The pace is intense on day two at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, with veteran lawmakers, celebrities and GOP nominee Donald Trump’s family headlining the speaker’s roster.
While the Trump ticket undoubtedly brings star power on its own, several well-known combat vets, advocates and prior service lawmakers have played a key role in discussing a variety of issues that touch the military and veteran audience, including health care, benefits and military spending.
We Are The Mighty spoke with Military Times Capitol Hill bureau chief Leo Shane III to get his perspective on Trump’s plans to pump up defense spending, avoid incidents like the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and to generally put more emphasis on military issues.
Shane also gives a little bit of his insight into the entertainment lineup, worrying that he might have to miss Kid Rock in favor of Trump’s keynote speech.
If you can’t control it, your ego can destroy everything in your life.
That’s according to former Navy SEAL commanders Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, who teach this fundamental lesson through their leadership consulting firm Echelon Front.
Business Insider recently sat down with Willink to discuss his new book “Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual.” We asked him for the advice he would give his 20-year-old self, and he said it taps into this idea about ego.
While it may seem obvious that you know more about the world at age 30 than age 20, Willink said it’s important to realize that you’re never old enough to outgrow your ego — and it can make you susceptible to reckless decisions.
“If I went back to my 20-year-old self what I would tell my 20-year-old self is, ‘You don’t know anything,'” Willink said. “Because everyone when they’re young, they think they know what’s going on in the world and you don’t. And when I was 25, I thought that 20-year-old didn’t know anything but I thought my 25-year-old self knew everything. He didn’t know anything either. And when I was 30, the 25-year-old didn’t know anything. And then when I was 35, the 30-year-old didn’t know anything.”
Willink reflected on this in a previous interview with Business Insider. “When I get asked, you know, what makes somebody fail as a SEAL leader, 99.9% of the time it doesn’t have anything to do with their physical skills or their mental toughness,” he said. “What it has to do with is the fact that the person’s not humble enough to accept responsibility when things go wrong, accept that there might be better ways to do things, and they just have a closed mind. They can’t change.”
He noted that being ego-driven can, at times, be constructive. You want to be competitive, you want to prove yourself, Willink explained — but you need to realize that your opinions may not be the best available.
Willink said that this really crystallized for him when he began training young SEALS and saw how some were headstrong about beliefs that his experience taught him definitively were incorrect.
“And I would do my best to help them along that road and realize, ‘You’re not quite as smart as you think you are,'” Willink said.
On Sunday, May 19, 2019, a rocket tore through the night skies across Baghdad near a museum by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. It did no major damage, but the sound of the rocket explosion was almost heard around the world, amid increased tensions and a buildup of troops between the United States and Iran.
The Islamic Republic and all of its proxies want the world to know it had nothing to do with such an attack.
The only thing damaged by the attack was the security guard shack near the museum. If it hadn’t exploded, it might have gone entirely unnoticed. But it did explode, and it was fired near the U.S. Embassy in a country known to be controlled by Iran. No group claimed responsibility, but a mobile rocket launcher was found in the area. Now militias aligned with Iran in and around Baghdad are publicly denouncing the attack, an unusual move for the Islamic Republic, who usually doesn’t seem to care who thinks they did anything.
Iran’s military projects power to maintain Iran’s regional military power by keeping the instability and the fighting outside of Iran. Like the United States Army Special Forces, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and Quds Force will go into a nearby country, mobilize sentiment against a common foe, then teach people to fight their enemy. Iran-backed militias were on the front lines against ISIS, and many Shia insurgents fighting U.S. troops in the Iraq War had Iranian backing.
Not this time.
Iran-backed Shia militias were even incorporated into Iraq’s state security forces. How do you like those Humvees?
As the United States evacuated diplomatic personnel and President Trump warned Iran about its forthcoming total destruction, Iran was quick to backpedal away from the tense talk of recent days. Even its supporters in Iraq were quick to distance themselves.
“If war is ignited, everyone will be burned,” said Hadi al-Ameri, a militia commander and politician who represents militias, including Iran-backed factions, from across the spectrum. Even the most hardline, pro-Iran political parties denounced the attack.
But even if Iran or a pro-Iranian militia did not fire the rocket attack, it still leaves the question of who did fire the rocket and why.
Before Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was blotted out by a US airstrike on June 7, 2006, he made an impression, especially on Stanley McChrystal, who, as a lieutenant general in charge of US Joint Special Operations Command, led the effort to take out the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq.
