- ‘Chain of Command’: Nat Geo’s New Series Explores War From The TOC Down
- Russia Is Trying To Blame The US For An Unsettling Attack On Its Syria Airbase
- Here’s What We Know About Trump’s Executive Order To Combat Veteran Suicide
- Why Veterans Succeed At Praxair
- Navy Recruiter Charged With Sex Abuse And Luring A Minor
Posted: 10 Jan 2018 02:27 PM PST
In a scene from National Geographic's upcoming documentary series, Chain of Command, U.S. Army Col. Patrick Work addresses his command staff via video teleconference from a tent in an unnamed location in Iraq.
"Courage is willpower," announces Work, who at the time, served as the brigade commander for 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, which assisted the Iraqi army in dislodging the Islamic State from the Mosul, the country's second largest city. "Courage is when the doors open the aircraft and you're like, man, I hope I don't die tonight, yet you still walk out. And you can't do it alone, it's a lot easier if you've got a whole bunch of people with willpower around you."
On laptops and television screens, Work's soldiers watch and listen from separate hooches, command posts, and duty huts stretched across the area of operations. Many are near the outskirts, or in, Mosul where the fight to retake the city still rages on. It's not long after a March 2017 American airstrike left more than 100 Iraqi civilians dead.
"We have to be discriminate, we have to be proportionate, it must be necessary," Work continues. "And on the 17th of March, some atrocity happened, and God's going to judge me too someday … What I'm telling you is that there's no guarantee this is going to go their way or our way. We have a mission."
With that, the credits begin to roll and the series' second episode, which premieres in a two-part installment on Jan. 15, draws to a close. Work adds: "I'm very proud of you. I'm proud to be among you. I'm proud to serve with you. No place I'd rather be than right here, right now."
The first two episodes of the eight-hour series, which Task & Purpose screened ahead of the premiere, are laced with moments like this: commanders and their troops, linked by sprawling formations of laptops, holding tablets and manning phones, while they coordinate air strikes and monitor suspected enemy combatants. As the series' narrator, actor Chris Evans — yes, Captain America — points out frequently: "This is what war looks like for [insert service member's name and rank here]."
As you can gather from the title, Chain of Command tracks what daily operations in the Global War on Terror, now entering its 17th year, look like from the very top to the very bottom of the military hierarchy. It's funny: The command chain is a simple, dominant fact of every service member's life every day, but it feels novel to see the whole chain documented this way on camera. "What eight hours of television allows us and provides us with is the opportunity for the viewers to understand and see the difference for themselves," Scott Boggins, the showrunner and executive producer for Chain of Command, told Task & Purpose. "For us, it was really important to show the stories behind the links in that chain."
It's a pretty enlightening perspective — though how interesting you find it may depend on your own position and rank. Like the military chain itself, the first two episodes are top-heavy with high-level deciders and meetings and discussions and pep speeches. They largely take place inside JOCs, TOCs, COCs, and CICs — and whatever other three-letter acronym you can imagine for that hut with all the radios and screens. This lends Chain of Command an air of exclusivity, assuming you've never spent hours standing watch in one.
The documentary series spans the tenure of two commanders-in-chief. Filming began at the end of 2016 and wraps at the end of this month, when Marines currently deployed as part of Task Force Southwest in Afghanistan's Helmand Province return home, Boggins said. But it starts in the halls of the Pentagon, where conversations with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, provide a top-level view of the Global War on Terror.
From Dunford, the focus slides down the chain link by link. There are the different combatant commands, and then T2C2, the Transregional Threat Coordination Cell — a military think tank, glimpsed in brief roundtable discussions about curtailing the spread of violent extremism. And then, finally, to the men and women deployed across the globe.
Chain of Command covers ongoing operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Niger, South Africa, and… Trinidad and Tobago, some 1,600 miles from the U.S. coast, where the Islamic State has found a potential recruiting ground.
Though National Geographic has worked closely with the Department of Defense on previous programs like Restrepo and Inside Combat Rescue, this series' approach — O-10 to E-1 — is something Boggins said has "never been done before, at this scope."
The scope isn't quite that sweeping so far, with all of the first two episodes' principal interviewees being O-3s or above. But this likely changes as future episodes venture farther afield in the Global War on Terror. That said, there are some advantages to leaning on the military brass: Chain of Command smartly throws into contrast the Washington-eye view of war and the in-theater perspective.
