For US troops, service-connected hearing loss is a big problem - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

For US troops, service-connected hearing loss is a big problem

Ed Timperlake was VA assistant secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs from 1989 to 1992, and served in the U.S. Marine Corps as a fighter pilot and squadron commander.

One of the little-known facts of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is that the nature of combat wounds has changed dramatically.


For most of human history, the most common combat wound was a piercing injury. Primitive spears, the Roman gladius, medieval lances and bullets all create piercing wounds, and battlefield medicine was largely focused on treating these types of injuries.

For US troops, service-connected hearing loss is a big problem

As an assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs during the George H. W. Bush administration, I saw up close how VA health care responded to the after-effects of these combat wounds. But in the years since, veteran care reflects an entirely new and complex type of injury.

A study published in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery in 2012 noted that between 2005 and 2009 — the early years of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — nearly three in four combat wounds were the result of “explosive mechanisms.” This fact was reflected in the Iranian missile attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq last month, which resulted in 109 troops sustaining varying degrees of head injuries.

Most of these troops have returned to duty, but one of the most common and least seen aspects of these injuries is hearing loss. The auditory sense is highly vulnerable to explosive mechanisms and, unlike most of the human body, many tissues associated with hearing do not regenerate themselves. When they are destroyed, they are destroyed forever. Tinnitus, otherwise known as ringing in the ears, while less serious than absolute hearing loss, is still harmful in the long term and is pervasive among troops serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Hearing loss is personal for my family. One of my nieces was born with significant hearing loss, and another is pursuing her doctorate at Gallaudet University, developing better ways to accurately test and address hearing loss. My own hearing has been degraded due to military noise. I can never forget the roar that reverberated through my head the first time I was catapulted from the deck of an aircraft carrier. As a young Marine Corps fighter pilot, the “scramble orders” I and my squadron mates received in response to threats from Cuban MiGs resulted in ear-shattering experiences with every sortie, for months at a time.

Today, more than 1.25 million veterans suffer from hearing loss, with nearly two million suffering from tinnitus. Combined, they represent the top two service-connected disabilities addressed by the VA. To its credit, the VA is doing a good job of addressing the problem with hearing conservation programs and high-tech hearing aids.

For US troops, service-connected hearing loss is a big problem

But the Defense Department is playing catch-up on the issue. After having issued faulty hearing protection to active-duty forces over the past decade, leading to countless cases of unnecessary hearing loss, the Pentagon is now testing several different styles of hearing protection for troops in the field, and confidence is high that the next generation of combat hearing protection will represent a substantial improvement.

Once these troops muster out of uniform and transition to veteran status, a large part of the challenge in helping these vets with hearing loss is technological. Low-cost hearing aids that simply amplify sound do little good, often making background noise too loud to provide any meaningful improvement in hearing conversation, music and other audible intelligence.

The private sector is making good progress on developing and improving this technology with Bluetooth capabilities and even fitness trackers, offering hope to veterans with hearing loss as they re-acclimate to civilian life.

The prospects for better hearing protection and improved service to veterans with hearing loss and tinnitus is encouraging. But we have to keep our eye on the ball to make sure our warfighters get the combat gear they need, and that veterans receive the care they earned through their sacrifice.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Gurkha who obliterated Japanese defenders with grenades and a bayonet

Havildar Bhanbhagta Gurung was a rifleman in the Indian Army when, in 1945, he rushed past his pinned-down platoon under sniper, machine gun, and rifle fire to take the fight to the Japanese on his own, cutting down five enemy positions and capturing a hill which he then defended against counterattack.


For US troops, service-connected hearing loss is a big problem

Gurkha infantry marches through the streets of Japan after the war.

(British Army)

Bhanbhagta Gurung joined the Indian Army, then part of the British Empire, soon after the outbreak of World War II and was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 2nd King Edward VII’s Own Gurkha Rifles, otherwise known as the Sirmoor Rifles.

The unit was assigned a dangerous mission in the Burma theater of the war: Sneaking behind Japanese lines and wreaking havoc until hunted down by Japanese forces, then dispersing to start all over. This “chindit” operation was successful but costly. Bhanbhagta Gurung’s unit was sent for refit and he was promoted to corporal and given command of a rifle section.

Initially, he did well in the position, but was charged with neglect of duty and demoted after his section held the wrong hill during an operation. Bhanbhagta Gurung maintained for his entire life that he had occupied the hill he was ordered to take, and it’s thought that his platoon leader had relayed the orders wrong but let Bhanbhagta Gurung take the rap.

For US troops, service-connected hearing loss is a big problem

Gurkha soldiers train in Malaya in 1941.

(British Army photo by Lt. Palmer)

Bhanbhagta Gurung was sent to another company in disgrace, but he would prove his heroism within months. In March, 1945, he was sent with the 25th Indian Division to the Burma coast with orders to proceed to the Irawaddy River through the An Pass.

Japanese defenders put up a stiff resistance to the oncoming Gurkha forces. Bhanbhagta Gurung’s company was sent against an objective code-named Snowdon East. The hill was crisscrossed with trenches and foxholes.

For US troops, service-connected hearing loss is a big problem

Gurkha artillerymen fire in Tunisia during World War II.

(British Army photo by Capt. Keating)

The Gurkhas were making their way up when enemy mortar and machine gun fire pinned them down. Grenades rained down and inflicted additional casualties. As the men looked for a way out of their predicament, a Japanese sniper in a nearby tree began picking them off.

Meanwhile, the men suffered friendly fire from their own artillery because of the odd ballistics required by firing up the hills. The big guns stopped firing, leaving the infantry without support.

Bhanbhagta Gurung decided to take care of one problem at a time. Unable to get a good shot at the sniper from his prone position, he stood up with machine gun fire flying past him and mortars and grenades exploding everywhere. He aimed his rifle into the tree and ended the unit’s sniper problem.

For US troops, service-connected hearing loss is a big problem

Gurkha forces practice using explosives to expel enemy soldiers from trenches.

(British Library)

The section moved forward again, but only made it 20 yards before the withering fire resumed. Bhanbhagta Gurung decided that he wasn’t getting pinned down again and rushed forward on his own while under the accurate machine gun fire of a nearby bunker.

He hit the first enemy foxhole and tossed in two grenades, killing both defenders, before he rushed to the next position and cleared it with his bayonet.

The rest of his section was still taking fire from two foxholes, so Bhanbhagta Gurung went to them, again turning to grenades and bayonet to clear them. By this point, he was right at the machine gun bunker that had been trying to kill him and his section for the entire assault.

For US troops, service-connected hearing loss is a big problem

A British infantryman places his Bren light machine gun into operation in 1944.

(British Army photo by Sgt. Laing)

He rushed up, still under fire, and climbed onto the roof of the bunker. Completely out of grenades and low on ammo, he grabbed two smoke grenades and tossed them through the bunker’s slit. The smoke was created by white phosphorous and the defenders rushed out, nearly blinded by it.

Bhanbhagta Gurung grabbed his traditional kukri knife and used it to kill the Japanese troops. Still, a machine gunner remained inside, raining fire on the platoon — so Bhanbhagta Gurung crawled in. He found that there wasn’t enough room to swing his knife and instead used a rock to end the gunner’s life. The hill now belonged to the Gurkhas.

