Remains believed to be of a Revolutionary War hero buried at West Point don’t belong to a woman known as “Captain Molly” after all, but to an unknown man.
The U.S. Military Academy said Dec. 5 the discovery stems from a study of skeletal remains conducted after Margaret Corbin’s grave was accidentally disturbed last year by excavators building a retaining wall by her monument in the West Point Cemetery. Tests by a forensic anthropologist revealed the remains were likely those of a middle-aged man who lived between the Colonial period and 19th century.
Corbin was known for bravely stepping in to fire a cannon in 1776 during a battle in New York City after her husband was killed. She was severely wounded during the Battle of Fort Washington, but lived another 24 years. She became the nation’s first woman to receive a pension for military service.
The location of Corbin’s remains is a mystery. Ground-penetrating radar around the gravesite failed to turn up any signs.
The Daughters of the American Revolution received approval in 1926 to move Corbin’s remains from nearby Highland Falls to the hallowed ground of West Point’s cemetery. The leafy lot near the Hudson River is the resting place for thousands, including Gulf War commander Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, U.S. commander in Vietnam Gen. William Westmoreland, and Lt. Col. George Custer.
The DAR used records and local accounts from the community to locate the remains believed to be Corbin, according to the Army.
“The remains were verified back in 1926. And you have to consider the gap between 1926 and today. Technology has changed tremendously,” said Col.Madalyn Gainey, spokeswoman for Army National Military Cemeteries.
The remains of the unknown man were reinterred at West Point’s cemetery. A re-dedication ceremony for the Corbin monument at the cemetery is scheduled for May.
“Nearly 250 years after the Battle of Fort Washington, her bravery and legacy to American history as one of the first women to serve in combat in the defense of our nation continues to transcend and inspire women in military service today,” said ANMC Executive Director Karen Durham-Aguilera.
Pentagon plans envisioning smart, autonomous weapons able to instantly react and respond to combat situations may run up against a proposed United Nations ban on lethal autonomous weapons systems.
The UN is hoping to head off autonomous killing systems before countries begin making them part of their arsenals, though the US, Russia and others appear to be in no hurry to slow the advance of killer robots.
Just last week Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work told a national defense forum in Washington, D.C., that a strong deterrence strategy in the future will depend partly on having weapons systems that “learn” in real-time and operate autonomously.
Automated battle networks boosted by advances in computing power and network attacks already has combat operations moving at cyber speed, Work said.
“This trend is only going to continue as advanced militaries experiment with these technologies, as well as others like hypersonics,” he said. “In the not-too-distant future, we’ll see directed energy weapons on the battlefield which operate at the speed of light.”
But the UN is hoping to head off autonomous killing systems before countries begin making them part of their arsenals.
Christof Heyns, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, told the British newspaper The Guardian in October that research and development is well underway.
“A lot of money is going into development and people will want a return on their investment,” Heyns told the paper. “If there is not a preemptive ban on the high-level autonomous weapons then once the genie is out of the bottle it will be extremely difficult to get it back in.”
When UN delegates met in Geneva in April to discuss a proposed LAWS convention, the head of the American delegation said the US believes that “a robust policy process and methodology can help mitigate risk when developing new weapon systems.”
The Pentagon has established a directive for how the US would consider plans for developing such systems, Michael Meier told the group.
“We would like to make clear that the Directive does not establish a US position on the potential future development of [LAWS] — it neither encourages nor prohibits the development of such future systems.”
During a meeting on LAWS in October, the US called it premature to consider a ban on LAWS and reiterated that it neither encourages nor prohibits the development of such weapons, according to Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, a group made up of nine human rights and peace organizations.
Russia sounded much like the US, according to the group, which quoted that delegation as saying banning such systems is premature since, “for the time being we deal with virtual technology that does not have any operating models
Work, in his presentation in Washington last week, quoted Gen. Valery Gerasimov, chief of Russia’s General Staff, as saying Russia is preparing to fight on a roboticized battlefield.
“And [Gerasimov] said — and I quote — ‘In the near future, it is possible that a fully roboticized unit will be created, capable of independently conducting military operations’,” Work said.
