President Obama presents Medal of Honor to Army SSG Salvatore Giunta

President Obama presents the Medal of Honor to SSG Giunta in the White House East Room

Following up upon and seemingly answering Jules Crittenden’s previous critique this summer that the United States of America had failed to appropriately honor numerous valorous acts by thus far only awarding the Medal of Honor posthumously during the OIF or OEF conflicts, today President Obama awarded the Medal of Honor to SSG Giunta for his incredible actions on October 25, 2007. The citation reads as follows:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:
Specialist Salvatore A. Giunta distinguished himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty in action with an armed enemy in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan, on October 25, 2007. While conducting a patrol as team leader with Company B, 2d Battalion (Airborne), 503d Infantry Regiment, Specialist Giunta and his team were navigating through harsh terrain when they were ambushed by a well-armed and well-coordinated insurgent force. While under heavy enemy fire, Specialist Giunta immediately sprinted towards cover and engaged the enemy. Seeing that his squad leader had fallen and believing that he had been injured, Specialist Giunta exposed himself to withering enemy fire and raced towards his squad leader, helped him to cover, and administered medical aid. While administering first aid, enemy fire struck Specialist Giunta’s body armor and his secondary weapon. Without regard to the ongoing fire, Specialist Giunta engaged the enemy before prepping and throwing grenades, using the explosions for cover in order to conceal his position. Attempting to reach additional wounded fellow soldiers who were separated from the squad, Specialist Giunta and his team encountered a barrage of enemy fire that forced them to the ground. The team continued forward and upon reaching the wounded soldiers, Specialist Giunta realized that another soldier was still separated from the element. Specialist Giunta then advanced forward on his own initiative. As he crested the top of a hill, he observed two insurgents carrying away an American soldier. He immediately engaged the enemy, killing one and wounding the other. Upon reaching the wounded soldier, he began to provide medical aid, as his squad caught up and provided security. Specialist Giunta’s unwavering courage, selflessness, and decisive leadership while under extreme enemy fire were integral to his platoon’s ability to defeat an enemy ambush and recover a fellow American soldier from the enemy. Specialist Salvatore A. Giunta’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Company B, 2d Battalion (Airborne), 503d Infantry Regiment, and the United States Army.

Posted: 16 Nov, 2010

Re-legitimizing ROTC

GEN David Petraeus sits next to Harvard President Drew Faust at a 2009 military commissioning ceremony.

The prospect of reform of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law has raised hopes for the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps returning to those top colleges where it has been absent since the Vietnam era.  This opportunity to welcome ROTC at colleges that have shunned it offers a “blank-slate” for designing the enhanced “ROTC+” programs of the future.  However, on the road to the future there has been an attempt to re-write history in a New York Times op-ed by Diane Mazur that suggested that there are “no universities that ban ROTC”:

While Harvard is often described as “expelling” ROTC in 1969, the story is more nuanced. After the military refused to meet Harvard’s standards on academic coursework, the faculty voted to relegate the program to an extracurricular activity, and the military decided to leave.

This account is so incomplete that it is misleading.  Although it is legalistically correct to say that top colleges such as Harvard didn’t “ban” ROTC in the 1960s, the colleges knowingly created conditions under which ROTC could not remain legally.  In 1969, Harvard and other colleges, upset over the Vietnam war, cancelled faculty appointments and course listings for ROTC, thereby running afoul of the provisions in the ROTC Vitalization Act of 1964.  That law specifies:

No unit may be established or maintained at an institution unless the senior commissioned officer of the armed force concerned who is assigned to the program at that institution is given the academic rank of professor… and the institution adopts, as a part of its curriculum, a four-year course of military instruction … which the Secretary of the military department concerned prescribes and conducts.

Contemporaneous accounts by ROTC professors at Harvard make clear that the 1964 law was central to the deliberations at the time.  Three months before the 4 February 1969 deliberations and vote by Harvard’s faculty, Col. Robert H. Pell, professor of Military Science at Harvard, wrote to Harvard’s Committee on Educational Policy that “reasons for wanting to destroy ROTC are patently contrived because they are exactly the same reasons that existed without challenge for 50 years before Vietnam clouded our vision and robbed our logic”.  He discussed in detail both the constraints of the 1964 law and the eagerness of the military to have courses of the highest academic quality.

Three days after the faculty vote, Capt. Thomas J. Moriarty, professor of Naval Science at Harvard, made clear that Harvard had removed the legal basis for its ROTC programs:

Moriarty said that without a professorship, NROTC could not remain at Harvard without violating a Federal law which states that no ROTC unit may be maintained at an institution unless “the senior commissioned officer of the armed force concerned, who is assigned to the program at that institution, is given the academic rank of professor.”

Moriarty said that he could only interpret the Faculty’s decision on ROTC as withdrawing ROTC’s “invitation” to remain at Harvard. He added that the Faculty is mistaken if it expects NROTC to violate Federal law or to go to Congress to change the law.

Correspondence between Franklin L. Ford, Dean of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and Nathan M. Pusey, president of Harvard on 11 February 1969 and 14 February 1969 confirm that the university understood that the faculty vote on “faculty control of curricular offerings and academic appointments” had removed the legal basis for Harvard’s ROTC programs.