Some of the Japanese defenders that had fled next organized a counterattack. Bhanbhagta Gurung organized a defense, including placing a Gurkha machine gunner in the captured bunker. The Gurkhas fended off the Japanese attack and held the hill.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QX99xJLbpzI

www.youtube.com

The Gurkhas had suffered heavy losses — approximately half the company had been killed or wounded. But the casualty rate would likely have been much higher if not for Bhanbhagta Gurung. In fcat, they may have failed to take the hill at all. Bhanbhagta Gurung was put in for the Victoria Cross and later received it.

He was also promoted, eventually regaining the rank of corporal. When the war ended later that year, he decided to get out of the military and care for family at home. He was later given a ceremonial promotion to sergeant in honor of his service and was awarded the Medal of the Order of the Star of Nepal by the King of Nepal.

The family he raised included three sons who joined the Gurkha rifles and later retired from the military. He died in March 2008 in Gorkha, a region of Nepal.

In 2015, re-enactors recreated his stunning success during a celebration marking 200 years of Gurkha service in the British military. The video is embedded above.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

How outrunning federal agents led to NASCAR racing

Prohibition was a master class in unintended consequences, good or bad.

One of those consequences is NASCAR, which is a pretty good time.


Outlawing alcohol may have seemed like a good idea at a time when saloons dominated the streets, booze corrupted politicians, and alcoholism ran rampant — but the the operative phrase here is definitely, “seemed like.” It was not the best idea. It turns out Americans love a drink and will go to great lengths — and speeds — to get it.

For US troops, service-connected hearing loss is a big problem

Just as with any other business, moonshiners making illegal “white lightning” in the Appalachian Mountains and foothills needed a way to transport their goods to market, and grandpa’s horse cart just wasn’t gonna cut it. They needed vehicles — but not just any vehicle would do.

So, how do you get hooch from the Appalachians to thirsty partygoers in the big city without attracting undue attention? As fast as possible, of course. But there’s more to it than speed: The cars have to look like your average, off-the-line vehicle. They also have to be able to haul as much product as possible. Shiners figured out the way, creating modified vehicles called “stock” cars.

Even after the official end of Prohibition, illegal distillers still needed to move product while evading authorities. They still needed those fast cars.

For US troops, service-connected hearing loss is a big problem
Just try driving one of these Ford V8 Model 18s through mountain roads at night. With no headlights. At top speed.

Bootleggers’ vehicles were fitted with advanced shock-absorption systems to protect the glass jars housing their precious cargo as they sped down mountain roads. They also had the back seats removed to fit more product. Most importantly, they had souped-up engines that allowed them to beat the feds in any race when necessary.

For US troops, service-connected hearing loss is a big problem
Americans have been making illegal whiskey since the 1700s and they probably will never stop.

Prohibition ended in 1933, but the American need for speed and love for automobiles that would come to embody the NASCAR spirit lived on.

“The deeper I looked into the whole thing and the more research I did, the more liquor I found. It was just so foundational,” Daniel Pierce, a history professor at the University of North Carolina told NASCAR. “I knew it played a role, but the thing that surprised me was that it was so much a part of the foundation of the sport.”

For US troops, service-connected hearing loss is a big problem
Police cleaning out the contents of a bootlegger’s stock car.

Even before the end of Prohibition, rum runners and bootleggers would race their souped-up, stripped-down vehicles on the roads and in the backwoods of the American South.

The sport’s anti-establishment roots were very present in NASCAR’s early days. At one of the earliest stock car races at Lakewood Speedway in Atlanta, at least five drivers had liquor law violations on their records. There was an uproar over who should be allowed to drive: “hoodlums” or law-abiding citizens?

That’s when a race promoter named Bill France gave the people who wanted to see the bootleggers drive their cars the opportunity to do so. These once-outlawed flocked to his races — and so did their fans.

In 1947, the sport that would soon become the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series was codified by France. The first race held by the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing was on Jun. 19, 1949. Today, the driving sport’s fans now number in the millions. Their drivers are less outlaw and more law-abiding, driving upwards of 200 miles per hour in some speedways… without attracting attention from the feds.

The first few generations of drivers may have had some liquor law violations on their record, but today’s NASCAR drivers have helped turn a sport of “hoodlums” into a show fit for the whole family.

Articles

VA Secretary about to sign draft master plan for West LA campus

For US troops, service-connected hearing loss is a big problem
(Photo: LA Times)


The Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald is traveling to Los Angeles to sign the draft master plan for the West LA VA campus on January 28 after months of advocacy by local veteran leaders to get their peers’ voices heard against a backdrop of wrangling between the city’s power brokers and politicians. The action comes nearly a year after the VA won a ruling to reassume control of the sprawling campus near Santa Monica that has suffered several decades worth of encroachment by non-VA organizations and inattention by the VA itself.

In 1888 John P. Jones and Arcadia B. de Baker signed a deed donating 300 Acres of West Los Angeles land to be used by the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (the precursor to the Department of Veterans Affairs) as their Pacific branch home. Over the next 127 years, the property lost it’s original focus and suffered at the hands of ineffectual government authorities who let the facility fall into disrepair and conniving interlopers from a host of organizations including a major university, an elite parochial school, and even other government agencies who wrangled large parcels for their own use (and nothing to do with veterans healthcare or well-being).

But in January 2015, VA Secretary Bob McDonald signed a settlement agreement in a class action lawsuit (Valentini v Shinseki) regarding encroachment on the campus of the facility. The agreement established a nonprofit, Vets Advocacy, to serve as a partner in the West LA VA master planning process. As the first step of that process, Vets Advocacy petitioned the veteran community for inputs on how they’d like to see VA services provided.

Vets Advocacy created a website, www.vatherightway.org, as the primary tool behind their mission.  The site allows veterans to find out about the history of the West LA VA campus, see the schedule of local town hall events, watch video testimonials of other vets, and — most importantly — take the survey regarding how the campus should be modified to better serve patients and the veteran community at large. In the period leading up to the creation of the draft master plan, more than 1,300 surveys were completed.

“The vets stepped up to the plate,” said Mike Dowling, We Are The Mighty’s director of outreach and a major force behind organizing veteran inputs on the master plan.

“The master plan is wholly informed by vet input,” said Vets Advocacy’s Dr. Jon Sherin, who ran mental health services for the West Los Angeles VA hospital. “Now Secretary McDonald is signing into law the guideposts by which all decisions regarding that land will be made.”

“The plan is not just historic for the amount of comments, but for what this represents,” Army vet Michael Cummings writes on his blog. “This plan represents the possibility to change the VA from being a hospital or housing shelter into a community that brings veterans together. The veteran leaders I’m working with don’t just want to make the VA function better, we want to build a community of veterans and work with the VA to improve the lives of the people who fought and sacrificed for our country.

“Even better, we know that we are creating a model for the whole country. Our efforts in Los Angeles are providing a blueprint for other VA campuses around the country for how to to turn from being simply a hospital into a community.”

Although getting Secretary McDonald’s signature on the draft master plan is an important milestone, the work towards realizing the promise of the document is far from over, and veteran input remains fundamental to the effort.

