The D Brief: A VA restructuring, but are there deliverables? Are these wars the definition of insanity; What free stuff do vets get? #shareyourstory; And a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Ben Watson

Click bait: Where vets eat for free today: Time’s Brad Tuttle rolled up 20 places veterans and active duty peeps can score free donuts, pizza, burgers and even haircuts today, including Krispy Kreme and Denny’s but also Starbucks, here.

Meantime, the VA announced its “largest restructuring in the department’s history,” including a new post—Chief Customer Service Officer yesterday. More from Defense One’s own Ben Watson, here.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America applauded the announcement from VASec McDonald, but added, “We look forward to seeing more specifics about the new plan—and a concrete timeline on deliverables.” More from IAVA, here.

CQ Roll Call’s Connor O’Brien said Friday McDonald last week was getting just 5 to 10 calls or texts per day since giving out his personal cell to reporters in early September. Back then the calls/texts per day numbered roughly 250.

And as Military Times’ Leo Shane III pointed out, VA Sec Bob McDonald’s media blitz for Veterans Day tallied appearances on NPR, 60 Minutes, Washington Post, CNN, Christian Science Monitor breakfast, and NPR once more late last week. Shane also provides a visual of the monthly Bureau of Labor and Statistics unemployment data going back almost five years, here.

About those unemployment numbers:

  • The latest BLS unemployment data for Gulf War II-era veterans (7.2% in October) remains higher than the national average (5.8%); and female vets are doing far worse than their male counterparts (11.2% compared to 6.2%).
  • And given that it’s a number from 2010, it remains one that’s widely cited when you speak to just about anyone about veterans issues: Veteran suicides are at a dismal if not staggering 22 per day (that data from a VA report, here).

But it’s the unemployment stats that rile up Illinois-native and 68-year-old Marine vet Lynn Louder. He’s set up a Virginia-based nonprofit called 1 Vet at a Time to help square away promising vets—with good old personal mentorship and, once vetted, the financial assistance to get started—wishing to run their own small business. After linking up with the Wounded Warrior Project in Chicago, 1VAAT helped establish Army vet and five-time IED survivor Shaun Garry as owner of the 2Toots Train Whistle Grill in Glen Elyn, Ill.

Shaun had been unemployed for about four years when Louder ran into him. And now Garry is up for USA Today’s Entrepreneur of the Year. “There’s a lot of running of the mouth going on about veterans,” Louder said of this time of year, noting, “There’s a whole bunch of Shaun Garry’s out there.” You can find out more about 1VAAT by visiting their webpage here, or—if you prefer, as Lynn does—you can dial him up at (630) 222-5155.

Gen. Marty Dempsey weighed in on the veterans issue, too, in the columns of Defense One, turning a spotlight on the “Commitment to Service” initiative.

And Defense One’s own Patrick Tucker offers this rundown of all the ways “vets are becoming the research platform for cybernetic technologies that are decades beyond commercial state of the art,” here.

Here’s everything you need to know about the Concert for Valor tonight in DC, h/t the WaPo, here.

Welcome to the Tuesday edition of The D Brief, Defense One’s new, first-read national security newsletter. If you like what you see and you want us to subscribe a friend or colleague, we’re very happy to do that. Subscribe here or send us a holler at and we’ll put you on the list. Please send us your tips, your tidbits, your scoops and stories, your think tank reports and best of all your candy, but send it to us early for maximum tease. And whatever you do, we hope you’ll follow us @glubold and @natsecwatson.

Happy Veterans Day. Amid the mattress sales and the flags, the free Grand Slams at Denny’s and the stories of valor, there’s always a big push to thank veterans for their service and rightly so. But there’s also this: thinking about wars and why and how the U.S. fights them as a way to really think about veterans and what they do.

Here’s veteran Dan Bolger, the retired Army three-star, writing in the NYT op-ed pages today about “The Truth About Wars.” Bolger writes that the military loves their legends: “…Here’s a legend that’s going around these days. In 2003, the United States invaded Iraq and toppled a dictator. We botched the follow-through, and a vicious insurgency erupted. Four years later, we surged in fresh troops, adopted improved counterinsurgency tactics and won the war. And then dithering American politicians squandered the gains. It’s a compelling story. But it’s just that—a story.

