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The Knives Are Out For VA Secretary Shulkin

Posted: 19 Feb 2018 03:14 PM PST

It's been a tumultuous week for the Department of Veterans Affairs, after a scathing inspector general report surfaced detailing abuses and errors in VA Secretary David Shulkin's 10-day trip to Europe last summer. But the fall-out from the investigation hints at a power struggle over the department and its priorities.

The VA Office of the Inspector General report released on Feb. 14 detailed "a number of serious derelictions" in expensing a $122,000 trip Shulkin, his wife, and a small group of VA employees took to Copenhagen and London last July. Among its more serious claims: that Shulkin's now-retiring chief of staff, Vivieca Wright Simpson, doctored emails in order to bill the VA for the secretary's wife's airfare.

Shulkin has since pledged to repay the cost of his wife's travel expenses and a pair of Wimbledon tickets the OIG report said he improperly accepted. But while Simpson resigned her post after 35 years at the VA on Feb. 16, Shulkin pushed back against the allegations that his chief of staff doctored emails, telling reporters that he believed her email account may have been hacked. (Rep. Tim Walz, the ranking Democrat on the House Veteran Affairs Committee, called on the Department of Justice to investigate that claim.)

Related: VA OIG: Shulkin And His Staff Committed 'Serious Derelictions' In Expensing Europe Trip »

For Shulkin, an Obama-era VA officer unanimously confirmed by senators for the department's highest office last year, the scandal means that his quiet, bipartisan brand in the chaotic Trump administration has officially come to an end. In the aftermath of the report, Shulkin has not only lost his chief of staff but had at least one Republican congressman call for his resignation; Shulkin went into President's Day weekend under a cloud of speculation that he may be asked to resign.

So why the hurry to rush Shulkin out the door? Shulkin himself suggested to the press that the leak of last year's trip to Europe was a politically motivated attack from parties trying to push their own agenda from within the VA, and he vowed to "root" out the bad actors.

"We need this department to be functioning well," Shulkin told Military Times following the Feb. 15 House Veteran Affairs Committee hearing on the 2019 budget. "Everybody needs to know their job is taking care of veterans … If that's not the case, we're going to root that out and we're going to make sure this is a department we're all proud of."

Stories of political infighting within the VA — which oversees the largest health care system in the country — have bubbled to the surface in the aftermath of the OIG report. Recent articles by The Washington Post, New York Times, and Military Times depict a power struggle between VA civil servants and a cohort of well-connected proponents of VA privatization operating within the department.

Related: Lawmakers Slam VA Chief After Lavish European Trip Expenses »

The significant influence of Concerned Veterans for America, a conservative group affiliated with the Koch brothers — and a supporter of Coffman, the congressman who's now demanding Shulkin's scalp — has raised concern among veterans service organizations, given CVA's advocacy for moving more veterans' care out of the VA and into the private sector, according to Stars and Stripes.

Shulkin, along with numerous veterans service organizations and lawmakers, has argued against privatizing the VA, but the fallout from the OIG travel report may have provided proponents of privatization an opening. Indeed, White House senior adviser on veterans affairs Jake Leinenkugel, a former Marine and political appointee with no prior experience in veterans care, circulated an internal memo in December that expressed frustration with Shulkin and his top leadership and suggested capitalizing on the travel scandal as a way to replace Shulkin with a strong political candidate. That email was recently obtained and published by The Washington Post.

"This behavior is disturbing, represents the worst of Washington politics, and must be brought to a swift and decisive end," Walz said of the alleged political jockeying in a Feb. 16 statement.

As Shulkin continues to face criticism for the excesses detailed in the OIG report, several veterans service organizations have rallied to his defense and pushed back against calls for the VA chief to resign.

"While we were disappointed to learn of the recent issue with the Secretary's travel, we believe that the current controversy surrounding the Secretary is part of a larger effort to remove him and install others who would take steps to privatize the services provided to our nation's heroes by the Department of Veterans Affairs," Denise Rohan, the national commander for the American Legion, said in a Feb. 19 statement.

Joe Chenelly, the executive director of AmVets, put it more succinctly in a Feb. 19 statement directed at President Trump: "Please allow VA Secretary Shulkin the space necessary to do his job and continue your focus on fixing the VA."

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Rep. Adam Smith: Trump’s Military Spending And Planning Needs A Reality Check

Posted: 19 Feb 2018 02:21 PM PST

The top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee is skeptical that the increases in defense spending proposed by President Donald Trump will actually make the United States any safer.

Washington State Rep. Adam Smith told Task & Purpose that he believes the U.S. military is being asked to train for too many possible war scenarios, and that is driving the need for more troops and equipment.

"I am aware of the threats – as aware as anybody – but there is a finite amount of money out there and they [the Trump administration] seem to be pretending that there's not," Smith said.

The U.S. should reach out partners and allies to seek diplomatic solutions to crises instead of building up the military at the expense of the State Department, Smith told Task & Purpose, adding that the national debt will become unsustainable if Congress continues to cut taxes and spend more money than it takes in.

