The Insider Attack In Syria That The Pentagon Denies Ever Happened

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Exclusive: The Insider Attack In Syria That The Pentagon Denies Ever Happened
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It was a pitch black Saturday evening at a remote outpost in Syria last February when Sgt. Cameron Halkovich and Cpl. Kane Downey began their rounds, checking Marines on perimeter security.

As sergeant and corporal of the guard, their job was to set up the watch schedule, man the radios, and most importantly, ensure Marines on post were watching for signs of ISIS fighters, who for months had been under blistering attack from artillery at the small, Army-run base in Deir al-Zour Province. Besides an Army Special Forces team, it hosted a forward surgical team, more than dozen Marine infantrymen, and a platoon-sized element of Syrian Democratic Forces allied with the U.S.

But on that late-winter night, one of the Americans’ SDF partners would turn on them and fire two shots — marking the first known instance of an insider attack during Operation Inherent Resolve. And while the Pentagon often announces when service members are killed or wounded during these “insider” or “green on blue” attacks, it made no such announcement for Halkovich, a combat engineer, who was shot twice in the leg and survived.

This account of the Feb. 17 shooting of a U.S. Marine by a member of the Syrian militia he was supporting is based on interviews with multiple sources, military award documents, and scant details released by the Pentagon. It has also become an open secret among the 1,000-plus Marines and sailors of the unit Halkovich was attached to — 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, based in Twentynine Palms, California.

“It’s kind of ridiculous that a Marine gets shot and nobody hears about it,” said one source familiar with the incident, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisal. “It kind of blows my mind.”

In fact, when asked by Task & Purpose whether there had ever been an insider attack during Operation Inherent Resolve, a coalition statement flatly denied it: “We have no recorded incidents of insider attacks during OIR.”

* * *

halko wounded

The small contingent of Marines from Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment had a boring and often thankless job providing security at the outpost, a so-called “mission support site” which Task & Purpose has chosen not to name for operational security reasons. Though they occasionally left the wire, the Marines spent most of their time on rooftops or in the turret of a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected truck, as Army artillerymen safely pounded ISIS positions and Special Forces soldiers trained and supported the SDF in battle.

They settled into a familiar routine after about five months in Syria: Some Marines slept or ate, while others manned a vehicle-mounted .50 caliber machine-gun or looked for infiltrators in the surrounding desert with night vision and thermal imaging devices. Meanwhile, the SDF had their own routine, manning a gate that served as the main entry point into the camp.

The Marines mostly kept to themselves, except to share an occasional cigarette with the Kurdish-dominated SDF. Sometimes the Kurds would slaughter a goat and cook it up for their American patrons. But for reasons that remain unclear, relations began to deteriorate in early February.

“There was an incident with an SDF guy racking his AK… but the Marine somehow deescalated the situation and nothing was fired,” the source said of a Kurdish soldier who chambered a round in his AK-47 rifle, threatening a Marine about a week prior to the Halkovich shooting. That SDF soldier was subsequently kicked off the base.

“Tensions were super high at this point,” the source added.

But just as one potential insider threat was removed, a new one seemed to present itself just a week later, illustrating the fragile nature of some of America’s partnerships with foreign militaries — which are increasingly being used to fight terror groups through a strategy of “advise and assist.”

2-7marines

It began with a radio call. Alerted to a commotion at the SDF-manned gate, Halkovich and Downey ran to check it out. When they got there, SDF soldiers told the Marines a truck outside the gate was just having car trouble.

It was a lie, one that was quickly exposed when a Syrian civilian in the vehicle held up a dead child that was “soaked in blood,” according to the source. Looking closer, the Marines saw a truck bed filled with about eight dead or wounded civilians. It was a mass-casualty incident, and they knew they had to help.

The SDF told the Marines no, in clear violation of the Geneva Conventions, which strictly prohibits withholding medical assistance or discriminating in providing care.

“SDF was trying to tell us that we weren’t allowed to treat them, but… we’re going to help anybody we can,” the source said, adding that the partner force “was super upset about it.”

Another source, who also spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisal, said the injured group, comprised mostly of women and children, was turned away by the SDF because they were not Kurdish.

The first source gave a similar account: “It was purely racial. They refused to give them an ambulance.”

Halkovich and Downey pushed the SDF soldiers out of the way and opened the gate, amid screaming from both sides in English and Arabic. They moved concertina wire aside while another Marine called in a mass casualty to the Army surgical team. Others placed victims on litters and shuffled them in.

halkovich

Army medics managed to save four of the victims, according to the first source. But the SDF “was not happy,” the other source said. The Kurds even threatened to kick the Marines out of the compound for their humanitarian act.

Eventually, tensions settled and things went back to normal — until dark.

Around 9 p.m. that night, Halkovich and Downey decided to check on Lance Cpl. Jay Smith, who was stationed in the MRAP turret behind a .50 caliber machine gun.

After walking the 100 meters or so from their quarters, Halkovich stopped to urinate. Not thinking anything of it, Downey kept going. But as he crossed an intersection between buildings near the main gate, he realized something seemed strange.

