20 June, 2018 09:13

Good morning, Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Wednesday, June 20, 2018, which is American Eagle Day, National Ice Cream Soda Day, National Vanilla Milkshake Day, and World Refugee Day.

Today in American Legion History:

· June 20, 1917: Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., and his brother Archie sail for France after successfully arguing, with a letter of support from their father, for the opportunity to serve in the first wave of the American Expeditionary Forces under Gen. John Pershing. Roosevelt, Jr., enters the war as a major and soon distinguishes himself in battle, fighting through enemy fire and gas, and leading from the front. He receives high praise as a battalion commander and ultimately commands the 26th Regiment of the 1st Division through multiple battles.

· June 20, 1943: Ten crew members of the USS American Legion lose their lives near New Zealand’s Paekakariki Beach after their landing craft – which had been separated from the ship during a fierce storm – capsizes. Fifteen survive, and the deadly incident prompts orders requiring all Navy personnel on landing crafts to wear life vests.

Today in History:

· On this day in 1782, Congress adopts the Great Seal of the United States after six years of discussion.

· 1863: During the Civil War, West Virginia is admitted into the Union as the 35th U.S. state, or the 24th state if the secession of the 11 Southern states were taken into account. The same day, Arthur Boreman was inaugurated as West Virginia’s first state governor.

· 1963: To lessen the threat of an accidental nuclear war, the United States and the Soviet Union agree to establish a “hot line” communication system between the two nations. The agreement was a small step in reducing tensions between the United States and the USSR following the October 1962 Missile Crisis in Cuba, which had brought the two nations to the brink of nuclear war.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

· Military Times: VA watchdog accuses leadership of withholding access to employee complaints

· Defense News: Trump wants a Space Force. Now what?

· Military Times: Despite 17 years of war, next US commander in Afghanistan sees progress

· AP: Pearl Harbor survivor says goodbye before leaving Hawaii

· Military Times: US remains coming home from North Korea soon, report says

· Marine Corps Times: Marine with neo-Nazi affiliations found guilty at summary court-martial

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Military Times:VA watchdog accuses leadership of withholding access to employee complaints

By: Leo Shane III | 17 hours ago

WASHINGTON — Veterans Affairs’ independent watchdog office is accusing department leaders of improperly withholding records dealing with employee complaints, saying the action could be covering up potential criminal misbehavior.

Veterans Affairs leaders have responded by accusing the inspector general of overstepping its authority and improperly issuing reports that “recklessly cast the VA and its employees in an unfavorable light.”

Lawmakers pulled into the fight this week call the conflict concerning.

“The total lack of cooperation from the VA is alarming and a disservice to American veterans and taxpayers,” said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and ranking member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

“I’m demanding the VA immediately comply with the IG’s request for access to information. The VA leadership that prides itself on transparency is not above the law or exempt from independent oversight.”

At issue is an ongoing request from VA Inspector General Michael Missal to review all complaints filed with the department’s new Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection, stood up in summer 2017 in an effort to help root out misbehavior within the department.

In a series of letters to VA leadership, Missal said he was promised access to those records in his role as an independent overseer for the federal agency. Earlier this month, he accused acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Peter O’Rourke of violating the law by refusing to open those files to the IG staff.

In response last week, O’Rourke (who previously served as the head of the whistleblower office) denied unfettered access to the documents, calling the request too broad and impractical.

He also blasted Missal’s office for repeated failure to “demonstrate due professional care” and “not performing its responsibilities in a fair and objective manner” in a series of reports in recent months.

“You also appear to misunderstand the independent nature of your role and operate as a completely unfettered autonomous agency,” O’Rourke’s letter stated. “You are reminded that (the IG) is loosely tethered to VA and in your specific case as the VA inspector general, I am your immediate supervisor. You are directed to act accordingly.”

Conflicts between the inspector general and VA leadership are common, given the inherently confrontational role of the oversight office.

Department investigators during President Barack Obama’s administration were accused both of being too close to VA leadership and too hostile towards them, and multiple recent VA secretaries have complained about disagreements with their findings.

But the IG has also enjoyed strong support from lawmakers despite those criticisms. Tester said the current fight indicates that “the department must be held accountable to veterans and must stop this reckless behavior.”

Missal said his staff needs access to the accountability office complaints to ensure that work isn’t being duplicated and that criminal accusations are being properly pursued.

