BTS became the first Korean music act to have a #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 when the English-language single “Dynamite” topped the charts in August. They achieved another milestone this week with “Life Goes On,” their second #1 hit and the first record sung mostly in Korean to top the American charts.
And yet, a dark cloud loomed on the horizon. All males in South Korea are required to enlist in the military and complete either 18 months (Army or Marine Corps), 20 months (Navy) or 21 months (Air Force) service. They can complete their obligation anytime after they turn 18 but must start by the time they turn 28.
BTS is so hot right now, bigger than the Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC added together at their peak. They’re undisputedly the most successful Korean music group of all time. Not only does their music sell, they’re generating millions of dollars in sales of BTS-branded shirts, hats, posters, card games, pillows, mugs, dolls, phone accessories, puzzles, tote bags, candles and other merchandise too numerous to list here.
Jin (first names only, please) is the group’s oldest member at age 27 and he’s turning 28 on December 4, so the singer was faced with having to leave the group at the height of their international popularity to complete his military service. Fellow group member Suga will also turn 28 on March 9, 2021 so the crisis was real for the seven-member group.
The South Korean parliament wanted to take action but had a tight needle to thread here. How could they keep the country’s #1 cultural export going while not appearing to cater to the decadent lifestyles of international popstars?
Their solution was to pass a law that allows entertainers who have received a government medal for global cultural impact to defer their service for an extra two years until age 30. That gives Jin 730 more days to pursue his career before duty calls.
Jin has long acknowledged his commitment to service. In 2019, he told an interviewer, “As a Korean, it’s natural. And some day, when duty calls, we’ll be ready to respond and do our best.”
BTS (also known as Bangtan Sonyeondan, which translates to English as Bulletproof Boy Scouts) has one of the most devoted fan bases in music history, rivaling the devotion that the Beatles or Michael Jackson inspired at their peaks.
Those fans may not be too happy about the compromise, since athletes like soccer player Son Heung-min (now playing in the English Premier League with Tottenham Hotspur) and more than a few classical musicians have been exempted altogether from service for their contributions to South Korea’s image around the world.
Maybe BTS can keep the hot streak going and the government will grant a new waiver in two years. Or maybe Jin and Suga will complete their service and return triumphantly to their careers just like U.S. Army veteran Elvis Presley did back in 1960.
Staff Sgt. Timothy Dawson was trying to get some rest before work the next day. The phone rang twice before he answered it. His neighbor, who lives just above his apartment complex on the hill, told him the fire was really close and they were evacuating.
That neighbor was 1st Lt. Mike Constable, a pilot with the 146th Airlift Wing, Channel Islands Air National Guard Station, California. Dawson said he could see Constable and his roommates packing things into their cars.
The Thomas Fire started on Dec. 4, 2017 in Santa Paula, near Thomas Aquinas College. Driven by Santa Ana winds gusting up to 70 mph, the flames screamed across the hillsides toward Ojai and Ventura. Numerous fires leapfrogged across Ventura and Los Angeles Counties the following day.
Dawson’s three-level, 52-unit apartment complex burned to the ground a few hours later.
Ironically, Dawson is a C-130J Hercules crew chief for the 146th AW, one of five wings in the Air Force equipped with the module airborne firefighting system, or MAFFS. This system is loaded onto C-130s and is designed to fight the very thing that took his home, wildfires.
The 146th AW was activated Dec. 5 to fight what became the largest California wildfire by size in the state’s recorded history, covering 281,893 acres. The Thomas Fire is now 100 percent contained.
“We got the word and everybody sprung into action. Our maintenance folk got the airplane ready for us, our aerial port guys went and got the MAFFS units pulled out and loadmasters got the airplanes ready. It was really a well-oiled machine on that day. We got things done really quickly,” said Senior Master Sgt. Phil Poulsen, a loadmaster with the 146th AW.
Most of the Airmen stationed at Channel Islands ANGS are from Ventura County or the surrounding area. Approximately 50 people from the 146th AW evacuated their homes during the fire and five Airmen lost their homes.
“I can see the smoke from my house and we know people who live there,” Poulson said. “My daughter went to daycare up there and I think I flew over that house. I think it’s gone. So it really hits close to home when you are this close to home.”
