In 2011, First Lady Michelle Obama and Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden launched Joining Forces; an initiative to encourage public and private sectors to support the military community. The program dissolved under the previous administration but with Dr. Biden’s husband being sworn in as 46th president, the incoming first lady appeared eager to relaunch it.
Joining Forces called for a commitment of support in education, employment and wellness not just for the military member or veteran, but their families. At the original launch ceremony, President Obama called for “every segment of American society, not to simply say thank you but to mobilize, take action and make a real commitment to supporting our military families.” After six years, the initiative boasted new legislation in all 50 states and 1.25 million military community members hired.
Serving military families appears to be something close to the incoming First Lady’s heart. Her father was a Navy Signalman during World War II. Her late Step-Son Beau was an officer in the Army National Guard and deployed to Iraq while her husband was the Vice President. Despite leaving Washington, D.C. behind in 2017 – and watching Joining Forces end – Biden continued her work with military families through the Biden Foundation.
When Biden was elected president, many within the military community began to speculate when and if now-FLOTUS would bring back Joining Forces. “Joe and I have always believed that as a nation, we have many obligations. But we only have one truly sacred obligation — to properly prepare and equip our troops when we send them into harm’s way, and to care for them and their families both while deployed and when they return home, because your sacrifice deserves nothing less,” Dr. Biden stated, speaking to the Military Child Education Coalition’s virtual conference on November 17, 2021.
Just days ago, the Bidens officially relaunched Joining Forces.
On a call with military family organizations, Thursday January 14, 2021, Dr. Biden announced that an Executive Director for Joining Forces had been chosen. It was a familiar face; former Deputy Director of Joining Forces, Rory Brosius. “I know the love and strength and resilience that makes this community so unique, and it’s such a joy to be a part of it and a privilege to really have the chance to serve it,” Biden said during the virtual announcement.
Brosius is a spouse to a Marine Corps veteran. “This is my community, and it’s one I care deeply for. The world has changed since Joining Forces started in 2011. And I know that we have work to do to make sure that we are as timely and as targeted as we need to be. I take my mandate and our bias for action very seriously,” Brosius said during the announcement.
Biden has stated in multiple interviews that there is more work to be done in order to adequately and effectively support military families. On the virtual call she stated that Joining Forces will “get to work on Day One.”
The soon-to-be first lady appeared excited on the virtual call, sharing that, “The weight and the beauty of this responsibility, of the trust the American people have given us, will never leave me and I’m grateful and excited and most of all ready to get to work with all of you.”
If Kim Jong Un wanted to keep F-35s from being able to roam around his country with absolute freedom, he should have been investing in radar technology or fifth-generation fighters instead of nuclear weapons. Now, his erstwhile enemy to the South is getting some of the latest and greatest tech outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
“We, on our part, have no other choice but to develop and test the special armaments to completely destroy the lethal weapons reinforced in South Korea, ” said KCNA, North Korea’s state media outlet.
KCNA says a lot of things, though. Very enthusiastically.
South Korea received its first two F-35 Joint Strike Fighters in March 2019 and will have another 38 delivered by 2021. North Korea’s air force consists of very old Soviet-built MiGs and is largely unchanged from the air force his grandfather used. It’s so bad even the North Koreans acknowledge their fleet leaves something to be desired. Now, with South Korea’s acquisition of the world’s most advanced fighter, the North may actually have to make some much-needed upgrades.
“There is no room for doubt that the delivery of ‘F-35A’, which is also called an ‘invisible lethal weapon’, is aimed at securing military supremacy over the neighboring countries in the region and especially opening a ‘gate’ to invading the North in time of emergency on the Korean peninsula,” North Korea said in a statement via KCNA.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during their summit at the truce village of Panmunjom.
While Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump are having a very public bromance, South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in is largely left out of the media spotlight. When Trump arrived to meet with Kim at the Korean Demilitarized Zone, Moon was on the sidelines while Trump went for a walk in North Korea.
Rapprochement with the United States doesn’t extend to the South in every instance, however. The delivery of the vaunted F-35 prompted the North to issue these stunning rebukes of South Korean defense policy, calling the South “impudent and pitiful.”
“The South Korean authorities had better come to their senses before it is too late, shattering the preposterous illusions that an opportunity would come for improved inter-Korean relations if they follow in the footsteps of the United States,” said North Korea in an official statement.
A UN report says cases of torture and mistreatment of detainees in Afghanistan have increased despite promises from President Ashraf Ghani and new laws enacted to curb the widespread practice.
At least 39 percent of the conflict-related detainees interviewed by UN investigators “gave credible and reliable accounts” of being tortured or experiencing other mistreatment at the hands of Afghan police, intelligence, or military personnel while in custody, the report says.
That compares with 35 percent of interviewees who reported such ill-treatment in the last UN report, released in 2015.
The Afghan government has acknowledged that problems could be caused by individuals but not as a national policy.
“The government of Afghanistan is committed to eliminating torture and ill-treatment,” the government said in a statement.
The report by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) is based on interviews with 469 conflict-related detainees conducted over the past two years in 62 detention facilities administered by the National Directorate of Security (NDS), Afghan National Police, and other Afghan national-defense and security forces across the country.
“Torture does not enhance security,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said in a statement. “Confessions produced as a result of torture are totally unreliable. People will say anything to stop the pain.”
The UN report comes as senior Afghan officials prepare to appear before the UN Committee Against Torture in Geneva late April during a review of Afghanistan’s record of implementing anti-torture laws.
