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Mattis: Military DREAMers Should Still Be Protected If DACA Expires

Posted: 08 Feb 2018 03:02 PM PST

Good news for DREAMers who are in the military or honorably discharged veterans: The Defense Department has your back, even if Congress can't get its act together.

Currently, about 900 service members who were brought to the United States illegally as children are protected from deportation by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals executive order, Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said on Thursday.

DACA is set to expire on March 5 and President Donald Trump has told Congress that he wants lawmakers to send him a law on immigration before then. But Democrats and Republicans remain divided on a way forward for immigration, so as of Thursday, chances of lawmakers reaching an agreement on DACA remained slim.

Defense Secretary James Mattis said Thursday that DACA recipients who are on active-duty, waiting to begin military training, in the active reserves, and veterans who received an honorable discharge should continue to be protected from deportation should DACA expire.

The only exceptions would be if service members covered by DACA committed a serious felony or if a federal judge has signed a final order to deport a service member, said Mattis, who added he is not aware that any service members are facing a deportation order.

"This has always been the case," Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon. "We would always stand by one of our people and I have never found the Department of Homeland Security unwilling to take any call from anyone on my staff if we in fact found somebody, who had been treated unjustly."

When asked to explain what legal authority would prevent DACA recipients from being deported if the program expires next month, Mattis did not answer directly.

"They're protected," he said. "I think that it [DACA] is not coming to an end either. You can sign up right now, as I understand it. Now, I'm not an expert on DACA. I'm an expert on the military."

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The Problem With America’s Dark Obsession With The Military Sniper

Posted: 08 Feb 2018 11:50 AM PST

To the average civilian, the story of Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer Chris Kyle is one of a warrior destined for greatness. The self-described "American sniper" racked up 160 confirmed kills over his decade-long career, earning a reputation as a superhuman marksman who displayed "unparalleled bravely and skill" during the critical Battle of Fallujah, according to his Navy evaluation report from March 2004 to March 2005. His exploits, chronicled in Clint Eastwood's 2014 hagiography American Sniper, embody the American ideal of the sniper: Silent and unseen, the pinnacle of lethality, and the embodiment of American military power wrapped up in a one-man executioner. The common refrain among veterans of the Marine Corps Scout Sniper school is that snipers aren't born, but made — and the Global War on Terror produced the deadliest one since the Vietnam War.

Service members and veterans know that Kyle's story is far more complicated than the caricature embraced by civilians. The autobiography upon which Eastwood's heroic portrait is based glosses over Kyle's more callous and cold-blooded tendencies ("I wondered, how would I feel about killing someone?" he wrote. "Now I know. It's no big deal."). A May 2016 report by The Intercept revealed that Kyle inflated his vaunted service record in American Sniper, "battlefield embellishments" seen as grossly dishonorable by his fellow Navy SEALs despite his actual heroism in combat (the following July, Navy downgraded his medal count). Kyle was a talented marksman, but he was also a liar; stripped of body armor and absent a rifle scope, the perfect marksman is just an imperfect man.

Despite this, Americans still valorize Kyle as the hero soldier of the Global War on Terror five years after he was shot and killed at a Texas shooting range in February 2013 — the country's Foremost Warrior more than any other soldier in recent memory and a martyr who gave his all to protect Freedom and Liberty and all that other neat stuff. But when cast against the history of the U.S. military sharpshooter, the cult of the American sniper built around Kyle helps reveal a darker side of martial pride in the post-9/11 world.

A very modern military marksman

The sniper was an instrument of American military might for more than two centuries before Kyle ever stepped foot in Iraq. One of the first confirmed sniper kills in U.S. military history occurred in the earliest days of the Revolutionary War, when Continental Gen. David Morgan tasked rifleman Timothy Murphy with neutralizing British Gen. Simon Fraser during the Battle of Bemis Heights in October 1777. Fraser "was rallying the British troops during the battle" when Murphy shot and killed him from over 300 yards away, explained historians Gregory Mast and Hans Halberstadt in their 2007 book To Be A Military Sniper. "He was worth a regiment of troops, and removing him from the battle was instrumental in the American victory."

Despite our modern love for eagle-eyed sharpshooters like Murphy, the lone sniper was far from a heroic figure during the early years of the U.S. military. The Western military doctrine of the 18th century embedded in the nascent Continental Army discouraged shooting military commanders unawares, so far that many commanders would execute snipers on sight for their perceived treachery well into the early 20th century. The principle was simple, according to Mast and Halberstadt: "gentlemen simply did not shoot other gentlemen." This doctrine is perhaps best captured by Maj. Patrick Ferguson, the British infantry officer and Scottish marksman who famously declined during the Revolutionary War to shoot a high-ranking Continental officer during the Battle of Brandywine. That target, unbeknownst to him, was Gen. George Washington.

american sniper timothy murphy Mohawk Valley Library System/Fulton Public Library

An artist’s conception of Revolutionary War rifleman Timothy Murphy hanging in the Fulton Public Library In Oswego Country, New York

"The sniper has always been there, since we were picking off lines of British soldiers between Lexington and Concord," retired Marine Corps scout sniper Jack Coughlin, a veteran of campaigns in Somalia and Iraq and prolific author of sniper-centric fiction, told Task & Purpose. "But every sniper goes into the role understanding that you're not going to be well-liked until you're needed."