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or CAL FIRE, requested MAFFS aircraft and personnel support through the state’s governor and the Adjutant General of the state’s National Guard. Once activated, CAL FIRE incident commanders assigned to the Thomas Fire, and based at the Ventura Fairgrounds, generate the launch orders for the MAFFS. The aircraft sit ready at Tanker Base Operations, a few miles south of the fairgrounds at Channel Islands Air National Guard Station.
Once requested, the C-130s would join the fight at a designated altitude in the protected flight area, typically 1,500 feet above ground. An aerial supervisor, or air attack, would fly at about 2,000 feet, directing and controlling the aircraft. Lead planes, at 1,000 feet, guide the tankers to their drop points, approximately 150 feet above the ground.
“Once we enter the fire traffic area, we join on the lead plane. He’ll typically give us a show me [puff of smoke] which shows us where he’s intending us to drop,” said Lt. Col. Scott Pemberton, a C-130J pilot with the 146th AW. “We try to be very precise with that because you know it’s a high value asset and you get one shot at it.”
The mission requires the crews to fly the C-130s very close to the fires.
“You’re taking the fight directly to the ground,” Pemberton said. “We are 150 feet above the ground at 120 knots, at the edge of the airplane’s envelope. You’re demanding a lot of yourself and your fellow crewmembers. So that’s why you are typically very highly trained and are very prepared to do this mission.”
The MAFFS can hold 3,000 gallons of retardant, which is released from a nozzle placed in the left rear troop door of the aircraft. It takes approximately 15 minutes to load retardant into the MAFFS, another 15 minutes to reach the Thomas Fire, 10 more to join the lead plane and drop and then another 15 minutes to return to base. With 10 hours of daylight and two planes, the 146th AW drops an average of 60,000 gallons of retardant each day.
“Many times if you are close to a fire line and you’re doing direct attack you’ll see the guys standing down there,” Pemberton said. “On the second, third or fourth drop you’ll come by and you will see that you have gotten close enough to where they are a different color. But I’ve also seen the whites of their eyes where they’re diving behind their bulldozer because you’re that close, and they know that the retardant is coming.”
Still, the dangers of this mission are not lost on Pemberton.
On July 1, 2012, MAFFS 7, which belonged to the North Carolina Air National Guard’s 145th Airlift Wing based at the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, crashed while fighting the White Draw Fire in South Dakota’s Black Hills. Four of the six crewmembers aboard died.
“There was a thunderstorm approaching from the north and as they were waiting for the lead to coordinate and get his bearings… The thunderstorm moved closer and closer,” Pemberton said. “They made a first run and I think they got off half of their retardant.”
As they made their second run, they had a wind shear event and a microburst took away their lift and forced them to fly straight ahead into the terrain.
“As a result of that incident, we completely changed our training. We incorporated a lot of the wind shear escape maneuvers, and we built new seats for the loadmasters in the back and made crashworthy seats for those crewmembers,” Pemberton said.
This training and the 146th AW’s capabilities benefit everyone involved in the wildfire fighting community, too.
The 146th AW plays a big role in extinguishing fires, said Tenner Renz a dozer swamper with the Kern County Fire Department, but it’s something he sees on almost every fire. Whether a 100-acre or a 250,000-acre fire, the guard shows up.
“Some of these guys are crazy. I mean dipping down into some of these canyons, flying through smoke, buzzing treetops,” Renz said. “They have a talent that most people don’t have.”
Having the MAFFS capability means the 146th AW can be federally activated to support firefighting operations around the United States by the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. An Air Force liaison group, led on a rotating basis by one of the five MAFFS unit commanders, staffs the center.
This wide-ranging operational experience and capability gives CAL FIRE an extra capability when things are at their worst.
“We currently have low humidity, Santa Ana winds, we haven’t had rain in a number of days and we’re in areas that haven’t burned in 50-60 years,” said Dan Sendek, MAFFS liaison officer for CAL FIRE. “You can never have enough equipment for every eventuality. What the guard brings to us is that surge capacity when we’re in a situation where we need everything we can get.”
Six days after he lost his home, Dawson was back at work.
“The routine of going about the mission and getting things done is probably better,” Dawson said. “I needed to get back and get involved in the fire mission. The show must go on. The world doesn’t stop spinning and the guard doesn’t stop flying missions.”
For Dawson, it’s also a chance to combat the fire that took his home and save some of his neighbor’s property.
Dawson and his wife were able to return to their apartment a few days after the fire destroyed it, however, they were not able to search for personal items because the fire was still smoldering.
