4 times North Korea held American troops hostage - We Are The Mighty
Articles

4 times North Korea held American troops hostage

The recent release of Otto Warmbier, a student at the University of Virginia who was held for over a year for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster from his hotel room, means that now three Americans are currently being held by North Korea. Warmbier suffered what some reports describe as extensive brain damage, and he is currently being treated.


But these are not the first Americans to have been held hostage. A 2017 list from USA Today before Warmbier’s release noted some other incidents dating from 2009 to the present. These cases have involved civilians. However, prior to 1996, when Evan Hunziker swam across the Yalu River, there had been some incidents where American troops were held hostage.

Here are four of them, from a 2003 Congressional Research Service report and other sources.

1. January 23, 1968

The environmental research ship USS Pueblo (AGER 2) was attacked and captured by North Korean Forces. One American was killed in the initial attack, while 82 others were held for 11 months. The vessel is still in North Korean hands.

4 times North Korea held American troops hostage
USS Pueblo (AGER 2).

2. July 14, 1977

A CH-47 Chinook was shot down by North Korean forces, killing three of the crew. The surviving crewman was briefly held by the North Koreans until he was released, along with the bodies of the deceased.

4 times North Korea held American troops hostage
A CH-47 in flight. (Photo: US Air National Guard Tech. Sgt. Jorge Intriago)

3. December 7, 1979

An American foot patrol strayed into a North Korean minefield. One was killed, at least two were wounded. While the wounded were able to return to friendly territory, the body of the dead American was held for a few days.

4 times North Korea held American troops hostage
Serving on the DMZ… just not during declared conflict.

4. December 17, 1994

A U.S. Army OH-58 Kiowa was shot down by the North Koreans. One crewman was killed, the other was held for 13 days.

4 times North Korea held American troops hostage
Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo

Most returns took place at the Joint Security Area, near Panmunjom, the site where a village stood until the armistice that ended the fighting of the Korean War.

Articles

Vet organizations rally behind the Khans

Khizr Khan came to national prominence after his impassioned speech at last week’s Democratic National Convention. His remarks touched on the value of his son’s sacrifice for the country and why he believes Muslim immigrants should be allowed to take part in the American process.


4 times North Korea held American troops hostage
Khizr Khan, father of fallen U.S. Army Capt. Humayun S. M. Khan, next to his wife Ghazala, speaks during the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia , Thursday, July 28, 2016. | YouTube

Some of Khan’s remarks were aimed directly at Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, including asking whether Trump had ever read the Constitution. In response, Trump fired back in a way that has offended many in the veteran community. Trump specifically addressed the silence of Capt. Khan’s mother, Ghazala Khan, and implied that she likely didn’t speak because her husband (and the Muslim faith) wouldn’t allow it. She later addressed his comments in a Washington Post op-ed and told him it was a mother’s grief, not her religion, that rendered her incapable of speaking.

In a joint letter, seven veterans organizations have asserted that the Khan family’s right to question the intentions and actions of presidential candidates and other potential elected officials should be respected.

The full letter is embedded below:

Other Gold Star families released their own letter to Trump today, calling him out for attacking the Khan family and for comparing the sacrifices of Gold Star families to the work he did building his company. The letter begins as follows:

We are all Gold Star Families, who have lost those we love the most in war. Ours is a sacrifice you will never know. Ours is a sacrifice we would never want you to know.

Your recent comments regarding the Khan family were repugnant, and personally offensive to us. When you question a mother’s pain, by implying that her religion, not her grief, kept her from addressing an arena of people, you are attacking us. When you say your job building buildings is akin to our sacrifice, you are attacking our sacrifice.

You are not just attacking us, you are cheapening the sacrifice made by those we lost.

Capt. Khan was an ordnance officer inspecting troops on guard duty on Jun. 8, 2004. When an orange taxi approached the soldier’s position in a suspicious manner, Capt. Khan ordered the rest of the soldiers to “hit the dirt” and moved forward alone to confront the driver. The driver set off an IED in the vehicle and killed Khan. Khan posthumously received the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart for his actions.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The Marines are looking for a few good ship-killing missiles

Before World War II, the Marine Corps had what were known as Marine Defense Battalions. These units were used to defend outposts like those on Wake Island and Midway Atoll, and the one at Wake deserves credit for one of the great stands in Marine Corps history after being left high and dry by the U.S. Navy’s answer to George McClellan.