In contrast, other top universities, including MIT and Princeton, found ways of dealing with the criteria in the 1964 law about faculty appointments and courses.  These universities managed to keep their ROTC programs.

On the issue of faculty appointments, MIT appoints its ROTC faculty as visiting professors, a distinction that satisfies both the regular faculty and the 1964 law.  Similarly, at Princeton, a 1972 agreement between the army and the university refers explicitly to the 1964 law and confers a special professor-level rank on the ROTC leader:

The institution will confer the title, Director of Army Officer Education Program, on the senior Army officer assigned to the Army ROTC detachment, indicating a rank equivalent to the senior academic rank of professor, including the prerogatives and privileges associated with the position of a professor or director as head of a department or program at the institution.

Harvard considered similar arrangements.  In the 11 February letter, Dean Ford raised the possibility that:

the Corporation would offer professorial appointments to the ROTC unit heads, quite outside the structure of this [Arts and Sciences] Faculty.

Nothing came of that idea, and the military complied with the 1964 law and withdrew all ROTC programs from Harvard.

On the issue of the “course of military instruction”, many ways of creating enhanced “ROTC+” programs for top colleges were discussed or implemented.  In 1958 at Harvard, the army added courses to the ROTC curriculum taught by a young lecturer in the Government department, Henry Kissinger.

The purpose of this experiment, according to [Col. DeVere P.] Armstrong [professor of Military Science and Tactics], is to give future Harvard officers a much broader viewpoint on world affairs than the straight military reserve training provides. The University’s program is considerably more difficult than the average Army ROTC course, and thus provides its students with a better quality of training.

In 2002, with Harvard ROTC students doing their military training at MIT, ROTC credit was given for a course taught by Harvard Professor Stephen P. Rosen, who had been a professor at the Naval War College and served on National Security Council before joining the Harvard faculty:

For the first time since the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) was kicked off campus in 1969, cadets this fall will be able to take a Harvard course for military credit.

Former cadet Brian R. Smith ’02 and Col. John Kuconis, who commanded the Air Force ROTC detachment at MIT before retiring this summer, led the effort to win ROTC headquarters’ approval of Government 1730, “War and Politics” to fulfill the Air Force’s sophomore military history requirement.

Smith, who had suggested the course to Kuconis, asked the University to promote such ROTC waivers in a successful Undergraduate Council bill in May, saying they would ease the travel burden on cadets while giving them the opportunity to learn from world-class Harvard professors.

Other ways of achieving joint university-ROTC credit were discussed during deliberations in March 1969 about ROTC at Columbia University.  The possibility was raised of university credit for courses taught by ROTC commanders as long as the courses were also “listed in the offerings of a regular academic department”.  Nothing came of that idea and the military complied with the 1964 law and withdrew all ROTC programs from Columbia.

Blaming the military for complying with the 1964 law after universities knowingly removed the legal basis for ROTC is unfair.  But it is entirely to appropriate to point out that in subsequent decades the military has shown some reluctance to re-engage, not only with the top colleges, but with entire regions where they are located.  Sean Wilkes, a recent ROTC graduate, reviewed this issue, and John Renehan, a lawyer with the Defense Department, described the magnitude of the regional changes:

In the past two decades, the Army has shrunk the resources devoted to its Reserve Officers’ Training Corps programs — a primary source of new officers — at colleges in a number of states and large urban areas. According to public Army documents, the reductions were particularly sharp in the Northeast, which had 50 ROTC programs in 1987. That number is down to 27 today.

These closures were part of post-Cold War drawdowns and budget cutbacks, but the selective pattern of the reductions amounted to a nationwide realignment of ROTC resources.

Diane Mazur raised similar concerns in her NYT op-ed, and she argued for the importance of the military returning to top colleges:

The military may be more comfortable when it retreats to parts of the country with a disproportionate number of military installations — and where universities don’t ask a lot of questions. That sense of comfort, however, works against a military with a desperate need for a more diverse officer base and a wider variety of language and cultural skills.

Leaving out the 1964 law from the history of ROTC in the 1960s is a serious omission since it ignores the fact that many top colleges knowingly removed the legal basis for ROTC, and thereby left the military no option under the law but to leave.  However, we should also credit top colleges with planting the seeds for the enhanced “ROTC+” programs of the future.  There is much value in the ROTC+ vision of high quality courses with joint university and ROTC credit, whether taught by regular faculty or ROTC commanders.

There is much for both the universities and the military to do to bring about this ROTC+ vision, a theme discussed in some detail by recent Columbia graduate and Army veteran Eric Chen.  Universities should extend their high academic standards to cover military-related areas, upgrading their often spotty faculty expertise in such areas.  They should declare their openness to having ROTC programs on their own campuses, and giving formal recognition to participation by their students in cross-town programs if the military prefers such a consolidation, including appropriate course credit along the lines of the ROTC+ model.  The military should welcome the opportunity to learn from world-class faculty at top colleges, and use this opportunity both to enhance traditional military-related courses and to experiment with courses in areas of newly appreciated importance such as anthropology and game theory.

It is time to put the enmity of the 1960s behind us.  For universities, it is time to act upon their desire to provide top-level training in all areas, including those related to the military.  For the military, it is time to welcome the chance to have an ROTC+ “laboratory of the universities” in which to train promising young officers and develop a curriculum that can be applied more widely.

