By Henry Howard ~ The 2016 election season has been characterized by its uniqueness, polarization, bravado and potential for history in the making, regardless of who moves into the White House in January. What’s been lost in most media coverage is an examination of where the presidential nominees of the two major political parties stand on the issues, particularly those of greatest interest to the nation’s largest wartime veterans organization.
The American Legion conducted exclusive one-on-one interviews with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump in August. (While some third-party candidates have received more support than in previous elections, The American Legion followed the lead of the presidential debate committee on inclusion of other candidates. At deadline, however, no third-party candidates had reached the threshold to be included in the debates and therefore are not in this question-and-answer coverage.)
The interviews with Clinton and Trump, which were conducted while both candidates visited Florida, focused on issues of importance to American Legion members, other veterans, U.S. servicemembers and their families. Both shared their views on VA health care, defense spending, border security and more.
Here are excerpts from the interviews:
Veterans have faced long wait times and other problems while trying to receive health care or benefits decisions at VA. What is your recommendation to solve this?
Clinton:I am outraged at the long waits and other scandals that emerged over the last several years that have really disadvantaged veterans and broken the bond that we should be treasuring between ourselves and our vets. I am going to do everything I can to accelerate efforts under way to fix problems in the system. I’m going to create a President’s Council for Veterans because we need that emphasis. I want to be sure we are fixing the problems, but not creating an opening for those who have advocated for the privatization of the VA health system. That would be a terrible mistake and would make access to treatment, particularly specialized treatment, even more difficult for a significant number of our vets.
I want to do a better job linking up DoD, TRICARE and VA. This remains a big stumbling block because people who leave the service often don’t even get their records, and if they do, it’s often disorganized. It’s not as seamless as it should be.
I take this as a high priority at the beginning of my presidency and will work on it every single day until we get it in as strong shape as possible.
Trump: Veterans have so many problems with VA. I’ve never seen anything like it. They are not being treated right. Their wait times – five, six, seven days, maybe even longer. Sometimes they don’t even get to see a doctor. The guiding principle of the Trump Veterans Plan is ensuring veterans have convenient and timely access to top-quality care. The veterans health system will remain a public system because it’s a public trust. But never again will we allow veterans to suffer or die waiting for care. One of the things we’re going to do is that if they can’t see a VA doctor, they are going to find a local doctor. It can be private – most likely it will be private – or they can go to a hospital outside that’s different from where they can’t get in or where they can’t go through the lines. This could be a public or private hospital, and we will pay the bills and take care of them. These are great people and we will take care of them properly.
Many servicemembers are returning from the current wars with PTSD, military sexual trauma (MST) and/or traumatic brain injury (TBI). If elected, what would you recommend DoD and/or VA do to address and improve treatment in these areas?
Trump: A recent VA comprehensive study placed the number of veterans who die by suicide at 20 per day. We must do better for those who suffer the invisible wounds of war. First, we must make sure that the VA Office of Suicide Prevention is staffed, resourced and placed on equal footing with its DoD counterpart. In addition, I will increase the number of mental health care professionals, and allow veterans to be able to see mental health care outside the VA if they so choose. We will also increase investments in researching, treating and diagnosing traumatic brain injury. This is a top priority for me.
Clinton: As a senator, I was on the Armed Services Committee and we were already recognizing that PTSD and TBI were the new injuries of these wars in ways that were qualitatively different from what we had seen before. The PTSD that we were seeing not only included direct combat experience but sexual assault.
We’ve made progress but not near enough. Therefore I want to invest heavily in the best techniques, doing a comprehensive landscaping of what is working. Different things will work for different people. Can we create profiles that will give us more guidance as to how to deal with these very serious problems?
I’m going to approach this like we would approach some terrible epidemic that was killing people, maiming people, because that’s the mentality I think we have to bring to this. We are losing 20 vets a day to suicide and a lot of them are just giving up. They feel such despair because they can’t get any help that really works to get them through the emotional trauma that they have suffered.
It’s physical, it’s emotional, it’s psychological, it’s spiritual, it’s cultural, and we need to treat it on all of those grounds and do a better job.
The armed forces are all suffering from cutbacks due to sequestration and budget reductions. How will your recommendations to Congress balance the need for a strong national defensewith the need for a budget that reflects the realities of today’s economy?
Clinton: I want to end sequestration, both on the defense and civilian side. I think it has been destructive to both. Clearly we know that on the defense side, there have been enough reports and investigations about how we’re falling behind in preparedness, and it’s unacceptable.
On the civilian side, we have shut labs that were making promising breakthroughs and treating Alzheimer’s, for example, and many other issues that have to be addressed, because of sequestration.
On the defense side, I am committed to a robust defense budget that will provide what we need to be prepared for the threats and adversaries we face today. Therefore, I want to get the best possible advice about what more we need to do to be prepared, and what it’s going to cost. We’re going to have a top-to-bottom review about what’s working (and) what’s not working, but I know we can’t meet the demands that we face without getting rid of sequestration.
