Hollywood has done a great job of making writing letters to deployed troops seem glamorous and romantic, but the truth is there is nothing fun about having a loved one sent overseas. Being thousands of miles apart from the one you love with little to no communication for months is never easy. The Veterans of Foreign Wars knows about these hardships all too well, and has partnered with Sandboxx to cover the cost of the next 4,500 letters sent to deployed service members.
There are approximately 15,000 Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen currently deployed to war zones. While access to technology is more ubiquitous than ever before, many service members can only receive physical mail and care packages from home while they are overseas.
Sandboxx makes it easier and faster to send mail to overseas service members through the Letters feature on the app. Families and friends of deployed service members can download the Sandboxx app to write a meaningful message, snap a photo, and hit send. Sandboxx will then print and mail the letter to the service member, and include a stamped, addressed return envelope to make it easy for their service member to send a handwritten reply in return.
Thanks to the support of the VFW, the next 4,500 letters sent to APO, FPO and DPO addresses via Sandboxx will be free.
“Mail call was, and still is, one of the most important morale boosters for isolated service members,” remarked Major General Ray “E-Tool” Smith (USMC Ret.), Founder and Chairman of Sandboxx. “We are incredibly proud to partner with the VFW in order to get more mail written and delivered to our servicemen and women away from home. Families can easily take a photo at a family gathering or at the dinner table and send it through Sandboxx, knowing with confidence that we’ll take care of the rest.”
To ensure that your letter is sent free of charge, the city section of the address must contain APO, FPO or DPO. Be sure to update your app to the latest version in the app store, to receive the free credit.
Make sure to share this with your friends who also have a service member who is currently deployed!
Click right here to download the app. If you encounter any problems or have any questions about our services, please feel free to contact Sandboxx at email@example.com.
On behalf of everyone at Sandboxx and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, thank you and your service member for their service to our country. Start sending letters to deployed troops now.
Alyssa Clark running on the Amalfi Coast in Italy. (Courtesy photo)
Even before Italy locked down in response to the coronavirus, Alyssa Clark could tell something more severe was coming.
“It was probably mid-February where we started having [authorities say] if you’ve traveled in this region, you need to make sure that you are reporting where you’ve been … and if you have any fevers or coughs, reporting it,” said Alyssa, who until recently lived in Quadrelle, a town near the headquarters of US Naval Forces Europe-Naval Forces Africa in Naples, with her husband, Navy Lt. Codi Clark.
“We started to have a premonition that it was going to get a lot worse, and then Northern Italy was really slammed, and they started imposing pretty harsh restrictions on March 9,” which was the “last day of freedom,” Alyssa said in a May 22 interview.
Across Italy, authorities clamped down. As the country’s hospitals strained with patients, politicians confronted residents who disobeyed the stay-at-home orders.
“We could not walk, run, or travel in a car except to go to and from work or to and from the grocery store, and we had to carry papers with us,” Alyssa said. “We could be stopped by police at any time and be fined if we were not moving within those restrictions.”
Alyssa Clark running on the Amalfi Coast in Italy. (Courtesy photo)
A Morale, Welfare and Recreation fitness specialist with Naval Support Activity Naples, Alyssa was the only one in her building at the military complex’s Capodichino location.
Isolation may have been important for public health, but for Alyssa, an ultra-marathoner who’s run everything from 32-milers to multi-day stage races of more than 150 miles, just sitting at home wasn’t appealing.
“I am a competitive ultra runner, and I always have a very set racing schedule. I had some big goals for this year and then everything started getting canceled,” Alyssa said. “So I was looking for the next project that I could take on.”
“I was toying with a few ideas and kind of randomly thought, ‘Oh, wouldn’t it be interesting to try to run a marathon every day while we’re under lockdown?'”
‘Oh, this is a possibility’
The original plan was to run a marathon every day until people could run outside again. “Then I started looking up what the world record is for consecutive days running a marathon, and I started getting closer and closer to that and thinking, ‘Oh, this is a possibility.'”
For women, that record is 60 days straight. She ran the idea by Codi, who said it was “pretty feasible” for her. “And it just has continued to snowball,” Alyssa said.
Insider spoke to Alyssa just hours after she finished her 53rd marathon, another four- to five-hour hour outing on a small treadmill.
“We have an upstairs room that we don’t use very often, so it just has a couch and a TV that doesn’t really work,” Alyssa said. An open door let in sunlight and a Velcro sticker kept her iPad fastened to the treadmill so she could watch “easily digestible” shows like “Love is Blind” and “Too Hot to Handle.”
