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Headstone of Commo. Arthur Sinclair, captured by his descendant Lt.j.g. Lloyd "Link" Mustin.

Navy Lieutenant Junior Grade (LTJG) Lloyd “Link” Mustin grew up hearing many tales of his family’s long history of service in the U.S. Navy. As the seventh successive generation to serve, Lieutenant Mustin can trace his lineage directly back to the first in his family to serve – his fifth great-grandfather Commo. Arthur Sinclair. Family lore abounded about Commodore Sinclair, but no one in the family knew where he was buried.

Stationed in Norfolk, Virginia, aboard USS Stout (DDG-55) as the Fire Control Officer, Lieutenant Mustin’s naval career has been inspired by his family’s long dedication to service in the U.S. Navy and, as his grandfather, Vice Adm. Henry “Hank” Mustin, says, he “has taken on the mantle of family history.” So, over the Christmas holidays 2011, with a bit of vacation time on his hands, Lieutenant Mustin began his quest to find the Sinclair burial plot.

Commodore Sinclair’s legendary feats in the Great Lakes campaign of the War of 1812 are well documented, but his career spanned many early American conflicts. He began his apprenticeship at the age of 12 under the tutelage of Commo. Thomas Truxtun aboard the USS Constellation during the quasi-war with France. It was during that time that he was involved in an engagement with the French frigate Insurgent. He also served under Capt. William Bainbridge and participated in the war with Tripoli. While in command of his second ship, USS Argus, in October 1812, he captured several British “prize” ships and crews, earning him a legendary reputation for his battle acumen against the British.

But he solidified his place in history through his actions against the British in the Great Lakes. As Lieutenant Mustin’s great grandfather, Vice Adm. Lloyd Mustin, recounted in a 1972 Naval Institute oral history, “He succeeded rather dramatically in his assignment up there, which was to rid the Great Lakes north and west of Detroit of the British naval presence. He destroyed their navy completely in some fairly stirring actions and left them with nothing but canoes and rowboats and the like.” After the war, Congress presented Commodore Sinclair a silver plate with an inscription that cited his victories. Lieutenant Mustin’s great uncle Tom Mustin, who also served as a naval officer, has the tray in his home.

The family knew that Commodore Sinclair finished his career as the commander of the Norfolk Naval Yard – which was called Gosport during that time, and that he established a nautical school there that was the predecessor to the Naval Academy. The family also knew that Sinclair had established a family home in the city and died there in 1831. Lieutenant Mustin surmised that Sinclair must be buried somewhere in Norfolk. So he followed his hunch.

“It’s amazing what you can find on Google,” Mustin said. “I started searching for ‘Arthur Sinclair’ and ‘Norfolk’ and found many interesting results. As I combed through them for awhile, I came across the Cedar Grove Cemetery web site and contacted them. I was pleased to find that they did in fact have a Commodore Arthur Sinclair buried there.” And it was five minutes from his apartment!

Lieutenant Mustin grabbed his fiancé and jumped in his car. Following the map emailed to him by the cemetery, he quickly found the family plot and headstone. The Commodore is surrounded by his contemporaries, including Commos. William Jamesson, Samuel Barron, and William Skinner, and Capts. Benjamin Bissell and Lewis Warrington. “It was obvious the Sinclair plot was very old and many of the graves had settled.” Indeed, Sinclair’s headstone was cracked in the middle, but the etched names of the Sinclair family members buried with Commodore Sinclair were still legible.

Lieutenant Mustin was astonished at his find. “I was overwhelmed to be standing over the grave of Commodore Arthur Sinclair,” he said.

Later, he went back to the cemetery by himself just to view once more the grave site of this “near-mythical man about whom I had heard stories my entire life.” He revealed that learning more about his ancestors and their accomplishments has given him a context for how to understand the world and his place in it. “It filled me with a tremendous sense of purpose!”

There are several resources to research your family’s 1812 ancestors, including the Naval History & Heritage Command; the Society of the War of 1812; and Fold3, a company that is digitizing all War of 1812 pension files stored in the National Archives. 

For more information on the events planned to commemorate the Bicentennial of the War of 1812, go to


Former Vietnam POW Orson Swindle tells the story of his first meeting with his legendary Senior Ranking Officer (SRO) in the Hanoi Hilton, then-Cdr. Jim Stockdale:

In the spring of 1967, I was in my fifth month as a POW and continuing to be kept in solitary confinement in a small cell. Our cellblock consisted of about eight cells with solid concrete, brick and plaster walls. We had no vision of anything other than the walls. We communicated with each other by tapping on walls or by lying on the filthy floor, peeking under the door to clear the area of guards and then whispering to one another along the passageway. These were very bad days testing our spirit, our will, and our physical and mental stamina.

The cellblock was occupied by about 18 junior officers, I being the newest POW. I was the only POW without a cellmate, so whispering when the guards weren’t around was uplifting to me. One evening there was activity, the familiar muffled sounds of guards moving a new POW into the cell block about three cells down from me at the dead end of the passage way.

