Sunday, September 18, 2016

First female soldier fails Green Beret Assessment and Selection

The first female soldier to participate in the Army’s initial training for the Green Berets — side by side with men — failed to complete the course, The Washington Times has learned. The enlisted soldier is the first woman to attend U.S. Army Special Forces Assessment and Selection, the first step toward earning the Special Forces name and the coveted green beret.

Since Defense Secretary Ashton Carter opened all combat jobs to women in December, a number of female troops have applied for direct combat roles from which they had long been banned. No woman has achieved the qualifications to become an Army Ranger or Green Beret, a Navy SEAL, a Marine Corps infantry officer or an Air Force parajumper, among other combat specialties.

The first woman to try out for the 75th Ranger Regiment failed to complete the course this month, The Army Times reported. Three female soldiers have completed the Army’s Ranger School but not the qualification for the special operations Ranger regiment.

In July, The Times reported that two female officer candidates had been accepted to attend a Special Forces Assessment and Selection class that begins in the spring. On Sept. 2, the unidentified female enlisted soldier reported to the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. She passed the physical fitness test and the first half of the grueling, 21-day weeding-out process, during which 10 percent to 15 percent of her classmates dropped out.

During the land navigation phase of the training, she either withdrew voluntarily, was medically dropped or was administratively removed for not meeting standards, said three sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter. Pending review boards, she may try again.

Historically, only one-third of candidates pass the entire course. “An average class is 300 candidates, with a 10 to 15 percent attrition rate after the physical fitness assessment. The total attrition rate at the end of SFAS is 60 percent,” warfare center spokeswoman Maj. Melody Faulkenberry said in a July interview regarding the first two female officer candidates invited to Special Forces Assessment and Selection.

Army officials would not confirm or deny that a female enlisted soldier was enrolled in the training. They would not release her name, rank, military occupational specialty (job) or deployment history. She did attend Airborne school because all Special Forces candidates must be Airborne-qualified.

Army Special Operations Command would only release a statement about Special Forces Assessment and Selection. “The Special Forces Assessment and Selection process, and subsequent Special Forces qualification training are very challenging experiences — experiences that can be made more difficult with the additional pressure that often comes with focused media attention on particular individuals due to their race, color, gender, religion, national origin and sexual orientation,” Lt. Col. Robert Bockholt, the command’s public affairs director, said in an email.

The female candidate made it through the first week of the course, known as the “gates.” All of the candidates underwent IQ and psychological testing and a physical fitness assessment, and successfully tackled obstacle courses and long marches and runs carrying full rucksacks. “There’s a fitness baseline candidates must achieve. This test is not graded by age or gender, but purely their fitness level,” Maj. Faulkenberry, the warfare center spokeswoman, explained in July.

If the female soldier retakes and passes Special Forces Assessment and Selection, she then will have to pass a Special Forces Qualification Course to earn the green beret — theoretically a two-year process. As a noncommissioned officer, she would become an integral member of a 12-member Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha, known as an A-Team. One core mission is to conduct unconventional warfare behind enemy lines.

She would be a staff sergeant or sergeant 1st class assigned to weapons, engineering, medical or communications on the 12-member team. Retired Maj. Gen. Mike Repass, former commander of Army Special Forces, said that if a female soldier gets to the A-Teams in the field, she will face the same challenge that every other new operator does: She will have to earn her spot. “In the very unlikely event that there was some institutional slack on the standards, there will be none on the Special Forces detachments, the A-Teams. Everyone has to pull their weight and be able to do other people’s jobs as well. Every day is a ‘selection event’ for an operator, and you can be told to step off the team if you are not meeting the standards,” Gen. Repass said.

Lt. Col. Stuart Farris, who from 2014 until June was commander at Fort Bragg’s Camp Mackall, where Special Forces Assessment and Selection training takes place, has dismissed suggestions that standards have been lowered to allow women to enter combat roles. “I am intimately familiar with the women in service initiative. I can assure you that we have the most comprehensive and rigorous Assessment and Selection process and methodology in [all special operations forces],” Col. Farris wrote recently in a discussion on a social media site approved by Special Operations Command.

“Bottom line, rest easy knowing that no standards have changed, and they will not change — everyone in my chain of command up to [Defense Secretary Ashton Carter] has been absolutely emphatic about this,” the colonel wrote.

Gen. Repass said the biggest challenge a female candidate may face could be the cultural shift. “There is a unique bond between the members of the operational detachments. The small team has a personality of its own, and every member contributes to that, as well as the reputation of the detachment within the company and battalion,” the retired general said. “The women who make it into the team rooms will not be myths; they’ll become living facts.”

Article from the Washington Times

Monday, September 12, 2016

Knocking Petraeus, General Ham Argues Readiness Woes Are ‘No Myth’

Retired Army Gen. Carter Ham took issue this week with the claim of retired Army Gen. David Petraeus that the U.S. military is in fairly good shape in terms of readiness.

Ham said the services were struggling to prepare to meet new challenges while coping with the wear and tear of 15 years of war and constant deployments.

“Fifteen years of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and now in Syria, Libya and elsewhere, compounded by years of budget uncertainty, have left America’s military forces less well-prepared for operations to counter the increasing capabilities of near-peer and emerging competitors,” Ham said in an article for Defense One.

Last week, Petraeus, the former commander in Iraq and Afghanistan who was cashiered as CIA Director over an extra-marital affair, joined with Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, in an op-ed for the Wall St. Journal in which they said concerns about readiness were overblown.

Despite shortfalls in many areas, “America’s fighting forces remain ready for battle,” Petraeus and O’Hanlon wrote.

Ham, an Iraq veteran and former commander of Africa Command, said in his article, “As president of the Association of the U.S. Army and an old soldier, let me offer some comments” on readiness and the Army in particular.

“The future of the United States Army is challenged by the combination of ongoing operations, emerging strategic threats, and a convoluted budget process that has weakened the nation’s foundational force,” he said.

“While the Army is not in crisis today, its ability to fulfill its missions on behalf of the nation will remain challenged without sustained, predictable funding at levels that support the all-volunteer force and allow for adequate modernization to meet the increasing challenges presented by near-peer competitors,” Ham said.

In addition, there was the morale problem, the retired general said. “Constant talk of the need to trim pay and benefits, reduce personnel costs by further reducing military and civilian headquarters staffs, and cut facility costs by deferring more maintenance and upkeep are morale-sapping efforts, especially when the belt-tightening happens year after year with no end in sight,” Ham said.

Article posted on DoD Buzz, by Military.com

Special Forces Who Avenged 9-11

From an article by Ms. Alex Quade, titled "Special Forces Who Avenged 9-11 (Alex Quade's "Horse Soldiers" Short)" posted on the Small Arms Journal.

These are the Green Berets who avenged the 9/11 attacks. War Reporter Alex Quade spent 5-years tracking the Operators down and persuading them to go on camera and share their photos and stories. Three ODAs ("A-Teams') of 34-men on horseback -- including Special Forces, Combat Controllers and CIA Operatives -- worked with the Northern Alliance after 9/11 to overthrow the Taliban and Al Qaeda, before America even knew that we were at war in Afghanistan. Alex Quade did stories for CNN, the Washington Times and a full film narrated by Actor Gary Sinise. Quade is releasing this SHORT version from her Edward R.Murrow Award-winning documentary, for the 15th anniversary of 9/11, and the rededication of the statue at Ground Zero.







