Abandoning the Kiowa is a Huge Mistake

Flying a helicopter in combat a couple of hundred feet above a firefight, fully armed with rockets and a .50-cal machine gun, cleared hot and inbound to a target, provides an adrenaline rush few experience. But those of us who have belong to an exclusive team, one that will soon be a thing of the past. In February 2014, the U.S. Defense Department announced plans to disband the entire OH-58D Kiowa Warrior fleet.

The Kiowa Warrior isn’t sexy. It isn’t like the glamorized Apache gunship or Hollywood’s fan-favorite Blackhawk. It is a small, two-seat light attack/reconnaissance helicopter and is rarely recognized outside of Army aviation and infantry communities. But don’t let its size or lack of mainstream notoriety fool you; the Kiowa packs a big punch.

What separates the Kiowa from the rest of the Army’s helicopter inventory is its mission, which is unlike any other in aviation. One day, the crew conducts reconnaissance for improvised explosive devices during convoy security operations. The next day, they might respond to a request for a close combat attack and engage the enemy with their .50-cal machine gun and 2.75-in. high-explosive rockets. Another day, they might search for enemy activity in a known hot-spot or observe and adjust artillery fire. Then they might have to call in a medevac operation or coordinate with fighter jets to drop bombs. A day in the life of a Kiowa pilot is never the same twice.

Behind the great variety of missions are the Kiowa pilots, whose professionalism and relentless drive pushes them every day to protect those on the battlefield who are constantly in the thick of the fight. The Kiowa Warrior truly breeds a different kind of pilot. After a mission in Afghanistan in 2008, an infantryman told me ground guys love the Kiowa because it is the only aircraft that “thinks” like an extension of the troops on the ground. That airborne extension of the team is what made us so successful in the war on terror in multiple theaters of operation.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that the Army would not only be ending its 30-year quest to replace the Kiowa, it would be abandoning the scout/reconnaissance mission entirely. The Pentagon proclaims it is continuing the manned recon mission by replacing it with UAV/Apache teams. That’s like trying to fill a round hole with a square peg. A UAV can reconnoiter and an Apache can shoot, but even combined, they will never replace the priceless instincts a Kiowa pilot develops from the experience of flying over an infantry platoon—learning the enemy’s tactics, techniques and procedures—and reacting accordingly. The logic and intuition Kiowa pilots bring to the battlefield are invaluable assets that cannot be substituted with technology. The human aspect of the scout mission simply cannot be replaced.

In terms of saving money, the math just doesn’t add up. A 2011 Army analysis of alternatives to the Armed Aerial Scout found that fielding the AH-64D Apache Block III as a replacement in Kiowa squadrons would be at a minimum 50% more expensive than the currently programmed squadrons. Additionally, a Logistics Management Institute study found that in recent Iraq and Afghanistan operations, had the Army chosen an Apache in place of a Kiowa, it would come with a $4 billion price tag in maintenance, fuel and operating costs.

There is no question that the Kiowa airframe needs to be replaced with a modern force, but the procurement process is not simple. Because of new budget constraints, the Army saw a window of opportunity to get rid of the headache of replacing the Kiowa. After three decades, tens of billions of dollars and multiple failed prototypes—including the Comanche, Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter and Armed Aerial Scout—the Army simply gave up.

Scrapping the scout mission will be a catastrophic mistake. There is no coherent cost-effective strategy to enact the Army’s replacement plan. In standard bureaucracy form, the plan looked good on paper and briefed well, but in the real world, operationally, it is a debacle. Kiowa pilots and maintainers have been uprooted from their Army career paths and are now scrambling for an aircraft transition. Long-term, it is not cost-efficient, nor will the modern battlefield benefit from the Kiowa’s absence.

The removal of the Kiowa Warrior from the Army aviation inventory marks the end of an era of an astounding combat-proven aircraft that was fundamental to mission success in Iraq and Afghanistan. But its legacy will live on through all of us who had the privilege to fly or maintain one.

Originally published in the November 17 issue of Aviation Week 

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Women’s History Museum Does Not Belong in Defense Budget

On October 11, Rengin Yusuf died. She was a mom, a warrior and a young Peshmergan fighter who died in battle against ISIS. According to Sandor Jaszberenyi’s piece in the Wall Street Journal, she was part of a brave group of women who are particularly successful in combat, due in part to ISIS’s belief that being killed by a woman fighter excludes one from the complimentary 72 virgins in Paradise.