In one scene, Dunford — no stranger to the infantry or combat ops, but now running a vast, politically charged bureaucracy — is dropped off by a black Escalade. An aide hands him his bags as he juggles his coffee mug and briefcases before making his way indoors. A few minutes later, the series cuts to an Army infantry officer in Iraq, leading his commander through the compound where his troops are billeted — the frames for bunk beds are piled up in the hallway, having just arrived. Until then, the grunts had been sleeping on the concrete.
Given the U.S. mission in Iraq at the time of filming emphasized providing support to Iraqi troops, many of the scenes take place behind LCD screens or in the back of MRAPs, but it's still a warzone, and one with no clear lines — made evident when a camera following one of the soldiers and his commander pans upward to reveal a gaping hole in the ceiling where an enemy mortar round had previously impacted, just above U.S. troops.
These moments offer grim reminders that while U.S. missions in places like Iraq and Afghanistan may now be primarily "advising and assisting," they remain incredibly complex and dangerous. Last year 33 service members were killed in conflict zones overseas, according to an analysis of U.S. combat deaths by Buzzfeed.
For avid consumers of Iraq and Afghanistan war documentaries, especially veterans of those wars, the early episodes of Chain of Command may disappoint: They don't capture moments of frenetic combat in places like Fallujah, Marjah, and Korengal. They capture the deliberate, complicated, compartmentalized opening of a new stage in an aging war, one in which the U.S. military isn't leading the charge — but its members are still shouldering immense risks.
"What is sometimes a little less understood is that the Iraqi plan is what's unfolding," Col. Brett Sylvia, the brigade commander with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne, remarks in the first episode. "This is their mission, it's their operations, and we support them. They're the ones that are all the way forward on the front lines, and we are not."
In some ways, Sylvia adds, it "is very difficult to watch others go forward and do the fighting while you stay back. That's a tough one." But that's how most service members stationed across the globe actually experience war: watching others go forward, as they assist from afar. And that's what Chain of Command captures so well.
Chain of Command premieres Jan. 15 at 9/8c on the National Geographic Channel.
The post 'Chain of Command': Nat Geo's New Series Explores War From The TOC Down appeared first on Task & Purpose.
Posted: 10 Jan 2018 11:43 AM PST
Russia’s Khmeimim airbase in southwest Syria has increasingly become a target of regular attacks by armed fighters since New Year's Eve, when a cadre of "radical Islamists" killed two Ministry of Defense personnel and completely destroyed seven aircraft in a brutal mortar bombardment. Though the Russians now deny the aviation losses, that strike represented one of the Russian military's biggest debacles since the country became involved in Syria's bloody civil war in 2015. But a more recent attack on Khmeimim introduced the MoD to a new technological threat — and Russia is not-so-subtly blaming it on the Department of Defense.
On Jan. 5, Russian air defense forces at Khmeimim observed "13 unidentified small-size air targets at a significant distance" from the base, the MoD announced last Monday. Those objects were eventually identified as "assault drones," 10 of which headed for the base, while the other 3 peeled off toward a Russian naval port in the Syrian city of Tartus.
According to the MoD's announcement, Russian electronic warfare troops actually took control of six of the "small-size air targets," successfully landing three in "a controlled area outside the base," while three others "exploded as they touched the ground." The remaining seven UAVs "were eliminated by the Pantsir-S anti-aircraft missile complexes operated by the Russian air defence units on 24-hours alert," the announcement declared.
So where did the jihadis get the know-how to build these (admittedly rinky-dink) would-be kamikaze drones? The Russian military establishment has its thoughts: Must have been those dirty-dealing Americans!
That's a clear dig at the Pentagon, after months of aerial intercepts and all manner of unsafe maneuvers between Russian and U.S. Air Force aircraft. Never mind that U.S. forces have been more occupied with countering ISIS drones than handing out UAV technology willy-nilly to whoever downrange.
But the Russian MoD was on a roll: Jihadis just couldn't be this smart or well-resourced without help from "countries with high-technological capabilities of satellite navigation and remote dropping control of professionally assembled improvised explosive devices in assigned coordinates," the Ministry said in its statement. "All drones of terrorists," it added, "are fitted with pressure transducers and altitude control servo-actuators," as well as "foreign detonating fuses."
