The Air Force recently released two new videos of A-10 Warthogs taking out Taliban narcotics production facilities in Afghanistan, as the Trump administration continues to quietly ramp up the US’ nearly 17-year war in the country.
The videos are rather shocking. One shows several missile strikes that turned the black and white video nearly all-white for a few seconds before flames can be seen rolling up.
“The Taliban have nowhere to hide,” Gen. John Nicholson, commander of Resolute Support in Afghanistan, said in February 2018, after the Air Force dropped a record number of smart bombs from a B-52 on Taliban training facilities.
“There will be no safe haven for any terrorist group … We continue to strike them wherever we find them. We continue to hunt them across the country.”
But a BBC study published in late January 2018 showed that the Taliban operates in about 70% of Afghanistan, and fully controls about 4% of the country.
The Taliban’s numbers have also reportedly grown three-fold in the last few years. In 2014, the Taliban’s forces were estimated to be about 20,000. Currently, they’re estimated to be at least 60,000-strong.
The US announced in November 2017 that it would begin targeting the Taliban’s revenue sources, much of which is opium and heroin, with airstrikes.
“October and November 2017 were two of the deadliest months for civilians,” according to the latest SIGAR report. “Press reports stated several civilians were killed during the November 2017 bombings.”
These casualties “could erode support for the Afghan government and potentially increase support for the insurgency,” the SIGAR report said.
Around the same time that Nicholson announced that the US would hit the Taliban “where it hurts, in their narcotics financing,” Afghan farmers told Reuters that drug labs only take about three to four days to rebuild.
Analysts speaking to Reuters characterized the US’ strategy in Afghanistan as a pointless game of “whack-a-mole.”
On March 13, 2018, Defense Secretary James Mattis said that the US is seeing signs that the Taliban are interested in returning to the negotiating table with Kabul.
“Mattis offered few details about the Taliban outreach and it was unclear whether the latest reconciliation prospects would prove any more fruitful than previous, frustrated attempts to move toward a negotiated end to America’s longest war,” Reuters reported.
With more than 200 USO locations throughout the world, their mission never ends, connecting American’s troops to their friends and families back home.
For more than seven decades, the USO — or United Service Organizations — has thrived on boosting the morale of service members stationed around the globe with various musical performances and celebrity appearances.
Famous for entertaining the troops, the USO has established a program that will continue to support service members as they transition back into civilian life called Pathfinder.
Cpt. Jason Pak takes time with his interpreter for a quick photo op during his Afghanistan deployment.
The USO Pathfinder transition program offers personalized and hands-on services to those exiting from their military obligation.
USO Pathfinder services are co-located with USO centers at 13 locations across the U.S. for one-on-one support.
This Pathfinder program connects service members and military spouses to the resources that are best fit for them across a variety of focus areas, including employment, education, financial readiness, veteran’s benefits, housing, legal family strength wellness, and volunteerism.
The United States has called on Russia to permit increased access to ex-Marine Paul Whelan, who is being held in Moscow on an espionage charge his supporters say is unfounded.
U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Andrea Kalan said on March 11, 2019, that officials would visit the 49-year-old “later this week.”
Whelan — who holds U.S., Irish, Canadian, and British citizenship — was arrested on Dec. 28, 2019, in Moscow and charged with spying. His pretrial detention runs until May 28, 2019.
“We urge the Russian government to provide consular officers unrestricted visits with Mr. Whelan, to include discussing his case freely and without obstruction from Russian authorities,” Kalan said in a statement on Twitter.
“We urge the Russian govt to allow Whelan to sign documentation that will allow his family to choose hire an attorney that best represents his interests,” she added.
Kalan said in February 2019 that the U.S. Embassy had been unable to release any information regarding the case because Russian authorities had not allowed Whelan to give a signed Privacy Act Waiver to the embassy.
If convicted, Whelan could face up to 20 years in prison. His family has said he is innocent and that he was in Moscow to attend a wedding.
Russian officials have not released details of the allegations against Whelan, who they assert was caught red-handed in an act of espionage.
Defense lawyer Vladimir Zherebenkov has suggested his client was set up, saying he was handed a flash drive that he believed contained harmless personal material such as photographs but actually contained classified information.
