A Search and Rescue team from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island rescued an injured hiker at Deception Pass State Park on Oct. 21.
The SAR crew took off from NAS Whidbey Island around 5 p.m. Due to the injured hiker’s location and surrounding terrain, North Whidbey Fire and Rescue was unable to reach the man.
Upon arrival, Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class John Siedler, a search and rescue medical technician, hoisted down to the scene and prepared the injured man for immediate extraction. The patient was transported to Island Hospital where he was delivered to a higher level of care.
This was the 35th rescue of 2017 for NAS Whidbey Island SAR, which has also conducted seven searches and 15 Medical Evacuation missions this year, totaling 64 lives delivered to a higher level of care.
The Navy SAR unit operates three MH-60S helicopters from NAS Whidbey Island as search and rescue/medical evacuation platforms for the EA-18G aircraft as well as other squadrons and personnel assigned to the installation.
Khizr Khan came to national prominence after his impassioned speech at last week’s Democratic National Convention. His remarks touched on the value of his son’s sacrifice for the country and why he believes Muslim immigrants should be allowed to take part in the American process.
Some of Khan’s remarks were aimed directly at Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, including asking whether Trump had ever read the Constitution. In response, Trump fired back in a way that has offended many in the veteran community. Trump specifically addressed the silence of Capt. Khan’s mother, Ghazala Khan, and implied that she likely didn’t speak because her husband (and the Muslim faith) wouldn’t allow it. She later addressed his comments in a Washington Post op-ed and told him it was a mother’s grief, not her religion, that rendered her incapable of speaking.
In a joint letter, seven veterans organizations have asserted that the Khan family’s right to question the intentions and actions of presidential candidates and other potential elected officials should be respected.
We are all Gold Star Families, who have lost those we love the most in war. Ours is a sacrifice you will never know. Ours is a sacrifice we would never want you to know.
Your recent comments regarding the Khan family were repugnant, and personally offensive to us. When you question a mother’s pain, by implying that her religion, not her grief, kept her from addressing an arena of people, you are attacking us. When you say your job building buildings is akin to our sacrifice, you are attacking our sacrifice.
You are not just attacking us, you are cheapening the sacrifice made by those we lost.
If you’re a true super-serious-ROTC-kid it is an absolute must that you have an energy drink on you at all times. You can’t get your hands on an actual Rip-It yet, but don’t let that stop you from letting people know that you’re in the military.
It doesn’t matter what kind you have: Monster, Red Bull, some random off-brand one you found at Big Lots called like “Pulse” or something—it doesn’t matter, just have one. You’re on a college campus swarming with seas of people zonked out on Adderall, and you simply don’t have that luxury.
You need an equally unhealthy way to spike your energy levels in the early morning. So chase down that convenience store donut with an energy drink during your 8 a.m. You were up at 6 a.m for PT, right? You need 24 ounces of gasoline and sugar.
And that’s exactly what you’ll tell every student within earshot who didn’t ask.
If you truly want to be a super-serious-ROTC kid, then when someone asks you what time it is—answer in military time. No matter what. Class at 4 p.m.? Nope. Class at 1600. Throw in a “0” before the time for bonus points. Even if it’s wrong. Now I know what you’re thinking, “But what if someone asks me for the time, and it’s not after 1200?” Easy. Shoehorn it in, let them know you’re ROTC.
student: Hey, do you know what time the McDonalds on campus stops selling egg mcmuffins?
super serious ROTC kid: At 11 a.m… And, in case you’re wondering, they close every night at 2200.
student: Oh, uh. Okay. Thanks?
Well done. Another pleb slightly confused unnecessarily, super-serious-ROTC-kid.
Okay, so, oddly enough… This one doesn’t use military time.
But every single other super-serious-ROTC-kid has one on their wrist for some reason, so don’t be caught without one of these bad boys. Be sure to get one with a velcro strap so you sound like the shoe rack at a nursing home every time you try to take it off before a test.
Bonus points if you buy the model that is permanently loaded with the function of beeping every 4 (also known as 04) hours, with no way of turning it off. Your classmates will look at you, and they will know. And you will nod and give them a thumbs up.
