While officials did not specify the type of nerve agent used, a well-placed source told the BBC it was likely to be extremely rare.
Nerve agents are extremely toxic chemicals that effectively shut down communication between the brain and muscles — in other words, they stop the body from working. They are also very hard to make.
Here’s what you need to know about the deadly substances.
What are nerve agents?
Nerve agents can take the form of gas, aerosol, or liquid, and enter the body through inhalation, the skin, or the consumption of liquid or food contaminated with them, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said.
Symptoms include restlessness, loss of consciousness, wheezing, and a running nose, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Depending on the amount and method of administration, symptoms can take minutes or hours to occur, Sky News science correspondent Thomas Moore said. When administered in high doses, nerve agents can suffocate victims to death within a couple of minutes, the OPCW said.
It’s not clear when the Skripals were exposed to the chemicals and how much was administered to them.
A witness at Zizzi, the restaurant where the Skripals were eating before they collapsed, told the BBC that the elder Skripal “seemed to lose his temper” and “just started screaming at the top of his voice, he wanted his bill and he wanted to go.”
Another witness who saw the stricken Skripals later on said Yulia “looked like she had passed out” and Sergei “was doing some strange hand movements, looking up to the sky.”
What was used on the Skripals?
The type of nerve agent used on the Skripals remains unclear. Investigators have identified it but are not making it public at this point, the BBC reported.
A source close to the investigation told the BBC the nerve agent was likely rarer than sarin gas, which is believed to have been used in the Syrian war and used to kill 13 people in a Tokyo subway in 1995.
The Sun previously reported military scientists on the case as saying the pair might have been poisoned with a “hybrid” kind of thallium, a hard-to-trace heavy metal commonly found in rat poison and insecticides. Detectives originally thought former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned with thallium in London in 2006.
How easy is it to make nerve agents?
The raw materials for nerve agents are relatively inexpensive and easy to procure, the OPCW said. However, the chemical weapon itself is difficult to make.
Victor Madeira, a senior fellow at The Institute for Statecraft who testified to Parliament about Russian covert interference in Britain, told Business Insider: “Nerve agents are rare, tightly-controlled synthetic substances that do require specialised knowledge to manufacture, store and use safely.
“However, that knowledge isn’t beyond someone with a good Master’s degree in Organic Chemistry, say, and access to a good laboratory. Very difficult, but not impossible.”
Chemical weapons expert Richard Guthrie similarly told The Guardian that manufacturing nerve agents require “fairly complicated chemistry,” and were “essentially impossible” to make at home.
“Nerve agents, such as sarin or VX, require some fairly complicated chemistry using certain highly reactive chemicals,” Guthrie said. “Small quantities could be made in a well-equipped laboratory with an experienced analytical chemist. To carry out the reactions in a domestic kitchen would be essentially impossible.”
Does this point to Russia?
Experts appear to differ over whether Russia was responsible.
Matt Tait, a former GCHQ officer, said the method of attack seemed “designed to project that this is a nation-state that’s doing it.”
He told The Atlantic: “This is a very extreme form of killing in a way that is designed to project that this is a nation-state that’s doing it. Nobody can be under any sort of illusions that this is some sort of run-of-the-mill killing. […]
“The clear message that they’re sending to both people who currently work for their intelligence agencies and also people who used to work for their intelligence agencies … they will make an example of you.”
Madeira disagreed. Just because nerve agents are rare doesn’t necessarily mean a state actor did it, he said.
“Simply using a ‘very rare’ nerve agent against Col. Skripal wouldn’t necessarily indicate Kremlin (or Russian) involvement,” he told BI. “This is why DSTL Porton Down [the UK Ministry of Defence’s science lab] and partner agencies are racing to ‘fingerprint’ the agent used, which will then allow them to narrow the list of potential sources right down.”
Rob Wainwright, executive director of Europol, told CNN that attacking an ex-spy with a nerve agent in Britain was an “outrageous affront to our security in Europe and our way of life.” He warned, however, that people should “exercise caution before jumping to any conclusions.”
The Kremlin has vehemently denied any involvement or knowledge of the case.
The weapon is believed to be a DF-41, China’s latest ICBM still in the final stages of development. It was seen making its way through a traffic circle in Daqing, a city of over one million people in Heilongjiang province.
