Congress is hurtling toward yet another government shutdown deadline on Jan. 19 and while the focus for this round of negotiations is on immigration, there is one key issue that will determine whether the deadline comes and goes without an agreement.
Congress must still decide exactly how much funding to provide for defense and non-defense functions of the government. So far this fiscal year, short-term funding bills passed before the few shutdown deadlines maintained last year’s spending levels for federal programs — but Congress wants to increase spending for the new year.
There are limitations on how large the funding increases can be because of the spending caps triggered in 2013 by the 2011 Budget Control Act. These caps on the amount the government can increase spending for defense and non-defense spending from year to year are much lower than lawmakers want.
Both Democrats and Republicans want to come to an agreement in order to increase those levels beyond the current limits for next year. Going above the Budget Control Act’s limits can be done with a congressional action, but first Congress must get over the substantial disagreement on the size of the increases.
Republicans want a bulk of the spending increase to go to defense spending instead of non-defense spending. Democrats, on the other hand, want to increase defense and non-defense spending by an equal amount.
The initial offer from the GOP in December was to boost defense spending by $54 billion and non-defense spending by $37 billion for 2018 and 2019. Democrats rejected this, calling for parity between the two by raising both sides by $54 billion.
Despite being in the minority, Democrats have substantial influence on the issue because some Republicans concerned about government spending — such as Sen. Rand Paul — could vote against any bill that substantially increases spending above the caps.
Additionally, Democrats could filibuster any spending bill in the Senate that does not meet their demands.
Sen. John Cornyn, the second-highest ranking GOP senator, said that setting these caps has been difficult so far because Democrats are attempting to attach codification of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration program, which prevents the deportation of undocumented immigrants that entered the country as minors, to the bill setting the caps.
Despite the complication of the DACA fight, Democrats have additional leverage on the spending cap issue since no party has had the government shut down while controlling both Congress and the White House since 1979.
The most likely scenario in the coming days, according to reports, is that Congress passes a short-term funding extension with new cap levels, giving appropriators — staffers who do technical budgetary work — time to hash out exactly where to spend the money.
“In our minds, the only question is the size of the deal — we had initially ball-parked a $300 billion deal over two years, though ~$200 billion over two years (equal amounts to defense and non-defense) now seems more likely,” said Chris Kreuger, a policy strategist at Cowen Washington Research Group. “The Republicans have offered $54 billion for defense and $37 billion for non-defense, though the Democrats are demanding 1:1 parity (which they are likely to get).”
Ralph Stepney’s home on a quiet street in north Baltimore has a welcoming front porch and large rooms, with plenty of space for his comfortable recliner and vast collection of action movies. The house is owned by Joann West, a licensed caregiver who shares it with Stepney and his fellow Vietnam War veteran Frank Hundt.
“There is no place that I’d rather be. … I love the quiet of living here, the help we get. I thank the Lord every year that I am here,” Stepney, 73, said.
It’s a far cry from a decade ago, when Stepney was homeless and “didn’t care about anything.” His diabetes went unchecked and he had suffered a stroke — a medical event that landed him at the Baltimore Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
After having part of his foot amputated, Stepney moved into long-term nursing home care at a VA medical facility, where he thought he’d remain — until he became a candidate for a small VA effort that puts aging veterans in private homes: the Medical Foster Home program.
(Photo by Lynne Shallcross)
The $20.7 million-per-year program provides housing and care for more than 1,000 veterans in 42 states and Puerto Rico, serving as an alternative to nursing home care for those who cannot live safely on their own. Veterans pay their caregivers $1,500 to $3,000 a month, depending on location, saving the government about $10,000 a month in nursing home care. It has been difficult to scale up, though, because the VA accepts only foster homes that meet strict qualifications.
(Photo by Lynne Shallcross)
For the veterans, it’s a chance to live in a home setting with caregivers who treat them like family. For the Department of Veterans Affairs, the program provides an option for meeting its legal obligation to care for ailing, aging patients at significantly reduced costs, since the veterans pay room and board directly to their caregivers.
Cost-effectiveness is but one of the program’s benefits. Stepney and Hundt, 67, are in good hands with West, who previously ran a home health care services company. And they’re in good company, watching television together in the main living room, going to elder care twice a week and sitting on West’s porch chatting with neighbors.
(Photo by Lynne Shallcross)
West, who considers caring for older adults “her calling,” also savors the companionship and finds satisfaction in giving back to those who spent their young lives in military service to the U.S.
“I took care of my mother when she got cancer and I found that I really had a passion for it. I took classes and ran an in-home nursing care business for years. But my dream was always to get my own place and do what I am doing now,” West said. “God worked it out.”
The Medical Foster Home program has slightly more than 700 licensed caregivers who live full time with no more than three veterans and provide round-the-clock supervision and care, according to the VA. Akin to a community residential care facility, each foster home must be state-licensed as an assisted living facility and submit to frequent inspections by the VA as well as state inspectors, nutritionists, pharmacists and nurses.
Unlike typical community care facilities, foster home caregivers are required to live on-site and tend to the needs of their patients themselves 24/7 — or supply relief staff.
“It’s a lot of work, but I have support,” West says. “I try to make all my personal appointments on days when Mr. Ralph and Mr. Frank are out, but if I can’t, someone comes in to be here when I’m gone.”
VA medical foster home providers also must pass a federal background check, complete 80 hours of training before they can accept patients, plus 20 hours of additional training each year, and allow the VA to make announced and unannounced home visits. They cannot work outside the home and must maintain certification in first aid, CPR and medicine administration.
(Photo by Lynne Shallcross)
But one prerequisite cannot be taught — the ability to make a veteran feel at home. West has grown children serving in the military and takes pride in contributing to the well-being of veterans.
“It’s a lot of joy taking care of them,” she said of Stepney and Hundt. “They deserve it.”
To be considered for the program, veterans must be enrolled in VA health care; have a serious, chronic disabling medical condition that requires a nursing home level of care; and need care coordination and access to VA services. It can take up to a month to place a veteran in a home once they are found eligible, according to the VA.
The veterans also must be able to cover their costs. Because medical foster homes are not considered institutional care, the VA is not allowed to pay for it directly. The average monthly fee, according to the VA, is $2,300, which most veterans cover with their VA compensation, Social Security and savings, said Nicole Trimble, Medical Foster Home coordinator at the Perry Point VA Medical Center in Maryland.
Pilot program takes off
Since 1999, the Department of Veterans Affairs has been required to provide nursing home services to veterans who qualify for VA health care and have a service-connected disability rating of 70 percent or higher, or are considered unemployable and have a disability rating of 60 percent or higher.
The VA provides this care through short- or long-term nursing home facilities, respite care, community living centers on VA hospital grounds, private assisted living facilities and state veterans homes.
Shortly after, the VA Medical Center in Little Rock, Ark., launched an alternative — a pilot program that placed veterans in individual homes, at an average cost to the VA of roughly $60 a day, including administration and health care expenses, compared with upward of $500 a day for nursing home care.
