After World War II, the Allied powers divided Germany, giving the eastern part of the country to the Soviet Union and the Western part to the United States, Britain, and France. The capital city of Berlin was also divided, but in 1948, the Soviets established a blockade to ensure Germany could not reunify and rise to invade them again.
Refusing to withdraw, the Allies began to supply their sectors of Berlin with food, fuel, and necessities in Operation Vittles — perhaps best known as the Berlin Airlift.
True to his word, Halvorsen collected candy rations from his fellow pilots and, on his next mission to Tempelhof, he wiggled the wings of his C-54 Skymaster and instructed his Flight Engineer to drop three parcels of the candy out the flight deck. They floated to the ground in handmade parachutes made of white handkerchiefs and, when he checked on the children later, three handkerchiefs waved back.
“Uncle Wiggly Wings” was born.
Once newspapers learned about Halvorsen’s “Operation Little Vittles,” pilots were flooded with candy donations from the United States. A humanitarian mission launched — and it continued well after Halvorsen returned home.
Halvorsen’s gesture — and the humanitarian mission that followed — built a bridge of healing between the American people and war-torn Germany, which paved the way for the friendship that would follow in the years to come.
The U.S. Army’s Special Forces soldiers are some of the most capable troops in the world. They might even be the most capable people. Putting on the coveted green beret means being able to handle yourself in almost any situation at any time, and coming out on top.
For those working in Special Forces, it comes with varying degrees of difficulty. Today’s Special Forces soldier works in counterterrorism, counter-narcotics, hostage rescue and other potentially classified operations. But the primary mission of those who wear the green beret is to wage unconventional warfare against a hostile, possibly occupied nation.
This often means turning a population or oppressed minority against its occupiers. They often find themselves training an undermanned, underequipped fighting force. In Vietnam, where the Green Berets cut their teeth, this often meant surviving in the jungles for long periods of time.
In Vietnam, the Military Assistance Command – Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG) was a joint CIA-Army operation used to collect intelligence and fight the covert war happening in the dense jungles of the country. The oppressed minority in this case were the Vietnamese tribes of Montagnards.
The Montagnards’ name comes from the French for “mountaineers” and though they live in Vietnam, they are ethnically and culturally different from the Vietnamese. The 30 tribes of Montagnards live off of the land, growing food and hunting for survival. They were looked down upon by the Vietnamese and didn’t trust either the north or the south. Eventually, they cast their lots with the south – and the reason for that was the Green Berets.
Army Special Forces soldiers worked with the Montagnards (called “Yards” for short) to form a kind of quick reaction force (QRF) that would defend southern villages from attacking bands of Viet Cong (VC). The highland areas occupied by the Yards were prime real estate for moving men and material to the war zones. Isolated villages were easy pickings for the VC. The Green Berets moved in to advise the Yards.
By the end of 1963, the Yards were organized into a real fighting force of 43,000 men and an 18,000 strong QRF. The Green Berets and the Montagnards gelled instantly. The Yard appreciated the Army’s finest for their help and the green berets appreciated the honest, primal toughness of the Yards – and their resolve to defend what was theirs.
They were a lot alike in that their ways seemed odd to everyone else. The Montagnards would often find food that seemed unwholesome or unsavory to others. The Special Forces knew what that was like. After displaying their survival skills to President Kennedy, skills where they caught and ate snakes, they were stuck with the moniker “snake eaters.”
To the rest of Vietnam, the Montagnards were called savages. The similarities didn’t stop there. The U.S. soldiers loved the Yards prowess in combat. They were natural soldiers, brave and trustworthy. They knew they could count on the Montagnards to watch their flanks.
All good things must come to an end, however. When the United States was forced to leave South Vietnam to its own defense, things didn’t fare so well. The Montagnards fought well, but they couldn’t defend the whole country on their own. When the South Vietnamese government fell, they accepted the result.
But they didn’t fare well. The North Vietnamese did not forget the Montagnards’ work with the U.S. Army Special Forces and the communists made life especially hard for the mountain tribes in the years to come.
Luis Enrique Pinto Jr. joined the Army so he could do something different. But first, he had to do something extraordinary.
Just seven months ago, the 6-foot-1-inch teenager was overweight at 317 pounds and unable to pass the Army’s weight requirements.
The former high school football offensive lineman admitted his diet was full of carbohydrates, but he vowed to slim down so he could sign up.
Luis, 18, recalled being part of something bigger than himself while playing on his football team, and he craved for that again with the Army.
“I transferred that same mentality over to life after high school,” he said Aug. 14, 2019.
Initially, his recruiter, Staff Sgt. Philip Long, was skeptical, but still supported his goal.
Long, who has served as a recruiter for almost four years, said he often sees potential recruits struggle to pass requirements even when they only have a few pounds to lose.
