My Attempt To Capture Afghanistan Wound Up Capturing America Instead - We Are The Mighty
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My Attempt To Capture Afghanistan Wound Up Capturing America Instead

My Attempt To Capture Afghanistan Wound Up Capturing America Instead
Oregon National Guardsmen in Afghanistan, 2008. (Photo: Gary Mortensen)


Afghanistan. Distant, foreboding, little understood.

Known as the “Graveyard of Empires” the carcasses of countless soviet war machines rust away in mute testimony to the futility of that savage war. The more I read about Afghanistan the less I seemed to know. Watching the news was even more confusing and it appeared America had entered this same graveyard and that we were now fighting elusive ghosts otherwise known as the Taliban.

I remember watching the newscasts in the 1990’s of the Taliban as they rose like a cancer throughout the country, oppressing women, killing those who opposed them and imposing their radical version of Islam on all. Nothing made a deeper impression on me than the public destruction of the massive Banyam Buddhas and the wholesale  “cleansing” of Afghanistan’s precious ancient history. Then came 9/11.

In 2010, then our 9th year of the war, I was still struggling with understanding why we were there, who we were fighting and maybe most importantly who were we helping? I got it in my mind that I wanted to make a sort of “combat travel film” that didn’t just following brave men in combat but one that also helped to explain more about the land and the people. Digital technology now makes every soldier a potential documentarian and it was under these auspices that I started to look for a story. It didn’t take long and it would change my life.

Enter Team Cobra

A Sergeant friend of mine told me about a group of all-volunteers from the Oregon National Guard who, in 2008, wanted to deploy to Afghanistan to “impart change” by helping the local population and training the Afghan National Army.  They would return a year later as one of the most decorated units in Oregon National Guard history. While I didn’t at the time know the particulars, I knew I had to tell their story.

Of the 17 men that deployed, I interviewed 6 of them. I had between 2 and 4 hours of initial interview footage from each man. With each interview their stories started to intertwine and after the interview process my real work began. I listened to these stories on my headphones over and over again. Their journey to Afghanistan was over, but mine was just beginning. I watched countless video clips and looked at thousands of photos, each one representing a puzzle piece.  Weeks turned to months. The sound of the newspaper being delivered in our driveway served as a reminder that I might have missed another night’s sleep. I was learning about Afghanistan, about the diversity of the people, about courage, about honor and about loss.

Watch Gary Mortensen’s ‘Shepherds of Helmand’ on The Mighty TV here.

 

Earlier that year I had lost my mom to a long and protracted battle with cancer. My father followed a few weeks afterwards. In my own sorrow I consumed myself with telling the story of Team Cobra. They too knew loss. One of their leaders, Bruno DeSolenni had died in an IED attack and the impact on these men would be profound and everlasting.

Each night as I worked on the film I felt closer to these guys, even though they had only met me months earlier for a few hours. But that didn’t matter, I felt a huge responsibility to tell their story in a way that would honor them.  I was nervous to show the final cut to them because I wanted to tell the story right. They were gracious and thankful and said to my relief that it was faithful.

When the film finally debuted almost a year later everyone of the soldiers were there for the premiere. They stood on the stage after the screening and answered questions. It was after this that I really got to know them, not just as soldiers but as people.

In my attempt to make a film about Afghanistan, I ended up making a film about America. It’s seems so easy to accept the popular indictment that we have lost it as a country. But I would submit that all around us are exceptional people. I am proud to say I know six of them. They are simply some of the finest people I have ever met and I know that if I was ever in need I could call any of them and they would be there for me. Not because I’m special, it’s because that’s just what they do. They went to Afghanistan to help, some of have gone back, one didn’t come back and  some of them are there today.

I am honored to call Jerry Glesmann, Paul Dyer, Marking Browning, Dave Hagen, Dominic Oto and Steve Cooper my friends. They helped me more than they will every know.

My Attempt To Capture Afghanistan Wound Up Capturing America Instead
Gary Mortensen is an award-winning documentary film director, President of Stoller Family Estate (a premiere Oregon winery), and is active in helping to preserve and share the stories of our veterans. See more at www.veteranslegacies.com.

MIGHTY CULTURE

How a new generation can make the same, great soldiers

Generations are evolving faster these days and are palpably different in culture and norms than the World War II-era soldier, the oldest living veteran group. Culture progresses rapidly, adapting to trends and reflective of the times. The military, however, remains steadfast in many of her ways out of necessity and tradition. Her ways hold a standard, to which all who raise the hand are meant to uphold, to adapt to and strive for. Today, when individuality and acceptance reign supreme, it is more important than ever for young service members to look far beyond the benefits package, and into the legacy they are inheriting through their service.


When all the noise, distractions and selfish human tendencies are removed from view, the life of a service member hasn’t strayed too much historically. It looks a lot like mere humans foregoing themselves for the greater good. If today’s soldier can merely tap into the deep river of pride which they’ve inherited, the hardships begin to feel a little less hard.

My Attempt To Capture Afghanistan Wound Up Capturing America Instead

Disconnection serves a purpose

It takes a minute to remember that connectivity to the world is not a foundational human right. It may be deeply ingrained in our habits, and feel hopelessly cruel to remove, but is not essential to life. Adapting to a life of disconnection is a requirement, not a suggestion in raising successful soldiers.

Today’s battlefront is both visible and invisible, as cyber warfare has become a real and formidable threat. At the most obvious level, a connected soldier on mission poses a risk for operational security. Another layer in comes the mental preparedness it takes to obtain the highest level of situational awareness, which cannot come from a constant buzz of social media feed disrupting your focus. Complacency on the battlefield is deadly. A momentary loss of focus may be the difference between life and death, and it might not be yours.

It may cause you to miss today’s viral video, or even to fall a few steps behind in the life you’re used to living. But remember, you signed up to answer a different call, one which forces you to leave the world at home behind to fight for its protection.