“Luckily I had an AC fan on me, and then I have my nutrition set up next to me and a water bottle,” Alyssa said. “Pretty basic, but it works.”
Staying energized was a challenge, especially for Clark, who has a compromised immune system. “I have ulcerative colitis,” Alyssa said. “I actually had my colon removed when I was 14. That’s a whole other story.”
Now gluten-free, Clark eats rice cakes with peanut butter and bananas before running and has gluten-free waffles while on the treadmill.
“I often eat snickers bars — it’s a very good source of energy and sugar,” Alyssa said. “Ultra-marathoners love drinking Coca-Cola, so oftentimes that will be a good pick-me-up.”
So is sugar-free Red Bull. “I actually did about one of those every marathon for quite a while,” she added.
Alyssa Clark on a run before lockdown. (Courtesy photo
Running marathons is taxing — running them on a treadmill even more so.
Alyssa is very specific about her shoes, using ones she trusts and that offer a lot of cushion. “I’ll rotate two pairs, and I’ll probably throw in another pair by the end, and I was using a couple of pairs to start. So I probably used three to four pairs of shoes.”
In addition to stretching, Alyssa said she uses lotion to help with recovery after running. “I’ve been starting to have a little bit of quad pain that I seem to have wrangled, but I’ve been icing that a bit,” she added.
Mentally, the trick to running long distances is not to think about the long distances, Alyssa said.
“I’m never sitting there thinking about the whole 26 miles when I begin. I’m thinking about at mile 8, I’m going to eat something. At mile 13, I’m going to have a Red Bull or something that is enjoyable,” she said. “Then, ‘Hey, I’m already halfway through.’ OK, I’m going to get to mile 16. Then I have 10 miles to go. That’s great. I can do that.”
“I also have a lot of external motivation from people reaching out to me saying that they’re going on runs, that they haven’t been on a run forever and I’ve been motivating them to get out, and also other people saying, you’re inspiring me to get healthier to keep going during this lockdown that’s really challenging, and so that really has helped me keep going when things get tough,” Alyssa added.
Marathon 61 and beyond
Days after speaking, Codi and Alyssa left Italy for the US and their next duty station, but Alyssa kept after the record, setting a goal of completing a marathon each day before midnight Italian time.
“We will be flying out on Tuesday [May 26] to go to Germany. So I will do one Tuesday morning before we leave, and then in Germany before we leave the next day I will do another one on the Air Force base, and then we’ll fly to Virginia,” Alyssa said.
“The next day I will run one in Virginia, and then we will drive to Charleston and I will run one or two in Charleston and then eventually we’ll get to Florida,” Alyssa added, praising her husband for helping make sure she could continue the runs during the move.
“The hard part with this is it’s not a 20-hour event or a 12-hour-a-day event. It’s only a four- to five-hour a day event,” Codi said in the May 22 interview. “So my job during this time has been to force her to attempt to stay in bed and put her feet up and do that kind of focus on recovery.”
Alyssa finished her 60th marathon in Norfolk, Virginia, on the last weekend of May. Marathon 61, and with it the unofficial women’s world record for consecutive days running a marathon distance, came the next day in Charleston, South Carolina. Marathon 62 followed amid protests across Charleston, Clark said in an Instagram post.
Marathon 63 came on Monday evening, after five days of travel, with the couple having finally reached their new duty station in Panama City Beach, Florida. Tuesday and Wednesday brought marathons 64 and 65.
Alyssa’s most recent marathons went the same way her first did: step after step, minute after minute.
“None of these happen by trying to jump into running 10 miles right away. It’s breaking it down, doing what you can, and being consistent. Consistency is the key to success,” Alyssa said when asked for advice to prospective marathoners.
But passion is important, and no one should feel compelled to take up long-distance running, she said.
“Find something you enjoy, because that’s way more important than forcing yourself to do something you don’t love. I love running. I get to do four hours of what I love every day, and that is incredible.”
China reportedly sent an uninvited surveillance ship to spy on the recent joint military exercises with Russia, a move highlighting how lingering distrust and competitiveness weaken the so-called “strategic partnership” emerging between Moscow and Beijing.
Beijing sent thousands of People’s Liberation Army troops accompanied by tanks, helicopters, and artillery to eastern Russia for joint drills in September 2018. China also deployed a PLA Navy Dongdiao-class auxiliary general intelligence (AGI) vessel to shadow Russian naval assets training at sea while Chinese ground troops trained on land, USNI News reported, citing a US official. The latter was apparently not invited, but the opportunity to gather valuable intelligence on a competitor was presumably too good to pass up.
