This foundation exists because the financial needs of vets aren't being met - We Are The Mighty
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This foundation exists because the financial needs of vets aren’t being met

“Very simply, the PenFed Foundation exists because there are real financial needs facing America’s veterans and their caregivers that, frankly, are not currently being met,” says James Schenck, PenFed Credit Union and PenFed Foundation President and CEO


The PenFed Foundation has four key programs to assist with veteran financial well-being:

  • Military Heroes Fund – Focused on keeping a medical emergency from becoming a financial one
  • Asset Recovery Kit -Offers interest-free loans and financial counseling to break the cycle of payday lending
  • Dream Makers – Providing closing cost assistance and other help to allow vets to realize the American dream of home ownership
  • Defenders Lodge -Safe, no-cost hotel for outpatient veterans and their caregivers at Palo Alto, CA’s VA Med Center

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6 pictures of how military working dogs train

Soldiers and military working dogs demonstrate their skills at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, March 7, 2017.


1. Jerry and his human.

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Army Pfc. Heaven Southard releases her military working dog, Jerry, during a demonstration at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, March 7, 2017. Southard is a military working dog handler assigned to the Directorate of Emergency Services in Kuwait. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Dalton Smith)

2. Jerry shows how he would take down a terrorist.

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Army Pfc. Heaven Southard, rear, watches as her military working dog, Jerry, bites and takes down Army Staff Sgt. Daniel Sullivan during a demonstration at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, March 7, 2017. Southard is a military working dog handler assigned to the Directorate of Emergency Services in Kuwait. Sullivan is a public affairs noncommissioned officer assigned to U.S. Army Central. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Dalton Smith)

3. Diana teaches her human obedience.

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Army Spc. Michael Coffey practices obedience with Diana, his military working dog, during a demonstration at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, March 7, 2017. Coffey is a military working dog handler assigned to the Directorate of Emergency Services in Kuwait. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Dalton Smith)

4. Hide yo’ kids. Hide yo’ wives. Diana gonna find you.

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Diana, a military working dog, searches for a training aid during a demonstration at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, March 7, 2017. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Dalton Smith)

5. Freddy is on the hunt.

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Freddy, a military working dog, searches for a training aid during a demonstration at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, March 7, 2017. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Dalton Smith)

6. Freddy walks his human.

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Army Pfc. Elizabeth Adrian walks with her military working dog, Freddy, during a demonstration at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, March 7, 2017. Adrian is a military working dog handler assigned to the Directorate of Emergency Services in Kuwait. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Dalton Smith)

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That time the Japanese made a last-ditch plan to spread the plague in Calfornia

This foundation exists because the financial needs of vets aren’t being met


The Empire of Japan was in dire straits by 1945. Between the terribly bloody Pacific island-hopping campaign by the United States and its allies and the firebombing against Japanese cities, Japan was looking for anything it could use to hold back the enemy tide. One plan that was almost brought into fruition was the mass use of bubonic plague against the U.S. mainland, meant to terrify the civilian population and disrupt the war effort off the West coast.

The plan was named Operation Cherry Blossoms at Night, and was the brainchild of Lt. General Shiro Ishii, the commander of Japan’s infamous biological warfare program. Unit 731, as the program was known, had been developing and testing biological weapons since 1932 under the perversely named Army Epidemic Prevention Research Laboratory.

Using special float-planes deployed from five of the huge Japanese I-400 class submarines, which had been designed to launch airstrikes against the United States West coast, the plan was to use either biological bombs or Kamikaze attacks to spread bubonic plague across San Diego. The mission was expected to be a one-way suicide mission for all pilots and submariners involved.

To develop these weapons and others, Unit 731 had been using human experimentation on a vast and horrifying scale, testing everything from germs and chemical toxins to flame throwers on live subjects. Most of the experimentation took place on civilians from occupied territories, mainly China, but some Allied prisoners of war were also included in the experiments.

