Air Force top recruiter flies with the Thunderbirds - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

Air Force top recruiter flies with the Thunderbirds

In what’s believed to be a first, Air Force Recruiting Service’s top recruiter received an incentive flight with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds as a congratulations for all of his hard work.

Master Sgt. Gervacio Maldonado, a former Health Professions recruiter and now flight chief with the 318th Recruiting Squadron, was surprised and ecstatic when he learned winning the 2018 Maj. Gen. A.J. Stewart Top AFRS Recruiter award would take him even higher.

“I was blown away,” Maldonado said after hearing about the opportunity to fly. “The news stopped me in my tracks.”


The flight, with Thunderbird pilot #8, Maj. Jason Markzon, was a first for Maldonado in any fighter aircraft.

“I’d always wanted to fly in a fighter aircraft, however I never thought it would come to fruition,” Maldonado said. “I was so pumped to fly with the Thunderbirds.”

According to his supervisor, Maldonado is more than deserving of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Air Force top recruiter flies with the Thunderbirds

The U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron Thunderbirds flew Master Sgt. Gervacio Maldonado, Top Recruiter in the Air Force for 2018, at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, May 11, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Cory W. Bush)

“His selection for this flight is an honor for all recruiters and airmen,” said Senior Master Sgt. Aaron Akridge, 318th RCS Production superintendent. “I’m honored to see the Thunderbirds bestow this opportunity to a hardworking airman such as Gervacio Maldonado.”

The top recruiter said he appreciates the opportunity of being the face of the Air Force at many local events where the Air Force doesn’t normally have a presence.

“Anyone selected for recruiting duty during the Developmental Special Duty process should embrace the opportunity,” Maldonado said. “Whether it is representing the Air Force at your local fairs or on larger stages, like the NBA All-Star game or the Super Bowl, you will have plenty of chances to enjoy these unique experiences.”

He recalls attending his first NFL game — an opportunity he had because of his recruiting duties. “I was on the 50-yard line! It was awesome.”

His production superintendent also shared many interesting things he has learned about the top performer since they began working together.

Air Force top recruiter flies with the Thunderbirds

The U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron Thunderbirds flew Master Sgt. Gervacio Maldonado, Top Recruiter in the Air Force for 2018, at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, May 11, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Cory W. Bush)

“He’s an entrepreneur and a thrill seeker,” Akridge said. “He’s built a successful lodging business as well as conducted freediving all around the world, most recently in the Fiji Islands. But the most important aspect I’ve learned about him is his genuine passion to help others. He is a true wingman; always there to listen or help when and if needed.”

According to Akridge, when Maldonado was a firefighter, he directly responded to over 360 fire, rescue and medical calls, and he still volunteers as a firefighter in his off-duty time. Also, being a recruiter is a natural fit for Maldonado’s entrepreneurial spirit after spending the first part of his career as a weapons specialist.

“Being a recruiter is very business-like,” Maldonado said. “It lets you operate your very own Air Force franchise. You will have quite a bit of autonomy to conduct the business as you see fit—you will not find that in many career fields within the Air Force.”

Maldonado continually reminds himself it’s all about the opportunities. Most recruiters focus solely on the goal and not the experience, he said.

Air Force top recruiter flies with the Thunderbirds

The U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron Thunderbirds flew Master Sgt. Gervacio Maldonado, Top Recruiter in the Air Force for 2018, at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, May 11, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Cory W. Bush)

“As a recruiter you are the face of the Air Force, the gatekeeper,” he continued. “You are a beacon of opportunity and will be sitting in the most opportune position to mentor and directly change lives. Just like any job there are challenges, but again, it is what you make of it. Stay positive and know that all your efforts are undoubtedly contributing to the betterment of people and the future of the Air Force.”

Those efforts are what got Maldonado his flight with the Thunderbirds, something he described as breathtaking.

“I still can’t believe people get paid to do this job,” he said. “They told me as I was preparing for the flight to be ready for the ride of a lifetime — and that’s pretty accurate!”

He praised the demonstration team members for their very high standard of professionalism and attention to detail.

“As a recruiter, my focus is on customer service and they provided that in very detail — from beginning to end,” he said.

Both Akridge and Maldonado agree they hope the tradition of flying the top recruiter with the Thunderbirds continues every year since the aerial demonstration team is an extension of professional Air Force recruiters.

This article originally appeared on United States Air Force. Follow @USAF on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

5 episodes of the Jocko Podcast you can’t miss

Jocko Willink’s podcast “Jocko Podcast” hits hard, talks openly and bluntly about real topics and is unapologetic for every bit of it. These are the stories that need to be told and heard, especially by the military community. Tuning in requires headspace because the content flowing through your ears is so completely captivating that the monotonous life dragging on the other side of your ear buds becomes unimportant.

With well over 200 episodes, there’s a lot of ground to cover. Instead of going for an all-time must listen to list, we opted for our top five out of our recent listening history.


Air Force top recruiter flies with the Thunderbirds

#221 Jonny Kim

In this episode, Jonny Kim — United States Navy lieutenant, physician and NASA astronaut — tells story after story, unimaginable events that are scattered throughout his young life that had every right to break him but didn’t. Kim’s outlook on these pivotal moments are completely inspiring, humbling and exactly why he’s accomplished all that he has.

He talks eloquently and intelligently through failed endeavors and perspective gained that we’re sitting here wondering how in the world he doesn’t have his own book already, let alone motivational speeches written from his comments.

Another unbelievable point in Kim’s story is the unplanned paths that led him to become a Navy SEAL, Doctor and Astronaut. Instead, he speaks clearly on specific events that shaped his journey and have led him to the next chapter in an already remarkable life.

#219 Ruth Schindler

Stories of the Holocaust are fading in both media, airwaves, and from the survivors themselves as time passes on. In this episode, like many others, Willink reads excerpts from the guest’s book and discusses passages in depth. Ruth Schindler’s book, “Two Who Survived” is the dual story of both her and her husband’s separate experiences as Auschwitz Holocaust survivors.

