Situation Report

Thousands of Guardsmen are activated for Sandy

Dempsey: rumors around Carter Ham’s departure from AFRICOM are “absolutely false;” At portrait unveiling, Gates explains what contributed to his departure, unleashes zingers, and more.

The Pentagon has activated more than 7,500 Guardsmen to respond to Sandy across seven states, but mostly in New York and New Jersey, areas that have been crippled by the hurricane. But the number of Guardsmen activated is expected to grow, Situation Report was told this morning. The National Guard was helping local first responders and FEMA at evacuation shelters as well as opening up roads and bridges and conducting search-and-rescue operations up and down the East Coast.

The storm packed a wallop up and down the East Coast, but hit New York and New Jersey the hardest, killing seven. As an example of the kind of devastation Sandy has caused, the head of the 108-year-old New York city subway system said had "never faced a disaster as devastating" as the one Monday night.

DVIDS story:

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The intensity of coverage over the Benghazi attack has created rumors that Gen. Carter Ham was fired. In recent days, bloggers have speculated that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s announcement of a replacement for Ham, commander of AFRICOM, was a quiet way of removing the general after, they allege, that he refused orders to "stand down" on the night of the attack in Benghazi. Those promoting this storyline, like, seem to be seized by a story line that sounds like it’s straight out of the movies. "General Ham then received the order to stand down. His response was to screw it, he was going to help anyhow. Within 30 seconds to a minute after making the move to respond, his second in command apprehended General Ham and told him that he was now relieved of his command."

The truth is that Ham was never relieved of command, and continues to serve in the job to this day, officials tell Situation Report. Yet other blogs have fanned the rumors that Ham was let go over the attack, including James Robbins on the Washington Times. Robbins, who cites the tigerdroppings blog, has a bit more incredulous take: "This version of events contradicts Mr. Panetta’s October 25 statement that General Ham advised against intervention. But so far there is nothing solid to back it up. Maybe Ham attempted to send a reaction force against orders, or maybe he simply said the wrong thing to the wrong people."

Robbins’ posts include a statement from Pentagon Press Secretary George Little who discounts the notion altogether: "The insinuations in your story are flat wrong.  General Ham is an outstanding leader of AFRICOM. Future leadership changes at this important command have absolutely nothing to do with the attack on American personnel in Benghazi.  The leadership changes have been long planned."

There was enough speculation about Ham that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey, traveling in Israel, also issued a statement: "The speculation that General Carter Ham is departing Africa Command due to events in Benghazi, Libya on 11 September 2012 is absolutely false," the statement attributed to Dempsey said. "General Ham’s departure is part of a routine succession planning that has been going on since July. He continues to serve in AFRICOM with my complete confidence."

Ham, well respected and admired among those in the E-ring for his thoughtful, evenhanded approach, was tapped for AFRICOM in part because of the special skills necessary for that job. The AFRICOM mission had always been largely misunderstood by many leaders in Africa because it was seen as leading to military deployments that Africa didn’t necessarily want. But Ham was seen as someone who could help bridge the gap between the U.S. military and Africa. Many believe that effort is now on a better track than when AFRICOM was first created. Although Ham only just began the AFRICOM job in March 2011, he was expected to leave the command after a year or two – long before the attack in Libya.

Dempsey is reviewing the "Austere Challenge" joint exercise in Israel, the largest one ever conducted there in which the U.S. has played a part. There are more than 3,500 Americans participating in the exercise. Dempsey is not traveling with a reporter as is customary for the Pentagon’s senior officer for most trips. But his spokesman, Col. Dave Lapan, provided excerpts of his remarks during meetings with President Shimon Perez and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Peres said the "sheer friendship" with the U.S. helps to "deter dangers and to face enemies."

Peres to Dempsey: "I may say that you yourself have gained a great respect by our commanders and our government and I want to thank you. Not just personal friendship, military friendship — it’s a meaningful one politically and militarily. But I can say in a sense of humor that we can provide enough dangers to maintain this friendship, and we don’t have a choice but to do so."

Dempsey: "It’s a real opportunity our soldiers to work with Israeli soldiers, our airmen to work with Israeli pilots, and our mariners, our sailors, to work with Israeli sailors, ’cause this exercise covers all of those domains to ensure that we have a layered cooperative, collaborative, common defense against the threats of missiles and rockets to Israel."

