Here's how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism - We Are The Mighty
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Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism

Hunkered down in sniper positions on the top floor of an abandoned building in the Syrian city of Raqqa, two Americans and a British volunteer face off against Islamic State snipers on the other side of the front line. The trio, including two who were battle-hardened by experience in the French Foreign Legion and the war in Iraq, have made the war against IS in Syria their own.


They are among several US and British volunteers in the decisive battle against the Islamic State group for Raqqa, the city in northeastern Syria that the militants declared the capital of their self-proclaimed caliphate in parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq.

The men joined US-allied Syrian militias for different reasons — some motivated by testimonies of survivors of the unimaginable brutality that IS flaunted in areas under its control.

Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism
People’s Protection Units work towards peace. (Photo from KurdishStruggle on Flickr.)

Others joined what they see as a noble quest for justice and a final battle with the “heart of darkness,” in a belief that violence can only be met with violence.

Taylor Hudson, a 33-year old from Pasadena, compares the fight for Raqqa to the 1945 Battle of Berlin in World War II that was critical to ending the rule of Adolf Hitler.

“This is the Berlin of our times,” said Hudson, who doubles as a platoon medic and a sniper in the battle against the militants. For him, IS extremists “represent everything that is wrong with humanity.”

Syria’s war, now in its seventh year, has attracted foreign fighters to all sides of the complicated conflict.

Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism
Photo courtesy of Kurdish YPG Fighters Flickr.

Islamic extremists from Europe, Asia, and North Africa have boosted the ranks of the Islamic State group, as well as rival radical al-Qaeda-linked groups. Shiite Iranian and Lebanese militias have sided with the Syrian government, deepening the sectarian nature of the conflict that has killed over 400,000 people and displaced over 11 million, half of Syria’s pre-war population.

On the anti-IS side — though far less in numbers than the thousands of foreigners who swelled the IS ranks — most Western foreign volunteers have been drawn to the US-allied Kurdish militia known as The People’s Protection Units, or by their Kurdish initials as the YPG. The US military has developed a close relationship with the YPG and its extension, the Syrian Democratic Forces, in the war against IS.

Related: US special operators, artillery, gunships support Raqqa offensive

Some Western volunteers have died in battle — earlier in July the YPG announced that 28-year-old Robert Grodt, of Santa Cruz, California, and 29-year-old Nicholas Alan Warden, of Buffalo, died in the battle for Raqqa.

Since launching the push on Raqqa on June 6, the US-backed forces have conquered a third of the city.

Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism
Under ISIS reign, the city of Raqqa has been turned into a veritable hell for its residents. (Photo from Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently.)

Hudson, who has been fighting in Syria for the past 13 months, said he was moved to tears by stories in the media of Iraqi Yazidi women who were enslaved by IS militants and looked for a way to help. A pharmacy student who learned combat medicine in the field, he said he had treated some 600 wounded ahead of the march onto Raqqa.

The presence of Western anti-IS volunteers in Syria has created something of a conundrum for their governments, which have often questioned them on terrorism charges.

“I am not a terrorist,” said Macer Gifford, a 30-year former City broker in London, who came to Syria three years ago to volunteer first with the Kurdish militia. Now he is fighting with an Assyrian militia, also part of the US-backed forces battling IS militants.

“I am here defending the people of Syria against terrorists,” he added.

Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism
Raqqa, Syria. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Gifford has been questioned by both his British government and by the US government. At home, he has written and lectured about the complex situation in Syria, offering a first-hand experience of IS’ evolving tactics.

He believes the militants can only be defeated by sheer force.

“The Islamic State (group) is actually an exceptional opponent,” Gifford said. “We can’t negotiate them away, we can’t wish them away. The only way we can defeat them is with force of arms.”

For Kevin Howard, a 28-year old former US military contractor from California who fought in Iraq in 2006, the war against the Islamic State group is more personal.

A skilled sniper who prides himself in having killed 12 IS militants so far, Howard said he is doing it for the victims of the Bataclan Theatre in France, where the sister of one of his best friends survived. The Nov. 13, 2015 attacks claimed by IS killed 130 people at Paris cafes, the national stadium, and the Bataclan, where 90 died.

Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism
Photo from Kurdishstruggle Flickr.

“This is a continuation of that fight, I think if you leave something unfinished, it will remain unfinished for a lifetime,” he said, showing off his 1972 sniper rifle.

On his forehead and neck, he has tattooed the “Rien N’empêche” — or “Nothing Prevents”— words from the song of the French Foreign Legion in which he served, and “life is pain.”

“For me this is a chance to absolutely go to the heart of darkness and grab it and get rid of it,” he added.

From his sniper position on Raqqa’s front line, he peeked again through the rifle hole. For Howard, the orders to march deeper into the IS-held city can’t come soon enough.

Articles

Glock is still fighting the Army’s decision to go with a cheaper handgun

The leadership at Glock Inc. says that the US Army’s decision to select Sig Sauer to make its new Modular Handgun System was driven by cost savings, not performance. The gun maker is also challenging the Army to complete the testing, which the service cut short, to see which gun performs better.


Two weeks have passed since the Government Accountability Office released the findings behind its decision to deny Glock Inc.’s protest of the Army’s MHS decision.

Now Josh Dorsey, vice president of Glock Inc., said that Glock maintains that the Army’s selection of Sig Sauer was based on “incomplete testing” and that Sig Sauer’s bid was $102 million lower than Glock’s.

Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism
Sig Sauer P320. Photo from Sig Sauer.

“This is not about Glock. This is not about Sig. And it’s not about the US Army,” Dorsey, a retired Marine, told Military.com. “It’s about those that are on the ground, in harm’s way.”

It comes down to “the importance of a pistol, which doesn’t sound like much unless you realize, if you pull a pistol in combat, you are in deep s***.”

Dorsey maintains that the Army selected Sig Sauer as the winner of the MHS competition without conducting the “heavy endurance testing” that is common in military and federal small arms competitions.

Military.com reached out to both the Army and Sig Sauer for comment on this story, but the service did not respond by press time.

Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism
Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Michel Sauret

The Army awarded Sig Sauer a contract worth up to $580 million January 19. Sig Sauer beat out Glock Inc., FN America, and Beretta USA, maker of the current M9 9mm service pistol, in the competition for the Modular Handgun System program.

The 10-year agreement calls for Sig to supply the Army with full-size XM17 and compact XM18 versions of its 9mm pistol to replace the M9s and compact M11s in the inventory.

