For me, Memorial Day has always been about more than just picnics and barbecues. I have five members of my family buried in Arlington National Cemetery. The earliest served in the Spanish American War, and all the way to World War II. It’s important that their service be honored and remembered — especially on Memorial Day.
In early May 2011, I was looking for some way to give back to my country. I worked as a flower grower in Ecuador and I had an idea. Memorial Day used to be called Decoration Day. After the Civil War, people would go to cemeteries and decorate gravesites with flowers.
I met with two other Ecuador-based American flower growers, and together we were able to coordinate a massive donation of fresh flowers. I called up the administration at Arlington National Cemetery and said, ‘We’ve got 10,000 roses for you, for Memorial Day.'” And they happily accepted the offer.
Memorial Day Flowers Foundation at Fort Logan National Cemetery.
And that was how the Memorial Day Flowers Foundation had its start. Scouts and other volunteers place a flower in front of each headstone. Volunteers quietly read every headstone and note the dates and circumstances. This moment of reflection and remembrance is important. It’s a very personal tribute.
What began at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day in 2011 with 10,000 roses, has expanded to dozens of cemeteries around the country. Last year, the foundation distributed 400,000 flowers at 41 cemeteries and other Memorial Day observances around the country.
That expansion would not have been possible without volunteers and broad-based partnerships and support. These days, the foundation sources flowers from 80 to 90 farms, including farms in California, Colombia, Ecuador, and Ethiopia.
Since 2013, we have worked with local groups to organize floral tributes for Memorial Day at National Cemeteries and Veterans Cemeteries across the U.S.
Our growth would not have been possible without the guidance and involvement of the National Cemetery Administration. Cemetery directors find our efforts provide a way for the general public to connect with their mission to honor our late veterans and instill an appreciation for the sacrifices they make.
Memorial Day Flowers Foundation volunteers prepare roses at the Houston National Cemetery.
We also distribute bouquets of flowers to gold star families attending the TAPS National Military Survivor Seminar over Memorial Day Weekend, organized by the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors.
In 2019, more than 100 cemeteries are participating in the Memorial Day Flowers Foundation’s efforts around the country.
The numbers amaze me every time I look at them. Now we talk about tens of thousands of flowers. We still have a long way to go, before every veteran’s gravesite is recognized on Memorial Day, but we are well on our way to reaching that goal.
I also know the difference just one flower can make. One year, as we gave out flowers on Memorial Day, I handed a rose to an older woman. She thanked me and said, “His father brought me roses the day he was born.” Then she invited me to walk with her to visit her son’s gravesite. And as we stood there together in the hot sun and she told me her son’s story, I knew one flower could mean everything to one person
Placing a flower for Memorial Day to honor a fallen service member or veteran is a quiet tribute; a heartfelt reminder of just what flowers can mean to people — and what it means to honor the sacrifices of U.S. military members and their families. It brings together people from all walks of life to honor those who have served our country and it helps all of us learn more about our history.
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
Remember how awesome The Empire Strikes Back was? You can stream that particularly great Star Wars movie on Disney+ right now. And, as of Nov. 15, 2019, Disney+ just added some context to one classic Boba Fett and Darth Vader beef. In the latest episode of The Mandalorian, we finally understand why Darth Vader said “no disintegrations.”
Spoilers ahead for The Mandalorian Chapter 2: The Child.
In the second episode ofThe Mandalorian, our titular bounty hunter continues his make-it-up-as-you-go-along journey to protect a little baby Yoda-looking creature. Throughout his misadventures in this episode (which culminate in getting a giant space rhino egg) the Mando tangoes with a bunch of Jawas who have stripped his spaceship of much-needed parts. In an effort to get his stuff back, the Mando busts out his nifty rifle, which, as it turns out, turns anyone he points it at into a puff of smoke. He vaporizes a few of the on the lizard-like Trandoshans who ambush him at the top of the episode, and later on, a few pesky Jawas.
The Mandalorian gets ready to disintegrate some punks.
Later, when he has to make peace with the Jawas to barter for some of his parts back, he mentions “I disintegrated a few of them.” In terms of what we’ve seen in the Star Wars movies so far, this specific tech hasn’t been witnessed, but it has been mentioned. When Vader hires a bunch of bounty hunters to capture the Millennium Falcon in The Empire Strikes Back, the Dark Lord very pointedly shakes his finger at Boba Fett (a dude who rocks Mandalorian armor) and says “no disintegrations.”
