Veterans Roundup: Helicopters Over DC, National Parks for Veterans, and More

Posted by Fred Wellman

A low-flying ‘show of force’
Washington Post, Alex Horton, Andrew Ba Tran, Aaron Steckelberg and John Muyskens

June 1 was a day of chaos in Washington, D.C. Protestors were cleared out of Lafayette Square in front of the White House by a mixture of U.S. Park Service police, federal agents and National Guard soldiers. The images were shocking to the world and only more so as it became apparent the move was to make way for a planned photo op for the President in front of the St. John’s Church. The Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs accompanied the POTUS on that walk for which General Milley offered an apology a week later for allowing himself to appear in this politically sensitive action. Many military observers were even more upset as events unfolded throughout the night; culminating in videos appearing of two U.S. Army helicopters dropping lower over crowds of protesters to ‘dust them out’ with rotor wash. This practice, which involves a helicopter flying low over a target and using the wind from from its rotors— that can be as much as 55 miles an hour, to disperse crowds is sometimes used in combat.  Seeing it used on the streets of our nation’s capital was made even more alarming when it became clear that one of the aircrafts was covered in the red crosses of a medical evacuation aircraft. Ostensibly, the National Guard used an air ambulance in a dangerous maneuver to attack peaceful protesters. Alex Horton and a team of terrific data journalists and graphic artists at the Post have done a thorough examination of the flight routes, maneuvers and the actions of the aircraft during the evening and it paints an even more disturbing and vivid picture of that chaotic night. It shows that the two helicopters, a UH-60 Blackhawk and UH-72 Lakota, took off from Fort Belvoir and executed a series of low flying and dangerous maneuvers that could have easily hurt civilians on the ground from flying debris, including a tree that shed limbs, or led to the crash of the helicopters if an in flight emergency had occurred. The multimedia story is worth your time as they carefully lay out just how low the aircrafts were. In the end, the entire episode is a black mark on the Army. Using a red cross festooned aircraft to essentially attack civilians was an incredibly poor decision both by the chain-of-command and most certainly by the pilots at the controls of the aircraft. They chose to use their aircraft in an unsafe and entirely inappropriate way here in the United States. The Army needs to take a hard look at what went wrong here, because they won’t long be the most respected institution in the United States if people fear that a MEDEVAC aircraft isn’t coming to save lives, but is spying on them — or worse, being used as a weapon against them. It only takes a laser pointer to the Night Vision Goggles and a brief shake of the stick for the aircraft to end up in the street. – Fred Wellman, CEO and Founder of ScoutComms

Senate Passes Bill to Give Millions More Veterans Free Lifetime Entry to National Parks, Nikki Wentling (@nikkiwentling)

In 2013, I rode my bike from San Francisco, CA to Washington, DC, clocking in around 3,100 miles. Visiting the national parks along my ride forged lasting memories that I will never forget. This massive journey took place at a time in my life when I was wrapped in the chaos of my own military transition. From the time I joined the Air Force in 2001, up until 2013, I probably spent 98% of my time staying as busy as I possibly could. Like so many service members, I was going to school full time and working no less than two jobs. The leftover 2% of my time was spent trying to get some sleep, albeit wildly unsuccessfully. My introduction to cycling was an unanticipated gift that brought me a sense of mental clarity, peace and balance I had not felt since childhood. It was on this bike ride that I had regained a sense of the pride that I had lost somewhere along my way. The jaw dropping beauty and environmental diversity I was exposed to helped jumpstart the healing of my young, wounded soul. Silence became more bearable with every stroke of my pedal and every exhale made though those parks. My support for conservation of our national parks is unwavering as they truly are national treasures that we must protect. This story is about a bill the Senate approved that will grant all veterans with any disability rating through the Department of Veterans Affairs free lifetime entry to any national park across the country. Currently, only those with a 100% service-connected disabled rating have access to free entry. The name, the Wounded Veterans Recreation Act, may be a bit misleading to some folks, especially those whose disability ratings are from illness and not from being wounded in combat. However, if this bill is approved by the House, it will allow so many access to the national parks uninhibited by cost. If you are a veteran who is able to take advantage of this incredible opportunity, I hope that you do. Also consider volunteering or donating to the parks as preservation is the responsibility of us all. – Kiersten Downs, PhD, Research Director at ScoutComms

As coronavirus cases and deaths rise, VA still plans to resume normal operations
Connecting Vets, Abbie Bennett (@AbbieRBennett)

Although the VA continues to see increases in coronavirus cases, with the agency reporting over 18,000 cases as of June 19, officials still plan to shortly resume normal operations at some VA healthcare facilities. While the VA described the climbing rates of infection “concerning,” VA Press Secretary Christina Noel claimed that the sum of cases “are not the best measure of VA’s performance fighting COVID-19 because more testing could also lead to higher case counts, including among those who lack symptoms.” Last month, the VA announced that 20 medical centers would begin to resume normal operations, but over half of those hospitals have reportedly seen recent “significant spikes” in coronavirus cases. Veterans Health Administration official Dr. Richard Stone said, “We have not seen that increase in cases correlate well to the veteran population,” though VA facilities with the greatest numbers of active virus cases are located in states like Florida and Texas where infection rates are skyrocketing statewide. Still, the VA continues to encourage social distancing measures and wearing masks in public, saying in a statement that “the second and possible third waves of this virus will […] depend on us–and whether we take these precautions seriously.”

