The American Legion has stepped in with offers of limited assistance for Coast Guard personnel working without pay should the partial government shutdown continue.
In a statement on Jan. 7, 2019, Legion National Commander Brett Reistad also called on members of Congress to back the “Pay Our Coast Guard Act” introduced by Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota.
The bill would exempt the Coast Guard from the shutdown funding cutoff affecting its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
The proposed exemption would also cover Coast Guard retiree benefits, death gratuities, and other related payouts.
Currently, about 42,000 Coast Guard personnel are working without pay. DHS and the Coast Guard were able to find funding for members’ last paychecks, which went out Dec. 31, 2018. The next paychecks for Coast Guardsmen are due Jan. 15, 2019.
U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class John Cantu, with the Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team mans a mounted machine gun on a 25-foot Response Boat-Small in front of the Washington Monument in Washington.
(DoD photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lisa Ferdinando, U.S. Coast Guard)
Reistad said the Legion backs the Thune bill legislation, “which will guarantee that these heroes who guarantee our safety and security will be paid on time and not miss a single paycheck.”
“Just because a Washington flowchart structures the Coast Guard under Homeland Security does not mean they should not be paid,” he added.
The Legion is prepared to offer financial assistance to some Coast Guardsmen.
“In the event that there is a delay in paying our Coast Guard, I have directed administrators of the American Legion Temporary Financial Assistance program to stand by and quickly administer requests made by active-duty Coast Guard members with children who need help with living expenses,” Reistad said.
However, he noted, “As a nonprofit, the American Legion is not capable of funding the entire Coast Guard payroll.”
The Veterans of Foreign Wars also called Congress to find a way to keep paying Coast Guard personnel.
“Our country needs this Congress and this White House to push through the rhetoric and take care of those who are on the front lines protecting our country,” B.J. Lawrence, VFW national commander, said in a statement. “What the Coast Guard and DHS do daily allows the rest of us to sleep easier at night. No one should ever take that for granted.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
(Editor’s note: We Are The Mighty has no political affiliation. This post is presented solely because of the veteran response in this case.)
Iraq War vet and music journalist Corbin Reiff didn’t take too kindly to Donald Trump’s comments on the campaign trail recently that insinuated that U.S. soldiers stole the money they were supposed to give out for Iraqi reconstruction projects. Reiff took to Twitter with the following burst of tweets, 140 characters per:
Just a small warning, I’m about to go on a bit of a rant.
A reserve aeromedical evacuation crew from the 433rd Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron with the 433rd Airlift Wing, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, was flying to support patient transport missions out of Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland when they came together to save the life of a man suspected of having a heart attack Sept. 19, 2018.
About 45 minutes into the commercial flight from Dallas to Maryland a 74-year-old man sitting next to Staff Sgt. April Hinojos, 433rd AES aeromedical evacuation technician, complained to his wife that he felt faint.
Hinojos heard this and asked the man some questions to gauge how he was feeling. She said the man’s eyelids started to flutter, and he stopped responding. Hinojos immediately got assistance moving him to the floor and evaluating his condition.
“He didn’t have a pulse, so we immediately started (chest) compressions,” said Hinojos.
The man’s wife started yelling for a doctor.
“I had just started the movie and through my headphones I hear someone screaming for help,” said Maj. Carolyn Stateczny, flight nurse.
She said she thought, “Screaming for a doctor means something is going on.”
The pilot came over the intercom, and asked if any medical personnel were on the plane.
The rest of the aeromedical evacuation crew, which was scattered throughout the plane, started working their way to Hinojos and the man.
The flight attendants assisted Stateczny by collecting the plane’s medical supplies for the medical crew. Stateczny then got the automated external defibrillator from the flight attendants and prepared it for use. Capt. Justin Stein, flight nurse, attempted to start the man on intravenous fluids, but was unable, because his blood vessels were constricted due to the suspected heart attack.
Tech. Sgts. Robert Kirk and Edgar Ramirez, both aeromedical evacuation technicians, worked on the man’s airway and provided oxygen. 1st Lt. Laura Maldonado, a flight nurse, assisted the rest of the crew by working with the flight attendants and providing supplies as needed.
At this point, the crew was unsure if the man was going to recover.
“I’ve been a nurse for sixteen years; in my expertise, I thought he was dead,” Stateczny said. “He was completely grayish, his lips were blue, and his eyes had rolled to the back of his head. He was not responding at all. He had no pulse.”
The man’s wife was very distraught throughout the ordeal, so the crew requested that she be moved to the rear of the plane, so they could gather the man’s medical information from her.
Stateczny requested that the plane land so the man could get required medical attention.
After getting the automated external defibrillator pads on the man, Stateczny said he moaned, developed a pulse and started to show signs of recovery. They continued with oxygen and kept trying to start an IV.
“He slowly started arousing,” said Statezcny. “It took some time, and he could tell us his name. He started getting some color, and then asked ‘What’s going on?'” The man thought he had just passed out.
The plane diverted to Little Rock, Arkansas, where emergency medical services were waiting to take over patient care.
The aeromedical evacuation squadron members serve in a variety of careers such as nurses, medical technicians, administrative specialists and more. The 433rd AES is ready to fill the need when events like natural disasters, war or routine medical transportation by air is required. AES crews typically consist of five people, two nurses and three medical technicians. The crew carries with them the necessary equipment to turn any cargo aircraft in the Air Force into a flying ambulance almost instantly.
