MilBlog Conference 2011 (MBC) - 4

Gold Star Families panel. I can't blog this one. I just can't. Go watch over at YouServed.


- hfs

MilBlog Conference 2011 (MBC) - 3

LTG William Caldwell (commander, NATO training mission) addresses us from Afghanistan.

LTG Caldwell is welcoming everyone. This is his second time addressing this conference - last time was as the commander for CGSC. He applauds each and every blogger for what they do in supporting the United States military.

Live stream up over at YouServed.

He's currently talking about infiltration into the ranks, based on the events in Afghanistan recently where US servicemembers have been killed by Afghan servicemembers. He's quite emotional and it's obvious that this is taking it's toll on him. I can't imagine. There is an 8-step process and a biometric database that aids in vetting the Afghanis. Afghanis are also starting to employ HUMINT and counterintelligence training in their effort to help weed out infiltrators. By the end of this year, there should be about 440 Afghani soldiers trained in these methods and serving in BNs and BDEs.

Question: What tools are we giving the soldiers over there in order to tell the stories of the training they are taking place in Afghanistan?
The philosophy is that there is nobody more informed than the soldier on point, doing that training each and every day. They need to be made to feel free to engage in whatever avenue of social media that they are comfortable with to share their experiences.

Question: What protections do we have that the Afghan soldiers WE train don't leak away and join the insurgency to use those skills against us?
There isn't an automated database up and running yet but it's on it's way. By employing biometrics we hope to be able to track those assets.

Question: per Pres. Obama we begin to drawdown in July. Will his command be immune from that process for the time being?
The command represents about 3% of the current force in Afghanistan. They have plans to be there for many years but are setting the conditions for the Afghanis to take the lead on the situation per the drawdown in 2014.

Question: What do you see the role being for junior officers in terms of social media environments?
We train them to understand the limits of the system - the ins and outs - what's appropriate and what is not. 99% of the American public have no experience serving in uniform, therefore our servicemembers are our embassadors. Use the social media to share your experiences but do so responsibly.

Closing remarks from LTG Caldwell.

I have to say, I admire this man. His support for social media is unwavering and clear. His support for his soldiers is beyond that. Our military is in good hands with this man. It was good to see him again.


- hfs

MilBlog Conference 2011 (MBC) - 2.1

Back now. Still talking about social media and the DoD. Talking about ROI/ROE - rules. Are they liberating in their clarity or constraining? The consensus is that it depends on who is implementing them.

Taming the 24/7 beast that is social media is almost un-doable.

Question: is it possible that the military has gone too far toward social media and too far away from the MSM?

Relationships are key. Bloggers and social media personnel have to build those relationships as well and harass them as much as possible.

Question: As social media matures, what might the affect be on a command staff and PAOs to take advantage of said media and inform those decisions?
As a commander, it's your responsibility that everyone have access. This isn't going away. It's a process of culture.

More coming!


- hfs

MilBlog Conference 2010 (MBC) - 2

Next panel is Social Media and the Military.

Moderated by: Lindy Kyzer Panelists: Captain David Werner, LTC Andrew Morton, Gregory Reeder, Robert M. (“Bob”) Bohanek

Read more: Milblog Conference

1. Policy landscape: DoD recently disbanded it's social media component. How do you see social media transforming?
LTC Morton: In terms of policy...there's no turning back. Even if the SecDef wanted to shut down some of the external components, he couldn't. It's not a policy, it's not a platform. It's you - the people in this audience and on the 'net. There are ROE but the bottom line is that our policy is to make sure that you have accessibility to our leaders and that our soldiers have accessibility to your blogs.

2. Is there a policy?
CPT Warner: The Navy does have a policy - personal use and professional memos. You can't legislate "Don't be stupid." But the Navy's policy is that we're burning the boats - we're there to stay and we're not going back. Now the question is how do we arm and train our sailors in this situation? Time to shed some 20th century thinking.

Greg Reader: The Corps has policy for each aspect - all based on old models. Things happen so fast that, once you get the policy out, you have to amend it. And that doesn't even beging to cover the legal issues. You can't wait on Terms of Service - moves too quickly. Hard to put teeth to a policy so we fly by the seat of our pants. Policy can't keep up.

Bob Bohanic - the leadership has no clue what we're doing with social media. It's like toothpaste - it's left the tube and you can't get it back in.

