The VA might actually be getting its act together - We Are The Mighty
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The VA might actually be getting its act together

Trying to emerge from scandals that shook the agency to its core, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is attempting to overhaul what officials admit was sometimes pretty bad customer service.


Quietly, since 2015, the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs has built a national Veterans Experience Office.

The office’s first steps have been rolling out over 100 community veterans committees nationwide and retraining employees to be less rigid and more customer-focused.

The VA even hired professional writers to redraft the language of 1,200 official letter templates to make them more reader friendly.

“(We) had somehow gotten away from the primary mission of organizing the enterprise through the eyes of the customer,” said Joy White, who leads the office’s Pacific district, which includes California and the West Coast.

“(We did) things that made sense to us, made it easy for us as the VA,” White said. “But, in all of that, we lost the voice of the customer.”

The task at hand: How to change the culture of a massive federal agency that provides everything from medical care to monthly disability checks to funerals.

The VA might actually be getting its act together
Or her widow, Mr. President. Or her widow. (Photo: Veterans Affairs)

Some might wonder if — with what’s a famously dense bureaucracy — it can be done. Even new VA Secretary David Shulkin has said it’s a struggle to fire bad apples, including employees who watch porn on the job.

The new Veterans Experience Office’s budget this fiscal year is $55.4 million, up from $49 million last year, “to lead the My VA transformation,” according to a budget document. About 150 jobs now fall under this office’s umbrella.

Two years in, the nation’s veterans organizations are still taking a wait-and-see position.

“We’re not sure how much the VEO has improved the VA to date, but we are encouraged by this initiative and hope to see it succeed,” said Joe Plenzler, American Legion spokesman. “Any effort to improve dialogue between veterans and VA employees and administrators is time and money well spent.”

One vocal critic of the VA said the office has potential but not if it tries to just “paper over” structural issues facing the veterans agency.

“Doing things that are more feel-good measures, but actually don’t address some of the core problems of the VA, could distract from what’s needed to be done,” said Dan Caldwell, policy director at Concerned Veterans for America.

“That’s the danger I see, potentially, with this office. But I want to say there’s a lot of opportunity here. If this office is managed well and insists that they are here to improve the outcomes for veterans — and not just ‘the experience’ — they could be successful.”

Also read: The VA is set to lower copays for prescriptions

The “veterans experience” campaign started under former VA Secretary Bob McDonald, the retired Proctor Gamble chief executive brought in by President Barack Obama in mid-2014 following a national scandal over wait times for VA medical care.

McDonald installed a “chief veterans experience officer” in early 2015.

The office reports directly to the VA secretary — now Shulkin, a doctor and health-care executive who is the first non-veteran to lead the agency.

Whether he will continue the “experience” campaign is an open question.

However, in April he named Lynda Davis, a former Army officer and Pentagon civilian executive with experience in personnel and suicide prevention, to head the office. She replaces a former McDonald’s executive, Tom Allin, who held the job for about two years.

The VA might actually be getting its act together
Talihina Veterans Center (Oklahona Department of Veterans Affairs)

Some of the hiring was for “human-centered design” teams. These teams, which include people from Stanford’s prestigious D School, are supposed to re-engineer VA routines that aren’t working.

They produced a “journey map” showing what VA patients experience.

It identifies “pain points” along the way, such as cancelled appointments. It also calls out “moments that matter,” such as the check-in process and whether it’s hard or easy to park.

Two early goals were to establish one consumer-oriented website and one toll-free telephone number for all VA divisions. The result was vets.gov and 1 (844) My-VA311.

The VA is now looking for inspiration from national brands famous for good service. Starbucks, Marriott, and Walgreens are on the list.

“We get the experience that we design. Historically, we haven’t put an emphasis as an organization on customer service. There was no program of record that said ‘this how we do customer service,'” White told the San Diego Union-Tribune.

“You walk into a Starbucks anywhere in the country, there is something that looks and feels very familiar wherever you go.”

Also read: Starbucks donated free coffee to every US service member in Afghanistan

One change the Veterans Experience Office has led: hiring for customer-service skills, instead of just looking for people qualified for a position.

“We weren’t hiring for attitude,” said White, who said her office identified questions to insert in the VA’s interview process to draw out whether an applicant had customer service aptitude.

In a changing health-care industry, this is a bandwagon that the VA is belatedly jumping on.

Other hospital organizations have rebooted their customer experience in the past decade in response to a shift in Medicare reimbursement policy that now rewards for patient satisfaction, experts said. The power of social media is also a factor.

The Cleveland Clinic was the first major academic medical center to appoint a chief experience officer in 2007. Across the country, hospitals have built grand entrances, opened restaurants intended to draw non-patients and put flowers by bedsides.

“My sense of it is that we live in the age of the empowered consumer,” said John Romley, an economist at the University of Southern California’s Schaeffer center for health policy.

“VA customers maybe have less choice in the matter, but at the same time, there’s a great deal of sensitivity in the broader population about how we treat these people in the VA system.”

The VA’s new customer service motto — Own the Moment — sounds a bit like a commercial TV jingle.

Training is rolling out across the country, including at the La Jolla VA hospital.

The premise: Each VA employee should “own” their time with a customer, the veteran, and do their best to ensure the person gets the help he or she needs.

That contrasts to the like-it-or-lump-it experience that veterans have sometimes complained about in the past.

“We’re moving away from a rules-based organization to a more of what we call a values, principle-based organization,” said Allan Castellanos, the VA employee teaching the La Jolla seminar.

“I call it more like integrated ethics, like doing the right thing for the right reason,” he said.

The employees were shown a video of VA workers going the extra mile to welcome an uncertain new veteran into a clinic.

In another, VA workers allowed the family of a dying veteran to bring his horse onto hospital grounds.

The VA is trying to emerge from bunker mentality after back-to-back national embarrassments.

