Tag Archives: Pentagon

Strike the Confederate colors!

Defense Secretary Mark Esper wrote the following today in a memorandum that has gotten worldwide attention: “The flags we fly must accord with the military imperatives of good order and discipline, treating all our people with dignity and respect, and rejecting divisive symbols.”

You only get a single guess on which flag he targeted with this message. Time’s up.

Yep, it’s the Confederate flag, which has been banned at all military installations. Period. Full stop.

I am going to hand it to Mark Esper. His order flies directly into a headwind created by opposition from the commander in chief, Donald Trump, who has made no secret of his outrage over the Confederate flag being targeted as a symbol of hate and national division … which it most certainly is.

Trump has this peculiar affection for the rebel flag, which to my eye symbolizes bloodshed, treason and enslavement.

We fought the nation’s bloodiest conflict, the Civil War, with one side rallying under that flag on the battlefield, where more than 600,000 Americans died. The Confederate States of America committed treason by rebelling against the federal government, seeking to overthrow it … and why? Because the CSA wanted to retain the right of states to allow people to keep other people enslaved.

There you have it. Defense Secretary Esper says all flags that fly on U.S. military installations must comport with the ideals of the nation. Slavery and treason aren’t part of the package.

Now I am wondering at this moment whether the commander in chief is going to override that order. Donald Trump has the legal authority to do it. Will he dare?

Looking for the leaker, but no answers on bounty

Well now, it appears Donald John Trump is really angry … at the individual who leaked the item about the Russians placing bounties on the heads of U.S. service personnel.

He is going after the person who spilled the beans to the media about what might shake out as arguably the most damning scandal we’ve seen during Trump’s scandal-ridden tenure as president of the United States.

He vows to root out the leaker and punish him or her to the extent that he can. Although it’s unclear to me what precisely he could do other than fire the individual.

But … what about the bounty? When is Trump going to speak directly to the issue of Russian intelligence officials reportedly paying $100,000 to Taliban terrorists who kill our men and women on the battlefield? He’s been stone-cold silent on that matter.

I happen to have a personal stake in this issue. Two members of my family have seen combat in Afghanistan since we went to war against the Taliban after 9/11. One family member is now retired from the Army and is living in Colorado. The other family member, though, is on active duty and well could be sent back to Afghanistan. Obviously, I do not want him harmed. Therefore, I am imploring Congress, the intelligence community, the executive branch of the government to get straight to the depths of what has transpired.

Trump’s initial reaction to the bounty story was to denigrate the reporting of it. He called it “fake news.” He said he never was briefed by his national security team when it first collected intelligence about the bounties.

Reporting on the matter, though, suggests something quite different. Normal National Security Council procedure compels officials to brief the president when it obtains information of this magnitude.

Did they tell Donald Trump when he should have been told? If they did and he ignored it, then I believe we have an act of treason on our hands. If they withheld that information because they feared how he might react to negative news about his pal Vladimir Putin, we have something quite different but also seriously egregious.

Trump keeps saying how much he cares about the troops under his command. He has yet to demonstrate that love and caring in a tangible manner as it regards this hideous story.

Now he’s going after the leaker? That is a shameful dereliction of duty and a disgraceful violation of the oath he took when he became our commander in chief.

Stars and Stripes falls victim to changing media climate?

Wait just a cotton-pickin’ minute.

Donald John Trump keeps yammering about how much he cares about the men and women who serve in the military, doing duty that he couldn’t fit into his own life when he was of the age to fight for his country.

Why, then, is the Pentagon — under the current president’s watch — stripping Stars and Stripes of the government subsidy on which it relies to provide news and other information to our military personnel?

Stars and Stripes, which has been published regularly since World War II, is losing its $8 million annual subsidy, ostensibly so the Pentagon can spend that money (which amounts to chump change in the total spending accrued by the agency) on other projects.

As Stars and Stripes reported: “Every day in my office as commander of U.S. European Command, I would read Stars and Stripes,” said retired Adm. James Stravidis, who served as EUCOM chief and NATO Supreme Allied Command from 2009 to 2013. “It was an invaluable unbiased and highly professional source of information which was critical to me in my role overseeing U.S. military throughout Europe.”

