On the 74th anniversary of the D-Day invasion next spring, up to three dozen athletes will wade ashore on Omaha Beach, scale the once-fortified cliffs of Normandy and march with heavy ruck packs into the French countryside.
The man re-creating the invasion route that changed the course of World War II is retired Navy SEAL Lance Cummings of Cardiff. The 58-year-old veteran is organizing the one-day biathlon-style athletic challenge to raise $175,000 for the Navy SEAL Museum in Ft. Pierce, Fla.
The event on June 6, 2018, is the follow-up to last spring’s Sparta300 for Charity, where Cummings led 19 military veterans, reservists, and endurance athletes on an eight-day, 240-mile trek across Greece.
The team — 18 men and one woman — retraced the epic journey to battle of the ancient Spartan King Leonidas and his 300-man army in 480 BC. That event raised $300,000 for three Navy SEAL charities.
A few Epic Charity Challenge members participating in the Sparta300 trek across Greece. Photo from Facebook.
Eight of those Sparta300 participants have already signed up for the D-Day event, which Cummings has billed as the Epic Charity Challenge. Among them is Jimmy Whited, 48, a Miami insurance industry executive who said he’d follow Cummings anywhere.
“The combination of having an endurance event that has significant historic importance with raising money for charity is incredible,” Whited said. “We became great friends in Sparta, enduring significant pain and immersing ourselves in history while laughing all the way.”
Cummings said the Greek trek was very emotional for him and for all the members of the Sparta300 team. But as a US military veteran, he thinks that following in the footsteps of the Allied forces who bravely landed on the heavily defended Normandy coastline in June 1944 will be even more powerful.
“I expect this will be one of the most daunting experiences of my life,” he said. “My family has watched so many videos on the History Channel of what happened that day. The ocean ran red with the blood of those men. We see this not as just a challenge to raise money, but as a way to honor their sacrifices.”
During his long career in Navy special operations, Cummings deployed overseas 16 times to the Middle East, Asia, and South America. Since his retirement in 2011, he’s been working part time training athletes in SEAL-style fitness skills and as a chiropractor for both people and animals.
Born and raised in Macon, Ga., Cummings joined the SEALS at age 22 after a year of Navy fleet service in Connecticut. He served on active duty until 1995, then joined the reserves for five years while he earned his chiropractic degree and started a practice in Georgia.
He was reactivated after 9/11 and sent to Afghanistan for a year. Then he became a private contractor, working first for Blackwater and then, after moving to San Diego in 2004, for the Navy, setting up its human performance initiative program for soon-to-deploy SEAL teams. The program assesses potential health problems and does preventive therapy to reduce the risk of injuries in the field.
Cummings started doing charitable work in 2015 when he and his wife, Michele Grad, signed up for an arthritis charity event where they pedaled 525 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles on a tandem bicycle. Grad said that her husband found the fund-raising experience so addicting, he’s been looking for ways to do more ever since.
Because of his long military service, Cummings has gotten strong support for the events from the US government. Before the Sparta300 hike began, the US Embassy staff in Athens hosted a reception in the group’s honor. Cummings said the staff at the Normandy memorial site has also been very easy to work with.
Retired Navy SEAL Lance Cummings and others taking part in Epic Charity Challenge’s Sparta300. Photo from Facebook.
The Sparta300 event was especially appealing to military veterans because it recalled a famous battle that changed history. King Leonidas and his 300-man Spartan army all perished at Thermopylae, but they held off the much-larger Persian Army for several days, allowing the Greek forces time to retreat and regroup.
Like the Spartan army, the Sparta300 trekkers covered the same distance, from Sparta to Thermopylae in eight days, and they each carried 60-pound packs to simulate the weight of the Spartans’ battle kit. Hewes Hull, a 49-year-old investment company CEO from Birmingham, Ala., said the camaraderie of the group is what kept him going.
“It was 100 percent about the people,” said Hewes, who has also signed up for the D-Day event. “How many times can anyone say they’ve spent eight days rucking with 20 people 10 hours a day and enjoyed every minute of it?”
Cummings conceived the idea for the D-Day event because he liked the idea of re-creating another battle plan that changed history, and he wanted to support the Navy SEAL Museum.
Opened in 1985, the museum commemorates the history of the SEALs, an elite Navy special forces unit that got its start during World War II at Ft. Pierce. Volunteers with strong swimming skills were recruited from the Navy ranks to serve as frogmen and underwater demolitions crews who cleared obstacles and reefs to allow landing craft to reach the beaches in both the Pacific and European theaters of the war.
For most of the past 15 years, Cummings has attended Veterans Day “muster” events at Ft. Pierce. The weekend program includes an ever-shrinking reunion of surviving Navy Combat Demolition Unit veterans from World War II, as well as a memorial ceremony, where Cummings and other SEALs honor those who’ve passed away by scattering their ashes offshore.
Rick Kaiser, executive director of the Navy SEAL Museum and a retired Navy SEAL master chief, said the Normandy event will help support SEALs and their families.
