'Therapy on ice' helps vets heal, give back to community - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY FIT

‘Therapy on ice’ helps vets heal, give back to community

The buzz of the crowd had Sgt. 1st Class Michael Vaccaro on edge. Then a loud bang made him look around nervously.

He knew the noise came from a Zamboni machine, yet its exhaust made him think of the aftermath of a roadside bomb.

All his stress melted away immediately, however, as soon as he stepped out onto the ice.

“When I’m on the ice, no matter what happened before, everything dissipates,” he said. “It’s like a fresh start.”


‘Therapy on ice’ helps vets heal, give back to community

Former Army Spc. Matt Holben, Capital Beltway Warriors assistant team captain and defensive player, hits the puck up ice during a holiday exhibition game with a Congressional Hockey Challenge team at MedStar Capitals Iceplex, Dec. 16, 2018.

(Photo by EJ Hersom)

Vaccaro is one of the co-founders of the Capital Beltway Warriors, a hockey team of veterans with disabilities founded two years ago.

Veterans on the team open up to each other and talk about how they cope with injuries, stress and other issues, said retired Maj. David Dixon, another co-founder of the team.

“It’s like a giant support group,” he said, “or therapy on ice, as we like to call it.”

Many of the players have some level of post-traumatic stress disorder from service in Iraq, Afghanistan or other hot spots, Dixon said. He personally survived four deployments to Iraq, where he was shot in the back and shaken up by three different improvised explosive devices.

‘Therapy on ice’ helps vets heal, give back to community

Retired Maj. David Dixon, president and executive director of the Capital Beltway Warriors, makes game notes while coaching players between periods during a holiday exhibition game with a Congressional hockey challenge team at MedStar Capitals Iceplex, Dec. 16, 2018.

(Photo by EJ Hersom)

Giving back

Dixon and a number of the other veterans also coach youth hockey teams and a few of them help with a local blind hockey team, the Washington Wheelers.

“Giving back to the community often gives them a sense of purpose,” Dixon said of the veterans, adding that it helps minimize depression and PTSD.

Dixon puts in more than 20 volunteer hours a week managing the Capital Beltway Warriors as president and executive director of the team. He helps solicit sponsors, run meetings, apply for grants, recruit players and schedule games.

His time on the ice as a player-coach is extra.

Warrior Hockey

www.youtube.com

“In a sick kind of way, I enjoy all the hard work,” he said. “You go from commanding troops to working in a cubicle,” he said about retiring from the Army and beginning a civilian job.

He explained that managing the hockey team gives him a renewed sense of purpose.

“You find that niche in life that gives you purpose and whether it has a monetary award or not, that’s what you’re supposed to do,” he said.

He helps make the games special for the warriors with lights, music, an announcer and filling the stands with veterans. Local chapters of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion in northern Virginia help bring veterans from retirement homes to the games, Dixon said.

Vaccaro also spends several hours per week helping the Capital Beltway Warriors and other veteran hockey teams. He spends a week every year helping run the USA Hockey camp in Buffalo, New York, where they select the national sled hockey team.

He serves as a referee for blind hockey and sled hockey. He helps stand up other Warrior division hockey teams. In November, he spent a few days in Philadelphia helping the Flyers start a warrior team.

“This is my therapy,” he said of the volunteer work. “This is what keeps me going.”

‘Therapy on ice’ helps vets heal, give back to community

Former Air Force Tech. Sgt. Joey Martell, Capital Beltway Warriors team captain, takes a shot during a holiday exhibition game with a Congressional hockey challenge team at MedStar Capitals Iceplex, Dec. 16, 2018.

(Photo by EJ Hersom)

Spreading the word

Just over two years ago, Vaccaro met up with Dixon who was interested in starting a Warrior hockey team in Virginia.

They met in the Pentagon food court in December 2016. “We sat down and started sketching stuff out on napkins,” Dixon said.

They laid out plans for a team that would play in rinks across Northern Virginia and Southern Maryland.

They found players by word of mouth. They showed up at “stick and shoot” sessions and asked if anyone was a military veteran with a disability rating.

Now they have 76 veterans with disabilities on the team and they play other warrior clubs. A game in Ashburn Dec. 22, 2018, pitted the USA Warriors from Maryland against the Capital Beltway Warriors. The teams also play in annual tournaments.

There are now 16 warrior teams across the United States. The minimum requirement to play on one of the teams is a 10 percent VA disability. Some of the players are 100 percent disabled and play with prosthetics.

Some of the veterans, like Vaccaro, have been playing hockey since they were 3 years old. Dixon, however, did not pick up the sport until he was 40.

‘Therapy on ice’ helps vets heal, give back to community

Army Reserve Sgt. 1st Class Michael Vaccaro serves as referee for the charity exhibition game between the Capital Beltway Warriors and a Congressional hockey challenge team at MedStar Capitals Iceplex, Dec. 16, 2018.

(Photo by EJ Hersom)

Ramadi RPG

In 2006 and 2007, Vaccaro was an advisor to an Iraqi Army unit in Ramadi. He and two Marines were on patrol when they were pinned down by machine-gun fire. Then an insurgent fired a rocket-propelled grenade.

“It hit the wall in front of me and knocked me back. Next thing I remember, I heard this really loud ringing in my ears and there was a Marine dragging me back into the courtyard. They were calling for air support.

