An influential Iraqi Shiite cleric on Dec. 11 urged his fighters to hand state-issued weapons back to the government, following Iraq’s declaration of victory against the Islamic State group.
In a speech broadcast on Iraqi television, Muqtada al-Sadr also called on his forces to hand over some territory to other branches of Iraq’s security forces, but said his men would continue to guard a holy Shiite shrine in Samarra, north of Baghdad.
Al-Sadr commands one of several mostly Shiite militias that mobilized after IS militants swept across northern and central Iraq in the summer of 2014. The paramilitaries are state-sanctioned and officially under the command of the prime minister, but have their own chains of command.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory over IS in a national address on Dec. 9, after Iraqi forces drove the militants from their last strongholds in the western desert.
Al-Sadr, the scion of a revered Shiite clerical family, commanded a powerful militia that battled U.S. troops in the years after the 2003 invasion. His fighters are today known as the Peace Brigades, and are part of the Popular Mobilization Forces, the official name of the mostly Shiite militias allied with the government.
During his address Dec. 11, al-Sadr warned members of the paramilitary forces against participating in elections scheduled for May.
Ever since the first details were released about a stealth helicopter being used and crashing during the 2011 Navy SEAL raid that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden, the internet aviation community has been awash with great interest and speculation about the aircraft. Recently, an image of what looks to be a forerunner for the stealth Black Hawk used in the raid surfaced online.
The internet community was quick to perform a visual autopsy on the image and scrutinize it for telling details that might reveal hidden secrets about the enigmatic project. One highly respected and anonymous contributor shared as many explicit details, the type that can only come from firsthand knowledge, as they could without breaching an NDA.
According to this source, the aircraft pictured is a YEH-60A at Edwards Air Force Base in 1989 or 1990. The helicopter is allegedly sporting a “Direction Finding Enhancement Kit”, of which a half dozen were produced. The kit reportedly also featured additional components like tail modifications that do not appear in the picture. This is consistent with the fact that the tail rotor of the crashed Black Hawk from the OBL raid was heavily modified and resembled the tail rotor of the canceled RAH-66 Comanche stealth helicopter.
The tail rotor of the wreckage left behind from the raid (Public Domain)
The anonymous source goes on to detail that those involved in the program nicknamed the aircraft the “Black Blackhawk.” In keeping with its spectral name, the test team took a picture with the helicopter which the source had double exposed with them in and out of the photo. “We all looked like ghosts. This would be a real head-turner on the contest table,” the source said.
At the same time that the “Black Blackhawk” was being tested at Edwards, the Lockheed YF-22 was being tested out of a hangar not too far away. The helicopter can reportedly be seen in some photos of the YF-22 flight test operations. Allegedly, the Lockheed engineers were bewildered when they first saw the YEH-60A with its kit.
At one point, despite the secretive test site, the helicopter’s test pilots had to take off one hour before sunrise and arrive back at Edwards one hour after sunset so that the aircraft would not be observed. Even this was a loosened restriction since the aircraft allegedly had to fly exclusively at night when it first began testing.
While the modern MH-60L Direct Action Penetrators flown by the US Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment are not pictured with any sort of stealth kit, the wreckage of the OBL raid helicopter and the release of this image are proof that the technology is out there and has been for some time.
On April 13, 1943, Nazi Germany announced the discovery of a series of mass graves containing the bodies of thousands of Polish officers who had been arrested and then executed by the Soviet Army. Seventy-five years later, the Katyn massacre is still a sensitive issue between Poland and Russia.
It should come as a surprise to no one that the men and women who fought for the United States are the ones who care most about how it’s run — and the people who run it. For the third year in a row, American military veterans are shown to volunteer, assist neighbors, join civic groups, vote, and engage public officials at rates higher than non-veterans.
The finding comes as a result of the 2017 Veterans Civic Health Index, a study conducted in cooperation with Got Your 6, a veteran’s empowerment nonprofit designed to encourage and enable veterans to continue serving in their local communities while fostering greater cultural changes in the United States, and the National Conference on Citizenship, a Congressionally-chartered national service project dedicated to strengthening civic life.