Boba Fett and IG-88 in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’
So, there you have it. Vader was well-aware that this weapon was probably in Boba Fett’s arsenal, and now, just a about six years after the events of Empire Strikes Back, in The Mandalorian, we get to see what that weapon looks like. The most surprising thing? In The Mandalorian, the disintegrations are shockingly mess-free. Less like a blaster, and more like a civilized vacuum for a more elegant bounty hunter.
After every episode of The Mandalorian you watch on Disney+, it invariably suggests you watch The Empire Strikes Back. Kind of makes sense now, right?
This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.
Believe it or not, members of Cosa Nostra had a lot to offer the United States during wartime, and most of it had nothing to do with violence. While most members of the mob, from street soldiers to capos, managed to avoid military service, others saw their way to using their special skills to advance the military aims, both in peace and in war.
Even some of the mafia’s biggest names have put on the uniform of the armed forces of the United States.
Anastasia’s main boss was none other than Charlie “Lucky” Luciano, the man who did more to create the Italian mafia in the U.S. than any other figure. Luciano founded what would one day become the Genovese crime family and helped form the National Crime Syndicate that would one day be governed by the body of the heads of the five families, known as “The Commission.”
To implement the Commission’s power over organized crime, they used a gang of killers that came to be called Murder, Inc. and the head of the Murder, Inc. hist squad was a loyal Luciano enforcer and former longshoreman named Albert Anastasia.
After the start of World War II, Murder Inc. had begun to crumble under dozens of investigations by law enforcement. Hoping to escape those investigations, Anastasia joined the Army to train U.S. troops how to work ports and unload ships as longshoremen.
Anastasia himself was killed in a New York City barbershop after the war by members of the Profaci crime family.
2. Gennaro Angiulo
Angiulo was one of the most notable figures of Boston’s Patriarca crime family. For 20 years, Angiulo dominated Boston’s criminal underworld. But before any of that, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy after the attack on Pearl Harbor, eventually piloting landing craft to islands in the Pacific Theater of the war.
Angiulo eventually earned the rate of Chief Bosun’s Mate before the war’s end. His criminal empire would be brought down by FBI informants and fellow Boston gangsters James “Whitey” Bulger and Stephen Flemmi, who aided the FBI in planting the bugs used to gather evidence against him. After his 2007 death, he was given a Navy funeral, complete with honor guard.
Flemmi himself was a veteran of the Korean War, who learned his stock in trade as a hitman in the U.S. Army’s 187th Infantry Regiment.
3. John “Johnny Green” Faraci
Before “Johnny Green” became one of New York City’s biggest loan sharks and a capo in the Bonanno family, he was landing on the beaches of Normandy, where he was awarded a Bronze Star. It was his wartime service that earned the immediate respect of fellow mobsters but it was Faraci they turned to when other members of the mafia ran up gambling debts.
Faraci, too, eventually found himself in court as an aging mobster. In a 2002 arraignment, Faraci’s lawyer pointed out to the judge that his client was a World War II veteran who landed at Normandy, the 78-year-old judge simply replied, “So did I.”
4. Matty “The Horse” Ianniello
When Genovese boss Vincent Gigante went to federal prison in 1997, his underboss Matthew Ianniello became acting boss of the entire crime family. He was a big earner for the Genovese family in his mafia career, first serving as an enforcer, then as an owner of Manhattan topless bars, then racketeering garbage removal services in Connecticut.
Before all of that, he worked the docks in Brooklyn’s Navy Yard when World War II broke out, and later joined the Army, fighting in the Philippines as an artilleryman, earning a Bronze Star for valor and receiving a Purple Heart for being wounded there. The Horse was an underboss until the very end, convicted for racketeering in 2006 at age 86.
5. Sammy “The Bull” Gravano
John Gotti’s right hand man turned FBI informant was also a veteran of the US Army. The Bull is better known as the highest ranking mobster ever to turn state’s evidence, but long before that, he enlisted in the Army in 1964, just as the Vietnam War was starting to heat up.
Initially, it was Gravano’s lawyer that told a judge his client would join the Army rather than see a prison cell for a burglary arrest. The Bull told his lawyer there was no way he was going into the Army, but his lawyer just told the judge that so he wouldn’t serve time. The Bull was drafted anyway.
Gravano never made it to Vietnam. He spent a lot of his basic training time on KP duty at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, then to Indiana and Fort Meade, Maryland, where he used his mafia skills to run illegal gambling and loansharking operations. He received an honorable discharge after two years.
