“Welcome to another exciting episode of when is America gonna start acting like the great country we keep telling ourselves we are?” asked Jon Stewart in a press conference in September. He went on to remind the crowd that he’d spent the previous fifteen years trying to get Congress to support 9/11 first responders who were sick as a result of their heroism that day.
“When it was done, we thought it was done, but it turns out that the warfighters that were sent to prosecute the battle based on the attack of 9/11 now suffer the same injuries and illnesses that the first responders suffered from. And they’re getting the same cold shoulder from Congress,” he declared.
The speech came with announced legislation that would deliver care for veterans who suffered from health problems directly related to burn pits, open air fires that were commonly used to dispose of waste at military sites in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to The Washington Post, “the legislation would declare certain illnesses among combat veterans as linked to toxic burn pits, removing barriers of proof of exposure that advocates have said are too high.”
As of Sept. 11, 2020, the VA claimed that “research does not show evidence of long-term health problems from exposure to the burn pits.”
The VA does, however, acknowledge the following:
“Toxins in burn pit smoke may affect the skin, eyes, respiratory and cardiovascular systems, gastrointestinal tract and internal organs. Veterans who were closer to burn pit smoke or exposed for longer periods may be at greater risk. Health effects depend on a number of other factors, such as the kind of waste being burned and wind direction. Most of the irritation is temporary and resolves once the exposure is gone. This includes eye irritation and burning, coughing and throat irritation, breathing difficulties, and skin itching and rashes. The high level of fine dust and pollution common in Iraq and Afghanistan may pose a greater danger for respiratory illnesses than exposure to burn pits, according to a 2011 Institute of Medicine report.” According to the Washington Post, U.S. contractors and military veterans destroy enormous amounts of waste, including vehicle parts, lithium-ion batteries, solvents, and amputated limbs, by soaking them in jet fuel and burning them in open-air pits, “some larger than a football field.”
In his speech, Stewart pointed out the similarities between the contamination on 9/11 and the burn pits overseas — especially the use of jet fuel as an accelerant. “Jet fuel as the accelerant at Ground Zero and jet fuel as the accelerant in these burn pits. So our veterans lived twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week next to toxic smoke, dioxins, everything. And now they’re being told, ‘Hey man, is that stuff bad for ya? I don’t know. We don’t have the science.’ It’s bullsh**. It’s bullsh**. It’s about the money.”
Hundreds of thousands of veterans are left to advocate on their own, Stewart explained, which is why he and a team of lawmakers have stepped up to demand that Congress go on record and be held accountable for their decisions in this matter.
The legislation was proposed to Congress by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.). The measure would grant presumption of exposure to veterans with certain conditions and who served in one of 33 countries where troops were deployed after the 9/11 attacks, Gillibrand said.
The VA opened a burn pit registry which allows eligible veterans and service members to document their exposures and report health concerns through an online questionnaire. Over 200,000 participants have already completed and submitted the registry questionnaire.
F-22 Raptor fighter jets from Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, have joined combat air forces from across the nation for the joint, full-spectrum readiness exercise Red Flag 17-3.
Ten F-22s from the 95th Fighter Squadron are joining the exercise alongside Marine Corps F-35B and Air Force F-35A Lightning II joint strike fighters.
This is a first in Red Flag history that both variants of F-35 will take part in the exercise, officials said. The F-35B is the short-takeoff and vertical-landing version of the jet, and the F-35A has conventional takeoff and landing capabilities.
Other aircraft such as B-1 Lancer and B-2 Spirit bombers, E-3 Sentry airborne warning and control aircraft, F-16 Fighting Falcon fighters, and more will also be featured and will each play an important role in the exercise theater, officials said.
The F-22 is designed to project air dominance rapidly and at great distances.
“We’re primarily an escort role,” said Air Force Capt. Brady Amack, 95th Fighter Squadron pilot. “We integrate with other aircraft, whether they’re fourth or fifth generation, and ensure they’re able to execute their mission. The amount of experience we get is huge. There is no other area, really, where we can train with so many different types of aircraft in such a large area.”
Higher Level of Training
By gathering these diverse units together, the exercise facilitates readiness training on a higher level, as each unit rings specific expertise and talents to the table, officials said. Red Flag teaches them to work together as they would in the field, possibly for the first time, before facing an actual threat, they added.
Red Flag 17-3 is exclusively reserved for U.S. military forces, which allows for specific training when coordinating fifth-generation assets, exercise officials noted, adding that Tyndall’s Raptors will be able to learn from working with both F-35 units taking part.
Both aircrafts’ stealth capabilities, advanced avionics, communication and sensory capabilities help augment the capabilities of the other aircraft, Amack said.
“Working with the F-35s brings a different skill set to the fifth-generation world,” he added. “Having a more diverse group of low-observable assets has allowed us to do great things.”
