Team Red, White and Blue’s Old Glory Relay involved 59 teams of runners moving an American flag across the country in a 3,450 mile journey that started in San Francisco on September 11 and ended in Washington D.C on November 8.
Team Red, White and Blue is a nonprofit organization based in Tampa, Florida with a mission to enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity. The Old Glory Relay is a one of Team RWB’s signature fundraising events, and it does much to support the mission.
This year’s Old Glory Relay was made up of 1,170 athletes and raised $436,000. The route passed through 13 states, and during the relay runners faced all kinds of terrain and weather conditions.
“This event could not have taken place without the Eagle Fire of our participants and fundraisers, the dedication of our Team RWB staff on the course, the engagement of numerous volunteers across the country…and the unwavering support of our sponsors,” said Dan Brostek, Team RWB’s marketing and communications director. “A heartfelt thanks to our presenting sponsor, Microsoft. A special thanks as well to the Schultz Family Foundation, NoGii, Zignal Labs, RDB Running and the Bob Woodruff Foundation for making this experience a memory to last a lifetime.”
A U.S. Navy commander was sentenced Dec. 1 to 18 months in prison for his role in a fraud and bribery scheme that cost the government about $35 million.
Cmdr. Bobby Pitts, 48, of Chesapeake, Va., was the latest person to be sentenced in connection with a decade-long scam linked to a Singapore defense contractor known as “Fat Leonard” Francis.
Francis bribed Navy officials to help him over-bill the Navy for fuel, food, and other services his company provided to ships docked in Asian ports, according to prosecutors. The bribes allegedly ranged from cash and prostitutes to Cuban cigars and Spanish suckling pigs.
Pitts pleaded guilty in 2015 to charges that alleged he tried to obstruct a federal investigation while in charge of the Navy’s Fleet Industrial Supply Command in Singapore.
In handing down the sentence against Pitts, U.S. District Judge Janis Sammartino told him that he had “betrayed the Navy and betrayed the country,” prosecutors said in a news release.
“Pitts deliberately and methodically undermined government operations and in doing so, diverted his allegiance from his country and colleagues to a foreign defense contractor, and for that, he is paying a high price,” said Adam Braverman, the U.S. Attorney in San Diego.
In addition to his prison sentence, Pitts was also ordered to pay $22,500 in fines and restitution.
Iraqi security forces liberating Mosul from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria have made a gruesome discovery that clearly show what the coalition is fighting against.
That discovery: Two mass graves, with a total of at least 250 bodies.
According to a report by CNN.com, the graves were created by ISIS thugs near the town of Hammam al-Alil — close to where another grave was found on Nov. 7 — with roughly 100 victims of ISIS atrocities.
One of the mass graves was in a well, and contained over 200 bodies.
“Some of the victims were thrown alive by ISIS into this well and some others were left there to die from their injuries,” Ninevah Province Council member Abdulrahamn al Wagga told CNN.
Coalition spokesman Air Force Col. John Dorrian noted that ISIS was putting up fierce resistance in and around Mosul.
“This is neighborhood-to-neighborhood fighting, particularly in the east, and the Iraqi security forces have moved deliberately and exercised a laudable level of restraint … to protect civilian life,” a DoD News article quoted him as saying.
The terrorist group has been known to carry out shocking killings of hostages and prisoners, including the use of beheading in the case of at least two Americans, and burning a captured Jordanian pilot alive.
Civilians caught under ISIS occupation have also been facing horrific treatment. Yazidi women and girls have been forced into sexual slavery, while members homosexuals have been thrown off rooftops.
In other news, the headquarters of Combined Joint Task Force Inherent Resolve reported that a strike in Raqqa, Syria killed a senior leader of the terrorist group. Col. Dorrian made specific mention of this during a press briefing, saying, “His death degrades and delays ISIL’s current plots against regional targets and deprives them of a capable senior manager who provided oversight over many external attacks.”