Fort Sam Houston hosts annual Military Appreciation Weekend
Wrap around sunglasses
Thor has his hammer. Legolas had his bow and arrow. Super-serious-ROTC-kids have their wrap around sunglasses. An important note with these, however—due to new union regulations, if they are not bleach-white/midnight black Oakleys—they must have a neck lanyard attachment.
Indoors: they must be worn on your face over your eyes. Outside: it’s optional, but if you want bonus points prop them atop your head on your bent billed baseball hat.
Camo tactical backpack
“Woah buddy! Almost didn’t see all your schoolwork there. Your digital camo backpack blends in with all these massive red brick buildings like a chameleon.” That’s the kind of stealth and tactical advantage you will have over all your classmates dressed in loud throwback NBA jerseys and pastel-colored khaki shorts.
Do you need a tactical backpack to carry notebooks and old Lunchables you forgot to throw away? If you want to be a super-serious-ROTC-kid you do.
A super-serious-ROTC-kid must also fill the backpack to the brim. It doesn’t matter with what: bundled up sweatshirts, copies of “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” or literal bricks—just make sure it bulges outward behind you no less than 2 (also known as 02) feet.
A good mustache
Without this—nothing else matters.
Every super-serious-ROTC-kid since the dawn of time has had this. This tight bristled lip tickler is to you what flowing locks of hair were to Samson.
It is not to be confused with the super-serious-police-academy-kid mustache. Those are bulky, rounded, and accompanied by aviator sunglasses.
Note: your hair does not have to be in regs, but if you want it to match the mustache, maintain a nice tight fade.
Congratulations. You’re now a super-serious-ROTC-kid.
At a recent event, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that a division of troops would be stationed in Chukotka, Russia’s far-east region, just slightly more than 50 miles from Alaska.
“There are plans to form a coastal defense division in 2018 on the Chukotka operational direction,” said Shoigu.
He said that the deployment was “to ensure control of the closed sea zones of the Kuril Islands and the Bering Strait, cover the routes of Pacific Fleet forces’ deployment in the Far Eastern and Northern sea zones, and increase the combat viability of naval strategic nuclear forces.”
Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was due in court Sept. 27 for his final pre-trial hearing before he faces court-martial on charges that he endangered comrades by walking off his post in Afghanistan in 2009.
A military judge at Fort Bragg in North Carolina will hear arguments on several motions including a defense effort to get more information about discussions between a prosecutor and the Trump administration.
Lawyers are also expected to give the judge, Army Col. Jeffery R. Nance, updates on preparations for the Oct. 23 trial. Several previous trial dates were delayed by the exchange of classified evidence.
The pretrial hearing, which could extend into Sept. 28, is the last one scheduled before the trial.
In late August, the defense filed several motions including arguments that charges against Bergdahl are unfairly duplicative and that his enlistment was improperly extended by more than a decade so he could be prosecuted. The motions seek to dismiss some or all charges, but legal scholars have said defense attorneys face an uphill battle with them.
The defense is also seeking more information about a meeting between one of the prosecutors and the Trump administration. They asked the court for unredacted copies of emails related to the meeting as well as the ability to interview the prosecutor about it.
Defense lawyers previously argued that Bergdahl couldn’t get a fair trial because of negative comments President Donald Trump made on the campaign trail. But Nance rejected a defense request to dismiss the case over Trump’s criticism of Bergdahl.
The government has acknowledged that a prosecutor had discussions with a lawyer for the National Security Council about the defense efforts to derail the case over Trump’s comments. But they said the White House has given no instructions to prosecutors about how to conduct the case.
Prosecutors also argued that further information about the conversations is irrelevant to the case, especially since the judge has already rejected Trump-related arguments by the defense.
Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban shortly after he left his remote post in 2009. The soldier has said he intended to cause alarm and draw attention to what he saw as problems with his unit.
He was freed from captivity in 2014 in exchange for five Taliban prisoners. Former President Barack Obama was criticized by Republicans who claimed the trade jeopardized the nation’s security.
Bergdahl, who is from Hailey, Idaho, has been assigned to desk duty at a Texas Army base pending the outcome of his legal case.
There’s an old saying: “It’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.” This perfectly sums up the role of the U.S. Army Pathfinders — that is, until Big Army cut sling load on them.
