Saturday, December 7, 2019

Prisoner of War - The movie

Back in May of 2015, the Havok Journal wrote about the upcoming movie Prisoner of War, a collaboration by Blackside Productions, Hand Crank Films, and the veteran charity Gallant Few. This month marks a year since the movie was officially released.

Several big names in the veteran community were involved in this film both in front of and behind the camera, giving it the kind of credibility and authenticity that most military-themed movies lack. The 13-minute production stars former Ranger Josh Kelly, who gives an astonishing and completely believable performance as a veteran dealing with self-doubt, survivor’s guilt, and PTSD; issues very familiar to many within the veteran community. Actually, Josh Kelly gives two great performances in this film, but you have to be looking for the second role.

The veteran involvement in Prisoner of War extended behind the camera as well. Director Matt Sanders and producer Marty Skovlund were both Army Rangers, and the musical score was provided by Air Force TACP Jarred Taylor. Many of the other actors and film crew were vets as well. At the end of the movie, Gallant Few’s Karl Monger, himself a former Ranger, delivers a heartfelt public service announcement.

So what is “Prisoner of War?” It’s neither fiction nor documentary; it’s something in between, something that has to be experienced more than simply watched. his movie is disturbing. It’s dark. It’s raw. It’s going to “trigger” the hell out of people. And it is an absolute “must-watch” for veterans and those who care about veterans’ issues, especially PTSD and veteran suicide.

If you care about veterans or issues that are important to veterans, watch this movie. If you don’t get the “plot twist” towards the end of the film, watch it again.

You don’t have to be a veteran to “get” Prisoner of War. You don’t have to be a veteran to relate to Josh Kelly’s unnamed character in the movie. While the issues addressed in the movie are presented through the experiences of one combat veteran, they are certainly not unique to the veteran community. That “relatability,” and the raw, non-judgmental honesty with which the movie is presented, make it a must-watch for everyone who has ever struggled with guilt, shame, or self-doubt… which, is everyone really.

Article from the Havok Journal

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Marie-Madeleine Fourcade and the Secret War in France

The below article was written by Rick Ledgett and posted on the Cipher Brief. Ledgett served as the Deputy Director of the National Security Agency from January 2014 until his retirement in April 2017, culminating a nearly 40-year career in cryptology at NSA and in the U.S. Army. He previously led the Media Leaks Task Force, the Agency’s response to the Snowden leaks and was the first National Intelligence Manager for Cyber at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and he directed NSA’s 24/7 cyber threat operations center.

The most effective leader of the French Underground, who ran the largest and most productive spy ring working against the Nazis, was not a man. It was Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, who at 31 years old, left her life of privilege in Paris to fight against the German invaders in 1941. Her story is told by Lynne Olson in her New York Times bestseller, Madame Fourcade’s Secret War, published in 2019. It is an enthralling read, filled with tension, drama, and stories of humanity during the most difficult of times. Ms. Olson is an experienced storyteller who has written and co-written a number of World War II histories, and in her prologue says that she ran across Madame Fourcade’s story while writing another book and felt compelled to tell it on its own.

In reading the book, one wonders how Madame Fourcade and her network, called the Alliance, survived. Anyone with a smidgeon of knowledge about intelligence tradecraft will wince when they read of their large group meetings, writing and storage of incriminating documents, and repetitive moves in what we now call “pattern of life” activities. But, despite losses in personnel that sometimes rendered entire sections of France dark to the Alliance, they kept coming back. In large part, that was because of the fierce loyalty and respect in which the resistance agents held Madame Fourcade. Although a woman in what was very much a man’s game, and additionally encumbered by her beauty and youth, she had a fierce will and great charisma. She did not hesitate to put her life on the line, particularly in support of those she recruited; on several occasions she skirted capture by the Gestapo in order to warn her agents. She earned the respect of all those in her network, as well as of British Intelligence, who funded them and provided requirements and other support.

The Alliance became a major thorn in the side of the Gestapo, who exerted great efforts to capture them. The Germans recruited informants, used direction-finding gear to locate Alliance clandestine transmitters, terrorized towns in which Alliance members were believed to be located, and tortured many of those arrested, before shipping them off to death camps.

Because the Alliance used animals as code names for their personnel, the Germans referred to the group as Noah’s Ark. Madame Fourcade chose Hedgehog as her nom de guerre.

The Alliance made contributions to British knowledge throughout France, but nowhere was it more important than along the coast. In the early part of the war it was intelligence on the disposition and defenses of the U-boat fleet that was based on the French coast that was key to Allied efforts to slow their depredations on American ships carrying military material to England. Later in the war, the Alliance was a – if not the – principal source of detailed intelligence on the coastal terrain and German defenses along the coast of Normandy, critically important in the run-up to D-Day. One of the Alliance products was a 55-foot-long, extraordinarily comprehensive map of the beaches used by the Allies for the invasion.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Rebranding the Legendary Royal Marines

The Royal Marines are to undergo a complete rebrand, with a new maritime role and fresh combat uniform as it embraces the future by returning to its Second World War roots. It comes as commanders of the 350-year-old Corps seek to end the blurring with Army counterparts and adopt a more "commando raid" approach, with smaller units using hi-tech kit. Future Commando Force plans will see the green berets provide more direct support to Special Forces and be based onboard pre-positioned motherships, ready to strike in areas such as the Mediterranean and the Gulf. Other moves include the wider integration of autonomous platforms, such as remote controlled vessels and drones, while, at the tactical level, they are to be issued with a new digitally-enhanced camouflage combat uniform which will be distinctive to them.

Though only some Royal Marines now have access to the superior Colt C7 rifle, the move will see it rolled out to all members and mark the Corp’s ditching of the standard-issue SA-80. As part of the push to return to its maritime role, discussions are currently underway to change officers' rankings to match those of the Royal Navy, rather than British Army, though this is still under review.

What has been decided, however, is that they will retain their iconic green beret and cap badge. “The scale and ambition of our transformation is significant. Nothing is off-limits and we aspire to be at the cutting edge of defence,” said Royal Marines Commandant General Major General Matt Holmes.

Senior sources confirmed that the new “force distribution” policy was inspired by recent US Marine Corps guidance. Ironically, however, it will mark the green berets’ return to their original “commando” roots. Currently the regiment uses concentrated force to pit its strength against an enemy’s weakness.

Under the new plans, to be phased in over three years, it will adopt a more “special operations” approach by using more and smaller units, complimented by technology such as the use of remote controlled boats to set up a decoy while another unit speeds ashore with a remote-operated UAV to help identify their targets.

As part of this the basic Royal Marines unit, a Troop, will be reduced from 30 commandos to 16. The regiment currently operates one specialist maritime unit, 42 Commando, which is deployed in small groups in areas such as the Gulf and mounts maritime interdiction operations against piracy and to protect shipping from potential Iranian attacks in the Strait of Hormuz.

But now Maj-Gen Holmes wants the entire 3 Commando Brigade - the Royal Marines' main fighting arm - to become a special operations force, similar to its USMC counterpart. It means more Royal Marines are to be based on new Littoral Strike ships - announced by former defence secretary Gavin Williamson - and placed on high readiness in areas of tension to mount rescue operations and assaults.

The Ministry of Defence has already dedicated £35m to developing two new vessels, one to be based East of Suez and the other covering the Mediterranean, which are to be rolled out in five years. Each will contain a company - or strike force - of 120 commandos and up to six helicopters, possibly three “heavy lift” Chinooks, a Wildcat and two Apache gunships.

In the meantime a new amphibious task force, headed by Commodore James Parkin, has just been launched. Until the Littoral Strike ships arrive, it will operate from the amphibious assault ships HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark, as well as the fleet's Bay class landing ships.

There are still several challenges to work out, sources say. These include securing communications in a hostile environment, especially at long range; resupplying troops on the ground, possibly using the experimental Malloy Aeronautics delivery drone (currently already undergoing U.S. trials); developing ship-to-shore connectors to cross a water gap and overcoming enemy action faced by an insertion team on a 150 nautical mile at a fast 60 knots.

Maj-Gen Holmes said that the future operational environment will demand more persistent forward deployment resulting in “constant competition”’ from potential adversaries from the Arctic to the Middle East, and rapid response to crises. “The new littoral strike force will be active, not just ready," he said. “I need agile, robust commandos able to operate an array of systems to win the fight, if necessary, in a denied (hostile) environment.”

A Royal Marines spokesperson said: “The Royal Marines are a distinct but integral part of the Royal Navy and work is ongoing to reinforce their role as an effective maritime fighting force. “The Future Commando Force will harness cutting edge technology to be an effective maritime infantry force using innovative, potent, elite fighting capability. They are and will remain a distinct but integral part of the Naval Service. “There are no plans to change anything that denotes the strong history and identity of the Royal Marines, including the Green Beret.”

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Military Suicide Myths

Over the last five years the suicide rate among active duty American military personnel has been rising, even though there has been a lot less combat duty. Most American troops withdrew from Iraq in 2011 and Afghanistan in 2014. This suicide increase is apparently from the stress of being overseas, not in combat as well as just being in the peacetime military.

In 2013 suicides for the 520,000 active duty U.S. Army personnel declined from 35.6 to 29 per 100,000 personnel. At that time the suicides for the entire military were down 16 percent. The navy experienced the sharpest drop (25 percent). In 2013, after more than a decade of heavy combat the military knew that these fluctuating suicide rates had little to do with combat. This is being demonstrated now because the suicide has been rising at about six percent a year since 2014.

