THE FACTS: Among combat rifles, two weapons stand out: the M16 with its modern variant, the M4 carbine; and the AK-47. The M16 and M4 model of rifles are the standard-issue combat weapons in the American military. This generation of rifle has seen action from the jungles of Vietnam to the deserts of Iraq and the valleys of Afghanistan. It's known for being deadly accurate, though perhaps prone to jamming. On the other end lies the AK-47, a rifle of Russian design that has changed little over the better part of a century, and has spread to every corner of the world. It is known for remarkable durability and ease of use. But what makes the better battle rifle, the M16 or the AK-47?

Billy BirdzellHost, Remington Country TVU.S. Marine Corps, 2001–2008

A rifle is useless if it does not enable the operator to hit his target. The AK-47, with standard 123 grain ammunition, only holds a 5.9-inch group at 100 yards. The M4 on the other hand, the modern carbine variant of the M16, with currently issued ammunition, is capable of making head shots at ranges in which the AK-47 can barely keep 10 rounds on a E-Silhouette. Go U.S.A.

Lethality is the second most important point of comparison between rifles, and for all that is written about 7.62 x 39mm ammunition, the Russians replaced it in 1974 because diameter cannot compensate for shot placement and small, high-velocity projectiles enable higher volumes of fire with more favorable ballistics. Advantage, U.S.A.
AK-47 advocates usually place reliability above all else and most people concur that Kalashnikov designed a beast. However, is the spread enough to favor the AK-47? The 2006 U.S. Small Arms Study concluded that 89% of American soldiers are satisfied with reliability of the M4 and only 3% of soldiers reported a stoppage that took them out of a fight. Given that only 66% of surveyed personnel were issued cleaning kits and clearing stoppages quickly is a function of training, M4 reliability for trained personnel is incredibly high.
Ergonomics and modularity are the final point of comparison because in close quarters and on a modern battlefield, shooting quickly, reloading rapidly, and being able to use optics and lasers creates advantages. The M4 is hands down the most ergonomically sound battle rifle ever made and its superiority with respect to accessory attachment and manipulations is so much better than an AK-47 as to be beyond further discussion.
The M4A1 the most accurate and reliable modern rifle ever fielded to the military; it is a performance tool for professionals.


 Christian Beekman@tacbeekman

The AK-47 is the most iconic infantry fighting rifle ever produced. Millions have been produced, and AK-series weapons have been present in conflicts on every continent since the rifle was introduced in 1947. The AK-47 has a legendary reputation for reliability and durability due to several factors. First, the AK uses a gas piston system as its operating mechanism, which eliminates leftover gases from entering the chamber. On most AR-style rifles, such the M16 and M4, a direct gas system cycles the bolt carrier group. Excess gases can build up over time, fouling the chamber and inducing malfunctions.

The AK-47's bolt has plenty of mass, with more than enough energy to push through any debris or dirt inside the gun without jamming. The loose tolerances of all the AK-47''s moving parts allow space for sand, ice, mud, and other junk to settle without freezing the operating mechanism of the firearm. The design ensures that the AK-47 needs less preventive maintenance than an M16 or M4.
Not that maintaining the AK is really that difficult. Pop off the receiver cover, pull out the six basic components of the operating system, and the AK-47 is field stripped.
Variants of the AK-47 differ in construction and configuration, but most stick to the design of the most common version, the AKM. The stamped steel receiver is durable, as are the standard sheet-metal magazines. The standard general-issue magazine for the M16 is generally regarded as a disposable item, and its feed lips can bend easily if dropped.
The ubiquity of the AK platform worldwide means than ammunition and spare parts will never be hard to come by. If it really can't be fixed, well there's a hundred million replacements available. The AK's elegant simplicity demonstrates why it has endured for over a half century.

AP photo by Matt York

THE FACTS: Just over a year ago, a scandal at a hospital facility in Phoenix, Arizona, rocked the Department of Veterans Affairs and forced the resignation of its secretary, retired Army Gen. Eric Shinseki. Long wait times for appointments, secret wait lists, and a backlog of disability claims plagued the massive federal agency. Robert McDonald, the former chief executive of Procter & Gamble, now leads the VA and its more than 300,000 employees. Ultimately, the VA comprises the largest integrated healthcare system in the United States. But is the burden of bureaucracy too much? Should the government privatize the VA?

