Asked on Thursday by Rep. Tim Ryan of the House Appropriations Committee to explain why the US doesn’t just go to war to stop North Korea from developing the capability to hit the US, Secretary of Defense James Mattis painted a grim scenario.
“I would suggest that we will win,” Mattis said. “It will be a war more serious in terms of human suffering than anything we’ve seen since 1953.
“It will involve the massive shelling of an ally’s capital, which is one of the most densely packed cities on earth,” Mattis said of Seoul, South Korea, which boasts a metro-area population of 25 million.
North Korea recently launched one of the nation’s largest military exercises, displaying a deadly barrage of artillery. (Photo from North Korean news service)
“It would be a war that fundamentally we don’t want,” Mattis said, but “we would win at great cost.”
Mattis explained that because the threat from North Korea loomed so large and a military confrontation would destroy so much, he, President Donald Trump, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had all made a peaceful solution a top priority.
Mattis said the topic of North Korea dominated Trump’s meeting in April with President Xi Jinping of China, North Korea’s only ally, and that the US intended to make China understand that “North Korea today is a strategic burden, not a strategic asset.”
China argues it has limited influence on Pyongyang, but as one expert explained, Beijing could at any moment cripple North Korea through trade means, forcing it to come to the negotiating table.
Mattis made clear that the US was nearing the end of its rope in dealing with North Korea, saying: “We’re exhausting all possible diplomatic efforts in this regard.”
North Korea recently taunted Trump by saying it was capable of hitting New York with a nuclear missile, but Mattis said a war today would hurt our Asian allies.
“It would be a serious, a catastrophic war, especially for innocent people in some of our allied countries, to include Japan most likely,” Mattis said.
The U.S. Army will soon launch a redesign of Basic Combat Training intended to build more discipline after many commanders complained that new soldiers often show up to their first units with a sloppy appearance and undisciplined attitudes.
By early summer, new recruits will go through Army BCT that’s designed to instill strict discipline and esprit de corps by placing a new emphasis in drill and ceremony, inspections, pride in military history while increasing the focus on critical training such as physical fitness, marksmanship, communications, and battlefield first aid skills.
The program will also feature three new field training exercises that place a greater emphasis on forcing recruits to demonstrate Warrior Tasks and Battle Drills, the list of key skills all soldiers are taught to survive in combat.
The new program of instruction is the result of surveys taken from thousands of leaders who have observed a trend of new soldiers fresh out of training displaying a lack of obedience and poor work ethic as well as being careless with equipment, uniform, and appearance, Maj. Gen. Malcolm Frost, commanding general of the U.S. Army Center of Initial Military Training, told defense reporters on Feb. 9.
‘A sense of entitlement’
“What leaders have observed in general is they believe that there is too much of a sense of entitlement, questioning of lawful orders, not listening to instruction, too much of a buddy mentality with NCOs and officers, and a lot of tardiness being late to formation and duties,” Frost said. “These are trends that they see as increasing that they think are part of the discipline aspect that is missing and that they would like to see in the trainees that become soldiers that come to them as their first unit of assignment.”
As commanding general of IET, Frost was tasked with increasing the quality of training and reducing new soldier attrition.
After compiling the data from surveys of about 27,000 commissioned officers, warrant officers, and non-commissioned officers, the message was very clear, Frost said.
“The number-one thing that was asked for five-fold or five times as much as any of the other categories was discipline,” Frost said.
“First-unit-of-assignment leaders want Initial Entry Training to deliver disciplined, physically-fit new soldiers who are willing to learn, they are mentally tough, professional and are proud to serve in the United States Army.”
In addition to discipline and physical fitness, leaders also wanted technical and tactical proficiency in warrior tasks and battle drills.
Be a soldier
After working out the details in a pilot at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, the Army has approved a new POI that Frost hopes will better instill into recruits exactly what it means to be a soldier.
“We really tried to attack it by getting after more discipline and esprit de corps,” Frost said.
One new aspect features a series of history vignettes of major battles that the Army has fought in, from Valley Forge in the Revolutionary War all the way to Iraq in Baghdad, Frost said.
“We highlighted those battles; we tied them to Army Values and the Soldier’s Creed and highlighted an individual who received the Medal of Honor or other valor award for actions during each battle,” Frost said.
“So soldiers will learn across all of Basic Combat Training at all the Army training centers what it means to be a soldier, the history of the United States Army through the battles and the campaign streamers and the wars that we have fought and they will be able to look to and emulate a soldier who executed a valorous act during that war.”
The new standardized booklet will be given to each recruit along with their Blue Book at the beginning of training.
Recruits will also learn discipline by doing more practice at a skill that may be as old as soldiering itself — drill and ceremony.
Drill and ceremony
When the war began after the attacks of 9/11, the Army decreased its focus on DC, inspections and other skills that stress attention to detail to make more time for combat skill training.
“There are a lot of folks that say ‘we need to go back to the drill and ceremony because we have lost a lot of the discipline aspect of what it means to be a United States Army soldier,'” Frost said.
“It’s not like they are going to be sitting out there just doing DC all the time. The drill and ceremony is going to be interwoven into when they move to and from places … so the movements won’t just be lollygagging, non-tactical movements, they will be actually executing some team drill and ceremony as they move to and from the chow hall and move to and from the barracks.”
But the new BCT isn’t all about spit and polish, Frost said.
Hammer, anvil, forge
“The other big piece we are doing in Basic Combat Training that helps with the esprit de corps and the discipline aspect and also lends a measure of grit and resilience to [BCT] is we have three major field training exercises that we are going to do now. We are calling them the Hammer, the Anvil, and the Forge,” Frost said, describing how the final Forge FTX is an homage to the Army’s historic ties to Valley Forge.
“That is going to be a culminating FTX which is a graduation requirement. It will be an 81-hour field training exercise with about 40 miles of tactical road marching that is conducted through a series of tactical events and mini field training exercises.”