The Combined Joint Task Force also reported carrying out 60 airstrikes over the last three days, of which 17 were around Mosul. The Mosul-area strikes destroyed or damaged a number of targets, including 11 mortar systems, nine tunnels, four watercraft, six vehicles, while also “suppressing” four tactical units, a tank, and a rocket-propelled grenade system.
The U.S. Navy’s 2016 shipbuilding plan called for 355 ships needed to compete in an increasingly contested international environment. The acting Secretary of the Navy has promised the Navy’s new plan will be complete by Jan. 15, 2020, but by all accounts, the number of ships will be reduced to 304, allotting for the construction of 10 new ships per year, fewer than the 2016 assessment.
Meanwhile, the Chinese Navy is increasing its naval presence – at a massive rate.
The People’s Liberation Army Navy is gearing up for the naval fight of the century, one that will likely happen without ever firing a shot. For control of the contested islands in the South China Sea, the PLAN is going to have to intimidate all the other naval forces of the world, but mostly the United States Navy. While China sees the waters around the Spratly Islands as its sovereign territory, other countries in the neighborhood don’t see it that way. The U.S. Navy, as part of its Freedom of Navigation mission, makes regular trips through these “Chinese waters,” challenging China’s claim to the islands and its territorial sea.
Basically, the U.S. Navy goes to contested sea areas and conducts operations inconsistent with “Innocent Passage,” which would be any action that doesn’t contribute to their quick and hasty movement through the territorial waters. When the U.S. Navy does something like launch planes or helicopters while in the disputed zones, it’s basically telling China, the U.S. doesn’t recognize their claim. In the South China Sea, there are at least two island chains in dispute between the Chinese and their neighbors.
The U.S. doesn’t take sides, but it also doesn’t recognize China’s Excessive Maritime Claims, so it frequently conducts Freedom of Navigation operations – and China hates it.
China’s response to the ongoing Freedom of Navigation operations has been to increase the presence of its deployed military hardware throughout the Spratly and Paracel Islands. It has even moved its vaunted DF-26 Ballistic Missile forces onto the islands in an effort to intimidate the U.S. Navy from continued operations. It has not been successful. China has even put its own ships in the way of the U.S. ships traversing the islands, threatening to stop them with one ship and sink it with another. But that is easier said than done. The United States Navy is the largest and most advanced fleet of ships in the world, with 11 aircraft carrier battle groups and hundreds of ships. It’s a lot to consider fighting.
Unless you also have hundreds of ships.
While the U.S. Navy is planning to build ten ships every year, the Chinese shipyards have been documented building up to nine ships at a time. The photo above shows nine Destroyers under construction, a number that would dwarf the UK’s Royal Navy, who has just six destroyers in service. This is only one yard, captured on social media for the world to see. China just finished its homegrown aircraft carrier, its second, and it boasts a crazy mysterious sailless submarine the United States knows very little about.
One day soon, the U.S. Navy’s intimidating Freedom of Navigation missions might just blow up in its face and it might find a fleet of Chinese ships waiting for it.
The US Air Force’s F-22 Raptor stealth fighter is playing a crucial yet evolving role in air operations over Syria and Iraq.
With advanced stealth technology and powerful sensors, the aircraft is the first coalition plane back in Syrian airspace after a major incident. Such was the case after the US downings of Syrian aircraft this month, as well as the US Navy’s Tomahawk missile strike on al Shayrat air base in April.
Notably missing from the high-profile shoot-downs, the fifth-generation aircraft made by Lockheed Martin Corp. isn’t necessarily showcasing its role as an air-to-air fighter in the conflict. Instead, the twin-engine jet is doing more deconflicting of airspace than dog-fighting, officials said.
“This is a counter-ISIS fight,” said Lt. Col. “Shell,” an F-22 pilot and commander of the 27th Squadron on rotation at a base in an undisclosed location, referring to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. He spoke to Military.com on the condition that he be identified by his callsign.
