A Virginia dairy farm that used to hold Army spies is now a winery - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

A Virginia dairy farm that used to hold Army spies is now a winery

Fauquier County, Virginia, might not be the place you think of when you imagine covert ops training, but that’s exactly what’s happened at an isolated farmhouse and working dairy.

In use since 1803, “Vint Hill,” as it was initially known, had several owners before the Army purchased it in 1942 – just in time to train a group of service members in the fine art of espionage. Reframed and repurposed throughout the years, Vint Hill has served as one of the most essential intel-gathering sites you’ve probably never heard of.


History

Vint Hill is situated near the Signal Intelligence Service headquarters in Arlington but was far away enough from the city that its location and its purpose remained a secret. It was here that the Army housed its Monitoring Station No. 1, a covert spy base.

Established by the Army’s Signal Intelligence Service, the 701-acre farm was built in part because the Army needed a secure location near the SIS and a cryptography school.

The geography of Vint Hill was key in the Army’s decision to train there. Not only did it boast a quiet countryside vibe where trainees could really get into their coursework, but it also provided “quiet electromagnetic geology,” which made it the perfect place for intercepting radio signals. During WWII, that’s exactly what service members stationed at Vint Hill did.

Perhaps the most famous is the interception of a message from a Japanese ambassador to Germany. That message, sent in 1943, described German fortifications, contingency plans, and troop strength information.

Once the message was decoded, the information was instrumental in planning the D-Day invasion of June 6, 1944.

The NSA recently released documents that further detail the influence that Vint Hill had on WWII planning. It was a crucial intelligence-gathering station throughout all of WWII and beyond.

After WWII

After WWII, Vint Hill became the first field station of the Army Security Agency, an arm of the NSA. The facility conducted signals intelligence operations.

Declassified Army intelligence lists Vint Hill as one of the largest intercept facilities in the world.

Not only did it serve as an intercept facility, but Vint Hill was also a signal school, signal training center, and a refitting station for selected signal units returning from or heading to deployments.

During and following the Korean War, the station’s footprint was expanded significantly, making it a major intelligence hub during the Cold War. Vint Hill personnel intercepted key Soviet diplomatic and military communication sent over teleprints that helped form and shape America’s military posture.

In 1961, the Army Electronic Material Readiness Activity moved to Vint Hill and took over the management of signals intelligence and electronic warfare maintenance for the Army Security Agency.

By 1973 however, Vint Hill’s mission had changed to research. Its main goal was to aid and assist in the development and support of intel and electronic warfare info gathering for the Army, DoD, and our partner allies. The EPA took over operations of Vint Hill’s photographic interpretation center from the DIA, and Vint Hill was renamed as the Environmental Photographic Interpretation Center.

However, that didn’t last long. By the late 1979s, Vint Hill was on the list of installations to be closed, and all projects on site were halted. A change in policy in 1981 reversed that decision, and Vint Hill remained open.

Serving as the “giant ear” of the NSA was the core focus of Vint Hill in the early 1980s and eventually became a development and testing site for signal equipment for the CIA and FBI. IN 1993, Vint Hill was once again on the chopping block. This time, the closure stuck. Most personnel were reassigned to Fort Monmouth and Fort Belvoir.

Vint Hill closed officially on September 30, 1997. Now, the site hosts several engineering and tech companies, including the FAAs Air Traffic Control System Command Center. There’s a Cold War museum open on-site, but most notably, the former intel-gathering installation is home to the Vint Hill Craft Winery and the Old Bust Head Brewery. There’s even a dance school and a gymnastics school run on the property. Talk about reinvention after time in service.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This E-4’s grave is the most dangerous gravesite in the world

In January 1961, the U.S. Army suffered its only nuclear accident and the only fatal nuclear accident in the United States. The accident was caused by the manual removal of a control rod in a nuclear reactor in Idaho. The resulting explosion killed two Army specialists and a Navy Electrician’s Mate. One of the Army specialists, Richard McKinley, was so irradiated that his body had be interred in a lead-lined casket, covered in cement and placed in a metal vault before burial.

The special grave is now at Arlington National Cemetery where it is under special watch, unable to be moved without permission from the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.


A Virginia dairy farm that used to hold Army spies is now a winery

That’s not really what we think of at Arlington National Cemetery.

The official cause of the explosion was ruled an accident, although some suspect it might have been a suicide due to the nature of the accident. In the nighttime hours of Jan. 3, 1961, three enlisted men working the reactor at an experimental Idaho-based Reactor Testing Station were killed when one of the nuclear core’s control rods were removed manually.

That is to say one of the men removed the uranium-235 control rod 50 centimeters – with his hands. Just 40 centimeters was enough to send the reactor to critical.

And it did send the reactor critical, immediately unleashing 20,000 MW in .01 seconds, causing the nuclear fuel to melt. The melted uranium began to interact with the water in the reactor and produced a violent explosion of steam that caused part of the core to rise three meters in the air.

A Virginia dairy farm that used to hold Army spies is now a winery

In the late 1970s, it was even alleged that the incident was an intentional murder-suicide.

Army Specialist John Byrnes and Navy Electricians Mate Richard Legg were also killed in the incident, the first and only deadly nuclear incident on U.S. soil. They were buried in their hometowns. Specialist Richard McKinley would have to be buried elsewhere – somewhere his irradiated body could not harm anyone else.

When the specialist removed the control rod by hand, he had already absorbed enough radiation to kill him a few times over but the resulting steam explosion sent the rod flying through his body, contaminating it with long-life radioactive isotopes.

He was placed in a lead casket, covered in concrete and sealed in a metal container. His body now rests in Arlington National Cemetery. Along with delivery of the body came the orders from the Assistant Adjutant General of Arlington Cemetery:

“Victim of nuclear accident. Body is contaminated with long-life radio-active isotopes. Under no circumstances will the body be moved from this location without prior approval of the Atomic Energy Commission in consultation with this headquarters.”
MIGHTY STORIES

Mighty Stories: Remembering my big, bad Green Beret, SSG Michael H. Simpson

Mighty Stories is a weekly WATM feature highlighting the stories of veterans, active duty and military families. This week’s feature is Krista Simpson Anderson – Army wife, Gold Star wife, founder of the nonprofit The Unquiet Professional.

I grew up in Hampton, Massachusetts – a little town right outside of Springfield. My father served in the U.S. Air Force from 1967-1971, but it was before I was born. My mom’s side of the family also served, but it wasn’t something we talked about. I was blissfully ignorant about military life.

I met Mike in June 2006. He was a friend of my cousin’s. My cousin was deploying to Iraq and my aunt was having a deployment party for him. She flew in a few of his friends that had been in the Old Guard with him, and she called me and asked me to help her with the guys flying in.

I walked into the Toasted Owl Tavern in Northhampton, and there he was.


It was love at first sight. I remember my cousin saying to me, ‘I’m going to disown you both if you get married.’ But we were fixed on each other. The whole world could have come crashing down around us and we wouldn’t have noticed.

In August 2006, Mike’s whole unit transferred to Germany. I went out to visit him for Thanksgiving. In September of 2007, he deployed to Iraq. He came out to Rhode Island to my family’s home before he left and we spent a week together. I was working in the restaurant business at the time of his deployment, so I took a couple of different jobs, one in St. Thomas, one in New York. But we stayed in contact.

In April 2008, during his mid-tour leave, he invited me to his brother David and sister-in-law Kelsey’s wedding in Texas. During their rehearsal dinner in his parents’ backyard, he went to give his best man’s speech and we all thought it would be something funny. He was so goofy, it was hard to imagine him doing something serious. Now mind you, he served in the military in the Old Guard so he clearly had to be serious for work. But the first thing out of his mouth was, ‘Be each other’s compass.’

I was blown away.

A Virginia dairy farm that used to hold Army spies is now a winery

Mike and Krista. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.

That night, he walked me to my room – we were all staying with his parents – and he told me he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. And he asked me, ‘Will you be my wife?’ I knew that it had been a long night of celebrating so I told him that if he felt the same way in the morning we could talk about it. I went to sleep dreaming of the rest of our lives together.

The next morning over a cup of coffee at the counter, Mike looked at me and said, ‘I don’t feel any differently than I did last night. I want you to be my wife. I want to spend the rest of my life with you.’ I said yes, of course. We kept this a secret because it was not our day – it was David and Kelsey’s wedding day, and we knew his oldest brother, Isaac, was going to be proposing to his now wife, Vanessa, the next day. We told his sister, Abby, and then swore her to secrecy.

A few days after the wedding we announced our good news and decided to marry as soon as Mike returned from his deployment.

Mike went back to Iraq a week later, and returned in October 2008 to Germany. We met back up in Tennessee for Isaac and Vanessa’s wedding in November. December 20, 2008, we married in Rhode Island, and the first week of January he returned to Germany. We decided to live apart until his orders came through to start the Special Forces Qualification course so he wouldn’t need to extend in Germany.

I went to Germany to see him in February for his birthday, and I came home and found out I was pregnant with our first son a month later. I was working at a restaurant as a manager and living with my parents in Rhode Island awaiting orders. By September 2009 we were finally living together in Fort Bragg, NC and our son Michael was born October 22nd.