The Forge will include a night infiltration course and a medical evacuation mass casualty exercise. There will be ethical dilemmas soldiers have to negotiate as well as a battle march and shoot, a resupply mission which involves moving supplies, ammo, water to a link-up point, patrol base activities, combat patrols as well as an obstacle course, Frost said.
“If you succeed in making it through the 81-hour FTX … then what will happen is you will earn the right to become a soldier,” Frost said. “You will earn your beret, you will earn a ‘soldier for life’ certificate, you will get your National Defense Service Medal and your uniform will look exactly like a United States Army soldier.”
‘Get after the basics’
The new BCT POI weeded out “a lot of redundant areas and areas that have crept in that did not get after the basics” — shoot, move, communicate and protect or survive, Frost said.
For weapons qualification, recruits will be required to qualify with backup iron sights instead of just on close-combat optic sights.
Physical fitness standards will also be increased, requiring each soldier to score at least 60 points on all three events of the Army Physical Fitness Test instead of 50 points on each as a graduation standard.
Each recruit will also receive 33 hours of combatives training instead of 22 hours, Frost said.
Recruits will receive an increased amount of tactical combat casualty care training such as basic combat lifesaver.
The course will also teach “some of the basics that we had kind of lost with respect to communications such as basic hand and arm signals, and we have doubled the amount of basic reporting on the radio communications” such as MEDEVAC and similar requests, Frost said.
Some qualifications nixed
The new BCT does, however, do away with hand grenade qualification and land navigation course qualification as graduation requirements.
“What we have found is it is taking far, far too much time. It’s taking three to four times as much time … just to qualify folks on the hand grenade course than we had designated so what is happening is it is taking away from other aspects of training,” Frost said.
“We are finding that there are a large number of trainees that come in that quite frankly just physically don’t have the capacity to throw a hand grenade 20 to 25 to 30 meters. In 10 weeks, we are on a 48-hour period; you are just not going to be able to teach someone how to throw if they haven’t thrown growing up.”
Recruits will still receive the same amount of training in these areas, Frost said.
“Just because we took it off as a graduation requirement does not mean they won’t be conducting hand grenade or land navigation training,” Frost said. “They are going to learn all the technical aspects of the hand grenade, and they are going to learn tactical employment and they will throw a live hand grenade.
“With land navigation, it’s the same thing they are still going to conduct land navigation training; they are still going to conduct the day course they are still going to conduct the night course.”
The new changes to BCT, Frost said, will hopefully make new soldiers better prepared for their advanced individual training, first unit of assignment and result in a lower, new-soldier attrition rate
“If we can get a more physically fit, better prepared, more-disciplined soldier in Basic Combat Training, AIT and [One-Station Unit Training] then we believe we will have less attrition in first unit of assignment,” Frost said.
Capt. Judith Epstein, clinical director, Naval Medical Research Center (NMRC) Malaria Department, presented findings on the malaria candidate vaccine, PfSPZ Vaccine, at the 2018 Military Health System Research Symposium (MHSRS), Aug. 22, 2018.
During the breakout session called “What’s New in Infectious Disease Research in the Tropics,” Epstein gave an update on NMRC’s work with PfSPZ Vaccine, a whole organism vaccine comprised of aseptic, purified, radiation-attenuated, non-replicating, cryopreserved sporozoites. Sporozoites (SPZ) are one of the stages of the malaria parasite, which find their way to the liver after inoculation.
According to Epstein, the parasites induce a protective immune response without making copies of themselves. In other words, the weakened parasites do not replicate or get into the bloodstream, and thus do not lead to infection or disease.
“The studies on PfSPZ Vaccine are important because they bring us closer to having a malaria vaccine to prevent infection and disease in military personnel deployed to malaria-endemic regions as well as vulnerable populations residing in malaria-endemic regions,” said Epstein. “Malaria has consistently been ranked as the number one infectious disease threat facing the military, and the burden of malaria remains incredibly high worldwide.”
Epstein was the NMRC principal investigator (PI) on two PfSPZ Vaccine trials, published in Sciencein 2011 and the Journal of Clinical Investigation in 2017, respectively. The former trial was conducted in collaboration with the Center for Vaccine Development (CVD) at the University of Maryland in Baltimore (UMB); both trials were conducted in collaboration with Sanaria Inc. and the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR).
Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Harold Sylvester, assigned to Naval Medical Research Center Asia (NMRCA), sets and baits mosquito traps in Singapore. NMRCA is conducting research project to study the different populations of mosquitos in Singapore and their ability to transmit diseases.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jay C. Pugh)
In mid-2017, Epstein also became the PI for the “Warfighter 2 Trial”, conducted between 2016 and 2017. The trial was conducted at NMRC and CVD-UMB. Thirty subjects were immunized at each site. The participants had their screening visits, immunizations, and follow-up appointments at the NMRC Clinical Trials Center (CTC) in Bethesda, Maryland. Subjects were immunized with PfSPZ Vaccine and then, along with control subjects, underwent controlled human malaria infection by exposure to five bites from malaria-infected mosquitoes. Subjects were then followed closely to determine whether or not they developed malaria through the evaluation of blood smears and polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Infection was treated immediately with anti-malarial medication.
“In all trials, the vaccine has been demonstrated to have a very good safety and tolerability profile and has also been easy to administer,” Epstein said. “Our focus now is to enhance the efficacy and practical use of the vaccine.” Two of the most important parameters for malaria vaccine development are duration of protection and protection against non-vaccine strains.
In the “Warfighter 2” trial, NMRC researchers were able to demonstrate vaccine efficacy of 40 percent against a non-vaccine strain of malaria when assessed 12 weeks after the final injection, a marked improvement from the previous trials.
As the DoD’s premier scientific meeting, MHSRS helps to facilitate the exchange of information between almost 3,000 attendees from around the world on health care topics relevant to the warfighter. This year’s meeting was held at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center, Aug. 20 – 23, 2018, Kissimmee, Florida, and focused on medical innovation as a key factor in operational and mission readiness.
