Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Loose Ends

The House Select Committee on Benghazi released its final report this morning.  Republican members of the panel (and their staff) crafted the document; committee Democrats, who dismissed the two-year inquiry as a political witch-hunt--and worse--marked the occasion with more criticism of their GOP colleagues, while claiming the report provided no evidence of wrong-doing by Hillary Clinton.

By that standard, it should also be noted that the assessment doesn't exactly cover Mrs. Clinton in glory, either.  House investigators affirmed what most Americans have known for years; the former Secretary of State ignored hundreds of requests from Ambassador Chris Stevens to upgrade security at U.S. diplomatic facilities in Libya, but his pleas were ignored.  Stevens was one of four Americans who died when Islamic terrorists attacked the U.S. consulate and CIA annex in Benghazi on the night of September 11, 2012.

Indeed, the report documents 10 previous terror attacks in area during the months leading up to Benghazi, including two IED strikes against the American compound.  Yet, Mrs. Clinton's State Department elected to decrease security in the weeks before the final attack.  One unnamed security official summed it up well: noting the escalating violence in Benghazi, he predicted that "people are going to die" if the State Department didn't upgrade security for its personnel.

And when confronted with the truth, Hillary fell back on her most tried-and-true tactic: she lied.  Not just once, but repeatedly.  As David French notes at National Review, the House report is particularly effective at noting the blatant contradictions between public statements on the debacle (which initially blamed that infamous internet video) and private communications, where Mrs. Clinton immediately classified it as a terrorist attack.

Indeed, one of the more revealing sections of the report details a video conference, led by White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough as the U.S. facilities were under siege.  It paints a picture of a national security team that was confused and mired in political correctness.  From Politico:

According to the report, some participants on the videoconference were unsure about what each agency was doing to rescue Americans.

State Department officials on the call also brought up concerns about whether Marines who might have been deployed to Benghazi were wearing uniforms, the report found — something officials previously said could hurt diplomacy in the region. One commander told the committee he and his men over the course of three hours kept having to change from uniforms to civilian clothes.

Panel Democrats said witnesses told investigators that the overall focus of the teleconference was first and foremost the safety and security of U.S. personnel in Benghazi. Adm. Kurt Tidd, director for operations at the joint staff at the Pentagon, said they "went down the list of the types of forces that are potentially available." 

"[W]e came out of that meeting with basically: send everything,” he said. 

But GOP sources said that urgency to ensure help was moving on the ground was not reflected in notes and action items. Half of the action items that conference participants wrote down in their notes had nothing to do with rescuing Americans, they said. Many of the action items were about the anti-Islamic video on which the administration would incorrectly blame the attack.

Hillary Clinton briefly participated in the teleconference, though it's unclear what directives she offered (if any).  A short time later, she went home for the evening, while Americans were still under attack at the CIA Annex.  In the end, no American military forces were dispatched to Benghazi.
Quite predictably, Mrs. Clinton's court stenographers in the MSM view the House report as vindication.  Absent a smoking gun, they glad accept the Democrat narrative that the two-year investigation was a waste of time and money.

But moving beyond the spin, the narrative depicts a foreign policy establishment that was completely dysfunctional.  After securing the desired "win" by removing Libyan dictator Mummar Qadhafi, Mrs. Clinton and her minions--along with President Obama and his national security team--had no plan for moving forward in Libya.  Instead, the nation foundered and became a breeding ground for Islamic terrorists, including those that killed four Americans on that terrible night almost four years ago. 

Unfortunately, the report leaves many unanswered questions about our failure to respond.  After originally deciding to "send everything," the administration and its top military officers apparently determined that nothing could be done.  There were no available assets, they argue; the distance was too great and the forces that could be mustered would arrive too late to make a difference.  

And, at various points in their assessment , Committee Chair Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and his colleagues seem quite willing to go along with that narrative.  Responding to questions about sending F-16s from Aviano AB, Italy, the Air Force told Mr. Gowdy's investigators that jets and crews at that installation were busy with an inspection. "Live" munitions had not been assembled and could not be prepared quickly enough to mount a response to Benghazi.  

But that rather tidy explanation has been debunked by individuals at the scene.  Last month, an airman who was at Aviano at the time told Adam Housley of Fox News that Aviano's 31st Fighter Wing was alerted for "real world" tasking that night, and the base flighline was abuzz with activity, as pilots and ground crews prepared for possible tasking in Benghazi. 

