“Kael Weston’s The Mirror Test is essential reading for anyone seeking to come to terms with our endless wars…. A riveting, on-the- ground look at American policy and its aftermath.” – Phil Klay, author of Redeployment
John Kael Weston spent seven years on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan (2003-2010) as a State Department political advisor to Marine Corps generals. From Sadr City and Fallujah in Iraq to the Khost and Helmand provinces in Afghanistan, Weston was often the only non-military presence alongside our armed forces.
After returning home, he grappled with the aftermath of these wars. How, and when, will they end? How will they be remembered? And how do we memorialize the American, Iraqi and Afghan lives that have been lost and changed by more than a decade and a half of war, while reckoning with the unpopularity of the conflicts themselves?
In “The Mirror Test: America at War in Iraq and Afghanistan” (Knopf, May 24), Weston recounts his travels from Twentynine Palms in California to Iraq and Afghanistan, and to the American hometowns of Marines who fell during his watch. Along the way, he introduces American troops, Iraqi truck drivers, Afghan teachers, imams, mullahs and former Taliban fighters, all while grappling with the larger questions these wars pose.
Hailed as “the conscience of our wars” (Rajiv Chandrasekaran, former Baghdad bureau chief for The Washington Post), Weston weaves together these American, Iraqi and Afghan stories and offers them as a national mirror, asking us to take an unflinching look at these wars and where they leave America today. As he writes, “It’s past time for this kind of shared reckoning … When we look into that mirror, as uncomfortable as it may be, let’s not turn away.”
U.S. KIA, Fallujah, 2006–2007. (Photo courtesy of J. Kael Weston)
See more about “The Mirror Test: America at War in Iraq and Afghanistan” here.
The Pentagon is accelerating an acquisition plan to migrate its defense networks to the cloud as part of a sweeping effort to modernize and streamline its data systems and better defend against cyberattacks, a DoD announcement said.
The initiative, launched last Fall by Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, is now grounded in a specific, fast-paced acquisition plan to keep pace with fast-moving technological change.
“DoD is using a tailored acquisition process to acquire a modern enterprise cloud services solution that can support Unclassified, Secret, and Top Secret requirements. Known as the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) Cloud, the planned contracting action will be a full and open competition,” a Pentagon statement said.
The Pentagon has released a Request for Information to industry and is planning an industry day March 2018 as a precursor to the planned contract awards.
Led by a recently established Cloud Executive Steering Group, cloud migration program leaders are now in the analysis and fact-finding phase of this process to determine how many contracts will best meet DoD’s needs, officials said.
The acquisition effort is broken up into two distinct phases, according to DoD developers; phase one includes cloud acquisition and phase two “will work with offices throughout the department to build cloud strategies for requirements related to military operations and intelligence support,” a Pentagon statement said.
“Technologies in areas like data infrastructure and management, cybersecurity and machine learning are changing the character of war. Commercial companies are pioneering technologies in these areas and the pace of innovation is extremely rapid,” Shanahan writes in the memo, released last Fall.
Cloud migration has received much attention in recent years, and this new effort strives to accelerate cloud development and add a specific, measurable structure to an otherwise broad-sweeping or more loosely configured effort. For instance, the Pentagon has emphasized a move toward broader use of Windows 10 in a move to quickly embrace more commercial systems and cloud systems.
However, many of the various acquisition efforts have been stovepiped or, by some estimations, in need of greater integration and interoperability. DOD’s ongoing Joint Information Environment (JIE) and Joint Regional Security Stacks (JRSS) efforts are emerging as efforts to address these challenges.
The Pentagon’s Joint Regional Security Stacks will increasingly use cloud technology and move to more off-the-shelf technology, such as Windows 10, according to senior Pentagon IT officials.
JRSS is on track to reduce the physical footprint of servers and — that it will support cloud technology structures.
JRSS is also engineered to increase security and intrusion detection technologies. The security of the network is centralized into regional architectures instead of locally distributed systems at each military base, post, or camp, according to a previous statement from the Defense Information Systems Agency.
“Deploying JRSS enables the department to inspect data, retrieve threat and malware data on the network and troubleshoot, patch, protect and defend the network,” a DISA statement said.
Shanahan’s new program could bring nearer-term achievable metrics to the ongoing JIE initiative. At the same time, there is a chance it could also help accelerate the ongoing movement toward greater domestic and international data consolidation efforts already underway with JRSS.
A key element to cloud migration, considering that it involves movement toward more virtualization and a decreased hardware footprint, is that emerging software upgrades and programs can quite naturally have a faster and more ubiquitous impact across a range of data systems.
