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.
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.
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.
The US Navy is the dominant force on the world’s oceans.
Helping to support open trade lanes, tackle piracy, and providing humanitarian missions are all part and parcel of the Navy’s mission in addition to its obvious military role. These massive responsibilities require that the Navy must be always ready to act.
Below, we’ve shared some of our favorite photos of the US Navy operating at night.
Boatswain’s Mate Seaman Clayton Jackson, from Minneapolis, guides an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter assigned to the “Dragon Whales” of Sea Combat Squadron 28 during a night vertical replenishment aboard the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea.
Weapons Department Sailors on a sponson fire a .50-caliber machine gun and flares during a night gun shoot for tiger-cruise participants watching from the hangar bay aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson.
US Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class James R. Evans
An F/A-18F Super Hornet assigned to the Swordsmen of Strike Fighter Squadron 32 lands on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower.
US Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class J. Alexander Delgado
An SH-60 Sea Hawk helicopter is seen from the well deck of the amphibious dock landing ship USS Germantown as the ship transits the East China Sea.
US Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Christopher Lindahl
Sailors recover combat rubber raiding craft with Marines assigned to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit during night operations in the well deck of the forward-deployed amphibious-assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard.
US Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Adam D. Wainwright
The Phalanx close-in weapons system is fired aboard the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Cowpens during a weapons test at sea.
US Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Paul Kelly
Aviation Boatswain’s Mate 3rd Class Kevin Williams directs an F/A-18C Hornet from the Warhawks of Strike Fighter Squadron 97 on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis.
US Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kenneth Abbate
A 25 mm machine gun fires during a live-fire exercise aboard the amphibious dock landing ship USS Carter Hall.
US Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Chelsea Mandello
CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters assigned to the Evil Eyes of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 163 refuel on the flight deck aboard the amphibious-assault ship USS Boxer during night-flight operations.
An F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to the Knighthawks of Strike Fighter Squadron 136 prepares to launch from catapult two during night-flight operations aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise.
US Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jared M. King
A student at the Aviation Survival Training Center ascends on a hoist during a simulated night exercise as part of an aircrew refresher course in Jacksonville, Florida.
US Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Todd Frantom
Sailors observe from the primary flight-control tower as an F/A-18 Hornet lands aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan.
US Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Dylan McCord
Aviation Boatswain’s Mate Airman Zach Byrd directs a CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter assigned to the Purple Foxes of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 364 during nighttime flight operations aboard the amphibious transport dock ship USS Green Bay.
US Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Elizabeth Merriam
An E-2C Hawkeye assigned to Carrier Air Wing 1 sits on the flight deck of USS Enterprise at night. Enterprise is deployed to the US 5th Fleet area of responsibility conducting maritime security operations, theater-security cooperation efforts, and support missions as a part of Operation Enduring Freedom.
US Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Brooks B. Patton Jr.
It’s Monday. I’ve been awake since 6am and I’m sipping on hot coffee – a rare treat in my house, since my kids are still asleep – and looking at my weekly planner. I see that I have another full week of appointments and social gatherings.
Seems pretty normal, right?
For any other person, this looks like a normal week. As for me, this looks like a million things to do and I start thinking of all the ways any of these can go wrong. I quickly become overwhelmed, and then, anxious. I try to gain some control by using my husband as a soundboard to discuss everything coming up, and we formulate a plan together. His reassurance is what helps me overcome the anxiety and get things done.
Then, he calls me and tells me he has a last-minute TDY, and he leaves this weekend. Once again, the military has thrown a wrench in our plans, and I am expected to pick up the slack and adapt.
For some, this last part is just par for the course, and they manage just fine despite the difficulties ahead. For me, my anxiety is now in full swing. How will I get through this?
This is just one example of how my anxiety used to affect my daily life as a military spouse. My anxiety also had control over other aspects, such as:
Making friends at a new place (because I feared I wouldn’t be accepted by them)
My spouse’s work schedule changes
As military spouses, the expectations placed on us to be strong can be difficult even without anxiety. With anxiety, those expectations are even harder to meet – including the ability to quickly adapt to situations and do things on our own while our spouses are gone. It is really hard to ask for help because we don’t want to be a burden, and as a result, we often feel more alone than we actually are.
If any of this sounds like what you are experiencing, I want you to know that you are not alone! Your friends, key spouse, and even mental health professionals are there to assist you when you are struggling, and it is okay to ask them for help. Asking for help is the best thing I ever did, and if I can do it, you can, too!
