Bravery is a thing you see every day in the military. In all branches, in moments great and small, it’s an expression of the fundamental courage it takes to put your life on the line for love of country and to serve those you swore to protect.
Former Navy SEAL David Meadows proved exemplary in this capacity, serving 11 years in some of the harshest theaters of war throughout the Middle East.
But unlike many of his fellow Oscar Mike alumni, Meadows chose, upon reentry, to translate his habituated bravery into a civilian arena that would, honestly, make most servicemen and women want to crawl out of their natural born skins…
Yeah, he became an actor.
And we can tell you from experience that there are few professions that require a more constant personal brokerage with public shame, mortal embarrassment, insecurity, and rejection — in short, all of the types of feelings that normal people avoid like their lives depend on it.
Being the Special Ops-trained bad ass that he is, though, Meadows surveyed this new theater of war and then dove in head first. Acting for a living takes guts.
“I think that if there is a magic left in the world…it’s really for a person to be affected, to be changed — by one human being actually affecting somebody else on a really human, natural, soulful level. Does that make sense? And performing artists have that power. And I thought…that’s absolutely amazing. And I want to be a part of that.”
To get a taste of the kind of courage an actor has to muster every day, Oscar Mike host Ryan Curtis visited Meadows at his acting studio in Los Angeles and submitted himself to a battery of drills that actors employ to help them behave truthfully under imaginary circumstances.
Each exercise is designed to increase physical sensitivity, dial up emotional availability, and to inure actors to the fear of ridicule that can shut them down at crucial moments. Like all high-stakes training, it’s effective — but it ain’t pretty.
Today’s lesson is clear: in a successful civilian life, emotional bravery matters. But you don’t have to take our word for it, you can just watch as Curtis cracks under the pressure and and begs to postpone the big payoff in the video embedded at the top.
After writing about the potential mass sale of the Army’s surplus .45 ACP M1911 pistols through the government-chartered Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP), I received a f*ck-ton of emails over the course of my Thanksgiving travel that broke down into two main categories:
At the moment, details are scarce. The $700 billion 2018 National Defense Authorization Act that authorizes the transfer of weapons “no longer actively issued for military service,” including thousands of M1911 and M1911A1 pistols, to the CMP is currently sitting on President Donald Trump’s desk. And according to the military surplus pipeline, “the limited number and the exceedingly high demand” for the sidearm has sparked congressional scrutiny that’s prompted the board of directors to reexamine how it handles future sales.
It’s tricky to speculate on legislation that hasn’t even passed and what will likely become a brand new sale process, but given the excitement over the sidearm that’s accompanied American troops into every conflict zone for more than a century, we can’t help but attempt to read the tea leaves on the future of the legendary pistol.
How many M1911 pistols are going to be available?
The DoD doesn’t publically post arsenal inventories for obvious reasons, but thank God for Rep. Mike Rogers. In 2015, the Alabama Republican introduced a similar transfer amendment to the NDAA, stating that the Pentagon spends “about $2 per year to store 100,000 Model 1911s that are surplus to the Army’s needs.” President Barack Obama later signed an NDAA that included a measure to transfer 10,000 pistols to the CMP, although Guns.com notesthat only around 8,300 have been shelled out in recent years, mostly to local law enforcement agencies through the 1033 program.
So that’s, what, around 90,000 M1911s up for grabs in the long run?
Why is 90,000 a “limited number”?
This year’s NDAA amendment regarding the weapons transfers stipulates that only between 8,000 and 10,000 M1911 pistols will go to the CMP each year, and only for the next two years — which means collectors may have to fight over a scant 16,000 bad boys.
Well, let’s take the worst-case scenario: that only 8,000 M1911 pistols ship to the CMP annually. That shakes out to a little more than a decade of releases assuming the measure passes consistently every two years, which seems likely given its inclusion in the 2015 and 2017 NDAAs.
On the downside, this means competition will be fierce — but on the upside, you’ll have multiple chances to grab an M1911 should you miss your first shot.
Oh sh*t! So when can I grab one?
Well, this annual sale thing assumes that the actual transfer goes smoothly — which it won’t because, you know, logistics. Guns.com smartly notes that all military surplus firearms that originate from the Anniston Army Depot in Alabama go through a rigorous inspection and testing process to assess the condition of each firearm. Given that most of the Army’s M1911 stockpile was manufactured before 1945, a significant portion will require repairs or simply end up as scrap due to missing parts.
This doesn’t just whittle down the available pool of M1911 pistols for eager collectors but slows the actual distribution and sale process to a crawl. “The odds of finding a mint-in-the-box specimen that has escaped 70-years of Army life without being issued will be slim,” as Chris Eger put it, “but even those guns will have to be checked and certified.”
Great, so that’s the “what” and the “when.” Now: How do I get one?
First of all, you’ll need to satisfy the general federal and state-level restrictions (age, background check, etc.) around firearms. But more importantly, you need a membership with a CMP-affiliated club — and luckily for you, the organization has a handy search engine to help you find your nearest favorite new hangout, where membership tends to run around $25 annually.
HOWEVER: If you’re a veteran or a member of one of CMP’s “special affiliates” — congressionally chartered veterans service organizations, professional organizations like the Fraternal Order of Police, or an active-duty service member, reservist, National Guardsman, or retiree — you’re essentially good to go.
Okay, cool, but how do I GET one?
You’ll need to provide proof of American citizenship, through a birth certificate, passport, or another official document. You’ll also need a copy of your official CMP club membership card (duh) or a Club Member Certification Form. (An odd side note: Apparently this means you can only use your military ID as proof of citizenship if you’re E-5 or above? What’s the deal with that? Get at me if you know why.)
No more forms, idiot — HOW DO I GET ONE?
Once the 2018 NDAA passes, the CMP will likely make an announcement on their site regarding sales. And when they do: Holy Ordering Form, Batman!
