As soon as licensed massage therapist Terry Smith starts to knead veteran James Davis’s neck and shoulders, Davis begins to relax.
“That feels so good,” says Davis, a patient in the Community Living Center (CLC) of the Columbia VA Health Care System.
Smith, a U.S. Army veteran, volunteers her hours at the Columbia VA Medical center. She is known as the massage therapist with the “healing hands.”
“It’s amazing what that sense of touch can do for a person. Especially when they don’t get to experience it much anymore,” Smith said.
One veteran in the CLC, a diagnosed Alzheimer’s patient, kept his hands tightly clenched. As Smith began to massage his hands and wrists, the patient slowly began to release his fingers. Another veteran seemed to be asleep in his wheelchair. As Smith massaged his shoulders, arms, and hands, the patient started to wake up and said that he thought he was dreaming about Smith’s touch.
Smith, a Desert Storm veteran from Mount Vernon, New York, joined the military to travel and see the world. Eventually, she found a career path as a medic in nutritional care at West Point.
“This is the type of treatment that gets to the heart of a person”
(Photo by Jennifer Scales)
“Even though I am from New York, I had no clue about West Point or any other type of military posts or bases that were in my state,” Smith said. “Plus, not knowing a lot about the military before I enlisted made each assignment that I had a new experience for me.”
After a varied post-military career, Smith decided to use the GI Bill to study massage therapy. By 2012, when she obtained her license, she knew she had found her calling.
“I love what I do,” Smith said. “This is the type of treatment that gets to the heart of the person. I can oftentimes feel the stiffness in their muscles when I begin my massage, and it is my goal to work it out.”
Carrie Jett, a Columbia VA recreation therapist, notes that Smith is the facility’s only volunteer massage therapist. “The patients really appreciate what she does, and the word is spreading,” said Jett. “Even those veteran patients here who don’t participate in other therapeutic events eagerly await the day and time of Smith’s arrival to get a massage.”
When asked what makes her massages so special for veterans, Smith replied, “I touch them with the spirit of love.”
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
Participating in adaptive sports helped to get Major out of a serious depression he had fallen into after being severely wounded, he said. Adaptive sports are designed or modified for disabled athletes to compete against others with similar disabilities or injuries.
“Before I got injured I loved competition, sports, and getting into shape,” said Major, who represented the Baltimore Veterans Affairs at the Army Trials.
Participating in adaptive sports “changed my life,” he said.
“It made me more sociable with other veterans who have similar injuries and stories,” Major said.
Sports also helped him to have a more positive attitude about his injuries, he added.
During the Army Trials, Army athletes in wheelchairs, with prosthetic limbs, and some with injuries that weren’t apparent at first glance competed in a variety of events.
They came from more than a dozen installations and participated in track and field, cycling, archery, shooting, wheelchair basketball, and seated volleyball.
Most had compelling stories, like Major, about how participating in sports got them out of a dark place and thrust them into a new chapter in their lives.
Lt. Col. Luis Fregoso was one of the organizers of the Army Trials with the Warrior Care and Transition Program in Arlington, Va. This Army organization oversees the most critical cases of wounded, injured, and ill soldiers and helps them transition back to active duty or to civilian life.
Sports can play a huge role in the healing process, said Fregoso, who is from Los Angeles.
“A lot of soldiers, when they have this life-changing event happen to them, they will get into a dark place,” Fregoso said. “The common theme is they just don’t feel their normal self and start spiraling into a bad area, especially in their mind.”
Sports help them to adapt to their “new normal” and can give them the confidence to tackle other areas in their lives, Fregoso added.
Retired Master Sgt. Shawn “Bubba” Vosburg still has the look of a soldier out on a mission. But he suffers from post-traumatic stress, a traumatic brain injury, and a slew of other injuries up and down his body.
Competing in sports helps to “tie you back to the military,” said Vosburg, who is originally from Colorado Springs, Colo., but now calls El Paso home. He represented Fort Bliss during the recent competition.
“You do so much time in the military, and you lose that when you retire,” Vosburg said. “But (adaptive sports) introduces you to new people whom you consider friends and family, and that family is growing.”
Vosburg credits sports for saving his life and he wants to return the favor to his fellow veterans.
He is working on a master’s degree in social work at the University of Texas at El Paso and wants to help “bring more soldiers out of the dark, like I came out of,” he said.
In May we celebrate Military Spouse Appreciation Day, Mother’s Day, and Memorial Day. May is also Mental Health Awareness Month. The military lifestyle is one of constant change and uncertainty. This alone can be a trigger for mental illness. As a nation, we are now facing unimaginable mental illness triggers as quarantines, self-isolation, and social distancing continue. Throughout this month, let us focus our attention on this issue and ask:
Who is advocating for the mental health of our military spouses?
Mental Health Facts
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a mental illness is defined as a condition which affects a person’s thinking, feeling, behavior, or mood. Mental health conditions can be triggered by influences in one’s environment, lifestyle, and/or develop as a result of genetics. A USO study conducted in 2018 reported military spouses expressed a lack of identity and sense of purpose. The same study highlighted their difficulty maintaining networks and support systems. In addition, military spouses felt a lack of control over their lives and expressed an inability to plan for their futures. A 2017 DOD study found that military spouses experience higher rates of stress, anxiety, depression, and unemployment than their civilian counterparts. Think about these statistics and ask:
Who is advocating for the mental health of our military spouses?
