If you’ve ever wanted kick-off the Army-Navy rivalry by skydiving into the football stadium during one of their storied showdowns, you should have joined the Army Golden Knights or Navy Leap Frogs.
There’s no way around that.
For the rest of us, here’s an incredible 360-degree video captured by the jumpers during Saturday’s game while the Cadets and Midshipmen marched onto the field. Watch from your phone to pan around the flight path or use the video cursor if you’re watching from a desktop.
Back in the late 1970s and early 80s, the Coast Guard thought they had a better way to search for people lost in the ocean. They tested using pigeons affixed to the underside of helicopters.
Yes, like the pigeons in the park. And, yes, it did work. The birds performed about twice as well as their human counterparts at spotting “appropriate targets” on their first pass over an area.
The pigeons involved in Project Sea Hunt, as the effort was known, were first sent to “basic training.” For obvious reasons, about the only thing pigeon basic shared with human basic was the name.
Pigeons were placed in training chambers with “peck keys” that released food when pressed. Once the pigeons got the hang of the keys, their training boxes would be faced toward Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, where a buoy with a radio-operated orange plate floated. Trainers would expose the orange plate and then reward the pigeon when it hit the keys, but wouldn’t feed the pigeons if the plate wasn’t exposed.
Over time, the target would be moved further away from the pigeons to train them to look further out to sea.
Once the pigeons passed basic training, the top graduates would proceed to advanced training where the pigeons were actually placed in chambers mounted beneath a helicopter and had to find orange, yellow, and red objects in the ocean. Each bird covered a 120-degree window, so a pod with three pigeons could see in 360 degrees.
In testing on the helicopter, the pigeons spotted targets on the first pass 90 percent of the time. The human crewmembers were capable of finding the target on the first pass only 38 percent of the time. In a later test, when the humans knew they were trying to catch up to the pigeons, the humans scored a 50.
In passes where both humans and the pigeons spotted the target, the pigeon spotted it first 84 percent of the time. The pigeons were proving to be amazing day-time searchers.
There were a few drawbacks to the use of pigeons. First, the weight of the pigeons had to be carefully maintained. Pigeons at 80 percent of their “free food” weight were generally hungry enough to search the ocean for hours without losing focus. Dropping below that weight threatened the pigeons’ health but going above it would reduce their effectiveness.
A second batch of pigeons was sent through training to both replace the lost pigeons and to increase the number of pigeons available for missions.
Overall, Project Sea Hunt was so successful that a 1981 audit of the program recommended that the pigeons serve at a Coast Guard air station on proper missions and that new pods be developed so that the birds could fly on newer helicopters. Federal budget cuts resulted in the program being shuttered instead.
Advances in technology have made the pigeons less necessary. Planes designed to hunt subs using magnets are much better at finding plane debris than pigeons ever were, and improved homing beacons for rafts and wrecks make the job of scanning miles of ocean less necessary.
Still, there’s a niche that pigeons could still fill better than almost any gadgets, that of looking for orange rafts and flotation devices in the open ocean.
Old Glory traveled through 10 states and touched more than 8,000 hands on its 4,216 mile journey across America this year. Now the third annual Old Glory Relay across the United States has come to an end.
Organized by Team Red, White Blue, the national event spans 62 days and brings together runners, cyclists, walkers and hikers who have a shared interest in connecting with veterans and civilians in the communities they call home.
“We really wanted this to be a unifying event for the organization and to demonstrate the power and the inspiration that comes with a community of veterans working on an epic undertaking together,” said Team RWB Executive Director Blayne Smith. “We figured if we could run a single American flag averaging 60 miles a day … that would be a demonstration of the good that we could do together if we all worked together formed as a team and committed to a big goal.”
With support from incredible members and sponsors like Microsoft, Westfield, The Schultz Family Foundation, Amazon, Salesforce, Starbucks and La Quinta Inn Suites, the event raised more than $1,250,000! Team RWB will then use the donations to help establish new chapters across the United States and to sponsor events where veterans and community members with a shared interest in social and physical activities can get together for a little PT and camaraderie.
