Reflections From The Boston Bombing: Is Our Nation Safer One Year Later?

One year ago two explosions erupted on the final stretch of the Boston Marathon. Three innocent Americans were killed and dozens more were wounded. As we remember those tragically lost, we should also take stock of where we are as a nation. Are we any safer today from a terrorist attack than we were one year ago?

The blatantly obvious answer is no. We are still vulnerable to terrorist attacks, as we always will be. Terrorists are continually looking to exploit our security weaknesses in order to slip through the cracks undetected and reign down terror upon our way of life. Terrorist organization are constantly changing and adapting their tactics, techniques, and procedures to improve their chances of success. The Intelligence Community, law enforcement, and the private sector must be just as nimble and never allow complacency to set in once the dust has settled after an attack. That’s hard: our natural tendency is to forget the past. Once it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind. But we as a nation must remain vigilant; our safety depends on it.

The Boston Marathon bombing united Americans in the same way 9/11 did. Citizens rallied around Boston with love and concern and desire to assist in anyway possible. ‘Boston Strong’ became the slogan of support for the entire city. But more importantly, upon guidance from the Boston Mayor and police chief, bystanders collaborated by sending in their photos and information to help find and apprehend the Tsarnaev brothers. The general public’s eyes were reopened to the fact that terrorist attacks come in many different forms. But that type of nation unification and alertness is what is constantly needed in an era where terrorism is an ongoing potential.

Aside from the Fort Hood shooting on November 5, 2009—which is still deemed “workplace violence” by the Obama administration–we had not seen a successful terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11, until the Boston bombing. While the intelligence community and law enforcement should be commended for foiling numerous terrorist plots since then, information sharing and collaboration between government agencies, law enforcement, and the private sector remains intermittent with significant room for improvement.

Primarily, agencies within the intelligence community are excellent at what they do. They know the laws, they know how to collect data, they know how to analyze information, and produce actionable intelligence. That being said, intelligence failures happen, it’s just part of reality. But intelligence is also often politicized (as we saw with Benghazi), bureaucracy can lead to significant time constraints and lack of information sharing all adversely affect our nation’s safety. Information is only good if the appropriate people and departments know about it, in order to make informed decisions. This is especially critical with ‘lone wolf’ type attacks as we saw with the Boston bombing, which are often the most difficult to identify and track.

America will never be fully protected from violent attacks inflicted by terrorist organizations, but there are ways to be proactive. We must not allow the fallacy of peace (in a world that has never known peace) to shade the reality of the world: There are terrorist organizations around the world that want to terrorize and kill as many Americans as possible each and every day, for simple fact that we are Americans. Apathy and complacency towards the threat of terrorism to our nation and its citizens is something our country simply cannot afford.

More Americans need to be cognizant to these threats, and recognize that the war on terror is anything but over. We must all be citizen-soldiers in our nation’s defense.

Originally Published in Forbes and Independent Women’s Forum

Follow Amber on Twitter: @AmberBarno

Israel’s ‘One Bomb’ Predicament and America’s Iran Policy

Israel’s interception of Iranian arms bound for Gaza on Wednesday is a reminder of the ongoing threats the small nation faces on a daily basis. For Israelis, it’s all about survival in a region so hostile the threat of annihilation is a day-to-day reality. The U.S. continues to preach that threats to Israel are threats the U.S., but actions speak significantly louder than words, especially with an administration that continues to make weightless threats to our adversaries and empty promises to our allies.

U.S.-Israeli relations have been stronger, and in a time when regional threats to Israel are this significant, they must be stronger. On Tuesday at the annual AIPAC conference, Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu called Israel “the most threatened democracy on Earth.” He went on to say, “Iran continues to stand unabashedly on the wrong side of the moral divide. We must oppose Iran and stand up for what is right.” He continued, “The greatest threat to our common security (U.S. and Israel) is that of a nuclear armed Iran. We must prevent Iran from having the capability to make the weapon.”

In a volatile region that continues to be dangerously unpredictable, Israel cannot afford to wait until the 11th hour to react to a nuclear Iran. By then it is too late. Israel is a ‘one bomb country’ meaning one nuclear weapon is enough to obliterate the country and the state of Israel would cease to exist. Geographically, Israel cannot afford to be reactive to Iran’s nuclear advancements. Freezing Iran’s nuclear program is not enough. Iran must be stripped of the capability of producing a nuclear weapon.

