It looks like the Saudis are going to get their new US smart bombs after all - We Are The Mighty
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It looks like the Saudis are going to get their new US smart bombs after all

The US Senate on June 13 narrowly averted a bid by a bipartisan group of senators to block President Donald Trump’s $500m sale of guided, air-to-ground bombs for use in Yemen by Saudi Arabia’s Royal Air Force.


The vote was 53-47 to defeat a resolution of disapproval that had been offered by Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, and Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat. Senate Republicans were joined by five Democrats to defeat the measure. Four Republicans joined most Democrats to vote against the arms sale.

“We are fueling an arms race in the Middle East,” Paul said in remarks during Senate debate, citing the famine and Cholera outbreak in Yemen and Saudi domestic rights abuses as reasons not to support Trump’s munitions sale.

What is happening today in Yemen is a humanitarian crisis,” Murphy said in floor remarks. “The United States supports the Saudi-led bombing campaign that has had the effect of causing a humanitarian nightmare to play out in that country.”

At issue are JDAMs, or Joint Direct Attack Munitions, which are guidance systems to be used with 230kg bombs and bunker busters on Saudi F-15 fighter jets.

It looks like the Saudis are going to get their new US smart bombs after all
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis meets with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, April 19, 2017. (DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley)

President Barack Obama withheld sale of the guidance systems in 2016 out of concern the Saudis were deliberately attacking civilians and critical infrastructure in Yemen, already one of the world’s poorest nations before the war.

Speaking for majority Republicans, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina blamed military threats posed by Iran.

The Iranian theocracy is the most destabilizing force in the Mideast,” Graham said. “They have aggressively pursued military action through proxies and directly been involved in military action in Syria. Iran’s efforts to dominate Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and now Yemen have to be pushed back.”

More than 4,125 civilians have been killed and more than 7,200 civilians have been wounded in Yemen since the Saudi-led air campaign started in March 2015, according to a recent report by Human Rights Watch.  Most of those casualties resulted from Saudi coalition air strikes.

The June 13 Senate vote was close enough and the outcome sufficiently uncertain that Vice President Mike Pence was briefly called to the chamber to break a tie had there been one, a rare occurrence. Republicans hold a 52-48 advantage in the Senate.

Though largely symbolic, the close vote signals a potential shift in congressional willingness to support Saudi Arabia’s ongoing campaign in Yemen. By comparison, a similar resolution last year attempting to block tank sales by Obama failed by a 71-27 margin.

The disputed sale of guided missiles is a small part of a major, $110B package of arms, including M1 tanks, Chinook and Black Hawk helicopters – arranged by Trump on his May 20 visit to Riyadh. There’s been no real move in Congress to challenge that larger transfer, begun under Obama following the Iran-United Nations nuclear deal.

Under the Arms Control Act of 1976, Congress requires presidents to notify it of any pending arms sale, and in the case of sales to the Middle East to certify that any shipments would not adversely affect Israel’s qualitative military advantage over its regional neighbors. Congress can block any arms sale simply by passing a resolution of disapproval.

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Wounded Warrior Project and USAA team up to combat veteran PTSD

June is officially recognized as PTSD awareness month for the United States. But for the leadership at the Wounded Warrior Project and over at USAA, it’s about more than talking about it. For these organizations, it’s about really digging in to make a difference.

Army Lt. Gen. (ret.) Mike Linnington has been the CEO of Wounded Warrior Project since 2016. When he left active duty after 35 years of service, Linnington said he saw WWP as an extension of his military service. 

“Mental health is a big concern of ours and is a focus area of our strategic plan and consumes about half our efforts,” he explained. USAA has been a big supporter for WWP programming. “Anything we can do together to raise awareness of the invisible wounds of war, primarily post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury and depression or other mental health illnesses, and get people the care they need to heal is important.”

Linnington shared an example of how a broken bone would be cause for an immediate emergency room visit but when it comes to mental health, veterans won’t rush to heal it. “They feel like they don’t deserve it because they aren’t physically injured or because of that stigma associated with it,” he said. 

WWP is constantly working toward breaking down the stigma around mental health for veterans. It’s a commitment shared by USAA. 

Navy Vice Adm. (ret.) John Bird is USAA’s Senior Vice President of Military Affairs. Bird served on active duty for 35 years before retiring. “USAA was founded by the military — 25 Army officers, 100 years ago — for the military. For us, it’s more than products and services, it’s an advocacy position,” he explained. “We need to care for veterans, those who are wounded. They deserve it…we are a far cry from experts on PTSD or a number of things we advocate for but that’s why we partner with organizations like General Linnington’s.”

It looks like the Saudis are going to get their new US smart bombs after all
Vice Adm. Scott R. Van Buskirk, right, relieves Vice Adm. John M. Bird as commander of U.S. 7th Fleet during a change of command ceremony a board the amphibious command ship command USS Blue ridge. Van Buskirk is the 47th commander of U.S. 7th Fleet. U.S. 7th Fleet is responsible for the largest area of the Navy’s numbered fleets and operates in the western Pacific and Indian Oceans.

As America prepares to mark 20 years at war in September 2021, it’s important to recognize the still unseen consequences of the longest-sustained conflict in our country’s history. 

