SFTT Military News: Highlights of Week Ending Jan 13, 2017

Posted by:

Found below are a few news items that caught my attention this past week. I am hopeful that the titles and short commentary will encourage SFTT readers to click on the embedded links to read more on subjects that may be of interest to them.

If you have subjects of topical interest, please do not hesitate to reach out. Contact SFTT.

Marines Going Back to Old Battlefield in Helmand
When about 300 Marines deploy to Helmand this spring, they will be returning to a province where hundreds of U.S. servicemembers died in more than a decade of war to subdue the Taliban. Now the situation has deteriorated so significantly, there are fears the province could fall to the same enemy. The Taliban nearly overran Helmand’s capital, Lashkar Gah, several times over the last two years, including twice last summer and fall. Afghan forces have repeatedly dispatched elite fighting units and NATO and Afghan airstrikes to keep the Taliban at bay.  Read more . . .

China Reacts to Rex Tillerson’s Comments on China
China escalated its war of words against the incoming Trump administration Friday, declaring in state media that Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson’s warning over Beijing’s military buildup in the South China Sea could signal the first shots of “a military clash.”  Read more . . .

Dr. David Shulkin Selected as New VA Secretary
President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday named the Department of Veterans Affairs top health official his pick to run the entire veterans bureaucracy, a surprise move that puts a non-veteran in line for the David Shulkin, VA Secretarypost for the first time. Dr. David Shulkin, who has served as VA Under Secretary for Health since June 2015, is the first nominee held over from President Barack Obama’s administration. Trump made the announcement at his first press conference since the November election, and after a lengthy search which included dozens of potential candidates.  Read more . . .

More Troops and Newer Equipment for U.S. Army?
The U.S. Army’s chief of staff said Thursday he is prepared to brief the incoming Trump administration on plans to increase modernization and add more soldiers to the ranks. “We do want to be bigger,” Gen Mark Milley told an audience at an Association of the United States Army breakfast. “We, the Army, think our capacity needs to increase … we think our capability — the technical capability of our systems and formations — needs to increase, and we think our readiness needs to increase.” The Army, like the rest of the U.S. military, is poised to reverse a persistent trend of deep cuts to end strength and modernization under the Obama administration with the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump next week.  Read more . . .

Scientist “Go to War” to Answer Questions about  PTSD
But there is so much we still don’t know. Why do some people who are exposed to stress hormones suffer psycho­logical scarring while others don’t? How do the effects accumulate? How many days of intense stress are too many? Is the constant fear of an insidious, unseen danger worse than episodic battles? Does it make a difference if you feel there’s something you can do to try to stay alive?   Read more . . .

New Hampshire Looks to Help Veterans with PTSD/TBI
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury have become the signature ailments among veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The New Hampshire Legislative Commission on PTSD and TBI released a report in 2014 that looked at how many veterans in the state had these injuries and whether they felt they were getting the help they needed. Colonel Richard Oberman recently became the chairman of the Legislative Commission on PTSD and TBI. He’s also Deputy State Surgeon and Commander of Clinical Services with the New Hampshire Army National Guard.  Read more . . .

The Pros and Cons of Marijuana in Medicinal Applications
A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine offers a rigorous review of scientific research published since 1999 about what is known about the health impacts of cannabis and cannabis-derived products – such as marijuana and active chemical compounds known as cannabinoids – ranging from their therapeutic effects to their risks for causing certain cancers, diseases, mental health disorders, and injuries.  The committee that carried out the study and wrote the report considered more than 10,000 scientific abstracts to reach its nearly 100 conclusions.  The committee also proposed ways to expand and improve the quality of cannabis research efforts, enhance data collection efforts to support the advancement of research, and address the current barriers to cannabis research.  Read more . . .

Drop me an email at info@sftt.org if you believe that there are other subjects that are newsworthy.

Feel you should do more to help our brave men and women who wear the uniform or our Veterans? Consider becoming a member of Stand For The Troops

0

Veteran Suicides: Will it Never End?

Posted by:

In yet another disturbing article by the New York Times, entitled “In Unit Stalked by Suicide, Veterans try to Save One Another,” author Dave Phillips chronicles the benign neglect of the VA in helping our brave Veterans to cope with the aftermath of war. With no disrespect to Mr. Phillips, a similar article could be written every week detailing the chronic neglect of the VA for warriors at risk of suicide.

While I suppose that there will be much “wailing and gnashing of teeth” over the New York Times article, but will any meaningful change come for the 300,000 to 400,000 Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI. Based on the evidence, sadly one must conclude that no meaningful reform will occur within the VA.

The experience of one Veteran in dealing the VA is not uncommon from the countless other stories SFTT has heard from other Veterans,

After the eighth suicide in the battalion, in 2013, Mr. Bojorquez decided he needed professional help and made an appointment at the veterans hospital in Phoenix.

