One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA - We Are The Mighty
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One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA

Earlier this week, an analysis from US intelligence officials revealed that North Korea has figured out how to fit nuclear warheads on missiles, and that the country may have up to 60 nuclear weapons. (Some independent experts estimate the figure is much smaller).


On August 7, North Korea issued a stark warning to the US: If you attack us, we will retaliate with nuclear weapons.

One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA
Photo from North Korean State Media.

Several American cities, including New York, San Francisco, and Honolulu, have response plans for terrorist attacks, including so-called “dirty bombs” containing radioactive material. But few have publicized plans to deal with a real nuclear explosion.

One exception is Ventura County, a suburb about 60 miles northwest of Los Angeles. In 2003, the local government launched a PSA campaign called “Ready” that aims to educate Americans how to survive a nuclear attack. The goal, according to the campaign site, is to “increase the level of basic preparedness across the nation.”

One of the more recent PSA videos is the one below, published in 2014. It opens with a short message from Ventura County public health officer Dr. Robert Levin, then cuts to a little girl with an ominous expression around the one-minute mark.

“Mom, I know you care about me,” she says. “When I was five, you taught me how to stop, drop, and roll … But what if something bigger happens?” The video then flashes to the girl walking down empty streets alone.

 

(Ventura Country Health Care Agency | YouTube) 

The Ventura County Health Care Agency has published several guides on what to do in the event of a nuclear bomb hitting the area. As the girl says in the video above, the agency’s focus is to “go in, stay in, tune in.”

The scenario assumes a terrorist-caused nuclear blast of about 10 kilotons’ worth of TNT or less. Few people would survive within the immediate damage zone, which may extend up to one or two miles wide, but those outside would have a chance.

Brooke Buddemeier, a health physicist and radiation expert at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, previously told Business Insider that he likes Ventura County’s PSAs because they’re simple and easy to remember. “There is a ton of guidance and information out there,” he said, but “it’s kind of too hard to digest quickly.”

One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA

Buddemeier said you’d have about 15 minutes — maybe a little bit longer, depending on how far away you are from the blast site — to get to the center of a building to avoid devastating exposure to radioactive fallout. Going below-ground is even better.

“Stay in, 12 to 24 hours, and tune in — try to use whatever communication tools you have. We’re getting better about being able to broadcast messages to cell phones, certainly the hand-cranked radio is a good idea — your car radio, if you’re in a parking garage with your car,” he said.

Buddemeier adds, however, that you shouldn’t try to drive away or stay in your car for very long, because it can’t really protect you. Today’s vehicles are made of glass and very light metals, and offer almost no shielding from damaging radiation.

One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA
The protection factor that various buildings, and locations within them, offer from the radioactive fallout of a nuclear blast. The higher the number, the greater the protection. Brooke Buddemeier/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

In large cities, hundreds of thousands of people would be at risk of potentially deadly exposure. But fallout casualties are preventable, Buddemeier said.

“All of those hundreds of thousands of people could prevent that exposure that would make them sick by sheltering. So, this has a huge impact: Knowing what to do after an event like this can literally save hundreds of thousands of people from radiation illness or fatalities,” he said.

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Stolen valor: Marine steals another combat vet’s Purple Heart story

A former Southern California Marine has been handed a 21-month federal sentence for faking a Purple Heart and lifting from another Marine’s combat story to get disability benefits and a free house.


In a rare prosecution under the 2013 Stolen Valor Act, a 35-year-old Iraq war veteran will also have to pay back more than $300,000 to the U.S. government and a Texas charity.

Brandon Blackstone served with 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment out of Twentynine Palms in the Mojave Desert in 2004. He deployed to Iraq in August, during a period of fierce fighting on the Syrian border.

One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA

So did Casey Owens, another 1/7 Marine.

But that’s where the similarities in the two Marines’ stories end — and where Blackstone’s fabrications began.

Prosecutors and fellow Marines say Blackstone fashioned a tale of blast injuries and combat stress based on a horrific explosion that nearly killed Owens and cost him both of his legs.

Owens was in a Humvee that triggered a double anti-mine bomb while responding to a downed U.S. serviceman in September 2004.

Blackstone was in the area and likely witnessed the event. But he wasn’t injured in that attack — or in any other combat incident — according to people who were there, the U.S. Attorney’s office in Texas, and Blackstone’s own lawyer.

In fact, he was evacuated from Iraq after a month with appendicitis.

Also read: This is how the Pentagon had over 120,000 extra Purple Heart medals

But starting at least in 2006, Blackstone began spinning a story of suffering traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder after his Humvee hit a mine in Iraq.

He even fabricated two witness statements to support his claim for U.S. Veterans Affairs Department disability benefits that he received from 2006 to 2015, prosecutors said.

Worse, in the eyes of his fellow Marines, he began showing the photograph of Owens’ mangled Humvee as part of his story about how he was wounded.

“This scumbag lied to try to get s–t. You don’t do that. It’s not honorable. It’s not how we are. It’s personal for me, especially, as a friend of Casey’s,” said Andrew Rothman, a 1/7 Navy corpsman who was a key player in exposing Blackstone’s fraud.

“This kid essentially stole from all of us. And the honor part is bigger to us than the money and the house.”

Blackstone was awarded a 100 percent disability rating and, by claiming to have a Purple Heart, his application for a mortgage-free house was granted by Texas-based Military Warriors Support Foundation.

One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA
The Purple Heart is one of the most recognized and respected medals awarded to members of the U.S. armed forces. (Photo: AP)

Meanwhile, Owens tried to make the best of his life with a double leg amputation and brain injuries, among other medical complications. He moved to Aspen and competed as a Paralympics skier.

