The Veterans Affairs Department’s watchdog said Oct. 3 it is reviewing Secretary David Shulkin’s 10-day trip to Europe with his wife that mixed business meetings with sightseeing.
Shulkin disclosed last week he traveled to Denmark and England to discuss veterans’ health issues. Travel records released by VA show four days of the trip were spent on personal activities, including attending a Wimbledon tennis match and a cruise on the Thames River. The VA said Shulkin traveled on a commercial airline, and that his wife’s airfare and meals were paid for by the government as part of “temporary duty” expenses.
A spokesman for VA inspector general Michael Missal described the review as “preliminary.”
Shulkin is one of several Cabinet members who have faced questions about travel after Tom Price resigned as health chief.
Curt Cashour, a VA spokesman, said the travel activities had been approved as part of an ethics review.
“The secretary welcomes the IG looking into his travel, and a good place to start would be VA’s website where VA posted his full foreign travel itineraries, along with any travel on government or private aircraft,” Cashour said.
The site lists Shulkin’s travel itineraries but does not detail costs to the government.
The idea of turning “swords into ploughshares” — that is to say, converting military technology and/or equipment into materials with a peaceful civilian purpose — is a very old concept. The phrase comes from the Bible’s Book of Isaiah 2:3-4:
And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
This is where Sword Plough draws its name. The company sells unique designer handbags and accessories made from discarded military surplus items. Co-founded by the daughters of a 30-year U.S. Army veteran, Col. (ret.) Joseph Núñez, Sword Plough is a veteran-owned-and-operated business, dedicated to hiring and supporting veterans.
One daughter, Emily Núñez Cavness, is SP’s CEO, and is also an active duty Army 1st. Lt. serving with the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne). Emily co-founded Sword Plough with her sister Betsy Núñez, who is the Chief Operations Officer.
“We have received such an incredibly positive and supportive response from our community,” Núñez Cavness says. “We’re still a young company, but we’re growing fast and we have a lot happening in the new year. In addition to expanding our product line, we have a number of exciting brand partnerships in the works and we’re planning to grow our wholesale business to brick and mortar shops throughout the country.”
“What sets Sword Plough apart is our commitment to a quadruple bottom line,” she continues. “People, Purpose, Planet, Profit. This means that we are simultaneously focused on improving veteran employment and supporting American jobs, bridging the civilian-military gap, repurposing surplus material, and donating 10% of our profits back to veteran organizations.”
One of their biggest passions is supporting veteran entrepreneurship.
“Betsy and I grew up on Army posts across the country and we couldn’t be more excited to be able to give back to the military and veteran community,” Núñez Cavness says. “One of the most rewarding parts of both serving in the Army and leading Sword Plough is the ability I have to bring the knowledge of starting a business to the veteran community. Many soldiers and veterans approach me with exciting ideas and ask for advice on how to start. Mentoring aspiring veteran entrepreneurs is one of my favorite things to do. Veterans already have so many of the leadership and management skills necessary to be successful in entrepreneurship or business. It is such an energizing experience to help chart realistic pathways to bring their ideas to reality.”
Since launching in 2013, Sword Plough repurposed over 35,000 pounds of military surplus, supported 38 veteran jobs, donated 10 percent of profits annually, and shipped over 10,000 products globally. Not a bad startup period.
Their father commanded Army forces at the company and battalion level, taught political science at West Point, and deployed to Haiti in 1994 in support of Operations Restore Democracy and Uphold Democracy. Their uncle, Kenneth Cameron, served in the Marine Corps. Cameron is a retired Colonel and was an aviator, test pilot, engineer, and NASA astronaut who piloted three missions to outer space.
Being from such a strong military family, Emily Núñez Cavness is herself an ROTC graduate of Middlebury College. She recalls her introduction to the civilian-military divide, which happened as she walked to a military science class one morning.
“I was abruptly stopped when an upperclassman walked out of the fine arts building,” she says. “He meandered toward me and asked, ‘Hi there, What play are you in?! I’ve never seen you around here.’ I didn’t have a lot of time to talk since I’d be late for my class, so I quickly explained that my uniform was not in fact a costume, but my actual government issued uniform for Army ROTC.”
This would be the first of many instances to leave an impression on her. They would come to help influence Sword Plough’s mission to empower veteran employment and bridge that divide in any way they can. But it doesn’t stop there. The summer after her sophomore year at Middlebury, Núñez Cavness found herself at the U.S. Army Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia.
“Even though I grew up in a military family on several Army Posts, this was the first time I was training next to Soldiers as a fellow service member rather than as a military kid,” she recalls. “We would spend almost every day quickly running from place to place in our helmets and boots, only to wait for hours under the hot sun until it was our turn to practice the parachute landing fall or how to properly pull a slip.”
1st Lt. Emily Núñez Cavness
“It didn’t take long for these periods of downtime to become some of my favorite moments of the course because it was then that the students to my left and right would open up to me about their past experiences in the Army and their goals and hopes for the future. Some expressed an interest in leaving the military in the near future but were seriously worried about their job prospects after talking to veteran friends who had been unemployed for a long time after leaving military service. At the time, I didn’t always know what to say, but I never forgot those conversations. It seemed like such an injustice to me that a group of people who had sacrificed so much and become such proven leaders would face this type of adversity.”
Fast forward one and a half years and Núñez Cavness is listening to Jacqueline Novogratz, the founder and CEO of Acumen, give her keynote speech during Middlebury’s first Social Entrepreneurship Symposium. She was talking about a business which incorporated recycling into its business model. The talk had young Núñez Cavness’ mind running 100 miles per hour.
“The way she described it immediately made me reflect on my own life,” Núñez Cavness said. “I asked myself, ‘what in my life is wasted on daily basis that could be harnessed and made into something beautiful?’ Having grown up on Army posts, I immediately thought back to the huge piles of military surplus I used to see that were going to be buried in a landfill or burned. As I looked around the audience, I noticed that every student had a backpack or bag of some kind propped up next to them. And then… it clicked! Why don’t I take the military surplus that would otherwise be discarded and turn it into stylish bags?”
Their newer Wool Handbag and Wool Crossbody are also very popular items.
