How medically-discharged vets can get a disability rating boost - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

How medically-discharged vets can get a disability rating boost

Hardeep Grewal was a 29-year-old Air Force computer operations specialist suffering a mild case of pneumonia when he deployed to Saudi Arabia and a series of other Southwest Asian countries in 2003.

The staff sergeant stayed ill and returned to the United States “looking like a scare crow,” he said. He was diagnosed with asthma, which would require two medications daily for the rest of his life. By December 2004, Grewal was medically discharged with a 10 percent disability rating and a small severance payment.


The Air Force physical evaluation board “lowballed me,” he recalled in a phone conversation on April 25, 2018, from his Northern Virginia home. “They were trying to get rid of people” from a specialty that, after offering an attractive reenlistment bonus, quickly became overmanned.

Grewal promptly applied to the Department of Veterans Affairs for disability compensation and his initial VA rating was set at 30 percent. Full VA payments were delayed until Grewal’s Air Force severance was recouped.

Twelve years later, in August 2016, he got a letter inviting him to have his military disability rating reviewed by a special board Congress created solely to determine whether veterans like him, discharged for conditions rated 20 percent disabling or less from Sept. 11, 2001, to Dec. 31, 2009, were treated fairly.

“I waited like almost two months to apply because I didn’t know if somebody was pulling my leg,” Grewal said. “I talked to a lot of people, including a friend at Langley Air Force Base, to find out if it was legit. He said other service members he knew who had gotten out were saying, ‘Yeah, it’s legit. You can look it up.’ “

Grewal had to wait 18 months but he received his decision letter from the Physical Disability Board of Review (PDBR) in April 2018. It recommends to the Air Force Secretary that Grewal’s discharge with severance pay be recharacterized to permanent disability retirement, effective the date of his prior medical separation.

If, as expected, the Air Force approves a revised disability rating to 30 percent back to December 2004, Grewal will receive retroactive disability retirement, become eligible for TRICARE health insurance and begin to enjoy other privileges of “retiree” status including access to discount shopping on base.

How medically-discharged vets can get a disability rating boost

Congress ordered that the PDBR established as part of the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act after a mountain of evidence surfaced that service branches had been low-balling disability ratings given to thousands of service members medically separated over a nine-year period through recent wars.

The PDBR began accepting applications in January 2009. So far only 19,000 veterans have applied from pool of 71,000 known to be eligible for at least a disability rating review. All of them were medically-discharged with disability ratings of 20 percent or less sometime during the qualifying period.

A bump in rating to 30 percent or higher bestows retiree status including a tax-free disability retirement and TRICARE eligibility. And yet only 27 percent of veterans believed eligible for a rating review have applied. Indeed, applications to the PDBR have slowed to a trickle of 40 to 50 per month.

For this column, Greg Johnson, director of the PDRB, provided written responses to two dozen questions on the board’s operations. Overall, he explained, 42 percent of applicants receive a recommendation that their original rating be upgraded. Their service branch has the final say on whether a recommendation is approved but in almost every instance they have been.

To date, 47 percent of Army veterans who applied got a recommendation for upgrade, and 18 percent saw their rating increased to at least 30 percent to qualify for disability retirement.

For the Navy Department, which includes Sailors and Marines, 34 percent of applicants received upgrade recommendations and 17 percent gained retiree status. For Air Force applicants the approval rate also has been 34 percent, but 21 percent airmen got a revised rating high enough to qualify for disability retirement.

The top three medical conditions triggering favorable recommendations are mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress, back ailments and arthritis.

How medically-discharged vets can get a disability rating boost

As Grewal learned, decisions are not made quickly. The current wait, on average, is eight to 12 months, Johnson said. But that is faster than the 18-to-24-month wait that was routine in earlier years.

Also, veterans need not fear that a new review will result in a rating downgrade. The law establishing the PDBR doesn’t allow for it.

Once received, applications are scanned into the PDBR data base and the board requests from the service branch a copy of their physical evaluation board case file. Also, PDBR retrieves from VA the veteran’s treatment records and all documents associated with a VA disability rating decision.

After paperwork is gathered, a PDBR panel of one medical officer and two non-medical officers, military or civilian, reviews the original rating decision. All panelists are the rank of colonel or lieutenant colonel (for Navy, captain or commander) or their civilian equivalents. The board has 34 voting members plus support staff, which is more than PDBR had in its early years, Johnson said.

The wait for a decision is long because of the time it takes to retrieve records, the thoroughness of the review and the complexity of the cases, Johnson said.

About 70 percent of applicants have been Army, 20 percent Navy or Marine Corps veterans, 10 percent Air Force and less than one percent Coast Guard.

PDBR notification letters have been sent to eligible veterans at last-known addresses at least twice and include applications and pre-stamped return envelopes. Grewal said he had moved four times since leaving service which might be why he never heard of the board before the notification letter reach him in 2016.

At some point Congress could set a deadline for the board to cease operations but it hasn’t yet. The board advises veterans, however, to apply as soon as they can. The longer they wait, it notes on its website, “the more difficult it may be to gather required medical evidence from your VA rating process, your service treatment record or other in-service sources [needed] to assess your claim.”

If an eligible veteran is incapacitated or deceased, a surviving spouse, next of kin or legal representative also can request the PDBR review.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

This is the Air Force hazing ritual that just got two commanders fired

A few airmen walk into a room, positioning themselves between you and the exit. As the “new guy” in the squadron, you likely know exactly what’s about to happen. You have to outsmart or elude them to avoid getting bound up and immobilized by rolls of duct tape.

Welcome to the tradition of “rolling-up,” or “roll-ups,” a practice that is often viewed as a game or initiation ritual in the U.S. Air Force.

But there are always those who take it too far.


Col. Benjamin Bishop, the 354th Fighter Wing commander, relieved Lt. Col. Robb Fiechtner, 3rd Air Support Operations Squadron, at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska; and Lt. Col. Joshua Cates, 5th Air Support Operations Squadron, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, from their posts after a command-directed investigation revealed that both squadrons were engaging in the hazing practice of “roll-ups,” said Capt. Kay Magdalena Nissen, spokeswoman for the 354th Fighter Wing.

