For Dr. Stephen Gau, an emergency medicine physician at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Loma Linda Healthcare System, a recent encounter with a veteran confirmed a key benefit of his choice of a VA career: the ability to spend more time with patients.
Despite recently documented progress in reducing wait times since the Phoenix controversy erupted in 2014, Dr. Gau said his patients often voice concerns about VA care. One of Dr. Gau’s patients, frustrated and frightened after a diagnosis of metastatic cancer, even asked, “Is this going to be another Phoenix?”
Dr. Gau said VA Loma Linda’s relatively low doctor-patient ratio allowed him the time to thoroughly review the veteran’s medical record. He confirmed that follow-up appointments were scheduled and specialty care was coordinated. Dr. Gau discussed the cancer care process and answered the veteran’s many questions.
It was sea change compared with Dr. Gau’s experience in the private sector, and an eye-opener for the patient. “I don’t know if I would have had that kind of time in the community (hospital) — to really talk to a patient and really explain what was going on and relieve his fear,” he said.
Wait times are down, study shows
This anecdote shines a light on how VA’s effort to reduce patient wait times in primary care and other specialty care services — in part through increased access to care — can manifest at the patient level.
Broader data from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) confirm that service improvements are happening VA-wide. The study, released Jan. 18, 2019, found that, in 2017, VA physicians, including primary care doctors and cardiologists, saw patients 12 days sooner than their private-sector counterparts.
VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said the study results confirm that systematic changes are working. “Since 2014, VA has made a concerted, transparent effort to improve access to care,” he said in a statement.
The study, “Comparison of Wait Times for New Patients Between the Private Sector and United States Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Centers,” looked at VA and private-sector hospital wait-time data across 15 major metropolitan areas. In 2017, average wait times were significantly shorter for VA compared with private hospitals, in primary care, cardiology and dermatology. (Orthopedic wait times were longer for VA in both 2014 and 2017, although they were down during the study period.)
VA Secretary Robert Wilkie.
The study affirmed additional progress in cutting wait times since 2014 cited by Wilkie in December 2018 testimony before a joint session of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs’ committees.
“The average time it took to complete an urgent referral to a VA specialist has decreased from 19.3 days in FY 2014 to 3.2 days in FY 2017 and less than 2 days in FY 2018,” Wilkie testified.
Choose VA to prioritize patient care
Wilkie also credited VA’s workforce for improving services across the board and committed to using the tools of the VA MISSION Act to recruit and retain talented healthcare providers, including additional hiring resources and incentives.
Dr. Gau, who moved to VA from a private sector hospital, said it was the veteran-centric mission and the sizable benefits that ultimately lured him to government service. More time with patients has been an added benefit.
It’s a career choice he doesn’t regret. “I tell you what, it’s been a really positive experience for me,” he said.
Choose VA today
Physicians like Dr. Gau find that choosing a VA career means being able to deliver the highest quality healthcare in a time frame that works for veterans and providers. See if a VA career as a physician is the right choice for you, too.
This week, Vladimir Shamanov, a former military officer who leads the Defense Committee in Russia’s lower house of parliament, said that by the end of this year ISIS “won’t exist anymore as an organized military structure.”
While ISIS is losing large swaths of its home turf, it still operates in a number of countries. Here are nine places where the fight against ISIS is not slowing down.
The Egyptian government has been fighting Islamist insurgents since the military took power in 2013. Most of the fighting has happened in the Sinai Peninsula, where ISIS proclaimed a province in 2014.
Egypt has been under an official state of emergency since April, after a attack killed dozens of members of Egypt’s minority Christian population.
Hundreds of Egyptian police and military servicemen have been killed in battles with jihadists. In an ISIS attack on an army outpost in Sinai in July 2016, 23 soldiers were killed and at least 26 were wounded.
In late October, at least 54 policemen and conscripts, including several officers, were killed in what appeared to be a well-planned ambush. Though no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, authorities have not ruled out ISIS.
The latest attack took place in the Giza governorate, which means the insurgency is spreading beyond the Sinai Peninsula — a worrisome sign that may have led President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to reorganize his security leadership.
Libya became a safe haven for terrorist groups after Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown in 2011. It currently has three different governments claiming authority over the country, and the lack of a strong central authority and a unified security force has allowed militias to fill the void.
ISIS seized the coastal city of Sirte — Gadhafi’s hometown — in 2015. At its peak, ISIS was thought to have over 5,000 militants in Libya. In addition to causing chaos there, they were aiding jihadist groups in Egypt and other parts of North and West Africa.
Though ISIS lost control of Sirte in December 2016, they still have what officials have described as a “desert army” operating in the regions south of the city. That army has shown signs of trying to gain ground in the country.
The US launched its first airstrike in Libya under President Donald Trump in September, 150 miles south of Sirte, reportedly killing 17 militants.
A major concern among European officials is that as ISIS loses territory in Iraq and Syria, its fighters could relocate to Libya. Among those fighters may be Westerners who could use Libya’s role as a transit point for migrants to return home.
Yemen has long been a battleground in the fight against Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups. While the Saudi-led military campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in country has received much of the attention, ISIS’ presence there has gotten the notice of the US.
ISIS created its Yemen branch in 2014, during the chaos that followed the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2012. Since then, its attacks have killed hundreds.
US forces launched more than 100 airstrikes against Al Qaeda in Yemen this year, according to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. October saw the first US airstrikes against ISIS in Yemen. According to US Central Command, the three strikes on ISIS training camps reportedly killed 60 militants.
