Capt. Gail Harris speaks with Adrienne Vogt about breaking barriers in the military, besting the boys, and schooling Condoleezza Rice.
Gail Harris doesn’t take “no” for an answer.
That’s how she ended up being the first woman to serve as an Intelligence Officer in a Navy combat job—back in 1973, about 20 years before a federal law prohibiting females from going into combat was overturned in 1994.
Courtesy Gail Harris
Disrupting a 200-year tradition wasn’t always easy. “Sometimes I found that when you break new ground, you make enemies,” Harris says.
But she didn’t let them stop her from becoming the highest-ranking black female in the Navy by the time she retired in 2001. With assignments that took her from Kuwait to Spain, she brought the no-nonsense, self-sufficient ethos of the military with her wherever she went and employed those values even when the odds were stacked against her.
She blazed a trail during her military tenure with a bevy of firsts, among them: first female and black female to be designated an Intelligence Watch Specialist in the Navy, first female and black instructor at the Armed Forces Air Intelligence Training Center at Lowry Air Force Base in Colorado, and first female and black head of the Navy’s largest aviation squadron.
The visa program for Iraqis who worked with U.S. forces has been broken since it began in 2008 and is about to expire. Peter Meijer argues for Congress’s responsibility to act.
If Congress doesn’t act, on October 1 the State Department will dismantle the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program for Iraqi refugees. The program was introduced in 2008 as a way to provide special immigration status to some of the tens of thousands of Iraqis who served alongside U.S. forces at great danger to themselves and their families, during our eight-year occupation. Today, five years after the original legislation passed, less than a third of the 25,000 allotted visas have been distributed and the charter is set to expire. Will this be just another broken promise to the people of Iraq?
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Reauthorization for the Iraqi SIV program and its 17,000 remaining visas is in the National Defense Authorization Act but it will not pass before October 1 when the current mandate expires. And the continuing resolution, the legislation that keeps the government running until the budget passes, fails to reauthorize the program. As a result, the last hope for Iraqi refugees stands to disappear. If he hasn’t been killed by a car bomb or Shia thugs, somewhere in Baghdad my interpreter Omar* is laughing that he proved me wrong again.
I remember our conversation clearly: it was around midnight in early January of 2011. Our timeline for withdrawal from Iraq was set, and the diminishing troop presence drove home the fact that we would all be gone within the year. On our joint Iraqi Army base in downtown Baghdad, smoking in the hallway outside my office, I asked Omar about his attempts to apply for a visa to the U.S. and his hopes for the future.
A college student by day, he was barely 20 years old, spoke perfect English, knew several programming languages, and was smart enough to read the writing on the wall. Chiding me with a lighthearted laugh, he answered:
“There is no hope here.”
When she returned from Iraq and went back to school there was no one to help. Now Kiersten Downs is on a mission to raise money and awareness. Sandra McElwaine tells her story.
When Kiersten Downs, an Air Force veteran and graduate student, decided to bike 3,800 miles from San Francisco to Washington DC last summer she had no idea what she would run into.
It was a perilous trip - nasty drivers who blew her off the road, a 13,000 foot climb through the Sierra Nevadas, terrifying thunder storms, a series of vicious dogs, record breaking desert heat, a pulled quad muscle, tire blowouts and and a variety of other mishaps that threatened to end her journey.
But despite the problems and setbacks she pedaled on, averaging 70 miles a day.
Her cross-country trek was taken to raise awareness and funds, more than $50,000, for Student Veterans of America (SVA), a national group that helps vets transition from the military to campus life on over 800 colleges and universities across the country.
The trip, which began on June 1 and ended in Washington on August 5th, took her through 13 states and was “a huge personal journey” for the 30 year old vet, a doctoral student at the University of South Florida.
The Daily Beast’s Hero Summit, Oct 10 in Washington, D.C., is an invitation-only live journalism event featuring panel discussions and interviews with some of the world’s most influential figures. The summit will showcase stories from military leaders and decorated veterans, Nobel Prize winners, politicians and journalists speaking about issues of service and heroism. The event will be streamed live on The Daily Beast site. Stay tuned for updates as the summit approaches.
As the U.N. General Assembly kicks off, the world’s leading diplomats and dignitaries will converge in New York to debate high-level geopolitics and press their political agendas. Meanwhile, in many of their respective countries, gross abuses of human rights continue to take place. To honor the voices of those unafraid to speak truth to power, The Daily Beast and Women in the World are spotlighting leading female activists and dissidents who have tirelessly pressed their governments to allow free speech, safeguard women’s rights, and protect the vulnerable—oftentimes, via their outspoken Twitter feeds. Read their tweets below and follow them.
