California may start giving legal help to veterans who have been deported.
The state Assembly passed a bill May 8 to provide legal representation for people who were honorably discharged from the military but have since been deported.
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher says her bill is intended to help deported veterans return to the country. The San Diego Democrat says the bill would help them reunite with their families and access health services and other benefits.
“It’s time we bring our deported vets back,” Gonzalez Fletcher said. “California can lead the way by trying to bring them home.”
The American Civil Liberties Union says it has found dozens of cases where veterans have been deported.
Many deported veterans would have been eligible to become naturalized citizens but were not properly informed about the process, Gonzalez Fletcher said.
Funding for the bill will be subject to availability of money in the state budget.
The bill directs the state to contract with a nonprofit legal services organization. AB386 passed the Assembly without any dissenting votes and now goes to the Senate.
The “boat people,” as they came to be known, are an oft-forgotten footnote at the end of the Vietnam War. In the years following the U.S. withdrawal and the subsequent fall of South Vietnam to the Communist north, refugees packed ships leaving the southern half, bound for anywhere but there.
Between 1975 and 1995 some 800,000 people faced pirates, traffickers, and storms to escape the grip of Communism and make it to a new life in places like Singapore, Hong Kong, Indonesia, or elsewhere. Images of boat people adrift on any kind of ship routinely made the nightly news. Rescued refugees would be resettled anywhere they would be accepted, many of them ending up in the Western United States. One of those people was Air Force Reserve Lt. Col. Asan Bui.
Vietnamese “Boat People” being rescued while adrift at sea.
Asan Bui was born on one of those vessels, adrift in the ocean, bound for nowhere, some 44 years ago. He was a citizen of no country. His father took his then-pregnant mother out of Vietnam because he had served in South Vietnam’s army as an artilleryman. Against all odds, he, his wife, and five children all escaped the iron curtain as it came crashing down.
Bui, like many who fought for anti-Communist South Vietnam, faced persecution and execution at the hands of the oncoming Communists in 1975. The fall of the southern capital at Saigon was imminent, and many were looking for a way to flee. Asan Bui’s father took his family by boat.
Air Force Reserve, Lt. Col. Asan Bui was born at sea 44 years ago while adrift in the ocean aboard a wooden boat.
(U.S. Air Force Reserve photo by Senior Airman Brandon Kalloo Sanes)
Bui’s family was just the tip of the iceberg. The fall of Saigon caused 1.6 million Vietnamese people to flee South Vietnam. The elder Bui was not happy to leave and wanted to fight the Communists every inch of the way. His sense soon got the better of him, though. If he were captured, he would likely have been tortured and killed.
“Anyone that fought alongside the United States would be killed or imprisoned in re-education camps,” Bui told the Air Force Reserve. “I have personally spoken with individuals that have gone through this brutal ordeal and survived. Some were not released for over a decade and still carry the traumatic scars.”
Lt. Col. Bui’s father, Chien Van Bui, calls in artillery fire during the Vietnam War.
(Photo provided by Lt. Col. Asan Bui)
If they did survive the capture and torture, Southern fighters could look forward to hard time in Communist labor camps, re-education centers, or worse. Instead of all that, Chien Van Bui fled with his family. When the family was rescued, they were taken to Camp Asan in Guam, naming their newborn child after the camp they called home.
Asan Bui joined the United States Air Force in his mid-twenties, now serving his 19th year for the country that took him in and allowed him to start a family of his own. Lt. Col. Asan Bui is the commander of the 920th Rescue Wing at Patrick AFB, Fla. He is dedicated to continued service.
“I want to honor those (military and sponsors) that have sacrificed so much for my family and the Vietnamese refugees,” said Bui. “Especially the Vietnam veterans.”
On June 29, 2019, Luis Alvarez, retired NYPD detective and proud military veteran, passed away from advanced-stage colorectal cancer as a result of his work at Ground Zero in New York following the 9/11 attacks. Just days before, he had testified in Congress alongside Daily Show host Jon Stewart in support of reauthorizing the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. He was 53 years old.
His speech in Congress came after sixty-eight rounds of chemotherapy — and just before he was about to begin his sixty-ninth.
“I have been to many places in this world and done many things, but I can tell you that I did not want to be anywhere else but Ground Zero when I was there. We were part of showing the world that we would never back down from terrorism and that we would all work together. No races, no colors, no politics,” he said.
9/11 first responder Luis Alvarez gives emotional testimony
His family shared an official statement on his passing: “It is with peace and comfort, that the Alvarez family announce that Luis (Lou) Alvarez, our warrior, has gone home to our Good Lord in heaven today. Please remember his words, ‘Please take care of yourselves and each other.’ We told him at the end that he had won this battle by the many lives he had touched by sharing his three year battle. He was at peace with that, surrounded by family. Thank you for giving us this time we have had with him, it was a blessing!”
Thousands of 9/11 first responders were exposed to dangerous carcinogens in the dust and gases at Ground Zero, putting them at risk of multiple myeloma and other cancers. The Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) was created to “provide compensation for any individual (or a personal representative of a deceased individual) who suffered physical harm or was killed as a result of the terrorist-related aircraft crashes of Sept. 11, 2001 or the debris removal efforts that took place in the immediate aftermath of those crashes.
The original VCF operated from 2001-2004, then was extended in 2010 and again in 2015, allowing individuals to submit their claims until Dec. 18, 2020. On Feb. 15, 2019, it was determined that the funding would be insufficient to pay all the pending and projected claims, which is what brought Alvarez before Congress.
According to NBC New York, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has agreed to call a Senate vote on a bill that would ensure the VCF never runs out of money.
In many ways, Lakesha Cole is the typical military spouse. A mother and wife, Cole has spent the last five years like many other military spouses: focused on a passion while juggling her family responsibilities.
But it’s the way she’s done it that sets her apart. Recently, Cole and her husband, Gunnery Sgt. Deonte Cole, and their children completed a Permanent Change of Station from Okinawa, Japan, to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
And along with their kids and personal effects, the Coles also took their successful business inside the Okinawa Exchange with them.
This was the second time Cole packed up her company, She Swank Too, and hauled it overseas. Two years after debuting their company aboard Camp Pendleton, California, the Cole’s took on a PCS to Okinawa, embarking on a mission to open the first brick and mortar She Swank Too there.
Cole spoke with We Are the Mighty about her experience just trying to get a meeting with the retail manager in Okinawa.
“He was reluctant to do business with me,” she recalled, after waiting for six months to secure a meeting with the manager. He argued that military spouses didn’t believe “the rules apply to them,” citing spouses who formerly ran businesses in the retail space with poor business practices.
Cole says she presented her business plan, complete with financial reports, customer data and testimonials, and samples, to the manager. They agreed to a 30 day trial run of a brick and mortar She Swank Too. Three years later, the store accompanied the Coles on their PCS.