But it was by far the aerial biological bombing in mainland China that took the largest toll. Unit 731 used low-flying aircraft to infect Chinese coastal cities with bubonic plague infected fleas, and also experimented with air-dropped cholera, anthrax, and tularemia. The resulting outbreaks are estimated to have killed as many as 400,000 to 600,000 Chinese, mainly civilians.

These sort of results made the weapons seem ideal for a strike on the U.S. west coast. They hoped that the resulting epidemic would spread and disrupt the huge logistical operations supplying the U.S. armies and fleets bearing down on the Japanese Home Islands.

It was not the first plan by the Japanese to attack the U.S. mainland. Several Japanese submarines had shelled targets targets on the west coast, with minimal results. Operation Fu-Go launched over 9,300 hydrogen balloons loaded with explosives into the Pacific jet stream, where they would be propelled towards North America.

The plan was that the explosives would start forest fires, burn cropland and spread fear among the civilian population. Despite Japanese propaganda that claimed American deaths in the thousands and widespread panic, the program was an almost complete failure. It was clear that something more destructive was needed for such piecemeal attacks, and biological weapons seemed a natural solution.

In the end, after a lot of careful planning, the operation never happened. Only 3 out a projected 18 I-400 submarines could built, and the Japanese high command wanted those held back to defend the Home Islands. The operation was not slated to begin until Sept. 22, 1945, and the August atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the subsequent surrender rendered the operation moot. No biological weapons were ever dropped onto to U.S. soil.

After the war, despite the horrific atrocities committed against civilians and Allied POW’s, many of the doctors of Unit 731, including Shiro Ishii, were granted immunity from war crimes prosecution in exchange for their knowledge of biological warfare and human experimentation. Part of Operation Paperclip, which also gave immunity to hundreds of German rocket scientists and other scientific personnel, the US government had decided their expertise was too valuable to lose.

It is unlikely that Operation Cherry Blossoms at Night could have had any real effect on the outcome of the war, given that victory over Japan by the U.S. in 1945 was a foregone conclusion. Japan was essentially blockaded, its remaining forces were hopelessly outgunned, and the U.S. atomic bombings and the Soviet invasion of Manchuria showed that no last ditch plan could save them.

Unit 731 was the first to use modern biological weapons on a large scale, and the terrible toll they took in China showed how ruthlessly effective such munitions could be. If the war had not ended when it did, San Diego and southern California might have faced what China had already suffered, with terrible consequences.

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That time a US general challenged Teddy Roosevelt’s orders with a 90-mile ride

In today’s Army, you can be the toughest general in the U.S. military, but when you turn 64, it’s time to go.


It’s well known most bodies just can’t take the rigors of duty and deployment beyond that (though Gen. Jim Mattis might be the exception), but history does have examples of military leaders who went well past their sexagenarian limitations.

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Though an excellent soldier, Miles was notorious for being stubborn, quarrelsome, overambitious and opinionated. Many, including President Theodore Roosevelt, wanted to see him cast out of the Army once and for all. Those who knew Miles best were aware that he wasn’t going to be forced out of the army without a fight. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

 

The 73-year-old Prussian Field Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher of the Battle of Warterloo fame did it, and so did the 62-year-old Gen. George Sears Greene, whose men fought off repeated Confederate assaults at Culp’s Hill during the Battle of Gettysburg.

Army Lt. Gen. Nelson A. Miles was another one of these timeless warriors who shattered this stereotype and demonstrated that age does not provide a restriction to some men.

Nelson Appleton Miles spent nearly 42 years in the U.S. Army leading up to his 64th birthday in 1903. During the American Civil War, He rose from a lowly lieutenant to the rank of major general of volunteers by the age of 26-years-old. He fought in such notable battles as Seven Pines, Antietam, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg.

At the Battle of Chancellorsville in May of 1863, he earned the Medal of Honor as the colonel of the 60th New York Infantry for his “distinguished gallantry while holding with his command an advanced position against repeated assaults by a strong force of the enemy.” He was severely injured in this action and suffered three other wounds through the course of the war.

