President Donald Trump signed a bill into law on June 23 that will make it easier for the Department of Veterans Affairs to fire employees, part of a push to overhaul an agency that is struggling to serve millions of military vets.
“Our veterans have fulfilled their duty to our nation and now we must fulfill our duty to them,” Trump said during a White House ceremony. “To every veteran who is here with us today, I just want to say two very simple words: Thank you.”
“What happened was a national disgrace and yet some of the employees involved in these scandals remained on the payrolls,” Trump said. “Outdated laws kept the government from holding those who failed our veterans accountable. Today we are finally changing those laws.”
The measure was prompted by a 2014 scandal at the Phoenix VA medical center, where some veterans died as they waited months for care. The VA is the second-largest department in the US government, with more than 350,000 employees, and it is charged with providing health care and other services to military veterans.
Federal employee unions opposed the measure. VA Secretary David Shulkin, an Obama administration holdover, stood alongside Trump as the president jokingly suggested he’d have to invoke his reality TV catchphrase “You’re fired” if the reforms were not implemented.
The legislation, which many veterans’ groups supported, cleared the House last week by an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 368-55, replacing an earlier version that Democrats had criticized as overly unfair to employees. The Senate passed the bill by voice vote a week earlier.
Paul Rieckhoff, founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, applauded the move, saying, “In a nasty, partisan environment like we’ve never seen, veterans’ issues can be a unique area for Washington to unite in actually getting things done for ordinary Americans.”
The bill was a rare Trump initiative that received Democratic support. Montana Sen. Jon Tester said the bill “will protect whistleblowers from the threat of retaliation.”
The new law will lower the burden of proof to fire employees, allowing for dismissal even if most evidence is in a worker’s favor.
The American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employee union, opposed the bill. But the Senate-passed measure was seen as more in balance with workers’ rights than a version passed by the House in March, mostly along party lines. The Senate bill calls for a longer appeal process than the House version – 180 days versus 45 days. VA executives would be held to a tougher standard than rank-and-file employees.
USMC Photo by Sgt. Justin M. Boling
The bill also turns another of Trump’s campaign pledges into law by creating a permanent VA accountability office, which Trump established by executive order in April.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, called the bill signing “a significant step to reform the VA with a renewed purpose and ability to serve our veterans.”
“The ultimate goal is nothing less than a transformation of the culture within the VA so that our veterans receive the best care possible,” McCarthy said.
The VA has been plagued for years by problems, including the 2014 scandal, where employees created secret lists to cover up delays in appointments. Critics say few employees are fired for malfeasance.
Thanks to the generosity of military members who literally gave up the uniforms they wore on their backs, Alexander Barnes and Kevin Born have successfully authored a new book that is educating readers on the nuances of desert uniforms.
After more than two years, their 344-page hardcover reference book “Desert Uniforms, Patches and Insignia of the U.S. Armed Forces” was published in late 2016. It features more than 1,000 mostly color photos with detailed descriptions of a variety of uniforms, different unit patches and insignia and more. They had lots of willing help tracking these down – locally and around the globe.
To handle the massive project, they set up a small studio in Born’s house and spend nights and weekends photographing and scanning several hundred donated and loaned uniforms, patches and insignia worn by U.S. Armed Forces.
Barnes, a former Marine and National Guardsman, and Kevin Born, chief of the Collective Training Development Division in theCASCOM G-3/5/7, and retired Army major, often just needed to walk around CASCOM for help.
“Working in a building with so many military veterans,” said Born “one is bound to run into some who had served during the desert period. Retired Col. Charles (Charlie) Brown, director of the Battle Lab, gave me his 6-colored uniform from Desert Storm and 3-colored Desert Combat Uniform from Afghanistan. And on the day he retired, he loaned me his Army Combat Uniform off his back, which is in the book illustrating the transition to the ACU uniform.”
Born said, “In another example, one day I walked out of my office in the CASCOM G-3 area and 10 feet away in Jason Aleo’s cubicle was hanging a rare desert Close Combat Uniform from his service as a field artillery captain with a Stryker Brigade Combat Team. I asked to borrow it as well as photos of him wearing it in Northern Iraq. It’s included on two pages in the book.
Barnes, who retired as a CASCOM logistics management supervisor in 2015, has similar accounts of those assisting with the book.
“I sent an email to Lt. Gen. (Mitchell) Stevenson (in England), a former CASCOM commander, and asked if he could share a photo of his service. He replied a day later, ‘What do you need, and how soon?'” said Barnes. “He was in a civilian job, but he stepped forward and sent us a great picture of him in the desert.”
Born continued, “I walked by Chaplain (Maj.) Stanton Trotter’s office one day, and saw a set of framed photos from his service with the 10th Mountain Division very early in Afghanistan in 2001. He kindly loaned several for us to scan. These appear in the book with Trotter praying next to a Soldier.”
Barnes and Born together have more than 50 years of military service and share a long history and avid passion for military collecting. Barnes has a master’s in anthropology, grew up in a military family and has co-authored three other books on military history as well as writing many articles on the subject.
Born has a bachelor’s in history and education and has authored numerous articles on military insignia collecting, an area he has focused on for more than 40 years. While they worked at CASCOM for a number of years, they did not know each other until the August 2011 earthquake in Central Virginia.
