MIGHTY TRENDING

As unemployment surges, Department of Veterans Affairs goes on hiring spree

Backed by a record $240 billion budget, the Department of Veterans Affairs has gone on a hiring spree to fill long-vacant spots as it battles coronavirus, pulling from the ranks of the retired and those furloughed or laid off by other health care systems.

From March 29 to April 11, VA hired 3,183 new staff, including 981 registered nurses, a 37.7% increase from the prior two-week period, VA said in an April 24 release.

In the next several weeks, the VA plans to add 4,500 more staff members, department secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement.


“Many of VA’s new hires come from health care systems that have seen temporary layoffs due to COVID-19,” VA officials said in the release.

As the number of coronavirus cases surged, the VA began a national campaign to hire more registered nurses, respiratory therapists, anesthesiologists, housekeepers, supply technicians and other medical medical personnel to work in its 170 hospitals and more than 1,200 clinics nationwide.

The hires boosted the VA’s workforce to a record 390,000, or “nearly 55,000 more than we had five years ago,” the VA spokeswoman said.

However, the 390,000 figure for the total VA workforce was only 4,000 above the 386,000 number reported at a hearing of the House Veterans Affairs Committee in September 2019.

VA Inspector General Michael Missal testified at the hearing that staffing shortages were “a root cause for many of the problems in veterans care.”

In his statement to the committee last Sept. 18, Missal said his office had reported on staffing shortages at the VA for the previous four years.

He noted that the Veterans Health Administration had made significant progress on hiring but said it continues to face challenges, including the higher pay offered by private health care systems.

As of Monday, the VA had reported a total of 434 coronavirus deaths of patients in the VA health care system, and a total of 7,001 veterans in VA medical care who had tested positive for the virus.

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

Articles

Police just discovered a huge trove of Nazi artifacts hidden behind a bookcase in Argentina

Earlier this month, police in Argentina raided the home of an art collector and found a door leading to a room full of Nazi knives, sculptures, medical devices, magnifying glasses, and a large bust portrait of Adolf Hitler.


“There are no precedents for a find like this,” Nestor Roncaglia, the head of Argentina’s federal police, told The Associated Press. “Pieces are stolen or are imitations. But this is original, and we have to get to the bottom of it.”

Patricia Bullrich, Argentina’s security minister, told the AP: “There are objects to measure heads that was the logic of the Aryan race.”

Investigators are trying to figure out how such an extensive collection of Nazi memorabilia made it into the South American country, where several Nazi officials fled at the end of World War II.

After finding some illicit paintings at an art gallery, Argentinian police raided a Buenos Aires art collector’s home and found close to 75 items of old Nazi memorabilia that the man kept hidden by a bookcase that led to his secret shrine.

Members of the federal police carry a Nazi statue at the Interpol headquarters in Buenos Aires. Photo by Natacha Pisarenko (Associated Press via News Edge)

A Hitler photo negative, Nazi sculptures, knives, head-measuring medical devices, and children’s toys with swastikas on them were among some of the items found.

A knife with Nazi markings was found in the man’s home. Photo by Natacha Pisarenko (Associated Press via News Edge).

This device was used to measure the size of a person’s head.

A World War II German army mortar aiming device, right, is shown at the Interpol headquarters in Buenos Aires. Photo by Natacha Pisarenko (Associated Press via News Edge)

The police handed over the items to investigators and historians, who are trying to figure out how such a large collection made it into the home of one South American man.

A box with swastikas containing harmonicas for children. Photo by Natacha Pisarenko (Associated Press via News Edge).

After World War II, many high-ranking Nazi leaders fled to Argentina to escape trial. “Finding 75 original pieces is historic and could offer irrefutable proof of the presence of top leaders who escaped from Nazi Germany,” Ariel Cohen Sabban, the president of a political umbrella for Argentina’s Jewish institutes, told the AP.

An hourglass with Nazi markings. Photo by Natacha Pisarenko (Associated Press via News Edge).

MIGHTY CULTURE

The 13 funniest military memes for the week of June 14th

The higher-ups at the U.S. Army Garrison Fort Carson instituted a new ban on the sale of alcohol past 2200. It’s going to be put in place on Monday, June 17, so this will be the last weekend troops there can buy liquor through AAFES until 0800.

On one hand, I totally understand the frustration. Which soldier hasn’t run out of beer at midnight and needed to stumble to the Class Six to pick up another six-pack? That’s part of the whole “Lower Enlisted” experience. On the other hand, I get why. It’s a reactionary step that the chain of command took in response to the rise in alcohol-related incidents while not outright banning alcohol in the first place.