Alex Quade is a war reporter and documentary filmmaker who has covered U.S. Special Operations Forces on combat missions since 2007. Extreme storytelling and risk-taking lie at the heart of Alex’s work. She's the recipient of more than two dozen professional awards for excellence in journalism.

Among the more notable awards: Two Edward R. Murrow Awards, one for her film Chinook Down and the other for her documentary Horse Soldiers of 9-11; the Congressional Medal Of Honor Society’s Excellence in Journalism Award for her “honest & courageous” war reportage; a Peabody award for coverage of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 (a CNN group award); an Emmy award for coverage of the 9-11 terrorist attacks (also a CNN group award); and her in-depth, frontline reporting on the Asian Tsunami was individually listed in CNN’s Du-Pont Columbia Award.

Alex started her career at the White House. She's worked in television covering global conflicts and hostile environments for CNN, Fox News, Headline News (HLN) out of Frankfurt, Germany and New York. She's produced special video reports for The New York Times, and The Washington Times. Alex Quade's first book, "Danger Close", will be published by Hachette Books in 2018.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

11th Annual CSM (Ret) John McLaughlin Memorial Golf Tournament

The 11th Annual CSM (Ret) John McLaughlin Memorial Golf Tournament, hosted by Special Forces Association Chapter IX, the Isaac Camacho Chapter, will be held Saturday 10 September 2016 at the Fort Bliss Underwood Golf Course.

This is a four man scramble with prizes for 1st through 3rd place, the cost is $100 per player/$400 per team. Registration on the day of the tournament is from 0630 to 0745 hours. Registration fees include Breakfast and Lunch.

Online Registration: You can register online here.

There will be door prizes as well as prizes for Closet to the Pin and Longest Drive. Everyone will receive a goodie bag and there will be a raffle as well.

Mulligan's are $10 each or 3 for $20 with a maximum of 3 per player. Grand Prize Hole in One Contest: $20,000

Proceeds from the Golf Tournament go to support Chapter IX's charitable activities.

Registration Contact Information:

Ike Camacho: 915-591-1560

Al Hobbs: 915-309-0276
Pete Peral: 915-526-6960
Steve Franzoni: 915-433-4090

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

RIP Staff Sergeant Michael V. Thompson, KIA Afghanistan

Professor Ken Ebel used to sit on his porch with Matthew V. Thompson and three other students discussing life, books, girlfriends and love over beers.

Such a dialogue continued even after Thompson graduated from Concordia University Irvine and enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2011, said Ebel, who retired from the school last year as a biology professor. Thompson hosted a Bible study for his fellow soldiers, discussing with them how to be a man of God while fighting in a war, he wrote in an email to Ebel dated Aug. 9, 2016. "He was dealing with violence, dealing with evil, and how do you bring love in that situation," Ebel said. "He wanted to be a man of God in the situation where he found himself in a violent world. That's been Matt ever since I knew him."

That email would be the last time Ebel heard from Thompson. The 28-year-old Green Beret was killed by a roadside bomb on Aug. 23 in Afghanistan.

Ebel was among more than 100 people who gathered at the Concordia campus Monday morning for a flag-lowering ceremony. Campus security guards raised the flag to the top and then slowly lowered it to half-staff. The flag will remain there for the rest of the week to remember and honor Thompson.

Thompson, a Green Beret (Special Forces) Medical Sergeant, was patrolling in Helmand province as part of Operation Freedom Sentinel when an improvised explosive device detonated. Thompson died from his injuries. He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne), based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state.

Thompson, who graduated with a bachelor's degree in theological studies in December 2010, is believed to be the first Concordia University Irvine alum killed in military service, said Steve Leader, the school's veterans resource center manager.

Thompson came to Southern California in 2008 after he transferred to Concordia from Marquette University in Wisconsin. Josh Geisinger has known him since the first day Thompson arrived at Concordia. He was among those who used to chat on Ebel's porch and called Thompson by his nickname, Tito. "Tito's a kind of guy that if you'd never met him before, he would come and sit with you and have a meal with you, even if you didn't know him," Geisinger said. "He wanted to love people as they needed to be loved -- not what was convenient, not what was easy, but what took sacrifice, what took courage. He was very good at loving people."

Life was always an adventure for Thompson, Geisinger said. One time, they took a group of students on a hike up Mount Whitney after the first snow. Thompson led the group, with Geisinger right behind him. Without any proper gear, Thompson slipped on ice every few steps for about two miles, but Geisinger caught him each time until they reached the summit. There was only joy in Thompson's eyes and no fear, Geisinger said.

Their friendship was about pushing each other, he said. "Whenever I was going through a decision, it seemed difficult at the time, but you talk to Tito and he's like, 'You know what to do, you know what's important. You just don't want to do the hard thing,'" Geisinger said. "It was like, 'You're right.'"

Thompson chose to serve in the special forces because he wanted to try something he wasn't sure he could accomplish, challenging himself physically, mentally and emotionally, Geisinger said. Thompson met his wife, Rachel, at Concordia. The two got married five years ago just before Thompson started his military training. "He knew it would be difficult, but he wanted that growth, he wanted that challenge so that he knew what it meant to have pain and knew what it meant to sacrifice," Geisinger said.

Thompson's wife lives in Washington state and couldn't attend Concordia's ceremony on Monday.

Thompson was posthumously awarded the Combat Infantry Badge, a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, according to the U.S. Army. Other decorations he had earned included the Army Commendation Medal and National Defense Service Medal. The deployment was Thompson's first to Afghanistan. He had previously been in Iraq for Operation Inherent Resolve.

Upon hearing of Thompson's death, Ebel, Geisinger and the other members from the porch dialogue got together to talk about their friend over beers and Wisconsin bratwursts. "I hope that we all become more like Matt," Geisinger said.

Article from Military.com

Monday, August 29, 2016

Former Brigadier General: Obama's Briefer Told CENTCOM Official to Skew Intel on ISIS

A former brigadier general revealed on Fox News Monday some new information about the White House's role in U.S. Central Command's skewing of intelligence to downplay the threats of ISIS and Al Qaeda.

Last week, a House Republican task force concluded in a 15-page report that U.S. military leaders altered intelligence reports "to paint a rosier picture" of the U.S.-led fight against ISIS than intelligence analysts believed was warranted.

The report blamed “structural and management changes” at the intelligence directorate for the distortions, but stopped short of explaining WHY the changes were made. According to Defense News, "the problems followed the change in Central Command’s leadership from Marine Gen. James Mattis, as CENTCOM commander, to Army Gen. Lloyd Austin."

U.S. Army Brigadier Gen. Anthony Tata (Ret.) filled in some blanks on Fox News Monday afternoon, and if his allegations are true, the scandal reaches all the way to the president's inner circle.

Tata explained that since Obama withdrew troops from Iraq, "there's been chaos all over the Middle East." But because the president campaigned on getting out of Iraq, he didn't want to hear anything that countered his narrative that it was the right thing to do.



When the official narrative contradicted the facts on the ground, members of the intelligence community cried foul and there was a meeting to deal with the issue.

Via Fox News Insider:

Tata revealed that a source verified to him that he was directed by an individual from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, who conducts the president’s daily briefing, to stop producing "products of record" that did not fit the administration's narrative of a defeated Al Qaeda and a non-threatening enemy in ISIS.