The International Criminal Court in The Hague is conducting a separate review of torture in Afghanistan.
“Notwithstanding the government’s efforts to implement its national plan…the present report documents continued and consistent reports of torture and ill-treatment of conflict-related detainees, mainly during interrogation, and highlights a lack of accountability for such acts,” UN officials concluded.
The document notes a 14 percent increase in reports of torture by Afghan National Police, at 45 percent of those interviewed.
The report says that more than a quarter of the 77 detainees who reported being tortured by the police were boys under the age of 18.
A force known as the Afghan Local Police severely beat almost 60 percent of their detainees, according to the interviews carried out by UN investigators.
Nearly 30 percent of interviewees held by Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, the NDS, said they had faced torture or mistreatment.
Afghan National Army soldiers were also accused of mistreating some detainees.
Most detainees who reported being tortured said it was to elicit a confession, and the ill-treatment stopped once they signed a written confession. In many cases, they could not read the confession, the report says.
Torture methods included severe beatings to the body and soles of the feet with sticks, plastic pipes, or cables; electric shocks, including to the genitals; prolonged suspension by the arms; and suffocation.
Round, smooth and iridescent, pearls are among the world’s most exquisite jewels; now, these gems are inspiring a U.S. Army research project to improve military armor.
By mimicking the outer coating of pearls (nacre, or as it’s more commonly known, mother of pearl), researchers at University at Buffalo, funded by the Army Research Office (ARO), created a lightweight plastic that is 14 times stronger and eight times lighter (less dense) than steel and ideal for absorbing the impact of bullets and other projectiles.
ARO is an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory.
The research findings are published in the journal ACS Applied Polymer Materials, and its earlier publication in J. Phys. Chem. Lett. (see related links below)
“The material is stiff, strong and tough,” said Dr. Shenqiang Ren, professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, a member of University at Buffalo’s RENEW Institute, and the paper’s lead author. “It could be applicable to vests, helmets and other types of body armor, as well as protective armor for ships, helicopters and other vehicles.”
Round, smooth and iridescent, pearls are among the world’s most exquisite jewels; now, these gems inspire U.S. Army researchers looking to improve military armor.
The bulk of the material is a souped-up version of polyethylene (the most common plastic) called ultrahigh molecular weight polyethylene, or UHMWPE, which is used to make products like artificial hips and guitar picks.
When designing the UHMWPE, the researchers studied mother of pearl, which mollusks create by arranging a form of calcium carbonate into a structure that resembles interlocking bricks. Like mother of pearl, the researchers designed the material to have an extremely tough outer shell with a more flexible inner backing that’s capable of deforming and absorbing projectiles.
“Professor Ren’s work designing UHMWPE to dramatically improve impact strength may lead to new generations of lightweight armor that provide both protection and mobility for soldiers,” said Dr. Evan Runnerstrom, program manager, materials design, ARO. “In contrast to steel or ceramic armor, UHMWPE could also be easier to cast or mold into complex shapes, providing versatile protection for soldiers, vehicles, and other Army assets.”
A new lightweight plastic that is 14 times stronger and eight times lighter (less dense) than steel may lead to next-generation military armor.
(University at Buffalo)
This is what’s known as soft armor, in which soft yet tightly woven materials create what is essentially a very strong net capable of stopping bullets. KEVLAR is a well-known example.
The material the research team developed also has high thermal conductivity. This ability to rapidly dissipate heat further helps it to absorb the energy of bullets and other projectiles.
The team further experimented with the UHMWPE by adding silica nanoparticles, finding that tiny bits of the chemical could enhance the material’s properties and potentially create stronger armor.
“This work demonstrates that the right materials design approaches have the potential to make big impacts for Army technologies,” Runnerstrom said.
Three crew members who have been living and working aboard the International Space Station returned to Earth on Dec. 14, landing in Kazakhstan after opening a new chapter in the scientific capability of humanity’s premier microgravity laboratory.
Expedition 53 Commander Randy Bresnik of NASA and Flight Engineers Paolo Nespoli of ESA (European Space Agency) and Sergey Ryazanskiy of Roscosmos landed at 3:37 a.m. EST (2:37 p.m. Kazakhstan time) southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan.
Together, the Expedition 53 crew members contributed to hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, as well as Earth and other physical sciences aboard the orbiting laboratory. Their time aboard marked the first long-term increase in crew size on the U.S. segment of the International Space Station from three to four, allowing NASA to maximize time dedicated to research on the station.
The trio also welcomed three cargo spacecraft delivering several tons of supplies and research experiments. Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft arrived at station in November as the company’s eighth commercial resupply mission. One Russian ISS Progress cargo craft docked to the station in October. And a SpaceX Dragon completed its commercial resupply mission to station in August, the company’s twelfth resupply mission.
During his time on the orbital complex, Bresnik ventured outside the confines of the space station for three spacewalks. Along with NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba, Bresnik lead a trio of spacewalks to replace one of two latching end effectors on the station’s robotic arm, Canadarm2. They also spent time lubricating the newly replaced Canadarm2 end effector and replacing cameras on the left side of the station’s truss and the right side of the station’s U.S. Destiny laboratory.
Ryazanskiy conducted one spacewalk with fellow cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin in August to deploy several nanosatellites, collect research samples, and perform structural maintenance.
