The US Navy has reportedly launched 59 cruise missiles at airfields controlled by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in response to a chemical attack that killed at least 80 people in the northwestern part of the country on Monday.
Tomahawk missiles were launched from two Navy warships stationed in the Mediterranean according to CNN, and NBC News.
No casualties have yet been reported but officials tell NBC News that no people were targeted.
Missiles hit runways and military infrastructure used by Syrian and Russian forces, who the US blames for using chemical weapons in the attack on Monday.
Several prominent GOP Senators and Representatives urged strikes on Syria after evidence of chemical attacks surfaced. The strike, while not targeting troops themselves, carried a high risk of killing Syrian and Russian servicemen in collateral damage.
When dictators get toppled or governments change, things get chaotic, to say the least. Sometimes a despotic leader gets to escape to Saudi Arabia to live the rest of his life, presumably not eating people.
Democracies tend to have a more peaceful transfer of power, ones that don’t involve revolutionaries storming buildings and stringing people up. But in any conflict, there is always the chance that something will get lost to history.
I’m willing to bet these seven military leaders didn’t expect to end up as a decoration somewhere.
1. Oliver Cromwell’s Head
Cromwell has been called a lot of things: tyrant, dictator, hero. It all depends on your point of view. When he died in 1658, the state gave the former Lord Protector of England a fine funeral under his son, the new Lord Protector, Richard.
Unfortunately, Richard sucked at his job and the monarchy was restored. The new king, Charles II put everyone who killed his father, King Charles I, on trial immediately, with no exceptions. This included Oliver Cromwell’s corpse.
Cromwell’s dead body unsurprisingly stayed silent on his guilt or innocence, was pronounced guilty, and hanged. He was then beheaded and the head put on a spike outside Parliament.
For like, 20 years.
In 1685, a storm blew the spike down, and sent the head flying into Parliament Square. It was picked up by guard who secretly took it home to sell it for cash. Instead, he got cold feet and hid it in the chimney until the day he died.
To make a long story short, the head was sold from collector to collector for a full 301 years before it was reburied in Cambridge.
2. Napoleon Bonaparte’s Penis
In 2007, Evan Lattimer’s father died. From him, she inherited Napoleon Bonaparte’s penis even though the French government swears the little corporal is not that of the Emperor.
In 1821, he died in exile on the island of St. Helena and while the British weren’t watching, the Corsican conducting Napoleon’s autopsy cut off a few pieces for some reason.
It traveled around the world for decades, eventually ending up under the bed of American urologist John Kingsley Lattimer, who put it there and seldom showed anyone because “Dad believed that urology should be proper and decent and not a joke.”
3. Benito Mussolini’s Leg and Brain
Mussolini met a pretty ignominious end during WWII. He was captured by Italian anti-Fascist partisans, beaten and then strung up by his feet. The U.S. Army ordered the bodies taken down and eventually placed Il Duce in la tomba.
His unmarked grave was found by three young fascists who dug him up and took the body from place to place, eventually ending up in a monastery near Milan. By the time his body was found, it was missing a leg. The legless body was interred in his family crypt in Predappio.
The fun doesn’t stop there. While the body was in American custody, an autopsy was performed on the dictator’s brain. The Americans took half of the brain in an attempt to study what makes a dictator, returning it in 1966.
Every now and again, however, vials pop up on eBay, claiming to be the Italian’s remains. His leg was never found.
4. King Badu Bonsu’s Head
Dutch colonists in what is today called Ghana got pretty pissed when the Chief of the local Ahanta tribe killed two Dutch messengers, cut their heads off, and put them on his throne.
The Dutch, slightly miffed at having their citizens used as decoration, responded the way most colonizers would – with a punitive expedition. They captured Badu Bonsu and lopped off his head. This time, instead of putting it on a chair, they put it in a jar. Of formaldehyde.
Fast forward two hundred years later, the Netherlands have gracefully decided to give the old man’s head back to his home country. You might think the people who happened to be carrying around the pickled head of an African chief might keep track of it but no. It was found locked in a closet where it had presumably been for 170 years.
5. Che Guevara’s Hair
The Cuban revolutionary met his end in Bolivia in 1967, executed by Bolivian forces. His hands were cut off as proof and his body was thrown into an unmarked grave. But, like the people who surrounded Napoleon after his death, someone with access to Guevara’s body decided to take home a souvenir.