Rengin should be a feminist icon, but she won’t be. American feminists won’t like her brand of feminism.

Besides taking a firm stand against Jihadists, she also didn’t buy into gender politics, asking before her death — along with her fellow fighters — to not be identified as “women Peshmergas” because as Jaszberenyi puts it, “a Peshmerga is a Peshmerga, or in Kurdish, ‘someone who confronts death.’”

Contrast her idea of true feminist empowerment with the whiny “#banbossy” campaign and other phony feminist “battles” of the American left.

The Left’s latest “cause” is the battle over Congressional approval for the commissioning of a National Women’s History Museum (NWHM) on the National Mall. The museum would join, according to Columbia College in Chicago, more than twenty other women’s museums around the country.

The estimated cost for the NWHM is $300 to $500 million dollars for construction and untold millions each following year for operations. The acknowledged goal is for the museum to become part of the Smithsonian system, which received sixty-five percent of its funding from taxpayers at a whopping $805 million before the proposed NWHM’s addition. Fifty conservative women leaders signed a letter opposing the NWHM in its current form.

Add to the discussion the decidedly leftist bent of the museum’s current board and website. Eight of the ten NWHM board members are liberal donors and/or activists. As a whole, their FEC reports record gifts to groups including pro-abortion EMILY’s List and Hillary Clinton. The website attached to the museum baldly favors a liberal jaundiced view of history. It trumpets future exhibits honoring women such as Planned Parenthood Founder and eugenicist Margaret Sanger and leftist anti-military activist Bella Abzug. Not only did Bella Abzug work to drastically reduce military spending, but she also said, and I quote, “I am not being facetious when I say that the real enemies in this country are the Pentagon and its pals in big business.”

This is particularly ironic, considering that Congressional sources have indicated that the House and Senate are currently toying with a backroom deal in which the museum legislation will be snuck in to the National Defense Authorization Act.
Women warriors do not serve in this nation to be viewed as a minority interest group. We are fifty-one percent of the population and won’t settle for a pat on the head. We are Americans and deserve to be fairly represented in every museum.
But if we are wrong and the majority of American women want gender division, then at the very least the museum must fairly portray the philosophical diversity of American women on hot button issues like abortion and marriage. Unless the safeguards are added to the current bill language, the museum will predictably become a shrine to the Left’s view of feminism on our National Mall. It will serve to indoctrinate future generations in the Bella Abzug brand of feminism, not the Rengin Yusuf kind.
Congress needs to stop playing identity politics.

The NDAA is meant to authorize budget authority for our military and national security to ensure the safety of our nation and its citizens. It is not meant to make backroom deals for subjects without merit. If the National Women’s History Museum had any merit, it would stand on its own and it’s funding would not need to be snuck in to a bill that is almost guaranteed to pass because we need national security – not a one-sided women’s history museum paid for at the taxpayer’s expense.

Originally published in Breitbart News

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There are two ways to fight ISIS: The right way, and Obama’s way

An ISIS video emerged on Sunday that showed American and former Army Ranger, Peter Kassig, beheaded along with over a dozen Syrian soldiers. To date, five Westerners have been held captive, presumably tortured, used as propaganda and then brutally murdered. Three of those killed were Americans. ISIS still has an American hostage: A 26-year-old woman who had been in Syria to help orphaned children who were displaced because of the Syrian civil war.

How many more Americans have to be murdered before the White House says enough is enough? How much longer before the White House unleashes the might of the U.S. military to completely obliterate ISIS once and for all?

There is only one option when it comes to fighting ISIS. Destroy them. But as we’ve seen so far, the Obama administration is content with degrading ISIS and their capabilities with the intention of not drawing the U.S. into another Middle Eastern war. The administration appears to be more concerned with the word ‘combat’ than clearly defining a feasible strategy for defeat, not to degrade.

Defeating ISIS is not a matter of capability; it is a matter of resolve and leadership. The power of the U.S. military should not be underestimated. If given the green light, it would decimate ISIS. Our military leaders are experts at creating strategies to do just that. There would be nowhere for spineless terrorists to run and hide. Unfortunately, the DOD has to fight a war under the micromanagement of a White House that cares more about presidential legacies and perception than swiftly eliminating the threat.

