When I first read about Strategic Operations Inc. (or ‘STOPS’), I thought it was a hoax. This is how their company website describes what they do:
Strategic Operations Inc. (STOPS), on the lot of Stu Segall Productions, a full-service TV / movie studio, provides Hyper-Realistic™ training services and products for military, law enforcement, and other organizations responsible for homeland security.
The company employs state-of-the-art Hollywood battlefield special effects, combat wound effects, medical simulation systems, role players, subject matter experts, Combat Training Coordinators, and training scenarios to create training environments that are the most unique in the industry.
Since 2002 STOPS has provided Hyper-Realistic™ training support to more than 700,000 Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Coast Guard personnel prior to deployment to Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
STOPS introduced “The Magic of Hollywood” to live military training by employing all the techniques of film and TV production integrated with military tactics, techniques, and procedures.
The result has influenced how live, military training is currently being conducted in the military.
Hyper-Realistic™ is now an often-stated goal to be achieved in the training world.
I had to find out if this military contractor was for real, so I contacted the National Defense Industrial Association. The NDIA was able to confirm that Strategic Operations Inc. is a corporate member. So, sadly, ‘yes’ STOPS is a real company.
(It may interest readers to know that STOPS also claims ‘affiliation’ with the US Naval Institute, but when I contacted the USNI they informed me that companies can’t be members. STOPS, the for-profit corporate entity, has no affiliation with the USNI.)
Before I get going I need to make something absolutely clear: I am not against better training for soldiers, especially if it legitimately decreases their chance of developing any type of illness. I have a very big problem with private contractors who promise soldiers health benefits which they have no reason to believe they can deliver. I have a very big problem with has-been Hollywood moguls who want to exploit the painfully young men and women who sign up to fight for their country.
Below is a Youtube video that STOPS created to explain their services. (Note, this video is posted as “Stu Segall Strategic Operations Video Business Card” with Segall’s company logo in the intro. However, the contact information for a different company is also provided http://www.hit-t.com ; firstname.lastname@example.org; (858) 967-5666.)
I encourage you to watch the video above, because it shows the, er, ‘quality’ of the services provided. All “the magic of Hollywood”, for sure!
If you don’t have time for the Youtube video, this is a photograph of “role players” which comes from Strategic Operations Inc’s ‘Services‘ page:
Perhaps the ugliest thing about Strategic Operations Inc is their claim to provide “stress inoculation” for military clients. “Stress inoculation” sounds dangerously close to ‘vaccine for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder’. Does Strategic Operations offer any scientifically-based evidence for their claim to improve soldiers’ health? Here’s what they say:
The value of HYPER-REALISTIC™ Training
A Defense Science Board task force found that the probability of being a casualty decreases significantly after the first few “decisive combats”. At our training laboratory you can test your equipment, your methods, and your tactics – in real world conditions – without the real world casualties. This is the value of Hyper-Realistic™ training.
Researchers from the Naval Health Research recently studied Marines training in the Infantry Immersion Trainer (IIT) at Camp Pendleton. They evaluated training participants for stress reactivity, mitigation, and inoculation. The researchers measured salivary cortisol and alpha amylase levels in Marines prior to – and after – immersion in this Hyper-Realistic™ environment. Results in this on-going study found that the “acute stress response to the IIT training is substantial”. Salivary hormone levels also found that this type of “IIT training provided a stress inoculation effect” (“Stress Reactions and Mitigation in Immersive Training”, 31 March 2009).
STOPS appears to be comparing their stage-sets to actual battle experience. I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV… I probably don’t have to point this out to anolen.com readers, but for training to desensitize a person to the threat of being shot at or blown up, that training needs to involve a credible threat of being shot at or blown up. An extra writhing in a fat suit is nothing like watching a kid bleed out or lose a leg; I believe that to suggest these two things have something meaningful in common is not only callous, but soulless. Soulless like the TV producers who turned Bulgakov’s The Embroidered Towel into slippery slap-stick around the body of a dying child.
After confusing TV with real life, STOPS makes an extraordinary claim: that the stress induced by their stage-sets is “substantial” enough to “inoculate” soldiers against further stress. STOPS doesn’t link to the study they reference. I contacted IIT about the study and I am still waiting for IIT to get back to me; I also contacted STOPS, same problem.
Let’s give Mr. Segall’s company the benefit of the doubt: let’s say that this study exists AND that its conclusions are what STOPS claims them to be. If STOPS has been inoculating hundreds of thousands of soldiers against stress since 2002, then surely PTSD data would reflect that? Unfortunately for Mr. Segall, the data say that PTSD is getting worse.