The person who happened to be present and bury Guevara was also a CIA spook. He kept a scrapbook that included photos, documents, fingerprints, and a lock of Guevara’s hair. In 2007, it was all sold at auction for $100,000.
6. Geronimo’s Skull
In 2009, native tribes sued the Yale University secret society known as the Order of Skull and Bones. They alleged the group had the skull of Apache leader Geronimo on display in the clubhouse. And the Apaches wanted it back.
Geronimo died as a POW at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in 1909. A Skull and Bones legend says Prescott Bush, father of George H.W. Bush and grandfather to George W. Bush, dug up the Apache’s body and stole the skull and other bones. He then brought it to the clubhouse in New Haven, Connecticut.
7. Thomas Paine’s Entire Body
Unlike everyone else on this list whose head or skull was stolen after death, Thomas Paine’s good friend John Jarvis was already thinking about getting his hands on the famous patriot’s noggin. Paine, of course, asked Jarvis to leave his bones the hell alone. When Paine died in 1809, they did just that. For a while. Somebody dug his body up ten years later.
Since Paine died a drunk in New York, very few people were present for his funeral. Wanting to give Paine a proper burial, newspaper editor William Cobbett and some friends exhumed Paine with the intent of moving his body to England.
The only problem happened when the body got to England – Cobbett couldn’t afford the burial. The old editor stashed the remains in his attic, where Tom Paine remained until Cobbett died. After that, no one knows what happened to the Revolutionary author.
Twin brothers who went to war together are receiving medals 70 years after they took off their combat boots.
Richard and Robert Barrett, 91-year-old veterans of World War II, never knew they supposed to be getting medals nor were they looking for these accolades. A family member happened to discover the oversight after requesting replacement copies of their Army records – the originals had been destroyed.
The crowd gave a standing ovation after Richard received the Silver Star and Bronze Star with additional military honors from Congressman Sam Graves, who had expedited the process for them.
The brothers, who were 18 when they shipped off to war, recalled their time in combat:
“We were just kids when we heard our first machine gun fire and [we said] ‘Oh that’s great, that’s fun, machine gun fire,'” said Richard, “But a little later the Germans started shooting those 88 artillery shells, and things changed after that.”
He was also quick to point out that he is 5 minutes older than his brother Robert, and joked, “Of course, I had to take care of him in combat; he was kind of a puny kid.”
The Barretts showed humility as they talked with Fox 4 News about being honored for their service: “It’s nice, but we’re both kind of humble about it,” Richard said. “We don’t let it get to be a prestigious deal for us. Awards or no awards, I’d do it again.”
“We saw some rough times,” Robert added. “We slept on some cold ground, but there are other men that did so much more than we did too.”
Robert will receive his medals in a separate ceremony.
Although the US Marine Corps may have unveiled their futuristic Multi-Utility Tactical Transport recently, another unlikely source may have beaten them in the race to develop an automated combat-centric vehicle.
According to the Baghdad Post and Defense One, two Iraqi brothers have developed a four-wheeled vehicle with a wide assortment of features for combat.
Called “Alrobot,” Arabic for robot, this laptop-controlled unmanned vehicle comes equipped with four cameras and is capable of remotely firing its mounted machine gun and Katyusha rockets. Having a range of around one kilometer, reports have also stated that this robot is slated to assist the Iraqi Security Forces with their fight against ISIS militants very soon.
With the ISF and coalition forces planning on beginning their assault on Mosul — Iraq’s second-largest city and one of the few remaining ISIS bastions — it might play an instrumental role in its liberation.
It’s not every day that you can say “Today I got a personalized tweet from someone claiming to be with ISIS.” And that’s probably a good thing.
It happened like this: The Twitter account of a military spouse who owns a spouse-focused non-profit was hacked by a group apparently affiliated with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The hackers then tweeted messages aimed at specific military spouses, including myself.
“Amy Bushatz! You think you’re safe but the IS is already here, #CyberCaliphate got into your PC and smartphone,” is, I’m told, what the tweet said (I did not actually see it before it was deleted, presumably by Twitter).
