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Mattis: What DoD Readiness Problems? (Shush: Bad Guys Are Listening!)
In a move that has not decreased the number of military planes and helicopters crashing, Defense Secretary James Mattis has been discouraging the services from talking about how bad readiness is, leading the parent of at least one dead service member to call his arguments “a bunch of junk.”
Amid more frequent stories of aviation mishaps and training fatalities, Task & Purpose has learned that overall Pentagon readiness levels were so bad when Mattis became defense secretary, he instructed the military branches to “be cautious about publicly telegraphing readiness shortfalls.” That’s from a March 2, 2017, email to DoD communications staff promulgating “some guidance from Secretary Mattis,” according to its sender, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, then director of Pentagon public affairs.
“While it can be tempting during budget season to publicly highlight readiness problems, we have to remember that our adversaries watch the news too,” Davis wrote the email, obtained by Task & Purpose. “Communicating that we are broken or not ready to fight invites miscalculation.”
The email, whose existence was first revealed last year by The National Interest, assured the military services that both Mattis and elected leaders in Congress and the White House were aware of the problems they faced.
“They don't need news stories to remind them,” Davis wrote. “Help is on the way.”
The issue has come to a head as reporters ask the DoD for answers to their growing aviation crisis. Military Times recently pored through thousands of records to find that service aircraft crashes have soared by 40% since 2013, when steep cuts to defense spending known as “sequestration” led to a shortfall of training and spare parts.
A total of seven service members have been killed in separate crashes in the past week; another nine troops have been killed in crashes since March 14.
But the Defense Department has stuck to its line. Earlier this winter, Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White denied that the military services had been told not to talk about readiness — but repeated the talking point that skepticism about the DoD’s fitness for war emboldened U.S. adversaries.
“The secretary has said, many times, how it's very important that we not telegraph to the enemy,” White said during a Jan. 11 news conference. “American people need to know we're ready to go tonight.”
But the Pentagon’s official line about OPSEC and readiness is “a bunch of junk,” said Mike De La Cruz, who lost his son two years ago in a helicopter crash. De La Cruz said Mattis’ guidance on readiness indicates that President Trump’s cabinet is hiding exactly how much the military is hurting.
“We should be exposing everything we possibly can to the American people so that we can actually find direction and fix the issue instead of trying to cover it up,” De La Cruz said.
De La Cruz’s son, Sgt. Dillon Semolina, was one of 12 Marines killed in January 2016 when two CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters collided off Hawaii. An investigation into the crash found that readiness in his son’s squadron was so bad that there were days in December 2015 when none of its helicopters could fly due to lack of spare parts and other problems.
“If anything exposes our weaknesses it’s our [government’s] own dereliction of duty in ensuring that our aircraft are ready and that our military is ready,” he told Task & Purpose. “All it’s doing is exposing the ridiculousness of our budget and where our focus is: Let’s make sure that our National Guard gets deployed down south to protect the wall, but let’s not make sure our aircraft can fly.”
De La Cruz said he has presented the Marine Corps and members of Congress information showing that military aircraft crashes through 2016 were preventable, but so far no one has taken any action to remedy the problems he laid out.
Senior military leaders and members of Congress are blaming military pilots for crashes that are actually a result of budget problems that neither lawmakers nor the military are trying to fix, he said.
Rep. Ruben Gallego, a Marine veteran, said there is no hiding the strain that the past 17 years of combat and constant deployments have taken on the military.
“Readiness issues such as deferred maintenance, overuse of our troops and equipment, and insufficient investment end up costing us more in the long term,” Gallego, D-Ariz., told Task & Purpose on Monday. “Such problems can also cost the lives of our service members, as we have seen recently with multiple ship crashes in the Pacific. These problems need to be addressed urgently by the Defense Department and Congress.”
Former Marine Capt. Dan Grazier, who works on military reform issues for the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight, said he agrees with Mattis that signaling weakness to an adversary could be dangerous, and he feels that members of Congress hyperventilate about a military readiness crisis every time something bad happens.
But Grazier said he does not believe that releasing information about plane and helicopter crashes might inadvertently trigger a war.
“I don’t think that anybody who doesn’t already have malign intent against the United States is going to say: ‘Oh, look, they’re having a lot of Class A mishaps; now is a good time to launch an attack,’” he said.
Some Fort Bragg paratroopers who left for the Middle East on a no-notice deployment last month came home Thursday.
About 3,500 soldiers with the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team were sent to Kuwait beginning Jan. 1 as tensions were rising in the region. The first soldiers were in the air within 18 hours of being told to go.
KABUL/WASHINGTON/PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - The United States and the Taliban will sign an agreement on Feb. 29 at the end of a week long period of violence reduction in Afghanistan, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Taliban said on Friday.
Large cargo ships, small fishing boats and other watercraft sail safely past Naval Station Norfolk every day, but there's always a possibility that terrorists could use any one of them to attack the world's largest naval base.
While Navy security keeps a close eye on every vessel that passes, there's an inherent risk for the sailors aboard small patrol boats who are tasked with helping keep aircraft carriers, submarines and destroyers on base safe from waterborne attacks.
So the Navy experimented Wednesday to test whether an unmanned vessel could stop a small boat threatening the base from the Elizabeth River.
Nancy Turner's modern version of keeping a candle in the window while her soldier son is away is a string of electric lights on the front porch that burn red, white and blue.
But where Turner sees patriotism and support for the troops, her Garner homeowners association sees a covenant violation and a potential $50-per-day fine.
Turner was surprised to receive a threatening email last week after an employee from Sentry Management, which manages the Sheldon Place HOA, spotted the illegal illumination during a neighborhood patrol.
"I honestly had no idea it would be a problem," Turner said.
The HOA did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent as a message through its Facebook page.
In the wee hours of Jan. 8, Tehran retaliated over the U.S. killing of Iran's most powerful general by bombarding the al-Asad air base in Iraq.
Among the 2,000 troops stationed there was U.S. Army Specialist Kimo Keltz, who recalls hearing a missile whistling through the sky as he lay on the deck of a guard tower. The explosion lifted his body - in full armor - an inch or two off the floor.
Keltz says he thought he had escaped with little more than a mild headache. Initial assessments around the base found no serious injuries or deaths from the attack. U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted, "All is well!"
The next day was different.
"My head kinda felt like I got hit with a truck," Keltz told Reuters in an interview from al-Asad air base in Iraq's western Anbar desert. "My stomach was grinding."