During two separate ceremonies on Jan. 5, the Army family and the Secretary of Defense officially welcomed Secretary of the Army Dr. Mark T. Esper back into the service that raised him.
As the newly appointed 23rd secretary of the Army, Esper will be key to the Army’s future, said Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis during a swearing-in ceremony at the Pentagon.
As international security continues to be a growing concern, Esper — a West Point graduate and a retired Army lieutenant colonel with combat experience — will need to “hit the ground running,” Mattis said.
The defense secretary said he believes Esper will lead an Army that contributes to DOD’s three lines of effort: strengthening alliances, reforming business practices, and building lethality.
“What we have here is someone that we are confident will take the Army forward, that has the right value system [and who] understands that if something is not contributing to lethality, it’s going to the dustbin of history,” Mattis said.
Esper brings with him a wealth of understanding from his time as an Army officer, in the defense industry, and on Capitol Hill, Mattis said.
“This Army has been tested and withstood the strain, but it stood because we have patriotic young people that have put their lives on the line,” Mattis said. “I know you are going to keep us feared by our adversaries and reassure our allies. They know when [the Army] shows up, they will fight harder alongside us.
“When the U.S. Army comes, what you’re saying is America is putting itself on the line,” Mattis said. “That is the bottom line.”
Esper said he appreciates the direction and support that Mattis gives to each of the five services, and that he couldn’t be more inspired to work under the defense secretary’s leadership. He also said he is excited to work alongside the leadership that already stands inside the Army.
“I could not have picked finer Army leadership to serve alongside,” Esper said. “And I can’t say enough about the virtue of our Soldiers, and their resiliency and willingness to take on the tough tasks that lie ahead.”
Since coming aboard the Army Nov. 20, Esper has traveled to meet with Soldiers stationed both inside the United States and abroad. He said he’s been impressed by what he has seen.
“In my first 30 days, I have been able to watch the 1st Calvary Division train at Fort Irwin. I’ve met with the global response force at Fort Bragg, [North Carolina] preparing for a no-notice deployment. And I visited with our troops in combat, in Afghanistan,” Esper said during his arrival ceremony at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Virginia, Friday afternoon.
“Soldiers are the Army’s greatest asset. Their welfare and readiness will always be my top priority,” Esper said.
Before a large crowd of Soldiers, veterans, families, congressional members, foreign dignitaries, and defense industry professionals, Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley spoke highly of his new boss.
“[Esper] has a spine of titanium [and] steel that is not going to bend to the temporary dramas of the day in D.C.,” Milley said. “He has the Army’s static line like a good jumpmaster. He will not waver. He will never fail to do the right thing for our nation, our troops, or our Army, regardless of the consequences to himself.”
Building the future force
At the official arrival ceremony, Esper discussed his priorities for the Army, which include taking care of people, remaining focused on the Army’s values, readiness, modernization, and reform.
“My first priority is and will remain readiness, ensuring that the total force — active, Guard, and Reserve — is prepared to deploy, fight, and win across the spectrum of conflict,” Esper said.
Currently, the Army is engaged in over 140 countries around the world. However, fiscal pressures and a lack of steady budget continue to impact the Army’s current readiness and affect future operations, Esper said.
“We are now challenged to address the rise of aggressive near-peer adversaries in Asia and Europe, while our Soldiers continue to fight terrorist groups abroad and reassure our allies around the globe,” Esper said.
We must continue to build strong alliances and partnerships around the world [with] countries that train together [and] fight well together. And those that fight well together are most likely to win together.
Through 2017, Soldiers took the fight to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, provided advice and assist support to Afghanistan and other nations, trained with allies and partners in European countries, and provided assistance to citizens recovering from natural disasters.
“Our job is to be ready — to be ready for combat,” Milley said. “To deter war, but to fight and win if deterrence and diplomacy fail. That is a solemn task for this nation. We are and will remain ready to engage the intense, bloody, unforgiving crucible of ground combat against any foe anytime and anywhere.”
Esper also identified the need to become better stewards of Army resources, all while modernizing current and future capabilities.
“This means growing the force while maintaining quality. Reshaping it to be more robust and successful in all domains, and modernizing it with the best weapons and equipment available to guarantee clear overmatch,” Esper said.
Consequently, for modernization to be successful, improvements need to be made to the current acquisition process, Esper said.
“This includes improving how requirements are set, empowering acquisition personnel to be successful, ensuring accountability, prototyping, and demonstrating systems early, and involving the private sector much more,” Esper said. “We must provide our Soldiers the tools they need to fight and win when they need it. I am confident that the new Futures Command we’re designing will do just that.”
And there are non-profit organizations like Guitars for Vets, which provides free guitar lessons — and a guitar — to veterans nationwide.
Vietnam War veteran James Robledo is a graduate of the program and the chapter coordinator at the Loma Linda chapter in California who, as a volunteer, has helped over 180 veterans graduate from the program.
“Playing the guitar takes concentration, it’s a little frustrating, it’s a challenge — but when you’re doing that, everything else disappears,” Robledo told We Are The Mighty.
He has written songs about the military community, including one that helped provide solace after the loss of loved ones.
“Learning to play guitar has let me reinvent myself. My knees and back are pretty banged up, but I can still impact other peoples’ lives in a positive way,” said Peterson about how he uses music to help others.
To date, Guitars for Vets has administered over 25,000 guitar lessons and distributed over 2,500 guitars to Veterans, and their waiting list keeps growing, which is why We Are The Mighty has partnered up with Base*FEST powered by USAA to donate $1 (up to $10k) every time you vote for one of our veteran artists and Mission: Music finalists until Sept. 23, 2017.
Editors’s Note: Voting is now closed. We reached our goal of donating $10k to Guitars for Vets — thank you to all those who supported this program!
The US military destroyed its own anti-ISIS headquarters in Syria, The Wall Street Journal reported Oct. 16, 2019, to prevent them from falling into the hands of fighters backed by Turkey.
According to WSJ, Turkish-backed troops advanced on the facility, which had been used to equip and train SDF fighters against ISIS, on Oct. 15, 2019, leading US officials to quickly withdraw US troops and destroy the base on Oct. 16, 2019.
As the Turkish-back fighters moved closer, US troops attempted to repel them, using F-15s and Apache helicopters as a show of force to warn them away while US troops were still there. But, according to The Wall Street Journal, the airpower failed to dissuade the Turkish-backed forces; SDF fighters fled and set fire to their part of the base, and US troops left before US assets destroyed the base.
Insider reached out to the US operation in Syria to request more information about what assets were used to destroy the base, but did not receive a response by press time. It is also unclear what was being held in the base, although The Wall Street Journal noted that it had previously been used to store light arms and ammunition for the SDF.
An AH-64D Apache Longbow.
Oct. 11, 2019, Turkish forces fired at an American position in Syria; while no casualties were sustained it came after reassurances from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley that Turkey knew where US troops were stationed. An officer familiar with the situation told The Washington Post that the incident was likely not accidental, as Turkish forces were aware of the US position, and had been for months.
“#Coalition forces continue a deliberate withdrawal from northeast #Syria. On Oct. 16, 2019, we vacated the Lafarge Cement Factory, Raqqa, and Tabqah,” Col. Myles. B. Caggins, a spokesperson for the US-led coalition to defeat ISIS, tweeted Oct. 16, 2019, referring to the base, the LaFarge Cement Factory, on which US forces carried out strikes.
Two F-15E Strike Eagles conducted an airstrike on the LaFarge factory to keep munitions and military equipment from the hands of the Turkish-backed armed groups, a coalition spokesman said.
F-15E Strike Eagle.
Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are on their way to Ankara to try and broker a ceasefire. The two officials are set to meet with Erdogan, according to The New York Times.
The US has already imposed sanctions on Turkey due to its incursion in what was Kurdish-controlled northeastern Syria, but pressing pause on a 0 billion trade deal between the two NATO allies and re-imposing a 50% tariff on Turkish steel exports has not deterred Erdogan. Pence and Pompeo, along with the State Department’s special envoy for Syrian affairs James Jeffrey and National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, are expected to threaten harsher sanctions should Erdogan refuse a ceasefire.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Ronny Jackson, the White House physician nominated by President Donald Trump to run the US Department of Veterans Affairs, withdrew his name from consideration for the role on April 26, 2018.
“Unfortunately, because of how Washington works, these false allegations have become a distraction for this president and the important issue we must be addressing — how we give the best care to our nation’s heroes,” Jackson said in a statement.
Jackson found himself in the middle of a runaway scandal this week as multiple accusations of workplace misconduct emerged. Among the claims, which Senate lawmakers were working to verify, Jackson was accused of professional misconduct, including providing “a large supply” of prescription opioids to a White House military officer.
Trump came to Jackson’s defense in an interview with “Fox & Friends” on April 26, 2018, saying, “These are false accusations. These are false— They’re trying to destroy a man.”
Trump also said Jackson had an “unblemished” record.
(Photo by Michael Vadon)
Jackson met with White House officials on April 25, 2018. As he left, Jackson told reporters, “Look forward to talking to you guys in the next few days,” a CNN White House reporter said. The White House later said the decision on whether to withdraw was Jackson’s to make.
