Over the years, the British have taken a good many significant artifacts back to England with them. To its credit, the British Empire did an excellent job of preserving those relics. Still, plundering any country’s cultural treasures is kind of an a-hole thing to do. But there is one set of priceless antiquities that the British can feel good about rescuing and returning.
This one isn’t their fault.
One of the most troublesome incidents of the U.S.-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years was the theft and complete loss of priceless cultural treasures from the distant fields and local museums around these two countries. Many of the things looted in the chaos of these two conflicts may never be seen again. Not so for nine sculpted heads from the Fourth Century AD. These were intercepted at London’s Heathrow Airport in 2002 on a flight from Pakistan. The British Museum took control of the sculptures and restored them – but how did they get there?
It’s because the Taliban are the a-holes in this situation.
They usually are the a-holes in any situation.
These statue heads would have been atop artworks in the Buddhist temples of the ancient kingdom of Gandhāra some 1,500 years ago. The kingdom of Gandhāra straddled parts of what is today India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan at the time. As for what happened to the temples and the statues, the Taliban blew them up with dynamite. The terror group’s biggest destructive act was the use of anti-tank mines on Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Temples, which destroyed the beautiful pre-Islamic statues along the temple walls. The heads that were found in London were probably smuggled through Pakistan and on their way to the black market.
After their discovery, the British Museum was called in to document and catalog the priceless ancient sculptures. The heads will be on display in the museum for a short time, but will then be returned to the people of Afghanistan.
Just before 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 28, 1959, in the clear sky 5 miles north of Prescott, Arizona, something went wrong aboard an Air Force C-121G Super Constellation aircraft. The pilots, Navy Lt. j.g. Theodore Rivenburg and Cmdr. Lukas Dachs, had mere seconds to react as their large transport plane stalled 1,500 feet above the rough granite and cactus-covered ground below.
Rivenburg and Dachs throttled up their four-radial piston engines and tried to raise the nose as the silver plane made a right turn 2 miles south of the Prescott Municipal Airport. As the turn tightened, the bank steepened and the Super Connie snap rolled into a near-vertical dive.
The pilots had no time to recover.
March 1, 1959, cover of the Arizona Republic with news of the Constellation Crash outside Prescott, Arizona. Courtesy of Newspapers.com.
Witnesses driving on state Route 89 told an Arizona Republic reporter that the plane “exploded ‘like an atom bomb’ as it slammed into the ground alongside the highway.”
In addition to Rivenburg and Dachs, the crash killed everyone else on board, including Lt j.g. Edward Francis Souza, Petty Officer 2nd Class James Miller, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Calvin Coon.
Sixty-one years later, the reasons behind the accident remain a mystery. The Air Force investigated, but the plane wasn’t equipped with a flight data recorder, so investigators had limited information about those terrifying final moments. The Air Force’s redacted crash report, released via a Freedom of Information Act request, notes good weather and no mechanical issues, and describes the crash’s cause as “undetermined.”
Remnants of wreckage from the C-121G that crashed near Prescott, Arizona, on Feb. 28, 1959. Photo by Brandon Lingle/Coffee or Die Magazine.
Over the years, scrub brush and manzanita grew over the blackened scars of the accident site. Monsoon thunderstorms and winter winds veiled the scraps of aluminum and wiring beneath sand and gravel. The bright Arizona sun turned the relics a pale gray. With each year, fewer and fewer of those who remember the crash remain. The tragedy might have faded completely if the city of Prescott hadn’t purchased 80 acres that included the crash site in 2009 to create a recreation area on the land.
By chance, the Prescott trail manager and some concerned citizens recovered the lost saga, and the city of Prescott dedicated the Constellation Trails to the memory of the crew in a powerful combination of history and outdoor recreation.
The vision for Lockheed’s Constellation aircraft began in a 1939 meeting between Howard Hughes and corporate brass. Hughes wanted a fleet of commercial aircraft for moving passengers and cargo across the country, and Lockheed wanted his business. The result was a first-of-its-kind commercial plane that, according to Lockheed, featured the industry’s first hydraulic power controls, cruising speeds faster “than most World War II fighters at 350 mph,” and a pressurized cabin for 44 passengers that allowed the plane to fly above most bad weather, creating a smooth and comfortable ride.
The Lockheed VC-121A Constellation 48-0614 Columbine was the personal aircraft of Dwight D. Eisenhower when he was commander at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe in the early 1950s. It is now preserved at the Pima Air Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.
By 1942, the military saw the Constellation as a potential transport, and in 1944 Hughes broke cross-country speed records in the olive-green military version called the C-69. After World War II, TWA bought the military’s C-69s and converted them into commercial aircraft. In 1951, Lockheed introduced the Super Constellation, which featured “air conditioning, reclining seats and extra lavatories,” as well as unheard-of fuel efficiency.
From the 1950s through the 1970s, Super Constellations crisscrossed the globe as commercial and military workhorses. They saw action in Korea and Vietnam. In addition to hauling troops and cargo, Super Connies ran rescue missions, mapped Earth’s magnetic field, acted as the earliest airborne early warning platforms, hauled scientists to Antarctica, served as the Navy Blue Angels’ support plane, and even became the first Air Force One under President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
The crew of the ill-fated Super Connie, tail number 54-4069, was assigned to Navy logistics support squadron VR-7 at Moffett Field, California. The unit — part of the joint Military Air Transport Service, or MATS — moved people, patients, cargo, and mail throughout the Pacific. As part of the MATS, precursor to Military Airlift Command, the Navy operated and maintained the aircraft that belonged to the Air Force. According to a 1959 Naval Aviation News magazine feature on the unit, VR-7 helped maintain a supply line from California to Asia and the Middle East.
THE LAST LOG ENTRY CAME AT 1:44 P.M. […] MINUTES LATER, WHILE FLYING NORTH, AF 4069 MADE THAT RIGHT TURN INTO OBLIVION 2 MILES SOUTH OF THE PRESCOTT AIRPORT.
The southern route passed “through Hawaii, Kwajalein, Guam, and the Philippines. From Manila, the Embassy route continues on to Saigon, Bangkok, Calcutta, New Delhi, Karachi, ending in Dhahran.” And the northern route ran from “California west to Hawaii, Wake Island, thence to Tokyo, returning by way of Midway Island to Hickam.”
The magazine said that the aircraft could carry 76 passengers or 67 litter patients or a payload of more than 10 tons. And in terms of size, “the big Connie exceeds two railroad boxcars in length. If upended, its wings would easily tower higher than a 10-story building.”
The crew was on a nine-day temporary duty trip for training to orient themselves around Naval Air Station Litchfield Park, now Phoenix Goodyear Airport. The Prescott airport’s tower logs show AF 4069 practiced approaches and touch-and-go landings at the airport the day before the crash. Around 8:45 a.m. the following morning, the plane arrived in the area for more practice. At 11:32 a.m., AF 4069 left the area, returned to NAS Litchfield Park, switched aircrews, and took off again at 12:45 p.m.