“ISIS doesn’t have advanced surface-to-air missiles, they don’t have an air force … but we are deconflicting the air space,” Shell said. “Not everyone is on the same frequencies,” he said, referring to the US, Russian, Syrian, and coalition aircraft operating over Syria. “Deconfliction with the Russian air force — that is one of the big things that we do.”
The pilot said the F-22’s ability to identify other aircraft — down to the airframe — and detect surface-to-air missiles and relay their existence to other friendly forces while remaining a low-observable radar profile makes it critical for the fight.
The Raptor is typically flying above other aircraft, though not as high as drones such as the MQ-9 Reaper and other intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft, Shell said.
The F-22, along with the E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System, “has really high fidelity sensors that we can detect when non-coalition aircraft are getting close,” he said, “and we can move the coalition aircraft around at altitude laterally, so that, for example, if a Russian formation or Syrian formation going into the same battlespace to counter ISIS, [they are] not at conflict with our fighters.”
Weapon of Choice: Small Diameter Bomb
Even so, to defend itself in the air and strike targets on the ground, “we carry a mixed load out,” Shell said.
The F-22 wields the AIM-9X Sidewinder missile, the AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile, the laser-guided GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb, and the GPS-guided GBU-32 Joint Direct Attack Munition.
The Small Diameter Bomb is more likely to be used, especially in the counter-ISIS fight in urban areas where the Raptor is conducting precision strikes, Shell said.
“We carry the low collateral damage weapon, the Small Diameter Bomb GBU-39, to precisely strike enemy combatants while protecting the civilian population,” he said. “We also can carry the 1,000-pound JDAM GBU-32 used for targets where there is less-to-little collateral damage concern,” meaning a larger blast for attack.
Location Isn’t ‘Scramble-able’
The Combined Air Operations Center, or CAOC, based in another location, develop the F-22’s mission tasking typically three days out, Shell said. For logistical purposes, all aircraft in theater don’t fly unless the mission is deemed critical, he said.
“Typical maintenance practices will not have every airplane airborne at once,” he said.
In addition, “We’re not in a scramble-able location,” he said. “We’re not [a dozen or so] miles away from the OIR fight — we have to drive.”
Between flying in Iraq and Syria, “there are different rules based on where we’re flying,” Shell said, stopping short of detailing each country’s rules of engagement and flight restrictions. “They’re minor in the technical details.”
‘The Only Thing That Can Survive’
During the Navy’s TLAM strike, “serendipitously,” there were more F-22s in the area of responsibility because some were getting ready to fly home while others were coming in, according to Brig. Gen. Charles Corcoran, commander of the 380th Expeditionary Wing, which houses the F-22 mission in an undisclosed location for Operation Inherent Resolve, the Pentagon’s name for the anti-ISIS campaign.
After incidents like that, “We kind of go to F-22s only — fifth gen only” because “it’s the only thing that can survive in there,” he said, referring to the plane’s ability to fly in contested airspace despite the presence of anti-access aerial denial weapons.
Should Russia paint coalition aircraft with surface-to-air missile systems, “the only thing we’ll put in there is F-22s,” Corcoran said. Leaders will then decide which types of fourth-generation fighter — like an F-16 Fighting Falcon with capable radars — and/or drone can return to the fight, he said. Only later would they allow “defenseless aircraft” such as tankers to circle back through taskings, he said.
“If an F-15 or an F-18 — which is really more of a ground-attack airplane — is busy doing this, they’re not available to do the close air support stuff, so if we [have] got to keep this up, we’re probably going to need some more forces over here that can do their dedicated jobs,” Corcoran said. That includes more “defensive counter air” assets like F-22s so the tactical fighters can drop more bombs “and get after ISIS,” he said.
‘We Can Bring More’
Given the nature of how the US air operation against ISIS has evolved in recent months, Shell acknowledged the possibility that commanders may decide to deploy more F-22s to the area of responsibility.
“The airplanes that we have here, it’s not the maximum we can bring, we can bring more if directed,” he said. With more Raptors in theater, “they would obviously task us more,” he said.
