For the first time since its meteoric rise in 2012 amid the chaos of war, al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria is in retreat, battling rival militant groups in the north and fighting for survival in a key foothold near the capital, Damascus.
Over the past three weeks, the extremist group has been driven from nearly all of the northern province of Aleppo, losing dozens of fighters in battles there and in nearby Idlib province.
The fighting poses a major challenge to the militant group, already beset by infighting and a string of assassinations that have taken out some of its top leaders. Unlike previous battles in which al-Qaeda-linked fighters were able to quickly crush their opponents, the fighting has been particularly fierce, with the militants losing dozens of villages.
The al-Qaeda-linked coalition known as the Levant Liberation Committee is still one of Syria’s most powerful armed groups, with fighters numbering in the thousands.
While the U.S.-led coalition and Russian-backed Syrian troops have focused on driving the Islamic State group from the country’s east, the al-Qaeda-linked group has consolidated its control over Idlib, where it remains the strongest force despite its recent losses there.
After the defeat of IS, al-Qaeda is seen as the main jihadi group that rejects any peace talks to try to end Syria’s seven-year conflict. Its presence in northern Syria and in the Damascus suburbs of eastern Ghouta has provided a pretext for President Bashar Assad and his Russian backers to wage war against opposition-held territory, since various de-escalation and cease-fire agreements have excluded al-Qaeda.
Several hundred al-Qaeda fighters holed up in eastern Ghouta have become a burden to the armed opposition battling government forces there, which has pressed the extremists to leave the area for their stronghold in Idlib in order to avoid the current crushing offensive.
The group’s presence has also raised concern in nations from Turkey to the United States that fear the global network founded by Osama bin Laden could use its presence in northern Syria to launch terrorist attacks around the world.
The recent fighting appears to have been triggered by the February 2018 assassination of a senior al-Qaeda official, Abu Ayman al-Masri, who was riding in a car with his wife when members of a rival militant group, Nour el-Din el-Zinki, fired on their vehicle, killing al-Masri and wounding his wife.
The killing led to battles in Aleppo and Idlib that have raged for the past three weeks.
The shooting was preceded by the merger of Nour el-Din el-Zinki and the ultraconservative Ahrar al-Sham, both former al-Qaeda allies now turned enemies.
Amid the recent battles, the new coalition, the Syria Liberation Front, has forced the al-Qaeda fighters to retreat west to Idlib.
The insurgents say that the war against al-Qaeda will not stop until the jihadi group is crushed in Syria — an ambitious goal. It is also a striking statement, considering the rival groups once turned to al-Qaeda’s experienced and battle-hardened fighters for support in the battle against Assad’s forces.
Yazan Mohammed, a media activist based in Idlib province, said that although al-Qaeda has lost some territory in the recent fighting, the group is far from being defeated.
The al-Qaeda fighters are “not scouts. They are an organized and powerful group,” Mohammed said.
In recent years, tens of thousands of rebels and civilians from around the country have fled to Idlib or been forced there by government troops, raising concerns that the presence of al-Qaeda will give the government a pretext to storm the province under the cover of Russian airstrikes as it has elsewhere, including in Aleppo in late 2016 and in the current offensive in the eastern suburbs of Damascus.
Brett McGurk, the top U.S. envoy for the coalition battling IS, said in 2017 that Idlib is the largest al-Qaeda haven since bin Laden’s days in Afghanistan.
“This war will not stop,” said Bassam Haji Mustafa, a senior official with the Nour el-Din el-Zinki group. “This is a real war against al-Qaeda, its extremist ideas and terrorism.”
After the recent battlefield losses, a senior al-Qaeda commander, Abu Yaqzan al-Masri, released an audio asserting the militant group will soon crush the offensive and the focus will again be “to fight infidels,” an apparent reference to the West.
The commander’s comments coincided with a counteroffensive in which the al-Qaeda affiliate regained some villages it had lost earlier, although its presence in Aleppo province has almost ceased to exist.
Local activists said the al-Qaeda counteroffensive was backed by members of the Turkistan Islamic Party, a powerful group consisting mostly of jihadis from China’s Turkic-speaking Uighur minority.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks Syria’s seven-year conflict, says the fighting that broke out on Feb. 20, 2018, has killed 223 fighters on both sides, including 132 from al-Qaeda’s affiliate.
Despite losing dozens of villages in the recent battles, it is unlikely that al-Qaeda will be defeated easily in Idlib, where the militants have crushed many of their opponents in recent years.
“They will not be able to defeat the Committee,” said Abu Dardaa al-Shami, who sometimes fights with the al-Qaeda affiliate but refused to take part in the current battles, saying he only fights against government forces.
Over the last several years, a spotlight has been placed on employment challenges for transitioning service members, veterans, and Guard/Reserve members. Arizona is taking strides to combat these challenges for the 600,000-plus veterans in the state. In fact, Gov. Doug Ducey proclaimed 2018 as the “Arizona Veteran Career Year.” Much of the state’s effort can be attributed to groundwork laid by the collaborative team efforts of the Arizona Corporate Council on Veteran Careers (ACCVC), the Arizona Coalition for Military Families, and the Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services.
Hal Pittman, director of external communications for Arizona Public Service (APS) and the co-founder of the ACCVC, said the efforts have focused on developing a road map for reducing underemployment, career development and corporate investment in military service members. In 2016, the ACCVC collaborated with Arizona Public Service (APS) and USAA to develop a baseline for addressing these issues, along with providing a pipeline between the community, government agencies and corporations.
Nick Caporrimo, an Army National Guardsman involved with the ACCVC, says these programs and services are imperative for service members and veterans. Caporrimo began his military career in 2010 while he was searching for employment with companies that understand the needs of service members and their families. In 2011, he accepted an internship with APS, which led to a full-time career. Caporrimo got involved in the VETRN program at APS, an employee program geared toward supporting veteran needs within the company. He said APS supports military and veteran employees and understands specific needs. The company provides differential pay to reservists, job security while away at required training and military-related duties, and recognizes the value of hard and soft skills that service members and veterans offer.
Caporrimo said the ACCVC encourages employers to establish a company culture that values military experience and skills such as leadership, teamwork, loyalty, discipline, professionalism and determination. The council is taking this message to human resources professionals at major companies in Arizona through symposiums and trainings geared toward coordinating communication between the companies and the military. The council encourages employers to establish internships and apprenticeships for active duty military personnel prior to discharge. The council has relationships with more than 20 companies.
In 2017 the ACCVC, APS and the Department of Veterans’ Services hired an epidemiologist to develop and conduct a survey that was distributed state-wide to 5,000 participants to further investigate barriers to employment, as well as underemployment, retention and career advancement for service members and veterans. The ACCVC is analyzing this data to develop a statistically supported baseline to further their efforts to combat and reduce employment challenges.