The No. 1 Wright R-3350 engine starts on Lockheed Super Constellation Southern Preservation of Australia’s Historical Aircraft Restoration Society at Illawarra Regional Airport. The aircraft is an ex-US Air Force C-121C (Lockheed Model 1049F), c/no. 4176, s/no. 54-0157. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.
After departure, the crew most likely conducted high-altitude training, “basic air work and emergencies” until 1:30 p.m. The last log entry came at 1:44 p.m. when the crew reported a forest fire 20 miles south of Prescott. Minutes later, while flying north, AF 4069 made that right turn into oblivion 2 miles south of the Prescott airport.
“The nose came up and a roar of power was heard,” the Air Force crash report states. “The right wing dropped sharply as the plane entered a near vertical dive to the ground, with the right wing leading at time of impact.”
The report continues, “Witness states the gear and flaps were up,” and the next two lines are blacked out.
The “Findings” section says, “The primary cause of this accident is undetermined,” and “investigation of the wreckage revealed no material or mechanical failure.” The last line before a redacted paragraph of recommendations says, “the aircraft apparently stalled too close to the ground to effect recovery.”
The reason for the stall is unknowable.
Constellation Trails. Photo by Brandon Lingle/Coffee or Die Magazine.
The FOIA response came with scanned copies of 23 black-and-white photos of the crash scene. It’s tough to make out much in many of them. The images show big splotches of black and gray with hand-drawn dashed lines and explanations. One photo stands out: Two men stand on the highway looking into a hole, hands tucked in their pockets and fedoras tilted on their heads. In the top middle of the frame, a bucket from a ’50s-era backhoe hangs ready to dig. The text on the photo says: “Location of #4 prop dome 6’2″ depth under highway.”
Chris Hosking, Prescott Trails and Natural Parklands coordinator, had no knowledge of the accident when he began planning the area’s trails. While performing an archeological survey to check for Native American ruins and other historic artifacts, he noticed “all these aluminum shards everywhere.”
So he reached out to Cindy Barks, a reporter at the local paper, the Prescott DailyCourier, who helped him figure out that an airplane had crashed there decades before. He knew then that the community should do something special to honor the fallen aviators.
The city chose to name the trail system after the fallen Constellation. One of Hosking’s son’s friends, Cody Walker, read about the project and stepped up to lead an effort to build a monument and host a dedication ceremony as part of an Eagle Scout project.
The memorial plaque dedicating the trails to those who died in the Super Constellation crash of 1959. Photo by Brandon Lingle/Coffee or Die Magazine.
“He went the extra mile,” Hosking says. “He contacted some of the families of the five airmen who were lost in that crash.”
Several of the aircrew’s children, other family members, and unit alumni came to Prescott for the ceremony.
“It was really emotional, you know, because some of these kids were too young to know their dads,” he says. “They knew their dads died in Arizona, but they didn’t know where or why or what happened, so that was a cool way to put some closure on that whole event for them.”
The Constellation Trails weave through sublime rock formations called the Granite Dells. The red granite boulders look like the backdrop of an old Western movie and have served as the set for many early Westerns and other films since 1912.
Constellation Trails. Photo by Brandon Lingle/Coffee or Die Magazine.
Hosking designed a trail system with an outer loop and multiple cut-throughs to the center. Near the trailhead, scrub oak passageways filter the sunlight, and as the trail gains elevation, the rock formations become more and more impressive.
With names like North 40, Ham and Cheese, Hully Gully, Hole in the Wall, Lost Wall, Ridgeback, and Ranch Road Shortcut, the routes in the Constellation Trail system sound like amusement park rides.
“I usually come up with the names,” says Hosking, an avid mountain biker. “Usually it’s a landmark or a view or something that happened there.”
Carving the trails among granite boulders and navigating rock walls and cacti is hard work. While the community funds the projects, there’s no dedicated workforce to actually build the trails, so Hosking depends on a local volunteer group composed primarily of local retirees called the “Over the Hill Gang.”
The Over the Hill Gang volunteers building the Constellation Trails in 2011. Photo courtesy of Chris Hosking.
“We get about 10,000 hours of volunteer time out of those guys,” says Hosking of the group, which started with four volunteers and now has 60 or 70 active members. “I come up with a crazy plan and design, and then those guys come out and we build trail.”
They built the trails in the Dells with hand tools because they couldn’t get heavy machinery past the boulders. Doing so takes significantly more time and effort.
John Bauer, a retired Air Force navigator, has volunteered with the Over the Hill Gang for more than 10 years, and the Constellation Trails were the first he helped build.
“I loved building those trails,” says the former F-4 weapons systems officer, who also served as a navigator on C-130s and C-141s.
These days, Bauer loves to move boulders, and with the rocky topography of the Dells, he was in luck.
The Over the Hill Gang volunteers building the Constellation Trails in 2011. Chris Hosking is on the left and John Bauer is second from left. Photo courtesy of Chris Hosking.
“Some of the trails in other areas are not as interesting — scraping the weeds off a piece of dirt,” the retired lieutenant colonel says. “I’ve done a lot of that, but it doesn’t give me the same amount of joy as moving rocks.”
The trailhead sits at the north end of the park, and the trails gain elevation as they work their way south. According to Bauer, the high ground near the back of the trail system proved the most challenging to build.
“There was a short little connection that went through a very narrow and steep canyon,” he says. “That was probably one of the most difficult parts because working in those little canyons, it’s hard to move the boulders around.”
With rock bars, leverage, sweat, muscle, and grit, the crew cleared an awe-inspiring trail.
Chris Hosking uses a backhoe to build the Badger Mountain trail near Prescott, Arizona. Photo courtesy of Chris Hosking.
“The bigger the boulder, the more people we need to move them,” Bauer says. “We’ve moved some pretty gigantic boulders.”
Small pieces of the aircraft still lie scattered throughout the area. The crew gathered the pieces they found and placed them next to the memorial near the trailhead.
“If you went out and off the trails, off into the shrubs and stuff there, you could still find pieces of that airplane even after all these years,” Bauer says.
The Constellation Trails are just a few miles of trail in an area that features 104 miles of city-owned trails, as well as hundreds of additional miles of trail on nearby Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management land. Easy access and the variety and number of trails has made this stretch of northern Arizona a hiking and mountain biking destination.
Chris Hosking. Photo courtesy of Chris Hosking.
To understand the Constellation Trails, and the larger Prescott Trail System, it’s important to understand a bit about their creator.
Hosking, originally from the United Kingdom, trained as an industrial designer and spent time in the Silicon Valley working for Apple. One day the lifelong outdoorsman realized, “I didn’t really like that living — that particular lifestyle — so I kind of went freelance and moved up to Mammoth Lakes up in the Sierras.”