Al-Zarqawi’s zealotry made him a lodestar for an extremist movement that still roils Iraq and the region, McChrystal said on a recent episode of Business Insider’s “This Is Success” podcast.
“For about two and a half years, we fought a bitter fight against this guy. And Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had come from a tough town in Jordan, very little education, got involved in crime and things like that in his youth,” said McChrystal, who profiled al-Zarqawi in his most recent book, “Leaders.”
“But then, what happened was he realized that if he showed self-discipline to exhibit the conviction of his Islamic beliefs — if he did that overtly, if he became a zealot — other people were attracted to him,” McChrystal added. “He was living up to what he said and was demanding that they do.”
Arriving in Iraq in 2003 to lead a US Joint Special Operations Task Force, McChrystal recognized the strengths of Al Qaeda in Iraq and the mismatch the group presented for the US military’s traditional conception of its enemies.
“By habit, we started mapping the organization in a traditional military structure, with tiers and rows. At the top was Zarqawi, below him a cascade of lieutenants and foot soldiers,” McChrystal wrote in 2011, a year after retiring. “But the closer we looked, the more the model didn’t hold.”
AQI’s network was characterized by the free flow of information and resources.
Tactics changed quickly across broad swaths of Iraq. It became clear that Al Qaeda in Iraq was less a hierarchical fighting network than “a constellation of fighters” organized by relationships and reputations.
At the center was al-Zarqawi.
“When he became the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, he led the same way. He wore all black [and] looked like a terrorist leader,” McChrystal told Business Insider correspondent Richard Feloni.
In 2004, al-Zarqawi beheaded American contractor Nicholas Berg, McChrystal said.
That was “a gruesome thing to do,” he added, but it served as a message that “‘our cause is so important, I’m willing to do something that we all know is horrific.'”
“He was able to bring forth people to follow his very extreme part of Islam when most of them really didn’t,” McChrystal said. “The Iraqi Sunni population were not naturally adherents to Al Qaeda, but yet he was able to produce such a sense of leadership and zealous beliefs that they followed. He became the godfather of ISIS.”
In summer 2005, McChrystal was recalled to the White House to brief the National Security Council on al-Zarqawi.
“Are you going to get him?” President George W. Bush asked McChrystal.
President George W. Bush.
(White House photo by Eric Draper)
“We will, Mr. President,” McChrystal replied. “There is no doubt in my mind.”
As US forces whittled away the middle ranks of al-Zarqawi’s organization, which he had built into semiautonomous cells, the Al Qaeda in Iraq leader was seeking to ignite a sectarian war, stoking violence between Sunnis and Shiites.
By spring 2006, al-Zarqawi was a bigger priority for JSOC than Al Qaeda cofounders Osama bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahiri, the latter of whom is still alive.
By May that year, JSOC had mapped out al-Zarqawi’s organization around Baghdad, including his spiritual adviser, with whom he met frequently.
On June 7, 2006, a drone tracked the adviser to a house in Hibhib, a village roughly 12 miles from McChrystal’s own headquarters, where US personnel watched intently as a man dressed black walked out and strolled through the driveway.
Just after 6 p.m., an F-16 dropped a 500-pound laser-guided bomb on the house, following it with another less than two minutes later.
A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Andy Dunaway)
Less than 20 minutes after that, US Army Delta Force operators arrived at the demolished house to find Iraqi police loading a still-alive al-Zarqawi into an ambulance. They watched him die.
“We didn’t just depose him. We killed him,” McChrystal told Feloni. “I stood over his body right after we killed him.”
McChrystal expressed no admiration for al-Zarqawi’s methods — “in many ways, he was a psychopath,” he said — but he acknowledged al-Zarqawi’s strengths as a leader.
“Your first desire is to demonize him, but you know the reality is I had to respect him. He led very effectively,” McChrystal said.
“Initially you just say we’re just going to get this guy, and then after a while you watch him lead, and you realize not only is he a worthy opponent, he’s making me better, [and] you’re also going after someone who truly believes,” he added.
McChrystal held his position in Iraq until 2008 and was credited with making JSOC more agile and more lethal, evincing “an encyclopedic, even obsessive, knowledge about the lives of terrorists” and pushing his command to kill as many of them as possible.
He took over command of NATO forces in Afghanistan in 2009, but his tenure was short-lived.