He sat down with a therapist, a young woman. After listening for a few minutes, she told him that she knew he was hurting, but that he would just have to get over the deaths of his friends. He should treat it, he recalled her saying, “like a bad breakup with a girl.”

The comment caught him like a hook. Guys he knew had been blown to pieces and burned to death. One came home with shrapnel in his face from a friend’s skull. Now they were killing themselves at an alarming rate. And the therapist wanted him to get over it like a breakup?

Mr. Bojorquez shot out of his seat and began yelling. “What are you talking about?” he said. “This isn’t something you just get over.”

He had tried getting help at the V.A. once before, right after Mr. Markel’s funeral, and had walked out when he realized the counselor had not read his file. Now he was angry that he had returned. With each visit, it appeared to him that the professionals trained to make sense of what he was feeling understood it less than he did.

He threw a chair across the room and stomped out, vowing again never to go back to the V.A.

Indeed, the article goes on to point out the following:

  • – Of about 1,200 Marines who deployed with the 2/7 in 2008, at least 13 have killed themselves, two while on active duty, the rest after they left the military. The resulting suicide rate for the group is nearly four times the rate for young male veterans as a whole and 14 times that for all Americans.
  •  – A 2014 study of 204,000 veterans, in The Journal of the American Psychiatric Association, found nearly two-thirds of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans stopped Veterans Affairs therapy for PTSD within a year, before completing the treatment. A smaller study from the same year found about 90 percent dropped out of therapy.
  • – Mr. Gerard’s experience shows, however, that the system is only as good as the V.A. treatment it is intended to connect to. The night he went to the psychiatric ward at the Indianapolis veterans hospital, he said, he waited and waited for a doctor to see him. After 24 hours, he gave up and checked himself out.
  • – After surviving an ambush in Afghanistan where several Marines were injured, Mr. Gerard said, he was treated for PTSD by the Marine Corps. But when his enlistment ended in 2011, so did his therapy. He tried to continue at the V.A., but long delays meant it was two years before he got any treatment, and even then, he said, he found it ineffective.

Earlier this month, SFTT reported the heart-wrenching personal story of Maj. Ben Richards and What I should have said about Veterans with PTSD and TBI.    His story is not dissimilar to the experiences encountered by the Marine Veterans at the VA and recounted in the New York Times article.  How much more will the American public continue to endure the systematic abuse by the VA and the inability of Veterans to seek alternative treatment outside the VA:

While the New York Times, SFTT and other organizations can continue to highlight the chronic problems in the care given to Veterans, we sadly cannot influence results in a positive direction given the stranglehold that the VA has on the care of Veterans.  We can only encourage the VA to “think outside the box” and allow Veterans the option of seeking alternative forms of treatment not currently prescribed by the VA.

 

 

0

Tanks to Afghanistan, a Soldier’s Perspective

Posted by:

A recent blog post picked-up by the New York Times entitled Tanks to Afghanistan, a Soldier Writes provokes some interesting perspective by SFTT on the promotion prospects of officers deployed after 9/11.

If you want to talk tanks, talk to a tanker.  LT Rajiv Srinivasan, a US Army Armor officer has been blogging on his recent deployment and experiences in Afghanistan.  His “ground-level” analysis on the benefits and employment of tanks in Afghanistan is required reading and a better alternative to the non-armor spokespeople who have attempted to describe why the Marines in Helmand requested tanks to support their operations.  

One outside-the-box comment to consider.  Why is it that the LT’s and Captains currently leading platoons and companies in 2010 will only be promoted to the rank of Captain and Major, and be leading companies and serving as Field Grade staff officers in 2014 when combat operations “end” in Afghanistan?  While during the same four-year timeframe, LT’s and Captains in December 1941, had been promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, Colonel, and Brigadier General rank by April 1945 and were leading battalions, regiments, and divisions to victory?   

 Further, why is it that Majors and Lieutenant Colonels (i.e. Field Grade staff officers and battalion commanders) who were serving on September 11, 2001, today in November 2010 have only been promoted to the ranks of Lieutenant Colonel, Colonel, and Brigadier General leading Battalions, Brigade Combat Teams, or serving as Assistant Division Commanders?  While Majors and Lieutenant Colonels in 1941 were leading Corps and Armies to victory by 1945?  1941 – 1945 was only half the time served by the current crop of LTC’s, Colonels, and one-stars?  Why is that?   Why don’t we promote our proven combat leaders sooner and keep their spirit of combat leadership alive at the front so that they can lead our troops home after victory sooner?  We can only hope that young LT’s like Srinivasan and others from the same ilk hang in there and are promoted commensurate with their proven combat experience so that they can lead there troops home sooner rather than later.  But we know that will never happen in today’s Army.