When asked what steps an entrepreneur should take during a PCS, Cole was quick to answer, “Stay active and… communicate with your customers.” Customer interaction is one of the focal points of the company. “We tapped into the hearts and homes of our customers,” Cole said.
The motivation behind the company was simple. “We debuted our first children’s collection … to introduce entrepreneurship to our daughter,” Cole recalled.
Cole’s husband is equally involved in the business. “The least recognized role in a business is … that person’s spouse,” Cole said. Cole’s husband is not only an active participant in the company, but a financial investor as well.
Cole isn’t just a business owner. In addition to She Swank Too, Cole is a military spouse retail coach, the founder, CEO and owner of Milspousepreneur, and an active advocate for military affiliated entrepreneurship in hopes of reversing high milspouse unemployment.
“My focus remains in using this business as a vehicle to give back,” Cole said
The total was $183.27. I happily submitted my credit card information and clicked “Submit.” As I anxiously awaited for my magical supplements to arrive I looked over the complex regimen. I could carry this printout around with me everywhere I went.
Thinking back to that moment in 2004, I realize now how uneducated I was about the supplement industry. Why did I buy all of that? Because the website I visited offered a free nutrition plan which conveniently included their supplements to help me achieve my goals. Now, a little over a decade later, with a medical degree under my belt, twenty fitness competitions, and countless nutrition clients I can tell you – supplements can be quite simple.
Below is a simple breakdown to follow based on your budget. Pick the category that fits you and then select the supplements that fit your goal.
(Note: I was not compensated in any way by the manufacturers of any products listed.)
Level 1 – THE BASICS
Multivitamin: Multivitamins might be obvious, but it’s a commonly missed basic. You should take a multi-vitamin to replace critical elements missing in your food. Some of the critical things I look for: one pill a day vs. two pills, Calcium at least 50 percent of the daily value, Vitamin D at least 800IU. I know the gummy version is very popular now and I don’t recommend these because of the added sugars and the cost per serving is much higher. I have also found they are lower in vitamin concentration. The brand isn’t too important. Average cost: $15 for 90 days
L-Glutamine: Glutamine is an alpha amino acid that’s essential for so many daily body processes such as protein synthesis (building muscle, muscle recovery) and getting rid of toxins via the kidney. I recommended 15 grams per day taken 3 different times during the day. If that’s too complicated for your schedule, then just take 5 grams when you wake up and 5 grams after your workout. L-glutamine is found naturally in dairy products and many proteins like beef, pork, chicken, fish, but not enough. Average cost: $20 for 30 days
Level 2 – COMMITTED WITH LIMITATIONS
Includes Level 1 supplements.
Whey Protein Powder: Whey protein is used to build muscle, help prevent muscle breakdown, and helps with recovery. Protein powder is not better than whole food protein but it is a good alternative for convenience. Whey is the best-studied protein powder. There are mixes of different kinds of proteins, but these aren’t well studied. It’s hard for me to believe they are better. (I like evidence.) I also do not use powder with claims supplements are added. It’s easy for supplements to be missing or cut short, but you will easily pay more than basic whey protein powder. My favorite brands are Optimum Nutrition, Metabolic Nutrition, Muscle Pharm, and BSN to name a few. Average cost: $35 for 45 days
Beta-alanine: Beta-alanine is a beta amino acid that helps with blood vessel dilatation, building muscle, muscle recovery, and increased performance. Studies have shown greater results when combined with creatine, but also by itself. There is not a problem with water retention. Most people will get results with 4-5 grams per day. I recommend splitting it so you take 2-2.5 grams 20 minutes before your workout and 2-2.5 grams immediately after your workout. If you notice a tingling feeling on your skin after taking it, but that is normal. You can take it with food or decrease how much you take so that sensation is tolerable or gone. Average cost: $30 for 60 days
Level 3 – NO BUDGET OPTION (Includes Level 1 and 2 supplements)
Creatine: Creatine is a nitrogenous organic acid. It increases the amount of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in the body which then can help in building muscle size by improving the body’s response to resistance exercise and increasing the maximal force from muscles. There are some people that report water retention but many people don’t experience this. Studies show about 20 grams per day is sufficient for benefits. I do not recommend the “loading phase” as the scientific findings on this are not convincing and you will run out of product faster. Results are even greater if taking beta-alanine. Average cost: $10 for 30 days
ATP Extreme: This product is actual ATP which is easily depleted during workouts. ATP supplementation will allow for increased endurance, stronger workouts, and as an effect better performance. Studies show an increase in muscle mass and strength. This supplement comes in the capsule form and everyone is a little different in how they should take it. I take 4 capsules 30 minutes before my workout – weight lifting or cardiovascular exercise. Cost: $49.95 for 30 day
Provide Gold Liquid Protein: This product is my favorite! This product is the only supplement I know of that medical professionals will actually use for their patients. Liquid protein is exactly what it sounds like. Liquid protein works to impact depleted protein stores . One “shot” is jam packed with amino acids and only 100 calories. There is a sugar-free version, as well. I split my shot and have half right before my workout and another half afterward. Cost: $46 for 60 days
Simone is an Air Force Academy graduate, doctor, and fitness model. You can contact/follow her here: email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Instagram: @simonemaybin, Snapchat: @simoneyroney, Facebook: Simone Maybin, or Twitter: @simonemaybin.
Chinese media touted the mobilization of a “far-reaching, anti-ship ballistic missile” Jan. 10, 2019, specifically highlighting its ability to target ships in the South China Sea.
China’s DF-26 ballistic missile has reportedly been mobilized in northwestern China, according to the Global Times, citing state broadcaster China Central Television. The weapon, commonly described as a “carrier killer,” is an intermediate-range ballistic missile capable of delivering both conventional and nuclear warheads to targets on land and at sea.
The report from the Global Times notes that the activation of the DF-26 comes just “after a US warship trespassed into China’s territorial waters off the Xisha Islands (Paracel Islands) in the South China Sea on Jan. 7, 2019,” a reference to a legal freedom-of-navigation operation conducted by destroyer USS McCampbell.
“We urge the United States to immediately cease this kind of provocation,” the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in response, accusing the US of having “gravely infringed upon China’s sovereignty.”
The USS McCampbell.
“We will be on high alert and will closely monitor the air and sea situation to strongly defend our sovereignty and security,” the ministry spokesman added.
September 2018, a Chinese destroyer attempted to intercept a US warship during a freedom-of-navigation operation in the Spratly Islands, risking a collision. It was the Chinese navy’s most aggressive response to US actions in the South China Sea to date.
The DF-26 missiles mobilized in the northwest regions are far from the South China Sea, but Chinese military experts assert that it has the range to cover the contested waterway. “Even when launched from deeper inland areas of China, the DF-26 has a range far-reaching enough to cover the South China Sea,” an anonymous expert told the Global Times. The missile is believed to have a range of about 3,400 miles.
