Gen. Martins just enacted a media blackout at Guantánamo - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

Gen. Martins just enacted a media blackout at Guantánamo

The Pentagon’s chief war crimes prosecutor, who, for six years, has been the most public booster of the military commissions, has decided to abandon a years-long practice of briefing reporters and holding news conferences.


“This is a principled decision based on the law and the posture of these cases,” prosecutor Brig. Gen. Mark Martins said Oct. 29. “And it’s the right time.”

More restrictions may be to come. In a 2014 court filing in the Sept. 11 terror attacks case, prosecutors suggested to the judge, Army Col. James L. Pohl, that he may want to impose a gag order on all lawyers in the high-profile tribunal.

They argued that lawyers offering commentary or other information outside of court could prejudice the possibility of “a fair trial by impartial members” — a jury of US military officers, yet to be chosen — in the death-penalty case against accused plot mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four other alleged accomplices. No trial date has been set.

Gen. Martins just enacted a media blackout at Guantánamo
FBI photo of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed from 2001, used in several FBI wanted posters.

Pentagon spokesman Maj. Ben Sakrisson described Martins’ decision as part of an overall rethinking of public affairs strategy by the overseer of the war court, Convening Authority Harvey Rishikof. Throughout the Obama administration, the Pentagon regularly staged news conferences that gave the prosecutor, defense attorneys and families of terror victims a podium at the close of war court hearings.

Now, according to Sakrisson, “this is just the prosecution stepping away from engaging with the media directly. I wouldn’t characterize this change as extending to the defense teams.”

Read Also: Released Gitmo detainees implicated in terror attacks on Americans

Family members and victims of terror attacks — chosen by Pentagon lottery and brought to the base as guests of the prosecution — will still be permitted to talk to reporters if they want, he said. “Going forward I expect there will be press conferences of some manner. But the final forum of participants is still under discussion.”

When Martins first started doing press conferences in a wooden shed built for $49,000 to look like a Pentagon briefing room, dozens of reporters would travel to Guantánamo. Broadcasters in particular needed the question-and-answer session because recording is forbidden at the post-Sept. 11 court.

Gen. Martins just enacted a media blackout at Guantánamo
Lead prosecutor for the government Brig. Gen. Mark Martins answers questions from reporters during a post military commissions session Jan. 29, 2015 at U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay. Army Photo by Sgt. Adrian Borunda.

For reporters who couldn’t make the trip to Cuba, the Pentagon would broadcast the news briefings to a viewing site at Fort Meade outside Washington, DC.

Under the Pentagon’s war court rules, the prosecutor needs explicit permission from the convening authority to speak with reporters about the hybrid military-civilian justice system set up in response to the 9/11 attacks.

Defense lawyers don’t. Many of them are civilians paid by the Pentagon, and the Manual for Military Commissions lets them talk freely with reporters about unclassified information, guided by their professional ethics.

The Pentagon “has a lot of restrictions around publishing or speaking to the press, designed to give a unitary message from the Department of Defense,” said defense attorney Jay Connell. The manual essentially waives a defense attorney’s obligation to puppet a US government talking point.

Gen. Martins just enacted a media blackout at Guantánamo
Defense Attorney Jay Connell. Photo from Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Connell, who regularly briefs reporters, represents Mohammed’s nephew, Ammar al Baluchi. He argues the rules recognize his duty “to inform the public about what’s going on in military commissions.”

Related: The controversy surrounding Guantanamo Bay has existed longer than you think

For example, while Martins would recite how many legal motions were argued, how many hours of court were held, and how many pages of evidence were turned over, Connell would try to contextualize what happened in court from the defense point of view.

“So many things which happen in the military commissions relate to larger themes of secrecy, larger themes of torture, and larger themes of unfairness,” he said. “My goal in a press conference is to explain what happened that week in the larger context of Guantánamo.”

Gen. Martins just enacted a media blackout at Guantánamo
USAF photo by Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse.

For now, soldiers record the briefings and the videos are posted on a Pentagon war court website set whose motto is Fairness * Transparency * Justice.

If the managers of media policy no longer host news conferences in the shed, Connell said, they’ll brief elsewhere. And, “if they get rid of the video recordings, then we would probably go to Facebook Live.”

Martins decided to pull the plug on press conferences soon after the Army postponed his Nov. 1 retirement until 2019. He has had the job for six years, and serves as both the chief overseer of war court cases and a case prosecutor in the Sept. 11 and USS Coledeath-penalty trials. Neither trial has a start date.

MIGHTY CULTURE

US Coast Guard loosens its tattoo policy to bring in new recruits

For the second time in two years, the Coast Guard is relaxing its policy on tattoos in what officials say is an effort to widen the pool of eligible service recruits.

According to a new policy document released Oct. 3, 2019, Coast Guard recruits and current service members may now sport chest tattoos as long as they are not visible above the collar of the Coast Guard operational dress uniform’s crew-neck T-shirt.

The new policy also allows a wider range of finger tattoos. One finger tattoo per hand is now authorized, although the location of the tattoo is still restricted. It must appear between the first and second knuckle. And ring tattoos, which were the only kind of finger tattoo previously authorized, will be counted as a hand’s finger tattoo, according to the new guidance. Thumb tattoos are still off-limits.


Finally, in a change from previous guidance, hand tattoos are also allowed. While palm tattoos remain out of bounds, Coasties and recruits can sport a tattoo on the back of the hand as long as it is no more than one inch in any dimension. One finger and one hand tattoo are allowed on each hand, according to the new policy.

Gen. Martins just enacted a media blackout at Guantánamo

The Coast Guard released a graphic to explain its new tattoo regulations.