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said Sept. 14 he will retaliate against a US halt on the issuing of most visas to senior foreign ministry officials and their families by suspending missions by US military-led teams searching for the remains of Americans missing in action from the Vietnam War.
Cambodia’s pro-government Fresh News website reported that Hun Sen said cooperation with the United States on the MIA search would be suspended until the two countries resolve several issues, especially the visa ban. Government spokesman Phay Siphan confirmed the report.
The US government lists 48 Americans still unaccounted for in Cambodia.
The dispute comes at a time of sharp tensions between Hun Sen’s government and Washington. As part of a general crackdown on critics ahead of next year’s general election, Cambodian authorities recently arrested the head of the main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, and accused the United States of colluding with him to overthrow the government.
The United States has rejected the accusation and criticized the arrest, along with a crackdown on the media that shut an independent English-language newspaper and about a dozen radio stations that broadcast opposition voices or programming by the US government-financed Voice of America and Radio Free Asia.
The US Embassy instituted the visa ban on Sept. 13, saying that Cambodia had refused or delayed accepting Cambodian nationals being deported by the United States after being convicted of crimes. Similar measures were taken against the African nations of Eritrea, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.
Hun Sen said in an interview with Fresh News that the foreign ministry would send a notification of the MIA search suspension to the US in the near future. Earlier Sept. 14, the ministry denied that Cambodia had halted or delayed the acceptance of deportees, saying its main interest was amending a 2002 agreement under which it agreed to take them.
Hun Sen described the repatriation of convicts from the United States to Cambodia as an action that “breaks apart parents and children” and is “bad and inhumane.” He said some of the repatriated Cambodians had committed suicide.
Some human rights groups agree and note that some convicts had spent little time in Cambodia, going to the United States as children.
There’s an old saying: “It’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.” This perfectly sums up the role of the U.S. Army Pathfinders — that is, until Big Army cut sling load on them.
As of Feb. 24, 2017, the last Pathfinder company in the active duty United States Army, F Company, 2nd Assault Helicopter Battalion, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, cased their colors, putting an end to decades of highly trained soldiers quickly inserting themselves into hostile territory to secure sites for air support. Before that, the provisional pathfinder companies across the Army quietly cased their colors as well.
The decision to slowly phase out the Pathfinders was a difficult one. Today, the responsibility resides with all troops as the need for establishing new zones in the longest modern war in American history became less of a priority. Yet that doesn’t mean that there won’t be a need for their return at any given moment.
The Pathfinder schools are still at Fort Benning and Fort Campbell today, but they’re largely just seen as the “go-to” schools for overzealous officers trying to stack up their badges. Still, the training received there gives graduates many essential skills needed to complete Pathfinder operations.
To be a Pathfinder, you need to satisfy several prerequisites. Since their primary focus is on establishing a landing site for airborne and air assault troops, you must first be a graduate from either or both schools. The training leans heavily on knowledge learned from both schools, such as sling-load operations, while also teaching the fundamentals of air traffic control.
All of this comes in handy because Pathfinders in the field need to know, down to the foot, exactly what kind of area makes for a suitable, impromptu paratrooper drop zone or helicopter landing zone. These tasks are delicate, and human lives and hundreds of thousands of dollars are often on the line. That’s why Pathfinders need to know specifics, like how far apart glow sticks must be placed, to get the job done. Details are crucial.
These are skills that simply cannot be picked up on the fly. A typical Joe may be able to cover the physical security element of the task, but establishing a landing zone requires some complex math and carefully honed assessments. Creating drop zones for paratroopers is less mission-critical, as the paratroopers themselves are also less mission essential.
Still, the job of establishing landing zones is now put in the hands of less-qualified troops. Pilots can typically wing it, yes, but the job is best left to those who’ve been specifically trained for the specialized task.
Hat tip to our viewer Tim Moriarty for the inspiration.
The last time Forrest Cornelius, 51, shopped in a base exchange was 1989 when he completed his six-year stint in the Marine Corps. He recalls saving 10 to 15 percent on department store goods and that shoppers paid no sales tax.
Last month, Cornelius began to enjoy those advantages again as one of 12,000 or so “beta test” participants for veterans’ online exchange shopping, which will be open for millions of honorably discharged veterans on Veterans Day Nov. 11.