I remember taking “SF101” (Special Forces 101) for the spouses and the emphasis was put on how long our husbands would be away from home. Everything was about not getting our hopes up for birthdays, holidays, special occasions and being a family during those times. They really wanted to prepare us for the let downs of our military career. No one ever told me the incredible things our husbands would be doing while away from home and that every mission would be for the good of our nation. No one ever told me about the amazing and wonderful things we would be doing for our families while they were away. No one ever told me how, as spouses, we would show up for each other, in good times and in bad. No one ever told me that we would all be changing the world together – them abroad and us on the homefront.

A Virginia dairy farm that used to hold Army spies is now a winery

Mike, Krista and their two boys. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.

Mike graduated in March 2011 and then reported July 10 for a Special Forces billet at 4th BN, Charlie Company, 1st Special Forces Group at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. I got out there August 1 with Michael who was just about two, and pregnant with Gabriel. We closed on our first house on my birthday, September 23.

As soon as our household goods arrived, Mike was off on a TDY (Temporary Duty) so I set up the house with my two year old and called my Mom and Aunt in for reinforcements to paint beige the mustard yellow walls and ceiling our new home offered.

When home, Mike was a present and incredibly fun daddy. He played this game called Daddy T-Rex. He would hold Gabe and chase Mic around the house, pretending to be a dinosaur. They would also lie on the floor and play Legos, have mini race-car races all the while tapping into Mike’s very present childlike spirit. He’d say to me, ‘I can’t wait until they’re older so we can do more fun things.’ He couldn’t wait to play basketball, soccer and teach them to ride bikes.

On 6 April 2013, Mike deployed with his company to eastern Afghanistan. Less than three weeks later I received the call every military spouse prays they’ll never get.

A Virginia dairy farm that used to hold Army spies is now a winery

Mike, right, with a battle buddy. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.

The day before the call, Mike and I were texting back and forth and I was telling him how grateful I was to be his wife. I asked him to marry me all over again. I said, ‘I love you more today than I ever have. You have brought so much joy to my life that it overwhelms me. Will you marry me… Again?’ We were going to meet in Mexico with our families around Christmas and I told him I wanted to do it then. He wrote back, ‘Yes!’

On April 27, I had just put Gabriel down for a nap (he was 16 months) and I heard my phone ringing. I ran down the stairs to an ‘Unknown’ caller and answered what I can only assume must have been the last ring. It was (now Lieutenant Colonel) Major Jamie Alden, and he said ‘Hi, Krista? This is Major Alden.’ It didn’t even dawn on me why the company commander would be calling me from Afghanistan.

He asked me where I was, and I told him I was at home. He asked where the boys were, and I told him Mic was in the other room and I’d just put Gabe down for a nap.

He said, ‘I need you to sit down.’

You know that feeling when it seems that your brain starts going numb and it begins to rush through your whole body? Luckily I made it to the other room and sat down near the boys’ toys – on a bean bag chair.

‘Michael is alive, but he is in critical condition. There was an accident; he hit an IED while riding an ATV. He has a lower right leg amputation and there has been severe trauma to his right arm. We know there is shrapnel damage, we just are not sure where and the extent. Again, he is alive, but he is critical.’

I had to stop him. I couldn’t process anything and I knew I wouldn’t be able to remember anything else he was saying. I ran across the street and banged on my neighbor Kate’s door, and her daughter opened it. She was supposed to be coming over anyway to watch the boys since we had a neighborhood clean-up scheduled and I was president of the homeowners association. She ran to stay with the boys while Kate got on the phone with Major Alden. It took some convincing for him to speak to her but he finally agreed, understanding my emotional state.

I watched her as she spoke to him but I couldn’t hear her. I could hear sounds, just not the words, as if my ears were blocked. Kate handed the phone back to me and I thanked him, and he reminded me that we were family, that his wife Susan would be calling me soon, and that everything was going to be okay.

A Virginia dairy farm that used to hold Army spies is now a winery

Mike, before the attack. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.

I got off the phone and had to start making phone calls. I walked with my phone in my hand across the grass toward our friends, Alan and Angie’s, house. They were laying out a tarp for mulch on their driveway when they looked over. It must have been written all over my face because they rushed to me and caught me before I fell to my knees. Alan was the commander of an EOD unit on JBLM and assured me everything was going to be ok. Angie was by my side and provided support in any way I needed.

I wanted to close my eyes and wake up from the nightmare but I couldn’t. I was a Green Beret’s wife and the mother of two future Green Berets. I said to myself, ‘Pull yourself together, handle your business- he’s not dead and is going to need you to be strong!’

I stood outside, barefoot, on the cold pavement. The bottoms of my feet still get cold remembering those moments. I tried calling Mike’s parents but there was no answer. I tried calling my parents and no answer again. I called his brother Isaac, who was also a Green Beret who was in North Carolina doing his instructor rotation. I said, ‘It’s Mike. He’s alive but he hit an IED and he’s in surgery. It’s critical.’

I can still hear his scream.

Isaac had witness IED attacks before and he knew the gravity of this news. Isaac and Vanessa would make the calls to the rest of the Simpson family as I continued my calls from the floor of our parish where I sat and prayed. Once my parents were notified, my mother arrived from Rhode Island to our home in Olympia, Washington, 12 hours later.

1st Special Forces Group (1st SFG) at JBLM welcomed me in every morning to call Afghanistan for updates. LTC David Haight would call Bagram ICU and translate their medical report for me whether at that morning meeting or 1am. We would share our information, formulate a plan and I would leave the table every morning stronger than I arrived. Monday, 29 April, I called the hospital myself. The doctor that answered told me he was sorry, but that Mike didn’t have a gag or corneal reflex and that he would not live.

I thanked him and his team for caring for him so well. I went downstairs to tell my mother before the boys awoke and then retreated to my room where I called my cousin Alicia and friend Andrea. I begged Alicia to wake me up and take this away.

The medical team cared for Mike so well they were able to transfer him from Afghanistan to Landstuhl Army Medical Center in Germany. We got the green light to go to Germany as soon as Mike was in the air from AFG. They couldn’t cut orders or book our flights until they knew Mike was surviving the altitude. They performed emergency surgery on the plane and worked tirelessly to keep him alive even though they knew the outcome. When they arrived in Germany, one of Mike’s closest friends from the Special Forces Qualification Course was there awaiting his arrival. Casey served with another Special Forces Group and was training in the area when we received the news.

As I traveled to Germany, my Casualty Assistance Officer (CAO) SFC Gerry DeMarzo and Chaplain Johnny Elder escorted me. What a blessing they were for so many reasons I couldn’t possibly list in short. The ‘behind the scenes’ had so many issues getting us all there but with the help from the Green Beret Foundation, Special Operations Warrior Foundation, USO, Fisher House Foundation and Care Coalition on top of 1st SFG, I arrived and met Mike’s parents, siblings and spouses to be with Mike.

Upon arrival, my only request was that I got to see him first. I wanted to clean him up before his mom saw him. Silly, but it was all I could think of. I got to the hospital and Casey was at the door with SFC Doug Way. (They both never once left us. Casey stayed at Mike’s bedside and Doug would either be standing outside his hospital room or kneeling outside the room praying.)

I never lost hope.

‘Maybe he will heal and maybe the doctors were wrong,’ I kept telling myself.

Casey and Doug greeted me, offered their condolences and I entered the room.

There he was.

My big bad Green Beret laying broken and vulnerable. I had never felt so helpless in all of my life.

All I could manage was a whisper… ‘Dear Lord, please help us.’

On 1 May 2013, as we all stood around Mike’s bed, Dr. Betts informed us that Mike was in fact brain dead. I asked, ‘Can his brain heal?’ rationally knowing the answer, but I had to ask. ‘No ma’am, the brain can not heal from these injuries,’ he said. I nodded my head in understanding, saw the very real pain in his parents’ and siblings’ faces, said, ‘Thank you,’ and then ran out.

I ran left out of the room, through the ICU doors into the hall toward the stairs, down the stairs and out of the hospital hoping I could run away from this earth-shattering moment in my life and somehow, when I returned, everything would be ok – Mike would wake, he would rehab and our lives would go on … Together.

I stopped and Gerry and Doug were not too many steps behind me. Gerry never let me out of his sight for a moment; he was my greatest advocate and protector. He always told me he took care of our family the way he would have wanted his family taken care of if something were to have happened to him. When I returned to the hospital, I went back in and I didn’t leave Mike’s side except for an hour to take care of the paperwork I needed to sign.

The rest of that day we would call all the family and friends we could connect with so they could say their goodbyes. I would call and inform them of Mike’s diagnosis, tell them how sorry I was but that it was time for them to say goodbye if they wished. I would put the phone down on Mike’s pillow next to his ear, believing he would receive their love and pain through their words.

I wanted everyone to have the opportunity to say whatever they wanted and needed to for some closure. Our family and friends stateside would say goodbye as well as Charlie Company, 4th BN, 1st SFG. Mike’s team was sure he would survive, so my news was heartbreaking to them … Mike was their brother.

