Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said Wednesday the civil service appeals process prevents the agency from firing “terrible managers,” and that the Senate must act to reduce the impact of the Merit Systems Protection Board and excessive government employee union-backed due process requirements.
“Just last week we were forced to take back an employee after they were convicted no more than three times for DWI and had served a 60 day jail sentence. … Our accountability processes are clearly broken,” Shulkin said at the White House.
Shulkin was promoted to VA’s top job by President Donald Trump after being appointed by former President Barack Obama as undersecretary. Those positions have given Shulkin direct experience with the extent to which union-backed rules block the firings of poor performing employees.
“We had to wait more than a month to fire a psychiatrist who was caught on camera watching pornography on his iPad while seeing a patient,” he said. “Because of the way judges review these cases they can force us to take terrible managers back who were fired for poor performance, we recently saw that with one of our executives in San Juan.”
Shulkin was referring to DeWayne Hamlin, a corrupt hospital director and whistleblower retaliator, who was fired Jan. 20 but was then quietly returned to work, as the The Daily Caller News Foundation reported exclusively Monday.
“We need new accountability legislation and we need that now,” Shulkin said. “The House has passed this and we’re looking forward to the Senate considering this.”
The Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs reported the “VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 earlier this week for a vote by the full chamber. The measure is co-sponsored by senators Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, Johnny Isakson, a Georgia Republican, and Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat.
“We currently have 1,500 disciplinary actions pending, people that either need to be fired, demoted, suspended without pay for violating our core values,” Shulkin said.
“The expedited senior executive removal authority given to us in the Choice Act isn’t working, we weren’t able to use that because of constitutionality issues.”
“The accountability bill we are seeking that we hope the Senate authorizes still maintains due process for employees but shortens to the time and gives more authority to the secretary’s decision on why these accountability actions are being taken so the courts will be more deferential to the secretary’s opinion.”
In addition to the Hamlin controversy, a federal appeals court ruled that the VA may not even be able to fire Sharon Helman, who is a convicted felon for her misconduct as the head of the Phoenix VA, where dozens died waiting for care as managers reported false data on wait-times in order to get bonuses.
Helman is represented by the law firm of Shaw, Bransford Roth (Roth), which makes its living trying to block employees of all levels from being fired. Employees are encouraged to appeal any discipline, however well-deserved, because a former Roth lawyer created an insurance company that pays for fired employees to hire Roth.
The premiums on that insurance plan are billed to taxpayers, thanks to a law pushed by the firm’s lobbyists.
Concerned Veterans of America Policy Director Dan Caldwell also encouraged the Senate to approve the accountability measure, saying Shulkin “is working to move the VA in a better direction, but the problems will not be solved until Congress takes action. They should also remember that the VA’s problems are not due to a lack of resources.”
When Matthew Callahan was first introduced to the movie Top Gun at 2 years old, the film became an instant favorite.
So when the award-winning video producer for the Navy’s All Hands Magazine was tasked with producing a series of videos for Naval Air Station Oceana’s Virtual Air Show last month, Callahan drew inspiration from director Tony Scott’s Cold War classic.
“Top Gun was my first true love of cinema,” Callahan told Coffee or Die Magazine. “It’s a movie of its time — the late ’80s, when they were just overdoing everything — but the way it’s filmed is beautiful. I’ll never forget that opening scene with footage at sunrise or sunset on the ship. You don’t often see military personnel and equipment framed that way, where it’s kind of treated like a total spectacle, and I try and capture that same feeling with a lot of my stuff because it cuts through a lot of noise.”
Callahan was part of a three-man production team including All Hands video producer Jimmy Shea and Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Michael Jorge. Together, they spent five days producing eight videos for NAS Oceana’s virtual air show. Trying to convey the excitement and spectacle of an air show with a series of short videos is no easy task, but Callahan and his team worked hard to translate their own passion for viewers.
“We produced eight or nine video products in five days,” Callahan said. “The tempo was pretty nonstop. It was exhausting but also amazing.”
The Next Generation: VFA-106 Prepares F/A-18 Aircrew For Fleet
The standout production from the trip is a roughly three-minute video about NAS Oceana’s Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 106. The Virginia Beach-based training squadron prepares freshly minted F-18 aircrews for fleet service.
Callahan said for that video he supplemented the team’s production from Virginia with footage provided by the Navy’s advertising agency.
“I asked for cool, sexy carrier footage, and the ad agency really delivered,” Callahan said. “It seems like Top Gun really set a kind of visual precedent for filming jets on an aircraft carrier, and I wanted to produce something fast but serious in a brass-tacks kind of way.”
Callahan said that while he realizes most of his audience engages with his productions online or on mobile devices, he still tries to include some audio and visual treats for true cinephiles who might watch on a larger TV screen or with noise-canceling headphones.