Civic health, defined as a community’s capacity to work together to resolve collective problems, has been shown to positively impact local GDP, public health, upward income mobility, and has other benefits that strengthen communities. By releasing this annual study, Got Your 6 and its partners aim to eliminate common misconceptions about veterans, while highlighting the civic strength of America’s returning servicemen and women.
The study found that veterans are what it calls “the strongest pillar of civic health” in the United States and calls on the country to adjust the way it frames veteran reintegration. Consistent with Got Your 6’s mission, the study aims to help in changing the perception of veteran transition from one of a series of challenges to the opening of a potential source of leadership and training.
Significant findings from the study include:
(2017 Veterans Civic Health Index)
73.8 percent of veterans always or sometimes vote in local elections versus 57.2 percent of non-veterans.
(2017 Veterans Civic Health Index)
Veteran volunteers serve an average of 177 hours annually – more than four full work weeks. Non-veteran volunteers serve about 25% fewer hours annually. Delivering critical services to a community without regard for wages or reward is a vital service to local areas in the United States.
In this, specifically, the female veteran population goes above and beyond the call of duty.
(2017 Veterans Civic Health Index)
In terms of involvement, 11.5 percent of veterans have attended a public meeting in the last year versus 8.3 percent of non-veterans. The rate at which veterans belong to a local or national civic association was significantly higher as well. These groups can have a large collective impact on American communities.
(2017 Veterans Civic Health Index)
Some 10.5 percent of veterans worked with their neighbors to fix community problems, compared to 7.7 percent of non-veterans. But engagement goes beyond fixing problems, it’s also about stopping them before they start — something veterans are proactive in doing.
More than that, engaging one’s community forms the bonds that can bring people together in good times and in bad. Veterans who transition from the military tends to miss the closeness and brotherhood aspects of their service, leading them to more often reach out within communities.
(2017 Veterans Civic Health Index)
It should also come as no surprise that the youngest generation of veterans (23.4 percent of all veterans are younger than 50) is a diverse one, inclusive of more females (one in six) and ethnic minority groups. The United States, as a whole, is becoming more diverse and the veteran population is a reflection of that diversity.
As a subset of U.S. population (just nine percent of Americans are veterans), vets are more likely to lend a hand to their neighbors and fellow citizens, leading the charge in recovery operations for the multitude of natural disasters that affected the U.S. in 2017.
With these numbers, we can reasonably expect veterans to continue being at the forefront of civic action in American communities. This is the country veterans earned through hard work and, in some cases, sacrifice. The maintenance of the nation understandably means a great deal to this relatively small group of Americans.
If the result of this study predict a trend for the future, the country is in good hands.
The 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment is unique in the annals of airborne history. It was one of only two parachute regiments to fight in the Pacific during World War II and the only one still active today.
Paratroopers from The Rock Regiment land on Corregidor, 1945. (Photo from U.S. Army Signal Corps)
Throughout the war in the Pacific, the 503rd fought independently, first as a regiment and then as a regimental combat team.
After arriving in the Pacific in December 1942, the 503rd conducted the first combat jump in the Pacific in New Guinea on Sept. 5, 1943. A second jump occurred on the island of Noemfoor in July 1944.
The 503rd then joined in the effort to liberate the Philippines from the Japanese landing on the island of Leyte.
A combat jump onto the island of Mindoro was called off due to inadequate launch-capable airfields. Instead, the 503rd conducted an amphibious assault landing alongside the 19th Infantry Regiment. After two days of fighting, the small island was secured.
The island of Corregidor, known as “The Rock” to the Americans, posed serious challenges for an assaulting force.
For one, the island had formidable defenses and a strong garrison. While the Americans had intimate knowledge of the layout of the island (they did build it, after all), they knew how difficult it would be to overtake.
Second, the island was rather small and the only suitable area for a parachute drop was on a portion known as “Topside.” This meant that the paratroopers of the 503rd would literally be landing right on top of the Japanese. To make matters worse, any misdrops – a common occurrence among World War II combat jumps – would put the paratroopers right in the ocean.