One of Mike’s friends and teammates brought me to my knees with his heartfelt message that his wife would transcribe for me later. His words were, ‘For Mike: Hey buddy. Have no fear, you’re the realest Green Beret now. You did it all. Thanks for all the bravo advice and an invitation to be a part of your family. I will never forget our time together and will do anything for your family. R.I.P. brother. I love you. One more thing – thank you for the greatest sacrifice one can make. My prayer to you … Now I lay you down to sleep, I pray the Lord your soul to keep. If you should die before you wake, bless Mikey Lord, his soul to take.’

Once the last call was made I think my body and mind knew it and I needed to rest. I asked the hospital staff if they could move Mike over so I could lie next to him in his hospital bed. I laid there and just listened to his heart beat. I prayed until I drifted off to sleep. Around 4 am, the nurse came in and wanted to change his dressings and clean him up. I asked if I could help, so she brought in soapy water and a washcloth. She changed his dressings while I cleaned him up. Around 9 pm, they came in to get him for organ donor surgery. I stayed with him while they got him ready to be moved. I walked to the door holding his hand as they started to wheel him out, and didn’t want to let go.

This was it.

I would never see his chest rise and fall or hear his beating heart again. ‘I’M NOT READY!’ I screamed in my head.

But … with as much grace as I could, I leaned down and kissed him one last time and whispered, ‘I love you all the world. I promise you I will take care of our boys, and we will always remember you.’

They wheeled his bed out and I stood in the empty, cold hospital room alone. ‘What now?’ I asked. ‘How do I live without you?’

We came back from Germany to Dover for the dignified transfer on 7 May 2013. He was supposed to be the only casket on the flight, but seven other soldiers were killed just days before, so we were with their families. These families didn’t have what we did. They didn’t have the chance to say goodbye. They watched their loved one get on the plane for deployment and then their casket come off in Dover.

It started to rain as we stood out on the tarmac, so hard it was sideways. My mother in law had an umbrella and was also trying to wrap me in her jacket to protect me. I told her I was okay without it, because I wanted to feel everything; the rain, the heartache, the fear. I had to face that moment.

As the caskets were taken off the plane I could hear the rain and the wailing from mothers and fathers who lost their sons, siblings who lost their brothers, spouses who lost their husbands and children who lost their fathers. I felt as though I was hovering over myself, looking down in disbelief that this was now my journey.

I flew home to Washington after being gone for 10 days. I could never spend a few hours away from my boys without missing them terribly. This time I was afraid to see them. What would I say? How would I tell them their Daddy wasn’t coming home?

A Virginia dairy farm that used to hold Army spies is now a winery

Mike’s dignified transfer. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.

I sat Michael (age 3) down and asked, ‘Do you believe in God?’

‘Yes Mommy,’ he said.

‘Even though you can’t see Him?’ I asked.

‘Yes of course Mommy!’ he replied.

‘You know Daddy is a soldier?’

‘Yes,’ he answered.

I looked into his eyes and softly said, ‘Well, Daddy is going to be God’s soldier now.’

‘But I will miss him,’ he said.

‘Me too.’

It would have been easy to sit down and focus on all the tragedy. My husband, my best friend, the father of my two beautiful boys was gone. I was a 35 year old widow who didn’t have enough time with the love of my life. Mike and I always told each other, ‘This love happens once in a lifetime,’ and it was gone.

My future and dreams broke into a million pieces and I had no idea how I would become whole again. And yet, somehow, I had to choose to see the incredible blessings that were happening all around us. The support from our family, friends and community; the military representatives that were assigned to us that created a beautiful journey; it was all a gift as much as my husband’s sacrifice was a gift to us all. Everybody who walked into our lives … it was nothing short of perfect.

On 30 May 2013, our Memorial Day, Mike was interred with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery by his original Old Guard unit where he served when he first joined the military in 2003.

There are many things I remember about that day. It was so hot I could feel the heat from the pavement radiate through the bottom of my sandals – a stark contrast from the cold I felt on my bare feet the day I got the call that Mike had been hit.

I remember walking for what seemed like forever with our two children, hoping to make it through the ceremony.

A Virginia dairy farm that used to hold Army spies is now a winery

Michael with his Daddy T-rex at Mike’s memorial. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.

And I remember thinking that this place, Arlington National Cemetery, had always been one of my favorite places to be. It’s so peaceful. It’s filled with a clear and strong sense of honor and courage, but in that moment I didn’t feel brave at all.

There were over 100 people in attendance to show their love and support, not just for Mike, but for us as well. My dear friend Andrea Rinaldi was one of them. She stayed by my side through it all, from the very beginning of our journey, and selflessly gave of her time and heart. The service, experience and support of so many was humbling, and I will always be grateful.

Finally, I remember the boys and I receiving the folded flags. How do you process receiving a folded flag in the place of your Daddy when you’re only three years old? Michael was given the flag, but really only wanted his Daddy T-Rex. As I held our 16 month old, I watched as Gerry, our Casualty Assistance Officer, took a knee, and took Michael’s flag for him. I love this picture – this moment in time – as it truly captures how Gerry so beautifully served our family.

Mike’s company would continue their deployment for six more months after Mike’s death. One of his teammates stated during his memorial, ‘This Team… This company… This regiment, will never forget your sacrifice. Each day when we don our kit and prepare for battle, we will do it in your honor. We will take the fight to the enemy and fight how you would have wanted us to. Never faltering… Never failing… and never forgetting. This fight is over for you brother, but know that it is not over for us. We will continue in your honor and remember you as a husband, a father, and a Green Beret.’

I attended the homecoming for the first flight that came in from Afghanistan. I was grateful to be there yet nervous about my emotions. As we waited in the company I was approached by a woman in the hallway. ‘Mrs. Simpson,’ she said. ‘I am not sure if this is an appropriate time but I wanted to introduce myself and tell you that I was one of Mike’s nurses in Afghanistan.’ I am sure I hugged her immediately and was so grateful to lay my hands on someone who was there, with Mike, during the scariest moments of his life. It was a blessing I can’t explain. She was one of many who saved Mike so our family could say goodbye. She was, and still is, my angel. I am blessed by her and her whole family to this day.

When the buses arrived carrying Mike’s company we all rushed outside to greet them. The minds and hearts of so many wives and children were eased and made whole again. I truly was so happy for them, yet I subconsciously waited for Mike to get off that bus. The last man embarked and I was sure Mike would be next. The door closed and the bus drove away.

In the distance, I heard the shriek of a little girl, calling, ‘Daddy! Daddy!’ and as I turned to look, I saw her run and jump into a man’s arms who wore the same uniform as all the other soldiers … the same one Mike would have been wearing, with the same wide arms he would have caught our sons in. But it wasn’t him and it never would be. My heart shattered all over again and I needed to turn and walk inside to face this emotion alone. I couldn’t allow anyone to think I was not grateful their husbands came home, because I was, wholeheartedly, but that didn’t take away my pain.

I went home that night with a folded flag that was flown over Mike’s camp in Afghanistan. My dear friend laid next to me as I cried myself to sleep and she didn’t leave my side until she knew I was okay.

Over the next several months I was constantly at the battalion, offering help, wanting to talk to them to make sure they were doing okay. I know it was difficult for them to see me since I was a reminder of the reality of Mike’s death. I know many struggled with his loss and I recognized very quickly that survivor’s guilt was a very real emotion. They needed to know that this was God’s plan, not ours, and He doesn’t make mistakes. My mission was to show them that we would honor Mike, grieve his loss but we would absolutely be okay. We were strong and proud, not weak and angry. Everyone grieves differently and there is not a right or wrong way to do it. I chose grace for me, my children and his team.

One of Mike’s teammates, Gus, had done the original inventory on Mike’s things. He was able to put all of his belongings into perspective. What he was wearing the day of his accident, what certain gear meant and what it was used for. He brought back command challenge coins from the memorial in Afghanistan where they all gathered on 11 May. Gus was able to retrieve and hand carry the patches Mike wore on his helmet, along with the memorial patch he had made for their team’s uniforms. Gus would come over and play with the boys, give me a moment of rest and help anyway he could.

So many of Mike’s teammates and their families would do the same. I was so grateful for the respite since the light at the end of the deployment tunnel was extinguished for me. Mike wouldn’t return to ease the natural burdens of parenting coupled with keeping up the household alone.

I always had family dinners. From the time Mike passed, I’d send out a text at 1:00 pm on a Sunday with, ‘Family dinner at 4’ and a few hours later the house would fill with joy and laughter. What better therapy than to be surrounded by those that loved us and Mike?

Gus and I would talk a lot about Mike, his feelings of survivor’s guilt (which they all had) and spent a lot of time together over the next couple years. I started to realize I cared for Gus more than I thought was possible and wanted to see where that would lead us.

I flew down to Texas for Easter – I needed to talk to Mike’s parents. His father said to me, ‘I have four requirements: He loves you, he loves the boys, he loves Jesus and that he always shows them it’s manly to love Jesus.’ His mother said, ‘I’ve prayed since the week after Mike died that you would find somebody.’ They were my greatest supporters. And they already loved Gus. He was already a part of our family. This was a no brainer for me.

