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July 13, 2007
Notes from the Pentagon

Press unit killed
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has shut down a rapid-response press operation run out of the Pentagon speechwriting shop because it is not suited to his style of press relations, according to current and former defense officials.

The press operation was set up by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld about two years ago. The former defense secretary was harshly critical of the press, as are other senior Bush administration officials, notably Vice President Dick Cheney.

Mr. Gates killed the unit several months ago and had its activities folded into other elements of the Pentagon"s public-affairs office, a senior defense official said.

"We continue to respond to false news stories and misleading stories about the Pentagon and the military in a variety of ways depending on the situation," the senior official said. "Secretary Gates made it clear when he arrived last December that this could be done without a rapid-response operation."

Said a former defense official: "The unit was an attempt to try and do a more aggressive job of getting the facts out when articles and stories appear. It was something Secretary Rumsfeld felt strongly about."

The unit would monitor U.S. and foreign press reports and highlight stories that were "missing key elements." It then would quickly send information to congressional and press contacts "so people could see the rest of the story," the former official said.

Gays in the military
The Center for Military Readiness (CMR) is starting a new public education campaign aimed at countering proposals by activists to repeal the current law banning homosexuals from openly serving in the U.S. armed forces.

"We have decided to the give the law an unofficial name of its own, the 'Military Personnel Eligibility Act of 1993," in order to draw distinctions between the statute that Congress actually passed and the convoluted 'don"t ask, don"t tell" policy that the legislators correctly rejected," said Elaine Donnelly, president of the Michigan-based CMR.

"Problems began when Bill Clinton imposed that policy on the military anyway with inconsistent enforcement regulations that should have been administratively dropped years ago," she said. "CMR will continue to counter the steady stream of inaccurate information, faux 'studies," skewed polls, celebrity 'endorsements" and other media events orchestrated as part of the PR campaign to repeal the 1993 law, which is slandered every time it is referred to as 'don"t ask, don"t tell." "

Currently, homosexuals in the armed services can enlist or stay in the military as long as their sexual orientation is not made public.

Congress rejected that policy as too difficult to understand, explain or defend in federal court. In its place, legislators codified Defense Department regulations that stated that "homosexuality is incompatible with military service."

The law currently has no formal name and is simply known as Section 654, Title 10. CMR will campaign for it to have a name to better clarify the policy and law, Mrs. Donnelly said.

Messages update
A number of readers responded to the item in this column last week about the spike in coded Air Force messages, which had some private radio operators wondering whether the balloon was about to go up on a major military operation, something a U.S. Strategic Command spokesman said is not true.

Many who wrote suspected that the messages may have something to do with military plans for Iran and the Persian Gulf region, where three U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups are stationed.

One reader said the June 26 message traffic on Air Force Global High Frequency System networks to bases around the world was part of a major Joint Chiefs of Staff strategic "connectivity exercise" code-named Polo Hat.

The exercise has been a regular occurrence for years and includes airborne national command posts and other platforms to test out strategic and tactical emergency action communications, those used in a time of nuclear or conventional war.

The exercises in the past have generated messages that are up to 150 characters, so the recent ones that had 174 characters or more should not be considered unusual.

Wounded warriors
Army soldiers and other Pentagon workers have been holding inspirational meetings every two weeks in the corridors of the five-sided building to honor veterans wounded in the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

The program has been going on for four years without media fanfare in one of the Army corridors, and they are attended by a range of soldiers, most of them combat veterans themselves.

Army spokeswoman Maj. Cheryl Phillips said the program is run by Walter Reed Army Medical Center and is hosted every second Friday by the Army"s chief information officer or G-6. The next visit is set for today on Corridor 3, where 35 wounded veterans will be honored as they proceed from the E-Ring to the A-Ring, she stated.

Lt. Col. Bob Bateman recently described one past visit as an emotional honoring of heroes, with the hallway packed with officers, a few sergeants and some civilians, crammed three and four deep against the walls.

"There are thousands here," he stated. "The air-conditioning system was not designed for this press of bodies in this area. The temperature is rising already. Nobody cares."

About 10:30 a.m., "the clapping starts at the E-Ring [the outermost Pentagon ring] and is low, sustained, hearty. It is an applause with a deep emotion behind it as it moves forward in a wave down the length of the hallway. A steady rolling wave of sound it is, moving at the pace of the soldier in the wheelchair who marks the forward edge with his presence. He is the first. He is missing the greater part of one leg, and some of his wounds are still suppurating."

"Captains, majors, lieutenant colonels and colonels meet his gaze and nod as they applaud, soldier to soldier," he stated.

About 25 to 30 wounded soldiers are honored at each session, and they are then hosted at a private lunch held by generals.

"Some are wheeled along," he stated. "Some insist upon getting out of their chairs, to march as best they can with their chin held up, down this hallway, through this most unique audience."

Family members often join them, including a 18-year-old war bride who pushed her 19-year-old husband"s wheelchair and an older Hispanic couple who walked along with their wounded 20-year-old son.

"No man in that hallway, walking or clapping, is ashamed by the silent tears on more than a few cheeks," Col. Bateman said. "An Airborne Ranger wipes his eyes only to better see. A couple of the officers in this crowd have themselves been a part of this parade in the past. These are our men, broken in body they may be, but they are our brothers, and we welcome them home."

  • Bill Gertz covers the Pentagon. He can be reached at 202/636-3274 or at

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