The following day when the guards vacated the block, I was down on the floor whispering to “new guy” to identify himself and get into the communications stream. Then-Commander James Bond Stockdale identified himself. I was overwhelmed by his presence. We were aware he had been recently undergoing intense interrogations and physical punishment. Our admiration for him, the senior ranking American in North Vietnam, was incredible. In the days that followed, Jim was not communicating — he was recovering both physically and mentally from his most recent painful ordeal (sadly, there were to be many more for him).

One day we junior officers were having a “debate” over some issue and finding no resolution. I told the group, “Hang on for a minute, and let me ask “the Old Man” what we should do.” Commander Stockdale came up after a couple of calls, and responded with a wise answer to our problem.

Now fast forward to early February, 1973 — six years later. We have been told we are to be released. In the large court yard area of Ho Loa prison, the Vietnamese are allowing one or two rooms to mingle in the court yard or go over by the windows to the big cells (now uncovered) where we could talk to other POWs. Commander Stockdale limps over to my window, and says, “Hi, I’m Jim Stockdale, who are you?” We literally had never seen each other.

I replied, “Sir, I am Orson Swindle, and I want to thank you for all the leadership and inspiration you have given me which help me survive this past six years.” I continued, “I remember a day back in the Spring of 1967 when you moved in to my area of the cellblock, and recall how having your around reminded me of my duty and what was expected of me. You gave me confidence. I really respect you as a leader.”

Jim smiled and said, “Orson, I remember you and those difficult days so well. I was really depressed and down on myself. I want you to know that when you whispered, “Hang on for a minute, and let me ask the Old Man what we should do” — you reminded me of who I was and of my duty to each of you. Orson, you helped me survive, too.”

(Excerpt of a speech Orson Swindle gave in June 2005)

Stark Choices

As the senior ranking prisoner-of-war at the Ho Loa Camp in Hanoi, better known as the Hanoi Hilton, then-Commander Stockdale was trapped between an untested Military Code of Conduct devised after the POW failures of the Korean War and the fact that his North Vietnamese captors were willing to employ torture and deprivation to break him for propaganda purposes. Stockdale and his followers had to craft their own society and rules to survive. Knowing they would break under torture, they devised their own rules that allowed for failure in the moment without failure in the mission. Their strategies and tactics adhered to the Military Code of Conduct where they could, and yet they devised their own approach, when necessary, to achieve their group mission of “Return with Honor.”


Molding a High-Performance Team

Stockdale and other officers in leadership positions molded the POWs into what we now would call a high-performance team. Using a sports psychology model, Stockdale’s personal beliefs and leadership style created a culture in which the POWs:

  • Articulated and embraced a common mission (“Return with Honor”);
  • Developed a group credo (“I am my brother’s keeper”);
  • Created simple and clearly defined rules of the road (“BACK-US” – which was an acronym for “Don’t BOW in public; Stay off the AIR; Admit no CRIMES; Never KISS them goodbye; and “US” could be interpreted asUnited Statesor Unity over Self);
  • Stressed personal responsibility for how they behaved and reacted to their environment (a principle shared by Stoic philosophy and sports psychology);
  • Focused their energies on the things they could control (often, just their own reaction);
  • Refused to spend energy on what they could not control (much of their environment);
  • Turned their adversary’s offensive moves to their mission’s advantage whenever possible (“Isolate me and I will use the time to learn. Torture me and I will use it to torment you”);
  • Accepted failing, without accepting failure (“Get up, dust off, and learn from failing”);
  • Visualized and affirmed success, while competing with each other for even further success;
  • And united against a common adversary (in sports or business, we might use the terms opponent or competitor, but since the stakes were life-and-death, words such as adversary or enemy are more appropriate).

Like any high-performance team, they developed effective means to communicate critical information, avoided expending resources on non-critical issues, held each other to their collective standards, encouraged each other, competed with each other, embraced the moment in which they found themselves, and balanced realities that were often in tension.

Stockdale was a devotee of Epictetus, the Stoic Greek philosopher, whom he studied atStanfordUniversity, while he earned a master’s degree in International Relations and Marxist Theory. Epictetus’ Stoicism is the key to understanding Stockdale’s character, focus, and determination. Stoic teachings, the Greek Olympian tradition, and sports psychology all merged in the Hanoi Hilton and contributed to the POWs’ successful strategies and tactics to survive and thrive while in captivity.


Developing the Mission

In looking at what they accomplished, it must be acknowledged that the Hanoi Hilton POWs were an unusual and remarkable group of POWs – in stark contrast to the POW populations of previous wars. Almost all of them were college-educated (many with graduate degrees) and older than your averageVietnamsoldier or sailor (the POWs’ average age was 35). Most of them were seasoned military aviators, with survival training and professional experience making quick and good decisions in high-stress situations.