Reminding ourselves of both the magnitude and depth of the horrors experienced less than 100 years ago is critical to ensure nothing remotely close ever occurs again.

Air Force top recruiter flies with the Thunderbirds

#118 Dan Crenshaw

Texas Congressman and former Navy SEAL Dan Crenshaw’s interview details a lot about the grit and determination of a warrior. From losing an eye in combat to running a successful first-time congressional campaign on a shoestring budget, this man knows how to push ahead.

Fun fact, Willink was one of Crenshaw’s BUDS instructors and the two discuss the dynamic in this episode. The interview goes on to discuss the differences in each’s paths to becoming a SEAL and how each approached life before and after. He’s on in episode #222 too.

#192 Sean Parnell

Leadership. Willink wrote an entire book dedicated to its ins and outs. This episode with Sean Parnell, author of “Outlaw Platoon,” talks a great deal about various seasons and types of leadership as the book is read throughout the episode.

Combat forges men in ways known and unknown to those undergoing its transformation. Who emerges on the other side says a lot about what’s in a man’s heart, in his soul. Jarring experiences and the forging of a seasoned soldier make up quite a bit of the air space in this episode. It’s a long talk, but well worth every minute.

Air Force top recruiter flies with the Thunderbirds

#115 Dakota Meyer

Like we said up top, make headspace when you’re listening. The reading from Dakota Meyer’s book “Into the Fire” is emotional and vivid. There’s a refreshing amount of honesty going on when Meyer discusses his separation from the Marine Corps, PTSD and finding a new path after service.

This episode tops a lot of charts for good reason. Meyer’s book describes events surrounding a single choice- the choice to head in the direction everyone was trying to escape to look for his team. Revisiting the events of a single day in such detail will have you holding on to every word, analyzing every detail alongside Willink and Meyer in awe.

Honestly, there’s no wrong choice when listening. Pick up anywhere and you’ll find motivation, strength and zero bull. It’s American, it’s raw, it’s real.

MIGHTY CULTURE

5 top jobs you wish the Space Force had

Ever since the news of the newest, and most confusing branch of the Armed forces surfaced this past year, we’ve all been enjoying plenty of memes. While the Space Force is the sixth official branch of the Armed Forces, we were all deeply let down by the news there are no plans for a fleet of Millennium Falcons (yet).


Legitimate questions still linger in the atmosphere surrounding MOS details, which feels a bit like staring into a black hole of information. Like where to drop a packet for the Space Rangers, and if Space Public Relations comes with Area 51 clearance. Instead of waiting, we thought we’d create the top list of jobs you wish the Space Force had. And hey, perhaps they might only be a light year away from existence.

Space Infantry 

Grunts across the galaxy will have to take it down a notch in their hopes for grabbing the first CIB or CAR for actions taken in space war. Fans of the so-bad-it’s-good 1997 movie Starship Troops would see their dreams of other-worldly combat possibly become a reality (but probably without the massive, bloodthirsty bugs, sorry). As it turns out, the Outer Space Treaty declares the Moon, and all other celestial bodies as peaceful space, so a war on the Moon isn’t likely to happen. Still, the Infantry slogan “Embrace the Suck” gets a whole new meaning when the only thinking protecting you from the air-sucking death of outer space is the badass helmet that ironically looks a lot like something off Halo.

Air Force top recruiter flies with the Thunderbirds

upload.wikimedia.org

Space shuttle door gunner

Who doesn’t want to wield the first-ever commissioned laser-based 50 Cal? Will it be more of a “kksssshhhh” or a “vrau- vrau” noise when it fires? What regulations will be necessary if a bullet fired in space would theoretically continue forever- you know, to infinity and beyond?

Space public relations 

While obviously necessary, and already existing here on Earth (in a different format), what we really want to know is- who gets to talk to the aliens? What are the foreign language requirements for extraterrestrial life? How exactly will they know we come in peace? All completely irrelevant to the actual mission of Space Force Public Relations, but still.

Air Force top recruiter flies with the Thunderbirds

farm5.staticflickr.com

Space rangers

To where exactly will this elite group lead the way to? In the absence of a tan beret, will headgear be sleek or exude the classic trooper style? Will hyper-speed come standard in all Ranger vehicles, so that no man could be left behind, despite the vastness of the galaxy? Lastly, what about training? How swiftly will one be recycled from the zero-gravity phase in Space Ranger School? Will the Ranger Instructors be dressed as Storm Troopers? How will you execute burpee long-jumps in zero gravity?

Space pilot

Finally, Tom Cruise can unleash his inner being when Top Gun 3 is filmed on Mars (Sorry Tom, please don’t sue me). Do pilots wear aviators in space? Can you do a fly-by of the radar tower on the Moon? Will it be called Mission Control or Star Command? Will flight suits still look as sexy? These are important and we need to know. The image of streaking through the Solar System in a space fighter that may or may not resemble an X-Wing from Star Wars should be enough to enable the Space Force’s recruitment demands for the next couple of decades. Surely by then, we will have built a Death Star already, right? After all, it’s not a moon it’s a space station.

All joking aside, welcome to the neighborhood Space Force. We’re all just jealous you get to do cool space jazz while we’re stuck here on Earth as the mortal elite force to reckon with.

Articles

The Navy is putting the heat on hundreds of chiefs to head out to the fleet

Hundreds of chief petty officers, senior chiefs, and master chiefs are getting orders to deploy with the fleet in what the Fleet Master Chief for Manpower, Personnel, Training, and Education calls “more directive steps to improve fleet manning and warfighting readiness.”


The announcement comes as Secretary of Defense James Mattis has pushed for increasing military readiness, to the point of delaying ship and aircraft procurement in order to reverse shortfalls in training and maintenance budgets.