“We finished the patrol,” Vaccaro said, explaining aerial medical evacuation was not available. A doctor patched him up, and a couple of days later, he was back out on patrol.

After his tour in Iraq, he came back to Virginia, where he had been a reservist with the 80th Training Division. But he had PTSD issues. He decided to go to Liberia in western Africa as a contractor to help put about 2,000 Liberian soldiers through basic training.

“I thought that would help, but I just ended up coming back with the same issues,” he said. “That’s another thing: You can’t hide from this.

“Everybody handles PTSD in a different way. I tried the group therapy stuff and it just didn’t work.”

He received treatment and medication from Veterans Affairs, but the issues persisted. When he smelled fresh bread, for instance, it reminded him of the flatbread Iraqi soldiers baked every morning.

“That’s a good smell,” he said. But then his mind would continue to remember until he imagined the smell of an IED.

“You’ve got to face your fears. You’ve got to face your issues,” he said. “I was trying to hide from it and hockey has helped me open up and talk about it.”

About 10 years ago, he became involved in the first-of-its-kind USA Warrior hockey team stood up by a patient at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Maryland.

“When I’m on the ice, things slow down; things are different,” Vaccaro said.

Both he and his family noticed the difference in him after playing hockey.

“It really helped me,” he said. “The first thing I said to myself when I started realizing that is, ‘I’ve got to get other veterans involved in this.'”

So he became the national representative for USA Hockey in its Warrior division to help stand up teams. He does that in his spare time when he is not working as a civilian employee for the Army Corps of Engineers or on duty as an Army Reserve NCO.

‘Therapy on ice’ helps vets heal, give back to community

David Dixon, coach of the Capital Beltway Warriors, provides tactical advice to players between periods during a holiday exhibition game with a Congressional hockey challenge team at MedStar Capitals Iceplex, Dec. 16, 2018.

(Gary Sheftick, Army News Service)

Natural coach

Dixon was coaching little league baseball when he was approached by his son’s hockey coach, Bobby Hill.

“He said he really liked the way I worked with the kids and he could use my help on the ice coaching,” Dixon recalled.

Dixon told him he did not skate, but Hill said he could take care of that. He got Dixon out on the ice and taught him the basics of hockey.

Dixon went to adult learn-to-play sessions Wednesday evenings at Ashburn Ice House. He participated in adult pick-up games after helping coach his son’s youth team.

He eventually took over as head coach of the Ashburn “Honey Badgers” peewee hockey team.

In the meantime, however, he heard of the USA Warriors hockey team and the effects it was having on disabled veterans in Maryland. He thought it would be great to bring the same benefits to veterans in northern Virginia.

‘Therapy on ice’ helps vets heal, give back to community

Matt Holben (No. 19) of the Capital Beltway Warriors, and Joey Martell (No. 21) take the puck down ice with three members of a Congressional hockey challenge team not far behind, during an exhibition game Dec. 16, 2018 at MedStar Capitals Iceplex.

(Gary Sheftick, Army News Service)

Three pillars

The warrior hockey program aims to provide purpose, education and camaraderie that veterans miss after they separate from the service, Dixon said.

The team creates an environment that in some ways simulates being back around a military unit, said Matt Holben, alternate team captain for the Capital Beltway Warriors.

“It feels good, because you’re back with the guys, you’re back with the unit,” he said.

“We’ve got members with both physical and mental disability,” he added. “It’s hard for them to share their story, but when you talk to them, it’s just that little bit of relief they get when they’re in the locker room and on the team.”

“We’re helping each other,” Vaccaro said. “And half of the guys don’t even realize we’re helping each other, but that’s what we’re doing.”

The help is not limited to the rink either, Dixon said.

There is another part to the program that informs veterans of benefits available to them and helps with issues.

Anything from service dogs to getting help building a house, to loans, and more is available, Dixon said.

“We don’t do it all ourselves. We reach out to other veteran service organizations to get the help and education these guys need,” he said. “We have a whole network of VSOs that we can tap into.”

Vaccaro summed it up: “It’s veterans helping veterans.”

This article originally appeared on the United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

Articles

Goodbye Ivan! US expels 35 Russians, shutters 2 spy stations over hacking allegations

The United States says it is expelling nearly three dozen Russian diplomats as it announced new economic sanctions and other punitive measures in response to alleged Russian hacking during the presidential election.


The moves, announced on December 29 by the White House, had been widely publicized ahead of time, including by President Barack Obama in an interview earlier this month.

But the moves also come less than a month before Obama leaves office and his successor, Donald Trump, assumes the presidency. Trump has repeatedly brushed aside intelligence assessments and White House statements about the alleged Russian hacking, raising the question about whether the new sanctions will remain in place after his inauguration on January 20.

A White House statement said two Russian diplomatic compounds in Maryland and New York, believed to be involved in intelligence gathering, were ordered closed, and 35 Russians, identified as intelligence operatives, were being expelled from the country.

Additionally, nine top officials and entities associated with the Russian military intelligence agency, the GRU, and the main Russian security agency, the FSB, were being hit with new financial and travel sanctions.

“These actions are not the sum total of our response to Russia’s aggressive activities. We will continue to take a variety of actions at a time and place of our choosing, some of which will not be publicized,” Obama said in a statement.