“I am pleased to see the Coast Guard’s new tattoo policy reinforces a professional appearance to the public while adopting some of the very same tattoo standards that are now acceptable among the public,” Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Jason Vanderhaden said in a statement. “The new tattoo policy will expand our recruiting candidate pool and provide those already serving in the Coast Guard with a few new options.”

The Coast Guard last updated its tattoo policy in 2017 with rule tweaks that offered a little more leniency. Chest tattoos were allowed to creep up to one inch above the V-neck undershirt, where previously they had to remain hidden; ring tattoos were authorized.

Unlike some other services, the Coast Guard has not restricted tattoo size of percentage of body coverage on tattooable areas, but the 2017 policy stated that brands could be no larger than four by four inches and could not be located on the head, face or neck.

The most recent policies serve to relax strict regulations handed down in 2005 to address overabundant body ink.

“The 1940s, party-hard sailor is not the image we’re going for,” Chief Petty Officer Keith Alholm, a spokesman in the Coast Guard’s Seattle-based 13th District, told the Kitsap Sun at the time.

The 2005 rules — the first update to the Coast Guard’s tattoo policy in three decades — limited Coasties to tattooing no more than 25% of an exposed limb, among other restrictions.

Gen. Martins just enacted a media blackout at Guantánamo

(Photo by Andrew Leu)

The other military services have all issued updates in recent years to address concerns in the active force and current trends in the recruitable population.

In 2016, then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter warned that services’ tattoo policies could be preventing otherwise eligible young people from serving. As the percentage of prospective recruits who can meet fitness, education and background standards shrinks, the service branches have even greater incentive to remove secondary barriers to service.

The Army loosened its tattoo policy in 2015, saying society’s view of body ink was changing; the Navy thrilled sailors with a significantly more lenient set of rules in 2016. The Marine Corps also released a relaxed 2016 tattoo update, and the Air Force did a 2017 about-face, allowing airmen to sport coveted sleeves.

Military officials have said they’re working to find the line between professionalism and practicality when it comes to tattoos.

“This is not an episode of [History Channel show] Vikings, where we’re tattooing our face. We’re not a biker gang, we’re not a rock and roll band. We’re not [Maroon 5 lead singer] Adam Levine,” then-Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller told Military.com in 2017. “You can get 70 percent of your body covered with ink and still be a Marine. Is that enough?”

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Taliban went from international pariah to U.S. peace partner in Afghanistan

In the mid-1990s, U.S. oil company Unocal attempted to secure a gas-pipeline deal with the Taliban, which had seized control of the Afghan capital, Kabul, after a devastating civil war.


It was the United States’ first attempt to forge a partnership with the fundamentalist Taliban regime, which was not recognized by the international community.

Unocal even flew senior Taliban members to Texas in 1997 in an attempt to come to an agreement.

Zalmay Khalilzad, who had served as a State Department official when Ronald Reagan was president, worked as a consultant for the now-defunct company.

Khalilzad, who met with the Taliban members in the city of Houston, publicly voiced support for the radical Islamists at the time. The “Taliban does not practice the anti-U.S. style of fundamentalism practiced by Iran — it is closer to the Saudi model,” Khalilzad wrote in a 1996 op-ed for The Washington Post. “The group upholds a mix of traditional Pashtun values and an orthodox interpretation of Islam.”

Negotiations over the pipeline collapsed in 1998, when Al-Qaeda bombed two U.S. embassies in Africa. By then, the terrorist group, led by Osama bin Laden, had relocated from Sudan to Afghanistan, where it was offered safe harbor by the Taliban.

Suddenly, the Taliban went from a potential U.S. economic partner to an international pariah that was hit by U.S. sanctions and air strikes.

Three years later, the United States invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban regime after Al-Qaeda carried out the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania that killed nearly 3,000 people.

But now, after waging a deadly, nearly 19-year insurgency that has killed several thousand U.S. troops, the Taliban has regained its status as a potential U.S. partner.

On February 29, the United States and the Taliban signed an agreement aimed at ending the United States’ longest military action. The deal lays out a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in return for various security commitments from the insurgents and a pledge to hold talks over a political settlement with the Afghan government — which it so far has refused to do.

The deal — signed before a bevy of international officials and diplomats in Doha, Qatar — has given the Taliban what it has craved for years: international legitimacy and recognition.

Meanwhile, the agreement has undermined the internationally recognized government in Kabul, which was not a party to the accord.

The architect of the deal was Khalilzad, the U.S. special peace envoy for Afghanistan, who secured a deal following 18 months of grueling negotiations with the militants in Qatar. The Afghan-born Khalilzad had served as the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq in the intervening years since working as a Unocal adviser.

“There’s a 20-year bell curve, from 1998 to 2018, when the Taliban went from partner to peak pariah and now back to partner,” says Ted Callahan, a security expert on Afghanistan. But the “changes that have occurred have been less within the Taliban movement and more based on U.S. instrumentalism and war fatigue.”

The extremist group’s transformation to a potential U.S. ally was considered unthinkable until recently.

During its brutal rule from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban oppressed women, massacred ethnic and religious minorities, and harbored Al-Qaeda.

Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, the Taliban has killed tens of thousands of Afghan civilians, fueled the illicit opium trade, and sheltered several terrorist groups.

“U.S. officials are selling the Taliban as a partner when it is anything but,” says Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at a Washington-based think tank, the Foundation for Defense Of Democracies, and editor of the Long War Journal. “This is a fiction made up by U.S. officials who are desperate for a deal that will cover the military withdrawal from Afghanistan.”

Radicalized In Pakistan

The Taliban, which means “students” in Pashto, emerged in 1994 in northwestern Pakistan following the end of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

The predominantly ethnic Pashtun group first appeared in ultraconservative Islamic madrasahs, or religious schools, in Pakistan, where millions of Afghans had fled as refugees. Funded by Saudi Arabia, the madrasahs radicalized thousands of Afghans who joined the mujahedin, the U.S.-backed Islamist rebels who fought the Soviets.