ISIS’s Afghan affiliate, known as Islamic State in Khorasan, or ISIS-K, was declared in 2014. The group mostly made up of Taliban defectors and new recruits.
Though the group only controls small patches of territory, it has been a main focus for the US military. On April 13, the US dropped its largest nonnuclear bomb on an ISIS-K compound. Estimates of the number killed range between 36 and 96 militants.
Militants affiliated with ISIS and Taliban fighters in Afghanistan have also clashed with each other, resulting in deaths on both sides.
A drone strike in Afghanistan’s Kunar Province on October 12 reportedly killed 14 ISIS militants — though an Afghan MP, Shahzada Shaheed, claimed all the casualties were civilians.
The US estimates that there are roughly 600 to 800 ISIS-affiliated militants still in the country, mostly in Nangarhar province in northeast Afghanistan.
5 – 3. Mali, Niger, and Nigeria
West Africa is becoming an increasingly important front in the fight against ISIS. Islamist violence is not new in the region. There was an insurgency that took over northern Mali in 2013, and the jihadist group Boko Haram declared allegiance to ISIS in 2015.But the violence has showed no signs of slowing down.
New groups like the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara — which reportedly carried out the early-October ambush that killed four US soldiers while they were on a mission with local partners in Niger — are being formed, and the number of militants joining these groups seems to be increasing.
On October 23, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford said that ISIS “has aspirations to establish a larger presence” in Africa.
“We’re going to see more actions in Africa, not less,” Dunford said, adding that the US military will be making recommendations to Trump and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and that US forces will remain in the area despite the casualties in Niger.
As in West Africa, Islamist violence is not new to Somalia. For the last decade, the most feared jihadist group in the country has been Al Shabab, an Al Qaeda ally. ISIS unsuccessfully tried to recruit Al Shabab in 2015, and now the two groups fight each other in addition to government forces.
Though smaller than Al Shabab, ISIS’ affiliate in Somalia has made its mark as a deadly terrorist organization. It has routinely conducted bombings and attacks that have killed hundreds. It is also outgaining Al Shabab in terms of foreign volunteers, as most aspiring jihadists want to be part of the ISIS brand.
In October, the largest bombing in the history of Mogadishu, the Somali capital, left at least 300 civilians dead and caused more than 275 injuries.
No group has claimed responsibility, but it is a troubling sign as it could lead to more violent competition between Al Shabab and ISIS, as they try to become the dominant Islamist group in the country.
The Trump administration sent US troops to Somalia in May — the first such deployment in more than 20 years — to aid antiterrorism efforts. On Friday, the US military carried out its first two drone strikes on ISIS targets in Somalia, killing “several terrorists,” according to US Africa Command.
ISIS made its mark in the Philippines in a manner similar to that in Iraq and Syria — suddenly emerging with a large and organized force, seizing large amounts of territory.
Led by Isnilon Hapilon and the Maute Brothers — who formally lead Abu Sayyaf and the Maute Group, respectively — forces that pledged loyalty to ISIS took over the city of Marawi in Lanao del Sur province on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao.
The siege that followed resulted in the deaths of 962 ISIS militants, including Hapilon and at least one of the Maute Brothers; 165 Philippine soldiers were killed, and nearly 1.1 million people were displaced.
Though Philippine soldiers liberated the city, ISIS remains a threat in the Philippines and in Southeast Asia as a whole.
Gene Simmons wants you to be rich and powerful, but it’s not going to be easy. You’re going to have to learn English, wake up early, turn off the TV and study.
“I want to shake you up and tell, you a real harsh truth: The world doesn’t need you,” he says. “The only way you’re going to become rich and powerful is if you stand up on your hind legs. You’re only going to get the respect you demand.”
Simmons, the co-founder and bassist for the rock band Kiss, is brutal in his advice: Women, choose between a career or a family. Guys, get rid of your worthless friends. Above all, don’t listen to the self-esteem movement or be politically correct. Simmons is here to demand that you drop and give him 20.
“I want to be your drill sergeant and piss you off so that you wake up and smell the coffee and go out there and become that rich and powerful person you deserve to be,” he says. “You cannot fail in America.”
Why should you listen to this guy, someone who has spent much of his adult life slathered in scary makeup, in towering platform boots, wagging his tongue onstage and singing songs like “Lick It Up”?
Because he’s also an entrepreneur who came to America with no money and no English. He’s become, he says, a millionaire with a hand in a restaurant franchise, a wealth management services firm and a magazine, among others. “You don’t have enough hours in the day to understand what I do,” he says.
Now Simmons is ready to reveal the principles he’s learned in his book, “On Power,” part guidebook, part self-help manual, with several profiles of people we should admire, like Oprah Winfrey and Warren Buffett. It’s a small book, and that’s on purpose. “You can take it to the pooper with you,” he explains.
Jessica Sindler, his editor, called working with Simmons “without a doubt a memorable experience” and that all the concepts in the book came from him. “They’re based on the way he lives his life and runs his career. He is very much a man who practices what he preaches.”
In person, Simmons is a jokester and a wordsmith who clearly loves attention. He wags his impressive tongue to whoever asks and glad-hands strangers like a politician. He likes to wear a ball cap decorated with a picture of a sack of money that he’s trademarked. He puns outrageously (“Close but no guitar,” he says at one point. “See what I did there?”).