As for Vietnam, Sammy the Bull once said, “I wouldn’t have minded going to Vietnam. You get medals for killing people there.”
Twenty-four years after the Marine Corps got its first female aviator, another woman pilot is making history.
Capt. Anneliese Satz is the Marine Corps’ first-ever female F-35B Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter jet pilot. The 29-year-old from Boise, Idaho, has spent the past four years training as a naval aviator.
Now, she’s cleared to operate the cutting-edge fifth-generation stealth, supersonic fighter aircraft in combat. She’s the first woman to complete the F-35B Basic Course, designed specifically for the Marine Corps variant of the fighter jet. The F-35B can take off and land vertically from amphibious assault ship flight decks and austere locations with little runway space.
Satz is joining the “Green Knights” with the Japan-based Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121. VMFA-121 was the first F-35B squadron to complete an operational deployment with a Marine expeditionary unit aboard a Navy ship.
Capt. Anneliese Satz conducts pre-flight checks prior to a training flight aboard Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Ashley Phillips)
Satz recalled the first time she took off in the Joint Strike Fighter in a Marine Corps news release announcing her career milestone.
“The first flight in an F-35 is by yourself,” she said. “… It’s an exhilarating experience.”
Satz was licensed to fly the single-engine Robinson R44 light helicopter before joining the Marine Corps. Since switching to fixed wing, she’s flown the T-6 Texan II tandem-seat, turboprop trainer and the T-45C Goshawk carrier capable jet trainer, which prepares naval aviators for tactical missions.
Capt. Anneliese Satz puts on her flight helmet prior to a training flight aboard Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Ashley Phillips)
She then joined Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501, where she trained to fly the military’s newest fighter jet. Showing up and working hard are what allowed her to succeed, she said in the release.
Satz also credited the instructors, maintainers and other members of Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 for helping her complete the F-35B Basic Course.
“This is a phenomenal program made possible by all of their hard work,” she said in a Marine Corps news release. “I am thankful to have had the opportunity to learn from all of them. I am incredibly excited to get to VMFA-121 and look forward to the opportunity to serve in the Fleet Marine Forces.”
Capt. Anneliese Satz conducts pre-flight checks prior to a training flight aboard Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Ashley Phillips)
Earlier this week, another female Marine aviator made history when she became the first woman selected to fly the Corps’ other Joint Strike Fighter variant — the F-35C.
First Lt. Catherine Stark will join the Navy’s fleet replacement squadron, Strike Fighter Squadron 125, where she’ll fly the F-35 variant designed for carrier operations.
Female Marines have been able to fly only since 1993 when the service opened pilot positions to women. Then-2nd Lt. Sarah Deal, a CH-53E heavy-lift helicopter pilot, became the Marine Corps’ first female aviator in 1995. And Capt. Vernice Armour, an AH-1W Cobra pilot, became the service’s first black female pilot in 2001.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
Facebook is using artificial intelligence software and thousands of employees to weed out terrorism-related content, according to the company’s head of global counterterrorism policy.
In an interview with West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center published Thursday, Brian Fishman said that Facebook had 4,500 employees in community operations working to get rid of terrorism-related and other offensive content, with plans to expand that team by 3,000.
The company is also using artificial intelligence to flag offending content, which humans can then review.
“We still think human beings are critical because computers are not very good yet at understanding nuanced context when it comes to terrorism,” Fishman said. “For example, there are instances in which people are putting up a piece of ISIS propaganda, but they’re condemning ISIS. You’ve seen this in CVE [countering violent extremism] types of context. We want to allow that counter speech.”
Facebook is also using photo and video-matching technology, which can, for example, find propaganda from ISIS and place it in a database, which allows the company to quickly recognize those images if a user on the platform posts it.
“There are all sorts of complications to implementing this, but overall the technique is effective,” Fishman said. “Facebook is not a good repository for that kind of material for these guys anymore, and they know it.”
These days, when you see a rocket or missile launch, it almost seems routine. The engines fire and the rocket starts taking off, either sending an object directly to orbit or carrying enough firepower to blow something into orbit. What looks like standard procedure from the outside masks the fact that these rockets and missiles are very complex pieces of technology — and when this routine process goes wrong, it goes wrong very quickly and very violently.
