Agent Orange: The Fallout

Agent Orange: The Fallout

Contributed by Kris Baydalla-Galasso

The chemical warfare efforts of Operation Ranch Hand were active for just 10 years of this country’s military history. Those 10 years of active efforts have had nearly 50 years of fallout, and the impact on future generations still remains unknown.

When the military began the chemical warfare airstrikes, the focus was on reducing ground cover utilized by the Viet Cong and Northern Vietnamese troops and destroying crops that would be used for sustenance. US Military, manufacturers and scientists were aware of the dangers that the dioxins posed to the humans and animals exposed, but there wasn’t a pressing concern as the toxins were being used on the enemy. Science overlooked the impact on US military personnel and long term impact on the environment. Air Force researcher Dr. James Clary has been quoted on the subject. “When we initiated the herbicide program in the 1960s, we were aware of the potential for damage due to the dioxin contamination in the herbicide. However, because the material was to be used on the enemy, none of us were overly concerned. We never considered a scenario in which our own personnel would become contaminated with the herbicide.”

As Veterans returned home, they began to report a variety of health issues. Initial reports were primarily skin issues, but the list grew to include type 2 diabetes, miscarriages, birth defects and more.

The VA continually updates its list of afflictions, conditions and diseases associated with Agent Orange exposure. This is the most up-to-date list of recognized conditions:

AL Amyloidosis

Chronic B-cell Leukemias


Diabetes Mellitus Type 2

Hodgkin’s Disease

Ischemic Heart Disease

Multiple Myeloma

Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

Parkinson’s Disease

Peripheral Neuropathy, Early-onset

Porphyria Cutanea Tarda

Prostate Cancer

Respiratory Cancers

Soft Tissue Sarcomas

In addition to the number of illnesses reported by American Veterans and their families, the list of afflictions that have impacted the Vietnamese continues to grow. Most notable and heartbreaking are the images of children born with severe birth defects. While many assume the impacts ended after the war, in truth, children are still coming into this world with physical and mental handicaps as a result of their grandparents’ exposure to Agent Orange in the 60s.

Globally, we need to be aware of the impact that Agent Orange had on our ecosystem. If genetic abnormalities in humans were caused by exposure and still continue to be prevalent, there is a high likelihood that the dioxin would be found in our food that originated in that area.

Over 500 Immigrant Recruits Expelled from the U.S. Army in One Year

Over 500 Immigrant Recruits Expelled from the U.S. Army in One Year

Contributed by Debbie Gregory

During a 12-month period the U.S. Army discharged more than 500 immigrant enlistees who were promised a path to citizenship.

The enlistees were part of the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) recruiting program, which allows legal noncitizens to join the military in exchange for expedited U.S. citizenship.

The recruiting program was put on hold in 2016 amid concerns that recruits were not being screened sufficiently, and the Army began booting out those enlistees last year.

The Army submitted its list of discharged servicemembers to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia last month, putting the number at 502 service members who enlisted under MAVNI discharged between July 2017 and July 2018.

Of the discharged immigrants, more than 100 were told their entry-level performance and conduct was subpar and 48 were dismissed because of an adverse security screening. Others were dismissed for reasons ranging from personal problems to encounters with police.

The names of the service members and other personal information were redacted from the list to protect their privacy.

All the enlistees had committed to active duty or reserves; many had been regularly drilling and training with their recruiters in preparation for boot camp while awaiting security clearances.

More than 5,000 immigrants were recruited into the program in 2016, and an estimated 10,000 are currently serving.

Because of the long wait caused by new screenings, dozens of immigrant recruits already in the pipeline were discharged or had their contracts canceled. The ensuing complaints and lawsuits led the Army to halt the discharges and reinstate at least 36 recruits.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has gone on the record as to his support of the MAVNI program.

“We need and want every qualified patriot willing to serve and able to serve,” Mattis said.