While consistent with past Chinese practices — the Chinese navy has sent spy ships to the Rim of the Pacific exercises — it is unusual to surveil an ally while training alongside them, even if it is technically legal under international law.
Given rising tensions between Washington and Moscow and Beijing, some observers suggested that increasing US pressure was driving Russia and China together, laying the groundwork for a possible alliance. A strategic military partnership between the two powers is alarming given each country’s interest in challenging America’s leadership and unilateral power and authority in the international system.
“It sends a signal to Washington that if the U.S. continues on its current course by pressuring Russia and imposing more sanctions, Russia will fall even more into the firm embrace of China,” Alexander Gabuev of the Carnegie Institute in Moscow recently told the Associated Press.
The Military Band of the Eastern Military District during the opening parade of Vostok 2018.
The “main political significance” of the Vostok 2018 drills “comes from the signaling by both Russia and China about the possible emergence of a strategic partnership, aimed at countering the threat that both countries feel from continued U.S. dominance of the international system,” Dmitry Gorenburg argued in The Washington Post.
The massive war games, touted as “unprecedented” and expected to be held every five years going forward, came as Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to stand together against unilateralism. In June 2018, Xi called Putin his “best friend,” a sentiment seemingly shared by the latter.
But despite the budding bromance between Chinese and Russian leadership, the bilateral relationship between the two countries is undermined by decades of distrust dating back to the Cold War, when Soviet and Chinese troops skirmished along the border and tensions rose to the point that Russia was considering a nuclear strike on China.
Chinese state-affiliated media downplayed talk of a Chinese-Russian alliance, suggesting that the concept was being overhyped. “China and Russia are not allies, and they are firm in not forging an alliance,” the nationalist Global Times explained in a recent editorial. “But the outside world shouldn’t make China and Russia feel an urgent need to strengthen their military cooperation.”
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said recently that he sees “little in the long term that aligns Russia and China.”
Exactly what the Chinese intelligence vessel was doing remains unclear, but experts suspect that it was gathering information on Russia’s more technologically-sophisticated navy given China’s interest in advancing its radar and electronic warfare capabilities, USNI News reported. Assuming the ship was indeed uninvited, China may have been trying to learn more about Russian warfighting than Russia was willing to teach.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
For the first time in its history, the U.S. Navy has selected a female naval aviator to command a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. Capt. Amy N. Bauernschmidt was selected for the position by the FY22 Aviation Major Command Screen Board. Naval Air Forces confirmed the selection on December 7, 2020. Although it’s unknown which of the Navy’s 11 aircraft carriers she will command, Bauernschmidt is no stranger to making history.
She graduated from the Naval Academy in 1994, the same year that women were allowed to serve on combat ships and planes. “That law absolutely changed my life,” Bauernschmidt told CBS during a 2018 interview. “We were the first class that graduated knowing and feeling honored with the privilege to be able to go serve along the rest of our comrades in combat.” After she graduated from flight school in 1996, Bauernschmidt was assigned to Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light 45 (HSL- 45) “Wolfpack” in San Diego. Her first deployment was on board the USS John Young (DD-973) in support of maritime interdiction operations in the Northern Arabian Gulf.
Over her 26-year career, she has served as an aide-de-camp to Commander, Carrier Strike Group 7, a department head with HSL-51 “Warlords” in Japan, an action officer executive assistant to the Director, J6 on the Joint Staff, and as the executive officer of HSM-70 “Spartans” before taking command of the squadron. In 2016, Bauernschmidt became the first female executive officer of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72). Her most recent command was of the USS San Diego (LPD-66).
Bauernschmidt has accumulated over 3,000 flight hours in naval aircraft. In addition to her military awards, including the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, she also earned the 2011 Admiral Jimmy Thach Award and Captain Arnold J. Isbell Trophy for tactical innovation and excellence. “For me, it is about supporting and defending the Constitution of the United States,” Bauernschmidt said in her 2018 interview. “But it’s also about these young men and women that I lead every day.” Her historic achievements have paved the way for future female sailors to continue to break barriers.
A video of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un crying about his country’s terrible economy while surveying its coast is said to be making the rounds among the country’s leadership — and it could be a sign he’s ready to cave in to President Donald Trump in negotiations.
The defector reportedly said the video surfaced in April 2018, and high-ranking members of North Korea’s ruling party viewed it, possibly in an official message from Kim to the party.
In April 2018, North Korea had already offered the US a meeting with Kim and was in the midst of a diplomatic charm offensive in which it offered up the prospect of denuclearization to China, South Korea, and the US.