So has the rate among civilians. Current rates are 30 per 100,000 for the army, 31 for the marines, 20 for the navy and 18 for the air force. The rate is higher in some job categories that are particularly stressful. Thus SOCOM (Special Operations Command), which has paid particular attention to reducing suicides, with hit a high of 33 per 100,000 in 2012. That was reduced to 18 by 2014 and was down to 8 per 100,000 personnel in 2017. Suddenly it went up to 22 in 2018. SOCOM only has 70,000 personnel so a few suicides a year can shift the rate dramatically. But going from 8 to 22 in one year is extraordinary. Then again so was reducing the rate from 33 to 18 in two years. SOCOM is a special case in several ways. For one thing about a third of its personnel are combat troops and they have been spending a lot of time overseas since 2014 because of ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) and the fact that while fewer troops are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan there are still plenty of Islamic terrorists to deal with and that is done largely using SOCOM personnel.

Commanders have long warned that year after year of overseas deployments for SOCOM operators (the combat specialists) takes its toll, even on this carefully selected (for the ability to handle stress) and trained group of specialists. There have also been problems with some special operations commanders, who have made mistakes while trying to keep their men combat capable. As long predicted this intense use of SOCOM personnel since 2001 has made suicide, morale and readiness problems worse. That said, SOCOM is a small part of the American military, comprising about five percent of active duty personnel. The vast majority of military personnel, and suicides, are non-combat troops.

Military epidemiologists (experts on medical statistics) have long sought to convince people outside the military that the rise in suicide rates within the military has little to do with the stress of combat and mostly to do with the stresses of military life during wartime or peacetime. In other words, the increased suicides were not concentrated among the combat veterans, who make up less than 15 percent of those in the military, but are more evenly distributed among all service personnel. For example during the last decade over 75 percent of suicides were among troops who had never gone overseas.

The military, especially the army, has long documented all deaths and the Department of Defense in 2013 released a study of all suicides since 2001, when more troops saw combat, to 2008, when the heavy fighting in Iraq ended. A similar study for 2009-2012 suicides found little change. The researchers also point out that the reasons for suicides in the military are quite similar to those for civilian suicides, especially when victims are of the same age, education, and other factors as their military counterparts. In other words periods of intense combat for the military have little impact on the overall suicide rate because so few troops are exposed to combat.

These revelations were not well received by the mass media which makes much of the rising suicide rate in military but pays less attention to rising suicide rates among civilians of the same age and education. That was 9 per 100,000 in 2001 but had risen to 17.5 in 2013 and by 2016 was 26 per 100,000 men aged 25-44, which is the age of most men in the military. This was declared to be a health emergency, and to a certain degree it was. What was missed in all the discussion was that the higher suicide rate in the military is usually below the rate for civilians of military age.

The fact of the matter is that the military seeks to recruit only people who have an above average ability to deal with stress, especially for the minority headed for combat jobs. It’s not just combat stress the military worries about, because so few troops in the ground forces have combat jobs. The rest are doing civilian type jobs but often under stressful (combat zone) conditions. In fact, most of the military suicides are of men who were never in combat or even overseas. But since the military suicide rate is so much lower than those of comparable civilians, it hardly matters. There are so few actual suicides in the military each year that a few soldiers having family problems can cause the rate to seemingly spike. That’s largely what has been happening. The question now is what factors have caused the rate to creep up steadily since 2014.

The military has been doing a lot to keep their suicide rate down. That rate peaked at 23 in 2009, and then declined. Some of the increase was from the impact of so many troops suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), but the recent studies of that show this was a small factor in suicides. The danger of suicide led to many PTSD sufferers, or those who might have it, to be given anti-stress medications. Use of these medicines increased 76 percent between 2001 and 2009. By then, some 17 percent of all troops took these drugs, including six percent of those in combat zones. In 2001, the troops used these drugs to about the same degree as the civilian population (ten percent).

The losses to stress for troops overseas have been growing since 2003. For example, for every soldier killed in a combat zone, one was sent back home for treatment of acute stress. Most of these are not combat troops. For every one of those cases there are several less serious ones that are treated in the combat zone. Many of these stressed troops are no longer able to perform all their duties. This is sometimes the case with troops taking anti-stress drugs. Some of these medications slow you down, which can be fatal if you find yourself in combat or an emergency situation. Many troops on these medications are no longer sent overseas. They can perform well back in the United States but this complicates the job of finding enough troops to go perform combat jobs.

Problems with stress and mental health in general were seen as an inevitable result of so many NCOs and officers doing their third or fourth combat tours (in Iraq or Afghanistan). Thus, a PTSD epidemic has been created by the unprecedented exposure of so many troops to so much combat in so short a time. Once a soldier has PTSD they are often no longer fit for combat, and many troops headed for Afghanistan after 2008 fell into this category. PTSD makes it difficult for people to function or get along with others. With treatment (medication and therapy) you can recover from PTSD. But this can take months or years.

Nearly a century of energetic effort to diagnose and treat PTSD, including much recent attention to civilian victims stressed via accidents or criminal assault, made it clear that most troops eventually got PTSD if they were in combat long enough. During World War II it was found that, on average, 200 days of combat would bring on a case of PTSD for your average American soldier. After World War II methods were developed to delay the onset of PTSD. These included more breaks from combat, better living conditions in the combat zone and prompt treatment when PTSD was detected. That's why combat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan often slept in air conditioned quarters, had Internet access, a lot of amenities, and a two week vacation (anywhere) in the middle of their combat tour. This extended their useful time in combat before PTSD set in. No one is yet sure what the new combat days average is, and new screening methods are an attempt to find out. But more troops appear to be hitting, or approaching, the limits.

What the army did know by 2011 was that a large percentage of its combat troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan have had over 200 days of combat. Some have three or four times that. A major reason for army generals talking (starting in 2007) about the army "needing a break" (from combat) was the growing loss of many combat experienced troops and leaders (especially NCOs) to PTSD. The army won't give out exact figures, partly because they don't have much in the way of exact figures. But over the next decade, the army will get a clearer picture of how well they have coped with PTSD among troops who have, individually, seen far more combat than their predecessors in Vietnam, Korea, or World War II.

The army is dealing with PTSD and combat stress head on, believing that a lot of troops have experienced an unhealthy amount of combat stress. Experience so far has shown that PTSD can be delayed, perhaps for a long time. When a soldier does come down with it, PTSD can often be treated and its effects reversed. This has large ramifications for non-military medicine, for many civilians suffer from PTSD. That's why military recruits are screened for their ability to handle stress and resist PTSD. In the civilian community, there are far more people who can acquire PTSD after exposure to much less stress.

Article from the Strategy Page

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

A ‘Warrior Tradition’: Why Native Americans continue fighting for the same government that tried to wipe them out

Often lost in conversations surrounding military history — and most discussions on sociology — are the contributions of Native Americans.

To this day, American Indians serve in the armed forces at a higher rate than any other demographic. Since 9/11, nearly 19 percent of Native Americans have served in the armed forces, compared to an average of 14 percent of all other ethnicities.

Among the 573 federally recognized tribes — each with their own cultures, traditions, belief systems, and stances on war — military service remains remarkably consistent. No matter the conflict, American Indian men and women continue to risk their lives for the very government that once tried to eradicate their way of life.

Peter MacDonald is one such veteran. The Navajo who served in the Marines during World War II is one of the last surviving members of the distinguished Code Talkers. Jeff Means is another. A member of the Ogala Sioux Tribe and Marine Corps veteran, Means currently teaches history at the University of Wyoming. And as a member of the Odawa Nation, D.J. Vanas uses his position as an author and motivational speaker to share his experiences as an Air Force captain.

To these three, the definition of “warrior” — just like their reasons for serving — is as diverse as their tribal backgrounds.

Military Times spoke with MacDonald, Means, and Vanas about their military service, the evolution of Native American warrior culture, and treatment of Native Americans by the U.S. government during and post-military service.

Each veteran is included in the recently released PBS documentary, “The Warrior Tradition,” directed by Larry Hott. Hott also joined the discussion.

With 573 tribes, the motivations for Native Americans to join the military are incredibly diverse. What compelled you to join?

[MEANS] My reasons were financial. I had been kicking around since high school doing really a whole lot of nothing. I went to a little strip mall where all four branches had recruiting offices. The Air Force wouldn’t take me, then the Army turned me down. I got in my truck and left, but came back when I realized I hadn’t checked out the Marine Corps. I stuck my head into the office and there was this gunnery sergeant. He was like 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds of muscle. I said, “Hey, I already tried with the Air Force and Army. Should I even bother coming in?” This gunny walks over, takes me around the shoulders and says, “Son, let’s see what the Marine Corps can do for you.” [Laughs]

[VANAS] Family heritage was one of the things I was imbued with growing up through stories and firsthand experiences of relatives, including my dad, who served 21 years in the Air Force. We had relatives who served dating back to World War I. It not only seemed like a comfortable path to follow, because there’s so much familiarity, but it’s almost an expectation just because it was a common family theme.

Reservations were certainly a catalyst for stripping tribes of warrior culture. What changed in the 20th century?

[MEANS] The warrior culture was disappearing simply because by the late 1800s, there was literally no one left to fight. The whole warrior culture of protecting and providing became irrelevant up through World War I. That was a transitional time for Native Americans, because an entire generation of people who remembered having autonomy and freedom were dying off.

Instead, you now had individuals who had only ever known reservation life. Then here comes World War I and a tremendous opportunity for Native Americans to provide for themselves again and revitalize that warrior tradition.

[VANAS] Many took advantage of World War I and subsequent wars because it was something we’ve always looked at as a way of protecting our home. People ask, “Why serve in the military when this government has done so much to our people to hurt our culture?” But we’ve always looked at the bigger picture. This is our home, it always has been and always will be, and we sign up to defend that.

How has the definition of “warrior” evolved since then among native communities?

[MEANS] A warrior was always somebody who fought for their native nation. For the most part, that was militaristically. But now that has expanded to fighting for your native nation in any context: legally, socially, culturally, politically.

Women are taking a tremendously active position in today’s battles because it’s no longer just about military prowess. It’s about intellectual prowess. It’s about cultural prowess. It’s wonderful to see so many native people from all walks of life fighting for their rights and sovereignty.