One of the programs Caporrimo is excited about is the SkillBridge Program, which was piloted at Luke Air Force Base with more than 400 transitioning military service members each year. Companies involved in this program coordinate with transitioning military service members and their commanders to provide an internship or apprenticeship for the last 180 days of their service to allow the service member to gain access to skills related to the corporate career. Those in the program continue to receive their military pay, which provides stability during the transition as they learn new skills related to their civilian career.
Caporrimo described the critical role the ACCVC and collaborators continue to play in examining private sector employment challenges faced by service members, developing a road map and baseline for best practices to combat these issues, building programs to bridge the gap between the military and private sector, establishing corporate investment in service members, and increasing the availability of careers rather than jobs for service members and veterans.
“The active efforts of the ACCVC has led to vast improvements in many areas related to career retainment and hiring for veterans and service-members in the state of Arizona,” Caporrimo said.
This article originally appeared on G.I. Jobs. Follow @GIJobsMagazine on Twitter.
When Matthew Garcia, a sergeant with nine years of honorable service, left the Marine Corps in December he felt pretty invincible. His transition back to civilian life and new career would be easy, he thought.
Garcia had three combat tours under his belt and had just ended a successful tour as a Marine drill instructor, a demanding, intense but revered job at the San Diego Marine Corps Recruit Depot. For two weeks, attending the service’s Transition Readiness Seminar, he listened to speakers and counselors and took notes about resuming life as a civilian after his time in the military.
It was, he said, “like a water hose” of information and advice.
His broad plan was to find work in the San Diego area in a safety-related job. Before he left uniform, he had earned a key OSHA certificate. He felt confident but also felt nervous when he began his transition earlier this year.
“I didn’t know if I would succeed or not. The military life becomes the blanket that you understand,” said Garcia, 29, who served as a field wireman — the Marine Corps’ equivalent of a civilian lineman or network data specialist. “Would I fit in? Would I be successful? How will they receive me?”
As the months ticked off, the job offers eluded him. He hadn’t realized that his appearance, demeanor and daily routine had changed little from his time as a drill instructor, the epitome of the ramrod, Smokey-hat wearing, poster image of a Marine.
“I got out but looked like I was still in” the military, he said.
That realization came in the help Garcia received from Cynthia, an Easterseals Southern California Bob Hope Veterans Support Program employment specialist he met through a referral from a friend pursuing similar work. She coached him through writing his resume and practicing for job interviews. She reminded him to prepare for those interviews just as he did for promotion boards during his military career. And before he interviewed for his first job prospect, he sent her a photo of the clothing he planned to wear — just to be sure.
“I felt a lot more competent,” he said.
Garcia said that the one-on-one support he received from Cynthia and Easterseals Bob Hope Veterans Support Program was pivotal to bolster his confidence and ability to transition from the military and ultimately find meaningful civilian employment.
“She gave me some basic things that people don’t think about when leaving the military,” he said, like being mindful of differences in terminology he used and understanding how his military job experience translates to a civilian workplace.
He credits the personalized services with helping him settle into civilian work and life perhaps sooner and smoother than if he had tried it on his own. “Just the fact that she sat down with me and went over my individual resume made the difference,” he said. “She took the time to understand the field that I was going in.”
It paid off: In June, just six months after hanging up his military uniform, Garcia started work as a safety, health and environmental manager with Balfour Beatty Construction, a San Diego-based firm.
“I try to make sure I set a good example,” he said. “I get a lot of praise from a lot of my coworkers.” His boss, he said, is an Air Force veteran.
Garcia’s success story is one of scores of military service members transitioning from active or reserve duty with help from Easterseals Bob Hope Veterans Support Program, which aims to help veterans and their families return to a productive and healthy civilian life. The program provides tailored, one-on-one employment services and assists veterans who want to start their own small business.
Easterseals Southern California launched the employment services program in early 2014 for transitioning veterans, many who choose to remain in Southern California, and reservists leaving active-duty tours, with a three-year, $1.1 million grant from the Bob and Dolores Hope Charitable Foundation.
The Bob Hope Veterans Support Program is free and open to veterans, whether they are separating from the service after completing their contracts or are resuming their civilian life as a drilling reservist or member of the National Guard. They must be a post-Sept. 11, 2001, veteran leaving active or reserve duty who intends to work in the San Diego or Orange county areas and who has an honorable, general or other-than-honorable discharge.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, as of 2014, there were 2.6 million post-9/11 veterans, and that community is projected to grow to nearly 3.5 million by 2019 as more service members exit the service and reservists complete active duty.
Santiago Leon is one of those reservists who sought out help as he resumed life as a civilian after an extended period serving full time in the Army Reserve.
The Army sergeant first class — he holds a leadership position and rank as a noncommissioned officer — has spent 16 years in the Army Reserve and said he’s “still going strong.” He is a senior instructor with the Army Noncommissioned Officer Academy, a reserve job he fulfills during his two-week annual training period and monthly drilling weekends.
Leon has tallied about four and a half years of active duty time so far, much of that coming from three combat tours with activated Army Reserve transportation companies. He deployed to Iraq in 2003 and in 2005 and to Afghanistan during a 2009-2010 assignment, and as a platoon sergeant was in charge of 34 soldiers and millions of dollars worth of equipment and vehicles.
When he returned home, he focused on completing a Bachelor’s degree with his Montgomery G.I. Bill benefits and finding a job to support his wife and three children. Like many reservists, he attended two days of classes on transitioning home and returning to reserve status, but “when you’re coming back from a 13, 14-month deployment, the last thing you’re thinking about is paying attention,” he said.
Still, he thought it would be an easy transition.
But “it was another rude awakening,” recalled Leon, 34. “I was cocky. I thought, with me being a senior enlisted soldier, I had a leg up… and would make $70,000 to $80,000 a year and job offers would be coming my way.”
But after interviewing for a part-time job that paid $9.90 an hour, “I didn’t even get called in for an interview,” he said. “My confidence, my ego, was gone. I was thoroughly depressed.”
It was a humbling experience. Leon, who wanted to find a job where he could help other veterans, one day walked into the Chula Vista Vet Center in south San Diego County and met a manager who referred him to the South County Career Center.
“That’s when my life changed,” he said. After about two years without work, within three weeks “I found my first job” as a workshop facilitator for transitioning veterans. Through VetWORKS, a training, certification, and employment program for unemployed veterans in San Diego County, he came across Easterseals Southern California and met John Funk, director of veterans programs and a retired Navy veteran.