But Owens was still in pain. He did national TV interviews describing how he struggled to get the care he needed for his mental and physical wounds. His right leg required additional surgeries that took more of it away.

In October 2014, Owens used a gun to kill himself.

But things for Blackstone were going well. He became a mentor at a Missouri-based veterans charity, Focus Marines Foundation. He even started his own nonprofit group, called The Fight Continues, with two other post-Sept. 11 veterans.

But those brushes with others in the veterans community led to his downfall. His story, including video testimonials he was giving about his combat injuries, didn’t sit right with other 1/7 Marines who dedicated a Facebook thread to discussing it.

Related: Not all PTSD diagnoses are created equal

Eventually, Rothman tipped off the Warriors Support charity that was poised to grant Blackstone the deed to the donated house.

Blackstone pleaded guilty in September to one count of wire fraud and one count of fraudulent representation about the receipt of a military decoration for financial gain.

At his sentencing last month, a federal judge in Texas called Blackstone “shameful,” but gave him credit for accepting blame for his actions. Sentencing guidelines limited his incarceration to 27 months or less, according to news reports. His was given credit for time served since February, so he will serve 18 more months.

Blackstone’s defense lawyer, Justin Sparks, said his client was diagnosed with PTSD and suffered a head injury in Iraq — but not in combat.

The head wound happened when a superior roughed him up in the barracks and he hit his head on a dresser. There were other injuries while in uniform that weren’t related to combat but required surgery, Sparks said. While in the hospital, a higher-ranking Marine informally gave Blackstone a Purple Heart medal to acknowledge his pain — but it wasn’t an official award.

There’s no explaining why Blackstone lied about the Purple Heart or applied for the free home, knowing he wasn’t qualified, the former Marine’s lawyer told the San Diego Union-Tribune.

“There’s not really a good answer for that. He was in a very, very tough time in his life and reached a pitfall there,” Sparks said this week.

Sparks said his client seemed to lose his grasp on reality as the story spun on.

There’s a symptom of PTSD where you are living your life in the third person. You’re always convincing yourself about what is reality,” he said. “It’s almost a coping mechanism.”

Sparks said his client is still rated at 70 percent disabled by the VA.

The lawyer disagreed that Blackstone was appropriating Casey Owens’ story.

“Brandon never claimed his lost his legs,” Sparks said. “The only common elements in the two stories are PTSD, the Purple Heart, and head injuries. There must be at least 1,000-plus soldiers who have those three things.”

Blackstone’s fellow troops don’t buy the PTSD explanation for his behavior. Several of them also were disappointed by his sentence.

One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA
A Marine salutes the memorial stand for his fallen brother. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)

“He was in the grip of his own lies,” said Eric Calley, a former Marine who used his own money to start The Fight Continues with Blackstone.

“That judge should be ashamed. I think (Blackstone) deserves a life sentence for what he did to our veterans.”

Lezleigh Owens Kleibrink, Owens’ sister, said her family was hoping for closure from a tougher sentence but didn’t get it.

Kleibrink said she has no doubts that Blackstone was trying to at least bask in the association with her brother’s reputation.

“He was a thief and Casey’s story was a means to get what he wanted,” she told the San Diego Union-Tribune this week.

Further reading: Here are the criteria that entitle a service member to the Purple Heart

“What Brandon doesn’t understand is that it’s ripped open our wounds once again,” Kleibrink said. “Anyone who makes my mother cry like this … He may have joined the Corps, but he was no Marine.”

The Military Warriors Support Foundation said it was the charity’s first brush with stolen valor in awarding more than 750 homes to combat-wounded veterans.

“This was an unusual case, in that even official VA documentation was inaccurate,” said spokesman Casey Kinser. “That said, we are constantly reviewing our processes to vet our applicants more accurately and efficiently.”

The Fort Worth-area house that Blackstone nearly owned has been awarded to another Marine family.

MIGHTY TRENDING

What happened when a Coast Guard icebreaker caught fire near Antarctica

During its return from an annual supply run to the McMurdo research station in Antarctica, the US Coast Guard’s only heavy icebreaker, the Polar Star, had a fire break out inside its incinerator room as it sailed about 650 miles north of McMurdo Sound.

The incident occurred on Feb. 10, 2019, after the icebreaker had left Antarctica, where it had cut a channel though nearly 17 miles of ice that was 6 to 10 feet thick to allow a container ship to offload 10 million pounds of supplies that will sustain US research stations and field camps in Antarctica.


According to a Coast Guard release, four fire extinguishers failed during the initial response, and it ultimately took two hours for the ship’s fire crews to put out the blaze. While damage from the flames was contained inside the incinerator housing, water used to cool nearby exhaust pipes damaged electrical systems and insulation in the room.

One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA

Smoke from a fire aboard the Coast Guard heavy icebreaker Polar Star, Feb. 10, 2019.

(US Coast Guard photo)

One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA

A fire in the incinerator room of the Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star, Feb. 10, 2019.

(US Coast Guard photo)

“It’s always a serious matter whenever a shipboard fire breaks out at sea, and it’s even more concerning when that ship is in one of the most remote places on Earth,” Vice Adm. Linda Fagan, commander of the US Coast Guard’s Pacific Area, said in a release. “The crew of the Polar Star did an outstanding job — their expert response and determination ensured the safety of everyone aboard.”

