What? What?? WHAT?!

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta speaks to ROTC students at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., Feb. 6, 2013. Panetta later gave a speech to students, providing a detailed account of the cuts that would occur if sequestration takes effect. (DOD photo.)

It’s nice that Georgetown University has a ROTC. Even nicer that they are in such a beautiful room in such a storied university. But–

Panetta gave “a detailed account of the cuts that would occur if sequestration takes effect?” Yesterday’s blog post was about the likelihood of sequestration taking effect. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said DOD was planning seriously for it. However, NO DETAILS have been provided. Scouring published reports and local HQ Rumor Control, all that has so far been seen or heard out there are vague threats about readiness and verbal assurances and speculations.

Panetta gave a “detailed account of the cuts that would occur” to Georgetown students but not to the rest of us? How about just to DOD, Mr. Secretary?

I promise we won’t tell; and we’d really like to know.

ADDED: According to a Pentagon news release today, “Panetta described sequestration as ‘legislative madness’ designed to be so bad that ‘no one in their right mind would let it happen.’

“The secretary compared sequestration to a scene from the movie ‘Blazing Saddles.’

“For those of you that have ever seen ‘Blazing Saddles,’ it is the scene of the sheriff putting the gun to his head in order to try to establish law and order,” he said.

ADDED, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little released this statement the afternoon of 6 Feb 2013:.

“The Secretary of Defense has delayed the deployment of the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) and the USS Gettysburg (CG-64), which were scheduled to depart Norfolk, Virginia, later this week for the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) Area of Responsibility.

“Facing budget uncertainty — including a Continuing Resolution and the looming potential for across-the-board sequestration cuts — the U.S. Navy made this request to the Secretary and he approved.”

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Women in Combat II

woman in combat 2

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Congress doesn’t kill people–Sequestration kills people.

“From what I hear, I have to conclude that it is more likely than unlikely that we’ll actually have to do this,” said Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, according to Stars and Stripes. “We are serious about being ready.” http://www.stripes.com/news/us/automatic-defense-cuts-called-more-likely-than-unlikely-1.205834.

Carter was speaking about the 10 percent across-the-board budget cuts that are scheduled to take place March 1. The action was already delayed from January 2, when the President signed the Taxpayer Relief Act, which put off the cuts for two months.

[Aside: It is difficult to see why the Taxpayer Relief Act is called the “Taxpayer Relief Act,” since it provides no taxpayer relief in the form of lower taxes or budget cuts. But that, I suppose, is the point of a Congress which has a 10 percent approval rating. Pretend that you are doing something when you are doing nothing.]

[Oh, haha! Ten percent automatic budget cuts go as perfectly with a 10 percent approval-rating Congress as a matching belt and shoes. Only in this case I think the belt is tightening while the shoes are doing a tap dance.]

Since House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) [has anyone else noticed that Paul Ryan looks just like Eddie Munster?] also believes that sequestration will go into effect (Meet the Press, January 27), and it is the House which is Constitutionally responsible for introducing tax and budget legislation, I’d believe the messenger. (Or is that “don’t shoot the messenger?” There are so many Congressional do-nothings that I get confused.)

The Department of Defense has already warned–countless times–that sequestration would seriously harm the United State’s fighting force. But take heart, troops–like Congress, you may still get paid. Two days after Ryan’s remarks, “Senators Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) introduced bipartisan legislation…to ensure that our men and women in uniform and civilians supporting them do not go without pay in the event Congress is unable or unwilling to get its fiscal house in order.” Press release.

Believe you me, I believe getting paid is important too. But even if the senators’ bill to protect military pay is passed, it doesn’t provide for funding operations.

Nor does sequestration pay for Social Security, Medicare–and non-socialist programs and agencies, like the Department of State and embassy security.

Is Congress dysfunctional? Notice that even sentors Moran’s and Udall’s press release remarks, “in the event Congress is unable or unwilling to get its fiscal house in order.” It’s been unwilling and unable for more than 18 months. Aug. 2, 2011: Budget Control Act of 2011 creates the “super committee,” required to recommend more than $1 trillion in spending cuts. Nov. 21, 2011: Super committee gives up, triggering sequestration to take effect on Jan. 2, 2013. http://fcw.com/articles/2013/02/01/sequestration-approaches.aspx?s=fcwdaily_040213.