John Herbst had been on the police force in New York for less than a year when he was deployed to Iraq in 2004. Not long into his tour, he led a successful counter-attack against an ambush on his unit and for his actions earned a Bronze Star with Valor, the military’s fourth highest combat award. Just two weeks after that ambush, John’s team was patrolling on the notorious Route Irish outside of Baghdad when his vehicle hit an IED and the ground blew up beneath him. Two members of his crew were killed in the attack. John was seriously wounded and medically evacuated back to the United States. He was the first New York City police officer injured in the war on terror and in New York, his story occasioned a few headlines and small news stories. The real story is how he’s still at it, still a cop and a soldier, still accepting as his own responsibility the safety of others and the calling of his nation.
John’s service could have ended in 2001 after his initial enlistment in the army ended and he had the chance to leave again in 2004 when he was wounded in Iraq, but he’s not looking for a way out. He loves his job as a cop and is intensely proud, though humble, about his military service.
In 2012, I served with John in Afghanistan. I know how much he loves his work because he tried persuading me to join the police force at least twice a day while we were overseas. I met up with him recently to talk about his service and ask him who his heroes are.
Heroes, leaders and trailblazers including General John Allen, Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, and scholar Robin Wright join The 2013 Hero Summit. Stay tuned for the full list of presenters and the summit agenda coming soon.
GENERAL JOHN ALLEN,
U.S. MARINE CORPS (RET.); DISTINGUISHED FELLOW OF FOREIGN POLICY, THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION
General John R. Allen, USMC (Ret.), is a 38-year veteran of the Marine Corps, having served in key command and staff assignments in the United States, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, including combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. His final active duty assignment was as commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Since his retirement, General Allen has affiliated himself with the Brookings Institution and the Washington Institute For Near East Policy. He is a permanent member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE DAILY BEAST
John Avlon is the executive editor of The Daily Beast and a CNN political analyst. He is the author of Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics and Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America as well as an editor of the anthology Deadline Artists: America’s Greatest Newspaper Columns. Previously he was a columnist and an associate editor for the New York Sun and chief speechwriter for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. He won the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ award for best online column in 2012.
For the second year, The Daily Beast is convening the Hero Summit: An Exploration of Courage, Character & Our National Security. See what’s on tap at the October 10 event in Washington, D.C.
The Daily Beast is pleased to announce that the annual Hero Summit: An Exploration of Courage, Character & Our National Security—an influential gathering of some of the brightest minds and bravest individuals from America and abroad—will convene for its second power-packed year on October 10, 2013, in Washington, D.C.
Streaming Video and Live Coverage of The Daily Beast's Hero Summit. (Mindy Schauer / The Orange County Register-ZUMA-Corbis)
An invitation-only event that will be streamed live on The Daily Beast, the Hero Summit will analyze the essential elements of moral and physical courage, illuminate untold stories from the front lines, and consider the power of the service ethic.
The summit will open the morning of October 10 with panel discussions and interviews with top U.S. military officials, experts on counterterrorism and national security, leaders in politics, and veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces who will share their incredible stories of heroism and loyalty. In the evening, Ron Meyer, Vice Chairman NBCUniversal and former Marine, will be joining Tina Brown in hosting a buffet dinner and an exclusive screening of the brilliant new movie from writer/director Peter Berg, Universal Pictures’ Lone Survivor, starring Mark Wahlberg,Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster, and Eric Bana. After the screening, Brown will be joined for a panel discussion by Foster, Kitsch, Berg, and retired Petty Officer 1st Class Marcus Luttrell, Lone Survivor author and former Navy SEAL.
Speakers at the summit include U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno, Gen. Michael Hayden (USAF Ret.), film and television producer Jerry Bruckheimer, New York City police commissioner Ray Kelly, retired U.S. Marine Corps four-star Gen. John Allen, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, journalist and author Robin Wright, and New York Times columnist David Brooks.
We will explore the challenges American servicemen and women face transitioning back to civilian life—and how the skills acquired in the military can be leveraged beyond the battlefield to vigorously impact business, politics, and civil service. Conversations also will explore the core principles of courage with police officials making our streets safer, political leaders innovating change, and entrepreneurs championing inspired solutions to the challenges we face today as a nation.
Admiral McRaven talked David Petraeus; Madeleine Albright, Bernard-Henri Lévy, and Ryan Crocker remembered fallen Ambassador Chris Stevens; Tina Brown interviewed Aaron Sorkin and Tony Kusher; and more highlights from The Hero Summit.