“The monies raised at the Normandy event will directly benefit the Museum’s Trident House Charities Program,” Kaiser said in a statement. “As the only museum in the world dedicated solely to SEALs and their predecessors, we are passionate and committed to this mission, however, the true heart of the Museum is to support our Special Operations Forces and their families.
“The Museum does this through the Trident House Charities Program in a three-pillar approach, providing college scholarships to the children of US Special Operations Forces; offering direct family support where there is additional financial need; and with the help of the Renewal Coalition, providing respite homes and family retreats entirely complimentary to serve our Special Operations Forces and their families, including the Museum’s Trident House in Sebastian, Florida,” Kaiser said.
Compared to the week-long Sparta300 event, the Epic Charity Challenge in Normandy takes place on just one day, but Cummings said that, like the Sparta trek, it will be so difficult that participants need five to six months of training to succeed.
The morning of June 6 will begin at 5 a.m., when boats will take participants out into the notoriously turbulent English Channel. Up to 25 team members will swim 6.2 miles (or 10 kilometers) to Omaha Beach. For those without strong swimming skills, up to 10 people will have the option of paddling 10 to 12 miles back in a Zodiac-style boat. That should take about five hours.
Participants will climb ropes or ladders up the 120-foot cliffs, then participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Normandy American Cemetery Memorial on the bluffs. Then they’ll pull on a 44-pound pack (in honor of the year 1944) and ruck 20 miles to the town of Saint-L”, which should take another five to seven hours. The event will conclude that night with a celebratory dinner.
Participants are each expected to raise $5,000 in donations. Cummings is also recruiting several corporate sponsors, including Aqua Lung in Carlsbad, which is donating the swimmers’ wetsuits and fins. Pelican Case has also donated items for an online auction.
Through a new website, Cummings said his goal is to raise additional money to pay for several World War II veterans, both American and French, to take part in the ceremonies. More information is available via email at Seacoasthealth@gmail.com.
Chicago real estate agent Sean Easton, 32, is another who did the Sparta300 and has registered for the D-Day event. He said he can’t wait to be “wet and cold” at Normandy after suffering in the dry heat of Greece.
“The Sparta300 was a once-in-a-lifetime event that introduced me to a group who have pushed me farther than I thought possible,” he said. “They’re like-minded individuals who are constantly helping each other push themselves to grow as humans.”
In the summer of 2007, in a bizarre incident shown live on Russian television, scientists accompanied by a couple of senior politicians descended 4,300 meters to the floor of the Arctic Ocean in two Mir mini submarines. Divers then planted a Russian flag on the seabed, and Russia officially notified the United Nations that it was claiming the ridge as part of its sovereign territory.
In effect, the Chinese did the same kind of thing when they decided to start building islands in the South China Sea by dredging sand from the bottom of the ocean.
In both cases, the countries were creating new sovereign territory.
One implication of their declaration was that anyone traveling within the 12-mile limit defined by international law was traversing through their sovereign waters, and could only do so subject to their approval.
A Russian flag planted by from a submarine undersea at the North Pole.
So the question is: why do American policymakers care about seemingly insignificant tracts of land so far away from America’s shores?
International law and American concerns
International law is pretty clear. You can’t declare any territory submerged under the sea outside the conventional 12-mile limit as your own, although you may have some privileges in the waters that lie immediately beyond it. You certainly can’t build up some land to above the waterline, thus creating an island, and call it part of your own territory. And in neither case can you legitimately control access by other vessels. Indeed, no international commission has upheld the Russian or Chinese claims. But that hasn’t stopped either the Chinese or the Russians from trying.
Americans, however, are pretty emphatic when it comes to denying such claims have any legitimacy.
In the Russian case, American policymakers were understandably caught off guard and bemused by this strange symbolic act.
But, at the same time, American policymakers have a right to be worried. Climate change could vastly increase sea traffic through the Arctic Ocean. And the future implications of Russian control of these sea-lanes have lots of potential downsides, given recent friction over Ukraine and Syria.
In the Chinese case, Americans were caught off guard and bemused when they shouldn’t have been.
The Chinese have been making claims for a long time about their sovereignty over huge portions of both the East and South China Sea. But in this case, Americans are worried about what China’s control of these waterways might do now to these commercial shipping lanes. Every year an estimated 50% of the world’s total of commercial trade plus oil passes through the area.
Global trade and American national security
The question of why we do care isn’t as obvious as it may seem.
America’s policymakers declare that the maintenance of global trade and commerce is in its national security interests. So America needs to keep these shipping lanes open to what they call “freedom of navigation.”
What that means is that they can send an Aegis class destroyer (so this was a powerful ship, not the equivalent of a coast guards vessel) and sail it past the Subi Reef (think of an island so small it would drive you mad if it was deserted and you had to live on it alone). It’s the equivalent of a drive-by — just to send a message.
Then you put the US secretary of defense on an aircraft carrier, the USS Roosevelt, and do it again — just to ensure that both the Chinese and America’s important regional allies understood the message:. “This isn’t your territory — and our mighty navy is not about to allow you to push us out.”