It wasn't until the Civil War that the sniper formally entered the U.S. military. In 1861, the Union Army formally tasked marksman and gunsmith Hiram Berdan to specifically train and equip snipers assigned the 1st and 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters regiments. Once "Berdan's Sharpshooters" routed Confederate artillery units on the battlefields of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, the true benefit of the sniper — abject terror — became clear to Americans tacticians. The fielding of dedicated marksmen by the Russian and German militaries during World War II revealed an urgent capability gap for U.S. combat troops, and as the Pentagon adjusted to the United States' post-war role as global superpower, the Army made (weak) attempts to develop specialized training with a short-lived sniper school at Camp Perry, Ohio, in 1955.

It was the Vietnam War that finally saw the U.S. military's full embrace of the sniper. In 1966, the Marine Corps established a sniper school in Da Nang and a scout sniper secondary MOS at Camp Pendleton, California; by late 1969, U.S. snipers reported nearly 1,500 confirmed kills, an alluringly efficient alternative to the M16-toting soldiers and infantry Marines were reportedly burning through an average of 200,000 rounds for every enemy they dispatched. But even then, the sharpshooter was considered a "scoundrel" fist, even by their fellow service members; during the years before 9/11, according to Coughlin, Marine Corps snipers remained unfunded and poorly equipped between actual combat operations despite the Pentagon's growing emphasis on specialized snipers and squad designated marksman.

"It's seen as cowardice, shooting someone in the back. It's a sucker punch," said Coughlin. "In Vietnam, snipers were nicknamed '10 cent killers' after the cost of a round, and we had zero budget except for ammo — we literally bought materials out of our own pocket to make our ghillie suit."

"I never did enjoy killing anybody."

It was Vietnam's role as the first "television war" that birthed the modern cult of the hero sniper. As the country struggled through a never-ending war, the media latched onto snipers like Marine Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Hathcock II, who became the (first) most famous sniper in U.S. military history with 93 confirmed kills and the longest recorded kill by a Marine scout sniper. Green Beret Maj. John Plaster deployed to Vietnam with the uber-secret Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group before spreading the gospel of specialized marksmanship throughout U.S. law enforcement agencies. And before Kyle shattered his record, it was the relatively unknown Army Staff Sgt. Adelbert Waldron who locked down the most confirmed kills in U.S. military history, taking out 109 enemies in just eight months, including one from a moving boat 900 yards away.

Long reviled by modern armies, the incredible exploits of Vietnam-era marksmen helped sear a romantic caricature of the hero sniper into the American mind, and not just thanks to the sudden influx of marksmen into the U.S. armed forces. But rather than a chest-thumping, foliage-perforating John Rambo, the American sniper was portrayed as a quiet, disciplined operator waging a covert war against forces of evil. Indeed, the cult of the quiet professional that is central to the U.S. special operations forces community (and the Naval Special Warfare community in particular) was embraced by Vietnam-era snipers like Waldron, who declined to profit off his post-war fame, and Hathcock, who famously once said: “I like shooting, and I love hunting. But I never did enjoy killing anybody."

Related: 5 Things I Learned From The Marine Corps' Scout Sniper School »

With the end of the conflict in Vietnam and the low rumble of the Cold War, the media transformed the sniper into its new favorite embodiment of U.S. military prowess, a stark contrast Rambo's spray-and-pray. During the '80s and '90s, Hollywood churned out marksman-centric flicks from Sniper to Enemy at the Gates, to say nothing of Shooter's Bob Lee “the Nailer” Swagger, based on the legendary Hathcock himself. Army snipers Gary Gordon and Randall Shughart posthumously earned Medals of Honor for their valiant efforts as part of 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta during the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993, bravery immortalized in Black Hawk Down.

This trope of deadly sniper has persisted in American mass media for decades, even when they aren't the central focus of movies or TV. Just consider supporting characters like Saving Private Ryan's Pvt. Daniel Jackson, who shined as a steadfast, dedicated, and brilliantly effective sharpshooter. "God gave me a special gift, fashioned in me a fine instrument of warfare," he tells a beleaguered Tom Hanks at one point, protesting their mission to rescue Matt Damon. "If you was to put me with this here sniper rifle anywhere up to and including one mile from Adolf Hitler… with a clean line of sight… well, pack your bags, boys. War’s over."