Allow me to join Adm. Stravidis in declaring my own intense interest in Stars and Stripes. Many of us serving in Vietnam came to rely on the newspaper to tell us of what was happening back home. We also had Armed Forces Radio, but to those of us who preferred to read the printed word, Stars and Stripes served as a sort of lifeline to the “The World.”

Are we now being led to believe that our young men and women no longer get to read the news that Adm. Stravidis said kept him informed just a few years ago?

This is an absolute shame.

Zero, to 34, now to 50 injuries in missile attack

What’s going on at the Pentagon?

The Iranians fired ballistic missiles at our forces in Iraq in response to our killing of Qassem Soulaimani, the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Hey, this was a bad dude, a ruthless terrorist chieftain.

The missiles landed on our base. The Pentagon and Donald Trump said immediately there were zero U.S. casualties.

Wait! Then the number rose suddenly to 34 service personnel. The brass said they suffered traumatic brain injury when the missiles blew up.

Now we hear the number has reached 50 military personnel.

Is this how it goes now? The public gets information handed out in dribs and drabs.

We all are grateful that none of the injuries is life-threatening. Most of the personnel who were injured have returned to duty.

This sloppy information release seems all too common in an administration that simply cannot seem to get its story straight the first time.

The men and women who serve us — as well as their families who pray for their safety while they stand in harm’s way — need to know the whole truth all the time.

Are we ready for the Iranian response?

The U.S.-Iran tension has just been kicked squarely in the gut with reports that a drone strike has killed a leading Iranian military leader responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American service personnel.

Major Gen. Quassim Suleimani is dead. He was the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. He was an evil individual. I happen to believe he needed killin’, as the saying goes. To that extent I also happen to applaud the action taken by U.S. military officials, reportedly at the direction of Donald Trump. The strike occurred in Baghdad, Iraq, where the Revolutionary Guard has been involved in fomenting violence.

Here, though, is the major qualifier we need to understand fully. The consequence of this strike is likely to produce a retaliation from Iran.

Are we ready for such a reaction? Are our forces set to respond to whatever Iran intends to do to avenge the death of someone considered to be a revered leader in Iran?

It’s one thing to launch a strike against a primary military leader. It’s quite another to take such action without a strategy lined out to deal with the response that is sure to be directed at this country or our allies in the Middle East.

I am hopeful the Pentagon brass has developed that strategy and is prepared to deploy it when it becomes necessary.

‘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.

Wanting next POTUS to rescind transgender ban

Donald Trump took office as president and began issuing a flurry of executive orders, even though he criticized Barack Obama for his use of executive authority when he was president of the United States.

One of the orders he issued revoked an Obama order that allowed transgender Americans to serve openly in the U.S. military. Trump listened to his base of supporters and rescinded the previous order.

He is now getting his re-election campaign ramped up. Many of the Democrats seeking to succeed him want to yank the transgender ban off the books and allow those patriotic Americans to don the uniform of their country while serving in the military.

I fully support lifting the ban. Even the Washington Examiner, a newspaper friendly to the Trump agenda, has urged the president to take a second look at the transgender ban.

Trump offered a number of dubious assertions seeking to justify his decision to rescind the previous executive order. The worst of those reasons had something to do with the money that the Defense Department would be spending on personnel who would be in various stages of what is called “gender reassignment.” The counter argument to that notion, of course, came from those who noted the enormous amount of money the Pentagon spends on medication to correct maladies such as, oh, “erectile dysfunction.”

Without doubt, though, the most ironic aspect of Trump’s decision dealt with his denying Americans’ desire to serve their country when, back in the day, Trump avoided/evaded such service during the Vietnam War. He secured the now widely derided medical exemption relating to alleged “bone spurs” that Trump said he suffered on his feet.

For this president to deny Americans the opportunity to serve, which they seek to do voluntarily, is ridiculous on its face.

Furthermore, I equate the military transgender ban with the idiotic Bathroom Bill that the 2017 Texas Legislature considered enacting. You’ll recall that one, yes? The Senate approved a bill that required people to use public restrooms in accordance with their gender at birth; it was meant clearly to discriminate against transgendered individuals. The Texas House, led by then-Republican House Speaker Joe Straus, killed the idea in a special session.

