Caring For The Defenders

My Address to a Middle School Class on Veteran's Day 2014

Good morning, my name is Matt H and my daughter, is one of your 8th grade classmates.  Last December, I retired from the Navy after serving 23 years of combined active and reserve service as a Navy SEAL.  I am a combat veteran having served in the city of Ramadi, Iraq where I earned the Bronze Star Medal for Valor. 

I joined the military for a few reasons.  First of all, both of my parents are veterans. But more than just that, I wanted to become a Navy SEAL because of the adventure and noble purpose that it promised.  Through those years, I've jumped out of airplanes at night over the ocean, treated young children in Africa for malaria, spent five weeks living in the jungle along the Panama Canal, planted limpet mines on the bottom of an aircraft carrier in the middle of the night, and led the ambush of four suicide bombers. 

I also wanted to be able to look anyone in the eye and tell him, “Yes, I served my country.”  It may be difficult to understand now, but believe me when I tell you that you will absolutely derive more joy and personal satisfaction from doing something for someone else than you ever will by simply doing things for your own benefit.

Serving also means that you come to understand that you are not as important as the team or the platoon.  Recognizing that the goal of the unit is more important that your individual success, allows you to form very close bonds with those around you.  This also helps you to become the most important kind of person that there is in this world.  A reliable one.  No talent or skill will take you very far if you cannot be counted upon.  Becoming a reliable friend, student, employee, or even CEO starts with understanding your true value to an organization, not its value to you.   

Nearly every day as I face life and the many challenges that it involves, I look back on my SEAL training experience and know that nothing that I will ever do will be any more difficult than that.  This is a powerful source of self-confidence and resilience that I can draw from at any time.  This power is not limited to Navy SEALs either.  All of us Veterans have had to face extreme challenges during our duty, and they have made us stronger.  My service taught me not to fear challenge, but to embrace it because I know that each time I overcome something, I become stronger for it.

Last year when a local congressman spoke to you on Veteran’s Day I believe that there was a lot of confusion.  When my daughter came home that day, she told me that a few of her classmates asked her questions about me like, “Is your dad dead?” and “Does he have a job?”  Aside from the clear insensitivity of questions such as these, I felt that there surely are many more unanswered questions from last year. 

Before I left for Iraq, I thought long and hard about what could happen to me there that could change me in a way that would be harmful.  I thought that there were three things that could happen and that I had control over only two of them.  First, was that if I faced a dire combat situation and acted in a cowardly manner, the shame of that would never leave me.  Second, that if during combat, I was to shoot or be responsible for the death of someone innocent that would leave a lasting scar on my heart.  And third, that if I were to witness an especially gruesome situation where my comrades suffered or died painfully that those visions would haunt me.

So before I left, I prayed and I asked God to protect my heart from those things, and He did.  But where I was blessed, many of my comrades were not.  Many do suffer from one or more of those afflictions, and it can be difficult to recover from it.  This is why the one question that you should NEVER ask a Veteran is, “How many people have you killed?”  This is a deeply personal matter, and one that you have no right to the answer.  As Veterans, we are entitled to your respect, but I also ask you to give Veterans your compassion as well.  All of us have accepted the safety of America as a personal responsibility and have made sacrifices on your behalf.  Veterans are not victims, we are your protectors, and perhaps someday, some of you might step forward and accept that responsibility for yourselves.

The 8th of November, 1965

[Annual repost]


The Fallen Angel remembers the 173rd Airborne today...on the 8th of November in 1965, one of the toughest Airborne battles was fought in the jungles of Viet Nam.

At about 0600 on the morning of 8 November C Company began a move northwest toward Hill 65, while B Company moved northeast toward Hill 78. Shortly before 0800, C Company was engaged by a sizable enemy force well dug in to the southern face of Hill 65. At 0845, B Company was directed to wheel in place and proceed toward Hill 65 with the intention of relieving C Company.

B Company reached the foot of Hill 65 at about 0930 and moved up the hill. It became obvious that there was a very large enemy force in place on the hill,C Company was getting hammered, and by chance, B Company was forcing the enemy's right flank.

Under pressure from B Company's flanking attack the enemy force—most of a Viet Cong regiment—moved to the northwest, whereupon the B Company commander called in air and artillery fires on the retreating troops. B Company halted in place in an effort to locate and consolidate with C Company's platoons, managing to establish a coherent defensive line running around the hilltop from southeast to northwest, but with little cover on the southern side.