While in the Sierras, he delved into trail design. Eventually, Hosking and his wife wanted a bigger town to raise their kids in, and after some research, Prescott ended up No. 1 on both their lists. They arrived in Prescott in 2006, and soon after he became Prescott’s trail master.
In 14 years, he’s taken Prescott from 24 miles of trails to more than 100.
“I would put Prescott up against any community in the country as far as the quality of trails, the variety of trails, the access,” he says. “I wouldn’t put it in the same category as Moab. Moab’s like Disneyland — you go there and it’s got every type of trail. We’re not that, we’re a real town with a great trail system.”
Chris Hosking mountain biking at the Constellation Trails, near Prescott, Arizona. Photo courtesy of Chris Hosking.
Hosking attributes the success to the area’s excellent topography, a variety of vegetation, and a volunteer work crew “who don’t mind busting their ass to get things done.”
“I see Prescott as kind of the whole package because it’s a great place for people who live here, and it’s got a huge variety of very easy trails, and then it’s got very technical trails, and everything in between,” he says.
Gil Stritar, a Prescott Valley resident who hikes nearly every day, says the Constellation Trails are his favorite in the area because of the ease of access and excellent views.
“There’s beautiful photo ops in the narrows sections,” he says. “Most trails in the Granite Dells have big drop-offs and are more remote, so this is a good family choice. Also, this is the most scenic trail in the Dells in my opinion.”
According to Hosking, all the years of hard work, purchasing land, working agreements, and designing and building trails have come into focus this year as the COVID-19 pandemic has spiked visits to trails sometimes by 200 percent to 300 percent. The Constellation Trails have seen 100 percent more traffic.
Constellation Trails. Photo by Brandon Lingle/Coffee or Die Magazine.
“When you have gyms closed and everything is closed, the only way people can really get out and exercise is by going on trails,” Hosking says. “It’s helped us realize what we’ve done and what a benefit it’s been to the community because now people can get out and go hike and get away from things, so we have a lot of stuff to be thankful for.”
Prescott has a large hiking and mountain biking community that’s growing thanks to the National Interscholastic Cycling Association.
“We’ve got seven teams in the area,” says Hosking, including the top two teams in Arizona. “All those kids getting into mountain biking means their parents are getting into mountain biking.”
While some ride their mountain bikes on the Constellation Trails, Hosking says there are usually more hikers due to the rocky terrain and challenging aspects of the trails.
He likes to ride there when he feels like beating himself up and says his favorite trail is “the one I’m on!”
Larry Thorne enlisted in the U.S. Army as a private in 1954, but he was already a war hero. That’s because his real name was Lauri Törni, and he had been fighting the Soviets for much of his adult life.
Born in Finland in 1919, Törni enlisted at age 19 in his country’s army and fought against the Soviet Union in the Winter War of 1939-40, according to Helsingin Sanomat. He quickly rose to the rank of captain and took command of a group of ski troops, who quite literally, skied into battle against enemy forces.
In 1942, he was severely wounded after he skied into a mine, but that didn’t slow him down. In 1944 during what the Finns called The Continuation War, he received Finland’s version of the Medal of Honor — the Mannerheim Cross — for his bravery while leading a light infantry battalion.
Unfortunately for Törni, Finland signed a ceasefire and ceded some territory to the Soviets in 1944 to end hostilities. But instead of surrendering, he joined up with the German SS so he could continue fighting. He received additional training in Nazi Germany and then looked forward to kicking some Commie butt once more.
But then Germany fell too, and the Finn-turned-Waffen SS officer was arrested by the British, according to War History Online. Not that being put into a prison camp would stop him either.
“In the last stages of the war he surrendered to the British and eventually returned to Finland after escaping a British POW camp,” reads the account at War History Online. “When he returned, he was then arrested by the Finns, even though he had received their Medal of Honor, and was sentenced to 6 years in prison for treason.”
He ended up serving only half his sentence before he was pardoned by the President of Finland in 1948.
Getting to America
Törni’s path to the U.S. Army was paved by crucial legislation from Congress along with the creation of a new military unit: Special Forces.
In June 1950, the Lodge-Philbin Act passed, which allowed foreigners to join the U.S. military and allowed them citizenship if they served honorably for at least five years. Just two years later, the Army would stand up its new Special Forces unit at Fort Bragg, N.C.
More than 200 eastern Europeans joined Army Special Forces before the Act expired in 1959, according to Max Boot. One of those enlistees was Törni, who enlisted in 1954 under the name Larry Thorne.
“The Soviets wanted to get their hands on Thorne and forced the Finnish government to arrest him as a wartime German collaborator. They planned to take him to Moscow to be tried for war crimes,” reads the account at ArlingtonCemetery.net. “Thorne had other plans. He escaped, made his way to the United States, and with the help of Wild Bill Donovan became a citizen. The wartime head of the OSS knew of Thorne’s commando exploits.”
A Special Forces legend
Thorne quickly distinguished himself among his peers of Green Berets. Though he enlisted as a private, his wartime skill-set led him to become an instructor at the Special Warfare School at Fort Bragg teaching everything from survival to guerrilla tactics. In 1957, he was commissioned a second lieutenant and would rise to the rank of captain just as war was on the horizon in Vietnam.
But first, he would take part in a daring rescue mission inside of Iran. In 1962, then-Capt. Thorne led an important mission to recover classified materials from a U.S. Air Force plane that crashed on a mountaintop on the Iran-Turkish-Soviet border, according to Helsingin Sanomat. Though three earlier attempts to secure the materials had failed, Thorne’s team was successful.
Thorne quickly made it into the U.S. Special Forces and in 1962, as a Captain, he led his detachment onto the highest mountain in Iran to recover the bodies and classified material from an American C-130 airplane that had crashed. It was a mission in which others had failed, but Thorne’s unrelenting spirit led to its accomplishment. This mission initially formed his status as a U.S. Special Forces legend, but it was his deep strategic reconnaissance and interdiction exploits with Military Assistance Command, Vietnam Studies and Observation Group, also known as MACV-SOG, that solidified his legendary status.
In Vietnam, he earned the Bronze Star medal for heroism, along with five Purple Hearts for combat wounds, War History Online writes. According to Helsingin Sanomat, his wounds allowed him to return to the rear away from combat, but he refused and instead requested command of a special operations base instead.
On Oct. 18, 1965, Thorne led the first MACV-SOG cross-border mission into Laos to interdict North Vietnamese movement down the Ho Chi Minh trail. Using South Vietnamese Air Force helicopters, his team was successfully inserted into a clearing inside Laos while Thorne remained in a chase helicopter to direct support as needed. Once the team gave word they had made it in, he responded that he was heading back to base.
Roughly five minutes later while flying in poor visibility and bad weather, the helicopter crashed. The Army first listed him as missing in action, then later declared he was killed in action — in South Vietnam. The wreckage of the aircraft was found prior to the end of the war and the remains of the South Vietnamese air crew were recovered, but Thorne was never found.