The mission of the Red Flag exercise overall is to maximize the combat readiness and survivability of participants by providing a realistic training environment and a preflight and post-flight training forum that encourages a free exchange of ideas.
The 95th Fighter Squadron benefits by learning how to completely integrate into multi-aircraft units and gaining experience from intense sorties, officials said.
“Since Red Flag 17-3, in particular, is U.S. only, we get to take the opportunity to take things to the next level,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Mark Sadler, 414th Combat Training Squadron commander.
“This Red Flag alone gives us our singular largest fifth-generation footprint, which allows us to learn as we continue to build new ideas. As we look to be innovative and solve problems, we’ll only increase our readiness by getting smarter as a force and as joint warfighters.”
The media’s craze surrounding possible Russian interference with the US election through hacking isn’t going away anytime soon. Though the hype is primarily political, it’s important to separate fact from fantasy.
Tangibly, the overarching processes that corporations and nation-states use to gain advantage over a competitor or adversary are quite common. It’s important to evaluate how these attacks are used in the world today. The two main vectors used to attempt to exploit our election were Spear-Phishing and Spoofing.
Spear-phishing targets select groups of people that share common traits. In the event of the Russian hack, the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU, and affiliated non-governmental organizations (companies, organizations, or individuals loyal to Russia), sent phishing emails to members of local US governments, and the companies that developed the voting-registration systems.
Their intent was to establish a foothold on a victim’s computer, so as to perpetrate further exploitation. The end-result of that exploitation could allow manipulation and exfiltration of records, the establishment of a permanent connection to the computer, or to pivot to other internal systems.
Spoofing is an act in which one person or program successfully masquerades as another by falsifying data, thus gaining an illicit benefit. Most people understand spoofing in terms of email, whereby an attacker spoofs, or mimics, a legitimate email in order to solicit information, or deploy an exploit.
As it relates to the Russian situation, spoofing a computer’s internet protocol (IP) address, system name, and more, could have allowed a successful spear-phisher to bypass defenses and pivot to other internal systems. This kind of act is so trivial, some techniques are taught in basic hacking courses.
Ignore the Hype
What we know from reporting, as backed by unauthorized disclosures, is that defense mechanisms appear to have caught each of the spear-phishing and spoof attempts. Simply put, there is no information to suggest Russia had success.
For political reasons, politicians have worked hard to make this a major talking-point. However, these same politicos cannot speak in absolutes, because there simply wasn’t a successful breach—let alone one able to compromise the integrity of our national election.
One piece of information to note: these attacks are some of the most common seen in the cyber world. There is nothing revolutionary about these vectors, or how they are employed against government, commercial, and financial targets. This isn’t to suggest it is a moral or acceptable practice, rather the reality of life in the Information Age.
I would be remiss if I didn’t make a note about the way Hollywood (and media in general) portrays hacking in a way that is mystical and comical. The portrayals only serve to conflate an issue that is easily managed with thoughtful consideration and implementation of best-practices.
Gold Star Spouses Day has its origins way back to World War I. The families of servicemen would fly banners and hang them in their windows. These banners had a blue star to represent a service member in uniform. But, if their loved one was killed in action, the color of the star was changed from blue to gold, thus notifying the community the ultimate price that family had paid for their country.
1. The Gold Star lapel pin was created in 1947
Following the popularity of the banners, in 1947, Congress approved the design for the official Gold Star lapel pin/button. This was introduced to represent service members who had died in combat. The pin takes the form of a gold star on a purple background.
2. The military bestows the Gold Star upon families
During the funeral service of the fallen military member, senior officers present the Gold Star Pin in addition to the national colors to the spouse or next of kin as a mark of respect for their sacrifice.
3. Gold Star Wives/Spouses Day began in 2010
In 2010, the first Gold Star Wives Day was observed. Two years later the Senate passed a resolution that codified Gold Star Wives Day, which was set to be observed April 5th each year. To make it more inclusive this was changed later and renamed Gold Star Spouses Day.
4. Gold Star Spouses Day raises awareness
Gold Star Spouses Day brings awareness of the sacrifices and grief these spouses have faced in the name of their country. However, possibly more importantly, it brings awareness for the Gold Star survivors themselves of the large network of resources and assistance that is available to them. A few examples of the resources available to these spouses are: Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), scholarship resources which include the Pat Tillman Scholarship and the Fisher House Foundation Scholarship for Military Children, in addition to the Army’s Survivor Outreach Services (SOS).
5. Gold Star Spouses Day is observed in many ways
While Gold Star Spouses Day is not a national holiday, there are many installations that have their own programs to observe this day. Many of the installation observances focus on the military fitness and lifestyle. For instance, there are quite a few remembrance 5Ks which are run on April 5. There are also remembrance efforts seen online and on social media. One such effort is the Facebook campaign which urges Gold Star families to share photos and memories of their fallen loved ones.