The Expedition 54 crew continues operating the station, with Alexander Misurkin of Roscosmos in command. Along with crewmates Mark Vende Hei and Joe Acaba of NASA, the three-person crew will operate the station until the arrival of three new crew members on Tuesday, Dec. 19.
Scott Tingle of NASA, Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos and Norishige Kanai of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), are scheduled to launch Sunday, Dec. 17 from Baikonur, Kazakhstan. NASA Television will broadcast the launch and docking.
The Afghan Defense Ministry says 43 soldiers have been killed and nine wounded in a Taliban attack on an army camp in the southern province of Kandahar.
Ministry spokesman Dawlat Wazeri told RFE/RL that six soldiers were unaccounted for after the attack on the Afghan National Army base in the Maiwand district early on October 19.
Only two of the soldiers stationed at the base escaped the attack unhurt.
Waxeri said 10 militants were killed.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault, the third major attack on Afghan security forces this week.
The Western-backed government in Kabul is struggling to beat back insurgents in the wake of the exit of most NATO forces in 2014.
A local security official told RFE/RL that a suicide bomber detonated a car filled with explosives near the base, before a number of gunmen launched an assault against the facility.
The official, who was speaking on condition of anonymity, said the militants failed to overrun the base as reinforcement arrived at the scene.
Some reports said there were two suicide bombings.
Elsewhere in Afghanistan, six police officers were killed in an ambush in the northern Balkh Province late on October 18, according to Shir Jan Durani, a spokesman for the provincial police chief.
In the western province of Farah, the authorities said that militants attacked a government compound in the Shibkho district, killing at least three police officers.
The Taliban also claimed responsibility for the two attacks, which came after the extremist group launched two separate suicide and gun assaults on government forces on October 17 that left at least 80 people dead and about 300 others wounded, including soldiers, police officers, and civilians.
The attacks targeted a police compound in the southeastern city of Gardez, capital of Paktia Province bordering Pakistan, and a security compound in the neighboring province of Ghazni.
U.S. President Donald Trump recently unveiled a strategy to try to defeat the militants, and officials said more than 3,000 additional U.S. troops were being sent to Afghanistan to reinforce the 11,000 already stationed there.
(Editor’s Note – The following is an updated repost of a story on the USAF School of Aerospace Medicine Epidemiology Reference Laboratory at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, which was originally published on March 27, 2018. It contains new information on the lab’s mission during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine’s epidemiology laboratory is the Air Force’s sole clinical reference laboratory, and as such, is testing and processing samples of COVID-19 sent from military treatment facilities around the world.
The lab was authorized by the Defense Health Agency to test samples from Department of Defense beneficiaries for COVID-19 in early March, and received its test kit from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention shortly after.
“The USAFSAM Epi Lab is currently working long hours, testing and processing samples of COVID-19 that are coming in from MTFs globally,” said Col. Theresa Goodman, USAFSAM commander. “If you ask anyone on this team how they’re doing, they’ll tell you they’re fine–that they’re just doing their jobs. But I couldn’t be more proud of them right now — their selfless and tireless dedication to this mission. COVID-19 testing is our primary mission right now and the members of the Epi Lab are my front line to this fight.”
USAFSAM’s epidemiology laboratory, nested in the Air Force Research Laboratory’s 711th Human Performance Wing, has a long history of testing and identifying various infectious respiratory diseases, including those that occur on a regular basis like influenza, and the ones similar to COVID-19 that become a public health issue, spreading globally. Because of this, the team works closely with the CDC and other agencies.
Col. Theresa Goodman
“We have been in operation for approximately 30 years, and therefore involved with many other infectious disease outbreaks, for example SARS,” said Col. Dana Dane, USAFSAM Public Health Department chair.
This laboratory is only authorized to test samples coming in from DoD beneficiaries, but those outside this demographic have the support of their state public health departments for testing purposes. USAFSAM is working closely with public health professionals across the DoD, as well as with the CDC as the situation evolves. Per CDC guidelines, reference laboratories are no longer required to submit samples to the CDC for further testing and final confirmation. If the tests do show as positive, the USAFSAM Epi Lab marks the sample “confirmed positive.”
USAFSAM’s laboratory is not participating in vaccine development. It also is not the type of laboratory where people go to get blood drawn, nasal swabs, etc., like a CompuNet or clinic at a doctor’s office or in a hospital. USAFSAM’s clinical reference lab is set up to receive these samples from military treatment facilities. They run the tests on those samples and log the data.
“We’re all sensitive to those around the world who are grieving losses due to this awful virus as well as to others who are just downright scared. Our hearts go out to you,” said Goodman. “But just know that our epidemiology laboratory here in USAFSAM is waiting at the door 24/7 for any and all samples that come in from our DoD family.
Goodman also stated that the team is lockstep with public health personnel around the world as well as with our partners at the CDC.
“We truly are all in this together,” she said. “Fighting this virus will take all of us doing our part–from those staying at home washing their hands a little more often and checking on neighbors to USAFSAM’s public health team testing samples and getting the data where it needs to go.”
THE DISEASE DETECTIVES (ORIGINAL POST – MARCH 27, 2018 )
After slowly using a blade to cut through thick tape, a technician in a protective gown and glasses opens the flaps of a cardboard box revealing a polystyrene container. As her gloved hands cautiously remove the lid, a wisp of vapor rolls slowly over the edge of the box, clinging to its surface as it descends onto the tabletop.