Thorne’s exploits in combat made him seem invincible among his Special Forces brothers, and with his body never recovered, many believed he had survived the crash and continued to live in hiding or had been taken prisoner by the North Vietnamese, according to POW Network.
“Many believed he was exactly the sort of near-indestructible soldier who would have simply walked back out of the jungle, and they found it hard to believe he had been killed,” writes Helsingin Sanomat.
In 1999, the mystery was finally put to rest. The remains of the legendary Special Forces soldier were recovered from the crash site. DNA confirmed the identities of the air crew, while dental records proved Törni had died on that fateful night in 1965, reported Helsingin Sanomat.
“He was a complex yet driven man who valorously fought oppression under three flags and didn’t acknowledge the meaning of quit,” U.S. Army Special Forces Col. Sean Swindell said during a ceremony in 2010.
When we first enter the gym, we’re usually greeted by a vast inventory of supplies and supplements, all up for sale. After all, gyms are businesses, and if they want to keep their doors open, they need to find many sources of revenue.
Sure, every once in a while, you might find yourself in a bind and have to buy a product or two from their shelves, like a pre-game drink or some amino acids, but these products can be fairly expensive and it’s a known fact that enlisted troops don’t make a whole lot of cash. Pinching pennies where you can will improve your financial situation in the long haul.
If you’re looking to save more than just a few pennies, make sure to keep the following list of things in your gym bag so you’re not forced to overpay for them later.
Gyms make some money on your membership, but they also earn cash by selling you pre-made protein drinks. These tasty, high-protein drinks can cost you anywhere between to — which might not seem too costly at the time, but here’s some quick math for you:
You typically enjoy a drink after every workout. If you hit the gym at least four times a week, that tallies around to per month. Now, if you were to buy a 74-serving jug of protein for , that’s only 81 cents per scoop. At one scoop per drink, for the same number of drinks, you’re looking at .96 — just sayin’.
Weight belts support your back, protecting your spine as you lift. It’s a gym-bag essential because once you slip a disc in your vertebrae, the doctor bills will skyrocket as you embark on your road to recovery.
Invest in a weight belt now and save thousands in potential medical expenses later.
Most gyms do their best to keep clean. Unfortunately, despite all the hard work the cleaning staff puts into maintaining a sanitary gym, they rarely clean the fibers of the extension ropes attached to cable machines. This means that by using a cable, you’re coming in contact with nasty bacteria, which could lead to contracting an infection.
To make matters worse, gym-goers often use their hands to wipe the sweat from their faces. If you’ve been touching a germ-infested rope and then smear your hands across your face, you run the risk of catching a bad cold. Buying an extension rope and storing it in your gym bag will help you limit your exposure to germs, keeping you healthier and saving you money on visits to the doctor.
Walk into any gym and you’ll probably find an assortment of energy bars for sale. While the price of the individual bars will vary based on their nutritional values, you’ll always save money if you purchase them in bulk. Buy some at a health food store and pack one in your gym bag. Just as with protein powder, the savings add up over time.
What’s the difference between a weight belt and a dip belt?
That’s simple. A weight belt is used to protect the lower back from an injury while this specialized belt is worn to add weight to your workout at the dip or pull-up station.
Some gyms provide this easy-to-use piece of equipment, but, like anything, the chains and buckles can break over time. If you’re using a gym-owned dip belt and it finally reaches its breaking point, you’ll end up paying the full retail price to replace the item. It’s cheaper if you bring your own.
Like they say, “you break it, you buy it.”
An extra pair of clean gym pants or shorts
You’re probably wondering, “how the hell does bringing an extra pair of pants save me money?” Well, the ugly truth of the matter is that when we lift heavy weights, we put a lot of strain on our lower bowels. In fact, the added pressure is usually more powerful than the strain you put on yourself while using the bathroom.
Experiencing a suddenly bowel movement while lifting happens more often than you’d think. Keeping an extra pair of shorts or pants in your gym bag will save you some money — otherwise, you’ll need to purchase one at the gym at a premium price.
It was not an ending befitting a man of Lincoln’s personal stature. He died in a bed at the House of a local tailor, William Petersen. He didn’t die right away, instead dying the next morning after a night of labored breathing. His assassin, John Wilkes Booth, bolted out the door and made for Maryland, crossing the Navy Yard bridge after the evening curfew. From there, he and his conspirators made their way to Virginia, where they were captured and eventually executed.
The killing was dramatic, public, and caused a popular outcry that has persisted for generations – and continues to this day.
The manhunt for Booth and the co-conspirators, those who also attacked Secretary of State William Seward and failed to murder Vice-President Andrew Johnson, was the largest in American history. It was personally led by Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton. A reward for a sum equal to more than 0,000 when adjusted for inflation was offered for Booth and searches were conducted by the U.S. goddamn Army.
You know you maxed-out your wanted level when the U.S. military is after you.
Booth and accomplice David Herold made it to a Virginia farm one night and were asleep in the barn when the 16th New York Cavalry came calling. Herold surrendered when the cavalry ordered the men to come out, but Booth would not be taken alive. As soldiers set fire to the barn, the assassin gathered his weapons and made for the back door. Unfortunately for Booth, Sgt. Thomas “Boston” Corbett was already there, having snuck around to the back earlier. He shot Booth in the back of the head just below where Booth hit President Lincoln. The assassin was paralyzed immediately and died outside the farmhouse, surrounded by Union cavalry two hours later.
Of the eight people arrested for the conspiracy, four were hanged (including Herold), three were given life sentences, and one served six years. Booth’s body was rolled into a horse blanket and eventually buried next to the four who were hanged for their crimes. They were moved briefly before being turned over to his family in 1869. They moved his body to their family plot near Baltimore. There, in that plot, you’ll find a small, unmarked stone – one likely covered in pennies.
Visitors believe this to be John Wilkes Booth’s final resting place, and leave pennies on top of the marker as a means to mock the assassin, more than a century after his death. The penny (in case you don’t use cash) usually features the image of President Lincoln. It’s far more economical to get your kicks in with a penny than with a bill.
A fight broke out during the first session of Afghanistan’s new parliament after disagreement on the election of a speaker.
Online video showed lawmakers fighting on May 19, 2019, over the seating of businessman Mir Rahman Rahmani as the speaker of the lower house of parliament, known as the Wolesi Jirga. The body was meeting for the first time since controversial elections held last year.
Rahmani received 123 votes the previous day to defeat challenger Kamal Nasir Osuli, who had 55 votes, for the speaker’s post.
But Rahmani was one vote short of the simple majority of 124 votes in the 247-seat Wolesi Jirga that is needed to secure the speakership.
Rahmani’s supporters declared him the the new speaker and insisted he take the post.
“He has secured a majority of the votes and one vote is not an issue, so he is our new chairman,” said Nahid Farid, a lawmaker from the western city of Herat.
But opponents of Rahmani — the father of Ajmal Rahmani, a wealthy businessman known in the Afghan capital for selling bulletproof vehicles to Kabul’s elite — refused to let him sit in the speaker’s chair.