While Gold Star Spouses Day is one day set aside each April to acknowledge the sacrifices of these military family members, their grief and loss is something that should be remembered each and every day. These special families have lost a loved one in the name of freedom, in the name of the United States. Their family member willingly fought, served and gave that ultimate sacrifice. This is something that should never be overlooked or forgotten, rather is something that should be acknowledged every day. Without these tragic losses, Americans would not have the freedoms they hold so dear, nor would America be the proud country that it has always been. It is only through the willingness to give everything that Americans have the ability to hold onto the patriotic pride that is so important.
This Gold Star Spouses Day, and every day, take the time to remember these families that have given so much. Never take for granted the freedoms America has been given and fought for. Keep these sacrifices in mind each day, and be grateful for the men and women who are so willing to pay that ultimate price for their country. Whether you take to social media or see one at your local military installation, thank a Gold Star Spouse today.
Ahead of the historic meeting between the leaders of North and South Korea on April 27, 2018, political emblems depicting unity have been rolled out across South Korea.
One of these is an outline of the full Korean Peninsula, like on the Korean unification flag seen prominently at the Olympics. Inside Peace House, where Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-In will meet, chairs have been engraved with the same outline and a miniature version of the flag will be placed on a dessert later in the day.
But not everyone views the symbols favorably.
The Korean unification flag features a set of disputed islands between Japan and South Korea that have been a source of tension for over a millennia.
Both South Korea and Japan claim the pair of nearly uninhabitable islets located in the Sea of Japan, which are controlled by South Korea. South Korea refers to the islands as Dokdo, while the Japanese refer to them as Takeshima.
Internationally, they have been given the name of Liancourt Rocks to avoid dispute.
Japan claims it acquired the islands in 1905 as terra nullius during its occupation of Korea, while Korea maintains it was illegally occupied and that Japan’s claims to the islands amount to continued imperialism.
The islands holds significant symbolic importance to South Korea but Japan has protested the use of the islands in the Korean unification flag.
On April 25, 2018, Japan’s foreign ministry lodged a formal complaint about the use of the flag, which is set to be featured on top of a mango mousse served during the inter-Korean summit on April 27, 2018.
A Japanese official met with the South Korean embassy in Tokyo, telling them the use of the flag is “deeply regrettable and unacceptable for Japan,” according to NHK News.
The Japanese Embassy in Seoul has also lodged a complaint with South Korea’s foreign ministry.
This is not the first time the symbol has angered Japan.
In February 2018, Japan lodged a protest against the unification flag which was on display during a women’s ice hockey match between the joint North-South Korean team and Sweden.
South Korea later said it would not depict the islands on the flag it intended to use during the Olympics. But pictures of North Korea’s cheerleaders at the games show they appear to have used the controversial flag anyway.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Kim Jong Un issued an unprecedented threat directly to President Donald Trump Friday.
In response to the president’s warning at the U.N. that the America will “totally destroy” North Korea if the rogue regime attacked the U.S. or its allies, the North Korean leader threatened to “tame” Trump “with fire,” promising the “highest-level” action against the U.S.
North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho clarified exactly what this might mean.
“It could be the most powerful detonation of an H-bomb in the Pacific,” he said, adding that he has “no idea about what actions could be taken as it will be ordered by leader Kim Jong Un.”
Earlier this month, North Korea conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test to date, detonating a suspected staged thermonuclear weapon, specifically a hydrogen bomb. The country has twice successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile that can reach the U.S., and it North Korean state media has presented images of the warhead. Pyongyang has yet to put everything together and demonstrate its full capabilities though.
It is unclear how North Korea might choose to conduct its next nuclear test, but it could choose to carry out such a test with its new intermediate-range ballistic missile, which it has already fired over Japan twice.
Testing a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific would represent a new kind of North Korean provocation, one unlike anything the world has seen before. Kim is determined to prove that he will not be deterred by Trump. North Korea recently claimed that is close to achieving its nuclear goals, despite international pressure to rein in the aggressive little country.
The U.S. State Department says its coordinator for counterterrorism is traveling to the three Scandinavian countries to discuss matters including “Iran-backed terrorism” in Europe.
The State Department announced Ambassador Nathan Sales’ trips to Denmark, Sweden, and Norway in a Jan. 29, 2019 statement, saying that Iran “remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism.”
“In recent years the regime has directed or backed terrorist plotting in France, Denmark, The Netherlands, Albania, and elsewhere,” it added.
In January 2019, the European Union approved fresh sanctions on Iran’s intelligence services and two Iranian nationals, accusing them of attempting — or carrying out — attacks against Iranian government opponents on Danish, Dutch, and French soil.