“They never put the effort into it,” he said. “They never actually care enough and they don’t go anywhere. And then you turn around and you got someone like Luis.”
Before and after shots of Luis Enrique Pinto Jr., who lost 113 pounds in seven months in order to pass the Army’s weight requirements. Luis enlisted as a 14E, which is responsible for operating and maintaining Patriot weapon systems, and plans to report to basic training in September 2019.
Luis was born in Oakland, but later grew up in Peru and Las Vegas. He currently works as an electrician at construction sites, but recently decided he wanted to be the first in his family to serve in the U.S. military.
“You’ve got one life. I don’t want to wake up and do the same thing every single day,” he said. “There’s a whole world out there.”
Before he could sign the enlistment papers, he cracked down on his diet and stepped up his fitness to cut his weight.
Cardio was his toughest hurdle, he said. He began to do high-intensity interval training where he switched between jogs and sprints to improve his run time.
“Running wasn’t my strong suit,” he said. “Carrying all that extra weight and trying to run definitely increased my time.”
As the months dragged on, he extended his interval training. He now runs 1 mile in just six minutes and 30 seconds — about half the time he ran it when he first started.
His mother also motivated him to hit the gym, especially on those days when he felt like taking an off day.
“One thing she told me is to just show up,” he said. “Just show up and don’t worry about the workout that’s to come. You show up at the gym and once you’re there, you’re already there so might as well just get it over with.”
The near-daily workouts began to pay off and he shed pound after pound — 113 of them to be exact.
Now at 204 pounds, Luis has also seen a positive change in his attitude.
“When I was big, I was really insecure,” he said. “Now I’m walking with my head up high.”
His recruiter said Luis’ dedication to lose over 100 pounds should be an inspiration to others.
“That’s a human. He lost the equivalent of a human in seven months,” Long said.
Luis Enrique Pinto Jr. with his recruiter, Staff Sgt. Philip Long. Luis lost 113 pounds in seven months in order to pass the Army’s weight requirements. With help from his recruiter, he enlisted as a 14E, which is responsible for operating and maintaining Patriot weapon systems, and plans to report to basic training in September 2019.
With help from his recruiter, Luis was able to enlist as a 14E — responsible for operating and maintaining Patriot weapon systems, one of the world’s most advanced missile systems.
The new job also came with a ,000 bonus.
Luis plans to report to basic training in early September 2019. He started future soldier training this week to learn what to expect in the weeks ahead as well as in his Army career.
He also blew past the Occupational Physical Assessment Test, which the Army now administers to new recruits to ensure they can physically perform a certain job.
“Every event was like it was made for him; it was easy,” Long said.
Whatever the challenge Luis may face in the Army, his recruiter has no doubt he can overcome it.
“To have that heart and that drive to keep pushing forward, it’s impressive. It got him to where he can enlist in the Army,” Long said. “That mentality is going to carry him through his career and through life and he’ll be extremely successful.”
Luis said he looks forward to the extra physical training within the Army lifestyle, as he now aims to drop down to 190 pounds.
“Hitting my goal weight definitely isn’t my end goal,” he said. “There’s still way more to come. I still want to get better.”
But for now, the wardrobe the Army plans to issue him should at least accommodate his current figure.
“I pretty much use my old shirts for blankets at this point,” he said, laughing.
The Navy’s top officer strongly advocated robust “engagement” with China to reduce the growing tensions generated by Beijing’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea, while minimizing the effectiveness of the Asian giant’s highly touted anti-access, area-denial defense capabilities against U.S. naval forces.
During a Sept. 12 appearance at the Center for a New American Security n Washington, D.C., the Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson also favorably compared the conduct of People’s Liberation Army – Navy ships during at-sea encounters to the threatening actions by fast-attack craft operated by Iran’s militant Revolutionary Guard in the congested Persian Gulf. And he said US commanders have the freedom to respond to those acts.
In a classic understatement, Richardson described U.S. relations with China as “complicated,” and said “we have to structure our relations with our counterparts, the Peoples Liberation Army – Navy along those lines. First and foremost, we’ve got to continue to engage. I’m an advocate for engagement, thoughtful engagement.”
Noting that “there are areas where we have common interests,” he suggested aligning US efforts to support those common interests.
He suggested that one of those “common interest” was freedom of navigation that would allow all nations to use the maritime domain for commercial reasons, despite the fact that China’s aggressive claims to virtually all of the South China Sea and parts of the East China Sea far from its territorial limits would deny others access to those vital waterways.
Richardson acknowledged that during his recent visit with the head of the Chinese navy, he was “very honest and very frank in terms of those things that would be helpful in moving the relationship forward in mutually beneficial ways and those behaviors that would be completely not helpful in terms of moving that relationship down the road.” That was an effort, he said, toward “minimizing the uncertainty, the miscalculations, by asserting in advance these things that would be very good, those that would be troublesome.”
