Vietnam I Corps- July 1968 Near Quang Tri
The most undesirable position an Eleven Bravo was saddled with, besides just being an Eleven Bravo and having to pack that extra 10 lbs of .45 ACP and ammo, was walking point. It was an unwanted honor bestowed on the most educated in the game of cutting trail ahead of your platoon to identify potential risk or the enemy. Having served and survived for over six months gave you immense insight on how your nemesis, Captain Charles, would react in any given situation. You were attuned to broken spider webs, bent branches and flat grass. You could smell them before they spotted you in this game. Unfortunately, this innate, newfound ability made you the prime choice for Point. In this most dangerous pastime until shortly before you FYGMO’d, you had to learn even more to protect the rest. Six Actual, in most cases would take you out of harm’s way sooner- if for no other reason than a desire not to come down with a case of Frag fever himself. Nothing really tended to screw up the morale more than when everyone who was getting short died with less than Twenty five wakeups.
Call me Bob knows this… or does he? Hell, he claims to have Ranger tabs in the Peacetime. Putting those funny red doomoflotchies on your M-16 barreltips and running around Fort Bragg ripping off clips of .223 blanks is great for morale but does it teach you real combat? Maybe this is where you have to separate the ribbon clerks from the Poker Players in this game of VA Secretary. If Bob has Ranger tabs, and I have no reason to believe otherwise, then he should know the value of deploying forward assets for intelligence. As Ronnie said, “Trust…but verify.” So Bob. Where’s your point man? Are you even familiar with the concept?
At the Corner of Delay and Deny, DC- December 2016
If Brett Baier of FOX News is suddenly blowing bubbles about Memphis Vets having to wait 585 days to see a doctor because they are on some secret electronic wait list that denies them a place on the real electronic wait list, then your Point man in Memphis is blind, inept or just walked into a MSM Punji Pit while texting. Really, Bob? You have been given the power and the glory to run your VAmpire. Your mission is to already know what’s going on in Memphis (or Phoenix) before it becomes news. Your job is to fix it even if you have to write off the Point man- in fact, most especially if you have to write off the point man. A good commander anticipates problems rather than reacting after the shit hits the fan. In fact, Mad Dog Mattis has one Life Theorem I’ve always adhered to subconsciously- Always have a plan to kill everyone in the room. An adjunct Theorem which usually follows is –Always have a designated exit strategy. In VA terms, if the hired help does a face plant of epic proportions, already have a statement prepared for release at 4:29 PM on Friday afternoon of a three-day National Holiday weekend.
When you take over the helm of the USS Vermont Avenue, you have an obligation to trust no one but what you can see yourself or what trusted others (your Point) apprise you of. If you are unsure of what is amiss in Phoenix, the last thing you do is call up your “point woman” Sharon Helman and say
“You’re never going to believe this but some idiot reporter on FOX is saying we have a secret wait list at your VAMC . Surely he’s bullshitting us, right? Tell me this isn’t happening.”
We had this same scenario crop up with Gen. Eric “Chia Pet” Shinseki back in 2013 and it bushwhacked him for pretty much the same reasons. He took his underlings’ word that everything was hunky dory across the fruited VARO plains. Call me Bob was the go-to guy from the Long Grey Line that was hired to fix this. Apparently, just being a General with combat experience wasn’t enough mustard on the hot dog for Eric the Clueless. As Patton once said to no one in particular “Excuses are like assholes-everyone has one and they invariably stink.”
In construction, you trust nothing. Your lead man will always paint a rosy picture that he’s ready for trusses tomorrow morning. You drive out to the job site to discover they haven’t even plumbed and lined it out or put grasshoppers up to plumb the walls. Optimism must always be free of rose-tinted sunglasses. If your agency is in the news every week for stepping on their necktie and killing Vets through ineptitude, you need new point men.
The New Administration
810 Yellow Brick Road NW- January 2017
I think no one wishes the worst for Sec Bob. The devil in the hand is a better choice than an untried dingbat from Alaska or a has-been from Massachusetts. I’m quite sure Pete Hegseth has a lot to recommend him but briefing in a new leader when we have someone capable enough is idiot’s delight. The Bobmeister simply needs to take nothing for granted. This is easily accomplished by stealth. You simply show up unannounced incognito with one or two of your gophers at a VARO and observe the number of RVSRs and Coaches making Starbucks runs to the lobby @ 0905 Hrs. You stroll through the VR&E and have a chat with the troops lined up waiting to see the Man. Talk to the little people. Go down to the local VAMC and watch the sloth, ineptitude and general disdain of the hired help for who they are serving. Or… you use your point for what he was intended. Helloooooooooooooooooooooooooo?
