Russian state TV has dedicated an entire show to documenting Vladimir Putin’s activities and praising him.
In the first episode of Rossiya-1’s new show, which aired on Sept. 4, 2018, the Russian president can be seen hiking around the Russian countryside, while his employees compliment almost everything about him, from his physical fitness to his “very empathetic” personality.
The show — named “Moscow. Kremlin. Putin.” — aired during prime time on Sept. 3, 2018, with the first episode lasting an hour long, The Guardian reported.
Clips from the episode showed wholesome activities such as Putin hiking with his ministers and picking berries in the Russian hills. Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu can be seen complaining about his legs hurting several days after his hike, in what is most likely praise for Putin’s fitness levels.
The episode also showed footage of Putin’s recent hiking holiday in Siberia. Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman and a guest on the show, said jokingly according to The Guardian: “This is wild nature, there are bears there. Bodyguards are armed in an appropriate manner, just in case. Although if a bear sees Putin — they aren’t idiots — they will behave themselves properly.”
Rossiya-1 also showed Putin meeting with schoolchildren and musicians. Peskov said: “Putin doesn’t only love children, he loves people in general.”
The series comes as Putin is going through one of the lowest points in his presidency. August 2018 the president broke a 13-year-old promise to increase Russia’s retirement age, a decision which meant Russian workers could miss out on a pension altogether due to lower life expectancies in Russia than in Western countries.
Thousands of people around the country protested against the reforms in summer 2018, and Putin’s popularity rating plummeted to a four-year low, at around 67%.
Around 10,000 Russians across the political spectrum demonstrated against the pension reform on the streets of Moscow, while other small protests took place in cities like St Petersburg and Vladivostok, the Independent reported.
A protest against the Russian government’s proposal to raise the retirement age in Omsk in June 2018.
(Al Jazeera English / YouTube)
“Cult of personality”
Putin’s critics said the show was fostering a cult of personality.
Ilya Barabanov, a BBC journalist in Moscow, tweeted in response to the show on Sept. 4, 2018: “We must somehow record that in September 2018 we returned to the cult of personality.”
US journalist Susan Glasser also told CNN this was a “classic Kremlin project to elevate Vladimir Putin and to humanize him at a time when he’s under increasing fire from his own public.”
“It’s not an accident that this is occurring,” she added. “It seems to me right at a time when he’s embroiled in a real political controversy.”
The Kremlin has denied being behind the program, despite the broadcaster being state-run. Peskov, who appeared the show, said according to Agence France-Presse: “This is the project of [state TV company] VGTRK, not the Kremlin’s.
“It is important for us that information about the president and his work schedule is shown correctly and without distortion.”
Peskov added that Putin does not plan to be in the show.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
U.S. President Donald Trump says there are promising signs that the United States would reach a peace deal with the Taliban by the end of this month.
Chances are “good” for the agreement to be sealed, Trump said on a February 13 podcast broadcast on iHeart Radio.
When asked if a tentative deal had been reached, Trump said: “I think we’re very close…. I think there’s a good chance that we’ll have a deal…. We’re going to know over the next two weeks.”
The president’s comments are the latest indication of progress being made in talks between the United States and the Taliban that have been taking place since December in Qatar, where the militants have a political office.
Earlier in the day, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told journalists in Brussels that both sides had negotiated a “proposal” for a week-long scaling-down in violence.
President Donald Trump speaks to Fort Drum Soldiers and personnel during a signing ceremony for the fiscal year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, Aug. 13, 2018.
He said a drawdown of troops and further negotiations with the militants would be “conditions-based” and begin after a decline in violence.
“We’ve said all along that the best…solution in Afghanistan is a political agreement,” he added. “It will be a continual evaluative process as we go forward — if we go forward.”
Progress toward reducing violence could usher in direct peace talks between the militants and the Afghan government to end the nearly two-decade war.
AP reported that if violence subsided, it would lead to an agreement being signed between the United States and the Taliban, followed by, within 10 days, all-Afghan negotiations to establish a road map for the political future of a postwar Afghanistan.
There has been a “pretty important breakthrough” over the past few days, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on February 13 about peace negotiations. He did not elaborate.
President Donald Trump would still have to formally approve the agreement and finalization of details is expected at this week’s Munich Security Conference, where Esper and Pompeo will meet with Afghan President Ashaf Ghani.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg the day before reiterated that the alliance “fully supports the U.S.-led peace efforts, which can pave the way for intra-Afghan talks.”
Speaking at the same NATO summit in Brussels attended by Esper, the secretary-general said the militants “need to demonstrate that they are both willing and capable to deliver a reduction of violence and contribute to peace in good faith.”
He said the militant fighters have to “understand that they will never win on the battlefield. They have to make real compromises around the negotiating table.”
The prospective deal would see the U.S. pull thousands of troops from Afghanistan, while the Taliban would provide security guarantees and launch eventual talks with the Western-backed government in Kabul.
There are some 12,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, as well as thousands of European forces participating in the NATO-led Resolute Support mission.
Rows of chairs were filled with family members, close friends and fellow military members. As the ceremony began, all eyes were on the couple standing up front.
Thirteen years earlier, the scene was nearly identical. Back then, John was wearing his Air Force uniform, though Jennifer was wearing a wedding gown. Now, they were wearing flightsuits with oak-leaf rank on the shoulders.
And, the same friend spoke at both events. Jared Kennish first made his remarks as the best man, and now as a colonel and the 131st Bomb Wing Operation’s Group commander at Whiteman Air Force Base.
“It’s an honor to speak as John and Jennifer Avery retire from the Air Force, just as it was to speak at their wedding,” Kennish said. “This couple has made history.”