Not long thereafter I received a friend request from someone named “Gasper CyberCaliphate Sadz.” When I viewed their profile it was clear that they were not the sort of person I wanted to let into my social life. Within a few seconds the profile had been deleted. And yes, it was really creepy. The same photo and images were used in this account as were used during the CENTCOM hack.
You might be thinking “that’s what you get for being stupid enough to be quoted by name in a CNN article about ISIS and cyber threats.” However, the decision to have my name used in that story wasn’t a hard one. My name is everywhere — here, on Military.com and in other national publications. I am a public person. That ship has sailed.
I’m told the FBI is investigating the situation, and all the proper military officials have been notified by those of us involved. My husband suggested I not let anyone dressed as a terrorist into our house.
I want to face this whole situation with a resolute jaw and a loud “being afraid means the terrorists win.” I’m not the type of person to live in fear or change my life just because some person on the internet wants to scare me. I’ve never done that before and I have no intention of doing it now.
Personal attacks bring up a variety of feelings. On the one hand, I’m super pissed. How dare they threaten me and my friends? Then there’s the maniacal laughter and the semi-inappropriate jokes about not opening the door for anyone in a bomb vest. I’ve got lots of those.
But then, underneath all of that somewhere deep in my core, I am trying to shake off the tiniest bit of what feels an awful lot like fear.
Because being singled out by someone claiming to be with a fairly terrifying terrorist organization? That’s scary. Knowing that, thanks to my job and public profile, my town of residence, spouse’s name and occupation, base, kid’s names and more wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to locate online? More than unnerving.
But I don’t think it’s the fear itself that matters. I think it’s what I choose to do about the fear that is the key. Do I let it change my habits? Do I ignore it completely and hope nothing bad happens?
Do I use it as a cautionary tale to be more vigilant — much like you would react to a story of a home robbery in your neighborhood?
Or do I completely change my life, delete my social media presence and lock down my family because I am afraid?
Being afraid doesn’t mean the terrorists won — it’s the living in fear that gives them the victory. I’m not giving them the victory.
The defense industry is not only filled with upwardly mobile careers, but it is teeming with demand for candidates. To top it off, these employers really want veterans and tend to offer excellent financial packages for truly interesting and vital jobs.
The catch is, well, almost all these jobs require candidates to have a current clearance in order to be considered. Do you have one? Maybe you already do and you’re already game, or maybe you have one but it’s not a high enough clearance to fit into the typical defense industry position.
If you aren’t the proud owner of a clearance, don’t despair: It’s an uphill hike but still possible if you are willing to consider some options. If you are, you’re in luck … you may just be the right person to land one of these defense jobs that don’t require a clearance.
How, you ask?
With a little bit of fairy dust … and a plan.
Every industry needs support and planning. Behind all those defense industry jobs and workers is a cadre of specialists working to ensure the whole thing runs. Even if your end goal is to work within the cleared field, these positions can provide a gateway to get you where you want to go.
Someone has to identify, write and present contract bids for defense contractors to obtain government work. If the military needs a new set of aircraft, they go shopping among company bids with an eye on cost and potential effectiveness of the company on delivering quality equipment on time.
With successful contract bids come the need for skilled employees who can live up to the company’s promises. Many defense industry employers maintain a lively team of recruiters, recruitment coordinators and administrative staff to hire and maintain an effective and talented resource of employees.
Once that team is constructed, a staff dedicated to managing hiring packages, medical, dental and education benefits, as well as employee pay, is vital to make the operation work smoothly.
Maybe you aren’t interested in support jobs and would rather work within the cleared sector of the defense industry. There are still a couple avenues you can pursue. You can apply for defense jobs that do require a clearance, but you don’t necessarily need to currently hold one.
Here’s some options:
Apply to Directly:
Government agencies are less hamstringed by the need to have a preexisting clearance for potential personnel and are more likely to hire the right fit despite clearance status. The process for this is usually quite long, so have a plan in place while you work through the federal hiring process.
Note: Keep an eye on the political atmosphere, since agencies are affected by any federal hiring freezes.
Many government agencies and some defense contractors have programs that provide direct connections to educational institutions and in-demand fields of study. If you were already interested in mathematics, for example, you may find an agency program that mentors student mathematicians with an eye for post-graduation hire. These programs target majors that are in high demand.