Nathan A. Sales prepares to sign his appointment papers to become Ambassador-at-Large and Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 29, 2017.
(State Department Photo)
Tehran denied the claim, saying the accusations were aimed at damaging relations between Iran and the EU.
The Dutch government in 2019 accused Iran of likely involvement in the killings of two Dutch nationals of Iranian origin in 2015 and 2017. Both were opponents of the Iranian regime.
In October 2018, Denmark accused Iran’s authorities of planning to carry out attacks on its soil on Iranian exiles belonging to an Iranian opposition group, while France blamed Tehran for a foiled bombing attack that targeted a rally organized by another banned group near Paris in June 2018.
And in December 2018, non-EU member Albania expelled Iran’s ambassador to Tirana and another diplomat, saying they were suspected of “involvement in activities that harm the country’s security.”
Precise reasons for the move were not given, but U.S. officials said it sent a clear message that conducting “terrorist operations in Europe” was unacceptable.
The alleged plots in Europe have strained relations between Tehran and the European Union, which has been working to preserve the 2015 nuclear deal after the United States pulled out of the accord aimed at preventing Iran from developing a nuclear bomb.
The U.S. State Department said that Sales’ talks with Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian officials will also touch upon the prosecution of foreign terrorist fighters who traveled from Europe and other parts of the world to fight alongside the extremist group Islamic State in countries such as Syria and Iraq.
“The United States is urging its partners to repatriate their citizens and prosecute them for the crimes they have committed,” the statement said.
It said that a 2017 UN Security Council resolution requires states to combat terrorist travel, using tools including terrorist watch lists and airline reservation data.
U.S. military officials and policymakers are devoting increased attention to the potential for conflict with a near-peer competitor, and they’ve pursued a number of operational and equipment changes to prepare for it.
Among the latest moves is the rollout of more cold-weather gear among the U.S. Army and Marine Corps, underscoring the military’s growing concern about its ability to operate in extreme environments outside the Middle East.
For the last several years, the Army has been looking to update its gear for extremes, mainly jungles and the harsh cold. Included in that search was a new cold-weather boot and a cold-weather clothing system that could be adjusted for various temperatures.
In recent weeks, soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum in New York have done winter training operations with new gloves, headgear, socks, gaiters, parkas, and trousers. That new gear was focused on “face, hands, and feet,” 1st Sgt. Daniel Bryan, first sergeant of the division’s Light Fighters School, told Army Times.
The unit also received new skis. Built shorter and wider, like cross-country skis, they were brought in so inexperienced soldiers could strap into them with their cold-weather boots and be able to maneuver in short order. Those new skis were also being deployed among Army units in Alaska, Vermont, and Italy.
Troops at Fort Drum have done cold-weather exercises for some time, but the base’s recent designation as a Zone 7 — the same designation as Fort Wainwright in Alaska and Camp Ethan Allen in Vermont — steered millions of dollars more in funding there so soldiers could undertake more training.
The new equipment has been fielded as part of an effort to prepare troops physically and mentally for cold-weather operations.
“We don’t want [the cold] to hibernate us,” Bryan said. “We want to be physically and mentally prepared.”
‘You’re going to get your skis … so get ready’
The Marine Corps has also been reorienting itself for operations in the extreme cold.
In mid-January, the Corps issued two requests for information for a cap and gloves for intense cold. The Marines want both to be able to withstand temperatures down to 50 below zero and be fast-drying and water repellant, with the gloves able to work with touchscreen devices.
The Corps also plans to spend $12.75 million — $7 million in fiscal year 2018 — to buy 2,648 sets of the NATO ski system for scout snipers, reconnaissance Marines, and some infantrymen, with the first sets arriving at the end of the 2018 calendar year.
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said in December that the Marine Corps Rotational Force Europe, based in Norway, would be the first to get the gear.
“No Marine is going to leave here unless they know how to ski,” Neller said at the time, according to Military.com. “You’re going to get your skis here in about a week, so get ready.”
U.S. Marines have been in Norway on rotational deployments since early 2017, though they’ve stored equipment there for some time.
The deployments, the first of their kind, have focused on tactical training for offensive operations in cold weather (and irked Russia).
The primary reason for creating the rotational force was improving cold-weather training, one of Neller’s main goals.
Some exercises, done with NATO allies and non-NATO partners, have taken place just 200 miles from Norway’s border with Russia. The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit has also been conducting cold-weather training in neighboring Sweden.
The adjustment to the region hasn’t been totally smooth.
Marines in Norway’s Arctic region in 2016 and early 2017 reported a number of problems with their gear, which was pulled from the service’s inventory of cold-weather equipment. Zippers stuck; seams ripped; backpack frames snapped, and boots repeatedly pulled loose from skis or tore on the metal bindings, according to Military.com.
