In one year, VA improves mental health services - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

In one year, VA improves mental health services

Just one year after President Trump signed Executive Order 13822, VA has made significant strides forward in its mission to provide mental health care to transitioning service members and veterans during the first 12 months after separation from service, a critical period marked by a high risk for suicide.

The executive order mandated the creation of a Joint Action Plan by the departments of Defense, Homeland Security and VA. The plan was accepted by the White House in May 2018 and has been underway since that time.


According to Dr. Keita Franklin, executive director, suicide prevention for VA’s Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, all 16 tasks outlined in the Joint Action Plan are on target for full implementation by their projected completion dates, seven out of the 16 items are complete and early data collection efforts are showing positive results.

In one year, VA improves mental health services

Transitioning service members can now register for VA health care early​

Partnerships within the Veterans Health Administration and the Veterans Benefits Administration’s Office of Transition and Economic Development, are actively providing, through the Joint Action Plan, transitioning service members with the opportunity to register for VA health care pre-transition during the Transition Assistance Program. This is a new option for service members, who before were provided with information for independent registration, however, were not provided with the opportunity for facilitated registration.

“In a single month, more than 34 percent of the nearly 8,000 transitioning service members who attended the TAP modules in person registered for VA health care before, during or after their class attendance date,” Franklin said. “One of the joint goals of this effort is to reduce barriers to care. By getting transitioning service members registered into the VA health care system earlier, we are able to get them the mental health care they need much quicker.”

The TAP curriculum is also modified to incorporate a new military lifecycle module on community integration resources. This module informs transitioning service members about community organizations as well as how to identify and check them.

“Because of the updates to TAP, 81 percent of the transitioning service members in TAP during the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2018 said they felt informed about the mental health services available to them,” Franklin said. “This modification reinforces the important role of community partners, such as Veteran Service Organizations.

Emergent mental health care available to more service members than ever before

Through the coordinated efforts of DoD, DHS, and VA, certain former service members may receive emergent mental health care from VA. Additionally, any newly transitioned veteran who is eligible can go to a VA medical center, Vet Center, or community provider and start receiving health care right away.

As part of the effort to provide mental and behavioral health care, VA is using telemental health technology to reach those service members who may not have easy access to a VA facility and implementing eligibility training for employees at the field level.

In one year, VA improves mental health services

“Mental health care is something that we want to make available as widely as possible,” said Dr. David Carroll, executive director, Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention. “The efforts under this executive order are one way that we can make that happen. We have the greatest respect for the men and women who have served in our nation’s armed forces, and we will not relent in our efforts to connect those who are experiencing an emotional or mental health crisis with lifesaving support.”

Looking ahead: Early contact and predictive analytics

While proud of how far the program has come since May, Franklin acknowledged that there is still some time before all of the Joint Action Plan goals will be fully implemented. However, there are several goals underway that will be complete in the coming months, including:

  • Within the next six months, the veterans Benefits Administration will establish caring messaging and reach to all transitioning service members and veterans to inform them about a variety of resources including health care enrollment, education benefits, and more.
  • By April 2019, DoD, DHS and VA will establish a way forward for an integrated data environment and inter-agency analytical platform that can support development of a joint approach to predictive modeling.

“This executive order was established to assist in preventing suicide during a critical period – the first-year post-separation from military service. However, the completed and ongoing work of the executive order and Joint Action Plan will likely impact suicide prevention efforts far beyond the first year,” Franklin said. “We are working diligently to increase coordinated outreach, increase access to care and focus our efforts beyond just the first-year post-separation. We are working to promote wellness, increase protective factors, reduce mental health risks, and promote effective treatment and recovery as part of a holistic approach to suicide prevention.”

In one year, VA improves mental health services

The efforts created under Executive Order 13822 and the Joint Action Plan are all key components of VA’s public health approach to suicide prevention. Combined with VA’s other suicide prevention programs, these efforts will provide a full continuum of evidence-based mental health care that can help prevent a suicidal crisis before it occurs. Using a public health approach to suicide prevention, VA continues to focus care on high-risk individuals in health care settings, while also encouraging comprehensive collaboration with communities to reach service members and veterans where they live, work, and thrive.

“Just as there is no single cause of suicide, no single organization can end suicide alone,” Franklin said. “We’ve been able accomplish and implement some great things from the executive order and Joint Action Plan in the last year, but there other important and valuable efforts ongoing and in our future, too. That’s why VA is working to educate partners, other government agencies, employers, community organizations, and more, on the available mental health and suicide prevention resources available – both inside and outside of VA.”

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Check out this Royal Marine’s real-world Iron Man jetpack suit

Life imitates art once more, this time in the form of former Royal Marine-turned inventor-turned entrepreneur Richard Browning. Working from his Salisbury, UK garage, the inventor founded a startup that invented, built, and patented an individual human flight engine that comes as close to Iron Man as anything the world has ever seen – and Richard Browning is as close to Tony Stark as anyone the world has ever encountered.

Browning set out to reimagine what human-powered flight meant, and came out creating a high-speed, high-altitude flight system that has the whole world talking.


In the video above, Browning visits the United States’ East Coast aboard the Royal Navy’s HMS Queen Elizabeth, the largest aircraft carrier in the fleet. Technically, he gets to the coast first, departing the carrier via Gravity’s Daedalus system, the name given to what the world has dubbed “the Iron Man suit.”

