Thunderbirds wow Las Vegas with tribute flight to healthcare workers in COVID-19 crisis - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY SURVIVAL

Thunderbirds wow Las Vegas with tribute flight to healthcare workers in COVID-19 crisis

The U.S. Air Force flight demonstration team, the Thunderbirds, performed an inspiring flyover of the greater Las Vegas area on Saturday, April 11, 2020 in honor of healthcare workers and first responders working during the international COVID-19 crisis.

The flight, which included all six of the Thunderbird F-16s in wedge formation along with at least two camera aircraft accompanying the aircraft, took place at 2:30 PM local Las Vegas time and was watched by hundreds of thousands of spectators who were separated all over Las Vegas by social distancing guidelines.


Vegas Goes Blue Flyover

www.youtube.com

Local media, aviation photographers around Las Vegas, and the Thunderbirds produced some sensational visuals of the event. Interestingly, the team carried out the flyover in 5 instead of 6 jets because, according to local spotters, one of the F-16s experienced a birdstrike shortly after taking off from Nellis Air Force Base.

One fascinating photo featured on the local Las Vegas Review Journal social media pages showed the Thunderbird formation flying over the famous Luxor pyramid-shaped hotel with five “Janet Airlines” Boeing 737s parked at McCarran International Airport. The aircraft, perhaps the “worst kept secret in the world”, fly personnel to several classified test facilities around the western U.S.

A statement on the official Air Force Thunderbirds Twitter page said, “We salute the healthcare workers and first responders who are at the forefront of our nation’s fight against COVID-19. They are an inspiration for the entire country during these challenging times and it was an honor to fly for them today.”

Thunderbirds wow Las Vegas with tribute flight to healthcare workers in COVID-19 crisis

The Thunderbirds shared their flyover time and route across social media before the flight so people in Las Vegas could view the flyover while maintaining social distancing guidelines.

(Photos Credit: 57th Wing Commander via Facebook)

One photo also showed special markings applied to the lower, ventral fins on the Thunderbird F-16s with the social media hashtag #vegasgoesblue in honor of healthcare workers.

Thunderbirds wow Las Vegas with tribute flight to healthcare workers in COVID-19 crisis

The Thunderbirds F-16s showed up with new, special markings for the flyover.

(Photos Credit: Air Force Thunderbirds via Facebook)

Nellis AFB, just outside Las Vegas, Nevada, has a long history of supporting the community through triumph and tragedy under the leadership of 57th Wing Commander Brig. Gen. Robert G. Novotny. Following the tragic October 1, 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, the 57th Wing honored health care workers, first responders, survivors and memorialized victims of the tragedy with two specially painted aircraft, an F-16 and an F-15, wearing the moniker “Vegas Strong”.

Thunderbirds wow Las Vegas with tribute flight to healthcare workers in COVID-19 crisis

First responders around Las Vegas maintained social distancing while watching the Thunderbird flyover.

(Photos Credit: 57th Wing Commander via Facebook)

Brig. Gen. Novotny and the entire 57th Wing, have consistently led the U.S. military’s effective use of social media not only with the public affairs outreach by the Thunderbirds, but through a host of other initiatives that showcase the Air Force mission and personnel performing the Air Force mission every day at Nellis AFB and around the world.

The version below includes the air-to-air comms.

www.facebook.com

This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Trump hits Turks with sanctions in a row over US pastor

The US has imposed sanctions on two top Turkish officials on Aug. 1, 2018, in a long-standing dispute over Turkey’s detention of an American pastor.

The US Treasury Department targeted Turkey’s Minister of Justice Abdulhamit Gul and its Minister of Interior Suleyman Soylu, whom they say played a major role in the arrest and detention of the evangelical Christian pastor Andrew Brunson.


“Pastor Brunson’s unjust detention and continued prosecution by Turkish officials is simply unacceptable,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “President Trump has made it abundantly clear that the United States expects Turkey to release him immediately.”

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders reiterated the Justice Department’s words at a press briefing Aug. 1, 2018, and said that Trump had personally ordered the sanctions against the officials who played “leading roles” in Brunson’s arrest.

Thunderbirds wow Las Vegas with tribute flight to healthcare workers in COVID-19 crisis

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Brunson,50, is originally from North Carolina, and has led a small congregation in the coastal Turkish city of Izmir since 1993.

He was arrested in 2016 and has been accused of orchestrating a failed military coup attempt against Turkish President President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He has been imprisoned in Turkey for the last 21 months on espionage charges, though he was moved to house arrest last month because of health concerns.

