It turns out the conspiracy theorists have one more feather in their tin-foil cap: the U.S. military really did test biological agents on Americans in U.S. cities.
In the wake of the attacks of Sept, 11, 2001, a wave of anthrax-laden envelopes came into a number of news media and Congressional offices. Five people died in those attacks, with 17 infected by the biological agent. In the days that followed, a Wall Street Journal writer recounted the times the military sprayed San Francisco, Washington, D.C., New York, and others.
In “Microbes and Mock Attacks,” Jim Carlton tells the story of Edward Nevin of San Francisco, who went to a local hospital in 1950, complaining of flu-like symptoms. The 75-year-old Nevin was dead three days later. The cause: an acute bacterial infection of Serratia marcescens.
The bacterium is now known to cause urinary tract, respiratory, and tear duct infections, as well as conjunctivitis, keratitis, and even meningitis. Strains of S. marcescens are now known to be antibiotic resistant.
But all of this was unknown to the U.S. Army when they were secretly spraying the city with S. marcescens and other biological agents they thought to be harmless, in what they called a “mock biological attack” to Senate investigators. A Navy ship offshore dusted the entire 49-square-mile area with the agents.
“It was noted that a successful BW [biological warfare] attack on this area can be launched from the sea, and that effective dosages can be produced over relatively large areas.”
Over a roughly 20-year period, from the 1940s to the 1960s, the Pentagon conducted similar biological warfare tests across the United States. Cities like New York, Washington, and San Francisco had multiple bacteria tested on its unwitting populace. Serratia was again tested on Panama City and Key West, Florida.
Beyond biological agents, fluorescent compounds like zinc-cadmium-sulfide were released in the Upper Midwest. Carcinogens from these tests were found dispersed all the way in upstate New York.
Military researchers filled light bulbs with bacteria and dropped them into the New York City subway system in Midtown Manhattan, distributing the bacteria for miles across the sprawling metropolis. Another test at Washington’s National Airport found 130 passengers on a plane spread a bacterium to 39 cities in seven states.
Much of what the Pentagon knows about the spread of biological agents come from the 239 tests conducted in this way, the WSJ story reports.
President Nixon ordered the Army’s biological tests stopped and its weapons destroyed after the news of these tests leaked to the American news media in the 1970s. Though many of the agents were thought to be harmless (at least, at the time) it’s not known how many people got sick and died as a result.
The Department of Defense Warrior Games began in 2010 as a way to celebrate the the talents of injured or ill warrior-athletes. The 2015 games showcased some of the finest talent of the American and British wounded warrior communities. Showcased below are 13 of the most inspiring photos from the games.
While the games are about celebrating recovery and the warrior spirit, there are winners and medals. The Warrior Games closed on Sunday with the Army winning the overall competition. Check out the the final medal counts and more photos at Defense.gov.
1. U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Marcus Chischilly takes off during the swimming finals at the Freedom Aquatic and Fitness Center in Manassas, Va., June 27, 2015. Chischilly is a member of the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games All-Marine Team. The 2015 DoD Warrior Games, held at Marine Corps Base Quantico June 19-28, is an adaptive sports competition for wounded, ill, and injured Service members and veterans from the U.S. Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Special Operations Command, and the British Armed Forces.
2. Lance Cpl. Charles Sketch is presented with a gold medal during a standing ovation from spectators from around the world at the 2015 Marine Corps Trials. Competition provides opportunities for the Marines to train as athletes, while increasing their strength so they can continue their military service or develop healthy habits for life outside the service. The Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment enables wounded, ill, or injured Marines to focus on their abilities and to find new avenues to thrive.
3. A member of Team Air Force throws the shot put during field competition for the 2015 DOD Warrior Games, Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., June 23, 2015.
4. Retired Marine Cpl. Ray Hennagir, an Orlando, Florida native, keeps his eyes on the ball during sitting volleyball practice at the 2015 Marine Corps Trials.
5. U.S. and British athletes compete in the 100-meter sprint at the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games on Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., June 23, 2015.
6. U.S. Marine Corps veteran Ray Hennagir prepares to shoot the ball during the wheelchair basketball championship game at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., June 23, 2015.
Photo: DoD News EJ Hersom
7. Army visually impaired cycling teams finish together to take gold, silver and bronze during the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games on Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., June 21, 2015.
8. U.S. Marine Corps veteran Peter Cook practices swim form during the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games on Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., June 21, 2015.
9. U.S. Marine Corps veteran Jenae Piper prepares to serve during the bronze medal volleyball game during the 2015 Department of Defense (DoD) Warrior Games at Marine Corps Base (MCB) Quantico, Va, June 26, 2015.
10. Army Staff Sgt. Monica Martinez, left, And Army Staff Sgt. Vestor ‘Max’ Hasson compete, but in separate 1,500 meter wheelchair race categories during the Army Trials at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas April 1, 2015.
11. U.S. Marine Corps veteran Clayton McDaniels’ son receives a gold medal on behalf of his father whose team won the wheelchair basketball championship game at the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games on Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., June 23, 2015.