Trump: First of all, we have no choice. It’s not like, “Oh, gee, we can just delay it.” President Obama has delayed it. We have fewer ships than we have had in decades. We have arms that are old and airplanes that are very old. We can’t even get parts anymore. They don’t make them anymore. We get parts from the plane graveyards.
Cuts should instead be made to wasteful domestic spending and bloated bureaucratic budgets. But it’s not a question of how we do it. We have no choice. These are very dangerous times, possibly as dangerous as we have ever had. We have a military that is depleted and we are going to take care of it.
The Islamic State is conducting terrorist attacks and inspiring others to commit violence worldwide. What’s your strategy to defeat ISIS?
Trump: We must bring all of our allies into the fold who share our goal of defeating and destroying ISIS. Instead of nation-building like in Libya that creates operating and breeding grounds, we must work with all nations that want to eliminate this scourge to destroy them.
This means aggressive military strikes. It also means we must improve our intelligence-gathering operations and make huge investments in this crucial arena. It means we must change our immigration policy to keep ISIS from attacking here. Working with our military commanders, we must give our servicemembers the resources, strategies and policies they need to get the job done. Our military goal is not to spread democracy worldwide but to defeat ISIS and destroy terrorist organizations.
Clinton: I believe strongly that we have to defeat them and destroy them. We’ve got to have a multi-pronged strategy.
First, we have to continue and intensify our efforts to drive them from the territory that they occupy in Syria and Iraq, and we’ve made progress. American-led airstrikes have really helped. Our training of the Iraqi army has taken back territory. Our use of special forces to partner with Arab and Kurdish fighters has also been promising.
We have to keep working on that. We can’t walk away from doing everything possible to destroy their headquarters in Raqqa, drive them out of Iraq and then destroy them in Syria.
That’s not enough because they are a sophisticated enemy. They are fighting us online as well as on the ground, and we’re not doing yet enough to combat and defeat them online. I am absolutely adamant that we need to get the best support we can from our tech companies and experts from Silicon Valley … (and) the Route 128 corridor in Massachusetts. Everybody needs to help us disrupt their sites, interfere with and end their recruitment and radicalization online.
We also have to have what I call an intelligence surge. There is not enough good sharing of the intelligence we have. We have seen that, unfortunately, in Europe, where ISIS has been successful in launching attacks. There is not the kind of seamless sharing of intelligence even across borders in Europe and between countries and the United States.
China is a threat with its terraforming program and involvement in cyber attacks. Given our debt situation with China, how should the United States strategically handle this relationship?
Clinton: It became apparent (to me) as secretary of state how aggressive the Chinese intended to be in making territorial claims in the South China Sea. I was the first to confront them and try to put together a strategy that will contain them and prevent them from not only intimidating their neighbors but also interfering with the free flow of commerce and international laws of navigation.
We strongly supported the Philippines in bringing their international legal challenge to China’s claims, and I was quite surprised at how far the decision went in repudiating China. We’ve got a strong legal basis, which we did not have before, to use diplomatically in confronting China.
We also have to ensure that our fleet is still present in the Pacific. It’s important that we demonstrate our commitment to our mutual defense treaties, of which we have five in Asia. We have a preexisting obligation to protect our friends and allies. China needs to understand there’s plenty of ocean to go around; there’s enough space for everybody to benefit from commerce in the region. We should look for multinational resolution for some of China’s claims that interfere with the rights of the Philippines, Vietnam and others, particularly when it comes to their desire to explore for oil, gas and other valuable commodities.
Trump: We have tremendous economic power over China. They have been ripping off our country for many, many years. They need us more than we need them. As strong as that sounds, it is 100 percent factual. We are going to have a trade deficit this year with China: 500 billion – with a ‘b’ – dollars. It’s from the money, jobs and the products they have taken out of our country, meaning their access to our markets is the bulwark of their economy. We hold all the cards. We are going to deal with China very strongly.
I have very good relationships in China. I’ve made a lot of money in China. One of the biggest banks in the world is a tenant of mine in one of my buildings in Manhattan. I do a lot of business with China. China is tough to deal with but you can do very well if you know what you are doing. They have been ripping us left and right. We will be able to handle China. But we don’t use our cards; we don’t play to our strengths. When they built that military complex in the South China Sea, they weren’t allowed to do that. We’ll have to deal with them. We’ll deal with them on an economic basis.
What is the best – and most realistic – solution for protecting our borders?
Trump: (A wall along the U.S. southern border) is part of the solution, part of a complex puzzle. We have people pouring across the border. We have drugs pouring across the border. And I’m talking about a real wall, not a toy like they have now that is 7 feet tall. I’m talking about a real wall, like the Great Wall of China, which they built 2,000 years ago. It’s 13,000 miles long. We need 1,000 miles.