AI May Enhance Tradecraft, Prevent Geopolitical Surprises

AI May Enhance Tradecraft, Prevent Geopolitical Surprises Says Military’s Top Spy

Contributed by Debbie Gregory

Army Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley Jr., the Pentagon’s “top spy,” hopes advances in artificial intelligence (AI) can get a jump on global conflicts when they ignite overnight.

“My core mission is to make sure that the secretary of defense is never surprised,” said Ashley.

Ashley became the 21st Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency on October 3, 2017. He formerly served as the Army Deputy Chief of Staff, G-2, where he was the senior advisor to the Secretary of the Army and Army Chief of Staff for all aspects of intelligence, counterintelligence and security.

“AI and machine learning will be a huge enhancement” to tradecraft and other skills defense analysts use to avoid blind spots,” he said.

Using algorithms to sort through massive amounts of information can take some of the burden off defense analysts, but it doesn’t come without challenges, Ashley said.

“We look very closely at the technology development. Obviously, there’s some breakout things — we watch the AI side of the house, the hypersonics, counter-space, [and] what they’re doing with regard to subs, if you’re following the maritime piece of that as well,” he said. “They’re in the trials for their first carrier. They got an old one from the Russians; now they’re building their own.”

“When an analyst sits in front of a senior leader, they always say, ‘Based on reporting, based on sources, based on what I have seen I have a moderate [degree of confidence]’ or if you see a national assessment that says ‘I have a high-degree of confidence,’ it goes back to sourcing and analytic tradecraft,” he said.

“You never want to be in a position where you say, ‘Well, the computer told me so,'” he continued. “Part of the challenge we have now, and I think really the opportunity is, as we look at algorithms, as we look at machine learning and AI, is developing a degree of confidence within the AI, a degree of confidence within the algorithm.”

DIA will have to test these algorithms “to be able to prove that it can in fact come back with a high-degree of confidence that the analysis that it’s doing is correct,” Ashley added.

Ashley wants to ensure that the Machine-assisted Analytic Rapid-repository System, or MARS, is at initial operating capability before he leaves office in two years. MARS will take advantage of modern technologies in storage, cloud computing and machine learning to allow analysts to interact with data and information in a more dynamic fashion, rather than static.


Army Misses Recruiting Goal

For the First Time Since 2005, Army Misses Recruiting Goal

For the First Time Since 2005, Army Misses Recruiting Goal

Contributed by Debbie Gregory

The Army fell short of its recruiting goal for 2018, missing its mark for the first time since 2005.

The Army has been looking to grow its force strength in the face of growing threats from competing world powers such as Russia and China. The service branch has fallen short by about 6,500 soldiers, despite an extra $200 million spent on bonuses and approving some additional waivers for bad conduct or health issues.

Army leaders said they signed up about 70,000 new active duty recruits in the fiscal year that ended September 30.  The Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps all met their recruiting goals for 2018.

Despite the shortfall, Maj. Gen. Joe Calloway, the Army’s military personnel management director, said the 70,000 recruits who did enlist this year is the most the service has attracted since 2010. He said the Army chose to focus on taking in high-quality recruits instead of ensuring it met its goal with borderline applicants.

Calloway believes the Army’s shortfall was due to the strong American economy and increased competition from private sector employers who can pay more.

Only about 30 percent of 17- to 24-year-olds can meet the mandatory requirements for consideration for military service, which consists of a combination of physical, mental and background attributes. Additionally, only about 13 percent of that population is interested in military service, according to the Pentagon.

“We made a decision to raise the quality of our recruits despite the tough recruiting environment,” the Army said in a statement. “As we look to 2019 and beyond, we have laid the foundation to improve recruiting for the Army while maintaining an emphasis on quality over quantity.”

To keep up with changing times, the Army is adjusting its  recruiting efforts, including a new focus on reaching potential recruits through social media and interactive gaming, and in locations where recruiting has typically been weak, such as major metropolitan areas.