In some ways, the Global War on Terror has been a come-to-Jesus moment for the military sharpshooter, now a critical source of support and overwatch in a never-ending counterinsurgency campaign. defined my block-by-block urban warfare. But Eastwood's American Sniper marked the culmination of a decades-long Hollywood glorification of the sniper for one simple reason: Chris Kyle was a real person with a real track record of fantastical marksmanship.

"Everyone likes Rambo because he can do anything, he's a badass, but he's a fictional character," Coughlin explained. "When you can put a face to a job that creates the kind of havoc that Rambo could, and it's real, people will gravitate to that."

Un-American sniper

Ironically, it's Kyle's complicated record that exposes the facile nature of the hero sniper myth maintained by the American public. Even beyond his medal inflation, Kyle's autobiographical bluster and swagger seems antithetical to the ethos captured by Hathcock. While it's true that U.S. special operators are increasingly discussing their experiences in a modest departure from the "quiet professional" ethos (and that's not necessarily a bad thing), Kyle profited off a hard-charging persona based on outright, discernable lies and meticulously crafted exaggerations to satiate the two-dimensional patriotism of American civilians.

But in some ways, the embrace of the sniper among civilians reflects the domestic experience of American war abroad experienced through the sanitizing filter of the mass media: death delivered cleanly and precisely from an impersonal distance, not unlike the drone strikes and clandestine special operations raids that currently define the tactical landscape of the Global War on Terror. Rather than confront the human costs of war — the bloodshed and injuries, both physical and moral, endured daily — the civilian world valorizes the super soldier, hooked on the gritty details of SEAL Team 6 missions or the cool, collected sniper dispatching terrorists from a safe distance.

Indeed, the moral and psychological trauma of war may actually be more pronounced among the sniper. "If you're an infantryman, you're spraying and praying, and maybe you can see the shadow of the enemy you're actually shooting at," Coughlin said. "But when we shoot, we can see the expression on our enemy's face. It's very personal for us. There isn't a person I've hit who I don't have a physical memory of. Some people have a music playlist in their brain, a memory that's triggered when someone puts on a song … I have a kill playlist in my brain."

american sniper chris kyleThe Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Associated Press/Paul Moseley

In this April 6, 2012 file photo, Chris Kyle, a former Navy SEAL, holds a weapon in Midlothian, Texas.

This is the dark side of the sniper's life lost in America's intense valorization of Kyle's: In imagining the sniper as a perfect instrument of war, we see them only as singular avatars of the U.S. military's lethality rather than ordinary men tasked with doing a gruesome job. For some veterans, the cult of the American sniper is an extension of the SOF hero-worship that glosses over the everyday experiences of war, the grime and sweat and blood that captures the reality of a firefight, have become "background noise," as Washington Post reporter and Iraq War veteran Alex Horton put it in 2014. "We rarely see intel soldiers piecing together insurgent networks, or low-ranking officers meting out local grievances in rural Afghanistan," he wrote. "People under 40 no longer ask what war is like; they ask if it's like Call of Duty.”

Iraq made Chris Kyle a legendary marksman, sure, but it did not make him the inviolable, unimpeachable, uncontestable super soldier — America did. And its snipers like Coughlin who fully understand that the role of the sniper isn't some patriotic calling — it's just another set of orders.

"There's a dark side to all war, but it's a little bit darker on the sniper's side of things," says Coughlin. "I know what I did. I am 100% sure where every bullet I fired ever went. On the flip side, I know that I never inflicted collateral damage, but that comes with a heavy price. That stuff won't leave your head, ever. Stuff you can't ever forget about."

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What The Commercial Airline Industry Can Teach The Marine Corps About Risk Management

Posted: 08 Feb 2018 09:06 AM PST

Recent comments from the commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Robert Neller, made clear that 2017 was far from a banner year for Marine Corps aviation in terms of safety. The 10 Class A aviation mishaps — mishaps involving manned aircraft — are the most in over a decade. Despite the age of aircraft and operational commitments around the world, the commandant explained that the high rate of aviation mishaps was not generally due to the material condition of the airplanes. The 10 Class A mishaps, where a Class A mishap is defined as an accident that resulted in death, a permanent total disability, or more than $2 million in damage, are reminiscent of another difficult time in aviation safety history. The previous spike in aviation mishaps, in 2004, was a watershed year for aviation safety in the Marine Corps.

Recognizing an institutional crisis due to 18 Class A mishaps that year, the leadership of the Marine Corps enacted a number of changes to policies and procedures aimed at turning the tide of a completely unsustainable mishap trend. The effort worked in that 2009 and 2010 were the safest years on record for Marine Corps Aviation with only four Class A mishaps during each of those years. Since then, however, the Class A mishap rate has slowly creeped back up to its current level.