It’s a very easy thing to do. It will happen and, by the way, Mexico will pay for the wall. And the reason they will pay for it is because they could have stopped this horrible situation long ago between the drugs and the illegal immigrants pouring across the border. It’s probably our country’s fault; we never told them to stop it.
The National Border Patrol Council’s 1,650 border patrol agents endorsed me. It’s the first time they’ve done that in their history for a presidential election. Sheriff (Joe) Arpaio endorsed me. I know a lot about borders. We’re going to have strong borders. We’re going to let people come in but they are going to have to come in legally.
(The northern border) is a very long stretch. You’re talking about a stretch that is much, much longer – much more complex. And, in all fairness, we have had much less of a problem with it.
Clinton: We are spending billions of dollars right now along our southern border with Mexico. We have dramatically increased the numbers of border guards and defensive equipment along our southern border.
In fact, there has been a slowdown and even reversal of migration from Mexico. What we’re facing now are people coming from Central America primarily to escape horrific violence and drug gangs. We have to be vigilant and we need to be sure that we do whatever is necessary to protect our borders.
But our southern border is not our only border. Our northern border, which is the longest peaceful border in the world, is largely unprotected. Alert border guards captured the “millennial bomber” coming across the border around New Year’s in 2000. We know that some of the 9/11 hijackers went back and forth from Canada.
When people talk about our borders, they are often only talking about our southern border. I’m talking about all of our borders, and I’m talking not only about car traffic, but also airplane traffic, ships, etc. We need more technology to protect our ports and our airports, and we have to be really clear about what it is we’re looking for. There’s a difference between children fleeing violence in Central America and drug traffickers, gun traffickers, human traffickers, and terrorists coming into our country, either legally or illegally. We have to upgrade our borders’ security systems and use more technology.
I’m intent on comprehensive immigration reform and tightening our borders.
As president, how would you reinvigorate the U.S. economy, cultivate a culture of job growth, and help veterans and others launch small businesses?
Clinton: I have a very robust plan to get our economy going. I want to have the biggest increase in new jobs since World War II. We are going to do that with big infrastructure investments, advance manufacturing, clean energy, technology, all of which could create millions of new jobs.
I also want to be a small business president. I want to clear away the obstacles and give more people a chance to follow their dreams and start small businesses. That’s going to require looking at taxes and regulations, and see what more help we can provide.
I’m particularly focused on veterans. I want to start at a much earlier stage than we do now and do a much better job of helping counsel people who are leaving the service. A lot of people have told me that, literally, they were called into a meeting, given a brochure, given a website, and somebody said, “Do you have any questions?” They didn’t even know what questions to ask. And then they leave the service.
Trump: We’re going to bring jobs back. The jobs are going to Mexico. The product is being made in many countries all over the world. We’re losing our jobs. We’re losing our manufacturing. We’re going to stop. We’re going to reset. We’re going to bring jobs back to this country.
We’re not going to let our companies go so easily. If they want to go, despite our efforts, and want to sell their product in our country, without having a little bit of difficulty, to put it mildly, they are wrong. Once they know that, they won’t be leaving. We’re going to bring jobs back and we’re not going to let companies leave very easily.
I have proposed changing our visa rules to ensure veterans get priorities for jobs. I also want financial reforms that make it easier for veterans, and aspiring entrepreneurs, to get credit.
There is no shortage of ideas – nuclear, coal, solar, wind, etc. – on how the United States should handle energy and rely less on imported resources. What is the federal government’s role in guiding the United States to become more energy-independent?
Trump: I believe in unleashing the power of innovation through regulatory reform to make energy cheaper, cleaner, less expensive and more efficient. This will make our nation energy independent and add trillions in wealth to our economy. We have such massive regulations right now that the energy people aren’t allowed to do what they have to do. Coal is being wiped out by this government; coal can be a powerful weapon, in terms of defense.
We want clean air, immaculate air. We want fantastically clean water. But we are going to get rid of some of these regulations that are putting companies out of business. The problem with wind and solar is that they need subsidies. Everything has its place, and I’m a fan of all forms of energy. We can’t rely on the Middle East.
Clinton: I am adamant that we will be energy independent. We’ve made real progress thanks to natural gas, which has been a great boom in recent years.
The federal government has to lead the way, but we have to coordinate with states. I have something called the Clean Power Challenge to work with states. Some states are going full steam ahead. They are investing in clean energy. Iowa gets a third of its electricity from wind. Texas gets a big percentage of its electricity from wind. We’ve got other states investing in solar. We’ve got states looking at how to use more hydro. Then we have states which haven’t done anything. We need to incentivize more states because we’ve got tremendous resources in the United States. I want us to deploy half a billion more solar panels by the end of my first term. I want enough clean energy to power every home in America within 10 years. These are all doable, and it will put people to work. The United States has to lead the world in this area. Some country is going to be the 21st century clean energy superpower, and it’ll probably either be China, Germany or us. I want it to be us.
As president, how would you ease the racial tensions that have gripped America?
