The Secret Air Force Program That Hid An Even More Secret Program - We Are The Mighty
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The Secret Air Force Program That Hid An Even More Secret Program

The Secret Air Force Program That Hid An Even More Secret Program
MiG-21 over Nevada (Photo: USAF)


During the Cold War air-to-air warfare was alive and well. The Soviets had a huge air force, and their fighters were a viable threat to NATO aircraft. As a result, American fighter crews trained extensively in matters pertaining to shooting down other airplanes.

Also Read: 17 Signs That You Might Be A Military Aviator 

We trained using Top Gun’s “defense in depth” theory that was built around the idea that no matter how many forward-quarter, long-range missiles a fighter was carrying, there was a good chance the threat would make it into the visual arena. This arena had many nicknames – “getting into the phone booth” or “putting the knife in your teeth” – but was (and still is) best-known as “dogfighting.”

The first trick of a dogfight is getting sight of your opponent.  The oft-repeated maxim is “You can’t shoot what you don’t see.” That trick gets trickier when fighting multiple aircraft at the same time, what we call a “many v. many” or “Battle of Britain” scenario.

I was a Tomcat radar intercept officer (the guy in the backseat like “Goose” in the movie “Top Gun”). The problem of dogfighting multiple aircraft at once was made easier in the F-14 because there were two of us in the airplane. Good crew coordination allowed the pilot to go after one bandit while the RIO made sure no other threats were in a position to take a shot.

Dogfighting is the most exhilarating part of tactical aviation.  The hard turns, the crush of the G forces, and the intensity of the comms over the radio between wingmen make it a wild, heart-pounding experience.  And because of the variables – different pilots flying different airplanes in different conditions – every dogfight is unique.

To simulate the threat aggressor squadrons existed at all the major fighter bases. The squadrons flew American assets that supposedly replicated the flying qualities of Russian airplanes. For instance, an F-5’s characteristics were a lot like those of a MiG-23, and the A-4 was somewhat like a subsonic MiG-21.

Those of us in fighter commands at the time – the mid-1980s – dreamed of going up against the real thing. And one day while conducting training out of Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada we found out that our dream was going to come true – sort of.

We were scheduled to participate in a secret program called “Constant Peg.” In the late ’70s the U.S. Air Force had come into the possession of a few Soviet aircraft that Israel had captured from Syria. Over the years that inventory grew to more than a dozen airplanes acquired from places like Pakistan and China.

The Constant Peg aircraft were assigned to the 4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron – “The Red Eagles” – based at Tonopah in the Nevada desert, a place I’d never heard of until the day of our first missions when pilots from the Red Eagles came to Fallon to brief us.

The Red Eagle reps reviewed the performance characteristics of the aircraft we’d be flying against.  In our case that day we were doing 1 v 1s against a MiG-23 (what they had designated the YF-113 for OPSEC purposes) and a MiG-21 (what Constant Peg designated the YF-110).

As much as the brief focused on the dogfights it emphasized the admin around the mission, specifically the fact that, although we would be dogfighting closer to Tonopah than Fallon, in case of an aircraft emergency in no case were we to consider Tonopah a suitable divert field unless the emergency was so serious that not landing at Tonopah meant we’d crash. And if we would end up landing at Tonopah we were warned that we’d wind up spending at least two weeks there before we’d be allowed to fly back.

These rules struck us as pretty intense, but we figured it was what a secret program like Constant Peg demanded.

A few hours later we launched and flew south until we rendezvoused with the MiG-23. It was surreal to see an airplane we’d only seen in photographs for years before that, and the airplane looked smaller than we’d expected.

The Secret Air Force Program That Hid An Even More Secret Program
MiG-23 (Photo: Bill Paisley)

We went through the choreography of the dogfight as we’d planned, taking advantage of the fact that the MiG-23 was a “bleeder” in terms of turn rate, which meant that the airplane lost a lot of airspeed (compared to the Tomcat) when attempting hard turns.  We also did a speed demo that showed us trying to outrun the MiG-23 was potentially a bad idea.

Then we joined up with the MiG-21 and did another dogfight, this one quicker than the first because we needed to conserve some gas to get back to Fallon. Again, it was surreal to fly formation on an enemy aircraft, studying the details that the Red Eagle pilot pointed out to us (in cryptic terms for OPSEC purposes) over the radio. The MiG-21 wasn’t as fast as the MiG-23, but it had a better turn rate.

When we got back from the flight my pilot and I debriefed over a classified phone with the Red Eagle pilots we’d flown against. After we hung up, we went over the high points with each other, both remarking that it had been very cool to go against the real airplanes for once.

Then my pilot, who was the squadron operations officer and senior to me, said something that struck me as curious: “I’ll bet Constant Peg isn’t the only thing going on at Tonopah,” he said.  “There’s something else there they care about more than MiGs.”

I didn’t give the comment another thought until months later when the Air Force finally admitted that “the secret test aircraft” that had crashed in the middle of the Nevada desert in 1984 killing the pilot who also happened to be a three-star general – too senior for normal test flights – had actually been a MiG-23.

I asked my operations officer what he thought about the Air Force admission, and again he hinted at the idea that there was something else bigger going on a Tonopah. “They would’ve stuck with the original story otherwise,” he said. “I’m pretty sure they offered up the MiGs hoping the press would stop digging beyond that.” I asked him to put a finer point on the thought, but he just shrugged and said he didn’t know anything more.

Just less than three years later the operations officer’s hunch was proved correct as the U.S. Air Force introduced the F-117 Nighthawk – the first stealth fighter – to the world. It turned out that the Air Force had been developing that amazing new capability since the late 1970s conducting test flights mostly at night out of Tonopah.  Those involved with the program were stationed hundreds of miles away at Nellis Air Force Base outside of Las Vegas and would fly in on a special airliner at the beginning of the work week and fly back home at the end of it. Families had no idea what their service members did during that tour.

