Tag Archives: Joint Chiefs of Staff

‘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.

Gen. Mattis comes clean: ‘I had to leave the administration’

James Mattis is showing his class, his devotion to country and his dedication to public service. How? By revealing that Donald Trump’s shamble-driven management style forced him to resign as secretary of defense.

He quit because of policy differences with the commander in chief. Trump, quite unsurprisingly, dismissed the differences he had with Mattis, a retired four-star Marine general, a combat veteran and — to my way of thinking — one of the few actual grownups who has served in the Trump administration.

Mattis became frustrated with Trump’s policy pronouncements by Twitter. He couldn’t function while there was no clear line of communication between his staff and the White House.

So, he quit.

I, along with other Americans, was struck by tone of Mattis’s statement announcing his resignation. He took great pains to salute the men and women who served under his command; he paid tribute to his Pentagon staff and to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He didn’t say a word of praise for the president of the United States.

Gosh! Can you imagine that?

Atlantic magazine has published a story telling how Mattis told those close to him about his decision to leave the administration. See the story here.

The bottom line for James Mattis is that he just “couldn’t take it any more.” Who knew?

How on Earth does this POTUS do the right thing?

U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe’s decision to pull out of the director of national intelligence job puts Donald John Trump squarely in the middle of a quandary he seems to have no interest in solving.

Trump selected the toadie Ratcliffe — a Northeast Texas congressman — to succeed Dan Coats as DNI, only to face a storm of criticism over Ratcliffe’s partisan leanings and allegations that he embellished his resume. Trump blamed the media for doing their job in “vetting” this individual.

Ratcliffe is out. Coats will be gone Aug. 15. Who will fill the vital job as head of the nation’s intelligence network? How in the world does this president do the right thing and find someone who (a) is willing to work for Donald Trump and (b) would provide Trump with the critical analysis of the existential security threats to the nation.

More to the point, how does Trump resist the impulse to rely on those who tell him what he wants to hear and ignores what he needs to hear?

Coats and other intelligence chiefs said the same thing: Russia attacked our election in 2016. Trump has dismissed them. Indeed, just this week he said former special counsel Robert Mueller — who said yet again that the Russians posed a serious threat to our electoral system — didn’t know what he was talking about.

The heads of the CIA, FBI, National Security Agency, the Joint Chiefs of Staff all have said the same thing: The Russians attacked us.

Coats spoke “truth to power.” Ratcliffe spoke quite the opposite.

What in the world is Donald Trump going to do to fill this job? He needs critical thinking. He needs to hear the truth. He needs to be told where the threats exist and he needs to consider strategies to protect our system against further assaults from Russia and perhaps other hostile powers.

Who in the world is willing to provide what the president of the United States won’t accept?

Once more, with passion: Military display is a bad idea!

I feel the need to restate once again something about which I feel quite strongly.

Donald Trump’s method of saluting the United States of America is a ridiculous sideshow. He wants to militarize the event. He wants to make some kind of speech that I fear will be highly political. He intends to divert attention away from what the founders created back in the late 18th century and focus more on himself.

That’s what narcissists do.

I don’t want to see tanks. I don’t want to see jet fighters zoom overhead. I don’t want to see the Joint Chiefs of Staff standing at attention next to the commander in chief. I don’t want to see military personnel dressed in their finest marching down the street.

We all know the obvious, which is that the U.S. military is the strongest the world has ever seen. Really! It is! I get it. I once wore an Army uniform and went to war for my country. I love the military. I just don’t want to see it used as a political prop for a president who has no understanding of just why we celebrate our nation’s independence.

Flexing our military muscle is not what we normally enjoy when we celebrate the Fourth of July in the nation’s capital.

Donald Trump is changing all of that. He can do whatever he wants. He is the president. It’s his call. It just is the wrong call.

That’s it. I’m out.

