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Does Gen. Dunford Actually Believe His Own Bullsh-t?
I often wonder whether four-star generals actually believe their own bullshit.
That thought has crossed my mind more than once after reading quotes from Gen. Joseph Dunford, the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. You see, old "fightin' Joe" has been in the news quite a bit lately, since he recently took a trip over to Afghanistan to learn firsthand how everything is shaping up.
Predictably, he returned and told us that, yes, there are a few issues here or there still to be worked out, but he's "encouraged by the progress" in Afghanistan, some 17 years after the first American boots were on the ground.
Does Dunford actually buy this sales line of "progress" that has been offered ad nauseam by just about every general in Afghanistan for the past 10 years?
Or how about another DoD news item from a week ago, when Dunford talked up the "fundamentally different" strategy of advising and assisting Afghan security forces that was recently implemented by the Trump administration? He told reporters traveling with him that 2018 was "not another year of the same thing we've been doing."
Really, Joe? I'd like to fact check you for a moment here if I could.
Back in Feb. 2013, Dunford assumed command of all NATO forces in Afghanistan, where he oversaw the drawdown of U.S. troops for 18 months. He also put his name and signature on a document explaining the coalition strategy of advising and assisting Afghan security forces, which began in late 2011.
The document, which was an unclassified guidebook intended for soldiers headed to Afghanistan called the [Resolute Support] Security Force Assistance Guide, offered highlights on the advisory mission, and explained that soldiers should "adopt a specific mindset of working by, with, and through" the Afghan security forces.
This was from July 2014. It was, in essence, a broad 72-page outline of a strategy where U.S. forces would embed at all levels of Afghanistan's military and government, and offer their advice and mentorship as Afghan forces improved enough so the U.S. could finally leave.
"The years of investment in combat-oriented mentoring and advising has paid off," the guide said, noting that Afghans began to take the lead starting with the 2013 fighting season.
Now back to the present: The supposedly-new strategy called for assistance to Afghan security forces — just like we've been doing — minus the Obama administration's timetable for withdrawal. Meanwhile, the Army stood up a new unit called the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade with the express purpose of carrying out this same mission (it plans to slowly roll out up to five more, according to its reenlistment recruiting website).
SFAB's job is to support Afghan security forces — which, again, have been receiving training from the U.S. and other NATO partners for over a decade — who are still widely illiterate, suffer casualty rates “often described as unsustainable,” and continue to be reliant on air support from the U.S., according to a Congressional Research Service report out earlier this month.
The truth is, we're not doing anything "fundamentally different" in Afghanistan, as Dunford and many other generals would like you to believe. I personally conducted joint patrols alongside Afghan security forces all the way back in 2004, as our company commander regularly met with them and government officials to help them fight the Taliban. But maybe those didn't count.
Dunford knows we're doing the same old shit we've always done there — training an inept foreign military backed by a corrupt government that will crumble as soon as we pull up chocks.
‘I made promises to the people that I lost’— How the Iraq war forged a Navy SEAL’s path to Harvard Medical School and NASA
Navy Lt. Jonny Kim went viral last week when NASA announced that he and 10 other candidates (including six other service members) became the newest members of the agency's hallowed astronaut corps. A decorated Navy SEAL and graduate of Harvard Medical School, Kim in particular seems to have a penchant for achieving people's childhood dreams.
However, Kim shared with Task & Purpose that his motivation for living life the way he has stems not so much from starry-eyed ambition, but from the pain and loss he suffered both on the battlefields of Iraq and from childhood instability while growing up in Los Angeles. Kim tells his story in the following Q&A, which was lightly edited for length and clarity:
New Vietnam War movie 'The Last Full Measure' takes some well-deserved shots at the military’s award process
Todd Robinson's upcoming Vietnam War drama, The Last Full Measure, is a story of two battles: One takes place during an ambush in the jungles of Vietnam in 1966, while the other unfolds more than three decades later as the survivors fight to see one pararescueman's valor posthumously recognized.
On April 11, 1966, Airman 1st Class William H. Pitsenbarger (played by Jeremy Irvine) responded to a call to evacuate casualties belonging to a company with the Army's 1st Infantry Division near Cam My during a deadly ambush, the result of a search and destroy mission dubbed Operation Abilene.