Miles decided to remain in the army after the American Civil War. He is best remembered for his service on the western frontier during the 1870s and the 1880s — immortalized for his capture of the famed Apache leader Geronimo. By 1895, he rose to overall command of the Army.

Though an excellent soldier, Miles was notorious for being stubborn, quarrelsome, overambitious and opinionated. Many, including President Theodore Roosevelt, wanted to see him cast out of the Army once and for all. Those who knew Miles best were aware that he wasn’t going to be forced out of the army without a fight.

Miles’ time for retirement crept up in 1903. He felt that he was still fit for soldiering, so he set out to prove that he was still physically fit to endure the hardships of active campaigning.

At dawn on July 14, 1903, Miles, sporting a summer helmet and light blue shirt, rode out of Oklahoma’s Fort Sill headed toward Fort Reno 90 miles away, intending to shatter Roosevelt’s age barrier. He was accompanied by several younger officers and cheered on by a large crowd of observers.

The tanned and muscular Miles knocked out the first 34 miles in a record time of just under 2.5 hours. Only the 34 year old cavalry officer Capt. Farrand Sayre of the Eight Cavalry was able to keep up with the grueling pace Miles set under the punishing sun and sweltering heat.

Miles tackled the 90 mile ride in just over nine hours, arriving at Fort Reno to the salute of gunfire from the soldiers of the garrison showing “no signs of fatigue.” Within 40 minutes of arriving, Miles changed out of his dusty uniform, reviewed the troops of the garrison, and rode another four miles to catch a 4:00 p.m. train back to Fort Riley, Kansas.

Miles boasted afterward to the papers that, “I enjoyed every moment of the trip, and there was one time that I felt particularly good; that was when I came up to the men who had charge of the pack teams just south of the Canadian river. They had lunch ready and I enjoyed it with them. It made me feel extra good.”

Despite displaying that he was still very much fit for active service, Miles was forced to retire in August of 1903. At 77, the Civil War general and Medal of Honor recipient offered his services to Woodrow Wilson’s administration with the American intervention during World War I. The offer was politely refused by the secretary of war who wrote back to Miles, “in time of emergency out government may need to take advantage of your great experience. Please accept appreciation of your most patriotic offer.”

Miles was still spry enough to serve on the battlefield even in 1916. He did not pass away until 60 years after the American Civil War ended in May of 1925 from a heart attack, outliving President Theodore Roosevelt by six years.

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Today in military history: Battle of Gettysburg begins

On July 1, 1863, the decisive Battle of Gettysburg began.

Possibly the most important engagement of the Civil War, the Battle of Gettysburg marked the turn of the war against the South. It would also be the bloodiest single battle of the conflict.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee had recently won an overwhelming victory against the Army of the Potomac at Chancellorsville just weeks before and was preparing to invade the North with 75,000 men.

President Abraham Lincoln appointed General George G. Meade to meet Lee, who’d assembled his forces at Gettysburg in Pennsylvania. 

The ensuing battle raged for three days with over 50,000 American casualties. It ended in a hard-won victory for the North — one that turned the tide of the war against the South, who would never advance as far North again for the rest of the Civil War.

The Battle of Gettysburg was one of the largest battles in North American history. A portion of the battlefield became a final resting place for Union soldiers as well as the site for President Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address, which reasserted the purpose of the Civil War:

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Featured Image: L. Prang & Co. print of the painting “Hancock at Gettysburg” by Thure de Thulstrup, showing Pickett’s Charge. Restoration by Adam Cuerden. (Library of Congress image)

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How Navy Special Ops Survive Training Missions In Freezing Water

During Navy Special Ops training, candidates complete exhaustive missions under extreme stress, limited sleep, and in freezing water conditions.


For the last 25 years, the US military has used an ingestible thermometer pill to monitor the core body temperature of service members during physically demanding missions.

CorTemp pill (HQ, Inc.) was developed in the mid-1980’s by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory and the Goddard Space Flight Center. The sensor technology was first used on astronauts to detect hypothermia and hyperthermic conditions during space flight.