According to a Navy Administrative Message, or NAVADMIN, released Monday, newly-promoted chief petty officers are being told to “expect assignment to sea and operational billets as the new norm.” This comes as the Navy is trying to address what a Navy Times report described as a shortfall of over 3,000 billets for senior enlisted personnel caused by what a release from Chief of Naval Personnel Public Affairs described as a strict adherence to “sea-shore flow” and “sea-shore rotation” policies.

“We operate in a dynamic environment and Sailors are our key advantage,” the NAVADMIN signed by Vice Adm. Robert P. Burke says. “Assigning Chiefs to our ships, submarines, squadrons, and other key operational and Fleet production units is vital to maintaining that advantage.”

Air Force top recruiter flies with the Thunderbirds
USS Fort Worth (LCS-3) pulls away from harbor in Singapore in 2016 (Photo US Navy)

“Assignments for all enlisted supervisors, including those selected for advancement to Chief, will be reviewed and managed to maximize Fleet manning readiness. When detailing Chiefs, sea shore flow and sea shore rotation concerns will continue to be considered, but will be secondary to Fleet manning requirements,” the release went on to say.

However, this is not to say that the Navy is going to be pushing its chiefs out to sea all the time in response to the shortage.

“Engaged leadership will consider human factors, the needs of the community and the needs of losing and gaining commands — all weighed against each other — to ensure we make smart decisions that don’t break our people or our readiness,” Fleet Master Chief Russell Smith wrote in a Navy Times op-ed that explained why the Navy was shifting to a policy that had previously been limited to the submarine force.

Smith said there’s a shortage of enlisted leadership deployed aboard ships that have the experience, problem-solving abilities, technical expertise and ability to make things happen that chief petty officers bring to the Navy.

The Navy is trying to encourage chiefs and junior sailors to voluntarily extend sea duty. For chiefs, the NAVADMIN noted that they would have better chances at obtaining “geographic stability, the opportunity to negotiate for choice orders, and Sea Duty Incentive Pay” through what it called “proactive action to manage career progression.”

The Navy Times reported that junior sailors who volunteered for extra sea duty for one or two more years could receive exemptions from up-or-out limits, that generally apply to sailors.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Russia plays dumb amid U.S. claims of missing missile

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has dismissed a report by a U.S. television network that Russia lost a nuclear-powered missile in the Barents Sea during 2017 and is launching an operation to get it back.

CNBC reported on Aug. 21, 2018, that the nuclear-powered missile remains lost at sea after a failed test in late 2017.


The television network also reported that Russian crews were preparing to try to recover the missing missile, which it said was lost during a test launch in November 2017.

The report said three ships would be involved in the recovery operation — including one that is equipped to handle radioactive material from the core of the missile.

Air Force top recruiter flies with the Thunderbirds

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Peskov said on Aug. 22, 2018, “In contrast to the U.S. television network, I have no such information,” adding that journalists with questions should contact specialists at the Defense Ministry.

Russian President Vladimir Putin bragged about the new type of missile in March 2018, announcing that it had “unlimited range.”

Featured image: Vladimir Putin watching a military exercise of the Northern Fleet from the nuclear missile submarine Karelia.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This British soldier escaped from Dunkirk by stealing a car

Imagine the tension of being a British soldier waiting to be evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk as the Nazi Wehrmacht closed in around you and your mates. Now imagine somehow being left behind after all 340,000 of your fellow troops were led back to Britain.

That’s what happened to then-20-year-old James May, a British Tommy, left behind on the beach. Luckily, he survived the Nazi onslaught and would eventually return to France’s beaches four years later – on D-Day.


May joined the service in 1940, after World War II broke out. He enlisted to become a driver with the 13-division strong British Expeditionary Force in France. The British mission on continental Europe in the early days of the war did not go well. After Nazi Germany invaded Poland in September, 1939, the French and British declared war almost immediately. Just as fast, the British Expeditionary Force began arriving in France.

By June, 1940, they were all being evacuated by any British subject who had a boat that could float. Most of them, anyway.

Air Force top recruiter flies with the Thunderbirds

The effort to rescue the trapped Allied troops was dubbed “Operation Dynamo” and was a mission to pick up distressed British, French, and Belgian troops waiting on the beaches at Dunkirk. By May 10, 1940, Nazi Germany had captured all of Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. They were already in control of much of Northern France and had the Allied forces on the ropes.

As the Nazis moved to push the Allies into the sea, British citizens and Royal Navy ships mounted the massive impromptu rescue effort, pulling any troops they could fit in their craft, and ferrying them back across the channel. Not everyone survived the wait on the beaches, as they were constantly harassed by the Nazi luftwaffe and threatened by German ground forces.

Air Force top recruiter flies with the Thunderbirds

British troops waiting for evacuation on the beaches of Dunkirk.

In Dynamo, the British expected to be able to save some 30,000 to 45,000 troops who would then defend the British home islands. Using a still-unknown number of “little ships” piloted by civilians, they managed to save ten times that number. It truly was a miracle.

But James May and six of his fellow soldiers were somehow left behind. They did what any quick-thinking, resourceful bunch of soldiers would do in a lawless area with an determined enemy bearing down on them: They stole a car and beat it.

In their own, smaller version of the Miracle at Dunkirk, the group managed to drive out of the war zone in their stolen vehicle, evading the Wehrmacht for a full six days before finding a boat and captain that would ferry them home to England.

He was stationed in Northern Ireland for much of the war but he had his chance to hit the beach of France once more, and again as a driver. This time, however, he was driving a British DUKW amphibious vehicle, landing British troops in the battle to crack the walls of Hitler’s Fortress Europe.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Adrenaline on ice: Veterans excel at Para bobsled

Twists and turns, bumps and bruises, the occasional crash. For many Veterans, the sport of bobsled is a metaphor for life.

Army Veteran Will Castillo’s story began on April 27, 2007. Castillo – then a staff sergeant – was riding along with Spc. Eddie Tamez and Pfc. David Kirkpatrick on patrol in Fallujah, Iraq, when their Humvee struck an improvised explosive device (IED).

The aftermath was a blur. When Castillo awoke, his sister and mother were by his bedside.