You might understandably assume that the Chinese, with their huge volume of exports, would also want to maintain open seas. And that the Russians would want to ship oil and gas to keep their economy afloat by water. So there is nothing to worry about.
But that’s where more modest concerns about global trade are replaced by those about deeper, hardcore national security interests. For Americans there is a difference between “our” open seas and “their” open seas.
Freedom of navigation and American doctrine
A central element of American national security doctrine is the notion of “Freedom of Navigation” or FON.
In effect, we (Americans) assert our right to sail where we want, when we need to. Behind that, however, is the deeply embedded concept of “control of the commons..”
Military historian Alfred Thayer Mahan popularized this idea over 130 years ago. He stressed the importance of America’s navy in ensuring the free flow of international trade. The seas were his “commons.”
Alfred Thayer Mahan 1840 – 1914.
Mahan argued that the British Empire was able to retain its commercial and military advantage by ensuring its ships could go anywhere. And that it could deny anyone else from doing so, if needed, in times of war. The overriding lesson is that wars are not won on the land. They are won on the sea by denying your adversary access to resources.
Today, Mahan’s work remains a core element of America’s military doctrine. It is taught to America’s naval officers at their major training academy where he himself once worked and where his work is still regarded as having biblical significance. But it no longer is just applied to commercial trade. It now is applied to the access of its military in all kinds of commons — in the air, on the sea, in space and even in cyberspace.
So American policymakers become frustrated when they believe Chinese hackers spy on the US or they build islands because it demonstrates that the US can’t “control” that commons.
But the sea remains the priority when it comes to controlling the commons.
And Chinese sovereignty over the South China Sea offers the prospect that a key trading route located in a narrow strip of water between land masses either side, what they call a chokepoint could be closed by the Chinese, in the future, if not today.
(US Department of Defense)
The Malacca Strait on the Western end of the South China Sea is one chokepoint — the immediate object of the US’ concern. The Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, where much of the world’s oil passes through, is another. And, at least according to the US Congressional Research Service, the Arctic Ocean, where the Russian planted their flag, could become another.
So this leaves the Americans with an abiding dilemma.
They are saddled with a grand military doctrine built on the principle of keeping the globe’s key access points freely accessible to the US. The barely audible counterpart is that it should maintain a capacity to deny that access to any potential adversary in case of war. The doctrine, however, in practice can itself engender conflict — as we saw with the Chinese.
America may have a much bigger military capacity and even newer technologies that allow it to fight conventional wars. But defending the open seaways is expensive and often counterproductive. The Chinese, for example, are the world’s largest importer of fossil fuels and China is far more dependent on foreign oil than the newly fossil fuel independent United States.
So critics ask why the US is defending the Persian Gulf when the Chinese are the prime beneficiaries?
The answer, it appears, has far more to do with military strategy than with global commerce.
The new red, white, and blue paint job would be a change from the light blue color scheme designed by President John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jackie, in the 1960s and which has appeared on every presidential aircraft since.
On October 19, 1962, Boeing delivered a highly modified version of the civilian 707-320B airliner with the serial number 62-26000. It would be tasked with Special Air Missions and get the call sign “SAM Two-six-thousand.”
It was the first jet aircraft built specifically for the US president, and when he was on board the call sign changed to “Air Force One,” which was adopted in 1953 for use by planes carrying the president.
The SAM 26000 would carry eight presidents in its 36-year career — Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton — as well as countless heads of state, diplomats, and dignitaries.
Below, you can take a tour of the SAM 26000, which is now on display at the National Museum of the Air Force and which one Air Force historian said could justifiably be called “the most important historical airplane in the world.”
In addition to the blue and white colors they picked, the words “United States of America” were painted along the fuselage, and a US flag was painted on the tail. Kennedy reportedly chose the font because it resembled the lettering on an early version of the Constitution.
In June 1963, the plane flew Kennedy to Berlin, where he delivered his “Ich bin ein Berliner,” or “I am a Berliner,” speech.
During the flight into Berlin, “The Russians put MiGs (fighter planes) up on both our wings so we would stay in the corridor over East Germany to West Berlin. They didn’t want us to spy,” said Col. John Swindal, who became commander of Air Force One at the start of Kennedy’s presidency.
That afternoon, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson helped staffers pull the the casket into the rear of the plane, where seats had been removed to make space. Johnson was sworn in as president on the plane prior to takeoff.
Retired Air Force Master Sgt. John Hames, who worked as a steward on Air Force One between 1960 and 1975, was one of the crew members who helped remove seats to make room for the casket.
“We served a lot of beverages (Scotch) on the way back,” Hames said in 1998. “It was a long ride back to Washington. Nobody wanted to eat. Mrs. Kennedy was in shock. She still had on the blood-stained clothes.”
“You can stand on that spot where President Kennedy’s casket came in — you think about the horror of what was going on and the shock of what happened,” Underwood said. “You can look forward toward the nose of the aircraft and know that’s where the transfer of power took place, and you can see where Mrs. Kennedy sat near the body of her slain husband.”