3. What's the current landscape for educating servicemembers in social media?
LTC Morton: less than 1 out of 4 bloggers is a servicemember. So accessibility to soldiers and leadership is the key issue. The Army has put together a social media primer. It's a G6 fight - information and information assurance.

4. Top 40 companies are doing the same thing now that the DoD is doing - creating policy. There are resources out there in the private industry - use them.
LTC Morton: the flip side is that civilian industry looks at the DoD for inspiration as well.
Bob Bohanic: when you try to build a social platform, you'll succeed. If you're trying to make a buck, you're going to fail.

5. Are you seeing a synergy between social media and the news cycle?
CPT Warner: Operation Tomodachi as the example. 7th Fleet's Facebook page adds detail and clarification to a news story about the USS Reagan and radioactivity that affected the MSM's story. So yes, there is a synergy.

More coming - going to go take a few pictures.


- hfs

MilBlog Conference 2011 (MBC) - 1

I'm getting a late start on my live-blogging of the 2011 MilBloggers' conference here in Washington, D.C. Currently, the former Secretary of State, Donald Rumsfeld is speaking. He's shorter than I expected. Apparently, the camera not only adds weight but it also adds inches.

He's funny. Says he appreciates what we do even though he doesn't quite understand WHAT we do.

It's open for questions:

1. What are your thoughts on the current change in leadership at the CIA? (General Petraeus will be taking over leadership of the agency):
Secretary Rumsfeld is concerned over the fact that we've had 4 or 5 CIA leaders in the past 10 years. If you ran a company like that, you'd go broke. You simply cannot efficiently run an organization like that. His hope is that a respect for the seriousness and the importance of those posts will develop as well as the realization that that kind of turnover is not conducive to the success of the agency.

2. Given the President's announcement of $400 billion in defense cuts, what are your thoughts?
Any big bureaucracy has waste and there is no doubt that the Pentagon is not immune to that. There is also a lot of resistance to those kinds of cuts. He says he has not studied the cuts proposed but he has studied history and cuts like this are cyclical. We drew down after the Cold War and look where it got us. Our Human Intelligence community was starved for resources and that is what GHWB inherited in 2001. And look where that got us.

3. Rumor has it that you were a relatively demanding boss (he read that in the book) during your tenure. In our environment, there is a fear of making a mistake, especially with regard to social media. If you were a new boss, coming into things now, what would you say to people to open up participation in social media?
You relax and enjoy it and encourage it. You can't stop it. The enemy is using it. Change is hard for people and they like to think that they are controlling things but it's impossible. You just have to accept it.

4. Thoughts on the fielding of the MRAP (during your tenure and after you left office)?
He's not sure how to put it...people were getting killed by explosives in Iraq and Afghanistan. Every time we found a way to avoid those injuries and casualties, the enemy would find a way around it. Finally, he said that wasn't acceptable. If the Army is not capable of equipping our soldiers in the field then you change tactics. Until you can protect them, you keep them inside the compound. It has to be fixed fast. Hence, the MRAP. They reenergized the IED force - sped up technology development, intelligence gathering, etc.

5. Marcus is up from YouServed with a question from their readers.
What do you see as the biggest challenge in Afghanistan? Need a fresh look from leadership. And if your goal is to not BE there, then figure out a way to solidify the leadership instead of weakening it and trashing Karzai. Running around saying "the government is corrupt!" is like saying "There's gambling in the casino!". Find a way to strengthen their government. We can't compare them to us. We can't use our template to create their government. It's a totally different country and we have to give them a chance. We can't nation-build for them.

6. What leadership disagreements did you have and how did you resolve them?
Rumsfeld would encourage you to read the book. There is an audio version too!

7. Veterans serving in an elected capacity. What advice do you have and what would you tell them about developing a thick skin?
Rumsfeld would offer encouragement. Our political system is one of the most incredible feats of mankind. He would get Adalai Stevenson's speech (on his website) off there and give it to them. Read history. Read biographies. What we're going through today is uncivil but that's the nature of freedom - you're free to be unkind, uninformed. We need more people from the military in politics. Let the ick roll off your back. You get the burden with the benefit and the benefit with the burden.

8. Talk about the weight on your heart and mind when you have to send people into harm's way.
It's the toughest part of being in a policy-making position. What can you say to make them understand the appreciation that he and the country have for the sacrifices made by our servicemembers? They went in trying to encourage and always came out inspired.

9. Another question from the live-streaming chat. What advise would you give Secretary Gates on retirement?
He's not a big advice-giver. He'd thank him for his service. He doesn't worry much about Secretary Gates.

