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.
The leading candidate to take the helm of the Islamic State’s affiliate in Afghanistan was killed in a US air-strike on August 10, US forces Afghanistan announced August 13.
Abdul Rahman and three other senior ISIS militants were killed in the strike marking the latest in a series of decapitation strikes by the US on the terrorist group in Afghanistan. The location of the strike reveals that ISIS “appears to be relocating some of its senior leadership from the eastern province of Nangarhar to the rugged, mountainous northeastern province of Kunar,” Long War Journal fellow Bill Roggio noted August 14.
ISIS’s previous leader in Afghanistan, Abu Sayed, was killed in Kunar in a July 11 drone strike. Sayed was only at the helm of the terrorist group for 6 weeks before being killed and was the third head of the group in Afghanistan killed by the US.
ISIS in Afghanistan has morphed from a nascent band of militants in 2015 to a full-fledged threat in the eastern province of Nangarhar. The group controls a relatively small amount of territory but has used it to launch multiple complex attacks on the capital city of Kabul, killing hundreds with its brutal tactics.
“It’s not getting better in Afghanistan in terms of ISIS. We have a problem, and we have to defeat them and we have to be focused on that problem,” Pentagon Chief Spokesman Dana White declared in a recent interview with Voice of America.
Roggio concurred with White’s assessment saying ISIS “has far fewer resources and personnel, and a smaller base a of support than the Taliban and its allies – has weathered a concerted US and Afghan military offensive in Nangarhar and the persistent targeting of its leaders for nearly two years.”
Police arrested three men Tuesday in Daytona Beach, Florida, for beating up a disabled Navy veteran after he told them to stop torturing a turtle to death.
A woman spotted a group of men “smashing up a turtle” while walking her toddler around a pond and immediately went home to tell her husband and disabled Navy vet, Gary Blough, who then came out of their apartment to see what was going on, WKMG reports.
He spotted two men and a teenager hitting the turtle.
“The one had it over his head and he was smashing it down on the sidewalk,” Blough said. “I asked them to please leave it alone, just let it go to the lake.”
Blough told his wife to call the police, and immediately two members of the group started punching and kicking him in the back of the head.
“They started hitting the back of my head and started punching me. I was able to fend off a little bit but I mean three of them, got the better of me,” he said.
One of the attackers reportedly yelled that he didn’t care if he went to jail, but the attackers soon scattered after bystanders approached the scene. Police caught up with the three alleged assailants, who were then immediately charged with aggravated battery and animal cruelty.
Blough later informed Daytona Beach police that the turtle was attempting to crawl away, but couldn’t move, due to its injuries.
Blough himself sustained a broken skull, internal bleeding, broken facial bones and a concussion, horrifying his wife.
The turtle was later found dead in a pool of blood.
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Iran’s military has released footage of what it says was its attack on a US drone on June 20, 2019.
Iran Military Tube, a YouTube channel that describes itself as the force’s unofficial media center, published a 52-second-long video that seems to show an Iranian missile launcher shooting at a object in the sky, followed by an explosion.
Watch Iran’s video — which came with dramatic backing music — below. It has been republished by outlets including The Washington Post and Sky News, which attribute the clip to Iran’s military. Reuters also published a screengrab from the video, attributing it to Iran’s IRINN news agency.
The purported video of the strike is dark because the attack took place early June 20, 2019, around 3.30 a.m. local time.
Footage of Iranian air defence shooting down American RQ-C Global Hawk in Persian Gulf
The video concludes with a map showing Iranian and international airspace around the Gulf, and the purported flight path of the drone, a US Navy RQ-4A Global Hawk.
Washington maintains that the drone had been in international airspace in the Strait of Hormuz, and never entered Iranian airspace.
President Donald Trump said that the drone attack was a “terrible mistake” by Iran, and reportedly approved plans for military attack before abruptly pulling out.
The US Federal Aviation Administration issued an emergency order prohibiting US operators from flying in Iran-controlled airspace over the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman in the wake of the drone attack.