Of course, the suit is far from the arc reactor-powered repulsor engines that double as energy weapons featured in the comics, but the Daedalus flight system is still a marvel of engineering that has set the world record for fastest speed in a body-controlled jet engine powered suit. That record was set two years ago, and by 2019, Browning made real improvements to the system. The first system was a lightweight exoskeleton attached to six kerosene-powered microturbines. He flew 32 miles per hour to break that record in 2017. In 2019, he flew the suit at 85 miles per hour.

Today, the suit is entirely 3D-printed, making it lighter, stronger, and faster.

“It truly feels like that dream of flying you have sometimes in your sleep,” Browning said. “You are entirely and completely free to move effortlessly in three dimensional space and you shed the ties of gravity.”

In November 2019, Browning flew the suit from the south coast of England to the Isle of Wright, some 1.2 km. This may not sound like much, but it broke another world record, this time for distance in a body-controlled jet engine powered suit. He says the suit can fly at speeds up to 200 miles per hour, but it’s just not yet safe to attempt those speeds. It turns out, it’s just not so easy to control the suit. It takes a massive amount of sustained physical effort to counter the thrust created by the arm engines.

Browning himself is an ultramarathon runner, triathlete, and endurance canoeist. He cycles almost 100 miles a week, including a 25-mile run every Saturday morning, as well as three “intense” calisthenics sessions every week just for the strength and endurance to fly his invention.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Marine Corps excited for full-rate production of G/ATOR system

The Marine Corps has reached another acquisition milestone decision by gaining approval for full-rate production of the AN/TPS-80 Ground/Air Task-Oriented Radar system from the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition on May 23, 2019. The G/ATOR system combines five legacy radar systems into a single, modernized solution with multiple operational capabilities, providing Marines with comprehensive situational awareness of everything in the sky.

“G/ATOR is a phenomenal capability that lends itself to warfighting dominance for years to come,” said John Campoli, program manager for Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar program office at Program Executive Officer Land Systems. “We’ve received tremendous positive feedback from Marines on the system, and are excited to get this capability to warfighters across the MAGTF.”


G/ATOR provides real-time radar measurement data to the Common Aviation Command and Control System, Composite Tracking Network, and Advanced Field Artillery Data System. All G/ATOR systems share a common hardware and operating system software baseline to satisfy the warfighter’s expeditionary needs across the MAGTF with a single solution.

In one year, VA improves mental health services

U.S. Marines set up the AN/TPS-80 Ground/Air Task-Oriented Radar system on Feb. 26, 2019.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Leo Amaro)

The highly expeditionary, three-dimensional, short-to-medium-range multi-role radar system is designed to detect, identify and track cruise missiles, manned aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles as well as rockets, mortars and artillery fire. The Corps started fielding G/ATOR to Marines in 2018, reaching initial operational capability for air defense and surveillance missions in February 2018 and counter-fire and counterbattery missions in March 2019.

As previously reported, G/ATOR is being developed and fielded in three blocks that will support the Marine Air-Ground Task Force across the range of its capabilities. Block 1 — which began fielding a year ago — provides air defense and surveillance capabilities; Block 2 supports MAGTF counter-fire and counterbattery missions; and Block 4 — a future iteration — will provide expeditionary airport surveillance radar capabilities to the MAGTF. With this full-rate production decision, the Corps will procure 30 additional G/ATOR units.

This article originally appeared on Marines. Follow @USMC on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Watch how 3 veterans ski to their old Iraq battlegrounds in ‘Adventure Not War’

Often when service men and women return home from a long military deployment, they can have a sense of feeling lost being back stateside.


Many troops believe they still have plenty of unfinished business “over-there,” extending years down the line after their return. In the interim, they can be found struggling with various forms of depression.

Many veterans seek counseling, but one former Army captain found relief by revisiting the place that caused him so much anxiety — Iraq.

“We all have to ultimately take care of our own healing process and so that’s where I wanted to go back,” Iraq veteran and former Army Capt. Stacy Bare says.

Related: Ranger takes flip flop company from Kabul to the Shark Tank

In one year, VA improves mental health services
U.S. Army captain, Iraq veteran, and National Geographic Adventurer of the Year Stacy Bare smiles bright while on his cathartic journey. (Source: Adventure Not War/Screenshot)

In February 2017,  Bare, CEO of Combat Flip Flops and Army Ranger Matthew Griffin, and former helicopter pilot Robin Brown embarked on a ski ascent and descent from Mt. Halgurd  — the tallest mountain in Iraq — to the hallowed battlegrounds from which Bare once served.

This incredible journey of healing spawned filmmaker Max Lowe to create the compelling documentary Adventure Not War.

In one year, VA improves mental health services

This film shows a rarely seen beauty in a location known for devastation. For Bare, it created a stable place for healing wounds that are deeper than those seen on the surface.

Also Read: These entrepreneurs survived Shark Tank and share their secrets with vets

During their two-week journey, Stacy, Robin, and Matthew traveled to Iraqi Kurdistan to work alongside the non-profit Tent Ed, providing educational resources to children displaced by war.

Check out the Stept Studios’ video below to witness how these three brave veterans ventured back to Iraq and revisit the various places in which many Americans used to fight.