The Obama administration must rethink their military strategy against ISIS. Airstrikes to date have been effective at damaging ISIS equipment and killing ISIS fighters, but they are only a temporary solution to a long-term problem. Airstrikes have challenged ISIS to change their tactics, techniques and procedures. ISIS is already scrambling to make these changes. The shift in tactics will ensure that status quo airstrikes will become increasingly ineffective and the air campaign will shift from a fighter jet and bomber platform to a reconnaissance and attack helicopter mission that can operate in low altitude close air support and communicate with soldiers on the ground to destroy the enemy.

As ISIS operations go underground, it will and has become increasingly difficult to find and fix targets. ISIS will stop operating in masses and traveling in convoys. They will blend in with the local populace because they are fully aware of the self-imposed limitations of the U.S. military and their rules of engagements. As with every fight the U.S. has had in the War on Terror, no matter what the terrorist organization, they use our humanity against us.

But our military has adapted as well. They are the best-trained, funded, and skilled military in the world. They have the techniques, technology, and might to find, fix, and destroy any aggressor in the world. The modern fighting force has over 13 years of experience fighting in the Middle East.

What our lethal military force is lacking is the fortitude of a commander-in-chief who wants to destroy the enemy. Mission ambiguity is incredibly dangerous, not only for our troops who have to fight, but for our overall defense posture.
Slowly increasing the amount of military ‘advisors’ in Iraq only furthers the politically driven agenda of ‘no boots on the ground.’ Boots are on the ground and it is combat no matter how much spin is placed on it. Playing this game of semantics with the American people is deceitful and it only furthers Obama’s image of feckless decision making about our national security and military.

ISIS has grown increasingly more desperate due to recent events of losing occupied territory and loss of leadership, but leaders will be replaced. In contrast, ISIS is very much winning on the propaganda front, and long term, can be viewed as more critical. Which is why it is essential to immediately focus on the destruction of ISIS. Time is of the essence. It is time to release the fury of the U.S. military.

We are at a crossroads in the fight against ISIS. Americans being beheaded at the hands of evil cannot become just another tragic event. A clear message must be sent to terrorist organizations around the world that if that is the way they operate — ruthlessly targeting and beheading Americans — that they will not merely receive a fight, but a rapid annihilation. They will cease to exist. And the world as we know it will be a better place.

We are at war with ISIS. The direct threat they pose to the U.S. and our interests will not subside until the administration stops politicizing strategy and micromanaging the DOD. It is time to give the military the authority to do what they do best, defeat the enemy.

Originally published in the Daily Caller

Follow Amber on Twitter: @AmberSmithUSA

10/1/14: Fox News, Strategies to Defeat ISIS


8/25/14: Fox News, Only A Matter of Time Until ISIS Attacks the West


This Veterans Day Veterans Still Struggle with a Broken VA

A few years ago I was surrounded by the graves of soldiers at the American cemetery in Normandy, France, which allowed me to reflect on the men and women who have fought for our country over the centuries. Standing there among the white crosses, I came to the conclusion that the best legacy we can give to those who gave their lives, as well as all of those who have served, is to ensure that veterans receive the very best services that they have earned from the Department of Veterans Affairs. And sadly, we are not.

We must continue to support veterans — as well as those who are still fighting for our country — by ensuring that after hanging up their uniforms they have access to the best services. They deserve better than to come home to a broken VA and be forced to navigate a bureaucratic maze.

The VA scandal broke in April amid reports that veterans died as a result of delayed care. Records were falsified. Many veterans were placed on phony wait lists or signed up for ghost clinics. Some were living in filth in VA facilities, and some were exposed to disease as a result of unsanitary conditions.

After the dysfunction and toxic leadership were exposed, many steps were taken to improve the VA with the intention of restoring the department to a customer service-oriented organization. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki stepped down and was replaced by Robert McDonald. The $16.3 billion VA reform bill was signed into law in August with high hopes. Key parts of the law had the potential to tackle the VA’s most pressing issues, including accountability and private healthcare options. A broken bureaucracy was given every necessary tool to fix itself.

But to date, little or nothing has been accomplished with the new VA powers granted by the reform law.

Last week the VA failed to meet a Nov. 5 deadline to mail its new Choice Cards to veterans. The VA did not ask Congress for an extension even though the agency knew it could not meet the deadline.

Even more surprising is that only one VA executive has been fired because of the ongoing scandal at the agency. Last month the VA released statements that it was in the process of removing four employees, but in reality one had already retired and one had already been hired by the Department of Energy (which rescinded the job offer after reports of ethical breaches).