Michael Breen President and CEO, Truman Project and CenterU.S. Army, 2002-2006@M_Breen

The VA is a 20th century institution in desperate need of modernization and reform. Mismanagement and indignities suffered by veterans make for cheap political fodder on both sides of the aisle because they provoke legitimate outrage. Yet as is the case with many solutions that sound too good to be true, privatization would make the situation for our nation's veterans far worse.

Many veterans have injuries — physical and mental — atypical of civilian life, and they need the expertise of the doctors and nurses trained specifically by the VA. Individuals seeking treatment benefit from this specialized knowledge, and the medical field sees real results from funded and organized research into conditions like traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress. Replacing this coordination with competition means that resources will be harder to come by and solutions will be harder to share.
Moreover, privatization would leave our veterans at the mercy of the markets, and we should not gamble with their health or well-being. One need look no further than for-profit "colleges" and predatory lenders for recent examples of how unscrupulous enterprises target veterans. With accountability already in dangerously short supply, it seems extremely unlikely that oversight would increase under a privately owned and operated system.
There is a lot of work to do at the VA; a single veteran waiting for healthcare is one too many. But modernization, not privatization, should be at the core of our efforts: standardizing medical record systems, facilitating interagency communication, and holding all employees accountable are all essential. Anything less would be a betrayal of the pact that the United States government made with those who served. The promise to care for our veterans should not be a casualty of today's anti-government political climate.
The solution isn't buck passing or tough talk — it's building a better VA.
Michael Breen is the President and CEO of the Truman Project and a former U.S. Army officer who served in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Matthew Randle Owner/Attorney, The Law Office of Matthew Randle, PLLCU.S. Army, 1998-2003@MatthewRandle

I'm not advocating for total privatization, I'm advocating to partially privatize a bureaucracy that has lost the ability to care for the people it exists to serve.

The VA isn't all bad; there are areas better handled at the VA than anywhere. Mental health, prosthetics, traumatic brain injury, social services for substance addicted, or homeless veterans — these are areas where the VA excels.
The provision of primary care, surgery, dentistry, optometry, and many other areas seem to be more than an incredibly funded VA can manage. During the Obama presidency, the annual VA budget has risen $65.9 billion a year, now reaching the absurd amount of $150.7 billion in fiscal year 2014.
The president appointed Bob McDonald to stop this waste after mismanagement killed veterans in Phoenix, Arizona, despite an enormous budget. McDonald was seen as the perfect candidate to turn things around because of his experience running an enormous private corporation. Faced with the restraints of federal bureaucracy, McDonald can't even fire the bad actors responsible for killing people and covering it up; he can't sell unoccupied buildings; and can't hire people because of congressional infighting. Oddly, the people McDonald keeps nominating are private sector executives who made their mark operating in the free market.
The VA faces no competition, the bad actors face no repercussions, and the status quo continues to be rewarded. The president has spent $235.4 billion more than his predecessor on the VA and we are at best in the same position as before.
Putting veterans in control of their care, letting them choose based on the quality of care they receive, and letting the market dictate good care is a far better use of taxpayer dollars, and certainly a far more effective way to ensure veterans are getting the care this nation promised.
Matthew Randle served as a medic in the Army from 1998-2003 and was a part of the invasion force in Iraq.

THE FACTS: In July, the Senate Small Business Committee pushed through the Veterans Entrepreneurial Transition Act of 2015, which calls for a three-year pilot program allowing 250 veterans to use their G.I. Bill funds to launch their own businesses. The legislation has gained popularity in 2015 and is part of Jeb Bush's plan to reform the veterans' benefits. Only 48% of working-age vets use their G.I. Bill benefits, yet are 45% more likely to be self-employed. However, opponents to the plan say that due to the high rate at which small businesses fail, allowing vets to use their benefits in this manner will leave them with nothing to fall back on if their businesses do not succeed. While the bill has not gone to a full Senate or House vote, it's time to examine the risks and benefits of allowing vets to use their G.I. Bill benefits as small-business, startup grants.

Ryan Gallucci Deputy Director of National Veterans Services, VFWU.S. Army Reserve, 1999-2007@RyanGallucci81

When veterans can both start a business and acquire skills that stay with them for life, then everyone wins. Entrepreneurship and education are complementary concepts, which is why it is bad policy to coerce veterans into choosing one over the other. Earning a college degree or acquiring workforce skills through trade schools, apprenticeships, or professional certifications only improves an entrepreneur's likelihood of success.