“I do worry about the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and the drawdown in Afghanistan,” Linnington said. “It could be a triggering event for many veterans…the need doesn’t stop because the number of our troops deployed is reduced.”

WWP conducted a survey which revealed 93% of its warriors experienced severe mental injury during their military service. It’s important to note PTSD doesn’t always show up immediately, especially as service members are in the thick of their service. It can be years later before it’s recognized for what it is and it’s a reality we can’t wait for.

Bird also touched on force readiness and how without supporting America’s all volunteer force in every way, it could essentially disappear.

Both leaders noted the importance of also recognizing not all veterans have PTSD. This is something in particular that creates a significant barrier to treatment seeking. The Cohen Veterans Network conducted a survey recently and it revealed that a staggering 67% of Americans assume all veterans have PTSD. 

Almost a quarter of those surveyed also believe the veteran’s diagnosis is dangerous. 

The VA has estimated that around 11-20% of veterans have been diagnosed with PTSD, a far lower number than the everyday American assumes. 

Another stigma both leaders find themselves battling is one many veterans tend to hold onto themselves. It’s the thought that someone else has it worse and deserves the help more than they do. But the reality is 1 in 11 Americans will be diagnosed with PTSD in their lifetime and it is the brain’s normal reaction to an abnormal event. 

“It is significant. Some people call it a crisis. It certainly is large and looming within the military community but it goes far beyond that. It is debilitating to the person to the point of being fatal,” Bird noted. “They [veterans] deserve this. This isn’t something that’s a hand out, they earned it and we are duty bound to provide it.”

Another point both leaders agreed on was the value and importance of harnessing and fostering a deep sense of community and connection for veterans. 

“It’s important for organizations like ours and USAA…keeping veterans connected so they realize they aren’t alone,” Linnington stressed. 

Bird echoed that sentiment and shared a story from an internal panel held by USAA on PTSD. He said a veteran took a call he almost ignored. Had he not, the situation may have turned out much differently. “So much of it is just reaching out and connecting,” he explained. 

Though neither retired military leader believes they have all the answers, both recognize the power of support and healing is much stronger when you work together. For WWP and USAA, the fight on serving veterans and helping them work through PTSD is one they are all in on. 
If you or a veteran you care about is struggling, the Veterans Crisis Line has 24/7 support waiting for you. It’s confidential support available to all veterans, even if they aren’t registered with the VA. Call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1.

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Top brass wants women to register for the draft

Now that women are cleared to join men in all U.S. military combat roles, the service chiefs of the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps think the rules for Selective Service registration should be changed to include women.


It looks like the Saudis are going to get their new US smart bombs after all
Gen. Robert Neller (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Shawn Valosin)

Current selective service rules say all male citizens of the United States and male immigrants (and bizarrely, illegal immigrants) have to register for the Selective Service System within 30 days of their 18th birthday. This is not joining the military but registering with the government to be available in a time where conscription would be necessary.

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley believe the provisions of Military Selective Service should reflect the new policies of the Department of Defense.

“Every American who’s physically qualified should register for the draft,” Neller told the Senate Armed Services Committee .

It looks like the Saudis are going to get their new US smart bombs after all
Gen. Mark Milley

The Supreme Court’s 1981 decision in Rostker v. Goldberg upheld Congress’ decision to exempt women from the draft, saying “training would be needlessly burdened by women recruits who could not be used in combat.”

In order for women to be drafted, Congress would have to update the provisions of the Selective Service Act of 1948.

It looks like the Saudis are going to get their new US smart bombs after all

If you’re an American male age 18 or older and forgot to register for Selective Service, there’s no time like the present.

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America’s Navy commander in Asia has some tough talk for Kim Jong-un

The commander of the US Pacific Fleet and South Korea’s defense minister said they agreed to prepare a “practical military response plan” to what Adm. Scott Swift described as Pyongyang’s “self-destructive” acts, following the country’s sixth nuclear test.


Swift, who oversees 200 ships and submarines, 1,180 aircraft, and more than 140,000 sailors, also said the US Navy plans to deploy strategic assets, including a carrier strike group, to the peninsula, Yonhap reported.

Defense Minister Song Young-moo welcomed the proposal, and requested the Pacific Fleet commander play a pivotal role for peace and stability on the Korean peninsula, according to the report.

“If there’s a desire to have another carrier and there’s a desire to have more ships, more submarines, we have the capability and capacity to support that direction,” Swift said.

It looks like the Saudis are going to get their new US smart bombs after all
Adm. Scott H. Swift, the commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, speaks to Sailors during an all-hands call. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jermaine M. Ralliford

The US naval commander described the US-South Korea alliance as “ironclad” and told reporters in Seoul that North Korea’s provocations will not weaken bilateral ties.

“If [Kim Jong Un] is trying to separate the alliances and the allegiances that we have in the region, it’s having the opposite [effect],” Swift said.

Concern had been rising in South Korea after US President Donald Trump tweeted a criticism of South Korea’s North Korea policy, calling the approach “appeasement.”

 

Trump later tweeted he is “allowing Japan  South Korea to buy a substantially increased amount of highly sophisticated military equipment from the United States,” a day after the White House said the president had approved the purchase of “many billions of dollars’ worth of military weapons and equipment from the United States by South Korea.”

On Sept. 5, Swift dismissed reports of a US-South Korea rift, calling any relationship between two countries “multidimensional.”