My Attempt To Capture Afghanistan Wound Up Capturing America Instead

It’s a dark and violent world

Humanity is making strides towards kindness. Towards accepting that some are more sensitive than others, and that sensitivity should not be met with ridicule. While everyday-America seems to have more and more designated safe places to avoid unpleasantries popping up, she’s sending her youth into the same old horrors of the dark world.

When it comes to preparing mentally to not just operate but to survive what may come, the success or failure of a soldier lies in the ability to remove oneself from humanity. To walk adjacent to reality, viewing the enemy as a target, the one your training prepared you to face. Getting comfortable with uncomfortable is the first step. Reading firsthand accounts, interviews or books written by veterans who lived it may prove to be a valuable memory to recall when seeing war with your own eyes.

My Attempt To Capture Afghanistan Wound Up Capturing America Instead

It’s really not personal

There’s a reason why giving up individuality is essential, but that doesn’t make it any easier to do when it goes against today’s culture. You’ll have to forget everything you’re used to- from saying “no” or “why” to standing out. Full-spectrum warfare relies on the success of interdependent and individual units carrying out mission orders with minimal disruption.

While there remains a time and place to innovate or prove your intelligence, carrying out orders, should for the most part, be without question. A service member must be able to walk the fine line between following lawful orders of their leaders and being able to decipher if those orders become immoral or unethical. Stopping in the middle of the street to question your Squad Leader about why you are clearing a building is not appropriate, but one must be able to judge the situation and circumstance prior to asking.

It’s important for any new service member to truly adapt to their new life. To do the job that few could, means living a life like few could either.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Navy leads way in 3D imaging of breasts to detect cancer

The word “cancer” has a way of stopping patients in their tracks.

Early detection is key to beating breast cancer, catching it when it is treatable.

Navy Medicine is leading the way when it comes to early detection of breast cancer with the use of a sophisticated combination of 3D mammography and 3D biopsy system.

According to Naval Medical Center Camp Lejeune’s Chief of Radiology, CDR Matthew Rose, the 3D biopsy system, “is the first of its kind in the Navy.”

The new biopsy system is in use at NMCCL and provides the capability to biopsy lesions not seen on ultrasound or 2D imaging.


Lead mammography technologist Christine Davidson explained the biopsy system allows tissue sampling in a more patient-sensitive manner by utilizing a memory-foam table top.

“Having a 3D biopsy system allows us the capability to perform biopsies of lesions that were only seen on 3D in the least invasive way possible,” said Davidson. “Without this capability, a patient may have to go through a more invasive procedure to determine the pathology of the lesion.”

Utilization of both 2D and 3D imaging are crucial to “early detection of breast cancer, when it is treatable,” said Rose.

The use of these technologies is more than just beneficial in detecting cancer early.

“It (3D imaging) has the potential to reduce emotional harm by having few call backs for addition imaging,” said Rose. “Patients get very worried that the test is positive if we call them back for more images. The systems takes multiple images of the breast and formats them to be viewed as a stack of images.”

My Attempt To Capture Afghanistan Wound Up Capturing America Instead

Naval Medical Center Camp Lejeune mammography technologists pose in one of the mammography imaging rooms at the medical center.

Both mammography units passed multiple American College of Radiology and Food and Drug Administration accreditations in September 2018 just in time for Breast Cancer Awareness month.

“The most important part of Breast cancer awareness month truly is the awareness part,” said NMCCL Executive Officer Capt. Shelley Perkins. “Every woman should talk to her doctor about the risk of breast cancer and have a discussion about how best to screen for cancer and the timing of imaging, such as mammograms. Mammograms saves lives with early detection.

The units are certified for the next three years according to ACR.

These accreditations are no surprise due to a major process improvement project the mammography unit underwent three years ago.

A massive process improvement project, which was recognized as one of the most successful in Navy Medicine East, created an effective system that streamlined scheduling for both screening and diagnostic mammography, Rose explained.

Still, many beneficiaries choose to be seen outside of NMCCL for their breast health needs.

Due to the nomadic lifestyle many of our beneficiaries have, maintaining a regular schedule of breast health screenings can be difficult outside of a military treatment facility.

“We maintain excellence and standard of care and the patient’s images can be easily sent to any DoD (Department of Defense) facility so their mammograms can follow them with every PCS (permanent change of station) or move to a DoD facility,” said Rose. “[Being seen at NMCCL] improves the ability to share prior exams with other DoD facilities, which can make a difference in earlier detection of breast cancer.”

In recognition of breast cancer awareness month, patients will have an opportunity to take advantage of the advanced breast imaging services at NMCCL, Oct. 15 through Oct. 19, 2018.

The event will allow patients, who are asymptomatic (have had no previous signs of breast cancer), to come into the mammography clinic and be screened without an appointment.

Walk-ins will be taken 0800 to 1100, and 1300 to 1500 on those days.

“NMCCL has state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment, a dedicated team of imagers who have years of experience and highly trained, board-certified radiologists who can find tiny changes in a mammogram, years before they would ever be felt on an exam,” said Perkins. “If you do have a breast concern or have a change in your exam, talk with your primary care provider. Women save their own lives every day by speaking up!”

This article originally appeared on the United States Navy. Follow @USNavy on Twitter.

MIGHTY MOVIES

‘Top Gun 2’ will fly the F/A-18 Super Hornet, not the F-35

The actor Tom Cruise on May 31, 2018, tweeted a teaser for the long-awaited sequel to the movie “Top Gun” — and in doing so, he wandered into one of the most heated debates in modern combat aviation and delivered a savage burn to the F-35.

The original “Top Gun” film was nothing short of a revelation for the US Navy. People around the US and the world saw fighter jets in a whole new light, and naval aviation recruitment shot up by 500%.

A new “Top Gun” movie, now 32 years after the first, could again spike interest in combat aviation at a time when the US military struggles to retain and attract top talent. But for the most expensive weapons system in history, it already looks like a bust.

Here’s the poster for the new “Top Gun.”


Notice anything? The F-35C, the US Navy’s long overdue, massively expensive new carrier aircraft, is nowhere to be seen. Instead, the F-18 Super Hornet, the F-35’s main competitor, can be seen.