Danger still lurks in Syria, Mr. POTUS

Donald Trump, the self-described “stable genius,” has given us yet another demonstration of why he is so damn dangerous as commander in chief of history’s greatest military machine.

With all the combat-experienced officers surrounding him, he either (a) ignored their advice or (b) never consulted with them prior to announcing a decision to pull all 2,000 or so troops out of Syria.

Trump declared that the Islamic State in Syria “has been defeated.” Really? Has it? Do we believe this president’s simple declaration? Do we take anything he says about such matters as a statement of irrefutable fact? I certainly do not!

The Pentagon got a major surprise Wednesday when the president tweeted a decision to pull the troops out. So did the State Department. Same with the CIA and the director of national intelligence.

No one saw it coming, according to reports.

One theory being kicked around is that Turkey’s president talked the president into pulling out of Syria. What do you suppose might have prompted that request? It might be that the Turks wanted our forces out of the way so they can deal more aggressively with Kurdish forces along the Turkey-Syria border; the Turks, you see, hate the Kurds and want to eliminate the threat posed by the Kurds — who have been fighting against the Syrian government — to the Turkish government.

Let’s not forget another party that is happy with this decision: That would be Russian strongman Vladimir Putin. Enough said about that one, yes?

To be clear, Trump acted within his presidential authority. He is the commander in chief. He possesses broad executive authority to do what he did.

It’s the so-called “wisdom” of the decision that has riled so many observers in Congress, most notably many of the president’s supposed “allies” within the Republican caucus in both congressional chambers. Congressional Democrats, of course, are shaking their heads in astonishment.

They, too, were surprised. The president didn’t consult with them, either.

Many of the president’s more ardent critics point out another curious dichotomy. It is that a New York attorney general has ordered the shuttering of the Trump Foundation because of what is alleged to be misuse of charitable donations, but still . . . the creator of that foundation maintains control of the nation’s nuclear launch codes.

Is this how you make America great again?

I think not.

Feeling sorry for John Kelly, except …

Donald Trump chose to skip a profoundly significant ceremony this past weekend at an American cemetery in France to commemorate a World War I battle.

He sent White House chief of staff John Kelly and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford to stand in the rain, something the president declined to do.

The event was part of a weekend commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. Trump managed to bungle and blunder his way through the weekend, isolating himself and the nation he leads from key allies.

But, back to the point.

The WWI battle took place in Belleau Wood, an event that is sacred in the minds of U.S. Marines. It was the first fight that sent Marines to fight a foreign enemy force. They fought valiantly and brilliantly against the German forces at Belleau Wood. The cemetery where the Marines are buried is sacred ground anyway, but it especially so to Marines.

Kelly is a retired Marine general; Joseph Dunford is an active-duty Marine general. I am wondering how these two men must have felt when they got word that the commander in chief had declined to attend the event because of reported “logistical” concerns created by the weather. The White House cooked up some pretext about Marine One, the presidential helicopter, being unable to fly in rainy conditions. The president could have driven to the ceremony. He chose to send Kelly and Dunford instead.

I would feel sympathy for Kelly in particular, except that he chose to sign on as chief of staff presumably knowing he would be working for someone who is prone to toss traditional customs aside. The president managed to disparage the Marine Corps with his no-show at a solemn event.

He also continues to shred the reputation of his chief of staff.

Now it’s a hoax, Mr. President?

Which is it today, Mr. President?

You said just the other day that the Russian attack on our electoral system in 2016 occurred. You accepted finally the U.S. intelligence agencies’ view that the Russians did it.

Then you send a message out today that calls it a “hoax”?

Let’s look back for a moment.

All of our nation’s intelligence bosses — FBI, CIA, director of national intelligence, National Security Agency, the Joint Chiefs of Staff — have been singing off the same hymnal page. The Russians did it! They acted alone!

You have denigrated their work. You have stood next to the Russian president and accepted his lying, prevaricating denial.

Then you backed off of that and said you now believe the U.S. spooks.