GPS Devices Banned for Troops on Deployment

GPS Devices Banned for Troops on Deployment

GPS Devices Banned for Troops on Deployment

Contributed by Debbie Gregory

Deployed service members will no longer be allowed to use fitness tracking apps or other wearable technology such as Fitbits and iWatches that rely on geolocation, according to a new Pentagon policy.

“The rapidly evolving market of devices, applications, and services with geolocation capabilities presents a significant risk to the Department of Defense (DoD) personnel on and off duty, and to our military operations globally,” according to an August 3rd  memo written by the  Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan.

The discovery that geolocation capabilities can expose locations of bases and important facilities based on where the geo-tracking stops prompted the policy change. Data firm Strava’s January release of a heat map revealed the locations and pathways of military installations around the globe due to user data on fitness apps such as Polar Flow. The global map reflected more than 1 billion paths that the Strava app tracked, but patterns and locations of U.S. service members could be garnered from zooming in on sensitive or secured areas.

The new policy does not require a total ban and only affects service members at operational bases or locations. Personnel working at the Pentagon will still be allowed to use the devices. Additionally, it doesn’t prohibit service members from having the devices with them when they deploy, as long as the geolocation services are disabled. With that said, each on-site commander will have final say as to what gadgets they will allow.

“These geolocation capabilities can expose personal information, locations, routines, and numbers of DoD personnel,” Shanahan wrote, “and potentially create unintended security consequences and increased risk to the joint force and mission.”

In some cases, the geolocation services will be allowed to be turned on after a security review, according to the new policy.

Highlights of the $717 Billion Defense Bill, Including 2.6% Troop Pay Raise

Highlights of the $717 Billion Defense Bill

Highlights of the $717 Billion Defense Bill, Including 2.6% Troop Pay Raise

Contributed by Debbie Gregory

During the signing at Fort Drum, the president invited members of the 10th Mountain’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team to gather round him for a photo opportunity.

Like most prior NDAAs, this year’s authorization is the product of a relatively bipartisan legislative process and received overwhelming bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.

The 2.6 percent pay increase would be the biggest for the military in nine years. Estimates are that the pay raise will translate into about $670 more annually for junior enlisted troops and about $1,300 more for senior enlisted and junior officers.

It also funds new purchases of aircraft, ships and weapons. And it increases the size of our service branches: the Army’s end strength will grow by about 4,000, the Navy’s by 7,500, the Air Force by 4,000, and the Marine Corps by about 100. It also increases funding for training and readiness.

The NDAA also requires the DoD to carry out an annual education campaign to inform those who may be eligible to enroll in the VA’s Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry. And it requires a study on the feasibility of phasing out the use of open burn pits.

Other allowances include:

  • $7.6B for 77 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.
  • $85M for UH-60M Black Hawk utility helicopters.
  • Funds the U.S. Air Force’s new long-range stealth B-21 bomber.
  • Funds 13 new Navy ships to include $1.56B for three littoral combat ships, the fourth Ford-class aircraft carrier, six icebreakers, and a Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine.
  • $225.3M for Stryker A1 combat vehicles and supports efforts to modernize the Army’s armored combat vehicles.
  • Additional assistance to military spouses seeking employment by enhancing the My Career Advancement program.
  • Improvements to the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) to provide training tailored to servicemembers’ post-separation plans.
  • Resources for victims of military sexual trauma as part of pre-separation counseling.
  • Providing active duty and reserve personnel an “authoritative assessment of their earned GI Bill benefits” prior to separation, retirement, or release from active duty or demobilization.