A bipartisan group of US lawmakers unveiled legislation on Oct. 4 that would overhaul aspects of the National Security Agency’s warrantless internet surveillance program in an effort to install additional privacy protections.
The bill, which will be formally introduced as soon as Oct. 5, is likely to revive debate in Washington over the balance between security and privacy, amid concerns among some lawmakers in both parties that the US government may be too eager to spy on its own citizens.
The legislation, written by the House Judiciary Committee, is seen by civil liberties groups as the best chance in Congress to reform the law, known as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, before its expiration on December 31.
Senior US intelligence officials consider Section 702 to be among the most vital tools they have to thwart threats to national security and American allies.
It allows US intelligence agencies to eavesdrop on and store vast amounts of digital communications from foreign suspects living outside the United States.
But the program, classified details of which were exposed in 2013 by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, also incidentally scoops up communications of Americans, including those with targets living overseas. Those communications can then be subject to searches without a warrant by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
A discussion draft of the legislation, a copy of which was seen by Reuters, partially restricts the FBI’s ability to access American data collected under Section 702 by requiring the agency to obtain a warrant when seeking evidence of a crime.
That limit would not apply, however, to requests of data that involve counterterrorism or counterespionage.
The narrower restriction on what some have called a “backdoor search loophole” has disappointed some civil liberties groups. Several organizations sent a letter this week saying they would not support legislation that did not require a warrant for all queries of American data collected under Section 702.
Renewal for six years
The legislation would also renew the program for six years and codify the National Security Agency’s decision earlier this year to halt the collection of communications that merely mentioned a foreign intelligence target. But that codification would end in six years as well, meaning NSA could potentially resume the activity in 2023.
The spy agency has said it lost some operational capability by ending so-called “about” collection due to privacy compliance issues and has lobbied against a law that would make its termination permanent.
Republican senators introduced a bill earlier this year to renew Section 702 without changes and make it permanent, a position backed by the White House and intelligence agencies.
But that effort is expected to face major resistance in the House, where an influential conservative bloc of Republicans earlier this year said it opposed renewal unless major changes were made, reflecting disagreement within the majority party.
Separately, Senators John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican in the chamber, and Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California are working on Section 702 legislation that may also be introduced this week and include fewer reforms.
Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon and Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky are also planning to introduce a bill that would require a warrant for any query of Section 702 involving data belonging to an American.
Whether you’re an avid leave-at-three-in-the-morning-and-stand-outside-Walmart-for-hours kind of shopper or more of the hell-no-I’m-not-leaving-my-couch kind, save your money on Black Friday and spend it all the next day: Small Business Saturday. Specifically, spend your money with these 6 veteran-owned businesses for everyone on your holiday shopping list:
Blue Angel not only has awesome coffee, but their merch is some of the best around. Who doesn’t need a mug that says “Coffee because crack is bad for you,” or “Death before decaf,” among other hilarious quips?
We know you love ‘Merica more than anyone and most of the people in your life do too. Nothing says pride like hanging The Lower 48 in Alder on your wall for all to see. Beautifully handmade by Dark Horse Wood, this gorgeous craftsmanship is a gift that will keep on giving.
Rumi Spice Blend Gift Box
For the cook:
The best kind of presents are ones that you can feel good about gifting. Rumi Spice was founded by veterans to connect Afghan farmers with the global food market to lay down a foundation for peace, one flower at a time. “Spice for good” sounds like something we can get behind—and that we can use as stocking stuffers. With Afghan saffron, wild black cumin and spice blends, the artisan chef in your family will appreciate not just the spices, but the meaning behind them as well.
Have that buddy you love to make fun of? Buy him this t-shirt from Military Muscle that has a box of crayons on it labeled USMC MRE (you’re welcome). Plus, you can feel good about it. For every t-shirt purchased, Military Muscle donates one to either someone deployed or a homeless vet.
If you’re looking for a smooth, tasty bourbon, look no further than Leadslingers to make your holiday spirits bright. With a light bourbon flavor born from its single barrel aging process, it’s double distilled and handcrafted in Moore, Oklahoma. It’s got top shelf flavor without the hefty price tag. It “melds sophistication and down home flavors, delivering hints of oak, toffee and vanilla; it’s sure to satisfy even the most distinguishing taster.”
September 11, 2001 means different things for different Americans. For some, the events of that date will forever be seared in their memories. For others, they were too young to know what was going on, yet they sensed something big had happened. For a younger generation, 9/11 is history. They read about it in textbooks that are absent the feelings of fear, anxiety, and stress that plagued so many Americans on that morning and the days following.
But, it’s an important date. It’s a date that represents sacrifice. Many people died, putting the lives of others before theirs. It’s a date that represents unity. Americans came together to offer up support to the families of the fallen. It also represents mistakes. Following the events of 9/11, Muslims and Middle-Eastern Americans had to weather the racial blowback that came from 19 men flying planes into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.
What’s important is that we remember. And that our kids know what happened that day, so the sacrifices, the story of Americans coming together, as well as the mistakes we made are not forgotten. And a great way to share memories is through stories. In her debut middle-school novel, Caroline Brooks DuBois gives us The Places We Sleep. It’s a story about a young girl navigating a new school (because her dad is in the Army) during the events of September 11, 2001. I recently interviewed Caroline to learn more about her book.