Newsweek and the Daily Beast's first annual edition of The Hero Summit produced a series of powerful and touching moments over two exhilarating days in Washington D.C. at the United States Institute of Peace and the Newseum. The event brought together luminaries, statesmen, and military leaders including Adm. William McRaven, Madeleine Albright, Bernard-Henri Lévy, Gary Kasparov, Tony Kushner, Aaron Sorkin, and Bono, who interviewed New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, along with a host of service members, veterans, diplomats, and journalists, and others in a stirring conversation on the nature of courage and character.
The summit, hosted by Newsweek and The Daily Beast editor in chief Tina Brown, was presented by Jeep, along with IBM, USAA, and Mary Kay—and included as solution partners the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation, The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, The Mission Continues, Student Veterans of America, and Team Rubicon.
After rousing opening remarks on Wednesday evening from USIP President Jim Marshall, a former congressman and member of the U.S. Army Ranger Hall of Fame, Brown set the tone for the conference when she spoke of "this disconnect between those who've served and those who haven't ... When you talk to people in the military, there's a sort of quiet rage about that. They feel they have so much to talk about and so much to offer, but they're not really being heard and everyone just doesn't get it."
The night then kicked off with journalist Charlie Rose interviewing Adm. McRaven, who commanded the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound. McRaven called resigned CIA Director David Petraeus "the finest general" he had served under. He also disclosed a new detail about the bin Laden raid, saying that while America did not inform the Pakistani government because it seemed inconceivable that the world's most-wanted man could be holed up so close to the country's prestigious military academy without their knowledge. But, he said, that assumption proved unwarranted: “We have no intelligence to indicate the Pakistanis knew he was there.”
(From left to right, top to bottom) Admiral William McRaven; panelists; former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; and Newsweek & The Daily Beast editor in chief Tina Brown, at The Hero Summit in Washington D.C. at the United States Institute of Peace and the Newseum. (Scott Henrichsen (4))
McRaven was followed by the four-member crew of Dust Off 73, the Army medical evacuation team that spent three days in a continuous rescue operation in Eastern Afghanistan. The members, speaking with ABC News senior foreign affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz, shrugged off the "hero" label, stressing that they were doing the job they'd been assigned. Sgt. Julia Bringloe, the team's medic, also dismissed the idea that being a woman on the front lines distinguished her, saying: "it's a job, not a gender."
Women less likely to come forward.
The military is coming under fire not only for the number of sexual assaults—26,000 service members reported them last year—but also for the handling of allegations, the unsupportive and combative nature of which critics say, lead less women to come forward after an assault. At a current Naval hearing for three former Naval Academy football players charged with rape, a woman was grilled for four days on her medical history, dance moves and even underwear, leading her to plead for a day break from the relentless questioning. A defense attorney said she was faking her exhaustion. “What was she going to be doing anyway?” he asked. “Something more strenuous than sitting in a chair? We don’t concede there’s been any stress involved.” Experts say the military courts allow questioning of rape victims that would not be permitted in civilian court.
Perhaps Dr. King’s most enduring heroism was his ability to love—and his belief in his power. On the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, Maurice Decaul says he’s trying to make that love a part of his life.
When I think of Dr. King, I can’t help but think of his capacity for love in the sense of agape: “Love men not because you like them but because God loves them.” I’ve wondered whether Dr. King ever thought of himself as a hero or of what he was doing as a leader for civil rights, human rights, and economic rights as particularly heroic. If asked directly, he likely would have answered no. But his acts were heroic: demanding that justice and equality be honored in a nation that claimed to sanctify them even as the power of its laws and the brutality of some of its less loving law officials were turned against him. And his legacy contains perhaps his most enduring heroism, in this principle of love agape. Even with our enemies who hate us and whom we must defy and resist, still we must preserve our love. Without it we are less happy, less connected, less fully human, and ultimately incapable of transcending the hatreds that are used to oppress us.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. acknowledges the crowd at the Lincoln Memorial for his “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. (AP)
I could not remember ever seeing Dr. King deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech, so naturally, I went to YouTube, sought it out, found it, watched, and listened. Near the midpoint I started to read the comments. Most were sincere and did not seem to me remarkable because they largely proffered what I expected. I am sometimes guilty of a bit of naiveté, or call it optimism, and I know this is true when I imagine how my fellow Americans perceive Dr. King. I know that judging public opinion from YouTube comments is not so different from visiting a city’s insane asylum and drawing broad conclusions about the character of its people, but I hoped that all the comments would be positive or at least respectful of Dr. King and his ideas. I hoped that Dr. King would be liked and loved by all or at least respected by all, but he is still not, and he likely will never be everyone’s hero, though he is one of mine.