As of Feb. 24, 2017, the last Pathfinder company in the active duty United States Army, F Company, 2nd Assault Helicopter Battalion, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, cased their colors, putting an end to decades of highly trained soldiers quickly inserting themselves into hostile territory to secure sites for air support. Before that, the provisional pathfinder companies across the Army quietly cased their colors as well.
The decision to slowly phase out the Pathfinders was a difficult one. Today, the responsibility resides with all troops as the need for establishing new zones in the longest modern war in American history became less of a priority. Yet that doesn’t mean that there won’t be a need for their return at any given moment.
The Pathfinder schools are still at Fort Benning and Fort Campbell today, but they’re largely just seen as the “go-to” schools for overzealous officers trying to stack up their badges. Still, the training received there gives graduates many essential skills needed to complete Pathfinder operations.
To be a Pathfinder, you need to satisfy several prerequisites. Since their primary focus is on establishing a landing site for airborne and air assault troops, you must first be a graduate from either or both schools. The training leans heavily on knowledge learned from both schools, such as sling-load operations, while also teaching the fundamentals of air traffic control.
All of this comes in handy because Pathfinders in the field need to know, down to the foot, exactly what kind of area makes for a suitable, impromptu paratrooper drop zone or helicopter landing zone. These tasks are delicate, and human lives and hundreds of thousands of dollars are often on the line. That’s why Pathfinders need to know specifics, like how far apart glow sticks must be placed, to get the job done. Details are crucial.
These are skills that simply cannot be picked up on the fly. A typical Joe may be able to cover the physical security element of the task, but establishing a landing zone requires some complex math and carefully honed assessments. Creating drop zones for paratroopers is less mission-critical, as the paratroopers themselves are also less mission essential.
Still, the job of establishing landing zones is now put in the hands of less-qualified troops. Pilots can typically wing it, yes, but the job is best left to those who’ve been specifically trained for the specialized task.
Hat tip to our viewer Tim Moriarty for the inspiration.
U.S. Army weapons officials have figured out the cause and ginned up a fix for a dangerous glitch in the selector switch of M4 and M4A1 carbines that could cause the weapon to fire unintentionally.
In June 2018, Military.com reported that about 3,000 Army M4 and M4A1s had failed new safety inspections begun after the service’s Tank-automotive and Armaments Command sent out a safety-of-use message in March 2018 to all branches of the U.S. military, advising units to perform an updated functions check on all variants of M16s and M4s after a soldier experienced an unexplained, unintended discharge.
After more than 50,000 weapons were checked, TACOM officials discovered the cause of the glitch and halted the inspections, TACOM spokesman R. Slade Walters told Military.com.
“After receiving a significant number of reports from the field and an average failure rate of about 6 percent of the weapons inspected, we ended the inspections and have determined that the cause of the problem is a tolerance stack of the internal firing components,” he said in an email. “The problem is fixed by modifying the selector to remove the tolerance issue and the fault. TACOM is working on an Army-wide directive to repair weapons with the issue that will be released when it is approved at the appropriate levels.”
During a follow-up phone interview, Walters said, “Each individual part conforms to the tolerance requirements, but when the multiple parts get stuck together in 6 to 9 percent of the weapons, depending on which models you are looking at … those tolerances create that condition.”
“So in some weapons it’s not a problem and in others it is,” he said, explaining that the lower receiver’s internal parts need “some machining and or grinding to slightly modify the internal components.”
“When they do that, it fixes the problem … and when they have done it and repeated it, they have been able to correct the problem in weapons showing the issue,” he added.
The receiver of a former M4 carbine shows laser etching to reflect it is now an M4A1 capable of firing on full-auto.
(U.S. Army photo)
Most failures occurred in M4A1s. The M4A1s that had been converted from M4s suffered 2,070 failures out of 23,000 inspected, a 9 percent failure rate. Out of about 16,000 original M4A1s inspected, 960 suffered failures, a 6 percent failure rate.
Less than one percent of the 4,000 M4s checked failed the updated functions check. And less than one percent of the 8,500 M16A2s checked failed the test as well.
About 500 M16A4s were also checked, but no failures were reported.
The Marine Corps also uses the M4 carbine, but the service said in June 2018 that its weapons were passing the new functions check.
The glitch-testing started when a Fort Knox soldier’s M4A1 selector switch became stuck in-between the semi and auto settings. When the soldier pulled the trigger, the weapon failed to fire. The soldier then moved the selector switch and the weapon fired, the TACOM message states.