As part of its dedication to giving back to veterans, Sword Plough makes financial contributions to veteran-focused organizations like Rocky Mountain Human Services, Feeding Our Vets, and Got Your 6. They support charitable organizations by donating their products for fundraisers.
These donations have helped recipients raise thousands of dollars through blind and live auctions. They also donate products to events which can raise general public awareness about veterans’ issues and the civil-military divide. To date, they have made more than $10,000 worth of product donations to organizations like the Navy SEAL Foundation, the 3rd and Goal Foundation, the Headstrong Project, and more.
Núñez Cavness designed the first three bags herself, but Sword Plough now has a creative director to design products. They also have a number of products designed by veterans.
“The military relies on cutting edge gear and technology to carry out its missions,” Núñez Cavness says. “This relationship with their equipment has definitely influenced the way we think about design and fashion. We repurpose military surplus equipment not only for the environmental benefits and vintage appeal, but also for its durability. Our team draws inspiration from cities that we live in, the people that we interact with, the feedback from the SP community of supporters, the history of the materials we use, and we try to honor tradition by constantly innovating and keeping functionality in mind.”
All Coast Guard National Security Cutters should have ScanEagle drones aboard and available for launch to boost high seas surveillance and aid in drug interdictions and arrests, according to Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz.
Commanders who have used the ScanEagle Unmanned Aerial System, or UAS, have told him, ” ‘I don’t ever want to sail without ScanEagle again,’ ” Schultz said Dec. 7, 2018, at the National Press Club. “I’d like to see every national security cutter have one on the back.”
For the past 17 years, the Coast Guard Research and Development Center has experimented with various types of UAS, including a helicopter drone and MQ-1 Predator, for cutters but found them unsuited for the Coast Guard‘s dual mission of national security and law enforcement.
A ScanEagle unmanned aerial vehicle from ScanEagle Guardian Eight Site sits ready for launch.
(U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Kristine Volk, Resolute Support Public Affairs)
In 2017, the Coast Guard tested a ScanEagle aboard the cutter Stratton on a six-week deployment to the Eastern Pacific. By the end of the deployment, the drone had flown 39 sorties for a total of 279 hours and assisted the crew in seizing 1,676 kilograms of contraband, valued at million. It also aided in the arrests of 10 alleged drug traffickers, according to the service.
The ScanEagle, made by Insitu, a Boeing subsidiary, was developed from a commercial version designed to collect weather data and scan the ocean for schools of fish. The Coast Guard version is about 8 feet long, with a wingspan of 16 feet. The drone is sent aloft by a pneumatic launcher and recovered using a hook and arresting wire.
In June 2018, Insitu announced the signing of a 7 million contract with the Coast Guard for the installation of ScanEagles aboard cutters. In a statement, Don Williamson, vice president and general manager of Insitu Defense, said when ScanEagle initially deployed with the Stratton, “We recognized what an incredible opportunity we had to partner with the U.S. Coast Guard to bring dynamic improvements to mission effectiveness and change aviation history.”
ScanEagle unmanned aerial vehicle conducts flight operation over the USNS Spearhead.
The contract was “an incredibly important first step in realizing the Coast Guard’s vision of fleet-wide UAS implementation,” said Cmdr. Daniel Broadhurst, who has served as unmanned aircraft systems division chief in the Coast Guard’s Office of Aviation Forces.
The fate of the UAS plan and other Coast Guard projects largely will depend on the outcome of the upcoming budget battles in the new Congress, Schultz said Dec. 7, 2018.
Currently, “we’re faced with more demands for Coast Guard services than fiscal resources,” he said.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
On Dec. 8, 2020, U.S. Army Veteran David Harker will celebrate his 75th birthday. He may recognize the accomplishment while on his daily five mile walk, or by taking a drive in his 47-year-old car – a 1973 Corvette he’s owned since it was given to him by classmates when he returned from Vietnam after spending more than five years as a prisoner of war.
A native of Lynchburg, Virginia, Harker is the third of seven children. He was an athlete in high school and received his associate’s degree from Bluefield College before transferring to Virginia Tech in 1966. By 1967, however, his fortunes had changed.
David Harker stands next to the 1973 Corvette he received.
“I was doing my junior year at Virginia Tech and my grades were low, so I had to take a quarter off in 1967 and during that time, because I wasn’t a full-time student, I had to let the government know. They got me,” he said.
When the draft notice came, Harker’s father, an electrical engineer took the news hard.
“My dad was really upset. He had worked for a power company during World War II and so was exempt from the draft,” Harker recalled. “I didn’t think about the possibility of being killed. My dad’s supervisor said he could get me in the National Guard, but I thought that would be shirking my responsibility. I was called on to serve my country and that’s what I was going to do.”
After basic and advanced infantry training, Harker was approached and offered an opportunity to go to Officer Candidate School.
“I was interested in flying helicopters, but they said I’d have to extend for another year or two, so I said, ‘no, I’ll do my two and go home’.”
Heading to Vietnam
The trip to Vietnam brought Harker through Hawaii, and Guam, before landing in Vietnam Nov. 15, 1967. The recollection of arrival is still fresh even 53 years later.
“There were men on the airstrip who had finished their year and were going to take the plane we had arrived on back home. So, they open the door and it was such a rude awakening when the door opened. The oppressive heat – and I’m sure Vietnam Vets will tell you – the country had a smell of its own.”
The soldiers on their way home watched them deplane and Harker heard them say, ‘there’s my replacement.’
“They wished us well,” Harker said.
David Harker stands next to the 1973 Corvette he received.
Although trained on a vehicle-mounted recoilless rifle, Harker was made an infantryman upon arrival in-country and reassigned from the 9th Infantry Division to the 196th Light Infantry Brigade. Six weeks later, he was a POW.
“I was in the 3rd of the 21st in an area of operations at Que Son,” Harker said. “We operated out of a fire base, with one company pulling security while the other three were out doing search and destroy missions. While out, we’d move about 1,000 meters a day and get resupplied every fourth day with c-rations if the helicopters could get through.”
As a 22 year old, Harker was among the older men in his unit. His commanding officer, Capt. Roland Belcher, told the company while they were enjoying in-country RR at brigade headquarters in Chu Lai, that he was proud of the work they were doing.