The technician gingerly reaches through the fog and removes a plastic bag filled with clear vials from the container. This process is repeated over a hundred times each morning as carts filled with boxes of clinical patient specimens arrive at the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine’s Epidemiology Laboratory Service at the 711th Human Performance Wing at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
Created in 1990, the Epi Lab, as it is referred to at USAFSAM, focuses on clinical diagnostic, public health testing and force health screening, performing 5,000 to 8,000 tests six days a week (or about 2.1 million tests a year) for clinics and hospitals treating active duty service members, reservists and National Guard members and their dependents and beneficiaries.
The data collected from these tests not only enables the analysis of disease within the joint force, but is shared with civilian public health agencies contributing to the tracking of diseases, such as influenza and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), as well as supporting disease prevention efforts, such as the formulation of vaccines.
While the lab receives most of its medical samples from Air Force bases around the world, it also tests specimens sent by Navy and Army hospitals and clinics, totaling more than 200 military medical facilities around the globe.
The Epi Lab’s workload is a result of its efficiency and economics, according to Elizabeth Macias, Ph.D., a clinical microbiologist, and director of the Epi Lab.
Elizabeth Macias, Ph.D., is a clinical microbiologist, and director of the Epidemiology Laboratory Service, also known as the Epi Lab, at the 711th Human Performance Wing’s United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine and Public Health at Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio. The lab, which receives between 5,000 and 8,000 samples, six days a week, for analysis, routinely reports results to Department of Defense hospitals and clinics around the world within 48 hours of a sample being shipped to the lab.
“A lot of the testing is very specialized, and in some cases can be very expensive. Many of our Air Force clinics and laboratories are small and don’t have the personnel to do that kind of thing or the funding to get all the specialized instruments that we have,” Macias said. “Our personnel are comprised of military, government civilians and contractor civilians, so we have the expertise and the personnel to handle the workload.”
Nearly 30 people work throughout the morning, removing samples packed in dry ice from their boxes, ensuring the patient information on the specimen tubes and paperwork match the orders on the computer system and then re-labeling them for the lab’s computer system before sending the samples to the appropriate testing departments.
“The laboratory consists of three branches; Customer Support, Immunodiagnostics and Microbiology. Immunodiagnostics and Microbiology perform testing, such as immune status and screening for STDs, like Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), gonorrhea, syphilis and hepatitis and some other serology assays,” said Tech. Sgt. Maryann Caso, noncommissioned officer in charge of the immunodiagnostic section of the Epi Lab.
Just over a year ago, the Epi Lab adopted fourth-generation HIV testing, which enables the lab to detect an HIV infection two weeks sooner after a patient is exposed. This newer technology allows patients to receive treatment and counseling sooner.
There is a constant flow of samples requiring STD screening and immune status testing, as these are gathered as part of the in-processing screening for each new service member. The tests help screen for potentially infectious diseases as well as establish a baseline of antibody types and levels for each new recruit to precisely target which vaccines they need.
“For example, all the new recruits are tested for measles, mumps, and rubella. So if they have antibodies to those diseases then they’re not vaccinated again. This saves the Department of Defense because they don’t waste manpower and money to vaccinate somebody that is already protected against those diseases,” Macias said.
The lab has become more efficient and safer for laboratory technicians after the installation of an automated testing system last year.
Laboratory technicians unpack and log in blood serum, fecal, urine or respiratory samples which arrive from U.S. Air Force hospitals and clinics around the world, as well as some other Department of Defense facilities Jan. 30, 2018. The Epidemiology Laboratory Service, also known as the Epi Lab, at the 711th Human Performance Wing’s United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine and Public Health at Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio, receives 100-150 boxes a day, six days a week. The lab, which tests between 5,000 and 8,000 samples daily, is a Department of Defense reference laboratory offering clinical diagnostic, public health, and force health screening and testing.
“The samples come in now and are put on an automated line. It will actually uncap the sample, spin it down, aliquot it (divide the sample into smaller portions for multiple tests) and sort it to whatever section and analyzer it needs for a particular test,” Caso said.
“Before, our techs had to manually uncap the tubes, aliquot the samples and sort them. When you have thousands of samples that you have to uncap and then recap by hand, you get repetitive-motion injuries to the wrist – such as carpal tunnel. The whole idea is to have automated processes and to eliminate or mitigate pre-analytical errors, such as specimen contamination.”
Once tested, the results are automatically returned to the submitting hospital or clinic via computer, unless the system notifies a technician to intervene and manually certify the test result.
“Specimens are collected at hospitals and clinics around the world and sent to us,” Macias said. “We receive the boxes within 24 hours and most of the results are completed within 24 hours… So, generally, we get those results back to the submitting clinic within 48 hours from when they are shipped to us, so the docs can then treat their patients appropriately and with a good turnaround time.”
In addition to the immunology testing that is performed in the lab, the Microbiology branch performs testing on bacterial cultures, examines fecal samples for parasites that cause intestinal disease, and performs influenza testing.
The Air Force began an influenza surveillance program in 1976 to collect data about disease and its spread in response to an outbreak of what was called “Bootcamp Flu.” In the close quarters of basic training, the virus spread through many barracks, according to Donald Minnich, technical supervisor for the Virology and manual testing section at the Epi Lab.