The M4A1 is now the Army’s primary individual weapon. The service is converting M4 carbines to M4A1s through the M4 Product Improvement program. The M4A1 has been used by special operations forces for about two decades. It features a heavier barrel and a full-automatic setting instead of the three-round burst setting on standard M4s.
The Army said that all new M4A1s being issued are being checked for the selector glitch and corrected as needed, Walters said.
“Anybody who has gotten a new weapon in the last month or two has gotten weapons free of this error,” he said. “It’s not a small number; it’s like several thousand. It has already been implemented in the supply chain.”
It’s unclear if TACOM will have unit armorers fix the weapons that showed the glitch or if TACOM technicians will do the work, Walters said. He added that “this is still pre-decisional.”
TACOM officials also could not explain why the glitch had not shown up in the past.
“It was just a weird fluke,” Walters said. “In the number of rounds that have gone through those models in the number of years those models have been available, it’s like a winning-the-lottery kind of fluke. And the fact that we discovered it is just one of those things.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
Sometime after August 2008, the US Department of Defense contracted dozens of researchers to look into some very, very out-there aerospace technologies, including never-before-seen methods of propulsion, lift, and stealth.
Two researchers came back with a 34-page report for the “propulsion” category titled, “Warp Drive, Dark Energy and the Manipulation of Extra Dimensions”.
The document is dated April 2, 2010, though it was only recently released by the Defense Intelligence Agency. (Business Insider first learned about in a post by Paul Szoldra at Task & Purpose.) The authors suggest we may not be too far away from cracking the mysteries of higher, unseen dimensions and negative or “dark energy” — a repulsive force that physicists believe is pushing the universe apart at ever-faster speeds.
“Control of this higher dimensional space may bе а source of technological control оvеr the dark energy density and could ultimately play а role in the development of exotic propulsion technologies; specifically, а warp drive,” the authors write. “[T]rips to the planets within our own solar system would take hours rather than years, and journeys to local star system would be measured in weeks rather than hundreds of thousands of years.”
However, Sean Carroll, a theoretical physicist at Caltech who studies and follows the topics covered by the report, had a lot of cold water to pour on the report’s optimism.
“It’s bits and pieces of theoretical physics dressed up as if it has something to do with potentially real-world applications, which it doesn’t.” Carroll said. “This is not crackpot. This is not the Maharishi saying we’re going to use spirit energy to fly off the ground — this is real physics. But this is not something that’s going to connect with engineering anytime soon, probably anytime ever.”
James Т. Lacatski, a Defense Intelligence Agency official listed as a contact on the report, did not immediately to respond a query from Business Insider.
Where the warp-drive study came from
The nature of this study is still making its way to the public.
What is known is that it’s an “acquisition threat support” reference document, which helps the US military anticipate or describe new enemy technologies — apparently including (very, very) notional ones. It was also one work in “а series of advanced technology reports” for something called the Advanced Aerospace Weapon System Applications Program, or AAWSAP.
The New York Times and Politico revealed AATIP’s existence in December 2017. The outlets said former Nevada senator Harry Reid helped organize it and secure millions in secret government funding (sometimes called “black money”) for the effort.
A large share of this money reportedly went to Robert Bigelow — a real-estate mogul who’s working to build private space stations through Bigelow Aerospace, is a friend of Reid’s, and someone who has funded his own UFO research for years. The billionaire reportedly formed a separate entity, called Bigelow Aerospace Advanced Space Studies, to secure the government funding and use it to hire 46 researchers and “dozens of other support personnel,” KLAS-TV said.
An anonymous senior intelligence official told Politico that AATIP began mostly to root out the existence of unknown Chinese and Russian military technologies. But after a couple of years, “the consensus was we really couldn’t find anything of substance,” the official said. “They produced reams of paperwork. After all of that there was really nothing there that we could find.” AAWSAP and AATIP reportedly ran out of funding in 2011 or 2012.
Scientists are also skeptical of UFOs, even after viewing spooky videos obtained by AATIP, one of which shows an undated encounter with “an aircraft surrounded by some kind of glowing aura traveling at high speed and rotating as it moves,” the Times wrote.
Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute previously told Business Insider that, after 50 years of reported alien visits, “the really good evidence that we’re being visited still has failed to surface.” He added: “It is a little odd that aliens would come hundreds and hundreds of light-years to do nothing.”