Making uniforms for Army Soldiers isn’t just for the big clothing manufacturers anymore. Now, there are others on the job, including 100 Goodwill employees in South Florida. Back in 2018, the Army decided on a new dress uniform. Of course, we all know this change was just one of many that the Army has instituted over the years. The latest iteration of Army uniforms is a vintage style that resembles those of World War II. As of early 2021, they are finally turning from vision into reality. They’re called the Army Green Service Uniforms (AGSU) and they’re coming to a post near you – soon.
But as we all also know buying new uniforms ALL THE TIME can get expensive — like really expensive. A recent trip to Clothing and Sales for a price check showed that outfitting yourself in the Pinks and Greens is going to cost about $650 with alterations. YIKES. So for those of us that don’t want to shell out that kind of dough, here’s an alternative.
Sewing their way into the hearts of US Soldiers
The Goodwill employees in South Florida on the job are honored to be a part of the making of these uniforms. Walter Anderson says he feels like it’s a privilege to participate in the military process in any way he can. He knows Soldiers put their lives in danger for America. So, he’s happy to do what he can to reciprocate their service. In this case, that means sewing their new uniforms.
Goodwill’s vice-president of manufacturing Edward Terris noted that the workers feel a strong connection being able to do their part with something tangible to support the troops. Sewing the uniforms is an additional way to show their patriotism beyond just being a patriotic person.
Giving back to the military just feels good
Terris also brought up the fact that Goodwill hires many people with employment barriers and disabilities. For these populations, having the chance to do work they truly find meaningful is really important in building confidence and feeling pride in what they do. They will be able to walk away from this experience knowing they contributed and made a difference on a national level. Giving back to the US Military, knowing your work is of service to them, is no small feat for anyone.
Their Goodwill is going global
The Goodwill employees of South Florida are in the process of making 1,000 shirts and 300 hats for both the men and women of the US Army. As they finish batches of uniforms, they ship them out across the US. They will complete their sewing work by the end of February 2021.
From its origins as an alternative to the GI .45-caliber pistol to its role introducing night vision to the American fighting man, the handy M-1 carbine remained relevant even during the age of the Kalashnikov.
For more than three decades, the M-1 carbine did more than it was ever expected to do. Long overshadowed by the iconic and heavy-hitting M-1 Garand, the M-1 Carbine began its existence in 1940 when the Secretary of War issued orders for the development of a lightweight and reliable “intermediate rifle.”
Although developed to replace the venerable M1911 pistol, other factors convinced the War Department to develop a carbine. The success of the German blitzkrieg in 1939 also had convinced the Army that rapidly deployed maneuver forces such as airborne soldiers or armored columns could punch through front lines and endanger support troops.
In theory, the M-1 carbine was never intended to replace the Garand as a battle rifle – it was supposed to arm cooks and clerks.
“It was a compromise,” said Doug Wicklund, senior curator at the NRA National Firearms Museum, Fairfax, Virginia. “They called it the ‘war baby,’ the younger sibling of the Garand, and it was for soldiers who were not on the front line, something that they would have a better chance of hitting the enemy and defending themselves with.”
But by 1943, up to 40 percent of some infantry divisions were carrying the.30-caliber M-1 carbine as their primary weapon, according to The M-1 Carbine, Leroy Thompson’s history of the weapon’s development and use.
“It was an easier gun to carry than the Garand,” Wicklund said. “It was shorter, it was lighter, it was reliable, it was easier to shoot and easier to clean, and it had a 15-round magazine. It was easy to tape two magazines together and get 30 rounds to fire. Stopping power was not there with the carbine, but you could fire it more times.”
Once the United States entered into World War II, the Army issued contracts ramping up production of the M-1 Carbine. Eventually, more than six million of the weapons in both semi-automatic and select fire models poured out of factories – two million more than the number of Garands produced during the war.
Winchester was one leading producer, but as American companies turned to war production Inland Manufacturing (a General Motors division and producer of a majority of the weapons), National Postal Meter, IBM and even Underwood Typewriter Co. cranked out hundreds of thousands of the carbines.
During World War II and the Korean War, it was completely possible for the Army to issue a company clerk an Underwood typewriter and an Underwood M-1 Carbine.