“Denying the IG access, or selectively providing access to certain records, is also antithetical to the fundamental purpose of (the whistleblower office) and its stated commitment to transparency,” he wrote in a letter to O’Rourke.

“It deprives veterans and the public of the ability to ensure that (the whistleblower office) is in fact holding department officials accountable consistent with its mandate.”

O’Rourke said in his response that unrestricted access to those files is neither realistic nor required. He argued that the impetus behind setting up the new office was because IG officials failed to do enough to protect whistleblowers, and that officials are sharing complaints when appropriate.

He called the latest fight between the offices more evidence that the IG “has significantly deviated from (professional) standards in ways that have materially harmed the VA and its employees.”

O’Rourke was named acting VA secretary on May 30 after then-acting secretary Robert Wilkie was named the permanent nominee for the top department post. His paperwork has not yet been delivered to the Senate for consideration, so no timeline has been set for confirmation hearings or a full chamber vote.

Defense News: Trump wants a Space Force. Now what?

By: Valerie Insinna | 14 hours ago

WASHINGTON — On June 18, President Donald Trump ordered the Pentagon to begin establishing a new “Space Force,” a process that could add a sixth military service to the Defense Department.

But military service branches aren’t built overnight, and the department immediately went to work figuring out exactly how to stand up a space force.

“We understand the President’s guidance,” said Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White later that day. “Our policy board will begin working on this issue, which has implications for intelligence operations for the Air Force, Army, Marines and Navy. Working with Congress, this will be a deliberate process with a great deal of input from multiple stakeholders.”

Many questions have yet to be answered, including whether Trump can secure needed congressional support for the plan, the timeline to stand up a space force and whether it will fall under the Department of the Air Force or warrant the establishment of its own department and budget.

“This is a very big bureaucratic shift, lots of complex moving parts, lots of budget implications, doctrine implications, command relationship implications, funding implications, legal implications, all of those have to be worked out,” said Brian Weeden, director of program planning for space policy thinktank Secure World Foundation and a former Air Force officer working in space situational awareness.

The first of those hurdles is Congress. Although Trump’s directive propels the issue forward, reversing the Defense Department’s long-held opposition to a separate space force, only Congress can amend Title 10 of the United States Code to create a new military service.

And some lawmakers — including several powerful members on the defense committees — have already indicated that they could throw up barriers to the execution of Trump’s order.

“Establishing a service branch requires congressional action,” said Rep. Mike Turner, an Ohio Republican who chairs the House Armed Services tactical air and land subcommittee and one of the biggest opponents to the space force idea. “We still don’t know what a Space Force would do, who is going to be in it, or how much is it going to cost.

“The congressionally mandated report evaluating a Space Force to answer those questions is due in August,” Turner added. “After we get the report that we required as a legislative body and the President signed off on, then this issue can be appropriately evaluated for what’s best for national security.”

Even if Congress can be persuaded to create a space force, Weeden warned that the process will take years — especially as both the House and Senate have already passed their versions of the defense policy bill for fiscal year 2019.

“You’re talking about FY20 being the first time that actually happens, and there’s not a whole lot the military can do until changes in the authorization [bill] and to Title 10,” he said, adding that the issue could be even further complicated, delayed or dropped altogether if Democrats win the House this fall or if Trump loses the election in 2020.

Todd Harrison, director of the aerospace security project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, agreed that FY2020’s defense policy bill would likely be the starting point for legislative changes.

“It’s not a given that Congress will pass this, and it will be up to Congress to work out all of the details,” he said.

“Then you start the implementation process, and it will probably take at least two or three years to actually stand up the new service.”

So you want to build a space corps?

But once Congress makes the legal changes necessary to stand up a space force, the effort won’t get any easier.

Trump’s comments referred to a “space force” that would be “separate but equal” to the Air Force — leading experts to believe he favors standing up a completely independent service like the Army, Navy or Air Force rather than something in line with House lawmakers’ “space corps” proposal — a space service that would still fall under the Department of the Air Force but would have its own uniform, budget and chain of command.

And experts said a purely independent space force could potentially entail big increases to the space budget and military space personnel.

“I think it’s going to be more bureaucracy, and I think people are going to thrash about for years trying to pull this thing together,” said former Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James. “And that thrashing will take away from focusing on these other problems.”

James said that the military has already added billions of dollars to the space enterprise over the last few years. If more money is needed, she said, Congress should appropriate more — but a new space force wouldn’t solve it.