In today’s military, seniority by rank is limited to four-star generals and admirals. And while public law still allows for five-star generals, one hasn’t been appointed since Omar Bradley held the rank in 1950.
Yet, six-star general is a rank that (technically) exists.
Two men have held higher ranks in the Armed Forces of the United States. The latest was General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, whose contributions to service were awarded with the title General of the Armies of the United States, complete with gold four-star insignia. His rank was higher than that of other four star generals due to an act of Congress that mandated that he remain preeminent above all personnel until his death in 1948.
Although I hope the act of Congress didn’t specify the year.
The other is the father of America, who wore only two stars in his lifetime, President George Washington. The Continental Congress commissioned Washington as a Major General in 1775. As Commander-In-Chief, he outranked all others fielded by Congress. After his Presidency, his successor, John Adams, promoted him to Lieutenant General and he would be on the Army rolls as Lt. Gen. Washington in perpetuity, outranked by every four- and five-star general who came after him.
Toward the end of World War II, Congress considered promoting Gen. Douglas MacArthur, already a five-star general, to General of the Armies, on the same level as Pershing. The Army Institute of Heraldry even designed an insignia for this rank which included six stars.
But as the years went on and the U.S. came closer to its bicentennial birthday, the idea that someone could outrank George Washington began to bother some in government, including President Gerald Ford. In 1976, Ford would sign a bill which promoted Washington to stand “above all grades of the Army, past or present.”
The text of the bill reads:
“Whereas it is considered fitting and proper that no officer of the United States Army should outrank Lieutenant General George Washington on the Army list: Now, therefore, be it Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That… The President is authorized and requested to appoint George Washington posthumously to the grade of General of the Armies of the United States, such appointment to take effect on July 4, 1976.”
News reports at the time referred to his promotion as a six-star general’s rank (though there is no mention of the insignia he would wear).
House Representative Lucien Nedzl of Michigan thought the rank was unnecessary, saying “it’s like the Pope offering to make Christ a Cardinal.”
A U.S. Huey helicopter sprays Agent Orange over Vietnam. The U.S. military used at least 11 million gallons of Agent Orange in Vietnam from 1961 to 1972. (Wikimedia Commons)
Proposed amendments to the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act would add three diseases to the Department of Veterans Affairs‘ list of illnesses presumed to be linked to Agent Orange — measures that, if approved, would provide health care and disability benefits to roughly 22,000 affected veterans.
The House and Senate amendments, proposed by Rep. Josh Harder, D-California, and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, would add bladder cancer, hypothyroidism and Parkinsonism to the VA’s list of 14 conditions considered related to herbicide exposure during the Vietnam War.
In 2016, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine deemed the three named diseases to be associated with exposure to defoliants used during the war.
But the proposals do not include hypertension, a condition that the Academies also linked to Agent Orange in 2018. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is common among the elderly and, if included, could add more than 2 million veterans to VA disability rolls in the next 10 years, at an estimated cost of $11.2 billion to $15.2 billion, according to department estimates.
Thirty veteran and military groups have backed the proposals and asked congressional leaders to do the same.
On Tuesday, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vietnam Veterans of America, Military Officers Association of America and 27 other groups wrote House and Senate leaders urging them to get behind the provisions.
“We call on you to lead and pass House Amendment 264 into law and end the waiting for many of our nation’s ill veterans so they can receive disability benefits,” stated letters sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
“There is more work to be done to care for those who are ill from toxic exposures, including adopting hypertension as a presumptive disease … but with your leadership, tens of thousands of Vietnam War veterans will receive their benefits and justice,” they wrote.
A decision on whether to add the three conditions has been delayed since 2017, when then-VA Secretary David Shulkin expressed support for including them but never formally announced his decision.
According to internal VA documents, Shulkin had been on the verge of including the three conditions when the Office of Management and Budget and other White House officials objected, citing what they called “limited scientific evidence” and cost.
Meanwhile, thousands of veterans have waited.
“Vietnam vets have been waiting for this for decades, and it’s a national shame that it’s not fixed yet,” Harder told Military.com. “We have a real chance here to make this right after all this time, and we should seize the opportunity.”
VA Secretary Robert Wilkie told lawmakers late last year he wants the results of two studies — the Vietnam Era Health Retrospective Observational Study, or VE-HEROES, and the Vietnam Era Mortality Study — to be reviewed for publication before announcing a decision on whether to broaden the presumptives list.
But lawmakers and advocacy groups have balked at the delay.
“This is something we are still fighting after how many decades from the Vietnam War?” asked Corey Titus, director of veterans benefits and Guard/reserve affairs at MOAA. “We should be making sure there aren’t any service members with illnesses who aren’t getting the care and benefits they earned.”
In February, Rep. Mark Takano, D-California, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, penned a letter to President Donald Trump asking him to “take corrective action” and add all four diseases to the list, including hypertension.
“Your administration has the ability to add these conditions to the presumptive list and provide lifesaving benefits to more than 190,000 veterans. Without your action, tens of thousands of sick and aging veterans will continue to go without VA resources and health care in their time of need,” he wrote.
The letter was signed by 77 members, all Democrats.
While hypertension is not included in the proposed amendment, the coalition of veterans and military organizations pledged to continue working on adopting it as a “presumptive disease as linked by the National Academies.”
“This needs to be covered as well. This is not something that we will forget — hypertension,” Titus said.
The House and Senate Armed Services Committees have both passed their versions of the fiscal 2021 defense bill and forwarded them to their respective chambers for consideration. Currently, committees are weighing the rules for amending and deliberating the bills before they move ahead for debate.
Both Harder and Tester’s proposals must make it through that process before coming up for a vote.
A legislative source said Tester’s amendment has been identified for a vote.