I struggled with Gus being my secret-not so secret boyfriend. I had this organization that I’d founded as a widow of an active duty service member. I was afraid. I had lost my identity as a military spouse and then I found one as a military widow. It allowed me to talk about Mike and honor him. We were afraid of what our friends might think of our relationship and the judgement that would come. In July 2016, we broke up when I realized I needed time. Ten days later, he left for Nepal with his team and during those three months I recognized all of the things I was doing wrong. I thought I was honoring Mike every day but by not honoring Gus at all, was I really? By having someone in my life who wanted to love us, take care of us and honor Mike, yet I wasn’t willing to let him in – could I be dishonoring my late husband? I used to resent the ‘widow’ title but then I found myself not wanting to let it go.

I prayed so much and I came to the conclusion that I just needed to love Gus, and show him that he was a priority. He got back from Nepal and he was still very angry with me. We met a few times to talk, took it slow and then one day I boldly told him that we were going to get married. I knew the response could have broke my heart but he was worth it.

We were worth it.

He laughed and told me softly that I had to be crazy. One month later, Gus got down on one knee on the docks in Seattle, in front of our favorite Oyster Bar (Elliotts) and asked me to marry him. Two months later, we were married in Rhode Island among our family and friends. The priest who married us had married my parents, baptized Gabriel, did last rights for Mike and his funeral in Arlington, and had confirmed and married Casey and Sandy (Mike’s friend who was with him in Germany). It was perfect.

Thanks to Michael’s kind-hearted 1st grade teacher, Ms. Petruska, my boys decided to call Gus ‘Dad’ the moment we stepped off the altar, and have not called him anything but that since. They wanted and needed a father in their lives so badly and I don’t think I realized that until then. Michael and Gabriel both repeat Ms. Petruska’s words often – ‘We have a Daddy in Heaven and a Daddy on earth.’

A Virginia dairy farm that used to hold Army spies is now a winery

A month after Gus and I married he deployed to Afghanistan. I woke up every morning and prayed that Gus was alive. He was so good about messaging me whenever he could to ease my mind, even though I never shared with him my fears. His heart and mind just works that way and he is always considering the times and moments I may go through in this journey and how they may be affecting me. He is constantly striving to make life easier. I pray I do the same for him.

I won’t tell you that I didn’t struggle through those six months but I can tell you I found peace in God’s plan and chose to continue to trust that His plan was greater than mine. Tragedy and loss does not have to define you or dictate the rest of your life. My story didn’t end with the loss of Mike; it began with a new chapter of hope and my choice of joy. It continued with honoring Mike and Gus giving me the greatest gift… he never makes me choose as he continues to give me the freedom to love them both.

Five years to the day that Mike touched American soil in Dover, Delaware for his dignified transfer, I landed in Washington, DC with Gus, for the Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year events with Military Spouse Magazine that would change my life. Five years to the day that Mike was flown back to Joint Base Lewis McChord to land at Grey Army Airfield, I was awarded the overall Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year. I know it’s right where I need to be, that God’s timing is perfect, and that Mike would be so proud of me. And I also know I couldn’t have done any of this without Gus or my children.

Tragedy did not dictate my life in a negative way. My goal is that other people can see that, and feel that. I remember looking at other Gold Star Spouses like Lisa Hallett and thinking, ‘If she can do it, I can do it.’ And I want other people to look at me and find hope, too.

Mike was very proud to sacrifice his life. And I am so proud to honor him.

Arlington National Cemetery is where my friend Andrea suggested a fundraiser for those who supported us and ultimately where The Unquiet Professional was born. So many organizations supported us, from the volunteers with the USO who carried my kids through the airport, the Green Beret Foundation being there for everything, or wear blue: run to remember, where I found a healthy and meaningful way to heal. I wanted to be able to pay that love back.

We now provide healthy and empowering opportunities for Gold Star Families, Veterans and their families. When Andrea suggested fundraising, she saved me that day. She saved me from the possibilities of not being able to live out my grief in a positive way. I heal as I strive to help others do the same with my ‘twice in a lifetime love’ by my side every step of the way.

Memorial Day is my favorite holiday of the year. We feel Mike’s presence and his loss every single day no matter what life brings us. But on Memorial Day, everyone thinks of all of our fallen heroes. People say when you’re having your bbq and your beer you’re not remembering the sacrifices, but I say celebrate. Celebrate their lives. Remember them.

Honor Staff Sergeant Michael Simpson and other heroes this Memorial Day by participating in The Unquiet Professional’s Virtual Memorial Day Mile. Join their Facebook group here.

Humor

11 things your platoon medic would never say

Corpsmen and medics have to be the Jacks-of-all-trades when they’re out on patrol. They’re considered riflemen until one of their boys gets wounded or sick, then they have to jump into doctor mode.


As much as they love their brothers-in-arms — and will do anything for them in battle — living with your unit stateside requires a much different mentality.

A Virginia dairy farm that used to hold Army spies is now a winery
Navy Corpsman Daniel Jacobs and Adam Petree chat during an early morning meeting at the 52 Area Branch Medical Clinic (SOI) in Camp Pendleton, Calif. (DoD photo by Fred W. Baker III)

For the young “Docs” who live in the barracks, their job doesn’t stop once the medical clinic — or B.A.S. — closes for the day. They are embedded with their grunts every day of the year.

Even though they’re considered “one of the guys,” there is a limit to what they’ll offer up when not deployed.

So, check out some calls you’ll probably never hear your platoon medics ever say.

1. “Everybody stop by my barracks room bright and early waking me up before morning PT if you need an I.V. to help cure your nasty weekend hangover.”

A quick fix to cure a nasty hangover. (Image via Giphy)

2. “Hey lance corporal, do you mind if I carry your M240? My M-4 is too light, and this is ‘arm’ day.”

Maybe you should carry that .240. (Image via Giphy)

3. “It’s 1700 on a Friday, but sure, come on into sick call, and we’ll take care of you even though it can wait until Monday.”

What would happen if a Doc actually said those terrible words. (Image via Giphy)

4. “I’ve got the thermometer prepped and ready. Who wants the silver bullet?”

5. “Please, let me go on this long and pointless hike instead of watching everybody from the safety vehicle.”

Hikes never seem to end. (Image via Giphy)

6. “If you don’t volunteer to spend the next few nights out in the field, I will.”

7. “It’s okay, you deserved to get promoted over me.”


8. “Doesn’t the rank of ‘seaman recruit’ have such an awesome ring to it?”

9. “Who needs a social life when you can stand duty at the BAS.”

Preach. But somebody always has to stand duty. (Image via Giphy)

10. “Can I please take his bleeding hemorrhoid patient over the Marine with a simple sore throat?”

11. “I’ll come in and work at the clinic, but only if it’s on a Saturday.”

MIGHTY SURVIVAL

Navy’s expeditionary medical teams provide COVID-19 support in New Orleans, Dallas

Navy medical personnel assigned to Expeditionary Medical Facility-M (EMF-M) have deployed as part of a U.S. Northern Command-led COVID-19 response to support civil health authorities in existing facilities in New Orleans and Dallas.

The first 50 personnel with EMF-M deployed to New Orleans April 1, followed by more than 60 additional personnel on April 4. They will work at the temporary federal medical station at New Orleans’ Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.


A Virginia dairy farm that used to hold Army spies is now a winery

Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Cameron King, left, with the Expeditionary Medical Facility New Orleans Detachment checks the temperature of Ralinda Guss from Melba’s Poboys who donated food to the personal housing unit (PHU) April 16, 2020, in support of the Department of Defense response. The PHU is designed for symptomatic patients with pending COVID-19 test results. The EMF works in coordination with federal, state, and local health officials to ensure equipment and resources are in place and are operationally capable to safely treat patients. U.S. Northern Command, through U.S. Army North, is providing military support to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help communities in need.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Eric S. Garst)

“As we see more and more hospitalizations, this medical monitoring station will play an essential role in freeing up ICU beds for the most critically ill,” said New Orleans Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Director Collin Arnold.

The EMFs work in coordination with federal, state, and local health officials to ensure equipment and resources are in place and are operationally capable to safely treat patients in an effort to lessen the strain on hospitals in the New Orleans region. Personnel assigned to the EMF will provide acute and emergency care in the personal housing units at the convention center.

The personal housing units will serve as isolated individual housing units for symptomatic patients transferred from area hospitals and who require observation, housing, meals and isolation while awaiting their COVID-19 test results.

A Virginia dairy farm that used to hold Army spies is now a winery

U.S. Navy Sailors assigned to the Expeditionary Medical Facility-M, officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services conduct a patient scenario exercise in Dallas, Texas in support of the Department of Defense COVID-19 response. U.S. Northern Command, through U.S. Army North, is providing military support to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help communities in need.

(U.S. Navy Photo by Public Affairs Officer Lt. Eileen Suarez)

Once results are received, patients will be either released or transferred to the appropriate level of care depending on the patient’s COVID-19 status. If the patient tests positive for COVID-19, they may be transferred to the medical monitoring station across Convention Center Boulevard.