The F-35 community was not thrilled.

“Everybody that’s flown a fighter in the last 25 years, we all watched ‘Top Gun,'” retired US Marine Corps Lt. Col. David Berke, who flew F-35s and actually attended the US Navy’s Top Gun school, previously told Business Insider.

“Damn shame,” Berke said in response to the new movie’s choice of fighter. “I guess it will be a movie about the past!”

While experts agree that the F-35’s carrier-based variant, the F-35C, and its vertical-takeoff sister, the F-35B, represent the future of naval aviation, they’re just not ready for the big time yet.

The F-35B had its first operational deployment in 2018 in the Pacific, but the F-35C remains a ways off from adoption onto the US Navy’s fleet of aircraft supercarriers. Persistent problems with launching the sophisticated airplane off a moving ship have pushed back the schedule and resulted in huge cost overruns.

Meanwhile, the F-18 Super Hornet continues to do the lion’s share of combat-aviation work aboard aircraft carriers, and its maker, Boeing, has even offered an updated version of the plane that President Donald Trump entertained buying instead of the F-35.

In short, it’s an embarrassment to the F-35 program that mounting setbacks have pushed it out of a potentially massive public-relations boost.

“It’s a capable aircraft,” retired Lt. Gen. David Deptula, the dean of the Mitchell Institute of Aerospace Studies, told Business Insider of the Super Hornet. “It’s just last century’s design.”

He added: “It is a missed opportunity.”

Berke pointed out that the producers of the new “Top Gun” may have gone with the Super Hornet over the F-35 because the Super Hornet has two seats, which could facilitate filming and possibly on-screen dynamics.

The popular aviation blog The Aviationist also pointed out that Cruise is holding an outdated helmet and that the photo does not appear to take place at the US Navy’s Top Gun school. But Hollywood sometimes makes mistakes.

“Hollywood doesn’t build movies around what makes sense — they build movies around what makes money,” Deptula said.

But despite what might have come as a slight sting to F-35 boosters hoping a new film could help usher in what they call a revolution in combat aviation, both Berke and Deptula said they were looking forward to the film.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Air Force just presented a new award to drone pilots

The Air Force presented its first “R” devices to airmen, giving them to aircrews from the 432nd Wing/432 Air Expeditionary Wing on July 11, 2018, at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada.

The Air Force authorized the “R” device, for “remote,” in 2016 and released criteria for it in 2017, “to distinguish that an award was earned for direct hands-on employment of a weapon system that had a direct and immediate impact on a combat or military operation,” the service said in 2017.


The five airmen recognized at Creech were picked for their actions on criteria that included strategic significance, protection of ground forces, leadership displayed, critical thinking, level of difficulty, and innovation.

“It is a great honor to recognize the contributions of these airmen,” Col Julian C. Cheater, 432nd commander, said in a release. “Much of the world will never know details of their contributions due to operational security, but rest assured that they have made significant impacts while saving friendly lives.”

My Attempt To Capture Afghanistan Wound Up Capturing America Instead

Maj. Bishane, a 432nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron MQ-9 Reaper pilot, controls an aircraft from Creech Air Force Base, Nevada.

(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.)

According to the release, the airmen eliminated threats to and saved the lives of US and coalition forces on the ground.

In one case, an MQ-9 Reaper crew from the 732nd Operations Group, identified only as retired Maj. Asa and Capt. Evan, performed attack and reconnaissance missions over 74 days to identify a high-value target and known terrorist, coordinating with other aircraft and successfully carrying out a strike on the target.

“I went home that night and I knew what I did,” the airman identified only as Evan said. “I think to the outside community, something like this will give a sense of perspective.”

In other operation, 1st Lt. Eric and Senior Airman Jason, both MQ-9 Reaper crew members from the 432nd looking for ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria, spotted a truck with a large-caliber machine gun heading toward coalition forces.

The two airmen tracked the vehicle, coordinating with personnel on the ground. They noticed a large group of civilians near the truck and held off firing until the truck returned to a garage, at which point they struck with a Hellfire missile.

“In this particular situation, we were able to quickly assess that the enemy was not yet inflicting effective fire on friendly forces which allowed us to completely prepare for the strike,” the MQ-9 pilot identified as Eric said in the release.

My Attempt To Capture Afghanistan Wound Up Capturing America Instead

A US Air Force medal with an attached remote “R” device in front of an MQ-9 Reaper at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, July 9, 2018.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman James Thompson)

In another operation, a 432nd MQ-9 pilot named as Capt. Abrham and his crew remained on station after poor weather forced manned aircraft to withdraw. The crew continued surveillance amid the deteriorating weather conditions and eventually identified enemy personnel firing on coalition forces.

Abrham fired four Hellfire missiles, taking out three targets, two vehicles, and one mortar, before returning to base.

The decision to add the “R” device — alongside a “V” device for “valor” and a “C” device for “combat” — reflects the military’s increasing reliance on drones and remotely piloted aircraft, which often carry stay on station for extended periods and always without exposing a human to risk.

“As the impact of remote operations on combat continues to increase, the necessity of ensuring those actions are distinctly recognized grows,” Pentagon officials said in a Jan. 7, 2016, memo.

The Air Force has sought to normalize remotely piloted operations. The Culture and Process Improvement Program has been successful at implementing improved manning, additional basing opportunities, and streamlined training, the Air Force said the release, and awarding the “R” device is meant to continue that normalization effort.

“The ‘R’ device denotes that there were critical impacts accomplished from afar — often where others cannot go — and that we are ready to fight from any location that our US leaders determine is best,” Cheater said.

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

Articles

This legend of Fort Bragg served with more than 20 different commanders

The walls of Travis Bell’s modest barbershop on Fort Bragg are lined with history.


Photos of Army heroes are here, men such as the late Col. Arthur D. “Bull” Simons, a Special Forces legend best known for leading the Son Tay raid during an attempted rescue of American prisoners of war during the Vietnam War. Former Army leaders have found their way on the walls, too, including Gens. Hugh Shelton, Ray Odierno, Lloyd Austin, and Stanley McChrystal.