NMRC’s eight laboratories are engaged in a broad spectrum of activity from basic science in the laboratory to field studies at sites in austere and remote areas of the world to operational environments. In support of the Navy, Marine Corps, and joint U.S. warfighters, researchers study infectious diseases; biological warfare detection and defense; combat casualty care; environmental health concerns; aerospace and undersea medicine; medical modeling, simulation and operational mission support; and epidemiology and behavioral sciences.
NMRC and the laboratories deliver high-value, high-impact research products to support and protect today’s deployed warfighters. At the same time researchers are focused on the readiness and well-being of future forces.
(Editor’s Note – The following is an updated repost of a story on the USAF School of Aerospace Medicine Epidemiology Reference Laboratory at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, which was originally published on March 27, 2018. It contains new information on the lab’s mission during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine’s epidemiology laboratory is the Air Force’s sole clinical reference laboratory, and as such, is testing and processing samples of COVID-19 sent from military treatment facilities around the world.
The lab was authorized by the Defense Health Agency to test samples from Department of Defense beneficiaries for COVID-19 in early March, and received its test kit from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention shortly after.
“The USAFSAM Epi Lab is currently working long hours, testing and processing samples of COVID-19 that are coming in from MTFs globally,” said Col. Theresa Goodman, USAFSAM commander. “If you ask anyone on this team how they’re doing, they’ll tell you they’re fine–that they’re just doing their jobs. But I couldn’t be more proud of them right now — their selfless and tireless dedication to this mission. COVID-19 testing is our primary mission right now and the members of the Epi Lab are my front line to this fight.”
USAFSAM’s epidemiology laboratory, nested in the Air Force Research Laboratory’s 711th Human Performance Wing, has a long history of testing and identifying various infectious respiratory diseases, including those that occur on a regular basis like influenza, and the ones similar to COVID-19 that become a public health issue, spreading globally. Because of this, the team works closely with the CDC and other agencies.
Col. Theresa Goodman
“We have been in operation for approximately 30 years, and therefore involved with many other infectious disease outbreaks, for example SARS,” said Col. Dana Dane, USAFSAM Public Health Department chair.
This laboratory is only authorized to test samples coming in from DoD beneficiaries, but those outside this demographic have the support of their state public health departments for testing purposes. USAFSAM is working closely with public health professionals across the DoD, as well as with the CDC as the situation evolves. Per CDC guidelines, reference laboratories are no longer required to submit samples to the CDC for further testing and final confirmation. If the tests do show as positive, the USAFSAM Epi Lab marks the sample “confirmed positive.”
USAFSAM’s laboratory is not participating in vaccine development. It also is not the type of laboratory where people go to get blood drawn, nasal swabs, etc., like a CompuNet or clinic at a doctor’s office or in a hospital. USAFSAM’s clinical reference lab is set up to receive these samples from military treatment facilities. They run the tests on those samples and log the data.
“We’re all sensitive to those around the world who are grieving losses due to this awful virus as well as to others who are just downright scared. Our hearts go out to you,” said Goodman. “But just know that our epidemiology laboratory here in USAFSAM is waiting at the door 24/7 for any and all samples that come in from our DoD family.
Goodman also stated that the team is lockstep with public health personnel around the world as well as with our partners at the CDC.
“We truly are all in this together,” she said. “Fighting this virus will take all of us doing our part–from those staying at home washing their hands a little more often and checking on neighbors to USAFSAM’s public health team testing samples and getting the data where it needs to go.”
THE DISEASE DETECTIVES (ORIGINAL POST – MARCH 27, 2018 )
After slowly using a blade to cut through thick tape, a technician in a protective gown and glasses opens the flaps of a cardboard box revealing a polystyrene container. As her gloved hands cautiously remove the lid, a wisp of vapor rolls slowly over the edge of the box, clinging to its surface as it descends onto the tabletop.
The technician gingerly reaches through the fog and removes a plastic bag filled with clear vials from the container. This process is repeated over a hundred times each morning as carts filled with boxes of clinical patient specimens arrive at the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine’s Epidemiology Laboratory Service at the 711th Human Performance Wing at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
Created in 1990, the Epi Lab, as it is referred to at USAFSAM, focuses on clinical diagnostic, public health testing and force health screening, performing 5,000 to 8,000 tests six days a week (or about 2.1 million tests a year) for clinics and hospitals treating active duty service members, reservists and National Guard members and their dependents and beneficiaries.
The data collected from these tests not only enables the analysis of disease within the joint force, but is shared with civilian public health agencies contributing to the tracking of diseases, such as influenza and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), as well as supporting disease prevention efforts, such as the formulation of vaccines.
While the lab receives most of its medical samples from Air Force bases around the world, it also tests specimens sent by Navy and Army hospitals and clinics, totaling more than 200 military medical facilities around the globe.
The Epi Lab’s workload is a result of its efficiency and economics, according to Elizabeth Macias, Ph.D., a clinical microbiologist, and director of the Epi Lab.
Elizabeth Macias, Ph.D., is a clinical microbiologist, and director of the Epidemiology Laboratory Service, also known as the Epi Lab, at the 711th Human Performance Wing’s United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine and Public Health at Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio. The lab, which receives between 5,000 and 8,000 samples, six days a week, for analysis, routinely reports results to Department of Defense hospitals and clinics around the world within 48 hours of a sample being shipped to the lab.
“A lot of the testing is very specialized, and in some cases can be very expensive. Many of our Air Force clinics and laboratories are small and don’t have the personnel to do that kind of thing or the funding to get all the specialized instruments that we have,” Macias said. “Our personnel are comprised of military, government civilians and contractor civilians, so we have the expertise and the personnel to handle the workload.”
Nearly 30 people work throughout the morning, removing samples packed in dry ice from their boxes, ensuring the patient information on the specimen tubes and paperwork match the orders on the computer system and then re-labeling them for the lab’s computer system before sending the samples to the appropriate testing departments.