Tata said that the president’s briefer told this individual to call him on secure line if he had any intelligence that portrayed ISIS in a stronger light than what the president had characterized to the public, which would not leave a paper trail.

He said that this distortion of intelligence on ISIS essentially led to the U.S. ignoring the growing threat and giving the terror group two years to take root.

Tata said that it was "highly irresponsible" for a senior official to downplay the intelligence because "now we have a real, valid national security threat that was borne out of this directive to Central Command." He added that "now there are actually people being reprised against."

"You have good American soldiers, sailors, Marines and civilians that are being isolated and targeted by people that are in the J-2 [CENTCOM’s intelligence directorate]," Tata said.

Report from PJ Media, 15 August 2016

Friday, August 26, 2016

U.S. soldier killed in Afghanistan was an ‘exceptional Green Beret’

The service member killed in Afghanistan’s restive Helmand province earlier this week has been identified as Staff Sgt. Matthew V. Thompson, the Pentagon said Wednesday. Thompson’s patrol triggered a roadside bomb Tuesday, wounding another American and six Afghan soldiers.

According to a statement released by the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan, U.S. troops were accompanying their Afghan counterparts near the province’s capital of Lashkar Gah when their unit came under attack.

Thompson, 28, of Irvine, Calif., was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 1st Special Forces group, according to an Army release. The incident is under investigation. “He was an exceptional Green Beret, a cherished teammate, and devoted husband. His service in Afghanistan and Iraq speak to his level of dedication, courage, and commitment to something greater than himself,” said Lt. Col. Kevin M. Trujillo, the commander of the U.S. Special Operations task force in Afghanistan.

According to the Army release, Thompson enlisted in the Army in 2011 and reported as a medical sergeant to 1st Special Forces Group in 2014. He was on his first stint in Afghanistan when he was killed and had previously deployed to Iraq in support of the U.S.-led war against the Islamic State there. Thompson was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, a Bronze Star with a V for valor in combat and the Combat Infantry Badge.

Helmand province has been the site of heavy fighting in recent weeks as Taliban forces have used the summer months to launch multiple offensives across the country. The group is estimated to control well over 50 percent of Helmand, and its pressure on the provincial capital has forced U.S. and NATO troops to shuttle resources to help prop up the embattled Afghan security forces. Despite their gains around the periphery of Lashkar Gah, the Taliban has been unable to enter the city limits in the face of near-constant U.S. and coalition airstrikes.



On Monday, the NATO-led mission announced that 100 U.S. troops had been moved to Lashkar Gah to primarily advise Afghan police in the area. Col. Mike Lawhorn, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said Thompson was not a part of the 100-troop detachment. U.S. Special Operations forces have been operating in and around the city since the Taliban began its offensive in the province earlier this summer.

Thompson’s death marks the second combat death in Afghanistan this year. In January, Army Special Forces Staff Sgt. Matthew McClintock was killed in a pitched firefight alongside Afghan commandos in Marjah, a city in a fertile area just west of Lashkar Gah.

Helmand province, known as the birthplace of the Taliban and nicknamed Marine-istan following President Obama’s 2009 surge into the country, is an opium-rich area that has been the scene of some of the most intense fighting of the nearly 15-year-old war.

While conflict continues unabated in Helmand province, Taliban forces have also recently made gains in the northern part of the country. In the last few days, Kunduz — the city that briefly fell to the Taliban in October 2015 — has been the site of combat between Afghan security forces and the Taliban.

U.S. helicopter gunships and the small prop-driven aircraft of the fledgling Afghan air force have since helped repulse attacks on the city, and officials from the NATO-led mission were optimistic that the Afghan forces would be able to hold their ground.

Article from the Washington Post

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

2016 Jerry Rainey Scholarship Awards

On Saturday 20 August 2016, the Special Forces Association Chapter IX awarded three outstanding young ladies with $1,000 checks each to help with their college expenses. Kayley Maloney and Marissa Thompson Potter, both attending New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, and Nicole Ruiz attending University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) are the 2016 Jerry Rainey scholarship winners.



Picture (above) from Left to Right): Greg Brown Chapter, IX member and 2016 Rainey Scholarship Chairman; Kayley Maloney, Scholarship winner; Carol Rainey, widow of Jerry Rainey; Brigadier General Kurt S. Crytzer, Commander JTF-N; and, Pete Peral, Chapter IX President - the handsome devil that he is, according to himself.

On Saturday 20 August 2016, the Special Forces Association Chapter IX awarded three outstanding young ladies with $1,000 checks each ot help with their college expenses. Kayley Maloney and Marissa Thompson Potter both attending New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, and Nicole Ruiz attending University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) are the scholarship winners.

Brigadier General Kurt S. Crytzer, Commander of Joint Task Force North (JTF-N) was the presenter of the awards. BG Crytzer previously served as the Deputy Commanding General of Special Operations Command Central (SOCCENT) and Commander of Special Operations Joint Task Force-Iraq (SOJTF-I) in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. He also has served as a Special Forces SCUBA Detachment Commander, Company Commander, Battalion Commander, Joint Special Operations Task Force Commander, Counter Lord’s Resistance Army Control Element (ACCE) Commander and Special Operations Joint Task Force Commander. Additional assignments include Special Forces Battalion S-3, Joint Operations Center Chief, Balkans Desk Officer and Current Operations Chief with Special Operations Command Europe, Director of Operations (J3) with Special Operations Command Africa, and as a Faculty Member at the United States Army War College.

This was the ninth (9th) year we have honored the legacy of Jerry P. Rainey with scholarship awards to deserving college students. Jerry meant a lot to many people in any community where he lived, know for his primary focus on helping others.

Jerry enlisted in the Navy at the start of the Korean War and one of his primary duties in Korea was rescuing downed pilots, often times behind enemy lines. After Korea, he spent the next nine years living in Athens, GA where he served as the head of the Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Rainey joined the Army in 1962 and attended the year long Special Forces Medic Course during 1964 - 1965.

His first of two tours in Vietnam was from September 1965 to September 1966. The first nine months was as a medic with a Special Forces A Team (Det A-415) in Tuyen Nhon. His last four months was as the Public Information Office NCOIC, 5th Special Forces Group in Nha Trang. As an editor of the Green Beret Magazine he traveled throughout all 4 CTZ's gathering information about Special Forces activities for publication in the magazine.

Jerry’s second tour in Vietnam was from July 1969 to June 1970 with 5th Special Forces Group. Assigned to Det C-4 (IV Corps) HQ medic, he traveled throughout the Delta region assisting where needed. He often provided coverage for "A" Detachments needing additional medical support or replaced medics who were WIA or KIA. His military awards include the Bronze Star for Valor, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal w/ OLC, Good Conduct Medal (2nd award), National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation w/palm, Combat Medical Badge, Parachutist Badge, and Expert Rifleman Badge.

Monday, August 22, 2016

RIP "Beamy" Beamesderfer WWII PathFinder and Paratrooper

The El Paso Community and indeed the United States lost a warrior when Maynard L. "Beamy" Beamesderfer passed away last week. A World War II Paratrooper making a combat jump into Normandy on D-Day, Beamy was also a Pathfinder jumping into Operation Market Garden.