Point Nemo, the most remote spot on earth, is also in the South Pacific — 1,670 miles from the nearest land, which is Ducie Island, part of the Pitcairn Islands, to the north; Motu Nui, one of the Easter Islands, to the northeast; and Maher Island, part of Antarctica, to the south.

One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA

Coast Guard crew members fight a fire aboard the icebreaker Polar Star, Feb. 10, 2019.

(US Coast Guard photo)

One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA

A disabled fishing vessel is towed through sea ice near Antarctica by the Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star, Feb. 14, 2015.

(US Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class George Degener)

The Polar Star is the Coast Guard’s only heavy icebreaker, capable of smashing through the thick ice that builds up in the Arctic and around Antarctica. As such, it makes the run to McMurdo every year in the winter months and then goes into dry dock for maintenance and repairs in preparation for the next trip.

Having just one working heavy icebreaker has hindered the Coast Guard’s ability to meet request from other government agencies. The service could only do 78% of heavy icebreaking missions between 2010 and 2016, according to a 2017 Government Accountability Office Report.

Retired Adm. Paul Zukunft, who was Coast Guard commandant between mid-2014 and mid-2018, said in December 2018 that he turned down a request to carry out a freedom-of-navigation exercise in the Arctic out of concern the Polar Star would break down and need Russia to rescue it.

One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA

Contractors work on the Polar Star’s hull as the icebreaker undergoes depot-level maintenance at a dry dock in Vallejo, California, in preparation for its future polar-region patrol, April 16, 2018.

(US Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew S. Masaschi)

One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA

US Coast Guard scuba divers work to repair a leak in the shaft seal of the Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star, January 2019.

(US Coast Guard photo)

The Polar Star left its home port in Seattle on Nov. 27, 2018, to make the 11,200-mile trip to Antarctica for the sixth time in as many years. It suffered a number of mechanical problems on the way there, including smoke damage to an electrical switchboard, ship-wide power outages, and a leak in the propeller shaft.

Repairing the propeller-shaft leak required the ship to halt icebreaking operations and deploy divers to fix the shaft seal. The Polar Star also had a number of mechanical issues during its 2018 run to McMurdo.

One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA

The Polar Star sailed into Wellington, New Zealand, on Feb. 18, 2019, for a port call, the first time those aboard had set foot on land in 42 days, according to New Zealand news outlet Stuff. The ship is currently on its way back to Seattle, the Coast Guard said in its release.

Source: Stuff

One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA

The Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Sea passing the Polar Star in the ice channel near McMurdo, Antarctica, Jan. 10, 2002.

(US Coast Guard photo by Rob Rothway)

One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA

A seal on the ice in front of the Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star while the ship was hove-to in the Ross Sea near Antarctica, Jan. 30, 2015.

(US Coast Guard photo by Carlos Rodriguez)

The Coast Guard has been pushing to build a new heavy icebreaker for some time, setting up a joint program office with the Navy to oversee the effort. Funding for the new ship had been held up in Congress, but lawmakers recently approved 5 million to start building a new one and another million for materials for a second.

In summer 2018, the Senate approved 5 million for the new icebreaker, but the House of Representatives instead authorized billion to build the US-Mexico border wall sought by President Donald Trump, cutting a number of programs, including that of the icebreaker in the process.

But Congressional staffers told USNI News in February 2019 that the Homeland Security Department’s fiscal year 2019 appropriation would include 5 million for new icebreakers.

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

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28 rarely seen photos from the Vietnam War

The Vietnam War was gritty and painful. These 28 photos from the U.S. National Archives provide another glimpse of what U.S. Marines and their South Vietnamese partners went through in that long war:


1. A U.S. Marine officer teaches a Vietnamese recruit to use a grenade launcher.

One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA
Marine Maj. Hubert G. Duncan, operations officer with the 4th Combined Action Group, instructs a Vietnamese Popular Force soldier in the use of the M-79 grenade launcher. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. R. D. Lucas)

2. Vietnamese Rangers move across the landing zone as a Marine helicopter takes off.

One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA
An ARVN Ranger and a CH-46D helicopter from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 263 are silhouetted against the early morning sky near An Hoa. The Rangers were participating in Operation Durham Peak. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Bob Jordan)

3. Vietnamese armor soldiers try to get their gun into operation.

One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA
4th Army of the Republic of Vietnam armor at Quangi Nai in January 1970. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Pavey)

4. A U.S. Marine and a Vietnamese Ranger search for enemy weapons.

One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA
A Marine from the FLC’s Provisional Rifle Company and an ARVN Ranger probe for enemy weapons during a search of Xuan Thiue village near FLC on March 11, 1970. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. A. Wiegand.)

5. American Marines enjoy food and mail during a short stayover in their base village.

One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA
Combined Action Program Marines receive mail and an occasional hot meal upon returning to their base village. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. R.F. Ruis)

6. Vietnamese rangers practice inserting into and exfiltrating from the jungle on special purpose ladders from a Marine helicopter.

One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA
View of CH-46 helicopter passing over photographer as it carries nine ARVN Rangers hanging on an insertion ladder. The rangers are undergoing training in recon ladder insertion-extraction methods at first recon battalion area. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

7. Vietnamese and U.S. troops get ready for a night ambush.

One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA
American and Vietnamese Marines are assigned their positions before departing for their night ambush site in 1970. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. R. F. Ruiz)

8. A Marine trainer assists a Vietnamese student.

One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA
A Vietnamese Popular Force trainee is aided through a barbed wire entanglement on the infiltration course at Mobile Training Team-1 located just outside Tam Ky on July 28, 1968, by Sgt. William C. Gandy. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lt. Joe Collins)

9. A soldier shot by a sniper smokes a cigarette as another soldier looks at the carbine magazine that caught the incoming round, preventing further injury.