“The laboratory consists of three branches; Customer Support, Immunodiagnostics and Microbiology. Immunodiagnostics and Microbiology perform testing, such as immune status and screening for STDs, like Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), gonorrhea, syphilis and hepatitis and some other serology assays,” said Tech. Sgt. Maryann Caso, noncommissioned officer in charge of the immunodiagnostic section of the Epi Lab.
Just over a year ago, the Epi Lab adopted fourth-generation HIV testing, which enables the lab to detect an HIV infection two weeks sooner after a patient is exposed. This newer technology allows patients to receive treatment and counseling sooner.
There is a constant flow of samples requiring STD screening and immune status testing, as these are gathered as part of the in-processing screening for each new service member. The tests help screen for potentially infectious diseases as well as establish a baseline of antibody types and levels for each new recruit to precisely target which vaccines they need.
“For example, all the new recruits are tested for measles, mumps, and rubella. So if they have antibodies to those diseases then they’re not vaccinated again. This saves the Department of Defense because they don’t waste manpower and money to vaccinate somebody that is already protected against those diseases,” Macias said.
The lab has become more efficient and safer for laboratory technicians after the installation of an automated testing system last year.
Laboratory technicians unpack and log in blood serum, fecal, urine or respiratory samples which arrive from U.S. Air Force hospitals and clinics around the world, as well as some other Department of Defense facilities Jan. 30, 2018. The Epidemiology Laboratory Service, also known as the Epi Lab, at the 711th Human Performance Wing’s United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine and Public Health at Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio, receives 100-150 boxes a day, six days a week. The lab, which tests between 5,000 and 8,000 samples daily, is a Department of Defense reference laboratory offering clinical diagnostic, public health, and force health screening and testing.
“The samples come in now and are put on an automated line. It will actually uncap the sample, spin it down, aliquot it (divide the sample into smaller portions for multiple tests) and sort it to whatever section and analyzer it needs for a particular test,” Caso said.
“Before, our techs had to manually uncap the tubes, aliquot the samples and sort them. When you have thousands of samples that you have to uncap and then recap by hand, you get repetitive-motion injuries to the wrist – such as carpal tunnel. The whole idea is to have automated processes and to eliminate or mitigate pre-analytical errors, such as specimen contamination.”
Once tested, the results are automatically returned to the submitting hospital or clinic via computer, unless the system notifies a technician to intervene and manually certify the test result.
“Specimens are collected at hospitals and clinics around the world and sent to us,” Macias said. “We receive the boxes within 24 hours and most of the results are completed within 24 hours… So, generally, we get those results back to the submitting clinic within 48 hours from when they are shipped to us, so the docs can then treat their patients appropriately and with a good turnaround time.”
In addition to the immunology testing that is performed in the lab, the Microbiology branch performs testing on bacterial cultures, examines fecal samples for parasites that cause intestinal disease, and performs influenza testing.
The Air Force began an influenza surveillance program in 1976 to collect data about disease and its spread in response to an outbreak of what was called “Bootcamp Flu.” In the close quarters of basic training, the virus spread through many barracks, according to Donald Minnich, technical supervisor for the Virology and manual testing section at the Epi Lab.
Donald Minnich, technical supervisor for the manual testing section, oversees the influenza surveillance program at the Epidemiology Laboratory Service, also known as the Epi Lab, at the 711th Human Performance Wing’s United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine and Public Health at Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio.The lab identifies and sequences the genome of influenza samples received from U.S. Air Force hospitals and clinics around the world, as well as other Department of Defense facilities. The data collected on active flu strains contributes about 25 percent of the total data used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to formulate its yearly influenza vaccine.
To combat illness, recruits needed to be regularly monitored, giving birth to Operation Gargle, in which recruits gargled with a solution and spit it back into a specimen cup which was then tested for influenza and other respiratory pathogens.
The Air Force program is now part of the Defense Health Agency’s Global, Laboratory-Based Respiratory Pathogen program which grows, sequences and collects data on influenza, parainfluenza, adenovirus and the Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or RSV.
The flu surveillance program at the Epi Lab has approximately 95 submitting laboratories scattered across the continental United States and the globe, from deployed areas to Europe, Japan and Guam.
In a typical flu season, the surveillance program receives between 5,000 and 6,000 specimens. This year, the Epi Lab has received 5,000 specimens in just the first few months of the flu season, according to Minnich.
On April 25, 1945, Eight Russian armies linked up with the American troops on the western bank of the Elbe river. Germany was, for all intents and purposes, Allied territory. The end of fighting on the Eastern Front of World War II was in sight.
This event signaled the first contact between Soviet and American troops after years of fierce fighting. Both forces successfully cut through multiple Wehrmacht divisions and met in the middle of Torgau, Germany.
The Allied powers had effectively cut Germany in two.
By the 27th, the American and Soviet armies met for a photo op to reenact the meeting, and the Allied powers released statements in London, Moscow, and Washington, reassuring the world that the Third Reich was in its final days.
Although the date isn’t an official holiday, that doesn’t mean it isn’t celebrated. In 2015, 70 years after the original encounter, American and Soviet military units met up once again at the very site of the first meeting to reenact the historic event.
Happy Elbe Day!
Featured Image: In an arranged photo commemorating the meeting of the Soviet and American armies, 2nd Lt. William Robertson (U.S. Army) and Lt. Alexander Silvashko (Red Army) stand facing one another with hands clasped and arms around each other’s shoulders. In the background are two flags and a poster. (National Archives image)
VA Secretary Robert Wilkie told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 26, 2019, that he will recommend the Justice Department not fight the decision, handing a victory to ill former service members who fought for years to have their diseases recognized as related to exposure to the herbicide Agent Orange.
In 2018, the House unanimously passed a bill, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, to provide benefits to affected service members. But Wilkie objected, saying the science does not prove that they were exposed to Agent Orange. Veterans and their advocates had argued that the ships’ distilling systems used Agent Orange-tainted seawater, exposing sailors on board to concentrated levels of dioxin.
Large stacks of 55-gallon drums filled with Agent Orange.
