One thing that has happened a number of times this year are close encounters. Or, to put it bluntly, times where the U.S. military got buzzed. Three countries were major offenders: Russia, China, and Iran. Here’s a breakdown of the incidents by country.
There were at least four major incidents where Russia buzzed American forces. On Feb. 10, an Ilyushin Il-38 “May” maritime patrol aircraft and three Sukhoi Su-24 Fencers carried out multiple passes on the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78). In May, a Su-27 Flanker came within 20 feet of a P-8 Poseidon. The following month, an Air Force RC-135 was buzzed by another Flanker. In November, another P-8 Poseidon had a Russian fighter come within 50 feet.
The Chinese have been major offenders in unsafe encounters. In 2001, one of their fighter pilots collided with a Lockheed EP-3E Aries II electronic surveillance plane. The crew of the EP-3E made it, but the Chinese pilot was killed. In May, there were two incidents, starting with a Su-30 doing a Top Gun stunt. About a week after that, two Chengdu J-10 “Firebird” fighters buzzed a P-3. In July, there was a near-collision between a J-10 and an EP-3E.
The Iranians have had their history of unsafe interactions and picking fights. These are not just limited to aerial incidents, either. In January and April, the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Mahan (DDG 72) was harassed by Iranian “fast attack craft” in the Straits of Hormuz. A third incident involving the Mahan took place in May.
In June, an Iranian vessel aimed a laser at a Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallion. July saw the Cyclone-class patrol craft USS Thunderbolt (PC 12) forced to fire warning shots at Iranian speedboats. August saw two incidents where Iranian drones buzzed a carrier. The first incident, on August 8, nearly caused a mid-air collision with a F/A-18E Super Hornet. An Aug. 15 incident saw a close pass on the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68).
Hopefully, 2018 will not see more of these passes, but these three countries do seem to make it a habit.
The only constant in the military world is chaos. No two weeks are alike, and you’ve got to roll with the punches — but that doesn’t mean you need to roll blindly. Each week, we put together a collection of the most interesting stories to come from the military world, and we put them here for your learning pleasure.
Here’s what you missed while you were busy watching all of your civilian friends 4/20 Instagram stories.
Crew-members with the interdicted drugs at Port Everglades, FA
(US Coast Guard photo by Brandon Murray)
The coast guard unloads .5 million dollars worth of drugs
The U.S. Coast Guard unloaded literal tons of cocaine and marijuana at Florida’s Port Everglades. The haul has a whopping .5 million dollar estimated street value (also known as “the weekly budget for Charlie Sheen”). The drugs were seized in international waters somewhere in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. The haul includes seven tons of marijuana and 1.83 tons of cocaine.
Officials say the operation involved two Coast Guard cutters and a Navy ship off the coasts of Mexico and Central and South America.
The Pentagon is investing in space robots to repair satellites
The U.S. has more than 400 satellites orbiting the earth at any given time. They have commercial, military, and government uses—but when something goes wrong, they have no use at all, and fixing them can be insanely difficult.
Washington Nationals execs team up with military personnel
Jessica Cicchetto/U.S. Air Force
MLB executives and USAF personnel swap leadership tips and experiences
Higher-ups from the Washington Nationals and Air Force personnel met up for the 2nd annual “Nats on Base” conference to discuss leadership similarities between the two organizations. The gathering was during the “2019 Air Force District of Washington’s Squadron Command and Spouse Orientation Course.”
During the panel, 40 new commanders and their spouses focused on leadership methods with representatives from the Washington Nationals and Washington Redskins.
No word on whether or not USAF leadership learned how to lose the most prolific baseball talent to the Philadelphia Phillies.
The current one-piece flight suit
(U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Dallas Edwards)
Air Force toying with the idea of two-piece flight suits for all pilots and aircrew
The USAF seems to change uniforms more than any other branch. Much like a sorority girl before a night out — they are now deciding between going with the tried-and-true one piece or an exciting, new two-piece. Only these are made to withstand more than a spilled vodka cranberry.
The benefits of the two-piece flight suit are, supposedly, ease of bathroom use and “improved overall comfort.” So far, initial feedback has been positive. The Army is also considering more distant plans of adopting a two-piece suit.
photo by Senior Airman Ian Dudley/ USAF
Cost of new ICBMs are rising: why the Air Force isn’t concerned
Next generation intercontinental ballistic missiles are expected to rise in price soon, but the Air Force is unconcerned about this short term price hop. Gen. Timothy Ray expects the total estimated cost to drop after the Air Force makes a decision on which competitor—Boeing or Northrop Grumman—will be able to offer the best price.
Ray continued on to state, “Between the acquisition and the deal that we have from a competitive environment, from our ability to drive sustainment, the value proposition that I’m looking at is a two-thirds reduction in the number of times we have to go and open the site.”
