VA chief says he'd stay if Trump wants him - We Are The Mighty
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VA chief says he’d stay if Trump wants him

As a new administration prepares to take charge in late January, the man who’s lead the Department of Veterans Affairs through nearly three years of turbulence says if President-elect Donald Trump wants him to stay aboard, he’ll keep working to reform the sprawling agency.


“I haven’t yet received a call,” says Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald. “But I would never turn my back on my duty.”

Trump has reportedly looked into several candidates for the post, including former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown and former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, but some are calling for McDonald to stay on.

During a recent “Town Hall”-style meeting at the West Los Angeles VA Jan. 4, McDonald fielded questions from the veteran audience that touched on service lapses and recent scandals, including accusations and fraud within the VA and a perceived lack of accountability.

“A certain employee here lost 30 vehicles and still drew a $140,000 salary,” one veteran and VA employee complained. “There’s no accountability with people in management.”

McDonald agreed he inherited a VA plagued with bad actors, but said most of the local VA leaders who were in office when he took over are no longer employed by the VA.

For McDonald the changes haven’t happened fast enough. Speed, he laments, is his greatest challenge. Future VA Secretaries will feel the need for speed as well.

VA chief says he’d stay if Trump wants him
Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. James A. Winnefeld, Jr. and (left) Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald (center) receive a brief on a firearms training driving simulator during a tour of the Center for the Intrepid, Dec. 19, 2014. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder)

“One of the things I talk about in my top 10 leadership principles is the need to get the right leaders in place,” McDonald told WATM in an exclusive interview. “I changed 14 of my 17 top leaders, but it’s two and a half years later, and we’re not done yet.”

Many of the veterans at the town hall meeting asked McDonald to address problems specific to them — bad record keeping or missed appointments. While the VA secretary said he’d get those problems fixed, he argued its a good sign the complaints focus on the tactical rather than larger systemic problems.

“Two and a half years ago, many of the comments I got were things like, ‘it’s too hard to get an appointment,’ ” he says. “Now, more and more, we’re hearing about individuals and that individual service.”

When you run a large customer service organization, you want to get from anecdotes to specific situations so you can deal with them,” he added.

Talking to McDonald, you can hear how his time as CEO of Procter  Gamble colors his view of running the VA.

“The brands you like the most, ones you can’t do without, you feel like you have an intimate relationship,” he says. “That intimacy leads to trust. What you want to do is measure the trust and measure the emotion that comes out of the experience that you have.”

Those are the metrics that he says matter.

“The fact that trust of the VA has gone up from 47 percent to 60 percent, it’s not where we want it to be, but the fact that it’s gone up says the veterans are seeing a difference,” he said. “What we’ve seen is ease of getting care has gone up 20 points, and the effectiveness of care has gone up about 12 points. Trust, then, has gone up 13 points.”

VA chief says he’d stay if Trump wants him
(VA photo)

While veterans’ trust in the system has gone up, McDonald said, there are still calls for more services to be transitioned to private organizations. Many argue private doctors and specialists are more efficient and provide a quicker turnaround for vets in need, while others say moving toward privatization is a bad idea.

For McDonald, a careful mixture of both is the right way forward.

“Since I’ve been the secretary, we’ve gone from 20 percent of our appointments in private medicine to now 32 percent in the private sector, so there has been some degree of privatization,” he says. “We’ve done that in a very evolutionary way, where if we didn’t have a skill, specialty, or a location, we would send people into the community.”

“As I looked at this, privatizing VA services wholesale didn’t make sense to me,” he added.

He explained what he calls the “three-legged stool” of the VA: valuable medical research (to the tune of $1.8B per year), training 70 percent of doctors in the United States, and providing the “best patients” for clinical work – patients with unique situations.

He also said many veterans organization don’t want total privatization.

“They like the integrated care that the VA provides, and they like having medical providers who are familiar with their unique situations,” McDonald says. “They typically have a number of issues that need to be resolved simultaneously.”

Whether he stays in the job or not, McDonald feels it’s important the next VA secretary has a similar pedigree to his — one that combines military experience with top-line business credentials.

“It’s important to have somebody who’s a veteran, obviously, because they have to have credibility with the veteran population, but somebody who’s also run a large organization,” he says. “I think it’s advantageous to have somebody who’s run a large organization and understands the importance of getting the right leaders in place, of setting the right strategies, of making sure the system’s robust, of setting the right culture.”

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Step into the boots of British soldiers with 360-degree view

British Army recruiters have embraced 360-degree videos, where the viewer can decide what direction they want to look at any given moment, and are using them to let potential recruits see different army jobs.


“Army Urban Ops” follows a squad as the men clear a series of buildings. It is the most watched of the 360-degree videos despite the big yellow blank adapters.

The tanker video is also great. The default view is down the gun as a Challenger II Tank races through the countryside, but swipe your finger on your phone or click and drag with your mouse to look left and see another tank firing its cannon and machine guns.