[HOTT] There are people who said to me that getting a college education is being a warrior. But, an obvious one is the number of native women in the military. It’s not easy for them because there are still traditionalists out there who think women should not be fighting.

That’s a big reason we included the story of Lori Piestewa, the first Native American woman to be killed in combat as a member of the U.S. military. What does that say about the warrior tradition that she felt strongly enough to die for it?

Do you think the military has exploited that willingness of Native Americans to fight?

[MACDONALD] Yes and no. There was exploitation, but our desire to maintain what belongs to us and protect our families is part of our desire to volunteer and protect our land.

[MEANS] Absolutely, whether consciously or unconsciously. Native Americans have this weird place in American culture where they’re part of America’s past in becoming the great nation. But at the same time, they’re still here. That’s why Native Americans have been relegated and confined within these boxes. When you think of an American Indian you think of Dances with Wolves. You don’t think of somebody wearing a suit or a tie.

It's cultural exploitation, but at the same time, because Native Americans have been forced into this horrible economic and cultural position on reservations, the U.S. and the military exploit that by providing the military as an option out of poverty and hopelessness.

[VANAS] It takes two to tango. Enlisted recruiters always have to hit quotas. But, we are kind of groomed from a young age to see this as an accessible option for us to fulfill that warrior path in a positive way. So, I don’t know that I would call it exploitation as much as I would call it finding willing partners.

[HOTT] I don’t think it’s horrible, but it does happen. The military knows the pickings might be easier. You have families with tradition, and young people might say, well, maybe I don’t want to go in, but everybody in my family did it and there’s a lot of pride in that. There’s a reason there are recruitment centers near reservations.

The U.S. has a history of celebrating native achievements only when it benefits the country — for example, punishing the Navajo for speaking their native language only to capitalize on it when it could be of use. Is there a sense a feeling used or abandoned among native veterans once they leave the military?

[MEANS] Yes, but the sad caveat is that that’s actually cultural wide and not just relegated to military service. The U.S. government has forgotten Native Americans as a whole. It’s part of the entire cultural push where natives are great as long as they’re only seen in a certain context. This is why the Dakota Access Pipeline resistance is interesting, because they broke out of that confine.

Native Americans are supposed to be people of the past. They’re supposed to be exotic, but mostly, what they’re supposed to be is quiet. When they raise their voice and make noise, the United States gets very uncomfortable. Abandoning Native Americans has been the M.O. of the U.S. since reservations were created as temporary reserves.

[MACDONALD] Yes. We — as matter of fact, every — American were needed to protect and preserve our freedom and liberty. We are first and foremost Americans and we love this country.

However, once our service was no longer needed, we were, in most cases, forgotten and left to fight to keep what is rightfully ours — our natural resources, water, and land were being exploited by energy companies and by our own federal government.

We have yet to achieve self-sufficiency and self-determination. More importantly, our treaty promises by “the great father” have yet to be fulfilled.

What was the perception of Native Americans in the military when you were in? How do you think the perception by non-natives has evolved?

[MACDONALD] During WWII, Marines and sailors treated us, in most cases, with respect as fellow warriors. We were all in it together. We survive if we stick together.

After all, bullets don’t discriminate.

Today, much has changed in the military in terms of respect and understanding of Native American culture and traditions. This is all for the good of America, for we are a diverse nation.

[VANAS] You’re always looked at as something that is of interest. My experience was good, although there were some tense moments.

For example, Sun Dance is a ceremony that was done by the Plains Indians. My medicine man was Lakota from South Dakota. He was my mentor, my spiritual leader, and I became a Sun Dancer. In the ceremony we pierce our chest — they put skewers in our chests on either side — and are tied to a tree, which is called the Tree of Life, or our antenna to the creator. We go up to the tree and back four times, and on the fourth time we dance backwards until we rip free. Sometimes it takes two minutes, sometimes it takes two hours. I’ve seen it take two full days.

It’s about sacrifice and thanksgiving, but it leaves scars, obviously. When I was in the Air Force we had a volleyball game and one side were the shirts and one the skins. I was on the skin side and had finished Sun Dance a couple weeks before so I still had scars. A couple of colonels were talking amongst themselves in a way I could definitely feel the negative vibe and the judgment. I got so uncomfortable that I ended up leaving. I put my shirt back on and left the game. Moments like that when there’s a lack of understanding makes things tense.

The documentary discusses how Native American communities emphasize ceremonial cleansing after a service member returns home. What can greater U.S. society learn from how tribes reintegrate soldiers?

[MEANS] It’s tricky because the U.S. and native nations have such completely different worldviews. But, to a large degree, native nations look at the health of the community at large. Every person needs to be as productive as they can be, and needs to be spiritually and physically healthy to achieve that.

When someone has gone into combat, they need to be spiritually and emotionally cleansed of that trauma or guilt. So those kinds of ceremonies are really important to tell that person, “Everything you’ve done was for us. We appreciate it, and you’re still part of us.”

The U.S., to an extent, ignores that militaristic part of society because it’s not what we would consider a larger part of American culture. It has been separated to a tremendous degree. Most people have no idea what military service is like, what combat is like. So therefore, they have no empathy.

[VANAS] The reintegration process is one thing our native communities have always done a really good job of. It’s a common theme across Indian country of, “Now that this is done, here’s how you start your next chapter of your life within this community.”

It is healing and lets that person know they’re not on their own. There were things that were put in place to bring people back in a much smoother way. In the greater scheme, we have people leave the military, and it’s, “Good luck. Thanks for your service. You’ll figure it out.”

We do a great job of equipping our soldiers, but we need to greatly improve how we support those soldiers once they are out.

Article from

Friday, November 15, 2019

Here Am I, Send Me

Everyone knows about the Famous D-Day invasion of Normandy to begin the march across the Europe which led to the defeat of Nazi Germany. We commemorate it in many different ways. The coolest way to remember that day when our greatest generation waded through beach surf facing unrelenting German machine gun fire, or jumped out of airplanes into sheer darkness behind enemy lines, is to partner with your brothers in arms and the mother of a fallen Ranger to visit Normandy and make a historic parachute jump out C-47 airplanes. And to do it on the 75th Anniversary of D Day.

A team of Special Forces soldiers, 75th Infantry (Ranger) Veterans and Gold Star Mother Scoti Domeij, was documented by film maker Devin Super Tramp as they visited Normandy and jumped from a WWII aircraft to honor the life of Sgt. 1st Class Kristoffer Domeij, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. Domeij was the most deployed U.S. soldier (14 deployments) to have been killed in action (Oct. 22, 2011).

This film debuted on YouTube on Veterans Day, 11/11, 2019 and will be sent to film festivals worldwide.

From those who were there:

“Participation in the 75th Anniversary of D-Day was a lifetime experience of lifetime experiences,” said Matthew Griffin, former Army Ranger and Co-founder of Combat Flip Flops. “A team of Rangers, Green Berets, pilots and filmmakers came together to honor a legend, Army Ranger Kris Domeij. We did this to memorialize his character, provide perspective, and honor the sacrifice of the thousands that lost their lives on D-Day to ensure freedom for the oppressed.”

“We took on this project not knowing exactly what we were going to capture or even how, but we knew it was the opportunity of a lifetime and that we had to be a part of it,” said Devin Graham, Director/DP at Devin Super Tramp. “It ended up being a more meaningful experience than we could have imagined. Due to the subject matter, historical locations, and the personal stories shared, each day after filming there was an immense emotional weight. It genuinely opened our eyes and changed our perspectives on sacrifice, family and gratitude.”

“While we by no means want to compare ourselves to the veterans we had the privilege to work with there, we chose Here Am I, Send Me for the title of the documentary feeling it not only represented so many of these soldiers but also fell right in line with how we felt when this project was first presented to us. Filming these veterans, and a Gold Star mother, and sharing with them this experience in Normandy, was an intimidating and overwhelming responsibility but we essentially raised our hands and said “we’ll do it, send us!” and we are forever grateful that we did.”

Sunday, November 10, 2019

A Welcome Home - from Vietnam

This came from a Facebook post attributed to Manny Beck from the MACV-SOG Facebook page.

Fifty years ago, on November 1, 1969, I left Viet Nam for home. While out processing at MACV SOG Headquarters, I had my final out-briefing. At that briefing, I was told the same as I was told when I came to the 5thSpecial Forces Project SIGMA, and that was I could never talk about what I did or where I went while assigned to SOG. I signed the papers and went back upstairs to ask my friend Major Bob Dobbins to drive me to the airport.

While at the replacement company waiting on my plane home, there was a formation before we got on the planes. There were about 1,000 men in formation waiting to get on several planes to go to the good old U.S. of A. We would get on those commercial airliners dressed in our jungle fatigues for the flight to Fort Ord, California. The only headgear authorized to wear with that uniform at that time was either the Army-issued baseball-style cap or a green beret. However, in Viet Nam, some soldiers wore black berets, camouflaged berets, red berets, or short-brimmed field hats, and several soldiers were still wearing those as they stood in that formation. A colonel stood in front of our formation and said, “The only headgear authorized to wear on these planes are: The Army issued baseball cap or a green beret, and I see only one soldier in this formation wearing a green beret. So, if you have anything other than a baseball cap or a green beret on your head, you will not get on a plane home.”

At first, I felt embarrassed, and then an enormous sense of pride came over me, knowing I was the only person out of a thousand men standing in that formation who was a Special Forces soldier. We got onto the plane, and every seat was taken. The pilot and flight crew made their safety announcements before takeoff. No one whispered a word during the takeoff roll. You could have heard a pin drop inside that plane. As soon as the wheels lifted off the ground, there was a loud roar and all kinds of howling and whistles.