There’s an easy workaround, and it’s probably one the chain of command might already know and actually prefer. Just stockpile all the booze in the barracks room. Think about it. If all the booze is in one place, there’s no safer place for a young soldier to get sh*tfaced drunk. A few steps away from their bed, there’s an NCO within shouting distance at the CQ desk, usually the unit medic is nearby, and any alcohol-related issues can be handled within house.


So if you’re stationed at Carson, here are some memes while you stockpile booze like it’s the apocalypse.

(Meme via Infantry Follow Me)

(Meme via Team Non-Rec)

(Meme via Not CID)

(Meme via Victor Alpha Clothing)

(Meme via Coast Guard Memes)

(Meme via Air Force amn/nco/snco)

(Meme via Disgruntled Vets)

(Meme via Valhalla Wear)

(Meme via ASMDSS)

(Meme via Pop Smoke)

(Meme via Air Force Nation Humor)

(Meme via Weapons of Meme Destruction)

(Meme via Uniform Humor)

Articles

This Ranger-veteran Santa granted a dying child’s final wish

An Army Ranger veteran who plays Santa was called for an emergency visit to a dying child in Tennessee, arriving just in time to present the boy with a present and hold him as he passed away.


Eric Schmitt-Matzen is a 60-year-old engineer and the president of Packing Seals Engineering, according to Fox News. He carefully cultivates Saint Nicholas’s appearance and performs at approximately 80 events throughout each year.

Photo: Facebook/Eric Schmitt-Matzen

A nurse contacted him from a hospital near his home in Tennessee to ask that he rush over and comfort a dying child. According to the BBC, he was given a PAW Patrol toy by the child’s mother.

“She’d bought a toy from [the TV show] ‘PAW Patrol’ and wanted me to give it to him,” he told the Knoxville News Sentinel. “I sized up the situation and told everyone, ‘If you think you’re going to lose it, please leave the room. If I see you crying, I’ll break down and can’t do my job.’ ”

Schmitt-Matzen told the sick boy that he was Santa’s “Number One Elf” and that no matter where the boy went next, that title would get him in. Schmitt-Matzen gave the boy the gift and the child asked, “Santa, can you help me?”

“I wrapped my arms around him,” Schmitt-Matzen said, according to the Independent. “Before I could say anything, he died right there. I let him stay, just kept hugging and holding on to him.”

Photo: Facebook/Eric Schmitt-Matzen

The Ranger veteran left the hospital in tears that any soldier could easily understand. Rangers Lead The Way.

The first reference to this story that WATM has been able to find comes from Sam Venable at the Knoxville News Sentinel. You can learn more about Eric Schmitt-Matzen and his visits as Santa Claus there.

MIGHTY CULTURE

6 foreign special operations units the US relies on

The U.S. has some of the best special operations units in the world, but they can’t do everything on their own. The American military relies on allied special operators from places like Britain, Iraq, and Israel to collect intelligence and kill enemy insurgents and soldiers. Here are 6 of those special operations commands.

A quick note on the photos: Many allied militaries are even more loathe to show the faces of their special operators than the U.S. The photos we’ve used here are, according to the photographers, of the discussed special operations forces, but we cannot independently verify that the individuals photographed are actually members of the respective clandestine force.


A British Special Forces member from the 22nd Special Air Service at Hereford, England, uses binoculars to locate a target down range.

(U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Rick Bloom)

1. SAS and SBS

These could obviously be two separate entries, but we’re combining them here because they’re both British units that often operate side-by-side with U.S. forces, just with different missions and pedigrees. The Special Air Service pulls from the British Army and focuses on counter-terrorism and reconnaissance. The Special Boat Service does maritime counter-terrorism and amphibious warfare (but will absolutely stack bodies on land, too).

Both forces have deployed with U.S. operators around the world, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan where they were part of secretive task forces that hunted top Taliban members, ISIS, and Iraqi insurgents.

The Sayeret Matkal does all sorts of hush-hush missions for Israel, everything from intelligence gathering to direct action to hostage rescue.

(Israel Defense Forces)

2. Sayeret Matkal

Israel’s Sayeret Matkal has generated rumors and conjecture for decades, and it’s easy to see why when you look at their few public successes. They rescued 103 Jewish hostages under gunpoint in Uganda after a plane hijacking. They hunted down the killers who attacked Israel’s 1972 Munich Olympic team, killing 11 coaches and athletes. The commandos in the unit are skilled in deception, direct action, and intelligence gathering.

The U.S. is closely allied with Israel and Sayeret Matkal is extremely good at gathering intelligence, which is often shared with the U.S. One of their most public recent successes came when they led a daring mission to install listening devices in ISIS buildings, learning of a plan to hide bombs in the battery wells of laptops.

French Army special operations troops conduct a simulated hostage rescue during a 2018 demonstration.

