Saturday, January 14, 2017

Green Beret say's: U.S. Fighting 100 Year War

Waltz explained that, while US Special Forces were trained and prepared as combat warriors, much of their work involved training, cultural understanding and psychological efforts to explain the messages of US freedom and humanity. “Until America is prepared to have its grandchildren stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our grandchildren, we won’t be successful,” -- Mullah Ghafoordai - tribal elder in Eastern Afghanistan.

It was a profound and decisive moment – which seemed to reverberate throughout mountain villages in Eastern Afghanistan…… an anti-Taliban Afghan tribal elder told Green Beret Michael Waltz he could no longer cooperate with US Special Forces in the fight against insurgents in his country. Waltz had spent months having tea with friendly Afghans and tribal leaders in the area and, he reports, made great progress with efforts to collaborate against the Taliban. They shared information, allowed US allied Afghan fighters to be trained by Green Berets and, in many cases, joined US forces in the fight.

The tribal elder’s comments were quite a disappointment for Waltz, who vigorously argues that the fight against the Taliban, terrorists and many insurgent groups around the world – will take 100 years to win.

Waltz recalled that President Obama’s 2009 announcement that the US would be withdrawing from Afghanistan by 2011, engendered new risk and danger for Afghans cooperating with US forces. Although, in the same speech, Obama announced US troop numbers would increase by thousands in the near term, a declaration of an ultimate withdrawal created a strong impact upon friendly Afghans, Waltz said.

Obama’s announcement, which has been followed by subsequent efforts to further draw-down the US presence, changed the equation on the ground in Afghanistan, compromising the long-standing cooperation between the friendly Afghan tribal elder and Waltz’s team of Green Berets in fight against the Taliban, Waltz argued. “It is going to take multiple generations of winning hearts and minds,” Waltz recalled, explaining his frustration and disappointment upon seeing a long-standing collaborative partnership collapse amid fear of Taliban retribution.

Although much has happened regarding permutation of the US-Afghan strategy since that time, and specifics of Obama’s intended withdrawal date subsequently changed, there has been an overall systematic reduction of US troops in recent years. During July 6, 2016 U.S. President Obama said he would draw down troops to 8,400 by the end of his administration in December 2016; this approach greatly increased pressure on US Special Forces, relying even more intensely upon their role as trainers and advisors.

Green Berets had already been among the most-deployed US military units, often deploying as many as 10-times throughout the course of their career. “Green Berets don’t easily ask for help and do not easily identify themselves as having an issue, but it is OK to say you have a problem. The Green Beret Foundation understands the mindset of “America’s Quiet Professionals”, and because of this, we are in a good position to help identify needs and render assistance,” said Ret. Maj. Gen. David Morris, Chairman of the Board of the Green Beret Foundation.

While there have been many who both supported and opposed Obama’s Afghanistan strategy, sparking years of ongoing debate, Waltz maintains that impact of the 2009 announcement upon the US Special Forces’ effort in Afghanistan brought lasting implications and spoke to a larger issue regarding US-Afghan policy. “We are in a war of ideas and we are fighting an ideology. It is easy to bomb a tank, but incredibly difficult to bomb an idea. We need a long-term strategy that discredits the ideology of Islamic extremism,” Waltz added. “We are in a multi-decade war and we are only 15-years in.”

Waltz explained that, while US Special Forces were trained and prepared as combat warriors, much of their work involved training, cultural understanding and psychological efforts to explain the messages of US freedom and humanity. “This was kind of the premise behind George W. Bush’s freedom agenda. These ideologies have narratives that specifically target disaffected young men who see no future for themselves or their families,” Waltz explained.

Some of the many nuances behind this approached were, quite naturally, woven into a broader, long-term vision for the country including the education of girls and economic initiatives aimed at cultivating mechanisms for sustainable Afghan prosperity. The reality of a multi-faceted, broadly oriented counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan is the premise of Waltz’s book - “Warrior Diplomat,” which seeks to delineate key aspects of his time as a Green Beret. The book chronicles this effort to attack Taliban fighters with so-called “kinetic” or intense combat techniques – alongside an equally intense commensurate effort to launch an entirely different type of attack.

Diplomatic or “non-kinetic” elements of the war effort involved what could be referred to as war-zone diplomacy, making friends with anti-Taliban fighters, learning and respecting Afghan culture, and teaching them how to succeed in combat. “While Green Berets perform direct combat missions, their core mission as the only Unconventional Warfare unit in the US inventory, is to train, coach, teach and mentor others. A 12-man A-Team can train a force of 1,000 - 2,000 fighters and bring them up to an acceptable measure of combat readiness. If you stop and think about it, that is 1,000 to 2,000 of our sons and daughters who do not have to go to war because of this training,” Morris said.

Addressing the issue of cultural sophistication, Morris explained how Green Berets are required to demonstrate proficiency in at least one foreign language. Citing the Taliban, ISIS and historic insurgent groups such as Peru’s Shining Path – and even the decades-long Cold War effort to discredit communism, Waltz emphasizes that the need for a trans-generational, wide-ranging approach of this kind is by no means unprecedented.

Article from The National Interest

Thursday, January 12, 2017

New VA Secretary Nominated

President Elect Donald Trump announced David Shulkin as his pick for Secretary of Veterans Affairs, a position that requires Senate confirmation. Shulkin is currently the undersecretary for health at the VA, which means he runs the Veterans Health Administration. He was nominated for that position by President Obama in March 2015 and confirmed by the Senate that June.

Shulkin's official bio says he is a physician — a board-certified internist — and was the chief executive or chief medical officer of several hospitals and hospital systems. He is also an entrepreneur who founded a health care information company called DoctorQuality. Notably, he is not a veteran. As NPR's Quil Lawrence reported last month, the VA has always been headed by a veteran. "I have no doubt Dr. Shulkin will be able to lead the turnaround our Department of Veterans Affairs needs," Trump said in a statement following the announcement. "Dr. Shulkin has the experience and the vision to ensure we will meet the healthcare needs of every veteran."