Now the Marines may be ready to resurrect that concept. According to a solicitation posted at FedBizOpps on Oct. 27 of this year, the service is looking for some land-based anti-ship missiles that can reach out and touch the enemy at least 80 miles away. The system needs to be “employable by highly deployable and mobile forces.”

4 times North Korea held American troops hostage
Marines with the 3rd Marine Defense Battalion man a 90mm anti-aircraft gun. (USMC photo)

Such missiles are actually old hat for many countries, both friendly and not-so-friendly. Norway, for instance, relied on land-based batteries of the Penguin anti-ship missile to supplement armed missile boats should the Cold War have turned hot. The Soviet Union (and later Russia) developed land-based versions of the SS-N-3 Shaddock, SS-N-2 Styx, and the SS-N-26 Sapless. China’s Silkworm missiles were famously purchased by Iran, and Iran developed the Noor, which was fired at American ships multiple times last year.

According to Marine Corps history, during World War II, 20 Marine Defense Battalions were formed. Back then, these units generally had coastal artillery to defend against enemy ships (the 1st Marine Defense Battalion at Wake actually sank a Japanese destroyer), as well as machine guns for defending against troops, and anti-aircraft guns for use against enemy planes. And of course, every Marine in those units was a rifleman.

4 times North Korea held American troops hostage
USS Princeton fires an RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missile. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jason Noble.

What sort of modern missiles might be used? The United States does have the Harpoon anti-ship missile in service – some versions of which can reach over 80 miles. Other relatively off-the-shelf options could include the Norwegian-designed NSM, or a ground-launched version of the LRASM. There is also the chance that the 155mm Vulcano heat-seeking round could be used from Marine Corps M777 howitzers.

In short, the Marines’ desire for a few good anti-ship missiles could lead to the return of some little-known but storied units to the Marine Corps.

Articles

The craziest gifts presented to North Korea

North Korea is the weird kid at the back of the class who keeps making disturbing drawings in his notebook and trying to convince everyone that he’s the coolest.


Still, other countries give North Korea a lot of gifts. Some are presented to the current leader, Kim Jong-un, but a surprising number are still given to Kim Il-sung, a guy who has been dead since 1994, and Kim Jong-il, who died in 2011. The gifts are usually housed at the International Friendship Exhibition, a museum of the bizarre located two hours northeast of Pyongyang.

What do other world leaders get dead and crazy people who already have nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons? Why, a weird-looking Olympic bear, of course.

4 times North Korea held American troops hostage
Photo: Youtube

Misha the bear was the 1980 Summer Olympics mascot. Held in Moscow soon after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the 1980 Olympics were the only Games boycotted by the U.S.

If the situation calls for something a little grander, North Korean leaders could always use a third personal train. The first was gifted to North Korea by Soviet General Chairman Joseph Stalin and the second came from Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong. They seem to share a paint job, but the Chinese train has better decorations around the windows. Stalin also gave the regime a bulletproof limousine.

4 times North Korea held American troops hostage
Youtube

Nicaragua’s Sandinista rebels showed their love of Kim Il-sung by gifting him this not-at-all-creepy statue of a crocodile serving drinks.

4 times North Korea held American troops hostage
Photo: Youtube

That’s not the only dead animal on display in the museum. An anonymous Canadian supposedly gave the North Korean leaders a polar bear skin with the head still attached while the leader of Madagascar presented them with a fossilized snail.

4 times North Korea held American troops hostage
Photo: Youtube

This dead bear was a gifted by Romanian communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu. No one is sure why it was presented with a lazy eye.

4 times North Korea held American troops hostage
Photo: Youtube

Bears are a repeating symbol in the museum. Here, a family of bears plays inside of a large egg because reasons.

4 times North Korea held American troops hostage
Photo: Youtube

And then there’s the plate with an animal walking off of it.

4 times North Korea held American troops hostage
Photo: Youtube

The exhibitions contain many weapons including a hunting rifle from Vladimir Putin and this sword from the N-Trans Group, a Russian transportation company.

4 times North Korea held American troops hostage
Youtube

Of course, life in North Korea isn’t all about awesome crocodile statues and sweet swords. Some argue that the money expended to build the grand museum would have been better spent feeding starving citizens. They’re probably just jealous of the more than 100,000 total gifts presented to the Kim dynasty.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Air Force jet landed itself after the pilot ejected

In early 1970, Air Force Maj. Gary Foust took off in his Convair F-106 Delta Dart — nicknamed “Cornfield Bomber” — for a flight exercise with two fellow pilots, Majs. Jim Lowe, and Tom Curtis.