WATM: This novel touches on so many different themes: 9/11, racism, being a military kid, being a middle schooler, and being a young girl in middle school. Could you talk a little bit about the story you tell in The Places We Sleep?
Caroline: With Abbey, I attempted to create a middle school character who is as multifaceted as the pre-teens and teens I know and teach (and adore). Middle schoolers currently are living through very complex times, yet they are still concerned about their complexion, their hair, what to wear, who said what to whom, getting embarrassed in front of their peers, and so much more. In the story, Abbey navigates challenging world events along with the struggles of middle school and adolescence. Currently, teens and children are facing their own difficult world events, so I hope readers will see how Abbey perseveres and strives to be a good friend, to be kind, and to express empathy and tolerance to others.
Although I did not grow up in a military family, both of my grandfathers served in the military, as well as both of my brothers, my brother-in-law, and my sister-in-law. In the years that followed 9/11, my brothers and my brother-in-law were all called into active duty and deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. These events were the seed for Abbey’s story. I knew I wanted to write about how world events have rippling effects on individuals and families in unexpected ways. But I also wanted to tell a story about a girl with whom readers could relate. Abbey’s story is about being a military child, but it’s also about identity, loss and grief, creating art in the face of tragedy, and friendship.
WATM: Who should pick this book up? Is this a book a parent could read with their middle schooler to talk about 9/11?
Caroline: Middle grade students I’ve taught have had only a fuzzy understanding of the events of 9/11 and are curious and want to know more. There are several great books for young readers on 9/11 that I’ve incorporated into my teaching over the years, as I’ve found reading stories offers an opening to difficult subjects. I hope The Places We Sleep will spark curiosity in young readers about 9/11 and the monumental lessons we learned and are still learning from that tragedy.
Although the story is written for middle-school age kids, adults have told me the story resonates with them as well. It allows readers to visit, or revisit, 9/11 in the safe space of a story. The current national trauma of the Coronavirus pandemic may have a similar traumatic impact on youth and adults. Reading with a child about a dark time in our history is one way to open up conversation on important topics such as resiliency, strength, attitude, and hope. My hope is that the book will leave readers with a memorable story about a girl who may not be all that different from themselves. If they see Abbey journey through difficult times and come out stronger, they too may be inspired and optimistic in the face of their generation’s own difficult times.
WATM: You chose to tell the story in Verse. Could you talk about that decision and why you think it will appeal to readers?
Caroline: As a teacher and parent, I’ve noticed the appeal of shorter and/or alternative forms of story-telling (e.g., books in verse, flash fiction, graphic novels, epistolaries, etc.), undoubtedly influenced by technology and reading online. Even though I have a love for long form and traditional novels, I’ve noticed how books in verse can create more white space between scenes as well as playful or dramatic visual messages with syntax, punctuation, and form, which can motivate or hook adolescent readers.
Abbey’s story came to me naturally in poetry, perhaps as a lyrical way to process 9/11 and my brothers’ deployment, but also likely because I’d recently completed my MFA in poetry. The snapshots or scenes that poems allow you to write provided me with the perfect medium for Abbey’s story.
Books in verse make great shared read-aloud opportunities. You’re never too old to be read to or to enjoy reading aloud to someone else. Where you may not have time to read an entire chapter with someone, there’s always time for a poem or two.
WATM: On top of all the other crazy events in the book, Abbey also deals with the struggle of puberty. A lot of middle school books gloss over this. But, it’s a main part of Abbey’s story. Could you discuss why you chose to address it in your novel?
Caroline: When I was a pre-teen, one of the few sources for making sense of puberty was Judy Blume novels, which we passed covertly between friends (Think: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and Then Again, Maybe I Won’t). Changing bodies were cringe-worthy and carried heavy feelings of shame. Not enough has changed since then. I should know: I taught 7th grade for three years recently, and I saw it when girls cornered me at my desk to signal with their eyes they needed an emergency bathroom break, or when boys shut down in class conversations, avoiding branding themselves as not part of the pack. Novels that talk about puberty openly and other difficult issues are lifesavers for youth. Now more than ever, young readers need to be able to see themselves in books. Sometimes it takes a character in a book to show a reader they are not alone. Forewarning, my second reason is a little cerebral and a slight spoiler regarding Abbey’s character arc. Through her journey, Abbey makes a connection between coming of age (a.k.a, getting her period) and possessing the power to create life. She contemplates how the terrorists on 9/11 chose to destroy life. Coming of age brings with it many choices about how to act, and sometimes acting with integrity and authenticity means not following your peers—and that’s a true test of character.
WATM: Outside of classical literature, this is the first time I’ve ever read a novel in verse. Since you got your MFA in poetry, what are some of the must-reads in this genre?
Caroline: In this space, I’ll mainly mention notable middle-grade novelists who write in verse, but there are also numerous young adult novelists who write in verse as well. Disclaimer: These are a few of my own personal favorites and there are many others not included: Kwame Alexander (sports-themed Crossover and Booked), Sharon Creech (Love that Dog and Hate that Cat), Thanhha Lai (Inside Out Back Again), and Jacqueline Woodson (Brown Girl Dreaming). Additionally, Ellen Hopkins is a must-read author of books in verse for young adults; she tackles challenging topics such as drug addiction and mental illness in her unapologetic, in-your-face verse. One of my all-time favorite novels in verse is Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse, which tells the story of 14-year-old Billie Jo, who struggles to help her family survive the Dust Bowl.