In his interview with Mr. Housley, the airman made it clear that the preparations were in response to events in Libya--not the inspection.  Indeed, Air Force policy has long mandated that real-world tasking always trumps evaluations.  At the moment a unit is alerted, the evaluation stops.  Of course, the USAF has never specified what type of inspection was taking place at Aviano.  Was it a local operational readiness exercise (ORE), or a formal evaluation by the U.S. Air Force in Europe (USAFE) Inspector General?  Such questions could be easily answered by the committee requesting a copy of the inspection report--or interviewing the wing commander--but there is no evidence Gowdy or his investigators ever made those requests.  

The committee also raised red flags about potentially incomplete displays of available forces in theater.  The report notes that a C-17 which flew an evacuation mission to Libya on 12 September (apparently from a base in Europe) was not included in a graphic depiction of on-hand assets during that period.  Did anyone from the committee bother to check with the command post or base ops at Ramstein AB, Germany, RAF Mildenhall in the UK, or other bases that support C-17 missions--and would track the arrival and departure of transient aircraft?  

Likewise, the panel sheds no light on USN assets in the Mediterranean.  While there was no carrier in the region that night, there were almost certainly guided missile destroyers, cruisers or attack submarines that (as a last resort) could have mounted a cruise missile strike against terrorist targets in Benghazi, using updated coordinates provided by an unarmed UAV, orbiting overhead. 

Additionally, there is no information on the status of airlift assets available to move SOF elements from Croatia, or a Marine FAST team from Rota, Spain.  Such data should be readily available through the theater operations center, or the Tanker Airlift Coordination Center, part of Air Mobility Command (AMC) at Scott AFB, Illinois.  The report provides no indication that investigators contacted AMC or other airlift control elements as part of the probe.   This much we know: it took more than five hours for the Pentagon to begin moving assets towards Benghazi, unacceptably slow given the deteriorating situation on the ground in Libya.  

Equally disturbing is the (apparent) inability of the committee to fill in the "missing hours" in President Obama's schedule on the night in question.  Officially, we know that he met with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and JCS Chairman General Martin Dempsey in the late afternoon, about two hours into the attack.  A few hours later, he placed a call to a foreign leader, but there is no indication of his whereabouts (or actions) in the time leading up to that conversation, or in the hours that followed.  Publicly, Mr. Obama would not be seen again until 9 am the following morning, as he departed for a campaign trip to Nevada.  

In fact, no one seems really sure who was calling the shots in the situation room that night, with Mr. Obama apparently indisposed and Mrs. Clinton at her home.   The scenario is mind-boggling; American diplomatic and intelligence facilities are being overrun; our ambassador is dead, and the Commander-in-Chief and SecState are nowhere to be found.   

As Mr. French observes, the Benghazi disaster would be enough to end the career of a mere mortal, but no one describes Hillary Clinton in those terms.  She has proclaimed it is time to "move on," and her friends in the media are ready to follow suit.  Benghazi will now fade in the nation's rear-view mirror as Clinton sets her sights on November.  

Mr. Gowdy and his Republican committee members should be commended for their work, but in the end, it merely affirms the worst qualities of Mrs. Clinton, which the media and political elites are all-too-happy to ignore, regardless of the consequences.  And unfortunately, the Gowdy reports still leaves many questions unanswered.  Hillary Clinton wasn't the only senior official who failed miserably that night, and like the former Secretary of State, they will never be held accountable. 



Thursday, June 23, 2016

Correcting History

There is something quite predictable about The New York Times article which presents a new twist on one of the most iconic images in history--Joe Rosenthal's 1945 photograph of Marines raising the American flag on Iwo Jima.  Here's the lede from reporter Michael S. Schmidt, who has covered military topics for many years, and quite frankly, should know better:

"An internal investigation by the Marine Corps has concluded that for more than 70 years it wrongly identified one of the men in the iconic photograph of the flag being raised over Iwo Jima during one of the bloodiest battles of World War II."

Mr. Schmidt goes on to detail the results of an official inquiry which has determined that Navy Corpsman John Bradley was not one of the flag-raisers in photograph, which was taken atop Mount Suribachi as the battle still raged on 23 February 1945.  The possibility that Bradley was not in the photo was first detailed in an article published by the Omaha World Herald in 2014; a pair of World War II history buffs took a closer look at Rosenthal's epic photo and decided that the figure identified as John Bradley did not match other images taken of him that day.  Those photos, culled by two amateur historians from various archives and published by the Herald, show Bradley wearing "cuffed" uniform pants, while all of the men in the flag-raising photo are wearing trousers without cuffs.  