All veterans are being encouraged to take the same first step that Cornelius did by confirming veteran eligibility status at: https://www.vetverify.org. It might be a multi-step process if the Defense Manpower Data Center lacks information to verify that a veteran served and received an honorable discharge.
Cornelius said his email invitation was timely. He had lost his sunglasses and the replacement pair of Ray-Bans, priced at a local retail outlet near his Texas home, would cost $180. In using AAFES online to comparison shop, he found a special sale, $20 off any pair of sunglasses costing $100 or more.
“So I got that discount,” he said, “Plus it was 10 to 15 percent cheaper than retail, plus tax free, plus free shipping. I wound paying about $120 total, saving me quite a bit.”
His wife then used his benefit, shopping for undergarments that a major retailer had on sale but were out of stock in sizes and colors she wanted. AAFES had them, and she saved money too, he said. Soon they were buying sportswear for their son. Every item was shipped in a timely manner, he said, and arrived three days later.
“It was great. It was super easy. And the vetverify.org process took five minutes. I entered my full name, the last four of my Social (Security number) and it said ‘You’ve been verified.'”
By early July, 90,000 veterans had attempted to register to exchange shop online starting Nov. 11. Twelve percent of them got invitations to shop immediately. AAFES was monitoring shopping patterns to ensure its online portal and distribution system are ready for waves of new shoppers this fall, said Ana Middleton, president and chief merchandising officer for AAFES.
“My worst fear,” said Middleton, “is a tsunami on November 11th if everybody decides, ‘Hey, I’m going to check this out’ and they sign on that day” and also at the same moment.
AAFES is building website capacity to allow for 30,000 simultaneous shoppers at any given time. A lot of shoppers “would have to be signing on at that exact same millisecond to stress it out. So yes, I feel that we are sized appropriately.”
Of “beta” veterans shopping, surveys showed their top reason was the tax break. But a surprisingly close second reason, Middleton said, was an appreciation that exchanges support military quality-of-life and base support programs.
Exchange use profits to pay staff salaries, fund store operations, and ensure adequate website capacity, but even more profits are distributed to on-base Morale, Welfare, and Recreational activities, including child development centers, fitness centers, outdoor recreation, and overseas, on-base school lunches.
“Everything is just turned back to our customers,” Middleton said, and “not paying anything to any shareholders,” as retail stores must.
Besides discounts and tax breaks, AAFES online promises a price match.
“If we are not the lowest price — say you found a vacuum cleaner below our price at Wal-Mart — you can challenge our price and we will match it,” she said.
Shoppers will find prices particularly attractive on certain items like premium running shoes and children’s clothing. Profit margins on electronics are narrow everywhere, so exchange prices “are close to comparable,” Middleton said.
Exchange services aren’t sure how many veterans ultimately will shop online. AAFES will be pleased if 1 to 2 million do so, Middleton said, though “we probably don’t need that many” to declare the effort a success.
In its business plan, as leading advocate for opening exchanges online to veterans, AAFES estimated that its annual sales would climb by $185 million to $525 million and earnings would increase by $18 million to $72 million, easing budget pressure on the Army and Air Force, which have had to divert more and more appropriated dollars to family support programs as on-base store sales have been hit by force drawdowns and store closures overseas.
Veterans with only Reserve or National Guard experience have asked if they too will be viewed as “veterans” for online shopping. That remains unclear. Last December, Congress did bestow honorary “veteran” status on Reserve and National Guard retirees who completed careers of drill time but had not completed an active-duty period under Title 10 to meet the legal definition of “veteran” and receive a DD-214 “Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty.”
Reserve retirees 60 and older do have exchange shopping privileges. But what about Reserve and Guard veterans who didn’t retire or didn’t receive a DD-214? Here’s what AAFES could tell The Lawton Constitution:
“The litmus test for access to the veterans online shopping benefit resides with each veteran’s electronic records. All honorably discharged veterans, according to official government sources such as the Defense Manpower Data Center, are considered authorized to shop military exchanges online via the veterans online shopping benefit. Veterans can confirm their eligibility by visiting VetVerify.org.”
Veterans who do shop online, Middleton said, will find products “competitively priced. Are we across the board lower than everybody? No.”
Beta shoppers so far have focused, as expected, on “male-dominated” categories such as electronics, running shoes, and sports apparel. Baby care, children’s clothing, and cosmetics, however, also are selling briskly.