The Ground Based Strategic Deterrent Program will reuse much of the infrastructure where the missiles are housed, as well as invest in those facilities—effectively giving the Air Force the ability to maintain new missiles easily and less expensively over time. “Our estimates are in the billions of savings over the lifespan of the weapon, based on the insights,” Ray said.
Army scraps plans to demo next-gen unmanned aircraft
The Army’s plans to demonstrate the capabilities and designs for a next-generation unmanned aircraft have been abandoned. The decision was made in favor of two future manned helicopter procurement programs, according to the head of the Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Aviation and Missile Center’s Aviation Development Directorate.
With current plans to build a future attack reconnaissance aircraft and a future long-range assault aircraft, Layne Merritt told Defense News, “another major acquisition is probably too much for the Army at one time.”
Secretary of Defense James Mattis warned NATO defense ministers in a speech that the “impatience Secretary Gates predicted is now a governmental reality” when it came to America’s share of the military burden of the alliance. “Americans cannot care more for your children’s future security than you do,” he added.
According to a report by the European edition of Politico, Mattis was passing on a warning from President Donald Trump, who had been critical of the lack of defense spending by NATO allies.
“Disregard for military readiness demonstrates a lack of respect for ourselves, for the alliance, and for the freedoms we inherited, which are now clearly threatened,” Mattis told the assembled ministers according to the Defense Media Activity. Mattis particularly mentioned the events of 2014, including Russia’s seizure of the Crimean peninsula from the Ukraine.
Mattis wasn’t only there to spank NATO for being defense-spending cheapskates, though. Referring to the alliance as “my second home,” he noted that NATO “remains a fundamental bedrock for the United States and for all the transatlantic community” in his opening remarks.
M1A2 Abrams Tanks belonging to 1st Battalion, 68th Armored Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade, 4th Infantry Division fires off a round Jan. 26, 2017 during a gunnery range. The Soldiers are completing gunnery ranges before taking part in combined exercises with their NATO counterparts later this year. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Corinna Baltos)
In remarks welcoming Secretary Mattis, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg cited Secretary Mattis’s past service as Supreme Allied Commander for Transformation, saying, “You made sure that NATO adapted to a new and more demanding security environment. But NATO has to continue to adapt and that’s exactly what we’re going to address at our meeting today, how NATO continues to adapt to a new security environment.”
Stoltenberg also addressed concerns about NATO members paying their fair share, saying, “Our latest figures, which we published yesterday, show that defense spending among European allies and Canada increased by 3.8 percent in real terms in 2016. That is roughly $10 billion U.S. dollars. This is significant, but it is not enough. We have to continue to increase defense spending across Europe and Canada.”
Politico noted that NATO has set a benchmark of 2 percent of GDP as the minimum size of a defense budget. An April 2016 report by CNN.com noted that only five NATO countries met that benchmark.
We Are The Mighty’s editor-in-chief Ward Carroll recently sat down with Got Your 6‘s executive director Bill Rausch — a West Point graduate and Iraq War vet — to talk about the organization’s campaign to compel Americans to vote by viewing the experience through the lens of military veterans and for vets to lead the effort by their example.
WATM: What do you hope to gain by going to the conventions?
Bill Rausch: Over the next two weeks, Cleveland and Philadelphia will be the epicenter of the presidential campaign, which is why our attendance as veteran leaders is critical. Both campaigns have been supportive in providing credentials to our team helping us achieve four main objectives, which are to educate the country about the value of veterans as civic assets, engage the candidates on issues of importance to the veteran and military communities, compel veterans to participate in the electoral process as voters, community leaders, and candidates themselves, and, finally, to leverage the service and experience of veterans and military personnel as inspiration for all Americans to vote.
WATM: What should the veteran community take from your efforts over the next few weeks?
BR: Well, it’s not really about what veterans should take from it, it’s more like a challenge to veterans and the entire military community. Like we did during our time in uniform, we need to lead. As veterans and civic assets, we have a responsibility to call the country to action this November by participating in the electoral process — whether it be by registering and committing to vote, volunteering for a campaign, or running for state or local office. We need to engage candidates on policy issues that impact the lives and welfare of veterans and military service members. Any candidate running for federal, state, or local office should be challenged to clearly define their policy stances on issues of importance to veterans. And, vets need to educate the country about the value of veterans as civic assets. Veterans may have taken off the uniform but their commitment to service has not faltered. Veterans vote at higher rates, volunteer more, and participate in their communities at rates higher than their civilian counterparts. It’s time we change the narrative of the damaged veteran by showcasing and highlighting actual veteran leaders serving their communities.