Flying north of Boston, Foust was at about 40,000 feet with Curtis, serving as his opponent positioned at a lower altitude ready to engage.

Related: These are the jets that the last man to walk the moon flew

After the pair met, they maneuvered into a vertical scissor, followed by other aerial dogfight maneuvers when things took a turn for the worse as Foust found himself in a left-hand turn flat spin.

For several moments, Foust remained in the deadly spin as he attempted to recover using his training and emergency procedures but was unsuccessful in pulling out of the dive. Lowe instructed his wingman to eject which he did 8,000 feet above the ground.

After the ejection, the Delta Dart nose dived recovering itself from the flat spin and landed a few miles away in a wheat field next to a small town named Big Sandy. The jet skidded a few hundred yards in 6 inches of snow while in idle until running out of fuel as Foust parachuted to the ground safely.

With no major structural damage, the aircraft was transported to McClellan Air Force Base to receive repairs and returned to service. Nine years after the incident, Foust was reassigned to pilot the “Cornfield Bomber” once again.

The Convair F-106 Delta Dart now calls the United States Air Force National Museum home.

Also Read: Air Force announces first 30 enlisted drone pilots

Check out the video from Armed Forces Update to see the amazing story unfold.

(Armed Forces Update, YouTube)
MIGHTY TRENDING

This corpsman wants to keep saving lives with ‘Combat Medicine’


Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Stitcher | Spotify

When Doc Todd left the Navy after spending three years as a corpsman, he didn’t have any transition assistance or training. He lost friends. He lost Marines. After separating from the military, he saw even more of his Marines take their own lives through substance abuse and suicide. It’s wasn’t the ending he had expected when he joined.

He joined the Navy in 2007 after spending four years in sales and restaurant jobs. He wanted to experience some meaningful growth in his life and be part of something bigger than himself. That – to him – meant joining the U.S. Navy. Doc ended up spending the bulk of his time with Marines in “America’s Battalion,” 2nd Battalion 8th Marines. In 2009, he and his Marines were in Afghanistan in Operation Khanjar, the largest aerial insertion of Marine troops since the Vietnam War.

Though he experienced his own struggles upon leaving the military, he didn’t turn to music as a means of coping. He actually waited until he had the strength to better express himself instead.

4 times North Korea held American troops hostage
Doc Todd in the studio.

“Honestly, from an artistic perspective, I didn’t know who I was yet. Or who I was becoming,” Doc says. “I found it very difficult to make a statement musically when I didn’t know what to say.”

When Doc picked himself up was when he was finally able to realize his purpose was helping others. Like a true corpsman, he never wanted to stop looking out for others. He saw too many overdoses, too many suicides. He decides to enter the veteran’s space, but to do it in his own way.

In June 2017, his album Combat Medicine dropped to widespread acclaim and national praise, not to mention a flood of personal stories from those who listened to it and felt the message.

Doc is currently working on a release titled “The Shadow Game EP,” on Runaway Train Records.

Mandatory Fun guest: Doc Todd is combat veteran who proudly served our country as a Fleet Marine Force Corpsman (combat medic) in the United States Navy. Since Doc’s honorable discharge in 2009, Doc moved to Atlanta and worked at restaurants and a premier hospital, while he pursed his college education on the G.I. Bill. Doc graduated from Georgia State University magna cum laude with an undergraduate degree in studying Economics and Public Policy in 2014. He then joined Northwestern Mutual where he began to build a financial management practice, before pursuing his music.

Doc resides in Atlanta with his wife Abby, two young daughters Savannah and Audrey, and dog Memphis, who Doc rescued shortly after coming home from war.

4 times North Korea held American troops hostage
2017’s Combat Medicine

Mandatory Fun is hosted By:

Blake Stilwell: Air Force veteran and Managing Editor

Tim Kirkpatrick: Navy veteran and Editorial Coordinator

Orvelin Valle (aka O.V.): Navy veteran and Podcast Producer

Catch the show on Twitter at: @MandoFun and on our Facebook group.