One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA
A Popular Force soldier from the village of Hoa Vang steadies himself against a hut after receiving an enemy sniper bullet in his ammunition belt. He received a minor burn as a result of the bullet, which lodged in a carbine magazine. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Bartlett)

10. Marines conducting a joint operation with the Vietnamese catch a break on armored personnel carriers.

One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA
Marines on sweep with ARVNs on amphibious personnel carriers about 7 miles southwest of Danang on Jan. 8, 1970. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. R.D. Bell)

11. A joint force rushes to remove supplies from a U.S. helicopter.

One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA
April 16, 1964. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

12. A U.S.-Vietnamese patrol moves through sand dunes during a mission.

One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA
A patrol of Vietnamese Popular Forces and U.S. Marines of Combined Action Program, 3rd Marines, 3rd Regiment and 3rd Battalion, move out across dunes bordering Quang Xuyen village to the south of Danang on March 28, 1970. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. H.M. Smith)

13. A Vietnamese trainee practices ambushing North Vietnamese forces during a training activity with the U.S.

One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA
A Vietnamese Popular Force soldier and U.S. Marine Cpl. Gilbert J. Davis practice ambush techniques outside the compound of Mobile Training Team-1 near Tam Ky on July 28, 1968. The Vietnamese received two weeks of Marine training. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lt. Joe Collins)

14. A Marine shows a Vietnamese soldier how to operate the M-60 machine gun during training.

One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA
Lance Cpl. Larry W. Elen and an ARVN soldier prepare to fire the M-60 machine gun in mid-December 1969. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. G. J. Vojack)

15. American and Vietnamese troops rush into position as Viet Cong fighters attempt to escape.

One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA
A Popular Force automatic rifleman and his assistant provide cover while a U.S. Marine advances and a Popular Force riflemen leaps over a row of cactus to pursue fleeing Viet Cong. The action occurred during a joint search and sweep operation near Chu Lai on Aug. 24, 1966. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Mincemoyer)

16. American and Vietnamese troops share the map during a clearing operation.

One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA
Elements of companies A and C of the 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry, joined forces with the 72nd Regional Forces Recon Co., and the 196th Regional Forces co. in a three-day operation near Ky Tra, 40 miles south of Danang. The operation was designed to destroy Viet Cong base camps. Several camps were found along with numerous documents, food, and weapons. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

17. A U.S. Marine checks a local citizen’s identification.

One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA
Marine Sgt. Williams ‘Budda’ Biller of the Combat Action Program makes a routine check of a villager’s ID Card. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. H.M. Smith)

18. Troops patrol a village destroyed by the Viet Cong after the locals refused to give aid to the fighters.

One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA
During the night of June 10, 1970, Viet Cong terrorist units attacked the villages of Phanh-Ban and Phanh-My near Danang for two hours. More than half of the villages were totally destroyed by fire and explosives used by sapper attackers because the villagers were loyal to the Saigon government and refused to support local Viet Cong activities or give rice to Communists. The few Popular Force Troops were surprised by the attack and more than 150 villagers were killed. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Berkowits)

19. A U.S. Marine rests during operations.

One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA
Private First Class Russell R. Widdifield of 3rd Platoon, Company M, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, takes a break during a ground movement 25 miles north of An Hoa, North Vietnam. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

20. A U.S. Marine on patrol.

One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA
Marines of Company I, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, Cross an open field while on patrol 8 miles south of the city of Da Nang. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

21. A U.S. Marine teaches a Popular Force soldier to operate the PRC-25.

One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA
Marine Cpl. J. R. Stien gives a Popular Force soldier an instruction on the operation of the PRC-25 in late-November 1969. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. G. J. Voljack).

22. A U.S. Marine NCO teaches a firefighter how to properly use his new gas mask.

One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA
Marine Sgt. Lawrence J. Marchlewski instructs Vietnamese fire fighters in the proper use of their gas mask. The device allows firemen to combat flames in heavy smoke. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. G.W. Heikkinen)

23. A Marine instructor helps a Vietnamese student after an underwater exercise.

One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA

24. Marines and Vietnamese troops offload rice confiscated from a Viet Cong cache.

One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA
American Marines assist two Vietnamese Popular Force soldiers unloading rice from a small sampan. The rice was confiscated from a Viet Cong cache in the walls of a hut in Phu Bai village on Oct. 23, 1966. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Highland)

25. Vietnamese Rangers load onto Marine helicopters for a multi-battalion air assault mission.

One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA
Army of the Republic of Vietnam Rangers board CH-46D helicopters from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 263. The ARVN Rangers spearheaded a multi-battalion Allied helicopter assault. Operation Durham Peak got underway as the first rays of sunlight glinted from the whirling rotor blades. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Bob Jordan)

26. Reconnaissance Marines ride to a new insertion point.

One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA
Marines of Company C, 1st Recon Battalion, ride in a CH-46 helicopter to their next insertion point in May 1970. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. W. P. Barger)

27. A Marine checks out the home of local pigeons used by the Viet Cong to communicate without the Americans intercepting their messages.

One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA
Marine Cpl. Donald L. Carlson, 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, examines a pigeon coop used by the Viet Cong for carrier pigeons on Oct. 24, 1965, in the 28-structure Viet Cong compound discovered during Operation Trailblazer. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Costello)

28. A Joint U.S.-Vietnamese flag raising ceremony.

One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA
Marines and Popular Forces of TANGO-1 Combined Unit Pacification Program perform a joint flag raising ceremony in Le Soa Village on Sep. 3, 1970. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. R. F. Rappel)

MIGHTY TRENDING

Russia’s new bomber deployment is inflaming tensions

Two Russian Tu-160 nuclear-capable strategic bombers arrived in Venezuela on Dec. 10, 2018, and their presence has already prompted dueling statements from Washington and Moscow.