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Courtesy of HQ,Inc.

Here is how the pill works:  Soldiers swallow a 3/4-inch silicone-coated capsule which contains a microbattery and a quartz crystal temperature sensor. Within two hours, the quartz crystal sensor vibrates at a frequency relative to the body’s temperature and transmits a harmless, low-frequency signal through the body.

Team personnel can wirelessly monitor the core body temperature of multiple subjects in real time. There are several options and configurations for tracking temperatures, including the most simple method of holding the data recorder near the small of the back. The pill safely passes through the digestive system after 18 to 30 hours.

The $50 pill is used at Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen (SWCC) training facility in Coronado, Calif. where candidates swim in open sea ranging from frigid 48 degrees Fahrenheit to 72 degrees Farenheit.

“For SWCC personnel, the pill is used to monitor body core temperature and is used only in training. Its use ensures candidates can understand the impact of cold water and allows medical and training cadre staff to ensure safety parameters for training are observed,” wrote Navy Lt. Ben Tisdale via email.

The ingestible capsules are also used by the NFL, various European militaries, and fire departments in the United States and in Australia, according to Director of Sales Marketing, Lee Carbonelli.

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This article originally appeared at Business Insider Military Defense. Copyright 2014. Follow BI Defense on Twitter.

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Unforgettable photos from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor

Under the South Pacific sun on December 7, 1941, troops serving the US fleet at Pearl Harbor began a calm Sunday morning unaware that Japanese bombers were headed toward America’s most important Pacific base.


There, like a string of pearls draped across the docks and waterfront, was the majority of the US’s naval might.

The devastating Japanese onslaught began at 7:48 a.m., eventually killing 2,402 Americans and wounding many others, sinking four battleships, and damaging military airfields.

The Pearl Harbor attack spurred America into World War II, leading ultimately to Allied victory over the Japanese in the East and Nazis and other Axis powers in the West.

Here are photographs from the attack and its immediate aftermath.

Kamelia Angelova contributed to this report.

On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, an attack planned by Admiral Isoroku Yamamotoa was carried out to demobilize the US Navy. This picture shows one of more than 180 planes used in the attack.

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Image: Naval Aviation Museum

At 7:00 a.m., an Army radar operator spotted the first wave of the Japanese planes. The officers to whom those reports were relayed did not consider them significant enough to take action. This photo shows an aerial view of Battleship Row in the opening moments of the raid.

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Image: USN

Here, planes and hangars burning at Wheeler Field during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

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Image: Naval Aviation Museum

The Japanese also took the opportunity to attack military airfields while bombing the fleet in Pearl Harbor. The purpose of these simultaneous attacks was to destroy American planes before they could defensively respond.

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Image: USN

There were more than 90 ships anchored at Pearl Harbor. The primary targets of the attack were the 8 battleships sitting at Battleship Row. Here is a picture of Battleship Row during the attack.

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Image: USN

USS West Virginia (left) pictured here next to USS Tennessee, was one of the first battleships to sink during the attack. The Japanese successfully damaged all 8 battleships.

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Image: USN

At about 8:10 a.m., USS Arizona explodes as the ship’s forward ammunition magazine is ignited by a bomb. About half of the total number of Americans killed that day were on this ship. Here is a picture of battleship USS Arizona.

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Image: USN

Here is another picture of USS Arizona.

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Image: Naval Archives

Destroyer USS Shaw explodes during the 3-hour Japanese attack.

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Image: USN

The damaged USS Nevada tried to escape down the channel toward the open sea but became a target during a second wave of 170 Japanese planes, hoping to sink her in the channel and block the narrow entrance to Pearl Harbor. The ship was grounded with 60 killed on board.

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Image: Naval Archives

The burning wreckage of an SBD Dauntless dive bomber pictured at Ewa Mooring Mast Field (later Marine Corps Air Station Ewa, Hawaii) after the attack.