Multiple airlines, including Australia’s Qantas and the Netherlands’s KLM, have also diverted or canceled flights that would fly over parts of Iranian airspace.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
South Korea said it detected an earthquake Oct. 13 near North Korea’s main nuclear test site, the fourth since the country’s sixth and most powerful nuclear test explosion last month. Some experts suggested the area is now too unstable to conduct more bomb tests.
The magnitude 2.7 quake occurred about 54 kilometers (34 miles) northwest of Kilju, the town where the test site is located in northeastern North Korea, according to officials at South Korea’s Korea Meteorological Administration. They said it wasn’t man-made and didn’t appear to cause any damage in the area.
The officials, who requested anonymity citing department rules, said they believe the four quakes probably happened because the underground nuclear test on Sept. 3 weakened or affected the tectonic plate structures in the area. The region isn’t one where earthquakes naturally occur and no quakes were detected after the five smaller nuclear tests North Korea has conducted since 2006.
The officials declined to say how the recent quakes might have affected the area and the test site, where all of North Korea’s nuclear bomb tests have taken place. But some civilian experts said North Korea may stop using the site.
North Korea, which is accelerating its efforts to develop more powerful nuclear weapons and missiles, is unlikely to waste its limited nuclear materials by conducting tests that are weaker than its sixth. But a more powerful underground detonation at the current site could be “potentially suicidal,” not only because of the weakened ground, but also because of the threat of a volcanic eruption at Mount Paektu, which is about 100 kilometers (60 miles) away, according to Kune Yull Suh, a professor of nuclear engineering at Seoul National University.
Du Hyeogn Cha, a visiting scholar at Seoul’s Asan Institute for Policy Studies, previously expressed similar worries, saying he wondered whether North Korea would be able to carry out another nuclear test in the area. Other experts said the quakes might have been caused by landslides or the collapsing of test structures such as tunnels.
North Korea’s state media haven’t reported any of the four quakes detected by South Korea and other countries.
The North has vowed to bolster its nuclear and missile programs despite increasing US-led pressure on the country. Worries about a potential military clash between the US and North Korea have also intensified in South Korea and elsewhere, with President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un exchanging crude personal insults and warlike rhetoric.
At the height of the standoff between the countries last month, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho told reporters the country could conduct a hydrogen bomb test over the Pacific Ocean. Suh said Ri’s comments might indicate the North is unable to carry out new explosions at its test site.
“It’s likely that North Korea will conduct its next nuclear test in the stratosphere, or about 100 to 300 kilometers (60 to 185 miles) from the ground, where it will be able to conduct more powerful detonations,” Suh said.
While every veteran probably knows about the GI Bill, there are a number of other education benefits offered that they might be unaware of. Here are a few of them:
1. VA Work-study Programs
These work-study positions are part-time jobs, up to 25 hours a week, for students-veterans usually at local VA facilities (i.e. hospitals, Vet Centers, etc.) that allow veterans to earn extra money and gain experience while in school. The job may only pay minimum wage but since it is considered an education benefit it is tax free. To utilize this benefit a veteran must be enrolled at least three-quarters of the time and are using veteran education benefits, such as the GI Bill.
If you are a veteran working for the VA, a company, or non-profit that is dedicated to serving veterans you can apply to host a work-study program and employ your own student veterans.
2. Vocational Rehabilitation
Also known as Voc Rehab this is a benefit provided by the VA to assist veterans with service connected disabilities to obtain education or training in a new field. This can be particularly useful for veterans who have exhausted their GI Bill but wish to continue their education.
3. Veterans Upward Bound
A pre-college program designed to help veterans reintegrate into higher education after their service. Unfortunately there are only 49 programs nationwide, but they cover most states and many major universities. Check to see if there is a program in your area.
4. Veterans Success Program at your school
Much like the Veterans Upward Bound program, many colleges and universities have implemented their own in-house programs to assist veterans with the transition to college. The nationally recognized program at the University of Arizona offers specialized classes to help transitioning veterans and also has a VETS Center on campus.
5. State Veteran Education Benefits
Many states have enacted their own benefits for veterans, such as the Hazelwood Act in Texas, which pays the tuition of Texas veterans after they have exhausted their GI Bill. Other states have varying types of veteran assistance, check with the Veterans Services Representative at your school for more information.