The bombers landed at Maiquetia Airport outside Caracas after a 6,200-mile flight, the Russian Defense Ministry said. They were accompanied by an An-124 military transport plane and an Il-62 long-range aircraft.


The Defense Ministry said the journey took the bombers through the Arctic and Atlantic oceans, but the flight was “in strict compliance with international rules of the use of airspace.”

Moscow didn’t say if the bombers carried weapons, but they are capable of carrying conventional or nuclear-armed missiles with a range of 3,400 miles.

One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA

A Russian Tu-160 in flight.

Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez has said the Russian aircraft would conduct joint flights with Venezuelan planes. Moscow hasn’t said how long this trip would last, but it has already drawn a response from the US, which views Venezuela as its most significant foe in the region.

“Russia’s government has sent bombers halfway around the world to Venezuela,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Twitter. “The Russian and Venezuelan people should see this for what it is: two corrupt governments squandering public funds, and squelching liberty and freedom while their people suffer.”

The Pentagon also criticized the deployment, contrasting it with the US dispatching the hospital ship USNS Mercy, which treated tens of thousands of patients, many of them Venezuelans, on a tour of South America in 2018.

“As the Venezuelan government seeks Russian warplanes, the United States works alongside regional partners and international organizations to provide humanitarian aid to Venezuelans fleeing their crisis-racked nation,” Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon said Dec. 10, 2018. “We maintain our unwavering commitment to humanity.”

The Kremlin rebuked Pompeo, with Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov telling reporters that Pompeo’s comments were “rather undiplomatic” and that Moscow “consider[s] this statement to be totally inappropriate.”

One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

(Photo by Mark Taylor)

He also chided the US for labeling the deployment as a waste of money. “It is not appropriate for a country half of whose defense expenditure would be enough to feed all of Africa’s people to make such statements,” Peskov said.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry also joined the fray. In a statement released Dec. 11, 2018, the ministry said it acknowledged that “tweets” did not “bind anyone to anything in the US in general.”

“However in this situation an official is involved, so this disregard of the rules of diplomatic ethics cannot be seen as a statement ‘to dismiss,'” the ministry added. “What the secretary of state said is inadmissible, not to mention that it is absolutely unprofessional.”

Good friends, but not best friends

Tu-160 bombers last visited Venezuela in 2013 and 2008, the latter trip coming during heightened tensions over Russia’s war with Georgia. Tensions between Washington and Moscow are again heightened, amid Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and meddling in the 2016 US presidential election, but Moscow’s ties to Caracas are longstanding.

“In the Chávez era, Russia was a major arms supplier to Venezuela, and Russia’s state-owned oil company, Rosneft, remains a major player in Venezuela’s collapsing oil sector,” Benjamin Gedan, former South America director on the National Security Council and a fellow at the Wilson Center, said in an email.

“In recent years, as once prosperous Venezuela became an international panhandler, Russia renegotiated loans to postpone sovereign default,” Gedan added.

Russia remains one of the most important international allies for the increasingly isolated regime of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, Gedan said, but that support is not as robust as it may appear.

One CA county goes nuclear with this post apocalyptic PSA

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Russia’s own oil industry has faced headwinds, and its economy has been strained by sanctions imposed by the US and European Union after its 2014 annexation of Crimea. While Russian President Vladimir Putin remains broadly popular, backlash to a government plan to raise pension ages has dented his standing.

“Russia’s generosity is motivated in part by its desire to prop up a Latin American regime that is hostile to US interests,” Gedan said. “That said, Moscow does not have the wherewithal to bail out Venezuela. Given the impacts of sanctions and relatively low oil prices, Russian support for Venezuela these days mostly involves purchases of oil assets priced to sell by the desperate Venezuelan government.”

Maduro returned from a three-day visit to Russia last week touting billion in investments, including a billion pledge for joint oil ventures and a Russian agreement to send 600,000 metric tons of wheat to Venezuela in 2019.

But officials in Russia questioned those deals, with one Rosneft official telling the Financial Times that the amount of new oil investments mentioned by Maduro sounded “suspiciously close” to the amount of the existing agreement.

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

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These foreign tanks now match the M1 Abrams

A handful of foreign tanks — including Russia’s — now match the power of the U.S. Army’s main battle tank, the M1 Abrams, an American general recently testified to Congress.


“I think for the very near term, the Abrams is still near the very top of its class,” said Lt. Gen. John M. Murray, deputy chief of staff for financial management, referring to the third-generation tank built by General Dynamics Corp. that entered service in 1980.

“I think we have parity,” he said during a March 22 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s Airland Subcommittee. “I think there is parity out there. I don’t think we have overmatch.”

Also read: The Navy is developing rail gun rounds for Army Howitzers

Murray’s comments came in response to a question from Sen. Dan Sullivan, a Republican from Alaska and a Marine who served in Afghanistan. He later elaborated on the topic in response to a question from Sen. Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas and chairman of the subcommittee, who asked what foreign tanks are competitive with the Abrams.

“I would say that the Israelis’ — the Merkava — would be one,” Murray said. “The [Russian] T-90 is probably pretty close. People talk about their Armata tank and that’s still, in my mind, not completely fielded. Probably the British tank [Challenger 2] is pretty close. I would not say that we have the world-class tank that we had for many, many years. I’ll be an optimist and say that we’re at parity with a lot of different nations.”