The CIA, the FBI, and the broader U.S. intelligence community have concluded that hackers, likely operating with the authority of the highest levels of the Russian government, broke into Internet servers and e-mail accounts belonging to the U.S. Democratic Party, and other officials during the election campaign.

On December 9, The Washington Post reported that the CIA had determined the intent of the Russia hackers was to help Trump win the presidency, not just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system.

The New York Times also reported that intelligence officials had concluded Russian hackers accessed Republican Party computers but didn’t release potentially damaging e-mails or other materials.

That led analysts to conclude that the intent of the Russian hacking was to in fact help propel Trump to the White House. He ultimately prevailed in the November 8 election, defeating Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Those conclusions have been repeatedly dismissed by Trump. In a December 11 television interview, he asserted that the CIA conclusions were being used by Democrats to undermine his electoral victory.

But Trump has also faced growing pressure in Congress, including by top Republican lawmakers, who have called for a full inquiry into the extent of Russian hacking.

At least three separate Senate committees are slated to launch investigations in January.

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied it was behind any hack of the Democratic Party or U.S. electoral systems, though President Vladimir Putin has also made cryptic comments suggesting possible involvement of Kremlin officials.

Articles

America says goodby to its first hispanic Navy admiral, Diego Hernandez

Retired Navy Vice Adm. Diego Hernandez, who was the first Hispanic-American to serve as vice commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, has died at the age of 83.


According to a report by the Miami Herald, Hernandez, a Vietnam War veteran who was shot down twice and awarded the Silver Star among other decorations, passed away on July 7 after a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease. Hernandez was best known as the Navy’s highest-ranking officer of Hispanic descent.

‘Therapy on ice’ helps vets heal, give back to community
A Navy F-4 Phantom drops bombs over Vietnam. Hernandez flew 147 missions in the Vietnam War, and was shot down twice. (US Navy photo)

Born in 1934, Hernandez came from a working-class family in Puerto Rico. In 1955, after graduating from the Illinois Institute of Technology, he entered the Navy. In 1956, he was designated a Naval Aviator. After flying 147 combat missions over Vietnam, he attended the Naval War College and served on the faculty.

His later career included tours commanding VF-84 (the famous “Jolly Rogers”), Air Wing Six, the carrier USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67), and the Third Fleet.

During his time at the Third Fleet, Hernandez played a major role in integrating Alaska into United States Pacific Command and turning that force into one that was ready to take on the Soviets around the Aleutian Islands and off the Kamchatka Peninsula.

‘Therapy on ice’ helps vets heal, give back to community
USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67), one of the commands Vice Adm. Hernandez held during his 36-year military career. (US Navy photo)

“Duke’s task was to turn this ‘McHale’s Navy’-style lash-up into a proper combat-oriented staff. It fell to Duke to awaken the whole Pacific Fleet to this, shall we say, cold reality,” retired Navy Capt. Charles Connor told the Miami Herald.

After commanding the Third Fleet, Hernandez took the post as vice commander as NORAD, which also made him the deputy commander of Space Command.

“He had his hands on the red buttons with all our atomic warfare,” former Miami mayor Maurice Ferré told the Miami Herald.

‘Therapy on ice’ helps vets heal, give back to community
Adm. Hernandez was deputy commander of NORAD, which included the Cheyenne Mountain Complex. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)

After his retirement, he served with the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Center for Minority Veterans as a member of the Advisory Committee. He also helped plan for the future transportation needs of Miami-Dade County, highlighted by the opening of the Port Miami Tunnel in 2014.

Admiral Hernandez’s funeral will be held Saturday at Our Lady of the Lakes Catholic Church in Miami Lakes.

MIGHTY CULTURE

WWII vet surprised with 50,000 birthday cards

It feels like anything you get in your mailbox nowadays are bills, grocery store ads (wow, $3 raspberries. Thanks, Albertsons), and reminders from your dentist (I know I’m late for my cleaning Dr. Cruz, please stop guilting me). But a very special American hero received a whole lot more than that in his mailbox…


Sue Morse and Duane Sherman (96)

(Kevin Sullivan/The Orange County Register via AP)

Duane Sherman, a World War II veteran from California, recently had quite a big birthday surprise. His daughter, Sue Morse, posted on social media asking for letters to be sent to him for his 96th birthday. She expected maybe a hundred or so cards–but after her social media post went viral, they received over 50,000 hand mailed cards for Duane.

(Kevin Sullivan/The Orange County Register via AP)

Duane Sherman enlisted in the Navy following the attack on Pearl Harbor. He saw combat aboard the U.S.S. Lamson. He was struck by shrapnel from kamikaze pilots aboard the Lamson on December 7th, 1944–exactly 3 years after the Pearl Harbor attacks. The outpouring of support for the WWII veteran came from all walks of life: elementary school kids, prison inmates, Ohio State, and even the Pittsburgh Steelers. Letters were sent from all 50 states, and 10 different countries. The popular forum website “Reddit” reposted the request for letters–and it took the site by storm. Hundreds of thousands of users commented and shared the request, sending in their own handwritten love to the American vet.

Because Duane is legally blind, Sue has taken to reading the cards aloud to him. She’s read over a thousand letters and, according to Fox News, has enlisted the help of friends to complete the task.