How medically-discharged vets can get a disability rating boost

U.S. Air Force airmen from the 354th Fighter Wing, change the name on the flagship jet during the 354th Fighter Wing change of command ceremony July 6, 2018, at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Isaac Johnson)

While there were no complaints or reports made by victims of the hazing, the investigation showed that “roll-ups” — or binding airmen’s hands and feet, and sometimes their entire bodies, with tape — was prevalent in those units, Nissen said in an email.

It “appear[s] to be a known hazing ritual within the Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) community,” she said.

A TACP airman familiar with the tradition who spoke with Military.com said it’s not all bad, though.

“It has not been the means of humiliating or harming someone; it’s [supposed to be] the opposite,” the airman said.

Speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press in an official capacity, he said he’s been in the community for eight years, but could not explain where the tradition came from or how long it has been in practice.

The TACP said he has been rolled up a few times, most often on his birthday by someone calling him into an office for what he thought was a formal meeting or ambushing him in a hallway. He said the point was to try to outwit his fellow airmen, much like a game. The consequence of losing: having his body bound with tape and immobilized, then carried off by airmen to be placed at locations around base for goofy photo ops before being set free.

“When I came into the community, it was just there,” he said, adding, “I’ve been in more than one unit and have had more than one birthday.”

Hazing crackdown

In 2018, the Pentagon released a new policy — DoD Instruction 1020.03 Harassment Prevention And Response in the Armed Forces — aimed to deter misconduct and harassment among service members.

The policy reaffirmed that the Defense Department does not tolerate any kind of harassment by any service member, either in person or online.

How medically-discharged vets can get a disability rating boost

Airmen from the 22nd Special Tactics Squadron jump out of a C-17 Globemaster III Oct. 21, 2014, during a training exercise at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Keoni Chavarria)

In line with the Defense Department, the Air Force has a zero-tolerance hazing policy.

“The Air Force does not condone hazing in any form,” spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said April 3, 2019. “We expect our airmen to adhere to our core values at all times and treat their fellow service members with the highest degree of dignity and respect.”

The TACP said he agrees with the Defense Department’s policy.

“Hazing is as much about what the particulars of the event were and the creation of a feeling of being hazed,” the TACP said.

It’s why “rolling-up” shouldn’t be standard across the Air Force, even if its original intention was meant to be playful, he said.

“It’s not something we need to continue because it’s not a professionalized practice,” he said. “We should go do … things that are productive and constructive that doesn’t potentially create the hazing issues.”

The TACP explained the concept behind the tradition.

When done right, the goal is never to pose a risk to a fellow airman who will work — and potentially fight — alongside you, he said.

“The intention of this is not to inflict pain,” he said. “Think of it like ‘capture the flag,’ or ‘Can you subdue a combative person without causing them harm?'”

In a sport like rugby, for example, “one minute [there’s contact] but, by the end of the game, you’re hanging out and you’re friends,” he said. “If you’re not laughing while you’re being rolled up, you’re doing it wrong.”

It has also been a way to vent pent-up energy for troops in a high-stress career field, the TACP said.

“When you take a whole group of very aggressive, Type-A people whose purpose is to go do violence unto others, the way you show affection, it gets shifted by the culture — we don’t necessarily go around and give each other hugs, although we do that too,” he said.

He added, “It’s both an outlet [to let] out steam … and for people to bond together” in what has become a “normalized way.”

“Rolling-up” hasn’t only been spotted in the Air Force. Videos and photos on social media that have quickly become memes have shown soldiers duct-taped to their cots, or bound with tape and left outside.

Last Day Hazing

www.youtube.com

Some of those videos have shown the practice going too far, though, and not only within the special operations community. One source familiar with the tradition told Military.com it has been observed in other Air Force career fields, including nuclear operations and aircraft maintenance.

For example, airmen were shown in a 2005 YouTube video smearing chocolate syrup on a bound airman, then dusting him with powdered sugar before dousing him with a garbage pail of dirty water. The incident apparently happened at Kadena Air Base, Japan.

The airman who spoke with Military.com said roll-up events sometimes happen out of sheer boredom while troops are killing time. And it’s easy to cross a line and have things get out of control.

“It’s counterproductive to everything we do: It doesn’t make an airman want to stay in the Air Force, it doesn’t make airmen want to go do their job. It’s beyond the right and wrong of morality, and it’s just bad for the mission,” the TACP said.

He continued, “That’s the problem with the normalization of it. It becomes that [time] could be spent in a much more productive way.”

He suggested developing a new tradition that fosters bonding and supports readiness, rather than one with the earmarks of hazing.

“There needs to be a competitive spirit” for stress to be relieved, the TACP said. “So replace it with [something] that’s tied to a real-world mission.”

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

This clever advertising doomed thousands of aviators

In the lead up to World War II, the U.S. Army Air Force had to make tough decisions on how to spend limited defense dollars. Decades of strict budgets after World War I left capabilities across the military underdeveloped, and the Air Forces decided to spend their part of the pie focusing on strategic bombing.

And, unfortunately, when a manufacturer told them a new bomber wouldn’t need a fighter escort, they bought it. Thousands of aviators would pay the price as unescorted B-17 formations faced losses of over 20 percent.


When the Army Air Force was looking for a new bomber in the early 1930s, they floated the idea of getting a beastly four-engine bird. Most bombers had two engines at the time, but it was thought a larger, four-engine plane could carry more bombs a longer way.

Boeing proved this was true with their Model 299. It had four engines and could carry 8,000 pounds of bombs while flying at faster speeds than other bombers of the day. It carried 13 large machine guns, mostly .50-cals. A reporter for The Seattle Times dubbed it a “flying fortress” in a photo caption and Boeing ran with it.

The future looked good for the Model 299 as it dominated a fly-off competition in 1935. But then it crashed and so was disqualified. Worse, it turned out that that the Model 299 was way more expensive than its primary competitors, and so the Army chief of staff ordered a two-engine bomber instead.