Leon got advice about his resume and assistance sorting through job leads through Easterseals Southern California’s employment services. John Funk “gave me a huge reality check,” which helped temper his passion but focus on his goals, he said. “To say you want a job does no one any good. What we want is a career. So if you start building your skill sets, little by little, you can be competitive.”
Today, he is a business services manager with Able-Disabled Advocacy in San Diego, thanks to a VetWORKS grant.
“The ES program, working one-on-one with John, it was instrumental,” Leon said. “It can become very disheartening applying for a job and not getting anything.”
Leon keeps that in mind as he speaks with potential employers, teaches classes on resume writing and mentors some vets through the process, reminding them that jobs don’t come automatically to them. he said. Easterseals’ employment specialists and counselors “challenge the veteran,” he said. “We work for the betterment of the veteran.”
To say that Amber Smith comes from a military family is an understatement. Her great-grandfather was in World War I, her grandfather was in World War II, and her father was a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne. Both of her parents were pilots. Both of her sisters are military pilots.
Her parents’ love of flying sparked her interest, and she started flying private planes at a young age. As she got older she started considering a career in aviation, specifically military aviation. Then in 2003, she was introduced to a future she didn’t know was possible.
“I talked to the Marines, I talked to the Air Force, and I talked to the Navy because I didn’t even know the Army had aviation,” Smith says. “I grew up in fixed wings. Never once did the thought of helicopters cross my mind.”
The other three branches told her the same thing: get a college degree and then come talk. But Smith just wanted to join the military as an aviator. When she spoke to the Army they told her could still be a pilot, just flying helicopters instead of planes. Smith’s experience as a civilian pilot allowed her to join before finishing her degree through the Warrant Officer Flight Training Program.
While still in college and before joining the Army, Smith met her parents at an air show where helicopter rides were offered. She hopped in to see if a helicopter was really something she wanted.
“I went on this helicopter flight and I was immediately hooked,” she remembers. “I was like, ‘this is for me. I love it!’ I didn’t even want planes anymore, give me a helicopter.”
After basic training and Warrant Officer Candidate School, she went to flight school where she met her bird: the OH58 Kiowa Warrior Helicopter. The Kiowa Warrior is a light attack reconnaissance helicopter; a two-seater carrying a fifty cal machine gun and 7-shot 2.75 in (70 mm) Hydra-70 rocket pods, configurable for Hellfire missiles.
“I loved my time flying the Kiowa,” Smith recalls. “I knew that was the best and most bad ass flying I would ever do in my life.”
Her mission was direct support for ground forces, looking for IEDs, providing aerial security for convoys, and responding to troops in combat (TICs). Smith deployed with her unit, the 101st Airborne Division, to Iraq from 2005, where she made Pilot in Command. She went to Afghanistan in 2008, where she made Air Mission Commander, seeing combat in a combat arms role years before the ban on women in combat ended.
“Before they lifted the restriction, aviation was the only branch within what was called Combat Arms – now it’s maneuvers, fire, and effects – but it was the only Combat Arms branch that allowed women,” Smith says.
Her views on women in combat is simple: there needs to be a mission standard, not a gender standard.
“As long as the standards remain the exact same as today, I think women should be given the opportunity to try it,” Smith says. “I don’t believe in quotas or lowering standards but I don’t think it should matter if you’re a man or a woman. If you can do the job and contribute to the mission that’s what matters.”
The Army’s proposed integration plan includes first adding female officers to leadership roles within combat units. Amber Smith think it’s a smart move but the plan for and acceptance of women in combat jobs will take time.
“Reducing the standards creates resentment,” she says. “When I got to my unit in 2004, women were very rare in the Kiowa Warrior community. I worked very hard to do my job and contribute to the mission. As soon as they realized that, I was a part of the team.”
Smith left the military in 2010, but while she was in, she completed a Bachelor’s in Professional Aeronautics from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. After transitioning, she earned her Master of Science in Safety, Security, and Emergency Management with a specialization in Homeland Security from Eastern Kentucky University.
While in graduate school, she noticed that too often the media lacked a credible veteran’s point of view.
“It’s important the American people need to hear the perspective of people who have been on the operational side of national security,” she says. “People who have been to war and have seen the enemy everyone talks about on TV every day.”
Smith started a blog and got published wherever she could. Within three months, the calls for television appearances started. Her career just took off from there. She just completed her first book, Danger Close: One’s Woman’s Epic Journey as a Combat Helicopter Pilot in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“2015 was the year of my book,” Smith says. “I wrote it myself, I didn’t have a ghostwriter or anything. I wanted to preserve my voice. The Kiowa Warrior is an incredibly effective tool on the battlefield, essential in the two theaters of war. Nobody knows about it, all anybody knows about is the Apache. So I want people to know who we are and what we did.”
Smith is now a Senior Fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum and Senior Military Advisor for Concerned Veterans for America. She is also a writer and television commentator on national security issues, foreign policy, and military operations. She regularly appears on Fox News, Fox Business, CNN, and MSNBC.
WASHINGTON, DC — The U.S. Army’s two senior-most leaders tag-teamed responses to questions posed by a gathering of military journalists at a press conference held on the first day of the Association of the United States Army’s Annual Meeting and Exposition here, and in the process the pair presented a mixed bag of concerns and optimism.
“Across our force, we have soldiers and civilians living and working in 52,000 buildings that are in poor or failing condition because of the $7 billion of deferred maintenance that we’ve aggregated over the last few years,” Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning said. “Since 2011 the Army’s modernization program has decreased by 33 percent. And today our modernization program is $36 billion less than the next closest service. These are the kind of tradeoffs we’ve made over the last few years to meet our responsibilities.”
“We, the U.S. Army, we don’t have to get it exactly right, but we have to get it less wrong than any potential adversary,” Gen. Mark Milley, the Army’s Chief of Staff, added. “Up until now, we have essentially mortgaged the future of readiness for modernization.”
When asked about Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s plan to grow the Army to 548,000, Milley replied, “We do all kinds of studies. We do a lot of analysis. We do a lot of rigor. I’m not going to share those numbers, but it’s not about so much numbers. It’s about capability. We need to make sure we have the most capable Army to deliver specific effects on the battlefield. . . What does it say in the defense planning guidance, etc.? Those will vary depending on the contingencies you’re looking at.”
“One of the dangers we see with this debate taking place the Army told to maintain a force structure greater than we’re planning on without any additional resources to do that,” Fanning added. “That would put us out of whack.”
Questioned on the service’s plan to retain the right talent in the face of large drawdowns and budget challenges, Fanning answered, “Right now it is bureaucratic and bureaucracies are additive by nature. Something bad happens and you create a process to prevent it from happening again and you layer that upon another one upon another one upon another one. You don’t really have a process to cull through all that and simplify it. We’re trying to squeeze all the risk out of the process. As we draw down we need to focus not only on whether we have the right people in the force, whatever size it is, but that we are opening up the institution, the bureaucracy, to doing business in a different way.”
