in to assist.
Upon reaching him, Milley found the veteran unresponsive. She reportedly directed bystanders to call 911 and as she turned back to him, he’d stopped breathing. Milley began CPR, completing two cycles of chest compressions – which led to him finally taking a breath. She then turned him on his side and kept him calm while they waited for EMS. He was eventually taken away to receive medical care at a nearby hospital.
Although the veteran requested anonymity, he was reportedly very thankful for her immediate aid and encouraged other bystanders to learn CPR.
Milley voiced to multiple media outlets that it was a team effort, with others also running to aid the veteran in need. A VA physician and the Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman were among those who assisted. Milley encouraged the public to learn CPR so that they too could assist those in their community in the event of an emergency.
In a previous interview with Military Spouse Magazine, Milley shared that, “[My husband] has always supported my desire to have and maintain a career…I see spouse employment as a vital element of military retention. Military spouses are highly educated, resourceful and resilient.”
Thanks to her dedication to her nursing career despite numerous moves and license transfers, Milly was able to save the life of this veteran. She has maintained her nursing career even through her husband’s most recent role as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Air Force is working to redesign the gear used by female pilots across the force after facing challenges with current flight equipment.
“We have women performing in every combat mission, and we owe it to them to have gear that fits, is suited for a woman’s frame and (one) can be in for hours on end,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein at a Defense Writers Group breakfast, March 2018 in Washington, D.C.
The majority of the equipment currently worn by pilots was built off anthropometric data from the 1960s, a time when only men were in aviator roles.
The lack of variety and representation in the current designs have caused multiple issues for women, said Col. Samantha Weeks, the 14th Flying Training Wing commander, assigned to Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi.
Many of the uniform issues circulate around G-suits, flight suits, urinary devices and survival vests.
“The challenges other female aviators and I face are the fit and availability of our flight equipment,” said Capt. Lauren Ellis, 57th Adversary Tactics Group executive officer.
Limited sizes and accessibility often force aircrew to order the wrong size and have it extensively altered to fit properly, taking time and money away from the mission, Ellis said.
A participant of the Female Flight Equipment Workshop writes down issues women experience with current urinary devices at AFWERX Vegas, Las Vegas, Jan. 30, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Bailee A. Darbasie)
“All of the bladders on my G-suit need to be modified,” Ellis said. “It’s a lot of work for the Aircrew Flight Equipment, or AFE, Airmen. Even after they’re modified, the proportions don’t fit.”
G-suits are vital anti-gravity gear for aviators. The bladders in the suit fill with air and apply pressure to the pilot’s body to prevent a loss of consciousness during high levels of acceleration. Not having a properly fitted G-suit could lead to hypoxia followed by unconsciousness.
Ellis said ill-fitting flight suits are a common problem for men and women. Aircrew who are significantly above or below average height have a hard time finding suits that fit their body type.
Even if a woman found a flight suit close to her size, the flight-suit zipper is designed for men—not women. Female aircrew struggle with relieving themselves during flights because the flight-suit zipper isn’t designed low enough for them to properly use their urinary devices.
“There are flight suits that were designed with longer zippers for women, but they’re almost never available,” Ellis said. “It’s common for females to have to wait months to receive the flight suit they’ve ordered which causes them to have to wear the male one.”
Participants of the Female Flight Equipment Workshop review various flight-suits designs at AFWERX Vegas, Las Vegas, Jan. 30, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Bailee A. Darbasie)
Along with the possibility of injury and discomfort associated with G-suits and flight suits, women struggle to get their life-saving gear to fit accordingly. The process of ejecting is so powerful, even pilots with well-fitting gear are at a serious risk of injury. It’s important for aviators to be heard and the modernization of equipment for everyone continues, Ellis said.
“In certain situations, having ill-fitting gear, such as harnesses and survival vests, can result in a loss of life,” Ellis said. “If an aircrew member ejects from the aircraft with equipment that doesn’t fit, they can be severely injured or lose their life.”
The Air Force and Air Combat Command are working to find a feasible solution for aircrew members.
Part of the strategy to correct the uniform problem was to take part in several collaborative Female Flight Equipment Workshops at AFWERX Vegas. Female Airmen stationed across the globe traveled to the innovation hub and attended the workshops to explore areas of opportunity and come up with proposed solutions.
“The purpose of the workshops is to bring together female aviators, Aircrew Flight Equipment, Human Systems Program Office personnel and subject matter experts to understand the current products, the acquisition process and the actual needs from the field,” Weeks said.
Throughout the workshops, aviators participated in briefings, as well as discussions and exercises with the agencies involved in the design and distribution of their gear.