But the Navy chief insisted that any regional arrangement for security in the Asia-Pacific region had to include China.
Asked about the A2AD capabilities China is developing to keep U.S. forces out of its claim zone of control, Richardson said that was “sort of an aspiration rather than any kind of strategy.”
While acknowledging the technological advances that allow detection and precision targeting at greater distances, “there is a whole sequence of events that have to happen in perfect symphony to execute that mission. There are many ways to deconstruct that chain of events,” he said.
In response to a question about what authority US commanders had to respond to the rash of threatening actions by the Iranian small craft, Richardson said, “there’s really nothing that limits the way they can respond.”
He noted that in those “super dynamic situations,” the commanders must make decisions “in very short periods of time. We try to make sure our commanders have the situational awareness and the capabilities and the rules of engagement that they remain in command of the situation.”
He called that a “a great demonstration of something I advocate for, the need to continue to develop a sort of decentralized approach toward operations. These sort of things happen on a time scale that really doesn’t allow commanders to sort of phone home for permission and then respond.”
“They have to know what their commanders expect, have to be given the freedom to act, to take advantage of opportunities, but also so they can respond to these very quick acting opportunities.”
“Is our Navy prepared to respond? The answer is yes in every respect,” he said.
Richardson said the actions by the Iranian Guard vessels were unlike the meetings with Chinese warships, which under an agreement on encounters at sea, “the vast majority of encounters with the Chinese have been peaceful.”
And, he added, it would be useful to have a similar agreement with Russia to prevent the recent close encounters with Russian ships and aircraft in the Black Sea.
On Friday, the Minneapolis City Council voted for $6.4 million in funding to increase the size of the city police department. Police officials requested the extra funding eight days earlier, explaining the force had effectively lost more than 200 officers in the months since the death of George Floyd caused protests across the city.
Former officer Derek Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death and is scheduled for trial March 8. Three other former officers will face trial in August for aiding and abetting Chauvin.
Currently 638 officers are available to work in the city of Minneapolis, despite the department’s having 817 officers on payroll. Sixty officers have retired or resigned since the beginning of 2020, and more than 150 are on extended leave for a variety of reasons, including post-traumatic stress following the unrest last summer.
The plan was approved unanimously, despite some members of the City Council previously pushing for large-scale structural changes in the police department.
In late January, three City Council members — Phillipe Cunningham, Steve Fletcher, and Jeremy Schroeder — introduced the Transforming Public Safety Charter Amendment. This would create a Department of Public Safety and eliminate the police department, replacing it with a Division of Law Enforcement made up of “licensed peace officers” within the new department.
In response to these public safety concerns, the police department will update its hiring application with questions about city residency, advanced degrees in fields such as criminology and social work, and volunteer activities. The city will post these newly funded openings this week and hopes to have new officers starting this summer.
On Saturday, a demonstration took place near the former location of the police department’s 3rd Precinct, which was burned by violent protesters in May 2020. Organized by Yes 4 Minneapolis, a coalition of local groups who support replacing the police department entirely with a Department of Public Safety, the activists were collecting petition signatures for the plan in hopes of getting it on the election ballot this fall.
Over the course of 17 days, Marines fighting at North Korea’s Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War put out a call for “Tootsie Rolls,” their code for 60mm mortar rounds. When supplies were finally airdropped to them on the ground, they opened the crates to find… candy. Thousands of actual Tootsie Rolls.
The Marines were surrounded and outnumbered by Chinese and North Korean troops as much as 10-to-1. Temperatures fell as low as 30 to 40 degrees below zero; Jeep batteries cracked, weapons wouldn’t cycle, and foul weather inhibited resupply missions. You might imagine how pissed off the Marines were to find candy where their mortar rounds should have been… and you’d be wrong.
Since the bitter cold also froze the Marines’ C-rations, Tootsie Rolls became an easy source of calories. The small chocolates were also easy to warm up and reform, so the Marines would use them to plug bullet holes in Jeeps, barrels, and other materials. The candies would quickly freeze solid again, and the materiel was ready for use.
The Tootsie Rolls absolutely reinvigorated the 1st Marine Division. Marines are known for their ability to “make do” and the Tootsie Roll airdrop was no exception. Chairman Mao ordered the complete annihilation of the Marines at Chosin, but like Popeye the Sailor and his spinach, United States Marines fueled by small candies wiped the frozen Siberian tundra with 120,000 Chinese Communists.
To this day, when the Chosin Few have reunions, the Tootsie Roll Company sends boxes to them, wherever they are. See the full story below.