“With a bipartisan team of lawmakers and the support of the entire veterans community, we have a strong chance to finally get this done,” Harder said.
Sure, we all know that kids with military parents have to move around a lot. It’s a bummer making friends in school since in a couple years you’re going to be bouncing off to another base and have to start all over again.
So, aside from the obvious fact that you can pack your house up in a day and fit most of it on the roof of a minivan, here are some other signs you might be a military brat.
1. You don’t have a hometown
Having to move every 3 years or so makes it hard to really get comfortable in any one place too long. The military lifestyle exposes military kids to new places and foreign cultures, but it can also be hard to have lasting friendships.
2. You know military time
Military brats actually know what 1600 hours means. But they need to be careful since using military time could confuse some of their non-military friends.
3. You have MREs in your house
Military brats have grown up having Meals Ready to Eat in their house. Many actually grow to like them and may even have their favorite meal.
4. The PX/BX is everything
The Post Exchange is where you go when you need new clothes and shoes. Why go to Walmart when you have the PX/BX within walking distance from your house?
5. You wake up early
Headquarter U.S. Army Pacific started the Suicide Prevention Stand Down with Reveille followed by a resilience run/walk. (Photo Credit: Russell K. Dodson)
Military brats don’t need an alarm clock to wake up in the morning. The bugle sounds of Reveille, which normally occurs at 0630 on military installations, will get those kids up faster than mom or dad ever could.
6. You know the importance of a promotion
Unlike other kids, military children get to take part in their parent’s promotion ceremonies. This teaches military brats the value of hard work and makes them appreciate their parents even more.
7. You get to do cool stuff
Military brats get to do all kinds of cool stuff like ride in military vehicles, learn the basics of military parachuting, fly around in military aircraft and much more. Often this makes them the envy of their non-military friends.
8. It’s hard to say good-bye
Saying good-bye to your parents when they go on deployment is never easy. You worry about them every day and hope they are alright. You can’t wait to be reunited with them again.
In London’s Westminster Abby there is St. George’s Chapel, where on one of the chapel’s walls hangs the Commando Association Battle Honors flag that lists where the Commandos fought and died during World War II from 1940 to 1945.
Under the word COMMANDO in gold letters is a stylized portrayal of a singular knife – the Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife.
Soldiers throughout history have always carried blades as weapons and as tools. Yet, no other knife is more commonly associated with WW II elite forces or possesses more mystique than the Fairbairn-Sykes knife.
Commonly referred to as the “F-S knife” or “F-S dagger,” it is still issued to British Royal Marine Commandos, the Malaysian Special Operations Force, Singapore Commandos and Greek Raiders. In addition, the image of the knife is part of the emblem of United States Army Special Operations Command (Airborne) as well as the emblems of special forces units in Holland, Belgium and Australia.
Yet, it is a weapon born out the experience of dealing with 1930’s knife fights in Shanghai and developed by two men who had no scruples about dirty fighting. In fact, William Fairbairn and Eric Sykes taught an entire generation of warriors that one of the quickest, quietest and deadliest ways to kill Germans was cold steel thrust into Nazi vitals – preferably from behind.
“The Commando dagger would become a symbol not just to the men who were issued it, but also to British civilians at a time when Britain was on the back foot, and any deadly way to strike back at the Germans was considered a boost for morale,” wrote Leroy Thompson is his book Fairbairn-Sykes Commando Dagger.
Whether it was the Roman pugio (a short-bladed dagger that served as a legionnaire’s backup weapon), bowie knives wielded on both sides of the U.S. Civil War, or the “knuckle duster” trench knives of the Great War, soldiers have always carried blades for use in close-quarters fighting.
However, from the late 19th century until World War II many European generals thought it was unseemly for soldiers to bring personal knives into combat. Some thought it would reduce reliance on the bayonet and diminish the fighting spirit of soldiers.
Other commanders deemed rough-and-tumble knife fighting downright “ungentlemanly” – there’s a reason why betrayal is often called a “stab in the back.” Killing face-to-face with the bayonet was considered the more honorable way to dispatch the enemy.
However, the beginning of World War II reinvigorated belief in the close-combat knife as an essential weapon.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill was less fussy about how British troops killed the soldiers of the Third Reich. He placed great stock in commando forces, covert operations, and what he called “ungentlemanly warfare.”
The newly created Special Operations Executive taught knife-fighting as part of agents’ training. So did the British Commandos and airborne forces.
That meant there was a demand for a specific kind of knife that would be used to quietly kill the enemy, preferably in a surprise attack.
“In close-quarters fighting there is no more deadly weapon than the knife,” Fairbairn wrote in his manual Get Tough! How to Win in Hand-to-Hand Fighting (1942). “An entirely unarmed man has no certain defense against it, and, further, merely the sudden flashing of a knife is frequently enough to strike fear into your opponent, causing him to lose confidence and surrender.”
Fairbairn would have known: During his 20-year career with the Shanghai Municipal Police, he fought in hundreds of street fights against assailants armed with knives and daggers. His friend and colleague Sykes served on the same police force and faced the same adversaries in what was at the time one of the most dangerous cities in the world.
In 1941, both men collaborated on the knife’s original design. Although the knife went through several variations during the war, it remained a double-edged stiletto well-balanced like a good sword and suited to thrusting and cutting more than slashing an opponent.
The models made by high-quality cutlers were manufactured from carbon steel so they could be honed razor sharp.
David W. Decker, a U.S. Navy veteran, knife-fighting expert, and collector of F-S knives, said a man trained in the use of the Fairbairn-Sykes knife learned confidence and aggression. In the hands of a properly-trained individual, it is a fearsome weapon.