12. U.S. Army Sgt. Blake Johnson, Bethesda, Md., attempts to block the shot of his Air Force opponent while playing a wheelchair basketball game during the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games at Barber Fitness Center, on Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., June 20, 2015.
13. A member of Special Operations Command throws the shot put during field competition for the 2015 DOD Warrior Games, Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., June 23, 2015.
On Wednesday, the Government Accountability Office released a scathing report about the US Air Force’s half-baked plan to replace the A-10, essentially concluding that the Air Force had no good end game in sight.
“The Department of Defense (DOD) and Air Force do not have quality information on the full implications of A-10 divestment, including gaps that could be created by A-10 divestment and mitigation options,” the report from GAO, a nonpartisan entity, states.
The A-10, a relic of the Cold War-era, flies cheap, effective sorties and is well suited to most of the US’s current operations. But surprisingly, it’s not really the plane itself that’s indispensable to the Air Force — it’s the community.
Ground forces know A-10 pilots as undisputed kings of close air support, which is especially useful in today’s combat zones where ground troops often don’t have an artillery presence on the ground.
But there are other planes for close air support when it comes down to it. The B-1 Lancer has superior loiter time and bomb capacity compared to the A-10, but it turns out, close air support is only one area where the A-10s excel.
The report finds that A-10 pilots undergo many times more close air support, search and rescue, and forward air control training than any other community of pilots in the force.
While the Air Force seems determined to replace this community, and reallocate their resources elsewhere, the report finds that the cost estimates used to justify the retirement of the A-10 just don’t make the grade.
According to the GAO, “a reliable cost estimate is comprehensive, well-documented, accurate, and credible.”
The report finds that the Air Force’s cost estimates for replacing the A-10 are almost comprehensive, minimally documented, and just plain not credible.
Indeed we have seen some pivots on the Air Force’s official position on the A-10. At one point, they wanted to retire it stating that the F-35 would take over those capabilities, but then the Senate told them to prove it.
More recently, we heard that the Air Force wants to replace the A-10 with not one, but two new planes, one of which would be developed specifically for the role.
What the GAO recommends, however, is that the Air Force come up with a better, more concrete plan to mitigate the losses in capability caused by the A-10’s mothballing.
Lawmakers were not shy about the relief the report brought to the complicated question. Perhaps the best testimony came from Congresswoman Martha McSally, a former A-10 pilot herself:
“Today’s report confirms what I’ve argued continuously — the Air Force’s flawed and shifting plan to prematurely retire the A-10 is dangerous and would put lives in danger… I’ve fought for and won full funding for our entire A-10 fleet and to make the retirement of any A-10 condition-based, not-time based.”
Col. Robert A. Hefford was a decorated pilot in Vietnam who received Silver Stars for shielding troops with his helicopter on two occasions and a Distinguished Flying Cross for flying into heavy resistance in another firefight.
On Jan. 21, 1968, then-Maj. Hefford was a mission commander flying against enemy forces during the Tet Offensive. He was performing low-level recon ahead of a friendly advance. When he found the enemy, he engaged with rockets and mini-guns. Hefford received seven hits from enemy ground fire to his aircraft and was wounded in his face, hand, leg, and an eye.
Another helicopter was then hit, wounding the pilot and killing the scout observer aboard. Hefford, despite his own wounds and damage to his aircraft, maneuvered between the enemy and the stricken bird, acting as a shield for his men. He then evacuated the downed crew and took them to a hospital. He received the Silver Star for his actions.
A few months later, on April 18, 1968, Hefford was flying a UH-1H helicopter on a combat mission when an OH-6A scout was shot down. He flew in to the battle area to provide command and control and immediately started mixing it up with the enemies on the ground. The ground forces got in trouble and started calling for airstrikes, but the Air Force jets started dropping it too close to friendly forces.
Troops on the ground called off the strikes, but the Air Force pilot didn’t get the message right away. Hefford flew his helicopter into the jet’s flight path, forcing the jet to abandon its approach right before it released its napalm. He was again awarded the Silver Star.
Perhaps Hefford’s greatest act of gallantry came years before. On July 7, 1965, then-Cpt. Hefford provided security for medical evacuations. Intense enemy fire on the birds required Hefford to provide heavy suppressive fire in response. His first mission in was successful with little incident. When he returned with another evacuation bird, he drew enemy fire while the Medevac picked up its patients.
A burst of machine-gun fire struck inside the cockpit just over Hefford’s head. Hefford continued his assault on the enemy positions, allowing the medical helicopter to complete the evacuation. Hefford was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Hefford retired from the Army as a colonel in 1984.
Learning to snowshoe, ski and stay warm in the cold might sound like a fun hobby.
But for Soldiers at the Cold Weather Leaders Course at the Northern Warfare Training Center here, learning these things can mean the difference between a failed or successful mission and it could also be the difference between life and death.