One comment in particular was so hateful to the ideals of community and brotherhood and love, and so acutely hostile toward Dr. King himself and African-Americans and all Americans, that my first impulse was that the comment needed to be removed.
To complain to YouTube about one offensive comment not only would be ineffective, perhaps removing one drop from a bucket of bile, but also would fail as a symbolic protest and leave me feeling no better.
The Army launched a program during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to have academics and scholars advise them. Did it work? John Kael Weston considers the evidence.
In early 2009, about midway through an assignment with the State Department at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, I received an unexpected message from a top military leader in the Pentagon. He had read my diplomatic cable sent to Washington detailing the situation, a street-level view, in Baghdad’s largest slum, Sadr City. I had briefly referenced the work of a deployed social scientist, part of a vast program designed to insert anthropologists and the like into the war zones to help commanders better understand local dynamics. It was called “The Human Terrain System.”
Tensions were high between the U.S. soldiers, other personnel and Afghan civilians. (Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images)
The officer wanted to know my blunt views on the program in order to share with others at headquarters. He seemed skeptical, asking me if forward-deployed academics were value-added. It was a loaded question with complicated answers.
Years later, there is now a welcome book that provides a fair and convincing assessment. My short reply at the time contained a mixed report card for the program based on only narrow interactions with frontline anthropologists.
Reporter Vanessa Gezari’s The Tender Soldier is an engaging and well-timed nonfiction account with tragedy at its core: a gruesome, unprovoked attack in Afghanistan that led to the death of an idealistic but conflict-zone-savvy Texan named Paula Loyd, whose story needs to be told, and the author deserves credit for seeking it out. While seeking to gain a better understanding of a district in Kandahar Province, an Afghan that Loyd had been talking to inexplicably doused her with fuel and set her body aflame, causing injuries that would prove fatal. The book explores whether experienced anthropologists or pseudo-social scientists recruited in a rush, many of them filled with good intentions, should be deployed alongside combat troops, and what happens when they are.
With a journalist’s discerning eye for nuance, Gezari brings readers into this controversial gray area, framed within the larger, just as murky, context that has come to define the distant wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. By its final chapter The Tender Soldier addresses head-on the unrealistic expectations—and limitations—of a war-weary superpower. She shows how hard it became to disentangle tens of thousands of American troops from the countless dusty villages that thousands of us “over there” called home, at least for a while.
On this July Fourth two Marines—both recipients of the Purple Heart—will be home with their families. John Kael Weston talks with Corporal Carnes and General Nicholson about their stories of war and recovery.
No one ever seeks a Purple Heart medal, but it remains the most distinctive of American military medals and symbols. Charles Bronson, Lee Marvin, Colin Powell, Rod Serling, Kurt Vonnegut, JFK, and George Patton are among the many who have been awarded it in past wars. Our nation’s killed in action are also awarded medals, affixed by someone else before burial on their uniforms, where the medals stay.
An IED made with parts from a USAID-donated humanitarian cooking-oil can. (John Kael Weston)
Among many stories from America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, here are those of two Marines, a young enlisted corporal and a leading general: Garrett Carnes and Larry Nicholson. Both feel lucky to be at home this Fourth of July. They met this spring for the first time at the Bethesda naval military hospital in Maryland in a modified physical-therapy gym designed for amputees. The Marines discussed their war-zone tours and how they had been wounded. Carnes said, “It’s always hit-and-miss when a high-up officer visits. Some don’t know what to say because of the generational difference. But with General Nicholson, well, it was like talking to one of my boys in the platoon. I could tell he cared.”
On Feb. 19, 2012, a bomb filled with HME (fertilizer-based homemade explosives) detonated under Carnes in the yellow desert of Afghanistan’s Helmand province. At age 22, both legs were gone. In recounting what happened, he told me one leg “knocked out” a buddy as it flew through the air (his friend was OK). The Marine had lost a lot, but not his war-front sense of humor. He later returned to his unit, part of “America’s Battalion,” in Hawaii and participated in a run honoring him. Sgt. Reece Lodder, a combat correspondent who deployed to Afghanistan alongside Carnes, captured the moment. Lodder remarked, “Corporal Carnes’s life changed when he lost his legs, but the radical physical change hasn’t dampened his warrior spirit.”
Cpl. Garret Carnes and Maj. Gen. Larry Nicholson meet at Bethesda. (John Kael Weston)
Paula Broadwell on how one Army trauma surgeon survived the horrors of Iraq—including the epidemic of sexual assault by American service members.
The thwap-thwap-thwap of rotary wings above triggered an intense reaction in Army trauma surgeon Dr. (Maj.) Tara Dixon.