How medically-discharged vets can get a disability rating boost

(Seamus Darragh, Pixabay)

But the Army’s top aviators still wanted the Model 299, and they managed to order 13 for testing and dubbed them YB-17s. The plane was popular with aviation officers and its great range led to some public successes in the pre-war years. The Army Air Force already had a body of doctrine supporting the use of heavy, long-range bombers, but they refined it around their new flying fortresses.

And the new doctrine did treat the planes like they were fortresses, even though the fortress moniker originated with a journalist and was adopted by salesmen. As navigator Bob Culp recalled in 2008, “When you realize you’re protected by a very thin skin of aluminum, you realize you’re not really in a fortress.”

Boeing had advertised that the bomber could fly bombing missions in daylight conditions and defend itself from enemy fighters thanks to all those machine guns. Which, if true, would’ve been a godsend, because there were no fighters who could match the range of the bomber. And so then-Col. Curtis E. LeMay drafted a formation for the bomber that maximized the ability of the planes to protect each other.

Basically, 9-12 planes would fly in a box so their guns would cover all angles of attack. Three or more of these boxes would fly together. There was a lead box, then a box that flew higher, and finally a trail box that flew low.

With 36 planes formed into three boxes, there were 468 machine guns present. They would have 324,000 rounds of ammunition between them. The spread of a single .50-cal. machine gun would fire rounds across a spread 600 yards wide when firing at planes 1,000 yards away. With 468 planes firing 600-yard-wide spreads, it was thought they could form an actual wall of deadly steel at oncoming fighters.

And so the doctrine was approved, and aviation officers fooled themselves that B-17s really could defend themselves.

How medically-discharged vets can get a disability rating boost

(National Museum of the U.S. Air Force)

But then American B-17s made their European combat debut in 1942. The planes flying over Europe in daytime proved easy pickings.

Flak gunners didn’t give the first crap about all those machine guns on the planes. Worse, B-17 pilots couldn’t maintain the precise boxes necessary for 360-degree coverage, and gunners couldn’t always keep the proper fields of fire.

Crews could head home, their duty fulfilled, after 25 missions. Only 1 in 4 would survive to reach that milestone. On one of America’s first large bomber raids in 1942, less than 300 bombers set off for Nazi-occupied Europe and 60 of them were lost, an attrition of over 20 percent.

Even when new fighters joined the war, the problem persisted anytime the B-17s outflew their escorts. In October 1943 the Eighth Air Force flew Mission Number 115 against factories in Schweinfurt, Germany. The 291-plane formation survived well while British Supermarine Spitfires and then P-47 Thunderbolts escorted them to the border. But then they were alone against German fighters.

Sixty planes were shot down and only 229 successfully dropped their bombs on target. Only 197 made it back to England.

The fact was, the B-17 Flying Fortress was anything but a fortress, and it needed fighters escorts like any other bomber.

Articles

Afghanistan commander says new rules allow U.S. troops to go on the offensive

The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan revealed July 12 he’s been using new rules of engagement that allow his command to deploy American and NATO forces to aid Afghan troops who are on the attack.


The new policy marks a sharp departure from previous authorities for the use of force that restricted U.S. and allied combat power to last ditch efforts to save Afghan troops from defeat.

Afghan mission commander U.S. Army Gen. John Nicholson said in a press briefing in Kabul that now U.S. and NATO forces can use airpower and other troops “so that the Afghan Army can assume the offensive against the enemy.”

“As we focused on it this year, we used our in-extremis authorities that we had at the time to help prevent a strategic defeat. … It was in a defensive, reactive kind of manner,” Nicholson said. “With the new authorities that we have now, as of June, we’re able to then provide combat enablers to assist the Afghans … taking the initiative against the enemy and their staging areas.”

The new authority comes on the heels of a stinging Pentagon report that showed special operations forces trying to help Afghan troops fight off a Taliban takeover of Kunduz in 2015 were hamstrung over rules of engagement that left them confused over when they could fight.

According to the report obtained by Reuters, commandos who radioed back for clarification of the ROEs were left hanging by superiors in the rear.

“Sadly, the only sounds audible were the sounds of crickets … though those were hard to hear over the gunfire,” one special operator said in the Pentagon report, according to Reuters.

Nicholson launched a reassessment of the Afghanistan operation, dubbed “Resolute Support Mission,” when he assumed command in February. And in June he was given new authority to help Afghan troops on offense.

In one battle, Nicholson explained he was able to sortie F-16s to strike Taliban positions outside Tarin Kowt to help Afghan forces clear roads cut off by insurgents.

“Since that operation … we’re using our new authorities so that the Afghan army can assume the offensive against the enemy in Maiwand District, Band-e-Timor area, which is a well-known staging area. So it’s offensive,” Nicholson said.

President Obama announced last week he would keep about 8,500 American troops assigned to Afghanistan to fight the continued Taliban insurgency and fight terrorist groups.

Nicholson said during his press conference that about 3,000 U.S. troops would be assigned to continue training and advising Afghan troops, with another 3,300 “enablers,” including helicopter and fixed wing aircraft crews, assigned to give the Afghans a little extra combat punch.

The force also includes about 2,150 troops dedicated to the counterterrorism mission and about 400 troops based in other countries but helping with the Resolute Support mission.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Coast Guard wants your help remembering World War I dead

Nov. 11, 2018, marks the 100th anniversary of the end of hostilities during World War I. On the 11th hour of the 11th day of November 1918, the guns that caused such destruction fell silent, ending what to that time was the most bloody conflict humanity had ever fought.

To mark this solemn occasion, the United States WWI Centennial Commission is calling on Americans across the nation to toll bells at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 2018, in remembrance of those who served during that conflict.


The tolling of bells is a traditional expression of honor and remembrance. WWICC’s “Bells of Peace” initiative is a national event to honor the 4.5 million Americans who served in uniform, the 116,516 Americans who died and more than 200,000 who were wounded in what was referred to as the Great War.