“The knife has tremendous capacity for penetration of an enemy’s clothing, web gear and person,” Decker said. “A vital part of the training was the instruction in hitting lethal targets on the human body. Many of these targets had to be reached through the rib cage, so the slender blade was most efficient. The approximately seven-inch blade is capable of reaching all vital organs. Fluid in the hands, the grip was designed like that of a fencing foil to enhance the maneuverability of the knife.”
Another advantage of the F-S dagger was its ease of carry, said Decker, whose website chronicles the development of the knife and has photographs of many examples.
Relatively lightweight compared to other combat knives of the time, it was easily concealed or secured in a battle dress cargo pocket. Some men carried them strapped to their legs, tucked behind their pistol holster, or in a boot.
The needle-nosed point and razor-like edges of the dagger sometimes caused problems, Decker said. For example, one British commando could not pull the dagger out of the body of a German sentry because the knife was stuck in his ribs.
“At least one knife-maker was quoted as saying he made knives for stabbing Germans, not peeling potatoes,” Decker said, indicating some manufacturers made F-S knives with smooth edges so a soldier could remove the blade more easily from the enemy’s body.
Despite differences in quality and manufacture, the F-S knife gained popularity with both British and American soldiers during the war.
Members of the U.S. Army Rangers and Marine Raiders carried versions of the knife. U.S. Army Gen. Robert T. Frederick, commander of the 1st Special Service Force known as The Devil’s Brigade, based his design for the V-42 stiletto issued to his troops on the F-S knife.
Today, the F-S knife remains an iconic symbol on both sides of the Atlantic of what it means to qualify as an elite soldier.
At Fort Benning, Georgia, there is the Ranger Memorial. Behind two stone pillars holding a stylized Ranger tab are two smaller pillars and a knife sculpted in stone – a Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife.
When the idea for an Army Futures Command was first broached by Chief of Staff General Mark Milley and then acting Secretary Ryan McCarthy at the 2017 annual meeting of the Association of the U.S. Army, it was part shock and part thrill. The civilian and military leadership of the Army was united in their intention to radically change the service’s approach to acquisition.
The centerpiece of their strategy for change was the creation of a Futures Command. The goal of the new command, according to the Vice Chief of Staff General James McConville, is to kickstart Army modernization by starting with a vision of the future, imagining the world you want and then working backward to figure out what it would take to get there. This approach is much more likely to produce revolutionary change, and it’s the one Army Futures Command will adopt.
In recent public statements, General John Murray, the newly-confirmed commander of the Army’s fledgling Futures Command, has been downplaying expectations for his new organization. He has cautioned listeners not to expect miracles from the new organization. In fact, in General Murray’s estimation, it will take the next three to five years to achieve buy-in from the Army and Congress for Futures Command. According to him, buy-in is achieved “by being a little bit disruptive, but not being so disruptive you upset the apple cart.” So much for the goal of revolutionary change.
The trouble with this perspective is that the current state of the Army requires some miracles. Virtually the entire array of Army ground and aerial platforms is in serious, in some cases desperate, need of modernization. Also, at the end of the Cold War, the Army essentially abandoned several capability areas, most notably tactical air defense, electronic warfare and chemical-biological defense, that it now is scrambling to resurrect. Then there are the emerging areas such as cyber warfare and robotics which the Army and the other services are struggling to master.
General John Murray, the newly-confirmed commander of the Army’s fledgling Futures Command.
The Army leadership may not believe in miracles. However, they do seem to be indulging in wishful thinking. By locating Futures Command in Austin, a city with a reputation as a hotbed of innovative thinking regarding technology, they believe that a staff composed largely of mid-career Army officers and government civilians can be magically transformed into a cohort of Steve Jobs, Peter Thiel and Bill Gates. Army secretary Mark Esper described their intentions this way: “We needed to immerse ourselves in an environment where innovation occurs, at speeds far faster than our current process allows.”
Neither Silicon Valley nor Austin created the innovative culture that has become so attractive to defense leaders. There is nothing in the air or water in either location that promotes creative thinking or an entrepreneurial spirit. There are many cities in the United States that possess the combination of characteristics that Army leaders said they wanted in the place that would house Futures Command: academic talent, advanced industries, and an innovative private sector. Army leaders initially had a list of thirty potential candidates. The five finalists, Austin, Boston, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, and Raleigh, are spread across the United States.
Department of Defense and Army leaders have it exactly backward. Innovators created Silicon Valley, Austin and the other locations that were identified as prospective homes for Futures Command. Moreover, innovators are not made, they are born. They begin by seeing the world differently than conventional thinkers. They don’t learn to take risks; it is part of their DNA.
This is, even more, the case for entrepreneurs, those who successfully translate the innovator’s creations into marketable products. Entrepreneurship is inherently about using the products of innovation to destroy old devices, systems and ways of behaving. Can one imagine Steve Jobs’ response if he had been told to restrain himself to being just a little disruptive?
If immersion in a “hothouse” environment of innovation is necessary in order for the Pentagon to produce cutting-edge military capabilities, how does one account for the successes of Kelly Johnson, Hyman Rickover, Donn Starry and the other defense innovators in the decades before Silicon Valley emerged? How do we explain the stream of innovations that have emerged from the Lockheed Martin Skunkworks, the Boeing’ Phantom Works and BAE Systems’ state-of-the-art Integration, Assembly and Test facility?
It is unclear how Futures Command is going to infuse the rest of the Army’s acquisition system with the spirit of innovation and the drive of entrepreneurship. There is an urgent need to get control over the requirements process that can often take five or more years to develop a set of validated requirements. But this is only a palliative measure.
What must be disrupted, even destroyed, is the risk-averse, do it by the books, write iron-clad contracts mentality that afflicts much of the acquisition system. There is also an imperative to change the risk-averse mindset of many Program Executive Officers and Program Managers.