"Beamy" was born 92 years ago in Lebanon, PA. the first born child of LeRoy & Helen Beamesderfer. He had four other siblings, Marion, Christine, Kenny and Janice. In 1939 his family visited the New York World's Fair where Beamy was given an opportunity to ride the Lifesavers Parachute Jump. He was so taken by the ride, that he decided he wanted to be a paratrooper and enlisted in the US Army on July 17, 1942.

Following basic training he qualified to serve in the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne, as a Pathfinder. They were the first US troops on the ground on D-Day. Beamy survived Operation Overlord and went on to jump in Operation Market Garden and the Battle of the Bulge where he was severely wounded and left for dead. He spent the next several years in and out of Veterans hospitals.

After his recovery he married his childhood sweetheart (his "angel Mimi") in 1947 and they remained married until her death in January 2016 (69 Years). Mimi and Beamy raised their family (Carey, Carole & LuAnn) in Lebanon, PA until they reached adulthood. During that time, Beamy worked for several years as an Electrician/HVAC Mechanic for the Bethlehem Steel Co., and served as a volunteer Boy Scout leader. He enjoyed coin collecting, camping, visiting with family, and watching the Philadelphia Eagles play football. He was always working around the house, fixing, repairing and remodeling.

When Mimi & Beamy became "empty nesters" they sold their home; lived and traveled in various RV's for 5 years; travelling the country. In 1977 they bought a home and settled in El Paso. Beamy volunteered much of his time helping neighbors and friends with his trade skills. He was an outstanding "handyman" and everyone knew it.

Beamy & Mimi joined UPC Church family when they moved to El Paso. Beamy was a leader in the construction and major expansion of the church facilities in the late 1980's. In the 1980's he also joined the Benavidez-Patterson All Airborne Chapter as one of its founding members. Together with several other highly decorated veterans, Beamy helped build, develop, and maintain the chapters headquarters, which was later renamed "BEAMESDERFER HALL" in his honor. The chapter awarded him numerous decorations, medals and plaques for his meritorious and heroic military service to our country.

He was a proud soldier, great American and avid collector of military memorabilia. Beamy is survived by his three children (Carey & wife Donna) (Carole Green & husband David Green) and (LuAnn Wieland), along with 11 grandchildren, 26 great grandchildren, and 2 great-great grandchildren, and his siblings Marion & Janice.

Beamy was a highly decorated war veteran, but first and foremost he was a kind & loving husband to Mimi; a strict father dedicated to making sure his children understood and valued hard work, fair play and Christian values. He loved being around his close friends, fellow bridge players, grandkids and others with whom he could share his story. His family particularly enjoyed the times when he & Mom would play cards with us. He was a true "survivor," a man who had to deal with his war injuries and other health concerns. He lived most of his life with two artificial knees, an artificial shoulder and a pacemaker.

His was surrounded by family in the last few hours of his life, who heard him mumble "I'm too dumb to die" and "Did I do good?" The answer to his last question is obvious. Yes, and thank you dad/Beamy, for a life well lived and for what you've done for all of us.

A memorial service will be held at University Presbyterian Church, 244 N. Ressler on Thursday August 25 at 4:00pm. Donations in lieu of flowers should be sent to the Benavidez-Patterson All Airborne Chapter. A military grave site service will be held on Friday, August 26 at 9:00am at Fort Bliss National Cemetery.

Article from the El Paso Times

Friday, August 19, 2016

RIP General John W. Vessey 1922 - 2016

Retired Army Gen. John W. Vessey, who rose through the ranks in a 46-year military career to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Ronald Reagan, has died. He was 94.

Vessey — who enlisted as a private in the Minnesota National Guard in 1939, fought in World War II and Vietnam, and was the nation's top military officer when he retired to his home state of Minnesota in 1985 — died Thursday evening, his daughter, Sarah Vessey told The Associated Press. He was surrounded by family and died of natural causes, she said.

After being named chairman of the Joint Chiefs in 1982, Vessey helped oversee the military buildup that Reagan championed when he took office just over a year earlier.

"It was probably the greatest peacetime modernization of the American military establishment that ever took place," Vessey recalled in a 2004 interview. "We improved every facet of the armed forces, from the recruiting and retention, the selection of individuals, to the way they lived, but most importantly to the way they fought."

Vessey said the Soviet Union had been making a "big push" to solidify its position in Europe, deploying SS20 intermediate-range nuclear missiles and strengthening its ground forces in East Germany, "dabbling" in West European elections at a time when NATO was shaky, and stepping up its espionage.

By the time Vessey retired in 1985, he said, NATO was strong once again, the United States had deployed Pershing II and cruise missiles in response to the Soviet SS20s, and negotiations with the Soviets to eliminate each side's intermediate-range missiles were just about complete.

"He was smart and combined good common sense with good military judgment, and he knew how to get things done," Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank, said in a 2006 interview. Korb worked with Vessey while serving as an assistant secretary of defense from 1981 to 1985. "He was a person of integrity."

Even in retirement, Vessey heard from presidents and the Pentagon looking for help. Reagan sent Vessey back to Vietnam in 1987 to account for Americans missing in action and bring back any still alive. His other tasks included reuniting separated families and getting former South Vietnamese leaders out of prison camps, Amerasian children out of Vietnam and the Vietnamese out of Cambodia.

"In typical Ronald Reagan optimistic fashion, he said, 'Well, it ought to take you about three months,' " Vessey recalled with a laugh. "Six years later I told Bill Clinton that I had checked off all of those things and would like to be relieved."

Vessey's work to resolve the fate of the MIAs was "terribly important" because the issue had become a "rallying cry" for people who thought the United States had pulled out of Vietnam too soon or that the Pentagon was covering something up, Korb said.

In retirement, Vessey also chaired the advisory board of the Center for Preventive Action, an arm of the Council on Foreign Relations that seeks to prevent conflicts before they erupt; consulted for the Defense Science Board, Army Science Board and the Sandia National Laboratory; and led a campaign to build up the endowment funds of colleges affiliated with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

While Vessey generally wielded his influence in military and foreign policy circles away from the public spotlight after he retired, he made news in 2006 when he spoke out against a push to weaken protections under the Geneva Conventions against torture of prisoners, particularly as they applied to suspected terrorists.

He wrote Sen. John McCain expressing concern that doing so "would undermine the moral basis" that had traditionally guided U.S. conduct in war, and that "could give opponents a legal argument for the mistreatment of Americans being held prisoner in time of war."

Another retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, called Vessey's comments "powerful and eloquent" in his own letter to McCain. Those letters became ammunition in the congressional debate over the use of coercive interrogation techniques in the war on terror.

"He never strayed from his morals or values or faith and he was an extraordinary patriot," Sarah Vessey said of her father.

Vessey was born in Minneapolis in 1922. He enlisted in the Minnesota National Guard at age 17, when the threat of Nazi Germany was looming over Europe. He was called to active duty and fought in Northern Africa and Italy, where he received a battlefield commission as a second lieutenant at the battle of Anzio in 1944.

He married his wife, Avis, right after he shipped home. He made the Army his career, serving mostly in field artillery units stateside and abroad. His postings included several in West Germany.

During the Vietnam War, Vessey was a lieutenant colonel in the battle of Suoi Tre, where U.S. forces held off a fierce attack from a much larger North Vietnamese and Viet Cong force in 1967. Vessey was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Army's second-highest medal, and his unit received a Presidential Unit Citation.

He was promoted to brigadier general in 1971. He earned his fourth star in 1976 and was put in charge of U.S. and U.N. forces in South Korea.