By 2021, Amazon has pledged to hire 25,000 U.S. military veterans across all of its operations. More than that, they are also dedicated to hiring veterans reservists, spouses, and family members – regardless of rank or military specialty. These “Amazon Warriors” as the company calls them, come to Amazon through a number of programs, each focused on a different aspect of veterans’ lives. This includes wounded warriors, active and transitioning veterans, student vets, and more.
You can catch Amazon and its employees active in all area of veteran culture, from the Old Glory Relay to RED Fridays and even doing 22 pushups every day. Amazon even partners with the Department of Veterans Affairs to create certification programs for vets with no costs.
One of Amazon’s best programs is an employment plan for wounded vets designed to fill skill gaps due to service-related wounds, injuries, and illnesses. Through education, advocacy, and training for wounded warriors, this one-of-a-kind program seeks America’s wounded vets to show the world the possibilities and potential these prior-service workers still have.
Amazon also launched the Amazon Military Leaders Program in an effort to find innovative, experienced talent to transition from military service and into the senior leadership at Amazon. It just makes sense – in order to fill the most necessary roles at the top of one of the world’s biggest and most profitable companies, Amazon wants to look for those people who volunteered for some of the most dangerous and critical jobs out there.
This company also goes above and beyond for National Guardsmen and Reservists who are activated or called away to training. Not only does the company ensure the member has job when they come back, as required by law, Amazon seeks to place the employee in a role they would have worked if they had never left their Amazon job at all. What’s more, if the pay the military member receives from serving is significantly less than their Amazon pay, Amazon will make up the difference.
“There are veterans and active duty service members from the Guard and Reserve at every level of the company,” says Ardine Williams, Amazon Web Services’ Vice-President of Talent Acquisition, who also happens to be a former Army officer. “That population, that community, makes it really easy for us to not only do the right thing but also do what we say we will do.”
When Amazon isn’t hiring veterans and preparing service members for their post-military careers, they are supporting other organizations with the same intent, mission, and drive. Amazon is a sponsor of the Military Influencer Conference, a three-day business development and networking event that brings together non-profit startup accelerators geared toward vet-owned businesses, successful veteran entrepreneurs, and like-minded veterans who are looking to change their lives by starting their own enterprises.
To learn more about what Amazon is doing for veterans in terms of training and employment, check out Amazon’s military page. To learn more about the Military Influencer Conference, check out the speakers list, or find a Military Influencer Conference close to you, visit MilitaryInfluencer.com and take a look around. It could be the first step to an entrepreneurial career.
For an ordinary man, ‘Manila John’ Basilone did extraordinary things. Despite a short life, Basilone accomplished great acts of heroism and patriotism. Born on Nov. 4, 1916, in Ruritan, New York, Basilone would go on to become the first U.S. Marine of enlisted rank to earn the Medal of Honor during World War II. He was also the only enlisted Marine to earn the Navy Cross posthumously.
Basilone hadn’t begun his career in the Marine Corps. Basilone enlisted in the U.S. Army just before his 18th birthday in 1934. He was sent to the Philippines as an infantryman from 1934 to 1937. While in the (at the time) U.S. colony, Basilone became a champion boxer and fell in love with his style of life there. Three years after his return to the United States, Basilone enlisted in the Army, thinking he would be more likely to return to the Philippines in that service. His Marine service did take him to the Far East, but, sadly, he never saw his beloved Manila again.
After Pearl Harbor, the U.S. joined the fight against Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan and Fascist Italy. America’s late entry into WWII has drawn criticism, but there was no doubt that once America joined it came with full force. Basilone’s unit (1st Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division) soon found themselves in the thick of the fighting defending the island of Guadalcanal. Guadalcanal was where this ordinary man’s extraordinary courage first showed itself.
Guadalcanal was as rough a posting as any soldier could want, or fear. Sited well within Japan’s emerging empire, it was vital to the Americans–and the Japanese wanted them out. Allied forces had captured an airstrip at Henderson Field, which allowed Allied aircraft to strike Japanese forces. In response, the Japanese naval force known as the Tokyo Express regularly bombarded the airfield and American positions. The fight for Guadalcanal was long and bloody. Basilone was smack in the middle of it.
During Oct. 24-25 in 1942, the Marines faced a frontal assault from over 3,000 Japanese troops of the Sendai Division. The Japanese, probably World War II’s best jungle fighters, attacked in typical Samurai fashion. The troops regarded death in battle as something to aspire to, not fear. Commanding two machine gun sections, Basilone readily obliged their aspirations. The citation for his Congressional Medal of Honor described his efforts in the battle.
“In a fierce frontal attack with the Japanese blasting his guns with grenades and mortar fire, one of Sgt. Basilone’s sections, with its guncrews, was put out of action, leaving only two men able to carry on. Moving an extra gun into position, he placed it in action, then, under continual fire, repaired another and personally manned it, gallantly holding his line until replacements arrived.”