Last year, NPR and several member stations jointly reported on the flaws and failures of the VA's "Veterans Choice" program, which is meant to allow veterans to find private doctors. As the head of the Veterans Health Administration, Shulkin spoke with NPR about the experiences of veterans left waiting months for treatment under the program. "When I hear stories like that, it's completely unacceptable," he told NPR: "The first responsibility that we have to our veterans is to make sure those that need urgent care are getting care on time. "This is a different VA. We've brought in people from the outside who have private sector experience. And what we're saying is that we have to do business differently. ... We know how to make this program work better."

Trump considered a series of possible VA secretaries before deciding on Shulkin — he said on Wednesday that he interviewed more than 100 candidates. Quil reported that the president-elect met with Iraq veteran Pete Hegseth, who favors privatizing VA health care, as well as former Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., who is a National Guard veteran. Just-retired Republican Rep. Jeff Miller, who was the head of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, was a Trump adviser who was also considered a candidate.

Both Politico and The Washington Post report that several possible candidates for VA secretary rejected Trump's overtures. The secretary of agriculture and chair of the Council of Economic Advisers are the only Cabinet-level positions for which Trump still has not announced his choice of nominee.

Article from NPR

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

US Special Opns Strikes into Syria

U.S. special operations troops struck deep in Islamic State territory in Syria in a raid targeting the terrorist organization’s leadership, a Pentagon spokesman said Monday.

Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, described the raid conducted by the Joint Special Operations Command-controlled Expeditionary Targeting Force as “successful,” but he declined to provide specific information about the mission near Deir al-Zour in eastern Syria. “It was focused on [Islamic State group] leadership,” Davis told reporters Monday at the Pentagon. “We don’t provide specific details on these types of operations.”

Davis said the mission was focused on gathering intelligence that could be used to inform future operations against the Islamic State group, such as the continuing assault on Mosul, the militants’ last urban stronghold in Iraq, and the future attack on Raqqa, its de facto capital in Syria. No Americans were killed or injured during the operation, he said. Some Islamic State group fighters were killed.

The raid took place near a remote village along the Euphrates River, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based watchdog organization, which reported 25 Islamic State group militants were killed. Davis said the estimate was “grossly exaggerated,” but he did not provide a number of enemy casualties in the raid. Additionally, Davis denied local Syrian news reports that claimed American commandos had arrested several Islamic State fighters in the raid and freed hostages.

The special operators were able to gather useful intelligence from the raid, Davis said. “The goal of the Expeditionary Targeting Force … is to be able to provide an additive capability to [the anti-Islamic State group coalition] to not just kill people with airstrikes and hit targets with airstrikes, but to have a force on the ground – a special operations force – to use to gain intelligence,” Davis said.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced the formation of the Expeditionary Targeting Force in December 2015. He described the unit as a group of about 200 Iraq-based commandos tasked with conducting raids, freeing hostages, gathering intelligence and capturing Islamic State leaders. It was formed after a top Islamic State group leader’s wife, Umm Sayyaf, was captured during a special operations raid in Syria in May 2015 that killed her husband, Abu Sayyaf. U.S. commandos were able to gather a cache of intelligence during the raid and Umm Sayyaf provided the coalition valuable information about Islamic State group’s operations and planning, U.S. officials said.

The ETF’s operations are rarely publicized. Davis said Monday that the unit routinely conducts raids to gather intelligence or target top terrorist leaders in Iraq and Syria. “We’ve done them before and we’ll do them again,” he said. “The U.S. and the entire anti-[Islamic State group] coalition will continue to pursue [Islamic State] leaders wherever they are, to ensure the stability of the region and the safety of our homelands.”

Article from Stars and Stripes

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

U.S. Special Operations Numbers Surge in Africa’s Shadow Wars

Africa has seen the most dramatic growth in the deployment of America’s elite troops of any region of the globe over the past decade, according to newly released numbers.

In 2006, just 1% of commandos sent overseas were deployed in the U.S. Africa Command area of operations. In 2016, 17.26% of all U.S. Special Operations forces — Navy SEALs and Green Berets among them — deployed abroad were sent to Africa, according to data supplied to The Intercept by U.S. Special Operations Command. That total ranks second only to the Greater Middle East where the U.S. is waging war against enemies in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.

“In Africa, we are not the kinetic solution,” Brigadier General Donald Bolduc, the chief of U.S. Special Operations Command Africa, told African Defense, a U.S. trade publication, early this fall. “We are not at war in Africa — but our African partners certainly are.”

That statement stands in stark contrast to this year’s missions in Somalia where, for example, U.S. Special Operations forces assisted local commandos in killing several members of the militant group, al-Shabaab and Libya, where they supported local fighters battling members of the Islamic State. These missions also speak to the exponential growth of special operations on the continent.

As recently as 2014, there were reportedly only about 700 U.S. commandos deployed in Africa on any given day. Today, according to Bolduc, “there are approximately 1,700 [Special Operations forces] and enablers deployed… at any given time. This team is active in 20 nations in support of seven major named operations.”

Using data provided by Special Operations Command and open source information, The Intercept found that U.S. special operators were actually deployed in at least 33 African nations, more than 60% of the 54 countries on the continent, in 2016.

“We’re supporting African military professionalization and capability-building efforts,” said Bolduc. “The [Special Operations forces] network helps create specific tailored training for partner nations to empower military and law enforcement to conduct operations against our mutual threats.”

The majority of African governments that hosted deployments of U.S. commandos in 2016 have seen their own security forces cited for human rights abuses by the U.S. State Department, including Algeria, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Kenya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, and Tanzania, among others.

According to data provided to The Intercept by Special Operations Command, elite U.S. troops are also deployed to Sudan, one of three nations, along with Iran and Syria, cited by the U.S. as “state sponsors of terrorism.”