In 1944, it was modified to shoot both in semi-automatic and full-auto modes. Called the M-2, it spit out bullets at a rate of 900 rounds per minute.
When German troops received the history-changing MP 44 Sturmgewehr, the Wehrmacht put increased firepower in the hands of small units that could direct fully automatic fire at U.S. troops with an assault rifle. The M-1 Garand, hard-hitting as it was, carried only eight rounds to the MP 44’s 30 rounds contained in a detachable box magazine.
Inland Division produced 570,000 M-2 select fire carbines as a solution. The weapon has a selector switch on the left side of the receiver and it can hold a 30-round box magazine.
It wasn’t a Sturmgewehr, but it was available. “The U.S. military has always used what it has already,” said Wicklund. “We had it in inventory. They were everywhere.”
It was also the ideal platform for a technological development that presaged how the United States would own the night during future wars.
During the same year, a version designed to use the first U.S. night-vision gear (the “Sniperscope”) was used by Marines against the Japanese on Okinawa, leading to one out of three enemy soldiers killed by small arms fire dying because of the carbine’s prowess as a night-fighter’s tool.
The Electronic Laboratories Co. developed active infrared night vision in the form of the Sniperscope, a 20-pound package of telescopic sight, infrared flood light, image tube, cables and powerpack. The scope had a range of about 70 yards and could be mounted on either an M-1 or M-2 carbine.
The system not only saw action in the Pacific Theater during World War II but troops used it widely during the Korean War. For example, Marines using carbines with the Sniperscope would fire tracers down on the positions of North Korean and Chinese troops mounting night attacks so machinegunners could target the enemy with heavier fire.
Once again, the M-1 Carbine so frequently described with words such as “handy” and “reliable” was in the right place at the right time. One of the reasons it was selected as the weapon of choice for the Sniperscope was the technological marvel’s weight and bulk. The lightweight carbine kept the weight penalty on an already heavy weapon system to a minimum, a boon for the GI who had to slog the battlefield with it.
In some ways, the M-1 Carbine was the weapon that refused to say “die.”
In Vietnam, even though thousands of the new M-16s had been issued to U.S. troops including the Special Forces in 1964 many Green Berets preferred the M-1 carbine, the weapon of their fathers’ wars.
Recruits arriving at Marine Corps Recruit Depots in late November will be the first to go through an additional period of training, which will be known as fourth phase, designed to better prepare them for success as Marines.
The Marine Corps has reorganized a portion of the current 13-week recruit training to afford drill instructors additional time to mentor and lead new Marines. Among the slight modifications, recruits will tackle the Crucible, the demanding 54-hour challenge, a week earlier and then spend the final two weeks of training as ‘Marines’. The Crucible remains the culminating event for recruits as they earn the title ‘Marine.’
“Making Marines is one of the most important things that we do,” said Gen. Robert Neller, Commandant of the Marine Corps. “Earning the title is, and will remain, difficult. Our standards and requirements have not changed but as recruit training evolves we want to ensure we are preparing Marines for success in their follow-on training and service to our great country.”
Fourth phase will utilize the six F’s of Marine Leader Development framework: Fidelity, Fighter, Fitness, Family, Finances and Future. Marines will be in small groups covering subjects that are critical to success and growth in all aspects of their personal and professional lives.
Neller added that the Corps is seeking more time for these new Marines to get used to the idea that earning the title ‘Marine’ is just the beginning.
“We thought it was important that the drill instructor, the key figure in the development of these new Marines, had a role to play in the transition,” said Neller. “They were their drill instructors, but now they have to be their staff sergeant, their gunnery sergeant and we thought that was very powerful.”
As drill instructors transition from trainers of recruits to mentors of Marines, the expected result is a more resilient, mature, disciplined and better-prepared Marine.
“This is a normal evolution of the recruit training experience,” said Neller. “We are trying to keep the very best of what we do now [in recruit training] and add something to make it even better.”
Recruits at both Marine Corps Recruit Depots Parris Island, South Carolina, and San Diego will first tackle the fourth phase in early February 2018.
The Navy is a tradition-bound military service, and few traditions are as important as burials at sea.