At the entry control point, at least one SDF soldier normally watched the gate at all times. But nobody was there.

Neither Marine was aware that hidden in the shadows, one of the SDF soldiers had abandoned his post and was lying in wait.

Downey got to the door of the MRAP and reached for the handle. But before he opened it, he heard two gunshots, the distinctive report of an AK-47.

He turned around and saw Halkovich on the ground, his face obscured. Downey would later recount to his fellow Marines and military investigators that he saw a lone SDF soldier, standing over Halkovich with a rifle.

Downey then aimed in with his M4 rifle and dropped the attacker with a “hammer pair” — a well-aimed series of two quick shots to the chest. With the SDF soldier now dead, Downey kicked his weapon away and yelled to Smith in the turret: “Halko was shot! Halko was shot!”

Halkovich took two 7.62mm bullets to the left leg that went clean through — though, in the darkness, Downey initially thought his comrade was dead. With Downey’s red-lens headlamp shining down on his face, Halkovich looked up. Then he looked at his leg, then back at Downey, and finally, he screamed.

According to the award citation for the Joint Service Commendation Medal that Downey would receive in March for what was called a “shooting incident,” the Marine “acted decisively to eliminate the threat to his comrade” before applying a tourniquet to Halkovich’s leg and fireman-carrying him to the surgical facility. (The citation, signed by OIR Commanding General Lt. Gen. Paul Funk, however, takes pains to avoid identifying “the shooter.”)

Smith, for his part, remained at his post and called in the shooting on the radio, prompting the rest of the Marines to respond to the scene. Just as the Marines had done earlier in the day for civilians, they now watched as one of their own was brought to the Army surgeons stationed nearby.

Halkovich was medically evacuated from the post soon after, while Downey was brought back to a larger camp to explain what had happened to military investigators.

But for months afterward, the Marines continued to live side-by-side with the Syrian partners they had come to fear.

“It’s really terrifying,” the first source said. “You’re literally surrounded.”

Spokesmen for the Syrian Democratic Forces did not respond to a request for comment.

purpleheart halko

The Marines of 2/7 returned with little fanfare from their combat deployment in April. Halkovich received the Purple Heart that same month and is still recovering from his wounds at the Corps’ Wounded Warrior Regiment at Camp Pendleton, California. At Marine Corps Base 29 Palms in March, Downey would receive his Joint Service Commendation Medal for saving Halkovich’s life.

Meanwhile, a new group of Marines has taken 2/7’s place on the Corps’ Special Purpose MAGTF Crisis Response-Central Command, where, like their counterparts, they could potentially deploy to a theater of war where friends can become enemies in the blink of an eye.

Were they warned of the shooting in February? Told to prepare for the possibility of an insider attack by the SDF? A spokesperson for the unit did not respond to those questions.

“They said it would be on the front page of every newspaper in the country and yet no justice was ever done for my wounded brother,” the second source told me. “That is the only reason I’m telling you this because no one knows what happened out there… and nothing came of it.”

Senate Finally Passes New ‘Forever’ GI Bill

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Senate Finally Passes New ‘Forever’ GI Bill, Sends It On To Trump

First Published On August 2, 2017

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At the eleventh hour before it recessed for the summer, the Senate finally got around to some real business: passing a sweeping GI Bill upgrade that extends benefits to more veterans and gives them more time to use those bennies.

RELATED: A NEW LIFETIME GI BILL IS LIKELY TO BECOME LAW. HERE’S HOW IT WILL IMPACT VETS »

The bill — dubbed “the forever GI Bill” by supporters — had been approved unanimously by the House, but its fortunes in the Senate were uncertain after the deliberating body approved a slapdash extension of its voting session into August to consider a bevy of government appointments and a full slate of bills.

The Senate just passed by unanimous consent a sweeping set of changes/expansion to the post-9/11 GI Bill. Heads to Trump’s desk. Story TK.

the new GI Bill

“The passage of the Forever GI Bill shows just how much can be accomplished when military and veterans organizations join forces,” said John Rowan, National President of Vietnam Veterans of America, in a statement.

The new bill, which heads to President Donald Trump’s desk and is expected to be signed into law swiftly, was the product of months of round tables and negotiations between veterans service organizations, non-profits, and politicians across both sides of the aisle.

After years working on this bill we finally have it passed. Thanks to the hundreds of people who were part of helping pass the New GI Bill!

“This was a truly bipartisan effort led by some amazing organizations and leaders within Congress, all committed to ensuring veterans and their families have the opportunity for a college education post-military service,” said Jared Lyon, president and CEO of Student Veterans of America, in a statement. “I could not be more proud of the team effort that went into making this a reality. This is what collaboration looks like, and this is what leadership looks like.”