The defector speculated that the video was meant to prepare the country for possible changes after the summit with Trump.
Really strange video
In North Korea, Kim is essentially worshipped as a god-like figure with an impossible mythology surrounding his bloodline. Kim is meant to be all powerful, so footage showing him crying at his own inability to improve his country’s economics would be a shock.
Kim’s core policy as a leader had been to pursue both economic and nuclear development, but around the turn of 2018, he declared his country’s nuclear-weapon program completed.
Experts assess with near unanimity that Kim doesn’t really want to give up his country’s nuclear weapons, as he went to the trouble of writing the possession of nuclear weapons into North Korea’s constitution.
Instead, a new report from the CIA says Kim simply wants US businesses, perhaps a burger joint, to open within the country as a gesture of goodwill and an economic carrot, CNBC reports.
Big if true
Trump has made North Korea a top priority during his presidency and has spearheaded the toughest sanctions ever on Pyongyang. In particular, Trump has been credited with getting China, North Korea’s biggest ally and trading partner, to participate in the sanctions.
The Army and General Dynamics Land Systems are developing a Stryker-mounted laser weapon aimed at better arming the vehicle to incinerate enemy drones or threatening ground targets.
Concept vehicles are now being engineered and tested at the Army’s Ft. Sill artillery headquarters as a way to quickly develop the weapon for operational service. During a test this past April, the laser weapons successful shot down 21 out of 23 enemy drone targets.
The effort marks the first-ever integration of an Army laser weapon onto a combat vehicle.
“The idea is to provide a solution to a capability gap which is an inability to acquire, track and destroy low, slow drones that proliferate all over the world,” Tim Reese, director of strategic planning, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
The weapon is capable of destroying Group 1 and Group 2 small and medium-sized drones, Reese added.
The laser, which Reese says could be operational as soon as 11-months from now, will be integrated into the Fire Support Vehicle Stryker variant designed for target tracking and identification.
General Dynamics Land Systems is now working on upgrading the power of the laser from two kilowatts of power to five kilowatts. The laser weapon system uses its own tracking radar to acquire targets in the event that other sensors on the vehicle are disabled in combat and has an electronic warfare jamming system intended to jam the signal of enemy drones. Boeing is the maker of the fire-control technology integrated into the laser weapon. The laser is also integrated with air-defense and field artillery networks
“The energy of the laser damages, destroys and melts different components of the target,” Reese explained.
The Army is now in research and test mode, with a clear interest in rapidly deploying this technology. Reese added that GDLS anticipates being able to fire an 18-kilowatt laser from the Stryker by 2018.
One of the challenges with mobile laser weapons is the need to maintain enough exportable power to sustain the weapon while on-the-move, developers have explained.
“As power goes up, the range increases and time to achieve the melt increases. You can achieve less than one-half of the burn time,” he said.
This initiative is of particular relevance given the current tensions in Europe between Russia and NATO. US Army Europe has been amid a large-scale effort to collaborate with allies on multi-lateral exercises, show an ability to rapidly deploy armored forces across the European continent and up-gun combat platforms stationed in Europe such as the Stryker.
Lasers at Forward Operating Bases
The Army is planning to deploy laser weapons able to protect Forward Operating Bases (FOB) by rapidly incinerating and destroying approaching enemy drones, artillery rounds, mortars and cruise missiles, service leaders told ScoutWarrior.
Forward-deployed soldiers in places like Afghanistan are familiar with facing incoming enemy mortar rounds, rockets and gunfire attacks; potential future adversaries could launch drones, cruise missiles, artillery or other types of weapons at FOBs.
Adding lasers to the arsenal, integrated with sensors and fire-control radar, could massively help U.S. soldiers quickly destroy enemy threats by burning them out of the sky in seconds, Army leaders said.
Laser weapons have been in development with the Army for many years, Mary Miller, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Research and Technology, told Scout Warrior in an interview several months ago.
“We’ve clearly demonstrated you can takeout UAVs pretty effectively. Now we are not only working on how we take out UAVs but also mortars and missiles–and eventually cruise missiles,” she said.
The emerging weapons are being engineered into a program called Indirect Fire Protection Capability, or IFPC Increment 2. Through this program, the Army plans to fire lasers to protect forward bases by 2023 as part of an integrated system of technologies, sensors and weapons designed to thwart incoming attacks.