The Secret Air Force Program That Hid An Even More Secret Program
F-117s taxi to runway (Photo: USAF)

The F-117 carried the day during Desert Storm in ’91, and the world watched in wonder as DoD released the cockpit footage that showed bombs hitting exactly where the crosshairs were placed while the airplanes penetrated enemy defenses totally unseen by radars.

Even more amazing, especially when considering how information flows in today’s internet age, is how the Air Force managed to keep the Stealth Fighter a secret all those years. (There were a couple of reports of UFOs made by locals over the years, but the Air Force managed to dismiss those.)

Not only was Constant Peg great training for American fighter crews, it provided a cover for the super-secret development of the F-117 – a stroke in sneaky brilliance that saw to the success of a platform that is arguably the most effective and revolutionary in the history of highly classified programs.

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VA health care foiled again by sudden money shortage

The Department of Veterans Affairs warned June 14 it was unexpectedly running out of money for a program that offers veterans private-sector health care, forcing it to hold back on some services that lawmakers worry could cause delays in medical treatment.


It is making an urgent request to Congress to allow it to shift money from other programs to fill the sudden budget gap.

VA Secretary David Shulkin made the surprising revelation at a Senate hearing. He cited a shortfall of more than $1 billion in the Choice program due to increased demand from veterans for federally-paid medical care outside the VA. The VA had previously assured Congress that funding for Choice would last until early next year.

“We need your help on the best solution to get more money into the Choice account,” Shulkin told the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “If there is no action at all by Congress, then the Choice program will dry up by mid-August.”

The department began instructing VA medical centers late last week to limit the number of veterans it sent to private doctors so it can slow spending in the Choice account. Some veterans were being sent to Defence Department hospitals, VA facilities located farther away, or other alternative locations “when care is not offered in VA,” according to a June 7 internal VA memorandum.

The VA is also scrambling to tap other parts of its budget, including about $620 million in carry-over money that it had set aside for use in the next fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. It was asking field offices to hold off on spending for certain medical equipment to help cover costs, according to a call the department held with several congressional committees June 13.

It did not rule out taking money from VA hospitals.

The Secret Air Force Program That Hid An Even More Secret Program
David Shulkin (Photo by Robert Turtil, Department of Veterans Affairs)

Shulkin on June 14 insisted that veterans will not see an impact in their health care. He blamed in part the department’s excessive use of an exception in the Choice program that allowed veterans to go to private doctors if they faced an “excessive burden” in traveling to a VA facility. Typically, Choice restricts use of private doctors only when veterans must wait 30 days or more for an appointment or drive more than 40 miles to a facility.

Medical centers were now being asked to hew more closely to Choice’s restrictions before sending veterans to private doctors, Shulkin said.

He described the shortfall in the Choice program as mostly logistical, amounting to different checking accounts within the VA that needed to be combined to meet various payments.

Some senators were in disbelief.

They noted that VA had failed to anticipate or fix budget problems many times before. Two years ago, the VA endured sharp criticism from Congress when it was forced to seek emergency help to cover a $2.5 billion budget shortfall due in part to expensive hepatitis C treatments, or face closing some VA hospitals.Congress allowed VA to shift money from its Choice account.

“I am deeply concerned,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D- Wash., explaining that VA should have “seen this coming.” She said veterans in her state were already reporting delays in care and being asked to travel to VA facilities more than 4 hours away.

Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, the top Democrat on the panel, expressed impatience.

“For months we’ve been asking about the Choice spend rate and we were never provided those answers to make an informed decision,” he said. “No one wants to delay care for veterans — no one — so we will act appropriately. For that to happen this late in the game is frustrating to me.”

Major veterans’ organizations said they worried the shortfall was the latest sign of poor budget planning.

Carl Blake, an associate executive director at Paralyzed Veterans of America, said the VA has yet to address how it intends to address a growing appeals backlog as well as increased demands for care. “The VA could be staring at a huge hole in its budget for 2018,” he said. “It’s not enough to say we have enough money, that we can move it around. That is simply not true.”

The shortfall surfaced just weeks after lawmakers were still being assured the Choice program was under budget, with $1.1 billion estimated to be left over in the account on Aug. 7, when the program was originally set to expire. That VA estimate prompted Congress to pass legislation last March to extend the program until the Choice money ran out.

Shulkin said he learned about the shortfall June 8.

Currently, more than 30 per cent of VA appointments are made in the private sector, up from fewer than 20 per cent in 2014, as the VA’s 1,700 health facilities struggle to meet growing demands for medical care. During the 2016 campaign, President Donald Trump criticized the VA for long wait times and mismanagement, pledging to give veterans more choice in seeing outside providers.

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As North Korea gets more ambitious with missiles, Japan looks to US for backup

WASHINGTON, DC — The tensions that led to calls for THAAD deployment to South Korea are also helping make the case for sending the missile-interceptor system to the US’s other major ally in the region — Japan.


“Japan’s proximity to the growing North Korean threat surely contributes to an urgency to deploy medium-tier defenses with longer ranges than Patriot,” Thomas Karako, director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Business Insider.

“If we lived as close to Mr. Kim as they do, we’d probably feel the same way.”

Also read: What North Koreans really think of their supreme leader

So far this year, the Hermit Kingdom has conducted two nuclear device tests and more than 18 ballistic missile tests.

Of those missile tests, Pyongyang has conducted seven Musudan launches. The Musudan is speculated to have a range of approximately 1,500 to 2,400 miles, capable of targeting military installations in South Korea, Japan, and Guam, according to estimates from the Missile Defense Project.