Vessey showed his character after his opposition to President Jimmy Carter's proposal to withdraw from Korea cost him a promotion to Army chief of staff, Korb said. Instead, Vessey became vice chief of staff of the Army in 1979 under the younger Gen. Edward C. Meyer.

"You never heard him complain or not defer to the real chief," Korb said.

Vessey was building a lake home back in Minnesota when Reagan asked him to defer retirement and named him the 10th chairman of the Joint Chiefs. The general was never a self-promoter and never lobbied for the job, Korb said.

Congress didn't strengthen the chairman's role until 1986, Korb said, so while Vessey was nominally in charge, he had to lead by consensus. Vessey "had the perfect temperament" for that, Korb said.

Vessey and the Joint Chiefs advised against the 1982 deployment of Marines to Lebanon, which ended after 241 Marines were killed in a suicide attack on their barracks in Beirut in 1983. However, he directed the swift and successful 1983 U.S. intervention in Grenada.

"Jack Vessey always remembered the soldiers in the ranks; he understood those soldiers are the background of any army," Reagan said at a ceremony when Vessey finally did retire in 1985. "He noticed them, spoke to them, looked out for them. Jack Vessey never forgot what it was like to be an enlisted man, to be just a GI."

Vessey then settled on Little Whitefish Lake near Garrison, Minn., keeping a promise to his wife that they'd return before the snow fell. "He and my mom were so happy to be back," Sarah Vessey said Thursday. The couple had two other children: John III and David.

In 1992, President George H.W. Bush awarded Vessey the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award, paying tribute to his efforts to account for the missing in action. Bush called him, "the ultimate never-say-die soldier, the last four-star combat veteran of World War II to retire."

Article from the Associated Press, posted on Stars and Stripes

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

1st SFG HALO Parachute Death

Originally published under the title "JBLM soldier falls to his death; ‘unprecedented’ manufacturing error blamed" by The News Tribune, 11 August 2016

Capt. James Ahn stepped onto a small plane on the Olympic Peninsula with his Special Forces team almost a year ago and incorrectly rigged his parachute, setting him up for a challenging jump. But that isn’t what killed the Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldier.

An “unprecedented” manufacturing defect in his pack’s reserve parachute — the line he would pull if he needed a backup — had gone unnoticed during four years of use. The combination of faulty parachute and other mistakes proved to be too much.

“Capt. Ahn likely misidentified which parachute had malfunctioned and lost what little chance he had to land safely,” wrote an Army investigator in a report obtained by The News Tribune through the Freedom of Information Act.

Ahn’s death Sept. 11, 2015, stunned the JBLM’s Special Operations community. His was the first parachute-related death for a local unit since 2005 and the ninth in the Army in the past five years. The accident led to a 10-hour search for his body in the woods around Shelton. It also prompted an investigation that concluded in a 409-page report that the defect that killed him went unnoticed by six professional inspectors from the company that manufactured the chute and at least 22 Army riggers.

The error was so obscure — the manufacturer neglected to stitch a 4-inch ring that guides parachute cords — that experts from the Army Safety Center took four days to identify it when they traveled to JBLM to investigate Ahn’s death.

He died while using an MC-4 parachute, a standard piece of equipment for Army Special Forces. After the Safety Center pinpointed the defect, the Defense Department suspended use of its 10,000 MC-4 parachutes. None had a defect like the one in Ahn’s pack. “The defect was unprecedented in parachuting and not obvious to the naked eye, but was deadly,” the investigator wrote.

Ahn’s death is marked at the 1st Special Forces Group headquarters, where his name is etched on its memorial wall. His name is the newest addition to a tribute that pays respect to Green Berets who died on battlefields from Vietnam to Iraq.

Away from the Army, loved ones described Ahn as an athletic, easygoing man dedicated to his church and his country. He coached a youth basketball team and was involved with youth ministries. “I don’t know anyone who would have anything bad to say about him in any way,” said his friend, Kelley Marshall, who attended the Korean church with Ahn when he lived in Virginia. “Everything about him was good.”

Marshall was impressed by the example Ahn set for kids at the church and found his quiet, reserved demeanor surprising in light of his being a Green Beret. He’s remembered by his former teammates as a dedicated Green Beret who embraced the unit’s charge to mentor U.S. allies along the Pacific Rim. He volunteered for training events that were not required of him, and often excelled at exercises that were know to injure his peers. “He really wanted to get the full gamut of experiences of the military and Special Forces,” Maj. Vincent Enriquez said. “He was very much dedicated, an absolute professional.”

Ahn grew up in La Crescenta, California, and learned Mandarin, enabling him to make connections and friends when he and teammates traveled to train with American allies in East Asia. Sometimes, the connections got his teammates invitations to local parties. “He had a big smile and would always grin ear to ear,” Master Sgt. Dan Linderman said. “He always found time to smile about something and made friends with our Asian counterparts. They latched onto him.”

One of Ahn’s favorite stories was about the time he and a Korean officer had to walk a long way to resupply. When they came to a road, they asked a Korean farmer for a ride and offered to pay him. The farmer declined the money and instead asked Ahn to speak English with his son. Ahn and the boy happily chattered the rest of the way.

On a recent holiday break, Ahn took personal leave to fly back to visit some of the East Asian allies he met on training events. “We do it because we’re professionals and that’s the military-to-military partnership we want to build,” Enriquez said. “James went above and beyond and saw them as friends. We got nothing but brave and positive reviews from people he worked with.”

After Ahn’s death, several foreign teams held services to pay their respects.

Before his fatal fall, Ahn participated in at least 50 jumps. On Sept. 11, 2015, his team used a civilian-flown plane from Kapowsin Air Sports in Shelton. The company often works with Special Operations units at JBLM. The team boarded the cramped plane at 10:50 a.m. They did standard equipment checks and prepared for the jump, which took place at 18,000 feet.

In freefall jumps, the jumper deploys the parachutes himself. The team planned to do so at 16,000 feet. Ahn was ninth in line, making him next to last.

What he and his fellow jumpers failed to notice was that Ahn accidentally attached his ruck sack to the ripcord of his reserve chute. When Ahn jumped, the weight of the 39-pound pack immediately deployed the reserve parachute.

One of four lines connecting him to the chute broke loose due to the manufacturing defect. Ahn likely believed it was his main parachute that was malfunctioning and didn’t realize he didn’t have the reserve chute as a backup.

He started spinning in mid-air. A jump master in the plane noticed Ahn was in trouble and tried to follow him down, but Ahn fell too fast. To deploy a second chute, Ahn needed to jettison the malfunctioning parachute so the two canopies would not become entangled. He apparently used a knife to cut the three lines suspending him, detaching himself from the reserve chute.

When he went to deploy what he thought was the reserve chute, he would have been confused to find it gone, investigators said, and probably pulled the ripcord for the main parachute instead. Unfortunately, he’d already separated himself from the lines connecting him to the main chute and it flew away. “At this point, Capt. Ahn’s situation was unrecoverable and unsurvivable,” the investigator wrote.

When reserve parachutes are made, a 4-inch loop is temporarily held with hot glue to ensure it is folded properly before being permanently stitched. Ahn’s parachute was never stitched.

Reserve parachutes are inspected every 120 days, and the one Ahn used was last looked over June 11, 2015. It was reinspected and repacked 15 times over 4 1/2 years, the report said. “Any follow-on inspectors would have little suspicion of a manufacturing defect with each successive inspection,” investigators wrote.