“U.S. [Special Operations forces] have occasionally met with U.S. State Dept. and interagency partners in Sudan to discuss the overall security situation in the region,” Africa Command spokesperson Chuck Prichard wrote in an email.
Special Operations Command spokesman Ken McGraw added, “Their visit had nothing to do with Sudan’s government or military.”

Friday, December 30, 2016

Special Operations Command takes a lead role in countering weapons of mass destruction

U.S. Special Operations Command will take a new, leading role coordinating the Pentagon’s effort to counter weapons of mass destruction, reinvigorating a long-running debate about how the U.S. military should handle threats posed by everything from nuclear weapons to chemical agents such as mustard and sarin.

The decision was approved by President Obama at Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter’s request in August but is still taking shape in the Pentagon and could be finalized in January, defense officials said. Numerous aspects of the mission to counter weapons of mass destruction will shift to Special Operations Command (SOCOM) from U.S. Strategic Command, which then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld assigned to the mission in 2005.

The decision means yet another job for SOCOM, whose elite troops have been used heavily by Obama to strike the Islamic State and other militant groups. The command will coordinate the development of a “coherent” Defense Department response to weapons of mass destruction, said a senior military official, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the mission. SOCOM will not be granted any new legal authorities for the mission but will have new influence in guiding how the Defense Department responds to threats of weapons of mass destruction.

Pentagon spokesman Gordon Trowbridge said the decision shows how seriously the Pentagon takes countering weapons of mass destruction. “Changes to combatant command authorities are not undertaken lightly, and in this case, the change reflects careful consideration of how best to address what is clearly a national security priority,” Trowbridge said.

The move follows long-standing complaints that Strategic Command, which oversees space operations, missile defense and nuclear missions, has not devoted enough personnel and emphasis to the job. It also comes as others question whether SOCOM has been given too much power, in part due to a decision first acknowledged by Carter in October to have Joint Special Operations Command, the most secretive part of SOCOM, coordinate all U.S. efforts to track foreign fighters globally.

One senior defense official who has worked on the mission to counter weapons of mass destruction said that Strategic Command “has rarely invested the necessary political and intellectual capital” to push for issues pertaining to countering weapons of mass destruction. The official attributed that to the Pentagon not having U.S. forces designated specifically to countering weapons of mass destruction and an “overall low sense of priority as compared to its other missions.”

The question, the senior defense official said, is whether SOCOM will effectively address all concerns about weapons of mass destruction given its “narrow interests” focusing on potential terrorism involving the weapons.

Trowbridge disputed those concerns, saying regional combatant commands, such as Central Command and Pacific Command, will continue to execute missions to counter weapons of mass destruction, with SOCOM synchronizing efforts across the Defense Department “just as [Strategic Command] has done.”

A defense official with knowledge of the discussions said the decision amounts to a “rebalancing of priorities” as other missions under Strategic Command’s control take resources. Strategic Command commanders, the official said, are “busy cats, and they have huge responsibilities in terms of managing our strategic response. “They’re responsible for, if necessary, waging nuclear war,” the official said. “That’s a huge responsibility.” Army Col. Thomas Davis, a spokesman for SOCOM, referred all questions to the Pentagon.

Trowbridge said the Pentagon is still working out the details about how the transition will work. Strategic Command currently oversees several efforts involved in the mission to counter weapons of mass destruction and works closely with the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, which has headquarters at Fort Belvoir, Va. The agency’s missions include lethality testing of biological weapons at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico and arms inspections in former Soviet republics such as Ukraine.

But SOCOM has long had a hand in efforts to counter weapons of mass destruction and trains extensively to respond in case what is called a “loose nuke” ends up in the hands of terrorists. According to the book “Relentless Strike,” a best-selling history of Joint Special Operations Command published last year, virtually every joint readiness exercise the unit ran by the 1990s involved the counter-proliferation of nuclear weapons, with special attention paid to the seizure of weapons that enemies might hide in underground lairs.

That mission has continued to evolve since. The same senior U.S. military official who acknowledged SOCOM plans to coordinate the mission to counter weapons of mass destruction did not disclose how but said SOCOM is “leaning into being more prepared for the future” with North Korea. Kim Jong Un’s regime continues to develop nuclear weapons and has a variety of weapons stashed in mountainside caves and a robust special operations force of its own.

“It is the threat that keeps me awake at night, and you’ve heard other senior commanders say the same thing,” the senior military official said. “We are in a very tenuous situation with not a lot of leverage and not a lot of initiative in terms of negotiations. And so, as you might imagine, we are preparing contingency operations to the degree we need to.”

Jeffrey Lewis, an arms-control expert who is director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, said that some Strategic Command officials were against coordinating counter-weapons of mass destruction from the day they were assigned the mission. Under President George W. Bush, he said, Strategic Command was the “Christmas tree that had everything hung on it,” including taking the lead on the Pentagon’s space and cyber operations.

“This is always the last bulb that goes on the Christmas tree du jour, because it doesn’t get love anywhere,” Lewis said of the mission to counter weapons of mass destruction. “I guess the music has stopped, and the [weapons of mass destruction] mission is sitting in the SOCOM chair.”

Article from the Washington Post

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Pvt Robert Smith, American Indian Wars, finally receives MOH

A Nevada Army veteran who died without knowing he earned the nation's highest medal of bravery received the honor he's been owed for nearly 140 years in a ceremony on Monday. Nevada Rep. Mark Amodei held an event at his Reno office to present a new Medal of Honor to Jerry Reynolds, the 82-year-old grandson of the late Pvt. Robert Smith.

Smith fought in a battle against American Indian tribes in the Dakota Territory on Sept. 9, 1876, when he was 29 years old. Then-President Rutherford B. Hayes approved the Medal of Honor for Smith in 1877 for showing "special bravery in endeavoring to dislodge Indians secreted in a ravine," according to Army records.

But the award never made it to the veteran, who was born Harry Reynolds, served as a drummer boy in the Civil War, but used an alias for unknown reasons when he enlisted in Company M, 3d U.S. Cavalry. His grandson said the medal was delivered to Camp Sheridan in Nebraska Territory, where Smith had previously lived, but someone else signed for the package.