“I’m always editing and creating soundscapes for that one person who might wanna watch these stories on a big display with a good sound system,” he said. “It’s almost never the case, with most folks engaging on mobile, but there’s always gonna be someone who does. I hope that there’s a payoff for those few who chose to watch that way.”
Air Force veteran, founder of the Make-A-Wish Foundation and absolute giant of a man, Frank Shankwitz, passed away earlier this week at the age of 77.
This is his story.
To say Frank Shankwitz had a rough childhood is an understatement. Shankwitz was born in Chicago and his mother left him when he was young. His grandparents took him, which he recalled as “happy times,” until one day his mother kidnapped him off a playground and told him they were heading back to Arizona.
They stopped in Michigan for five years.
When he was 10, they finally reached a tiny town in Arizona on Route 66. “We were broke,” Shankwitz said. “We had no gas, no food, no money, but a family took us in. We slept on their kitchen floor. It was the first time we’d ever been permanent somewhere, kitchen floor or not. A man named Juan became like a father-figure to me, and he introduced me to the idea of giving back. This was the 1950s – ‘give back’ was not a real popular term yet. But he taught me that you can always give back. It doesn’t have to be money – it can be your time or your talents.”
In the seventh grade, Shankwitz’s mom informed him that she could no longer afford to keep him; she was moving and he needed to find a new place to live.
Juan found him a place to stay in town with a widow and Shankwitz paid the weekly rent by finding a job as a dishwasher that paid per week. “All of a sudden I had an extra a week,” he said. “Juan taught me how to turn a negative into a positive and that has been something I’ve carried with me through my entire career.”
Shankwitz went to the Air Force after high school. “It was the Vietnam era,” he recalled, “but they decided I needed to protect England. I remember when we were informed we were not to wear our uniforms during traveling – they were afraid we’d offend the public. I’m so proud today to see our service members wearing their uniforms at airports. I love hearing people thanking them and clapping for them. You should never be embarrassed of the uniform. It’s so important that our military always be proud of their service.”
Following his time with the Air Force, Shankwitz went to work for Motorola. He describes himself then as “somewhat of an adrenaline junkie,” so when a friend of his suggested joining the Arizona Highway Patrol, he jumped at the chance. Shankwitz got involved with the Special Olympics in his off time. “I began to think about Juan,” he shared, “and how maybe I was starting to give back. I enjoyed that so much.” At work, Shankwitz was asked to join a motorcycle patrol that traveled to schools to teach kids about bike safety and he felt like he was getting closer to where he needed to be in serving others.
In 1978, Shankwitz was in a high speed chase with a drunk driver when another drunk driver broadsided him going 80 miles per hour. “I was pronounced dead immediately,” he explained, “and they’d already radioed in ‘963, Officer killed in the line of duty.’ An emergency room nurse from California stopped at the scene and did CPR for four minutes, and brought me back to life. I love California! They said the crash was spectacular. I’d gone through the tunnel and I saw the light. And then I came back. I remember when my senses came back. The sense of smell was first. I smelled this very nice perfume. Then the sense of touch; something was tickling my face. Then the sense of hearing – sirens all around and someone saying, ‘We’ve lost him.’ Last was the sense of sight. And I saw that a beautiful blonde had her lips locked on me and I thought it was heaven! Later, I was told I was saved for a purpose, and that God believed I had more to do. I needed to find out what that purpose was.”
Not two years later, Shankwitz received a radio call from his dispatcher saying she needed him to find the nearest telephone, which was 40 miles away. She put him through to a border patrol agent who had an assignment for him. Shankwitz remembers verbatim: ‘There’s a little boy named Chris. He’s 7 years old. He has leukemia, and he has 2 weeks to live. He likes to watch a show called CHiPs and he wants to be a motorcycle cop just like Ponch and Jon. We’re going to pick him up and have you standing by so he can meet a real motorcycle cop.’ I was in. I got on the bike and flew to the hospital.”
When the helicopter landed, Shankwitz was surprised that Chris wasn’t super sick looking. “Instead,” he said, “this tiny pair of red sneakers jumped out and came running over. He knew every button and switch on that motorcycle. I am watching him thinking, ‘He’s a typical 7 year old, and yet he’s going to die.’ Then I saw his mom, tears in her eyes, seeing her little boy again instead of just this sick patient. Chris became the first and only honorary officer of the Arizona Highway Patrol. We felt pretty good about what we’d done but we knew there was more for him.”
The troopers rallied around Chris. “We went to the uniform store, and asked if they could make Chris his own uniform,” Shankwitz said. “Two women spent all night custom-making a uniform for him. The next morning, we took several motorcycles and cars, lights going, and brought the uniform to him and a smokey hat. He was ecstatic. He asked if he was an official motorcycle police officer, but we told him that he had to earn his wings. We set up traffic cones for him in his driveway and gave him a test, which of course he passed.”
Chris told Shankwitz, “I’m so happy my wish is coming true.” It was the first time Shankwitz had really ever heard that: “my wish.”