Even before the recent allegations, Jackson was already under scrutiny over his qualifications to run the VA, the second-largest federal agency in the US. The management experience required for the role far exceeds what Jackson has previously undertaken. As the White House physician, Jackson led a medical staff of about two dozen people. The VA is a deeply troubled agency with 375,000 employees.
“It’s like having your Uber driver park the space shuttle,” Messina said.
Montel Williams, the former TV talk-show host and a US Marine and US Navy veteran, urged Jackson to withdraw. “This is too much, and Donald never should have put him through this on an impulse,” Williams said on Twitter.
Separately, the misconduct allegations against Jackson have opened up the Trump administration to new criticism over the process by which it vets appointees. Tobe Berkovitz, a political communications expert at Boston University, told The Hill: “It’s one more bit of proof, as if any were needed, that the Trump White House are not exactly the best vetters in the world when it comes to any kind of position.”
Here’s Jackson’s full statement on withdrawing his name:
One of the greatest honors in my life has been to serve this country as a physician both on the battlefield with United States Marines and as proud member of the United States Navy.
It has been my distinct honor and privilege to work at the White House and serve three Presidents.
Going into this process, I expected tough questions about how to best care for our veterans, but I did not expect to have to dignify baseless and anonymous attacks on my character and integrity.
The allegations against me are completely false and fabricated. If they had any merit, I would not have been selected, promoted and entrusted to serve in such a sensitive and important role as physician to three presidents over the past 12 years.
In my role as a doctor, I have tirelessly worked to provide excellent care for all my patients. In doing so, I have always adhered to the highest ethical standards.
Unfortunately, because of how Washington works, these false allegations have become a distraction for this President and the important issue we must be addressing – how we give the best care to our nation’s heroes.
While I will forever be grateful for the trust and confidence President Trump has placed in me by giving me this opportunity, I am regretfully withdrawing my nomination to be Secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
I am proud of my service to the country and will always be committed to the brave veterans who volunteer to defend our freedoms.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Left: Bob Gunton. Right: Bob in Vietnam as an RTO. Photo credit Bob Gunton.
Bob Gunton is a prolific stage actor known for his roles in Evita and Sweeney Todd on Broadway where his most well-known film role is as Warden Norton in The Shawshank Redemption. He served with distinction in the Vietnam War in the last great multi-unit battle of the conflict, The Siege of Firebase Ripcord. This is his story.
Special Note: “Bob Gunton has just completed a memoir entitled “…OR AM I BEING OBTUSE?…”
WATM: Tell me about your family and your life growing up?
My mom and dad met at a USO dance on Santa Monica pier and within two weeks they were married. I am the oldest of six children, three boys and three girls. My parents were from the coal country; my father being from Pennsylvania (Anthracite-hard coal) and my mother being from the coal country of Montana (Bituminous-soft coal), so I have the hard and soft coal running through my blood.
I had been influenced by many folk singers in high school where I was affected by the ethos of folk music through such acts as The Kingston Trio, The Limeliters, The Brothers Four, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan. I put together a trio called The Deacons. We went around to coffee houses to perform, like the Mon Ami in Orange, CA. Around the same time as we performed at Mon Ami, Steve Martin was on the marquee as well since he grew up in Orange County.
I went to the seminary of Paulist Fathers — St. Peter’s College in Baltimore, Maryland for a few years from 1963 to 1966. I had started out as a supporter of the Vietnam War in 1963. I’d even made a speech at my high school for a Toastmasters Speech Contest about the “domino theory,” but then my views changed rather dramatically after the seminary. My opinion shifted especially after Senator Eugene McCarthy and Senator Robert F. Kennedy moved away from the Democratic party line supporting the Vietnam War.
A friend and fellow seminarian classmate arranged for me to audition for his father, Paul Crabtree, who was a successful Broadway actor, writer and director. He’d written a musical called TENNESSEE, USA! for the new theatre he had founded — The Cumberland County Playhouse — in Crossville, Tennessee. It was going to run during the summer between seminary and Novitiate. I had done a couple of operettas in high school. when my thoughts were of making a difference as a priest. After that wonderful summer I recognized that I was gifted far more in music, acting and performing than in what was required to be a good priest. I left the seminary and had gone to UC Irvine to study theater when I dropped out for a semester to do Carousel in Tennessee. I knew I was chancing being. drafted. And when I returned to California, I was.
When I was called up, I had to spend some time thinking if I was a Conscientious Objector (CO). My father had been in the Marine Corps during WWII in the Pacific and I had grown up steeped in WWII history. My father’s six brothers were all WWII veterans as well. By that time, I was opposed to The Vietnam War. I probably could have gotten a CO because of my divinity school experience. But although I was opposed to the Vietnam War, I was not opposed then to a just war in general. I didn’t feel I had the right to be a CO because of my political beliefs. I also had to ask myself if I could measure up to my father, he was a supporter of the war. My father and I had lots of very agitated and loud arguments about the war.
After my time in Vietnam and I had come home I discovered that my father had grown long hair, sideburns and had himself had come to oppose the war. My willingness to go fight may have affected him in some way. While I was in Nam I had been given the Bronze Star with a V (for Valor.) Our local paper had run a story on it. Many years later, when my father passed as the eldest son, I had to clean out his belongings etc. I found in his wallet a folded-up piece of plastic covered newspaper clipping about my Bronze Star award. He had carried it in his wallet for many years. All of this brought us much closer together than in the first twenty years of my life. I had earned his respect and we could speak to each other as not just father and son, but as survivors of conflict.
WATM: What is the most distinct memory of your mother and your father?
Hmm…It’s a memory shared with me after Dad had died. While he was alive my father’s Marine Corps buddy, Robert Newtbaar, had borrowed my father’s dress blues and wanted to return them. When I came to pick them up, he told me a story about my father. When my father and he were on a troop ship heading to Hawaii, then on to the South Pacific, Newtbaar had become very depressed and anxious about what might happen to him. He decided he was going to jump overboard. Newtbaar made a move and was on his way over the rail, when my father dashed over and pulled him back onto ship amid a volley of curses. Newtbaar said very tearfully that my father had saved his life.
After they got back and were mustered out of the Corps, Newtbar, who was from a fairly wealthy family, came to my father with ,000. He loved to hear my father sing, especially Frankie Lane’s hit songs. like “Georgia,” “Jezebel” and “The Flying Dutchman.” Newtbaar told my father he had the most beautiful voice he had ever heard. He wanted my father to go to Hollywood and be a singer.
However, my father already had a wife and two kids and was working in a grocery store. He was in no position to give up his responsibilities for his family in order to pursue a singing career. He’d actually had to rejoin the USMC at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro just to find housing for our family. A few years later Dad suffered an injury in a grocery store in Santa Monica which resulted in a case of amnesia. He eventually recovered from his injury; however, he lost a lot of memories of WWII and the early post war period. We had some pictures from his time in the service. I also learned from his friends some of what my father had experienced. It was touching for Newtbar to share these stories with me and they impacted my life.
My family would occasionally in the summer and drive up to Montana to visit my grandmother and uncle on my mother’s side. Part of the journey up there was along a stretch of highway which was called the Grapevine which is now the I-5, which was full of steep switchbacks and rapid changes of elevation. My father was agoraphobic which I learned through my childhood. As an adult I took my parents NYC and then to Windows on the World, which was a restaurant overlooking the city in the North Tower of the World Trade Center on floors 106 and 107. My father stood at the back of the elevator once the doors opened to the restaurant, saw the tip-tops of skyscrapers. He barely was able to inch his way around with his back against the center walls. It was the most vulnerable I had ever seen him.
The WTC memory makes me flash back to those trips to Montana where my father would look out the window over the rocks and chasms below. After looking he would get anxious and sweaty. My mother would reach out and touch his shoulder. She’d start singing “Whispering Hope”, which is a gospel song, but also popular at the time. As she began singing, my father would join in. All of a sudden, we kids in the back seat, comforted by the sound of their soothing harmony. For us, their duet signified their love for us and their shared history together.
The grapevine highway. Photo credit SVC History.
A view from Windows on the World in the WTC’s North Tower. Photo credit Literary Hub.
WATM: What values were stressed at home?
Our Catholic Faith; our blue-collar status; my parents’ Depression-Era values, sense of responsibility. All of us had to pitch in. My father was self-taught and a great reader but was educated only through the seventh grade. My mother had been a schoolteacher in a one room schoolhouse in Montana. There was a strong expectation that all of us would work hard in school and be a good person. Basic, decent 1950’s values.
Norman Rockwell’s Freedom from Want painting. Photo credit artsy.com.
WATM: What influenced you to join the US Army, what was your experience and what lessons did you take away from your service?