Making a Difference- Profiles of Some Immigrant Service Members

Making a Difference- Profiles of Some Immigrant Service Members

Contributed by Debbie Gregory

As a nation founded by immigrants, the U.S. has long drawn its strength through the diversity of its citizens. Many of these immigrants have served this country as part of the one percent in the military. Here are just a few:

After fleeing war-torn Nicaragua, 1st Lt. Lizamara Bedolla now serves as an Army nurse at the William Beaumont Army Medical Center’s Surgical Ward at Fort Bliss. “The Army has taught me a lot about tolerance, self-awareness, patience and has opened my eyes to the different people that are all over this country and abroad.”

Although Staff Sgt. Tamba Benjamin wanted to join the Army or Marines, he joined the Air Force to appease his mother. He came to the U.S. from Monrovia, Liberia, via Freetown, Sierra Leone, when he was nine, escaping civil war. Currently assigned to the 407th Expeditionary Comptroller Squadron, Benjamin said, “Living in another country is like sleeping in someone else’s home — you take care of the home.”

It took Pfc. Fortytwo Chotper seven years to make it to the United States from Sudan via a Kenyan refugee camp. He joined the Iowa Army National Guard’s 1168th Transportation Company, not to get his citizenship. “I was just doing it to give thanks to the United States for bringing me here from the refugee camp.” Chotper’s 1168 TC team and Iowa Air National Guard Chief of Staff Brig. Gen. Randy Greenwood joined Chotper at the U.S. District Courthouse in Des Moines in their dress uniforms to watch their brother take the oath of citizenship.

Already a citizen, Staff Sgt. Fadi Chreim, a 386th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron vehicle operations dispatch chief, joined the Air Force reserve to give back to his adoptive homeland.  “ Part of me wanted to put on that uniform just to say ‘thank you.’”

In March 2017, Pvt. Maria Daume, originally from  Siberia, Russia became the first female Marine to join the infantry through its traditional training pipeline at the age of 18, joining the Fleet Marine Force as a mortarman.

Senior Airman Mina Fawzi of the 407th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron was born in Cairo, Egypt, and joined the Air Force to support his family.

Mohammad Nadir worked as an interpreter for U.S. servicemembers in Afghanistan, and is now a Marine. “I told my family I was going to come to America and become a Marine, so I did,” Nadir said.

Staff Sgt. Eric Piime, a boom operator in 121 Air Refueling Wing, Ohio Air National Guard. Piime, a native of Ghana, enlisted in the Air Force as “the ultimate way of giving back” to his adopted country.


Active-Duty End Strength Above 500,000 Top Priority for Army

Active-Duty End Strength Above 500,000 Top Priority for Army

Active-Duty End Strength Above 500,000 Top Priority for Army


Contributed by Debbie Gregory

Major modernization reforms are underway in the Army to create leaner and faster processes. In fact, modernization and adding more active-duty, Guard and Reserve soldiers are among the Army’s top priorities for 2020, according to Army Secretary Mark Esper.

Although Secretary Esper is the civilian head of the Army, he has considerable experience on the ground. A graduate of West Point, he deployed to Operation Desert Storm, and was part of the Army Reserve and Army National Guard.

“For me, the big picture is continued support from Congress in regard to our modernizations initiatives, particularly the stand-up of Army Futures Command,” Esper said. “The second is improving the capacity and capability of the Army, and that means continuing to grow end strength.”

Secretary Esper’s objectives, in his own words:

“We must grow the regular Army above 500,000 soldiers with associated growth in the Guard and Reserve. And we must recruit and retain the very best.”

“We must ensure adequate quantities of Infantry, Armor, Engineers, Air Defense, Field Artillery…Our units from Brigade through Corps must also be able to conduct sustained ground and air intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, electronic warfare, and cyber operations. And we must have aviation combat support and robust logistics available to all formations.”

“We must be focused on high-intensity conflict, again, in urban terrain, under persistent surveillance, and in electronically degraded environments. It must incorporate battlefield innovation and continuous movement to frustrate enemy observation and intelligence collection. And it must include combined arms maneuver with the joint force, as well as our allies and partners.”