That expert added that missiles fired from the interior are harder to intercept because they can realistically only be intercepted in the terminal phase.
Amid Chinese bravado, there remains skepticism about the DF-26 missile’s ability to serve in an anti-ship role. The weapon was previously nicknamed the “Guam Killer” or the “Guam Express,” as it offers China the ability to strike Andersen Air Force Base, a key US base in the Pacific, with force.
The article in the Global Times reflects an aggressive tone that is becoming more common in Chinese discussions.
Recently, a retired Chinese admiral suggested sinking two US aircraft carriers, which would end the lives of roughly 10,000 American sailors. “What the United States fears the most is taking casualties,” Rear Adm. Luo Yuan said. “We’ll see how frightened America is.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Hazel Ah Ying Lee was the first Chinese American woman to fly for the United States military and one of two Chinese Americans to serve as a Women Airforce Service Pilot (WASP) along with Margaret “Maggie” Gee.
Described as vibrant, fearless, and funny, Lee knew she wanted to fly from an early age. After high school she took a job in a department store to earn money for flight lessons, earning her pilot’s license in 1932 from the Chinese Flying Club of Portland, Oregon. When the Chinese Air Force rejected her from service due to her gender, she returned to the United States.
In 1942, she applied for the Women’s Flying Training Detachment, which would later merge with the Women Airforce Ferrying Squadron to become the WASP. In 1943, she began her six-month training program at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, where she learned to fly military planes. She emerged as a leader in her class and was well-liked by the other pilots. She taught them about Chinese culture and would write their names in Chinese characters with lipstick on the tail of the planes she flew. Throughout her military career, she would fly the T-6 and C-47, and became just one of 130 WASPs who trained to fly fighters like the P-47, P-51 and P-63, among other aircraft.
During World War II, WASPs delivered over 5,000 fighter jets to Great Falls, Montana, to help provide Russian allies with planes, which were then flown by male pilots to Alaska, where Russian pilots could pick them up and fly them home. In November, 1944, Lee received orders to deliver a P-63 Kingcobra from the Bell Aircraft factory in Niagara Falls, New York, to Great Falls. A mixup at the control tower sent Lee into the landing zone with a number of P-63s on final approach.
Lee’s plane collided with a P-63 flown by Jeff Russell, a US Army Air Force pilot who was working without a radio. Lee’s aircraft burst into flames. She was pulled from the wreckage but died as a result of her injuries two days later on Nov. 25, 1944. Within days, her brother Victor was also killed in combat in France. The two are buried alongside each other at Riverview Cemetery in Portland, Oregon. Adding to the family’s anguish, the cemetery staff informed them that Hazel and Victor could not be buried in the “white” section of the cemetery. War hero status meant nothing in the face of anti-Chinese sentiment.
Lee was the last of 38 WASPs to die in service. She was 32 years old.
WASPs were classified as civilians and received no military or funeral benefits until 1977 when President Jimmy Carter finally gave WASPs veteran status.
After serving in Iraq, Army veteran Casey Tylek created a Tumblr blog that helps veterans during the transition to civilian life.
Tylek said he was inspired to begin the page, called justWarthings, after feeling disconnected from his peers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst because of his military experience.
“At the beginning of every semester it was always the same thing,” Tylek told We Are The Mighty. “Kids would ask if I was in ROTC or was a veteran, and [about] what I did and where I was. Without fail, a student who [had] just met me would ask with wide eyes and a big smile if I killed anyone. I didn’t know how to respond.”
In his view, most students — having seen popular movies and video games like “Black Hawk Down” and “Call of Duty” — expected to hear a yes from Tylek, who served in Baghdad with the 101st Airborne Division in 2009.
“They view our soldiers [as] robotic killing machines who are untouchable in combat,” Tylek said. “And they want that to be you so they can ask all the gory details and raise you to hero status in their minds.”
justWarthings is modeled after the viral internet page justgirlythings, another Tumblr blog that uses stock photos and overlayed text to communicate themes that are supposedly universal to teenage girls. After his own experience in combat, Tylek realized how unrealistic civilian views of warfare can be, and he decided his blog could provide a wake-up call.
“I hope people see what war really is — a massive waste of life and resources — a messy, scary, horrific thing,” Tylek said. “And yet, I hope they see a little about why we do it, the bond that we have with our fellow soldiers is a lot of times closer than the bond that we have with our own families.”
Tylek also told WATM that he created the blog in memory of his best friend, Spc. Joe Kenny, who died while serving in Mosul.
Check out more of the powerful collection of images from justWarthings:
The U.S.-led coalition fighting against Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria has rejected a claim by the Syrian army that a coalition air strike hit poison gas supplies and killed hundreds of people.
A Syrian army statement shown on Syrian state TV on April 13 said that a strike late on April 12 in the eastern Deir al- Zor Province hit supplies belonging to IS, releasing a toxic substance that killed “hundreds including many civilians.”
“The Syrian claim is incorrect and likely intentional misinformation,” U.S. Air Force Colonel John Dorrian, a spokesman for the coalition, said in a statement. He said the coalition had carried out no air strikes in that area at that time.
The Russian Defense Ministry said on April 13 that it had no information on fatalities in a coalition air strike in Deir al-Zor and was sending drones to the area to monitor the situation.
Flooring installer jobs can be great for transitioning veterans who are interested in a hands-on career. There are many opportunities to enter this line of work for those who want to. There are many advantages as well.
These jobs may not be for you if you do not like to work with your hands or to build stuff. The pay is above the median, but it is not as high as some other occupations and the pay potential at the top end can also be limited. The work might not be consistent either, like with many other types of construction occupations, employment is sensitive to the fluctuations of the economy.
On the one hand, workers may experience periods of unemployment when the overall level of construction falls. On the other hand, additional workers may be needed in some areas during peak periods of building activity.
Flooring installers and tile and marble setters lay and finish carpet, wood, vinyl, and tile. Flooring installers and tile and marble setters lay the materials that improve the look and feel of homes, offices, restaurants, and other buildings. Although flooring and tile are usually installed after most of the construction for a project has been completed and the work area is mostly clean and uncluttered, some materials and tasks may be messy.
The work environment should be considered like a construction area even if it may not be. Some examples of these jobs are carpet installers, carpet tile installers, floor sanders and finishers, floor layers, and tile and marble setters.
The pay is in line with to slightly above the national average for all jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the median annual wage for flooring installers and tile and marble setters was ,250 in May 2017. This is roughly .25 per hour. The lowest 10 percent earned less than ,590, and the highest 10 percent earned more than ,990. Workers involved in construction of buildings tended to make more than workers who work in building finishing, manufacturing, or home stores.