We landed at Fort Ord, California, after a twenty-four-hour flight from Viet Nam with one stop in Japan. After landing, the Army moved all of us to the reception station at Fort Ord, where someone took our personnel records from us and sent us to a large building where we were fitted for our new Class A uniforms. After that, the men being discharged from the Army went to one building, and that would be me, and the men going home on leave or further assignments went to another building. After completing all the paperwork and getting my discharge orders. I was sent back to get my Class A uniform. The Army can be very efficient. They had taken my military records to get my awards and decorations from it, and they put my award ribbons on my new dress uniform.

Wearing my new uniform, I was sent to my final briefing in the Army. At the briefing, we were told we didn’t have to wear our uniforms home. We could wear civilian clothes if we had them because of the war protesters that we would run into at airports and public places. I was thinking I had spent the last eighteen months of my life fighting for what I thought was the right thing to do and being wounded three times doing it. I would not let some longhaired hippie spit in my face and call me names just because I was wearing a uniform. What kind of welcome home was this? Several men did change into their civilian clothes, but not me. I wore my uniform and green beret with PRIDE, and I was waiting for someone to say something negative to me about the war in Viet Nam.

I got on a bus with forty other soldiers that would take us to the Oakland airport, where I would pick up a ticket to Oklahoma City. When the bus arrived at the airport, there were several hundred protesters outside the airport in Oakland waiting for us. The bus driver didn’t let us off at the location we were supposed to get off. He had to take us to another area away from the protesters and let us off. I couldn’t believe that the American public hated us so much. As we got off the bus I saw several protesters at the other end of the terminal. I got my bag and started walking to the terminal. When the protesters saw us, they started our way. I stopped at the door along with five other soldiers, and we just stood there waiting for them. We all dropped our bags and started walking toward the protesters. As soon as the protesters saw us coming for them, they stopped and called for two police officers standing close by watching what was about to happen. The officers turned and walked into the terminal with a big grin on their faces. We started walking faster toward the hippies. There were about fifteen of them and six of us. As we got closer and they noticed the police officers had left, they decided it was time for them to leave also. They turned and ran through the traffic to the other side of the terminal. The six of us turned and smiled at each other and without saying a word, went back, picked up our bags, and went our separate ways. So much for the brave war protesters.

I was lucky because I didn’t have to wait long for my flight home. No one spoke to me while I was waiting for my plane, and that was okay because I didn’t want to talk to anyone. When I got on the plane, all I wanted to do was find my seat and go to sleep. I was the only soldier on the flight to Oklahoma City, and I felt very uncomfortable. I could feel the hate in the air. However, before the plane took off, the pilot came back to me, asked to shake my hand, and said, “Thank you.” I thanked him because I saw a small Silver Star pin on the lapel of his pilot’s uniform, and I knew he had been there too. I felt proud of him and me. Everyone else on that plane could go to hell.

I arrived in Oklahoma City in the late evening. I picked up my bag and went outside to get a cab. There were several taxicabs waiting for customers, so I went to the first cab driver and told him I wanted to go to about two miles from the airport. The driver told me he was waiting for a fare that would make him more money, and I should try another cab. I went to the next cab, and he told me the same thing. I went to the third cab driver and told him I would pay him whatever he wanted to take me home. He said he would take $20. I paid him the $20 for the five-dollar ride home. No welcome home, no thank you, just give me $20 if you want me to take you home!

I didn’t tell my wife Shirley when I was going to be home because I wanted to surprise her and our three-year-old daughter Cindy. The cab dropped me off in front of my house. I stood there for a minute, looking at the house and thinking about how incredible it was to be home. I knocked on the door and waited. Shirley and Cindy opened the door. I hugged and kissed Shirley, but Cindy was afraid of that strange man. She wouldn’t come to me. That was disturbing to me, and I should have expected her to act that way, but I had not.

That was my welcome home 50 years ago. Does anyone else have a different story about their welcome home from Viet Nam?

Friday, November 1, 2019

President Trump awards Medal of Honor to Master Sgt. Matthew Williams

President Donald J. Trump awarded the nation’s highest combat medal to Master Sgt. Matthew O. Williams during a ceremony at the White House on Wednesday. Williams, a Green Beret weapons sergeant from 3rd Special Forces Group, was presented the award for his actions “going above and beyond the call of duty” during an April 6, 2008, mission in Nuristan province, Afghanistan, that came to be known as the Battle of Shok Valley. “Matt’s heroism ensured that not a single American died in the Battle of Shok Valley,” Trump said during the ceremony. “Matt is without question and without reservation one of the bravest soldiers and people I’ve ever met.”

Trump commended Williams for his “unyielding service” and “unbreakable resolve” during the battle, as well as the five other deployments he made to Afghanistan and the one he made to Africa. Throughout the 2008 battle, Williams exposed himself to enemy fire multiple times on steep and challenging terrain. His team was pitted against an overwhelming enemy force that held the high-ground and was able to rain rocket propelled grenades, sniper rounds and small arms fire onto the Green Beret team and their Afghan National Army Commando partners.

Williams carried wounded teammates down the mountainside, including his team sergeant, and “shielded the injured from falling rubble as American warplanes bombed insurgent positions above and rocked the mountain from top to bottom," the president said at the ceremony.

At one point, while dropping casualties off at a collection point, Williams engaged and killed two insurgents he spotted advancing on the position to take advantage of the wounded and disoriented friendly forces.

Over the course of a seven-hour firefight, Williams “valiantly protected the wounded," Trump said, until the team was able to completely evacuate from the target area inside CH-47 Chinook helicopters. His Medal of Honor citation states that Williams’ actions helped save the lives of four critically wounded soldiers and prevented the lead element of the assault force from being overrun when they were ambushed at the outset of the mission.

Members of Williams’ Green Beret team from that 2008 operation, as well as one of their Afghan interpreters, were present at the White House ceremony. Williams will continue to serve in the Army on active-duty after Wednesday’s ceremony, a prospect that he’s looking forward to, he told reporters at the Pentagon Tuesday. The medal, he said, represents something much bigger than himself. “The medal itself is more of a story of teamwork, never quitting, trusting in one another and doing what is right, what needs to be done,” Williams said Tuesday. “As far as the day to day goes, I am hoping to return back to the unit — get back to my team — and continue training and get my current team ready for whatever comes next for us," he added.

Article from Army Times

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Special Forces Qualification Course - Big changes to grueling course draw scrutiny

Deep in the dark North Carolina woods, a small white light flickers in the heavy underbrush. It’s after midnight and a soldier is taking a risk by turning on his headlamp to find his way.

The overnight land navigation test is just one hurdle in the grueling, monthslong course to join the Army’s elite Special Forces, and using the light violates the rules. Just the night before, at least 20 commando hopefuls had either committed a disqualifying failure or given up in the drenching rain. “We got a light!” barks an Army instructor from the front seat of his truck as he patrols the woods. Almost instantly the tiny white beacon goes out as the soldier spots the truck headlights and tries to escape detection.

For the nearly 200 candidates scrambling through Hoffman Forest at Camp Mackall, the struggle to become a Green Beret is real. But Army commanders are making sweeping changes to shorten and revamp the course. The aim is to meet evolving national security threats and to shift from a culture that weeds out struggling soldiers at every point to one that trains them to do better.

The changes that are beginning now have led to resentment among some Special Forces that the brass wants to make it easier to pass the qualification course as a way to boost lagging recruiting numbers and ensure that women will eventually qualify. The fear, such critics say, is that Green Berets will become weaker and “dangerously less capable than ever before.”

Army leaders insist the changes reflect the military’s need to adapt to evolving security threats from Russia, China, Iran and others foes. They say the nearly two-year course had to be shortened, so some training will be done when soldiers get to their units, where it can be tailored to the specific needs of the region.

“Today’s qualification course is for exactly the type of Green Beret we needed for 2008. It is not what we need for 2028,” said Maj. Gen. Kurt Sonntag, who until recently was commander of the Army Special Operations Center of Excellence, which includes all the Special Forces training. “We need to reestablish our forte, which is our ability to work with partner forces, developing their capabilities to provide an advantage for them and the United States against our adversaries — North Korea, Iran, and China and Russia.”

Sonntag and other commanders, current and former instructors and students at the Special Forces training base at Camp Mackall spoke with The Associated Press during a rare, two-day look at the course, including observation of the overnight land navigation test.

The more than 6,700 Army Green Berets are highly trained commandos who usually work in 12-person teams that are often used for specialized combat and counterterrorism operations and to train other nations’ forces in battle skills. About a dozen died in combat this year, mainly working with Afghan forces fighting the Taliban; others are training troops in up to 60 countries.

The changes were driven by discussions with senior leaders, including Maj. Gen. John Deedrick, commander of 1st Special Forces Command, who told Sonntag he wanted soldiers to come out of the course with solid basic skills that can be sharpened when they get to their units. “If you try to make them an expert in everything, you’re gonna give me a Swiss Army knife that can do a little bit of everything but isn’t real good,” he said in an interview in his Fort Bragg office. “I’d prefer to have him very good at the basics and then let me tailor what he’s gonna do in the long run.”

The new course drops some training, shifts some around and eliminates gaps in the schedule. For example, language training will now come after soldiers graduate the course, becoming a skill to learn rather than one needed to pass to stay in the course. Also, because the new Pentagon strategy is focused on threats from China and Russia rather than wars against insurgents, some counterterrorism skills will be tailored to specific regions and taught after soldiers are in their units.

Senior Army leaders endorse the changes.

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said Sonntag “really grinded through this to make adjustments to the course to make it more effective and streamline the amount of time they’re in the schoolhouse” so they get to their assigned units more quickly. The new training, he said, will be more relevant to current threats.

The changes, however, caused an uproar among some instructors in the Special Forces community. In a lengthy and anonymous 2017 email, a Green Beret instructor argued that “career-focused leaders” have eroded standards in the qualification course in order to meet graduation quotas. The email charged that allowing women to compete for special operations jobs was also responsible because commanders want to “markedly lower the standards enough to ensure that any woman attempting this path will have absolutely no issue achieving it.”