With all this in mind, the men of the 503rd Regimental Combat Team boarded aircraft early on the morning of Feb. 16, 1945 and headed towards The Rock.
Also heading towards Corregidor was the 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment that would conduct a simultaneous, amphibious assault of the island in coordination with the airborne operation.
At 0830, after several hours or naval and aerial bombardment, the first paratroopers exited aircraft over the two drop zones.
Due to the exceedingly small and narrow drop zones, the aircraft were unable to drop a full stick at one time and had to fly in two single-file columns. This meant that the aircraft had to wheel around and make multiple passes in order to successfully put their loads of paratroopers on The Rock.
To make matters worse, high winds over the drop zone blew the descending paratroopers off course and over the cliffs of the island. PT boats patrolling the area would later rescue nine paratroopers stranded on the island’s cliffs.
Eventually, the jumpmasters discovered that only at a height of 400 feet and with a five second delay upon entering the drop zone, could they successfully land the stick on target.
Once they were on target however, their problems had just begun.
Thanks to the bombardment, the Japanese took shelter in the caves and the element of surprise was retained. However, several paratroopers were killed when they landed right on top of Japanese positions.
Further complicating things, the plan called for three lifts to get all of the Regimental Combat Team onto the island. Multiple lifts over such small drop zones meant the second lift was jumping into already crowded areas. Some troopers reported that they were more likely to be hit by a fellow jumper or door bundle coming in than by the Japanese.
Although the landings were relatively unopposed, the action soon picked up, especially around an area known as Wheeler Point.
Shortly after landing in the area, Pvt. Lloyd McCarter conducted the first of three heroic actions on The Rock which would earn him the Medal of Honor.
When his unit came under fire from a Japanese machine gun, McCarter single-handedly rushed 30 yards across the bullet-swept area and destroyed the emplacement with hand grenades.
With his unit dealing with a full-on frontal assault by a Japanese Special Landing Force, McCarter noticed a force attempting to flank his position. He moved to an exposed position and engaged them. When his Thompson became unserviceable, he returned to friendly lines to retrieve a BAR. When that became too hot, he discarded it for an M1 Garand. He fired that weapon until the operating rod broke.
As dawn broke and the attack was dissipating, McCarter was shot through the chest. His comrades retrieved him and he was evacuated from the island, credited with killing over 30 Japanese during the attack.
The battle for The Rock would last another eight days before the island was declared secure. With the help of the 34th Infantry, the 503rd was able to seal off or expel the Japanese from the complex of caves and tunnels running throughout Corregidor.
The 503rd suffered some 169 men killed in action and another 531 wounded. The 34th suffered 38 killed and 153 wounded. The combined force, known as The Rock Force, inflicted well over 6,000 casualties on the Japanese defenders.
For their daring assault on the island, the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation and has henceforth been known as “The Rock Regiment.”
General Douglas MacArthur returned to the island on March 7 and ordered the American flag hoisted over the island.
After World War I, there was a consensus that the airplane had a place in warfare, but the different missions they would be used for was still a matter of debate. Colonel Billy Mitchell, a World War I air commander, believed that control of the air would matter a lot in future warfare.
According to a biography at the website of the National Museum of the Air Force, Mitchell spent time after the war arguing his case – often alienating many senior officers in the process. So, despite the fact that Mitchell had led over 1,400 planes during the Battle of St. Mihiel, won control of the air, and devastated German forces, not many people were willing to listen to the air warrior.
In one case, Mitchell considered the effect air power could have on the huge, lumbering ships of enemy navies. Many higher ups blocked his proposed tests to prove his theory but he got the chance to show what air power could do to ships partially due to the Washington Naval Treaty of 1921, which called for the United States to scrap or otherwise dispose of large portions of the United States Navy.
The Navy had tried to block Mitchell with a rigged test involving the old battleship USS Indiana (BB 1), but Congress found out about the way the Navy rigged it, and ordered new tests.