The job outlook is strong. Employment of flooring installers and tile and marble setters is projected to grow 10 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations. The construction of new housing units will be the primary source of flooring and tile and marble installation work over the next decade. As the housing industry continues to recover, more flooring installers will be hired to work on these units. In addition, more flooring installers and tile and marble setters will be needed for remodeling and replacement projects in existing homes.
There are relatively few obstacles to becoming a flooring installer. Flooring installers and tile and marble setters typically learn their trade on the job, sometimes starting as a helper. Some learn through an apprenticeship.
There are no specific education requirements for someone to become a flooring installer or tile and marble setter. A high school diploma or equivalent is preferred for those entering an apprenticeship program. An apprenticeship program may include mathematics, building code requirements, safety and first-aid practices, and blueprint reading. After completing an apprenticeship program, flooring installers and tile and marble setters are considered to be journey workers and may perform duties on their own.
To be successful as one you should have strong attention to detail, good strength and stamina, math skills, and good interpersonal skills for interacting with customers and clients.You should also be self-motivated and punctual. These are all basic skills necessary to successfully serve at any level in the military as well.
This article originally appeared on G.I. Jobs. Follow @GIJobsMagazine on Twitter.
The F-35B Marine variant just completed important developmental tests designed to push the joint strike fighter to its limits aboard the US’s newest aircraft carrier, the USS America.
The F-35B proved it can perform its short takeoffs with a variety of weapons loadouts, some of which can be asymmetrical. These tests had been done on land before, but carrier takeoffs are a different beast.
“There is no way to recreate the conditions that come with being out to sea,” than going out there and testing onboard a carrier, said Gabriella Spehn, an F-35 weapons engineer from the Pax River Integrated Test Force in a Navy statement.
But even at sea aboard the America, which can get up to 25 mph, the F-35B performed as expected.
“As we all know, we can’t choose the battle and the location of the battle, so sometimes we have to go into rough seas with heavy swells, heave, roll, pitch, and crosswinds,” said Royal Air Force squadron leader and F-35 test pilot Andy Edgell.
International partners, like Edgell, participated in the testing onboard. While other nations lack the large deck aircraft carriers that the US has, several other nations, like the UK and Japan, operate smaller carriers that await the F-35B.
“The last couple of days we went and purposely found those nasty conditions and put the jets through those places, and the jet handled fantastically well. So now the external weapons testing should be able to give the fleet a clearance to carry weapons with the rough seas and rough conditions,” Edgell said.
“We know the jet can handle it. A fleet clearance will come — then they can go forth and conduct battle in whatever environment.”
However, another first occurred on board. The America’s weapons department assembled over 100 bombs for the F-35B to carry.
For many of the sailors in the Weapon’s Department of the America, part of a new class of US carriers meant specifically to accommodate the F-35, this was their first chance at actually handling and assembling ordnance.
“Being able to do this feels like we are supporting the overall scope of what the ship is trying to achieve. Without ordnance, to us, this ship isn’t a warship. This is what we do,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Hung Lee.
According to sailors on board, the team went from building one bomb in four hours, to building 16 in three hours.
David Shulkin, the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, showed up to what he thought would be a routine Senate oversight hearing in January 2018, only to discover it was an ambush.
Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., was the sole holdout among members of the veterans affairs committee on a bill that would shape the future of the agency. The bipartisan bill had the support of 26 service groups representing millions of veterans. But Moran was pushing a rival piece of legislation, and it had the support of a White House aide who wields significant clout on veterans policy. Neither proposal could advance as long as there was any doubt about which President Donald Trump wanted to sign.
Moran blamed Shulkin for the impasse. “In every instance, you led me to believe that you and I were on the same page,” Moran said at the hearing. “Our inability to reach an agreement is in significant part related to your ability to speak out of both sides of your mouth: double talk.”
There were gasps in the hearing room. It was an astounding rebuke for a Trump appointee to receive from a Republican senator, especially for Shulkin, who was confirmed by the Senate unanimously.
Clearly ruffled, Shulkin hesitated before answering. “I think it is grossly unfair to make the characterizations you have made of me, and I’m disappointed that you would do that,” he said. “What I am trying to do is give you my best advice about how this works.”
Moran dug in. “I chose my words intentionally,” he said. “I think you tell me one thing and you tell others something else. And that’s incompatible with our ability to reach an agreement and to work together.” Moran then left the hearing for another appointment.
The exchange exposed tensions that had been brewing for months behind closed doors. A battle for the future of the VA has been raging between the White House and veterans groups, with Shulkin caught in the middle. The conflict erupted into national headlines as a result of a seemingly unrelated development: the release of a lacerating report on Shulkin that found “serious derelictions” in a taxpayer-funded European business trip in which he and his wife enjoyed free tickets to Wimbledon and more.
The underlying disagreement at the VA has a different flavor than the overhauls at a number of federal agencies. Unlike some Trump appointees, who took the reins of agencies with track records of opposing the very mission of the organization, Shulkin is a technocratic Obama holdover. He not only participated in the past administration, but defends the VA’s much-maligned health care system. He seeks to keep the organization at the center of veterans’ health care. (An adviser to Shulkin said the White House isn’t permitting him to do interviews.)
But others in the administration want a much more drastic change: They seek to privatize vets’ health care. From perches in Congress, the White House, and the VA itself, they have battled Shulkin. In some instances, his own subordinates have openly defied him.
Multiple publications have explored the turmoil and conflict at the VA in the wake of the inspector general report. Yet a closer examination shows the roots of the fight stretch back to the presidential campaign and reveals how far the entropy of the Trump administration has spread. Much has been written on the “chaos presidency.” Every day seems to bring exposés of White House backstabbing and blood feuds. The fight over the VA shows not only that this problem afflicts federal agencies, too, but that friction and contradiction were inevitable: Trump appointed a VA secretary who wants to preserve the fundamental structure of government-provided health care; the president also installed a handful of senior aides who are committed to a dramatically different philosophy.
The blistering report may yet cost Shulkin his job. But the attention on his travel-related misbehavior is distracting from a much more significant issue: The administration’s infighting is imperiling a major legislative deal that could shape the future of the VA.
Taking better care of veterans was a constant refrain at Trump’s presidential campaign rallies. In the speech announcing his candidacy, he said, “We need a leader that can bring back our jobs, can bring back our manufacturing, can bring back our military, can take care of our vets. Our vets have been abandoned.” Ex-military people overwhelmingly supported him on Election Day and in office.
Trump’s original policy proposals on veterans health, unveiled in October 2015, largely consisted of tweaks to the current system. They called for increasing funding for mental health and helping vets find jobs; providing more women’s health services; modernizing infrastructure and setting up satellite clinics in rural areas.