Stockdale developed many specific leadership philosophies while in captivity, but in an overarching sense he understood the need for several conditions if the POWs were to succeed. These lessons – honed in captivity – served the POWs well and provided the foundation for a highly productive organization. We would assert that the POWs also used these lessons in their subsequent careers:

  • Having A Cause To Die For: Unit cohesion had to be maintained, as did adherence to principles – with little or no visual or verbal contact. Military discipline and the Code of Conduct alone could not accomplish this. By carefully choosing a few simple principles that most POWs could embrace, Stockdale set the ground rules for an organization that could be self-guiding and self-perpetuating. He set goals that were in the men’s own self-interest as well as in that of everyone else. Communication strategies had to be developed to overcome the forced isolation. This leadership philosophy practiced diligently over many years by the majority of the POWs can serve as a model for managing and influencing dispersed or virtual teams.

Maintaining Strong Cultural Norms: By virtue of their military training, the POWs were already imbued with a strong culture. But, the physical conditions of captivity created unique challenges to maintain that organizational culture. They were a group of more than 700 men, separated by walls and spread across geographically dispersed prison camps. This unusual “organization” had to establish and maintain a strong culture for many years. Stockdale needed to create and aim for consistent goals that could be sustained for a long time – without much visual or verbal interaction (other than the tap code – their life blood). These goals had to be adopted by enough POWs to create cultural “norms.” They had to be infectious; by necessity, they had to spread on their own. He and the other POWs succeeded in maintaining these norms under severely restrictive conditions for five to eight years: unit cohesion, operational consistency, focus in the face of physical and organizational barriers. These can apply to business and organizational leadership almost anywhere.

Keeping The Faith: The POWs needed to keep their perspective amid isolation, deprivation, and torture. Attitude played a major role in improving morale and ensuring survival. Some of the most severely wounded prisoners healed; indeed, it was not the degree of injury that determined death or survival. On the contrary, the POWs maintain that attitude was the key factor. Humility and perspective were critical factors in providing the motivation for keeping the faith.

Daily tactics for fighting their war often boiled down to finding things they could control in an environment where their adversary held most of the cards. When their captors tried to isolated them to break their wills, the POWs used the tap code to encourage each other and make their isolation time productive, teaching each other subjects they knew intimately, including challenging materials that kept their minds occupied in isolation: higher math, foreign languages, and literary classics. When their captors broke up cell groups in an effort to disrupt unit cohesion, the POWs simply turned the tactic on their captors: “They cross-pollinated us,” said Orson Swindle. “We carried information with us to new cell blocks.”


The Servant Leader Lives the Credo

In a 1981 address to the graduating class of JohnCarrollUniversity, Stockdale encapsulated his POW leadership: “From this eight-year experience, I distilled one all-purpose idea. . . . it is a simple idea . . . an idea that naturally and spontaneously comes to men under pressure. . . . You are your brother’s keeper.”

Stockdale practiced “servant leadership,” the belief that leaders should prioritize the needs of followers, long before it was popularized in business circles. He wrote: “A leader must remember he is responsible for his charges. He must tend his flock, not only cracking the whip but ‘washing their feet’ when they are in need of help” (Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot (Hoover Institution Press,StanfordUniversity, 1995). The servant approach frees followers to look out for each other and the greater good. It also models the credo the POWs adopted under Stockdale’s leadership: “I am my brother’s keeper.”

Footnote: This article is an excerpt of a forthcoming book, Leadership Lessons of the Hanoi Hilton, by Peter Fretwell and Taylor Baldwin Kiland, with contributions by Dr. Jack London, chairman of CACI International, Inc. This book will be published by Naval Institute Press in 2012.

“Geography matters.” Frank Gamboa, a retired Navy captain and a first generation Mexican-American, knows this instinctively. In the opening chapter of his newly-published memoir, ¡El Capitan!: The Making of an American Naval Officer, he describes how his childhood in the small, bucolic town of Lone Pine, California, indelibly influenced his character and the trajectory of his life. His parents, his culture and his education played a pivotal role in his upbringing, but location, location, location was one of the most defining factors.

Situated 200 miles east of the Pacific Ocean and in the shadow of the 14,000-foot Sierra Nevada peaks, the rugged village of Lone Pine is in the middle of the high desert town of Owens Valley. Nicknamed the Land of Little Rain, Lone Pine is thirsty for water from the Pacific. But it does not thirst for community. Frank and his siblings were raised in an enclave of caring, supportive and inclusive neighbors. Surprisingly, during an era of segregation and as a child of immigrants, he claims he didn’t experience racism or exclusion. Although his family was poor, his mother and father were respected as responsible parents and were active participants in community and civic activities. This family involvement bridged the language and cultural differences.