Servicemembers can make some pretty nice bank if they move their stuff to their first duty station themselves. Since the military pays you for moving all your gear based on its poundage, many newbies spend tons of time trying to tack on everything they own — but often fail to plan a proper route.
4. Drink yourself broke
Since we can’t drink alcohol during basic training, we tend to make up for lost time and gulp down as much as we can during our first weekend of liberty. E-1s aren’t millionaires, but you’d never know it by the number of beer cans and vodka bottles they go through.
That’s cool and all… but that’s a 12 dollar beer.
3. Thinking boot camp made you an amazing fighter
We understand that boot camp does teach recruits certain levels of self-defense and ground fighting. This training doesn’t make you a black belt, so be careful not to pick a fight with someone who actually has a black belt after drinking a few pitchers of liquid courage.
It seems like boots walk around with this huge invisible sign hanging around their necks that tell salespeople you’re new to the military.
They also know that you get a guaranteed paycheck every few weeks. So, they’ll convince you that you need their expensive products with no money down — they tend to leave out info about the massive APR.
With the news that Army Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster has been chosen to serve as National Security Advisor to President Donald Trump, this marks the fourth time an active-duty military officer has filled this position.
Here is a look at the previous three.
1. Air Force Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft
Brent Scowcroft was active-duty for less than a month while serving as National Security Advisor to President Gerald Ford, taking the job on Nov. 3, 1975, and retiring on Dec. 1, 1975. Still, he is technically the first active-duty military officer to serve in this position.
Scowcroft served for the remainder of the Ford administration, then was tapped to serve as National Security Advisor for a second stint under George H. W. Bush – holding that post for the entirety of that presidency. During his second run as NSA, Scowcroft’s tenure saw the fall of the Berlin Wall, Operation Desert Storm, and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
2. Navy Vice Adm. John M. Poindexter
Perhaps the most notorious active-duty officer to hold the position due to his involvement in the Iran-Contra affair, Poindexter was National Security Advisor to President Ronald Reagan during the 1986 Freedom of Navigation exercises in the Gulf of Sidra that turned violent, Operation El Dorado Canyon, and the Reykjavik Summit in October, 1986.
Poindexter was initially convicted on five charges connected with Iran-Contra, but the convictions were tossed out on appeal. In 1987, he retired at the rank of Rear Admiral (Upper Half).
3. Army Lt. Gen. Colin L. Powell
Probably the most notable active-duty officer to serve in the post, Colin Powell served as National Security Advisor from November 1987 to the end of Ronald Reagan’s second term. While he was in that position, the U.S. and Iran had a series of clashes culminating in Operation Praying Mantis and the downing of an Iranian Airbus by the guided-missile cruiser USS Vincennes (CG 49).
After his tenure as National Security Advisor, Powell went on to serve as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – then was Secretary of State during George W. Bush’s first term as president.
As a note for the fashion-watchers, while all three predecessors wore suits, We Are The Mighty has learned from a source close to senior Trump staffers that incoming Nationals Security Advisor McMaster has been given the option to wear his uniform while holding the post.
A spokesperson for Scowcroft noted, “It is not against the law but it is not usually done.”
Neither Powell nor the White House Press Office responded to a WATM request for comment by post time.
United States special operators needed a custom, remotely-controlled vehicle, one that had mapping abilities, infrared sensors, and the ability to send a video live feed back to a waiting vehicle. The defense industry told the operators it would take at least 10 months and cost $1.7 million.
That wasn’t going to cut it. So a group of operators decided to do it themselves. You can probably imagine what a group of people who get the U.S. military’s dirtiest jobs can do when pressed.
So can a lot of people, most of whom are dead now.
It took the U.S. military’s best-trained troops just four days and ,000 to do what the military-industrial complex said would take nearly a year. The industry’s proposal was “unresponsive,” according to Gen. Richard Clarke, the new head of Special Operations Command said on May 19, 2019. Rather than give up the mission because of big defense’s proposed waste of time and money, the operators put their thinking caps on.
They “took stock of their own in-house skills and commercially available equipment and they filled their own system that fulfilled the requirement,” Clarke said. The General went on to describe how this wasn’t the military’s first DIY defense project – and it likely won’t be the last.
Because improvising in tough situations is kinda what they’re known for.
“The nature of industry and SOF collaboration is changing as our personnel learn and adapt to new technological possibilities,” he said. “They are establishing their own garage labs, frequently well forward in the operating environment to develop solutions to technical and tactical problems they’re facing.”
Today, Bell is a company known for its UH-1 Iroquois and AH-1 Cobra helicopters, but Bell was once much more than a helicopter company. The corporation built front-line fighters during World War II and was also responsible for making America’s first jet fighter.
The P-59 Airacomet was never much more than a flying testbed. It had an armament that consisted of three M2 .50-caliber machine guns and a single 37mm cannon — the latter being a common feature in Bell’s primary propeller-driven fighters, the P-39 Airacobra and the P-63 Kingcobra. The P-59 was also able to haul a fair load for air-to-ground ass-kicking, in the form of either two 1,000-pound bombs or eight 60-pound rockets.