Simmons cheerfully poses for selfies, interrupts conversations and likes to take candid photos of people he encounters who are lost in their phones. “Every once in a while, look up,” he told one startled bystander. Sometimes, he goes too far, as he did recently during a visit to Fox News Channel. He was allegedly crude, taunted staffers and exposed his chest, triggering a network ban.
Simmons has become legendary for leveraging Kiss’s distinctive look and winking cool into everything from reality TV shows to action figures, colognes, keychains, cabernet sauvignon and even a coffin — the Kiss Kasket.
Simmons is a curious mix of things. He’s a hawk on foreign policy, no fan of unions or socialism, but a liberal when it comes to social issues. “You want to get married to a rock? Or change your sex? Go to Mars and become a Martian religious fanatic? I really don’t care,” he says.
He has boasted of his sexual conquests but is a long-married teetotaler who has no patience for illegal drug users. He can quote Kierkegaard and Kant and speaks four languages, but blames the recent global financial meltdown on greedy borrowers.
He believes we’re still basically hunter-gatherers, with men awash with testosterone and only vaguely civilized. He applauds the wave of women these days calling out men for sexual misconduct.
“There will always be bad guys, don’t kid yourself. The best thing that’s happening now is the female of the species is standing up collectively and saying, ‘That’s enough.’ Good for women. That should always have been the case.”
His advice to gaining wealth is simple: Start a limited liability partnership in your home, use social media and deduct your costs from taxes. You can keep your old job until the rewards flow in. If they don’t? You can declare bankruptcy and “then you can start again.” (It’s advice not all financial advisers endorse.)
Having a brilliant idea for a business is fine, but outhustling is more important to Simmons. “It doesn’t have to be new or original. It can be a stupid idea,” he says. “Some of the dumbest people have become enormously successful.”
The U.S. State Department has called on other nations to repatriate and prosecute their citizens captured by U.S. Kurdish allies in Syria.
The Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of militias dominated by the Kurdish YPG, “has demonstrated a clear commitment to detain these individuals securely and humanely,” the department’s spokesman, Robert Palladino, said in a statement on Feb. 4, 2019.
The alliance, known as the SDF, say they have detained more than 900 foreign fighters who had traveled to Syria to fight with the extremist group Islamic State.
They are also holding more than 4,000 family members of IS fighters.
Questions arose about what the SDF would do with the prisoners it is holding after President Donald Trump announced in December 2018 that the United States would withdraw all of its 2,000 troops from Syria.
Few countries have so far expressed any readiness to repatriate their citizens.
Washington is set to host a meeting on Feb. 6, 2019, of about a dozen coalition partners fighting against the IS group.
IS militants have lost virtually all the territory they once held in Syria and neighboring Iraq, but Palladino said it remains “a significant terrorist threat.”
“Collective action is imperative to address this shared international security challenge,” he added.
The National Veterans Wheelchair Games are getting a makeover in their 39th year, with a sport that will test brute strength, leadership, skill, and a little brain power.
The team relay, which includes a “grenade toss,” and “shooting,” may feel like a return to basic training, but Troy Colón, who put together the event, said it’s just to add some military flair for the veteran-athletes.
“This is a throwback to their military days and that military camaraderie, but it is a thinking game,” he said. “Think before you act, and you may want to choose finesse over strength.”
The 39th Annual Wheelchair Games — a partnership with VA and the Paralyzed Veterans of America — takes place July 11 to 16, 2019, in Louisville, Kentucky. The Games feature a variety of competition for wheelchair veterans from VAs across the nation, as well as Puerto Rico and a team from Great Britain.
Some events include wheelchair rugby, power soccer, handcycling, and other track and field events.
The new team relay will have a military theme at this year’s Wheelchair Games, like shot put grenades. If the shot put grenade makes it to a bunker, the team gets double points.
Colón, an assistive technology professional from the Louisville VA Medical Center in Kentucky, said the team relay takes a little bit from different parts of the Games.
25 teams — made up of five athletes each — will participate in this year’s relay. Each team must have at least one quadriplegic. Once one athlete completes a station, he or she will have to wheel over to the next station in the relay.
Here’s how the relay is set up:
Powerlifting: This is the first station and any of the five team members can participate. The higher the weight, the more points the team receives, but they only have two minutes.
Shot put grenades: After powerlifting, the team makes their way to the second station. Like in a traditional shot put, the further the distance, the more points. But if the athlete gets this shot put in one of the bunkers, they will get double points for that distance.
Laser tag shooting: Again, speed is a factor. “I’m going to make the shooters race over,” Colón says. “They’re going to be out of breath, they’re going to be shaky. It’s about trigger control and breath control. You might be racking up points by hitting the target, but taking longer and getting points deducted there. What are you willing to risk?”
Sled pool: “This could be the most grueling part if the best decisions aren’t made,” Colón said. Like an adaptive version of a crossfit exercise, one person must pull a certain amount of weights from Point A to Point B. “There’s a smart way to do this,” Colón said. “Team captains should think outside the box.”
Rock climbing: The final leg of the relay will add the “shock and awe,” Colón said. The last person on the team will be staged and ready to go, but can’t climb until the person on the sled pull makes it up the hill to the final station.
The team with the highest overall points — not necessarily the fastest time — will win the relay.
“People are intimidated by what they can and can’t do, but just like the military, if everybody could do everything, everybody would have a patch. For the relay, it’s easier if you read the rules, and intelligently think about it. Think about the best place for all your team members,” Colón said.