The missile is supposedly capable of carrying large thermonuclear weapons. That includes as many as 10 smaller warheads known as multiple independent reentry vehicles, or MIRVs, which allow it to hit multiple targets with one shot. It has an estimated maximum range of 9,300 miles, putting it in the range of most of the continental U.S. To put the weapon’s range in perspective, the distance from Daqing to Washington, D.C., is only approximately 6,400 miles.
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The United States is withholding a $255 million military aid payment from Pakistan until it cracks down on what President Donald Trump has called “safe havens” for anti- Afghanistan militant groups, officials said.
State Department officials said on August 31 that the funds won’t be released from an escrow account until the United States sees that Pakistan is moving against the Afghan Taliban and allied groups like the Haqqani network that U.S. intelligence agencies say have resided for years withinPakistan’s borders.
Pakistan has denied that it harbors terrorists and has said the United States is using Islamabad as a “scapegoat” for its own failure to win the 16-year war in Afghanistan.
The new U.S. stance toward Pakistan prompted a protest resolution in the Pakistani parliament this week as well as anti- U.S. protests in the streets that Pakistani police had to disperse using tear gas.
In announcing the new strategy last week, Trump said “we have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting… That will have to change.”
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said at the time that the administration was considering curtailing aid, severing Pakistan’s status as a major non- NATO ally, and even hitting Islamabad for the first time with sanctions, unless it tackles anti-Afghan militant groups within its borders.
“We’re going to be conditioning our support for Pakistan and our relationship with them on them delivering results in this area,” Tillerson said.
To Pakistan’s alarm, Trump also floated the possibility of inviting India – Pakistan’s archrival – to get more involved in Afghanistan unless Pakistan is more cooperative.
The administration’s notification to Congress of an indefinite “pause” in installments on a $1.1 billion military assistance package for Pakistan represented the administration’s first step to make good on those promised measures.
The United States has sought before to use aid to Pakistan as well as U.S. weapons sales as leverage to secure Islamabad’s cooperation onAfghanistan.
Pakistan maintains that it already is doing everything it can to eliminate terrorists in the country, and has been more successful at doing so than its next-door neighbor, Afghanistan, even with the help of thousands of NATO and U.S. troops.
Moreover, Pakistan has complained that the United States does not appreciate the sacrifices Islamabad has made by joining the U.S. antiterror campaign, which Islamabad said has caused the deaths of tens of thousands of Pakistani civilians and soldiers.
After achieving an awesome air-to-air kill ratio of 15-to-one, the F-35 trounced ground targets at the US Air Force’s Red Flag exercise — and now the world’s most expensive weapons system may finally be ready for the front lines.
For the first time ever, the F-35 competed against legacy aircraft and simulated surface-to-air missile batteries at “the highest level threats we know exist,” according to a statement from Lt. Col. George Watkins, an F-53 squadron commander.
“Just as we’re getting new systems and technology, the adversary’s threats are becoming more sophisticated and capable,” said Watkins, nodding to the expansive counter-stealth and anti-air capabilities built up by the Russians and Chinese over the years.
But the F-35 program has long carried the promise of delivering a plane that can outsmart, outgun, and out-stealth enemy systems, and the latest run at Red Flag seems to have vindicated the troubled 16-year long program. Not only can the F-35 operate in heavily contested airspace, which render F-15s, F-16s, and F-18s as sitting ducks, but it can get more done with fewer planes.
“I flew a mission the other day where our four-ship formation of F-35As destroyed five surface-to-air threats in a 15-minute period without being targeted once,” said Maj. James Schmidt, a former A-10 pilot now flying F-35s.
Four planes taking out five SAM sites in 15 minutes represents nothing less than a quantum leap in capability for the Air Force, which prior to the F-35 would have to target threats with long-range missiles before getting close to the battle.
“We would shoot everything we had at that one threat just to take it out. Now between us and the (F-22) Raptor, we are able to geo-locate them and precision target them,” Watkins said, adding that F-35s are so stealthy, “we can get close enough to put a bomb right on them.”
But that’s only one of the multi-role F-35’s jobs. After obliterating ground threats, F-35 pilots said they turned right around and started hammering air threats.
The F-35 came out of Red Flag such a ringing success that Defense News reports that the strike aircraft is now being considered at the highest levels for overseas deployments.
“I think based on the data that we’re hearing right now for kill ratios, hit rates with bombs, maintenance effectiveness … those things tell me that the airplane itself is performing extremely well from a mechanical standpoint and … that the proficiency and skills of the pilots is at a level that would lead them into any combat situation as required,” Brig. Gen. Scott Pleus, head of the Air Force’s F-35 integration office told Defense News.