(Photo by Lynne Shallcross)
And because veterans who are enrolled in the Medical Foster Care program must use the VA’s Home-Based Primary Care program, which provides an interdisciplinary team of health professionals for in-home medical treatment, the program saves the VA even more. One study showed that the home-based care has yielded a 59 percent drop in VA hospital inpatient days and a 31 percent reduction in admissions among those who participate.
More than 120 VA medical centers now oversee a Medical Foster Home program in their regions, and the VA has actively promoted the program within its health system.
It also has attracted bipartisan congressional support. In 2013, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced a bill to allow the VA to pay for medical foster homes directly.
In 2015, former House Veterans Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) introduced similar legislation that would have allowed the VA to pay for up to 900 veterans under the program.
And in May, Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) raised the issue again, sponsoring a bill similar to Miller’s. “Allowing veterans to exercise greater flexibility over their benefits ensures that their individual needs are best met,” Higgins said in support of the program.
A guardian ‘angel’
Foster care has been a blessing for the family of Hundt, who suffered a stroke shortly after his wife died and was unable to care for himself. Hundt’s daughter, Kimberly Malczewski, lives nearby and often stops in to visit her dad, sometimes with her 2-year-old son.
(Photo by Lynne Shallcross)
“I’m not sure where my father would be if he didn’t have this,” she said. “With my life situation — my husband and I both work full time, we have no extra room in our house, and we have a small child — I can’t take care of him the way Miss Joann does.”
Trimble, whose program started in 2012 and has five homes, said she hopes to expand by two to three homes a year. The VA will remain meticulous about selecting homes.
“There is a strict inspection and vetting process to be a medical foster home,” Trimble said. “We only will accept the best.”
It also takes a special person to be an “angel,” as the caregivers are referred to in the program’s motto, “Where Heroes Meet Angels.”
Stepney and Hundt agree West has earned her wings. On a recent cruise to Bermuda, she brought Stepney and Hundt along.
For Hundt, it was the first time he’d been on a boat. And Stepney said it was nothing like the transport ships he and his fellow troops used in the late 1960s: “Well, I’ve gotten to travel, but it was mainly two years in Vietnam, and there weren’t any women around.”
When asked why she brought the pair along, West said caregiving is “a ministry, something you really have to like to do.”
“And you know how the saying goes,” she said. “When you like what you do, you never work a day in your life.”
Five hundred and forty-eight Department of Veterans Affairs employees have been terminated since President Donald Trump took office, indicating that his campaign pledge to clean up “probably the most incompetently run agency in the United States” by relentlessly putting his TV catch phrase “you’re fired” into action was more than just empty rhetoric.
Another 200 VA workers were suspended and 33 demoted, according to data newly published by the department as part of VA Secretary David Shulkin’s commitment to greater transparency. Those disciplined include 22 senior leaders, more than 70 nurses, 14 police officers, and 25 physicians.
Also disciplined were a program analyst dealing with the Government Accountability Office, which audits the department, a public affairs specialist, a chief of police, and a chief of surgery.
Many housekeeping aides and food service workers — lower-level jobs in which the department has employed felons and convicted sex offenders — were also fired.
Scores of veterans have died waiting for care while VA bureaucrats falsified data to procure monetary bonuses, but fixes have been slow to come by largely because the union that represents VA employees has used its political muscle with Democrats to emphasize job security for government employees.
Former President Barack Obama originally appointed Shulkin as a VA undersecretary. By the end of the Obama administration, however, Shulkin had grown increasingly frustrated with the American Federation of Government Employees union and other groups defending bad employees’ supposed right to a government check even when they hurt veterans.
“Just last week we were forced to take back an employee after they were convicted no more than three times for DWI and had served a 60 day jail sentence … Our accountability processes are clearly broken,” Shulkin said at the White House.
In addition to reluctance by managers to vigorously pursue firings, the overturning of firings after the fact by the Merit Systems Protection Board — often with little public acknowledgment — has been a longstanding problem.
Shulkin asked for new legislation that reduces the role of MSPB, especially when firing senior leaders. Congress passed the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act in answer, and Trump signed the bill in June.
The published data predates those new powers, and does not note which disciplinary actions were later overturned.
One record shows a “senior leader” being removed January 20, while another record shows a “senior leader” being demoted April 21. Those appear to refer to the same person — disgraced Puerto Rico VA director DeWayne Hamlin — who returned to work in a lesser job after he appealed to the MSPB.
Former Obama Secretary of Veterans Affairs Bob McDonald seemed to have so little grasp on firing employees that in August 2016, he said that he had fired 140,000 employees, a figure that made little sense since that would be nearly half the workforce.
Former Puerto Rico VA director DeWayne Hamlin. DoD Photo by Joseph Rivera Rebolledo.
He said “you can’t fire your way to excellence” and blamed “negative news articles” for a morose culture, rather than the individuals perpetrating the misconduct described in those articles.
Though high-level hospital officials were affected, according to the data covering the first six months of the Trump administration, relatively few disciplinary actions occurred in the central offices where Washington bureaucrats work. Those employ fewer people than the hospitals, but repeated scandals have also shown such employees looking out for one another to preserve each others’ jobs.
There were five firings in the Veterans Health Administration Central Office, including one senior leader. There were also two in the Office of General Counsel, and one in the office of Congressional and Legislative affairs.
The data does not include employees’ names, and does not show which employees were on new-employee probationary status. Employees can be fired much more easily during their first year.
During the Obama administration, McDonald lamented that in the private sector “you cut a deal with the employee and you’re able to buy them out,” but said you cannot do that in government.
Yet VA repeatedly made five and six-figure payments to bad employees to get them to quit after they threatened to gum up the works by appealing disciplinary actions. The department even allowed Hamlin to offer a low-level employee $300,000 to quit after she refused to help management retaliate against a whistleblower who exposed Hamlin’s arrest.
The agency paid more than $5 million in settlements to employees under McDonald, which had the effect of encouraging bad employees to relentlessly appeal and make unsupported charges of discrimination when they were targeted for discipline, in an often-successful attempt to convert punishment into reward.
Shulkin said he “will look to settle with employees only when they clearly have been wronged … and not as a matter of ordinary business.”
The Kremlin says it will study any British request to question the two men London suspects of trying to murder a former spy, in strict accordance with Russian law.
But spokesman Dmitry Peskov said no such request has been received so far.
Britain has charged two men, Ruslan Boshirov and Aleksandr Petrov, with attempting to murder former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
British authorities accuse them of spraying a military-grade nerve agent, Novichok, on Skripal’s front door in Salisbury in March 2018.
Peskov on Septe. 14, 2018, reiterated that the Kremlin denied any Russian state involvement in the poisoning.
Peskov’s comments come a day after the two men appeared in an interview on Kremlin-funded RT television station to proclaim their innocence.
The two denied they were agents of the military intelligence service widely known as the GRU and said they were merely tourists in the city southwest of London.
“Our friends had been suggesting for quite a long time that we visit this wonderful city,” Petrov said in the interview.
“They have a famous cathedral there,” Boshirov said, adding: “It is famous for its 123-meter spire.”
James Slack, spokesman for British Prime Minister Theresa May, derided their claims as “lies and blatant fabrications.
“More importantly, they are deeply offensive to the victims and loved ones of this horrific attack,” he said.