And while all Musudan launches except the sixth one on June 22 were considered to be failures, the frequency in testing shows the North has developed something of an arsenal.

What’s more, on August 3, North Korea fired a ballistic missile near Japanese-controlled waters for the first time.

The simultaneous launch of two “No Dong” intermediate-range ballistic missiles near the western city of Hwangju was detected by US Strategic Command.

The Secret Air Force Program That Hid An Even More Secret Program
The THAAD missile system. | Lockheed Martin photo

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe described the launch as a “grave threat” to Japan and said Tokyo “strongly protested.”

Japan also said its self-defence force would remain on alert in case of further defiant launches from the rogue nation.

Adding to the growing tension, on August 24, the Hermit Kingdom successfully launched a missile from a submarine with a range capable of striking parts of Japan and South Korea.

This was the first time a North Korean missile reached Japan’s air-defense-identification zone, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said during a briefing.

The Secret Air Force Program That Hid An Even More Secret Program

“A submarine launch poses an especially grave threat since it could catch the United States and allies by surprise,” Rebeccah Heinrichs, a fellow at the Hudson Institute specializing in nuclear deterrence and missile defense, told Business Insider in a previous interview.

Pyongyang first attempted a submarine-based missile launch last year and again at the end of April 2016 .

In his four-year reign, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un has conducted more than twice as many missile tests as his father, Kim Jong Il, did in 17 years in power.

The Secret Air Force Program That Hid An Even More Secret Program
(North Korea State Media)

During a Pentagon press briefing, spokesman Peter Cook declined to comment on reports of Japanese interest in acquiring THAAD.

Meanwhile, preparations to deploy THAAD to South Korea continue. Army General Vincent Brooks, commander of US Forces Korea, said deployment will occur within the next eight to 10 months.

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This jet was the one of Navy’s deadliest fighters — for its pilots

Let’s face it, sometimes, the military gets stuck with bad planes. We’re talking real dogs here.


One of the worst jets was bought by the U.S. Navy and lasted just over a decade between first flight and being retired.

The plane in question was the Vought F7U Cutlass. To be fair, it was better than Vought’s last two offerings to the Navy. The F5U “Flying Flapjack” was a propeller plane that never got past the prototype stage. The F6U Pirate was underpowered and quickly retired.

But pilots grew to hate the Cutlass.

The Secret Air Force Program That Hid An Even More Secret Program
A F7U takes off from USS Midway (CVB 41). (US Navy photo)

According to Air and Space Magazine, the Cutlass had such a bad reputation that a pilot quit the Blue Angels when he was told that was the plane they would fly. It was underpowered – and badly so. The Navy had wanted an engine providing 10,000 pounds of thrust – but the Cutlass engines never came close to that figure.

The nose gear also had a habit of collapsing. The hydraulic system had more leaks than you’d find in a nursery with low-cost diapers. Not mention that this plane was a bear to fly.

Over 25 percent of all Cutlasses ever built were lost in accidents, according to the National Naval Aviation Museum.

The Secret Air Force Program That Hid An Even More Secret Program
A F7U comes in for landing. Note the overly long nose wheel. That got some pilots killed. (NASA photo)

Now, the Cutlass did achieve one significant milestone: It was the first naval fighter to deploy with the Sparrow air-to-air missile. That, combined with four 20mm cannon, made for a relatively well armed plane.

The Cutlass also was modified for ground-attack, but the order was cancelled.

Much to the relief of pilots who had to fly it, the F7U Cutlass was retired in 1959, replaced by the F8U Crusader, later to be known as the F-8 Crusader.

The Sparrow, the new armament for the Cutlass, went on to have a long career with the U.S. military, serving as a beyond-visual range missile until the 1990s, when the AIM-120 AMRAAM replaced it.

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That time Egypt pulled a perfect ‘MacGyver’ move to defend its ships from air attack

When Egypt bought the two Mistral-class amphibious assault ships that France declined to sell to Russia, one thing that didn’t come with those vessels was the armament.


According to the “16th Edition of Combat Fleets of the World,” Russia had planned to install a mix of SA-N-8 missiles and AK-630 Gatling guns on the vessels if France has sold them to the Kremlin. But no such luck for Egypt, which had two valuable vessels that were unarmed – or, in the vernacular, sitting ducks.

The Secret Air Force Program That Hid An Even More Secret Program
The Mistral-class amphibious assault ship Anwar el-Sadat, prior to being handed over to the Egyptian navy. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

And then, all of a sudden, they weren’t unarmed anymore. A video released by the Egyptian Ministry of Defense celebrating the Cleopatra 2017 exercise with the French navy shows that the Egyptians have channeled MacGyver — the famed improviser most famously played by Richard Dean Anderson — to fix the problem.

The Secret Air Force Program That Hid An Even More Secret Program
A helicopter comes in for a landing on an Egyptian Mistral-class amphibious assault ship. An AN.TWQ-1 Avenger is secured to the fight deck in the background. (Youtube screenshot)

Scenes from the video show at least two AN/TWQ-1 Avenger air-defense vehicles — better known as the M1097 — tied down securely on the deck of one of the vessels, which have been named after Egyptian leaders Gamel Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat. The Humvee-based vehicles carry up to eight FIM-92 Stinger anti-air missiles and also have a M3P .50-caliber machine gun capable of firing up to 1200 rounds a minute.

The Secret Air Force Program That Hid An Even More Secret Program
An Avenger missile system is capable of firing eight Stinger missiles at low-flying enemy airplanes and helicopters. (Photo: US Army Sgt. Anthony Hewitt)

The Mistral-class ships in service with the French navy are typically equipped with the Simbad point-defense system. Ironically, the missile used in the Simbad is a man-portable SAM also called Mistral. The vessels displace 16,800 tons, have a top speed of 18.8 knots and can hold up to 16 helicopters and 900 troops.