(Domenjod, CC BY-SA 4.0)

3. French Special Operations Command

French special operations units are even more close-mouthed than the overall specops community, but they have an army unit dedicated to intelligence gathering and anti-terrorism, a navy unit filled with assault forces and underwater demolitions experts, and an air force unit specializing in calling in air strikes and rescuing isolated personnel behind enemy lines.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis has said that France deployed its special operators to Syria in April where they helped defeat ISIS.

A German Special Forces soldier lines his sites on a target 500 meters away, and awaits direction from an International Special Training Centre instructor to engage the target in 2006.

(U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Gina Vaile-Nelson)

4. Kommando Spezialkräfte

Germany’s Kommando Spezialkrafte is a unit of elite commandos split into four companies with five platoons each, and each platoon specializes in a specific mission types, from airborne operations to sniper to polar. A support company provides medical, maintenance, and logistics support.

The commandos have reportedly deployed to Syria in recent years to fight ISIS. And while Germany is fairly tight-lipped about the unit, they have confirmed that the unit was deployed to Iraq for a few years in the early 2000s. On these missions, they help U.S.-led coalitions achieve success.

Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) operators demonstrate forward repelling during the 2nd School graduation in Baghdad, Iraq, Oct. 1, 2018. The ceremony included a ribbon cutting for the repelling tower, which will be used by future 2nd school classes.

(U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Abe McNatt)

5. Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service

The Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service was created by the U.S. and, oddly, does not fall within the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, making this one of the few special operations units that isn’t part of the traditional military. It has three special operations forces brigades and, in recent years, has largely focused on eliminating ISIS-controlled territory and the surviving forces.

The operators have also fought against other groups like Al Qaeda-Iraq. The unit was originally formed in 2003, meaning it has only existed while Iraq was at war with insurgents, so the force has operated almost exclusively within Iraq’s borders. It earned high marks in 2014 when its troops maintained good order and fought effectively against ISIS while many of the security forces were falling apart.

An Afghan National Army Special Operations Commando instructor assesses Commando recruits in training as they perform security duties during a training exercise in Camp Commando, Kabul, Afghanistan, May 6, 2018.

(U.S. Army Master Sgt. Felix Figueroa)

6. Afghan National Army Commando Corps

Afghanistan’s National Army Commando Corps is one of the great bright spots in its growing military. While it’s had growing pains and the Taliban has infiltrated it at some times, it has a reputation for professionalism and skill and has led the way on top-level operations. It’s even capable of the rapid nighttime raids that U.S. forces became famous for when they were in the lead in that country.

The Afghan president ordered the size of the unit be doubled between 2018 and 2020 because the soldiers, all expert marksmen and commandos, have a reputation for getting results. Afghanistan also has the Ktah Khas, a counter-terrorism unit known for daring raids like their 2016 rescue of 59 prisoners in a Taliban hideout.

Articles

US service member killed by enemy fire in Iraq

US Marine Corps


A US Marine was killed in northern Iraq on Saturday, according to a Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve report.

The service member was providing force protection fire support at a base in Makhmur when troops came under ISIS (also known as Islamic State, ISIL) rocket fire.

Makhmur is approximately 45 miles southeast of ISIS-held Mosul.

“Several other Marines were wounded and they are being treated for their varying injuries,” according to a statement from Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the service members involved, their families and their coalition teammates who will continue the fight against ISIL with resolved and determination,” Cook wrote.

The identity and nationality of the service member will not been released until the family is notified.

To date, Operation Inherent Resolve has conducted 10,962 strikes, with 7,336 in Iraq and 3,626 in Syria.

Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler, 39, of Roland, Oklahoma, became thefirst American to die in combat operations against ISIS, Reuters reports.

He was killed during an overnight October 2015, mission to rescue hostages held by ISIS militants.

Wheeler is survived by his wife and four sons.

Articles

The Pentagon has changed how it will lay off civilian workers

Performance will be the primary factor in the future if the Defense Department has to resort to a civilian reduction in force, DoD officials said today.


The department revamped the rules for the reduction-in-force process as a result of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2016.

That law requires the department to establish procedures to provide that, in any reduction in force of civilian positions in the competitive or excepted service, the determination of which employees shall be separated from employment shall be made primarily on basis of performance.

(from left) Officers Jacob Hughett and Adam Cruea, both with the 88th Security Forces Squadron, stand ready to answer any emergency or call for help, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Sept. 12, 2016. Both officers work as GS level employees and are part of a civilian contingent within the 88th SFS. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Al Bright)

A reduction in force, or RIF, as it is known, is the term used when the government lays off employees. The RIF procedures determine whether an employee keeps his or her present position, whether the employee has a right to a different position or whether the employee must be let go.

In the past, tenure was the primary factor when making RIF calculations. Now, an employee’s performance rating of record will carry the greatest weight followed by tenure group, performance average score, veterans’ preference and DoD service computation date-RIF.