The P-59, however, would make its greatest impact without ever firing a shot at the enemy.
By the early 1940s, both the Germans and the British were pursuing jet technology, having flown experimental jets before. According to aviation historian Joe Baugher, General Henry Arnold saw England’s E-28/39 jet in 1941 and asked if the Americans could use the then-groundbreaking technology. The British gladly handed it over, and General Electric was given the task of building the engine.
While Bell is known for its helicopters today, during World War II, they built fighters.
Bell, which was located next to GE’s jet engine plant, then got the contract to build the jet fighter around the new engine. The process was kept very secret — a “black project.” The project was dubbed XP-59, a designation recycled from an older Bell design for a propeller-driven fighter that had a “pusher” arrangement. That design was modified to carry two J31 turbojet engines.
In addition to the three .50-caliber machine guns and the 37mm cannon, the Airacomet carried eight 60-pound rockets or two 1,000-pound bombs.
The Airacomet never made it to the front lines. Despite being technologically advanced, it just didn’t have the performance needed to join the fight. The two jets were heavy and while it had a top speed of 413 miles per hour, its range was very short. On internal fuel alone, the P-59 only could go 240 miles. External tanks more than doubled its range (carrying it up to 520 miles), but a P-51 Mustang could go as far as 2,300 miles.
The pilots who flew the P-59 didn’t see combat, but did learn lessons that paid off for pilots of more advanced jets down the road.
The P-59, despite never seeing combat, was very valuable for the United States. It taught pilots how to fly jets — and this experience that would pay off big time when more practical aircraft emerged for the United States Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force.
Learn more about this jet-powered pioneer the video below!
The way the leader of tightly controlled Turkmenistan sees it, there’s an ancient remedy for warding off the coronavirus: burning a wild herb known as hamala.
Belarus’s authoritarian president had similarly folksy advice for cabinet ministers and his fellow countrymen: go out and work in the fields. And ride a tractor.
Global leaders and medical experts are struggling to contain the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide, imposing quarantines, shutting down borders, mandating mask use, and bolstering the capabilities of infectious disease-fighting medical workers. Scientists, meanwhile, are rushing to find a vaccine and a cure for the disease that has killed more than 7,500 people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Many officials are also struggling to prevent the spread of half-truths, misinformation, and unscientific remedies — something that is even harder in the era of social media and instantaneous communication — and even propaganda.
The coronavirus “outbreak and response has been accompanied by a massive ‘infodemic’ — an over-abundance of information – some accurate and some not – that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it,” the WHO said in a report issued in early February.
Garlic, vitamin C, steroids, essential oils? Despite what you might read on Facebook or VK, the Russian social network, there’s no scientific evidence any of these things will combat the coronavirus.
With a view to highlighting the problem of misinformation, and nudging people toward reliable, authoritative sources, here’s a look at some of the more outlandish remedies that some leaders have – wrongly – suggested would help fight the coronavirus.
In Turkmenistan, one of the most oppressive societies in the world, the country has been ruled for years by authoritarian leaders with a penchant for quixotic quirks and health recommendations.
Before his death in 2006, Saparmurat Niyazov, who called himself the Father Of All Turkmen, routinely dispensed spiritual guidance, not to mention public-health advice, to the country, messaging that was widely disseminated by state TV and newspapers. In 2005, the country’s physicians were ordered to spurn the Hippocratic Oath — the ancient pledge used worldwide by medical workers — and instead swear an oath to Niyazov, an electrical engineer by training.
His successor, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, is a dentist by training. But that hasn’t stopped him from building a personality cult similar to Niyazov’s — or from offering unfounded medical advice, most recently on March 13, when he chaired a cabinet meeting to discuss the looming dangers of the coronavirus.
“Over the millennia, our ancestors have developed proven national methods of combating addictions and preventing various infectious diseases,” he said.
He went on to suggest that burning an herb known as hamala, or wild rue, would destroy viruses “that are invisible to the naked eye.”
In fact, this is not true.
In December, Turkmen state TV featured a program discussing veterinary remedies for farmers coping with an outbreak of disease among cattle. Among the remedies being offered were those featured in a book authored by Berdymukhammedov.
A year earlier, the Health Ministry offered medical advice to Turkmen dealing with summer respiratory ailments. Among the tips: “use medicinal teas scientifically described in the book of … Berdymukhammedov’s Plants of Turkmenistan.”
As of March 18, Turkmenistan had reported no confirmed cases of infection.
Reap What You Sow
Over more than two decades of ruling Belarus, Alyaksandr Lukashenka has also routinely dispensed folksy wisdom to his countrymen.
Prior to the presidency, Lukashenka headed a Soviet-style collective farm operation, which is where he has drawn his suggestions and medicinal folklore from in the past.
On March 16, he hosted a meeting of cabinet officials in Minsk, where he sought to head off mounting concerns about the coronavirus in the country. As of March 17, it had 17 confirmed cases.
At the meeting, which was televised on state TV, he told officials “we have lived through other viruses. We’ll live through this one,” he said.