Romney missed an opportunity during the debate to rebut the president on his "Battleship" remark. John Arquilla, writing on FP, says that military strategy actually is a lot like the board game: "[S]ea wars have become far more cat-and-mouse matters, whose outcomes have become critically dependent on the need to see the enemy first, so as to be able to strike before being struck. Just like in ‘Battleship.’" Romney could have said something along the lines of how he wants smaller "but still well-armed vessels for the U.S. Navy, not just a handful of extremely expensive, highly vulnerable aircraft carriers and a few dozen submarines," Arquilla writes.

Bob Gates returned to the Pentagon for the first time since leaving and explained partly why he left. The former defense secretary and several dozen others braved the elements to attend his portrait unveiling at the Pentagon yesterday. The many empty seats attested to Hurricane Sandy’s impact, but a number of his former colleagues, friends, and family members turned out for his first appearance in the building after leading it for five years. His brief remarks included tributes and roasts of colleagues and took shots at some of the duties he endured as secretary. But he also spoke candidly about one of the reasons that he left after serving two presidents, Bush 43, and Obama.

Gates, who as defense secretary frequently got emotional when talking about the troops, said Monday that he left his job at the Pentagon in part because he was starting to care too much.

"That was a responsibility that weighed on me every day I was secretary," Gates told an audience about a third of the size of what was expected. "So much so that toward the end of my time in office, I could barely speak to the troops or about them without being overcome with emotion. So much so that, frankly, I began to worry that my devotion to protecting them was beginning to cloud my judgment and diminish my usefulness to the president, and it thus played a part in my decision to retire."

The painting, by Ray Kinstler, the "de-facto portraitist of official Washington," as Gates said, will occupy prime real estate on the E-Ring, on what amounts to a "double lot" area of wall space that is twice the size of the area allocated for Rumsfeld.

Gates used the opportunity to sling some zingers and establish his parting thoughts on his duties as secretary and some of the individuals who peopled his tenure:

On Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen: "Mike was never shy about disagreeing with me, but unfailingly steadfast and loyal — to me and to the Presidents he served — once a decision was made."

On press secretary Geoff Morrell: "…Other curiosities that linger include Geoff Morrell’s sense of fashion, which I’d never seen before or since — best described as Tommy Hilfiger meets Thurston Howell. However he looked doing it, Geoff’s work with the press was invaluable to what we accomplished here — in many cases acting as the ‘bad guy’ so I didn’t have to."

On special assistant Robert Rangel: "I also miss Robert Rangel’s raised eyebrow, usually in response to some half-baked idea or poorly thought out proposal — in many cases my own. I can say with confidence that Robert got more done with fewer words and less bombast than anyone in the history of this building. Robert, whatever they’re paying you now isn’t enough — and that’s saying something." [Rangel now works at Lockheed Martin.]

On CNAS: "I always figured that, at least during the Obama administration, my CNAS outreach was pretty well covered by the morning staff meeting."

On the Doomsday plane he flew for five years: The E4B has a new nickname since Panetta begun using it — "It’s no longer ‘the Big Brisket,’ it’s the ‘Airborne Cannoli.’"

On the many meetings he attended around the world, often begrudgingly: "I confess that back at the CIA, I would have been less motivated to win the Cold War if I had known that the result would be NATO conferences in which 28 defense ministers are present, all of whom are entitled to speak and all of whom take advantage of that opportunity." The exception? The defense minister of Iceland, Gates said.

One of the "less edifying" meetings: "the experience of being shaken down by the defense minister of Kyrgyzstan for rent of the Manas air base."

The unveiling was a who’s who of the Gates era and beyond. It included (but wasn’t limited to) John Young, James Clapper, Ryan Henry, Bob Work, Robert Rangel, Ray Odierno, Joe Kernan, Thayer Scott, Robert Hale, Michele Flournoy, Geoff Morrell, Jeremy Bash, Jon Greenert, Ryan McCarthy, Bob Scher, Ash Carter.

Quiet consensus: There was nodding agreement among many of the guests that the Kinstler painting of Gates doesn’t look like a lot like Gates.

Gordon Adams thinks the U.S. asks too much of our military. When he saw a story about something the Seabees are doing in Cambodia – "not a war zone!" – it made him think out loud about what the proper role for the military after a dozen years of war. Adams, writing on FP: "The assumption that we have to bolster security around the world using Special Operations forces, the Seabees, and other non-combat military capabilities has expanded this type of engagement, with health clinics, schools, and wells (is that the recipe in the Seabee handbook?) springing up in the Horn of Africa and across the Sahel region. And now in Cambodia. It all sounds very nice and gung-ho American. But it is both the wrong approach to assistance and dangerous to our security."

The Two Sudans


Twelve Years and Counting


 Twitter: @glubold

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