He resigned in the summer of 2010, after the publication of a Rolling Stone article in which his aides were quoted disparaging US officials, including Vice President Joe Biden.
Vice President Joe Biden.
The killing of al-Zarqawi looms large among McChrystal’s accomplishments, though he said that operation was reflective of how he learned to decentralize responsibility rather than indicative of his martial prowess.
“The myth is the counterterrorist who killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi — went out, wrestled him to the ground, bare to the waist, and that’s total BS,” McChrystal told Feloni, when asked how he would describe his own biography.
“At times, do I like the myth, because people go, ‘Wow, look at him’?” he said. “Yeah, it’s kind of cool, and you never want to go, ‘no, that’s not true.’ But it’s not true.”
“The reality is that I built the team” that took out al-Zarqawi, he added. “Ultimately I’m more proud of enabling the team than I would be of wrestling [al-Zarqawi] to his death.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
On May 16, 2018, The House passed by a vote of 372-70 major veterans legislation to extend and reform the Veterans Choice Program to allow more private care options.
The “VA Mission Act,” would also lift the restrictions on family caregiver benefits, which are now limited to post-9/11 veterans, and extend them to the caregivers of veterans of all eras.
The bill will now go to the Senate, where Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, and Sen. Jon Tester, the ranking member of the Committee, have already expressed their support.
President Donald Trump has said he will sign the bill quickly when it reaches his desk.
In a statement, the White House said the bill would “transform the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) into a modern, high-performing, and integrated healthcare system that will ensure our veterans receive the best healthcare possible from the VA, whether delivered in the VA’s own facilities or in the community.”
Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs), which previously had expressed concerns that a rapid expansion of community care options could lead to the “privatization” of VA health care, had lined up to back the new bill.
Denise Rohan, national commander of the two-million member American Legion, said in a statement that “I applaud the passage of the VA Mission Act.” She said the bill “will streamline and fund the Department of Veterans Affairs’ many community care programs” and also “expand caregiver benefits to pre-9/11 veterans and their families.”
Keith Harman, national commander of the 1.7 million member Veterans of Foreign Wars, said the bill “will help improve services throughout the VA health system while utilizing private sector resources when needed, striking the right balance to make sure we provide veterans with the best care possible.”
A similar bill offered in 2017, by Isakson was left out of the omnibus $1.3 trillion spending package signed by Trump in February 2018, for all government agencies, forcing the House and Senate to begin anew on reforming choice.
Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tennessee, the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee who was instrumental in gaining bipartisan support for the new legislation, said that “Over the last several months, we’ve taken great, bipartisan steps to reform the department, and this legislation is yet another strong step in the right direction.”
Roe said the provisions in the bill would keep “our promise to give veterans more choice in their health care while building on our strong investment in VA’s internal capacity.”
The bill would authorize $5.2 billion to extend the current Veterans Choice Program, whose funding was set to expire on May 31, 2018, for one year while the VA enacts reforms to expand private care options.
Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minnesota, the ranking member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, voted against the bill.
“There is little debate that the VA Mission Act is better than the current Veterans Choice Program,” Walz said, but he questioned whether there would be sufficient funding in the long run to sustain it.
“Voting against this bill is not something I take lightly,” he said. “While I have serious concerns with regard to long term sustainability and implementation, the bill does take steps to consolidate VA’s various care in the community programs while providing much needed stop gap funding for the ailing Veterans Choice Program.”
Former VA Secretary David Shulkin in 2017, said that about one-third of VA medical appointments were being handled in the private sector, but the Trump administration had argued for more private care options for veterans who face long waits for appointments or have to travel long distances to VA facilities.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.
After Syrian forces fired missiles at Israeli jets returning from airstrikes in the country’s ISIS-held eastern side, Syria reportedly issued a stern warning to Israel through their Russian allies — more airstrikes will be met by Scud missile fire in return.
“Despite a 6-year war Syria is not weak and knows how to defend itself,” a Saturday-evening post in Lebanon’s Al-Diyar newspaper said, according to The Jerusalem Post.
At the time of the most recent airstrikes, Syria described them as an act of aggression that helped ISIS.
But Syria’s several-generations-old Scud missiles don’t pose a real military threat to Israel, which employs some of the best missile defenses in the world.
Israel has infrequently carried out airstrikes in Syria, where Iranian-aligned and anti-Israel groups like Hezbollah operate.