“Captain Belcher had been in a province southwest of Saigon where we were providing security for elections,” Harker said. “He said it meant a lot to him that we were able to do that – to make sure those people could go to the polls and not get hurt. I remember that because he died in the rice paddies when we were ambushed.”
Harker’s first sergeant, nicknamed Top, was a 41-year old Veteran of World War II and Korea who had earned a Silver Star before joining the company.
“After the ambush, he was the ranking person and he held us together.”
Harker and his company were on patrol when they broke contact with the enemy in a creek bed. The North Vietnamese unloaded on the unit and killed two men. As the most forward man, Harker was pinned down.
“I’m thinking, ‘I’m going to die.’ Top is behind me telling me to switch to auto and fire. They tried to get behind us and eventually I hear a Vietnamese voice and do a 90 degree and within arm’s reach at the top of this creek bank is an NVA soldier with a pith helmet and Top is there with no helmet. There’s a guy with a rifle telling me to get up. The NVA are stripping everything off us – anything they can use. I tried to bury my M-16 in the creek bed but I think they got it.”
After being taken, Harker was left with a soldier with a sidearm who walked in front of him, leading him away from the creek.
“I thought it was odd he was in front of me and I had been taught that you always try to escape. Next thing I know my hand is over his mouth and I have his arm at his side. I know I have to kill him and do it silently, but his bayonet won’t come out of the scabbard, and by that time my hand has come off his mouth and he’s yelling bloody murder. Before I could get his .45, he stabs me in the side with his bayonet. By that time there are a bunch of rifles pointing at me. I’m surprised they didn’t just shoot me, but they took some commo wire and duck-winged me that night.”
A newspaper clipping from the time shows support from his hometown.
Of the 15 men who entered the rice paddy that evening, only four made it out. More men would join Harker in his prison in the Trung Son Mountain Range where he would spend the first three years of captivity. By Harker’s estimation only about 150 U.S. soldiers were captured in South Vietnam – most of whom were taken during the Tet Offensive.
Harker’s first prison was in Quang Nam Province, a difficult, mountainous country that made food scarce and meant deplorable living conditions for the POWs.
“We buried nine Americans there,” Harker said. “That’s how horrific our living conditions were. We had very little to eat so people died from starvation, infectious diseases – malaria was rampant – dysentery. Between September of 1968 and Jan. 4, 1969, we buried six, including the youngest person we had there, a 19-year-old Marine.
“That first year of adjustment to jungle life was really hard on us. You didn’t know what to do. At first you looked out for yourself, but as time went on, you got more altruistic – you realize, it’s not about me, but about the guy next door and you realize you had to take care of each other. We came together really well in that respect.”
During the Vietnam War only one American doctor was ever taken prisoner. Hal Kushner, who grew up in Danville, Virginia, was injured in a helicopter crash in late November. By Dec. 4, North Vietnamese forces found him and marched him toward the camp where he found, according to a speech he gave in February 2018, “four of the saddest looking American creatures I had ever seen in my life.”
“They wouldn’t let him practice medicine,” Harker said of Kushner. “We couldn’t call him doc, but he was a big source of information and help to us. He led the way and showed us how to nurse and take care of men, and that became our goal – to make people in their last hours and days as comfortable as possible – it was our mission, and he was a big inspiration to us.”
In the mountains the men had to forage for food, mostly the manioc root, also known as kasava root.
“There wasn’t a place to grow food, so most of our calories came from manioc,” Harker said. “We were under a 1-to-1 prisoner-to-guard ratio, and the guards would trade manioc and so we would put baskets on our backs and go back and forth over miles of mountain trails carrying 70-80 pounds of root. It’s amazing to think that we could even do it, but we did what we had to do. The little bit of rice they gave us as a ration wasn’t enough to keep a bird flying, so the roots kept us going.”
The guards of Trung Son didn’t physically abuse their prisoners. They didn’t need to.
“We were separated from civilization in the middle of nowhere and we couldn’t communicate; had no food, and no medical attention – that’s torture enough for an individual. We were interrogated when we were captured,” Harker said, “but we knew the Code of Conduct and so we’d give that information. But they’d have a guy with a lantern and they’re asking for information about your unit, it’s size, and I just kept repeating. They didn’t pursue it much. They wanted to get us away from the battlefield but a few days later they did it again. When you have a rifle and you’re in front of the enemy, it’s different. But if they put a blindfold on you and all you can hear is round being chambered – that’s different too. In the north they beat pilots and used a lot of torture techniques.”
On Feb. 1, 1971 there were a dozen men still alive in the mountains and they were taken in groups of six to begin their march north up the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Harker watched battalions of Vietnamese troops heading south during the 60-day march, as they ground out 10 to 15 miles a day. During the journey an interpreter would give them extra rice.
“He was a military guy who had fought in Laos as a 17-year old in the early 1960s, and he looked out for us. I think he understood the condition – there was a common situation and appreciation among soldiers.”
“We’d get to a camp every day where we got hot white rice – better than we had at the mountain camp. The next morning they’d put a ball of rice on a banana leaf and we’d carry that with us for lunch as we moved. Eventually we were put on a train, in a box car, and taken to Hanoi, to Plantation Garden, an old French plantation with bars in the walls. We were kept in a 15×17 warehouse – six of us on a wooden pallet. Unlike the mountain camp we couldn’t roam around, and the boredom would overtake you and the heat was oppressive, but we had plenty to eat compared to the south. We also had better medical care there as they had a doctor to attend to us.”
In October of 1972 the Vietnamese allowed prisoners to be outside together for the first time since they arrived, and it looked like the war might be over.
“We had a communication system where we’d put a note on the lid of the waste bucket, or use the tap code, and we had to do that because we were only allowed out of our cell for about an hour a day, and never more than one cell was let out at a time. So, when they let everyone out, and then gave us reading material, they knew it was over. Or they thought it was, because before you know it, the doors are all slammed shut again.”
Soon after, Linebacker II started. From Dec. 18-29, 1972, the U.S. Air Force conducted an operation called Linebacker II, a ‘maximum effort’ campaign to destroy targets using B-52 heavy bombers that dropped more than 15,000 tons of ordnance on more than 30 targets.