0

Military News Highlights for November 15, 2010

Posted by:

Karzai wants U.S. to reduce military operations in Afghanistan

In the starkest terms to date, President Karzai said that the visibility and intensity of US/NATO operations must be reduced and that US SOF night raids end. “It’s not desirable for the Afghan people either to have 100,000 or more foreign troops going around the country endlessly,” he said. These were not off the cuff remarks, but instead provided to reporters in an hour-long sit-down interview (an exasperated General Petreaus responded – see associated news report).  Karzai continues to highlight that US/NATO operations are exacerbating the war fatigue Afghans experience daily.

While US/NATO continues to make the claim for a 2014 transition date for full security and the end of combat operations, Karzai increasingly appears to support accelerating the pace of withdrawals and the transition.  His avowed “skepticism” of US policy in Afghanistan will only complicate the next two weeks of debate and the ongoing review, while ground commanders and SOF units continue “endless” operations (to include night raids). 

Karzai did express gratitude for the American support Afghans have received, but questioned the administrations motives.  If this is the “status” of where the US/NATO-Afghanistan relationship, where the President questions “motives”, we have failed in our strategic communications. 

 Petraeus Says Karzai Comments Hurt War Effort – Report

“Astonishment and disappointment”?  Hurting the war effort?  “Undermining General Petreaus?” Hypothetical references to “an inability to continue US operations in the face of Karzai’s remarks”?  The remarks were not a “no-vote confidence of General Petreaus.”    

It is becoming increasingly harder to see the path to any positive outcome in Afghanistan after this recent public rift (of many) between President Karzai and General Petreaus.  The bottomline is that US/NATO policy objectives are at odds.  The US/NATO mission of COIN, with its requisite resources and timeframe, cuts against the grain of Afghan sensibilities, while the reality on the ground is that any progress is not only not welcome but appears counter-productive. Worse yet is that the senior commander and President Karzai continue to raise the stakes of any effective outcome with increasingly public disagreements.  Nothing good can come of this.

Marines Learn Lessons From Tragedy in Afghanistan

Marines deploy for seven-month stints and rotate in and out Afghanistan under a tight set of conditions and protocol.  It has become clear that the most dangerous time for any unit is during this transition period as the new unit adapts to the situation on the ground and the redeploying unit thins their lines.  As this report highlights, even after repeated deployments, this transition often leads to tragedy – but in this instance the Marine unit applied lessons learned to overcome their losses and improve their tactical posture.

As in every conflict, the enemy gets a vote.  Here, in vicinity of Patrol Base Fulod, the enemy has shown its ingenuity and tenacity by improving their tactics and procedures while engaging Marines – and this should not be a surprise.

1

Remembering P.F.C. Theartis Watts, Jr., (USMC)

Posted by:

Theartis Watts was an 18-year old rifleman in my Marine infantry platoon in Viet Nam in 1968. He was a big-city kid from Philadelphia with an incredible knack for finding delicious Vietnamese fruits and vegetables to augment our C-rations, and he had one of the most brilliant smiles I’ve ever seen. When he smiled, which was often and in the most dire circumstances, his entire face lit up. Theartis won a Bronze Star with Combat “V” for conspicuous gallantry on April 13, 1968 in a nasty firefight a few kilometers east of Hue City. When my platoon sergeant and his radioman were killed, Theartis took over the radio and established comm with our company commander. Since my radioman had been wounded, and his radio rendered inoperable by enemy machine gun fire, Theartis’ action to secure an operable radio, while under heavy enemy fire was critical to making higher headquarters aware of the severity of our tactical situation.

 

After I transferred out of the platoon, Threartis remained behind. It was in this position on August 17, 1968, that he led a night-time patrol of Marines in an area south of Da Nang. When in their ambush position, Theartis detected a group of shadowy figures approaching. Under his Rules of Engagement, he was authorized to open fire without further action, but due to ongoing problems with RVN Popular Force (local militia loyal to Saigon) patrols wondering into Marine-only areas, Theartis challenged the approaching group. The response was immediate bursts of automatic weapons fire from the group, which proved to be a hard-core VC patrol.

 

Theartis was fatally wounded in the first bursts, but his Marine patrol was able to return fire from their concealed positions and secure the ambush site, forcing the VC patrol to flee. Theartis knew well that by issuing this challenge when he could have just opened fire on the unidentified figures he was taking upon himself the risk that by giving up the element of surprise he would both forfeit the Marines’ tactical advantage and put himself at mortal danger.

 

P.F.C. Theartis Watts gave his life in an attempt to insure that no friendly Vietnamese forces would suffer another “friendly fire” encounter as long as this 18-year old Marine was in charge.

 

[ See  here for Theartis Watts, Jr. on the Virtual Wall. ]

 

Contributor:  Roger Charles

2