Whelan, 49, was working as a global security director for a U.S. auto-parts manufacturer at the time of his arrest.
Relations between Russia and the United States have been strained over Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, its seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, and its support for separatist militants in eastern Ukraine.
Whelan’s detainment came weeks after a Russian woman, Maria Butina, pleaded guilty in a U.S. court to acting as an agent for the Kremlin.
The Kremlin has denied that Butina is a Russian agent and has organized a social-media campaign to secure her release.
In the past, Russia has arrested foreigners with the aim of trading prisoners with other countries.
Zherebenkov has also said that his client is innocent and suggested that Russian officials may be trying to use him in an exchange for Butina.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has rejected that scenario.
For the first time in American history, a female Soldier has completed U.S. Army Special Forces training and has earned the right to don the legendary Green Beret.
Despite how often people get the moniker wrong, Special Forces is only a title that applies to the U.S. Army’s elite special operations Green Berets. SEALs, Rangers, Marine Raiders and others all fall under the broader term of “Special Operations,” but only the Green Berets are rightfully called Special Forces.
“Good for her! It was only a matter of time and I would guess it will become more and more common over the next few years, across USSOF.” -Former Navy SEAL/CIA Officer Frumentarius
Special Forces Assessment and Selection (US Army)
In 2013, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta removed the formal ban on women serving in combat roles, and in 2016 all military occupational specialties were opened up to female service members, including those in elite special operations fields.
“There will be no exceptions,” former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said in 2015. “They’ll be allowed to drive tanks, fire mortars and lead infantry soldiers into combat. They’ll be able to serve as Army Rangers and Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Marine Corps infantry, Air Force parajumpers and everything else that was previously open only to men.”
The identity of the woman that fought her way through all six phases of Special Forces training has not been revealed, citing privacy concerns for the Army’s newest Green Beret, but the impact of her accomplishment remains.
“We don’t need to know her name or see her to be inspired by her, just knowing that there is a female green beret can motivate any Soldier to do better or to reach for their goals.” -Specialist Hannah Johnson, Utah National Guard
What we do know about this history-making Soldier is that she was among only a handful of females that made it through the initial 24-day assessment that serves as a screening to eliminate those who may not have the mental or physical capacity to complete the training. Now, even with Special Forces training behind the America’s female Green Beret, her days of training are far from over. Once you earn a spot in a Special Operations unit, training is continuous to ensure special operators are well prepared for any challenges they may face.
Special Forces Green Beret soldiers from each of the Army’s seven Special Forces Groups stand silent watch during the wreath-laying ceremony at the grave of President John F. Kennedy (U.S. Army Photo)
Former Green Beret NCO and Warrant Officer Steve Balestrieri used to oversee portions of the selection process, and earlier this year wrote an article for Sandboxx News entitled, “Women Passing Special Forces Selection? Yes you can,” in which he outlines the challenges all aspiring Green Berets must face, as well as some that are specific to females serving in that capacity. We asked Balestrieri how he feels about seeing this historic event unfold.
“I think that (from what I heard from those who know), this woman had no corners cut for her, and not only met but exceeded the standards. For her, now the journey really begins. I truly wish her all the best.” -Former Green Beret Steve Balestrieri
As Balestrieri writes in his piece, some members of the Special Operations community may well harbor some outdated beliefs when it comes to women serving in these elite roles, but as he points out (and our discussions with other Special Operations veterans seem to further prove), many of America’s elite warfighters are happy to see their female peers work their way into their elite company.
“I wish her all the best, I hope she crushes it. There are a lot of outside opinions that ultimately don’t matter so long as she does her job and does it well.” “At the end of the day, SOF is a place where politics don’t really matter as long as you can do your job to standard.” -Luke Ryan, Former Army Ranger
A U.S. Army Special Forces soldier with the National Guard shares best practices to U.S. and Chile counterparts. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Osvaldo Equite/Released)
Green Berets are tasked with a number of difficult mission sets in combat environments, from direct action operations to training foreign military forces to provide their own defense. Alongside their peers in the Special Operations community, Green Berets have served as part of the backbone of America’s presence in Global War on Terror operations the world over.