Where have all the honeybees gone? The U.S. Army and U of MT Entomologists Answer The Question

For fans of the kitschy British television show Dr. Who it is a familiar question: Where have all the bees gone to? On that front, today’s New York Times has an intriguing story about an unusual partnership between the U.S. Army and entomologists at the University of Montana:

Since 2006, 20 to 40 percent of the bee colonies in the United States alone have suffered “colony collapse.” Suspected culprits ranged from pesticides to genetically modified food.

Now, a unique partnership — of military scientists and entomologists — appears to have achieved a major breakthrough: identifying a new suspect, or two.

A fungus tag-teaming with a virus have apparently interacted to cause the problem, according to a paper by Army scientists in Maryland and bee experts in Montana in the online science journal PLoS One.

The U.S. Army’s Edgewood Chemical Biological Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground houses a collection of scientists dedicated to defeating chemical and biological threats on the battlefield. Much of their research is focused on mechanisms and techniques for the detection of dangerous viral and microbial agents in the environment, such as those that might be used as biological weapons. In this case, the Army scientists were seeking to test a new method in which mass spectrometry is used to detect the proteins present in a biological sample and then  make use of software and a large annotated database they had developed to evaluate the sources of those proteins to determine what organisms might be present. It just so happened that entomologists at the University of Montana were looking for just such a capability. With this system, the Army scientists were able to identify proteins from two microorganisms, Iridovirus and Microsporidian, in every population of dead honeybees. Based upon their evidence it is the intersection of  this virus and fungus, found in the gut of the honeybee, that is suspected to be the cause of their demise.

Posted on 7 Oct 2010

Secretary Gates speaks to students at Duke University

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates speaks to ROTC Cadets from Duke University, UNC, NC State, and NC Central

In a lecture at Duke University, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates remarked upon the ever present divide that exists between the nation and those who serve in uniform, noting that only “a tiny sliver of America” continues to volunteer for military service, and that many parts of the country are woefully underrepresented, particularly urban areas like Chicago and Los Angeles.

Dr. Gates comments that “the military’s own basing and recruiting decisions have reinforced this growing concentration among certain regions and families.  With limited resources, the services will focus their recruiting efforts on candidates where they are most likely to have success – with those whose friends, classmates, and parents have already served.”

He hones in on the disparities that exist with respect to resourcing for Officer recruitment, noting that “the state of Alabama, with a population less than 5 million, has 10 Army ROTC host programs.  The Los Angeles metro area, population over 12 million, has four host ROTC programs.  The Chicago metro area, population 9 million, has 3.” The disparity is equally as great in places like New York City which, with a population of 8 million, hosts only 4 ROTC programs, one of which is open and accessible to only 5% of the total college student population.

Dr. Gates ends his lecture with a call to serve, encouraging students at Duke and other selective universities to consider joining the military and making a contribution to the national defense. Quoting from a letter John Adams wrote to his son he notes: “Public business, my son, must always be done by somebody.  It will be done by somebody or another.  If wise men decline it, others will not; if honest men refuse it, others will not.”

Here is the full transcript of his remarks:

Thank you for the invitation and that warm welcome.  It’s a relief to be back on a university campus and not have to worry about football.  The first fall I was President of Texas A&M, I had to fire a longtime football coach.  I told the media at the time that I had overthrown the governments of medium-sized countries with less controversy.

I’d be remiss in not pointing out one major connection between Duke and the military – that Mike Krzyzewski attended, played for, and later coached at West Point.  Earlier this year the Duke Basketball team came to Washington, D.C., to receive President Obama’s congratulations for the NCAA championship.  Coach K also brought them by the Pentagon to see the 9/11 memorial and meet with some of the men and women who serve in our military.  I think I can speak for everyone they saw in saying that the visit was much appreciated.

For the undergraduates here, I know you’re well-accustomed to the challenge of staying awake through long lectures.  I promise I won’t test your endurance too much today.  I’m reminded of the time when George Bernard Shaw told a famous orator he had 15 minutes to speak.  The orator protested, “How can I possibly tell them all I know in 15 minutes?”  Shaw replied, “I advise you to speak slowly”.

As a former university president, visiting a college campus carries a special meaning for me.  It was not that long ago that my days and duties were made up of things like fundraising, admissions policies, student and faculty parking, dealing with the state legislature, alumni, deans, and the faculty.  In that last case, as a number of college presidents have learned the hard way, when it comes to dealing with faculty – the tenured faculty in particular – it’s either be nice or be gone.

Some of my warmest memories of Texas A&M are of walking around the 48,000 student campus and talking to students – most of them between 18 and 24 years of age – seeing them out on their bikes, or even occasionally studying or going to class.  For nearly four years now, I have been in a job that also makes me responsible for the well-being of a larger number – in this case, a very much larger number – of young people in the same 18- to 24-year old age group.

But instead of wearing J-Crew they wear body armor.  Instead of carrying book bags they are carrying assault rifles.  And a number of them – far too many of them – will not come home to their parents.

These young men and women – all of whom joined knowing what would be asked of them – represent the tip of the spear of a military that has been at war for nearly a decade – the longest sustained combat in American history.  The Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns represent the first protracted, large-scale conflicts since our Revolutionary War fought entirely by volunteers.  Indeed, no major war in our history has been fought with a smaller percentage of this country’s citizens in uniform full-time – roughly 2.4 million active and reserve service members out of a country of over 300 million, less than one percent.