WATM: And what about the broader American public; what should they take from this effort?
BR: Good question. We also want to challenge the American public. While we’re focused on the military community, this campaign applies to everyone. All Americans can honor the sacrifice of veterans by actively participating in our democratic process. Register and vote in November, regardless of your background or political leanings. We can all unite in the goal of increasing the political engagement of our citizens. In January 2005, 80 percent of registered Iraqis went to the polls to vote in the first national election after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Images were beamed around the world of Iraqi voters holding up their ink-stained fingers as a sign of pride and hope for the future. Despite our national commitment to spreading the institution of democracy to others, America’s voting turnout was a paltry 54 percent of the eligible voting public in November 2012. We can and should do better. And all of us — not just vets, but all of us — should insist that the debates deal with real issues, ones that impact the lives and welfare of veterans and military service members. Civilians have a responsibility to challenge candidates to outline their plans for supporting and empowering our veterans.
WATM: You’ve worked on a major presidential campaign, testified in front of congress and work with government leaders as the executive director of Got Your 6. Of all of that experience, what do you think informs this campaign the most?
BR: I deployed to Baghdad, Iraq in May of 2006 on the heels of the December 2005 Iraqi election and I met with so many Iraqis who proudly showed me photos of themselves and their families holding up their purple fingers on election day. These men and women faced down roadside bombs, suicide bombers, and snipers to participate in their democracy with 80 percent turnout. Over the past 100 years, we’ve not even come close to that level of turnout. We can do better. We should do better. We will do better.
WATM: Given the plans and statements made by both candidates on reforming the VA, is there a candidate that you support?
BR: Got Your 6 is a non-partisan, non-profit veterans organization. We do not publicly support one candidate or party over the other. I am a member of the ‘veteran party’ and serving the veteran and military family community is my primary purpose this campaign cycle.
WATM: Do you know who you are going to vote for?
BR: I can tell you that I plan on voting at my local polling place, Fire Station No. 4 in Alexandria, VA with my wife and 2-year-old son. I believe that voting is a civic responsibility and that our country is stronger when more people participate in our democracy. For me, voting as a family is a way to lead by example and show my son the importance of voting in every election. It’s our duty and obligation as citizens of this great country to vote on November 8th, 2016 which happens to be veterans week and I can’t think of a better week for election day to fall on.
WATM: Agreed. Thanks for your time Bill, and we look forward to watching you and your team in Cleveland and Philadelphia over the next few weeks.
You’re throwing a football around in the yard with your neighbors. While stretching out as far as you can to catch the pass, you slam your head hard against a pole going for the ball. Seeing stars and feeling confused, you take a seat. Wouldn’t it be nice if a test could say whether you have a brain injury?
Brain injury can happen from a fall, while in combat, or during training exercises. Thanks in part to research funded by the Dept. of Defense and the U.S. Army, Banyan Biomarkers has created the first-ever brain trauma blood test. On Feb. 14, 2018, the Food and Drug Administration cleared marketing of the Banyan Biomarkers’ Brain Trauma Indicator, or BTI™.
The BTI can identify two brain-specific protein markers, called UCH-L1 (Ubiquitin Carboxy-terminal Hydrolase-L1) and GFAP (Glial Fibrilliary Acidic Protein). These proteins rapidly appear in the blood and are elevated 12 hours following an incident where a head injury occurs and can signify if there is bleeding in the brain. The two protein markers won’t be elevated if your brain is uninjured or if you have a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI), otherwise known as a concussion.
“When these proteins are elevated, there may be blood in the brain,” said Kathy Helmick, acting director of the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC). “A hematoma, or blood in the brain, may indicate a more serious brain injury has occurred, which could require rapid evacuation for neurosurgery to remove a clot in the brain.”
The first thing a doctor tries to rule out with suspected brain injury is the potential for serious complications, like losing consciousness, going into a coma, or death. According to the research results and FDA clearance, the blood test can help medical professionals determine the need for computed tomography (CT) scans in patients suspected of having a concussion. It also can help prevent unnecessary radiation exposure for patients.
Prior to discovering these biological protein markers, medical professionals had to rely on symptom reporting and other more subjective means to evaluate patients with few signals of more serious head injury.
“This technology helps us identify red flags after you suspect a head injury so that you can get the person to definitive care,” Helmick explained. “Most times, the blood test will be negative and the medical provider will continue with a concussion evaluation.”
Lt. Col. Kara Schmid said U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command will “begin limited user testing with the device in the first quarter of fiscal year 2019.” Schmid is a project manager for the Neurotrauma and Psychological Health Project Management Office at the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity. “Improvements could make the device more supportable by the military health system.”