(Adventure Not War, Stept Studios)
Articles

House-Senate to negotiate key military benefit changes

In one year, VA improves mental health services
Wikimedia commons


The House and Senate, in passing separate versions of the fiscal 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, haven’t yet agreed on the size of the next military pay raise, or how to reform health care or housing allowances, or whether to require all 18-year-old women to register with Selective Service to be part of a conscription pool in future major wars.

Ironing out these disparities, and many more consequential to military personnel, retirees and family members, will now fall to a House-Senate conference committee comprised of armed services committee members.

The committees’ professional staffs will negotiate many decisions in advance, on guidance from chairmen Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Max Thornberry (R-Texas), and senior Democrats Sen. Jack Reed (R.I.) and Rep. Adam Smith (Wash.). But the principals will need to engage behind closed doors on larger and more controversial topics to produce a single bill that either avoids or challenges a threatened veto from President Obama.

To achieve compromise, conferees will need to shed the political posturing routine in election years and make hard choices based on real budget ceilings. The House, for example, had refused to support another military pay raise cap in 2017 and deferred TRICARE fee increases to future generations of service members. Yet it only authorized funding for seven months of wartime operations next year in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.

Here are some of the tough decisions to be negotiated:

Pay Raise – The House bill supports a 2.1 percent January raise to match wage growth in the private sector. The Senate voted to cap the raise, for a fourth consecutive year, at 1.6 percent. A long-shot floor amendment from McCain to add $18 billion in defense spending authority, including several hundred million to support a larger pay raise, was defeated.

Basic Allowance for Housing – The Senate supports two substantial BAH “reforms.” It would dampen payments stateside to members, married or now, who share housing off base. It would cap payments to the lesser of what individuals actually pay to rent or the local BAH maximum for their rank and family status. House is silent on these. The White House opposes them.

TRICARE Reforms – The Senate embraces a portion of TRICARE fee increases that the administration proposed for working age retirees. It also incentivizes the fee system so patients pay less for services critical to maintaining their health and they pay more for incidental health services. Senate initiatives also emphasize improving access and quality of care.

The House rejects almost all higher fees and co-pays intended to drive patients, particularly retirees, back into managed care and military facilities. Both bills would narrow TRICARE options down to managed care and a preferred provider organization. But the House would require all current TRICARE Standard users to enroll annually to help better manage costs and resources. The House, however, would subject only new entrants to the military on or after Jan. 1, 2018, to higher TRICARE enrollment fees.

Female Draft Registration – Without debate on the topic, the Senate voted to require all women attaining the age of 18 on or after Jan. 1, 2018, to register with Selective Service. The House voted to strike similar language from its own defense authorization bill, leaving the issue to be fought behind closed doors of the conference committee.

The two defense policy bills, HR 4909 and S 2943, are aligned on some other important, even surprising benefit changes. These include:

Commissary Reform — The Senate approved the same sweeping changes endorsed by the House to modernize commissary operations. They include a pilot program to replace the cost-plus-five-percent pricing formula with variable pricing across local markets. Both chambers also endorse allowing the Defense Commissary Agency to offer its own brand products to generate more profits and enhance patron savings, and to convert commissaries to non-appropriated fund activities like exchanges.

DeCA is to calculate and set a baseline level of savings that patrons now enjoy and maintain it. Meanwhile, a new Defense Resale Business Optimization Board will be formed to oversee the reforms including the streamlining of commissary and exchange operations to gain efficiencies.

The Senate rejected McCain’s push to privatize up to five base grocery stores for two years to test whether a commercial grocer could operate base stores at a profit and still offer deep discount. McCain hopes privatization over time ends the need for DeCA with its $1.4 billion annual appropriation. Defense officials estimate the approved reforms will cut commissary funding by about $400 million a year over their first fives years.

Meanwhile, DoD last week gave Congress a promised report on prospects for making commissaries and exchanges “budget neutral” or self-sustaining. It concludes that budget neutrality is unattainable without gutting the benefit. This helped to weakened support for a privatization test.

Ending Former Spouse Windfalls — Another issue the House and Senate agree on is modifying how the Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act calculates retirement pay for sharing as marital property in divorce settlements. Current law allows courts to divide final retired pay, even if it was bolstered more years served and promotions gained after divorce. Congress agrees this creates a windfall for ex-spouses that should be eliminated, but only for divorce finalized after the bill becomes law.

The former spouse law (Sec. 1408, 10 U.S.C.) will be changed so retired pay to be divided is based on a member’s rank and years of service at time of divorce, plus cumulative military pay raises up through retirement.

This is the first substantive change to the USFSPA in at least a decade. It surprised the former spouse support group EX-POSE, which calls it unfair to future ex-spouses who might sacrifice their own careers to raise children or to accommodate the frequent moves that are part of service life.

ABA Therapy Rates Restored – Both bills direct the Department of Defense to restore higher TRICARE reimbursement rates paid through last March for applied behavioral analysis therapy for children with autism. The change is to take effect when the bill is signed. Though appreciative of the rollback, family advocates worry that months more of delay could see more ABA therapists decide to drop or to refuse to accept more military children.

MIGHTY TRENDING

A $440 million warship is stuck in ice in Canada

The USS Little Rock looks like it was designed by a committee of 12-year-old Transformers enthusiasts, that is, like a sports car speedboat battleship with guns that go pew pew pew. It cost the United States about $440 million and is part of a new category of ultra-versatile warship known as the littoral class: “a fast, agile, mission-focused- platform designed for operation in near-shore environments yet capable of open-ocean operation.”