Barriers to Seeking Treatment
What barriers exist that prevent military spouses from seeking mental health treatment? There is a stigma associated with mental health disorders and a lack of knowledge regarding available treatments and resources. Some people may not even recognize they have an issue. Military spouses may have an additional fear of their condition negatively affecting the active duty member’s career. Could it affect opportunities for promotion, potential for future assignments and/or duty locations? There is a fear of family, friends, and colleagues being judgmental. In order to remove the barriers to seeking treatment, we need to remove the barriers to discussing mental health within the military spouse community and ask:
Who is advocating for the mental health of our military spouses?
Changing the Mental Health Landscape
How do we change the landscape surrounding the mental health of military spouses? We can begin by supporting each other and fostering a culture of inclusiveness. Be an active part of the solution amongst our own by lending an ear, asking questions, and encouraging others to ask for and accept help. We need to increase our knowledge of available resources and share them with others. A list of free, confidential mental health resources is included at the end of this article. We have the ability to change the stigma. Let’s be the voice for those who aren’t able to speak by asking:
Who is advocating for the mental health of our military spouses?
No matter how resilient we are, there will always be aspects of our lives that are beyond our control. However, we need to recognize that we do have the ability to control our own identity, purpose, wellbeing, and mental health. It takes courage to ask for help and there is no shame in needing it. Military spouses have a duty to advocate for their active duty members and their families. In order to be able to help others, we must first take care of ourselves. Therefore, we must advocate for fellow spouses, ourselves, and our own mental health.
Mental Health Resources
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of hurting themselves or others, dial 911 or go to the nearest emergency room to get help immediately. Please don’t let a cry for help go unheard. Included below are several mental health resources.
Imagine having to conceal your identity in order to feel safe and protect the ones you love. Changing the route you take to work, wearing disguises so you won’t be recognized, or reducing the amount of vacation you take because you know it’s safer to be at work than not.
For many of us, this way of life would seem farfetched or unrealistic, but for one Airman, this was his reality. Airman 1st Class Mohammad Javad, 60th Aerial Port Squadron, transportation Journeyman, used to be an Afghan national working as a head interpreter with U.S. forces at Forward Operating Base Shindand, Afghanistan. As the head interpreter, Javad was relied upon for his expertise, which meant he was on all the important missions.
“I would go out on missions and it was like I was actually in the Army,” said Javad. “I would go weeks without a shower, I would carry 100-150 pound bags of ammo, sleep on the ground, walk all day, climb mountains, and jump out of helicopters.”
Airman 1st Class Mohammad Javad from the 60th Aerial Port Squadron, Travis Air Force Base, Calif., poses for a photo, Feb. 28, 2018. Javad was a linguist for U.S. forces while living in Afghanistan and fled to the United States in 2014. (Photo by Louis Briscese)
Despite the constant diligence to remain obscured, in 2013, the locals somehow figured out Javad was working with U.S. forces.
“Once they knew who I was, my family and I were no longer safe,” said Javad. “My life was threatened by the insurgents, my wife was accused of helping infidels and was threatened with kidnapping. I knew after that, I couldn’t work here anymore.”
Thus began a courageous and remarkable journey that led Javad to America and enlisting in the U.S. Air Force.
Javad was born in Afghanistan during the war with the Soviet Union. His family fled to Iran because the war between the Soviet Union and Afghanistan made it too dangerous to stay.
“We left in 1989 when I was two during the Soviet-Afghan War because it was too dangerous for my family to stay,” said Javad “We came to Iran under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, so we were discriminated against.”
There were not many educational opportunities for Javad growing up in Iran because of his refugee status. His parents decided to return to Afghanistan in 2004 since it was safer.
“We came back to Afghanistan so I could seek higher education because neither of my parents had that opportunity,” said Javad. “They wanted that option for me. I got my education, my bachelors and a double major in chemistry and biology.”
Airman 1st Class Mohammad Javad from the 60th Aerial Port Squadron, Travis Air Force Base, Calif., poses for a photo with his wife Sara, and three children Sana, Yusef, and Benyamin, March 6, 2018. (Photo by Louis Briscese)
After completing his education, Javad still found it difficult to find meaningful work.
“Afghanistan had a new government and it was corrupted,” said Javad. “It was difficult to get jobs unless you knew the right people.”
Javad had taken classes on computers, language, and received a certification in accounting. This helped him find a job where he could now provide for his family.
“After graduating college, I worked for an accounting firm,” said Javad. “After a year and a half, I was promoted to general manager.”
Unfortunately, after a horrific motorcycle accident kept him in the hospital for six months, Javad lost his job as a general manager with the accounting firm.
“I knew that without knowing anyone in the government, I was going to have to start from the bottom again,” said Javad. “The only other option I had was to become a linguist with U.S. forces.”