The Taliban first appeared in the southern city of Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city, in 1994, two years after the mujahedin seized power in the country. Infighting among mujahedin factions fueled a devastating civil war that killed more than 100,000 people in Kabul.

The Taliban promised to restore security and enforce its ultraconservative brand of Islam. It captured Kabul in 1996 and two years later controlled some 90 percent of the country.

Neighboring Pakistan is widely credited with forming the Taliban, an allegation it has long denied. Islamabad was among only three countries — including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — to recognize the Taliban regime when it ruled Afghanistan.

The Taliban was led by its spiritual leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, the reclusive, one-eyed cleric who was a mujahedin. Omar died of natural causes at a hospital in Pakistan in 2013, with the group’s leadership covering up his death for two years. He was believed to be leading the Afghan Taliban insurgency from within Pakistan.

War-weary Afghans initially welcomed the Taliban, which cracked down on corruption and lawlessness and brought stability across much of the country.

But the welcome was short-lived. The religious zealots enforced strict edicts based on their extreme interpretation of Shari’a law — banning TV and music, forcing men to pray and grow beards, making women cover themselves from head to toe, and preventing women and girls from working or going to school.

The Taliban amputated the hands of thieves, publicly flogged people for drinking alcohol, and stoned to death those who engage in adultery. Executions were common.

Besides its notorious treatment of women, the Taliban also attracted international condemnation when in 2001 it demolished the 1,500-year-old Buddhas of Bamiyan, in central Afghanistan, a testament to the country’s pre-Islamic history and a treasured, unique world cultural monument.

‘We Were All Scared’

Orzala Nemat is a leading women’s rights activist in Afghanistan. Under Taliban rule, she risked her life by creating a network of underground girls schools across the country. Classes were held secretly in living rooms, tents, and abandoned buildings. The teachers were often older girls or educated women.

Girls attending the classes would often come in twos to avoid suspicion and carry a Koran, Islam’s holy book, in case they were stopped by the Taliban.

“We were all scared,” says Nemat, who now heads a leading Kabul think tank. “They would probably flog us, put us in prison, and punish us [if we were caught].”

Under the Taliban, Isaq Ahmadi earned a living by playing soccer for one of the dozen teams created and funded by various Taliban leaders in Kabul. While the Taliban banned many sports and other forms of public entertainment, soccer and cricket thrived.

“It was a very difficult and dark time,” he says. “There were no jobs, food shortages, and no public services.”

During Taliban rule, the United Nations said 7.5 million Afghans faced starvation. Even then, the Taliban restricted the presence of aid groups in Afghanistan.

The Taliban regime generated most of its money from Islamic taxes on citizens and handouts from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, its only allies. The Taliban failed to provide basic needs and Kabul lay in tatters after the brutal civil war of 1992-96.

U.S.-Led Invasion

The Taliban attracted the world’s attention after the September 11 attacks on the United States. The regime had harbored bin Laden and other Al-Qaeda leaders responsible for the terrorist attacks. But the Taliban steadfastly refused to hand over Al-Qaeda leaders for prosecution and, in October 2001, the United States invaded Afghanistan.

By December, the Taliban regime was toppled with help from the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. Most Taliban leaders, including Al-Qaeda founder bin Laden, evaded capture and resettled in Pakistan’s tribal areas and the southwestern city of Quetta, where its leadership is still based.

By 2005, the Taliban had reorganized and unleashed a deadly insurgency against foreign troops and the new democratically elected government in Kabul. Despite U.S.-led surges in troops and an escalation in air strikes, international and Afghan forces were unable to stop the Taliban from extending its influence in the vast countryside.

The Taliban enjoyed safe havens and backing from Pakistan, a claim Islamabad has denied. The insurgency was also funded by the billions of dollars the group made from the illicit opium trade.

Today, the militants control or contest more territory — around half of the country — than at any other time since 2001.

Meanwhile, the Kabul government is unpopular, corrupt, bitterly divided, and heavily dependent on foreign assistance. Government forces have suffered devastatingly high numbers of casualties against the Taliban.

Negotiating An End To War

In the fall of 2010, U.S. officials secretly met a young Taliban representative outside the southern German city of Munich. It was the first time the Taliban and the United States showed they were open to talks over a negotiated end to the war.

But in the intervening years, meaningful U.S.-Taliban talks failed to take off, hampered by mutual distrust, missed opportunities, protests by the Afghan government, and the deaths of two successive Taliban leaders.

For years, U.S. policy was to facilitate an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process between the Kabul government and the Taliban. But with the Taliban refusing to negotiate with state officials — whom they view as illegitimate — the peace process was deadlocked.

Controversially, U.S. policy changed in 2018 when Khalilzad was appointed as special envoy for peace and he opened direct negotiations with the Taliban in Qatar without the presence of the Afghan government. Eighteen months later, the sides signed the landmark deal aimed at ending the war.

“The U.S. has been sidelining the Afghan government for years, first by refusing to allow it to be involved with negotiations, then by signing the deal without the Afghan government as a partner,” Roggio says.

“The Taliban maintains the Afghan government is merely a ‘puppet’ of the U.S,” he adds. “The U.S. has done everything in its power to prove this point.”

Road Map For Afghanistan

The prospect of the Taliban returning to the fold as part of a future power-sharing agreement has fueled angst among Afghans, many of whom consider the militants to be terrorists and remember the strict, backward societal rules they enforced when they were in power.

More than 85 percent of Afghans have no sympathy for the Taliban, according to the Asia Foundation’s 2019 survey. Urban respondents (88.6 percent) were more inclined than rural respondents (83.9 percent) to have no sympathy for the militants.

