Category Archives: military news

Trump’s belittling of brass simply stinks beyond belief

The history of Donald Trump’s pre-business history is well-known.

He sought to avoid service in the military during the height of the Vietnam War. He received dubious medical deferments citing bone spurs or some such ailment that kept him out of being eligible for military service.

He went into business. Made a lot of money. Lost a lot of money. Had mixed success as a business mogul. Then he went into politics. He ran for president of the United States. He won!

So for this current president to dress down men who have served their country honorably, in combat, thrust themselves into harm’s way is insulting, degrading and astonishingly unpatriotic.

Two reporters for the Washington Post, Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig, have written a book that tells just how disgraceful Trump’s conduct has gotten with regard to the military high command. An excerpt from that book tells of a meeting in a Pentagon room called The Tank. The brass sought to explain the nuts and bolts of military matters to the commander in chief. He was having none of it.

He called the generals “babies and dopes.” He has told them they are “losers” and said he wouldn’t “go into battle” with them.

I am trying imagine, were I one of those decorated combat veterans, hearing such denigration coming from the commander in chief. The entire world knows this man’s history. We all know that, when he had the opportunity to serve his country, he chose another path.

Don’t misunderstand me on this score. I do not begrudge a president who’s never worn the nation’s military uniform. Two recent presidents did not serve: Barack Obama or Bill Clinton. Neither did Franklin Roosevelt or Woodrow Wilson, both of whom led this country through two world wars.

What is so objectionable is the snarky attitude this president demonstrates to individuals who have done what he sought to avoid doing. That he would speak to these patriots in such a manner is disgraceful on its face.

Attention, fellow Vietnam vets: Go back to where you served

A conversation I had this morning with a fellow member of the McKinney Sunrise Rotary Club brings to mind something I have believed for the past 30 years.

I believe it is vital for any Vietnam War veteran who is able to return to that country to see what I discovered when I was able to return there in 1989, two decades after I arrived there in service to my country.

I learned that the war had ended. It was over. The shooting had stopped. The country that had survived all that explosive bludgeoning has become a beautiful land full of generous people.

My Rotary friend had recalled a question I had asked a fellow who delivered a program at a recent meeting. I asked him if he had been back. He has not returned and the gentleman seemed a bit perplexed by the question.

I told my friend this morning about my emotional discovery when I returned there 30 years ago. I had gone to Southeast Asia with other editorial writers and editors on a factfinding mission. At the end of the official portion of the trip, I flew from Saigon to Da Nang with two fellow journalists — who also are Vietnam vets — to see the place where I served for a time so many years earlier.

Our guide, Mai, accompanied us to Da Nang. We took a cab from our downtown hotel to Marble Mountain, where I served for a time as an aircraft mechanic with the Army’s 245th Mohawk Aviation Company.

We were walking along the sandy soil. Mai told me how the Vietnamese had absorbed all that we had built there and repurposed it for their use. Pierced-steel planking had become fence material; they used lumber to build housing.

Then it hit me like a runaway freight train. The war was over! That’s when I broke down and sobbed like a child for about three or four minutes. My friends backed away, as did Mai. I cried all by myself.

Then it was over. I wiped my face dry. Took a deep breath. I extended my arms to my two friends and to Mai. I was cleansed. I had shed the emotional baggage I never realized I was lugging around.

I did not traipse through the bush. I did not fire my weapon in anger at the enemy. I performed rear-echelon duty. However, returning to that place in November 1989 reminded me that the war was raging when I arrive and it was raging when I left.

I saw that place in an entirely new context.

That is why I tell my fellow Vietnam War veterans that they, too, need to see the country is at it is today, not as it was when they left.

They, too, might be cleansed.

SEALs spill beans on one of their own

Special operations forces — be they Navy SEALs, Army Green Berets, Delta Force or Air Force commandos — generally aren’t inclined to blab about their colleagues unless they have valid reasons to do so.

So, when a group of Navy SEALs tell investigators that one of their own was known to be an out-of-control killer of innocent bystanders, then I believe we ought to listen and take heed.