But the Old Glory Relay takes that connection one step further, linking together Team RWB’s 210 chapters and over 115,000 members with their love for the Stars and Stripes.
“This is all about connecting folks to the American flag,” said Donnie Starling, Team RWB’s national development project manager. “One hand-off after another, under the symbol of Old Glory.”
“People see the flag, and they see different things,” remarked Navy veteran Sean Kelly. “But when they see people together in their community, they’re drawn to it. I think it’s an interesting time in our country – and to see a positive force that tries to pull people together, that’s a super important mission that I’m excited to be a part of.”
The Old Glory Relay began on Sept. 11 under the Space Needle in Seattle. Runners carried the flag through the Pacific Northwest, through California and across the desert Southwest and deep south.
The relay ended on Veterans Day in Tampa. And while it was a long journey through some grueling country, the feeling of accomplishment showed through from all the participants.
For Shawn Cleary, a runner in Arizona who delivered the flag to the Tucson team to finish out the Phoenix leg, being part of Team RWB has helped him to get to know a culture he wasn’t a part of as a civilian but had always respected as a military child.
“My life before Team RWB was kind of a college lifestyle,” Cleary says. “It started about two and a half years ago, I wanted to get healthy again, and I was starting to run.”
A friend suggested Cleary run with Team RWB. “I was just hooked,” he says.
There are tens of thousands of veterans and civilians alike who have gotten “hooked” and found a home with Team Red, White Blue. Through the organization, they continue to give back to one another and the community at large – and have an incredible time doing so!
There are many ways to get involved with Team Red, White Blue, so join the team and get started today. There are always local events happening, and keep an eye out for Team RWB’s national events like the Old Glory Relay!
When most people think of World War II, they probably think of soldiers fighting in Europe or Marines island-hopping in the Pacific. But it truly was a World War, and that included combat in some of Earth’s most frigid and inhospitable waters in the Arctic Circle.
The Soviets needed plenty of supplies to fight off the Germans, and it was up to the Allies to make it happen. Beginning in 1941, the Allies began sending convoys of merchant ships packed with food, ammunition, tanks, and airplanes, along with warship escorts.
But the freezing waters of the Arctic — and the German navy — didn’t make it easy.
The cold temperature in the arctic region also posed a risk in that sea splashes slowly formed a layer of ice on the decks of ships, which over time, if not tended to, could weigh so much that ships would become top-heavy and capsize. Of course, given the state of war, the German military also posed a great danger by means of surface warships, submarines, and aircraft. The threats, natural or otherwise, endangered the merchant ships throughout the entire length of the supply route. British destroyer HMS Matabele and Soviet trawler RT-68 Enisej of convoy PQ-8 were sunk by German submarine U-454 at the mouth of the Kola Inlet near the very end of their trip, British whaler HMS Sulla of PQ-9 capsized from ice build-up three days into her journey in the Norwegian Sea, while PQ-15 suffered the loss of three merchant ships on 2 May 1942 to German torpedo bomber attacks north of Norway.
Initially the ships met little resistance, as the Nazis were unaware of the resupply route. This quickly changed after Operation Dervish, the first convoy from Iceland to Archangelsk, Russia.
“After Dervish, the Germans did wake up to what was happening,” Eric Alley, who was on the first convoy, told The Telegraph. “The Luftwaffe and U-boats moved to northern Norway, so the convoys had to keep as far north as possible.”
The convoys were dangerous due to the unpredictable nature of the frigid waters and threat of Nazi U-boats and land-based aircraft. And summer made things much worse, which left ships completely exposed since the area had 24 hours of daylight.