Earning the right to wear the Green Beret is an incredible feat for any Soldier, but becoming the first female to earn one is not only historic, it’s an important message to Soldiers of all types across the force: Being a man is not a prerequisite to becoming one of America’s most elite war fighters. Because the history-making Soldier serves in the National Guard, it also shines a valuable light on the opportunities service members of both genders have in both active and reserve capacities.
“I mean it’s a major win for females everywhere, it’s bigger than just the Army, especially the National Guard. It’s proof that women are capable and that institutions are capable of change. She’ll be able to bring her own strengths and capabilities to that community, which will make it better. “ -Specialist Hannah Johnson, Utah National Guard
In 1981, a female Soldier named Capt. Kathleen Wilder was failed as she very nearly completed Special Forces training. After an investigation into her dismissal, it was found that she had “been wrongly denied graduation.” Now, nearly four decades later, significant challenges remain for women in military service, but this momentous occasion is a step in the right direction.
If war wasn’t scary enough already, living enemies might not be the only ones you have to worry about. You see, where there’s war, there’s death, and where there’s death, there are ghosts…or ghost stories, at least! There are dozens, if not hundreds, of unique, ghostly experiences from veterans and bases all over the world. These creepy stories might leave you checking over your shoulder twice when you walk down the hall at night!
During and after World War II, fighter planes were seen patrolling the sky appearing and disappearing in and out of the clouds. One such sighting happened a year after Pearl Harbor. When the United States Army radar traced the signal of an incoming plane, pilots were dispatched to investigate.
An American P-40 was spotted, riddled with bullet holes, its landing gear, mangled, and its blood drenched pilot slumped in his harness. Suddenly, the aircraft fell from the sky spiraling out of control and crashing down. When scouts went to investigate, the P-40 was found, but the pilot had disappeared.
Nights at the Diplomat Hotel are often pierced with shrill screams and banging. Located in the Philippines, it is a hot spot for paranormal investigation. The hotel’s terror is believed to have stemmed from the Japanese invasion of the Philippines. Originally a monastery, invading soldiers beheaded all nuns and clergymen, leaving a trail of blood in their wake. For the remainder of the war, it served as a sanitorium, only to reopen again as the Diplomat Hotel, where guests often see black figures and women clothed in white.
The Battle of the Alamo
The 1836 Battle of the Alamo was the climatic point of Texans’ fight for independence from Mexican control. Today, the San Antonio historic landmark now serves as a cemetery for the remains of fallen soldiers, many of whose bodies were dismembered and dumped into the San Antonio River. Just days after the battle, though, paranormal activity was reported. When Mexican General Juan Jose Andrade ordered the burning of what remains still lay on the field of battle to prevent the spread of disease, the men came running back, fearful of what they’d witnessed. On the river, the men had spotted six diablos or “devils,” guarding the front of the Alamo mission. Over the years, visitors have seen young boys running along the mission plaza and then disappearing, hearing the clacking of horse hooves on the streets, and even seeing a man and small boy fall from the roof of the mission.
The Jefferson Barracks
On October 23, 1826, the Jefferson Barracks were opened in honor of president Thomas Jefferson who had passed earlier that year. It’s been used as a hospital, cemetery, and also for military staging,but on the barracks headquarters, soldiers have reported an aggressive sentry confronting them. He’s said to approach with a bloody bullet hole through his head. Supposedly, the sentry had been killed in a munitions raid and as he believes he’s still on duty, confronts those he suspects as the enemy.
Though Switzerland tried to stay neutral during WW2, the country was repeatedly swayed by both Allied and Axis powers. When Germany instigated, the UK retaliated, sending one British unit to a secluded village within the Swiss Alps. However, just a few weeks after their arrival, scraps of food supplies started disappearing and goods were stolen. Not long after, children went missing from the village, including one Private Reginald from the British troop. These disappearances led to the story that a monster resided in the mountains.
One night, soldiers on patrol saw a figure through the window of a house. The figure gave chase all the way to the outskirts of the village where the figure jumped into a man-made cave. Shots were fired from either side and after a resounding silence, soldiers entered the cave where they found Reginald with a bullet whole through his heart and surrounded by the missing children’s half-eaten bodies.