Brunson has denied any wrongdoing. He faces up to 35 years in jail if convicted.

There are suspicions that Brunson’s detention could be politically motivated. Erdogan has openly suggested a high-level strategic swap with the US in exchange for Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish preacher living in Pennsylvania who has been accused of masterminding the 2016 coup attempt.

Since the failed coup, Erdogan has instituted sweeping executive powers, which allow him to select his own cabinet, regulate ministries and remove civil servants, all without parliamentary approval.

Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for 15 years, was sworn in as president in July 2018. Opponents say his newly enforced executive powers have lurched the country towards authoritarianism .

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Articles

This is the Russian infantry weapon that has the US military so worried

Soviet military weapons have an odd tendency to stay both dangerous and relevant decades after they’re issued. They might lack the creature comforts and modularity of modern firearm designs, but whether a bullet finds its mark from a World War I Mosin Nagant rifle, or a next generation Russian bullpup SVD sniper rifle, the result is the same.


The largest example of this, is the infamous AKM/AK-47. Every tin-pot dictatorship or ex-Soviet satellite nation has churned out terrifying numbers of these reliable automatic rifles. While the AKM is a deadly adversary at close and medium range, it is handily outclassed (both in accuracy, and effective range) by modern Western-made military rifles like the M4A3 and M16A4.

That said, there is one Soviet firearm that continues to confound and frustrate American military forces in the Middle East: the PKM.

Thunderbirds wow Las Vegas with tribute flight to healthcare workers in COVID-19 crisis
The internal workings of the PKM aren’t dissimilar to those of the AK, and because of this, the PKM is remarkably reliable and resilient to negligent treatment. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

The PKM or Modernizirovanniy Pulemyot Kalashnikova (PK Machinegun Modernized) is a belt-fed, open-bolt, long-stroke light machine gun chambered in the hard-hitting 7.62x54R cartridge — the same round used by Russian infantry in World War I, Vietcong snipers in Indochina, and modern Russian Federation snipers wielding the infamous Dragunov.

The internal workings of the PKM aren’t dissimilar to those of the AK, and because of this, the PKM is remarkably reliable and resilient to negligent treatment.  This robust construction combined with its powerful cartridge, make for an extraordinarily dangerous weapon against Western militaries — especially since the PKM has an effective range of 1,000-1,500 meters, putting it on par or surpassing most DMR rifles, and light machine guns in service.

Personally, after firing less than 100 rounds through a stateside PKM at an ordnance-testing facility in Nevada, I was able to successfully engage human-sized steel targets with iron sights at 600 yards with frightening regularity. This was with 60-year-old ammunition out of a PKM built in the 1970s with more than a half-million rounds fired through it.

The threat posed by this LMG to American and NATO forces is not lost on military thinkers or modern weapon-makers. In fact, the PKM is the impetus behind the latest evolution of the medium machine gun – the lightweight, medium machine gun, or LWMMG.

Thunderbirds wow Las Vegas with tribute flight to healthcare workers in COVID-19 crisis
Marines with Company A, Infantry Training Battalion, School of Infantry-West (SOI-West), fire the M2A1 .50 caliber heavy machine gun as part of their basic infantry training Sept. 20, 2016, at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif. (Offical Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Joseph A. Prado/released)

Historically, machine guns are grouped into three categories: light, medium and heavy (and occasionally general purpose). The last two, medium and heavy, are crew-served weapons, normally fired from either a tripod or vehicle mount. These are generally not considered man-portable, but are designed to provide constant fire on an area.

The light machine gun, or LMG generally fires a smaller caliber round than the medium or heavy machine gun, and is designed to be used and transported by a single soldier. These weapons are fired from a bipod, but are light enough to be quickly repositioned in the field.

The 5.56mm caliber M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) is a prime example of a light machine gun, while the .50 BMG M2 is a perfect example of a heavy machine gun. The M2 is tremendously more effective at all ranges than the M249, but its tremendous weight and size make it a poor choice for urban environments.  The M240B almost splits the difference, but its 7.62 cartridge is still out-ranged by the Soviet PKM.

Thunderbirds wow Las Vegas with tribute flight to healthcare workers in COVID-19 crisis
The General Dynamics Lightweight Medium Machine Gun chambered in .338 Norma Magnum has the reach and lethality of a .50 cal M2. (Photo from General Dynamics video screen grab)

Thus the idea behind the LWMMG, is to combine the lightweight, portable nature of the the LMG with the extended range, and increased ballistic effectiveness of the MMG.