“Every single tenant in the 52 units was able to get out ahead of the fire. When we went back for the first time it was it was pretty emotionally taxing,” he said. “There were two stories worth of apartments that collapsed into a carport. There’s nothing left that we could really find.
“To me, then and even now, it still feels a little surreal. I know it’s happening to me, but it feels like it’s happening to someone else.”
Eleven veterans organizations have adopted a “Veteran’s Creed” that acknowledges pride of service and a continuing shared commitment to values that strengthen the nation.
The fourth tenet of the creed states that “I continue to serve my community, my country and my fellow veterans.”
The creed, which was adopted on Flag Day 2018, at an event at the Reserve Officers Association, was the result of extensive discussions among veterans groups that began last fall at Georgetown University.
“The creed will help prepare veterans for their productive civilian lives,” said Dr. Joel Kupersmith, Director of Veterans’ Initiatives at Georgetown University.
Retired Army Gen. George W. Case, Jr., the former Army chief of staff and commander of Multi-National Force Iraq, said the creed may motivate veterans to continue to give back.
“I believe the Veteran’s Creed could remind veterans of what they miss about their service and encourage them to continue to make a difference in their communities and across our country,” he said. “We need their talents.”
The Veteran’s Creed, similar to the Army’s Soldier’s Creed, was intended to underline the “altruistic ethos of veterans themselves.”
(Photo by Frank Schulenburg)
It also purports to “remind Americans that the principles and values veterans learned in the military — integrity, leadership, teamwork, selfless service — can greatly benefit our country,” according to the veterans groups.
“In the Army I lived both the Soldier’s Creed and the NCO Creed,” said John Towles, Director of National Security & Foreign Affairs for the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
“As veterans, we must realize that our service does not stop simply because we take off the uniform,” he added. “Many of us struggle to find our place once we leave the military, but now we have a new set of watchwords to guide and remind our brothers and our sisters in arms that our mission is far from over.”
The Creed is backed by AMVETS, Disabled American Veterans, HillVets, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Reserve Officers Association, Student Veterans of America, Team Rubicon Global, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Wounded Warrior Project.
The Creed states:
1. I am an American veteran
2. I proudly served my country
3. I live the values I learned in the military
4. I continue to serve my community, my country and my fellow veterans
5. I maintain my physical and mental discipline
6. I continue to lead and improve
7. I make a difference
8. I honor and remember my fallen comrades
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.
Two Army soldiers were killed in close firefight in Afghanistan on June 25, 2019, the Pentagon said. The soldiers were fighting Taliban militants, according to The New York Times.
The Pentagon identified the two soldiers as Master Sgt. Micheal B. Riley, 32, of the 2nd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), at Fort Carson, Colorado and Sgt. James G. Johnston, 24, of the 79th Ordnance Battalion (Explosive Ordnance Disposal), 71st Ordnance Group, in Fort Hood, Texas.
The two soldiers died in southern Uruzgan province, the Pentagon said in an emailed statement. The New York Times reported that Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, reported the location as eastern Wardak province.
Thus far in 2019, there have been nine service member fatalities in Afghanistan, according to the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count. The deaths of Riley and Johnston occurred just before a round of peace talks between the US and the Taliban is scheduled to take place in Doha, Qatar starting June 29, 2019.
Riley was from Heilbronn, Germany and joined the Army in 2006. The Green Beret veteran earned several awards during his service was on his sixth deployment, according to a release from the US Army Special Operations Command, including the Bronze Star, NATO Medal, and National Defense Service Medal.
Bronze Star medal.
“Mike was an experienced Special Forces noncommissioned officer and the veteran of five previous deployments to Afghanistan. We will honor his service and sacrifice as we remain steadfast in our commitment to our mission,” Col. Lawrence G. Ferguson, commander of the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), said in a statement provided to INSIDER.
Johnston was “the epitome of what we as Soldiers all aspire to be: intelligent, trained, always ready,” according to Lt. Col. Stacy M. Enyeart, commander of 79th Ordnance Battalion (Explosive Ordnance Disposal). He joined the Army in 2013 and earned a Bronze Star Medal, a Purple Heart, and an Army Commendation Medal, among awards.
Purple Heart medal.
The two soldiers were deployed with Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, part of NATO’s Operation Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan. There are currently about 14,000 American troops in Afghanistan focused primarily on supporting Afghan forces, according to the New York Times.