The equipment problems spurred a wave of feedback from Marines, leading the Corps to start looking at upgrades and replacements — including some cold-weather gear used by the Army as well as reinforced backpack frames suitable for frigid temperatures.
The Marine Corps’ overall plans for new gear goes beyond just outfitting a small rotational force, however, and those moves fit in with preparations for a future fight that Neller has said could be on the horizon.
“I hope I’m wrong, but there’s a war coming,” Neller said during a December address to Marines in Norway. Neller said he saw a “big-ass fight” in the future and told them to be ready for a variety of missions.
Neller also said he expected the force’s attention to shift to new areas. “I think probably the focus, the intended focus is not on the Middle East,” Neller said, according to Military.com. “The focus is more on the Pacific and Russia.”
Increasing tensions with Russia and North Korea have increased the potential the U.S. military could face cold-weather fighting again — particularly in Northwest Asia.
During the Korean War, brutal cold plagued U.S. troops who lacked enough cold-weather gear and faced problems like frozen rations and gear damaged by subzero temperatures. Decades later, soldiers who recovered from frostbite and other injuries found themselves suffering from new symptoms related to their exposure.
In recent weeks, Wall Street has talked a lot about the fears of a coming recession, fueled by a drop in government bond yields. The casual investor may have no idea what this means for them, but for homeowners in the military and beyond, it means now is the perfect time to refinance a mortgage.
What any potential refinancer needs to know is that the falling bond yield is pushing mortgage rates to their lowest levels in three years. In November 2018, the interest rate was steady at five percent. Eight months later, the interest rate in now at 3.6 percent and looking to fall further.
This isn’t some shady internet ad, promising easy money on Obama-era mortgage laws or new Trump-era government home loans – those certainly exist and everyone should be wary about trusting easy money. But the drop in mortgage rates comes directly from Freddie Mac, whose rate on a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage fell to 3.6 in August 2019. The reason is that the 30-year rate is linked to 10-year Treasury Bonds. The rate of return on those bonds just fell to their lowest since October 2016.
(St. Louis Federal Reserve)
What this means is that suddenly your homeowner dollar goes a little bit further, considering the cost of taking out a new loan or refinancing an old one just dropped. According to Caliber Home Loans, a lending company who specializes in military and veteran homebuyers, the rule of thumb used to be that the interest rate for a new mortgage must be about two percentage points below the rate of a current mortgage for refinancing to make sense.
With new low- and no-cost refinancing from Caliber and other lenders, refinancing could make sense any time – especially right now, given the latest interest rates. A refinance could reduce overall interest while reducing a monthly payment. If you acted right now, you wouldn’t be alone, not by far. Falling rates boost the U.S. housing market.
It’s important to think of your home as an investment, too.
“My applications are up across the board,” said Angela Martin, a Nashville, Tenn.-based loan officer told the Wall Street Journal. “Every time the Fed starts talking is when my phone starts ringing off the hook.”
What Martin means is the Federal Reserve just cut the benchmark interest rate after a few successive rate hikes. This is when people start looking for a better deal. But be wary – lenders will sometimes employ different perks after a rate drop to entice customers to accept things like credits at closing instead of a lower rate.
For military families and veteran homeowners, look into military-oriented lenders like Caliber Home Loans. Caliber and companies like it specialize in the needs and benefits afforded to military members and veterans. Caliber is also a proud sponsor of the 2019 Military Influencer Conference, a three-day conference of service members, veterans, and spouses who work to elevate the military veteran community.
Russia has warned the US that its military and allied Syrian forces are ready to attack a key US-held base near the borders of Syria, Jordan, and Iraq, US defense officials said in a CNN report published on Sept. 6, 2018.
The Kremlin is said to have accused the US-led coalition base At Tanf of protecting nearby militants, with Russia delivering two warnings in the past week, CNN said, citing US officials. At Tanf, from which a coalition of dozens of US troops and Syrian rebels launch operations against the Islamic State terrorist group, is seen as a critical location within the scope of Iranian, Syrian, and Russian influence in the region.
“We have absolutely advised them to stay out of At Tanf,” a US official told CNN. “We are postured to respond.”
“The United States does not seek to fight the government of Syria or any groups that may be providing it support,” another official added. “However, if attacked, the United States will not hesitate to use necessary and proportionate force to defend US, coalition, or partner forces.”
US troops would not need permission from superiors to defend themselves if attacked, which the US reiterated to the Kremlin, CNN reported.
A state-sanctioned attack by Russia could spark a flashpoint conflict in the region. Tensions were raised in February 2018 after dozens of Russian mercenaries were killed during a failed assault on a US-held position near the city of Deir al-Zor.
Russian forces have not recently been seen amassing their troops; however, the US military is still on alert, officials said. Senior military officials, including Defense Secretary James Mattis and Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are aware of the warnings, CNN said.