Russia continued to advance this bizarre conspiracy theory yesterday, when an unnamed Russian military source told state-run Itar-TASS that a U.S. Navy P-8A was flying between Khmeimim and Tartus on the evening of the drone swarm. It was "a strange coincidence that during a UAV attack on the Russian military facilities in Syria, a US Poseidon reconnaissance aircraft was cruising for more than four hours over the Mediterranean Sea at an altitude of 7,000 meters." (Officials with the MoD and the Russian embassy in the U.S. did not immediately respond to requests for comment.)
Naturally, DoD claims that allegations the U.S. provided drone materials to militants, let alone scrambled a Poseidon to the area in connection with the attack, is bullshit. "Any suggestion the U.S, the Coalition or our partnered forces played a role in an attack on a Russian base is without any basis in fact and utterly irresponsible," Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon told Task & Purpose. "I don’t have details about what Russian forces are encountering, but I can tell you that Coalition forces and our partners have encountered commercially-available unmanned aerial systems used by ISIS." Translation: Don't blame us for supplying UAV stuff that you can buy pretty much anywhere. (The Russian defense ministry responded to that statement with another masterpiece of online concern-trolling: "What technology are we talking about? Where is this 'market' and who is it that sells space intelligence?")
Given that DoD has been very, very carefully avoiding an armed clash with the Russian military in Syria, it's a lot harder to believe that the U.S. coordinated a drone swarm against Russian bases than it is to assume that ISIS unilaterally carried out a drone attack. But as far as Russian-backed conspiracy theories go, this one is at least grounded in some history.
Almost exactly one year ago, on Jan. 9, 2017, the Pentagon announced that it had successfully tested a "micro-drone swarm" of 103 Perdix drones at China Lake, California. Designed by Naval Air Systems Command and the Strategic Capabilities Office, the exercise involved deploying the drones from three F/A-18 Super Hornets and demonstrating "advanced swarm behaviors such as collective decision-making, adaptive formation flying, and self-healing." And yesterday on Jan. 9 Army Times reported that DoD was aiming to field an "autonomous robot swarm of 250 or more drones" controlled by combat troops to "do complex tasks on the urban battlefield."
"Due to the complex nature of combat, Perdix are not pre-programmed synchronized individuals, they are a collective organism, sharing one distributed brain for decision-making and adapting to each other like swarms in nature," SCO chief William Roper said at the time. "Because every Perdix communicates and collaborates with every other Perdix, the swarm has no leader and can gracefully adapt to drones entering or exiting the team." (Roper has since been offered a DoD promotion: He's now President Donald Trump's nominee for assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition.)
To be clear, the drones captured at Khmeimim look more like flying garbage heaps than the slick Perdix, so the possibility of the U.S. deliberately supplying militants with next-generation drones is, well, zilch. Even with the DoD's propensity to lose millions in weapons, equipment and other gear downrange — and for those items to end up in militant hands — it seems unlikely that Russian military engineers will find Air Force fingerprints on the combat drones. ISIS militants, on the other hand, have enjoyed a revolutionary leap forward in terror tactics in recent years, and have notoriously cannibalized commercial tech to fabricate their new sentinels.
The post Russia Is Trying To Blame The US For An Unsettling Attack On Its Syria Airbase appeared first on Task & Purpose.
Posted: 10 Jan 2018 10:37 AM PST
President Donald Trump signed a new executive order Tuesday aimed at reducing veteran suicide by offering more former service members access to mental health care.
The Jan. 9 executive order, "Supporting Our Veterans During Their Transition from Uniformed Service to Civilian Life," focuses on soon-to-be former service members, who statistically have the highest risk for suicide among all vets.
The new mandate was briefed to reporters Tuesday morning by senior administration officials, including Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin, before President Trump signed the order in the afternoon. While still in the planning stages, here's what we know so far.
All recent vets get a year of mental health screening starting in two months.
"We will be covering all separating military members who are transitioning into civilian life — 100% of them — with the mental health benefit for 12 months," Shulkin told reporters in the Oval Office on Tuesday at the order's signing ceremony. (Some vets, however, are excepted from the policy; more on that below.) Beginning March 9, transitioning veterans become eligible to receive one year of mental health care through the Veterans Health Administration — the VA's medical arm.
Care may be provided at VA or by a private facility, depending on wait times where you live.