First, in 2013, the backlog of disability claims rose to mountainous proportions, bringing down the wrath of Congress and the public.

The VA might actually be getting its act together
We just wanna see more vets smiling. (Photo: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs)

Then, in 2014, news reports revealed that VA medical workers were keeping secret lists of patients waiting for appointments to make wait-time data appear satisfactory.

All of this occurred as the VA struggled to handle a flood of new veterans coming home from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

A few of the ideas being pursued by the Veterans Experience Office have origins in San Diego.

Officials acknowledge that what they are calling Community Veterans Experience Boards — the 152 community boards they eventually want to create nationally — came from San Diego’s longstanding example.

San Diego veterans leaders meet monthly with VA officials here in both closed-door and public sessions.

Additionally, the tragic suicide of 35-year-old Marine Corps veteran Jeremy Sears appears to have helped spur a campaign to redraft VA correspondence to make it more user friendly.

Sears shot himself at an Oceanside gun range in 2014 after being rejected for VA disability benefits despite the cumulative effects of several combat tours.

Veterans advocates suggested that the VA rejection letter could have offered advice on where to go for counseling and other assistance, instead of just a “no.”

“That was one of the ‘pain points’ that was identified,” White said, referring to the veteran’s “journey mapping” that her office did. “There was a lot of legalese, when in fact we just want it to be simple and clean.”

They started with the Veterans Benefit Administration’s correspondence and are working their way toward the Veterans Health Administration’s appointment cards.

Veterans Experience Office officials first told the Union-Tribune that they could provide examples of the rewritten letter formats, but later said they weren’t ready yet.

The Veterans Experience Office, headquartered in Washington, now has split the country into five districts and dispatched “relationship managers” to each.

The Veterans Experience Office is now trying to finesse those moments that matter to veterans. In 2017, officials expect to roll out a veterans real-time feedback tool in 10 locations. They also plan to release a patient experience “program of record.”

“Our goal is to build trust with veterans, their family members, and survivors,” White said. “How do we do that? By bringing their voices to everything we do.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

Retired Austrian officer arrested as alleged Russian spy

Austrian authorities have questioned a recently retired military officer under suspicion of spying for Russia for almost 20 years, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has said.

Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl has summoned the Russian charge d’affaires over the matter and canceled an upcoming trip to Russia scheduled for Dec. 2-3, 2018, Kurz added.

“We demand transparent information from Russia,” Kurz said on Nov. 9, 2018, adding that the Russian diplomat currently in charge at the embassy in Vienna was summoned to the Austrian Foreign Ministry.


“If the suspicion is confirmed, such cases, regardless of whether they take place in the Netherlands or in Austria, do not improve relations between Russia and the European Union,” he said.

Kurz was referring to the expulsion of four Russian agents by the Netherlands in April 2018 for allegedly planning a cyberattack on the world’s chemical-weapons watchdog in The Hague.

“Russian spying in Europe is unacceptable and to be condemned,” Kurz added.

The VA might actually be getting its act together

Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl.

In response, Russia’s Foreign Ministry summoned Austria’s ambassador on Nov. 9, 2018, to demand an explanation about the accusations, Russian news agencies reported.

Austrian Defense Minister Mario Kunasek told the news conference that the case came to light “a few weeks ago” as a result of information from another European intelligence agency.

Kurz said Austria was not going to withdraw its envoy from Moscow yet or expel Russian diplomats.

“We will discuss our further steps with European partners as soon as we receive more accurate information. In such a situation it is necessary to make gradual steps,” Kurz said.

Austria is one of the few European countries that maintains close diplomatic contacts with Moscow despite Russia’s actions in Ukraine, and even after the poisoning of ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Britain, which London has blamed on Russia.

Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl said she canceled her visit to Russia scheduled for Dec. 2-3, 2018, due to the espionage case.

Vienna, home to multiple international organizations such as the IAEA, OSCE and a branch of the United Nations, is known as a European espionage hub.

The city also used to be a gateway to communist countries during the Cold War because of its proximity to Eastern Europe.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

Articles

Pentagon report clears coalition of wrongdoing in strike that killed Syrian soldiers

No misconduct was involved in the decision by personnel in the American-lead Combined Air Operations Center to carry out an air strike that killed a number of Syrian-government aligned forces on Sept. 17.


That is the central finding of an investigation by Air Force Brig. Gen. Richard Coe.

The VA might actually be getting its act together
A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon flies over Iraq in support of Operation Inherent Resolve April 5, 2016. The President has authorized U.S. Central Command to work with partner nations to conduct targeted airstrikes of Iraq and Syria as part of the comprehensive strategy to degrade and defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Corey Hook/Released)

“In my opinion, these were a number of people all doing their best to do a good job,” Coe said of the personnel on duty when the incident happened, according to an official report released Nov. 29.

The strike took place near Dayr Az Zawr. A release from Combined Joint Task Force Inherent Resolve for that day noted the incident, stating that one strike “believed to have engaged an ISIL fighting position, may have mistakenly struck a Syrian military unit and destroyed Syrian military vehicles.”

While “friendly fire” is nothing new — in the War on Terror, coalition forces had over three dozen such incidents — the question is always the same: How did such a mistake happen?

Well, that’s been asked over the years after other incidents, like when Stonewall Jackson was shot by Confederate soldiers on a picket line, or when Allied ships off Sicily opened fire on C-47 transports carrying elements of the 82nd Airborne Division in 1943, downing 23 transports.

The report reveals a few of the causes. First, the Syrian forces were not exactly in uniform when they were first detected by an unmanned aerial vehicle. Yet they were packing a lot of firepower, and were near tunnels and other fighting positions.

The VA might actually be getting its act together
Aircrews perform a preflight check on an MQ-9 Reaper before it takes of for a mission. (Photo from DoD)

This lead planners to believe they’d spotted an ISIS unit out in the open. It was a classic case of mistaken identity, compounded by a misunderstanding (the United States personnel used the wrong reference point when informing the Syrian allied Russians of the strike).