10. Another chat question: What are your thoughts on Libya?
What's our strategic edifice? What's important? First: do no harm. Make sure that whatever it is that we do is not disadvantageous to the "big pieces" - Iran, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, etc. You cannot end up with Khaddafi still there. Leaving Saddam in place empowered him. You can't do that with Khaddafi or you'll wind up with the same result. In our circumstance, the mission MUST determine the coalition. It's what GHWB did - set the goal first. Not the other way around. There's no clarity. We have no idea what we're trying to accomplish. The coalition was formed without clarity and it's harmful.

11. WRT Lybia: are you suggesting that there is another way to remove him beyond what we're doing?
There are other opportunities - beyond boots on the ground - that we can utilize to remove him. There are things we can do that will strengthen the rebels and weaken the government/Khaddafi and we're not doing them. When it's over, he thinks that Khaddafi should be gone and the people of Lybia should play a big part in making that happen.

And the panel is over. Time for book signings and pictures. My overall impression is that Secretary Rumsfeld is incredibly sharp, wouldn't know how to BS if you paid him, blunt, and quite funny. I have a feeling sarcasm is probably his first language and that we'd get along quite well.

As wonderful as it was to meet, what made the morning even better is meeting an old friend live and in person for the first time. That definitely was worth the price of admission.


- hfs


Norovirus = fun times

The Girl is down with what appears to be a bout with the norovirus. All the fun of a tummy bug minus the fever. She's showing signs of mild dehydration and can't keep a single thing down - not ginger ale, not ginger tea, not water. We'll try again in a short while. Her vitals are holding steady at the moment but if this continues, she may get an all-expense paid trip to the Acute Care Clinic and a reintroduction to an IV.

When she was 4 months old, she came down with bronchiolitis and the croup at the same time. Her oxygen saturation levels plummeted and she wound up spending the night in the hospital on an IV and a nebulizer. Scared the CRAP out of us. At 5 months of age, she picked up rotovirus. Back to the hospital we went; this time due to dehydration. Cue the IV again. At 6 months, it was rotovirus again. Poor kid couldn't catch a break. Back to the hospital, back on the IV. At 7 months, it was RSV. Cue the nebulizer and the IV yet again. They offered to give us our own parking spot at the hospital.

I politely declined.

Finally, we were clear of it all and, for the most part, she has been healthy ever since. She's had the typical run-ins with colds and tummy bugs but nothing remarkable. The Boy was a different story - multiple run-ins with strep until I finally convinced his pediatrician to give me the ENT consult so that they could yank his tonsils out. He has been healthy ever since. As has the girl. Until today. Poor thing.

The timing of this is curious as Hawaii has had a recent run-in of it's own with the norovirus. I'd be more suspicious if we had actually been out to eat anywhere in the last week. But we have not. So who knows where she picked it up. I'm just hoping that, if I'm going to get sick with this one, it happens sooner rather than later as I am heading to the mainland in the near future and really, REALLY don't want to be sick on my trip. Maybe I'll go share her cup of ginger ale...


- hfs


'Why I believe in Team Rubicon, and why it is so important to me.'

I don't know how to start this post.

First, I want you to read something. I swiped this without permission but I think it will be ok, once I explain. But first, read:

Wounded, But Still in the Fight
by Clay Hunt

On March 14, 2007, laying in the prone outside of Fallujah with a SAW pulled into my shoulder, a sniper round took my left wrist out from underneath my chin and my life was changed forever. No, wait, let me back up. On March 11, 2007, pinned in the driver’s seat of my truck with RPK rounds pinging off the bulletproof glass next to my left ear, and no way to get to my A-gunner who lay dying in the street 20 yards in front of me, my life was changed forever. Wait. Let me back up one more time. At dusk on February 18, 2007, monitoring our radio on top of an AMTRAC 15 clicks from my best friend’s squad, I heard that my bunkmate had been killed, and my life was changed forever. That was the moment I realized that we weren’t invincible. That’s when it all started, I guess.

Nothing has been remotely the same for me since that day in February when Blake was killed. I went back to my hooch when my squad got back from our mission the following day, and all of his things had already been put in a metal box and sent away, back to his mom I guess. He had gotten the bottom bunk that didn’t have a fluorescent bulb next to it, so I moved all of my stuff down and slept in his bunk for the next 3 and a half weeks until I got shot. I think I just wanted to be closer to him, I guess. But I couldn’t- he was gone. Then there was Nathan.