Whoever succeeds Trump — whether it’s after this upcoming election or the next one — has vowed to restore some justice to our military ranks. My fervent hope is that the opportunity comes sooner rather than later.

Liar in chief likely at it once again in describing terrorist’s death

Donald Trump went on that ridiculous riff Sunday in which he said the Islamic State’s founder/mastermind/terrorist in chief was crying and screaming like a little boy when he met his death over the weekend.

Now we hear from the Pentagon that the brass cannot confirm what the president described.

Hmm. Who’d have thought such a thing? Do you think Donald Trump was, um, making it up? Was he lying yet again? Was he seeking to glorify himself about Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s death as the U.S. Army Delta Force soldiers were closing in on him?

Well, I have adopted the view that Trump cannot be trusted to tell the truth about anything, under any circumstance. He is unable to speak with any semblance of truthfulness.

Yet the president thought it was fair comment to go into detail about what happened to al-Baghdadi’s body when he detonated the “suicide vest” he had strapped to his torso. I heard him say it in the moment and thought, “Well, duh … ? That’s what happens when you blow yourself to pieces!” 

Yep, as the president’s allies keep telling us: That’s just Trump being Trump.

Good grief.

These officers need to be heard

It’s not every day that a general-grade officer takes the commander in chief to task for decisions he makes that put the nation’s security in peril.

Yet, that is what has happened with two superb military officers. They both have combat experience. They both have commanded many thousands of men and women. They both are true-blue American heroes.

Retired Admiral William McRaven, the former special operations commanding officer, has penned a New York Times essay in which he declares that Donald Trump is putting our democracy “in jeopardy.” He cannot fathom that the president sidles up to dictators and trashes our allies and our alliances that have been vital to keeping the world safe from tyrants. McRaven, under whose command our military was able to kill Osama bin Laden, has laid it on the line with regard to Donald Trump.

Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, who served as defense secretary in the Trump administration, resigned because the president doesn’t know what he is doing with regard to the military and his handling of foreign policy. Trump selected Mattis to lead the Pentagon, calling him at the time of his hiring a first-rate commanding officer; now he refers to Mattis as an “overrated general.”

They aren’t alone in expressing their dismay and disgust at the way the president conducts foreign and military policy. Retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the former head of Central Command who led troops during the Persian Gulf War — and served with valor and heroism during the Vietnam War — has been a fervent critic of the president.

These are serious men with serious views about the commander in chief. They are patriots. They served heroically. They faced our enemies on the battlefield. These men deserve to be heard. 

9/11 still seared into our memory

Many millions of Americans are recalling a terrible day that dawned 18 years ago today. It didn’t start out that way, but it got dark in a major hurry.

They’re remembering where they were when they heard the news. Me? I was at work at the Amarillo Globe-News.

My colleague walked into the office and stuck his head in the door: “Did you hear the news. Someone flew an airplane into the World Trade Center.”

I asked two questions: How big was the airplane? How was the weather? I don’t recall my colleague knowing it was a jetliner. He did say the weather in New York City was beautiful.

“What kind of moron would fly into a building?” I asked with all the appropriate derision.

I turned on a small TV I had in my office. I watched one of the towers burning. Then — in real and horrifying time — the world watched the second jet liner crash into the other tower.

In that moment, we knew what we had: an act of war!

The Pentagon was hit by a third jetliner. Then we heard about the Shanksville, Pa., crash involving a fourth hijacked airplane.

We would go to war in Afghanistan. We would toss the Taliban out of power in that remote land and then launch the hunt for al-Qaida terrorist leaders who masterminded the hideous attack.

I will admit to being frightened in the moment. Anger? Absolutely!

I wanted the nation to fill with resolve to defeat the bastards who committed this horrific deed. Sadly, I fear our nation has lost some of its collective resolve. We’ve been torn asunder by a war that President Bush launched against Iraq, telling us that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had “something” to do with the terrorist attack … when he didn’t.

To be honest, I remain puzzled on how we “declare victory” in this war. Or if we can ever actually make that victory declaration.

However, the fight goes on. It must go on.