Like most Americans, I have followed the repatriation of Bowe Bergdahl with interest and no small amount of incredulity. The unfolding of these events is both painful and bizarre. I’m perhaps a step closer to this story than most in that as a former special operator, I have conducted POW recovery operations. I’ve spoken with special operators who took to the field in previous attempts to recover Bergdahl. I also live in Idaho about fifteen miles from the Bergdahl home. It might be helpful to look at these events on four levels.
On purely humanitarian considerations, it’s good that a young soldier is now free from the physical and mental trauma of captivity, and that his parents finally know that he is safe and being afforded the best medical attention in the world. And I’ve watched his hometown of Hailey, Idaho rejoice at his release. All good.
On a tactical and strategic level, our nation paid a very steep price for the release of this soldier. The five senior Taliban operatives that were set free to gain Bergdahl’s freedom are very dangerous men. They are zealots who are loyal to their cause, and will most certainly return to the fight and seek to kill other Americans. And not just Americans. A great many Afghans–members of the Afghan National Army, local security and police forces that we have trained, tribesmen, and tribal entities–stood with us against the Taliban. What happens to them? We understand that these freed Taliban leaders are to be held in check by Qatar authorities for a year. We also know that in a year’s time, we will significantly draw down our forces in Afghanistan–but not all. Those who remain will be at a significantly higher risk. And again, what about those loyal Afghans who at our urging, opposed the Taliban? I fear that in setting free these five hardcore Taliban leaders, we have released a plague that will descend on those Afghans who stood with us. It could result in a pogrom directed against our former allies and their families, and their blood will be on our hands. Furthermore, what message does this send to other nations around the world who look to us for help in dealing with extremist and al-Qaeda-inspired insurgencies? Not good at all, in fact a very dangerous precedent.
On a legal and political level, it would seem that the administration overstepped its authority in bypassing Congress and perhaps may have actually broken the law. And I felt our President used two very concerned and vulnerable parents improperly by pushing them into the national spotlight. This is highly emotional ground, and to put them in the middle of what was sure to become a most controversial issue was both insensitive and unprecedented. Bowe’s parents get a free pass on this one–they want their boy back. But for the President to use them as top cover for political reasons; definitely not good and bordering on unconscionable.
And finally there is the issue of Sergeant Bergdahl’s actions that may have led to his capture. One has only to turn on the TV to see the multiple allegations of impropriety. It’s a circus; it’s not pretty and does us all a disservice. Yet, one fact is clear to me. When he fell into Taliban hands, they knew the value of their find, and they exploited it masterfully to their own ends. As for the Sergeant’s actions, he needs to be treated, rehabilitated, afforded counsel, and awarded a court martial. If he is exonerated, then he should be afforded the respect and deference this nation extends to its warriors who, in the course of honorable service to their country, endure captivity. If his actions violated his oath as an American Soldier and the implied obligations our soldiers have for one another, then he needs to be held fully accountable. This is neither good nor bad, but it is responsible and just.
Her email address was nowhining@…, a symbol of her outlook on life. Married to Paul since the early 1960s, Phyllis Galanti endured six years as a wife of a prisoner-of-war (POW) in Vietnam. But she never complained. Instead, she got busy. The “shy, retiring housewife,” as she was described by Paul at the time he left for Vietnam, later became a national advocate for the release of all our American servicemen who were held as POWs in Vietnam, as well as those service members who were missing-in-action (MIA).
Warned by the military that speaking out publicly about their husbands’ status as POWs would result in worse treatment for them and a setback in the government’s attempts to secure the POWs’ release, wives like Phyllis were ordered to keep silent about their husbands and, for awhile, they obeyed. But after several years of inaction by the government, many of the POW and MIA wives grew tired of suffering alone. Fearing their husbands were languishing and deteriorating in prison, the women were also becoming increasingly impatient. Backed financially by Ross Perot, they banded together and decided to raise awareness of their husbands’ plights, overtly defying the military’s directives. It was a bold move and, at the time, their aggressiveness was shocking. But, encouraged by Mr. Perot and their own determination, they walked the halls of Congress and talked to anyone in the White House, the State Department and the media who would lend them an ear. Phyllis became a leader of this forceful group of women.