Nathan and Blake were like brothers- we called them the twins, actually. They never left each other’s side, except on squad patrols, because they were in different squads. They even looked alike. It’s weird to think about now, really- I still see their faces when I see a skinny young Jarhead with no hair these days. Sometimes I have to actually do a double-take just to make sure it’s not one of them. But back to the story.

Dawn broke on us March 11th, with the birds starting to chirp, then the music from the mosque nearby came on for a call to prayer or for Jihad- I couldn’t tell which- and then the sun finally started to break the horizon. My team was on the roof of a building our platoon had been running patrols out of for the last 3 days, providing security. It was me, my TL Mike, Layton, and Nathan. I’m the only one left, but that’s an entirely different story, because we lost Mike and Layton the following year in Afghanistan. We were up there while everyone was preparing to move out, back to our FOB a few clicks away, and it was a beautiful morning. I still have a couple photographs to prove it. About 1100 or so, the platoon was finally ready to move, so we all loaded up.

I was always in a different truck from the rest of my team, I can’t really give you a good reason why, other than I had a Humvee “license” and they didn’t. Whatever. We started to move, with my truck and one other lagging behind for security as the platoon took a sharp right down Reds, back towards Mobil. I got told over the radio to stay put and cover the canal crossing because there were some shady looking dudes that the first 3 trucks had spotted hanging outside the barbershop on the corner, and they wanted to go question them- it was a known insurgent hangout. So I’m staring out across this canal, wondering what the hell is going on because I can’t see the other 3 trucks, and the beautiful stillness of that morning was shattered as all hell broke loose.

A few seconds later I got the call to push up, and floored it around the corner, straight into a full on ambush. Nathan was laying in the street: he had taken one through the throat from a sniper, which was the kickoff to this crazy game. We were taking fire from 3 set in RPK positions, but the fury we unleashed from our turrets was vicious- the enemy called it quits after about 20 minutes, and we were able to get Nathan on a bird, but he left us as he was in the air on the way to the OR. I’ll never forget seeing Jake and 3 others carry him onto that bird on a stretcher- It’s a scene that plays on repeat in my head nearly every day, and most nights as well.

The next patrol our platoon went on was 3 days later, immediately after Nathan’s memorial at the FOB. As my team sat in a security perimeter around a building the rest of my squad was searching, I laid in the prone, resting my chin on my left wrist, which was holding my SAW into my right shoulder. My mind wandered: Jake had spoken at the memorial, and I wondered what he would say about me if I was gone. Immediately I realized I couldn’t think that way, not right then, so I picked my head up a little, refocused on the road I was covering- and then my wrist disappeared out from underneath my chin. I was on my way to the hospital within 20 minutes, and was back in California on leave a week later.

I went back to combat in Afghanistan as an 0317 Scout/Sniper a year later, but that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about how I’ve dealt with the PTSD that plagues me after those few months I spent in Iraq in ’07. I want to tell other vets who are struggling with the same feelings and experiences as me just how I deal with it, so that they know they’re not alone.

My physical wounds are unnoticeable, and I quickly learned how to deal with the pain that is constantly in my wrist, just by changing the way I use my hand- push with a closed fist, and try not to do anything that makes my hand bend backward. The mental wounds are far more apparent, and have proven much more difficult to deal with, but I have figured out how to make them hurt less- and not with drugs or alcohol like so many vets I know do- like I used to for a time.

I work out A LOT. I spend hours at a time on my bikes, whether its mountain biking or road cycling, and have been practicing Yoga for the past 9 months. Exercise like that where I am working hard but steady, for long periods of time, releases certain chemicals in my brain that do more to relieve anxiety and stress than any pill the VA ever gave me. I could try and explain it better, but I’m not a neurologist, so I don’t really have the vocabulary. But just working out a lot isn’t enough- I had to find something else, something that gave me a renewed sense of purpose and helped me to stop questioning why Nathan died and I didn’t. I found it in Team Rubicon, the organization that I am a part of that my friend Jake started by calling on me and 8 others to respond to the earthquake in Haiti, to provide aid to those who so desperately needed it.

I made my way down to Port Au Prince about 36 hours after the others had arrived, because I had been at my stepbrother’s wedding and couldn’t leave my family. As soon as I got home, I booked a flight to Santo Domingo, D.R. and that was as far as my planning went. How I found the Team amidst all the chaos is a story in itself, but I'll never forget the relief I felt when I found the Team and they needed another set of hands.