With that success on record, Pleus will now consider deploying a small group of six to eight F-35s overseas as part of a “theater security package” to help train and integrate with US allies.
UK and Australian contingents participated in this installment of Red Flag. Both countries plan to buy and operate the F-35 in the near future.
The Air Force has narrowed down hundreds of airmen in the running to become enlisted drone pilots to enter the next phase of the program.
The Air Force Personnel Center on Wednesday said 305 active-duty enlisted airmen were identified for an upcoming selection board tasked with picking the next enlisted group to attend remotely piloted aircraft training.
Officials didn’t disclose how many of those airmen will then be selected for formal training, set to begin in 2017. But they’re seeing a surge of interest.
The center received more than 800 applicants during this cycle. For comparison, the program normally gets around 200 applicants. Because of the boost, the center is processing potential candidates in groups.
The Air Force last year announced it would begin training enlisted airmen to operate the unarmedRQ-4 Global Hawk remotely piloted aircraft. Officials in September touted that the Enlisted Pilot Initial Class, or EPIC, would begin on Oct. 12 with four of 12 total students training alongside 20 recently commissioned officers.
The formal training process spans an entire year.
“We have an incredibly talented pool of enlisted Airmen, and we’re confident that this rigorous selection process will yield excellent enlisted aircrew who will continue to provide combatant commanders with the ISR they need to win today’s fight,” Senior Master Sgt. Rebecca Guthrie, career enlisted aviator assignments manager at AFPC said in a release.
Candidates selected in Phase 2 “will need to get the required medical screening and commander’s recommendation and submit completed application packages to AFPC no later than Dec. 16,” the release said. If warranted, medical waivers will be due by Jan. 27, 2017.
The enlisted RPA pilot selection board will meet Feb. 6 – 9, with results expected by the end of that month, officials said.
The secretary of the Army wants to accelerate research into hypersonic and other advanced weapons as part of the service’s push to modernize its offensive and defensive fires.
Hypersonic weapons, capable of flying at five times the speed of sound or faster, are the key to the service’s top modernization priority — long-range precision fires, Army Secretary Mark Esper told reporters at a Defense Writers Group breakfast in Washington, D.C. Aug. 29, 2018.
“Long-range precision fires at the strategic level is the capability that we need to ensure we have overmatch in future conflicts, and I think that the way to get to it is through hypersonics.”
Esper said he has stressed to the cross-functional team responsible for developing a new generation of long-range precision fires that the Army must move faster to develop hypersonic technology.
“I am pushing them to go as fast as they can, move to the left,” he said, adding that the other services are also working on the technology.
“The services have been working together. We signed a joint agreement, if you will, in terms on how to proceed. The secretary of the Navy and the secretary of the Air Force and I meet constantly on this and other issues where we can work together. We all recognize that that is a key capability for all of us,” he said.
High Speed Strike Weapon
(Lockheed Martin photo)
The Army hopes to develop and field hypersonic weapons by 2028 at the latest, Esper said.
“This is one where, clearly, technology is an issue,” he said. “It’s not like there is one out there right now that I am aware of. … This is one that is going to take some technology development. We are pushing hard because we’ve got to get there first.”
The Army is also trying to accelerate efforts to develop directed-energy weapons for use in air and missile defense, another of the service’s key modernization priorities.
“I think what’s most exciting, and where the Army is making a good deal of progress, is on directed energy, and I think that is the future for the most part because of the volume and speed of shots that it gives you,” Esper said, adding that the service is “putting a lot of our investments” toward powerful lasers designed to be mounted on vehicles.
“We have some things now, and I want to get them out in testing as soon as possible. Within a few years, I want to get something out there,” Esper said. “Initial fielding is something else, but in terms of prototyping, seeing what it can do, I want to get it out sooner rather than later.”
Lasers are a challenge because they can travel a great distance, depending on their power, “so you have safety concerns you have to work through,” he said. “But like everything else, I am pushing folks to move left. Let’s get it out to the field. Let’s let soldiers experiment with it and see how they can best use it. … They will help shape how we think about the importance of lasers in terms of actually firing them, but also how do we integrate them as part of our formation against everything from small drones to cruise missiles to fast movers.”