Israel does not have the luxury of a two-ocean safety net the way the U.S. does. If need be, Israel will act in its best interest with or without U.S. consent. Israel understands the value of acting with the U.S. but when their national security is at stake, Israel will not wait for another nation’s approval when their citizens are at risk. “I’m charged with protecting the security of my people, the people of Israel. And I will never gamble with the security of the one and only Jewish state,” Netanyahu continued in his speech at AIPAC.

Instead of making small talk with Iran in the hope that they maintain their commitments in the nuclear deal, the U.S. must ensure that there are steps in place in the event the rogue nation does not. Iran is not a nation known for its keeping its promises, and hope is not a strategy. Iran’s goal of obtaining nuclear weapon status must remain in the forefront of our priorities, not only for our own national security, but for the survival of Israel as well.

The time for global leadership is now. Unfortunately, shrinking our military, drawing weightless red lines, and cutting our defense budget doesn’t exactly show the world that we are a force to be reckoned with. When it comes to foreign policy this administration has been leading from behind from day one of Obama’s presidency. Unfortunately his inaction and timid leadership has resulted in many of our adversaries breaking international law without regard for the consequences. We are not going to ‘wish’ ourselves out of Iran developing a nuclear bomb. This is the big leagues and it’s time the Obama administration started acting like they know what that means.

The Israeli people are full of optimism and hope for a secure and peaceful tomorrow, even in light of their misfortunes. The U.S. must reciprocate that optimism with strong support for Israel in all capacities, especially by ensuring Iran does not move forward with their nuclear program. We must not get so focused elsewhere in the world that we turn our back on one of our most trusted allies when they need us most.

Originally published at The Daily Caller. Read more here.

Follow Amber on Twitter @AmberBarno

The First Step in Fixing the VA: Accountability

From data breaches to backlogs to Obamacare style health care, one thing is certain; the current status of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is nothing short of disastrous.

Poor oversight, lack of leadership and accountability, and pure disregard for treating our veterans as customers rather than an annoyance, have all contributed to the systemic failures within the bureaucracy today. Holding VA leadership accountable for their actions and performance is the first step in fixing the problem that is hurting hundreds of thousands of veterans each and every day.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-S.C.), said it best earlier this month that the VA backlog is a “national embarrassment.”

“As the nation’s military stands down from its war footing, veterans should not have to wage another battle here at home, this time against government bureaucracy,” Burr said. It is time to start treating the substantial array of problems within the VA that our veterans are suffering from everyday as a national priority.

Despite what VA officials have said regarding their progress with the backlog and overall claims process, they can’t hide from the numbers. While it is appreciated that the VA has increased the amount of claims processed, the backlog problem is not fixed, and on its current course, will not be fixed by the VA imposed deadline of 2015.

The backlog claims numbers, both new and appeals, speaks volumes about the systemic bureaucracy that is failing our veterans and its inability to fix itself. Nearly 700,000 veterans are waiting on the outcome of their new claims or appeals. While most new claims get answers within 266 days, if a veteran appeals a claim they can expect to wait 1,598 days for a response.

Those are unacceptable wait times. What is even more appalling is that despite our veterans suffering, little to nothing has actually been done to address the problem.

Here are the current numbers of veterans waiting on the outcome of their VA claims (as of Feb. 22, 2014):

Claims Backlog: 672,999

Over 125 days Backlog: 389,861

Appeals Backlog: 272,110

Massive ambiguous bills, like the one introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), aren’t going to solve the problems that have been plaguing the VA and veterans for years. Even though the Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) have been reinstated for “working age” military retirees, there is no need to throw more money at the VA that will not address any of its primary problems.

The VA has never had a funding issue. It has the resources, and personnel to get the job done. What it doesn’t have is the accountability incentive needed to breakdown the layers of bureaucracy that are hindering its ability to properly serve the needs of our military veterans.

We need to see real, tangible VA reform that will allow accountability to do what it does best: Hold people responsible for their performance.

Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Veteran’s Affairs Committee, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) have introduced a bill that would do just that.

The VA Management Accountability Act of 2014 would provide the secretary of the VA the authority to fire or demote other executive service officials within the VA. This is the kind of action we need to see in order to see realistic results. Putting accountability back into the management system is a common sense solution that will benefit both VA employees and veterans alike.