And it was made worse by some good old-fashioned Russian paranoia.

According to the report, when the Russians called on a de-confliction hotline, they waited 27 minutes for their normal point of contact to arrive before passing on the news that Syrian forces were being hit. During that time, 15 of the 37 attack sorties were carried out.

Coe’s report not only recommended that in the future both sides not only pass critical information immediately, but also that the entire Flight Safety Memorandum of Understanding that helps keep Syrian and Russian targets from being struck by coalition air power be reviewed and updated.

Top CENTCOM commander Lt. Gen. Jeff Harrigian has ordered Coe’s recommendations be implemented, saying, “In this instance, we did not rise to the high standard we hold ourselves to, and we must do better than this each and every time.”

While the changes recommended will hopefully lessen the chance of friendly fire incidents in the future, friendly fire will still always be a risk on a complex battlefield.

Articles

The US Navy strikes back after dodging rebel missiles off of Yemen

The VA might actually be getting its act together
The Arleigh Burke Class guided-missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG 87). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class J. Alexander Delgado)


Within a day of a second failed attack on the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG 87), the USS Nitze (DDG 94), a sister ship, has launched strikes against three radar sites in Yemen. The strike came less than a day after the Mason had defeated the second attack.

According to a report by The Washington Examiner, three BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired at the sites in Yemeni territory under the control of Houthi rebels. The Houthi rebels are believed to have been responsible for the Sunday and Wednesday attacks on Mason, but also the attack on HSV-2 Swift, a former U.S. Navy vessel now owned by a civilian firm in the United Arab Emirates.

“The strikes — authorized by President Obama at the recommendation of Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Joseph Dunford — targeted radar sites involved in the recent missile launches threatening USS Mason and other vessels operating in international waters in the Red Sea and the Bab al-Mandeb,” Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said in an official statement, also noting that the targeted radar sites were destroyed in the strikes.

The VA might actually be getting its act together
The guided missile destroyer USS Nitze (DDG 94) launches a strike against three coastal radar sites in Houthi-controlled territory on Yemen’s Red Sea coast. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

The BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missile comes in a number of varieties, including nuclear (BGM-109A), anti-ship (BGM-109B), conventional land-attack (BGM-109C), cluster munitions for land attack (BGM-109D), and a “Tactical Tomahawk” that is equipped with a TV camera (BGM-109E).

The land-attack and “Tactical Tomahawk” missiles have a maximum range of 900 nautical miles, and are armed with a unitary warhead (usually a thousand-pound high explosive warhead, based on those used on the AGM-12 Bullpup missile). The BGM-109D delivers a dispenser with 166 BLU-97 bomblets up to 700 miles away.

The Tomahawk has a top speed of 550 nautical miles per hour, and flies in at a very low altitude to evade radars. To date, a total of 2,267 missiles have been fired.

Here’s official U.S. Navy footage of the Tomahawk launch:

Adm. John Richardson, the Chief of Naval Operations, released the following statement in the wake of the most recent events in the waters off of Yemen:

“The U.S. Navy remains on watch in the Red Sea and around the world to defend America from attack and to protect U.S. strategic interests. These unjustified attacks are serious, but they will not deter us from our mission.  We are trained and ready to defend ourselves and to respond quickly and decisively. The team in USS Mason demonstrated initiative and toughness as they defended themselves and others against these unfounded attacks over the weekend and again today.  All Americans should be proud of them.”
MIGHTY TRENDING

Navy eyes new missile modules for stealthiest submarines

The US Navy is getting creative with the weapons payloads of the Virginia-class submarines, one of the deadliest and most technologically advanced subs in the world.

The Virginia Payload Module (VPM), a weapons system intended to give the late-block Virginia-class attack submarines (SSNs) a bit more punch, was initially viewed solely in the context of giving these submarines the kind of firepower seen on the aging Ohio-class guided-missile submarines (SSGNs).


“We were only really allowed to talk about it as a replacement for SSGN strike,” Program Executive Office for Submarines Executive Director George Drakeley said at November 2018’s Naval Submarine League symposium, USNI News reported Nov. 15, 2018. “The handcuffs are off now, and lately we’ve been talking about other capabilities,” he said at the event.

The US Navy awarded BAE Systems a contract in 2018 to develop new payload tubes — the new VPMs — for two Block V Virginia-class submarines, Defense News reported in June 2018. One of the four VPM tubes reportedly has the ability to carry and launch up to seven Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles (TLAMs). This technology can triple the sub’s payload capacity, significantly boosting its firepower.

The VA might actually be getting its act together

Rendering of Virginia-class attack submarine.

(US Department of Defense graphic by Ron Stern)

There are also opportunities to innovate and apply this technology to new missions, a necessity as the US refocuses its efforts on preparation for high-end conflict with rival powers. “We’re in a great power competition now, and so we need to be focusing on other potential capabilities,” Drakeley told those in attendance.

Both Russia and China are increasingly advancing their undersea warfighting capabilities. “In the undersea domain, the margins to victory are razor thin,” Adm. James G. Foggo III, the commander of US Naval Forces Europe-Africa, told Pentagon reporters in October 2018.

A new report evaluating the National Defense Strategy, which also highlights the threat posed by great power competition, recommended the US bolster its submarine force. But numbers are not everything, as capability is also key.

“We have to get past the days of just ADCAP (advanced capability Mk 48 heavyweight torpedo) and TLAM (Tomahawk land-attack missile) as being our two principle weapons,” Rear Adm. John Tammen, the director of undersea warfare on the staff of the chief of naval operations, explained to attendees.

Tammen told USNI News that the surface warfare community is looking into a next-generation land-attack weapon, and the undersea warfare directorate would then look at ways to adapt it to the VPM, giving the Virginia-class subs an alternative to the Tomahawks.