The Army announced its ambitious plan to modernize its fleet of combat systems in October 2017. In addition to long-range precision fires and air and missile defense, the service has also stood up special cross-functional teams to focus on its next-generation combat vehicle, future vertical lift, a mobile network, and soldier lethality.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
In its continued efforts to develop and deploy artificial intelligence to address some of the nation’s toughest defense challenges, the Defense Department, in coordination with Army Research Lab, hosted its second AI Industry Day on Nov. 28, 2018.
More than 600 attendees from 380 industry, academic, and government organizations participated in the event in Silver Spring, Maryland, to discuss the department’s progress in AI and identify partnership opportunities.
Dana Deasy, DOD’s chief information officer, discussed the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center established in 2018.
“DOD is open for business in AI,” Deasy said. “Our goal is for the JAIC to have and deliver the capabilities to solve very large, unique problem sets that touch multiple services. To this end, we’ll build out data sets, infrastructure and tools that the [Defense Department] components can use.”
Accelerating adoption of capabilities
The center will help DOD accelerate the adoption of AI-enabled capabilities, scale AI’s department wide impact and synchronize the department’s AI activities to expand joint force advantages.
Dana Deasy, DOD’s chief information officer.
Although JAIC is in its early stages, officials said, it is already composed of about 25 representatives from across the Defense Department. Ultimately, the JAIC is building toward a distributed model, with a main office in the national capital region and satellite locations to leverage and foster innovation districts throughout the United States.
During the event, Air Force Lt. Gen. John N.T. “Jack” Shanahan, director of defense intelligence for warfighter support, provided an update on the Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Functional Team’s work on Project Maven.
“AWCFT used the last year to deliver initial operational capabilities and apply lessons learned to improve subsequent capability deliveries,” Shanahan said. “We have come a long way, and the partnerships we forged with industry and academia have been essential to success.”
Project Maven is a fast-moving effort launched in April 2017 to accelerate the department’s integration of big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning into DOD intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance programs.
Khizr Khan came to national prominence after his impassioned speech at last week’s Democratic National Convention. His remarks touched on the value of his son’s sacrifice for the country and why he believes Muslim immigrants should be allowed to take part in the American process.
Some of Khan’s remarks were aimed directly at Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, including asking whether Trump had ever read the Constitution. In response, Trump fired back in a way that has offended many in the veteran community. Trump specifically addressed the silence of Capt. Khan’s mother, Ghazala Khan, and implied that she likely didn’t speak because her husband (and the Muslim faith) wouldn’t allow it. She later addressed his comments in a Washington Post op-ed and told him it was a mother’s grief, not her religion, that rendered her incapable of speaking.
In a joint letter, seven veterans organizations have asserted that the Khan family’s right to question the intentions and actions of presidential candidates and other potential elected officials should be respected.
We are all Gold Star Families, who have lost those we love the most in war. Ours is a sacrifice you will never know. Ours is a sacrifice we would never want you to know.
Your recent comments regarding the Khan family were repugnant, and personally offensive to us. When you question a mother’s pain, by implying that her religion, not her grief, kept her from addressing an arena of people, you are attacking us. When you say your job building buildings is akin to our sacrifice, you are attacking our sacrifice.
You are not just attacking us, you are cheapening the sacrifice made by those we lost.
“I don’t know what story you can write about me except that I’m here,” quipped the dapper 78-year-old during an interview in his modest apartment just off the Clemson University campus. Dressed in his typically stylish manner, with dress slacks, a button-up shirt and fine leather shoes, Williams certainly doesn’t look 78 and, as a college sophomore studying computer information systems, doesn’t act 78 either.
But there’s nothing extraordinary about that, he says. He isn’t back in school in his late 70s because of some insatiable zest for life. He just needs a good job.
“Everything I’ve done in life I’ve done late. I’m the only clown in my whole family that didn’t get a degree,” he said. “When they started dying on me I said I’d better get back to school.”
Both of his parents and his only sibling, a younger sister, have passed away, and since he’s fairly new to the Upstate he doesn’t have any close friends in the area.
“Basically, I don’t have anybody,” he said matter-of-factly. “Let’s face it, it’s all up to me now.”
Malcolm Williams, 78, a rising sophomore at Clemson University studying computer systems, in his apartment in Clemson.
Williams has a tendency to downplay his life and didn’t particularly relish telling his story, but as he talks it becomes clear that, despite what he may think, he is quite extraordinary.