Shankwitz and his team went to pick up the custom-made wings they had commissioned for Chris when he got a radio call: the little boy had been taken to the hospital and was in a coma. Shankwitz was devastated.
“We took the wings to his room anyway,” he said, “and just as I pinned his wings on the uniform, Chris came out of the coma. He started giggling. ‘Am I a motorcycle officer now?’ he asked. I told him yes. A few hours later he passed away. I like to believe those wings carried him to heaven.”
The Arizona Highway Patrol did a full police funeral for Chris. Shankwitz explained, “In Chris, we lost a fellow officer that day. When we got to Illinois where he was going to be buried, we were pulled over by the Illinois State Police. When we told them what we were doing, they escorted us. We were met at the cemetery by Illinois Police, all in dress uniform. Like I said, we lost a fellow officer that day.”
“Chris was buried in his uniform. His tombstone reads Chris Greicius, Arizona Trooper. It was a truly unbelievable sight. When we got home, we asked, ‘Why can’t we do this for other children?’ And Make-A-Wish was born. It started with in a bank account. There are now 60 chapters in the United States and Make-A-Wish International has 39 affiliates, serving children in nearly 50 countries on five continents. Over 500,000 wishes have been granted.
Shankwitz said, “Every 34 minutes a child gets a wish, because of one little boy. Never underestimate the difference one person can have on the world.”
More about Frank Shankwitz and the Make-A-Wish Foundation can be found in his memoir, Wish Man, which has also been developed into a movie by the same title, available on Netflix. Rest in peace, good sir.
Military spouses are sharing the impact Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had on their professional ambitions and personal lives.
Ginsburg’s husband, Martin, served in the Army Reserve, leading the couple to be stationed at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in the 1950s. Her military affiliation and courtroom dissents made her a natural icon to military spouses who say they can relate to the justice’s history of facing — and fighting — barriers.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her husband Martin at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Source: Supreme Court.
Libby Jamison, a Navy spouse of 17 years, currently works in an attorney role for the Department of Veterans Affairs. She enrolled in law school in 2004, shortly after getting married and encountering roadblocks to employment in California.
“I think like a lot of us [military spouses], I had no professional network in San Diego. I didn’t know a single person, so I was just throwing out my resume and hoping someone would bite. … Law school had always been in the back of my mind but I wasn’t sure I could ever pull it off. Since I wasn’t having success getting a job, I decided to take the LSAT and apply to law school,” she said.
Jamison says in law school everyone “knew who the justices were,” but she didn’t make the connection between Ginsburg and the military until a special event that included members, like Jamison, from Military Spouse JD Network (MSJDN) — an organization that advocates for licensing accommodations for military spouses, including bar membership without additional examination, according to its website.
“MSJDN does a Supreme Court swearing in — a lot of groups do that — where you can take 12 folks and be admitted to the Supreme Court as an attorney. It’s more symbolic because most of us aren’t ever going to argue in front of the Supreme Court,” she explained. “I did that in 2013, and so as part of that I started reading more about the court and the justices, and that’s when I stumbled across the military spouse connection [with Ginsburg].”
That network of “lady lawyers” immediately leaned on each other in the hours after learning the 87-year-old justice had passed away on Sept. 18.
“I think I just yelled out ‘no’ in my apartment and was immediately really sad. And then text messages started pouring in from all my fellow lady lawyers and everyone was just collectively mourning, especially because we have claimed RBG as a military spouse attorney,” Jamison said.
Jamison joins friends at the Supreme Court to pay respects to Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Courtesy photo.
In 1956, Ginsburg was one of only nine women at Harvard Law School. She then tied for top of her class at Columbia Law School three years later. Despite those accomplishments, she was rejected for a clerkship at the Supreme Court because of her gender, according to the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project.
Jamison says Ginsburg’s ultimate success with an unconventional path is something spouses can relate to and should embrace.
“I have been thinking about her legacy a lot the last couple of days. At the time, the process was you graduate law school, you become an associate, you work your way up to partner. That was a normal legal career and that’s not what she had. And she talked about that being a strength and how she probably would not have made it to the Supreme Court if she had gone that traditional route. … I think there’s a really big lesson there, especially for military spouses because we all have that non-conventional career path, no matter how hard we try. Maybe you end up on a different path than your peers, but maybe it ends up being a better path,” Jamison said.
The Brooklyn-born justice served more than 27 years on the Supreme Court, leaving a legacy as “a tireless and resolute champion of justice,” Chief Justice John Roberts, Jr. stated in a press release.
Josie Beets, Army spouse and former president of MSJDN, says she will remember Ginsburg for positioning herself “not just for equality but for a structural change in the way we take on roles in society.”
“She always said … it’s not about women’s liberation, but it’s about men and women’s liberation and this idea that in some ways men are just as locked into their roles that we as a society frame for them, as women are,” Beets said. “Can we be a society that allows men to be more compassionate and to have more of a role in their family, in their day-to-day lives and also be a society that allows women to excel at work without being the de facto caregiver?”