Smith returned to using his birth name after his discharge from the Army, then later moved to Elko, Nevada. He died in 1930 without knowing he earned the award.

Monday, December 26, 2016

RIP - Gen. James C. Smith, 93: ‘Soldier’s soldier’ in 3 wars put troops first

Army Maj. Gen. James Clifton Smith (Ret.) had a chest full of medals from his combat duty in three wars. But in a 39-year military career, he was most proud of what he did to improve the safety of the troops; helping develop air mobility strategy; making training in instrument-flying standard for military pilots; advocating for night-vision goggles for fliers; and helping to develop the modern-day drone. Gen. Jim Smith, also a father of seven, died Dec. 14th, 2016 at his Lawrenceville residence. He was 93.

Smith grew up with a father in the Army and joined the ranks when he was 17 years old. The path of Smith’s life was set in childhood. As a young boy, he would go with his father, a sergeant major in the acclaimed 6th Cavalry at Fort Oglethorpe in northwest Georgia, to visit and camp with the horse soldiers. “It was said he essentially joined the Army when he was six,” daughter Heidi Smith said. With his parents’ permission, Smith enlisted in the Army as a private at the tail end of World War II. He was 17. A review board exempted him from basic training, deciding he already knew everything being taught to new soldiers, and he was immediately assigned to a platoon in Riley, Kansas.

He was shot several times by a sniper in Germany and nearly killed, his daughter said. His weight dropped to about 80 pounds, and he was told he wouldn’t see active duty again. “He requested to create his own rehab program,” Heidi Smith said. “He was allowed to eat whatever he wanted from the mess hall and do whatever he needed to get fit again.” A review board soon deemed him “good to go.”

In nearly 40 years in the Army, Smith saw combat duty in World War II, the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam War, earning medals of valor including the Distinguished Service Medal and multiple Flying Crosses, Silver Stars and Purple Hearts. Maj. Gen. James Clifton Smith helped the U.S. Army develop air mobility during that became critical during the Vietnam war.

When the Army took to the air, he was among the first young soldiers trained to fly. The late Eugene Patterson, who went on to become an award-winning and nationally known journalist, was with him at flight school training and remained a lifelong friend, his daughter said.

Gen. Smith is credited with major contributions in Vietnam and in later years to the Army’s advances in air mobility with helicopters. In the early 1960s he was part of a task force of the U.S. Strike Command charged with analyzing the air mobility of the Air Force and Army.

As a field test officer specializing in tactical air reconnaissance, Smith was largely responsible for many of the organizational and training standards in aviation the Army and Air Force still employ. The Army Aviation Association of America recognized Smith’s contributions, naming him to the Army Aviation Hall of Fame in 1976 for his efforts in the 1960s.

Army Maj. Gen. Carl H. McNair Jr. (Ret.), said Smith always “gave the Army, his troops and his mission 200 percent, night and day. I often wondered when he slept,” McNair said. As deputy commanding general of the 1st Aviation Brigade, Gen. Smith’s call sign was “Hawk 5” and his nickname was “Hawk Eye.” “He had an eye on everything as a commander must do in a combat theater and in the garrison preparing for combat,” said Gen. McNair, who was 10 years Smith’s junior and his friend for 50 years .”Thus, the nickname ‘Hawk Eye’ was very fitting, and we all learned from him.”

Smith showed his dedication and fortitude by going from one tough command to an even tougher one in Vietnam, remaining there as long as any commander, with the possible exceptions of Gen. William Westmoreland and Gen. Creighton Abrams, McNair said. After retirement, Smith consulted with the Institute for Defense Analyses and assisted in the early development of unmanned aerial vehicles commonly known as drones, for battlefield reconnaissance and observation. He saw the drone as a potentially life-saving alternative to sending troops into danger zones, Parsons said.

Smith referred to Doris, his wife of 66 years, as the “gold standard” of military wives. When he was stationed in Germany during the 1960s, as the wall was being built between East and West Berlin, Doris traveled by troop transport plane to be with him. She stepped off the plane seven months pregnant with daughter Heidi and with five children 10 years old and younger at her side. "That’s an Army wife,” Smith would say.

Heidi Smith said her dad was a “soldier’s soldier no matter what his rank.” One of his traditions was to make Christmas Eve visits to the guard posts on base. He would bring a tape recorder, play Christmas music for the men on duty and talk to them about the families they had back home. “He cared deeply about the well-being of his troops,” his daughter said. “Having grown up among soldiers, he could still relate to them. That was at the core of his leadership style.”

Gen. Smith is survived by his wife, Doris, seven children, 12 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Since his death, tributes have flowed in from soldiers who served under his command. A memorial service for Gen. Smith was held Dec. 17 in Snellville.

Article from

Thursday, December 22, 2016

President Elect Trump to Nominate Vincent Viola as Army Secretary

President-elect Donald J. Trump plans to nominate Vincent Viola, the billionaire founder of a high-frequency trading company, as secretary of the Army, the Trump transition office said.

Mr. Viola, a retired Army major and graduate of West Point, is the owner of the National Hockey League’s Florida Panthers, former chairman of the New York Mercantile Exchange and founder of Virtu Financial. He is worth $1.8 billion, according to Forbes, making him one of the 400 wealthiest Americans. He joins a growing list of billionaires selected by Mr. Trump for senior administration positions.

In its statement announcing the selection, the transition office lauded Mr. Viola for working “tirelessly to promote the Army philanthropically in the areas of counterterrorism, cybersecurity and leadership development.” Mr. Viola helped found the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point after the Sept. 11 attacks. The center describes itself as “an important national resource that rigorously studies the terrorist threat and provides policy-relevant research while moving the boundaries of academic knowledge.”

