From the “Day Late and a $100,000 Short” Department

Quoted from Department of Defense Email:

Statement by George Little on Death Gratuity Payments

Today, senior DoD leaders consulted with the leadership of the Fisher House Foundation on moving forward with providing death benefits to the families of fallen service members.

Now that Congress has enacted legislation permitting DoD to provide families these benefits directly during the government shutdown, DoD is moving expeditiously to pay each family the $100,000 death gratuity they are owed. These payments were initiated today and the families will receive them early next week, when their banks reopen for business. In addition, Fisher House Foundation will donate $25,000 to each of these families from its own funds.

Secretary Hagel greatly appreciates the generosity of the Fisher House Foundation, as well as other groups which have stepped forward to help these families in their time of need. With Congress no longer preventing DoD from making these payments to the families directly, he is pleased that DoD will be able to fulfill its responsibilities to the families of the fallen. The Secretary remains deeply concerned about the disruptive impact the ongoing shutdown is having on Departmental operations, and continues to urge Congress to restore funding to the entire federal government.

 

One Day in the Oval Office

Let’s make a couple of assumptions here.

For the sake of our hypothetical situation below, let’s assume that the White House was notified at 9 AM about the lack of payments of death gratuities and other benefits to the survivors of the four Soldiers killed in action whose remains were returning to Dover. Let us also assume the existence of telephones, a chain of command, a White House Secretary and common sense.

I’m also assuming that the Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, owns the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, the Department of Defense agency which I believe actually pays these benefits when any Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine is killed in the line of duty. (I bet a months pay that he does and they do, but I’m unemployed so a month’s pay ain’t much.)

Let’s also assume that we’re in the Oval Office at that very moment just after 9am that the Commander in Chief is being notified that these families are not being paid.

Let’s listen in for a few moments. Here’s what should’ve happened:

Jay Carney (White House Press Secretary): “Mr. President, we’re getting reports that the remains of the four Soldiers who died in Afghanistan are coming back to Dover and their families aren’t getting their death benefits because of the shutdown. The press is killing us, sir and we’ve got to do something about this.”

(Now and hereafter, please imagine the voice of the president in your head as you read his words.)

Obama: “I’ll get right on that Jay.” (To his secretary) “Get me Secretary of Defense and the Chief White House General Counsel on the phone immediately!”

A few minutes pass by, and the President’s secretary buzzes in. “Mr. President, I have Defense Secretary Hagel and the General Counsel on the phone for you.”

Obama: “Thank you”  (To the Defense Secretary and the General Counsel now on a conference call) “Good morning gentlemen. I understand there’s a problem with paying death gratuity to the families of four Soldiers returning to Dover who have just given their lives in the service of this great Nation of ours. Have it fixed by noon.” <click, dial tone>

Here’s how it probably went:

Jay Carney (White House Press Secretary): “Mr. President, we’re getting reports that the remains of the four Soldiers who died in Afghanistan are coming back to Dover and their families aren’t getting their death benefits because of the shutdown. The press is killing us, sir and we’ve got to do something about this.”

Obama: “Gee, that’s a shame. Wish there was something I could do about that.”

Oh, and confidential to Jay Carney, I know there are lengthy, convoluted processes involved with getting things done in Washington. Six years in the Pentagon led me to that conclusion on my own.  But when you’re the President of the United States and the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States, and you make a call to get something done it shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours to cut a couple of checks.

This is an unparalleled failure of leadership.

Those of who have had the honor of serving in the United States Army know precisely what it means when they say, “There’s Strong and then there’s Army Strong.”

Watching this unfold, I now know that there’s despicable and then there’s White House despicable.

Where Were You 12 Years Ago Today?

I wrote this back in 2009 because everyone at the office was sharing their “Where we you when the planes hit?” stories.  Even now when I read this or think about 9/11, the feelings are overwhelming. Yet, what we’ve learned about national unity in the long run has been overshadowed by what we’ve forgotten about national unity.

“So, do you think the Army’s going to call you up because of this?”

“I sure as hell hope so.”

That was the big question my supervisor at the E! Channel asked me on 9/11. While I did eventually get called up, I’d gladly give up all the financial and professional gains which resulted if it had never happened. But that’s not what these words are going to be about.

I was awakened that morning by a phone call from my mother-in-law who told us in frantic, disjointed words that something bad was happening. As a native New Yorker, she was understandably shaken at learning that Manhattan was under attack. The message was related to me by my spouse at the time who slammed into the bedroom and shook me awake and said “Wake up! The Pentagon’s under attack!”