Lt. Col. John Avery and Lt. Col. Jennifer Avery were the first husband-wife pilot team to fly the B-2 Spirit.
Their two, 20-year-long careers culminated with the couple’s joint retirement ceremony on Sept. 7, 2018, at Whiteman AFB, Missouri.
Jennifer retires with more than 1,600 flying hours in the active-duty Air Force and Missouri Air National Guard. John retires with more than 2,500 flying hours in the active-duty Air Force and Missouri ANG.
The Air Force retirement is a traditional ceremony that signifies the completion of an Airman’s long, honorable career of service to his or her country.
“This is a thank-you for a job well-done,” Kennish said, “and an opportunity to highlight the history made by this couple – both individually and together.”
Of the hundreds of B-2 pilots to come after John and Jennifer, just two other married couples are among them. It’s just one of their many distinctions. Being first is a theme for the Averys.
Growing up in Miami, Jennifer said she was “shy and maybe even a little insecure – uncertain of myself.” After high school, she headed to Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. She carried with her a childhood memory of visiting an Air Force base in Charleston, South Carolina. “I’ll never forget my Uncle Bill taking me into a flight simulator. That stuck with me, even to this day. I thought flying was incredible.”
John and Jennifer Avery, both B-2 Spirit pilots, smile for a photo on their wedding day Feb. 5, 2005. Their shared military careers culminated at their joint retirement ceremony Sept. 7, 2018, at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo.
Jennifer graduated in 1995 with a bachelor’s of science degree in biology and, as a member of ROTC, received a commission in the Air Force as a second lieutenant.
“I knew exactly what I wanted to do next,” she said.
Jennifer earned her pilot wings in June of 1997, which eventually took her to Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, to fly the B-1 Lancer – and begin making history.
She was the first female B-1 pilot to go to combat, flying four sorties over Kosovo in support of Operation Allied Force in 1999. Not long after, Jennifer applied to fly the B-2 Spirit, based at Whiteman AFB, Missouri.
“I was drawn to the challenge of flying this unique aircraft that has a mission so vital to deterrence and global safety,” she said of the .2 billion stealth bomber that is capable of both nuclear and conventional missions. “To be one of the few pilots to fly this aircraft that is the backbone of nuclear security was an amazing prospect.”
She was accepted into the program and began training shortly thereafter. Her first flight in the B-2 was on Feb. 12, 2002, making her the first woman to fly the B-2 stealth bomber. Now, 16 years later, seven other women have become B-2 pilots and others are now in training.
In March 2003, she would do again what no other woman before her had accomplished.
Jennifer flew a mission in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, becoming the first woman to fly the B-2 in combat. Today, she is still the only woman to have flown the B-2 combat.
“Jen is a trailblazer,” Kennish said. “Her career has been nothing short of spectacular. And the same can certainly be said for John, who chased Jen from South Dakota all the way to Missouri.”
Move to Missouri
John grew up in Great Falls, Montana, where he watched F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets from a nearby base fly overhead.
“I really wanted to fly,” John said. “And I joined the Air Force because I wanted to fly cool planes. I knew being a military pilot, I would be serving my country and have a pretty incredible day-to-day job at the same time.”
He completed an economics degree at Carleton College, Minnesota, and later was commissioned as a second lieutenant through the U.S. Air Force Officer Training School (OTS) in 1999. He earned his pilot wings in 2000, and soon was stationed at Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, to fly the B-1.
Jennifer was already there and remembers wondering, “Who’s the new pilot?” The first time John saw her, he remembers wondering why she was late to the parachute safety class they were both taking. And, that he wanted to meet her.
John and Jennifer began dating, though it was less than six months later that she left South Dakota for her next assignment to fly the B-2 stealth bomber. It wasn’t long after that John also applied and was accepted to fly the B-2 something he said he would not have pursued if it weren’t for Jennifer.
“I wanted to fly the B-2 because that was the plane my future wife was going to fly,” John said. “That, and it’s without a doubt the world’s most elite aircraft. As a pilot, there’s nothing more rewarding. Knowing your job is to protect our country, while deterring enemies really is an amazing job to have.”
Whiteman Air Force Base
Now both at Whiteman AFB, John and Jennifer resumed dating. Jennifer accepted John’s marriage proposal during a vacation in Germany, where John had nervously carried around a diamond engagement ring in his pocket until “just the right moment.”
Lt. Cols. Jennifer and John Avery sit together during their retirement ceremony Sept. 7, 2018, at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri.
On Feb. 5, 2005, the couple married in Colorado. Deployments and training kept them apart during their first four months of marriage, though they did end up with overlapping short-term assignments in Guam and were able to live together on the island. They were thankful to be together then, but always careful to not request preferential treatment because of their marriage – or when they had children, first their son Austin, now 12, and then their daughter Elizabeth, now 9.
Balancing demanding mission and training schedules continued to compete with family life.
Jennifer remembers John’s deployment when Austin was just a baby and the guilt she felt when he was the last child to be picked up at daycare, as well as the exhaustion from single-parenthood and a demanding job. Day-to-day was tough, plus Jennifer faced moving for her next assignment while John was required to finish his assignment at Whiteman.
So in 2007, rather than face separating her family, Jennifer decided to leave her active-duty career.
“That was the hardest day,” Jennifer remembers. “That drive to work was emotional. But, I felt in good conscience it was the right decision. At the same time, a lot of people believed in me. I’d had so much support along the way, including from John. In the end, I knew it was only myself I needed to worry about letting down and I hadn’t disappointed myself. I felt like I had accomplished so much and I’m proud I did those things. More than anything, I just want my kids to be proud of their mom.”