How medically-discharged vets can get a disability rating boost

USS Tampa, prior to the First World War.

(US Navy photo)

During the “war to end all wars,” the Coast Guard served as part of the Navy, with many cutters taking part in combat with the nation’s enemies. The Coast Guard, too, paid dearly. The USS Tampa sunk after being attacked by a German U-Boat, with all 130 souls aboard, including 111 Coast Guardsmen, 4 Navy members and 15 British passengers. 11 Coast Guardsmen from the USS Seneca also perished during a rescue attempt off the coast of France while 70 others were lost to drowning, disease and collisions, among other causes.

To honor those whom we lost, the Coast Guard, in concert with our Navy shipmates, ask commands and members to toll their bells 21 times — the highest honor afforded by U.S. naval tradition. Please honor and remember those that have gone before us, especially those who gave their lives to preserve the freedoms we have, by ringing a bell 21 times.

You may find more information about the event here.

This article originally appeared on All Hands Magazine. Follow @AllHandsMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

China may be deploying a new carrier battle group

China’s first homegrown aircraft carrier and the first of the country’s new missile destroyers set sail for sea trials recently, sparking speculation that a new carrier battle group may be in the making.

The first of China’s advanced Type 055-class guided-missile destroyers — apparently the Nanchang — set sail Aug. 24, 2018, from the Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai, according to the China Daily. The Type 001 aircraft carrier, China’s first indigenously produced carrier and the country’s second after the Liaoning, followed suit Aug. 27, 2018.


The focus of the carrier trials, the second in 2018, will be the ship’s propulsion systems, but Chinese analysts believe these trials could also look at command, communication, and management systems, as well as the ship’s navigation and weapons systems, the Global Times reported.

The Type 055 destroyer displaces 10,000 tons and is considered to be the largest and one of the most advanced noncarrier warships in Asia. The ship is expected to play a role similar to that of America’s Ticonderoga-class cruisers and Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and serve as a key escort for China’s aircraft carrier battle groups, according to the South China Morning Post.

How medically-discharged vets can get a disability rating boost

A Chinese Type 055 destroyer.

(Screenshot / YouTube)

The powerful Chinese destroyers, which are closer in size to cruisers, feature X-band radar and 112 vertical launch cells set up to fire HHQ-9 long-range surface-to-air missiles, YJ-18 anti-ship cruise missiles, CJ-10 land-attack cruise missiles, and missile-launched submarine torpedoes. The ships are also armed with 130 mm dual-purpose naval guns and carry two anti-submarine helicopters.

The Type 055 destroyer’s primary rival is said to be the US Navy’s Zumwalt-class destroyer, which boasts a wide range of advanced capabilities superior to anything China possesses.

The Type 001A aircraft carrier, while similar to its refitted Soviet-era predecessor, is “improved in some places,” Matthew Funaiole, a fellow with the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, recently told Business Insider. “It has a newer radar, it’s a little bit bigger, the flight deck is a little bit bigger, the island is a bit smaller, so they have more space. It definitely has some upgrades on it.”

More advanced carrier capabilities are unlikely, though, until the unveiling of China’s third carrier, which is commonly referred to as the Type 002.

The two ships, the Type 001A and the Type 055 destroyer, are expected to be delivered to the People’s Liberation Army Navy within the next year or so, according to Chinese military experts. The Type 055 destroyer would most likely serve as an escort ship for the Type 001A carrier, creating a new carrier battle group with advanced combat capabilities.

The development of such platforms allows China to gain greater experience with carrier operations as it seeks to project power at greater distances beyond its shores.

Featured image: Artist’s impression of type 055 destroyer.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Under the sea: Russia, China and American control of the waterways

In the summer of 2007, in a bizarre incident shown live on Russian television, scientists accompanied by a couple of senior politicians descended 4,300 meters to the floor of the Arctic Ocean in two Mir mini submarines. Divers then planted a Russian flag on the seabed, and Russia officially notified the United Nations that it was claiming the ridge as part of its sovereign territory.

In effect, the Chinese did the same kind of thing when they decided to start building islands in the South China Sea by dredging sand from the bottom of the ocean.

In both cases, the countries were creating new sovereign territory.


One implication of their declaration was that anyone traveling within the 12-mile limit defined by international law was traversing through their sovereign waters, and could only do so subject to their approval.

Indeed, the Chinese take their claim so seriously that it even threatened that it “is not frightened to fight a war with the US in the region” to protect its sovereignty.

How medically-discharged vets can get a disability rating boost

A Russian flag planted by from a submarine undersea at the North Pole.

So the question is: why do American policymakers care about seemingly insignificant tracts of land so far away from America’s shores?

International law and American concerns

International law is pretty clear. You can’t declare any territory submerged under the sea outside the conventional 12-mile limit as your own, although you may have some privileges in the waters that lie immediately beyond it. You certainly can’t build up some land to above the waterline, thus creating an island, and call it part of your own territory. And in neither case can you legitimately control access by other vessels. Indeed, no international commission has upheld the Russian or Chinese claims. But that hasn’t stopped either the Chinese or the Russians from trying.

Americans, however, are pretty emphatic when it comes to denying such claims have any legitimacy.

In the Russian case, American policymakers were understandably caught off guard and bemused by this strange symbolic act.

But, at the same time, American policymakers have a right to be worried. Climate change could vastly increase sea traffic through the Arctic Ocean. And the future implications of Russian control of these sea-lanes have lots of potential downsides, given recent friction over Ukraine and Syria.

In the Chinese case, Americans were caught off guard and bemused when they shouldn’t have been.

The Chinese have been making claims for a long time about their sovereignty over huge portions of both the East and South China Sea. But in this case, Americans are worried about what China’s control of these waterways might do now to these commercial shipping lanes. Every year an estimated 50% of the world’s total of commercial trade plus oil passes through the area.

Global trade and American national security

The question of why we do care isn’t as obvious as it may seem.

America’s policymakers declare that the maintenance of global trade and commerce is in its national security interests. So America needs to keep these shipping lanes open to what they call “freedom of navigation.”