”Al and I are both members of the U.S. Militaria Forum and he commented about the earthquake on the forum that night,” said Born. “I saw his post and realized there was another military collector one floor above me. I reached out to him through the forum.”
Barnes said, “the earthquake was the catalyst.”
They soon discovered like-minded military collectors on Fort Lee who included Richard Killblane, the Transportation School historian, and then Lt. Col. (now Col.) Robert Nay, the former deputy installation chaplain.
“We met periodically at lunch to talk about our collecting interests,” Born said. “The seeds for the book came out of these discussions.”
They also collaborated on several articles in Military Trader Magazine that allowed them to get used to each other’s writing styles and served as practice for writing the book.
However, there were no plans yet for a book.
Barnes continued, “We started having lunches with others who had the same interest. After several, we decided to have a military swap meet at Fort Lee.”
Three annual gatherings took place and there was a huge interest, Barnes said.
“After one of these, we said, ‘We need to do something about all these desert uniforms. If we don’t, it will be hard to do it in 20 years.'”
A soldier enjoys breakfast in Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Storm in 1990 wearing the so-called “chocolate chip” desert camo uniform. (Photo courtesy of Daniel Cisneros via Flickr)
The two were unsure of any interest in a book about desert uniforms. “It was such a short period of military history,” noted Barnes. Others at Lee changed their minds.
“It was one of these serendipity things,” said Barnes as they began asking veterans about their desert tours. “So, you were there too. I’ll be darned. Would you have any pictures? And they would say ‘sure.'”
Barnes added, “most were surprised anyone cared. ‘You’re kidding. You really want pictures of me in Iraq. Sure – anything I have, you can have.'”
The original project was smaller in scale. “We thought it would be kind of an Army patch book – showing the variations of these with a couple pictures of uniforms,” said Barnes. “But it kept growing as we felt it important to add all services.”
Schiffer Publishing – the publisher of three other books by Barnes – quickly gave the go-ahead. Both were surprised to get a positive response. They were given nearly a year to pull it together – write the chapters and captions, gather the content, take photos and more.
After 10 months of gathering content and expanding the book, they submitted their package in August 2015. In December, they began receiving sections of the book from Schiffer. After receiving proofs, both saw areas where more details were needed, and they started a Facebook page to help in this process.
“We got more interest from around the world,” said Barnes.
In preparation for the book, they accumulated more than 1,000 government and theater-made desert patches and over 300 uniforms. A large number are in it. These came from numerous veterans and collectors.
Others at Fort Lee (some retired or at other bases now) who were helpful include retired Chief Warrant Officer 5 Jeffie Moore, formerly with the CASCOM Proponency office; Maj Mike Bethea, an Enterprise Systems Directorate officer in CASCOM; Dr. Milt Smith, a dentist at Bull clinic; and Capt. (now Maj.) Vance Zemke, a former instructor at ALU.
Born added, “I found out two weeks before Maj. Zemke was to PCS to Fort Leavenworth, Kan., that he had a huge collection of theater-made patches acquired in his deployments. He kindly loaned them to me with the provision I get them back in a few days’ time for him to pack them up for the movers. I spent day-and-night scanning them. They can be found throughout the book.”
The book foreword is by retired Maj. Gen. Ken Bowra, a former Special Forces officer, a friend of Barnes and Born.
“He not only wrote the foreword, but he allowed us to take pictures of his personal uniforms and shared many photographs as well,” said Barnes. “He served in the entire desert uniform period, wore these uniforms and patches in Desert Storm/Somalia/Operation Enduring Freedom and many other places. Most importantly, he always had a great respect for all the men and women who served during this era.”
Bowra also is a military history writer and author of two Osprey Vietnam-era books.
There were some hard-to-get uniforms and patches, notably CASCOM patches.
“Most collectors do not have these,” noted Born. “These units are not normally in the desert environment, and fewer people were deployed from the schools. I only had a loose copy of the patch. But Al beat the bushes with all of his contacts to find a photograph of one being worn in theater, which are both in the book.”
They completed their final review in August 2016 and were pleased to receive finished copies in late December.
Born said, “writing the book was about two things for us – recognizing the service and sacrifice of the men and women of the armed forces who wore the desert uniform as well as advancing this area of military collecting. Whenever a reference like this is published, there is an increased interest among collectors.”
US Naval Forces Central Command said last Wednesday that 11 Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy boats “conducted dangerous and harassing approaches,” repeatedly crossing the bows and sterns of the US ships.
At one point, the US said, one of the Iranian boats closed to within 10 yards of a Coast Guard cutter.
The US military said that the US vessels issued multiple warnings over bridge-to-bridge radio and sounded their horns but that the Iranian boats did not respond for about an hour.
After responding, the Iranian vessels moved away from the American ships.
The Navy said in a statement last week that the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy had committed “dangerous and provocative actions” that “increased the risk of miscalculation and collision.”
At the time of the incident, the Navy expeditionary mobile base vessel Lewis B. Puller, the destroyer Paul Hamilton, and the patrol ships Firebolt and Sirocco, together with the Coast Guard cutters Wrangell and Maui, were carrying out joint operations with Army AH-64E Apache attack helicopters in the Persian Gulf.