Staff Sgt. Jonathan Tanner, an instructor at the NWTC, was deployed twice to Afghanistan, once from 2007 to 2009 and another time from 2014 to 2015.
During one of those tours, he said, he recalls being over 9,000 feet in the mountainous terrain of the eastern part of the country during a heavy snowfall, with snow drifts up to 12 feet tall.
“The snow stopped us dead in our tracks,” he said. “We were trying to remove snow from equipment with our e-tools.”
During a Black Hawk resupply mission, the helicopter had no place to land so it hovered above the snow while the crew chief jumped out, post-holing himself in the snow shoulder high. Post-holing is a term for sinking into the snow waist or chest high when not wearing skis or snowshoes. The crew chief had to grab the struts of the helicopter to be pulled out, Tanner recalled.
No one had skis or snowshoes and “we couldn’t do our jobs.”
Tanner and the other instructors at NWTC say they are professionally and personally invested in ensuring those kinds of situations never happen to Soldiers again.
Sgt. Sarah Valentine, a medic and an instructor, said most Soldiers that come to the school don’t know how to snowshoe, ski or survive in the cold. Instruction begins with baby steps.
First, they learn how to wear their cold weather clothing, she said. Then they learn to walk with snowshoes. A little later they learn to walk on snowshoes carrying a rucksack, and finally, they learn to tow an ahkio, or sled, carrying 200 pounds of tents, heaters, fuel, food and other items.
Next, they advance to skis, learning how to walk uphill, how to turn and stop going downhill, and then how to carry a rifle and rucksack going cross-country.
Staff Sgt. Jason Huffman, a student, said that besides enduring the cold, pulling the ahkio was the most challenging aspect of the school.
For that portion of the training, four of about 10 Soldiers are harnessed to the sled like sled dogs. Huffman said going on level terrain is easy, but most of the terrain near the school isn’t level and it is challenging to pull the ahkio uphill, especially from a dead stop.
Going downhill, the challenge is holding the ahkio back so it doesn’t get away, he said. When the students get tired, they are replaced by other students in the squad, who in turn rotate back out once they’re tired.
Spc. Tamyva Graffree, a student from Newton, Mississippi, said pulling the ahkio uphill was the most challenging part of the course. Of going downhill, she said it would have been nice to pile on and ride it down.
Staff Sgt. Manuel Beza, an instructor and medic here, said the students are not allowed to ride the ahkio downhill. “It will definitely go fast. But if they did that, it would be a bad day. The ahkio has no brakes and no way to steer.”
Beza said he sympathizes with the students’ pain. While the ahkio can be handled almost effortlessly over level terrain, going even 500 feet uphill can tire Soldiers out.
But when roads are nonexistent and vehicles break down from the cold, ahkios give the Soldiers the option to move out with their gear, he said.
Once students demonstrate competence on snowshoes, they are given a set of “White Rocket” skis, which can be used in both downhill as well as cross-country skiing.
The difference between a dedicated downhill or Nordic ski and the White Rocket ski is that the heel in the White Rocket isn’t locked into the ski binding so the foot can move similar to walking, said Sgt. Derrick Bruner, an instructor.
A Soldier can learn to use snowshoes in two hours, but about 40 hours is allotted for ski training at the school.
Because training time is limited, Soldiers learn just the basics, Bruner said. For instance, they learn to stop and turn going downhill using a wedge movement instead of a more advanced technique like turning or stopping with skis parallel.
A wedge consists of bringing the toes of the skis together and the heels of the skis out and carving into the snow on the inner edges of the skis by rotating the ankles inboard.
Skipping the fancy art of parallel skiing cuts down on injuries as well, he said, because there’s less chance of them crossing.
Going uphill involves side-stepping or walking up in herringbone fashion, which is the opposite of the wedge, with toes of the skis outboard, heels in.
To assist with uphill climbing, Soldiers apply special wax to the bottom of their skis.
Sgt. Dustin Danielson, a student, explained that the wax goes on just the middle third of the ski where the person’s weight is. He made hatch marks with the wax on his skis and then took a piece of cork to spread it evenly all around.
After skiing just a few kilometers, the wax tends to come off and more has to be applied, he said.
Sgt. Jessica Bartolotta, a student, said they were not given wax on the first day. On the second day of training, students were allowed to wax their skis. The point, she said, was to illustrate just how important the wax is in providing friction to grip the snow going uphill. She said the wax had no noticeable effect on slowing the skis going downhill.
Another thing the instructor did early on during the first day of ski training was to observe how well the Soldiers were skiing and to break them up into three groups of skill levels so the slow learners wouldn’t hold back the more natural skiers, she said.
Bartolotta said skiing was her favorite part of the course and she plans to take it up as a hobby.
Sgt. Chris Miller, a student from Little Rock, Arkansas, said this was his first time skiing and he fell a lot. “I’m a big guy and it’s hard to keep my balance.”
Miller measured his progress by the number of falls. The first day he said he fell 12 times and just once after three days. He said he’s still trying to perfect the art of stopping using the wedge.