Some are official photos. Others were taken from Bell’s barber chair in the center of his shop. In a few, it’s Bell in the chair and a general behind him, playfully holding a pair of clippers.

Nearly every photograph includes a handwritten note to Bell, who has been a fixture on Fort Bragg for more than half the Army post’s almost 100-year history.

My Attempt To Capture Afghanistan Wound Up Capturing America Instead
Travis Bell at work. DoD Photo by Spc. Paul A. Holston.

“Thanks for your dedication and friendship,” wrote Lt. Gen. Mike Ferriter, who served as a deputy commanding general of the 18th Airborne Corps from 2007 to 2009.

“Thank you for your friendship, support, and dedicated service to America,” wrote Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, who commanded the 18th Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg from 2005 to 2007.

“To Travis with deep respect,” wrote McChrystal, who served as chief of staff of the corps and later commanded Joint Special Operations Command and the US war in Afghanistan before his retirement in 2010.

After 50 years of standing behind his barber chair, Fort Bragg leaders pulled Bell out into the open July 7 to honor him for his decades of service.

My Attempt To Capture Afghanistan Wound Up Capturing America Instead
U.S. Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal. Photo from DoD.

Maj. Gen. Paul J. LaCamera, deputy commanding general of the 18th Airborne Corps and the acting senior commander of Fort Bragg, said Bell has had a lasting impact on Fort Bragg and its leaders that stretches well beyond making them look good.

“He’s shaped a lot of leaders in the Corps,” the general said. “He has probably counseled every Corps commander since 1967.”

Bell, 77, has long served as a sounding board for soldiers across the 18th Airborne Corps, LaCamera said. And he has more time in the headquarters than anyone in history.

As a token of appreciation, the general presented Bell with a book full of handwritten letters from past Army leaders.

“The impact he’s had…” LaCamera said. “Who he has touched… It’s unbelievable. We’ve got a man who has had a tremendous impact.”

My Attempt To Capture Afghanistan Wound Up Capturing America Instead
General Maj. Gen. Paul LaCamera (right). Photo from DoD.

Bell opened his shop on Fort Bragg during the week of July 4, 1967. The then-27-year-old had worked on post for several months by that time — first at the old E-4 club, which would eventually become the Noncommissioned Officers Club, and then briefly at the 1st Corps Support Command headquarters.

Bell recalls accepting the job at the 18th Airborne Corps reluctantly.

In 1966, he turned down a similar job on Fort Bragg when he learned that the Corps headquarters was “where all that high brass” was stationed.

Instead, Bell kept working as a night foreman at a poultry plant in Robeson County. He cut hair on the side for a quarter or $.35 a cut.

When another job at Fort Bragg opened — this time with lower-ranking troops as the customers — Bell jumped at the opportunity.

My Attempt To Capture Afghanistan Wound Up Capturing America Instead
Fort Bragg, North Carolina, USA. Enlisted personnel barracks for the 1st Brigade. Photo by Jonas N. Jordan, US Army Corps of Engineers

“I was one of them,” he said of the privates and privates first class who were among his first customers on post. “I was right at home.”

It would take Bell weeks to feel comfortable cutting the hair of soldiers at higher ranks.

When a lieutenant sat in his chair for the first time, Bell said he froze.

“I got so nervous I couldn’t hardly finish,” he said.

When Bell was offered the job at the 18th Airborne Corps headquarters a second time, he said he felt he had little choice but to accept it.

“It was go there or go home,” he said.

My Attempt To Capture Afghanistan Wound Up Capturing America Instead
USAF photo by Airman 1st Class Preston Cherry

Bell grew up on a Robeson County farm, one of nine boys who worked the fields alongside their father. Later, he would be a painter, carpenter, plumber and mechanic, and do other odd jobs along the way.

He said he viewed cutting hair as his way out of those jobs, learning from an older brother and practicing on his siblings.

But settling into his shop at the 18th Airborne Corps, Bell would have had no idea he would still be there 50 years later.

“I thought I wouldn’t even last the first day,” he said. “But I made it through that. Then I made it through another one. And another one.”

Bell estimates that he has cut more than a million heads of hair at Fort Bragg, although he said business is a lot slower these days, with much of the 18th Airborne Corps deployed to lead the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

My Attempt To Capture Afghanistan Wound Up Capturing America Instead
DoD Photo by Cpl. Angelica Annastas

“My customers are over in the war,” he said.

Originally, Bell charged 90 cents per cut. Today, the cost ranges from $8.55 to $10.75.

Bell has cut the hair of 23 Fort Bragg commanders, starting with Lt. Gen. Robert H. York in 1967.

The general walked into Bell’s shop, shook his hand and introduced himself, Bell said.

“I was so nervous, to this day I haven’t told him my name,” he said.

Those nerves would eventually go away. And Bell would become a trusted counselor to Fort Bragg’s leaders.

Gen. Daniel B. Allyn, who retired on Fort Bragg last week after a career that culminated as vice chief of staff for the Army, said he sought out Bell to cut his hair one last time before he stepped away from the military.

My Attempt To Capture Afghanistan Wound Up Capturing America Instead
Gen. Daniel B. Allyn. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jim Greenhill.

Allyn thanked Bell alongside current and former Army leaders.

“Travis has been cutting the hair of airborne troopers for over 50 years,” Allyn said. “He lowered my locks one final time this week. Thank you for not only keeping us looking as good as possible but thanks for your constant reminder of the impact of faith in our lives.”

When not cutting hair, Bell is often seen reading from a Bible he keeps in his shop.

He said he still makes the drive from Lumberton to Fort Bragg each day.

The July 7 celebration was just one way the Fort Bragg community said thanks to Bell. It was also his first day back in a newly remodeled barber shop.

And on July 6, he rode in an airplane for the first time in his life, flying with the US Army Parachute Team, the Golden Knights.

Bell still hasn’t been on a plane when it landed, though. The 77-year-old touched the ground while strapped to a member of the parachute team.

