The spouse of a soldier, and president of a non-profit devoted to vet’s families, describes her struggle to care for her husband after he returned from war, wounded and a different man. Ben Jacobs reports.
The 21st century has presented both new challenges and new opportunities for military families. In a panel moderated by ABC News’s John Donovan, Dr. Tommy Sowers, the Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs at U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Alan Reyes, a senior Vice President with the USO and Brannan Vines, the founder and president of the nonprofit Family of a Vet discussed life on the home front for the loved ones of those on the front lines.
Vines, whose husband returned home from two combat tours with severe wounds from PTSD and traumatic brain injury, talked about her efforts to care for her spouse and at times expressed frustration with the help she has received from the VA. As a result of his injuries, she said, the man who came home was very different than the one that she married. On over two dozen different occasions, IEDs—the signature insurgent weapons of modern warfare—had exploded near him. The resulting concussions and brain trauma changed him. “He came back a very different man,” said Vines. “It was almost like an arranged marriage. He looked the same” but, in many ways, was a different person.
The impact of IEDs and other new weapons, though, has been matched by great changes in how veterans and their families are able to support each other. Now, as Reyes said, the USO has 9 centers all over Afghanistan, which enables combat soldiers to be present in the delivery room via Skype and watch their wives give birth from half a world away. These new services to support families were emphasized by Sowers as well.
Sowers, the Obama administration official, talked about how the president has emphasized re-orienting the VA towards the families of veterans and discussed the wide variety of services that the agency provides to assist families, ranging from home mortgages to life insurance.
As the panel discussed, those who fought in Iraq and still serve in Afghanistan have had to worry about new injuries from new weapons in a new type of war. They benefit from a more comprehensive support system and far more understanding public than past generations of veterans, but as Vine’s own struggles to care for her husband made clear, there are critical improvements to veteran’s services that still need to be made.
A diverse group confronts stereotypes about veterans by telling their own stories. Army vet Jacob Siegel on what unites a Congresswoman, businessman, med student, and martial artist.
Want to know what a group of military veterans looks like? Start with two women: one a member of Congress, one a medical student, both former enlisted soldiers with combat tours overseas. Then add a martial artist and ordained minister who is also an amputee diagnosed with PTSD and a teacher for at-risk youth, and round it out with a successful businessman at a major corporation. Together, they formed a picture of America’s incredibly diverse community of veterans.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, the Congresswoman from Hawaii, joined former Army medic Kate Norley, disabled combat veteran Anthony Smith, and Carl M. Tegen, an executive at AT&T and a Gulf War veteran to participate in “Shattering Stereotypes: The New Veterans” a panel held today in Washington D.C. at The Daily Beast’s Hero Summit.
Scott Henrichsen/The Daily Beast
Anthony “A-Train” Smith, an Iraq war veteran, was seriously wounded overseas and lost parts of his arm, leg, hip, and spinal cord, and the sight in his right eye. On stage, though, he never dwelled on his own recovery or the challenges he faced dealing with PTSD and traumatic brain injury. Instead he spoke about combating the stigma attached to PTSD.
Norley, who’s now attending medical school, revealed to the room that friends from her old military unit had treated Smith for both his physical and mental wounds. It was a coincidence they only stumbled upon this morning, and one that was clearly emotional for Norley. “I’m a little shaken up by that right now,” she said of the surprising discovery, “because I’m very proud of them, but I’m also proud to see the results.” The results referred to Smith, a picture of strength and conviction, sitting just to her left where he commanded the room from his chair.
Before deploying to Iraq, Smith had held a job on the police force in his Arkansas town. But he found when he came home that his old bosses, worked up by their misconceptions of PTSD, no longer trusted him to serve as a cop. “They saw so many different movies about PTSD they just automatically assumed that I was going to crack up,” Smith said before adding, “I want to break that stereotype and let them know that all of us want to come back and want to serve in our community.”
After 81 days in captivity, you really get to know someone. Photographer Jonathan Alpeyrie recalls teaching a Syrian warlord how to swim.