Sgt. Shamere Randolph, another student, said he fell a bunch of times as well, but prefers skis to snowshoes because it’s much faster to get from point A to point B.
Sgt. Bruno Freitas, a student, said that his skis were difficult to use on the last day of training when the temperature rose and the snow turned to slush. In below freezing conditions, the skis work much better than they do in slush, he said.
About four years ago, the Army decided to do away with ski training at the NWTC, said Steven Decker, a training specialist. He said he’s not sure why the decision was made, but said he’s glad that skiing was reintroduced this year.
Canadians and Japanese go everywhere on skis, he said. They find it very relevant to mobility. In fact, “when the Japanese attend the course here, they can ski circles around us.”
The downside to skiing, he said, is that it takes a while to learn. For an entire platoon or company to move out on skis, it might take an entire winter and a lot of training time dedicated to making that happen.
But he and the other instructors all agreed that learning to ski is worth the time and effort.
Sgt. Derrick Bruner, an instructor, said snowshoes are “loud, slow and clunky” to use compared to skis and that skis provide better floatation over the snow. “Skis are a million times better once you get the technique down.”
Staff Sgt. Jack Stacy, an instructor, said when he first arrived at NWTC, he went out into the terrain in a vehicle that broke down. He didn’t have skis or snowshoes with him and ended up having to walk back to headquarters, “post-holing” it back all the way.
“It was the most miserable time I’ve ever had here,” Stacy said. “I’ve always made sure my skis or snowshoes are handy ever since.”
The Army’s troubled program to buy a new standard-issue handgun for soldiers was the subject of renewed debate on Capitol Hill.
During Thursday’s confirmation hearing for retired Marine Gen. James Mattis to become defense secretary in the Trump administration, Republican Sens. Joni Ernst of Iowa and Thom Tillis of North Carolina took turns criticizing the service’s XM19 Modular Handgun System (MHS) program, a $350 million competition to buy a replacement to the Cold War-era M9 9mm pistol.
At a time when Russia is upgrading its service rifle, “we continue to modify our M4s [and] many of our troops still carry M16s, the Army can’t even figure out how to replace the M9 pistol, first issued in 1982,” Ernst said.
The senator, a frequent critic of the program who in 2015 retired as a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard, said she and others would joke while in the military that “sometimes the most efficient use of an M9 is to simply throw it at your adversary.”
Ernst blasted the Modular Handgun Program’s many requirements. “Take a look at their 350-page micromanaging requirements document if you want to know why it’s taking so long to get this accomplished,” she said.
She also mocked the stopping power of the 5.56mm rifle round. “Our military currently shoots a bullet that, as you know, is illegal for shooting small deer in nearly all states due to its lack of killing power,” she said.
Tillis went even further by showing up to the hearing with the pistol program’s full several hundred pages of requirements documents wrapped in red ribbon. “This is a great testament to what’s wrong with defense acquisition,” he said, slapping the three-inch-tall stack of paperwork.
In response, Mattis said, “I can’t defend this,” but added, “I will say that at times there were regulations that required us to do things.”
Coincidentally, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley was asked about the program earlier in the day at a breakfast sponsored by the Association of the United States Army. Milley was tight-lipped about the effort but hinted the service is making progress.
Beretta, FN Herstal, Sig Sauer and Glock are reportedly still competing for the program after the Army dropped Smith Wesson from the competition last year. We’re hoping these gunmakers will help shed more light on the status of the program next week at SHOT Show in Las Vegas.
When filmmaker Ken Burns and his collaborators previously tackled sprawling documentaries about the Civil War and World War II, their first obligation, he said, was to strip away the “barnacles of sentimentality” attached to both events.
That was never a problem with his latest military epic, “The Vietnam War.”
“No such sentimentality attaches itself to Vietnam,” Burns says. “So there’s a through line to the tragedy and the the essential horror and cruelty of war that is manifested everywhere.”
Covering 18 hours over 10 installments, the film recalls one of the most tragic chapters in American history — a conflict so divisive that, in the words of a soldier quoted in the film, it “drove a stake right into the heart of America.”
Ten years in the making, “The Vietnam War” (Sept. 17, 8pm, PBS) might be Burns’ greatest achievement yet in a career that dates back to 1981. It’s certainly his most complicated and challenging. To get to the heart of it all, he and co-director Lynn Novick relied on a wealth of archival materials, including stunningly revelatory audio recordings from inside the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations.
Most notably, they solicited accounts from more than 80 witnesses from all sides of the war’s vast social divide: soldiers who fought in the war and Americans who opposed it, as well as North and South Vietnamese combatants and civilians. It was what the filmmakers call a “bottom up” approach with a preference toward mostly ordinary people with incredible stories to tell, rather than the usual talking heads. John McCain, John Kerry, and Jane Fonda, for example, are not interviewed.
Along the way, the filmmakers didn’t encounter as much reticence from their subjects as some might expect. Credit the passage of time.
