Tag Archives: Special Operations

20% Of Top Medals Awarded on Classified Missions After 911




“That one in five of the nation’s highest medals has been issued in secret is likely due to the reliance on special operations forces undertaking stealthy missions.

The secrecy surrounding more than 200 Service Cross and Silver Star awards reflects the reliance on special operations forces involved in classified missions to capture or kill terrorists and free hostages.

Last month, the Pentagon announced that officials are reviewing 1,090 awards of Service Crosses and Silver Stars awarded since Sept. 11, 2001 to determine if any should be upgraded to the nation’s highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor.

Since 9/11, the 216 medals were awarded in secret for missions that cannot be publicly discussed, according to the records. One Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest medal awarded to soldiers, and three Navy Crosses, the equivalent medal for sailors and Marines, have been issued for courageous acts during classified operations. The Navy awarded 112 Silver Stars, and the Army 100 more for undisclosed actions. The Air Force has not issued a Service Cross or Silver Star in secret since 9/11.

The data, current as of last week, could change slightly as medals continue to be reviewed.

That one in five of the nation’s highest medals has been issued in secret is likely due to the reliance on special operations forces undertaking stealthy missions, said the official who was not authorized to speak publicly about the issue. Along with drone strikes, what are called “direct-action raids” conducted by commandos in secret have become a hallmark of the war on terror, the official said.

On Monday, President Obama talked about one of those secret missions when he awarded a Navy SEAL the Medal of Honor. Senior Chief Petty Officer Edward Byers earned the medal for his role in springing an American doctor held hostage by the Taliban in 2012. Byers’ surpassing heroism is the reason details of the mission were made public. Medals of Honor are not awarded in secret.

Obama underlined the reason for secrecy in his remarks at the ceremony.

“Given the nature of Ed’s service, there is a lot that we cannot say today,” Obama said. “Many of the operational details of his mission remain classified. Many of his teammates cannot be mentioned. And this is as it should be. Their success demands secrecy, and that secrecy saves lives.”

The rescue of Dilip Joseph also cost the life of Byers’ SEAL teammate, Nicolas Checque. He was killed by a Taliban guard as he burst through the door of their stronghold. Cheque was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions in the mission. Cheque is among 70 Navy special operators, 55 of them SEALs, to be killed in action since the 9/11 attacks, Obama said.

The ongoing review of medals for upgrade could increase the number of Medal of Honor ceremonies, said Dwight Mears, a former West Point history professor who researched the awards process. Some Service Crosses awarded during the Vietnam War were classified because they were from previously secret operations in countries such as Laos.

Political and practical reasons can limit the number of Medals of Honor awarded for wars like Vietnam and the current conflict, Mears said in an email.

“There may be both overhead pressure to downgrade in order to keep the operations out of the public eye for strategic reasons, and also pressure from the lower echelons responsible for originating the award recommendations,” Mears said. “Recommending a (Medal of Honor) effectively removes a special operator from any future tactical operations by revealing his identity and making him into a celebrity, and it also brings increased public scrutiny into the unit itself.”

The nature of the secret missions — often quick, violent raids — has led to some of the most intense hand-to-hand fighting in American military history, said Michael O’Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institution. A senior special operations general told O’Hanlon that some of his soldiers had been engaged in more close combat with the enemy than any soldiers in U.S. history.

“I had to think about that awhile before realizing he was probably right,” O’Hanlon said.”





Defense Secretary Says Iraq Raid Isn’t Combat, Then Says It Is




“An American soldier has died in Iraq as a result of the U.S.intervention to support Iraqi forces fighting the Islamic State.

It’s the first loss of an American service member since the fight against ISIS began, and the first combat death in Iraq since 2011.

U.S. special operations forces operating in Iraq in what Pentagon officials say was a supporting role took part in an Iraqi operation to free Iraqi hostages, including members of the Iraqi Security Forces. After more than 70 hostages were freed, 39-year-old Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler, a veteran of 14 official combat deployments and doubtless several other less-official trips into danger, died of his gunshot wound.

His death has raised the question of how an American could have died in combat when America, at least according to President Barack Obama and his national security leaders, is not at war.

“We have this capability. It is a great American strength,” Carter said Friday at the Pentagon of special operations raids like the one this week. But he insisted those raids are not the same as the U.S.military “assuming a combat role.”

Americans are flying combat missions, thousands of combat missions, over Syria and Iraqi territory. There are Americans involved in training and advising Iraqi security forces around the country. We do not have combat formations there the way we had once upon a time in Iraq, or the way we have had in years past in Afghanistan,” Carter said.

Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook had been blunter on Thursday: “Our mission in Iraq is the train, advise and assist mission. This was a unique circumstance…This was a support mission in which they were providing support to the Kurdistan Regional Government. U.S. forces are not in an active combat mission in Iraq.”