The commercial airline industry experienced its own period of institution safety crisis. In the 1970s, 101 people died aboard Eastern Airlines Flight 401 after it slowly descended in darkness and crashed into the Everglades while the aircrew attempted to troubleshoot a problem; 10 people died when United Airlines Flight 173 ran out of fuel and crashed in Portland, Oregon while the crew also attempted to troubleshoot a problem; and 583 people died when two Boeing 747s collided on a fog-shrouded runway at Tenerife Airport in the Canary Islands. Recognizing the problem, the airlines enforced change, and in the decades following, have been continuously improving their risk-management tools. These landmark accidents gave rise to the most notable aviation risk management tool: Crew Resource Management, or CRM. In essence, CRM's goal is to train the aircrew to work as a team, communicate effectively, and utilize all available resources to address problems in the cockpit. In 2017, commercial airlines in the United States marked their eighth consecutive year with no fatal accidents.  

By contrast, the Marine Corps' aviation risk-management tools have become stale and lack the energy to stop mishap rates from rising. For example, the substance of CRM in the Navy and Marine Corps — the seven critical skills of decision-making, assertiveness, mission analysis, communication, leadership, adaptability/flexibility, and situational awareness — has remained unchanged over decades. Even in the record-setting years of 2009 and 2010, three-fourths of the Class A mishaps were due to aircrew error that could have been mitigated by effective CRM. CRM within the commercial aviation industry has evolved with time and technology trends. In this regard, the Navy and Marine Corps should follow the airlines' example of effective risk management.   

First, scrap all current models for training and evaluating aviation risk management. The current mishap trend presents a needed opportunity to fuse best risk-management practices and innovative ideas from across all services, the airline industry, the cargo aviation industry, air traffic control centers, and senior or retired aviators of all backgrounds to determine what is effective, what is intellectually challenging, and what pushes aviators and aviation support activities out of "comfort zones" that facilitate numerous incidents. If flight time is still going to be scarce and budget environments constrained for aviation support activities, aviators need the risk-management substance that challenges their fundamental risk management skills for today's environment.

Chart via Naval Safety Center (NAVSAFECEN)

Class A flight mishaps experienced by the U.S. Marine Corps since 2007.

Second, the tools of teaching risk management have to evolve with the substance evolution of risk management. Risk mitigation cannot be relegated to checklists and score cards alone. Risk management is a "living and breathing" decision tool; it is perpetual, it has to be mentally challenging, and it needs to be taught that way. The difficulty in implementing risk-management teaching and training is that the concept of risk mitigation can sometimes feel counter to the offensive mindset that is a source of pride for Marines, but the current situation demands wholesale change.

Finally, challenging risk-management training has to extend to every stakeholder in aviation. This includes aircraft maintenance crews, air traffic controllers, airfield operations crews, airfield maintenance crews, and crash and rescue units. One example of a program that can help mitigate the current mishap trend is Maintenance Resource Management, or MRM. MRM, like CRM, is a program designed to facilitate communication, teamwork, and problem resolution among airplane maintenance crews. Both the Coast Guard and the Air Force have instituted these types of programs to address maintenance safety issues. Effective risk-management instruction cannot be the private property of aircrew alone. Instead, it must extend to every element of aviation that has an impact on the safe operations of airplanes.   

With the fielding of the Joint Strike Fighter, the transition of almost every airframe, a challenging budget environment, and the same operational commitments, 2017 should serve as a massive call to action for decision-makers to provide the right mechanisms for aviators and support staffs functioning in this environment to be safe in accomplishing missions. Especially since this appears to be the "new normal" for the foreseeable future, an energetic response is critical to address all of what occurred in 2017. If the response is anything less than that of the offensive mindset that is the pride of Marines everywhere, this same conversation will occur at this time next year.

The post What The Commercial Airline Industry Can Teach The Marine Corps About Risk Management appeared first on Task & Purpose.

Pro-Assad Forces In Syria Attack US Troops, Leave Sadder But Wiser

Posted: 08 Feb 2018 08:46 AM PST

UPDATE: This story has been updated with comments from Defense Secretary James Mattis.

U.S. forces working in a headquarters for Syrian Kurdish and Arab forces came under fire from pro-Syrian forces Wednesday, which included Russian-made tanks and artillery, officials said.

"Forces supported by the coalition targeted the aggressors with a combination of air and artillery strikes," said Army Col. Thomas Veale, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Syria and Iraq. "Coalition advisors were with the SDF [Syrian Democratic Forces] in an advise, assist and accompany capacity, and this action was taken in self-defense."

While details of the attack remain murky, it could be a potentially dangerous development that brings the United States closer to war with Syra — and by association, Russia and Iran. If nothing else, it shows the possibility of mission creep in Syria is increasing as the various factions fighting ISIS turn their attention to fighting each other.

No U.S. troops were killed or wounded in the fighting, said Veale, who refused to specify whether U.S. aircraft and artillery had been used to repel the attack, nor did he specify whether the "pro-regime" forces belonged to the Syrian military or its allies, including Shiite militia, Hezbollah, Iranian Quds Force, or Russian forces.