Additionally, over 170 personnel deployed to Dallas, April 3 to work in a temporary federal medical station established there to assist local medical personnel. Both locations will treat recovering COVID-19 patients and “low-acuity patients” — those who are ill but whose symptoms don’t require intensive or emergency care. All patients will be screened first at a local hospital.

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

Articles

This Marine Corporal is helping his fellow vets “cowboy up”

A Virginia dairy farm that used to hold Army spies is now a winery
Photos courtesy Semper Fi Fund


For Marine Corporal Alex Monaghan, who retired from the Corps in 2009 after four years as a rifleman during which he deployed twice (once to Iraq and once to Afghanistan), the phrase “boots on the ground” has taken on a far different meaning than those words typically suggest.

That’s because Alex is the first graduate of a brand-new Semper Fi Fund program: Semper Fi Fund Apprenticeship Program, which helps service members learn valuable skills that they could one day leverage to start a business.

In Alex’s case, that skill is making high-quality cowboy boots.

It all began when Alex was considering going on “one of these horse stints,” as he describes it, as part of the Jinx McCain Horsemanship Program. While filling out the paperwork, there was a question at the bottom asking, “Are you interested in learning any of these skills?” Among the skills listed were knife-making, silver-engraving, roping … and making cowboy boots.

“It was weird that it was on there,” Alex recalls. “I always wanted to design my own boots. It’s a two-week program in St. Jo, Texas. The days are long—12 hours a day, six days a week—and there’s a lot to learn in a short amount of time. You get a pair of customized boots when you’re done.”

The time may have been short, but Alex was learning from the best: The boot-making program is run by Carlton T. Chappell, a third-generation award-winning bootmaker who started in leathercraft in 1964 and has been recognized as one of the very best bootmakers in the world.

A Virginia dairy farm that used to hold Army spies is now a winery
“It’s pretty neat,” Alex says. “You can’t learn everything in two weeks—Carl is in his 70s or 80s now, and he’s still learning new techniques every day–but it’s interesting. There’s always something new to learn, a new skill to master.”

While making a quality pair of cowboy boots is intricate and artistic work, Alex felt he had something of a head start over his half-dozen or so classmates.

“I did tattoo work for a couple of years,” he explains. “As far as working with machines and stuff, you have this huge thing on the table—you still have to draw out your sketch pattern and sew it up. I felt as if I had some advantage, because I’d been doing something similar to it.”

After finishing the two-week seminar, Alex went on to serve a month-long apprenticeship in Vernon, Texas, with award-winning bootmaker Dew Westover. Dew spent 20 years as a working cowboy, attended Carl’s seminar in 2002 and opened his own boot shop in 2004.

Alex made two pair of boots during his apprenticeship, and now he’s studying business at Texas AM as part of an entrepreneurship for veterans program.

Looking back over the years since he’s left active duty, Alex has seen a number of ups and downs in his own life, but he credits the Semper Fi Fund with helping him get out and get active—and he encourages his fellow veterans to do the same.

“If there are vets who are thinking about these sorts of programs, and they’re itchy or worried about it, I say just give it a try.”

“A lot of vets create a bubble and don’t go out in public,” Alex continues. “I think it’s a great experience—you have buddies to hang out with, you’re pushing yourself to do things that your anxiety or PTSD is preventing you from doing. I do these things, it pushes me to get out and go on the road and deal with people.”

“I would encourage more vets to get out there and find something they enjoy. Whether it’s bike riding or horseback riding or whatever—I’m sure the Semper Fi Fund has something for them.”

To learn more about Alex, the Jinx McCain Horsemanship Program and how these types of programs assist our nation’s veterans visit Semper Fi Fund Apprenticeship Program.

 Special thanks to the incredible generosity of one very special family for helping to provide funding for this important program in memory of their brother who wished to remember whose who serve.

We Are The Mighty is teaming up with Semper Fi Fund and comedian Rob Riggle to present the Rob Riggle InVETational Golf Classic. The veteran-celebrity golf tournament will raise money and awareness for Semper Fi Fund, one of our nation’s most respected veteran nonprofit organizations, in support of wounded, critically ill and injured service members and their families. Learn more at InVETational.com.

Articles

The best ways to sabotage your organization’s productivity according to the CIA

A Virginia dairy farm that used to hold Army spies is now a winery
OSS personnel enjoy a break at their camp in Ceylon during WWII.U.S. National Archives and Records Administration | Wikimedia Commons


In 1944, the CIA’s precursor, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), distributed a secret pamphlet that was intended as a guidebook to citizens living in Axis nations who were sympathetic to the Allies.

The “Simple Sabotage Field Manual,” declassified in 2008 and available on the CIA’s website, provided instructions for how everyday people could help the Allies weaken their Axis-run country by reducing production in factories, offices, and transportation lines.

“Some of the instructions seem outdated; others remain surprisingly relevant,” reads the current introduction on the CIA’s site. “Together they are a reminder of how easily productivity and order can be undermined.”

Business Insider has gone through the manual and collected the main advice on how to run your organization into the ground, from the C-suite to the factory floor. What’s most amusing is that despite the dry language and specificity of the context, the productivity-crushing activities recommended are all-too-common behaviors in contemporary organizations everywhere.

See if any of those listed below — quoted but abridged — remind you of your boss, colleagues, or even yourself. And if they do, you should probably make some adjustments or find a new job.

You can read the full manual at the CIA’s website »

How to be the worst possible leader

• Insist on doing everything through “channels.” Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.

• Make “speeches.” Talk as frequently as possible and at great length. Illustrate your “points” by long anecdotes and accounts of personal experiences.

• When possible, refer all matters to committees, for “further study and consideration.” Attempt to make the committee as large as possible — never less than five.

• Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.

• Haggle over precise wordings of communications, minutes, resolutions.

• Refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to re-open the question of the advisability of that decision.

• Advocate “caution.” Be “reasonable” and urge your fellow-conferees to be “reasonable”and avoid haste which might result in embarrassments or difficulties later on.

How to be a bad employee

• Work slowly.

• Contrive as many interruptions to your work as you can.

• Do your work poorly and blame it on bad tools, machinery, or equipment. Complain that these things are preventing you from doing your job right.

• Never pass on your skill and experience to a new or less skillful worker.

How to be a terrible manager

• In making work assignments, always sign out the unimportant jobs first. See that important jobs are assigned to inefficient workers.

• Insist on perfect work in relatively unimportant products; send back for refinishing those which have the least flaw.

• To lower morale and with it, production, be pleasant to inefficient workers; give them undeserved promotions.

• Hold conferences when there is more critical work to be done.

• Multiply the procedures and clearances involved in issuing instructions, pay checks, and so on. See that three people have to approve everything where one would do.

 

Articles

Here’s how the US is sticking it to Beijing in the South China Sea

China has for years been whittling away at the US military’s asymmetrical advantage in conventional military strength with a naval buildup, building and militarizing artificial islands in the South China Sea, and creating systems and weapons custom built to negate the US’s technological advantage.


By all indications, China is building aircraft carriers and getting ready to place surface-to-air missiles deep into the South China Sea.

Meanwhile, China’s neighbors have grown increasingly worried and timid as it cements a land grab in a shipping lane that sees $5 trillion in annual trade and has billions in resources, like oil, waiting to be exploited.

Related: These 4 islands could be America’s unsinkable aircraft carriers in the Pacific

Six countries lay claim to parts of the South China Sea, and the US isn’t one of them. But the US doesn’t need a dog in this fight to stand up for freedom of navigation and international law.

Here’s how the US counters China in the region.

For the US, checking Beijing in the Pacific often means sailing carrier strike groups through the region — something the Navy has done for decades, whether China protests or not.

A Virginia dairy farm that used to hold Army spies is now a winery
US Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist 3rd Class Kurtis A. Hatcher

As Navy Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, commander of 7th Fleet, said recently at a military conference: “We’re going to fly, sail, operate wherever international law allows.”

A Virginia dairy farm that used to hold Army spies is now a winery
US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ricardo R. Guzman

The strike group has plenty of aircraft along with them, like this A F/A-18E Super Hornet and a nuclear-capable B-1B Lancer from Guam.

A Virginia dairy farm that used to hold Army spies is now a winery
US Navy photo by Lt. Robert Nordlund

Unlike submarines and ICBMs buried under land or sea, the US’s strategic, nuclear-capable bombers make up the most visible leg of the nuclear triad. Placing a handful of B-1Bs in Guam sends a message to the region.

A Virginia dairy farm that used to hold Army spies is now a winery
US Air Force

Here’s the US’s entire strategic bomber force lined up in Guam, representing more than 60 years bomber dominance.

A Virginia dairy farm that used to hold Army spies is now a winery
The B-52, the B-1, and the B-2 (right to left) on runways at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam.US Air Force

It also doesn’t hurt when the US Navy shows off its complete mastery of carrier-based aircraft. There are F-18 pilots in the Navy that likely have more carrier landings than the entire Chinese navy combined.

A Virginia dairy farm that used to hold Army spies is now a winery
US Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Matt Brown

Those jets benefit from the support of about 7,000 sailors on the ship, who keep them running around the clock.