The Department of Defense has been seeking a method for diagnosing and evaluating TBI in service members for over a decade. According to DVBIC, over 375,000 service members have been diagnosed with TBI since 2000. Approximately 82 percent of those TBI cases are classified as a concussion.
According to Kelley Brix, MD – who is a branch chief for interagency research and development at the Defense Health Agency – the need for diagnosing milder forms of brain injury sparked research questions that were funded as part of a greater TBI research portfolio.
“The research question became centered on if the brain releases anything detectable into the blood stream when there is damage,” said Brix. “The answer is yes. This is a big project with a successful outcome. But, it’s only part of our large portfolio looking at improved ways to diagnose and treat TBI.”
Helmick says knowing whether blood, swelling, or bruising on the brain has taken place helps with understanding the severity of the TBI.
“These two proteins give us a window of insight into what is going on in the brain,” said Helmick. “We have lacked objective devices and data in TBI, especially with concussion. The reason biological markers are so important is because they are accurate, sensitive, and objective.”
Making the machine required to run the blood test smaller and more portable is a work in progress, as currently it’s intended for use in a laboratory. Logistical constraints of the BTI device make deployment to the force a challenge.
“There is active work going on to reduce the 3-4 hour timeframe for getting test results, which could make it even more usable for austere environments,” Helmick said. “This blood test is an example of a significant public-private success and a huge advancement in the field of TBI.”
If there’s anything people know about troops and veterans, it’s that they’re disciplined and more often than not, they plan things very well. It should come as a surprise to no one that the gangster who perfected the bank heist was a soldier who did his due diligence.
It might also surprise no one that the same soldier decided to end it all in a blaze of glory while surrounded by people trying to shoot him.
You can thank former Prussian soldier Herman Lamm for all the great bank robbery movies, gangster shows, and heist flicks you’ve ever seen in your life. The legend of Robin Hood-like, gun-toting gangster robbing banks and speeding away from the cops in a hail of bullets? That’s Lamm too. Machine Gun Kelly, John Dillinger, and Bonnie and Clyde owe their successes to Lamm. Known as the “father of modern bank robbery” Hamm pioneered the idea of conducting the heist in the same style as a military operation.
Lamm was born in the German Empire and later joined the Prussian Army before emigrating to the United States, where he began to rob and steal. Instead of being your average stick-up thief, he adapted the tactics and psychology he was taught by the Prussian Army to his crimes. The effect became legendary.
John Dillinger has Lamm to thank for his bank robbery style.
In what would later be dubbed “the Lamm Technique,” he would watch a bank, its guards, and its employees. People in his gang would map the layouts of the banks in various ways, posing as reporters or other outsider professions. He even meticulously planned his getaways, which cars to use, and cased out what routes to take at which times in the day. For the first time, it seemed, each member of the gang was assigned a specific role in the heist, hiring a race car driver to drive the getaway car.
Most importantly, he drilled his men on the action. He practiced and timed every action with every member of the gang to ensure the most German-level efficiency of the heist.
The movie “Heat” and other heist movies have Lamm to thank for their success.
Lamm was not as flashy as the gangsters of the era who decided to make a show of their heists, so history doesn’t remember him as fondly as his contemporaries. He died in his final bank heist, surrounded by armed cops, all trying to get a piece of history’s most efficient thief. But Lamm didn’t give them the satisfaction, ending his own life instead of getting gunned down by Indiana cops.
Despite the record heat on July 19 and 20, 2019, in Davenport, Iowa, more than 600 veterans and their family members attended the Quad Cities Veterans Experience Action Center (VEAC) at St. Ambrose University. The event was held to bring together community service providers, veteran service organizations, and other government partners to provide services, resources and information directly to veterans and those currently serving.
Planning for Quad Cities Veterans Experience Action Center began in May 2018 in collaboration with the Veterans Experience Office, the National Cemetery Administration, VBA regional offices, Iowa City VA Health Care System, the local Vet Center, two Community Veteran Engagement Boards, the Rock Island Arsenal, UnityPoint Health Trinity, the United Way, St. Ambrose University and many more; all came together to ensure veterans have the resources, services, and information needed to get to “yes.”
Community partners took on this challenging event knowing it would have a significant and lasting impact on the lives of veterans in their community, which made the many months of planning worth it.
A Veteran and his spouse learning more about many different resources available.
“I have desire to help the ones that served our Nation in uniform and knew there was a need in the Quad Cities area to bring together community partners and VA under one building to provide information and resources to Veterans,” said Daniel Joiner, Director of Community Engagement at UnityPoint Health Trinity and Quad Cities VEAC organizer.
During the two-day event, the Des Moines, IA, and Chicago, IL, Veterans Benefit Administration regional offices were on-site to assist veterans wanting to file a disability compensation claim, check on a claim decision, check on the status of an existing claim, obtain representation from a Veteran Service Organization, receive counseling services through the mobile Vet Center and learn about many other community resources.
