Good morning, Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Monday, April 1, 2019, which is April Fools’ Day, National Fun Day, National Love For Our Children Day, and U.S. Air Force Academy Day.
Today in American Legion History:
- April 1, 1922: The American Legion National Headquarters moves into its second temporary home, the Chalfant Apartment Building in Indianapolis.
- April 1, 1927: Members of Winfred Fairfax Warder Post in Cairo, Ill., begin assisting the National Guard to patrol levees in what becomes the most devastating flood in U.S. history, to date. Lasting most of two months and extending from Illinois to the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi River flood of 1927 tears out levees and dams and leaves some 400,000 residents homeless by the end of May. The American Legion post in Aubra Township, Ky., establishes a refugee camp, and members search the flooded areas for survivors on rooftops, in trees and on the tops of barns. Legionnaires in Greenville, Miss., serve up to 9,000 meals a day, and all posts in the Department of Mississippi are mobilized to search for survivors, many of whom are African-American farm families who lost everything they owned. The American Legion Departments of Arkansas and Louisiana likewise mobilize as the floodwaters destroy hundreds of homes and farms. Following the disaster, an American Legion Central Flood Relief Committee is formed, in collaboration with the Red Cross, to help those who had lost homes. Future American Legion National Commander Roane Waring of Memphis is named chairman of the committee. These efforts would conclude 2 months later, on May 30, 1927.
- April 1, 2018: “Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero,” an animated movie telling the story of the World War I combat canine who became an American Legion member and frequent national convention participant after his service on the front in France, is released in theaters nationwide by Fun Academy Motion Pictures.
Today in History:
- On this day in 1945, after suffering the loss of 116 planes and damage to three aircraft carriers, 50,000 U.S. combat troops of the 10th Army, under the command of Lieutenant General Simon B. Buckner Jr., land on the southwest coast of the Japanese island of Okinawa, 350 miles south of Kyushu, the southern main island of Japan.
- On this day in 1789, the first U.S. House of Representatives, meeting in New York City, reaches quorum and elects Pennsylvania Representative Frederick Augustus Conrad Muhlenberg as its first speaker.
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Military.com: American Legion to Congress: Don’t Replace POW/MIA flags with Transgender Banners
29 Mar 2019 | Military.com | By Patricia Kime
The American Legion is spitting mad that some members of Congress have removed the black POW/MIA flags from their office entrances and replaced them with transgender equality flags.
The Legion issued a press release Friday expressing "extreme displeasure" with the swap. National Commander Brett Reistad said he takes no issue with members of Congress honoring additional groups but, he added, "it should be in addition to, rather than instead of our heroes."
"These servicemen and servicewomen went missing while defending all Americans. Their flags should not go missing as well," Reistad said in the release.
The National Center for Transgender Equality sent flags to all members of Congress to commemorate the International Transgender Day of Visibility on March 31. According to media reports, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, and Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-California, swapped out their POW/MIA flags for the banners.
On Tuesday, a federal appeals court granted a government request to lift an injunction against a proposed ban on people with gender dysphoria serving in the U.S. military, a decision that will allow the policy to go into effect April 12.
Two days later, the House voted 238-185 on a nonbinding resolution opposing the policy. In a floor speech Thursday, Pelosi called the ban "an act of cruelty."
"There is no moral justification for this ban, which violates every value of our American democracy and betrays our fundamental belief in fairness, dignity and respect," she said.
Reistad said every member of Congress should honor POWs and those missing in action by showing the flag. Lawmakers should ensure, he said, that it is "properly and permanently displayed outside their offices."
Associated Press: 2 pilots killed in Marine Corps helicopter crash in Arizona
By: The Associated Press | 13 hours ago
YUMA, Ariz. — Two Marine pilots have died in a helicopter crash during a training mission in southwestern Arizona, U.S. Marine Corps officials said Sunday.
The AH-1Z Viper crashed Saturday night while the pilots were conducting a training mission as part of a weapons and tactical instructor course, according to the Marine Corps. The cause of the crash is under investigation.
Capt. Gabriel Adibe, a Marine Corps spokesman, said the helicopter crashed on the vast Marine Corps Air Station Yuma training grounds but no additional information was immediately available.
The names of the pilots who died have not been released pending notification of their families.
The station is located about 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) from Yuma and the 1,300-square-mile (3,367-square-kilometer) training ground is one of the world’s largest military installations.
There have been several fatal crashes involving Marine Corps aircraft near Yuma over the years.