The ideas drew derisive responses from the Koch brothers-backed group Concerned Veterans for America (CVA). Pete Hegseth, its then-CEO, called the proposal “painfully thin” and “unserious.”
Trump then took a sharp turn toward CVA’s positions after clinching the Republican nomination. In a July 2016 speech in Virginia Beach, he embraced a very different vision for the VA, emphasizing private-sector alternatives. “Veterans should be guaranteed the right to choose their doctor and clinics,” Trump said, “whether at a VA facility or at a private medical center.”
Trump’s new 10-point plan for veterans policy resembled the CVA’s priorities. In fact, six of the proposals drew directly on CVA ideas. Three of them aimed to make it easier to fire employees; a fourth advocated the creation of a reform commission; and two involved privatizing VA medical care.
Trump’s new direction, according to a campaign aide, was influenced by Jeff Miller, then the chairman of the House veterans committee. Miller, who retired from Congress in January 2017, was a close ally of CVA and a scathing critic of Obama’s VA.
Miller became one of the first congressmen to endorse Trump, in April 2016. He did so a few weeks after attending a meeting of the campaign’s national security advisers. (That meeting, and the photo Trump tweeted of it, would become famous because of the presence of George Papadopoulos, who is cooperating with investigators after pleading guilty to lying about Russian contacts. Miller is wearing the light gray jacket in the front right. Now a lobbyist with the law firm McDermott Will Emery, he didn’t reply to requests for comment.) Miller became Trump’s point man on veterans policy, the campaign aide said.
Miller and CVA portrayed the VA as the embodiment of “bureaucratic ineptitude and appalling dysfunction.” They were able to cite an ample supply of embarrassing scandals.
The scandals may come as less of a surprise than the fact that the VA actually enjoys widespread support among veterans. Most who use its health care report a positive experience. For example, 92 percent of veterans in a poll conducted by the Veterans of Foreign Wars reported that they would rather improve the VA system than dismantle it. Independent assessments have found that VA health care outperforms comparable private facilities. “The politicization of health care in the VA is frankly really unfair,” said Nancy Schlichting, the retired CEO of the Henry Ford Health System, who chaired an independent commission to study the VA under the Obama administration. “Noise gets out there based on very specific instances, but this is a very large system. If any health system in this country had the scrutiny the VA has, they’d have stories too.”
One piece of extreme noise was a scandal in 2014, which strengthened Miller and CVA’s hand and created crucial momentum toward privatization. In an April 2014 hearing, Miller revealed that officials at the VA hospital in Phoenix were effectively fudging records to cover up long delays in providing medical care to patients. He alleged that 40 veterans died while waiting to be seen. A week later, CVA organized a protest in Phoenix of 150 veterans demanding answers.
Miller’s dramatic claims did not hold up. A comprehensive IG investigation would eventually find 28 delays that were clinically significant; and though six of those patients died, the IG did not conclude that the delays caused those deaths. Later still, an independent assessment found that long waits were not widespread: More than 90 percent of existing patients got appointments within two weeks of their initial request.
But such statistics were lost in the furor. “Nobody stood up and said, ‘Wait a minute, time out, are we destroying this national resource because a small group of people made a mistake?'” a former senior congressional staffer said. “Even those who considered themselves to be friends of the VA were silent. It was a surreal period. The way it grew tentacles has had consequences nobody would have predicted.”
In the heat of the scandal, Miller and CVA pushed for a new program called Choice. It would allow veterans who have to wait more than 30 days for a doctor’s appointment or live more than 40 miles from a VA facility to get private-sector care. The VA has bought some private medical care for decades, but Choice represented a significant expansion, and Democrats were wary that it would open the door to privatizing VA health care on a much broader scale.
Still, the Phoenix scandal had made it hard for the Democrats to resist. The Choice bill passed with bipartisan support and President Obama signed it into law in August 2014.
By 2016, then-candidate Trump was demanding further changes. “The VA scandals that have occurred on this administration’s watch are widespread and inexcusable,” he said in the Virginia Beach speech. “Veterans should be guaranteed the right to choose their doctor and clinics, whether at a VA facility or at a private medical center. We must extend this right to all veterans.”
Trump’s contacts with CVA and its allies deepened during the transition. He met Hegseth, who left CVA to become a Fox News commentator, in Trump Tower. Trump picked Darin Selnick for the “landing team” that would supervise the transition at the VA. Selnick had directed CVA’s policy task force, which in 2015 recommended splitting the VA’s payer and provider functions and spinning off the latter into a government nonprofit corporation. Such an operation, organized along the lines of Amtrak, would be able to receive federal funding but also raise other revenue.
Trump’s consideration of Hegseth and Miller to lead the VA ran into fierce resistance from veterans groups, powerful institutions whose clout is boosted by the emotional power that comes with members’ having risked their lives for their country. At a meeting with the Trump transition in December 2016, officials from the major veterans groups held a firm line against privatizing the VA and any secretary intent on it.
Trump finally settled on Shulkin, 58, who ran the VA health system under Obama. Shulkin is a former chief of private hospital systems and a doctor — an internist, he still occasionally treats patients at the VA — who comes across more as a medical geek than the chief of a massive organization.
Trump heaps praise on Shulkin in public appearances and meets with him regularly in private. He was one of the first cabinet secretaries Trump consulted about the impact of the government shutdown on Jan. 21, 2018. They met at Camp David in December 2017 and lunched at the White House on Feb. 8, 2018. “You’re doing a great job,” Trump told Shulkin at a Jan. 9 signing ceremony for an executive order on veterans mental health services, handing Shulkin the executive pen. “We appreciate you.”
Trump may like Shulkin, but that didn’t stop his administration from appointing officials who opposed his philosophy. One of them, Jake Leinenkugel, a Marine Corps veteran and retired Wisconsin brewery owner, became the White House’s eyes and ears inside the agency. He works in an office next to Shulkin’s, but his title is senior White House adviser. Leinenkugel, 65, said he came out of retirement to take the position because he was “excited about taking POTUS’s agenda and advancing it.” As he put it, “I’m here to help veterans.”
He and Shulkin got along fine for a few months. But then, in May 2017, the two men clashed, as Shulkin accused Leinenkugel of undermining him. Shulkin wanted to nominate the VA’s acting under secretary for health, Poonam Alaigh, to take the position permanently, according to two people familiar with his thinking. But, the VA secretary charged, Leinenkugel told the White House to drop Alaigh. Shulkin confronted Leinenkugel, who denied any sabotage, according to an email Leinenkugel subsequently wrote. Alaigh stepped down in October and the position remains unfilled.
Shulkin has even been at odds with his own press secretary, Curt Cashour, who came from Miller’s House committee staff. January 2018, Shulkin assigned an official to send a letter to a veterans group that said the agency would update its motto, to be inclusive of servicewomen. (Adapted from Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, the original reads, “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.” The new version would read: “To care for those who shall have borne the battle and their families and survivors.”)