Futures Command could be most useful, at least initially, by focusing on removing impediments to innovation and entrepreneurship rather than searching for new and potentially exciting technologies. It could focus on deregulation and retraining contracting officers so that they are supportive of the process of innovation. Then the Command could look for law schools that teach their students how to find ways to change policies and procedures rather than identifying all the reasons why it can’t be done. Building a flexible acquisition system with a culture supportive of innovation and an entrepreneurial spirit would be a miracle. But this is what the Army needs.
The head of the National Guard said Oct. 26 that the Pentagon will continue to investigate re-enlistment bonuses paid to thousands of California National Guard soldiers a decade ago and will force those who wrongfully accepted them to pay the money back.
Chief of the U.S. National Guard Bureau Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel said his office is looking into more than 13,600 cases that could be fraudulent, but he admitted investigators have to prove that the soldier knew they were accepting upwards of $15,000 they didn’t qualify for.
“The tie goes to the soldier,” Lengyel said at a breakfast meeting with defense reporters in Washington. “If their hands are clean where this soldier is doing their duty and doing their job, it is not our intent to try to enforce this hardship on them 10 years later.”
A nationwide furor erupted after a Los Angeles Times story revealed the California National Guard was demanding repayment with interest for some bonuses it doled out to its Guard troops as an incentive to re-enlist during the height of the Iraq war. The former head of the state’s Guard incentive program was later convicted of filing over $15 million in false claims and the bureau began looking into the scope of the problem in 2012.
Some soldiers, the Times story alleges, have been forced to pay pack tens of thousands of dollars to the government after nearly a decade — some who sustained severe injuries during their subsequent deployments and have been financially ruined by the errors.
President Obama weighed in on the scandal Oct. 25 and reportedly ordered the Pentagon to speed up the audits, but he stopped short of asking for a blanket amnesty, the Times said.
Pentagon chief Ash Carter said in a statement the next day that he’s ordered a suspension of the paybacks and has asked his office to establish a more streamlined process to investigate fraud claims and allow Guard soldiers a speedier appeal.
“This process has dragged on too long, for too many service members,” Carter said. “Too many cases have languished without action. That’s unfair to service members and to taxpayers.”
Guard officials claim over 13,600 questionable bonuses were paid out to California soldiers in the mid-2000s — some for re-enlistment incentives, others for education reimbursement. About 1,100 bonuses were given to soldiers who officials allege were not entitled to them, about 4,000 were error free and about 5,300 had paperwork errors. There are still about 3,200 that Guard officials are still trying to track down.
So far about 2,000 soldiers have been asked to pay back all or part of their bonus cash, Guard officials say.
Lengyel explained some of the more egregious cases included officers who took the cash to re-up when the money was intended to help fill the enlisted ranks, some who took bonuses to stay in certain jobs even though they were already in the process of changing their roles in the Army Guard and others who took re-enlisted bonuses despite being on track to take a slot at officer candidate’s school.
“Was there an intent to trick the system, to take advantage of the fact that apparently there’s some new sheriff in town who’s handing out bonuses?” Lengyel wondered. “Unfortunately with all of this was mixed in some proven intent to defraud the government, in some cases. There was some intent to take money knowingly that you weren’t entitled to by some people.”
But he added that likely the vast majority of soldiers who took the bonuses didn’t have any intent to illegally work the system.
“We think there are a lot of people out there who were 22-year-old soldiers who were given information that they thought by all means they were entitled to the money,” Lengyel said. “They were told they could take this money, they were told that they were entitled to this money, they took the money, the re-enlisted and they went about whatever they were doing and they were given bad data.”
Guard officials say there are more cases of alleged fraud in the re-enlistment bonuses for National Guard troops in other states, but that they pale in comparison to the California errors. Lengyel said in all about $50 million in questionable bonuses were paid out in California during the period, and the Guard is investigating each one individually.
The National Guard is granting exceptions, he added, particularly for those who were paid bonuses without submitting records that they were actually eligible. Lengyel said, for example, a bonus paid out to a soldier that didn’t forward a copy of a high school diploma will likely be given a pass since he couldn’t have joined the Guard without it in the first place.
“That’s a technicality by which this member shouldn’t be levied a fine,” Lengyel said. “The blanket rule is to do the right thing.”
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been outraged by the story, with some already calling for an investigation into the issue and forwarding language to an upcoming defense bill that would give some bonus recipients amnesty. National Guard officials say they did notify Congress of the potential for bonus fraud but nothing was done.
Vet groups have been quick to side with California guardsmen, arguing it’s unfair to put so many soldiers in financial peril due to a former military official’s malfeasance.
“If any of these people were misled about their own eligibility for the bonus with the intent to keep them on, they shouldn’t be held responsible for that,” said John Hoellwarth, National Communications Director for AMVETS. “We think the benefit of the doubt has to be with the soldiers,”
Lengyel said his office is sending investigators to California to help speed up the process of determining whether a bonus or incentive was paid in error in hopes of helping affected soldiers get on with their lives.
“We’re focused on helping those service members who were doing the right thing and served their country and thought they were entitled to a bonus to get this out of their past and out of their way,” Lengyel said. “And we want to help California do that, and help the service members do that as quickly as we possibly can.”
It turns out a massive flood control project is an excellent way to unearth dinosaurs. At least, that’s what happened back in 1993 in Coralville, Iowa.
In 1993, Coralville, Iowa, experienced 28 days of rain. More than 17,000 cubic feet of water flowed over a spillway, wiping out the state’s yearly crop of soybeans and corn. Roads were obliterated, people’s lives were in jeopardy, and the city was literally drowning.
The Coralville Dam was built in the 1950s by the US Army Corps of Engineers to help provide flood protection for the Iowa River Valley to the south. It was named after the city, which had weirdly received its name from the ancient fossilized reefs that stud the river’s limestone.
Once the rains stopped and the citizens of the city could step outside without being swept away, the Corps returned to the site to assess the damage and explore the choices for reconstructing the dam. What they discovered shocked everyone.