When it comes to data security and resilience against intruders and cyberattacks, the cloud could be described as consisting of a two-fold dynamic. In one sense, data consolidation through cloud architecture can potentially increase risk by lowering the number of entry points for intruders – yet it also affords an occasion to identify patterns across a wide swath of interconnected systems.
Furthermore, cloud technologies can facilitate standardized security protocols so that attempted breaches can be more quickly detected. Along similar lines, JIE proponents explain that although greater interoperability could increase vulnerabilities, various networks can be engineered so they can both share data while also leveraging routers, switches and IP protocol specifics to separate and secure networks as well.
An often-discussed phenomenon seems to inform Shanahan’s push for faster cloud migration, namely that multi-year government developmental programs are, in many instances, generating technical systems which are potentially obsolete by the time they are completed. Commercial innovation, therefore, coupled with an open architecture framework, is intended to allow faster, wide-sweeping upgrades more consistent with the most current and impactful innovations.
“I am directing aggressive steps to establish a culture of experimentation, adaptation, and risk-taking,” Shanahan’s memo states.
The integrated DoD effort is closely aligned with various US fast-moving cloud efforts among the US military services.
Army cloud migration
DISA and the Army are working with industry to extend commercial cloud technology to mobile devices as part of a broad effort to both improve access to data and provide security for forces on the move.
Drawing upon hardened commercial cloud networking technology, soldiers, sailors or airmen using smartphones and tablets will have secure access to classified networks. By extension, a commercial cloud can enable secure networking such that smartphone applications themselves can be better protected, DISA leaders have explained.
As part of this broadly-scoped DOD effort, industry giants like Microsoft are working with the services to extend cloud-based security and connectivity to mobile devices.
The Army’s Unified Capabilities (UC) program, for example, is an example of how this strategy can be implemented.
The UC effort is based on an Army-ATT collaborative effort to leverage the commercial cloud to improve networking interoperability using voice, video, screen sharing and chat functions for one million service business leaders on both classified and unclassified networks.
“Unified Capabilities is one of the first commercial cloud-based solutions that will be delivered across the Army Enterprise,” Sergio Alvarez, product lead, Enterprise Content Collaboration and Messaging, told Warrior Maven in an interview last Fall.
By using a commercial cloud, users will be able to draw upon software to access voice services from any Army-approved end user device — desktops, laptops, tablet computers, and smartphones.
Forward-deployed or dismounted soldiers will have an ability to connect and share combat-relevant data from farther distances, potentially beyond an otherwise limited network.
“There are many benefits to COTS — including saving money on initial investment, meeting IT requirements while avoiding costs, lowering maintenance investments and enabling cost-effective new upgrades,” an Army statement said.
The service will also provide video conferences and desktop sharing services, as well as multi-user chat functions.
As is the case with desktop systems, the strategy for this kind of cloud execution is often described in terms of centralized control – decentralized execution.
When it comes to more traditional fixed locations, increased cloud networking and security at a central server location brings the added benefit of helping implementation and security for the ongoing Joint Regional Security Stacks (JRSS) effort.
Navy analytics strategy
Fall 2017, the Navy unveiled a data analytics strategy document designed to accelerate IT modernization, consolidation of information, innovation and efforts to keep pace with commercial technological progress.
The “Navy Strategy for Data and Analytics Optimization,” which incorporates faster network cloud migration, calls for cloud migration and rapid transformation of training, concepts, and policies designed to make data analytics faster and more efficient.
Recognizing that the pace of technological change is often faster within industry and commercial enterprises, the strategy is woven around the premise that new solutions, software updates or improvements in operating systems and data analysis often emerge quickly.
With this in mind, the strategy also heavily emphasizes a growing need to look for open source solutions for expediting IT acquisition.
When embracing commercial innovation might not make sense for a government developmental IT effort, the strategy calls for increased collaboration with academia and industry.
“It is paramount that we become able to adapt faster to data-driven innovations, create new innovations and deploy those innovations,” the strategy states.
The text of the strategy articulates a few goals, such as an ability to “predict and inventory the right data analytics to meet the demands of DON (Department of the Navy) data consumers and decision makers — and — deploy and operate innovative solutions with minimal time to market.”
As a way to accelerate the key aims of the new strategic effort, the Navy’s Chief Information Officer is establishing a new Data and Analytics Consortium to define emerging policies, share lessons learned and help establish best practices.
Earlier this year, a French publisher had to issue an apology after a huge social media backlash emerged against their undergraduate-level history textbook which claimed that the attacks on 9/11 were “orchestrated by the CIA.” “This phrase which echoes conspiracy theories devoid of any factual basis should never have been used in this work,” the publisher said. “It doesn’t reflect the editorial position either of Ellipses publications or the author.”