I was drafted. Basic and Advanced Infantry training were tough physically in many ways since I was not particularly athletic. I was appointed cadence caller for our early morning five-mile runs probably because of my loud voice. One of my cadences calls was, “…we are the mighty, mighty mighty Charlie, everywhere we go people want to know who we are, so we tell them, we are Charlie, mighty mighty Charlie…” Classic. Although I sometimes ad libbed a couple, including: “If you got a half a buck….Call someone who gives a (bleep.)” I was sent to Nam near the end of the war during Vietnamization and was put into an S-1 shop for the 101st Airborne in Bien Hoa. What a relief! My thoughts were of a dry hooch, spit-shined boots, pressed combat fatigues, and weekends in Saigon. I lasted at the S-1 just one week. Because American grunts were being phased out of the war, the Division Commander wanted all soldiers with a combat MOS to be sent out into the field to get the ARVN up to speed. I was an 11B-20 –infantry, boonie rat, ground pounder — so off I went to “the bush.”
I was sent up to I Corps in Quang Tri province, in I Corps. I reported to the 2nd of the 501st Battalion Headquarters and then to their Charlie Company, Third Platoon. The platoon leader, SGT Yonashiru, took a look at me — being six feet tall and husky. the PL asked, “who’s the (effing) cherry?” He scoped me out. Given my height and apparent strength he ordered me to take the “gun” or the “radio”. The “gun” was the .50 caliber machine gun. I chose the radio, which seemed kind of “show business” to me. Apparently, some of the grunts initially thought I might be a Criminal Investigation Division (CID) narc because I showed up by myself to the unit with spit shined boots, crisp fatigues. I was also a few years older than the rest of the platoon. I was warned by a fellow soldier about being viewed as a narc and warned me about “fragging.” Fragging described when someone rolls a grenade under another soldier’s hooch to get rid of a “problem”. For the first time in Vietnam I was really scared.
I went into the company area and went up to a soul brother and asked for a doobie. I’d never smoked grass in my life. He handed me a joint. I stood there in the company area and toked up so anyone watching would see. I then went back to my hooch and passed out for like twelve hours. From then on, I was one of the guys and no longer a target of fragging. I was now “in” in the outfit.
Bob in a UH-1N high above Thua Thien Province, Vietnam 1970. Photo credit Bob Gunton
They made me the platoon, eventually company, and then battalion Radio Telephone Operator (RTO). Near the end of my year there in July 1970 our battalion was Op-Con to the 3rd Brigade of the 101st. They were seeking to take over a hilltop above the A Shau Valley where the US had been driven out a few years earlier during the “Hamburger Hill” period. Fire Support Base Ripcord was going to be emplaced during this two-brigade assault operation. At this time, I was just given the battalion RTO job and would be with the battalion CO, XO and the like on Ripcord itself. At the same time, my guys with Charlie company 2nd of the 501st were going to assault the area around FSB Ripcord with fellow companies of the 3rd Brigade. Bn Intel determined that thousands of the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) were going to assault the FSB. A day or two after the Brigade-sized assault on the AO, my former unit was caught in a command detonated ambush followed by an early morning assault by the NVA. All during this time I had been talking on the radio to my guys, handling supply and normal stuff.
One of my best friends there was fellow soldier Joe Patterson, a funny guy and great audience for my shenanigans. The night before they were hit, we were talking on the Delta One radio which was scrambled so the enemy could not intercept our transmissions. He told me, “Gunton, I have a really bad feeling about this one.” There had been no contact yet, but he still felt bad about the operation. Sure enough when the unit was hit, Joey was gravely wounded. I called in the MEDEVAC for him and for our company commander. We had one KIA from Charlie’s Headquarters Company where this soldier had had to go out to replace someone’s weapon and had to stay overnight and was killed during the assault. It was a terribly fraught and frightening time.
Bob along the Song Bo River. Photo credit Bob Gunton.
There were many major encounters around Ripcord which turned out to be the biggest, final, multi-unit battle in Vietnam. There have been books and films about it. We went on like that for about a week or longer. In the Tactical Operations Center (TOC) we had three RTOs. The intel suggested that the firebase itself would soon be under attack. At one point the NVA got really lucky when they shot down a Chinook over the ammo dump as it was unloading ammo. All of the crew survived the crash, but the entire ammo dump started cooking off: phosphorus, artillery, HE and CS rounds. All of that CS gas started infiltrating into the bunkers where none of us had gas masks, so we had to take our t-shirts and wet them to put over our face so as not to be forced out of our bunkers.
At one point I had to urinate really badly. With the rounds cooking off and NVA mortars coming in, I wasn’t about to saunter outside to one of the “Piss tubes.” The bunkers were well constructed and had screen doors. I got to the door and decided I would open the door, step out halfway or so and then take a whiz. I was just about to finish when I heard, “TROOP!” right behind me. It was the brigade commander whose call sign was Black Spade. I stood to attention and zipped up. Other soldiers were in that part of the bunker when the Brigade Commander told me with cold anger:, “if you have to go take a piss, go find a piss tube. We are NOT animals in here.” It was a very embarrassing moment. I felt lower than snake shit. A few days later the Brigade Commander was evaluating positions outside when a mortar round landed directly on him. He and a fellow officer were killed immediately. The terrible irony of that sequence of events rocked me for a while.
Companies then started being extracted from around Ripcord and then it was our HQ’s time to leave. We knew Ripcord was going to be abandoned and the Army would blow up what they could, then carpet bomb it with B-52 strikes. We got back to LZ Sally and all of us in HQ company gets called together. A member of the battalion staff informed us about how two Delta One radios had been left behind in our TOC on Ripcord. The NVA could potentially use those radios against us. They needed two “volunteers” to go back and get them, which really meant the two who were least “short” would go. I was pretty damn short — but not short enough. I went with another younger RTO on a slick (Huey helicopter) to head back up there. On the way out, one of the pilots turned around in the chopper and made a hand dunking motion. Ripcord was taking incoming fire. We had to jump off the helicopter at about five or six feet off the ground as he was not going to land because of the incoming.
We found a hole to jump in and then found the Delta One radios. There were a lot of wounded soldiers that needed to be taken off the fire base before anyone else could go. We knew that no one could head back to base until all the wounded had been evacuated. So me and the other RTO jumped in and helped load the wounded onto slicks while the mortars and rockets continued falling. Just before the sun set over Laos we were able to get on a chopper to head back. I don’t think any of that involved any kind of valor much less heroism, but the battalion commander put us in for Bronze Stars, particularly for the MEDEVAC loading.
The questions of what is cowardice, what is heroism, what is self-preservation have been with me all my life. I’ve even used them in my acting. Everything is shades of gray, especially when it comes to combat and moral decisions that we make. Was I wrong not to go the piss tube with the self-preservation involved and the death of Black Spade as he followed his own advice and left the 3rd Brigade without leadership for a while. These experiences have definitely shaped my moral view of the universe. I have to accept that even the worst situations, the best remedies are going to be mixed. How we are trained, our wisdom, and education play their parts in our decisions and choices. But we are human, have mixed emotions, and inner conflicts. I have applied these in my life successfully and unsuccessfully.
MEDEVACs are miles ahead of what we had in Vietnam. There was an instance where a soldier from our recon platoon left the wire at night to take a crap. One of his buddies mistakenly set off a claymore on him and killed him. When the chopper came in to evac the body there were huge winds in the AO and they could not get a jungle penetrator through the triple canopy jungle to get the body out so they threw the soldiers a body bag. The soldiers then had to hump the corpse out for three or four days to get to a place where the chopper could get in.
I helped prevent a mutiny earlier that year where a loach (OH-6 Cayuse helicopter) had been shot down where I was a company RTO then. Our company was tasked to go down into this valley area to find the chopper to see if the pilot had survived. Our company commander was against the war and did all he could to stay out of it. He was one of the only officers I had met like that. The company commander wouldn’t lead down and the battalion commander call sign Driver had to fly out. The company commander was ordered to go down after being chewed out by the battalion CO and I told him, “we got a lawful order to go down and we needed to go otherwise this is bad stuff.” We did end up following orders to go down where we found the loach with the pilot dead. The pilot’s body was able to be sent back to Graves and Registration for eventual burial. I was against the war but found myself on the other side of the argument with the company commander. It was gray even then and was not cut and dried. Our mission was, for most of us, to save each other and our buddies got back.
Charlie company had its 50th reunion, almost 50 years to the day many were injured including Joey Patterson at the FSB Ripcord battle. Due to Covid-19 I was not able to fly out to Pennsylvania. However, I did do a Zoom call and got see them all and meet their wives. Joey and I caught up as well. It was a great virtual reunion due to the COVID pandemic. Keeping the threads of your life together along the way can give you a better sense of where you are from and going.
WATM: What values have you carried over from the Army into acting and film?
When filming a movie, you are all in it together where everyone has their own duty. The expectation is that everyone knows exactly what they have to do and to do it as quickly and gracefully as they can. It includes keeping spirits up when waiting out a rainstorm to restart filming and when moving locations and loading up the trucks is like heading to another combat assault. So, I must have my shit together and know my lines cold. There is a lot that carries over from being in the military to working on a film production. You depend on each other and don’t want a weak link and sure as hell don’t want to be that weak link.
WATM: What is the most fulfilling stage and/or film role you have done?