“I could hardly talk I was so heavily medicated,” he said. “I was just trying to survive.”

He was 27 years old, and his injuries had cost him his left leg – but he was alive. Tamez and Kirkpatrick did not survive.

Castillo spent the next two years at Walter Reed Army Medical Center recovering and learning to navigate life with one leg. Visitors came by to give him hugs, handshakes and well wishes. The Director of Homeland Security even offered him a job.

In 2009, he was discharged from Walter Reed, and he moved to Orlando to start anew. But life wasn’t good.

“I had survivor’s guilt. I thought about my guys, what had I done wrong. I was depressed. I was suicidal.”

His marriage crumbled, and his mental health deteriorated.

“All the struggles I was going through. I was Baker Acted,” Castillo said, referring to the Florida law that allows for emergency or involuntary commitment for mental health treatment.

He recovered, remarried and again tried to rebuild. But his struggles continued and, in 2015, he divorced for the second time.

In 2017, Castillo returned to Walter Reed for a follow-up operation to his injured leg. His life took an unexpected turn.

“A friend of mine was there and said to me, ‘You should try bobsled.’ I was extremely overweight, but I figured it would be something to keep me busy.”

Air Force top recruiter flies with the Thunderbirds

Army Veteran Will Castillo displays his gold medal from the Empire State Winter Games para bobsled competition. Castillo is one of the world’s top ranked sledders in the sport. (Courtesy photo)

That conversation led Castillo to a para-bobsled and para-skeleton camp for Veterans at Lake Placid Olympic Sports Complex in upstate New York.

His first attempt was skeleton, a sport where the slider rides face down and head-first on a small sled down an ice track at speeds of more than 80 mph.

“It was terrifying,” he said. “I was 260 pounds. I was crashing into the walls. Those little sleds are not made for that weight.”

After a year at skeleton, he switched to monobob, a one-person bobsled that looks like a rocket on ice skates. He knew instantly he’d found his sport.

“Everything just slowed down, I was able to see everything. There was danger, but I did it. There’s no disability on that ice. For that one minute, it’s awesome.”

Veterans like Castillo are dominating the sport in the United States, thanks in large part to camps like the ones at Lake Placid. From 2015 to 2020, VA’s Adaptive Sports Grant had funded 16 camps for Veterans at Lake Placid and Park City, Utah, the only two bobsled track sites in the country.

Thanks to the VA grant, Veterans’ only cost to attend is travel to and from the camp.

“(The grant) is huge for us because it allows us to do the camps,” said Kim Seevers, USA Bobsled and Skeleton Para-Sport Development Committee chair.

Camps are typically five days and allow Veterans to stay on site at the Olympic Training Center. Once there, Veterans receive training from strength and conditioning experts, physical therapists and sports psychologists. After completing initial training, they head to the ice track where they learn the fundamentals of para-bobsled and skeleton.

“With bobsled, things are pretty expensive,” Seevers said. “To get the ice time and the bobsleds is a lot. Each of the bobsleds is ,000. For us to rent the sleds and pay for track time is typically between ,500 and ,000, dependent on the number of Veterans sliding.”

Veterans among world’s elite

At the 2019-2020 Para World Cup competition, all five U.S. team members were Veterans. They finished the season ranked 7th, 16th, 18th, 21st and 24th in the world.

Castillo is the number one ranked para-bobsledder in the U.S. and will pilot USA 1, the name of the monobob designated for Team USA’s top slider, in upcoming competitions. It’s an opportunity he humbly accepts.

“It all starts with VA and those camps,” he said. “Then you really have to put the work in and you start seeing the rewards. You get to put that uniform on again (and) represent the USA with integrity and honor.”

Para bobsled and para skeleton are relatively new sports with the first international competitions having taken place in 2013. Still, neither sport is recognized as Paralympic eligible. But that may soon be changing.

In August, the International Paralympic Committee is voting on whether to include it into the Paralympic Games in 2026.

Competition is gender neutral

Marine Corps and Army Veteran Sarah Frazier-Kim is hoping her success can help the sport and other Veterans advance to the pinnacle of international competition.


Air Force top recruiter flies with the Thunderbirds

Marine Corps and Army Veteran Sarah Frazier-Kim is one of the United States’ top para bobsledders. Athletes are hoping the sport will become one of the newest Paralympic competitions. (Courtesy photo)

“I always liked winter sports, even though I don’t like the cold,” she said. “I’d watch the Olympics on TV and bobsled and skeleton were sports I always loved.”

In 1995, Frazier-Kim was injured in a training accident in the Marine Corps. In January 2019, after years of complications, pain and suffering, doctors at Ft. Sam Houston amputated her right leg above the knee.

“(My doctor) asked me what I wanted to do. I told him I want to make Team USA. And he said, ‘We’ll get you there.'”

In November 2018, in anticipation of her surgery, she was sent for physical therapy to get her into shape.

“I changed from a mom body to an athletic body.”

After the surgery, she continued physical therapy with her therapist, an ex-football player.

“He worked me out like I was on the football team. I was working out like a beast, doing balancing exercises, strength training, and someone there knew Kim Seevers.”

Like Castillo, Frazier-Kim says she was invited to one of the camps at Lake Placid. She completed her first camp in October 2019.

In less than a year, Frazier-Kim has become one of the top female sliders in the sport. Para bobsled is gender neutral with men and women competing together.

“There’s nothing like it. It’s the most exhilarating feeling. The excitement, the adrenaline rush, you’re going so fast. It’s crazy,” she said.

But her rapid success did not come without bumps and bruises along the way.

“Your legs and shoulders are hitting the sides of the bobsled. It’s not for everyone,” she said. “You have to think about every curve while you’re being slapped back and forth.”

Despite the challenges, she says her goal now is simple – to be the best.

“I plan on doing it for as long as I can – as long as my body can take it. And being a Marine, I don’t know any other way.”

For a list of recipient organizations and more information about VA’s Adaptive Sports Grant, visit www.blogs.va.gov/nvspse/grant-program/.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.