Cashour told The Washington Post the motto wouldn’t change. A few days later, the secretary’s strategic plan went out using the updated, gender-neutral motto. Cashour then denied the change a second time, telling the Post that was “not VA’s position.” A new document with the Lincoln quote restored subsequently appeared on the VA’s website. Shulkin was stunned at being disobeyed by his own spokesman, two people briefed on the incident said. (Cashour denied defying the VA secretary. “The premise of your inquiry is false,” he told ProPublica. Cashour said Shulkin never approved the letter regarding the updated motto and authorized the restoration of the original one.)
Then there was Selnick, who became the administration’s most effective proponent for privatization. He joined the VA as a “senior advisor to the secretary.” Though he reported to Shulkin, he quickly began developing his own policy proposals and conducted his own dealings with lawmakers, according to people with knowledge of the situation. In mid-2017 Shulkin pushed him out — sort of.
Selnick left the VA offices and took up roost in the White House’s Domestic Policy Council. There he started hosting VA-related policy meetings without informing Shulkin, according to people briefed on the meetings. At one such meeting of the “Veterans Policy Coordinating Committee,” Selnick floated merging the Choice program with military’s Tricare insurance plan, according to documents from the meeting obtained by ProPublica.
Veterans groups were furious. At a Nov. 17, 2017 meeting, Selnick boasted that Trump wouldn’t sign anything without Selnick’s endorsement, according to a person present. Shulkin would later tell a confidant that moving Selnick out of the VA was his “biggest mistake” because he did even more damage from the White House. (Selnick did not reply to a request for comment. A White House spokesman said some VA officials were aware of the policy meetings that Selnick hosted. The spokesman said Selnick does not brief the president or the chief of staff.)
Selnick, 57, is a retired Air Force captain from California who worked in the VA under the George W. Bush administration. At CVA, he not only ran the policy task force, he testified before Congress and appeared on TV. In 2015, House Speaker John Boehner appointed Selnick to the Commission on Care, an independent body created by a Congressional act to study the VA and make recommendations.
Selnick impressed his fellow commissioners with his preparation but sometimes irked them with what they viewed as his assumption that he was in charge, people who worked with him on the commission said. Selnick often brought up his experience at the VA. But some commissioners scoffed behind his back because his position, in charge of faith-based initiatives, had little relevance to health care. Whatever his credentials, Selnick had audacious ambitions: He wanted to reconceive the VA’s fundamental approach to medical care.
Selnick wanted to open up the VA so any veteran could see any doctor, an approach that would transform its role into something resembling an insurance company, albeit one with no restrictions on providers. Other commissioners worried that would cost the government more, impose fees and deductibles on veterans and serve them worse. “He was probably the most vocal of all of the members,” said David Gorman, the retired executive director of Disabled American Veterans who also served on the commission, “in a good and a bad way.”
The bad part, in the view of Nancy Schlichting, the chairwoman, emerged when Selnick tried to “hijack” the commission. Selnick and a minority of commissioners secretly drafted their own proposal, which went further than CVA’s. (The group included executives of large health systems that stood to gain more patients.) They wrote that the “the current VA health care system is seriously broken” with “no efficient path to repair it.” They proposed closing facilities, letting all veterans choose private care, and transitioning the rest to private care over two decades.
The draft was written in a way that seemed to speak for the commission as a whole, with phrases like “the Commission recommends.” The commission staff suggested labeling it a “straw man report,” implying it was meant to provoke discussion. Still, veterans organizations were angry, and Schlichting had to publicly disavow the draft. “Darin Selnick has never run a health system in his life and doesn’t understand the complexity of it,” Schlichting told ProPublica.
For his part, Shulkin publicly staked out his vision in a March 17, 2016 article in the New England Journal of Medicine. In it, he defended the VA’s quality of care and proposed reimagining the VA as an integrated system composed of its own core facilities, a network of vetted private-sector providers, and a third layer of private care for veterans in remote places. Shulkin also edited a book published last year trumpeting the VA’s successes, called “Best Care Everywhere.”
Almost four years after the Phoenix scandal, the emergency measure letting some veterans get care outside the VA is still limping along with temporary extensions, not to mention payment glitches and confusion about its rules. Key legislators grew tired of renewing emergency funding and wanted to find a long-term solution. In the House, negotiations broke down after Democrats boycotted a listening session featuring CVA. So fall 2017, focus turned to the Senate.
The crux of the debate was the extent to which the VA should rely on private care. The chairman and ranking member on the Senate veterans committee, respectively, Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Jon Tester of Montana, drafted a bill to consolidate all of the VA’s programs that pay for private care and let doctors and patients decide where veterans would get care. The VA would buy private care when that makes the most sense but would still coordinate all veterans care in an integrated, comprehensive way. The bill garnered the support of 26 veterans organizations and every committee member except Moran.
Moran represents the Koch brothers’ home state; employees of Koch Industries are the second-largest source of campaign contributions in his career, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. With the support of CVA, Moran wanted to establish clear criteria making veterans eligible for private-sector care, like the 30 days/40 miles standard in the Choice program. It might sound like a subtle distinction, but it means the difference between keeping all veterans within the VA system versus ceding the direction of patient care to the private sector. When the committee rejected his amendment, Moran proposed his own bill and signed up Sen. John McCain as a co-sponsor.
Moran’s bill initially called for all veterans to be able to choose private care. When a McCain aide shared it with a lobbyist for the American Legion, the lobbyist was so enraged by what he viewed as a bid to undermine the VA that he torched a copy of the bill and sent the McCain aide a photo of the charred draft. (An American Legion spokesman declined to comment.) With the American Legion’s input, McCain’s and Moran’s staffs toned down the bill to the point that they got letters of support from the group, along with Amvets and CVA. But American Legion and Amvets were still working to get consensus on the Isakson-Tester bill.
Still, the Moran-McCain bill had a few key allies: Selnick and Leinenkugel. They had gained sway in part because of a White House vacuum. The president himself has been largely absent on veterans policy and there’s no senior point person. The portfolio has at times belonged to Kellyanne Conway, Jared Kushner and Omarosa Manigault, according to veterans groups and congressional officials. (A White House spokesman said those officials played a role in “veterans issues,” but not “veterans policy.” The latter, the spokesman said, is overseen by Selnick on the Domestic Policy Council.)
That has given Selnick and Leinenkugel wide latitude to shape White House positions on issues that don’t rise to Trump’s level. “Darin [Selnick] is pretty much in the ascendancy,” said Michael Blecker, the executive director of Swords to Plowshares, a San Francisco-based charity serving veterans.
