Sunday, September 12, 2010

Don't Ask Don't Tell policy to be challenged in Tacoma Monday

Just days after a federal judge ruled the military's policy against gays and lesbians openly serving in the military is unconstitutional, a more significant case against "don't ask don't tell" opens in a federal court in Tacoma.

Maj. Margaret Witt, a veteran Air Force nurse with a distinguished service record, will appear to argue that the Air Force violated her rights and must reinstate her.

If she wins she would be the first woman allowed to serve openly as a lesbian since President Clinton's administration in 1993 created the DADT policy.

The law, however, would not apply to other members of the armed forces.

Her case begins just four days after a California case brought by the Log Cabin Republicans, a political group supporting equal rights for gays and lesbians, resulted in a federal judge's decision that the military's "don't ask don't tell policy" is unconstitutional.

Joel Connelly, staff writer for, recalls the case of Col. Margaret Cammermeyer 20 years ago, and writes that a forefather of modern Republican conservatism "Sen. Barry Goldwater, defined what our military's policy on sexual orientation ought to be: "You don't have to be straight to fight for your country. You just have to shoot straight."

The New York Times on Sunday reported that "Major Witt’s case has already set an important precedent. After a federal judge dismissed her lawsuit, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reinstated it, ruling in 2008 that the government had to meet a higher standard of scrutiny before intruding on her private life. The panel sent her case back to the district court for trial."

I covered her initial challenge in 2006 when I was a newspaper reporter covering the military for the now departed Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper.

Witt never violated Dont' Ask, Don't Tell herself, indeed she went out of her way not to be asked and not to tell.

Yet she was outed by the jilted husband of a woman she was seeing in 2004 who advised Air Force officials she was a lesbian. from which the Air Force launched the investigation that resulted in her dismissal.

Coast Guard SEALS

Back when I was writing for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, I wrote about the first Coast Guardsmen to be admitted as candidates to become Navy SEALS.

Wondered what happened to all that in the year that I was away.

Turns out of 19 selected to what is unarguably the Armed Forces most grueling training, two made it in May after more than 18 months in intense training.

Both men became the first members of any other branch of the armed forces to become Navy SEALS. Three more members of the Coast Guard are in the pipeline to become SEALs.

A Coast Guard notice said:

For more than a year and a half, these Coast Guardsmen endured what many consider to be the most difficult training available in the Armed Forces. This includes, among other things, training in combat diving, demolitions, marksmanship, patrolling, cold weather survival, land warfare and parachute operations.

The two members – whose names are being withheld for security reasons – attended training as part of an historic Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2008 by the Commandant of the Coast Guard, the Chief of Naval Operations, and U.S. Special Operations Command. The MOU is scheduled to last for the next seven years, with the option to extend indefinitely if both services find value in the arrangement.

May be old news but I'm catching up. Like to follow up on what I've previously written.

Following Abe

As you may know from news broadcasts, the USS Abraham Lincoln Strike Group left Everett Sept. 7 on regular deployment, headed for the U.S. 7th and 5th Fleet areas of responsibility.

You may not know the Abe has a Facebook page to follow its progress and navigate around to catch a glimpse of the Navy at sea. Call up the shipboard magazine, Penny Press.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Up and running

After dropping this a year ago it’s time to crank it up before we take another trip around the sun. My family needed me and there was no way to keep this blog going regularly.

My father, retired First Sgt. Aubrey Lee Barber, born in Texas in 1930, died July 5, 2009 after a long struggle against Alzheimer’/dementia.

He was an Army veteran of the German occupation, Korean and Vietnam war eras, and at one time, at age 22 back in 1952, the youngest master sergeant in the Army. Not "one of the youngest" as his obit said, THE youngest master sergeant.

They made them special in that part of Texas where he came from, which gave us the likes of Audie Murphy. My father and his brother, Herschel, served in the same signals intelligence unit early on, and their oldest brother, Eugene served in the Navy in the Pacific on the USS Corregidor, an escort carrier.

Dad was the youngest of nine kids and after he graduated from high school when he was 17 and could not get into the Merchant Marine, asked his mother to sign a release so he could join the Army before he was 18. He was so bright that one of my relatives recalled a wealthy lady in their hometown offering to send my dad to college. But he was a humble man and while appreciative, did not want handouts and favors, preferred to make it on his own.

Another uncle, my dad's younger brother, recalled the day my dad said his goodbyes, leaving home to catch a bus, walking down a dusty road with his bag in hand, never looking back.

Since his death I've had the job of sifting through his papers and old orders, like the orders from the 1950s in which we as a family were pointed toward Tehran, and his graduation certificates from classes at the National Security Agency.

My dad took a lot of top secrets from his Cold War days to his grave, having been under a lifetime oath to do so. He served with a select group the old top secret Army Security Agency nicknamed the Supergroup and when he retired was a senior sergeant in charge of electronic warfare and signals intelligence and cryptography.

But once, when he felt it was okay to do so, related to me some sketchy James Bond-style Cold War exploits involving spy vs. spy humint from his early Army days. Some people thought he looked like a James Bond character, though at one point in his life he was a dead ringer for actor Montgomery Clift.