But the Taliban’s adherence to ultraconservative Islam and the Pashtun tribal code has struck a chord with some currently living under the movement’s thumb in rural Afghanistan, which has borne the brunt of the war and where life has improved little. But those ideas are largely alien in major urban centers that have witnessed major social, economic, and democratic gains over the past 18 years.

“The main difference is that the Taliban of today, like Afghans generally, are more worldly in terms of their exposure to media, their increased engagement with various international actors and, at least for the leadership, the greater wealth they command, both individually and as a movement,” Callahan says.

But the Taliban’s “fundamental approach to governing, which is very maximalist and involves the imposition of a uniform moral order, stands in stark contrast to the more liberal norms that have evolved since 2001, mainly in urban areas.”

Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, millions of girls have gone to school and continue to study, women have joined the workforce in meaningful numbers, and dozens of women are members of parliament and work in the government or diplomatic corps.

Afghanistan also has a thriving independent media scene in an area of the world where press freedoms are severely limited. Under the Taliban, all forms of independently reported news were banned.

There was only state-owned radio, the Taliban’s Voice of Sharia, which was dominated by calls to prayer and religious teachings.

The independent media have come under constant attack and pressure from the Taliban and Islamic State militants, which have killed dozens of reporters. The attacks have made Afghanistan one of the deadliest countries in the world for journalists.

The Taliban has been projecting itself as a more moderate force, pledging not to monopolize power in Afghanistan. But few believe that the militants have changed.

“There is little difference between the Taliban of 1994 and the Taliban of today,” Roggio says. “If anything, the group has become more sophisticated in its communications and negotiations. Its ideology has not changed. Its leadership has naturally changed with the deaths of its leaders [over the years], but this hasn’t changed how it operates.”

Red Lines

The Taliban has said it will protect women’s rights, but only if they don’t violate Islam or Afghan values, suggesting it will curtail some of the fragile freedoms gained by women in the past two decades.

Many Afghan women fear that their rights enshrined in the constitution will be given away as part of a peace settlement with the Taliban. The constitution guarantees the same rights to women as men, although in practice women still face heavy discrimination in society, particularly in rural areas.

But the Taliban has demanded a new constitution based on “Islamic principles,” prompting concern among Afghan rights campaigners. As an Islamic republic, Afghanistan’s laws and constitution are based on Islam, although there are more liberal and democratic elements within it.

Farahnaz Forotan launched an online campaign, #MyRedLine, in March 2018. Hundreds of thousands of Afghan women have joined the campaign to speak about the freedoms and rights they are not willing to give up in the name of peace with the Taliban.

Forotan, a journalist, says she wanted to let Afghan decision-makers know that peace cannot be achieved at the expense of the rights and freedoms of the country’s women.

“Almost everything has changed from that time,” she says, referring to Taliban rule. “We have made a lot of progress. We have a civil society, an independent press, and freedoms. People are more aware of their social and political rights.”

Many Afghans support a negotiated end to the decades-old war in Afghanistan, but not at any price.

“I support the peace process with the Taliban, but only if women’s freedoms are safeguarded,” says Ekram, a high-school student from the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif, a relatively peaceful and prosperous region near the border with Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.

“Under no circumstances do we want a peace deal that sacrifices our freedoms and democracy,” Ekram says. “That wouldn’t be peace at all.”

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

WW2 Army dog receives posthumous medal for bravery

A U.S. Army dog that attacked a machine-gun nest during World War II was posthumously awarded Britain’s highest honor for animal bravery on Jan. 14.


Chips, a German shepherd-husky cross, was awarded the Dickin Medal for actions during a 1943 beach landing in Sicily. According to the U.S. soldiers, Chips raced into an Italian machine-gun nest, attacking an enemy soldier by the throat and pulling the gun from its mount.

The medal was awarded by veterinary charity PDSA in a ceremony at the Churchill War Rooms in London. The honor was accepted by 76-year-old John Wren of Long Island, New York, whose father donated Chips to the war effort in 1942.

Gen. Martins just enacted a media blackout at Guantánamo
Chips, a U.S. Army dog, meets Eisenhower. (Photo from U.S. Army)

Lt. Col. Alan Throop, who attended on behalf of the U.S. Army, said that shortly after the battle Chips was recommended for the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star, and the Purple Heart. The awards were later rescinded because army policy didn’t allow animals to receive medals.

Chips suffered scalp wounds and powder burns in the battle but survived the war, returning to his owners in Pleasantville, New York.

Also Read: 7 tales of heroism for cat people sick of all the military dog stories

The medal was awarded on the 75th anniversary of the Casablanca Conference, at which British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt plotted wartime strategy. Chips served as a sentry at the conference and met both leaders.

“It has taken over seven decades, but Chips can now finally take his place in the history books as one of the most heroic dogs to serve with the U.S. Army,” PDSA director general Jan McLoughlin said.

Since 1943, the Dickin Medal has recognized gallantry by animals serving with the military, police, or rescue services. Recipients include 33 dogs, 32 messenger pigeons, four horses, and a cat.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Active Duty! New Yorkers are running from dawn til dusk for your brain

Ask a Green Beret or Navy SEAL about the most powerful weapon in their arsenal, and they’ll probably give you an answer you didn’t expect: the brain. These special operators know that the mind is a lethal tool and that the outcome of many battles is often decided well before the shooting even starts.

In fact, the first of principle of Special Operations is that “humans are more important than hardware.”


Gen. Martins just enacted a media blackout at Guantánamo

But New Yorkers already know this principle. They live it everyday. The Big Apple is a hard city and its citizens have survived brutal winters, hurricanes, British occupation, and multiple terrorist attacks. And yet, the city endures and continues to thrive because New Yorkers know that with resiliency, they can survive whatever comes next. Just try it, King Kong.