Clinton: I’m deeply concerned about the divides in our country, and certainly some of what we’ve seen in terms of racial divides should concern every American. There are several approaches we have to take. We need to work with our police forces so they can do the best job on the ground as they are protecting communities. The police should be respected, and the police should respect the communities they serve. We need to do more to bring that about. Some places are doing a terrific job and we can learn from them.
We have to do some criminal justice reform, providing more support for training and the understanding of other ways to de-escalate tensions in difficult situations besides just reaching for one’s gun. That is necessary in some instances, but those should be the exceptions – not the rule.
It’s up to every American, not just our police. After the terrible murders of the five police officers in Dallas, the police chief there, Chief Brown, made a really important point. He said police are expected to deal with so much: mental health, failing schools, domestic disputes. That’s a big burden to dump on our police forces. My view is everybody should be part of this: our faith communities, our business communities, our governments at all levels. Everybody should be asking themselves, “What more can I do to bridge these divides?”
Trump: It’s two things: jobs and spirit. Our country doesn’t have spirit. And we certainly don’t have jobs. Look at the people who have looked for jobs. They have looked for months and months, and they have just given up. We need jobs, and we need spirit in our country. It is essential that we restore the bond of trust between citizens, and to have
leaders who emphasize what we have in common – not apart.
Americanism brings us closer, as it is based on the trust that we are all equals, that we are all in this together, and that all Americans are united in common purpose and entitled to common protections. I want to emphasize our unity as one people under one flag.
Henry Howard is deputy director of The American Legion’s Media and Communications Division.
By Alan W Dowd ~ In its recent ruling against Beijing’s South China Sea claims, an obscure U.N. tribunal did something rather unusual for the United Nations: the right thing. Now, the United States and its allies need to do what the United Nations cannot do: enforce the rule of law in the not-so-pacific Pacific.
A little background about the how and why of this decision before getting into what it means: The Philippines took China to the U.N. Court of Arbitration in 2013, after China seized a reef well beyond its territorial waters. In response, the tribunal summarily rejected China’s outlandish claims in the South China Sea – claims based on a map created by Chinese cartographers in 1947 – and concluded that Beijing violated international law by damaging marine environments, endangering Philippine vessels, interfering with Philippine fishing and oil exploration, and trespassing into Philippine waters.
Just how outlandish are Beijing’s claims? By international convention, a country’s territorial waters extend 12 miles from its coastline. Beyond that, nations observe an exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which extends 200 miles off a country’s coastline and allows for exploration rights. Not only does Beijing expect others to observe its EEZ as sovereign Chinese territory (which it is not), Beijing claims waters 500 miles from the Chinese mainland and 80 percent of the Philippines’ EEZ.
But this is about much more than the Philippines. Beijing claims 90 percent of the South China Sea. These waters comprise one of the world’s main trade arteries and hold some 200 billion barrels of oil.
The tribunal’s decision not only confirms China’s outlaw behavior; it also validates the rationale behind Washington’s renewed focus on security in the Asia-Pacific – commonly called the “Pacific Pivot.” To ensure that the Pacific Pivot keeps the peace, Washington needs to resource the rhetoric, remind Beijing of the rules of the road and relearn the art of signaling in great-power relations.
Between 2011 and 2015, Beijing increased military spending 55.7 percent – and 167 percent between 2005 and 2014. The payoff: China will deploy 73 attack submarines, 58 frigates, 34 destroyers, five ballistic-missile submarines and two aircraft carriers by 2020. The Pentagon reports China can “project power at increasingly-longer ranges,” deploys more than 2,800 warplanes, and has a bristling missile arsenal with “the capability to attack large ships, including aircraft carriers, in the Western Pacific.”
Beijing is cordoning off swaths of the South China Sea, violating Japanese airspace (Japan intercepted Chinese warplanes 571 times in 2015), conducting provocative war games in the area with Russia, and, as U.S. Pacific Command’s commander, Adm. Harry Harris, concludes, turning reefs hundreds of miles from its territorial waters into man-made islands that “are clearly military in nature.”
Beijing’s goal is to dissuade Washington from intervening in what China considers its sphere of influence. The Pentagon’s shorthand for this is “anti-access/area-denial” (A2AD).
The good news is that China’s behavior has forced America’s Asia-Pacific allies to get serious about defense.
Despite the diplomatic row caused by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s undiplomatic comments, Manila and Washington are closely cooperating in the defense sphere. The Philippines is allowing Washington to preposition equipment, combat aircraft and troops on its territory. In 2015, more than 100 U.S. warships docked in Subic Bay, and U.S. planes are again landing at Clark Air Base. Manila increased defense spending 25 percent this year and signed a long-term strategic partnership agreement with Japan. The former foes have held joint naval drills, and they are exploring plans to base Japanese troops on Philippine territory.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan recently persuaded parliament to approve a reinterpretation of the constitution to allow Japan’s military to come to the defense of its allies. Japan is increasing East China Sea troop strength by 20 percent (to 10,000 personnel), expanding its suite of missile defenses, acquiring F-35 fighter-bombers, deploying massive “helicopter carriers” that can be up-converted to launch vertical-takeoff F-35Bs, and creating amphibious units modeled after the Marine Corps.