After holding civilian positions at Whiteman AFB, Jennifer joined the Missouri ANG at Whiteman and resumed flying as a B-2 pilot. Again, her path was unprecedented as the first and only female B-2 pilot in the ANG.
By 2008, John also transitioned to the Missouri ANG at Whiteman AFB, and was selected as part of the first group of Guardsmen to fly the B-2. He became the first ANG member to attend B-2 Weapon Instructor School and then the first to become an instructor at Whiteman AFB.
Additionally, John was also the first Guardsman to fly the B-2 in combat during a sortie above Libya in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn in 2011.
For the Missouri ANG, the Averys exemplified what it means to be Guardsmen, said Col. Ken Eaves, commander of the 131st Bomb Wing at Whiteman AFB. “I’m proud of anybody who serves, but these two, they’ve done it with such distinction. They have continued the Guard’s legacy of excellence and dedication.”
For the active-duty Air Force, seeing its pilots continue to fly the B-2 with the Missouri ANG is certainly a win, said Justin Grieve, 509th Bomb Wing Operations Group commander. “At Whiteman, we train elite aviators to fly the world’s most strategic airplane. Whether they do that through active duty or the Guard, we’re all B-2 pilots defending the homeland.”
It’s that partnership between an active-duty wing and a Guard wing, called total-force integration, that the Averys helped execute, Eaves said, adding, “Jennifer and John have been trailblazers in the truest sense of the definition. Literally making history on active duty and in the Guard, that wasn’t something they set out to do. It’s just who they are.”
The B-2 brought John and Jennifer back together, and also made them the team they are now, the couple said.
Air Force regulations don’t allow spouses to fly in the same aircraft with each other, but John and Jennifer did fly one sortie together in the T-38 Talon training jet before they were married.
There was an equal division of labor and no struggle for control in the aircraft, Jennifer remembers, much like at home. Through the years, the couple learned to divide parental and domestic duties, as well as to make sacrifices for the benefit of the other.
From left, U.S. Air Force Col. Jared Kennish stands next to Lt. Cols. John and Jennifer Avery during their joint retirement from the Missouri Air National Guard, Sept 7, 2018, at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri.
“We were able to support each other and fully appreciate the other’s successes and failures because we knew exactly what the other person was going through,” John said.
“We’re a team,” Jennifer said simply.
The Averys have no doubt this unity will continue now that they’ve left the Air Force. The family of four moved to Boise, Idaho, which fit their criteria of living in a medium-sized city in the West, near the mountains and full of outdoor recreation.
The kids started their new schools. John flies the B-767 for FedEx and Jennifer works as a Department of Defense consultant for flying-related acquisitions. Both have private pilot’s licenses.
“We’re excited for this next phase of our lives,” John said.
At their official retirement September ceremony at Whiteman AFB, standing in front of their families and closest friends, John and Jennifer were presented medals for outstanding military service and certificates of appreciations from the president of the United States before the reading of the orders declaring they were “relieved from duty and retired.”
Reflecting back on the rigors of pilot training, the long hours and irregular schedules, life’s daily demands, the ups and downs of marriage and parenthood, the stresses of leadership positions, worry from combat deployments, John and Jennifer remember the good.
“Yes, it was hard,” John remembers. “There was a lot of give and take on both sides. We look back though, and have the best memories.”
“We did it. All the way through,” Jennifer said. “Together.”
As anyone who’s ever deployed with a unit that required an interpreter knows, language barriers make a tough mission tougher. And considering how the U.S. military has treated the locals hired to do interpretation for U.S. ground forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s a wonder we’re able to recruit ‘terps’ at all.
“He says: ‘So… this is the guy we kill when you leave yeah’?” (U.S. Marine Corps photo)
So it makes sense the Pentagon would have a need for something that provides real-time translation to the boots on the ground. It should come to no surprise to anyone who regularly shops around on FedBizOpps.gov (the U.S. government’s business opportunities site with a name as legit as any Cash4Gold site), to see the Air Force Research Laboratory posting a need for what it calls “human language technologies.”
Meanwhile, the Navy continues to pursue its strange obsession with dolphin language . (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Brien Aho RELEASED)
The Air Force wants to conduct research and development in “automatic speech recognition, machine translation, natural language processing, information extraction, information retrieval, text-to-speech synthesis, and other speech and language processing technologies.” Maybe the military should just ask Skype how they made theirs.
The Air Force’s mind-blowing rationale is that “much of the information needed to effectively understand, anticipate, manage, and operate in the global environment is found in foreign language speech, text, videos, and images” and the military is especially interested in “lesser spoken languages that have high military interest but lack sufficient linguists and automated language processing capabilities.”
Basically, everything we want to know for via signals intelligence and human intelligence is another language and we don’t have enough people who will help us translate it and the Air Force will spend $10 million over a five-year span to develop the technology to do it without human help.
Marines and sailors from India Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, make their way to a Marine Medium Tiltorotor Squadron 365 MV-22 Osprey | Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Mark Fayloga
The father of a Marine killed in an MV-22B Osprey crash last year plans to sue the manufacturer of the aircraft, saying design flaws contributed to the tragedy.
Mike Determan lives five miles from Arizona’s Marana Northwest Regional Airport, best-known to some as the site of the deadliest crash in the short history of Marines’ tiltrotor aircraft.
On April 8, 2000, an Osprey attempting to land at the airport stalled and then plummeted in a phenomenon known as vortex ring state, killing all 19 Marines on board. Determan knew the history, but never guessed that tragedy involving the aircraft would strike again much closer to home.