As long as Moran had a competing claim to the Trump administration’s support, the Isakson-Tester bill was stuck. Republicans wouldn’t risk a floor vote on a bill the president might not sign. Shulkin supported the Isakson-Tester bill but he knew his rivals inside the White House were pushing for Moran’s proposal. So Shulkin hedged, awkwardly praising both bills. “We still don’t know which bill he wants,” Joe Chenelly, executive director of Amvets, said. “If the White House wants something different, then we need to know how to reconcile that.”
Amid the impasse, the Choice program was out of money again and needed an extension as part of the end-of-year spending deal. Tester vowed to make it the last one he’d agree to. He called on Shulkin to break the stalemate by publicly endorsing his and Isakson’s bill. “I would love to have the VA come out forcefully for this bill,” he said on the Senate floor in late December. “I think it would help get it passed.”
In a private meeting, Isakson and Tester chided Shulkin for withholding support for their bill, according to three people briefed on the meeting. Shulkin told them he was doing the best he could, but he had to fend off a competing agenda from the White House.
Unbeknown to Shulkin, there was already talk in the White House of easing him out. On Dec. 4, 2017, Leinenkugel wrote a memo, which ProPublica obtained, summarizing his disillusionment with Shulkin as well as with Shulkin’s deputy, Thomas Bowman, and chief of staff, Vivieca Wright Simpson. (“I was asked to tell the truth and I gave it,” said Leinenkugel of his memo; he declined to say who requested it.)
Leinenkugel accused Bowman of disloyalty and opposing the “dynamic new Choice options requested by POTUS agenda.” The memo recommended that Bowman be fired — and replaced by Leinenkugel himself. It also asserted that Wright Simpson “was proud to tell me she is a Democrat who completely trusts the secretary and it’s her job to protect him.” Leinenkugel accused her of delaying the placement of Trump’s political appointees. Leinenkugel recommended replacing her, too.
As for Shulkin, Leinenkugel’s memo advocated he be “put on notice to leave after major legislation and key POTUS VA initiatives [are] in place.”
After the clash between Moran and Shulkin at the January hearing, Isakson said the White House would provide feedback on his bill to help the committee chart a way forward. “The president basically is pushing to get a unanimous vote out of committee,” said Rick Weidman, the top lobbyist for Vietnam Veterans of America. “The only reason why we didn’t get it before was there is one mid-level guy on the Domestic Policy Council who threw a monkey wrench into it by confusing people about what the administration’s position is.” That person, Weidman said, is Selnick.
The White House’s feedback on the Isakson-Tester bill, a copy of which was obtained by ProPublica, was the closest the administration has come to a unified position on veterans health care. It incorporated input from the VA and the Office of Management and Budget. Selnick told veterans groups he wrote the memo, leaving some miffed that Selnick seemingly had the final word instead of Shulkin. (A White House spokesman said Selnick was not the only author.)
Selnick requested changes that might look like minor tweaks but would have dramatic policy consequences. “It’s these very small differences in details that the public would never notice that change the character of the thing entirely,” said Phillip Longman, whose 2007 book, “Best Care Anywhere,” argued that the VA works better than private health care. (The title of the book Shulkin edited, “Best Care Everywhere,” was a nod at Longman’s book.)
Most important, the White House wanted clear criteria that make veterans eligible for private care. That was the main feature of Moran’s bill and the sticking point in the negotiations. The administration also asked to preserve a piece of the Choice program by grandfathering in veterans living more than 40 miles away from a VA facility. CVA praised the White House for nudging the bill in Moran’s direction. “We applaud President Trump for taking a firm stand in favor of more health care choice for veterans at the VA,” the group’s director, Daniel Caldwell, said in a statement dated Jan. 24, 2018.
The White House feedback also called for removing provisions that would regulate providers, such as requiring them to meet quality standards and limiting opioid prescriptions. And the administration objected to provisions in the bill that would require it to fill critical vacancies at the VA and report back to Congress.
Selnick got what he asked for, but it still might not be enough. Isakson and Tester agreed to most of the changes. But in a White House meeting with veterans groups on Feb. 5, 2018, Selnick continued to insist on open choice, suggesting that’s what Trump wants. Selnick visited Moran’s staff, a person with knowledge of the meeting said, and Moran indicated he wouldn’t support the modified version of the Isakson-Tester bill. (A White House spokesman said Isakson and Tester did not accept all the changes and negotiations continue. He denied that Selnick pushed for open choice.) Moran’s spokesman didn’t answer emailed questions by press time.)
The tensions spilled out publicly again on Feb. 8, 2018, when the Washington Post reported that the White House wanted to oust Bowman, Shulkin’s deputy. The article said the purpose was to chastise Shulkin for “freewheeling” — working with senators who don’t share the administration’s position. Isakson’s spokeswoman called it a “shameful attempt” to derail the negotiations. Isakson resolved to move ahead without Moran, the spokeswoman said, but it’s not clear when the bill will get time on the Senate floor (the Senate focused on immigration this week and then will take a recess). Moran could still place a “hold” on the bill or round up other senators to oppose it.
Shulkin determined that Selnick and Leinenkugel had to go, according to four people familiar with the secretary’s thinking. But Shulkin doesn’t appear to have the authority to fire them since they work for the White House. Plus, the attacks from the right were already taking a toll on Shulkin’s standing. “If leaders at Trump’s VA don’t support REAL CHOICE — why won’t they resign?” former CVA chief Hegseth tweeted on Feb. 13, 2018 tagging Shulkin in the post.
Veterans advocates responded by defending Shulkin against attacks they viewed as originating with Selnick and Leinenkugel. “They thought they could coopt David,” said Weidman, the lobbyist for Vietnam Veterans of America. “When he couldn’t be coopted, they decided to go after his character.”
The biggest blow came on Feb. 14, 2018 when the VA’s Inspector General released its report on Shulkin’s trip to Europe in April 2017. It concluded that Shulkin improperly accepted Wimbledon tickets, misused a subordinate as a “personal travel concierge,” lied to reporters, and that his chief of staff doctored an email in such a way that would justify paying travel expenses for Shulkin’s wife.
Shulkin disputed the IG’s findings, but he again ran into trouble getting his message out from his own press office. A statement insisting he had “done nothing wrong” disappeared from the VA’s website, and Cashour replaced it with one saying “we look forward to reviewing the report and its recommendations in more detail before determining an appropriate response.” Cashour said the White House directed him to take down Shulkin’s statement and approved the new one.
Shulkin told Politico the IG report was spurred by internal opponents. “They are really killing me,” he said. By Feb. 16, 2018, his chief of staff had told colleagues Friday she would retire, USA Today reported.