So the Navy agreed to let planes drop bombs on the obsolete battleships USS Virginia (BB 13), USS New Jersey (BB 16), USS Alabama (BB 8), and Ostfriesland.
The first of these ships to face Mitchell’s bombers was the Ostfriesland on July 20, 1921. According to an official U.S. Navy history, Mitchell’s planes dropped a number of smaller bombs – scoring some hits. The real damage was being done by near-misses, which started flooding. The next day, further attacks were made with bigger bombs, and the Osfriesland sank after a number of near-misses.
The next attack was on the old battleship USS Alabama on September 25, 1921. A series of bombs scored hits, but while one 1,000 pound bomb and one 2,000 pound bomb did a lot of damage, the real killing effect came from five near-misses, which caused Alabama to sink. On Sept. 5, 1923, Mitchell’s bombers would sink the battleships USS Virginia and USS New Jersey.
The results, though, didn’t completely sway high-ranking officials. When Mitchell made intemperate remarks after the loss of the Navy dirigible Shenandoah, he was court-martialed and dismissed from the Army. He would die in 1936, five years before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Below is video from Mitchell’s 1921 and 1923 tests. Take a look and see a preview of what planes would do to ships in World War II.
The US Army wants a cannon that can fire a round over 1,000 miles, with the aim to blow a hole in Chinese warships in the South China Sea should a conflict occur, according to Army senior leadership.
“You can imagine a scenario where the Navy feels that it cannot get into the South China Sea because of Chinese naval vessels, or whatever,” Secretary of the Army Mark Esper revealed Jan. 23, 2019, “We can — from a fixed location, on an island or some other place — engage enemy targets, naval targets, at great distances and maintain our standoff and yet open the door, if you will, for naval assets or Marine assets.”
The Army, relying heavily on the newly-established Army Futures Command, is undergoing its largest modernization program in decades, and it is doing so with a renewed focus on China and Russia, the foremost threats to US power in the National Defense Strategy.
A key priority for the new four-star command is Long-Range Precision Fires, a team which aims to develop artillery that can outrange top adversaries like Russia and China.
Soldiers fire 155 mm rounds using an M777 Howitzer weapons system.
(U.S. Army photo by Evan D. Marcy)
“Our purpose is to penetrate and disintegrate enemy anti-access and area-denial (A2/AD) systems, which will enable us to maintain freedom of maneuverability as we exploit windows of opportunity,” Col. John Rafferty, head of the LRPF cross-functional team, explained to reporters in October 2018.
The Chinese and Russians have made significant advancements in the development of effective stand-off capabilities. Now, the Army is trying to turn the tables on them.
“You want to be outside the range that they can hit you,” Esper told Task Purpose Jan. 23, 2019.
“Why was the spear developed? Because the other guy had a sword. A spear gives you range. Why was the sling developed? Because the spear closed off the range of the sword,” he explained. “You want to always have standoff where you can strike without being struck back. That’s what extended-range cannon artillery gives us.”
An M777A2 155 mm howitzer.
(Photo by Lance Cpl. Katelyn Hunter)
The ERCA is an ongoing project that may eventually create opportunities for the development of a supergun with the ability to fire a round over 1,000 miles. The extended-range cannon artillery currently has a range of 62 miles, which is already double the range of the older 155 mm guns.
The Army is also looking at adapting current artillery for anti-ship warfare.
During the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercises in 2018, Army soldiers fired multiple rockets from High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) at the ex-USS Racine during a combined arms sinking exercise. The drill highlighted what a war with China in the Pacific might look like.
China has one of the world’s largest navies, and there is significant evidence that it intends to use its growing military might to drive the US out of the region.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Russia — the country that’s failed to build its super carrier and any meaningful amount of its newest jets or tanks — is now claiming that it’s going to build the world’s first catamaran aircraft carrier, a vessel that would carry an air wing while suffering less drag and costing less than other carriers.
While this effort will likely suffer from the same problems that prevented the construction of the super carrier, it’s still a revolutionary design that’s generating a lot of buzz.
The U.S. has purchased and leased some catamaran ships, but nothing nearly the size of the proposed Russian aircraft carrier. The HSV 2 in the photo has a displacement of less than 5 percent the size of the Russian design.