Here’s a closer look at the foreign tanks he mentioned:

Israel’s Merkava MK-IV

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Israel’s Merkava MK-IV (Mark 4) | Israel Defense Forces photo

Israel Defense Forces’ Merkava first entered service in 1978, though the newest model, the MK-IV (Mark 4), entered production in 2004. The 65-ton tank was developed by Mantak and the IDF Ordnance Corp., and carries four crew members. It features a top speed of 40 miles per hour, a range of about 310 miles, a 120mm smoothbore gun. The IDF is moving forward with plans to add to the vehicle the Trophy Active Protection System, which is capable of destroying anti-tank missiles.

Russia’s T-90A

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Russia’s T-90A tank | Russian Defense Ministry image

Russia’s T-90 is a third-generation tank that entered service in 1993, though an upgraded variant, the T-90A, became operational in 2004. The 46-ton tank is made by Ural Design Bureau of Transport Machine-Building (Uralvagonzavod), carries three crew members, and features a top speed of 37 miles per hour, a range of about 340 miles, a 125mm smoothbore gun, as well as an active-protection system.

Russia’s T-14 Armata

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Russia is developing the T-14 Armata next-generation tank to succeed the T-50. | Russian Defense Ministry image

Russia has reportedly stopped buying the T-90 to develop and field the next-generation T-14 Armata tank, which is believed to still be in testing and not yet operational (see Murray’s comments above). The 50-ton tank being developed by Uralvagonzavod is designed to carry a crew of three and feature a top speed of as much as 56 miles per hour, a range of about 310 miles, a 125mm smoothbore gun and an active-protection system.

Britain’s Challenger 2

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Britain’s Challenger 2 tank | U.K. Ministry of Defense photo

The United Kingdom’s FV4034 Challenger 2, made by the British defense giant BAE Systems Plc, entered service in 1998 to replace the Cold War-era Challenger 1. The upgraded variant weighs about 63 tons and carries a crew of four, including a commander, gunner, loader and driver. It features a top speed of 37 miles per hour, a range of 340 miles and a 120mm rifled gun.

Meanwhile, the latest variant of the U.S.-made Abrams, the M1A2, weighs about 72 tons, carries a crew of four, and features a top speed of 42 miles per hour, a range of 243 miles, and a 120mm smoothbore gun. The Army for years has talked about adding active protection to the tracked vehicle, but hasn’t yet.

Murray said the Army is “just about reaching the limits of what we can do with the Abrams, so it is time for us to start looking at a next-generation tank.” But, he added, “There is nothing on the horizon that indicates a fundamental breakthrough in technology where we can come up with a lighter tank.”

A spokesperson for General Dynamics, which makes the Abrams, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

MIGHTY TRENDING

North Korea had a military parade on the eve of the Olympic Games

North Korea held a military parade and rally on Kim Il Sung Square on Feb. 8, just one day before South Korea holds the opening ceremony for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.


More than 10,000 troops trained for the parade at a military airfield for several weeks and residents had practiced in plazas around the North Korean capital with bouquets of plastic flowers to spell out slogans during the parade.

A South Korean government official said tens of thousands of people participated or watched the parade that morning in Pyongyang. It wasn’t clear if Kim Jong Un spoke during the event, as he has on previous prominent national events.

 

 

The South Korean official also says it wasn’t immediately clear whether North Korea displayed strategic weapons such as intercontinental ballistic missiles during the parade. The official didn’t want to be named, citing office rules.

The North had said the parade and rally would mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of its military.

Feb. 8 has been seen as a less important founding anniversary but was elevated this year in part because it is the 70th — a nice round number.

But the Olympics undoubtedly weighed heavily in the decision to elevate the occasion, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is going out of his way to make sure the North will hold attention throughout the games.

Following a last-minute proposal during Kim’s annual New Year’s address, North Korea is sending 22 athletes to compete and a delegation of more than 400 musicians, singers, martial artists, and cheering squads to the games.

Also Read: South Koreans are not happy to be Olympic partners with the North

Kim is also dispatching his younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, to attend the opening ceremony. That, in itself, is a major development — she is one of his closest confidants, holds a senior party position, and her trip will mark the first time any member of the ruling Kim family has visited the South since the Korean War.

The North’s conciliatory moves related to the Olympics have generally been welcomed in the South. The parade, however, was more problematic.

Though possibly best known for their legions of goose-stepping troops, North Korean military parades are the country’s primary means of showing off its most recent advances in military technology — sometimes with aspirational mock-ups.

The North unveiled five new kinds of missiles at its most recent major military parade last April.

Articles

The Soviet conspiracy that almost started World War III will blow your mind

In 1967, a Soviet submarine armed to the teeth with a deadly payload of nuclear missiles mysteriously disappeared off the coast of Hawaii.


During the Cold War, it was not unusual for Soviet and American subs to patrol each other’s coasts for months at a time waiting for orders to pull the trigger in case the war went hot.

“The Soviets called these patrols: ‘war patrols,’ ” said Red Star Rogue author Kenneth Sewell in the video below. “To them, we were at a state of war, and they took this very, very seriously.”

Related video:

www.youtube.com

Although no one knows for sure what happened to the sub, a conspiracy has emerged painting the captain as a hero for sacrificing his ship and crew to divert the apocalyptic scenario.

According to Sewell, Soviet sub K-129 was hijacked by a band of rogue KGB commandos to provoke a war between America and China by making it appear like China attacked Hawaii á la Pearl Harbor.