That was when he was managing couriers out of Arlington Hall, then the center of U.S. military intelligence.

Dad never talked much about himself so my mom filled in the blanks from some puzzling times I recall while growing up. Dad wanted to be an officer but was declined a few times until he put in his retirement papers. Then they wanted him badly to stay, but he was no fan by then of the new action Army, Westmoreland or what he saw as political meddling with his old black-budget intelligence outfit, and called it a career.

One of his commanders and mentors was the late Maj. Gen. Joe McChristian, who dad revered throughout his life for McChristian's integrity. I often wonder if it wasn't McChristian, who as the MACV J2 in Vietnam in 1967, became one of those soldiers criticized for being right, who played a role in a puzzling episode in my dad's military career.

McChristian, who is now a member of the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame, had drawn criticism for predicting that the North Vietnamese would launch a major attack. That flew in the face of political insistence that the war was going fine and dandy and we were winning. The Tet Offensive in 1968 blew apart that perception and silenced McChristian's critics.

I wonder about McChristian's role because my dad had volunteered to go to Korea and Vietnam but was always denied. He was considered too risky an asset to lose to capture. So in 1966 and 1967, when McChristian was in Vietnam basically straightening out intelligence, my dad was a first sergeant with Third Corps and the 303rd ASA Battalion. Often I recall he came home muddy in his fatigues, engaged in field exercises at Fort Hood as he and his unit prepared to go to Phu Bai -- which a lot of people didn't know was home to a large ASA presence.

Then something happened that seemed weird even to my young ears as it involved a big tussle by Army brass over an enlisted man, my dad.

As my mom later told me, the Pentagon intervened to stop my dad from going to Phu Bai, fearing the base could be overrun and he could be captured. The did not want to risk his capture because of what he knew. (Dad many years later told me that at the U.S. embassies where he worked, the Marine guards had orders to shoot him and a few other "assets" if the embassy were ever to be overrun.)

Dad wanted to be with his men in Vietnam but was caught in the middle of something beyond his control. He had been an infantryman for a brief period with the Third Division out of Ford Ord when he first enlisted, and routinely requalified with the top "Expert" rating for pistol, carbine and machine gun shooting, according to his DD 214 and the badges he wored.

So a tug of war ensued between someone high up the Defense Department, who did not want him to go, and my dad's Fort Hood commanders who were insisting he go. The Pentagon won and he remained behind.

The concerns of whoever was making that call were realized in early 1968 when McChristian's intelligence analysis came true and the North Vietnamese launched the Tet Offensive. Overrun were locations all around Phu Bai, a unique base that was only a dozen miles from Hue, where Marines fought house to house to take it back.

But by then, my dad had filed his papers and retired to civilian life.

He spent a low key career working for Sears, seeing all three of us kids grow into adulthood, and becoming a granddad. He also became one of those little old Army retirees who ply the PX and commissaries at Carlisle Barracks, near where he retired. In one of our last outings together before dementia became more serious, I drove him to his favorite Saturday outing on that Army post. He melted into a barber chair, almost his form of therapy, to receive a regulation military haircut.

Though a bit slower and weaker, he told me how he loved visiting Carlisle Barracks, that it was a sanctuary, almost like home. He was the happiest I had seen him in ages. A moment crystallized in my memory recalls when we returned home and he walked through the door with glee on his face, telling my mom of our outing to Carlisle, "I am going to smile for a month"

Somehow he and my mother, who is part of that unpaid shadow army of military spouses, managed to rear three Army brats around the world.

We three were born in places like Walter Reed and Fort Belvoir and mostly remember my dad out of uniform, working out of embassies in Europe and South America with occasional forays to Fort Meade, Fort Hood and Fort Devens.

He was old Army, at times grumbling about things like modern references to those in uniform as “warriors.” In Germany after WWII, the proudest expression one heard was “Soldat Amerikan,” he once said. “American soldier. When you heard that you were proud. "Warrior' -- sounds like spearchuckers.”

Don't pull any punches, sarge.

So that's here I've been the last year, caring for family, sorting out papers and other things, and making a sentimental journey.

Enough about me.

Now Hear This……

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Port Angeles Coast Guard first to arm helicopters

Coast Guard Air Station Port Angeles, the first Dolphin HH-65 helicopter unit in the nation to arm its helicopters, has completed its final training tests, CG District 13 headquarters announced.

The enhanced use of deadly force stems from demands for increased security after 9/11 to protect potential terror targets like bridges, ports and waterways, with large groups of people, after 9/11, the Coast Guard said in a press release. The helicopter's guns will not be used in routine law enforcement missions, Coast Guard officials said.

The Port Angeles aircrews who completed their final training tests last Thursday are "hand-selected, highly trained indivicuals specifically chosen for their maturity, judgement and sound decision making skills," the Coast Guard said in a press release.

The Coast Guard adds its aviation wing to the armed boats, cutters and maritime security boarding teams it already has.