New York has always supported the U.S. military by hosting parades, fleet week, and, ultimately, throwing out the British, but now some New Yorkers are doing something a little different. They’re running for 12 hours straight around Manhattan as part of the Relay For Heroes.

The host of this crazy endeavor is the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund (IFHF), a non-profit organization that supports U.S. military personnel experiencing the invisible wounds of war: traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress (PTS). Like the military, citizens of New York know that a strong mind can be a lethal tool, so they’re pitching in to combat ailments that plague it. Headquartered out of the Intrepid Aircraft Carrier in New York Harbor, teams of four to six runners will run five mile legs all day long, from 8am to 8pm.

Gen. Martins just enacted a media blackout at Guantánamo

Winston Fisher is a member of Team Extreme who raise funds for Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund

One of these runners is Winston Fisher, a proud New Yorker and board member of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, who is running as a part of Team Extreme, a group of dedicated athletes who use extreme supports to raise funds for the military and veterans. Winston described his efforts to We Are The Mighty,

“Our team has participated in some of the most recognized and, in many instances, the most challenging events in the world, including major world marathons, Ironman, and the toughest ultra-distance events on the planet. Relay for Heroes is Team Extreme’s signature running event.”

As a lifelong athlete, fitness has always been part of Winston’s world, but in 2012, he fully committed himself to endurance sports by starting with a Tough Mudder and then progressing to half- and full Ironman events. Since then, Winston has completed the Kona Ironman (an event that will humble even the fittest Green Beret) and finished the grueling World Marathon Challenge — 7 marathons in 7 days on 7 continent. Winston, who personally raised over 0,000 during the 2017 Relay for Heroes, has another special reason for running;

“The race was, first and foremost, for my children. I wanted them to know they can accomplish anything they put their minds to. Life is not easy, it requires sacrifice, but success is theirs if they work for it. Lead by example. Walk the walk, don’t just talk the talk.”
Gen. Martins just enacted a media blackout at Guantánamo

Intrepid Spirit Centers combine the latest technology in physical and mental health to combat TBI and PTS.

This year, Winston, Team Extreme, and the rest of the runners are definitely doing more than walking the walk. They are putting themselves through a 12-hour gauntlet for a very important mission: To help IFHF raise funds to build a series of specially designed treatment facilities, named Intrepid Spirit Centers, at military bases across the country.

If you’re on active duty, you may have seen these centers in places like Camp Lejeune, N.C. and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. Each facility is state-of-the-art-campus designed to help active members overcome the effects of TBI and PTS with experts in neurology, physical therapy, and even nutrition all on site. These centers are literally on-base gyms for the brain.

Matthew Schumacher, a petty officer stationed aboard the USS Taylor from 1992 through 1996, is running in the Relay for Heroes because he remembers a time when TBI and PTS were left untreated for many of his fellow sailors. Matthew explained to We Are The Mighty why he’s running this year:

“I’ve seen personally the day-to-day effects [these ailments] have on fellow service members, both current and retired. To get others to realize, the small amount of pain I’ll go through in this relay is minimal compared to those suffering daily with TBI and PTS.”

With the new Intrepid Spirit Centers, the military has the tools needed to help the wounded recover from the invisible wounds of war and return to the battlefield, ready to fight. Since its inception in 2016, the Relay for Heroes has dedicated 100% of all funds raised in the race to build Intrepid Spirit Centers and this year is no different. Donations from this year’s’ race will go towards three additional centers that still need to be built, including centers at Fort Carson in Colorado, Fort Bliss in Texas, and Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.

For runners like Winston Fisher, the payoff of 12 hours of pain is simple:

“Traumatic brain injury is a silent killer if untreated. Fallen Heroes Fund is the front line of medical treatment. Our troops do so much for us, the least I can do is help them heal.”
MIGHTY TRENDING

U.S.-Russian crew lands safely In Kazakhstan after more than 200 days in space

Three members of the U.S.-Russian crew have returned to Earth after spending several months at the International Space Station (ISS).

Russia’s Roskosmos space agency said the Soyuz MS-15 capsule carrying the crew chief, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka, and NASA Flight Engineers Jessica Meir and Andrew Morgan landed safely on April 17 in Kazakhstan.

Skripochka and Meir spent 205 days in orbit, while Morgan’s time in space lasted 272 days.


Gen. Martins just enacted a media blackout at Guantánamo

Expedition 62 crew portrait with NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan, Roscosmos cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka and NASA astronaut Jessica Meir.

NASA

The crew was replaced by U.S. astronaut Christopher Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner, who docked with the ISS on April 10.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, instead of being brought to the city of Qaraghandy in central Kazakhstan for traditional welcome ceremonies, the crew members were taken straight to the Baikonur space complex near the city of Qyzylorda.

The U.S. astronauts will fly aboard a NASA plane directly from Qyzylorda to Houston, while the crew’s commander Skripochka will fly back to Russia.

The ISS, which orbits about 400 kilometers above Earth, is tasked with conducting scientific experiments.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

Russian city introduced new mayor…by playing the Star Wars theme?

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

Oh, wait, no.

Actually, it was March 26, 2019, in the Russian city of Belgorod…

That’s when the music used to introduce the newly elected mayor at his oath-swearing ceremony was the Main Theme from Star Wars.

Video circulating on social media of the March 26, 2019 incident captured the moment when Yuri Galdun, 56, was introduced to take his oath of office after being elected to the post by Belgorod’s city council:


Мэр Белгорода принял присягу под музыку из “Звездных войн”

www.youtube.com

After Galdun’s name was announced, all of the people in the public hall were asked to “Please stand up.” Then, as Galdun walked out onto the stage, the public- address system blared out a short snippet of the Star Wars theme by composer John Williams – the song heard at the beginning of all the episodic Star Wars films.