What’s more, they are talking about a SEAL on whose behalf Donald Trump intervened. He is Navy Chief Edward Gallagher, who was convicted of conduct unbecoming a special operations warrior. Trump decided the Navy acted incorrectly and ordered that Gallagher retain his SEAL Trident emblem. Yes, the commander in chief interceded on behalf of a SEAL who had been found guilty of behaving in a manner not in keeping with the elite fighting force.

Navy Secretary Richard Spencer was forced to resign over the matter. The president has come under intense — and justified — criticism for meddling in a military command issue. Yes, he is the commander in chief, but that doesn’t make his meddlesome behavior any more correct.

Now the New York Times has heard from a number of SEALs who served with Gallagher as members of SEAL Team 7. They say that Gallagher shot children. The NY Times acquired some video of the SEALs spilling the beans on Gallagher.

According to the Times: “The guy is freaking evil,” Special Operator (Craig) Miller told investigators. “The guy was toxic, ” Special Operator First Class Joshua Vriens, a sniper, said in a separate interview. “You could tell he was perfectly OK with killing anybody that was moving,” Special Operator First Class Corey Scott, a medic in the platoon, told the investigators.

And yet this is the individual who drew the commander in chief’s attention and for whom the president upset the traditional military chain of command. He interceded where he was empowered to go, but where he should have stayed away.

The SEALs who have outed their colleague have told us plenty about the consequence of a president intervening where he didn’t belong. That they would do so while breaking an unwritten rule that they remain silent about their operations tells me about the enormity of what they witnessed.

Still opposed to Space Force

Count me as remaining opposed to the creation of a new military branch of service, called Space Force.

It’s an idea cooked up by the Donald Trump administration. Its aim is to put more resources and effort into ensuring the United States retains its dominance in space.

The more I think of Space Force’s relevance, the more I am inclined to compare it — odd as it might seem — to the notion of constables here in Texas. We have municipal police departments and county sheriff’s departments, along with the Texas Department of Public Safety enforcing the law. We also have elected constables, politicians who get to carry guns and wear badges who also enforce the law. They don’t make sense to me.

Back to Space Force … another add-on military agency.

It will be administered as a branch of the Air Force; the arrangement reminds of the Marine Corps being part of the Navy. The head of Space Force is likely to be the current commander of the Air Force’s Space Command.

My point is a straightforward one: The Air Force already has a stout and stellar Space Command that does a marvelous job of ensuring our security from potential attack from outer space. The existence of Space Force seems to be a sort of political plaything concocted by a commander in chief responding to an idea he might have heard on the golf links at Mar-a-Lago.

It might work, but only if the Pentagon brass keeps it under the Air Force’s command.

The United States is by far the world’s pre-eminent space power and I am one American who has faith that the Air Force will maintain that standing.

Just wondering: Why not Medal of Freedom for Gary Sinise?

A cousin of mine posed the question on social media. He is in the Army. He’s been serving our country for more than a decade.

He wonders why Gary Sinise, the actor and avid champion of veterans’ rights, hasn’t yet been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Indeed, my family member poses an excellent question.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the nation’s highest civilian honor. It has gone to many worthy recipients. It also has been bestowed to many who, um, haven’t done nearly the kind of work that Sinise has done for many years.

Sinise portrayed a troubled Vietnam War veteran in the acclaimed film “Forrest Gump.” Since before that film’s release and surely after it came out, Sinise has been an outspoken advocate for veterans. He has argued on behalf of vets suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as well as those with debilitating physical wounds suffered in combat. He has raised money to benefit the families of veterans.

And yet he has yet to be honored with the nation’s esteemed Presidential Medal of Freedom. Many presidents since Sinise’s veteran advocacy has become well-known and heavily reported.

As one proud veteran myself, I want to carry that torch a little farther on behalf of my cousin who’s still defending this country.

Gary Sinise has earned veterans’ ever-lasting gratitude and deserves to be honored officially with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

We’re remembering ‘a date which will live … in infamy’

This is not a celebratory date. I hesitate even to call it an “anniversary.” It’s a date of solemn remembrance and honor.

We remember the event, the attack on our Navy at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The Japanese fighter planes and bombers that roared in over the harbor that day 78 years ago brought this country into the world’s bloodiest and costliest war.

We also honor the heroes who fought back that Sunday morning. They were awakened by the sounds of ships and planes exploding under the force of the ordnance dropped by those aircraft.