Donald Minnich, technical supervisor for the manual testing section, oversees the influenza surveillance program at the Epidemiology Laboratory Service, also known as the Epi Lab, at the 711th Human Performance Wing’s United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine and Public Health at Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio.The lab identifies and sequences the genome of influenza samples received from U.S. Air Force hospitals and clinics around the world, as well as other Department of Defense facilities. The data collected on active flu strains contributes about 25 percent of the total data used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to formulate its yearly influenza vaccine.
To combat illness, recruits needed to be regularly monitored, giving birth to Operation Gargle, in which recruits gargled with a solution and spit it back into a specimen cup which was then tested for influenza and other respiratory pathogens.
The Air Force program is now part of the Defense Health Agency’s Global, Laboratory-Based Respiratory Pathogen program which grows, sequences and collects data on influenza, parainfluenza, adenovirus and the Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or RSV.
The flu surveillance program at the Epi Lab has approximately 95 submitting laboratories scattered across the continental United States and the globe, from deployed areas to Europe, Japan and Guam.
In a typical flu season, the surveillance program receives between 5,000 and 6,000 specimens. This year, the Epi Lab has received 5,000 specimens in just the first few months of the flu season, according to Minnich.
When I frequented my Marine Corps recruiting office from 1999 until I enlisted in 2003, Staff Sgt. Molina used to welcome me with a familiar, “Ey devil,” and Staff Sgt. Ciccarreli would echo with “Eyyyyyyy.” Vintage recruiting posters were sprinkled among more modern propaganda. The message they consistently reinforced was that the Corps’ values—especially service above self—are timeless.
In one of the old posters, a strong, black Marine standing tall in his dress blue uniform with gold jump wings stared back at me. I couldn’t tell whether he was grinning or scowling—welcoming a potential recruit or warning me. Scrawled in bold typeface across the bottom third of the poster were the words “Ask a Marine.” My reaction was visceral. Where do I sign?
The iconic Marine recruitment ad campaign featuring Capers. He was the first black man to be featured in such a campaign.
The man in the poster was James Capers Jr., a now retired major whose 23-year career was defined by breaking barriers and blazing a path of excellence in the Marine Corps special operations community. Capers recently published “Faith Through the Storm: Memoirs of James Capers, Jr.,” and the book is a powerful portrait of an extraordinary life.
As the son of a sharecropper in South Carolina, Capers had to flee the Jim Crow South for Baltimore after his father committed some petty offense, which he feared might get him lynched. Capers describes his flight in the back of an old pickup driven by a white person as a sort of “Underground Railroad.” His trip to Baltimore is reminiscent of Frederick Douglass’ escape north because not much had changed for black people in the South since 1830.
We get a vivid picture of Capers’ early years and family life in Baltimore before he joins the Marine Corps. In the Marines, Capers finds an organization where men are judged by their actions, and he excels. He polishes his boots, cleans his weapons and learns what he can from the old salts, who mostly respect his effort. Early on, Capers commits himself to a standard of excellence that distinguishes him above his peers. That struggle is a consistent theme throughout his career.
When applying for special operations swim qualification, an instructor cites pseudo-science to explain that black people can’t swim. Capers has to beg to be let into the class. When a white student fails the test required to graduate, Capers pleads with the cadre to allow the student to swim it again. Then he swims with the Marine, motivating him to muster up the fortitude and faith in himself to pass.
At one point, Capers can’t find an apartment in Baltimore even though the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had recently passed and was promoted to end housing discrimination based on race. While assigned the temporary lowly duty of a barracks NCO, a white Marine flicks a cigarette butt at Capers—already trained as an elite Force Reconnaissance Marine—and tells him to pick it up. The slight weighs heavily on Capers until he tracks the Marine down and does something about it.
As Vietnam approaches, Capers is eager to get in the fight. A seasoned veteran of more than 10 years, he volunteers to return to special operations, and in the spring of 1966, he deploys with 3rd Force Reconnaissance Company.
Capers (bottom right) with his Marine Corps 3rd Force Reconnaissance Company in Vietnam.
The section about Capers’ Vietnam tour is harrowing and crushing. He survives and thrives as a warrior and leader through several months of brutal combat in the jungle. Eventually, he receives a battlefield commission to 2nd Lieutenant and becomes the first black officer in Marine special operations. By the heart-pounding final mission in Vietnam, I couldn’t help but feel like the book is a 400-page summary of action for a Medal of Honor.
Heart is the book’s central theme. Its most moving parts focus on overcoming adversity and heartbreak. In one chapter, Capers leads his men through two minefields to avoid the enemy. His inspiring leadership carries them through alive against all odds.
Characters frequently appear only briefly enough to become attached to before they die. Capers recalls fondly an old black first sergeant who had fought on Iwo Jima in World War II and saved Capers from some trouble. He dies in Vietnam.
In another scene, a Marine hollers a cadence on a medevac transport out of Vietnam to raise the spirits of wounded Marines who join the sing-song before the Marine dies somewhere along the way.
These wrenching memories reminded me of returning to the recruiting office after my first combat deployment and asking Staff Sgt. Alvarado whatever happened to Staff Sgt. Molina, whose son had fallen under my supervision when I was an assistant karate instructor before I enlisted. Alvarado’s eyes looked to the ground, “You didn’t hear?” I’d seen enough death on my deployment to suddenly know without having to be told, and a mental image of his cherub-faced child still tugs my heart because that kid had an especially wonderful dad.