Adam Weinstein is a Navy vet and senior editor for Task & Purpose. His work has appeared in Esquire, GQ, Gawker, and the New York Times. Follow Adam Weinstein on Twitter @AdamWeinstein
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Fitting The Coward Bolton Works For Coward Of The Country: Trump

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LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 29:  Former United States ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton speaks during the Republican Jewish Coalition spring leadership meeting at The Venetian Las Vegas on March 29, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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John Bolton, Trump’s New War Consigliere, Dodged The ‘Already Lost’ Vietnam War

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“I confess I had no desire to die in a Southeast Asian rice paddy… I considered the war in Vietnam already lost.”

— John Bolton, 1995

The funny thing about relentlessly pressing for more war in America is that a lot of the most zealous warhawking politicians and pundits over the years — left and right — leaned on their privileges to avoid being touched personally by war. Dick Cheney never met an oil-rich Middle Eastern nation whose ground he didn’t want to siphon, but he had “other priorities” when Vietnam rolled around. Bill Clinton — the comparative “dove” who still managed to deploy U.S. power to the Balkans, the Horn of Africa, Haiti, and Sudan — also pulled strings to sidestep the ’Nam draft, as did current POTUS Donald Trump, whose bone spurs may have precluded wartime service, but not weaponized tweeting.

In this pantheon of chickenhawking old guys with money and power, few hawk harder than John Bolton, the incoming national security adviser, whose appointment is freaking out even level-headed wonks with a high tolerance for overseas power projection. Bolton’s politics gel with those of a lot of military hard-chargers: He believes dearly that blood makes the grass grow. First-strike on North Korea? Do it. First-strike on Iran? Do it now. Do it brusquely, with straight talk!

The distinction is, unlike the troops whose deployments he’ll have enormous sway over, John Bolton won’t brook the idea of his blood gurgling on any battlefield, especially in a losing effort. Bolton, it turns out, is known for bolting when the gun bolts start cycling.

Bolton said nuts to that, later writing in a memoir that he “wasn’t going to waste time on a futile struggle” in Vietnam. (The memoir’s title, by the way, is Surrender Is Not An Option.)

The Yale Daily News reported more than a decade ago how Bolton articulated his “war for thee, but not for me” values to his classmates when their 25th reunion came around in 1995:

Though Bolton supported the Vietnam War, he declined to enter combat duty, instead enlisting in the National Guard and attending law school after his 1970 graduation. “I confess I had no desire to die in a Southeast Asian rice paddy,” Bolton wrote of his decision in the 25th reunion book. “I considered the war in Vietnam already lost.”

lot of people considered the the Vietnam War already lost in 1970 — including a lot of Americans who, you know, actually had to serve there. But Bolton is a special case: He’d spent his time in college literally cheerleading for moar war. “The conservative underground is alive and well here,” he reportedly said as a student in a public campus debate over Vietnam; “if we do not make our influence felt, rest assured we will in the real world.”

When the real world came knocking? Bolton said nuts to that, later writing in a memoir that he “wasn’t going to waste time on a futile struggle” in Vietnam. (The memoir’s title, by the way, is Surrender Is Not An Option.)

Now, joining the Guard isn’t nothing, especially not today, when OCONUS deployments are ever more common for weekend warriors. But in the Vietnam era, it was a time-tested means of avoiding wartime deployment, popular among the well-connected, and Bolton understood this well; he admits this was his calculus for joining in his memoir: “Dying for your country was one thing, but dying to gain territory that antiwar forces in Congress would simply return to the enemy seemed ludicrous to me.”

Shorter John Bolton: I totally would’ve gone to fight the war I publicly advocated, but it was going to be lost anyway, and I didn’t want to die, like the 9,500-plus Americans who went in my stead and died between 1970 and the fall of Saigon. Now buy my book, Surrender Is Not An Option, which explains why we need war with Iran and North Korea.

With hawks like these, it’s amazing we haven’t lost more wars. But with Bolton coordinating White House security strategy, there are likely to be plenty of new chances to lose. Not for him, obviously; just for the troops he supports so dearly, at a safe remove.

Adam Weinstein is a Navy vet and senior editor for Task & Purpose. His work has appeared in Esquire, GQ, Gawker, and the New York Times. Follow Adam Weinstein on Twitter @AdamWeinstein
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 Marines Take Out Taliban Kingpin Responsible for Killing, Maiming Troops

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Marines with the Maritime Raid Force, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, board a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 162, prior to conducting a night raid operation during Realistic Urban Training at Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina, August 25, 2017.

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 Marines Take Out Taliban Kingpin Responsible for Killing, Maiming Troops

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This article by Hope Hodge Seck originally appeared on Military.com, the premier source of information for the military and veteran community.

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan — A Taliban shadow governor who had planned and executed improvised explosive device attacks on Marines and Afghan soldiers for well over a decade was killed in a precision airstrike just days before Christmas, Marines here told Military.com.

Task Force Southwest, the 300-Marine element that deployed to Helmand province as an advisory force for the Afghan National Defense Forces in April, does most of its work from inside the wire, supporting the local troops who patrol and launch ground attacks. But this recent strike on local Taliban mastermind Qari Fida Mohammad illustrates the impact Marines continue to have on the active fight.

Mohammad, longtime shadow governor of the restive Helmand district of Marjah, was killed Dec. 20, task force spokeswoman Maj. Kendra Motz said.