The SAM 26000 played a prominent role in the presidencies after Kennedy as well.
In 1998, retired Air Force Master Sgt. John Hames, a steward on Air Force One between 1960 and 1975, said the SAM 26000 “was so much faster that we had less time to prepare meals, but we got the job done.”
Kennedy was a “great person for soup. It was a comfort food for him,” Hames told The Cincinnati Enquirer in 1998. “President Johnson was kind of different. He told me that any beef prepared aboard Air Force One had to be well done. He didn’t care for rare beef the way the group from New England did.”
Nixon “ate fairly light … cottage cheese,” Hames said. “President Ford ate almost anything, but he was in such a short time.”
In 1964, Johnson invited reporter Frank Cormier and two colleagues into the plane’s bedroom for an improvised press conference. Johnson, who had just given a speech under the hot sun, “removed his shirt and trousers,” while answering their questions and then “shucked off his underwear” and kept talking while “standing buck naked and waving his towel for emphasis.”
As Nixon exited the plane in China, a “burly” aide “blocked the aisle” to keep staffers from following Nixon, Kissinger said later. Nixon didn’t want anyone messing up his photo with the Chinese premier.
Three months after ferrying him to China, the SAM 26000 took Nixon on an unprecedented visit to the Soviet Union.
Unsuccessful presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey was reportedly given a ride on the plane by President Richard Nixon, according to retired Chief Master Sgt. Stan Goodwin. During the trip between Washington and Minnesota, Humphrey made 150 phone calls to tell people he’d finally made it aboard Air Force One.
During a week of meetings with Soviet leaders, Nixon reached a number of agreements. One set the framework for a joint space flight in 1975. Another was the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT), which contained a number of measures to limit the manufacture of strategic missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons.
In October 1981, it took former presidents Carter, Nixon, and Ford on an uneasy trip to Egypt for the funeral of President Mohammed Anwar Sadat, who had been assassinated a few days before. Then-President Ronald Reagan did not attend because of security concerns.
Secretary of State Alexander Haig, as Reagan’s official representative, took the stateroom, leaving other officials with regular seats. The former presidents were “somewhat ill at ease,” Carter said later.
“It was one and only time that I’d seen three presidents and two secretaries of state standing in line to go to the men’s room,” said retired Chief Master Sgt. Stan Goodwin, who manned the radio on the flight. Things were also tense among staffers on the trip. They reportedly bickered over who got bigger cuts of steak at dinner.
But it was Nixon, whose resignation in 1974 led to Ford taking office, who “surprisingly eased the tension” with “courtesy, eloquence, and charm,” Carter wrote later. Carter and Nixon’s interaction on the plane led to them developing a friendship.
The Boeing 707 that was acting as Air Force One got stuck in the mud at Willard Airport in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. The SAM 26000, waiting nearby as an alternate, was called in to pick up the president.
The SAM 26000 was officially retired in March 1998, after logging more than 13,000 flying hours and covering more than 5 million miles. While it made more 200 trips in 1997 alone, the lack of parts for the plane as well as its high exhaust and noise levels led to its retirement.
Then-Vice President Al Gore took the plane’s final flight, traveling from Washington to Columbia, South Carolina. “If history itself had wings, it probably would be this very aircraft,” Gore said after the trip.
In May 1998, the plane arrived at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. In a nationally televised event, the Air Force retired the plane and turned it over to the National Museum of the Air Force.
The commander of the US Pacific Fleet and South Korea’s defense minister said they agreed to prepare a “practical military response plan” to what Adm. Scott Swift described as Pyongyang’s “self-destructive” acts, following the country’s sixth nuclear test.
Swift, who oversees 200 ships and submarines, 1,180 aircraft, and more than 140,000 sailors, also said the US Navy plans to deploy strategic assets, including a carrier strike group, to the peninsula, Yonhap reported.
Defense Minister Song Young-moo welcomed the proposal, and requested the Pacific Fleet commander play a pivotal role for peace and stability on the Korean peninsula, according to the report.
“If there’s a desire to have another carrier and there’s a desire to have more ships, more submarines, we have the capability and capacity to support that direction,” Swift said.
The US naval commander described the US-South Korea alliance as “ironclad” and told reporters in Seoul that North Korea’s provocations will not weaken bilateral ties.
“If [Kim Jong Un] is trying to separate the alliances and the allegiances that we have in the region, it’s having the opposite [effect],” Swift said.
Concern had been rising in South Korea after US President Donald Trump tweeted a criticism of South Korea’s North Korea policy, calling the approach “appeasement.”
South Korea is finding, as I have told them, that their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work, they only understand one thing!
Trump later tweeted he is “allowing Japan South Korea to buy a substantially increased amount of highly sophisticated military equipment from the United States,” a day after the White House said the president had approved the purchase of “many billions of dollars’ worth of military weapons and equipment from the United States by South Korea.”