My Attempt To Capture Afghanistan Wound Up Capturing America Instead
A member of the US Army Parachute Team, the Golden Knights. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Teddy Wade

“I’m airborne now,” he said July 7, proudly recalling the experience of the day before.

Bell said Fort Bragg is home now.

“They take care of me good around here,” he said. “It’s been a real pleasure.”

And after 50 years, the barber has no plans to slow down.

“I’m enjoying it right now,” he said. “I don’t know when I’m going to retire.”

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

Trump signs two new laws to combat veteran suicide; 988 to become National Crisis Line

Thanks to new legislation signed into law Saturday, anyone distressed with thoughts of suicide will be able by next fall to dial 988 to reach a national crisis line similar to 911 for mental health emergencies.

President Donald Trump on Saturday signed two bills into law to help prevent veterans suicide — the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act and the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act.


The latter establishes a new Department of Veterans Affairs grant program to promote collaboration with outside entities and enhance suicide prevention services for veterans and their families. It establishes new data requirements to better track potential causes of suicide and new hiring rules to bolster the VA’s mental health workforce.

The VA estimates that more than 20 veterans die by suicide every day, and of those 20, 14 have received no treatment or care from the VA, according to a statement by Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jerry Moran, R-Kan. Moran and ranking member Jon Tester, D-Mont., sponsored the Improvement Act, which they say will improve outreach to veterans and their mental health care options in six major ways:

  • Bolstering VA’s mental health workforce to serve more veterans by offering scholarships to mental health professionals to work at Vet Centers and placing at least one suicide prevention coordinator in every VA hospital.
  • Improving rural veterans’ access to mental health care by increasing the number of locations at which veterans can access VA telehealth services.
  • Implementing a pilot program to provide veterans access to complementary and integrative health programs through animal therapy, agritherapy, sports and recreation therapy, art therapy, and post-traumatic growth.
  • Establishing a grant program that requires VA to better collaborate with community organizations across the country already serving veterans. This collaboration will result in earlier identification of veterans who are at risk of suicide and will provide the ability to intervene with preventative services.
  • Studying the impact of living at high altitude on veterans’ suicide risk and diagnostic biomarker research to identify depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and other conditions.
  • Holding the VA accountable for its mental health care and suicide prevention efforts by examining how the department manages its suicide prevention resources.
My Attempt To Capture Afghanistan Wound Up Capturing America Instead

Introduction ceremony for the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act. Photo from US Sen. Jon Tester’s official website.

“People in distress and in need of timely care should face the fewest obstacles possible to get help,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said after the bill was signed. “The bill President Trump signed today will soon make it easier for those at risk to be quickly connected to a trained responder and will help save lives.”

The legislation is named for Navy SEAL Commander John Scott Hannon, who retired to Montana after 23 years of service and worked to help veterans find their own paths to recovery before he died by suicide Feb. 25, 2018.

“This is a very proud moment for my brother and our entire family,” said Kim Parrott, Hannon’s sister, on behalf of the Hannon family. “This law will provide veterans greater and earlier access to the mental health care they need by requiring the DOD and VA to work together to bridge the transition between military service and civilian life and conduct research in evidence-based treatments.”

Tester said the new law “combines the best ideas from veterans, veterans service organizations, the VA, and mental health care advocates to deliver innovative solutions that’ll help heal invisible wounds of war through increased access to care, alternate therapies and local treatment options.”

Senators also agreed to try and fast-track a package of nine House bills also related to veterans suicide. That package — dubbed the COMPACT Act — features a measure by House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif., to make VA mental health care services available to all veterans, regardless of their discharge status, according to Military Times. It also seeks to bolster support networks for at-risk veterans and requires VA officials to reach out to veterans every few years to ensure they are aware of benefits and health care options.

“It’s been a remarkable journey to get to this point, and I look forward to seeing the critical efforts laid out in this legislation to help our nation’s heroes get the right care at the right time for their mental health conditions,” said Matt Kuntz, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Montana, in a statement.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.


Articles

5 signs the Syrian conflict is the start of the Apocalypse

The fighting in Syria is not as simple as a schismatic civil war. And there is more to the religiosity of the conflict than just Sunni vs. Shia. Theologists and other influencers, including U.S. lawmakers, see the coming “end of days” prophesies via religious texts, visions of the Apocalypse, and other theories that they claim support the notion of our living in a time when the curtain falls for good.


1. Isaiah 17

This message came to me concerning Damascus: ‘Look, Damascus will disappear! It will become a heap of ruins. The cities of Aroer will be deserted. Sheep will graze in the streets and lie down unafraid. There will be no one to chase them away. The fortified cities of Israel will also be destroyed, and the power of Damascus will end. The few left in Aram will share the fate of Israel’s departed glory,’ says the Lord Almighty Isaiah

The Bible warns a series of horrible events will take place in Israel and Syria. Central to this vision of the apocalypse is the destruction of Damascus as one of the finest cities in the world.

My Attempt To Capture Afghanistan Wound Up Capturing America Instead
So… that happened.

Joel Rosenberg is a Christian author, an expert on Christian “end times” discussions. He told MotherJones unidentified members of the U.S. Congress called him to Washington to consult on the biblical end of days. Yes. Congress is concerned about the End of Days, as if they could just pass the “No to End of Days” Act and go on with life. Other legislators interested in this verse include Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, and Texas Representative Louie Gohmert.

Hal Lindsey is an influential evangelist, something that should be an oxymoron but isn’t, who believes the Russians will lead a “Gog-Magog Alliance” foretold by the prophet Ezekiel, which means this bit is in the Torah, the Bible, and Koran as well. Gog and Magog could be individuals, a person and his homeland, or basically whatever suits the theory you’re peddling. In Revelations, Gog and Magog join Satan in the final battle.

Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the Earth—Gog and Magog—and to gather them for battle.

Guess who a lot of people think Gog may be.

My Attempt To Capture Afghanistan Wound Up Capturing America Instead
u mad bro?