At the same time, the Navy is also interested in VPM-launched unmanned undersea vehicles, but the pairing process has proven something of a challenge.

This new technology, as long with new torpedo systems, could potentially be seen on the Block VI and VII Virginia-class SSNs.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Pacific battle was the worst 37 minutes in US Navy history

It was arguably worse than any 37 minutes of any other U.S. Navy defeat, including Pearl Harbor. At the Battle of Savo Island, Japan sank three American ships and killed over 1,000 U.S. sailors in addition to dooming an Australian ship and killing 84 Australian sailors while suffering 129 killed of their own.


The VA might actually be getting its act together

The Australian HMAS Canberra burns off Guadalcanal after the Battle of Savo Island.

(U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command)

While more people, 2,403, were killed in the Pearl Harbor attack, those losses were inflicted over about 2 hours and 27 minutes. And three ships were permanently lost at Pearl Harbor while four would be lost as a result of Savo Island. It would later earn the battle and the area the nickname “Ironbottom Sound.”

On Aug. 7, 1942, the U.S. fleet was guarding landing forces at Guadalcanal. Australian Coastwatchers spotted Japanese planes bearing down on the landing forces, and the Navy redeployed its screening ships and carrier aircraft to meet the Japanese threat. The landings were saved, and U.S. Adm. William Halsey later said, “The Coastwatchers saved Guadalcanal and Guadalcanal saved the Pacific.”

But the threat to the fleet wasn’t over. Japan needed the airbase it was building on Guadalcanal, and every new pair of American boots that landed on the island was a direct threat to the empire. So Japan slipped new ships through the St. George Channel and approached Savo Island where the U.S. was blocking access to the Guadalcanal landings.

The VA might actually be getting its act together

Japanese Vice Adm. Gunichi Mikawa

(U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command)

The next day, August 8, Japanese ships hid near Bougainville Island and launched reconnaissance planes which quickly spotted the American fleet at the Solomons. The American fleet was split into three locations, and the Japanese commander, Vice Adm. Gunichi Mikawa, was hopeful that he could destroy one group before the other two could assist it. He targeted the ships at Savo Island.

His fleet slipped out in the wee hours of August 9 and launched their attack.

Now, it should be said that the American fleet had received some warning that Japanese ships were still in the area. A submarine and reconnaissance planes caught sight of the Japanese fleet, but their warnings came late and were misunderstood in the larger intelligence picture. Worse, when the commander of the screening force took his ship to report to his boss, he didn’t leave anyone officially in charge in his stead.

The fleet was ill-positioned to respond to an attack, and it was bearing down on them.

The VA might actually be getting its act together

The USS Quincy is illuminated by Japanese searchlights during the Battle of Savo Island on August 9, 1942.

(U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command)

The Japanese attack began at 1:42 a.m. The lookouts in the Japanese masts had already found and fixed a number of ships and fed the data to their fire control stations. Just as the first Japanese flares were about to burst into light, the American destroyer Patterson spotted them and sounded the alarm, “Warning! Warning! Strange ships entering harbor.” The Patterson pursued the Japanese column, getting some hits but failing to launch its torpedoes.

But the Japanese guns were already trained on their targets, and the fleet had made it past the outer pickets, allowing it to attack from vectors and spots America hadn’t anticipated. Japanese ships pumped rounds into American vessels from just a few thousand yards. They dropped torpedoes in the water, hitting American and Australian ships before the ships’ crews could even make it to their guns.

The captain of the Australian HMS Canberra was killed in this first salvo, and his ship was rendered dead in the water.

The USS Chicago was hit with a torpedo, losing nearly its entire bow while the gunners continued to send disciplined fire at two targets in the dark, one of which might have been a Japanese ship.

The Japanese ships began to pull away from this fight at 1:44, just two minutes after they had opened fire. They had suffered no serious hits or damage and had crippled two cruisers and damaged a destroyer. The fight so far had been hidden from the rest of the American fleet, and Japan turned itself toward the Northern Force.

The turn was ill-managed, and the rest of the fleet now knew a fight was happening, if not the details. So Japan could not count on the same success it had managed in the opening five minutes. But the Northern Force still didn’t know the details of the fight, and had no idea that the Japanese were now in two columns about to attack.

The VA might actually be getting its act together

The USS Vincennes charged bravely into the Battle of Savo Island, but it was quickly targeted by Japanese forces and pummeled by two columns of assailants.

(U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command)

The disorganized Japanese turn still left them well-positioned to launch their torpedoes and fire their guns.

The USS Vincennes, a heavy cruiser, sailed into the fray looking for a fight, finding it about 1:50. Remember, this is still only eight minutes after Japan fired its first rounds and torpedoes. And it did not go well for the Vincennes. It was still hard to tell which ships were friendly and which were foe. A gun team asked permission to fire on a Japanese searchlight, but the brass thought it might be an American ship.

Japanese cruisers slammed the Vincennes‘ port side with shells, breaking through the hull, setting an aircraft on fire, and creating fires belowdecks that interrupted firefighting equipment and threatened to set off the ship’s supply of depth charges, bombs, and other ordnance. More shells hit the bridge and main ship, and then torpedoes ripped through the port side followed just minutes later by a hit to starboard.

By 2:03, the ship was in flames and going down. The crew fled to the sea.

Around the same time Vincennes was bravely entering the fray, the cruiser USS Astoria spotted a Japanese ship and ordered its men to general quarters. But the first Japanese shells were already flying toward it, exploding as the men were still rushing to stations.

The Astoria commander made it to the bridge and was worried that his men were in an accidental fight with friendly forces. He ordered his ship to cease firing for vital minutes. It didn’t resume firing until 1:54.

The Japanese heavy cruiser Chokai kept sending rounds at the Astoria until the fifth salvo hit home, piercing the Astoria’s superstructure, midships, and then the bridge itself. The Astoria would hit the Chokai once before it was too damaged to keep fighting.