Australia plans to increase defense spending 81 percent by 2025. The Aussies are doubling their submarine fleet, procuring scores of new warplanes (eight P-8 maritime-reconnaissance planes, 12 EA-18G attack aircraft, 72 F-35s), hosting thousands of U.S. Marines for rotational deployments, and considering Washington’s request to base B-1Bs and B-52s in Australia. Plus, Australia plans to join U.S.-India-Japan naval exercises.
“U.S.-India military exercises have grown dramatically in size, scope and sophistication,” the Pentagon reports. India, which boosted defense spending 50 percent 2007-15, is deploying fighter-interceptors and U.S.-built P-8s to islands west of Thailand.
Washington has lifted arms-sales restrictions on Vietnam, and the two former foes recently signed a Joint Vision Statement on Defense Relations.
What’s emerging is a chain-link fence of bilateral and trilateral partnerships. Those who counter that such a posture might trigger a self-fulfilling prophecy of conflict don’t remember the lessons of the 20th century – and don’t live in China’s neighborhood.
This return to deterrence by China’s neighbors enhances the prospects of the Pacific Pivot. However, without U.S. military might, it won’t be enough to prevent what Churchill called “temptations to a trial of strength.” Just imagine Western Europe trying to deter Stalin with a hamstrung or halfhearted U.S. commitment.
It’s simple arithmetic. The U.S. military cannot carry out a growing list of missions with the dwindling amount resources available under the bipartisan gamble known as sequestration. By definition, sea power is an essential element of America’s deterrent strength in the Pacific. Regrettably, Washington is allowing U.S. sea power to atrophy.
At the height of the Reagan buildup, the Navy boasted 594 ships. The Navy of the mid-1990s totaled 375 ships. Today’s fleet numbers just 272 ships. While today’s Navy may be more ambidextrous than its forerunners, deterrence is about presence. And the sequestration-era Navy lacks the assets to be present in all the places it’s needed. “For us to meet what combatant commanders request,” according to former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert, “we need a Navy of 450 ships.”
These cuts are directly related to the declining defense budget, which, in a time of growing international instability, has fallen from 4.6 percent of GDP in 2009, to just above 3 percent of GDP today. This shrunken military makes deterrence less credible – and miscalculation more likely.
Miscalculation can lead to crises and even conflict. Adm. Scott Swift, commander of the Pacific Fleet, worries about a “tactical trigger with strategic implications” – an incident, mishap, midair collision or maritime confrontation that escalates into a test of wills. Before he retired as Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Raymond Odierno, without mentioning China, warned that “if we’re required to cut too much … they will challenge our credibility and they could miscalculate.”
Given the size of the U.S. defense budget and reach of the U.S. military, the balance of power would still seem to favor the United States – until one considers that America’s military assets and security commitments are spread around the globe, while China’s are concentrated in its neighborhood.
Contrary to the nation-building-at-home caucus, a forward U.S. presence in the Asia-Pacific isn’t charity work. It’s essential to defending the national interest: Fifty percent of global trade moves through the South and East China Seas. U.S. trade with Australia, China, India, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand totaled $1.13 trillion in 2015. And the United States is a Pacific power – it borders the Pacific, has territories throughout the Pacific and has treaty commitments with several allies in the Pacific.
Abe says China’s leaders must “realize that they would not be able to change the rules or take away somebody’s territorial water or territory by coercion or intimidation.”
In other words, the time for “strategic ambiguity” has given way to a time for clarity. Washington should be clear about its security commitments – ensuring the free movement of ships through international waters and aircraft through international airspace, defending the sovereignty and territorial integrity of U.S. allies, preserving a status quo that has kept the Pacific peaceful and prosperous – and clear about promoting a rules-based order rather than allowing China to impose a might-makes-right order.
Toward that end, Washington should challenge international organizations to deal with China’s illegal actions. Manila has offered a roadmap by taking its behemoth neighbor to court – and winning. Vietnam, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia and any nation whose maritime rights have been infringed by China should follow Manila’s example. Washington should help by offering technical assistance, diplomatic support, and satellite and reconnaissance evidence to keep international attention focused on Beijing’s misbehavior – and to reinforce a rules-based order in the Asia-Pacific.
ASEAN has issued a declaration endorsing “freedom of navigation in, and over-flight above, the South China Sea.” The United States, Australia and Japan reaffirmed this in a joint statement expressing “strong opposition to any coercive unilateral actions that could alter the status quo and increase tensions.” Washington should put muscle behind those words – and the U.N. tribunal’s decision – by organizing a multinational maritime taskforce to enforce the rules of the road and prevent the piecemeal annexation of the South China Sea.