A brave effort indeed, but ‘Manila John’ wasn’t finished yet. His citation continues:
“A little later, with ammunition critically low and the supply lines cut off, Sgt. Basilone, at great risk of his life and in the face of continued enemy attack, battled his way through enemy lines with urgently needed shells for his gunners, thereby contributing in large measure to the virtual annihilation of a Japanese regiment.”
Thirty-eight bodies were left around the gun that Basilone had personally manned. His mission to collect ammunition for his gunners saw him fighting through Japanese lines on foot both ways, using a pistol. Not surprisingly, his commander Lieutenant-Colonel Lewis ‘Chesty’ Fuller recommended Basilone receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. It was well deserved.
Newly promoted to Gunnery Sergeant Basilone, CMH, USMC, he was sent home for publicity tours, using his celebrity status. He wasn’t happy. Like many soldiers, Basilone disliked celebrity and hero-worship. Like many Marines, he said as much. Within months, he requested re-assignment to the Pacific. The Corps refused, offering a commission and a safe posting stateside.
His national war bond tour had earned him ticker-tape parades, newsreel coverage, and a spot in Life magazine, but he wanted to be in the front line with his fellow Marines. He reportedly said, “I’m just a plain soldier and want to stay one. I ain’t no officer and I ain’t no museum piece. I belong back with my outfit.”
Eventually, the Corps relented. Basilone went to Camp Pendleton to train for combat in the Pacific. There he met his wife, fellow Marine Sergeant Lena Mae Riggi, who became Mrs. Basilone in July 1944. In December, Basilone returned to the Pacific, headed for Iwo Jima. He never saw his wife again.
Iwo Jima was a bloodbath. Over 20,000 Japanese troops defended it: Only about 200 of them are known to have survived. The Marine Corps suffered nearly 26,000 casualties, of whom nearly 7,000 were killed in action. On the first day of the invasion, Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone, CMH, USMC became one of the fatal casualties.
Attacking the Japanese-held Airfield One on Feb. 19, 1945, Basilone was killed. By then he’d already risked his life pushing two bogged-down Sherman tanks out of mud, by hand, and had killed numerous Japanese soldiers. According to his Navy Cross citation:
‘In the forefront of the assault at all times, [Basilone] pushed forward with dauntless courage and iron determination until, moving upon the edge of the airfield, he fell, instantly killed by a bursting mortar shell.’
He was 28 years old. Basilone’s actions just before his death would posthumously earn him a Navy Cross and Purple Heart. Basilone was the only Marine who was awarded these three major citations (Navy Cross, Purple Heart, and Medal of Honor) during World War II.
Basilone’s wife, Lena Mae, never remarried. She died in 1999 and was buried wearing her wedding ring. Aside from numerous decorations, Basilone received other honors. The U.S. Navy named a destroyer after him in 1945, which Lena Mae christened. Another USS John Basilone is scheduled for commission in 2019. He also appeared in the ‘Distinguished Marines’ postage stamp series and was a central character in the HBO series The Pacific.
The U.S. Marine Corps still consider him a soldier’s soldier, a Marine’s Marine. He lies beside many of America’s heroes in Arlington National Cemetery. You can find Basilone’s grave in section 12, Grave 384.
Congressional Republicans and Democrats have reached initial agreement on the biggest expansion of college aid for military veterans in a decade, removing a 15-year time limit to tap into benefits and boosting money for thousands in the National Guard and Reserve.
The deal being announced early July 13 is a sweeping effort to fill coverage gaps in the post-9/11 GI Bill amid a rapidly changing job market. Building on major legislation passed in 2008 that guaranteed a full-ride scholarship to any in-state public university — or the cash amount for private college students similar to the value of a scholarship at a state college — the bill gives veterans added flexibility to enroll in college later in life. Veterans would get additional payments if they complete science, technology, and engineering courses.
The Associated Press obtained details of the agreement in advance of a formal bill introduction July 13.
For a student attending a private university, the additional benefits to members of the Guard and Reserve could mean $2,300 a year more in tuition than they are receiving now, plus a bigger housing allowance.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R- Calif., praised the bill as a major effort to modernize the GI Bill, better positioning veterans for jobs after their service in a technologically sophisticated US military.
“It’s really about training the workforce in a post-9/11 GI Bill world,” he told The Associated Press. “Veterans are being locked out of a whole new economy.”
House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Phil Roe, the bill’s lead sponsor, said he would schedule a committee vote next week. Pledging more VA reforms to come, McCarthy said the full House will act quickly, describing the bill as just the “first phase to get the whole VA system working again.”
“We’ll move it out this month,” McCarthy said.
Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia, chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said he would introduce a companion bill, while Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, the panel’s senior Democrat, said he was “encouraged” by the bipartisan plan. Veterans’ issues have been one of the few areas on which Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill have found some common ground, as they remain sharply divided on health care, tax reform, and other issues.