In a world wrought with bad news, it’s refreshing to see such a massive gentle act of kindness affect so many people. Perhaps he will get 50,001 on his 97th birthday.

Articles

Navy study recommends smaller, more agile carriers

The Pentagon and the U.S. Navy must increase submarines, strengthen the surface fleet size and build new smaller, more agile carrier-type ships — as as part of a broader effort to rethink the way it constructs the American fleet for future conflicts and operations, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment (CSBA) contends in a just-released report.


“Today’s approach of using large, high-end platforms such as aircraft carriers to support the whole range of naval operations will not be effective at providing the prompt, survivable, high-capacity firepower that might be required to deter aggression in the South or East China Seas,” CSBA says in its report, CSBA “Restoring American Seapower, A New Fleet Architecture for The United States Navy,” released Feb. 9.

Related: Chinese play chicken with a US P-3 Orion over South China Sea

The CSBA does not recommend the U.S. abandon its carrier-centric force altogether, but says the Navy needs to focus more on submarines and calls for a resurgence of the surface fleet. The report also calls for a new smaller carrier-sized ship.

“It may be better to rely upon submarines and surface combatants as the primary instruments of deterrence and reassurance and deploy aircraft carriers from the open ocean where they can maneuver to engage the enemy once aggression occurs,” CSBA says.

While the study does not call for a decrease in the current numbers of carriers, it does maintain that smaller, more maneuverable type carriers might make certain high-risk missions more plausible in light of emerging threats such as long-range anti-ship missiles and enemy coastal defenses.

The report cites growing international naval competition as a reason for altered strategy.

‘Therapy on ice’ helps vets heal, give back to community
China’s sole aircraft carrier, the Liaoning. | PLA

“Today the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) Navy (PLAN) boasts the second largest fleet in the world, with a large portion of ships built in the last decade. The PLA includes a rapidly modernizing air force in addition to a Rocket Force (formerly the Second Artillery Corps) that deploys a wide array of conventional land-attack and anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBM) as well as the country’s nuclear arsenal,” CSBA notes.

“Combined with China’s long-range surveillance network of satellites and shore-based radars and sensors, these forces create a formidable reconnaissance-strike complex that can threaten U.S. and allied forces on or above the water hundreds of miles from China’s borders,” the report says.

The old nuclear trump card may come up short now, too.

“An American nuclear response would likely further damage the international and political systems upon which American prosperity depends,” CSBA says.

“Therefore, adversaries may no longer find U.S. nuclear deterrence to be credible in these situations, making effective conventional deterrence necessary.”

A return, the CSBA says, to the “deny-and-punish” approach used during the Cold War to deterrence will increase America’s reliance on forward-postured forces—particularly naval forces.

“American aircraft, troops, ships, sensors, and weapons would need to be postured in proximity to a likely area of confrontation,” CSBA says. “The United States, and U.S. naval forces in particular, will need to return to their Cold War deterrence concept of denying an aggressor’s success or immediately punishing the aggressor to compel it to stop. Compared to the Cold War, however, naval forces in the 2030s will face a more challenging threat environment and more constrained timelines. They will have to adopt new operational approaches to deter under these conditions.”

‘Therapy on ice’ helps vets heal, give back to community
The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN-65), the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, steams alongside the French aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle (R 91). One of these carriers could launch aircraft equipped with a long-range nuclear-tipped missile – and it isn’t the Big E. (US Navy photo)

But, CSBA says, the current strategy remains focused on “efficiently sustaining forward presence rather than posturing and preparing forces to deter and respond to great power aggression.”

A new course will require more than just altered thinking.

And some others are on board. For example, in a recent white paper, Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, recommends a “$640 billion base national defense budget (including Department of Energy nuclear activities) in Fiscal Year 2018, which is $54 billion above (former) President Obama’s planned budget. Over five years, this plan represents a $430 billion increase above current plans/”

McCain says, “These recommendations should be regarded as reasoned estimates.

Today, the U.S. Navy is 274 ships. This was already short of the joint force requirement of 308 ships. And that was before the Chief of Naval Operations announced that the Navy should grow to 355 ships to address the growing fleet sizes and capabilities of our adversaries.”

Whatever the right fleet size ultimately is, McCain says, the “key objective for the next five years is the same: The Navy must ramp up shipbuilding. It is unrealistic to deliver 81 ships by 2022.”

Articles

98-year-old grandmother wrote 7,000 letters to troops

Alleen Cooper’s son Larry was serving in Vietnam during that war — and, like many mothers who children have served in wartime, she set him letters. Her son returned from the war, and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, but she hasn’t stopped writing.


In fact, according to WHNT.com, her son was not the first serviceman overseas to get a letter. She began writing troops during World War II.

“A lot of soldiers don’t get any mail at all,” Larry Cooper told WHNT.com, adding that Mrs. Cooper’s mission is personal.

‘Therapy on ice’ helps vets heal, give back to community
Air Force Staff Sgt. Beatriz Baum works alongside Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Misty Parker during a scramble to unload more than 5,000 lbs. of mail slated for delivery to service members deployed to Joint Task Force Horn of Africa at the postal center at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti. (U.S. Air Force photo/Daren Reehl)

According to WGNTV.com, since she started keeping count six years ago, Mrs. Cooper, a 98-year-old grandmother from California, has written over 7,000 letters by hand, and all of them have been unique and at least four pages long. And let’s just repeat the fact that she’s been doing this since World War II, folks.