Song and Swift said North Korea’s nuclear test was an “unacceptable provocation” that poses a grave threat to peace and security in the Asia Pacific as well as the world.

The provocation also further isolates North Korea and places more hardship on ordinary North Koreans, they said.

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This ‘Lone Survivor’ duo wants veterans to know about a new benefit

Throughout our military careers, we had the distinct privilege of shopping at the base exchanges and would receive discounts on many items. After being discharged, most of us lost those benefits — until now.


Mark Wahlberg and Marcus Luttrell are here to officially announce that those discount advantages are coming back starting Nov. 11, 2017, for veterans who qualify.

“All honorably discharged veterans are encouraged to visit VetVerify.org to confirm eligibility for their lifetime exchange online benefit today,” Luttrell states in the informational video. “Thank you for your service and welcome home, guys.”

Related: 13 songs on Marcus Luttrell’s mixtape that will make you feel operator AF

This process is extremely simple; just go to www.vetverify.org and register your information to see if you’re eligible. Once completed, you’ll receive an email confirming your newly earned lifelong online benefits. Many veterans are even being pre-selected to test the benefits immediately, instead of waiting until November.

The duo first teamed up in 2013’s epic true story “Lone Survivor,” directed by Peter Berg. Wahlberg played Luttrell in the film, exemplifying the SEAL’s heroic journey.

Also Read: This SEAL was shot 27 times before walking himself to the medevac

Check out the video below to hear it from the “Lone Survivor” duo themselves and be sure to check out the awesome new program.


MIGHTY TRENDING

Army Veteran earns her college degree at 62

Army Veteran Kathleen Cashaw will celebrate her 62nd birthday this summer. She is also celebrating this summer for another reason – earning her college degree. With the support from Butler VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation Program, Cashaw has achieved her goal of completing her Associates of Arts Degree as a medical assistant at Butler Community College.

“The Vocational Rehabilitation staff at Butler VA always gave me encouragement. I had doubts about completing the degree, but the VA staff always directed me to the positive of completing the program rather than the negative thoughts that I was having. Like being too old. I knew I had potential. I knew that it was in myself.”


Vocational Rehabilitation at Butler VA assists Veterans to prepare for, find, and maintain suitable jobs. Employment services such as job training, employment-seeking skills, resume development, and other work-readiness assistance is available for Veterans to achieve their employment goals.

“I cannot thank the staff in Vocational Rehabilitation enough. They were instrumental in my success and I have been given confidence to continue my education for a Bachelor of Science degree, my ultimate ‘Bucket List.”

“Messed” up but moved on

Middle child of a hard-working illiterate father and a strict mother who instilled the importance of education, Cashaw did what neither her parents nor her two siblings ever did: Enroll in college. But her degree pursuits at Tuskegee University and Howard University began and ended within a year.

“I messed up in college.”

She enlisted in the Army and in 1986 joined the Mississippi National Guard. She also took jobs in customer service and in making ice cream machines in one factory and automotive parts in another.

“My father didn’t think I would ever go back to college,” Cashaw said. A disabled Veteran, she volunteered at Butler VA while making the dean’s list and the president’s list at Butler Community College. “For my age, I completed it. Finally.”

Vocational Rehabilitation: “If you want to succeed, you will.”

Kathleen encourages other Veterans to reach out to Vocational Rehabilitation for support and assistance. Her other advice: “You are never too old to pursue your dreams. If you really want to succeed you will. It takes hard work, but never succumb to the negative, look for the positive.”

Her education has changed her life. “It has made me more confident. “Now, there are things that I can do.”

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

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This Air Force crew reportedly evacuated 800 people from Kabul on a single flight

The situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate. Taliban forces have taken over bases, captured stockpiles of weapons and vehicles, and have entered the nation’s capitol, Kabul. Civilians flock to the airport in hopes of boarding an airplane and fleeing the country.

A major component in the air bridge out of Afghanistan is the U.S. Air Force’s Air Mobility Command. One Air Force C-17A and its crew appears to have done the impossible and flew an estimated 800 people out of Kabul.

It looks like the Saudis are going to get their new US smart bombs after all
A C-17A Globemaster III taxis at Dover AFB (U.S. Air Force)

C-17A reg. 01-0186, designated flight RCH (Reach) 871, is based out of Dover Air Force Base, Delaware. According to reported air traffic, the flight took off from Kabul on August 15. Following its departure, RCH 871 made radio contact to report their status. A one-minute sound recording posted online contains what sounds like an air traffic controller communicating with the flight.

“Ok, how many people do you think are on your jet?” the controller inquires. The audio only reveals one side of the conversation. “800 people on your jet?!” he asks in disbelief. “Holy…holy cow,” he says after taking a second to process that number. He goes on to commend the Air Force crew on their accomplishment and asks details about the passengers. Because the audio is one-sided, whether or not the majority of the passengers are Afghan nationals fleeing the country cannot be confirmed. However, given the situation, it is a good assumption to make. The audio concludes with the controller asking for their ETA at OTBH, the airport code for Al Udeid Air Base Qatar.