Meanwhile, the heavy cruiser USS Quincy was also under fire and would get the worst of it. Its commander also worried that it was suffering friendly fire, and the commander ordered his guns silent, and the ship lit up to identify itself. Japanese shells tore through an aircraft hanger and set a plane on fire. It was too hot for the crew to push overboard, and Japanese ships leaped on the chance to fire on a lit up target.

The VA might actually be getting its act together

The Japanese heavy cruiser Kako in 1926. It was the only Japanese ship lost as a result of the raid on Savo Island, sank on August 10 as the Japanese fleet left the engagement area.

(U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command)

Shells landed just short of the Quincy, then just long, and then began raining down on it. Japanese torpedoes set off the forward magazine. The ship’s captain, Capt. Samuel Moore, ordered the surviving gunners to “Give ’em Hell,” just moments before the bridge was hit by an exploding shell. As he lay dying, Moore ordered the ship beached, but another officer realized it was already lost and ordered it abandoned.

As the Quincy, Vincennes, and Astoria began sinking, the Japanese fleet called off the attack, beginning its withdrawal at 2:15. It had suffered no serious damage, could see that at least three U.S. ships were sinking, had rendered the Australian ship Canberra dead in the water (it would be scuttled the next morning), and had ensured the deaths of just over 1,000 American and Australian sailors.

The battle had raged from approximately 1:40 as Japan positioned itself to 2:15 as Japan withdraw. Depending on exactly which incidents mark the start and end, it lasted somewhere between 30 and 50 minutes.

America did achieve on a parting shot, though. While the Japanese fleet was able to avoid the air screen sent to find it August 9-10, the U.S. submarine S-38 spotted them on August 10, and managed to bring down the Japanese Kako with a torpedo.


MIGHTY TRENDING

ISIS returns after the New Zealand shooting

As the last ISIS stronghold in Syria crumbles, it’s clear that the leadership of the terrorist organization had no intention of fighting to the death with their devoted fighters. The whereabouts of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi have been unknown for some time, and those in his inner circle have been just as absent, from either the battlefields or the media.

Until now, that is.


The VA might actually be getting its act together

“Guys, we’re totally coming to help you. Just keep fighting. We’ll be there in, like, two days. Pinky swear.”

It’s been six months since the world last heard from Abu Hassan al-Muhajir, the Islamic State’s official spokesperson. But on Mar. 18, 2019, the terrorist group released a 44-minute audio recording in the wake of the mosque shootings in New Zealand.

That shooting killed some 50 muslim worshippers while they were at prayer in the New Zealand city of Christchurch. The perpetrator was a white nationalist extremist from Australia, who broadcast the event all over social media. ISIS is trying to rebrand it as part of the Islamic State’s global struggle against the West.

“Here is Baghuz in Syria, where Muslims are burned to death and are bombed by all known and unknown weapons of mass destruction,” he said.

The VA might actually be getting its act together

We’re pretty sure he meant to say “There is Baghuz…” because he is definitely somewhere else.

ISIS Is implying that muslims are being killed indiscriminately in Syria because of their religion. The truth of the matter is Baghuz is under attack from the U.S.-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, who are fighting to take the town because it’s full of only ISIS fighters and their families. Those same ISIS fighters attempted a genocide against several Iraqi minorities at the peak of their power.

Despite what ISIS would have anyone believe, the global community of muslims has little to do with ISIS or its worldview.

The VA might actually be getting its act together

Imam Alabi Zirullah warned his worshippers before the gunman could open fire on the group.

Alabi Lateef Zirullah is an imam at the Linwood mosque. He saw the gunman enter the mosque and warned the crowd to take cover. Linwood was one of two Mosques targeted and where seven people died.

“The heroes are those people who passed away, not me,” Zirullah said. “But I thank God Almighty for using me to save the few lives that I could.” The imam also had words for the attacker who stormed the mosque – words very different from ISIS’ message.

“I don’t hate him. He may have gone through a lot of bad experiences in his life. But that is no excuse to kill. We must overcome what has happened and be strong for the families of those who died. Hate cannot be the victor.”

Articles

This WWII tank crew laid waste and inspired the movie ‘Fury’

The VA might actually be getting its act together
Photo: US Army


The 3rd Armored Division landed in Normandy on June 24, 1944 with years of training but no combat experience. Over the next 11 months, the division would be part of the fiercest fighting in Europe during World War II. One tank crew in the division would kill 12 tanks, 258 armored vehicles and self-propelled guns, and 1,000 German soldiers in only 79 days. They also captured 250 German prisoners in the fighting.

The colorfully-named tank “In the Mood” was an M4A1 Sherman led by Staff Sgt. Lafayette “Wardaddy” G. Pool. His driver was Cpl. Wilbert Richards, the assistant driver and bow gunner was Pfc. Bert Close, his gunner was Cpl. Willis Oiler, and Tech. 5th Grade Del Boggs was the loader.

The VA might actually be getting its act together
Photo: US Army Signal Corps

In the Mood first saw combat at Villers-Fossard on June 29, 1944. 3rd AD was ordered to attack German positions to give the nearby XIX Corps a chance to straighten out their front lines. During the battle, In the Mood was credited with killing 70 German soldiers and three armored vehicles before it was destroyed by Panzer fire. The crew survived and christened a new Sherman as “In the Mood.”

In another engagement, In the Mood and the rest of 32nd Armored Division stumbled into a group of tanks from the 2nd Panzer Division and were forced to defend themselves at close range. When the rounds stopped flying, the tank crew had successfully killed two armored cars and two enemy tanks as well as a number of German dismounts.

In the Mood took its own hits in the fighting and was destroyed three times. The first tank to bear the name was destroyed at Villers-Fossard. The second was destroyed by friendly fire from a P-38 on August 17, 1944. Finally, the third was destroyed on September 15.