British officials have accused the suspects of smuggling Novichok into Britain in a fake perfume bottle and smearing some of it on the front door of Skripal’s home in Salisbury, where the former intelligence officer settled after being sent to the West in a Cold War-style spy swap in 2010.
The attack left Skripal, 67, and his daughter Yulia, 34, in critical condition, but both have recovered after weeks in the hospital.
The men interviewed by RT denied carrying the fake women’s perfume bottle with them.
“Isn’t it silly for decent lads to have women’s perfume?” one of the two men was quoted as saying by the Kremlin-funded RT.
“The customs are checking everything.They would have questions as to why men have women’s perfume in their luggage. We didn’t have it.”
They also said they stayed less than one hour in Salisbury due to poor weather.
“We went there to see Stonehenge, Old Sarum, but we couldn’t do it because there was muddy slush everywhere,” one of the two men said, referring to local landmarks.
In a statement, the British government said the interview reflected more “obfuscation and lies” by Moscow.
“The government is clear these men are officers of the Russian military intelligence service — the GRU — who used a devastatingly toxic, illegal chemical weapon on the streets of our country,” it said.
“We have repeatedly asked Russia to account for what happened in Salisbury in March,” the statement also said. “Today — just as we have seen throughout — they have responded with obfuscation and lies.”
The RT interview was aired a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country had identified the men Britain suspects of poisoning Skripal and his daughter, but claimed they were civilians.
“They are civilians, of course,” Putin said on Sept. 12, 2018.
Our military does an incredible job of protecting our global interests, but they don’t do it alone. They’ve got a bunch of very good doggies that help them out.
Case in point: President Donald Trump announced in October 2019 that a military dog named Conan played a role in the raid against ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in northwest Syria, but he’s far from the first dog to help out the military.
Dogs have been working as bomb sniffers, message carriers, and guards for US military branches since at least World War I, when a stray Boston bull terrier wandered on to an Army training field and went on to become a unit’s mascot as they traveled to Europe.
In the decades following, trained dogs traveled across the world as they worked with the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force. And their natural skills and instincts are honed in training, making these dogs become the perfect working companions for the troops.
Some of the dogs even became military heroes, sniffing out the enemy, and attacking when needed.
Here are some of the good dogs who have helped the US military over the years.
1. Stubby, a Boston bull terrier, is the most famous US military mascot from World War I.
Before Stubby became the famed dog he is today, he was just a stray pooch who wandered his way on to an Army training center in New Haven, Connecticut.
While on the training grounds in 1917, Private First Class Robert Conroy took him in and Stubby ended up on the front lines of World War I as the mascot for the 102nd Infantry, 26th Yankee Division of the United States Army.
According to The Purple Heart Foundation, Stubby took part in 17 battles, detected traces of gas to warn soldiers, located wounded men on battlefields, and learned drills and bugle calls, and how to decipher English from German.
Following his efforts, Stubby participated in parades, met three presidents, and received dozens of awards, including a Purple Heart.
Rags with Sergeant George E. Hickman, 16th Infantry, 26th Division.
(US Army Signal Corps)
2. Rags was a message carrier for troops in Europe during World War I.
Rags, a stray terrier in Paris during World War I, became a war hero after befriending US Army Private James Donovan in 1918, according to K9 History.
The dog soon became a carrier for Donovan’s unit, carrying messages from the 26th Infantry Regiment to the supporting 7th Field Artillery Brigade.
Rags lost an eye and Donovan was injured by poisonous gas during the Meuse-Argonne Campaign, a major battle in France in 1918. Donovan later died of his injuries.
Rags, meanwhile, lived out his life in Maryland, and died in 1936.
3. Chips is the most famous dog of World War II — and he once single-handedly attacked a hidden German gun nest.
After the US entered World War II, thousands of people donated their dogs to be trained for guard and patrol duty, and Chips was one of them.
The German shepherd-collie-husky mix took part in Allied campaigns in North Africa, Italy, France, and elsewhere in Europe, and was able to take down a hidden German gun nest during the 1943 invasion of Sicily, according to Inside Edition.
He later went on to guard a conference between British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and US President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Lee’s family ended up adopting Lex when he took an early retirement.
“We knew that’s what Dustin would have wanted out of this,” Jerome Lee, the slain Marine’s father, told the Associated Press at the time. “He knew that we would take care of Lex and love him, just like our own.”
Lex died in 2012.
A United States Air Force Belgian Malinois.
6. Cairo, a Belgian Malinois, was part of the SEAL team that took down al-Qaida’s longtime leader, Osama bin Laden in 2011.
Cairo was part of the SEAL Team 6 that helped take down al-Qaida’s longtime leader, Osama bin Laden, in a 2011 raid in Pakistan.
Though there are no available photos of Cairo, his story should be known.
Her handler, Cpl. Juan Rodriguez, ran past a known IED to apply a tourniquet and carry her back to safety.
Lucca then retired to California to live with Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Willingham.
“She is the only reason I made it home to my family and I am fortunate to have served with her,” Willingham said at the time. “In addition to her incredible detection capabilities, Lucca was instrumental in increasing morale for the troops we supported.”
She received a Dickin Medal in London in 2016, the highest valor award for animals in the UK.
Wonderful dog, Conan.
(White House photo)
8. Conan was injured while taking down Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State terrorist group.
A Belgian Malinois named Conan helped take down Islamic State terrorist group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in October 2019.
President Donald Trump published a photo of the Conan on Twitter, after announcing he had “declassified a picture of the wonderful dog” after the Pentagon had declined to reveal any information about the dog.
Soldiers can’t achieve peak performance when they’re chilled to the bone. So in winter weather, some soldiers may don up to seven layers of clothing. That much fabric can weigh them down. Later, soldiers might find themselves overdressed, now getting hot and sweaty. That sweat, in turn, can turn to ice if the weather is super cold. But it doesn’t have to. Researchers have just come up with a way to lighten a winter warrior’s load and fight the threat of frozen sweat.
They’ve designed a new high-performance fabric. It could become the basis of underwear for troops deployed in places blasted by Arctic cold. Scientists unveiled it here, last August, at the fall meeting of the American Chemical Society.
Paola D’Angelo is a bioengineer. She uses principles of biology to solve problems. Elizabeth Hirst is a chemist. Both work at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center in Massachusetts. Their team got the initial idea for this innovation from some earlier work by a group at Stanford University in California. Their new fabric improves on that earlier research. It also adds an important new twist.
Chemist Elizabeth Hirst (left) and bioengineer Paola D’Angelo (right) are working on new winter fabrics for soldiers’ uniforms. The fabric swatch on the board D’Angelo is holding carries an electrical current, which could heat the fabric. (Photo by Kathiann Kowalski)
Yi Cui and Po-Chun Hsu are materials scientists at Stanford University. Their team already had been using metal nanowires to create see-through electrical conductors. Such materials could be handy for things such as thinner smartphones, displays on car windshields and more. Teeny, tiny nanowires have diameters at the scale of billionths of a meter.
At Cui’s suggestion, the Stanford team set out to use conductive nanowires in a fabric. It would be “warm, lightweight and breathable,” explains Hsu. That way, it could help reduce the energy needed for indoor heating.