Missiles are complex pieces of technology that are surprisingly delicate (a dropped tool once destroyed a Titan missile and its silo). With so many critical details involved, there are many opportunities for things to go wrong — and occasionally, they do. For example, in the 1980s, two RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles were accidentally launched, one by the United States Navy and one by the Royal Danish Navy. Thankfully, no injuries (outside of the respective captains’ pride) occurred in either incident.
A 2016 Trident II test for the Royal Navy is the most recent launch to have gone bad — and this test led to some disagreements between the Americans (who claimed the missile had to be destroyed) and the UK (who called the test a success). Thirty years earlier, the United States Navy had egg on its face when the first at-sea Trident II launch went out of control. Thankfully, in both of these cases, nobody was injured.
Mitrofan Nedelin’s tenure as the Soviet Army’s chief marshal of the artillery ended when the test of a SS-7 ended in a horrific explosion.
Video stills showing a Chinese Long March rocket going out of control before it crashed into a nearby village.
(United States Congress)
Today, failures are fewer and further between. One big reason for this is that many missiles now use solid fuel as opposed to liquid fuel. Liquid fuel is far more volatile and leads to explosions more frequently.
The launches you see nowadays may look routine from the outside, but remember, that’s the result of thousands of tests.
Watch the 1965 Air Force video below to see some missile launches, both successes and failures.
Trying to emerge from scandals that shook the agency to its core, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is attempting to overhaul what officials admit was sometimes pretty bad customer service.
Quietly, since 2015, the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs has built a national Veterans Experience Office.
The office’s first steps have been rolling out over 100 community veterans committees nationwide and retraining employees to be less rigid and more customer-focused.
The VA even hired professional writers to redraft the language of 1,200 official letter templates to make them more reader friendly.
“(We) had somehow gotten away from the primary mission of organizing the enterprise through the eyes of the customer,” said Joy White, who leads the office’s Pacific district, which includes California and the West Coast.
“(We did) things that made sense to us, made it easy for us as the VA,” White said. “But, in all of that, we lost the voice of the customer.”
The task at hand: How to change the culture of a massive federal agency that provides everything from medical care to monthly disability checks to funerals.
Some might wonder if — with what’s a famously dense bureaucracy — it can be done. Even new VA Secretary David Shulkin has said it’s a struggle to fire bad apples, including employees who watch porn on the job.
The new Veterans Experience Office’s budget this fiscal year is $55.4 million, up from $49 million last year, “to lead the My VA transformation,” according to a budget document. About 150 jobs now fall under this office’s umbrella.
Two years in, the nation’s veterans organizations are still taking a wait-and-see position.
“We’re not sure how much the VEO has improved the VA to date, but we are encouraged by this initiative and hope to see it succeed,” said Joe Plenzler, American Legion spokesman. “Any effort to improve dialogue between veterans and VA employees and administrators is time and money well spent.”
One vocal critic of the VA said the office has potential but not if it tries to just “paper over” structural issues facing the veterans agency.
“Doing things that are more feel-good measures, but actually don’t address some of the core problems of the VA, could distract from what’s needed to be done,” said Dan Caldwell, policy director at Concerned Veterans for America.
“That’s the danger I see, potentially, with this office. But I want to say there’s a lot of opportunity here. If this office is managed well and insists that they are here to improve the outcomes for veterans — and not just ‘the experience’ — they could be successful.”
The “veterans experience” campaign started under former VA Secretary Bob McDonald, the retired Proctor Gamble chief executive brought in by President Barack Obama in mid-2014 following a national scandal over wait times for VA medical care.
McDonald installed a “chief veterans experience officer” in early 2015.
The office reports directly to the VA secretary — now Shulkin, a doctor and health-care executive who is the first non-veteran to lead the agency.
Whether he will continue the “experience” campaign is an open question.
However, in April he named Lynda Davis, a former Army officer and Pentagon civilian executive with experience in personnel and suicide prevention, to head the office. She replaces a former McDonald’s executive, Tom Allin, who held the job for about two years.
Some of the hiring was for “human-centered design” teams. These teams, which include people from Stanford’s prestigious D School, are supposed to re-engineer VA routines that aren’t working.
They produced a “journey map” showing what VA patients experience.
It identifies “pain points” along the way, such as cancelled appointments. It also calls out “moments that matter,” such as the check-in process and whether it’s hard or easy to park.
Two early goals were to establish one consumer-oriented website and one toll-free telephone number for all VA divisions. The result was vets.gov and 1 (844) My-VA311.