Defense Secretary James N. Mattis.
(Dept. of Defense Photo by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro)
Russia’s warnings come amid a looming assault by Syrian and Iranian forces against the city of Idlib, where Syrian rebels have been cornered. Russia delivered an ominous warning in August 2018 that some experts saw as an indication that the Syrian government might indiscriminately use chemical weapons against the city.
The US followed with a threat of its own, warning Syrian President Bashar Assad that if he “chooses to again use chemical weapons, the United States and its Allies will respond swiftly and appropriately.”
“President Donald J. Trump has warned that such an attack would be a reckless escalation of an already tragic conflict and would risk the lives of hundreds of thousands of people,” the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said in a statement.
Featured image: Members of 5th Special Forces Group (A) conducting 50. Cal Weapons training during counter ISIS operations at Al Tanf Garrison in southern Syria.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The Homeland Security Department’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2019 requests $2 billion to recapitalize the Coast Guard’s surface fleet — notably $750 million to design and build the US’s “first new heavy polar icebreaker in over 40 years,” according to details released on Feb. 12, 2018 as part of President Donald Trump’s budget request.
The Coast Guard’s total request for the next fiscal year is a little over $11.65 billion — an increase of 8.4%, or $979 million, over the amount requested for fiscal year 2018.
The budget request includes several big-ticket projects for the Coast Guard, including $15 million to support the Service Life Extension Project for the Polar Star, the service’s only operational heavy polar icebreaker.
The Polar Star entered service in the mid-1970s and was refurbished in 2012 and is now well past its 30-year service life — “literally on life support,” Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft has said. Its sister ship, Polar Sea, is no longer in service and now provides parts to keep the Star running.
Zukunft, who assumed command of the Coast Guard in 2014, has been a driving force behind efforts to acquire a new icebreaker and has said he eventually wants to add three heavy and three medium icebreakers. In fall 2017, the Coast Guard and the Navy issued a joint draft request for proposal to build the next heavy polar icebreaker with an option for two more.
“When I came into this job, we thought: ‘Well, hey, we can wait a while before we address icebreakers. Maybe we can wait another four or five years.’ Well, if we wait another four or five years, as difficult as it is to find an appropriation today, it’s not going to get easier any time in the future, at least when I look into my crystal ball,” Zukunft told Business Insider at the end of 2017.
The $750 million proposed in the 2019 budget “provides detail, design, long lead time materials, construction, program management office support, feasibility studies and maintaining the indicative design, cybersecurity planning, project resident office initiation, and Navy reimbursable technical support.” The money will support efforts to “maintain scheduled delivery … in 2023.”
In addition to money apportioned to icebreaker sustainment and development, the 2019 budget would direct $400 million to start construction of a second offshore patrol cutter and provide long-lead-time materials for a third.
The offshore patrol cutter is meant to replace the service’s medium-endurance cutters, which operate on the high seas and in coastal approaches.
Another $240 million is designated for four fast-response cutters. FRCs are meant to replace the service’s 110-foot patrol boats and improve the Coast Guard’s ability to carry out search-and-rescue, border-security, drug-interdiction, and disaster-response operations.
The four new FRCs will bring the service to 52 of the program’s planned 58 ships.
An additional $5 million is apportioned to support the service’s waterways-commerce cutter, a program that may replace the aging fleet of inland tenders and barges that operate on US inland waterways, assisting the movement of $4.6 trillion in economic activity that makes use of US ports and waterways every year, according to the budget document.
While the budget requests highlight several programs involving the Coast Guard’s surface assets, the replacement of the icebreaker fleet has been a high-profile goal for some time. The aging Polar Star is the only ship the service has to support year-round access to Antarctic and Arctic regions — the latter of which has seen increasing activity as polar ice recedes, opening new channels for commerce and natural-resource exploration.
Operations by other countries in the region — particularly Russia, which already has a large icebreaker fleet — have been a particular point of concern for US policymakers.
“The Russians made it a strategic priority,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in late 2017. “Even the Chinese are building icebreaking tankers.”
Some experts have said the Russian icebreaker fleet is less of a concern than its resurgent navy, and Coast Guard officials, including Zukunft, have highlighted the service’s positive interactions with its Russian counterparts. But the commandant also sounded a note of caution about US policy toward the northern latitudes going forward.
“We do need to make an investment in terms of our surface capability to exert sovereignty in the Arctic,” Zukunft told Business Insider. “I think if you look across our entire military strategy, homage is paid to strength, and not so much if you are a nation of paper lions but you don’t have the teeth to back it up. And that’s an area where we’re lacking the teeth.”