6. Veteran Scholarships
Many veteran and unit organizations (i.e. the 82nd Airborne Division Association) offer scholarships to their members. A quick search for your unit’s association (or just asking your buddies) should get you started.
There’s a chill settling in over Moscow, and it’s not just the arctic temperatures that typically smother the Russian capital in January.
As U.S. officials put the finishing touches on new financial and travel sanctions against Russia, expectations that the punitive measures will target an expanded list of secondary companies, as well as Kremlin-connected insiders and business leaders, are causing consternation.
Unlike previous rounds, when Washington tried to punish Russia for its actions in Crimea and Syria by targeting big fish like major state-run firms and government agencies, the focus is shifting. The new wave to be announced by month’s end is expected to be broader, focusing on companies that do business with previously sanctioned entities, closing loopholes that allowed Russia to skirt punishment, and identifying — and potentially going after — the Kremlin’s inner circle of smaller fish.
Moscow appears to be on edge. One official has accused the United States of trying to influence the upcoming presidential election. An influential Russian newspaper has reported that as many as 300 people close to President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle could be identified. And financial institutions are taking steps to minimize their risk.
“It is true that the Russians have been freaking out over this for more than a month now,” said Daniel Fried, who was formerly the chief sanctions coordinator at the U.S. State Department.
Andrei Piontkovsky, a Russian political analyst now based in Washington, D.C., echoes that assessment. “The expectations are very gloomy” in Moscow, he said, “because for the first time, it will bring personal pain to those closest to Putin.”
The new measures, expected to be rolled out beginning Jan. 29, stem from a bill passed overwhelmingly by Congress last summer and signed reluctantly into law by President Donald Trump in August.
Known as the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, the law firstly provides for “secondary sanctions” that broaden the restrictions against people or companies doing business with Russians hit earlier.
The earlier measures were imposed by Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama not only for Russia’s Crimea annexation in 2014 but also for Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, its military campaign in Syria, and other things.
In October, in the first indication of whom the new law would be targeting, the State Department put three dozen major Russian defense companies and intelligence agencies on notice, indicating that other companies, Russian or foreign, who do “significant” business with them could face restrictions.
In theory, this meant that a foreign bank that provided credit to a company supplying a previously sanctioned Russian state-controlled company could be targeted for doing business with listed companies. That might include state arms exporter Rosoboroneksport or the legendary weapons-maker Kalashnikov.
The law also ordered the Treasury Department, in coordination with intelligence agencies, to provide Congress with a list of prominent Russians and their family members who would potentially face direct restrictions. Known as Section 241, the instruction includes identifying oligarchs according to “their closeness to the Russian regime and their net worth.”
This, in theory, could target the daughter of a high-ranking Russian official who owns property in the United States, or the head of a major industrial corporation with holdings in the West.
Around Washington, close observers of the sanctions process are calling it “the oligarchs list.”
“This will hit people because it shows they are not safe; that the U.S. is willing to go after this class of people and Putin cannot protect them… that there will be consequences for Russians who seem to be in Putin’s corrupt inner circle and [are] aiding and abetting his corrupt activities,” Fried told RFE/RL.
Those included will not immediately face financial or travel restrictions, but experts say it would be a clear signal of what may soon come and, more immediately, would have a major psychological effect on those listed and those who do business with them.
It could also foreshadow a public record of some wealthy Russians’ sources of income and assets in the United States.
“For some people, it’s very personal. For others, it will be very political,” said Olga Oliker of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. “The question is: What’s the signal that is being sent by the administration and how will it be received in Moscow?”
For the moment, the potential nominees for the “oligarchs’ list” is a closely held secret by both members of Congress and administration officials. But sanctions experts, Russian opposition activists, and Western lawyers and business groups have been trying to guess. Some wealthy Russians have also stepped up quiet lobbying campaigns in Washington, trying to persuade Congress or administration officials to keep them off the list, according to several observers.
On Jan. 12, the Russian newspaper Kommersant, citing its own sources in Washington, said as many as 300 people could end up being listed, a number that includes both officials themselves, but also their relatives.