The VA is now looking for inspiration from national brands famous for good service. Starbucks, Marriott, and Walgreens are on the list.
“We get the experience that we design. Historically, we haven’t put an emphasis as an organization on customer service. There was no program of record that said ‘this how we do customer service,'” White told the San Diego Union-Tribune.
One change the Veterans Experience Office has led: hiring for customer-service skills, instead of just looking for people qualified for a position.
“We weren’t hiring for attitude,” said White, who said her office identified questions to insert in the VA’s interview process to draw out whether an applicant had customer service aptitude.
In a changing health-care industry, this is a bandwagon that the VA is belatedly jumping on.
Other hospital organizations have rebooted their customer experience in the past decade in response to a shift in Medicare reimbursement policy that now rewards for patient satisfaction, experts said. The power of social media is also a factor.
The Cleveland Clinic was the first major academic medical center to appoint a chief experience officer in 2007. Across the country, hospitals have built grand entrances, opened restaurants intended to draw non-patients and put flowers by bedsides.
“My sense of it is that we live in the age of the empowered consumer,” said John Romley, an economist at the University of Southern California’s Schaeffer center for health policy.
“VA customers maybe have less choice in the matter, but at the same time, there’s a great deal of sensitivity in the broader population about how we treat these people in the VA system.”
The VA’s new customer service motto — Own the Moment — sounds a bit like a commercial TV jingle.
Training is rolling out across the country, including at the La Jolla VA hospital.
The premise: Each VA employee should “own” their time with a customer, the veteran, and do their best to ensure the person gets the help he or she needs.
That contrasts to the like-it-or-lump-it experience that veterans have sometimes complained about in the past.
“We’re moving away from a rules-based organization to a more of what we call a values, principle-based organization,” said Allan Castellanos, the VA employee teaching the La Jolla seminar.
“I call it more like integrated ethics, like doing the right thing for the right reason,” he said.
The employees were shown a video of VA workers going the extra mile to welcome an uncertain new veteran into a clinic.
In another, VA workers allowed the family of a dying veteran to bring his horse onto hospital grounds.
The VA is trying to emerge from bunker mentality after back-to-back national embarrassments.
First, in 2013, the backlog of disability claims rose to mountainous proportions, bringing down the wrath of Congress and the public.
Then, in 2014, news reports revealed that VA medical workers were keeping secret lists of patients waiting for appointments to make wait-time data appear satisfactory.
All of this occurred as the VA struggled to handle a flood of new veterans coming home from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
A few of the ideas being pursued by the Veterans Experience Office have origins in San Diego.
Officials acknowledge that what they are calling Community Veterans Experience Boards — the 152 community boards they eventually want to create nationally — came from San Diego’s longstanding example.
San Diego veterans leaders meet monthly with VA officials here in both closed-door and public sessions.
Additionally, the tragic suicide of 35-year-old Marine Corps veteran Jeremy Sears appears to have helped spur a campaign to redraft VA correspondence to make it more user friendly.
Sears shot himself at an Oceanside gun range in 2014 after being rejected for VA disability benefits despite the cumulative effects of several combat tours.
Veterans advocates suggested that the VA rejection letter could have offered advice on where to go for counseling and other assistance, instead of just a “no.”
“That was one of the ‘pain points’ that was identified,” White said, referring to the veteran’s “journey mapping” that her office did. “There was a lot of legalese, when in fact we just want it to be simple and clean.”
They started with the Veterans Benefit Administration’s correspondence and are working their way toward the Veterans Health Administration’s appointment cards.
Veterans Experience Office officials first told the Union-Tribune that they could provide examples of the rewritten letter formats, but later said they weren’t ready yet.
The Veterans Experience Office, headquartered in Washington, now has split the country into five districts and dispatched “relationship managers” to each.
The Veterans Experience Office is now trying to finesse those moments that matter to veterans. In 2017, officials expect to roll out a veterans real-time feedback tool in 10 locations. They also plan to release a patient experience “program of record.”
“Our goal is to build trust with veterans, their family members, and survivors,” White said. “How do we do that? By bringing their voices to everything we do.”
Thirty soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division recently tested new technologies in a video-game environment to provide feedback for the Next Generation Combat Vehicle Cross-Functional Team.
“This latest experiment will provide us with an understanding of which technologies are most critical for the robotic combat vehicle to be successful in an operational environment,” said Brig. Gen. Ross Coffman, NGCV CFT director.