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Image: Naval Aviation Museum

Sailors examine the wreckage of an Aichi D3A dive bomber (codenamed Val) that was salvaged from the site where it crashed during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

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Image: Naval Aviation Museum

Sailors at the Naval Air Station in Kaneohe, Hawaii, attempt to salvage a burning PBY Catalina in the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

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Image: USN

Group image of the original crew of the destroyer Shaw (DD-373) taken in 1936. The destroyer was the first vessel struck by Japanese dive bombers at Pearl Harbor

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Image: Naval Aviation Museum

Salvage work begins on destroyers USS Cassin and the USS Downes. The Japanese failed to damage any US aircraft carriers, which were surprisingly absent from the harbor.

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Image: USN

The battleship Nevada (BB-36) burns in the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

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Image: Naval Aviation Museum

USS Oklahoma, seen in this photo with one of its propellers peeking out of the water, was considered too old to be worth repairing.

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Image: USN

A Marine holds a piece of shrapnel removed from his arm following the attack.

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Image: USMC

This photo shows sailors participating in a memorial service for the more than 2,400 killed in the attack.

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Image: Library of Congress

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Here’s how microwaves and micro-robots could stop North Korea

With the apparently successful test of an ICBM by North Korea, questions arise about what can be done about the regime of Kim Jong Un. This is understandable. After all, he did threaten Sony over the 2014 movie “The Interview.”


Also, the whole humanitarian crisis thing.

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Photo from North Korean State Media.

According to an op-ed in the Washington Times, there are some high-tech options that could shut down the North Korean threat. Investigative reporter Ronald Kessler stated that the Pentagon was looking at a cruise missile that could fry electronics. He reported that the Pentagon is also exploring micro-robots capable of delivering a lethal toxin to the North Korean dictator.

The cruise missile is known as the Counter-electronics High-powered Microwave Advanced Missile Project, and it comes from Boeing’s Phantom Works — a lesser-known advanced aerospace projects division than the Lockheed Skunk Works. The missile uses microwaves to knock out radios and other electronic equipment. Boeing released a video about a 2012 test that you can see here.

According to army-technology.com, CHAMP is capable of knocking out electronics in specific buildings. This means that the effects on civilians would be minimized. FlightGlobal.com reported that the Air Force has chosen the AGM-158B JASSM-ER to deliver the CHAMP warhead. The system is capable of firing 100 shots.

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The AGM-158 JASSM in action (YouTube: Lockheed Martin)

Kessler also mentioned the use of insect-sized robots as potential weapons. While assassinations are currently prohibited by an executive order signed by President Gerald R. Ford, such a policy could be reversed by President Trump “with a stroke of the pen.” The advantage of using the micro-drones to bump off Kim Jong Un would be the fact that no American lives would be put at risk for the operation.

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U.S. Pacific Command has deployed the first elements of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, known as THAAD, to South Korea, implementing the U.S.-South Korean alliance’s July 2016 decision to bring the defensive capability to the Korean Peninsula. (DoD photo)

FoxNews.com reported that since the North Korean test, the United States tested the Terminal High-Altitude Air Defense system in Alaska. The system continued a perfect record on tests when a battery stationed in Alaska took out a missile launched from Hawaii. Two launchers from a battery of six have been deployed in South Korea.

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US says it shot down Iranian-made drone in Syria

The US military says it shot down what it called an Iranian-made, armed drone in southern Syria.


A defense official says the drone was approaching a military camp near the Syria-Jordan border. That is where US forces have been training and advising local Syrian Arabs for the fight against Islamic State militants.

The official says the drone was considered a threat, and was shot down by a US F-15 fighter jet.

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A row of F-15s, laying in wait. USAF photo by Lorenz Crespo.

The official was not authorized to be quoted by name and spoke on condition of anonymity. The official says the drone was a Shaheed 129 and appeared to have been operated by “pro-regime” forces.

It was the second time this month that the US has shot down an armed drone in the vicinity of the camp at Tanf.