VA chief says he’d stay if Trump wants him
GIF: Youtube/ARMYjobs

The airborne version puts the viewer into the middle of a paratrooper drop and a mountaineering one allows them to climb along a narrow ridge with soldiers.

Check them all out at the ARMYjobs Youtube page.

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Today in military history: First Memorial Day observance is held

On May 30, 1868, the first major Memorial Day observance was held.

Also known as “Decoration Day,” the event brought out 5,000 mourners to honor the Civil War dead by decorating the graves with flowers. 

The celebration was inspired by local observances that had taken place in the three years since the end of the Civil War. While many cities claim to be the origin of modern Memorial Day celebrations, in 1966 President Lyndon B. Johnson declared Waterloo, New York, the official birthplace of Memorial Day in honor of Waterloo’s annual, town-wide closure of business to decorate the graves of soldiers.

General James Garfield, who would become the twentieth President of the United States, years later addressed those several thousand that gathered by saying, “If silence is ever golden, it must be beside the graves of 15,000 men, whose lives were more significant than speech, and whose death was a poem the music of which can never be sung.” 

Since then, the day has been devoted to honoring those who have fallen in military service. Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday in 1971.
 
Featured Image: The March of Time by Henry Stidham

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This former paratrooper is cycling across America for vets

Devin Faulkner is an infantry veteran of the Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team who is pedalling across America on a bike in an effort to raise money for veteran causes.


The 24-year-old began his journey Jun. 4 in San Francisco with the intent of riding to New York across 3,900 miles, mostly avoiding major highways and sticking to roads filled with people and other cyclists.

VA chief says he’d stay if Trump wants him
Devin Faulkner takes a short pit stop on Jun. 6, his second day of riding. Photo courtesy Devin Faulkner via his blog.

Faulkner left a job at Monster Energy to attempt his trip. Faulkner began at Monster as a photography intern assigned to cover military and veteran activities. This quickly led to him getting involved with the Warrior Built Foundation, a veteran-ran group sponsored by Monster which provides vets with recreational therapy through racing events, camping trips, and vehicle fabrication.

While working for Monster with Warrior Built Foundation and other veteran groups, Faulkner found himself thinking back to an idea he had mentioned to his old medic, a ride across the entire continental U.S.

VA chief says he’d stay if Trump wants him
Devin Faulkner during training in the U.S. Army. Photo courtesy Devin Faulkner

And now he’s doing it in what is tentatively planned as a 48-day ride. Faulkner planned the route by looking at weather concerns and finding roads frequented by other cyclists.

“So, my original plan,” Faulkner told WATM, “was to ride from San Bernadino, California, where I live, to New York … but then I thought about, ‘This is June. It’s hot out there. There’s no way I’m built to survive in Arizona on a bicycle without water.'”

So Faulkner looked North and used Strava heat maps to find roads commonly ridden by other cyclists. The final route leads through Nevada and Utah east through Chicago and across to New York. He is hoping to finish in about seven weeks but is leaving himself open to stopping in cities to speak with veteran groups along his route, potentially delaying his arrival in New York.

To keep costs low, he’s carrying a tent and sleeping wherever he can find a spot to pitch it.

VA chief says he’d stay if Trump wants him
Everything Devin Faulkner will have for the ride is packed on his bike. Photo courtesy Devin Faulkner via his Go Fund Me page.

Unfortunately, he faced trouble even before he could leave for the trip. Faulkner is coming off of two injuries. The first came during a training ride when he moved to avoid a car and struck an obstacle on the road, hurting his wrist and delaying his training. Right after he was able to return to training, he was hurt again when he was riding a motorcycle to work and was sideswiped by a car.

Still, Faulkner was set on beginning his ride on time and climbed back onto the bike just in time to leave for his trip.

All money he raises on the ride is going to post-traumatic stress and groups, such as Warrior Built, that seek to help veterans suffering from PTSD.

Supporters can contribute to Devin’s ride through his Go Fund Me page and can follow his trip through his blog, Downshift With Devin.

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6 ways being in the military prepared us for Fyre Festival

It’s not like anyone serving in the military could ever afford to go to anything like Fyre Festival. Limited leave, income, and service obligations just won’t allow for it.


And let’s be honest: not a lot of the independently wealthy enlist in the military.

VA chief says he’d stay if Trump wants him
Though some of them feel like they served in the military.

The Fyre Festival, which founders Ja Rule and Billy McFarland described as “a partnership over a mutual interest in technology, the ocean, and rap music,” made some astonishing promises, at an amazing price range of $1,000-125,000 per ticket.

The festival was supposed to be a luxury getaway weekend full of music with concerts in a remote Bahamas setting, full of five-star dining and whatever else the absurdly rich do. What happened when the private jets dropped off their passengers was less festival, more “Lord of the Flies.”

Here are a few ways the military would have prepared these people to get along before Piggy did and civilization went with him.

1. You know better than to volunteer to spend days on an abandoned beach.

VA chief says he’d stay if Trump wants him
Not sure what they’re complaining about so far.