“The core theme among vets taking the survey was the need for a vet-driven governance structure for the community being developed on that land,” Dr. Sherin said. “We have to keep the vets’ voices alive and clear.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

The logic behind decapitating terrorist groups

Disrupting terrorist networks is inherently difficult, and success is difficult to measure. Clandestine by nature, these groups generally hide their internal functions, institutions, and various chains of command. While a potentially vast cadre of fighters, sympathizers, and suppliers wait in the wings, the outside world only glimpses a few leaders, who often serve as figureheads for their organizations.

With little else to go on, states often make targeting these leaders a key priority. From the Shining Path in Peru to ISIL in Syria and Iraq, security forces carry out operations to capture or kill mid- and upper-level leaders in the hopes that their absence will be the knockout blow necessary to defeat a terrorist organization. Recent attention has turned to ISIL leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, who is rumored to be still alive. Intelligence gathering and planning is likely underway in multiple countries to capture or kill the man who continues to lead one of the world’s deadliest terror groups. But is leadership decapitation, as this strategy is known, effective?


Leadership decapitation rests on a simple principle: taking out a key player in a terrorist group in the hope that his or her absence destroys morale and slows the group’s operational tempo. Such strategies can target both leaders – who may hold symbolic and strategic importance – and tactical experts who might be hard to replace, like bomb makers. The policy has played an important role in U.S. counterterrorism policy since 9/11, recently receiving praise from Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

While the logic is clear, the strategy’s results are mixed and depend on the terrorist group’s internal dynamics. Smaller, younger groups – variously defined – are more susceptible to the effects of leadership decapitation, as are groups without an established bureaucracy. Group type is thought to play a role as well, with religiously-oriented groups being better able to withstand the loss of a leader. Most vulnerable are groups that lean heavily on a single, charismatic leader who plays a central role in the organization.

For US troops, service-connected hearing loss is a big problem

Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

Leadership decapitation has ended some groups. The capture of Abimael Guzman and 14 other leaders of the Shining Path in 1992 quickly reduced the group to a shadow of its former self. The group struggled to recover after the capture of Guzman, who exercised near-total control. After the assassination of Fathi Shaqaqi in 1995, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) struggled to find a capable successor and only recovered years later.

However, not all groups fall into these categories. With its deep roots in a conflict that extends back decades, raids and airstrikes have killed a number of Al-Shabaab leaders, yet it continues to carry out deadly attacks, including an October 2017 truck bombing that killed more than 500 Somalis. Al-Qaeda has suffered the loss of a number of key leaders, including founder Osama Bin Laden and leaders of its Yemeni and Syrian branches. Despite these losses from 2011 to 2015, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) managed to hang on and even expand its operations in Yemen until coordinated US-UAE operations in 2016 forced the group to engage in direct combat, which reduced – but did not eliminate – the threat posed by the group in Yemen.

Perhaps no group is more emblematic of resilience in the face of leadership decapitation than ISIL itself. Airstrikes, battles, and military operations have killed many of the group’s leaders within Syria and Iraq and its numerous regional affiliates. Despite this, the group has proven capable of finding replacements. When ISIL’s chief strategist and number two, Mohammed al-Adnani, was killed in late August 2016, the group announced his replacement about two months later. ISIL continues to maintain the ability to launch deadly attacks via its worldwide cells and those inspired by its calls to violence, from Afghanistan to Indonesia to Egypt.

As evidenced above, ISIL does not fit the profile of terrorist groups vulnerable to the effects of leadership decapitation. Its well-known penchant for bureaucracy has allowed slain leaders to be quickly replaced. While the loss of ISIL leaders has likely impacted the organization, it arguably has been affected to a greater degree by the overwhelming firepower directed at the organization from every level, not just its leaders. US strikes have pounded the group’s military positions, financial stores, and its fighters at every level, not just its leader. The redundancy within ISIL’s organization and the lack of a single, charismatic leader mean that finding competent replacements is not a life or death decision for the terror group.

For US troops, service-connected hearing loss is a big problem

Lt. Col. Rod Coffey and the insurgent flag his unit captured in Diyala Province, Iraq, in 2008. The same banner would eventually be used by the Islamic State.

(U.S. Army photo)

The most frightening aspect of ISIL’s lethality comes from the cells and sympathizers strewn across the world. Central leadership can plan and order these attacks, but cells with organic roots in localized conflicts can also plan and influence their own operations. While ISIL has been reduced to a sliver of its former territory in Iraq and Syria, the threat posed by its worldwide affiliates is unlikely to disappear with Baghdadi.

To be fair, the choice to pursue terrorist leaders is not a purely strategic calculation. Arguments about the effects of leadership on terrorists’ operational capacity mean little to those who have lost loved ones or live in fear because of terrorist attacks. And when dealing with groups that have almost no public presence, targeting leaders is often one of the only options available. It would be unwise to dismiss these other considerations for pursuing a decapitation strike out of hand, just as it would be unwise to assume that killing Baghdadi or any other leader is necessarily a knockout blow.

There is little doubt that ISIL, while still dangerous, is a weakened organization. Recent success in pushing back the group – a refreshing change from 2014 and 2015, when it appeared ready to roll over much of Syria and Iraq – is owed to several factors. A growing international recognition of the threat posed by ISIL, a crackdown on those traveling to and from Syria and Iraq, and overwhelming firepower directed against the group in Syria, Egypt, Iraq and elsewhere have all played a role in reducing the threat. However, there is little reason to believe that what threat remains of ISIL would disappear with Baghdadi, especially in light of the group’s demonstrated resilience and commitment to terror.

This article originally appeared on Real Clear Defense. Follow @RCDefense on Twitter.

Military Life

Why May 2nd, 2011, was one of the greatest days in the military

Shortly after 1 a.m. PKT on May 2nd, 2011, Operation Neptune Spear was a go and the founder of al-Qaeda and mastermind behind the September 11th attacks, Osama bin Laden, was killed by SEAL Team Six in a CIA-led and 160th Special Operations Airborne Regiment-assisted mission.


President Obama announced the success to the world at 11:35 p.m. EST on Sunday, May 1st. The world cheered and the expression “tears of joy” doesn’t even come close to conveying the magnitude of emotions felt by the entire military community. To post-9/11 troops, this was our equivalent of V-J Day.

For US troops, service-connected hearing loss is a big problem
No tickertape parades. No randomly grabbing nurses and kissing them. But we did party a lot.
(Photo by Lt. Victor Jorgensen)

I was still in the Army at this point and this is my story.

It was 10:35 p.m. CST when we got the news at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. My unit had just returned from Afghanistan two months prior and I was still living off-post in an apartment I shared with my ex-wife. I get a text from my NCO that read, simply, “turn on the news.”

Out of context, you always assume the worst. I was wrong. I caught the last part of President Obama’s speech but the ticker that ran across the bottom of the screen read, “Osama bin Laden Killed” and I couldn’t focus on anything else.

My phone started blowing up saying everyone was basically throwing a party — despite the fact that it was a Sunday night before a 12-mile ruck march. Not a single soldier in that barracks was sober that night. Music was blasting, horns were being honked, everyone was screaming, and the MPs joined in instead of crashing the party.