So, first, let’s explore the highlights. Catamarans are multi-hulled vessels with the hulls in parallel. If you’re unfamiliar, that basically means that if you look at the vessel from the front, you can see a gap right down the middle of the hull near the waterline. The Russian vessel would be a semi-catamaran, so there would be a gap, but it would be beneath the waterline.
This greatly reduces drag and makes the vessel more stable while turning, but also reduces the amount of space below the waterline for aircraft storage, living spaces, and so forth.
Russia’s only current carrier is the Admiral Kuznetsov, and it’s less than impressive.
(U.S. Defense Department)
But it would still carry a healthy complement of aircraft, up to 46, including early warning aircraft and helicopters. That’s a far cry from the Ford’s 75 aircraft, but a pretty nice upgrade over the LHAs’ 30+ aircraft.
The catamaran would have an 8,000-mile endurance, anti-torpedo and anti-aircraft defenses, electronic warfare systems, and four bomb launchers.
All-in-all, that could make for an effective and affordable aircraft carrier. So, will Russia be able to crank this ship out, maybe clone it a couple of times, and become the effective master of the seas?
Russia: Mistral replacement? Storm Supercarrier model unveiled in St Petersburg
Well, no. Almost certainly not. First, Russia has the same spending problem it had when it threw a hissy fit after France cancelled the delivery of two Mistral-class amphibious assault ships. Russia responded with designs for the Storm Supercarrier, a ship larger than America’s Ford-class.
Most defense experts at the time weren’t very worried, and we shouldn’t be now. Russia has few personnel with experience building ships of this size. That’s actually why they wanted to buy the Mistral class in the first place — and the Mistral is half the size of this proposed catamaran.
The Soviet Union constructed the bulk of its ships in areas that broke away when the Soviet Union collapsed. Many were built in Ukraine, which now has a troubled relationship with Russia (to put it mildly). Russia lacks the facilities and personnel for such construction.
The PAK-FA/Su-57 is seemingly a capable fighter despite issues with its engines and other developmental hangups, but Russia simply can’t afford to buy them, or to buy a catamaran carrier.
Infographic from Anton Egorov of Infographicposter.com
And then there’s the money. Russia designed a reasonably modern and well-received tank in the T-14 and a good fighter in the PAK-FA, but they couldn’t build many of them because oil, currently, is way too cheap. Russia’s economy is relatively small — actually smaller than that of Texas or California — and it’s heavily reliant on oil sales.
And then there are the glaring flaws of the design. While the catamaran has the advantages mentioned above, it would have serious trouble moving in rough seas, as catamarans have a tendency to dig their bows into waves in rough conditions — and taking waves from the side would likely be even worse.
It’s raining on a Tuesday morning — pretty standard for a Marine physical fitness test — and I know that rain or shine; pull-ups, sit-ups, and a three-mile run are going to happen. I stand, shivering in the pre-dawn drizzle, listening for the sergeant to call me forward. I’m at an about face waiting for my buddy to finish his set of pull-ups. 21… 22… 23… he just hit a perfect score. It’s my turn now. I stretch my arms and take a deep breath.
“Next,” the sergeant calls.
I mount the bar and wait for the signal to start. This isn’t my first PT test, which is a blessing and a curse. I know exactly the number of pull-ups that I need to crank out, but after three deployments, I have no idea how my body is going to respond. I prepare myself for a battle. I start to pull and pull harder. I breathe slow and deep, but then my shoulder pops, an injury left over from my years as a high school pitcher. I gut through the pain to the end. 21… 22… 23… I finish the test with a perfect score, but the pain in my arm will take weeks to heal. I’m qualified by Marines standards but my injury makes me feel anything but ready for war.
Army Major General (Ret.) “Spider” Marks, Board of Advisors for Sparta Science
Just like the legendary King Leonidas and his 300, today’s warriors require strict physical training and discipline to make sure they are ready for any battle. Readiness is exactly the problem that Army Major General (Ret.) “Spider” Marks and his team at Sparta Science are trying to fix. In fact, my PFT injury is much more common than I thought. The Marine Corps estimates that musculoskeletal injuries cost 365,000 lost duty days and 1 million annually.