“When we know about an attempt to smuggle weapons to Hezbollah, we do whatever we can to prevent this from happening, provided we have sufficient information and capabilities to react,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said of Israel’s incursions into Syria, according to Russian state-run media.
Things are starting to look up! The sun is shining, relations in Korea are mending; nothing could ruin this fantastic — dammit… Thanks a lot, Iran. Can’t you guys take a hint from Kim Jong-un and chill the F out?
I assume that, by now, we’ve all seen Avengers: Infinity War, right? We don’t have to look over our shoulders before talking about it? Cool. Well, here’s an obligatory spoiler warning for all three of you who haven’t yet seen one of the highest grossing films of all time and might get upset over the use of an out-of-context meme that’s been making the rounds.
(The Salty Soldier)
This isn’t the spoiler. This one’s from the trailers. That spoilers come at the end.
Air Force District of Washington conducted an arrival ceremony in honor of World War II Army veteran and former Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) Feb. 12, 2019.
Dingell, 92, passed away in Dearborn, Michigan, Feb. 7, 2019.
Dingell’s family and his remains arrived at JBA on board a C-17 Globemaster III assigned to the 437th Airlift Wing, Joint Base Charleston, S.C.
AFDW is responsible for the Air Force operational and ceremonial support to Dingell’s funerals and all other joint military service ceremonies in the national capital region and elsewhere, as directed by U.S. Army Military District of Washington.
The U.S. Army 3rd Infantry Regiment body bearer team carries the casket of former World War II Army veteran and Congressman John D. Dingell at Joint Base Andrews, Md., Feb. 12, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Michael S. Murphy)
Military support for Dingell’s funeral is provided by the Defense Department as an exception to policy at the request of the speaker of the House of Representatives and includes an Army body bearer team, a firing party and a bugler at the funeral and interment ceremonies. Military funeral honors at the interment ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia, are provided according to Dingell’s military service.
Dingell, who served in the U.S. House from 1955 to 2015, was not only the longest-serving representative in American history, but one of the final two World War II veterans to have served in Congress.
He was the last member of Congress who had served in the 1950s and during the presidencies of Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy. President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014.
A C-17 Globemaster III assigned to the 437th Airlift Wing, Joint Base Charleston, S.C., carrying the casket of former World War II veteran and Congressman John D. Dingell lands on Joint Base Andrews, Md., Feb. 12, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Michael S. Murphy)
The day he died, Dingell dictated reflections to his wife at their home. The following is an excerpt of those words, which were published as an op-ed piece Feb. 8, 2019 in the Washington Post.
“I never forgot the people who gave me the privilege of representing them. It was a lesson learned at home from my father and mother, and one I have tried to impart to the people I’ve served with and employed over the years.”
“As I prepare to leave this all behind, I now leave you in control of the greatest nation of mankind and pray God gives you the wisdom to understand the responsibility you hold in your hands.”
The Congressional funeral in honor of Dingell concluded with a public funeral mass at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in the District of Columbia Feb. 14, 2019, at 10:30 a.m. He will later be interred at Arlington National Cemetery in a private ceremony.
On Oct. 22, 2017, more than 30,000 people hit the pavement to run one of the largest marathons in the world. For 26.2 miles, runners tested their mental and physical fitness. A marathon forward was held for those deployed in the Middle East unable to run the 42nd Marine Corps Marathon in the nation’s capital. Among the people running the marathon were three Marines and a Sailor from Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force – Crisis Response – Central Command.
According to a Greek fable the first marathon ran was more than 2,500 years ago when Pheidippides, a Greek soldier, ran from the Battle of Marathon to Athens, Greece to announce the victory against the Persians. In 1896, the marathon was added to the Olympics and now more than 800 marathons are held worldwide each year, with one of the most popular being the Marine Corps Marathon. Today, runners compete in marathons for many different reasons.
“Setting a goal of a physical achievement, making a plan of how to reach that goal, then putting that goal into action is fulfilling in itself and makes for a great excuse to keep oneself active,” said U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jeffrey Cook, force surgeon, SPMAGTF-CR-CC.
The mobility officer for SPMAGTF-CR-CC, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jonathan Eaton, ran the Marine Corps Marathon because he wanted to inspire his Marines. He wanted to show them that every Marine should maintain a level of physical fitness to where they can wake up any day and run a physical fitness test.
Capt. Michael Nordin, the SPMAGTF-CR-CC adjutant, trained about two days a week for six weeks working up to the marathon.