Those dome tents look pretty comfy, reflecting the light like that. A lot nicer than the military’s waterproof tarp tent that sleeps 12 and keeps in all the body odor and humid air you could possibly want.

2. Those pigs are food.

VA chief says he’d stay if Trump wants him
For at least a platoon. Ever see Black Hawk Down?

Sure, they’re adorable. And probably protected. But when the chow hall is only handing out cheese sandwiches and lettuce, there’s bound to be a negligent discharge sooner or later.

3. You know food could always be a lot worse.

America’s super-rich are probably not used to having to rough it for a long weekend. Why would they be? If I could afford a $2,000 concert ticket, I would probably be a wifi-enabled cyborg. So it’s not really a surprise that the biggest food complaint appeared to be the fact that their “five-star dining” turned out to be a cheese sandwich.

VA chief says he’d stay if Trump wants him
Look at that salad though.

It looks pretty rough, sure, but have you ever been to a tent city midnight meal? Midrats aboard a carrier?

VA chief says he’d stay if Trump wants him
That corn tho.

Sure, airmen get meat, but can you name that meat? No? enjoy your cheese sandwich.

4. You know which leaders to trust but more importantly, which to avoid.

VA chief says he’d stay if Trump wants him

While Ja Rule should have been a red flag to most of us, doing some basic research would have revealed that Fyre Festival co-founder Billy McFarland appears unable to open a McDonald’s franchise, let alone a multi-million dollar music festival on a deserted island. These buyers were begging for death.

5. The lawsuit pretty much describes life in the Marine Corps infantry.

The line “dangerously under-equipped and posed a serious danger to anyone in attendance” is used in $100 million class-action lawsuit against the Festival.

VA chief says he’d stay if Trump wants him

Except the Marines are still successful and usually have a plan to get back home.

6. You’re used to leadership passing the blame for failures.

Poor objectives? Terrible leadership? Lack of clear goals? Welcome to the suck. Again: Ja Rule as the unit leader should have been a red flag – but you’re on that island no matter what, so embrace it. No one is going to willing own up to it. And even if they do, the communication will be clear as mud.

VA chief says he’d stay if Trump wants him
Luckily no one high up in our Chain of Command uses Twitter to communicate, right?

“I truly apologize as this is not my fault… but i’m taking responsibility” pretty much says everything you need to know.

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This Green Beret survived an ambush after being shot three times

A distant, flashing image of blue sky, rolling mountains and snowy rivers visited itself upon an injured soldier flying away from a violent firefight on the ground below – just barely beyond view from the naked eye.


This vivid, yet paradoxical scene is what former Green Beret Dillon Behr recalls seeing when looking down in a weary, half-conscious state from a Black Hawk helicopter while being evacuated from a near-death combat encounter in the mountains of Afghanistan.

Also read: This Marine sniper threw the enemy’s grenade back to save his brothers

“I was able to look back in the valley below and see a lot of my teammates still there fighting. It was a beautiful scene from a distance, yet what had just happened down below was basically hell on earth,” Behr explained.

This violence, heroism and near death for Behr is now known as the famous battle of Shok Valley in Afghanistan, 2008; the mission on that April day was called “Operation Commando Wrath.”

VA chief says he’d stay if Trump wants him
Dillon Behr

Behr was part of a 12-man US Special Forces A-team tasked with taking out a high-value enemy target up in the mountains; his unit was joined by another supporting 12-man Green Beret A-team and about 100 Afghan Commandos. Behr was part of the 3rd Special Forces Group, ODA 3336.

While Green Berets are, among other things, experienced with helicopter rope drops and various kinds of airborne attack raids typically employed in assaults of this kind, Behr’s unit was forced to climb the side of a mountain and attack on foot, due to the rugged terrain and relative inexperience of supporting Afghan Commando partners.

Behr recalled the combat scene on the mountain, at an elevation of about 1,000 feet, as dreary with gray rocks, some small trees and not much vegetation. The uneven terrain was accompanied by some snow on the ground and a partially iced-over river. Concrete-like looking mud huts and small villages were scattered in rows and villages along ridges of the mountainside.

Having completed Special Forces training, selection, and preparation, Behr had spent years preparing for the life-and-death combat scenario he knew he was about to encounter.

He was a trained fighter, trainer and teacher working as part of a close-knit group focused on a specific attack mission. Behr was an intelligence and communications specialist, yet like all Green Berets, he was first and foremost a fighter, equipped and ready to respond to fast-evolving combat situations.

Insurgent Attack

“As we started climbing, we encountered insurgents… around 200 enemy combatants. They had the high ground and had us surrounded,” he recalled.

VA chief says he’d stay if Trump wants him
Dillon Behr

During a subsequent, fast-ensuing firefight, Behr and his fellow Green Berets used what rocks, small trees and ditches they could find to both avert enemy gunfire and launch counterattacks.

“We had intelligence that a high value target was going to be there, someone traditionally hard to track down. We did not know there would be so many fighters and enemy forces there. We happened upon a much larger meeting of enemy combatants than we had expected,” he said.