So, when Frank expressed interest in attending the Naval Academy, he was not discouraged. It started with a teacher who had served in the Navy in World War II, Emil Neeme, who enticed him to pursue an appointment to the Naval Academy, which provided a free college education. An older Lone Pine kid had obtained an appointment and graduated from the Naval Academy in 1952, and that community precedent encouraged Frank. He was curious if he had the skills and the drive to attend, but he was a bit self-conscious about his family’s and immigrant community’s lack of education. He wondered if it marked him in some way. But, with the help, advice and encouragement from teachers, his coach, his principal and friends, he organized and galvanized his community’s support, secured the appointment of his elected representative and was selected to attend.

With that decision, Frank Gamboa entered a different world – far removed from Lone Pine, California, and his tight-knit, Mexican-American community. But he thrived and set out on a career and life course very different from his family’s. He successfully graduated from the Naval Academy in the class of 1958, collecting a number of cherished friendships along the way – including that of Sen. John McCain, one of his Academy roommates and still a close friend. He became a surface warfare officer (SWO) and set out on a career of driving ships and leading large crews of men.

Gamboa distinguished himself at sea and attained high ranks in the military throughout his career. During his 30 years on active duty (1958-1988), Captain Gamboa became the first Mexican-American surface warfare officer to command a major warship and the first to command a squadron of amphibious warships.

His book, ¡El Capitan!: The Making of an American Naval Officer, portrays the leadership, management, technical and seamanship skills required to succeed in shipboard billets ranging from division officer to commanding officer and squadron commander, in ranks from ensign to captain. He delves into his professional development as a naval officer and highlights his duties, challenges and opportunities over the course of 17 years of sea duty aboard a variety of ships: destroyers, a cruiser and six amphibious warships operating in the eastern and western Pacific, the Atlantic, and the Mediterranean. Captain Gamboa covered most of the world’s oceans – a long way from Lone Pine, California.

“Effective organizational performance requires two functional components: leadership and teamwork—neither can exist without the other,” according to Captain Gamboa. “Like the two sides of a coin. How leadership is employed and how teamwork is developed depend heavily on the leader’s core values. Mine include treating people with courtesy and respect. I’ve seen leaders treat their people differently, and some use anger and intimidation to get results. That was not my style…I was taught that leadership begins with an individual’s willingness to accept total responsibility, authority and accountability for the performance of duty, the conduct and the well-being of a team.”

Read more about ¡El Capitan! at Captain Gamboa and his wife, the former Linda Marie Lehtio, reside in Fairfax, Virginia. He will be reading from and signing his memoir at the Navy Memorial in Washington, DC, on September 15 at noon.


Posted by The Bunny in Books, History | 3 Comments

Patricia Smith’s family considers military service part of the duty of being a U.S. citizen. And no one in her family hesitates to serve. Her father survived the Bataan Death March. Her son serves in the National Guard and has been deployed more than once overseas. Her grandfather and uncles served. And her brother, Peter Gerry, was killed in Vietnam. He was 18. He is one of 48 men (boys, really) from the small city of Quincy, Massachusetts, who died during the Vietnam conflict. Families with multiple generations who have served in uniform are not unusual in Quincy, a town with a population of 90,000. What is unusual is how they keep the memories of their service and sacrifice alive.

Every spring, the city comes together to rename a square, park or monument after one of its own that was killed in Vietnam. Since 2005, they have been renaming sites in the city after their native sons – a few every year. In addition, a 40-foot clock tower next to the Marina that overlooks the nearby metropolis of Boston holds a plaque that is engraved with all 48 KIA names. During this same spring ritual, the community of Quincy revisits the Vietnam Memorial Clock Tower at Marina Bay for a closing ceremony after the individual dedication events.

Why now? Why has this city and its citizens dedicated so much of itself to shine a spotlight on war victims more than 40 years later?

To answer this question, you must go back to 1987, to the dedication of the clock tower at the Marina in Quincy. It was built and dedicated to Quincy boys killed in Vietnam and a few Quincy Marines – Tom Bolinder, Ed Murphy, and Larry Norton, all of whom played a critical role in getting the clock tower built and in hosting annual ceremonies to remember Quincy’s Vietnam KIA. Technically a suburb of Boston, Quincy might as well be a thousand miles away from its neighboring urban center with a strong liberal political tradition. With more in common in demographics, values and politics to small Midwestern towns, Quincy, the birthplace of John Adams and John Quincy Adams, has a long tradition of sending its sons (and, now, daughters) to war when our country has asked, beginning with the Revolutionary War. This small group of dedicated Quincy Marine Vietnam veterans led the charge to pay tribute annually to Quincy’s Vietnam KIA long before the rest of the country recognized that Vietnam veterans never got the welcome home they deserved. Every year since 1987, Quincy natives have organized, staged and hosted these commemoration ceremonies. Rain or shine, this small group of local veterans, often numbering only 20 or so, held an annual memorial ceremony, reading the names of each of the 48 lost in Vietnam. For many of the families, it was the first time their loss had been publicly and ceremonially commemorated.