The Corps discovered that the floods eroded five feet of limestone from the edge of the spillway. This created a gorge and unearthed several fossil beds, most of which were about 375 million years old. The fossils were mainly marine creatures that had once lived in the sea that used to cover Iowa. Because the Corps discovered them, all the sea creatures immediately became the property of the US Army.
That’s not to say that the Army will be opening a theme park filled with these fossils any time soon, but it’s pretty exciting to think that the Army has done its part to help advance the field of paleontology.
The survey archaeologist for the Corps, Nancy Brighton, said that the collection spans the entire paleontological record. So anything relating to animals and the natural world that existed before humans are included in that.
Because the Corps of Engineers manages more than 8 million acres of land across the United States, finds like the one in Iowa aren’t super uncommon. In fact, the Corps asl owns one of the most intact T. rex skeletons ever found. More on that later.
All thanks in part to the Flood Control Act, signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936 that decreed the need for dams, levees, and dikes all across the country. But before construction could begin on those early-iteration dams, the Corps had to complete a thorough survey. Those surveys almost always exposed ancient fossil beds.
In fact, it’s assumed that most of what American archeologists have discovered are thanks in part to the efforts of the Corps. All of the hydropower and flood control projects that started back in the 1950s certainly paved the way for new discoveries.
The greatest of all of these discoveries didn’t happen way back, though. It was just a few decades ago, in 1988, on Labor Day. That morning, Kathy Wankel, a hiker, and amateur fossil collector, was trekking through Montana’s Fort Peck Reservoir when something caught her eye.
At first, she thought it was a shoulder blade pushing up through the rocky soil. The lighting was perfect, according to Wankel, which allowed her to see the webby pattern of bone marrow, and that’s when she knew she’d discovered something big.
And by big, of course, we mean enormous. Wankel and her husband had stumbled on the remains of a T. rex thought to have roamed the Montana area some 66 million years ago. The discovery that Wankel and her husband made was one of just eight at the time. Since then, about 50 other skeletons have been discovered.
It took nearly a year to figure out who owned the land where the skeleton was found. At long last, the Corps began to dig. It took several years and a large team to unearth the 38-foot skeleton weighing in at nearly six tons. The most astonishing part? It was almost one hundred percent complete, making it the first specimen to be discovered with small lower arm bones fully intact.
Since 2017, the T. rex has called the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History home. The Corps of Engineers has agreed to a 50-year loan to ensure that all Americans have a chance to see it – when the world’s not locked down with COVID, at least.
A staggering report from the Military Times concludes that accidents involving all aircraft of the US military rose 40% between the 2013 and 2017 fiscal years, and that those accidents resulted in the deaths of at least 133 service members.
The accidents are likely tied to the massive budget cuts that Congress put in place during the sequestration, as well as to an increase in flight hours despite a shortage of pilots.
The report is the first time the deadly crashes have been mapped against the sequester, showing the effect budget cuts may have on the military, according to Military Times Pentagon Bureau Chief Tara Copp, who authored the story.
Approximately 5,500 accidents occurred in the four year period, but the Military Times database records 7,590 accidents that have happened since 2011. They were divided in three categories: Class-A, Class-B, and Class-C.
Class-A was defined as an accident that resulted in “extreme damage, aircraft destroyed or fatality.” Class-B was defined as an accident that rustled in “major damage,” and Class-C as “some damage.”
(Kyodo News via NewsEdge)
Class-C accidents were the majority of the mishaps at 6,322. Class-B accidents were second at 744, followed by Class-A accidents at 524. The last three of those accidents, which killed at least 16 pilots or crew members, happened in the last three weeks.
In addition to the cost of life, the various categories also take financial costs into account. Class-A accidents cost the most, at $2 million or more. Class-B follows at $500,000 or more, and Class-C at $50,000 or more.
For 10 of the last 11 years, the military was funded through continuing resolutions under the Budget Control Act, which was signed in 2011. As the sequestration efforts ramped up in 2013, the military saw more cuts.
The budget cuts due to the sequestration efforts have long angered many in the Department of Defense. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said in February 2018, that “no enemy in the field has done as much to harm the readiness of US military than the combined impact of the Budget Control Act’s defense spending caps.”
(DOD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)
“Hopefully someone in Congress will wake up and realize things are bad and getting worse,” an active duty Air Force maintainer, who has worked on A-10s, F-16s, and F-15s, told Military Times. “The war machine is like any other machine, and cannot run forever. After 17 years of running this machine at near capacity, the tank is approaching empty.”
President Donald Trump signed a $700 billion defense policy bill in December 2017. Trump also signed a $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill in March 2018, touting that it had the largest increase in defense spending in 15 years.
The Air Force has responded to the report with an announcement that they have launched an investigation into the large amounts of Class-C accidents. They also stressed that Class-A incidents have been on the decline.
“Any Class A accident is one too many,” Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen “Seve” Wilson said in an interview with Military.com.
“The safest year ever was 2014, and 2017 was our second safest year, so our Class A mishaps have been trending down,” he added.
The Defense Department’s budget request for 2019 released Feb. 12 called for a 2.6 percent military pay raise, a modest increase in the end strengths of the services, and major rebuilding programs aimed at retaining the U.S. edge over China and Russia.
Pentagon Comptroller David Norquist said the 2.6 percent pay increase proposal for fiscal 2019 would boost the pay of a staff sergeant by $1,169 next year.
The 2.6 percent increase would come on top of the 2.4 percent increase for 2018 authorized in December by President Donald Trump by executive order.
In addition, the DoD “expects moderate and manageable increases in pay will continue in the near term and will match the growth in private-sector wages,” the budget documents said.