Just prior to Memorial Day weekend, she connected with one of the servicemen she had written, Marine Staff Sgt. Chris Cantos. When Cantos deployed to Afghanistan in 2010, his unit had no internet access. Their only lifeline was what gets derisively called “snail mail.”

‘Therapy on ice’ helps vets heal, give back to community
One of the many certificates Mrs. Cooper has received from troops she has written to. (Video screenshot from WGNTV.com)

“She would always send us clippings and jokes. She would tell us about her day,” Cantos told WHNT.com.

One of the other troops who received a letter was a wounded soldier in the hospital. He had lost an ear, and needed to get a new one.

‘Therapy on ice’ helps vets heal, give back to community
A poster from the Ladies’ Auxiliary of the VFW, urging people to write to servicemen. (National Archives)

“All of the time I think of these people and their families at home,” Mrs. Cooper told WHNT.com.

These days, she will admit her hands are getting tired. But she will keep writing the troops for as long as she can.

MIGHTY TRENDING

U.S. says terrorist threats persist, citing Iran’s rising support for extremists

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump says “dangerous terrorist threats persisted” in 2019 even as Iran, the Islamic State (IS) extremist group, and Al-Qaeda suffered setbacks.

In its annual report on terrorism issued on June 24, the State Department also said that white supremacist attacks were on the rise.


Iran, which the report calls “the world’s worst state sponsor of terrorism,” and its proxies continued to “plot and commit terrorist attacks on a global scale.”

Tehran also continued to allow an Al-Qaeda “facilitation network” to operate in Iran, “sending money and fighters to conflict zones in Afghanistan and Syria, and it still allowed [Al-Qaeda] members to reside in the country.”

“Finally, the Iranian regime continued to foment violence, both directly and through proxies, in Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen,” the report added.

Despite losing territory in Iraq and Syria, as well as its leader, the IS extremist group “adapted to continue the fight from its affiliates across the globe and by inspiring followers to commit attacks,” according to the report.

But it also said that Iran, the IS group, and Al-Qaeda suffered serious setbacks last year, including the killing of several top leaders and the imposition of “crippling” sanctions against Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the Tehran-backed Lebanese Hizballah movement, and supporters and financiers of both.

According to the State Department, attacks committed by white nationalists are of particular concern and “a serious challenge for the global community.”

The report noted numerous such attacks in 2019, including in New Zealand, Germany, and the United States.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

In Turkmenistan, whatever you do, don’t mention the coronavirus

ASHGABAT — Authorities in Turkmenistan have yet to admit there are any cases of the coronavirus in the country. Now, officials are making sure the word doesn’t appear in print or casual conversations either.

RFE/RL correspondents in the capital, Ashgabat, report that people talking in public about the pandemic were being quickly whisked away by plainclothes agents.

The word “coronavirus” also has disappeared from newly published state brochures on disease prevention in the tightly controlled Central Asian nation.


‘Therapy on ice’ helps vets heal, give back to community

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov.

In place of old brochures instructing citizens about ways to prevent the spread of the virus, new publications replace the word “coronavirus” with words like “illness” and “acute respiratory diseases.”

“The Turkmen authorities have lived up to their reputation by adopting this extreme method for eradicating all information about the coronavirus,” said Jeanne Cavelier, head of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk of the media rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

The lack of any report confirming even one coronavirus infection in Turkmenistan has raised suspicions and criticism about the country’s official data on the pandemic.

Countries that border Turkmenistan — including Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan — have registered dozens of infections.

To the south, nearby Iran had reported more than 44,700 infections by March 31, including nearly 3,000 deaths.

Turkmenistan’s government sealed off Ashgabat on March 20 without any public announcement by authorities or state media about the reasons for the closure.

Traffic between the country’s provinces has been restricted as well, with checkpoints set up on highways.

Concern over the outbreak among locals, along with the restrictions, has pushed food prices to record highs.

“This denial of information not only endangers the Turkmen citizens most at risk but also reinforces the authoritarianism imposed by President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov,” Cavelier said on March 31. “We urge the international community to react and to take him to task for his systematic human rights violations.”

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

Articles

Trump picks former Army intel officer to be SecNav

President Donald J. Trump today announced his intention to nominate Philip Bilden as the 76th secretary of the Navy.


If confirmed by the Senate, Bilden will replace Ray Mabus, who was the longest serving Navy secretary since World War I.

The announcement follows the president’s nomination of Heather Wilson as Air Force secretary and Vinnie Viola as Army secretary.

“All three of these nominees have my utmost confidence,” Defense Secretary James Mattis said in a statement following the announcement. “They will provide strong civilian leadership to strengthen military readiness, gain full value from every taxpayer dollar spent on defense, and support our service members, civilians, and their families. I appreciate the willingness of these three proven leaders to serve our country. They had my full support during the selection process, and they will have my full support during the Senate confirmation process.”

‘Therapy on ice’ helps vets heal, give back to community
Pictured: The Navy| US Navy photo

Bilden is a business leader, former military intelligence officer and Naval War College cybersecurity leader who served on the board of directors for the United States Naval Academy Foundation and the board of trustees of the Naval War College Foundation.