Joe Rosenthal's famous photo of the Iwo Jima flag raising, with the participants identified.  Prior to a recent USMC inquiry, it was accepted that five Marines and a Navy Corpsman (John Bradley) appeared in the image.  Now, it is believed that the man identified as Bradley was actually a sixth Marine.  

Other clues also emerged.  A photo of Bradley, taken earlier that day, shows him wearing a belt and pouches that don't match those of the man in the Rosenthal photo.  Indeed, the figure identified as John Bradley for eight decades has a pouch with wire cutters dangling from his belt--an item that was not standard issue for Navy Corpsmen.  Over a period of weeks, the two historians, one from Ireland, the other in Omaha, became increasingly convinced that the man believed to be Bradley was actually a Marine named Harold Schultz.   

Needless to say, these claims generated tremendous controversy.  The flag-raising photo won a Pulitzer Prize in 1945; it is the most widely-reproduced image of all time and it became the model for the Marine Corps Memorial in Washington, D.C.  In fact, sculptor Felix de Weldon, who created the massive figures that form the centerpiece of the monument, began working on a maquette for his design when the photo first appeared--years before receiving the actual commission.  The memorial was dedicated in 1954, and remains one of the most popular attractions for visitors to Washington, D.C.

John Bradley's role in the flag-raising was also the focus of a best-selling book (Flags of Our Fathers, written by his son, James), which also became the basis of a Clint Eastwood film, released in 2006.  Until those Marine history buffs began comparing old photographs, the weight of evidence suggested that the elder Bradley was the man who helped raise Old Glory on that February day long ago.

But to their credit, both the Marine Corps and James Bradley were willing to consider the possibility of mistaken identity, stretching over 75 years.  The Corps appointed a panel of experts, led by a retired Lieutenant General, who eventually arrived at the conclusion that the figure in the photograph was PFC Harold Schultz and not the Navy Corpsman.  And last month, James Bradley expressed doubt that his father is one of the men in the Rosenthal photo.  

Which brings us back to the folks at the Times and today's update on the controversy.  For whatever reason, Mr. Schmidt and his editors claim the figure in the photo, the memorial and countless reproductions was "wrongly identified" as John Bradley, hinting at motives that were somehow sinister and conspiratorial. 

A complete telling of the episode casts events in a much different light.  The inaccurate identification of Harold Schultz as John Bradley is the product of the fog of war and the reluctance of many Iwo survivors to talk about the horrors of the campaign, which claimed the lives of more than 6,000 Marines and sailors.  

As any student of the battle knows, there were two flag-raisings on Mount Suribachi that day.  The first was performed by members of a 40-man led by lLt Harold Schrier, who reached the top of the peak around 10:30 am.  John Bradley was a Corpsman assigned to that group and participated in the first flag raising, which was recorded by Marine Corps combat photographer Sergeant Lou Lowery.


A photo taken just moments after the initial flag-raising on Iwo Jima, February 23, 1945.  Navy Corpsman John Bradley is the sixth man from the left, with his right hand on the flagstaff.  The image was taken by Marine Corps combat photographer Sgt Lou Lowery and first appeared in Leatherneck magazine in 1947.    

The second flag-raising, also supervised by Lt Schrier, occurred about two hours later.  By that time, Lowery was heading down from the summit to deliver his film for processing.  He ran into Joe Rosenthal and another Marine photographer, Sergeant Bill Genaust, who was carrying a motion picture camera.  Lowery told them he had recorded the flag raising, but encouraged them to continue up Suribachi, because of the good view from the top of the peak.  The second flag went up shortly after Rosenthal and Genaust arrived.  Rosenthal, on assignment for the AP, shot the moment hurriedly, not really sure of what his Speed Graphic had captured. 

With the battle still raging, Rosenthal didn't have time to record the names of the flag raisers.  But, as the photo gained instant acclaim, there was a clamor to identify the men in that image, led by President Roosevelt, and bring them home.  By the time the search began in earnest, three of the Marines (Mike Strank, Franklin Sousley and Harlan Block) had been killed in action, and John Bradley was recovering from battle wounds.  