“The team captain needs to read my rules very, very carefully because I purposely wrote the rules to trick people,” he added. “It’s one of those things like the military, where you’re only as good as your intel. You have to be adaptive when you are doing missions. You can’t always go by the textbook.”
However it’s played, Reese Levasseur, a Marine Corps veteran from the Palo Alto VA Medical Center, said he’s ready.
“The funny thing is, I’ve been practicing the sled pull for training at our local adaptive gym, so I’m ready for this,” he said. “It’s going to be a great experience, and being a Marine, we’re just super competitive in nature.”
But if super competitive doesn’t equal best score, he’s OK with that, too.
“Hopefully I’m not the one who screws it up too bad,” he laughed. “I’m laid back, but we’re all about enjoying ourselves out there. We hope to be top dogs, but it’s more about being together and doing things in a chair instead of sitting on a couch at home.”
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
With so few women in combat arms right now, the services and Defense Department officials really can’t judge how successful the effort has been, Defense Secretary James N. Mattis told cadets at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia, Sept. 25, 2018.
“It’s a very, very tough issue because it goes from some people’s perspective of what kind of society do we want,” the secretary said. “In the event of trouble, you’re sleeping at night in your family home and you are the dad, mom, whatever. And you hear glass break downstairs. Who grabs a baseball bat and gets between the kids’ door and whoever broke in, and who reaches for the phone to call 911? In other words, it goes to the most almost primitive needs of a society to look out for its most vulnerable.”
At heart, this is the issue DoD faces, Mattis told the cadet who asked him what results he had seen. The question for the department comes down to whether it is a strength or a weakness to have women in the close-quarter infantry fight, Mattis said.
Then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta opened the door by removing the ban on women in combat jobs in 2013. In 2015, then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter directed the services to open all military occupational specialties to women. Currently, 356 women are combat arms soldiers, and 17 women have graduated from the Army’s Ranger School. The Marine Corps has 113 enlisted women and 29 officers in previously restricted specialties. Specifically in infantry, the Marine Corps has 26 enlisted Marines and one officer who are women.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
(DOD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)
The secretary said he cannot make a determination about the situation because “so few women have signed up along these lines.”
“We don’t even have data at this time that I can answer your question,” he added.
Part of what drives the question is the culture of close-combat units, the retired Marine Corps general said. “I was never under any illusions at what level of respect my Marines would have for me if I couldn’t run with the fastest of them and look like it didn’t bother me [or] if I couldn’t do as many pullups as the strongest of them,” Mattis said. “It was the unfairness of the infantry. How did the infantry get its name? Infant soldier. Young soldier. Very young soldier. They’re cocky, they’re rambunctious, they’re necessarily macho, and it’s the most primitive — I would say even evil — environment. You can’t even explain it.”
The close-combat fight is war at its most basic, and Mattis cited an Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. quote when talking to his fellow Civil War veterans: “We have shared the incommunicable experience of war.”
The nation needs to discuss this issue, the secretary said. “The military has got to have officers who look at this with a great deal of objectivity and at the same time remember our natural inclination to have this open to all,” he said. “But we cannot do something that militarily doesn’t make sense.”
The Army chief of staff and Marine Corps commandant are looking at the issue. “This is a policy that I inherited, and so far the cadre is so small we have no data on it,” he said. “We’re hoping to get data soon. There are a few stalwart young ladies who are charging into this, but they are too few. Clearly the jury is out on it, but what we’re trying to do is give it every opportunity to succeed if it can.”
Boasting that Russia’s nuclear arsenal has already surpassed its competitors, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a fire and brimstone warning to his nuclear rivals Oct. 18, 2018.
In the event of a nuclear war, “the aggressor should know that retaliation is inevitable, and he will be destroyed,” Putin said at an international policy forum in Sochi. “We would be victims of an aggression and would get to go to heaven as martyrs. They will simply drop dead. They won’t even have time to repent.”
“We have run ahead of the competition,” he bragged.
“No one has precision hypersonic weapons. Others are planning to start testing them within the next 1½ to 2 years, and we already have them on duty,” Putin claimed, potentially referencing the Kinzhal air-launched hypersonic missile.
The Avangard hypersonic boost-glide vehicle, which Putin said can travel up to 20 times the speed of sound, hitting a target “like a meteorite, like a ball of fire,” is set to enter service in the near future.
This weapon can reportedly carry a conventional or nuclear warhead with an explosive yield ranging from 150 kilotons to one megaton, the Russian news outlet TASS introduced in March 2018.
The Kh-47M2 Kinzhal air-launched hypersonic missile being carried by a Mikoyan MiG-31K interceptor.
The US military, facing competition from both Russia and China on hypersonic weapons, is scrambling to catch up. The Army, Navy, and Air Force are jointly working to develop advanced hypersonic systems for next-level warfighting. The US is also interested in modernizing its nuclear arsenal.
While Putin delivered his message focused on the nuclear destruction of Russia’s enemies, he insisted that his country would never strike first.
“Only when we become convinced that there is an incoming attack on the territory of Russia, and that happens within seconds, only after that we would launch a retaliatory strike,” he said. “It would naturally mean a global catastrophe, but I want to emphasize that we can’t be those who initiate it because we don’t foresee a preventive strike.”
Russia dropped its “no-first-use pledge” in the early 1990s, writing a new nuclear doctrine with certain loopholes and exceptions.
The Russian president’s tough and damning rhetoric comes amid heightened tensions between Russia and the US and its NATO allies.