I found more there in Port Au Prince than I knew I had been missing. I cannot tell you how good it feels to be able to go into a rubble strewn city in a third world country, and to be able to do good without having to worry whether or not everybody around is about to start shooting at you. I found a renewed sense of purpose within myself that has been missing since I separated from the USMC- another way that I can serve, and for a cause that I truly believe in: helping to bring medical aid and assistance to people that are suffering, and who have no access to medical care. I found myself in the company of a band of brothers once again, which has been absolutely priceless to me. With their help, I was able to treat and to help provide reassurance to the many patients I saw- whether it was just dressing changes, casting fractured bones, wound cleaning and care, or setting a young man's broken arm so that It will heal correctly. I was constantly challenged, and was consistently able to overcome those challenges due to the help of the men and women who I found myself working alongside.

I think the one thing that will always remain with me from our missions to Haiti, and then to Chile when that earthquake happened, is the gratitude that I've seen in the eyes of our patients. Every single one of them simply could not believe that these young Americans had come to help treat them, and that we didn’t want anything in return. The smiles I saw on hundreds of children’s faces, and the thanks given to us by grandparents, brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers means more to me than any amount of money someone could ever throw my way. The fact is, the world truly needs people like us- people who have a desire to serve, the willingness to put one’s self in harms way, and who are content with being paid very little or not at all. I’m not talking about myself or Jake right now- I’m talking about nearly every member of the US military that I have ever met.

If I had one thing to say to my fellow veterans, it would be this: Continue to serve, even though we have taken off our uniforms. No matter how great or small your service is, it is desired and needed by the world we live in today. Volunteer to mow your elderly neighbor’s lawn for them. Spend a day at a soup kitchen helping feed the homeless, many of whom are veterans themselves. Work on a trail maintenance project. Start a service organization. It doesn’t matter what it is, it only matters that you are continuing to put others before yourself, just like you did when you were in the military. Actions like that are the only sure ways to bring about the positive social change that our country and our world need so badly these days, and that is exactly what we do at Team Rubicon. While most watch the suffering of the world on their TV, we ACT, rapidly and with great purpose. Not counting the cost, and without hope for reward- we simply refuse to watch our world suffer, when we have the skills and the means to alleviate some of that suffering, for as many people as we can reach. That is the essence and spirit of Team Rubicon, and that is why I am both humbled and proud to be able to call myself a part of it.


-Clay Hunt

Now let me explain why I don't think it's a problem that I swiped this. Clay Hunt killed himself last week. As his friend, and Team Rubicon co-founder, Jake Wood, stated, "God must be in one hell of a fight because he keeps taking the best Marines".

I cannot wrap my brain around this. Clay was incredible. The little I know of him absolutely blows my mind. And he was surrounded by what appears to be an amazing support system. He was well-aware of his struggles, he was working to cope with them, and he had found something that was really working to fill that overwhelming void he faced.

And yet, here we are. Mourning the loss of someone who had SO MUCH to give. It's almost as if he died within view of the finish line. He was SO CLOSE. So close. And now he's gone. I go back and forth between being overwhelmed with sadness and being angry, which I am sure is a "normal" reaction. I think the anger comes from being able to see that he had so much to give and he took that. He took that from a world that so desperately needs it. And I think it also comes from the worry that others who face similar demons will see what Clay did and wonder...if HE couldn't slay those demons, can I?

I don't know what the answers are. I don't know if there ARE answers. That's the scariest part of all of this. What if we do everything right - EVERYTHING - and it's still not enough? Then what? How do we keep from losing more people like Clay? I don't know.

Until we find the answer, there IS something you can do. You can support Team Rubicon Transition
Team Rubicon Transition (TRT) provides at-risk United States military veterans an opportunity to transition into civilian life through continued service in large-scale humanitarian projects. We build on our veterans’ instinctive leadership skills and provide them with on-the-job training in recognized civilian trades. TRT creates a sustainable impact by partnering with local nationals and social entrepreneurs in support of their needs. By working together our veterans’ can maintain their Esprit de Corps while serving to enhance local infrastructure, services, and economies across the globe.

I wish I had the answers. But all I have are questions.


"Freedom has a taste, and for those that have fought for it, the taste is so sweet the protected will never know." -General George S. Patton


- hfs


Wrote this six years ago. Nothing's changed.  One of my favorite movies is 'Bull Durham'. And one of my favorite scenes in ...