Born in 1939 in Highland Park, Michigan, his mother, Esther, was a substitute teacher, and his father, David was a graduate of Columbia University who spent 50 years working at Ford Motor Company.
Because of his father’s position, Williams enjoyed a privileged upbringing and could rely on support from his parents throughout his life. Nevertheless, he joined the Army in 1956 straight out of high school and served in both Korea and Vietnam as a surgical technician and was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division, the “Screaming Eagles.”
He experienced the South for the first time when he was sent to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, for medical training. It was his first time away from Michigan.
“When I got to Fort Sam, I had never seen signs that said ‘Black Only’ or ‘White Only’,” he said. “It was a real eye-opener. I said, ‘Oh mercy this is going to be pure hell and it was.'”
Williams was sent to a Nike missile base in Illinois, and then to Fort Campbell, Tennessee. They gave him the nickname ‘Doc.’ One night he went to a local bar with two dozen soldiers from his company and experienced a scene right out of a movie.
“The guy behind the bar looked right at me and said ‘I don’t serve n——’,” calling him a racial slur, recalled Williams. “The guys in my group said, ‘You ain’t going to serve who?’ They said, ‘Well guess what – if you don’t serve Doc you won’t serve any of us. We all walked out together and never went back.'”
That was his first taste of a brotherhood that would follow him all the way to Clemson.
Williams attends an introduction to sociology class in Brackett Hall.
Williams’ Army career took him all over the country and the world. He was stationed with the 249th Surgical Detachment at a mobile army surgical hospital (MASH) in Korea, and then in the U.S. Army 3rd Field Hospital in Saigon, Vietnam. All told, he spent six years in the Army caring for soldiers.
He downplays that too, balking at being called a hero, or even a veteran.
“I never saw war,” he said. “I got to Korea after the war, and then I got to Vietnam before the war, so I’m a peacetime veteran.”
His fellow veterans disagree with that assessment.
“The military needs all sorts of people doing all sorts of jobs to make it work,” said Sam Wigley, a Marine veteran, Clemson graduate and outreach director for Upstate Warrior Solution, a nonprofit dedicated to helping veterans in the Upstate area of South Carolina. “I’m sure if Malcolm asked those wounded fellows he was working on if they thought he was an important part of the military and a veteran they would not hesitate to agree.”
Williams got out of the Army in 1962 as a specialist second class and spent the next few years trying to figure out what to do with his life. He describes a definitively 1960s Detroit existence during those years. He tells of dating songwriter Janie Bradford — who wrote “Money, (That’s What I Want)” and several other hits — while he was still in the Army. He said that while he was with her he became something of a fixture at Motown’s Hitsville U.S.A. studio.
“Janie and I dated for four years. She had three secretaries at one time at the Motown office and I had to go through all three just to meet her for lunch,” he laughed. They also put him to work. At one point he was enlisted to chauffeur The Supremes to appearances.
“My dad had a convertible Thunderbird and [Motown founder] Berry Gordy would ask me to ride the Supremes around in it. I didn’t like him, but at the time The Supremes were struggling, so I said, ‘I can’t do this all the time, because it’s my father’s car, but I’ll take you around,'” he chuckled.
He landed work as a bartender in the Detroit club scene, where he rubbed elbows with people like Jackie Wilson and Dinah Washington. After that he moved to California for a time (“People are kooky there – I think they get too much sun.”), then returned to Michigan to attend college at Ferris State College in Big Rapids, where he became a charter brother of the school’s Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity chapter in 1966. He left before graduating when state funding to the school was cut, leaving him without the means to continue.
He spent the next portion of his life as an auditor for technology companies, which kept him moving around the country until an old Army friend convinced him to move to Greenville in 2001. He worked for Columbus Serum Company until the company was sold in 2008.
Suddenly and unexpectedly, he was 68 and unemployed. Retirement was not an option — that’s what old people do. It was time to figure out the next chapter. In the meantime, he found a place in the Brockwood Senior Living center.
“I didn’t like the ‘senior’ part,” he said. “Everybody there was just vegetating.”
Williams knew that he couldn’t become stagnant. He recalls Henry Ford II at his father’s retirement ceremony asking, “Well Dave, what are you going to do now?”
“My dad said ‘I’ll keep at it,'” said Williams. “But he didn’t. He only lived two years after his retirement. It was tragic. He was 72 when he died and he should have had all kinds of years left.”
Williams chats with a student on the way to class. “Apparently I’m an inspiration because of my age,” he told her when she asked why a photographer was following him around.