Shell said, “People often call us the quarterback [in the air]. I don’t like that because we’re not always in charge — there is a mission hierarchy … and most of the time it is not the F-22. We enhance the mission commander’s situational awareness by feeding him information based on off our sensors for him or her to make a decision.”
When asked if that meant the stealth fighter works as a “silent partner” gathering intel, he said, “We’re not really silent. We’re pretty vocal.”
Notorious former Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has held talks with government representatives in eastern Afghanistan after years outside the country, his first public meetings with officials from the Western-backed government since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.
The meetings on April 28 came after Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e Islami militant group signed a peace agreement with President Ashraf Ghani’s government in September. Under the deal, he was granted amnesty for past offenses in exchange for ending his violent 15-year insurgency against the government.
The controversial peace deal has been criticized by many Afghans and by Western rights groups, which accuse Hekmatyar’s forces of gross human rights violations during Afghanistan’s civil war in the 1990s and cite their deadly attacks on U.S. and Afghan forces since 2001.
The war in Afghanistan began in 2001 with the aim of removing the Taliban from power. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Dexter S. Saulisbury/Released)
Hekmatyar met on April 28 with Laghman Province Governor Abdul Jabar Naimi and Ghani’s security adviser, Juma Khan Hamdard.
He arrived two days earlier in the province, which lies between Kabul and the border with Pakistan, where he is believed to have been in hiding.
Naimi said Hekmatyar had “promised full cooperation” with the government and added that he hoped the peace deal would “revive hopes for enduring peace in Afghanistan,” according to a statement.
Hekmatyar had been expected to make a public appearance in Laghman on April 28, marked in Afghanistan as the 25th anniversary of the defeat in 1992 of the formerly Soviet-backed government by armed insurgents known as the mujahedin.
But the event was canceled without explanation.
A Hezb-e Islami spokesman told RFE/RL that Hekmatyar’s appearance had been rescheduled for April 29.
Hekmatyar’s supporters have erected large billboards across Kabul in anticipation of his first public appearance.
Hekmatyar founded Hezb-e Islami in the mid-1970s. The group became one of the main mujahedin factions fighting against Soviet forces following their invasion in 1979, and then one of the most prominent groups in the bloody civil war for control of Kabul after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989.
Hekmatyar, a former prime minister under the mujahedin government, was one of the chief protagonists of the internecine 1992-96 war. Rights groups accuse Hekmatyar of responsibility for the shelling of residential areas of Kabul in the 1990s, as well as forced disappearances and covert jails where torture was commonplace.
He was designated as a terrorist by the U.S. State Department in 2003.
Under the peace agreement, Hekmatyar will be granted amnesty for past offenses and certain Hezb-e Islami prisoners will be released by the government. The deal also includes provisions for his security at government expense.
In February, the UN Security Council lifted sanctions on Hekmatyar, paving his way to return to Afghanistan.
The controversial peace deal was a breakthrough for Ghani, who so far has had little to show for his efforts at ending the country’s 16-year war.
While the military wing of the Hezb-e Islami led by Hekmatyar has been a largely dormant force in recent years and has little political relevance in Afghanistan, the deal with the government could be a template for any future deal with fundamentalist Taliban militants who have also fought Kabul’s authority.
U.S. President Donald Trump says Iran’s test-launch of a new ballistic missile shows a landmark nuclear deal over the issue is questionable and that the Middle Eastern country is colluding with North Korea.
“Iran just test-fired a Ballistic Missile capable of reaching Israel. They are also working with North Korea. Not much of an agreement we have!” Trump said in a tweet posted late on September 23.
Iran fired the missile, despite warnings from Washington that it was ready to ditch the agreement with the United States and other world powers.
State broadcaster IRIB carried footage of the test-firing of the Khorramshahr missile, which was first displayed at a high-profile military parade in Tehran on Sept. 22.
“This is the third Iranian missile with a range of 2,000 kilometers,” the broadcaster said as it showed footage on September 23.
State TV did not say when the test had been conducted, although Iranian officials said on September 22 that it would be tested “soon.”