The day Javad applied for the linguist position, over 200 others were attempting the same.
“There’s a written and verbal skills test, interview, and security background check,” said Javad. “Only 10 of us made it through those stages. Once you get through that, there’s another few months of security screening with the Central Intelligence Agency and medical exams.”
Javad’s first assignment was with the USAF at FOB Shindand.
“I was assigned to the Base Defense Operations Center for the Air Force,” said Javad. “I was translating all the daily, weekly, and monthly security reports.”
While assigned there Javad met Senior Master Sgt. Michael Simon II, who was serving on a 365-day deployment as a Mi-17 crew chief air advisor.
“Javad was assigned to the FOB as an interpreter, translating from Dari or Pashto to English,” said Simon. “We worked together on several occasions in support of the Afghan Air Force training and advising missions.”
What Javad didn’t know at the time was that Simon would play an instrumental role years later as he transitioned from Afghanistan to America. During his time at FOB Shindand, the USAF was replaced by the Army, and his duties and responsibilities changed significantly.
“We were given the option to resign or accept new roles,” said Javad. “Sure enough, within a month, I was riding in convoys outside the wire. Things were a lot different now.”
Javad spent three years at FOB Shindand and witnessed some horrific things.
“I saw Army soldiers get shot and killed. I saw Afghan civilians get shot and killed,” said Javad. “I was the head interpreter and was always going out with Battalion commanders and other high-ranking officials.”
Despite the difficulties of his job and awful experiences he witnessed, Javad felt something for the first time.
“I was a local,” said Javad. “I wasn’t a U.S. citizen, but they never treated me like a stranger. They trusted me, they worked with me. That was a feeling I’d never had in my life before until I worked there.”
After his identity was disclosed and Javad knew he was no longer safe in Afghanistan, he applied for a Special Immigrant Visa so he could come to America. This wasn’t an easy decision because Javad was living as an upper middle-class citizen in Afghanistan.
“I was a homeowner with lots of land,” said Javad. “I owned a car and motorcycle. Unfortunately, I couldn’t sell anything because no one would buy anything built with the money from America. I was choosing between my belongings or my life.”
In the summer of 2014, Javad took his pregnant wife with only the belongings they could fit in a suitcase, the $800 they received for selling their wedding bands and traveled to the United States to begin a new life.
“When we arrived in Colorado Springs, Colorado, we had nothing,” said Javad. “I needed a sponsor for my SIV and Simon agreed. With the help of Simon, we were able to sustain some sort of normalcy until we could get on our feet.”
Simon got donations from his church and the local refugee service in Colorado Springs. Lutheran Refugee Service lined up a starter apartment with basic furnishings.
“My sister had coordinated with a group of close friends and churches to get a lot of items needed outside of the basics already provided,” said Simon. “Then the rest was up to Javad and his determination to succeed.”
Despite having an education, Javad found it hard to find work.
“I had to find a job because I barely could afford a month’s rent,” said Javad. “Nobody would give me a job because I didn’t have a history of work in the U.S.”
After meeting a family who had a local business, Javad found some temporary work, but more importantly, a life-long friend.
“They ended up being like family to us,” said Javad. “They called me son and they were the only ones who came to my graduation at basic training.”
Working in a warehouse didn’t bring in a lot of money for Javad and he struggled to make ends meet.
“For the first four months, I didn’t have a car,” said Javad. “I had to walk four miles one way, work eight hours, and walk another four miles back, in the winter, in Colorado Springs.”
After a year in the U.S., Javad felt that serving in the armed forces may provide a better life for him and his family.
“I worked four years with the U.S. Forces in Afghanistan and had a little sense of what life was like in the military,” said Javad. “I know there’s a lot of sacrifices you have to make when serving your country, but in the end, I wanted to give back to the country that helped me a lot.”
Javad decided to enlist in the USAF and entered basic training in February 2016.
“I wanted to be part of a really big picture,” said Javad. “I did it mainly because the U.S. military saved my life and I wanted to do my part.”
The decision to join the USAF did not surprise Simon because his commitment, dedication and hard work align with the USAF core values.
For Javad, to start from scratch with just a suitcase and dedicate his efforts to providing for his family is the true American dream,” said Simon. “Now he’s a member of the 1 percent club who voluntarily choose to serve this great nation. To say I’m proud of Javad would be an understatement.”
A week before graduating basic training, Javad received an unexpected gift.
“I was notified that I was officially a U.S. citizen,” said Javad. “I was overwhelmed with pride. When I saw the flag being raised at graduation and we saluted, I couldn’t stop myself from crying because I finally had a flag I could be proud of.”
After basic training and technical school, Javad arrived at his first duty station here at Travis Air Force Base, California. He’s enjoyed the people, mission, and the area.
“My unit treats me like any other Airman,” said Javad. “They don’t see me as a person from Afghanistan, they see me as an Airman.”
Javad has yet to deploy since joining the USAF but said he would like to return to Afghanistan as an Airman and citizen of the U.S.
“I would be happy to deploy to Afghanistan because I know the mission over there is important,” said Javad. “I would love a special duty assignment as a linguist and use my language skills to help my fellow Airmen.”