Addressing a joint session of the Virginia General Assembly, facing down Henry Kissinger, and traveling the world to meet with the North Vietnamese and keep the pressure on the peace negotiations, Phyllis became an outspoken advocate for all the POWs. She was tireless. She never gave up and never lost the faith. More than six years after Paul was shot down and incarcerated at the infamous Hanoi Hilton, he was finally released on February 12, 1973 – 2,432 days after his capture. Four decades later, the wives and their campaign are widely credited with influencing the Paris peace negotiations and securing their husbands’ freedom. That shy, retiring housewife had been replaced with a steely advocate for change. As Kissinger later said to Paul in his thick German accent, “Your vife, she gave me so much trouble.” Paul was so proud.
Statuesque, poised and calm, Phyllis was not easily excitable. She had a softness about her that was disarming. It started with her full head of spun-silver hair, punctuated by a large, sunny grin that filled her fair-skinned face and lit up her blue eyes. She exuded Southern charm, warmth, and class. And she had the patience of an oyster.
Their emotional reunion was captured on the cover of Newsweek magazine and their story had a happy ending: Paul finished out a successful Navy career and is now the Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Veterans Services. They had two sons and three grandchildren. They continued to serve in the community of their adopted home of Richmond, Virginia, through extensive volunteer work – especially at the Virginia War Memorial, which named its new education center after the couple. They were enjoying their golden years. And, then, Phyllis became ill and died very suddenly last week. I’m sure she would say that she had no regrets in her life – except for perhaps more time with Paul and her children and grandchildren.
Einstein was quoted as saying, “In the service of life, sacrifice becomes grace.” Phyllis sacrificed greatly for Paul and her country, but she won her war, and she exited this world quietly and full of grace.
Taylor Baldwin Kiland is the author of two books about Vietnam POWs.
The following is gaining high interest in the Fleet and is being shared widely. Posted here for comment.
“The Admirals back in Washington had so many pressures on them, so many diversions, they forgot their primary job is to make sure that the Fleet is ready to go with highly trained and motivated Sailors. The problem particularly manifests itself when the budget is way down.”
ADM THOMAS B. HAYWARD, 21st Chief of Naval Operations, recalling the post-Vietnam War drawdown1
The U.S. Navy has a looming officer retention problem. More than a decade of prolonged, high operational tempo and ever-increasing deployment lengths have fostered a sustained weariness at the deckplate. A rapidly improving economy and erosion of trust in senior leadership, coupled with continued uncertainty about the future, mean the U.S. Navy could be facing its most significant retention crisis since the end of the Vietnam War.
Unlike previous cycles of low retention, the one looming before us appears poised to challenge retention at all levels. Junior officer retention in 2013 was tough and is forecast to become tougher. It marked the worst year in history for the special warfare community, with record numbers of lieutenant’s declining to stay for the next pay grade. The aviation community had a department head bonus “take rate” of 36% – well below the 45% target needed to ensure community health – most recently manifesting itself by a shortfall in the number of strike-fighter and electronic warfare aviators required for the department head screen board. The surface warfare community is also seeing an uptick in lieutenants leaving at their first opportunity, driving a historically low retention rate of around 35% even lower, indicating that a significant amount of talent in the surface warfare community walks out the door immediately following their first shore tour. This trend in the junior officer ranks is particularly troubling. While officers at, or beyond, the 20-year mark have a retirement option, junior officers do not. In many cases they’ve invested six to 10 years of their life to a career field they’re now willing to leave, determined that the pastures are greener outside of naval service.
Our retention of post-command commanders is also falling. A developing trend in naval aviation is representative of a larger problem facing most communities. In fiscal year 2010, seven naval aviation commanders retired immediately following completion of their command tours, a number that nearly doubled to 13 in 2011, before jumping to 20 in 2012. Additionally, a survey of 25 prospective executive officers revealed that no fewer than 70 percent were already preparing for their next career, in the process of earning their transport pilot licenses, preparing their resumes for the civilian workforce, or shopping for graduate schools. Worse, this trend is not limited to naval aviation. Checks with other community managers show a similar disturbing trend, with increasing numbers of promising surface warfare and special warfare officers leaving at the 20-year mark. These officers are tired of the time away from home, the high operational tempo, and the perceived erosion of autonomy in commander command.