I got up, rushed to the TV in a groggy stupor and saw the story as it was still in chaos. Information was rolling into news agencies willy-nilly and much of what was heard and reported was unconfirmed. I dressed and hurried to work in the Wilshire District in LA, near the La Brea Tar Pits. The streets of Los Angeles were relatively deserted – not empty as they were during the LA riots in 1992. But it was clear that people were staying home. Businesses closed for the day and many more operated on essential staff only. Which is why I was going to work.

When I arrived at E!, I could see that many of the national cable networks which shared our satellite space had either gone dark or were carrying coverage from one of the big three networks. It was at that moment that the enormity and the immediate practical impact of this event on this Nation became apparent. Even commerce stopped for a time – shopping networks were carrying round the clock news coverage. Sports channels and others had full-screen graphics up telling people to tune to a network broadcast and follow the news.

One of the positive things about working at a TV network with all measure of high-tech TV equipment is that we could monitor as many TV stations as we had monitors. And we had plenty. CNN, Fox, ABC, NBC, CBS, MSNBC all raced to get pictures and firsthand accounts of the unfolding tragedy on the air. I flipped back and forth from moment to moment and channel to channel trying to find the best pictures. No one had a lock on the best, so it was back and forth from channel to channel.

As for what I was doing in between times, E! was trying to decide whether to take coverage from a major news network or stay with the on-air schedule without regard to the situation. My job was to design on-screen graphics in support of either option. Ultimately, E! chose to stay with their own programming rather than switch to one of the majors. I will not debate that decision, but I will observe on my own behalf that I had no interest in entertainment fluff at that point, and I couldn’t imagine anyone else feeling differently.

From the moment it sank in just what was going on, my heart was heavy, but my fists clenched in preparation. When my terrific boss, Ken Mason, asked me if I was going to get called up, not only did I hope so, but I was hoping it would be within the hour. For the rest of the day, most of us sat in network control going about our business with about as much feeling as the machines supporting us. It was quiet and the sounds of our air signal were mixed with the sounds of the coverage coming from ancillary equipment racks where the carnage of the day was being replayed over and over.

I would be many months before I actually got called up and reported here to Washington, D.C. in January, 2002. I spent the next 71 months assigned to the Pentagon in various assignments, some 9/11 related and others not.

A year after the attacks, our office moved into the rebuilt section of the Pentagon and shortly thereafter, the small indoor memorial and chapel was opened. Whenever I thought I was being unfairly put upon, I’d stroll the 30 seconds down the E-ring to the 9/11 memorial and stand for a minute or two.

It gave me perspective in two profound ways. It made me recognize that getting picked on that day wasn’t really so bad, and that any one of these people whose biography and photo were in one of two books would give anything to be in my predicament. Alive. Within reach of those about whom they cared. And it humbled me. Standing there for only a moment made me remember why I was there and that I had better do the best job I could.

Eight years have passed since the attack on our Nation. Today, while driving into my civilian job, I listened to replays of the coverage from that day and remember what it felt like that day. How shocked and horrified. How angry. How resolute. I suspect that will never change. I suspect that I’ll always feel the intense mix of emotions on this day. And I’ll fight back the tears on this day just as I did on this day eight years ago.

For many, the feelings we experienced that day have already escaped us, relegating the horror of the day to a collection of historical facts, figures and stately memorials to those who perished. It is right that we recall the facts and honor those who were murdered that day. However, it is my wish that somehow the shock, horror, anger and resolution I felt – that most everyone felt that morning – stay with us and unite us as it did on 9/11 and in the shadows of that day.

Eight years hence, we find ourselves a divided Nation when in truth, there’s so very much more about us that is alike than those things which divide us.

I wish we weren’t so divided and I have no solution as to how to unite us. I just know that we have it in us. The days following September 11, 2001 were some of America’s finest.

Remember what that was like. Not just today on this horrific anniversary. But every day.

It would serve us all well.

A “Shot Across the Bow” is a Waste of a Perfectly Good Missile

I don’t know if it’s my libertarian leanings or I’m just sick of it all but I’m fast becoming an isolationist.  And by “sick of it all,” I mean the alleged U.S. Middle East policy which for the last ten years or so, has been cloudy at best.

I was good with Afghanistan.  The war in Afghanistan started out with clear objectives and netted good results.  The Taliban were removed and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan dismantled.  While I never made it over there, I came to more clearly understand the rationale for and the planning and execution of the war as a member of the Army’s Crisis Action Team.  That was my first job when I came back on active duty.