“The DoD civilian workforce is one of the department’s most important assets,” said Julie Blanks, acting assistant secretary of defense for civilian personnel policy. “However, there are times when the department must make difficult decisions that impact our civilians, and in doing so, it is imperative these decisions result in our continued ability to seamlessly execute our national security mission. When circumstances necessitate a RIF, the department must ensure we are retaining our highest performing employees.”

The changes will apply to almost all of DoD’s 750,000 civilian employees. This change in the RIF process only applies to DoD. The government-wide provisions that rank four retention factors by tenure of employment; veterans’ preference; length of service; and performance remain in place for other federal agencies.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mark Burrell)

Under the new system, if an agency is forced to employ a RIF, employees will be placed on a retention register based on periods of assessed performance of 12 months or more or less than 12 months. The idea is to give an equitable comparison for employees whose performance has been assessed over a comparable period of time.

The first retention factor is rating of record. The rating of record is the average drawn from the two most recent performance appraisals received by the employee within the four-year period preceding the cutoff date for the RIF.

The second factor is tenure group. There are three tenure groups, with group III being temporary or term employees, these employees will be ranked at the bottom of the retention register below groups I and II.

Tenure group I and II employees are those serving on permanent appointments. Tenure group I includes employees who are not on probation and whose appointments are not career-conditional.

Tenure group II employees are those hired into permanent appointments in a career-conditional or probationary status. In general, tenure group II employees must have three years of creditable service and meet all other stated conditions of their probationary period in order to attain Tenure group I status. Tenure group I will be ranked above employees in tenure group II within each rating of record group.

The third factor is an employee’s average score. In general, an employee’s average score for one performance appraisal is derived by dividing the sum of the employee’s performance element ratings by the number of performance elements. For purposes of RIF, average score is the average of the average scores drawn from the two most recent performance appraisals received by the employee within the four year period preceding the “cutoff date” for the RIF.

Under new rules, the Pentagon will evaluate job performance first before letting civilian employees go as part of any downsizing. (DoD photo)

Veterans’ preference is the fourth factor. “Veterans are a key part of the civilian workforce, representing a highly skilled, extremely well-qualified cadre of employees,” Blanks said. “The department firmly believes that highly performing veterans in the civilian workforce will not be disadvantaged by the new RIF policy.”

The final factor is the DoD service computation date-RIF, with those serving the longest having the edge.

DoD officials stress that a RIF is always the last resort for the department. They will do everything they can to mitigate the size of reductions, including the use of voluntary early retirement authority or voluntary separation incentive payments. Agencies will also use hiring freezes, termination of temporary appointments, and any other pre-RIF placement options.

The new DoD RIF policy and procedures are consistent with the implementation of the DoD Performance Management and Appraisal Program. This program standardizes the civilian performance appraisal system throughout the department.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Russia’s new bomber deployment is inflaming tensions

Two Russian Tu-160 nuclear-capable strategic bombers arrived in Venezuela on Dec. 10, 2018, and their presence has already prompted dueling statements from Washington and Moscow.

The bombers landed at Maiquetia Airport outside Caracas after a 6,200-mile flight, the Russian Defense Ministry said. They were accompanied by an An-124 military transport plane and an Il-62 long-range aircraft.


The Defense Ministry said the journey took the bombers through the Arctic and Atlantic oceans, but the flight was “in strict compliance with international rules of the use of airspace.”

Moscow didn’t say if the bombers carried weapons, but they are capable of carrying conventional or nuclear-armed missiles with a range of 3,400 miles.

A Russian Tu-160 in flight.

Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez has said the Russian aircraft would conduct joint flights with Venezuelan planes. Moscow hasn’t said how long this trip would last, but it has already drawn a response from the US, which views Venezuela as its most significant foe in the region.

“Russia’s government has sent bombers halfway around the world to Venezuela,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Twitter. “The Russian and Venezuelan people should see this for what it is: two corrupt governments squandering public funds, and squelching liberty and freedom while their people suffer.”

The Pentagon also criticized the deployment, contrasting it with the US dispatching the hospital ship USNS Mercy, which treated tens of thousands of patients, many of them Venezuelans, on a tour of South America in 2018.

“As the Venezuelan government seeks Russian warplanes, the United States works alongside regional partners and international organizations to provide humanitarian aid to Venezuelans fleeing their crisis-racked nation,” Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon said Dec. 10, 2018. “We maintain our unwavering commitment to humanity.”

The Kremlin rebuked Pompeo, with Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov telling reporters that Pompeo’s comments were “rather undiplomatic” and that Moscow “consider[s] this statement to be totally inappropriate.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

(Photo by Mark Taylor)

He also chided the US for labeling the deployment as a waste of money. “It is not appropriate for a country half of whose defense expenditure would be enough to feed all of Africa’s people to make such statements,” Peskov said.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry also joined the fray. In a statement released Dec. 11, 2018, the ministry said it acknowledged that “tweets” did not “bind anyone to anything in the US in general.”