The service launched its long-awaited XM17 MHS competition in late August 2015 to replace its Cold War-era M9 9mm pistol. The decision formally ended the Beretta’s 30-year hold on the Army’s sidearm market.

From January to September 2016, the Army conducted what Dorsey calls initial, phase one testing and not “product verification testing described in the solicitation” which is the only way to determine which of the MHS entries meets the Army’s requirements for safety, reliability and accuracy, according to Glock’s legal argument to the GAO.

Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism
Glock, Inc’s MHS. Photo from Glock, Inc.

On August 29, 2016, the Army “established a competitive range consisting of the Glock 9mm one-gun proposal and the Sig Sauer 9mm two-gun proposal, according to the GAO’s findings.

Dorsey argues that the GAO’s description of “competitive range” means the both Glock’s and Sig Sauer’s submissions “are in fact pretty much the same.”

But the GAO describes Sig Sauer 320 as having lower reliability than Glock 19 on page 11, footnote 13 of its findings.

“Under the factor 1 reliability evaluation, Sig Sauer’s full-sized handgun had a higher stoppage rate than Glock’s handgun, and there may have been other problems with the weapon’s accuracy,” GAO states.

To Dorsey, that “says it all.”

Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism
Glock, Inc’s one-gun entry. Photo from Glock, Inc.

“When you have stuff in the GAO report that says their stoppage rate is higher than ours — that’s a problem,” Dorsey said.

Sig Sauer’s $169.5 million bid outperformed Glock’s $272.2 million bid, according to GAO, which made the Sig Sauer proposal the “best value to the government.” The Army’s initial announcement of the contract award to Sig Sauer described the deal as being worth up to $580 million, but the reason for the discrepancy is not clear.

“So one of the least important factors as they said in the RFP would be the price; that is what became the most important factor,” Dorsey said.

“So let’s think about that for a minute … you are going to go forward making that decision now without completing the test on the two candidate systems that are in the competitive range? Does that make sense if it’s your son or daughter sitting in that foxhole somewhere?”

Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism
Army photo by Visual Information Specialist Gertrud Zach

Glock also argued that the Army’s testing only went up to 12,500 rounds when the “service life of the selected pistol is specified to be 25,000 rounds,” according to Glock’s legal argument to GAO.

“We are not asking for them to overturn Sig,” Dorsey said. “All we ask is for them to continue to test, so that the Army can be ensured that it has the best material solution for its soldiers. Make it fair, make it full and open; transparent and let’s see where the chips fall.”

“Fundamentally, Glock is going to continue to do what we always do. It is never over for us. It’s always on those that go into harm’s way and as long as they are in harm’s way, we will continue to knock on doors and offer the best material solution to the handgun requirement because in my heart, I believe we do have the best material solution.”

Articles

How a deadly insurgent sniper in Iraq taunted his pursuers

It was a huge morale boost for the battle-weary soldiers living at Patrol Base Murray the morning they got a visit from the Army’s top general. They couldn’t have imagined that anyone of that importance would come to their dusty, dangerous slice of the combat zone.


It felt good, but less than an hour after he and his entourage went wheels up, five of their fellow soldiers would be dead, the victims of a cunning sniper who sucked them into his web with ruthlessly primitive tactics.

Also read: This is what goes through a sniper’s mind before the shot

The first victim was Spc. William Edwards. On a patrol outside the wire during the four-star general’s visit, he cautiously popped his Bradley’s driver hatch open three-quarters of the way to peer outside, and was shot high on his back squarely between the shoulders.

Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism
A soldier scans the terrain through the hatch of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle. It was on a vehicle like this one that Spc. William Edwards was targeted by a deadly insurgent sniper. (Photo from Department of Defense)

“It was a great sniper shot,” then-Lt. Col. Ken Adgie, commander of 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry, said of the clean hit, which Edwards’ platoon immediately knew had come from a three-story house about 200 meters away.

As the medics and docs in the aid station worked to save Edwards’ life, the rest of his buddies from Bravo Company, 2nd Platoon went into reaction mode and headed straight for the house to find the sniper.

The battalion, part of the 3rd Infantry Division, was on mission in the region of Arab Jabour about six miles southeast of the Baghdad, a lush agrarian area where magnificent houses that once belonged to the ruling Sunni elite grace the banks of the Tigris River.

It was now teeming with al-Qaeda operatives and their hired help. The troops called it “IED Alley” — aptly named as the division’s tally of men lost after a year in combat was more than 150, mostly to buried bombs. But the sniper threat was a constant.

The presumed sniper house was on a ribbon of land between a one-lane hardball road and the river less than a mile south of Patrol Base Murray, and 2nd Platoon had surrounded it within 15 minutes of the incident with Edwards.

Four soldiers – Sgt. Scott Kirkpatrick, Spc. Justin Penrod, Sgt. Andrew Lancaster and Staff Sgt. William Scates – went into the house to clear it. They entered through the back door.

Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism
It was in a house much like this on in Arab Jabour that the soldiers pursuing Spc. Edwards’ killer met their grim fate. (DOD photo)

“There was a trip wire deep in the house at the end of the hallway going into the living room. A pressure sensitive wire, something under the carpet,” Adgie said.

Unbeknownst to the soldiers, the house was booby trapped with as many as four 155 mm artillery rounds enhanced with homemade explosives and when the first soldier stepped on the trigger, it tripped a circuit and detonated the charge, blowing everyone up in a fiery explosion.

The soldiers were killed, a heavy toll that raised to five the number of soldiers the battalion lost that day, all within 30 minutes.

“The explosion was huge,” Adgie said. “Structurally the house stood, but it caught fire then burned for six hours. We had to wait for it to go out and the Navy EOD guys to go in and make sure it was safe before we could get one of the bodies out.”

Early that evening, with the scope of the tragedy barely having sunk in yet, the company commander and platoon leader went back to the house with an interpreter and climbed an inside stairway to the third floor to see if they could find a clue about the sniper.

On the wall, in Arabic, was a hateful taunt from the sniper himself, a message that read, roughly, “This is where the sniper got your guys.”

But the sniper was long gone and had left nothing behind but the note.

Infuriated by the deadly “gotcha” they had found, the unit’s human intelligence collection team went to work immediately, plying every source in every corner of their battle space to find out who the sniper was.

One of their best resources was a small team of Iraqis the battalion called their “Bird Dogs,” three men – former insurgents – who lived with the unit at Patrol Base Murray and ran a cell phone operation to reach out to a network of sympathetic friends in Arab Jabour.