What the Little Rock does not do is fly. This ugly-as-sin future-boat is, ultimately, still just a boat. It was built at a shipyard in Wisconsin and spent the summer of 2017 in trials on Lake Michigan. It was commissioned last month in Buffalo, New York. From there, it’s next stop was to be its home port in Florida. As it turns out, the Little Rock will be a few months late. Because winter.

As reported by the Washington Post, the Little Rock is currently docked in Montreal. It’s stuck. The Saint Lawrence Seaway, the Great Lakes’ outlet to the Atlantic Ocean, is frozen over.

In one year, VA improves mental health services
USS Little Rock enters Buffalo prior to being commissioned. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

While colder-than-average temperatures in the Northeast haven’t helped, this is actually normal. The freshwater Seaway (and the Great Lakes shipping system, generally) normally closes to shipping between December and March because of ice.

In any case, this winter stopover for the USS Little Rock wasn’t planned. Significant weather conditions prevented the ship from departing Montreal earlier this month and icy conditions continue to intensify, offered a statement from the Navy.

The temperatures in Montreal and throughout the transit area have been colder than normal, and included near-record low temperatures, which created significant and historical conditions in the late December, early January timeframe.

There are some ships actually designed for this. Ice-ready ships usually aren’t even what we’d normally think of icebreakers. These are just normal boats built for cold climates.

Also Read: The US Navy’s newest warship is stuck in Canada because of ice

Ships with this capability are rated according to “ice class,” a loose classification system corresponding to how much extra strengthening a ship’s hull has. Ice class ships range from Scandinavian ferry boats to Russia’s “polar corvette” take on littoral battleships. Indeed there’s anxiety among military types in the US about an “icebreaker gap” between the US and Russia. That is, we don’t really have fast battleships that can fight in the Arctic, while Russia does.

We’re assured that the 70 person crew is making the most of their time in port, working on training and certifications and other assorted boat stuff. And, as far as places to be stuck in the winter, they’re probably better off in Montreal than, say, Buffalo. There’s nothing like a steaming pile of poutine on a cold-ass day.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Does this picture show the US covertly moving SEALs into Korea?

The US Navy maintains that the USS Michigan, a submarine known for carrying special-ops teams, stopped in the South Korean city of Busan for a “routine port visit,” but pictures of the event suggest a more clandestine purpose that may involve US Navy SEALs.


On top of the Michigan as it arrived in Busan appeared to be two silos for SEAL Delivery Vehicles, the tiny submarines used to transport US Navy SEALs and their equipment for their most covert missions deep in enemy territory.

The Navy confirmed to Business Insider that these pods are used by Naval Special Warfare units, but as a rule it does not disclose deployments of Navy SEALs.

In one year, VA improves mental health services
A member of SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team Two prepares to launch one of the team’s SEAL Delivery Vehicles from the back of the Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Philadelphia on a training exercise. Navy photo by Chief Photographer’s Mate Andrew McKaskle.

In April, when the Michigan last visited Busan, South Korean media reported that it carried SEALs to train with South Korean forces for a “decapitation” mission, in which the US and South Korea would work together to kill North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and take out North Korea’s nuclear command structure.

The US military, however, maintains it does not train for attempts at regime change, and it does not typically comment on SEAL deployments.

Now, as the US and North Korea trade nuclear threats and the US and South Korea gear up for another round of military drills, the Michigan has returned, sending a powerful message. The Michigan, a nuclear-powered submarine, used to carry nuclear missiles but now carries 150 Tomahawk precision-guided missiles.

The US operates only four such submarines, known as SSGNs, and rarely discusses their whereabouts.

In one year, VA improves mental health services
The guided-missile submarine USS Ohio (SSGN 726) transits the Puget Sound on its way to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility to commence a Major Maintenance Period. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Paul Seeber.

In 2011 it was the USS Florida, a fellow SSGN, that kicked off US operations in Libya by launching more than 90 Tomahawks at targets there, beating down Libyan defenses before airpower and surface ships took control of the situation.

With not one but two SEAL Delivery Vehicle silos attached, the Michigan could deliver a considerable number of highly mobile SEALs to South Korea. Silos add drag and decrease the stealthiness of the Michigan, suggesting they were included for a reason.

Additionally, as the US continues efforts to put “maximum pressure” on North Korea, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency posted pictures of F-22 Raptor stealth jets training for an air show in South Korea.

Experts have told Business insider that the F-22 fits the profile of the type of weapon the US would use in the early salvos of fighting with North Korea.

In one year, VA improves mental health services
An F-22 deploys flares. Photo by USAF.

On Oct. 15, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the US would continue diplomatic efforts with North Korea “until the first bomb drops,” as President Donald Trump repeatedly hints at using force to solve the crisis.

Despite the outward appearance of war preparations, the Trump administration’s aggressive approach to North Korea has yielded economic and diplomatic results. China has gone further than ever before in sanctioning North Korea, and a handful of other important nations have also cut or reduced ties.

Trump is scheduled to visit South Korea in November.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Gary Sinise Foundation hosts star-studded event for children of the fallen

Since 2006, the Snowball Express has served to provide comfort and a sense of community to the families of fallen service members. Year-round activities across the country culminate in a grand, all-expenses paid excursion to Disney World. This year, when COVID-19 threatened to derail the annual event, the Gary Sinise Foundation, backed by its sponsors, A-list celebrities and hundreds of volunteers, engineered a virtual game plan that kept this inspiring joy ride on track.