A few hours later, at PT, the formation reeked of alcohol. Our normally salty first sergeant didn’t complain and broke the news to us (as if any of us hadn’t yet heard) with a big ol’ grin. He was one of the first conventional soldiers to step foot in Afghanistan back in 2001. Almost ten years later and he’s barely standing on his feet. Ruck march was cancelled and we were released until work call at 0900.

At the motor pool, no one was actually servicing their vehicles. This was the one day the E-4 Mafia got its way. Everyone just kicked the tires and checked off that it was good to go. No one cared enough to work… except the motor sergeant who, understandably, lost his sh*t (but took it in stride).

For US troops, service-connected hearing loss is a big problem
I was commo. It’s not like we did motor pool maintenance anyways.
(Weapons of Meme Destruction)

No one was training back in the company area. We just shared war stories to the new guys that didn’t deploy with us, stories we hadn’t heard on deployment, and stories we’ve all heard a million times.

Keeping in line with how we spent our day, joyfully sharing stories with one another, let us know in the comment section about what you were doing on May 2nd, 2011.

MIGHTY GAMING

Blizzard fans plan protests after company’s response to Blitzchung ban

After a week-long controversy and accusations of censorship, Blizzard Entertainment responded late Oct. 11, 2019, to say China did not influence its decision to ban a professional gamer from Hong Kong for supporting anti-China protests. But the gaming community has been reluctant to accept Blizzard’s latest explanation of the move, and many are still planning protests at the company’s upcoming conference, BlizzCon.

“Hearthstone” player Ng Wai Chung, better known as Blitzchung, wore a gas mask and called for the liberation of Hong Kong during a post-match interview at a Blizzard-sponsored event on Oct. 5, 2019. Blizzard initially responded by banning him from competition for one year, and saying that it would no longer work with the two commentators who conducted the interview.


The company said Blitzchung violated the rules of the competition by making political statements, and claimed that the statements damaged the company’s image by offending a portion of the public.

The punishment was harshly criticized by fans and U.S. lawmakers who accused the company of censoring free speech to protect its relationships in China, a massive and highly lucrative market with strict laws that require companies operating in the country to censor or remove content at the government’s request. Players threatened to boycott Blizzard’s games in response and a small group of Blizzard employees staged a walkout to show support for the protesters in Hong Kong.

After staying silent for several days, Blizzard Entertainment President J.Allen Brack pushed back against claims that Blizzard’s business in China influenced the company’s decision in a statement published Oct. 11, 2019. The company reduced the suspension of Blitzchung and the two commentators to six months and reinstated Blitzchung’s prize money, but Brack reiterated that Blitzchung had violated the rules of the competition.

“There is a consequence for taking the conversation away from the purpose of the event and disrupting or derailing the broadcast,” Brack wrote in a statement.

Blizzard’s reduced punishment didn’t do much to change public perception

Critics remain skeptical of Brack’s claim that China had no impact on Blizzard’s decision, and many suggested that Blizzard should have lifted its suspension of Blitzchung and the two competitors entirely.

Others accused Blizzard of trying to minimize its concession by making a statement on a Friday evening, a common tactic used to diminish negative press in a weekend news cycle. Former Blizzard producer Mark Kern said the company used the same strategy while he was working there.

Protesters upset with Blizzard’s lack of support for Hong Kong are planning to show up at the company’s annual fan convention, BlizzCon, on November 1. One group of protesters planned to form picket lines outside of the event and interrupt BlizzCon panel discussions with questions about Hong Kong. The same group is demanding that Blizzard make a public statement in support of Hong Kong, apologize and reverse the punishment, and create a special protest costume for the Chinese “Overwatch” character Mei.

Ultimately, Brack’s statement did little to change the perception of Blizzard’s punishment of Blitzchung, though the “Hearthstone” player said he accepted the company’s stance on the situation. Blizzard will have to wait and see if time will heal the company’s public perception, and hope the situation doesn’t escalate further with planned protests in the coming weeks.

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

Articles

This female veteran says they’ll have to pry her uniform out of her hands

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of profiles of incredible female veterans that WATM will be presenting in concert with Women’s History Month.


Young Amy Forsythe was champing at the bit to get into the military and continue her family’s tradition of military service. Her grandfather had been a Marine and her grandmother had been an Army nurse, and the two of them met while serving in on the Pacific island of Saipan during World War II.

To please her parents, Forsythe attended junior college for a few years, but she couldn’t suppress her desire to serve. She enlisted in the Marines in 1993 as a combat correspondent and spent her first year as a radio broadcaster stationed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

For US troops, service-connected hearing loss is a big problem
Amy Forsythe (right) in Iraq in 2006 with her then-boss Megan McClung who was later killed in Ramadi.

 

“I ended up serving about eight years on active duty in the Marine Corps and then I went into the reserves before 9/11,” she explained. “After the attacks, it was inevitable that I would be mobilized.”

She deployed to Kabul, Afghanistan as a public affairs chief with an Army Civil Affairs Task Force in 2002 and 2003, the period when insurgent IED attacks were just starting to heat up. In 2006, she deployed with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force to Al Anbar province, Iraq.

During the 2006 deployment in Fallujah, things started to really heat up,” Forsythe remembers. “We had a lot of close calls — rocket attacks, mortars — we were moving this huge satellite dish around Ramadi and Fallujah trying to avoid heavy engagements. My boss was also a female Marine, Major Megan McClung, and she was killed in Ramadi, which gives you the sense of what was happening.”

Forsythe saw a lot of women serving in combat zones and fighting alongside their male counterparts, regardless of billet or MOS.

“Women in combat isn’t anything new,” she says. “In the Marines, every Marine is a rifleman at the basic level. During Desert Storm, people said Americans weren’t ready for women to come home in body bags, but every person in a forward deployed area is susceptible to injury or death. Women serve and take just as much risk as men. If women can meet the standards, then everyone else can adjust.”

For US troops, service-connected hearing loss is a big problem
Forsythe in Afghanistan in 2013 with a member of the Afghan National Police.

In 2006, Forsythe and her teammate, then-Cpl. Lynn Murillo took a lot of risks shuttling a satellite dish around Anbar Province, connecting Iraqi military and civic leaders with the pan-Arab media for the first time during the Iraq War. Since much of the success of the American mission in Iraq depended on controlling information, it was a critical mission.

She and Murillo spent most of their time out with Marines on foot patrols covering the Iraqi army training and connecting service members with hometown news stations and national news outlets. After a year in Anbar, she redeployed but was right back there a year later, astonished at the changes in the area.

“I couldn’t believe how things changed in Haditah and Ramadi,” she recalls. “There were still attacks to the base and personnel, but it was amazing to see the improvements to the infrastructure, roads, schools, etc. In 2006, the insurgency was at its worst and out of control. By 2008, Anbar Province was seeing security improvements and new construction underway.”

Her 22-year career spans changes for the U.S. military and for the women who serve. “I’ve seen so many changes through the years, but the wars helped prove women are willing to shoulder the burden of serving in combat zones. After her two tours in Iraq, she returned to Afghanistan in 2012 and also served with U.S. Africa Command based in Stuttgart, Germany, in 2014.

Of all her assignments and risks, one the most harrowing events of her career occurred when she was on temporary duty assigned to the public affairs office at the Washington Navy Yard in September 2013.