The sniper, it turns out, was already famous in the Al Qaeda-friendly area for his highly successful and prominent ambush and a short 48 hours later, the U.S. soldiers, with the help of the Bird Dogs, had a name and a description.

He was Mohamed Uthman, a 5-foot, 2-inch tall foot soldier for Al Qaeda who had a reputation for being a murderous criminal. And, no surprise, he was already known as a “high value target” on a list the Americans had of their most wanted.

Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism
When Army units identified the name of the sniper who killed five soldiers in one day, they launched an operation to fix and destroy the sharpshooter who taunted them. (DOD photo)

“Word on the street was, this is the guy who did it, and he kept on working after that. He was a cold blooded killer and he killed more Iraqis than he did Americans,” Adgie said.

The mean little sniper eluded capture for months, until one night when he made the decision to go out and kill people with the wrong insurgent mortar team.

It was December 11, 2007, four months to the day he had snuffed out the lives of the five soldiers, and Adgie cleared an Air Force F-16 hot to drop a bomb on the mortar team, unaware that Uthman was one of the teammates.

They found out after a site exploitation team identified one of the dead as the diminutive sniper.

Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism
Soldier targeted the taunting sniper with a bomb dropped from coalition aircraft. (DOD video via GifBrewery)

“When Adgie lost those soldiers in that house borne IED, I flew in and we were on our knees praying and crying like babies,” said then-Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of 3rd ID. “We learned, but we learned the hard way. If something looked like it might be rigged with explosives, we just blew it up. I wasn’t going to allow my kids to go in there again because we’d already lost four.”

The tiny killer was gone, but insurgent snipers continued to bedevil the troops, said Lynch, who recalled the death of a soldier in an Abrams M1A1 tank, who, like Edwards in the Bradley, opened his hatch while the tank was on the move and was shot by a sniper from a range they estimated at about 1,000 meters.

“He’s a thinking, adaptive enemy,” Lynch said. “They watched our movements and based on their training they could pace their engagement on the rate of movement of the vehicle.”

Lynch pointed out that the division’s brigade and battalion commanders under his command had all been to Iraq at least once before and had come to know the value of having well trained and equipped sniper teams.

Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism
After crawling through grass and brush toward their target, a sniper team from Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1-36 Infantry Division, attached to the 3rd Infantry Division, set their sights on their target during a two-week training school where U.S. Soldiers trained Iraqi army special forces at the Al Kindi Iraqi army base in Mosul, Iraq.

In Arab Jabour the sniper teams were used consistently to overwatch IED hot spots and other things like long range cameras placed on elevated platforms. The cameras provided overwatch as well, but the snipers came into play and could shoot from concealed locations if anyone messed with those cameras.

“There’s clearly a continuing role for our snipers. They found their niche on the battlefield,” Lynch said.

Gina Cavallaro is the author of Sniper: American Single-Shot Warriors in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This incredible story was brought to you by Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions which are set to release the military thriller “The Wall” May 12. The movie, starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson and John Cena, is a harrowing story pitting the infamous insurgent sniper known as “Juba” against an American sharpshooter who uses an unsteady wall for protection as he tries to rescue his wounded comrade.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This new series examines what it’s like to serve during peacetime

There is a very robust veteran community within the entertainment industry. Veterans in Media and Entertainment is a nonprofit networking organization that unites current and former members of the military working in the film and television industry. The Writers Guild Foundation has a year-long writing program for veterans. And hey, We Are The Mighty is a company founded on a mission to capture, empower, and celebrate the voice of today’s military community.

The military community makes up a small percentage of Americans, but plays a global — and exceptionally challenging — role. It makes sense that many veterans have stories to tell. Not all of those stories are about their military experiences, but many are. Hollywood loves a good hero story, but there’s more to the military than those few moments of bravery.

The military is a mind f*** unique lifestyle, one that does involve war and sacrifice, but also really weird laws and random adventures — and in a Post-9/11 world, we are now seeing an influx of veterans ready to dissect that world.

Enter Xanthe Pajarillo.


Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism

Xanthe Pajarillo.

“Veteran narratives are begging for more diversity. When our representation in the media is limited to war heroes or trauma victims, it creates a skewed portrait of who service members are,” said Pajarillo, the creator of Airmen, a web series that explores the dynamics of queerness, romantic/workplace relationships, and being a person of color in the Air Force during peacetime operations. It emphasizes the unshakable bonds and relationships that veterans make during their time in service.

Airmen was awarded an “Honorable Mention” from the Tim Disney Prize for Excellence in the Storytelling Arts in 2017. The prize celebrates the courage and commitment to make the world a better place — and the originality to do it through the unique powers of gifted storytelling.

Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism

U.S. Marine Corps veteran Chloe Mondesir, who will play Airman 1st Class Mercedes Magat.

It’s important to recognize that there is much more to military service than what is traditionally portrayed in film and television (which tends to be the rare stories of heroism in battle and/or the traumatic effects of war).

American society has placed heroes on a pedestal, which is a very high standard to meet for our troops — and one that often involves a life-threatening circumstance. Not every troop will see combat (this is a good thing… but we don’t always feel that way when other members of our team are shouldering the burdens of war), and even those who do engage in battle but live when others die experience survivor’s guilt and symptoms of trauma.

It’s time to tell the reality of military service: the warrior’s tale, yes, but more importantly, the stories of the humans living their lives while wearing the uniform.

Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism

“Ultimately, I created Airmen to help bridge the gap between civilians and veterans. The characters are active duty, but their experiences are universal. We are complex individuals with successes, failures, and insecurities just like everyone else. I hope when someone watches the show – civilian or veteran – they’ll feel less alone in the world,” says Pajarillo.

Which is exactly what Airmen is setting out to do — and now the series is ready for the next stage of production, beginning with a campaign at SeedSpark, a platform designed to change the entertainment industry to reflect the world we actually live in.

The campaign will launch on July 16 and run for 30 days to reach a ,750 goal. Contributions will be used towards production and post-production of nine episodes, each running 5-7 minutes long. Upon completion, the episodes will be released weekly and made available to view on a streaming platform, such as Vimeo or YouTube.

The series stars U.S. Marine Corps veteran (and We Are The Mighty favorite) Chloe Mondesir and U.S. Navy veterans Blu Lindsey and Brandon Elonzae, with many other vets in the cast and crew.

The most authentic way to get military stories is from the people who lived them. Check out the series page and consider contributing to their campaign — it’s a perfect way to thank an artist for their service.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Army’s ‘Hard Kill’ tank defenses are a high-tech upgrade

The U.S. Army has been looking beyond armor to augment the defense of Abrams tanks and other armored vehicles, responding to the emergence of more potent weapons without sacrificing speed and weight.