At one point during the unfolding 7-hour firefight, Behr was abruptly thrown to the ground by a larger caliber bullet cutting through the side of his pelvis. The bullet blew out the ball and socket of his hip.

“It was like being struck by a car or baseball bat and being electrocuted at the same time,” he said.

This near-fatal strike, unfortunately, was only the beginning of Behr’s effort to stay alive. While fellow A-Team Green Beret intelligence specialist Luis Morales was tending to his injury, a second bullet ripped through Behr’s bicep and continued on to hit Morales in the thigh.

Behr described the painful sensation of feeling a bullet cut through the muscle in his bicep as minor compared to the initial hit to his pelvis… a scenario which can make it seemingly impossible to imaging the magnitude of pain he experienced upon first being shot.

As he fought to stay conscious and his teammates scrambled to stop the bleeding, Behr himself was focused on the survival and safety of his fellow Green Berets under attack.

“I have vivid memories of laying there almost helpless and being concerned about a building across the valley that had direct access to our team. If someone was to shoot from there, we were pretty exposed. I remember directing some people on the team and having them take that out with a large bomb,” he said.

US air support then arrived to destroy attacking insurgents; shrapnel from a bomb mistakenly struck Behr, perforating his intestines.

When confronting what he thought was certain death, Behr thought of his fellow Soldiers and family back home in Illinois.

“There was a point where I thought I was going to leave this world. At one point I thought I was not going to make it, so I said a prayer to myself and felt a calm come over me. Then, all of a sudden, Ron Shurer, the medic on our team, slapped me across the face and said ‘wake up you are not going to die today,'” he said.

The intensity of the firefight, volume of enemy bullets and massive scale of the attacks are still difficult for Behr to recall and describe, the sharpness of certain powerful and violent memories have found a permanent resting place in his mind.  Then, at the very moment Behr thought he might have an opportunity to live, the attacks worsened.

Just after telling Behr he would not die, Shurer himself took a bullet in the helmet right above his face. Fortunately, the bullet bounced off his helmet.

“It could have been much worse,” Behr said.

Four Americans were critically injured and MEDEVAC’ed to Landstuhl Army Medical Center and then Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Two Afghan Commandos were killed, including an interpreter.

In total, 11 Silver Stars and one Air Force Cross were awarded for the events of that day.

“The heroic part is what my team did and how they kept it together under heavy enemy gunfire. They risked their lives to get me and the other injured guys on the team off of that mountain. They were dragging and dropping me over the ledges and trying to catch me off of the ledges,” Behr explained.

Life After Near-Death in Combat

Despite this accumulation of combat trauma and near death experience, Behr has made an astounding recovery. Following medical treatment, Behr went on to earn a Masters degree in Security Studies at Georgetown University before starting a non-profit gym for injured Soldiers at Walter Reed.

When asked how he was able to go on after his combat experience, Behr said “I don’t know what else to do. We’re given abilities and skills and it is a shame to waste them.  Even after we leave the military, we have a responsibility to become leaders in our communities.”

These days, after working for a period as a cyber security threat intelligence analyst at Discover, Behr now works as a professional liability and cyber liability broker for Risk Placement Services, a Washington D.C.-area firm.

In a manner quite similar to his fellow Green Berets, known as “Quiet Professionals” often reluctant to discuss the perils of combat, Behr does not wish to highlight his war zone activities. He does, however, say the experience has changed him forever.

Behr is now married to a former Red Cross volunteer who helped him recover from his injuries.

“I value relationships more than I ever did previously,” Behr said.

Behr is also involved with the Green Beret Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping Green Berets and their families. You can visit the Green Beret Foundation website here.

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Bowe Bergdahl’s lawyers are trying to get his case dismissed

The lawyers for alleged Army deserter Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl argued before a military judge that the U.S. military mishandled Bergdahl’s prosecution, and that the case should be dismissed.


In pretrial hearings Aug. 22, the soldier’s defense team petitioned to remove Gen. Robert Abrams from the case for referring charges to a general court-martial “without considering defense objections to and comments on the report of the preliminary hearing officer” and for burning letters of support for the defense.

VA chief says he’d stay if Trump wants him
Gen. Robert B. Abrams, Commanding General of U.S. Army Forces Command. (U.S. Army photo by Monica King)

Bergdahl’s defense team also says Abrams “faced improper conflicts” as the senior military assistant to then-Sec. of Defense Chuck Hagel. The general was responsible for briefing Hagel on Bergdahl’s health and reintegration processes.

Presiding judge Col. Jeffery Nance rejected the petition to remove Abrams because of the letters, saying “I’m having a hard time seeing any relevance.”

While the prosecution maintained the letters weren’t evidence and that Abrams shouldn’t be forced to testify, the judge ruled against those claims.

The Army alleges Bergdahl abandoned his post in Afghanistan in 2009 where the Taliban captured him and held him in captivity until his release in 2014. The Obama administration negotiated Bergdahl’s return in exchange for several high-ranking Taliban insurgents held in Guantanamo Bay.