Among the survivors, Private Rene Gagnon (who served as a runner during most of the battle) was quickly identified as a flag raiser, and officers leaned heavily on him to identify the rest.  He signed an affidavit naming himself, Strank, Sousley, Bradley, Hank Hansen and Ira Hayes as the men in the photo.  Hansen, he claimed, was the Marine closest to the base of the flag pole--a mistake that was not corrected until Harlan Block's mother saw the image and claimed the man in question was actually her son.  At that point, Gagnon revised his account.  Hansen also died on the island and Hayes was a very reluctant participant in the fanfare that followed. Haunted by his experiences in combat, Hayes died of alcoholism in 1955.  

As for John Bradley, he also had no taste for celebrity and was long traumatized by what he witnessed on Iwo.  But he also understood the military, and when directed to take part in the bond drive, the young Corpsman obeyed his orders.  Yet, he also moved to quickly distance himself from the fame accorded to the flag-raisers.  After leaving the Navy, Bradley became a successful funeral director in his home state of Wisconsin, fathered a large family and became a pillar of the community.  

While acknowledging his service in World War II--and participation in the flag-raising--Bradley refused to provide any details.  As recounted in Flags of Our Fathers, John Bradley struggled with the demons of war, weeping in his sleep for many years, and rejecting all media requests for interviews.  Even members of his family knew only the barest details of time in battle.  After Bradley's death in 1994, his widow and children found a Navy Cross in a shoebox in his closet.  John Bradley received the Navy's second highest award for valor on Iwo (for braving withering enemy fire to treat wounded Marines) and never told anyone about it, even his wife of 50 years.  

Likewise, Harold Schultz did his best to bury the past and move on.  Wounded in battle, he returned to the U.S. to recuperate and was discharged from the Marine Corps in the fall of 1945.  He spent the rest of his career working for the Post Office in southern California, living a quiet and humble existence.  Schultz didn't marry until he was 60 and only mentioned the flag-raising once, over the supper table with his wife and step-daughter in 1992.  When his daughter exclaimed "My gosh, Harold, you're a hero," he said "No, I was a Marine."  It was the last time he mentioned the event, although a copy of the Rosenthal photo was among his belongings when Schultz died in 1995.  

The Marine Corps is now updating its records to reflect Schultz's position as one of the flag-raisers.  But why did the mistake persist for so long?  Perhaps the answers can be found in the era that produced such remarkable men.  Both John Bradley and Harold Schultz came from a time when most Americans didn't eagerly seek fame, or to capitalize on their exploits.  Most viewed military service as a necessary  obligation after their country was attacked and they willingly did their job--not necessarily for freedom, democracy or any other lofty ideal, but for their buddies who were serving alongside. 

Raising the flags on the bitterly-contested island was part of a job they had to do.  And when confronted with extraordinary circumstances--namely, being identified as a part of that iconic image and instructed to perform fund-raising and publicity functions that came with the territory--John Bradley reluctantly agreed.  As depicted in his son's book and the Eastwood film, there was enormous pressure to find the men in the photo and leverage that moment to push the nation on towards final victory, particularly in regards to funding the war effort through one last bond drive.  It is very clear that the elder Bradley and Ira Hayes were uncomfortable with their sudden fame and acclaim, and sought to return to a normal life as quickly as possible.  It is also clear that neither tried to profit from the experience; books and films about their lives appeared after their passing.  

The same can be said for Harold Schultz.  He was apparently quite happy to fade into the anonymity of everyday life and saw no need to correct the historical record.  Schultz was likely haunted by the same ghosts that troubled John Bradley, Ira Hayes and the other men who lived through Iwo.  They left too many friends behind to worry about about who might have been in a photo--even if it is one of the most famous images in history.  And if called on to discuss such matters, they did so with great reluctance and the utmost humility.  

That is not to say that historical inaccuracies should not be corrected.  But perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from Harold Schultz, John Bradley and the other men who did their duty on that remote island so many years ago.  It is a lesson in deference and respect, virtues that appear to be fading as quickly as the last men and women from the Greatest Generation.             


Monday, June 20, 2016

God and Airmen at Travis AFB

Returning after an extended break from the blog, I came across this disturbing headline (and accompanying video) at Breitbart:

"Veteran Forcibly Dragged from Air Force Ceremony for Mentioning God."

The video was recorded on 3 April of this year, at a ceremony for Master Sergeant Charles Roberson, who was retiring from active duty after more than 20 years of honorable service.  MSgt Roberson, like many leaving the service, requested a flag-folding as part of the event.  While there is no "official" flag-folding ceremony, it is well-established in military tradition, and there are several narrations which accompany the ritual.