Milley contextualized the Army’s talent requirement against the future threat, using words like “non-linear” and “non-contiguous” to describe the battlefield and “elusive” and “ambiguous” to describe the enemy.
“Leaders are going to have to be self-starters,” he said, the opening line of what turned out to be an extended monologue of sorts.
“Leaders are going to have to have massive amounts of initiative,” Milley continued. “They’re going to have to have critical thinking skills well beyond what we normally think of today in our formations. They’re going to have to have huge amounts of character so that they make the right ethical and moral choices in the absence of supervision and the intense pressure of combat.
“They’re going to have to have a level of mental and organizational agility that is not necessarily current in any army, really. I would argue that the level of endurance of these individuals is going to have to be something that we haven’t trained to on a regular basis, where individuals are going to have to be conducting small unit level operations without higher level supervision, and they’re going to have to do that day in and day out, week in and week out, month in and month out . . . a long time.
“Last thing is that senior leaders are going to have to implicitly trust supported leaders’ judgement because of the degraded environment we’re not going to have control of the supported environment in the true sense of the word as we think of it today; we’re not going to have push-to-talk communications back in forth cause it’s going to be degraded. So these leaders are going to have to be independent of higher day-to-day instructions. I just described to you talent management that is fundamentally different than any army undertakes today. And I’m talking about an army in the field about 15, 20 years from now. I’m not talking about next week. But that’s where we’re going to have to go. And that’ll be a high standard to meet.”
Training for a demanding race like the Army 10-miler requires focus, determination, and solid nine to 10 hours of sleep every night, according to sleep experts at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and the Army Office of the Surgeon General. Sleep is one of the three pillars of the Performance Triad, which also includes nutrition and activity.
“Sleep allows our bodies to focus on recovery and restores both our mind and muscles,” said Army Lt. Col. T Scott Burch, Army System for Health Performance Triad sleep lead, OSTG. “Following a particularly strenuous training day, our body may need more time to recover and the good news is that our body will often give us signs that we need additional sleep, so plan go to bed a little earlier following high intensity workouts or post-race.”
Sleep is good recovery for the brain, said Dr. Tom Balkin, a sleep expert and senior scientist at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.
“Aim for as much sleep as you can possibly squeeze in,” said Balkin. “Seven to eight hours of sleep is average, but more is even better.”
(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jordan Castelan)
Both Balkin and Burch recommend using sleep banking as a strategy to reach peak performance before a strenuous event. Sleeping an extra one to two hours leading up to the race will “bank” extra energy, stamina, and focus.
“Consider this part of your training,” said Balkin. “It’s not something you would do every day in your normal life, but the week before you run a marathon, get all the sleep you can. Think of it like money. The more you get, it doesn’t matter when the money shows up in your bank account. The next day, the money is still in your account.”
It’s the goal of the Performance Triad to enable leaders to set conditions for soldiers to optimize their sleep, activity, and nutrition to improve the overall readiness of the Army, said Col. Hope Williamson-Younce, director of the Army System for Health and deputy chief of staff for public health, Army Office of the Surgeon General.
Failing to optimize sleep can lead to significant reductions in physical and cognitive performance.
“The Army has improved significantly in recognizing that sleep is a key component of a healthy lifestyle and healthy culture,” said Burch. “If your duties are precluding you from optimal sleep talk with your chain of command, encourage them talk to local subject matter experts at Army Wellness Centers and see how they cannot just improve your ability to obtain optimal sleep but how they improve the physical performance of the entire unit, while also reducing injuries and having a higher percentage of soldiers medically ready and prepared for battle.”
(Photo by Lt. Col. John Hall)
At Fort Riley, sleep banking was put into practice by an armored brigade combat unit, said Williamson-Younce. Prior to a weeklong FTX for gunnery tables, soldiers attended a sleep education session and participated in a “reverse PT schedule,” during which the soldiers arrived at 9 a.m. and conducted physical training at 4 p.m. This led to dramatic improvements in their Gunnery Table results. They went from an average score of 756 (qualified) without banking to an average score of 919 (distinguished) with sleep banking.
For people who have difficulty falling asleep, Burch recommends refining basic routines. Have a routine bedtime schedule, wind down the night in a calm manner by warm shower, reading and meditation. Turn off all “screens” at least an hour before bedtime and ensure the bedroom is a cool, relaxing sanctuary for a good night’s rest.
“There’s a great saying, make time for wellness, or you will be forced to make time for illness,” said Burch. “Sleep is a critical component of our wellness. Often individuals try to manage with reduced sleep; however it comes at the detriment of your physical and cognitive performance.”
The Performance Triad Website, https://p3.amedd.army.mil, has great resources for individuals, said Burch. He also encourages any soldier or family member to contact their local Army Wellness Center, which has excellent personnel and resources for sleep, stress management, nutrition and physical conditioning to help everyone perform their best and reduce risk for musculoskeletal injuries.
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan was grilled by lawmakers May 1, 2019, on the lengthy and costly effort to develop compatible electronic records systems between the Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“I don’t ever recall being as outraged about an issue than I am about the electronic health record program,” Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, told Shanahan at a House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the DoD’s proposed fiscal 2020 budget.
She said a hearing last month with DoD and VA health program managers on the progress of meshing the records “was terrible.”
“I can’t believe that these program managers think that it is acceptable to wait another four years for a program to be implemented when we’ve spent billions of dollars and worked on it for over a decade,” Granger said.
“For 10 years we’ve heard the same assurances” that the electronic health records problem will be solved,” Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Kentucky, said. “It’s incredible that we can’t get this fixed.”
Veterans are suffering “because of bureaucratic crap,” he said.
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan during a hearing on Capitol Hill, May 1, 2019.
In response to Granger, Shanahan said, “First of all, I apologize for any lack of performance or the inability of the people that testified before you to characterize the work of the department in this very vital area.”
He added that he personally spent “quite a bit of time on how do we merge together” with the VA on the records.
The “rollout and implementation” of the fix to the electronic health records has shown promise at those installations, Shanahan said, and the next step is to put the program in place at California installations this fall.
“I can give you the commitment that these corrective actions and the lessons learned will be carried forward,” he said.
“There’s a degree of inoperability” between the VA and DoD systems that has defied solution over the years, Shanahan said. “The real issue has been [the] passing on of the actual records. I can’t explain to you the technical complexity of that.
“We owe you a better answer,” he told the committee, “and four years is unacceptable” as a time frame for making the records compatible. He promised to help DoD “deliver” a fix.
Rogers recalled past promises from the VA and DoD and said he is skeptical that the latest attempt at solving the problem will be successful.