Perhaps the most unique services in the fleet occur on board submarines that spend the majority of their time under water. Submarine Force Atlantic says it is preparing for burials at sea on several Norfolk-based subs in the next few months.
One of those burials will be for World War II submarine veteran Marcus White, who served on seven war patrols in the Pacific theater during World War II and the Korean War, and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with the “V” device for valor, signifying it was earned in combat.
White died in June at age 95. The USS Newport News, a Los Angeles-class attack submarine, will commit him and his wife Mary Miles White, who died seven years earlier, to the sea sometime next year. White’s son, Marcus White Jr., lives in Chesapeake and said his father loved being a submariner, and that he’s fulfilling his father’s wishes. The Navy allows active-duty sailors, veterans and their family members to be buried at sea.
The chaplain for the Navy’s Norfolk-based submarine squadron, Lt. Cmdr. Richard Smothers, spoke with The Virginian-Pilot about what makes burial ceremonies on board subs unique and special for those who choose them.
Releasing of cremains
Unlike larger ships such as aircraft carriers that can accommodate caskets, all submarine burials at sea involve cremains. They also must occur at least 3 miles from shore.
Smothers said burials at sea aboard a sub primarily occur in two ways. If the weather is fair, a sub will surface, stop moving and conduct a ceremony topside that involves raising a flag the family can keep, reading any scriptures the family requests and firing a 21-gun salute with seven rifles. A member of the crew will then pour the ashes overboard. Chaplains don’t serve on board subs, and the service is usually led by a lay leader on the boat.
Smothers said the sub’s commanding officer will usually address the crew from an onboard communications system so everyone can learn about the person who was committed to the deep. If the weather isn’t good enough to allow for a full topside ceremony, the cremains can be poured overboard in a smaller ceremony from a ship’s sail, the tall structure found on the topside of the sub.
The other option involves releasing ashes underwater through a torpedo tube while the sub is still moving. Smothers said this is a popular option among those who served as torpedomen.
“I know it sounds amazing or strange, but it does happen, and it can be done very honorably, very respectfully,” he said.
Smothers said the crew will clean the torpedo tube’s surface and place the cremains inside. After the burial, the family will usually receive a letter of condolence and appreciation from the sub’s commanding officer and a chart showing the GPS coordinates where the cremains were released.
Custody of the fallen
The Navy accommodates requests for burials at sea when it can, but it’s not always a speedy process. A ship’s operational schedule takes priority, and it can be months between the time a request is made and the time the burial occurs. In White’s case, that also allowed for a traditional memorial service long before his cremains were set to sail from Norfolk.
For a burial at sea on board a Norfolk-based sub, Smothers said a family will first provide their loved one’s cremains to Naval Medical Center Portsmouth. A religious program specialist in the submarine force will then take custody of the cremains and examine sub schedules to find the best fit.
If former submariners spent most of their time in a certain home port such as Groton, Conn., or Kings Bay, Ga., they’ll try to find a sub based there. Otherwise, they’ll find the best available schedule. Sometimes family members will be allowed onto Naval Station Norfolk or another base to watch the sub carrying their loved one’s remains depart, which is a rare occurrence for an outsider to know when a sub is departing.
Smothers said a religious program specialist will go aboard the sub with the cremains and transfer it to either the executive officer or chief of the boat, where they will be safely locked away in a state room until the burial. Smothers said the Norfolk squadron typically performs about a dozen burials at sea a year.
The submarine force is a small, tight-knit, all-volunteer community that places a premium on valuing tradition and respecting their forerunners. In some cases, subs will perform a burial at sea where a sub sank so a former submariner can be committed to the deep with some of his former crew members or the sub where he served.
Smothers also said it’s not uncommon for family members to request that someone who holds the same job their loved one did participate in the ceremony.
“I think burials at sea, that’s one of the ways we not only just honor those families and their service, but we reactivate our commitment and our appreciation for serving,” Smothers said. “It’s a real privilege to be a part of. … Every sub that’s ever been part of a burial at sea has thanked us and said, ‘Hey, we appreciate being able to do this.’ It’s an honor.”
Russia reportedly plans to arm its most advanced fighter jet with a powerful hypersonic air-to-air missile that can take aim at aircraft nearly two hundred miles away, making them a potential threat to critical US air assets.