Standing inside the unit’s operations center, where 11 large flat screens featured detailed live drone footage from around Helmand province, Capt. Brian Hubert explained how the strike happened.

“Through the work of the intelligence sections as well as the operations in here, and coordination with the Afghans as well, we were able to conduct a strike on him a few days ago,” said Hubert, battle captain for Task Force Southwest. “Basically, we’re very familiar with the battlespace now. So when we see the leaders we know are important there, we can kind of do a bead on them.”

The unit started tracking Mohammad with its eyes in the sky. When he was well positioned as a target, the Marines called in two Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons to execute the strike.

“He was in a vehicle traveling with deputies, bodyguards, and a cousin of his, who was also a sub-commander,” Hubert said. “We took the shot successfully, and [he was] dead on the spot, which was huge.”

Mohammad, who was based in the Taliban hotbed of Marjah, but operated throughout Helmand province, had been well-known to the Marines for years.

Col. Matthew Reid, deputy commander of the task force, told Military.com he had known about Mohammad in 2010, when he deployed to Helmand for active combat operations.

“We’re still not really fully aware of the exact ramifications of taking him out,” Reid said. “It was a pretty big takedown, so we’re pretty happy about it. He was behind a lot of attacks against Marines back in the day — really high profile attacks.”

Hubert said the task force was now tracking the impact of Mohammad’s elimination. Ahead of the strike, he said, Marines had watched via drone footage as local civilians took to their homes, fearful of being blamed and facing violent reprisal if any attack were launched on the shadow governor. Now, he said, newly leaderless Taliban fighters in southern Marjah are acting disorganized and confused, without orders to carry out.

“Supposedly, [Mohammad] also had a lot of intimidation where he killed full families; he was absolutely just a Mafia-style Taliban leader in that area,” Hubert said, adding that he regularly demanded ‘taxes’ from local civilians by force. “Taking him out … hopefully provides the residents of Marjah and the southern end a little bit of a ‘hey, maybe it’s a turn.’”

For the Marines, Marjah is a region full of history. It’s the site of some of the service’s most hard-fought battles in Helmand. Some 50 American troops died in the 2010 joint siege on Marjah, known as Operation Moshtarak. When Marines departed Afghanistan in 2014, Marjah was considered relatively stable; but by 2016 it had fallen back under Taliban control.

Marines are now working to empower Afghan troops from the local 215th Corps of the Afghan National Army to hold the line. When the small task force arrived, the provincial capital city of Lashkar Gah was on the verge of being overtaken by the Taliban, Marines said. Now, with support from the Task Force, the soldiers have restored stability to the town and are beginning to move offensively against the Taliban.

In a shura with Navy Secretary Richard Spencer and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller on Dec. 23, Helmand provincial governor Hayatullah Hayat said Afghan troops continue to take daily casualties in the fight.

But task force personnel continue to exact a daily toll against the Taliban as well. On a December visit to the operations center, a dark plume of smoke rose from a road on one of the screens — evidence of a precision strike carried out only minutes before.

From the screens, Hubert said, Marines had watched a pair of Taliban fighters carrying weapons dig a hole in a road south of the Marjah district center, intending to emplace IEDs ahead of a trip Afghan National Security Forces intended to make to the center.

Afghan Air Force A-29 Super Tucanos were in the air at the time, and Marines reached out and shared what they were seeing, offering them the opportunity to take out the fighters.

“They couldn’t quite get it, so we stepped in,” Hubert said. “We took the shot with F-16s and killed the two enemy. So now, they’re free to move toward the Marjah district center unimpeded by any kind of enemy contact right now.”

The process of identifying targets and executing strikes is a collaborative one, Hubert explained. Often the Marines will share what they’re seeing and make recommendations to the Afghan troops about how to respond, but leave the decision-making to them. The Afghan troops also play a significant role in the intelligence-gathering: in addition to ground reports, they maintain their own ScanEagle drone, its footage featured on one of the screens at the operations center.

As one target smoldered on the screen, Marines were tracking another: two men traveling up a road, south of friendly forces, one carrying a weapon on his back, concealed by clothing.

“We can see [the weapon] by the shape and size of what it looks like, then we’ll see him take it out,” Hubert explained.

In the course of several hours that morning, the Marines would coordinate the elimination of a half-dozen Taliban fighters.

The recent strike against Mohammad, and the daily strikes on Taliban targets, illustrate the intensity of the fight the Marines are still waging, albeit from a greater distance than they were during active combat in support of Operation Enduring Freedom four years ago.

“I know we want to bring in governance, and I know we want institutional fixes. But right now, this is a fight,” said Reid, the task force deputy commander. “And as Marines, when we’re fighting, we’re going to kill the enemy, and we’re going to kill as many as we can.”

This article originally appeared on Military.com.