“The reality is (married couples) share in the purchase-making decisions,” Middleton said. “It’s like if I had a Costco card, and my husband didn’t — would he still want to make buying decisions with me if I came home and said, ‘Hey there’s a great price on a TV?’ Probably. But this benefit is afforded to the (veteran) military member … If your spouse is using your password we have no way of knowing.”
Merchandise selection is wider online than in base stores. The only goods veterans are barred from purchasing are military uniform items.
Exchanges are delighted to be offering the new benefit, Middleton said, particularly to so many veterans who didn’t get to enjoy it more while serving.
“The sad reality is so many of these kids went to basic (training) and then to war, so their recollection of who we are is a Coke and bag of chips in a war zone. Do they have an understanding of the breadth of products we sell?”
The U.S. ambassador to the UN said on March 1, 2018, that she wants the UN Security Council to create a new investigative team charged with determining who is behind chemical attacks in Syria following several reports of the use of chlorine gas in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta in recent weeks.
U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said she hopes the council will vote on the measure in early March 2018. The initiative comes days after the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a child suffocated to death and 13 other people fell ill from a suspected chlorine gas attack over the weekend.
A previous UN inquiry ended in November 2017 after Russia vetoed efforts to renew its mandate. Russia maintained that the investigative team, which had attributed most of the chemical attacks it investigated to the Syrian government, was biased against its ally. Damascus insists it has renounced all use of chemical weapons.
Russia, in January 2018, offered its own plan to create a new inquiry but has never put it to a vote before the council. The Russian plan was opposed by the United States and other Western countries, which said it gave Syria too much influence over investigations.
“When the Russians put their mechanism forward, that’s a non-starter, and so that’s why we’re coming back out with another one,” Haley told Reuters. “We’ve been working on it since the [previous inquiry] was killed.”
“We’ve taken into account certain things that [Russian diplomats] thought were an issue, but if they want no mechanism at all, they’ll veto it,” Haley said.
U.S. diplomats said their draft resolution to set up a new one-year inquiry was discussed at a UN meeting on March 1, 2018, but Russian diplomats did not attend.
A council diplomat said it was unlikely Russia would back the measure, which calls for investigators to operate in “an impartial, independent, and professional manner.”
Russia criticized the previous UN investigative team for reaching conclusions about who perpetrated a chemical attack sometimes without visiting the place where the attack occurred or collecting evidence firsthand.
Russia and Syria fiercely rejected a final conclusion reached in the previous inquiry, which found the Syrian government used the nerve agent sarin in an attack April 2017 that killed nearly 100 civilians in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhun.
Russian diplomats vetoed efforts to renew the inquiry after that incident, complaining that the UN investigative team never visited the site of the attack or the Syrian airbase from where the attack was allegedly launched.
The United States is to deploy radars in Hawaii by 2023 that could enhance efforts to deter North Korea missiles, a Japanese newspaper reported Feb. 15, 2018.
The Sankei Shimbun reported Homeland Defense Radar-Hawaii, or HDR-H, will be deployed in five years’ time in response to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
The report comes after the U.S. Missile Defense Agency described in its documents the need for the radar, which will raise the “discrimination capability in the Pacific architecture” and increase “the ability of [ground-based interceptors] GBIs to enhance the defense of Hawaii.”
Head of the U.S. Pacific Command, Adm. Harry B. Harris, said the radar would greatly improve the ability to detect and identify missiles that reach the Pacific Ocean, according to the Sankei.
Harris added the radar deployment would significantly increase the targeting ability of ground-based interceptor missiles currently located on the U.S. West Coast, and that Hawaii faces the most direct threat from potential North Korea missiles.
The top military commander, who is expected to soon serve as the Trump administration’s U.S. ambassador to Australia, also said the U.S. missile defense system THAAD, deployed in South Korea, and Aegis Ashore missiles in the region, may not be enough to defend the U.S. homeland.
Harris said he thinks North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has ulterior motives that are dangerous.
“I do think that he is after reunification [of the Korean peninsula] under a single communist system,” he said, adding, “The Republic of Korea and Japan have been living under the shadow of [North Korea’s] threats for years, and now the shadow looms over the American homeland.”