He was commissioned in 1986 in the Army Reserve as a military intelligence officer and served for 10 years, achieving the rank of captain. Bilden’s family includes four consecutive generations of Navy and Army officers, including his two sons, who presently serve in the Navy.

“As secretary of the Navy, Philip Bilden will apply his terrific judgement and top-notch management skills to the task of rebuilding our unparalleled Navy,” Trump said. “Our number of ships is at the lowest point that it has been in decades. Philip Bilden is the right choice to help us expand and modernize our fleet, including surface ships, submarines and aircraft, and ensure America’s naval supremacy for decades to come. I am proud of the men and women of our armed forces. The people who serve in our military are our American heroes, and we honor their service every day.”

“I am deeply humbled and honored to serve as secretary of the Navy,” Bilden said. “Maintaining the strength, readiness, and capabilities of our maritime force is critical to our national security. If confirmed, I will ensure that our sailors and Marines have the resources they need to defend our interests around the globe and support our allies with commitment and capability.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

Congress wants misconduct by military’s top brass to be public

A subcommittee markup of the National Defense Authorization Act would require the secretary of defense and military service secretaries to post reports of misconduct by generals and admirals, and those of equivalent civilian rank, so they are accessible to the public.

The House Armed Services subcommittee on military personnel released its markup of the fiscal 2019 defense budget bill on April 25, 2018, one step in the complex process of the bill passing the House and Senate and becoming law.


The 121-page document contained language requiring all substantiated investigations of senior leader misconduct to be made public.

“This section would require the Secretary of Defense and the Secretaries of the military departments to publish, on a public website, redacted reports of substantiated investigations of misconduct in which the subject of the investigation was an officer in the grade of O-7 and above, including officers who have been selected for promotion to O-7, or a civilian member of the Senior Executive Service,” the section reads.

Currently, such investigations can be requested through the Freedom of Information Act, but are not automatically made public if they are not requested.

The prevalence and severity of misconduct among the senior ranks has been a common topic of conversation on Capitol Hill in recent months.

At a February 2018 hearing of the personnel subcommittee, ranking member Jackie Speier, D-California, complained that there appeared to be “different spanks for different ranks,” meaning that top brass seemed to get lighter punishments for their misdeeds.

‘Therapy on ice’ helps vets heal, give back to community
Jackie Speier
(Photo by Daniel Chee)

She highlighted five specific cases in which military generals had been found guilty of serious misconduct. In three, the violations came to light outside the military only because a journalist inquired or a FOIA request was filed.

“As you will see, these senior leaders committed serious crimes and rule violations, yet received only light administrative, not judicial, punishments,” Speier said. “Most got no public scrutiny until journalists inquired about their cases.”

A handful of new allegations has spurred additional criticism.

Early April 2018, the Marine Corps removed its one-star head of Marine and Family Programs after he allegedly told troops and civilians at a town hall-style meeting at Quantico, Virginia, that allegations of sexual harassment by another officer were “fake news.”

While the Marine Corps proactively sent news releases about Brig. Gen. Kurt Stein’s suspension and eventual firing, some have complained because he did not face additional loss of pay or rank.

More recently, Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, has had his confirmation process put on hold amid allegations he drank on duty and committed other misconduct.

While it’s not clear if any of the allegations against him were substantiated in military investigations, the case highlights the lack of public information about wrongdoing at the highest ranks.

Following subcommittee markups, the NDAA must pass a full committee markup, be reconciled with the Senate version of the bill, and approved by both houses before it can go to the president to be signed into law.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.

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Music fans prove terror won’t win at One Love concert

More than 60,000 defiant music fans joined Ariana Grande at her One Love concert at the Old Trafford Cricket Ground in Manchester June 4, as they stood together in the face of extremism and pay tribute to those killed in terror attacks.

The American singer’s manager Scooter Braun said the Manchester gig now has a “greater purpose” than ever after the country’s second terror attack in two weeks.


Niall Horan, Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Coldplay, Pharrell Williams, The Black Eyed Peas, Usher, Take That, Robbie Williams, Mumford Sons and Little Mixtook to the stage and performed for free to raise at least £2m towards the We Love Manchester Emergency Fund.

Bono and his U2 bandmates sent an emotional video message to the huge audience at the One Love Manchester gig.

Currently in America on their Joshua Tree tour, which played Chicago June 4, he paid tribute to the victims of the terrorist attack and sent a message of support to those affected.

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U2 at the United Center in Chicago, IL, June 25, 2015 (Photo by Wikimedia Commons)

“All our hearts are with you. All our hearts are with Manchester and with the UK and so many of our friends in this great city.

“We’re broken-hearted for children who lost their parents and parents who lost their children from this senseless, senseless horror,” he said.

“There is no end to grief, that’s how we know, there’s no end to love, a thought we’re holding onto for these people. We’ll see you again when the stars fall from the sky.”

On June 3 seven people were killed and nearly 50 injured after three men drove a van into a crowd on London Bridge and set upon people in a crazed knife rampage.

Despite the atrocities, fans including those injured in the Manchester Arena on May 22, headed to the venue in their droves, proudly wearing clothes emblazoned with the slogan, “We stand together”.