“You just have to work, especially now, in a village,” Lukashenka said. “In the countryside, people are working in the fields, on tractors, no one is talking about the virus.”
“There, the tractor will heal everyone. The fields heal everyone,” he said.
Lukashenka wished his ministers good health and offered this other piece of health advice: Go have a good sweat in a dry sauna; the coronavirus, according to Lukashenka, dies at 60 degrees Celsius.
In fact, there’s no evidence that tractors, saunas, or fieldwork have any effect on the coronavirus.
As of March 18, Serbia had 83 confirmed cases of the virus.
Three weeks prior, as officials across the world were beginning to take concerns about the coronavirus’s spread seriously, President Aleksandar Vucic met with health specialists to discuss the measures being taken by his government.
He joked that alcohol — ingested — might very well be a useful salve.
“After they told me — and now I see that Americans insist it’s true — that the coronavirus doesn’t grow wherever you put alcohol, I’ve now found myself an additional reason to drink one glass a day,” he said. “But it has nothing to do with that alcohol [liquor], I just made that up for you to know.”
It didn’t help matters that, earlier on, Vucic’s foreign minister, had gone on Serbian TV to suggest that the virus was a foreign plot targeting the Chinese economy.
Belarus’s Lukashenka, meanwhile, echoed Vucic’s quip about vodka himself earlier this week.
“I’m a nondrinker, but recently I’ve been jokingly saying that you should not only wash your hands with vodka, but that probably 40-50 grams of pure alcohol will poison this virus,” Lukashenka said.
In fact, drinking alcohol does not prevent or cure the coronavirus, or any other virus inside the body. Alcohol can, in fact, help kill germs and viruses externally, but washing your hands with vodka will not.
Holy Water, Holy Virus
While political leaders have been confusing people with unhelpful medicinal folklore, they aren’t the only leaders to do so.
Some clerics in a number of Orthodox countries — Russia included — have spurned medical guidance that has warned the coronavirus can be transmitted via close physical contact, or bodily fluids, such as droplets in the air, or saliva on utensils.
Metropolitan Ilarion, a top official in the Russian Orthodox Church, told state media that the church will not be closing parishes for services during the period leading up to Easter, which is to be celebrated on April 19.
Ilarion also told Rossia-24 TV that church leaders do not believe that any “virus or disease can be transmitted through communion” — the religious rite of eating bread and sipping wine during a church service.
Still, he indicated that the church would consider changes to things like the use of a communion spoon, used to give blessed wine to parishioners.
“But if it comes to bans or recommendations that we are obliged to follow, then in some cases single-use [disposable] spoons will be used,” he said.
On March 17, he went further.
“This does not mean that the church underestimates the threat. If the virus spreads and the number of infected grows, if new orders from the authorities appear regarding the fight against the coronavirus, the church will respond to them,” he was quoted as telling Rossiiskaya Gazeta.
He said church leaders were taking other unusual steps, including the use of disposable cups, disposable rubber gloves, and a suspension of the practice of kissing the cross or religious icons — a common practice in Orthodox tradition.
Two days earlier, however, at least one Orthodox parish, in the Volga River city of Kazan, was using a reusable “holy spoon” to administer communion wine.
As of March 18, Russia had 114 confirmed cases.
Meanwhile, in Georgia (38 confirmed cases), Orthodox priests were reportedly continuing to use a common spoon to ladle communion into the drinking cups of worshippers who chose that option. And the Greek Orthodox Church also echoed Ilarion’s unfounded insistence that viruses could not spread via Communion.
Other Georgian Orthodox priests, meanwhile, took to the roads this week to try and curtail, or cure, the coronavirus, driving around Tbilisi sprinkling holy water on cars and drivers alike.
Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of profiles of incredible female veterans that WATM will be presenting in concert with Women’s History Month.
Young Amy Forsythe was champing at the bit to get into the military and continue her family’s tradition of military service. Her grandfather had been a Marine and her grandmother had been an Army nurse, and the two of them met while serving in on the Pacific island of Saipan during World War II.
To please her parents, Forsythe attended junior college for a few years, but she couldn’t suppress her desire to serve. She enlisted in the Marines in 1993 as a combat correspondent and spent her first year as a radio broadcaster stationed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
“I ended up serving about eight years on active duty in the Marine Corps and then I went into the reserves before 9/11,” she explained. “After the attacks, it was inevitable that I would be mobilized.”
She deployed to Kabul, Afghanistan as a public affairs chief with an Army Civil Affairs Task Force in 2002 and 2003, the period when insurgent IED attacks were just starting to heat up. In 2006, she deployed with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force to Al Anbar province, Iraq.
During the 2006 deployment in Fallujah, things started to really heat up,” Forsythe remembers. “We had a lot of close calls — rocket attacks, mortars — we were moving this huge satellite dish around Ramadi and Fallujah trying to avoid heavy engagements. My boss was also a female Marine, Major Megan McClung, and she was killed in Ramadi, which gives you the sense of what was happening.”
Forsythe saw a lot of women serving in combat zones and fighting alongside their male counterparts, regardless of billet or MOS.
“Women in combat isn’t anything new,” she says. “In the Marines, every Marine is a rifleman at the basic level. During Desert Storm, people said Americans weren’t ready for women to come home in body bags, but every person in a forward deployed area is susceptible to injury or death. Women serve and take just as much risk as men. If women can meet the standards, then everyone else can adjust.”