The forced abdication of the Russian Tsar Nicolas II in 1917 sparked a civil war between the Bolshevik “Red” army fighting for Communism and various factions known as the “White” army, generally fighting against the Communists. In an effort to stop the Bolsheviks from taking control of the country, the World War I-era Allied forces invaded Russia near the end of the Great War.
For its part, America provided two contingents. The American North Russia Expeditionary Force was deployed to Arkhangelsk, while the second, called the American Expeditionary Force Siberia, was deployed to Vladivostok. The American North Russia Expeditionary force consisted of soldiers from the 85th Division’s 339th Infantry Regiment,consisting of about 5,000 Americans who were originally en route to France to fight on the Western Front. Due to the extreme climate in which they operated, they came to be known as the Polar Bears.
The 339th began arriving in Russia in September 1918, shortly before the armistice would end World War I. Upon their arrival it was discovered that the allied war materiel supposedly stored at Arkhangelsk had been moved away by the Bolsheviks. Instead, ‘Detroit’s Own’, as the 339th was often known, went on the offensive against Bolshevik forces along the Dvina River and Vologda Railroad. The Americans advanced quickly and for nearly six weeks drove the Red Army back. By late October, the American force was holding two fronts well over 100 miles apart which created great logistical difficulties. To make matters worse, the brutal Russian winter was beginning. In order to hold their gains, the Americans turned to the defensive and set in for the winter.
The Red Army, accustomed to the icy winters of Russia, had no intention of letting up and began a winter offensive against the Allied forces. Though the Americans fought viciously, they were pushed back along the Dvina. Furthermore, the hope that the presence of the Allies would assist in raising local anti-communist forces turned out to be unfounded so the force began to find itself with little support.
When the war ended in Europe on November 11 of that year, the soldiers in Russia began to question why they were still fighting. As the winter went on, their willingness to fight deteriorated. The New York Times ran a scathing review of the expedition in February 1919. Combined with rumors of mutiny, this led to President Woodrow Wilson to order the unit’s withdrawal. On April 17, 1919 Brig. Gen. Wilds P. Richardson arrived in Arkhangelsk with orders to withdraw the Polar Bear Expedition. They were gone by June.
During their time in Russia, the Polar Bears suffered over 500 casualties. Due to the nature of warfare at the time, over 100 bodies were not recovered. A significant effort by veterans of the 339th led to the repatriation of nearly all lost or buried in Russia in the coming decades.
Although the campaign did not meet its stated goals, it’s an interesting bit of history considering the United States and Russia would spend much of the 20th Century facing off against one another in the Cold War.
Federal officials plan to crackdown on what they view as predatory lending schemes — reminiscent of the toxic practices seen during the housing boom — targeted at thousands of veterans nationwide who have VA home loans.
The abuses involve serial refinancings that generate hefty fees for lenders and loan brokers but leave borrowers in worse financial shape than they were before the transaction. Lenders are dangling teaser interest rates, “cash out” windfalls, and lower monthly payments, sometimes using shady marketing materials that resemble official information from the Department of Defense. Not infrequently, officials say, borrowers end up in negative equity positions, owing more on their loan balance than their house is worth.
Officials at the Government National Mortgage Association, better known as Ginnie Mae, say some veterans are being flooded with misleading refi offers and are signing up without assessing the costs and benefits. Some properties are being refinanced multiple times a year, thanks to “poaching” by lenders who aggressively solicit competitors’ recent borrowers to refi them again and roll the fees into a new loan balance.
The costs to the veterans can far outweigh the relatively modest reductions in monthly payments. In an analysis of questionable refinancings, Ginnie Mae found “many” examples where the borrowers were persuaded to switch from a long-term fixed interest rate to a lower-rate, short-term adjustable, but saw the principal amount owed to the lender jump by thousands of dollars. In an average fixed-rate to adjustable-rate refi, according to data provided to me for this column, borrowers added $12,000 to their debt in order to reduce their monthly payment by $165. Just to break even on that deal would take more than six years, according to Ginnie Mae, and could push unsuspecting borrowers into negative equity.
A typical pitch for one of these loans was received recently by a veteran and his wife who live in Silver Spring, Md. Along with a fake “check” made out to the veteran in the amount of $30,000 — all he had to do to get the cash was sign up for a refi — were come-ons like this: a new 2.25 percent interest rate, no out-of-pocket expenses, a refund of his escrow money, and up to two months with zero mortgage payments.