It's a common misconception for older veterans who earned their degree on the military's dime to believe that they're leaving "money on the table" by not tapping into their education benefits. However, when Congress passed the Post-9/11 Education Assistance Act, they did so with the understanding that not all veterans would use it. To the American taxpayer, this means that there is no "money on the table," and that a stand-alone grant program will cost just as much as a G.I. Bill cash out. So why would we make this false choice?

For young service members, this is critical. They often leave the military without a college degree and without civilian workforce skills. While we should encourage them to start businesses if they choose, it remains an unfortunate reality that some businesses will fail. In that situation, veterans must have an education benefit to fall back on. If they do not, we have truly failed them.

The original G.I. Bill established a framework to foster post-military success: We'll help you buy a house; start a business; and if all else fails, we'll make sure you have an education. Veterans were not forced to pick one over the other. Why would we seek to set a precedent that erodes this framework? We can and should do both.


Joshua S. Holley Founder, The Tripoli GroupU.S. Marine Corps, 2002-2006@afonok

President Roosevelt signed the original G.I. Bill, known as theServicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944 on June 22, 1944. The purpose of the act was to make it possible for the government to provide "… certain loans made to veterans for the purchase or construction of homes, farms, and business properties." Offices and factories are not the critical requirements for business today that they were in 1944; however, funding for veteran entrepreneurs is still a critical need. In this regard, the G.I. Bill has not kept up with the change in business practices and should be modified to provide funding to veteran-owned small businesses.

G.I. Bill funding for startups is a "shovel-ready" project that will help boost the number of veterans starting businesses. We are losing veterans in the entrepreneurial community and need to do something now to mitigate the decline before we lose the values and benefits of having veterans in the startup community.

According to a report by the Kauffman Foundation, in 2011 veterans represented 6% of new entrepreneurs, compared to 12.6% in 1996. In the current legislative environment, every dollar creates an extended debate. The G.I. Bill is already in the budget and with only 36.9% of eligible veterans using these benefits for education there should be minimal debate for this initiative.

Roosevelt finished his statement regarding the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944 with "While further study and experience may suggest some changes and improvements, the Congress is to be congratulated on the prompt action it has taken." It is time for the G.I. Bill to enjoy "some changes and improvements" to keep up with the change in business since 1944 and let the current generation of veterans congratulate Congress.

THE FACTS: One of the most important roles the president of the United States must fill is that of commander-in-chief. The president wields America's mighty military. In discharging those duties, should military experience be required of the president? America has had war hero presidents before, the most recent being George H.W. Bush. But the last three presidents have had no real military experience, and the number of veterans in federal office has drastically diminished over the past half century. Is it important for the U.S. president to have served in the armed forces?

 Rob Irving U.S. Marine Corps, 2006-2012

Whether the president needs military experience is hardly a debate. For starters, 12 of our 43 presidents never served in the military, and a number of others barely qualify as veterans, including Abraham Lincoln, who admitted his three-month non-combat enlistment was a move to remain employed. Despite their lack of military experience, many of these leaders served with great distinction. Lincoln ended a gruesome war, unified the nation, and abolished slavery. Franklin Roosevelt led us out of the Great Depression and orchestrated our victory in World War II. Bill Clinton saw the highest increase in jobs and third-highest GDP growth of all presidents in the past 60 years.

And how much of the president's job actually relates to the military? Defense spending comprises only 16% of the government's focus. Nearly half of the government's attention is dedicated to social security (24%) and health care (23%). An October Gallup poll reveals that 42% of Americans think that our nation's most important problems are social issues (violence, racism, welfare, etc.). Another 33% indicated economic issues (unemployment, budget deficit, etc.). Only 13% of responses included military issues.

Perhaps we should instead ask, "Is it important for the president to have experience in social work? Economics? Health care? Must the president be a woman in order to understand the issues affecting 51% of our population? A minority to address our racial tensions?" The answer to all of these questions, including the one regarding military service is "No." The president need only be a person whom Americans can trust to surround him or herself with experienced professionals, leverage their guidance, and make decisions that serve the greater good.

It is simply wrong to say that a president can't do a great job without military experience — as many presidents have already demonstrated.

Rob is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and a graduate of Harvard Business School. He is passionate about many service-related issues and appreciates a healthy debate.

