Mattis’ Pentagon Is Ignoring Trump’s Mandate To Treat Climate Change As A Hoax

Analysis
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis meets with military leaders from Commander, Submarine Group 9 in Bangor, Wash., Aug. 9, 2017.
DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jette Carr

The Department of Defense has circumvented a mandate by President Donald Trump to stop preparing for climate change and, under Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ leadership, is moving forward with an Obama-era plan to address global warming as a serious threat to national security, Military Times reports.


In March, Trump — who has repeatedly stated that global warming is a hoax fabricated by the Chinese to make U.S. manufacturing less competitive — rescinded all climate-related federal agency actions initiated by his predecessor. This sweeping move included reversing a directive from President Barack Obama that obliged the Pentagon to embrace the view long held by the scientific community — that climate change is real — and plan accordingly.  

Soldiers from the 551st MRBC and MRTXSG help move elderly residents to safety during evacuations in Houston.Texas National Guard photo by Sgt. Samuel De Leon

In 2014, the Pentagon conducted a review of military installations across the armed forces to identify vulnerabilities to extreme weather, while also assessing how the military could better prepare for an uptick in natural disasters like the back-to-back hurricanes that recently ravaged Texas, Louisiana and Florida.  

“A changing climate will have real impacts on our military and the way it executes its missions,” the Defense Department concluded in the report. “The military could be called upon more often to support civil authorities…in the face of more frequent and more intense natural disasters.”  

The Pentagon report resulted in the publication of the DoD’s 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap, which laid out a series of steps for assessing and mitigating the effects of climate change on the DoD and military operations around the globe. The roadmap was implemented by Obama in January 2016 and invalidated by Trump’s March 28 executive order, according to Military Times.

Among those who do not believe climate change is a hoax is the Secretary of Defense. In March, Mattis vowed in a 58-page written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee that he would make addressing the threat climate change poses to U.S. national security a top priority as head of the Pentagon.

“The effects of a changing climate — such as increased maritime access to the Arctic, rising sea levels, desertification, among others — impact our security situation,” Mattis wrote. “I will ensure that the department continues to be prepared to conduct operations today and in the future, and that we are prepared to address the effects of a changing climate on our threat assessments, resources, and readiness.”     

A crew member from Air Station Elizabeth City, North Carolina, is hoisted as boats from Virginia agencies watch during a search and rescue demonstration March 3, 2017, in Hampton, Virginia.Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Joshua Canup

Mattis appears to be sticking to his word, even as the president remains convinced that climate change is a global conspiracy.

As Military Times notes, the Pentagon has found that, by focusing less on why more serious weather events are happening (i.e. climate change) and more on the fact that they are happening, the department can move forward with its original plan of preparing for an increase in both the frequency and strength of natural disasters. In other words, the DoD is just changing the way it talks about the issue.

“As Secretary Mattis has said, the department evaluates all potential threats that impact mission readiness, personnel health and installation resilience, then uses that information to assess impacts and identify responses,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Patrick Evans told Military Times. “The effect of a changing climate is one of a variety of threats and risks, but it’s not a mission of the Department of Defense.”    

Evans also said that the Pentagon is currently reviewing the Obama-era directive that implemented the “climate change roadmap” to “determine if it should be suspended, revised, or rescinded.”

Florida Air National Guardsmen from the 202nd REDHORSE prepare their gear and tactical vehicles for a deployment to Central Florida ahead of Hurricane Irma on Camp Blanding Joint Training Center, Florida Sept. 8, 2017.Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Carlynne Devine

This is a similar strategy employed by the DoD under Mattis following Trump’s Twitter announcement that transgender people would no longer be allowed to serve in the military. A review of that policy is also underway, leaving open the possibility that the transgender ban will never be implemented.  

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of troops were deployed throughout areas impacted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma to assist with relief efforts, including in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, while seaside military installations scrambled to mitigate weather damage to buildings, aircraft, and ships.

According to the 2014 climate change roadmap, one area especially vulnerable to extreme weather is the Hampton Roads region of Virginia, which, as Military Times notes, is home to more than 60 Navy ships, hundreds of fix-wing and rotary aircraft, and more than 83,000 active duty personnel. The now-invalidated roadmap laid out preparations to safeguard those assets from a “projected sea-level rise of 1.5 feet over the next 20 to 50 years.”

Coast Guard Air Station Houston continues to respond to rescue requests in Beaumont, Texas, August 30, 2017.Coast Guard courtesy photo by Air Station Houston

A spokesman for Naval Facilities Engineering Command Mid-Atlantic, which is responsible for the ensuring Hampton Roads is protected from natural disasters, told Military Times that it plans to continue fortifying the installation for future extreme weather.

“I can’t talk the science, but I can tell you what we’ve done,” said Todd Lyman, the NAFAC spokesman. “For many years, NAVFAC has been replacing any single-deck pier with double-deck piers. We’ve also built structures here at a higher elevation than code requires in an effort to improve stormwater management. The goal is for us to continue our mission, maintain resilience.”

Photo illustration by Paul Szoldra

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:

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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. Not surprising then that Pentagon bureaucrats and Washington political operators are regarded with skepticism 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.

Protesters and militia fighters gather to condemn air strikes on bases belonging to Hashd al-Shaabi (paramilitary forces), outside the main gate of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq December 31, 2019. (Reuters/Thaier al-Sudani)

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.

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U.S. Army Soldiers, assigned to the East Africa Response Force (EARF), 101st Airborne Division, board a C-130J Super Hercules, assigned to the 75th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, on January 5, 2020. (U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Daniel Hernandez)

The Defense Department has remained relatively tight-lipped regarding the brazen Jan. 5 raid on a military base at Manda Bay, Kenya, but a new report from the New York Times provides a riveting account filled with new details about how the hours-long gunfight played out.

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The Defense Department just took a major step towards making the dream of a flying drone carrier a reality.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's air-launched and recoverable X-61A Gremlins Air Vehicle finally conducted a maiden flight in November 2019, Gremlin contractor Dynetics announced on Friday.

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