On Sept. 5, Swift dismissed reports of a US-South Korea rift, calling any relationship between two countries “multidimensional.”
Song and Swift said North Korea’s nuclear test was an “unacceptable provocation” that poses a grave threat to peace and security in the Asia Pacific as well as the world.
The provocation also further isolates North Korea and places more hardship on ordinary North Koreans, they said.
Members of the U.S. military community competed against one another Sept. 29, 2019 in another installment of Okinawa’s Strongest: Battle of the South on Camp Foster, Okinawa, Japan.
The event was held to determine who were some of the strongest men and women on Okinawa.
“Today went great,” explained Taryn Miller, an adult sports specialist for Marine Corps Community Services. “The weather was awesome. The competitors had a lot of energy. There was a lot of camaraderie along with a competitive edge among everybody.”
Okinawa residents and service members traveled from all across the island to participate in this event.
The competitors were divided into five different weight classes. Two female weight classes and three male weight classes.
U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Ian Dernbach, a heavy equipment operator with III Marine Expeditionary Force Support Battalion, lifts an atlas stone during the Okinawa’s Strongest: Battle of the South, Sept. 29, 2019 on Camp Foster, Okinawa, Japan.
(Photo by Lance Cpl. Brennan Beauton)
The first event was the yoke carry, which consisted of a competitor carrying a set weight 50 yards in a race against time. The second was a farmer’s carry 100 yards followed by 10 log cleans and presses for time. The third event was the atlas stone lift, which involved the competitors lifting three different stones and placing them on a platform for time.
Competitors with the highest combined score in their weight class at the end of the competition were declared the winners.
The champion from the female weight class up to 150 pounds was U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lt. Kathryn Quandt, a future operations officer with 9th Engineer Support Battalion.
The champion from the male weight class up to 150 pounds was U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Ezekiel Garza, a motor transportation mechanic with III Marine Expeditionary Force Support Battalion.
U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Ezekiel Garza, a motor transportation mechanic with III Marine Expeditionary Force Support Battalion, executes a log clean and press during the Okinawa’s Strongest: Battle of the South, Sept. 29, 2019 on Camp Foster, Okinawa, Japan.
(Photo by Lance Cpl. Brennan Beauton)
The champion from the male 150-to-200 pound weight class was U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Daniel Kermeen, a faculty advisor with the Staff Noncommissioned Officer Academy on Camp Hansen, and the champion from the male over-200-pound weight class was U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Ian Dernbach, a heavy equipment operator with III MEF Support Battalion.
The island-wide Okinawa’s Strongest competition will feature winners from both the Battle of the North and South and will take place in November 2019 on Camp Foster.
“Today’s event had a lot of similar movements that you will see in the event coming up in November 2019 which will have eight different stations as opposed to the three that we had here today,” said Miller. “This was a great way for competitors to get a feel for what it’s going to be like at the big one.”
This article originally appeared on Marines. Follow @USMC on Twitter.
There’s a reason certain areas of the South China Sea are hotly disputed. There are an estimated 11 billion barrels of oil just waiting to be tapped down there. There are also 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves.
While many countries lay claim to the vast petrochemical fields underneath the South China Sea, including Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam, only China has the economic and military might to build man-made islands there – and then militarize those islands with scores of troops.
The latest military forces China is sending to the region is a first for the Chinese Communist Party: its very own, home-built aircraft carrier, the Shandong.
Until those areas of the South China Sea claimed by China are officially recognized as belonging to anyone, the United States Navy will continue to conduct “Freedom of Navigation” missions right through those areas, daring China or anyone else to do something about it.
U.S. Navy ships routinely enter the areas closest to the Spratly and Paracel Island chains, just two of many archipelagos which have either been artificially increased in size by China or have been completely constructed by the communist nation. China has artificially added 3,200 acres of land to the sea in the past decade.
While China has as many as 27 military outposts spread out among the islands of the South China Sea, with various ports, airstrips, aircraft and anti-air defenses, the United States sends its combat ships on these exercises on a regular basis because much of the world doesn’t recognize the legitimacy of Chinese claims on the region.
Freedom of Navigation through the disputed area is important because the area claimed by China covers an important sea lane. Conservative estimates say at least $3.3 trillion of shipping per year runs through those lanes, along with 40% of the global supply of natural gas.
The Chinese carrier Shandong recently departed its homeport of Sanya for the South China Sea to conduct exercises in the disputed areas. The ship finished construction just two years ago and is still in its testing phases according to Chinese news outlet Eastday.
Shandong is replacing China’s other carrier, the Soviet-built Liaoning, as the latter returns to its homeport for maintenance. China complained about the presence of a U.S. Navy destroyer, the USS Mustin, accusing the destroyer of conducting illegal reconnaissance operations on the Liaoning.
The United States Navy says everything the Mustin was doing in the South China Sea was legal. The U.S. Navy has increased its presence in the area by as much as 20% over the past year. It flew at least 65 reconnaissance missions in the South China Sea in April 2021, according to Chinese military think tanks. The Chinese Navy has responded with a 40% increase in naval presence.