What that means is that they can send an Aegis class destroyer (so this was a powerful ship, not the equivalent of a coast guards vessel) and sail it past the Subi Reef (think of an island so small it would drive you mad if it was deserted and you had to live on it alone). It’s the equivalent of a drive-by — just to send a message.

Then you put the US secretary of defense on an aircraft carrier, the USS Roosevelt, and do it again — just to ensure that both the Chinese and America’s important regional allies understood the message:. “This isn’t your territory — and our mighty navy is not about to allow you to push us out.”

You might understandably assume that the Chinese, with their huge volume of exports, would also want to maintain open seas. And that the Russians would want to ship oil and gas to keep their economy afloat by water. So there is nothing to worry about.

But that’s where more modest concerns about global trade are replaced by those about deeper, hardcore national security interests. For Americans there is a difference between “our” open seas and “their” open seas.

Freedom of navigation and American doctrine

A central element of American national security doctrine is the notion of “Freedom of Navigation” or FON.

In effect, we (Americans) assert our right to sail where we want, when we need to. Behind that, however, is the deeply embedded concept of “control of the commons..”

Military historian Alfred Thayer Mahan popularized this idea over 130 years ago. He stressed the importance of America’s navy in ensuring the free flow of international trade. The seas were his “commons.”

How medically-discharged vets can get a disability rating boost

Alfred Thayer Mahan 1840 – 1914.

Mahan argued that the British Empire was able to retain its commercial and military advantage by ensuring its ships could go anywhere. And that it could deny anyone else from doing so, if needed, in times of war. The overriding lesson is that wars are not won on the land. They are won on the sea by denying your adversary access to resources.

Today, Mahan’s work remains a core element of America’s military doctrine. It is taught to America’s naval officers at their major training academy where he himself once worked and where his work is still regarded as having biblical significance. But it no longer is just applied to commercial trade. It now is applied to the access of its military in all kinds of commons — in the air, on the sea, in space and even in cyberspace.

So American policymakers become frustrated when they believe Chinese hackers spy on the US or they build islands because it demonstrates that the US can’t “control” that commons.

The answering message is clear. As Ash Carter, the US Secretary of Defense, said in a speech about Russia “At sea, in the air, in space and in cyberspace, Russian actors have engaged in challenging activities.” Carter went on to make it clear that the US wouldn’t tolerate Russian efforts to control those domains. Responding to Chinese threats, he also clearly implied in the same speech that China’s continued activities could indeed lead to conflict.

The importance of chokepoints

But the sea remains the priority when it comes to controlling the commons.

And Chinese sovereignty over the South China Sea offers the prospect that a key trading route located in a narrow strip of water between land masses either side, what they call a chokepoint could be closed by the Chinese, in the future, if not today.

How medically-discharged vets can get a disability rating boost

(US Department of Defense)

The Malacca Strait on the Western end of the South China Sea is one chokepoint — the immediate object of the US’ concern. The Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, where much of the world’s oil passes through, is another. And, at least according to the US Congressional Research Service, the Arctic Ocean, where the Russian planted their flag, could become another.

So this leaves the Americans with an abiding dilemma.

They are saddled with a grand military doctrine built on the principle of keeping the globe’s key access points freely accessible to the US. The barely audible counterpart is that it should maintain a capacity to deny that access to any potential adversary in case of war. The doctrine, however, in practice can itself engender conflict — as we saw with the Chinese.

America may have a much bigger military capacity and even newer technologies that allow it to fight conventional wars. But defending the open seaways is expensive and often counterproductive. The Chinese, for example, are the world’s largest importer of fossil fuels and China is far more dependent on foreign oil than the newly fossil fuel independent United States.

So critics ask why the US is defending the Persian Gulf when the Chinese are the prime beneficiaries?

The answer, it appears, has far more to do with military strategy than with global commerce.

This article originally appeared on The Conversation. Follow @ConversationUK on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

7 great gifts for your military pet

You’ve covered the kids, your spouse, neighbors, your in-laws, and even snagged a little something for the mailman and school principal. As you’re making your list and checking it twice this holiday, don’t forget a favorite military pet!

The best gifts for pets are useful and practical items that might also benefit the pet owner in some way (think: hours of entertainment for an energetic pup or frisky feline). Here are the best gifts for pets this year:


How medically-discharged vets can get a disability rating boost

(PetFusion)

1. Interactive cat toy

This top-rated toy uses a cat’s natural hunting instincts to captivate their attention using a feather. Battery powered, the device mimics prey and mixes it up to keep pets engaged and anti-skid feet help to keep the gadget in place for any cat owners who might be worried about forceful felines.

How medically-discharged vets can get a disability rating boost

(Nite Ize)

2. Light up ball

Make fetch more fun with this LED light-up ball that promises hours of fun for your dog, even after the sun goes down. One bounce activates the color-changing toy and an easy-to-replace battery ensures playtime longevity.

How medically-discharged vets can get a disability rating boost

(Crown Paw)

3. Custom artwork

As it turns out, your pet can also be a military member….sort of. Crown Paw allows users to submit a headshot of their pet and then customize it into a regal portrait. All pets are welcome and users can choose from canvas themes like “The Admiral” or “The Colonel.” More than one animal in your house? Multi-pet themes like “The Officers” make gifting easy.

How medically-discharged vets can get a disability rating boost

(SmartBones)

4. Rawhide-free chews

Skip the rawhide for your pup this year and pick up some SmartBones, which are made from whole ingredients like vegetables and chicken. Enriched with vitamins and minerals, these treats not only taste delicious to a dog, but the natural motion of chewing helps to maintain healthy teeth and gums.

How medically-discharged vets can get a disability rating boost

(Design Dua)

5. Stylish beds

Help your pet get the best sleep of their lives without sacrificing your interior design style. These woven beds (and specialty pods for feline friends) are made from natural Elephant Grass and are handcrafted using traditional Ghanian craft techniques. Each basket comes with a fitted cushion and are available in a range of sizes.