The death surrounding Capers takes its toll on him, and though he is a hard charger and maybe the best Marine in Vietnam, he is not a machine. His pain is complicated. The book’s strength is in Capers’ brutal honesty about his emotional state, which deteriorates as the death toll mounts and the misuse of his recon team by new out-of-touch officers costs more than he can bear.
Retired Marine Corps Maj. James Capers II.
(Photo by Ethan E. Rocke)
This memoir may not break into the mainstream like a Matterhorn or Jarhead because it’s steeped in Marine culture that may not translate to readers outside of those bounds. It deserves a mini-series due to its dramatic story arc and relevance regarding the unique historical experience of a black U.S. Marine who is able to achieve in the Marine Corps what most likely would not have been accessible to him in the society of his time.
“Faith Through the Storm” should be required reading for Marine infantry officers. It’s the perfect book for The Commandant’s Professional Reading List. This book ultimately adds another dimension to one of the Corps’ most famous recruiting posters.
Marine Corps System Command today gave defense industry representatives a glimpse of the service’s new equipment wish list that includes lighter, more flexible body armor, more comfortable individual equipment and rifle barrels with built-in suppressors.
Col. Michael Manning, who oversees weapons and equipment programs for MCSC, told industry that Marine equipment is still not integrated as much as it could be.
It used to be that the Marine Corps selected weapons, accessories and equipment and just expected Marines to carry it, Manning told an audience at Modern Day Marine 2017.
“We said ‘you know what, if it adds 10 more pounds, so be it. Get over it,'” Manning said. “It’s time for all of you to help me stop getting over it. Ounces equal pounds, pounds equal pain.
“When you can throw it on top of an already 70- ton tank, then that is one thing. When you throw it on top of a 200 pound marine, it’s completely another.”
The U.S. Military has come a long way in the development of individual body armor in the past 20 years, Manning said.
“We have come a long way in the past five years, when it comes to technologies that can defeat multiple rounds,” he said.
But ceramic rifle plates have not changed that much, Manning said.
“We have dropped ounces off of everything we carry, but we haven’t dropped weight on ceramic plates,” Manning said. “There are other technologies out there. Maybe we don’t have to defeat threat whatever multiple times. Maybe it’s only a one or two hit in this caliber.”
Ceramic plates are also too rigid, Manning said.
“Our current plates — you can’t shape them; you can’t mold them to the individual Marine and we all know that,” Manning said. “Let’s get to the next step. Let’s figure out how to mold them.”
The Marine Corps also wants better knee and elbow pads, Manning said.
“The issue is not that we don’t have them out there; the issue is Marines won’t wear it if it’s not comfortable or it falls off or it’s a pain to get over top of everything they are already wearing,” Manning said.
“They fall off, they slide around, so we tear ourselves apart.”
Marines are also working on a Squad Common Optic.
“In the last 10 years we have done a lot of technology improvements, but what we haven’t done is merge all of those improvements into singular optics,” Manning said.
“So now we have infantry squads that are carrying multiple optics. We need to merge thermal, we need to merge I-squared, we need to merge all those technologies together” without adding extra weight.
The current technology for individual weapon suppressors also needs improving, Manning said, explaining that Marines need built-in suppressors.
“Get rid of the suppressor on the end of the barrel … so now when we have a 14.5 inch barrel or a 16 inch barrel, you just added four or five inches and I am right back to 20 inches,” Manning said.
“There are a couple out there now that integrate with the weapons themselves, that is really where we want to go.”
By 2021, Amazon has pledged to hire 25,000 U.S. military veterans across all of its operations. More than that, they are also dedicated to hiring veterans reservists, spouses, and family members – regardless of rank or military specialty. These “Amazon Warriors” as the company calls them, come to Amazon through a number of programs, each focused on a different aspect of veterans’ lives. This includes wounded warriors, active and transitioning veterans, student vets, and more.
You can catch Amazon and its employees active in all area of veteran culture, from the Old Glory Relay to RED Fridays and even doing 22 pushups every day. Amazon even partners with the Department of Veterans Affairs to create certification programs for vets with no costs.
One of Amazon’s best programs is an employment plan for wounded vets designed to fill skill gaps due to service-related wounds, injuries, and illnesses. Through education, advocacy, and training for wounded warriors, this one-of-a-kind program seeks America’s wounded vets to show the world the possibilities and potential these prior-service workers still have.
Amazon also launched the Amazon Military Leaders Program in an effort to find innovative, experienced talent to transition from military service and into the senior leadership at Amazon. It just makes sense – in order to fill the most necessary roles at the top of one of the world’s biggest and most profitable companies, Amazon wants to look for those people who volunteered for some of the most dangerous and critical jobs out there.
This company also goes above and beyond for National Guardsmen and Reservists who are activated or called away to training. Not only does the company ensure the member has job when they come back, as required by law, Amazon seeks to place the employee in a role they would have worked if they had never left their Amazon job at all. What’s more, if the pay the military member receives from serving is significantly less than their Amazon pay, Amazon will make up the difference.
“There are veterans and active duty service members from the Guard and Reserve at every level of the company,” says Ardine Williams, Amazon Web Services’ Vice-President of Talent Acquisition, who also happens to be a former Army officer. “That population, that community, makes it really easy for us to not only do the right thing but also do what we say we will do.”
When Amazon isn’t hiring veterans and preparing service members for their post-military careers, they are supporting other organizations with the same intent, mission, and drive. Amazon is a sponsor of the Military Influencer Conference, a three-day business development and networking event that brings together non-profit startup accelerators geared toward vet-owned businesses, successful veteran entrepreneurs, and like-minded veterans who are looking to change their lives by starting their own enterprises.