Coffman will be one of the speakers Oct. 14, 2019, at a NGCV Warriors Corner presentation at the Washington Convention Center where more about the experiments will be explained.
The soldiers from 4ID’s 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team supported the Army’s Ground Vehicle Systems Center Virtual Experiment #3 last month to help inform the NGCV CFT’s campaign of learning for Manned and Un-Manned Teaming.
The campaign of learning is part of GVSC’s virtual prototyping process that helps the Army test new technologies without soldiers needing to start up an engine or even set foot in the field — saving valuable resources.
Soldiers from the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division support the Army’s Ground Vehicle Systems Center Virtual Experiment #3 last month to help inform the Next Generation Combat Vehicle Cross Functional Team’s campaign of learning for Manned and Un-Manned Teaming.
(Photo by Jeroma Aliotta)
The soldiers provided feedback on vehicle crew configuration, formations, vehicle capabilities, enabling technologies — such as unmanned aerial vehicles and aided target recognition — and networked capabilities.
The experiment examined multiple questions including how soldiers dealt with constraints such as signal degradation, lack of mobility while using certain features, task organization, and which variants of the vehicles proved the most useful.
“One of the things we are looking at is if a lighter, less-protected RCV can achieve similar battlefield effect as a heavier but more protected one, while both having the same lethality package,” Coffman said.
For the five-day virtual experiment, soldiers employed RCVs in open and urban terrain against a simulated near-peer adversary. Observations and data were collected as to how soldiers use the RCVs and enabling technologies such as smoke generation, tethered unmanned aerial systems, target designator, and signal boost in offensive and defensive roles and in both open and urban environments.
Soldiers from the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division supported the Army’s Ground Vehicle Systems Center Virtual Experiment #3 last month to help inform the Next Generation Combat Vehicle Cross Functional Team’s campaign of learning for Manned and Un-Manned Teaming.
(Photo by Jeroma Aliotta)
“RCVs were able to effectively designate targets and conduct target handoff with other RCVs which executed the target using Hellfire missiles,” said an infantryman who participated in the experiment. [soldier names are withheld due to research protocol.]
These type of events will continue throughout the year with each virtual experiment increasing in capability and fidelity to support a live soldier experiment in March and April 2020. The next virtual experiment will be conducted with support from the 1st Cavalry Division Dec. 9-13, 2019, at the Detroit Arsenal.
“These soldier touch points are essential to how Army Futures Command is executing the Army’s modernization priority,” Coffman said. “Soldiers are at the center of everything we do, and their insight is crucial to developing these new technologies.”
The Trump administration announced a new round of sanctions on Venezuela on May 21, 2018, further limiting government officials there from selling debt and other assets “at fire-sale prices at the expense of the Venezuelan people,” a senior administration official said.
The new restrictions come hours after a presidential election that President Nicolas Maduro was expected to win through illegitimate means and which the US said it would not recognize before the first ballot was cast.
President Donald Trump’s stance on Venezuela and its embattled president has appeared at odds with his attitude toward the leaders of other authoritarian regimes and his administration’s response to disputed elections in those countries.
In April 2017, Trump congratulated Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after a referendum that expanded Erdogan’s powers, differing from the State Department, which cited international observers’ reports of election irregularities and called on Turkey to respect the rights of its citizens.
And in a March 2018 phone call, Trump reportedly congratulated Russian President Vladimir Putin on his reelection, despite guidance from his national-security team not do so.
Some leaders have been reluctant to offer Putin similar compliments, given the state’s control of much of the media in Russia as well as restrictions on opposition candidates. Election monitors said the most recent contest was “overly controlled” and “lacked genuine competition.” (President Barack Obama congratulated Putin after the latter’s 2012 election victory, though his administration also publicly expressed concerns about that vote.)
A few days later, when asked whether Russia’s election was free and fair, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “We’re focused on our elections. We don’t get to dictate how other countries operate.”
“What we do know is Putin has been elected in their country, and that’s not something that we can dictate to them, how they operate,” she added at the time. “We can only focus on the freeness and the fairness of our elections.”
Asked May 21, 2018, about the seeming disparity between Trump’s approach to the election in Venezuela and elections under similar conditions elsewhere, senior administration officials pointed to the intensity of the economic and political turmoil in the South American country as a distinguishing feature.
“The region has never seen a kleptocracy like this,” the official said. “We’ve never seen a country as wealthy — in terms of natural resources and in human capital — as Venezuela is, driven into such an economic death spiral so quickly by such a small group of individuals determined to enrich themselves at the expense of millions of people.”