The larger program that looked into the feasibility of warp drives, wormholes, and stargates is meeting similar scrutiny from established experts.
The physics of warp drives
In the warp-drive study, the authors laid out several well-established ideas in physics.
Those concepts include dark energy; general relativity, which Albert Einstein pioneered and predicted some bizarre-yet-real phenomena in the universe (like the warping of spacetime and gravitational waves); the Casimir effect, which describes the existence of a quantum “vacuum energy”; and M-theory — the idea that perhaps seven extra dimensions (which a warp drive could exploit) may be wrapped up in the four we’re familiar with, including time.
It then mashes this work together to lay out a potential use of these properties that’d circumvent Einstein’s cardinal rule: Nothing can travel faster than light in a vacuum.
“If one is to realistically entertain the notion of interstellar exploration in timeframes of а human lifespan, а dramatic shift in the traditional approach to spacecraft propulsion is necessary,” said the report, which goes on to suggest that a warp drive might be feasible.
The study includes a table of various destinations and how quickly they might be reached by bending spacetime to travel 100 times faster than light.
The way this might work, the report says, is by using a lot of dark (or negative) energy to expand an extra dimension into a “bubble.” Such a bubble would be made large enough to fit a spaceship of perhaps 100 cubic meters — roughly the size of a semi-trailer truck.
A contracting region of spacetime in front of the ship, plus an expanding region behind it, would then propel the bubble and ship down a sort of spacetime tube without technically exceeding the speed of light.
Carroll also said that the concept of a warp drive “is not crackpot” — Miguel Alcubierre, a Mexican theoretical physicist, invented the concept in 1994.
“You can’t go faster than the speed of light. But what you can can imagine doing is effectively twisting spacetime so that it looks like you’re moving faster than the speed of light,” Carroll said. “If you want to go to Alpha Centauri, for example, you can ask yourself, ‘Well, could I bend spacetime so that Alpha Centauri is next to me, so that it takes a day to go there, rather than tens of [thousands of] years? Can I make the warping of spacetime do that?’ And the answer is sure, you can do that.”
But Carroll said the DIA report goes too far in its analysis.
“There is something called a warp drive, there are extra dimensions, there is a Casimir effect, and there’s dark energy. All of these things are true,” he said. “But there’s zero chance that anyone within our lifetimes, or the next 1,000 years, are going to build anything that makes use of any of these ideas, for defense purposes or anything like that.”
The problems and perils of faster-than-light travel
Carrol said warp drives are so removed from plausible reality because no one knows what negative energy is, how to make it, or how to store it, let alone put it to use.
What’s more, the amount of negative energy you’d need to reach a place like Alpha Centauri — the nearest star system to Earth, at 4.367 light-years away — in a couple years with a 100-cubic-meter ship is truly astronomical.
“If you took the entire Earth and annihilated it into energy, that’s how much energy you’d need, except you’d need a negative amount of that, which no one has any clue how to make,” Carroll said. “We’re not taking the atoms of the Earth and dispersing them like the Death Star would do. We’re making them cease to exist.”
Then this energy has to be captured, stored, and used with 100% efficiency.
“It’s completely crazy talk,” Carroll said. “It’s not something like, ‘Oh, we need better transistors.’ This is something that is not anywhere within the realm of feasibility.”
The study states that its conclusions are speculative, admits the negative-energy figure “is, indeed, an incredible number,” and adds that “a full understanding of the true nature of dark energy may be many years away.”
However, it suggests “that experimental breakthroughs at the Large Hadron Collider оr developments in the field of M-theory could lead to а quantum leap in our understanding of this unusual form of energy and perhaps help to direct technological innovations.”
Nearly a decade on, none of these developments have panned out. The LHC has yet to find any evidence of particles that’d crack the mysteries of dark energy, nor have experiments really advanced M-theory.
But assuming negative energy could somehow be extracted, a planet’s worth of exotic matter fed into a spaceship’s warp drive engines, and a suitable destination picked out, the crew might encounter a number of show-stopping problems.