The education benefits would take effect for enlistees who begin using their GI Bill money next year.
Kristofer Goldsmith, 31, says he believes it would benefit many former service members who, like himself, aren’t ready to immediately enroll in college after military service. Goldsmith served in the US Army as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005, reaching the rank of sergeant, but returned home to constant nightmares and other PTSD symptoms. He was kicked out of the military with a general discharge after a suicide attempt, barring him from receiving GI benefits.
Now an assistant director for policy at Vietnam Veterans of America, Goldsmith advocates for veterans with PTSD and is appealing his discharge status. He’s heading to Columbia University in the fall.
“I feel extremely lucky I have found my passion in veterans’ advocacy,” Goldsmith said. “But I’ve taken out tens of thousands of dollars to go to school. GI benefits are something service members earn while they serve. They shouldn’t lose it just because they aren’t transitioning back the way the government wants.”
According to Student Veterans of America, only about half of the 200,000 service members who leave the military each year go on to enroll in a college, while surveys indicate that veterans often outperform peers in the classroom. The bill is backed by the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, which says hundreds of thousands of former service members stand to gain from the new array of benefits.
“This is going to be a big win,” said Patrick Murray, associate director at VFW.
The legislation combines 18 separate House bills, also providing full GI Bill eligibility to Purple Heart recipients. Previously, those individuals had to serve at least three years. The bill also would restore benefits if a college closed in the middle of the semester, a protection added when thousands of veterans were hurt by the collapse of for-profit college giant ITT Tech.
The bill hasn’t been free of controversy.
A draft plan circulated by Roe’s committee in April drew fire after it initially proposed paying for the $3 billion cost of upgraded benefits over 10 years by reducing service members’ monthly pay by $100 per month. Veterans’ groups sharply criticized that plan as an unfair “tax on troops,” noting that Army privates typically earn less than $1,500 per month.
“The GI Bill is a cost of war, and Congress needs to pay for it as long as we are at war,” said Paul Rieckhoff, IAVA’s founder and CEO.
The latest proposal would be paid for by bringing living stipend payments under the GI Bill down to a similar level as that received by an active-duty member, whose payments were reduced in 2014 by 1 percent a year for five years.
Total government spending on the GI Bill is expected to be more than $100 billion over 10 years.
Rep. Tim Walz, the senior Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee and a bill co-sponsor, praised the plan, saying it will “improve the lives of future generations of veterans … without asking our troops or American taxpayers to pay more.”
Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston announced a historic new temporary promotion policy for soldiers. The policy is designed to expand on the Army’s ongoing commitment to supporting its soldiers.
“Today I am pleased to announce a new promotion policy that helps us to continue to put people first,” Grinston shared on a press call. Beginning with the January 2021 promotion month, soldiers unable to complete the Army’s required Professional Military Education courses to qualify for advancement to sergeant, all the way through sergeant major, due to pregnancy, deployment or those enrolled in a non-resident sergeant major course will be temporarily advanced to the next rank.
Through research, the Army recognizes that the requirements for advancement to higher rank negatively impacts women in particular. Grinston shared that female soldiers would routinely speak to him about the struggle and difficulty of determining when to start a family in order to not negatively impact their career. Female soldiers are unable to complete the physical training portion of leadership school required due to pregnancy or being postpartum, often putting them behind their male counterparts in career advancement.
Deployed soldiers were also falling behind their peers in advancement opportunities. Grinston explained that Army units overseas were declining to send soldiers to the required PME courses due to operational needs within combat zones. Around 300 soldiers requested exceptions in 2019 in order to advance to the next rank. Although the number may seem small, Grinston shared that it would be much higher if the Army ever had to significantly increase their numbers to meet combat needs.
When developing the policy, leadership wanted to ensure that those attending either sergeant major course could advance on time, regardless of how they took it. It was discovered that those attending the nonresident sergeant major course tended to finish their course later, missing the deadline for meeting requirements for promotion on time. This left qualified soldiers waiting a year to advance to the next rank despite completing the required schooling. The new policy avoids that.
Command Sergeant Major Kenyatta Gaskins was also on the call with members of the press and addressed questions on whether soldiers being temporarily promoted were actually ready to advance. “Those soldiers have already demonstrated that they have the potential to perform at the next higher level. They have been recommended for promotion by their commanders,” he explained. “I don’t believe we are blindly promoting individuals. These are well deserved promotions of soldiers who’ve demonstrated the ability to perform at the next higher level.”
The temporary promotion policy applies not only to active duty Army but also those in the Army Reserves and Army National Guard. As long as soldiers are otherwise qualified and meet the conditions outlined, they will be advanced beginning January 1, 2020.