(US Army photo)
However, the bill failed in the Senate when two Republicans, Sen. Michael Enzi of Wyoming and Mike Lee of Utah, said they wanted to wait for a vote pending the outcome of a current study on Agent Orange exposure.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in January 2019 ruled that a Vietnam veteran, 73-year-old Alfred Procopio, and other Blue Water Navy veterans qualified for benefits currently given to service members stationed on the ground in Vietnam or who served on inland waterways and have diseases associated with Agent Orange.
Procopio, who served on the aircraft carrier Intrepid, suffers from prostate cancer and diabetes, illnesses presumed to be related to exposure to the toxic herbicide.
The VA has contended that any herbicide runoff from the millions of gallons sprayed in Vietnam was diluted by seawater and would not have affected offshore service members. It also objected to the cost of providing benefits to Blue Water Navy veterans for illnesses common to all aging patients, not just those exposed to Agent Orange.
The proposed Blue Water Navy Veterans act had estimated the cost of providing benefits to these veterans at id=”listicle-2632903078″.1 billion over 10 years. VA officials say the amount is roughly .5 billion.
Wilkie told members of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee during a hearing on the VA’s fiscal 2019 budget that the department already has started serving 51,000 Blue Water Navy veterans.
Leaking Agent Orange Barrels at Johnston Atoll, 1973.
He cautioned, however, that while he is recommending the Justice Department drop the case, he “didn’t know what other agencies would do.”
Lawmakers praised Wilkie’s announcement, urging him to ensure that the DoJ drops the case. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, said it would “bring fairness” to these veterans.
“I am grateful for you in making these considerations,” Blumenthal said, adding that he’d like to see the VA do more research on toxic exposures on the modern battlefield. “The potential poisons on the battlefield are one of the greatest challenges of our time.”
Committee chairman Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, also promised a hearing later in 2019 on burn pits and other environmental exposures some troops say left them with lifelong illnesses, including cancers — some fatal — and respiratory diseases.
Isakson added, however, that the VA needs to care first for Blue Water Navy veterans. “If it happens, we are going to be in the process of swallowing a big bite and chewing it,” he said.
The diseases considered presumptive to Agent Orange exposure, according to the VA, are AL amyloidosis, chronic B-cell leukemia, chloracne, Type 2 diabetes, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, ischemic heart disease, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Parkinson’s disease, early onset peripheral neuropathy, porphyria, prostate cancer, respiratory cancers and soft tissue sarcomas.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, in a veteran who served 90 days or more in the military is automatically considered service connected, regardless of date of service.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
Every branch has their own social media team that serves as a front-facing brand to their troops, the military, and the civilian population at large. By in large, these efforts aid in recruitment and build branch pride — but keep in mind that these teams are just a handful of social media guys acting as the face of the entire branch.
Normally, the branches have fun with the users who play along. The Army and Navy’s social media accounts constantly throw shade at one another while the Go Coast Guard Facebook team pulls a few cues from Wendy’s Twitter tactics whenever someone tries to berate them.
And then there’s the Marine Corps social team who has way too much fun with their job…
The U.S. Marines Twitter is a goldmine of Marines-related humor. They proudly boosted the Recruit Mullet meme, which was centered around a recruit calling home while looking ‘Murica AF by sporting a mullet while wearing a Budweiser tank top. They’re also responsible for one of the greatest April Fool’s Day pranks — all they had to say was that “Drill Instructors” were going to be renamed “Drill Sergeants” and chaos ensued.
Their most recent addition to this collection of classics comes on the very same day that Nintendo Direct announced a host of new characters set to join the roster of Super Smash Bros Ultimate, which is slated for a December 7th release. They made a parody video that showcases Marines doing dope Marine sh*t in quick, little snippets to the tune of a Smash Bros song.
It parodies the exact style of the character-reveal trailers that the series is known for. Like this one:
Of course, because this was posted to Twitter, there were plenty of rustled jimmies in the replies. To you angry few: Relax. It’s just a joke.
No, it’s not a waste of government money when this could easily be made in an hour. No, it’s not making light of the seriousness of combat or military service. And no, it’s not directed at recruiting young kids who like Nintendo games.
But it is freaking hilarious and made even funnier by getting the Official Marine Corps stamp of approval.
Let’s do this. 1v1 me. No items, infantry only, Final Destination.
The upcoming game is slated to have 71 playable fighters duking it out across over 100 different maps. Nearly every character from every single Nintendo title is set to appear in some fashion and many characters from outside IP will appear, including Snake from Metal Gear, Ryu from Street Fighter, Cloud from Final Fantasy, and now, Simon Belmont from Castlevania.
Who’s to say that Nintendo won’t add actual Marines to the game? It wouldn’t be the first time they’ve added characters that make little sense given the game’s tone. Or, and this entirely wishful thinking from a fan, they could add Doomguy — why not? He’s a Marine that made an appearance on the Super Nintendo. That’s fair game, in my book.
As a young girl, Angie DiMattia knew softball would be her way out of an impoverished life.
Growing up, she lived with her parents and shared a room with her older sister inside a crammed 500-square-foot mobile home in Phenix City, Alabama.
“I remember stray animals coming into the house from the holes in the floor,” said Angie, now a first lieutenant. “It was rough.”
Her father worked hard delivering mail to make ends meet, she said. But, one day, her mother, who suffered complications from Type 1 diabetes, told her they’d never be able to afford to send her to college.
She saw softball as her golden ticket. It also fed her competitive side that later forged her into a chiseled bodybuilder and United States of America’s Ms. Colorado.
The strong work ethic that blossomed from her humble roots pushed her to keep practicing softball. Yet, she needed extra lessons to be a better pitcher, her favorite position. With no money to pay for them, she decided to work for her coach, who owned a batting cage.
A young Angie DiMattia poses for a photograph before a dance recital.
She picked up balls and swept the batters’ boxes in between customers. And at the end of the day, the coach helped with her form.