To learn more about what Amazon is doing for veterans in terms of training and employment, check out Amazon’s military page. To learn more about the Military Influencer Conference, check out the speakers list, or find a Military Influencer Conference close to you, visit MilitaryInfluencer.com and take a look around. It could be the first step to an entrepreneurial career.
“I don’t know how many people were outside the vehicle, but I heard them counting down ‘three, two, one, lift!’ while they moved the weight of the tree off the car. I pushed up on the roof with my back to allow just enough room to get the boy out without causing further injury to him,” said the corpsman of 15 years. The boy’s head had been lodged into the side of his own left knee. The vehicle’s roof was also pushed into the child’s back.
At this point, Rory Farrell had already saved the boy’s mother who was not breathing in the front seat of the vehicle. He was now determined to save her trapped son.
Farrell, a native of Colchester, Connecticut, had always shown compassion and the willingness to help others even at a young age, according to his family.
“In that time, there have been moments that hinted to the amazing young man he would become. Sparks of light in moments of darkness that were ignited by Rory,” said Alexandra McGrath, one of his sisters.
Farrell had never been to Yosemite National Park in California before deciding to vacation there. After suffering a hand injury, he thought a simple camping trip would help him “push the reset button.”
Tree involved in the accident at Yosemite National Park.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo)
It was Labor Day weekend 2017, a very busy time to visit the park. Farrell left a day earlier than anticipated. The U.S. Navy special amphibious reconnaissance corpsman finished up on a weapons range the day prior, where he supported U.S. Marines at Camp Pendleton, California, and decided it would be a good idea to keep his medical bag with him on the trip nearly 400 miles away. He did not know just how important that choice would be.
The following day soon after arriving in the park, he realized just how crowded it could be. Not wanting to be around that many people, Farrell decided to drive farther up north in the park.
After some time on the road, he eventually decided to turn around and started to backtrack his way toward the crowds once again for no particular reason.
“To this day, I still look back and say ‘wow that was a big decision,'” said Farrell.
It was only 15 minutes after he turned around that a tree, later measured to be 33 inches in circumference and 110 feet high, fell onto a parked Toyota Prius, crushing the car no more than 100 meters in front of him.
“It didn’t make sense at first, because you’re just seeing a giant tree crush a car,” said Farrell.
He got out of his truck and ran toward the vehicle to figure out how he could help.
Farrell saw two occupants outside of the vehicle and breathed a sigh of relief, thinking everyone made it out OK. He then saw the facial expression and desperation of the driver, clearly panicking – speaking no English – made it clear to Farrell that there were still people in the car.
Running up to the crushed vehicle, he could see a woman unresponsive in the front passenger’s seat and just behind her a 4-year-old little boy pinned down by the roof of the car, trapped in his booster seat.
“In a situation like that, time is of the essence,” said Farrell.
Because there were two people, he had to make the immediate decision of who to assess first. The mother was not pinned in the vehicle. He saw this as an opportunity to get her out of there quickly, according to Farrell.
He gave a single rescue breath to the mother, who responded. He then directed a few bystanders who had arrived at the scene to take the mother out of the vehicle and get her to safety, according to the accident report.
Because of the boy’s position and not wanting to risk further injury to him, Farrell decided to get into the vehicle and push up on the roof with his back while bystanders outside lifted the tree off the car just enough for the child to be removed from his booster seat.
Rear view of white Toyota Prius involved in the accident at Yosemite National Park. Photo taken after the tree and occupants have been removed from the vehicle.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo)
With the boy free from the weight of the tree, Farrell could start a more detailed assessment. He felt for a pulse, which was high.
“As a medic, this is a good sign, a really good sign,” said Farrell.
The boy was not breathing, and his jaw was locked in place. Farrell’s attempted rescue breath did not work as it did with the child’s mother.
Realizing the increasing danger of the tree pushing into the roof, Farrell called for a bystander to come grab the boy as he passed him through the window. After getting out of the car himself, he immediately took the boy back and put him next to his mom, according to Farrell.
After manipulating his jaw enough to get it open and clearing the airway of any blockage, Farrell gave another rescue breath. This time the boy responded, taking a breath.
Remembering he had his medical supplies in his truck, he sprinted to retrieve the bag and return to the boy and his mother to further administer first aid.
Farrell heard a bystander on the phone with emergency services and requested to speak with the dispatcher. He disseminated vital information to the 911 operator, including a recommendation to fly the patients out instead of using ground transportation. The dispatcher requested a medevac, according to the accident report.
An ambulance arrived shortly after to transport the two to their respective helicopters. Farrell was asked by the paramedics to ride with the boy and further assist until they reached the medevac crew. He hopped into the ambulance and continued his efforts. He did so until the boy was turned over to the helicopter crew.
Farrell’s preparedness for this situation stems from his occupation as a special operations independent duty corpsman.
“Since Rory was a little boy, he has dreamed of being in the military,” said Megin Farrell, another one of his sisters.
With this goal in mind and the aspiration to help others, he joined the Navy in 2004 to be a corpsman. From there, he worked his way into the special operations community.
He became a special amphibious reconnaissance corpsman or SARC, giving him a unique opportunity to complete additional and more challenging schooling, furthering his personal goal of being able to help others, according to Farrell.