In addition to Japan, the Philippines, Australia and India, it looks like Washington could count on France to participate in such a taskforce: French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian notes, “Several times per year, French navy ships cross the waters of this region, and they’ll continue to do it.” He says France is committed to “sailing its ships and flying its planes wherever international law will allow, and wherever operational needs request that we do so.” Interestingly, his words are almost identical to those of Defense Secretary Ash Carter, who notes, “We will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows.”
Backing up those words with actions is crucial.
After the Cold War, the United States was the world’s sole superpower. As a consequence, America’s civilian policymakers seldom had to engage in the sort of signal-sending that kept the Cold War from turning hot. With China’s rapid rise, those days are gone. The good news is that the U.S. military hasn’t forgotten the finer points of signaling America’s adversaries:
• Reminding Beijing that two can play the A2AD game, senior Pentagon officialsenvision the Army “leveraging its current suite of long-range precision-guided missiles, rockets, artillery and air-defense systems” in the context of “our ongoing rebalance to the Asia-Pacific.” Such an effort could protect vital waterways and dissuade Beijing from further upsetting the status quo. RAND researchers suggest that “using ground-based anti-ship missiles (ASM) as part of a U.S. A2AD strategy” and linking strategically located partner nations in a regional ASM coalition “would serve as a major deterrent” to China.
• To enforce freedom of the skies, B-52s have cruised through China’s self-declared “air-defense-identification zone.” To enforce freedom of the seas, U.S. warships have sailed within 12 miles of the made-in-China islands, and B-52s have overflown the instant islands. A-10s are conducting similar flights over Philippine waters.
• For the first time in a decade, the Pentagon deployed B-1Bs to Guam in August to underscore America’s “commitment to deterrence” and “assurance to our allies.”
• Two days after China conducted bomber exercises near Taiwan, a pair of U.S. F-18s landed in Taiwan – the first such landing in 30 years. The U.S. military said the unexpected visit was due to a “mechanical issue.” But it seems the Pentagon was reminding Beijing that Taiwan is not alone.
With enough window dressing to allow China to save face and enough substance to underscore America’s capability to project power, these are the kinds of signals Beijing understands. But without adequate investment in that deterrent capability, the signals will grow weaker – and the Pacific Pivot will fail.
Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., spoke during the press conference on Capitol Hill Sept. 14, 2016. Photo by Pete Marovich
By Stacy Gault ~ The House of Representatives passed the VA Accountability First and Appeals Modernization Act of 2016 Wednesday, a bipartisan legislation that would reform the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs appeals process and reduce wait time for veterans’ claims.
Prior to the House vote, The American Legion co-hosted a press conference with Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., where he announced that he will introduce separate legislation in the Senate to reform the appeals process.
At the press conference, the Legion, other veterans service organizations, and 10 senators and representatives from both sides of the aisle called on Congress to pass legislation to fix the VA’s broken appeals process.
“We strongly encourage Congress to pass the legislation so that our nation’s heroes can get the care and support they deserve in a timely manner,” said Verna Jones, executive director of The American Legion.
Disabled American Veterans Executive Director Garry Augustine said thousands of veterans are dying while waiting for their appeals to be decided.
“This is more than just about compensation. This is about access to health care, recognition of injuries and illnesses sustained or aggravated by defending this nation,” Augustine said.
Blumenthal, the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said that passing appeals reform “is not just about money, but it’s also not just about health care. It’s about simple justice. An appeals process that delays justice, also denies it.”
According to Blumenthal, more than 450,000 veterans are awaiting claim appeals decisions and 80,000 veterans have appeals that are older than five years. By 2027, that will grow to more than two million if the process is not modernized.
Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., a former Navy Seal commander, emphasized the importance of the reform as a veteran himself. He stressed veterans are not just numbers, but faces.
American Legion National Commander Charles E. Schmidt spoke out earlier this week urging Legionnaires to reach out to Washington and ask that they “pass appeals modernization now! Tell Congress you expect both parties to work together responsibly to pass the legislation, which includes a simple and fair appeals process that provides veterans and their families their earned benefits in a timely manner.”
The legislation is currently awaiting a vote in the Senate.
DUNEDIN, Fl – The American Legion will hold a Walk for Veterans here on Saturday, March 26. Leading the Walk will be American Legion National Commander Dale Barnett and Department of Florida Commander Jim Ramos.
“The purpose of this Walk is to raise public awareness about the crucial issues facing America’s veterans and their families,” said Department Commander Ramos. “An estimated 22 veterans a day commit suicide. Traumatic brain injuries have become a signature wound of the Global War on Terrorism and up to 20 percent of the men and women who served in Iraq or Afghanistan are believed to experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Veterans still have difficulty receiving health care in a timely manner and many have been waiting years to have their disability claims resolved. We owe it to those who served our country to never forget their sacrifice and devotion. We are walking for those who marched for us.”
The Walk will begin at 8 am and is open to all participants. The length of the walk is 2 miles and will start at American Legion Post 275, 360 Wilson Street, Dunedin. It will end at Purple Heart Park.