We remember the USS Arizona, the World War I-era battleship that is memorialized to this day in the harbor, at the place where it blew apart and sank. There reportedly are just three survivors of the attack on the Arizona. One of them is a gentleman named Lou Conter.

Conter is now 98 years of age. His time on Earth is running out, just as it has already for all but fewer than 500,000 of the more than 16 million men and women who fought for this country and saved the world from the tyrants who wanted to conquer us all.

I want to insert a point of personal pride here. One of those brave Americans was my father, Pete Kanelis, who 78 years ago today — as he and his parents and siblings were listening to the news about the attack on the radio — ventured to downtown Portland, Ore., to enlist in the Navy.

Lou Conter will receive honors and high praise from those who have gathered at Pearl Harbor. He couldn’t participate a year ago and this year he is the only one of the three Arizona survivors who is able to take part.

Let us never forget the sacrifice of these heroic Americans. Indeed, we should honor them every single day and thank them — either privately or out loud — for all they did to save us from the evils of oppression.

Trump’s recklessness roils the military high command

Donald J. “Corporal Bone Spurs” Trump once boasted that he knows “more than the generals about ISIS.” Actually, he doesn’t.

However, he is the commander in chief and I guess that gives him license to say things that are demonstrably false.

So, here we are. The commander in chief has overruled some senior military commanders regarding the status of a convicted Navy SEAL. In so doing the president has turned up the volume of dissent among the men and women who are charged with implementing military policy.

There is talk now about a serious “morale problem” among our vaunted military ranks.

I’ll back up for just a moment. Navy Petty Officer Edward Gallagher was convicted of posing with the corpse of an enemy fighter in Iraq. The Navy wanted to strip him of his SEAL Trident pin. The president intervened. He said Gallagher should keep his Trident. The Navy secretary, Richard Spencer, disagreed. Defense Secretary Mark Esper fired Spencer, who has spent the past few days criticizing Trump for his failure to understand “military order and discipline” and how it’s vital to operating the finest military apparatus in human history.

This tumult is working its way up and down the chain of command and through the ranks of the military personnel.

The commander in chief is empowered to do whatever he wishes. However, with this president — with zero military experience — there well might be a major price to pay if he continues to engender resentment among the individuals we thrust into harm’s way.

Make no mistake: Trump is not the first man with no military experience to serve as commander in chief. It’s just that he blathers so maddeningly about how much he purports to know about military matters.

On that score, this president is an ignoramus.

‘I prefer to eat with the men’

Take a gander at this lovely couple. They are my late uncle and aunt, Tom and Verna Kanelis. They played a big part in my life and in the lives of my wife and sons.

I am thinking of them this week as we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving. You may ask why. I will tell you.

They visited me once when I was a teenager stationed at a U.S. Army post far from home … for the first time, I should add. They made me feel “at home” on the other side of our vast nation.

I gave thanks to them in the moment for their presence in my life. I am doing so now.

It was Thanksgiving 1968. I had completed my Army basic training a month earlier in Fort Lewis, Wash. I got orders to report to Fort Eustis, Va., where I would attend aircraft maintenance school, learning how to service twin-engine OV-1 Mohawk airplanes.

Thanksgiving approached and we got word that we could invite anyone we wanted. I called Tom and Verna and invited them to join me for a holiday meal at Fort Eustis. They accepted. Here is where it gets so very pleasantly strange.

Tom was an Army colonel. He served as a staff officer for the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, D.C. He was a decorated infantry officer, earning the Bronze Star with valor after seeing intense combat during the Korean War. He had enlisted in 1943, then went to officers candidate school to earn his commission. He served heroically.

When he and Verna agreed to drive two hours south from D.C. to Fort Eustis, I added his name to the guest list, noting that it would include “Col. and Mrs. Tom Kanelis.”

The commanding officer of our training battalion was a lieutenant colonel. Someone on his staff noted that an active-duty “full bird colonel” was coming and Lt. Col. Wolfe wanted to make sure Col. and Mrs. Kanelis were treated, well, accordingly.

Understand that I am watching all this through the eyes of a late-stage teenager. It was akin to an out-of-body experience. I was far from my home in Portland, Ore. I was preparing to learn an Army skill for which I had no experience. I might be headed to war in Vietnam. I was nervous.