“We will never accept the new speaker and there must be a reelection with new candidates,” said Mariam Sama, a parliament deputy from Kabul.
Ramazan Bashardost, a deputy from Kabul, told Tolo News that the controversy over the new speaker could be resolved through legitimate means but lawmakers “are not willing to address the issue through legal channels.”
The results of the Oct. 20, 2018 parliamentary elections were officially finalized this month after months of technical and organizational problems.
The Marine Corps is adopting a new precision sniper rifle to increase the lethality and combat effectiveness of scout snipers on the battlefield.
The Mk13 Mod 7 Sniper Rifle is a bolt-action rifle that offers an increased range of fire and accuracy when compared to current and legacy systems. It includes a long-action receiver, stainless steel barrel, and an extended rail interface system for a mounted scope and night vision optic.
The Mk13 is scheduled for fielding in late 2018 and throughout 2019. Units receiving the Mk13 include infantry and reconnaissance battalions and scout sniper schoolhouses. This weapon is already the primary sniper rifle used by Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, or MARSOC.
Fielding the Mk13 ensures the Corps has commonality in its equipment set and Marine scout snipers have the same level of capability as North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces, said Master Sgt. Shawn Hughes from III MEF.
“When the Mk13 Mod 7 is fielded, it will be the primary sniper rifle in the Marine Corps,” said Lt. Col. Paul Gillikin, Infantry Weapons team lead at Marine Corps Systems Command. “The M40A6 will remain in the schoolhouses and operating forces as an alternate sniper rifle primarily used for training. The M110 and M107 will also remain as additional weapons within the scout sniper equipment set.”
The Marine Corps identified a materiel capability gap in the maximum effective ranges of its current sniper rifles. After a comparative assessment was conducted, it was clear that the Mk13 dramatically improved scout sniper capabilities in terms of range and terminal effects.
The 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines Scout Sniper Platoon used the weapon for over a year (including during a deployment) in support of the 2025 Sea Dragon Exercise. Feedback from MCSC’s assessment, MARSOC’s operational use, and 3/5’s testing of the weapon system led to its procurement of the Mk13 for the Corps.
The Mk13 increases scout snipers’ range by roughly 300 meters and will use the .300 Winchester Magnum caliber round, a heavier grain projectile with faster muzzle velocity — characteristics that align Marine sniper capability with the U.S. Army and Special Operations Command.
“The .300 Winchester Magnum round will perform better than the current 7.62 NATO ammo in flight, increasing the Marine Sniper’s first round probability of hit,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Tony Palzkill, Battalion Gunner for Infantry Training Battalion. “This upgrade is an incredible win and will allow snipers to engage targets at greater distances.”
The Mk13 will also be fielded with an enhanced day optic that provides greater magnification range and an improved reticle.
“This sniper rifle will allow Marines to reengage targets faster with precise long-range fire while staying concealed at all times,” said Sgt. Randy Robles, Quantico Scout Sniper School instructor and MCSC liaison.
“The new day optic allows for positive identification of enemies at greater distances, and it has a grid-style reticle that allows for rapid reengagement without having to dial adjustments or ‘hold’ without a reference point,” he said. “With this type of weapon in the fleet, we will increase our lethality and be able to conceal our location because we are creating a buffer between us and the enemy.”
MCSC completed New Equipment Training for the Mk13 with a cross section of Marines from active-duty, Reserve and training units in early April 2018.
“The snipers seemed to really appreciate the new capabilities that come with this rifle and optic,” said project officer Capt. Frank Coppola. “After the first day on the range, they were sold.”
In a time where technology, ammunition and small arms weapon systems are advancing at an increasingly rapid rate, it is extremely important to ensure the Marine Corps is at the forefront of procuring and fielding new and improved weapon systems to the operating forces, said Gillikin.
“Doing this enables the Corps to maintain the advantage over its enemies on the battlefield, as well as to secure its trusted position as the rapid crisis response force for the United States,” he said.
Airman Alex Orquiza of the 71st Security Forces Squadron wears the next generation of ballistic helmet during a door breaching exercise at Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma Sept. 15. The Air Force Security Forces Center is rolling out the new helmets to security forces units. (Senior Airman Taylor Crul/Air Force)
The Air Force has been busy this summer. From providing the latest class of recruits to Space Force to issuing better fitting body armor to women airmen, it seems like the protectors of the sky are really looking to expand and develop on its commitment to its force. This comes after the push in 2018 for Air Force defenders to get updated weapons, along with revised training and fitness standards.
Now, security airmen are next in line to receive a uniform upgrade. Soon, they’ll be issued new special ops-like helmets. This next generation of ballistic helmet is just the latest initiative that the Air Force is taking to ensure its personnel remains safe.
This new helmet is going to replace the older and far less-adaptable Advanced Combat Helmet. The ACH is what security forces currently wear, and many airmen have complained about its bulk and weight. Adding to the challenges is that the ACH is designed for ground units, so airmen have struggled with it, and in some cases, have had to outfit and modify it with bulky additions to accomplish different mission sets.
Not only will the new helmet come with better padding, built-in railings to easily attach accessories, but they’ll also be lighter and cooler. The Air Force Security Forces Center is now sending out new ballistic helmets as it phases out the ACH.
The 71st Security Forces Squadron, located at Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma, was the first squadron to receive the helmet. Soon airmen everywhere will receive the upgrade.
An Air Force press release said that the initial response to the new helmet has been positive. Master Sgt. Darryl Wright, 71st SFS logistics and readiness superintendent, said that the new version is the “most agile helmet” he’s worn in 19 years.
The helmets are part of the Air Force Security Forces Control initiative to modernize not just weapon systems but also individual protective gear. Included in this refresh is contingency support equipment and deployable communications systems, both of which will be paramount to successfully defeating the enemy in future conflicts. In the future, the Air Force plans to roll out a newly revised M18 modular handgun system, M4A1 assault rifle, M110A1 semi-automatic precision engagement rifle, M320A1 grenade launcher, and modular, scalable bests.
“We’re identifying salient characteristics of the best individual equipment industry has to offer at the best value to achieve standardization across the force,” said Lt. Col. Barry Nichols, AFSFC director of Logistics. “This effort is instrumental in keeping Defenders throughout the security forces enterprise ready and lethal with procurement of the most cutting-edge and innovative equipment available in order to accomplish missions safely and effectively.”
These changes all come after the Air Force’s Year of the Defender 2019 exercises, where the service conducted a detailed and extensive review of all security forces. This review explored areas that could be improved upon, both in terms of equipment and gear to tactics, training, and general morale boosts. To date, the Air Force has successfully worked through over 900 specific items that needed to change and has spent almost 0 million to update their gear.