“However in this situation an official is involved, so this disregard of the rules of diplomatic ethics cannot be seen as a statement ‘to dismiss,'” the ministry added. “What the secretary of state said is inadmissible, not to mention that it is absolutely unprofessional.”

Good friends, but not best friends

Tu-160 bombers last visited Venezuela in 2013 and 2008, the latter trip coming during heightened tensions over Russia’s war with Georgia. Tensions between Washington and Moscow are again heightened, amid Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and meddling in the 2016 US presidential election, but Moscow’s ties to Caracas are longstanding.

“In the Chávez era, Russia was a major arms supplier to Venezuela, and Russia’s state-owned oil company, Rosneft, remains a major player in Venezuela’s collapsing oil sector,” Benjamin Gedan, former South America director on the National Security Council and a fellow at the Wilson Center, said in an email.

“In recent years, as once prosperous Venezuela became an international panhandler, Russia renegotiated loans to postpone sovereign default,” Gedan added.

Russia remains one of the most important international allies for the increasingly isolated regime of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, Gedan said, but that support is not as robust as it may appear.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Russia’s own oil industry has faced headwinds, and its economy has been strained by sanctions imposed by the US and European Union after its 2014 annexation of Crimea. While Russian President Vladimir Putin remains broadly popular, backlash to a government plan to raise pension ages has dented his standing.

“Russia’s generosity is motivated in part by its desire to prop up a Latin American regime that is hostile to US interests,” Gedan said. “That said, Moscow does not have the wherewithal to bail out Venezuela. Given the impacts of sanctions and relatively low oil prices, Russian support for Venezuela these days mostly involves purchases of oil assets priced to sell by the desperate Venezuelan government.”

Maduro returned from a three-day visit to Russia last week touting billion in investments, including a billion pledge for joint oil ventures and a Russian agreement to send 600,000 metric tons of wheat to Venezuela in 2019.

But officials in Russia questioned those deals, with one Rosneft official telling the Financial Times that the amount of new oil investments mentioned by Maduro sounded “suspiciously close” to the amount of the existing agreement.

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

MIGHTY SURVIVAL

Together We Served provides virtual base for connecting Veterans

These unprecedented times are contributing to a higher level of anxiety, particularly among our Veteran population. The constant flow of often discouraging news, along with a reduced ability to mingle with others to keep spirits up, makes it difficult for some to maintain their morale. TogetherWeServed, a military heritage community website and home to over 1.9 million U.S. Military Veterans, wants to help.


A secure virtual base for Veterans

During a Veteran’s military service, their base, ship or shore station is place to call home – a safe haven to share in the company of some of the finest men and women with a mission in common. Together We Served (TWS) aims to replicate that same spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood in its own “Virtual Base” website.

With its membership containing only active serving and Veterans, TWS provides a secure platform for all Veterans to engage with other Veterans on a level that is simply not possible in most social networking environments.

Together We Served’s forums encourage informal discussion, reminiscent of barrack-room banter on a wide range of interests – from local community discussion, uplifting military humor and interesting hobbies, to lively debate on current political issues.

With a number of members suffering from combat-related and other health issues, TWS’s Support Forums provide a safe environment where Veterans can discuss the situations they face each day.

Create your own military service page on the Together We Served site.

U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs

Find your battle buddies today

The joy of locating a long-lost buddy cannot be underestimated and TWS has proven to be an accomplished Veteran locator. You can easily find other Veterans you served with, without having to enter names, by way of TWS’s ability to automatically match the service information you enter on your Military Service Page with the service information on the pages of all other TWS members. The list of matching members is particularly useful as names are often forgotten.

Honoring Service

More free time can provide an additional opportunity. TWS’s Military Service Page is designed to honor the military service of each and every Veteran. Each Veteran’s Page displays: their photo in uniform, rank insignia, medals and awards (displayed exactly as worn), all badges and unit patches; and names, dates and locations of their boot camp, training schools, unit assignments, as well as any combat or non-combat operations participated in. Unlimited photographs from military service can be scanned and added to the TWS Photo Album. A step by step self-interview called “Service Reflections” captures the memories of key people and events that made an important impact on a Veterans life. The result is a rich, visual presentation of a Veteran’s entire military service which, once shared, becomes a lasting legacy for their children and grandchildren.

In support of the Veteran community at this difficult time, Veterans are invited to join Together We Served, via the link below, to receive a FREE 12-months Premium Membership.

Join Together We Served.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

Articles

A Ranger’s warning on reacting to ‘click bait’ without all the facts

This article originally appeared in the Havok Journal.