Bergdahl faces two charges from the Army; Article 85 “desertion” and Article 99 “misbehavior before the enemy.”

VA chief says he’d stay if Trump wants him
A frame grab from a Taliban video showing Bowe Bergdahl in captivity.

Bergdahl’s lawyers have tried before to prove the military mishandled his case, included citing an October statement from Sen. John McCain who said if Bergdahl wasn’t punished, he’d launch a Senate probe. The defense argues McCain’s statements improperly impacted the public perception of the case and violated Bergdahl’s Constitutional due process rights.

The Army Office of the Chief of Legislative Liaison reportedly asked McCain to “back off,” saying his statement could allow Sgt. Bergdahl’s defense to show unlawful command influence in his case.

The defense believes the events are part of a pattern of Army meddling in the case, and that the charges should be thrown out or that Bergdahl should receive no punishment if convicted.

VA chief says he’d stay if Trump wants him
Bowe Bergdahl watches as one of his captors displays his identity tag in this still from a Taliban-released video.

In a separate, more recent affidavit, the Daily Caller reported prosecutors’ allegations that Bergdahl deserted his post to join the Russian mob and use his training to become a hitman.

This latest revelation, combined with Bergdahl’s attempts to join the French Foreign Legion and his time aboard an Alaskan fishing boat, shows what the prosecution alleges is a “psychological disposition toward adventure.”

Sgt. Bergdahl’s trial is scheduled to start in February 2017.

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Here’s how the Iron Curtain turned into the Garden of Eden

After WWII, the dividing line between Soviet-controlled East Germany and Western-backed West Germany became immortalized in a speech by Sir Winston Churchill. In a speech at Missouri’s Westminster college, Great Britain’s wartime Prime Minister famously said: “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent.”


VA chief says he’d stay if Trump wants him

For the rest of the Cold War, this dividing line between the East and West would bear the moniker of the “Iron Curtain.” The Iron Curtain was an ideal as well as a physical thing, a series of fortifications meant to keep Western forces out and Communist citizens in.

VA chief says he’d stay if Trump wants him
They built a giant wall and got Russia to pay for it.

For 870 miles, the divide was marked by fences, tank traps, barbed wire, dog runs, guard towers, and stone walls. There were sand strips to detect footprints and automated machine guns to end any attempt to flee to freedom. All this came crashing down in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Twenty-five years after the fall of Communism, the boundary areas have morphed into a green belt untouched by the pressure of German agricultural and industrial development, a place where endangered species like the European Otter have found refuge.

VA chief says he’d stay if Trump wants him
The European Otter, unlike other otters, has a taste for wine and drives eco-friendly vehicles.

According to a recent NOVA story on PBS, the European Green Belt stretches over 7,700 miles from north to south. Black storks, moor frogs, and white-tailed eagles find refuge in the forests, meadows and marshlands linked by 40 national parks across 24 countries.

VA chief says he’d stay if Trump wants him
A clearing between forests in the former Iron Curtain.

The government and European conservationists want to make the undeveloped areas into permanent wildlife refuges. They see a pan-European reserve that stretches from Finland to the Black Sea. The refuge has been a goal for East German environmentalists since the Berlin Wall came down. The original green belt petition was started December 9, 1989, just one month after the fall of the wall.

VA chief says he’d stay if Trump wants him
The Berlin Wall at the Brandenburg Gate. (Photo: Wikimedia)

When the two Germanys reunified, the land was preserved to compensate people for expropriation by the former East German government. Over the years the funding stalled at the hands of the German legislature. At one point “Friends of the Earth,” a not-for-profit that included former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev as an investor.

VA chief says he’d stay if Trump wants him

Now, the green belt has the support of former East German Angela Merkel, who is now the Prime Minister of a unified Germany. What began as a symbol of division and oppression is turning into one of growth and renewal.

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This is why ‘General Butt Naked’ was the most feared warlord in Liberia

To oust a dictator as terrible as Liberia’s Charles Taylor, some warlords committed even more heinous crimes. Taylor is now serving a 50-year sentence in the UK after being convicted of 11 war crimes in the Hague in 2013.


Joshua Milton Blahyi went by a different name when he controlled the streets of Liberia’s capital of Monrovia during its 14-year civil war. Going into urban combat wearing nothing but sneakers and a crazed look, he earned the title “General Butt Naked.”

VA chief says he’d stay if Trump wants him

Warlords in the streets of Liberia from 1989-2003 were given names based in popular culture. It spawned such nicknames as “General Bin Laden” and “General Rambo.”

While “General Butt Naked” may sound laughable as a nom de guerre, the warlord’s methods were anything but funny. Of the 250,000-some Liberians killed in the conflict, Blahyi estimates he is responsible for at least 20,000.

The crimes he freely admits to don’t stop there. He recruited children to act as his street enforcers, teaching them that killings and mutilations were all part of a game. And so they would also fight naked in the streets of Monrovia. Blahyi himself was a teenager when the conflict broke out.

Anecdotal evidence of the atrocities committed by “General Butt Naked” is numerous and graphic.