All of the proceeds will benefit The American Legion National Emergency Fund, which has provided more than $8 million of assistance to American Legion Family members and posts that have been impacted by natural disasters in communities across the country since 1969.
The registration fee for the walk is $15.00 and will include a t-shirt, bottled water and breakfast at the post following the walk.
For more information about The American Legion Walk for Veterans call (727) 733-8153.
On one side is a picture of the facilities at Nordhausen, a sub-camp of the German concentration camp Mittelbau-Dora in Thuringia, Germany. On the other side are pictures of the “residents” of that camp – some dying, some dead, most of them shells of the persons they once were.
In the middle of the two pictures, proudly displayed on the wall of American Legion Post 38’s John Ebling Veteran Art Gallery in Fort Myers, Fla., is an American flag stitched by those imprisoned at Nordhausen. What the flag represents is why it’s Post 38 Commander Kevin Boyd’s favorite piece in the gallery.
“As bad as it got, those people still had hope that the United States was coming to liberate them,” Boyd said. “That’s pretty powerful.”
The gallery, which opened last summer, was the brainchild of Boyd, who spent 29 years in the Navy and Naval Reserve before becoming Post 38’s commander seven years ago.
The post is named for Ebling, an Army veteran who worked in Lee County’s Office of Veterans Services. A wall in the gallery is dedicated to Ebling.
Boyd called Ebling “a man of vision. He always wanted to be the first of doing something that’s different (and) outside the norm. That’s what we need: people who go outside the norm.
“He opened (a Legion post) on a college campus (Hodges University). He brought the U.S.S. Mohawk down here and had it sunk. It’s a barrier reef for downtown. I thought it would be a great idea for a great person that has done so much for so many people, and a great way to honor him.”
And Ebling’s family’s reaction to the decision? “They were totally blown away,” Boyd said. “They couldn’t believe it. They come up here all the time.”
The gallery fits in perfectly with downtown Fort Myers’ Art Walk. On the first Friday of each month, downtown art galleries invite residents and visitors to a self-guided walking tour through downtown’s River District and Gardner’s Park area.
“I was talking with John Ebling’s daughter, and I said, ‘We have Art Walk. What a great way to bring people here to see what’s going on at The American Legion by creating an art gallery,’” Boyd said. “She goes, ‘What do we have to do to make it happen?'”
That set in motion the planning process. A room at the post was designated as the home of the museum, and post members then stripped the floors and walls, and repainted the room. “It took us two months to get it ready,” Boyd said. “This was veterans working night, day, whatever availability didn’t interfere with the operation of the post.”
Boyd said selling the idea of an art gallery to the post membership wasn’t difficult. “They look at it as change,” he said. “In any organization, change is an inevitable part of life. We’ve been doing the same old thing. If you do the same thing all the time and get no results, you have to change what you do. That’s what we wanted to do. We wanted to be proactive (and) be part of the community.”
Boyd’s brother, an Air Force veteran and artist, provided the first nine pieces of artwork. The grand opening of the gallery, and ensuing local media coverage, resulted in a slew of donated pieces.
“We have people who have 20 pieces of art they want to put in (the gallery),” Boyd said. “So what we’ve tried to do is change it up every month so that we have a different look, a different face of art that’s in the gallery.”
The creation of the artwork can be therapeutic for the artists. “That was one of the things that came out when we first talked about it,” Boyd said. “I talked with (a Department of Veterans Affairs case worker), and she said, ‘Kevin, that’s a great thing. A lot of these veterans that have PTSD, this a way for them to release a little tension.’ If a veteran wants to come in and display or sell their artwork, it’s here for them to do it.”
Boyd said the art gallery has created more foot traffic at the post. An at-risk children’s facility has contacted Boyd about creating a gallery for its children at their facility. Other veterans groups, including one from Canada, have come to visit the gallery. One Jewish veteran, a former prisoner of war, cried when he saw the Nordhausen flag.
“It brings back a lot of memories,” Boyd said. “It helps them heal old wounds, especially with our Vietnam veterans. A lot of times they don’t want to talk about the things that they went through.
“This has truly exceeded my expectations. I thought I’d have a few paintings here or there. The room’s not big enough to display (all the donated items). We’d like to make sure that we rotate them every month so that people can see some of the great work that these veterans do.”
During his report to the National Executive Committee on Oct. 15 in Indianapolis, National Historian James Copher announced the winners of the National Post History Contest and National Department History Contest, which had been judged earlier in the week by a panel of past and present department and national historians. A meeting of the NADHAL (National Association of Department Historians of The American Legion) organization, to which the judges belong, was also held.
2015 winners include:
One-Year Department Narrative History Contest (out of three entries):
First Award, Department of North Carolina
Second Award, Department of Indiana
Honorable Mention, Department of Georgia
One-Year Department Yearbook History Contest (out of 12 entries):
First Award, Department of Nebraska
Second Award, Department of North Carolina
Third Award, Department of Florida
Honorable Mention, Department of North Dakota
One-Year Post Narrative History Contest (out of six entries):
First Award, Banks Post 90, Banks, Ore.