Galdun, a former deputy governor of the Belgorod region, did not appear surprised as he placed his right hand on the Russian Constitution and said: “I take upon myself the highest and most responsible duties of the mayor of the city council for the city of Belgorod, I swear.”

Russia’s Baza channel on the Telegram instant-messaging app reported that the music was selected by a group of local officials that included Lyudmila Grekova, who heads the Belgorod city administration’s Department of Culture.

Gen. Martins just enacted a media blackout at Guantánamo

Yuri Galdun.

“We decided to replace the music” normally used for oath-swearing ceremonies “in order to make it more modern,” Baza quoted Grekova as saying on March 27, 2019.

Grekova told Baza that the decision was made by the group of city administrators, who listened to the brief snippet of music without knowing where it came from.

“There was no malicious intent,” Grekova said, adding that she usually “demands” Russian culture be represented rather than “foreign content.”

The Star Wars theme is considered the most recognizable melody in the series of Star Wars films. In addition to opening each of the films, it also forms the basis of the music heard during the end credits.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

US Navy’s carrier-based F-35s may not be ready for combat after all

The US Navy has declared its F-35Cs ready for combat, but the service’s own testing data says the stealth fighters designed to take off and land on aircraft carriers are nowhere close to ready, an independent nonpartisan watchdog reports.

“The F-35C is ready for operations, ready for combat and ready to win,” Vice Adm. DeWolfe Miller, commander of Naval Air Forces, said in February 2019 as the Navy announced that the fighter had achieved initial operating capability. “We are adding an incredible weapon system into the arsenal of our Carrier Strike Groups that significantly enhances the capability of the joint force.”


But the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit government-accountability group, warned March 19, 2019, that despite these claims, the F-35C, like the other variants, “continues to dramatically underperform in crucial areas including availability and reliability, cybervulnerability testing, and life-expectancy testing.”

Gen. Martins just enacted a media blackout at Guantánamo

An F-35C Lightning II carrier variant joint strike fighter.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Eli K. Buguey)

While still secretary of defense, Jim Mattis demanded last fall that the Navy and the Air Force strive to achieve a fleet-wide mission-capable rate of 80% for their fighters by October 2019. The Navy’s carrier-capable F-35 variant is apparently nowhere close to that target, having consistently achieved unacceptably low fully mission-capable rates.

The mission-capable rates for the Navy’s F-35Cs dropped from 12% in October 2016 to zero in December 2017, with figures remaining in the single digits throughout 2018, the oversight group reported, citing Navy documents. The US Navy, according to Military.com, also has only 27 of the required 273 F-35Cs, and the mission-capable rates do not apply to aircraft in testing, training, or depot.

“The fully mission capable rate for the full fleet is likely far below” the target set by Mattis, the watchdog concluded.

It said the Navy had opted to move forward with the aircraft “in spite of evidence that it is not ready for combat” and that it could “put at risk missions, as well as the troops who depend on it to get to the fight.”

The group’s analysis follows the release of a disconcerting report from the Defense Department’s director of operational, test, and evaluation in January that called attention to F-35 readiness issues, such as life expectancy, cybersecurity, and stagnant aircraft availability.

Gen. Martins just enacted a media blackout at Guantánamo

Two F-35C Lightning II aircraft.

(U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Shannon E. Renfroe)

“Fleet-wide average availability is below program target value of 60% and well below planned 80% needed,” the official report said. “The trend in fleet availability has been flat over the past three years; the program’s reliability improvement initiatives are still not translating into improved availability.”

The F-35 Joint Program Office responded to that report, saying the problems presented in the report were being “aggressively addressed.”

The JPO told Business Insider that as of January 2019, the mission capable rate for the Navy’s F-35C was 56 percent. “The Program Office has identified the enablers to increase our mission capability rates,” a JPO spokesman explained.

“We will continue to learn and improve ways to maintain and sustain F-35C as we prepare for first deployment,” the Joint Strike Fighter Wing commodore, Capt. Max McCoy, said as the Navy’s carrier-capable variant was declared “ready for combat” February 2019. “The addition of F-35C to existing Carrier Air Wing capability ensures that we can fight and win in contested battlespace now and well into the future.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Articles

SEAL Team 6 operator killed in one of Trump administration’s first anti-terror missions

A member of the Navy’s elite SEAL Team Six was killed during a Jan. 28 counter-terrorism raid in Yemen.


According to the Pentagon, three other personnel were wounded and two suffered injuries when a V-22 Osprey made a hard landing during the mission that targeted al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The unflyable tiltrotor was destroyed after all personnel on board were rescued.

The SEAL who died was identified as Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens, 36, of Peoria, Illinois. The names of the wounded SEALs have not yet been released.

Gen. Martins just enacted a media blackout at Guantánamo
Heavily-armed bodyguards from SEAL Team 6 provide close protection for Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Image: Wikimedia

Fourteen members of the terrorist group were killed during the covert assault, the Pentagon said. News reports indicate the SEALs also killed a relative of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born cleric who preached at a mosque attended by some of the 9/11 hijackers and who was also involved in the 2009 Fort Hood shooting and the attempt to bring down an airliner with an underwear bomb on Christmas Day 2009.

The New York Times reported that MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicles and helicopter gunships provided cover for the raid. An Air Force fact sheet notes that the MQ-9 Reaper is capable of carrying the GBU-12 laser-guided bomb, the AGM-114 Hellfire missile, and the GBU-38 GPS-guided Joint Direct Attack Munition.