Warden Norton from The Shawshank Redemption without a doubt is the best role I have ever had. It is the best movie I have ever been in. I have been back to many reunions and celebrations at the prison. People go to visit the prison and stay overnight. They even have a Shawshank trail where people get to see all the outside filming locations and then take a tour of the prison where it has artifacts from the movie. I have been to every continent except Antarctica and everywhere I go people come up to me to speak about The Shawshank Redemption. People come up to me in Europe, South America, Australia where to be a part of a movie that is such high quality and well-known across the board is truly a blessing.
I was invited to Akron for a special day celebrating Shawshank Redemption and by the local AA Akron baseball team the Rubber Ducks to throw out the first pitch. They also ordered from China a thousand bobble head Warden Nortons. The first thousand people to come in would get one where I would sign them. I have one for myself and have given a few away too.
*He shares some of the best quotes people request when he signs autographs from the film are, “Put your trust in the Lord; your ass belongs to me,” “Lord, it’s a miracle! The man up and vanished like a fart in the wind,” and “…or am I being obtuse.”
Mr. Gunton as Warden Samuel Norton of Shawshank State Prison. Photo credit to IMDB.com
Mr. Gunton in Akron with the Warden Norton bobble head. Photo credit Lake Highlands Advocate.
WATM: What was your experience like in working with such theatrical talents as Hal Prince, Patti LuPone, Theodore Mann, Susan H. Schulman, Beth Fowler and then with such film talents such as Oliver Stone, Tim Robbins, Frank Darabont, Clint Eastwood, Sly Stallone, Sandra Bullock and the like?
Hal Prince was a key person in my career and am grateful to him. Oliver Stone was interesting and challenging — a brilliant man. I enjoyed working with Robin Williams perhaps more than anyone else. Jim Carrey is a deep thinker as well as being very charming, well-read and generous. Jim was extremely funny as well. I have liked most everyone I have worked with.
I got to play a chaplain in a film with Stacey Keach named Mission of the Shark: The Saga of the USS Indianapolis. I enjoy playing priests and military personnel because I feel I can put a little spin on the ball and make them more interesting and factual. My chaplain character got eaten by a shark. I had to do some tricky timing with holding my breath for the scenes of being eaten by the shark. Two divers were holding my feet where they start shaking me and then pull me down really fast. If my timing wasn’t spot on in taking in breath, then having to hold it while they release a blood bag, to show his guy is really gone it can be problematic. It was tricky to film, but nothing like the crew from the Indianapolis though. Floating on a funky, tiny life-raft, off the coast of the Bahamas, with Stacy Keach and I laughing our butts off, was not a hardship assignment.
Working with Clint Eastwood was good. He has a fantastic crew. He was a gentlemen and one of the quietest directors I have ever worked for. He got that from doing so many Westerns where a director would yell “action” and people would get thrown off their horse when it bolted from the shouting. Instead of “action” Clint would just quietly say, “go ahead.”
I have maintained close ties with the Paulist Fathers even done work for Paulist Productions as well. In the film Judas shot in Morocco in 2004, on a huge set representing The Temple in Jerusalem, I played the High Priest Caiphas. Hotter than blazes in very authentic robes etc. But I really enjoyed it.
Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton and Clancy Brown in The Shawshank Redemption.
WATM: What leadership lessons in life and from the Army have helped you most in your career?
After my service I went to NY hoping for a career in Theater. Many of my peers had gone to Yale or Julliard or Northwestern and other great schools. I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder. It wasn’t about their not serving in the war, it was because I felt they had a two- or three-year head start on their careers. Establishing a career in theater means doing low paying jobs, children’s theater and dinner theater etc. out in the boondocks. Then, if you are fortunate you work your way up to Broadway. These guys had already networked with people from their professional schools and had jumped ahead of me. I felt I had missed out on that networking.
While on Broadway after finishing “Evita” my agent told me about a play I should look at doing off-off Broadway, with no pay. Having just come from a big Broadway musical hit it didn’t sound that appetizing it was entitled “How I Got That Story”. It was about Vietnam. There were only two actors. One of the roles was a journalist and the other role was every person in Vietnam that the journalist runs into while trying to get the story of why we were in Vietnam and what it all meant. 22 different characters! Because I had been there and seen and heard and lived with a wide range of people, both genders and three races, I knew who these people were, how they spoke, walked and behaved. The roster of characters included: a Madame Nhu character, a nun, a crazy photographer, a Viet Cong officer and, most surprisingly, a 16-year-old Vietnamese bar girl. The man who wrote this play had served as a CO medic in Vietnam. I told my agent: “I don’t care if I don’t get paid, I have to do this.”
We performed in a tiny rooftop theater behind the building where John Lennon had been killed. The play got excellent reviews and was covered by many journalists who’d gotten their start serving in Vietnam as reporters. It got a lot of ink in all the newspapers, especially in the New York Times. We eventually transferred to an actual Off-Broadway theater in the theater district and we ran for nine months or so. The main thing is everyone in town saw that show including casting directors, fellow actors, movie directors including Alan Pakula (To Kill a Mockingbird, All the President’s Men, Sophie’s Choice). Alan came backstage after a performance. He said he wanted me to play an Arab in the film Rollover. He asked to meet a couple of days later where we talked mostly about Vietnam and the movie. I never auditioned. I knew he was going to have me do it and he did! It was the largest salary I had ever had for acting up to that point and opened a myriad of doors for me.
“How I Got That Story” really kicked off my career as a dramatic actor and not just a song and dance guy. At the Opening Night Party we had among others, the founders of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Also Ed Murphy, my seminarian buddy, who had served in Vietnam as well. This entire chapter was like karma where nothing is ever wasted; that there is always something that even terrible experiences can feed your soul or change your life. In a good way. If, of course, you survive it.
Vietnam was tough, sad, and frightening, although we also often laughed our asses off with our morbid humor in part to expel our anxiety. Vietnam served an important role in my character development as well as my work in theater and in films.
On a side note, Afghanistan is one of the few wars I can say, “yeah we belong there.” We need to be there to keep them from doing anything like what happened on 9/11 ever again. I’d sign up, but I don’t think that they would have me.
“How I Got That Story” featured in the NYT from the Feb 18th, 1982 paper. Photo credit nytimes.com.
WATM: As a veteran, how do we get more veteran stories told in the Hollywood and stage arena?
We need to encourage veterans who have a story to tell them. We have had some good recent movies like American Sniper and The Hurt Locker. Most people who don’t have military experience hear our stories finding them exotic and dramatic. It is life and death with a cast of interesting characters. As an Army draftee I saw the full spectrum of humanity which makes for a lot of interesting stories.
WATM: What are you most proud of in life and your career?
Being a father to my daughter, Olivia. And happily married to a former high school classmate, Carey. Career-wise Shawshank and my last Broadway show, “Sweeney Todd”, which is the toughest stage role I had ever attempted and was well received. It felt like climbing Mount Everest to do it. It was my “swan song” to Broadway and am glad to have gone out on top. I am proud of my friendships from the seminary, Vietnam, theater and fellow film actors. I am also proud to have made it to this age and to still be working.
Defense Department officials told lawmakers Wednesday they hope to forgive about 90 percent of cases involving thousands of California National Guard members that auditors say received improper bonuses during the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It is my hope that by the end of the year, we will have something between 1,000 and 2,000 cases total out of the universe of 17,000 that are subject to review,” Peter Levine, undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, told members of the House Armed Services Committee.
Levine was among Pentagon and Army National Guard officials who testified at the Dec. 7 hearing to tell lawmakers how the Pentagon plans to resolve what some are calling a betrayal of the troops by next summer and prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.
“Compensation, whether it is a bonus for a service agreement or regular pay, is an obligation to our service members and their families that they should not have to worry about,” said Rep. Joseph Heck, a Republican from Nevada and chairman of the panel’s Military Personnel Subcommittee.
“I find it unacceptable that we would place the additional burden of years of concern about the legitimacy of a bonus payment or a student loan repayment on those who volunteer to serve,” he added.
Lawmakers have come up with a compromise as part of the National Defense Authorization Act that calls on the Pentagon to forgive the enlistment bonuses and student loan benefits unless the soldier who received the money “knew or reasonably should have known” that he or she was ineligible for it.
The Los Angeles Times/Tribune Washington Bureau reported last month that the Pentagon was demanding repayment of enlistment bonuses given to California Guard soldiers to help fill enlistment quotas for the wars. Many of the soldiers served in combat, and some returned with severe injuries.
Many of soldiers were told to repay bonuses of $15,000 or more years after they had completed their military service. Student loan repayments, which were also given out improperly to soldiers with educational loans, sometimes totaled as much as $50,000.
“Many reasons these cases are particularly troublesome,” Levine said. “Many of them are based on a technical deficiency.
“Particularly in cases like this, where we have a service member who made a commitment on the basis of a bonus and served out that commitment, so when we come in later after someone has fulfilled their commitment and then question on a technical ground why they received a bonus in the first place — that is a particular hardship,” he said.
There are two basic categories of cases, Levine said. One type involves about 1,400 cases already ordered to pay back bonuses. The second category of 16,000 cases involves soldiers who were put under suspicion or threat of recoupment of bonuses they received.
“For those cases that are in recoupment, we have the question of, ‘Are we going to dismiss the case? Are we going to forgive the debt? Are we going to repay the soldier if we decide it was improper?’ ” Levine said.