It looks like the Saudis are going to get their new US smart bombs after all
Paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division loaded on a C-17 (U.S. Air Force)

The Boeing C-17A Globemaster III is a heavy-lifter in Air Mobility Command. It’s powered by four Pratt & Whitney F117-PW-100 engines which produce 40,900 pounds of thrust each. According to Boeing, however, the aircraft’s official passenger capacity is 134 paratroopers with 80 sitting on 8 pallets, plus 54 passengers sitting on sidewall seats. For RCH 871 to cram 800 people onto their aircraft is an incredible feat.

It looks like the Saudis are going to get their new US smart bombs after all
More than 670 displaced Filipinos crammed aboard a C-17 following Super Typhoon Haiyan (U.S. Air Force)

This isn’t the first time that an Air Force crew has overloaded their aircraft to save lives. In 2016, C-17s of the 535th Airlift Squadron based out of Hawaii flew mercy missions in the Philippines. The islands were hit hard by Super Typhoon Haiyan, resulting in the displacement of thousands of locals. The airmen flew in thousands of tons of food, water, and machinery to aid in relief efforts. Moreover, one C-17 evacuated over 670 Filipino civilians in a monumental humanitarian effort.

It looks like the Saudis are going to get their new US smart bombs after all
The RAF has at least nine transports, including four C-17s, assisting with the airlift out of Kabul (RAF)

While RCH 871’s reported evacuation of 800 people is incredible, other aircraft and their crews continue to fly people out of Kabul. A fleet of KC-135R Stratotankers is performing mid-air refuelings for the relief flights, some shortly after takeoff from Kabul. Britain and the United Arab Emirates also have military aircraft involved in the ongoing evacuation efforts.

It looks like the Saudis are going to get their new US smart bombs after all
Hundreds of people run alongside an Air Force C-17 on the tarmac at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul

Unfortunately, the demand for relief flights outweighs the airlift capabilities at Kabul. As flights load and take off, people can be seen swarming the aircraft. Some cling to the landing gear in a desperate attempt to escape. Tragically, videos have been posted online of people falling to their deaths as a result.

It looks like the Saudis are going to get their new US smart bombs after all
Huge crowds gathered at the airport in Kabul

For the 800 people aboard RCH 871, and others that have managed to flee Afghanistan aboard military transports, the herculean efforts of the aircrews who got them out is literally lifesaving.

Feature Image: U.S. Air Force photo

MIGHTY CULTURE

Next up on your reading list needs to be Iraq veteran’s ‘almost perfect novel’ Missionaries

The debut novel from the National Book Award-winning author of Redeployment, Missionaries might be the perfect novel of all time. Phil Klay’s Missionaries examines the globalization of violence through four characters with interlocking stories and the harsh conflicts that define their lives.

Klay is an Iraq War veteran and the author of a short story collection, Redeployment, about the military’s misadventures in both Iraq and Afghanistan. After its publication, Redeployment was listed as one of the best books of 2014. Klay has now realigned his sites to examine not just the conquests of the Middle East and Central Asia but also unpacks the global conflicts one step further and attempts to provide readers with a complex and thought-provoking argument about American foreign policy over since the beginning of the Global War on Terror.


The basic plot is this: a group of Columbian soldiers prepares to raid a drug lord’s safe house along the Venezuelan border. The soldiers are watching him with an American-made drone and are planning to strike using military tactics taught to them by American soldiers, soldiers who’ve perfected their counter-insurgent skills while on deployment in Iraq.

Missionaries starts slowly with a familiar scenario – a journalist living in wartime Afghanistan, Lisette, can’t seem to get it together to file her news briefs on time. She’s had enough of the war, the sand, the loss. Lisette manages to leave Kabul, texts with an old boyfriend, a soldier turned contractor, and attempts to regain a footing in the world. She asks the old boyfriend if there are any wars in the world that America is winning, and the soldier-turned-contractor replies with a one-word answer, “Columbia.”

This is where the novel truly begins and where Klay’s masterful deft and skill with words truly begins to shine. Klay has a serious knack for setting scenes, providing meaningful irony, and showcasing deep human empathy. He does all of this so covertly that the weaving of the stories presented in Missionaries feels as much like it’s unfolding naturally as if the story simply has to be told.

The novel spans three decades, examining the lives of Young Abel, whose family is slaughtered in a Columbian village but who manages to rise in the ranks under his brutal boss, Jefferson; Juan Pablo, a colonel in the Columbian military whose daughter Valencia confront Jefferson; two American soldiers Mason and Diego, groomed to fight at the frontlines and who know how to adapt to a war whose core central mission is foggy at best; and Lisette, the reporter who brings everyone together.

Without a doubt, Abel is the central core of Missionaries. He struggles to be the force of good in the face of Jefferson’s brutal savagery and spends much of the novel feeling doomed – in part because Jefferson’s charisma is so electric. Brutal warlord Jefferson is at once both kind and sadistic. Abel struggles with his loyalty to Jefferson throughout the novel, wrestling with his own motivations.

The lurid appeal of this delayed universe is similar to Cormac McCarthy in its bleakness. But Klay isn’t just attempting to unravel the void of morality. He’s trying to unpack the violence in Columbia and relate it directly to the fiasco that has been Afghanistan, and he’s able to do that because of his own experiences in combat.

Klay’s sentences are meaty, compact, and rich. Dazzling details seem to exist in both the myopic and the overly dilated sense, allowing Klay the ability to zoom in on this world that he’s created or pan back when needed.