In 2006, Forsythe and her teammate, then-Cpl. Lynn Murillo took a lot of risks shuttling a satellite dish around Anbar Province, connecting Iraqi military and civic leaders with the pan-Arab media for the first time during the Iraq War. Since much of the success of the American mission in Iraq depended on controlling information, it was a critical mission.
She and Murillo spent most of their time out with Marines on foot patrols covering the Iraqi army training and connecting service members with hometown news stations and national news outlets. After a year in Anbar, she redeployed but was right back there a year later, astonished at the changes in the area.
“I couldn’t believe how things changed in Haditah and Ramadi,” she recalls. “There were still attacks to the base and personnel, but it was amazing to see the improvements to the infrastructure, roads, schools, etc. In 2006, the insurgency was at its worst and out of control. By 2008, Anbar Province was seeing security improvements and new construction underway.”
Her 22-year career spans changes for the U.S. military and for the women who serve. “I’ve seen so many changes through the years, but the wars helped prove women are willing to shoulder the burden of serving in combat zones. After her two tours in Iraq, she returned to Afghanistan in 2012 and also served with U.S. Africa Command based in Stuttgart, Germany, in 2014.
Of all her assignments and risks, one the most harrowing events of her career occurred when she was on temporary duty assigned to the public affairs office at the Washington Navy Yard in September 2013.
“It started like any other ordinary day, until the Navy Yard Shooter put us in lockdown mode,” Forsythe remembers. Our office was next to Building 174, the scene of a mass-shooting incident. “It was surreal, tragic and beyond belief. After surviving four combat tours, there we were in Washington, D.C., losing all those people.”
After her first three combat tours, Forsythe accomplished what she set out to do in the military. Serving about 18 years in the Marines on both active duty and in the reserves, Forsythe was looking forward to retiring from the reserves until the Marine colonel for whom she worked encouraged her to apply for the Navy’s Direct Commission Officer program.
“I didn’t know this program existed,” Forsythe says. “But accepting a commission with the Navy is a continuation of my desire to serve. When you go from enlisted to officer, you can look forward to a 35 or 40-year career and retire at age 60.”
Her education and experience as a military journalist allowed her land a job as a reporter and occasional anchor for a local television station. And these days, when not activated, she runs a media company in the San Diego area.
“I love seeing veterans transition out of the military and end up owning their own businesses,” says Forsythe. “It’s so encouraging to see vetreprenuers who have certain skill sets and want to own their own business. Putting a dollar price on your services isn’t easy. It’s hard to determine your own value because you don’t want to under-sell yourself.”
She doesn’t consider herself special, but makes it a point to inform anyone, especially female service members, that anything is possible if you are aware of your own potential.
“I would tell other female service members and veterans to be curious. Be creative. Be confident. In other words, keep learning and seeking knowledge, use creative problem-solving techniques and believe in yourself.”
Serving as enlisted and as an officer, on active duty and in the reserves, in both the Marines and the Navy, Forsythe encourages others to seek opportunities in the reserves.
“It’s been a struggle to balance a civilian career,” she says. “But it’s like having the best of both worlds. Cutting ties with the military too abruptly can cause regret for some service members. Plus, the extra monthly pay and camaraderie with other ‘weekend warriors’ is a great way to stay connected with others who have similar experiences.”
“I’m sure they’ll have to pry the uniform out of my hands when that retirement day comes,” says Forsythe. “But I will always advocate for veterans. The service has been such a part of my life, I will continue to serve in uniform for as long as I can.”
The Greek tragedian Aeschylus famously wrote: “In war, truth is the first casualty.”
Well, in this new era of so-called “hybrid” or “gray zone” warfare, truth is not only a casualty of war — it has also become the weapon of choice for some of America’s contemporary adversaries.
Recent “deepfake” videos of the actor Tom Cruise illustrate the power of the new technological tools now available to foreign adversaries who wish to manipulate the American people with online disinformation. The three videos, which appear on the social media platform TikTok under the handle @deeptomcruise, are striking in their realism. To the naked eye of the casual observer, it’s difficult to discern the videos as fakes.
Equally as stunning is an artificial intelligence tool called Deep Nostalgia, which animates static, vintage images — including those of deceased relatives. Together, these technological leaps harken back to the famous line by the writer George Orwell: “Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.”
The technology now exists for America’s foreign adversaries, or other malign actors, to challenge citizens’ understanding of their present reality, as well as the past. Coupled with the historic loss in confidence among Americans for their country’s journalistic institutions, as well as our addiction to social media, the conditions are certainly ripe for deepfake disinformation to become a serious national security threat — or a catalyst for nihilistic chaos.
“The internet is a machine, but cyberspace is in our minds. As both expand and evolve faster than we can defend them, the ultimate target — our brains — is closer every day,” Kenneth Geers, a Cyber Statecraft Initiative senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, told Coffee or Die Magazine.
According to a September Gallup Poll, only 9% of Americans said they have “a great deal” of trust in the media to report the news “fully, accurately, and fairly.” On the other hand, when it comes to trusting the media, six out of 10 Americans, on average, responded that they had “not very much” trust or “none at all.” Those findings marked a significant decline in Americans’ trust for the media since polling on the topic began in 1972, Gallup reported.