The Air Force currently field about 25,000 active-duty security forces airmen. There are an additional 13,000 in the Air National Guard and Reserve components. Of the forces 38,000 airmen, about 98 percent are enlisted. This aligns the entire branch of the Air Force with the Army’s lightest light infantry unit.
Brig. Gen. Andrea Tullos, career security forces officer, said that the Air Force has “expeditionary roots,” and that the branch is “a blend between light infantry and a military police company.”
Collectively, these big changes are helping the service gain air superiority over the peer adversary that could potentially pose a big threat to the military. As the Air Force continues to look toward the future and the likelihood of conflicts with either Russia or China, the Air Force needs to be able to pick up the slack safeguarding forward-deployed squadrons instead of relying on ground forces. This new helmet upgrade is yet another step to making sure that can happen.
There’s something romantic about being a knight — and no, we don’t mean sweep-a-fair-lady-off-her-feet kind of romantic. Between the tall tales of heroic deeds and depictions of gleaming, glorious suits of armor, the life of a knight has been made into something grander than it actually was.
The desire to take up sword and shield and live the life of a knight immediately goes out the window once you learn a little more about what that life was actually like. While your the experience of knighthood varied greatly between kingdoms, no matter which banner you bore, they all shared one common quality: life flat-out sucked.
14 years of training and you’re just given a nice pat on the back and maybe a piece of land — not a castle, though, because those are expensive.
Your journey usually began at as young as seven years old
It wasn’t entirely impossible for a peasant-turned-warrior to be recognized for greatness and rise in status, but that was exceedingly rare (for reasons we’ll get into shortly). For the most part, knights were generally are born into the role. If your father was a knight or if you were of noble birth but far from the line of succession, knighthood was for you.
This meant that, for the most part, from the moment of your birth, you’d be expected to become a knight and fight for your lord. The process typically began at age seven. You’d be given off to a noble to learn as much as you could. The quality of this childhood hinged entirely on the whims of said noble. Then, at age 14, you’d become a squire.
Squires were, essentially, interns for proper knights who’d do all of the unpleasant or mundane tasks. Be a knight’s errand boy for seven more years, and you’ll finally earn your knighthood.
At least the jousting would be fun…
You’re do far more than just fighting — and none of it was fun.
Being a knight meant far more than just showing up to do battle whenever summoned by your liege. At times of war, or if their number didn’t get called to go fight in some battle, they were expected to be local leaders among the large peasant society.
So, take all those years of learning to fight and throw ’em out the window, because you’re now the lead farmer until someone decides to raid your village. Occasionally, you’d do police duty and, more often, you’d be the mediator of local disputes, but that’s about it until it’s crusading time.
Still the best break down for how stupid chivalry actually was, read Don Quixote and remember that it was written intentionally to be a satire.
You had to follow a strict code of “chivalry”
The word “chivalry” derives from the Old French word, “chevalerie” which meant “horseman.” Over time, the gallant knights, typically astride horses, took on their own code of ethics. The word “chivalry,” over the years, then became synonymous with “gentlemanly,” but it meant much more than just treating ladies right (and, in this case, “ladies” refers exclusively to women of noble birth).
This code dictated much of your life. How strict was it? Well, knights were almost always godly men. So, if you were to skip church for one day, you may find yourself stripped of your knighthood entirely — but, of course, it’d all depend on if you come from noble status or not.
You could basically rob or kill anyone of a lesser status and no one would blame you. Tough break.
(Photo by Christopher Favero)
Your compatriots were usually always snobby nobles who rarely followed the code
The honorable few that earned their way into knighthood would be held to a much different standard than the knights who got their position from being the king’s second cousin’s kid.
Knights who got their position from a noble birth could do whatever they felt, facing little-to-no consequences. Even if the kingdom was very religious, noble-born knights could attack members of the clergy and get away with it if they had a good-enough excuse. You? The guy who earned it? There’s no way you’d be able to talk yourself out of that.
On the bright side, the more ornate the armor, the more likely it was that the person had no idea how to actually fight.
(Photo by Patrick Lordan)
You had to buy your own gear
The biggest barrier to entry for those warriors-turned-knights was the absurdly high cost of equipment. Remember, this was centuries before governments decided to arm their troops for combat. Since being a knight meant that you were paid in land ownership (or sometimes just the “glory of your lord”), you probably didn’t even get paid actual money.
So, any armor or weapons you needed had to be purchased on the side — with money you were never given. It was no problem for the knights of noble birth, but other knights would have to work the land and sell goods to earn enough just to fight.
Then again, being a knight is so easy that a penguin could do it.
Your title meant little after gunpowder was introduced
From the days of Charlemagne onward, knights were highly respected and highly revered across the lands. Then, this fancy new gadget called the “firearm” showed up and made your skill in battle immediately and entirely pointless.
During the Tudor period, armies learned that firearms and cannons could shred through a knight’s heavy plate armor with ease. All of that hard work, dedication, and money put toward becoming a knight was rendered meaningless by whoever had a bullet handy. As everyone focused on using firearms, the need for a literal knight in shining armor quickly dwindled.
That’s not to say that the title of being a knight is entirely worthless. It’s just more of an honorary title that’s given to great people who bring credit to their homeland — not just skilled fighters.
Growing up in the segregated south, Lt. Gen. Aundre Piggee recalled his first experience with racism many African-American children faced at the time. So he looked to the iconic Martin Luther King Jr. for inspiration.
While he would go on to encounter other acts of discrimination, this one hurt the most, he said.
The parents of Aundre Piggee pin second lieutenant rank onto their son in 1981 after his graduation from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
He grew up in Stamps, a small town in southern Arkansas with a population of about 1,200.
While his father was principal of the local school, which had previously been an all-black school, his mother worked at the Lone Star Army Ammunition Plant in nearby Texarkana — and a young Piggee became the first African-American child to integrate into his little league baseball team.
“Things went well the whole season,” Piggee said Jan. 17, 2019, after he spoke at a ceremony here in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “We integrated well and we had no issues.”
When the baseball season ended, the team held a celebration at a local Boy Scout hut. Piggee begged his parents to go since he wanted to party with his friends.
But when they walked up to the front door, he was denied entry. Some parents of the other players even worked as teachers under his father, but they still would not allow him in.
“They didn’t let me come to the party because I was black,” he remembered.
Images of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. are seen on display during a ceremony at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va., Jan. 17, 2019.
(Photo by Sean Kimmons)
While racism had likely been around him before, he said it was the first time he personally noticed it. The incident also made him think deeply about his own character.
“It was a humbling experience,” he said. “But what it taught me was that I didn’t ever want to treat anybody else the way I had been treated.”
A young Piggee was held to a higher standard by his parents. The general’s biography says whenever he got into trouble during school, he would get lectured and punished by his father twice — in the principal’s office and at home.
“It was a lesson that served him well in life,” his bio reads.
On April 3, 1968, King traveled to Memphis, Tennessee, to deliver a speech in support of black workers being paid significantly lower wages than white workers.
