Today's D Brief: Miller’s memo; COVID packing ICUs; Helicopter victims, ID’d; Army’s next missiles; And a bit more.

Acting SecDef’s confusing first message to the military. On Friday, Christopher Miller dispatched his first “Memorandum for all Department of Defense Employees.” 

From the top: After an apparent nod to great power competition (“we will continue to transform our Department to compete in a new strategic environment”) and several paragraphs of boilerplate (“We will continue to aggressively challenge established paradigms”), Miller pivoted to America’s current wars. However, over the course of nine sentences, the new guy in charge of the world’s most powerful military appeared to suggest that it should both stay the course where deployed abroad and pull out of select, unspecified places.

Here’s A/SecDef Miller (emphasis added): “As we prepare for the future, we remain committed to finishing the war that Al Qaida brought to our shores in 2001. This war isn't over. We are on the verge of defeating Al Qaida and its associates, but we must avoid our past strategic error of failing to see the fight through to the finish. Indeed, this fight has been long, our sacrifices have been enormous. and many are weary of war — I'm one of them — but this is the critical phase in which we transition our efforts from a leadership to supporting role. We are not a people of perpetual war — it is the antithesis of everything for which we stand and for which our ancestors fought. All wars must end. Ending wars requires compromise and partnership. We met the challenge; we gave it our all. Now, it's time to come home.” Read over the full two-page memo, here.

How we got here: Miller was installed one week ago after President Donald Trump (as he described it) “terminated” his third defense secretary, Mark Esper, amid a wave of other sudden replacements. In the days since, the president has offered no explanation for Esper’s firing. Meantime, several observers have speculated that the president, who tweeted in October that all U.S. troops in Afghanistan should be “home for Christmas,” is still trying to make that ambitious promise a reality. Esper and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley have both reportedly expressed concerns that a hasty exit amid ongoing peace talks could hurt America’s national security.

One take from Kori Schake, who leads Foreign and Defense Policy Studies at AEI: “These changes, which come as the president is refusing to acknowledge his defeat last week, probably don’t foreshadow the kind of elaborate plots that Trump’s critics fear. If anything, the personnel changes are remarkable for the small-mindedness and garden-variety spite they demonstrate.” Read that, here.

China changes coming? Axios reports Trump wants to enact various “hardline policies during his final 10 weeks” regarding U.S.-China policy. Those policy changes reportedly include “sanction[ing] or restrict[ing] trade with more Chinese companies, government entities and officials for alleged complicity in human rights violations in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, or threatening U.S. national security.” 

Said National Security Council spokesperson John Ullyot, to Axios: “Unless Beijing reverses course and becomes a responsible player on the global stage, future U.S. presidents will find it politically suicidal to reverse President Trump’s historic actions.”

Trump continues to deny he lost his re-election bid, tweeting Sunday evening five minutes before midnight, “I WON THE ELECTION.” This morning, almost exactly nine hours later, he was back on Twitter tweeting the same thing (without shouting in all caps).

Twitter’s response to both of those tweets: “Official sources called this election differently.” More from Twitter on that very point, here.


From Defense One

US Army Aims to Convert Navy Missiles for Remote-Launched Strikes // Patrick Tucker: If experiments prove out, one soldier-operator will be able to pour fires from diverse launchers onto a target.

Coronavirus Cases Are Spiking at Federal Agencies // Eric Katz, Nextgov: More than 100,000 federal personnel have now tested positive for COVID-19, with some agencies experiencing acute upticks.

The Pandemic Is Revealing a New Form of National Power // Uri Friedman, The Atlantic: In the COVID-19 era, a country’s strength is determined not only by its military and economy, but also by its resilience.

Rolling Back Trump's Workforce Policies Won't Be Simple // Erich Wagner, Nextgov: President-elect Biden has vowed to rescind on his first day a series of Trump-era directives aimed at weakening federal labor unions and politicizing the civil service, but repairing the damage could take much longer.

Block the Pentagon’s 5G Power Play // Mike Rogers: Defense leaders’ attempt to become the gatekeeper for prime frequencies is understandable, but it’s the wrong choice for America.

Trump’s Pettiness Is the Simplest Explanation // Kori Schake, The Atlantic: The post-election shake-up at the Pentagon has raised alarms in the national-security world, but Trump’s likeliest motive is plain old spite.

Europe Can’t Blame Donald Trump Anymore // Tom McTague, The Atlantic: The question for the Continent’s leaders now is whether they can agree on what they are collectively for, not just what they are against.

Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief from Bradley Peniston with Ben Watson. Send us tips from your community right here. And if you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here


We now know the names of the five U.S. soldiers who died Thursday when their UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crashed in Egypt. Their names are:  

  • Capt. Seth Vernon Vandekamp, 31, from Katy, Texas.
  • Chief Warrant Officer 3 Dallas Gearld Garza, 34, from Fayetteville, N.C.;
  • Chief Warrant Officer 2 Marwan Sameh Ghabour, 27, from Marlborough, Mass.;
  • Staff Sgt. Kyle Robert McKee, 35, from Painesville, Ohio;
  • And Sgt. Jeremy Cain Sherman, 23, from Watseka, Ill. The incident is under investigation. Much more from Stars and Stripes, here.