The US military, according to a separate recent statement, has been letting US Army helicopters take off from Navy ships in exercises meant to boost “the capabilities of US forces to respond to surface threats,” such as the gunboats Iran routinely sends out to harass both military and commercial vessels.
In its statement following last week’s run-in with Iranian forces, US Naval Forces Central Command concluded by saying that “US naval forces continue to remain vigilant and are trained to act in a professional manner, while our commanding officers retain the inherent right to act in self-defense.”
Insider reached out the Navy and US Central Command for comment but was redirected to the White House, which did not comment on the president’s tweet.
North Korea unveiled a remarkably powerful bomb in its latest nuclear test, one with the ability to level entire urban centers.
In the wake of North Korea’s sixth nuclear test, state media claimed that the rogue regime had successfully tested a staged thermonuclear weapon – a hydrogen bomb. Explosive yield estimates range are around 150 kilotons, orders of magnitude larger than any bomb the North has tested before. While the international community has been trying to figure out what to do about this alarming development, Pyongyang has been celebrating its entry into the elite thermonuclear weapons club.
When North Korea’s nuclear scientists and engineers returned home, they were given a heroes welcome in Pyongyang. Similar celebrations were held after the successful test of the Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile, on which Kim Jong Un plans to mount his newest bomb.
Officials held another celebration Saturday to honor the individuals who contributed to the development of the latest addition to North Korea’s growing nuclear arsenal. During Saturday’s celebratory concert, images of North Korea’s achievements were presented on the big screen, a not uncommon pastime for the regime.
The North revealed images of the nuclear bomb tested last Sunday at the celebration this weekend.
The bomb used in the test appears to be a slight variation of the warhead North Korea presented just hours before its shocking nuclear test. The shape suggests that the device may very well be a thermonuclear weapon, with one chamber for the fission reaction and another for the fusion reaction to produce a substantial explosive yield.
In the wake of the country’s sixth nuclear test, North Korea announced that it had successfully tested a hydrogen bomb for its new ICBM, which can effectively strike parts, if not most, of the continental U.S. While it is difficult to know for certain, it would appear that the North is “locked and loaded” for intercontinental strikes if it needed to do so.
“The recent test of the H-bomb is a great victory won by the Korean people at the cost of their blood while tightening their belts in the arduous period,” young North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un said at the banquet Saturday, referring to North Korea’s success in the face of tough international sanctions and mounting pressure.
One year ago in Norfolk, Virginia, aboard USS George H.W. Bush at the establishment ceremony for US 2nd Fleet, I directed the fleet to be ready to fight — ready to fight so that we do not have to.
The last time 2nd Fleet existed, the world looked very different than it does now: Today maritime superiority, vital to our national security, has been placed at risk by resurgent powers, namely Russia and China, seeking to supplant the US as the partner of choice around the world.
The 2nd Fleet of today has redirected its strategic focus from mainly training units to deploy to regional conflicts in the Middle East to operating high-end naval forces and developing tactics to deter potential conflicts, to include near-peer adversaries in the North Atlantic and Arctic.
Arleigh-Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Jason Dunham hits heavy seas in the Atlantic Ocean, deployed in the 2nd Fleet area of operations, Dec. 18, 2018.
(US Navy photo by Mass Comm. Specialist 2nd Class Jonathan Clay)
We must be present in contested spaces — and virtual presence is not true presence. US 2nd Fleet is focused on the waters from the East Coast to the Arctic, Iceland, Norway, and approaches of the Baltic and Azores.
There has never been a question as to whether the North Atlantic or the Arctic is important, but the security environment has changed.
Sailors signal an E-2D Hawkeye ready for launch on the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, Oct. 27, 2018.
(US Navy photo by Mass Comm. Specialist 2nd Class Thomas Gooley)
The Arctic is the only body of water on earth where there has not been a naval battle, and today we know more about the surface of the moon than we do about hydrography in the Arctic.
With waterways remaining open for longer periods, it is becoming a competitive economic and strategic space.
In my office I have a world map from the point of view of the Arctic. When you look at the world from that perspective, you realize just how close North America is to Eurasia. The Northern Passage, close to Russia, and the Northwest Passage, through North America, will provide opportunity for commercial and leisure travel.
However, the waters are dangerous, with increased risks of mishaps. Russia considers itself THE great power in the Arctic, and China is certainly interested in the hydrocarbon and fish available in those waters.
If we do not get into the Arctic with a measured and deliberate approach, the area is destined for conflict. US and Allied presence now, both naval and economic, in the Arctic, could mean a peaceful, cooperative flourishing environment.
US 2nd Fleet is a platform for partnerships; no one nation can face today’s challenges alone.
As an F-18 pilot, I have spent most of my career fulfilling combat missions into the Middle East. In contrast, my counterparts in our Allied and partner Nordic navies have continued to operate at sea in the tough conditions of the North Atlantic and the Arctic.
As the Arctic becomes increasingly navigable, we must look to our partners as experts in the arena and learn from them. We are doing exactly that. Just last week USS Gravely (DDG 107) conducted operations with a Danish ship in the Arctic waters off the coast of Greenland.
We will carry home our lessons learned from these types of operations and implement them going forward.
US Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Gravely with Danish navy command and support ship HMDS Absalon off the coast of Greenland, Aug. 16, 2019.
(US Navy photo by Mass Comm Specialist 2nd Class Jessica L. Dowell)
Wherever we operate, we will do so professionally.
Early this summer 2nd Fleet led exercise Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) in the Baltic Sea. We led 18 nations, 50 ships, and nearly 10,000 personnel through two weeks of operations designed to improve integration among us.
The Baltic Sea is a contested space. During BALTOPS the Russian navy announced a simultaneous exercise in the Baltic. Russia is a Baltic nation, and as such we expected our ships and aircraft would operate alongside Russian ships and aircraft.
Each interaction was safe, professional, and in accordance with international norms; as professional mariners, we must all strive for this regardless of diplomatic or political tensions. We will continue to lead by example.
My greatest challenge in the endeavor of standing up 2nd Fleet has not been lack of money or manpower, though both present problems.
Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis speaks to a sailor aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, Feb. 1, 2019.
(US Navy photo by Mass Comm. Specialist 3rd Class Amber Smalley)
The greatest challenge I have faced is disrupting the sense of normalcy established during years of fighting FROM the sea, rather than fighting UPON the sea. We need to take a hard look at the assets we have and ensure we are employing them appropriately and fighting as fleets rather than as small task groups or units.
We are adept at operating at the lowest monetary cost, but we can no longer afford to do so. Efficiency does not necessarily correspond to effectiveness. To be successful, we must rewire our assumptions and be willing to be uncomfortable.
In the military, we are in the business of risk management. We often conduct operations that may be considered dangerous by any account, but we weigh the risks, implement mitigation efforts, and assess advantages before moving forward. The most dangerous course of action is complacency — to continue to do things just because it is what we have always done or because there is red tape in the way of changing course.
We have made great progress in the last year, but the heaviest lifting is still to come. The most risky course of action at this point is to continue operations as usual. We are building US 2nd Fleet to be the market disrupter that changes the way we fight as a fleet — as a coalition — and in doing so, we will be ready to fight.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Just one day after Nate Boyer entered the Guinness World Record book for the longest football long snap, former Texas Longhorn, Seattle Seahawk, and U.S. Army Green Beret Nate Boyer embarks on a mission to climb Mount Kilimanjaro with disabled veteran Blake Watson to help 10,000 people gain access to clean water.
The charity is called Waterboys. It was started by Chris Long, a former defensive end for the Rams who rallied NFL players to digging clean water wells in Tanzania,” Boyer says. “His initial goal was to find thirty-two players from thirty-two teams and to have thirty-two wells dug.”
The effort now has 21 NFL players involved, including the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson, the Steelers’ Lawrence Timmons, and the Eagles’ Sam Bradford, who currently has raised the most money for the campaign.
“Chris went out there a couple years ago and did Kilimanjaro himself,” Boyer recalls. “But he was leaving and he felt like he wanted to do more for those people. They walk five miles a day for clean water for their villages; they can cook and drink water and try to live healthy.”
Tanzania is currently suffering from a devastating water crisis. In a country where one-third of the land is semi-arid, access to clean, sanitary water is a daily struggle. Many of the country’s current wells are dug near toxic drainage systems and are contaminated by runoff. Water-borne illnesses, such as malaria and cholera, account for over half of the diseases affecting the population.
“Long went out there last year and dedicated the first clean water well” says Boyer. “It’s pretty cool because the people, they come out of the woodwork for this thing. It’s a huge deal to them.”
That’s what brings Boyer to Kilimanjaro. When Long recruited him for the charity, Boyer was at the gym, working a stair climber machine, on the “Kilimanjaro” setting. Boyer spoke with Dave Vobora, who runs Dallas, Texas’ Performance Vault Inc., a sports performance training center for elite athletes and U.S. Special Forces.
“I told him I’m doing this climb and asked if he had anybody in mind that would be a good counterpart,” Boyer said. “I wanted to go with a guy who was going to spend the next four months working towards this goal and grinding. He’s like, ‘I got just the guy.'”
Vobora linked Boyer up with Marine veteran Blake Watson, a single leg amputee. During Watson’s first deployment he accidentally knelt down onto an IED. Watson lost his leg and his pulse rate went to zero on the helicopter during the flight to the hospital, but the medics were able to resuscitate him.
“I approached Blake and started explaining what we were doing, what I wanted to do with him and why,” Boyer remembers. “I talked about the clean water wells and before I could even finish my pitch he was like, ‘I’m in, dude. I’m in.’ He was excited about was not only the challenge and the climb and all that but what we would be doing for those people.”
Blake struggled for three years with dependency, depression, and thoughts of suicide. With the help of others and his Marine mindset, he pulled himself out of a rut, started training again, and got back in shape. Got involved at this gym called Adaptive Training Foundation in Dallas, also run by Vobora. A gym for adaptive athletes, many of them amputees. They all have a goal they’re pursuing.
“It’s not just, ‘I want to work out. I want to get in shape,'” Boyer says. “It’s like, ‘I want to go climb Kilimanjaro,’ or ‘I want to be on the Paralympic bobsled team.’