Articles

This Marine earned two medals of honor by age 19

Vietnam-era Marine and Hue City veteran John Ligato once remarked that the most ferocious fighting machine the world has ever seen is the 19-year-old pissed off Marine. In the case of John J. Kelly, he couldn’t be more right.


4 times North Korea held American troops hostage
Look at this handsome Devil… Dog.

Kelly joined the Marines in May 1917, just one month after the U.S. Congress declared war on Germany. The Chicago native was soon in France with 78th Company, 6th Regiment, 2d Division. That’s where he would earn the Army and Navy versions of the Medal of Honor — at the same time.

In October 1918, Kelly was in Blanc Mont Ridge in France, which the Germans occupied since 1915. The French were joined by two divisions of the U.S. Army and Major General John Lejeune’s 2d Division of Marines — including Pvt. John Kelly.

At the start of the near-monthlong battle, Kelly ran through no-man’s land, 100 yards ahead of an allied artillery barrage — straight toward a machine gun nest.

4 times North Korea held American troops hostage
Kinda like that, with less shield. (DC Films/Warner Bros.)

He chucked a grenade into the nest, killing one of the Germans. Then he took out the other using his sidearm.

Private Kelly returned to his line — again through the artillery barrage — but this time he brought back eight German soldiers at gunpoint.

The American advance at St. Etienne turned the tide of the Battle of Blanc Mont against the Germans. By Oct. 28, the area they occupied since the very start of the World War was now firmly in Allied hands.

Kelly was awarded both the Army and Navy Medals of Honor by General John J. Pershing, the commander of the American Expeditionary Force, in 1919. With the war over, Kelly left the military and returned to civilian life.

4 times North Korea held American troops hostage
Kelly receiving his Medal of Honor

He returned to his native Illinois, where he died in 1957.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Have a good idea for the Army? Here is your chance to shine

Think you have a great idea that will revolutionize Army readiness and resilience? The Army wants to boost your chance at making it happen.

Starting in June 2019, the Army implemented a formal process to capture and evaluate grassroots, personal readiness, and resilience initiatives, before considering the idea for potential Army-wide use.

The new process, outlined in the just released Initiative Evaluation Process technical guide, is designed to ensure ideas can demonstrate results, have applicability Army-wide and avoid duplication or unintended consequences.


“Not every good idea, even if it’s a great idea, may hit the mark,” said Joe Ezell, a Management and Program Analyst at the Army’s G-1 SHARP, Ready and Resilient (SR2) Directorate. “Sometimes people don’t quite understand the second and third order effects associated with their good idea … and the execution of that idea might not quite evolve into what they are looking for.”

4 times North Korea held American troops hostage

(U.S. Army photo)

Previously, the Army may have implemented ideas sent by local installations, but without thorough analysis or resourcing, those initiatives fell by the wayside. The new technical guide, developed jointly by SR2 and the Army Public Health Center (APHC), requires that proposed initiatives undergo a five-step screening process to assess effectiveness and Army-wide applicability.

Army program managers, Army leaders or anyone with a great idea to improve soldier, civilian, and family member personal readiness and resilience can begin the process of fielding it by reaching out to their Commander’s Readiness and Resilient Integrator (CR2I).

This first step in the process provides the individual leader or organization proposing an idea with the backing of a work group that will help them gather effectiveness data, walk them through the other steps in the process and, if the idea has merit, put together the proposal package for submission to the local installation commander. The initiative will then undergo review at several echelons before it is potentially forwarded to the Army G-1 level.

Although the process may seem cumbersome, it is not intended to inhibit innovation, instead it is meant to refine it, said David Collins, Evaluations Branch Chief at SR2.

4 times North Korea held American troops hostage

(U.S. Army photo by Davide Dalla Massara)

“As with any good ideas, it has to be well thought out,” Collins said. “It forces people to think about outcomes. Oftentimes we just think about execution, we never really think about the impact.”

The end result will be that the best ideas will rise to the top and get pushed through up to the highest levels for evaluation and possible implementation Army-wide, Collins said. Other ideas may work better at the local or regional level, and commanders can still count on the IEP process to validate those initiatives.

The proposal package the CR2I puts together is intended to show the quantifiable impact an idea has, and gather objective evidence that will reinforce the value of the idea so that when a new program is presented to senior Army leaders, they will be able to make evidence-based decisions. The IEP will “save time, energy and effort across the board,” Ezell said.