At the moment, Army soldiers at Forward Operating Bases use a system called Counter Rocket, Artillery, Mortar – or C-RAM, to knock down incoming enemy fire such as mortar shells. C-RAM uses sensors alongside a vehicle-mounted 20mm Phalanx Close-in-Weapons-System able to fire 4,500 rounds per minute. The idea is to blanket an area with large numbers of small projectiles as a way to intercept and destroy incoming artillery, rocket or mortar fire.
Also, lasers bring the promise of quickly incinerating a wide range of targets while helping to minimize costs, Miller explained.
“The shot per kill (with lasers) is very inexpensive when the alternative is sending out a multi-million dollar missile,” Miller said.
Boeing’s Avenger Laser weapon successfully destroyed a drone in 2008 at White Sands Missile Range. Army weapons developers observed the test.
The Army is also developing a mobile high-energy solid-state laser program called the High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator, or HEL MD. The weapon mounts a 10 kilowatt laser on top of a tactical truck. HEL MD weapons developers, who rotate the laser 360-degrees on top of a Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck, say the Army plan is to increase the strength of the laser up to 100 Kilowatts, service officials said.
“The supporting thermal and power subsystems will be also upgraded to support the increasingly powerful solid state lasers. These upgrades increase the effective range of the laser or decrease required lase time on target,” an Army statement said
In November of 2013, the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command used the HEL MD, a vehicle-mounted high energy laser, to successfully engage more than 90 mortar rounds and several unmanned aerial vehicles in flight at White Sands Missile Range, N.M.
“This was the first full-up demonstration of the HEL MD in the configuration that included the laser and beam director mounted in the vehicle. A surrogate radar (Enhanced Multi Mode Radar) supported the engagement by queuing the laser,” an Army statement said.
Miller explained how the Army hopes to build upon this progress to engineer laser weapons able to destroy larger targets at farther ranges. She said the evolution of laser weapons has spanned decades.
“We first determined we could use lasers in the early 60’s. It was not until the 90’s when we determined we could have the additional power needed to hit a target of substance. It took us that long to create a system and we have been working that kind of system ever since,” Miller added.
The Russians appear to have backed off their earlier threats after the US Marine Corps sent them a clear message.
The Pentagon, US Central Command, and Operation Inherent Resolve have all confirmed that Russia has stayed out of the deconfliction zone and is no longer insisting on conducting operations or launching precision strikes in the area near the At Tanf garrison, where US Marines are based.
Russia warned the US twice on Sept. 1, 2018, and again on Sept. 6, 2018, that the Russian military, together with Syrian and pro-regime forces, planned to carry out counterterrorism operations inside the 55-kilometer deconfliction zone. It accused the US and its coalition partners of harboring terrorists.
Immediately following Russia’s threats, the US Marine Corps conducted a live-fire demonstration at the At Tanf garrison to drive home the point that the US military did not need Russia’s help eliminating terrorists.
U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Carter Sampson, an anti-tank missile gunner with 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, attached to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force, Crisis Response-Central Command, fires a FGM-148 Javelin, a shoulder-fired anti-tank missile, at his target during a live fire demonstration near At-Tanf Garrison, Syria, Sept. 7, 2018.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Roderick Jacquote)
“The United States does not seek to fight the Russians, the government of Syria, or any groups that may be providing support to Syria in the Syrian civil war,” the US Central Command spokesman Lt. Col. Earl Brown previously told Business Insider, adding: “The United States will not hesitate to use necessary and proportionate force to defend US, coalition, or partner forces as we have clearly demonstrated in past instances.”
“The US does not require any assistance in our efforts to destroy ISIS in the At Tanf deconfliction zone, and we advised the Russians to remain clear,” he added.
In the nearly two weeks since, the Russians have not contacted the US military about operations inside the deconfliction zone, an area the Syrians and the Russians want to access to build a strategic land bridge between Tehran and Damascus.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Wounded veteran Bryan Anderson didn’t know what swimming would be like missing three limbs. But as is his style, he learned to adapt and overcome and now enjoys hot summer days lounging by the pool and working it with the ladies #BryanStyle.
General Lori Robinson experienced a meteoric rise through the ranks of the U.S. Air Force. From 2012-2014, she added a star per year to her epaulets. She was the deputy commander of the USAF’s CENTCOM area of responsibility and the vice commander of the U.S. Air Force’s global strike force. She became the first female to command USAF combat forces when she took over Pacific Air Forces, which controls Air Force operations from the United States to the east coast of Asia and from Antarctica to the Arctic Ocean.
Now, she’s poised to make history again in 2016.
The current Air Force Chief of Staff (CSAF), General Mark Welsh III, is set to retire in the summer, and Robinson is on the short list to replace him.