In December, a group of Russian opposition activists with backing from chess master and outspoken Kremlin critic Garry Kasparov met in Lithuania to compile their own sanctions list. The compilation features more than 200 names, including prominent business tycoons who have so far avoided restrictions, including Aleksei Mordashov, owner of the steelmaking giant Severstal, and German Gref, chief executive of Russia’s largest state bank, Sberbank.
Several prominent Russians included in the opposition group’s list were already on earlier U.S. sanctions lists, including Sergei Ivanov, an ex-defense minister and President Putin’s former chief of staff; Lieutenant General Igor Sergun, head of Russian military intelligence; and Gennady Timchenko, an oil trader hailing from Putin’s hometown of St. Petersburg.
The Treasury Department did not immediately respond to queries about its upcoming list.
One indication of how the Kremlin has sought to get ahead of the new measures came in November. The business newspaper Vedomosti reported that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev had signed a decree that would exempt Russian state companies from the requirement to disclose the names of their contractors.
Already there are signs that financial markets, in and out of Russia, are factoring the likelihood of sanctions into predictions for 2018. But among bond traders, equity dealers, and other portfolio managers, the measure that has prompted most worry is a possible restriction on buying Russian government debt.
That measure is seen as an attempt to close a loophole that allowed Russia to skirt sanctions imposed in 2014 that cut certain companies close to or controlled by the state from international credit markets.
The Kremlin ended up bailing out those companies to the tune of tens of billions of dollars and was still able to raise capital on its own. In 2016, for example, Russia sold around $3 billion in new Eurobonds.
The Countering Adversaries law includes the possibility that U.S. citizens could be barred from buying ruble-denominated, Russian government bonds. It’s unclear how much of Russia’s overall sovereign debt is held by Americans, but Central Bank data from October showed that foreigners held about $38 billion of it.
That decision won’t be handed down for some months, but still, analysts predict a ban would put severe pressure on the Russian ruble, which plummeted in 2014 after the Crimea sanctions and amid low world oil prices and has yet to fully recover. In the medium term, that would drive up inflation, Bank of America/Merrill Lynch said in a research note in December.
Some Russian financial institutions have also given indications that whatever the measures are that end up being issued by Washington, they will ripple through the country’s economy.
For example, Alfa Bank, Russia’s largest private commercial lender, said it was cutting back its exposure to the country’s formidable defense industry.
“This does not mean that we have severed relations with it overnight,” Oleg Sysuyev, a deputy chairman of the bank’s board of directors, told Ekho Moskvy radio. “But we are just trying to minimize risks.”
In the short term, that could pose a direct challenge to Putin, who will run for another term as president in the election scheduled for March, a month after the new measures are unveiled.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov alluded to this on Jan. 13 when, in comments to the state news agency TASS, he charged that the U.S. measures were an attempt to influence the vote.
Piontkovsky, a longtime critic of the Kremlin, predicted that the U.S. move to target more individuals could help undermine the broad support that Putin has enjoyed for years.
“It means he is losing his meaning for the elites, his function was to protect them, and their assets in Russia and the West, to ensure their security. And now, on the contrary, he is becoming toxic,” he said.
The question now, according to Oliker, who directs the CSIS’s Russia and Eurasia Program, is whether the new sanctions will, in fact, affect Kremlin policies.
For example, with the conflict in eastern Ukraine grinding into its fourth year, dragging on Russia’s economy and losing popularity among Russians, there’s good reason for Russia to pull back on its support for separatist fighters.
However, it would be virtually impossible for Putin to pull back if it appeared he was giving in to the pressures from U.S. sanctions, she said.
Depending on who or what is targeted, the problem is that the new measures could reinforce the perception — encouraged by the Kremlin — that Washington only wants to damage Russia, Oliker said.
“In Russia, the pervasive narrative is that all the sanctions are merely to punish Russia — [that] they’re punitive, it’s not a matter of attaining actual policy goals,” she said. Many think “it’s just those nasty Americans trying to get us.”
Amid growing calls for an end to the seemingly never-ending war in Afghanistan, the President of the embattled country is looking for a political solution to the conflict. Unfortunately, Reuters reports the terror group will refuse to participate in any peace talks until after a full U.S. withdrawal from the country.