Sharon Helman, director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System where the scandal began, still has not been fired more than six months after the scandal broke. In fact, many top VA execs who might be fired are finding a way to retire instead, presumably with full benefits. That is not accountability. The reform law was passed to allow swift accountability by firing employees who contributed to the unethical and dysfunctional management that has plagued the VA.

The best way to honor veterans this Veterans Day is to make sure the VA knows this problem will not be swept under the rug. Americans must continue to pay attention to the lack of accountability and unethical behavior that continues to harm our veterans.

There is still a lot of work to be done, and it will take time, but unfortunately VA leadership continues to make excuses about why there has been no accountability while releasing overblown success stories that stretch the truth. That type of culture has been the status quo at the VA for far too long. We want to see a new type of VA — one that prides itself on honesty and integrity, not the quickest fabricated headline. We need a VA that prioritizes serving veterans — not VA employees.

The problems facing the VA are unpleasant and discouraging, but they cannot be ignored or wished away. Our veterans are worth the hard work it will take to ensure that one day they will have a quality Department of Veterans Affairs. Not only do they deserve top-notch care and the best possible service from the department that was created to serve them, they earned it.

Originally published in the Washington Examiner

Follow Amber on Twitter: @AmberSmithUSA

Malala Is What The Real War On Women Looks Like

On Friday, 17-year-old Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by the Taliban in 2012 for advocating for girls’ education rights in Pakistan, became the youngest person to ever win the Nobel Peace Prize. Malala’s story of perseverance and overcoming unbelievable odds as she continues to fight for children’s and girls’ rights to an education is inspirational and humbling. It is also a reminder of the reality of the truly horrific, real war on women that exists around the world today.

You have probably heard the worn-out rhetoric about the so called “war on women” here in the United States—but not in the context of girls like Malala, women sold into slavery, or women stoned to death. In the United States, that term is used by self-proclaimed women’s rights activists or from politicians looking to cash in on the female vote by portraying their opponents as threatening to take away women’s reproductive control.

This overused scare tactic isn’t only false, but grossly disrespectful of women around the world who face true oppression and cruelty on a daily basis.

Let’s Review Some Real Oppression

Right now, Christian and Yazidi women and children are being sold and traded on the black market in Iraq and Syria by the brutal terrorist organization ISIS (see, for example, this story from Jillian Melchior in Cosmopolitan, of Iraqi’ high schooler Hengi Abdullah’s best friend). These women and children have faced ungodly abuse, including torture and sexual assault. Children are separated from their mothers, women are gang-raped by terrorists, and then often sold for around $10. These women are kidnapped after being displaced because of the Iraq war or separated from their families.

Remember #BringBackOurGirls? It was the popular social media campaign celebrities and concerned people used after hundreds of schoolgirls were kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria in April. The media interest in the story died down, but that doesn’t mean the problem went away or that all the well-intentioned tweeting actually brought back anyone. In fact, the status of the kidnapped girls remains a mystery. A few dozen of those originally kidnapped managed to escape, but whereabouts of most of these girls (let alone their health condition and treatment) remain unknown.

In Iran, women still face death sentences by “stoning.” It is a form of capital punishment where a woman is buried up to her chest, then people who have gathered to watch the event throw stones at her—not enough to kill her with the initial blow, but to make it a long, agonizing, and painful death. The initial stone throw is often by the woman’s husband, and followed by her children.

There’s No Comparison to First-World Problems

These stories come in and out of the fickle, U.S. news cycle, but they remain a constant presence and threat to too many women throughout the world every day. This is what the real war on women looks like: It is a day-to-day struggle for survival and to withstand kidnapping, torture, sexual assault, abuse, and oppression.

There is no comparison between what those women face and the “war on women” mantra used here in America. Women in America have equal opportunity and the freedom to pursue anything they choose. All Americans are granted the luxury of freedom and equality; a luxury that most women around the world wish they could experience. Of course, we should continue to work to improve the circumstance of women and girls here at home—make sure they have access to real economic opportunity and quality education. But it’s time we put an end to the ridiculous, over-the-top “war on women” rhetoric.

The war on women is all too real in large portions of the world. Girls like Malala and women who are raped or used as slaves to ISIS are the real victims of this war. It’s time for the Left to stop mocking their sufferings and daily struggle for survival by pretending there is a “war on women” in America.

Originally published at The Federalist
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