Starting late October 2018, US forces, along with NATO allies and partners, will take part in a massive war game involving tens of thousands of troops, as well as numerous vehicles, ships, and aircraft. The drills are designed to send a strong deterrence message to Russia.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
What do you say when people ask if you killed anyone?
This question is almost inevitable when civilians find out you’re a war veteran. How do you explain that feeling to someone who never fought in a war?
“I know it’s not right to do this, but I have to. If I focused on it for one minute, I would lose my mind. So I didn’t.“
Most people, even many veterans, will never know what it’s like to kill another human being, especially in combat. A video series, On Killing, produced by Cut.com, asked six war veterans of various eras and countries the difficult questions about killing in warfare.
“I didn’t give a f*ck who he was. I was trying to keep me alive.”
“One minute you have somebody walking along and the next it’s just a lump of flesh.“
Six war veterans discuss their experiences in the series. This includes Lonnie, an infantryman during the Vietnam War:
Josh, a sniper in Operation Enduring Freedom:
Daniel, a machine gunner during the Vietnam War:
Qassim, an Iraqi who was forced into Saddam Hussein’s army during the Iran-Iraq War:
Lance, a 3rd generation Army veteran and veteran of the Kosovo War:
Jonathan, an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran:
As the Syrian regime sets its sights on the last remaining rebel stronghold of Idlib, the Russian Defense Ministry in at least the last week of August 2018 has pushed a narrative about possible upcoming staged chemical attacks in the rebel-held province.
“Russian MoD: White Helmets Preparing to Stage Chemical Attack in Idlib” read one headline by Sputnik, a Russian state-owned media outlet, on Aug. 28, 2018.
“US plans to use fake chemical weapons attack to strike Syria – Russian MoD,” one headline by the Russian state-owned media outlet RT read on Aug. 27, 2018.
The list goes on, and it’s a sign chemical attacks may be launched again — but this time in Idlib, the last Syrian rebel stronghold fighting the Assad regime.
“E Ghouta Militants Plan to Stage Chemical Attack to Blame Gov’t – Damascus,” read one Sputnik headline in mid-March 2018, about a month before the Ghouta chemical attack that killed dozens.
“This is textbook,” Jennifer Cafarella, a senior intelligence planner at the Institute for the Study of War, told Business Insider. “They have done this consistently in the lead up to the use of chemical weapons. So I think it’s a serious possibility that they will use it again.”
A child is treated for suspected chemical gas poisoning in Douma, Syria on April 8, 2018.
“Assad and Russia don’t use chemical weapons simply for the sake of using chemical weapons,” Cafarella said. “They intend to cause an effect with chemical weapons that they then can exploit by advancing on the ground.”
Nevertheless, it’s still an open question as to whether an attack on Idlib will actually happen.
“The Turks are blocking the offensive,” Cafarella said. “The Turks and Russians continue to frame their discussion from the lens of cooperation, but that’s not actually what’s happening.”
Cafarella said that Turkey may allow a partial offensive in Idlib, but that Ankara can’t afford “to have another massive Syrian refugee flow towards the Turkish border.”
On Aug. 30, 2018, the United Nations called on Russia, Turkey, and Iran to hold off on the Idlib assault, fearing a humanitarian disaster for the province’s nearly 3 million civilians, and that chemical weapons could be used by either the Syrian regime or militants themselves.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Retired Rear Adm. Alene B. Duerk, the Navy’s first female admiral, passed away July 21, 2018. She was 98 years old.
“It took 197 years and a forward-looking Chief of Naval Operations, Elmo Zumwalt, to break with tradition before Alene Duerk became the first woman admiral in the U.S. Navy,” said Naval History and Heritage Command director Sam Cox. “But the credit goes to Duerk. From the crucible of caring for wounded sailors, Marines and prisoners of war during World War II in the Pacific, she blazed a trail of stellar performance in tough jobs, serving as an inspiration for an ever increasing number of women officers who have followed her path.”
Born in Defiance, Ohio, on March 29, 1920, she received nursing training at the Toledo [Ohio] Hospital School of Nursing, from which she earned her diploma in 1941. From there, Duerk entered the U.S. Naval Reserve and was appointed an ensign in the Nurse Corps.
“Alene Duerk was a strong and dedicated trail blazer who embodied the very principles that continue to guide Navy Medicine today,” commented Vice Adm. Forrest Faison, Navy surgeon general, upon learning of her passing. “She will forever be remembered as a servant leader who provided the best care to those who defended our nation, honoring the uniform we wear and the privilege of leadership.”
Her first tours of duty included ward nurse at Naval Hospital Portsmouth in Virginia, Naval Hospital Bethesda in Maryland, and sea service aboard the Navy hospital ship, USS Benevolence (AH 13), in 1945. While anchored off the coast of Eniwetok, Duerk and the crew of the Benevolence would attend to the sick and wounded being brought back from the Third Fleet’s operations against Japan.
Upon cessation of hostilities on Sept. 2, 1945, Duerk and the Benevolence crew took on the task of repatriating liberated Allied prisoners of war, an endeavor that solidified her commitment to nursing and patient care.
An undated official portrait of Rear Adm. Alene B. Duerk.
(U.S. Navy photo)
Years later, when asked about her service for the Library of Congress’ Veteran’s History Project, Duerk said, “The time I was aboard the hospital ship and we took the prisoners of war, that was something I will never forget . . . that was the most exciting experience of my whole career.”