So, yes! It is possible to work in the defense industry. Fairy dust helps, but if you know the jobs that don’t require a clearance, you can snag yourself an opportunity. Support the greater defense community or work toward clearance sponsorship by getting your education and employment set up in one fell swoop.
Dr. Justin Sanchez, director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Biological Technologies Office, fist-bumps with one of the first two advanced “LUKE” arms to be delivered from a new production line during a ceremony at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Dec. 22, 2016 DoD photo
Dr. Justin Sanchez, director of DARPA’s Biological Technologies Office, delivered the first two advanced “LUKE” arms from a new production line Dec. 22 — evidence that the fast-track DARPA research effort has completed its transition into a commercial enterprise, DARPA officials said.
The ceremony took place at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
“The commercial production and availability of these remarkable arms for patients marks a major milestone in the [DARPA] Revolutionizing Prosthetics program and most importantly an opportunity for our wounded warriors to enjoy a major enhancement in their quality of life,” Sanchez said, “and we are not stopping here.”
The RP program is supporting initial production of the bionic arms and is making progress restoring upper-arm control, he added.
“Ultimately we envision these limbs providing even greater dexterity and highly refined sensory experiences by connecting them directly to users’ peripheral and central nervous systems,” Sanchez said.
As part of the production transition process, DARPA is collaborating with Walter Reed to make the bionic arms available to service members and veterans who are rehabilitating after suffering upper-limb loss, DARPA says.
The first production versions of “LUKE” arms, a groundbreaking upper-limb prostheses, were on display during a ceremony at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Dec. 22, 2016 The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is collaborating with Walter Reed to make the bionic arms available to service members and veterans who are rehabilitating after suffering upper-limb loss. DoD photo
LUKE stands for “life under kinetic evolution” but is also a passing reference to the limb that Luke Skywalker wore in Star Wars: Episode V, The Empire Strikes Back.
The limbs are being manufactured by Mobius Bionics LLC, of Manchester, New Hampshire, a company created to market the technology developed by DEKA Integrated Solutions Corp., also of Manchester, under DARPA’s Revolutionizing Prosthetics program.
The prosthetic system allows very dexterous arm and hand movement with grip force feedback through a simple intuitive control system, DARPA says.
The modular battery-powered limb is near-natural size and weight. Its hand has six user-chosen grips and an arm that allows for simultaneous control of multiple joints using inputs that include wireless signals generated by innovative sensors worn on a user’s feet.
The technology that powers prosthetic legs has advanced steadily over the past two decades but prosthetic arms and hands are a tougher challenge, in part because of the need for greater degrees of dexterity, DARPA says.
When the LUKE arm first went into development, people who had lost upper limbs had to use a relatively primitive split-hook device that hadn’t changed much since it was introduced in 1912.
DARPA launched the Revolutionizing Prosthetics program with a goal of getting U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for an advanced electromechanical prosthetic upper limb with near-natural control that enhances independence and improves quality of life for amputees. LUKE received FDA approval less than eight years after the effort began, DARPA says.
Under a recently finalized agreement between DARPA and Walter Reed, DARPA will transfer LUKE arms from an initial production run to the medical center for prescription to patients. Mobius Bionics will train the Walter Reed staff to fit, service and support the arms.
Marine veteran James P. Connolly (Sirius/XM Radio, Comics Unleashed) hosted the 6th Annual Veteran’s Day Benefit Comedy Show “Cocktails Camouflage,” at Flappers Comedy Club in Burbank, California in early November.
All funds raised were donated to Veterans in Film Television (VFT), a non-profit networking organization that unites current and former members of the military working in film and television and offers the entertainment industry the opportunity to connect with and hire veterans.
In this video, we get to laugh with Navy veteran Steve Mazan, who talks about his foolproof plan to have a celebrity emergency contact.
The U.S. Central Command has announced that two American service members were killed and two more wounded during fighting in the Kunduz District of Kunduz Province, Afghanistan, on Nov. 3.
“On behalf of all U.S. Forces – Afghanistan, today’s loss is heartbreaking and we offer our deepest condolences to the families and friends of our service members who lost their lives today. Our wounded soldiers are receiving the best medical care possible and we are keeping them and their families in our thoughts today, as well,” Gen. John W. Nicholson, commander of USFOR-A, said in a press release. “Despite today’s tragic event, we are steadfast in our commitment to help our Afghan partners defend their nation.”