The unveiling of the missile came during a military parade that commemorated the 1980s Iraq-Iran War.
Iranian President Hassan Rohani said during the parade that Tehran will continue its missile program and boost the country’s military capacities, despite Trump’s demand that Iran stop developing “dangerous missiles.”
On Sept. 19, in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly, Trump accused Iran of supporting terrorists and called Tehran’s government a “corrupt dictatorship.”
Trump also called for a harder line against Iran from other members of the United Nations, saying “we cannot let a murderous regime continue these destabilizing activities while building dangerous missiles.”
Referring to Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six world powers, including the United States, Trump said Washington “cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for the eventual construction of a nuclear program.”
Rohani responded to Trump remarks in his own speech to the UN General Assembly on September 20, saying Trump’s speech was “ignorant, absurd, and hateful rhetoric.”
Rohani said Iran will not be the first party in the nuclear accord to violate the agreement.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether Trump had made a final decision to continue complying with the Iran nuclear deal, under which Tehran agreed to curb its nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.
Trump’s administration has twice certified that Iran is complying with its obligations under the accord.
But it also has said that Iran’s missile program violates the spirit of the nuclear agreement.
Washington is due to announce on October 15 whether it considers Iran is still complying with the agreement.
Other signatories to the nuclear accord are Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany.
Washington has imposed unilateral sanctions against Iran, saying Tehran’s ballistic-missile tests violated a UN resolution that endorsed the nuclear deal and called on Tehran not to undertake activities related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.
Tehran insists its missile program doesn’t violate the resolution, saying the missiles are not designed to carry nuclear weapons.
Since his fellow cadets stormed Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium three years ago after Army ended Navy’s 14-game winning streak, Ryan Velez had waited for his chance to play in the storied Army-Navy game.
Velez, now a senior safety from Fountain Hills, Arizona, finally saw action on special teams during last year’s 17-10 Army triumph in Philadelphia.
On Dec. 14, 2019, Velez can help the 5-7 Black Knights defeat Navy for the fourth straight time, and cement the 2020 senior class as one of the greatest in West Point’s history. Army takes on the No. 23 Midshipmen (9-2) at the Philadelphia Eagles’ Lincoln Financial Field at 3 p.m. EST.
“This is like a season of its own,” Velez said of the Army-Navy Game. “That’s unlike any other games in college football … the opportunity to win a trophy and go to the White House. That’s something special. It’s surreal and something I’ll be able to take with me for the rest of my life.”
Army Black Knights football coach Jeff Monken leads the team onto the field for the Army-Navy game in Philadelphia, Dec. 8, 2018.
(Photo by Sean Kimmons)
A high school tailback, Velez moved to defense at West Point and played mostly on the scout team his freshman year. After switching to safety his sophomore year, he still couldn’t get on the field, but finally contributed to Army’s 11-2 campaign as a junior, seeing action in 11 of 13 games.
Velez worked harder in practice and studied diligently to learn the intricacies of both strong and free safety, earning the trust of his coaches.
This fall, Velez has become a leader on defense, recording 40 solo tackles, two interceptions, one forced fumble and a sack in 12 games. Not bad for a player who spent most of his first two seasons on the bench.
“During that time it was hard,” he said. “Obviously taking a backseat, having a secondary role, that was one of those challenges I’ve had to overcome — fight through and I’m glad I did. It’s been a ride; it’s been a journey. I’m just very appreciative to be where I’m at right now.”
A 5-7 mark could seem disappointing for the Army football team after cruising to an 11-2 record last fall and the program’s best finish since 1958.
Records can be deceiving.
Army has proven it can still compete with the nation’s best. Despite the final scores, the results on the field have shown competitiveness.
In each of those seven losses, the Black Knights remained within striking distance, including a near-upset of No. 17 Michigan in Ann Arbor. Army forced overtime against the Wolverines before falling 24-21.