But it’s worse than that.

Congress has finally died. Given up the ghost, passed away, whatever you want to call it: Congress has been pronounced dead, D-E-A-D, dead.


D.C. Coroner Edward Fox Sees To the Bagging of the Obviously Brain Dead Legislative Body. http://www.citizenschwartz.com/congress-dead/.

And not a moment too soon.

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Women in Combat! It’s 1779 all over again.

US Marine Sargeant Savanna E. Malendoski from 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines Regiment peers through her rifle scope during a patrol in Garmser, Helmand Province. (ADEK BERRY - AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

US Marine Sargeant Savanna E. Malendoski from 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines Regiment peers through her rifle scope during a patrol in Garmser, Helmand Province. (ADEK BERRY – AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

From the Women in Military Service for American Memorial Foundation, Inc:

“Did you know…

“that for service in the American Revolution, Margaret Corbin, dubbed “Captain Molly,” became the first American woman to receive a military pension? At the defense of Ft. Washington, when her husband John Corbin was killed at the cannon, she assumed his post and was wounded. On July 6, 1779, the Continental Congress granted her money equal to one-half pay drawn by a soldier and one suit of clothes. Captain Molly is buried at West Point.” http://www.womensmemorial.org/Press/diduknow.html.

The service of women in America’s military has been long, large, and varied. Women have served in every American war and many “military actions.”

Over 400,000 women served in World War II. But women were not granted permanent status until President Truman signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act of 1948. A little late–but still, THERE.

Thirteen women have earned Silver Stars. SGT Leigh Ann Hester was the first to earn hers for valor in combat. In 2005.

There are obvious issues with women admitted to combat roles, and there are hidden ones. An obvious issue is that a woman must be able to perform to the required standard of the position. In anticipation that a woman WON’T be able to serve in certain positions–or elite units–the Joint Chiefs have recommended that exemptions from the admission of women may be applied for and granted.

But then there’s Rep. Tammy Duckworth’s recommendation: that the military should open up every unit to women and see if they can complete the required training. Duckworth lost both legs when her helicopter was shot down in Iraq. As she has said about her prostheses: “Where do you think this happened, a bar fight?” (See the entry on Duckworth at August 31, 2012.) Duckworth’s recommendation is simple as well as obvious: “If the women can’t meet the standards, they don’t get to graduate from the program.”

Why isn’t the Joint Chiefs’ recommendation as simple as Duckworth’s? It’s a virtual certainty that certain positions and units–such as the Seals and Rangers–won’t be flooded with female applicants. Even the male applicants for such positions wash out at a high rate. Perhaps there is a hidden reason for the Joint Chiefs’ recommendation: that certain elite positions should remain forever a man’s club. Women may be recognized as good for the military–but not good enough.

Another “hidden” issue–because virtually no one is talking about it–is that when women are officially in “combat” positions, and more women are in combat zones, they will be eligible for combat awards and service benefits. That is something that the military, until now, has not had to recognize or fund. Service awards. Combat zone tax benefits. Military special pay benefits. Additional retirement benefits. The military has, in effect, been receiving the service of many women veterans at a discount rate.

And then there’s “the brass ceiling:” without combat assignments, women’s potential for promotion is severely restricted. Without combat assignments (even though they may serve in a combat zone), they may not receive combat training. Without official combat experience and leadership, a woman will never become…the Commandant of the Marine Corps, for example.

Or a member of the Joint Chiefs.

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Misjudgments, Revelations and Crimes

“…by a few senior military leaders,” is how a January 17 press release from the Department of Defense describes the reason behind a study on ethics training in the military conducted by the Joint Chiefs. The task was mandated by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.

What’s interesting about the official press release is the apparent secrecy surrounding it.

We don’t know when the study was tasked. We don’t know who the “few senior military leaders” involved are. We don’t know what the “misjudgments, revelations and crimes” are. We don’t even know where the interview of Joint Chiefs Charman Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey occurred that is the basis for the presss release. (It is described only as “aboard a U.S. military aircraft.”)

We don’t know what any of the recommendations to Secretary Panetta are.