On the morning of his last jump, Ahn cajoled teammates into posing for a photograph just before they boarded their plane. He put on his best tough guy face. It matched the camouflage uniform, combat equipment and night vision goggles he and his nine teammates wore. It was the last photo taken of Ahn.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Colorado Springs One Stop Veterans Center

Lost amid the clamor of the presidential election campaign trail was the recent grand opening of a help center in Colorado Springs that has already assisted 950 veterans in getting their lives on track.

As Donald Trump stumped in Colorado Springs, veterans advocates cut the ribbon on the Mount Carmel Center of Excellence on the city's west side. It bills itself as a one-stop shop for veterans in need. "We're going to keep working to expand," said Bob McLaughlin, the retired Army colonel who runs the place.

Mount Carmel, which began helping veterans this year, is something new for Colorado Springs, a city that's home to nearly 80,000 veterans and 40,000 active-duty troops. The center is a clearinghouse and landlord that brings together public and private organizations to help troops and veterans in need. The center is at 530 Communications Circle, just west of South 8th Street.

For example, a veteran who shows up at Mount Carmel's door with a spouse and kids can get behavioral health counseling, family counseling, financial counseling, job referral help, veterans benefits assistance, help with state benefits and a mentor to help with life transitions. He or she - and loved ones - can get all that help in one place and many of the services can begin that same day. "There's no wrong door," McLaughlin said. "Whoever comes to our center will get the help they need."

Getting all that help delivered means getting nonprofits to work in concert - not a small task in a city where many military-aimed charities compete for donor dollars. McLaughlin said a key component of the center's success is an agreement among the nonprofits. "Each partner agency has its own mission and goals and governance, and we must respect each other," he said. "We believe co-locating services is a benefit to our guests."

The agencies and charities have agreed to share information to ensure veterans are getting all the help they need. "They are integrating services," McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin said the philosophy of one-stop help is something he picked up at Fort Carson, where he helped construct a service center for soldiers when serving there as garrison commander. "Everything I did as a garrison commander to help soldiers and families directly translated here," he said.

Soon another concept with Army roots will start taking shape at Mount Carmel. This fall and winter, workers will remodel a nearby building that will house agencies that provide health care services for veterans. The new facility will include mental health counseling, mind and body therapy and specialists who can provide care that now requires a long wait at the Department of Veterans Affairs clinic in Colorado Springs. "It is really about (addressing) mind, body and spirit," McLaughlin said.

Article from the Colorado Springs Gazette

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Former 82nd Paratrooper John Diffin, 94, is a link to the past

SFA Commo Sgt remarks: I once saw a t-shirt that said "Paratroopers Don't Die,...They go to Hell and Re-Group".  And in another tribute to Paratroopers, there was a poster with a World War II era Paratrooper standing with a 2.75 inch rocket launcher and a M-1 Garand slung on his shoulder talking to retreating Army Tanks during the Battle of the Bulge with the caption " Looking for a safe place to park that tank?......pull in behind me. I'm the 82nd Airborne and this is as far as the bastards are coming."

John Diffin bristled a little under all the attention. The retired sergeant major had been at Womack Army Medical Center for days, but proudly said he only hit his alert button once or twice. And even then, all the old paratrooper wanted was a razor.

"I hadn't shaved in two days," Diffin said from his hospital bed, where he was being treated for having fluid in his lungs. "Even in war time, I shaved every day."

Diffin is that rare veteran, a lifetime paratrooper who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam before his retirement in 1975. At that time, he was the last serving World War II veteran in the 82nd Airborne Division and had earned seven Purple Hearts, seven Bronze Stars and two Soldier's Medals.

But while his service is decades behind him, and the 94-year-old is unlikely to jump from another airplane, Diffin remains a link to the past for one of the nation's most storied fighting divisions. Growing up in the Depression, Diffin said his family had it better than most. His father always had a job, he said. His family was well supported. But when war broke out in Europe, the young man was eager to play his part. At first, Diffin went to work in a shipyard. But soon, he set out to play a more direct role.

Some recruiters turned him down, he said. Then, just as he was set to join the Army on his own, he was drafted. When representatives of the Army airborne, then still a relatively new force, visited Diffin and his fellow new trainees, he was one of two men to volunteer.

That would get him sent to the 82nd Airborne Division, which he joined in England just before the invasion of Normandy. Diffin fought in France and Holland with the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment. He said the 82nd had the best soldiers in the war effort and leaders who have gone down in Army legend. "We never lost a firefight," the retired paratrooper said, his chest still puffing out with pride.

After the war, Diffin was forced out of the Army, but the Army couldn't keep him away. In 1948, he re-enlisted. Diffin served with the 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment in Korea and the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam, but it was the 82nd Airborne that always had his allegiance. "I served in every regiment of the 82nd," he said. "I never wanted to be anything else."

Diffin said he's not sure how many jumps he made in his career, although he recorded enough to earn his master parachutist badge. Today's force is much different from when Diffin served. But that doesn't make it any less impressive, he said. "The 82nd right now is the best Army in the whole world," he said.

Diffin, who lives in Fayetteville, ran an auto salvage yard after his Army retirement. He said he's only recently begun to slow down. He said he's still in relatively good health. "My heart is good," he said patting his chest.

"I made 82," Diffin said of his age before chuckling to himself. "I'm going for 101. I know I'm never going to make 187 or 505."

Article from the Fayetteville Observer

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Next President: Comparison of Military Priorities

SFA Commo Sgt comment: This article, from Military Times was originally titled "The next president's military: Here's a comparison of the candidates' priorities". There seems to be a recent phenomenon whereas retired Military Generals have become more public and outspoken in their political commentary, supporting one candidate or another. Most recently USA retired LTG Michael Flynn came out in support of Donald Trump whereas USMC retired General John Allen came out in support Hillary Clinton. Given Mrs. Clinton's support for the lifting of Iranian sanctions, her in-actions before/during Benghazi, and her security violations with classified material it is strange times when military Generals can support this. Watch for more General Officers to come out in support of one candidate or the other, or publically addresing a specific policy stance such as in the instance of Generals David Petraeus and Stanley McCrystal publically supporting enhanced gun control. In fact, the Special Forces Association National Headquarters issued a membership resolution, at the annual convention in July 2016, addressing the SFA stance against Petraeus and McCrystal stating "the U.S. Constitution and all of its amendments, realizing that only the existence of the Second Amendment guarantees the freedom of the American people and that the Bill of Rights was written to delineate and restrict the power of government and not to restrict the powers and rights of the people or states.”

Troops and veterans voting in the presidential election this fall won’t just be picking their choice for commander in chief, they’ll also be choosing which political party sets the agenda on military issues for the next four years.

Democratic and Republican leaders finalized their party platforms at their respective conventions in July, outlining a broad set of goals for handling national defense, Veterans Affairs reform and maintaining service members' morale. Both parties call for a stronger military. Both promise to defeat terrorism abroad and target Islamic State fighters in the Middle East. Both pledge to overhaul veterans’ healthcare programs.

But like the party’s presidential picks, the two plans also offer stark contrasts. Republicans promise to take a more aggressive stance against hostile threats abroad. Democrats advocate the importance of diplomacy and alliances as the smartest path to security. Neither plan agrees on what VA reform means.