“We have identified six modernization priorities; I am sure you’ve heard of them. They are in order: First, long-range precision fires, next generation combat vehicles, Future Vertical Lift, the network, air and missile defense, and the one closest to my heart, soldier lethality.”

“We must reform our outdated personnel system to one that develops smart, thoughtful, innovative leaders of character who are comfortable with complexity and are capable of operating from the tactical up to the strategic level.”


General Relieved of Duty for Inappropriate Comments

General Relieved of Duty for Inappropriate Comments


General Relieved of Duty for Inappropriate Comments

By Debbie Gregory

Brig. Gen. Kurt Stein, the Marine Corps general in charge of sexual assault prevention and response efforts, has been relieved of his command over remarks he made at a public meeting disparaging claims of sexual harassment at his command as “fake news.”

The remarks were made during an April 6, 2018, town hall discussion before hundreds of Marines and civilian employees under Stein’s command.

Following the town hall, someone made an anonymous complaint to a Naval Criminal Investigative Service tip line.

Stein’s remarks were in regards to allegations made by two civilian women employees of the division that an unnamed Marine officer showed them that he was sexually aroused through his clothing on more than one occasion.

Marine leadership had dismissed their concerns.

Marine Corps commandant Gen. Robert Neller reviewed the investigation and “determined that he lost confidence in Stein’s ability to lead this particular organization,” according to Marine Corps spokesman Lt. Col. Eric Dent.

“The Marine Corps expects every Marine, uniformed and civilian, and particularly those in leadership positions, to take allegations of misconduct seriously and to promote positive command climates,” Marine Corps spokesman Maj. Brian Block said in a news release.

Stein entered the Marine Corps in 1991 and has logged more than 4,500 flight hours on more than 100 missions over various platforms. He previously served as the assistant deputy commandant for aviation, and as vice chief of staff for Marine Forces Reserve and Marine Forces North.

This latest misstep comes on the heels of the Pentagon investigation into allegations that files containing hundreds of lewd photographs of servicewomen had been shared online in a Dropbox folder.

There was also the March, 2017 scandal regarding the now-defunct Facebook group called Marines United, where some 30,000 followers accessed nude photos of female servicemembers posted by active-duty and veteran Marines.

Army Spends Millions to Search for Unexploded Ordnance

Army Spends Millions to Search for Unexploded Ordnance

Army Spends Millions to Search for Unexploded Ordnance

By Debbie Gregory

Unexploded ordnance experts have been searching for military munitions off Hawaii’s Makua Beach, focusing on a 22-acre area after a 5-inch projectile was found offshore in 2016.

“It’s about the length of two football fields and the depth of one football field,” said Col. Steve Dawson, of U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii.

Unexploded ordnances are explosive weapons (bombs, shells, grenades, land mines, naval mines, cluster munition, etc.) that did not explode when they were employed and still pose a risk of detonation, sometimes many decades after they were used or discarded.

The Army expects the search, which is just about to wrap up, to cost approximately $3.5 million.

In 2011 that a recovery effort at Ordnance Reef resulted in the removal of approximately 2,380 small, medium and large items that appeared to be munitions. A total of 331 pounds of explosives was destroyed, the Army said.

The munition found in 2016 was recovered and destroyed by the Navy. During World War II, the military practiced beach landings at Makua. It’s possible more rounds fired from Navy ships fell short of land. Additionally, Makua Military Reservation was used as a firing range by the Army.

Excess World War II munitions were also dumped by the military in such a quantity over a 5-square-mile area off Pokai Bay that it became known as “Ordnance Reef.”

The search, which was conducted on weekdays, utilized UXO-qualified divers with metal detectors and a global positioning system (GPS) to scan the ocean floor, according to Col. Dawson.

The delay in launching the project after the 5-inch round was found was due to the Army needing to obtain federal unexploded ordnance removal funding, as well as access to a fully operational and staffed hyperbaric chamber, which was a safety regulation required for the divers.