This is what we do know:

Somewhere aboard a U.S. military aircraft the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs told a military reporter that some senior “leaders” did some bad things, during some period of time, at some place or places, and that as a result, some recommendations will be made to the Secretary of Defense. Perhaps before he resigns and the new SecDef takes his place.

Oh yes, and we know that the Chairman of the Joint Chief wants to review the results of whatever recommendations are put in place, in about six months.

“I don’t want this to be a one-off, take 60 days, slap our hands together and declare victory,” [Dempsey] said. “I think we have to continue to learn about the profession.”

With all due respect, sir, might one of those things you learn about the profession be–transparency?

This is ethics we’re talking about here, and failures in leadership, not the revelation of the nuclear codes. Yet clearly there is a wagon-circling mentality at work: language that would even hint at discipline or removal of a nonperforming “leader” is conspicuous by its absence. And while the Privacy Act may prevent the release of some personally identifying details, it doesn’t prevent the release of at least some substantive information that would inform Americans of the state of the character of their military.

Instead, “We have to require leaders to understand and think about their profession,” [Dempsey] said. “If you don’t, then you migrate pretty quickly into the … military being just another job.”

“Just another job”? Where “misjudgments, revelations and crimes” are secret? It sounds like Dempsey is talking about Wall Street, not a fighting force. The article continues:

“The discussion of that goes to the distinction that must be made between competence and character. This is what sets a profession apart. A profession cares about both competence and character, and it wants to keep them in balance, Dempsey said.

“’In times of conflict, it may be that we tend to overvalue competence and undervalue character, and we need to watch that,’” he said.

“Watching” seems to be about as far as the Chiefs have been willing to go–in terms of both competence and character. (See the entry, “General Failure” of January 9, 2013, below.)

Joint Chiefs Finishing Study on Ethics Training, Chairman Says

ADDED, January 23, 2011: According to a report from the Inspector General, USMC General John R. Allen, commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, has been cleared of “allegations of professional misconduct” while serving in that position. This clears the way for Allen to be confirmed as NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe and commander of U.S. European Command.

On Dec. 3, the Senate confirmed Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., assistant Marine Corps commandant, as the next commander of ISAF and U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

According to the American Forces Press Service, SECDEF Panetta “has complete confidence in the continued leadership of General Allen, who is serving with distinction in Afghanistan.”

UPDATE: President Accepts Allen’s Request for Retirement
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 19, 2013 – President Barack Obama today accepted a request by Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen to retire from the military to address health issues within his family.

In a written statement, Obama said he spoke with Allen today and expressed deep personal appreciation for his “extraordinary service” in command of coalition and U.S. forces in Afghanistan and in his decades of Marine Corps service.

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Gangnam–NASA Johnson Style!

Are you tired of Psy’s Gangnam video on YouTube yet? No? Then this video that was the brainchild of interns at NASA’s Johnson Space Center is for you. Yes, you’d be happy never to hear of or see Psy again? Don’t give up quite yet….

This is a video that shows a wide variety of NASA activities in a fun and accessible way–“gangnam style.” Some love it; some NASA veterans hate it and think the world as they know it is coming to an end. Perhaps it is. Perhaps a little humor is a good thing.

Personally, I enjoy it. It’s fun, it’s interesting, and it’s well done. Plus, you can see that everyone in it is enjoying themselves. Astronaut Clayton Anderson signed up to dance in the video. Two more astronauts, Michael Massimino and Tracy Caldwell Dyson, also decided to participate.

What’s not to like?

You can see the video by clicking on the above, or go to the ReelNASA YouTube channel, http://www.youtube.com/user/ReelNASA, and look for “NASA Johnson Style (Gangnam Style Parody).”


The 22nd Company of the U.S. Naval Academy has also created a “spirit spot” parody that has been removed from some internet locations. You can see why.

And here, finally and blessedly, is the Third Marine Aircraft Wing Band performing “Gangnam Style/Thunderstruck” at their 2012 Birthday Ball:

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“General Failure”

An article by Thomas E. Ricks in the November issue of The Atlantic magazine characterizes today’s military leadership as “inept” and a “culture of mediocrity.” While Ricks specifically discusses Army leadership, his criticisms at times apply across the services:

Generalship in combat is extraordinarily difficult, and many seasoned officers fail at it. During World War II, senior American commanders typically were given a few months to succeed, or they’d be replaced. Sixteen out of the 155 officers who commanded Army divisions in combat were relieved for cause, along with at least five corps commanders.