The team got itty bitty wires of silver to form a mesh across cotton fabric. The silvery metal can reflect body heat back to someone’s skin. The treated fabric also can carry an electrical current. So, batteries could deliver extra heat when needed.
Now the Army’s team has been tweaking that idea to work not just with cotton, but also with high-performance fabrics. Athletes, soldiers and others often turn to such fabrics when they’re doing things that call for lots of physical activity or that expose them to extreme conditions.
Examples of these special fabrics include polyester, nylon and other synthetic fabrics. Their fibers are engineered by people, instead of coming from natural materials, such as plant fibers or animal hair. The Army uses synthetic fabrics (or blends that include synthetics) for gloves, socks and a soldier’s base layer. That’s the “underwear” that sits closest to the skin. And it’s for that layer that this team has been building upon the Stanford group’s work.
Besides getting the concept to work with other fabrics, the Army researchers tested the ability of such fabrics to hold up through repeated washings. And their fabric indeed performed well.
In addition, the Army team packed more fibers onto each area of fabric than the Stanford team had. That denser wire mesh can carry more current and provide more warmth. Three volts of electricity is enough to warm a test swatch that’s 6.45 square centimeters (1-square-inch) in one minute by 56 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit), D’Angelo reports. A typical watch battery is all that’s needed to provide those 3 volts.
Soldiers won’t want their underwear that hot. But the fabric could provide quick heat in a hurry. With the right controls, soldiers could even customize how warm their clothes get.
Super soakers for sweat
That material would still not be a perfect solution for working in cold weather, however. Even if it were used under with the Army’s current winter wear, soldiers can get sweaty as they hike, climb or carry out other tasks. That’s because the synthetic fabric of the base layer is not good at wicking away moisture, Hirst explains. Instead, sweat soaks into the fabric. As water in the sweat cools, it can ice up. That’s “obviously very uncomfortable,” she adds.
To deal with this, her team is working with hydrogel beads. A hydrogel is a type of “super soaker” material that can absorb a lot of water. In this case, the beads can sop up as much as 40 times their weight in water, Hirst says. The molecules of the beads are made from polymers. These are long chains of identical repeating units. A part of each unit in the hydrogel has a segment that attracts water.
Researchers could tweak the hydrogel to act differently at different temperatures, Hirst points out. As a soldier sweats, the fabric would warm. That warming could lead the hydrogel to soak up any sweat, moving moisture away from the skin. Later, when the soldier took off the underwear, it would cool down. Moisture in the hydrogel beads could then evaporate into the air. Now the fabric would be ready to wear again.
Don’t expect to see the new fabric on soldiers just yet. “We are in the basic research stages,” Hirst says. Among other things, her team will play with different ways to attach the hydrogel beads to the wired fabric. Her group also wants to work on a protective coating for the nanowires. That would help the silver resist tarnishing, which could reduce its reflectiveness.
“We look forward to seeing their cloth combining silver nanowire and hydrogel together,” says Hsu. In his view, it makes good sense to combine features that would provide both heating and cooling as needed. “In the future stages of this research,” he suspects, “there might be some trade-off between the total amount of heating and cooling that the cloth can provide versus its compactness and weight.”
In addition to developing better winter underwear, the Army team hopes the new fabric might lead to warmer gloves and socks. After lots and lots of field testing by soldiers, the fabric might find its way into civilian clothes, too. Then anyone could wear it for skiing, winter walks, snowboarding or other cold-weather fun.
The outdoor temperature topped 32º C (90º F) when the researchers unveiled their new fabric in Washington, D.C. Few folks at the meeting were ready for winter. Later, however, many might appreciate that some scientists and engineers had been thinking ahead.
When Saddam Hussein ordered the invasion of Kuwait, the Marines were one of the first units to respond. By Feb. 23, 1991, I Marine Expeditionary Force was controlling two reinforced Marine Divisions poised to strike Iraqi forces in Kuwait.
Facing the Marines were two massive minefields and some ten Iraqi divisions.
In the lead up to the invasion, the Marines worked furiously to find gaps in the minefield that they could strike through. They also frequently clashed with Iraqi forces when conducting artillery raids and during the pre-emptive Battle of Khafji.
That battle convinced the Marines that maybe the task ahead was not as formidable as they might have assumed. The Marines realized the Iraqis lacked aggression and coordination, and if hit hard they would back down.
But before that could happen they still had to find a way through the minefields. The commanders of the two Marine divisions had their own ideas of how that would happen.
The 1st Marine Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. Mike Myatt, was divided into four task forces – Ripper, Papa Bear, Taro, and Grizzly. Two task forces would clear lanes through the minefields before allowing the other two to pass through to spearhead the attack.
The 2nd Marine Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. William Keys, had a different plan. Keys ordered the Division to breach the minefields before storming across Kuwait to meet the Iraqis.
Before the ground war even started, the Marines of Task Forces Taro and Grizzly were infiltrating into Kuwait and through the minefield in order to take up blocking positions when the invasions started.
Then, on Feb. 24, 1991 at 0430 local time, the invasion officially began. The 1st Marine Division’s two task forces, Ripper and Papa Bear, began their assaults through the gaps provided by Taro and Grizzly.
On their flank, the 2nd Marine Division, augmented by the U.S. Army’s 2nd Armored Division’s 1st Brigade, began breaching operations at the minefield. Mine-clearing line charges and plow-equipped tanks blasted a path through the mines.
As the Marines cleared the minefields, they prepared to engage Iraqi forces. However, instead of an immediate fight, they were confronted with waves of surrendering Iraqi soldiers.
Unable to handle the large numbers of POWs, and with objectives to meet, they simply pointed the Iraqis towards the rear and drove on.
On the first day, the Marines only encountered light resistance and captured all of their objectives.
However, the next day, Feb. 25, the Iraqis launched counterattacks in force against the Marine positions.
Using the burning Burqan oil fields as concealment, the Iraqis were able to infiltrate very close to the Marines before launching their attacks.
The sudden appearance of an Iraqi brigade to the Marine’s flank caused quite a stir. The 1st Tank Battalion of TF Papa Bear bore the brunt of the Iraqi advance. The Marine commander reported, “T-62s everywhere, scattering like cockroaches from the Burqan oil field.”
As the Marine’s M60 Patton tanks engaged the Iraqis, daring Marine aviators came in low under the smoke to blast Iraqi tanks with Hellfire missiles. In three and a half hours of hard fighting, the Marines drove off the Iraqis while destroying 75 armored vehicles.
On TF Papa Bear’s other flank, another Iraqi force was massing to attack the 1st Marine Division’s forward command post. A platoon of infantry and another of LAV-25s commanded by Cpt. Eddie Ray were all that guarded the CP.
When artillery rounds began raining down around the Marines Ray raced forward to assess the situation. What he found was a numerically superior Iraqi force of tanks and armored personnel carriers approaching their position.
Ray’s small force immediately began engaging the Iraqi’s as they made a move for the CP. Seeing the attack developing, Brig. Gen. Draude, the assistant division commander, quipped, “If I die today, my wife is going to kill me.”