Interstellar travelers may lose control of their ship the moment they start it due to the warping of space itself. Hawking radiation — which is theoretically found at the edges of black holes and other highly warped regions of space — might roast passengers while shutting down their warp field. And slowing down may be deadly: Several light-years’ worth of cosmic dust and gas between the origin and destination might turn into a dangerous shockwave of high-energy particles and radiation upon arrival.
“It’s possible in the sense that I can’t actually rule it out, but I don’t think it’s actually possible,” Carroll said of warp drives and faster-than-light travel. “I think if we knew physics better, we’d just say, ‘No, you can’t do that.'”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Miller at one point drew his sidearm during the attack, but did not fire, according to CNN.
The attack took place in Kandahar, and led to the death of Gen. Abdul Raziq, a powerful Afghan police chief.
Several other Afghan police and officials were killed or wounded, and three Americans were wounded in the incident as well. The assailant was reportedly killed in the firefight.
Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Smiley was among the Americans wounded in Oct. 18, 2018’s incident and is recovering from a gunshot wound, a NATO spokesman confirmed to CNN on Oct. 21, 2018. Smiley is in charge of the NATO military advisory mission in southern Afghanistan.
The attack highlights just how insecure Afghanistan is, and came just two days before the country held national elections.
It was an astonishing moment in a conflict that recently entered its 18th year, and perhaps the most embarrassing piece of evidence yet the US is badly losing the war.
The Taliban hoped to kill a US general to get America to leave Afghanistan
A Taliban commander told NBC News if it had been successful in killing Miller, who emerged from the attack unscathed, that President Donald Trump would’ve withdrawn the roughly 15,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan. The Taliban still feels the attack was a “major success” due to the death of Raziq.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Friday described the loss of Raziq, whom the Taliban attempted to kill dozens of times, as the “tragic loss of a patriot.” But Mattis also said the attack hasn’t made him less confident in the ability of Afghan security forces to take on the Taliban.
Despite the Pentagon’s efforts to downplay the significant of this attack, it’s a sign of how emboldened the Taliban has become via major gains over the past year or so.
The war has reached its deadliest point in years as the Taliban gains ground
At the moment, the Taliban controls or contests roughly half of all the country’s districts, according to the US military. But many military analysts claim approximately 61% of Afghanistan’s districts are controlled or threatened by the Taliban.
There have been eight US military deaths in Afghanistan in 2018. This is a far-cry from the deadliest year of the war for American in 2010, when 499 US troops were killed.
But civilian casualties are reaching unprecedented levels in Afghanistan, a sign of how unstable the country has become over the past year or so. The war is on track to kill over 20,000 civilians in Afghanistan this year alone, according to data from the Uppsala Conflict Data Program, meaning the conflict has reached its deadliest point in years.
America’s ‘forever war’
There is still no end in sight to this war, which costs US taxpayers roughly billion per year, and the US government is running out of answers as to why American troops are still fighting and dying there.
The conflict began as a reaction to the 9/11 terror attacks and the Taliban’s close ties to Osama bin Laden, who has since been assassinated by the US.
At this point, Americans born after 9/11 are old enough to enlist in the military with parental consent, and will have the opportunity to fight in a conflict sparked by an event they couldn’t possibly remember.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
A half century after serving in Vietnam, hundreds of veterans have a new reason to believe they may be dying from a silent bullet — test results show some men may have been infected by a slow-killing parasite while fighting in the jungles of Southeast Asia.
The Department of Veterans Affairs this spring commissioned a small pilot study to look into the link between liver flukes ingested through raw or undercooked fish and a rare bile duct cancer. It can take decades for symptoms to appear. By then, patients are often in tremendous pain, with just a few months to live.
Of the 50 blood samples submitted, more than 20 percent came back positive or bordering positive for liver fluke antibodies, said Sung-Tae Hong, the tropical medicine specialist who carried out the tests at Seoul National University in South Korea.
“It was surprising,” he said, stressing the preliminary results could include false positives and that the research is ongoing.
Northport VA Medical Center spokesman Christopher Goodman confirmed the New York facility collected the samples and sent them to the lab. He would not comment on the findings, but said everyone who tested positive was notified.
Gerry Wiggins, who served in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969, has already lost friends to the disease. He was among those who got the call.
“I was in a state of shock,” he said. “I didn’t think it would be me.”