Grassroots efforts have traditionally driven innovation in the ranks, so if you are ready to submit your idea, download the technical guide and reach out to your local CR2I now.

This article originally appeared on United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

Articles

One Of America’s Most Elite Universities Is Helping Veterans In A Unique Way

4 times North Korea held American troops hostage
The first class of Stanford Ignite had guest speakers like former Secretaries of State Condoleeza Rice, George Shultz, and retired Marine Gen. James Mattis.


Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business is trying to maximize the entrepreneurial potential of America’s veterans, and after a successful pilot program in 2014, the school is again opening its doors to another 25 current and former military for their Post-9/11 Ignite Program.

Also, Watch: Actor Joe Mantegna Is Pushing Hard For Veterans’ Issues On ‘Criminal Minds’ 

“No veteran wants a handout and just say ‘hey come to this program [and] learn some things because you’re a veteran.’ No,” said Alex Martin, a Marine veteran, in a video about the program. “What they do want is: ‘hey, do you want to work hard for something? Do you want to learn the language of this business or this industry? If you do, and if you’re qualified, and if you’re the right person for the job and if you’re a man or woman of character, then you have shot to get interviewed.”

The four-week program is meant for veterans and transitioning service-members who have a demonstrated record of excellence in and out of uniform, and who are passionate about starting or scaling up a business. The Ignite Program accelerates their development from idea to profitable venture.

Those who are selected after the application period closes on March 3rd will live on campus with the other participants, learning about business fundamentals from some of the world’s best professors. Topics include innovation, leadership, operations, marketing, strategy, negotiations, and finance accounting.

The program also includes practical application along with classroom instruction. The participants split themselves into small groups, who then develop and finally pitch their business to a panel of experienced entrepreneurs and investors from Silicon Valley.

Alongside The Commit Foundation, a veteran service organization focused on helping transitioning service members, Stanford is subsidizing this immersive environment for anyone interested in building a successful business. Beyond the rigorous training, the veterans form new connections across branches of service.

To learn more about the Stanford Graduate School of Business Post-9/11 Ignite program, click here. To register for the February 11th informational webinar, click here.

William Treseder served in the Marines between 2001 and 2011. He now writes regularly on military topics, and has been featured in TIME, Foreign Policy, and Boston Review.

NOW: 4 Reasons Why Going To War Gives Veterans An Edge Over Their Civilian Peers

OR: 5 Times When Jon Stewart Made A Difference For America’s Veterans 

Articles

8 new projects that will revolutionize military medicine

Compared to previous American conflicts U.S. military medicine drastically reduced the number deaths due to injury during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But that success doesn’t mean the profession is done innovating. Here are eight ways military medicine is trying to improve the ability to save lives:


1. Wound-stabilizing foam that reduces bleeding

Bleeding out is still the number one killer on the battlefield, according to the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research. So, DARPA has worked multiple programs to treat this major killer in combat.

One program success is ClotFoam. The foam works by seeking out damaged tissue, especially cut tissue fibers, and binding to it. It forms a scaffold that the body’s natural clotting agents can then latch to as they would with a cotton bandage. Different formulations of ClotFoam have been tested with the best reducing blood loss in mice by 66 percent when compared to a control group. DARPA is now looking to test delivery mechanisms for ClotFoam.

Another DARPA project was originally aimed at studying and accelerating the clotting process, but a project participant created foam that could treat abdominal injuries on its own. Now, DARPA is seeking help testing the Wound Stasis System device and foam in FDA trials so it can be sent to combat medics as well as civilian EMTs. As seen in the video above, the foam fills the abdominal cavity, stops the internal bleeding, and can be quickly removed by surgeons when the patient arrives at the hospital.

2. Remote trauma care

4 times North Korea held American troops hostage
Photo: US Army

Telemedicine is not a new concept. The civilian medical sector has been working on remote patient care since the late ’70s, and many patients can now see their doctor via the internet when they can’t come into the office. The Army is looking expand its remote medicine options, most notably in the area of medical evacuation.

The Army wants systems that can be mounted inside vehicles and hooked up to existing radios, allowing patient information to go directly to the doctor who will receive them at the hospital. The doctor will also be able to call to the medic, advising on treatment while the patient is evacuated off the battlefield. This could allow for better care for patients en route to the hospital as well as a smoother handoff between the medic and the doctor. Prototypes have already been tested.