Through detailed screenings, “It’s my hope we can get from about 1,400 down to about 700 … that’s a goal; I don’t know what exact numbers we can get to.”
As for the larger category of about 16,000 cases, “We have greater discretion because we haven’t yet established the debt yet,” Levine said.
Several “rules of thumb” will be established in an attempt to:
— Screen out cases that are more than 10 years old.
— Screen out cases with a debt of $10,000 or less.
— Screen out most of the cases that involve enlisted members and lower ranking members without prior service on the basis that it’s unlikely they would be able to understand their contract fully without assistance.
“As we go through those screens from that second universe of 16,000 or so cases, I expect to reduce that by about 90 percent, so we get down to about 10 percent,” Levine said. “We will then put that universe through the kinds of substantive screens, and I hope to get that down further.
“The objective is to find that easy ones first, get rid of those, tell people ‘we are not pursuing you … we are telling you, you are off the hook; we are done with you,’ so we can focus our resources on the cases that are the most significant.”
Many lawmakers said they felt the California Guard scandal severely damaged the trust of current Guard members across the country.
“In some of these cases, there have been troops — through no fault of their own — that are suffering the consequences,” said Rep. Paul Cook, a Republican from California. “It’s our fault, and I use that word collectively on behalf of all officers that are in positions of authority. We betrayed the trust of the troops, and there is no excuse for that.”
Rep. Susan Davis, a Democrat from the state, said it’s “critically important that we do not forget service members and their families that have been deeply affected by this.”
“Once these families have encountered financial hardships, we know it can be truly difficult to recover. Even if we return their bonus, we have already upended their lives by creating unnecessary emotional stress and financial instability.”
Army Master Sgt. Toni Jaffe, the California Guard’s incentive manager, pleaded guilty in 2011 to filing false claims of $15.2 million and was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison.
But National Guard officials told lawmakers that many others were held accountable, including leaders who failed to provide proper oversight, said Maj. Gen. David S. Baldwin, adjutant general for the California National Guard.
“We punished, within the California National Guard, 61 people — including firing four general officers and two full colonels,” Baldwin said.
The Department of Justice prosecuted 44 soldiers. Of those, 26 were found guilty and convicted, Baldwin said. Another 15 cases are pending, and the remainder were either dismissed or acquitted, Baldwin said.
Lt. Gen. Timothy Kadavy, director of the Army National Guard, told lawmakers that the National Guard Bureau has taken steps to prevent this from happening again.
In 2010, the bureau conducted a review of all incentive programs across all states territories and the District of Columbia and found “no systemic fraud,” Kadavy said.
In 2012, the National Guard stood up the Guard Incentive Management System, or GIMS, which now provides “a centralized oversight program for bonus and incentive payments,” he said.
In 2016, the Army Audit Agency conducted an “external review” of GIMS and validated its effectiveness, Kadavy said. Auditors found that the system “substantially improved the controls of eligibility monitoring and payment phases of the incentive process.”
Despite the steps being taken to resolve the problem, officials admitted that they should have known about this a lot sooner.
“We have oversight on the California National Guard, the Army has oversight, the National Guard Bureau has oversight,” Levine said. “We were not aware of this until we read it in the newspaper, and that is on us; we missed this.”
Companies grateful for the military’s service show their appreciation each year with free or discounted meals. Every Nov. 11, troops and vets map out an itinerary to maximize the best day ever.
The festivities can begin a week in advance and many troops stick with their tried and true classics. Cracker Barrel for breakfast, Red Robin for lunch, Hooter’s for Dinner, Old Chicago for beer and pizza with buddies.
If you really want to maximize your day, throw in a few things to do between meals. Be sure to grab your military or veteran ID and said buddies to share the Saturday of freebies with!
You can’t go out looking like a slob and expect civilians to take you seriously. After breakfast, why not grab a free haircut?
There are countless local and chain barbershops this year — too many to name. Everyone from Great Clips and Super Cuts to that place you like down the road (probably) are giving free hair cuts.
Give them a call in advance to verify.
Free Oil Change
If that light has been on for a bit too long on your dashboard, now is the time to get it checked out. You’ll need your car working in the best shape if you plan on driving all over for more deals.
Car care centers are also giving free oil changes including Meineke, Jiffy Lube, and many other local auto shops. Give them a call in advance to make sure.
Free Car Wash
Speaking of car care things people have been pushing off for too long, it’s time to get your car cleaned if you plan on showing up in style.
The organization Grace For Vets is working with over 3,215 car wash locations across the world to offer free car washes for veterans.
And to round the night out before the bars start opening up, have everyone meet up at the bowling ally for a game on the house. If you live near a Main Event bowling center, you even get a free entrée and $10 FUNcard to use at that location.
Many locations also offer free bowling Saturday, as with all the other fun deals, be sure to call in advance so you don’t end up being “that guy” who makes a scene about not getting a free round of bowling.
Free Wedding Dress
If you’ve got that one perfect date set in mind, now is the time to check one more thing off that list if you, or your fiancé, are military or a first responder.
Hands down the most impressive freebie this year is a free wedding dress. Granted, there are many stipulations on this one including: wedding in the next 18 months, you or your fiancé deployed in the last 5 years or about to deploy, and only certain deployed locations count. But submarine, Navy, and Special Ops orders all count. You can also qualify if you’ve had a civil ceremony in the past and are now planning a formal wedding.
There’s no way to finish a perfect day of freebies than by having a beer on the house.
Places like Mockery Brewing in Denver and Beer Park at Paris Las Vegas is offering up your first beer free while the First Division Museum is giving two “tastings.” Orlando Brewing in Orlando, FL; 38 State Brewing Co in Littleton, CO; and Blackfinn Ameripub in Vienna, VA all have variations on a “buy a vet a beer” program.
Many more exist out there. It all depends on how your local bar is handling it. Chances are, if you’re a regular and they know you’re a vet, the bartender will probably just slide you one on the house.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been called many things — crazy, mad, insane, and “rocket man” — because of his program to build nuclear bombs and missiles capable of launching the weapons to the U.S.
But experts say he is not crazy to want a nuclear arsenal. And Kim doesn’t necessarily want nukes because of a desire to use them on the U.S. or any other country, contrary to what bellicose political rhetoric might suggest.
“He is not crazy — he has consolidated control over that country in a very effective and ruthless manner,” Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear-policy expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, told Business Insider. “He’s just willing to do really terrible things to protect himself, which I think tells us something about the credibility of their nuclear threat.”
Such a threat is the purpose of the weapons, Lewis says, but almost certainly not their goal.
“If I were Kim Jong Un, I would want nuclear weapons, too,” added Lewis, who also publishesArms Control Wonk, a site about nuclear arms control, disarmament, and nonproliferation.
Here are the most likely reasons Kim wants a nuclear arsenal.
The U.S. has a track record of breaking its word with rulers
A watershed moment for U.S.-North Korea relations occurred during the Bush administration in the mid-2000s: the six-party talks, initiated after questionable accusations that North Korea was cheating on an agreement not to pursue the production of nuclear materials led to its collapse.
“They very sincerely tried to put Humpty Dumpty back together again,” Lewis said.
But one of the problems the Bush administration ran into was the U.S.’s track record with Iraq, formerly led by Saddam Hussein.
“How do you assure the North Koreans, when they sign a deal, that they don’t end up like Saddam? Because Saddam had actually given them the WMDs, and we still went ahead and said he had them, and we still went ahead and invaded,” Lewis said, using the abbreviation for weapons of mass destruction.
The Americans “realized they had to find a way to convey to Pyongyang that if they went ahead and gave up their nuclear program, we wouldn’t invade them,” Lewis added.
So, Lewis said, the Bush administration pointed to how the U.S. had held up its end of a disarmament agreement with Libya and its ruler at the time, Muammar Gaddafi.
“I know why they did it at the time — it was the right decision,” Lewis said. “But we had a disarmament deal with that guy. We told the North Koreans to go look at how well things had worked out with Libya, and then we turned around and toppled the Libyan government.”
These foreign policy decisions happened during the rule of Kim Jong Il, the father of Kim Jong Un. But his son has not forgotten them.
“Kim Jong Un, I think, is fearful of ending up like Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi,” Lewis said. “He is terrified that we will do to him what we did to them and has decided that nuclear weapons are the best way to ward that off.”
It’s unlikely North Korea has nuclear and thermonuclear weapons as reliable as those in the U.S.’s arsenal, if North Korea has deliverable weapons at all. But Lewis says this doesn’t really matter in the big picture.
“Every military system has developmental problems and issues, and maybe not work as well as it should,” Lewis said. “But they have all of the skills and expertise in place, and they’ve demonstrated the vast majority of things.”
He added: “If tomorrow they were going to put a nuclear weapon on a missile and fire it at my house, and you asked me, ‘How do you like your odds?’ I would say, ‘I don’t like my odds at all.’ … This is now a serious-enough capability that we have to start assuming, on a bad day, a lot of their stuff is going to go well.”
But nuclear weapons as a stick against the U.S. is not the only reason North Korea wants them.