Beets and her daughter visit a makeshift memorial to Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Courtesy photo.
Beets was inspired by her mom to pursue law school and remembers watching Supreme Court hearings as a child.
“My mom went to law school when I was seven and my sister was three. And I remember waking up in the middle of the night and going into the dining room of my grandmother’s house and my mom typing away. … the other piece is I remember watching as a little girl the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings and just feeling like they were being so mean to her and that that was unfair. I learned early on the Supreme Court is important, in ways that I can’t fully understand as a 10- or 11-year-old, and that women didn’t always get a fair shake — and I carried that with me,” she said.
Beets describes feeling grief stricken when she learned of Ginsburg’s passing.
“She [Ginsburg] has opened so many doors that were just painted shut. It’s always been our job to walk through them, but we just have to do it with real vigor and intentionality now. And if we don’t take advantage of the lifetime of opportunities that her work gave to us, we’ve missed our chance,” Beets said.
She adds the best way for military spouses to honor Ginsburg’s life is to “bring someone with you.”
“Particularly in the spouse world, whether your primary role is as the at-home caregiver for family or you’re in the working world, bring someone with you. We are in new situations all the time and we are so challenged all the time, make someone’s challenge a little less burdensome and bring them with you — whether that’s to a networking event or just to lunch with a neighbor to introduce a new spouse to a community. Justice Ginsburg never closed the door behind her. She always brought others up with her and we all have the power to do that every day,” Beets said.
Ginsburg’s journey to the highest court isn’t the only thing she is being remembered for. Her decisions from the bench had a profound impact on the lives of spouses like Brian Alvarado, husband of a now-retired sailor.
Alvarado says he began paying attention to Ginsburg as the fight for marriage equality was taking shape.
“Really 2011, 2012 those years when Prop 8 was really affecting our lives — whether or not our marriage was going to be recognized — that’s when I really started to study who’s who,” he said.
Proposition 8, known as Prop 8, was a California ballot proposition and a state constitutional amendment passed in the 2008 California state election that opposed same-sex marriage, according to Georgetown Law Library. The Alvarados lived in the state at the time.
“When you are in a relationship and you’re not allowed to go about the normal process of growing the relationship, getting engaged, getting married and that whole process — when you have a law in place that dictates that for you, it is a constant thought. It is a constant part of your daily thought process. Imagine that a million times more intense being in a relationship with somebody in the military where there’s already this huge discrimination and generations-long policy and environment where that just wasn’t allowed or wanted in the community,” he said.
Matthew and Brian Alvarado visit the Supreme Court in the days after Ginsburg’s passing. Courtesy photo.
Alvarado described it as feeling like he had no control over his life. Military spouses from same-sex relationships were prevented from moving with their partners, attending command functions or participating in normal volunteer roles.
“Then all of a sudden there is a beacon of hope in a lawsuit or a potential bill or whatever it is that is being presented, you know it’s going to be a long fight but that beacon of hope makes all of that constant anxiety and fear turn right into aggressive positivity,” he said.
The beacon of hope was called Obergefell v. Hodges and it came on June 26, 2015.
“I remember it like it was yesterday. Our phone started going off and the first thing I did was look up the actual written verbiage [of the decision]. I felt like it wasn’t real and I remember in that moment reading and crying and it was like all of those years of weight of being scared of upsetting my husband’s career, afraid of even going onto a military installation … it felt like that light at the end of the tunnel was sitting in my living room,” Alvarado said.
“Nine people sitting in a room hearing opposition and hearing from Jim Obergefell — and then those nine people make a decision, a 5-4 decision, those five people in that moment gave me the right and privilege to live the life that I get to live now. That’s a powerful thing. She [Ruth Bader Ginsburg] changed my life forever.”
Alvarado added that the most effective way that he and others can “continue to bless this country with the legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg is for everybody to fight and believe in equality for all human beings.”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be buried during a private interment service at Arlington National Cemetery, according to a Supreme Court press release.
The US Army on Feb. 6, 2019, announced that it would buy an Israeli missile-defense system to protect its soldiers in a de facto admission that existing US missile defenses just don’t work.
“The U.S. Army has announced its intent to procure a limited number of Iron Dome weapon systems to fill its short-term need for an interim Indirect Fire Protection Capability (IFPC),” a US Army statement sent to Business Insider read.
Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system, indigenously designed with a 9 million US investment backing it, represents the world’s only example of working missile defense.
While the US, Russia, and China work on high-end missile systems meant to shoot down stealth aircraft in ultra-high-tech wars with electronic and cyber warfare raging along the sidelines, none of these countries’ systems actually block many missiles, rockets, or mortars.
Iron Dome launches during operation Pillar of Defense, November 2012.