“I’ve run a marathon every year since 2014 and didn’t want to miss a year. Half marathons and marathons are my hobby,” said Nordin. “There’s nothing like getting to mile 18-19 and hitting the wall and pushing yourself through and over it, discovering another part of you that you didn’t think you had a couple miles ago.”
Whether running it to be a good example for fellow Marines or running it as a hobby, the Marine Corps Marathon challenges each participant – and not everyone can say they ran it while deployed. It is the largest marathon in the world that doesn’t offer prize money, only the chance to demonstrate personal honor, courage and commitment. Despite the demands of deployment, runners with the SPMAGTF-CR-CC made the time to run the 42nd Marine Corps Marathon.
“I love to run marathons and what a great opportunity not just to run any marathon while deployed, but the ‘People’s Marathon,’ the Marine Corps Marathon,” said Cook.
There are a number of highly polluted sites where the United States once built the worst weapons of war. On six of those sites, where the weapons were once built were some of the most lethal ever conceived by man, new inhabitants are beginning to thrive: animals like bears, ferrets, and endangered salmon. All find safe haven where humankind once threatened itself with extinction.
Mule Deer graze where the US once tested plutonium triggers, outside of Denver, Colo.
Amchitka Island, Alaska is now cut off from the rest of the world, now a part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. This island saw a number of nuclear explosions underground – where a large amount of radioactive material is still trapped. In Indiana, Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge was once Jefferson Proving Ground, where the Army fired off artillery for more than 50 years, including tons of depleted uranium rounds. In Colorado’s Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, the Army once built chemical weapons in the areas where the bald eagle built its nests.
Some of the places that are now protected areas may still be heavily polluted, however. Experts say they’re not all entirely safe for humans. This means some experts believe that 30 or so of the National Fish and Wildlife Service’s more than 560 wildlife refuges have some history with nuclear and/or chemical weapons and haven’t been entirely cleaned up.
It may take centuries for these areas to heal.
Animals used to just warn humans about sarin gas.
Government and private industry have spent around billion on cleanup efforts for the top six most polluted areas, but there is still more to come – much more. Washington state’s Hanford site was once the area where the United States produced plutonium for nuclear weapons. Cleaning up this mess could run the Department of Energy more than 0 billion for this one site alone.
Like Hanford’s contaminated soil and water, there are more sites to be cleaned and protected. Johnson Atoll’s coral reefs suffered under multiple atmospheric nuclear tests. What was once Rocky Flats, Colo. is now home to rare prairie grasses, endangered mice, and other species that once roamed freely across America. Cleaning up and protecting these site will ensure they may get another chance one day.
The Army has recently expanded its Not in My Squad initiative as part of its ongoing fight against sexual assault, the Army’s top enlisted leader told lawmakers Feb. 27, 2019.
Introduced in 2015, the program empowers junior leaders at the squad level to reduce sexual assault and violence by building cohesive units through shared and mutual trust.
According to written testimony provided to lawmakers by Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey, the service has now spread the program to 27 ready and resilient campuses on Army installations.
In the first quarter of fiscal year 2019, Dailey testified that the service has also conducted 17 workshops that showed positive feedback.
Certified resiliency trainers have been embedded at the company level to train soldiers on sustaining readiness and optimizing performance.
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey introduces the “Not In My Squad” initiative during the launch of Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month at the Pentagon.
(Photo by J.D. Leipold)
“The Army strives to provide an environment of dignity and respect for all service members and is fully committed to eliminating sexual assault,” Dailey told lawmakers in Washington, D.C. “We recognize that regardless of the progress that we have made, more work still needs to be done.”
Dailey spoke at a hearing before the Senate Committee on Armed Services’ subcommittee on military personnel policies and military family readiness.
In addition to making the service a welcome place for all soldiers, the Army has also seen progress in retention. Dailey cited a 90 percent retention rate in 2018 and said the service is on track for similar results in 2019.
To help improve retention, the Army has made quality of life a top priority.
Army senior leaders have worked to hasten civilian hiring times to provide quality childcare for soldiers and their families. The service recently developed and implemented hiring tools to help childcare providers transition from one installation to another, such as not requiring them to go through the hiring and background check process again.
Soldiers from 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii watch the “Not In My Squad” initiative introduction by Sgt. Maj. Of the Army Daniel A. Dailey.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Ondirae Abdullah-Robinson)
Dailey also wrote the service is exploring ways to maximize limited space at childcare centers.