She’s also in the running to head the U.S. Northern Command, which would make her the highest ranking combatant commander, tasked with defending the contiguous United States, Alaska, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico.
Robinson is also a unique choice because she would be the first non-pilot to be named CSAF. Her experience, however, includes more than 900 flight hours as a “senior battle manager” in the E-3B/C and E-8C aircraft.
“As far as the woman part of it all, I’m the commander at Pacific Air Forces,” Robinson recently said during an interview. “I’m a general of the United States Air Force; I’m an airman, and I happen to be a woman.”
Congress is hurtling toward yet another government shutdown deadline on Jan. 19 and while the focus for this round of negotiations is on immigration, there is one key issue that will determine whether the deadline comes and goes without an agreement.
Congress must still decide exactly how much funding to provide for defense and non-defense functions of the government. So far this fiscal year, short-term funding bills passed before the few shutdown deadlines maintained last year’s spending levels for federal programs — but Congress wants to increase spending for the new year.
There are limitations on how large the funding increases can be because of the spending caps triggered in 2013 by the 2011 Budget Control Act. These caps on the amount the government can increase spending for defense and non-defense spending from year to year are much lower than lawmakers want.
Both Democrats and Republicans want to come to an agreement in order to increase those levels beyond the current limits for next year. Going above the Budget Control Act’s limits can be done with a congressional action, but first Congress must get over the substantial disagreement on the size of the increases.
Republicans want a bulk of the spending increase to go to defense spending instead of non-defense spending. Democrats, on the other hand, want to increase defense and non-defense spending by an equal amount.
The initial offer from the GOP in December was to boost defense spending by $54 billion and non-defense spending by $37 billion for 2018 and 2019. Democrats rejected this, calling for parity between the two by raising both sides by $54 billion.
Despite being in the minority, Democrats have substantial influence on the issue because some Republicans concerned about government spending — such as Sen. Rand Paul — could vote against any bill that substantially increases spending above the caps.
Additionally, Democrats could filibuster any spending bill in the Senate that does not meet their demands.
Sen. John Cornyn, the second-highest ranking GOP senator, said that setting these caps has been difficult so far because Democrats are attempting to attach codification of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration program, which prevents the deportation of undocumented immigrants that entered the country as minors, to the bill setting the caps.
Despite the complication of the DACA fight, Democrats have additional leverage on the spending cap issue since no party has had the government shut down while controlling both Congress and the White House since 1979.
The most likely scenario in the coming days, according to reports, is that Congress passes a short-term funding extension with new cap levels, giving appropriators — staffers who do technical budgetary work — time to hash out exactly where to spend the money.
“In our minds, the only question is the size of the deal — we had initially ball-parked a $300 billion deal over two years, though ~$200 billion over two years (equal amounts to defense and non-defense) now seems more likely,” said Chris Kreuger, a policy strategist at Cowen Washington Research Group. “The Republicans have offered $54 billion for defense and $37 billion for non-defense, though the Democrats are demanding 1:1 parity (which they are likely to get).”
The U.S. Army on Thursday awarded Sig Sauer a contract worth $580 million to make the service’s next service pistol.
Sig Sauer beat out Glock Inc., FN America and Beretta USA, the maker of the current M9 9mm service pistol.
“I am tremendously proud of the Modular Handgun System team,” Army Acquisition Executive Steffanie Easter said in a Jan.19 press announcement. “By maximizing full and open competition across our industry partners, we have optimized private sector advancements in handguns, ammunition and magazines, and the end result will ensure a decidedly superior weapon system for our warfighters.”
The Army did not offer any details about what caliber the new Sig Sauer pistol will be.
The service launched its long-awaited XM17 MHS competition in late August 2015 to replace its Cold War-era M9 9mm pistol. One of the major goals of the effort is to adopt a pistol chambered for a more potent round than the current 9mm. The U.S. military replaced the .45 caliber 1911 pistol with the M9 in 1985 and began using the 9mm NATO round at that time.
Army weapons officials informed Beretta USA and FN America at SHOT Show 2017 that they had been dropped from the XM17 Modular Handgun System in a recent down-select decision, according to a service source who is not authorized to speak to the press.
The decision formally ends the Beretta’s 30-year hold on the Army’s sidearm market.
Beretta has fought hard to remain to remain the Army’s pistol maker. In December 2014, Beretta USA submitted its modernized M9A3 as a possible alternative to the Army’s Modular Handgun System program.