This tiny sliver of America has achieved extraordinary things under the most trying circumstances.  It is the most professional, the best educated, the most capable force this country has ever sent into battle.  Yet even as we appreciate, and sometimes marvel at, the performance of this all-volunteer force, I think it important at this time – before this audience – to recognize that this success has also come at significant cost.  Above all, the human cost, for the troops and their families.  But cultural, social, and financial costs as well in terms of the relationship between those in uniform and the wider society they have sworn to protect.

So for the next few minutes, I’d like to discuss the state of America’s all-volunteer force, reflecting on its achievements while at the same time considering the dilemmas and consequences that go with having so few fighting our wars for so long.  These are issues that must be acknowledged, and in some cases dealt with, if we are to sustain the kind of military America needs in this complex and, I believe, even more dangerous and unstable new century.

First, some brief historical context.  From America’s founding until the end of World War II, this country maintained small standing armies that would be filled out with mass conscription in the case of war.  Consider that in the late 1930s, even as World War II loomed, the U.S. Army ranked 17th in the world in size, right below Romania.  That came to an end with the Cold War, when America retained a large, permanent military by continuing to rely on the draft even in peacetime.

Back then, apart from heroism on the battlefield, the act of simply being in the military was nothing extraordinary or remarkable.  It was not considered a sign of uncommon patriotism or character.  It was just something a healthy young man was expected to do if called on, just as his father and grandfather had likely done in the two world wars.

Among those who ended up in the military in those early years of the Cold War were people like Elvis Presley and Willie Mays, movie stars, future congressmen, business executives.  The possibility of being drafted encouraged many to sign up so they could have more control over their fate.  As I can speak from experience, the reality of military service – and whether to embrace, avoid, or delay it – was something most American men at some point had to confront.

The ethos of service reinforced by the strong arm of compulsion extended to elite settings as well.  A prominent military historian once noted that of roughly 750 of his classmates in the Princeton University class of 1956, more than 400 went on to some form of military service – a group that included a future Harvard President,  governor of Delaware, and Pulitzer Prize winning reporter for the New York Times.  That same year, more than 1,000 cadets were trained by Stanford University’s ROTC program.

The controversy associated with the Vietnam War and the bitterness over who avoided the draft and who did not, led to a number of major changes in our military and American society.  One of them was the end of conscription and the beginning of the All Volunteer Force under President Nixon.

Over the past four decades, after a difficult transition period during the 1970s, the all-volunteer experiment has proven to be a remarkable success.  The doubts – and there were many inside and outside the military– were largely overcome.  Indeed, the United States would not be able to sustain complex, protracted missions like Iraq and Afghanistan at such a high standard of military performance without the dedication of seasoned professionals who chose to serve – and keep on serving.  Whatever the shortcomings there have been in Iraq and Afghanistan stemmed from failures and miscalculations at the top, not those doing the fighting and leading on the ground.  It has taken every ounce of our troops’ skill, initiative and commitment to battle a cunning and adaptive enemy at the front while overcoming bureaucratic lassitude and sometimes worse at the rear.

A key factor in this success is experience.  Consider that, according to one study, in 1969 less than 20 percent of enlisted Army soldiers had more than four years of service.  Today, it is more than 50 percent.  Going back to compulsory service, in addition to being politically impossible, is highly impractical given the kinds of technical skills, experience, and attributes needed to be successful on the battlefield in the 21st century.  For that reason, reinstituting the draft is overwhelmingly opposed by the military’s leadership.

Nonetheless, we should not ignore the broader, long-term consequences of waging these protracted military campaigns employing – and re-employing – such a small portion of our society in the effort.

First, as a result of the multiple deployments and hardships associated with Afghanistan and Iraq, large swaths of the military – especially our ground combat forces and their families– are under extraordinary stress.  The all volunteer force conceived in the 1970s was designed to train, prepare, and deploy for a major – and quick – conventional conflict – either against the Soviet Union on the plains of Central Europe or a contingency such as the first gulf war against Iraq in 1991.  In that instance – and I remember it well as I was Deputy National Security Advisor at the time – more than half a million U.S. troops were deployed, fought, and mostly returned home within one year.

By contrast, the recent post-9/11 campaigns have required prolonged, persistent combat and support from across the military.    Since the invasion of Iraq, more than 1 million soldiers and Marines have been deployed into the fight.  The Navy has put nearly 100,000 sailors on the ground while maintaining its sea commitments around the globe.   And the Air Force, by one count, has been at war since 1991, when it first began enforcing the no-fly zone over Iraq.

U.S. troops and their families have held up remarkably well given the demands and pressures placed on them.  With the exception of the Army during the worst stretch of the Iraq war, when it fell short of recruiting targets and some measures of quality declined, all the services have consistently met their active recruiting and retention goals.  In some cases the highest propensity to re-enlist is found in units that are in the fight. When I visited Camp Lejeune last year – a Marine Corps base about 150 miles from Durham – an officer told me about one unit whose assignment was switched from Japan to Afghanistan.  As a result, about 100 Marines who were planning to get out of the military decided to sign up again so they could deploy with their buddies.