The Black Knights narrowly lost to service rival Air Force 17-13 in Colorado Springs Nov. 2, when the No. 25 Falcons stopped Army at the goal line with less than a minute in regulation.
During a 52-31 offensive shootout at Hawaii Nov. 30, Army trailed only 38-31 with seven minutes remaining in the game. The Black Knights’ drive stalled after driving to the Hawaii 35-yard line and the Warriors scored the final two touchdowns.
“We played a really tough schedule, some really great competition,” Velez said. “All that stuff that happened in the past, that’s gut-wrenching. We can’t focus on that right now. We just got to focus on Navy, finishing out the season strong.”
Army quarterback Kelvin Hopkins, center, scores the final touchdown of the Army-Navy game in Philadelphia, Dec. 8, 2018.
(Photo by Sean Kimmons)
Army’s senior class, which has not lost in the annual rivalry game, hopes to complete a four-year sweep. Senior quarterback Kelvin Hopkins (706 rushing yards, seven TDs) and senior running back Connor Slompka (637 yards, eight TDs) lead Army’s No. 2 rushing attack. Hopkins has also thrown for 570 yards and four touchdowns, but his time on the field has been limited by injuries.
Since head coach Jeff Monken took over, Army bounced back from a 2-10 mark in 2015, to go 21-5 in the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
That run includes a 70-14 trouncing of Houston in the Armed Forces Bowl and finishing at No. 19 in the college football rankings during the 2018 season.
“We had a great senior class my freshman year,” Velez said. “We were able to end the streak. That was something that the whole Army itself was looking forward to, just ending that streak, being able to say we finally beat Navy. That senior class kind of gave us the ground rules for continuing that streak the past couple of years, giving us the formula to beat Navy so they set the example and … we hope to continue that this coming Saturday.”
The contest holds special significance for Velez, as his younger brother Ross, a freshman at the Naval Academy, will be pulling for the Midshipmen from the stands. Velez, whose great uncles served as enlisted troops in the Korean War and World War II, will become the first officer in his family when he graduates from West Point next spring. He said his parents, Roger and Evangeline Velez, will have torn allegiances when they attend this year’s game.
Army faces a No. 23-ranked Navy squad that handed Air Force one of its only two losses this season. Last season Army’s football team won a defensive struggle in frigid winter conditions. In 2018, Army carried a No. 22 ranking and 9-2 record heading into the game while Navy had weathered its worst season since 2002 at 2-9.
This fall, Navy enters the game as the favorite as Army failed to qualify for a bowl game for the first time since 2015.
Navy bounced back from its worst campaign to finish second in the American Athletic Conference and earn a bid to play in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl vs. Kansas State Dec. 31.
This season’s Army-Navy game features a matchup of the nation’s top two rushing offenses. The Midshipmen’s high-powered offense ranks No. 9 in the nation.
Navy quarterback Garret Lewis is sacked during the Army-Navy game in Philadelphia, Dec. 8, 2018.
(Photo by Sean Kimmons)
Senior QB Malcolm Perry leads Navy’s top-ranked rushing attack, as he has rushed for 1,500 yards and 19 touchdowns and thrown for another 1,027 yards and six touchdowns.
While standing only 5-9, the elusive Perry has quickly become one of the nation’s most potent offensive weapons and will test the Black Knights’ No. 30-ranked defense, which has struggled with consistency. Perry ranks No. 6 in the nation in rushing yards.
Sophomore fullback Jamale Carothers has made big play after big play for the Midshipmen, rushing for 637 yards on only 76 carries (8.4 yards per carry) and has 741 yards from scrimmage and 14 total touchdowns. Carothers scored five of those touchdowns in a 56-41 triumph over Houston Nov. 30, one shy of the conference record.
Velez said the Army defense carries a swagger, built from three consecutive victories and weathering a brutal schedule.
“We just have a calmness going into it, we know how to win,” Velez said. “It’s just a blood bath when we go out there. I think going in we have some confidence, we have some swagger. We know what it takes to win. At the end of the day, we just got to line up, be a tougher team and out-physical them.”