Then came Iraq.  I heard all the arguments and saw all the justification that the rest of the world saw.  I didn’t have any special access to any information beyond that which everyone else in the world saw.  I trusted that our national leadership at the time was presenting the world with factual information.  There are a zillion reasons why the information turned out to be less than factual, the biggest of which I call the fog of bureaucracy — spinning bad news so that the boss can draw his desired conclusion anyway and still not be 100% wrong.   I saw this so often that it’s a wonder anyone in authority could ever make a decision with real “facts” because no one was willing to present real “facts” if they were contrary to those which were expected.   And there were those who just plain lied for personal gain.  So it’s really no wonder that the real situation with WMD’s in Iraq never made it to the highest levels of the Administration.

Anyway, that’s a tangent.  Back to the story.

Now we’re likely going to attack Syria.  I don’t believe a word that’s coming out of my TV set except for the fact that hundreds of thousands are being slaughtered over there by another jackass dictator in another god-forsaken place I’d never want to visit in a million years.  To say that the massacre there is a horrific act is an understatement.  I won’t argue that nor should I.  And yes, killing is killing, but chemical weapons are so indiscriminate in their targeting that they deserve a rightful place as far worse than conventional weapons.

But folks, a “shot across the bow” from a U.S. Naval vessel is not going to accomplish a thing.

If we are the engage Syria to prevent the slaughter of innocents, then that’s what we should do — prevent the slaughter of innocents.  Sending a warning shot is a waste of effort, money and won’t prevent a single death from the continuing use of chemical weapons.

Only one thing will do that:  denying ANYONE the ability to deploy and use chemical weapons now and in the foreseeable future.  If you want to keep the bad guys – regardless of who they are — from doing bad things, destroy their capability.  A warning shot is as useless as a strongly worded letter from the United Nations.

Do we have national interest there?  Beyond the defense of Israel, I’m not yet sure that we do.  And yes, I get the whole proxy war argument, but haven’t we been down this road before?  Haven’t we learned anything?

Apparently not.

Look, if we’re going to do this (and the jury’s still out on whether this will happen or not) please let whatever action we take have a real effect on saving the lives of innocents.  After all, that’s what this is supposed to be about, right?  Lobbing missiles over there as a “we have to do SOMETHING” response is not the answer.  If we’re going to shoot the missiles anyway, let’s aim that so that it will HELP.  Destroy the ability within Syria for ANYONE to use chemical weapons.

So yeah, I’m still not convinced that the U.S. has any business there.  There’s that whole isolationist thing again.  But if we’re going to go to war to prevent the slaughter, then we ought to do something that will have meaning.  Something meaningful and effective that will let the world say “This time, the U.S. saved lives.”  Something that will accomplish our stated goal.  From my position here at Fort Living Room, Virginia, a “shot across the bow” won’t do a damned thing.

Edward Snowden is No Hero: Here’s Why

Here’s all I’m going to say about the Snowden Affair.

If Snowden had leaked sensitive information about particular capabilities of the U.S. weapons arsenal, a charge of treason would be easier to wrap your head around. I think we can agree that this isn’t much of a stretch.

The only difference here is battle space.

Now stick with me here while I think this through.

His leaks were initially about the U.S. spying on its citizens.  It has become about the broader cyber capabilities of the U.S. Government.

The U.S. has recognized that cyberspace is a legitimate battle space.  In response, U.S. Cyber Command was established essentially as a combatant command with cyberspace as its battle space instead of a geographical area of responsibility. (Think of U.S. Central Command whose geographical area of responsibility includes areas in the Middle East, except in cyber space.)

Cyberspace exists everywhere and has no geographical component.  Therefore, U.S. Cyber Command’s battle space exists wherever cyberspace exists and is essentially everywhere in the geographical sense.

Since Snowden leaked publicly with no geographical limitations, he provided information about U.S. capability to potential enemy cyber combatants — note I said “cyber combatants” — who can and do exist in the Cyber Command’s battle space and know no geographical limitation.

If he had just leaked about the government eavesdropping on U.S. citizens, then the case for treason is miniscule.  However, once he started leaking about the capability of the United States to wage war in cyber space, he crossed the line.

The case can be easily made that he provided information to the enemy. I don’t believe that’s a stretch at all.

Moore, Oklahoma

I’m still glued to the TV looking at the awful photos from Oklahoma. I’ve lived through, earthquakes, fires, more earthquakes, other tornadoes and always come out relatively unscathed. To see the level of destruction that nature has imposed across such a wide area is absolutely heartbreaking. I can’t imagine facing that sort of disaster.