“It started like any other ordinary day, until the Navy Yard Shooter put us in lockdown mode,” Forsythe remembers. Our office was next to Building 174, the scene of a mass-shooting incident. “It was surreal, tragic and beyond belief. After surviving four combat tours, there we were in Washington, D.C., losing all those people.”

After her first three combat tours, Forsythe accomplished what she set out to do in the military. Serving about 18 years in the Marines on both active duty and in the reserves, Forsythe was looking forward to retiring from the reserves until the Marine colonel for whom she worked encouraged her to apply for the Navy’s Direct Commission Officer program.

“I didn’t know this program existed,” Forsythe says. “But accepting a commission with the Navy is a continuation of my desire to serve. When you go from enlisted to officer, you can look forward to a 35 or 40-year career and retire at age 60.”

Her education and experience as a military journalist allowed her land a job as a reporter and occasional anchor for a local television station. And these days, when not activated, she runs a media company in the San Diego area.

“I love seeing veterans transition out of the military and end up owning their own businesses,” says Forsythe. “It’s so encouraging to see vetreprenuers who have certain skill sets and want to own their own business. Putting a dollar price on your services isn’t easy. It’s hard to determine your own value because you don’t want to under-sell yourself.”

She doesn’t consider herself special, but makes it a point to inform anyone, especially female service members, that anything is possible if you are aware of your own potential.

“I would tell other female service members and veterans to be curious. Be creative. Be confident. In other words, keep learning and seeking knowledge, use creative problem-solving techniques and believe in yourself.”

Serving as enlisted and as an officer, on active duty and in the reserves, in both the Marines and the Navy, Forsythe encourages others to seek opportunities in the reserves.

“It’s been a struggle to balance a civilian career,” she says. “But it’s like having the best of both worlds. Cutting ties with the military too abruptly can cause regret for some service members. Plus, the extra monthly pay and camaraderie with other ‘weekend warriors’ is a great way to stay connected with others who have similar experiences.”

“I’m sure they’ll have to pry the uniform out of my hands when that retirement day comes,” says Forsythe. “But I will always advocate for veterans. The service has been such a part of my life, I will continue to serve in uniform for as long as I can.”

Now: This Female Vet Is One Of History’s Most Decorated Combat Photographers

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is how the US decides when and where to drop bombs on ISIS

US-led coalition airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria hit record levels in August, dropping 5,075 bombs during close-air-support, escort, or interdiction operations.


That was the highest monthly total recorded during Operation Inherent Resolve, the three-year campaign against ISIS.

The amount of bombs dropped in each of the first eight months of 2017 exceeded the total of any other month during the campaign.

The 32,801 weapons deployed by coalition aircraft through August 2017 is more than the 30,743 dropped all last year, which was the previous annual high for Operation Inherent Resolve.

The sustained uptick in bombing during the first months of President Donald Trump’s administration seems to fulfill his campaign promise to “bomb the s— out of” ISIS. But the increase in bombings is also likely driven by intense operations in Mosul and Raqqa, ISIS’ last major urban strongholds in Iraq and Syria, respectively.

Close-quarters fighting against determined ISIS militants in reinforced positions often necessitates close air support from Iraqi and coalition aircraft. (Not all aircraft active over Iraq and Syria are under US control, so the total number of weapons used is likely higher.)

For US troops, service-connected hearing loss is a big problem
USAF photo by Senior Airman Steve Czyz

Calls for airstrikes “would come from forces on the ground that an enemy’s been identified, say, in this house,” US Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Robert Sofge, director of the Combined Joint Operations Center in Baghdad, told Business Insider earlier this month. CJOC, as it’s called, liaises with Iraqi security forces and government officials and is one of two strike cells in Iraq that manage such engagements, Sofge said.

“The enemy’s been in a house, and that enemy’s firing from this structure,” Sofge said, describing a potential strike scenario. “So the first thing we do in a strike like that, we become aware of it, and we know where it is with great precision, 10-digit grids, down to the meter.”

Coalition personnel and their local partners have a database of “category-one structures” that they will avoid targeting because they have infrastructural or historic value, including religious centers or hospitals. ISIS fighters are known to make use of those structures for that reason, Sofge said.

“If it’s not that, it’s still a [category two] structure that we would have to go through a rigorous process to say, ‘Hey, this structure can be removed from its inherent protected status because of what’s going there on now. There’s fighters in there shooting at the Iraqi security forces.’ So first we establish that we can go engage with this thing,” Sofge told Business Insider.

“Then we apply a some fairly strict criteria of positive identification: How do we know who that is and what they’re doing, and we have multiple intelligence requirements — it can’t just be one thing; we have multiple indications that that is in fact what’s going on from that place,” he said, adding:

“And then we have a legal review that says that engaging this target comports with the laws of armed conflict and that engaging in these circumstances is permissible according to those laws, and once we’ve established all of those things we go to the government of Iraq and ask them for permission to strike that building, and they’ll say yes or no, and they do say both, depending on the structure. They do a pretty thorough review themselves.”

For US troops, service-connected hearing loss is a big problem
U.S. Army and Air Force personnel assigned to Company B, 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, return fire at insurgent positions in the Korengal valley’s steep hillside in Afghanistan’s Kunar province, Aug. 13. The 20 minute gun battle ended with 500 pound bombs, dropped by U.S. Air Force F-15 fighter jets, destroying insurgent positions in the surrounding hills., no civilians were injured during the battle. International Security Assistance Forces across Afghanistan have increased operations in recent months, in order to ensure safety and security during Afghanistan’s second national election, scheduled for the end of August.

Sofge said coalition personnel will then, “within the bounds of proportionality,” do engineering analysis to see what will be damaged in a strike and what effect it would have on nearby structures. That’s followed by the weapon-selection process.

“We have an array of weapons available in support of the Iraqi security forces,” he said. “We’ll choose from among those and then use them in order to make sure that we do enough damage to kill the target and kill what it is that’s attracted the Iraqi Security Forces’ attention.”

Sofge, who stressed coalition forces’ efforts to avoid civilian casualties, said the actual process likely takes less time to complete than it does to describe, in part because of the experience they have doing it and because parts of it happen concurrently.

The US-led coalition’s air campaign against ISIS has attracted intense scrutiny for the number of civilian casualties it is believed to have caused.

For US troops, service-connected hearing loss is a big problem

According to Airwars, a UK-based independent monitoring group, between Trump’s inauguration and mid-July, more than 2,200 civilians appeared to have been killed in coalition airstrikes — almost as many as the 2,300 likely killed by coalition strikes under Obama.

That works out to 80 civilian casualties a month under Obama and 360 a month during the Trump administration.

Civilian deaths under Trump peaked in March, with nearly 700 confirmed or likely casualties. They have declined since June and July, when fighting in Mosul wrapped up.

Concerns about the air campaign were also piqued by reports the coalition had loosened its rules of engagement, allowing US and other coalition personnel on the ground to move closer to the front line and call in strikes and artillery fire directly, rather than going “through a whole bureaucracy and through Baghdad,” one embedded US adviser told the Associated Press at the time.

A coalition spokesman told the AP the rules of engagement had been “adjusted” in December, “empowering” more coalition forces “to call in airstrikes without going through a strike cell.”