The sound rippled downward from a helicopter descending to land on the nearby rooftop hospital landing pad in Charlotte, North Carolina. The familiar, rhythmic thumping of the rotors elicited an emotional and physiological response, sending jolts of adrenaline through Dixon’s gut. She had been conditioned—after two combat tours in Iraq, one of which she served as chief of trauma and critical-care surgery—to mentally prepare for a helicopter full of catastrophically wounded soldiers.
Dixon’s shoulders tensed; she started wringing her hands and fidgeting, clearly agitated by something. “Let’s jump in the car,” I suggested. Dixon turned on the air conditioner and radio, both full blast, to drown out the thumping.
A native of southern Georgia, Dixon, 39, is an accomplished (trained at Johns Hopkins and University of California) critical-care and trauma surgeon and decorated combat veteran who is now classified as jobless and homeless.
She was raised on a peanut farm in southern Georgia. As a child, she was a victim of molestation and abuse. To escape that tough reality, Dixon sought and won a full scholarship to Berry College, a work-study-oriented program, and graduated at the top of her class as an athlete and scholar. She often worked multiple jobs at a time, including tutoring, carpentry, mowing highways, waiting tables, and clerking. She was a top graduate in medical school and was selected as chief resident during her general-surgery residency. After completing civilian training, Dixon then volunteered with the Army Reserve to serve two Iraq tours. On both deployments, she served in hostile territory and her base was frequently hit by small-arms fire and rocket attacks.
The sound of the helicopter as we stood talking in a peaceful residential neighborhood took her thousands of miles away, back to Iraq where she would drop everything at the sound and run to the operating room to prepare to save lives. As chief surgeon, Tara managed a trauma team and bore the immense responsibility of making life or death decisions for soldiers with catastrophic wounds, deciding whether to amputate one or more limbs, or risk transporting a critically injured soldier hours away to a Baghdad hospital. Quite often, the injured were soldiers she knew well or Iraqi children.
WSJ writer James Taranto called the crusade to end sexual assault in the military a "war on men"—and now women are fighting back.
Our military is facing a sexual assault crisis. And this week a prominent opinion writer for The Wall Street Journal, James Taranto, made it worse. In a piece about Sen. Claire McCaskill’s ongoing effort to hold military leaders accountable for their failure to address sexual assault, Taranto sharply criticized McCaskill and spent hundreds of words on what boils down to rape apologia.
In an absurd and frankly disgusting twist of logic, Taranto framed McCaskill’s effort—and the overall campaign to end sexual assault in the military—as a “war on men.” He refers to a potential sexual assault as “hanky-panky” and “sexual recklessness,” an attempt to create a veneer that’s so misguided it nearly left us breathless. On its face, this type of denial is flatly offensive, but it also points to a much larger problem. Language like Taranto’s is at the very heart of the ongoing sexual-assault crisis facing our military and its servicewomen.
More than 19,000 sexual assaults occurred in the military in 2010, and nearly one in three women in the military reported unwanted sexual contact. Calling sexual assaults “hanky-panky” and a good faith effort to prosecute rapists a “war against men” perpetuates the exact culture that allows these outrageously high levels of assault to continue. Let’s be clear about what Taranto is doing: He is victim-blaming, plain and simple. And it’s this victim-blaming that leads to a lack of accountability and the misogynistic climate that enables assaulters to repeat their crimes. It prevents survivors from reporting attacks and stymies discipline against perpetrators.
Quite simply, our servicewomen deserve better than James Taranto. They deserve a government and a country that address this ongoing crisis, instead of denying it. Rape apologia and acceptance like Taranto’s is a direct insult to the thousands of brave men and women who have survived assault and to those of us who love and respect them.
The military, and any of us who value it, should be gravely concerned. Potential recruits like Shabren Kurtz-Russ, whose mother was gang-raped and then denied justice, are rejecting the military for its failure to properly address sexual assault. And the problems don’t stop there. Language like Taranto’s also normalizes, even encourages, ongoing inequalities like the wage gap, politicized attempts to restrict reproductive justice and continuing inequalities.
Taranto has consistently spewed hateful rhetoric and sexist doctrine. It’s time we tell The Wall Street Journal to stop allowing Taranto to broadcast such ridiculous and offensive rants.
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.
This map, created by the Center for Investigative Reporting, displays 58 VA regional offices and the number of backlogged claims by week on a national, regional and local level. This application will update itself every Monday to show each office's change in pending claims.
From Adm. William McRaven to columnist Nicholas Kristof to Bono, WATCH VIDEO of the summit’s must-see moments.