It’s not all soldiers and veterans at The Hero Summit. You’ve probably never heard of Jonathan Alpeyrie, and you may not think of photographers as heroes. But you might think just a little differently after you hear the story of his recent captivity in Syria for 81 days.
Speaking to The Daily Beast’s Christopher Dickey, Alpeyrie revealed new details of his capture and captivity, which serve to remind that some journalists, too, risk life and limb. Alpeyrie was at home in Paris with about 10 days to kill until his next scheduled assignment, he said, when he decided to make his third trip to Syria to cover the civil war.
He spent time with some rebel groups, he said, and about a week into his sojourn, he was about 20 miles outside of Damascus with his fixer and one other when they drove into a checkpoint. “It was a trap,” he said. He was dragged out of the car and blindfolded. Someone held a pistol to his head and pretended to shoot. It’s how they break your will, he said, adding: “You feel like you’re dreaming, like it’s not really happening. It’s very strange.”
His kidnappers, he said, were a local militia group run by a warlord. For the first five weeks, he was blindfolded and handcuffed. Then, without explanation, he was moved to a different safe house, and the blindfold and handcuffs were taken off.
Relations with his kidnappers thawed a bit, and then ultimately softened to the surreal point that Alpeyrie, now 34, was instructed to teach the warlord how to swim. He’d revealed in conversation that he’d been a competitive swimmer when he was younger. There was an empty swimming pool in the house next door. His captors filled it up with freezing water and stripped him down to his underwear. Then up ambles his captors’ leader, wearing Hawaiian swim trunks. “Basically, I was holding him like a baby for an hour,” Alpeyrie remembered. “But by the end he could swim.”
Photographer Jonathan Alpeyrie recounts the bizarre story of teaching a Syrian warlord to swim.
Isaacson, Woodward, and former Sen. Olympia Snowe diverged on the finer points of Obama’s congressional diplomacy, but they all agreed that the mess in Washington is worse than ever.
As conference panels go, this one could reasonably have taken up the wholeday: What’s Wrong With Washington?
Ah, where to begin…
As it happens, moderator Walter Isaacson, Aspen Institute chief and long-time watcher at the Washington Zoo, opened by lobbing former Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe , now of the Bipartisan Policy Center, a big ‘ol softball: “Are things today worse than they have ever been?”
Snowe’s unshocking response: “Absolutely.”
And from there the panel was off, with Snowe, Isaacson, the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward, and former Democratic Sen. George Mitchell lamenting the shutdown insanity and, more generally, the sorry and dysfunctional state of politics today.
Bob Woodward said, "All change in government unfortunately only comes from crisis."
He’s not going to wait for the shutdown to end. The New York real estate mogul's family foundation is paying the death benefits to the families of fallen soldiers.
Arnold Fisher is outraged.
The New York real estate mogul and philanthropist's family foundation, The Fisher House Foundation is paying the death benefits to the families of soldiers who have died on duty since the government shutdown began on midnight on October 1.
In an interview with ABC’s Martha Raddatz as part of The Daily Beast’s Hero Summit, Fisher talked about his decision to step up for military families, asking elected officials, “Where are you? Shame on you?”
Condemning the government shutdown, Arnold Fisher said, "This is not my America!"
Fisher said shortly after the government shutdown, he received a phone call from a member of Congress asking him to attend a fundraiser. Fisher responded with indignation: “You closed this government down and you ask me for money to get you re-elected?” Instead of attending, Fisher is going to Camp Lejeune and opening a center funded by his family to help Marines coming back to the United States with traumatic brain injuries.
While Fisher was trying to deal with the damage of the government shutdown, he was continually befuddled about why elected officials were neglecting those who served. “They took care of you” said Fisher. Elected official just “don’t seem to feel the pain that the families do.” He cited that when a Fisher House opened in Bethesda, just a few minutes from downtown Washington D.C., not one senator or congressman showed up for the opening.