To help Marines increase their readiness for war, the Marine Corps is turning to some 21st century technology. General Marks is no stranger to hard problems and out-of-the-box thinking. He cut his teeth as an Airborne Ranger and the senior intelligence officer in Iraq. General Marks told We Are The Mighty,
“Every Marine has his or her strengths and weaknesses but we all have to complete the mission. Sparta Science helps to identify those individual weaknesses and provide a training program to make sure you are ready to fight on any mission.”
Dr. Phil Wagner uses the Sparta System.
Sparta Science is the brainchild of Dr. Phil Wagner, a strength coach and former Rugby player who asked himself a simple question, “Can we use technology to increase performance and prevent injuries before they happen?” Dr. Wagner believed the answer not only to be a resounding “yes” but he believed he could also identify potential injuries in a matter of seconds. He’s developed the Sparta System, which first uses a movement assessment (Balance, Plank, Jump) to capture a personalized body scan. The scan is then compared against over a million other assessments and with AI technology, the system can identify areas prone to injury and prescribe personalized training programs to correct weaknesses.
Sparta System dashboard.
The Sparta System is already being deployed among college athletes and even professionals in the NFL, MLB, NHL, and NBA to outstanding results. Not only is the system helping athletes achieve their peak physical performance but it’s also helping prevent injuries that can cost players/teams millions of dollars in medical expenses. General Marks and the Sparta team believe their system can also help military leaders all the way from the top brass to the NCOs on the ground to better leader and prepare their troops for war.
Athletes undergo assessment through the Sparta System.
Imagine that within minutes of completing a Sparta Assessment, your NCO or Platoon leader could have a chart showing your overall readiness score — and any injury risks to your feet, knees, or back. It’s this level of detail that General Marks expects will change the game in military readiness,
“By having access to this kind of information, military leaders can make smarter choices about how to train for war and employ those soldiers once they get there. The Sparta System makes us fight better.”
As this new system continues to be used among various military units, we should expect the ancient Spartan ethos of “the more you train in peace the less you bleed in war” to still apply. However, we can also avoid some preventable risks, like popping shoulders during a PFT.
When asked about the current level of savings for commissary shoppers in an era of sweeping reforms, the interim director of Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA), retired Navy Rear Adm. Robert Bianchi, referred to results of a price comparison survey conducted in 2016 and released in late January 2017.
It showed average savings at commissaries “globally” were 23.7 percent compared to prices at commercial grocery stores. More specifically, patron savings averaged 20.2 percent at stateside commissaries and 44.2 percent overseas.
The same survey also showed average patron savings varied widely across U.S. regions, from a high of 32.6 percent in Alaska and Hawaii to a low near 18 percent for commissary shoppers across the South Central and Mountain states.
Bianchi and staff said it is the regional cost-saving targets that DeCA monitors monthly and, in finer detail, quarterly, to ensure that steps to transform commissaries into more business-like stores are not diluting patron savings.
Price savings by region are being tracked on “a monthly basis via our syndicated data and [on] a quarterly basis via manual shops [of local stores] and using syndicated data,” a DeCA spokesman explained.
The larger price comparison survey released a year ago established a new method for calculating savings that included a proportion of prices for private label or store brands. This irked patron advocacy groups because, at the time, commissaries didn’t sell their own private label goods. The concern was that the timing served to dampen the baseline savings targets set, which DeCA, by law, must sustain forever more.
This occurred long before Bianchi become interim DeCA director in November 2017 to lead commissary transformation while also serving as chief executive of the Navy Exchange Service. Bianchi said he believes the baseline for savings, which use regional price comparisons and private labels, more accurately reflects the real value of the benefit. The previous method, which led to claims that patrons saved more than 30 percent, compared commissary prices against average commercial prices for brand goods only nationwide, ignoring popular private labels.