The Secret Air Force Program That Hid An Even More Secret Program
The Simbad missile system that fires the Mistral man-portable SAM. (Wikimedia Commons)

You can see the Egyptian Ministry of Defense video below, showing the tied-down Avengers serving as air-defense assets for the Egyptian navy’s Mistrals.

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The US is supplying weapons to Kurdish fighters in Syria

The United States started to deliver weapons to Kurdish fighters closing in on the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa, Syria, the Pentagon said.


Spokesman Eric Pahon said the May 31 weapons delivery to the Syrian Kurds included small arms and ammunition. It marks the beginning of a campaign to better equip Kurdish allies that the U.S.-led coalition believes are the best fighting force against the Islamic State, even though arming them has infuriated NATO ally Turkey.

Turkey considers the Kurdish fighters to be terrorists. The U.S. has promised to mete out the equipment incrementally, based on the mission, to ensure weapons aren’t used by Kurdish groups in Turkey.

The Secret Air Force Program That Hid An Even More Secret Program
ISIS has a history of targeting Kurds and their allies. (Dept. of Defense photo)

On May 30, Kurdish-led fighters in Syria closed within about 2 miles (three kilometers) of Raqqa, where they expect to face a long and deadly battle. Roadside bombs and other explosive devices are believed to be planted along their routes and inside the city.

U.S. officials have said the weapons deliveries will include heavy machine guns, ammunition, 120mm mortars, armored vehicles and possibly TOW anti-tank missiles. They said the U.S. would not provide artillery or surface-to-air missiles.

Separately May 30, the Pentagon ratcheted up threats against pro-Syrian government forces patrolling an area near the Jordanian border where the U.S.-led coalition is training allied rebels. Officials described the pro-government forces as Iranian-backed.

The U.S. dropped leaflets warning the forces to leave the area and American military officials said the same message was conveyed in recent calls with Russian commanders. Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said the leaflets told the pro-government forces to leave the established protected zone, which is about 55 kilometers around an area where U.S. and coalition forces have been operating.

Related: US to arm Syria’s Kurdish fighters despite Turkish protests

Less than two weeks ago, the U.S. bombed Iranian-backed troops who were in that same area of Syria and didn’t heed similar warnings to leave.

According to Syrian and U.S. officials, the bombing killed several soldiers and destroyed vehicles and other weapons and equipment.

Davis said the U.S. has seen the militias operating in the desert around Tanf. The area has been considered a “deconflicted” zone under a U.S.-Russian understanding.

“Hundreds” of pro-government forces are in the region, Davis said, but he was unsure how many are actually inside the zone.

Pentagon officials said they were not certain if those troops are Syrian, Iranian, Hezbollah or from other militias fighting on Assad’s behalf. At the Tanf military camp near the Jordanian border, U.S. special operations forces have been working with a Syrian opposition group in operations against IS.

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The 11 most dangerous jobs in the US military

All jobs in the military carry real risks, but some jobs are much riskier than others. Here are 10 of the most dangerous:


1. Pararescue

The Secret Air Force Program That Hid An Even More Secret Program
Photo: US Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Scott Taylor

Pararescue jumpers are basically the world’s best ambulance service. They fly, climb, and march to battlefields, catastrophic weather areas and disaster zones to save wounded and isolated people during firefights or other emergencies.

2. Special operations

The Secret Air Force Program That Hid An Even More Secret Program
Photo: US Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Adam Henderson

While this is lumping a few separate jobs together, troops such as Navy SEALs, Army green berets, Air Force combat controllers and others conduct particularly risky missions. They train allied forces, hunt enemy leaders, and go on direct action missions against the worst of America’s adversaries. They get additional training and better equipment than other units, but the challenging nature of their mission results in a lot of casualties.

3. Explosive ordnance disposal

The Secret Air Force Program That Hid An Even More Secret Program
Photo: US Navy Photographers Mate 1st Class Ted Banks

The bomb squad for the military, explosive ordnance disposal technicians used to spend the bulk of their time clearing minefields or dealing with dud munitions that didn’t go off. Those missions were dangerous enough, but the rise of improvised explosive devices changed all that and increased the risk for these service members.

4. Infantry

The Secret Air Force Program That Hid An Even More Secret Program

Not exactly shocking that infantry is one of the most dangerous jobs on the battlefield. These troops search out and destroy the enemy and respond to calls for help when other units stumble into danger. They are the primary force called on to take and hold territory from enemy forces.

5. Cavalry

The Secret Air Force Program That Hid An Even More Secret Program
Photo: US Army Sgt. William Tanner

The cavalry conducts reconnaissance and security missions and, if there is a shortage of infantry soldiers, is often called to take and hold territory against enemy formations. Their recon mission sometimes results in them fighting while vastly outnumbered.

6. Combat Engineers

The Secret Air Force Program That Hid An Even More Secret Program
Photo: US Marine Corps Cpl. Bryan Nygaard

Combat engineers do dangerous construction work with the added hazard of combat operations going on all around them. When the infantry is bogged down in enemy obstacles, it’s highly-trained engineers known as Sappers who go forward and clear the way. The engineers also conduct a lot of the route clearance missions to find and destroy enemy IEDs and mines.

7. Artillery

The Secret Air Force Program That Hid An Even More Secret Program
Photo: US Army

Artillery soldiers send massive rounds against enemy forces. Because artillery destroys enemy formations and demoralizes the survivors, it’s a target for enemy airstrikes and artillery barrages. Also, the artillery may be called on to assume infantry and cavalry missions that they’ve received little training on.