“That’s how I figured out how to pitch was through his lessons,” she said. “But I earned it.”
She also earned each of her wins with a used glove she had bought for 25 cents at a flea market. She pitched well with it throughout high school and got a scholarship to a nearby community college.
“That glove, and obviously my work, earned a college scholarship,” she said.
Angie shelved her lucky glove, but still used her industrious attitude in other competitions.
Now 34, Angie has raced in several marathons, Iron Man triathlons and often advises other soldiers on how to achieve their fitness goals.
Her motivation to care deeply for her own body partly stems from witnessing her mother suffer with hers.
“I just watched what life was like when your body fails you,” she said.
With her mother’s dietary restrictions, sugar was banned in the house and Angie learned how to eat healthy at a young age. She also saw sports and fitness as an outlet that taught her leadership, teamwork and camaraderie — skills that continue to resonate in her Army career.
“My life has definitely been geared toward taking care of my body, which takes care of my mind that takes care of everything else in my life,” she said.
Her efforts recently bore fruit.
Earlier this year, she competed in the Arnold Sports Festival, a massive competition with about 22,000 athletes. Out of nearly 20 contestants in her category, she finished second place.
First Lt. Angie DiMattia is seen volunteering for the Soldier Marathon in Columbus, Georgia.
The road to get there was not easy. On top of her routine physical training for the Army, she added two more hours of cardio in addition to a weightlifting session every single day for numerous weeks.
“I’d be so tired, I’d plop down,” she said of when each day ended.
While preparing for the competition, the endurance runner-bodybuilder also tried something out of the ordinary — a beauty pageant.
“I’m the complete opposite of a pageant girl,” she said, laughing.
While at a volunteering event, she met the state director of the USOA Miss Colorado pageant who convinced her to sign up. The prize that finally persuaded her — if she won, she could use her title to highlight issues she cares about on a wider platform.
“The pageant was never my goal,” she said. “To serve military families and Gold Star families, that was my goal.”
To her surprise, Angie became the first active-duty soldier to ever win the “Ms.” category for single women over 29 years old.
After being crowned, she has been able to collect more donations for Survivor Outreach Services at Fort Carson, Colorado, where she once served as a family readiness leader with 4th Infantry Division.
To her, volunteerism is her life purpose. She sees competitions as “selfish goals” because it saps a lot of her time from selfless endeavors.
“I don’t do a lot of community service because I’m really busy,” she said of when preparing for contests. “But it’s good sometimes to balance life. You have to grow individually before you’re able to help others.”
That passion was ignited a decade ago when she began to serve as a fallen hero coordinator for the Soldier Marathon in Columbus, Georgia. Proceeds from the race benefit the National Infantry Museum and other military-related nonprofit groups.
“It isn’t just me, it’s this team of people who all have the same mission,” she said. “We all love to run and we all love to serve our community and our military.”
Cecil Cheves, who is the race director, said that Angie has been an integral part of the annual event.
Then-2nd Lt. Angie DiMattia conducts a dumbbell workout Feb. 23, 2018, at Fort Carson, Colorado.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Neysa Canfield)
She’ll research and produce a list of fallen soldiers from the local area and place their names on paper bibs that runners can run with in memory of them.
She also has a “vivacious personality” that she reveals as an announcer when runners cross the finish line.
“She gives off energy that draws others to her,” Cheves said.
But she is not self-focused, he noted, and is very interested in people.
“She’s the kind of person every organization, like the Army, would want,” he said. “She’s very much a team player.”
Angie also strives to use her current role as Ms. Colorado to raise awareness of fallen service members during other events, such as motorcycle rides that honor veterans.
Similar to the marathon, she hands out bibs with the names of deceased troops for riders to wear. If someone donates money for a bib, she gives it directly to Survivor Outreach Services.
“I’ve never taken a dime from it, not even to pay for my gas, not to pay for the printing materials, anything,” she said. “I pay it out of my own pocket.”
In 2012, Angie first joined the Georgia National Guard as an enlisted truck driver so she could be assigned to a unit that was close to her ailing mother.
But soon after she completed training, her mother passed away.
“I was only here so I could be next to her,” she said.
She decided to enroll in the ROTC program at Columbus State University and earned a bachelor’s degree. She became an intelligence officer, then a strategic communicator and is now preparing to switch careers to be a space operations officer in Colorado.
As a child, she was obsessed with space. She painted her ceiling black and mapped out the night sky with stars and planets that glowed in the dark.
“It isn’t something you hear about very often,” she said of the Army’s space career field. “When I realized that this was an opportunity, I was so excited.”
Being able to rise above the “rough patches” she was dealt with as a child has also made her a better leader, she said.
The strong work ethic that blossomed from her humble roots in Alabama has pushed 1st Lt. Angie DiMattia to accomplish many goals in life.
To her, she’s not embarrassed of the way she grew up. It actually shaped her desire to assist others facing their own challenges.
“I can influence beyond the chain of command with my community service and charity work,” she said. “But then I can relate to my junior soldiers through me being real. I know what it’s like to struggle a bit in life.”
When she gives advice to her soldiers, she says to seek mentorship from someone different from them and that way they can learn more.
She also likes to recite a quote on achieving goals that a Buddhist teacher once told her: “You just need to be yourself, but be all of you.”
But, perhaps, the greatest lesson she has learned is time management. If things in one’s life do not bring added value, she said, they need to be eliminated.
“My time is more important than my money,” she said. “You can invest money and get a return, but you cannot invest time and get time back.”
She suggests soldiers need to first define who they are and where they want to go before they try to conquer a goal in life.
“Let’s start mapping out these stepping stones,” she said, “that are going to be crucial to getting you to that next goal.”
NASA is calling India’s destruction of a satellite last week a “terrible, terrible thing” and says the space debris created by the explosion should be considered a threat to the International Space Station and the astronauts on board.
“We modeled 6,500 fragments, basically those that were larger than half a centimeter,” Tom Johnson, the vice president of engineering for Analytical Graphics, said.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
India downplayed the risk of debris after its missile launch, with its top scientists saying last week that the country expected the debris to burn out in Earth’s atmosphere in less than 45 days.