“We generally found that there was enormous interest in having their story told,” Novick says. “They saw it as a chance to share experiences with the wider world that were very important to them and seminal, informative, and sometimes very, very painful.”
The result is a panoramic, immersive, intensely intimate and often heart-wrenching film experience that captures the human stories embedded within a war that claimed the lives of more than 58,000 Americans, and more than 3 million Vietnamese military personnel and civilians.
Burns, of course, realizes that many viewers will bring their “personal baggage” and hardened perspectives to the film. But he and Novick insist that they were intent on being as even-handed as possible.
“There isn’t a single truth in the war,” Burns says. “In fact, there’s many truths that can coexist, and that might help to sort of take the fuel rods out of the division and polarization that was born in Vietnam that continues to this moment.”
The Vietnam conflict had long been on Burns’ cinematic to-do list. But early in his career he felt the wounds were too fresh. And when he finally did approach the subject, he went in thinking he knew a lot about it, only to immediately learn he didn’t.
“It was a daily humiliation,” he recalls. “And the humbleness that you have to assume in order to get through the next 10 years is just that — humbling. So we just kept our heads down and worked to get it right.”
According to Novick, one of the key discoveries they encountered along the way was the continual privately expressed skepticism from government officials that the US could prevail in the conflict, which was carried out under five presidents.
“There never was a time when the people in our government who were pushing the war forward had total confidence that it was winnable,” she says. “You hear this drumbeat of doubt and lack of sureness that it can come out well, that we can accomplish our goals, that it’s sustainable. And that goes back to the earliest days of American involvement in Vietnam. … That was rather revelatory and devastating.”
It’s Burns’ hope that the film can open a national dialogue about Vietnam and get people to talk about it in a “calm way.” After all, so much of what occurred during the war resonates with the present: Images of mass protests across a deeply divided nation; a White House paranoid about leaks and at odds with the media; disagreements over American military strategy in far-off territories; acrimony over what defines patriotism…
“History doesn’t repeat itself. We’re not condemned to repeat what we don’t remember,” he says. “It’s that human nature never changes.”
Russia is preparing to mount what could be one of its biggest military exercises since the Cold War, a display of power that will be watched warily by NATO against a backdrop of east-west tensions.
Western officials and analysts estimate up to 100,000 military personnel and logistical support troops could participate in the Zapad (West) 17 exercise, which will take place next month in Belarus, Kaliningrad, and Russia itself. Moscow puts the number significantly lower.
The exercise, to be held from Sept. 14-20, comes against a backdrop of strained relations between Russia and the US. Congress recently imposed a fresh round of sanctions on Moscow in response to allegations of interference in the 2016 US election.
The first of the Russian troops are scheduled to arrive in Belarus in mid-August.
Moscow has portrayed Zapad 17 as a regular exercise, held every four years, planned long ago and not a reaction to the latest round of sanctions.
NATO headquarters in Brussels said it had no plans to respond to the maneuvers by deploying more troops along the Russian border.
A NATO official said: “NATO will closely monitor exercise Zapad 17, but we are not planning any large exercises during Zapad 17. Our exercises are planned long in advance and are not related to the Russian exercise.”
The US vice-president, Mike Pence, discussed Zapad 17 during a visit to Estonia in July and raised the possibility of deploying the US Patriot missile defense system in the country. The US may deploy extra troops to eastern Europe during the course of the exercise and delay the planned rotation of others.
The commander of US Army Europe, Lt Gen Ben Hodges, told a press conference in Hungary in July: “Everybody that lives close to the western military district is a little bit worried because they hear about the size of the exercise.”
The Russian armed forces have undergone rapid modernisation over the last decade and Zapad offers them a chance to train en masse.
Moscow blames growing west-east tensions on the expansion of NATO eastwards and in recent years the deployment of more NATO forces in countries bordering Russia. NATO says the increased deployments are in response to the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2013.
Russia has not said how many troops will participate in Zapad 17, but the Russian ambassador to NATO , Aleksander Grushko, said it was not envisioned that any of the maneuvers would involve more than 13,000 troops, the limit at which Russia – under an international agreement – would be obliged to allow military from other countries to observe the exercise.
Russia could, theoretically, divide the exercise into separate parts in order to keep below the 13,000 limit. Western analysts said the last Zapad exercise in 2013 involved an estimated 70,000 military and support personnel, even though Russia informed NATO in the run-up it would not exceed 13,000.
Igor Sutyagin, co-author of Russia’s New Ground Forces, to be officially published on September 20 said, “unfortunately, you can’t trust what the Russians say.” He said, “one hundred thousand is probably exaggerated, but 18,000 is absolutely realistic.”
He did not envisage an attack on the Baltic states, given they are members of NATO . “Well, there are easier ways to commit suicide,” he said. But Putin is a master at doing the unexpected, he said, and Russia could take action elsewhere, such as taking more land in Georgia.