When Taylor was finally ousted in 2003, the man once known as “General Butt Naked” began a new life as a pastor. These days, when he isn’t preaching, he visits the families of his victims and begs for forgiveness — complete forgiveness. He doesn’t want lip service; he wants the biblical forgiveness that comes from the victim’s heart.

VA chief says he’d stay if Trump wants him

Those victims don’t want any part of it. Only 19 of the 76 families he has visited heard him out. The remainder goes about as well as one might expect.

Blahyi built a mansion where he houses former child soldiers. It’s a place where he says he teaches them skills like farming and bricklaying. According to German newspaper Der Spiegel, he also feeds them.

At least one former soldier will attest to the work of Blahyi’s NGO, “Journeys Against Violence.” Luke Barren told Reuters that he earned his job as a mason because of Blahyi’s effort. Other say Blahyi’s whole enterprise is a farce combined with a cash grab.

The former warlord walks free where Taylor is imprisoned because of jurisdictional rules in The Hague. The court can only prosecute war crimes committed after its founding in 2002. There was never a special tribunal for prosecuting war crimes in Liberia, as there was from Rwanda, Cambodia, and the former Yugoslavia.

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Vincent Viola picked as next Secretary of the Army

Florida Panthers owner Vincent Viola, a former Army infantry officer and West Point graduate (class of 1977) was announced as President-elect Donald Trump’s choice to serve as Secretary of the Army.


VIncent Viola (far left) presents the National Italian American Foundation's first Marine Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone Award for Distinguished Military Service to Gen. Ray Odierno and his son, Capt. Anthony Odierno. (Photo U.S. Army) VIncent Viola (far left) presents the National Italian American Foundation’s first Marine Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone Award for Distinguished Military Service to Gen. Ray Odierno and his son, Capt. Anthony Odierno. (Photo U.S. Army)

According to a report by the Washington Examiner, Viola, who served with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), is the executive chairman of Virtu Financial. Viola also chaired the New York Mercantile Stock Exchange at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

After 9/11, he founded the West Point Combating Terrorism Center.

“Whether it is his distinguished military service or highly impressive track record in the world of business, Vinnie has proved throughout his life that he knows how to be a leader and deliver major results in the face of any challenge,” the Trump transition office said in a statement. “The American people, whether civilian or military, should have great confidence that Vinnie Viola has what it takes to keep America safe and oversee issues of concern to our troops in the Army.”

In a statement, Viola said he looked forward to serving.

“I will work tirelessly to provide our president with the land force he will need to accomplish any mission in support of his National Defense Strategy,” Viola said. “A primary focus of my leadership will be ensuring that America’s soldiers have the ways and means to fight and win across the full spectrum of conflict.”

Retired Army Col. James Hickey, commander of the brigade that captured deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, had been reported to be a front-runner for the position, along with Van Hipp, the long-time chairman of American Defense International, Inc.

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SecNav loves Mattis but thinks Congress is right to debate the ‘7 year rule’

The Navy’s top civilian leader told reporters Jan. 11 that while he respects the career and leadership abilities of President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of defense, he thinks Congress should take a hard line on its mandate to keep civilians in charge of the nation’s defense.


VA chief says he’d stay if Trump wants him
(Photo: U.S. Navy Chief Mass Communications Specialist Shawn P. Eklund)

Outgoing Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said Congress had a good reason to require former military leaders be out of uniform for at least seven years before they may take the top leadership positions at the Pentagon — including the roles of secretary of defense and deputy secretary of defense — adding that the time out of uniform had recently been reduced from 10 years.

Trump’s pick to lead the Pentagon, former Marine Gen. James Mattis, retired from the Corps in 2013 after 44 years in the military. His appointment would require a waiver from Congress to skirt the seven-year mandate.

“I have worked very closely with Jim Mattis almost the whole time [in office] and I have an enormous amount of respect for him,” Mabus told defense reporters at a breakfast meeting in Washington, D.C. “I think that civilian control of the military is one of the bedrocks of our democracy and there was a reason that was put in place.”

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Top lawmakers in the Senate held a meeting with experts on military affairs Jan. 10 to debate the restriction, with many arguing the rule should be kept in place but that Mattis’ experience and intellect warrant a one-time waiver.

“I would hesitate to ever say … that there is any indication that dangerous times require a general,” said Kathleen Hicks, a former Pentagon official in the Obama administration, according to the Washington Post. “I don’t think that’s the issue. I think dangerous times require experience and commitment … which I think Gen. Mattis can bring.”

So far one member of the Senate Armed Services Committee has spoken against granting a waiver. New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand has said she’d oppose a waiver and hasn’t “seen the case for why it is so urgently necessary.”

Former Army Gen. George Marshall is the only Pentagon leader to be granted a waiver under the 10-year rule, and he served only one year during the hight of the Korean war.

“It was done for George Marshall but it shouldn’t be done very often,” outgoing SecNav Mabus said. “So I think [Congress] is right to raise that issue.”