NATO’s Resolute Support mission did not respond to a request for more information regarding the circumstances of their deaths on June 27, 2019.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Performance will be the primary factor in the future if the Defense Department has to resort to a civilian reduction in force, DoD officials said today.
The department revamped the rules for the reduction-in-force process as a result of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2016.
That law requires the department to establish procedures to provide that, in any reduction in force of civilian positions in the competitive or excepted service, the determination of which employees shall be separated from employment shall be made primarily on basis of performance.
A reduction in force, or RIF, as it is known, is the term used when the government lays off employees. The RIF procedures determine whether an employee keeps his or her present position, whether the employee has a right to a different position or whether the employee must be let go.
In the past, tenure was the primary factor when making RIF calculations. Now, an employee’s performance rating of record will carry the greatest weight followed by tenure group, performance average score, veterans’ preference and DoD service computation date-RIF.
“The DoD civilian workforce is one of the department’s most important assets,” said Julie Blanks, acting assistant secretary of defense for civilian personnel policy. “However, there are times when the department must make difficult decisions that impact our civilians, and in doing so, it is imperative these decisions result in our continued ability to seamlessly execute our national security mission. When circumstances necessitate a RIF, the department must ensure we are retaining our highest performing employees.”
The changes will apply to almost all of DoD’s 750,000 civilian employees. This change in the RIF process only applies to DoD. The government-wide provisions that rank four retention factors by tenure of employment; veterans’ preference; length of service; and performance remain in place for other federal agencies.
Under the new system, if an agency is forced to employ a RIF, employees will be placed on a retention register based on periods of assessed performance of 12 months or more or less than 12 months. The idea is to give an equitable comparison for employees whose performance has been assessed over a comparable period of time.
The first retention factor is rating of record. The rating of record is the average drawn from the two most recent performance appraisals received by the employee within the four-year period preceding the cutoff date for the RIF.
The second factor is tenure group. There are three tenure groups, with group III being temporary or term employees, these employees will be ranked at the bottom of the retention register below groups I and II.
Tenure group I and II employees are those serving on permanent appointments. Tenure group I includes employees who are not on probation and whose appointments are not career-conditional.
Tenure group II employees are those hired into permanent appointments in a career-conditional or probationary status. In general, tenure group II employees must have three years of creditable service and meet all other stated conditions of their probationary period in order to attain Tenure group I status. Tenure group I will be ranked above employees in tenure group II within each rating of record group.
The third factor is an employee’s average score. In general, an employee’s average score for one performance appraisal is derived by dividing the sum of the employee’s performance element ratings by the number of performance elements. For purposes of RIF, average score is the average of the average scores drawn from the two most recent performance appraisals received by the employee within the four year period preceding the “cutoff date” for the RIF.
Veterans’ preference is the fourth factor. “Veterans are a key part of the civilian workforce, representing a highly skilled, extremely well-qualified cadre of employees,” Blanks said. “The department firmly believes that highly performing veterans in the civilian workforce will not be disadvantaged by the new RIF policy.”
The final factor is the DoD service computation date-RIF, with those serving the longest having the edge.
DoD officials stress that a RIF is always the last resort for the department. They will do everything they can to mitigate the size of reductions, including the use of voluntary early retirement authority or voluntary separation incentive payments. Agencies will also use hiring freezes, termination of temporary appointments, and any other pre-RIF placement options.
The new DoD RIF policy and procedures are consistent with the implementation of the DoD Performance Management and Appraisal Program. This program standardizes the civilian performance appraisal system throughout the department.
A Rasmussen poll released at the end of June 2018 revealed a fear among voters that political violence is on the rise, with one in three concerned a second US Civil War is on the horizon. The poll was conducted among likely American voters who were asked via telephone and online survey how likely that war would be.
The poll also revealed that 59 percent of voters are fearful that those opposed to President Trump will resort to violence to advance their cause and another 33 percent were very concerned. A similar poll was conducted in the second year of Barack Obama’s presidency that revealed similar fears in similar numbers.
The difference this time around lies in the recent public confrontations of Trump Administration officials, something neither Obama nor Bush officials faced during their Presidents’ tenures. Media outlets posture that the public pressure is backlash from this administration’s “Zero Tolerance” policy that pulled migrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.