8. Medical

The Secret Air Force Program That Hid An Even More Secret Program
Photo: US Army Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod

Medics go forward with friendly forces to render aid under fire. While medics are protected under the Geneva Convention, this only helps when the enemy honors the conventions. Even then, artillery barrages and bombing runs can’t tell which troops are noncombatants.

9. Vehicle transportation

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Photo: US Army

Truck driving is another job that became markedly more dangerous in the most recent wars. While driving vehicles in large supply convoys or moving forward with advancing troops was always risky, the rise of the IED threat multiplied the danger for these soldiers. This was complicated by how long it took the military to get up-armored vehicles to all units in Iraq and Afghanistan.

10. Aviation

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Photo: US Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 Daniel McClinton

Aircraft provide a lot of capabilites on the battlefield, but that makes them, their crews, and their pilots targets of enemy fire.

11. Artillery observers

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Photo: US Air Force Staff Sgt. DeNoris A. Mickle

Like medics, these soldiers go forward with maneuver forces. They find enemy positions and call down artillery strikes to destroy them. The enemy knows to take them out as quickly as possible since they are usually carrying radios.

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Thousands of troops overseas won’t know if their votes were counted on election day

The Secret Air Force Program That Hid An Even More Secret Program
Service member fills out an absentee ballot during the 2008 presidential race. (Photo: DVIDS)


One of the presidential candidates has been on the campaign trail making claims about how the election is “a rigged deal.” And while Donald Trump tries to make a linkage between perceived media bias against him and his declining poll numbers as evidence of this so-called “rigging,” history shows that the American voting process is not as much rigged as it is flawed in some ways.

And nowhere is this truer than with military absentee ballots.

Absentee ballots started during the Civil War when Union soldiers complained that they couldn’t exercise their right to vote because they were stationed along battle lines far away from their home states. President Lincoln, knowing it was going to be a close election and sensing he enjoyed the support of the troops because he was commander-in-chief, pushed to make absentee voting possible. States responded along party lines; Republicans passed laws allowing soldiers to mail ballots home from the war, and Democrats resisted such laws.

The idea died after the war but came back to the attention of lawmakers some 85 years later during World War II. Both Democrats and Republicans figured GIs would support President Roosevelt, which is why Democrats liked the idea and Republicans did not. Most states passed a law allowing absentee ballots, and as a result, nearly 2.6 million service members voted during the 1944 election, according to Donald S. Inbody of The Washington Post.

Demand grew in the decades that followed and processes for absentee ballots, including those used by the military, varied from state to state. Finally, Congress passed overarching guidance in the form of the Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act of 1986.

That guidance was imperfect, however. States often mailed ballots out too close to the election to be returned from overseas in time to be counted. As a result, service members grew disenfranchised and often chose not to participate fearing that to do so would be a waste of time.

This sense came to a head during the controversial presidential election of 2000 between Bush and Gore. Gore, the Democratic candidate, conceded only to take it back after discovering that he was actually winning the popular vote and the count in the crucial state of Florida was only separated by several hundred votes. The Democrats demanded a recount, and lawyers sprang into action across polling places statewide. Suddenly words like “hanging chads” (referring to stuck cut-outs on punch cards used to tally votes on antiquated machines) were part of the national lexicon.

Several thousand military absentee ballots came into play in this winner-take-all scenario. Once again lawmakers came down along party lines. Democrats — fearing the military voters were mostly Republican — tried to have the ballots thrown out because they had arrived past the deadline or weren’t postmarked. The Bush campaign ultimately got the ballots counted, which allowed W. to win the election and become the 43rd president.

Because of that chaos, Congress created the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to better provide information about elections and passed the Military and Overseas Voting Empowerment Act of 2009, which forced states to overhaul election laws to allow troops to request ballots and register to vote electronically. States were also required to have ballots ready to mail 45 days before an election to ensure enough time for the service member to get it back to be counted.

But these actions have far from fixed the problem. As Eric Eversole wrote in The Washington Times, during the 2010 election cycle many local officials missed the 45-day-prior deadline by more than two weeks. The result was upwards of 40,000 military absentee ballots sent only 25 days before election day, not enough time to make it out to ships at sea or forward operating bases and then back to the U.S.

And that’s not the only problem. Military absentee ballots are supposed to be tallied by home states and sent to the EAC, which is charged with reporting the results to Congress, but an independent study of EAC data conducted by the Walter Cronkite School’s News21 national reporting project found that 1 in 8 jurisdictions reported receiving more ballots than they sent, counting more ballots than they received, or rejecting more ballots than they received.

According to News21, some local voting officials think the EAC’s forms for recording military overseas participation are confusing.

“How am I supposed to account for ballots that are sent to domestic addresses but are returned from overseas?” asked Paul Lux, the supervisor of elections in a Florida county with a large population of active duty Air Force personnel. “There are just too many potential anomalies in the way we have to provide service to these voters.”

The process is also complicated on the service member’s side, mostly because of the inherent challenges of the mail systems at the far reaches of America’s military presence around the world but also because the availability of voting information varies between commands.

Matt Boehmer, the director of DoD’s Federal Voting Assistance Program, told News21 that service member confusion “is exacerbated by the fact that military voters never receive confirmation that their ballots were counted.” FVAP has recommended that state election officials notify troops when their ballots are counted.

But in spite of all of the issues challenging the military absentee ballot process, military leaders urge their subordinates to participate in the voting process.

“It’s what you raise your hand to do, support and defend the Constitution,” Capt. Yikalo Gebrehiwet, a company commander at Ft. Bragg, told News21. “The best way to do that is by voting.”

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This is how the Marine Corps ensured Union victory in the Civil War

Before World War I, the U.S. Marine Corps wasn’t the true expeditionary warfighting branch that it is today. It was frequently neglected, underfunded, and at one point entirely disbanded.