After reading about the Quad Cities VEAC’s success on day one, Paige, a U.S. Army veteran, flew from Baltimore, MD, for the VEAC’s second day.
U.S. Army Veteran Paige waiting to meet with representatives from Veterans Benefits Administration.
“After reading the excellent reviews, I knew this event would be best opportunity for me to receive some answers. I was told by the representative from the regional office I would have a decision within a week,” said Paige.
Another veteran from Orlando, FL, heard about the VEAC in April 2019 and booked his flight and hotel room to attend. Army veteran, Vincent, had been struggling for years to get the help he needed. “This event was just what is needed for veterans. Today, I was able to get all of my issues resolved. I can now go back home and sleep peacefully,” he said.
Paige and Vincent were not the only two veterans that were from out of state. Veterans from Alaska, Texas and one Marine Corps veteran from Belgium and her mother, an Army veteran, attended to take advantage of the resources that were available.
U.S. Army Veteran Vincent discussing how important it was for him to attend the Quad Cities VEAC.
The Iowa City VA Health Care System provided information, enrollment and eligibility representatives so veterans could enroll in VA health care. “Often times, many veterans are unsure if they are eligible for VA health care benefits, that’s why we are here today to assist veterans in registering for benefits they earned. During the two day event, we were able to enroll 46 veterans to receive VA health care benefits,” said the Iowa City VA Health Care System’s Director, Judith Johnson-Mekota.
Carmen Gamble, an Army veteran that retired at the rank of Command Sergeant Major and works for VA’s Veterans Experience Office explained, “Over the two-day event, more than 30 community partners and dozens of VA staff came together here in the Quad Cities to serve our Nation’s Heroes to help them receive what they need. We plan to engage other communities in other states to look at how a Veterans Experience Action Centers could benefit their veteran population.”
Several more Veterans Experience Action Centers including San Juan, Puerto Rico, Sep. 4-6, 2019; and Cary, North Carolina, Sep. 18-21, 2019, are being planned.
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
Clinicians who are, or becoming, experts in Point of Care Ultrasonography (POCUS) are in awe of a new ultra-portable ultrasound device, the Butterfly IQ.
The Butterfly’s first use in the United States was at VA NY Harbor Healthcare System and at NYU Langone. It is a very lightweight probe that looks like a sleek black electric razor. It plugs into an iPhone.
The user prompts the probe into action and gives it directions with a finger-flick of an app and a tap on individual links that are pre-programmed for screening of the heart, lungs, veins of the legs and other parts of the body.
Squeezing some gel onto the head of the probe, the physician then places the device on a patient’s body in the specific area of concern. For example, it might be placed on the side of the patient’s chest corresponding to the location of the lungs. The interior structure and movement of the lungs then is visualized in real time on the physician’s cell phone screen.
“Most of the time, you can figure out why a patient is having trouble breathing immediately at the bedside without sending the patient for any additional test,” said Dr. Harald Sauthoff.
Dr. Sauthoff considers the Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU) as his “home”, but he also sees patients on the general medicine wards, where he was using the Butterfly to examine LoRusso, a veteran with lung cancer. Fluid had been drawn and removed the previous day with a needle guided by ultrasound.
Dr. Sauthoff said, “I can still see a lot of fluid around the lung.” The patient was most concerned about not having another tissue biopsy that had been performed some weeks before. Dr. Sauthoff explained that use of the sonogram, unfortunately, might not eliminate the need for another biopsy.
He told the Korean War veteran that taking and testing more fluid might provide enough information to identify and then target the specific type of cancer cells that caused his disease.
Point-of-care ultrasonography (POCUS) is revolutionizing the way physicians examine their patients. Rather than just feeling and listening, physicians can now look into their patients’ bodies often supporting an immediate bedside diagnosis without delay and potentially harmful radiation.
Lightweight, portable, and simple to use, the Butterfly IQ is an enormously attractive clinical tool because it produces precise, high-quality results. The low cost will make it possible for more clinicians to examine their patients using ultrasound at the bedside, carrying an ultrasound probe in their coat next to the stethoscope.
The remaining hurdle for the widespread utilization of POCUS is lack of physician training in this powerful technology. Because most attending physicians are not trained in the use of POCUS, the traditional method of teaching students and residents is ineffective.
For this reason, Dr. Sauthoff has recently created a POCUS teaching course for hospitalist attending physicians across NYU, including VA NY Harbor Healthcare System’s Manhattan Campus. Carrying a Butterfly during their rounds, they are rapidly learning to use this powerful tool, and they will soon help to teach students and residents and change the culture of bedside diagnosis across VA and NYU.