My uncle and aunt arrived on Thanksgiving for dinner. I greeted them as they approached the mess hall. We went inside. Lt. Col. Wolfe greeted Col. and Mrs. Kanelis and damn near tripped over himself trying to ensure that Col. Kanelis and his wife were welcome and comfortable. I watched from nearby and could barely contain the urge to bust out laughing.

Then came the question from Lt. Col. Wolfe: “Would you like to eat in the officers’ mess or with the men.” Tom didn’t blink, flinch or hesitate. “I prefer to eat with the men.”

I knew precisely in that moment what Tom had in mind. He did not want to expose me to ridicule from my enlisted colleagues that I was getting preferred treatment just because I happened to be related to someone who outranked the battalion CO.

We had our meal. I enjoyed the company of two people I loved very much. They made my first Thanksgiving away from home one of the more memorable experiences of my life.

They’re both gone now. I miss them terribly. As for Lt. Col. Wolfe, I don’t recall ever discussing that day with him during my time at Fort Eustis. I hope he appreciated the self-control I demonstrated by not laughing out loud at what I witnessed.

Trump messes up his commander in chief role

Leave it Donald J. Trump to muddy up his role as commander of chief of the U.S. armed forces. He did it big time in a mess involving a Navy SEAL and those who serve in the high military command.

Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher was convicted of a crime involving his posing in Iraq with the corpse of a fighter killed in battle. He had been acquitted of far more serious accusations that were considered “war crimes.”

The Navy Department, led by Secretary Richard Spencer, wanted to stop Gallagher of his Trident badge emblematic of his SEAL service.

Gallagher, who is on active duty at this moment, has taken his case to the public.

Then in walked Trump, the commander in chief, to order that Gallagher retain his SEAL status. Richard Spencer couldn’t comply. He enraged the president, who then ordered Defense Secretary Mark Esper to override the Navy boss. Esper also ordered Spencer to submit his resignation, which Spencer did.

Spencer’s letter of resignation — which he addressed to the president — is a thing of beauty. He thanked the president for allowing him to serve. He then said he couldn’t comply with the president’s policies because they aren’t in keeping with military order and discipline. Read the letter here.

I get that the president’s status as commander in chief allows him to do whatever he wishes regarding the military. I mean, he’s the boss of all the men and women in uniform. However, it is highly irregular, odd and unusual for the commander in chief to insert himself into the middle of command decisions that belong to those who serve under him.

Commanders in chief usually set broad military policy or, in some cases they order daring raids such as the Army Delta Force raid that killed the Islamic State leader or the SEAL raid that eliminated Osama bin Laden in May 2011. But for them to involve themselves in disputes such as what involved a particular SEAL operator is, well, way out of the ordinary.

Just because the president can act in the manner that Trump has acted regarding Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher doesn’t mean it’s right. In this instance, I believe the commander in chief meddled where even the commander in chief doesn’t belong.

Lt. Col. Vindman is entitled to wear his uniform whenever he wishes

Simply astonishing.

That’s my first reaction to questions raised today during Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman’s testimony before the U.S. House Intelligence Committee.

Vindman sat before the panel in his Army dress blue uniform. It then fell to a Republican member of the committee, Chris Stewart of Utah, to ask why he wore what was “not the uniform of the day.”

Vindman works on the National Security Council. He is an active-duty Army officer. He wears a civilian suit to work … usually. He chose to wear his uniform today, I suppose, because he thought it would be proper for him to wear the attire he is entitled to wear as a commissioned officer.

I want to mention this because other NSC officials have testified before Congress in their military uniform. One is most notable, as Roll Call notes: Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North, who sat before Congress during his testimony into the Iran-Contra matter of 1987. Did anyone raise a ruckus then? I do not recall it.

Moreover, other active-duty officers have worn their uniforms while at work in the federal government. Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the former national security adviser to Donald Trump, being one of them.

Vindman  was in Congress today to testify about what he heard during that infamous phone call with Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that has prompted the impeachment inquiry against the president. He said some important things today and made some important assertions.

So, let’s not get sidetracked by something as ridiculous as whether an Army field-grade officer is entitled to wear his dress uniform.

Of course he is!