The attack began Wednesday and lasted into early Thursday morning about 8 kilometers east of the Euphrates River deconfliction line in Khusham, Syria, Veale told Task & Purpose. Roughly a battalion of pro-regime forces launched what appeared to be a coordinated attacks supported by D-30 howitzers, Soviet-era T-54 and T-72 tanks, rockets and mortars, he said.

"We suspect Syrian pro-regime forces were attempting to seize terrain SDF had liberated from Daesh [ISIS] in September 2017," Veale said in an email. "PRF [pro-regime forces] were likely seeking to seize oil fields in Khusham that had been a major source of revenue for Daesh from 2014 to 2017."

Related: Is The US-Led Coalition Creeping Toward Outright War With Syria? »

Up to 30 tank and artillery rounds landed within 500 meters of the headquarters with U.S. and Syrian Democratic Forces, Veale said. CNN initially reported that more than 100 pro-regime fighters were killed in the coalition counter-attack, but Veale said there is no estimate of enemy casualties at this time.

Those pro-regime vehicles and personnel who retreated were not targeted by coalition air and artillery strikes, he said.

The U.S.-led coalition has observed a "slow buildup" of pro-Syrian forces in the region during the past week, and coalition officials had alerted the Russians that the Syrian Democratic Forces were in Khusham well ahead of the attack.

It is unclear why the pro-Syrian regime forces launched the attack or whether the fighters came from the Syrian military or other groups fighting for al-Assad, said Defense Seceretary James Mattis, who called the event "a perplexing situation."

About 300 pro-Assad fighters were involved with the attack, Mattis told reporters on Thursday. All the enemy artillery and two tanks were destroyed by the coalition air and artillery strikes, he said.

"It was self-defense: We are not getting engaged in the Syrian civil war," said Mattis, who added that if the U.S. military were getting involved in a broader conflict, it would have pursued the retreating forces to the other side of the deconfliction line that separate U.S. and Russian-backed forces.

The Russians told the U.S.-led coalition that none of its forces were involved in the attack, and so far none of the casualties has been identified as Russian troops or contractors, he said.

Mattis said the phone line between U.S. and Russian forces proved to be invaluable in this case because it made certain that the two countries' forces did not accidentally exchange fire during the attack. The fact that the Russians did not appear capable of calling off the attacking force comes as no surprise, he said.

"We've always known there were some of these parties that Russia didn't have influence over," Mattis said. "You can't ask Russia to de-conflict something they don't control."

Although the U.S.-led effort in Syria is focused on defeating ISIS, there have been outbreaks of violence before with forces allied with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. In June 2017, a Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet shot down a Syrian SU-22 that had attacked Syrian Democratic Forces.

That same month, an Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle downed a Syrian drone that had attacked U.S. forces embedded with allied fighters and the U.S. launched airstrikes against Iranian-backed fighters in southern Syria.

This latest attack raises questions about whether U.S. troops might exchange fire with Russian forces, which back Assad.

CNN reported Thursday that the United States is investigating whether Russian contractors, who were operating in the vicinity at the time, were involved in the attack. So far, there is no evidence that the Russian contractors fired on U.S. troops.

"Coalition officials were in regular communication with Russian counterparts before, during and after the thwarted PRF [pro-regime forces] attack," Veale said. "Russian officials assured coalition officials they would not engage coalition forces in the vicinity."

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The post Pro-Assad Forces In Syria Attack US Troops, Leave Sadder But Wiser appeared first on Task & Purpose.

The Council Of The Former Enlisted Responds To Trump’s Military Parade

Posted: 08 Feb 2018 07:00 AM PST

Tom note: I asked the Council to put out a statement offering its collective thoughts on President Trump's request for a military parade. It quickly became clear that the members of the Council had a variety of views, so instead I have compiled their individual views.

“If you really want to honor the American military, take care of it and its veterans. Don’t march ’em down Constitution Ave.” —former Army Sgt. Fletcher Schoen

"A parade like this only emphasizes the civ-mil divide. And after 16 years of war — and with no end to it in sight — we're war weary. I'd rather see the president celebrate our military in a way that positively impacts our service members. A clear national security strategy would be a good start. As would respecting Gold Star families, and immigrant and transgender service members." —former Marine Cpl.  Mackenzie Wolf

"Given his personal evasion of military service in wartime and deliberate withdraw of the United States from international commitments, that President Trump wants a military parade intended to rival our European ally uncomfortably echoes Soviet-style hypocrisy." —Former Spc. John Ford, an Army veteran of Afghanistan

“The country is war-weary and the soldiers are tired, the last thing we need is a parade.” —former Army National Guard Sgt. Tessa Poppe

The post The Council Of The Former Enlisted Responds To Trump's Military Parade appeared first on Task & Purpose.

Meet The 7 US Soldiers Going For Gold At The Winter Olympics

Posted: 08 Feb 2018 06:09 AM PST

Seven soldiers — four bobsledders and three lugers — are aiming for gold and glory in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

The Army athletes will join the hallowed ranks of venerated military veteran Olympians, including such noted Americans as Louis Zamperini, John Woodruff, and Leon Spinks.  