The Pentagon contested that report, saying in March that overarching guidelines about such strikes had not changed, even as US personnel were being embedded at lower levels within Iraqi Security Forces units and appeared to be closer to direct combat.

For US troops, service-connected hearing loss is a big problem
A member of the Iraqi Security Forces establishes a security perimeter around an HH-60M Black Hawk helicopter. Photo by Capt. Stephen James.

Asked if the process to carry out strikes had changed during the fighting in Mosul, Sofge said “not appreciably,” adding that the process did see “refinements” regarding Iraqi permission for airstrikes.

“Some of the processes tend to be centralized, and in effort to decentralize them while still retaining the integrity of an Iraqi permission [it] was tweaked by the Iraqi government, not by the strike cells, as to who’s the Iraqi giving you the thumbs-up that the government has given permission,” Sofge told Business Insider.

“I know in some cases [it] was lowered a level in an effort to streamline the process so it was more effective to the fighters on the ground,” he added, “but there was no change from a coalition perspective in the process — only who was the person saying ‘yes’ to the strike on the Iraqi side.”

Such an adjustment may have given Iraqi commanders on the front line more say in when and where strikes took place.

For US troops, service-connected hearing loss is a big problem

The Iraqi government declared the liberation of Mosul in early July, though cleaning up munitions left there by the fighting could take a decade or more.

ISIS fighters remain in some pockets of Iraq, mostly in the north-central part of the country and in the far western desert.

Iraqi forces, backed by the coalition, have launched assaults on those positions in recent days.

In Syria, the months-long fight in Raqqa has gained ground, according to US Army Col. Ryan Dillon, a coalition spokesman.

More than 75% of the city is now cleared of ISIS fighters, he said on Thursday, adding that Syrian Democratic Forces, a mainly Kurdish force partnering with the coalition, “have made clear progress and we are seeing ISIS begin to lose its grip on their self-declared capital in Raqqa.”

MIGHTY MOVIES

Michael Keaton rumored to play Batman again

We’re getting a little excited here. An out-of-left-field rumor is making the rounds that Michael Keaton might play Bruce Wayne again in the strangest way possible. That’s right, your favorite Batman and star of “Mr. Mom” might once again play an older version of the millionaire playboy who also likes dressing up like a bat.

On Oct. 21, 2019, We Got This Covered suggested that certain sources are claiming that Michael Keaton could play an older Bruce Wayne in a live-action version of “Batman Beyond.” What is “Batman Beyond,” you ask? Well, from 1999-2001 it was an animated follow-up to the beloved “Batman: The Animated Series,” and focused on a new young Batman in a kind of futuristic Gotham City. Instead of Bruce Wayne underneath the mask, it was a guy named Terry McGinnis. But, here’s the rub, in that storyline, Bruce Wayne was still alive: We was just an old guy who worked out of the Batcave as Terry’s Obi-Wan Kenobi.


Basically, in “Batman Beyond,” Bruce Wayne becomes like the new Alfred fused with Lucius Fox from the “Dark Knight” movies. So, if Michael Keaton played Bruce Wayne in a live-action “Batman Beyond,” that would mean he’d be whispering in a younger Batman’s ear from a sick-ass control room.

For US troops, service-connected hearing loss is a big problem

(Warner Bros.)

Most likely this is just a rumor, but then again, what if this is secretly part of the new Robert Pattinson film; “The Batman.” We all assumed Pattinson was playing Bruce Wayne, but what if he’s not? What if he’s a new Batman and Keaton is playing the old Batman?

It’s likely not true. But for now, we can dream.

This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.

Articles

The ‘Fork-tailed devil’ terrified Japanese pilots

Among the fighters that allowed America to win World War II, the P-38 Lightning was uniquely successful and was dubbed the “fork-tailed Devil” by the Germans even though its greatest successes came in the Pacific, Mediterranean, and North African theaters.


Army Air Corps leaders first solicited for what would become the P-38 in 1937 with the specification X-608, a request for a new pursuit aircraft that could fly 360 mph at 20,000 feet, reach 20,000 feet in six minutes, and run at full power at that altitude for at least an hour. They also wanted a long combat radius and plenty of firepower.

For US troops, service-connected hearing loss is a big problem
The J model of the P-38 carried the same .50-cal machine guns and 20mm cannons of its predecessors, but could also carry bombs. (Photo: U.S. Army Air Force)

Lockheed, a newcomer to the military market, submitted the XP-38, a radical departure from conventional aircraft design that featured three pods and two tails. The outer pods lined up with the tails and each carried an Allison V-1710 engine with 1,000 hp.

While the XP-38 was a radical design, the Army adopted it anyway because they needed its power and speed to compete with new German and British designs. And it packed a lot of punch with four .50-cal. machine guns and a single 20 mm cannon, all crammed into the nose.

For US troops, service-connected hearing loss is a big problem
The P-38 Lightning was the premiere twin-engine American fighter in World War II. It had four .50-cal. machine guns and a 20 mm cannon in its nose. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Museum)

The plane went through continued testing and design refinements before reaching Army pilots in 1940. Upon its debut, it was capable of reaching an altitude of 3,300 feet in one minute and could hit 400 mph with a range of 1,150 miles.

But production was slow and the Army had only 69 P-38s, so Lockheed was forced to subcontract parts to get the plane into combat for the U.S. But the P-38 arrived on the front lines with a vengeance. In early 1942, its pilots became the first Americans to down a Luftwaffe plane and P-38s carried seven of the top fighter aces of the Pacific theater.

The Lightning’s finest hour probably came on April 18, 1943. Naval Intelligence had learned that Japanese Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, the commander and architect of the Pearl Harbor attacks, would be inspecting troops in the Pacific on that date.

For US troops, service-connected hearing loss is a big problem
The last known photograph of Japanese Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto before he was killed by American P-38s. (Photo: Public Domain)

The military rushed together a plan to attack the admiral. The scheme called for fighters to fly approximately 600 miles out and 400 miles back with enough fuel available in the middle for fierce fighting. The only Pacific fighter capable of the feat in 1943 was the P-38 equipped with drop tanks.

A kill team of four P-38s flew with 12 others to an intercept point, dropped their tanks, and attacked the two bombers and six fighters of Yamamoto’s flight and escort. Two Americans had to peal off when their drop tanks failed to disconnect, but the other 14 successfully downed both bombers and the Zeros bugged out. One P-38 was lost in the battle and Yamamoto was killed along with his deputy.

America’s top-scoring fighter ace of all time, Maj. Richard Bong, achieved all of his 40 aerial victories in P-38s and the number two ace, Maj. Thomas B. McGuire, Jr., achieved most of his 38 kills in the P-38.

For US troops, service-connected hearing loss is a big problem
Famed aviator Charles A. Lindbergh with Maj. Thomas B. McGuire, America’s second-highest fighter Ace of all time. (Photo: U.S. Air Force archives)

All of this is not to say that the P-38 was perfect. It suffered a number of drawbacks including a tendency to become unstable at speeds approaching Mach 1 and to become unresponsive to controls during high-speed dives.

In Europe, the plane that dominated over the Pacific became a major liability for pilots because it wasn’t designed to withstand the extreme cold of Europe’s winter air at 20,000 feet and higher, especially in the particularly bitter 1943-1944 winter.