It complained that soldiers who failed a skill or fitness test weren’t weeded out, but allowed to continue or given a second chance. The path to becoming a Green Beret consists of several phases, beginning with a grueling assessment and selection phase where commanders believe they can identify soldiers who cannot make the grade or do not belong. The bulk of those who try out fail. Some who get injured or fail are allowed to return and try again.

In the 2019 budget year, more than 3,000 soldiers showed up for the assessment phase, with 936 passing and going on to the qualification course. Of those, about 70 percent graduated and donned the Green Beret.

Sonntag said unqualified troops should be dropped. But that once soldiers make it through the assessment phase, the focus should be on training them to meet the standards. Former instructors told The Associated Press that the course has changed often over the decades. Chris Zets, a retired Green Beret who worked as a course instructor, said the attrition rate shot up in recent years as the training expanded and instructors added more intermittent fitness tests and requirements. Commanders, including Sonntag, were asked to figure out why. “You can ratchet it up and up and up and up to the point where you don’t graduate anybody and nobody volunteers to come here,” said Zets, who went through the course in 1979. “So, yeah, we’ve increased the standards, but then you don’t have anybody going to the force. So there’s a balancing act.”

Under the new program, once soldiers pass the assessment phase, they move to small unit tactics and survival training, then four months of more specialized job instruction, and then six weeks of exercises and other training before graduation. “I want somebody physically fit, culturally astute, morally straight, understands small unit tactics and how to apply that with a partner force. And someone who can problem solve. You give me that raw material coming out of the course and we’ll do just fine,” said Deedrick, the commander of 1st Special Forces Command.

Others, however, say the uproar over the changes was a troubling sign. “The danger of one unqualified officer making it through to command a Special Forces team is a balance that requires difficult choices,” said retired Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc, a former Special Forces commander. He said some instructors were concerned with exceptions being made for some soldiers in the course. “If they are concerned, I am concerned,” he said.

And, he said, the fact that they resorted to an anonymous email suggested they feared retribution or did not feel comfortable going to leadership. In fact, several instructors associated with the email posting ended up facing discipline or getting forced out — triggering charges that Sonntag sought revenge for the criticism.

Senior Army officials said a board of inquiry into Sonntag’s actions cleared him of any wrongdoing. In all but one case, officials and internal documents say, the soldiers were disciplined for infractions unrelated to the email, ranging from assault and travel fraud to being absent without leave and using government computers to promote a personal online business.

One soldier was charged with writing the email, lying about it and using his job to promote a personal business, the internal document said. Officials, however, also acknowledge there were lingering concerns about Sonntag fostering a toxic command climate and failing to communicate well enough with the troops about the changes in the course. While he was cleared of wrongdoing, Sonntag was not promoted and instead has decided to retire, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss personnel issues.

Article from the Associated Press

Monday, October 14, 2019

Master Sgt. Matthew Williams, 3rd SFG(A), to receive the Medal of Honor

President Donald J. Trump will award the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry to Master Sgt. Matthew Williams, United States Army, on October 30, 2019.

Master Sgt. Matthew Williams will receive the Medal of Honor for distinguishing himself by an act of gallantry and intrepidly above and beyond the call of duty on April 6, 2008, while serving as a Weapons Sergeant, Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha 3336, Special Operations Task Force-33, in support of Operations ENDURING FREEDOM. His complete disregard for his own safety and concern for the safety of his teammates ensured the survival of four critically wounded Soldiers and prevented the lead element of the assault force from being overrun by the enemy. Sergeant Williams' actions are in keeping with the finest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself. Combined Joint Special Operations Task-Force-Afghanistan, Operation Command Central, and the United States Army.

Personal Background:

Master Sgt. Matthew Williams is native of Boerne, Texas, and graduated from Angelo State University with a Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice. Driven to serve, Master Sgt. Williams enlisted into the Army under the18X Special Forces enlistment program in September 2005. After completing Infantry One Station Unit Training (OSUT), Williams attended Basic Airborne Training at Fort Benning, GA. Williams then attended the Special Forces Assessment and Selection in 2006 and was selected to attend the Special Forces Qualification Course. In 2007, Williams graduated as a weapons sergeant from the Special Forces Qualification Course and was assigned to Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne).

Throughout his career, Williams deployed multiple times in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM and Operation JUNIPER SHIELD, serving in numerous positions, including weapons sergeant, Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd SFG (A); senior weapons sergeant, Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd SFG (A); senior instructor/writer, Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Special Warfare Training Group; senior weapons sergeant, Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion 3rd SFG (A) and operations sergeant, Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion 3rd SFG (A).

His military training and education includes Infantry School; Basic Airborne School; Special Operations Command Jumpmaster Course; Basic Leader Course; Advanced Leader Course; Senior Leader Course; Master Leader Course; Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape; Special Forces Qualification Course; the Defense Language Institute's French Course; Special Forces Advanced Urban Combat Course; Special Forces Advanced Reconnaissance Target Exploitation Course; Basic instructor Training and Small Group Instructor Training.

Williams' awards and decorations include the Silver Star, Bronze Star Medal with two Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters, Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal with two Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters, Army Achievement Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal with Bronze Clasp and four Loops, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with three Bronze Service Stars, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon with Numeral "4," Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon with Numeral "3", Valorous Unit Award, Combat Infantryman Badge, Parachutist Badge, and Special Forces Tab.

The Medal of Honor:

The Medal of Honor is awarded by the President, in the name of Congress, to members of the Armed Forces who distinguish themselves conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of their own lives above and beyond the call of duty while, engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States; engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.

There must be no margin of doubt or possibility of error in awarding this honor. To justify this decoration, the deed performed must have been one of personal bravery and self-sacrifice so conspicuous as to clearly distinguish the individual above his or her comrades, and must have involved risk of life.

Article from Army.Mil

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Army Recruiting, by the numbers

The Army reached its goal of recruiting 68,000 active duty soldiers in fiscal year 2019, with roughly half belonging to 10 military occupational specialties and more than 34 percent of the entire recruiting pool destined for combat arms. The other roughly 65 percent of the incoming recruits are headed for non-combat roles.

The 2019 recruiting goal was itself a slowdown from the roughly 70,000 recruited last year — when the service was actually aiming to recruit 76,500 but missed the mark. But massive numbers like those don’t tell the full story when trying to determine how well staffed the Army is in critical areas. There were many jobs at the start of the fourth quarter that were struggling with manning levels, including cyber roles and explosive ordnance disposal techs, according to numbers obtained by Army Times from a source familiar with personnel issues and dated to July 10.

The largest career field the Army recruited for was, unsurprisingly, the 11X series, which includes regular and indirect-fire infantry. The total number of recruits heading into those roles was more than 13,000. That career field was followed by 68W, or combat medics, at roughly 3,000 recruits. The numbers begin to break down much quicker after those two jobs, which make up about one quarter of the entire recruiting goal when combined.

Army guidance pushes its leaders to maintain 100 percent of authorized strength across all brigade combat teams, a baseline that is difficult to sustain during a good economy that can simultaneously curtail new recruits and lure away soldiers who would otherwise remain. In spreadsheets obtained by Army Times, the service’s fourth-quarter fiscal-year shortages show that the large recruiting target numbers don’t necessarily show the full picture.

Army officials said the numbers shown in the spreadsheets are not an accurate reflection of the force’s manning levels, but officials also declined to provide more specific explanations. The numbers could have also changed since being compiled in July. “The Army continuously evaluates its current strength with future projections to establish both precision recruiting and retention incentives, and options to address shortages,” Army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Robin Ochoa said, pointing to the most recent selective retention bonus update that raised the maximum bonus soldiers can earn through re-enlistment to $81,000.

Though the service would not comment or elaborate on the numbers Army Times obtained, the data set lines up with the massive enlistment and reclassification bonuses being doled out to troops in certain career fields and, in the case of cyber jobs, a congressional report. The numbers also provide insight into career fields that are difficult to fill out, because of tough requirements for recruits, long training pipelines, high failure rates or all three.

EOD techs

The spreadsheet shows that entry-level Army EOD technicians up to the rank of E-4 were manned at only 44 percent of authorized levels as of July, with a projected manning level of about 51 percent by October. EOD techs at the rank of E-5 stood at 79 percent manning levels in July and EOD techs at the rank of E-6 stood at only 57 percent, with almost no projected improvement by the October mark, according to the spreadsheet.

As with all the figures provided in this article, the Army did not confirm its manning levels or offer different numbers that could be referenced instead. However, the service is now offering large incentives for EOD techs. Retraining into the 89D EOD tech career field, for instance, can earn top-level tier 10 bonuses if a soldier is a private first class or specialist, so long as the soldier makes it through the schoolhouse.

The Army also recently authorized the EOD career field an aesthetic change that could help recruitment — full-time wear of their EOD brassards. “EOD relies substantially on in-service recruitment to ensure the Army maintains a sustainable capability to mitigate explosive ordnance threats," Greg Mueller, an Army Training and Doctrine Command spokesman, previously said in a statement on the uniform change. “The brassard serves to aid Army EOD in-service recruitment since it generates questions about its significance and provides an opening for the recruiter to discuss qualifications and EOD career options.”

Cyber and signals

The Army’s multi-domain operations push hinges greatly on the service’s ability to recruit and staff jobs in the cyber and space domains. The numbers obtained by Army Times show a range of cyber career fields experiencing manning shortfalls.

The 17C cyber operations specialist job was one of the largest on the spreadsheet Army Times obtained, with nearly 300 soldiers authorized up to the rank of E-4. However those ranks were only manned at 54 percent in July and were expected to only climb to about 68 percent by October, according to the spreadsheet.

Cyber operations specialists with the right additional skills could earn tier 10 bonuses, the highest selective retention bonus tier, if they re-enlist to work with a cyber protection brigade or the 780th Military Intelligence Brigade. Non-location dependent cyber operations specialists still qualify for tier 9 bonuses, the second highest tier, indicating a continuing need for the troops.