A Virginia dairy farm that used to hold Army spies is now a winery
US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Matt Brown

Airborne early warning and control planes like the E-2 Hawkeye use massive radars to act as the eyes and ears of the fleet. Not much gets past them.

A Virginia dairy farm that used to hold Army spies is now a winery
US Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Matt Brown

But carriers don’t sail alone either. Here a guided missile destroyer knocks through some rough seas accompanying the Vinson.

A Virginia dairy farm that used to hold Army spies is now a winery
US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Joshua Mortensen

The US Navy may be the most professional in the world, with a very serious mission in the South China Sea, but they still make time for a swim on one of the US’s newest combat ships, the USS Coronado.

A Virginia dairy farm that used to hold Army spies is now a winery
US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Amy M. Ressler

The Coronado doesn’t look like an aircraft carrier, but it does have serious airpower in the form of a MH-60S Seahawk with twin .50 caliber door guns.

A Virginia dairy farm that used to hold Army spies is now a winery
US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Amy M. Ressler

But the key to the US’s success in far away waters is allies. The US doesn’t do anything alone, if you’re noticing a pattern here. Here US and Royal Brunei Navy sailors practice boarding a ship.

A Virginia dairy farm that used to hold Army spies is now a winery
US Navy Photo

In February, US Marines partnered up with Japanese self-defense forces to practice amphibious landings — a skill that may one day come in handy on artificial islands.

A Virginia dairy farm that used to hold Army spies is now a winery
US Marine Corps by Lance Cpl. Tyler Byther

Sometimes working with allies means getting down and dirty. Here a Seabee gets neck deep in Japan.

A Virginia dairy farm that used to hold Army spies is now a winery
Seabee participating in the endurance course at the Jungle Warfare Training Center in Okinawa, Japan. | US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Adam Henderson

The bottom line is that the US military has decades of experience sailing, training, and fighting with its allies in the Pacific. China has come a long way in shifting the balance of power in the region, but the US remains on top — for now.

A Virginia dairy farm that used to hold Army spies is now a winery
US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Sean M. Castellano

MIGHTY TRENDING

Gen. Ham discusses his military career and how to stay ready for war

Few know mission command better than retired Gen. Carter F. Ham. In the time between his enlistment as an infantryman in 1973 and his retirement as a geographic combatant commander in 2013, Ham experienced the Army from a variety of perspectives, including as the commander of U.S. Army Europe and as the director for operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

As the current president and chief executive officer of the Association of the U.S. Army, Ham continues to make a difference on behalf of the men and women who serve. Here are his insights on mission command as the Army looks to the future.


Q: After having a career that spanned four decades, what does mission command mean to you?

A: When I think of mission command, it is getting the right process by which leaders make decisions to employ their forces from the strategic to tactical levels. It is freedom to act within intent and established parameters, and it’s achieving the right blend of initiative and control.

I’ve thought about this a lot as the Army sometimes has a tendency to rebrand old ideas with new names. The term “mission command” started gaining momentum over “command and control” in the late 2000s, particularly when Gen. Martin Dempsey was at Training and Doctrine Command. A lot of talk within the profession suggested this really wasn’t anything new but, rather, what the Army had always done in terms of mission-type orders and building trust.

A Virginia dairy farm that used to hold Army spies is now a winery

General Carter F. Ham.

My sense was that it wasn’t quite the same. The cohort of senior Army officers at the time, myself included, grew up mostly in the Cold War era with very clearly defined boundaries, rear areas, adjacent units, and the like. When that era changed and the Army found itself in highly irregular warfare, leaders recognized command and control wasn’t adequate for the new environment.

The command piece was okay, but the control piece was overly regulated given the circumstances in which the Army was anticipated to operate. It was time for a change, and I think mission command was exactly the right focus. With varying degrees at varying levels, and certainly as circumstances change, we must enable leaders to operate with empowered, disciplined initiative and higher degrees of flexibility.

Q: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced as commander of U.S. Africa Command?

A: Most Americans think of Africa as a single place; it’s not. It is huge; at the very least, Africa is 54 countries with vast geographic differences, linguistic challenges, and economic, cultural, and ethnic diversity. It’s an exceedingly complex area of operations.

When Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told me he intended to recommend the president nominate me for [commanding general of] the Africa Command, I had two feelings simultaneously. First was pure exhilaration: “Holy smokes, you’re going to be a combatant commander! You get your picture hung on the entryway of the Pentagon!”

But instantaneously, the second feeling hit: “You don’t know anything about Africa.” At the time, it was not a part of the world any of us in the military thought much about.

A Virginia dairy farm that used to hold Army spies is now a winery

Carter F. Ham as lieutenant colonel commanding U.S. forces in Camp Able Sentry, Macedonia, speaking to Admiral William Owens in 1995.

I was going from a very Europe-centric career — frankly a very comfortable setting for me because I had relationships with many of the senior leaders — to exceeding discomfort in Africa. It was intellectually stimulating, but I just didn’t have that foundational understanding of the area of operations as I did in Europe.

For me, this was mission command in practice at the upper operational and strategic levels. Despite the dispersed nature of U.S. forces, the requirement to work with host-nation forces, and the diversity of missions — ranging from very precise targeted activities and hostage rescue to maritime security, humanitarian assistance, and veterinary teams helping with herds of animals — there was still an expectation from the Secretary of Defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the other service chiefs. They were empowering me to make decisions in this vast and complex area of responsibility.

You can’t do that with a highly structured, highly controlling style of leadership. I had to catch myself sometimes, and my senior enlisted leaders would often remind me, “General, they don’t need you to tell them how many times to turn the screwdriver; they need your intent.”

If you can describe your intent, subordinate leaders will accomplish the mission.

Q: How does mission command need to evolve to maximize readiness for the future operational environment?

A: There is recognition that the Army has to refocus after 15-plus years of irregular warfare and counter-insurgency operations. Gen. [Mark] Milley has it right; we have to get back to preparing for combat operations across all domains against a very capable, state-based adversary. It’s a much more complex environment in which to operate.

The first half of my career was highly structured and very clearly focused on a state-based adversary, the Soviet Union. It was a very dangerous, but also very predictable, period. We knew their doctrine and organizational structure; they knew ours. We knew their equipment and capabilities; they knew ours. Our war plans were incredibly detailed: we knew exactly where we were going to fight and exactly where almost every soldier was going to go in the defense of Western Europe. Control was dominant.

That is not the environment in which the Army will operate in the future. We have to develop leaders who can thrive in the ambiguity that is certain to exist in future combat. Leaders must know how to exercise mission command and make proper decisions without linkages to their higher and adjacent units, or when communications are degraded. That, I think, is the great challenge the Army faces today.

A Virginia dairy farm that used to hold Army spies is now a winery

Carter F. Ham speaking to reporters during a press briefing at the Pentagon in October 2005.

Q: Can you discuss the importance of mission command for sustainment formations?

A: I’m not a logistician, but I learned the importance of sustainers early. When I was a division operations officer, I had some great mentoring from my division commander. The simple message was, “The brigades, they’re going to win the fight; you don’t need to spend time mapping things out for them. Your job is to set the conditions for those brigades to operate, and the biggest piece of that is sustainment.”

In the Cold War, sustainment was a complex operation; it’s tenfold more complex today. There are no longer safe rear areas, secure supply routes, or the ability to move “iron mountains” of supplies to the point of need at a moment’s notice.

In my era, sustainment was mostly a math problem: how do you move stuff from point A to point B? Today’s sustainment challenge is much more of an art than it is a science. How will sustainers make sure that dispersed, often separated, units have what they need to fight and win on the future battlefield?

The science is certainly still there; you still have to make sure fuel, water, chow, and ammunition are at the right place at the right time. But now, more than ever, sustainers have to be inside the heads of maneuver commanders, understanding what they want to achieve. That’s where it becomes more of an art, and I think that’s where mission command enters into the realm for sustainment leaders.

Q: How important is training?

A: I’m old enough to have been in the Army before there were combat training centers, and it’s night and day. I was an opposing force guy at the National Training Center in the mid- to late-1980s, and you could see the Army get better. Repetition matters. Complexity matters. The difficulty created in the training base matters.

We want Army leaders to be more challenged in their training than they will be in combat. That’s tough to achieve these days, particularly given multi-domain operations. How do you create that cyber, electronic warfare, or geographic complexity leaders will have to deal with? The more we invest in the rigors of our training, the better off we will be. That certainly applies to the sustainment force.

There are tremendous opportunities in the Synthetic Training Environment that allow for repetition and increased difficulty without great expense. At some point you still have to put Army units in the dirt to train, but it’s the most expensive way to do so. There’s so much you can do prior to that point so that units enter that phase at a much higher level. For all of our forces, the Synthetic Training Environment will yield a stronger Army that is able to train at levels we can’t imagine today.

A Virginia dairy farm that used to hold Army spies is now a winery

General Carter F. Ham being sworn into office as the Commanding General, U.S. Army Europe by Cairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen on Aug. 28, 2008.

Q: Where does integration with our allies and coalition partners fit into mission command?

A: In our guiding documents, including the National Military Strategy and Army vision, we’ve established a recognition that the Army will always operate with allies and partners. The scale will vary from time to time, but we’re always going to do so in some form. As fast as the Army is changing, we have to be careful we don’t leave our allies and partners out of our modernization efforts.

We also have to become increasingly comfortable with the idea of U.S. maneuver forces being sustained by forces of another country and vice versa. This became almost normal for us when our force presence in Iraq and Afghanistan was very high. Now that force levels are significantly lower, junior leaders have less opportunity to interact with our allies and partners. We have to find a way to replicate those kinds of activities in the training base.

Again, I think it is more art than science. Part of the art is making sure each of the partners has responsibility for support, for sustaining, and for direction in a coalition-type operation. That doesn’t happen by accident. Through the exercise of mission command, we want to create leaders who are comfortable in multinational environments.

Q: How are we doing as an Army when it comes to soldier resilience?

A: When I came home from Iraq, I think like many soldiers, I felt incomplete. I felt I had left soldiers behind; I came home and those I had served with were still there. I came to the Pentagon, the five-sided puzzle palace, and my work just didn’t feel very fulfilling. I had this tremendous longing to go back.

As a one-star general at the time, I don’t pretend I was on patrol facing hard combat every day like a squad leader or platoon sergeant. That’s an extraordinary kind of stress I frankly didn’t see on a daily basis. I think for leaders the effect is a little different; it’s a different kind of stress. Particularly for commanders, when you lose soldiers in combat — soldiers who are wounded or killed executing orders you issued — that stays with you.

When I came home, it was my wife who said, “Hey listen, you’ve changed.” That was important. It was recognition that a normal person can’t be exposed to combat and be unchanged. A lot of soldiers go through combat and deal with it very effectively. They’re resilient, they deal with it openly and confront it, and they continue to move forward. But there’s a spectrum, and on the other end are soldiers who have post-traumatic stress or, in more severe cases, traumatic brain injury. I was one of those who needed a little bit of help; mine came from an Army chaplain.

I’ll confess I was outed publicly. It wasn’t me coming forward; it was someone else talking about it. But as a general officer, my sense was [that] many other soldiers were having the same challenges readjusting to a nondeployed environment. If coming forward publicly would encourage one other soldier to get help and to say, “I’m having a tough time,” to his or her spouse, a chaplain, a social worker, a commander, a first sergeant, to somebody — then my speaking out was worthwhile.

I think the Army is once again leading the nation in matters like this. The senior leadership — the Secretary, Chief of Staff, and Sergeant Major of the Army — are coming forward and saying, “Hey, it is strength to step forward and say I need a little bit of help.”

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Carter F. Ham listens to a soldier’s comments during a visit to the headquarters of the U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne), a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Reserve.

(Photo by Master Sgt. Mark Bell)

That’s what the Army needs. We need soldiers who can take a blow, whether physical or psychological, recover, and be stronger in continuing their mission.

There’s still a lot of work to be done; we shouldn’t kid ourselves that the stigma is gone. We have to keep it as a frontline Army effort and continue to say, “This can make you stronger; and when you’re stronger, our Army is stronger.” But I’m really proud of our efforts thus far.

Q: You’re one of only a few to rise from private to four-star general. What advice do you have for soldiers today?

A: First, recognize I didn’t go from private to four-star overnight; there were just a few intervening steps along the way. When I was enlisted, I rose to the exalted position of being our battalion command sergeant major’s driver. He was, to me, the model of the noncommissioned officer: mission-focused, hard on soldiers, and always fair. He made me a better soldier. And after all these years, it comes back to one question, “Why do you serve?”

We get so busy sometimes that we forget this. We talk a lot about what we do; we talk less about what we’re for. Whenever I have the opportunity to talk to young leaders, both enlisted and officers, I ask them to think about the oath they took. It is the bond that ties us together, the shared commitment each one of us made to serve the nation.

In my mind, it’s what makes the Army such a unique organization. I have lots of experience as a joint officer, and I truly value the other services. We have the best Marine Corps, the best Navy, and the best Air Force. But of all the services, I think the Army is uniquely of the people. We’re the biggest and most diverse. I think it’s worthwhile to sit back and say, “What is this Army for, and why is it that more than one million women and men have raised their right hand and said I’m willing to do this?”

Every now and then, take time to think about it. Don’t get consumed by it, but take pause and remember why you chose to serve this nation. I found when I did, it caused me to reflect as a professional soldier and “re-green” myself. For any Army leader — enlisted, officer, or civilian — it’s a worthy endeavor to remember why.

Arpi Dilanian is a strategic analyst in the Army G-4’s Logistics Initiatives Group. She holds a bachelor’s degree from American University and a master’s degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Matthew Howard is a strategic analyst in the Army G-4’s Logistics Initiatives Group. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Georgetown University.

This article was published in the January-March 2019 issue of Army Sustainment.

This article originally appeared on the United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

5 moments when you know the mess hall is about to serve the good stuff

Being a meal card holder has its benefits. It’s awesome to have the perfect excuse to get out at 1730. It’s food you get to enjoy without having to cook it. All you have do is overlook the fact that the meals are deducted from your pay when you’re assigned a barracks room and the fact that there’s barely any chow left by the time you get there —but outside of those details, it’s great!

That optimism starts to wane, however, after eight months of eating the same seven entrees ad nauseam. Then, one glorious day, the cooks throw you a curve-ball by turning what’s normally a grab-and-go dinner into an elaborate, fine-dining experience.


You’ll rarely hear the lower enlisted complain when they’re about to get something that’s not just decent but actually really good. (In reality, lower enlisted troops would probably complain about being given a brick of gold because it’s “too heavy,” but that’s beside the point).

It might seem like random chance, but there’s a method to the madness.

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Also, your chain of command will usually pop in to serve the food on the line. Savor that moment.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Brian Lautenslager)

Holidays

No one likes being stuck on-post during a holiday. If your leave form got denied or you just didn’t feel like putting in for a mileage pass, it often means your ass will be stuck on staff duty.

Thankfully, the cooks also get screwed out of block leave and work holidays with us. Even if it’s not a big holiday that revolves around a massive meal (we’re look at you, Thanksgiving), the cooks will still serve something festive.

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If you thought Air Force dinging facilities were leagues above the rest during the rest of the year…

(U.S. Air Force photo by Lan Kim)

The lead-up to best-chef competitions

In the service, there’s a competition for cooks in which they’re expected to deliver a gourmet meal to a judge that has the emotionless vile of Gordon Ramsey with the knife-handing ability of a Drill Sergeant.

They don’t want to mess it up and will prepare the only way possible: by practicing. And that practice tastes delicious.

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“Can we get you anything else, Specialist? Steak sauce? Another drink? Another three months in this god-forsaken hellhole? How about some cake? We got cake!”

(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Epperson)

Right before the unit is about to get bad news

It’s basic psychology. If you outright tell the troops that their deployment got extended, they’re going to flip the tables over. If you break it to them gently over a steak-and-lobster dinner that somehow found its way to Afghanistan, they’ll take it slightly better.

This is so common in the military that any time the commander shows up and asks for a crate of ice cream bars for the troops, the Private News Network and Lance Corporal Underground buzz with rumors.

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You think they’ll serve the same scrambled eggs that they serve the average boot to the Commandant of the Marines? Hell no. Especially not if they get some kind of warning. That’s you cue to grab food and dash.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Mallory S. VanderSchans)

When high-ranking officials make the rounds

Not even the cooks are exempt from the dog-and-pony show that comes with a general’s visit. In fact, while the other lower enlisted are scrubbing toilets in bathrooms the general will never realistically visit, the cooks know that the mess hall is the go-to spot to bring the generals to give them a “realistic” view of the unit.

If you’re willing to stomach the off-chance of being dragged into a conversation with a four-star general about “how the commander and first sergeant 100% absolutely always treat you like a real human being and that, oh boy, do you definitely love the unit,” then you’re in for one of the best meals the cooks can offer.

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Everyone loves the cooks on Taco Tuesday.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Valentina Lopez)

Taco Tuesday (and any other themed meal days)

There’s no way in hell any troop would willingly miss Taco Tuesday at the DFAC. Even if you don’t post flyers about it, troops will magically crawl out of the woodwork if it means they’re getting free tacos.

As much as everyone in the unit uses their cooks as punching bags for jokes, they can deliver some mighty fine meals when they try.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

Try these 8 subscription boxes for kids

Keep those kids busy! Busy waiting for the mail … and enthralled with whatever was shipped in them. Luckily, there are a number of subscription boxes to choose from, allowing you to help keep kids busy while stuck at home. Whether you have babies at home, or are juggling homeschool assignments of teenagers, there are crate options to keep your learners happily entertained every single month.

Try these 8 subscription boxes for kids:


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Kiwi Co Facebook

Kiwi & Co.

This monthly box can be adjusted for your child’s age (0-11) or interests — four categories for ages 9 to 104. Boxes start at .95 (including shipping), but come with regular discount codes for added savings. Stock up on everything from age appropriate toys, crafts and science projects to promote learning and fun.

Sign up.