But, in 2005, Bob Brudno’s one-man mission changed the entire dynamic of the annual event. A native of Quincy and a Navy veteran, Brudno’s family was – like most Quincy families – intent on serving. Brudno served as a Navy surface warfare officer. His oldest brother, Alan, became an Air Force fighter pilot and was shot down over North Vietnam on October 18, 1965. He was held in captivity for seven and a half years, one of the longest-held POWs in Vietnam. Tragically, Alan Brudno committed suicide just four months after his release in 1973.

The crusade to give meaning to Alan Brudno’s life began the day Alan was shot down and caught national attention when Bob Brudno finally won his battle to get his brother’s name added to the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C. in 2004. Until then, his efforts had been thwarted by some who thought that the way he died somehow made his name less worthy. Bob convinced them otherwise.

Alan’s name wasn’t on Quincy’s memorial either. In 2005 Quincy’s veterans were determined to change that and added his name in the only space left available … at the top. Hundreds came to that ceremony.

Bob now readily admits that the tribute his small hometown of Quincy paid to his brother has done more to heal him and his family than any other effort. “My brother’s death symbolized the tragic failure of our country to welcome home and properly care for all Vietnam veterans,” he explains. “After more than seven years in captivity, my brother was severely wounded by the enemy; you just couldn’t see the blood. The stigma associated with the psychological wounds of combat was too great for him to ask for help. Even though he tried to commit suicide less than a week after he returned – he was in such pain, he didn’t get the help all of our servicemen get today.”

When challenged by Bob Brudno to pay tribute to all of Quincy’s Vietnam KIAs in the same way Alan Brudno was honored, the city and its community advocates rose to the occasion. Since then, they honor two or three Quincy Vietnam KIA every year with these customized, individual events. So far, they have dedicated monuments to more than a dozen Quincy Vietnam KIAs – with an ultimate goal of recognizing all 48. Honorees, families and guests are whisked around the city for two days with police escorts and city leaders that underwrite the cost of meals and local transportation for the tribute ceremonies. Speakers have included General Joseph Dunford, Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps, author Joe Galloway, author and Marine Bing West, and former POW Orson Swindle.

In April of this year, Quincy dedicated three more squares to three more of its KIAs: Robert Vasconcellos, George Fell, and Ralph Willard. This year, George Fell’s nephew used his leave from his yearlong deployment to Afghanistan to attend his uncle’s tribute ceremony in Quincy. Corporal John Fell, USMC, said he “wanted to be here to support my family.” Like many men in Quincy, he “always wanted to be in the military.”

Which takes us back to Peter Garry, killed in action July 29, 1969. His family was overwhelmed by the attention when the city of Quincy announced they were going to name a square in Quincy after him and hold a public ceremony just for him – honoring his life and his sacrifice for his country. “My family was so proud of Quincy for not only remembering my brother Peter in 2009 – 40 years after his death, but also remembering all of the men on the Wall in Quincy,” Pat Smith remarked. “The families of these men are so appreciative to the city of Quincy.”

The annual event has now achieved such a high profile that politicians vie for the honor to speak. Indeed, this year, both state and federal representatives made podium appearances. For the 25th anniversary of the dedication of the Clock Tower in April 2012, Vietnam veteran, former Army Captain and Medal of Honor Recipient Paul Bucha is confirmed to be the keynote speaker.

What is it about small towns like Quincy that make the difference? Big cities, big companies and big non-profits spend a lot of money and a lot of political capital to “honor” veterans – both old and young, but they don’t hold a candle to the small city of Quincy. Suffice it to say that Quincy has proven that our country has the ability to heal war wounds like no other entity. The homespun, hand-crafted, and personal approach to the tributes Quincy hosts is the key. Corporate and government sponsorship makes little impact. Veteran-to-veteran touch and the involvement of multiple generations and facets of the community – students, elders, local government officials, local businesses – make the difference. Perhaps Quincy should export their annual event and show small towns around the country how to do it…right. Perhaps the Department of Veterans Affairs could assist in this effort and provide a guide – based on the Quincy template – for recognizing and paying tribute to our Vietnam veterans and KIA – one at a time, until they are all recognized. Vietnam veterans, more than any other veteran community, need to know we value their service and sacrifice.

As Bob Brudno once said, this event will do more to lengthen the lives of Vietnam veterans than the pills and the counselors. The city of Quincy dispenses the medicine these aging veterans have always needed – the welcome home and the personal “thank you for your service” that they never got before.

Hurry up America, before our Vietnam veterans lose faith.

For more on past and upcoming ceremonies, go to the Quincy Veterans web site.

Major Gen. Richard Mills is in demand since relinquishing command of the I Marine Expeditionary Force in Afghanistan last month. The first commander of the Regional Command-Southwest Region (RC-SW), Major General Mills was successful in taking one of the most volatile regions (the Helmand province) to a relatively peaceful one in one year. Next week, he will make several speaking engagements in Washington, including one co-hosted by the Marine Corps Association and Institute for the Study of War (ISW), at the Navy Memorial’s Burke Theater on May 2 at 3:30 p.m.