“The Human Systems Program Office acquires and sustains all equipment for male and female Airmen,” said Lt. Col. Elaine Bryant Human Systems Program Office deputy chief, assigned to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. “We are committed to hearing our consumers’ voices, and we will make the changes necessary to our current process to meet their needs.”
Participants of the Female Flight Equipment Workshop discuss the advantages and disadvantages of multiple- piece body armor at AFWERX Vegas, Las Vegas, Jan. 30, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Bailee A. Darbasie)
The workshops established the communication needed between the consumer, designers and suppliers to reach a mutual goal of understanding and development.
“We now have some pretty clear actions coming out of the Female Flight Equipment Workshops,” Bryant said. “We’ve heard the feedback, and we want to make sure we have actionable things we’re accomplishing within specific time frames for our consumers.”
The Human Systems Program Office will strive to make progressive changes within their operations and better their acquisition process, explained Bryant.
“We will take the field up on their offers of coming out to the units and meeting the aircrew for whom we supply,” Bryant said. “We’ll ensure we maintain the lines of communication needed to better our program.”
Another major improvement for female aviators is the adoption of the Battlefield Airmen Rapid Resource Replenishment System, a centrally managed equipment facility. BARS is capable of shipping needed resources directly to female aircrew. Using this system will allow women to acquire the proper fitting equipment they need within an acceptable timeline.
“BARS is a step in the right direction,” Ellis said. “Everyone deserves to have equipment that fits them. There are certain things we have to adapt to, but as long as we’re trying to improve and modernize our gear, we can be a more ready and lethal force.”
“The Air Force has evolved over the years and continues to evolve,” Weeks echoed. “Female aviators entering the Air Force now will not have the same issues I had over the last 21 years.”
Information from an ACC news feature was used in this story.
Like most general officers commissioned right after the Vietnam War ended, Gen. Martin Dempsey’s firsthand experience of dealing with combat losses came relatively late in his career. During the summer of 2003, then-Major General Dempsey was commanding “Task Force Iron” in Iraq when the post-invasion lull ended and the insurgency began going after American troops.
“We started taking casualties,” Gen. Dempsey recounted. “And during the morning briefing, after we talked about the high-level mission items and what we called ‘significant incidents,’ we’d flash up the names of the fallen and have a moment of silence.
“The names were up there on the screen and then, whoosh, they were gone,” he said. “After about two or three weeks of the same thing, I became really uncomfortable with that. One minute it was there and real, and then the next minute it was somebody else’s problem.”
Gen. Dempsey attended a number of the memorial services held at the forward operating bases downrange for those killed in action.
“They were both heart wrenching and inspirational,” the general said about the services. “To see the love that these soldiers had for each other made me take my responsibilities that much more seriously.”
But as he greeted the battle buddies of the fallen, Gen. Dempsey wasn’t sure what to say to them that would help at those moments. “I had nothing,” he said. “I mean, I’d say, ‘hang in there’ or ‘we’re really sorry about what happened’ . . . I felt so superficial.”
Then it hit him one morning after he was just waking up in his quarters in Baghdad. “A phrase was echoing in my head,” he remembered. “Make it matter.”
He did two things immediately after that: First, he had laminated cards made for every soldier who had been killed to that point. The cards were carried by all the general officers in theater as a constant physical reminder of the human cost of the war. In time the number of casualties became so great that it was impractical to carry the cards at all times, so he had a mahogany box engraved with “Make it Matter” on the top and put all but three of the cards inside of it. He would constantly rotate the three he carried in his pocket with the ones in the box.
Second, from that point forward when he would address the soldiers in units that had experienced losses, he’d simply say, “Make it matter.”
“They knew exactly what I meant,” Gen. Dempsey said.
Five years after Gen. Dempsey’s introduction to the challenges a two-star leader faces during periods of significant combat losses, Marine Corps Major David Yaggy, a veteran of three combat deployments, was an instructor flying in the rear cockpit of a Navy T-34C trainer on a cross-country flight between Florida and South Carolina when the airplane went down in the hills of Alabama. Yaggy and his flight student at the controls in the front cockpit were both killed in the crash.
The day of that crash is burned into the memory of Maj. Yaggy’s widow, Erin. She first heard from a realtor friend that a helicopter had gone down, and she immediately went online and saw a report that, in fact, a T-34 had crashed in Alabama. Fearing the worst, she put her 18-month-old daughter Lizzy in a stroller and went for a walk, in denial and hoping to avoid any officials who might show up to tell her that her husband had been killed.
During the walk, she received a phone call from her cousin. “Where are you?” she asked.
“I’m at your house,” he replied. That was all he said.