“That was hell. There is no other word I know for it,” wrote Robert Carse, in an account of an attack on his convoy that lasted for 20 hours. “Everywhere you looked aloft you saw them, crossing and recrossing us, hammering down and back, the bombs brown, sleek in the air, screaming to burst furiously white in the sea. All around us, as so slowly we kept on going, the pure blue of the sea was mottled blackish with the greasy patches of their bomb discharges. Our ship was missed closely time and again. We drew our breaths in a kind of gasping-choke.”
The convoys delivered more than four million tons of cargo, though at a heavy cost: 101 ships were sunk and roughly 3,000 Allied sailors lost their lives, according to The Telegraph.
“I guess no one wants to talk to me,” Lee told his wife.
Lee Hernandez has trouble with speaking, so Ernestine figured that’s why people don’t take much time to attempt a conversation. So she reached out to a group called “Caregivers of Wounded Warriors” to get more texts and call pouring in.
He is a veteran of the Iraq War who served 18 and half years in the Army. He’s been fighting for his life for the last five years.
If you want to send Lee a message of support or just see how he is, be sure to reach out between 2 pm and 6pm Arizona time. Lee is now blind, but Ernestine will read your texts to him.
Almost 42 years after the Vietnam War officially ended, veterans of that unpopular campaign in Southeast Asia will finally get some official recognition.
Thanks to the efforts of Republican Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey and his colleague, Indiana Democrat Sen. Joe Donnelly, Congress recently passed the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act, and it is expected to be signed into law by President Donald Trump soon.
On March 26, Toomey hosted a conference call with reporters to discuss his legislation.
Retired Air Force Gen. Charles Horner was awarded a Silver Star for his service as a combat pilot flying F-105s in Vietnam. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)
The Toomey-Donnelly bill also designates March 29 as “National Vietnam War Veterans Day.” March 29 marks the anniversary of the day that combat and combat support units withdrew from South Vietnam.
The Senate approved the bipartisan bill Feb. 8, and it was approved by the House on March 21. It’s now been on President Trump’s desk since March 23 awaiting his signature.
“In many cases, Vietnam veterans did not receive the warm welcome they deserved when they came home,” Toomey said. “It’s time we put a heartfelt thank you to Vietnam veterans into law.”
He added that all Americans should be grateful to those who served in Vietnam.
Toomey was joined on the call with Harold Redding, a Vietnam veteran from York who came up with the idea for the legislation, and John Biedrzycki, a Vietnam veteran of McKees Rocks and past national commander-in-chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Redding said he worked on getting the legislation passed for 27 months. He thanked Toomey for his efforts in seeing it through.
“I can’t tell you what this means to me and all Vietnam veterans,” Redding said.
Biedrzycki said the legislation was long overdue.
“Every day is Veterans Day,” he noted.
Toomey said he would like to see more public recognition for Vietnam veterans, such as at civic events. Those veterans should be emphasized in our classroom as well, he believes.
“Teachers should teach about the Vietnam War,” the senator explained. “These were difficult times in our history.”
In a news release issued by Toomey’s office after the Senate approved the measure, Donnelly said, “This bipartisan bill would help our country honor this generation of veterans who taught us about love of country and service and who deserve to be honored for their selflessness and sacrifice.”
Here’s what other veterans groups had to say about the legislation:
— Steven Ryersbach, past state Commander/AMVETS Department of Pennsylvania: “It’s outstanding that Sen. Toomey is working to support and honor our Vietnam vets. Sen. Toomey’s overall work on behalf of veterans is commendable and we thank Sen. Toomey for all his efforts.”
— Tom Haberkorn, president of Pennsylvania State Council of Vietnam Veterans of America: ” The Pennsylvania State Council of Vietnam Veterans of America supports the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act, which recognizes the service and sacrifice of those who answered our country’s call and served, with honor, in Southeast Asia.”
— Thomas A. Brown., Pennsylvania VFW State Commander: “All Vietnam War veterans deserve high honor and respect that many of them did not get when they returned home from war. Designating March 29 of each year to say ‘welcome home’ and ‘thank you’ to our Vietnam War veterans is a strong signal that America appreciates the service of these special patriots of freedom.”