Thereafter, Duerk was assigned to Naval Hospital Great Lakes until being released from active service in 1946.
In 1951, Duerk returned to active duty serving as a nursing instructor at the Naval Hospital Corps School in Portsmouth, Va. and later as inter-service education coordinator at the Naval Hospital Philadelphia, Penn. Her skills in ward management, surgical nursing and mentoring would be put to use over the next two decades while serving at hospitals in San Diego; and Yokosuka, Japan; at the Recruiting Station in Chicago; and in Wash., D.C.
In May 1970, following assignments as assistant for Nurse Recruitment in the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Health Affairs) and assistant head of Medical Placement Liaison (Nurse Corps) at the Bureau of Naval Personnel, Duerk was appointed director of the Navy Nurse Corps.
Over the next five years, Duerk provided direction for the Nurse Corps, updating policies affecting Navy Medicine and expanding the sphere of nursing into ambulatory care, anesthesia, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology.
Her selection to the rank of rear admiral was approved by President Richard Nixon on April 26, 1972. The first woman to be selected for flag rank, she was advanced on June 1, 1972.
Rear Adm. Duerk retired in 1975, but remained a strong advocate for Navy nursing through the remainder of her life.
Duerk was awarded the Naval Reserve Medal, American Campaign Medal; Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with bronze star; World War II Victory Medal; Navy Occupation Service Medal, Asia Clasp; and the National Defense Service Medal with bronze star.
The Naval History and Heritage Command, located at the Washington Navy Yard, is responsible for the preservation, analysis, and dissemination of U.S. naval history and heritage. It provides the knowledge foundation for the Navy by maintaining historically relevant resources and products that reflect the Navy’s unique and enduring contributions through our nation’s history, and supports the fleet by assisting with and delivering professional research, analysis, and interpretive services. NHHC is composed of many activities including the Navy Department Library, the Navy Operational Archives, the Navy art and artifact collections, underwater archeology, Navy histories, nine museums, USS Constitution repair facility and the historic ship Nautilus.
In the wake of the revelation that a large group of active-duty Marines is under investigation for sharing nude photos of female troops without their consent, a senior congressman is calling on the Marine Corps to take swift and decisive action.
Rep. Adam Smith, ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, released a statement Sunday calling the alleged behavior by Marines and Marine Corps veterans “degrading, dangerous, and completely unacceptable.”
A 2014 study revealed the U.S. Marine Corps has the highest rate of sexual assault against women in the military (8% of female Marines were sexually assaulted in the year the study was conducted). (U.S. Marine Corps Photo: Cpl. Adam Korolev)
“I expect that the Marine Corps Commandant, General Neller, will use his resources to fully investigate these acts and bring to justice any individuals who have broken the law and violated the rights of other servicemembers,” the Washington Democrat said.
“He must also ensure that the victims are taken care of. The military men and women who proudly volunteer to serve their country should not have to deal with this kind of reprehensible conduct,” Smith added.
The investigation was made public Saturday evening by reporter Thomas James Brennan, who reported for Reveal News that members of the private Facebook group Marines United had shared dozens of nude photos of female service members, identifying them by name, rank and duty station. Group members also linked out to a Google Drive folder containing more compromising photos and information, Brennan reported.
A Marine Corps official confirmed an investigation was ongoing, but could not confirm that hundreds of Marines were caught up in it, as Brennan reported. The official referred queries about specifics to Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which did not immediately respond Sunday.
“The Marine Corps is deeply concerned about allegations regarding the derogatory online comments and sharing of salacious photographs in a closed website,” Marine Corps spokeswoman Capt. Ryan Alvis said in a statement provided to Military.com. “This behavior destroys morale, erodes trust, and degrades the individual.”
Of allegations are substantiated, active-duty Marines involved in the photo-sharing ring could be charged with violating UCMJ Article 134, general misconduct, for enlisted troops, and Article 133, conduct unbecoming, for officers, Alvis said. If Marines shared a photo taken without the subject’s consent and under circumstances for which there was a reasonable expectation of privacy, they may be charged with Article 120, broadcasting or distribution of indecent visual recording, she said.
“A Marine who directly participates in, encourages, or condones such actions could also be subjected to criminal proceedings or adverse administrative actions,” Alvis said.
To underscore the significance of the allegations to Marine Corps leadership, both Neller and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Ronald Green released statements condemning the alleged behavior.
“I am not going to comment specifically about an ongoing investigation, but I will say this: For anyone to target one of our Marines, online or otherwise, in an inappropriate manner, is distasteful and shows an absence of respect,” Neller said in a statement provided to Military.com. “The success of every Marine, every team, every unit and command throughout our Corps is based on mutual trust and respect.”
Green went further, releasing a 319-word statement in the form of an open letter calling the online photo-sharing “demeaning” and “degrading” and adding there was no place for it in the Corps.
“We need to be brutally honest with ourselves and each other. This behavior hurts fellow Marines, family members, and civilians. It is a direct attack on our ethos and legacy,” he said. “As Marines, as human beings, you should be angry for the actions of a few. These negative behaviors are absolutely contrary to what we represent. It breaks the bond that hold us together; without trust, our family falters.”
Messages Brennan shared with Military.com show that some members of the group responded to his report by threatening him and his family and attempting to publish information about where he lived.
“‘Amber Alert: Thomas J. Brennan,'” wrote one user, referring to the child abduction emergency system. “500.00 $ for nudes of this guys girl,” wrote another.
Brennan is a former infantry Marine and combat veteran.