“B-52s bombed all night long after talks broke down. The SAMs (surface-to-air missiles) shot down a bunch of planes on the third night, after they figured out the flight patterns, and one night they pulled up a deuce and a half and told us to crawl in the back. We thought we were being taken to China.”
Harker would spend his last three months as a prisoner at the Hanoi Hilton.
Half a world away, in Paris, a peace accord was signed January 27, 1973, and soon after Harker and other American POWs heard the news they had longed to hear.
“We were ecstatic,” Harker said. “We’d hear doors open and activity and they came and said, ‘you’re going, and you’re going, and you’re going’ dividing us up into groups that would be repatriated. They gave us western clothing and a travel bag and when they pulled us out of a holding cell wearing our red-striped pajamas we were given the clothes. By noon, nothing had happened. They gave us food and told us the peace agreement was broken – and we were right back down in the depths of despair. But a few days later we got out.
A newspaper clipping shows when David Harker returned home.
“I remember saluting an Air Force general who was sitting with a North Vietnamese officer, and when we saluted, we had been officially repatriated. On the plane home, the pilot told us when we had entered international airspace and there was a great cheer.”
The cheers continued when they landed in the Philippines, Hawaii, and Andrews AFB, Maryland. From Maryland, Harker went to Valley Forge in Pennsylvania where he went through medical treatment and rehabilitation, and he was reunited with his family.
“It was different,” Harker said. “I had brothers who were married, and children had been born, but it was exciting coming home. A private airline flew me and my father back and the local TV station had sent a reporter who interviewed me all the way back. There must have been 10,000 people at the Lynchburg airport when we arrived – I had no idea there would be that welcome and response – my big extended family – the high school band was there. It was a long journey and I was glad to be home and for them to be there for me meant so much. I was led to a blue 1973 Corvette and handed the keys. A group of school mates had gotten together and sold bumper stickers for a dollar each to buy me a car and they handed me the keys and a check for id=”listicle-2647726394″,100.”
Being home with his family, Harker said he learned how much anxiety and frustration and worry his parents went through while he was captive.
“Every POW gets a casualty assistance officer whose job it is to let the family know when they hear something – anything – about their son,” Harker said. “My family never heard anything from their CAO. It wasn’t until 1969, when three prisoners were released that they knew I was alive. My parents found out that a couple of those who were released were at Fort Jackson, and so they went there and got onto base and met with them and heard from them that I was alive. That’s all the knew for five years. So they became involved in the National League of Families who organized and tried to have some involvement with North Vietnam to get information about prisoners and try to make the process more transparent as far as information was concerned.”
Life after war
After he returned from Vietnam, Harker took some time off, but eventually returned to Blacksburg and finished his business degree from Virginia Tech in 1976 and found his way to work as a probation and parole officer. In 1977 he married Linda, his high school sweetheart whom he had dated since 1962.
His family now includes his two children, Megan and husband Mike, and Adam and his wife Anza. David and Linda also enjoy their grandchildren: 13-year old Emily, 11-year old Ethan, and 6-year old Eli, children of Megan; and Adam’s 23-month old daughter Ava.
While Harker is open to discussing his time in Vietnam to serve as an education for younger people, he said it was a part of his life that he’s put behind him.
“Kush and I talk about that all the time – we’re not professional POWs. By the grace of God and the help of other men, we made it out. We all serve our country one way or another. This country is what we love. My life has been a real blessing since then, and the staff at the VA hospital, what they do is marvelous, and I appreciate each one of them. I know they have a heart for those Veterans, or they wouldn’t work there,” Harker said. “I love the Veterans, too, and appreciate their service, and institutions like the VA are a great service to our country.”
In the early 2010s Harker had the Corvette he received in 1973 – the car he and his youngest brother Louie drove across the country after his return – restored. He still drives it today.
“I think of all the love behind it every time I drive it.”
In this latest episode of Vets Get Real, WATM talks to a group of former servicemembers about how they react when strangers approach them and say: “Thank you for your service.” Our panel also talks about how they’d prefer civilians approach veterans about their time serving.
And be sure to keep an eye out for other episodes of Vets Get Real where WATM hosts discussions with vets on topics ranging from relationships to recruiters.
Editor’s note: If you have questions that you’d like to see Vets Get Real about, please leave a comment below.
An ongoing petition on Change.org is seeking at least 15,000 signatures to convince Secretary of the Navy Sean Stackley to name DDG 127, an as-yet unnamed destroyer, after Fire Controlman 1st Class Gary L. Rehm, Jr., who allegedly gave up his own life while attempting to rescue six sailors in a flooding compartment on the USS Fitzgerald.
The Fitzgerald was struck by the ACX Crystal, a Philippine container ship, on June 17. The much larger Crystal impacted the Fitzgerald almost squarely on the sleeping berths, causing massive damage to the area where a number of sailors were resting.
As the water rushed in, the rest of the crew was forced to close the hatches while Rehm was still inside.
DDG 127, the ship which petitioners hope will be named after Rehm, is an Arleigh-Burke Class destroyer like the Fitzgerald. The guided-missile destroyers can fire a variety of missiles against everything from land targets to aircraft to submarines to other ships and even missiles in flight.
The Fitzgerald is named for Lt. William C. Fitzgerald, an officer who began his career as an enlisted sailor before graduating from the Naval Academy. He later gave his life to cover the retreat of civilians and other sailors under attack by the Viet Cong on Aug. 7, 1967. The ship’s motto is “Protect Your People.”
Rehm’s actions, if proven during the Navy’s investigation, surely upheld the ship’s traditions and motto.
The other six sailors who died in the June 17 crash were Sonar Technician 3rd Class Ngoc T Truong Huynh, 25; Gunner’s Mate Seaman Dakota Kyle Rigsby, 19; Yeoman 3rd Class Shingo Alexander Douglass, 25; Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Noe Hernandez, 26; Fire Controlman 2nd Class Carlos Victor Ganzon Sibayan, 23; and Personnel Specialist 1st Class Xavier Alec Martin, 24.