Dr. Sauthoff using the Butterfly was recorded by BBC TV for an online program about innovation called The Disruptors.
Navy Veteran Angela Walker is competing in the National Veterans Golden Age Games for the third time. She’s in five activities in the ongoing VA sports event in Anchorage, Alaska.
At the same time, Walker admits that participating in the Golden Age Games isn’t easy. She’s been in a wheelchair for six years and has chronic pain throughout her body. Even a sport like archery, where one has to pull the bow and hold the arrow, triggers pain from her naval down, she says.
Yet, she perseveres, knowing there’s a therapeutic component to the games. One of the best things about the games is that “you learn how to turn off the pain a little bit and dial it down while you’re competing,” as she put it.
“I’m never without pain,” Walker says. “I can’t remember the last time I haven’t had pain all day. (It) makes it really challenging to play. But you have to push through in order to play. You might see the tears coming down. But I don’t like to quit unless I absolutely have to. It happens with every sport. So it’s kind of like, should I go to the games or not go to the games? I want to win, and I want to play, and I don’t want to quit.”
Angela Walker competes in horseshoes at the 2019 National Golden Age Games.
She finds it encouraging and inspiring to be among other veterans who are in wheelchairs. She’s competing in the wheelchair division of air rifle, horseshoes, boccia, bowling and shuffleboard.
“I’m motivated because everybody is doing their best using whatever skills and strength they have to win and to have a good time,” she says. “We’re all aware of what’s going on with our bodies. But doing my first Golden Age Games [in 2017] just let me know that, `Hey, you don’t have to just sit at home. You can do other things.’ So I’m taking my body to the limit in trying to do all of these different sports.”
Her determination is paying off. Competing in the 60 to 64 age category at this year’s games, she’s thus far won gold medals in boccia and horseshoes. She also earned three medals at both the 2017 Golden Age Games in Biloxi, Mississippi, and at the 2018 Golden Age Games in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Walker’s success at the 2018 games qualified her for the National Senior Games in Albuquerque from June 14 to June 25. The foundation for the games selected her to receive the Hurford Memorial Award that provides some financial assistance to attend. In the nationwide event, she’ll test her skills in the wheelchair division of bowling and horseshoes.
If not for a chance encounter with another veteran who competes in wheelchair sports, Marine Corps Veteran Johnny Baylark, Walker may not be competing. The two met several years ago at Naval Station Great Lakes outside of Chicago. Baylark encouraged Walker to come out for the VA sports event.
“I was looking for a parking space, I thought he was getting out, and I was going to take his space,” Walker remembers. “We both left our vehicles. He approached me and said, `Hey, you’re in a wheelchair. You should do bowling.’ I was like, `Bowling, I don’t know about bowling.’ But it made me think. So I talked to my doctor and he agreed that I should get involved.”
Walker has since tried to influence other veterans to take part in the National Veterans Golden Age Games. She volunteers as a motivational speaker and sings regularly at the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Center in Illinois and at veterans’ organizations, such as the American Legion. An accomplished singer, Walker has won gold medals at the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival Competition, another VA-sponsored event.
In front of a waving Red, White, and Blue, she gracefully sang the “The Star Spangled Banner” before the start of June 7, 2019’s horseshoe event. At one point, Daniel Dela Cruz, coordinator of the horseshoe competition, remarked to Walker that “this is harder than it looks. It’s not easy.”
Walker knows all about that. But it seems that nothing will derail her drive to compete.
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
In short, China has turned their coast guard into a sort of paramilitary force, the largest of it’s kind in the world. In some cases, China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) vessels have simply been painted white and repurposed for maritime “law enforcement.”
Sometimes, the .50 caliber machine guns still hang over the sides of vessels once used for war and now used to intimidate neighboring nations.
But unlike military disputes, where internationally agreed-upon accords regulate standard operating procedures, these coast guard ships fall in a legal gray zone that China has come to exploit.
“What we have is a situation in East Asia where China in particular is not using naval vessels to intimidate, not using [traditional] force, but they’re taking actions that are below that line of triggering any kind of military confrontation, and yet intimidating other actors,” Bonnie Glasser, an expert on security in the Pacific from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Business Insider in a phone interview.
Glasser, who headed up the report on China’s coast guard, compiled 45 incidents in the South China Sea and found China’s coast guard involvement in two thirds of them.
But according to Glasser, “what we have been able to compile is just a fraction of the number of incidents in the South China Sea,” where China’s larger ships have repeatedly rammed, harassed, and used water cannons on fishing vessels from the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and others.
“In my conversations in the Philippines — Chinese ramming of other ships is considered to be part of their acceptable rules of engagement. That’s just what they do,” said Glasser.