Despite the incredible oversight of the publisher, it’s worth noting that the French have stood in solidarity with the United States in remembering 9/11 with a temporary memorial on its 10th anniversary. However, other nations across the free world have erected permanent memorials. After all, 9/11 began the War on Terror that freedom-loving countries have been fighting for 19 years. Here are some memorials that stand out.
(Dr. Avishai Teicher—Public Domain)
1. 9/11 Living Memorial Plaza—Jerusalem, Israel
Opened in 2009, the 9/11 Living Memorial Plaza is a cenotaph remembering and honoring the victims of the attacks. It measures 30 feet tall and is made of granite, bronze, and aluminum. A piece of melted steel from Ground Zero forms part of the base on which the monument rests. The names of all the victims, including five Israeli citizens, are embedded on metal plates and placed on the circular wall. It is also the first and only monument outside of the United States to list all the names of the nearly 3,000 victims of the attacks.
(Memoria e Luce)
2. Memory and Light—Padua, Italy
Inaugurated on the 4th anniversary of the attacks, Memoria e Luce, as it’s known in Italian, was a gift from the United States to the Italian city of Padua. It features a six meter long, twisted steel beam recovered from Ground Zero. The structure in which it is housed mimics an open book and is reminiscent of the facades of the Twin Towers. The book is also open in the direction of the Statue of Liberty, further cementing the relationship between our two nations.
(SINCE 9/11 Charity)
3. Since 9/11—London, England
Throughout the War on Terror, Britain has been one of our strongest allies in combating those who wish harm on the West and the free world. Located at the Queen Elizabeth II Olympic Park, the memorial sculpture was a gift from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to the United Kingdom. It is made entirely out of steel recovered from Ground Zero. The memorial is cared for by the SINCE 9/11 charity. Founded on the 10th anniversary of the attacks, the charity’s focus is educating British students on 9/11 to “ensure that the legacy of 9/11 is one that builds hope from tragedy.”
4. Twin Towers and Lost Dogs Monument—Ontario, Canada
Located in the Beautiful Joe Heritage Society Park, this stone sculpture represents the Twin Towers. The towers rest on a pentagonal base and honors both the human and canine rescuers who took part in the search and rescue effort following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The memorial is particularly dedicated to a Yellow Labrador police canine named Sirius who died in the collapse of the South Tower. The plaque on the memorial reads, “This plaque honors the devotion and bravery shown by the many K-9 police units during the search, rescue, and recovery of victims of these attacks. Their heroic deeds will not be forgotten.”
5. Donadea 9/11 Memorial—Donadea, Ireland
Dedicated in 2003, the Donadea 9/11 Memorial was crafted by a local stonemason and sculptor. The structural representation of the Twin Towers features the names of victims inscribed on the stone. Though it serves as a memorial to all 9/11 victims, it is dedicated to Irish American firefighter Sean Tallon, whose father was born in Donadea. Tallon was a Corporal in the USMC Reserves and probationary firefighter at Ladder 10, the fire station directly across from the World Trade Center. He was one of the first people on scene when the first plane hit and was killed when the towers fell.
After 9/11, Americans swore that we would never forget. The beautiful and touching memorials listed here show that good people around the world won’t forget either.
The North Korean ballistic missile threat has been receiving significant attention in recent weeks, but missile threats are surging worldwide, a new Pentagon report suggests.
North Korea has made significant strides in developing its weapons program in recent months, successfully testing multiple new ballistic missile systems, but other countries, such as Iran, Russia, and China, are also rapidly advancing their missile capabilities. “Many countries view ballistic and cruise missile systems as cost-effective weapons and symbols of national power,” defense intelligence agencies said in a report viewed in advance by Bloomberg News.
“China continues to have the most active and diverse ballistic missile development program in the world,” the Pentagon assessed.
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force, which oversees China’s land-based nuclear and conventional missiles, has received much more attention as China pursues an extensive military modernization program putting greater emphasis on technological strength rather than manpower.
China tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile — the DF-5C — with 10 warheads in January, and there have been rumors that another developmental Chinese ICBM has already been deployed. China conducted its seventh successful test of the DF-41 with two inert warheads last spring. The Chinese armed forces are expected to substantially increase the number of warheads on the ICBMs capable of threatening the continental US over the next few years, the new Pentagon report suggests.
The Chinese military has also deployed new and improved DF-16s, highly-accurate, mobile medium-range ballistic missiles, to further threaten Taiwan. The precision missiles could also be used to target US bases located along the “first island chain.” At the same time, China can field DF-21D anti-ship missiles and the DF-26, which could be used against US forces in Guam, according to the Pentagon’s China Military Power report.
Russia, which has more deployed nuclear warheads than the US, is “expected to retain the largest force of strategic ballistic missiles outside the United States,” according to the new defense report.