Afghan government and insurgent forces are fighting fiercely for Kunduz District, an area near the border with Tajikistan. Kunduz is a six-hour drive down Afghanistan Highway 76 from Kabul, the country’s capital. The city is one of Afghanistan’s largest.
Dozens of civilians were also killed in the fighting on Nov. 3, according to the New York Times. The incident is under investigation, but it is believed that most of the civilians killed and wounded were victims of an errant airstrike. Both U.S. and Afghan forces were conducting airstrikes during the fighting in Kunduz.
“As part of an Afghan operation, friendly forces received direct fire and air strikes were conducted to defend themselves,” spokesman Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland told Reuters.
“We take all allegations of civilian casualties very seriously.”
The Taliban told Retuers in a statement that Afghan commandos and U.S. troops were on a raid to capture a rebel commander when the fight took place.
On any given weekend, visitors to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art might notice a gathering of fledgling filmmakers behind cameras capturing some action or seated in front of desktop editing station assembling their footage into a coherent narrative.
And the sight of filmmakers hard at work might not strike passersby as unusual — after all, this is LA, home of Hollywood and the epicenter of the movie business. But this group at LACMA isn’t just any collection of potential Spielbergs or Bays.
Welcome to “Veterans Make Movies,” a three-year initiative focused on highlighting the veteran experience presented in collaboration with the Los Angeles Public Library. In 2013, LAPL launched Veterans Resource Centers within library branches throughout Los Angeles in response to the growing need for veteran support programs and social services.
Watch “Tacit Veritas” by veteran filmmaker Levi Preston:
The library identified the lack of an expressive outlet for veterans to share their perspectives about service or their unique coming home story to a wider audience of both veterans and civilians, so LACMA offered to develop a multilayered filmmaking program tailored to veterans’ personal, creative, and social needs, building on the museum’s ongoing initiative to engage communities through art and film. The program is free to students, in part due to the support of organizations like the Institute of Museum and Library Services, Sony Pictures Entertainment, and The Safeway Foundation.
VMM is an 8-week curriculum that takes a group of 16 military veterans through a series of 3-hour workshops taught by artists and industry experts. The graduation exercise for each student is to create a 3-minute short film suitable for screening at the end of the session.
“These classes are designed to take somebody who’s never picked up a camera before and learn how to make a film,” says Sarah Jesse, LACMA’s associate vice president of education.
Watch “A Chaos Within” by veteran filmmaker Jason Fracaro:
Jesse explains that the basic premise of the course is that when it comes to the medium of film, “you can’t separate the technical aspect from the story aspect.”
The course starts with analysis of a wide variety of filmmaking technics “to give students a sense of how others have communicated,” Jesse says. That’s followed by reflective writing exercises that are then morphed into storyboards that guide the filmmakers as they actually shoot the footage. After that comes the extensive process of editing and post producing the work, arguably the most important part of realizing the artistic vision.
Jesse points out that an important part of getting vet students into the right frame of mind is creating the right atmosphere.
“It’s a safe place where vets feel comfortable sharing experience,” she says. “It’s not a therapy program, but art-making is cathartic.”
Jesse explains that halfway through the second session the instructors, who are also veterans, feel like they have added to their knowledge of the military community as much as they’ve managed to teach the students about filmmaking.
“The vet experience is diverse and people can have a lot of different types of jobs in uniform,” she says. “We went into this thinking we were going to bridge the military-civilian divide but we’ve also seen a vet-vet divide.”
Jesse says the instructors have noted a camaraderie develop between the vets over the course of the eight weekends they spend together.
“They crew for each other’s films,” she says. “They help each other out.”
Word-of-mouth about VMM has quickly spread around the LA veteran community.
“We’ve had a ton of people apply,” Jesse says. “It’s catching on.”
Veterans can begin to apply for VMM’s winter/spring session starting October 15, 2016. Access the application here.
To watch other veteran-made movies created in the VMM program go here.
And if you’re going to be in LA on October 30, check out VMM’s celebration of Veterans in the Arts and Humanities Day. Television legend Norman Lear (creator of “All in the Family,” “One Day at a Time,” and “Maude”) will be in attendance to screen a collection of veteran films. For more information go here.