“Today, we need to adapt differently to threats, not just by adding more armor,” Col. Kevin Vanyo, program manager for Emerging Capabilities at the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research Development, and Engineering Center, told the Army News Service, adding that the Abrams is already so heavy many bridges cannot support it.

Vanyo said his team was working on both “hard kill” APS, which uses physical countermeasures, and “soft kill” APS, which uses countermeasures like electro-magnetic signals to interfere with incoming weapons. Both systems would be part of the Modular Active Protection System, which is “a framework for a modular, open-systems architecture” that will allow an active-protection system to function once installed, he said.

The Army is considering three versions of MAPS, Vanyo told the Army News Service. Israeli-made Trophy APS on Abrams tanks, U.S.-made Iron Curtain APS on Stryker combat vehicles, and Iron Fist APS, also made by an Israeli company, on Bradley fighting vehicles.

Decisions about fielding the latter two systems will be made in early 2018, but the Army hopes to field the Trophy APS system by 2020, Vanyo said.

Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism
How an APS Hard-Kill sequence works. (Image from Congressional Research Service)

Personnel at the Army Test and Evaluation Command’s Alabama test center facility in Redstone Arsenal are working on an APS and other systems that can be deployed as part of MAPS, ATEC chief Maj. Gen. John Charlton told Army News Service. A main concern was figuring out if signals produced by an APS would interfere with the Army vehicle or be detectable by enemy sensors.

The U.S. Army has been evaluating APS for some time. It leased several Trophy systems in spring 2016, working with the Marine Corps to test them. It has also purchased some systems for testing.

Also Read: This new, more deadly version of the M1 Abrams tank is on its way to the fight

“The one that is farthest along in terms of installing it is … Trophy on Abrams,” Lt. Gen. John Murray, Army deputy chief of staff, told Scout Warrior this summer. “We’re getting some pretty … good results. It adds to the protection level of the tank.”

Army Maj. Gen. David Bassett, the Army’s program executive officer for ground combat systems, said in mid-August that the Army was “very close to a decision on [installing] the Trophy system.”

“We’re looking to make those decisions rapidly so that we can spend money in the next Fiscal Year,” Bassett said, adding that he foresaw “a brigade’s worth of capability of Trophy on the Abrams.” The 2018 fiscal year began in October.

Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism
An Israeli Merkava IIID Baz tank. (Image from Israel Defense Forces)

Active-protection systems are already part of other countries’ arsenals. Israeli and Russian tanks both use the Trophy APS.

At least one country, Norway, has publicly discussed ways to counter Russian APS use — talk that appeared to break “a taboo among Western military officials and defence industries,” retired Brig. Ben Barry, senior fellow for land warfare at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, wrote earlier this year.

Even as militaries adopt active-protection systems to catch up with peers and rivals, there is reportedly a counter to APS already out there.

The most recent variant of the Russian-made RPG rocket launcher, the RPG-30, unveiled in 2008, has a 105 mm tandem high explosive antitank round and features a second, smaller-caliber projectile meant to act as an “agent provocateur” for active-protection systems, a Russian arms maker said in late 2015.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is how servicewomen honor those who’ve fallen

Nearly 40 Air and Army National Guard women gathered at the Arlington National Cemetery Oct. 21 with hundreds of active duty, retired, and reserve service members from all branches of the military to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the dedication of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial.


Honoring US Military Women

The memorial honors all women who have defended America throughout history. The gathering featured a weekend filled with remembrance, honor, service, leadership, mentorship, and inspiration.

“It just makes you reflect back on how much has changed in these 20 years, and the sacrifices that women are still making,” said Army Col. Cynthia Tinkham, the Oklahoma National Guard’s director of personnel. Tinkham is one of five of the event attendees with the Oklahoma Guard who were present at the memorial’s dedication 20 years ago.

Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism
Men and women participate in a half-mile honor walk through Arlington National Cemetery in Washington DC, Oct. 21, 2017. US Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Kasey Phipps.

The memorial here serves as a 4.2-acre ceremonial entrance into Arlington National Cemetery. The memorial honors the nearly 3 million women who have served or are serving in or with the US military since the American Revolution.

Also Read: The 7 everyday struggles of women in the military

The group arrived here Oct. 20, touring the memorial’s long arching hall of memorabilia that covers the history of US women in military service.

“I’ve learned a lot about women’s history and the impact it has on the Air Force and every other branch,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. Jaimie Haase, a member of the Air National Guard.

Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism
Women toss rose petals into the reflecting pool of the Women in Military Service for America memorial during a ceremony that honored the 15 fallen women of the US Armed Forces since 2012, Oct. 21, 2017, in Washington DC. US Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Kasey Phipps.

WIMSA’s 20th Anniversary Ceremony

Major events throughout the weekend included a celebration dinner, WIMSA’s 20th Anniversary ceremony, an honor walk, and an after-dark service of remembrance. Attendees ranged from women World War II veterans to those currently serving in all branches of the US military.

The keynote speaker of the morning’s ceremony, retired Air Force Gen. Janet C. Wolfenbarger, who’s also the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in Services chair, compared her experience at the dedication in 1997 to the 20th anniversary ceremony this year, emphasizing that each year there are more “firsts” to celebrate — the first woman to serve in a particular branch, in a particular career field, and the first to die while serving.

Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism
Former Gen. Janet C. Wolfenbarger speaks about sustaining the force at the 2013 Air Force Association’s 2013 Air Space Conference and Technology Exposition Sept. 16, 2013. USAF photo by Airman 1st Class Nesha Humes.

“There are so many firsts that the memorial represents,” Wolfenbarger said. “But, the real objective is that there are no more firsts.”

Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas Ryan emphasized the importance of honoring the past later that evening as attendees held candles honoring the lives of the 167 women who have fallen since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.

Related: 15 women who helped pave the way in the Army

“We can never forget our history and those who have perished for the sake of us all,” said Ryan, who was asked to speak at the event in honor of the women killed in action.

Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism
Women from the National Guard hold candlelights during a remembrance ceremony for all the women servicemembers who have died in the line of duty, Oct. 21, 2017, at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington Cemetary in Washington D.C. US Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Kasey Phipps

“Sacrifice is meaningless without remembrance,” he added.

Among the fallen was both the youngest and only woman in the Oklahoma National Guard to die in combat, 19-year-old Army Spc. Sarina Butcher, who was killed in 2011 in Afghanistan and is honored within the memorial.