In 1996, a Marine electronic-warfare plane went down during a training mission on a gunnery range near the Gila Mountains, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) east of the Yuma station, killing all four people aboard. The crew was from the Marine base at Cherry Point, North Carolina, and was training at Yuma.
Two Marine pilots, a crew chief and a Navy corpsman died in a 2007 crash of a search-and-rescue helicopter near the Colorado River during a training mission. The crew members were attached to a headquarters squadron of Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma.
In 2012, seven Marines were killed when an AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopter and a UH-1Y Huey utility helicopter collided in midair during a training exercise in a remote area of the Yuma training grounds. The crash site was in the Chocolate Mountains on the California side of the range.
Military Times: Is the Pentagon breaking a law designed to help sexual assault victims?
By: Geoff Ziezulewicz | 2 days ago
The armed forces is failing to ensure that sexual assault victims are asked where they want their cases to be prosecuted, according to the results of a Defense Department Inspector General audit released last week.
Investigators reviewed 82 cases at the Army’s Fort Hood, Naval Station Norfolk, the Air Force’s Joint Base San Antonio and Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, which recorded the highest number of unrestricted sexual assault reports in fiscal 2016.
Nearly all of those cases involved officials failing to ask the victims or document if they would prefer their assailant tried by court-martial or in the civilian criminal justice system, something they are supposed to have been doing since the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, according to the IG.
“It’s really disappointing when Congress is trying to get the military to a better place with sexual assault and the military leadership doesn’t take it seriously,” said Don Christensen, a retired Air Force colonel, military attorney and president of Protect Our Defenders, a nonprofit group that helped get the victim preference regulation passed into law.
The audit was mandated as part of the 2019 defense policy bill.
In 77 of 82 cases reviewed from the four bases, officials either did not ask the victims for their preference or did not document that sexual assault victims had been asked about their preference, according to the audit.
For 56 of those 77 cases, officials said the victims were asked but could provide no evidence of the victim’s preference, according to the IG.
“DoD officials should consider what the victim wants when deciding whether to prosecute by court-martial or in civilian court, although they are not required to comply with the victim’s preference,” the report states.
Oftentimes, victims have a better shot at justice in a civilian courtroom than in a military setting, Christensen said.
Sentencing is more consistent and there are restitution opportunities, he said.
Unlike their civilian counterparts, military judges can’t order assailants into treatment or force them to surrender weapons, he said.
Some military victims may also prefer to have such a case tried in a civilian setting simply because it is away from the base and fellow service members, Christensen added.
“Your work and entire life is on that installation and now this is all being brought out too,” Christensen said.
Christensen said many of the group’s clients report that they were never asked about their preference, or that “the military talked them out of going civilian.”
He also said the government has stymied his group’s efforts to obtain data tracking the policy’s implementation.
The IG ascribes this failure to the DoD not establishing a system-wide process to ensure that victims are asked their preference, and the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office doesn’t track whether victims are asked.
The services issued guidance that required the preference question but never mandated that the victim’s choice be documented, according to the IG.
The IG recommended that the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness develop requirements that such questions be asked and documented.
Officials agreed with the IG’s recommendation and changes are pending.
Christensen said he hopes the issue is brought up Tuesday at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on the role of the commander in sexual assault.
“Some heads should roll on this,” he said. “This has been in effect for almost four years now.”
Stars & Stripes: ‘We got zero notice’: Army resumes Cold War-era snap deployments to Europe
By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES | Published: March 29, 2019
STUTTGART, Germany — The infantrymen of the 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment were in the middle of gunnery exercises in El Paso, Texas, on March 11 when the call came in from division headquarters: deploy to Poland.
“We got zero notice,” said Col. Chad Chalfont, commander of the 2nd Armored Brigade, 1st Armored Division, the battalion’s higher headquarters located on Cold War Road at Fort Bliss.
A week later, 1,500 brigade soldiers were bound for training grounds in western Poland in a deployment reminiscent of the Cold War, when no-notice mobilizations were a main feature of the military’s strategy for countering the old Soviet Union.
Now, the Army is relearning the art of snap deployments as it adapts to a new Pentagon strategy — known as Dynamic Force Employment — that calls upon the military as a whole to keep adversaries off balance with more unpredictable troop movements.
“We are going to see this on a regular basis,” said Maj. Gen. John Gronski, deputy commanding general for the Army National Guard at U.S. Army Europe. “For any of our adversaries anywhere, it is going to be unpredictable for them. And that is good for our national security. This is all about deterrence and readiness.”
But for USAREUR, the arrival of Fort Bliss infantrymen also was something of a culminating event in what has been a five-year effort to rebuild a force that was largely defanged after a long post-Cold War drawdown.