How medically-discharged vets can get a disability rating boost

(Furbo)

6. Pet camera

The whole family will enjoy this wifi-enabled camera that allows you to drop in your pet when you aren’t home. Using an HD, wide-angle lens, the device allows users to see, talk to, and even dole out treats, to pets using an app on their phone. The bonus? A built-in sensor alerts pet parents to animal and human movement, so you’ll never wonder what your pet is up to all day again.

How medically-discharged vets can get a disability rating boost

(Rocco Roxie Supply Co)

7. Pet odor + stain eliminator

Alright, this one might be a gift for the pet parents and not the pet, but 10,000+ reviews speak to the power of this enzyme-powered stain and odor remover. Created to work for both cats and dogs, this formula is chlorine-free, color safe and promises to work or you’ll get a full refund. You will never stress about pets and rental carpets again!

Still at a loss on what to gift your favorite military pet? Quality time still ranks pretty high on their list — and maybe a few extra treats, too.

This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

A WWII hero gets honored seventy years after the fact

The military doesn’t always get things straight and sometimes it takes a little nudge to right a wrong. In Daniel Crowley’s case, the military took 76 years to get his records straight. And the nudge was thanks to the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society (ADBC-MS). But the 98-year old Connecticut citizen was there to be finally recognized.

On Monday, January 4, 2021, Crowley was awarded his long-overdue sergeant’s chevrons, his Combat Infantryman’s Badge (CIB), and his Prisoner of War Medal. 

The ceremony was held at the Bradley International Airport/Air National Guard hanger in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, which is home to the Connecticut Air National Guard’s 103rd Airlift Wing. Gregory Slavonic, the acting undersecretary of the Navy presided over the ceremony. He was assisted by his Executive Assistant G. J. Leland, a former commanding officer of the multipurpose amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5). The two worked with the secretary of the Army to research and confirm all the awards and promotions that Mr. Crowley had earned during World War II, including his promotion to sergeant which he was never made aware of. 

The entire ceremony was filmed and was posted to the 103rd Airlift’s Facebook page. It can be seen here: http://www.facebook.com/103aw.

Crowley enlisted in the Army Air Corps in October 1940. He said that he was hoping to see the world at the government’s expense. In March 1941, he was assigned to Nichols Field, in Manila in the Philippines. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, they bombed the Americans in the Philippines as well, destroying the airfield and the aircraft stationed there. The Americans were shuttled over to the Bataan Peninsula.

Crowley served on Bataan, during the Japanese invasion of the Philippines in December 1941, as a member of the Army Air Corps. When those units were turned into the Provisional Army Air Corps Infantry Regiment on Bataan, he fought there until the Americans, out of food, ammunition, and medicine, surrendered to the Japanese on April 9, 1942. 

How medically-discharged vets can get a disability rating boost
Daniel Crowley soon after joining the Army prior to Pearl Harbor.

But Crowley wasn’t done fighting. He and several other troops refused to surrender. They hid among the rocks along the shore, and by doing so, missed the horrific Bataan Death March. At night, they swam the treacherous, shark-infested waters for three miles over to the Corregidor bastion that was still fighting the Japanese. There, he fought with the 4th Marines against the Japanese until they too surrendered about a month later. Read Next: New Leaders, New Direction: Reinvented MIA Agency Impresses

The Japanese brought the prisoners back to Manila and forced them to march through the streets in what was characterized as the walk of shame. Then they were shuttled off to Camp Cabanatuan. Conditions at Cabanatuan were horrific. To escape that, Crowley and others volunteered to work to help build a Japanese airfield on Palawan Island. There, they build an airstrip using only hand tools.

Coincidentally, the remaining POWs in Cabanatuan were rescued in one of the most daring and successful Special Operations raids in our history. In January 1945, before the Japanese could execute the POWs, members of the 6th Ranger Battalion under the command of Henry Mucci raided the camp and rescued them. 

In March 1944, after Crowley and the other soldiers had finished working on the airstrip, they were shipped off to Japan to provide slave labor in a copper mine.

Crowley was released from hellish captivity on September 4, 1945. He returned to his Connecticut home and family. In April 1946, he was honorably discharged from the Army at Ft. Devens, MA.

The ADBC-MS is the leading voice for Pacific War veterans and their families. It promotes education and scholarship about the POW experience in the Pacific. It supports programs of reconciliation and understanding and advocates for a Congressional Gold Medal for the POWs of Japan.

Of the 26,000 American POWs who were prisoners of the Japanese, more than 11,000 (over 40 percent), died or were murdered in captivity. By comparison, only 1.5 percent of the POWs captured by the Germans died in captivity. 

In honor of Mr. Crowley and the other POWs, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont has proclaimed January 4, Pacific War Heroes Day.

We would like to thank Mindy Kolter from ADBC-MS, who furnished SOFREP with the details of Mr. Crowley’s story. You can watch a video on Mr. Crowley below.

This article originally appeared on SOFREP. Follow @sofrepofficial on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why a war on the Korean Peninsula might be a bad idea for America

We shouldn’t have to say this, but starting a war on the Korean Peninsula is a bad idea. I am not the first person to make the case that a war on the Korean peninsula would be bad for America —and for South Korea and probably for Japan. Recently, professor Barry Posen laid out just how difficult it would be to conduct a successful pre-emptive attack against North Korea. He further presented how terrible a conflict on the peninsula would be in terms of lives lost — North Korean, South Korean and American. Professor Posen’s piece, however did not go far enough in explaining how a pre-emptive attack — and then war — on the Korean peninsula would damage U.S. interests.


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With the administration’s statements leaving the door open to a pre-emptive strike against North Korea, it is a good time to catalogue why such a concept is a bad idea—regardless of one’s view of the threats posed by the North Korean regime and its nuclear and missile programs. Professor Posen captures the likely human toll of a second Korean war well. The costs of the conflict and its aftermath would leave the United States and its allies poorer. And ultimately, the United States would likely be less secure than it is today.