The condemnation after the IG report was swift and widespread. House veterans committee member Mike Coffman, R-Colo., called on Shulkin to resign. Democrats, though generally sympathetic to Shulkin, couldn’t resist lumping the imbroglio in with other travel-expense tempests across Trump’s cabinet (involving Tom Price, Ryan Zinke, Scott Pruitt, and Steven Mnuchin). The chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate veterans committees said they were “disappointed” and want Shulkin to address the allegations, but acknowledged the politics at work and the stakes in a joint statement: “We need to continue progress we have made and not allow distractions to get in the way.”
The next day, Shulkin appeared before another routine oversight hearing, in this instance on the House side. He told the representatives he would reimburse the government for his wife’s travel and accept the IG’s recommendations. Shulkin thanked the chairman and ranking member for urging their colleagues not to let the scandal commandeer the hearing. “I do regret the decisions that have been made that have taken the focus off that important work,” he said.
Turning to the VA’s budget, Shulkin resumed his tightrope walk. He praised the VA’s services while acknowledging the need for some veterans to be treated outside the government’s system. By the time he left the hearing, two hours later, the Trump administration’s position on veterans health privatization remained a mystery.
Infantry soldiers often carry an array of supplies and gear that together can weigh anywhere from 60 to 120 pounds, said Capt. Erika Hanson, the assistant product manager for the Squad Multipurpose Equipment Transport.
But the SMET vehicle, which the Army expects to field in just under three years, “is designed to take the load off the soldier,” Hanson said. “Our directed requirement is to carry 1,000 pounds of the soldier load.”
That 1,000 pounds is not just for one soldier, of course, but for an entire Infantry squad — typically about nine soldiers.
Late May 2018, during a “Close Combat Lethality Tech Day” in the courtyard of the Pentagon, Hanson had with her on display the contenders for the Army’s SMET program: four small vehicles, each designed to follow along behind a squad of infantry soldiers and carry most or all their gear for them, so they can move to where they need to be without being exhausted upon arrival.
“I’m not an infantry soldier,” Hanson said. “But I’ve carried a rucksack — and I can tell you I can move a lot faster without out a rucksack on my back. Not having to carry this load will make the soldier more mobile and more lethal in a deployed environment.”
The four contender vehicles on display at the Pentagon were the MRZR-X system from Polaris Industries Inc., Applied Research Associates Inc. and Neya Systems LLC; the Multi-Utility Tactical Transport from General Dynamics Land Systems; the Hunter Wolf from HDT Global; and the RS2-H1 system from Howe and Howe Technologies. Each was loaded down with gear representative of what they would be expected to carry when one of them is actually fielded to the Army.
(U.S. Army photos)
“Nine ruck sacks, six boxes of MREs and four water cans,” Hanson said. “This is about the equivalent of what a long-range mission for a light Infantry unit would need to carry.”
Hanson said that for actual testing and evaluation purposes, the simulated combat load also includes fuel cans and ammo cans as well, though these items weren’t included in the display at the Pentagon.
These small vehicles, Hanson said, are expected to follow along with a squad of soldiers as they walk to wherever it is they have been directed to go. The requirement for the vehicles is that they be able to travel up to 60 miles over the course of 72 hours, she said.
Three of the vehicles are “pivot steered,” Hanson said, to make it easier for them to maneuver in off-road environments, so that they can follow soldiers even when there isn’t a trail.
One of the contenders for SMET has a steering wheel, with both a driver’s seat and a passenger seat. So if a soldier wanted to drive that vehicle, he could, Hanson said. Still, the Army requirement is that the SMET be able to operate unmanned, and all four vehicles provide that unmanned capability.
All four contenders include a small, simplistic kind of remote control that a soldier can hand-carry to control the vehicle. One of those remotes was just a light-weight hand grip with a tiny thumb-controlled joystick on top. A soldier on patrol could carry the light-weight controller at his side.
More advanced control options are also available for the SMET as well, Hanson said.
“All can be operated with an operator control unit,” she said. “It’s a tele-operation where you have a screen and you can operate the system non-line-of-site via the cameras on the system.”
When soldiers on patrol want the SMET to follow along with them, they can use the very simple controller that puts a low cognitive load on the Soldier. When they want the SMET to operate in locations where they won’t be able to see it, they can use the more advanced controller with the video screen.
Hanson said the Army envisions soldiers might one day use the SMET to do things besides carry a Soldier’s bags.
“It’s for use in operations where some of the payloads are like re-trans and recon payloads in the future,” she said. “In that situation, it would be better for a soldier at a distance to be able to tele-operate the SMET into position.”
(U.S. Army photo by C. Todd Lopez)
The “re-trans” mission, she said, would involve putting radio gear onto the SMET and then using a remote control to put the vehicle out at the farthest edge of where radio communications are able to reach. By doing so, she said, the SMET could then be part of extending that communications range farther onto the battlefield.
One of the vehicles even has an option for a soldier to clip one end of a rope to his belt and the other end to the vehicle — and then the vehicle will just follow him wherever he walks. That’s the tethered “follow-me” option, Hanson said.
In addition to carrying gear for soldiers, the SMET is also expected to provide electric power to soldiers on patrol. She said while the vehicle is moving, for instance, it is required to provide 1 kilowatt of power, and when it’s standing still, it must provide 3 kW.
That power, she said, could be piped into the Army’s “Universal Battery Charger,” which can charge a variety of batteries currently used in soldier products. Vendors of the SMET have each been provided with a UBC so they can figure out how best to incorporate the device into their SMET submissions.
Hanson said the Army hopes that the SMET could include, in some cases, up to five UBCs on board to ensure that no soldier in an Infantry squad is ever without mobile power.
In November 2017, the Army held a “fly-off” at Fort Benning, Georgia, where 10 contenders for the SMET competed with each other. Only the developers of the vehicles were involved in the fly-off.
“From those, we down-selected to these four, based on their performance,” Hanson said.
To make its choice for the down-select, she said the Army looked at things like mobility and durability of the systems.
Now, the Army will do a technology demonstration to down-select to just one vehicle, from the remaining four. To do that, Hanson said, the Army will first provide copies of the competing SMET vehicles to two Army Infantry units, one at Fort Drum, New York, and one at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Additionally, Marines at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, will also get a set of the vehicles.
“Over the course of the tech demo, we’ll be getting feedback from the soldiers and the Marines on what systems best fill the need for the infantryman,” she said.
The technology demonstration, she said, will last just one year. And when it’s complete, feedback from soldiers and Marines will be used to down-select to just one system that will then become an Army program of record.
“I think the best part of the program is the innovative approach the team is taking to field them to soldiers before they select the program of record,” Hanson said. “That way, it’s the soldier feedback that drives the requirement, not the other way around.”
Hanson said she expects the program of record to begin in the first quarter of fiscal year 2020, after which the Army will go into low-rate initial production on the SMET. By the second or third quarter of FY 2021, she said, the first Army unit can expect to have the new vehicle fielded to them.
Hanson said the Army has set a base price of $100,000 for the SMET.