And underneath it all, Klay’s book serves as a reminder that war and idealism ultimately create who we are – both on the field and once home again. Missionaries is an excellent example of what can follow a great debut collection. It is intricate, ambitious, and converges in the way real life often does. The ceaseless engine that drives the novel forward is the same engine that’s pushing more troops forward – American foreign policy. Missionaries attempts to understand why. It’s both horrifying and refreshing and forces its reader to reflect on our own national policies and the implications of American power abroad.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why North Korea suddenly stopped its aggression

One of the highest-ever ranked defectors from North Korea said Feb. 14, 2018 that Kim Jong Un is now engaging in diplomacy with South Korea because he fears a US military strike on North Korea.


“Kim Jong Un is afraid that the US will launch a preventative strike, and he is trying to buy time to complete his nuclear and missile programs,” said Ri Jong Ho, Yonhap News Agency reported. Ri, who worked for three decades in the North Korean office responsible for raising funds for Kim, was speaking at a Wilson Center Forum in Washington.

Also read: South Korea’s special ops wants to kill Kim Jong Un with suicide drones

According to Ri, not only are President Donald Trump’s threats of military action having an effect on North Korea, the US’s diplomatic efforts to lock Pyongyang out of international trade have also started to bite.

“Kim Jong Un is struggling under the strongest-yet sanctions and military and diplomatic pressure, so he is trying to improve the situation by putting on a false front,” Ri said.

Ri, who defected in 2014, likely doesn’t know the current thinking in Pyongyang, but may have knowledge of the economic situation before the sanctions. Ri’s statements follow a handful of moves from the Trump administration that appeared to signal that they were on the verge of striking North Korea.

Related: South Koreans are not happy to be Olympic partners with the North

But Ri’s statements also conjured up one of the US’s worst fears in North Korea by suggesting that Kim did not legitimately want to pursue peace with South Korea, but rather that he wanted to use the ruse of diplomacy to buy time while he advances his nuclear program and continues to hold South Korean civilians at risk.

It looks like the Saudis are going to get their new US smart bombs after all
(Photo from North Korean State Media)

“Depending on the circumstances, North Korea could hold South Koreans hostage and continue its threatening provocations,” Ri said.

Ri’s thinking seems to agree with US Navy Adm. Harry Harris, who recently assumed command of the US military’s Pacific and Asian theater of operation, PACOM.

Kim is “after reunification under a single communist system, so he is after what his grandfather failed to do and his father failed to do,” Harris said, in testimony to the House Armed Services Committee.

Read more: How Kim Jong Un became one of the world’s scariest dictators

But Kim’s end game is irrelevant at the present. There’s evidence that a US-led sanctions campaign has begun to work against the Kim regime, and North Korea could be hurting economically. Moves in Trump’s inner circle seem to heavily suggest he’s considering responding to future North Korean provocations with force.

No president before Trump has coordinated as great an international sanctions regime on North Korea, and none have so seriously offered up use of military force as an option.

In response, Kim has made the unprecedented move of agreeing to meet with a foreign head of state for the first time, and abandoned talk of preconditions beforehand, which some see as a concession.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Blue Water’ Navy veterans are fighting for Agent Orange benefits

On Jan. 29, 2019, attorney and retired Navy Cmdr. John B. Wells sat in the office of Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), ready to meet with staff regarding Lee’s opposition to Blue Water Navy legislation, when his cell phone dinged and brought surprising news from the nearby U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

A lawsuit that Wells and a team of appellant attorneys had argued Dec. 7, 2018, before a full panel of judges on the appeals court had resulted in a stunning 9-2 victory for roughly 70,000 Blue Water Navy veterans.


For Wells, the court’s ruling delightfully deflated the importance of his visit to try to persuade Lee not to again block legislation to extend disability compensation and Department of Veterans Affairs medical care to Navy veterans who deployed decades ago to territorial waters off Vietnam and now are ill, or dead, of ailments associated with Agent Orange and other defoliants used in the war.

It looks like the Saudis are going to get their new US smart bombs after all

Large stacks of 55-gallon drums filled with Agent Orange.

Unless the VA successfully petitions the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the decision in Procopio v. Wilkie, Blue Water veterans have won a victory denied them for two decades, both in the courts and Congress.

Wells is executive director of Military-Veterans Advocacy of Slidell, La., a non-profit corporation that litigates and advocates for veterans. He said he looked for years for the right case to challenge an appeals court decision that kept Agent Orange benefits from sailors whose ships steamed off Vietnam during the war.

Alfred Procopio Jr., suffers from prostate cancer and type 2 diabetes, two conditions on the VA list of ailments associated with Agent Orange exposure and that trigger benefits if veterans served in Vietnam for a time between Jan. 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975, when U.S. involvement in the war officially ended.

Procopio was aboard the aircraft carrier Intrepid when, in July 1966, ship logs confirm it deployed to territorial waters off South Vietnam. The VA declined in April 2009 to find service connection for his ailments diagnosed a few years earlier. The Board of Veterans’ Appeals also denied service connection, in March 2011 and in July 2015, because Procopio had not gone ashore.