By no means did civility rule the day for Obama officials. By this time in President Obama’s presidency, South Carolina Representative Joe Wilson interrupted the President’s speech to a joint session of Congress with a shout of, “You lie!” The heretofore unheard of interruption earned him a public rebuke in the House, and also led to his constituents chanting the same at him less than a decade later.
Obama’s first two years as President dealt largely with the global financial crisis of 2008, automaker bailouts, and financial regulations. As the Brookings Institution points out, no one in power thrives when the economy suffers and the Democrats lost their Congressional majority in the 2010 midterms.
A Second American Civil War would not be as clean cut as the pro-slavery vs. anti-slavery arguments or the federal authority vs. states’ rights arguments of the actual Civil War. The United States is now almost three times the size it was in the 1860s and belief systems and population are very different than they were back then. The issues facing the country are also much different, separated by more than 150 years.
The solution to this is to simply let your vote speak for your beliefs instead of your fists, or worse, a weapon. The peaceful transition of power ensures American democracy will endure, no matter who wins in 2020. The only Civil War sequel America needs is another Captain America movie.
The Afghan Defense Ministry says 43 soldiers have been killed and nine wounded in a Taliban attack on an army camp in the southern province of Kandahar.
Ministry spokesman Dawlat Wazeri told RFE/RL that six soldiers were unaccounted for after the attack on the Afghan National Army base in the Maiwand district early on October 19.
Only two of the soldiers stationed at the base escaped the attack unhurt.
Waxeri said 10 militants were killed.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault, the third major attack on Afghan security forces this week.
The Western-backed government in Kabul is struggling to beat back insurgents in the wake of the exit of most NATO forces in 2014.
A local security official told RFE/RL that a suicide bomber detonated a car filled with explosives near the base, before a number of gunmen launched an assault against the facility.
The official, who was speaking on condition of anonymity, said the militants failed to overrun the base as reinforcement arrived at the scene.
Some reports said there were two suicide bombings.
Elsewhere in Afghanistan, six police officers were killed in an ambush in the northern Balkh Province late on October 18, according to Shir Jan Durani, a spokesman for the provincial police chief.
In the western province of Farah, the authorities said that militants attacked a government compound in the Shibkho district, killing at least three police officers.
The Taliban also claimed responsibility for the two attacks, which came after the extremist group launched two separate suicide and gun assaults on government forces on October 17 that left at least 80 people dead and about 300 others wounded, including soldiers, police officers, and civilians.
The attacks targeted a police compound in the southeastern city of Gardez, capital of Paktia Province bordering Pakistan, and a security compound in the neighboring province of Ghazni.
U.S. President Donald Trump recently unveiled a strategy to try to defeat the militants, and officials said more than 3,000 additional U.S. troops were being sent to Afghanistan to reinforce the 11,000 already stationed there.
The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mahan (DDG 72) had what one report described as a “close encounter” with an Iranian vessel on April 24.
According to a report by Fox News, the Iranian vessel was a “fast attack craft” used by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy. USS Mahan was forced to change course, the crew manned weapons, fired flares, and sounded a danger signal. The Iranian vessel stayed over 1,000 yards from the Mahan, but its weapons were manned.
According to the 16th Edition of Combat Fleets of the World, Iran has over 100 “fast attack craft” of varying types. The most notorious of these are roughly 30 Boghammers, which can reach speeds of up to 45 knots, and are armed with .50-caliber machine guns or twin 23mm anti-aircraft guns and either a 12-round 107mm rocket launcher, a 106mm recoilless rifle, or a RPG-7. American forces destroyed at least five of these vessels during naval clashes with Iran in 1987 and 1988.
This is not the first time USS Mahan has had a close call with Iranian vessels. In January, 2017, the Mahan had to fire warning shots at similar craft that came within 900 yards. The Iranian vessels backed off.
“We are also dealing with a range of malign activities perpetrated by Iran and its proxies operating in the region,” said Votel, citing Iran’s support for terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Bashir Assad’s regime in Syria. “It is my view that Iran poses the greatest long-term threat to stability for this part of the world.”
A petition lobbying the White House to reinstate the official Navy rating titles removed in late September gained more than 100,000 signatures on We the People, a website created by the Obama administration to allow large groups of Americans to directly request changes to public policy.
Petitions that cross the threshold are guaranteed an official response from the administration, but activists are not guaranteed that it will be a “yes” response.