“I am sure if given the choice between controlling North Korea or North Korea and South Korea, he would clearly prefer to control everything,” Lewis said. “I don’t think, though, that this explains their nuclear behavior.”
That may be because Kim’s ability to take over South Korea — at least not as a smoldering crater — is virtually nil. Lewis also says North Korea isn’t building the kinds of nukes “that would be consistent with that goal.”
What is possible, if not likely — and perhaps surprising to many Americans — is that North Korea sees obtaining nuclear weapons as a way to improve its relations with other countries, including the U.S.
Lewis, who has studied the history of China’s nuclear-weapons program, says it has many similarities to North Korea’s path toward nuclearization.
China set off its first nuclear device in 1964 during the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson, and two years later it launched a live nuclear warhead atop a missile to prove the capabilities of its program. The U.S.’s view of these events during the Cold War was grim. But over time, something shocking transpired.
“If you had gone into Lyndon Johnson’s office in October 1964 and said, ‘The Chinese are about to test a nuclear weapon,’ he would have said, ‘That’s terrible,'” Lewis said.
“But if you would have then said, ‘No, no, no, it’s great — this is really going to improve Chinese security, and as a consequence of that, China is going to reorient its foreign policy, and they’re going to become anti-Soviet and pro-American, and we’re going to have a diplomatic relationship with them,’ Johnson would have asked you: ‘Really? What president is going to go to China and meet with Mao Zedong?’ And you would have said, ‘Richard Nixon.’ Then he would have thrown you out of its office and said you were an idiot.”
But that is exactly what happened: When China’s proven nuclear capabilities deterred U.S. military action and opened the door for increased local aggression or international diplomacy, China chose the latter.
“The reason it happened is because the people who wanted nuclear weapons in China also wanted a better relationship with the United States,” Lewis said.
His point is that North Korea’s motivations, notwithstanding its accusations of horrifying human-rights abuses, may not be so nefarious as rhetoric and propaganda suggest when it comes to nukes. In fact, it could be that North Korean nuclear scientists see themselves more as doves than hawks.
But the country’s direction is ultimately up to its leader.
“It is possible that the North Koreans will take the security they are given by these weapons and spend it on being awful — sinking more South Korean ships, shelling more South Korean islands, initiating more crises,” Lewis said. “It will depend on how the North Koreans choose to act now that they have this capability. They could be easier to get along with; they could be worse.”
Instead of always assuming the worst, we should practice being “more neutral” about how having nuclear weapons might change North Korea, Lewis said.
“I don’t want to be optimistic, because it could really, truly go either way — North Korea could become more aggressive; North Korea could become less aggressive,” Lewis said. “But we should wait and see.”
He added: “You don’t want to prejudge something like that and foreclose what could be a chance at peace.”
But this likely isn’t the U.S.’s current thinking. President Donald Trump has expressed hopes to expand nuclear-weapons capabilities, and American military forces appear to be quietly training to face a conflict on the Korean Peninsula.
Seldom has there been a public servant who cares more about the people he represents than Robert Gates — and no one more bipartisan. The onetime U.S. Air Force officer has worked under eight administrations, held the post of Director of Central Intelligence, and, of course, was once the Secretary of Defense. The former Cold Warrior has a Ph.D. in Soviet History, but keeps a firm grasp on the nation’s security needs, even today.
And he has a solution for the government shutdown and the border security issue and is calling on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue to “put the interests of the country above their power struggles and political mud wrestling.”
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates reviews troops at the Armed Forces Farewell Tribute at the Pentagon, June 30, 2011.
(DoD photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley)
In a recent Wall Street Journal opinion piece, elder statesman Gates chides both the Democratic members of Congress as well as President Trump and his Republican support for the impasse that has left thousands of federal employees into forced joblessness, or worse: forced, unpaid labor. He calls out both sides of government for the hypocrisy and the misinformation they spread trying to get their way.
All while reminding everyone who’s getting stuck in the middle of the fighting. It isn’t al-Qaeda, ISIS, or drug traffickers. He says, “all those involved share responsibility for the fiasco and its lamentable consequences for millions of Americans.”
But his solution isn’t to think smaller, he wants the United States to think big.
President George W. Bush, and Secretary of Defense nominee Robert Gates, right, look-on as Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld addresses the nation during a news conference from the Oval Office, shortly after the President announced his replacement.
Gates sees the current deal offered by the Trump Administration to House Democrats — building his proposed .7 billion border wall in exchange for a reprieve on deportations for “dreamers” affected by the end of DACA — as too small. Instead, he believes the United States should look to President George W. Bush’s 2006 border security proposal for the solution.
Bush called for a mix of border security increases along with immigration reform measures, recognizing that deporting all 11 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S. at the time was not only too costly, but likely impossible. Bush’s reform measures would have made it possible for all illegals working in the country to be counted — and taxed. It also allowed them to stay where they live without the fear of deportation.
Gates with then-President George H.W. Bush
The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill of 2006 was a draft reform bill focused solely on the border areas, and had wide bipartisan support. Illegal immigrants in the U.S., for a certain number of years, could apply for citizenship after paying back taxes and fines. Others who have been in the U.S. not as long could stay, but would have to leave and apply for entry abroad. Most importantly, it shifted the focus to skilled workers from high-tech fields, allowing them special authorizations to stay longer.
In terms of border security, the bill added increased federal- and state-level funding for vastly more fencing, vehicle barriers, surveillance technology, and nearly double the personnel manning those measures. The Senate passed the bill easily, by a nonpartisan vote of 62-36, but the House of Representatives never voted on the measure, and the bill expired at the end of that year’s Congress.
When August O’Niell, a member of an elite special forces group, woke up from routine surgery, it only took one look at his mother’s face to tell something went horribly wrong.
She was with the doctor. “Are you awake? Are you able to talk now?” the doctor asked. “I have woken you up halfway through the surgery. There was so much scar tissue …”
O’Niell had already endured 19 grueling surgeries in the three-and-a-half years since a rifle round mangled his leg while he was on deployment in Afghanistan. He woke up hoping this 20th surgery would finally allow him to have a functional knee. But he quickly learned his left leg would never fully function again.
The entire left side was mostly scar tissue. The skin, tendons and muscle were all adhered straight to the bone in one solid layer. Given the extent of the damage, a knee replacement was going to give him less than 14 degrees of movement.
“You will be in less pain, and I can put it in there if you tell me that’s what you want,” the doctor told him. “But I didn’t feel right putting that in there without telling you that it wasn’t going to be what we thought it was going to be at first.”
“There’s so much scar tissue in there, it’ll be impossible for you to have a functional knee.”
O’Niell was an Air Force pararescueman, a para-jumper or “PJ,” as they are known in the service. He was the elite of the elite, in charge of rescuing the most drastically injured troops, and even top special operators, in dire circumstances. He loved being a PJ, and wanted nothing more than to be back in the field, jumping out of helicopters and saving wounded comrades. The diagnosis he now faced was tough, but without missing a beat, he made up his mind.
“Don’t worry about it, I’m gonna have it amputated,” he said.
Dumbfounded, the doctor asked if he was sure. O’Niell was sure. After 20 surgeries and years of unsuccessful treatment, he was done with experiments.
He allowed himself what he called a “ten minute boo-hoo session.” It wasn’t so much about losing the leg, as it was learning this particular surgery was a fail. He had been looking forward to some relief from the constant pain of his injury.
But none of that mattered now. It was time to move on. He had seen troops with major amputations make remarkable progress on prosthetics in a little as six months while he was in rehab, and here he was after more than three years barely hopping along on crutches. He thought of the amputees he had seen running on prosthetic legs and had a moment of inspiration, and it occurred to him that if he could run again, he could be a PJ again.
That was all the motivation he needed to greenlight the removal of his leg.
A Faucet Of Blood
It happened when O’Niell was halfway through his deployment to Afghanistan on July 15, 2011. The U.S. had begun drawing down forces two days before, but the notoriously violent Sangin Valley was as deadly as ever. O’Niell and his team got a call that a group of Marines were under fire. Two were injured, one critically, after taking a shot in the chest. O’Niell’s team was headed back to base after working all day, but immediately turned around to rescue the injured Marines.
The PJs came onto the scene in two Pavehawk helicopters, one leading the other. They circled in shifts. One would provide watch and draw the enemy’s attention, while the other went into the zone to rescue the wounded.
As O’Neill’s helicopter was about to take a turn going in for the wounded, his team got word that another Marine had been hit. O’Niell was lead medic for the operation, and told his team leader to let the team in the helicopter behind them go into the zone, since it had three PJ medics on board, while they provided cover.
“So it’s better patient care, you know, one medic per patient,” O’Niell told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
O’Niell’s helicopter then flew over the zone, dropped smoke grenades and popped back up so the second helicopter knew where to land. The tactic has the dual purpose of attracting enemy fire, and was successful in doing so.
“It works like a charm,” O’Neill said. “We came up over the smoke and popped up and we caught all that fire. They started shooting up at our bird, and one of the rounds, when they shot up, bounced off the door where I was sitting in the left door. [It] bounced off the doorway and then went through both of my legs.”