2. Islam’s ‘Grand Battle’

Many fighters in Syria (on all sides) believe was a large battle was foretold 1,400 years ago in the hadith, the sayings of the Prophet Mohammed and anecdotes about things he said and did from his closest followers.

My Attempt To Capture Afghanistan Wound Up Capturing America Instead
The “No sh*t, there I was” collection of Islamic religious stories.

Some Sunni jihadis and other militias aren’t really even there to fight Asad. They’re there for a Grand Battle the prophet talked about in the 7th century CE. According to Muhammed, two huge Islamic armies are destined to meet near Damascus, coming from the North and West of the area. Fighters are pouring in to various sides from all over the world because Mohammed promised this would happen. The goal is to establish an Islamic state.

In the hadith, Mohammed also said Syria is God’s favored land and if not Syria, the faithful should go to Yemen, which is also not the first place anyone would associate with the phrase “God’s favored land,” as it is currently experiencing a civil war exacerbated by external aggression. Bringing the U.S. and NATO (especially Turkey) to Syria made some believe the U.S. aggression was deliberately planned by you-know-who to bring about the Grand Battle.

My Attempt To Capture Afghanistan Wound Up Capturing America Instead
Thanks, Obama.

3. The Return of the Mahdi

What sounds like the worst Star Wars movie ever (or a new hymn by Mark Morrison) is actually also prediction mentioned in hadith. Shia Muslims believe the Syrian war is paving the way for the Imam Mahdi, a descendant of Mohammed’s who disappeared a thousand years ago but is going to resurface to re-establish Islamic rule during a time of war, shortly before the end of the world. To them, the Islamic state foretold by the hadith was established during the 1979 Iranian Revolution, and the Syrian Civil War is the war in question.

The hadith says fighters with yellow flags (see Hezbollah) join to fight anti-Shi’ites (read: Sunnis) in Damascus as a prelude to the coming of the Mahdi. Fighters believe if they are killed during the war, they will be reborn when the Mahdi comes, so they can join his army. This also works for Christians, because the return of the Mahdi coincides with second coming of Jesus. Christian religious scholars in the U.S. believe a document labeled the “Arak Codex #190001” in a museum in Tehran, says the Imam is already here, and it contains a description of the Mahdi. Guess who he supposedly looks like.

My Attempt To Capture Afghanistan Wound Up Capturing America Instead

4. Nostradamus predicted ISIS

Believers in the 16th century French prophet Nostradamus believe he wrote poems which predicted the future, and he was eerily accurate about events even 500 years later. They believe he predicted Napoleon and Hitler, who were two of three “antichrists” whose rise foretold the end of the world.

My Attempt To Capture Afghanistan Wound Up Capturing America Instead

500 years ago, Nostradamus wrote:

He will enter wicked, unpleasant, infamous,

Tyrannizing over Mesopotamia:

All friends made by the adulterous lady,

Land dreadful and black of aspect.

In the original French, it rhymed. Just saying. Anyway, adherents to Nostradamus translate this passage to mean ISIS’ rise to prominence in Iraq and Syria, the black referring to ISIS’ uniforms and flags. There’s also a bunch of math involved which makes Common Core look reasonable. But who knows, there are so many tyrants to choose from in the Middle East, especially in recent history, “He” could be anyone. The adulterous lady could mean any coalition or Syria itself, no matter who might be in charge there. The verses devolve into a description of World War III, endless war, and the end of the world. More racist looks at the writings of Nostradamus predict the end of the world will be brought by someone special…

My Attempt To Capture Afghanistan Wound Up Capturing America Instead

5. The Book of Revelation

Shortly before Russia intervened in Syria, there was a very large blood moon, visible in most of the world. John of Patmos (aka”The Revelator,” aka “the Greek” aka “Bad Host from Patmos.” [I made the last two up]) wrote in the Book of Revelation that the blood moon would appear when the sixth of seven seals are opened and then some bowls are poured, some trumpets sound, a bunch of other stuff happens. This theory doesn’t really jive with Isaiah 17, because this is where Gog and Magog gather everyone from the four corners for battle at the holy city… after a thousand years. So, unless the bowls and trumpets and the seals did this 1,000 years ago, we don’t have to worry about Gog and Magog.

My Attempt To Capture Afghanistan Wound Up Capturing America Instead
Gog and Magog have new SEALs to worry about.

Still others believe John foretold of a 200 million-man army. Since the entire world’s number of active duty uniformed personnel add up to about 20.2 million (and don’t all necessarily get along), it’s unlikely this army would be a conventional army. Enter ISIS. Some Christian groups see the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world as a potential source of manpower for the apocalyptic 200 million man army. Just 10-15% of the worlds Islamic people gives said army a potential strength of 160-240 million.

Good luck getting them all to fight together.

My Attempt To Capture Afghanistan Wound Up Capturing America Instead
L’chaim.

 

Articles

This is the Israeli version of the dogfighting wargame Red Flag

A number of elite units from multiple nations are gathered to train at an air base, with over 100 aircraft sitting on the flightline for a two-week exercise.


Sounds like just another Red Flag, right? Wrong.

This exercise is a “flag,” but it’s not at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. Instead, it’s taking place in Israel. And appropriately enough, it’s known as Blue Flag.

My Attempt To Capture Afghanistan Wound Up Capturing America Instead
F-16I Sufa (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

While several Red Flag exercises are held each year in the U.S., the Israelis hold one Blue Flag every two years. In 2013, four countries took part. This year, according to DefenseNews.com, seven will be in the skies over the Middle East nation: the United States, France, Germany, India, Italy, Poland, and of course, Israel.

One big difference between Red Flag and Blue Flag is the fact that Blue Flag doesn’t have a lot of head-to-head action between the participants. The exercise usually puts the 100 or so planes in as a multi-national “Blue Force” dealing with an external “Red Force.”

My Attempt To Capture Afghanistan Wound Up Capturing America Instead
(U. S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Michael R. Holzworth)

Week one of Blue Flag is spent getting familiar with the area. The second week is the actual combat exercise, usually involving the Red Force trying to hit friendly targets. The Blue Force tries to stop them, in a variety of missions, both air-to-air, and air-to-surface.