The engineers at General Dynamics are attempting this by incorporating a new “Short Recoil Impulse Averaging” method of operation coupled with a new modified .338 cartridge. At first glance, this seems like the scribblings of someone with no practical experience behind any of these weapon systems. On paper, a man-portable machine gun with the effective range of a .50 BMG, that weighed at little as the M240B with no more recoil than the 240, seems impossible.

If the footage of the new LWMMG released by General Dynamics is any indication, the new machine gun is more than just a concept. What remains to be seen, is whether or not the Pentagon puts enough importance on infantry combat and their equipment, to justify spending millions on upgrading it.

If nothing else, the likelihood of the General Dynamics LWMMG finding its way into the hands of US Special Forces is all but guaranteed. And while the increased effective range of the new cartridge is very impressive, the .338 round lacks the ballistic effectiveness of the .50 BMG. After all, it isn’t intended to double as an anti-material round, nor does it have the anti-vehicle lineage of the .50 BMG cartridge.

That said, the .338 is designed with an ideal ballistic coefficient in mind — meaning the projectile itself sails through the air with minimal resistance. In effect, this means the rounds travel closer to where the soldier aims them.

In the traditional role of an MMG or HMG, this is sometimes seen as detrimental, as the weapon is supposed to be used to provide a field of fire to an area. If the rounds are too precise, the area might be under less wide-spread fire, and potentially leave some enemy combatants unsuppressed.

However, in this case, precision is key. Since the impetus behind the design is to counter insurgent PKM/PKP light machine guns. Conceptually, this should allow our soldiers to out-range insurgent elements, as well as provide more accurate counter-fire.

As for results, we’ll have to wait and see if the idea gains more traction – and if it does, wait a few months or years for an official reports of its combat effectiveness to surface.

Humor

11 hilarious Marine memes that are freaking spot on

Marine humor is super dark and most people outside of our community will never understand it.


But it’s all good — so long as we’ve got these memes, we know we’re not alone.

Related: 9 military photos that will make you do a double take

1. Maybe this is why Marines are so obsessed with pull-ups (via Marine Corps Memes).

Thunderbirds wow Las Vegas with tribute flight to healthcare workers in COVID-19 crisis
And faster than a speeding bullet.

2. They must have been a 0311 Marine. But still saltier than a staff sergeant…

Thunderbirds wow Las Vegas with tribute flight to healthcare workers in COVID-19 crisis
And still gets more respect than any POG… ever.

3. When you’re so excited that you forget how to speak proper English.

Thunderbirds wow Las Vegas with tribute flight to healthcare workers in COVID-19 crisis
Yeah, what he said.

4. The main difference between a Marine and an Airman (via Pop Smoke).

Thunderbirds wow Las Vegas with tribute flight to healthcare workers in COVID-19 crisis
Killers vs. paper pushers.

Don’t Forget About: 11 memes that are way too real for every Corpsman

5. I can no longer see these rhyming pairs without hearing Taylor Swift… (via Military Memes).

Thunderbirds wow Las Vegas with tribute flight to healthcare workers in COVID-19 crisis
It’s all fun and games until gunny finds you skating this hard.

6. It’s the one injury prevention tip that isn’t endorsed by the safety NCO (via Military Memes).

Thunderbirds wow Las Vegas with tribute flight to healthcare workers in COVID-19 crisis
But hey, as long as that PFC lifts with his legs, he’ll probably be fine.

7. Becoming a Marine means you change forever.

Thunderbirds wow Las Vegas with tribute flight to healthcare workers in COVID-19 crisis
F*ck yeah, the change is forever! Semper Fi!

8. The Marine Corps Fashion show is very hit or miss.

Thunderbirds wow Las Vegas with tribute flight to healthcare workers in COVID-19 crisis
But you know you still want to bang one of them.

Also Read: 12 intense photos of the Army’s grueling sniper school

9. Don’t complain, boot.

Thunderbirds wow Las Vegas with tribute flight to healthcare workers in COVID-19 crisis
It’s better than using your toothbrush.

10. The legend has finally been proven.

Thunderbirds wow Las Vegas with tribute flight to healthcare workers in COVID-19 crisis
We never doubted it. We swear we didn’t.

11. Sgt. Pennywise was just named recruiter of the year. True story.

Thunderbirds wow Las Vegas with tribute flight to healthcare workers in COVID-19 crisis
Even his nameplate says Pennywise. That’s freakin’ classic!