The following is interview excerpts, edited for length and clarity.

Is it accurate to say you oppose any increases in defense spending without commensurate increases in non-defense spending?

I don't think that would be accurate, no. For me, it's not a dollar-for-dollar thing. I think that's rather a silly way to approach a budget.

My concern is that with the tax cut and with the $500 billion [in proposed spending increases] … that our debt and deficit are out of control and we do not have a sustainable federal budget past about four or five years, best case scenario – certainly not for a decade.

What happens three, four years from now, when the debt hits $25 trillion, the deficit is pushing towards $2 trillion, and it's just not sustainable anymore. How do you then proceed? That is my concern.

Now, I also believe that there are domestic priorities that are important to the health and well-being and security of our nation other than just the defense budget. Let's just say we are spending vastly more money than we're taking in and that has very bad implications in terms of being able to function properly.

Do you feel the proposed defense budget for fiscal 2019 includes excessive or wasteful spending?

Oh, sure, but, again, the overarching problem is having the resources to match what it is that we want to spend the money on. The biggest thing for me is I do not agree with diving into a nuclear arms race with Russia and China. The amount of money that we're proposing to spend on nukes, I think, is both excessive and the wrong policy, without question.

If you're going to have a whole-of-government approach, how do you cut the State Department by 27 percent?

There are some other areas where I think we could save money and be more realistic about it. The numbers simply don't add up. We can probably get through the next two years, but we're getting through them on the mother of all credit cards.

When the joint chiefs say that readiness levels are dangerously low, do you feel they are exaggerating?

I don't, no. The problem here is that we have a very expanded mission list; but again, insufficient dollars to fund it. So, we're trying to do too much and the first thing that gets cut when you're trying to do too much is readiness.

You train a little bit less. You fire a little less ammunition in practice. You don't repair ships and planes and trucks so they don't work. You don't train as often. All of those things make us more vulnerable.

So yes, I agree with the readiness crisis. But the solution to the readiness crisis is not to dramatically increase the defense budget and expand the mission set so that you're buying more equipment and putting more requirements on the COCOMs [combatant commands].

The solution is to say: 'OK, let's be realistic about we can be prepared to do,' and then train our men and women in the military to be ready to do it.

You can whip yourself into a frenzy about all of the people who are coming after you. I think we can take a step back, build partnerships, and try to find ways through diplomatic and other means to reduce the risk of these conflicts that we have to spend so much money to prepare for.

Right now, the Trump administration apparently has one and only one approach, and that is to try to present the world with the most massive military he can possibly and hyperbolically describe as a deterrent to their bad actions, as opposed to building partnerships with other nations, who have similar interests, so that they can help us meet our national security interests – or finding ways to work diplomatically with countries like China and Iran and North Korea, and even Russia for that matter – to reduce the threat that we face and get to a different place.

I am aware of the threats – as aware as anybody – but there is a finite amount of money out there and they seem to be pretending that there's not.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson has said the service will still go to war at lower readiness levels but fewer airmen will come back. Has Congress become apathetic to casualties?

No. I don't think so.

On the other hand, there is also a ceiling on what Heather Wilson is saying. If that's the case, and you spin out all the scenarios – and they're all possible, none of them likely, but they're possible – Russia could go rolling into Eastern Europe, try to take over the Baltic states; Iran could invade Saudi Arabia; China could invade Taiwan; North Korea could invade South Korea. Pick a scenario. It could happen.

By that measure, we would need a defense budget somewhere in the neighborhood of $6 trillion in order to be ready for everything. That's not possible.

It's true: When the Korean War happened … we weren't ready for it. The first groups of people that we sent over there were not ready and as a consequence, a lot of people died.

But if you take the measure and say you're going to train as if tomorrow every bad national security scenario could happen, then let's just raise taxes dramatically and get rid of all other federal spending and acknowledge that's what we're going to do.

The bottom line is you do have to take some risks. What's the risk of not funding infrastructure? How many more bridges have to collapse and how many more trains have to run off the tracks before we recognize that those people are dead too. How many people have to die because they don't have access to adequate healthcare before we count that?

Do you agree that as equipment ages and the military branches cut back on training, more troops will be killed in training accidents and ship collisions?

Yes, I don't disagree with that at all. But what I'm saying is: Yes, we should do that, but if you then expand the mission set out, then you have to train for even more. You need even more equipment and you need even more people in the service, so you need to train them even more.

You have to have a balance there. If you just say, 'We have to be ready for absolutely every bad thing that could happen to us from a national security standpoint,' you're trapped in an endless loop.

So, no, I don't disagree at all. That's why I've said: We should vet our mission set and train to it.

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The post Rep. Adam Smith: Trump's Military Spending And Planning Needs A Reality Check appeared first on Task & Purpose.