N.Y.C. Police Chief Ray Kelly says Kenyan officials didn’t handle last month’s terror attack correctly—and revealed what he’s doing to protect American targets.
Last month’s siege of an upscale shopping mall in Nairobi is very much on the mind of New York’s outgoing police commissioner, Ray Kelly.
On Friday, New York’s top law-enforcement official will host a special training session for senior managers—known as a tabletop exercise—to prepare for what would happen if a small team of active shooters seized a large shopping area in New York City as terrorists from al Qaeda’s Somalia affiliate did last month at the Westgate mall outside Nairobi.
Scott Henrichsen/The Daily Beast
Speaking at The Daily Beast’s Hero Summit on Thursday, Kelly said New York had a plan if terrorists attacked Macy’s or another big department store in Manhattan. “We practice what we call active shooter response,” he said. “This has been since the aftermath of Columbine, really,” he said, referring to the 1999 shooting at a Colorado high school by a group of disaffected loners who called themselves the “trench-coat mafia.” “We deploy about 100 police cars every day to malls,” Kelly said.
Kelly—who appeared on stage with Robert Griffin, vice president of Industry Solutions IBM; Jane Harman, director, president, and CEO of the Woodrow Wilson Center; Gen. Michael V. Hayden, principal of The Chertoff Group; and moderator Catherine Herridge of Fox News—was also very critical of the Kenyan response to the Westgate siege. The Kenyan authorities, in Kelly’s view, did a poor job of managing public perceptions. He said there was a lot of misinformation in those first hours and days of the hostage crisis that brought the world’s attention to al Qaeda’s Somalia affiliate, al-Shabaab.
“They did not handle witnesses well who were trying to get out,” Kelly said. “They were not able to interrogate them to get information.” He pointed out, for example, that the team of shooters was much smaller than initially reported, noting there may have been as few as four of them and they were armed with AK-47s and Chinese hand grenades and not the more advanced weaponry that was first reported.
Twenty years later, the man who inspired Ridley Scott’s iconic film gives a riveting account of what it was like to be in Mogadishu.
Ever wondered what it’s like to be in battle? Of course you have. Well, it’s like this: "I remember sitting there on this moving Humvee sitting on top of somebody else, lying on my back, unable to sit up because of the weight of my body armor like a turtle and literally you know bullets flying over and thinking my gosh this is really gonna hurt, I hope it doesn't hurt that badly."
That was First Sergeant Matt P. Eversmann, US Army (ret.), talking about what it was like for those harrowing two days in Mogadishu, Somalia 20 years ago this month during the raid that we’ve all come to know as Black Hawk Down.
First Sergeant Matt P. Eversmann recounts what it's like to be in battle.
It was the heaviest US military engagement since Vietnam at the time, and it was clear from the moment it happened that it would be immortalized. Not because it was a great victory. It wasn’t: The United States lost 19 men and two state-of-the-art Black Hawk helicopters to an extremely irregular and ragtag force under the Somali warlord Mohamed Farah Aidid. But it was the heroism of the Rangers and other soldiers who risked it all to rescue fallen comrades that vaulted the raid up to the level of the folkloric. There was Mark Bowden’s book, and then Ridley Scott’s film based on it, and in their genres, both became almost instantly canonical.
The film is told largely from the point of view of Eversmann, who appeared on the “Black Hawk Down: 20 Years Later” panel at The Daily Beast’s Hero Summit, held this morning in Washington at the Mellon Auditorium. The panel was moderated by The Daily Beast’s Daniel Klaidman and also featured former Army Brigadier General Craig Nixon, who participated in the rescue mission, and Jerry Bruckheimer, who produced the Scott film.
When the first aircraft went down, Nixon said, they had a contingency plan, and they started putting it into place. “But when the second aircraft went down,” he recalled, “we did not have a plan.” They put together a “quick reaction force” to go in and try to rescue the survivors, but calling it a carefully assembled force was a bit of a stretch. “It was cooks,” Nixon said. “It was anybody who could carry a rifle.”