Those temporarily advanced to the next rank will have a set amount of time to complete their PME courses or they will revert back to their previous rank. Should they be reverted back due to not completing PME, they will not be required to pay back the received increase in pay due to temporary advancement. Active soldiers returning from deployment will have one year to complete their PME course and active female soldiers will have two years from the end of their postpartum profile. Those in the Army Reserves or Army National Guard will have three years.
The temporary promotion is allowable only once in a soldier’s career.
“I believe none of these scenarios – starting a family, deploying to a combat zone or selection to the nonresident sergeant major course should be a reason a soldier’s career should be delayed,” Grinston explained. “These temporary promotions support the Army’s ‘people first’ strategy.”
Twenty-nine years ago, on Jan. 16, 1991, the United States led the massive offensive coalition Operation Desert Storm, during the Persian Gulf War. The forces of this coalition were made up of 32 different countries, all combining efforts to stop and remove Iraqi forces that had invaded Kuwait the year prior.
There were over 900,000 coalition troops; 540,000 of them were American.
The U.S. began its invasion with air attacks that would decimate Iraq’s air defenses, taking out communications, weapons and oil refineries. Then, a covert and classified bombing mission began, known as Operation Senior Surprise. Its airmen were known as the Secret Squirrels.
Seven B-52G Stratofortresses took off from Barksdale Air Force Base in La., flying around 14,000 round-trip miles to launch 35 missiles at strategic locations in Iraq. They would require air refueling over the Atlantic, but all made it home safely. At the time, it was a world record for the longest bombing mission.
The world watched live on TV with CNN broadcasting around-the-clock coverage. General Norman Schwarzkopf and General Colin Powell would go on to become household names in America as citizens watched the war unfold in real-time.
The battle would intensify when the massive U.S. led ground offense began. Troops on foot would begin the “100-hour ground battle” on Feb. 24, 1991. This attack would lead to a liberated Kuwait in just under four days.
On Feb. 28, 1991, a cease-fire was officially declared, and Iraq pledged to honor future peace terms. One of the terms was that Saddam Hussein would get rid of all weapons of mass destruction. He would go on to refuse weapons inspectors admittance.
The Gulf War was a test in American diplomacy, with President Bush remembering the lessons of the Cold War. The war was backed by public and congressional support when that diplomacy failed. President Bush appeared to struggle greatly over going to war, even writing a letter to his children on New Year’s Eve of 1990 about the decision. It would go on to become the end of this kind of warfare and the beginning of a new era.
The United States lost 382 troops in the Gulf War, and the Department of Defense estimated that it cost the United States billion dollars. The costs to those who served during the conflict were far greater.
Troops returning from the gulf war began getting sick; 250,000 of them.
The illness was called Gulf War Syndrome. A very wide range of chronic symptoms have been reported, including cognitive problems, respiratory disorders, muscle pain, fatigue, insomnia, rashes and digestive problems. The troops were exposed to dangerous pesticides, and the pills given to them to protect against nerve agents would be proven to be part of the cause.
The intent of the United States getting involved in the middle east conflict was to prevent Saddam Hussein from gaining control of Kuwait’s oil, which would have led him to having 20 percent of the world’s oil reserves. This would have greatly impacted not just the United States, but many other countries who depend on oil for their way of life. However, it led to the U.S. becoming even more entangled in foreign politics, which would lead to more war, not less.
The Gulf War didn’t prevent the uprisings in Iraq, and we would end up right back there a decade later, losing another 6,967 troops as of 2019. This time we would attack without congressional approval and the support of the other surrounding Arab nations. We would not have the U.N. Resolution in our pocket or local support.
Nineteen years later, we are still at war. The lessons in the Persian Gulf War seem to have been forgotten. Twenty-nine years after the cease-fire was declared, it begs the question – was it worth it?
U.S. intelligence agencies are evaluating the respective Russian and Chinese capabilities to survive a nuclear war, as well as those of the United States.
Congress has directed the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and U.S. Strategic Command, through the National Defense Authorization Act of the Fiscal Year 2017, to report on Russian and Chinese “leadership survivability, command and control, and continuity of government programs and activities” in the event of a nuclear strike.
The directive was pushed forward by Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio).
The U.S. “must understand how China and Russia intend to fight a war and how their leadership will command and control a potential conflict. This knowledge is pivotal to our ability to deter the threat,” Turner told Bloomberg.
Russia and China “have invested considerable effort and resources into understanding how we fight, including how to interfere with our leadership’s communication capabilities,” he added.
“We must not ignore gaps in our understanding of key adversary capabilities,” he concluded.
The intelligence review is required to identify “which facilities various senior political and military leaders of each respective country are expected to operate out of during crisis and wartime,” “location and description of above-ground and underground facilities important to the political and military leadership survivability,” and “key officials and organizations of each respective country involved in managing and operating such facilities, programs, and activities.”