Second Award, Pony Express Post 359, St. Joseph, Mo.
Third Award, Carroll Post 143, Carrollton, Ga.
One-Year Post Yearbook History Contest (out of 25 entries):
First Award, Carroll Post 143, Carrollton, Ga.
Second Award, Alois-Dreikosen Post 469, Marathon, Wis.
Third Award, Frierson-Nichols Post 8, Winter Haven, Fla.
Honorable Mention, Cornville Post 135, Cornville, Ariz.
Dale Barnett was elected national commander of the 2.2 million-member American Legion on Sept. 3, 2015 in Baltimore, Md., during the 97th national convention of the nation’s largest veterans organization.
Barnett graduated from the U.S. Military Academy and served as an Army infantry officer from 1974 to 1996, retiring as a lieutenant colonel. A member of American Legion Post 105 in Fayetteville, Ga., he served The American Legion at every level, including Department (State) Commander of Georgia from 2007 to 2008. After leaving the military, Barnett taught high school social studies and coached basketball, baseball and cross country. He was the Creekside High School Teacher of the Year in 2005-2006 and a national board certified social studies teacher in 2003.
Raised in central Indiana, Barnett attended Whiteland Community High School, where he was student body president, captain of the track and basketball teams and president of the Whiteland United Methodist Youth Basketball Team. He credits his experience with Hoosier Boys Nation in 1969 with his decision to attend West Point.
Barnett served from 1990 to 1991 as the battalion executive officer of the 2nd Battalion, 18th Infantry in Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. His decorations include The Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal (3rd Award), Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Southwest Asia Service Medal with two Bronze Service Stars, Humanitarian Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon (2 Awards), Kuwait Liberation Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge, Parachutist Badge and Pathfinder Badge.
In addition to an International Relations / Public Affairs degree that Barnett earned at West Point, he holds a Masters of Business Administration from Boston University and graduated from Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Barnett served as The American Legion National Membership and Post Activities Chairman from 2008 to 2010 and National Economic Chairman from 2010 to 2013.
Dale and his wife, Donna, live in Douglasville, Ga., and have five children: Michelle, Andrea, Desiree, Kathalyn, and Joseph. They also have four young grandchildren: Heather, Daniel, Joanne and Brandon.
Below are the totals for the National Emergency Fund, Commander’s Challenge. Florida has contributed $16,587 so far, that’s 46% of our goal. As a reminder, the deadline is August 1st. If you have any outstanding donations, please send them in.
On July 21, the 2015 class of Boys Nation senators elected a president and vice president in grand style.
The young men kicked things off in the same manner the program follows every year. The senators sat quietly and observed the presidential candidates’ campaign speeches. Following the speeches, the senators had a couple of hours to talk to the candidates offline and consider who they would cast their vote for.
After partaking in a meal together and a meet and greet with Jeffery Cole, a Marine Corps veteran who received the Silver Star for his actions in Afghanistan, it was time to vote. With their state signs in hand, the senators lined up and took turns verbally casting their votes for the new Boys Nation president.
The race was close, but Nationalist Aravind Byju, of Osprey, Fla., took home the victory, winning by a close vote of 50 to 46 with two abstentions.
“Right now this whole experience has been absolutely surreal for me, and it really has not hit me,” Byju said. “I am very blessed to be where I am and to have all the opportunity that I have enjoyed.”
Still fired up after the results of the presidency, the boys rolled right into the vote for vice president, which resulted in a tie – the first time in more than 30 years. Luckily, Boys Nation Activity Director and Past National Commander Bob Turner, who has been a part of the program for more than 30 years, knew just how to handle the situation.
“It’s always been said and written that in case of a tie – rather than do the whole (voting) process again – we do a coin flip. Everything went perfect and the young men knew beforehand that was the way we were going to solve it.”
Down to the wire, vice president candidates Federalist Peter Spectre and Nationalist Diab Eid watched as Turner flipped the coin that would decide their fate. After selecting the red side of the coin, Eid’s eyes followed the coin as it flipped in the air, landing on the blue side. Just like that – at the flip of a coin – Spectre’s vice presidency was confirmed.
“It was one of the closest elections I’ve ever seen in my time here,” Turner said. “We have had a lot that were close — even down to one point, but we’ve never had a tie.”
After a quick hug, the two candidates joined the rest of the group to celebrate.
Reflecting on their wins, the newly elected Boys Nation president and vice president said they were thankful to have made it so far in the election process, and they hope to take what they have learned home with them and build on their successes.
“I would not be anything without all of those who have supported me, and I want to thank my Legion Post 159 that sponsored me, and my entire family and my brother who is my inspiration,” Byju said. “I am very humbled, and I can only hope to make everyone proud.”