“This is nothing to say about Jim Mattis, I think he was a great Marine and a great general officer and a great CoCom,” he added.

Mattis is set for a confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee Jan. 12. Both chambers are expected to vote on a service waiver before Trump’s inauguration Jan. 20.

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US may put more weapons in the South China Sea

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Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Daniel Love


Senior Army and Pentagon strategists and planners are considering ways to fire existing weapons platforms in new ways around the globe – including the possible placement of mobile artillery units in areas of the South China Sea to, if necessary, function as air-defense weapons to knock incoming rockets and cruise missiles out of the sky.

Alongside the South China Sea, more mobile artillery weapons used for air defense could also prove useful in areas such as the Middle East and Eastern Europe, officials said. Having mobile counter-air weapons such as the M109 Paladin, able to fire 155m precision rounds on-the-move, could prove to be an effective air-defense deterrent against Russian missiles, aircraft and rockets in Eastern Europe, a senior Army official told Scout Warrior.

Regarding the South China Sea, the U.S. has a nuanced or complicated relationship with China involving both rivalry and cooperation; the recent Chinese move to put surface-to-air missiles on claimed territory in the South China Sea has escalated tensions and led Pentagon planners to consider various options.

Officials are clear to emphasize that no decisions have been made along these lines, yet it is one of the things being considered. Pentagon officials have opposed further militarization of the area and emphasized that the territorial disputes in the South China Sea need to be resolved peacefully and diplomatically.

At the same time, Pentagon officials have publicly stated the U.S. will continue “freedom of navigation” exercises wherein Navy ships sail within 12 miles of territory claimed by the Chinese – and tensions are clearly on the rise.  In addition to these activities, it is entirely possible the U.S. could also find ways to deploy more offensive and defensive weapons to the region.

Naturally, a move of this kind would need to involve close coordination with U.S. allies in the region, as the U.S. claims no territory in the South China Sea. However, this would involve the deployment of a weapons system which has historically been used for offensive attacks on land. The effort could use an M777 Howitzer or Paladin, weapons able to fire 155m rounds.

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Photo:  US Army Spc. Gregory Gieske

“We could use existing Howitzers and that type of munition (155m shells) to knock out incoming threats when people try to hit us from the air at long ranges using rockets and cruise missiles,” a senior Army official said.

Howitzers or Paladins could be used as a mobile, direct countermeasures to incoming rockets, he said.  A key advantage to using a Paladin is that it is a mobile platform which could adjust to moving or fast-changing approaching enemy fire.

“A Howitzer can go where it has to go. It is a way of changing an offensive weapon and using it in dual capacity,” the official explained. “This opens the door to opportunities and options we have not had before with mobile defensive platforms and offensive capabilities.

Mobile air defenses such as an Army M777 or Paladin Howitzer weapon could use precision rounds and advancing fire-control technology to destroy threatening air assets such as enemy aircraft, drones or incoming artillery fire.

They would bring a mobile tactical advantage to existing Army air defenses such as the Patriot and Theater High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, which primarily function as fixed-defense locations, the senior Army officials said.

The M777 artillery weapon, often used over the years in Iraq and Afghanistan, can fire the precision GPS-guided Excalibur artillery round able to destroy targets within one meter from up to 30-kilometers or more away.  Naturally, given this technology, it could potentially be applied as an air-defense weapon as well.

Using a Howitzer or Paladin could also decrease expenses, officials said.

“Can a munition itself be cheaper so we are not making million dollar missiles to shoot down $100,000 dollar incoming weapons,” The Army official said.

While Pentagon officials did not formally confirm the prospect of working with allies to place weapons, such as Howitzers, in the South China Sea, they did say the U.S. was stepping up its coordination with allies in the region.

“We continue work with our partners and allies to develop their maritime security capabilities,” Cmdr. Bill Urban, Pentagon spokesman, told Scout Warrior.

Strategic Capabilities Office

The potential use of existing weapons in new ways is entirely consistent with an existing Pentagon office which was, for the first time, recently announced publically.  It is called the Strategic Capabilities Office, or SCO, stood up to look at integrating innovating technologies with existing weapons platforms – or simply adapting or modifying existing weapons for a wider range of applications.

“I created the SCO in 2012 when I was deputy secretary of defense to help us to re-imagine existing DOD and intelligence community and commercial systems by giving them new roles and game-changing capabilities to confound potential enemies — the emphasis here was on rapidity of fielding, not 10 and 15-year programs.  Getting stuff in the field quickly,” Carter said.

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Photo: U.S. Navy by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Joshua Adam Nuzzo

Senior Army officials say the SCO office is a key part of what provides the conceptual framework for the ongoing considerations of placing new weaponry in different locations throughout the Pacific theater.  An Army consideration to place Paladin artillery weapons in the South China Sea would be one example of how to execute this strategic framework.

In fact, the Pentagon is vigorously stepping up its support to allies in the Pacific theater. A 2016 defense law, called the Southeast Asia Maritme Security Initiative, provides new funding to authorize a Department of Defense effort to train, equip, and provide other support to the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand, Urban explained.