According to the US Department of Veteran’s Affairs, PTSD incidence ‘at the time of study’ was 15.2% of males and 8.1% of females for Vietnam Veterans (study conducted 1986-88); 10.1% for Gulf War Veterans (study conducted 1995-97); and a 2008 study of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom (Afghanistan and Iraq) service members found 13.8% PTSD prevalence.
The data are even more grim if you believe the National Institute of Health, which claims the following:
The point prevalence of combat-related PTSD reported across studies of US combat veterans ranges from about 2–17%; and lifetime prevalence about 6–31% [2,3,17–19,25–37]. Point prevalence rates from veterans of the Vietnam War ranges from 2.2% – 15.2% [2,3,25–28]. Among Persian Gulf War veterans, PTSD rates reported are between 1.9% – 13.2% [30–39] and from veterans of the current conflict in the Middle East, PTSD point prevelance is reported from 4%–17.1% [17–19]. See Table 1 for a summary of studies.
It seems that despite “the magic of Hollywood”, veterans’ PTSD problems are only getting worse.
But perhaps by “stress inoculation” Mr. Segall and his colleagues are being more cynical: perhaps they’re only marketing a product that will stop young people “freezing up” in battle, a sort of anti-Combat-Stress-Reaction ‘vaccine’. There’s very little scientific evidence to back up this claim either, the best I could find relates to PTSD treatment– as stated in this 2013 paper on pre-deployment training and combat stress:
Furthermore, there has been little research examining military specific protective factors, such as pre-deployment preparedness, on PTSD treatment response.
That paper goes on to state the following:
There was preliminary support for the moderating effect of pre-deployment preparedness on the association between combat exposure and treatment response. Together, these findings suggest that increased combat exposure is associated with poor treatment response in veterans with PTSD; however, this can be reduced by elevated pre-deployment preparedness.
None of that says anti-stress, nor anti-CSR, nor anti-PTSD “inoculation” to me. Neither does it say increased battlefield effectiveness. In fact, according to the US Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventative Medicine, responses that are “simple and instinctive (like running or freezing)” are unlikely to be impaired by threatening situations, so it’s unclear to me that a soldier with a flight/fight/freeze problem would be helped by ‘Hyper-Realistic ™’ training. (Read the US Army’s Stress and Combat Performance factsheet here: Stress-and-Combat.)
In conclusion, I think we can throw ‘Hyper-Realistic™’ training in the ‘snake oil’ basket. I’m reminded of what J. Kirk Wiebe said in his USAToday interview video on Snowden:
The other piece of this was we weren’t just trying to talk about privacy, the way that the government was going about deriving intelligence from digital data flows was poor form, uninformed. There seemed to be more of a desire to contract out, cause a money flow, than there was to actually perform the mission. And Tom [Drake] can tell you– is professionally trained in how major organizations acquire major capabilities, and he saw none of it, right Tom?
Col G.I. Wilson described contractors’ parasitism a different way in his landmark essay, Careerism and Psychopathy in the US Military Leadership:
The Department of Defense (DOD) that I have observed all too closely for over three decades is an overgrown bureaucracy committed to standing still for, if not actively promoting, poorly conceived policy agendas and hardware programs funded and supported by Congress. Coupled to that is the task of attracting the blind loyalty of senior military and civilian actors on the Washington, D.C. stage. For the careerists in America’s national security apparatus, it is all about awarding contracts and personal advancement, not winning wars.
Companies like Strategic Operations Inc. are parasites which grow fat off the “money flow” around the US military/industrial complex. Every dollar that’s spent on STOPS is one that isn’t spent on working equipment for soldiers, or healthcare for veterans. So who are these creeps?
“Strategic Operations has changed the face of tactical training by introducing to the training world “Hollywood” movie and TV-making techniques to make live training as realistic as safely possible. This innovation has been made possible by Stu Segall who brings to Strategic Operations more than 35 years experience as a producer of feature films, television movies and shows.”
Stu makes the trashy programming that American television is infamous for. He started working with Stephen J. Cannell Productions in 1984 and produced the television series Hunter for NBC. In 1991 He made Silk Stalkings in the San Diego studio he founded. His other projects include: Renegade, Pensacola, Wings of Gold, Invisibleman, The Chronicle, 18 Wheels of Justice, High Tide, Cover Me, Rising Son, Veronica Mars, Desire and Secret Obsessions.
“Stu Segall Productions is now one of the largest independent TV and film studios in America … Stu Segall Productions has produced for ABC, Beacon, CBS, Disney Channel, Fox, NBC, Paramount, Showtime, Sony/Columbia/Tri-Star, Studios USA, Universal, UPN and Warner Brothers.” Classy character. You can contact him here.
Kit Lavell, Executive Vice President
Lavell “flew 243 combat missions as a Naval Aviator in Vietnam” and writes about warfare in his free time. He’s also found a way to make money out of affordable housing in California– who knew?!