3. A chair that monitors vitals

4 times North Korea held American troops hostage
Photo: US Army Kaye Richey

Of course, beaming the information from patients to doctors with telemedicine is great, but currently it would require a medic to speak or type the information into a computer. The Army is looking to take that task off medics’ hands by adapting the LifeBed into a chair for military air and ground ambulances. The chair would track patients’ respiratory and heart rates and alert a medic if they showed signs of trouble. The medic would be able to spend less time checking on already stable soldiers and more time treating new patients as they evacuate casualties.

4. Active bandages that reduce scaring and improve recovery

4 times North Korea held American troops hostage
Photo: US Navy MC1 Matthew Leistikow

Navy researchers are looking at bandages that would actively assist in the recovery process. The bandages would contain antibiotics, growth factors, and other agents to reduce scar tissue formation, recovery time, and the chance of infection.

5. Reducing pressure ulcers

4 times North Korea held American troops hostage
Photo: US Army Spc. Wayne Becton

Pressure ulcers, more often known as bed sores, develop when skin is under pressure or rubbed for an extended period of time. Patients immobilized for transport will likely develop pressure ulcers if restrained against a hard surface like a backboard. The Army is beginning a study to see how to mitigate the infliction.

Service members evacuated from combat are commonly at risk for spinal damage, and so are often immobilized for transport. Understanding pressure ulcer formation will allow the military to reduce the number of ulcers that form and cut down on the resulting infections and discomfort.

6. Better treatments following shock from blood loss

4 times North Korea held American troops hostage
Photo: US Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Jim Goodwin

The exact problem valproic acid therapy treats is kind of complicated, so bear with this very dumbed down explanation. There is a stage of treatment following major blood loss where the return of normal blood pressure leads to major medical complications. Tissue that has been starved of blood and oxygen can quickly inflame and release toxins when blood flow is restored. Currently, this is mitigated by the timing of how blood and other fluids are returned to the body.

Valprioc acid has been shown to reduce the complications as blood flow returns, and the Army wants more clinical trials of VPA treatments sooner rather than later. In a study where rats were drained of half their blood, rats treated without VPA survived only 14 percent of the time while rats treated with VPA survived 87.5 percent of the time.

7. New vaccines

4 times North Korea held American troops hostage
Photo: US Army Carol E. Davis

The significance of new vaccines is obvious. New vaccines allow humans to be made resistant to more potential killers. The Army currently has three new vaccines in its sights, one each for malaria, norovirus, and dengue.

A proposed malaria vaccine would have cut down on the 198 million cases and 500,000 deaths in 2013. Average people will get norovirus five times in their life without a vaccine, causing diarrhea and vomiting. Dengue is mosquito-borne and starts off as a mild fever but can become severe, sometimes leading to death.

8. Better skull implants

Following brain trauma or damage to the skull, some patients have to have a portion of skull removed and later replaced by an implant made of titanium or polymers. Currently, these implants are prone to infection.

The Navy is looking to reduce the number of infections after implantation by developing new surface materials that have different textures and nano particle coatings that release chemicals to prevent infection. This would reduce the number of follow-up surgeries a patient would need and lower recovery time.

NOW: Here’s what an Army medic does in the critical minutes after a soldier is wounded

OR: This device makes Navy SEALs swim like actual seals

Articles

The VA might actually be getting its act together

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

4 times North Korea held American troops hostage
Or her widow, Mr. President. Or her widow. (Photo: Veterans Affairs)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 times North Korea held American troops hostage
Talihina Veterans Center (Oklahona Department of Veterans Affairs)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 times North Korea held American troops hostage
We just wanna see more vets smiling. (Photo: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Articles

The Nazi version of the Great Escape happened in the Arizona desert

1963’s The Great Escape told the story of British POWs escaping the Nazi camp Stalag Luft III. The film was based on a firsthand account of the real-life escape, where the British troops attempted to get 220 men out of three tunnels in a single night. Of the 149 escapees, 76 actually escaped Nazi Germany and 73 were recaptured.


Of those recaptured, 50 were shot on Hitler’s personal order. The remaining 23 captives were relocated. Four of those would be chained in their cells following another escape attempt. Those POWs made the Germans use an estimated 5 million men over the course of the following weeks searching for them, which is exactly how POWs are supposed to aid the war effort.