In Europe, the Army has been building up since Russia’s 2014 military intervention in Ukraine set off alarms among allies and sparked a push to reinforce NATO’s eastern flank. The Army has led most of those efforts, with U.S.-based armored brigades now on continuous rotational deployments.
“The last (U.S. Army) tank left Europe in 2013, the next rotational forces were back with tanks about a year later because of the way the security environment changed over here,” Gronski said.
Prepositioned weapons stocks have been set at strategic locations, which troops would pull from in a crisis.
But until now the various troop rotations into Europe were planned long in advance, which means the rapid deployment of Fort Bliss soldiers this month is testing the Army’s ability to do everything faster.
“I think that just shows the realism of this exercise. No matter what they were doing and where they were at, they got this notice,” Gronski said.
The bulk of the soldiers landed in Europe on March 19 and will be in Poland until around mid-April, conducting live-fire exercises with equipment pulled from one of the Army’s prepositioned stocks in the Netherlands.
“It’s almost like we simply picked up where we left off,” said Chalfont, whose soldiers were back on the range days after their arrival — this time at the Drawsko Pomorskie Training Area in Poland rather than Fort Bliss.
But while the exercise marks a step forward for USAREUR, questions remain about the Army’s ability to respond en masse to a major crisis in Europe.
“We are kind of in a crawl, walk, run process here. I see this as a first step. A baby step to be honest,” said U.S. Army War College professor John R. Deni. “The next step is to deploy a much larger force with equipment.”
A deterrence strategy that depends on prepositioned equipment is a concern, Deni said. Prepositioned stocks played a large role for the Army during the Cold War, but that was before the advent of advanced precision guided weapons that could easily eliminate such storage sites.
“We know the Russians have made significant advances,” Deni said. “In the worst case scenario, one of the first things the Russian’s would hit are these prepositioned munition sites.”
Since the Army lacks sufficient missile defense capabilities to defend its garrisons in Europe, let alone its storage warehouses, the service needs to demonstrate the ability to not only move troops across the ocean on short notice, but also up to division’s worth of gear, Deni said.
“Moving a division is what I really think would send a strong deterrent signal,” he said.
Army leaders, however, say they are prepared.
“We are very happy with our level of readiness now to face any adversary,” Gronski said.
Still, as more snap mobilizations are carried out, deployment times could get faster than the week it took to bring in the Fort Bliss unit. Gronski said there will be lessons learned as the Army dissects the deployment.
“I think anything could be improved upon and I think the more we do this throughout the globe the better we will get at it,” Gronski said.
At the unit level, Chalfont said his soldiers have taken the sudden deployment to Poland in stride. For months, the brigade has prioritized its combat readiness, he said, making sure soldiers are qualified on weapons and medically fit to deploy.
“We know we can get the call at any time,” Chalfont said. “I suppose it’s not that much of an adjustment for the mindset of our soldiers.”
Army Times: New ‘Black Hawk Down’ documentary tells story of soldiers who saved Rangers, Delta Force troops
By: Todd South | 1 day ago
For more than a quarter century, the story of the Battle of Mogadishu, popularized by both the book and film versions of “Black Hawk Down,” has focused on the Army Rangers and Delta Force team members caught in the worst urban combat the U.S. military had seen since the Vietnam War.
A new documentary tells the story of the 10th Mountain Division soldiers who rescued those Rangers and Delta operators.
“Black Hawk Down: The Untold Story,” is a documentary made by retired Air Force Col. Randall Larsen, who also served in the Army during his 32-year military career. Larsen’s production company previously produced the documentary “Operation Whitecoat,” the story of 2,300 conscientious objectors who volunteered for biological experiments at Fort Detrick, Maryland from 1954 to 1973.
Larsen met now-retired Brig. Gen. Bill David, who commanded 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division during its deployment as a quick reaction force in the Battle of Mogadishu years ago while both were doing advanced academic degrees.
But it wasn’t until last year, as the 25th anniversary of the Oct. 3, 1993 battle approached that Larsen, himself a Vietnam War combat veteran, realized the role that 10th Mountain played in that intense fight.
“As I started peeling the onion and looking into this thing I thought, ‘Oh my God this is an incredible story and I didn’t know it’,” Larsen told Army Times. “I’d read the book when it came out. I’d seen the movie. I’d sat in bars with Bill and kind of heard it a little bit.”
So, despite promising his wife he’d retired from filmmaking after the previous documentary, Larsen kicked production into high gear and completed an early version of the film in time for the anniversary last year at Fort Drum, New York, home of the 10th Mountain Division.