Articles

This is what happens to the personal effects of fallen warriors

The months following the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, would forever shape the way the military does business.


In an effort to provide some sense of comfort to the families of those who perished that September day, the US Army Human Resources Command established the Joint Personal Effects Depot at present day Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, in Arlington, Virginia.

Its close proximity to the Pentagon made Arlington the perfect area to account for and process personal items of fallen warriors, return them to the families, and help provide closure.

Air Force top recruiter flies with the Thunderbirds
Staff Sgt. Luis Quinones speaks to the media about inventory process April 14, 2011, at the new Joint Personal Effects Depot at Dover Air Force Base, Del. USAF photo by Roland Balik.

But as America’s resolve strengthened, the young men and women of this country took up arms to defend the freedoms of its citizens against an unconventional new enemy in a war against terror thousands of miles away.

With the possibility of a rising number of casualties stemming from this new war, America’s military was faced with a new challenge — how to care for its fallen?

The History

As the war on terror intensified, the need for an expanded personal effects facility soon became evident and the JPED was relocated from Arlington to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.

Working out of old and sometimes dilapidated World War II era warehouses, workers at the JPED ran an assembly line operation without heat in the winter or air conditioning in the summer until 2005, when the decision was made to consolidate the Joint Personal Effects Depot, along with the services’ mortuary, to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

Air Force top recruiter flies with the Thunderbirds
Nelson Delgado, operations management specialist (right) and 1st Lt. Marcus Hull, summary court martial officer, both with the Joint Personal Effects Depot, review personal effects inventory paperwork in processing line number 3 June 29, 2012, at Dover Air Force Base. USAF photo by Roland Balik.

“I was assigned to the depot in Aberdeen as a mortuary affairs specialist with the Army Reserve and I can say it was less than ideal conditions to work in,” said Nelson Delgado, JPED operations management specialist and retired Army Reserve master sergeant.

“Back then, everything was moved from station to station,” he said. “It was cramped and there was too much room for mistakes. One day, General Schoomaker (retired Gen. Peter Schoomaker, 35th Chief of Staff of the US Army) showed up and asked us what we needed.

“That’s how we got to Dover.”

In March 2011, construction of the current 58,000 square-foot state-of-the art facility was finally completed by the Philadelphia District Corps of Engineers at a cost of $17.5 million. A few months later in May, the first personal effects processed there.

Air Force top recruiter flies with the Thunderbirds
The JPED building on Dover Air Force Base, Del. Army photo by Tim Boyle.

Staffed by a mix of active and Reserve component Soldiers, Airmen, and Marines, as well as a handful of Department of the Army Civilians and contractors, the JPED, along with the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations facility provides dignity, honor, and respect for the families left behind.

The Process

When Soldiers make the ultimate sacrifice in theater, their personal effects are inventoried, packed, and rushed to the JPED, usually within five days.

“If it comes through the front door, it has to be accounted for by us and sent to the family,” said Delgado. “We don’t throw anything away.”

“Sometimes, what might seem insignificant to you and me may, in fact, be very important to the families. We’ve actually had instances where families have called back asking for something like a gum wrapper that was given to the service member by a child,” he said.

Air Force top recruiter flies with the Thunderbirds
Nelson Delgado, Joint Personal Effects Depot operations management specialist, demonstrates operating one of two x-ray machines at the JPED located at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Oct. 24, 2017. Army photo by Master Sgt. Brian Hamilton.

As items arrive at the depot, they are carefully x-rayed and screened for unexploded ordnance in a blast-proof corridor before they are ever brought into the main facility.

From there, items are brought into an individual cage where they are inventoried and packed for shipment to the service member’s primary next of kin.

“All the preparations are done, from start to finish, in one single room,” Delgado said.

Also Read: How Marines honor their fallen heroes — on the battlefield and at home

“We ensure there are two Soldiers present in the cage at all times in addition to a summary court martial officer. This gives us a system of checks and balances and also reduces the risk of cross contamination of items,” he added.

Each cage is equipped with photographic equipment, washers and dryers, and cleaning materials. As items are inventoried, they are carefully inspected and then individually photographed. Soldiers go through great pains to ensure each item is soil-free and presentable for the family members.

Air Force top recruiter flies with the Thunderbirds
At the two-year anniversary of the creation of the Joint Personal Effects Depot at Dover Air Force Base, Del., the command continues to process fallen service members’ personal belongings with unparalleled dignity and respect. Pictured here, personnel from the JPED process the personal effects of someone who was killed in support of overseas contingency operations. Army photo by Tim Boyle.

“We want to make sure everything that the individual service member had with them in theater is returned to the family,” Delgado said. “What we don’t want to do is make a difficult situation worse.”

“If an item is soiled or bloodstained, we will stay here as long as it takes to get it clean so it can be returned. Besides memories, this is all the families have of their loved ones,” he said.

The Presentation

After items are cleaned and inventoried, they are carefully packaged into individual plastic foot-lockers.

Each item is pressed and folded. They are placed neatly in the containers, and wrapped tightly with several layers of packaging paper and bubble wrap. Smaller items, such as rings, watches or identification tags, are placed into small decorative pouches, inscribed with the service member’s individual branch of service.

Air Force top recruiter flies with the Thunderbirds
The entire process, from start to finish is done in one location to help eliminate items from becoming misplaced or cross contaminated with other service member’s personal items. Army photo by Master Sgt. Brian Hamilton.

Items such as Bibles, flags, or family photos are placed at the top of the first box, so that they are the first things the families see upon opening it.

“We emphasize box one, because that is usually the box the families will open first. But that doesn’t mean we neglect box two, or box six, or even box 10,” Delgado said. “We treat each box the same way because we really want the families to know we care about their loved one.”

“That’s why we take our time and make sure items are neat and presentable, not just stuff thrown in a box.”

After the items are finally packaged and sent to the transit room, Soldiers scour the cage one last time and sweep the floor before exiting. Great attention to detail is given to make sure everything is accounted for and nothing is overlooked.