Local Coast Guard officials said the Port Angeles air station crews have been conducting extensive land-based and open-ocean firing range training and hostile-boat intercept maneuvering drills since the initial phase of training began in the spring of 2008.

That was when the air station received upgraded MH-65C helicopters outfitted with M-14T rifles and M-240 machine guns.

By the way, you can download and watch a Coast Guard video of these aircrews in action, as an Astoria, Ore. MH-60 crew medevacks a sailor off of an unnamed, moving Navy submarine off the Washington Coast last Wednesday.

DoD monitoring pandemic influenza

The Defense Department has an official "watchboard" for the flu pandemic.

According to a DoD statement:

"In an influenza pandemic, the DoD's mission is to preserve the U.S. combat capabilities and readiness and to support U.S. government efforts to save lives, reduce human suffering and slow the spread of infection. "

The Associated Press on Sunday reported that Spc. Christopher Hogg, 23, of Deltona, Fla., died Sept. 10 from “pneumonia due to H1N1 influenza,” according to Fort Jackson, S.C. commander Brig. Gen. Bradley May. Fort Jackson is the Army’s largest basic training camp.

In its public health guidelines regarding H1N1 swine flu, the DoD says one concern is of the flu spreading among the nations 1.3 men and women in uniform, and their families, affecting readiness:

"The Military Health System must be prepared to rapidly evaluate and effectively manage patients with suspected or confirmed pandemic influenza throughout the entire range of military operations and health care settings. In addition to providing health care, efforts must limit the spread of disease among Service members, their families, local communities, and the workplace."

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Green Marines test their Mojo

I remember a line from a marching chant our drill instructor used to sound out:

"My Marine Corps color is green...."

Is it ever.

With the Defense Department alone accounting for 93 perecent of all government fuel consumed, the services have been looking for ways to reduce dependency on the grid and fossil fuels.

As usual, the Marines are in the lead.

Some years back, Marine Lt. Gen. James T. Mattis, who had commanded 1st Marine Division in Iraq where he saw fuel convoys become ripe targets for sabotage, and later Marine Corps Combat Development Command, issued a challenge:

"Unleash us from this tether of fuel," Mattis said, calling for a 50 percent reduction in Defense Department fuel use.

Just this August, Commandant of the Marines, Gen. James T. Conway, hosted a defense energy summit.

One of the interesting field innovations the Marines are looking at is a tower of power called Mojo. Back in April, the Corps' 8th Communications Battalion at Camp Lejeune, N.C., wanted to see the devices developed by Critical Power Solutions Internationl Inc. of Ashburn, Va.

Like the Army's caissons, Mojos, along with larger, double-axled Titans made by Critical Solutions, are wheeled, road-ready, rapidly deployable trailers. They include a 26-foot telescoping tower, battery box and complex set of electronics as well as four solar panels and a wind generator.

Mojos typically produce approximately 520 watts of sustained solar power, and the wind turbines generate 350 to 600 watts of sustained power, Critical Solutions says.

Why the interest? The Marines want another tool in the big toolbox the bring to the battlefield. Renewable power sources in remote environments, as in combat or border patrol situations, come with reduced heat and noise signatures. They could cut down on fuel convoys and save lives by reducing exposure to the risk of roadside and suicide bombers.

In short, they're a stealthier source of power. Marines with Mojos, for instance, could place a remote team at sites where refueling is dangerous or difficult, retaining communication capabilities without traditional power logistics.

In addition to the military, Critical Solutions alternative energy towers have been demonstrated for emergency preparedness agencies. They were at the center of critical response exercises last December at the Center for National Response in West Virginia.

Of the 93 percent of all government fuel that the Defense Department alone consumes, 52 percent is used by the Air Force, 33 percent by the Navy. The Army uses around seven percent, according to figures cited in a Brookings Institution study.

In an August 2007 study for the Brookings Institution, Col. Gregory Lengyel wrote:

The United States has a National Security problem, energy security, in which the Department of
Defense has a unique interest. The United States imports 26% of its total energy supply and 56% of the oil it consumes. The DOD is the largest single consumer of energy in the United States and energy is the key enabler of US military combat power.

Huge energy consumption, increased
competition for limited energy supplies, ever increasing energy costs, and no comprehensive Energy Strategy or oversight of energy issues in the DOD have created vulnerabilities. These include potential fuel and electricity supply disruptions as well as foreign policy and economic vulnerability. The DOD needs a comprehensive Energy Strategy and organizational structure to implement a strategy to improve National Security by decreasing US dependence on foreign oil, ensure access to critical energy requirements, maintain or improve combat capability, promote research for future energy security, be fiscally responsible to the American tax payer, and protect the environment.

strategy can be implemented through leadership and culture change, innovation and process efficiencies, reduced demand, and increased/diversified energy sources.

Meanwhile, in his excellent "DoD Energy Blog," Andy Bochman last September mentioned a Marine general in Iraq who wanted solar panels in order to "outgreen al Qaeda." Instead of trucking fuel from Kuwait, creating targets for improvised bombers, the general wanted to "beat al Qaeda at its own game," Bochman wrote, taking away those targets by using solar power.