Naturally, leaders within the VA oppose the bill and believe that the current punitive measures in place are enough to properly manage their employees, but recent reports indicate that there have been 31 preventable deaths of veterans at VA medical centers. No one in the VA associated with those deaths have been fired.

VA reform must become a priority in order for the organization to adequately serve those who have sacrificed for our nation. Veterans volunteered to protect our nation when duty called. At a minimum, as a nation, we must ensure our veterans aren’t forgotten about when it matters most. Holding leaders accountable for their actions at the VA is the first step in ensuring our veterans are receiving the best service and quality care they deserve.

Originally Published at 

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Gender Equality: A double standard for women in the military?

Earlier this month, the U.S. Marine Corps announced that it was postponing its self-imposed deadline for women to be held to the same physical fitness standard as men. On January 1, 2014 female Marines would have been required to complete three pull ups on their physical fitness test; the same requirement as male Marines. Over 50 percent of women were unable to complete the new standard. Therefore, Marines chose to delay the deadline and allow women to pass without meeting the equal standard. With the military so willing to ignore these equal standards, one must wonder, does the military have a double standard when it comes to gender equality?

Last year military leadership lifted the ban on women in combat positions like the infantry and special operations without a clear pathway to successful integration. Physical standards and equality remain a primary issue of contention.

For decades, women and men have had ‘equal but different’ physical standards. The military recognized that men and women have different physical qualities which led to the generation of a separate physical grading scale. Correspondingly, women were also prohibited from the majority of combat roles including special operations, infantry, and other ground roles that required a higher level of physical performance. Now that women are able to pursue these combat arms-type positions within the military, the physical demand of the mission must be addressed.

So how you do handle this challenge? The answer lies in equality. But the word equality is not ambiguous. Equality is the state of being equal, and equal is defined as being of the same measure, quantity, amount or number as another. The same standards, the same treatment, the same physical requirements, regardless of your gender. No political correctness, no ulterior motives. No senior level officers getting to bolster their Officer Evaluation Reports with accolades of leading the integration of females into infantry units.

Whenever compromise occurs in the ‘name of equality’ it only further perpetuates female stereotypes that women have spent years combating in the military. Military leaders must stand firm on equality and not buckle to the pressures of meeting a female quota at the expense of creating double standards of equality. We want the best and most qualified defending our freedoms and way of life. It doesn’t matter if they are pretty, ugly, male, female, tall, or short, as long as they are the best physically, mentally, and emotionally to accomplish the mission of defending our nation.

Gender success should not be the focus of this issue, as the Marines hinted was the reason they have delayed enforcing the equal standard. Mission success must be the number one priority, as the military’s purpose cannot be skewed by attempts at social engineering. Believe it or not, our national security depends on these standards that ensure mission success. We must maintain the most lethal and elite military in the world by meeting a mission standard, not a gender standard. It doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman. A standard is a standard.

The mission standard of these critical and vital units must not be lowered to meet the needs of females. If women are able to meet the physical standards required of the position, then good for them. They should then be granted every opportunity that a man is offered. But do not expect to have that opportunity without being able to toe-the-line with men.  You’re going to have to on the battlefield anyway. The mission isn’t any less demanding because women are suddenly trying to accomplish it.

And the majority of women in the military don’t expect or want different standards based solely upon their gender. They want to succeed based upon their own actions and merits, not be handed a consolation prize because they were granted special treatment. Military women don’t need to appease certain parts of society that demand this change without ever having served in the military. Women who have been in the military for some time understand the resentment that comes along with ‘equal but different’ standards in a world that demands equality.

Unfortunately, as with the Marines, we are seeing military leadership more concerned with fulfilling quotas than meeting mission priorities. Many are more focused on setting women up for successful entries into these positions than actually holding them accountable to the standard. Often men train for months to get physically prepared for certain job positions within the military. If women know they have a weak spot physically, shouldn’t they be required to do the same instead of lowering a standard or postponing a deadline? This is a double standard in a society that preaches equality and a military that demands personal responsibility.

The bottom line is there must be a common standard. If you qualify for that standard, male or female, then you are eligible for that position. If you don’t meet the standard, you are ineligible. It is as simple as that. Specific military occupational specialties demand that the best candidates for the job, and only those should be eligible to occupy that position.