American officials call this refusal, “unacceptable.”
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Sean Carnes)
“Frankly, it’s Taliban leaders who aren’t residing in Afghanistan who are the obstacle to a negotiated political settlement,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia, Alice Wells, a top State Department official in Afghanistan.
In June, 2018, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani successfully negotiated a ceasefire for the Eid al-Fitr holiday, the most important religious holiday for Muslims worldwide. It’s a three-day celebration at the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month during which the devout fast during the day. Ramadan is important to the worldwide Muslim community as one of the five pillars of Islam.
It was the Taliban’s first-ever agreement to any ceasefire since the 2001 start of the war in Afghanistan.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Gregory Williams)
The ceasefire actually lasted longer than three days and was “98 percent successful.” Reports say Afghans across the country, both military and civilian, were “jubilant.” Afghan government forces and Taliban fighters alike hugged each other and took selfies together in scenes reminiscent of the “Christmas Truce” of World War I, during which German and British troops spontaneously left the trenches to celebrate Christmas together in peace.
But, in both cases, the party had to end. In 1914, British and Germans were shooting at each other again the next day. In Afghanistan, the truce lasted 18 days, but fighting soon resumed.
Still, the ceasefire gave many civilians in the country the hope that a negotiated peace may soon be at hand. That includes President Ghani, who says the jubilation and happiness surrounding the ceasefire is proof that the country is ready for peace.
“I am ready to extend the ceasefire anytime when the Taliban are ready,” he said at a press conference.
The Taliban ordered its fighters back to the trenches. The group says a negotiated peace is playing into the hands of the U.S. In response, President Ghani ordered his troops back to the fighting as well.
May is a month to celebrate military spouses and mothers, so let’s give a salute to all the military spouse moms holding the family together and keeping things going on the homefront!
Military life is always challenging, but it’s especially difficult when your service member is away and you’re the solo parent. This month, we shine a spotlight on military spouse moms navigating through deployments. Thank you, mothers, for your generous love and sacrifices.
To the mothers missing their service member:
We know it’s difficult when your service member is gone. It doesn’t matter how long they are away, whether it is a deployment, a TDY, or just a few days of training. We salute you, moms who are on your own. We know there are times when you cry in the shower or in your car, just so the kids won’t see your tears. And we know that you have what it takes to keep going.
“I’ve temporarily had to say see you later to my best friend, my teammate, and my partner in crime. My husband deploying was extremely difficult on myself and our four children. However, going through all of this without my husband allowed me to experience first-hand that I can, I will, I do, and I did handle deployment like a boss.” – Megan, Navy spouse
To the pregnant mothers:
We see you, moms who are juggling the difficulties of pregnancy with the obstacles of military life. To all those trying to plan a baby in between PCS moves and deployments, and experiencing sickness and fatigue on your own—we salute you! Even when you feel exhausted, you are everything your baby needs.
“I’m about to be a mom of two Irish twins. My son is 9 months old right now. I’m due again in three months. I’m very nervous not having my husband by my side for this one but I have to be strong for the both of us.” – Meagan, Army spouse
To the mothers of little ones:
We salute you, mothers surrounded by diapers and bottles, unfolded laundry, and art projects. When you feel like you’re going crazy, remember that you are not alone! You’re part of an incredible club of mothers who are making things work one day at a time.
“I am a mom of four under 7. I took a leave of absence from my job a few months into this deployment. I mentally couldn’t handle my career and solo parenting. It was the best decision I made, and has given me an opportunity to experience being a stay-at-home mom. Because I have so many young children, routine is really important.” – Emily, National Guard spouse
To the mothers of teens:
We know you’ve been feeling invisible ever since the middle school years. Even when your kids treat you like a taxi and meal delivery service, know that you are still their rock. We salute you for all the times you stay up late, taking care of the emotional needs of these bigger kids.
“Working mom of three teenage daughters here. That means this momma goes 100 mph six days a week. As tired as I am sometimes, I enjoy taking them to practices and games.” – Terri, Army spouse
To the mothers struggling with infertility:
Our hearts go out to the mothers who have struggled with the pain, loss, and disappointment of infertility. Whether you are already a mother hoping for more children, or you are longing to someday hold your own child, we see you and we salute you.