“These women represent a bridge to those that came before them,” said Tinkham who spoke on behalf of fallen women. “To those of the new and current generation and to those still to join, I implore you to keep telling their stories. Be proud of them. Honor them … and tell your own stories.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

Veterans unload on Roy Moore’s comment about fighting in a foxhole

Politicians who are veterans of the US armed forces have long touted their military records, or their connections to the military during campaigns for public office. Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore is no exception.


But Moore received some criticism on Dec. 11 when he applied an allegory that combined military procedure with a politically divisive topic related to some troops currently serving in the armed forces.

“I know we do not need transgender in our military,” Moore said during a campaign rally in Alabama, according to the Associated Press. “If I’m in a foxhole, I don’t want to know whether this guy next to me is wondering if he’s a woman or a man.”

The polarizing discussion over whether transgender people should be allowed to openly enlist in the US military has been a point of contention for some conservatives since President Donald Trump proposed a policy change on the matter in July. Moore, a West Point graduate and Vietnam War veteran, has vehemently opposed transgender rights during his campaign.

But the term “foxhole” is not only interpreted as a literal defensive fighting position. It also invokes the intimate experience of bonds forged between servicemembers in the midst of battle — be it during the snow-covered Battle of the Bulge in World War II, or in the backdrop of picturesque views from Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism
Roy Moore, twice removed from the judge bench, seen here after a phone call with President Trump in September. (Image Roy Moore Twitter screen grab)

Veterans and lawmakers came out to condemn Moore’s remarks. Some of them pointed out the damaging sexual-harassment allegations that surfaced last month.

“I’d rather be in a foxhole with the brave trans men and women already serving overseas than in Congress with a pedophile,” Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, a former infantry Marine Corps officer and Iraq War veteran, tweeted.

“You won’t be in a foxhole. I might be, though, and if I am, I don’t want to have to worry my daughter might get molested by a US Senator while I’m gone,” David Dixon, a US Army armor officer and Iraq War veteran, said on Twitter.

Other veterans took issue with the exclusionary nature of Moore’s sentiments, which may contrast with certain aspects of warfare and military readiness.

Read Also: Pentagon lifts ban on transgender troops serving openly in military

“This is not a thing anyone who ever served in a foxhole has worried about,” Brandon Friedman, a former Housing and Urban Development official and US Army officer tweeted.

“In the Marine Corps, politics don’t matter. Your color doesn’t matter,” Lee Busby, a Republican write-in candidate in the Alabama Senate race and a former colonel in the US Marine Corps, tweeted. “You fight for the Marine in that foxhole next to you because you love them and would do anything for them. Alabama is no different to me. I am willing to fight and claw for every single person in this state,” Busby said.

Moore’s own military service has since been called into question.

In Vietnam, the troops Moore commanded derisively nicknamed him “Captain America,” according to a 2005 report from the Atlantic. Reporter Joshua Green wrote for the publication at the time that Moore “was so much disliked that he feared being killed by his own troops, and slept on a bed of sandbags so that he couldn’t be fragged by a grenade rolled under his bed.”

Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism
A fuel dump burns at Khe Sanh behind the walls of sandbags. (Photo: Public Domain)

One of Moore’s former professors, also a Vietnam War veteran, reportedly said veterans told him that Moore, while on the ground in Vietnam, wanted to be saluted for his rank; a tradition that, while normal by military standards, is discouraged while in an active war zone.

“When you go to Vietnam as an officer, you don’t ask anybody to salute you, because the Viet Cong would shoot officers,” Guy Martin, former adjunct professor at the University of Alabama School of law, told The New Yorker in October.

“You’ve heard this a million times in training,” Martin continued. “There’s nothing more telling about a person’s capability and character and base intelligence. It’s crazy.”

While the US Defense Department previously concluded, after a yearlong study, that allowing transgender people to enlist and serve openly would have a minimal impact on military readiness and cost, Moore has been unwavering in his opposition.

“To say that President Trump cannot prohibit transgenderism in the military is a clear example of judicial activism,” Moore reportedly wrote in a statement in October, following a federal judge’s decision to partially block Trump’s transgender ban. “Even the United States Supreme Court has never declared transgenderism to be a right under the Constitution,” Moore said.

At an October campaign rally, Moore said, “We don’t need transgender bathrooms and we don’t need transgender military and we don’t need a weaker military … We need to go back to what this country is about.”

Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism
The Pentagon celebrates Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, and Transgender Pride Month. (US Navy photo by Chad J. McNeeley)

Moore’s views struck a nerve with veterans

“Roy Moore — This is me in a real foxhole,” a widely known Twitter user who goes by the alias “Red T Raccoon” tweeted on Sunday morning with an accompanying photo. “I didn’t care who was next to me as long as they had the American flag on their uniform. Bigotry has no place in the military and especially the Senate,” the man, a former combat medic, who is now a veterans advocate, said.

Business Insider viewed the man’s US Army service records and independently verified his identity following an interview Monday night. He has asked to remain anonymous.

“A bullet or [improvised explosive device] does the same damage to anyone,” the man told Business Insider. “We all did what we had to do to survive and we all just wanted to go home. Sexuality or gender identity had nothing to do with those goals.”

“I treated good men and women in the field that never made it home,” he continued. “He has no right to question their service to our country,” the man said of Moore.

Following his tweet, photos of uniformed servicemembers — some of whom tweeted messages endorsing Jones — began to circulate:

 

 

 

 

Regardless of the outcome of the Nov. 12 special election in Alabama, the responses from veterans following Moore’s comments shows that the military, despite being uniformed in appearance, is comprised of political views as unique as the men and women who serve.

Articles

Test shows that A-10 can obliterate Iran’s small boat swarms with ease

About 35 local boat captains simulated swarming attack maneuvers in fishing boats rigged with machine guns while fighter jets, attack helicopters, and the A-10 “Warthog” simulated attacks from above in the Choctawatchee Bay, Florida.


The Air Force at Eglin Air Force Base organized the simulation, called Combat Hammer, to address one of the more pressing threats to the US navy — attacks from swarming fast-attack craft.

Also read: The ‘Chopper Popper’ scored the A-10’s first air-to-air kill…against an Iraqi helicopter

In the Persian Gulf, Iran has repeatedly used small, agile attack craft to harass US Navy ships in dangerous encounters that could lead to a broader conflict in a moment’s notice.

US Navy ships have had to go as far as firing warning shots at approaching vessels, but that was before Iranian-backed Houthi militants used a suicide boat laden with explosives to kill two aboard a Saudi Arabian Navy vessel off the coast of Yemen.

Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism
An A-10 Thunderbolt IIs with the 74th Fighter Squadron from Moody Air Force Base, Ga., flies over the Gulf of Mexico Feb. 7 during Combat Hammer. The 86th Fighter Weapons Squadron’s Combat Hammer is a weapons system evaluation program at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. | US Air Force photo by Ilka Cole

The Navy was already aware of the threat posed to their large, multi-million dollar ships by small, cheap ships — but the January Houthi attack demonstrated the threat was even more acute.

The Air Force’s annual Combat Hammer exercise sought in part to answer the question of how the Navy would deal with a large mass of erratic attack craft — and that involved A-10 Warthogs firing inert 30-millimeter rounds at unmanned ships.

The exercise also included attack helicopters, multi-role fighter jets, and Canadian F-18s dropping simulated guided munitions.

Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism
Local boat captains and mariners operate fishing boats equipped with makeshift guns and weapons invaded the Choctawatchee Bay area Feb. 6 during the 86th Fighter Weapons Squadron exercise, Combat Hammer. The boat swarms helped create a realistic environment to provide exercise participants an opportunity to train like they fight. | US Air Force photo by Ilka Cole

“We evaluate precision guided munitions against realistic targets with realistic enemy defenses,” said Lt. Col. Sean Neitzke, the 86th Fighter Weapons Squadron commander in an Air Force statement. “There are plenty of places in the world where low-tech adversaries can mount 50-caliber machine guns and rocket launchers on small boats for use against us. They could also use other types of shoulder launched weapons, all of which could be a threat to American assets.”

Related: A-10 vs. F-35 flyoff may begin next year

The situation described by Neitzke bears eerily similarities to the situation with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy.

Patrick Megahan, an expert on Iran’s military with the Foundation for Defense of Democracy, told Business Insider that even without the Air Force, the US Navy has plenty of ways to counter the threat posed by Iranian-style swarm attacks.

“US Army Apache attack helicopters also frequently drill aboard US Navy vessels in the Persian Gulf for countering exactly this threat,” Megahan said of the swarming boats.

Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism
An MH-60 Seahawk. | US Navy

“This doesn’t include the Navy’s own Hellfire-equipped Seahawk helicopters or the Marine Corps’s very capable attack helicopter squadrons that maintain an almost constant presence in the waters off the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea. In fact, two fully-load American attack helicopters would likely wreak havoc on an Iranian small boat swarm.”

MIGHTY TACTICAL

A green beret with terminal cancer fights to sue military doctors

Army Sgt. 1st Class Richard Stayskal went to medical one day in June 2017, complaining of breathing issues. The Army doctors at Fort Bragg told him it was a case of pneumonia. Just a few months later, still having trouble breathing, he went to a civilian doctor – who found what the Army called “pneumonia” was actually a tumor, which had doubled in size and spread to other parts of his body.


Stayskal’s cancer was now stage four. He was terminal, and the father of two was given just a year or so to live. Stayskal’s lawyers say the mistake was critical, and Stayskal’s outcome would have been different if Army doctors had not missed what an “inexperienced resident would have seen.”

The Special Forces operator is well aware of just how fragile life can be. In Iraq’s Anbar Province, he was hit by a sniper in 2004. The bullet pierced one of his lungs and nearly killed him then. Stayskal, now 37 years old, kept the bullet to remember how close anyone can come to the edge. He would have done whatever it took to fight his cancer before it reached this stage.

Stayskal wants to sue the Army for medical malpractice – but he can’t. A 1950 Supreme Court case, Feres v. United States, prohibits lawsuits from active-duty troops when they are injured or killed due to medical mistakes in military hospitals. He’s been lobbying Congressional representatives and even President Trump ever since. His campaign is finally starting to pick up some steam.

Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism

Army Sgt. 1st Class Richard Stayskal testifying in Congress.

The Feres Doctrine, as it has come to be called, is a Supreme Court decision based on three cases of negligence from the Army. Feres himself died in a barracks fire in New York State, and his estate wanted to sue the Army for not providing an adequate fire watch and for housing troops in a building known to have a defective furnace. Two other complaints accompanied Feres, including that of a plaintiff named Jefferson. Jefferson had undergone surgery in an Army hospital and later underwent surgery again – this time to remove a 30-inch towel marked “Medical Department U.S. Army” from his abdomen.

The Supreme Court found that even though the Army was negligent in the cases that made up Feres, it maintained that Active Duty troops were not protected by the Tort Claims Act because the incidents were related to their service and that families of the deceased are compensated under terms of their service without litigation.

The Supreme Court has already refused to hear a challenge to Feres in 2019, so it’s up to Congress to change the law.

Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism

The new law is called the Sergeant First Class Richard Stayskal Military Medical Accountability Act of 2019, and it has bipartisan support in the House of Representatives, but the Pentagon is warning Congress against the Act. Military spouses, family members, and retirees are already able to sue the military, and did so to the tune of million in fiscal year 2018. The Defense Department estimates that opening up the Pentagon to lawsuits from troops could cost as much as 0 million over the next decade.

“It’s not going to cost that much money. If we get competent medical providers, I guess it wouldn’t be a problem,” said Rep. Jackie Speier, an Armed Services subcommittee chairwoman and lead sponsor of the bill.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why this Afghanistan veteran could soon be deported

A U.S. Army veteran and green card holder with a felony drug conviction could be deported as soon as this week, his attorney said Jan. 29 after a federal court denied his appeal to remain in the U.S.


Miguel Perez Jr., 39, a Chicago resident who served two tours of duty in Afghanistan and recently finished a prison term on a drug conviction, had sought to remain in the U.S., arguing his life would be in danger if he were deported to Mexico, where he has not lived since age 8. A three-judge panel for the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected that argument last week.

Perez’s attorney, Chris Bergin, said the case highlights hypocrisy in how the country treats some American military service members.

“If you’re going to put your hand on your hearts every time at a game, you’re going to say thank you for your service and wear American flag lapel pins, and you’re going to criticize football players for taking a knee during the national anthem, it seems that’s all superficial and false patriotism if you’re not caring about an actual military veteran,” Bergin said.

In a statement, Perez’s supporters said Jan. 29 the ruling has left his family “distraught.”

“From the beginning, Miguel has fought his deportation, not only for himself, but in solidarity with other green-card veterans who have been or who are now facing deportation after having served their country in combat,” they said.