Erin ran home pushing the stroller, in her words, “like a crazy person.” When she arrived she caught a glimpse of a uniform, and she broke down, hysterical. “That didn’t go so well,” she said.
She had a long period of vacillating between shock, anger, and sorrow. “I felt like other people wanted me to cry,” she said. “I was like, ‘I don’t want permission to cry, I just want him here.”
The sister of the flight student killed with Erin’s husband convinced her to get involved with Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), and she wound up making the short trip from Baltimore to Washington DC to attend her first Good Grief Camp — the organization’s signature gathering — when Lizzy was four years old.
General Dempsey had just taken over as Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army when his aide briefed him that he was scheduled to address the TAPS Good Grief Camp attendees gathered in a hotel ballroom across the interstate from the Pentagon. Although the general had heard of TAPS and was armed with the requisite three-by-five cards filled with talking points provided by his staff, when he got there he realized he wasn’t fully ready for what he was walking into.
“I walked into this room with 600 kids all wearing big round buttons with images of their parents, and I knew I was ill-prepared,” Gen. Dempsey said. “It was emotionally overwhelming. It’s hard enough meeting a single family that’s had a loss. It’s another thing altogether meeting 600 families.”
Gen. Dempsey started his appearance with a question-and-answer session, and after a couple of innocent ones like “do you have your own airplane?” and “do you like pizza?” a little girl dramatically shifted the mood by asking, “Is my daddy an angel?”
“I was stunned,” Gen. Dempsey recalled. “How do you answer that question?”
The general thought for a few moments before calling an audible of sorts. Fearing that he could well break down if he tried to talk he decided to attempt something else.
“I knew I could sing through emotion instead of trying to speak,” he said.
So he answered that, of course, her father was an angel — like the fathers of everyone there — and that the entire group should sing together because singing is joyful and the fact that their fathers were angels should bring them great joy.
Then he launched into the Irish classic, “The Unicorn Song,” including a lesson in the proper hand gestures required during the chorus. Soon the entire room was singing.
After his appearance, General Dempsey asked Bonnie Carroll, the founder of TAPS, if he could meet the little girl who’d asked the question and her family, so Bonnie introduced him to the Yaggys. The general was immediately struck by Lizzy’s spark, and, as Erin put it, Lizzy was drawn to the man with lots of silver stars on his Army uniform who’d raised her spirits by singing with all of the kids.
“His timing was perfect,” Erin said. “Before [General Dempsey’s singalong], Lizzy had just said, ‘I don’t want to talk about daddy being dead anymore.’ Her attitude changed after she met General Dempsey.”
At the following year’s Good Grief Camp, they began what blossomed into a tradition: Lizzy introduced him as the keynote speaker.
“She stood up and said, ‘this is General Dempsey. We love him, and he loves to sing, and he makes us feel good,'” the general recalled. “And she finished with, ‘and now my friend, General Dempsey.'” With that, once again, General Dempsey had to fight back tears as he faced hundreds of military survivors.
General Dempsey and his wife Deanie stayed in touch with the Yaggys, exchanging email updates and Christmas cards. The third year Lizzy introduced the general he’d taken over as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Pentagon’s senior-most position. Before they got on stage together she gave him a little box with an angel-shaped medallion in it, saying, “You’re my guardian angel.”
The general was deeply moved and wanted to return the gesture, but all his aide had in his possession was a ballcap with the numeral “18” on the front of it, signifying the 18th CJCS. He wrote in black ink on the bill: “To Lizzy — From your chairman friend. Martin E. Dempsey.”
“It was so cute to see her wearing that hat for the rest of the night,” Deanie Dempsey said. “Here was this little girl in this long green dress with a ballcap on.”
“She wore that hat all the time after that,” Erin said. “She even took it to bed with her.”
The entire time General Dempsey served as the chairman he only had two things on his desk in the Pentagon: The mahogany “Make it Matter” box full of the laminated cards that profiled those who were killed under his command in Iraq and the guardian angel medallion Lizzy gave him.
When it came time for the general to retire, the Pentagon’s protocol apparatus sprang into action — after all, a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff change of command is like the Super Bowl of military ceremonies. As the officials were coordinating all the moving parts, including the details surrounding President Obama’s attendance, they were surprised to learn who the outgoing chairman wanted to introduce him. They pushed back, but the general was insistent.
The day arrived and at the appropriate moment in the event, a little girl on the dais confidently strode by the dignitaries and political appointees and the President of the United States and stood on the box positioned behind the podium just for her.
And without any hesitation, Lizzy Yaggy delivered her remarks to the thousands in attendance, and finished with, “Please welcome my friend, General Dempsey . . .”