Ratings were essentially job titles in the Navy and they were incorporated into the method of address for most enlisted leaders. Some of the ratings, like those for gunner’s or boatswain’s mates, have remained the same since the Continental Navy instituted them over 240 years ago. Other rates, such as special warfare boat operator, are newer.
Navy officials say that they removed the rating structure to allow sailors to more easily cross-train between jobs or switch career tracks entirely. This increased flexibility in job choices would also, according to comments given to the Navy Times, make it easier for sailors to get specific duty stations.
For 241 Years Navy personnel have been identified by their Job specialty, known as a “Rating.” The oldest rates such as Boatswain Mates, and Gunners Mate predate the founding of this country. Being known by your job title was a sense of pride. A sign of accomplishment. The Secretary of the Navy and Chief of Naval Operations just senselessly erased this tradition.
While the White House promises an official response to successful petitions, it does so by putting the petition in front of the proper policy makers. According to the program’s “about” section:
With We the People, you can easily create a petition online, share it, and collect signatures. If you gather 100,000 signature in 30 days, we’ll review your petition, make sure it gets in front of the appropriate policy experts, and issue an official response.
In this case, that could mean that the petition would land on the desk of Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus or someone on his staff. But Mabus and his staff were the ones who made the decision to get rid of Navy ratings in the first place.
The petition could encourage senior Navy leadership to take sailor feedback more seriously moving forward and possibly even find a plan that accomplishes the leadership’s goals while preserving Navy tradition.
On Jan. 23, 2019, Lopez told the court he met Guzman at Puente Grande in 1999. He said he resigned in late 2000, deciding to leave when the government launched a corruption probe at the prison. Guzman contacted him soon after, Lopez said, seeking help to maintain the privileges he had gotten through bribery and other inducements.
It long been suspected that Lopez aided the escape, and it is widely believed that Guzman was snuck out in a laundry cart, though others dispute that account. On the stand, Lopez denied involvement in the January 2001 escape but said a laundry cart was involved.
Senior “Chapo” Guzman lieutenant Damaso Lopez arrested in Mexico
Guzman “told me the only person responsible for that escape had been Chito, who was employed in the laundry,” Lopez testified, according to Vice reporter Keegan Hamilton.
Chito, a laundry room worker at the prison, “had taken [Guzman] inside a laundry cart that was picking up dirty laundry and transported him to the parking lot … he put him in the trunk of his car,” Lopez said.
Lopez said that Guzman revealed more about the escape months later, in the mountains of Nayarit, a state near Sinaloa in northwest Mexico.
“He told me that really the plan for his escape was spontaneous,” Lopez testified, according to Hamilton. “This was because some of his friends in the federal government had notified him that an extradition order had been issued.”
After that, Guzman offered Lopez a job, and over the next decade and a half Lopez became deeply involved in the cartel’s operations — including efforts to spring Guzman from prison in 2015.
Lopez said he met with Guzman’s wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro, and his sons in mid-2014, just a few months after Guzman was recaptured.
During that meeting, he said, they discussed buying land near the high-security Altiplano federal penitentiary, west of the capital in Mexico state, where Guzman was held and that Coronel told Lopez that Guzman had asked for him to buy weapons and an armored vehicle to use in the breakout.
Emma Coronel Aispuro
It took months to dig a mile-long tunnel under the prison, and Guzman could reportedly hear the excavation in his cell — so loud that other inmates complained. (Footage from Guzman’s cell the night of the escape also picked up sounds of his henchmen smashing through the floor of his shower.)
During that time, Coronel was a major player in the plot, Lopez said, carrying messages to and from Guzman.
Coronel has never been charged with a crime, but her role as intermediary for Guzman and his associates during the 2015 escape may explain the tight restrictions the US has put on her contact with her husband while he’s been in US custody. In November 2018, as the trial was starting, the judge in the case denied a request to allow Guzman to hug her.
The audacious escape through a mile-long, ventilated tunnel on a motorcycle rigged on rails garnered international attention. Lopez added more detail to the account, saying that one of Coronel’s brothers was driving the motorcycle, which had been towed through the tunnel.
Lopez said that, like the 2001 escape, his involvement was limited. “I never knew, not even about one shovel of earth that was removed there,” he said. “His sons were doing that.”