But the Army rejected the improved M9A3 which featured new sights, a rail for mounting lights and accessories, better ergonomics and improved reliability.
Beretta was not finished yet. It developed a new striker-fired pistol, the APX and entered it into the APX.
The Army began working with the small arms industry on MHS in early 2013, but the joint effort has been in the works for more than five years. It could result in the Defense Department buying nearly 500,000 new pistols.
Current plans call for the Army to purchase more than 280,000 handguns, according to Program Executive Office Soldier officials. The Army also plans to buy approximately 7,000 sub-compact versions of the handgun.
The other military services participating in the MHS program may order an additional 212,000 systems above the Army quantity.
“As MHS moves forward into operational testing, the due diligence taken by all of the stakeholders will ensure a program that remains on-budget and on-schedule.” Easter said.
Israel and the U.S. inaugurated the first American military base on Israeli soil on September 18th, which will serve dozens of soldiers operating a missile defense system.
The move comes at a time of growing Israeli concerns about archenemy Iran’s development of long-range missiles. Together with the U.S., Israel has developed a multilayered system of defenses against everything from long-range guided missile attacks from Iran to crude rockets fired from Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.
The base’s opening is largely symbolic and isn’t expected to bring operational changes. But the Israeli military says that along with other measures, it sends a message of readiness to Israel’s enemies.
“It’s a message that says Israel is better prepared. It’s a message that says Israel is improving the response to threats,” said Brig. Gen. Zvika Haimovich, the commander of Israel’s aerial defense.
The base is located within an existing Israeli air force base and will operate under Israeli military directives.
Israeli and U.S. military officials cut a ribbon at the base Monday, where the American and Israeli flags flew side by side and soldiers from both countries commingled.
Israel’s multi-tier missile defense system includes the Arrow, designed to intercept long-range ballistic missiles in the stratosphere with an eye on Iran, and Iron Dome, which defends against short-range rockets from the Gaza Strip. David’s Sling is meant to counter the type of medium-range missiles possessed by Iranian-backed Hezbollah militants.
Israel considers Iran to be its greatest threat, citing the country’s nuclear ambitions, its development of long-term missiles, hostile anti-Israel rhetoric and support for anti-Israel militant groups. Israel has grown increasingly concerned about Iran’s involvement in the civil war in neighboring Syria, where its troops are supporting President Bashar Assad.
Israel is worried that Iran and its proxy Hezbollah will establish a long-term presence in Syria near the Israeli border.
Marine Lt. Robert Kelly, Marine Lt. Travis Manion, and Navy SEAL Brendan Looney. All three were killed in service in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The military has a very prescribed, formal process for telling Gold Star families about the loss of their service member. Two to three members of that branch of the military will receive word that they need to notify a family of a casualty. They carefully double and triple check the information. They ensure each other’s uniforms are perfect. And then they knock at the door.
Travis and Ryan Manion, brother and sister. Travis was a Marine Corps officer killed in Iraq during a firefight where he moved forward to draw enemy fire. His mother created a foundation named for him, and his sister now serves as that foundation’s president.
(Photo courtesy Travis Manion Foundation)
Three women who received those knocks are sharing their stories of sudden loss in a new book, The Knock at the Door. One lost her brother in combat, and two lost husbands. Two of their loved ones died in Afghanistan, and one in Iraq. But the stories these women tell apply far outside of the military. They hope their stories will help others grapple with grief, whether it comes from the loss of a job, a cancer diagnosis, or a knock at the door.
Ryan Manion is one of the authors and the President of the Travis Manion Foundation. The foundation is named for her brother, a Marine first lieutenant who died in Al Anbar, Iraq, in 2007 while drawing fire from wounded members of his unit.
Ryan, and indeed, all three of the book authors, experienced some break in the prescribed casualty notification processes. In Ryan’s case, she rushed home after getting a call from her family. One uniformed Marine was there with a family friend who had served in the Marines with Ryan’s father. The family friend, a retired lieutenant colonel, had helped tell the family. Ryan’s father told her.
My dad stared at me with a blank look. Then in a very measured tone, he said, “Travis was killed.”
The uniformed Marine had struggled under the strain. He was sitting in his car, cradling his head against the steering wheel. It’s the home visit no service member wants to make.
Ryan grieved as she and her family made preparations to bury Travis. She wouldn’t take off an old, red Marine Corps sweater until it was time to greet his body at Dover. Even then, she carried it with her. When they held the funeral, she connected with Travis one last time by rubbing his head.