Javad’s short-term goal is to help his parents get to the U.S.
“My parents had to escape Afghanistan and flee to another country,” said Javad. “I feel responsible because I come from a culture where your kids are your retirement, so now they are struggling until I can find a way to bring them to America.”
Once Javad secures his family in the U.S., he plans on achieving his long-term goal which is to become an officer in the USAF.
“I couldn’t become an officer when I enlisted even though I had the education because I wasn’t a citizen,” said Javad. “Now that I have my citizenship, I will pursue officer training school and get my commission.”
‘Tis the season for the giving of gifts. ‘Tis also the season of FOMUG (Fear Of Messed Up Gifting). We get it. It’s hard out there for an elf. Team WATM would like to offer you some guidance.
For you, The Mighty:
~ Our top picks for veteran-positive holiday giving ~
12. Combat Flip Flops
For flip flops and sneakers handmade in international combat zones, talk to Combat Flip Flops. Everything they sell empowers local entrepreneurs seeking to resurrect their communities from the cycle of poverty-bred violence and extremism. Seems like a heavy burden for a humble thong sandal to bear, but founder Matthew Griffin has the humor and the heart to pull it off.
11. Heroes Vodka
For the most patriotic, pro-veteran martini you’ll ever have six of, you need a bottle of Heroes Vodka. Founder Travis McVey sought to make the clear spirit of America and hit it out of the park on his first try. A portion of his yearly profits goes directly to AMVETS. Try sipping. You’ll be shaken and stirred.
10. Down The Road Beer Co.
For a 4 pack of the most artfully brewed craft beer ever to emerge from the 3rd Armored Cav, seek out Down the Road Beer Co. Founder and veteran brewmaster, Donovan Bailey, has a winning formula at work in his Greater Boston brewery and now you can sample every variety he makes at his brand new taproom.
9. Alpha Outpost
For a tactical subscription box of uncommon design and curation, check out Alpha Outpost. Every box has a theme and every theme gives rise to a new cache of gear that will inspire you to get out there and use your free time for kicking ass.
8. Black Rifle Coffee Co.
For small batch, veteran-roasted coffee with three heaping teaspoons of patriotic sass, chase down a bag of Black Rifle Coffee Co. Their beans yield a cup of joe so black, a sip is like a sniper round to the dome. Lovely.
7. Ranger Up
For big-hearted, patriotic message tees and lighthearted youtube tomfoolery, look no further than Ranger Up. Founder Nick Palmisciano is a vocal advocate of remembering where you came from and the values for which you fought. And in his spare time, he dabbles in action cinema.
6. Stella Valle
For Modern Day Charm Jewelry made by and for #WomanWarriors, give Stella Valle a look. The Dellavalle sisters went to West Point, served tours in Afghanistan, and took Shark Tank by storm in their quest to forge a successful jewelry brand in their own image.
5. Sword & Plough
For fashionable bags made from military surplus by veteran manufacturers, check out Sword & Plough. The Nuñez sisters went to West Point, served with the 10th Special Forces Group, and took Kickstarter by storm in their quest to make an ethical, feminist, pro-veteran fashion accessories brand that gives back as much as it takes.
4. stubble & ‘stache
For the premium beard oils, mustache lotions and mutton chop tinctures favored by U.S. Special Forces, you need to track down stubble & ‘stache. Founder Nicholas Karnaze started the company in honor of a fallen brother and grooms a war beard for civilian application to this day.
For the best designed, most soundly equipped bug out bag on the market, seek out Uncharted Supply Co. Their seventy2 survival bag gives you everything you need to ace the first 72 hours of an emergency, all in one seriously svelte package.
2. Cappy’s Dry Rub
For a tactical array of spices that will 10x your flame-grilling game, load up on Cappy’s Dry Rub. LA-based Vietnam vet, Gene “Cappy” Holmon takes his meat seriously and so should you, especially considering how much cooking you’re likely to be doing this holiday season.
For all the operationally-perfected tactical wear you could ever need for deployment or rugged homeland applications, pay a visit to Propper. They’ve been supplying the U.S. military since 1967, including garments, tac bags and body armor. Their spill-proof tactical pants are a godsend around the WATM offices…
For the perfect, vet-sensitive stocking stuffer, optimize his beer with Bottle Breacher. Former Navy SEAL Eli Crane took his garage-mod ammo onto ABC’s Shark Tank and walked away with a deal. Almost two years later, there doesn’t appear to be a limit to Crane’s artistic inventiveness with the .50 caliber shell.
For a thorough schooling in the tactical skills and, more crucially, the head game of survival, enroll in a course at Fieldcraft Survival. Former Green Beret Mike Glover will guide you toward competence in the honorable art of self-reliance and you’ll probably only cry a little bit.
For a digital solution to the analog task of getting morale-boosting mail to your loved ones in the field, sign up for Sandboxx. The app-based communications platform transforms your 140 character missives and sentimental selfies into physical letters, and then sends them to servicemembers with a postage-paid, return envelope included.