The camaraderie and commitment is real.  But so is the strain.  On troops, and especially on their families.  I know – I hear it directly during my trips to Army and Marine bases across this country, where spouses and children have had their resilience tested by the long and frequent absences of a father, mother, husband or wife.

There are a number of consequences that stem from the pressure repeated deployments – especially when a service member returns home sometimes permanently changed by their experience.  These consequences include more anxiety and disruption inflicted on children, increased domestic strife and a corresponding rising divorce rate, which in the case of Army enlisted has nearly doubled since the wars began.  And, most tragically, a growing number of suicides.

While we often speak generally of a force under stress, in reality, it is certain parts of the military that have borne the brunt of repeat deployments and exposure to fire – above all, junior and mid-level officers and sergeants in ground combat and support specialties.  These young men and women have seen the complex, grueling, maddening face of asymmetric war in the 21st century up close.  They’ve lost friends and comrades.  Some are struggling psychologically with what they’ve seen, and heard and felt on the battlefield.  And yet they keep coming back.

This cadre of young regular and non-commissioned officers represents the most battle-tested, innovative and impressive generation of military leaders this country has produced in a long time.  These are the people we need to retain and lead the armed forces in the future.  But no matter how patriotic, how devoted they are, at some point they will want to have the semblance of a normal life – getting married, starting a family, going to college or grad school, seeing their children grow up – that they have justly earned.

Measures such as growing the size of the Army and Marines, increasing what is called “dwell time” at home, drawing down in Iraq, and beginning a gradual transition next year in Afghanistan should reduce this stress over time.  Properly funded support programs to help troops and families under duress – the kind championed by our First Lady – can also make a difference.   But in reality, the demands on a good part of our military will continue for years to come.  And, it begs the question:  How long can these brave and broad young shoulders carry the burden that we – as a military, as a government, as a society – continue to place on them?

There is also a question – and it is an uncomfortable and politically fraught question – of the growing financial costs associated with an all volunteer force.  Just over the past decade – fueled by increasing health costs, pay raises, and wartime recruiting and retention bonuses – the amount the military spends on personnel and benefits has nearly doubled:  From roughly $90 billion in 2001 to just over $170 billion this year out of a $534 billion defense budget.  The health care component has grown even faster, from $19 billion a decade ago to more than $50 billion this year, a portion of that total going to working-age retirees whose premiums and co-pays have not increased in some 15 years.

To be clear, we must spare no expense to compensate or care for those who have served and suffered on the battlefield.  That is our sacred obligation.  But given the enormous fiscal pressures facing the country, there is no avoiding the challenge this government, indeed this country faces, to come up with an equitable and sustainable system of military pay and benefits that reflects the realities of this century.  A system generous enough to recruit and retain the people we need and to do right by those who’ve served – but not one that puts the Department of Defense on the same path as other industrial age organizations that sank under the weight of their personnel costs.

The political resistance to confronting these costs is understandable, given the American people’s gratitude towards their countrymen who have chosen to serve.  This nation has come a long way from the late 1960s and early 1970s, when too many returning Vietnam veterans were met with sullen indifference or worse – especially in cosmopolitan or academic enclaves.  Today, in airports all over the country, troops returning or leaving for Afghanistan or Iraq receive standing ovations from other passengers.  Welcome home parades, letters and care-packages, free meals, drinks, and sports tickets – all heartfelt signs of appreciation large and small that bridge the political divide.  Veterans of our wars are also welcomed to campuses all across America as they return to school.

It is also true, however, that whatever their fond sentiments for men and women in uniform, for most Americans the war remains an abstraction.  A distant and unpleasant series of news items that does not affect them personally.  Even after 9/11, in the absence of a draft, for a growing number of Americans, service in the military, no matter how laudable, has become something for other people to do.  In fact, with each passing decade fewer and fewer Americans know someone with military experience in their family or social circle.  According to one study, in 1988 about 40 percent of 18 year olds had a veteran parent.  By 2000 the share had dropped to 18 percent, and is projected to fall below 10 percent in the future

In broad demographic terms, the Armed Forces continue to be largely representative of the country as a whole – drawing predominantly from America’s working and middle classes.  There are disparities when it comes to the racial composition of certain specialties and ranks, especially the most senior officers.  But in all, the fears expressed when the all volunteer force was first instituted – that the only people left willing to serve would be the poorest, the worst educated, the least able to get any other job – simply did not come to pass.  As I alluded to earlier, that group would be hard pressed to make it into a force that, on average, is the most educated in history.  Where virtually all new enlistees have a high school diploma or equivalent – about 15 percent more than their civilian peers – and nearly all officers have bachelors’ degrees, many have Masters, and a surprising number, like General David Petraeus, have PhDs.  At the same time, an ever growing portion of America’s 17 to 24 year olds – about75% – is simply ineligible or unavailable to serve for a variety of reasons – above all health and weight requirements in an age of spiraling childhood obesity.

Having said that, the nearly four decades of all-volunteer force has reinforced a series of demographic, cultural, and institutional shifts affecting who is most likely to serve and from where.  Studies have shown that one of the biggest factors in propensity to join the military is growing up near those who have or are serving.  In this country, that propensity to serve is most pronounced in the South and Mountain West, and in rural areas and small towns nationwide – a propensity that well exceeds these communities’ portion of the population as a whole.  Concurrently, the percentage of the force from the Northeast, West Coast, and major cities continues to decline.  I am also struck by how many young troops I meet grew up in military families, and by the large number of our senior officers whose children are in uniform – including the recent commander of all U.S. Forces in Iraq whose son was seriously wounded early in the war.