How medically-discharged vets can get a disability rating boost
(Photo: U.S. Air Force B. Butcher)

Difficulty of Escalation Control

North Korea has signaled, for decades, that any attack against it would be met with swift retribution. For much of the post-Korean War era, this meant massive artillery bombardment of Seoul. Now that North Korea possesses missiles with intercontinental range, that retribution could be against targets as far away as New York or Washington. The idea that the United States could conduct strikes against limited targets—such as North Korea’s missile facilities or nuclear weapons complexes—with little to no North Korean response is gambling with millions of lives at stake. Were North Korea to follow through on its repeated statements of retaliation, and a U.S. or allied territory to be struck, it would likely result in activation of one or more of the U.S. mutual defense treaties, and the commitment of significant U.S. forces to a conflict on the Korean peninsula. At that point, what was presented as a limited strike will have become a full-blown war.

It is therefore critical to recognize the limits of escalation control when dealing with military options against North Korea. And Professor Posen makes a clear and compelling argument about the likely catastrophic human consequences of such a conflict. One must also consider additional strategic consequences for the United States, specifically the financial toll and effect on regional alliances.

Also Read: 4 Korean War heroes who fought amazing last stands

The Financial Toll

North Korea’s active-duty military is estimated to number over 1 million personnel. South Korea maintains a 650,000-person army. Even if the combined U.S.-South Korean force is better trained and equipped than its North Korean adversary, North Korea has spent nearly 70 years developing hardened shelters and stowage points for its personnel and artillery pieces. The four kilometer-wide De-Militarized Zone (DMZ) is also the most heavily mined area on the planet, limiting the ability of ground forces to move through it easily.

North Korea is believed to have developed tunnels across the DMZ to move its army or special forces rapidly into South Korean territory — and to bypass the mines laid along the DMZ. Even assuming U.S. and South Korean ground forces can quickly move through the DMZ to the North, the mountainous terrain would make rapid ground movement difficult—especially with heavy tanks or artillery. All of this is before considering the impact of North Korea’s nuclear weapons or its stockpiles of chemical weapons and biological weaponswould have on the conflict.

The sum of these factors suggest that prosecuting a war in North Korea has the potential to be more expensive than the $1.5 trillion spent so far on the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Winning the war would be only a small portion of the total costs, however. The real costs to the United States—and South Korea—would come from the needed investments to develop North Korea’s economy and rebuild its society after a successful military campaign, and to rebuild the portions of South Korea destroyed in a war.

Korea: North and South Korea exchange fire as another soldier defects

By way of comparison, 20 years after the reunification of Germany, Germany’s Finance Minister stated that the annual cost of reunification was approximately 100 billion euros per year—or nearly 2 trillion euros. East Germany’s per capita GDP was, at the time of reunification, approximately one half of West Germany’s. North Korea’s GDP today is only 3 percent of South Korea’s.

How medically-discharged vets can get a disability rating boost

The Regional Security Consequences

Even if it wins, the United States could find itself less secure in Northeast Asia after a war with North Korea.

China has long been concerned about U.S. military presence in Korea, believing U.S. forces there could pose a threat to China’s sovereignty and security. Should the U.S.-ROK force prevail against North Korea in a war, the long-standing basis for keeping U.S. troops on the Korean peninsula — to defend South Korea from North Korean invasion — would be moot. China would likely push the South Korean government (especially if it were the de facto government of the entire Korean peninsula) to change its relationship with the United States and reduce or eliminate U.S. forces from the peninsula.

Should U.S. forces leave the Korean peninsula, China would likely use the withdrawal to build a narrative that the United States is retreating from Asia, that it is not a reliable security partner, or both. Consequently, the United States would have less diplomatic credibility, less military capability, and less influence with allies in the region.

A potentially more dangerous — and more likely — scenario is that the United States could find itself with troops dangerously-close to China’s border. It was Chinese fear of U.S. encroachment on its border that led Mao Zedong to intervene in the Korean War on North Korea’s behalf in 1950. With U.S. and Chinese troops mere miles apart, the risk of a U.S.-China stand-off escalating quickly from a skirmish to a major exchange would increase.

More: 7 nasty ways Kim Jong Un executes people

From China’s perspective, the continued existence of North Korea as a separate country provides a buffer between its own borders and U.S. forces. A unified Korean peninsula, with U.S. troops still present, would be perceived as negatively impacting China’s security.

The likely result of fighting a war against North Korea to eliminate the threat that it would use its nuclear weapons against the United States or its allies is that the United States would instead increase the likelihood of conflict with far more potent nuclear-armed adversaries in China.

How medically-discharged vets can get a disability rating boost
Photo: flickr/Cliff CC 2.0

Deterrence: A Better Deal

With war on the Korean peninsula too costly, from human, economic, and security perspectives, what options remain? Fortunately for the United States and our allies in Asia, managing new nuclear powers is something the United States has experience with, and it is called deterrence.

The window to remove North Korea’s nuclear weapons by force has passed. Instead, the United States will need to work with allies and partners to ensure North Korea understands the consequences of its continued reliance on those weapons, and the implications for North Korea’s future if those weapons are used. Additionally, the United States will need to continue working with South Korea and Japan to maintain a unified approach toward North Korea.

All three allies will also have to work closely to pressure China and Russia to deter North Korea’s continued pursuit of a nuclear weapons program, and especially toward using those weapons in the future.

The number of countries that have closed their embassies in North Korea and who have shown a willingness to work with the United States to limit North Korea’s access to financing and materiel speaks highly of the potential for focused and patient diplomacy. Ensuring the United States and South Korea remain positioned to respond to North Korean aggression, should it happen, is essential. Maintaining the diplomatic pressure that has begun to bear fruit will also be essential if the United States is to avoid a situation where through impatience it turns a strategically difficult situation into a strategic setback.

Articles

Chattanooga shooting victims to receive Purple Hearts

How medically-discharged vets can get a disability rating boost
April Grimmett | Twitter


The four Marines and a sailor killed by a gunman during a July mass shooting in Chattanooga, Tennessee, will each receive the Purple Heart medal, as will a Marine sergeant who was wounded.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announced Wednesday that Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan, Staff Sgt. David Wyatt, Sgt. Carson A. Holmquist, Lance Cpl. Squire D. “Skip” Wells, Sgt. DeMonte Cheeley and Petty Officer 2nd Class Randall Smith would all receive the award.