MIGHTY TRENDING

As Iran tests missile tech, US warns against satellite launches

The United States has warned Iran not to proceed with “provocative” plans to launch three space vehicles, claiming they are “virtually identical” to nuclear-capable ballistic missiles and would violate a UN resolution.

“The United States will not stand by and watch the Iranian regime’s destructive policies place international stability and security at risk,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement on Jan. 3, 2019.


“We advise the regime to reconsider these provocative launches and cease all activities related to ballistic missiles in order to avoid deeper economic and diplomatic isolation,” he said, without specifying what steps the United States would take should Iran pursue the launch.

Pompeo said a launch of the three rockets, called Space Launch Vehicles (SLV), would violate UN Security Council Resolution 2231 of 2015.

The resolutions called on Tehran “not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.”

The resolutions were tied to the 2015 nuclear accord signed by Iran with six world powers — the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China, and Russia. It provided Tehran with some relief from financial sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program.

Thunderbirds wow Las Vegas with tribute flight to healthcare workers in COVID-19 crisis

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

(Photo by Mark Taylor)

U.S. President Donald Trump in May 2018 pulled out of the deal negotiated by his predecessor, Barack Obama, and began reimposing sanctions, a move that has hit the Iranian economy and its currency hard.

Trump said Tehran was violating the spirit of the accord by continuing to develop nuclear weapons and by supporting terrorist activity in the region — charges Iran has denied.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Jan. 3, 2019, also denied Pompeo’s newest allegations, saying the space launches and similar missile tests are vital for defense and not nuclear in nature.

He added that the United States itself was in breach of the nuclear accord and was “in no position to lecture anyone on it.”

In November 2018, Brigadier General Ghasem Taghizadeh, Iran’s deputy defense minister, said Tehran would launch three satellites into space “in the coming months.”

“These satellites have been built with native know-how and will be positioned in different altitudes,” he said.

News agencies in Iran have reported the satellites are for use in telecommunications and suggested a launch was imminent.

U.S. officials have consistently condemned Iranian missile tests and launches.

Pompeo on Dec. 1, 2018, assailed what he described as Iran’s testing of a medium-range ballistic missile “capable of carrying multiple warheads.”

Few details of the test were released by Tehran or Washington, but an Iranian spokesman reiterated that “Iran’s missile program is defensive in nature.”

On July 27, 2018, Iran launched its most advanced satellite-carrying rocket to date, the Simorgh, angering the United States and its allies.

U.S. officials said that type of technology is inherently designed to carry a nuclear payload, and the Pentagon said the technology can be used to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM).

The U.S. ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, in a letter to the Security Council at the time, said the launch “represents a threatening and provocative step by Iran.”

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

Articles

Paris-based ‘Charlie Hebdo’ magazine has a new cover taunting ISIS

In its new issue, the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo reacted to the gruesome attacks that shook Paris on Friday.


The cover depicted a man dancing around, with a bottle of Champagne in one hand and drinking out of a flute while the Champagne poured out of apparent bullet holes in his body. The text surrounding the image says: “They have arms. F— them. We have the Champagne!”

The cover was posted on social media ahead of the magazine’s release on Wednesday by a columnist for Charlie Hebdo, Mathieu Madénian.

Thunderbirds wow Las Vegas with tribute flight to healthcare workers in COVID-19 crisis
Photo: Twitter/@Mathieu Madénian

Last week’s attacks on Paris left at least 129 people dead and hundreds more injured, after a wave of shootings and suicide bombings at restaurants, bars, a concert hall, and a sports stadium. The incidents constituted the deadliest attack on French soil since World War II. The Islamic State group, also known as ISIS and ISIL, claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Charlie Hebdo was itself attacked early this year. On January 7, 12 people were killed in a shooting at Charlie Hebdo’s offices in Paris. Five others were killed in several related attacks throughout the capital, including a hostage situation at a Kosher market.

The magazine was targeted in part for its often controversial depictions of religious and political leaders, including the Prophet Muhammad.

The two men behind the Charlie Hebdo attacks, Said and Cherif Kouachi, had been well known to French authorities. Cherif had been jailed before and was reportedly influenced by a radical preacher in France.

Two days after the attack, a top cleric from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was intended as “revenge for the honor” of the Prophet Muhammad.

The slogan, “Je suis Charlie” — French for, “I am Charlie” — became a popular rallying cry across social media after the shootings. After the attacks, hundreds of thousands of people rallied in France and around the world to show their support for the victims and to defend free speech.