President-elect Trump, in spite of what numerous others might think, is not going to kowtow to the Senator Johnny from Georgia Show nor blindly listen to the counsel of our current President. He has vowed to shake this program up. If it means firing all the chucklehead GS lifers and AFGE problem children who have created this impasse or having to restructure the Statutes to fire grossly incompetent brain dead SES hierarchy, I suspect that is the path he will take. Announcing the selection of Mad Dog Mattis as SECDEF in spite of the obstacle of getting around his less than seven-year hiatus from Marine Corps duty is an executive shot across the bow of what he intends for America. Rules? We don’ need no stinkin’ rules. We’re going to make America Great Again. If we break a few eggs and egos, so be it. If anything, the delayed pick of someone to lead the most troubled Agency in modern times shows Mr. Trump is giving it great thought. Gary Sinese, anyone?
While I do not necessarily hold out hope for Sec. Bob’s future employment prospects, he’s begun something that is long overdue. Witness the prior two years of his tenure against the littered trail of promises from the last twelve VASECS (thirteen if you count Tony “QTC” Principi twice). Remember good ol’ Jesse Brown? He came to us from the DAV VSO ranks as God’s Gift to Vets. It’s taken twenty years of CAVC and Fed Circus reversals to eradicate what he did to us. Having the blessing of twenty big name VSOs all crowing to keep McDonald as the VASEC is not encouraging on its face either. Absent a good point man, Bob now finds himself defended by who many of us see as an obstacle to VA Excellence- National VSO hierarchies who have always presumed to speak for us and protect our inefficient, wasteful VAROs and VAMCs.
Perhaps what we need to reexamine here is what’s wrong and what’s required to make it right. Strictly looking at it from a legal standpoint, I see someone like Bart Stichman as being the man for the job as we no longer have the Mad Dog Mattis option. Maybe we should remerge the VA back into the Defense Department where it was until around World War Two or so. Either that or a voice of sanity like Carol Scott which would also bring the aura of respectability to the office. A constant parade of VSO has-beens, retired Generals and political appointees who are owed a job for simply supporting the winner of the Presidential Olympics has not panned out for Vets to date. The last thing we need are more Jesse Browns or James Peakes in our life. Remember, too, It took 80 years for Caluza v. Brown to surface at the CAVC and unequivocally inform us we needed an IMO to win our claims. It took another seven years (and Congress) to get the VA to incorporate it as the VCAA act.
West Point aside, it seems to matter little what college you attended- if any. Veterans need a Veteran-friendly Secretary who isn’t going to find himself hog tied after investiture and unable to cut the Gordian Knot. Change can sometimes entail boldly going where no Veteran has ever ventured in a new direction-untried and unknown. Hell, even Sarah Palin deserves a shot at it based on this metric. Thirteen attempts with a dude in charge doesn’t seem to have been the winning combo. Her resumé is devoid of West Point so maybe that’s a plus. Continuing to beat the same dead horse expecting a triple-crown winner doesn’t seem to pan out. I think our new President-in-waiting understands that.
Secretary Bob needs a new PR platform. Reacting to Memphis, Phoenix, Tomah ad nauseum and the continual discovery each week of yet a new and worse VA blunder with no firings on the horizon doesn’t work. You can only play the “I’m looking into it” or “Heads will roll” just so many times with no corresponding followup to lose your audience. Chicken Little discovered that a while back. Secretary Bob’s capital in this respect is dwindling notwithstanding Congress’ attempt to empower him. Face it. Power emanates from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. and nowhere else. Lip service is just passing the buck and waiting for the dust to settle. We’ve lip-whipped this one to death for a century. It’s time to quit cutting the same VASEC bait and start fishing. That begins by climbing out of the box and examining new options.
I wish Secretary Bob the best. If I had my druthers, I’d hire Allison Hickey if she could be convinced to serve. We can at least say something positive in our lives began under her short tenure as USB. Whoever is hired is going to need shrewd point men who can operate surreptitiously and get good intel that is not masked as political correctness.
And that’s all I’m gonna say about that.
Nothing the VA or our politicians say means anything to me. It is what they do that counts. Turning the VA into a vet centered, humane institution probably means firing about a million VA employees. Who is going to do that? Dealing with the VARO is the usual nightmare, but even the VAMC is a dangerous place to enter if you like living. Big scandal at the Bay Pines VAMC where the employees left a dead body of a vet in a shower room for 9 hours unattended. When caught all those in the know falsified documents to CYA. Two lowly employees were fired who were on probation all the rest got off and kept their jobs. When you walk into a VAMC you are walking point because these people don’t care if you live or die.