According to Glasser, the legal framework marks a step in the right direction, but does nothing to stop the harassing actions of China’s coast guard, which operates as a navy in all but name. What’s more, the majority of signatories to the recent ASEAN CUES agreement had already signed a similar agreement in April 2014, rendering the agreement even more empty.
“China’s ASEAN CUES agreement is not new, and was already agreed upon. [Chinese state media] portrayed it as some breakthrough… Everyone is applauding, and it’s nice to have, but it doesn’t address the problem,” said Glasser. The real problem, of course, is that no meaningful laws regulate their paramilitary coast guard.
A boarding team from the People’s Liberation Army (Navy) Haikou makes way toward the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Waesche July, 16, 2014, during a Maritime Interdiction Operations Exercise as part of Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise 2014. | U.S Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Manda M. Emery
“China is building very large coast guard vessels,” and lots of them in a “quantity as well as quality” approach, said Glasser. The sheer size of the ships, usually weighing more than 1,000 tons, as well as the way they’re armed, make other nation’s law enforcement craft “pale in comparison.”
Essentially, the Chinese bully civilian craft with hulking boats that intimidate on sight. Only Japan even comes close to having the capability to defend itself, with 105,000 total tonnage of coast guard ships to China’s 190,000. But Glasser says that actual military capability should come second to infrastructure, in the form of internationally agreed-upon law.
“Putting in place acceptable procedures of behavior and other confidence building measures is the way to go, rather than everyone having the ships the size of China’s,” said Glasser, nodding to the potential arms race that could result from China’s unilateral military buildup.
“Many different risks are posed if China goes ahead and develops the Scarborough Shoal… it would undermine US credibility, cause the Chinese to continue to test the US, and push forward a greater agenda of seeking control of the air and sea space,” Glasser said.
Furthermore, China undermining the US would cause “enormous anxiety in the region, with the US seen as weakening in it’s ability and will,” Glasser said.
“Reverberating effects, as well as security threats eventually posed by China having capability near main bases (the Subic Bay) would be a threat to the Philippines and the US.”
So for now, China has found a loophole in international law that allows its paramilitary “second navy” of a coast guard to muscle smaller nations out of their rightful claims. China has shown a persistent will to militarize and enforce its claims in the South China Sea. Unless the US, and its allies in the Pacific, can get China to agree to a legal framework, Beijing appears ready to continue pushing its claims by force.
There is a perceived weakness in the way international law is enforced at sea, and China is exploiting it handily. As Donald Rumsfeld said, “weakness is provocative.”
World War II Veteran and 75-year legionnaire William E. Christoffersen will be remembered as a man who fought for his country and his fellow Veterans. It was his life’s mission.
“We’ve lost one of our greatest champions,” Terry Schow said. “We lost a guy who was a beacon to many of us in the Veteran community. He was beloved.” Schow is a long-time friend and former Utah Department of Veterans Affairs executive director.
“He was a great mentor, great advisor and just a great man. We will never see his likeness again.”
Christoffersen died May 31 at the Utah state Veterans home named in his honor. The Cache Valley native was just days shy of his 94th birthday.
Christoffersen served as an Army infantryman, fighting throughout the Philippines in WWII. He returned home and founded a Logan-based construction business. But his real calling, Schow said, was serving Veterans.
Veteran nursing home was his mission
Soon after leaving the military, Christoffersen joined the American Legion and became department commander in 1959. A born leader and tireless advocate, Christoffersen served on the American Legion’s National Executive Committee – the highest state post within the Legion and part of its national board of directors – just four years later.
He made it his mission to bring a Veterans’ nursing home to Utah.
World War II Veteran William E. Christoffersen leads a group of Veterans in a parade.
Describing him as “an impressive man with an imposing stature,” Schow first met Christoffersen over 30 years ago. Schow pressed governor Mike Leavitt to add Christoffersen to the home’s construction advisory committee. The state built the first Veterans nursing home in 1998.
But Christoffersen did more than bring a Veterans home to Utah. He brought three national conventions to the Beehive State, and with them, roughly 10,000 visitors, including dignitaries, senators, and in 2006, President George W. Bush.
“Bill was a legend,” Schow said. “There wasn’t an elected official at the federal level who did not know Bill Christoffersen.”
He also used his clout to better Utah’s Veteran landscape. One of his initiatives rose to the level of federal law. He was one of the promoters of the Transition Assistance Program. The program provides service members leaving the military with a weeklong course on how to create resumes, apply for benefits and more.
“Is it worth it? Yes it is.”
Even in his 80s, he continued advocating for Veterans. In March 2013, VA renamed the facility he helped create the William E. Christofferson Salt Lake Veterans Home.