Already having outlived his father by several years, he enrolled at Greenville Technical College to avoid the same demise.
“I have a Ph.D. in dressing. I can tie a bow tie,” he said. “But I’m tired of just looking like I’m educated, so I enrolled because I want to be educated, not vegetated.”
After several semesters at Greenville Technical College, Williams decided to seek a four-year college degree. He set his sights just down the road on the home of the Tigers. He’d heard nothing but good things about Clemson since moving to South Carolina, so he figured he might as well go for the best.
He applied and, being an honor student at GTC, was immediately accepted. Now his only problem was getting to class. Clemson was an hour-long bus ride away, and that sufficed for a while, but it was exhausting. He needed to move closer, but he hadn’t worked since 2008, so he had no resources to make that happen.
That’s when his brothers-in-arms stepped in. When Wigley and the other administrators of Upstate Warrior Solution found out Williams was in need, they contacted the Clemson Student Veteran Association to help. On a cool and overcast Saturday in January 2018, a squad of Clemson student veterans, strangers until that moment, showed up at Williams’ apartment in Greenville. They loaded his belongings into their cars and moved him to an apartment they had found for him in Clemson. He was one day away from the end of his lease.
Williams with the group of student veterans that moved him into his new apartment.
It was a reminder from his fellow veterans that, even though he might feel alone sometimes, he is not and never will be.
“This is anecdotal evidence of what every veteran knows: that the bond between service members transcends race, gender, generational gaps, political affiliations, military branches and occupations, and even wars,” said Brennan Beck, Clemson’s assistant director for Military and Veteran Engagement, who was one of the vets that helped Williams move that day. “Despite all of our differences, we’re connected by what unites us: our sworn service to defending and serving our country in the U.S. military. That’s the strongest bond.”
Williams said those student veteran Tigers probably kept him from becoming homeless that day. He’d had a few reservations about coming back to the American South, where he first experienced blatant racism, but those fears abated as his fellow vets and the greater Clemson family welcomed him with open arms.
Williams adjusts his Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity hat in his apartment in Clemson.
“I did have a few unpleasant thoughts about coming back to the South,” he said. “However, while I have struggled to adapt to university life, Clemson’s administration and its faculty continue to encourage me and treat me with dignity and respect.”
Now, Williams gets up every day and goes to class like very other student and hopes to become a consultant after graduating two years from now at the age of 80.
“I used to say, ‘Oh well I’ve got time,'” he reflected. “Well, you don’t have time. Believe me. You get to be 20, all of a sudden you’re 30, then all of a sudden you’re 40. Hey, time flies. Next year I’ll be 79 and I’m still trying to get an education.”
Williams has taken up studying German in his spare time and likes to recite his favorite quote: Wir werden zu früh alt, schlau zu spä.
“It means ‘We get old too soon, smart too late,'” he said, nodding gently. “Don’t I know it.”
Whether he knows it or not, he’s having an impact on the people around him just by being here.
“He inspires me,” said Ken Robinson, associate professor of sociology, anthropology and criminal justice and a charter member of Clemson’s chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha. “To hear his story is very encouraging. I was introduced to Malcolm by a graduate student who knew that he was an Alpha and recommended that I meet him. Well, I reached out to Malcolm and I’m very pleased that he’s here. I think it’s really good for his fellow students to interact with him and to learn from his rich experience.”
Williams remains nothing if not pragmatic about what lies ahead for him.
“I’m going to stay with it until I graduate, if I live,” he said, pensively. “When I dress up I want that big Clemson ring on my hand. Dylan Thomas said ‘Don’t go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’ That sticks in my mind all the time. If I go out of here I’m going out kicking and screaming, and that’s a fact.”
Staff at the Bay Pines Veterans Healthcare System left a deceased veteran in a shower room for over nine hours, increasing the risk of decomposition.
That is among the findings of a 24-page report issued by investigators into the incident, news outlets say.
According to reports from the Tampa Bay Times and Fox13News.com, documentation concerning the post-mortem care was falsified to cover up the incident.
The report, heavily redacted by the Department of Veterans Affairs due to confidentiality rules, revealed massive failures in the incident.
Hospital spokesman Jason Dangel told the Tampa Bay Times “appropriate personnel action was taken” in addition to carrying out a combination of retraining staff and changing procedures. The report, while heavily redacted to protect the confidentiality of the staff who allegedy left the deceased veteran lying around for nine hours, did list the procedures that should have been followed.