The Mission Continues
For renewed purpose and service-oriented deployment on the homefront, volunteer with The Mission Continues. They take your hard-won leadership skills and put them to good use in the many American communities badly in need of rebuilding.
Speaking of Propper, they’re giving away twelve tactical packs filled with gear from our Holiday Gift Guide. Click this link to enter.
Multiple experts recently told Business Insider that Russia’s program to acquire and field the Su-57 desperately needs an infusion of cash from an international investor, like India.
Initially, India was a partner in the Su-57 program, and intended to help develop, build, and, eventually, buy scores of the advanced fighter jet pitched as a rival to the US F-22 and F-35, but those talks soured and Russia never saw the money.
Experts now allege that Russia’s deployment of the underdeveloped, underpowered fighters to Syria, a combat zone where they’re hardly relevant as air-superiority fighters not facing any real air threats, was a marketing ploy to get more investment.
But while Russia rushes off the Su-57s for a deployment that lasts mere days and demonstrates only that the supposedly next-generation fighters can drop bombs, the US has made real inroads selling the F-35 to countries that might have looked at the Su-57.
The US sent F-35s to the Singapore Air Show in February 2018 as part of an international sales pitch. President Donald Trump’s administration has loosened up regulations on who the US can sell weapons to, and the F-35, once a troubled program, finally seems to have hit its stride.
“The Russian economy is a mess,” retired US Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula, now head of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, told Business Insider. “One of the things they can actually get money for is the advanced tech in their weapons systems.”
But with the Su-57 seeming like a long shot with trouble ahead, and the F-35 now ready to buy, the Trump administration’s expressed strategy of punishing the Kremlin’s cash flow with military sales might bear fruit.
Asked if the F-35’s export to countries like India posed a threat to Russia’s Su-57 program, Deptula gave a short answer: “Yes.”
The Su-57’s death blow could fall in a boardroom in New Delhi
Japan and South Korea are both thinking about buying more F-35s, but most importantly, The Diplomat rounded up several reports indicating that India’s Air Force formally requested a classified briefing on the F-35A, and it may buy up to 126 of the jets.
At around $100 million per airframe, such a purchase would likely leave little room in the budget for India to buy Su-57s, which would require vastly different support infrastructure than the US jet.
“Having been to India and met with their Air Force leadership, while they are a neutral country, their culture is one that fits very well with English-speaking nations around the world,” said Deptula, who said the US trying to sell F-35s to India would be “worthwhile.”
If India decided to buy F-35s, or really any Western jet, Russia would have its struggling Su-57 and one fewer customer for it. Meanwhile, Russia has only ordered 12 of the Su-57s, not even enough for a full squadron.
So, while jet enthusiasts have long debated who would win in a fight between the F-35 and the Su-57, we may never find out.
The US’s F-35 is a real jet — three real jets, actually — that has significant money behind it to keep it flying in air forces around the globe for decades to come. Russia’s Su-57 has no such security.
President Donald Trump said he plans to increase the number of US troops in Afghanistan in a speech August 21 and continue the longest-running war in American history.
Currently, there are about 9,800 US troops stationed in Afghanistan and more than 26,000 contractors.
The Pentagon defines a defense contractor as “any individual, firm, corporation, partnership, or other legal non-federal entity that enters into a contract directly with the DOD to furnish services, supplies, or construction.”
US defense contractors versus US troops deployed to Afghanistan in last decade. Image by Skye Gould via Business Insider.
This also includes intelligence analysis, translation and interpretation, as well as private-security contractors — who began taking over roles once held by uniformed soldiers after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
The defense industry has also made incredible profits since 2001, including nearly $100 billion in Afghanistan since 2007.
The graphic above compares the number of US troops and defense contractors in Afghanistan over the last decade.
U.S. General Curtis Scaparrotti, NATO’s supreme allied commander in Europe, has warned that the alliance will not be “dominant” in certain areas in five years if it fails to modernize and adapt to the growing threat from Russia.
“I certainly have concerns with respect to Russia,” Scaparrotti told a press conference in Brussels on Jan. 17 following a meeting of top NATO defense officials.
“I think that, as an alliance, we are dominant. There are domains within this that were challenged. I think cyber is one of those. They are very competent in that,” he also said, referring to Russia.
“There are others where because of the modernization you noted, while we are dominant, we will not be in five years per se if we aren’t adapting like this to include our structure but also within the nations, our capabilities, across the military functional areas as well as our domains.”
Addressing the session of the Military Committee, the alliance’s highest military authority, Scaparrotti said earlier that “a resurgence of Russia as a strategic competitor, growing unrest, and instability in Africa and the Middle East, as well as terrorism, [are] reshaping our strategic environment.”
Relations between Moscow and the West have been severely strained over issues including Russia’s seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea region in March 2014 and its support for separatists who control parts of eastern Ukraine.
The war between Kyiv’s forces and the Russia-backed separatists has killed more than 10,300 people since April 2014.
Amid growing tensions, NATO stepped up its defenses in Eastern member nations near Russia.
Speaking alongside Scaparrotti at the press conference, Czech General Petr Pavel, chairman of the Military Committee, called Russia an “obvious security challenge.”