Shipboard Service Is Harsh. The Navy Isn’t Preparing Recruits For This Reality

Posted: 19 Feb 2018 01:40 PM PST

"It's a floating prison." This is how a sailor described serving aboard USS Shiloh, and the sentiment seemed to be shared by many of the crewmembers. The Shiloh made headlines when a crewmember Petty Officer 3rd Class Peter Mims went missing while underway, spurring a massive search by the crew for a comrade who, it turns out, who was hiding in an engineering space the whole time.

This seemingly came as a surprise to no one in the crew, as Mims was a strange guy.  What struck a chord with me was the fact that so many people in the media were shocked by the story. The truth is every ship has several Mims-like characters on board. The whole Shiloh affair led me to believe that the higher-ups have no idea who is actually serving aboard their ships.

From my time onboard the USS Vella Gulf (CG-72), spanning 2010 to 2013, we lost more sailors to nerves, pressure, and ineptitude than I can actually count. We called the ship "Cell Block 72," and it sure felt like a floating prison. That's exactly how I describe serving in the Navy to my friends who've asked me about it.

The fleet isn't a safe space. It's a grinder that chews up the vulnerable, preaching teamwork and brotherhood while practice dictates: "If you aren't carrying your weight, get the fuck out of the way."  

We had Mims beat by a long shot, as eccentricities go. We had an IT who was so inept he was not allowed to use the phone, per the captain's orders. We had another sailor who would speak to himself aloud in Portuguese — not even remotely his native tongue — and, with a wide-eyed gaze, shout Bible verses in berthing to make us aware of our impending damnation for watching R-rated movies. He was also not allowed to touch or operate anything other than a swab, and eventually parted ways with the crew after almost losing his hand trying to catch the ship's jack-staff, after he's removed its securing pin while it was in an upright position.

We had another sailor, a young LSSN, go missing one night… and after a lengthy man-overboard drill, he was discovered in a comatose state, hidden away in a supply locker, high from huffing paint.

These sailors were such commonplace for us — and everyone else that I knew serving on smallboys in Norfolk — that we mostly ignored the obvious facts: They not only shouldn't have been in the Navy, they needed help.

The truth is, the Navy does not prepare sailors for what life is actually going to be like on a ship. I'm not even sure if it can. The long hours, the endless drilling, the ship in constant disarray — nothing can really prep someone for operating at a non-stop pace for literally years without adequate sleep.  

Unfortunately, when everyone in your immediate community is depressed, people who are really slipping off the edge go unnoticed. In the early 2010s, the "spice" epidemic hit the Navy hard. One sailor got high and passed out in the berthing barge with a spice pipe still in his lap, which launched a probing investigation onboard that had all of us afraid to even associate with anybody who might seem guilty.  This is another impossibly complicated situation, and since the military is only beginning to test for the drug in your system, hearsay or suspicion by association can be enough to get you kicked out. This left many sailors hanging out to dry: These were people that were dealing with tremendous pressure by self-medicating, and nobody could help them.  

The fleet isn't a safe space. It's a grinder that chews up the vulnerable, preaching teamwork and brotherhood while practice dictates: "If you aren't carrying your weight, get the fuck out of the way."  

I'm guilty here. I turned a cold shoulder to sailors who were crying out for help, all because I was terrified of being associated with them. That's something I have to carry now.

Navy bootcamp actually sets the precedent for what happens in the fleet. Right away, a small group of sailors is selected, receives symbolic leadership ranks, and essentially carries the rest of the team to the finish line. The problem is, once you're in the fleet, nobody can carry you.  

As much as I resented the captain and chain of command for the lack of sleep, the constant drills, working until damn near midnight even while in port, pushing a broken ship through what should have been deployment-ending technical issues (and fires — so many fires), the all-too familiar echoes from the Shiloh lead me to believe that this is just how the Navy is. I truly don't know if it can be fixed.

When I read articles about Petty Officer Mims asking, "Why were the signs missed?" I can't help but think about a sign that our deck department's chief placed on the door of the boatswain's locker: "If you are going through hell, keep going."

Why were the signs missed? Because you can't tell a feces-covered HT running on negative 20 hours of sleep how shitty your day was. Everybody is depressed, everybody's got issues at home, everybody is tired, and still, everyone must carry their weight for the crew to be able to complete its mission.  

I'm not advocating any of this; I'm simply describing the realities of life in the fleet. I'm explaining why my first reaction to the Shiloh testimonies was "So what? Nothing new. Suck that shit up with a straw": because, well, we had to. I have no idea if that's the right or wrong reaction to my fellow shipmate's misery. For now, let's go with "it's complicated." And I'm not sure how you simplify it. But being honest about fleet life is a good start.

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A Secret Service Agent Reportedly Tackled A Chinese Security Official After He Grabbed John Kelly

Posted: 19 Feb 2018 12:06 PM PST

A U.S. Secret Service agent reportedly tackled a Chinese security official during President Donald Trump’s visit to Beijing in November after attempts to block the movement of the “nuclear football.”