“This has been a tough year for our nation,” said retired Gen. Robin Rand, CEO of the Gary Sinise Foundation. “Compound dealing every morning waking up to deal with the loss of a loved one with the pandemic. Gary wanted the families to know we were not going to forget them. He’s a genuine force of nature; his commitment to this community of our nation’s veterans and first responders is unmatched. So when we realized we had to pivot from an in-person event, he began reaching out to his connections made over the last 40 years. Gary is hard to say no to.”

Sinise and his Lt. Dan Band were frequent participants in the original iteration of Snowball Express. His foundation absorbed the program in 2018. Planning for a year of Snowball Express activities begins in January. In August, Rand said, the decision was made to cancel the in-person event out of concerns for the safety of more than 650 families and 1,750 Snowball Express-goers. “We quickly went virtual. The sponsors, entertainers and about 500 volunteers (including members of the original Snowball Express team) exceeded expectations.”

Held earlier in December, this year’s Snowball Express featured a “something for everyone” itinerary, including an opening night event streamed from the Museum of Magic hosted by David Copperfield and a dance party hosted by DJ D-Nice, a guided tour by Jay Leno of his classic and vintage car collection, a screening of the Oscar-winning documentary, “Free Solo” followed by a Q&A with climber Alex Honnold and a bedtime reading of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” by Kristen Chenowith.

Throughout the weekend, actors, musicians and entertainers, including Angelina Jolie, Mark Wahlberg, Tom Hanks, Patricia Heaton, Kaley Cuoco, Joe Mantegna, Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks, Olympian Simone Biles and Keanu Reeves, offered messages of love and support.

In one year, VA improves mental health services
The Gary Sinise Foundation created a 3D interactive virtual walk-through of the Snowball Express Remembrance Garden with a flag representing a fallen hero from each of the 2,000+ Gold Star families in the program, providing an opportunity for the families to search and directly find the flag and placard honoring their loved one.

But the core mission of Snowball Express is not just to give the families a much-needed and deserved good time, Rand said. It is also about providing resources to help them cope with their grief (children are encouraged to messages of love to their fallen parent) as well as information on such topics as college tuition. Perhaps the most meaningful and moving portion of the weekend is the Remembrance Garden. This year’s garden was re-staged as a virtual event; participants were able to navigate online to find a flag with their fallen hero’s name.

It is these aspects of the Snowball Express weekend that offer the most lasting value to families, according to Peggy Riggen, the legal guardian and great-aunt of 13-year-old Joshua Ryan Blackwell, whose father, Justin R. Blackwell, was killed in action when his son was five-months-old.

“Snowball Express has brought not only fun,  but camaraderie, understanding, and a place to go to for help on questions that you just don’t know where to go to get the answer,” she said via email. “Josh and Allyson, my niece, developed great friendships with other Gold Star families and kids who understood what they were going through. They helped each other when they needed to talk, when they needed to grieve, when they needed to be angry or sad and lonely, and they could talk each other through it. I know that they found a lot of solace in that.”

This year’s Snowball Express was literally a “little engine that could” operation. Preparations for the Remembrance Garden along required volunteers to set up upwards of 2,000 flags, each with its own identifying marker.

“I can’t tell you how proud I am of the Foundation staff,” Rand said. “It was all hands on deck, a lot of late nights and long hours. It goes to show you, give people a task and if they are passionate about the mission there are no limits to what we can accomplish.”

For more information on The Snowball Express and the Gary Sinise Foundation, visit garysinisefoundation.org.

This article originally appeared on Military Families Magazine. Follow @MilFamiliesMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Watch as a massive ammunition depot blows up in Ukraine

Massive explosions at an  in central  have prompted the evacuation of more than 30,000 people and the closure of airspace over the region, the country’s emergency response agency has said.


The blasts late on Sept. 26 sparked a blaze at the depot near Kalynivka in the Vinnytsya region, some 270 kilometers west of Kyiv, the September 27 statement said.

 military prosecutor’s office said investigators were treating the explosions and fire as an act of sabotage, Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) spokeswoman Olena Hitlyanska said on September 27.

National Police chief Vyacheslav Abroskin said in a statement on September 27 that hundreds of police officers from the Vinnytsya, Zhytomyr, Khmelnitskiy, Kyiv, and Chernivtsi regions were providing security and safe evacuation of people at the site.

Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroysman, who arrived in Vinnytsya hours after the blast, said that “external factors” were behind the incident.

Zoryan Shkiryak, an adviser to the head of the Interior Ministry, said on Facebook that he was “convinced that this is a hostile Russian sabotage,” and said it was the seventh fire at military warehouses in Kalynivka.

He said a state commission of inquiry will be set up to investigate the cause of the explosions.

Some 600 National Guard troops were deployed to the area to assist with the evacuation of the residents and to ensure the protection of their property from looters, the National Guard said in a statement. Some 1,200 Ukrainian firefighters were working to contain the blaze, UNIAN reported.

Witnesses said that after an initial loud explosion, bright flashes were visible in the night sky. Some residents said they feared the smoke and fire from the explosion might produce toxic gases.

Local media reported that the explosive wave knocked out the windows in the Kalynivka district state administration, where an emergency headquarters for teams seeking to put out the explosions and fire was later gathered.