Another officer quickly called for reinforcements from TF Ripper and I MEF headquarters. He was told everyone was in a fight and there was no available air support.
He responded by simply holding the radio headset in the air for a few seconds before vehemently stating, “We are in a REAL fight at division forward!”
I MEF sent two Cobra gunships to support the beleaguered Marines. With the gunships on station, Ray made a bold move — he counterattacked. Despite overwhelming odds, Ray’s small force hammered the Iraqis and drove them from the vicinity, destroying 50 vehicles and capturing 250 prisoners.
In the 2nd Marine Division’s sector, the Iraqis were fighting just as tenaciously. B Company, 4th Tank Battalion — a reserve unit and the only Marines armed with the new M1 Abrams — awoke on the morning of Feb. 25 to see a massive Iraqi armored column moving in front of their position.
In what became known as the Reveille Engagement, the men of B Company, despite being outnumbered 3-to-1, maneuvered on line and engaged the Iraqis. In just 90 seconds, the Marine tankers wiped out the entire Iraqi force of 35 tanks and APCs.
After defeating the Iraqi counterattacks, the Marines continued their drive north the next day. They took the vital Al Jaber airfield and made it to the outskirts of Kuwait City and the international airport.
While the 2nd Marine Division cut off the Iraqi’s retreat, the 1st Marine Division attacked and secured the airport with support from two battleships firing from the gulf.
The 100-hour ground war cost the Marines five killed and 48 wounded. In that time they fought over 100 miles through occupied territory, crushed seven Iraqi divisions, destroyed over 1,600 tanks and armored vehicles, and took over 22,000 prisoners.
The Army has successfully fired a 155mm artillery round 62 kilometers — marking a technical breakthrough in the realm of land-based weapons and progressing toward its stated goal of being able to outrange and outgun Russian and Chinese weapons.
“We just doubled the range of our artillery at Yuma Proving Ground,” Gen. John Murray, Commanding General of Army Futures Command, told reporters at the Association of the United States Army Annual Symposium.
Currently, most land-fired artillery shot from an M777 Towed Howitzer or Self-Propelled Howitzer are able to pinpoint targets out to 30km — so hitting 62km marks a substantial leap forward in offensive attack capability.
Murray was clear that the intent of the effort, described as Extended Range Cannon Artillery, is specifically aimed at regaining tactical overmatch against Russian and Chinese weapons.
“The Russian and Chinese have been able to outrange most of our systems,” Murray said.
Citing the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a “wake-up call,” Murray explained that Russian weaponry, tactics and warfare integration caused a particular concern among Army leaders.
A soldier carries out a mission on an M777 howitzer during Dynamic Front 18 at Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany, March 8, 2018.
(Army photo by Warrant Officer 2 Tom Robinson)
“In Ukraine, we saw the pairing of drones with artillery, using drones as spotters. Their organizational structure and tactics were a wake up call for us to start looking at a more serious strategy,” Murray explained.
The Army’s 2015 Combat Vehicle Modernization Strategy specifically cites concerns about Russia’s use of advanced weapons and armored vehicles in Ukraine.
“The Russians are using their most advanced tanks in the Ukraine, including the T-72B3, T-80, and T-90. All of these tanks have 125mm guns capable of firing a wide range of ammunition, including anti-tank/anti-helicopter missiles with a six-kilometer range, and advanced armor protection, including active protection on some models,” the strategy writes.
ERCA is one of several current initiatives intended to address this. Accordingly, the Army is now prototyping artillery weapons with a larger caliber tube and new grooves to hang weights for gravity adjustments to the weapon — which is a modified M777A2 mobile howitzer. The new ERCA weapon is designed to hit ranges greater than 70km, Army developers said.
“When you are talking about doubling the range you need a longer tube and a larger caliber. We will blend this munition with a howitzer and extend the range. We are upgrading the breach and metallurgy of the tube, changing the hydraulics to handle increased pressure and using a new ram jet projectile — kind of like a rocket,” a senior Army weapons developer told Warrior Maven in a 2018 interview.
The modification adds 1,000 pounds to the overall weight of the weapon and an additional six feet of cannon tube. The ERCA systems also uses a redesigned cab, new breech design and new “muzzle brake,” the official explained.
“The ERCA program develops not only the XM907 cannon but also products, such as the XM1113 rocket assisted projectile, the XM654 supercharge, an autoloader, and new fire control system,” an Army statement said.
Soldiers fire an M777A2 howitzer while supporting Iraqi security forces near al-Qaim, Iraq, Nov. 7, 2017.
(Army photo by Spc. William Gibson)
As part of an effort to ensure the heavy M777 is sufficiently mobile, the Army recently completed a “mobility” demonstration of ERCA prototypes.
The service demonstrated a modified M777A2 Howitzer with an integration kit for the mass mock-up of the modified XM907 ERCA cannon at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona.
“Their [user] concern is that when the self-propelled program is done they will be left with a towed cannon variant that they can’t tow around, which is its number one mode of transportation,” David Bound, M777ER Lead, Artillery Concepts and Design Branch, which is part of the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center, or ARDEC, said in an Army statement in 2018.
The ERCA is currently being configured to fire from an M109a8 Self-Propelled Howitzer, using a 58-Cal. tube; the existing M109a7, called the Paladin Integrated Management, fires a 39-Cal. weapon.
ERCA changes the Army’s land war strategic calculus in a number of key respects, by advancing the Army’s number one modernization priority — long-range precision fires.
This concept of operations is intended to enable mechanized attack forces and advancing infantry with an additional stand-0ff range or protective sphere with which to conduct operations. Longer range precision fire can hit enemy troop concentrations, supply lines and equipment essential to a coordinated attack, while allowing forces to stay farther back from incoming enemy fire.
A 70-kilometer target range is, by any estimation, a substantial leap forward for artillery; when GPS guided precision 155mm artillery rounds, such as Excalibur, burst into land combat about ten years ago — its strike range was reported at roughly 30 kilometers. A self-propelled Howitzer able to hit 70-kilometers puts the weapon on par with some of the Army’s advanced land-based rockets — such as its precision-enabled Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System which also reaches 70-kilometers.
In a modern threat environment, wherein near-peer and smaller-level rivals increasingly possess precision-guided land weapons, longer-range C4ISR technology and drone weapons, increasing range is a ubiquitous emphasis across the Army and other services. Russia’s violations of the INF treaty, new S-500 air defenses, new Armata tanks and fast growing attack drone fleet — are all areas of concern among US Army weapons developers.
The T-14 Armata tank in the 2015 Moscow Victory Day Parade.
(Photo by Vitaly V. Kuzmin)
In fact, senior Army developers specifically say that the ERCA program is, at least in part, designed to enable the Army to out-range rival Russian weapons.
The Russian military is currently producing its latest howitzer cannon, the 2S33 Msta-SM2 variant; it is a new 2A79 152mm cannon able to hit ranges greater than 40km, significantly greater than the 25km range reachable by the original Russian 2S19 Msta — which first entered service in the late 1980s, according to data from globalsecurity.org.