Those wounded warriors led Boyer to another goal. The clean water initiative is important, but for Nate Boyer and Blake Watson, it’s also about inspiring veterans and current service members who might be struggling back home.
“We’re people of service. Whether we joined because we had no other options or because we wanted to serve our country, at the end of the day, we became men and women of service. If we don’t have that element in our life moving forward, working towards a mission, something bigger than us, then it’s really easy to get lost and feel like you’re never going to do anything as important as what you did when you served. That’s the impetus behind this whole thing.”
To help Boyer and Watson raise money and awareness for the people of Tanzania and American wounded warriors donate here. Donations will go toward digging more clean water wells for the people of an important U.S. friend and ally.
We all have that friend who marches to the beat of their own drum. The one who challenges the stereotypes of how the world has always been or, even scarier, doesn’t care. These are the friends who don’t follow normal routines, who see life not just as doing work but as a chance to build something bigger than themselves. They are seemingly fearless.
For me, that friend is James Brobyn.
As a “Mustang,” a prior enlisted Marine, who worked his way to the Naval Academy and then into leading Marines in combat as an infantry officer, James has always taken risks. Even after he took off the uniform, he continued to pursue challenges that seemed too risky to consider, even for the most battle hardened. He helped the Travis Manion Foundation grow from a small family-led nonprofit into a nationally recognized powerhouse. He’s started businesses, closed businesses and started them again. James’ battles can be scary both to your health and to your finances but I’ve learned that my friend is not fearless. Instead, he finds his strength in a single word that defines who he is at his core: INTEGRITY.
In ancient Rome, the Legionnaires, not unlike Marines today, would conduct inspections before battle. Paramount in this ritual was their breastplate, the armour that protects soldiers from enemy arrows or swords. Legionnaires would spend countless hours polishing their breastplates and tightening straps. Not a single crack or chip was permitted. When a soldier passed inspection, he would pound his fist into the metal and yell, “Integritas,” (Integrity) for all others to hear. This was not only an affirmation that the armour was sound but also that the heart and soul it protected was of whole, pure character — ready to take on any challenge in battle.
James has called me into his battles both figuratively and literally many times over the last two decades. We served together in the Marines and deployed together to Iraq. He’s been my boss twice. He fired me once only to hire me back 10 years later. Another story for another time but I am grateful for everything he has taught me. Above all else, James is not afraid of hard work. In between these battles, James would disappear for a few months and then reappear with a phone call. Even to this day, he still starts each conversation with my callsign from Iraq, “White 1.”
Not long ago, James called me again. “White 1, I got something for you.” He paused. “I’ve started a cannabis company and I want you to come see what we’ve built.” Of course, I was intrigued but also weary. Cannabis is an industry tied with all kinds of risk. It’s legal in some states, not in others. It’s celebrated by some of my friends (especially veterans) and hated by others, including my own family. There is a stigma that cannabis is the Wild West, a gold rush of former drug dealers and shady investors trying to get rich in the grey area. It’s a world of multiple tribes jockeying for power. Honestly, it felt a little like James was asking me to go back to Iraq. I stuttered, “Is this legal?”
My friend could only laugh, “Yes, we’ve built our business with integrity from the ground up.” Two days later, I was on a plane to a cannabis farm in Michigan. What I saw changed my entire view of both James and the industry.
The American Fiber Company (AmFI) is a multistate cannabis brand that delivers pharmaceutical grade products directly to consumers and wholesalers. It is also the result of a three year journey that took James and his team from Colombia to Canada to the United States. AmFi operates three dispensaries in Michigan; they’re the first company approved to import FDA certified 100% organic CBD oil into the United States and they’ve partnered with world class research facilities to ensure their products maintain the highest safety standards. My first question to James: “How the hell did you build all this?”
James reminded me, “We did the hard work. We built the framework. We run it the right way with Integrity.”
I recently chatted with James to understand more about his journey from combat to cannabis.
James: White 1.
WATM:Blue 1. (James’s callsign from 2006). Boom. All right. Comms are up. So here’s my thought and you tell me what you feel comfortable with. I would really like to focus on your journey from combat to the cannabis industry as well as some of the crazy things that happened along the way.
James: Ok. So before I answer that, what is your goal with the article?
I think to myself, “Dammit. How did he turn that one on me so fast?”
WATM:Good question. I like to highlight influencers in our space that are at the top of their game. It’s a series of interview questions so people can get to know others that are making moves in our world. So are you making moves?
James: (He laughs). Yeah, ok, I think that makes sense. So I guess from my standpoint, I’m most excited about how the journey got me to this point right now. Honestly, every skill from the Academy to leading Marines in combat to the Travis Manion Foundation are all being used to build something.
All those core values that we learned and were beat into us. Do hard work with integrity, do it the right way. That’s what’s really neat about it. When you put those principles to work every day and you teach people to abide by them, you build your own tribe and it works. People want to be a part of something. And that’s what’s kind of cool about this. That’s what’s really been the neatest part about the cannabis industry. It’s a rich kind of this weird, you know, fraternity that lets in all types of people, which is great.
WATM:When was the first time you got introduced to cannabis?
James: My God, I was a teenager. I grew up in Philly in the 80s and 90s. At 15, 16, 17, it was part of the culture. Honestly, it wasn’t about weed. I was just trying to fit in with the local friends. Normal teenage stuff. And I wanted to keep up with my older brothers but I made bad choices and eventually my dad kicked me out of the house.