The nuclear football, officially known as the president’s emergency satchel, is a black leather briefcase that allows the US president to authorize a nuclear strike while away from a command center. It is carried by a military aide and is supposed to be in close proximity to the president at all times.

But according to a report from the news website Axios, when Trump met with President Xi Jinping in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, Chinese security blocked the entry of the aide carrying the nuclear football.

A U.S. official quickly informed Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, who “rushed over” and told U.S. officials, “We’re moving in.”

As the U.S. delegation started moving into the hall, a Chinese security official “grabbed Kelly,” who pushed away the man’s hand, according to Axios. It was then that a U.S. Secret Service agent apparently tackled the security official to the ground.

The briefcase was reportedly never touched by a foreign official, with the head of the Chinese security head later apologizing about the incident. Axios said five sources confirmed the brief incident.

Last year, during one of Trump’s many visits to his Mar-a-Lago resort in southern Florida, a club member took a photo of a military aide who was reportedly responsible for carrying the nuclear football and posted it on Instagram. The incident raised concerns over whether the briefcase was still the best way for highly sensitive military information to be made available to the president on short notice.

More from Business Insider:

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How You Can Honor Hero JROTC Cadet Peter Wang, No Matter Where You Are

Posted: 19 Feb 2018 10:21 AM PST

Peter Wang gave his life to save his fellow classmates when a disgraced former student opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14, but hundreds of service members and veterans across the U.S. are working to ensure that the JROTC cadet's sacrifice is remembered forever.

After reports emerged that the 15-year-old freshman was last seen alive wearing his JROTC uniform while holding the door for other Stoneman Douglas students to escape, the moderators of r/military — Reddit's main military forum — immediately began working behind the scenes to honor Wang's heroism.

"We saw so many posts by people who wanted to step up and come together as a community to provide support for the family," rbevans, a r/military moderator, former Army fuel specialist, and Iraq veteran who asked not to be identified by name, told Task & Purpose in a phone interview.

Related: A JROTC Freshman Sacrificed Himself To Help Classmates Escape During Florida Shooting »

The outpouring of support was immediate and tremendous.

"[The moderators] started with nothing," rbevans said. "Within a few hours, we had folks stepping up for a color guard team, to send interpreters for mourners, folks reaching out to the Army band. People are passing this up the chain of command across all branches."

While the Wang family plans on a JROTC honor guard at Peter's funeral on Feb. 20, they told the r/military organizers that they "would love if there could be a military presence," they wrote in a recent update. And for those unable to attend the memorial ceremonies for Peter, r/military has provided details on how well-wishers can send patches or challenge coins to the Wang family as a sign of respect for their son's sacrifice.

"Giving someone a patch or a challenge coin is an honor, a sign of appreciation and respect for a serious achievement," rbevans told Task & Purpose. "JROTC isn't technically part of the military, but what Peter Wang did truly exemplifies and embodies that highest value of selfless service."

Here's how you can help honor Peter Wang and his family:

Attend the memorial services: Here's the official information, courtesy of the Wang family:

Funeral services for Peter Wang will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 20th from 11:00am-2pm at Kraeer Funeral Home, 1655 N. University Dr., Coral Springs, 33071. 954-753-8960.

Burial to follow afterwards at Star Of David Memorial Gardens Cemetery, 7701 Bailey Rd., North Lauderdale, 33068. 954-722-9000.

Peter’s family invites everyone to join them after the burial service at Miyako Japanese & Seafood Buffet, 1157 S. Federal Highway, Pompano Beach, 33062. 954-783-8883.

Send a patch or challenge coin: The moderators of r/military created a pop-up submission form for service members and vets to register before receiving a mailing address for the collection of unit patches or challenge coins. Though the form was closed due to volume after a whopping 276 submissions in 24 hours, r/military offered to reopen submissions when reached by Task & Purpose and is reachable through Reddit's messaging system here.

Donate to Peter's JROTC program: As Task & Purpose previously reported, the Broward County school system's JROTC program boasts an average enrollment of 7,650 students annually across 28 of its 34 high schools. The family told r/military that the proceeds from a Peter Wang Memorial Fund GoFundMe campaign, established by family friend Chino Loeng, would go to supporting the program Wang attended at Stoneman Douglas.

"The family is overwhelmed by the level of support from everyone and wants to ensure that future kids get the level of support that Peter received from JROTC," a family representative told r/military.

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France Is Thinking About Bringing Back Conscription. Should The US Consider It?

Posted: 19 Feb 2018 09:52 AM PST

French President Emmanuel Macron is seriously considering bringing back military conscription. While the U.S. hasn’t had mandatory military service since 1973, some think that it has many positive aspects.

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Unclear Whether New DoD Policy Requires Combat Wounded To Actually Deploy Or Separate

Posted: 19 Feb 2018 09:46 AM PST

It is not clear exactly how wounded warriors are affected by a new Pentagon policy that aims to push out troops who are deemed "non-deployable" for more than 12 consecutive months.