Since 9/11, the armed forces have played a central role in our national affairs, waging two long wars—each considerably longer than America’s involvement in World War II. Yet a major change in how our military operates has gone almost unnoticed. Relief of generals has become so rare that, as Lieutenant Colonel Paul Yingling noted during the Iraq War, a private who loses his rifle is now punished more than a general who loses his part of a war. In the wars of the past decade, hundreds of Army generals were deployed to the field, and the available evidence indicates that not one was relieved by the military brass for combat ineffectiveness. This change is arguably one of the most significant developments in our recent military history—and an important factor in the failure of our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/11/general-failure/309148/.

Ricks is a former reporter on military affairs and currently writes a blog at ForeignPolicy.com. He received a Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting (on Wall Street Journal team) in 2000 for articles on how the U.S. Military might change to meet twenty-first century demands, and another Pulitzer in 2002 for National Reporting (on Washington Post team) for reporting about the beginnings of the U.S. counteroffensive against terrorism.

While the longest war in our nation’s history continues, it is hard not to believe that Ricks has a point: the top tiers of our military are rewarded with promotions–but for what? Keeping us at war for more than ten years?

Meanwhile, the Army is beginning to hear criticism from its own officers.

Army Lt.Col. Daniel Davis appeard on the PBS show “NEWSHOUR” February 17, 2012, charging that the effort to create a sustainable Afghan force is failing, and agreeing with the words of the interviewer, Margaret Warner, that the “senior military leadership has used what you call omission and outright deception in order to prevent the American public from knowing the truth.”

Davis went to members of Congress, the media, and the Army’s Inspector General to make his complaints. When asked by Warner why he did not bring the complaints to his chain of command, Davis replied,

“I have frankly lost my confidence in the ability of some of the senior leadership of the Army to police itself.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=bZo1YHssEG4.

Col. Lawrence Sellin, a 61-year-old Army reservist, was dismissed from his post in headquarters with NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in August 2010, less than 48 hours after he published an op-ed, via UPI, complaining that the “war consists largely of the endless tinkering with PowerPoint slides to conform with the idiosyncrasies of cognitively challenged generals in order to spoon-feed them information.” Col. Sellin was a popular and widely-read public affairs officer. Yet he committed career suicide in order to say:

“Little of substance is really done here, but that is a task we do well.”

Col. Sellin was not alone in his criticism. In 2009, retired Marine Col. T.X. Hammes wrote in Armed Forces Journal that the Powerpoint application, now ubiquitous in the military, is “actively hostile to thoughtful decision-making” and “has fundamentally changed [military] culture by altering the expectations of who makes decisions, what decisions they make and how they make them.” http://www.veteranstoday.com/2010/08/27/army-colonel-in-afghanistan-fired-for-criticizing-powerpoint/. (See also Jim Placke’s blackly humorous “PowerPoint Pogue Homepage,” http://www.nbc-links.com/powerpoint.html.)

The slide below was created for an actual Powerpoint presentation on how to win the war in Iraq’s Al Anbar province:


The opposite in complexity is a slide shown to General Stanley A. McChrystal in Kabul in 2009:

We have met the enemy

“When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war,” General McChrystal is reported to have said, as the room erupted in laughter.

“PowerPoint makes us stupid,” Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps, the Joint Forces commander, said at a military conference in April 2010 according to the New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/27/world/27powerpoint.html.

But to get back to my point:

In the same New York Times article, “Gen. H. R. McMaster, who banned PowerPoint presentations when he led the successful effort to secure the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar in 2005 (emphasis added), followed up at the same conference by likening PowerPoint to an internal threat.

“‘It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control,’ General McMaster said in a telephone interview afterward. ‘Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.’

So, the questions: Has the Army become a “culture of mediocrity” instead of a meritocracy? Must critical information about the war be dumbed down into words that even a general can understand? Has the military failed in purging its upper ranks of incompetent, or at least unsuccessful, officers?

The dilemma of pursuing success and successful generals reminds me of President Lincoln’s comment about General Grant:

“I can’t spare this man. He fights.”

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