Despite the tensions in the region, the proximity of the two navies’ ships is unlikely to spark any kind of international incident. Both countries’ military forces conduct routine exercises there, regardless of the outrage or complaints they elicit from one another’s governments.
The United States is determined to prevent military escalation in the region as claimants to the territory, especially the Philippines, turn up the heat on their rhetoric.
Disputes over the region are also unlikely to disappear anytime soon. Though the United Nations and the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague have ruled against each and every Chinese claim on the area, China refuses to acknowledge the courts’ authority on the issue.
California may start giving legal help to veterans who have been deported.
The state Assembly passed a bill May 8 to provide legal representation for people who were honorably discharged from the military but have since been deported.
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher says her bill is intended to help deported veterans return to the country. The San Diego Democrat says the bill would help them reunite with their families and access health services and other benefits.
“It’s time we bring our deported vets back,” Gonzalez Fletcher said. “California can lead the way by trying to bring them home.”
The American Civil Liberties Union says it has found dozens of cases where veterans have been deported.
Many deported veterans would have been eligible to become naturalized citizens but were not properly informed about the process, Gonzalez Fletcher said.
Funding for the bill will be subject to availability of money in the state budget.
The bill directs the state to contract with a nonprofit legal services organization. AB386 passed the Assembly without any dissenting votes and now goes to the Senate.
That’s the possibility some are preparing for, at least.
In 2008, Larry Hall purchased a retired missile silo — an underground structure made for the storage and launch of nuclear weapon-carrying missiles — for $300,000 and converted it into apartments for people who worry about Armageddon and have cash to burn.
Hall’s Survival Condo Project, in Kansas, cost about million to build and accommodates roughly a dozen families. Complete with food stores, fisheries, gardens, and a pool, the development could pass as a setting in the game “Fallout Shelter,” wherein players oversee a group of post-apocalyptic residents in an underground vault.
Take a look inside one of the world’s most extravagant doomsday shelters.
The Survival Condo Project is no ordinary condo development.
It sits inside a missile silo built during the height of the Cold War. The structure housed a nuclear warhead from 1961 to 1965 and was built to withstand a direct nuclear blast.
Larry Hall, who previously developed networks and data centers for government contractors, got the idea to convert the base after the attacks on September 11, 2001, when the federal government began reinvesting more heavily in catastrophe planning.
“I was aware of the availability [of the site] from working on government contracts,” Hall told Business Insider in 2017. He purchased the silo for $300,000 in 2008.
Though the exact location is top-secret, Hall said it’s situated north of Wichita, Kansas, surrounded by rolling hills and farmland.
The quarters are comparable in size to smaller city dwellings. A full-floor unit covers about 1,820 square feet, which is little more than a third of a basketball court. It fits six to 10 people.
The construction costs were nearly $20 million. The once vacant chamber now has 15 floors divided into 12 single-family homes as well as common areas and space for operations.
The typical full-floor apartment includes three bedrooms, two baths, a kitchen, a dining room, and a great room. Bunk beds are a necessity for fitting in the whole family.
Tenants will hardly be roughing it. The homes each have a dishwasher, washer and dryer, and windows fitted with LED screens that show a live video of the prairie outside.
A full-floor unit is advertised for .4 million, and a half-floor unit goes for half the price. Several units are currently available for sale. All are furnished.
Security Forces airmen at Nellis Air Force Base responded to an early morning call from flightline airmen who were refueling a government vehicle. They found a woman who had been raped and assaulted in a van parked on the base – and her attacker was still there.
That’s what airmen are telling a popular Air Force culture page on Facebook.
Multiple sources tell Air Force amn/nco/snco that at 5 a.m. local time, airmen on Nellis noticed a woman approaching them on Dec. 4, 2018, at the on-base government vehicle refueling station. Dressed much too lightly for the cold weather, she told them she had just been assaulted inside a nearby white van and escaped her attacker and asked them for help.
The woman, who was said to be a civilian and had no connection to the base, was wandering around for 20 or so minutes before coming across the airmen.
Nellis Air Force Base flightline airmen discovered the woman at around five in the morning, while moving to gas up their GOV.
(U.S. Air Force)
Within minutes, Air Force Security Forces arrived on the scene to take her statement and the statements of the airmen who found her as she walked. Witnesses told the Air Force culture Facebook page Air Force amn/nco/snco that the woman was from Mesquite, Nev., some 70 miles away. She allegedly told Security Forces she was kidnapped by a Russian man and driven to the base in a nearby parking lot, where she was sexually assaulted.
She also told the police the van was still parked there. Security Forces locked down the base and then responded to reports of a white van parked in the lot of the Nellis Dining Facility. How the van was able to get on the base isn’t known.
Nellis Air Force Base Public Affairs has not yet responded to phone calls for confirmation. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department could not be reached. This post will be updated when possible.