Just south Aachen, Germany, the 3rd AD was attempting to cross over the German border. In the Mood took a hit from a German Panther tank. Pool tried to maneuver the tank out of trouble, but the tank was struck by another shot from the Panther and flipped over into a ditch. Pool was blown out of the commander’s hatch and suffered a massive cut in his leg from shrapnel.

Pool’s leg was amputated and his service in the war was over. He returned to the U.S. for nearly two years of rehabilitation followed by a short period of civilian life. He eventually rejoined the Army and fought his way back to 3rd Armored Division where he became an instructor. He retired from the Army on September 19, 1960.

For his service in Europe, Pool was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Legion of Merit, and the French Croix de Guerre with gold star. His nickname, “Wardaddy,” was used for Brad Pitt’s character in the 2014 movie “Fury.”

NOW: This first-person video shows what tankers see while blowing targets away

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is the Marine Corps’ first female infantry officer

A female Marine graduated from the Corps’ grueling Infantry Officer Course Monday, marking a historic feat as the first woman to earn the 0302 infantry officer military occupational specialty.


The woman, who has asked to keep her identity private, will now be assigned to the 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, California, the service said in a release.

“I am proud of this officer and those in her class‎ who have earned the infantry officer MOS,” Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said in a statement.

Infantry Officer Course is one of the Corps’ toughest schools, where officers learn combat skills, patrolling, and leadership over 13 weeks of training. Just 88 Marines graduated from the latest class, which started with 131 students.

IOC was first opened to women in 2012 so that Marine leaders could research the feasibility of integrating all-male infantry units. Eventually, the Pentagon removed all restrictions on women in 2015.

Since the course opened up, more than 30 female officers have attempted it and failed. Meanwhile, a handful of enlisted female Marines have been able to graduate from the Corps’ Infantry Training Battalion.

“This is such a huge deal,” Kate Germano, a retired lieutenant colonel who previously commanded the all-female 4th Recruit Training Battalion, wrote on Twitter.

The Corps released a short video with clips of the female lieutenant during the course:

Articles

These 5 bad things will happen if all soldiers are allowed to roll up their sleeves

Credible sources have confirmed that it’s all over. The Apocalypse is nigh. The End Times are upon us.


The trouble started Jun. 16 when Army Chief of Staff Mark A. Milley announced that soldiers at Fort Hood were going to be allowed to roll their sleeves for a 10-day trial period. If that 10-day period goes well, the change will be implemented service-wide.

But this would be a grave mistake. While the Army publically stated in 2005 that it was getting rid of rolled sleeves to prevent sunburn and insect bites, it’s widely known that the real reason was to keep the world from going all topsy-turvy.

Here are 5 things to look forward to if this dreadful uniform change is allowed to stand:

1. Privates will lead sergeants

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The first consequence will be a complete breakdown in the natural order of military bases, and privates will begin leading sergeants instead of vice versa. This will be truly disastrous since modern privates typically can’t read paper maps and will likely rule by committee. The E-4 Mafia has signaled that it would be willing to work with privates if they usurped the NCOs.

2. Civilians will become colonels

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(Photo: US Army)

Since the NCO corps will be busy fighting against these challenges from bare-forearmed privates, there will be no one to prevent officers from promoting their golf buddies into the Army. Expect a surge of “lateral entry” officers into ranks as high as colonel or general.

3. Russia will transform back into the Soviet Union

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Like this, but with a mustache and real guns instead of gun fingers. (Photo: Russian Presidential Press and Information Office)

With the U.S. Army wrestling to re-establish some semblance of order in the “Rolled Sleeves” world, Russian President Vladimir Putin will no longer have to fear reprisals from the West if he goes too far. He will quickly send forces into the rest of Ukraine as well as NATO states bordering Russia.

Once he has reclaimed enough territory, he will declare the rebirth of the Soviet Union and grow a new, Stalin-esque mustache.

4. Blood will no longer make the green grass grow

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(Photo: US Army Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod)

Perhaps the most damaging result of the Army abandoning its extended sleeves policy will be the fact that it will change basic organic chemistry and stop the growth of grass watered with blood. Water will have to be piped or trucked in to keep plant life going.

This will be an especially big problem for desert bases like Fort Hood that have limited access to water.

5. Actually, it’s going to be fine

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Sgt. Maj. of the Army Dan Dailey and Army Chief of Staff Mark Milley pose with Spc. Cortne K. Mitchell after Mitchell becomes the first soldier in over ten years to legally roll his sleeves in the combat uniform. (Photo: US Army)

Look, besides the annoying fact that the modern uniform has little sleeves for pens and big velcro patches that make the uniform hard to roll, this isn’t a big deal. Soldiers will wear more sunscreen and bug spray again, and everyone can go back to work. Congrats, Fort Hood. And thank you, Dailey and Milley, for trusting soldiers to remain professionals even with rolled sleeves.

Articles

Watch these skydivers jump out of a B-17’s bomb bay door with wingsuits and Ol’ Glory

Recently, four skydivers from FullMag decided to step up their game by jumping out of the bomb bay doors of a World War II B-17 bomber using wingsuits.


The skydivers are all equipped with go-pros, parachutes, and the American flag.

The B-17 Flying Fortress has lived up to its name. Primarily, it saw combat during WWII for allied bombing runs in Europe. Originally developed for the U.S. Army Air Corps, this behemoth had as many as 13 machine guns attached.

But what its known for is the devastating 9,600-pound bomb load that it could bring into battle.

Related: This is what you need to know about the B-17 Flying Fortress

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The 14 men of the ‘Memphis Belle’ were among the most famous B-17 Bomber crews. It was one of the first bombers to complete 25 combat missions and bring all of her men back.

The tales of this beauty have been made into a documentary in 1944 and a feature film in 1990. In May 2018, the aircraft will be restored and placed in the National Museum of the United States Air Force. This will be done in celebration of the 75th anniversary of it’s final combat mission.