Defense Secretary James Mattis recently told reporters that the Pentagon will exempt troops wounded in combat from the policy, which was announced on Feb. 14.

"If they were wounded in combat, and they want to stay in and they’ve lost their leg or something like this, and they can’t be a paratrooper anymore, then we’ll find a place to use them," Mattis told reporters on Feb. 17 during a flight to Washington, D.C.  "That’s a special category. They’ve earned that special status."

Related: The DoD Plans On Forcing Out Injured And Wounded Troops Who Are Unable To Deploy »

Mattis' comments came just three days after Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Robert Wilkie told Congress that wounded warriors would appear before medical review boards like other non-deployable troops.

"Medical boards review will the medical status of those who have been wounded," Wilkie told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Feb. 14. "I will use a personal example from 1970: My father was severely wounded in the invasion of Cambodia and spent a year in an Army hospital. A determination was made by a medical board then that his service was still required and he was allowed to recover and return to Fort Bragg in the 82nd Airborne Division."

However, Wilkie made no mention of a special category for wounded troops, nor did he give any indication that they would automatically be retained.

In follow-up comments to Task & Purpose, he did not say that troops wounded in combat would be exempt from the policy, which requires service members who cannot deploy for more than a year to be processed for administrative for disability separation.

"We respect the contributions of all of our service members, in particular our wounded warriors," Wilkie told Task & Purpose in a Feb. 16 email. "We owe them a fair process, and this policy allows for that."

The policy itself does not include any caveats for wounded warriors. It says it applies to troops who cannot deploy "for any reason."

Related: The Army Plans On Overhauling Basic Training To Focus On More 'Disciplined, Physically Fit' Soldiers »

The Pentagon was closed on Monday for a federal holiday. Consequently, a Defense Department spokesman was unable to respond to Task & Purpose's request for clarity on the policy by deadline.

Mattis told reporters that the non-deployable policy is rooted in fairness: If injured troops cannot go downrange, others have to go in their place. He recalled a conversation he had a couple months ago with a woman, whose husband was on his sixth combat deployment during their 11 years of marriage.

"When that sort of thing happens, that brings sharply into focus that some people are carrying more than the share of the load that I want them to carry," Mattis said. "They need time at home.  They need time with their families."

Mattis stressed that he is not going to have a military where some troops are constantly deploying while others "seem to not pay that price to be in the U.S. military." Everyone needs to do their share.

 "Sometimes things happen: People bust their legs in training or they’re in a car accident," Mattis said. "We understand that. Sometimes that even takes a months of recovery. We understand that. But this is a deployable military. If you can’t go overseas in your combat load — carry a combat load — then obviously someone else has got to go. I want this spread fairly and equitably across the force."

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He Deployed To Afghanistan To Serve His Country. Lowlifes Pilfered Everything He Owned

Posted: 19 Feb 2018 07:00 AM PST

Wednesday afternoon, Kevin Cornett received a phone call nobody wants to receive: thieves had broken into his rented storage unit at Faraon Street Mini Storage in St. Joseph, Missoui, along with several others, and ransacked it.

While this news would upset anyone, for Cornett, it meant more than just the loss of his belongings.

"My son is currently stationed in Afghanistan, so everything of his is in there," Cornett said. "And they got quite a bit of his stuff."

Cornett's son, Darrell Cornett, has been serving in the military for 17 years and left for Afghanistan at the beginning of this year. His father said that the thieves would have realized at some point that his son is in the Air Force.

"There was one big tub with eight or ten pairs of his uniforms, so at some point, I'm sure they figured out he was either military or a vet," Cornett said.

Seven storage units at 5118 Faraon were broken into Wednesday night. The majority of items stolen from my unit belonged…

Posted by Kevin Cornett on Friday, February 16, 2018

Cornett said it's this show of disrespect that really angered him.

"That's what really upset me, he has to deal with this 7,500 miles away and I've been getting texts from him on and off for the last two days asking me, 'Did you see this item or did you see that item?' So we're not even sure what all is actually missing," Cornett said.

Two days later, his storage unit was broken into again. Cornett said he "(wasn't) sure whether to laugh or to cry" when he heard the news Saturday morning. Although signs around the storage units warn thieves of CCTV surveillance, there is no direct footage of Cornett's unit, something he said he had been unaware of. A manager at Faraon Street Mini Storage said they don't advertise the units as a gated facility and have no way of surveilling all units.

To heighten his chances of finding his son's belongings and making it harder for the thieves to sell, Cornett posted about his experience in a Facebook crime watch group. The response overwhelmed him.

"I put that on Facebook not having any idea of the response I was going to get," Cornett said. "It was actually overwhelming: the comments and the sympathy and the people sharing it and getting it out there. So, hopefully, it makes things a little harder for these people who are stealing, but it absolutely floored me and my son also."

Cornett said it's this Facebook post that got him in trouble with the owner of his storage unit. He said he received a phone call from the owner Saturday afternoon, telling him to take his things and leave — an added blow after being a theft victim twice in one week, he said.