“The effect on a close ally of the United States, Colombia, is enormous and is threatening to drag that country into the abyss from an economic standpoint as well,” the official said. “So this is a true catastrophe in every sense of the word, within the region.”
The US is not the only country that has reproved Maduro and his government.
The Lima Group — made up of 14 countries in Latin America — rebuked the Maduro government over the election when it was announced in January 2018, and said on May 21, 2018, that it did not recognize May 20, 2018’s vote as legitimate.
Canada has sanctioned Venezuelan officials, including Maduro, as has the European Union, which also has an arms embargo in place on the country.
The US has reportedly offered lawyers and policy experts to help other Latin American countries draft similar measures.
Venezuela experts have warned that sanctions themselves are unlikely to force Maduro out and cautioned that harsher sanctions — such as ones against the oil industry on which the country is heavily reliant — could only cause additional pain for the Venezuelans.
“If you added up the 12 nations in the Lima Group and the United States together, it’s about 95% of the hemisphere,” another senior administration official said. “So everybody is truly together on this, and it’s a unity in the hemisphere, frankly, that is almost unprecedented in approaching a crisis of democracy.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Since its Cold War inception, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has been keeping Russian aggression in check as an increasingly fragmented Europe has shifted and moved over 70 years. Founded in 1949, the alliance started off with 12 members but has grown over the years to 29 member states. Even as the Soviet Union gave way to the Russian Federation, the alliance has cemented its status as the bulwark that keeps Western Europe free.
A lot has happened over 70 years. Political shifts in member countries caused members to rethink their role in the alliance. Russian threats kept many members out for a long time – and still does. And the mutual defense clause, Article V, was invoked for the first time ever.
There were 12 founding members.
Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom, and the United States founded NATO on April 4, 1949, as a hedge against growing Soviet power in the east. The centerpiece of the alliance is Article V, which obliges member states to consider an attack on a NATO ally as an attack on itself and respond with armed forces if necessary.
The alliance is more than a bunch of disparate parts, it has a unified military command that guides its strategy, tactics, and training on land, on the oceans, and in the air, complete with its own installations and command structure.
You might know of the first Supreme Allied Commander.
An American is always at the top.
The alliance is organized almost like the United States’ command structure. A Chairman of the NATO military committee advises the Secretary General on policy and strategy. The second highest position is the Supreme Allied Commander, always an American general, who heads the operations of the alliance in Europe.
The United States, Britain, and France are currently the most powerful members of NATO, but after the U.S., only Greece, the United Kingdom, Estonia, Poland, and Romania met NATO spending standards. Greece and Estonia are the second-highest spenders as a percentage of GDP.
“Paix en quittant.”
Countries actually left NATO.
Many balked at the idea of the United States leaving the alliance, as then-candidate Trump threatened to do while running for President of the United States. While the U.S. withdrawing from NATO would be a disaster for everyone, a member country leaving NATO isn’t unprecedented.
France left NATO between 1966 and 2009 because President Charles DeGaulle resented the idea that France wasn’t on an equal military and nuclear footing with the United States and wanted more independence for French troops. Greece left between 1974 and 1980 because of a conflict with NATO ally Turkey.
This is as close as they get. Right after this photo, they raided English coastal towns. Because tradition.
One member doesn’t have an Army.
Iceland doesn’t have a standing army (it has a Coast Guard though!) but is a member ally to NATO anyway. The island nation actually does maintain a peacekeeping force of troops who are trained in Denmark, but Iceland joined the alliance on the condition that it wouldn’t have to establish a standing army – NATO wanted Iceland because of its strategic position in the Atlantic Ocean. The island is protected by the Canadian Air Force.
Poland will no longer be taking Russia’s sh*t. Ever again.
Former enemies have joined NATO.
With the fall of the Soviet Union came a slew of countries who were much smaller than their former Soviet benefactor. Many of these countries were once members of the Warsaw Pact, the USSR’s answer to the West’s NATO. In order to keep former Soviet Russia from meddling in their newly-independent domestic affairs, many Warsaw Pact countries who trained to fight NATO then joined it, including Albania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Croatia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and (after the unification of Germany) East Germany.
Pictured: Why Georgia wants to join NATO.
New NATO members could trigger the war it was designed to prevent.