Earlier in 2018, statements from the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation said that 2S19 Msta-S modernized self-propelled howitzers were fielded near Volgograd, Russia.
The 2S19 Msta-S howitzers are equipped with an automated fire control system with an increased rate of fire, digital electronic charts, ballistic computers and satellite navigation systems, the report says.
Therefore, doing the simple math, a 70km US Army ERCA weapon would appear to substantially outrange the 40km Msta-S modern Russian howitzer.
While senior Army weapons developers welcome the possibility of longer-range accurate artillery fire, they also recognize that its effectiveness hinges upon continued development of sensor, fire control and target technology.”Just because I can shoot farther, that does not mean I solve the issue. I have to acquire the right target. We want to be able to hit moving targets and targets obscured by uneven terrain,” the senior Army developer said.
In a concurrent related effort, the Army is also engineering a adaptation to existing 155mm rounds which will extend range an additional 10km out to 40km.
Fired from an existing Howitzer artillery cannon, the new XM1113 round uses ram jet rocket technology to deliver more thrust to the round.
“The XM1113 uses a large high-performance rocket motor that delivers nearly three times the amount of thrust when compared to the legacy M549A1 RAP,” Ductri Nguyen, XM1113 Integrated Product Team Lead.” “Its exterior profile shape has also been streamlined for lower drag to achieve the 40-plus kilometers when fired from the existing fielded 39-caliber 155mm weapon systems.”
Soldiers can also integrate the existing Precision Guidance Kit to the artillery shells as a way to add a GPS-guided precision fuse to the weapon. The new adapted round also uses safer Insensitive Munition Explosives.
This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.
The trio shuffled into the small room with canes and walkers to record their testimonies of the first confrontations of the Cold War and how the allies prevailed without firing a shot, saving a former enemy from oppression.
The Royal Air Force Museum American Foundation celebrated the 70th anniversary of the end of Berlin Airlift at their annual “Spirit of the Battle of Britain” banquet October 2019 to honor these veterans for their contributions to the alliance between the United States and the United Kingdom.
The trio retold their stories of using soft air power to deter Soviet aggression in post-World War II Berlin, and current U.S. Air Force and RAF airmen were honored for continuing to further the partnership between the two nations.
Prior to the dinner, the trio transported family, listeners and caregivers back to 1940s Germany.
“I remember the war,” said Mercedes Wild, who was seven years old at the start of the Berlin Airlift. “They (Allied bombers) destroyed Berlin. It was a hard time for the kids in West Berlin. Berlin is a destroyed city. We will never forget the sound of the bombers.”
After WWII, the German capital was divided with Soviet Russia controlling East Berlin and British, French and American Allies responsible for the west. The city was located more than 100 miles inside the Russian controlled portion of Germany. On June 24, 1948, the Russians implemented a blockade of West Berlin to prevent food and supplies, such as coal, from entering the town. The effort attempted to break the spirit of the West Berlin people to reject democracy and embrace communism.
A C-54 Skymaster piloted by retired Col. Gail Halvorsen drops candy with attached parachutes to children during the Berlin Airlift. Halvorsen earned the nickname “Candy Bomber” for his operation Little Vittles candy drops. Note the parachutes below the tail of the C-54.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
Enter, veterans and the Berlin Airlift.
Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Gail Halvorsen, widely known as the “Candy Bomber,” described volunteering for the mission that changed his life and the lives of millions in West Berlin. Halvorsen, a 28-year-old lieutenant at the time, grew up on a farm in Utah, where helping a neighbor in need was a way of life.
“My dad was an example to me,” he said. “He had plenty to do himself, but when a neighbor, a farmer, needed help and couldn’t get enough help, my dad would drop some of the things that weren’t so important on our farm to help the next-door neighbor.”
Halvorsen saw his first aircraft flying overhead on the farm while he was working the fields. He was hooked and signed up for a non-college pilot training program. Soon he received his flight training and was flying cargo aircraft in Mobile, Alabama. When the word came of the attempts by Russia to stomp out freedom in West Berlin by starving its residents, there was no doubt of his next step.
“I volunteered to fly supplies in early,” Halvorsen recalled.
At first, the citizens of West Berlin didn’t know what to think of hearing heavy aircraft over their heads again.
“The noise of the airplanes during the airlift in the beginning I feared, because it was the same noise while bombing Berlin,” Wild said.
They would soon learn the aircraft were not carrying bombs but food and supplies to keep them alive. The logistics of flying 2.3 million tons of goods and equipment was not without risks. In total, 101 airmen from around the world perished in the Berlin Airlift.
“Two hundred meters from our house, there was the first airlift airplane crash in the night,” Wild remembered. “The next morning I went with my mother. It was destroyed. The two pilots were dead. The people were very sorry about this … They feared that the west allies would now stop the airlift.”
A hard winter already made food in short supply, Wild explained. The only meal she might get would come from school and she would sneak part of this food to her mother, who was sick. She also took care of the family chickens, whose eggs she would trade on the black market for meat or shoes. Still, none of these hardships compared to the fear of the Russians returning to West Berlin as they had done in the final days of the war.
“The normal West Berliner did not want to become Soviet,” she said. “The Soviet regime was near the same as Nazi time and they feared the Russians. They remembered the Russian soldiers.”
As Halvorsen flew food and coal into the city of Berlin, a 19-year-old RAF pilot flew gasoline into Berlin.
Then-Lt. Gail S. Halvorsen.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
“The Halifax aircraft was a converted bomber,” said Dereck Hermiston. “The bomb racks had been taken and we flew, I think it was 40 or 41, 45-gallon tanks of gasoline. They had wooden beams, and they (used them) to roll these drums up. Quite unstable, and it stank to high hell.”
The son of a WWI pilot, Hermiston was among the youngest airmen to participate in flying the airlift. Yet, even as a teenager, the reversal of roles did not escape him.
“I realized, as a British officer, that we had bombed, and bombed, and bombed Berlin with the Americans, and it was a reversal,” he said. “We were now trying to save the Berliners from what was quite an oppressive regime from the Russians. I met a few Russian officers, and they were very sure they wanted to stop Germany from growing ever again.”
There was always worry of an international incident turning the Cold War operation hot, as Hermiston told.
“We were buzzed by a Russian MiG-9 one morning,” Hermiston, very much still a kid at heart, said with a chuckle. “I think it was about 4 o’clock in the morning. It was just getting daylight. There was this great shudder, and this fighter aircraft flew underneath us … and looped around us. As he came down, I had no room to maneuver. I suppose he missed us by about 200 to 300 feet. It was enough to make the aircraft shudder. Little things like that I remember because I was frightened.”
Despite the harsh weather conditions and aero acrobatic antics of the Soviets, the Allies continued to do what was needed to feed and fuel a city. In some cases this involved evacuating Berliners in need of medical attention.
“I flew out something like 220 people in my aircraft from Berlin that were sick or were children needing operations,” Hermiston said. “My aircraft was a tanker aircraft, so they had to sit on these wooden beams that were going up the fuselage in stinking conditions. It stank of petrol oil from all the gasoline. Yet, they were all so very grateful — very, very grateful. I found the people extremely grateful.”