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Items that move through the JPED are carefully cleaned, packaged, and sent to the families who have lost a loved one. Army photo by Master Sgt. Brian Hamilton.

The Connection

Soldiers at the JPED are meticulously screened for duty fitness by HRC’s Casualty and Mortuary Affairs Operations Division before they are ever assigned there.

Assignments at the JPED can be emotionally taxing on the Soldiers working there.

Soldiers regularly attend resiliency training to help them cope with the tasks they are asked to perform. The JPED chaplain is as much there for them as he or she is for the grieving families attending dignified transfers.

“This is a job that not a lot of people want, or can do, but at the same time, this can be the most rewarding job you will ever do,” Delgado said.

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Nelson Delgado, Joint Personal Effects Depot operations management specialist, stands in cage one at the JPED located at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Oct. 24, 2017. Army photo by Master Sgt. Brian Hamilton.

“Taking care of the personal effects is the last part of the process. This is what helps bring some sense of closure to the families. The families don’t see what goes on here, but we get to know the service members and their loved ones by working here. We develop a closeness and connection with them,” he added.

For Delgado and others working at the JPED, that connection sometimes hits close to home.

“Sometimes you see kids as young as 19 years of age coming through here,” he said. “I have a 19-year-old kid at home. Sometimes it hits a little too close to home. I don’t know anyone working here that hasn’t cried at one time or another.

“I spent 23 of my 25-year Army Reserve career as mortuary affairs and I was blessed to get assigned to the JPED. This is our way of giving back to the families of the fallen. It’s an honor to do this.”

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ISIS chief Abu al-Baghdadi may still be at large

As the Islamic State’s so-called caliphate collapses across Iraq and Syria under unrelenting pressure by the US-backed coalition, the whereabouts of the group’s chieftain, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, remain a mystery.


Since fleeing the group’s Syrian stronghold of Raqqa in May, various reports over recent weeks allege the terrorist leader either has been killed by Russian or coalition forces or is still at large in the group’s redoubts in central Syria.

The impetus inside the White House and Pentagon to kill or capture al-Baghdadi has seemingly been lukewarm at best compared to the hunt for al Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden, which ended with the Navy SEAL raid on the terrorist leader’s Pakistani hideout in May 2011.

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Former President Barack Obama and members of the national security team receive updates on Operation Neptune’s Spear, a target and kill operation against Osama bin Laden in the White House Situation Room, May 1, 2011 (White House photo)

The defeat of the terrorist group also known as ISIS or ISIL, along with the death of its emir, has been the clearest objective of President Trump’s national security and foreign policy strategy, and one that critics claim has been heavy on rhetoric and little else.

What remains unclear is how the Trump White House plans to carry on the fight against Islamic State once al-Baghdadi is no longer in the picture.

US military officials have reiterated that al-Baghdadi’s death remains a top priority for the American-led coalition battling Islamic State. However, coalition commanders and Pentagon officials also claim that the Islamic State chieftain has been effectively sidelined from any command-and-control role over the group’s operations in the Middle East and across the globe.

The Islamic State leader “is somebody who we would like to see dead,” Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters July 17.

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Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

US and coalition-led operations to kill or capture Baghdadi and other Islamic State leaders are integral to the mission to dismantle and destroy the terrorist group and its affiliates worldwide, Capt. Davis said during a briefing at the Pentagon.

“Leadership strikes are important,” he said of the coalition’s operations to hunt down the upper echelon of Islamic State, starting with al-Baghdadi. Such missions provide the “moral authority or imperative” to American and coalition forces fighting to curb Islamic State in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere.

But the Pentagon spokesman made clear that while the hunt for al-Baghdadi may be morally essential, his loss will mean little on the battlefield.

“Militarily speaking, he is already irrelevant,” Capt. Davis said.

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ISIS patrol the streets of Raqqa, Syria. (Image from Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently.)

Those comments echo those of Defense Secretary James Mattis, who said al-Baghdadi’s death would create “disarray in the enemy’s ranks” and upend efforts by Islamic State to hold onto its territorial gains in the Middle East.

“We’re not here to help him through his midlife crisis. We’re here to give him one,” the Pentagon chief said.

Top Islamic State leaders, including al-Baghdadi, reportedly began fleeing Raqqa for Deir-e-zour and Madan en masse in May ahead of the coalition’s operation to liberate the Syrian city of Raqqa, which had been the group’s self-styled capital in the country since taking the city three years ago.

Since his departure from Raqqa, unconfirmed reports of the Islamic State leader’s demise have permeated across a number of media outlets over the last several weeks.

Russian news outlets, citing defense officials in Moscow, had reported al-Baghdadi’s demise months earlier, saying he had been killed during Russian airstrikes on Islamic State positions outside Raqqa in May.

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DoD photo from Staff Sgt. Charles Rivezzo.

Most recently, members of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights — which has a strong track record for accuracy in the chaotic Syrian struggle — claimed they had irrefutable evidence al-Baghdadi had been killed in counter-terrorism operations in the Deir-e-Zour area in eastern Syria.

Those claims were upended by reports from Kurdish intelligence officials who said al-Baghdadi remains alive.

“It is not about Baghdadi necessarily, there are other leaders waiting” who are former Iraqi military under Saddam Hussein, Lahur Talabani, head of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s intelligence services, told Reuters July 17. “Do not expect the game to be over anytime soon for the Islamic State.”

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Marine who lost legs in Afghanistan rescues baby from a smoking car

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Matias Ferreira (left)


A war hero in Afghanistan became a local hero in New York City earlier this week when he rescued a baby from a smoking car – and he did it even though he has no legs.

Matias Ferreira, a Marine who lost both his legs to an improvised explosive device while serving in Afghanistan, was just two days away from getting married to his sweetheart when he heard a frantic mother crying for help on a busy road in Queens.

The mother was trapped in her driver’s seat after her car plowed into a median pole and needed to get her child out of the smoking car.