In a lengthier statement released to Fox13news.com, an unidentified spokesperson with the VA hospital noted, “As reflected in the outcomes of our thorough internal reviews, it was found that some staff did not follow post mortem care procedures. We view this finding unacceptable, and have taken appropriate action to mitigate reoccurrence in the future.”
The staff will be retained, sign a written commitment to maintain VA core values and nurses will be on staff to make sure the procedures are followed, the official said.
“We feel that we have taken strong, appropriate and expeditious steps to strengthen and improve our existing systems and processes within the unit,” the official said.
In a stinging statement on the incident also delivered to Fox13news.com, Florida Republican Rep. Gus Bilirakis said, “I am deeply disturbed by the incident that occurred at the Bay Pines VA hospital, and even more distressed to learn that staff attempted to cover it up. The report details a total failure on the part of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and an urgent need for greater accountability.”
“Unsurprisingly, not a single VA employee has been fired following this incident, despite a clear lack of concern and respect for the Veteran,” Bilirakis added. “The men and women who sacrificed on behalf of our nation deserve better.”
Struggling to expand its ranks, the Army will triple the amount of bonuses it’s paying this year to more than $380 million, including new incentives to woo reluctant soldiers to re-enlist, officials told The Associated Press.
Some soldiers could get $90,000 up front by committing to another four or more years, as the Army seeks to reverse some of the downsizing that occurred under the Obama administration after years of growth spurred by the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
The enlistment campaign was driven by Congress’ decision late last year to beef up the size of the Army, echoing the spirit if not quite the extent of President Donald Trump’s campaign promises to significantly increase military staffing and firepower.
Last fall, Trump unveiled a plan that would enlarge the Army to 540,000 soldiers. Army leaders back the general idea, but say more men and women must be accompanied by funding for the equipment, training, and support for them.
Under the current plan, the active duty Army will grow by 16,000 soldiers, taking it to 476,000 in total by October. The National Guard and the Army Reserve will see a smaller expansion.
To meet the mandate, the Army must find 6,000 new soldiers, convince 9,000 current soldiers to stay on, and add 1,000 officers.
“We’ve got a ways to go,” Gen. Robert Abrams, head of U.S. Army Forces Command, said in an interview at his office in Fort Bragg, N.C. “I’m not going to kid you. It’s been difficult because a lot of these kids had plans and their families had plans.”
In just the last two weeks, the Army has paid out more than $26 million in bonuses.
The biggest hurdle, according to senior Army leaders, is convincing thousands of enlistees who are only months away from leaving the service to sign up for several more years. Many have been planning their exits and have turned down multiple entreaties to stay.
“The top line message is that the Army is hiring,” said Maj. Gen. Jason Evans, who recently became the service’s head of Human Resources Command.
Evans said the Army was expanding “responsibly with a focus on quality,” insisting there will be no relaxation of standards.
It is a clear reference to last decade, when the Army eased recruitment rules to meet combat demands in Iraq and Afghanistan. At their peak, more than 160,000 U.S. troops were in Iraq and about 100,000 were in Afghanistan. To achieve those force levels, the Army gave more people waivers to enlist, including those with criminal or drug use records.
The Army vows it won’t do that again, focusing instead on getting soldiers to re-enlist. Money is the key.
The Army’s $550 billion base budget, approved by Congress last month, will provide money for the financial incentives. The latest round of increased bonuses, which became effective less than two weeks ago, are good for at least the next month.
Cyber posts, cryptologists, or other intelligence or high tech jobs with certain language skills are particularly rewarded. They can get between $50,000 and $90,000 by agreeing to serve another three to five years. Army special forces can also qualify for top level incentives. But more routine jobs — such as some lower level infantry posts — may get nothing, or just a couple of thousand dollars.
The new bonuses have triggered a spike in re-enlistments, said Mst. Sgt. Mark Thompson, who works with Army retention policies, saying there have been more than 2,200 since May 24.
The Army is about three-quarters of the way to its goal for re-enlistments. But meeting the ultimate target is difficult because the remaining pool of soldiers is comprised of people who “have said no for a long time,” Thompson said.
Normally, he said, about a third of eligible soldiers re-enlist each year. This year, the goal requires nearly three-quarters signing on for more years.
In some cases, the personal touch can help.