On the other hand, Israel’s Iron Dome has shot down more than 1,200 projectiles since going operational in 2011. Constant and sporadic attacks from Hezbollah in Lebanon and Iranian-aligned forces in Syria have turned Israel into a hotbed of rocket and mortar activity, and the system just plain works.
Not only do the sensors and shooters track and hit targets reliably, the Iron Dome, unlike other systems, can tell if a projectile is going to miss a target and thereby save a 0,000 interceptor fire.
While the system does not run entirely without error, US and Israeli officials consistently rate the dome as having a 90% success rate on the Gaza border, one of the most active places in the world for ballistic projectiles.
But the US already has missile defenses for its forces.
The US, unlike Israel, which is surrounded by enemies bent on its ultimate destruction, doesn’t get many enemies firing ballistic missiles at its forces. Still, to protect its soldiers, the Army typically deploys Patriot defenses to its bases to protect against short-range missile attacks. In Iraq, the US Army also experimented with a Phalanx gun system that would rapid fire 20mm rounds at incoming rockets and mortars.
Overall, the US Army’s statement announcing the Iron Dome purchase made it clear that this would just be a short-term buy while the US assesses its options.
“The Iron Dome will be assessed and experimented as a system that is currently available to protect deployed U.S. military service members against a wide variety of indirect fire threats and aerial threats… it should be noted that the U.S. Army will assess a variety of options for” the long term, the statement continued.
But the Army is well aware of its own Patriot system and any planned or possible updates.
By buying an Israel system with a great track record and overlooking a US system with a checkered past, the US may have finally admitted its shortcomings in missile defense.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The United Kingdom’s Royal Marines are heirs to a warfighting legacy older than the entire U.S. military.
They fought in both Gulf Wars, both World Wars, and literally dozens of other conflicts around the world since the Royal Marines were established in 1664.
The Royal Marines were first organized as a group of 1,200 land soldiers assigned to sea service in the Royal Navy. They made a name for themselves 40 years later when they seized the Gibraltar fortress alongside Dutch allies and then held that fortress against sieges for nine months.
They were instrumental in the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and conducted numerous amphibious assaults throughout World War I and World War II.
It was during World War II that the Royal Marines began organizing as commandos and adopted their distinct dark green berets. Since the end of World War II, these troops have been deployed to combat every year except 1968.
To learn even more about the Royal Marines and to see footage from their exploits since 1664, watch this video from the British Royal Navy:
Military representatives from Morocco and the United States held an opening ceremony Feb. 27 for the Flintlock 2017 exercise at the Tifnit training base [in Morocco], marking another milestone in a relationship between their nations that began in the 1700s.
More than 2,000 military personnel from 24 African and Western nations are participating in the 10th annual iteration of the exercise, which continues until March 16 across seven African host nations.
The exercise, sponsored by U.S. Africa Command, strengthens security institutions, promotes multilateral sharing of information and develops interoperability among counterterrorism partners from across Africa’s Sahara region.
Deep U.S.-Morocco Roots
African partner special operations forces and U.S. Special Operations Command Africa jointly plan and execute the exercise, highlighting the sense of shared purpose across the continent as partners strengthen themselves and their regional network against violent extremists. For Morocco and the United States, the roots run deep in this partnership.
Morocco formally recognized the United States by signing a treaty of peace and friendship in 1786 between U.S. Minister Thomas Barclay and the Sultan of Morocco, Sidi Muhammad, in Marrakesh, according to the U.S. State Department website. The relationship matured with the naming of James Simpson as the first American consul in 1797 in Tangier.
Sultan Mawlay Suleiman gifted the consulate a building and grounds to use, marking the first property owned by the U.S. government on foreign shores.
In all of American history, no other country has maintained its treaty relationship with America for as long as Morocco.
Flintlock 2017 is the most recent in a long line of actions and expressions of solidarity between the two nations.
“Morocco plays a key leadership role in Africa and we are honored by the continued partnership and friendship between our two countries. We look forward to working with you over the next few weeks,” Morocco’s special operations command exercise instructor said.
‘A Golden Opportunity’
Brig. Gen. Mohammed Benlouali, operations commander for Morocco’s Southern Zone, delivered remarks on behalf of the Moroccan Royal Armed Forces.
“These types of activities, as well as other joint combined Moroccan-American exercises, are a golden opportunity to further enhance the ties of military cooperation between our two countries,” he said. “We will stand ready and willing to take maximum benefit from this period of training to further promote our knowledge and know-how in the field of special forces,” he said.
Marines from Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command are training alongside their Moroccan peers, refining tactics, techniques, and procedures across multiple full-mission profiles. The two forces specifically are training on small-unit special operations forces tactics, weapons training and fire support, lifesaving first aid and trauma care, command and control, and force protection.
The shared training experiences will develop the two partners’ ability to plan, coordinate, and operate as an integrated team and will strengthen the bond between the two countries. The Moroccan Royal Armed Forces have contributed to United Nations peacekeeping missions around the world and provide a center of stability and security across the Sahel region.