Meanwhile, the VC commander realized that his best chance was to close with the US soldiers so that the 173rd's air and artillery fire could not be effectively employed. He attempted to out-flank the US position atop the hill from both the east and the southwest, moving his troops closer to the Americans. The result was shoulder-to-shoulder attacks up the hillside, hand-to-hand fighting, and isolation of parts of B and C Companies but the Americans held against two such attacks. Although the fighting continued after the second massed attack, it reduced in intensity as the VC commander again attempted to disengage and withdraw. By late afternoon it seemed that contact had been broken off, allowing the two companies to prepare a night defensive position while collecting their dead and wounded in the center of the position. Although a few of the most seriously wounded were extracted by USAF helicopters using Stokes litters, the triple-canopy jungle prevented the majority from being evacuated until the morning of 9 November.

The result of the battle was heavy losses on both sides—48 Paratroopers dead, many more wounded, and 403 dead VC troops.

Here is the link to the tribute video by Big and Rich:


If you get a chance, raise a glass to the Sky Soldiers of the 173rd tonight ("Airborne!").  Many of the Viet Nam vets that trained me and my generation of paratroopers wore the 173rd patch on their right shoulder.

Thank you.

Update: In the Company of Soldiers has more on Lawrence Joel who saved a lot of lives on the 8th of November in 1965 and was awarded the Medal of Honor.

"Dogs of War" on A&E

From the folks at A&E:

DOGS OF WAR spotlights combat veteran Jim Stanek, who returns home struggling with PTSD. He looks into getting a service dog to help him heal, only to discover how expensive they are, and how long the wait to be paired with one is. So he starts his own nonprofit to rescue dogs from kill shelters, train them as service dogs and partner them with struggling veterans at little or no cost.

The show premieres Tuesday, Nov. 11 at 10PM ET/PT and then moves to Sundays at 10PM ET/PT beginning Nov. 16.

In an era when most reality TV is hypersexualized, about cutthroat competition or designed solely to make us laugh at the culture of its “stars,” it is so refreshing to be associated with a series like this, which spotlights a man who uses the greatest pain in his life to offer the greatest comfort to the lives of others. 

Dogs of War is really the culmination of the work that Jim and Lindsey Stanek have done with their charity - Paws and Stripes.  Jim and Lindsey found the perfect intersection of veterans needing a companion to deal with feeling isolated and shelter dogs (most likely heading to an untimely death) needing a home.  In turn, they rescue each other.

Catch "Dogs of War" on A&E this Veterans Day.  Spread the word!

B5, Out.

The Veteran Benefit Book Fair - San Diego - November 8th

The following article is a special for BlackFive readers written by Elise Cooper (our favorite book reviewer).


On November 8th in San Diego, California, the USS Midway will provide a dramatic setting as best selling authors plan on honoring military veterans presented by the Us4Warriors veteran’s support foundation and American Legion. The authors are hoping this will become a yearly tradition because it falls out on the weekend before Veterans Day.  Book enthusiasts are invited to attend this unique event, “Veteran Benefit Book Fair” ( between 10 am and 5 pm. 

Because proceeds go to veteran organizations people who want a book signed will have to buy books at the Midway/Fair bookstore. But the added benefit is that for every book sold a free book is sent to those on active duty. For the price of a Midway ticket, people can meet best-selling authors, purchase a book for signature, and take a tour of the Midway, a ship steeped in history. Readers can also have the opportunity to obtain a collector’s item, a personal written note from an author answering a question they always wanted to ask, or win one of many silent auctions of signed books by number one best selling authors including Nelson DeMille.

The organizers hope that people will not be fooled by the title since there will be over forty authors, all from various genres from women’s issues to science fiction.  Panel discussions with many of the authors will include: Veteran Characters”; “Female Heroines”; “Hot and Cold Wars”; “Terrorists and Politics” and “Guns and Needles.” In addition there will be a Q/A with Hank Steinberg, the executive producer of the television shows “The Last Ship” and “Without A Trace.”  Others in attendance include Catherine Coulter, Charles and Caroline Todd, James Rollins, Ted Bell, C. J. Lyons, T. Jefferson Parker, Jan Burke, D. P. Lyle, Iris and Roy Johansen, W.C. Reed, Amy Hatvany, Andrew Kaplan, and Dale Brown. Also attending is U.S. Navy SEAL CDR (Ret) Rorke Denver, star the movie Act of Valor and U.S. Navy SEAL sniper LTCDR (Ret) Shane Reilly, former XO of the Navy SEAL Training Command. 