He cited the case of a service member from his district who was badly wounded in Iraq. He lost an eye, but military doctors in Germany saved his other eye, Rogers said.
The good eye later became infected. The service member went to the Lexington, Kentucky, VA Medical Center, but doctors there could not get access to his medical records in Germany.
“They could not operate because they didn’t know what had been done before,” Rogers said.
As a result, the service member lost sight in the good eye.
“Why can’t we have the computers marry? Can you help me out here? Don’t promise something you can’t deliver,” he told Shanahan. “I can’t believe that we have not already solved this problem.”
In the latest effort to mesh the records, then-Acting VA Secretary Robert Wilkie in May 2018 awarded a billion, 10-year contract to Cerner Corp. of Kansas City to develop an integrated electronic health record (EHR) system, but related costs over the course of the contract are estimated to put the total price at about billion.
Previous attempts to mesh the EHR systems have either failed or been abandoned, most recently in 2013 when then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and then-VA Secretary Eric Shinseki dropped an integration plan after a four-year effort and the expenditure of about id=”listicle-2636127747″ billion.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
Joseph V. Micallef is a best-selling military history and world affairs author, and keynote speaker. Follow him on Twitter @JosephVMicallef.
Of all the world’s commodities, petroleum best epitomizes the geopolitical consequences of natural resources. Countries that were fortunate to possess large reserves of hydrocarbons found themselves with incredible wealth and in control of a powerful driver of economic development. Countries that were unable to produce enough oil and gas for their needs found themselves vulnerable to supply disruptions and at a major geopolitical disadvantage.
The oil and gas industry had a significant Achilles heel, however. Oil and gas development had significant up-front development costs but, in many cases, relatively low operating costs. Once a well was brought into production, the cost of keeping it operating was relatively low, even if the revenue was insufficient to amortize the development cost. The result was that, historically, the oil and gas industry has been subject to volatile swings in pricing.
In 1919, the Texas Railroad Commission (TRC) was charged with setting production levels among Texas oil producers in order to control the supply and stabilize prices. From 1930 through 1960, the TRC was largely responsible for setting the price of oil worldwide.
In 1960, a group of oil-producing countries, led by Saudi Arabia, adopted the TRC model and formed the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to regulate oil production and stabilize prices. OPEC did not eliminate oil price volatility, but its willingness to regulate its production levels helped moderate some of the pricing instability. Between 2000 and 2020, average yearly oil prices varied from a low of .99 per barrel in 2001, to a high of 2.58 per barrel in 2011. The average price in 2019 was .92 per barrel. Currently, average oil prices are approximately per barrel.
Canada, Russia, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States, all significant oil producers, were among the oil-producing countries that did not join OPEC. The U.S., a major producer, began to import oil in 1959. Although the U.S. still imports oil, it has been a net exporter of both refined petroleum products and crude oil since November 2019.
OPEC’s share of the global oil market peaked at slightly more than 50% in 1973. In 2019, it was approximately 30%. Energy conservation; new discoveries; improvements in drilling and production technology; and, most significantly, the development of horizontal drilling to open “tight” oil- and gas-bearing formations and the development of the Canadian tar sands, have all cut into OPEC’s market share. In addition, Asia, principally China, India and Japan, have now become the main market for OPEC’s exports.
In 2017, Russia, along with 10 other non-OPEC oil-producing countries, agreed to coordinate production cuts with the group in order to stabilize prices. The countries were referred to as the “Vienna Group” and the arrangement as OPEC+. The agreement represented a strategic alignment of Saudi Arabia and Russia to rationalize prices. It lasted through March 2020.
One of the immediate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic was a sharp drop of approximately one to two million barrels per day (BOPD) in world demand for petroleum. In early March, OPEC agreed to extend its current cutbacks of 2.1 million BOPD and to reduce production by an additional 1.5 BOPD to a total of 3.6 million BOPD.
OPEC requested that Russia and the other 10 oil-producing countries in the OPEC+ group decrease their production by an additional 500,000 BOPD. Russia refused to accept the additional production cuts, arguing that any production cutbacks would simply be made up by American shale oil producers.
In retaliation, Saudi Arabia declared that it would flood world oil markets in a quest to regain lost market share and indirectly punish Russia for its unwillingness to cooperate.
Within a matter of days, world oil prices cratered by approximately 60%. The collapse of oil prices, coupled with rising anxiety over the economic consequences of the growing COVID-19 pandemic, triggered widespread economic turmoil and a marked decline in financial markets.
U.S. Strategic Interests and OPEC
The governments of both Russia and Saudi Arabia are heavily dependent on petroleum exports to fund the bulk of their expenditures. In Riyadh’s case, oil exports supply 70% of its revenues; in Moscow’s case, the number is approximately 46%. Both countries have sovereign funds designed to cover shortfalls in government revenues from falling oil prices. Saudi Arabia’s Sovereign Wealth Fund had 0 billion in assets, while Russia’s National Wealth Fund had approximately 4 billion at the end of 2019.
The Trump administration was quick to characterize the Saudi and Russian decisions to increase oil production as a thinly veiled attack on American shale oil producers. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that 7.7 million BOPD, or about 2.81 billion barrels, of crude oil were produced from tight oil formations in the United States in 2019. This was equal to about 63% of total U.S. crude oil production last year.
This was not the first time that Saudi Arabia had tried to use low prices to force the producers of the more expensive shale oil out of the market. In response, President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. would buy up to 77 million barrels of oil from American producers for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Funding for these purchases was not, however, included in the recently passed 2020 Cares Act. In the meantime, the TRC announced that it would consider limiting Texas oil production to stabilize prices. Texas represents 40% of U.S. oil production.
Pundits were quick to take positions on which country, Saudi Arabia or Russia, would be able to hold out the longest in the ensuing price war. Meanwhile, television commentators pointed out that lower gasoline prices represented a boon for American consumers.
The more germane questions, however, are where does the U.S. interest lie? Is the U.S. better off from lower or higher petroleum prices? What are the consequences of lower oil prices on America’s strategic interests around the world?
From the 1960s through 2013, the U.S. was the largest net importer of petroleum in the world. Lower petroleum prices were in America’s interest as they decreased the balance of payments deficit created by oil imports and represented savings to American households. Today, gasoline costs represent around 2% of average household income. So even significant reductions in gasoline prices are not going to represent a major change in a family’s income — certainly not in respect to the current economic turmoil.
Moreover, given that the U.S. is now a net exporter of oil and natural gas, lower prices reduce its export earnings. Additionally, over the last two decades, the U.S. shale oil industry has emerged as an important driver of economic development and a source of high-paying blue-collar jobs. On balance, the U.S. economy would be better off if prices returned to their -to- pre-crash levels than if they continue at their current depressed levels.