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USS Mahan has close encounter with Iranian vessel

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mahan (DDG 72) had what one report described as a “close encounter” with an Iranian vessel on April 24.


According to a report by Fox News, the Iranian vessel was a “fast attack craft” used by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy. USS Mahan was forced to change course, the crew manned weapons, fired flares, and sounded a danger signal. The Iranian vessel stayed over 1,000 yards from the Mahan, but its weapons were manned.

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USS Mahan (DDG 72). (U.S. Navy photo)

According to the 16th Edition of Combat Fleets of the World, Iran has over 100 “fast attack craft” of varying types. The most notorious of these are roughly 30 Boghammers, which can reach speeds of up to 45 knots, and are armed with .50-caliber machine guns or twin 23mm anti-aircraft guns and either a 12-round 107mm rocket launcher, a 106mm recoilless rifle, or a RPG-7. American forces destroyed at least five of these vessels during naval clashes with Iran in 1987 and 1988.

This is not the first time USS Mahan has had a close call with Iranian vessels. In January, 2017, the Mahan had to fire warning shots at similar craft that came within 900 yards. The Iranian vessels backed off.

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In March, 2017, the missile-range instrumentation vessel USNS Invincible (T AGM 24) was harassed by Iranian forces twice. In one incident, an Iranian frigate came within 150 yards of the Military Sealift Command vessel.  The second incident saw IRGC speedboats approach within 600 yards of the Invincible.

That same month, the commander of United States Central Command, Army Gen. James Votel told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Iran was the primary concern in the region.

“We are also dealing with a range of malign activities perpetrated by Iran and its proxies operating in the region,” said Votel, citing Iran’s support for terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Bashir Assad’s regime in Syria. “It is my view that Iran poses the greatest long-term threat to stability for this part of the world.”

 

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White House considering direct military action to counter North Korea

In a dramatic shift from traditional policy, an internal White House review on North Korea strategy revealed that the option to use military force or a regime change to curb the threat of North Korean nuclear weapons was on the table, The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.


This review comes at the heels of a report claiming President Donald Trump believed the “greatest immediate threat” to the US was North Korea’s nuclear program.

Also read: Navy fleet commanders warn of potential fight in North Korea

Recent provocations from the Hermit Kingdom, including the ballistic missile launch in the Sea of Japan and the killing of Kim Jong Un’s estranged half-brother in Malaysia, may have provoked this shift in the policy that have many officials and US allies worried.

“North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won’t happen!” Trump tweeted in January. Several weeks later, North Korea conducted its missile test.

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The test-fire of Pukguksong-2. This photo was released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency on February 13. | KCNA/Handout

Since then, Deputy National Security Adviser K.T. McFarland consulted with other officials to address North Korea’s fresh series of provocations. In the meeting, held about two weeks ago, the officials discussed the possibility of a plan “outside the mainstream,” The Journal reported.

According to The Journal, McFarland requested for all options to overhaul American policy toward North Korea — including for the US to recognize North Korea as a nuclear state and the possibility of a direct military conflict.

Related: Experts say missile defense alone won’t stop growing North Korea nuke threat

The proposals, which are being vetted before Trump’s review, would certainly be met with worry from China, a longtime ally of North Korea that recently responded with an export ban against North Korea’s coal industry. Additionally, many experts fear that a direct military conflict would spark all-out warfare, including artillery barrages directed at Seoul, South Korea’s capital.

Even more worrisome is the possibility for further North Korean provocations, which may influence the recent policy shift, as early as this month. As the US and its ally South Korea conduct “Foal Eagle” and “Key Resolve,” their annual military exercises that involve 17,000 US troops and Terminal High Altitude Air Defense systems, experts say provocations from North Korea will be likely.

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This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day

WATM recently had the opportunity to sit down with Tim Neff, Vice President/Director of Museum & Education at the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Pittsburgh to talk about the mission of the museum, what visitors can expect and how COVID has changed the museum’s offerings.

Editor’s note: This interview was conducted May 11, 2021. Readers interested in visiting should check the museum website for COVID-19 related policies, as they may have changed since then.