“We characterize Russia as a peer competitor and we obviously follow closely all the development and modernization and taking all the measures that are necessary to be ready for any contingency,” he added.
Ahead of the meeting, NATO said the top defense officials would discuss “the challenging security environment on NATO’s southern flank and the alliance’s contribution to its stabilization” and would review NATO’s Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan and the international coalition against the extremist group Islamic State.
They also held separate talks with top defense officials from Ukraine and Georgia on “the security situations on the ground, defense reform progress, and the way ahead.”
After the meetings, Pavel told reporters that the defense officials “noted the challenge for Ukraine of achieving security and defense reforms alongside reestablishing Ukraine’s territorial integrity.”
They also “stressed their commitment on furthering the capability and interoperability of the Ukrainian armed forces,” he added.
On Georgia, Pavel said the defense officials “stressed continued support” to the Substantial NATO-Georgia Package to enhance the country’s defense readiness.
Naval Station Rota, Spain (NAVSTA Rota) is a beautiful Navy base located in Southern Spain. Called “the Gateway to the Mediterranean,” the port sits on the Atlantic Coast, but is only a few hours from Gibraltar, Mallorca, and other Mediterranean destinations. It’s a small base, with the main buildings all within a mile of the port. There are busses to take you from port to the NEX shopping Center, and from there, you can walk or grab a taxi to the destinations below.
There’s plenty to do on base, off base, and in the surrounding towns, so keep reading and make your libbo plans before the ship pulls into port!
Top 7 things to do in Rota, Spain
1. Get essentials from the NEX. When ships pull into port, they can almost double the on-base population. This means longer lines for everything and a shortage of supplies at the NEX and Commissary. If you need to stock up on cigarettes, razors, snacks, or other essentials, then go here directly from the ship. That way, you’ll avoid the empty shelves at the end of the weekend.
2. Check out MWR tours. Rota is an active base with a small number of permanent personnel stationed there, but a large number of troops come through on ships — some of who remain for a deployment. The base MWR office plans weekly activities. You can find them listed in the Vamos magazine, on their website, or by calling 727-1517 (on base). MWR plans bus rides to local towns, flamenco shows, and castle visits. They handle the transportation and the local guide, so you can just relax and take in the sights.
3. Sign up for Outdoor Rec. Whether you want to rent a bike or SCUBA gear, go on a rock climbing excursion, find local hiking trails, or ride quads in Tarifa, the Outdoor Rec Center is the place to begin. They can fill you in on group activities (listed in the Vamos magazine) or help you plan your own adventure.
4. Visit the Liberty Center: If you need a place to relax or get Internet access, the Liberty Center has a lounge, TVs, computers, and pool tables to enjoy. They also host regular events for single service members, like movie and bowling nights, sports competitions, or trips to local restaurants.
5. If you don’t have a car, walk through Rota: You can easily walk out the Rota gate and downhill through the town. There’s a Welcome Center to your left just as you walk out the gate where you can grab a map or ask questions. Visit the town hall (a 13th century castle), a medieval church, the beach paseo (boardwalk), and have lunch at any of the restaurants near the water.
6. Go golfing. The base has a nice golf course with low rates for service members. They host regular tournaments and events, or you can rent clubs and play a round on your own. If golf isn’t your thing, round up some friends to enjoy the Foot-Golf course, which is set up to play with a soccer ball.
7. Enjoy Spanish food. While Spanish food is not at all like Mexican food (it’s much more mild and based on fresh, Mediterranean ingredients), it is refreshing and delicious. To eat, try paella (rice and seafood), tortilla (an egg and potato dish), gazpacho (cold tomato soup), or any fresh seafood. To drink, don’t miss out on sangria (chilled wine with fruit) or a cerveza (beer).
If you have a car:
You can rent a car on base at the airport, or off base, just outside the Rota gate. You just need ID and a valid American driver’s license to reserve a vehicle. It will be more cost-effective if you team up to rent with some friends. Rental cars are typically stick shift, so make sure someone in the group can drive manual. Having a car will give you access to the town of El Puerto (just a few miles outside the base Puerto gate) and any other towns in Southern Spain that are within your liberty limits.
Here are some of the most popular:
1. Spend a day in Cadiz. This city just 40 minutes from Rota has a great history museum, church, and amazing seafood. It’s a gorgeous city with plenty of parks and unique architecture, and it holds the honor or being one of Europe’s longest continuously-inhabited cities — 2,000 years of constant development and counting!
2. Drive to Seville. Over an hour North of Rota is the royal city of Sevilla, once the port where all the New World gold passed through. The medieval cathedral and alcazar (castle) are both gorgeous and worth the visit. This is also a great location to purchase colorful Spanish pottery.
3. Go to Gibraltar for a day. You’ll need a passport to visit Gibraltar because it is not part of Spain! The town actually belongs to England as an overseas territory. The residents there speak English, eat fish and chips, and have occasional parades of British soldiers. After enjoying lunch at one of the pubs around the main square, take the tour up the Rock to see the monkeys and the Pillar of Hercules.