Steps transforming commissaries include: replacing the traditional cost-plus-a-surcharge pricing with variable pricing based on regional markets; offering DeCA-brand or private label goods as low-priced alternatives to name brands; cutting the assortment of national brands on shelves and negotiating more competitive pricing for surviving brands with brokers and manufacturers.
Patron savings are real and substantial, Bianchi said. “But messaging that, connecting that for the customer, becomes important,” and variable pricing is key.
Commissary savings can get distorted, Bianchi said, when, for example, a shopper walks into a commercial supermarket and the first item seen are bananas selling for 39 cents a pound versus 52 cents seen at the commissary.
“Even though we may be saving them lots of dollars on chicken or other commodities, they get that initial impression and say ‘Hum, am I really saving money or not?’ We know they are. So, part of what I have our team looking at are image items. As we introduce variable pricing, it will give us the capability to compete with those other retailers and manage pricing in the market.”
Patrons need to be made more aware of average savings, Bianchi said.
“So, the part I have to do is message that so they aren’t dissuaded when they see a loss leader item” in a commercial market and think their commissary benefit has lost value. “The value proposition has got to be real and clear to them.”
Readers of last week’s column, which described a sharp decline in commissary sales, reacted with emails. Many blamed falling sales on a perceived narrowing of savings. Other criticized empty shelves and popular items out of stock.
Manufacturers and brokers shared recent scanned sales data from commissaries that, they contend, show variable pricing and private labeling accelerating the sales drop as patrons discover favored brand names are gone.
One industry analysis noted how Duracell batteries were removed from commissaries last year. While sales data show Energizer battery sales climbing, as would be expected, battery sales overall in the commissaries have fallen.
Bianchi said it’s premature to be sounding alarms over variable pricing or the introduction of DeCA brands Home Base, Top Care, and Freedom’s Choice.
Every commissary now has some variably priced items and “initial data suggest customers are responding positively,” Bianchi said. “In fact, we are beginning to get more competitive on the items that are most relevant to our patrons, which we expect will only help our sales performance.
“However, we still have a relatively small portion of the total assortment variably priced.” In mid-January 2018 that total was only 7000 of 38,000 stocked items.
“It is, therefore, too early to draw conclusions about how this will impact commissary-wide sales trends. Initial item-level sales data and customer input make us confident this is the right approach.”
Initial private label results on bottled water, cheese, health care products, paper towels and more also are encouraging, said Bianchi. The goal is to sell 3000 to 4000 items with commissary labels.
“We continue to see sales growth and penetration levels increase, and our customers regularly tell us they are happy to have these low-cost, high-quality alternatives on the shelf. None of the items introduced to date give us any concern for the acceptance of our brands, and we will continue to roll out these products aggressively given the very positive response from patrons.”
In fact, he added, many product categories with private labels “have seen an uptick in sales relative” not seen in product categories without private labels.
Bianchi said he came to DeCA with a lot of retail experience and a fresh set of eyes. He found shortfalls in customer service, expense control and sales planning, all critical for shifting to a profit and loss environment.
“You just have a different perspective” when store expenses are covered by appropriated dollars, he said.
He found commissary shoppers uncomfortable with having baggers handle groceries for tips, Bianchi said, which might explain the popularity of self-checkout.
“How many people carry cash nowadays,” he said. “And if you go to an ATM machine you’re only getting 20s. So, we’re kind of looking at” the bagger issue.
Bianchi said he spent his first months at DeCA focused on patrons, employees and having store partner with commands and local communities. He will turn soon to repairing relationships with brokers and manufacturers who might have felt bulldozed by all the recent changes at commissaries tied to profit and loss.
“Quite honestly, as these initiatives were rolled out, there was probably a lack of transparency, which created some concern and doubt on industry’s part [and] some bad feelings,” said Bianchi. “Some folks are still remaining critical, which I think is a carryover from that.”
Industry reps who also dealt with base exchanges, which have long generated profits, likely were less startled by mindset shift at DeCA, he said.