Six of the seven athletes are associated with the World Class Athlete Program, a detachment that allows soldiers to train for and participate in the Olympics, Pan American Games, and World Championships.

Comcast NBCUniversal, in partnership with the Exchange and local cable, satellite and telecommunications providers, is offering service members and honorably discharged veterans streaming of the games "free of charge."

Opening ceremonies are scheduled for 6 A.M. EST on Feb. 9. Luge events run from Feb. 10-15. Two-man bobsled races will take place Feb. 18-19, and four-man races occur from Feb. 24-25. In the meantime, here's a bit of background on the seven soldier Olympians to watch in PyeongChang.

Maj. Christopher Fogt

Screenshot Olympic Channel video


MOS: 35A, Military Intelligence Officer

Event: Two and Four-Man Bobsled

Position: Brakeman

Hometown: Alpine, Utah

Twitter: @christopherfogt

2014 Olympic Bronze Medalist

Maj. Christopher Fogt returns to the Olympics as a bobsled brakeman after earning a Bronze Medal in 2014. Fogt told the Associated Press that the military's emphasis on teamwork and overcoming adversity gives the soldier bobsledders a unique perspective.

"In the Army, you have to be part of a team from your very first day of basic training. On top of that, we've been through worse situations," Fogt told the Associated Press. "When you're bobsledding and it's minus-20 degrees on the hill and it's snowin' and blowin', you remember you've been on the field without meals in this kind of weather, hanging out in a foxhole. So that mental toughness helps us a lot."

Here's an Olympic Channel documentary that follows Fogt around Fort Hood as he juggles being an officer, Olympian, husband, and father.

Sgt. 1st Class Nate Weber

Screenshot Defense Department


MOS: 18D, Special Forces Medic

Event: Four-Man Bobsled

Position: Pushman

Hometown: Denver, Colorado

Twitter: @nateweberactual      

Green Beret Sgt. 1st Class Nate Weber trained for being a bobsled pushman during deployments with 10th Special Forces Group to Cameroon, Niger, and Afghanistan.

"There's not really a whole lot of opportunity to train for something like bobsled, but it's one of those things where you make it work. You're doing sprints in the jungle [in Cameroon] and your partner forces are kind of looking at you like you're crazy," Weber told the Denver Post.

During a sprints workout in Afghanistan, Weber used a brush with mortar bits torn apart by a C-RAM to get fired up and train harder.

"I'm about two sprints into this workout, and one of these C-RAMs, which are big machine guns that shoot mortars out of the sky, goes off right next to me. It's really loud, so it kind of gets my attention. I look up and maybe 75 meters above me, it shoots a mortar out of the sky. Bits and pieces of this thing start sprinkling down, nothing that hurts, but a couple pieces hit me on the arm. I'm like, 'Oh, wait a minute, that thing was coming right for me, I need to go stand next to a wall.' Then it really sinks in, 'That thing was coming after me, it was going to land really close by,'" Weber told the Denver Post.

"That got my adrenaline going. My first thought was, 'I bet I could run really fast right now, I'm already warmed up, I don't want to waste this,' so I kept running sprints," Weber said.

Sgt. Nick Cunningham

Mr. Steven L Shepard (Presidio)


MOS: 12W, Construction / Masonry Engineer

Event: Two and Four-Man Bobsled

Position: Driver

Hometown: Monterey, California

Twitter: @BOBLSLEDR  

2009, 2012, 2013, 2015 U.S. World Team Member; 2010, 2014 U.S. Olympic Team Member

Bobsled driver Sgt. Nick Cunningham compared the level of readiness expected in the Army to the preparation needed to compete on an Olympic team in an Army press release.

“The Army taught me realistic goal setting, how to set smaller goals for yourself and then work up to the biggest ones. The Army also teaches preparation and how to overcome adversity, and that plays a role in our sport, too — readiness and being ready to go,” Cunningham said.

“Success is 95 percent preparation and readiness, being in the moment, and 5 percent luck. In bobsled, your luck depends on many things: decisions made, the weather, and when a course has 20 turns ─ and you run it four times ─ that’s 80 corners for each event,” he added.

If you're wondering how bobsleds are driven, Cunningham recently tweeted a video of him careening down a track in Utah.

Sgt. Justin Olsen

U.S. Army


MOS: 42A, Human Resource Specialist

Event: Two and Four-Man Bobsled

Position: Push Athlete

Hometown: San Antonio, Texas

Twitter: @justinbolsen

2008-2015 U.S. World Team Member; 2010, 2014 U.S. Olympic Team Member; 2010 Olympic Champion; 2009, 2012 World Champion

Sgt. Justin Olsen returns to the Olympics for a third time after winning a gold medal in 2010. On Monday, Olsen underwent a successful laparoscopic appendectomy in Gangneung after being admitted to the hospital for acute appendicitis. He is still expected to compete as a push athlete.