If you’ve ever worked a job that you hate, you know how unfulfilling it can be spending hour after hour trying to stop day-dreaming scenarios in which your life hadn’t led you to this point.
A couple of years ago, Ben Owen and Brolen Jourdan found themselves in just this situation. Both veterans with history in the food service and hospitality industries, the office job life just wasn’t providing the stimulation or reward they were used to. Together, they decided to do something about it, and in July 2016, they opened the doors to their cafe, Liberation Coffee Co. in Coppell, Texas.
“We liberated ourselves from lives we were unhappy with and followed our dreams to open a shop,” says Owen, who in addition to needing a career change, saw a need within his community as well. “I live in the area and was always on the hunt for a craft shop that was convenient. It was a tough ticket to fill, so we built one.”
Our shop is pretty straightforward, with no frills, doing our best to do a few things well.
Like many veterans, Owen’s experiences in the armed forces — he served both in the Army and the Air Force — have informed much of his worldview, including his philosophies on running a business.
“I think that my years in the service come through in our model quite a bit,” he says. “Our shop is pretty straightforward, with no frills, doing our best to do a few things well.”
The craft coffee industry can feel a little over-the-top, Owen says, sometimes sacrificing form for fashion. While latte art and trendy aprons can do plenty to garner the attention of consumers, they can act as a deterrent to people seeking a plain cup of coffee. He hopes he can bridge the disconnect he perceives between craft coffee and vets.
“I can’t speak for all vets, but I think there is definitely a disconnect between the veteran community and craft coffee shops,” Owen says. “We’re used to function over form, so a lot of folks don’t know what they’re missing. Using my veteran status, I hope to alleviate that disconnect and bring other vets some quality coffee they might not otherwise seek out. We offer a military discount, and I’m always up for talking shop with my fellow servicemen and women.”
This philosophy of function over form is evident upon entering the space. Absent are the forests-worth of wood, exposed brick walls, and upcycled furniture composing the aesthetics of many DFW specialty cafes. In their place are comfy armchairs, tasteful light fixtures and Ed Sheeran on the sound-system.
Despite these “second-wave” aesthetics, the underlying care for the craft of coffee is apparent from the Kalita Wave pour-over drippers on the shelves to the coffee taster’s flavor wheel poster displayed prominently on the wall.
Liberation’s coffee is courtesy of Eiland Coffee Roaster’s, which, as one of DFW’s oldest specialty roasting companies, has been producing traditionally roasted coffees in Richardson since 1998. A variety of blends and single-origin offerings are available as both drip and pour-over, and while the espresso is dialed in, the milk could use some work.
In addition to coffee, a variety of pastries like a rosemary-provolone scone ($3.50) and blueberry bread ($2.59) are available from Zenzero Kitchen Bakery, as well as macarons in flavors like espresso, strawberry and honey (all $2) from Joe the Baker.
The food and coffee menus cover all the necessary bases for coffee-house expectations without complicating things too much, making decisions quick and easy. Drinks come out quickly as well, so if you’re in need of a commuter-cup in the morning, don’t let the absence of a drive-thru fool you into thinking you don’t have time to pop in and out.
Establishing a specialty coffee presence in an area like Coppell can be challenging, but Liberation Coffee’s lack of pretension, cozy and casual environment and friendly staff all bode well for their success in the area.
“We want to make coffee accessible,” Owen says. “The community here is very locally focused, so for us, it’s important to do right by these folks. We try to offer the very best we can to continue to support that local mentality.”
The brand has plans for a small expansion within Coppell, in addition to simply growing their business in their current space. They may have forgotten about Zenzero when writing their Facebook bio claiming the title of “first specialty shop in Coppell,” but it’s great to see the coffee community growing in the area all the same.
The 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, which became law in December, provides the military justice system new tools to prosecute service members who maliciously distribute sexually explicit images of others.
The 2018 NDAA adds Article 117a to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. “The new article is titled ‘Wrongful broadcast or distribution of intimate visual images’,” said Lt. Col. Jay L. Thoman, a judge advocate and the chief of the Army’s Criminal Law Policy Branch.
The “Marines United” scandal of 2017 was a driving force behind the addition of Article 117a to the UCMJ, Thoman said.
As part of that scandal, more than 30,000 active duty and retired armed forces members were initially accused of being involved in the distribution or viewing of private, intimate, or sexually explicit imagery. A portion of the distributed material included images of female service members and military spouses.