Now you call it a hoax.

Man, oh man. I am getting confused, Mr. President. You’re making my ears bleed. My head is spinning. I need smelling salts. I’m getting a case of rhetorical vertigo.

You won’t listen to me. I mean, you don’t listen to DNI Director Dan Coats, or CIA Director Gina Haspel, or anyone for that matter on anything!

I’ll offer this bit of unsolicited advice: Why don’t you just keep your unpresidential trap shut, let the special counsel, Robert Mueller, finish his job and then let the chips fall where they will fall?

Did POTUS give away the store to Kim?

Honest to goodness, I want to give Donald Trump props for meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and possibly start laying down the building blocks for a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.

However, I gave some thought en route from Amarillo to Fairview about what transpired this week.

I am wondering plenty at this moment about what the president has given away.

  • Donald Trump has called this killer, despot and tyrant an “honorable” man. He has said his people “love” him. The president who once called Kim “Little Rocket Man” has now become his newest BFF.
  • Then he decided to end joint military exercises with South Korea. Did the president consult with, oh, South Korea? Or with his own defense secretary, James “Mad Dog” Mattis? Or the Joint Chiefs of Staff? Oh, no. Trump did it on his own. Hey, he’s commander in chief, so I guess he is entitled to do whatever the hell he wants. How do you suppose Kim Jong Un responded to that idea? He well might have jumped straight into the air, high-fiving his top aides; he got what he has demanded all along!
  • And did the president raise any issue about human rights, which do not exist in North Korea? Kim is starving his people. He is imprisoning them for no good reason. He orders the deaths of foes. Kim’s goons capture tourist and charge them with bogus allegations. Did the negotiator in chief bring any of this up with Little Rocket Man? I do not believe he did.

So, where do we stand?

Trump and Kim have signed a vague two-page letter committing to negotiate an end to nuclear weapons in North Korea. No promise that the North Koreans will actually get rid of them, just a vow to talk about it.

I’m still hoping to cheer the president. I still want him to succeed for the benefit of the country. I still await some sign that Donald Trump knows what he is doing.

I am afraid I must withhold the cheers.

There’s this from a former Joint Chiefs chairman …

Donald J. Trump’s self-congratulatory tweet about Memorial Day seems to have produced a fascinating reaction from another prominent American.

This comes from retired Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Dempsey tweeted:

This day, of all days of the year, should not be about any one of us. No matter how prestigious or powerful, no matter how successful we perceive ourselves to be. Rather, this day should be about those who gave their lives so that we could live ours in freedom.

Do you think Gen. Dempsey had anyone in mind when he wrote about how the day “should not be about any one of us”?

Sure he was!

Here is what Trump said:

This is how you honor fallen heroes? Nope

You figure it out.

POTUS contradicts top military brass on Iran

Defense Secretary James Mattis and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford are two serious men with equally serious outlooks on the state of the world.

So, when these two men tell U.S. Senate inquisitors that Iran is not cheating on the deal that was worked out in 2015 to prevent development of an Iranian nuclear weapon, you’d like to believe the president would take that into account. Yes? Umm, no. It didn’t happen.

You see, today the president of the United States, accused the Iranians of rampant cheating on the deal. Thus, he present an opinion that goes directly against the view expressed by his two top military advisers. Then he announced that the United States is pulling out of the 2015 agreement negotiated by the Obama administration and several our nation’s key strategic allies.

I’ll add here that Secretary Mattis is a retired four-star Marine Corps general, the same rank as Gen. Dunford.

However, I guess I should remind us all that Trump boasted during the 2016 presidential campaign that “I know about ISIS than the generals, believe me.”

I guess he knows more than the generals about Iran’s adherence to a nuclear deal, too.

As a constituent of the president, I am going to believe the analysis provided by “Mad Dog” Mattis and Gen. Dunford before I accept anything that comes from the Liar in Chief.