Mr. Trump, in the announcement, described Mr. Viola as “incredibly accomplished and selfless.” If confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Viola, 61, would be the Army’s senior civilian leader, succeeding Eric Fanning, the highest-ranking openly gay person at the Pentagon. Mr. Fanning has been helping to guide the country’s largest military service as it undertakes a sweeping integration of women into combat roles and lets openly gay soldiers serve.

Mr. Viola would report to Gen. James N. Mattis, Mr. Trump’s choice for secretary of defense, if the Senate confirms General Mattis, a retired four-star officer in the Marines.

A person familiar with Pentagon appointments for the transition said that General Mattis had reached an agreement with Vice President-elect Mike Pence that the new defense secretary would choose who would fill the top policy jobs at the Pentagon — like under secretary of defense and general counsel — while the White House would select the service secretaries, like Mr. Viola.

Mr. Viola, a native of Brooklyn, graduated from Ranger School and served in the 101st Airborne Division. He holds a degree from New York Law School.

In the statement from the Trump transition team, Mr. Viola called it an “honor” to be chosen and said, “A primary focus of my leadership will be ensuring that America’s soldiers have the ways and means to fight and win across the full spectrum of conflict.”

Article from the New York Times

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Chaplains Corner December 2016

For those of your who may have missed the memorial service for Chapter member Vernon "Vern" Walden, this is the Liturgy for Vern's Memorial Service:

Dear family and friends of Vern Walden, we are here today in the name of Jesus Christ, to worship God, our Father in Heaven, and to give Him thanks for our time with Vern whom God has called to His eternal home in heaven.

We are gathered at this time in the name of Jesus Christ, to draw comfort and hope from the words of Jesus, who said, "I am the Resurrection and the Life; whoever believes in Me, even though they were dead, they shall live; and whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” and to experience the comforting joy of Your presence and peace, as we mourn the death of Vern Walden.

Join with me in prayer: O God, our heavenly Father, we come to You in the name of Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Savior and Lord, to experience the comforting joy of Your presence and peace as we worship You. We thank You for sending your Son, Jesus Christ, so that we could receive forgiveness and cleansing for our sins; to receive the gift of faith to take the place of our fears, and to receive the Biblical knowledge about eternal life with you in heaven. We pray that you would open our minds to focus our attention on You, Your gifts, and Your Word and be filled with Your comfort and peace as we mourn Vern’s death. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Listen to the Word of God from the Holy Bible when Jesus said, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me. “In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, not any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." We thank you, O God for the hope and comfort we have received from Your Word at this time.

O holy and awesome God, we especially thank You for our precious memories of our times with Vern that will keep him present to during the days ahead. We thank You for Vern’s goodness, wisdom, and faith which passed from his life into our own lives, and made our world a safer and better place to live. The Vern we all knew was a loving father and dear kindhearted friend. And we all feel a heavy sadness caused by his departure from our midst. We ask You to comfort and strengthen Vern’s loving and supportive family and us, lead us all to a new or renewed faith in You through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, and to fill us with the hope of eternal life with You in Heaven.

And now, we sincerely ask You, our Holy Father in heaven, to help us to go forward from this moment to fulfill Your purpose and plan for our lives, and help us to joyfully anticipate being with you in heaven forever. Until the day of our home-going or the second coming of Jesus Christ, give us courage and the strength to serve You in this world as we live our faith in obedience to You. We ask these things in the name of Jesus. Amen

Love you all,

Chaplain Szilvasy

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Ratings for VA Medical Facilities

Article from USA Today, originally titled "Exclusive: Internal documents detail secret VA quality ratings"

The Department of Veterans Affairs has for years assigned star ratings for each of its medical centers based on the quality of care and service they provide, but the agency has repeatedly refused to make them public, saying they are meant for internal use only. USA TODAY has obtained internal documents detailing the ratings, and they show the lowest-performing medical centers are clustered in Texas and Tennessee. VA hospitals in Dallas, El Paso, Nashville, Memphis and Murfreesboro all received one star out of five for performance as of June 30, the most recent ratings period available. Many of highest-rated facilities are in the Northeast — in Massachusetts and New York — and the upper Midwest, including in South Dakota and Minnesota. Those medical centers scored five out of five stars.

The VA determines the ratings for 146 of its medical centers each quarter and bases them on dozens of factors, including death and infection rates, instances of avoidable complications and wait times. USA TODAY Network is publishing the ratings in full for the first time so that members of the public — including patients and their families — can see how their local VA medical centers stack up against others across the country.

Some lower-ranking medical centers have remained poor performers despite high-profile crises and years of attention and resources from Washington. For instance, the Phoenix VA was a one-star medical center in 2014 when news broke that veterans had died awaiting care there while schedulers kept secret wait lists masking how long veterans were waiting for appointments. The revelations triggered a national scandal, hearings on Capitol Hill and the replacement of the VA secretary. Phoenix remained a one-star facility in the most recent ratings.

VA Undersecretary for Health David Shulkin cautioned against using the star ratings as a “ranking tool” and said they are considered an “internal improvement tool.” “It is essentially a system within VA to see who’s improving, who’s getting worse, so we can identify both,” Shulkin said.

The documents obtained by USA TODAY list star ratings for every facility for the fourth quarter of 2015. The VA subsequently agreed to provide a list of one- and five-star facilities for the quarter that ended June 30, the most recent ratings available, but declined to identify those with two to four stars. Shulkin said he was apprehensive about any ratings becoming public. “My concern is that veterans are going to see that their hospital is a 'one' in our star system, assume that’s bad quality and veterans that need care are not going to get care,” he said. “And they’re going to stay away from hospitals and that’s going to hurt people.”

But without the star ratings, members of the public — including patients, members of Congress and others outside the agency who could hold it accountable — have no way of knowing whether VA medical centers are improving or declining, except to plow through a dizzying array of hundreds of spreadsheets on the agency’s website. “The data’s there, but you’d have to be an expert to get through it,” Shulkin conceded.

He said 120 of the 146 medical centers that the VA rates on the star scale have shown improvement since he began overseeing the Veterans Health Administration in July 2015. He said all of the one-star facilities have shown improvement except for the VA medical center in Detroit, which has declined.