Countering the threat posed by violent extremist organizations around the world demands proficiency, coordination and enhanced interoperability. While regional security is the main focus of Flintlock 2017, the lessons learned and investments in relationships will allow participants to share the burdens of managing conflicts and improve their ability to provide security solutions that meet threats at their origin, exercise officials said.
Sitting on Miyagi Coast in Okinawa, Japan, is a well-loved establishment called Transit Café where people gather to eat and enjoy the scenery of Okinawa. It was Feb. 19, 2019, a normal weekday afternoon, the sun was shining, the blue ocean waves were crashing and Staff Sgt. Jonathan McClure, a military policeman with Headquarters and Support Battalion, Marine Corps Installations Pacific, Marine Corps Base Camp Butler-Japan, and his wife were enjoying their meal. Meanwhile, Jillian Romag and one of her close friends were also chatting during their lunch break at Romag’s favorite lunch destination on island, the Transit Café.
The McClure family was relaxing and people-watching when a sudden movement caught Mrs. McClure’s attention.
“What’s wrong?” Mrs. McClure asked her husband, looking towards the white bar. “I think she’s choking!”
Staff Sgt. McClure looked up to see Romag’s vomit splattering across the white floor. As she stumbled, grabbing desperately at her throat he rushed over, grabbed her shoulder, and looked into her eyes.
First Sergeant Jacob Karl, right, reads Staff Sgt. Jonathan McClure’s, left, Navy Achievement Medal citation Feb. 22, 2019, at Camp Foster, Okinawa, Japan.
(Photo by Cpl. Tayler Schwamb)
“Are you choking?” he asked.
“I’m going to help you,” McClure said reassuring the woman as he moved to stand behind her. McClure, an experienced policeman aboard Camp Foster, had rehearsed the abdominal thrust, commonly known as the Heimlich maneuver, yearly as part of military policemen’s annual training. After three abdominal thrusts, the chunk of steak that was lodged in her throat blocking her airway came up enough for her to remove it.
In relief and mortification Romag sat down.
McClure bent down, “Are you okay?” he asked. She nodded sheepishly.
After McClure washed his hands and arms, he asked the manager for rags, immediately cleaning up the mess.
On Feb. 22, 2019, McClure was awarded the Navy Achievement Medal for superior performance of his duties while serving as a military policeman and accident investigation section chief Provost Marshal’s office, HS Bn, MCIPAC-MCB.
“This reminded me that there are really still good people out there,” said Jillian Romag, the woman McClure saved. “The Marine Corps takes care of its people and teaches its people how to take care of others.”
McClure’s exceptional professionalism, unrelenting perseverance and loyal devotion to duty reflected great credit upon him and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.
Staff Sgt. Jonathan McClure, left, and Jillian Romag, right, pose for a picture Feb. 22, 2019, at Camp Foster, Okinawa, Japan.
(Photo by Cpl. Tayler Schwamb)
“I think that any MCIPAC Marine would have reacted the same way,” said Col. Vincent Ciuccoli, commanding officer of HS Bn., MCIPAC, MCB Camp Butler. “In the organization that I am in we have a very diverse group. We have a common thread throughout, every Marine here has a bias for action, and every Marine would do something. It is one thing to say that you attempted to save someone’s life, but to actually save their life and have the bravery and skillset to do it says a lot.”
Marines aboard MCIPAC strengthen and enable force projection in the Asia-Pacific region by building bridges with their allies and partners while protecting and defending the territory of the United States, its people and its interests.
“I firmly believe with 100% of my heart and soul that any Marine who knew what was going on and how to react would have done so the same exact way,” said McClure proudly. “I work with military policemen who react to hard situations on a daily basis. I know without a shadow of a doubt that any of those Marines would do the same thing. The life lesson that this instance reminded me of is that you are forever a student. You have to be willing to learn and continue to hone and refine your skills. If you do have any type of certifications, or if you are recertifying, make sure you take it seriously. If you don’t have the training, go out there and seek it. There are programs through our U.S. Naval Hospital and Red Cross. We need more people who are out there, trained and ready to act when a situation gets hectic or scary.”
The Navy is a tradition-bound military service, and few traditions are as important as burials at sea.
Perhaps the most unique services in the fleet occur on board submarines that spend the majority of their time under water. Submarine Force Atlantic says it is preparing for burials at sea on several Norfolk-based subs in the next few months.
One of those burials will be for World War II submarine veteran Marcus White, who served on seven war patrols in the Pacific theater during World War II and the Korean War, and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with the “V” device for valor, signifying it was earned in combat.
White died in June at age 95. The USS Newport News, a Los Angeles-class attack submarine, will commit him and his wife Mary Miles White, who died seven years earlier, to the sea sometime next year. White’s son, Marcus White Jr., lives in Chesapeake and said his father loved being a submariner, and that he’s fulfilling his father’s wishes. The Navy allows active-duty sailors, veterans and their family members to be buried at sea.