Seen = killed. This was the objective of our entire marksmanship program when I served as a Special Operator in the 75th Ranger Regiment. “Seen” was the critical precursor to action; shoot the enemy combatants. Leave the non-combatants be.

Some of us out there have forgotten this critical point, today in America. Some of us are attacking the wrong people without “seeing” who we are targeting before we pull the trigger.

(2003. Konar Province, Afghanistan.)

The flash identified the origin of fire before the rocket motor etched a line across the night sky, burning a streak into my night optical device. Enemy contact. Only it was directed at the walls of our firebase, not our patrol.

We halted the convoy, a few kilometers from the safe house, identified the enemy position and marked it while air support was scrambled to the area. Bad situations turn worse quickly when you have multiple friendly elements in the battle space and you make enemy contact. Because of this, we knew how critical it was for our Joint Task Force to know where we were.

We confirmed our location with the JTF Command and then the men within the walls returned fire on the enemy. All of this happened within moments. Silently, invisible to all but our friendlies engaging the enemy position, we waited.

We felt helpless watching the fight. Our distance was too great to maneuver on the enemy, so our fires would do little more than give our position away. Masked by the night, we had the only dominant position in the fight. We did all we could: maintain discipline, calm our adrenaline and direct fires from the shadows. The engagement did not last long, but the feelings never left me. Helplessness. Guilt. Gratitude. Rage.

In all of this, I was angry. My strong sense of justice had been assaulted by these people who attacked us. We are here to help.

Our patrol had just escorted Civil Affairs soldiers into the valley to conduct meet and greets with the local mullahs. A rare mission for our JTF. They had gathered intelligence and offered assistance to the village. They provided generators and school supplies and promised to return with a MEDCAP (medical civil action program). Weeks prior, our medics had treated a boy with a near leg amputation from a construction accident in town.

Read More: Veterans clap back at those demanding Starbucks hire 10,000 vets

Why are they attacking us!? We’re the “Good Guys!”

Things move fast overseas. Often times the lives of your teammates depended on your ability to react to contact with speed and accuracy. Two things stood out most from my experience that night: the discipline of the American Soldier and the feelings of betrayal by a people we were trying to help.

Both themes — discipline and betrayal — stand out today as I observe the way the veteran community reacts before understanding the facts.

I work with and for veterans every day and it is one of the greatest honors of my life. I humbly submit that veterans are the leaders America is reaching for right now, but sometimes I fear we do our community a disservice when we fail to seek the facts before we fire away with our voices. Once silent servants of the Republic, we did our jobs, regardless of whether we agreed or disagreed with the policy.

Today, as veterans, we have the opportunity to speak our minds. To opt in or out on a topic. Our countrymen are starving to hear from us and in some respects, we have a responsibility to them still, to serve and to lead.

In most cases I see veterans seizing that opportunity to make a big difference in their communities. They are leading within the home, the corporate sector, small business, government and nonprofits. Sadly, I also see entitlement, outrage and misplaced attacks from those of us who fail to do the work and lazily fall for the title of the hottest “click bait” article in the news cycle. I see outrage and indignation with little to no understanding of the facts. And I see made up controversies.

Two timely examples are with Walmart and Starbucks.

Read More: Starbucks is hiring 10,000 refugees – starting with interpreters for US troops

On Veterans Day 2015, Walmart rolled out their Green Light a Vet campaign. Many veterans were outraged at the fact that Walmart was selling green light bulbs in their name, and claimed it was all for profit. As if the sales of $.96 light bulbs would move the financial needle for Walmart!

Fact is that Walmart donated all the profits of the sales of green light bulbs to worthy Veteran Serving Non Profits. It was a statement: Veterans, we see you and we are here for you. We support you.

Why were we attacking them?  They were the “Good Guys.”  As a community, we should have just said, “Thank you.”

Fast forward to today.  Recently, Howard Schultz announced that Starbucks will hire 10,000 refugees worldwide and the response from some in the community, again, is outrage. Many in our community are indignant that Starbucks would hire refugees over veterans or military. Fact is, Starbucks made a declarative to hire 10,000 veterans and family members back in 2013, and have since hired 8,800 veterans and military spouses. Meanwhile, Howard and Sheri Schultz’s Family Foundation has poured millions of their own dollars into supporting the veteran community.

Neither Walmart nor Starbucks (nor the Schultz Family) were even given a chance by the raw and reactive. The facts were never even examined. Some of us failed to “see” before going for the “kill”.

We know better.

We know to gather the facts of the situation prior to formulating our plan of attack. It has been beaten into us since day one of our time in service. We are no longer in service and the intel is no longer fed to us, which means we must be more responsible, more discerning in where we seek out the facts. It also means we must take our time and seek to understand prior to the “ready, fire, aim” attitude that is counterproductive to our unity as citizens. Counter-productive to our ability to coexist as Americans: different, yet united.