The movie was screened for a select audience at the International Spy Museum and the Army Navy Club this week. It is available for presale on Amazon.comand the DVD version, which includes bonus interviews with veterans of the fight and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, will be for sale at Wal-Mart stores beginning in May. It can be live streamed online here.
He said the work was worth it when a veteran of Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion came up to him afterward.
“You know, all these years I’ve been telling my son what I did, and he says, ‘dad, that wasn’t in the movie,’” Larsen said the veteran told him. “My son will finally believe me now.”
David echoed the comment.
“I think this film does a heck of a lot to validate what they’ve been telling their family members for decades now,” the one-star said.
The film opens with the beginnings of Operation Restore Hope, when, in 1992 then-President George H.W. Bush ordered Marines and 10th Mountain Division soldiers to Somalia to secure vast stores of food aid that had been sent to starving citizens caught up in a devastating civil war.
The initial stages were largely successful, reducing famine and fighting. Most of the force was pulled out, except for portions of 10th Mountain and later Task Force Ranger, made up of elements of Delta Force, 75th Ranger Regiment and the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, were tasked with taking down the infrastructure of warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid, who was escalating fighting among the factions, threatening to plunge the nation into deeper strife.
During a mission to capture some of Aidid’s lieutenants, two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters were shot down and members of Task Force Ranger were killed while others were pinned down without a way to safely extract the dead and wounded.
What was supposed to be a 30-minute mission that started in mid-afternoon became an all-night shootout to survive.
The first attempt to reach the two crash sites and also find the Rangers and Delta operators was a rapid response by 10th Mountain soldiers in Humvees and open trucks lined with plywood and sandbags.
Retired Delta Force Col. Lee Van Arsdale, a lieutenant colonel at the time with 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment, noted the tactical problems immediately.
Top Pentagon brass had asked that the units have armor long before the operation but that was denied by then-Secretary of Defense Less Aspin.
“Who goes into combat in an unarmored Humvee in an urban environment? We do,” Van Arsdale said at the screening.
Somali fighters were ready and unleashed barrage after barrage of AK-47 fire and rocket-propelled grenade launcher rounds at the vulnerable vehicles. They’d also created barriers with crushed vehicles and burning tires to funnel the soldiers into choke points for ambush.
They had to withdraw, return to base and refit. Quick calls managed to get Malaysian Armored Personnel Carriers and Pakistani tanks to join the formation from the United Nations peacekeeping force.
But complications ensued. Language barriers and restrictions from those forces’ commanders later meant the APCs, not the tanks, would lead the charge on the second attempt at the sites.
And lack of training with the vehicles became clear for the 10th Mountain soldiers immediately.
“We didn’t even know how to open the doors,” one veteran said in the film.
But they sped back into the city, heading on a new route to the crash sites and stranded comrades. En route, however, two of the APCs were hit with RPGs and drivers were knocked off course, separating those two vehicles, and the soldiers inside, from the rest of the convoy.
The fight continued as the main element continued on, yet was stymied when tank commanders refused to roll through barricades and soldiers had to dismount in the middle of a firefight to remove heaps of trash from the streets so the APCs could get to their objective.
For nearly all of the soldiers, this was their first taste of combat. For the Army it was the most substantial urban fighting since the Battle of Hue City in Vietnam 25 year before.
After block-by-block fighting and house clearing while incoming fire rained from all sides, the 10th Mountain soldiers reached the stranded troops, loaded the wounded onto vehicles and egressed. At the time the “lost platoon” of two vehicles was thought to be dead as they lacked communications for most of the battle with the other element and with headquarters.
But they were able to rejoin the rest of the convoy as dawn was breaking.
The fighting only increased.
One soldier in the documentary said heading into the crash sites he fired one, 30-round magazine. Heading out, he emptied four.
With all accounted for, they made it back to the Pakistani stadium where medical care had been set up. With broken communications, the toll wasn’t clear until many saw the bodies of the fallen and the wounded laid out on stretchers on the field.
Just as the first attempt to reach the Rangers and Delta operators failed, David said he had a flashback to a conversation he’d had years ago in infantry training with a general, in which he was told that he was expendable, but not to “stain the colors of your regiment.”
As that memory flitted through his mind, he made his own resolution.
“I just made my mind up, we’re not going to stain the colors tonight,” he said.
And after the harrowing mission concluded and both his men and the Task Force Ranger troops and the fallen had been recovered, his intent fulfilled.
“I think we did the regiment colors proud that night,” he said in the film.