Navy still holds a 60-52-7 all-time lead in the contest, though Army has won the last three matchups.
While Army’s defense had been a stalwart force the previous two seasons, it has struggled at times this season. In 2018, the Black Knights boasted the nation’s 10th best defense, allowing only 17.7 points a game and 295.3 yards of total offense per contest.
This fall those numbers jumped to 337.8 yards allowed and the Black Knights fell to No. 30 in total yards allowed, and No. 33 in points allowed.
Senior cornerback Elijah Riley leads Army in interceptions (three), forced fumbles (three), sacks (four) and ranks second on the squad with 73 tackles.
(West Point Athletics Department)
Honoring the past
Army will pay tribute to the 1st Cavalry Division, the first full unit of its kind to deploy to Vietnam. The division pioneered a new battle concept which used helicopters to mobilize large masses of soldiers.
The Black Knights will don green helmets that display the golden sabers to honor the 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry regiment.
The Midshipmen will wear a throwback classic 1960s-era uniform with gold shoulder stripes and a special paint design that resembles football helmets of the past.
US Senator John McCain today applauded the US Department of Veterans Affairs’ proposed Veterans Coordinated Access and Rewarding Experiences Act, which would bolster the Veterans Choice Program and consolidate the VA’s community care network.
The proposal also includes several measures Senator McCain has strongly advocated to expand quality and timely care for veterans in their communities, such as eliminating the current 30-day/40-mile limit to permit all eligible veterans to use the VA Choice Card.
It would also offer patients access to a network of walk-in clinics for minor health issues. This is modeled on a path-breaking partnership in Phoenix, Arizona, that allows Phoenix’s nearly 120,000 veterans to visit dozens of local CVS MinuteClinic locations for care.
Senator McCain released the following statement supporting the VA’s new proposal:
“The VA’s proposed Veterans CARE Act would improve access to health care by developing a consolidated community care network that places veterans first. I am especially pleased to see the VA’s proposal incorporates some of the major reforms I have long advocated, such as eliminating the 30-day/40-mile restriction in the Veterans Choice Program, and expanding the successful pilot program in Phoenix, Arizona, that allows veterans to visit local walk-in clinics nationwide.
“Over the last few years, demand for community care through the Veterans Choice Program has grown considerably. Millions of veteran appointments have been made with quality community health care providers around the country. Today, veterans no longer have to wait in long lines or drive hundreds of miles to receive care. Unfortunately, the Veterans Choice Program has also been a victim of its own success, and has outpaced the VA’s ability to accurately predict growing demand for the program. Until the VA can accurately assess demand for care in the community, Congress’ efforts to create an integrated and efficient VA health care system will continue to face difficulty.
“Those efforts must reflect the lessons learned through the Veterans Choice Program. We must set standards for care that are easy to use and understand. We must require the VA to accurately assess demand for care in the community. And we must produce a standardized and transparent system that integrates community and VA services.
“I look forward to working with Secretary Shulkin, my colleagues on the Senate and House Veterans Affairs Committees, and veterans service organizations to build on the proposed Veterans CARE Act and deliver our veterans the timely, quality, and flexible health care they deserve.”
Should every American Citizen serve in the military? Should women be required to register for the selective service (draft)? What should the future of the Selective Service look like?
Navy veteran Shawn Skelly and Marine Corps veteran Ed Allard are commissioners for the Commission on National, Military and Public Service. Their mission is to recommend answers to these and many more questions to Congress by March 2020. Shawn and Ed visited Borne the Battle to discuss the two years of data that the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service has gathered to answer those and many other questions.
Some of the goals of the National Commission are:
Reviewing the military selective service process.
Listening to the public to learn from those who serve.
Igniting a national conversation about service.
Developing recommendations that will encourage every American to be inspired and eager to serve.
According to their interim report, the Commission has learned:
Americans value service.
Americans are willing to consider a wide variety of options to encourage or require service.
Some Americans are aware of the details of the Selective Service System while many are not.