The Civil War Marine Corps usually had just a little over 3,000 men but manned the guns at vital points in the Union war machine, helping usher in the victory.

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A group of U.S. Marines guards the Washington Naval Yard. (Photo: Library of Congress)

First, in the immediate aftermath of the Articles of Secession, Marine detachments were sent to reinforce federal garrisons in seceding states, including Fort Sumter. While the Marines were unable to reach Sumter, they did reinforce Fort Pickens in Florida which, though threatened by Florida secessionists throughout the war, never fell from Union control.

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A group of 348 Marines took part in the first battle of Bull Run as support for a Union artillery battery. (Image: Library of Congress)

But the Marines didn’t just defend backwater outposts. A battalion of 348 Marines under the command of Maj. John Reynolds fought at the First Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861. The Marines were credited for brave action through most of the day but were routed with the rest of the Union forces in the afternoon.

Perhaps the greatest contribution of the Marines to the war effort was their manning guns on Navy ships and guarding Union positions on America’s rivers, helping ensure the success of the Anaconda Plan, which called for the Confederacy to be split in two and starved for supplies.

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The Monitor fighting the CSS Virginia at the Battle of Hampton Roads. Marines were manning guns on many of the wooden ships seen in the background. (Image: National Archives)

One of the most stunning naval battles the Marines took part in was the Battle of Hampton Roads, the first clash of iron vessels in the history of naval warfare. The Marines manned guns on the Union Navy ships USS Cumberland, USS Congress, USS Minnesota and others.

The Cumberland fought bravely against the ironside CSS Virginia, pumping cannon rounds through open portholes on the Virginia, destroying two cannons and killing 19 of the crew. But the Cumberland was eventually doomed by a ram strike from the Virginia. The USS Monitor, also an ironside, arrived and drove off the Virginia from the other wooden-hulled ships.

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Vice Adm. David Farragut’s naval attacks at New Orleans were facilitated with Marines at some of the guns. The attack eventually closed the important port to Confederate supplies. (Painting: Mauritz de Haas/Public Domain)

The next month, Marines took part in Navy Capt. David Farragut’s attack on New Orleans. On April 24, 1862, Farragut led his flotilla through a gauntlet of Confederate guns and gunships and captured the city. At one point in the naval battle, Marines stabbed Confederate sailors through the gunports on two ships jammed together and exchanging cannon fire.

Marines later stood guard as the state banner in New Orleans was cut down and the American flag raised.

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Cpl Mackie aboard the USS Galena at Drewry’s Bluff. (Painting: U.S. Marine Corps)

On May 15, 1862, Marine Cpl. John Mackie took the first actions for which a Marine would be awarded the Medal of Honor. He was on the USS Galena at the Battle of Drewry’s Bluff. When Confederate fire from the shore damaged the ship and knocked an important gun out of action, Mackie got it back into service and led the crew in its operation.

The Marines under Farragut’s command distinguished themselves again when then-Vice Adm. Farragut sent his ships past Confederate torpedoes and Fort Morgan to threaten Mobil Bay, Alabama. It was in this battle, with Marines firing their muskets into enemy portholes, that Farragut uttered his famous curse, “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” The attack was ultimately successful.

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(Photo: U.S. Marine Corps flickr)

Finally, the Marines helped close the Confederacy’s last major port through which it received supplies from blockade runners. Fort Fisher held open the port at Wilmington, North Carolina. In January 1865, a naval brigade of sailors and 400 Marines assaulted the fort under heavy fire. While their attack was easily beaten back, it served as a diversion for a second attack by the Army.

The Army was able to take the fort in large part due to the sacrifice of the Marines and sailors. The fall of Fort Fisher closed Wilmington’s port and shut down the last major supply route into the Confederacy. The surrender of Confederate units came faster after this loss of supplies and Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Virginia at Appomatox Court House only three months later.

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These US soldiers spent Christmas Eve raining hell on ISIS

On Christmas Eve, Soldiers in Staff Sgt. Johnathan Walker’s section shiver as freezing rain falls upon their position.


U.S Army Soldiers with Battery C, 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, Task Force Strike, load a round into M777 artillery piece to support the Iraqi security forces during the Mosul counter offensive, Dec. 24, 2016, in northern Iraq. Battery C is supporting the ISF with indirect fires in their fight against ISIL. (Photo Credit: 1st Lt. Daniel Johnson) U.S Army Soldiers with Battery C, 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, Task Force Strike, load a round into M777 artillery piece to support the Iraqi security forces during the Mosul counter offensive, Dec. 24, 2016, in northern Iraq. Battery C is supporting the ISF with indirect fires in their fight against ISIL. (Photo Credit: 1st Lt. Daniel Johnson)

“Fire!” yells Walker as he makes a cutting motion through the rain with his hand. A round leaves the tube of the M777 artillery piece with its trademark boom and smoke, and the artillerymen begin to move again. The sounds of their boots impacting the mud and gravel echo through the gun pit.

It may be the holiday season, but the mission for the Soldiers of Battery C, 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, Task Force Strike, continues. The Iraqi Security Forces are battling ISIL in Mosul, and the artillerymen are supporting them with indirect fires.

U.S Army Soldiers with Battery C, 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, Task Force Strike, execute a fire mission to support the Iraqi security forces during the Mosul counter-offensive, Dec. 24, 2016, in northern Iraq. Battery C is supporting the ISF with indirect fires in their fight against the ISIL. (Photo Credit: 1st Lt. Daniel Johnson) U.S Army Soldiers with Battery C, 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, Task Force Strike, execute a fire mission to support the Iraqi security forces during the Mosul counter-offensive, Dec. 24, 2016, in northern Iraq. Battery C is supporting the ISF with indirect fires in their fight against the ISIL. (Photo Credit: 1st Lt. Daniel Johnson)

“We provide overmatch capability to the maneuver commander,” explained Sgt. 1st Class Scott Young, the platoon sergeant of 2nd Platoon, Battery C, during his rounds of the gun line. “When air support isn’t available, either due to weather or not having the assets in the area, we can bring effects onto targets. As long as there is an observer out there, we can shoot.”