4.See Roman ruins. The Roman town of Baelo Claudia has been excavated and partially restored, near the Spanish city of Bolonia. A quick day trip will let you walk through the ancient avenues, see the amphitheater, and marvel at the pillars of the public forum. This seaside port was once a bustling Roman town, and on a clear day you can see the coast of Africa. There are other places to see Roman ruins in Spain (statues in the history museums of Cadiz or Seville, aqueducts in Segovia, the theater in Merida), but Baelo Claudia is the closest day-trip to Rota.
Things NOT to do in Rota, Spain:
1. Avoid the forbidden clubs. Your libbo safety brief will probably include a list of establishments not to visit within the town of Rota. There are a few bars and clubs that are off-limits to service members. These establishments are on the list either because of illegal substances, or because they have experienced too many service member-related fights inside. Steer clear. Shore Patrol knows these locations and will check them regularly.
2. Don’t go to Morocco: Although the African city of Tangiers is just a ferry ride away from the Spanish town of Tarifa, service members are generally restricted from traveling to Africa. Not only would you need a passport, but you also need written permission from your CO because of occasional political unrest in Morocco.
As the pandemic continues to sweep the globe and follow us all into the holidays, everyone is struggling. December is filled with moments traditionally celebrated with big family gatherings – something that just isn’t safe right now, for anyone. Hard as it may be to swallow, it’s something military families have been dealing with for a lot longer than just the year 2020.
I come from a large Italian family, one that had “family night” every Wednesday like clockwork growing up. Leaving them behind for the first move with my husband was hard. I remember the deep pit of loss, especially during the holidays I missed. The second move taking me from my home state of Florida to Alaska just about broke me. It doesn’t matter how beautiful the adventure is or how incredible the opportunities are, your heart still aches. It was 2008, long before Facebook Lives or Zoom were a thing. Instead, we bought expensive web cameras and celebrated Christmas Eve through a shaky internet connection. Although I would never stop missing them, we learned to adapt because we had to. I also learned how expensive long-distance phone calls were, oops.
Watching Americans on social media complain about the restrictions and “cancel culture,” I can’t help but laugh and shake my head. As military families, we live in a world where anything can happen and you control none of it. My husband has worked numerous special days, been underway for Christmas and missed so many important moments. If I sat and dwelled in the despair of those times, I would never get out of bed. Seriously. This is the reality of the majority of military families throughout the world, we don’t have the luxury of complaining about it – we just do it. So, here are my lessons learned and words of advice for celebrating the holidays during a pandemic.
Did you know that when you complain, your body releases cortisol, which is a stress hormone? Yep, truth. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought enough stress to everyone’s lives, don’t add any more to yours. Instead of focusing on the negative, look towards the positive things. Traveling during the holidays sucks, for one – so now you don’t have to. Win!
2. Add new traditions
Maybe your Aunt Karen makes the best Christmas dinner and you are really mad about missing it. Make it. Yeah, you heard me. This is your chance to not only really embrace your own traditions that are familiar in a different way, but you can also add new ones. Bake the dish that no one else would usually eat, make the crafts because you have time and decorate more. Embrace the good, not the bad.
3. Adopt a family or shelter
I am not trying to make you feel like scrooge but for many the holidays are never good, even without a pandemic wreaking havoc. Rates of negative mental health symptoms during the holidays skyrocket and so do suicides. By finding a way to give back to those less fortunate than you it will not only take your mind off missing your family or “normal” but it will bring a boost of feel-good hormones to your brain, known as the “helper’s high”. There are angel trees, Toys for Tots and endless shelters in your community that need you. Find one.
4. Embrace small moments of joy
Sometimes it’s really not about the big elaborate get together’s and parties. Take this time to focus on your own home or community and breathe in small moments of joy. Watching old holiday movies together, having more time to decorate outside or watching your kids smile while doing crafts. Video chat with your family, take the time to make phone calls to people you haven’t seen in a while and write letters. These are small things that can create not only good memories but also feed happiness and not negativity.
The FDA just approved the second vaccine for emergency distribution. This means there really is hope on the horizon, even though all of this isn’t over yet. I know that we are all feeling fatigued from COVID and quarantine, but we can get through this. Remember that even when there isn’t a pandemic, military families are almost always far from their loved ones. It’s a sacrifice that is made because freedom is worth it. It is my hope that you’ll all take the same approach with staying home for the holidays. The lives you will save are worth it too.
Kim Jong Un didn’t like the art of President Trump’s deal, according to a recent AP story. The second meeting between the two powers in Vietnam was much less of a bromance than the first meeting, held in Singapore. While the Singapore Summit left many feeling optimistic about the chances of a nuke-free Korean Peninsula, the Hanoi Summit ended almost as abruptly as it began.
While North Korea’s early, unplanned exit from Hanoi didn’t rule out a third meeting between Trump and Kim, it left many wondering what happened behind the scenes to end the summit so quickly. Simply put, Kim wasn’t prepared for the Art of the Deal.
U.S. President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi.
Although the summit lasted for nearly the expected time, talks broke down before the summit’s working lunch and a planned “signing ceremony.” President Trump told reporters that Kim’s demand for an immediate end to all sanctions against North Korea was cause enough for the President to walk away. Trump whose reputation is built on his ability to negotiate, even writing a number of books on dealmaking.