The chaplain for the Navy’s Norfolk-based submarine squadron, Lt. Cmdr. Richard Smothers, spoke with The Virginian-Pilot about what makes burial ceremonies on board subs unique and special for those who choose them.
Releasing of cremains
Unlike larger ships such as aircraft carriers that can accommodate caskets, all submarine burials at sea involve cremains. They also must occur at least 3 miles from shore.
Smothers said burials at sea aboard a sub primarily occur in two ways. If the weather is fair, a sub will surface, stop moving and conduct a ceremony topside that involves raising a flag the family can keep, reading any scriptures the family requests and firing a 21-gun salute with seven rifles. A member of the crew will then pour the ashes overboard. Chaplains don’t serve on board subs, and the service is usually led by a lay leader on the boat.
Smothers said the sub’s commanding officer will usually address the crew from an onboard communications system so everyone can learn about the person who was committed to the deep. If the weather isn’t good enough to allow for a full topside ceremony, the cremains can be poured overboard in a smaller ceremony from a ship’s sail, the tall structure found on the topside of the sub.
The other option involves releasing ashes underwater through a torpedo tube while the sub is still moving. Smothers said this is a popular option among those who served as torpedomen.
“I know it sounds amazing or strange, but it does happen, and it can be done very honorably, very respectfully,” he said.
Smothers said the crew will clean the torpedo tube’s surface and place the cremains inside. After the burial, the family will usually receive a letter of condolence and appreciation from the sub’s commanding officer and a chart showing the GPS coordinates where the cremains were released.
Custody of the fallen
The Navy accommodates requests for burials at sea when it can, but it’s not always a speedy process. A ship’s operational schedule takes priority, and it can be months between the time a request is made and the time the burial occurs. In White’s case, that also allowed for a traditional memorial service long before his cremains were set to sail from Norfolk.
For a burial at sea on board a Norfolk-based sub, Smothers said a family will first provide their loved one’s cremains to Naval Medical Center Portsmouth. A religious program specialist in the submarine force will then take custody of the cremains and examine sub schedules to find the best fit.
If former submariners spent most of their time in a certain home port such as Groton, Conn., or Kings Bay, Ga., they’ll try to find a sub based there. Otherwise, they’ll find the best available schedule. Sometimes family members will be allowed onto Naval Station Norfolk or another base to watch the sub carrying their loved one’s remains depart, which is a rare occurrence for an outsider to know when a sub is departing.
Smothers said a religious program specialist will go aboard the sub with the cremains and transfer it to either the executive officer or chief of the boat, where they will be safely locked away in a state room until the burial. Smothers said the Norfolk squadron typically performs about a dozen burials at sea a year.
The submarine force is a small, tight-knit, all-volunteer community that places a premium on valuing tradition and respecting their forerunners. In some cases, subs will perform a burial at sea where a sub sank so a former submariner can be committed to the deep with some of his former crew members or the sub where he served.
Smothers also said it’s not uncommon for family members to request that someone who holds the same job their loved one did participate in the ceremony.
“I think burials at sea, that’s one of the ways we not only just honor those families and their service, but we reactivate our commitment and our appreciation for serving,” Smothers said. “It’s a real privilege to be a part of. … Every sub that’s ever been part of a burial at sea has thanked us and said, ‘Hey, we appreciate being able to do this.’ It’s an honor.”
The name Wilmer McLean may not be found in most history books, but if it isn’t in the Guinness Book, it should be. The man moved his family during the Civil War and if real estate is all about location, then Wilmer McLean was probably the luckiest home buyer of all time.
Or unluckiest, depending on your point of view.
The opening shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter, in Charleston Harbor in April 1861. With the exception of a cannon accident that killed a Union artilleryman after the fort surrendered, there were no casualties. The major outcome of that was that the Civil War was officially on.
It was in Virginia, three months later, that the Confederate and Union Armies would meet in the first major battle of that war. General P.G.T. Beauregard (who happened to command the Confederates at Fort Sumter) used McLean’s house as his headquarters during that engagement, what would become known as the First Battle of Bull Run.
During the fighting, a Union cannonball came crashing down McLean’s chimney, into his fireplace. Beauregard later wrote: “A comical effect of this artillery fight was the destruction of the dinner of myself and staff by a Federal shell that fell into the fire-place of my headquarters at the McLean House.”
McLean served in the Virginia militia but was too old to return to military service for either army. He was a merchant-trader for the Confederate Army, but operating his business so close to the Union lines was hazardous, so after that first battle, he moved his family south…to a small area called Appomattox Court House.
On Apr. 8, 1865, Generals Lee and Grant sat in McLean’s parlor, discussing the terms of the Confederate surrender and the end of the Civil War.