ISW, a relative newcomer to the D.C. think tank landscape, has issued a series of reports on the state of the counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan. In their most recent study released in January, author Jeffrey Dressler claims that both coalition and Afghanistan forces have made significant progress in “clearing and holding” critical districts and, in some areas, they have even begun the “build” phase of reconstruction and development. This is due in large part to the fact that the Helmand province has been the first province where comprehensive, population-centric counterinsurgency operations have been conducted with a force constituted to do so – with approximately 4,000 Marines deployed to the region since July 2009.

The report cites successes keeping the local populations secure, increasing the capabilities of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), improving the counternarcotics efforts (through interdiction), strengthening local governments and even improving living conditions (according to polls conducted by the Washington Post, ABC and BBC). Many credit the leadership of Major General Mills with shifting the momentum from the insurgency to the coalition and ANSF.

Monday’s sit-down discussion with ISW founder Dr. Kimberly Kagan could prove to be a rare chance to hear firsthand (in a dialog format) from the general who was in the vanguard of COIN implementation in Afghanistan. He will discuss his approach to counterinsurgency and the challenges that remain ahead for ISAF. To attend, RSVP here.

Four military chaplains mutually bound by the oath of office and a strong faith, Army Lts. George Fox, Alexander Goode, Clark Poling and John Washington had all met at the Army chaplain school, which was housed at Harvard University during World War II. Fox was a Methodist minister, Goode was a rabbi, Poling was a Catholic priest, and Washington was a Reformed Church of America minister. They were friends and were nicknamed “The God Squad.” By all accounts, they were well liked. 

All four of them were also on board the troop transport ship USAT Dorchester en route to various assignments in the European theater of World War II when their ship was attacked by a German U-boat in the North Atlantic and sank quickly. The ship was equipped with an inadequate supply of life jackets, so they calmly and uniformly gave up their own to other soldiers and helped them board lifeboats. In an attempt to succor the remaining crew left aboard, witnesses say the four chaplains joined arms, sang hymns and prayed as the ship sank underwater.

At the time, their story was a model of interfaith cooperation and a shining testament to the American religious experience. A war bond campaign was launched and inspired a country to give – as a posthumous tribute to these men and the unusual story of their bonding and mutual sacrifice. The story has motivated subsequent generations of military chaplains who strive to support the voluntary free exercise of religion, model interfaith cooperation and help others keep “faith” – regardless of their specific religious beliefs.

But, at a February 3 event the Navy Memorial co-hosted with the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project, Vietnam veteran and retired military chaplain Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff asserts that the story of the Four Chaplains is not as well known among the ranks of the military – nor is it often taught in history classes. “I think more organizations – both religious and secular – should consider joining together for special programs on February 3 – ‘Four Chaplains Day,’ using it as a day to honor all chaplains: military, police, prison, hospital, campus, etc. – all chaplains who regularly work in areas of interfaith cooperation. Today, when it is so easy to find stories of religious hostility and hatred, it is more important than ever to tell stories like this one.”

The Library of Congress is hosting two more commemorative events – one on February 15 with retired military chaplains and one on February 16 with military chaplains serving today.

It was the most ambitious, expensive, and risky oceanic engineering feat ever attempted – all for the intelligence contained in one Soviet submarine. It was also one of the most secretive operations, yet it was conducted under the spotlight of international media and Soviet intelligence. Sponsored by billionaire Howard Hughes under the cover of an undersea mining operation, Project Azorian attempted to raise a sunken Soviet submarine from a depth of 16,000 feet, far deeper than the 164 feet previously plumbed for a sunken submarine. Renowned naval historian Norman Polmar and film producer Michael White have recently published a book, Project Azorian: The CIA and the Raising of the K-129 (Naval Institute Press, 2010), that offers new details and convincingly answers many of the remaining questions surrounding the mystery of the sub’s sinking. Polmar recently spoke at the Navy Memorial about this new book and his exhaustive research to produce it. 

The K-129 mysteriously ceased communications and disappeared in March 1968 while operating in the north Pacific. The Soviets were unable to locate it, but U.S. Air Force surveillance systems picked up unusual acoustic “events” traced to K-129 and were able to pinpoint its location within 2-3 miles. U.S. Navy submarine USS Halibut (SSGN/SSN 587) was dispatched to the area, found the wreckage and took thousands of photos – showing that K-129 was, surprisingly, relatively intact. Salivating over the potential intelligence they could collect and assuming that it was just a matter of time before the Soviets found it, the CIA embarked on what could have been considered a foolhardy salvage attempt. The likelihood of successfully raising the sub was estimated to be 10 percent, according to the authors. It required an astronomical investment in state-of-the-art and innovative equipment at a time when the U.S. was still heavily engaged in the Vietnam War – a cost the government could not justify at the time. But the opportunity to obtain a Soviet nuclear-tipped missile and its guidance system was just too tempting. However, the project of this scale needed a convincing “cover.” 