Across Fort Bragg from Abrams’ office, deep in the woods, soldiers from an 82nd Airborne Division unit are conducting a live fire exercise. While evaluating the troops, Col. Greg Beaudoin, commander of 3rd Brigade, also is doing his part to meet the re-enlistment objective.
“I don’t think he knows what he wants to do yet in life,” Beaudoin said of a soldier on his staff that he urged to re-enlist. “So I told him, ‘Here is an opportunity. Just extend for a year until you figure it out. The army is offering you an opportunity. Take your time to figure out what you want to do.'”
Beaudoin said he thinks up to a fifth of his soldiers may stay on, crediting the bonuses for making the choice more attractive.
As if the lowly soldier of World War I didn’t have enough to worry about on the hellish battlefields of France — from massive flamethrowers, to giant artillery guns to poison gas — there was a lot of nastiness that could kill you in no-man’s land.
Not quite the nightmare scenario of living, walking Ents from “Lord of the Rings,” the British and later the Germans nevertheless disguised sniper hides and observation posts in positions designed to look like trees destroyed on the battlefield made from steel drums and camouflaged to look like an everyday arbor.
In the constant game of cat and mouse that marked the stalemate of the Western Front, diabolical designers looked to the splintered wreckage of the pock-marked battlescape to hide their positions. According to a story about the deadly hollowed-out trees in the London Daily Mail, the Brits found wrecked trees they could use to construct what they called “O.P. Trees” for observation posts.
Is that a German Baumbeobachter behind me? (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
“The ideal tree was dead and often it was bomb blasted,” the MailOnline story said. “The photographs and sketches were then sent to a workshop where artists constructed an artificial tree of hollow steel cylinders.”
“It contained an internal scaffolding for reinforcement, to allow a sniper or observer to ascend within the structure,” the story added.
The trees were built to look exactly like the ruined ones in no-man’s land, so troops would sneak between the lines in the dark and replace the real tree with the fake one. Manned by a British Tommy, the O.P. Trees gave a better view of the battlefield than peering over the trench line.
Historians say a soldier perched within the tree would relay his observation to another trooper posted below, who’d carry the information back to the lines for an attack.
An O.P. Tree being installed on a World War I battlefield by British troops. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
“As far as we know the trees were surprisingly successful and none of them were detected by the enemy,” a historian with the Imperial War Museum in Kensington, England, told MailOnline. “In 1916 the Germans had captured a lot of the higher ground on the Western Front and even the elevation of a few feet through one of these trees could prove crucial.”
The Germans later caught on to the tactic and built there own, calling them Baumbeobachter (which means “tree observer”) and used them throughout the war. The Brits are said to have used their first O.P. Trees during the battle of Ypres in Belgium in 1915, and historians estimate around 45 were deployed to the Western front.
Navy veteran and creative writing gold medalist Patrick Ward is excited to share his work at this year’s Vet Gala at the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival (NVCAF). His featured story can be found among the 15 short stories and poems displayed in Writers’ Row at the festival’s Artist and Writer Exhibition.
“Writing has helped bring me back to the person that I want to be,” Ward said. “I’m truly grateful for the opportunity to be here and to share my story with others. We all have stories to tell. My hope in telling mine is that it inspires someone while I’m here.”
Inspiration and healing
Gary Beckwith, creator of the annual Veterans Literacy Jam at Battle Creek VA Medical Center and one of this year’s NVCAF writing event organizers, says he hopes veterans realize their potential and leave feeling healed.
Navy Veteran and creative writer, Patrick Ward (right), listens during a discussion at the writing workshop at the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival. Ward’s story is among the 15 short stories and poems displayed in Writers’ Row at the festival’s Artist and Writer Exhibition.
“I believe that writing can be a cathartic experience,” said Beckwith. “The writing workshops and Vet Gala were designed to, not only highlight the talents of our writers, but were organized with the hopes that veterans leave here feeling inspired.”
During the festival, writers take the opportunity to speak about their writing and how it has affected their health, emotional well-being and recovery.
Army veteran Otto Espenschied has used writing to help him overcome Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and cope during a nine-year battle with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Recently receiving a gold medal for his short story titled, “I Don’t Have PTSD,” he explains that writing and participating in this year’s festival has helped him understand that he is stronger than he ever knew.
“It’s hard to dream when you’re barely holding on,” he said. “Writing has helped get me through some tough times, but I’m alive. I can hug my daughters and my wife each day. What more can I ask for?”
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.