“Call now and lock in your rate before rates go any higher,” urged the lender. In small print on the back of the check were a couple of key disclosures: Homeowners would have to switch from their current 3.75 percent fixed rate to a “3/1” adjustable rate that could increase 36 months after closing and rise to as high as 7.25 percent during the life of the loan. There was nothing about fees or the fact that opting for the refi could add to the family’s debt load.
VA home loans are backed by the Department of Veterans Affairs and often have no down payment. Lenders who originate them receive guarantees of a portion of the loan amount against loss in the event of a default. Ginnie Mae bundles VA and Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans into mortgage bonds, which are then purchased by investors who receive guarantees of timely payments.
In an interview, Michael R. Bright, acting Ginnie Mae president, said some of the abuses he is seeing hark back to 2005 and 2006 — heyday years of the boom before the bust. “We’re seeing borrowers refinance three times in less than six months and (their) loan balances going up.” Homeowners also are dumping fixed-rate loans for riskier adjustables.
“That was the play back then” during the boom, he said. Now it’s back.
Bright declined to name mortgage lenders who are most aggressively involved in abusive refis, but he said violators of agency rules face financial penalties and loss of eligibility to participate in bond offerings — essentially closing down their funding source.
Bottom line for VA borrowers: Look skeptically at all refi promotions. Run the numbers to see whether refinancing will leave you better off — or deeper in debt.
The United States formally withdrew on November 22 from the Open Skies Treaty, an 18-year-old arms control and verification agreement that Washington repeatedly accused Moscow of violating.
The withdrawal is the latest blow to the system of international arms control that U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly scorned, complaining that Washington was being either deceived or unfairly restrained in its military capabilities.
The U.S. State Department confirmed the move, noting six months had expired since notice of the pending exit had been issued and saying “the U.S. withdrawal took effect on November 22, 2020, and the United States is no longer a State Party to the Treaty on Open Skies.”
The National Security Council confirmed the withdrawal and added that “Russia flagrantly violated [the treaty] for years.”
It quoted national-security adviser Robert O’Brien as saying the move was part of an effort to “put America first by withdrawing us from outdated treaties and agreements that have benefited our adversaries at the expense of our national security.”
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on May 21 announced the U.S. intention to withdraw and gave the six-month notification to Open Skies’ 34 other members, as required under the treaty’s rules.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry condemned the U.S. decision.
“Washington has made its move. Neither European security nor the security of the United States and its allies themselves have benefited from it. Now many in the West are wondering what Russia’s reaction will be. The answer is simple. We have repeatedly emphasized that all options are open to us,” the ministry said in a statement on November 22.
Signed in 1992, the treaty, which entered into force in 2002, allows its 34 members to conduct short-notice, unarmed observation and surveillance flights over one another’s territories, to collect data on military forces and activities. More than 1,500 flights have taken place under the agreement.
The treaty’s proponents say the flights help build confidence by showing that, for example, adversaries are not secretly deploying forces or preparing to launch attacks.
But its critics, particularly among U.S. Republicans, have asserted the treaty has been violated repeatedly, first and foremost by Moscow.
In his May statement, Pompeo charged that Russian violations included restrictions on flights near breakaway regions over Georgia, along Russia’s southern borders, and limits on the lengths of flights over the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.
“Russia has consistently acted as if it were free to turn its obligations off and on at will,” he said.
Arms control experts have said while some of the U.S. complaints have merit, others are misleading. And U.S. military and intelligence agencies will lose an important source of data by not being party to the treaty, they said, and NATO allies support the agreement.
“While Russia has violated the treaty, the United States has reciprocated. NATO allies support the treaty — which focuses first and foremost on enhancing European security — and wish the United States to remain a party,” Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador and arms control expert, said in commentary published last week.
The Trump administration has targeted several international treaties over the past four years, most notably the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a key Cold War agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union.
After years of complaining that Russia had secretly designed, then deployed, a treaty-violating missile, Washington withdrew in 2019 and the treaty collapsed.
Another more consequential treaty, the New START agreement, is also set to expire in February 2021, and U.S. and Russian officials have been struggling to find a way to keep it intact.
But Trump administration officials want to expand the treaty to include China. And they have also sent mixed signals about new conditions for extending New START, something Moscow has rejected.
Adding to the uncertainty is Trump’s expected departure from the White House on January 21, 2021, when Democrat Joe Biden is scheduled to be inaugurated and take office.