Both China and Russia are also working to develop hypersonic glide vehicle technology. “HGVS are maneuverable vehicles that travel at hypersonic (greater than Mach 5) speed and spend most of their flight at much lower altitudes than a typical ballistic missile,” defense agencies revealed.
High speed, maneuverability, and low-altitude flight make missile interception via missile defense systems significantly more difficult. Russia is believed to be moving closer to fielding a hypersonic cruise missile — the Zircon — that can threaten enemy ships. Some observers, however, suspect Chinese and Russian claims regarding their various achievements in this area are exaggerated.
Iran has extended the range and effectiveness of its mid-range Shabab-3, a weapon based on a North Korean model, and the Pentagon is under the impression that Iran, much like North Korea, ultimately intends to develop an ICBM.
“Tehran’s desire to have a strategic counter to the United States could drive it to field an ICBM. Progress in Iran’s space program could shorten a pathway to an ICBM because space launch vehicles (SLV) use inherently similar technologies,” the report explained.
Iran has also been working to advance its Fateh-110 missiles, which it tested in March. Iran launched missiles into Syria last week, firing off a mid-range weapon in combat for the first time in three decades.
Expert analysts have noted significant cooperation between Iran and North Korea in recent years.
North Korea has, this year alone, tested new short-, medium-, and intermediate-range ballistic missiles, experimenting with different fuels and engines. The North has also been testing new transporter erector launchers, which offer greater mobility and survivability. Similar developments are being seen in other countries.
North Korea has repeatedly threatened that an ICBM test is not far off, and while the regime will most likely test a liquid-fueled ICBM, such as the KN-08 revealed a few years ago, the North has also presented two canister-launched ICBMs in military parades resembling two foreign missiles, specifically the Chinese DF-31 and the Russian Topol.
Cars drive past the headquarters of Russia’s military intelligence directorate, known as the GRU, in Moscow, where all six Russians are alleged to be officers.
The United States has charged six Russian military officers with a “destructive,” global criminal cyber-campaign that included the worldwide distribution of destructive malware and attempts to undermine the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Ukraine.
The indictment, announced by the Justice Department on October 19, also accuses the men of hacking French elections, the Seoul Olympics, and an international organization investigating Russia’s use of a deadly nerve agent.
The charges are the latest in a series of cybercriminal indictments leveled by the United States against Russian state and nonstate actors.
The six Russian nationals are all alleged to be officers in a unit of the Russian military intelligence directorate, known as the GRU, which the United States in 2018 accused of hacking into the computers of the Democratic National Convention two years earlier.
U.S. Attorney Scott Brady called the officers’ campaigns “the most destructive and costly cyberattacks in history.”
“No country has weaponized its cyber-capabilities as maliciously or irresponsibly as Russia, wantonly causing unprecedented damage to pursue small tactical advantages and to satisfy fits of spite,” according to Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers.
Also on October 19, Britain’s Foreign Office said GRU hackers had targeted organizers of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which were postponed until next year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Officials declined to give specific details about these attacks or say whether they were successful, but said they had targeted the Olympics’ organizers, logistics suppliers, and sponsors.
“The GRU’s actions against the Olympic and Paralympic Games are cynical and reckless. We condemn them in the strongest possible terms,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said
The United States received help in its years-long investigation of the GRU officers from foreign governments as well as some of the largest U.S. companies, including Google, Cisco, Facebook, and Twitter, the Justice Department said in its statement.
Even though the United States is unlikely to ever bring the men to justice, the charges essentially prevent the men from traveling to countries that have extradition agreements with the United States.
The six men indicted are Yury Andrienko, Sergei Detistov, Pavel Frolov, Anatoly Kovalev, Artyom Ochichenko, and Pyotr Pliskin.
They are charged with developing NotPetya, the malware that spread globally in 2017, causing upwards of billion in damages and impairing critical medical services in western Pennsylvania.
They are also blamed for the cyberattacks against a series of Ukrainian targets from December 2015 through 2016, including the nation’s power grid and Finance Ministry, and cyberattacks against the Georgian parliament in 2019.
Russia has tense relations with both countries, having invaded Georgia in 2008 and annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014. Russia is also backing separatists in eastern Ukraine.
The Justice Department said the men were also behind a series of international spear-phishing campaigns, including against the political party of French President Emmanuel Macron in 2017, the International Olympic Committee in 2017 and 2018, and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
Spear-phishing is an e-mail or electronic communications scam targeting a a specific individual, organization, or business with the intent to steal data for malicious purposes or install malware on a targeted user’s computer.
The attack on the OPCW came just a month after Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military officer, and his daughter were found unconscious in the British city of Salisbury in 2018.
The British authorities and OPCW confirmed the Skripals had been poisoned with the Russian nerve agent Novichok. Britain accused two GRU officers of carrying out the attack.