From Washington’s standpoint, the strategic implications of low oil prices around the world are mixed. On the one hand, low oil prices are a significant constraint on the Russian government and on the Kremlin’s ability to fund the expansion and modernization of Russian military forces. Russia needs oil prices at around a barrel or higher to balance its budget, and closer to to finance the more ambitious social and military programs that Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to implement.
On the other hand, low oil prices threaten to destabilize countries that are American allies and to create new areas of regional instability or aggravate existing ones. This is particularly true of the Gulf region, but also of countries such as Nigeria and Mexico. Roughly one-third of Mexico’s federal budget comes from oil exports.
The average cost of producing a barrel of oil in the world is around . It’s a difficult number to pin down because operating costs are typically in local currency and are affected by exchange rates, as well as each country’s relative market share. Costs per country, however, can vary dramatically.
The U.K., whose North Sea oil fields are mature and declining, has a production cost of per barrel. Norway, whose oil fields are in a similar position, has an operating cost of .10 per barrel. On average, the amortization of capital costs typically represents about 50% of operating costs. Direct production, overhead, taxes and transportation costs represent the other half.
The U.S., where oil shale production represents two-thirds of output, has an equally high cost at .20. Brazil and Canada, whose new oil production is particularly capital intensive, have costs of .80 per barrel and per barrel, respectively. Russia’s average production cost is around .20, although the cost of new production, especially in its Arctic oil fields, is much higher.
At the other extreme, Saudi Arabia has a production cost of .90 per barrel, while Kuwait has the lowest production cost at .50. Across OPEC, the average production cost is probably between and per barrel. That means, at current prices, most OPEC producers’ costs exceed revenues after they factor in capital costs.
Only Iraq, Iran and the UAE have costs comparable to Kuwait or Saudi Arabia. In short, current oil prices are unsustainable long term. Even those countries that can produce oil profitably at these levels cannot produce enough to make up in volume the revenues they need to fund government expenditures. In the short term, prices may drop even lower but, in the long term, low prices are both unsustainable and extremely destabilizing politically.
The trends that produced the current instability in petroleum markets are not new. They have been in process for some time. The COVID-19 pandemic simply accelerated those trends and brought them to a culmination faster and more dramatically than would otherwise have been the case. Ironically, instead of dealing with the consequence of “peak oil” and skyrocketing prices, today we are dealing with too much production capacity and insufficient demand.
For much of its existence, OPEC has been an American nemesis, a position underscored in 1973 when the Arab members of OPEC (OAPEC) embargoed oil shipments to the U.S. in response to American aid to Israel. Historically, as a net consumer of oil, the U.S. wanted lower prices, while producers wanted higher prices. Today, however, it’s a different world, one in which the interests of OPEC and the U.S. are more closely aligned.
Prices in the to range are sufficient to keep the U.S. shale oil industry economic and afford OPEC members a basis of financial stability. It’s also in Russia’s interest, as it stabilizes the Kremlin’s finances, even if it falls short of Moscow’s more ambitious goals. In the meantime, the U.S. petroleum industry will continue to innovate and to bring down its shale oil production costs, while continuing to expand its liquefied natural gas export capability. Moreover, the U.S. would likely get Canada, Brazil, the U.K. and Norway to participate, even if unofficially, in such an arrangement. The Alberta provincial government is already limiting oil production.
In light of the financial repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic on the U.S. and the global economy, stabilizing the oil market and a key American industrial sector would be a first step in repairing the economic damage. It’s time for Washington to make a deal with OPEC and Russia to stabilize the oil market, even if that means the U.S. must agree to some production cuts or export curtailment to ensure price stability.
Army Col. Scott Gerber said he had to pay out-of-pocket for an independent inspector to verify mold infestation and water damage in his home in an effort to get the attention of the private company running base housing at Fort Meade, Maryland.
“The only reason we knew [it was there] was because our kids were getting sick,” she said.
Gherdovich said she had to pay ,700 to an outside inspector to verify her claims, and she’s still fighting to get reimbursement.
In testimony Tuesday before a House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies, Gerber and Gherdovich echoed the demands of other military families for an expansion of the recently approved Tenant Bill of Rights to let them withhold rent in disputes over repairs and maintenance of privatized military housing.
And in a following panel the same day, representatives from four military housing companies said that they supported giving that right to military families.
They also expressed varying levels of regret for the military housing problems that have been detailed in numerous reports and hearings, including mold and pest infestation, poor performance on fulfilling work orders, and negligence in responding to tenants’ complaints.
In his prepared statement, Richard Taylor, president of Balfour Beatty Communities, said, “I would like to begin by saying that we sincerely apologize for having fallen short of the high standards our nation’s military families deserve.
“We fully accept that we must make improvements, and we are determined to regain the trust and confidence of our residents and our military partners,” he added.
On Feb. 25, the Pentagon announced that Defense Secretary Mark Esper and the secretaries of the service branches had signed the Military Housing Privatization Initiative Tenant Bill of Rights, which was included in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.
There were 15 provisions in the bill, including “the right to a written lease with clearly defined rental terms” and “the right to reside in a housing unit and a community that meets applicable health and environmental standards.”
The Pentagon’s announcement acknowledged that three rights were missing from the list — access for tenants to a maintenance history of their units, a detailed process for dispute resolution, and the withholding of rent until disputes are resolved.
The military will work with the private companies and Congress to get those three provisions added to the list, the Pentagon said at the time.
At the hearing, Gerber said the right to withhold rent is vital to leveling the playing field with the private companies.
He said he and his wife, Sandy, “lived through two mold-infested homes,” adding “our situation wasn’t unique.”
Military families need “the ability to hold that contractor accountable. We need an easy mechanism to stop that [Basic Allowance for Housing]” from going to the private companies during disputes, Gerber said.
In a separate panel at the hearing, representatives of four companies managing private housing on military bases said they are in favor of adding the ability to withhold rent and the other two missing provisions to the Tenant Bill of Rights.
Denis Hickey, chief executive officer of Lendlease Americas, said under questioning, “We realize we can and must do more” to improve conditions.
“Obviously, some of our families feel our company has come up short,” said Jeff Guild, vice president of Lincoln Military Housing. The company is resolved to “repairing a culture of trust with our residents,” he added.
Heath Burleson, a senior vice president at Corvias Group, said the company had gotten away in the past from the “basic blocking and tackling” needed to keep homes in good repair. “I believe we’re on the right path, but we’re not done,” he said.
After listening to the company representatives, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida, the subcommittee’s chair, said, “all of your testimony is very nice now, [but] the system was set up as a gravy train for your companies.” There’s no accountability to military families, she added.
“It is outrageous,” she said.