Secrets are hard to keep, and secrets that require a lot of real estate are even harder to keep. Here are six examples of large-scale efforts that managed to maintain the utmost secrecy and wound up changing the course of history as a result:
Army engineers tasked with building the infrastructure for the Manhattan Project chose the site of modern Oak Ridge and secretly created a top-secret facility with a peak population of 75,000 people. Oak Ridge was where the bulk of the nuclear material for the bombs was created.
In 1949, the site was opened to the general public and it was incorporated as a city in 1959.
2. The Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific
Most people know Bikini Atoll, the site of many U.S. nuclear tests and the inspiration for the bikini. But Bikini Atoll was supported and largely ran by U.S. military forces at Kwajalein Atoll.
If you don’t know what the cultural significance of Area 51 is, then stop lying because you definitely know what Area 51 is. The rumors around the test site spurned its own sub genre of entertainment with big movies like “Independence Day” and video games like “Area 51.”
It’s probably a tale as old as the military itself, but even the anonymity of the online marketplace couldn’t keep these alleged military conspirators from getting nabbed by the feds for pinching combat gear for resale on the outside.
The United States Attorney’s Office for Middle Tennessee indicted six Fort Campbell soldiers Oct. 6 for allegedly selling more than $1 million worth of military equipment they’d stolen from the base to buyers on eBay. The feds say the soldiers stole sensitive items, including body armor, sniper optics and flight helmets and sold them to anonymous bidders — some they say were in foreign countries.
“Homeland Security considers the national security interests of our nation among our top priorities,” said Homeland Security Special Agent in Charge Raymond R. Parmer, who helped with the investigation. “It’s especially disturbing when we identify corrupted members of our military who undermine the welfare of this this country, so we, along with our law enforcement partners, shall continue to aggressively investigate this type of criminal activity.”
The indictment charges each defendant with conspiring to steal or receive U.S. Army property and to sell or convey U.S. Army property without authority. The civilian defendants were charged with additional counts of wire fraud, money laundering and violating the Arms Export Control Act. One was also charged with three counts of selling or conveying U.S. Army property without authority.
“Those who compromise the safety of the American public and our military personnel in the interest of greed will be held accountable for their actions,” IRS investigator Tracey D. Montaño said.
The Justice Department says each defendant faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 on the conspiracy charge. The civilians face up to 20 years for each for wire fraud and violating the Arms Export Control Act and an additional 20 years on the money laundering charges. The defendants also face forfeiture of the proceeds of their crimes.
People say “chivalry is dead” like that’s a terrible thing.
In the popular imagination, chivalry seems to harken back to some mythical era when armored knights rode about the land going on quests, saving maidens, and fighting evildoers.
But chivalry is really a word “that came to denote the code and culture of a martial estate which regarded war as its hereditary profession,” Maurice Keen writes in “Chivalry.”
He argues that medieval chivalry had a major part in molding “noble values,” and, as a result, has had an impact felt long after troubadours and jousting tournaments fell out of fashion. The romantic notion of the daring, pure-hearted knight errant lingers on, even today.
It’s difficult to speak broadly about the medieval era in Europe, given that it encompasses several centuries and an entire continent. Generally speaking, however, in many cases, knights and medieval warriors served as a local lord’s private military. That meant that sometimes, regional conflicts set a group of armed toughs tearing through the countryside and doing whatever the heck they wanted.
Codes of chivalry didn’t take hold in vacuum. There was no uniform “code of chivalry,” and those codes that existed were often far more religious in nature than our modern concept of “hold the door for ladies.” They also cropped up in part to keep knights and warriors from acting on their worst impulses and attacking or extorting weaker individuals.
Starting in the late 900s and lasting till the thirteenth century, a movement known as the Peace and Truce of God rose in Europe. Basically, the Church imposed religious sanctions in order to halt the nobility from fighting among themselves at certain times and committing violence against local noncombatants. You can think of these as rules for knighthood.