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Elite Soldier Dubbed Britain’s ‘GI Jane’ After Killing 3 ISIS Militants

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Elite Soldier Dubbed Britain’s ‘GI Jane’ After Killing 3 ISIS Militants

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A female sergeant with the British Army’s Special Reconnaissance Regiment is being lauded as the U.K.’s “GI Jane” after reportedly killing at least three Islamic State militants in a town near the Syria-Iraq border after an intelligence mission went awry in September, according to the Daily Star.

The woman — who was not identified in the original Daily Star report — was on a team with Special Air Service (SAS) troops, SRR personnel and an MI6 officer, tasked with arranging a meeting around a female ISIS informant. The informant came forward after she was forced to marry a “prominent terrorist commander,” and she offered to provide U.K. forces with intel on the militant’s location, in exchange for safe passage, Daily Star reports.

After meeting with the informer, the team made their way through an “urban area” to a predetermined rendezvous point, the Daily Star reports, but as they were pulling out, they came under attack by Islamic State militants.

The team dismounted their vehicles and returned fire with small arms; the female sergeant took up a position as a rearguard to cover the vehicles, armed with a Heckler and Koch MP5K — a submachine gun geared more toward delivering a high volume of “f— you and die” in close quarters than precision marksmanship.

RELATED: ‘HUNTER TROOP’ IS THE WORLD’S FIRST ALL-FEMALE SPECIAL OPERATIONS UNIT »

“Every time a terrorist appeared she dropped them,” one source told the Daily Star, adding that she kept her teammates apprised of what was happening in the rear with a “running commentary” — which, if I had to guess, probably sounded like this: “I’m up, he sees me — ratatatatatat! — okay, all good, he’s down.”

“She took down at least three terrorists who were very close to over-running her position,” the source continued. “She reacted in the way the special forces are trained to do when they are involved in close quarter battle. She had her colleagues’ backs throughout the firefight and no doubt saved lives.”

The elite SRR was established in 2005 and is the only special forces unit in Great Britain that recruits both male and female personnel from all branches of the military, according to the Telegraph. Tasked with covert surveillance operations, its members and their identities are a closely guarded secret, the Telegraph notes.

Though the unnamed sergeant’s actions have earned her significant praise (and a lot of media attention), she’s not the only woman in Britain’s ranks to go toe-to-toe with Islamic State fighters in recent years. Last January, two female British soldiers — both in their twenties, fluent in Arabic and serving in the SRR — shot their way out of an ambush in Iraq alongside British SAS soldiers, the Daily Star reports.

As for the MP5-rocking sergeant? After the team broke the ambush and made their way back to base, “her colleagues were giving her high fives and calling her Britain’s first GI Jane” — though unlike Demi Moore’s character in the 1997 action flick, she’s real.

Being a professional, she chose to downplay the event, with one source telling the Star that “she made the point women are more than capable of serving on the frontline in special forces units and are just as good as men.”

Veterans Have An Obligation To Hold Congress Accountable In An Era Of Perpetual War

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Veterans Have An Obligation To Hold Congress Accountable In An Era Of Perpetual War

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NATHAN SMITH

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For two administrations now, one Democratic and one Republican, America has witnessed a slow-motion ceding of constitutionally allocated war powers from Congress to the president during a time of conflict. Despite much hemming and hawing, countless hearings, and even a few floor votes on repealing the outdated post-9/11 Authorization for Use of Military Force, the legislative branch has demonstrated a collective, bipartisan determination that a de facto loss of constitutionally prescribed powers to another branch is preferable to taking a tough political vote. Previously, I have discussed the morally repulsive nature of this determination by America’s elected representatives. What has been largely overlooked is the lesser degree of shared culpability that veterans bear for a tacit acceptance of this status quo.

RELATED: Congress Needs To Take Back Responsibility For Sending Troops To Conflict Zones

Many Americans seem to misunderstand the necessity of Congress’s role in providing oversight and direction to the military independent of the executive branch. It almost seems as if both the public and Congress assume military leadership would view congressional action in this regard as an unwelcome interference in military operations. Secretary of Defense James Mattis directly contradicted this notion when discussing an AUMF earlier this year before a Senate committee, stating, “I would take no issue with the Congress stepping forward… I think it’d be a statement of the American people’s resolve if you did so. I thought the same thing for the last several years, I might add, and have not understood why the Congress hasn’t come forward with this, at least the debate.”

Mattis and as well as people like past Joint Chief of Staff Chairman Gen.Martin Dempsey’s  comments are far from the only examples of military political leaders voicing a yearning for competent legislative oversight on military affairs. Indeed, this tradition goes all the way back to the Founders. At the time of the framing of the Constitution in 1787, close to half of the signatories were veterans of the Revolutionary War. It was that particular group of veterans who were among those who included Article I in the Constitution, which reserves for Congress the right to declare war. It is not a stretch, therefore, to assume that our country’s founding veteran generation had as one of its prerogatives establishing Congress’s central role in national security priorities while consciously keeping unilateral war-making authority out of the hands of the executive branch. This tradition continued even into the Vietnam era. Nearly three-fourths of lawmakers who served in the 92nd Congress from 1971-1972 had military experience. Less than a year later in November of 1973, the War Powers Resolution was passed overwhelmingly over President Richard Nixon’s veto, representing the most profound legislative limitation of executive war powers since constitutional ratification.