The military contributed to the failures of the system through inattention and poor oversight of the performance of the private companies involved in military housing, said Pete Potochney, the acting assistant secretary of defense for sustainment.
“The fact that we’re having this hearing and others like it is saddening,” Potchney said. “We simply took our eye off the ball” over the years in oversight of military housing.
“We sure as hell didn’t do a great job,” he added.
The military is a tough act to follow and finding the right job takes effort and focus. And just like life in the fleet, having a battle buddy or a wingman to help get it right is important. So to get you thinking right, here are 13 tips from transition experts, recruiters whose job is to get you a job.
1. Approach the job like long-term relationship, not a rebound
The question I most often am asked is “How much am I going to make?”. That question is a natural reaction because people are nervous when transitioning, but statistically many leave their first transition job within nine months because they jumped at the first dollar amount that met their requirements. To avoid this, you need to be thinking long-term. Look deeper than the paycheck and ask about a company’s growth potential. Research their culture and values. Where you start within a company is not where you’re going to finish.
Don’t self-select out of job descriptions that say you must have corporate experience or degree. Look for ways to circumvent or meet those requirements. The military is one of the largest corporations in America, and you worked for it. If a job requires a master’s degree, start pursing your masters and indicate that on your resume.
LinkedIn offers premium membership to veterans so you can find geo-specific job opportunities and obtain certifications. You can find a list of veteran friendly companies on Hiring our Heroes’ website.
— Charles “Chuck” Hodges, Hiring our Heroes, Senior Director for Events and Programs
2. Use your spouse as an asset
Greatest assets a transitioning service member has is their military spouse. So when they are in their final stages of transition, if we are empowering spouses with jobs and employment, it allows the service member to be more selective in their selection and oftentimes a spouse has flexibility – if they need to move ahead to wherever they have decided to retire (from the military) to, they have that option and flexibility.
Military, military spouses and veterans can sign up for a free account at Hiring Our Heroes Dashboard for resume building tools, job listings, and more.
— Elizabeth O’Brien, Hiring Our Heroes, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Director of Military Spouse Program
3. Leverage your military status
Be confident. Military applicants hold a stronger position in the hiring process than ever before. You’re a valuable asset. There are companies that offer mentorship programs for transitioning servicemen and women. They are prepared to assist you in you fine-tuning your resume and can help you tell your story in civilian terms. Start identifying those companies six months before you transition, they will want to see a first draft of your resume, so be ready for that.
Military, military spouses and veterans looking for a job in the transportation industry can check out Trucking Track.
— Stan Hampton, VP Driver Personnel, J.B. Hunt Transport
(Click here to find career opportunities at JB Hunt.)
4. Tailor your resume for each submission
A common mistake that veterans make is they will generate a generic resume that applies to everything and they use they same resume for every job they apply for. Instead, take your time, read the job description and really highlight your skills as it relates to that role that they are applying to.
— Michael A. Alexander, Military Recruiting and Engagement Lead, Comcast NBCUniversal
Click here to find career opportunities at Comcast NBCUniversal.)
5. Answer interview questions like a S.T.A.R.
Most organizations tend to use behavioral based interview questions. When answering your interviewer’s questions, try to use the ‘S.T.A.R.’ format: Situation, Task, Action and Result. This will help differentiate yourself from other candidates.
— Afsheen Saatchi, Military Recruiter, Starbucks
(Click here to find career opportunities at Starbucks.)
6. Spouses, own the gap in your resume
I encourage military spouses to indicate somewhere on their resume that they are a military spouse. Some are nervous to do that because they think companies may discriminate against them, but I tell them – you don’t want to work for a company with that kind of culture anyway. There are companies that do look out for military spouse resumes, and will overlook those gaps and take their volunteer experience into consideration.
— Lauren Bacon, Hilton Worldwide, Manager of Military Programs
(Check this site to find military spouse friendly companies: MSEP Jobs.)
(Click here to find career opportunities within Hilton Worldwide.)
7. Look for a company that provides a path
You need a process that allows you to transition and progress. Many companies are inviting veterans to apply, but make sure they are able to do more than just hire you. When you’re speaking with company representatives be looking for them to provide a path for you – a detailed timeline that provides a clear sequence to a meaningful career. Avoid companies that are unable or unwilling to do this.
— Dave Harrison, Military Program Management, J. B. Hunt Transport
(Click here to find career opportunities at JB Hunt.)
8. Find a career coach
As a recruiter, many approach me a job fairs and say: “Here’s my resume, what do you have?” Transition is a time where military service members have a choice to make. They can work for the government or get defense contracting job, or move to an entirely different industry, at which point they don’t have the expertise to move into a lateral position. It’s good to have a career coach, they can rely on their MOS, and can also reach out to others who have transitioned and begin a dialogue.
Here’s an online resource for transitioning military and veterans to find an industry-specific virtual mentor: ACP AdvisorNet
— Abie Chong, Military and Veteran Recruiter, Hilton Worldwide
(Click here to find career opportunities within Hilton Worldwide.)
9. Start the application process a year before you get out
Understand no employer will wait for you, but the more you apply, the more practice you get, and the more confident you will become. You may even get a few pre-screening interviews, do them for practice, it will take out the nerves out of the whole ordeal. Applying for jobs sooner than later will also help you gather information on what skills are needed in the field you’re looking to transition to, and will give you ideas on how to fine-tune your resume.
Jonathan Morales, Production Standards Training Specialist, Lufthansa Technik
(Click here to find career opportunities within Lufthansa Technik.)
10. Explore industries you may never have considered
Expose yourself to different industries, because you may have a preconception about a particular industry and when you delve into it, you may be surprised on how many different career paths and jobs there are. For instance, running a hotel is like running an Army base where all different departments that come together to make it operational. Military personnel can really translate what they do currently into any operations position when they transition. It’s all logistics.
— Melissa Stirling, Director of Military Programs, Hilton Worldwide
(Click here to find career opportunities within Hilton Worldwide.)
11. Lead with your leadership experience
Think beyond your MOS, AFSC, or whatever. Whether you’re getting out after two years or a thirty-five year career, be able to break down how you lead and how you manage. For example, if you’re a cook, explain what you do in that role because recruiters who don’t have military experience may not know what that job really entails – you handle food safety, quality control, acquisitions, and leadership management of a time-pressed, no-fail team. Military are able to plan and analyze future threats and opportunities, showcase that on your resume and talk about it in interviews.
— Dave Gualin, Director, Military Veteran Affairs, Comcast NBCUniversal
(Click here to find career opportunities at Comcast NBCUniversal.)
12. Focus on companies that have committed to hiring veterans
There are companies who have committed to hiring a certain number of veterans a year, so make sure your service is in the objective (top section) of your resume so you don’t get lost in the shuffle.