Thinking of his own 11-month-old daughter, the 26-year-old Ferreira jumped out of his pick-up truck and sprinted over – on two prosthetic legs – to the car.

“With the Marines, you are taught to be prepared and act,” Ferreira, who was leaving his wedding rehearsal at St. Mary Gate of Heaven Parish when he heard the screams, told the New York Daily News.

He added: “Instinctively you just react, you don’t freeze, and thankfully we were able to make a difference.”

While his brother and future father-in-law helped free the frantic mother, Ferreira squeezed himself into the backseat of the car and rescued the baby from her car seat.

“We didn’t know if the car was on fire or anything else,” the Uruguayan-born Marine said. “We knew we had to get them to safety.”

The three men stayed on the scene until firefighters and paramedics arrived on scene.

“I didn’t hear the baby crying, so I got kind of concerned,” Ferreira added. “Then I saw her open her eyes, and it kind of reassured me she was doing better.”

Ferreira lost both legs from the knees down and broke his pelvis in January 2011 when he stepped on an IED while fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. Despite his injuries, he still competes in sports and rides a motorcycle.

“The prostheses were the last thing on my mind,” Ferreira said of the rescue. “It doesn’t have to be a Marine. It doesn’t have to be a firefighter. It just has to be someone with a good heart.”

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

Soldier shoots her way to Olympic dream

Many Soldiers join the Army as a step towards achieving their goals and dreams. That was reversed for one Soldier going through Advanced Individual Training on Fort Jackson. She qualified for the Olympics in a sport equally suited for the Army – marksmanship.

Spc. Alison Weisz, from Company B, 369th Adjutant General Battalion, will graduate Advanced Individual Training Oct. 8 and then head to the Army Marksmanship Unit in Fort Benning, Georgia. She made Team USA for the Women’s 10m Air Rifle Event for the 2021 Olympic Games, and will be part of the AMU’s International Rifle Team, and compete internationally in both 10m Air Rifle and 50m Three-Position Small bore Rifle.


“It had always been a goal of mine to join the Army after qualifying for the Olympics,” said the Belgrade, Montana native. “The initial plan pre-COVID was that I was going to qualify, go to the Olympics this summer in Tokyo, in August come back, take a little bit of time off, and go to basic training. And that was all just because I wanted to look forward towards 2024 and the Olympics in Paris. The best way to do that for my career and my sport was with the Army.”

The AMU will help her hone her craft even further.

“The Army Marksmanship Unit has some of the best resources that you could imagine, for our sport specifically,” said Weisz, who graduated Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson with Company A, 3rd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment. “As far as gunsmiths on hand, obviously it’s a source of income as well.”

The Army also helps her financially.

“It’s hard to get that money and financial stability outside of it, outside of anything like the Army,” she said.

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Spc. Alison Weisz poses in front of her company sign. Photo by Josephine Carlson

According to USA Shooting, Weisz “became involved in shooting sports through a gun safety and education program out of a small club in Montana at 9 years old.” She was hooked and began her pursuit that led her to the University of Mississippi’s shooting program where she witnessed a slice of Army-life for the first time. Her great uncle was the only one in her Family to have served in the Army.

Some highlights to her shooting resume include 2019 Pan American Games Gold Medalist, Olympic Quota Winner, splitting a playing card on her first try, and four-time NCAA Individual Qualifier and 2016 NCAA Air Rifle Bronze Medalist.

“When I was in college we had matches there,” Weisz said of traveling to Georgia to compete at Fort Benning, “because they host a lot of the national competitions and other selection matches.”

It was at these competitions she would face rivals now turned teammates.

“Even to make this Olympic team, I was competing against my now teammates at the Army Marksmanship Unit and quite honestly it was a very tight race between a couple of them and myself for the women’s 10 meter event,” she said.

In basic training she initially didn’t let her drill sergeants know that she was a world-class marksman who could split a playing card in half with a single shot. In fact, she said she found Basic Rifle Marksmanship “super- fascinating” because it reinforced principles she had known for a long time.

“I was actually really impressed by all the fundamentals that they taught and the fact that those are the same fundamentals that I still follow today and it’s a completely different type and style of shooting so it was really cool to see,” she said.

She added she was impressed how the drill sergeants were able to teach her peers “who have never touched rifles before, they’ve never seen them, and they’ve never been around them.”

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Spc. Weisz walks with her fellow trainees during basic combat training at Fort Jackson. US Army photo

While she felt home on the rifle range, she found other aspects of training difficult such as doing physical training in the hot, humid South Carolina mornings, to being rained on during training because you would be wet and have to sit in soggy clothes until later in the day when you could return to the barracks to change.

“I think the most challenging was learning how to deal with so many different people from so many different places and doing such difficult yet simple things 24/7,” she said. Things such as standing at attention, not moving, being quiet, and trying to get 60 people or more to do were difficult for people who don’t have a background founded in discipline.

“They might not have had that being raised or in their life,” she said. “In my sport, discipline is literally all it is; so it was very natural for me. When I need to do something I just do it and just deal with it even if something is bothering me to ignore it and I know and I understand that other people didn’t have that.”

Despite the challenges, Weisz said she plans on using the new experiences to help her on the firing line.

“Even though it was in using pushups or rappelling down the wall with fear … I can now take those skills I’ve learned and apply when I’m actually training and shooting so rather than questioning myself (with questions like), ‘Am I going to be able to shoot well today?'”

Weisz is “super-excited” to get to the AMU after graduation because she “will be training with the best of the best and now we will be the best of the best. The more you surround yourself with the best, the better you will become.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

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Army attack helicopter crashes off Texas coast

Even peacetime training has its hazards, and that has been demonstrated with reports that an AH-64 Apache with the Texas National Guard crashed Dec. 28 in Galveston Bay, killing both crewmembers.


According to a report by KHOU.com, the helicopter was with the 1-149 Attack Helicopter Battalion of the Texas Army National Guard.

 

“It is with our deepest sympathy that we tell you both service members on board the air craft are deceased, our thoughts and prayers are with their family,” CW5 Glen Webb of the Texas Army National Guard said in a statement.