The US Navy is looking at a number of ways to increase its presence in the Arctic around Alaska, including deployments of the service’s advanced maritime patrol aircraft, the P-8A Poseidon, the Navy’s top civilian official said in December 2018.
Asked by Alaska Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan about the US presence in that part of the world, Navy Secretary Richard Spencer told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Dec. 12, 2018, that the Navy was present under the sea and in the air and “looking at how we can get up there” in other capacities.
“If I had a blank check for everything, it’d be terrific, to ice-harden ships, but with the demand that we have right now, it is unaffordable,” Spencer said, adding that it would be possible to send assets up there seasonally as sea ice melts.
“You and I did go look on the coast up there for a potential strategic port,” Spencer told Sullivan. “I think the Coast Guard, in concert with the Navy, we should definitely flesh out what could possibly be done.”
A US Navy P-8 Poseidon.
“When it comes to using Alaska in the Arctic area for training, the commandant and I have talked about this — plans to go look at doing something this summer, possibly on Adak, for training,” Spencer added, referring Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller, who was also at the hearing.
Spencer said he and Navy Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Bill Moran “have talked about possible P-8 [deployments] up to Adak. There are definite training uses, and there’s definite ability to affect the National Defense Strategy with Arctic activity.”
The Navy and Marine Corps presence in Alaska is currently small, with some sailors and Marines stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, the latter personnel there as part of a reserve unit.
Marines have been deployed to Norway on a rotational basis since the beginning of 2017, and Oslo recently said that it would ask the US to increase their numbers and move them farther north, closer to that country’s border with Russia.
The Navy has also made moves toward higher latitudes, sending an aircraft carrier above the Arctic Circle for the first time since the early 1990s as part of NATO’s exercise Trident Juncture, which took place in October and November 2018. Navy officials have stressed that they intend to be more active in the Arctic going forward.
Neller has emphasized that his command is focusing on training for harsh conditions.
Marines with 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment disembark an Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter after a simulated raid on Indian Mountain radar system as part of Exercise Arctic Edge 18 at Fort Greely, Alaska, March 12, 2018.
(US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Brianna Gaudi)
In March 2018, Marines joined soldiers, sailors, and airmen in Alaska for Arctic Edge 2018, where they trained “to fight and win in the Arctic,” the head of Alaskan Command, Air Force Lt. Gen. Ken Wilsbach, said at the time.
A few weeks after that exercise, Neller told Sullivan during a Senate hearing that the Marines “have gotten back into the cold-weather business.” In August 2018, while traveling through Alaska with Spencer, Sullivan said that the Marine Corps was “looking at spending a lot more time in Alaska.”
Adak Island is at the western edge of the Aleutian Islands. The naval facility, which was on the northern side of the island, took up more than 76,000 acres and was an important base for submarine surveillance during the Cold War.
The airstrip there has been in commercial use since the Navy shut down military operations in 1997.
Coast Guard commandant Adm. Karl Schultz, left, meets with Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer and Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan, right, in Nome to discuss the construction of deep-draft ports in western Alaska, Aug. 13, 2018.
(US Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Jetta Disco)
The Navy is currently grappling with operational and maintenance challenges brought on by more than two decades of continuous operations around the world — a situation that has been complicated by discussions of expansion and by uncertainty about its budget in the future as it builds new supercarriers and designs a new generation of ballistic missile subs that will carry nuclear warheads.
Returning to Alaska would present an array challenges, according to Jeffrey Barker, a deputy branch head for policy and posture on the chief of naval operation’s staff.
US Navy crew members on board a P-8A Poseidon assigned to Patrol Squadron (VP) 16 man their workstations while assisting in search and rescue operations for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 March 16, 2014 in the Indian Ocean.
(US Navy photo)
“We want to be agile, but sustainability is key,” Barker said at the beginning of December 2018 during a Wilson Center event focused on the Arctic. “We don’t really want to do anything if we can’t sustain it, so that’s a huge part of that, and the infrastructure to that.”
“When Secretary Spencer went around Alaska, he was asked a lot of questions, and he asked us a lot of questions about how much would it cost to go back to Adak,” Barker said. “He was shocked — gobsmacked is what he said — when the report that we gave him said id=”listicle-2623753290″.3 billion.”
Barker said that Spencer clarified that he only wanted to use the facility “for a couple of weeks here and there,” and when asked about the plan after the hearing on Dec. 12, 2018, Spencer said the base was up to that task.
“The airstrip is in great shape,” he told Breaking Defense, which first reported his comments about a potential P-8 deployment. Spencer added that the Navy may have to pay to clean up one of the hangars.
But the airport, he said, “has a fuel farm up there that Air Alaska is using to fuel its planes. It has de-icing platforms that we could use for fresh water washdowns for the P-8. They have lodging up there that is supposedly coming forward to us on a rental availability, so it really isn’t a big bill.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
North Korea has again lobbed a vague year-end threat at the Trump administration, saying the US can expect a “Christmas gift” if talks between US and North Korean officials don’t lead to substantive concessions for North Korea.
As the year-end deadline that the hermit kingdom has given the US runs out, North Korea may renege on the only concession it has given President Donald Trump — the promise to abandon nuclear and long-range weapons testing.
In November, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), North Korea’s state-run news outlet, released a statement saying that time was quickly running out for the US to resume talks that had stalled after Trump’s much-touted visit to the demilitarized zone (DMZ) in June. While US diplomats have said that tentative negotiations in Stockholm last month went well, North Korea’s latest missive indicates otherwise.
For comparison, the MFA statement of July 7, 2017, shortly after the first Hwasong-14 ICBM test, included: “the test-fire of the inter-continental ballistic rocket conducted by the DPRK this time is a ‘gift package’ addressed to none other than the U.S.”https://kcnawatch.org/newstream/1499418128-531979580/statement-of-dprk-foreign-ministry-spokesman/ …
North Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister of US Affairs Ri Thae Song told KCNA that, “The DPRK has done its utmost with maximum perseverance not to backtrack from the important steps it has taken on its own initiative,” referring to its promise not to test ICBMs or nuclear weapons, but that the US hasn’t held up its end of the bargain — which, to North Korea, means sanctions relief.