G. Satheesh Reddy, the chief of India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation, said a low-altitude military satellite was targeted with the goal of reducing the risk of debris.
“That’s why we did it at lower altitude — it will vanish in no time,” he told Reuters. “The debris is moving right now. How much debris, we are trying to work out, but our calculations are it should be dying down within 45 days.”
Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan warned a day after India’s test that the event could create a “mess” in space.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
In a very special three-minute ceremony, Spencer Stone, one of the heroes of this summer’s thwarted train attack in France, received a promotion to Senior Airman (E-4 for you military types), holding that rank for a very effective one minute, before his subsequent promotion to Staff Sergeant (E-5).
Staff Sgt. Spencer Stone, 60th Medical Operations Squadron medical technician, listens as the responsibilities of non-commissioned offers are read during a promotion ceremony at Travis Air Force Base, California, Oct. 30, 2015. Stone was promoted to the rank of staff sergeant by order of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III. According to Air Force Instruction 36-502, the chief of staff of the Air Force has the authority to promote any enlisted member to the next higher grade. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken Wright)
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III decided to promote Stone to E-5 because Stone already had a date to put on E-4. Stone’s promotion was not without controversy from some within the Air Force.
“I’m not going to give it the time of day,” Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody said during a recent USAF town hall meeting. “If someone wants to personally come up to me and be educated about how we came to that decision and why, I’m happy to do so in a professional manner.”
Stone and friends (Army Specialist Alek Skarlatos and civilian Anthony Saddler) stopped Moroccan-born Ayoub El-Khazzani from carried out an alleged mass shooting with an AK-47 on a Paris-bound train. Stone was stabbed in that incident. For his actions, Stone received the Purple Heart and Airman’s Medal as well as France and Belgium’s highest honors. The Airman’s Medal is the USAF’s highest non-combat decoration.
Stone was until recently recovering from serious wounds sustained during a late-night altercation outside of a Sacramento, California night club. He was stabbed four times in this most recent attack, in the heart, left lung, liver, and in the back. He had to have open heart surgery to save his life from the knife wound to his heart.
“It is an honor to be promoted to Staff Sergeant,” Stone said in a statement provided by the Air Force. “And I am extremely thankful for the opportunity to lead my fellow Airmen. I am ready for the growth and challenges that are ahead of me.”
There are many nationally recognized days on the calendar that sneak by without much notice if you aren’t paying attention. But here’s one that’s worth being rallied around, especially in the military community.
On Feb. 19, 2019, Vet Girls RISE founded National Vet Girls Rock Day. It’s a time set aside to acknowledge and celebrate the many veteran women who have served in the United States Military. Other reasons this organization established this day is for the women to bond, share resources, build relationships, and most of all bring awareness to existing needs among women veterans.
1st Lt. Megan Juliana(left), 1st Lt. Christel Carmody, 2nd Lt. Rebecca Fry, attendees of the inaugural 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division Sisters-in-Arms meeting flash big smiles during the event on Camp Buehring, Kuwait, Jan. 21, 2014. The program aims at allowing female soldiers from across the brigade to meet each other and learn a little about the different positions female “Warhorse” soldiers fill. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jarrad Spinner, 2nd ABCT PAO, 4th Inf. Div.)
According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, 10 percent of veterans are female. Although that may seem like a small percentage, the approximate number is around two million.
Women veterans serve as single service members and in dual-military homes. Apart from their male counterparts, they face their own set of challenges during their time in. They push themselves physically, carry and birth children, and come home after working to care for and nurture their families. All while staying true to their commitment to our country and ultimately being willing to sacrifice themselves to protect our freedom.
Being that it’s only a year into having an actual date on the calendar, many women veterans don’t even know this day exists in their honor.
Crystal Falch, a veteran Petty Officer Second Class, served in the Navy for 10 years. Vet Girls ROCK Day snuck by her as well. She was happy to receive a friend’s text acknowledging her. Falch’s response was, “Awe, thank you! I had no idea today was my day.”
“It’s humbling because most of us don’t do it for the glory or the praise,” Falch said. “We do it for the country. And of course we like all the side benefits, like getting college paid for and getting to see the world. I appreciate it!”
As the public is becoming aware of this nationally recognized day some businesses, like Severance Brewing, are giving discounts to women veterans.
Senior Airman Brittany Grimes, 90th Security Forces Squadron remote display alarm monitor, and Senior Airman Amber Mitchell, 890th Missile Security Forces Squadron response force leader, pose for a photo at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., March 13, 2018. Both are defenders assigned to the 90th Security Forces Group. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Breanna Carter)
VGR believes in the power of camaraderie, knowledge, and alliance. With that as a backbone, they suggest using this day to connect with other veterans. They offer VGR meetups at different restaurants across the country, and you can also follow them on Facebook for updated information.
Every opportunity should be taken to thank a service member, and to commemorate their dedication to our country. This day is definitely worth putting on the calendar as a reminder to stop and reflect specifically on women veterans for their contribution to our country.
On June 6, 1944, Onofrio “No-No” Zicari stormed Omaha Beach in one of the deadliest battles of World War II: D-Day. The 21-year-old New York native survived the sniper fire and artillery bombardment, enduring what he would later remember as one of the most harrowing memories of his life. The experience was so traumatic, it would give him nightmares for the remainder of his life. But at the suggestion of his caretaker and with the support of charitable donations, the 96-year-old Las Vegas resident is making his first trip back to France for the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
“Maybe this will bring me some closure,” Zicari said. “So that’s why I’m going. Maybe there is something there that will help me put this all behind me. I’m 96 years old, how much longer can it go, you know?” he laughed. “Maybe I’ll see the beach.”