But on May 17, 2015, another Osprey went down — this time at Marine Corps Training Area Bellows, Hawaii. The aircraft had hovered twice for brief periods in severe brownout conditions during a landing attempt, resulting in significant dust intake and “turbine blade glassification,” or the melting of reactive sand at high temperatures, according to an official command investigation obtained by Military.com.
Two Marines aboard the aircraft were killed: Lance Cpl. Matthew Determan, 21, an infantry squad leader with Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines out of Camp Pendleton, California; and Cpl. Joshua Barron, 24, an Osprey crew chief with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 161, out of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California. The other 20 Marines aboard the aircraft sustained injuries of varying severity.
The investigation into the tragic crash recommended new guidelines limiting cumulative Osprey hover time in reduced-visibility conditions to 60 seconds, called for more advanced technology to mitigate brownout conditions, and ascribed partial blame to the pilots of the aircraft and the commanders of the squadron and Marine expeditionary unit it was attached to, saying better decision making and a more effective survey of the landing site might have prevented disaster.
The Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures Standardization program, or NATOPS, would ultimately recommend pilots spend no more than 35 seconds at a time hovering in reduced-visibility conditions.
Suit to name suppliers
But Mike Andrews, an attorney with the Montgomery, Alabama-based law firm Beasley Allen who represents the Determan family, said the problem lies solely with the Osprey. Andrews confirmed he is preparing a lawsuit against Osprey manufacturer Boeing Co. on behalf of the Determans, asking for unspecified compensatory and punitive damages. The suit, which he said will also name other manufacturers of V-22 parts, will be filed in Hawaii in coming weeks, though Andrews said he had not determined whether to file it in federal or state court.
Boeing spokeswoman Caroline Hutcheson declined to comment on the pending litigation.
“I can tell you that this is an unsafe aircraft,” Andrews said. “Our feeling in this case is, our military boys and girls need to have the best equipment possible, and the V-22 is not it.”
He was previously involved in a 2002 lawsuit against Osprey manufacturers Boeing, Textron’s Bell Helicopter unit, and BAE’s U.S. subsidiary following a December 2000 Osprey crash near Jacksonville, North Carolina, which killed all four Marines aboard.
“This is a situation in which we feel the Marine Corps, the military in general, is doing the best they can with a defective product,” Andrews said. “They’ve been sold a bill of goods and they’re trying to work with it. It’s inexcusable.”
A September report from Naval Air Systems Command generated in response to the Bellows crash underscores Mike Determan’s contention that Osprey power loss during reduced visibility landings is far from an isolated incident. The report, obtained by Military.com, highlights three other such events dating back to 2013, one involving the CV-22 Air Force variant of the aircraft.
Two years prior to Bellows on Aug. 26, 2013, a Marine Corps Osprey crashed after experiencing engine compressor stall in a brownout near Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, according to the report. All four crew members walked away, but the aircraft was damaged beyond repair, according to officials.
On Feb. 24, 2015, another disaster was narrowly avoided when a deployed Marine V-22 experienced engine compressor stall in reduced visibility conditions, then recovered and successfully returned to base. Since no mishap occurred, this incident was never reported publicly.
On Dec. 1, 2013, an Air Force CV-22 operating out of North Africa experienced a compressor stall shortly after landing in brownout conditions, resulting in a Class C mishap, signifying damages between $50,000 and $500,000.
The report also found six additional undocumented aircraft power loss incidents in areas that contained “reactive sand,” or sand containing high levels of elements with low melting points. It also found that a second Osprey at Bellows on May 17 had experienced a “near-miss,” though it ultimately avoided stall in the sand cloud.
Determan said he believes the Marine Corps deserves some of the blame for the Bellows crash because officials were slow to apply lessons learned from previous MV-22 stalls in brownout conditions.
“They knew that there was a problem with restricted visibility; they knew it from Creech Air Force Base a year prior,” Determan said. “To send my son and the other Marines in that morning knowing that the sand is reactive and it’s very dangerous … by not doing the pre-work, they’re just putting these guys at huge risk.”
A former V-22 test pilot who spoke with Military.com under condition of anonymity because he is well known in the aviation community said the Osprey is uniquely susceptible to ingestion of sand and dust, which can melt at high temperatures inside the engine, changing airflow and making the engine less efficient. Because the aircraft can fly like an airplane and then tilt its rotors skyward for take-off and landing like a helicopter, its engine inlets are vertical as it descends, the pilot said, making it even more vulnerable to dust intake.
“The Osprey ingests one hell of a lot of dirt and sand,” the test pilot said, adding that the aircraft had higher disc loading than other helicopters, meaning its smaller rotors had to pump a larger volume of air at a higher velocity. “You hover over that sand and you make one hell of a mess.”
Mike Determan has a solution for the Marine Corps: Ground the Osprey until a third-generation tiltrotor, the Bell V-280 Valor, is ready to deploy. That aircraft will not have prototypes ready for a first test flight until 2017, and it’s not yet clear what the Corps’ fielding or purchasing plans with regard to the V-280 might be.
A Marine Corps spokeswoman, Capt. Sarah Burns, said the service has no plans to ground the MV-22, which is quickly becoming the centerpiece of its strategy for crisis response and long-range lift.
“By its very nature, there will always be inherent risk in combat aviation. This is due to the expeditionary nature of U.S. Marine Corps operations and the varied types of missions we fly,” Burns said.
“When mishaps occur we diligently investigate them, and we are transparent with regards to the findings of each investigation,” she added. “In this investigation there were no indications that there is an issue beyond that of the aircraft involved and consequently did not lead to a determination that a grounding of the fleet would be warranted.”