So, the CIA enlisted the help of Howard Hughes, the eccentric billionaire who predictably agreed to underwrite the project. It was given a fake mission of a sea floor mining operation paid for by Hughes and it proved to be a perfect front. Openly reported in the press and with a legitimate money trail (as the government already had contracts with Hughes and the other contractors working on the project), a specially-outfitted deep sea mining ship was built in which heavy equipment – ostensibly mining – could be lifted from the ocean floor. It was brilliant.

The Hughes Glomar Explorer set out for its historic mission in June of 1974. Its task was daunting: “Beyond the lowering of the ‘capture vehicle’ or ‘claw’ at the end of a pipe-string and then recovering the submarine, the system would have to raise the capture vehicle, submarine hulk, and pipe-string up through an open well. There would be strong dynamic forces at work in the North Pacific even in summer, and it would be necessary to hold the ship in an exact position over the three-mile pipe-string. As the K-129 was raised it would be necessary to ensure perfect alignment with the opening of the docking well or moon pool. And, of course, the recovery had to be unobservable by outsiders.”

Even knowing the outcome of the adventure, the story is a riveting one. Authors Polmar and White are successful at unveiling – peeling back, really – many previously unreported details of this story through suspenseful chapter ends and a non-chronological story arc, one that keeps the reader’s attention. It could have read like an academic treatise, but it doesn’t. The authors also convincingly answer many remaining mysteries of the mission – including what caused the K-129 disaster. The book will obviously attract industry insiders, but its friendly prose and narrative style will also appeal to any Tom Clancy fan.

A full recap of all the erroneous press reports at the time also provides interesting fodder and adds some consumer color to the story, lending credence to the project’s mystique as a bona fide Cold War-era mystery. Knowing Polmar and his dry, sarcastic wit, I can tell that he held his tongue when debunking many of the theories that abounded about the demise of the K-129 and the myriad, confident journalists and authors that subsequently posited wildly off-base accounts. Polmar does not suffer fools, but he held back judiciously in this academically supported thesis. He knows that hindsight is 20-20. 

The mission was partly successful, but it remains debatable as to whether the intelligence gleaned from the salvage effort was worth the estimated $500 million (1970s money!). A total of 38 feet of the submarine was salvaged; the remaining 100 feet broke off and dropped back to the ocean floor, shattering into tiny bits of debris that were impossible to recapture. The authors allege that the true story of Project Azorian represents a feat that, while only producing modest intelligence gains, was as ambitious an engineering project as landing a man on the moon. We Americans have a habit of justifying the climbing of any mountain … just because it’s there!

A new report from the Center for a New American Security sounds a clarion call for more private-sector involvement in the long-term care of the burgeoning population of Veterans from the current conflicts. Author Nancy Berglass writes, “DoD and VA, of course, bear the primary responsibility for the care of those who have borne the battle, but warriors come home to communities, not to federal agencies, and so it is at this crossroads of national obligation and social welfare that a new understanding of military wellness must take root.”

The report makes three key recommendations to address identified shortfalls. The first is developing and implementing a “national homecoming plan.” Berglass asserts that the military does a decent job of preparing recruits for combat, but that the institution does not adequately “de-boot,” or provide that long-term support that, especially, the wounded servicemen and women will need. The second recommendation is the establishment of a continuum-of-care model that enforces improved interoperability between the VA and DoD. And the third is an increase in public-private partnerships–with a vetting process that does not discriminate against smaller, non-military service organizations.

Berglass makes a convincing argument that has been echoed by many state agencies and non-governmental organizations for years. Their mantra “We take care of our own” may not be in the best interests of VA’s constituents, as it is ill-equipped to respond to the wide variety of Veterans in this younger, combat-tested population of returning service members and their families. “By their very nature, federal one-size-fits-all programs simply cannot apply equally to the unique circumstances facing, for example, an unmarried wounded Army Reservist from rural Iowa, as compared to a career Marine from San Diego who is returning home to three children.”

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen recognized this quandary at the 2009 Defense Forum (sponsored by the U.S. Naval Institute and the Military Officers Association of America) when he asked the audience somewhat rhetorically, “How do we create a system across America that sustains [Veterans’] needs throughout their lives?” It is clear that VA cannot do it alone. Local organizations—more nimble, better attuned to their populace’s demographics and in close proximity to them—are ideally suited to serve the needs of this generation of veterans that will require decades of support.

There are shining examples of non-profits outside the Veterans service sector doing enviable work. During this same speech, Admiral Mullen recognized the efforts of USA Together, a non-profit that matches service members with vetted organizations that can provide services—financial or in-kind. This clearinghouse quickly and simply connects military people who have an identified need with individuals or organizations that have services or goods to donate. It puts the needy and the service provider together with no third-party intervention or referrals.

Give An Hour is a nationwide, non-profit organization founded in 2005 with a network of mental health professionals that is providing free services to U.S. troops, veterans and their families—in the communities in which they live and work.