O’Niell initially he thought a flare had bounced off the door and hit his knee. He looked over the edge of the chopper, and then the pain hit him.
“Ah, they shot me!” he yelled while grabbing the top of the Pavehawk to pull himself back. He saw a hole in the side of the leg of his pants where the bullet had entered. “It just looked like someone had turned a faucet on, it was pouring blood,” he said.
His team leader instinctively jumped towards him, putting one of O’Niell’s tourniquets on his legs. He was in critical condition, forcing the helicopter to return home. Fortunately, a second PJ team was deployed with Apache helicopters in tow when O’Niell returned. They were able to extract the Marines and take out the enemy forces in the area.
O’Niell was well known to the medical staff at the base. He and his fellow PJs would often help out with the injured between shifts in order to keep their medical skills sharp. The hospital pulled a surgeon to try to save O’Neill’s leg. He was woken up after the doctors fixed an artery, and informed he would be moved to Bagram air base.
“Not until I get my re-enlisting paperwork,” O’Niell said.
“Now that’s the type of dude we need!” a nearby officer said excitedly. O’Niell was told it was an Army general. The paperwork was there waiting for him when he got to Bagram. His brother, an Air Force officer who is now also a PJ, swore him back in while he was in Landstuhl, Germany for another round of surgeries.
O’Niell wasn’t sure what he wanted to do when he joined the Air Force in 2005, but he was certain he didn’t want to be behind a desk. The Air Force occasionally gets chided as the “Chair Force” by the other services, and O’Niell knew he wanted to be doing something active. He became interested in the pararescue and combat controller jobs. A recruiter warned him that either would be tough, but assured him he wouldn’t see much of a desk.
The medical aspect of the PJs also appealed to O’Niell. His father, a retired Air Force major, had encouraged him to stay in college and become a doctor. He figured the PJs would keep him from a desk job and make his father happy.
“I just went with it,” O’Niell explained. “I joined it not really knowing anything about it except for we jump out of planes and do cool guy stuff.”
Most people have never heard of the PJs, even inside the special operations community. It’s a remarkably small force whose work is often overlooked.
They’re are a remarkable combination of expert shooters, skydivers and medics. A PJ can shoot with the top Marines, save lives like the best Navy medical corpsmen and jump out of planes like an Army Ranger. They even do their fair share of diving. This remarkable combination is why becoming a PJ is one of the hardest things you can do in the military.
“You need to be able to deal with all situations between the top of Mount Everest and 130 feet below the ocean — and in all environments, all weather conditions, all light conditions,” Nic McKinley, a former PJ, told TheDCNF. “And you need to be able to deal with them in a way that mitigates risk to the extent that you will live through those missions, because, you know, there is nobody to go get the PJs if the PJ’s gonna patrol.”
Training for the group, known as “The Pipeline,” has one of the highest attrition rates of any program in the armed forces. O’Niell started training in a class of 110. Nine would make it through. For McKinley, that was a big draw factor.
“I’m a big data guy,” he told TheDCNF. “I really like the numbers and the facts, and I don’t like your opinion.”
On the basis of data, McKinley found the PJs to be the toughest. “You know, they can get into arguments about why, or any of the subjective stuff, but the objective data shows that it’s harder,” he told TheDCNF.
Special operators often debate about who is the toughest, but one thing is clear: when the SEALs, Green Berets and Marines need saving in the worst conditions, they call the PJs.
The training puts a massive strain on your mental strength.
“You can’t just have a high level physical performance and ride on that, you also have to be able to think at a high level,” McKinley said. “Pararescue teams expect you to be able to do everything, and if you can’t do it at a high level, you need to go succeed elsewhere.”
The entire process takes between two and three years. After basic training, a would-be PJ starts “The Pipeline” with an indoctrination course at Lackland Air Force Base, which consists of ten weeks of intense physical training including obstacle courses, running and swimming.
“That’s where they test your mental and physical limits … push every button they can,” O’Niell told TheDCNF.
No aspect of indoctrination training so utterly punishes the mental toughness of a PJ than “The Pool.” Technically known as “water confidence training,” the Pool is known for chewing up even the most elite athletes in the program.
Would-be PJs are expected to swim laps under water, tie complex knots at the pool bottom, bob up and down with hands and ankles tied (an exercise known as “drown proofing”) and wrestle underwater with an instructor while not being allowed to fight back, according to former PJ Matt White. His solution? Just don’t breathe.
“When your fingers go number tying a knot, you can panic,” he wrote in a piece for Task and Purpose. “Or you can relax. When an instructor pushes you to the bottom of the pool and stands on your head, what can you do? You can quit. Or you can relax.”
PJs who survive indoctrination go on to a combat diver course in Panama City, Florida for six weeks, then to survival school in Spokane, Washington. Next they pay a visit to Army Airborne School, where they learn to jump out of planes, before heading to either Army or Navy free-fall skydiving school, located in Yuma, Arizona and San Diego, California respectively.
Once a PJ candidate is a honed warrior they attend 37 weeks of various medical courses. Trainees are expected to get their national paramedic certification within two months of medical training, a task which normally takes six months.
The Pararescue Recovery Specialist Course puts everything a PJ trainee has learned together in a 24-week course which includes shooting, jumping and full mock mission profiles. Upon completion, a PJ is given a maroon beret and assigned a team. A PJ is then expected to to do on the job training with his team to become mission qualified.
O’Niell deployed to Afghanistan with about 20 people rotating in six man teams. He recalled flying approximately eight missions per shift, all of them being worst case scenarios. He acknowledged that war is terrible, but said he loved Afghanistan because he got to do his job.
“It’s very satisfying when you have a guy [that] easily ten minutes later … would’ve been just dead, and you were able to get him, get pain meds onboard, get blood onboard, and see this guy who wasn’t even responding all of a sudden start blinking up at you and you’re like: ‘Hey man, you’re going to be good,'” said O’Niell. “And then you go and check with the hospital, they’re like ‘Yea, he’s on his way home,’ and it’s just awesome.”
When asked how many people he’s saved, O’Niell said he never kept count.
Road To Recovery
His job cost him a leg and years of pain and surgeries, but O’Niell is laser focused on returning to the fray. There was not a hint of regret or doubt in his voice when he recalled his harrowing experience to TheDCNF. He detailed his injury like the challenges presented by one of his missions, by focusing on solutions to problems.
Step one of O’Niell’s road back to the PJ teams was to get acquainted with his new prosthetic leg. Fortunately, the Center for the Intrepid fitted him with one of the most advanced models available.
“It’s an Ottobock X3, and it’s awesome,” he said.
The leg is completely waterproof, and comes with an app that lets O’Niell switch between four modes suited for various kinds of situations. He detailed it like a piece of high-tech military equipment.
“I’ve got a boxing mode, which basically doesn’t allow the knee bend more than 14 degrees, that way I can throw a punch and don’t have to worry about the knee buckling. And I can, you know, bob and weave on it,” O’Niell said. “I’ve got a running mode, I’ve got the basic walking mode which is just the everyday mode, and I’ve got a jump mode, which keeps the knee from bending past ninety degrees while I’m jumping so that way I can fly flat dumb and happy, as we say, and not worry about backsliding.”
His injury was not the least bit apparent when I met him for the first time in an Air Force office in Manhattan, except for the presence of his service dog, Kai. O’Niell walked through the door and shook hands much like he probably did before the injury.
Most amputees usually require approximately six weeks of walking on their new prosthetics before they take them home. But O’Niell was taking his home in only two. He noted that’s because most amputees have trouble trusting the devices to hold their weight.
“I attribute it to the fact that I’ve trusted my life on much sketchier pieces of equipment,” O’Niell joked. Falling to his knees due to a prosthetic is nothing when you’re used to jumping from planes with parachutes made by the lowest bidder.
O’Niell’s sense of relief after the amputation and prosthetic was practically immediate. Even before the prosthetic was fitted, he recalled his fellow PJs looking at him strangely after the amputation when they found him moving around his thigh. He hadn’t been able to move the leg for years before, so this was a victory.
“The pain I was living with was awful,” he said. “I don’t take pain meds so it became a normal way of life, just living with pain all the time and it’s miserable. It’s miserable. So yeah, it was definitely awesome waking up and immediately not feeling that pain.”
The next step to getting back to the job he loved was requalification. By November 2016, O’Niell had qualified in calisthenics, swimming, parachuting, ropes, alternative insertion, diving and was close to reaching the requisite run time. He has been working on mission profiles as well, in order to learn how to adjust to his new leg.
O’Niell’s fellow PJs have been extremely supportive during his recovery. They’ve kept him up to date on any new tech or kit that has been incorporated since his injury, and asked him when he is coming back to the teams. He even had training plan offers from five or six team chiefs. He noted he’s unsure about their motivations, but nevertheless, he remains focused on his goal.
Fellow injured airmen have also been a source of strength and friendship. Thanks to the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program, O’Niell has developed a close-knit group of friends who refer to themselves as “The Order of the Pineapple.” He noted the origin of the name is a long story, but that not a day goes by that they don’t talk to each other.