According to figures provided by Burns, the Osprey’s Class A mishap rate, which is calculated based on mishaps involving loss of life or $2 million or more in damage, is roughly in line with or better than comparable aircraft platforms.
Since fiscal 2010, the Osprey has a mishap rate of 3.06 per 100,000 flight hours, Burns said, compared with 3.63 for the CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter; 3.09 for the CH-46 “Phrog” retired by the Marines last year; 4.18 for the UH-1 N Twin Huey and Y Venom choppers; and 1.54 for the AH-1 Z Viper and W Super Cobra. These figures, however, don’t take into account the Jan. 15 tragedy in which two CH-53E Super Stallions collided off the coast of Oahu, killing all 12 Marines aboard.
Marine Corps leaders have staunchly supported the V-22 as the revolutionary future of Marine Corps aviation, along with the brand-new F-35B Joint Strike Fighter. Recent experiments have highlighted the Osprey’s ability to cover long distances at high speeds for raids and inserts; a squadron of Ospreys is now deployed to the Middle East with the Marines’ crisis response force in the region for personnel recovery missions and support of the coalition fight against Islamic State militants.
‘Where are the Ospreys?’
“The question used to be, ‘Where’s the carrier? Where’s the [amphibious ready group/Marine expeditionary unit]?'” Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller told an audience at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 11. “Now the question is, ‘Where are the Ospreys?'”
Still, some worry that the Osprey may prove increasingly fragile as it replaces other workhorse Marine Corps rotary-wing platforms and weathers more years of deployment wear and tear.
The fact that Naval aviation was still learning about the Osprey’s vulnerabilities and attempting to mitigate them more than eight years after the aircraft was first deemed deployable in 2007 was a function of the platform’s complexity, the pilot said.
“[Ospreys are] encountering things, they’re going places they have not been before” as the Marine Corps becomes more dependent on the platform, the pilot said. Despite Osprey deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2007, the pilot characterized the aircraft’s use to date as “ash and trash” — transportation and lift, rather than combat.
“You can’t go into a hot [landing zone] with the aircraft. If you do, you’ll break it,” he said. “The aircraft has never been tested to do the extreme maneuvering.’
The level of complexity in the tiltrotor aircraft increases the number of “unk-unks” — unknown unknowns — which are very difficult to test for, the test pilot said. And that doesn’t sit well with Determan, who fears more Marines may be lost to tragic mishaps as new vulnerabilities come to light.
“Nobody really knows how the airframe is going to react when it gets older and older,” Determan said. “Learn from the mistakes and make a better aircraft, and don’t hold back on the cost.”
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.
The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan revealed July 12 he’s been using new rules of engagement that allow his command to deploy American and NATO forces to aid Afghan troops who are on the attack.
The new policy marks a sharp departure from previous authorities for the use of force that restricted U.S. and allied combat power to last ditch efforts to save Afghan troops from defeat.
Afghan mission commander U.S. Army Gen. John Nicholson said in a press briefing in Kabul that now U.S. and NATO forces can use airpower and other troops “so that the Afghan Army can assume the offensive against the enemy.”
“As we focused on it this year, we used our in-extremis authorities that we had at the time to help prevent a strategic defeat. … It was in a defensive, reactive kind of manner,” Nicholson said. “With the new authorities that we have now, as of June, we’re able to then provide combat enablers to assist the Afghans … taking the initiative against the enemy and their staging areas.”
The new authority comes on the heels of a stinging Pentagon report that showed special operations forces trying to help Afghan troops fight off a Taliban takeover of Kunduz in 2015 were hamstrung over rules of engagement that left them confused over when they could fight.
According to the report obtained by Reuters, commandos who radioed back for clarification of the ROEs were left hanging by superiors in the rear.
“Sadly, the only sounds audible were the sounds of crickets … though those were hard to hear over the gunfire,” one special operator said in the Pentagon report, according to Reuters.
Nicholson launched a reassessment of the Afghanistan operation, dubbed “Resolute Support Mission,” when he assumed command in February. And in June he was given new authority to help Afghan troops on offense.
In one battle, Nicholson explained he was able to sortie F-16s to strike Taliban positions outside Tarin Kowt to help Afghan forces clear roads cut off by insurgents.
“Since that operation … we’re using our new authorities so that the Afghan army can assume the offensive against the enemy in Maiwand District, Band-e-Timor area, which is a well-known staging area. So it’s offensive,” Nicholson said.
President Obama announced last week he would keep about 8,500 American troops assigned to Afghanistan to fight the continued Taliban insurgency and fight terrorist groups.
Nicholson said during his press conference that about 3,000 U.S. troops would be assigned to continue training and advising Afghan troops, with another 3,300 “enablers,” including helicopter and fixed wing aircraft crews, assigned to give the Afghans a little extra combat punch.
The force also includes about 2,150 troops dedicated to the counterterrorism mission and about 400 troops based in other countries but helping with the Resolute Support mission.
A terrorist suspect involved in the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the United States consulate and an annex used by the Central Intelligence Agency in Benghazi, Libya, was captured and handed over to the custody of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The attack left four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, dead.
According to a report by FoxNews.com, Mustafa al-Imam was captured somewhere in Libya on Oct. 29, 2017. The terrorist will not be going to Guantanamo Bay, but instead will be prosecuted by the Justice Department. A statement by President Trump noted that the capture operation was carried out by “United States forces.”
“I want to thank our law enforcement, prosecutors, intelligence community, and military personnel for their extraordinary efforts in gathering evidence, interviewing witnesses, and tracking down fugitives associated with the attack, capturing them, and delivering them to the United States for prosecution,” Trump said in the statement.