At The Daily Beast’s Hero Summit, Sen. John McCain tweaked Obama’s foreign policy, blaming U.S. policies for putting Egypt on the path to ‘insurgency and terrorism.’
Egypt is now returning to its dark days of military dictatorship and will face a new insurgency and terrorism—and President Obama’s policies have contributed to the downward path there, Sen. John McCain said Thursday.
“We’re going to suspend some aid but not other aid. What is the message to [Egyptian] General [Abdul Fattah] al-Sisi?” McCain asked during an interview with editor-in-chief Tina Brown at The Daily Beast’s Hero Summit, reacting to Wednesday’s news that the Obama administration decided after a lengthy review to stop some military deliveries to the Egyptian military as a response to its brutal crackdown on protestors and the Muslim Brotherhood. “We should abide by our rule of law. But we didn’t do that.”
John McCain speaks during an interview with Tina Brown at the 2013 Hero Summit in Washington D.C. on October 10, 2013. (Scott Henrichsen/The Daily Beast)
Throughout Egypt, posters of al-Sisi wearing dark glasses abound, which is reminiscent of Gamal Abdel Nassar, Egypt’s longtime dictator who died in 1970, McCain said.
“I’m afraid we may be seeing a return to that kind of government,” McCain said. “I promise you will see, if they keep going the way they are today, an insurgency in Egypt and terrorism, because they are not able in Egypt today to keep people down.”
The Obama administration has neglected America’s responsibilities throughout the Arab Spring, McCain said, including in Libya, where the situation has deteriorated so badly only two years after the NATO-led intervention that the prime minister was briefly abducted Thursday by armed militants.
Who's your hero? We asked attendees of the 2013 Hero Summit to tell us their heroes. These are their "herograms." Submit yours with the #herogram hashtag on Instagram.
The Daily Beast's second annual Hero Summit begins on Thursday when leaders and trailblazers, including General John Allen and Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, will converge in Washington D.C. Stay tuned for live coverage throughout the day.
On Thursday, October 10, The Daily Beast will kick off the second annual Hero Summit: An Exploration of Courage, Character & Our National Security. Check out The Daily Beast homepage for full coverage starting at 8:30am, when Senator John McCain will sit down for a conversation with Tina Brown. The entire event will be streamed live on The Hero Summit. Check out the full summit agenda here, plus follow our twitter account for panel start times and special announcements. Keep checking The Daily Beast homepage throughout the day for breaking news and scoops from panels with guests including Bob Woodward, Ray Kelly, and Senator Olympia Snowe.
Twenty years later, the battle still echoes in America’s top policy circles. As the U.S. sets foot in Somalia again, men who fought in 1993 tell Daniel Klaidman what still haunts them.
Danny McKnight’s trip began in a tiny New England cemetery on Saturday, September 28, 2013—a crisp, clear fall morning. He kneeled by the gravestone of Corporal James Cavaco and placed a rock on top of it. McKnight’s wife, Linda, had painted the rock black, and on it, he had written with a silver Sharpie, “An American Hero” and “RLTW”—Rangers Lead the Way, the elite infantry unit’s motto.
A child walks near the wreckage of an American helicopter in Mogadishu, Somalia on October 14, 1993. (Scott Peterson/Liaison, via Getty)
McKnight was at the outset of a pilgrimage to the gravesites of men who served under him in Somalia—his “kids,” as he calls them. They were part of Task Force Ranger, an American assault team assigned to capture Mohammad Farrah Aidid, an elusive Somali clan leader who held sway over the war-torn city of Mogadishu. On October 3, 1993, the team began what seemed at first to be a routine mission to detain two of Aidid’s top advisers. But after a Black Hawk helicopter was shot down, the operation shifted to a far more dangerous rescue mission—what would become the bloodiest U.S. combat engagement since the Vietnam war.