Sources tell Air Force amn/nco/snco that the two had been in the parking lot for more than an hour before the man, who the escaped victim said spoke with a Russian accent, fell asleep. When she woke up, he was still asleep, so she escaped and began looking for help. She had never been on the base before and didn’t know where to go. That’s when the airmen came across her.
The woman was handed over to female Security Forces airmen and taken to the Medical Group, where a sexual assault response coordinator and medical team was waiting. Witnesses say the Security Forces officers who interviewed them for statements left the gas station for the DFAC, sirens blazing.
Glassdoor, one of the world’s largest job and recruiting sites, recently singled out seven top employers of veterans and their families, and it’s no surprise that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) made the list, along with Booz Allen, Home Depot, Southwest Airlines, and others.
A total of 123,608 veterans — more than 30 percent of the workforce — work at VA, according to the latest federal government data. Glassdoor said veterans choose VA careers for its generous employee benefits, such as tuition assistance and loan repayment. A physician quoted in the article commended VA for its “great mission, incredible benefits (and) good work/life balance.”
Through the Transitioning Military Program, VA also has well-paying careers specifically for veterans with healthcare skills. Veterans of healthcare fields successfully work as health technicians, Intermediate Care Technicians (ICTs), mental health providers, nurses, physicians, and support staff in other healthcare occupations.
(Department of Veterans Affairs)
ICTs, for instance, are former basic medical technicians, combat medic specialists, basic hospital corpsmen or basic health services technicians applying their skills to care for fellow veterans. (Meet ICTs Ryan White, Anthony Juarez, and other VA employees.)
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Other benefits of a VA healthcare career include 36 to 49 days paid time off per year, depending on the leave tier, and the ability to apply military service time to a civil service pension, participate in a 401(k) with up to 5 percent in employer contributions and gain access to a range of exceptional health insurance plans for individuals and families.
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Over the past several months, the entirety of Germany’s submarine fleet has gone out of action, the Bundeswehr, its armed forces, has outsourced helicopter training to a private company because its own helicopters are in need of repair, and more than half of the Bundeswehr’s Leopard 2 tanks, its most common model, were out of order, with just 95 of 244 in service.
Those are only the latest reports of German military deficiencies.
In spring 2017, the Bundeswehr contingent deployed to a peacekeeping mission in Mali was left hamstrung when heat, dust, and rough terrain knocked half its vehicles out of commission. In early 2016, it was reported that German reconnaissance jets taking part in the fight against ISIS couldn’t fly at night because their cockpit lighting was too bright for pilots.
In early 2015, as Berlin was preparing to send fighter jets to Syria, a military report emerged saying that only 66 of the air force’s 93 commissioned fighters were operational — and only 29 were combat-ready. In 2014, German troops tried to disguise a shortage of weapons by replacing machine guns with broomsticks during a NATO exercise.
Germany has high standards for its military equipment, experts say, and it’s believed that the country could mobilize much of its equipment in a short period if needed. Berlin also drew down its forces in 2011 in order to focus on asymmetrical warfare. It reversed course years later in light of Russian action in Ukraine and renewed concerns about conventional warfare, but much of that equipment has to be reacquired.
Those shortages of gear may hinder recruiting efforts, as the German military transitions from a conscripted force to an all-volunteer one. (The Bundeswehr’s recruitment drive has been criticized for targeting 16- and 17-year-olds.)
But the German military’s shortcomings have added to the country’s internal political debates, and Germany’s contribution to Europe’s collective defense is also facing scrutiny.
Hans-Peter Bartels, the parliamentary commissioner for Germany’s armed forces, has said while more limited operations may still be possible, the country’s military is not prepared for a larger conflict.
“The hard currency, which should be used to measure the success of the minister, is the Bundeswehr’s readiness for action,” Bartels told The Washington Post of Germany’s defense capacity, referring to Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen. “And this readiness has not improved over the last four years but has only gotten worse.”
Germany’s center-left Social Democratic Party, of which Bartels is a member, was part of a governing coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union, of which von der Leyen is also a member, but the SDP moved into the official parliamentary opposition after a disappointing showing in the September elections.
The SDP and CDU agree that Germany’s military — with 178,000 personnel and much-outdated equipment — needs improvement, but the SDP has balked at the CDU’s push to increase the defense budget to 2% of GDP by 2024. Industry estimates put 2017 defense spending at about 1.13% of GDP.
Such an increase would require Germany to grow military spending from 37 billion euros in 2017 to more than 70 billion euros by 2024, according to Deutsche Welle.
The two parties reached a preliminary agreement in early January that would boost defense expenditures to 42.4 billion euros in 2021, but the projected expansion of Germany’s economy would mean that sum would still only be a little over 1% of GDP. (The agreement did not specifically mention NATO members’ agreed-upon defense-spending target of 2% of GDP.)
Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, an SDP member, has called expanding defense spending t0 2% of GDP a “pretty crazy idea,” and the SDP is not the only party resisting such an increase. The legacy of World War II and the Cold War have made some in Germany wary of military expansion, and others have argued the German military doesn’t have enough uses for such a rapid influx of defense funds.