“They did that to weaken the United States, to strengthen the Soviet Union. Get your two enemies to fight and you pick up the pieces,” Sewell said.

But when the captain realized the mutiny wasn’t authorized by the Soviet government, he gave the KGB operatives the wrong launch codes to his missiles, Sewell alleges.

“When you had an attempted launch with the wrong code it would detonate the warhead, which would cause the missile to explode, which sank the submarine,” Sewell said. “We owe him a really big debt of gratitude. He’s one of these unsung heroes of history that will never really get credit.”

This American Heroes Channel video portrays how the conspiracy would have played out.

Watch:

American Heroes Channel, Youtube
Articles

A Fort Bragg soldier won $2 million and definitely won’t blow it on these 9 things

On Jan. 13, Fort Bragg Army Reserve soldier Johnny Charlestin was celebrating his birthday when he learned that a $3 Powerball ticket he bought was a $2 million winner.


“I didn’t believe it, it was a feeling I’ll never forget,” Charlestin said in a press release from the N.C. Education Lottery. “It’s the best birthday present I’ve ever had.”

Charlestin then decided to leave the public spotlight, which is one of the things experts recommend lottery winners do. Hopefully this means he’s smart enough to invest the money wisely.

But since he’s a Fort Bragg soldier, there’s also a real chance he’ll spend his money this way:

1. Taxes will be taken out

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Photo: flickr/Ken Teegardin, Senior Living Center

30.75 percent, or $615,000 goes right back into government coffers. That leaves the enterprising soldier with $1,385,000.

2. Dip and jerky

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons/OAC

The winner’s first stop will be base shoppette where he’ll pick up the proper amount of dip for millionaire soldiers, as well as a little jerky to much on.

3. New car

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GIF: Giphy

This is an obvious stop, but for some reason, the new millionaire will still take out loans of 20 percent or more. Over the next five years, that b-tchin’ Corvette will cost him as much as a Lambo would’ve if he’d paid cash.

4. Electronics store

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Photo: Wikipedia/Chris McClave

Every new video game console, 10-20 games for each, a huge TV, and surround sound. A few movies will round out the purchase, about 500 of them. Most of the movies are about World War II paratroopers.

5. Adult “book” store

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Photo: flickr/leyla.a

This is for other movies. We will not explain further.

6. House

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Wikipedia/Andrew (Tawker)

Finally, the soldier will find a new place to live. Unfortunately, he’ll only realize after the fact that his surround system doesn’t properly fill the new entertainment room with sound. Since he threw away the receipts, he’ll buy a new one and give the old system to a groupie (he’ll have those now).

7. Energy drinks

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This will take up more money than any non-soldiers would expect.

8. All the booze

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There are roughly infinity liquor stores at the Fort Bragg perimeter, as well as a Class VI store on base. These will become empty.

9. Noise citations

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Photo: Wikipedia/Highway Patrol Images

Once the party starts, Fayettnam police officers will be visiting every 15 minutes or so and writing a ticket. By the end of the night, the lottery money will be almost played out.

By the second week, the former millionaire will be attending finance classes on base and applying for an Army Emergency Relief loan to make his payments for the Corvette.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Truman, Lincoln strike groups practice warfighting as a pair

USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) and USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) began dual-carrier sustainment and qualification operations Aug. 29, 2018 in the western Atlantic Ocean.

“By training and operating together, the USS Harry S. Truman and USS Abraham Lincoln strike groups enhance combat readiness and interoperability, and also demonstrate the inherent flexibility and scalability of carrier strike groups,” said Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group Commander Rear Adm. Gene Black. “The opportunity to conduct complex, multi-unit training better prepares us to answer our nation’s call to carry out a full range of missions, at anytime, anywhere around the globe.”


The operations include a war-at-sea exercise (WASEX), with scenarios testing the readiness of involved units to carry out strike and air operations as well as formation steaming. These evolutions provide both carriers, with embarked air wings and accompanying surface ships, the opportunity to operate in close proximity and coordinate maneuvers cooperatively.

“We are the best Navy in the world, and given the complex and competitive environment we are in, we can’t take anything for granted or settle for the status quo,” said Abraham Lincoln Strike Group Commander Rear Adm. John Wade. “Therefore, we have to work hard, train hard and uphold the highest standards and commit ourselves to excellence each and every day. The training conducted with Harry S. Truman Strike Group enabled us to increase our lethality and tactical proficiency. It also demonstrated our Navy’s ability to achieve and maintain sea control.”

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USS Harry S. Truman.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kristina Young)

Participating in the exercise are the embarked air wings of Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 7 and CVW-1, as well as select surface assets from CSG-8 and CSG-12.

Harry S. Truman deployed on April 11, 2018, and is currently deployed conducting operations in the Atlantic Ocean.

Abraham Lincoln is underway in the Atlantic Ocean with Carrier Strike Group 12 conducting Operational Test-1 (OT1) for the F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.

For more news from USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), visit http://www.navy.mil/local/cvn75/, http://www.facebook.com/CVN75/, or http://twitter.com/USSHARRYSTRUMAN. For more news from USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), visit www.navy.mil/local/cvn72/ or www.facebook.com/USSLincoln/.

Featured image: USS Abraham Lincoln.

This article originally appeared on the United States Navy. Follow @USNavy on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Germany wants a new nuclear-capable fighter

Germany wants to replace its fleet of 89 Tornado combat jets with a new aircraft that retains the plane’s nuclear capability, but doing so may mean the US gets a say about which aircraft the Luftwaffe ultimately picks, according to Defense News.