“Americans’ confidence in the media to report the news fairly, accurately and fully has been persistently low for over a decade and shows no signs of improving,” Gallup reported.
That pervasive distrust in the media leads to increased political polarization and is bad for America’s democratic health, many experts say. Americans’ loss of trust in the media could also portend a national security crisis — especially as contemporary adversaries such as Russia and China increasingly turn to online disinformation campaigns to exacerbate America’s societal divisions.
In fact, Russia already used deepfake technology in its disinformation campaign to influence the 2020 US election, said Scott Jasper, author of the book, Russian Cyber Operations: Coding the Boundaries of Conflict. In advance of the election, Russian cybercriminals working for the Internet Research Agency created a fake news website called “Peace Data,” which featured an entirely fictitious staff of editors and writers, multiple news agencies reported.
“Their profile pictures were deepfakes generated by artificial intelligence,” Jasper told Coffee or Die Magazine. “The fake personas contacted real journalists to write contentious stories that might divide Democratic voters.”
A Soviet doctrine called “deep battle” supported front-line military operations with clandestine actions meant to spread chaos and confusion within the enemy’s territory. Similarly, modern Russia has turned to cyberattacks, social media, and weaponized propaganda to weaken its adversaries from within. According to an August State Department report, Russia uses its “disinformation and propaganda ecosystem” to exploit “information as a weapon.”
“[Russia] invests massively in its propaganda channels, its intelligence services and its proxies to conduct malicious cyber activity to support their disinformation efforts, and it leverages outlets that masquerade as news sites or research institutions to spread these false and misleading narratives,” wrote the authors of the State Department report, Pillars of Russia’s Disinformation and Propaganda Ecosystem.
Some experts contend that the cyber domain has become the proverbial “soft underbelly” of America’s democracy. In the past, America’s journalistic institutions served as gatekeepers, shielding the American people from foreign disinformation or propaganda. However, due to the advent of social media and the internet, America’s adversaries now enjoy direct access into American citizens’ minds. Consequently, the ability to manufacture video content indistinguishable from reality is an exponential force multiplier for adversaries intent on manipulating the American people.
The emerging deepfake threat spurred the Senate in 2019 to pass a bill mandating that the Department of Homeland Security provide lawmakers an annual report on advancements in “digital content forgery technology,” which might pose a threat to national security.
According to the Deepfake Report Act of 2019: “Digital content forgery is the use of emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques, to fabricate or manipulate audio, visual, or text content with the intent to mislead.”
The advancement of deepfake technology has been meteoric. Just a couple of years ago, the casual observer would have been able to rather easily tell the difference between genuine humans and their computer-generated, deepfake doppelgangers. Not anymore. Much like the advent of nuclear weapons, the Pandora’s box of deepfake technology has officially been opened and is now impossible to un-invent.
The potential dangers of this technological leap are practically boundless.
Criminals could conceivably concoct videos that offer an alibi at the time of their alleged crimes. Countries could fabricate videos of false flag military aggressions as a means to justify starting a war. Foreign adversaries could generate fake videos of police brutality, or of racially charged acts of violence, as a means to further divide American society.
“I think it’s a safe assumption that video manipulation is a key short-term weapon in the arsenal of less reputable political-military organizations needing to shape some opinions before the contents can be disputed,” Gregory Ness, a Silicon Valley cybersecurity expert, told Coffee or Die Magazine.
There are certain commercially available artificial intelligence, or AI, tools already available to detect deepfake videos with a fidelity surpassing that of the human observer. Microsoft, for example, has already developed an AI algorithm for detecting deepfakes.
Some cybersecurity experts are calling on social media platforms to integrate these deepfake detection algorithms on their sites to alert users to phony videos. For his part, Geers, the Atlantic Council senior fellow, was skeptical that social media companies would step up on their own initiative and police for deepfake content.
“Social media profits from our negativity, vulnerability, and stupidity,” Geers said. “Why would they stop?”
The overarching intent of disinformation campaigns — particularly those prosecuted by Moscow — is not always to dupe Americans into believing a false reality. Rather, the real goal may be to challenge their belief in the existence of any objective truths. In short: The more distrustful Americans become of the media, the more likely they are to believe information based on its emotional resonance with their preconceived biases. The end goal is chaos, not brainwashing.
“If we are unable to detect fake videos, we may soon be forced to distrust everything we see and hear, critics warn,” the cybersecurity news site CSO reported. “The internet now mediates every aspect of our lives, and an inability to trust anything we see could lead to an ‘end of truth.’ This threatens not only faith in our political system, but, over the longer term, our faith in what is shared objective reality.”
Some experts say the US government should get involved, perhaps by leveraging the power of the Department of Defense, to patrol the cyber domain for deepfake videos being spread by foreign adversaries. The Pentagon, for its part, has already been called in to defend America’s elections against online disinformation.
In the wake of Russia’s attack on the 2016 presidential election, the Department of Defense partially shouldered the responsibility of defending against foreign attacks on America’s elections. By that measure, it’s certainly within the bounds of national security priorities for Washington to leverage the US military’s resources to root out and take down deepfake videos.
“Governments will inevitably step in, but what we really need is for democracies to step up and create innovative policies based on freedom of expression and the rule of law,” Geers said.