“Our experts are drafting an appropriate response,” Navy Captain Brook DeWalt, a spokesman for U.S. Strategic Command, told Bloomberg.
“We need to strengthen the military potential of strategic nuclear forces, especially with missile complexes that can reliably penetrate any existing and prospective missile defense systems,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said in December. He said that Russian forces should be able to “neutralize any military threat.”
China should “build more strategic nuclear arms and accelerate the deployment of the DF-41 intercontinental ballistic missile,” China’s nationalist Global Times said in December.
Last week, Chinese reports indicated that China had deployed its nuclear-capable DF-41s in response to President Donald Trump’s “provocative remarks.”
The request predates Trump’s election; however, it appears consistent with his intentions for enhancing the power of the U.S. military.
“The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes,” Trump tweeted in late December.
Trump instructed Secretary of Defense General James Mattis to “initiate a new Nuclear Posture Review to ensure that the United States nuclear deterrent is modern, robust, flexible, resilient, ready, and appropriately tailored to deter 21st-century threats and reassure our allies” Friday.
At the same time, Trump hopes that he can reshape relations with both China and Russia.
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German doctors treating Pyotr Verzilov have said that the anti-Kremlin activist was probably poisoned, and a Moscow newspaper reports a possible connection with the killing of three Russian journalists in the Central African Republic (C.A.R.) in July 2018.
The developments on Sept. 18, 2018, deepened the mystery surrounding the sudden illness of Verzilov, a member of the punk protest band Pussy Riot and the dissident art troupe Voina who was flown to Berlin for treatment three days earlier.
“The impression and the findings that we now have, as well as those provided by colleagues from Moscow, suggest that it was highly plausible that it was a case of poisoning,” Kai-Uwe Eckardt, a doctor at Charite hospital in Berlin, told a news conference.
Eckhart’s colleague, Karl Max Einhaeupl, said that there was so far no other explanation for Verzilov’s condition and no evidence that the activist, who was initially hospitalized in Moscow, was suffering from a long-term illness.
Eckardt said Verzilov’s condition was not life-threatening. He said the symptoms indicated a disruption of the part of Verzilov’s nervous system that regulates the internal organs, but that the substance responsible for the poisoning hadn’t yet been determined.
Verzilov, 30, fell ill on Sept. 11, 2018, after a court hearing in Moscow, and later suffered seizures while being taken to a hospital in an ambulance. Friends said he began losing his sight, speech, and mobility.
The Reuters news agency quoted Jaka Bizilj, the managing director of the Berlin-based Cinema for Peace human rights group, as saying his group had paid for Verzilov’s flight to Berlin and that Russia had been “cooperative.”
Bizilj said that Verzilov suffered seizures while being taken to a Moscow hospital by ambulance.
Verzilov’s ex-wife, Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, told the German newspaper Bild he believed he was “poisoned intentionally, and that it was an attempt to intimidate him or kill him.”
Footage posted by Tolokonnikova showed Verzilov sitting up in the plane on the tarmac in Berlin and he appeared to be alert.
In a Sept. 18, 2018 report the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta said that on the day he was hospitalized, Verzilov was to have received a report from “foreign specialists” investigating the killings in C.A.R.
Russian journalists Orkhan Dzhemal, Aleksandr Rastorguyev, and Kirill Radchenko, were killed on July 30, 2018, in C.A.R., where they were working on a documentary about the possible activities there of a shadowy Russian paramilitary group with alleged Kremlin ties.
The Novaya Gazeta report, which cited sources it did not name, said that Verzilov was a close friend of Rastorguyev and had himself been planning to travel to C.A.R. with the trio but decided to remain in Russia to support jailed Kremlin opponents.
Verzilov is a co-founder of the website Mediazona, which reports on the trials of Russian activists, prison conditions, and other aspects of the Russian justice system. He has both Russian and Canadian citizenship.
In July 2018, he was sentenced along with other Pussy Riot members to 15 days in jail for briefly interrupting the July 15, 2018 World Cup final in Moscow between France and Croatia by running onto the field wearing fake police uniforms.
Pyotr Verzilov and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova.
Verzilov became known as a member of the Voina (War) art troupe in the late 2000s.
He performed with then-wife Tolokonnikova, who went on to form Pussy Riot with Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich.
Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova founded Mediazona in 2014, with Verzilov becoming publisher.
Kremlin critics accuse the Russian authorities of poisoning several journalists, Kremlin foes, and others who have died or fallen mysteriously ill since President Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000.
Verzilov’s sudden illness came against the backdrop of outrage over what British authorities say was the poisoning by Russian military intelligence officers of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter with a nerve agent in England in March 2018, and the death of a woman police say was exposed to the substance after the alleged attackers discarded it.