Some Barriers to Service include:
Military Service is a responsibility borne by few.
National Service is America’s best-kept secret.
Public Service personnel practices need an overhaul.
Civic knowledge is critical for our democracy, but too few Americans receive high quality education.
Finally, the commissioners came on Borne the Battle to let listeners know that they can provide input.
Click here to learn how – deadline is Dec. 31, 2019.
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
On Nov. 22, the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, and the United States Marine Corps dedicated new engravings on the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial to include the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns.
The names and dates of principal U.S. Marine Corps campaigns and battles are engraved at the base of the Marine Corps War Memorial as well as the Corps motto, “Semper Fidelis,” which means “always faithful” in Latin. The memorial also features the phrase, “Uncommon valor was a common virtue,” a quote from Admiral Chester W. Nimitz in honor of the Marines’ action on Iwo Jima. While the statue depicts a famous photograph of a flag-raising on the island of Iwo Jima in World War II, the memorial is dedicated to all Marines who have given their lives in defense of the United States since 1775.
“As the Deputy Commander of Special Forces in Iraq and retired Navy SEAL, I saw the commitment, patriotism, and fortitude that American servicemembers and their families display while serving our country. It’s a great honor to be a part of memorializing the Marines of the Global War on Terror,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. “Our warriors who serve in Iraq and Afghanistan see more frequent deployments as our nation has been at sustained combat for longer than in any previous point in our nation’s history. The Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are warriors in the field and leaders in the community, I salute them and am grateful for their service.”
President Trump has proclaimed November National Veterans and Military Family month. The Department of the Interior and the National Park Service recognize veterans and their families by caring for the battlefields, monuments, and memorials like the U.S.Marine Corps War Memorial that honors those who have served and who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom.
“These engravings represent the 1,481 Marines to date who gave all, as well as their surviving families and a Corps who will never forget them. The U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial is a living tribute to warriors. It is a sacred place that symbolizes our commitment to our nation and to each other,” Commandant of the United States Marine Corps, General Robert B. Neller said.
Made possible by a $5.37 million donation by businessman and philanthropist David M. Rubenstein, the rehabilitation project also included cleaning and waxing the memorial, brazing bronze seams, and re-gilding letters and inscriptions on the sculpture base. Over the past four months, every inch of the 32-foot-tall statues of Marines raising the flag was examined. Holes, cracks, and seams on the bronze sculpture were brazed to prevent water damage.
“Today we’re simply adding two words to the Marine Corps memorial – Afghanistan and Iraq – but what they stand for is historic and should make every American pause and give thanks for the sacrifices of life and limb that our armed forces have made to protect our freedoms. It is the greatest of privileges to be able to honor our troops and military by helping to restore this iconic memorial,” David M. Rubenstein said.
Rubenstein’s donation, announced in April 2015, was a leadership gift to the National Park Foundation’s Centennial Campaign for America’s National Parks.
“Mr. Rubenstein’s commitment to America’s national parks is as inspiring as it is generous,” said Will Shafroth, president of the National Park Foundation. “We are extraordinarily grateful for his transformative gift to honor the bravery and sacrifice of U.S. Marines represented by this iconic memorial, an image imprinted in the collective memory of our nation.”
The next phase of the project will replace lighting, landscaping, and specially designed educational displays about the significance and importance of the memorial. The project is expected to be completed by fall 2018.
A former director of the veterans hospital in the nation’s capital who had been fired for poor leadership has been rehired.
Brian Hawkins was put back on the Department of Veterans Affairs payroll after he appealed the decision to the Merit Systems Protection Board. Hawkins was let go last month after audits found mismanagement at the facility.
The board is requiring the VA to keep Hawkins as an employee until the Office of Special Counsel reviews his claim.
In a statement August 9, the VA says Hawkins had been reassigned to administrative duty at VA headquarters in Washington and would not work directly with patients.
It says VA Secretary David Shulkin will explore other ways to fire Hawkins under a newly enacted accountability law signed by President Donald Trump.