After the two generals left the house, Union officers began taking everything in the room — as souvenirs. Some paid McLean for their prizes, some didn’t, but they took everything, including his daughter’s toy doll.
On December 1st of 2020, Fort Benning launched a new type of platform. One where soldiers could bring their best ideas to the table and have them heard by the higher-ups. Known as the Maneuver Innovation Challenge, or MIC, the goal was to bring in great ideas that could help all involved, from soldiers, to the base as a whole, and the programs that help it run. It was put into action by Major General Patrick J. Donahoe, the commanding general of the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning.
Inspired in part by the TV show, Shark Tank, where budding entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to potential investors, the MIC created a way for small voices to be heard in a big way. Maj. Gen. Donahoe served as a judge, along with Col. Matthew Scalia, Sgt. 1st Class Kendall Willridge, Command Sgt. Maj. Joseph McAuliffe, Dr. Jay Brimstin and Capt. Joseph Barnes.
The project was announced through a series of videos and social media posts, alerting people to sign up with their idea.
“The best ideas are not going to come from some old, staid general. They’re gonna come from some young sergeant figuring out the next great solution. So join us in the Maneuver Innovation Program, and let’s figure out the next big idea,” – Donahoe said.
The MIP works like this: between Dec. 1st and Feb. 1, 2021, soldiers and civilians could pitch their ideas to the cause. Using an online platform, folks submitted their best ideas to the powers that be. A total of 23 ideas were collected online, ranging from functional apps, to improving tank camouflaging, to programs to help divorced, dual military couples.
The team narrowed the ideas to four finalists, which were pitched live to judges on Feb. 4th. Those making the cut earned prizes in their own right, including:
• A four-day pass.
• Sitting as Donahoe’s guest(s) for a luncheon at MCoE headquarters.
• Official backing for a training course of their choice at Fort Benning, if enrollment qualifications are met.
After the competition, a video was released on Twitter with the hashtag #shootmoveinnovate, announcing that the final four ideas would be put into action by integrating with facilities through TRADOC, Army Training and Doctrine Command, and innovation program resources.
The ideas included: streamlining policies for on-post housing, an app for maintaining digital accountability of soldiers during holiday block leave, and multiple variations for digital options for in/out-processing.
“They’re all winners, Donahoe said. “Clearly when you look at it, all good ideas.”
Spencer Seabrooke is a Pro Slackliner and a cast member of Discovery’s new TV series PUSHING THE LINE, streaming on discovery+. Spencer is originally from the small town of Peterborough, Ontario. Growing up he spent his free time skateboarding, snowboarding, playing paintball and bridge jumping. At the age of 18 he founded a concrete finishing company. Always on the lookout for adventure, he searched for the next challenge to conquer.
What first attracted you to this sport?
I started rock climbing and whenever I got to the top I felt like it was missing something. I watched a movie about one of the other cast members on the show, Andy, and he had been highlining for a few years. He held a handful of the world records. I watched him and got super inspired by what he was doing. So, I went out and started doing it.
What was your scariest moment practicing the sport?
When you’re first starting, you learn to trust your gear. You’re looking back at all the knots that you’ve tied and the connections you’ve made. You look down and you see how far you’re going to fall if you mess one of those up. In the beginning, I feel like my fear was high at the night, but over time and the experience rigging, it slowly becomes more comfortable.
In the show you all refer to yourselves as a ‘dysfunctional but working’ family. How long have ya’ll known each other?
The sport of slacklining has been growing a lot in the last five years. It has been skyrocketing. It was [around that time] when we all started. We’ve been in it long enough and have done a lot of projects together. So, we kind of make a deal to get together once a year and do some rad stuff and catch up. That way we can stay at our top level. It really is like a family. When you’re rigging one of these lines and someone gets on the radio to say, ‘It’s okay for you to get on, everything is good here,’ your life is in another’s hands. You learn to trust each other.
What advice would you give to a veteran who wanted to try the sport out?
I would say get in touch with your local slackline community. Usually at a local park, kids and adults are doing it. You’ve got to start somewhere. The slackline community around the world is very inviting and everyone is welcome and are [willing] to show people the ropes. Get involved and see what your local community has to offer and see what you can put into it.
What was your favorite moment during the filming of the show?
Everything that we did was a lot of fun! I can’t ruin the show so you’re just going to have to tune-in! Watch the good stuff. I’d say the kilometer long zipline was my favorite part (laughs).
What is next for you?
For me, we’re keeping it local here in Canada. I’m trying to grow my own business, SlacklifeBC — we sell slackline products. We’re out to help the community here and teach everybody how to do it. So, tune-in! The show is premiering tomorrow, June 5th, on Discovery+! It’s really cool because I grew up watching the Discovery channel and it’s the kind of thing you watch and get stoked to go do something. It’s great that I’m going to be a part of it all now with the others. The audience will be able to get off their butts and go do it! (laughs)