One 1023 oath, suggested by Bishop Warin of Beauvais for King Robert the Pious and his knights, gives us a good sense of some of the unexpected rules warriors might be asked to adopt, in response to their often violent behavior.
It includes some rather unusual injunctions and “illustrates the kind of oath that parties were expected to swear after having been caught breaking the peace,” according to Daniel Lord Smail and Kelly Gibson, who edited the sourcebook “Vengeance in Medieval Europe.” A main idea behind the movement was to use spiritual sanctions to give people a break from all the conflict and fighting that plagued certain areas at some points during the Middle Ages.
With that in mind, here are some of Bishop Warin of Beauvais’ proposed rules for knights, which indicate some truly bad and largely unchivalrous behavior on the part of medieval warriors:
1. Don’t beat up random members of the clergy
Bishop Warin of Beauvais barred knights from assaulting unarmed clerics, monks, and their companions, “unless they are committing a crime or unless it is in recompense for a crime for which they would not make amends, fifteen days after my warning.”
Gunald of Bordeaux also condemned anyone who “attacks, seizes, or beats a priest, deacon, or any other clergyman who is not bearing arms — shield, sword, coat of mail, or helmet — but is going along peacefully or staying in the house,” according to Fordham University’s medieval sourcebook.
Instead of formally cursing the offenders, Gunald vowed to excommunicate any attackers “unless he makes satisfaction, or unless the bishop discovers that the clergyman brought it upon himself by his own fault.”
2. Don’t steal livestock or kill farm animals for no reason
The oath includes an injunction against making off with bulls, cows, pigs, sheep, lambs, goats, donkeys, mares, and untamed colts.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons
It also came out against seizing mules and horses at certain times of the year: “I will not exact by extortion mules and horses, male and female, and colts pasturing in the fields from the first of March to All Souls’ Day, unless I should find them doing damage to me.”
However, the bishop of Beauvais allowed that knights could kill villagers’ animals if they needed to feed themselves or their men.
In Gunwald’s proclamation, he also announced that any knight who robbed a poor person of a farm animal would be formally cursed.
3. Don’t assault, rob, kidnap, and torture random people
This rule should have probably gone without saying, but Bishop Warin of Beauvais felt that he needed to include it in the oath.
The bishop wanted knights to swear against mistreating male and female villagers, sergeants, merchants, and pilgrims. This abuse he cited included robbery, whipping, physical attacks, extortion, and kidnapping for ransom.
4. Don’t burn down or destroy houses unless you have a good reason
Arson was a big no in the bishop of Beauvais’s oath — for the most part.
Exceptions were made in the event a knight discovered “an enemy horseman or thief within” a certain house.
That sounds harsh, but Kaeuper writes that, while wrath was a sin, “vengeance is a cornerstone of the chivalric ethos, the harsh repayment justly given for an dimunition of precious honor.”
“Nocturnal fire” by Egbert van der Poel (1621–1664)
Knights were also warned against plundering and stealing from the poor, even “at the perfidious instigation” of a local lord.
Kaeuper cite’s Alan of Lille’s declaration that knights achieved the “highest degree of villainy” by supporting themselves by looting from impoverished people.
5. Don’t assist criminals
Knights had a bad rap in certain parts.
Kauper writes that Alan of Lille once said that knights had the “cruel nature of marauders” and that “soldiers have been made the leaders of pillaging bands; they have become cattle-thieves.”
Photo by Glenn Brunette
Considering such a borderline criminal element, it’s not surprising that the Bishop Warin of Beauvais wanted knights to swear not to harbor and assist any “notorious public robber.”
He allows that, if a criminal comes to a knight for protection, that the knight should either make amends for the wrongdoer, force him to make amends within fifteen days, or deny him protection.
6. Don’t attack women — unless they give you a reason
The oath included a stipulation telling knights not to assault noblewomen traveling without their husbands. It also expanded protection to those attending them, along with widows and nuns, in general.