Unfortunately, the fact that a growing number of quality officers have already left the service or are planning to head for the doors seems to be going undetected by senior leadership. The Budget Control Act and subsequent sequestration, Strategic Choices and Management Review, rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, battles over the Littoral Combat Ship and Joint Strike Fighter, rise of Air-Sea Battle, civilian furloughs, and the increasing number of commanding officer firings are just a few of the significant issues (and distractors) that senior leadership has had to contend with since 2011. Despite all these, retention is poised to once again develop into the significant issue that it has historically become during past military drawdowns.
My premise is that retention problems tend to be cyclical in nature and, therefore, largely predictable based on knowable factors. Unfortunately, the ability of senior leadership to proactively address the looming exodus is made more difficult because of Congressional pressure to control spending and because of an overreliance on “post facto” metrics that, by their very nature, are only useful after several years of falling retention rates. Senior leaders within the U.S. Navy, with the cooperation of the Department of Defense and Congress, should take swift action through the use of targeted incentives and policy changes to help ensure the best, brightest, and most talented Naval Officers are retained for continued naval service and to ensure the “wholeness” of Navy Manpower.
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Admiral Thomas Hayward Oral History, Interview #7, 6/7/02, p329. ↩
The Assets, an eight-part ABC miniseries event based on Circle of Treason will premiere on January 2, 2014 at 10|9 c. The series is based on Circle of Treason and will look inside the true, personal stories of the conclusion of the Cold War as told by the keepers of the nation’s secrets: the CIA. The series is produced for ABC by Lincoln Square Productions. Morgan Hertzan, Rudy Bednar, and Andrew Chapman are executive producers for the series.
From May through December 1985 the CIA experienced the unparalleled loss of its stable of Soviet assets. There was no indication of the impending disaster, which all but wiped out human source reporting on the Soviet Union. Whatever the nature of the problem, something was seriously wrong. Circle of Treason is the story of Sandra Grimes’ and Jeanne Vertefeuille’s personal involvement in the CIA’s effort to identify the reason for the losses and to protect future Soviet assets from a similar fate of execution or imprisonment. In 1991 the quest led to their hunt for a Soviet spy in the CIA and to their identification of the “mole” as case officer Aldrich “Rick” Ames, a long-time acquaintance and coworker in the Soviet-East European Division and Counterintelligence Center of CIA. That identification allowed the FBI to take the necessary law enforcement steps that led to Ames’ arrest in February 1994 and, two months later, a conviction and life sentence. One of the most destructive traitors in American history, Ames provided information to the Soviet Union that led to the deaths of at least eight Soviet intelligence officers who spied for the United States.
Not only is this the first book to be written by two of the CIA principals involved in identifying Ames as the mole, but it is also the first to provide details of the operational contact with the agents Ames betrayed, as well as similar cases with which the authors also had personal involvement—a total of sixteen operational histories in all. Of particular note is GRU General Dmitriy Fedorovich Polyakov, the highest-ranking spy run by the U.S. government during the Cold War. Described as the “Crown Jewel,” Polyakov provided the United States with a trove of information during his twenty-plus-year history of cooperation. The book also covers the aftermath of Ames’ arrest, including the congressional wrath for not identifying him sooner, the FBI/CIA debriefings following Ames’ plea bargain, and a retrospective of Ames the person and Ames the spy. Now retired from the CIA, Grimes and Vertefeuille are finally able to tell this inside story of the CIA’s most notorious traitor and the men he betrayed.
Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) addresses the attendees of Defense Forum Washington.
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus speaks at Defense Forum Washington.
Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) speaks at Defense Forum Washington about the defense budget and the future of the sea services.
Congressman J. Randy Forbes (R-VA) addresses the attendees of Defense Forum Washington.
As the world commemorates the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on 22 November, former Naval History Editor-in-Chief Paul Stillwell devotes his “Looking Back” column in the current issue to a story that intertwines the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor with the Kennedy assassination.
To learn more more about James Leavelle, read “Looking Back” from Naval History Magazine.