What then accounts for the morass in which we find ourselves in 2017, with a war in Iraq and Syria passing the three-year mark absent congressional authorization in the form of a specific AUMF? Why has a military response seemingly become the preferred solution to every foreign-policy problem the nation encounters in both Democratic and Republican administrations? One answer may lie in the dearth of veteran representation in Congress. As of the beginning of the 115th Congress earlier this year, only 18.8% of the composition was veterans.

Another problem may lie in the yawning civilian-military divide in which the public appears comfortable almost totally detaching itself from decisions on war and peace that will have little personal effect. With no draft, less than 0.5% of the population in uniform, and taxes largely cut over the post-9/11 period with the cost of ongoing wars being put largely on the nation’s credit card, almost no tangible pain as a result of military action exists for the average voter. In both problems, readily apparent solutions do not present themselves. Raising the percentage of veterans in Congress will take time, and with the military at historically low numerical levels, there is much less of a veteran pool to draw from. Implementing a draft would be impractical in today’s highly trained volunteer military, and while tax raises to pay for increased military spending may make fiscal sense, they would likely be too indirect for the public to strongly equate with military interventions and therefore draw little response.

The solution lies in veteran action. Traditionally, large veteran organizations such as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars among others have advocated on Capitol Hill both on issues specific to veterans and those representing the interests of their brethren still serving in uniform. Historically these organizations have provided a voice for the voiceless on active duty due to the nation’s strict rejection of military personnel intervention on matters of policy. Veteran organizations are well-placed to do so as veterans enjoy much of the cross-over social esteem that the military as an institution enjoys. In a recent 2017 Gallup poll, 72% of respondents registered having either “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of trust in the military, a number that stands in stark contrast to Congress’s anemic 12%. It was with great disappointment, therefore, that upon exiting active duty six months ago and examining the legislative priorities of the largest veteran organizations, I found not one mention efforts to encourage Congress to discharge its constitutional obligations toward the public and military through debate and vote on a new AUMF.

Among individual veterans, too, there has been a dereliction of duty. At a recent town hall event, upon asking my district’s congressman how many veterans had called him demanding he take a stand and call for an AUMF vote, he responded that I was the first. This must change. In a country enamored with military conflict that is simultaneously largely detached from its troops, veterans must bridge the gap. They must return to their traditional role of encouraging restraint in military interventions through educating legislators and holding them accountable to providing a check to the executive on matters of war, regardless of what party occupies the White House.

Nathan Smith is a former Army artillery and intelligence officer and veteran of Afghanistan and the counter-ISIS war. He is on Twitter @nate_smith101.

Air Force Admits Its Failure To Report Texas Church Shooter Was ‘Not An Isolated Incident’

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devin patrick kelley texas church shooting air force background check

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Air Force Admits Its Failure To Report Texas Church Shooter Was ‘Not An Isolated Incident’

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An Air Force review has found that the branch failed to report “several dozen” service members found guilty of violent offenses to the federal gun background check database, with representatives of the service telling the New York Times that the reporting failure that allowed disgraced airman Devin Patrick Kelley to purchase the firearms he used to murder 26 parishioners in a Sutherland Springs, Texas, church on Nov. 5 “was not an isolated incident.”

In the immediate aftermath of the mass shooting, the Department of Defense determined that Kelley’s 2012 court-martial conviction for beating his wife and infant son should have disqualified him from purchasing firearms, but he was not reported to the FBI for inclusion in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), the database for firearms-related background checks for private dealers and state outlets. The Air Force review found that since 2002, a whopping 60,000 incidents involving airmen that “potentially” merited inclusion in NICS went unaddressed, according to the New York Times.

sutherland springs church texas church shooting hero corrigan devin patrick kelley air force background check

“Similar reporting lapses occurred at other locations” besides Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, where Kelley was stationed, the Air Force said in a statement. “Although policies and procedures requiring reporting were in place, training and compliance measures were lacking.”

Under federal law, anyone dishonorably discharged from the armed forces is prohibited from possessing or receiving firearms or ammo transported across state lines. The 1996 Lautenberg amendment that extends that prohibition to military personnel with domestic violence convictions.

RELATED: HOW SEVERE MILITARY PUNISHMENTS (ARE SUPPOSED TO) BAR GUN POSSESSION »

The Air Force has experienced major lapses in reporting serious crimes committed to essential law enforcement databases like NICS for decades. In 1997, a DoD IG report found that the Air Force had failed to report 38 percent of fingerprint cards and 50 percent of criminal case outcomes to the FBI over a six-month period from 1995 to 1996, according to a Nov. 7 Associated Press report; a 2015 follow-up found the branch didn’t report 39 percent of its fingerprint data over a two year period between 2010 and 2012.