WATM:Kicked you out?
James: Yep, at 19, but honestly he should have done it earlier. In hindsight, I just wanted to find my tribe and the outcome was partying. I had it in sports, but, you know, as soon as you start getting older and you leave high school you lose the camaraderie. A lot of people do. So I made bad decisions. We’ll leave it at that.
WATM:What about the decision to join the Marine Corps?
James: When I was at boot camp, I was like, what the hell did I do? I thought that, like, every day. But I think most people do. When I got my aircrew wings, it was scary to be Lance Corporal, but I had two pilots in my squadron that I flew with consistently. They told me about a program for helping enlisted Marines get into the Naval Academy. They changed my life.
WATM:Why do you think they focused on you?
James: In so many ways, they took an interest in me and my long term well-being. Not short term, not as some piece of equipment, but in me as a person. Once word got around that there was traction on my application, honestly, I had half the squadron helping me out. I even had Staff NCOs that were taking me on ridiculous runs to train me to get ready to go to the Naval Academy. I mean, I think they just saw I gave a shit. I showed up every day.
WATM: Is there anything about your time at the Academy that stands out? Any major lessons learned that you still use today?
James: You learn how to win there. I believe it. It comes down to two things. First is the honor code. I think you see it with Captain Crozier (USNA ’92) and the recent situation on the USS Theodore Roosevelt. Your integrity is what you have. If you give it away, then you have no foundation. Nothing to build from. It’s a house of cards. Secondly, the Academy teaches you that you can do more than any other person out there. Without a doubt. I mean, you know, the amount of stuff you can get done in 24 hours there is ridiculous. I keep those lessons with me daily.
James with the Marines of 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion in Iraq, 2006
Photo Courtesy of James Brobyn
WATM: You graduated in 2004, and we deployed to Iraq together not long after. What is there about leading Marines that stands out?
James: I loved my dudes. 2006 and 2007 were hard times to be in Iraq. We were given a mission to provide security for 30,000 people and not much more resources than what we had. That pretty much looks like a small business to me. It was the best entrepreneurship training that I’ve had. Honestly, combat is the closest thing to running a business in the cannabis industry. that I have found. You have to be nimble, understand uncertainty, take a look at risks and act. But at the end of the day, your plan never survives first contact. All you can do is surround yourself with good people.
WATM: How do you make the leap from combat to cannabis?
James: At first, I was just following cannabis related to veterans. There are a lot of positive benefits outside just the medical aspects. First off, dudes drink less, eat better and lose weight. There are multiple levels of benefit but I hadn’t thought about the business side of things until I met Dan Tobon, a former Army Sniper and Iraq veteran. We became fast friends. Dan had just started working on a project in Colombia where his family is from called NuSierra Holdings.
Colombia had approved export of cannabis products and it was anticipated at that time Canada and Australia would be able to import them, even THC products. So it was a big rush to get out of Colombia and go out to the commoditized cannabis world. Then we met John Leja, founder of PharmaCannis, who understood the retail side of the business and was trying to establish a packing facility in Toronto. I met John and Dan at a bar in Philly and they asked me, ‘Will you help us out?‘ I didn’t know much about cannabis but I knew we had supply and distribution so I said, ‘Sure. Let’s figure this out.’ I was on a plane to Toronto the next day.
WATM:There are so many stereotypes associated with cannabis, do you have a hard time getting over the stigmas or comparisons to a gold rush?
James: I learned alot from John and Dan about how to stop thinking of cannabis as a shiny object of gold that’s going to make everyone rich but as a commodity that’s going to be turned into an amazing consumer product. If you reframe cannabis that way, you can start thinking about designing a strategy where you can gain footholds into different parts of the supply chain that are completely compliant, legal, and then allow us to really take a good market share of the industry.
James and the Author in a American Fiber Company grow facility
Photo Courtesy of James Brobyn
WATM:Was this venture your training for the American Fiber Company and setting up a cannabis business in the U.S.?
James: 100%. In 2018, it felt like every state was its own country when it came to cannabis. Some were recreational, others were medicinal only and others, it was flat out illegal. We had a plan for how to set up a multi-state operation but it’s hard to work because every jurisdiction has its own rules. And you literally have to go into jurisdictions. You have to work with the locals. You can’t just pop in your model and make it work. You have to build from the ground up and it all came back to finding the right people. People with integrity. American Fiber established our first operations in Southwest Michigan.
WATM:You’ve mentioned integrity a lot. What does integrity really mean to you?
James: It’s not about just telling the truth. It’s about following through. It’s about doing what you say you’re going to do. Doing it the right way. Even if it’s hard — especially if it’s hard. That’s the key here because that’s how you normalize the industry. We work with the state and federal regulators to do the hard work that people don’t want to do.
WATM: Like becoming the first company in the U.S. to legally import full spectrum CBD oil?