The attack by the terrorist group Ansar al-Sahria on the 11th anniversary of 9/11 also killed two former SEALs serving as contractors, Glen Doherty and Tyrone S. Woods, and a career foreign service officer, Sean Smith. The attack was dramatized in the John Krazinski film 13 Hours.
In 2014, U.S. Army commandos, believed to be from Delta Force, captured Ahmed Abu Khattala, the commander of Ansar al-Sharia forces in the Benghazi area. Khatalla, whose trial began earlier this month, was described by federal prosecutors in Washington, D.C., as the mastermind of the Benghazi attack who “got others to do his dirty work.”
Trump vowed to continue the hunt for those responsible for the attack, saying, “To the families of these fallen heroes: I want you to know that your loved ones are not forgotten, and they will never be forgotten.”
“Our memory is deep and our reach is long, and we will not rest in our efforts to find and bring the perpetrators of the heinous attacks in Benghazi to justice,” he added.
Iran’s only female Olympic medalist says she has permanently left the country, posting a lengthy Instagram post that begins with “Should I start with hello, goodbye, or condolences?”
Kimia Alizadeh, 21, cited the country’s treatment of women, including her, as the main force driving her defection to Europe. Alizadeh earned a bronze medal in the taekwondo 57-kilogram weight class at the 2016 Summer Olympics and won a silver medal at the 2017 World Taekwondo Championships.
On Thursday, Iran’s state-run news media reported that Alizadeh had defected to the Netherlands, according to RadioFreeEurope, which added that she was expected to still try for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo with a different country’s team.
Alizadeh didn’t specify in her Instagram post where she was or what her future athletic plans were, though she did say her only concerns at the moment were taekwondo, her security, and a healthy and happy life.
“I am one of the millions of oppressed women in Iran, who have been playing with me for years,” Alizadeh wrote, according to an English translation. “They took me wherever they wanted. Whatever they said, I wore. Every sentence they ordered, I repeated.”
She also accused the Iranian government of exploiting her athletic success while condemning her as a woman, writing, “They put my medals on the obligatory veil and attributed it to their management and tact.”
Confirmation of her departure comes days after Saturday’s protests in Iran, after the government acknowledged it accidentally shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane that took off from Tehran, killing 176 people.
Alizadeh also said she had not been invited to defect to Europe but would “accept the pain and hardship of homesickness” over what she said was the “corruption and lies” in Iran.
“My troubled spirit does not fit into your dirty economic channels and tight political lobbies,” she wrote. “None of us matter to them.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
This post is reprinted with permission from NationSwell, new digital media company focused on American innovation and renewal.
When Eli Williamson returned from two deployments to the Middle East, his hometown of Chicago felt at times like a foreign battleground, the memory of desert roads more familiar than Windy City central thoroughfares. As he relearned the city, Williamson noticed a strange similarity between veterans like himself and the young people growing up in tough parts of Chicago. Too many had witnessed violence, and they had little support to cope with the trauma.
Applying the timeworn principle of leaving no soldier, sailor, airman or marine behind, Williamson co-founded Leave No Veteran Behind (LNVB), a national nonprofit focused on securing education and employment for our warriors. Williamson formed the organization based on “just real stupid” and “crazy” idealism: “You know what?” he says. “I can make a difference.” Since work began in 2008, with a measly operating budget of $4,674 to help pay off student loans, LNVB has eliminated around $150,000 of school debt and provided 750 transitional jobs, Williamson says.
“Coming out of the military, every individual is going to have his or her challenges,” says Williamson, who served as a psychological operations specialist and an Arabic linguist in Iraq in 2004 and in Afghanistan in 2007. “We’ve seen veterans with substance abuse issues, homelessness issues.” Additionally, at least one in five veterans suffer from PTSD, and almost 50,000 are homeless and 573,000 are unemployed.
Williamson started the group with his childhood friend Roy Sartin. They first met in high school, when they joined choir and band together. “I think we’ve been arguing like old women every since,” Williamson says. Both joined the U.S. Army Reserves while at Iowa’s Luther College and were mobilized to active duty during their senior year after the Twin Towers fell. Williamson finished his education at the Special Warfare Training Center at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, while Sartin put his learning on hold.
Upon return, both struggled with crippling interest rates on their student loans. Sartin received a call from the loan company saying that he needed to make a $20,000 payment. “Although I had the funds, it was just enough to get myself back together. So, for me, the transition wasn’t as tough, but I was one of the lucky ones.” Williamson got a bill for $2,200 only 22 days before the balance was due. Desperate, he took to the streets playing music to cover the costs.
After talking with other vets, the two realized that many didn’t qualify for the military’s debt repayment programs. That’s when they started going out to financial sources for “retroactive scholarships” for our country’s defenders. And they sought employment opportunities for former military members to help cover the rest.
Jobs and debt relief for our nation’s warriors are the main focus of LNVB, but the group oversees several initiatives, including S.T.E.A.M. Corps, which pairs vets with science, technology, engineering, arts, and math experience with at-risk youth. More than 200 students have graduated from S.T.E.A.M., but Williamson, director of veteran affairs at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, points to a more intangible benefit of his non-profit’s work: the ability for veterans “to articulate a larger vision of themselves … is our advocacy mission,” he says.
“Veterans can paint a vision for where our country needs to be, and the only reason we can do that is because you realize that you are part of something larger than yourself,” Williamson adds. “That’s a fundamental value that veterans can share, as they leave military, with the communities that they come back to.” For those who’ve just returned home from Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, in other words, service is just beginning.