The Su-57 multipurpose fighter jet, a fifth-generation stealth fighter built for air superiority and complex attack operations that is still in development, will be armed with the new R-37M, an upgraded version of an older long-range air-to-air missile, Russia Today reported Sept. 27, 2018, citing defense officials.
The Russian Ministry of Defense is reportedly close to completing testing for this weapon, the development of which began after the turn of the century.
With a reported operational range of 186 to 248 miles and a top speed of Mach 6 (4,500 mph), the R-37M is designed to eliminate rear support aircraft, critical force multipliers such as early warning and aerial refueling aircraft. Russia asserts that the missile possesses an active-seeker homing system that allows it to target fighter jets during the terminal phase of flight.
While Russia initially intended to see the weapon carried by the MiG-31 interceptors, these missiles are now expected to become the primary weapons of the fourth-generation Su-30s and Su-35s, as well as the next-generation Su-57s. The weapon’s specifications were modified to meet these demands.
The Russians are also apparently developing another very long-range air-to-air missile — the KS-172, a two-stage missile with a range said to be in excess of the R-37M’s capabilities, although the latter is reportedly much closer to deployment.
Mockup of the KS–172 in front of a Sukhoi Su-30.
China, another US competitor, is also reportedly developing advanced long-range air-to-air missiles that could be carried by the reportedly fifth-generation J-20 stealth fighter. The China Daily reported in January 2017 that photos of a J-11B from the Red Sword 2016 combat drills appeared to show a new beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile.
“China has developed a new missile that can hit high-value targets such as early-warning planes and aerial refueling aircraft, which stay far from conflict zones,” the state-run media outlet reported, citing Fu Qianshao, an equipment researcher with the People’s Liberation Army Air Force.
Slow, vulnerable rear-support aircraft improve the overall effectiveness of key front-line fighter units, such as America’s F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, which just conducted its first combat mission. The best strategy to deal with this kind of advanced system is to “send a super-maneuverable fighter jet with very-long-range missiles to destroy those high-value targets, which are ‘eyes’ of enemy jets,” Fu told the China Daily, calling the suspected development of this type of weapon a “major breakthrough.”
The missiles being developed by US rivals reportedly have a greater range than the American AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM), giving them a potential edge over US military aircraft.
The Russian Su-57 is expected to enter service in 2019, although the Russian military is currently investing more heavily in fourth-generation fighters like the MiG-29SMT Fulcrum and Su-35S Flanker E, which meet the country’s air combat needs for the time being. Russia canceled plans for the mass production of the Su-57 in July 2018 after a string of development problems.
There is some evidence the aircraft may have been active in Syria in early 2018, but the plane remains unready for combat at this time. Military analyst Michael Kofman previously told Business Insider that the Su-57 is “a poor man’s stealth aircraft,” adding that it doesn’t quite stack up to the F-35 or F-22.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Country music superstar Chris Young has released two platinum albums, been inducted into the Grand Ole Opry, and has nine number 1 hits. He’s on his Raised On Country Tour right now, and he took some time to talk about what it’s like to visit with Navy working dogs, to see so many vets and service members on his tour after his sister’s time in the Marines, and to have a tour sponsor in USAA that can help him get in touch with more military audiences.
Young picked the cities for the tour for the standard reasons, but he’s gotten to enjoy some little perks and experiences at military stops. Like when, two weeks ago, he got to hang out with dog handlers at Naval Base San Diego.
“There are so many markets where we’re going to go that are pretty large military markets as far as bases,” he said, “and, you know, we’re able to do the things like we did in San Diego on the naval base the other day.”
“We knew there were going to be a bunch of partnership opportunities like that [with USAA] and I just have a big love and respect for the military,” he said. “So anytime you get a tour sponsor where you know, everything already lines up on its own, it’s a pretty incredible thing.”
He isn’t new to the military experience, though. Young’s sister was a West Coast Marine who worked on helicopters. And she married another Marine. Seeing his sibling’s sacrifices deepened his respect for the military.
“I remember that I would see, first-hand, about the amount of time that people are going out. She and I have always been really, really, really close and so when you go months at a time, sometimes, without being able to see somebody because their travel versus what you’re doing to travel and anything else I think you understand it in a different way I guess.”