Related: A judge ruled this veteran is a US citizen. Now he faces deportation to Mexico

Perez, who has two children who are U.S. citizens, is one of many legal permanent residents who served in the U.S. military then confronted the possibility of deportation to their native countries after committing a crime.

Perez said he mistakenly thought he became a U.S. citizen when he took an oath to protect the nation. His military superiors never offered to help him expedite his citizenship, Bergin reiterated in court Jan. 31.

After his military service, Perez sought treatment at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Maywood, where doctors diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder. He was supposed to return for more tests to determine whether he also had a traumatic brain injury.

In the meantime, he reconnected with a childhood friend who provided free drugs and alcohol. On Nov. 26, 2008, while with that friend, Perez handed a laptop case containing cocaine to an undercover officer. Perez pleaded guilty to the drug charge and served half of a 15-year prison sentence.

While Perez was convicted of delivering less than 100 grams of cocaine, prosecutors have said he was arrested for delivering much more and received a reduced sentence after a plea deal. Prosecutors also pointed out that Perez was given a general discharge from the military after a drug infraction.

Perez said he discovered the citizenship oversight when he was summoned to immigration court shortly before his September 2016 release from Hill Correctional Center in Galesburg. Instead of heading home to Chicago from prison, Perez was placed in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and transferred to a Wisconsin detention center for immigrants awaiting deportation.

Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism
File photo. (Photo courtesy of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.)

When legal residents or people who are here illegally commit crimes, ICE’s standard protocol is to let them serve most of their sentence for the crime in the U.S., then deport them.

Roughly 18,700 legal permanent residents are in the U.S. armed forces, and about 5,000 join every year, according to the Department of Defense.

After oral arguments to the appeals court panel this month, Perez’s mother, Esperanza, fought back tears. In Spanish, she said she could not bear hearing her son’s fate discussed in such callous terms.

“He defended this country, and the same system wants to throw him away like garbage,” she said through a translator. “It’s so sad for me to think if they send him back to Mexico he’d be just another statistic.”

In court, Perez cited the United Nations Convention against Torture, a protection that resembles asylum. Under that international provision, the U.S. agrees not to deport people who are not American citizens or nationals to another country where they could face imminent danger.

Prosecutors rejected the argument that the danger allegedly facing Perez qualifies under the torture provision and asked the judges to affirm the immigration court’s order for removal.

Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism
Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents gear up before a raid. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Bergin said he has filed a stay on two grounds. One is based on a medical evaluation finding that Perez needs immediate attention for PTSD and his brain injury. The other seeks retroactive citizenship for Perez to when he joined the military in 2001.

Perez and his supporters are also preparing, if necessary, to file an appeal to the full panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit and have asked Gov. Bruce Rauner to grant a pardon to Perez for his criminal conviction, supporters said. If Rauner grants the pardon, it’s not clear how that might affect the deportation case.

Congress should also address the problem facing green card veterans, supporters said.

Bergin hopes somebody at ICE “has a sense of decency and says, ‘Look, we’ve got to credit the service this guy did.’ ”

“Every step of the way, we’ve tried to get somebody to be sympathetic and reasonable,” Bergin said.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Geo-baching no more

A dual-military family is adjusting to life under the same roof after almost two years apart.

It’s not uncommon in the military community to have a unique story of how you and your spouse met. But for Army Sgt. Jared Jackson and his wife, Spc. Christina Jackson, their happily–ever after didn’t start with being pronounced husband and wife. They’ve spent their entire courtship and marriage living thousands of miles apart — until now.


When Christina and Jared were introduced by a mutual friend, they hit it off quickly. But the fireworks were strictly plutonic. For three years, they – along with a mutual friend — were inseparable, referring to themselves as “the three amigos.”

“We did everything together,” Christina said.

And becoming a couple wasn’t even a thought. It wasn’t until Jared moved to Hawaii that they entertained the idea of having a romantic relationship.

“We tested the waters and we decided to start dating,” she said.

Having established a strong friendship, the main challenges presented with dating for Jared was the distance and three–hour time difference.

“We communicated well, but trying to find the right time to call would be hard,” he said.

He couldn’t build the consistency he wanted with both Christina and her 8–year old daughter because all they had were phone calls and short visits.

“I wanted to make sure they know I’m here to stay,” Jared said.

The Jacksons both craved stability for their new family. Christina says her daughter, “wanted this father figure. And when she finally got him it was hard on her because he would come and go. He would come see us, then he would leave.”

After dating for a year, they married with the expectation of being stationed together.

“My mindset was thinking that the military was going to put us together and it wouldn’t be that long,” Jared said, but waiting for approval dragged on. “It’s bothering me because I’m married but yet I still feel like I’m kind of a bachelor because I’m here by myself.”

Christine was also losing hope and eventually wanted to get out of the military. She was told by her NCO that she’d get orders right after being married. That didn’t happen. And she was further stressed by all of the paperwork requirements and chasing after people for answers.

Each service branch has a program for assigning married couples to the same duty location or within 100 miles of each other, according to Military OneSource. Couples can look into joint assignments through offerings like the Air Force Joint Spouse Program and the Married Army Couples Program. But for the Jacksons, this wasn’t a smooth process.

After almost a year of not knowing when they could be together, they were finally given orders to the same duty station. Now they had new challenges to tackle.

For the first time in his life, Jared was a full–time parent. Christina’s daughter is adjusting to a two-parent home where they both share an equal role in raising and disciplining her.

“I’ve been trying to give him more of that responsibility in that role and just say whatever he says goes,” Christina said.

Jared wants to establish a good father/daughter relationship, with Christina’s support of his role helping to ease the adjustment.

“I appreciate that Christina always validates me and tells me ‘you’re doing a good job.’ It keeps me motivated,” he said.

One thing they did not do was leave their family cohesiveness to chance, so they attended premarital counseling.

“We went into this already knowing how we both wanted to parent. He knew what I expected and I knew what he expected,” Christina said.

And now the family will be adding a new member, a son, in July.

Throughout their time apart, they kept communication fluid and honest, sharing their hopes and frustrations without hesitation. This put the relationship in a healthy place during their entire transition.

Christina says for help and support if you’re are dealing with a similar situation, to find a military spouses club. Share your experiences and find others who have gone through the same thing.

Jared advises, above all, make sure that even when you get discouraged keep the communication strong. Also do your research so that you know what should be happening with job assignments.

When it comes to their parenting advice on blending a family, they simultaneously agree that the answer is patience.

This article originally appeared on Military Families Magazine. Follow @MilFamiliesMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

SecVA: Veterans to see continued improvements in 2020

Veterans will continue to see improvements in VA services, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said at “State of the VA” speech Feb. 5 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.