— Grant Johnston, VP Business Development, Airsteams Renewables, Inc.
(Click here to find career opportunities at Airstreams Renewables.)
13. Take the time today to plan for tomorrow
You 16 hours or more a day, but planning for your transition is essential in ensuring your success. As you get closer to retirement from the service, let your friends and family know that you’re looking, they can be a great asset for you. Set a timer for thirty minutes a day to focus on what you’re going to do when you get out of the military. Purpose to apply for one job a day.
Jeff Duff, President, Airstreams Renewables, Inc.
14. Remember, you’re not alone
There are resources out there for all the challenges you face during your transition and beyond. Find them and don’t be afraid to call on them. For example, the American Legion is the nation’s largest veteran’s organization and has a presence in each community with over 14,000 posts across the country. If you’re about to transition into a new community, find the post nearest to where you will be and let them know you’re coming. They are there to help. We are more than a banquet hall, we are a community resource.
— Verna Jones, Executive Director, American Legion
(Click here to find career opportunities and other resources through the American Legion.)
Staff Sgt. Michael Ollis, a 10th Mountain Soldier who gave his life shielding Polish Army Lieutenant Karol Cierpica from a suicide bomber while deployed to Afghanistan in 2013, was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross by the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, Gen. James McConville, during a ceremony on Staten Island, New York June 8.
The Distinguished Service Cross is the second highest military honor that can be awarded to a member of the United States Army.
“Every generation has its heroes,” McConville said during his remarks. “Michael Ollis is one of ours.”
Robert Ollis, the father of Staff Sgt. Michael Ollis, greets Karol Cierpica, the Polish army lieutenant who Michael Ollis gave his life for on June 8, 2019 outside the Staff Sgt. Michael Ollis Veterans of Foreign War post on Staten Island, N.Y.
(Photo Credit: Sgt. Jerod Hathaway)
Staff Sgt. Ollis’s father and sister, Robert Ollis and Kimberly Loschiavo, received the award from McConville at a Veterans of Foreign War post named in Ollis’s honor.
“Through the tears, we have to tell the story of Karol and Michael,” said Robert Ollis during the ceremony. “They just locked arms and followed each other. They didn’t worry about what language or what color it was. It was two battle buddies, and that’s what Karol and Michael did. To help everyone on that FOB they possibly could.”
The Distinguished Service Cross ceremony, held in a small yard just outside the VFW post, was packed with veterans, friends and Family members who all came to honor him.
Robert Ollis, the father of Staff Sgt. Michael Ollis, talks with General James C. McConville on June 8, 2019 inside the Staff Sgt. Michael Ollis Veterans of Foreign War Post on Staten Island, N.Y.
(Photo Credit: Sgt. Jerod Hathaway)
“I was privileged to serve with Michael and Karol when I was the 101st Airborne Division commanding general in Regional Command East while they were deployed,” said McConville. “Their actions that day in August against a very determined enemy saved many, many lives.”
To close out the weekend, a 5 kilometer run will be held to commemorate the memory of Staff Sgt. Ollis and to raise money for veterans.
Researchers have identified a compound that blocks the spread of pancreatic and other cancers in various animal models. When cancer spreads from one part of the body to another in a process called metastasis, it can eventually grow beyond the reach of effective therapies. Now, there is a new plan of attack against this deadly process, thanks to scientists at the National Institutes of Health, Northwestern University and their collaborative research partners.
The team collaborated to identify a compound, which they named metarrestin, that stopped tumor metastasis in multiple animal models. Mice treated with metarrestin also had fewer tumors and lived longer than mice that did not receive treatment. These results were published May 16, 2018, in Science Translational Medicine.
In patients, metarrestin potentially could be effective as a therapy after cancer surgery. Because advanced cancers are difficult to completely remove with surgery, doctors typically give chemotherapy to try to kill undetected cancer cells left behind and prevent the cancer from coming back. Metarrestin could be added to such standard drug therapy.
Metarrestin breaks down an incompletely understood component of cancer cells called the perinucleolar compartment (PNC). PNCs are found only in cancer cells, and in a higher number of cells in advanced cancer, when it has spread to other sites in the body.
Co-author Sui Huang, M.D., Ph.D., and her colleagues at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, showed early on that the more cancer cells with PNCs in a tumor, the more likely it would spread. Her findings suggested that reducing PNCs might translate to less cancer progression and possibly better outcomes in patients.
To test these ideas, Huang approached Marugan to tap into NCATS’ expertise in screening, chemistry, compound development and testing to evaluate more than 140,000 compounds for their potential effectiveness in eliminating PNCs in cells in advanced cancer.
While nearly 100 compounds initially showed some activity, the investigators identified one compound that could effectively break down PNCs in advanced prostate cancer cells. With the help of researchers at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, they modified the compound to make it work better as a potential drug and evaluated the effects of the molecule in different assays, or tests, in the laboratory. They found that metarrestin could block the way prostate and pancreatic cancer cells spread.
In collaboration with co-author Udo Rudloff, M.D., Ph.D., from NIH’s National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) Center for Cancer Research, the group evaluated the effects — including toxicity — of metarrestin in pancreatic cancer mouse models. The investigators found that it prevented the further spread of pancreatic cancer by disrupting the protein-making machinery of cancer cells, and mice treated with metarrestin lived longer than mice without treatment.
“Cancer cells are rapidly dividing and need to make more proteins than healthy cells to help carry out various activities, including the ability to spread,” Rudloff said. “Interfering with the system stalls cancer cell metastasis.”
Rudloff and his NCI group currently are working with scientists at the NCATS-led Bridging Interventional Development Gaps program to collect the pre-clinical data on metarrestin needed to further its development as a candidate drug. The scientists plan to file an Investigational New Drug (IND) application in the fall with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). FDA IND approval is necessary before a candidate drug can be tested in patients.
The research was funded by NCATS and NCI through their intramural programs, and in addition, the National Human Genome Research Institute grant U54HG005031, the National Institute of General Medical Sciences grants R01GM078555 and R01GM115710, NCI grant 2 P30 CA060553-19, the V Foundation, a donation from the Baskes family to the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center, donations from ‘Running for Rachel’ and the Pomerenk family via the Rachel Guss and Bob Pomerenk Pancreas Cancer Research Fellowship to NCI, the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center – Translational Bridge Program Fellowship in Lymphoma Research and the Molecular Libraries Initiative funding to the University of Kansas Specialized Chemistry Center.
About the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS): NCATS conducts and supports research on the science and operation of translation — the process by which interventions to improve health are developed and implemented — to allow more treatments to get to more patients more quickly. For more information about how NCATS is improving health through smarter science, visit https://ncats.nih.gov.
About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation’s medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.