The Nazi Great Escape turned out a little different. During the second World War, the U.S. held some 400,000 enemy prisoners of war at 500 camps across the United States. Just as American POWs would burden their captors with escape attempts, the Germans were no different, attempting more than 2,200 escapes throughout the war.

4 times North Korea held American troops hostage

Security unit #84 in Arizona’s Papago Park housed captured Nazi Kriegsmarine U-boat commanders and their crews. It was the POWs from #84’s compound 1A who would trigger the biggest manhunt in Arizona history. The U.S. military would call in local and state law enforcement, the FBI, and Papago Indian scouts.

John Hammond Moore’s book about the escape, The Faustball Tunnel, documents the entire episode. There were three main problems with the situation at #84. First, the Germans were housed in a way that put all the troublemakers together. Second, there was a blind spot in the guard tower’s view, one the Provost Marshall, Capt. Cecil Parshall knew the Germans would exploit. Finally, German officers and non-commissioned officers were exempt from work details under the Geneva Conventions, so all they had was time to plan their escape.

They began tunneling sometime in September 1944. Capt. Parshall was right, they used the blind spot in the guard towers. The Germans worked in 90 minute shifts of three-man crews digging near a bathhouse. They would go in, ostensibly to shower, sometimes excavate up to three feet per night, and a fourth crew would get rid of the dirt the next day. They eventually convinced the Americans to let them build a faustball (volleyball) court, which the Germans smoothed out with rakes provided by their captors.

Most were apt to make the 130-mile trek to Mexico. They were going to use toasted bread crumbs that would be mixed with milk or water for sustenance. They also needed things they could only get by co-opting the Americans. American photographers took snapshots of them to send home to Germany, and the Germans used those photos to make fake passports and other items. They would pose as foreign sailors making their way to the coast. They also earned U.S. money by making fake Nazi paraphernalia out of toothpaste tubes and bootblack.

Three other prisoners would instead plan to make their way 30 miles West to the Gila River, and so built a flatboat from scavenged lumber. The boat was designed to be folded up and carried in 18-inch segments. The guards just thought they were making handicrafts.

On December 23, compound 1B began to loudly celebrate news of the Battle of the Bulge as compound 1A quietly began their escape. Ten teams of 2-3 men left with packs of clothing, provisions, and false credentials, escaping by crawling through their tunnel. 25 men in all escaped into Papago Park that night.

4 times North Korea held American troops hostage

The next evening, by the time Parshall knew there had been an escape, five of the escapees had turned themselves in because they were tired of being cold, hungry, and wet. A sixth would also be captured that day.

Soldiers, FBI agents, sheriff’s deputies, police, border patrol, and customs agents all joined the search for the nineteen remaining Germans. Ranchers and Indian scouts were drawn by the $25 reward posted for the capture of each escapee. Newspapers carried mug shots of the men.

4 times North Korea held American troops hostage

By January 8th, 1945, only six men remained at large. The three boatmen were capture three days later, after discovering the Gila wasn’t much of a river and that their boat was largely useless.

The last three escapees didn’t try too hard to escape at first. They hid out in a shallow cave near Papago Park. They even went bowling in Phoenix and had a few beers one night. One of those would exchange places with other prisoners on work details outside of camp, then sneak back out on another detail, allowing another POW some time outside the camp. Eventually he was discovered and the last two men would be captured outside of Phoenix.

“Conceiving of it, digging it, getting out, getting back, telling about our adventures, finding out what happened to the others…why, it covered a year or more and was our great recreation,” one of the escapees recalled years later. “It kept our spirits up even as Germany was being crushed and we worried about our parents and our families.”

None of the 25 escapees were shot or killed by their American captors as retribution for their escape. No German POW ever escaped the United States and made his way back to Germany.

Articles

These are the top 5 military-related presidential pardons

The Constitution (Article II, Section 2, Clause 1) gives American presidents the power to grant full pardons. Throughout history, presidents have used this power, some more than others. Presidents Harrison and Garfield issued zero pardons, mostly because both of them died shortly after taking office. (Harrison died of pneumonia and Garfield was assassinated.) President Franklin Roosevelt issued 3,687 pardons, but a factor in that total is the fact he held office for 12 years. President Andrew Johnson either pardoned over 7,000 or just 654 people, depending on how you score it. (See below for details.)


The average number of pardons per president to date is just over 665.