Biden has signaled support for extending New START and preserving other treaties.
“Instead of tearing up treaties that make us and our allies more secure, President Trump…should remain in the Open Skies Treaty and work with allies to confront and resolve problems regarding Russia’s compliance,” Biden said in a statement in May.
Military spouses have enough on their plates. They do not need your unsolicited, unfavorable, unmannered, advice. There are so many ways you can help end the falsified image of helplessness military spouses have been forced to live with, within our culture. We are educated, physically strong and well-rounded people. We don’t need a pity party.
What we do need is support for our working military spouses, efficiently running daycare facilities, and units that truly understand that we too are important to the readiness of our service members.
Do you want to strengthen our military communities? If so, here’s how you can help end the negative stigma of the military spouse.
Do Not Contribute to the degradation of our community.
If you hear a rumor don’t repeat it. If you see a hurtful meme, don’t share it. Oftentimes, bullying is concealed and bred this way. Eventually, it spreads into a full-fledged attack on military spouses. Further dividing our community. Be a part of the solution, not the problem.
Every second of every day, a military spouse is left as their service member goes off to training, temporary duty, or war. They may be a new spouse, or maybe not. Either way, when they post about missing their loved one, be compassionate, or be invisible. You don’t have to contribute to every post. Just scroll on by.
Volunteer within the military community.
Volunteering is a great way to learn about the needs of a community. This can help you get to know the struggles military spouses face and how you can be a source of strength and compassion for them. If you have time, go volunteer at the local USO. If you don’t have time, but would like to donate resources, the USO is always in need of items such as; candy, coffee, greeting cards, and other basic care essentials. Reach out to your local USO and find out how you can help.
Be an advocate.
Speaking up about the struggles affecting military families helps start the much-needed conversation about the services or lack thereof within our community. Many services and programs specifically for military spouses aren’t well supported throughout the military for various reasons. We don’t need our hands held but we would like those in high places to advocate the need for the funding of enrichment programs.
Hear our stories.
We all come from different walks of life. We are derived from diverse cultures and have unique skill sets. Learn about who we are. Some of us are doctors, some scientists, engineers, and many have served within the military ranks. Allow spouses to speak at military town halls, and conferences about those things that are in our lane of expertise.
Let’s end the negative stigma of military spouses. Learn who we are, be encouraging, be an advocate, and most importantly, do not contribute to the spreading of rumors or the bullying of military spouses. We deserve to be treated with respect. As our service members fight the battles abroad, we shouldn’t have to fight ones at home. We too matter.
The Field Artillery Basic Officer Leader Course (BOLC) implemented a new change to its capstone exercise, Red Leg War, giving students a more realistic experience before entering their respective units.
This change now allows students to approach the impact zone while calling in fires during the Fires Support Coordination Exercise.
“We want them to have the experience of fires impacting much closer than they have in the past,” said Lt. Col. Terry Hilt, 1st Battalion, 30th Field Artillery commander. “They will now be able to potentially walk through the craters as they move from objective to objective.
Field Artillery Basic Officer Leader Course students conduct a walk-through of the impact zone during a fire support coordination exercise (FSCX) Jan. 17, 2019, at Fort Sill.
(Photo by Daniel Malta, Fort Sill Public Affairs)
“We have a safety on Dailey Hill counting rounds as the lane [of soldiers] advances,” he said. “We also have an EOD [Explosive Ordnance Disposal] team out there.”
If a round doesn’t explode and it’s in the path of the soldiers, then the lane is stopped and the EOD team takes care of the unexploded ordnance, Hilt said.
2nd Lt. Anderson Simmons approaches the impact area Jan. 17. He and his classmates graduated Jan. 23, 2019, to become the Army’s newest field artillery officers.
(Photo by Daniel Malta, Fort Sill Public Affairs)
In the past, after planning, briefing and rehearsing, students had been brought to an observation point where they would call in fires on designated targets.
Field Artillery Basic Officer Leader Course students do a quick huddle as they approach the impact zone Jan. 17, 2019.
(Photo by Daniel Malta, Fort Sill Public Affairs)
Now, students get to fully realize the effects of that planning by getting as close as 750 meters from impacting rounds, while simultaneously calling in fire from mobile positions.
This also allows students to more realistically adapt their fire commands while moving to contact, and exposes them to the devastating effects of those artillery rounds, Hilt said.