As researcher Joshua Pollack of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (CNS) wrote on Twitter, North Korea has historically tested missiles between February and September. But the language of a “Christmas gift” echoes a July 2017 statement from North Korea’s ministry of foreign affairs that referred to the launch of three ICBMs, all of which landed west of Japan.
“A ‘Christmas gift’ in the form of a test into the Pacific seems not out of the question,” Pollack wrote Tuesday.
“It’s not implausible that they could give the world a Christmas or New Year gift of an ICBM test,” Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at MIT and a member of a member of MIT’s Security Studies Program, told Insider.
“It’s possible this is all aimed at generating pressure and leverage against Trump now, but by the same token, given the consistency and insistence on the deadline, and North Korea’s history of doing what it says it is going to do… let’s see what gift we get,” Narang said.
“North Korea is very careful with its words,” Shea Cotton, also a researcher at CNS, told Insider, indicating that it’s no coincidence North Korea is again using the language of a threatening “gift.”
Dashing through the snow…
North Korean state media KCNA publish fresh pictures of leader Kim Jong Un riding a white horse while visiting battle sites around Mount Paektu
On Dec. 4, new photos surfaced of Kim Jong Un visiting battle sites at Mt. Paektu, a legendary site for North Korea where Kim’s grandfather, the founder of the country, fought Japanese forces as a guerilla. Along with the photos of Kim with family members and military leaders, North Korea also announced a meeting of the Plenary Session of the Central Committee in December, before Kim’s annual New Year’s speech, the equivalent of the State of the Union. It’s expected that this plenary meeting could herald a major announcement about the country’s policy toward the US.
Should North Korea continue this pattern, the US will have lost the only concession Trump managed to wrangle from the DPRK. But experts say that unless the US is willing to take denuclearization off the table, North Korea will likely be testing ICBMs or intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) in the near future — but this time, there may be a few new details, like an overflight of Japan instead of “lofting” its launches, solid-fueled missile launches, or a satellite launch, Cotton told Insider.
The Dec. 3 statement accused Trump of trying to stall ahead of the 2020 elections.
“The dialogue touted by the US is, in essence, nothing but a foolish trick hatched to keep the DPRK bound to dialogue and use it in favor of the political situation and election in the US,” Song said in the statement.
For the second time in two months, Kim Jong Un rides a white horse https://reut.rs/2sK7NKs pic.twitter.com/c2O6pI7tXC
“It’s possible they also see Trump as someone they’re more likely to get a good deal with (compared to a more competent administration) and think he might not be around for much longer, given the looming impeachment and 2020 election,” Cotton told Insider.
Thus far, Trump has done little more than resurrect his “Rocket Man” nickname for Kim Jong Un and threaten a military response to North Korean provocations at a NATO summit Tuesday.
When asked the likelihood that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is bluffing, Cotton said, “Probably zero.”
“North Korea has a pretty sophisticated missile program,” he said. “They can probably test whenever they want more or less. If North Korea ends up not doing something like resuming testing it would only be because they found a reason not to, like the resumption of serious talks with the US.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
North Korea test fired another missile, just one day after South Korea suspended the deployment of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system.
The early morning launch occurred June 8th from the coastal city of Wonsan.
“Multiple projectiles that appear to be short-range, land-to-ship cruise missiles” were fired and flew about 200 kilometers before landing in the Sea of Japan, or East Sea as it is called in Korea, according to South Korea’s Office of Joint Chiefs of Staff.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last month ordered his military to develop the missile capability to precisely target enemy vessels at sea, according to North Korean state media.
During the first week of June, two US aircraft carrier strike groups, the USS Carl Vinson and the USS Ronald Reagan, conducted military exercises in international waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.
The South Korean JCS said the test on June 8th was a direct response to the recent US naval exercises.
“It was to show off the capability of various types of missiles and is an armed protest to show off its precise strike capability against enemy warships regarding the (recent) joint naval training of the U.S. carriers, or to secure an advantage in US and North Korea or inter-Korean relations,” said JCS Chief of Public Affairs Roh Jae-Cheon.
The JCS also noted that North Korea’s test of low-altitude cruise missiles is not a violation of United Nations Security Council sanctions, which specifically prohibit high-altitude ballistic missile and nuclear weapons development.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga also said this cruise missile test did not warrant a response by the United Nations.
“The government has dealt with actions of North Korea based on responses of the international community, however, we don’t think this ( North Korea’s missile launch this time) is something we need to protest against,” he said.
He also confirmed that the North Korean missiles did not reach his country’s exclusive economic zone that extends 370 kilometers from the coast.
The June 8th launch is the fourth missile test by North Korea since South Korean President Moon Jae-in took office May 10, pledging to reduce tensions with Pyongyang through dialogue and engagement. His conservative predecessor, former President Park Geun-hye, was impeached for her alleged ties to a multi-million dollar corruption scandal.
President Moon convened his first meeting of the National Security Council, where he ordered heightened military readiness to respond to any North Korean provocation.
” President Moon condemned [North Korea’s provocation by saying that] what North Korea will gain from this provocation is international isolation and economic difficulties and it will lose the opportunity for development,” said Park Soo-hyun, the spokesman of the presidential office after the NSC meeting.
On June 7th, the Moon administration suspended the further development of THAAD until an environmental survey, required by law, has been completed. A presidential aide was reported to have said that the survey could take up to two years.
THAAD uses six mobile launchers and 48 interceptor missiles to target long-range ballistic missiles using high-resolution radar and infrared seeking technology. Two of the launchers were installed in March.
During the campaign, Moon called for a full review of the THAAD agreement before authorizing deployment.
US President Donald Trump also raised concerns about the agreement when he demanded $1 billion for the American weapons system in April. Officials in both Washington and Seoul subsequently clarified the US would bear the cost of THAAD system’s deployment and South Korea would provide the land and supporting facilities.
Washington considers the advanced anti-missile battery critical for defense against North Korea’s growing nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities.
However China adamantly opposes the THAAD regional deployment that could potentially give the US the means to counter its missile capabilities as well.