The military’s own basing and recruiting decisions have reinforced this growing concentration among certain regions and families.  With limited resources, the services will focus their recruiting efforts on candidates where they are most likely to have success – with those whose friends, classmates, and parents have already served.  In addition, global basing changes in recent years have moved a significant percentage of the Army to posts in just five states:  Texas, Washington, Georgia, Kentucky, and here in North Carolina.  For otherwise rational environmental and budgetary reasons, many military facilities in the northeast and west coast have been shut down, leaving a void of relationships and understanding of the armed forces in their wake.

This trend also affects the recruiting and educating of new officers.  The state of Alabama, with a population less than 5 million, has 10 Army ROTC host programs.  The Los Angeles metro area, population over 12 million, has four host ROTC programs.  The Chicago metro area, population 9 million, has 3.  It makes sense to focus on places where space is ample and inexpensive, where candidates are most inclined sign up and pursue a career in uniform.  But there is a risk over time of developing a cadre of military leaders that politically, culturally, and geographically have less and less in common with the people they have sworn to defend.

I’d like to close by speaking about another narrow sliver of our population, those attending and graduating from our nation’s most selective and academically demanding universities, such as Duke.  In short, students like you.  Over the past generation many commentators have lamented the absence of ROTC from the Ivy League and other selective universities.  Institutions that used to send hundreds of graduates into the armed forces, but now struggle to commission a handful of officers every year.  University faculty and administrators banned ROTC from many elite campuses during the Vietnam War and continued to bar the military based on the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy – with Duke being a notable and admirable exception with your three host programs.  I am encouraged that several other comparable universities – with the urging of some of their most prominent alumni, including the President of the United States – are at least re-considering their position on military recruiting and officer training – a situation that has been neither good for the academy or the country.

But a return of ROTC back to some of these campuses will not do much good without the willingness of our nation’s most gifted students to step forward.  Men and women such as you.

One does not need to look too hard to find Duke exemplars of selflessness and sacrifice.  Consider the story of Jonathan Kuniholm, currently a Duke graduate student in biomedical engineering, who lost part of his arm as Marine reservist in Iraq.  Now he is putting his experience and expertise to work designing new prosthetics – work that will help other amputees in and out of uniform.

There is Eric Greitens, class of 1996, Rhodes Scholar, Navy Seal.  After narrowly missing injury himself during a mission in Iraq, he came back home and founded the nonprofit “The Mission Continues” to help wounded troops and veterans continue serving in some capacity.

And last year, when it came time to reshape and reform the half-trillion dollar enterprise known as the Department of Defense, the person whose counsel I relied on to make the toughest budget decisions was Lieutenant General Emo Gardner,  career Marine Corps aviator, Duke class of 1973.

No doubt, when it comes to military service, one can’t hide from the downsides:  The frustration of grappling with a huge, and frequently obtuse bureaucracy.  Frequent moves to places that aren’t exactly tourist destinations or cultural hubs.  Separation from loved ones.  The fatigue, loneliness and fear on a distant dusty outpost thousands of miles from home.  And then there is the danger and the risk.

Next to the sidewalk between your chapel and the divinity school there is an unobtrusive stone wall.  For decades the only names on it were your alumni killed in World War II.  Last October 54 names were added to the wall for those Duke men and women who died in the wars since then, including two who made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq.

Matthew Lynch, class of 2001, champion swimmer, following in his father’s footsteps as a United States Marine.

And, James Regan, class of 2002, son of an investment banker who turned down offers from a financial services firm and a law firm to join the army rangers.

But beyond the hardship and heartbreak – and they are real – there is another side to military service.  That is the opportunity to be given extraordinary responsibility at a young age – not just for lives of your troops, but for missions and decisions that may change the course of history.  In addition to being in the fight, our young military leaders in Iraq and Afghanistan, have to one degree or another found themselves dealing with development, governance, agriculture, and diplomacy.  They’ve done all this at an age when many of their peers are reading spreadsheets and making photocopies.  And that is why, I should add, they are often in such high demand with future employers and go on to do great things – in scholarship, in government, in business – in every walk of life.

So I would encourage you and all young Americans, especially those at the most selective universities who may not have considered the military, to do so.  To go outside your comfort zone and take a risk in every sense of the word.  To expand what you thought you were capable of doing when it comes to leadership, responsibility, agility, selflessness, and above all, courage.

For those for whom military service is neither possible or the right thing for whatever reason, please consider how you can give back to the country that has given us all so much.  Think about what you can do to earn your freedom – freedom paid for by those whose names are on that Duke wall and in veterans’ cemeteries across this country and across the world.

I would leave you with one of my favorite quotes from John Adams.  In a letter that he sent to his son, he wrote, “Public business, my son, must always be done by somebody.  It will be done by somebody or another.  If wise men decline it, others will not; if honest men refuse it, others will not.”

Will the wise and honest here at Duke come help us do the public business of America?  Because, if America’s best and brightest young people will not step forward, who then can we count on to protect and sustain the greatness of this country in the 21st century?

Thank you.