In denying such appeals, boards and judges routinely cite the 2008 appeals court ruling in Haas v. Peake, which affirmed the VA’s interpretation of the Agent Orange Act to exclude veterans from benefits if they didn’t come ashore, even if their ships steamed through Vietnam’s territorial sea, defined as within 12 nautical miles of the coastline.

To prepare for Procopio’s appeal, Wells said he interviewed lawyers at three firms offering pro bono expertise on briefs and arguments before appellate courts. He chose Melanie Bostwick of Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe LLP, in Washington, D.C., in part because of her plan to refine the challenge to Haas, focusing on what Congress meant in the Agent Orange Act by presuming exposure to defoliants if veterans served “in the Republic of Vietnam.”

Bostwick pushed the significance of the Act’s reference to the Republic of Vietnam “a step further than we had taken it and she was brilliant,” Wells said.

For Procopio, his lawyers didn’t argue that, given his ship’s location, he must have been exposed at some point to deadly defoliants just like veterans who served ashore. Instead they contended that Congress, in writing the law, intentionally used the formal name for the sovereign coastal nation. Under international law and based on the Act’s legislative history, they argued, “service in the Republic of Vietnam” must be read by the court to include naval service in its territorial waters.

Eight of 11 judges who heard the appeal accepted that argument. Another judge decided in favor of Procopio and Blue Water Navy veterans on other grounds. Two judges dissented.

With Procopio, the appeals court reversed its ruling in Haas. It disagreed that the Agent Orange law is ambiguous as to whether the list of presumptive diseases tied to defoliants should apply to sailors who supported the war from the sea.

Haas had let stand VA regulations that limited access to Agent Orange benefits to veterans who went ashore in Vietnam or patrolled its inland rivers and waterways. In Procopio, the court said what those judges missed a decade ago was the significance of the law granting presumption of service connection for certain diseases to veterans who “served in the Republic of Vietnam.” By using the formal name of that country, explained Judge Kimberly Ann Moore in writing the majority opinion, the Act extended benefit coverage to service in Vietnam’s territorial sea.

The court in Haas “went astray when it found ambiguity” in the plain language of the Act after reviewing “competing methods of defining the reaches of a sovereign nation,” wrote Moore. It should have recognized that Congress unambiguously defined the pool of veterans eligible for benefits as any veteran who had served anywhere in Vietnam, including the territorial sea.

“Congress has spoken directly to the question of whether those who served in the 12-nautical-mile territorial sea of the ‘Republic of Vietnam’ are entitled to [the Act’s] presumption if they meet [its] other requirements. They are. Because ‘the intent of Congress is clear, that is the end of the matter,’ ” Moore wrote, citing a 1984 Supreme Court decision that found a government agency must conform to clear legislative statements when interpreting and applying a law.

It looks like the Saudis are going to get their new US smart bombs after all

Defoliant spray run during the Vietnam War.

Judge Raymond T. Chen dissented in Procopio and was joined by Judge Thomas B. Dyk. Chen’s arguments are likely to be echoed by government attorneys if VA decides to seek Supreme Court review the case.

Chen wrote that, in his view, the Agent Orange Act is ambiguous as to whether benefits should apply to veterans who served offshore. The court majority, he said, “inappropriately pre-empts Congress’s role in determining whether the statute should apply in these circumstances — an issue which Congress is grappling with at this very time.”

By “repudiating a statutory interpretation from a 10-year old precedential opinion, without any evidence of changed circumstances,” Chen wrote, the majority “undermines the principle of stare decisis,” a doctrine that obligates courts to follow precedents set in previous decisions unless they can show clearly the previous decisions were wrongly decided.

Chen did “not find persuasive the majority’s conclusion that international law dictates its interpretation. The Haas court considered similar sources of evidence but still concluded that the statutory phrase was ambiguous,” he wrote.

Chen noted that Congress, in debating whether to extend Agent Orange benefits to Blue Water veterans, found it will require the allocation of id=”listicle-2627927786″.8 billion in fiscal 2019 and .7 billion over 10 years. With so much at stake and without “more compelling” evidence Haas got it wrong, he wrote, the court majority should have left the issue for Congress to settle.

“It is not for the Judiciary to step in and redirect such a significant budget item,” Chen wrote.

Wells said he expects the government to decide within a few weeks whether to petition the Supreme Court to review the case. Meanwhile, he said, “we are very happy with the way the case came out.”

Wells said the Haas case was ripe for reconsideration in part because “the court has been taking an increasingly jaundiced look at the VA and some of the stuff they’ve done” to deny benefits. Also, other cases had “drilled down” on weaknesses in the VA’s regulatory decisions excluding veterans from Agent Orange benefits.

“Frankly, when the VA stripped the benefit [from sailors] back in 2002, we believed that they had nobody in their general counsel’s office competent to understand” the Act and the legal definition of Republic of Vietnam, he said.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

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Iran plans post-2020 naval expansion

Iran is planning for a bigger navy as soon as provisions of the 2015 nuclear deal expire. Planned purchases include new warships and submarines much more advanced than vessels currently in the theocracy’s inventory.


According to the Times of Israel, the United States Navy’s Office of Naval Intelligence issued a report on Iran’s naval strength. The SS-N-26 Yakhont, already in service with Russia, was mentioned as one system Iran was seeking to acquire.