His flight to Memphis was initially delayed due to a bomb threat, but he made it to the city in time for his speech. The next day, while outside his motel, King was assassinated.
On Jan. 15, 2019, the civil rights leader would have turned 90 years old.
King’s leadership values were passed down to Piggee by his parents who strove to live by the message he left behind.
“My parents gave us examples of King’s life and what right looked like,” he said. “And I still remember those to this day.”
Members of the U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own” perform during a ceremony honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va., Jan. 17, 2019.
(Photo by Sean Kimmons)
A life of service
In almost 40 years of service, Piggee has held the title of commander five times. He now oversees policies and procedures used by all Army logisticians and manages an billion portfolio.
October 2018, he was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame for his dedication.
Fellow Stamps native Maya Angelou, a poet laureate, was among the first inductees in 1993.
Piggee’s childhood home was a block from a general store, which was owned by Angelou’s grandmother. “I used to walk there almost every day,” he recalled. “For a nickel, I could get two cookies and some candy.”
Angelou worked for Martin Luther King as a civil rights activist and later wrote a poem for the dedication of his monument on the National Mall.
Lt. Gen. Aundre Piggee, the Army deputy chief of staff for logistics, speaks during a ceremony in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va., Jan. 17, 2019.
(Photo by Sean Kimmons)
Leading by Martin Luther King’s example
Also inspired by King, the general often shares with soldiers his three leadership traits — competence, commitment and high character.
In his speech, the general noted that King had a strong vision to change the country.
“Competence is what we need of our soldiers,” he said. “If I can challenge soldiers to improve every day, to be more competent, to be readier to do the mission our nation asks of us, I have had a good day.”
King, he added, was also committed to his cause.
“That should be a model for our professional soldiers,” Piggee said. “Putting on this uniform is a noble cause, but doing the missions the Army asks of you is not always easy.”
The most important trait, he said, is high character — a tough lesson he once learned as a child.
“Dr. King’s dream was to judge people by the content of their character, not the color of their skin,” he said.
The date was April 23, 1975, the war in Vietnam was winding down and the world was waiting to see what America would choose to do. President Ford gave a speech to the people from Tulane University. During that speech he told the citizens of the U.S. and the rest of the world that as far as America was concerned, the war was over.
He stated, “Today, America can regain the sense of pride that existed before Vietnam. But it cannot be achieved by re-fighting a war.” With these words he made it very clear that he would not be sending troops back over, despite the pleas for support from the South Vietnamese.
At this time, North Vietnam was surrounding the city of Saigon, preparing for a final assault on the capital city. The military leaders of South Vietnam ordered their troops to withdraw to the Highlands to a more defensible position. The biggest issue was that the South Vietnamese were largely outnumbered by the North Vietnamese. When they met in battle at Xuan Loc on April 21, it was clear that the end was near. Between the loss at that battle and President Ford’s speech at Tulane, South Vietnam had little hope that they could emerge victorious.
By the time April 27 dawned, North Vietnam forces had completely surrounded Saigon. They soon began their final push and assault on the city. On April 30, when North Vietnamese tanks burst through the gates of the Presidential Palace, the South Vietnamese were battered and beaten, and surrendered there and then. The war in Vietnam was officially over.
The Vietnam War was controversial from day one, especially in the U.S. It remained so through its duration, and beyond. President Ford made the choice to pull the American troops out of Vietnam and not send them back, even though South Vietnam pleaded with him to do so. This too was surely a controversial decision. The Vietnam War was an instance where no matter what was done, someone felt it was the wrong choice. The people of the United States at that time were not shy about shouting their opinions from every rooftop, either.
Those who were against the war, which was a good portion of the country, even made sure the soldiers returning home knew how they felt. The soldiers were not met with fanfare and welcome homes as were the soldiers of past wars, or as the soldiers of future wars would be. They were not given help or support in adjusting back to their lives at home. It seemed the people, the government and the country as a whole were perfectly happy to sweep the entire war and all those involved under the rug and simply move on.
Even now, 45 years after the war ended, the Vietnam War is still considered one of the most controversial wars in history. It is still often talked about in whispers, or not talked about at all. While there have been movements over the past two decades to give the Vietnam Veterans the recognition they deserve, it is still a fight everyday against the stigma felt during that time.
America as a country did as Ford said, “Regain the sense of pride that existed before Vietnam.” For those who fought in the war, however, there was no sense of pride found. They each had no choice but to go through the process of living a ‘normal’ life. For many this proved impossible, the war having taken every piece of them away.
It’s been 45 years since Saigon fell, 45 years since the war in Vietnam ended. Many of those men who fought in those jungles still live with the realities of that war every day. Now is the time to give them the recognition and appreciation they have always deserved. They didn’t choose to fight that battle. But, they answered the call when heeded. Today and every day, thank our Vietnam Veterans and show them the appreciation they never and should have received when they came home.
When asked about the current level of savings for commissary shoppers in an era of sweeping reforms, the interim director of Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA), retired Navy Rear Adm. Robert Bianchi, referred to results of a price comparison survey conducted in 2016 and released in late January 2017.
It showed average savings at commissaries “globally” were 23.7 percent compared to prices at commercial grocery stores. More specifically, patron savings averaged 20.2 percent at stateside commissaries and 44.2 percent overseas.
The same survey also showed average patron savings varied widely across U.S. regions, from a high of 32.6 percent in Alaska and Hawaii to a low near 18 percent for commissary shoppers across the South Central and Mountain states.
Bianchi and staff said it is the regional cost-saving targets that DeCA monitors monthly and, in finer detail, quarterly, to ensure that steps to transform commissaries into more business-like stores are not diluting patron savings.
Price savings by region are being tracked on “a monthly basis via our syndicated data and [on] a quarterly basis via manual shops [of local stores] and using syndicated data,” a DeCA spokesman explained.
The larger price comparison survey released a year ago established a new method for calculating savings that included a proportion of prices for private label or store brands. This irked patron advocacy groups because, at the time, commissaries didn’t sell their own private label goods. The concern was that the timing served to dampen the baseline savings targets set, which DeCA, by law, must sustain forever more.
This occurred long before Bianchi become interim DeCA director in November 2017 to lead commissary transformation while also serving as chief executive of the Navy Exchange Service. Bianchi said he believes the baseline for savings, which use regional price comparisons and private labels, more accurately reflects the real value of the benefit. The previous method, which led to claims that patrons saved more than 30 percent, compared commissary prices against average commercial prices for brand goods only nationwide, ignoring popular private labels.
Steps transforming commissaries include: replacing the traditional cost-plus-a-surcharge pricing with variable pricing based on regional markets; offering DeCA-brand or private label goods as low-priced alternatives to name brands; cutting the assortment of national brands on shelves and negotiating more competitive pricing for surviving brands with brokers and manufacturers.
Patron savings are real and substantial, Bianchi said. “But messaging that, connecting that for the customer, becomes important,” and variable pricing is key.