However, this shield was revoked if a knight “should find them committing misdeeds against” him.
7. Don’t ambush unarmed knights from Lent to Easter
A major part of the Peace and Truce of God movement was declaring that fighting should not take place during certain parts of the year.
Photo from Public Domain
Yale Law School’s Avalon Project features a 1085 decree from Emperor Henry IV, which declares that peace should be observed every Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, on apostles’ feast days, and from the ninth Sunday before Easter until the eighth day after Pentecost, among other times.
In a similar vein, Bishop Warin of Beauvais ordered medieval warriors not to attack unarmed knights “from the beginning of Lent until the end of Easter.”
Carl Gustav’s name is associated in most militaries with the recoilless rifle that bears his name, a weapon typically used in anti-armor/anti-personnel applications that is known for its range and lethality. But another weapon, a submachine gun that was reliable enough to serve special operators in the jungles of Vietnam, claims the name as well.
The Carl Gustav M-45 is a design originally ordered by the Swedish Army in World War II. They wanted new weapons to preserve Swiss neutrality and as potential exports to the warring nations.
The weapon used a simple blowback procedure to cycle the weapon. The operator would pull the trigger, the first round would fire and the force of the explosion would propel the bullet forward while also ejecting a spent casing and allowing a new round to enter the chamber.
But it could churn through those rounds in seconds. It had a firing rate of 600 rounds per minute and could only fire on full auto. The operator had to preserve ammo by shooting controlled bursts.
America never officially adopted the M-45, but U.S. special operators carried it in Vietnam because it was more reliable in the jungle environment than the M-16 that was standard-issued U.S. weapon. Special Forces soldiers and SEALs fought Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army forces on jungle trails with the little guns, spraying rounds at close range.
In Vietnam, the U.S. operators often carried the weapon with an American-made Sionics silencer and with new magazines that held up to 71 rounds.
In the bloody battlegrounds of WWII, Russian officials had to call upon any and every available man to fight against the massive force of German troops as they advanced. The men that were recruited weren’t too well-educated, so training the incoming troops on sophisticated weapon systems was considered too time consuming.
A durable and inexpensive weapon that any troop could effectively operate was in order and Soviet gun manufacturers answered the call.
What they came up with this time around was the “pistolet-pulemyot shpagina,” lovingly called “pa-pa-sha” by Red Army troops. That’s how the “papasha” — Russian for “daddy” — of Soviet small arms was born.
Designed by Georgy Shpagin in the early 1940s, the PPSh-41 weighs eight pounds (3.63 kg), fires a 7.62 x 25mm bullet, and is capable of firing 900 rounds per minute.
Due to its weight and medium recoil, this short range submachine gun allows the operator to have tight groupings when fired.
The PPSh-41 in action. (Image via Giphy)This weapon proved to be just what the Soviets needed as the PPSh-41’s stamping style of manufacturing increased the weapon’s strength, allowing it to be fired in weather conditions as low as 60 degrees below zero and while it was extremely filthy.
“Because it’s stamped out, the tolerances in this machine gun are very loose,” Dr. William Atwater explains. “You can abuse this — and Russian troops did.”
The head of the National Guard said Oct. 26 that the Pentagon will continue to investigate re-enlistment bonuses paid to thousands of California National Guard soldiers a decade ago and will force those who wrongfully accepted them to pay the money back.
Chief of the U.S. National Guard Bureau Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel said his office is looking into more than 13,600 cases that could be fraudulent, but he admitted investigators have to prove that the soldier knew they were accepting upwards of $15,000 they didn’t qualify for.
“The tie goes to the soldier,” Lengyel said at a breakfast meeting with defense reporters in Washington. “If their hands are clean where this soldier is doing their duty and doing their job, it is not our intent to try to enforce this hardship on them 10 years later.”