VA and the Department of Defense (DoD) have taken action to minimize the number of non-essential required visits to identification (ID) card offices during the coronavirus public health emergency. If you have a VA or DoD ID card that has expired or is getting ready to expire, here are your options.
VA-issued Veteran Health Identification Cards (VHIC):
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Veterans enrolled in VA health care who are seeking a brand new VHIC (initial) should contact their local VA medical facility for guidance on going to facility to request a card. Once issued, cards are valid for 10 years.
Most Veterans will be able obtain a replacement VHIC (not initial VHIC) by contacting their local VA medical facility and making their request by phone, or they can call 877-222-8387, Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET. Once their identity has been verified, a replacement card will be mailed to them.
DoD-issued ID Cards:
Detailed information concerning DoD ID Card operations during the coronavirus pandemic can be found at the DoD Response to COVID-19 – DoD ID Cards and Benefits webpage (https://www.CAC.mil/coronavirus).
For all information regarding DoD-issued ID cards, please contact the Defense Manpower Data Center Identity and ID Card Policy Team at email@example.com. Limited information follows:
Common Access Cards (CAC) (including military and civilian personnel):
DoD civilian cardholders who are transferring jobs within DoD are authorized to retain their active CAC.
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The Marine Corps is solving the problem of requiring pull-ups for women by adding a push-ups option for all troops on the physical fitness test, Military.com has learned.
On Friday, the Corps rolled out a series of sweeping changes to the PFT, combat fitness test, and body fat standards — the result of a review of existing policies that began last November. The new fitness standards go into effect Jan. 1, 2017, officials said, and the body composition standards take effect immediately.
New pull-up policy
Perhaps the most significant change is the elimination of the flexed-arm hang as an alternative to pull-ups for women on the PFT. Instead, both men and women will be able to opt for push-ups instead — an exercise that was not previously part of the test. To encourage troops to do the more demanding exercise, the new standards limit the number of points available to those who choose the push-ups option. While women can achieve the maximum 100 points for completing between seven and ten pull-ups, and men can meet their max at between 20 and 23 reps depending on age, the push-ups scoring chart maxes out at just 70 points.
Most female Marines will have to complete between 40 and 50 push-ups to earn those 70 points, while most men will have to do between 70 and 80.
“Push-ups become an option on the PFT, but Marines are incentivized toward pull-ups, as these are a better test of functional, dynamic upper body strength and correlate stronger to physically demanding tasks,” Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said in an administrative message to the Corps released Friday. “Push-ups are also a valid exercise and good test; however maximum points can only be earned by executing pull-ups.”
Taken together, Neller said the changes to the PFT were the most significant updates to the program since 1972.
The hybrid pull-up option is the Marines’ solution to a four-year conundrum of how to promote pull-ups for all Marines without making it impossible for women to succeed. In 2012, the Corps announced it was doing away with the female flexed-arm hang in favor of pull-ups, with a minimum of three. Those plans were delayed multiple times, and in 2014, Marine officials admitted that half of women tested in boot camp couldn’t meet the three-pull-up minimum.
Brian McGuire, the deputy force fitness branch head for the standards division of Marine Corps Training and Education Command, told Military.com that push-ups, like pull-ups, could be completed in the field. But, he said, the pull-up is a more functional test and requires individuals to overcome their entire body weight, while push-ups only require them to overcome 75 to 80 percent of their body weight. But even with its limitations, the push-up is superior to the flexed-arm hang, he said.
“The flexed-arm hang, in many studies, has been shown to be an inadequate test of upper body strength,” McGuire said.
The high number of pull-up repetitions required of women in the new scoring standards reveal an optimism about how training will help them improve. Earlier this year, the Marine Corps promoted a training program piloted by Marine Maj. Misty Posey that promised to use strength and repetition pyramids to get female Marines from “zero to twenty-plus.”
The female pull-ups scoring chart maxes at 10 reps for women between the ages of 26 and 30, though most women will have to do at least seven reps to max their score.
Notably, all of the new standards will keep in place a gender-normed scoring system, which scores men and women differently on the same exercises in acknowledgment of different physical ability thresholds. While the Marine Corps introduced gender-neutral minimum standards for entry into an array of ground combat jobs last fall, McGuire said gender-neutral physical fitness standards for the Marine Corps were never ordered or considered.
Marines may also find themselves doing more repetitions than in previous years to max out their score. The new scoring charts divide Marines into eight age groups, all with different maximum standards based on calculated peak ability. For men and women, the charts assume peak fitness between the ages of 21-25, and 26-30. While the previous PFT scoring chart maxed out pull-up repetitions at 20 for all ages, the new male scoring chart maxes at 23 for men between the ages of 21 and 35.
McGuire said the new age groups were added to meet Neller’s guidance to create relevant and challenging standards. Previously, the Marine Corps had only four fitness age groups, and they only dictated minimum allowable standards.