Photo: defense.gov

Posted on 30 September, 2010

Sen. Scott Brown comments on ROTC at Harvard

Noting Harvard President Drew Faust’s decision to continue to bar ROTC from its campus in the Boston Globe article “Brown blasts Harvard president for barring ROTC because of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,” Massachusetts Republican Senator Scott Brown said in a statement “Harvard President Faust has been lobbying on Capitol Hill in support of the DREAM Act, which would grant legal status to illegal immigrants attending college. Harvard has its priorities upside down.” He continued, “they should embrace young people who want to serve their country, rather than promoting a plan that provides amnesty to students who are in this country illegally.”

Operation Hollywood: Tinseltown’s recent wave of films on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

In the last three years, Hollywood, along with independent film companies and some documentarians, have begun producing films related to the wars against terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. The fact that the conversation has started is a vast improvement from the early years when all that was available were short news segments from embedded reporters and insurgency propaganda.  In the following selection of films, the viewpoints range from the soldier’s view and the families they left behind to the political woes of elected officials trying to manage the conflicts and the public opinions back home. Are they getting the story right? You decide.

The Hurt Locker (2009)

As delighted as I am for Kathryn Bigelow to be the first female to win best director, it is a shame that with so few movies about Iraq, (and still so many misconceptions among the American people) the one that caught so many people’s attention, got so much wrong.

The cavalier and nonchalant actions of EOD technician SFC James displays none of the characteristics of teamwork and esprit de corps of which the US military is prided today. Also, the convoys consisting of one HMMWV rolling out of Victory Base Complex (Baghdad), or the rogue senior NCO sneaking off base, were far from realistic. The consensus from the vet community is that the CGI was good, but the portrayal in this film was embarrassing.

Brothers (2009)

This film, a remake of a Swedish film of the same name, follows a U.S. Marine captain, his wife and two daughters from pre-deployment preps to his assumed funeral, and ultimately to his return from being a POW in the hands of Afghan warlords. His post-traumatic stress becomes uncontrollable when he suspects his ex-con brother has been having an affair with his wife. This film is sure to stir up emotions through the sometimes-graphic displays of post-combat stress on the Marine officer and his family.

The Lucky Ones (2008)

The Lucky Ones follows three Army soldiers, who through coincidence and cancelled flights, end up renting a car together during their mid-tour leave from Iraq.  Both the young male and female soldiers were wounded in battle and all had other battles to confront when they get home.  This film reminds us that no matter our origins, education level, or years of service, veterans have a way of easily creating bonds and being faithful friends during the thick and thin.

Lions for Lambs (2007)

This film blends together a disaffected high schooler receiving advice from his mentor teacher, a US senator with aims for higher office and the probing veteran reporter that nags him, and two deployed soldiers in Afghanistan. I believe the iconic scene in the film is when the two soldiers are completely surrounded by Taliban fighters. It is winter, in the mountains, and one of the men has been wounded. Rather than try escaping on his own, leaving his comrade behind, the battle buddy stays with his wounded friend, a move tantamount to death for them both. This heroic action illustrates the true ethos of never leave a fallen soldier behind.

The Green Zone (2010)

Some may assume that a soldier’s job in combat is to follow and execute orders from above. But what happens when things just don’t add up? This feature film follows Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller during the early months of post-invasion Iraq. Through personal curiosity and determination, Miller discovers that the faulty WMD intel was just a political ploy for invasion.  This film shows the lengths politicians may go to win the public relations battle and the how it effects the service member on the ground.

Lioness (2008)

Many Americans may not be aware that official policy prohibits women from joining MOS (military occupational specialties) that require direct ground combat.  Soon after the conflict and insurgency began in Iraq, it became apparent that women would in fact be needed to help search female Iraqis and conduct other tasks that would be considered taboo for the men.  Lioness is a documentary about the small group of female Army support soldiers who served alongside U.S. Marines in some of the bloodiest counterinsurgency battles in post- invasion Iraq.  The film primarily focuses on their reflections and coping once they redeployed.

The Messenger (2009)

In a directorial debut by Oren Moverman, The Messenger gives a completely new look at conflict as this film follows a captain and staff sergeant who have been assigned to the Army’s Casualty Notification service. Just recently returned from his own Iraq deployment, SSG Montgomery struggles to heal from his own battle wounds while transitioning to his new mission of notifying families of the fallen.

Restrepo (2010)

This documentary follows a U.S. Army platoon in the dangerous Korengal Valley of Afghanistan during their yearlong deployment.  Their remote fire base, Restrepo, was named after their fallen platoon medic.  In ninety minutes, audiences will experience the death of a team member, firefights, and the sleep disorders that these young soldiers have to juggle while patrolling the mountains of a country where the enemy is not always clearly apparent.

Western Front (2010)

Writer and director Zachary Iscol fought in Al Anbar, Iraq in 2004 with the U.S. Marine Corps.  Years later he returns to find a different situation, though the experience resurfaces many old memories.  This honest film ends up revealing the nature of war from all sides.

Baker Boys: Inside the Surge (2009)

This documentary follows the final ninety days of a 15-month deployment in Iraq of Baker Company, First Battalion, Fifteenth Infantry Regiment.  A part of the famed 3rd Infantry Division, the deployment, a part of the surge of 2007, was the third round in Iraq for many of the soldiers.  Through four 60-minute episodes, we get an insight into what COIN looks like on the ground and the imprinted scars of battle that appear once back in garrison.