“Kit has been an executive with the City of San Diego, has served on the board of directors of the national POW/MIA Freedom Foundation, the Vietnam Veterans Leadership Project, and has worked with disadvantaged veterans, for which he received a Presidential Citation. He has served on various boards and commissions for the City and County of San Diego.
He was the recipient of the California Affordable Housing Award presented by the Governor for innovative housing projects for the elderly and handicapped.”
Russ Lowell, Chief Financial Officer
Lowell is an accountant who served in the Navy and worked for L-3 Communications and General Electric– so he knows both sides of the military.
“Russ brings 25 years of management experience to STOPS spanning a broad spectrum of industries, including manufacturing, software development, R&D and wireless.” Let me guess… besides keeping track of the money Russ wires up the remote-control exploding Styrofoam cars?
“For the past 10 years, he [Russ Lowell] has been associated with companies providing homeland protection, and high-tech military hardware.”
Kevin Waskow, Vice President of Contracts
Waskow is Segall’s adept to the magical world of military contracting, where the right connections will get you something for nothing.
“Kevin retired from the Navy as a Commander in March 2005. During his career he was certified Defense Acquisition Workforce Level 3 in Contracting and in Business, Cost Estimating and Financial Management. He was a selected member of the Acquisition Professional Community. ” Band of Acquisition Brothers!
“After retirement he returned to Baghdad as a contractor working at the Joint Contracting Command – Iraq/Afghanistan. He has been with Strategic Operations since February 2007.”
John “Rick” Bowen, Training Operations
Bowen is an ex-marine who helps Segall’s team of Hollywood professionals make the “magic” happen for hundreds of thousands of US service people.
“He [John Bowen] also spent time at the Naval Air Systems Command aboard Patuxent River, Maryland as a Deputy Program Manager for Marine and Navy H-1 Helicopters where he supervised – procurement, engineering, logistics, and budget – of all H-1 support.”
“His time with the Marines included multiple deployments to locales throughout the world; to include Japan, Korea, Russia, South Africa, Switzerland, Canada, Qatar, and Afghanistan – with multiple combat tours in Iraq. John transitioned from the Marine Corps as a Lieutenant Colonel in the summer of 2010 and joined the Strategic Operations Team as a Project Manager focusing on Marine Corps operations.”
Jeffrey “Steve” Markham, Director of Medical Products and Services
Markham is another Navy veteran:
“Steve is a 23 year Navy veteran who served 19 of those years as a Reconnaissance Corpsman with the Marine Corps, most recently as the Navy Senior Enlisted Leader and the acting Command Master Chief of the 1st Marine Division.”
“Deploying eight times, four into combat zones, Steve has experienced combat in both Afghanistan and Iraq. He served in leadership positions at all organizational levels in and out of combat zones that included 1st Marine Division Navy Senior Enlisted Leader, Regimental Senior Chief in Afghanistan, Recon Battalion Leading Chief Petty Officer (LCPO), Company Operations Chief, Company LPO, Assistant Platoon Sergeant, and Reconnaissance team member.”
There are more men on Strategic Operations Inc’s “team”, but they’re Canadians and Brits, so I’m going to pick my battles.
I’m less disgusted with Stu Segall, because a glance at his prior career will show readers that he’s just doing what it’s in his nature to do. I could get mad at Stu for being a soulless user of broken institutions, but that would be like getting mad at a dog for sh*tting in my front yard. Dogs poop. Men like Stu start companies like ‘Strategic Operations Inc’.
I have visceral disgust for the veterans on Stu’s “team”. You guys ought to know better. You’re participating in the exploitation of a lot of young people; young people who’ll never have the safety nets nor job opportunities that your generation enjoyed. You’re using people who are just like you were once, and you’re doing it at the taxpayer’s expense. How do you live with yourselves? Are the values you’re working by the values you want to teach your children?
Or, perhaps, this callous indifference to other people is why these men were promoted and sat out their military careers in the first place…
How do we fix this problem? I’ll quote Col. Wilson again:
Careerists serve for all the wrong reasons. They weaken national defense, rob the military of its warrior ethos and drive away the very highly principled mavericks that we need to reverse the decay. This can only be remedied by rekindling the time honored principles of military service (i.e. duty, honor, country) among both officers and civilians.
As Americans, we all must exercise more care and caution in our appraisal of our senior military officers and the Washington “suits” that exert dominating influence on the cost of defense and the conduct of American national security policy.
And where the rubber meets the road…
How do we fix this? Part of the answer is military reform ushered in by drastic budget cuts to hardware programs. Col. Michael Wyly, U.S. Marine Corps, ret., who is held in high respect, seeks a culture where a warrior class of “mavericks” is accepted and those who place themselves above the time-honored principles of military service (duty, honor, country) find themselves on the outside looking in.