“We were going through IVF treatment during a year-long deployment. It was the most difficult deployment by far because I was going through a medical treatment that was draining emotionally and physically. It was a hard year, but it was a year of growth.” – Linda, Air Force spouse
To the mothers who are caregivers:
As a mother, you already give your energy, your love, and your care to your children. To those who also care for their service member or take on the responsibility of aging parents, we salute your generosity and we wish you all the patience in the world.
“I’ve lost a lot of my own independence and free time which is probably the hardest. I’m exhausted at the end of the day. Moving my mother-in-law in actually ended up being way harder and less help than we had hoped.” – Caitlin, National Guard spouse
To the stepmothers and blended families:
They should call you the bonus mom when you take on bonus kids and open your heart to his, yours, and ours. We salute your love, your patience, and your perseverance.
“We are a quintessential blended family. We each have children from previous marriages. I am pregnant with our second “ours” baby. Sea duty life has rocked our world for the last three years. He’s been gone as much as he’s been home.” – Julie, Navy spouse
To the mothers in dual military marriages:
You are juggling all the responsibilities, and so much falls on your shoulders. You are supporting your spouse’s military career, while pursuing your own, and trying to do what’s best for your children too. We salute you and thank you for your service!
“It’s hard being the service member and the spouse. Sometimes it’s easier to go to work and focus on a mission than it is to stay at home with the kids and not hear from him.” – Lauren, Navy married to a Marine
Whatever stage you are in, military spouse, we support you and wish you a happy Mother’s Day!
Novichok, the powerful nerve agent that British Prime Minister Theresa May says was used in the attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, means “newcomer” in Russian. But the military-grade chemical is anything but.
Developed in the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s, novichoks are a group of advanced nerve agents designed to circumvent chemical weapons treaties and penetrate protective gear used by NATO forces.
They are made of two nontoxic components that become lethal only when mixed together, making them difficult to detect and relatively safe and easy to transport and store. Once mixed, however, they are believed to be five to eight times more potent than the notorious nerve agent VX.
Dan Kaszeta, a London-based expert in chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear defense (CBRN), said on Twitter that novichoks were “specifically developed to evade the West/NATO’s detection capabilities and foil intelligence collection efforts.”
Russia has vehemently denied any connection to the attack, which has left the 66-year-old Skripal and his 33-year-old daughter in a “critical but stable condition” at a Salisbury hospital after being exposed to the chemical on March 4, 2018.
‘Enough to kill tens of millions’
Novichoks gained notoriety in the early 1990s when Soviet scientist Vil Mirzayanov revealed that the country had secretly developed the powerful binary nerve gas that is believed to take effect rapidly by penetrating through the skin and respiratory system.
Mirzayanov, a chemist, told The New York Times in 1994 that the Russian stockpile of chemical weapons, some 60,000 tons, “would be enough to kill tens of millions.”
Colonel Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, the former head of Britain’s Chemical, Biological, Radiation, and Nuclear regiment, told the Daily Express that novichoks are “designed to be undetectable for any standard chemical security testing.”
“Skripal would only have needed to touch it, as he opened a parcel, for it to be absorbed into his bloodstream,” he said.
Despite the fact that novichoks were not developed in large quantities, de Bretton-Gordon said the Russians may have enough of them to kill several hundred thousand people.
“Don’t come here, it’s too dangerous!” my sister texted my mother a few weeks ago. “If you were to become infected with coronavirus, I would never forgive myself.”
My parents live in Naples, southern Italy, where I was born and raised before becoming an American citizen in 2018. My sister is in graduate school to become an anesthesiologist and she works in one of the most affected hospitals in the Lombardy region of northern Italy, one of the first areas to be designated as a red zone in the country.
The Costagliola family on vacation at Disney World.
My parents, who are both over 65 years of age, were supposed to go visit my sister up north before coming to visit my family and I in New York, something they do at least once a year. We had it all planned out: they would join us in Syracuse — where we are currently stationed — and after a week, we were going to take a road trip all the way down to Florida, stopping at the most iconic landmarks on the East Coast, taking plenty of photos for my two children to look back on one day and reminisce on the precious moments they spent with their grandparents.