The Army’s 17E electronic warfare specialist career field was also facing shortages, according to the spreadsheets. At the rank of E-5, the service was short more than 150 troops and manned at roughly 23 percent with very little projected growth by October, the spreadsheets show.

The 25D cyber network defender job also appeared to be struggling. At the rank of E-6, the career had a manning rate of about 34 percent and, again, very little growth projected, according to the spreadsheets. At the rank of E-7, the manning rate was 51 percent and not projected to grow. The E-8 rank looked considerably better, with a manning level of about 75 percent, but it was projected to drop to roughly 70 percent by October.

Retraining into the 35P cryptologic linguist career field also qualifies a soldier for tier 10 bonuses. This job requires soldiers to attend the Defense Language Institute, a grueling academic program with a high failure rate. The number of soldiers in the cryptologic linguist MOS appeared particularly low. Up to the rank of E-4, the career field was manned at 23 percent in July and expected to reach about 25 percent by October, according to the spreadsheet. For those at the rank of E-5, the shortage sheet showed the job as manned at 74 percent with a drop to 69 percent by the end of the year.

An August congressional report by the Government Accountability Office details how two new Army cyber warfare units are seriously undermanned, the 915th Cyber Warfare Support Battalion and a recently activated Intelligence, Cyber, Electronic Warfare, and Space unit. “For example, the Army activated a cyber battalion in December 2018, and as of March 2019, this unit was understaffed by more than 80 percent,” the GAO report reads.

Combat medics and infantry

The Army’s 68W MOS was manned at about 72 percent in July and expected to reach about 77 by October, according to the spreadsheets. Though, the service’s recruitment of about 3,000 combat medics this fiscal year could have helped put a dent in that projection. The Army was pushing hard throughout the spring and summer to recruit new infantrymen, as well, offering massive enlistment bonuses that topped out at $40,000 for new recruits and up to $41,000 for soldiers who reclassify.

Similarly, Army Times previously reported that the service was short more than 5,000 junior enlisted infantrymen at the start of the fourth quarter, with the 11B career field alone manned at roughly 79 percent of its goal early in the final quarter of the fiscal year. To what extent these figures are of significance depends on a range of factors. For one thing, EOD training is known to have a high failure rate for candidates and the training pipeline is relatively long. Even if the Army was able to close the gap on the recruitment numbers, there’s no guarantee how many trainees will graduate the EOD course.

Cyber career fields are also notoriously difficult for the Defense Department at large to staff. Tech-savvy individuals are highly sought after in the civilian sector, making competition difficult. Infantrymen, by contrast, aren’t typically as difficult to produce in high numbers, but retaining experienced 11Bs after their first enlistment can be challenging. The Army would not say how, if at all, the numbers for these career fields impact readiness for the service in the long term. “The Army assesses personnel strength on a continual basis to efficiently prioritize manning across the force," service spokeswoman Ochoa said. "This process ensures a consistent state of readiness. Alternatively, shortages impact recruiting and retention efforts, which comprise overall accessions. Readiness requires a high-quality force comprised of the right people with the right talents, and we remain committed to our structured process that positively sustains our Army team.”

Article from the Army Times

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

5th Special Forces Group - The Legion

The 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) derives its lineage from two units of World War II fame --The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and the First Special Service Force ("The Devils Brigade"). The OSS was formed in 1941 to collect intelligence and wage secret operations behind enemy lines. Small teams of OSS operatives parachuted behind enemy lines in both Europe and Asia to lead partisans against the Axis Forces. From these guerrilla operations came the nucleus of men and techniques that would form the Special Forces Regiment.

The First Special Service Forces was a combined Canadian-American Force constituted July 5, 1942, in the Army of the United States as Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 1st Battalion, 3rd Regiment, 1st Special Service Force. The Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 1st Battalion, 3rd Regiment, 1st Special Service Force was first activated and trained at Fort William Henry Harrison, Montana. The Force participated in the Italian Campaign and saw additional action in Southern France. The Force was disbanded in Menton, France on Feb. 6, 1945. The unit was reconstituted in the regular Army on April 15, 1960, designated as Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces Regiment.

On Sept. 21, 1961 at Fort Bragg, N.C., the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) was officially activated. Just one year later, elements of the 5th Special Forces Group began serving temporary duty tours in the Republic of Vietnam. Full deployment of the Group was completed in February 1965. Units from within the Group deployed from its operational base at Nha Trang to the four military regions of South Vietnam. Operational detachments established and manned camps at 254 different locations to train and lead indigenous forces of the Civilian Irregular Defense Groups, and regular units of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Vietnam. The 5th SFG (A) also formed specialized units that conducted special reconnaissance and direct action missions.

Despite being one of the smallest units engaged in the Vietnam conflict, the Group’s colors fly 20 campaign streamers. Soldiers from the Group are among the most highly decorated warriors in the history of our nation. Sixteen Medals of Honor were awarded (eight posthumously). The Group is awarded the Presidential Unit Citation (Army) Vietnam 1966 to 1968, The Meritorious Unit Commendation (Army) Vietnam 1968; Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm, Vietnam 1964; and Republic of Vietnam Civil Action Honor Medal, 1st Class, Vietnam 1968 to 1970. On March 5, 1971, the colors of the 5th SFG (A) were returned to Fort Bragg, N.C., by a 94-man contingent led by then Col. (Maj. Gen. Retired) Michael D. Healy, thereby terminating their official Vietnam service.

The 5th SFG (A) remained at Fort Bragg until June 10, 1988, when the Group colors were cased at a ceremony marking its departure from Fort Bragg. Subsequently, the colors were officially uncased at its new home at Fort Campbell.

The 5th SFG (A) added to its rich combat history during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. In August 1990, the Group was called upon to conduct operations in Southwest Asia in response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. During this crisis, elements of 5th Group, comprising 106 special operations teams, performed a myriad of missions that spanned the scope of operations: supporting coalition warfare; conducting foreign internal defense missions with Saudi Arabian Land Forces, performing special reconnaissance, border surveillance, direct action, combat search and rescue missions; and advising and assisting a pan-Arab force larger than six U.S. divisions, and conducting civil military operations training and liaison with the Kuwaitis. In the words of the CENTCOM Commander, General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, "Special Forces were the eyes and ears on the ground." A new chapter in coalition warfare was written while new military relationships were forged which continue their importance today. On June 11, 1993, the Valorous Unit Award was presented to the 5th SFG (A) for service during Operation Desert Storm from Jan. 17, 1991 to Feb. 28, 1991."

In August 1992, four months prior to the deployment of any other U.S. forces, 5th SFG (A) conducted operations in the country of Somalia. Soldiers of the Group deployed in support of U.S. and United Nations Forces and conducted unconventional warfare, direct action, special reconnaissance and coalition support.

Throughout the 1990s, 5th Group elements conducted missions in Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo. Soldiers from the Group also executed contingency operations and training missions throughout Northeast Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and Central Asia.

Within hours of the terrorist attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, Soldiers from 5th SFG (A) were being deployed in support of the Global War on Terror. Together with indigenous forces, the Group succeeded in ending Taliban rule in Afghanistan, enabling the Afghan people to choose their own destiny while denying terrorist organizations of their primary base of support. The Group received two Presidential Unit Citations in recognition of its service in Afghanistan. The 5th SFG (A) has also played a key role in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In addition to unconventional warfare and direct action missions conducted throughout Iraq, the Group has trained Iraqi military and security forces to enable them to carry on the fight against extremism on behalf of the long-suffering Iraqi populace.

As requirements related to the Global War on Terror continued to increase, U.S. Special Operations Command received authorization to add one Special Forces Battalion to each of its active duty Special Forces Groups. U.S. Army Special Operations Command issued Permanent Order 193-7 on July 12, 2006, directing 5th Group to prepare for activation of a 4th Battalion. The Group formed an activation cell on June 4, 2007. Over the next year, a very small number of Officers, a strong cadre of NCOs, and a contingent of new Special Forces and Support Soldiers came together to build the foundation for this new organization. The new Battalion was activated on Aug. 8, 2008.

Today, 5th SFG (A) teams are deploying throughout Southwest Asia and Africa and the Soldiers continue to live the Special Forces motto--"To Liberate the Oppressed."

Article from

Thursday, September 19, 2019

SFC Jeremy Griffin, 1st Special Forces Group - RIP

A Special Forces soldier, SFC Jeremy Griffin, was killed on Monday, September 16, 2019 in Afghanistan. He died of wound from small arms fire while engaged in combat operations in Wardak province, Afghanistan. He was a member of the 3rd Battalion, 1st special Forces Group based at Joint Base Lewis-McCord, Washington.

Jeremy Griffin was born in Cristobal, Panama in December 1978. He enlisted into the U.S. Army in 2004. He deployed to Iraq in 2006 and Afghanistan in 2009 with the 82nd Airborne Division. He had also served with the 7th Special Forces Group. After attending and graduating from the Special Forces Qualification Course in 2014 as a Special Forces Communication Sergeant he was assigned to 1st SFGA.

He graduated from the Basic, Advanced, and Senior Leader Courses; U.S. Army Basic and Advanced Airborne Schools; Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center, Basic Korean Course; Ranger School; Basic and Advanced Military Free Fall Parachutist Course; Military Freefall Advanced Tactical Infiltration Course; Special Operations Joint Terminal Attack Controller Course; Special Forces Intelligence Sergeants Course; and Special Forces Qualification Course.

Griffin’s awards and decorations include the Bronze Star Medal; Army Commendation Medal (1 Oak Leaf Cluster); Army Achievement Medal (3 OLC); Army Good Conduct Medal (fifth award); National Defense Service Medal; Afghanistan Campaign Medal (3 Campaign Stars); Iraq Campaign Medal (2 Campaign Stars); Global War on Terrorism Service Medal; Korea Defense Service Medal; Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon (Numeral 3); Army Service Ribbon; Overseas Service Ribbon; NATO Medal; Army Marksmanship Qualification Badge (Expert); Parachutist Badge; Master Military Free Fall Parachutist Badge; Combat Infantry Badge; Combat Action Badge; Ranger and Army Special Forces Tabs. SFC Jeremy Griffin was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star Medal and Purple Heart. He was 41 years old.