This week’s cover is already being shared widely on social media. It embodies a sentiment shared by many Parisians after the attacks: resilience.

Articles

DARPA is rolling out a robotic co-pilot

The Pentagon’s research arm is now demonstrating an entirely new level of aircraft autonomy which blends the problem-solving ability of the human mind with computerized robotic functions.


The Defense Advance Research Project Agency, or DARPA, program is called Aircrew Labor in Cockpit Automation System, or ALIAS.

A key concept behind ALIAS involves a recognition that while human cognition is uniquely suited to problem-solving and things like rapid reactions to fast-changing circumstances, there are many procedural tasks which can be better performed by computers, developers explained.

Thunderbirds wow Las Vegas with tribute flight to healthcare workers in COVID-19 crisis
A pilot prepares for flight in an F-22 Raptor. | US Air Force photo

ALIAS uses a software backbone designed with open interfaces along with a pilot-operated touchpad and speech recognition software. Pilots can use a touch screen or voice command to direct the aircraft to perform functions autonomously.

For instance, various check-list procedures and safety protocols such as engine status, altitude gauges, lights, switches and levers, can be more rapidly, safely and efficiently performed autonomously by computers.

“This involves the routine tasks that humans need to do but at times find mundane and boring. The ALIAS system is designed to be able to take out those dull mission requirements such as check lists and monitoring while providing a system status to the pilot. The pilot can concentrate on the broader mission at hand,” Mark Cherry, President and CEO of Aurora Flight Sciences, told Defense Systems in an interview.

The aircraft is able to perform a wide range of functions, such as activating emergency procedures, pitching, rolling, monitoring engine check lights, flying autonomously to pre-determined locations or “waypoints,” maneuvering and possibly employing sensors – without every move needing human intervention.

Developers explain that ALIAS, which has already been demonstrated by DARPA industry partners Lockheed Martin and Aurora Flight Sciences, can be integrated into a wide range of aircraft such as B-52s or large civilian planes.

Initial configurations of ALIAS include small aircraft such as a Cessna 208 Caravan, Diamond DA42 and Bell UH-1 helicopters, Cherry explained. The ALIAS system is able learn and operate on both single engine and dual-engine aircraft.

Both Lockheed and Aurora Flight Sciences have demonstrated ALIAS; DARPA now plans to conduct a Phase III down-select where one of the vendors will be chosen to continue development of the project.

As algorithms progress to expand into greater “artificial intelligence” functions, computers with increasingly networked and rapid processors are able to organize, gather, distill and present information by themselves. This allows for greater human-machine interface, reducing what is referred to as the “cognitive burden” upon pilots.

There are some existing sensors, navigational systems and so-called “fly-by-wire” technologies which enable an aircraft to perform certain functions by itself. ALIAS, however, takes autonomy and human-machine interface to an entirely new level by substantially advancing levels of independent computer activity.

In fact, human-machine interface is a key element of the Army-led Future Vertical Lift next-generation helicopter program planning to field a much more capable, advanced aircraft sometime in the 2030s.

It is certainly conceivable that a technology such as ALIAS could prove quite pertinent to these efforts; a Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstration Army ST program is already underway as a developmental step toward engineering this future helicopter. The intention of the FVL requirement, much like ALIAS, is to lessen the cognitive burden upon pilots, allowing them to focus upon and prioritize high-priority missions.

The human brain therefore functions in the role of command and control, directing the automated system to then perform tasks on its own, Cherry said.

“Help reduce pilot workload and increase safety in future platforms,” Cherry said.

Aircraft throttle, actuation systems and yokes are all among airplane functions able to be automated by ALIAS.

“It uses beyond line of sight communication which is highly autonomous but still flies like a predator or a reaper,” John Langford, CEO of Aurora Flight Sciences, told Defense Systems in an interview.

Due to its technological promise and success thus far, ALIAS was given an innovation award recently at the GCN Dig IT awards.

MIGHTY TRENDING

North Korea just returned the remains of 55 Korean War dead

The remains of US servicemen who died in North Korea during the Korean War were provided to the US military on July 27, 2018, after President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agreed to work on repatriation efforts during their June 2018 summit.

North Korea is estimated to have returned 55 sets of remains on the same day of the 65th anniversary of the armistice that paused Korean War hostilities. Around 5,300 US remains are still believed to be in North Korea.