I knew that, after the last person knelt down to say a prayer in front of Travis, the funeral director was going to close that casket forever, and that would be it. I’d never see my brother’s face again. I rubbed his head one last time and felt my heart sinking as my father gently pulled me away.
But the book isn’t about the women’s losses. Or at least, it’s not just about that. It’s mostly about how they faced living again without their loved ones. And one of the great lessons that Ryan shares comes after the deaths of her brother and mother. As she attempted to do better things in her life in their memory, she was saddened whenever she came up short.
But she learned a vital lesson in that time, “Failure is a bruise, not a tattoo.” You can heal from falling short. You don’t have to wear it forever.
Amy Looney Heffernan and Brendan Looney. Brendan was a Navy SEAL killed in a helicopter crash.
(Photo courtesy Travis Manion Foundation)
A close friend of Travis tragically died just a few years later in 2010. Brendan Looney was a Navy SEAL deployed to Afghanistan who had almost completed his tour when he was killed in a helicopter crash. The Navy couldn’t initially get a hold of his wife, Amy Looney Heffernan. A receptionist for her company sent the Navy officers to a company conference and had Amy meet them there.
And so Amy learned of her husband’s death in a hotel room. Her sister-in-law took lead on logistics, helping do everything from scheduling the big events to getting items for Amy to wear at the funeral, especially a big pair of sunglasses to hide her tears.
As Amy said the night before the funeral:
I might be crying my eyes out, but the last thing I need is people looking at me like I’m some naive, pathetic little girl. If people start fawning all over me with pity, it’s just going to piss me off. I know what I signed up for and so did Brendan. I just don’t want people to feel sorry for me, you know?
But Amy struggled in the weeks after, neglecting the dogs that she and Brendan had shared, refusing to eat, spending hours on the couch, neglecting herself. She describes a routine of “Ambien, pajamas, and a dark room,” before she forced herself to get better for herself, for Brendan, and for her poor dogs.
Amy’s recovery was challenging, but she eventually describes how she packed for a mountain excursion in Peru designed to help her and other Gold Star family members remember their loved ones while challenging themselves.
Amy and Ryan knew each other through their loved ones; Brendan had actually spoken at Travis’s funeral, and Travis was moved from his family plot to Arlington National Cemetery after Amy asked for the friends to be buried together, fulfilling Travis’s original wishes.
Ryan described the process of moving Travis in just three days so he could rest next to Brendan. The secretary of the Army had to sign off on the move, but the family tried to keep the proceedings quiet so the focus would remain on memorializing Brendan. But some Marines got word of the transfer and held a quiet assembly to honor Travis.
“We just kind of told our close friends and family that we were reintering Travis on that Friday,” Amy said. “And we’ve actually, the Marines from Quantico, one of them was friends with Travis at the time. He was an instructor there. And one of the [Officer Candidate School] housing buildings is named Manion Hall. And so he ended up finding out, and I remember we showed up at Arlington and there was like 200 Marines in dress blues standing at full attention. Which was a pretty incredible sight to see.”
Marine 2nd Lt. Robert Kelly stands with his wife Heather. Robert would later die in an IED strike in Afghanistan. His wife has co-authored a new book about grief.
(Courtesy Travis Manion Foundation)
But while Amy and Ryan knew each other, their co-author Heather Kelly was unknown to them until her husband was buried just a few rows away at Arlington. Marine Lt. Robert Kelly, a son of a prominent general, was killed by an IED in Afghanistan. Heather received her casualty notification five hours early as the Marine Corps leaders wanted to make sure she found out at the same time as her father-in-law, and they had moved his alert forward so that he would learn from a friend instead of the list of casualties he would see in the morning.
Heather turned to black humor to get through the funeral process. She and her brother-in-law created a running joke about her riding into the funeral on an elephant to properly honor Robert, a joke that came about after a funeral director tried to upsell the family on a decorative guest book.
Heather continued the joke in front of some Marines, and they ran with it:
They were eager to fulfill the wishes of a fallen hero’s family, and God bless them, they actually half-seriously discussed getting me to the Washington Zoo. I think they may have even placed a phone call to the zoo to arrange for me to pet an elephant, which they figured would be a close second to leasing one for the day. Ah, Marines. No better friends in the world, no worse enemies.
Heather met the other two women after Amy wrote an op-ed about remembering her husband not only as “a warrior for freedom” but also an “ambassador of kindness.”
Now, all three women work through the Travis Manion Foundation to foster kindness and a dedication to service in the next generation and to help veterans and Gold Star families find continued purpose and opportunities to serve in their community. Their book, The Knock at the Door, came out November 5.