“Posting compromising pictures of fellow service members not only works to undercut the trust within the unit but is completely counter to the values the services represent,” Thoman said. “It has the potential to destroy unit cohesion, hurts the victim, and is destructive.
“With the implementation of Article 117a, there is now a clearer way to bring offenders to justice,” Thoman said.
“It seems that Congress wanted to make sure that this type of behavior was unmistakably not acceptable. Criminalizing the conduct sent just that message,” Thoman said.
With the passing of the 2018 NDAA, those who distribute the kinds of images that were part of the “Marines United” scandal are now on notice that they could be found “guilty of wrongful distribution of intimate visual images or visual images of sexually explicit conduct and shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.”
Article 117a, now part of the UCMJ, goes to great lengths to clarify what constitutes wrongdoing, and defines specific terminology, Thoman said.
According to the article, the accused should know that the person depicted in the image retains a reasonable expectation of privacy.
In addition, the accused should know that the broadcast of imagery was likely to cause “harm, harassment, intimidation, emotional distress, or financial loss to the person depicted in the image, or harms substantially the depicted person’s health, safety, business, calling, career, financial condition, reputation, or personal relationships.”
To provide even further clarity, lawmakers defined in detail the language used in the law.
The term “broadcast,” for instance, means to “electronically transmit a visual image with the intent that it be viewed by a person or persons.”
The term “sexually explicit conduct” is defined to include “actual or simulated genital-genital contact, oral-genital contact, anal-genital contact, or oral-anal contact, whether between persons of the same or opposite sex, bestiality, masturbation, or sadistic or masochistic abuse.”
Other terms defined include “distribute,” “intimate visual image,” “reasonable expectation of privacy,” and “visual image.”
A necessary change
According to Thoman, there was a limit to the actions the U.S. military legal system could take against a service member prior to inclusion of Article 117a in the UCMJ.
“While it has been illegal to create an indecent photo of an unknowing subject, if they willingly participated, the legality of forwarding that picture to a third party was uncertain,” he said.
An example of this most commonly occurs in a relationship turned bad. If two Soldiers are dating, Soldier A can legally take a graphic picture of themselves and then send it to Soldier B, in most situations.
“However, just because it is legal does not necessarily make it a good idea,” he added.
Soldier B cherishes the picture and did not think of showing it to anyone else until the relationship sours and the two Soldiers breakup. Soldier B, still feeling angry about the breakup, forwards the picture to Soldier A’s squad. While Soldier B is temporarily upbeat about thinking of such an easy way to get back at Soldier A, in all likelihood, Soldier B has just committed a federal crime, Thoman said.
According to Thoman, the legal analysis to get to a federal conviction is now more straightforward for that case.
The accused knowingly distributed an image of another person. The image depicted the private area of that person. The person was identifiable. The identified person did not give their consent. The accused knew the person depicted had a reasonable expectation of privacy and was caused emotional distress as a result of the distribution. Finally, under the circumstances, the accused’s conduct had a reasonably direct and evident connection to a military environment.
In addition to the changes to the UCMJ, Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program officials want to ensure that support is available to Soldiers impacted by the illegal broadcast of intimate or sexually explicit imagery.
Considered to be a form of sexual harassment, victims of the crime as spelled out in Article 117a who choose to receive services will receive support from a victim advocate who can provide crisis intervention. That intervention includes such things as referrals to behavioral health, chaplains, special victim witness liaisons, and the victim witness assistance program.
Additionally, Soldiers will have access to safety planning, accompaniment to interviews and appointments, and assistance with obtaining a military or civilian protective order, according to LeWonnie Belcher, SHARP program office branch chief for communications, outreach, and leadership engagement.
According to Thoman, the implementation of Article 117a fills a gap in military law. And while technology will continue to evolve, he said, the new law was written broadly enough to accommodate those changes.
“I think ‘revenge porn,’ as it is commonly called, is a growing issue across society,” Thoman said. “Because of that, we see an increase in the frequency in the military as well. Ultimately, Article 117a could help prevent that divisiveness in the future that could disrupt a unit when something like this happens.”
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.”
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.
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)
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.
“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.”
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.
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)
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.
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)
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.
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)
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.”