“We are encouraged by North Korea’s actions and the momentum for positive change,” the White House said in a statement. “The United States owes a profound debt of gratitude to those American service members who gave their lives in service to their country and we are working diligently to bring them home.”

“It is a solemn obligation of the United States Government to ensure that the remains are handled with dignity and properly accounted for so their families receive them in an honorable manner.”

Thunderbirds wow Las Vegas with tribute flight to healthcare workers in COVID-19 crisis

A United Nations Honor Guard member carries remains during a dignified return ceremony at Osan Air Base, South Korea, July 27, 2018.

(Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kelsey Tucker)

The remains will be airlifted to a forensic lab in Hawaii, where the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency will perform identification tests, according to The Washington Post . The process will take several years and attempt to determine where the servicemen were missing or buried.

A formal repatriation ceremony will be held on Aug. 1, 2018, according to The White House.

Plans to return the remains appeared to be scuttled earlier in July 2018, after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo returned to the US after visiting North Korea for negotiations — following his visit, Pyongyang ramped up its rhetoric against the US in numerous propaganda messages and railroaded negotiations with US officials at the North-South Korean border.

If the remains are confirmed, the repatriation signals a win for Trump, who remained optimistic on their return after his first meeting with Kim at Singapore in June 2018. In a joint statement during the summit, Trump and Kim said their two countries would to work towards the “immediate repatriation” of US remains to “contribute to the peace and prosperity of the Korean Peninsula and of the world.”

“Great progress was made on the denuclearization of North Korea,” Trump said onTwitter in June 2018. “Hostages are back home, will be getting the remains of our great heroes back to their families, no missiles shot, no research happening, sites closing … Got along great with Kim Jong-un who wants to see wonderful things for his country.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Feds plan crackdown on refi schemes that target vets

Federal officials plan to crackdown on what they view as predatory lending schemes — reminiscent of the toxic practices seen during the housing boom — targeted at thousands of veterans nationwide who have VA home loans.


The abuses involve serial refinancings that generate hefty fees for lenders and loan brokers but leave borrowers in worse financial shape than they were before the transaction. Lenders are dangling teaser interest rates, “cash out” windfalls, and lower monthly payments, sometimes using shady marketing materials that resemble official information from the Department of Defense. Not infrequently, officials say, borrowers end up in negative equity positions, owing more on their loan balance than their house is worth.

Officials at the Government National Mortgage Association, better known as Ginnie Mae, say some veterans are being flooded with misleading refi offers and are signing up without assessing the costs and benefits. Some properties are being refinanced multiple times a year, thanks to “poaching” by lenders who aggressively solicit competitors’ recent borrowers to refi them again and roll the fees into a new loan balance.

Thunderbirds wow Las Vegas with tribute flight to healthcare workers in COVID-19 crisis
Image courtesy of USAF.

The costs to the veterans can far outweigh the relatively modest reductions in monthly payments. In an analysis of questionable refinancings, Ginnie Mae found “many” examples where the borrowers were persuaded to switch from a long-term fixed interest rate to a lower-rate, short-term adjustable, but saw the principal amount owed to the lender jump by thousands of dollars. In an average fixed-rate to adjustable-rate refi, according to data provided to me for this column, borrowers added $12,000 to their debt in order to reduce their monthly payment by $165. Just to break even on that deal would take more than six years, according to Ginnie Mae, and could push unsuspecting borrowers into negative equity.

A typical pitch for one of these loans was received recently by a veteran and his wife who live in Silver Spring, Md. Along with a fake “check” made out to the veteran in the amount of $30,000 — all he had to do to get the cash was sign up for a refi — were come-ons like this: a new 2.25 percent interest rate, no out-of-pocket expenses, a refund of his escrow money, and up to two months with zero mortgage payments.

Thunderbirds wow Las Vegas with tribute flight to healthcare workers in COVID-19 crisis
USAF photo by Staff Sgt. Kenny Holston

“Call now and lock in your rate before rates go any higher,” urged the lender. In small print on the back of the check were a couple of key disclosures: Homeowners would have to switch from their current 3.75 percent fixed rate to a “3/1” adjustable rate that could increase 36 months after closing and rise to as high as 7.25 percent during the life of the loan. There was nothing about fees or the fact that opting for the refi could add to the family’s debt load.

VA home loans are backed by the Department of Veterans Affairs and often have no down payment. Lenders who originate them receive guarantees of a portion of the loan amount against loss in the event of a default. Ginnie Mae bundles VA and Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans into mortgage bonds, which are then purchased by investors who receive guarantees of timely payments.