And many residents living near the deployment site have raised concerns over the possible negative health effects of the system’s powerful radar, and over the increased danger of North Korea targeting their region if hostiles break out.
Last week, the South Korean Defense Ministry approved the delivery of four remaining launchers without informing the presidential office. The president suspended a deputy defense minster for his role in bypassing the executive oversight function. Kang Kyung-hwa, Moon’s Foreign Minister designate, also called for the National Assembly to debate this national security matter.
On Thursday, the Defense Ministry declined to comment on the status of THAAD because of an internal investigation under way.
In the National Assembly Thursday, conservative Rep. Lee Cheol-woo with the opposition Liberty Korea Party said delaying THAAD is “neglecting the country’s duty,” while fellow party member Rep. Chung Woo-taik accused the Moon government of undermining the US alliance, “while taking no measures whatsoever against North Korea’s missile launches.”
The South Korean presidential spokesman also said that Moon will reaffirm South Korea’s strong commitment to the US alliance when he meets with Trump in Washington later this month.
The Air Force’s and Boeing’s development of the new KC-46A Pegasus tanker has been waylaid by cost overruns and operational issues over the past several years.
Officials from the Air Force and Boeing have said that significant lingering problems, like contact between the KC-46’s refueling boom and the receiving aircraft during refueling, are expected to be resolved this year, ahead of Boeing’s October deadline to deliver 18 of the new tankers.
However, a report from the Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation has cautioned that while the KC-46’s most important systems could operate under EMP conditions, its operational capabilities in such a scenario have not been fully tested.
“While testing indicated the KC-46A flight-critical systems and boom refueling systems are likely survivable to the 6 decibel (dB) contractual requirement, the Program Office approved verification plan did not demonstrate the residual KC-46A mission systems capability during such an event,” according to the report, which covers fiscal year 2017 and was released last week.
“The program uninstalled or deactivated multiple mission-critical systems prior to testing and, therefore, their EMP tolerance was not tested on an aircraft in a mission-representative configuration,” the DOTE report said. “The program pre-deployed the refueling boom with hydraulics deactivated for the EMP test and therefore the capability to deliver fuel during or immediately following the EMP event was not tested.”
A KC-46 Pegasus refuels an A-10 Thunderbolt II, July 15, 2016. (Boeing photo by John D. Parker)
The KC-46 underwent EMP testing in July at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland and at Edwards Air Force Base in California. During the testing in Maryland, the plane received pulses from “a large coil/transformer” above the aircraft, designed to evaluate its “ability to safely operate through electromagnetic fields … under mission conditions,” Boeing said at the time.
The DOET report said no tests were conducted with all flight and mission systems activated — a step required to fully test the aircraft under EMP conditions. But representatives from the Air Force and Boeing said the KC-46 had proven its EMP functionality as mandated by its test plan.
Air Force spokesman Maj. Emily Grabowski told Inside Defense that mission-critical systems has passed testing and that the systems the DOTE report highlighted are “non-critical.” Grabowski added that, overall, the KC-46 met system specifications and that the Air Force was working with DOTE to “reconcile” concerns raised in the report.
Charles Ramsey, a spokesman for Boeing, said EMP testing was conducted according to the Air Force’s test plan and that systems designated critical by that plan showed their functionality on a subsequent flight. “There are no EMP issues on the KC-46,” he told Inside Defense.
The Air Force is planning two tests related to nuclear threats during fiscal year 2018, which began in October and ends in September. One will evaluate the KC-46s ability to launch and fly a safe distance from a simulated nuclear attack on its base, and the other will test the tanker’s “inherent nuclear hardness” to blast, radiation, flash, thermal, and EMP effects, according to the DOTE report.
The DOTE report also notes that the KC-46 contract was awarded with a six-decibel threshold for the aircraft — a standard that the aircraft met during testing in July. However, after the contract was signed, the US military imposed a new 20-decibel standard tanker aircraft.
Without further testing, the report says, the Air Force and US Strategic Command will not know if the tanker meets that new requirement. “The Air Force should re-test the KC-46A in an operationally representative condition to determine the actual EMP design margin,” the report concludes.
‘They’re going to clear out pretty quick’
In December, the FAA granted Boeing an amended type certificate for the Boeing 767-2C, which is the baseline aircraft for the KC-46. The firm still needs to get an FAA supplemental type certificates for the military and aerial-refueling systems needed so the 767-2C can function as a KC-46. Additional tests are expected during the final review process.
The Air Force currently expects to receive the first operational KC-46s by late spring. Air Force Gen. Carlton Everhart, chief of Air Mobility Command, told Air Force Times in December that once testing is finished and the new tankers star arriving, he expects “they’re going to clear out pretty quick” to Air Force bases.
Boeing won the KC-46 program contract 2011, and the Air Force plans to buy 179 KC-46s under the $44.5 billion program. As a part of the contract, Boeing is responsible for costs beyond the Air Force’s $4.82 billion commitment, and as of late 2017, the defense contractor had taken on about $2.9 billion in pretax costs.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has had limited involvement in Pentagon weapons programs, but he issued a stark warning to acquisition officials in November, saying he was “unwilling (totally)” to accept flawed KC-46 tankers.
After 9/11 we vowed that we would never forget. We set out to find those responsible for the horrific attacks and bring them to justice. To remember the people whose lives were taken that day, we erected memorials across the nation as focal points for grief and healing and as symbols of hope for the future. Here are five of the most beautiful, sobering and awe-inspiring.
(Frederic Schwartz Architects—Wikimedia Commons)
1. The Rising—Westchester, New York
Naturally, New York is home to the most 9/11 memorials. The Rising in Westchester remembers the 109 Westchester residents who lost their lives on 9/11 with 109 steel rods intertwined like strands. They rise 80 feet from the ground, “reaching upward to the heavens,” according to the architect. It also includes the names of 10 additional victims who were former Westchester residents etched on stones. A 110th victim from Westchester was unintentionally omitted from the memorial. Since their identification, their name has been added to the stones.