It looks like the Saudis are going to get their new US smart bombs after all
Iranian fast-attack boats during a naval exercise in 2015. (Wikimedia photo by Sayyed Shahaboddin Vajedi)

According to a website maintained by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Yakhont, which has a range of just under 162 nautical miles, has already been exported to Indonesia, Vietnam, and Syria. A variant of the SS-N-26, the BrahMos, is in service with India. CSIS noted that most of Syria’s missiles were destroyed in a July 2013 air strike by the Israeli Defense Force.

It looks like the Saudis are going to get their new US smart bombs after all
SS-N-26 at at MAKS Airshow in Zhukovskiy, 1997. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

According to the 16th Edition of Combat Fleets of the World, Iran’s most modern combat vessels are three Kilo-class submarines acquired from Russia in the 1990s. The Kilos have six 21-inch torpedo tubes and can hold up to 18 torpedoes.

Modern versions of that sub in service with the Russian Navy can fire the SS-N-27/SS-N-30 Sizzler cruise missile. The SS-N-26, SS-N-27, and SS-N-30 have both land-attack and anti-ship variants.

The Times of Israel report comes just as the United States Navy announced a close encounter between a Military Sealift Command vessel and an Iranian frigate. According to CBSNews.com, an Iranian frigate came within 150 yards of the missile range instrumentation ship USNS Invincible (AGM 24).

The encounter was described as “unprofessional, but not unsafe” due to the fact that the frigate was not approaching the MSC vessel, but was instead on a parallel course.

It looks like the Saudis are going to get their new US smart bombs after all
USNS Invincible (T AGM 24). (MSC photo)

The Military Sealift Command website notes that USNS Invincible displaces 2,285 tons, has a top speed of 11 knots, and a crew of 18. The vessel is unarmed, and is used for collecting data on missile launches. It is one of two in service.

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How the military decontaminates itself after WMD attacks

While nuclear weapons usually get the big, scary headlines when it comes to weapons of mass destruction, the whole triad is a serious threat. Chemical and biological weapons are easier for rogue states to produce and deploy and any WMD can cause severe damage to American warfighters.


Beyond the immediate threat as the weapons rain down, weapons of mass destruction leave agents that can persist for anywhere from minutes to years, leaving vehicles, buildings, and even the ground lethal for soldiers.

Of course, the U.S. can’t just avoid their equipment or the battlefield for years. Instead, they send specialized troops in to spearhead decontamination efforts.

1. After a chemical attack, the U.S. is left with few good options. Decontaminating takes time and resources, but leaving the chemicals in place could result in dead troops.

It looks like the Saudis are going to get their new US smart bombs after all
(Photo: U.S. Army Spc. Malik Gibson)

2. Typically, specially trained crews will rush with their gear into a staging area and prep for decontamination.

It looks like the Saudis are going to get their new US smart bombs after all
(Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Christian J. Robertson)

3. Once all gear and personnel are certified ready-to-go, the troops get to work.

It looks like the Saudis are going to get their new US smart bombs after all
(Photo: U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Christopher Maldonado)

4. Teams have to wade into the target area, assessing what areas have been affected by the weapon, whether chemical, biological, or nuclear.

It looks like the Saudis are going to get their new US smart bombs after all
(Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Christian J. Robertson)

5. Of course, these teams face the chances of follow-on attacks and have to be ready to defend themselves.

It looks like the Saudis are going to get their new US smart bombs after all
(Photo: U.S. Army Spc. Malik Gibson)

6. These teams will report to their headquarters what areas have been affected and specialists will assess how long it will take for the threat to dissipate on its own (if ever).

It looks like the Saudis are going to get their new US smart bombs after all
(Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Christian J. Robertson)

7. Any equipment in the affected area, whether present at the time of the attack or that entered during combat operations or decontamination efforts, has to be thoroughly decontaminated.

It looks like the Saudis are going to get their new US smart bombs after all
(Photo: U.S. Army Sgt. Josephine Carlson)

8. Chemical, biological, and nuclear threats are all broken down and removed using different techniques, but soap and water help in nearly all cases.

It looks like the Saudis are going to get their new US smart bombs after all
(Photo: U.S. Army Sgt. Josephine Carlson)

9. Depending on the type and extent of contamination, the cleaning process may be completed by special teams or by the vehicle’s normal crews.

It looks like the Saudis are going to get their new US smart bombs after all
(Photo: U.S. Army Capt. John Strickland)

10. Many biological and chemical agents spread throughout all the nooks and crannies of the vehicles, making them a nightmare to clean.

It looks like the Saudis are going to get their new US smart bombs after all
(Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Julio McGraw)

11. And any mistakes could be lethal. If the wrong biological agent is left behind, it could get into someone’s system and doom them, possibly triggering an epidemic.

It looks like the Saudis are going to get their new US smart bombs after all
(Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Julio McGraw)

12. Some positions, like aircrews, require especially challenging decontamination efforts. Their personal gear includes everything from g-suits to breathing gear.

It looks like the Saudis are going to get their new US smart bombs after all
(Photo: U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Melanie Holochwost)

13. And each crewmember and pilot has to be kept separate until they can be decontaminated, leading to hilarious photos like this one.

It looks like the Saudis are going to get their new US smart bombs after all
(Photo: U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Melanie Holochwost)

14. One of the more common powders used is the specialized resin in M291 Chemical Decontamination Kits. It absorbs many agents and facilitates their destruction.