The list of female astronauts who could potentially is a short one. Only 12 would be able to go to the moon by 2024, in line with President Trump’s direction that the Space Agency should return to the moon, according to NASA. But only one of those women is Army strong.
Lt. Col. Anne McClain goes by the call sign “Annimal,” a reference to her old rugby nickname. She started her career as a Kiowa Warrior pilot flying combat missions in Iraq, graduated from test pilot school, and was eventually chosen to be part of astronaut group 21, the youngest astronaut on NASA’s roster. Her Army career took her to the International Space Station in 2018, and she completed her first spacewalk in March 2019. She has since returned to Earth.
In December 2017, President Trump directed NASA to prepare to send astronauts back to the lunar surface to make way for a long-term human presence on the moon. The project, dubbed Artemis, is not just a vanity project for the 45th President. It’s an effort for NASA to prepare for an even longer trip, sending human astronauts to Mars. When deciding to return humans to the moon, NASA determined they would send a woman.
McClain took a selfie during one of her spacewalks.
While it may seem odd to send an Army troop to the moon, one could argue there’s no better preparation for going to the moon – or even Mars – than a few years in the Army. Working in austere, desert environments with barely enough tools to complete the mission but still somehow succeeding is what the Army is all about.
For Ann McClain, she’s a decorated Army combat veteran with more than 2,000 flight hours, a West Point-educated engineer, and the perfect soldier to lead a project called Artemis, named after the twin sister of Apollo, who was the namesake of the effort to put a man on the moon.
As the sun rises over the jungle canopy, the workers are already on the move. They take in the crisp scent of the morning air as they head up the rocky mountain path, slipping between the trees of a wet, dew-covered forest in Vietnam.
At the top of the green mountain ridge, Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Quoc Bao Lam is waiting to greet them with a smile and a handshake before getting started on the day’s work.
On a normal day, Lam is a master-at-arms with the military police at Naval Station Everett, Washington, but today he’s part of a unique assignment. He is acting as the lead linguist for a recovery team deployed by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency on its fourth mission to Vietnam.
Lam works at an excavation site found on a remote mountain peak in one of the Vietnamese jungle’s most austere locations. The site is only accessible by helicopter, and the nearest village is about 5 and a half miles away, down a long steep rocky trail on the brink of being overgrown by the jungle. Being at a site so removed, a linguist is a necessity for a successful recovery mission.
Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Quoc Bao Lam, left, a linguist deployed by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, talks with local people in Quang Binh, Vietnam, Sept. 6, 2018.
(Photo by Senior Airman Donald Hudson)
“Nothing in this mission could be accomplished without the skill sets and abilities of an experienced linguist on the team,” said Marine Corps Capt. Mark Strickert, DPAA senior recovery team leader. “Linguists translate intent, interpret body language, serve as cultural advisors, facilitate negotiations and build camaraderie with the local community and government officials we work with so closely every day. Linguists are the underlining glue in the tireless steps we take to fulfill our nation’s promise to bring our fallen home.”
The mission of DPAA is to provide the fullest possible accounting for missing service members to their families and the nation from past conflicts.
The total number of service members unaccounted for from the Vietnam War was 2,646, but through the work of DPAA, 1,052 of those missing have been found, identified and repatriated. The work of DPAA continues to find the remaining 1,594 missing U.S. service members from the Vietnam War.
The work to recover missing service members starts with intense analyzing of historical records from all sides of a conflict surrounding the missing individuals. This is followed by interviewing eye witnesses, gathering local accounts and pinpointing and evaluating possible dig sites. Once all the data has been compiled and strongly suggests a specific area, recovery teams are brought in to dig and sift the soil, looking for remains of the missing individuals.
U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Quoc Bao Lam.
(Photo by Senior Airman Donald Hudson)
When Lam first learned about DPAA and its missions to Vietnam to recover missing troops, he felt an instant connection and he knew he had to find a way to contribute.
“I wanted to be a part of this important work,” Lam said, “to have an opportunity to help my fellow service members and their families find closure, and possibly help to find some of the lost or fallen friends of my father.”
Lam moved to America at age 8 with his mother and siblings. His father, Ouang Lam, had left five years prior to escape prosecution and possible execution at the end of the Vietnam War.
From the start of the conflict, Ouang fought with South Vietnam’s army. As U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War increased, the U.S. Army began seeking out local people who could speak English, Chinese and Vietnamese to help U.S. troops better navigate the region.
Becoming a translator
After applying to train with the U.S., Ouang was sent to Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, to get a better grip on the English language and military terminology. Once proficient in English, he was sent to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where he was taught how to fly medical helicopters before going back to his country and the war.