(9/11 Memorial Museum)
2. Postcards—Staten Island, New York
Dedicated on the fourth anniversary of the attacks, the Postcards 9/11 Memorial features two fiberglass structures that resemble postcards. It honors the 275 Staten Islanders who lost their lives on 9/11. Each victim is memorialized with a profile on a granite plaque that lists their name, date of birth and place of work at the time of the attack. The memorial frames the location across the water on Manhattan where the Twin Towers stood. Postcards was the first major 9/11 Memorial to be completed in New York City.
3. Trinity Root—New York, New York
Sculpted by artist Steve Tobin, Trinity Root measures 12.5×20 feet and weighs three tons. The bronze sculpture memorializes the stump of a 70-year-old Sycamore tree that shielded St. Paul’s Chapel from falling debris on 9/11. Unveiled in 2005, the sculpture has since been moved to Trinity’s Retreat Center in Connecticut.
(Boston Logan International Airport)
4. Boston Logan International Airport 9/11 Memorial—Boston, Massachusetts
Boston Logan International Airport houses a permanent memorial to the passengers and crew of United Airlines Flight 175 and American Airlines Flight 11, both of which departed Logan for Los Angeles before they were hijacked and flown into the Twin Towers. A landscaped path leads to a large glass cube that houses two glass panels etched with the names of every person aboard the two planes.
5. Monument to the Struggle Against World Terrorism—Bayonne, New Jersey
Dedicated on the 5th anniversary of the attacks, this memorial stands 10-stories tall and was an official gift from the Russian government to the United States. The sculptor, Zurab Tsereteli, drove by the American Embassy in Russia every day for work. Following the attacks, this daily commute would bring him to tears, inspiring the teardrop focus of the memorial. It highlights the 26 Russians who were killed on 9/11 and also memorializes the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing. The memorial was originally gifted to the local government of Jersey City. After they rejected it, the memorial was placed in its current location in Bayonne.
There are dozens more memorials across the nation that honor the victims of the 9/11 attacks. In big cities and small towns throughout the United States, we keep our promise that we made all those years ago. We will never forget.
The former top U.S. Army commander in Europe said Russian battlefield tactics in eastern Ukraine show sophisticated integration of drones, electronic warfare, and mortar and artillery, posing major challenges for Ukrainian forces.
Retired Lieutenant General Ben Hodges also said on Jan. 24 that U.S. and European allies should do more to publicize Russia’s capabilities on the ground in eastern Ukraine, including the region historically known as the Donbas.
Hodges, who retired as commander of the U.S. Army’s European forces last year, made the comments in Washington, at the Helsinki Commission, a U.S. government agency charged with monitoring human rights in Europe and elsewhere.
The United States and its NATO allies have helped train and supply the Ukrainian armed forces since the outbreak of fighting in eastern Ukraine in April 2014. About 250 U.S. soldiers are helping in the training, Hodges said, plus Canadians and other NATO allies.
In all, more than 10,000 people have been killed and more than 1 million displaced in the conflict pitting Ukrainian forces against Russia-backed separatists.
Russia has repeatedly denied its forces have been involved, or that it has supplied weaponry or equipment, assertions that independent observers and journalists have largely debunked.
Hodges said the recent U.S. decision to supply Ukraine with more sophisticated weaponry, including Javelin anti-tank weapons, was important for persuading the Russians to negotiate an end to the conflict.
“There has to be a diplomatic solution to this,” he said. “Russia has to, at some point, agree to stop supporting the separatists or pull out to allow the re-establishment” of Ukrainian control of its border with Russia.
In eastern Ukraine, Hodges said, there are about 35,000-40,000 Russia-backed fighters, and around 4,000-5,000 are actual Russian military officers or commanders.
He said many of the tanks and vehicles operated by both Ukrainian and Russia-backed forces are now covered with reactive armor, a specialized type of plating designed to protect against rocket-propelled grenades and weapons other than small arms.
He also said Russia-backed commanders have honed tactics that include using drones, artillery, and electronic warfare. That’s allowed Russians forces, for example, to eliminate Ukrainian mortars and artillery units. He said one Ukrainian unit that was using a U.S.-supplied radar was taken out by Russian rocket fire with surprising speed.
“The [Russian] electronic warfare capability; again that’s something we never had to worry with that in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Ukrainians live in this environment,” he said. “So you cannot speak on a radio or any device that’s not secure because it’s going to be jammed or intercepted or worse, it’s going to be found and then it’s going to be hit.”
“Certainly we have the capability to show everybody what Russia is specifically doing in the Donbas, that would be helpful to keep pressure on Russia, to live up to what they’ve said they’re going to do,” he said.
A top Pentagon spokesman said Aug. 3 that U.S. and coalition pressure against the ISIS stronghold in Mosul, Iraq, has taken such a toll on militant commanders that they’ve cut off most communications from the city, including Internet access for civilians there.
Army Col. Chris Garver, the spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve which is battling ISIS in Syria, Iraq and Libya, told reporters that morale among the ISIS fighters and the civilians being held in Iraq’s second largest city is cracking.
“We know that [ISIS] has started cutting off Internet access and really access to the outside world for the citizens inside Mosul,” Garver said. “We know that they’re afraid that Iraqi citizens inside Mosul are going to communicate with the Iraqi Security Forces.”
“We’ve seen that fear in ISIS in Ramadi, and in Fallujah and we’re seeing those indicators inside Mosul as well,” he added.
It’s so bad, Garver said, that ISIS leaders are ordering the execution of local militant commanders in Mosul for “lack of success or failure on the battlefield.”
Top defense officials have hinted the assault on Mosul could launch as soon as the fall and could deal a crushing blow to ISIS worldwide.
“We know that [ISIS] considers Mosul one of the two capitals of the so-called caliphate … and clearly all eyes are focused on Iraq,” Garver said. “So not only would it be a significant physical loss, but the loss of prestige … their reputation as they try to manage it is going to take a big hit when Mosul does fall.”
Garver added that commanders believe there are about 5,000 ISIS fighters in Mosul, with the net tight enough that only small numbers of fighters can get in but not convoy-loads of them.
“At the heyday we saw 2,000 foreign fighters a month coming through Syria,” Garver said. “Now we have estimates of between 200 and 500.”
As Iraqi forces build out the Q-West airfield to support troops there, the noose will tighten around the city and the takedown will begin, Garver added.