At a family forum on Feb. 5, 2019, Army Secretary Mark T. Esper said he supported the idea of having more spouses run childcare businesses from home to reduce backlogs.
Army senior leaders also continue to work on improving the quality of military housing.
Earlier this week, leaders traveled to installations to speak with families living in military housing. The service is currently analyzing data from housing surveys completed by families in February 2019.
Esper and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley even ordered an environmental hazard screening to be performed on Army-owned, -leased and -privatized homes.
By 2021, plans call for the Army to eliminate its lowest level of military housing, known as Q4. Only 190 families are currently living in Q4 housing, Dailey testified.
“We will regain the trust of our soldiers and families through immediate and tangible actions that have already began,” he wrote.
Dailey added there will be no reprisals for soldiers and families who share their concerns about housing and quality of life.
“Top Gun” is due for an upgrade. And no, it’s not the upcoming sequel to the classic 1986 film due out in 2019.
The ranges at Naval Air Station Fallon (NASF) in rural western Nevada – the epicenter of naval aviation combat training – have not seen a significant modernization in more than 20 years. Since then, the exponential evolution of aircraft and long-range weapons technologies have made Fallon Range Training Complex (FRTC) too small for pilots to realistically train for combat.
Realizing this, in 2016 the Navy published a proposal which would expand FRTC to meet the evolved training requirements. Under the plan, an additional 945 square miles of public land and 102 square miles of non-federal land would be withdrawn for military use.
“This is an absolutely enormous modernization, a once in a generation expansion which is critically important for naval aviation,” said Alex Stone, a Pacific Fleet environmental planner who conducted an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) for the project.
But FRTC’s modernization program is under the gun: the permits for its current ranges – in use for 77 years – will expire in 2021, and the plan needs to be implemented before then. Doing so, however, would potentially impact a broad range of actors: ranchers, miners, hunters, 17 different tribes, off-road recreation enthusiasts, as well as a host of federal, state, and local agencies.
“We’re withdrawing an additional 750,000 acres, so even though it’s a rural area, that withdrawn land is going to take from the public a lot of areas for which there are currently other uses,” Stone explained. “What makes this such a challenging, complex project is the number of stakeholders involved, because this withdrawal affects so many different groups and each of these groups has a unique set of concerns and issues.”
U.S. Navy Lt. Matthew Stroup, left, and Sophia Haberman, Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center, examine ways to attract new talent through strategic communication with USC™s Dr. Tom Hollihan during NPS™ Strategic Communication Workshop.
Stone’s team has leaned into this challenge. They’ve brought in a range of experts, including anthropologists, biologists, and geologists, and held a series of open meetings with the Bureau of Land Management to keep the public informed and engaged in the process.
Yet they want and need to do more. And do it better.
“The success or failure of this project is really going to be tied to how well we can communicate with these different stakeholders,” Stone said. And that’s what brought the Top Gun team to the Naval Postgraduate School.
In early August 2018, Stone and 22 colleagues travelled to the university to refine their team’s strategic communication capability. Along with dozens of key members from multiple commands throughout the Navy, they took part in the school’s intense, three-day Strategic Communications Workshop (SCW), Aug. 7-9, 2018.
Developed by NPS’ Center for Executive Education (CEE), the SCW provides a deep dive into the design, planning and implementation of large-scale communications initiatives. Participants teamed up with both NPS faculty and professors from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism (USC-ASCJ) to apply the latest research and lessons learned from across the Department of Defense (DOD) and industry.
“These workshops make you stop and say, ‘OK, where are we?,'” said Gail Fann Thomas, SCW program manager and an associate professor in NPS’ Graduate School of Business and Public Policy (GSBPP).
“Once you conduct a strategic analysis, you can improve your communication tactics: who are your key stakeholders and how do they impact the achievement of your goals? What messages are your actions conveying, both inside and outside your organization?
“How can your organization’s communication provide better linkages between your day-to-day activities and your commander’s priorities?” she continued. “Might new media such as crowdsourcing and social media better create your desired effects? How are you maximizing your strategic effect with communication processes and metrics?”
To help commands across the services tackle these questions, Thomas has led more than 300 SCWs since becoming program manager in 2005, both at NPS and around the globe, bringing the workshop to commands on invitation.