In an Army press release, Olsen recalled the thrill of realizing the team had struck gold in 2010.

"I remember being at the top of the track in Whistler for the fourth heat of the Olympic Games and looking around and only seeing my three teammates,” Olsen said. “We knew that if we put in another good run, the gold was ours. There wasn’t any doubt in their eyes or mine. Coming across the finish line and seeing that we were in first place still, and our friends and families were going absolutely crazy, was amazing. I will never forget getting out of the sled and putting my arms around my three teammates and saying: ‘We did it, boys! We won it all!'”

Here is a Whistle Sports video of Olsen and other Olympians telling terrible jokes.

Sgt. Emily C. Sweeney

U.S. Army/Joe Lacdan


MOS: 31B, Military Police

Events: Women's Singles Luge

Hometown: Suffield, Connecticut

Twitter:@ecsluge

2012, 2015 U.S. World Team Member; 2013 Junior World Champion

After not making the Olympic team in 2014, luger Sgt. Emily Sweeney didn't train much for six months.

“I went from being an Olympic hopeful, training at 100 percent,” Sweeney said in an Army press release, “to just stopping everything."

In the spring of 2014, the Warrior Leader Course (now the Basic Leader Course) provided Sweeney with a useful wakeup call.

“(WLC) kind of pulled me out,” said Sweeney. “It gave me a schedule that I had to adhere to again. I kind of got back into the military mode and then after that I got back into my training.”

Sweeney plans to bring a medal home for the team.

“Going to the Olympics isn’t enough for me,” Sweeney said. “I want to go to the Olympics and do something. So it’s not over — the work isn’t over.”

Sgt. Taylor Morris

U.S. Army/Spc. Angel Vasquez


MOS: 42A, Human Resource Specialist

Event: Singles Luge

Hometown: South Jordan, Utah

Twitter: @taylormorris91

2010-2013 U.S. World Team Member; 2-time Junior National Champion; 2014 Olympic Alternate

In December, Sgt. Taylor Morris secured his Olympian status with a fifth-place World Cup finish in men’s luge singles.

Morris hugged his friends and family and then found his wife, Megan. The couple embraced for two minutes, according to an Army press release.

“It’s the biggest amount of redemption that you really could ever feel when you train for so long,” Morris said. “This is 16 years for me now, it means the world to have my family here — to have my home crowd cheering me on and wishing me the best.”

Sgt. Matt Mortenson

U.S. Army/Spc. Jennily Leon


MOS: 12R, Interior Electrician

Event: Doubles Luge

Hometown: Huntington Station, NY

Twitter: @mmortensenusa

2006, 2007, 2009, 2011-2013, 2015 U.S. World Team Member; 2014 U.S. Olympic Team Member

In a Newsday profile, luger Sgt. Matt Mortenson's NCO instincts are on full display as he mentors first time Olympian Justin Krewson.

"Matt is a mentor to me. He is such a huge help. He's been sliding for so long, and he's such a good friend. He explains things so well. If I need help, Matt's there and he always has my back," Krewson said to Newsday.

Mortenson told Newsday he feels a responsibility to guide younger athletes.

"Our generation is really trying to create a culture of openness with the other athletes," Mortensen told Newsday. "When I see a younger doubles team coming up, I do try to give them advice and steer them in the right direction."

Last month, Mortensen posted a first person video of him and his teammate, Jayson Terdiman, whipping around a Doubles Luge track.

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Feud Over Service Dog Ends After American Airlines Settles Lawsuit With Army Veteran

Posted: 08 Feb 2018 04:42 AM PST

American Airlines has settled a 2016 lawsuit filed by an Army veteran who complained that the company had mistreated her because of her service dog.

Mississippi resident Lisa McCombs alleged that airline employees had blocked her from boarding a flight in Kansas two days in a row in October 2015 despite documentation showing Jake, her dog, is a service animal trained to help her with post-traumatic stress disorder. She called the experience “an emotionally scarring ordeal” that continued during a layover at DFW International Airport.

McCombs claimed that American Airlines had violated federal law that forbids air carriers from discriminating based on disability. But American Airlines argued that courts have ruled the law does not allow for McCombs to privately sue.

The woman and the airline reached a settlement late last month. Their representatives declined to discuss the terms, citing confidentiality, though both said the case was resolved “to the satisfaction of all parties.”

Matt Miller, a spokesman for the airline, thanked McCombs for her military service.

McCombs, whose service took her to Iraq and Afghanistan, told a federal court that her dog, Jake, was trained to move his body close to hers to distract her during panic attacks. On the day of the flight, Jake was harnessed and wearing a vest identifying him as a service animal, but American Airlines representatives gave her conflicting information and treated her and her dog with disdain even though she had a doctor’s letter, according to her lawsuit.

“Ummmm, are you trying to fly with that?” McCombs says an airline employee told her.