A manager at Faraon Street Mini Storage could not comment on the business owner's thoughts about the Facebook post but stressed that they merely told him that if he wanted a more secure place, he should move to a gated facility.

Cornett said he wishes that people would watch out more and keep an eye on their neighborhoods.

"Pretty much anywhere, you need to be aware of what's going on around you," Cornett said. "Pay attention to what's going on in your neighborhood. Don't necessarily try to confront the people, but get some information and call the police. We've all got to step up and help."

———

©2018 the St. Joseph News-Press (St. Joseph, Mo.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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How Marines Are Rethinking The Art Of The Amphibious Assault For The Next Big War

Posted: 19 Feb 2018 06:30 AM PST

Storming a beach under a hail of gunfire has never been easy for the Marine Corps. But with rapid advances in technology, they now have to contend with precision missiles and other fearsome air and coastal defenses that make an already dangerous mission even riskier.

"I don't think the next fight is going to be a stability op/counterinsurgency: It's going to be a violent, violent fight," said Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller of future conflicts.

To counter these threats, the Marines are scrambling to develop a new operational concept dubbed Expeditionary Advance Base Operations which will require an entirely different approach to amphibious assaults as well as new weapon systems.

Related: Here Are All The High-Tech Goodies On The Marine Corps' Wish List »

Highly accurate missiles can now hit ships and landing craft while they are still hundreds of miles from shore, making it far too dangerous for Marines to storm a beach with their current capabilities. But it's not only near-peer militaries like China and Russia that possess a deadly arsenal of weapons, nonstate actors like Hezbollah and Houthi rebels in Yemen now have easy access to anti-ship missiles, unmanned boats, and other sophisticated technology.

Given that it's impossible for Marines to destroy all of an enemy's air and coastal defenses, commanders are exploring ways to create temporary "bubbles" where Marines can safely get ashore.

"You're going to have to set the conditions to where you can land the landing force, or you're going have to find a place where you can land, where that threat may be nonexistent," General Neller explained.

The Marine Corps has yet to detail the specifics of its new operational concept, but preliminary planning documents indicate officials are considering a mix of manned and unmanned systems distributed across a network of small, floating barges.

A wargame toolkit from November 2016 shows barges equipped with railguns, antiship cruise missiles, and Tomahawk missiles as well as F-35Bs and MV-22 Ospreys. Meanwhile, a mix of submersible, aerial and floating drones would provide logistical support.

According to Dakota Wood, a senior defense fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a former Marine, the large invasion forces of the past are too easy a target in today's environment. Instead, future landing forces will need to maintain a small signature to make it more difficult for enemies to detect.

"If I have to worry about 50 or 100 potential targets, that distributes the enemy's fire and attention span as well," Wood explained.

Related: The Marine Corps Just Announced Its Next Experimental Unit »

But in order for the plan to work, Wood said each platform will need to pack some serious firepower because otherwise "the enemy won't pay much attention." This would create a "targeting dilemma" for an enemy force as focusing firepower on a single target is difficult and inefficient.

The Ellis Group, an internal Marine think tank tasked with developing new naval warfighting techniques, has suggested using unmanned submersibles, aircraft, and surface craft to distract the enemy while Marines land safely elsewhere.

Once safely ashore, Marines could be protected by swarms of unmanned aircraft.

"As soon as [an enemy] radiates, gives off a signature, that swarm is just going right after them," said Doug King, the Ellis Group director.

marine corps amphibious assaultU.S. Marine Corps/Sgt. Robert Arellano

Amphibious assault vehicles assigned to 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion conduct amphibious operations from the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) off the coast of the Kingdom of Thailand, Feb. 16, 2018.

The capabilities outlined in the wargaming toolkit were notional concepts and not an official strategy, however, there are indications that the Corps is moving in this direction.

Last October, the Marines successfully tested the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) from the deck of a ship in the middle of the ocean. The precision-guided artillery system successfully hit a target floating seventy kilometers away.

In April, the Marines will host an Innovation Industry Day with members of academia and the defense industry to explore the new Expeditionary Advance Base Operations concept. Officials hope to review emerging technologies and engineering innovations that could eventually be incorporated into future amphibious assaults.

For the past decade, the Marines have been completely reshaping their strategy and tactics after then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates called the feasibility of beach landings into question.

In a 2010 speech, Secretary Gates said, "Looking ahead, I do think it is proper to ask whether large-scale amphibious assault landings along the lines of Inchon are feasible," referencing the major Marine invasion that decisively turned the Korean War in the UN's favor.

The remarks sparked a heated debate and ultimately led to the cancellation of the $14.4 billion Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.

Related: Combat Is No Longer Off The Table For Marines In Afghanistan »

The vehicle was designed to safely ferry Marines from ship to shore and then seamlessly operate inland as an armored vehicle without stopping on a beach, but the technology proved troublesome and resulted in years of delays and billions in cost overruns.