Warrior Champions: From Baghdad to Beijing (2009)

In Warrior Champions, we learn the inspiring stories of four severely wounded Iraq veterans who have truly made lemonade from lemons.  In as little as a year after losing limbs in battle, these athletes trained and competed for slots in the 2008 Paralympic Games.  These four heroes quickly became the symbols of hope and determination for the myriad new patients that arrived at Walter Reed Army Medial Center.

The Tillman Story (2010)

The Tillman Story tells the truth, which was concealed for many years, of the life and death of professional football player turned Army ranger Pat Tillman.  Through dedication and an insatiable appetite for the answers, Dannie Tillman collected evidence and questioned top officials to get the real story leading to the fall of her son.  Pat’s story is ultimately about patriotism and honor- the traits that were not present when top officials used his death as a public relations ploy.

Posted: 27 Aug 2010.

A Month Later, DADT Survey Participation Lags

On August 12th, the Navy Times, which has been closely covering the DADT survey sent out to 400,000 service members last month, reported that only a quarter of the troops returned the survey in advance of the August 15th deadline, leading Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to issue a statement pleading with troops, “If you have not yet responded, please participate. Your response will help us assess the impact of a change in the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law”.  In light of the low response level for such a seemingly controversial and time-sensitive issue, it begs the question, why are troops not responding to a survey that could help smooth or derail the path towards DADT reform?

One factor is simple and straightforward: time. Simply, people are busy, and a long and relatively repetitive survey that requires them to think back to their past experiences with gay service members does not fit easily into a busy schedule.  It is quite easy, for someone who does not have strong feelings on this issue, to consciously choose to leave the “voting” up to others.

That leads to the other main reason that comes to my mind: passion.  Policy makers assumed that because they are required by their constituents to have a passionate view on DADT, that everyone has a passionate view on the issue.  The truth is that many Americans have no clear view on this issue, and service members are no different.  One can feel that being gay is wrong, but still be respectful enough of our founding principles to accept an unpleasant (to them) reality.

Much of the debate so far has revolved around the impact of gays on unit cohesion under high stress, enclosed environments or combat situations, where unit cohesion is of great importance. In those cases, much like the decision to add women to submarines, caution is warranted, so long as it does not serve to obstruct progress. It is understandable that service members in those settings might have a strong opinion on this issue.  But many service members don’t serve in those types of situations. They may be shore side administrative staff, vehicle maintenance crew, or, like myself, a public affairs specialist. These issues just don’t have the same affect on mission readiness for them, which I believe has contributed to the surprisingly low level of participation on a survey that has been impossible to avoid about during the last month.

I was not invited to complete the survey, though I read a copy of it in July, but I do feel very strongly that DADT needs to be reformed. The survey itself was an imperfect creation, clearly created by a committee. Yet, given the issue and the stakes, the survey did a very passable job of allowing the respondent to come to their own conclusions, and not be led along a certain ideological path.  The one serious concern I have is the line of questioning that asked respondents to share their opinions on how others in their unit felt about gays.  In court, this would be thrown out in a second, and with good reason.  If I was, say, a raging homophobe, it would be in my best interest to claim that my entire unit was disgusted by the presence of a gay service member.  Or I could state the opposite if I personally had no issues with gay soldiers.  The survey would have been best presented by focusing solely on the direct knowledge and beliefs of the respondent.

As a Navy reservist, I did submit comments through the voluntary website created for all service members and their families to share their thoughts., which has notably received 67,000 short responses.  While I echoed the most mainstream arguments about civil and human rights, I focused my comments on a point that has received little mention in the media coverage: what happens when a civilian joins or serves alongside a military where gays don’t “exist”.   As a reservist, I have a civilian life.  In that civilian life, I encounter gay men and women on a daily basis.  Growing up in urban coastal cities, I grew up around gay men and women, and saw friends come out as they discovered their true proclivities.  To me, while it differed from my own experiences and preferences, it was a normal part of my life.

We talk of the shock service members will face if gays are suddenly able to be open about their sexuality (which I doubt will be as severe as critics predict; they overestimate human ability to hide one’s true nature from one’s closest acquaintances. My personal belief is that every gay service member has unit members who know or think they know the truth), but what about the shock currently faced by the millions of men and women who straddle the civilian and military worlds, and who know that there are second-class citizens on one side of that divide?  It is extraordinarily difficult for me to accept that putting on a uniform makes gays suddenly disappear from the world.

Ultimately it is in the best interests of the nation and of the military to allow gays to serve openly in the military, without threat of disgrace or need for disguise.  And I believe that the low response rate to the survey, which I read as indicating a lower level of passion about this issue than otherwise assumed, only reinforces the argument that the repeal of DADT will have a minimal negative impact on general unit cohesion and readiness, and that the majority of the men and women in uniform already understand that, despite their personal beliefs about homosexuality.

This is an exciting time for the future of equality in the armed forces – women and minorities are putting on one, two, three and even four stars; women will soon begin serving on a trial basis on SSBNs; the Navy continues to beat Army in football (no, that’s not equality, that’s just a happy fact); and we may soon take the next big step toward creating a military that mirrors civil society in its equal treatment of all citizens.

Posted on 15 Aug 2010

Photo: af.mil

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