After serving the Legion for more than a half-century, Christofferson retired in August 2013. Schow recalled how Christoffersen apologized for not doing more.
“There are times when you ask, ‘Is it worth it?'” Christoffersen then told the Legion. “I say yes, it is.”
In tribute for his decades of service, the flags outside the William E. Christofferson Salt Lake Veterans Home flew at half-staff June 5 – in honor of Christofferson’s 94th birthday.
The battle for Shal Mountain, dubbed “Operation Rugged Sarak,” went from Oct. 8-15, 2011. Shal Mountain sat above Shal Valley and controlled two important supply routes, one vital to coalition forces for resupply and one critical to insurgent smuggling between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The insurgents controlled the mountain for years, but the men of B Company, 2-27th Infantry Regiment, decided to finally wrest control of it from the Taliban after two U.S. convoys were attacked from there, killing two soldiers. The battle for the summit would rage for eight days.
Specialist Jeffrey Conn was the Army medic who responded to the second convoy attack and was the medic on top of Shal Mountain during the fight for the summit. On the mountaintop, he would earn a Silver Star for saving the lives of at least nine U.S. and Afghan soldiers while also taking the lives of many insurgents — at least 12 in a single attack.
Hundreds of people attended the memorial and funeral of a World War II soldier in his hometown of Troy, Indiana on March 30, 2019. Most of them never met him.
Pfc. Clifford M. Mills, a soldier who fought with the 319th Glider Field Artillery Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division, was buried 75 years after his death during Operation Market Garden in 1944.
Mills was considered Missing in Action since Sept. 18, 1944, after the glider he was in crashed behind enemy lines near Wyler, Germany, until January 2019 when his remains were identified by the Defense Prisoner Of War/Missing in Action Accounting Agency and transferred back to his hometown on March 28, 2019.
U.S. Army Paratroopers assigned to the 319th Field Artillery Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, carry the casket of Clifford M. Mills, a World War II veteran, in Troy, Ind., March 30, 2019.
(Photo by Spc. Justin W. Stafford)
Mills’ remains were transported from Tell City’s Zoercher-Gillick Funeral Home to Troy Cemetery in an elaborate procession consisting of local fire departments, law enforcement, and motorcycles flashing red and blue lights.
As the procession made its way, it passed beneath a large American flag attached to the outstretched ladder of a firetruck. Residents of all ages lined the streets or stood in front of public buildings waving American flags or saluting as the procession passed by them.
A portrait of U.S. Army Pfc. Clifford M. Mills, formerly a member of the 319th Glider Field Artillery Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division, is displayed at his memorial service in Tell City, Ind., March 30, 2019.
(Photo by Spc. Justin W. Stafford)
The Purple Heart recipient was buried with full military honors provided by the 319th Field Artillery Battalion, 82nd Abn. Div. from Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
“In the 82nd Airborne, we walk in the footsteps of legends,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Gregory Seymour of the 319th. “With each of these homecomings, we close the gap of those still missing and come closer to fulfilling our promise to never leave a comrade behind.”
Currently, there are 72,000 Americans still unaccounted for from World War II.
Seymour presented Mills’ 91-year-old brother, Robert Lee Mills, with a folded flag during the burial ceremony March 30, 2019.
U.S. Army Paratroopers assigned to the 319th Field Artillery Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, carry the casket of Clifford M. Mills, a World War II veteran, in Troy, Ind., March 30, 2019.
(Photo by Spc. Justin W. Stafford)
Mills was buried next to his wife, Ethel Mills, who died in 2004. She never remarried. Notably, the efforts of a 33-year-old Dutch man from the Netherlands proved unmeasurable in facilitating the positive identification and homecoming of Mills.
Nowy van Hedel was approved by a volunteer program 12 years ago, which assigned him the name of a soldier on the Walls of the Missing at the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten, Netherlands.
After over a decade of research conducted in his free time, Hedel submitted his findings to the DPAA in 2017. Scientists from the DPAA were able to make a positive identification. Hedel received the news from Mills’ family in January 2019.
The casket vault of Clifford M. Mills rests above ground before being buried at Troy Cemetery in Troy, Ind., March 30, 2019.
(Photo by Spc. Justin W. Stafford)
“You’d get one lead and search that direction. Then you’d hit a dead end. It went on for 12 years,” said Hedel. “When I received the information from the family that there was a 100 percent match, my world was turned upside down. I couldn’t believe it.”
Hedel keeps a photograph of Mills in his living room. He also continues to help others in identifying unknown soldiers.
A rosette has been placed next to Mills’ name on the wall to indicate he has been accounted for. “It is like a piece of closure for me,” said Hedel holding back tears, “but you also feel the pain because it’s a funeral. He died 75 years ago for our freedom.”