Pamela Reeves, director of the Dingell VA Center in Detroit, said that officials there are "working closely with our performance improvement teams in the development and oversight of action plans to address the opportunities identified by the … data.” In Phoenix, VA officials appointed a new director in October and are pumping millions into the effort to improve the medical center. Shulkin said that nationwide, medical centers where performance has declined are getting extra scrutiny and help from national VA officials. If they still don’t show sufficient progress, hospital management could be replaced.

That’s what happened in Wilmington, Del., where the VA ousted the medical center’s director in October after months of deteriorating quality. Wilmington was among several hospitals placed on a “high-risk” watch list earlier this year because of declining performance, according to the internal VA documents. Also on the list were hospitals in Tomah, Wis., and Oklahoma City, Okla.

The Tomah VA Medical Center made national headlines nearly two years ago after a veteran died there when he was prescribed a fatal cocktail of narcotics. A USA TODAY investigation published last December revealed gaping lapses in care at the Oklahoma City VA.

Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veteran's Affairs Committee, said the VA should immediately release all the ratings and quality data and do so on a continuing basis. He argued that the status quo — “in which VA officials often attempt to downplay and sometimes mislead the public about serious problems until it's too late” – is unacceptable.

"The secrecy with which VA treats these quality ratings is alarming,” Miller told USA TODAY. “Veterans seeking care at VA hospitals deserve to know exactly what they are walking into. Additionally, Congress, taxpayers and other stakeholders need to have a quick and efficient means of comparing the performance of various VA medical centers in order to identify facilities in need of improvement.” Alex Howard, senior analyst at the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan transparency advocate in Washington, said there’s “no rationale that I see for withholding that from veterans, much less the general public.” “I would think the only entity that wouldn’t want that data public would be the facilities themselves, which is not sufficient cause,” he said.

The VA also rarely releases nationwide averages showing overall improvements or declines in agency performance measures, so it can be hard to determine exactly what’s changed since the scandal in 2014, when President Obama tapped Bob McDonald, a former Procter & Gamble CEO, to take over as secretary and overhaul the agency.

The documents obtained by USA TODAY detail those averages, and when asked about them, VA officials agreed to provide updated statistics. Overall, the data show something of a mixed bag, with improvements in some areas and declines in others. On average, veterans are dying at lower rates and contracting fewer staph and urinary tract infections from catheters in VA medical centers since 2014. Veterans are not staying as long in VA hospitals and they are being readmitted within 30 days at lower rates.

At the same time, veterans are experiencing higher rates of preventable complications during hospital stays, on average, than they did in 2014. Those on ventilators suffered more problems, such as catching pneumonia, and the rate of turnover for nurses has increased. The VA has also seen increases in the percentage of veterans who have to wait longer than 30 days for appointments when they are new patients. Overall, more than 500,000 veterans were still waiting longer than 30 days to be seen as of Nov. 15. More than 125,000 of them were waiting longer than two months, and 46,000 were waiting more than six months.

Shulkin said half of the 500,000 appointments are for more minor needs such as dental, hearing, vision and diet consultations. “I can sleep at night,” he said. “The ones I worry about are the ones who can’t wait or shouldn’t be waiting, so that’s where our entire focus of our system is right now. I don’t care about you waiting for eyeglasses, I mean that’s poor customer service, I understand, but I do care if you have a lung nodule. I mean, that matters.”

Shulkin said the number of veterans waiting longer than a month for urgent care has decreased from 57,000 to 600 since he took over last year. And he says he is working to ensure that veterans get same-day care — if they have urgent needs — at VA medical facilities across the country by the end of the year. “If you have an urgent care problem, your wait should be zero,” he said.

Go to this link to view your particular VA Medical Facilities rating. Hopefully, you'll have a higher than a one star like the El Paso VA Clinic has.

Monday, December 12, 2016

RIP - COL (ret) Tom "Taffy" Carlin

US Army Special Forces Colonel (Ret) Thomas Marshall Carlin passed away suddenly and tragically on December 1, 2016 at his home in Southern Pines, NC.

Born on July 17, 1951 in San Diego, California to the late Dr. Maurice and Victoria Lauer Carlin. Thomas was a graduate of Oregon State University. He also held master’s degrees in both International Relations and Security Management.

Colonel Carlin served 27 years in the US Army before his retirement. He was a former 5th Group commander and his career in special operations included over 14 years in 1st Special Forces Detachment-D, JSOC and USSOCOM. His held several professional positions in his civilian career to include being vice president of operations for Emirates Palomar in Abu Dhabi.

He was dearly loved by the SF community and will be missed by everyone who knew him. Our hearts, thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and former colleagues. De Oppresso Liber, Taffy! Rest In Peace!

He is survived by his wife of 38 years, Mollie Sue (Burton) Carlin; one daughter, Maureen Carlin Studebaker and her husband Tait; one precious granddaughter, Fianna; two brothers, Dr. Brian Carlin (Ginny) and Barry Carlin; four sisters, Tama Brown (Ron), Deirdre Cassidy, Bonnie Faller (Joel), and Marci Carlin (Marcel); adored aunt, Janet Lauer and his beloved brother-in-law, Pat Burton (Shirley); also he is survived by many cherished nieces and nephews.

A visitation will be held on Friday, December 9, 2016 from 4:00-6:00PM at Boles Funeral Home in Southern Pines. A funeral mass will be held on Saturday, December 10, 2016 at 10:00AM at St. Anthony of Padua Church. Interment will be at a later date at Arlington National Cemetery.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

75th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese military launched a surprise attack on the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Since early 1941 the U.S. had been supplying Great Britain in its fight against the Nazis. It had also been pressuring Japan to halt its military expansion in Asia and the Pacific. With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. could no longer avoid an active fight. On December 8, U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt asked Congress for and received a declaration of war against Japan. On December 11, Germany and Italy, allied with Japan, declared war on the U.S. The United States had entered World War II.

Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto conceived the Pearl Harbor attack and Captain Minoru Genda planned it. Two things inspired Yamamoto’s Pearl Harbor idea: a prophetic book and a historic attack. The book was The Great Pacific War, written in 1925 by Hector Bywater, a British naval authority. It was a realistic account of a clash between the United States and Japan that begins with the Japanese destruction of the U.S. fleet and proceeds to a Japanese attack on Guam and the Philippines. When Britain’s Royal Air Force successfully attacked the Italian fleet at Taranto on November 11, 1940, Yamamoto was convinced that Bywater’s fiction could become reality.

On December 6, 1941, the U.S. intercepted a Japanese message that inquired about ship movements and berthing positions at Pearl Harbor. The cryptologist gave the message to her superior who said he would get back to her on Monday, December 8. On Sunday, December 7, a radar operator on Oahu saw a large group of airplanes on his screen heading toward the island. He called his superior who told him it was probably a group of U.S. B-17 bombers and not to worry about it.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor began at 7:55 that morning. The entire attack took only one hour and 15 minutes. Captain Mitsuo Fuchida sent the code message, “Tora, Tora, Tora,” to the Japanese fleet after flying over Oahu to indicate the Americans had been caught by surprise. The Japanese planned to give the U.S. a declaration of war before the attack began so they would not violate the first article of the Hague Convention of 1907, but the message was delayed and not relayed to U.S. officials in Washington until the attack was already in progress.

The Japanese strike force consisted of 353 aircraft launched from four heavy carriers. These included 40 torpedo planes, 103 level bombers, 131 dive-bombers, and 79 fighters. The attack also consisted of two heavy cruisers, 35 submarines, two light cruisers, nine oilers, two battleships, and 11 destroyers.

The attack killed 2,403 U.S. personnel, including 68 civilians, and destroyed or damaged 19 U.S. Navy ships, including 8 battleships. The three aircraft carriers of the U.S. Pacific Fleet were out to sea on maneuvers. The Japanese were unable to locate them and were forced to return home with the U.S. carrier fleet intact.

Watch the documentary below. It gives you a small idea of the devastation of the attacks and subsequently the American response of standing up, dusting ourselves off and saving the world from not only Japanese, but German hegemony.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Retired Green Beret Comment on General Mattis' Nomination for DoD Chief

This is an article written by Travis J. Tritten and published on Stars and Stripes with the header "Retired Green Beret says Mattis left 'my men to die' in Afghanistan".

WASHINGTON – A retired Green Beret officer alleged Friday that Gen. James Mattis, who has been nominated to be the next defense secretary, hesitated to send medical evacuation flights and left soldiers to die during a 2001 friendly fire incident in Afghanistan.

Retired Lt. Col. Jason Amerine, in a Facebook post, said a delay by Mattis in sending rescue aircraft from a nearby base might have led to the deaths of Staff Sgt. Brian Cody Prosser and at least two Afghans after they were hit by a U.S. bomb outside of Kandahar. “He was indecisive and betrayed his duty to us, leaving my men to die during the golden hour when he could have reached us,” wrote Amerine, who is a future of war fellow at the New America think tank in Washington, D.C.

President-elect Donald Trump announced Thursday that he picked Mattis for defense secretary, a move that raised cheers from a military community where the retired general is widely respected and popular.

Mattis, whose nickname is Mad Dog, has 44 years of Marine Corps infantry experience that included leading troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and a reputation for colorful comments about warfare.

The Senate must still confirm Mattis and issue a waiver because of a rule requiring any defense secretary to be at least seven years out of military service. Mattis retired in 2013 after leading U.S. Central Command and the allegations by Amerine could come up again as his nomination works through Congress.

So far, the general has support from many lawmakers, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the chairman of the Armed Services Committee who promised a quick hearing on the nomination next year.

The 2001 friendly fire incident, which was chronicled in the book The Only Thing Worth Dying For, occurred while Mattis was in command of Camp Rhino in southern Afghanistan where aircraft were stationed. Amerine was leading a group of 10 Special Forces soldiers.

The Green Berets were with future Afghan President Hamid Karzai and were helping to bring about an initial Taliban surrender when the bomb struck.

“Every element in Afghanistan tried to help us except the closest friendly unit, commanded by Mattis,” wrote Amerine, who was awarded a Bronze Star with V device and a Purple Heart for his service during the mission. “Men were ready to drive to get us or send horses from the other side of the country if that was what it took.”

At the time, Mattis was reluctant to send aircraft without knowing the situation on the ground, according to an account in The Only Thing Worth Dying For. “Well, if they’ve taken fire and you can’t tell me definitively how they got all scuffed up, I’m not going to send anything until you can assure me that the situation on the ground is secure,” Mattis is quoted as saying.

The Air Force Special Operations Command dispatched helicopters from Pakistan that took hours to arrive and fly the soldiers and others wounded in the blast to Camp Rhino, which was 45 minutes away, according to Amerine, a whistleblower who was recently investigated by the Army for questioning the FBI’s hostage negotiating tactics with Congress. He was later cleared of wrongdoing. (see follow on article below)

Mattis set helicopters under his command to help with the evacuation after the Air Force medevacs arrived at Rhino, “covering our first load of wounded in dust from their rotor wash as they launched,” Amerine wrote. “Cody died around the time we reached Rhino and I was told at least two Afghans died because of the delay but nobody knows for certain,” he wrote.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Urgent Request - Please Support Wreaths Across America

Donations are still needed to honor fallen US veterans on December 17, 2016. SFA Chapter IX is heavily involved in this effort for the Fort Bliss National Cemetery, sponsoring at least 35 wreaths for fallen Green Berets buried there.

On Saturday, December 17, volunteers all across the United States will place donated wreaths on the graves of hundreds of thousands of veterans. The annual tradition known as National Wreaths Across America Day got its start in 1992 as a way honor their service and remember their lives. If the event took place today, however, over 100,000 graves at Arlington National Cemetery would be left without a remembrance wreath.