This is not the first time the bad behavior of Marines online has captured the attention of Congress.
In 2013, the harassment of civilian women and female troops on several so-called “humor” Facebook pages with Marine Corps members prompted Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California, to call on then defense secretary Chuck Hagel and then-commandant Gen. Jim Amos to intervene.
But in that instance, Marine Corps leadership opted to address the behavior privately, and on a case-by-case basis. No criminal prosecutions of Marines connected to the Facebook pages were ever publicized.
A later 2014 report on similar behavior resulted in investigations into 12 Marines, according to internal public affairs guidance published by Marine Corps Times.
As the first female Marines join infantry units in the wake of a 2015 Pentagon mandate opening all ground combat jobs to women, it’s possible service leaders now feel an additional mandate to quell the online exploitation of female service members by their colleagues publicly and decisively.
“Standup, speak out, and be a voice of change for the better. Hold those who misstep accountable,” Green said. “We need to realize that silence is consent–do not be silent. It is your duty to protect one another, not just for the Marine Corps, but for humanity.”
The US Department of Defense announced today the selection of Kelly McKeague to be the Director of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. McKeague was sworn in this morning during a ceremony at the Pentagon.
McKeague, who retired from the US Air Force in 2016 at the rank of major general, served as the DPAA Deputy Director and as the Commander of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, one of the entities merged in 2015 to form the Department’s newest defense agency.
“I know the importance of the agency’s mission and I look forward to working with DPAA’s team of dedicated professionals,” said McKeague.
Fern Sumpter Winbush, who has been serving as Acting Director, will resume her role as Principal Deputy Director for the agency, responsible for formulating policy, overseeing business development, and increasing outreach initiatives.
“My time serving as the Acting Director has been challenging and rewarding as I worked to move the agency forward in our mission of providing the fullest possible accounting of US personnel missing from past conflicts to the families and the nation,” said Winbush. “As an agency, we have accomplished much over the last two years, and I am confident the incoming Director will take over an agency postured for continued success.”
McKeague, who served as an independent business consultant since his military retirement, says he is looking forward to this opportunity.
“I am humbled and blessed to serve on behalf of the families whose loved ones served our country,” he said. “The fulfillment of this agency’s solemn obligation is my honor to endeavor.”
A native of Hawaii, McKeague began his military career in 1981 as a civil engineering officer, serving in a variety of assignments at base, major command and Headquarters US Air Force levels. In 1995, he entered the Maryland Air National Guard and served on active duty as a civil engineer.
His assignments include the Air National Guard Readiness Center, followed by legislative liaison tours at the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force and the National Guard Bureau. He also served as the Chief of Staff, National Guard Bureau and Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for National Guard Matters.
Sit across the table from Spc. Sergo Dzamashvili for just a few seconds and you’ll see a basic outline emerge fairly quickly. His manners and easy smile, the way he leans forward when he talks, and — not least of all, of course — his affection for Starbucks Doubleshot energy drinks make him the typical — almost archetypal — 30-year-old soldier; busy, eager, and always ready for the next task, the next challenge. But dig a little deeper and you will see, quite clearly, the details that color the world inside that simple sketch. To map the entire terrain, however, you’ll need to travel some 15,000 miles.
“I always wanted to be a soldier,” says Dzamashvili, sitting in the offices of the 21st Signal Brigade on a warm September morning. “When I was a kid that was always something I thought would be cool, being a soldier for the American Army.”
Those words, and indeed his affinity for the Army and America as a whole, are repeated so often and with such calm conviction that he could almost double as a motivational speaker; one specializing, perhaps, in writing simple daily mantras for busy professionals to read on their daily commutes. Instead, Dzamashvili is a board-certified medical doctor who enlisted in the Army just last year, in early 2018. It’s a commitment, he says, that doubles as a gift to the country that gave him opportunities he never would have had in his native Georgia — a tiny, still-emerging country located at the intersection of Western Asia and Eastern Europe.
U.S. Army Spc. Sergo Dzamashvili speaks with a coworker at his desk located in the offices of the 21st Signal Brigade.
(Photo by Mr. Ramin A. Khalili)
“Honestly,” says Dzamashvili, “the reason I wanted to become an American soldier is because America has given my family everything.”
The first 5,000 miles
“When I was born in Georgia,” says Dzamashvili, reaching back to the late 1980s, “it was still part of the U.S.S.R. This was just before the U.S.S.R. split up, and so there was instability and there was upheaval … there was an ongoing fight for power.”
It was that atmosphere of decline that Dzamashvili’s father, Konstantin, sought to flee when he reached out to a friend living in Chicago for help in the early 1990s. Political and cultural strife in the country of — at the time — barely more than four million people had led to the breakdown of living conditions and, in some cases, the basic application of law. And so Konstantin, a neurologist by trade, was hoping America could provide safety for his wife, son, and young twin daughters.
“My father was waiting in breadlines for hours just to feed the family,” says Dzamashvili. “So when he came here, it was for a better life.”
But that opportunity came with a catch. In order to pay for his family’s move to America, Konstantin had to travel to the U.S. alone first in order to save up enough money. He wound up bunking with that same buddy in Chicago for a year —eventually re-starting his medical career at 40-years old — before bringing the rest of the family to Illinois.
Says Dzamashvili of his father, “He was out there for a year, alone, while we were still in Georgia, until he had passed all his boards and started his residency program, which would then fund us coming over here.”
And so at age five, Sergo was finally in the place he wanted to be all along … for a little while, at least.