The 69-year-old, who lives in Port Jefferson Station, New York, didn’t have any symptoms when he agreed to take part in the study, but hoped his participation could help save lives. He immediately scheduled further tests, discovering he had two cysts on his bile duct, which had the potential to develop into the cancer, known as cholangiocarcinoma. They have since been removed and — for now — he’s doing well.
Though rarely found in Americans, the parasites infect an estimated 25 million people worldwide, mostly in Asia.
Endemic in the rivers of Vietnam, the worms can easily be wiped out with a handful of pills early on, but left untreated, they can live for decades without making their hosts sick. Over time, swelling and inflammation of the bile duct can lead to cancer. Jaundice, itchy skin, weight loss, and other symptoms appear only when the disease is in its final stages.
The VA study, along with a call by Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York for broader research into liver flukes and cancer-stricken veterans, began after The Associated Press raised the issue in a story last year. The reporting found that about 700 veterans with cholangiocarcinoma have been seen by the VA in the past 15 years. Less than half of them submitted claims for service-related benefits, mostly because they were not aware of a possible connection to Vietnam. The VA rejected 80 percent of the requests, but decisions often appeared to be haphazard or contradictory, depending on what desks they landed on, the AP found.
The number of claims submitted reached 60 in 2017, up from 41 last year. Nearly three out of four of those cases were also denied, even though the government posted a warning on its website this year saying veterans who ate raw or under-cooked freshwater fish while in Vietnam might be at risk. It stopped short of urging them to get ultrasounds or other tests, saying there was currently no evidence the vets had higher infection rates than the general population.
“We are taking this seriously,” said Curt Cashour, a spokesman with the Department of Veterans Affairs. “But until further research, a recommendation cannot be made either way.”
Veteran Mike Baughman, 65, who was featured in the previous AP article, said his claim was granted early this year after being denied three times. He said the approval came right after his doctor wrote a letter saying his bile duct cancer was “more likely than not” caused by liver flukes from the uncooked fish he and his unit in Vietnam ate when they ran out of rations in the jungle. He now gets about $3,100 a month and says he’s relieved to know his wife will continue to receive benefits after he dies. But he remains angry that other veterans’ last days are consumed by fighting the same government they went to war for as young men.
“In the best of all worlds, if you came down with cholangiocarcinoma, just like Agent Orange, you automatically were in,” he said, referring to benefits granted to veterans exposed to the toxic defoliant sprayed in Vietnam. “You didn’t have to go fighting.”
Baughman, who is thin and weak, recently plucked out “Country Roads” on a bass during a jam session at his cabin in West Virginia. He wishes the VA would do more to raise awareness about liver flukes and to encourage Vietnam veterans to get an ultrasound that can detect inflammation.
“Personally, I got what I needed, but if you look at the bigger picture with all these other veterans, they don’t know what necessarily to do,” he said. “None of them have even heard of it before. A lot of them give me that blank stare like, ‘You’ve got what?'”
A male cicada infected by massospora, a parasitic fungus (in white). WVU Photo/Angie Macias
A parasitic fungus can control the minds of cicadas, leading them to act like the undead.
Researchers at West Virginia University first discovered these “zombie cicadas” last summer. They found that the bugs douse other cicadas with spores that cause the same infection, so the scientists nicknamed the cicadas “flying salt shakers of death.” But they didn’t fully understand how the psychedelic fungus — named massospora — tricks cicadas into spreading the disease to so many healthy counterparts.
The possessed cicadas reemerged in West Virginia in June, giving the researchers a chance to answer that question.
In a recent study, scientists describe how massospora manipulates male cicadas into flicking their wings in a pattern that imitates females’ mating invitations. That sham siren call then lures in unsuspecting healthy males.
When the healthy males wander over and try to mate to with their infected brethren, the parasite gains a new victim.
The fungus tweaks cicadas’ behavior against its best interest
A swarm of cicadas take over a bush near Trenton, Ohio. Pat Auckerman/The Journal/AP
The most sinister aspect of massospora is that the fungus eats away at infected cicadas genitals, butts, and abdomens, replacing them with fungal spores.
The insects’ bodies “wear away like an eraser on a pencil,” Brian Lovett, a coauthor of the new study, said in a press release.
Lovett and his team found that even though infected cicadas can lose up to one-third of their bodies to the fungus, they continue to roam, fly, and fornicate as if nothing’s wrong. That maximizes the parasite’s spread.