In an interview, Michael R. Bright, acting Ginnie Mae president, said some of the abuses he is seeing hark back to 2005 and 2006 — heyday years of the boom before the bust. “We’re seeing borrowers refinance three times in less than six months and (their) loan balances going up.” Homeowners also are dumping fixed-rate loans for riskier adjustables.

Thunderbirds wow Las Vegas with tribute flight to healthcare workers in COVID-19 crisis
Image from Wisconsin State Legislature.

“That was the play back then” during the boom, he said. Now it’s back.

Bright declined to name mortgage lenders who are most aggressively involved in abusive refis, but he said violators of agency rules face financial penalties and loss of eligibility to participate in bond offerings — essentially closing down their funding source.

Bottom line for VA borrowers: Look skeptically at all refi promotions. Run the numbers to see whether refinancing will leave you better off — or deeper in debt.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Mattis wants more data on women in combat arms

With so few women in combat arms right now, the services and Defense Department officials really can’t judge how successful the effort has been, Defense Secretary James N. Mattis told cadets at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia, Sept. 25, 2018.

“It’s a very, very tough issue because it goes from some people’s perspective of what kind of society do we want,” the secretary said. “In the event of trouble, you’re sleeping at night in your family home and you are the dad, mom, whatever. And you hear glass break downstairs. Who grabs a baseball bat and gets between the kids’ door and whoever broke in, and who reaches for the phone to call 911? In other words, it goes to the most almost primitive needs of a society to look out for its most vulnerable.”


At heart, this is the issue DoD faces, Mattis told the cadet who asked him what results he had seen. The question for the department comes down to whether it is a strength or a weakness to have women in the close-quarter infantry fight, Mattis said.

Then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta opened the door by removing the ban on women in combat jobs in 2013. In 2015, then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter directed the services to open all military occupational specialties to women. Currently, 356 women are combat arms soldiers, and 17 women have graduated from the Army’s Ranger School. The Marine Corps has 113 enlisted women and 29 officers in previously restricted specialties. Specifically in infantry, the Marine Corps has 26 enlisted Marines and one officer who are women.

Thunderbirds wow Las Vegas with tribute flight to healthcare workers in COVID-19 crisis

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

(DOD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)

The secretary said he cannot make a determination about the situation because “so few women have signed up along these lines.”

“We don’t even have data at this time that I can answer your question,” he added.

Unit culture

Part of what drives the question is the culture of close-combat units, the retired Marine Corps general said. “I was never under any illusions at what level of respect my Marines would have for me if I couldn’t run with the fastest of them and look like it didn’t bother me [or] if I couldn’t do as many pullups as the strongest of them,” Mattis said. “It was the unfairness of the infantry. How did the infantry get its name? Infant soldier. Young soldier. Very young soldier. They’re cocky, they’re rambunctious, they’re necessarily macho, and it’s the most primitive — I would say even evil — environment. You can’t even explain it.”

The close-combat fight is war at its most basic, and Mattis cited an Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. quote when talking to his fellow Civil War veterans: “We have shared the incommunicable experience of war.”

The nation needs to discuss this issue, the secretary said. “The military has got to have officers who look at this with a great deal of objectivity and at the same time remember our natural inclination to have this open to all,” he said. “But we cannot do something that militarily doesn’t make sense.”

The Army chief of staff and Marine Corps commandant are looking at the issue. “This is a policy that I inherited, and so far the cadre is so small we have no data on it,” he said. “We’re hoping to get data soon. There are a few stalwart young ladies who are charging into this, but they are too few. Clearly the jury is out on it, but what we’re trying to do is give it every opportunity to succeed if it can.”

This article originally appeared on the United States Department of Defense. Follow @DeptofDefense on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Coast Guard General Order makes marijuana dispensaries off-limits

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz issued a general order Tuesday banning Coasties from entering any business that grows, distributes, sells or otherwise deals with marijuana.

Pot may be legal for various uses in 33 states, but it remains an illicit substance under federal law, and the service’s new general order is designed to send a message to Coast Guard men and women that they should steer clear, officials said during a phone call with Military.com.

Recognizing there has been “a shift in the social norms, especially because of the increased proliferation and availability of cannabis-based products,” Schultz issued the new guidance to eliminate ambiguity, explained Cmdr. Matt Rooney, Policy and Standards Division chief at Coast Guard Headquarters.

“As a military organization, we have to be clear and direct to providing [guidance] to our members,” Rooney said.