Whether during this incident or when helping an injured Marine or sailor on one of Farrell’s multiple overseas deployments, his reaction is no different.
On his behalf, Farrell’s family traveled to Washington, D.C., Sept. 12, 2019, and accepted the U.S. Department of the Interior Citizen’s Award for Bravery for his actions and heroism.
“I was at the right place at the right time with the right training to make a difference, and that’s what’s important in a situation like this,” said Farrell.
Farrell is currently deployed aboard the USS Boxer with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
This article originally appeared on Marines. Follow @USMC on Twitter.
More than $1 million in weapons parts and sensitive military equipment was stolen out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and sold in a vast black market, some of it to foreign buyers through eBay, according to testimony at a federal trial this week.
The equipment — some of it re-sold to buyers in Russia, China, Mexico, Hong Kong, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine — included machine gun and rifle parts, body armor, helmets, gun sights, generators, medical equipment, and more.
John Roberts, of Clarksville, Tennessee, is being tried in Nashville on charges of wire fraud, conspiracy to steal and sell government property, and violating the Arms Export Control Act. Six soldiers and his civilian business partner made plea deals in exchange for their testimony.
Roberts, 27, testified Aug. 30 that he did not know the soldiers were bringing him stolen equipment, and said the military items he bought and sold were commonly found in surplus stores, on eBay, and in gun stores.
“I didn’t try to hide anything,” Roberts said Aug. 30. “That’s why I filed taxes on everything I sold on eBay. I thought it was OK.”
Roberts said the soldiers told him the equipment was legally purchased from other soldiers or that the Army was discarding the equipment. He also said he didn’t know that he needed to have a license to export certain items overseas.
But a former business partner, Cory Wilson, testified that he and Roberts would find soldiers selling military items through classified ads or on Facebook, and then ask them for more expensive and harder-to-find items. It was “fast easy money,” Wilson said. Wilson pleaded guilty to buying and selling stolen military equipment, wire fraud, and violating the Arms Export Control Act.
The soldiers they targeted were often young and broke or needed money for drugs, Wilson said, so “there were a lot of items and good money to be made.”
Wilson and Roberts shared a warehouse in Clarksville where they stored the equipment, but Roberts said they were not sharing funds. Roberts said the two just had a shared interest in selling things on eBay.
Wilson said Roberts set up multiple accounts to sell the equipment on eBay. They removed packaging that identified it as government property and used fake descriptions on shipping labels to avoid suspicion, he said. Under questioning from Roberts’ defense attorney, David Cooper, Wilson acknowledged that he initially lied to investigators about knowing the equipment wasn’t allowed to be shipped overseas.
In 2014, the US Customs and Border Protection agency notified Roberts that it had seized a military flight helmet he tried to ship overseas. The Customs letter noted that he was required to have a license to export that item. Roberts said he didn’t remember reading that paragraph. Roberts also testified that he changed descriptions and values on shipping labels to minimize the risk of customs theft in other countries and to lower import taxes for the overseas buyers.
Michael Barlow, a former Fort Campbell platoon sergeant who pleaded guilty to theft of government property and conspiracy, testified that they started small, but eventually escalated to truckloads of military equipment. He said Roberts even gave him a “Christmas list” of items he wanted the soldiers to steal in Afghanistan and bring back to the United States.
“They wanted more and more, mostly weapons parts,” Barlow testified.
Barlow said his company came home with five large cargo containers filled with equipment as the US military drew down troops and closed bases in Afghanistan. Barlow said he and other soldiers sometimes got $1,000 to $2,000 per truckload.
One non-commissioned officer was even charging civilian buyers $500 to come onto Fort Campbell to select items for purchase, Barlow said.
Roberts said he was invited to come on the Fort Campbell military post to look at cargo containers belonging to Barlow’s unit. Roberts said he was told the containers needed to be cleaned out of “pretty used stuff,” and that he took some items. He said the transaction occurred in broad daylight in front of other soldiers.
The conspiracy allegedly continued from 2013 into 2016. Text messages between the soldiers and the civilians pointed to regular meet-ups to swap cash for ballistic plates, helmets, scopes, and gun sights, according to Chief Warrant Officer 2 Sarah Perry, an agent with the Army Criminal Investigation Command.
One sergeant, identified in court as “E5 Rick,” texted Roberts about going “hunting” while on duty, which meant he was breaking into cars to steal equipment, Perry testified on Aug. 29.
The Army identified about five surplus stores around Fort Campbell that were selling military equipment through backdoor deals, she said.
Roberts’ defense attorney David Cooper asked Perry if she could prove that the equipment offered on eBay, or that Roberts had pictures of on his phone, was stolen from Fort Campbell. Perry said that in many cases she could not, because many of the stolen items did not have serial numbers, but were similar to items reported stolen.
Another former Fort Campbell soldier, Jonathan Wolford, testified on Aug. 30 that he and another soldier, Dustin Nelson, took about 70 boxes of weapons parts and other gear, some of it labeled with the name of their company, to Wilson and Roberts, who paid them $1,200. Wolford plead guilty to conspiracy to steal government property.
They were both in charge of their company’s arms supply room at the time, Wolford said, and started selling equipment that wasn’t listed in the company’s property books, including machine gun barrels, M4 rifle parts, pistol grips, buttstocks, and other items typically used to repair weapons.
Asked in court why he didn’t ask for more money, Wolford said, “I was making a little bit of money. I didn’t pay anything for it.”