Commissary savings can get distorted, Bianchi said, when, for example, a shopper walks into a commercial supermarket and the first item seen are bananas selling for 39 cents a pound versus 52 cents seen at the commissary.
“Even though we may be saving them lots of dollars on chicken or other commodities, they get that initial impression and say ‘Hum, am I really saving money or not?’ We know they are. So, part of what I have our team looking at are image items. As we introduce variable pricing, it will give us the capability to compete with those other retailers and manage pricing in the market.”
Patrons need to be made more aware of average savings, Bianchi said.
“So, the part I have to do is message that so they aren’t dissuaded when they see a loss leader item” in a commercial market and think their commissary benefit has lost value. “The value proposition has got to be real and clear to them.”
Readers of last week’s column, which described a sharp decline in commissary sales, reacted with emails. Many blamed falling sales on a perceived narrowing of savings. Other criticized empty shelves and popular items out of stock.
Manufacturers and brokers shared recent scanned sales data from commissaries that, they contend, show variable pricing and private labeling accelerating the sales drop as patrons discover favored brand names are gone.
One industry analysis noted how Duracell batteries were removed from commissaries last year. While sales data show Energizer battery sales climbing, as would be expected, battery sales overall in the commissaries have fallen.
Bianchi said it’s premature to be sounding alarms over variable pricing or the introduction of DeCA brands Home Base, Top Care, and Freedom’s Choice.
Every commissary now has some variably priced items and “initial data suggest customers are responding positively,” Bianchi said. “In fact, we are beginning to get more competitive on the items that are most relevant to our patrons, which we expect will only help our sales performance.
“However, we still have a relatively small portion of the total assortment variably priced.” In mid-January 2018 that total was only 7000 of 38,000 stocked items.
“It is, therefore, too early to draw conclusions about how this will impact commissary-wide sales trends. Initial item-level sales data and customer input make us confident this is the right approach.”
Initial private label results on bottled water, cheese, health care products, paper towels and more also are encouraging, said Bianchi. The goal is to sell 3000 to 4000 items with commissary labels.
“We continue to see sales growth and penetration levels increase, and our customers regularly tell us they are happy to have these low-cost, high-quality alternatives on the shelf. None of the items introduced to date give us any concern for the acceptance of our brands, and we will continue to roll out these products aggressively given the very positive response from patrons.”
In fact, he added, many product categories with private labels “have seen an uptick in sales relative” not seen in product categories without private labels.
Bianchi said he came to DeCA with a lot of retail experience and a fresh set of eyes. He found shortfalls in customer service, expense control and sales planning, all critical for shifting to a profit and loss environment.
“You just have a different perspective” when store expenses are covered by appropriated dollars, he said.
He found commissary shoppers uncomfortable with having baggers handle groceries for tips, Bianchi said, which might explain the popularity of self-checkout.
“How many people carry cash nowadays,” he said. “And if you go to an ATM machine you’re only getting 20s. So, we’re kind of looking at” the bagger issue.
Bianchi said he spent his first months at DeCA focused on patrons, employees and having store partner with commands and local communities. He will turn soon to repairing relationships with brokers and manufacturers who might have felt bulldozed by all the recent changes at commissaries tied to profit and loss.
“Quite honestly, as these initiatives were rolled out, there was probably a lack of transparency, which created some concern and doubt on industry’s part [and] some bad feelings,” said Bianchi. “Some folks are still remaining critical, which I think is a carryover from that.”
Industry reps who also dealt with base exchanges, which have long generated profits, likely were less startled by mindset shift at DeCA, he said.
“The reality is the business model does have to change as we move to a profit and loss environment. We want to create a win-win situation. But I will tell you, from walking floors at commissaries, we [need] an assortment rationalization,” meaning more cuts to the number of brand goods. “So, there may be winners and losers but that’s not any different than the private sector goes through every day.”
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told Pentagon acquisition officials in November that he is “unwilling (totally)” to accept flawed KC-46 tankers from Boeing, which is leading the effort to replace the aging KC-135 tanker aircraft, according to Bloomberg.
Mattis has had limited involvement in the Pentagon’s weapons programs, but he is the latest defense chief to comment on the 16-year-long effort to replace the Air Force’s tanker.
Boeing won a contract to develop the new tanker in 2011, and the Air Force expects to buy 179 KC-46s. But the $44.5 billion program has been plagued by technical problems and cost overruns.
Under the contract signed with the government, Boeing is responsible for costs beyond the Air Force’s $4.82 billion commitment. So far, the defense contractor has eaten about $2.9 billion in pretax costs.
The KC-46 program has been stymied by delays for years.
In summer 2014, Boeing was hit with nearly a half-billion dollars in overruns related to wiring problems in the first program’s first four airplanes. The test version, the 767-2C, which was not outfitted with any refueling systems, was supposed to take its first flight in June 2014, but missed that date, taking the air for the first time during the final days of that year.
In mid-2015, issues with the plane’s fueling system added another half-billion-dollar accounting charge for Boeing.
In the middle of 2016, it was announced that Boeing would miss its contractual deadline to deliver 18 of the KC-46 tankers to the Air Force by August 2017 due to numerous technical issues. Though the tanker was able to refuel F-16 fighter aircraft at that point, a major issue was refueling the Air Force’s huge C-17 cargo plane, which put “higher than expected” pressure on the aerial boom extended by the tanker to distribute fuel.
A technical solution to the boom issue was developed over the following months, but another major problem — this time a “category one” deficiency — arose during testing in late 2016, when the refueling boom was found to have scraped the surface of the aircraft taking on fuel.
Though the damage was minor, the problem not only posed a threat to the aircrews involved but also risked compromising the low-observable coating on stealth aircraft like the F-22 and F-35 fighters. A KC-46 with a refueling boom contaminated by stealth coating may also have to be grounded. The Pentagon’s undersecretary for acquisition, Ellen Lord, said the issue was still under investigation as of November.
Two other “category one” deficiencies — considered less serious — were also found at that time, but the Air Force has said progress has been made on both.
Boeing’s president and CEO of defense and security said on December 2 that the company will miss a self-imposed deadline to give the Air Force the first KC-46 tanker by the end of 2017.
The firm is contractually required to deliver 18 certified KC-46s and nine refueling pods by October 2018.
Despite issues, the KC-46 has been praised by Department of Defense officials and the Government Accountability Office.
Mattis himself in recent days has complimented Boeing’s cooperation with the Pentagon.
“I reinforced that the Air Force was not going to accept tankers that weren’t completely compliant with the contract,” Mattis said of his note during a press briefing en route to Kuwait on Dec. 3, according to Bloomberg. Boeing has been “excellent,” Mattis said, adding that there hadn’t been any “pushback” from the contractor
“The Air Force needs tankers done right. The American taxpayer expects tankers done right, and Boeing is committed to tankers that are done right,” Mattis told reporters. “We’ll get there. It’ll be the best tanker in the world.”