Pardons have taken many forms. Some have been high-visibility because of their impact on politics and pop culture like when President Ford pardoned former President Nixon or when President Clinton pardoned publishing heir Patty Hearst following her stint as a domestic terrorist. Some have been personal like when President Clinton pardoned his brother Roger following a conviction on cocaine possession charges.

But presidents also being commanders-in-chief, naturally, some pardons in American history have had something to do with the military. Here are 5 of the most important among them:

1. James Buchanan pardons Brigham Young

4 times North Korea held American troops hostage
Brigham Young

In the mid-1800s the Buchanan administration grew concerned about the activities of the Latter Day Saints, led by Brigham Young. The president was afraid that Young was on the verge of creating a theocracy out west and so he sent the U.S. Army to intervene. The resulting “Utah War” was mostly without bloodshed, with the notable exception of the time some Mormons murdered 12o settlers from Arkansas. Young was accused of giving the order or, at least, not doing enough to prevent it. He was later able to prove that he’d actually sent a dispatch ordering his people to let the settlers pass in peace, but it got there two days after the massacre. As a result, Young was ultimately pardoned by President Buchanan.

2. Andrew Johnson pardons the Confederate military

4 times North Korea held American troops hostage
Andrew Johnson

During the election seasons in the years immediately following the Civil War, it became politically expedient to get the conflict behind the country. In fact, the U.S. Senate was so disappointed in President Johnson’s Reconstruction progress that they impeached him. So on Christmas Day in 1868, Johnson offered amnesty to all Confederates. At about the same time he also pardoned Dr. Samuel Mudd, the Maryland doctor who patched up Lincoln’s assassin John Wilkes Booth. President Grant, who’d led the North to victory as a Union general, finished the process, later signing the Amnesty Act of 1872, which pardoned all but 500 of the top Confederate leaders.

3. Gerald Ford pardons ‘Tokyo Rose’

4 times North Korea held American troops hostage

Iva Toguri D’Aquino was an LA native Japanese-American who had the misfortune of being in Tokyo when war broke out between the U.S. and Japan. She became the voice of Japanese propaganda aimed at American servicemembers across the Pacific Theater. She was frighteningly accurate with military details from time to time, which did cause GIs some concern, but she was also a source of entertainment for them because her broadcasts were equally campy as provocative.

When the war ended “Tokyo Rose,” as D’Aquino was popularly known, was charged with treason, convicted and imprisoned until 1956. In time the facts emerged that she had been pressed into service for the Japanese war machine under duress. She was pardoned by President Ford in 1976.

4. Richard Nixon pardons William Calley

4 times North Korea held American troops hostage
Lt. William Calley during his trial at Fort Benning. (Photo: AP)

William Calley was a community college dropout who found himself in charge of a platoon fighting the Vietnam War. His weak leadership and lack of military skill led to the systematic murder of 500 Vietnamese civilians. Life magazine broke the story over a year and a half later with a graphic photo essay that shocked the nation and did much to shift public sentiment against the war once and for all.

Calley’s court-martial was a high-visibility event, and he was eventually found guilty of 22 counts (of the 109 he was charged with) of premeditated murder. He was sentenced to life imprisonment at Leavenworth. President Nixon, reacting to another public sentiment that Calley had been made a scapegoat and that the punishments should have gone higher up the chain of command, ordered his sentence modified to house arrest. Eventually, his time was reduced from life to 20 years. He served three and a half years of that when Nixon pardoned him.

In 2009, while speaking a Kiwanis Club in Ohio, Calley issued the following apology for his role at My Lai:

There is not a day that goes by that I do not feel remorse for what happened that day in My Lai. I feel remorse for the Vietnamese who were killed, for their families, for the American soldiers involved and their families. I am very sorry…. If you are asking why I did not stand up to them when I was given the orders, I will have to say that I was a 2nd Lieutenant getting orders from my commander and I followed them—foolishly, I guess.

5. Jimmy Carter pardons the Vietnam draft dodgers

4 times North Korea held American troops hostage

Although Gerald Ford had been the first to deal with letting draft dodgers off the hook, his version had been conditional and only affected one-third of the population. President Carter, elected on a progressive agenda, took it the rest of the way by issuing an unconditional pardon for all of those who’d evaded the draft, about 150,000 young American men — including a number of aspiring politicians who would go on to hold the highest offices in the land.

Do Not Sell My Personal Information