In a joint paper published in May, Col Tomasz Kowalik, a former special assistant to the chairman of NATO’s military committee and a director at the Polish ministry of national defense, and Dominik Jankowski, a senior official at the Polish ministry of foreign affairs, wrote that Russia had ordered 4,000 rail cars to transport its troops to Belarus and estimated that could amount to 30,000 military personnel.
Adding in troops already in place in Belarus and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad as well as troops arriving by air, it might be the largest Russian exercise since 1991.
NATO said its biggest exercise this year, Trident Javelin 17, running from Nov. 8-17, would involve only 3,000 troops. Trident Javelin 17 is to prepare for next year’s bigger exercise, Trident Juncture 2018, which will involve an estimated 35,000 troops.
The NATO official added: “We have increased our military presence in the eastern part of the alliance in response to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and its military buildup in the region. We have four multinational NATO battle-groups in place in the Baltic states and Poland, a concrete reminder that an attack on one ally is an an attack on all. However, NATO’s force posture is not in reaction to Zapad 17.”
During the Cold War, Zapad was the biggest training exercise of the Soviet Union and involved an estimated 100,000 to 150,000 personnel. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was resurrected in 1999 and has been held every four years since.
A U.S. Naval Academy midshipman received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal Jan. 9 in front of the entire Brigade of Midshipmen assembled in Alumni Hall.
Midshipman 3rd Class Jonathan Dennler, a member of the academy’s 20th Company, received the medal — the highest noncombat decoration awarded for heroism by the Navy — for his heroic actions while leading a Boy Scout troop in July.
While camping in Quetico Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada, the troop was caught in a major storm, with wind gusts of up to 80 mph and lightning strikes. Two trees fell on the campsite, killing a scout and an adult volunteer and severely injuring others.
When Dennler couldn’t contact anyone on the radio for help, he canoed more than 1.5 miles at night in 60 mph winds to a ranger station to bring back help and medical supplies.
The Navy and Marine Corps Medal falls in order of precedence just below the Distinguished Flying Cross and above the Bronze Star. It was first bestowed during World War II to Navy Lt. j.g. John F. Kennedy. Only about 3,000 sailors and Marines have received the award since. To earn this award, there must be evidence the act of heroism involved very specific life-threatening risk to the awardee.
The award came as a surprise to both Dennler and his classmates, who listened in silence while academy superintendent Navy Vice Adm. Ted Carter read the award citation. His classmates then gave him a rousing standing ovation.
“It was an incredibly humbling and unexpected experience,” Dennler said. “I’m very thankful to everyone who helped to make that happen and for the support of my family and friends.”
The award wasn’t a surprise to his parents, who also attended the award presentation. Dennler’s mother, Monica Dennler, described her son as “persistent and tenacious.”
Navy Vice Adm. Ted Carter, the superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy, right, speaks to the Brigade of Midshipman about the Navy and Marine Corps Medal awarded to Midshipman 3rd Class Jonathan Dennler during a ceremony at Alumni Hall in Annapolis, Md., Jan. 9, 2017. (Navy photo by Kenneth Aston)
“He knows how to persevere, and has a kind heart,” she said. “He was the only one who knew what to do back in high school when a classmate broke their leg at a basketball game, because he was an Eagle Scout.”
“He is a quiet young man who would not want a big fuss, but rightfully deserves it,” said Chief Petty Officer Nicholas Howell, the senior enlisted leader of 20th Company. “Out of his classmates, he is the one who has the level head to think clearly and decisively act to contain the situation and help bring about the best possible solution.”
Dennler is a political science major and completed two years of college at George Washington University before transferring to the Naval Academy.
“USNA has taught me how to work and think in environments where many things are out of my control, and I think the academy helps to create mindsets that put others first,” he said. “I am incredibly thankful for those lessons.”
An active member of the academy’s Semper Fi Society, he hopes to serve in the Marine Corps after graduating in 2019.
Master Sgt. Raul “Roy” P. Benavidez was a young special forces linguist and medic when, in 1965, he stepped on a mine in Vietnam and was evacuated to the United States. He was told he’d never walk again. But, wanting to return to Vietnam, he began a nightly ritual of attempting to relearn how to walk despite explicit orders from his doctors.
A year later, his doctor was standing in Benavidez’s hospital room with medical discharge papers. The doctor made a deal with Benavidez that he’d tear up the discharge if Benavidez walked out of the room. Benavidez did one better by walking out of the ward.
Amazingly, this was not the most insane or heroic part of Benavidez’s life. That’s because, after returning to Vietnam, Benavidez volunteered to assist with the emergency extraction of a 12-man special forces team under extreme fire on May 2, 1968. He rode into battle on the fourth helicopter to attempt extraction, the first three having been driven back by withering small arms and anti-aircraft fire. The fourth bird also decided it couldn’t land, but allowed Benavidez to drop out of the helicopter 75 meters from the team.