In early 2016, Mexican newspaper Reforma reported that Mexican officials allowed a private company to connect a geolocation-monitoring bracelet to Guzman while he was at Altiplano, but Reforma was unable to find definitive answers about who authorized the device, rising concern it was part of the kingpin’s escape plan.
“Some high officials in the federal government consider that, because of the grade of precision in the digging and the excavation,” Reforma reported at the time, “the tunnel through which ‘El Chapo’ escaped could not have been constructed without the help of geolocation device.”
President Enrique Peña Nieto, accompanied by Cabinet members, holds a press conference in the Palacio Nacional announcing the capture of Joaquín Guzmán.
Lopez said the excavation was in fact aided by a GPS watch smuggled into the prison for Guzman to wear. (A Mexican official who talked to Guzman after he was recaptured in 2016 said Guzman told investigators that his henchmen dug two tunnels under the prison, the second coming after they arrived at the wrong cell.)
Guzman remained on the run for 13 years after his 2001 jailbreak, but his freedom after the second escape was short-lived. Mexican authorities caught up with him in northwest Sinaloa state in January 2016.
After his capture he was returned to Altiplano, which holds many high-profile criminals. While there, Guzman sent a message through his wife that he wanted to mount an escape again, Lopez said. To carry that out, Lopez said the Sinaloa cartel paid a million bribe to the head of Mexico’s prison system.
Jan. 9, President Donald J. Trump signed an executive order titled, “Supporting Our Veterans During Their Transition From Uniformed Service to Civilian Life.” This executive order directs the Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security to develop a plan to ensure that all new Veterans receive mental health care for at least one year following their separation from service.
The three departments will work together and develop a joint action plan to ensure that the 60 percent of new Veterans who currently do not qualify for enrollment in health care — primarily due to lack of verified service connection related to the medical issue at hand — will receive treatment and access to services for mental health care for one year following their separation from service.
“As service members transition to Veteran status, they face higher risk of suicide and mental health difficulties,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. David Shulkin. “During this critical phase, many transitioning service members may not qualify for enrollment in health care. The focus of this executive order is to coordinate federal assets to close that gap.”
The Department of Defense, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security will work to expand mental health programs and other resources to new Veterans to the year following departure from uniformed service, including eliminating prior time limits and:
Expanding peer community outreach and group sessions in the VA whole health initiative from 18 whole health flagship facilities to all facilities. Whole health includes wellness and establishing individual health goals.
Extending the Department of Defense’s “Be There Peer Support Call and Outreach Center” services to provide peer support for Veterans in the year following separation from the uniformed service.
Expanding the Department of Defense’s Military One Source, which offers resources to active duty members, to include services to separating service members to one year beyond service separation.
“We look forward to continuing our partnership with the VA to ensure Veterans who have served our country continue to receive the important mental health care and services they need and deserve,” said Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis.
“The Department of Homeland Security is where many Veterans find a second opportunity to serve their country — nearly 28 percent of our workforce has served in the armed forces, in addition to the 49,000 active duty members of the United States Coast Guard,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.
“This critically important executive order will provide our service members with the support they need as they transition to civilian life. These dedicated men and women have put their lives on the line to protect our nation and our American way of life, and we owe them a debt we can never repay. We look forward to working with the VA and DOD to implement the President’s EO,” said Secretary Nielsen.
“In signing this executive order, President Trump has provided clear guidance to further ensure our Veterans and their families know that we are focusing on ways to improve their ability to move forward and achieve their goals in life after service,” said Secretary Shulkin.
The Air Force plans to upgrade a combat controller’s Bronze Star Medal to a Silver Star for exemplary action while engaged in combat in Afghanistan in 2006.
Chief Master Sgt. Michael R. West, assigned to the 720th Operational Support Squadron, will receive the Silver Star, the military’s third-highest valor award, during a ceremony at Hurlburt Field, Florida, on Dec. 15, Air Force Special Operations Command said in a release.
West was originally awarded the Bronze Star in 2007.
“West will be honored for his role in securing the safety of 51 Special Forces Soldiers and 33 coalition partners during a five-day offensive operation in support of Operation Medusa,” the release said.
“Over the period of five days and two climactic battles, West delivered more than 24,000 pounds of precision ordnance credited with more than 500 enemy killed in action,” AFSOC said.
His upgrade comes as a result of a comprehensive Defense Department-wide review of awards from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even though the Air Force announced eight valor upgrades in totality this year, new evidence shed light on West’s case, 24th Special Operations Wing spokeswoman 1st Lt. Jaclyn Pienkowski told Military.com.