Out of the 12,000 built, only 11 remain airworthy to this day.

“Commercial skydiving isn’t without it’s risks” says Richard Ryan of FullMag. “When doing a demo jump, there are many variables to take into consideration.”

When jumping out of the B-17, the skydivers must work within the narrow space of the bomb racks. When they jump, they have to make sure that their suits don’t catch anything upon exit.

Yet the biggest concern that they had was with the machine gun turret on the belly. If the aircraft’s speed isn’t slow enough, their suits could pressurize and strike it.

They avoided it by back flying the exit into a gainer — or by watching the jumper ahead of them.

To check out the jump or for more content, check out FullMag on the video below.

(FullMag, YouTube)

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The new Army jungle boot borrows its design from the beloved Vietnam-era M1966

The standard-issue combat boot that most soldiers wear today — the one most commonly worn in Iraq and Afghanistan — is great for sandy dunes, hot dry weather and asphalt. But it’s proven to be not so good in hot and wet environments.


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The Army Jungle Combat Boot, now under development, features a low-height heel to prevent snags on things like vines in a jungle environment; additional drainage holes to let water out if it becomes completely soaked, speed laces so that soldiers can don and doff the boots more quickly, a redesigned upper to make the boots less tight when they are new, an insert that helps improve water drainage, a lining that helps the boot breathe better and dry faster; a ballistic fabric-like layer under a soldier’s foot to help prevent punctures, and a foam layer between the rubber sole and the upper to provide greater shock absorbing capability. The boot will initially be issued to two full brigade combat teams in Hawaii, part of the 25th Infantry Division, for evaluation. (Army photo by C. Todd Lopez)

So the Army has developed a new jungle boot that some soldiers will see this year.

In September, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley directed the Army to come up with a plan to outfit two full brigade combat teams in Hawaii, part of the 25th Infantry Division there, with a jungle boot. The Army had already been testing commercial jungle boots at the time — with mixed results — but didn’t have a specialized jungle boot, so Program Executive Officer Soldier, headquartered at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, had to get a plan together to make it happen.

By October of last year, the Army had made a request to industry to find out what was possible, and by December, contracts were awarded to two U.S. boot manufacturers to build a little more than 36,700 jungle-ready combat boots — enough to outfit both full IBCTs in Hawaii.

“This is important to the Army, and important to soldiers in a hot, high-humidity, high-moisture area,” said Army Lt. Col. John Bryan, product manager for soldier clothing and individual equipment with PEO Soldier. “We are responding as quickly as we possibly can, with the best available, immediate capability, to get it on soldiers’ feet quickly, and then refine and improve as we go.”

Right now, the new jungle boot the Army developed will be for soldiers at the 25th ID in Hawaii — primarily because there are actually jungles in Hawaii that soldiers there must contend with. The new boots look remarkably similar to the current boots soldiers wear — they are the same color, for instance. And the boots, which Bryan said are called the “Army Jungle Combat Boot” or “JCB” for short, sport a variety of features drawn from both the legacy M1966 Vietnam-era jungle boot and modern technology.

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And Army Special Forces soldier in Vietnam wearing M1966 jungle boots. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The M1966 Jungle Boot — which featured a green cotton fabric upper with a black leather toe that could be polished — had a solid rubber sole that soldiers reportedly said had no shock-absorbing capability. The new boot uses a similar tread, or “outsole,” as the M1966 “Panama style” — to shed mud for instance and provide great traction, but the added midsole is what makes it more comfortable and shock absorbing, said Albert Adams, who works at the Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center in Massachusetts.

The outsole of the new boot is connected to the leather upper via “direct attach,” Adams said. That’s a process where a kind of liquid foam is poured between the rubber outsole and leather boot upper. It’s “a lot like an injection molding process,” he explained.

The foam layer between the rubber sole and the upper portion of the boot not only provides greater shock absorbing capability, but he said it also keeps out microbes in hot, wet environments that in the past have been shown to eat away at the glues that held older boots together. So the new boots won’t separate at the soles, he said. “It provides a high level of durability, and it also adds cushioning.”

Also part of the new boot is a textile layer that prevents foreign items from puncturing through the sole of the boot and hurting a soldier’s foot, Adams said. The M1966 boot accomplished that with a steel plate. The new boot has a ballistic fabric-like layer instead.

Army Staff Sgt. Joshua Morse, an instructor at the Jungle Operations Training Center in Hawaii, said the puncture resistance is welcome, noting that punji sticks, familiar to Vietnam War veterans, are still a problem for soldiers.

“They use these punji pits for hunting purposes,” he said. “In Brunei, you are literally in the middle of nowhere in this jungle, and there are natives that live in that area, and still hunt in that area, and it can be an issue.” And in mangrove swamps, he said, “you can’t see anything. You don’t know what’s under your feet at all. There are a lot of sharp objects in there as well.”

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The Marine Corps is testing its own version of a jungle combat boot. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

The new JCB also features a heel with a lower height than the M1966 model, to prevent snags on things like vines in a jungle environment. That prevents tripping and twisted ankles. Among other things, the boot also has additional drainage holes to let water out if it becomes completely soaked, speed laces so that soldiers can don and doff the boots more quickly, a redesigned upper to make the boots less tight when they are new, an insert that helps improve water drainage, and a lining that makes the boot breath better and dry faster than the old boot.

“You’re going to be stepping in mud up to your knees or higher, and going across rivers regularly,” Adams said. “So once the boot is soaked, we need it to be able to dry quickly as well.”

Morse has already been wearing and evaluating early versions of the JCB and said he thinks the efforts made by the Army toward providing him with better footwear are spot-on.

“The designs were conjured up in a lab somewhere, and they were brought out here, and the main focus was the field test with us,” Morse said. “A lot of us have worn these boots for a year now, different variants of the boots. And all the feedback that we’ve put into this, and given to the companies, they have come back and given us better products every single time.”