Past Blue Flags have drawn rave reviews from the United States Air Force.

My Attempt To Capture Afghanistan Wound Up Capturing America Instead
Photo: US Air Force Tech. Sgt. Kevin J. Gruenwald

“The Israelis provided an excellent training environment, which offered us the opportunity to learn from each other and to take advantage of good airspace, surface threat replicators, and challenging scenarios,” said Lt. Col. John Orchard after Blue Flag 2013 in an Air Force release. “It was a real pleasure integrating with our Israeli, Italian and Greek partners who all offer unique tactical, strategic and cultural perspectives.”

While the nightlife may be very different from the Vegas strip — and it’ll be a little harder to find a good ham sandwich between sorties — Blue Flag 2017 promises to be very interesting for the participants.

Articles

SEALs punished over Trump flag

The consequences have come for Navy SEALs who flew Trump flags from their vehicles earlier this year.


According to a report from the Virginian-Pilot, the unidentified personnel, who were assigned to Naval Special Warfare Group Two, were reprimanded for flying blue Trump flags off their vehicles while they were convoying between training locations.

My Attempt To Capture Afghanistan Wound Up Capturing America Instead
A Trump flag flying from the lead vehicle as SEALs convoy between two training locations. (YouTube screenshot)

“It has been determined that those service members have violated the spirit and intent of applicable [Defense Department] regulations concerning the flying of flags and the apparent endorsement of political activities,” Lieutenant Jacqui Maxwell told Newsline.com.

At the time, We Are The Mighty covered the incident, noting that in July, 2016, the DoD had reminded military and civilian personnel, “Per longstanding DoD policy, active duty personnel may not engage in partisan political activities and all military personnel should avoid the inference that their political activities imply or appear to imply DoD sponsorship, approval, or endorsement of a political candidate, campaign, or cause. Members on active duty may not campaign for a partisan candidate, engage in partisan fundraising activities, serve as an officer of a partisan club, or speak before a partisan gathering.”

Video of the event spread rapidly over social media, and was picked up by a number of media outlets in addition to We Are The Mighty, including the Daily Caller. One of the videos is below:

MIGHTY TRENDING

U.S. could send more advanced weapons to Ukraine

The United States is considering sending more lethal weaponry to Kyiv to build up its naval and air defenses, Washington’s special envoy for Ukraine said, as concerns mount that Russia may be stepping up operations in coastal waters.

In an interview with RFE/RL on Sept. 13, 2018, Kurt Volker blamed Russia for fueling the conflict. He also said that Washington and Moscow still have serious differences over a possible United Nations peacekeeping force that could be deployed to help bring an end to the fighting in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Volker said he thought that Russian President Vladimir Putin was unwilling to negotiate much of anything related to the conflict at least until after Ukraine’s presidential elections in March 2019, or with “[Ukrainian President Petro] Poroshenko still in power.”


Volker said he has made several overtures to his Russian counterpart, Vladislav Surkov, since their last meeting in Dubai in January 2018, but he has received no response.

In January 2018, Surkov showed interest in the idea of a phased deployment of peacekeepers, Volker said. Since then, however, the Russians “have backed away and have some objections.”

Another meeting is possible, he said, but “right now, there is nothing scheduled.

“Since fighting broke out between government forces and Russia-backed fighters in April 2014, more than 10,000 people have died and more than 1 million have fled their homes.

Russia has repeatedly denied financing and equipping the separatist forces in Donetsk and Luhansk despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, insisting that the fighting was a civil, internal conflict.

Sea Defense

In recent months, Russia has stepped up naval operations in the shared Sea of Azov, where, Volker said, “Ukrainians have virtually no naval capability or limited capability, so [the Russians] feel they can assert dominance there.”

My Attempt To Capture Afghanistan Wound Up Capturing America Instead

Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Ukraine’s lack of robust naval and air-defense capabilities is a weakness Volker said Washington looks set on addressing.

“I think that’s going to be the focus as we develop the next steps in our defense cooperation,” he added.

International negotiators have twice reached a framework for a cease-fire and a road map for peace, known as the Minsk peace accords. Both have failed to hold.

That is due in large part to the fact that Russia continues to flood the territory with fighters and arms, Volker said.

In August 2018, monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe documented — using drone footage — convoys of military trucks crossing to and from Ukraine and Russia on a dirt road under the cover of darkness. Early September 2018, the monitors said another convoy had been spotted in the area.

Russia has not responded to accusations that it was behind the convoys.

Volker also criticized Kyiv, which he said was not doing enough to reach out to Ukrainians living in separatist-held territories. He said Poroshenko’s government has also failed to develop a reintegration plan for when the conflict does end.

Preliminary ideas, he said, “[do not] enjoy strong political backing and there is little emphasis that this should be a priority for the Ukrainian government to figure out how it can reach its own citizens and be as proactive as possible in trying to make their lives better.”

“It’s a shame because those people [living in separatist-held areas] have gone through a lot. It causes them to be very sour on the government in Kyiv,” he added.

He highlighted the cases of elderly people, “people with the least mobility,” and said Kyiv should work with the Red Cross to help get government pensions to those people.

Changing U.S. Policy?

Volker’s appointment, in July 2017, came amid concern that U.S. President Donald Trump was looking to soften Washington’s position on the Ukraine conflict, and Russia’s role in it.

However, the Trump administration has all but continued U.S. backing for Ukraine, a policy set in place by his predecessor, Barack Obama, after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014.

My Attempt To Capture Afghanistan Wound Up Capturing America Instead

President Donald J. Trump and President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine at the United Nations General Assembly.

(Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Washington has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in military equipment and training to the Ukrainian armed forces, and sanctions imposed for the annexation and for fueling the conflict remain in place.

More notably, the Trump administration in early 2018 sent Ukraine 210 advanced antitank missiles known as Javelins, a move Obama had resisted for fear of antagonizing Moscow.

“It’s true that we haven’t achieved anything on the ground and we haven’t gotten Russia to really resolve the conflict,” Volker said. “So we have to keep that under advisement.