Witnesses said the sound of explosions could be heard as far away as Kyiv. Local media said that in Kalynivka, officials turned off the lights and disconnected gas and electricity supplies.

Shortly after the explosions, the chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of , General Viktor Muzhenko, arrived in Vinnytsya, authorities said.

A volunteer of the Avtoevrozile organization of Vinnytsya, Ihor Rumyantsev, told RFE/RL that he saw about 10 buses arrive to evacuate people. He said he was helping to evacuate residents, giving priority to women and children.

Early on September 27, Rumyantsev said the explosions started to increase, doubling in size, prompting people to hide in their cellars.

Rumyantsev said the railway connection in the area had completely stopped. Ukrzaliznytsya reported a change in railroad routes due to the explosions.

An employee of the Vinnytsya Oblast Council, Iryna Yaroshynska, confirmed the rerouting of trains going through Kalynivka.

Ukraerocenter closed the airspace within a radius of 50 kilometers from the zone of explosions in the military warehouses, Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Infrastructure Yuriy Lavrenyuk said on Facebook.

Residents posted video online showing what appeared to be a fire burning, lights flashing, and smoke billowing into the night sky.

Articles

How a soldier earned a rare battlefield promotion during an ISIS fight

When Jeremy Penderman joined the Army, he wasn’t quite sure what his job would entail.


“I’m not even sure the recruiter knew what the job was,” he said.

But Penderman, a multichannel transmission systems operator/maintainer, said the job hasn’t disappointed.

Now serving in Iraq with Fort Bragg’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Penderman has an undeniable impact on his unit and the ongoing fight to retake the key northern city of Mosul from the Islamic State terrorist group, officials said.

So undeniable that Penderman, who has spent nearly seven years in the Army, was the recipient of a rare battlefield promotion in April of 2017.

In an impromptu ceremony near Al Tarab, Iraq, Sgt. Penderman became Staff Sgt. Penderman when Maj. Gen. Joseph M. Martin pinned the new rank to his chest.

Penderman, who was at the base repairing communications equipment, said the visit — and the promotion — were unexpected.

In one year, VA improves mental health services
U.S. Army Col. Pat Work, deployed in support of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve and commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, provides an operations update for Paratroopers at a patrol base near Al Tarab, Iraq, March 30, 2017. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Hull)

Martin, the commander of Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command — Operation Inherent Resolve and the 1st Infantry Division, was able to promote Penderman after determining that the soldier “demonstrated an extraordinary performance of duties” while filling a job that’s typically held by someone of a higher rank.

It was a special recognition for Penderman, who had spent nearly two years awaiting a promotion but still lacked the requirements for a typical bump in rank.

“It was a complete surprise,” Penderman told The Fayetteville Observer from Iraq last week. “I didn’t know anything about it.”

Penderman, 25, is a Durham-native who oversees communications for the 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute infantry Regiment, which has about 700 soldiers in Iraq and deployed late last year.

In that role, he leads a small team of soldiers who work to ensure troops can communicate across the battlefield, keeping a network in place to spur a constant flow of information from advise-and-assist teams embedded with Iraqi forces and between unmanned aerial vehicles and soldiers on the ground.

The job often sees him working with complex communications equipment, tapping into satellites and generally maintaining a tactical communications network in an austere and ever-changing environment.

Not bad for someone who knew little to nothing about his career when he joined the Army.

“I didn’t even know what an IP (address) was,” Penderman said. “I didn’t know anything about computers.”

Instead, Penderman had high hopes that baseball would be his future.

“I played everywhere,” he said of his time at the Durham School of the Arts. “But I went to college as an outfielder.”

That college was Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, where Penderman received a scholarship to play baseball.

But after being redshirted his freshman year, he began to reconsider another dream.

Penderman always wanted to join the military. He wanted to follow in his brother’s footsteps as a Marine, although his parents urged him to try college instead.

He made a promise that he would give college a year, and, if that didn’t work, he’d be free to enlist.

Today, Penderman might have been a Marine if it wasn’t for one more discovery.

“I found out about the airborne,” he said.

Over spring break his freshman year — March 2010 — Penderman walked into a recruiting center and enlisted in the Army.

At first, he wanted to be an airborne infantryman, but a recruiter instead guided him through a list of available jobs.

He described Penderman’s current military occupational specialty, known as a 25Q, as “half infantry, half radios” and promised he could still become a paratrooper. Also, the job came with an enlistment bonus.

Since enlisting, Penderman spent more than four years in Germany with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team before joining the 82nd Airborne Division about two years ago.

He has seven years in the Army and plans to apply to become a warrant officer in the Signal Corps. While he wants to stay in the Army as long as possible, he said the skills he’s learned have opened the door to a bright future no matter if he wears the uniform or not.

“It’s really set me up for success, whether I stay in or get out,” he said.

Penderman is noncommissioned-officer-in-charge of his battalion’s S6, or communications, shop.

Typically, that organization would have upward of a dozen soldiers, including an NCOIC and an officer. But Penderman’s shop has three soldiers and no officer.

That shows the faith and trust that leadership has in the soldier, officials said.

In training while preparing for the deployment, the battalion trained with the smaller force. But Penderman said little could have prepared him for another aspect of the deployment — a constant leapfrogging of the battlefield.

When Penderman’s battalion arrived in country, they set up more than 20 miles from Mosul to partner with the 9th Iraqi Armored Division, one of the local forces looking to take back the city.