After nearly two decades of fighting inland in Afghanistan and Iraq and fears of budget cuts, the Marines have focused on returning to their maritime roots. For many Marines, amphibious assaults are the key distinguishing capability of the service.

“There is a paranoia, bred into every Marine, that the Marine Corps will be made to look like the Army, and then in lean times something will get cut — the ‘extra’ army,” said retired Marine Lt. Gen. Emerson “Emo” Gardner.

Eugene K. Chow writes on foreign policy and military affairs. His work has been published in Foreign Policy, The Week, and The Diplomat.

This article first appeared on The National Interest.

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Several Camp Pendleton Marines Convicted On Sex Assault, Child Porn Charges

Posted: 19 Feb 2018 05:30 AM PST

Several Camp Pendleton-based Marines have been found guilty in recent weeks of crimes including rape and child pornography, with other similar cases still pending in the military criminal justice system, records show.

The cases are coming to light after a series of Freedom of Information Act requests filed by the San Diego Union-Tribune over the past four months. Documents released by the Marines revealed that some of the most serious cases were tied to senior leaders like former Chief Warrant Officer E. DeLeon Jr.

At a Camp Pendleton court-martial last month, a military judge convicted DeLeon of possessing and distributing child pornography. The judge sentenced him to seven years behind bars, but a pretrial agreement capped his imprisonment at five years.

Highly redacted records trace DeLeon's crimes back to Nov. 26, 2016, at Camp Pendleton, when he distributed a digital image of a child engaging in sex. Three days earlier, he had communicated to an unidentified person his desire to molest "a little girl," an act he thought "sounds amazing," according to his records.

Camp Pendleton Lance Cpl. M.F. Currington was found guilty of abusing anabolic steroids and sexually abusing a child. He was sentenced to three years in prison. Currington's charges stemmed from a late 2016 investigation into steroid and drug paraphernalia possession, according to records.

Another Camp Pendleton Marine, Lance Cpl. B.J. Morton, also was convicted last month of possessing and distributing child pornography. He was demoted to private and given a bad conduct discharge.

He was jailed Aug. 14 after investigators accused him of possessing three videos and other sexually explicit images of children, according to his records.

Several cases involve Marines accused of sneaking into other service member's rooms to assault or grope them.

For example, Lance Cpl. J.P. Hill was convicted last month of sexual assault causing harm, abusive sexual contact and making an indecent recording. He crept into the room of a fellow Marine at night to assault her and photographed her when she was naked, according to records.

He was sentenced to two years in prison, demoted to private and given a dishonorable discharge.

L.M. Schmidt, a Marine assigned to Yuma, Arizona, was charged Aug. 17 with entering an unnamed service member's barracks to touch the person's hips to gratify his sexual desires, according to the court records.

Another Yuma Marine, Sgt. C.S. Panatta, is accused of raping a child under 12 there in 2016. Commanders also filed two charges tied to alleged lewd incidents involving another child under 16 around the same time.

He faces a third set of charges linked to child abuse that allegedly occurred in 2014 and 2015 at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, in San Bernardino County. He's accused of beating a child with a fly swatter, punching a child's face, slamming a child in the head with a door and attempting to suffocate a child with a pillow, according to records released to the Union-Tribune.

Panatta has been in pretrial confinement for a year.

Another Marine assigned to an aviation unit, P. Wiredu of Miramar's Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron 3, was charged in 2015 with committing three 2013 rapes in or near San Diego, according to heavily redacted records released to the Union-Tribune.

Marine officials declined to comment.

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©2018 The San Diego Union-Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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Petition Seeks Military Funeral For JROTC Cadet Who Died A Hero During Florida Shooting

Posted: 19 Feb 2018 05:22 AM PST

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High student Peter Wang died in his JROTC uniform Wednesday helping others escape the gunfire at the school. Now a move is underway to see that he receives a military funeral for his effort.

A petition has been filed at WhiteHouse.gov with a "We the People" request to "Allow for Cadet Peter Wang to receive a Full Honors Military Burial."

As of Sunday night, 17,693 people had signed the petition on behalf of Wang, 15, but it needs 100,000 signatures for there to be a response from the White House.

Related: A JROTC Freshman Sacrificed Himself To Help Classmates Escape During Florida Shooting »

The petition says: "He was a JROTC Cadet who was last seen, in uniform, holding doors open and thus allowing other students, teachers and staff to flee to safety. Wang was killed in the process. His selfless and heroic actions have led to the survival of dozens in the area. Wang died a hero, and deserves to be treated as such, and deserves a full honors military burial."

He wanted to attend the U.S. Military Academy West Point.

Wang's funeral is scheduled for Tuesday at Kraeer Funeral Home in Coral Springs. He will be laid to rest at Bailey Memorial Gardens in North Lauderdale.