The announcement comes the same day the FBI announced that the Chattanooga shooter, Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, was “inspired by a foreign terror organization.” It’s not clear what organization Abdulazeez, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Kuwait, might have been emulating.

“Following an extensive investigation, the FBI and NCIS have determined that this attack was inspired by a foreign terrorist group, the final criteria required for the awarding of the Purple Heart to this sailor and these Marines,” Mabus said in a statement, referring to Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

“This determination allows the Department of the Navy to move forward immediately with the award of the Purple Heart to the families of the five heroes who were victims of this terrorist attack, as well as to the surviving hero, Sgt. Cheeley,” he added.

On July 16, Abdulazeez first attacked a military recruiting office in a drive-by shooting, then traveled to a nearby Navy Reserve center, where he shot five Marines, a sailor and a police officer before he was killed by police.

Cheeley, the Marine recruiter who survived a gunshot to the back of the leg, returned to work the same month, Marine Corps Times reported.

The shocking and tragic attacks inspired a wave of concern over the security of military recruiting facilities and prompted Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to call for better training and “physical security enhancements” to protect the military personnel working at such facilities.

“Although the Purple Heart can never possibly replace this brave Sailor and these brave Marines, it is my hope that as their families and the entire Department of the Navy team continue to mourn their loss, these awards provide some small measure of solace,” Mabus said. “Their heroism and service to our nation will be remembered always.”

MIGHTY SPORTS

Purple Heart recipient gets ‘back into the fight’ with adaptive sports

“Back in the days when I got injured while serving overseas, the program to recover wasn’t like the WTB (Warrior Transition Battalion) is now,” explained Capt. David Espinoza, a wounded warrior athlete who is competing at the 2019 Army Trials, March 5-16, 2019.

Espinoza is a light-hearted, Florida-native, and also a Purple Heart recipient who has spent over a decade serving his country. Currently assigned to WTB-Hawaii, he is recovering from a motorcycle accident and receiving care at Tripler Army Medical Center. There he completed seven surgeries and received 26 pins in his left hand.


“The WTB is a great program because the unit has given me time to recover and get ‘back into the fight,'” he said. “And being a part of the WTB has also helped me to recover from my previous deployments.”

Espinoza was first led down the road to recovery in 2007 when the signal officer, a sergeant at the time, was deployed to Iraq. During a night convoy mission, Espinoza’s squad was ambushed by insurgents when his Humvee got hit by an IED and he fractured his left arm and femur.

How medically-discharged vets can get a disability rating boost

Staff Sgt. Kohl McLeod, a wounded warrior athlete from Fort Benning gets ready to shoot a bow at archery practice during the 2019 Army Trials.

(Photo by Leanne Thomas)

“I saw a bright light and my life flashed right before me … it was like shuffling a deck of cards,” he said. “The first card was me as a kid … then I recalled my entire life, all the way to current time.”

That experience, he explained, “Was an eye-opener, and it makes me feel grateful for what I have now.”

While recovering from injuries sustained during combat, Espinoza entered the U.S. Army Reserves and said he made a full recovery but went through the experience alone. Now assigned to a Warrior Transition Unit and competing in adaptive sports, Espinoza has the opportunity to heal alongside soldiers who have faced or are going through similar situations.

“It’s an honor to experience this event with other fellow warriors,” Espinoza explained.

The 2018 Pacific Regional Trials was Espinoza’s first adaptive sports competition. There he established a baseline to see where he stands as a competitor.

“I’ve seen a lot of improvement … mind, body, and soul,” he said. “This experience has made a big impact on me, and also for my family.”

Now a rookie athlete at the 2019 Army Trials, Espinoza is competing in seven of the 14 sports offered: cycling, powerlifting, archery, shooting, wheelchair basketball, rugby, and swimming.

“I’m really looking forward to competing in wheelchair basketball, but one thing I didn’t know is that I’m actually good at cycling,” the athlete explained. “It’s like a mind game and you’ve got to tell yourself ‘I’ve got this,’ because it’s seven laps, and those seven laps take a long time to finish.”

During the Trials, Espinoza, along with nearly 100 other wounded, ill, or injured soldiers and veterans are competing for the opportunity to represent Team Army at the Department of Defense Warrior Games, coming June 2019 to Tampa, Florida.

“Hopefully this experience keeps going so I can continue to learn and grow as I take this journey to the next level,” he said.

Articles

Navy set to deploy first submarine with female enlisted crew

The Bangor, Washington-based USS Michigan (SSGN 727) will soon put to sea and submerge with a crew that includes four female NCOs and 34 junior enlisted women, marking the first time the Navy has deployed a submarine with women in the enlisted ranks.


The female sailors will be divided between the Gold and Blue crews of the guided-missile submarine.

How medically-discharged vets can get a disability rating boost
INDIAN ISLAND, Wash. (Aug. 1, 2015) Sailors assigned to the Ohio-class guided-missile submarine USS Michigan (SSGN 727) Blue crew arrive at Naval Magazine Indian Island following a 20-month deployment. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Amanda R. Gray/Released)

According to the Kitsap Sun newspaper, the USS Michigan has undergone a $6 million retrofit to build out the crew quarters and heads to accommodate the female crew, including converting a bunkroom into shower space, splitting the aft washroom to allow for a shower and head combination and a watchstander head, and creating a new bunkroom from the old crew’s study.

The chief petty officers will bunk together two or three to a room, while the other women will split into nine-person bunkrooms and share a head, the newspaper said.

The Navy opened up the all-male submarine force several years ago to female sailors and deployed its first crew with women officers in 2011.

The USS Michigan’s crew is made up of 15 officers and about 140 enlisted sailors. The female enlisted submariners were chosen from 113 applicants, the Kitsap Sun reported.

The Navy reportedly plans to add as many as 550 female sailors to the submarine service by 2020.