Another Monday of positive vaccine news is helping send oil prices up today — even as COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to break records  across the United States.
About that vaccine: It comes from Moderna Inc., which says today that a late-stage trial reveals that its vaccine is 94.5% effective in preventing COVID-19.
What this might mean: “Together with Pfizer Inc.’s vaccine, which is also more than 90% effective, and pending more safety data and regulatory review, the United States could have two vaccines authorized for emergency use in December with as many as 60 million doses of vaccine available this year,” Reuters reports.
Worth noting: “A key advantage of Moderna’s vaccine is that it does not need ultra-cold storage like Pfizer’s,” which could make distribution considerably easier, Reuters writes. Read on, here.
“It won’t be Moderna alone that solves this problem,” the company’s president told the Associated Press. “It’s going to require many vaccines” to meet demand around the world. More from AP, here

Now, about America’s soaring caseload: The country has experienced an 81% increase in infections over the past two weeks, and it notched more than 135,000 new cases on Sunday, the New York Times reports in its ongoing tracker. Over the same two-week period, deaths have climbed 39% to 632 Americans who reportedly passed away from the disease on Sunday.
In South Dakota, an ER nurse told CNN today that her coronavirus patients often “don’t want to believe that Covid is real… Their last dying words are, ‘This can’t be happening. It’s not real.’ And when they should be spending time Facetiming their families, they’re filled with anger and hatred — and it just made me really sad the other night.”
Trending poorly: Health care facilities are packed and will soon be overwhelmed in places, The Atlantic’s Ed Yong reported Friday. “There is a roughly 12-day lag between rising cases [and] rising hospitalizations. So the 1.5 million (!!!) confirmed cases from the last 2 weeks have not yet factored into stories about packed emergency rooms,” Yong tweeted Sunday. “Another way to think about these lags is that some of the people who are infected on Thanksgiving will enter the hospital in the middle of December, and the morgue around Christmas.” More, here.
Here’s the U.S. Surgeon General, writing on Twitter Sunday evening: 

  • “Hard truths: 49/50 states with increasing cases, 34 in red or orange zones (ie significant rise). Record cases over the past week will be record hospitalizations soon. Our/ YOUR communities and hospitals simply can not sustain high level care at this rate of increase.”

Knee-capping the next guy? President Trump is reportedly blocking the incoming Biden administration from meeting with coronavirus coordinators,  the New York Times reported Sunday. In short, “The president’s refusal to concede has entered a more dangerous phase as he blocks his successor’s transition, withholding intelligence briefings, pandemic information and access to the government.”
And on the other side of the world, “Just a mere 200 new coronavirus cases in South Korea, a nation of 50 million people, and the government there is mulling new restrictions,” tweeted Niraj Warikoo of the Detroit Free Press on Sunday. “Meanwhile, the US had 159,000 new cases yesterday, but no federal action taken, not even 1 tweet from Trump urging mask use.” 

For something completely different: Today’s your day to (virtually) learn about submarines. Three U.S. Navy admirals are slated to speak today at a virtual Navy Submarine League Annual Symposium this afternoon. First up — at 1 p.m. ET — is Adm. James Caldwell Jr., who directs the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program; Vice Adm. Daryl Caudle, who commands the Navy's Atlantic Fleet Submarine Force, is up at 2 p.m.; and Vice Adm. Phillip Sawyer (deputy chief of naval operations for operations, plans and strategy) talks at 3 p.m. Details and registration here.

As initially expected, VCJCS Hyten will leave after his two-year term. “The news of Hyten's retirement comes after a federal judge last month rejected the dismissal of a lawsuit filed against Hyten by his former top aide, a subordinate female officer.” More from Military.com, here.

And lastly today: Three cheers for Hollyanne Milley, whose last name is especially familiar to D Brief readers. Hollyanne is married to Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Mark Milley, and she happens to be a cardiac nurse who was on-scene when a man in his sixties fell to the ground suddenly last week at Arlington National Cemetery.
How it happened: The Milleys were “attending the annual wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington on Wednesday when she noticed a man had collapsed behind one of the columns of a building near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier there,” the Wall Street Journal reported Friday. Nurse Milley “ran to provide aid, directed someone to call 911 and immediately began administering CPR... for roughly two minutes” before the patient “took a big breath and groaned,” which was a good thing.
“That big deep breath and groan is a wonderful sound when you hear silence,” she told the Journal, explaining, “everybody was so happy when he just took in that big breath of air. It was a beautiful thing.” Continue reading, here.

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