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©2018 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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Mattis And McMaster Denounce Iranian Meddling In Middle East, But Iran May Have Already Won The Regional War

Posted: 19 Feb 2018 05:00 AM PST

Speaking in Brussels the other day, Defense Secretary James Mattis sounded either determined or frustrated when he commented on Iranian activities in the Middle East: "[E]very time there’s a problem in the Middle East, whether it be in Lebanon, South Lebanon, and Lebanese Hezbollah, it’s in Syria, where Iran has propped up Assad; it’s in Yemen where they’re using it for a launching platform, the civil war, for missiles into Saudi Arabia; whether it’s in Bahrain, where the Bahrain police have captured explosive material provided, I cannot explain why Iran insists on many of the things it does."

Meantime, at the Munich Security Conference, Army Lt. Gen. Herbert McMaster, the national security advisor, also said hard things about Iran, such as, "So the time is now, we think, to act against Iran."

But are they closing the barn door?

I think so. On the subject of Iranian moves in the region: I was having lunch on Friday with some friends on Friday, most of them national security professionals, and we discussed whether Iran already has won the regional war in the Middle East, with effective control stretching from Beirut to Herat—that is, from the Mediterranean to the western edge of the Hindu Kush. That would be a formidable achievement, coming in the two decades after the United States chose to intervene on the ground in the Middle East.  

The consensus was that yes, Iran indeed holds the upper hand in the region — but that it has not yet nailed down its victory to become the neighborhood hegemon.

The discussion then turned to whether it will be able to secure those gains. Some at the table thought it would, while others argued that Iran's very victories are stimulating a strong new anti-Iran response from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, and Egypt. Even in Iraq, there are signs that Iran has overplayed its hand and brought about anti-Tehran feelings among some Shias.

An interesting question in all this is Turkey. It is still a member of NATO but has been holding hands under the table with Russia and Iran. So where will it land? (My own guess is that it will come to its senses—Russia is not a natural ally of Turkey unless Turkey is subjugated to client state status.)

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Mueller’s Bombshell Russia Indictments May Mark A New Era For American Democracy

Posted: 19 Feb 2018 04:00 AM PST

The indictment on Friday by Robert Mueller of thirteen Russians for interference operations marks a dramatic escalation in the U.S. government's willingness to detail and respond to the steady barrage of digital attacks against the United States.

Importantly, the indictment is not focused on asserting any kind of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. Instead, the indictment is a tactical maneuver not only to publicly attribute Russian interference activity but also to prepare the American population for these same kinds of tactics in upcoming elections and help preserve our electoral integrity.

The indictment is remarkable for at least four major reasons:

  • First, an indictment for electoral interference has been anticipated for months, but most assumed it would focus on the DNC data breach and dump. The recent indictment makes no mention whatsoever of the DNC breach. Instead, it focuses on Russia's Internet Research Agency and its vast range of social media manipulation, bank and wire fraud, and identity theft.
  • Second, the level of detail in the indictment is just stunning. It clearly signals the depth of access gained in conducting the investigation and a willingness to make that accessibility public knowledge.
  • Third, the manipulation of the various social media platforms exceeds that which has so far been acknowledged. It will be exceedingly difficult for social media platforms to feign ignorance or turn a blind eye to the social and political impact of their platforms.
  • Finally, Russia's integration of old and new influence methods illustrates the resources and willingness of the Russian government to interfere by any means possible. The indictment specifies the human and technological presence in the United States with on-the-ground spies who organized protests and conducted political reconnaissance and U.S.-based servers with VPNs accessed from Russia to obfuscate identities. This is in addition to the highly-organized team of potentially hundreds of trolls in Russia who purchased ads, joined or started online groups and crafted fake personas all as part of the interference operation.

Of course, given that the thirteen people indicted are likely located in Russia, there is a low probability of arrest. Nevertheless, indictments for various forms of digital attacks have at times led to arrests, especially when the defendant travels abroad.

The indictment also establishes a global precedent and takes a step toward shaping global norms around what digital activity is and is not off limits. In addition, even if the thirteen defendants are never arrested, the indictment is an essential step in educating the American public about the degree of foreign interference and the various ways social media platforms can be manipulated. In some ways, the indictment is not so much about 2016, but rather should shed a spotlight on similar, ongoing interference operations. For instance, on the same day the indictment was announced, there was a spike in bots pushing forth various gun hashtags following the Parkland massacre. This is entirely consistent with the activity depicted in the indictment.

Technology continues to rapidly advance, and with that foreign interference by a range of actors is expanding into new platforms, and from written content into videos and images. The indictment should further empower the U.S. government to publicly attribute and respond to future foreign interference operations and preserve the electoral integrity which serves as a key foundation of our democracy. While the indictment ideally helps disrupt Russian interference activities, it also should be the first of many steps in preparing the American public for what to expect in the 2018 midterms and beyond.

Andrea Little Limbago is chief social scientist at Endgame, a cybersecurity software company. She previously taught in academia before joining the Joint Warfare Analysis Center as a computational social scientist. While at JWAC, she earned the command's top award for technical excellence for her analytic support across the Department of Defense. She holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

 

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