Spending 2% of GDP on defense would bring Germany to the level agreed upon by NATO member countries, but the country’s political parties disagree on whether that agreement is actually binding.
President Donald Trump publicly scolded NATO members for “not paying what they should be paying” in 2017 and admonished Germany for owing the U.S. “vast sums of money” in March that year. Berlin dismissed that assertion, but the U.S. and other officials have continued to push Germany over its defense spending.
François Hollande (left), President of France, and Angela Dorothea Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, have a talk during the Meeting of the North Atlantic Council at the level of Heads of State and Government at the NATO Summit 2014, Newport, Wales, The United Kingdom. (NATO photo by Edouard Bocquet)
Wolfgang Ischinger, chairman of the Munich Security Conference and Germany’s former envoy to Washington, echoed accusations that Germany wasn’t contributing its fair share, saying it was “undignified” for Germany’s only contribution to the fight against ISIS to be reconnaissance flights.
“The biggest European Union state is all for victory over Islamic State in Syria and Iraq; we take photos, but we leave the dirty business of shooting to others,” he told Reuters in late January.
“We should not develop the reputation of being one of the world’s best freeloaders,” he added.
The debate has not been limited to German voices.
During a visit to Germany at the end of January, U.S. Army Secretary Mark Esper, a former Raytheon executive, said he would take the German government at its word that it would increase defense spending to the 2% target, but he cautioned against falling short.
“It’s important for all of our NATO allies to live up to their commitments,” Esper said. “If not, it weakens the alliance, clearly, and Germany is such a critical member of NATO.”
NATO’s secretary-general made a short announcement to the press on May 10 in which he confirmed that the organization was requesting that its member states deploy more troops to Afghanistan, but ruled out a return to military combat in that country.
Jens Stoltenberg spoke following a meeting with the United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May at her official 10 Downing Street residence in London, where the two leaders were preparing the groundwork ahead of a Brussels NATO meeting scheduled for May 25.
Stoltenberg said military authorities would use the summit to debate NATO’s petition to deploy several thousand additional troops to Afghanistan.
Exact figures would be thrashed out in the coming weeks, the NATO chief said, adding that extra soldiers would not be deployed in a combative military capacity, but would rather provide training to the Afghan forces on the ground.
Some 13,500 NATO troops stayed on as advisers in the Central Asian nation when the Alliance officially ended its military intervention against the Taliban and Al-Qaida in 2014, some 12 years after the operation was launched.
Stoltenberg said that national defense contributions would be scrutinized during the Brussels summit.
NATO has asked its members to invest 2 percent of their GDP into defense spending.
There were two new heads of state for whom the forthcoming summit was set to be their first NATO outing; United States President Donald Trump and Emmanual Macron, who is due to officially take French presidency on May 14.
Terry Wayne Ward was a joker his whole life. That’s how everyone knew him. Sadly, he died from a stroke at age 71 in January 2018. When it came time for his daughter to write his obituary, she knew she had to honor his life in a way that evoked his unique sense of humor.
“Terry Wayne Ward, age 71, of DeMotte, IN, escaped this mortal realm on Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018, leaving behind 32 jars of Miracle Whip, 17 boxes of Hamburger Helper, and multitudes of other random items that would prove helpful in the event of a zombie apocalypse,” she wrote on his page for the Geisen Funeral Home.
“He is preceded in death by his parents Paul and Bernice Ward, daughter Laura Pistello, grandson Vincent Pistello, brother Kenneth Ward, a 1972 Rambler, and a hip.”
“He met the love of his life, Kathy, by telling her he was a lineman – he didn’t specify early on that he was a lineman for the phone company, not the NFL. Still, Kathy and Terry wed in the fall of 1969, perfectly between the Summer of Love and the Winter of Regret.”
Terry Ward died knowing that a young Clint Eastwood was the world’s biggest badass. Like many veterans, he liked hunting, fishing, golfing, snorkeling, hiking Turkey Run, chopping wood, shooting guns, cold beer, free beer, The History Channel, CCR, and war movies.
But he also liked ABBA, Bed Bath Beyond, and starlight mints.
The obituary was picked up on Twitter by scores of local journalists, then national journalists, who all shared the admiration they had for his daughter’s word, and of course, Terry Ward.
AMAZING OBIT ALERT: Terry Wayne Ward escaped this mortal realm … leaving behind 32 jars of Miracle Whip, 17 boxes of Hamburger Helper and multitudes of other random items that would prove helpful in the event of a zombie apocalypse.
Ward “despised ‘uppity foods’ like hummus, which his family lovingly called ‘bean dip’ for his benefit, which he loved consequently. He couldn’t give a damn about most material things, and automobiles were never to be purchased new. He never owned a personal cell phone and he had zero working knowledge of the Kardashians.”
Most importantly, Terry Ward wanted you to make donations in his name to “your favorite charity or your favorite watering hole, where you are instructed to tie a few on and tell a few stories of the great Terry Ward.”
So, We Are The Mighty wanted to share everything we knew about the great Terry Ward with you.