There was some initial confusion on the proposed increases in the end strengths of the services because of the congressional delays in the approval of funding, but it appeared that the Pentagon was recommending an overall boost in the size of the force of more than 17,000 — almost all of it for active-duty personnel.
Reserve and National Guard forces would see only modest increases. Army, Navy, and Air Force Reserves would add 800 forces total; and the Army and Air National Guard would add 500 troops apiece.
If approved by Congress and the White House, the Pentagon’s $716 billion budget request for 2019 would provide funding to build 10 Navy ships, including three guided missile destroyers, two Virginia class submarines, and one Littoral Combat Ship.
It also would fund more than 400 new aircraft, including 77 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, 24 F/A-18E Super Hornet fighters, 60 AH-64 Apache helicopters and 68 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.
The $716 billion in proposed defense spending for FY2019 would amount to about a 10 percent increase over military spending in 2017.
Congress finally moved past a series of continuing resolutions and reached agreement on a two-year budget deal that called for nearly $700 billion in defense funding for FY2018 and $716 billion for FY2019.
Technically, the action taken by Congress produced another continuing resolution until March 23 to allow the 12 appropriations committees in Congress time to allocate the money going to government operations, but congressional leaders and the White House said the agreement reached was a done deal.
The total of $1.4 trillion in military funding over two years will be directed more to building the lethality and capabilities of the force rather than the end strengths of the services, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Feb. 11 while traveling to Europe for a week-long series of security meetings.
“I am very confident that what the Congress has now done, and the president is going to allocate to us in the budget, is what we need to bring us back to a position of primacy” among the world’s militaries, Mattis said.
“We will be standing up some new elements, cyber is one example, and we will be recruiting more mechanics in the Air Force and recruiting more soldiers and sailors,” Mattis said.
In addition, “we’ll be buying more stuff” to bolster depleted inventories, particularly on munitions, Mattis said ahead of the release Feb. 12 of the Defense Department’s overview of the fiscal 2019 budget request, and the individual requests of the services.
However, the end result of the massive infusion of money will be a military that’s “not a lot bigger, organizationally. It’s built more to address the changing forms of warfare and to bring the current capabilities up,” Mattis said ahead of the release of the budget request.
At a Pentagon briefing, Norquest said the budget was shaped by Mattis’ National Defense Strategy which concluded that “Great power competition, not terrorism, has emerged as the central challenge to U.S. security and prosperity.”
“The U.S. seeks cooperation with our competitors from a position of strength,” Norquist said but “the U.S. must be prepared to compete, deter war, and if necessary, fight and win.”
The $716 billion represented about a $74 billion increase over current defense spending, Pentagon officials said.
About $30 billion for the Department of Energy and other agencies that contribute to national defense was included in the $716 billion, reducing the DoD’s share to about $686 billion. About $617 billion of the $686 billion was slotted for the Pentagon’s base budget and about $69 billion for the so-called “war budget,” or Overseas Contingency Operations fund mostly for the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.
The OCO funding would allot 46.3 billion for Afghanistan operations, $15.3 billion for Iraq and Syria, $6.5 billion for the European Defense Initiative to bolster NATO, and about $900 million for security cooperation agreements with a range of countries, Norquist said.
In arriving at the budget request, the DoD also bowed to political realities and eliminated any request to close excess bases and facilities, which the Pentagon had long sought to cut costs through establishment of another Base Re-Alignment and Closure Commission. “There is not a request for another BRAC round in this budget,” Norquist said.
The defense budget request was part of the overall $4.4 trillion fiscal 2019 proposed budget for all government spending put forward Feb. 12 by Trump and the White House Office of Management and Budget.
The Trump budget would boost spending for infrastructure and border security along with the military while proposing politically difficult cuts to entitlement programs.
His proposed budget “provides resources to enhance missile defense and to build the planes, tanks, warships, and cyber tools that the brave men and women who defend us need to deter aggression and, when necessary, to ﬁght and win,” Trump said at the White House.
“Most importantly, the budget provides funds to increase the size of our armed forces and to give our men and women in uniform a well-earned pay raise,” he said.
Trump said that when he told Mattis the amount of the military’s share of the budget, Mattis replied: “Wow — I can’t believe we got everything we wanted.”
The US Army is massively revving up the offensive attack technology on its Stryker vehicles with vehicle-launched attack drones, laser weapons, bomb-deflecting structures, and a more powerful 30mm cannon, service and industry developers said.
“We have now opened up the aperture for more potential applications on the Stryker,” Col. Glen Dean, Stryker Program Manager, told reporters at the Association of the United States Army Annual Symposium.
Stryker maker General Dynamics Land Systems has been testing an integrated sensor-shooter drone system mounted on the vehicle itself. A small, vertical take off surveillance drone, called the Shrike 2, launches from the turret of the vehicle to sense, find and track enemy targets. Then, using a standard video data link, it can work in tandem with an attack missile to destroy the targets it finds. The technology is intended to expedite the sensor-to-shooter loop and function as its own “hunter-killer” system.
“A missile warhead can be launched before you show up in town. It has a sensor and killer all in one platform. Let’s reach out and kill the enemy before we even show up,” Michael Peck, Enterprise Business Development, General Dynamics Land Systems, told Warrior Maven in an interview.
Peck added that the Stryker-launched drone system could make a difference in a wide range of tactical circumstances to include attacking major power mechanized formations and finding terrorist enemies blended into civilian areas.
“It will go out in an urban environment and it will sense and find your shooter or incoming rpg,” Peck added.
Dean also referenced the Army’s evolving Mobile High-Energy Laser weapons system, which has been testing on Strykers in recent years. Firing a 5kw laser, a Stryker vehicle destroyed an enemy drone target in prior testing, raising confidence that combat vehicle-fired laser weapons could become operational in coming years.
The laser weapon system uses its own Ku-band tracking radar to autonomously acquire targets in the event that other sensors on the vehicle are disabled in combat. It also has an electronic warfare jamming system intended to take out the signal of enemy drones.