It’s his sister’s and his brother-in-law’s military service that he thinks of when he’s performing “The Dashboard,” a song about two brothers when one is sent to war and leaves his truck behind. For anyone who hasn’t heard it, we won’t give away the ending, but it’s not the ending made typical by “Riding with Private Malone.”
Young didn’t write “The Dashboard,” but he connected with it when he heard it.
“That song, buddy of mine Monty Criswell wrote it, and I just thought it was so different from the way I had heard other songs written even along the same line, topically, just the way he handled that song and made it something really, really special and anytime that I’ve played I always use the chance to reference my sister because obviously, she’s a Marine so I get a chance to nod to her and my brother-in-law when I sing that song and I always make sure to say something about them.”
For Young, who has gotten a kick out of playing for troops since he was at bases like Fort Bliss before his first record contract, it’s nice to get back in front of them. But as his fame has grown and technology has advanced, he’s found better ways of recognizing vets and service members in huge venues.
A partner company makes these “armbands where we’ve been able to ask people prior to the show, we go, ‘Hey have you or has anyone in your family served?’ And then we can actually light up their armbands for a song and kind of call them out say thank you that way … which is pretty cool.”
For Young, that made USAA agreeing to come as tour sponsor perfect. He already loved the military and liked to take time during shows to raise them up, so having a sponsor whose customer base is almost exclusively military families let everything sync up.
“I’m already totally all in on and any chance that I get to say thank you in multiple different ways to military, that’s something that’s been important to me my entire career. [Partnering with USAA] is just going to be awesome. It’s just going to work so I think it’s one of things that just happened.”
The Pentagon announced Wednesday that they need hackers to attack the Pentagon’s digital systems in order to identify weak points and train how to respond, according to Reuters.
“I am confident that this innovative initiative will strengthen our digital defenses and ultimately enhance our national security,” Defense Secretary Ash Carter said.
Hackers who participate may even be awarded monetary prizes, but there are a few rules. Hackers must be U.S. citizens, they must be vetted experts in computer hacking, and they must register their intent to test the systems.
Also, the Pentagon has identified certain public-facing computer systems to be tested. Hackers who attempt to access any other systems, presumably all the sensitive ones that control classified data or nuclear weapons, would still be subject to criminal charges.
“The goal is not to comprise any aspect of our critical systems, but to still challenge our cybersecurity in a new and innovative way,” a defense official told Reuters.
Inviting hackers to attack a network has been done before in the commercial sector, but this is a first for the Pentagon. Typically, the Pentagon tests its systems by establishing “red teams” composed of Department of Defense employees who attack the system rather than recruiting hordes of outsiders.
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.”
Underage soldiers were often allowed to enlist during the Civil War — especially if they chose a non-combat position such as bugler or drummer boy. This led to boys barely in their teens suffering wounds alongside the grown men.
In one case, a 12-year-old boy nearly lost his left hand and arm when it was shattered by an artillery shell.
Sometime in 1864, he was serving in battle when an artillery shell burst nearby. The shrapnel ripped through his left hand and arm. He is widely regarded as having been the youngest Civil War casualty.
Long before obstacle-course races became the dad fitness fad du jour, kids enjoyed crawling, jumping, and swinging from station to station in PE class. And they still do, even if not all of them want to train for a Mini Mudder. Most young kids have a good notion of what obstacle courses are (the world looks like one when you’re small enough) so getting them to race through homemade gauntlets is fairly easy and, when it comes to tiring them out, incredibly effective. It’s an activity that naturally builds on itself because kids will want to provide feedback on specific obstacles and courses can have endless permutations, at least until someone breaks something. The perfect obstacle course should be challenging, silly, and easily deconstructed or reconstructed. But, most importantly, it should be safe ⏤ so no fire pits!
Prep Time: About 30 minutes. Entertainment Time: 20 minutes to two hours. Energy Expended by Child: Mostly physical, unless you want to throw in a puzzle or two.
Things to crawl under or through. If you don’t already have a play tunnel, pull a sheet taut and have them crawl under it, army style.
Things to throw. Make a station where aim is important. Throwing is a skill very young kids can develop.