A nationwide furor erupted after a Los Angeles Times story revealed the California National Guard was demanding repayment with interest for some bonuses it doled out to its Guard troops as an incentive to re-enlist during the height of the Iraq war. The former head of the state’s Guard incentive program was later convicted of filing over $15 million in false claims and the bureau began looking into the scope of the problem in 2012.
Some soldiers, the Times story alleges, have been forced to pay pack tens of thousands of dollars to the government after nearly a decade — some who sustained severe injuries during their subsequent deployments and have been financially ruined by the errors.
President Obama weighed in on the scandal Oct. 25 and reportedly ordered the Pentagon to speed up the audits, but he stopped short of asking for a blanket amnesty, the Times said.
Pentagon chief Ash Carter said in a statement the next day that he’s ordered a suspension of the paybacks and has asked his office to establish a more streamlined process to investigate fraud claims and allow Guard soldiers a speedier appeal.
“This process has dragged on too long, for too many service members,” Carter said. “Too many cases have languished without action. That’s unfair to service members and to taxpayers.”
Guard officials claim over 13,600 questionable bonuses were paid out to California soldiers in the mid-2000s — some for re-enlistment incentives, others for education reimbursement. About 1,100 bonuses were given to soldiers who officials allege were not entitled to them, about 4,000 were error free and about 5,300 had paperwork errors. There are still about 3,200 that Guard officials are still trying to track down.
So far about 2,000 soldiers have been asked to pay back all or part of their bonus cash, Guard officials say.
Lengyel explained some of the more egregious cases included officers who took the cash to re-up when the money was intended to help fill the enlisted ranks, some who took bonuses to stay in certain jobs even though they were already in the process of changing their roles in the Army Guard and others who took re-enlisted bonuses despite being on track to take a slot at officer candidate’s school.
“Was there an intent to trick the system, to take advantage of the fact that apparently there’s some new sheriff in town who’s handing out bonuses?” Lengyel wondered. “Unfortunately with all of this was mixed in some proven intent to defraud the government, in some cases. There was some intent to take money knowingly that you weren’t entitled to by some people.”
But he added that likely the vast majority of soldiers who took the bonuses didn’t have any intent to illegally work the system.
“We think there are a lot of people out there who were 22-year-old soldiers who were given information that they thought by all means they were entitled to the money,” Lengyel said. “They were told they could take this money, they were told that they were entitled to this money, they took the money, the re-enlisted and they went about whatever they were doing and they were given bad data.”
Guard officials say there are more cases of alleged fraud in the re-enlistment bonuses for National Guard troops in other states, but that they pale in comparison to the California errors. Lengyel said in all about $50 million in questionable bonuses were paid out in California during the period, and the Guard is investigating each one individually.
The National Guard is granting exceptions, he added, particularly for those who were paid bonuses without submitting records that they were actually eligible. Lengyel said, for example, a bonus paid out to a soldier that didn’t forward a copy of a high school diploma will likely be given a pass since he couldn’t have joined the Guard without it in the first place.
“That’s a technicality by which this member shouldn’t be levied a fine,” Lengyel said. “The blanket rule is to do the right thing.”
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been outraged by the story, with some already calling for an investigation into the issue and forwarding language to an upcoming defense bill that would give some bonus recipients amnesty. National Guard officials say they did notify Congress of the potential for bonus fraud but nothing was done.
Vet groups have been quick to side with California guardsmen, arguing it’s unfair to put so many soldiers in financial peril due to a former military official’s malfeasance.
“If any of these people were misled about their own eligibility for the bonus with the intent to keep them on, they shouldn’t be held responsible for that,” said John Hoellwarth, National Communications Director for AMVETS. “We think the benefit of the doubt has to be with the soldiers,”
Lengyel said his office is sending investigators to California to help speed up the process of determining whether a bonus or incentive was paid in error in hopes of helping affected soldiers get on with their lives.
“We’re focused on helping those service members who were doing the right thing and served their country and thought they were entitled to a bonus to get this out of their past and out of their way,” Lengyel said. “And we want to help California do that, and help the service members do that as quickly as we possibly can.”