James: That’s just one example. We never set out to be the first company in the world to import full-spectrum CBD oil out of Colombia into the US, but we figured out how to get it compliant with Customs and Border Protection. But we’ve also taken on other challenges that are just as hard. We’ve built a research partnership in Delaware with Fraunhofer Center for Molecular Biology so that we can figure out how to start collecting real data on health benefits so that we can go to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, get approved by the FDA on certain products and continue to provide safe quality, cannabis products to our consumers. And that’s why it’s a long game.
The American Fiber Company Team in Michigan
Photo Courtesy of James Brobyn
WATM: Is the long game paying off?
James: I think so. Take the current COVID-19 restrictions for example. Every state that had medicinal and recreational policies deemed cannabis business essential. I mean, yeah. Our team in South Michigan is out there every day serving patients curbside, delivery, and hopefully drive-through soon. We’re moving into a post-prohibition world right now and now it’s pretty exciting.
WATM: Where do you see American Fiber in that world. Maybe 5 years from now?
James: Oh, my God. That’s like 50 decades in this industry. Well, let me tell you what the ultimate goal is, and it’s how we’ve always tried to build a company. I always felt that we built a company that we could take public. Ultimately, I want American Fiber to be synonymous with all the values that make our people and country ready to face whatever challenge comes ahead. Hard work, commitment and integrity.
If you’re in the market for a used fighter jet that can still fly, the Albanian Air Force would like to talk with you in the near future before they run out of stock!
Forty Cold War-era fighter jets have been put up for auction by the Albanian government with the goal of eventually selling all of its retired fixed-wing fleet to whoever has the highest bid. Of that forty, eleven fighters parked at the old Rinasi air base near Tirana are currently open for immediate sale, with opening bids beginning at 1.1 million to 1.9 million leks. Yes, million, and no, that’s not actually a lot of money when you do the currency conversion. Overall, it comes to the grand range of $8,600 to $14,800 USD, according to the Associated Press.
That pretty much means anybody with a job could probably afford to buy one of these fighters… not including transportation, maintenance, and insurance costs. Not to mention operational costs if you decide to actually fly these aircraft.
It’s somewhat unclear whether or not these fighters up for sale are actually MiGs or the Chinese clone copies, though a closer inspection of each aircraft will undoubtedly reveal their source. The Albanian Air Force originally fielded Soviet-built MiG-15s, -17s, and -19s, though it began to procure Chinese-made clones after Albanian relations with the USSR ended in 1961. Albania eventually bought large numbers of Shenyang J-5s and J-6s (MiG-17s and MiG-19s respectively) and a smaller fleet of Chengdu J-7s (MiG-21s).
Before you tell your wife you’re about to take out a second mortgage on your house, or your college roommates that you just found something really sweet to pool your money on, you should probably be aware of the fact that the Albanian Air Force had an astoundingly high accident rate with its fighters. When the USSR ended diplomatic ties with Albania, it became incredibly difficult to find parts and the appropriate jet fuel for their MiG fighters, so Albania spurred on its industry to attempt to produce a similar fuel composition to keep their fighters flying. The fuel wasn’t similar enough, and apparently wreaked havoc on the engines it was burned in, shortening their lifespans, and in some cases, outright blowing up aircraft while in-flight.
If the test sale of the 11 MiGs (or Shenyangs?) is successful, the remaining fighter fleet will be opened up for sale. Prospective bidders include museums around the United States and Europe, as well as private bidders who just want the aircraft to add to their collections. I can’t say with certainty that the TACAIRNET team won’t try to bid on one, either… So you’d better hurry if you’re looking to have a MiG-17 parked in your driveway by the end of this year!
There is perhaps no photo more iconic to the Post-9/11 generation of warfighters than the one that graced the cover of a Stars and Stripes article in 2011. The article, which was about how MEDEVAC pilots have a single hour to get wounded troops to medical facilities, went viral arguably because of the this photo. The powerful picture was of a critically wounded Pfc. Kyle Hockenberry and the tattoo across his ribs, which reads, “For those I love I will sacrifice.”
The photo quickly spread across both social and print media and his ink became the rallying cry for all American troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It just so happened that Stars and Stripes journalist Laura Rouch was also on this flight.
(Photo by Laura Rouch, Stars and Stripes)
Kyle Hockenberry had always wanted to serve in the U.S. Army. From the time he joined, he had one phrase in the back of his head that he felt compelled to have permanently etched on himself. He graduated basic training in January 2011 and was assigned to the 1st Infantry Division’s 4th Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment “Pale Riders” who would deploy to Afghanistan the following month.
As many troops tend to do right before shipping out, he got some ink. He had the iconic phrase tattooed onto his ribs. By February, he was at Forward Operating Base Pasab outside of Haji Rammudin.
Then, on the 15th of June, 2011, a pressure plate triggered an IED while Pfc. Hockenberry was moving to cover. It would take both of his legs above the knee and his left arm above the elbow. The blast would also take the life of his friend, Spc. Nick Hensley. He was immediately rushed to the medical facility at Kandahar Air Field.
Laura Rouch of Stars and Stripes was on-site with the crew of Dustoff 59 for her article. Saving Hockenberry was no easy feat.
“They began working on him immediately. They started cutting his clothing off and as they’re getting tourniquets on, they cut away his uniform and this tattoo emerged. I saw the tattoo and it just reached up and grabbed me.” explained Laura Rauch to the Marietta Times.