Things to balance on. An extra piece of woods in the shed can be a balance beam. So can a floorboard if everyone agrees it’s surrounded by lava.
If you’re setting an outdoor obstacle course up in the backyard, there are plenty of ready-to-buy obstacles, as well.
How to Play:
The best way to play ‘Obstacle Course’ is by building several stations, each with their own challenge. Depending on the age of the kids, they can help with this part. Here’s an example (note that writing it down can be helpful and make comprehension part of the game):
Knock down all the cans.
Jump from block to block.
Ride the tricycle across the living room while making a silly face.
Crawl through the tunnel.
Drag a heavy thing past the line.
Walk a ping pong ball with a spoon.
The individual stations can be anything and are only limited by space and imagination. You can add special challenges as kids figure out how to manage certain obstacles. It’s also important to note that stations can reoccur in each running of an obstacle course. It is, for instance, a great idea to get kids to jump multiple times between activities that require more precise muscle control. This forces kids to engage different muscles and tires them out.
It’s also important to note that obstacle course are not merely physical. They are based on rules. It’s good to establish a points system that informs timing (plus 10 seconds for falling off the balance beam) because it incentivizes kids to really do the thing while turning you into a referee and arbiter of success, which puts you in a better position to encourage certain approaches or dish out positive feedback so kids feel like they’re making progress over time. If they aren’t, it also puts you in a prime position to obscure that fact.
To that end, it’s smart to make yourself one of the obstacles. Make kids dodge balls you’re throwing, chase you down, or play the levels game. This allows for you to make the course increasingly difficult and gets you directly involved, which is likely to ramp up interests (kids are predictable like that). On that same note, it’s a good idea to try to do the course — the parts you can fit through — to set a baseline time for your kid to beat. A bit of competition, no matter how silly, provides kids with a way to compete with mom and dad and understand their abilities and bodies in relation to other people’s. This leads to an ability to do a kind of athletic self-assessment that can be helpful later in life. It also tends to lead to absolute exhaustion.
Obstacle courses are a great way for your kids to burn off excess energy. And if they ever get tired of the same old course, change the theme or turn it into a narrated adventure: Superhero tryouts, ninja training, find the hidden treasure. Younger kids will especially enjoy embarking on the course as a character on an expedition. In the end, not only is it satisfying to watch your kids challenge themselves but also to watch them enjoy something you all built … even if it was made with couch cushions.
Senior Veterans Health Administration (VHA) employees recently demonstrated to the public how innovations are advancing clinical care and outcomes for veterans. Innovations included a virtual reality application used as a revolutionary PTSD treatment and 3D printing used for everything from orthotics to pre-surgery procedures.
The innovations were presented at the 2nd Annual Tech Day on May 16, 2019, in Washington, DC, by Dr. Beth Ripley, Senior Innovator Fellow, and Joshua Patterson, Acting Director of Strategic Initiatives with VHA Innovation Ecosystem (IE). Tech Day is a way for federal agencies to share their cutting-edge, mission-enabling technologies with leaders, fellow federal workers, and the public.
VHA IE made a big impression with its virtual reality and 3D printing demonstrations as attendees experienced how these ever-expanding technologies are helping veterans every day.
Beth Ripley demonstrates 3D printing.
Patterson demonstrated StrongMind, VHA’s innovative PTSD treatment that offers patients therapeutic experiences that wouldn’t be possible without the use of virtual reality. By donning a virtual reality headset, attendees experienced how StrongMind works and why it’s appealing to a younger generation of veterans. They also experienced the personalized, forward-thinking care VA is delivering to veterans using innovative technology.
Ripley described how VHA’s 3D Printing Network is an integrated national effort that allows VA health care staff to share ideas and best practices, solve problems, and pool resources to improve veteran care.
These programs aren’t just on the showroom floor, however.
Veterans in the Puget Sound area have been the beneficiaries of 3D printing as VHA medical staff make model kidneys for veteran patients with renal cancer to aid in pre-surgical planning. At many other VHA facilities, veterans suffering from diabetes who lose feeling in their feet now have access to custom orthotics at the time of their visit, instead of waiting weeks to have them manufactured.
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.