These improvements for Veterans include increased innovation—including the VA’s first 5G hospital—along with decreased wait times for appointments and better overall care.

Increased innovation

The secretary pointed to several programs designed to provide better Veteran care.

The VA hospital in Palo Alto, California, is about to become one of the first 5G enabled health facilities in the world, with portions becoming operational this week. The secretary said will deliver is richer, more detailed three-dimensional images of patients’ anatomy. He added the resolution is so clear and consistent that it will give VA a reliable means of delivering telesurgery services to Veterans.

“That means we will have the capacity to allow VA’s best physicians to consult during surgery even if they’re not in the same room and are halfway across the country,” he said.

Wilkie also pointed to VA’s work on exoskeletons, which do the work patients can’t do on their own. The VA currently has a pilot program to develop exoskeletons that stimulate the spinal cord.

“Instead of the exoskeleton moving the patient around, the patient can increasingly control the exoskeleton as their own muscles are reactivated,” he said. With further research at VA, we are hoping to turn the exoskeleton from a mobility device into something that trains injured people to walk again under their own power.”

Other innovation

The secretary also pointed to a VA partnership to help Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and pain management.

The partnership is with the University of Southern California, a non-profit called Soldier Strong, and AppliedVR. Veterans with PTSD use virtual reality relive and reimagine traumatic events in a controlled setting, under the care of a clinician. The program gives Veterans a chance to process these emotions, which can be an effective treatment for PTSD. He said virtual reality can also help block pain signals from reaching the brain, and thus is a drug-free supplement to traditional pain therapies.

Veterans also see improved care through innovations such as telehealth, a new technology to identify potential diabetic foot ulcers and the precision oncology program. All these innovations help increase Veteran care, he said.

The secretary said this innovation carries on VA’s previous innovation, which includes inventing the cardiac pacemaker, inventing the nicotine patch, performing the first liver transplant and introducing a powered ankle-foot prosthesis. He said all these innovations have a direct impact on Veterans’ well being.

Better Veteran care

Veteran wait time is shorter at VA than compared to private sector. This decreased wait time is for primary care and two of three specialty areas. Wilkie said that’s coupled with a record-high 59.9 million Veteran visits in fiscal year 2019. That’s 1.7 million more appointments for Veterans than ever before. He added 90 percent of Veterans surveyed trust the care they get at VA.

When Wilkie took over, only 25% women vets were enrolled in VA care. Now, he said 41% receive VA care.

Overall Veteran care is improving, Wilkie said. He said VA will implement a provision of the MISSION Act in 2020. This will extend Caregiver benefits to Veterans who served before 1975.

Veterans also receive better mental health care, Wilkie said. This includes same-day mental health care and a universal screening process to identify Veterans who may be at risk. Since late 2018, VA screened more than 4 million Veterans. He said the Veterans Crisis Line is taking more than 1,700 calls each day, and VA takes emergency action on about 100 of those calls.

“I believe that Veterans can show the country the way on how to deal with this terrible problem,” Wilkie said.

Different approaches

Wilkie said the President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End the National Tragedy of Suicide, or PREVENTS, task force is weeks away from releasing recommendations. The task force will include a community integration and collaboration proposal, a national research strategy and an implementation strategy. Wilkie said he will recommend that VA opens up financial support. This includes charities, local governments and non-governmental organizations to help Veterans.

Overall, the MISSION Act gives Veterans choice, Wilkie said. In the first six months, VA approved nearly 2.8 million referrals to private sector care for 1.5 million Veterans. Wilkie said just like the MISSION Act rollout, he expects the upcoming Electronic Health Records Modernization will improve Veteran care.

Veterans also see changes in how VA uses Whole Health, setting a standard for care. Wilkie said programs like yoga, aqua therapy, music therapy and art therapy were unheard of decades ago. Now, he said VA uses a Whole Health approach to develop a personalized health plan.

Wilkie also addressed Veterans stationed at Karshi-Khanabad base in Uzbekistan, better known as K2. U.S. forces occupied the old Soviet base shortly after 9/11. Wilkie had candid advice for any Veteran who served there.

“I want all Veterans who have been there and who feel they need to see us to come forward,” he said. He added all Veterans should seek out VA to use the benefits they’ve earned.

“Come see us. File the claims. Come speak to us. This is not your grandfather’s VA where the paperwork is going to take 10 years.”

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The 13 funniest military memes for the week of May 18th

Retired Air Force Colonel and NASA astronaut, Greg Johnson posted a nice, heartfelt video for the folks seeking tips about getting through this time of isolation – as he’s something of a subject matter expert from his time in space. He makes excellent points, such as have a routine, be mindful of others, and stay positive, but I’d like to throw my two cents in from what I learned in Afghanistan.


Tip one: Don’t skip out on meals. You can even hit up midnight chow if you’d like. Beach season is cancelled this year anyway.

Tip two: Take whatever breaks you feel you need. We all basically lived in the smoke pit (regardless if we were actual smokers or not) and still somehow managed to get things done. You can too. You also have the added advantage of turning your Zoom meeting off and not having to deal with your boss all day.

Tip three: Don’t feel guilty about binge watching tv or playing video games all day. A good chunk of most Post-9/11 troops’ off-duty time on deployment was spent in the MWR doing the exact same thing and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who’d say they didn’t earn it after a stressful day.

If my list somehow looks like encouragement to become a fat, lazy couch-potato… Go for it. What do I care? I’m not your NCO. Anyway, here are some memes.

Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism

(Meme via US Army WTF Moments Memes)

Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism

(Meme via Not CID)

Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism

(Meme via Army as F*ck)

Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism

(Meme via Disgruntled Vets)

Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism

(Meme via Private News Network)

Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism

(Meme via Infantry Follow Me)

Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism

(Meme via The Army’s Fckups)

Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism

(Meme via Hooah My Ass Off)

Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism

(Meme via Coast Guard Memes)

Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism

(Meme via Pop Smoke)

Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism

(Meme via Decelerate Your Life)

Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism

(Meme via Air Force amn/nco/snco)

That’s why I like the film The Last Full Measure. It’s one of the only Air Force centered films that I can think of that doesn’t feature a single f*cking pilot. 

No offense to pilots, but your films are always the same. “I’m a renegade despite being bound by the UCMJ and I’ll only learn the value of being a part of a team after my actions directly cause someone’s death. Now cue the flying montage!”

Here’s how volunteers are stepping up to fight terrorism

(Meme via Valhalla Wear)