At each SCW, attendees acquire new skills and tools to work through the military’s most vexing communications issues, from conducting in-depth stakeholder analyses to assessing communications risks, and developing metrics to track the effectiveness of initiatives.
“They’re not here to learn out of a textbook and go home,” Thomas said. “They all bring a real, concrete issue that they’re trying to work through, either because they’re looking ahead and saying, ‘Wow, we don’t know how we’re going to get there,’ or ‘We’ve got to do something different, and we don’t think we know enough to be able to do it.'”
All too often, strategic communications is incorrectly equated with ‘messaging.’ The SCW emphasizes the strategic analysis necessary prior to developing messages in order to ensure unity of efforts, actions and words.
U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Lazir Ablaza, a fighter pilot with the 157th Fighter Squadron at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C., prepares to launch an F-16 Fighting Falcon for a training mission from Naval Air Station Fallon, Nev., Nov. 13, 2014
(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Caycee Watson)
“Often a leader will say ‘Where’s my story? Give me an article; give me a message,’ but you have to stop and ask whether that’s the right thing, the right media, the right topic, and addressing the right people,” Thomas noted. “There’s a whole lot of work that has to be done before you figure out what your message might be.”
A key component of this is communications is within the organization itself.
In an era defined by the ubiquity of social media – when a Facebook post by a junior enlisted service member has the potential to end up on the front page of the Washington Post – it is absolutely critical that all personnel are on the ‘same sheet of music.’
“If their internal communication isn’t aligned very well, that means their external communication isn’t very good either, because you probably have different people telling different stories,” Thomas said. “So, the SCW helps them do the diagnostics and better align their internal communication.”
This was an ‘Ah-ha!’ moment for Navy Lt. Matt Stroup.
A public affairs officer (PAO) with the Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC) in San Diego, his team paired up with USC-ASCJ doctoral studies director Tom Hollihan to find new ways to attract talented warfare tactics instructors to the command.
“We came here fully expecting to be externally focused on how best to communicate with the audience from a mass communications perspective, but what we’ve learned working with Tom is to identify the internal processes to our organization,” Stroup said.
Often, leaders think a PAO can dictate perceptions or actions through a single product, Stroup said.
“But it’s very much a team game,” he added. “It’s not something that you can do with just one person and hope they’re going to fix it.”
Hollihan was fully confident that Stroup’s team will be able to take their insights gleaned at the SCW home with them.
“They didn’t really know each other well, but this has been kind of an introduction to their own attitudes, values and styles,” he said. “What impressed me is how much respect they seemed to have for each other’s ideas and how productive the conversation was.”
Stroup described the SCW as “an incredibly valuable experience.”
“There aren’t too many other times in my career where I’m going to be able to sit for six to eight hours with a leading professor from one of the most highly-rated communications doctoral program in the U.S. and get some guidance on how to do this,” he said. “That’s gold as far as I’m concerned.”
This is a sentiment echoed by Navy Cmdr. James Johnston, who attended the SCW as part of the team from Commander, Naval Air Forces (CNAF), the command responsible for all naval aviation, including the Top Gun school.
“It’s been humbling,” he said. “I’d like to think that all of us got to the positions we’re at by being masters of our craft, but none of us has a lot of experience in communications other than communicating to subordinates.
“This program is a good example of how a command can accelerate their learning curve. In order to get this amount of concentrated teaching, you’d probably have to attend a whole semester class,” Johnston continued. “This will enable us to go back to our command and help our entire staff learn a lot quicker how to get through this process.”
That’s a win, according to Thomas. Enabling an organic strategic communications capability is the ultimate goal of the SCW, allowing commands to get ahead of crises before they develop.
“Nothing happens without communication, but for the most part, people don’t think about communication at all until a crisis happens and then they go, ‘Why didn’t we think about that?,'” she said. “Instead of being in crisis mode all the time, we want people to be able to look at the communication that’s needed and to anticipate and be proactive about it. Then, have a strategy around our communication for whatever it is.”
The SCW certainly accomplished this for the team negotiating the challenges of the Fallon range modernization effort, Stone said.
“We can get the process and all the facts right, but without the communication, we’re not going to be successful,” he said. “This workshop really gave us a path forward for how to approach communicating with all the stakeholders involved.
“So many people have been appreciative that they had the opportunity to attend something like this,” Stone added. “Everyone came away refocused on the project and full of enthusiasm moving forward.”