The British pilot was not the only person struck by the grateful nature of the people of Berlin. In a previous interview, Halvorsen recalled how he became known as the “Candy Bomber” after a trip to Berlin, seeing children line up along the fence line outside the flightline of the Templehof airport.
“I had been to other countries where the kids had chocolate,” he said, recalling that moment nearly 70 years later. “When George Washington visited his troops, he had little hard candies in his pocket for the kids. That was nothing new. But these kids had not had chocolate for a couple of years. Not one out of the 30 broke ranks and said, ‘do you got candy?’ When I realized that, it just hit me like a ton of bricks — black and white. I just could not believe that quality of character called gratitude. They were so grateful. They were thankful for their freedom. When I realized that, I thought I got to do something. I reached in my pocket, and all I had was two sticks of gum.”
Convinced that everyone deserved a treat or no one did, Halvorsen took about three more steps and the little voice came clear as a bell directing him back to the fence.
Lt. Gail Halvorsen, “The Candy Bomber,” greets children of isolated West Berlin after dropping candy bars from the air on tiny parachutes.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
“Boy, when I stopped and started back, those kids came to attention,” he said. “I pulled out two sticks of gum and broke them in half and passed it to the kids doing the translating. I couldn’t believe what I saw. The other kids didn’t push or shove or try to grab it. The kids that got half a piece of stick of gum tore off the wrapper and passed it. The kids that got a strip of paper, put it up to their noses, smelled it and their eyes got big. They were dumbfounded. They clutched it in their hands to go home and show their parents, if they had any.”
An idea came to Halvorsen — return the next day.
“I will be flying overhead, and I will drop enough chocolate for all of you,” he announced to the children. “When that translated to everybody, there was a celebration going on.”
Halvorsen made one demand of the children. They must share the candy. They agreed, but another question arose. With planes arriving every few seconds, how would the children know which one was Halvorsen’s?
“When I would fly over the farm (back home), I would wiggle the wings back and forth. So I said, ‘kids, you watch the airplane. When I come over the center of Tempelhof, if it is clear, I will wiggle the wings.’ That is how it began.”
The “Candy Bomber,” with his parachutes of chocolate, was born, and the act would soon be named operation Little Vittles.
One little girl never caught one of the treats — the 7-year-old Wild.
“I was never quick enough,” she said.
Crews unload planes at Tempelhof Airport during the Berlin Airlift.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
To make matters worse, the chickens whose eggs brought a fortune on the black market had stopped laying because of the noise from the aircraft landing every few seconds over head.
“Therefore, I decided to write a letter because I was so sad about the situation, and I cried,” she said. “My grandmother told me don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t weep, do something. I decided to write a letter.”
The letter was addressed to her “Chocolate Uncle,” and she asked him to aim his parachute for the garden with the white chickens.
No parachute ever came, despite nearly 20 tons of candy being dropped from the C-54 Skymasters flown by the Americans.
A letter from her “Chocolate Uncle” did come, with two special treats — a lollipop and peppermint-flavored stick of gum. Between the war and the blockade, the smell of peppermint was unknown to the child.
“I exchanged it on the black market, this peppermint gum, for a glass marble; I have this glass marble,” Wild said, pulling the smooth glass toy from her pocket and placing it on the table with as much pride as any seven-year-old. “This is the same glass marble.”
The lollipop was saved for a Christmas treat, but the greatest gift that day was not the candy.
“The most important was the letter; the letter changed my whole life,” she said.
Offered a chance to join an aunt in Switzerland where food and supplies were not held hostage by the Soviets, Wild turned it down with the hopes of one day meeting her “Chocolate Uncle.”
Around-the-clock supplies continued flying into Berlin as British and American pilots made three round trips a day. After nearly a year, the Soviets lifted the blockade, reopening the transportation routes on the ground.
“The Soviets gave up,” Halvorsen said. “They said we can’t compete with that. They got red-faced and backed off. The airlift was the reason they had to do that; it broke the blockade. I was proud to be a part of that.”
With the blockade lifted in May 1949, British and American aircraft continued to fly supplies into Berlin to rebuild the stocks. On Sept. 23, 1949, the last RAF aircraft landed in Berlin with supplies.
Retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Gail S. Halvorsen, known commonly as the “Berlin Candy Bomber” stands in front of C-54 Skymaster.
(Photo by Bennie J. Davis III)
Time passed, and in 1970, Halvorsen returned to Germany, now as a colonel and the commander of Tempelhof. A now grown and married Wild decided now was the time to meet her “Chocolate Uncle.”
“First, we went to airport Templehof, and I took the letter with me,” Wild said. “Then I invited him to our home for dinner with the family.”
The two families have remained close all these years.
Seventy years later, these veterans of the Berlin Airlift travel the world telling the story of how the gratitude of the Berlin Airlift shaped their lives and the world.
“We must give the good spirit to the kids to have good society and future…” Wild said. “This was a very good thing that Colonel Halvorsen decided to have those candy droppings because I think he is the best ambassador for mankind–for humanity. It is not only Col. Halvorsen, but the other pilots and the people of Great Britain, South Africa, Canada and USA. The people were standing behind the airlift.”
On Feb. 14, 1979, Adolph Dubs, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, was kidnapped at gunpoint, held hostage in a Kabul hotel, and killed in a botched rescue attempt.
Forty years on, the precise circumstances surrounding the death of the 58-year-old diplomat remain shrouded in mystery. Several questions remain unanswered, including who was behind Dubs’ kidnapping, who fired the fatal shots, and whether the Soviet Union was involved.
The death of Dubs, a former charge d’affaires in Moscow, came at a critical time during the Cold War — it was a year after communists seized power in Kabul and months before the Soviet Union sent in troops to prop up the Marxist government.
The incident prompted international shock and outraged the administration of U.S. President Jimmy Carter, which closed the U.S. Embassy in response, although it did keep a charge d’affaires. Months later, Washington began its covert support to the mujahedin, the Islamist guerrilla fighters who were battling the Kabul regime and would later fight the Soviet Army.
President Jimmy Carter.
On the morning of Feb. 14, 1979, Dubs’ car was stopped by four gunmen in Kabul as he was traveling to the U.S. Embassy. There were reports that at least one of the gunmen was dressed as a uniformed Kabul traffic policeman. Dubs’ abductors took him downtown to the Hotel Kabul, now known as the Serena Hotel.
By noon, Afghan security forces had surrounded the hotel. Soon after, Afghan forces stormed Room 117, where Dubs was being held. After a brief exchange of fire, Dubs was found dead. The ambassador had suffered multiple gunshot wounds to his head and chest.
Two of the four gunmen involved in Dubs’ abduction were also killed in the assault.
‘Suppression of the truth’
Washington protested to Kabul, saying that Afghan forces stormed the building despite a warning from the U.S. Embassy “in the strongest possible terms” not to attack the hotel or open fire on the kidnappers while attempts were being made to negotiate Dubs’ release.
Garden area of the Serena Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan.
In 1980, the State Department issued a report on its yearlong investigation into Dubs’ death, attributing blame to Afghan authorities and Soviet advisers assisting them.
The State Department said that at least three Soviet advisers had played an “operational role” during the storming of the hotel.