Jim Webb Axom TechnologiesU.S. Marine Corps, 2005-2010@SgtJRWebb

taskandpurpose.com

America is in dire need of a president who has served in the military. For nearly a generation, the American people have endured presidents who lack accountability, while increasingly making policy out of political exclusivity. In the military decisiveness, personal accountability, and inclusive problem solving are the rules. Leaders in the military are taught to develop and choose the best plan by including whatever and whomever can contribute. This is because they understand the potential impact of their decisions as few others can.

Every day, military leaders wake knowing that the lives of their people hang on their decisions; therefore, every effort to get things right is a must. It is the ultimate pressure cooker, where you are held accountable for your decisions, which could cost lives. Fancy degrees from elite institutions may speak volumes about one's intellectual capabilities, but no degree is as challenging or developmental as military leadership, particularly in combat.

Past veteran presidents such as John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan embodied this mindset and were wildly successful. They too came to office in uncertain and dangerous times. But, by accepting ideas from all sides, they chose the best path for America, not just for party or special interests. This led to periods of unparalleled prosperity, the Civil Rights Movement, and the end of the Cold War. We would do well to elect a veteran as they have proven to be inclusive and accountable, and we should not just settle for another politician who is proud that political opposition is "the enemy."

Jim lives and works in Baltimore, Maryland. He served as a Marine infantryman from 2005-2010.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, a ruthless terror organization, shows no signs of slowing down. This despite a protracted air campaign involving multiple nations, billions of dollars of foreign aid, and an 18-month-long comprehensive intervention. Now, Russia has begun military strikes in Syria to support dictator Bashar al-Assad, and a civil war that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and displaced millions wages on. Most recently, President Barack Obama devoted a small contingent of special operations forces to Syria, something he had long pledged not to do. What will it take to defeat the Islamic State? Does the United States need to deploy ground forces?

James Cook Associate Professor, U.S. Naval War CollegeU.S. Army, 1985-2009@cookie6432

President Obama's strategy to "degrade, and ultimately destroy" ISIS in Iraq is infeasible without additional U.S. boots on the ground. Given last year's dismal performance by the Iraqi Security Forces in Mosul and Anbar province that raised questions about their competency and will to fight, it seems clear that the ISF is not yet up to the task. Even the introduction of Iranian-backed Shiite militias in Iraq has not turned the tide. Frustrated by the Obama administration's reluctance to commit additional resources, the Iraqi government recently reached an intelligence-sharing agreement with Russia, Syria, and Iran while Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said he would "welcome" Russian airstrikes against ISIS.

Obama's senior national security advisors have reportedly recommended embedding troops in an advisory role at the brigade-and-battalion levels of command with the ability to direct-coalition airstrikes. He should immediately approve these recommendations and authorize a larger military footprint in Iraq of some 10,000 troops. These additional U.S. forces will expand the scope of the "train, advise, and assist" mission while providing a robust counterterrorism capability when required. Both are important as the recent hostage rescue mission in Iraq and Secretary of Defense Ash Carter's prediction for additional raids like the one that killed ISIS commander Abu Sayyaf in Syria suggest a more direct role for U.S. forces fighting the terror group on the ground in Iraq.

The loss of Ramadi back in May was a wake-up call that additional U.S. combat troops are needed. A larger contingent of U.S. military forces will reassure Abadi about continued U.S. commitment, bolster the confidence of the ISF while simultaneously building its combat readiness, curb the influence of Russia and Iran, and enable the U.S. and its partners to more effectively implement the strategy going forward.

James Cook is an associate professor of National Security Affairs at the U.S. Naval War College. The views expressed here are his own.

Ryan Evans Editor-in-Chief, War on the Rocks@evansryan202

Many of President Obama's critics believe the Islamic State will not be defeated without U.S. troops fighting on the ground (beyond special operations forces already conducting direct-action and train-and-equip missions). With the deployment of approximately 50 special operators to Syria, stepping up the U.S. ground presence in Iraq seems even more likely. But this would be a severe mistake. The current plan — which involves training, equipping, and otherwise supporting the Iraqi Security Forces in a way that is contingent on the political reforms necessary to resolve Iraq's conflicts — is the right one, although there are certainly improvements to be made in terms of execution.