I fear that at some point, America is going to get tired of trying to support us if even the smallest “we” criticize the attempts to assist with little (to no) context and with such vitriol in our responses. That would be a shame, especially since we risked all to protect those who are now reaching out to us. Especially since many of the folks who work at these establishments and lead these programs are also veterans themselves. And especially since many of us know exactly how it feels to be attacked by the very people we are there to help.

If you’re looking for the next fight on social media, it has nothing to do with what’s on your news feed. It has nothing to do with a company’s policies, who’s the President or what the hottest controversy of the day is. It has everything to do with what’s going on inside of you.

I hope we are willing to investigate the next story before we react. I hope we stop falling for the title of the next “click bait” article.

I hope we can we stop sharpening our swords just to fall on them and use them to attack the real issues. I hope we will fight for, not against, one another.

Brandon Young served 11 years in the U.S. Army, primarily with the 2nd Ranger Battalion and the 75th Ranger Regiment and conducted four combat rotations to Afghanistan. A Mighty 25: Veterans to watch in 2017, Brandon currently serves as the Director of Development for Team RWB, whose mission is to enrich the lives of America’s veterans. 

MIGHTY CULTURE

This non-profit offers scuba diving programs to veterans

LifeWaters offers scuba diving and scuba certifications as part of recreational water therapy. The non-profit organization improves the lives of disabled veterans with a dedicated staff of volunteers, including Spinal Cord Injury therapists, doctors, nurses, veterans, and civilians.

Bill Chase is a Air Force Vietnam-era veteran who served from 1973-1978. While stationed in Hawaii, he learned to dive and then later became a certified diver. In 2016, after a successful engineering career, Chase was diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. While at a VA therapy appointment, the therapist mentioned scuba diving, and then referred Chase to LifeWaters.


Forced retirement opens new door

ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Chase was forced to retire after the diagnosis and soon sought assistance from Paralyzed Veterans of America for help in filing claims for VA benefits and support at the St. Louis VA. Approximately 700 to 900 veterans with ALS are served annually by PVA to obtain their VA healthcare benefits.

“I am always excited to be involved helping a veteran’s bucket list wish come true!” said PVA Vice President and LifeWaters Advanced Scuba Diver, Hack Albertson. “It was an absolute honor to meet and dive with Bill Chase and his family.”

Albertson credits the LifeWaters adaptive scuba training that allowed him to dive in over 200 locations around the world. “I love being a member of LifeWaters and [being] an Advanced Scuba Diver. I was even blessed to dive Pearl Harbor on December 7th while conducting an oil study for the U.S. National Park Service. I can never thank LifeWaters enough for the opportunities and experiences diving has given me.”

“Blown away by kindness” at LifeWaters

LifeWaters offers different services depending on needs, desires and skill level. They have amputee scuba diving, disabled veteran scuba diving and other scuba diving programs.

“ALS progression is different for everyone. In my case, I have no leg motion, my arms and lungs are affected. I’ve recently lost some ground with my lungs, so when I dive I now use a full-face mask because it’s easier to breathe,” said Chase.

Chase was surprised that he was eligible for adaptive diving. He recently completed the HERO dive with his family at the Epcot Center Aquarium at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. Chase has even gotten closer to his family while they trained for their scuba adventure.

“If I were in a different physical state, I wouldn’t hesitate to become part of this group. The dive itself was awesome, in spite of my physical limitations. My family and I thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience,” he said.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

Articles

Iran commands a secret 25,000-man ‘foreign legion’ in Syria

Iran commands a 25,000-man army fighting in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, according to the head of Israel’s foreign affairs and defense committees.


Avi Dichter, who formerly served as Israel’s domestic intelligence chief, warned visiting Swiss parliamentary members that the massive army is purposely targeting the Syrian rebel opposition, as opposed to the Islamic State.

Also read: US General thinks Iran is behind the missile attacks on US Navy near Yemen

“This is a foreign legion of some 25,000 militants, most of whom have come from Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Dichter told the delegation Wednesday, as reported by Reuters. “They are fighting in Syria only against the rebels and not against ISIS.”

Dichter did not disclose his sources, but he does receive regular intelligence briefings in his role.

The Iranian army marches in parade | Wiki Commons

Iran’s role in the Syrian conflict is as substantial as Russia’s, albeit much more covert. In lieu of massive bombing campaigns, Iran has recruited a large army comprised of mostly Afghan refugees.

The Hazara community is a small Shia Muslim sect in Afghanistan’s predominantly Sunni population. ISIS and Taliban attacks against the Hazaras forced many to flee to Iran, which also practices Shia Islam. Instead of welcoming the Hazaras, Iran converted them into an army, known as the Fatemiyoun division.