But while the markets may have seen violent swings in the immediate aftermath of the vote to leave, the longer-term political ramifications of a Brexit are interesting to consider, too.
Earlier in the day, Eurasia Group President Ian Bremmer tweeted that the Brexit is “the most significant political risk the world has experienced since the Cuban Missile Crisis.”
When asked to explain what he meant by that comparison, Bremmer told Business Insider in an email: “Yes it’s a significant shock for the near term. But it’s the tipping point it reflects longer term that really matters. Much, much more G-Zero.”
The term “G-Zero world,” coined by Bremmer and political scientist David F. Gordon, refers to a power-vacuum world in which “major powers set aside aspirations for global leadership – alone, coordinated, or otherwise – and look primarily inward for their policy priorities.”
In this kind of environment, global governance institutions become confrontational hotspots, and, as a result, economic growth and efficiency slows.
As for the Brexit, it has “enormous long-term and structural impact” and “critically undermines the Transatlantic Alliance – the most important alliance in the postwar era,” Bremmer said.
It “sharply weakens and probably leads to eventual disintegration of the UK” and “also ends further EU integration,” he said, “while the Brits need to be maximally punished by EU countries to ensure there isn’t a path for further exit.”
For what it’s worth, Bremmer isn’t the only one who warned of long-term political ramifications of a Brexit, including less EU integration going forward.
Ahead of the Brexit vote, a Citi Global Economics research team led by Ebrahim Rahbari, Willem Buiter, and Tina M. Fordham expressed similar sentiments in a note:
“We are very skeptical that the Eurozone and EU would respond to Brexit with attempts to deepen integration in the near-term. … Opposition to further European integration is fairly widespread across EU countries, both north and south and both debtor and creditor countries. We would therefore mostly expect a ‘freeze’ in terms of integration even though some areas may well see further headway (e.g. for existing initiatives in various areas, including banking union, capital markets union or energy union or some movement towards a Eurozone chamber in the European Parliament).”
Similarly, earlier in the week, a Deutsche Bank research team argued that in light of upcoming European elections and ongoing large-scale economic and political challenges like the migrant crisis, Europe is unlikely to see deeper coordination:
“Beyond the immediate risk events of the Brexit referendum and Spain election, geopolitical agenda remains in focus. This backdrop makes policy progress very unlikely as domestic politics drive the agenda [leading to] limited room for country-level structural reform [and] little progress toward EU or eurozone reform or integration.”
The team added that “policy uncertainty is and will remain high,” and noted that policy uncertainty in Europe is now around 2011-12 levels comparable to those during the height of the eurozone crisis.
Somewhere in southern Afghanistan, an explosive ordnance disposal technician spots a glint in the soft dirt. He moves deliberately, but steadily, as he tries to determine if it’s a harmless piece of trash or a bomb. In the back of his mind, the technician can’t help but wonder if this will be the improvised explosive device that kills him.
Since 2003 similar missions have taken the lives of 20 Air Force EOD technicians, when Airmen began diffusing bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan.
With combat missions winding down, EOD is now able to divert attention to its nine other mission sets: aerospace systems and vehicle conventional munitions, weapons of mass destruction, nuclear inventory, UXOs, operational range clearances, mortuary services, defense support for civil authorities, irregular warfare (where EOD teams serve as combat enablers for general forces or special operations), and VIP support.
As the career field shifts into a post-war posture they’re refocusing on these other skill sets. One of these they used to support the Secret Service when two teams from the 325th Civil Engineer Squadron’s EOD flight at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, worked President Barack Obama’s trip to Orlando, Florida, after the nightclub massacre where 49 people were killed in June. The Secret Service tasked EOD teams to sweep venues for explosives, areas en route to the venues, or on any person or object that could be used to harm the president or VIPs they’re protecting.
“For so many years, we have been going 150 mph,” said Senior Master Sgt. Robert K. Brown, 325th CES EOD superintendent, “so when you slow down to 85 mph, you feel like you’re crawling, even though you’re still going faster than most other people on the highway. We’d been doing that for the 12 years of combat operations, and now I think we feel we’re at a snail’s pace.”
Post-war life at the Tyndall AFB flight, one of 52 active-duty EOD flights Air Force-wide, ranges from responding to flares that wash up on the beach after being dropped by the Navy to mark items in the ocean to the occasional unexploded ordnance. The flight is responsible for assessing, rendering inert or safely destroying everything from small arms to guided missiles, although any EOD flight could be called upon to handle anything explosive in nature up to and including a nuclear incident.
The 325th EOD flight’s primary mission is flightline support for the wing’s four fighter squadrons, but it also provides counter-IED support for several tenant organizations.
By the time EOD Airmen left Afghanistan in 2014, they had completed almost 20,000 missions, responded to over 6,500 IEDs, and received more than 150 Purple Hearts for their actions and service in Iraq and Afghanistan. They also deployed often, with a third of the service’s 1,000 EOD members overseas and another third in pre-deployment training preparing to replace them, Brown said. At times the pace was so heavy that EOD Airmen would often be replaced by the same person who replaced them on their last deployment.
“For some of us old-timers in this particular generation, we’ve had a chance to kind of breathe,” Brown said. “In doing so, that’s given us the opportunity to regroup, restock and prepare for the next iteration of conflict that may or may not be coming. So right now is the best time to share the experiences and prepare the next generation for the hard lessons that we’ve had over these past 12 years.”
The two wars might be over, but EOD remains one of the Air Force’s most dangerous jobs. In addition to the 20 EOD technicians lost in the two wars, about 150 have suffered extensive injuries. It is a continuing evolving because of the constantly changing tactics of the enemy.