WATM: What made you decide to become a steward of our nation’s heritage?

Right from the beginning, my family has always been interested in history, especially our family’s history. Our family has been in American history for a very long time. Our family genealogy was a big part of me growing up. I think that got me started. I think, like a lot of people, I had an impactful high school teacher, who brought history to life, who made it interesting, really got it away from dates and names and made it more about stories and inspired me to move into a career of history.

Specifically, I had a second class about military history with a different teacher. [Laughs] Maybe the second teacher wasn’t as good as the first one, it was a great combination. I really appreciated that teacher’s delivery and the content of the military history class. You kind of put that together, when I went off to school my goal was to be a high school history teacher. That’s what I wanted to do. Different circumstances pushed me in another direction after college graduation and I ended up working in a history museum for my career. I’m very happy with how it all worked out, that’s for sure.

WATM: The Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum Trust is currently open by appointment only, what can attendees expect on their tour?

Our tour right now is a 90-minute experience. Our museum essentially covers the veteran experience from the Civil War to present day. So, our visitors are led through the museum, almost in a timeline. It starts with our Civil War collection, which is the primary reason our museum was built — it is a Civil War Memorial — and our story begins. Since then, other wars have occurred. Our museum, building and memorial have adapted and changed.

When visitors come, they start with the Civil War and then they move through the Spanish-American War, World Wars, Korea, Vietnam and even a little bit on Iraq and Afghanistan and current times. It truly is a comprehensive look at American veterans and their service to our country. Everything we have in our museum has been donated by local men and women who served. When you look at our museum, we have real artifacts donated by local veterans that we use to tell their story and honor their service to our country.

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“The Gettysburg Room”
(image courtesy of soldiersandsailorshall.org)

WATM: How has COVID-19 impacted the museum experience?

COVID-19 has forced us into the virtual world. To be honest, it was not something that I was too familiar with personally. I had to get used to it, [laughs] and learn as I went along. What we’re delivering is: every month we have what we call our Spotlight On Program. It’s an hour long on the second Thursday of each month. We just had one last night. It was about Memorial Day, the history of it and what it means. (The audience discussed) the different traditions that have evolved about honoring the fallen. (The museum) delivers that the second Thursday of every month. It’s about an hour-long program. We try to bring in guests from other museums, experts from different areas, but of course we always have our curator or myself on the panel as well bringing things back to Soldiers and Sailors and its mission.

Another thing we do is we work with another online organization called Varsity Tutors. My degree is in education. As I’ve said I wanted to be a teacher. I want to deliver content to young people during this time. We partnered with this group because they have a large audience all across the country. We’ve been doing classes once a month geared toward young people and educating them about topics of the military; African-Americans in the military, women in the military, the meaning behind the uniforms such as symbols, patches and ribbons. We did one about Veterans Day, We’re going to be doing one about Memorial Day. It’s kind of interactive, there are questions and games we play that are geared to get the younger audience interested about veterans and the military in general.

WATM: What other virtual content do you have available?

A big one I didn’t mention there is Memorial Day. Memorial Day is a big day for Soldiers and Sailors. Normally, we have an open house, thousands of people come to our museum. We have a ceremony in the morning to respectfully honor the meaning behind Memorial Day and some outdoor fun. Of course, we can’t do that now. This year we will deliver a virtual Memorial Day event.

The ceremony will take place at 11 o’clock on May 31st where people can watch the posting of the Colors, the National Anthem, laying of the wreath by Gold Star Families and we have a slide show we play every year which honors fallen soldiers from the Post 9/11 conflict. There are about 300 or so troops that have been killed from the state of Pennsylvania and we have a solemn tribute via Livestream after the live ceremony in our auditorium.

This foundation exists because the financial needs of vets aren’t being met
A large school field trip visiting the museum (courtesy of soldiersandsailorshall.org)

WATM: How can someone support the museum’s mission?