For the rest of the war, Ouang delivered supplies and wounded U.S. and South Vietnamese troops by helicopter. He regularly came under fire and, throughout the conflict, lost fellow aircrew, friends and family. Ouang made it to the rank of chief warrant officer 3 at the war’s end.
North and South Vietnam were reunited. Those who had worked with the Americans were soon hunted by the authorities. Ouang had to leave his country to save his and his family’s lives.
Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Quoc Bao Lam, right, lead linguist, translates for Marine Corps Capt. Mark Strickert, left, senior recovery team leader while deployed by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency in Quang Binh, Vietnam, Sept. 6, 2018.
(Photo by Senior Airman Donald Hudson)
Ouang began building a new life for his family in Chicago, thanks to a religious group that sponsored individuals who had fought alongside U.S. troops during the war. They brought foreign veterans and their families to the U.S. to ensure they were not harmed by the new Vietnamese government.
After all he experienced during the war, Ouang was against war for the rest of his life. Ouang urged his children to go to school and not join any military service, but Lam wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps. Luckily before his father passed away, Lam was able to explain why he chose to serve in the military after realizing school was not for him.
“My father was incredibly upset and did not talk to me for some time,” Lam said. “After a few years I sat down with him and talked about why I joined the Navy. While he still did not like the idea of me being in the armed forces, over time came to be very proud of my service to the country that has given his family so much.”
If it wasn’t for Ouang’s close work with the U.S. during the war, he may never have gotten out of Vietnam after the country’s reunification and would have never had the chance to provide his family with the American dream.
“Lam’s father is always watching from above and he would be proud of Lam working to find his lost friends from so long ago,” said Lam’s mother. “We have been proud of everything that he has done so far in life, to give back to the U.S. for all the U.S. has done for our family. We are extremely proud.”
After weeks of facilitating negotiations, advising on cultural differences and interpreting body language, Lam’s mission in Vietnam came to a close.
From his position atop the mountain, Lam surveyed the green valley below, as the setting sun cast the sky in hazy blues and purples.
Lance corporal is the most common rank in the Marine Corps. It’s the upper-most junior-enlisted Marine; the last step before becoming an NCO. It’s at this rank that you truly learn the responsibilities that come with being an NCO — and it’s when you start to shoulder those responsibilities. But Marines can be lance corporals straight out of boot camp. But how can someone with no experience possibly be ready to lead others Marines? This is why we created an unofficial rank — “senior lance corporal.”
Lifers everywhere will tell you that there’s no such thing. They’ll say something along the lines of, “being a senior was a high school thing and it ought to remain there.” But the truth is that there are very valid reasons for the distinctive title.
No matter your reason for stating otherwise, one thing’s for sure: senior lance corporals exist. This is why.
This Lance Corporal still has a lot to learn.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Catie Massey)
The “junior” lance corporal
The “junior” lance corporal is the guy who picked up rank during boot camp because they were an Eagle Scout or some sh*t. Regardless, they didn’t earn real Marine Corps experience while waiting for that rank. Hell, the only experience they have in the Marine Corps is with marching — which is important, sure, but there’s a lot more to being a Marine than marching.
There are exceptions, of course. You could have spent time in the service prior to deciding that whatever branch you were in was a group of weaklings compared to the Marines. In that case, you do have experience, but this is pretty rare. The majority of “junior” lance corporals haven’t led Marines yet — not really, anyway — nor have they been to any leadership courses.
They spent a lot of time doing things by the book, which isn’t typically how things go in a real unit.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo)
They spent their time learning the basics which, if we’re being honest, are great building blocks, but your unit’s standard operating procedure may render a lot of what you learned basically useless.
Anyone who’s reached NCO before their first term and has led Marines knows that you can’t trust a junior lance corporal to clean their room the right way on their first attempt. How could that lance corporal possibly be the same as the one who went through leadership and/or advanced schools and has a deployment under their belt? Hint: It’s not.
Enter the “senior” lance corporal.
These guys have been around a minute.
(U.S. Marine Corps)
The “senior” lance corporal
When a junior Marine gets to their unit, even if they’re a lance corporal, this is the guy they refer to as “lance corporal.” The junior will quickly come to understand that, while they may hold the same rank, they are not the same. The difference, in fact, is rather large.
A senior lance corporal has been on a deployment. Regardless of whether that deployment was into combat or not, that lance corporal has real leadership experience. They went to a foreign country and they were responsible for leading Marines to success. Then, before you got to the unit, they went to leadership schools. These Marines have a lot more experience than a greenhorn fresh out of boot camp.
So ask yourself, are you treating your Marines a certain way based on experience — or rank?
(U.S. Marine Corps photo Cpl. Aaron Patterson)
Realistically, there are plenty of senior lance corporals that don’t give a f*ck anymore. But for every one of those, there are ten who strive to be good Marines and great leaders. To diminish their hard work and reduce them to the same level as some fresh boot does nothing but destroy their spirit.