Benavidez ran the 75 meters and was wounded three times in the process, including once in the head and once in the face. Despite his wounds, he began repositioning the wounded team members so they could lay down fire while also marking the location for aircraft to attempt extraction. When the bird arrived, he ran alongside, providing cover fire, as the helicopter picked up the wounded. Right as the helicopter and Benavidez reached the dead team leader, Benavidez was hit by small arms fire and grenade shrapnel while the pilot was mortally wounded and crashed the aircraft.
Benavidez again recovered the wounded and placed them in a defensive perimeter. He began circuits of the perimeter, distributing ammunition and water. As the enemy increased its pressure on the team, he began calling in airstrikes.
Another aircraft arrived to attempt extraction and Benavidez — despite his own serious injuries — ferried the dead and wounded to the waiting helicopter until he was clubbed from behind by an enemy soldier. He engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the soldier and killed him, but sustained bayonet wounds. While ferrying the last of the wounded to the bird, he engaged two additional enemy soldiers, killing them and protecting the helicopter.
Then, just to prove being wounded 37 times in six hours of combat ain’t no thang, he did a final sweep of the perimeter to ensure no wounded men or classified material was left on the battlefield.
Finally, Benavidez allowed himself to be pulled from the fight. Upon arriving back at the base, he was declared dead by two doctors. As the second one was zipping up the body bag, Benavidez proved he was alive by spitting in the doctor’s face, much like he had been spitting in the face of death for the previous six hours.
It would be nearly 13 more years before Benavidez was awarded the Medal of Honor, primarily because it was thought that there were no surviving witnesses to testify to his actions. After a team member who did survive, Brian O’Conner, heard Benavidez was still alive and that a witness testimony would allow him to be awarded the nation’s highest military honor, O’Conner provided a 10-page report to satisfy the requirement.
On February 24, 1981, President Ronald Reagan presented the Medal Of Honor. Before reading the citation, he told the crowd, “If the story of his heroism were a movie script, you would not believe it.”
The reading of the citation and Benavidez’s story, in his own words, is available in the video below.
On March 10, 2021 the United States House of Representatives unanimously approved the VA Vaccine Act, requiring the Department of Veteran Affairs to offer the COVID-19 vaccine to all veterans.
With the passage of the VA Vaccine Act in the House, it changes things considerably. The language of the bill makes it a requirement that all veterans have the opportunity to receive the vaccine, regardless of attachment to the VA’s health services. This means quite literally any veteran can receive the vaccination as long as they qualify for VA services, including those living overseas. The legislation also includes the veterans caregivers.
There are some restrictions, however. Those enrolled in the VA healthcare system are prioritized over those who aren’t currently enrolled. When the vaccine supply is available, veterans not receiving VA care can then receive it.
The bill was introduced by Congressman Mike Bost of Illinois, the leading Republican on the Veterans’ Affairs committee in the House of Representatives. “Getting vaccines into the arms of every person who wants one as soon as we can is key to finally getting us past this pandemic. In my mind, veterans should always be at the front of the line,” said Ranking Member Bost in a statement.
Congressman Charlie Crist of Florida was also on the bill’s introduction. In a statement he shared his frustration in hearing from his veteran constituents who weren’t able to get through the red tape of the VA. “I’m proud that the House has taken decisive action to do right by Florida’s Veterans. I introduced Vaccines for Veterans Act because Veterans were calling my office saying they tried to get their coronavirus vaccine at the VA but were turned away,” he said.
Now, they won’t be.
In a VA press release Acting VA Under Secretary for Health Richard Stone M.D shared that the VA now has a third highly effective vaccine to offer to veterans with the FDA emergency approval of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The release also shared that as of March 3, 2021 both doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 had been administered by the VA to almost 1 million individuals. The Johnson & Johnson version of the vaccine only requires one dose.
The VA Vaccine Act now heads to the Senate, where a similar measure was introduced on March 9, 2021. Senators will now have to make the decision on whether to act on the House approved bill or move forward with their own, potentially delaying the process of approval. Based on the swiftness that both Congress and the Biden administration are pushing the vaccinations of all Americans, it appears the Senate will approve the House bill.
The bill has the support of nine Veterans Service Organizations (VSO) including Paralyzed Veterans of America, Minority Veterans of America, the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, The American Legion, Wounded Warrior Project, AMVETS and Veterans for Common Sense.
“After such a difficult year, stories of vulnerable veterans being denied lifesaving vaccines from VA are painful to hear,” said Bost in a statement. “The VA VACCINE Act would make sure that doesn’t happen again. The bill gives VA the authority it needs to meet this moment. It is a lifeline for veterans and their caregivers. I urge my Senate colleagues to send it to the President’s desk as soon as possible.”
Acting VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. Richard Stone said the VA is supportive of the legislation in an interview with Military Times. “It’s the next logical step for us,” he said. “Should Congress give us the authority, we’ll be ready.”