“Task Force Top Guns” has provided fire support for the Iraqi Security Forces ever since arriving in early May. The battery has fired more than 4,000 rounds in support of their maneuvers.

They’re also credited with conducting the first conventional air assault mission during Operation Inherent Resolve, during which they rapidly moved artillery pieces by air to establish a new firing position. At the completion of the fires, the guns were moved back to their starting location.

“We’ve denied territory so the enemy can’t maneuver, obscured friendly movements, and we have precision capability, which is critical in this fight,” Young said, pointing in the direction of Mosul to emphasize his point.

“If there is a target in a built-up area, we can hit it while minimizing damage to the surrounding area. We pride ourselves on our accuracy.”

U.S. Army Sgt. Scott Martineau, Battery C, 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, Task Force Strike, moves towards his position on an M777 howitzer during a fire mission to support the security forces during the Mosul counteroffensive, Dec. 25, 2016, in northern Iraq. Battery C is supporting the ISF with indirect fires in their fight against ISIL. (Photo Credit: 1st Lt. Daniel Johnson) U.S. Army Sgt. Scott Martineau, Battery C, 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, Task Force Strike, moves towards his position on an M777 howitzer during a fire mission to support the security forces during the Mosul counteroffensive, Dec. 25, 2016, in northern Iraq. Battery C is supporting the ISF with indirect fires in their fight against ISIL. (Photo Credit: 1st Lt. Daniel Johnson)

The rain picks up and a slight fog takes shape in the distance as Walker’s crew awaits their next command. The weather has changed in Iraq, and the Soldiers have switched from their summer lightweight combat shirts to multiple layers in an attempt to stave off the wind-chill.

“Fire mission at my command,” comes the transmission over the radio, and the artillerymen spring into action, beginning the crew drill to load the artillery piece, just as they have done for the past eight months. The Soldiers move quickly through their tasks, and Walker gives the signal once more. Another boom reverberates in the pit.

“It feels good to know that we’re being called on to support the fight and we’re having an effect,” Walker said in between missions. During each crew drill, he encourages his men to keep up the effort. “That’s the reason why we’re out here. We do everything with a sense of urgency and there’s no room for mistakes.”

Battery C has received multiple calls for fires as the Iraqi Security Forces have moved deeper and deeper into Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq and the site of a major operation with the goal of liberating the city. ISIL has been dug into the city for two years.

“There’s a lot more variables in weather like this,” said Walker. “People move a little slower, the rounds are slippery, and morale may drop. It’s the job of crew chiefs on the line to keep on pushing the sections to complete the mission. Rain or shine, when we get the call, we have to react.”

The radio sounds soon after, and the artillerymen are once again called to action.

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This is the legend of the Knights of the Round Table

According to medieval legend, King Arthur lived in the late 5th and early 6th centuries where he fought off the Anglo-Saxons with his legendary sword, Excalibur. He lived in Camelot, and his life long mission became the quest for the Holy Grail.


While Arthur would attend festivals, his noble knights often got into violent brawls over who should be sitting at the head of the table — granting them power over those in attendance. The other war-hardened Knights just couldn’t figure out a resolution to the issue.

Therefore, King Arthur used his wisdom had a round table constructed, making all his men feel equal. It was a good leadership move and created what we all know today as the “Knights of the Round Table.”

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The Knights of the Round Table (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

The Knights embodied a unique code of chivalry like righteousness, honor, and gallantry towards women — but one of them was bound to carry it too far.

Sir Lancelot was King Arthur’s closest friend, the best swordsman and knight in all the land. He was also known for sleeping with a lot of women. He even started a romantic affair with Arthur’s wife, Queen Guinevere. This action sparked a civil war, which led to the death of King Arthur and the dissolution of his knights.

But the legacy of the Knights of the Round Table lives on forever. Learn more in the video above.

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21 photos that show the might and majesty of US aircraft carriers

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The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) departs San Francisco. | US Navy photo by Lt.j.g. Pete Lee


Aircraft carriers are the cornerstone of America’s naval capabilities. They’re able to project air power anywhere in the world without having to depend on local bases.

And they are truly massive.

Spanning 1,092 feet long — three times the length of a football field — Nimitz-class warships like the USS George H.W. Bush are the largest aircraft carriers. See below for a selection of pictures showing how massive America’s aircraft carriers are:

The USS Nimitz conducts an aerial demonstration.

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The USS Nimitz conducts an aerial demonstration. The USS Nimitz conducts an aerial demonstration. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Aiyana S. Paschal/ Released

An aircraft director guides an F/A-18C Hornet onto a catapult aboard the USS Harry S. Truman.

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US Navy photo

The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) transits the Strait of Hormuz.

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US Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class John Grandin

Sailors scrub down the flight deck of the USS George Washington (CVN-73).

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US Navy

Sailors man the rails of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) while departing Naval Base Coronado.

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US Navy

The USS George H.W. Bush is underway.

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U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Brian Stephens/Released

PCU Gerald R. Ford is floated for the first time.

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U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Joshua J. Wahl/Released

Blue Angels fly over the USS George H.W. Bush in the Atlantic Ocean.

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U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Terrence Siren/Released

The USS John C. Stennis conducts flight operations.