Wreaths Across America is a donation-based organization that receives no money from the government. They raise more than $3 million each year to reach their goal of honoring hundreds of thousands of U.S. veterans with wreaths, and the number grows as more and more men and women who have served pass away.

A mission to honor heroes. Every December, thousands of wreaths are escorted from Harrington, Maine to the nation’s capital, where they are placed at Arlington National Cemetery with the help of many volunteers. The result is a breathtaking sight. On the same day, hundreds of thousands more wreaths are distributed around the country and beyond.

What has become known as the country’s longest veterans parade will begin this year on Saturday, December 10 with a sunrise service at a state park in Maine. For the next seven days, trucks filled with wreaths will caravan down the East Coast to Washington, D.C., stopping at schools, memorials and other locations along the way to spread the Wreaths Across America mission: Remember, honor and teach. The organization’s website details what that mission really means:

“Remember our fallen U.S. veterans. Honor those who serve.
Teach your children the value of freedom.”

The escort to Arlington is symbolic of that mission. According to the Wreaths Across America website, the pilgrimage began 25 years ago when Maine wreath maker Morrill Worchester discovered he had a surplus of holiday wreaths. Worchester was greatly impacted by a visit to Arlington as a child, and he wanted to do something to pay tribute to our nation’s heroes. So, he donated the extra wreaths to be placed on graves in one of the cemetery’s older sections. This tribute continued each year until 2005, when a photo showing the donated wreaths on graves covered in snow went viral. Requests began pouring in from all over the country from people wanting to help honor our nation’s heroes.

In 2007, the Worchester family and many of those who had helped with the annual wreath donations formed the non-profit organization known as Wreaths Across America. In 2008, over 100,000 wreaths were placed on veterans’ graves at over 300 locations, and Congress declared the day of the event Wreaths Across America Day.

In 2014, volunteers laid over 700,000 wreaths at more than 1,000 locations in the United States and beyond. The event is usually held on the second or third Saturday in December. Volunteers who lay a wreath on a grave are encouraged to take a moment to say that veteran’s name aloud and thank them for their service. It’s about remembering their lives, instead of their deaths.

The mission continues in 2016. As of Wednesday morning, a Wreaths Across America spokeswoman said approximately 130,000 individual wreath sponsorships had been received for Arlington National Cemetery. A total of 245,000 sponsorships are needed to ensure every service member buried at Arlington is honored with a wreath placement—meaning 115,000 more sponsorships are still needed to meet the goal.

But the overall need is even greater than that. Close to 1,000,000 wreaths are expected to be placed on the graves of veterans across the country-- aside from Arlington-- on December 17. Donations for locations nationally are up more than 20 percent from last year, a spokeswoman said.

How you can help:

SPONSOR A WREATH: Wreath sponsorships are $15 each, and can be purchased online. Click here for a link to donate.

The deadline for online donations for the 1,200 participating locations around the country has been extended through December 3. The deadline to sponsor a wreath at Arlington is December 14, or until the last truck of wreaths leaves Maine headed for the nation’s capital.

Sponsor a wreath around the country. Search for a specific cemetery, or find one that is participating near you. You’ll find options to donate, volunteer or see information about ceremonies planned for Dec. 17. On each page, you’ll find information about how many wreaths are needed, and how many have already been sponsored.

Sponsor a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery. A total of 245,000 remembrance wreaths are needed at our nation's most hallowed ground. If you'd like to donate one, click here.

VOLUNTEER: Help is needed at each cemetery, including Arlington, to place wreaths on National Wreaths Across America Day. If you’d like to volunteer to help, you’re encouraged to register online. Though registration isn’t required, those who register will receive updates specific to their location in advance of the event.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

2017 Proposed Military Pay Raise

Over Obama's objection, Congress agrees on a bigger military pay raise, more troops. Military personnel would see a 2.1 percent pay raise starting in January and a significant manpower boost within the Army, Air Force and Marine Corps as part of Congress' annual defense spending bill unveiled Tuesday.

The compromise measure also includes a massive overhaul of the military health care system, but it eliminates a controversial proposal to change troops' housing allowance, leaving the military's current stipend program largely unchanged. Totaling nearly $619 billion, the bill represents lawmakers' final offer to the White House, omitting several problematic provisions debated in recent months.

But that's still about $3.2 billion more than President Barack Obama's request, setting up a potential veto. Obama has said he won't accept an increase in defense spending without corresponding increases in nonmilitary programs. If the president intends to make good on that threat, he'll have to squash several measures that would benefit the military workforce at a time when many troops and their families feel their compensation and overall quality of life have slipped.

That's because the extra money — tucked into overseas contingency funds, to get around defense spending caps — is used mainly to pay for additional pay and personnel costs. It pushes the 2017 military pay raise from the Pentagon-preferred rate of 1.6 percent to 2.1 percent, a mark equal to the projected rise in private sector wages.

If it stands, 2017 will be the first time in six years that the military pay raise tops 2 percent. For a snapshot of annual salaries for selected ranks, see below:

Private E-1, under two years of service, annual pay is $ 19,188. That would be $9.22 an hour based on an 40 hour work week, however if you consider Army privates work at least 10 hours a day, the hourly wage would be $7.38 - and American fast food worker wants $15 a hour!!

Sergeant, E-5, over 8 years of service, annual pay is $ 36,624

Master Sergeant E-8, over 20 years of service, annual pay is $ 64,116

Captain O-3, over 4 yesrs of service, annual pay is $ 64,776

Colonel O-6, 0ver 20 years of service, annual pay is $ 120,648

For the complete 2017 Proposed Pay Schedule, click here.

Military budget planners had said that money would be better used to pay for training and modernization costs, but lawmakers have argued that three consecutive years of pay raise trims have begun to hurt military families' finances.

Lawmakers also used the additional funds to reject Obama's plans to draw down Army and Marine Corps end strength, again to cut long-term personnel costs.

Article from Military Times