Morse said he hadn’t initially worn the new jungle boots that he had been asked to evaluate. On a trip to Brunei, he recalled, he went instead with what he was familiar with and what he trusted — a pair of boots he’d worn many times, the kind worn by soldiers in the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I wore a pair of boots I’d had for a couple of years,” he said. “I wore them in Brunei and I had trench foot within a week. But then I thought — I have this brand new pair of test boots that they asked me to test; they are not broken in, but I’m going to give them a shot. I put them on. After 46 days soaking wet, nonstop, my feet were never completely dry. But I wore those boots, and I never had a problem again.”

The Army didn’t design the new JCB in a vacuum. Instead, it worked with solders like Morse to get the requirements and design just right — to meet the needs of soldiers, said Army Capt. Daniel Ferenczy, the assistant product manager for soldier clothing and individual equipment.

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A U.S. Army Soldiers assigned to Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division runs across an obstacle of the Jungle Warfare School obstacle course in Gabon, June 7, 2016. (US Army photo)

“We worked with soldiers to come up with this boot. We take what soldiers want and need, we boil that down to the salient characteristics, hand that over to our science and technology up at Natick; they work with us and industry, the manufacturing base, to come up with this product,” Ferenczy said. “This is a huge win, a great win story for the Army, because it was such a quick turnaround. Industry did a fantastic job. Our product engineers are also top of the line. And we had a ton of soldier feedback. … We really dealt very closely with what the soldier needs to get where we are.”

In March, the Army will begin fielding the current iteration of the JCB to soldiers in the first of two brigade combat teams in Hawaii. During that fielding, the boots will be available in sizes 7-12. In June, the Army will begin fielding the JCB to the second BCT — this time with a wider array of sizes available: sizes 3-16, in narrow, regular, wide and extra wide.

They will also go back and take care of those soldiers from the initial fielding who didn’t get boots due to their size not being available. A third fielding in September will ensure that all soldiers from the second fielding have boots. Each soldier will get two pairs of JCBs.

In all, for this initial fielding — meant to meet the requirement laid out in September by the Army’s chief of staff — more than 36,700 JCBs will be manufactured.

By December, the Army will return to Hawaii to ask soldiers how those new boots are working out for them.

“Al Adams will lead a small group and go back to 25th ID, to conduct focus groups with the soldiers who are wearing these boots and get their feedback — good and bad,” said Scott A. Fernald, an acquisition technician with PEO Soldier. “From there, the determination will be made, if we had a product we are satisfied with, or if we need to go back and do some tweaking.”

Fernald said that sometime between April and June of 2018, a final purchase description for the JCB will be developed — based on feedback from soldiers who wore it. He said he expects that in fiscal year 2019, an indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract will be signed with multiple vendors to produce the final version of the JCB for the Army.

Bryan said the JCB, when it becomes widely available, will be wearable by all soldiers who want to wear it — even if they don’t work in a jungle.

“From the get-go we have worked… to make sure we all understood the Army wear standards for boots,” he said. “One of the pieces of feedback we have gotten from soldiers before they wear them is they look a lot like our current boots. That’s by design. These will be authorized to wear.”

While the JCB will be authorized for wear by any solider, Bryan made it clear that there will only be some soldiers in some units who have the JCB issued to them. And right now, those decisions have not been made. Soldiers who are not issued the JCB will need to find it and purchase it on their own if they want to wear it.

“We are not directing commercial industry to sell them,” Bryan said. “But if they build to the specification we’ve given them for our contract, they can sell them commercially and soldiers are authorized to wear them.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why the first draft of the Afghan Peace Accord might be a terrible deal

After almost two decades of nonstop war, the United States and the Taliban have agreed to a draft framework for a peace deal to end the fighting there.

For the United States, I mean.

For now, that is.


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“This is … how you say… the worst trade deal in the history of trade deals, maybe ever.”

America’s chief negotiator with the Taliban is Zalmay Khalilzad, who got torn a new one in the global press by Afghanistan’s national security advisor, Hamdullah Mohib. Mohib accused Khalilzad of trying to usurp power in the country by installing himself as a viceroy of a caretaker government. This caused the United States to demand an apology that never came.

Now Mohib, the only member of the Afghan government involved in talks with the Taliban, is being “frozen out.” Now that a draft agreement is in place, we know it’s an agreement that no Afghan official helped negotiate. Members of the Afghan government won’t even be allowed to sit at the table until they finalize this draft agreement.

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Afghanistan is adorable.

For the internationally-recognized government of Afghanistan, the removal of American troops would be a disaster if done today. The Government only controls just under two-thirds of the population and just over half of the country’s administrative districts, according to a January 2019 report from the military’s Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction.

In reply, the Pentagon sent out a statement refuting its own report: “Measures of population control are not indicative of effectiveness of the South Asia strategy or of progress toward security and stability in Afghanistan.”

Afghanistan’s army is losing soldiers at a rate of some 3,000 or more per month, due to desertions and ending reenlistments. It is currently at 87 percent strength and falling fast – because they get killed at an alarming rate.

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Maybe China will do it better.

In exchange for the United States agreeing to a timetable withdrawal, the Taliban has agreed not to let Afghanistan become a hub for international terrorism, as it was in the days before the September 11th attacks on the United States. But the Taliban’s promises are problematic from the start – every leader of al-Qaeda has declared the leader of the Taliban to be the “Emir of the Faithful,” the mujaheddin equivalent of Caliph.

Osama bin Laden named Taliban founder Mullah Mohammed Omar the Emir. When those two died, their successors, Ayman al-Zawahiri and Mullah Aktar Mansour, recognized each other’s leadership. Mansour died in an airstrike in 2016 and his replacement, Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada, was named Emir by Zawahiri. You can’t really have one without the other.

But they promised. Is that good enough?