The alliance is always courting new members to counter the threat posed by Russia. This means eventually NATO had to start looking east to find new partners – and many were willing. Unfortunately, pushing eastward puts NATO troops on Russia’s doorstep and there are certain countries that Russia considers a national security threat were they to go to NATO. Two of those, Ukraine and Georgia, have seen Russian invasions of their territory in the past few years in an attempt to thwart their eventual membership.
Russia warned NATO of a “great conflict” should either of them join the alliance.
Gender integration is vital for the success of women in the military, the commander of US Southern Command said July 13 at the closing ceremony of the second Women in Military and Security Conference held in Guatemala City, Guatemala.
Navy Adm. Kurt W. Tidd made opening and closing remarks at WIMCON 17, a two-day conference on gender perspectives in force development and military operations co-hosted this year by the Southcom commander and the Guatemalan armed forces.
Photo courtesy of Southcom
In attendance were US Ambassador to Guatemala Todd D. Robinson, Guatemala Chief of Defense Maj. Gen. Juan Perez, and regional leaders.
The first WIMCOM was held last year in Trinidad and Tobago.
Over the past two days, Tidd said, “we’ve shared insights and observations and learned from one another’s experiences. We’ve celebrated our progress and identified the obstacles that still remain in our paths. And we’ve reinforced … a commitment to equality, a commitment to equity, a commitment to opportunity.”
The admiral said the Western Hemisphere offers a potential model for regional cooperation on gender integration and advancing gender perspectives.
“This week we’ve seen how much we have to share with one another, and I know this is only the beginning of setting the standard for the rest of the world,” Tidd added.
Community of Interest
The Southcom commander proposed two ideas for the group going forward, the first being to commit to establishing a formal community of interest to further the topic.
“Southcom will happily take on the task to find the best tool for continuing this vitally important conversation,” he said, “and we will use the contact information you provide today to share this forum once we create it.”
Gender advisors — subject matter experts attending the conference — are ideal members, Tidd added, but other personnel also will add value and over the next year the community can work on issues identified at WIMCOM 2017 as focus areas for improvement.
Second, the admiral said, is a need to collect better data to document progress.
“We have a term in English called baselining — determining a minimum starting point to use for comparisons,” he explained. “There’s clearly a lot more work to be done on [the kinds of] data we need to gather and share, but we’ve all heard this week about the importance of using data to further this message.”
Southcom, he said, offered to serve as a regional observatory to help keep track of integration progress by country, regional advances and obstacles to advancement.
Tidd added, “If you will get us the data and research, we’ll help collate it and make it available for our collective use.”
Other highlights from the meeting included the idea that equality for women in the military requires male acceptance and collaboration; that qualification and advancement for everyone should be based on capability, competency and character; and that fair standards should be set and all should be required to meet them.
The admiral also asked for ideas or recommendations for the focus of WIMCOM 2018.
“I sincerely hope that you’ll seek to replicate the face-to-face, candid conversations we sought to foster in this conference,” the admiral said. “Hopefully this is just the beginning, not the end, of those types of conversations.”
Jose Luis Sanchez was a Marine sergeant serving in Helmand province in 2011 when he stepped on an IED and lost his leg in the blast. On Apr. 18, 2016, he ran the Boston Marathon to show support for the victims of the bombings there three years ago.
His Apr. 18 race in Boston as part of Team Semper Fi was his second marathon. He ran his first in the Oct. 2015 Marine Corps Marathon where, with the help of others, he finished despite fracturing his leg and busting his knee.
“It was my first marathon ever,” Sanchez told UPROXX. “I was just so motivated by everyone else’s love and support. My mind was like, ‘Yeah, man. You can f-cking do it!”
Sanchez wanted to run the Boston Marathon as a show of solidarity with the survivors of the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013. Sanchez’s history as an IED survivor put him in a unique place to understand their pain and to show support.
“It hit me in January or February,” he said, “and I just felt that I had to run the Boston Marathon. I wanted to run the race and support the bombing survivors, to show them that life goes on and all you have to do is just push through it.”
The urge to drive others and to prove himself physically was what powered Sanchez during his time as a Marine.
“I always tried to motivate others, like my Marines,” Sanchez said. “I’d push them as much as I could, encouraging them to always go after it. Even after a long patrol in Afghanistan, I was the guy who’d say, ‘Let’s go workout. Let’s do push-ups. Let’s do squats.’ I was always that type of guy. Going to the gym, taking groups on long runs, doing PT.”