The fact is, a “senior” lance corporal could be a squad leader — a job that is meant to be held by a sergeant, but is more commonly held by a corporal. You could not take a “junior” lance corporal and say the same. The difference is clear.
Seventy-five years ago yesterday, troops crossed the English Channel and disembarked onto the shores of Normandy to send the Nazis scum back to where they came from. Countless American, British, and Canadian lives were lost within moments of landing and many more died to secure the beach. It was a feat few higher-up believed would work, but they did the impossible.
This week, many troops gathered on this hallowed ground to pay respects to those lost and ceremonies were held in their honor. They were beautiful and heart-warming, seeing the younger troops helping the older WWII vets.
Now, logically speaking, all of the troops and veterans should still be in the area before going back to their respective bases or homes. I’m just saying, the ceremonies were fantastic. But veterans never change, and the WWII vets could still probably out-drink most of us. If you’re a young soldier in the area, buy the older gents a beer. They deserve it!
The ceremonies may have one, more polite, version of how it went down. Get them a round, and you’ll learn that the fire in them is still burning seventy-five years later.
Cards for Connection is a free resource that puts simple coping skills and VA phone numbers directly into veterans’ hands. Originally created for veterans who had experienced homelessness, the card deck has now been updated with information for all veterans.
As a result, veterans playing a game of cards read positive affirmations, reminders to breathe, and encouragement to make a connection with others.
Developing Cards for Connection
VA received input by veterans and that helped inform the VA staff that works with them.
Some veterans reported great feedback. Many wanted to see phone numbers on the cards, whether to see a doctor, find a safe place to sleep, or ask about VA resources.
Cards for Connection hopes to help Veterans cope with different situations.
“I like the feel of them. I was noticing the texture, it’s nice,” said one veteran.
Another veteran said, “I love this picture. If you’re in a [bad place], and you actually have a picture of something beautiful to look at, that’s something great.”
Veteran feedback will update future versions
VA will collect additional feedback on the cards via anonymous pre-addressed/stamped postcards. It will also collect from focus groups and anonymous staff surveys. VA will use this information to update future versions.
How do I get a deck of Cards for Connection?
There are about 8,000 decks available for any veteran who could benefit from using them. Requests for a deck from veterans can be sent to Katherine.Juhasz@va.gov.
Many children grow up with parents in the military. It usually means frequent moves, a parent being gone for long periods of time. And there is the possibility that some day an officer and chaplain might turn up, bearing bad news.
Whether the parent is a Green Beret, constantly deploying to a foreign country on missions they can’t talk about, or someone who pushed papers at a desk in a building at a military installation – they all served, and they all knew that there was some measure of risk. And when the parents pass on, what’s left behind are medals, uniforms, photos, and in some cases, films.
In this clip, Fred Linden discusses the memorabilia left behind by his late father, Navy Lieutenant Commander Frederick “Bud” Linden, of his service during World War II. His dad flew a Consolidated PBY Catalina – one of the famous “Black Cats” that made the life of many Japanese sailors miserable during the fighting in the Pacific.
Linden’s memorabilia included a map showing the route his father took to the theater he served in, as well as medals.
The two rolls of 16mm color film included in the memorabilia collection showed a wide variety of events during his father’s tour, including bombing raids. The film was preserved through the involvement of Film Corps, an outreach organization that seeks to preserve records like Linden’s.
“The stuff – the medals and so forth – is not something he’d care about, but he would love to be able to sit down in front of that movie and point out the names of the guys and what they did and things he remembered about them, what happened at the time with the people he was with,” he says. “That would be the most important thing for him”
Later this month, our nation will mark a full calendar year since the COVID-19 pandemic upended the lives of millions of our fellow citizens and people around the world. The U.S. Armed Forces, being a cross-section of America, have not been spared from the effects of the coronavirus. Across the military, COVID-19 has left a deep mark: PCS moves were delayed, school and childcare has been disrupted, promotion ceremonies and weddings have been put off – and, tragically, many lives have been lost.
In addition to the impact of the pandemic, the U.S. has also dealt with domestic unrest, social change, economic struggles not seen in generations, and the start of a new administration. To say that the last 52 weeks have been challenging and historic would be an understatement. However, March 2021 also marks another milestone, and a fresh opportunity to showcase the best of the ideals of selfless service and teamwork that is the foundation of America’s military: the launch of the Army’s Annual Campaign on behalf of Army Emergency Relief (AER).