Additionally, his service dog Kai has served a crucial role in his recovery. K9 Soldiers in New Jersey gave him the German Shepherd on Veteran’s Day 2013, and he has relied on him ever since.
“Mentally, I was in a real crappy place when I started reaching out to get him, and then after getting him, he’s just made my outlook almost one-eighty,” explained O’Niell. “I’m inherently a really happy person anyway, so when I’m depressed, I’m very depressed … because a lot of things have happened to make me very depressed.”
Kai can sense when O’Niell is depressed or angry, and will come put his head on his lap or go for a walk with him, immediately putting O’Niell in a better mood. He also helps with bracing and stability and will block people from invading his personal space. Kai also can do smaller tasks, like getting O’Niell his phone and keys when he doesn’t have the prosthetic attached.
“He’s not a retriever and he absolutely hates doing it, but he will do it,” joked O’Niell.
Kai goes to work with O’Niell, and has become a big hit with the other PJs. He inspired a team in Alaska to buy their own dog so they can keep up morale abroad. O’Niell hopes to bring Kai on his next deployment. The German Shepherd won’t be tagging along on missions, but he would be waiting for him when he gets home.
The First Of His Kind
Other special operations forces have rejoined their units after an amputation, including members of the Army Special Forces, Marine Special Operations Command and Navy SEALs. Advances in medical science and prosthetics have allowed many troops to return to duty after amputations. More than 16 percent of amputees had returned to combat in the early 2000s, up from 2.3 percent in the 1980s. But O’Niell would be a first for the PJs and the Air Force.
He has every intention of getting back in, and he doesn’t plan to leave any time soon. He reenlisted in the beginning of 2015, and plans to do at least another five years after his contract runs out.
“The majority of people who want an amputation, they aren’t very crazy like I am, so they’re just kind of like ‘Yeah, I’m done,’ and rightfully so,” he said.
O’Niell’s remarkable story has also come with a great deal of unexpected fame. He has competed in both the Warrior Games and Invictus Games, the latter of which earned him a profile in ESPN. He also led the Atlanta Falcons onto the field during the Super Bowl, carrying an American flag as he ran in front of thousands on his prosthetic. And Paramount Pictures bought a pitch on O’Niell’s story in March, so a feature film could be in the works.
O’Niell told TheDCNF he’s “excited” for the press coverage to end, but he’s also pleased his story brings attention to PJs. “I don’t mind doing this type of stuff because it highlights the career field and that’s awesome,” he said.
For now, he is continuing strength training and Pararescue qualification training at Hurlburt Field Air Force Base in Florida, where he is expected to join a team sometime next year if all goes well.
has been sent to begin requalifications so he can join a team at Hurlburt Field AFB, hopefully sometime next year. Assessments with the teams have been positive, and aside from some issues with stress fractures, he has no complaints.
O’Niell hopes to be back to jumping out of planes and saving lives as early as the end of 2017.
Explosive ordnance disposal technicians here are working with a custom-made, next-generation robot that will pick apart bombs and study them.
Brokk — a Frankenstein’s monster of sorts with pieces of high-tech ordnance disposal machinery, as well as large construction demolition mechanics — replaces 20-year-old “Stewie,” the previous EOD robot.
EOD techs haven’t had a chance to fully test Brokk’s capabilities yet, but anticipate a live bombing exercise in the next few months will put it to work.
But the $1.3 million upgrade has been worth it so far, according to Staff Sgt. Ryan Hoagland of the 96th Civil Engineer Squadron, who said the older robot had him operating more like a mechanic than an EOD technician.
“I don’t have to mop up hydraulic fluid right now. I’m not fixing wires that have [overheated] because of the sun or that have deteriorated over the years,” among other issues, he said during a tour here. Military.com spoke with Hoagland during a trip accompanying Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson to the base.
The one-of-a-kind, electric-powered Brokk provides smooth extraction with its control arms, operated remotely from a mobile control trailer nearby, Hoagland said.
(U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Jeff Walston)
Some movements can be programmed into Brokk, which weighs around 10,000 pounds. But typically, it takes at least two airmen to operate a controller for each arm, plus another to steer the robot, he said. Technicians will watch a live video feed from cameras fastened to it.
Brokk will allow teams to dismantle bombs — often live — after a range test, in which munitions might have penetrated 30 feet or more underground.
EOD techs then collect data from the bomb, providing more information to the weapons tester on how the bomb dropped, struck its target and or detonated.
“Basically, [it’s] data to figure out what happened, and why the item didn’t perform the way it was supposed to,” Hoagland said. “We hope the test goes well. If it doesn’t, we then go in there with this and take care of it.”
The robot, made by Brokk Inc., was named after the Norse blacksmith “who forged Thor’s hammer,” according to a base press release in April 2018. Part of its arms were manufactured in conjunction with Kraft Telerobotics.
Hoagland said the service could incorporate a few more capabilities into Brokk in the future, depending on necessity.
When you’re in the military, every bit of civilian life is broken out of you. When a veteran returns to civilian life, there are plenty of habits that get dropped like a bag of bricks. Slowly, we learn to sleep in a bit more and not get upset if someone in our new office has a bit of stubble. Some habits, however, aren’t turned off because of how much of an edge it gives us over civilians.
8. Calling people “sir” or “ma’am”
Respect is a two-way street. Start a conversation with someone with respect and they’ll look at you better for it.
Even if it hurts our soul, we’ll still use “sir” and “ma’am.” (Image via GIPHY)
7. Scheduling and being 15 minutes early
Every hour of every day is planned. Routes are checked well beforehand to see how long it’ll take to get somewhere and departure times are planned accordingly. Even with the planning, veterans still make it there before the given time, just in case.
Admittedly, it’s a pain when nobody else gets it and we have to find something to occupy our time while we wait.
Eh. We’ll find something else to do. (Image via GIPHY)
6. Preplanning every detail (with backups)
When veterans arrive, we have a game plan — with an alternate plan, and a contingency plan, and an emergency plan…
In that one-in-a-hundred time where we don’t have a plan, our “winging it” skills are on point.
The typical “Plan D” is to say, “f*ck it” and leave. (Image via GIPHY)
5. Eating fast
While we all need food to survive, it just takes too much damn time to consume it. Veterans cut the fat and use that extra fifteen minutes each meal to wait in front of wherever we’re going next.
This doesn’t stop when a veteran gets out of service. Take speed eating and eliminate the need to stay fit and you quickly get an idea why some vets get fat.
Every vet during their first week at Fort Couch. (Image via GIPHY)
4. Driving aggressively
We drive recklessly and safe at the same time. We’ll swerve in and out of traffic like it’s nothing and yet our driving records are spotless.
Some people might view this as us “driving like assholes.” We call it “I didn’t like that cardboard box / White Toyota Helix on the side of the road.”
That’s basically the reason why we always drive in the middle of the road. (Image via GIPHY)
3. Not complaining about weather
Ever hear a veteran complain that it’s too cold, too hot, too wet, or too snowy? Hell no.
Whatever the weather, at least we’re not enduring it in the field.
PCSing to nearly every base on the planet does that to you. (Image via GIPHY)
2. Using more accurate terminology
The English language is fascinating. While most civilians make up some onomatopoeia and call it a “thingy,” troops and veterans will usually default to whatever we called it in the service.
A bathroom is a “latrine” or “head” because you’re not going in there to bathe. If something is “ate-up” or a “charlie foxtrot,” we can point out how much of a clusterf*ck something is without letting everyone know someone’s a dumbsh*t.
Vet-specific terms are mostly insults though, which leads us to… (Image via GIPHY)
1. Pointing out peoples’ flaws in a polite and effective manner
In the military, troops need to be able to tell the person who outranks them by a mile that something’s wrong.
Troops can tell a General — in a polite way — that their boot is untied. Troops can also tell a Private that they’re a friggin’ idiot for showing up to PT formation only 9 minutes early.
We’re quick to point out the flaws. (Image via GIPHY)
*Bonus* Morning workout routine
Many vets still work out. The rest either embrace Fort Couch or lie about it — but we know the truth.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called for Russia to withdraw its troops from breakaway regions in Georgia while also pledging deeper security and economic support for Tbilisi.
“The United States unequivocally condemns Russia’s occupation on Georgian soil,” Pompeo said in opening remarks to the annual U.S.-Georgian Strategic Partnership in Washington on May 21, 2018. “Russia’s forcible invasion of Georgia is a clear violation of international peace and security.”
Russia has troops stationed in Georgia’s Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions that remained after a 2008 war in South Ossetia between Russian and Georgian troops.
Moscow and a few other nations have recognized the two separatist regions as independent countries.
Pompeo also repeated U.S. policy that Washington supports Georgia’s eventual membership in NATO.
Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili said after a meeting with Pompeo that U.S. support for a peaceful resolution to Russian troops in Georgia “is of highest importance to our country and regional stability.”
Kvirikashvili added that Georgia’s membership in the military alliance would be a “clear added value for Euro-Atlantic security.”
NATO promised Georgia eventual membership in 2008.
Kvirikashvili said U.S. involvement in infrastructure projects in Georgia, like the Anaklia deep-sea port on the Black Sea coast, would help attract economic interest to the area.