“With time, additional statements were provided that more completely captured Chief West’s actions during Operation Medusa,” Pienkowski said. “Once the package was complete, the Air Force considered totality of his actions and deemed the appropriate award to be a Silver Star Medal.”
“During this process, the Air Force was committed to properly recognizing our service members for their service, actions and sacrifices, and that those valorous service members were recognized at the appropriate level. It was important to ensure the award package was complete when it was reviewed,” she said.
West, a master sergeant at the time, was involved in two dynamic battles over five days within the Panjwai Village, according to his official award citation.
West was a Joint Terminal Attack Controller supporting Special Forces teams tasked “to conduct offensive operations in support of Operation Medusa,” a Canadian-led mission during the second battle of Panjwaii in the Zhari and Panjwaii districts of Kandahar Province against Taliban fighters, the citation said.
While exposed to direct enemy fire, West’s “mastery of air to ground operations” allowed for the NATO teams to employ a strategic advantage “with over 88 fixed and rotary wing attack; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms; and medical evacuation assets in the area,” the citation said.
That included bombers, fighters, and MQ-1 Predator drones “to eliminate the enemy threat and allow the coalition forces to safely seize their target location,” according to West’s “Portraits in Courage” story. He was featured in the program in 2007.
His actions “on numerous occasions either prevented friendly forces from being overrun, or directly enabled friendly forces to break contact and regroup while minimizing casualties,” the citation said.
Twelve Canadian soldiers lost their lives over the course of the battle, with dozens more wounded, according to figures from Veterans Affairs Canada; A British reconnaissance plane also crashed in Panjwai during the offensive, killing all 14 on board.
At the time it had been “the most significant land battle ever undertaken by NATO,” according to Canada’s CBC News.
Canada regards Operation Medusa as one of its most successful operations. Earlier this year, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan exaggerated he was the grand “architect” of the operation, but later retracted his comments. Sajjan served in Afghanistan at the time as a liaison between Canadian commanders and local Afghan leaders, according to the Global News.
Whether or not West’s valor elevation may be the last medals upgrade for this year remains unclear.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ recommendations to President Donald Trump on the policy for transgender individuals in the military reportedly call for allowing them to continue to serve.
Despite Trump’s proposed ban on the recruitment and continued service of transgender individuals, the Washington Post, citing two U.S. officials, reported that Mattis has recommended continuing to take in transgender recruits and allowing those already in the ranks to remain on duty.
At a Pentagon briefing Feb. 22, 2018, Dana White, Mattis’ top spokesperson, declined to discuss specifics of Mattis’ recommendations but said they were based on his overall vision for improving the “lethality” of the force.
“This is a complex issue, and the Secretary is taking his time to consider the information he’s been given,” White said. “It’s an important issue, and again, he sees all of his decisions through the lens of lethality.”
She said that Mattis “will provide his recommendations to the president this week and the president will announce his decision” on how to proceed.
Mattis was under a Feb. 20, 2018 deadline to send to the White House his recommendations, based on a review by a panel of experts, but White and other Pentagon spokesmen said Mattis’ report had yet to leave the building and would probably be forwarded on Feb. 23, 2018.
At that time, it will be up to the White House whether to discuss or release the recommendations which have taken center stage in the military since Trump caught the Pentagon by surprise July 2017 by sending out a series of Tweets calling for the ban.
Trump said in the Tweets that he wanted the future policy to be that the U.S. “will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military.” In August 2017, he directed Mattis to review the policy and report back to him by Feb. 21, 2018.
Trump said he decided on a ban “after consultation with my Generals and military experts,” citing the “tremendous medical costs and disruption” he believed that retaining transgender individuals would involve.
However, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford appeared to have been blindsided by Trump’s call for a ban.
He quickly issued a directive to the service chiefs telling them to stay with the 2016 policy ordered by former President Barack Obama, which allowed transgender individuals to serve openly, until he had further guidance. Trump then ordered Mattis to conduct the review.
It is unclear what would happen if Trump rejects Mattis’ reported recommendation and continues to press for a ban.
Trump’s initial proposals triggered a series of lawsuits by advocacy groups and four federal district courts have now ruled that a ban would be unconstitutional. The courts also ordered that the recruitment of transgender individuals should resume on Jan. 1 and the military has complied.