My 8-year-old son was counting down the days until the arrival of his Nanna and Babba, who had promised to bring an entire suitcase filled with presents for him and his 4-year-old sister — something they do every time they come visit. “Mamma, only 30 days left!” he shouted with excitement as he stepped off the school bus one afternoon. “Baby, I have to tell you something…” I said as I invited him to sit on the couch next to me. The words that came out of my mouth during that conversation sounded like something out of a script of an Apocalyptic science fiction movie.
Tiziana Costagliola at work at one of the most affected hospitals in the Lombardy region.
Only a few hours earlier, I had spoken to my parents via Skype and my mother, a primary care provider, told me with tears in her eyes, “I love you, and that’s why I won’t come visit you guys.”
I couldn’t believe it.
The coronavirus had started spreading in Italy, but it was mostly contained in the red zone. It wasn’t even in southern Italy yet. Borders were open, flights were departing as scheduled, cruise ships were taking excited passengers to the most exotic corners of the world, and theme parks were still selling way too much candy to children running toward their favorite ride.
Yet, my parents had decided to cancel their trips. They would not be going to visit my sister nor would they be coming to visit us in the United States of America. “It’s going to get much worse before it gets better, sweetheart.” My mother explained, “And I would never forgive myself if I unknowingly brought the virus to you all.”
It’s going to get much worse. That thought kept haunting my mind, day and night. It sounded like a prophecy.
“We were just told to choose which patients to save…” my sister wrote a few days later in a family group chat on WhatsApp. “We are to pick younger patients over older ones, as they have better chances of surviving the coronavirus.”
Meanwhile, life in the United States of America was proceeding as usual. Children off to school, grocery shopping done, and manuscripts edited. But the headlines in the news began mirroring what I was hearing from my mother and sister back home. Not enough hospital rooms. Virus spreads to southern Italy as well. Italy struggles to contain outbreak. Italian hospitals out of ICU beds. Airlines have canceled their flights to and from Italy.
It was a nightmare. What was happening to my home country? What was happening to my family and friends?
But then, Italy took a deep breath, looked in the mirror and reminded herself of who she is. The land of art, eternal love, good food, genuine smiles, warm sun and glittering Mediterranean waters. An entire red zone with 60 million people in quarantine, Italians stepped outside their balconies, playing instruments, singing, dancing and keeping each other company.
Coronavirus: quarantined Italians sing from balconies to lift spirits
At the end of their impromptu concerts and shows, they could be heard yelling, “Andrà tutto bene!”
Everything’s going to be alright.
And now that we are also facing the reality of the outbreak here in the United States of America, let’s remind ourselves that, if we all do our part, everything will be alright.
As for that vacation, we were planning on taking; it wasn’t canceled, just postponed to when we are allowed to finally hug each other again. And if my children have it their way, it’ll be even bigger and better than the one we had originally planned.
Thirty years ago, the United States and the Soviet Union signed the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF Treaty, which called for the elimination of all ground launched-surface-to-surface missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers (310 to 3,417 miles). This treaty held through the 1990s and most of the 2000s, but in recent years, there have been allegations of Russian non-compliance.
Details on the new missile are scarce, as the system’s development has begun. One likely option would be to try to bring back the ground-launched version of the Tomahawk. Another option could be to launch Tomahawks from an Aegis Ashore base. The Tomahawk can be launched from the same vertical-launch cells as the RIM-161 Standard Missile, or SM-3, used in Aegis Ashore. A 2016 release from Lockheed Martin noted that an Aegis Ashore base in Romania is active, and one in Poland is under construction.
The Wall Street Journal noted that the Pentagon’s intention is to hopefully force Russia to comply with the 1987 treaty. However, should Russia not go back into compliance, a source told the paper that the United States is determined to be ready if the Russians choose to “live in a post-INF world … if that is the world the Russians want,” as one official put it.
The Hill reported that during meetings with other NATO defense ministers at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, Secretary of Defense James Mattis states that Russia’s violations raise “concern about Russia’s willingness to live up to the accords that it’s signed, the treaties it’s signed.”