It looks like the Saudis are going to get their new US smart bombs after all
(Photo: U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Melanie Holochwost)

15. One of the most important things about personnel decontamination is preventing recontamination, so troops are washed in a set process, typically top to bottom.

It looks like the Saudis are going to get their new US smart bombs after all
(Photo: U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Abby L. Finkel)

16. And protective gear has to be switched out at set intervals, so this process has to be repeated multiple times per day.

It looks like the Saudis are going to get their new US smart bombs after all
(Photo: U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Abby L. Finkel)

All in all, WMDs are terrifying at worst and a hassle at best. Let’s hear your MOPP gear stories.

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Marine drill instructor faces hearing for hazing charges

A senior Marine Corps drill instructor forced a recruit to give up his Facebook password so he could hit on the recruit’s sisters and made others complete his college homework, witnesses said in an Article 32 investigative hearing at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, on Thursday.


It looks like the Saudis are going to get their new US smart bombs after all

Staff Sgt. Antonio Burke, whose identity was publicly revealed at the hearing for the first time, may face trial on charges including two counts of cruelty and maltreatment; two count of failure to obey an order or regulation; one count each of false official statement, wrongful appropriation, and insubordination; and five counts of general misconduct. Thursday’s hearing will determine whether he will go to court-martial or face a lesser form of adjudication.

Four former recruits from Kilo Company, Platoon 3044, at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, testified that Burke, an administrative Marine by trade with nearly 10 years of service, frequently called them names including “stupid” and “f—-t,” among other unprintable expletives, and allowed other drill instructors to do the same.

Related: 3 Marines face charges in Parris Island hazing scandal

Multiple recruits testified that the drill instructors would bring members of the platoon into “the dungeon”– an unoccupied building with an abandoned squad bay in disrepair and filled with a fine yellow dust. When the recruits were made to conduct incentive training, or strenuous physical exercise designed for correction, they would cough and struggle to breathe as the dust swirled, they said. These sessions, recruits testified, would last from 10 to 20 minutes at a time.

To demonstrate the hazards of the dungeon, military prosecutor Maj. Gregg Curley presented Col. James Bartolotto, the preliminary hearing officer, with a large jar containing a sample of the dust, shaking it to show how easily it became a thick cloud.

Witnesses also testified that Burke recruited self-identified “smart” recruits to come into the drill instructor hut to help him complete his college homework, a non-authorized activity for recruits, as Burke believed he was falling behind.

001rds-usmc-03135copy Appropriate levels of training and stress are very strictly designed by military education personnel. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

The allegations against Burke came to light as part of a wide-ranging series of investigations regarding alleged mistreatment of recruits at Parris Island — a pattern that was found to include abuse that prompted one recruit, Raheel Siddiqui, to take his own life last March.

The alleged misconduct of Burke and a number of other drill instructors in Platoon 3044 was revealed after an anonymous letter from “Concerned loved ones of innocent recruits in Kilo Company” was sent to President Barack Obama in April 2016. In all, 56 recruits and three family members were interviewed as a result of the investigation.

After the investigation was launched, all of the platoon’s drill instructors were relieved of their duties and replaced by new ones last summer.

Also accused were Staff Sgts. Matthew Bacchus and Jose Lucena-Martinez, and Sgt. Riley Gress, all of whom face similar charges and are set to be arraigned Friday.

Lance Cpl. Kelvin Cabrera, a reservist with 4th Civil Affairs Group, out of Hialeah, Florida, testified that Burke would force recruits to show him photographs they received from home, sometimes keeping them for himself. After being forced to turn over a family photograph against his will, Cabrera said, he was summoned to the drill instructor hut in April 2016 and told Burke found one of his sisters attractive and wanted him to log onto Facebook so Burke could send messages to her.

When Cabrera refused, he was made to perform burpees, or squat thrusts, until he complied, he said. Bacchus, he said, was also present. After logging on to his Facebook account on Burke’s smartphone, Cabrera said the drill instructor expressed interest in another one of his sisters and forced him to call her. Then, Cabrera said, Burke grabbed the phone and tried to ask her out.

“I couldn’t explain [to my sister] what was happening,” he said. “She told me not to do that again, to call her and give the phone to a random man.”

While Burke did not testify in his defense, he said in a recording played for the court that his habit of forcing the recruits to show him their photos was an “inside joke” and he never kept them.

Zachary Mosier, a former recruit who was medically separated from Platoon 3044 as a result of an irregular heartbeat after passing out on three separate occasions during intensive physical training, testified that he had received inconsistent levels of medical attention on these occasions, and, under Burke’s oversight, had not been seen by a corpsman or medical professionals on the second occasion.

Also read: Military personnel share amazing one-liners from drill instructors

Another former recruit who left the Marine Corps shortly after boot camp due to injury, Evan Murdoch, said Burke had tried to cover up the first incident in which Mosier passed out, falling flat on his rifle during push-ups in what Murdoch described as “excessive” incentive training, lasting longer than the 15 minutes that is allowed.

“He said, ‘Look, that didn’t happen today, did it,’ hinting that no one should say anything,” Murdoch testified.

The commander of Marine Corps Training and Education Command, Maj. Gen. James Lukeman, is expected to make a decision this month on whether to send Burke’s case to court-martial.

Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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