The causes of that the gap?  “Ambiguous Pentagon guidelines and a lack of interest among the military services in submitting information to an FBI viewed as chronically overburdened with data,” according to the AP report, language echoed in the Air Force’s Nov. 28 statement.

devin patrick kelley texas church shooting background check

In the wake of Kelley’s rampage and subsequent revelations regarding his troubled history, the Pentagon has been racing to overhaul its background check and criminal reporting procedures. Among the new measures pushed by branch officials, according to the New York Times: a mandate that Air Force Office of Special Investigations personnel “confirm that reportable cases have been entered in the federal database by seeing either a printout or a screenshot from the database.”

Time will tell how AFOSI plans on actually interpreting and implementing that mandate.

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A Marine Super Cobra Landed On A Baseball Field So The Pilot Could Pick Up His Phone

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TASK AND PURPOSE MAGAZINE)

 

Hmm, a 30 minute drive you say? Nah, I've got a faster ride. Just don't tell the CO.

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A Marine Super Cobra Landed On A Baseball Field So The Pilot Could Pick Up His Phone

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“Gear accountability” is a long-standing maxim in the military, and it was probably on the mind of one Marine attack-helicopter pilot when he made an unorthodox landing on Nov. 18 in a public park on Mount Desert Island, Maine, to pick up his lost cellphone.

Jess Witherell, a server at The Thirsty Whale pub, located in the town of Bar Harbor, on the northern side of the island, received an unusual phone call from Hancock Airport in nearby Trenton, according to the Mount Desert Islander. After a group of Marines visited the restaurant for lunch earlier in the day, one of then apparently misplaced their cell phone —  and the caller was wondering if a pub employee could pop on over to the nearest stretch of green to drop it off.

When Witherell asked if the Marine would be walking or driving, the caller responded: “We’re landing a helicopter at the ball field.”

For most folks, that’d probably raise some eyebrows, but the staff figured that the helicopter crewman who lost the phone belonged to LifeFlight, an air ambulance service used by the island for evacuations in the case of medical emergencies, according to the Mount Desert Islander. But when pub dishwasher Bryce Lambert arrived at the field, there wasn’t an air ambulance waiting for him, but a AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopter with a UH-1Y Venom circling overhead.

One of the pilots ran from the helo, met up with Lambert and, in exchange for his phone, “pulled the [velcro] patch off of his jacket and handed it [over]” to say thanks, Lambert told the Islander.

RELATED: MISCHIEVOUS NAVY PILOT IN HOT WATER FOR DRAWING ENORMOUS PENIS IN THE SKY »

The impromptu landing, while likely entertaining to many, is currently under investigation by the Marine Corps. The aviators belonged to Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 773, a New Orleans-based reserve unit, and were in the area for a training exercise, according to Maj. Andrew Aranda, a spokesman with Marine Corps Forces Reserve Public Affairs.

“Marine Aviators are required to follow strict Federal and Department of Defense aviation procedures so this event is being looked into seriously,” 2nd Lt. Stephanie L. Leguizamon, a spokeswoman with Marine Corps Forces Reserve, told Task & Purpose.

That said, an unexpected trip to a baseball field in an attack helicopter is probably less of a nightmare for a unit commander than having to explain why there’s a phallus-shaped smoke trail in the sky. As for why the aviators decided not to drive? The airport is a half hour’s journey to The Thirsty Whale, Popular Mechanics reports. But by helo, that’s just a few minutes. Maybe instead of a Super Cobra, they should call it an Uber Cobra.

UPDATE: This article has been updated with additional information from Marine Corps Forces Reserve Public Affairs. (11/21/2017; 4:43 p.m. EST)

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The UH-60M Black Hawk Helicopter
The Ohio National Guard showcases its newest airframe, the UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter.
 Task And Purpose writer James Clark

Senate Finally Passes New ‘Forever’ GI Bill

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TASK AND PURPOSE)

 

Senate Finally Passes New ‘Forever’ GI Bill, Sends It On To Trump

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At the eleventh hour before it recessed for the summer, the Senate finally got around to some real business: passing a sweeping GI Bill upgrade that extends benefits to more veterans and gives them more time to use those bennies.

RELATED: A NEW LIFETIME GI BILL IS LIKELY TO BECOME LAW. HERE’S HOW IT WILL IMPACT VETS »

The bill — dubbed “the forever GI Bill” by supporters — had been approved unanimously by the House, but its fortunes in the Senate were uncertain after the deliberating body approved a slapdash extension of its voting session into August to consider a bevy of government appointments and a full slate of bills.

The Senate just passed by unanimous consent a sweeping set of changes/expansion to the post-9/11 GI Bill. Heads to Trump’s desk. Story TK.

the new GI Bill

“The passage of the Forever GI Bill shows just how much can be accomplished when military and veterans organizations join forces,” said John Rowan, National President of Vietnam Veterans of America, in a statement.

The new bill, which heads to President Donald Trump’s desk and is expected to be signed into law swiftly, was the product of months of round tables and negotiations between veterans service organizations, non-profits, and politicians across both sides of the aisle.

After years working on this bill we finally have it passed. Thanks to the hundreds of people who were part of helping pass the New GI Bill!