To make matters worse, the infection causes cicadas’ libido to skyrocket — they “try to mate with everything they encounter,” the researchers said.
“It’s very clear that the pathogen is pulling the behavioral levers of the cicada to cause it to do things which are not in the interest of the cicada, but is very much in the interest of the pathogen,” Lovett said.
He added that this type of behavioral tweak is similar to how the rabies virus modifies its hosts’ behavior.
“When you’re infected with rabies, you become aggressive, you become afraid of water and you don’t swallow,” Lovett said. “The virus is passed through saliva and all of those symptoms essentially turn you into a rabies-spreading machine where you’re more likely to bite people.”
Zombie cicadas aren’t dangerous to people
The study also pinpointed when during their life cycle the cicadas may get infected.
Baby cicadas — called nymphs — spend the first 17 years of their lives underground, feeding on plant roots. According to Matt Kasson, another study author, some nymphs could encounter the fungus as they dig their burrows.
Brian Lovett holds up a cicada infected by massospora, a parasitic fungus. WVU Photo/Angie Macias
“The fungus could more or less lay in wait inside its host for the next 17 years until something awakens it, perhaps a hormone cue,” Kasson said in the release.
Alternatively, the nymphs might also get infected in their 17th year, on their way up to the surface.Either way, these infected cicadas are harmless to humans.
“They’re very docile,” Lovett said. “You can walk right up to one, pick it up to see if it has the fungus (a white to yellowish plug on its back end) and set it back down. They’re not a major pest in any way.”
Croatian state TV reported Nov. 29 that a convicted Croat war criminal has died after swallowing what he said was poison seconds after a United Nations judge confirmed his 20-year sentence for involvement in crimes during the Bosnian war of the 1990s.
In a stunning end to the final case at the U.N.’s International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Slobodan Praljak yelled, “I am not a war criminal!” and appeared to drink from a small bottle.
Tribunal spokesman Nenad Golcevski, when asked by AP if he could confirm the death, said, “I have no information to share at this point.”
The courtroom where the dramatic scene unfolded was sealed off and Presiding Judge Carmel Agius said that it was now a “crime scene” so that Dutch police could investigate. Police in The Hague declined comment on the case.
Croatian state TV reported that President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic decided to cut short an official visit to Iceland and the government was holding an emergency session.
Praljak, 72, had been in the tribunal’s custody ahead of the hearing and it was not clear how he could have got access to poison or how he apparently managed to smuggle it into the tightly guarded courtroom.
Agius had overturned some of Praljak’s convictions but upheld others and left his sentence unchanged. Praljak, standing to listen to the judgment, then produced what appeared to be a small bottle, threw back his head and seemed to pour something into his mouth.
Agius shut down the hearing and cleared the courtroom.
The hearing later resumed and, ultimately, all six Croats charged in the case had their sentences, ranging from 25 to 10 years, confirmed. Judges overturned some of their 2013 convictions, but left many unchanged.
A small portion of the 6,100 gravestones at the Potočari genocide memorial near Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 1995, more than 8,000 Muslim Bosniaks were massacred during the Bosnian War. (Wikimedia Commons photo by Michael Büker)
The other suspects showed no emotion as Agius reconfirmed their sentences for their involvement in a campaign to drive Muslims out of a would-be Bosnian Croat ministate in Bosnia in the early 1990s.
Dutch police, an ambulance, and a fire truck quickly arrived outside the court’s headquarters and emergency service workers, some of them wearing helmets and with oxygen tanks on their backs, went into the court shortly after the incident. An ambulance later left the building, but it could not be confirmed if Praljak was inside.
The Nov. 29 hearing was the final case at the groundbreaking tribunal before it closes its doors next month. The tribunal, which last week convicted former Bosnian Serb military chief Gen. Ratko Mladic of genocide and other crimes, was set up in 1993, while fighting still raged in the former Yugoslavia. It indicted 161 suspects and convicted 90 of them.
The appeals judges upheld a key finding that late Croat President Franjo Tudjman was a member of a plan to create a Croat mini-state in Bosnia, but that finding, which angered Croat leaders, was largely overshadowed by Praljak.
The original trial began in April 2006 and provided a reminder of the complex web of ethnic tensions that fueled fighting in Bosnia and continues to create frictions in the country even today.