“The loss of Sgt. 1st Class Griffin is felt across the 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) Family and the entire Special Forces community. He was a warrior – an accomplished, respected and loved Special Forces Soldier that will never be forgotten. We ask that you keep his Family and teammates in your thoughts and prayers.” - Colonel Owen G. Ray, commander, 1st Special Forces Group.

Article from SOF News

Monday, September 16, 2019

SSG David Bellavia MOH and Speech

SSG David G. Bellavia earnd his Medal of Honor while serving as a member of Company A, Task Force 2-2, 1st Infantry Division fighting in Fallujah, Iraq under Operation Phantom Fury. Read his MOH citation then watch the 22 minute video which gets really good at the 6 minute mark.

Medal of Honor Citation:

Staff Sergeant David G. Bellavia distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty on November 10, 2004, while serving as squad leader in support of Operation Phantom Fury in Fallujah, Iraq.

While clearing a house, a squad from Staff Sergeant Bellavia’s platoon became trapped within a room by intense enemy fire coming from a fortified position under the stairs leading to the second floor. Recognizing the immediate severity of the situation, and with disregard for his own safety, Staff Sergeant Bellavia retrieved an automatic weapon and entered the doorway of the house to engage the insurgents.

With enemy rounds impacting around him, Staff Sergeant Bellavia fired at the enemy position at a cyclic rate, providing covering fire that allowed the squad to break contact and exit the house.

A Bradley Fighting Vehicle was brought forward to suppress the enemy; however, due to high walls surrounding the house, it could not fire directly at the enemy position. Staff Sergeant Bellavia then re-entered the house and again came under intense enemy fire. He observed an enemy insurgent preparing to launch a rocket-propelled grenade at his platoon. Recognizing the grave danger the grenade posed to his fellow soldiers, Staff Sergeant Bellavia assaulted the enemy position, killing one insurgent and wounding another who ran to a different part of the house.

Staff Sergeant Bellavia, realizing he had an un-cleared, darkened room to his back, moved to clear it. As he entered, an insurgent came down the stairs firing at him. Simultaneously, the previously wounded insurgent reemerged and engaged Staff Sergeant Bellavia. Staff Sergeant Bellavia, entering further into the darkened room, returned fire and eliminated both insurgents. Staff Sergeant Bellavia then received enemy fire from another insurgent emerging from a closet in the darkened room.

Exchanging gunfire, Staff Sergeant Bellavia pursued the enemy up the stairs and eliminated him. Now on the second floor, Staff Sergeant Bellavia moved to a door that opened onto the roof. At this point, a fifth insurgent leapt from the third floor roof onto the second floor roof. Staff Sergeant Bellavia engaged the insurgent through a window, wounding him in the back and legs, and caused him to fall off the roof.

Acting on instinct to save the members of his platoon from an imminent threat, Staff Sergeant Bellavia ultimately cleared an entire enemy-filled house, destroyed four insurgents, and badly wounded a fifth. Staff Sergeant Bellavia's bravery, complete disregard for his own safety, and unselfish and courageous actions are in keeping with the finest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Army.

After the Service:

Bellavia was Vice Chairman and co-founder of Vets for Freedom and is currently the President of EMPact America, an American energy resiliency organization based in Elma, New York. He published a memoir, House to House: An Epic Memoir of War, co-written with John R. Bruning., recognized as one of the top five best Iraq War memoirs. Bellavia has signed an agreement with a film producer to make his memoir into a major motion picture.

He has unsuccessfully run for Congressional office several times in highly liberal New York but contnues to be highly sought after appearances at veterans events and for speeches.

Watch the video below to see one of the most amazing speeches you will ever hear:

Monday, September 9, 2019

Passing the Paramilitary Torch from the CIA to Special Operations Command

In the shadowy realm of international competition that falls below the threshold of traditional conflict, the United States continues to struggle to match near-peer competitors like Russia and China. The Russian-led paramilitary invasion of eastern Ukraine that began in mid-2014 has thus far prevented successive U.S.-backed Ukrainian governments from fully consolidating power or joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In Syria, Russian private paramilitary companies have been crucial in propping up the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Over the last decade, China has built artificial islands and deployed paramilitary naval units to secure its illegal claim to the international waterways of the South China Sea – all without firing a single shot. These examples involved the use of paramilitary activities by America’s adversaries, a form of conflict to which the U.S. government has historically responded with the CIA. In this context, paramilitary activities involve the use of non-conventional or proxy forces to conduct sabotage, ambushes, or other low-visibility combat operations to undermine and contribute to the defeat of an adversary. Photo at right: U.S. Army Special Forces Soldiers with Hamid Karzai during their unconventional warfare campaign that toppled the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, 2001

The CIA’s primacy in matters of paramilitary activities is well-established through existing Congressional legislation and presidential executive orders. However, today the United States faces serious threats from near-peer state adversaries, terrorist groups, and other sub-state actors that should lead its leaders to rethink its organizational and operational approaches to paramilitary activities to optimize both its capabilities and capacity to meet these threats. The U.S. Defense Department, specifically its subordinate U.S. Special Operations Command, is the organization best prepared to assume leadership of the U.S. government’s paramilitary efforts that are critical to supporting its national interests.

One of the major recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Report, delivered in 2004, was that the Defense Department should assume primary responsibility for U.S. government paramilitary activities from the CIA. That commission found that the CIA “relied on operatives without the requisite military training,” resulting in unsatisfactory results. Additionally, the report advised that the United States “cannot afford to build two separate capabilities for carrying out secret military operations, secretly operating standoff missiles, and secretly training foreign military or paramilitary forces.” In response, the Defense Department contracted a study that ultimately determined in 2005 that assuming control of paramilitary operations was inadvisable at that time given the Defense Department’s lack of internal capability, discomfort with existing legal strictures on Title 50 authorities, and concern over potentially increased Congressional oversight that would come with responsibility for paramilitary activities. In the twelve years since that study delivered its findings and recommendations, the Defense Department has developed its own clandestine intelligence and operational paramilitary capabilities. It is now the appropriate time to reassess and appropriately re-task the Department of Defense’s own U.S. Special Operations Command with primary responsibility for paramilitary activities. Historically, the CIA has a very poor track record of success in organizing and leading paramilitary campaigns, often relying on military special operations support. Other forms of covert action include propaganda to undermine confidence in or adherence to hostile governments and political action designed to support domestic parties in opposition to U.S. adversaries. Only a small number of the declassified CIA-led paramilitary campaigns between 1948 and 2001 were deemed “successful”, though propaganda and political covert actions fared better. While the bravery of CIA paramilitary operatives should be lauded and honored, the American people must be ensured that their paramilitary capabilities are better organized to best defend their interests in the future.


From a capabilities standpoint, U.S. Special Operations Command demonstrates comparable and, in some cases, superior capabilities of immediate applicability to paramilitary activities. Unbeknownst to many is the fact that U.S. Special Operations Command is already trained, equipped, and enabled to execute paramilitary operations. A core mission of U.S. Special Operations Command is “unconventional warfare”, which the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2016 defines as “activities conducted to enable a resistance movement or insurgency to coerce, disrupt or overthrow an occupying power or government by operating through or with an underground, auxiliary or guerrilla force in a denied area." Of critical importance, the Defense Department Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms defines a “guerrilla force” as “a group of irregular, predominantly indigenous personnel organized along military lines to conduct military and paramilitary operations in enemy-held, hostile, or denied territory.” Assuming primary responsibility for paramilitary activities will not place additional strain on U.S. Special Operations Command as all of the components of paramilitary operations are already “part and parcel” of their core mission. While the entirety of U.S. Special Operations Command is tasked to conduct unconventional warfare, much of that capability resides in a subordinate element - U.S. Army Special Operations Command. Within this element, the Office of Special Warfare serves as the focal point for U.S. government-sponsored unconventional warfare.

U.S. Special Operations Command regularly demonstrates its ability to conduct “operational preparation of the environment” activities to support counterterrorism and unconventional warfare that seemingly only differ from paramilitary activities in the authorities under which they are executed. Whereas paramilitary activities is conducted under Title 50 of U.S. Code (USC), Operational Preparation of the Environment and other military activities are executed under Title 10 USC. More practically speaking, the CIA conducts paramilitary activities with the intention to effect some sort of fundamental change against a foreign target without the U.S. government’s role ever being clearly evident, while the Defense Department conducts Operational Preparation of the Environment ostensibly in support of traditional military activities that might reasonably demonstrate a U.S. government role at some point. However, the Defense Department now arguably characterizes activities that could easily be described as paramilitary activities as Operational Preparation of the Environment “where the slightest nexus of a theoretical, distant military operation might one day exist.” Consolidation of the covert paramilitary responsibility with existing Operational Preparation of the Environment requirements would not create so much of an additional burden on U.S. Special Operations Command as it would reduce duplication of capability at both the CIA and Defense Department.

To many even within the U.S. government, most of U.S. Special Operations Command’s Operational Preparation of the Environment activities are already virtually indistinguishable from the CIA’s paramilitary activities, as they employ many of the same methodologies to establish and manage human and physical infrastructure in semi-permissive and denied areas to support U.S. strategic objectives. Further highlighting this confused perception, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence has previously argued that, “in categorizing its clandestine activities, the Defense Department frequently labels them as ‘Operational Preparation of the Environment’ to distinguish particular operations as traditional military activities and not as intelligence functions. The committee observes, though, that overuse of the term has made the distinction all but meaningless.” Shifting primacy of responsibility for paramilitary activities from the CIA to U.S. Special Operations Command and consolidating it with the existing Operational Preparation of the Environment mission would serve the dual purpose of maximizing the effectiveness of paramilitary capabilities while also potentially addressing the growing tensions related to the oversight disparity between paramilitary and clandestine activities.