“Sometimes you have to walk,” Trump said during a news conference after the summit. “This was just one of those times.” Insiders told the AP the President implored Kim to “go all in,” referring to the complete dismantling of nuclear development sites not just the disputed one at Yongbyon. For his part, Kim wanted the President to go all in, demanding an end to the sanctions.
Trump wasn’t willing to go that far. But there was more to the decision to end the talks there than just this current impasse.
The Art of No Deal, by Kim Jong Un.
Kim Jong Un just didn’t like the “unreasonable demands” Trump made of him, despite a close, personal relationship with the President, one Trump himself affirmed to Western media. So this snafu in Hanoi doesn’t mean the negotiations are over forever. Neither side has ruled out a third summit between them.
“We of course place importance on resolving problems through dialogue and negotiations. But the U.S. style dialogue of unilaterally pushing its demands doesn’t fit us, and we have no interest in it,” Kim said during a speech to North Korea’s parliamentary body. The dictator went on to demand reasonable terms for a real agreement and to have them from the United States by the end of 2019.
Those terms include a withdrawal of the “hostile policies” the United States has imposed on North Korea’s economy, government, and its individual officials. North Korea has time and again implored South Korea to move away from Washington’s aggressive policies toward the North and deal with Pyongyang more unilaterally. In the interim, Kim has resisted complete disarmament, opting instead to join vague declarations of arms control efforts amid cooperation with the South.
“If the United States approaches us with the right manner and offers to hold a third North Korea-U.S. leaders’ summit on the condition of finding solutions we could mutually accept, then we do have a willingness to give it one more try,” Kim said.
The midway point on construction of the Navy’s next aircraft carrier, the John F. Kennedy, CVN 79, was reached at the end of August 2018, when the latest superlift was dropped into place, shipbuilder Huntington Ignalls said in a release.
The modular-construction approach the shipbuilder is using involves joining smaller sections into larger chunks, called superlifts, which are outfitted with wiring, piping, ventilation, and other components, before being hoisted into place on the Kennedy.
The latest superlift makes up the aft section of the ship between the hangar bay and the flight deck. It is one of the heaviest that will be used, composed of 19 smaller sections and weighed 997 standard tons — roughly as much as 25 semi trucks. It is 80 feet long, about 110 feet wide, and four decks in height.
Below, you can see Huntington’s Newport News Shipbuilding division haul the massive superlift into place with the shipyard’s 1,157-ton gantry crane.
Workers installed an array of equipment, including pumps, pipes, lighting, and ventilation, into the latest superlift before it was lifted onto the ship.
The modular approach has allowed the shipbuilder to reach this point in construction 14 months earlier than it was reached on the USS Gerald R. Ford, the Navy’s first-in-class Ford-class carrier, the company said.
“Performing higher levels of pre-outfitting represents a significant improvement in aircraft carrier construction, allowing us to build larger structures than ever before and providing greater cost savings,” Lucas Hicks, the company’s vice president for the Kennedy program, said in the release.
A superlift is dropped into place on the aft section of the Navy’s next aircraft carrier, the John F. Kennedy, August 2018.
Huntington Ignalls started construction on the Kennedy in February 2011 with the “first cut of steel” ceremony. The ship’s keel was laid in August 2015, and the carrier hit the 50%-constructed mark in June 2017.
The shipbuilder said in early 2018 that the Kennedyreached 70% and 75% structural completion, which “has to do with superlifts and the number of structures erected to build the ship,” Duane Bourne, media-relations manager for Huntington Ignalls, said in an email.
With the nearly 1,000-ton superlift added at the end of August 2018, work on the Kennedy — structural or otherwise — is now halfway done.
The ship is now scheduled to move from dry dock to an outfitting berth by the last quarter of 2019, which would be three months ahead of schedule. Hicks said in April 2018 that the Kennedy was to be christened and launched in November 2019 and delivered to the Navy in June 2022.
USS Gerald R. Ford underway on its own power for the first time in Newport News, Virginia, April 8, 2017.
(US Department of Defense photo)
The Kennedy includes many of the new features installed on the Ford, like the Electromagnetic Launch System and Advanced Arresting Gear, both of which assist with launching and recovering aircraft. (One notable feature not included on the Ford: urinals.)
The Ford was delivered to the Navy in June 2017 — two years later than planned — and commissioned that year. The ship came at a cost of about .9 billion, which was 23% more than estimated. The Ford has faced a number of issues and is still undergoing post-commissioning work before it can be ready for a combat deployment.
The Navy and Huntington Ignalls have said lessons from the construction of the Ford will be applied to future carriers — though the Government Accountability Office said in summer 2017 that the .4 billion budget for the Kennedy was unreliable and didn’t take into account what happened during the Ford’s construction. The Pentagon partially agreed with that assessment.
The Kennedy is the second of four Ford-class carriers the Navy plans to buy. Work has already started on the next Ford-class carrier, the Enterprise, with the “first cut of steel” ceremony taking place in August 2017.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.