Space currently makes up a very small portion of the military services’ budget and operations.

The Air Force is responsible for the preponderance of military space activity, but Air Force Space Command is comprised of only 38,000 people and the service’s unclassified space budget averages about $10 billion per year. The Navy also manages some space programs through Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, while the Army has some space functions in its Space and Missile Defense Command.

But Weeden warned that it’s possible that as space operators are pulled into a single service, the existing services could also try to keep their own organic space capabilities in much the way that the Army, Marine Corps and Navy continued buying and flying their own aircraft even after the Air Force was stood up.

Space force leaders could also push for greater spending on space, expanding the defense budget or taking away funding for other priorities.

“I think it would mean a lot more people and budget, and so far that’s not in any proposals anywhere,” Weeden said. “And if you’re talking about adding tens of thousands of more, well that has budget implications, that has recruiting implications, it’s going to take a while to do that. It’s not something that happens overnight, and it’s not something that’s in the budget [plans].”

However, Harrison noted that the department could simply realign its existing people, organizations and infrastructure into one single chain of command. That would keep the budget roughly the same, with some adjustments to overhead expenses.

“Or you could choose to gold-plate it,” he said. “If you want to make it expensive, you could create a brand new service academy, you could create all sorts of new bases around the country.”

Weeden opposes formulating a separate service for space in part because he believes it won’t necessarily solve one of the key problems facing defense space operations: a sluggish, bureaucratic acquisition process.

“Why not just solve the problem with what we have right now?” he said. “I have my own frustrations. It’s been seven, eight years since they [the Air Force] have had this direction to focus on resilience and we haven’t really seen them do anything. But in the last six months there have been signs that they’re finally taking it seriously and making changes.”

James also agreed with criticisms that the acquisition process is too slow, particularly when it comes to space. Some steps have been taken to address that, particularly at the Space and Missile Systems Center at Air Force Space Command, and other transaction authorities are being used for space contracting.

“Do you want to know more?”

Another challenge for a future space force comes down to culture. When Trump’s announcement hit, users on Twitter joked that the military would finally settle the question of whether a space warfighting force would reflect an army or navy-style rank structure.

However, such matters will need to be spelled out and could become controversial, especially if airmen, sailors, Marines and soldiers find themselves shuffled into a new service they had never planned to join.

“How do you create a unified cadre of personnel in the space force, and what are the unique characteristics of people that you want in that cadre? Because it doesn’t need to necessarily model what the other services do in terms of the rank structure, in terms of career progression, in terms of the skills. I would go into this with a clean sheet of paper,” said Harrison, who added that space forces could be required to have more math and science training.

“You need to make it distinct, culturally, from all of the other services,” he continued. “Part of that is through training that you start sending people through the same common induction training, whether it’s bootcamp or field training or whatever…and you start to build that ethos. ’This is who we are. We’re space operators. That’s what we do.”

Weeden said one model worth considering is U.S. Special Operations Command, which pulls in troops from all of the different services who operate under their own unique command structure, with different acquisition rules, doctrine and culture than conventional forces.

Military Times: Despite 17 years of war, next US commander in Afghanistan sees progress

By: Leo Shane III | 19 hours ago

WASHINGTON — While acknowledging that 17 years of war “is a very long time,” the incoming head of U.S. forces in Afghanistan told lawmakers he sees progress in the ongoing fight thanks to recent changes in military strategy there.

“I can’t guarantee you a timeline or an end date,” said Army Lt. Gen. Austin Scott Miller, nominated to succeed Army Gen. John Nicholson leading the American and NATO mission in Afghanistan.

“But I go back to the vital interests of national security for America. I know this is having an effect on elements that would attack us.”

The comments drew skepticism from several members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who expressed confidence in Miller to lead the Afghanistan effort but grave concerns with the ongoing mission there.

Congressional officials said about 16,000 U.S. troops are currently deployed in Afghanistan in training and counterterrorism roles. Pentagon estimates have about two-thirds of the country’s population in areas under Afghan government control, with the rest still contested or being held by Taliban fighters.

Miller, who would be the 17th commander to oversee the Afghanistan mission, acknowledged when pressed by lawmakers that Pentagon leaders need to be evaluating the possibility of a full U.S. withdrawal of troops in coming years.