The order also opens the door for these veterans to participate in the VA's CHOICE program — which provides access to private sector care providers and specialists.
The idea is to give seamless care to transitioning service members even if they don't have a job or a health plan.
"As service members transition to Veteran status, they face higher risk of suicide and mental health difficulties," Shulkin said in a statement. "During this critical phase, many transitioning service members may not qualify for enrollment in health care. The focus of this Executive Order is to coordinate federal assets to close that gap."
A lot of vets who don't qualify for long-term VA care will still qualify for this program.
The order opens the doors to VA mental health care for the 60% of transitioning veterans who are currently ineligible for long-term VA medical benefits — usually because they lack a verified service-connected disability or service in a combat zone.
If you have bad paper, you don't qualify for this program… but help is still available.
While Shulkin said in the Oval Office that the order would cover 100% of "all separating military members," he told reporters earlier Tuesday that this program will apply only to those veterans whose discharge status wouldn't bar them from collecting other Veteran Affairs benefits — meaning vets with other-than-honorable or bad conduct and dishonorable discharges can't qualify. However, last year, the VA launched a separate program offering emergency mental health services for veterans with these "bad paper" discharges, and Shulkin said that program is still in effect.
In an email to Task & Purpose Wednesday, VA Press Secretary Curtis Cashour confirmed this. “In order to be eligible for coverage under the executive order, former service members must (1) have served in the active military, naval, or air service, and (2) have been discharged or released therefrom under honorable conditions,” Cashour wrote. “At the signing event, Sec. Shulkin was referring to honorably discharged Veterans – 100 percent of whom will be eligible for VA mental health care under the executive order – as opposed to the 40 percent of recently separated Veterans who are eligible for VA health care.”
This can help a lot of vets with a lot of concerns, but its primary aim is veteran suicide.
"That 12-month period after you leave service is the highest risk for suicide," Shulkin explained in the Oval Office. "Almost one and a half to two times" the risk for all veterans"
An estimated 20 U.S. veterans die by suicide each day, and last year, President Trump tasked Shulkin with getting that number to zero.
If you're still in for now, help is available through DoD under this order, too.
To assist transitioning veterans who may need mental health services, the Defense Department will expand its peer outreach services to provide support to service members in the year leading up to their discharge from the military. Additionally, the Military OneSource program — which offers face-to-face counseling, a 24-hour call line, and a variety of other resources — will expand its services from 180 days to one year for transitioning vets.
More details on the program are coming in March.
The Department of Veterans Affairs, Defense and Homeland Security have two months from the date the executive order was signed to provide the president a "Joint Action Plan" that lays out "concrete actions to provide, to the extent consistent with law, seamless access to mental health treatment and suicide prevention resources for transitioning uniformed service members in the year following discharge, separation, or retirement."
"The joint action plan will describe concrete actions we must take to ensure every single veteran who needs mental health and suicide prevention services will receive them immediately upon their separation from military service," President Trump said during the signing. "They get out of the military, and they had nobody to talk to, nobody to speak to. And it's been a very sad situation, but we're taking care of them."
Update, 2:00 p.m. EST, 1/10: This post has been updated with comments from VA Press Secretary Curtis Cashour confirming that the new order will not extend benefits to veterans who weren’t honorably discharged.
If you're thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) to reach a trained counselor. Use that same number and press "1" to reach the Veterans Crisis Line.
The post Here's What We Know About Trump's Executive Order To Combat Veteran Suicide appeared first on Task & Purpose.
Posted: 10 Jan 2018 05:30 AM PST
Editor's Note: The following story by Career Coach Will Leineweber highlights job opportunities at Praxair. Committed to filling its ranks with talented members of the military community, Praxair is a client of Hirepurpose, a Task & Purpose sister company. Learn more here.
This November, I travelled to Houston, Texas, to spend time with managers and veterans at a Praxair production facility adjacent to an oil refinery. Three key things stood out to me: it values experience more than certificates; it promotes from within; and as a Praxair employee, what you do matters.
Praxair manufactures and distributes industrial gases for a variety of purposes around the world. Its products are sold in many different formats. Everything from cylinders of oxygen, nitrogen and argon to the large-scale pipelines delivering one of a variety of industrial gases such as hydrogen. These gases are used for everything from medical applications to the manufacture of products essential to the global economy.