“And we moved six times,” Penderman said. “As they gain ground and they move forward, we move forward with them.”

Today, he’s based out of a tactical assembly area near the village of Bakhira. From there, he’s near the border of the city and close to the fighting.

“We can hear them shooting off mortars,” Penderman said.

He’s also seen forces treating wounded. And he said that knowing he has played a role in the march into the city has been humbling.

“It’s fulfilling work,” Penderman said. “I get to impact the battalion on a daily basis… It definitely feels like I’m making a difference in my battalion and helping to make a difference in the fight in Mosul.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

NATO warns about Russia’s ‘resurgence’ and urges vigilance

U.S. General Curtis Scaparrotti, NATO’s supreme allied commander in Europe, has warned that the alliance will not be “dominant” in certain areas in five years if it fails to modernize and adapt to the growing threat from Russia.


“I certainly have concerns with respect to Russia,” Scaparrotti told a press conference in Brussels on Jan. 17 following a meeting of top NATO defense officials.

“I think that, as an alliance, we are dominant. There are domains within this that were challenged. I think cyber is one of those. They are very competent in that,” he also said, referring to Russia.

“There are others where because of the modernization you noted, while we are dominant, we will not be in five years per se if we aren’t adapting like this to include our structure but also within the nations, our capabilities, across the military functional areas as well as our domains.”

Addressing the session of the Military Committee, the alliance’s highest military authority, Scaparrotti said earlier that “a resurgence of Russia as a strategic competitor, growing unrest, and instability in Africa and the Middle East, as well as terrorism, [are] reshaping our strategic environment.”

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The Military Committee, NATO’s highest Military Authority, met in Chiefs of Defense Session on 17-18 Jan 2017, at the NATO Headquarters, Brussels, Belgium. The Joint Press Conference with opening statements by Chairman of the Military Committee, General Petr Pavel, by Supreme Allied Commander Europe – General Curtis M. Scaparrotti and by Supreme Allied Commander Transformation – General Denis Mercier, followed by QA session. (Image from DoD)

Relations between Moscow and the West have been severely strained over issues including Russia’s seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea region in March 2014 and its support for separatists who control parts of eastern Ukraine.

The war between Kyiv’s forces and the Russia-backed separatists has killed more than 10,300 people since April 2014.

Amid growing tensions, NATO stepped up its defenses in Eastern member nations near Russia.

Speaking alongside Scaparrotti at the press conference, Czech General Petr Pavel, chairman of the Military Committee, called Russia an “obvious security challenge.”

“We characterize Russia as a peer competitor and we obviously follow closely all the development and modernization and taking all the measures that are necessary to be ready for any contingency,” he added.

Also Read: Why NATO should use Russia’s massive wargame as an intel dump

Ahead of the meeting, NATO said the top defense officials would discuss “the challenging security environment on NATO’s southern flank and the alliance’s contribution to its stabilization” and would review NATO’s Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan and the international coalition against the extremist group Islamic State.

They also held separate talks with top defense officials from Ukraine and Georgia on “the security situations on the ground, defense reform progress, and the way ahead.”

After the meetings, Pavel told reporters that the defense officials “noted the challenge for Ukraine of achieving security and defense reforms alongside reestablishing Ukraine’s territorial integrity.”

They also “stressed their commitment on furthering the capability and interoperability of the Ukrainian armed forces,” he added.

On Georgia, Pavel said the defense officials “stressed continued support” to the Substantial NATO-Georgia Package to enhance the country’s defense readiness.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is what North Korea has to do to live up to the Singapore Agreement

North Korea returned the remains of 55 bodies , thought to belong to US service members on July 27, 2018, coinciding with the 65th anniversary of the armistice that paused the Korean War.

The symbolic move represents the single, hopeful thread of President Donald Trump’s North Korea policy, as the rest of it crumbles.

“After so many years, this will be a great moment for so many families. Thank you to Kim Jong Un,” Trump tweeted .


“We are encouraged by North Korea’s actions and the momentum for positive change,” the White House said in a statement.

Benjamin Young, a North Korea expert from George Washington University previously told Business Insider : “The repatriation of the Korean War remains is significant in that it partially closes a painful chapter in US-Korea relations.”

“It’s significant from a historical perspective and is symbolic.”

That Trump and Kim Jong Un’s joint statement at Singapore lists the “immediate” repatriation of the bodies shows the historical and symbolic importance of the repatriations, but it wasn’t easy getting here.

In one year, VA improves mental health services

US Treasury photos show a ship-to-ship transfer with a North Korea-linked vessel.

Trump agreed to the summit with Kim on vague promises of denuclearization which met with near universal doubt.

Many former top experts advised Trump to skip the meeting entirely, seeing it as providing Kim with international legitimacy even though he oversees some of the worst human rights violations in the world, including keeping an estimated 2.6 million “modern slaves.”

Trump’s policy hangs by a thread

After the summit, Trump saw his greatest success on the North Korean front swiftly undone.

The “maximum pressure” regime of economic, diplomatic, and military pressure completely evaporated, even though the administration insists it is still in effect.

The China-North Korea border again hums with commerce and activity, and Chinese tourists again crowd the streets of Pyongyang, analysis from NK News points out . Fuel prices have dropped, indicating an increased supply.

“Numerous” sanctioned North Korean ships have appeared in South Korean ports, NKNews found .