Mumford Sons’ Marcus Mumford was the first to take to the stage, asking for a minute’s silence in tribute to those who have lost their lives in the two weeks prior, including the 22 killed in the bombing at the Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena.

In between renditions of Giants and Rule The World, Gary Barlow told the crowd: “Thank you everybody for coming out tonight, thank you for everybody watching at home, thanks to Ariana for inviting us tonight.

“Our thoughts are with everyone that’s been affected by this.

“We want to stand strong, look at the sky and sing loud and proud.”

Barlow then introduced his former band mate, Robbie Williams. Williams serenaded the crowd with his song Strong, changing the words to, “Manchester we’re strong”.

Concert-goers began queueing outside Lancashire Cricket Club’s Old Trafford ground from 8.30am ahead of the One Love Manchester gig.

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Ariana Grande at a 2015 Jakarta concert. (Photo by: Berisik Radio)

The event marked Ariana Grande’s first return to the stage since suicide bomber Salman Abedi detonated a device.

All Grande fans who attended the gig on May 22 were offered free passes to the benefit concert.

Grande’s manager Mr Braun said all the acts involved had shown “unwavering” support.

Questions were raised by fans about whether the One Love benefit gig would still go ahead in the wake of the latest terror attack in London.

However in a statement Mr Braun said: “After the events in London, and those in Manchester just two weeks ago, we feel a sense of responsibility to honor those lost, injured, and affected.

“We plan to honor them with courage, bravery, and defiance in the face of fear.

“Today’s One Love Manchester benefit concert will not only continue but will do so with greater purpose.

“We must not be afraid and in tribute to all those affected here and around the world, we will bring our voices together and sing loudly.

“All artists involved have been unwavering in their support this morning and today we stand together. Thank you,” he added.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Afghan air force is about to get all spec ops with these new helicopters

The Afghan Air Force is scheduled to receive 150 new MD530 F Cayuse Warrior light attack helicopters by 2022.


By this, the total number of MD530 Fs operated by the Afghan National Security and Defense Forces will rise to almost 180.

The US Department of Defense announced on Sept. 5 that it has issued a $1.38 billion contract to MD Helicopters “for procurement of an estimated quantity of 150 MD 530F aircraft and required production support services to include program management, delivery support, pilot training and maintenance,” the Diplomat reported.

The estimated completion date of the contract is 2022.

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Two new MD-530 Cayuse Warrior helicopters, still with protective wrap on them. DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando.

According to a MD Helicopters press release, the first deliveries under the contract will be 30 MD 530Fs for an estimated $177 million. The first part of the order is expected to be completed by September 2019.

“Mission Equipment for these aircraft will include a ballistic crash worthy fuel system, consisting of a main fuel tank and a 38-gallon Auxiliary Fuel Tank, high capacity landing gear, FN Herstal Weapons Management System, DillonAero Mission Configurable Armament System weapons plank and Fixed-Forward Sighting System, Rohde and Schwarz M3AR Tactical Mission Radio, and FN Herstal .50 caliber HMP 400 Machine Gun Pods and M260 7-shot rocket pods,” MD Helicopters noted in a press statement released on Sept. 13.

Earlier this week, Gen. Phillip A. Stewart, commander of Train, Advise, Assist Command said in an interview with TOLOnews that $7 billion will be spent on the Afghan Air Force over the next four years.

“We expect the Afghan Air Force to be fully professional, sustainable, and capable and independent and that’s our whole goal here,” he said.

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Afghan Air Force MD-530F Cayuse Warrior helicopter fires its two FN M3P .50 Cal machine guns. USAF photo by Staff Sgt. Perry Aston.

Under the new aid package, the number of aircraft owned by the AAF will be doubled in the next four years.

This comes after Major General Abdul Raziq Sherzai, the commander of Kandahar Air Brigade, last week said more military aircraft should be delivered to the hard-pressed Afghan security forces who have been battling insurgent groups in their traditional heartlands in Kandahar and Helmand provinces for weeks.

He said that the Kandahar Air Brigade, despite having inadequate facilities on hand, continue to back the ground forces in their campaign against the militants in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, where in recent months violence dramatically increased following the Taliban’s new attempt to seize control of the strategic province of Helmand in the south and infiltrate neighboring provinces.

The Kandahar Air Brigade that operates under the command of 205 Atal Army Corps has about 20 different types of aircrafts – a figure security officials claim is nothing near what they need to deal with the current scale of security issues that have undermined large swaths of land in the south.

MIGHTY TRENDING

11 things the Space Force must — and can’t — do

While the Pentagon has questioned the need for a dedicated Space Force, the U.S. is already a signatory to multiple space treaties that spell out its obligations in the final frontier. And there are already a number of missions being done by other forces that would clearly be the purview of an independent Space Force.

Here are nine things the Space Force must do — and two things it can’t.

Related video:


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They probably won’t need so many graphical overlays to do it, though.

(U.S. Army)

Protect American satellites

American satellites are one of the most important parts of modern, digital infrastructure. They’re also extremely vulnerable. They’re under constant threat of striking debris that’s already flying through orbit and China and Russia both have demonstrated the capabilities to bring one down at any time.