Gen. Martins just enacted a media blackout at Guantánamo
Operators from a west-coast based Navy SEAL team participated in infiltration and exfiltration training as part of Northern Edge 2009 June 15, 2009. (U.S. Marine Corps Photo/Lance Cpl. Ryan Rholes)

“In a successful raid against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula headquarters, brave U.S. forces were instrumental in killing an estimated 14 AQAP members and capturing important intelligence that will assist the U.S. in preventing terrorism against its citizens and people around the world,” President Donald Trump said in a statement released on the attack.

“Americans are saddened this morning with news that a life of a heroic service member has been taken in our fight against the evil of radical Islamic terrorism,” he added. “The sacrifices made by the men and women of our armed forces, and the families they leave behind, are the backbone of the liberty we hold so dear as Americans, united in our pursuit of a safer nation and a freer world.”

Gen. Martins just enacted a media blackout at Guantánamo
A Marine Corps MV-22 lands in the desert. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Brandon Maldonado)

A statement by United States Central Command noted, “The operation resulted in an estimated 14 AQAP members being killed and the capture of information that will likely provide insight into the planning of future terror plots.”

“This is one in a series of aggressive moves against terrorist planners in Yemen and worldwide. Similar operations have produced intelligence on al-Qa’ida logistics, recruiting and financing efforts,” CENTCOM added.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The 5 best and worst cities for veterans to live in 2018

There are now an estimated 19.6 million American military veterans living in the United States, and that number is only going to rise. While veterans face a lot of the same economic and social pressures as lifelong civilians, we also tend to face a few different issues as we reintegrate into civilian life — and where we live can make as much a difference for us as it does for our children.

It’s an important decision to make, so why not do the research? Luckily, WalletHub did it for us.


The highly-popular personal finance website compared the largest 100 U.S. cities and indexed them for key factors of livability, affordability, and veteran-friendliness. What the latter means is that the cities have important resources and opportunities for veterans. Things like services to aid transition from military life, finding employment with military skills, and opportunities for growth are weighted in the rankings. Also important to study is access to VA facilities and services in these cities.

Related: A new study shows your chances of achieving the ‘American Dream’

You can read all about the methods WalletHub used to grade the cities and see each city’s grade on the WalletHub website. There, you can also see how each is ranked overall versus the 99 other biggest cities in America, along with each city’s rank according to job opportunities, economic factors, veteran quality of life, and veteran health issues.

Gen. Martins just enacted a media blackout at Guantánamo

1. Austin, Texas

It should come as no surprise that a hip city in Texas came in at number one. Austin makes the top of many lists and a home for veterans is not going to be different. The city is 20th in the health rank for veterans, but overall quality of life is rated very highly.

Gen. Martins just enacted a media blackout at Guantánamo

2. Scottsdale, Ariz.

Arizona is another historically military-veteran friendly state. Scottsdale actually beats Austin in many weighted areas, but its overall health ranking is much, much lower, leaving it at number 2 on the list.

Gen. Martins just enacted a media blackout at Guantánamo

3. Colorado Springs, Colo.

The Air Force doesn’t choose poorly when it comes to quality of life, anyone who’s spent a day on an Air Force installation can attest to that. The home of the Air Force Academy has the highest quality of life of any of America’s top 100 cities, while ranking high on quality of the economy.

Gen. Martins just enacted a media blackout at Guantánamo

4. Raleigh, N.C.

Job opportunities and the chances of economic growth are high in Raleigh, higher than any other city in the top five. It has some work to do in the health category, as far as veterans’ healthcare needs are concerned, but getting a good job with promotion potential can make the difference for a veteran family.

Gen. Martins just enacted a media blackout at Guantánamo

5. Gilbert, Ariz. 

There may be many people who are surprised to see a city with a population of just above 208,000 make the top-five list of best places for veterans, but this Phoenix suburb offers great economic growth opportunity and a high quality of life for vets.

Gen. Martins just enacted a media blackout at Guantánamo

96. Baltimore, Md.

Does ranking in the bottom five mean that Baltimore is a terrible place to live? Not necessarily. It means that of America’s 100 biggest cities, Baltimore has some work to do to attract veterans, especially in terms of quality of life and economic growth opportunities. No one wants to end up in a city that doesn’t grow with them.

Gen. Martins just enacted a media blackout at Guantánamo

97. Fresno, Calif.

Fresno, with just under a half million people, is not the worst of the worst in any of the four rankings that comprise its overall 97th position. In terms of jobs and the local economy, it’s a better city than the other bottom five, but not by much.

Gen. Martins just enacted a media blackout at Guantánamo

98. Memphis, Tenn.

It’s surprising to see Memphis make the bottom of the list, but while the economic factors for veterans fare better than other cities on the bottom of the list, jobs, veteran health, and overall quality of life for vets suffer in Memphis.

Gen. Martins just enacted a media blackout at Guantánamo

99. Newark, N.J.

Newark is actually more toward the middle of the the overall 100 on the list when it comes to veteran health care, but it sits at dead last for veteran jobs and quality of life.

Gen. Martins just enacted a media blackout at Guantánamo

100. Detroit, Mich. 

Poor Detroit has taken a beating over the past few years. While the Michigan city ranks dead last on the overall list of American cities for veterans to live, it doesn’t take last place in any of the four factors that comprise the list.

And, since it’s a proven fact that a large veteran population can strengthen communities, maybe the Motor City is exactly where we should be headed.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This video of the Chinese army obstacle course is absolutely ridiculous

China’s state-run news organization is being shamed for flaunting its “incredibly strong soldier morale” in a video showing a People’s Liberation Army service member participating in what appeared to be an obstacle course.

“This is the incredibly strong soldier morale of China’s PLA,” the People’s Daily tweeted in the caption, referring to China’s People Liberation Army. “They fear nothing.”