The AH-64 Apache is the Army’s helicopter gunship. According to a fact sheet released by the United States Army, it entered service in 1984, and can carry AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, 70mm Hydra rockets, and is also armed with a M230 cannon holding 1,200 rounds of ammunition. The Army plans to manufacture 690 Apaches for service.

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U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Daniel Johnson

Apache crashes are not unheard of, with ArmyAirCrews.com listing 43 incidents involving 73 fatalities over the last 36 years, to include one during a test flight. The list includes seven combat losses due to enemy fire (six during Operation Iraqi Freedom, one during Operation Enduring Freedom).

The cause of the crash is under investigation, but KHOU.com reported that bystanders were taking photos of parts from the stricken attack helicopter that were lying near the crash site off the Bayport Cruise Terminal.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is how global leaders are fighting terrorism

Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford said the meeting of more than 70 chiefs of defense at the Counter-Violent Extremist Organization Conference was a historic occasion.


The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff hosted the meeting so the chiefs could chart the progress in the struggle against violent extremists and look at ways to improve the strategies in the long war against the terrorists.

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Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, delivers remarks alongside special envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Brett H. McGurk, during a press conference following the 2017 Chiefs of Defense Conference at Fort Belvoir, Va., Oct. 24, 2017. The conference brought together defense chiefs from more than 70 nations to focus on countering violent-extremist organizations around the globe. DoD photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique Pineiro

Dunford; Brett McGurk, the president’s special envoy for the global coalition to defeat ISIS; and Australian Army Col. David Kelly, an exchange officer on assignment to the Joint Staff, spoke to the press following the conference.

Also read: Defeating ISIS is hard; preventing ISIS 3.0 could be harder

During the meeting, the senior leaders from every part of the globe looked at the threats posed by extremist groups and examined strategies and tactics to combat them, the chairman said. The chiefs concluded “that we are dealing with a transregional threat and it is going to require more effective collective action by nations that are affected,” Dunford said.

Wide-Ranging Threat

He noted that in Iraq and Syria the coalition saw more than 40,000 foreign fighters from 120 different countries. The chairman added that figure describes the range of the threat in a nutshell.

The chiefs spoke mostly about the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Dunford said, because they regard ISIS as the most virulent example of violent extremism in the world today. Still, he added, they envision the military network that has been built to combat ISIS will also deal with other transregional extremist threats as they arise.

The key takeaway from the conference is that “the most effective action against these groups is local action, but local action has to be informed by the nature of the trans-regional aspect and so cooperation globally is important,” the chairman said. But, he noted, global actions must be informed by local actions.

Connections

Violent extremists are connected by three things that Dunford calls the “connective tissue” of terrorism: foreign fighters, finances, and the narrative. Cutting the connectivity between these groups is key to defeating them, the general said. Doing this will enable local forces to deal with the challenges posed by these groups, he said.

One example is the five-month battle for Marawi in the Philippines, which the chiefs were briefed about yesterday, Dunford said. About 30 foreign fighters returned to the Mindanao region after fighting with ISIS and persuaded local extremist groups to pledge to ISIS and launch attacks in the city. “Small numbers of ISIS leaders are attempting to leverage local insurgencies,” the chairman said.

The coalition is seeing something similar in Africa, he said, where a number of local insurgencies rebranded themselves and pledged allegiance to ISIS.

The chiefs discussed the movement of these individuals and the need for intelligence- and information-sharing within the coalition to stop them, Dunford said.

Global Effort, Global Approach

McGurk helps coordinate the whole-of-government approach to the campaign against violent extremism. He said the chiefs spoke a great deal during the meeting about all the efforts against ISIS, including the stabilization and humanitarian programs that are included in every military campaign. He also said foreign fighters trying to get into or out of Iraq and Syria has come to a near halt. “We believe we’ve cut their revenue down to the lowest level ever,” he said.

Related: The number of counter-terrorism missions this White House has authorized will surprise you

“Most interestingly today, we did a little walk around the globe, because it is not just about Iraq and Syria,” McGurk said. “We had very detailed presentations of operations against ISIS in Marawi, in the Sahel, we talked about how we are tracking foreign fighters around the world … and we had a very good presentation from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia about the leading efforts that they have taken on to counter the narrative and leading the counter-messaging campaign in that part of the world.”

The chairman said the campaign against ISIS is at an “inflection point” and that all the chiefs discussed what’s next. “One of the points that was made several times today is the need for the coalition to stay focused on Iraq and Syria for an enduring period of time,” Dunford said.

Counter-Messaging

Defeating the narrative of the terror groups is one of the toughest nuts to crack, he said, but progress is being made. “I’m not complacent, but I am encouraged by how the success on the ground in translated into undermining the credibility of the narrative,” the chairman said. “There have been some studies of young people who are radicalized and those numbers seem to go down. There are certainly indicators that fewer young people are being radicalized, and that’s as a result of us being able to demonstrate what ISIS is. They can only behead so many people and treat people they way they did in Mosul and Raqqa before those stories came out.”

The Saudi counter-ISIS messaging effort now has 41 nations involved. “Clearly, credible Islamic voices are going to be the ones that matter most in countering the narrative of ISIS, and countering it and discrediting it for what it is,” he said.

With 75 nations and entities such as NATO and the African Union Mission in Somalia, there are some who think the coalition is too big, Kelly said. But the coalition thrives on the diversity of views the coalition offers, he noted.

“What I bring to the Joint Staff, I feel, is a diversity of perspective,” the colonel said. “It’s that diversity of perspective that we are looking for in our planning. Can [the coalition] become too big? I don’t think so. I think the price of admission is wanting to be a part of solving the problem.”

The coalition is not a formal alliance, nor does any nation want it to be one, Dunford said. It all comes down to helping local and regional forces handle their security problems, and sharing information and intelligence to sever the connective tissue and defeat the narrative. “The bigger the coalition is, the better,” the chairman said.

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