The severity of the blast and commitment of the flight medics were in constant conflict. Hockenberry’s heart stopped three times and each time the crew pulled him from the brink. He entered a coma as he reached the hospital. Rouch held hold onto the article until Hockenberry recovered enough to give his blessing for publication.
And of course, the still proudly rocks the hell out of the greatest military tattoo.
(Vanilla Fire Productions)
Hockenberry was then transported to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas to begin walking the long road to recovery. In time, he would marry his loving wife, Ashley, and be promoted to corporal before being medically discharged in 2013. The pair welcomed a happy baby boy, Reagan, in 2016.
Recently, he has been working closely with documentary filmmakers Steven Barber and Paul Freedman on an upcoming documentary, World’s Most Dangerous Paper Route. The film is an inside look and history of Stars and Stripes. Heavily featured in this film is the iconic photo and the incredibly badass life of Kyle Hockenberry.
In the 241 years since the US declared independence from the English in 1776, the uniforms of those serving in the US Army have changed drastically.
Over the years, as the nation grew, uniforms, too, have evolved to fit the times and take advantage of changes in tactics and technology. In some cases, as this paper from US Army History notes, the changes were minor affairs, while in other cases, the look of the US Army was radically changed.
Shortly before the outbreak of World War I, U.S. troops occupied the Mexican port at Veracruz. The occupation came at a cost to both sides: the Americans lost 20 sailors over the course of killing 150 Mexicans.
The violence leveled off after a few weeks, and life in the city became relatively routine. War correspondents traveling with the U.S. Atlantic Fleet became bored with the calm and started to focus on the troops’ everyday life in the hopes that that might yield something their readership would respond to. One of these headlines was “The ‘Happy Hour’ Aboard Ship Makes Tars Contented.”
According to the Early Sports Pop Culture History Blog, one well-meaning Navy officer, Lieutenant Jonas Ingram, originated the practice of “Happy Hour” aboard his ship, the USS Arkansas. Since the Arkansas was the flagship of Admiral Charles Badger, the commander of the Atlantic Fleet, officers encouraged its spread to the other ships of the fleet and into the ships of the wider U.S. Navy. The practice would carry on throughout the coming world wars.
The Arkansas‘ Happy Hours included athletic competitions (usually boxing), dancing, and a band while at sea. The enlisted men on board couldn’t drink, as per Navy regulations since 1899 (though officers could). In port, dancing girls from local bars were the center of the fun. The sailors ashore had easy access to liquor. Navy regulations at the time only prohibited the sale or issue of booze aboard ship, not the consumption on land.
When sailors and soldiers returned home from the Great War, they introduced the idea of “Happy Hour” into the American vernacular. The idea of “happy hour” as we know it came from the use of the term in a “Saturday Evening Post”article in 1959, entitled The Men Who Chase Missiles. The article was about U.S. Air Force airmen working at remote island outposts in the Caribbean and how they saved money by not having anywhere to spend it… unless they spent it all at the local watering hole.
“Except for those who spend too much during “happy hour” at the bar – and there are few of these – the money mounts up fast.”
The USS Arkansas, once a state-of-the-art modern battleship, found itself obsolete at the end of World War II and did its country one last service – this time in a more of an academic research role.
One of America’s closest allies is preparing to put China’s claims to the test in the South China Sea.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson revealed at a high-level meeting in Sydney, Australia, that the UK will be sending its new aircraft carriers into the region to uphold freedom of navigation and the rules-based international order. Australia has been hesitant to act, fearing increased tension with Beijing.
“One of the first things we will do with the two new colossal aircraft carriers that we have just built,” Johnson explained, “is send them on a freedom-of-navigation operation to this area to vindicate our belief in the rules-based international system and in the freedom of navigation through those waterways which are absolutely vital for world trade.”
The UK’s new aircraft carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, is undergoing maiden sea trials and is expected to be commissioned into the Royal Navy later this year.
British Defense Secretary Sir Michael Fallon confirmed the deployment without providing any real details. “We haven’t mapped out the initial deployments yet but, yes, you would expect to see these carriers in the India Pacific Ocean, this part of the world because it is in this part of the world we see increasing tension, increasing challenges,” Fallon told the Australia Broadcasting Corporation.
Australian Defense Minister Marise Payne hinted that Australia might also step up its activities in the area.
“Importantly today, we also discussed developments in our region, particularly with respect to freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight which is a global issue and countries like Australia and the United Kingdom have a shared interest in those global freedoms,” Payne said, adding, “We agreed today that we would identify opportunities to conduct, where possible, cooperative activities in the region when we have assets that are in the area at the same time.”
There still appears to be a certain hesitancy to make the same commitment as the Americans and the British.
China claims the vast majority of the South China Sea, asserting its dominance through the illegal development of artificial islands, the construction of military outposts, and regular naval and bomber patrols in the area. Beijing’s claims were discredited by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague last year, but China rejected both the authority and ruling of the arbitration tribunal, declaring its sovereignty over massive swaths of the ocean to be indisputable.
The Trump administration has started putting increased pressure on China, which has so far failed to rein in North Korea, a major point of concern for the new administration. The US Navy has conducted two freedom-of-navigation operations and two bomber overflights in the South China Sea, angering Beijing.