Lasers can also enable silent defense and attack, something which provides a substantial tactical advantage as it can afford Stryker vehicles the opportunity to conduct combat missions without giving away their position.
A Congressional Research Service report from 2018, called “U.S. Army Weapons-Related Directed Energy Programs,” details some of the key advantages and limitations of fast-evolving laser weapons.
“DE (directed energy) could be used as both a sensor and a weapon, thereby shortening the sensor-to-shooter timeline to seconds. This means that U.S. weapon systems could conduct multiple engagements against a target before an adversary could respond,” the Congressional report states.
Lasers also bring the substantial advantage of staying ahead of the “cost curve,” making them easier to use repeatedly. In many instances, low-cost lasers could destroy targets instead of expensive interceptor missiles. Furthermore, mobile-power technology, targeting algorithms, beam control, and thermal management technologies are all progressing quickly, a scenario which increases prospects for successful laser applications.
At the same time, the Congressional report also points out some basic constraints or challenges associated with laser weapons. Laser weapons can suffer from “beam attenuation, limited range and an ability to be employed against non-line-of-sight targets,” the report says.
Dean said the Army was “pure-fleeting” its inventory of Strykers to an A1 variant, enabling the vehicles to integrate a blast-deflecting double-V hull,450hp engine, 60,000 pound suspension and upgraded digital backbone.
“This provides a baseline for the fleet to allow us to grow for the future. We just completed an operational test. That vehicle has growth margin to include weight carrying capability and electrical power,” Dean said.
Peck said GDLS will be upgrading the existing arsenal of “flat-bottomed” Strykers to the A1 configuration at a pace of at least “one half of a brigade per year.”
General Dynamics Land Systems is also preparing a new, heavy strength 30mm cannon for the Stryker.
Compared to an existing M2 .50-cal machine gun mounted from Strykers, the new 30mm weapon is designed to improve both range and lethality for the vehicle. The new gun can fire at least twice as far as a .50-Cal, GDLS developers told Warrior.
The 30mm cannon can use a proximity fuse and fire high-explosive rounds, armor piercing rounds and air burst rounds. Also, while the .50-Cal is often used as a suppressive fire “area” weapon designed to restrict enemy freedom of movement and allow troops to maneuver, the 30mm gun brings a level of precision fire to the Stryker Infantry Carrier that does not currently exist.
Dismounted infantry units are often among the first-entering “tip-of-the-spear” combat forces which at times travel to areas less-reachable by heavy armored platforms such as an Abrams tank or Bradley Fighting Vehicle. Certain terrain, bridges or enemy force postures can also make it difficult for heavier armored vehicles to maneuver on attack.
In previous interviews with Warrior, GDLS weapons developers explained that the 30mm uses a “link-less” feed system, making less prone to jamming.
The new, more-powerful Orbital ATK XM 81330mm 30mm cannon, which can be fired from within the Stryker vehicle using a Remote Weapons Station, will first deploy with the European-based 2nd Cavalry Unit.
The Army is also fast-tracking newly configured Stryker vehicles armed with drone and aircraft killing Stinger and Hellfire missiles to counter Russia in Europe and provide more support to maneuvering Brigade Combat Teams in combat.
The program, which plans to deploy its first vehicles to Europe by 2020, is part of an Army effort called short-range-air-defense – Initial Maneuver (SHORAD).
Senior leaders say the service plans to build its first Stryker SHORAD prototype by 2019 as an step toward producing 144 initial systems
“We atrophied air defense if you think about it. With more near-peer major combat operations threats on the horizon, the need for SHORAD and high-tier weapons like THAAD and PATRIOT comes back to the forefront. This is a key notion of maneuverable SHORAD — if you are going to maneuver you need an air defense capability able to stay up with a formation,” the senior Army official told Warrior Maven in an interview.
As a result, ground infantry supported by armored vehicles, will need mobile air defenses to address closer-in air threats. This is where the Stryker SHORAD comes in; infantry does not have the same fires or ground mobility as an armored Stryker, and hand held anti-aircraft weapons such as a hand-fired Stinger would not have the same defensive impact as a Hellfire or Stinger armed Stryker. In a large mechanized engagement, advancing infantry needs fortified armored support able to cross bridges and maneuver alongside foot soldiers.
Chinese or Russian helicopters and drones, for instance, are armed with rockets, missiles and small arms fire. A concept with SHORAD would be to engage and hit these kinds of threats prior to or alongside any enemy attack. SHORAD brings an armored, mobile air defense in real-time, in a way that most larger, less-mobile ground missiles can.
The PATRIOT missile, for instance, is better suited to hit incoming mid-range ballistic missiles and other attacking threats. While mobile, a PATRIOT might have less of an ability to support infantry by attacking fast-moving enemy helicopters and drones.
This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.
You don’t really know your buddies until you deploy together. At that point you get to see a side of them that their families and closest loved ones have never seen — a side effect of spending every hour with them for months on end in a foreign land where all you have is each other.
You get to know the good, the bad, and the weird. Here’s what you can expect:
1. You’ll learn that insults are endearing.
2. . . . as is antagonizing each other.
Generation Kill, HBO
3. You’ll learn exactly how to take the edge off when you go too far . . .
“I was just pulling your chain. Here, take a chill smoke.”
4. . . . because you’ve shared nearly every single thought that you’ve had over the last few months.
5. You’ll learn to think of buds as family.
6. You’ll learn to communicate with each other just by grunting.
7. (Aviators learn hand signals.)
8. Your comfort levels will approach new highs (and lows).
9. And you’ll learn to be totally fine with complete silence.
10. And you’ll learn to be brutally honest with each other.
11. You’ll learn who will be the first to put on his or her “deployment goggles.”