Most soldiers and their families are familiar with AER, the Army’s own financial assistance organization. Since 1942, AER has been 100% focused on helping soldiers and their families when they face financial challenges. Each year, we support over 40,000 Soldiers with nearly $70 million in grants, zero-interest loans, and educational grants for Army spouses and children. All told, that comes to more than $2 billion in support since our founding, with more than $1 billion of that since 9/11. Chances are, whether you are a single soldier or part of an Army family, you’ve either contacted AER for help yourself or personally know someone that has.
How can AER help? In 2019, we provided $9 million to more than 5,000 soldiers who were impacted by hurricanes, fires, floods, and other natural disasters. Last year, as the COVID-19 pandemic hit our nation hard, we established new relief programs to help Soldiers and their loved ones navigate childcare, remote education, PCS moves, and other critical financial needs caused by the pandemic, including expanded eligibility for U.S. Army Reserve & National Guard Soldiers. Overall, we have more than 30 categories of assistance; whether it’s personal vehicle repair, emergency travel, damage to your house from natural disasters, or funeral expenses caused by the loss of a loved one, we help soldiers deal with life’s unexpected costs. What’s more, all of our financial assistance is provided either as a grant or a zero-interest loan – unlike the payday lenders near Army installations that prey on soldiers, charging up to 36% interest (and sometimes higher) on short-term loans.
Even though our mission supports the global Army team, AER receives no funding from taxpayer dollars. Every dollar we provide to those in need is from donations by soldiers (active duty and retired), the American public, and industry partners. That’s where the Annual Campaign comes in— the main goal of the campaign is to raise awareness across the Army Team of AER’s benefits, while offering soldiers the opportunity to support their fellow brothers and sisters in arms by making a donation.
The many difficulties we’ve faced as a nation over the past year has re-emphasized the importance of supporting those who practice selfless sacrifice on behalf of others. That’s why the theme of this year’s Annual Campaign is “A Hand-Up for Soldiers”. Details on the campaign, which kicked off March 1 and runs through May 15, can be found at https://www.armyemergencyrelief.org/campaign. Donations can be made online, through an installation’s AER Officer, or your Unit Campaign Representative.
AER isn’t a giveaway program; it’s a hand-up for soldiers and Army families experiencing temporary financial need. We help soldiers get back on their feet and back in the fight; as the Chief of Staff of the Army, General James C. McConville says, “People First – Winning Matters”. Remember, asking for help is a sign of strength! Let’s work together these next two months and make the 2021 Annual Campaign a success.
Retired Lt. Gen Raymond V. Mason is the Director of Army Emergency Relief. The Army’s Annual Campaign runs from March 1st through May 15th across all installations.
The US has committed to pulling its forces, as well as NATO forces, out of Afghanistan in a serious bid to stop the 17-year-long war that’s claimed tens of thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of US tax dollars.
Citing “significant progress” in peace talks with the Taliban, the hardline Islamist group that harbored Osama Bin Laden and became the US’s first target after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, a US official told Reuters the US was working on a ceasefire and the timing of a pull out.
“Of course we don’t seek a permanent military presence in Afghanistan,” the official told Reuters on the same day Afghan President Ashraf Ghani gave a televised address saying: “No Afghans want foreign forces in their country for the long term.”
“Our priority is to end the war in Afghanistan and ensure there is never a base for terrorism in Afghanistan,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at a press briefing on Jan. 28, 2019.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani
(Photo by Patrick Tsui)
“Our goal is to help bring peace in Afghanistan and we would like a future partnership, newly defined with a post-peace government,” the official said. “We would like to leave a good legacy.”
President Donald Trump reportedly pushed for a troop withdrawal in Afghanistan at the same time he announced a troop pull out from Syria, which sparked widespread controversy, criticism, and the resignation of his defense secretary and top official in charge of fighting ISIS.
The US and NATO have fought in Afghanistan since 2001, when they toppled the ruling government that had harbored the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
The US and NATO have lost about 3,500 troops in the battle that’s killed tens of thousands of Afghans and nearly 10,000 Afghan security forces fighters a year since 2014.
The Pentagon currently spends about billion a year on the Afghanistan war while other parts of the government contribute additional money to secure the country, build infrastructure, and fund essential programs as the government struggles to control all of its territory.
Trump campaigned explicitly against the war in Afghanistan, calling it a big mistake that left US soldiers fighting without purpose.
United States President Donald Trump.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Anna Pol)
The Taliban recently agreed to a landmark concession, saying it would oppose “any attempts by militant groups to use Afghanistan to stage terrorist attacks abroad,” according to the Wall Street Journal.
Talks in Qatar, now lasting over a week, have produced results that Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan called “encouraging.”
Afghanistan, sometimes called the “graveyard of empires” for its historic ability to resist outside rule from Alexander the Great, to Britain, to the Soviets, has proven a stalemate for the US, which has failed to lock down the entire country from Islamist control.