This isn’t about the success of women in the military in combat roles. Women have long been proving themselves in combat and war around the world, regardless of the recent media hype surrounding the semantics of ‘women in combat.’ This is about maintaining the most precise and elite fighting force in the world. If that means only a few females are able to serve in those newly opened combat positions, than they will have been selected for truly being the best candidate for the job, not for their gender. That is equality: the opportunity to equally pursue the job position, not a guarantee that you will be selected based on your gender, reduced standards, or meeting quotas.

Originally published at The Daily Caller

Political dysfunction threatens our military and national security…again

In an era of fiscal uncertainty, the military continues to feel the pain of Washington dysfunction. With the ill effects of the partial government shutdown we witnessed in October still fresh in our minds, we are now facing a Congress that may not pass a defense authorization bill. This would be the first time in 51 years that the bill has not passed. Political partisan infighting has become so intense that it is threatening our national security. Why should our military and national defense be held hostage to political gridlock?

Time is running out. The House and Senate are only in session together through Friday, December 13. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2014 is already three months late, which has added to budget ambiguity and weakened our national defense.

We cannot afford to put off the NDAA until January. The continuing resolution ends January 15 and we will reach the debt-ceiling limit on February 15. That means there is only a maximum of 30 legislative days in 2014 to accomplish the goal. And with this Congress, it’s hard to believe that’s enough time.

There are serious repercussions for not passing the NDAA by the end of the year. Many of the ramifications will directly affect military service members and their families, as well as our national security.

(Update:) Although combat pay to our soldiers who are putting their lives on the line in Afghanistan will be spared, special pay and bonuses will not. Authority will not be extended for health professionals’ pay and re-enlistment and aviator bonuses. Worst of all, authority will not be extended to compensate caregivers of our wounded warriors, who are usually family members. Military healthcare for service members and their families will be affected as well. Authority for these forms of special pay will expire on December 31 if the bill does not pass.

Military construction projects essential to military training and readiness will be delayed. This includes projects for a CYBERCOM Command center, laboratories, hospital projects, nuclear power training facilities, as well as projects vital for training requirements overseas. This will vastly affect military readiness that is critical to our national security.

Development, modernization, and procurement of military equipment essential to fighting the war in Afghanistan and other global conflicts will not proceed. This includes: M1 Abrams Tanks, the USS Ford aircraft carrier (the Navy’s newest one), Stryker vehicles, Joint Light Tactical Vehicles (JLTV), F/A-18s, ballistic missile submarines, Virginia-class submarines, UH-72A Light Utility Helicopters (LUH), F-22s, C-130J, and many types of imperative military equipment. Delays to these programs could end up costing hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars in the long run.

Reform of the security clearance process will be delayed as well. There have been significant security breaches due to an out-of-date clearance process, which include Edward Snowden and the Navy Yard shooter. It is critically important that the failures of the security clearance process are addressed and realistically reformed.

Delays or interruptions in the capabilities of Special Operations, Cyber Command, counterterrorism and counternarcotics, training of other military forces, and certain programs that support the troops in Afghanistan are also possible.

It is critical that Congress put partisan differences aside and come together for the greater good for our military, national security, and for our nation as a whole. Too much is at stake.

It’s time to stop putting our military men and women on the frontline of Washington politics. For too long they and their families have had to suffer the consequences of political division. Congress’s constant infighting and lack of resolve creates uncertainty within the military ranks and breaks trust. And during a time of war, as we still are, you do not want the troops’ primary concern to be how their paycheck is fluctuating every few months or how they feel ill-prepared for war because they haven’t received adequate training. This uncertainty leads to instability, which weakens our military readiness. Military members must be reassured that their government has their best interest in mind and will continue to make decisions that reflect it.

Congress must address the requirements that are associated with a strong defense. It is critical that members of Congress put aside their own political agendas and pass the NDAA. A powerful defense must remain a priority in uncertain times and in an unforgiving world. For a military that has served and sacrificed in two wars over the past 12 years, they deserve nothing less than certainty that they will receive proper care and benefits, and access to the best equipment and resources to ensure they are taken care of on the battlefield.

Let’s hope Congress agrees.

Originally published at The Daily Caller: