EDITOR’S NOTE: Three years ago today, I shared news about a man in Ferguson, Mo., — yes, the same town where the Michael Brown incident took place in August 2014 — who was fighting for the right to grow food in his garden without first obtaining permission from the city. Below I share that story again, along with an update and some observations.
On April 23, 2012, Karl Tricamo received a citation from the city of Ferguson, Mo., for gardening without permission.
During World War I and World War II, it was considered one’s patriotic duty to plant a “victory garden” in order to reduce food costs. Doing such a thing today, however, could result in one man having to pay a hefty fine or worse if officials in the backward city of Ferguson, Mo., get their way.
According to a news release from Dave Roland at the Freedom Center of Missouri, Karl Tricamo never imagined that it would be especially controversial when he decided to plant a garden in his yard in order to secure cheap, nutritious, organic produce for his family. Just to be sure, however, he looked up all of the relevant ordinances in the city just north of St. Louis and confirmed that he would not be violating any laws.
Tricamo found that nothing in the ordinances prohibit citizens from growing healthy, organic produce on one’s property. In fact, the city’s zoning ordinances specifically allow residents to cultivate community gardens and urban agricultural uses in residential areas.
Because he planted the garden in front of his house instead of behind it, Ferguson city officials soon began to pester Tricamo, going so far as suggesting that his garden was illegal. Roland described the chain of events that followed:
In March, shortly after he had tilled the garden in preparation for planting, the city sent a letter commanding that the yard be covered in straw and planted with grass seed – even though nothing in the city ordinances requires yards to be planted with grass or prohibits the planting of a garden on residential property.
Six weeks later city officials sent another letter demanding the removal of the vegetables from his yard because the property was not zoned for “agricultural” use, but of course the relevant section of Ferguson’s zoning ordinances explicitly allows gardens to be grown in residential areas. Then the City sent Mr. Tricamo a notice (below) alleging a violation of Ferguson ordinance number 7-133 – but that ordinance addresses the structural elements of residential buildings such as foundations, walls, windows and doors, stairways, chimneys, gutters, roofs, and buildings’ exterior surfaces. It says nothing about yards.
When Mr. Tricamo confronted the City about this violation notice, they rapidly backtracked and claimed that it had been sent by accident! The City said he should disregard the notice, but have continued to insist that Tricamo’s garden is illegal.
According to Roland, this situation illustrates a common practice among some city officials; when all else fails in their attempt to control citizens’ behavior, they sometimes just make stuff up.
UPDATE: Barely three weeks after publishing the article above, I received another news release from Roland. Dated July 26, 2012, it contained the paragraph below which summed up the outcome of the case:
The Board of Adjustment took up the matter on Wednesday evening and heard arguments from the City, Mr. Roland, Mr. Tricamo, and several members of the community. In addition to the legal arguments that the Freedom Center advanced, the testimony pointed out the growing movement in favor of organic, locally-grown produce and the well-documented challenges that low-income families face in finding reasonably priced vegetables in grocery stores. In the end, four of the five members of the Board of Adjustment agreed that Ferguson’s zoning laws do not prohibit citizens from growing gardens in residential areas. Ferguson’s residents are free to grow vegetables in their yards as long as they are not violating a specific ordinance or endangering the public health or safety.
In light of events that put Ferguson on the world map for all the wrong reasons some 25 months later, I suspect many city residents and officials wish this gardening fiasco had been the worst of their troubles.
Thirty Americans died in Afghanistan Aug. 6, 2011, according to a DoD news release issued five days later. All had been aboard a U.S. military helicopter, call sign “Extortion 17.” Among those on board were 25 Special Operations Forces personnel, including 17 U.S. Navy SEALs. Though it became the most-deadly incident in the history of Naval Special Warfare, it has received scant public attention.
Click on image to read DoD News Release Aug. 11, 2011.
As a former Air Force public affairs officer, I have virtually no first-hand familiarity with SOF, though I have had many opportunities to speak with SOF members and even wrote a book, Three Days In August, about one of them.
Today, I count as friends many veterans boasting decades of SOF experience under their belts. In an email message yesterday, one of those friends, a former Army Green Beret, shared his expert observations and raised some serious questions about the extremely-controversial of the Extortion 17 mission. The text of his sometimes-graphic message appears below:
What makes Special Operations Forces (SOF) great is the attention to detail — every detail.
All SOF missions require isolation prior to missions. In my community, we isolated all parties involved until wheels up. Our host-nation military guys never knew where we were going or who was going until we got off the aircraft, vehicle, boat, etc. No need to tell them, because you train for many different types of missions (i.e., raid, ambush, hostage rescue, etc.). The person or place doesn’t matter.
On a typical mission, the team conducts mission planning down to infiltration and exfiltration. We, the team, decide how it will be done. We, the team, submit our plan to our group commander who, depending on risk assessment and who it is we are going after, contacts the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force (CJSOTF). Every theater has one. The CJSOTF person makes direct contact with the Secretary of Defense. Once the “green light” is given for the plan, it is the responsibility of CJSOTF to arrange the assets needed to conduct the mission. Once the team is notified of the green light, “dry runs” are conducted — if, that is, it isn’t a time-sensitive mission. The dry runs involve everyone on the team.
Half the team conducts infiltration, actions on the objective and exfiltration with host-nation personnel. At no time are the host-nation personnel told the mission’s five W’s — who, what, where, when and why. Meanwhile, the other half of the team gets current intelligence reports and works to coordinate needed assets (i.e., air, MEDEVAC, artillery, fast movers, etc.).
Generally, two to three team members go to the aviation unit and conduct an “air brief” with the commander of the aviation unit as well as their intelligence, weather and flight operations personnel. There, they are briefed on the five W’s and instructed by team members about where and how they will fly, where they will land, the location of pick-up points and about contingencies. They are given Rules of Engagement for the escort gun ships on “gun runs,” and the communication frequency for all is shared at this time.
Once the air brief is completed, those personnel link back up with the whole team for a mission brief. After final checks are done, movement to the flight line takes place. Weapons are placed in “red” status (i.e., has a round in the chamber and the safety is on), communication is checked, accountability is checked, and away you go.
Now, there is a large distinction between a Green Beret mission and a Navy SEALs mission. Green Berets primarily train and conduct various missions with host-nation soldiers. SEALs and Delta primarily do not. Delta uses Ranger Regiment, and SEALs use more of their own — or Green Beret or some host-nation personnel. In all of my time with SOF, I never saw a SEAL team conduct a mission with host-nation personnel UNLESS the SEALs were assigned to us.
I have worked with, through, and by SEALs, and I’m sure every SEAL has done the same with Green Berets. My point: The SEALs were directed by someone to take these host-nation troops with them. Now, that same person allowed those personnel to change out. This violates the Mission Decision-Making Process, the Bible for all military operations.
Now I know the family is upset about the age of the aircraft and the fact it was a “D” model versus an “H” model. The ONLY unit with the MH-47H is the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), a group known as the Night Stalkers. While every SOF unit (i.e., Green Beret, SEAL, Delta) team requests them for their missions, there are not enough of those aircraft to meet all of the requests.
When the team says they are doing a air infiltration, they request the air assets required. Prior to the air brief, they will know what platforms are available. For instance, they will be told, “You asked for 10 helicopters and you only get 3,” or “You asked for fast movers at 0330 hrs, but they can’t get on station until 0415 hrs,” and so on. By the end of the briefing, team members know who is available to cover their asses all the way down to the drone in the sky.
The MH-47H is a SOF-only aircraft built specifically for night operations. It emits a small radar signature and carries formidable countermeasures, including — but not limited to — two mini-guns and one .50-caliber machine gun. All crew members, including the flight crew, are assigned and trained by SOF.
Conversely, crew members aboard the CH-47D come from the ranks of the conventional forces and are not trained in the MH-47H capabilities. The CH-47D is equipped with basic countermeasures, including two 5.56mm M249 SAW machine guns. That’s it!
To be in the 160th, everyone — pilots included — must pass the same rigorous selection process as everyone else in SOF. Pilots, who go through Survival, Escape, Resistance, Evasion (SERE) School, must have been a regular aviation brigade member for at least four years before applying. In most cases, and depending upon the risk assessment, non-SOF aircraft would not be allowed to go on missions involving high-value targets in hostile areas. Long and short, the CJSOTF air commander would be the one coordinating this, responsible to locate and coordinate all air assets to include Quick-Reaction Force (QRF) air frames as well as fast movers, drones, etc.
U.S. Navy SEALs offload an all-terrain vehicle from an MH-47 Chinook helicopter following a village-clearing operation in Shah Wali Kot district, Kandahar province, Afghanistan, June 21, 2011. Operations such as these are conducted in order to promote the Government of Afghanistan, while denying Taliban influence throughout the province. The SEALs are with Special Operations Task Force ? South. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Daniel P. Shook/Released)
By now, you’re asking, “What does all of this mean?” The items below explain things in a nutshell while raising important questions:
1) No aircraft goes out without escorts or layers of escorts.
2) The team commander had to be ordered to take host-nation personnel with him and to change out those personnel. Who gave that order?
3) Someone in the aviation unit would also have to approve the manifest change and would have the name of the person who authorized the change on the manifest. Who changed the manifest?
4) When, until now, was there ever a funeral with U.S. and host-nation personnel together. In all of my time in combat, I never saw it happen. Why did it happen in this case?
5) How many personnel since this war started has the government cremated? Again, I personally worked a crash with four U.S. personnel and one host-nation soldier that burned. I personally pulled three torsos out of the wreckage — there were no legs, arms or skull above the jaws — and I placed them into three separate body bags. I waited for the the forensic doctor who would perform the autopsy to arrive and, for four hours, we sifted through the wreckage for the remaining body parts and personnel effects. We had a sixth bag that we put the pieces in for DNA testing. I went to the funeral for the four U.S. personnel. The host nation held a funeral at a mosque on the installation. I tell you this to let you know great care is given to the dead, no matter how the person dies or how gruesome it is. Every Soldier, Sailor, Marine and Airman deserves to rest on American soil, and deserves to come home.
6) What assets were deployed to recover the personnel and what was the time line for those efforts?
7) The operations order would have listed a QRF assigned to the mission. Who were they and from what base/location did they come?
These are but a few of the questions that remain about Extortion 17.
During a May 9 news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., several family members of the fallen warriors raised similar questions and were joined by a number of high-ranking, now-retired SOF members who did the same. The news conference is captured in its entirety in the 3-hour video below. Worth every minute of time you spend watching it, I hope you will watch it, share it and demand your elected officials in Washington obtain answers from the Pentagon and the Obama Administration to the questions raised about Extortion 17.
Our men and women in uniform deserve nothing less.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The story above was published for the first time June 4, 2013. I share it again today, because Americans need to remember it and not be satisfied until they get answers.
On Facebook this week, I shared a photo of Butters, my office assistant, inspecting newly-arrived copies of my just-released crime-fiction novel, The National Bet.
Monday, Nov. 17: In advance of the much-anticipated grand jury decision about the Michael Brown shooting death in Ferguson, Mo., I asked an important question about the Metropolitan St. Louis Police Department’s apparent use of illegal surveillance equipment known. In addition, I shared a John Oliver video about I think all Americans should watch. Adding to the mix, I shared a book excerpt from my first crime-fiction thriller, The National Bet, and ended the day by sharing details of letters written by Soldiers in support of a wrongly-convicted fellow Green Beret.
Tuesday, Nov. 18: I revealed details of how the storyline in The National Bet draws from real-world issues, including some directly ties to the mainstream news media’s reporting — or lack thereof — on important issues of the day.
Friday, Nov. 21: After sharing news about DIA’s Throwback Thursday piece spotlighting now-Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., I did some more writing and spent a little time plotting my one-man takeover of the book publishing industry.
Saturday, Nov. 22: TBD.
FYI ABOUT LAST WEEK’S FYI: The documentary film crew from Los Angeles will be coming to the St. Louis area to interview me for two to three days during the second week of January — right after I return from a speaking engagement in Orlando. Though I still can’t divulge details about the people behind the project, I can tell you they’re interested in the subject matter of my book, The Clapper Memo. As an aside, I can tell you my three sons, who range in age from 17 to 24, believe my appearance in this documentary will increase my “cool factor” exponentially among those in the young adult/under-30 crowd.
For links to other articles as well as photos and commentary, join me on Facebook and Twitter.
Click on image above (if you dare) to read full article on DNI website.
Released by the Defense Intelligence Agency Office of Corporate Communications, this nostalgic piece begins by reminding all of how then-Air Force Lt. Gen. James R. Clapper Jr. was sworn in as the DIA’s 11th director Nov. 18, 1991. It ends by noting that Clapper now serves as director of national intelligence. I, however, am more interested in an action Clapper took while serving as Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, before he assumed his present role as our nation’s top intelligence official.
As our nation’s fourth USDI in October 2007, Clapper issued a memo in which he declared the polygraph to be the only credibility assessment technology authorized for use by employees of the Department of Defense. In doing that, according to Army Green Berets and Navy SEALs with whom I spoke during a four-year investigation into the federal government’s use of credibility assessment technologies, he effectively removed the best interrogation technology in existence from warfighters’ toolkits.
To understand the serious implications of Clapper’s directive, read some of the endorsements of the book — including two from retired, high-ranking military officers — that appear near the bottom of this page. To learn even more, order a copy of The Clapper Memo.