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Little Passports on Facebook

Monthly Passports

Geared for ages 3-12, Monthly Passports is a box full of imaginative travel at .95 per box. Kids can learn about different countries through games, travel gear, maps, activities and more. Educational content can also be accessed online.

Start your journey.

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Raddish Facebook

Raddish

Get your kids in the kitchen with Raddish. Each month a meal theme is delivered with recipes and experiment/crafts, kid-friendly utensils and access to Spotify playlists. Cooking is recommended for kids aged 4-14; boxes start at per month.

Dive in.

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OwlCrate Facebook

OwlCrate

Tweens and teens can get their fill of YA books with OwlCrate. New-release books are sent every month, along with keepsakes and personable collectables, like hand-written notes from the author.

OwlCrate Jr. is also available for kids aged 8-12. Subscriptions start at .99 per month.

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Lovevery Facebook

Lovevery

For the littlest of kids, there’s a box of engaging, high-quality toys. Lovevery comes monthly for kids from birth to age 2 for and up, per box. Each shipment comes full of STEM-approved toys and age appropriate activities, including books and game ideas for parents.

Learn more.

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Nike Adventure Club

Upgrade your kids’ shoes in style. Nike Adventure Club sends sneakers throughout the year (Nike or Converse) and a string of activities made just for new kicks. Choose from two subscription options: 4 pairs per year ( per month) or 12 pairs per year ( per month).

Get steppin‘.

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Whippersnappers Facebook

Whippersnappers

While we’re on the subject of feet, surprise kids with fun monthly socks. Two pairs, every month, for . Simple, fun, efficient. Whippersnappers come in sizes for kids 3 to 12 with themed designs.

Sign up.

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Green Kids Crafts Facebook

Green Kid Crafts

Whether dealing with an upcoming deployment, or just stuck at home, Green Kid Crafts sends three projects per month. Instructions are geared toward nature and outdoor play through fun creation. Boxes start at per month plus shipping.

Go green.

Keep kids busy with the best type of mail around. What boxes will you order?

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why the Army needs to speed up its future weapons programs

American playwright Arthur Miller once observed that an era has reached its end “when its basic illusions are exhausted.”


Congress, the defense industry, academia, and the U.S. Army all believe the Pentagon must fundamentally change the culture and performance of its acquisition enterprise after decades of tweaks and inertia.

Since Vietnam, the most significant reform to the Defense Department, the United States Army, and Army Acquisition Enterprise was the Goldwater-Nichols DOD Reorganization Act of 1986. It changed who controlled budgets, project management, research and development, and aspects of modernization. Since then, numerous institutional adaptations and reorganizations have been initiated, many of which have led to familiar conditions: cumbersome spans of control; complex communication and procedural (bureaucratic) structures; difficulty prioritizing competitive programs and budget requirements; decreased accountability and effectiveness; and, disconnects between futures and acquisition procurement strategies, to name a few.

For the Army, those conditions materialized into “a lost decade of procurement” marked by, “reductions in modernization, procurement, and RDTE funding”; and a “wave of [OSD] requirements,” according to Lt. Gen. Mike Murray, Army Deputy Chief of Staff (G-8). While the present Army reorganization should address many of these concerns, a critical purpose of any new command, regardless of structure, is to obtain a central authority for translating futures and modernization activities into a smart acquisition strategy; activities that haven’t been under a single command since 1940.

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The Pentagon. (Photo by David B. Gleason)

With Futures Command

While the existing structure managed victory on global battlefields from Grenada to present operations, the U.S. Army has determined that long-delayed reforms in acquisitions require the most significant reorganization of modernization functions in 40 years. Because the overmatch our Army has enjoyed for the last 70 years is closing quickly across all domains of warfare, it is clearly understood that early successes are going to be essential for the new Army Futures Command.

While some may think this new command is a strategy of creating a new bureaucracy to address bureaucratic cultural concerns, the new command will be challenged to:

  • Streamline the requirements process, which averages three to five years, and major weapons systems development, which averages 10 years. A major contributing factor for such lengthy delays is the current command structure requires dozens of flag officer board and committee hearings within multiple multi-star command to approve requirements (if one includes the Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System).
  • Overcome a risk-averse acquisition culture optimized for individual and organizational outcomes within stove-piped organizations, thus requiring synchronization at HQDA level.
  • Provide a vision-to-victory or futures strategy that alleviates tensions between present requirements and future readiness.
  • Improve integration of operational concepts into acquisition strategies, presently determined and developed by multiple disjointed multi-star commands. At present, there is no single point of contact (command) with ownership of futures to formulate consensus on a long-term procurement strategy within the United States Army.
  • Overcome the stale reforms and existing RD structure by leverage industries leadership of advanced technologies and modernization in order to decrease procurement and acquisition timelines, increase innovation, and, address cultural “contrast in approaches to research and development that differentiates defense firms from their commercial counterparts.”
  • Improve and balance the research and development strategy; establish conditions for a “succeed-fast” and “fail-fast” strategy throughout the defense acquisition life cycle.
  • Elevate the confidence of stakeholders, particularly Congress, in our ability to manage major Army defense acquisition programs. For the Army, recent “failures” have cost tax payers billions and are the most obvious reason why oversight and authorities is overly centralized (by Congress). Since 2011 alone, the Army has ended 20 programs, delayed 125 and restructured 124 others.
  • and, ultimately, establish a wartime acquisition enterprise capable of rapid adaptability to threat capabilities today and in the future.

On this last point, recent acquisition enterprise efforts to synchronize and create a shared visualization stem from a current state assessment that “acquisition’s underlying problems are exacerbated during conflict, when warfighters are in harm’s way. Therefore, the natural tendency has been to work around the system rather than fix it,” according to a previous Army Futures Studies Group cohort. Reflecting on these truths, the Army has determined that now is the time to fix the system, as “wartime adaptation against a peer adversary will require capability generation to be exponentially faster than it was for recent operations”, according to Maj. Hassan Kamara of the Army Future Studies Group.

So the Army has started its most significant organizational redesign in four decades to meet futures and modernization challenges to do its part. Let’s look at how it got here.

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Deputy Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Piggee and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Dailey (Image via HQDA G-4’s Facebook Page)

A Short History of the Army’s Modernization and Futures Enterprise

Since the dawn of World War II, the Army has maintained a flexible organizational structure to meet significant overseas and continental commitments and challenges. Hundreds of congressional panels, committee hearings, and operational research projects have created new commands to address niche requirements but rarely resulted in the birth of a major command.

Of relevance to the present era, the first significant organizational overhaul was in 1940, when the General Headquarters (GHQ) of the United States Army was established. The GHQ struggled to manage training, support, modernization, and ground combat functions. In 1942, these functions were separated when the War Department reorganized itself and assumed command and control over ground combat troops and formed Army Ground Forces (AGF) command which assumed responsibility for training troops.

At the end of the war Congressional and industrial committees and boards reformed the War Department and the Army. Unfortunately, a mix of incremental and disruptive structural alterations was implemented which left the service with an uncoordinated command structure and in need of significant reorganization by 1955, when the Davies Committee formed the Continental Army Command (CONARC) which assumed command and control of ground forces and training functions.

Almost immediately, various panels recognized CONARCs structural challenges as the Cold War stressed the nation’s resources, but most recommendations went ignored throughout the remainder of the decade. By 1962, following the Hoelscher and Traub Congressional Committees, the Army was thoroughly reorganized. The Technical and Administrative Services; all support functions were centralized under Army Materiel Command; and the Combat Developments Command (CDC) were created under Continental Army Command (CONARC) to support modernization.

Within a decade CONARC’s span of control had become a significant concern and Gen. Creighton Abrams, Army Chief of Staff, initiated Operation STEADFAST under Lt. Gen. William DuPuy to fix it.

Also Read: The Army’s ‘Hard Kill’ tank defenses are a high-tech upgrade

Operation STEADFAST led to the creation of Forces Command (FORSCOM) and Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), the latter assuming control of training centers, Army schools, and doctrine development and CONARC was abolished. Later that same year, TRADOC assumed the mission for modernization and CDC was deactivated. As a result of this restructuring, similar to today, modernization and research development (RD) activities were scattered among major commands but all other functions were represented by a major command.

While significant structural change has occurred since 1973, they have not fundamentally changed how TRADOC and AMC function.

Key challenges we’re dealing with now, like the construct, function, and institutional integration of Futures Command, which were factors in the failures of structural changes in the past, must be clearly understood. There is never a time in the Army where a need to repair something structural isn’t required. Therefore, considering historical examples above, the question we must ask today is, are we in need of “incremental” or “disruptive” reform?  If “disruptive” change is in the cards, the alignment of forces, sustainment, training, and combat developments (or modernization) functions within streamlined commands is one potential course of action. However, what the Army is ready for, what the specific content of the reform will be, and its tolerance levels for disruption while heavily engaged in current operations are yet to be determined. If history is any guide, this will be determined based on whether or not senior defense leaders perceive the current state as one in crisis or this is just an opportune time for reform.

It is clear that any new modernization command must demonstrate value to industry, academia, research and development communities within and external to the U.S. Army, but, even more so to the warfighters whose equipment readiness is one of four pillars of readiness.

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