And that's where the controversy at Travis begins.  Sergeant Roberson, like many departing service members, requested a narrative which highlights (in part) our religious heritage and liberties.  Here are a few excerpts:

"The fourth fold represents our weaker nature, for as American citizens trusting in God, it is to Him we turn in times of peace as well as in times of war for His divine guidance."


"The eleventh fold, in the eyes of a Hebrew citizen, represents the lower portion of the seal of King David and King Solomon and glorifies, in their eyes, the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob.  

The twelfth fold, in the eyes of a Christian citizen, represents an emblem of eternity and glorifies, in their eyes, God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost."  

Needless to say, those references didn't sit well with politically-correct Air Force leadership, which issued its a secular version back in 2005.  Religious themes were dumped in favor of "factual information, that shows respect for the flag and expresses our gratitude for those individuals who protect our country, both at home and abroad."

Unfortunately for the USAF's PC Police, many retirees--like MSgt Roberson--preferred the religious narrative and kept using it at their retirement ceremonies.  The vast majority of commanders allowed the choice, figuring (correctly) that the honoree deserved that much, after decades of wearing the nation's uniform and enduring the sacrifices associated with military service. 

But Roberson's commander, Lieutenant Colonel Michael Sovitsky, had other ideas.  As retired Senior Master Sergeant Oscar Rodriguez began reciting the religious-themed flag-folding narrative, at least four of Sovitsky's non-commissioned officers surrounded the narrator and dragged him from the room. Members of Travis's 60th Security Forces Squadron were summoned and Rodriguez was escorted from the base.  

All because a retiring NCO requested a flag-folding narrative that spoke to his religious beliefs.  Let the record show that MSgt Roberson personally invited SMSgt Rodriguez to his retirement ceremony and specifically requested that he render the religious version of the flag-folding narration.  Roberson made his preferences known well in advance, so claims by Air Force p.r. flacks that Rodriguez "disrupted" the ceremony or showed up unannounced are pure bunk.  

In fairness, it is worth noting that leadership in the 749th Maintenance Squadron (Roberson's outfit) were aware of his request and opposed it from the start.  The estimable John Q. Public blog has been on the story from the start and reports that Roberson's chain of command provided "guidance" on the narrative once Roberson made his preferences known: Rodriguez was not to perform the "unauthorized" flag speech.  MSgt Roberson passed on the directive to the narrator, while making clear his preference for the religious-themed narrative.  According to J.Q.P., Roberson left the final decision to Rodriguez as to whether he would stand and speak during the flag folding.  SMSgt Rodriguez chose to exercise his First Amendment rights, and for his efforts, was unceremoniously dragged from the ceremony and kicked off post.  

Some might argue that the Air Force had a right to eject Rodriguez.  His narrative could be construed as an endorsement of Judaism and Christianity, and it took place on public property, specifically a building at Travis AFB.  Volumes of court rulings would seem to support the USAF, no matter how repugnant its actions were.  

But J.Q.P. raises important counter-arguments that demolish the Air Force's position.  He notes that military chaplains often deliver religious invocations at retirement ceremonies and other official events, often appearing in the same frame as the American flag.  As for the Air Force Instruction (34-1201) that mandates use of the "secular" flag-folding script, the reg doesn't carry the weight of law and "creates an unwarranted limitation" on the ability of service members to draw inspiration from the flag and express it publicly.  Such expressions are not contrary to the maintenance of good order and discipline, so the USAF's position is further eroded.  And, there's the very real possibility that leaders of the 749th issued illegal detention orders when they directed those NCOs to remove Oscar Rodriguez.

And here's the kicker: the flag-folding is not part of the official retirement ceremony, so the Trotskyites in the 749th were attempting to dictate content and participation of a private ritual--requested by the retiree--after the conclusion of events that fall under Air Force purview.  Instead, the "leadership" of the unit (and we use that term advisedly) tried to exert total command influence over the event.  What was supposed to be a fitting send-off for a retiring airman instead became a strong-armed spectacle, thanks to commanders who seem to care only about their P.C. agenda--and not those who serve under them.  

J.Q.P. describes the Travis debacle as more proof of the "moral rot" that is crippling the USAF.  Sadly, we can't disagree.  

In response to media queries, the Air Force says an investigation into the matter is underway.  For those keeping score at home, the probe is being handled by the 60th Security Forces Squadron, the same unit  involved in removing Oscar Rodriguez from Travis after he was ejected from MSgt Roberson's retirement ceremony.            

We're quite sure it will be the very model of impartiality and fairness.