At one point in the hearing, he motioned to his son — a second lieutenant in the Army — and said he “never anticipated his cohort would be in a position to deploy there.”

But Miller also warned that “with a precipitous and disorderly withdrawal, we would see negative effects on U.S. national security.” He said without more training and preparation for Afghanistan security forces, “I would be concerned about ISIS and al-Qaida’s ability to emerge” as terrorist threats against the American homeland.

Like several previous commanders for the Afghanistan mission, Miller said he sees progress in that training, and said military officials need more time to complete that work.

Democratic lawmakers questioned whether that will ever be finished.

“I’m afraid we’re asking our military to perform an impossible task,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. “Our military cannot and should not be in Afghanistan forever. We’re heading deeper down a path that does not have success at the end.”

Several others expressed concerns that President Donald Trump’s new strategy for the region — which included another plus-up of American troops deployed in Afghanistan — has no realistic exit strategy.

But other Republicans on the panel used Miller’s warning of a premature withdrawal as justification for the continued presence, and a reminder that serious threats still remain nearly two decades after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“I wish that you and all of those other lieutenants and captains who said in 2001 that they were there so their kids wouldn’t have to be could have had that prediction come true. But it’s simply not the case,” said Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and an Iraq War veteran.

“The enemy is still there. And the enemy still gets a vote.”

Miller is expected to be confirmed to the post in the next few weeks.

AP: Pearl Harbor survivor says goodbye before leaving Hawaii

By: Audrey McAvoy, The Associated Press | 9 hours ago

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii — Nearly eight decades ago, Ray Emory, then a young sailor, watched in disbelief as Japanese torpedoes tore into American ships in Pearl Harbor.

Emory survived the devastating attack but didn’t forget his fellow sailors and Marines who died and were buried in Hawaii without anyone knowing their names.

His relentless efforts in the years that followed led to nearly 150 of those servicemen finally being identified so their families could find closure.

Now frail with white-hair, the 97-year-old Emory arrived Tuesday in a golf cart at the pier where his ship, the USS Honolulu, was moored on Dec. 7, 1941. He came to say what could be his final goodbye to the storied naval base.

More than 500 sailors were there to greet him. They lined the rails and formed an honor cordon, shouting cheers of “Hip, Hip, Hooray!” Emory saluted them.

“I’m glad I came and I’ll never forget it,” Emory told reporters after a ceremony in his honor.

Emory wanted to visit the pier before leaving his Hawaii home for Boise, Idaho. His wife died about a month ago and he plans to live with his son and go fishing.

During the attack on Pearl Harbor, Emory managed to fire a few rounds at the airplanes that dropped the torpedoes. He still has an empty bullet casing that fell to his ship deck.

In 2012, the Navy and National Park Service recognized Emory for his work with the military and Department of Veterans Affairs to honor and remember Pearl Harbor’s dead.

Bureaucrats didn’t welcome his efforts, at least not initially. Emory says they politely told him to ”‘go you-know-where.’” It didn’t deter him.

First, thanks to legislation sponsored by the late U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink of Hawaii, he managed to get gravestones for unknowns from the USS Arizona marked with the name of their battleship.

In 2003, the military agreed to dig up a casket that Emory was convinced, after meticulously studying records, included the remains of multiple USS Oklahoma servicemen. Emory was right, and five sailors were identified.

It helped lay the foundation for the Pentagon’s decision more than a decade later to exhume and attempt to identify all 388 sailors and Marines from the Oklahoma who had been buried as unknowns in a national cemetery in Honolulu.

Since those 2015 exhumations, 138 sailors from the Oklahoma have been identified. About 77 have been reburied, many in their hometowns, bringing closure to families across the country.

“Ray, you’re the man that did it. There’s nobody else. If it wasn’t for you, it would have never been done,” Jim Taylor, the Navy’s liaison to Pearl Harbor survivors, told Emory during the brief ceremony Tuesday at the USS Honolulu’s old pier.

Taylor presented Emory with a black, folded POW/MIA flag printed with the words: “You are not forgotten.”

Some of the remains, especially those burned to ash, will never be identified. But the military aims to put names with 80 percent of the Oklahoma servicemen who were dug up in 2015.

Altogether, the Pearl Harbor attack killed nearly 2,400 U.S. servicemen. The Oklahoma lost 429 men after being hit by at least nine torpedoes.