Cpl. Cavaco, “Vaco” to his friends, was a gunner in a convoy that McKnight led through the dusty, blood-stained streets of Mogadishu that day. Known for his devastating accuracy, Cavaco fired round after round into a second-story window from which the convoy was taking fire. But on the streets of “Mog,” Somali bullets and RPGs seemed to be coming from every direction at a terrifying volume. He was hit by a bullet in the back of the head and died instantly. In the end, the 18-hour fight left 18 American soldiers and airmen dead, and 73 wounded. As many as 1,000 Somalis were killed, by some estimates.
Today, thanks to Mark Bowden’s best-selling book Black Hawk Down, and a blockbuster movie of the same name, the battle is one of the best-known episodes in American military history. And like many pivotal historical events, it has, over time, acquired a number of meanings. To the public at large, the episode became synonymous with raw, almost inconceivably selfless battlefield bravery. The movie, coming right after 9/11, when Americans were rallying around their armed forces, was itself a cultural moment.
In the policy arena, the incident left a profound imprint on a generation of national security decision makers, making them skittish about sending small groups of soldiers into chaotic situations. “It was the policy equivalent of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” a recently retired U.S. general told me. (Just this past weekend, Navy Seals staged a daring raid on the seaside villa of a senior Islamist leader in Somalia. Yet the fact that the American Commandos retreated under fire without capturing their target—to avoid civilian casualties, officials say—suggests there is still trepidation about the possibility of another Black Hawk Down.)
Families of fallen servicemembers aren't getting paid.
Did halting medical trials for children with cancer not outrage you enough? Now, military families are up in arms after the government shutdown put a stop to the $100,000 wired to families in the three days after a death in order to cover funeral or travel costs. Known as the death gratuity, it would normally have been sent to familes of the 10 servicemen and women who died abroad over the weekend. Last week, Congress agreed to pay military during the shutdown, but the Pentagon determined it was unable to cover the costs of death gratuity. Republican aides say they are drafting legislation to restore the funds, which could be voted on as soon as Wednesday.
Get ready for The Daily Beast's Hero Summit, this Thursday in Washington DC. Catch the event streamed live on The Daily Beast site.
The Daily Beast's Hero Summit: An Exploration of Courage, Character & Our National Security -- this Thursday in Washington, D.C. -- just confirmed additional speakers including: Senator John McCain, who will kick off the day at 8:30am on the government shutdown and the crisis in Syria; former Senators Olympia Snowe and George Mitchell along with Bob Woodward of the Washington Post in a flash debate moderated by Walter Isaacson about the loss of political courage in our nation's capital; and journalist Richard Engel comes in from his overseas beat to describe his harrowing kidnapping in Syria. The October 10th event will be live-streamed on The Daily Beast. Follow the Hero Summit to see the complete rundown for the summit.
Signed last-minute bill.
Here's something everyone can agree on: the need to pay our service men and women abroad when the government goes dark. On Monday night, President Obama signed a last-minute bill ensuring the armed forces and civilian employees of the Defense Department and Pentagon will continue to get paid when the shutdown is set to go into effect at midnight. It was approved by the House and approved by the Senate earlier without dispute—a near-miracle in the current political climate.
For Afghan base attack that killed two.
For the first time since the Vietnam War, a Marine Corps commandant requested the retirement of two generals for failing to adequately guard a base in Afghanistan. In 2012, two Marines were killed and a dozen aircraft destroyed when 15 Taliban fighters stormed Camp Bastion. Gen. James Amos says asking for the retirement of Maj. Gens. Charles Gurganus and Gregg Sturdevant was "hardest decision I have had to make as commandant of the Marine Corps." But, he said: "In their duty to protect their forces these two generals did not meet that standard."
See who’s attending and what’s on tap at the October 10 event in Washington, D.C.
No to Syria. Army veteran Brian Van Reet argues against intervention.
Wild nights of no clothes and lots of alcohol: one attendee reveals what went on at X Men director Bryan Singer’s infamous pool parties.
From Adm. William McRaven to columnist Nicholas Kristof to Bono, WATCH VIDEO of the summit’s must-see moments.