But before Carter left the podium on Friday, he offered this explanation for why he couldn’t reveal more details of Wheeler’s actions: “This is combat. Things are complicated.”


The rules of the official advise-and-assist mission meant the Americans were to “stay behind the last covered and concealed position,” but when the Peshmerga fighters they were supporting began taking fire and casualties they stepped in and acted. As spokesman Col. Steve Warren noted from Baghdad, “In the chaos of combat, when you see your friends being hit, I would submit to you that you’re under somewhat of a moral obligation.” Again, combat.

Thursday’s events have thrust have into the public spotlight the rather plastic definitions of war and combat in which Americans have been operating now for a while. We may not by name or distinction be a nation at war, and we may not be a nation whose troops are part of full-scale, on-the-ground combat operations. But the men and women serving in those countries are indeed in a war zone and serving their nation in combat. They are at war whether or not we are as a nation.

Officially, combat operations ended in Afghanistan in December 2014. In May, Obama noted that “for many of us, this Memorial Day is especially meaningful; it is the first since our war in Afghanistan came to an end. Today is the first Memorial Day in 14 years that the United States is not engaged in a major ground war.”

And yet three months later America could count four losses of life on the battlegrounds of Afghanistan. As of today America has sustained 14 casualties, including four deaths the Pentagon labels as “killed in action.” Even if the official mission is to support Afghan forces, American lives are on the line and in combat theaters.

American forces serving in Afghanistan are eligible to earn the Afghanistan Campaign Medal and anyone in Iraq qualifies for combat pay.

American forces are in combat. Not saying it out loud allows us—and perhaps our leaders in Washington—to feel we are not a nation at war, even if some of us are serving in battle.”




Master Sergeant Johshua Wheeler


U.S. Special Operations Commandos Interested in Dual Mode Bike




“Special operators could turn their engines off on the final stretch of their journey to better maintain the element of surprise when attacking the enemy.

The Motoped Survival Bike was delivered to the special operations community for testing on Aug. 8, according to Jeffery Givens, president and CEO of Graystone Defense LLC.

Givens is a consultant who works with the American Performance Technologies Group, which designed the vehicle.

“It’s simply a ruggedized downhill racing mountain bike with a motor on it,” he said Aug. 26 at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Joint Service Power Expo in Cincinnati, where the motoped was on display.

The bike is designed for off-road travel and is equipped with six-inch shock absorbers similar to those on professional Motocross motorcycles, Givens said.

The vehicle weighs 132 pounds and can carry a 300 pound load, including the weight of the driver. In testing it has reached speeds of more than 45 miles per hour, he said.

The motoped gets 140 miles per gallon or better, depending on the size of the engine and other variables, Givens noted. The bike carries three one-gallon fuel tanks, giving it a range of up to 480 miles, depending on the terrain and other variables, he added.

Givens said a key selling point for the bike is that it would enable special operators to drive across rugged terrain rather than march over it.

“The soldier is going 20 miles an hour … instead of 2 miles an hour with 80 pounds of gear” on their backs, he said.

U.S. Special Operations Command is already buying ATVs to help commandos go off road and reach their targets more easily.
“You’ve got an option … [if] you want to come in on the [motor] power for a certain distance [and] then want to peddle for a little bit so you’re quiet,” Givens said.

He noted that the bikes, given their relatively small size, are easily transportable via helicopter. They are also less expensive than most vehicles the military buys, coming in at under $4,000 per unit.

Givens acknowledged that the vehicle does have some limitations in its current form, such as the difficulty of peddling uphill.

“I admit that a 132-pound bike with 300 pounds of rider and gear is a lot to pedal,” he said.

Another potential drawback, from the military’s perspective, is that it runs on gasoline.

“Everybody wants to go to heavy fuel,” Givens said. “[But] nobody has produced a single cylinder, small fractional horsepower motor that is diesel yet that has worked.”

He said some changes need to be made to optimize the bike for potential military customers. “There’s a little bit of developmental work that we’ll have to do,” he noted.

Potential upgrades include installing LED lighting, closing the fuel system and giving the vehicle the ability to recharge military batteries, he said.

Givens was asked if gun mounts could be placed on the bike. “We’ll look into that eventually,” he said. “It all comes down to weight and how much bulkiness you want to have.”

Special operators are not the only ones interested in the motoped. The APT Group is already selling variants of the vehicle on the commercial market. The company has sold more than 500 since February, Givens said.”


Top U.S. Commando Tells Troops: Get Counseling, I Did


Votel_official_photo_USSOCOM                                                   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Votel


“I have, with my family, sought counseling and assistance,” said Special Operations Command’s General Joseph Votel…

In laymen’s terms, a body under constant threat that goes on missions night after night pumps out adrenaline at such a constant rate that it gets out of whack and can’t readily adjust to the relatively threat-free environment at home.