Moscow acknowledged that its advisers were present but said they had no control over the Afghan decision to storm the hotel room. Kabul said Soviet advisers were not present.
Washington said it was also not able to reachForeign Minister Hafizullah Amin for hours, a claim denied by Amin, who would later become the leader of the country.
The State Department report said Dubs died of “at least 10 wounds inflicted by small-caliber weapons.”
The report said physical evidence in the hotel room, including weapons, had disappeared.
Afghan officials produced for the Americans the body of a third kidnapper who had been detained by police. Kabul also provided the corpse of the fourth kidnapper, who U.S. officials did not see at the hotel.
It is still unknown whether Dubs was killed by his abductors, his would-be rescuers, or a combination of both.
The State Department said the Kabul government’s account was “incomplete, misleading, and inaccurate,” with “no mention of the Soviets involved in the incident.” The U.S. report concluded: “Sufficient evidence has been obtained to establish serious misrepresentation or suppression of the truth by the government.”
The identities of Dubs’ kidnappers were never revealed, and Washington, Moscow, and Kabul all have their own take on the incident.
Carter’s national-security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, blamed Dubs’ death on “Soviet ineptitude or collusion,” according to his memoirs. He described the Afghan handling of the incident as “inept.”
In the book Afghanistan: The Soviet Invasion In Perspective, author Anthony Arnold suggested that “it was obvious that only one power…would benefit from the murder — the Soviet Union,” as the death of the ambassador “irrevocably poisoned” the U.S.-Afghan relationship, “leaving the U.S.S.R. with a monopoly of great-power influence over” the Kabul government.
(Hoover Institution Press)
In the months after Dubs’ death, Carter would dramatically draw down America’s diplomatic presence in Afghanistan and cut off economic and humanitarian aid.
In Russia, the kidnapping was blamed on the CIA, which state media said wanted to provide an excuse for U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan.
Kabul claimed the abductors were members of a small Maoist group, while officials at the time also blamed the mujahedin.
The abductors had demanded the release of “religious figures” who they said were being held by the Kabul government.
In a newly published book, Afghanistan: A History From 1260 To The Present, author Jonathan Lee writes that U.S. officials suspected the communist government in Kabul was behind the incident “either in a naïve attempt to discredit the Islamist resistance or to force the U.S.A. and NATO powers to disengage with Afghanistan.”
Active-duty troops deployed to the US-Mexico border are increasingly bracing for confrontations rather than just running razor wire to deter their entry in the US, images published by the US military show.
In November 2018, US troops have been conducting non-lethal riot control training at bases in Arizona and California, and tactical training is expected to continue.
Soldiers and Marines were also apparently present on Nov. 25, 2018, at San Ysidro, a busy port of entry where border agents clashed with migrants, using tear gas against those who rushed the border.
Watch US troops engage in tactical training in preparation for violence:
This is how US troops are training for confrontations at the border.
Soldiers from 65th Military Police Company, 503rd Airborne Military Police Battalion, finish non lethal training in Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, Nov. 26, 2018.
(U.S. Army Photo by Pfc. Bradley McKinley)
Marines attached to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force 7 join Customs and Border Protection at San Ysidro Point of Entry, California, Nov. 25, 2018.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jesse Untalan)
Active-duty military personnel with riot shields were present at the San Ysidro port of entry Nov. 25, 2018, when CBP agents used tear gas and tactics to drive back migrants who rushed the border, some of whom threw rocks at US agents. Some critics have called the CBP response an overreaction.
US troops are authorized to provide force protection for border agents, but are barred by law from law enforcement in the US.
Soldiers from 65th Military Police Company, 503rd Airborne Military Police Battalion, take cover to conduct non lethal training in Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, Nov. 26, 2018.
(U.S. Army Photo by Pfc. Bradley McKinley)
Soldiers from the 65th Military Police Company, 503rd Airborne Military Police Battalion, conduct non-lethal riot control training in Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.
(U.S. Army Photo by Pfc. Bradley McKinley)
300 active-duty troops previously stationed in Texas and Arizona were shifted to California.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
On the front lines of the unrest in Hong Kong are the Raptors, an elite subdivision of the Hong Kong Police Force. Their official name is the Special Tactical Squad, but that moniker doesn’t really cover everything the Raptors do, from crowd control and riot control to clearing roadblocks and infiltrating disruptive groups. The STS was created in the midst of chaos and will be there whenever Hong Kong descends back into it.
The Special Tactical Squad was formed in 2014 in the middle of the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong, a civil unrest that was a response to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress’ efforts to undermine the democratic system in Hong Kong. The police response to the 100,000 protestors that flooded the city’s streets was underwhelming. They had no apparatus in place to handle such protests. The Raptors were created to contain the widespread protests and were deployed in 2016 during the “Fishball Revolution” and are again deployed on the streets.
Every time the Chinese government tries to impose its will on the city of Hong Kong, its people crowd the streets in massive protests, and the Raptors are called in. The latest protests see upwards of a million people protesting in the streets in 2019.
Around the Police Tactical Unit, which the Special Tactical Squad is a part of, they’re called the “Removal Team,” as they’re usually tasked with removing debris and clearing roadblocks, as well as removing unruly protesters. For the last, the local media call them “The Professional Removal Team.” When the Hong Kong police are overwhelmed, the Raptors special training and gear are able to work over crowds in sizes that regular police forces just couldn’t manage. Now they’re doing much more than responding to civil unrest – they’re actively preventing it.
People close to the organized protests say Raptors officers went undercover in protest groups to undermine the most radical protesters. On Aug. 12, Raptors arrested 15 organizers in a carefully coordinated decoy operation to remove the most violent of rioters. The Raptors are now being comprised of counterterrorism officers, which probably explains the shift in tactics on the ground. Protestors with a violent past can now be arrested in secret.
The Raptors would usually have just done battle with those protesters. Times sure have changed.
The announcement that Senator John McCain (R-AZ) is fighting brain cancer was stunning. The news was flooded with statements, most of which offered thoughts and prayers for McCain and his family, although many also noted that John McCain was a fighter.
However, this has not been the only time John McCain’s had to fight through a situation.
His lengthy time in captivity during the Vietnam War was notable, not only due to the fact he was awarded the Silver Star for his heroism, but also for his refusal to return home early.
McCain served as a chaplain among the POWs, per his Legion of Merit citation. McCain also cheated death when his plane was shot down on Oct. 26, 1967.
Prior to his Vietnam War service, he survived three mishaps, including a collision with power lines in an A-1 Skyraider. McCain had another close brush with death before his shootdown, when his jet was among those caught up in the massive fire on the carrier USS Forrestal (CV 59).
Despite suffering shrapnel wounds, he volunteered to transfer to the Essex-class carrier USS Oriskany (CV 34).
The cancer Senator McCain is fighting, a brain tumor known as glioblastoma, is a very aggressive form of cancer that was discovered after an operation to remove a blood clot near his eye.
As of this writing, Senator McCain is considering treatment options, but he is also still at work. When President Trump canceled a program to arm some Syrian rebels, McCain issued a statement condemning the decision, proving once again that you can’t keep a hero down.