“On the other hand, what we’ve done over the last year has been very important,” he said.

“We’ve created a policy framework for the United States; we’ve coordinated that with our allies, specifically France and Germany; we’ve given clear support for Ukraine and restoring its sovereignty and territorial integrity; we’ve clarified Russia’s responsibility here,” he said.

In August 2018, Trump suggested in an interview that he would consider lifting Ukraine-related sanctions against Russia “if they do something that would be good for us.”

Asked about Trump’s commitment to Ukraine, Volker said that everything the United States has done for Kyiv “has been done with the president’s approval, so there’s no policy gap.”

“The way I read what the president is doing, [he] is trying to keep a door open for Putin to be able to climb down, negotiate some kind of agreement, see if we can reduce the risk of conflict, see if we can actually create peace in Ukraine,” he said.

“At the same time, the policy has been to continue to layer on additional steps of pushback on Russia and support for Ukraine as a way to induce Russia to negotiate,” he said.

Featured image: Kurt Volker, the special representative of the U.S. State Department for Ukraine.

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Army says Strykers can be hacked

The US Army’s upgunned Strykers were developed to counter Russian aggression in Europe, but while these upgraded armored vehicles bring greater firepower to the battlefield, they suffer from a critical weakness that could be deadly in a fight.

The improved Stryker Infantry Carrier Vehicle – Dragoons deployed with the 2nd Cavalry Regiment in Europe have the ability to take on a variety of threats, but there’s one in particular that the powerful new 30mm automatic cannons can’t eliminate.


My Attempt To Capture Afghanistan Wound Up Capturing America Instead

The new Strykers’ vulnerability to cyberattacks could be a serious issue against top adversaries.

(Photo by 1st Lt. Ellen Brabo)

“Adversaries demonstrated the ability to degrade select capabilities of the ICV-D when operating in a contested cyber environment,” the Pentagon’s Office of the Director of Test and Evaluation (DOTE) said in a January 2019 report, according to The War Zone.

Simply put, the vehicles can be hacked.

It’s unclear who has been doing the hacking because “adversaries” is an ambiguous term. The adversaries could be simulated enemy forces in training exercises or an actual adversarial power such as Russia. The new Stryker units are in service in Germany, where they were deployed in late 2017, according to Army Times.

The military typically uses “opposing force” or “aggressors” to refer to mock opponents in training exercises. The use of the word “adversaries” in the recent report could indicate that the Army’s Strykers were the target of an actual cyberattack.

My Attempt To Capture Afghanistan Wound Up Capturing America Instead

The development of the new Strykers began in 2015.

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. John Onuoha)

It’s also unclear which systems were affected, but The War Zone said that it appears the most appealing targets would be the vehicle’s data-sharing, navigation, or digital-communications systems because a cyberattack on these systems could hamper and slow US actions on the battlefield, threatening US forces.

These “exploited vulnerabilities,” the recent report said, “pre-date the integration of the lethality upgrades,” such as the replacement of the M2 .50 caliber machine guns with the 30mm cannon, among other upgrades. This means that other Stryker variants may have the same fatal flaw as the upgunned versions, the development of which began in 2015 in direct response to Russian aggression.

US forces have come face to face with Russian electronic-warfare threats before.

“Right now, in Syria, we are operating in the most aggressive EW environment on the planet from our adversaries,” Gen. Raymond Thomas, head of US Special Operations Command, said April 2018.

My Attempt To Capture Afghanistan Wound Up Capturing America Instead

(Photo by Sgt. Timothy Hamlin)

He said these activities were disabling US aircraft. “They are testing us everyday, knocking our communications down, disabling our EC-130s, etc.”

NATO allies and partner countries have also encountered GPS jamming and other relevant attacks that have been attributed to Russia.

The recent DOTE report recommended the Army “correct or mitigate cyber vulnerabilities,” as well as “mitigate system design vulnerabilities to threats as identified in the classified report.”

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman pushes coronavirus conspiracy theory that the US Army ‘brought the epidemic to Wuhan’

A Chinese government spokesman said on Thursday that the US Army may have “brought the epidemic to Wuhan,” fueling a coronavirus conspiracy theory.


Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, called attention to a comment on Wednesday from Robert Redfield, the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, acknowledging that some Americans who were said to have died from influenza may have actually died from COVID-19.

“When did patient zero begin in US? How many people are infected?” Zhao wrote on Twitter. “What are the names of the hospitals? It might be US Army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation!”

In a short thread on Twitter — a social media platform that’s inaccessible in China — Zhao demanded to know how many of the millions of infections and thousands of deaths during the latest flu season were actually related to COVID-19.

The US State Department summoned Chinese Ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai Friday to protest the spokesman’s comments, Reuters reported, and the Pentagon sharply criticized Zhao’s remarks, calling them “false and absurd.”

The coronavirus first appeared in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, and since then, the pandemic has claimed the lives of thousands of people, mostly in China.

As China has faced criticism, Chinese authorities have pushed back, suggesting that the virus may have originated somewhere else. Dr. Zhong Nanshan, a leading Chinese epidemiologist, said in late February that “though the COVID-19 was first discovered in China, it does not mean that it originated from China.”

Zhao stressed the same point in a recent press briefing.

“No conclusion has been reached yet on the origin of the virus,” he told reporters, adding that “what we are experiencing now is a global phenomenon with its source still undetermined.”

One popular coronavirus conspiracy theory that has emerged in China is that US military athletes participating in the Military World Games in Wuhan last year may have brought the virus into China. There is, however, no evidence to support this accusation.

The Trump administration has laid the blame firmly at China’s feet. “Unfortunately, rather than using best practices, this outbreak in Wuhan was covered up,” the White House national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, told reporters on Wednesday.

“It probably cost the world community two months to respond,” he added.

Geng Shuang, another Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, said O’Brien’s “immoral and irresponsible” comments denigrated China’s efforts to fight the virus. He added that the US should focus on “international cooperation instead of trying to shift the blame.”

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

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