The therapy can help troops deal with the grief of losing a teammate or unlock a traumatic memory so the brain can stop going over it repeatedly. But sometimes, the counseling is simply to train an operator to “down regulate” after deployment.

The Pentagon’s health affairs department has budgeted nearly $15 million this fiscal year to behavioral health resources for special operations Plus, there’s another $10 million in the special operations budget toward behavioral health and suicide prevention efforts. There’s also $1.2 million budgeted for the spiritual domain—including giving chaplains suicide intervention training, and some basic counseling training. (For many in the military—older troops—it’s easier to talk with a chaplain than with a therapist.)

Suicides by special operators have fallen for two years straight. But the rates are still among the highest in the military. And that’s prompting the ordinarily tight-lipped commander of the elite forces to speak frankly about seeking help, and all but ordering his troops to do the same.

The high rate of special operations suicides as compared to the other services reflects the strain of more than a decade of deployments since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001—a trend that continues for special operators even as most conventional forces come home.

It also reflects the continued stigma against seeking counseling that is arguably even fiercer among special operators than conventional forces. It literally goes against their training, which often requires pushing through pain to reach a target on the battlefield.

Votel, who last led the elite Joint Special Operations Command, said that is changing, with more special operators seeking help.

“I’m also seeing an increase in friends, in peers, in numbers in the chain of command who are referring to their people for help, without any further ramifications,” in terms of their careers, he said.

The famously reticent U.S. Army Ranger is speaking out because he faced a suicide crisis shortly after taking charge last summer.

In the four months from August to November of 2014, there were seven apparent suicides, five suicide attempts, and 14 cases where troops were hospitalized for “suicide ideation,” meaning they were considering taking their own life.

“We are not winning this battle yet and we need your help,” Votel wrote in a November 2014 missive to his troops, obtained by The Daily Beast.

Votel pointed to one bit of silver lining in that those 14 cases of “ideation” meant someone—either the operator, a family member or a fellow operator—had spotted the problem and intervened.

“When our leadership or people identify a person who is exhibiting behavior that indicates they may harm themselves—we act quickly,” Votel wrote.

Since then, Votel has ordered stepped-up training of how to spot the signs of stress, and the Pentagon has worked to make more counseling resources available to his people.

The Pentagon’s health affairs department has budgeted nearly $15 million this fiscal year to behavioral health resources for special operations Plus, there’s another $10 million in the special operations budget toward behavioral health and suicide prevention efforts. There’s also $1.2 million budgeted for the spiritual domain—including giving chaplains suicide intervention training, and some basic counseling training. (For many in the military—older troops—it’s easier to talk with a chaplain than with a therapist.)

Almost a fifth of special operators anonymously surveyed by Doolittle’s office this year reported that they’d sought out some form of behavioral health support, with most of them going to the psychologist, counselor or chaplain who is part of their unit, Doolittle said. That’s up from only 15 percent of those surveyed last year and 11 percent the year before.

“I can think of several peers and senior enlisted [officers] that have gone through various forms of psychological treatment,” said Doolittle.

“Some kept it on the down-low, but some folks have been very vocal,” which has helped degrade the view of seeking counseling as weakness, he said.

What has arguably helped the most is embedding psychologists and other types of counselors available in special operations units and also borrowing the practice of using “military family life counselors” for operators and families alike. They provide what some troops refer to as “Starbucks therapy”—meetings outside the base that don’t appear in the service member’s record, or even get written down at all.

“When you are talking about convincing the guy to drive across base and go see a psych at a medical treatment facility—quite honestly, we’ve had problems with that,” Doolittle said. But give them a chance to talk to someone they see in the gym and the chow hall every day, and there’s less stigma—one reason chaplains in places like Afghanistan invest in expensive coffeemakers to plant outside their offices to give troops one more reason to stop by.

“For every one operator or support person that’s gone to a medical treatment facility, roughly another three are going to that ‘embedded’ care [team],” Doolittle said.

In 2015, there will be a total of 131 special operations-specific behavioral health professionals “embedded” in SOCOM units and bases, up from just 60 in 2013.

That’s on top of dozens more made available by the various services who are both embedded in special operations units and across the military health system.

There are also counselors available to help families get re-acquainted after multiple deployments that can turn an operator into a stranger in his or her own home.

The harder-to-teach skills are convincing an operator to incorporate breathing or meditation into their daily training and getting regular sleep, so their brains can process and deal with the memories of whatever they saw during the day.

But SOCOM is trying to teach that, too, experimenting with programs that teach everything from yoga to “accelerated resolution therapy,” in which an operator replays an incident in his or her head like a movie, allowing the brain to “process” the tough memory and put it away.

The sting in the tail: Those who don’t take aim at their issues end up in a spiral of drinking, divorce, and worse, and end up out of the brotherhood that is the reason they stay quiet about the trauma in the first place.

That’s why the leading quiet professional Votel is slightly less silent when it comes to suicide.”