Return to Georgia
For Sergo, it all started with his grandfather — his father’s father. He was the catalyst, the inception point. He passed away when Konstantin was in his late teens and so Sergo never got a chance to meet him, but he did have pictures — volumes of mementos from Georgia.
“I would always hear stories about his bravery,” says Sergo, “about what kind of man he was. From early on, I was always intrigued — the way he was standing there in his [military] uniform with all these medals.”
Those pictures, coupled with Sergo’s newfound affinity for the United States, stuck with him during his formative years and carried through to his entrance into medical school — which he ultimately chose to attend at David Tvildiani Medical University back in Georgia.
U.S. Army Spc. Sergo Dzamashvili (foreground, right) conducts Army Warrior Tasks (AWT) drills during the 21st Signal Brigade Best Warrior Competition 2019.
(US Army photo by Sgt. Raul Pacheco)
The decision to both leave home (to leave again, in a manner of speaking) and reconnect with family roots was daunting to say the least, as Georgia had been rife with the same political instability from Dzamashvili’s youth up until pro-democratic forces rose to power in the mid-2000s. The tiny, burgeoning country was still — much like Sergo at the time — moving through its adolescent years.
There was contrasting comfort, however, in the medical training itself. Turns out Dzamashvili’s chosen university not only came highly recommended from family friends practicing medicine in Chicago, it was designed specifically to cater to regional students who wanted to ultimately enter U.S.-based medical professions. To that end, all university textbooks were written in English and, further, the overall cost of schooling was substantially less than a U.S.-based medical education — all perks unavailable to his father just a decade-or-so earlier. Ironically, Georgia would eventually, in 2014, become home to the U.S. Army Medical Research Directorate-Georgia, a subordinate command of the USAMRDC’s Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.
“Going back to Georgia really brought me that perspective,” says Dzamashvili. “There was a long time where my family wouldn’t go back, even though we had a chance to go back in the 90s.”
Just twelve years after touching down in America’s Heartland — and just a few years after becoming an American citizen — Sergo was back on a plane at age 17 for a new and different journey.
Homecoming, part II
When you ask him how Georgians speak — ask about the language they use, the way they talk, the casual slang terms they use, even — Dzamashvili is quick to make it clear that Georgia is a singular and unique entity; a hard-fought identity that he clearly still respects.
“Georgians have their own language,” he says quickly, almost as a sly-but-gentle rebuke to those who think the country may still be hindered by its turbulent past in any way. “They have their own alphabet, everything — and so I had to re-learn how to read and write, essentially, when I went back for school.”
Dzamashvili’s university stay would last for six years until his graduation in 2013; at which point he’d not only navigated the rigors of initial medical training, but had reached a poignant understanding of the country of his birth (“people there are very hospitable,” he says), gained a greater understanding of the government’s democratic efforts (“I see hope,” he says), and, with regards to cultural differences, had also determined that Georgia had substantial culinary shortcomings as compared to the U.S. (“I did miss burritos over there,” he says).
U.S. Army Spc. Sergo Dzamashvili assigned to HHC, 21st Signal Brigade, conducts M9 weapons qualification as part of the 21st Signal Brigade Best Warrior Competition 2019.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Raul Pacheco)
Touching back down in Illinois, Dzamashvili eventually passed his medical board examinations, shadowed professional doctors, and even performed clinical research at Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital. But when it came time for residency training, instead of waiting a year to attend either Loyola University of Chicago or the University of Illinois at Chicago, he opted for a different path: the U.S. Army.
“Screw waiting,” says Dzamashvili of his mindset at the time. “I’m going to join the Army. I was always told the fastest way to get into the Army was to just go and enlist anyways, so that didn’t bother me to go enlist for a couple of years as long as I got into the medical field.”
Desire, meet destiny
Now, after thirty years and medical training efforts on two different continents, Sergo Dzamashvili is both a medical doctor and a member of the U.S. Army; his first assignment is here at Fort Detrick. His unique qualifications have bred an understandable eagerness to move forward — a chomping at the bit, of sorts — as, indeed, he’s already started the process of entering the Army’s medical occupation; taking the steps required to become a physician. But if you think the man who’s waited nearly three decades to realize his dream is put off by a little time in the waiting room, then you don’t know Sergo.
“My ultimate goal is to practice medicine in the Army,” says Dzamashvili. “That’s what I want, to give back. I’d like to serve for at least eight years, to give back that entire time in service.”
Just how long it will take to reach that goal is yet to be seen, though it should come as no surprise that Dzamashvili has already attempted to plot the arc of his military medical career even before his training has been completed. Even now, serving as a Human Resources Specialist in the S-1 Office until his next assignment, he finds in each day’s shift what so many others would gladly welcome into their own lives: a sense of purpose, the feeling of belonging, and the satisfaction of a job that truly has meaning.
In the end — if these kinds of stories can have an end — the service career of Sergo Dzamashvili is, in reality, just beginning. It would be an exaggeration, perhaps, to say that Dzamashvili has already lived multiple lives; though it wouldn’t be such a stretch to say that’s the truth, either. In any capacity, his life’s work as currently constructed already stands as an impressive feat; a soldier coupling the desire to serve America with the talent required to make a lasting impact.
Not too bad for a typical 30-year-old.
Says Dzamashvili, “If there’s nothing else I do in my life, I can always say I was a soldier. That’s the way I look at it. If there’s nothing else that I accomplish, I will always know that I served my country.”