While sending troops to engage in combat operations against ISIS would boost efforts to roll back the group, the benefits would not be worth the costs. Deploying U.S. general purpose forces to Iraq (again) would be a boon to jihadist recruitment and remove key incentives currently pushing the Iraqis to sort out their internal political problems. It would also require a greater commitment than many like to admit. U.S. ground troops fighting ISIS requires more personnel and resources for headquarters, hospitals, helicopters, and a far bigger logistics tail.
Washington has run this experiment before. It did not work. Without capable and dedicated security forces that can fight the Islamic State and hold ground, Iraq has no future. The current course might take longer than we'd like, but will result in a more sustainable outcome. The United States must continue to help the Iraqis stand and fight, but beyond SOF conducting specific missions, we would be doing ourselves and Iraq a disservice by putting our troops back on the front line in Iraq. We should have learned by now that sending the troops in is far easier than getting them back out.
Ryan Evans is the editor-in-chief of War on the Rocks.

THE FACTS: In 2008, the government began tracking veterans' employment rates as thousands of men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan began looking for civilian jobs. In the recession that followed, the unemployment rate among this population reached as high as 15%. In response, Congress passed the 2011 VOW to Hire Heroes Act, offering tax breaks to companies that hired unemployed veterans. Depending on the length of the veteran's unemployment period, companies received breaks up to $5,600 per hire, or $9,600 for hiring a disabled veteran. The act expired in 2014, but was reintroduced by Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut in June, although it has not gone to a vote. Since the unemployment rate for post-9/11 vets has dropped to record lows — reaching 4.7% in August — should tax breaks still be offered to companies for hiring veterans?

William Treseder Partner at BMNT PartnersU.S. Marine Corps, 2001-2011@williamtreseder

We should all be skeptical of this type of legislation. What problem are the politicians trying to solve? Usually these laws are designed to "help" veterans so policymakers can say they did something. Or capitalize on that tasty brand of "Thank you for your service" patriotism so many veterans are sick of.

Why be so dismissive of tax breaks? Check out the last time this happened. Under the 2011 VOW Act, the biggest breaks went to companies hiring service-connected disabled veterans, which sounds great, but in 2011 they still had the same rate of unemployment as other veterans. It's political theater. Beyond the sausage-making process in D.C., there are three other issues I have with tax breaks for companies hiring veterans.

First, hiring is not the same as training and retaining. This short-term mindset doesn't solve any of the drivers behind veteran unemployment. A band-aid won't stop an arterial bleed.

Second, companies focus on hiring veterans because it makes sense for them, not because they're trying to minimize their tax liabilities. If we truly believe that the military provides us with valuable skills — not to mention the ability to go to college for little or no money — then we need to act that way.

Third, tax breaks reinforce the "veterans need our help" narrative. This is unsustainable and unhealthy. The truth is that veterans are just as likely to have a job as anyone else. We are basically fine, and shouldn't be expecting additional help, especially when it's unnecessary.

Bottom line: we don't need more legislation. There should be a clear need before we start tossing out more laws aimed at "helping" veterans.

Christopher Flurry Student, Business Administration, Germanna Community CollegeU.S. Marine Corps, 2001-Present@ceflurry

When veterans go unemployed, America has two choices: Help them find a job or ignore the issue. Today the solution entails numerous rehabilitation, education, and career-counseling programs overseen by various governmental agencies to make veterans as competitive as possible in the labor market. Those programs aren't cheap, so reality is that with the status quo, where businesses do not hire prior military members at an equitable rate, those businesses — and indeed all Americans — pay for that decision.

Tax breaks for companies hiring veterans isn't about charity, but about incentivizing business to consider employees who possess world-class training in addition to intangible traits like leadership and self-reliance.
While it may appear controversial to offer a tax break just to do the right thing, such incentives are not so uncommon. In fact, anyone who has ever answered yes to questions like, "Do you serve in the military? Do you or does anyone in your family attend college? Do you drive an electric car?" when filing income taxes has benefited from these types of initiatives.
What's more, a corporate tax incentive is a distinctly American solution. Truly, it echoes of the government-business partnerships that allowed America to throw all its industrial might into defeating fascism during World War II and to employ cutting-edge technologies to safeguard troops and prevent terrorism in today's conflicts.
Tax incentives for hiring veterans a win-win-win scenario. Businesses receive a top-quality employee who directly improve their bottom line allowing more investment into growth; veterans receive the employment advantage they deserve for their honorable military service and skills they hold; and all Americans are able to contribute toward a real solution to the heartbreaking reality of veteran unemployment.