The state of Virginia is putting together a structure that includes a community service board with representation from all civilian organizations that can augment VA. This is being initially funded with $1.7 million out of the state budget.

Then-Director of Veterans Affairs for the state of Illinois, Tammy Duckworth, fostered the establishment of 768 community-based outpatient clinics to allow access to care in remote areas of the state. She also awarded non-profits that were working directly with Illinois veterans with state grants of up to $100,000.

Michael Dabbs, president of the non-profit Brain Injury Association of Michigan, said at the 2010 Defense Forum that his organization employs 10,000 workers in the brain injury field and says there are far more brain injury assets outside VA than inside the system.

Is VA taking advantage of all these outside resources available? Can they disavow themselves of the arms-length treatment that federal agencies and their lawyers give to all “non-federal entities” and embrace these non-federal initiatives and their innovative solutions? Do they have a process in place to quickly and efficiently augment their infrastructure with outsourced, vetted and complementary services from the states and non-profits?

“You always have the choice to be more than who you are. In doing so, you will inspire someone.” Lt. John Pucillo, an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) officer in the U.S. Navy, emphasized this theme of personal choice in his speech to a packed theater at the Navy Memorial  last Friday. Lieutenant Pucillo, who lost a leg in an IED explosion in Baghdad in 2006, was one of nine speakers selected to perform at the November 19 “Tedx Pentagon: The Human Stories” conference, which was hosted by the Department of Defense and webcast live. The short and succinct speeches, with their talent silouetted in the dark theater, were essentially one-act, one-man plays — much more compelling than a traditional Power Point-dominated lecture.

The day Lieutenant Pucillo was injured was the day he made the conscious decision to embark on a long journey to take back his life. As he describes it, there are things in life we can control and things we cannot control. Separating out those two and focusing on the controllable is a personal choice, albeit a hard one.

After intense rehabilitation at Walter Reed, Lieutenant Pucillo managed to return to active duty as an EOD officer 15 months later and he continues to serve today. Given the fact that many in his position would have left the military, he says he is often asked why he chose to return to service. He admits that he doesn’t have a very satisfactory answer, except that “my love for EOD is very focused and I’m sure it’s rare.” As he reiterates, he continues to struggle daily with his determination not to let his injury define him. But, the chance to inspire others motivates him. Listen to him tell the story of one young girl he unintentionally influenced.

The Navy Memorial is hosting an exhibit highlighting the Navy’s EOD community. It will be on display through 2011.

Last night at the Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C., a panel discussion was taped for broadcast on The Pentagon Channel on Veterans Day. Hosted by Fox News Channel’s Bret Baier, the symposium served as the kickoff event for the American Veterans Center’s annual two-day veterans’ conference. The panel featured several young veterans who were wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. They talked candidly to a packed audience about how they were wounded, how they recovered and how they are moving on with the next chapter of their lives. 

Unlike many former generations of veterans, this cadre of combat wounded seems very comfortable talking openly and honestly about their experiences. They reveal some of their and their families’ most intimate details – fresh and unvarnished. Public stories like these – of intense combat and equally intense and challenging recoveries – abound among today’s war veterans. Dozens of books have been published by veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This panel boasted two authors in the group. Many more veterans have posted articles, diaries, blogs, songs and videos on the Internet. Some of these first memoirs started appearing soon after the first wave of veterans returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. Numerous documentaries, feature films and TV series have followed. 

In contrast, we didn’t see the first memoirs and films from Vietnam authors until several years after the conflict ended (with a few exceptions, like Tim O’Brien). What’s different? One of tonight’s panelists, former Army Staff Sgt. Michael Lipari is writing a documentary called “The Long Journey Home From Iraq.” He says, “I kept three journals when I was in Iraq and it was the most therapeutic thing I did.” Therapy? Isn’t that a word that would have made Vietnam veterans queasy to utter? Wouldn’t it have been career suicide to admit that you needed or submitted to therapy? Not now.

Another panelist, Marine Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Workman, said completing his book Shadow of the Sword took two years. “There were times I laughed and times I cried,” he said. “But it was all about telling the stories of the Marines we lost…making sure they are never forgotten.” He also said it was the best therapy he has ever had.

Many of the stories are profoundly intimate and soul-baring. Perhaps the proliferation of reality TV makes this generation more comfortable with the mass distribution of their deeply personal life journeys and a magnifying glass on these lives. But perhaps it is also evidence that we have learned a lesson or two from Vietnam — that the veteran needs to be helped, not stigmatized.

There is no Wall, or memorial, for this generation of veterans to visit and assist in the healing process – at least not yet. There is no closure yet to this war. So, catharsis comes in many forms. Perhaps this more public form of therapy is a signature for this generation. Less than one percent of today’s American population serves in the military, so these stories can serve another constructive purpose: they can give the rest of us a glimpse at the lives of today’s soldiers and sailors and can remind us of their sacrifice.

Footnote: The American Veterans Center’s conference will be webcast live on Navy TV on Friday, November 5 and Saturday, November 6.

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