The facility I visited produces hydrogen and carbon monoxide from natural gas, crucial components in the production of refined petroleum. If you want to make gasoline, you need hydrogen and carbon monoxide first.
But what immediately stood out to me was that this was such a clean and squared away facility. You aren't dealing with sludge, waste, or anything like that; the operators are mostly concerned with preventative maintenance on largely automated systems. Compressors large and small, sensors (pressure, temperature, flow), valves, fans, and the systems that control it all. To a Navy machinist's mate or electrician’s mate, all of this will seem familiar — which is one of the reasons that there are so many veterans at each facility.
Culturally, Praxair is different from its competitors in several key ways. It's an organization that believes in safety first and operational excellence. It is also a relatively lean organization – everyone pulls the rope and wears a couple of different hats. On a Navy aircraft carrier, you have multiple shops staffed by hundreds of people — you need to at that scale. By comparison, a Praxair facility is more like a sub or small surface ship: the crew is smaller and each individual is expected to collaborate, with instrumentation technicians working shoulder-to-shoulder with mechanics. This is not an environment where you can show up and say, "Sorry, I don't do windows."
One of Praxair's core values is attracting and developing the right people, which means management invests in their employees. Like the military, once you're up to speed in your job you'll be groomed and supported if you want to move to the next level. There is active involvement on the part of leadership to grow each employee for future upward mobility, if that's what you want. Sure, some folks are content to stay at the level they're at for the long haul, but veterans tend to want career progression and you will find that opportunity here.
Mike Bacon, a Praxair global maintenance manager, was a senior chief when he retired. When he first started at the company, Mike wanted to work with his hands and be a technician more than a manager; he was ready for a break after a career spent on submarines. Doing what most vets do, Mike quickly found himself rising through the ranks as a lead technician, then maintenance superintendent overseeing a facility, then several facilities. Now, Mike overseas maintenance for hydrogen facilities across the world, and not just because he has an engineering degree: He has technical skills and leadership abilities developed in the military that serve what the business needs and he hasn't been held back by a piece of paper like you might find at other companies.
Another cultural element at Praxair is that, as an employee, you are empowered. There aren't several layers of redundancy like you find at bloated organizations: You have greater responsibilities and you are treated like a grown up. With that comes a heavy emphasis on integrity. If you make a mistake, own it, say something and learn from it. Ignoring a mistake can cause a chain reaction of events that puts the entire team at a disadvantage, and if you're not a fan of micromanagement and you like to come up with solutions and ideas to improve processes, you would feel at home here.
Praxair also hires officers: If you have an engineering degree and you were a department head on a ship, you'd probably compete well for a role as a plant engineer. You have the leadership experience and technical aptitude to get up to speed quickly and become an essential member of the team.
Posted: 10 Jan 2018 04:34 AM PST
A Beaverton, Oregon man is in jail on suspicion of using his role as a Navy recruiter to lure at least one minor into sexual relations.
The Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office arrested Sean William Kelly, 27, on Monday. Kelly faces charges that include second-degree sex abuse, third-degree sex abuse, luring a minor and sexual delinquency of a minor.
He is being held at Clackamas County Jail. His bail has been set at $75,000.
Police say the victim, a student, met Kelly while he was working for the Navy in an Oregon City recruitment office.
Dan Rachal, a spokesman for the regional Navy recruitment office based in Portland, said Kelly will remain in the Navy while the service conducts its own investigation.
Kelly entered the Navy in 2009 in Illinois, Rachel said. He was assigned to the Portland area as a recruiter on June 10, 2015, and worked out of recruiting offices in Oregon City and Vancouver.
Kelly attained the rank of first class petty officer, Rachal said. While Kelly is still on the Navy’s payroll, he’s no longer in the field recruiting, he said.
Though Rachal could not immediately provide details of Kelly’s duties as a recruiter, he said Navy recruiters typically deal with men and women between the ages of 18 and 24. They often visit high schools, and 17-year-old seniors can enlist with parental consent.
Rachal declined to comment on Kelly’s case, as it is ongoing, but he said the Navy takes such allegations seriously and will cooperate with authorities.
Police are asking anyone who has information about the case or other alleged victims to contact the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office tip line at 503-723-4949 or online here. Those offering tips should reference case No. 17-15690.
©2018 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
The post Navy Recruiter Charged With Sex Abuse And Luring A Minor appeared first on Task & Purpose.
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