This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

North Korea claims that U.S. must step up for peace

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said that Pyongyang has already taken steps towards denuclearization and is expecting Washington to make the next move.

Kim met with Chinese and Russian officials who were visiting North Korea for its toned-down 70th anniversary celebrations, and conveyed his frustrations on stalled talks with the US.

In attendance was Li Zhanshu, a third-ranking member of the Chinese Communist Party leadership, who presented a letter from President Xi Jinping to Kim and reiterated commitment to denuclearizing the Korean peninsula.


But Kim told Li that the regime had already taken steps towards denuclearization, like refraining from further nuclear and missile testing, and awaited the US to reciprocate in its actions. US intelligence reports indicate that North Korea has continued to work on its nuclear program and missile arsenal.

“We would like the United States to take some kind of action that is reasonable, then we would like to move forward along the process of a political solution,” Kim told Li during their meeting, according to the Asahi Shimbun, citing Chinese state media.

The North Korean leader added that the country is “taking measures by sticking firmly to the agreement” made with President Donald Trump during their summit in June 2018, though he did not expand on what measures had been taken, Asahi added.

Thunderbirds wow Las Vegas with tribute flight to healthcare workers in COVID-19 crisis

North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un.

Moscow official Valentina Matviyenko said on Sept. 10, 2018, that Kim appealed to Russia to help ease crippling sanctions imposed against the regime, given the “steps they have been taking” in line with Kim’s agreement with Trump, Russia’s TASS state news agency reported.

“Those are very serious steps aimed at the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” she said, adding that Kim expects “reciprocal” measures by the US because “it is impossible for only North Korea to take unilateral steps on denuclearization.”

The relationship between the US and North Korea remains uneasy

Relations between North Korea and the US have grown stale in recent months, though both sides appear to be open to dialogue.

In August 2018 Trump canceled a planned trip to North Korea by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, citing lack of “sufficient progress” towards denuclearization, and days later North Korea’s state newspaper accused the US of plotting to “unleash a war” on them while continuing to negotiate “with a smile on its face.”

But on Sept. 10, 2018, the White House said it’s planning another summit between Trump and Kim after it received “further evidence of progress” with Pyongyang in the form of a “very warm and very positive” letter. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said no details have been finalized, and said it will not release the full letter unless Kim agrees it should be made public.

On Sept. 9, 2018, Trump praised Kim’s muted 70th anniversary celebrations, which didn’t feature its usual showcase of nuclear weapons, as a sign of progress.

“This is a big and very positive statement from North Korea,” he tweeted. “Thank you To Chairman Kim. We will both prove everyone wrong! There is nothing like good dialogue from two people that like each other!”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Articles

This is what the new VA chief thinks about using medical marijuana to treat PTSD

On May 31, Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said he is open to expanding the use of medical marijuana to treat soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder.


Shulkin said that although federal laws would limit the ability to use marijuana, he said it could be possible to take action in states where medicinal marijuana is legal.

“There may be some evidence that this is beginning to be helpful and we’re interested in looking at that and learning from that,” Shulkin said during a press conference. “Right now, federal law does not prevent us at VA to look at that as an option for veterans … I believe that everything that could help veterans should be debated by Congress and by medical experts and we will implement that law.”

Thunderbirds wow Las Vegas with tribute flight to healthcare workers in COVID-19 crisis
David Shulkin (right) seeks major VA hospital reform. (DoD Photo by Megan Garcia)

The head of the VA also said the agency he oversees is in a “critical condition,” likening the veterans’ healthcare provider to a patient in bad health.

Shulkin, a doctor appointed by former President Barack Obama, said patients wait too long for services from VA hospitals and government bureaucracy prevents the agency from firing employees who perform poorly. The VA oversees the care for more than 9 million veterans.

“I’m a doctor and I like to diagnose things, assess them, and treat them,” Shulkin said. “Though we are taking immediate and decisive steps stabilizing the organization … we are still in critical condition and require intensive care.”

“As you know, many of these challenges have been decades in building,” Shulkin added.

Thunderbirds wow Las Vegas with tribute flight to healthcare workers in COVID-19 crisis
Shulkin aims to improve medical services for our nation’s veterans. DoD Photo by Greg Vojtko.

In reference to the VA’s inability to fire employees quickly, Shulkin said “our accountability processes are clearly broken.”

In one example, it took the agency more than a month to fire a psychiatrist who was caught watching pornography on his iPad while seeing a veteran.

Shulkin said now is the time to face the VA’s challenges and address them “head on.”

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