In the ensuing battle, the unit suffered more than 80 percent casualties as their perimeter was breached. Despite the dangers on the ground, Pitsenbarger refused to leave the soldiers trapped in the jungle and waved off the medevac chopper, choosing to fight, and ultimately die, alongside men he'd never met before that day.
Decades later, those men fought to see Pitsenbarger's Air Force Cross upgraded to the Medal of Honor. On Dec. 8, 2000, they won, when Pitsenbarger was posthumously awarded the nation's highest decoration for valor.
The Last Full Measure painstakingly chronicles that long desperate struggle, and the details of the battle are told in flashbacks by the soldiers who survived the ambush, played by a star-studded cast that includes Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Harris, and William Hurt.
After Operation Abilene, some of the men involved moved on with their lives, or tried to, and the film touches on the many ways they struggled with their grief, trauma, and in the case of some, feelings of guilt. For the characters in The Last Full Measure, seeing Pitsenbarger awarded the Medal of Honor might be the one decent thing they pull out of that war, remarks Jackson's character, Lt. Billy Takoda, one of the soldier's whose life Pitsenbarger saved.
There are a lot of threads to follow in The Last Full Measure, individual strands of a larger story that feel misplaced, redacted, or cut short — at times, violently. But this is not a criticism, quite the opposite in fact. This tangled web is part of the larger narrative at play as Scott Huffman, a fictitious modern-day Pentagon bureaucrat played by Sebastian Stan, tries to piece together what actually happened that fateful day so many years ago.
At the start, Huffman — the person who ultimately becomes Pitsenbarger's champion in Washington — wants nothing to do with the airman's story, the medal, or the Vietnam veterans who want to see his sacrifice recognized. For Huffman, it's a burdensome assignment, just one more box to check before he can move on to brighter and better career prospects.
The skepticism of Pentagon bureaucracy and Washington political operators is on full display throughout the movie. When Takoda first meets Huffman, the Army vet grills the overdressed and out-of-his-depth government flack about his intentions, calls him an FNG (fucking new guy) and tosses Huffman's recorder into the nearby river where he's fishing with his grandkids.
Sebastian Stan stars as Scott Huffman alongside Samuel Jackson as Billy Takoda in "The Last Full Measure."(IMDB)
As Huffman spends more time with the grunts who fought alongside Pitsenbarger, and the Air Force PJs who flew with him that day, he, and the audience, come to see their campaign, and their frustration over the lack of progress, in a different light.
In one of the movie's later moments, The Last Full Measure offers an explanation for why Pitsenbarger's award languished for so long. The theory? Pitsenbarger's Medal of Honor citation was downgraded to a service cross, not because his actions didn't meet the standard associated with the nation's highest award for valor, but because his rank didn't.
"The conjecture among the Mud Soldiers and Bien Hoa Eagles is that Pitsenbarger was passed over because he was enlisted," Robinson, who wrote and directed The Last Full Measure, told Task & Purpose.
"As for the events in the film, Pitsenbarger's upgrade was clearly ignored for decades and items had been lost — whether that was deliberate is up for discussion but we feel we captured the spirit of the issues at hand either way," he said. "Some of these questions are simply impossible to answer with 100% certainty as no one really knows."
The cynicism in The Last Full Measure is overt, but to be entirely honest, it feels warranted. While watching the film, I couldn't help but think back to recent stories of battlefield bravery, like that of Army Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, who ran into a burning Bradley three times in Iraq to pull out his wounded men — a feat of heroism that cost him his life, and inspired an ongoing campaign to see Cashe awarded the Medal of Honor.
There's no shortage of op-eds by current and former service members who see the military's awards process as slow and cumbersome at best, and biased or broken at worst, and it's refreshing to see that criticism reflected in a major war movie. And sure, like plenty of military dramas, The Last Full Measure has some sappy moments, but on the whole, it's a damn good film.
The Last Full Measure hits theaters on Jan. 24.
With ISIS trying to reorganize itself into an insurgency, most attacks on U.S. and allied forces in Iraq are being carried out by Shiite militias, said Air Force Maj. Gen. Alex Grynkewich, the deputy commander for operations and intelligence for U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria.
"In the time that I have been in Iraq, we've taken a couple of casualties from ISIS fighting on the ground, but most of the attacks have come from those Shia militia groups, who are launching rockets at our bases and frankly just trying to kill someone to make a point," Grynkewich said Wednesday at an event hosted by the Air Force Association's Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.