The service member, wearing a combat helmet and a load-bearing vest, could be seen dunking himself into a hole filled with water amid sounds of gunfire.


People on Twitter, some of whom are former US service members, mocked the People’s Daily’s characterization of the PLA troops:

In its latest report on the Chinese military, the US Defense Department said China continues to reform their armed forces in an effort to become a “world-class” military by 2049.

“In 2018, the PLA focused its training on war preparedness and improving its capability to win wars through realistic combat training during numerous smaller force-on-force exercises and skills-based competition exercises,” the Defense Department said in its annual report to Congress.

In addition to conventional warfare training, the Chinese military is said to have expanded its presence in the digital realm. Some of its flagship projects, such as the J-20 aircraft, is believed to have mimicked US technology from Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Articles

Trump signs law to make VA more accountable for vets’ care

President Donald Trump signed a bill into law on June 23 that will make it easier for the Department of Veterans Affairs to fire employees, part of a push to overhaul an agency that is struggling to serve millions of military vets.


“Our veterans have fulfilled their duty to our nation and now we must fulfill our duty to them,” Trump said during a White House ceremony. “To every veteran who is here with us today, I just want to say two very simple words: Thank you.”

Trump repeatedly promised during the election campaign to dismiss VA workers “who let our veterans down,” and he cast the bill signing as fulfillment of that promise.

“What happened was a national disgrace and yet some of the employees involved in these scandals remained on the payrolls,” Trump said. “Outdated laws kept the government from holding those who failed our veterans accountable. Today we are finally changing those laws.”

Gen. Martins just enacted a media blackout at Guantánamo
Donald Trump speaking at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Photo by George Skidmore)

The measure was prompted by a 2014 scandal at the Phoenix VA medical center, where some veterans died as they waited months for care. The VA is the second-largest department in the US government, with more than 350,000 employees, and it is charged with providing health care and other services to military veterans.

Federal employee unions opposed the measure. VA Secretary David Shulkin, an Obama administration holdover, stood alongside Trump as the president jokingly suggested he’d have to invoke his reality TV catchphrase “You’re fired” if the reforms were not implemented.

The legislation, which many veterans’ groups supported, cleared the House last week by an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 368-55, replacing an earlier version that Democrats had criticized as overly unfair to employees. The Senate passed the bill by voice vote a week earlier.

Gen. Martins just enacted a media blackout at Guantánamo
David Shulkin (right) – DoD Photo by Megan Garcia

Paul Rieckhoff, founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, applauded the move, saying, “In a nasty, partisan environment like we’ve never seen, veterans’ issues can be a unique area for Washington to unite in actually getting things done for ordinary Americans.”

The bill was a rare Trump initiative that received Democratic support. Montana Sen. Jon Tester said the bill “will protect whistleblowers from the threat of retaliation.”

The new law will lower the burden of proof to fire employees, allowing for dismissal even if most evidence is in a worker’s favor.

The American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employee union, opposed the bill. But the Senate-passed measure was seen as more in balance with workers’ rights than a version passed by the House in March, mostly along party lines. The Senate bill calls for a longer appeal process than the House version – 180 days versus 45 days. VA executives would be held to a tougher standard than rank-and-file employees.

Gen. Martins just enacted a media blackout at Guantánamo
USMC Photo by Sgt. Justin M. Boling

The bill also turns another of Trump’s campaign pledges into law by creating a permanent VA accountability office, which Trump established by executive order in April.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, called the bill signing “a significant step to reform the VA with a renewed purpose and ability to serve our veterans.”

“The ultimate goal is nothing less than a transformation of the culture within the VA so that our veterans receive the best care possible,” McCarthy said.

The VA has been plagued for years by problems, including the 2014 scandal, where employees created secret lists to cover up delays in appointments. Critics say few employees are fired for malfeasance.

Articles

Retired SEAL Admiral turns down National Security top job

The retired admiral whom President Donald Trump wanted to replace Michael Flynn as national security adviser turned down the job, he said Thursday. The Financial Times first reported the news.


Trump offered the position to retired Adm. Robert Harward on Monday, according to Tom Ricks at Foreign Policy. At the time, the former Navy SEAL commander told the president he’d need some time to “think it over.”

Related: Here’s how Mattis reacted to Flynn’s resignation

“It’s purely a personal issue,” Harward told the Associated Press on Thursday evening. “I’m in a unique position finally after being in the military for 40 years to enjoy some personal time.”

CNN’s Jake Tapper reported on Twitter that a friend of Harward said Harward was reluctant to take the job since the Trump White House seemed so chaotic and called the offer a “s— sandwich.”

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Gen. Martins just enacted a media blackout at Guantánamo
Robert Harward during a visit to Zaranj, Afghanistan, in 2011. | US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Shawn Coolman

Two administration officials confirmed to The Washington Post that Harward was at the top of Trump’s three-person short list to replace Flynn, who abruptly resigned from the role after it became public that he had discussed sanctions with Russia’s ambassador to the US before Trump’s inauguration. Flynn reportedly urged the ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, not to overreact to the latest round of sanctions imposed by the Obama administration, indicating that incoming administration might be more inclined to roll them back.

Harward, who rose to deputy commander of US Central Command before retiring in 2013, wanted to bring in his own staff for an overhaul of the National Security Council, according to Ricks.

One of FT’s sources said Harward was concerned about whether he could carry out such a “housecleaning” of NSC workers, many of whom were loyal to Flynn.

As national security adviser, Harward would have had a close ally in Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, whom he served under at Central Command. He also has NSC experience, having served on the council during the George W. Bush administration.

Retired Army Gen. Keith Kellogg is serving as acting national security adviser. Trump tweeted Friday morning that Kellogg was “very much in play for NSA — as are three others.”

Do Not Sell My Personal Information