The Stars and Stripes newspaper has long supported the troops. Now it needs Congress’s support.
The Washington Post, Graham Vyse (@GrahamVyse) 

The Trump administration proposed complete elimination of federal funding for Stars and Stripes, a “Pentagon-subsidized but editorially independent newspaper” that reports on the US military’s domestic and foreign issues. Defense Secretary Mark Esper reportedly justified the cut by insisting that the funding should be appropriated to “higher-priority issues,” but the newspaper’s funding is a “miniscule fraction” of the Defense Department’s $705 billion budget. Stars and Stripes has published continuously since the Second World War and won a George Polk Award in 2010 for exposing the Defense Department’s partnership with a public relations firm to encourage reporters’ “favorable coverage of the war in Afghanistan.” Representative Seth Moulton (D-MA) characterized the proposed funding cut as “un-American” and “another obnoxious assault by the Trump administration on freedom of the press.” Rep. Moulton, who served multiple tours in Iraq, also said, “Stars and Stripes kept our spirits up and kept us informed at some of the most difficult times. […] [They] gave us more faith in our work and reinforced the values we were literally putting our lives on the line for.”

Far-right groups like the “Boogaloo” and “O9A” continue to attract troops and veterans
Military Times, Meghann Myers (@MeghannReports)

While the nation is experiencing widespread protests against systemic racial injustice and police brutality, multiple groups with far-right and white supremacist ties have been adding veterans and troops to their ranks. An Army reservist and two veterans recently arrested by the FBI “for planning to incite violence at a Las Vegas protest” identified with the far-right group Boogaloo, described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “frequently associated with racist violence and […] race war.” Boogaloo is one of several “neo-Nazi” groups that “sparked investigations in the military;” another is the Order of Nine Angles, which “espoused violent, neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic, and Satanic beliefs.” Seth Jones, a researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, noted that radicalized veterans pose a unique threat as “they oftentimes have access to […] weapons, or particularly the know-how to use them,” but more research is needed to understand the specifics of military white-supremacist radicalization. A proposal in the latest House version of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act directs the Department of Defense to track and report the military’s white supremacist activity, which legislators reportedly called “an important step in gauging the problem in the ranks.”

Proposed overhaul of veterans preference in federal hiring includes time limits, reduced advantage
MilitaryTimes, Leo Shane III (@LeoShane)

Chairman of the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service, Joe Heck, recently argued that “the preference (program) has become inequitable; Not all veterans are preference eligible, and even those eligible for preference are treated differently, so that many veterans receive little or no practical benefit,” before a Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs hearing. Heck argued that the current structure of the preference program pushes potentially under-qualified individuals to the top of hiring pools, thus pushing out more qualified individuals for those who may be under qualified. Instead, Heck and other advocates are seeking an overhaul that broadens the qualifications of the program and adjusts its function as a tie-breaker rather than the leading decision factor.

Soldier accused of planning attack on his own unit, giving classified info to Neo-Nazi group
Task & Purpose, Haley Britzky (@halbritz)

According to a press release from New York’s U.S. Attorney’s office, a U.S. Army soldier has been charged with three conspiracies. Pvt. Ethan Melzer, 22, “allegedly attempted to orchestrate a murderous ambush on his own unit by unlawfully revealing its location, strength, and armaments to a neo-Nazi, anarchist, white supremacist group … intending that it be conveyed to jihadist terrorists,” according to the release. Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said, “Melzer was motivated by racism and hatred as he attempted to carry out this ultimate act of betrayal.”

‘Total Pandemonium’: What Went Wrong at a Veterans’ Home Where 76 Died
NY Times, Ellen Barry (@EllenBarryNYT)

An independent investigation of 76 deaths linked to the coronavirus at a state-run veterans’ home in Massachusetts, Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, reveals a chilling, chaotic and ultimately devastating situation due to lack of resources and mismanagement by facility administration. The 174-page report was led by the former federal prosecutor Mark Pearlstein and condemns the decisions made by the facility’s superintendent, Bennett Walsh, as “utterly baffling from an infection-control perspective.” Most striking was the decision to combine crowded wards, which an employee described as “the most insane thing I ever saw in my entire life.” Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts has acknowledged that “our administration did not do the job we should have done overseeing Bennett Walsh and the Soldiers’ Home,” after the report made it clear that help was requested from the Commonwealth to little affirmative response.  

Fred Wellman

Fred Wellman, CEO and Founder of ScoutComms, brings us his weekly review of veteran news via The Scout Report. Fred served over twenty years as an Army officer in both aviation and public affairs. Follow Fred on Twitter @ScoutComms

This entry was posted on Monday, June 29, 2020 9:00 am

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