It was the second-largest number of dead from one vessel. The USS Arizona lost 1,177 sailors and Marines. Most of those killed on the Arizona remain entombed in the sunken hull of the battleship.

The Pentagon has also exhumed the remains of 35 servicemen from the USS West Virginia from Honolulu’s National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. None have been identified so far.

Military Times: US remains coming home from North Korea soon, report says

By: Tara Copp | 13 hours ago

Remains of U.S. servicemembers who died in North Korea during the Korean War, and have been in limbo for years, may be starting their final journey home within days.

President Donald Trump made the return of the remains, believed to be about 200 individual sets, part of the agreement he made with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un last week in Singapore.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) stated on its Korean War website that “on several occasions in the past, [North Korean] officials have indicated they possess as many as 200 sets of remains they had recovered over the years. The commitment established within the Joint Statement between President Trump and Chairman Kim would repatriate these.”

CNN reported Tuesday the repatriation could take place within days. The returned remains would be one of the terms the two countries agreed to, to also include the cancellation of annual military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea. The first cancelled exercise, Ulchi Freedom Guardian, was set to begin in August.

If returned, the remains would be sent to a DPAA lab. There the painstaking process of matching bone fragments, personal items or other potential DNA sources, such as teeth, with DNA samples it has collected from surviving family members would begin, in order to identify the remains and begin the process of reuniting them with their families.

North Korea has allowed the return of war remains previously. North Korea allowed 33 previous field investigations between 1996 to 2005 to document and if possible recover remains from crash sites or other locations. In those instances DoD pays for the recovery and repatriation but does not pay to obtain remains or obtain information leading to remains, the agency said.

“Should high level U.S.-[North Korea] negotiations result in the resumption of field operations, subsequent planning and logistical discussions would be conducted to determine how they would be executed,” the agency said on its webpage.

In his press conference following the Singapore summit, Trump said the outreach from families moved him to request the remains be added to the U.S. official request.

“They want the remains of their sons back and remains of their fathers and mothers,” Trump said last week. “The remains will be coming back. They will start that process immediately.”

“So for the thousands and thousands — I guess over 6,000 that we know of in terms of the remains — will be brought back. The POW/MIA issue is a clearly big issue to people.”

Marine Corps Times: Marine with neo-Nazi affiliations found guilty at summary court-martial

By: Shawn Snow | 13 hours ago

A Marine and alleged neo-Nazi who allegedly participated in and the deadly “Unite the Right” rally last year in Charlottesville, Virginia, was found guilty at a summary-court martial on Monday and is likely to get booted from the Corps.

Lance Cpl. Vasillios Pistolis’ sentencing produced some confusion after Task & Purpose reported Monday the Marine was sentenced to 28 days of confinement, reduction in rank to private, and forfeiture of two-thirds pay for one month.

Emily Gorcenski, an activist who confronted white supremacists at the Charlottesville rally, tweeted that the Corps had just let a neo-Nazi stay in the Marines.

But that is not entirely accurate.

Pistolis has about a week to file for leniency before the convening authority in his case initiates any action. That means no final decision has been made regarding separation.

If precedence has bearing in this case, Pistolis is likely to be separated.

Two Marines, Sgt. Michael J. Chesny and Staff Sgt. Joseph W. Manning, were both separated from the Corps in April and December, respectively, for ties to white supremacist groups.

“The guidance to Marines is clear: participation in supremacist or extremist organizations or activities is a violation of Department of Defense and Marine Corps orders and will lead to mandatory processing for separation following the first substantiated incident of misconduct which is what occurred with these former Marines,” Nat Fahy, a spokesman with Marine Corps Installations East, told Marine Corps Times in a statement about Chesny and Manning’s separation.

Gorcenski helped expose Chesny’s white supremacist ties and others associated with the “Unite the Right” rally.

Gorcenski told Marine Corps Times that she is sure there is more to Pistolis’ story and that it is not over yet.

ProPublica reported Pistolis’ ties to a neo-Nazi organization known as Atomwaffen Division and his actions during the Charlottesville rally.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, Atomwaffen Division is a neo-Nazi organization “whose members are preparing for a race war to combat what they consider the cultural and racial displacement of the white race.”

Alarmed by the revelation that members of the military were caught participating in Atomwaffen Division, Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., sent a letter in early May to Defense Secretary James requesting information on investigations into white supremacist activities within the military.

Pistolis is assigned to Combat Logistics Battalion 8, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, based out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

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