North Korea has realized a primary goal of its US-facing diplomacy — sanctions relief — while only providing minimal, reversible, and unverifiable dismantlement of a tiny fraction of its nuclear arsenal.

In one year, VA improves mental health services

Meeting between United States North Korea delegations in Singapore on June 12, 2018

The audacity of hope

Viewed as a transaction, the North Korea process has ripped off the US by handing over international legitimacy and an end to US-South Korean military drills in exchange for baby steps towards disarming .

Viewed as a budding relationship, Trump has made unprecedented progress in healing relations with Pyongyang.

Returning the bodies of US soldiers doesn’t change anything on the ground in the Koreas. North Korea still has artillery guns and missiles ready to bear down on Seoul, and possibly the US, and they haven’t budged.

But the measure builds confidence and trust, which is sorely needed. North Korea dragged its feet and stood up US officials in previous talks about repatriating the bodies, but eventually came through.

No other US president has been willing to talk to North Korea , citing its illegal nuclear program , serious human rights violations , and countless kidnappings and attacks on civilians. But Trump took a unique approach in meeting Kim, and has earned a unique result.

At the Aspen Strategy Forum, Commander of the US forces in Korea General Vincent Brooks shed light on how US objectives in North Korea have shifted from military to diplomatic:

“Our challenge now, candidly, is to continue to make progress but to make that progress in an environment that is essentially void of trust, and without trust, we’ll find it difficult to move forward.
“So, building that trust while that pressure continues and while the efforts for diplomacy continue is the order of the day. In many ways, the lack of trust is the enemy we now have to defeat.”

Trump has not denuclearized North Korea, or even gotten close. But he’s presented a different US position and in doing so offered a path, however perilous, towards a new future between Washington and Pyongyang.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Articles

8 of the coolest military technology advances from 2016

While 2016 took a lot from us (Carrie Fisher being one of the most recent losses), it also provided us with glimpses into the future.


So, without further ado, here’s a look at some of the new tech of 2016.

1. Carbon Nanomaterials

This article from April outlines the potential of aircraft made in one structure as opposed to many components that have to be assembled. Lockheed Martin made its mark in aviation with its famous Skunk Works in the 20th Century. The nanomaterials could lead to new developments in a wide range of products, from medical applications to building ships.

2. Russia Gets Its LCS Right

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Concept photo of Russian Projekt 20386 littoral combat ship. (Photo from Thai Military and Region blog)

Russia began work on the Derzky-class littoral combat ship this year, as WATM reported in November. While the American versions have been in the news with engineering problems, Russia seems to have taken the time to think about what its navy wanted.

Derzky will not be in service until 2021, according to reports. Perhaps, by then, the American LCS will have the kinks worked out of it.

3. New Round for Snipers?

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A sniper from the U.S. team makes adjustments to his rifle during the unknown distance event during the Fuerzas Comando competition July 26. (Department of Defense photo by U.S. Army Master Sgt. Alex Licea, Special Operations Command South Public Affairs)

In November, WATM also noted that snipers were taking an interest in the .300 Norma Magnum round. This round offers an improved ballistic coefficient over the .338 Lapua Magnum round currently used by snipers. The round will be used in the Advanced Sniper Rifle that SOCOM is trying to procure.

4. No More “Feeling the Burn”

The Enhanced Fire Resistant Combat Ensemble is slated to help keep Marines and sailors assigned to the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command from “feeling the burn.”

This past November, WATM reported that these uniforms brought some financial bonuses, too, as they are twice as durable as the ones currently in use.

5. The Speeder Bike becomes a reality

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(Photo from Malloy Aerospace)

When the Army began testing the Joint Tactical Aerial Resupply Vehicle, comparisons to the speeder bikes used in Return of the Jedi were quick in coming.

This October, WATM noted it was also being eyed for use in combat re-supply missions. While the Marines have used an unmanned K-Max, this is much smaller and could help resupply a platoon in a firefight.

6. A Bird of Prey that hunts subs

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This April, WATM reported on the ACTUV, which could make life very difficult for enemy subs. ACTUV, which stands for Antisubmarine warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel, displaces about 140 tons and is 132 feet long.

Equipped with sensors and a datalink, this is a robotic scout that can track submarines or other targets, and it has a sustained speed of 27 knots.

7. Russia’s Killer Robot

In one year, VA improves mental health services
Screen capture from video of a FSB raid on the leader of ISIS’s Russian affiliate.

On Dec. 3, Russian FSB troops carried out a raid that took out the top dog of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s Dagestan chapter.

Earlier this month, WATM took a closer look at the gear displayed in a video that was released. The star attraction was a little robot packing what appeared to be a PKM machine gun and two RPG-22s. Now, isn’t this robot cooler than BB-8?

8. Bigger guns on Stryker and JLTV

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The first prototype Stryker Infantry Carrier Vehicle outfitted with a 30mm cannon was delivered Thursday to the Army. (Photo Credit: courtesy of Program Executive OfficeGround Combat Systems)

In one year, VA improves mental health services

Since relations between the Russians and Americans seem to be heading south, two vehicles are getting bigger guns. In October, the Stryker got a 30mm turret, and became the XM1296 Dragoon. But this September, WATM reported that the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle got a bigger gun in the form of a modified M230. Now, these vehicles can take out BMPs.

So, those are some of the big tech stories out there for 2016. Which military tech story from 2016 is your favorite?

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