Pilots suffered hypothermia and frostbite in the barely heated cockpit and the engines were prone to failures as their intakes over-cooled incoming air.

For US troops, service-connected hearing loss is a big problem

The commander of the 20th Flight Group, Col. Harold J. Rau, was ordered to provide a written report as to why the P-38 wasn’t more successful in Europe. He asked the recipient to imagine a fresh-out-of-flight-school with less than 30 flight hours who was suddenly attacked by Luftwaffe fighters.

He must turn, he must increase power and get rid of those external tanks and get on his main. So, he reaches down and turns two stiff, difficult gas switches to main, turns on his drop tank switches, presses his release button, puts the mixture to auto rich, increases his RPM, increases his manifold pressure, turns on his gun heater switch, turns on his combat switch and he is ready to fight.

And the process was unforgiving of errors. Reversing the order of the engine steps or skipping a step could cause the engine to explode or throw a rod, either of which would rob the pilot of vital power during a dogfight. And all of this has to be done while German rounds are already ripping past or through the plane.

Luckily, the debut of the P-51 gave a viable alternative to the P-38. It didn’t suffer from the cold-weather problems of the P-38 and had comparable or better speed, range, and maneuverability at most altitudes while being easier for rookies to fly. It’s only major shortcoming against the P-38 was that it had only one engine and it was more susceptible to damage than either of the Lightning’s two.

MIGHTY TRENDING

7 veteran qualities that civilian employers go crazy over

When it’s time for troops to hang up their uniform for the last time and go pick up that beautiful DD-214, they’re subjected to countless classes on how to adapt in the civilian world and use the strengths they’ve picked up in the military to give themselves a leg up in a competitive civilian marketplace.

Troops who had more POGy jobs in the military may have an easier time making the transition. If you worked in the commo shop, there’s countless IT desks out there you can apply for. Flight-line mechanics can make bank working for airlines. But even combat arms guys aren’t limited to positions as security guards or fast-food workers, no matter how many times the retention NCO tells you so.


The fact is, any good soldier, Marine, sailor, or airman who fit perfectly in the formation comes away from service with valuable skills that employers look for in potential employees. Here are a few qualities that veterans have had drilled into them every day since basic training that help them stand out over most civilian competitors.

For US troops, service-connected hearing loss is a big problem

We’ve mastered the art of “hurry up and wait,” so showing up early and killing idle time is no problem.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Brian Ferguson)

The 15-minutes-prior schedule

If you’re on time, you’re late. If you’re fourteen minutes early, you’re still late. Civilians tend to pull some excuse that explains why it’s definitely not their fault that they’re arriving at 10:05 for a 10 a.m. meeting.

That fifteen-minute buffer works wonders with the way most civilians schedule things. The higher up in an organization you go, the more promptly meetings tend to start. If you’ve been ready for 15 minutes already, nobody will end up waiting on you. You’re set.

For US troops, service-connected hearing loss is a big problem

You’ll never find a more open and, uh, “creative” conversation than those held at a deployed smoke pit.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

Blunt honesty

We’ve seen it happen a million times: Someone throws out an awful suggestion and it’s met with agreeable silence. Everyone is too afraid to speak up because their reputation is on the line for speaking out of turn. Then, out of the corner, a veteran speaks up and says, “well that’s dumb. Why the f*ck would we do that?”

If there’s one thing that sets a veteran apart in a board room it’s their ability to avoid being a yes man. It may ruffle the feathers of people who expect everyone to nod along, but at the very least, it moves the meter.

For US troops, service-connected hearing loss is a big problem

If you thought vets couldn’t also handle useless and drawn-out PowerPoint presentations, think again!

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Alfonso Corral)

No aversion to manual labor

Veterans can safely celebrate the fact that when they get a new job, if something comes up that’s not in the job description, it’s not expected of them. That’s right: if you’re now an office drone working some cubicle job, no one will randomly get on your ass for not cleaning the break room.

Sometimes, however, things just need to get done. Using that same example, an entire day could go by in a civilian office and people will simply walk by that messy break room thinking, “it’s not my responsibility.” Most vets, on the other hand, would instinctively clean it up without giving it a second thought.

For US troops, service-connected hearing loss is a big problem

The same goes the other way around. Knowing who does the leg work in an organization makes a leader’s work a million times easier.

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Chlosta)

Acknowledgement of hierarchy

Things are nice and easy when everyone wears their rank on their uniform. You can instantly look at their insignia and recognize where they stand in the chain of command — no questions asked. That simple insignia tells the world what is expected of you, in accordance with your rank.

The civilian workplace doesn’t really have those kinds of markings — but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a pecking order. Vets just need to know who’s in charge of them and who’s in charge of the people in charge and they’re set.

For US troops, service-connected hearing loss is a big problem

Sometimes, leading from the front means letting a subordinate take the spotlight. That’s surprisingly rare in the civilian world.

(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Andrew Parks)

Willingness to take a leadership position

Everyone wants the bigger job, bigger desk, bigger pay check, but too few people are willing to exit their comfort zone to get it. They’ll whine about that one guy getting an extra zero in his paycheck but slink at any opportunity to prove their worth.

Vets, on the other hand, will usually take it upon themselves to organize their coworkers if they see a lack of leadership and make themselves the face of their team without even realizing it. Willingly taking on that leadership role proves to the company that the vet is serious and values the company. This almost always gives that vet more firepower when it comes time to shoot for a raise.

For US troops, service-connected hearing loss is a big problem

The ever-looming glare of a drill sergeant never leaves the back of your mind. Ever.

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Ken Scar)

Separation of work life and personal life

Keeping what’s going on in your personal life from affecting your work life is a difficult skill to master. It’s a beyond-useful talent to be able to set aside any personal problems when it’s time to get serious and work. The other part of this equation is not letting personal drama bleed into getting the mission done.

Troops and vets have been constantly cattle prodded into moving forward and to quit whining about unrelated stuff. This is second nature.

For US troops, service-connected hearing loss is a big problem

There’s no gray area in “until mission complete.” Either it’s impossible or it’ll be done by lunch time.

(U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt. David W. Cline)

The mission-first mentality

If there’s a single quality that civilian employers can expect from nearly every veteran, it’s that veterans will always be task-oriented. They’ll see a checklist as a thing to complete rather than a thing to dread.

From the moment troops enlist, they’re taught to juggle roughly seven thousand different tasks inherent to military life, in addition to those associated with their given MOS. There’s a job to be done, so let’s get to it.

MIGHTY TRENDING

‘Top Gun’ school requests huge expansion for realistic training

“Top Gun” is due for an upgrade. And no, it’s not the upcoming sequel to the classic 1986 film due out in 2019.

The ranges at Naval Air Station Fallon (NASF) in rural western Nevada – the epicenter of naval aviation combat training – have not seen a significant modernization in more than 20 years. Since then, the exponential evolution of aircraft and long-range weapons technologies have made Fallon Range Training Complex (FRTC) too small for pilots to realistically train for combat.

Realizing this, in 2016 the Navy published a proposal which would expand FRTC to meet the evolved training requirements. Under the plan, an additional 945 square miles of public land and 102 square miles of non-federal land would be withdrawn for military use.