“We had a 27-39 age group, that’s 12 years,” McGuire said. “There’s some performance differences that happen during that time.”
For events requiring repetitions, such as pull-ups, crunches, and the ammunition can lift, McGuire and TECOM officials went to the fleet to gather real data on Marines’ performance thresholds. Between January and March, they tested around 2,000 Marines at bases around the Corps to chart maximum and median repetition levels. As a result, some repetition maximums are increasing significantly. Max reps for the two-minute ammunition can lift portion of the combat fitness test are going up for 91 to 120 for men and from 60 to 75 for women in some age categories.
For other events, such as running on the PFT and maneuver-to-contact on the CFT, TECOM looked at existing data from Marines who were taking the tests, creating scatter charts and graphs to determine the real distribution of times and scoring. As a result, some maximum times were increased and some minimum times shortened.
“By elevating the standard, which was based again on our data collection, this will allow for greater levels of distinction” among Marines taking the tests, McGuire said.
Male and female run times are getting relaxed for some of the new age categories. While run times for men continue to max at 18 minutes for three miles and for women at 21 minutes, the standards now allow more time for men and women over 40.
Younger Marines will have to work harder, though, to achieve their minimum run score. While the previous standards awarded points for a 33-minute run time for men, now male Marines under 30 will have to beat 28 minutes to pass the test.
Similarly, Marines in younger age groups will have to do more crunches — between 105 and 115, depending on age and gender — to max their score on the exercise. Previously, all charts maxed out at 100 crunches.
Under the new program, the Marines’ combat fitness test will continue to feature maneuver-under-fire, the ammunition can lift, and movement-to-contact. But all scores are now age-normed using the new eight age groups.
No body fat limits for PT studs
Beginning in January, Marines who can get close to maxing out their PFT and CFT scores, earning at least 285 points out of a possible 300, are exempt entirely from the hated tradition of body fat testing, Neller said in his message to the Corps. Those who can score at least 250 on the tests also receive a bonus: an extra allowable one percent body fat above existing standards.
However, he added, all Marines must still comply with the service’s professional appearance standards, ensuring troops look good in uniform.
For some, weight standards will become more relaxed, beginning immediately. The new standards increase weight maximums for women by five pounds across the board. A 5’3 female Marine who previously maxed out her weight at 141 pounds can now weigh 146 pounds and stay within regulations.
Neller told Military.com in February that female troops had told him they struggled to get stronger in order to complete pull-ups and work to enter newly opened ground combat jobs while staying within existing height and weight standards.
“Whether women go into ground combat or not, they’re telling me they’re going to do pullups for the fitness test. They’re going to get stronger. You get stronger, normally you gain weight, you get thicker,” Neller said then. ‘[Female Marines are] wanting to know, ‘Hey, Commandant, make up your mind. What are you going to have us do and if we do this, understand that I’ll do it, but it’s going to cause me probably to have a physical change, so don’t penalize me for doing what you’re telling me to do.'”
The decision to ease the female weight requirements was also supported by data from the Marines Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force, an experiment that tested the ability of female Marines to succeed in the infantry alongside men.
“Females who were performing better at the integrated tasks were heavier,” McGuire said.
In his message Friday, Neller said Marines would also use more precise measuring devices to measure body fat. While the “rope-and-choke” circumference method of measuring body fat isn’t going away, McGuire said the Marine Corps would start using self-tensioning tape measures designed to yield more accurate measurements.
“It does eliminate some of the error,” he said.
Also taking effect immediately is a new waiver authority governing troops who max out their weight and body fat limits and are assigned to the body composition program, which can stall career progression and promotion. If Marines cannot get within standards after six months in the program, they risk expulsion from the Corps.
Now, Neller said, the first general officer in a Marine’s chain of command will have the authority to sign off on a waiver exempting him or her from the BCP on account of satisfactory fitness and military appearance.
While the new weight standards are not retroactive, Marine officials said, troops who are currently assigned to the BCP or in the process of administrative discharge because they can’t meet standards will be re-evaluated immediately in light of the new policy. If they fall in line with the new regulations, they will be removed from the BCP right away.
“We will monitor the effects of these adjustments for two years and then adjust if required to ensure our standards continue to contribute to the effectiveness of our force and enhance our ability to respond when our Nation calls,” Neller said.
Maj. Gen. James Lukeman, the commander of TECOM, said the new physical standards “raised the bar” for Marines’ fitness.
“Marines today are stronger, faster and fitter than ever and these changes reflect that. Bigger and stronger often means heavier, so tying performance on the PFT and CFT to changes to the Body Composition Program are improvements that we think the Marines will appreciate,” he said in a statement. “In the end, it’s all about improving the readiness and combat effectiveness of our Corps and the physical fitness of every Marine contributes to that.”