The surge in Iraq did not ‘win’ anything. It bought time. It allowed us to kill some more bad guys and feel better about ourselves… Like a handful of aspirin gobbled by a fevered patient, the surge cooled the symptoms. But the underlying disease didn’t go away.

Today we are hearing some, including those in uniform, argue for a robust ground offensive against the Islamic State in Iraq. Air attacks aren’t enough, we’re told. Our Kurdish and Iraqi Army allies are weak and incompetent. Only another surge can win the fight against this dire threat. Really? If insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, I think we’re there… It’s not a solution that is likely to spawn a legend. But in the real world, it just may well give us something better than another defeat.” More here.

Bolger offers up his damning AAR of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in an interview with NPR yesterday about his book “Why We Lost: A General’s Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.” Lots of good and occasionally bitter stuff from that discussion, here.

It’s a good day for Lockheed and Boeing and Raytheon. Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio: “President Barack Obama’s request for an added $5.6 billion to fight Islamic State includes funds to replace missiles and bombs made by Raytheon Co. and Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp.

“The funds for defense contractors were included in details of the budget request sent today to congressional leaders. The White House announced on Nov. 7 that Obama was asking Congress to approve the funds, in part to support 1,500 more U.S. troops to train and advise Iraqi forces in addition to the 1,600 already authorized.

The White House funding request includes $3.4 billion for U.S. operations against Islamic State, $1.6 billion to train and equip Iraqi and Kurdish security forces and $520 million for State Department operations against the extremist group that has seized a swath of Iraq and Syria.” More here.

Hash tag shareyourstory: Chuck Hagel wants veterans to share their stories on social media using #shareyourstory hash tag so everybody can see what troops do each day. We’re told the Pentagon will be highlighting specific tales from some of our military’s most storied units, like the 133rd Navy Seabees of Gulfport, Mississippi who fought the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945 and in 2014 constructed facilities to help fight Ebola in West Africa.

Watch Hagel, the former Army sergeant, pay tribute to his fellow Veterans: “… let’s honor our veterans by creating new opportunities for them to contribute after their service, so they can continue making a difference in the world…” Watch that here.

Also, check out the Twitter hashtag #MyVeteran for folks sharing photos of vets young and old. Hat tip to Military Times for their hand in helping popularize the Twitter push.

And just in time for Veterans Daycheap gas means the return of the gas-guzzling but fun-to-drive Hummer, in the WaPo, here.

Who’s doing what todayChuck Hagel will participate in a Veterans Day observance at 1 p.m. at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in D.C.…Chief of Naval Operations Jon Greenert will attend the White House Veteran’s Day Breakfast, immediately followed by a wreath laying ceremony at Arlington Cemetery… Secretary of the Air Force Debbie James will attend the 61st Annual Veterans Day National Ceremony at 10:30 AM at Arlington National Cemetery to “recognize the sacrifices made and to honor all men and women who’ve served our country in uniform.” … James will also attend the Concert for Valor—a first-of-its-kind concert to honor the courage and sacrifice of America’s veterans and their families on the National Mall in D.C… Airmen musicians from the United States Air Force Band Singing Sergeants will perform with none other than Carrie Underwood…

Also happening in D.C. today: The Veterans Writing Project led by retired Army Lt. Col. Ron Capps, is holding a 1:45 p.m. public reading at the Navy Memorial in downtown at 701 Pennsylvania Ave NW. Capps—who teaches creative writing on the campus of the Walter Reed in Bethesda and also at the Washington, D.C. VA Medical Center—and his team of veterans teach no-cost workshops across the country for vets, active duty troops and family members. You can hear Ron talk about VWP and the real and pressing need for many vets to talk through traumatic military experiences during an interview on NPR back in 2012, here. Or you can see what’s on VWP’s calendar anytime, here.

Liberia’s new Ebola cases have declined from a daily peak of around 500 per day to now around 50 or so, a Liberian health official told AFP last night, here.

Dozens of boys killed in an attack in what amounts to a “war against education” in Nigeria, here.

From Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber: The Iraqi Air Force to get F-16sbut in Tuscon. Iraq will finally receive the first batch of Lockheed Martin-built F-16 fighter jets that it needs to combat Islamic State militants, but instability in the country will prevent them from reaching the Middle East anytime soon. “The security situation still does not allow that, so the initial group of F-16s we are now going to deliver to Tucson, Ariz., where there are Iraqi pilots currently in a training pipeline,” Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said Monday. The jets were supposed to Balad Air Base, about 40 miles north of Baghdad, in the fall. The Air National Guard is already training Iraqi pilots on U.S. Air Force F-16 in Arizona. Three F-16s are scheduled for delivery in December, then one per month through May. Iraqi pilots will begin flying training missions in their own aircraft in January, Warren said.

Marcus also reports: The Pentagon will not deploy an additional 1,500 personnel to advise and assist the Iraqi military until Congress approves an additional $5.6 billion for operations in the country, Warren said. “We need the funding in order to begin this phase of the operation,” he said. Since the U.S. began conducting air strikes against Islamic State militants on Aug. 8, the operations have cost an average of $8.3 million per day. As of Oct. 16, the cost totaled $580 million, Warren said.

Fifty American troops arrived in Anbar yesterday, where some of the worst fighting of last decade’s Iraq war took place around Fallujah and Ramadi. Nancy Youssef writing for McClatchy: “Hundreds of American advisers are expected to be based at Asad [Airbase] in the coming months as part of the 1,500 additional troops Obama announced Friday would be dispatched to Iraq, more than doubling the U.S. troop presence there… Among the issues the assessors are likely to consider is whether the U.S. could base Apache attack helicopters or other combat aircraft at the base, where the advisers would be housed, and what security would be necessary to ensure the advisers’ safety.” More here.

Some of Iraq’s Shiite militias are fighting ISIS with the same butchery for which the group has become famous. AP’s Sinan Salaheddin and Sameer N. Yacoub from Baghdad: “Several videos posted online seem to be intentionally made by the Shiite militiamen to show off atrocities and intimidate opponents… In a grisly video recently posted online, a Shiite fighter shouts the name of a revered imam in victory as he poses beside decapitated bodies. Another militiaman sits nearby, grinning as he maims a corpse.” More here.

The State Department security agents are training for the first time with the Marines in Virginia to prevent a Benghazi-like attack. AP video, here.

“Syria is a vetting nightmare.” Former CIA operatives talked with Jeff Stein in Newsweek about the daunting challenge of vetting a moderate Syrian opposition: “‘The background info on these fighters is next to nothing and misleading, especially in Syria, where we don’t have a liaison relationship, and so the vast majority of even check-the-box vetting is by third parties [who are] out-of-the-country players with a stake in the game.’” More here.

How Obama arrived at the nine teams of advisors announced last Friday as part of the additional U.S. troop commitment to Iraq. Former commandant of the U.S. Army War College, retired Maj. Gen. Robert Scales, in the Washington Post, here.

Vladimir Putin’s gentlemanly gesture toward Chinese President Xi Jinping’s wife, Peng Liyuan, shook up the censors across Chinese social media. AP’s Didi Tang from Beijing: “In the video, Peng stood up, politely accepted the gray shawl or blanket offered by Putin, and thanked him with a slight bow. But she soon slipped it off and put on a black coat offered by her own attendant. It spawned a flurry of commentary on China’s social media before censors began removing any mention of the incident.” More here.

Tokyo has a much bigger national security problem on its horizon than anything out of Beijing or Pyongyang, argues former CIA counterterrorism analyst Aki Peritz for the online intelligence and natsec blog Overt Action: “Neither war nor famine is halving Japan’s population, but rather hard demographics. Japan’s birth rate is currently 1.4 children per woman, and the total population has already begun to decline as of 2010… While the [Japanese Self Defense Forces or SDF] is certainly formidable—almost 250,000 men and women in uniform, 2 aircraft carriers (and two helicopter carriers on the way), 32 destroyers, 500+ combat capable aircraft… the SDF has not fired a single round in anger since being formed in the years following WWII.” More here.

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