“This is an absolutely enormous modernization, a once in a generation expansion which is critically important for naval aviation,” said Alex Stone, a Pacific Fleet environmental planner who conducted an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) for the project.

But FRTC’s modernization program is under the gun: the permits for its current ranges – in use for 77 years – will expire in 2021, and the plan needs to be implemented before then. Doing so, however, would potentially impact a broad range of actors: ranchers, miners, hunters, 17 different tribes, off-road recreation enthusiasts, as well as a host of federal, state, and local agencies.

“We’re withdrawing an additional 750,000 acres, so even though it’s a rural area, that withdrawn land is going to take from the public a lot of areas for which there are currently other uses,” Stone explained. “What makes this such a challenging, complex project is the number of stakeholders involved, because this withdrawal affects so many different groups and each of these groups has a unique set of concerns and issues.”

For US troops, service-connected hearing loss is a big problem

U.S. Navy Lt. Matthew Stroup, left, and Sophia Haberman, Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center, examine ways to attract new talent through strategic communication with USC™s Dr. Tom Hollihan during NPS™ Strategic Communication Workshop.

Stone’s team has leaned into this challenge. They’ve brought in a range of experts, including anthropologists, biologists, and geologists, and held a series of open meetings with the Bureau of Land Management to keep the public informed and engaged in the process.

Yet they want and need to do more. And do it better.

“The success or failure of this project is really going to be tied to how well we can communicate with these different stakeholders,” Stone said. And that’s what brought the Top Gun team to the Naval Postgraduate School.

In early August 2018, Stone and 22 colleagues travelled to the university to refine their team’s strategic communication capability. Along with dozens of key members from multiple commands throughout the Navy, they took part in the school’s intense, three-day Strategic Communications Workshop (SCW), Aug. 7-9, 2018.

Developed by NPS’ Center for Executive Education (CEE), the SCW provides a deep dive into the design, planning and implementation of large-scale communications initiatives. Participants teamed up with both NPS faculty and professors from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism (USC-ASCJ) to apply the latest research and lessons learned from across the Department of Defense (DOD) and industry.

“These workshops make you stop and say, ‘OK, where are we?,'” said Gail Fann Thomas, SCW program manager and an associate professor in NPS’ Graduate School of Business and Public Policy (GSBPP).

“Once you conduct a strategic analysis, you can improve your communication tactics: who are your key stakeholders and how do they impact the achievement of your goals? What messages are your actions conveying, both inside and outside your organization?


“How can your organization’s communication provide better linkages between your day-to-day activities and your commander’s priorities?” she continued. “Might new media such as crowdsourcing and social media better create your desired effects? How are you maximizing your strategic effect with communication processes and metrics?”

To help commands across the services tackle these questions, Thomas has led more than 300 SCWs since becoming program manager in 2005, both at NPS and around the globe, bringing the workshop to commands on invitation.

At each SCW, attendees acquire new skills and tools to work through the military’s most vexing communications issues, from conducting in-depth stakeholder analyses to assessing communications risks, and developing metrics to track the effectiveness of initiatives.

“They’re not here to learn out of a textbook and go home,” Thomas said. “They all bring a real, concrete issue that they’re trying to work through, either because they’re looking ahead and saying, ‘Wow, we don’t know how we’re going to get there,’ or ‘We’ve got to do something different, and we don’t think we know enough to be able to do it.'”

All too often, strategic communications is incorrectly equated with ‘messaging.’ The SCW emphasizes the strategic analysis necessary prior to developing messages in order to ensure unity of efforts, actions and words.

For US troops, service-connected hearing loss is a big problem

U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Lazir Ablaza, a fighter pilot with the 157th Fighter Squadron at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C., prepares to launch an F-16 Fighting Falcon for a training mission from Naval Air Station Fallon, Nev., Nov. 13, 2014

(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Caycee Watson)

“Often a leader will say ‘Where’s my story? Give me an article; give me a message,’ but you have to stop and ask whether that’s the right thing, the right media, the right topic, and addressing the right people,” Thomas noted. “There’s a whole lot of work that has to be done before you figure out what your message might be.”

A key component of this is communications is within the organization itself.

In an era defined by the ubiquity of social media – when a Facebook post by a junior enlisted service member has the potential to end up on the front page of the Washington Post – it is absolutely critical that all personnel are on the ‘same sheet of music.’


“If their internal communication isn’t aligned very well, that means their external communication isn’t very good either, because you probably have different people telling different stories,” Thomas said. “So, the SCW helps them do the diagnostics and better align their internal communication.”

This was an ‘Ah-ha!’ moment for Navy Lt. Matt Stroup.

A public affairs officer (PAO) with the Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC) in San Diego, his team paired up with USC-ASCJ doctoral studies director Tom Hollihan to find new ways to attract talented warfare tactics instructors to the command.

“We came here fully expecting to be externally focused on how best to communicate with the audience from a mass communications perspective, but what we’ve learned working with Tom is to identify the internal processes to our organization,” Stroup said.

Often, leaders think a PAO can dictate perceptions or actions through a single product, Stroup said.

“But it’s very much a team game,” he added. “It’s not something that you can do with just one person and hope they’re going to fix it.”

Hollihan was fully confident that Stroup’s team will be able to take their insights gleaned at the SCW home with them.

“They didn’t really know each other well, but this has been kind of an introduction to their own attitudes, values and styles,” he said. “What impressed me is how much respect they seemed to have for each other’s ideas and how productive the conversation was.”

Stroup described the SCW as “an incredibly valuable experience.”

“There aren’t too many other times in my career where I’m going to be able to sit for six to eight hours with a leading professor from one of the most highly-rated communications doctoral program in the U.S. and get some guidance on how to do this,” he said. “That’s gold as far as I’m concerned.”

This is a sentiment echoed by Navy Cmdr. James Johnston, who attended the SCW as part of the team from Commander, Naval Air Forces (CNAF), the command responsible for all naval aviation, including the Top Gun school.

“It’s been humbling,” he said. “I’d like to think that all of us got to the positions we’re at by being masters of our craft, but none of us has a lot of experience in communications other than communicating to subordinates.

“This program is a good example of how a command can accelerate their learning curve. In order to get this amount of concentrated teaching, you’d probably have to attend a whole semester class,” Johnston continued. “This will enable us to go back to our command and help our entire staff learn a lot quicker how to get through this process.”

That’s a win, according to Thomas. Enabling an organic strategic communications capability is the ultimate goal of the SCW, allowing commands to get ahead of crises before they develop.

“Nothing happens without communication, but for the most part, people don’t think about communication at all until a crisis happens and then they go, ‘Why didn’t we think about that?,'” she said. “Instead of being in crisis mode all the time, we want people to be able to look at the communication that’s needed and to anticipate and be proactive about it. Then, have a strategy around our communication for whatever it is.”

The SCW certainly accomplished this for the team negotiating the challenges of the Fallon range modernization effort, Stone said.

“We can get the process and all the facts right, but without the communication, we’re not going to be successful,” he said. “This workshop really gave us a path forward for how to approach communicating with all the stakeholders involved.

“So many people have been appreciative that they had the opportunity to attend something like this,” Stone added. “Everyone came away refocused on the project and full of enthusiasm moving forward.”

This article originally appeared on the United States Navy. Follow @USNavy on Twitter.