For military personnel and their families, those stances could have implications beyond just the next president’s time in the White House. Here are some of the key distinctions between the two parties' platforms.

Military pay, benefits

Democrats want to expand troops’ benefits, promising to push “more educational benefits and job training” for troops and veterans. Party leaders also vowed to ensure reservists and National Guard personnel are “treated fairly” when it comes to benefits, and to improve services to help them transition to civilian careers.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has reinforced that idea in recent months on the campaign trail, and speakers at the party convention in Philadelphia reiterated those general promises.

But the Republican platform on military benefits is significantly more detailed. It supports a full military pay raise equal to the private sector's average annual rise. It also decries Pentagon cuts to other benefits, proposals that many conservative lawmakers have reluctantly approved in recent years.

“Military families must be assured of the pay, healthcare, housing, education, and overall support they have earned,” the Republican platform says. “In recent years, they have been carrying the burden of budgetary restraint more than any other Americans through cuts in their pay, health benefits, and retirement plans. We cannot expect that level of patriotic commitment to continue among young people who have experienced the way their families have been treated.”

Neither party’s plan fully outlines how to pay for any benefits expansion. Both sides blame ongoing budget caps, approved by Congress in 2011, for the financial squeeze being put on service members and their families. Yet neither party has identified a compromise that would replace those spending limits.

Military size, strength

Republicans promise in their platform to “reverse America’s military decline,” a situation they blame on too little funding and too few troops. Their plan calls for adding military personnel, “increasing investments in training and maintenance,” and rebuilding military facilities worldwide.

“Successive years of cuts to our defense budget have put an undue strain on our men and women in uniform,” the platform states. “This is especially harmful at a time when we are asking our military to do more in an increasingly dangerous world.”

That message has been underscored repeatedly by GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump. In his convention acceptance speech on July 21, he vowed to "completely rebuild our depleted military" and make foreign allies "pay their fair share" of the cost of stationing U.S. troops and equipment overseas.

The Democratic platform calls for “a smart, predictable defense budget that meets the strategic challenges we face.” The document makes no mention of force size, but it does promise to address the readiness shortfalls that Republicans highlight.

“We must prioritize military readiness by making sure our active, reserve, and National Guard components remain the best trained and equipped in the world,” it states. “We will seek a more agile and flexible force, and rid the military of outdated Cold War-era systems.”

Clinton underscored her message of relying on both diplomacy and military might in her nomination acceptance speech Thursday night.

"America's strength doesn't come from lashing out," she said. "Strength relies on smarts, judgment, cool resolve, and the precise and strategic application of power..."

"Keeping our nation safe and honoring the people who do it will be my highest priority."

The Democratic plans also include promises to end waste in the defense budget, detailing a high-level commission to review the role of defense contractors in Pentagon operations.

Social issues

The Democratic platform praises repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” law, which prohibited gay troops from publicly revealing their sexual orientation, and lauds efforts to open all combat roles to women. It promises to build on those ideas, looking to ensure that minority groups within the military are protected while still being held to high standards for service.

Republicans call this social experimentation.

“We believe that our nation is most secure when the president and the administration prioritize readiness, recruitment, and retention rather than using the military to advance a social or political agenda,” the GOP document states.

That includes suggestions for requiring women to register with Selective Service — a proposal currently circulating on Capitol Hill — as well as creating rules governing the discussion of religion in the ranks and unspecified “intra-military special interest demonstrations.”

Republicans want “an objective review of the impact on readiness of the current administration’s ideology-based personnel policies” to determine if any such personnel changes need to be rolled back.

Democrats reject that stance entirely in their platform.

“Our military is strongest when people of all races, religions, sexual orientations, and gender identities are honored for their service to our country,” their document states. “Democrats welcome and honor all Americans who want to serve and will continue to fight for their equal rights and recognition.”

Veterans healthcare

The Republican platform promises to massively expand health care options outside VA as a way to alleviate wait times and get all veterans the best care possible.

The Democratic platform calls that idea a disaster.

“We reject attempts by Republicans to sell out the needs of veterans by privatizing the VA,” their plan states. “We believe that the VA must be fully resourced so that every veteran gets the care that he or she has earned and deserves, including those suffering from sexual assault, mental illness and other injuries or ailments.”

Most of Clinton’s campaign focus on veterans in recent months has centered on the issue of voucherizing or privatizing VA, an idea she has also promised to vigorously oppose.

Instead, both her staff and the Democratic platform have pledge to put in place more resources to make VA services operate better, rather than moving those appointments outside the system.

But the Republican platform — and Trump — see that approach as naive and too reserved.

“We cannot allow an unresponsive bureaucracy to blunt our national commitment” to veterans, the party’s platform states. “The VA must strengthen and improve its efforts through partnerships with private enterprises, veteran service organizations, technology and innovation.

“That includes allowing veterans to choose to access care in the community and not just in VA facilities, because the best care in the world is not effective if it is not accessible.”

In his convention speech, Trump promised to make every federal department leader, including the next VA secretary, "provide a list of wasteful spending projects that we can eliminate in my first 100 days." He has repeatedly said eliminating fraud and abuse will help fund numerous reforms at the agency.

Republicans in the planning document also outline plans to bolster support for veterans’ cemeteries nationwide and improve transition support for troops leaving the ranks.

Any comments by the SFA Commo Sgt (highlighted in yellow font at the beginning of this post) who serves as the SFA Chapter IX website administrator and moderator, are his comments alone, and are not necessary shared by the general Chapter memberership nor cordoned by the Chapter Executive Board.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Interview with Congressman Joe Heck (R-NV)

US Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., heads the House Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee, where he is fighting, amid Democratic objections, to freeze Obama administration’s planned troop cuts.

The House-passed version of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would roll back planned end strength cuts, nudging up the Army's active-duty force from 475,000 to 480,000, the Marine Corps by 3,000 and the Air Force by 4,000. But it hinges on a funding mechanism opposed by the White House, the Pentagon and the Senate Armed Services Committee that raids the emergency wartime spending account by $18 billion to pay for manpower, ships and jets the administration did not request.

As the military stretches across a range of missions around the globe, Heck is among Republican lawmakers who say now is not the time to cut troop strength.

“The op-tempo has not slowed down,” Heck told Defense News on July 14. “We can’t expect the current force, those that remain, to pick up the slack and deploy even more."

Meanwhile Heck — who is a one-star general in the Army Reserve and a physician — wants yet another job. He is running in a competitive race for the seat of retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, one of the few Republican targets this election as the party seeks to maintain its slim Senate majority.

Meanwhile, Heck must face the down-ballot impact of Donald Trump’s candidacy. An estimated 20 percent of Nevada ballots cast in the Nov. 8 general election are expected to come from Latino voters, according to polling firm Latino Decisions. Seventy percent of those polled said Heck’s support for Trump — which has been tepid — makes it less likely they will vote for him.

Q. There’s long been a tension in military budgets between hardware and controlling personnel costs. Where does the House NDAA come down and how well does it deal with that tension?

A. I think we have done a good job in the House version of the bill and with our Senate colleagues striking that balance. As the chairman of the military personnel subcommittee, obviously my bias is with manpower. While it is important to have the next, greatest weapons system, if you don't have someone to pull the trigger, it doesn’t do anything for you. As we get into a more competitive economy, the ability to recruit and retain the best and brightest is going to depend on having a competitive benefits package that we can offer, not just for those aspiring to be in the military, but those in the military. We don’t want to lose them to the private sector.