The issue of how to accommodate fliers with disabilities and their animals in plane cabins has come under increased scrutiny as travelers show up to their flights with all kinds of creatures — a pig in Connecticut, a duck in North Carolina and a peacock in New Jersey, for instance.

Delta and United Airlines recently decided to tighten their rules for service animals as the perception grows that some travelers are acting fraudulently by bringing in pets. Miller said American Airlines is also reviewing its policy, but not in response to a particular incident.

“Our goal is to protect our team members and our customers who have a need for a service or support animal,” he said.

A key distinction for airlines is the kind of assistance that animals provide to travelers.

The Air Carrier Access Act gives a broad definition for service animal — basically any animal individually trained to help a person with a disability, or any animal that provides emotional support to a person with a disability.

Airline employees are instructed to look for clues such as harnesses or tags identifying service animals, or they can ask a flier what kind of assistance the animal provides.

That can be obvious with guide or hearing dogs, but the relief offered by animals that help with mental impairments might not be as conspicuous.

Generally, airlines can’t require that a traveler show documentation to allow a service animal in the cabin — that is, unless the traveler fails to give “credible verbal assurance,” per federal rules. Yet when it comes to emotional support animals and “psychiatric service animals,” federal officials allow airlines to request specific documentation and advanced notice 48 hours before the flight.

Certain animals don’t have to be allowed in the cabin at all, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. That list includes snakes and other reptiles, ferrets, rodents, sugar gliders (a kind of possum) and spiders. Airlines also have the flexibility to bar entry to animals that are too large for the cabin, too disruptive, or a risk to the safety of others.

American Airlines’ policy for service animals follows federal rules, Miller said. The airline lists its documentation requirements for emotional support and psychiatric service animals on its website.

Miller’s advice for travelers with animals is to call the airline ahead of time to ask questions or to add a note to their reservations.

“In the instance of service animals, it’s always particularly helpful,” he said.

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©2018 The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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What South Korea And The US Need To Understand About North Korea

Posted: 08 Feb 2018 03:57 AM PST

The Republic of Korea defense minister does not understand North Korea's Kim regime as to its nature and modus operandi, and like most ROK military officers, has little education on how the regime rules. The Korean Workers’ Party is the foundation of the regime and it is embedded in every organization and institute down to the village, factory, farm level, including the military and the security agencies. Killing Kim Jong Un and his cohorts will not eliminate the regime because the party will still be in charge. They may eliminate the Kim family and some of the elite, but the senior ultra-elite made up of anti-Japanese partisan families will live on to take over because they in the position to do so. Until there is rebellion at every level of North Korea against the regime — and only the military can do this, if they eliminate their political officer watch dogs — the regime will live on. It takes time for the regime to fall apart.

ROK military officers study the North Korean order of battle and readiness and they get that, but that is not the “regime.” The regime is run by the Korean Workers’ Party led by the supreme leader. The party’s ability to rule is based in its dominance of policy and ubiquitous presence in every institution including the military. The DPRK government is the lapdog to the party. Government officials may recommend courses of action that are not contrary to supreme leader guidance, but the party and the supreme leader make the decisions. As for the North Korean military, every military unit down to battalion and front line (DMZ) companies has a political officer that reports to the party. The commander cannot make his own decisions without running them by the political officer. The commander cannot make any personnel decisions because this is only done by the political officer. The unit commander cannot even forward his own unit training plan to the next higher headquarters without the political officer’s sign-off. Decision-making is in the hands of the party overall and controlled by the political officers within the military. That is why the director of the general political bureau is regarded sometimes as the regime’s number two. (In reality there is no number two.)

Also, every military unit battalion and above has an embedded party committee. Supreme leader and party guidance to military units is handed down through this channel. Of course the commander and key officers are on the committee as well; but the political officer serves as the committee’s secretary and is responsible for relaying committee actions to the party’s control tower — the party's organization and guidance department — where all actions and decisions within the regime are vetted. On top of that, every unit battalion and above has a military security command officer whose primary mission is anti-coup; in other words, watching the moves of the commander. Compared to the United States or even ROK military, the Korean People's Army commander is really nothing more than a glorified G/S3. Final decisions and guidance are the purview of the political side of the regime, not the KPA. This is the part that ROK officers do not get.  

So why is this important? Targeting.

We can target and destroy weapons systems and units and, perhaps most importantly, their ability to communicate (keep the party from giving further guidance to commanders); but that will not destroy the Kim regime unless we are talking about general warfare that requires the ROK-U.S. alliance to move into North Korea. So what is the most important target beyond the supreme leader and North Korean nukes/ICBMs? Target the party’s organization and guidance department before it disperses underground. Otherwise the department replaces Kim with another member of the family if for no other reason than to have a figure head while they patch things up. 

Robert M. Collins served 31 years in Korea with the U.S. Army, first as a soldier and then as a civilian. His final assignment was as Chief of Strategy, ROK-US Combined Forces Command.

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