Typically, the Qods Force, a branch within Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), is responsible for foreign cover operations. Iran’s government recognized at the start of the Syrian conflict that a war in Syria would likely be unpopular. The Hazaras served as a convenient proxy.

Iran also utilizes Lebanon’s Hezbollah terrorist militias as a proxy for Assad. The Iran-Hezbollah relationship goes back decades, and the terrorist group is far better suited for counter-insurgency operations in Syria than the more conventional Iranian forces.

“The Iranians enlisted Hezbollah … to fight in Syria because the Iranian army is better suited to fight as an army against another army, while the Hezbollah militants are adept at fighting against terror groups,” said Dichter.

Dichter noted approximately 1,600 Hezbollah fighters have been killed fighting in Syria. The terrorist group is an arch-enemy of Israel, but that does not mean he is happy to see them dying on the battlefield.

“The fighting had made [Hezbollah] a better fighting force and more adept in conventional military warfare,” said Dichter.

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MIGHTY TRENDING

VP open to the new Space Force using orbital weapons

If officials can advocate for reusable rockets to deliver cargo to troops from space ports, perhaps more firepower in space is possible, too.

Vice President Mike Pence on Oct. 23, 2018, didn’t immediately rule out positioning nuclear weapons in space sometime in the future. In a conversation with the Washington Post during its “Transformers: Space” summit, Pence was asked if the United States was looking to renegotiate the terms of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which currently bans “weapons of mass destruction,” but still allows for conventional weapons in orbit.


“That treaty…doesn’t ban military activity,” Pence said. “It gives nations a fair amount of flexibility in operating in their security interests in outer space. At this time we don’t see any need to amend the treaty, but as time goes forward, the hope that we could continue to see outer space as a domain where peace will reign will require military presence.”

Post reporter Robert Costa, who interviewed Pence onstage at the forum, asked him if he thought nuclear weapons should be banned from space.

“They are now,” Pence replied.

“Should they always be banned from space?” Costa said.

A SpaceX “flight proven” first stage booster successfully lands on Landing Zone 1, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., Dec. 15, 2017.

(SpaceX photo)

“Well, look. I think what we need to do is make sure that we provide for the common defense of the people of the United States of America. And that’s the president’s determination here,” Pence replied. “What we want to do is continue to advance the principle that peace comes through strength.”

The vice president on Oct. 23, 2018, headlined a few events to promote plans for the Trump administration’s proposed Space Force, intended to be the sixth military branch.

Following his appearance at the Post, Pence convened a meeting of the National Space Council at Fort McNair, where cabinet secretaries, members of the national space and security councils, and policy officials discussed recommendations to begin forming the Department of the Space Force.

Echoing a plan Pence unveiled at the Pentagon in August 2018, Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said the Defense Department would move to:

  • Establish the creation of a unified space command, known as U.S. Space Command
  • Direct a legislative proposal for a Space Force for the White House to review
  • Form a budget request proposal to include Space Force elements in the fiscal year 2020 budget Review various space agency authorities to understand and streamline chain-of-command
  • Establishes the Space Development Agency for new satellite and technology procurement
  • Strengthen relationships between the new military space branch and the intelligence community

The recommendations, approved unanimously in the meeting, will eventually be woven into Space Policy Directive-4, known as SPD-4, Space News reported.

When SPD-4 may be signed by the president was not disclosed, even though members of the Pentagon have been waiting to discuss the directive for some months, Military.com reported last week.

During the two-hour meeting, the conferees heard from Doug Loverro, deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy; Mark Sirangelo, an “entrepreneur-in-residence” at the University of Colorado Boulder’s aerospace engineering program and former head of Sierra Nevada Corporation’s space business; and Air Force Lt. Gen. James K. McLaughlin, deputy commander of U.S. Cyber Command.

U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. James K. McLaughlin, Deputy Commander of U.S. Cyber Command.

All were in favor of establishing a Space Force. McLaughlin, however, stressed interoperability and warned of bureaucratic overlap.

“I think you undermine the need for a department if you try to create a combatant command with service-like authorities,” McLaughlin said. “We have to be careful about these three entities not overlapping, and drawing clear lines.”

According to a report from DefenseOne, the Pentagon already has some lines drawn.

Current space operations conducted by bases that belong to Air Force Space Command, the Army‘s 1st Space Brigade, the Navy‘s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command and the Naval Satellite Operations Center will all be absorbed into the Space Force, according to plans.

Space Force will not initially include “the transfer of [the] strategic intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance mission of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO),” the 13-page memo said, as reported by DefenseOne Monday. Whether the intelligence agency will be incorporated at a later date remains to be seen.

“It was not easy to do this,” Shanahan said Tuesday. “But we are moving out.”

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