Many naysayers of this proposal will argue that only the CIA has the means to safeguard the secrecy of such paramilitary activity and accomplish the mission with discrete U.S. government presence. This argument is less compelling given the CIA’s demonstrably poor track record in keeping U.S. government participation in paramilitary operations discrete, from the “Bay of Pigs” invasion of Cuba in 1961 to the recent paramilitary operation revealed in the Middle East. By comparison, U.S. Special Operations Command already has forces deployed around the world, accomplishing sensitive missions that largely go unnoticed. Additionally, the Defense Department already executes Special Access Programs that are waived and unacknowledged. Much like CIA paramilitary operations conducted under Presidential Findings, waived and unacknowledged Special Access Programs are “considered to be so sensitive that they are exempt from standard reporting requirements to the Congress” and are only briefed to highly-cleared members of the relevant Congressional committees. The Defense Department already has a well-established track record of ensuring the confidentiality of incredibly sensitive programs, requirements with which the CIA has shown some difficulty.


Not surprisingly, the CIA has always relied extensively on Defense Department special operations forces to support its paramilitary activities ever since the National Security Act of 1947 first created the CIA. Every paramilitary operation from Tibet (1953-1972) to the modern era saw large numbers of the Defense Department special operations service members employed by the CIA using its authorities to execute the mission. While the CIA’s actual end strength of paramilitary skills officers is classified, most open-source estimates place its numbers at no more than a couple hundred exemplary Americans whose attentions are split between overseas assignments and headquarters duty at Langley. By comparison, U.S. Special Operations Command has nearly 70,000 total personnel assigned, of which the command already has 13,000 deployed around the world at any given time. As previously discussed, the Office of Special Warfare coordinates the unconventional warfare capabilities of five battalions’ (over 2,000 soldiers) worth of the U.S.’s finest practitioners of the paramilitary arts in support of every geographic combatant command (Africa, Europe, Central and South America, North America, Middle East, and Pacific). These numbers do not account for the tens of thousands of special operations members in other units trained in unconventional warfare. By outright assuming responsibility for all U.S. paramilitary operations, U.S. Special Operations Command will be able to leverage its full capacity to conduct the preparatory undertakings for and execution of successful paramilitary activities, thereby increasing options for U.S. policymakers. Clearly, U.S. Special Operations Command now has a much greater capacity to fulfill current and future paramilitary requirements that will only continue to grow in scale.

Moreover, CIA recruits many of its paramilitary operatives directly from U.S. Special Operations Command, thanks largely to the previously discussed and well-established operational relationship between the CIA and Defense Department special operations forces. Most national security experts believe that there is no way that the U.S. government could even come close to meeting its current capacity needs for paramilitary activities without U.S. Special Operations Command support. As the evolving global security environment will clearly require additional paramilitary capacity, the CIA will find itself further unable to meet those requirements through its own internal mechanisms and become more reliant on U.S. Special Operations Command. As such, transferring primary responsibility for paramilitary activities from the CIA to Defense Department would simply be a recognition that the majority interest in and capacity for paramilitary activities resides in the Defense Department. In turn, U.S. Special Operations Command, with its larger personnel reserves and budgetary appropriations, will provide the U.S. government and American people with a more robust and efficient paramilitary activities capacity when and where it is most needed.

Legality and Oversight

Legally speaking, the Defense Department possesses both the legislative and executive authorities and permissions to assume primary responsibility for paramilitary activities consistent with the recommendations of this article. Legislatively, the National Security Act of 1947, 1991 Intelligence Authorization Act, and Title 50 of USC all previously designated the CIA as the office of primary responsibility for paramilitary activities. However, the Secretary of Defense also possesses Title 50 authorities which are regularly applied to support paramilitary activities and other intelligence activities. President Ronald Reagan’s Executive Order 12333, which President George W. Bush amended with Executive Order 13470, similarly reinforced CIA primacy for paramilitary activities. However, Executive Order 13470 importantly established a specific exceptions for transferring that responsibility to other agencies. The language of Executive Order 13470 clearly states that the President may direct other agencies to lead paramilitary efforts if he or she “determines that another agency is more likely to achieve a particular objective.” Given the arguments previously presented in this article, it is clear that the Defense Department is now the most appropriate agency to lead U.S. government paramilitary activities efforts moving forward.

The consolidation within the Defense Department of covert paramilitary activities and unconventional warfare efforts will ensure better oversight, as all such activities would then require Presidential Findings and the associated reporting to all of the interested Congressional committees. This approach will resolve a long-standing tension between the Congressional defense committees related to the oversight of covert and clandestine activities. The recommendation to consolidate paramilitary activities in the Defense Department previously met resistance from both the Pentagon and CIA for very different reasons that both stemmed from bureaucratic interests. In the case of the Defense Department, there was reluctance to delve deeper into Title 50 missions that brought additional approval and oversight requirements. For the CIA, the prospect of ceding a very important, and suddenly prestigious, mission was also very unattractive. These perspectives resistant to the transfer of paramilitary activity responsibility to the Defense Department appear rooted in arguments that, while maybe valid when the 2005 Defense Department study presented its finding, are no longer the case. What has not changed are the reasons for the 9/11 Commission’s original findings: that CIA has consistently faltered in its execution of paramilitary operations and that the country can ill afford to fund two identical capabilities at the CIA and Defense Department. It is high time to consolidate paramilitary activities at the Defense Department.

To affect the seamless transfer of primacy for paramilitary activities responsibility from the CIA to Defense Department, there are several recommendations that can and should be implemented. The Executive Branch should draft and issue an executive order amending Executive Order 12333 further to transfer primary responsibility for planning and conducting paramilitary activities from the CIA to the Defense Department. Consistent with the existing Executive Order 13470 language, paramilitary activities will still require a Presidential Finding and reserve for the President the authority to designate other agencies to lead paramilitary activities if the conditions warrant. As paramilitary activities already require coordination through the National Security Council and interagency cooperation, this process will remain under the new construct. Except now, the Defense Department will brief the properly-cleared members of the National Security Council and Congressional defense and intelligence committees. The CIA will remain a critical supporting agency for paramilitary activities, but will respond to Defense Department direction on such campaigns.

Congress, for its part, would need to pass the requisite legislation to enable the Defense Department to assume this responsibility through appropriate reorganization, appropriations, and oversight mechanisms. Currently, Title 10 of USC does not specify paramilitary activities as a primary mission for U.S. Special Operations Command, which will require an amendment to Title 10, the invocation of Title 50 by the Secretary of Defense, or the creation of an entirely new legislative authority for U.S. Special Operations Command to exercise its authority as lead department for paramilitary activities. The next NDAA should direct U.S. Special Operations Command, through the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict, to reorganize to facilitate paramilitary activities within the Defense Department. This reorganization might be affected through amendment of the existing reorganization requirements levied in Section 922 of the FY17 NDAA. Section 922 previously directed this office to assume “service-like” responsibility for U.S. Special Operations Command.

Next, the appropriations committees should explore additional funding lines to allow U.S. Special Operations Command to assume its new paramilitary activities leadership role and draft required legislative language into the next NDAA. An amendment to Section 1202 of the FY18 NDAA, which authorized funding for “the irregular warfare tools and resources required to impede the progress of near peer advances in the competitive space short of war”, would provide a good starting point from which to expand U.S. Special Operations Command’s paramilitary capabilities. Unfortunately, this line of effort was only funded for $10 million dollars in the FY18 NDAA, far beneath the amount needed given the scale of the challenge posed by these competitors. A considerable increase in funding under Section 1202 would enable U.S. Special Operations Command personnel, who are already on the front lines alongside our international allies and partners in the “shadow war” against China, Russia, and Iran, to better counter these competitors’ destabilizing activities in the South China Sea, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East.


Perhaps the most important change that will be required for U.S. Special Operations Command to assume full responsibility for U.S. government-sponsored paramilitary activities will be one of mindset. After almost two decades of mostly overt and highly kinetic counterterrorism activities conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan, an argument has been made that U.S. Special Operations Command, as an organization, lacks the mindset necessary for successfully executing irregular activities under politically sensitive conditions. In recognition of this criticism, U.S. Army Special Operations Command established its Office of Special Warfare, organized battalions of troops specifically trained to conduct unconventional warfare, and is assuming its role as U.S. Special Operations Command’s focal point for related activities. Similarly, U.S. Special Operations Command’s Joint Special Operations University, which is based at the command’s headquarters on MacDill Air Force Base, now offers a myriad of courses for U.S. Special Operations Command operators, support personnel, and senior leaders that address these shortcomings. The Joint Special Operations University’s most applicable offering, “Special Operations Forces Sensitive Activities in the Contemporary Operational Environment” (previously called “Covert Action and Special Operations Forces Sensitive Activities”), provides instruction that “explores covert action and sensitive military activities as important options for national security practitioners and decision makers”.

The American people deserve the most effective, efficient, and robust paramilitary capabilities that the nation can muster, and the U.S. government should compel the CIA and Defense Department to execute this recommended restructuring. Close collaboration, coordination, and synchronization of efforts will reinforce the importance of interagency integration and demonstrate the wisdom of this undertaking. This logical effort will, ultimately, better enable the U.S. government to fulfill its most sacred duty to the American people – protecting their vital national interests and way of life from those adversaries and competitors who would endeavor to do them harm.

This article was written by Douglas Livermore who works as a contracted government advisor in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, while also serving as a Special Forces officer in the U.S. Army National Guard. In addition to multiple combat deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan, Doug led special operations elements during contingency operations around the world. He holds a master’s degree from Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program and a bachelor's degree from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The views expressed in his articles are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of Defense or the U.S. government.

Article from the Small Wars Journal, 2 September 2019