The easiest way is a monetary donation. [Laughs] We’re always open to donations. That’s one way. Of course, there are other ways as well, we’re always looking for artifacts to be donated. Our museum is made up of artifacts donated by families and individuals. We do not go out and buy things or solicit things. They’re artifacts that are brought to us.

If there are folks in the Western Pennsylvania region that have items that they do not know what to do with and are looking for a home for, we’re always looking for those items and to see if they would be a good fit for our collection. So, donating artifacts is another way people can help. A third way is people can visit us. If people are in the Pittsburg area they can stop by. Hopefully, we’ll be able to open in the next month or so. Folks passing by the Pittsburg region should stop by and see our museum.

WATM: Do you have anything you would like to say to the veteran audience?

First I would like to say thank you for their service to our country. I am not a veteran myself but I’ve learned about all the sacrifices they have made through the years. We’re here for them. Our mission is to make sure their stories and sacrifices are not forgotten by future generations. I take that responsibility very seriously as an educator. On a normal year, we have thousands of school students coming through the museum and they learn the importance of recognizing veterans. Western Pennsylvania is home to a lot of veterans and to people who have veterans in their families. It reinforces how significant it is what they have done for our country.

This foundation exists because the financial needs of vets aren’t being met
Display space in the East Hall explores the War in the Pacific, Coast Guard, Merchant Marine, Prisoners of War, Korean and Vietnam War. (courtesy of soldiersandsailorshall.org)

WATM: What is next for you and the museum?

The next big step is opening up to our regular hours and walk-in business. We will always offer guided tours but some people appreciate coming through on their own. We have another big project where we are redesigning and rebuilding our exhibit cases. Our building was not built as a museum. Our museum cases had to be fit in the best way they could. They were done 30 years ago and weren’t done the best way possible. We want to improve that. It is a big project and will take a lot of fundraising efforts but we’re very lucky to have been given some money related towards the Korean War by the Korean Memorial Fund in this region.

We can completely redo our Korean War section of the museum. We are going to have three new Korean War exhibits filled with our artifacts. It will be built by a local firm that does museum exhibits and we’re hoping this time next year we’ll be ready to debut these brand new, state of the art, museum-quality exhibits for the Korean War. In turn, we can use it as a model to raise funds to revamp our other exhibits throughout our museum. It’s really exciting. We can take that next step to achieving a more professional look that people expect at museums. I’m not saying we do not have that now but there is always room for improvement. This is going to be a big part of that.

WATM: I like to throw a curveball at the end of every interview. What is a piece of military history that most people do not know?

That could be a lot of things, unfortunately. That why we’re here [laughs], to make sure people know about them. I’ll tell you one of the most popular stories that people are not prepared for: we have a painting from the Civil War about a dog. His name is Dog Jack. He was a dog of a local regiment of Civil War soldiers. People somewhat affiliate dogs with the military.

Of course, today dogs are in the military. Working dogs, you know. At that time he was just a mascot. It’s an amazing story about trading a confederate prisoner to get him back. It’s something that appeals to everybody. When people come to this museum, especially students as I’ve said, sometimes they don’t want to know everything about military history. What they don’t expect is to get this story about little Dog Jack. Almost everybody identifies with. They love that story and appreciate it. At least when it comes to us, I think people aren’t ready to learn that story when coming in.

Feature image: Wikimedia Commons

Articles

US think tank says Israel planned to use a nuclear bomb in 1967

JERUSALEM (AP) — A leading Washington think tank has detailed what it says was a secret Israeli plan to detonate an atomic bomb in the event it faced defeat in the 1967 Mideast war.


The operation never took off. But details about the doomsday scenario, in which Israel planned to set off a nuclear weapon atop a remote mountain in the Sinai Peninsula, shed new light on the fearful climate at the time. It also could undermine Israel’s decades-long policy of nuclear ambiguity.

The Nuclear Proliferation International History Project of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars unveiled a website Monday devoted to “Operation Shimshon,” the codename for what it said was the hastily arranged plan.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry had no comment.

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