I experienced the Northridge Earthquake in Los Angeles in 1994, and saw a lot of isolated destruction not unlike what’s happened in Moore, OK. But it was just that — isolated. The devastation in Moore is so wide-spread it is truly unimaginable. I really can’t wrap my head around what I’m seeing on TV.

I see the pictures of entire neighborhoods wiped out and try to imagine myself in the middle of all that. Who would you call? Who COULD you call? I’m a guy and we’re typically problem solvers and I can’t imagine how overwhelming it must be. I mean, I know I’d have to be seeking immediate shelter for me and my loved ones, but after that? Where do you start? I can’t imagine. Unbelievable.

It does put my own little troubles in perspective. And it’s not about the stuff. Stuff can be replaced, of course. I really have no words. I can’t imagine what these people are facing not just today but for the longer term.
 
 

Senior Leadership

In 2004, I was selected to attend the U.S. Army War College through their distance learning option. Right about the same time, I discovered that I had enough active duty time to retire from the Army about nine or ten years early, so a War College diploma became unnecessary from the professional and fiscal perspectives. So I withdrew from the course.

However, before I withdrew, I completed a little bit of the course material. The first sub course after I completed and passed the initial writing assignment was about senior leadership. While I’m a lousy student for the most part, I do occasionally pay attention and this time I paid attention. 

The biggest thing I came away with was that senior leadership is more about building consensus and negotiating solutions than it is about the more familiar vision of military officers leading troops around the motor pool or into battle. During my six years assigned to the Pentagon, I found this to be accurate. As a colonel, I observed that organizations needed me to be a consensus builder and needed far less of the stereotypical motivational leadership than the units to which I’d been assigned in the past. The War College course material said that this is as it should be. And I agree.

Fast forward to today. If, as I believe, senior leadership is about consensus building and assuming we consider that those running the legislative and executive branches of government are to be considered the senior leaders of our Nation, then I contend that Washington is suffering a severe leadership deficit.

Severe. 

This is not about Republican versus Democrat. This is not about left or right. If one examines the actions of the President and the leaders in both houses of Congress, it is clear to me that no one – not one individual is publicly engaging in any sort of leadership whatsoever nor is anyone in DC attempting to bill themselves as a true senior leader. 

I could list quote after quote from either side of the aisle in Congress and from the White House supporting the observation that the blame game is well underway. But since you’re all my friends, I know that you’re well aware of current events and can draw your own conclusions from news reports. I believe that we can all agree that little if any consensus building is happening publicly. If it’s happening behind closed doors in smoke-filled halls of Congress, no one knows about it and frankly I’d be surprised if it were. 

But back to the point: Our Nation needs leaders – real leaders who possess the necessary senior leadership skills and experience and the will to exercise them to the benefit of the Nation. We elect our President to LEAD the business of government not to observe the business of government. We elect our President to LEAD not to cajole and belittle legislators into specific behavior. We elect our Congressmen to represent our interests, negotiate among themselves and the Executive branch and come to consensus on viable solutions to fulfill our interests while maintaining the best interests of the entire Nation.

At this, they are all failing miserably. 

There is no leadership in Washington because there exists no attempt to build consensus among those in the government who disagree. 

I believe that the President, the single most visible face of the Nation and by definition the most senior leader in government has the DUTY to lead and build consensus in the National interest in spite of the political climate. I believe the President should be leading the Nation in the context of the United States as his top priority. The President isn’t the President of the Democratic Party, but the President of the United States. 

I observe none of this and therefore conclude that in the context of senior leadership, the White House is leaderless.

As for Congress, I recognize and embrace that it is by nature a more partisan organization. I expect there to be discourse, disagreement and politics played among its members. But in the end, I expect the senior leaders in Congress to lead their respective parties while building consensus in the context of the Nations best interests. 

Sadly, I observe none of that either. Therefore, I also conclude that in the context of senior leadership, Congress is leaderless. 

Its been said by hundreds of other journalists, commentators and other observers that our government is the most divided, most partisan and least productive body in generations. I agree. 

I do not believe, however, that this is a problem resulting from a clash of ideas that has no resolution. I do not believe that the Legislative and Executive branches of government are hopelessly deadlocked because there’s a great ideological gulf between them. I believe that it’s the lack of leadership skills and experience that makes resolution unlikely. I believe that no one has the will to find consensus and in fact, I believe that the senior leaders of our Nation think that consensus is a dirty word.

Our senior leaders aren’t leading. It’s that simple.