As part of a Cold War-era NATO deal, Germany’s Tornados were equipped to carry nuclear weapons in case of a major clash between the alliance and the Soviet Union. That threat waned after the Cold War, as did the number of US nuclear weapons in Germany, but about 20 of the weapons are still there.


Germany is deciding between three US planes — the F-35 and variants of the F-15 and F/A-18 — and a version of the Eurofighter Typhoon being developed by a European consortium.

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A German air force Eurofighter Typhoon taxis to the runway at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska before a combat-training mission, June 11, 2012.

(Photo by Tech Sgt. Michael Holzworth)

Berlin wants to replace the Tornado — which has been plagued by technical issues— by the mid-2020s. (Germany’s Typhoons have also had problems.) It is leaning toward the European-made Typhoon, but its desire to maintain that nuclear capability could mean the Trump administration will try to play politics with the purchase.

This spring, Berlin asked Washington whether it would certify the Typhoon to carry nuclear weapons, how long it would take to do so, and how much it would cost.

The certification process can take years. European officials working on the Typhoon have said they were confident it could be nuclear-certified by 2025, but US officials have said the process could take seven to 10 years, according to Reuters.

US officials have said that the F-35 and other aircraft must be certified for nuclear weapons first, and a Pentagon spokesman told Defense News that while Germany’s Tornado replacement was “a sovereign national decision,” the US believes “that a U.S. platform provides the most advanced, operationally capable aircraft to conduct their mission.”

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F-35As taxi down the flight line at Volk Field during Northern Lightning, Aug. 22, 2016

(Photo by Senior Airman Stormy Archer)

The Trump administration has pushed European countries to spend more on their own defense, and Trump’s broadsides against NATO have helped inspire European officials to do so. But the Trump administration has also sought to boost exports of US-made weaponry, and US officials have grown concerned about European defense initiatives reducing US defense firms’ access to that market.

Those latter concerns mean the Trump administration could try to nudge Germany toward a US-made aircraft.

But Trump’s contentious dealings with Germany have reinvigorated debate in that country about acquiring its nuclear weapons or developing them with other European countries — ideas that are still anathema for many in Germany, where memories of the destruction and division of World War II and the Cold War linger.

That aversion to nuclear weapons and wariness of Trump may mean Germany will continue doing what it has been doing — paying the financial and political price to keep the nuclear-capable Tornadoes in the air.

“That’s why they will keep flying the Tornados, despite the price tag and despite having asked about a Eurofighter nuclear certification in Washington,” Karl-Heinz Kamp, president of government think tank the Federal Academy for Security Policy, told Defense News.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

Audie Murphy: American war hero, actor, advocate

Audie Murphy was an American actor known for his Western films. However, his initial claim to fame came from being the most decorated U.S. combat soldier of World War II. He was born in 1925 in a small Texas town to poor sharecroppers. Murphy joined the Army in 1942 after falsifying his birth certificate to ensure he could enlist before he was eligible.

During WWII, Murphy was credited with killing 240 members of enemy forces and capturing or wounding many others. In his three years of active service, he became a legend among the 3rd Infantry Division, and is considered one of the best fighting combat soldiers of this or any other century. The U.S. Army has declared that there will never be another Audie Murphy. That is most likely the case too, with modern day technology and modern warfare, it is unlikely any soldier will ever live up to the legend of Audie Murphy.


Murphy became the most decorated soldier of WWII by earning 33 awards and decorations. He was awarded every decoration for valor the United States offers, some more than once. These awards included the Medal of Honor, the highest military award for bravery that can be given to an individual. His awards from the war also included five decorations from France and Belgium.

Audie Murphy was released from active duty on September 21, 1945. After his release, he went to Hollywood at the invitation of actor James Cagney who had seen his picture on the cover of Life Magazine. After years of hardship, struggle to find work and sleeping in a local gymnasium, Murphy finally received token roles in his first two films.

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(Wikimedia Commons)

Murphy’s first starring role came in 1949. In 1950, he received a contract with Universal-International (now known as Universal). He starred in 26 films over the next 15 years, 23 of which were Westerns. Murphy also filmed 26 episodes of a Western television series which went to air on NBC in 1961. Despite good reviews, Murphy’s series was deemed too violent. Only 20 episodes were aired before it was cancelled.

Audie Murphy suffered from what is known today as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He was plagued for years by insomnia and depression. By the mid-1960s, Murphy became dependent on a prescribed sleeping medication, Placidyl. When he realized he had become addicted to the medication, he locked himself inside of a motel room, stopped taking the pills and suffered through the withdrawal symptoms for a week.

Murphy used his fame to help advocate for the needs of U.S. veterans. Unlike most during that time, he chose to speak out about his experiences and struggles with PTSD, known as “Battle Fatigue” at the time. He called out the U.S. government to look closer at and study the emotional impacts of war and urged them to extend health benefits to address PTSD and other mental health issues of returning war veterans.

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(Wikimedia Commons)

On May 28, 1971, while on a business trip, Audie Murphy’s plane crashed just outside of Roanoke, Virginia. He and five others, including the pilot, were killed in the crash. Murphy was 45 at the time of his death.

On June 7, he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. His gravesite, which is near the amphitheater, is the second most visited grave at Arlington, surpassed only by John F. Kennedy’s grave.

Audie Murphy remains a legend among the members of the U.S. Army. While he was well known for his work as an actor in Hollywood, his memory will live on as a true American hero.

Articles

House-Senate to negotiate key military benefit changes

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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.

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