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U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Matthew Martino/Released

Sailors man the rails as the USS Nimitz (CVN-68) enters Pearl Harbor.

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US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Kelly M. Agee/Released

The USS Carl Vinson is underway in the Persian Gulf.

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US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Alex King/Released

Sailors observe as the USS John C. Stennis sails alongside the USS Ronald Reagan.

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US Navy

The USS George Washington (CVN-73) leads the George Washington Carrier Strike Group.

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US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ricardo R. Guzman/Released

The USS Ronald Reagan transports sailors’ vehicles.

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US Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist 3rd Class Shawn J. Stewart/RELEASED

The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) departs San Francisco.

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US Navy photo by Lt.j.g. Pete Lee/Released

The USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) performs a full-power run-and-rudder swing check during sea trials.

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USS Harry S. Truman performs swing checks.

F/A-18 Hornets demonstrate air power over the USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74).

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US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Ignacio D. Perez/Released

The USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) transiting the Strait of Hormuz.

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US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class John Grandin/Released

The USS Enterprise is underway with the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group in the Atlantic Ocean.

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US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Harry Andrew D. Gordon/Released

The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74) returns to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

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US Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel Barker/Released

The USS Abraham Lincoln and USS John C. Stennis join for a turnover of responsibility in the Arabian Sea.

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US Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Eric S. Powell/Released

 

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5 meaningful ways to thank veterans (and their families) on Veteran’s Day

As the wife of an active-duty Navy pilot preparing for his third combat deployment, I have heard my husband thanked for his service many times, but at this point in the nation’s history that expression of gratitude has been overused. These days automatically telling a veteran “thank you for your service” can come off as obligatory, or worse, insincere. (Think “have a nice day.”)


Here are five more meaningful ways to thank those who have served the nation this Veterans Day:

1. HONOR THE FALLEN BY HELPING THOSE LEFT BEHIND

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(DoD photo by SSG Sean K. Harp)

Veterans Day is not Memorial Day. Memorial Day, celebrated in May, honors those who have died serving their country. Veterans Day pays tribute to all veterans—living or dead—but is generally intended to honor living Americans who have served in the military. However, one of the best ways to thank a living veteran is to do something for the friends he or she has lost. The Tragedy Assistance Programs for Survivors is instrumental in providing aid and support to families in the aftermath of a military member’s death. They connect families with grief counselors, financial resources, seminars and retreats, peer mentors, and a community of other survivors. Nicole Van Dorn, whose husband J. Wesley Van Dorn died after a Navy helicopter crash last year, says the program was invaluable in helping her and her two young boys through a horrific time. “One woman called me twice a week just to let me know she was thinking about me. The fact that she continued to reach out even when I didn’t respond made me feel a little less alone.” TAPS paid for her oldest son to attend a camp where he could meet other children who had lost parents. “Sometimes people don’t know what to do,” she says. “But one way to help is to go through organizations like this one.”

2. HELP A VETERAN MAKE A SMOOTH TRANSITION

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(Photo: TheMissionContinues.org)

When soldiers are injured or disabled in service, they are thrust out of the lives they have known in an instant; most cannot return to the units they left behind. Sometimes the psychological consequences are harder to deal with than the physical ones. The Mission Continues, founded by former Navy Seal Eric Greitens, helps all veterans—not just the wounded—adjust to life at home by finding new missions of service. The organization harnesses veterans’ skills to connect them with volunteer opportunities in their communities.

3. DO SOMETHING FOR MILITARY FAMILIES IN YOUR COMMUNITY

When a soldier is deployed, sometimes for up to a year, daily life for spouses can be challenging. If you know the spouse of a veteran, through your community, church or social group, don’t ask how you can help. Instead, be proactive. When my husband was deployed, a neighbor took my garbage can to the street every week before I had the chance to do it. Offer to come by once a month to mow the lawn or fix what’s broken. Offer babysitting so a mother can run errands or go to a movie. Perform a random act of kindness, however small, for military families. “A woman used to send cards to my house that said, ‘I’m thinking of you,’ or ‘I’m proud of you,’ says Van Dorn of the months after her husband’s death. “She signed them ‘Secret Sister’ so I didn’t have to worry about thanking her.”

4. DONATE YOUR TIME, TALENT OR TREASURE

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(Photo: DogsOnDeployment.org)

If you don’t know anyone in the military personally, there are still ways you can help. Send a book to a deployed soldier through Operation Paperback. Make a quilt for a wounded servicemember through Quilts of Valor. Take photographs of a soldier’s homecoming through Operation: Love Reunited. If you are a counselor, donate your services through Give an Hour. Bring snacks to your local airport’s USO. Take in a servicemember’s pet while he is deployed through Dogs on Deployment. Donate your frequent flier miles to soldiers on emergency leave through Fisher House’s Hero Miles program. Or knit a baby blanket for new military mothers through the Navy-Marine Corp Relief Society.

5. REMEMBER ALL VETERANS…

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(Photo: Honor Flight Network)

… Not just the newest ones. Andrew Lumish, a carpet cleaner from Florida, made the news recently when it was reported that he spends every Sunday cleaning veterans’ gravestones. This Veterans Day, bring flowers to a cemetery. Help a senior veteran visit his memorial in Washington DC by donating to the Honor Flight Network. Or volunteer at a shelter that helps homeless veterans, nearly half of whom served during Vietnam.

Victoria Kelly’s poetry collection, “When the Men Go Off to War,” was published this September by the Naval Institute Press, their first publication of original poetry. She holds degrees from Harvard University, Trinity College Dublin, and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her debut novel, “Mrs. Houdini,” will be published in March by Simon Schuster/Atria Books. She is the spouse of a Navy fighter pilot and the mother of two young daughters.

See more about Victoria Kelly here.