“This was a truly bipartisan effort led by some amazing organizations and leaders within Congress, all committed to ensuring veterans and their families have the opportunity for a college education post-military service,” said Jared Lyon, president and CEO of Student Veterans of America, in a statement. “I could not be more proud of the team effort that went into making this a reality. This is what collaboration looks like, and this is what leadership looks like.”

Adam Weinstein is a Navy vet and senior editor for Task & Purpose. His work has appeared in Esquire, GQ, Gawker, and the New York Times. Follow Adam Weinstein on Twitter @AdamWeinstein
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The Navy Is Considering Calling Up The USS Kitty Hawk Amid Fleet Expansion Pressure

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TASK AND PURPOSE)

uss kitty hawk navy trump header photo

GEAR & TECH
The Navy Is Considering Calling Up The USS Kitty Hawk Amid Fleet Expansion Pressure

on June 9, 2017

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When President Donald Trump railed against the electromagnetic catapult on the Navy’s brand new USS Gerald Ford and demanded a return to “goddamned steam,” we’re not sure this is what he had in mind.

As part of the daunting and ridiculously expensive task of boosting its 275-ship fleet to 355 hulls in the coming years, the Navy is exploring ways to coax retired and mothballed ships into sailing the open seas again. And while Naval Sea Systems Command Vice Adm. Thomas Moore floated the idea of reactivating a flotilla of Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates, he also offered a puzzling possibility: the return of the USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63), one of the military’s last conventionally powered aircraft carriers in service when decommissioned in 2009.

“Of the carriers that are in inactive status right now, Kitty Hawk is the one that you could think about,” Moore said in a June 1 interview with DefAero report. “The carriers are pretty old, so I think there’s limited opportunity in the inactive fleet to bring those back, but we’re going to go look at that ship by ship and put that into the mix.”

The first and last carrier of its class, Kitty Hawk has a long and illustrious history. Commissioned in 1961, the 82,000-ton supercarrier’s 18 deployments included six tours in Vietnam War’s, including one during the infamous Tet Offensive; providing contingency operations during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis; supporting U.S.-led coalition forces in Somalia and Iraq in the early 90s; and playing a central role in the early years of the Global War on Terror supporting the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Decommissioned just weeks after her 48th birthday, there’s a good reason the Kitty Hawk earned the nickname “Battle Cat.”

But the Kitty Hawk also has another nickname: “Shitty Kitty,” a term of endearment among many of her former sailors due to the aging vessel’s frequent breakdowns. In Richard Miller’s “A Carrier at War: On Board the USS Kitty Hawk in the Iraq War,” a Navy vet turned photojournalist laid out the carrier’s many problems: “This boat’s old. Old pipes, too many coats of paint, too many welds and re-welds. She’s been around too long. Lots of sailors don’t like her. She’s a pain in the ass to clean and too damned expensive to run.”

This reputation isn’t totally unwarranted: the Kitty Hawk suffered several major breakdowns and technical problems in her first decade of service, culminating in a December 1973 jet fuel blaze during routine maintenance on the ship’s oil systems that left six crewmen dead.

While the honor of “Shitty Kitty” is often overshadowed in the media by the 1972 “race riot” between black and white sailors during the carrier’s Vietnam deployment, perpetual maintenance and frequent accidents have remained a pillar of the ship’s identity. One former crewman even characterized the Kitty Hawk in 2017 as “a punishment ship” for less-than-orderly sailors, complete with “its own CDC disease in the form of ‘Kitty Hawk Gastro.’”

With these problems in mind, the prospect of the “Shitty Kitty’s” return to the Navy’s fleet seems trifling compared to the potential return of the Perry-class frigates, which Maritime Executive characterizes as “notoriously hard to sink”:

USS Stark survived two Exocet missiles fired by an Iraqi warplane in 1987, and USS Samuel B. Roberts managed to stay afloat after striking an Iranian mine the following year, despite severe damage. Both vessels were repaired and returned to service. In a live-fire exercise in 2016, the decommissioned USS Thatch absorbed four Harpoon anti-ship missiles; one Maverick missile; multiple Hellfire missiles; one 2,000 lb. bomb; one 500 lb. bomb; and one Mk. 48 torpedo. She stayed afloat for 12 hours (with calm weather, and without fuel or munitions aboard).

But there’s still certainly good reason to wave aside the Hawks’ potential issues. As the War Zone points out, reactivating the supercarrier might prove a useful bridge between the Navy’s current fleet of 10 operation carriers until the USS Gerald Ford is ready for the open seas, both closing the so-called “carrier gap” in the branch’s global deployments, especially with the Department of Defense’s increasing emphasis on fielding more high-tech aircraft to carry out strikes against enemy targets.

But more importantly, reactivating the “Shitty Kitty” might satiate Trump’s demand for a total of 12 seaworthy airbases to project U.S. power across the planet, despite distaste for the vessel among sailors. After all, the four catapults used to assist aircraft on Kitty Hawk-class carriers are all goddamned steam, all the time — just what the Pentagon needs to scare the bejesus out of China.

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