Zicari was offered the opportunity by Forever Young Senior Veterans, a nonprofit that organizes trips for veterans of U.S. wars, granting them an opportunity to return to the places they fought. Before he would accept the invitation, which includes joining a group of surviving World War II veterans to travel to several sites in Normandy, Zicari had one stipulation — he needed his caretaker and family friend Diane Fazendin to accompany him. “If she wasn’t going, then I wasn’t going,” he said. A GoFundMe set up for Zicari raised ,222, with nearly half of that coming from a donation from the Italian-American Club. With that amount, Fazendin can accompany Zicari throughout his journey, which begins June 3 and runs through June 10, 2019.
Onofrio “No-No” Zicari (left) mans a machine gun position.
However, the logistics of travel hasn’t been the only thing keeping the D-Day veteran from returning to France. The trauma of that day left Zicari with PTSD that continues to this day. “I was having nightmares, in fact, I just had one the other night. This all brings back a lot of memories for me,” he said.
To face those beaches again, Zicari found encouragement through his PTSD support group at VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System. The group of World War II, Korean, and Vietnam veterans meets every Friday, and enjoys camaraderie in addition to the peer support. “They’ve really helped me,” he said. “It was a huge relief for me when I found this group. It wasn’t until I moved to Nevada 30 years ago that I enrolled at this VA. Another Vet told me about the PTSD support groups at the VA. So I said, ‘alright, I’ll go.’ I was relieved when I was talking to the other veterans. They understood my feelings. And I’ve stayed right there with them for nearly 30 years.” When Zicari joined the group, there were six other World War II veterans who regularly attended the meetings. “Now it’s just me,” he said.
Zicari was drafted into the Army at the age of 19, where he trained to become a supply soldier. After training for months for desert warfare in preparation for deployment to Northern Africa, he soon found himself in Scotland and Wales, preparing for a completely different kind of warfare. His company began practicing for amphibious landings in preparation for the inevitable invasion of continental Europe in what would eventually come to be known as Operation Overlord. “We knew we would have to go, but we didn’t know when,” Zicari said. That day, June 6, 1944, would soon arrive. Despite months of preparation of training, nothing could prepare him for what would come. “The night before, we were joking around. We didn’t know what to expect. We were all gung ho. Until we landed, then it stopped.”
The next morning, Zicari’s unit arrived in Normandy in preparation to land on Omaha Beach – the most heavily defended area of five sectors allied infantry and armored divisions would land on during the D-Day invasion. “We were the fifth or sixth wave to hit Omaha Beach,” he said. “Our landing craft was knocked out, it took a couple of direct hits and killed a couple of sailors that were on board. The boat got grounded on a reef. After it beached, we had to get off and landed in the water and almost drowned. I was the ammo man for a machine gun crew, and I carried two boxes of ammo, another guy carried two barrels, one carried a magazine, one carried the tri-pod, it was the five of us. Our gunner lost the barrels. He didn’t want to drown, so he just dropped them. I had the ammo, and I said, ‘what am I going to do with this ammo?’ So, I let go of the ammo.”
Onofrio “No-No” Zicari (right) poses for a photo with Mickey Rooney (middle) and fellow soldiers.
Once Zicari finally got his head above water, he was struck by the chaos that laid in front of him. “We didn’t know where we were,” he said. “All we kept hearing was ‘gotta go inland, gotta go inland! Can’t go back!’ But we got pinned down there for quite a long time. We saw a lot of dead soldiers. It was havoc. I can’t explain what war is. We were all gung ho before we landed, but once we saw what was going on, I said ‘I want to go home.’ A lot of prayers were said on that day, believe me.”
Zicari was able to join up with the remainder of his outfit, but struggled to shake loose many of the horrors around him. “I was in shock. I was numb. I didn’t know what to do. Everybody was lost. I got pinned down by a pillbox, and we had shells landing all over. I got up and went alongside a landing craft that was beached. I looked over and I see this redheaded soldier, and he was sitting on his helmet. He got hit bad. He looked at me and just started to laugh, ‘I’m going home, I’m going home.’ Whether he made it home or not, I don’t know. But that stuck with me.”
After several hours of intense fighting, Zicari was wounded by a piece of shrapnel in the knee. Although the wound was relatively light, medics recommended he seek immediate care. “They wanted to send me back to the hospital ship, but I told them no. I didn’t want to lose my outfit.” Zicari said. “They might send me to the infantry, and I didn’t want to go to the infantry, that’s for sure.”
When the intensity of the battle had died down, and the Germans were pushed back from their positions on the beachhead, Zicari and his unit had the task of bringing the ammunition and supplies onto the beaches. While the initial intensity of the fighting had decreased, they still faced occasional artillery and sniper fire. But the worst job was soon to come. “On the third day, we had to go back and pick up the bodies and equipment on the beaches,” he said. “After that, I never went back again. It was too sad.”
After Normandy, Zicari continued fighting across France, even making it to Belgium and relieving the 101st Airborne following the Battle of the Bulge in Bastogne and surrounding Ardennes Forest. But it was June 6 that would shape his memories of the war; memories that he hopes to put to rest 75 years later.
Onofrio “No-No” Zicari (middle) with his PTSD peer support group.
Following the war, Zicari moved to California with his wife, where they raised six children. His family became close friends with their neighbors, Fazendin and her husband. Even after the Zicaris moved to Nevada, they kept in touch. “We’ve been friends for many years,” said Fazendin, who currently lives in Florida and has acted as Zicari’s caretaker for a recent cruise and other short trips. This will be her first time traveling to Europe, and the furthest the two will travel together.
Zicari lives independently in his Las Vegas home, near much of his family. Even though he doesn’t own a cell phone or watch, he stays sharp by doing four crossword puzzles each day and completing woodworking projects. His garage is adorned with massive birdhouses and wooden trains that he has perfected over the years. He gets his socializing by meeting with his fellow veterans at the VA. His PTSD peer support group even meets up for a holiday meal at the Medical Center cafeteria. And it was with their encouragement, the help of his caretaker, and financial support of charitable donations that Zicari will finally be able to make his return to Omaha Beach in June 2019.
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.