A Space Force would likely be tasked with building countermeasures to protect these valuable assets. Oncoming missiles could be confused with jamming or brought down with lasers — but lasers can also serve as an offensive weapon against enemy satellites. Additionally, some spacefaring nations, including the U.S., are developing technologies that could allow them to seize enemy satellites and steer them into danger.

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Tactical battles in space sound complicated.

(U.S. Air Force)

Identify enemy killer satellites and template attacks against them

Speaking of which, the Space Force will likely need intelligence assets to identify satellites with offensive capabilities and template ways to neutralize them quickly in a space war. Satellites could be the U-boats of a future conflict, and the best way to stop them before they can hide amidst the space junk is to take them out at the first sign of conflict.

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Satellites are expensive. And hard to make. And worse to replace.

(U.S. Air Force)

Ensure plans for the replacement constellations are viable

But there’s no way that American defenses could stop all — or likely even the majority of — attacks. Luckily, DARPA and other agencies are already testing potential ways to rapidly rebuild capabilities after an attack.

They’ve tested launching moderate-sized satellites from F-16s as well as sending up rockets with many small satellites that work together to achieve their mission, creating a dispersed network that’s harder to defeat.

(Graphic by U.S. Air Force)

Figure out how to destroy space debris

We mentioned space debris earlier — and it’s important for a few reasons. First, it’s a constant threat to satellites. But more importantly for strategic planners, most methods of quickly destroying an enemy’s satellite constellation will create thousands (if not millions) of pieces of debris that could eventually destroy other satellites in orbit, including those of the attacking nation.

So, to create a credible threat of using force against other nations’ satellites, the U.S. will need a plan for destroying any space debris it creates. The most pragmatic solution is to create weapons that can kill satellites without creating debris, like the lasers and killbots. But those same lasers and killbots could be used to clear out debris after satellites are killed with missiles.

China has proposed a “space broom,” armed with a weak laser that could clear debris (and, purely coincidentally, might also be used to destroy satellites).

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Air Force graphics are as complicated as Army graphics. I wonder if everyone thought it was the graphics that decided who got the Space Force? (You win this round, Air Force).

(U.S. Air Force)

Protect American industry in space

The U.S. military branches are often called to protect national interests. Among those national interests is business — and business in space is likely to be massive in the near future, from private space companies teasing the possibility of tourism to asteroid mining to zero-gravity manufacturing.

Of course, building the infrastructure to do these things in space will be expensive and extremely challenging. To make sure that America can still gather resources and manufacture specialized goods — and that the military and government can buy those goods and resources — the Space Force will be tasked with protecting American interests in space.

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Just sitting here waiting to rescue someone.

(NASA photo by Tracy Caldwell Dyson)

Rescue operations

Another important task is recovering survivors of any accidents, collisions, or other mishaps in orbit. America has already agreed to a treaty stating that all spacefaring states will assist in the rescue of any astronaut in distress, but rescues in space will likely be even more problematic than the already-challenging rescues of submariners.

There is little standardized equipment between different space agencies, though Russia does share some matching equipment thanks to their access to Space Shuttle schematics when overhauling the Soviet space program. The Space Force will likely have to figure out ways to rescue astronauts and civilians in space despite equipment differences.

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Yeah, you guys can hitch a ride. Did you bring your own spacesuit or do you need a loaner?

(Photo by U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Ian Dudley)

Provide orbital rides for other branches

While the Marine Corps has already done some preliminary work on how to move its Marines via orbit, little planning exists for the nitty gritty details of moving troops through space. All of the branches will likely develop some tools for moving personnel, but Congress will likely demand that the branches prevent unnecessary redundancy — like how the Army has its own boats, planes, and helicopters, but has to get most of its rides from the Navy and Air Force.

The Space Force will be the pre-eminent branch in space, and will likely need the spaceports and shuttles to match.

Learn to steer (or at least divert) asteroids

Currently, NASA has the lead on detecting near-Earth objects and preventing collisions, but the military generally gets the bigger budget and, as they say, “with great funds comes great responsibility.”

Luckily for them, there are groups happy to help. The B612 is a group of concerned scientists and engineers that is focused on developing plans to divert asteroids. So, Space Force can just focus on training and execution.

Do a bunch of paperwork

Of course, the Space Force won’t be all shuttle pilots and flight attendants — the admin folks will have a lot of paperwork to do, too. Another U.S. space treaty obligates America to provide details of every object it launches into space as well as every person who enters space.

All of those details that get passed when personnel enter or leave a country will also have to get passed when they enter or leave space, necessitating an admin corps who join the space force exclusively to pass paperwork.

If you think that makes the Space Force more boring, just wait until you see the things they, by treaty, aren’t allowed to do.

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Super sexy — but also not allowed to be based on the Moon.

(U.S. Air Force)

No carrying weapons of mass destruction

The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 bans any spacefaring nation from putting weapons of mass destruction in orbit or basing them on celestial bodies, like the Moon. So, no Space Marines with nuclear missiles in orbit. Rockets, bullets, and lasers? Maybe.

Nukes? No way. Gotta leave those back on Earth.

No building military bases on celestial bodies

Even worse news for Space Force personnel: They can’t have any dedicated military bases on celestial objects either, also due to that same Outer Space Treaty of 1967. The U.S. will need to renegotiate the treaty, build more space stations, or keep nearly all Space Force personnel on Earth, only sending them up for short missions.

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