The authors want to emphasize that as Americans, we are living in perilous times and without those willing to sacrifice, sometimes making the ultimate sacrifice, to preserve our freedoms we would be in dire straights.  They hope Americans will take the time to attend this patriotic event.

Changing the Retirement Benefit - "Foreign Policy" Egghead Vs. Grunt

Over at Foreign Policy, retired Navy Commander John T. Kuehn writes about "If I could change one thing in the US military personnel system (1):  It is time to extend the age of military retirement."

Kuehn is the Major General Willam A Stofft chair of historical research at the Command and General Staff College, and, yes, he has a PhD.  Here is why Commander (ret) Kuehn  believes a change in the retirement system is needed.

...The current system was designed because between the 20 to 30 year stretch was statistically when military personnel had been physically and emotionally "used up." However, these conditions no longer apply.

Today, folks are a lot healthier when they retire and could reasonably be expected to serve under the generally harsher circumstance of military service longer than they could in the past. The current system needs to recognize and account for the improvements in healthcare and lifestyle by those Americans who qualify for military service in its promotion and retention policies, and it should do this with meaningful policy change. .. 

The problem with this argument is that the author seems to be entirely disconnected from the last 13+ years of combat, and what that combat does to young men and women...possibly the disconnect exists because he is a reseracher and a retired Navy Officer, not a 40 year old infantry platoon sergeant in the 82nd Airborne Division.

In backchannel  discussions on this piece, Army soldier TCOverride offers up a solution for the retirement situation.  I think you'll enjoy it.

 I call this the risk = return method.
Combat tours--real tours, not quatar/doha/buehring tours--earn 2.5x the retirement rate.  A one year tour counts for 2.5 years towards retirement (but not pay.)  A non combat, but unaccompanied tour counts for 1.5.  Tours based on any LSA earn 1.75%, except for individuals listed below.
Any tour during which a person receives a PH, or Valor medal, counts for 3x.
No multiplier is added for E9, or O6 and above.  Especially E9, as they have, as a population (albeit with notable, and damned few exceptions) contributed nothing of measurable value.  Unless E9 has PH or Valor awards.  BSM without 'V' is pretty, but worth squat.
No multiplier is added for people beyond minimum retirement (20 years) unless the recipient has a PH or Valor award (multiplier always counts for these people, regardless of length of service.)
PH or valor award multiplier is not limited to tour in which award is earned, once earned, modifier applies to any and all future tours and the tour where award was earned.  Additional awards gain a .5 modifier.  2 PH would earn 3.5, 2 PH+BSV earns 4.0, etc.  E9 with BSV would earn the 3% modifier.  
Sailors and other undesirables only get tour multipliers if they participate in actual combat.  Being a cook on a carrier is not actual combat.  Being on a seal team is.  Unaccompanied tours multiplier still counts for sea duty.  Having a missile fired at your ship is combat.  Docking at a port in a terrorist threat nation (like Yemen) would result in earning the multiplier only while docked/underway in that nation's waters.
Marines on embassy duty in nations where Ivan or Mohamed are the given names of over 40% of the male population, or where women dress like ninjas, or where goat buggery is commonplace (with exclusions for Australia, Scotland, New Zealand) would receive a special rate of 1.75%, which would go to 5% if at any time a clinton or kerry is the SECSTATE.
Of course, they could also do silly things to reduce the VA claims backlog like analyzing your medical condition(s) annually according to VA standards, and determining the severity/rating as you go, so that when you retire you already have a rating.
MOH: automatically qualifies for 20 years' service retirement eligibilty.
Service in any TRADOC (or other service equivalent) posting beyond 24 months without at least three requests by the soldier for immediate worldwide reassignment result in no accrual of years' service for retirement.
Goes along with this Military Motivator

In Defense Of Traditional VSO's

Mike Lermon has a wonderful response to the rather disingenious op-ed that ran a week or so ago in the Washington Times.  I really think you will enjoy reading it.  

Unlike the previous op-ed, I will disclose that I am a bit biased and know Mike, as he's the project lead for Operation Audie/Task Force DeForrest at Mission: VALOR.