“The Secretary (Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter) has committed $425M over Fiscal Years 2016-2020 for MSI (Maritime Security Initiative), with an initial investment of $50M available in fiscal year 2016 toward this effort,” Urban said.

Army Rebalance to the Pacific

While the Army is naturally immersed in activities with NATO to deter Russian movements in Eastern Europe and maintaining missions in Iraq and Afghanistan – the service has not forsaken its commitment to pursuing a substantial Army component to the Pentagon’s Pacific rebalance.

Among other things, this involves stepped up military-to-military activities with allies in the region, coordinating with other leaders and land armies, and efforts to move or re-posture some weapons in the area.”The re-balance to the Pacific is more than military, it is an economic question. the Army has its hands full with the Middle East and with Europe and is dealing with a resurgent problem in Europe and North Africa,” an Army official said. “We have been able to cycle multiple units through different countries,” the senior official said.

Also, the pentagon has made the Commander of Army Pacific a 4-star General, a move which enables him to have direct one-to-one correspondence with his Chinese counterpart and other leaders in the region, he added.

As of several years ago, the Army had 18,500 Soldier stationed in Korea, 2,400 in Japan, 2,000 in Guam, 480 in the Philippines, 22,300 in Hawaii and 13,500 in Alaska. The service continues to support the national defense strategy by strengthening partnerships with existing allies in the region and conduction numerous joint exercises, service officials said.

“The ground element of the Pacific rebalance is important to ensure the stability in the region,” senior officials have said. Many of the world’s largest ground armies are based in the Pacific.

Also, in recent years Army documents have emphasized the need for the service to increase fire power in the Pacific to increased fielding of THAAD, Patriot and the Army Tactical Missile System, or ATACMS in the Pacific region. ATACMS is a technology which delivers precision fires against stationary or slow-moving targets at ranges up to 300 km., Army officials have said. In 2013, the Army did deploy THAAD missile systems to Guam.

Army officials have also called for the development of a land-based anti-ship ballistic missile, directed energy capability, and additional land-based anti-ship fires capabilities such as the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System.

Army officials have also said man support a potential adaptation of the RGM-84 Harpoon and calls for the development of boost-glide entry warheads able to deploy “to hold adversary shipping at risk all without ever striking targets inland.

Boost-glide weapons use rocket-boosted payload delivery vehicles that glide at hypersonic speeds in the atmosphere. An increase in the Army’s investment in boost-glide technology now could fast track the Army’s impact in the Air-Sea Battle fight in the near term, Army papers have stated.

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That time the Russians rammed US Navy ships in the Black Sea

In February 1988, the American cruiser USS Yorktown was on a Freedom of Navigation mission in the Black Sea, just south of Crimea. With her was the USS Caron. Though outside of traditional sea lanes, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea allows for warships to leave sea lanes — even in another country’s territorial waters — as long as those warships were on “innocent passage.”


The Soviet Union disagreed.

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They usually did. (MGM/UA)

Though the Russians routinely used their own naval vessels to shadow the Americans in the region, the case of the Yorktown and Caron was different. The Russians held that the two American ships were armed with more firepower than previous treaties allowed while in their territory. They also believed that they had the authority to clear ships entering their waters.

That’s why the Soviet frigate Bezzavetnyi warned the Yorktown it would “strike their ship with own” if the Americans entered Soviet territory. Meanwhile, another Soviet frigate confronted the Caron. The Americans blew off the threat, with the Caron responding: “I am engaged in innocent passage consistent with international law.”

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That’s when the second Russian frigate slammed into the Caron’s port side aft. There was no damage except some paint scraping. The Caron pressed on and exited Soviet waters almost two full hours later.

Also in Soviet territory, the Yorktown was being shadowed by the Russian Bezzavetnyi. The Russian closed to within 50 feet of the Yorktown when it turned into the American ship, slamming into its port side. Bezzavetnyi’s anchor fell away, while Yorktown suffered minor hull damage, though with no breaches. The ship’s rear Harpoon missile launchers were damaged and unusable.

Yorktown completed her mission and left in a similar two-hour time frame.

The Russians had no intention of sinking either ship and no weapons were ever cleared for action. In after action interviews, the skipper of the Bezzavetnyi said:

“To be honest, no one in the in the command center put on his lifejacket, although the order had been given… Many members of the crew of Yorktown were on the upper deck, smiling and waving, taking pictures of us with cameras and videocameras. And the commanding officer of Yorktown, for example, appeared on the bridge in parade uniform. In a word, the Americans behaved as if they were participating in a show for entertainment.”

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“Are you not entertained?” (U.S. Navy photo)

“Our view is that unless you exercise the right of freedom of navigation, inevitably you lose it,” said then-Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the incident. “If we start backing off we will eventually lose some of the rights that are absolutely essential for our freedom of navigation.”

Freedom of Navigation missions have been a cornerstone of the US Navy mission and of American foreign policy since 1979. The resolve of the Yorktown and Caron to press on are testament to the dedication to the mission.

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