Military and veteran spouses selected from nationwide search to represent their communities and provide a deeper understanding of what today’s military families need and value
One of MFAN’s greatest assets, the advisory board is a talented group of military and veteran spouses who are leaders, changemakers, and champions for military families in their community and around the world. Organized as a peer-influencer model, advisors utilize their unique perspectives and diverse networks to provide an authentic pulse on the most pressing issues facing the military community today. The work of the advisory board not only informs MFAN’s research, programming, and strategic priorities, but connects leaders in the public and private sectors – including the White House, U.S. Congress, U.S. Department of Defense, corporate partners, and military and veteran service organizations – with the lived experiences of military families.
The 14 advisors were selected from over 260 total applicants, a program record. MFAN’s fifth cohort represents 10 states and includes spouses of active duty service members and veterans from all six branches of service and the National Guard.
“Our advisory board is the foundation for all we do – informing us on emerging trends that are starting to take root in military households and allowing MFAN to stay one step ahead on key issues like military housing and food insecurity,” said Shannon Razsadin, MFAN president and executive director. “We’re thrilled to welcome our new advisors. I look forward to learning from them and working together to serve our incredible community.”
Advisors apply for and are selected to serve two-year terms. Candidates are selected by the MFAN Board of Directors.
Through a rigorous application and interview process, the new advisors have offered insights into critical areas affecting the military community like food insecurity, access to affordable housing, financial readiness, education, health care, employment and entrepreneurship, military and veteran caregiving, the transition to civilian life, LGBTQIA+ rights, and more.
“Choosing from our largest applicant pool yet, we’re incredibly grateful for everyone’s interest and commitment to serving the military community with us,” said Rosemary Williams, chair of the MFAN board of directors. “In selecting our new advisors, we focused on building a diverse and unique team with the ability to represent the entire military community. We’re thrilled to work with this impressive group and support our most deserving families.”
2021-2023 advisory board members include:
Joanne Coddington (Army Veteran, Army Spouse – North Carolina)
Heidi Dindial (Navy Veteran, Navy Spouse – Virginia)
Jennifer Gibbs (Coast Guard Spouse – Minnesota)
Jennifer Goodale (Marine Corps Veteran, Marine Corps Spouse – Virginia)
Joanna Guldin-Noll (Navy Spouse – Pennsylvania)*
Lauren Hope (Army Spouse – Colorado)
Kyra Mailki (Air Force Spouse – Colorado)
Cindy Meili (Air National Guard Spouse – New York)
Mary Monrose (Navy Spouse – Hawaii)
Rachel Moyers (Air Force Spouse – Missouri)
Hana Romer (Marine Corps Veteran, Marine Corps Spouse – California)*
Now the slowly melting ice and snow has uncovered the wreck of the doomed Military Air Transport Service plane. It was found two miles away from the spot of the crash, slowly moved over the years by the receding Colony Glacier.
“The glacier essentially held these things in a capsule,” Elizabeth Feeney, a spokeswoman for the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, told the Los Angeles Times. “Many of the things that we get back are easily identifiable.”
This includes Col. Noel Elmer Hoblit, whose remains were returned to his family in 2012. Hoblit was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
Hoblit’s granddaughter, Heidi Noel Hoblit-Graham, says her grandmother, Virginia, and her family were never the same after the crash.
“My grandmother was, towards the end of her life, an alcoholic,” Graham recalls. “The crash gave her post-traumatic stress and she became a different woman.”
Both of Graham’s grandparents were 45 at the time of the crash. Heidi Graham eventually found a box of letters her grandfather sent to her grandmother. The box also included jagged newspaper clippings, hastily cut out and put away.
“It was life-changing to read through these love letters, through every newspaper article that my grandmother saved,” Graham says. “Maybe she felt like she had to to save the memory but couldn’t go back and face it herself. Maybe she thought she would be able to one day, but she just never did.”
She never remarried, never even dated again.
Hoblit’s remains were buried on what would have been his wedding anniversary. Two of his sons, retired Air Force Col. Jerry Hoblit and retired Air Force Lt. Col. Fred Hoblit — who joined the service because of their father’s legacy — were at Arlington to receive his flag.
“My dad has early stages of dementia and he knows it,” Graham says. “He just turned 80, he knows that he’s not quite firing on the same really high intellect that he once did. He asked me to be his person to help plan this stuff.”
It was an emotional experience for the two sons. Their father had a grave marker at Arlington National Cemetery for years. Then their mother was interred there. Now they’re finally in the same place.
“I think that that was an important thing for my dad,” Graham says. “I think my uncle was so broken from having lost his father that I don’t think he’s ever really recovered.”
Many families have since been reunited with their loved ones’ remains since the glacier started to recede in 2012. But time is running out for the families of the nearly two dozen remaining crewmembers and passengers.
The wreckage is moving into a 600-foot-deep lake. Once the wreck is in the lake, the rest of the bodies will not be recoverable.
“The lake is too deep,” Graham says. “They don’t have the technology to be able to go that deep and get the remains and because it’s moving, they’re only able to go up there for two weeks out of the year in the summer to find remains.”