“The enemy is always going to try to continually be better than us, so we have to ensure that we never sleep in preparation for any force that we’re going to encounter,” said Chief Master Sgt. Neil C. Jones, the EOD operations and training program manager with the Air Force Civil Engineer Center at Tyndall AFB. “We don’t have the opportunity to make a mistake, so we train relentlessly to never get it wrong.”
During the transition, which has begun gradually in the past couple of years, the focus has been on getting everyone back from deployments and training them in the other nine skill sets to reestablish pre-OIF levels of proficiency. But equally important is the challenge of reducing attrition rates during EOD technical training without lowering the standards, Jones said.
EOD students first attend a 20-day preliminary school at Sheppard AFB, Texas, before they go through the Naval School EOD at Eglin AFB, Florida. An average school day is more than 13 hours, and it takes several years for a student to become a fully functional EOD member and a couple of years longer to be a team leader. About 75 percent of students fail to make it through the course.
Two recent changes to reduce attrition rates are the use of computer tablets for rehabilitation training and the addition of a couple of wounded warrior EOD technicians to help students at the school.
Derrick Victor, a retired technical sergeant who was wounded in his last deployment to Afghanistan when a bomb blast killed one Airman and hurt four others, is one of the new instructors. He’s seen the career field evolve through the wars and is now part of its post-war transition.
“Those two wars obviously changed the way that wars are fought as far as being on the ground and in third-world countries where they have to improvise,” Victor said. “It created a bit of a change from being based on supporting aircraft to things that were improvised. We got very good at that skill set, using robotics and working out all of that kind of stuff.
“Even though those two wars have dwindled down, we know that threat is not going to go away,” he continued. “So, as a whole, the career field is trying to keep that skill set rolling through the generations from those of us for who all we knew was Iraq and Afghanistan to all of these young kids coming fresh out of school, so they don’t have to learn on the fly like we did.”
EOD leadership is also placing a priority on training when Airmen get to their flights after graduation. Because the consequences of mistakes are so severe, the goal is to have those mistakes made in training, Brown said.
“I often refer to it as ‘the good, the bad, the ugly and the stupid,'” he said. “That just refers to what went right, what went wrong, what worked that probably shouldn’t have and what did we do that was just plain dumb, which happens in training. That’s OK as long as we learn lessons from it. But it’s not OK if it’s unsafe. Those are sometimes the hardest parts to learn. We want to make sure that if these guys (make a mistake) in training, they don’t do it when it’s for real. Explosives don’t care about peacetime or wartime.”
Another factor that’s evolving is the way the EOD field trains to recover from both emotional and physical trauma. More emphasis is being placed on instilling resiliency before something happens to an EOD technician in the field, Jones said.
Along with the cultural shift from the war years, the field has also been making major transitions in technology. The robot EOD technicians used in Afghanistan has been replaced by, among others, the Micro Tactical Ground Robot. The world’s lightest EOD robot can be carried by a single Airman, travel at 2 mph, climb stairs and see beyond 1,000 feet. Airmen previously carried 100-pound robots attached to their rucksacks. The new 25-pound robot can be carried on their backs.
“The technology advances that we have out there with the global economy, and more importantly, being able to make things lighter, faster and stronger, have allowed us to develop new tools and techniques and robotic platforms that are much smaller, lighter and leaner than what we had 14 years ago,” Jones said.
Technological progress hasn’t just been in robotics. There has also been a dramatic change in treating traumatic injuries downrange.
“I think one of the biggest things that we’ve seen as far as technology has been in the medical arena. We have changed the way we treat people for trauma,” Jones said. “If we can stop the bleeding downrange and get that Airman alive into a helo and back to a field surgical team, we’re running about a 98 percent success rate of saving their lives. So as our enemy continues to develop with technology to use against us, we will continually use our technology to develop a better way to take care of that threat.”
As much as life changes after years of war, one area that remains constant is the role tragic events play in training new EOD technicians. As sobering as the memories are of losing members of the EOD family, their sacrifice provided important training lessons.
“What our fallen have done is the same as our World War II EOD bomb disposal predecessors – with very brave men going down and disarming German rockets and bombs,” Brown said. “If they made a mistake, we would then know not to take that step, that last step. Unfortunately, a lot of bomb disposal techs died that way, but our fallen have taught us how to be better at this craft; they have never failed.”
A CIA K-9 unit left “explosive training material” on a school bus in Virginia after a routine training exercise last week, according to a statement posted on the agency’s website.
In a monumental error, the bus was used to transport children on Monday, March 28th, and Tuesday, March 29th, with the explosive material still sitting under the hood, according to the statement.
The CIA and the Loudon County Sheriff’s Office stressed that the children were not in any immediate danger.
“The training materials used in the exercises are incredibly stable and according to the CIA and Loudoun County explosive experts the students on the bus were not in any danger from the training material,” the Loudon County Sheriff’s office told The Washington Post.
The CIA placed the explosive material — a putty — under the hood of the school bus and in locations around a local school to test a dog’s ability to sniff it out. The dog successfully found the material, but some of it fell deeper into the engine compartment and became wedged beneath the hoses. The material was found when the bus was taken in for a routine inspection, after ferrying 26 children to school, reports The Washington Post.
The CIA said it will take “immediate steps to strengthen inventory and control procedures in its K-9 program,” and “conduct a thorough and independent review” of its procedures, according to the statement.
“We’re all very upset by what happened, but we’re going to review everything that did happen,” Wayde Byard, the Loudon County schools spokesman told The Washington Post. “Obviously we’re concerned. The CIA really expressed its deep concern and regret today, and it was sincere.”