Q. Some Democratic colleagues criticize that by raising end-strength, OCO is being short-changed, that it’s ultimately going to result in a hollow force and that it could create a situation where the Army has to cut end-strength 30,000 in a single year. Are they wrong?

A. I don’t necessarily disagree with Ranking Member [Susan] Davis’s comments in the mark-up, I don’t disagree that yes, if we increase end-strength this year without a commitment to maintain that end-strength in the out-years—which means not just from the personnel cost, but he readiness cost of those individuals—we will have a hollow force. But it was important that we send a message to the Pentagon, that the House believes we are reaching a critical level in manpower, and that short of repealing sequester or addressing the impact of sequester, we cannot go to 450,000 or 420,000 for a total active duty Army. So we have to plant a flag and say this is where we think the lowest end-strength is for active-duty Army and active-duty Marines, based on what we see going on around the world and the missions we ask our troops to execute.

Q. Is the House making that statement without paying for that increased end-strength?

A. We’re paying for it in the House bill. The increased end-strength in the House bill is paid for in the House bill. So we’ll see what happens in the negotiations.

Q. It’s paid for with the $18 billion that’s the sticking point, and we’ve already seen the folks in the Senate talk about increased end-strength but not support that same method. Is there a path toward a compromise?

A. That will be left to the Big Four [the GOP chairmen and ranking Democrats from the both chambers' armed services committees]. Our hope is that staff will work out 80 percent of the differences [over the summer recess] and we’ll come back and finish up the final 20 percent. Whatever we can’t do will be bumped up to the Big Four to figure out. Whether or not it is successful up until the final bill, I thought it was important to make the statement, put DoD on notice that we are reaching a critical shortfall in manpower to meet the demands being placed on troops.

Q. What are the other priorities for you, and are they some of the more contentious issues?

A. The four big areas that I consider in our mark are pay raise/troop strength, commissary reforms, military health reform and [Uniform Code of Military Justice] reform. Other than the end-strength/pay-raise, I don’t think the other three are really contentious. We’re working really well with Senate staff. [Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee Chair] Sen. [Lindsey] Graham and I have had several conversations, and there will be some tweaks, but I don’t think they’ll be contentious.

Q. You’re past the point where you’re trading personnel for equipment. There’s no chance of victimizing over her to pay over there?

A. I don’t believe so. The end-strength we put into the HASC remains it isn’t because we have to pay for another [Littoral Combat Ship] or another F-35 [Joint Strike Fighter].

Q. Is there any way to get at that pay raise without that extra money, which the Senate and the White House say they don’t like?

A. I don’t want to tip my negotiating strategy with the Senate, but I think there’s plenty of opportunity to address those issues.

Q. HASC Chairman Mac Thornberry’s argument for the funding strategy is related to readiness, but links readiness to modernization. Are you sensitive to that argument?

A. Certainly. Readiness is an all-encompassing term. It’s making sure we have the right body in the right billet, with the right training, the appropriate equipment and the appropriate exercise. On the materiel side, its not just modernization but recapitalization too. Fifteen years of war is taking a toll on the equipment we already have in the military. Even if we aren’t coming up with the next generation of a system, the legacy system we continue to use needs to be recapitalized. So there are a lot of pieces to that readiness and there needs to be that balance. From a from personnel-centric position, you just can’t just keep spending money on the next generation of a weapon system without investing in the person who is operating that system.

Q. We’re going to go into recess, you have a race to run, and you’re running for Senate minority leader’s seat. Why are you leaving all this for the musty old Senate?

A. Because I think there is a lot of opportunity to work on the SASC and that the knowledge and experience from working with 435 members, leverage that to work with 100 members.

Q. How much do the military issues resonate back home with voters?

A. They’re a critical issue with voters. We have Nellis Air Force Base, the [Air Force] Weapons School, Creech [Air Force Base], which is responsible for a lot of the [remotely piloted aircraft] operations. We have Hawthorne Army Depot and Naval Air Station Fallon, the home of Top Gun. We have 300,000 veterans who call Nevada home, and they are still engaged on national security issues, so the issues related to active duty or retiree side.

Q. Does national security occupy the space it should in the election? As we sit here, Senate Democrats have voted against their defense appropriations bill, and Republicans are calculating it will hurt them, but will it?

A. I think it will. I can speak for what it means for Nevada. It’s a significant loss of funds to Nellis, Creech and Fallon. National Security itself has been the number one or two issue as I talk to folks in Nevada over the past several months. They see whats continuing to happen around the globe, but more importantly they see what’s happening in our own country. We had San Bernardino, our neighbor to the West. We saw what just happened in Orlando, and especially in southern Nevada when we knew the 9/11 hijackers spent some time in Las Vegas, when we know ISIS has a video that has the Las Vegas strip prominently depicted that people are concerned. They realize when you come from a state that’s so dependent on travel and tourism, national security is a big issue. Anything that gives people pause to wanting to take a trip has a significant impact on the economy.

Q. The seat you're seeking is also a pivotal one for control of the Senate. What does that mean to you, and do you have any worries about the down-ballot impact of a Donald Trump candidacy?

A. Certainly we realize that this is a critically important seat as far as who’s going to have a majority in the Senate, and I think that regardless of who the occupant of the White House is, it will be important to have a Republican senate, especially as we move forward with Supreme Court nomination proceedings. I’m focused on making sure I’m the best candidate to represent the state of Nevada. As we travel around the state and talk to folks about what’s important to them — and invariably its jobs and the economy, national security, healthcare and education—I can talk to them about the fact that I’ve actually lived and worked in all of those areas.

Q. At the same time, your opponent is Hispanic, Donald Trump’s statements on Hispanics are well known. As strong as you are on the concerns of constituents, are you concerned the numbers might just be against you?

A. We have spent the past several years building incredible relationships in the minority community, whether it be in my district, which is 19 percent Latino and 16 percent Asian-American, so we are relying on the relationships in those communities to stay strong into the next race. People might hear what’s being said by others, but they’ll say, I know Joe, and that’s not how he feels—or he’s shown that’s not his position. In 2014, I took 40 percent of the Latino vote in my congressional race, and that’s the highest Latino-vote-getter in our state, other than our governor, who is a Latino.

Q. I have to ask, because this has been a fairly historic year for military personnel policy, as far as the inclusion of women in combat roles, and the new direction with transgendered troops. It’s often a Republican position the military gets used to conduct social experiments and shouldn’t be. Where are you on all this?

A. My primary concern isn’t the women’s service. The DoD to the best of their ability did their due diligence. I was disappointed that they discarded the Marine Corps study. I had the researchers in here, and as a medical guy, I know how to do research. Those guys came in here and we walked through the study to make sure it was statistically valid. I thought it should be given more deference. I’ve served in a combat zone with women, and we’ve had women serve in combat zones, and the idea of putting them in infantry, doing a convoy operation though a hostile situation as an 88M [truck driver], in a firefight, they’re still becoming a rifleman. My concern was that we have gender-neutral requirements that were not lessened. The process they used was a valid process and they kept the [armed services] committees well informed of what they were doing. On the transgender issue they did not, and that’s my concern. They did not keep my committee informed of the process, and in fact we got no official head’s up notice. That’s not the way they should be operating.

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