“The reality is the business model does have to change as we move to a profit and loss environment. We want to create a win-win situation. But I will tell you, from walking floors at commissaries, we [need] an assortment rationalization,” meaning more cuts to the number of brand goods. “So, there may be winners and losers but that’s not any different than the private sector goes through every day.”
Sircaria Coleman deserted her post as a U.S. Army company commander more than five years ago, but her run from the law ended when she walked onto a cruise ship dock in New Orleans this week, authorities said.
Coleman was arrested on the morning of Jan. 29 when the Carnival Triumph set sail on a five-day Caribbean cruise. While documents don’t specify whether the Shreveport native was going on the trip, cruise passengers with outstanding arrest warrants are occasionally captured when they check in for boarding.
According to authorities, Coleman posted bond on Aug. 15, 2012, following an arrest somewhere in Louisiana on unspecified allegations. She never returned to her post in Fort Carson, Colorado, and the Army issued a warrant to arrest Coleman on a charge of military desertion several months later.
Deep within the mountains of Gifu Prefecture, in a small farming village hidden away from the fast-paced city life, the family of a fallen Japanese soldier eagerly waited for the return of a precious heirloom. For the first time in 73 years, the Yasue family can finally receive closure for the brother that never came home from war.
World War II veteran Marvin Strombo traveled 10,000 miles from his quiet home in Montana to the land of the rising sun to personally return a Japanese flag he had taken from Sadao Yasue during the Battle of Saipan in June 1944.
The USMC veteran carried the flag with him decades after his time serving as a scout sniper with 6th Marine Regiment, Second Marine Division. He cared for the flag meticulously and never once forgot the promise he made to Yasue as he took the flag from him in the midst of war.
As a young corporal, Strombo looked up from his position on the battlefield, he noticed he became separated from his squad behind enemy lines. As he started heading in the direction of the squad’s rally point, he came across a Japanese soldier that lay motionless on the ground.
“I remember walking up to him,” said Strombo. “He was laying on his back, slightly more turned to one side. There were no visible wounds and it made it look almost as if he was just asleep. I could see the corner of the flag folded up against his heart. As I reached for it, my body didn’t let me grab it at first. I knew it meant a lot to him but I knew if I left it there someone else might come by and take it. The flag could be lost forever. I made myself promise him, that one day, I would give back the flag after the war was over.”
As years went on, Strombo kept true to his promise to one day deliver the heirloom. It was not until the fateful day he acquainted himself with the Obon Society of Astoria, Oregon, that he found a way to Yasue’s family.
Through the coordination of the Obon Society, both families received the opportunity to meet face-to-face to bring what remained of the Yasue home.
Sadao’s younger brother, Tatsuya Yasue, said his brother was a young man with a future to live. When Sadao was called upon to go to war, his family gave him this flag as a symbol of good fortune to bring him back to them. Getting this flag back means more to them than just receiving an heirloom. It’s like bringing Sadao’s spirit back home.
Tatsuya was accompanied by his elder sister Sayoko Furuta and younger sister Miyako Yasue to formally accept the flag. As Tatsuya spoke about what his brother meant to not only his family, but the other members of the community, he reminisced over the last moments he had with him before his departure.
Tatsuya said his family received permission to see Sadao one last time, so they went to him. He came down from his living quarters and sat with them in the grass, just talking. When they were told they had five more minutes, Sadao turned to his family and told them that it seemed like they were sending him to somewhere in the Pacific. He told them he probably wasn’t coming back and to make sure they took good care of their parents. That was the last time Tatsuya ever spoke to his brother.
As Strombo and Yasue exchanged this simple piece of cloth from one pair of hands to the next, Strombo said he felt a sense of relief knowing that after all these years, he was able to keep the promise he made on the battlegrounds of Saipan.
The reunion also held more emotional pull as it took place during the Obon holiday, a time where Japanese families travel back to their place of origin to spend time with loved ones.
Although Strombo never fought alongside Yasue, he regarded him almost as a brother. They were both young men fighting a war far from home. He felt an obligation to see his brother make it home, back to his family, as he had made it back to his own. Strombo stayed true to his word and honored the genuine Marine spirit to never leave a man behind.