A U.S. Navy P-3 Orion surveillance aircraft joined the search Thursday over the Mediterranean for EgyptAir Flight 804 which went missing on a Paris to Cairo flight, the Pentagon said.
The P-3, flying out of Naval Air Station Sigonella in Italy, was the only U.S. military asset involved in the search thus far, said Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook. The U.S. did not have any ships in the area and there were no immediate plans to send any, Cook said.
“At this point, it’s just the aircraft that’s involved,” he said at a Pentagon briefing.
The four-engine turboprop planes made by Lockheed Martin Corp. have been maritime surveillance and submarine hunting workhorses for the Navy for decades. The aircraft features a distinctive tail antenna, or “MAD Boom,” for the underwater magnetic detection of submarines and other objects below the surface.
EgyptAir Vice Chairman Ahmed Adel told CNN that what was believed to be the plane’s wreckage had been found in the Mediterranean about 160 miles north of the Egyptian coast. He said the search and rescue operation was on the verge of “turning into a “search and recovery” mission.
The signal from the EgyptAir Airbus A320 carrying 66 passengers and crew was lost at about 2:30 a.m. early Thursday local time as it began its approach to Cairo. None of the passengers were listed on terror watch lists and three security officials were on board the aircraft, according to CNN.
Cook declined to speculate on whether terrorism may have been involved but said U.S. law enforcement agencies were in contact with the Egyptians.
Egyptian Civil Aviation Minister Sharif Fathi said technical failures and terror are both possible explanations for the disappearance of the aircraft.
“But if you analyze this situation properly, the possibility of having a different action aboard, of having a terror attack, is higher than having a technical problem,” Fathi said.
Early in the morning, before the sun even had a chance to break the Oklahoma horizon and spread its rays, the soldiers assigned to the Fort Sill Artillery Half Section here are already at work mucking stalls, grooming horses, and training for their next event.
The Half Section is a special ceremonial unit responsible for carrying on the traditions of horse-drawn artillery from the era of World War I and was established at Fort Sill in 1963.
Throughout the year, the unit attends numerous ceremonies, parades, rodeos, and other events in historically accurate attire, preserving the proud history of the field artillery.
“The soldiers I receive at the Half Section do more than just shovel manure,” said Gerald Stuck, chief of the Fort Sill Artillery Half Section. “They learn in depth about the role field artillery has played in our history. They pay tribute to the soldiers who came before them by wearing nearly the same uniforms they wore. They study up on the wars and conflicts that shaped us as an Army, so when presented questions by onlookers they can answer with confidence.”
Sgt. Robert O’Steen, Half Section noncommissioned officer in charge, saddles up and rides Valcourt. Soldiers must first pass a 30-day trial period, which includes a bareback riding test.
(Photo by Dustin D. Biven)
In addition to performing at events, soldiers assigned to the Half Section are also entrusted with looking after and caring for several horses, each with their own unique personality.
“When I say the horses have their own personality, I mean it,” laughed Sgt. Robert O’Steen, Half Section noncommissioned officer in charge, who’s assigned to the 15th Transportation Company, 100th Brigade Support Battalion. “We have our playful horses, our uptight ones, and even an alpha. It’s up to us to learn and adapt our behavior to each horse specifically to build that connection needed and earn their trust.”
A Soldier assigned to the Fort Sill Artillery Half Section buffs up a Half Section belt buckle getting it ceremonially shiny.
(Photo by Sgt. Dustin D. Biven)
O’Steen went on to say that although the horses are not assigned to specific Soldiers, they always seem to pair with a soldier with a similar personality.
The Half Section is a yearlong additional tasking that places soldiers on orders to the section and provides soldiers from all over Fort Sill an opportunity to develop not just as soldiers, but as leaders.
Sgt. Robert O’Steen, Fort Sill Artillery Half Section noncommissioned officer in charge, harnesses up his horse, Valcourt, in preparation for a ceremony June 25, 2019.
(Photo by Sgt. Dustin D. Biven)
“I’ve learned a lot here at the Half Section,” said Spc. Randy Rogers, a soldier assigned to 1st Battalion, 14th Field Artillery. “Not only have I had a chance to build upon my leadership abilities by being placed in charge of training soldiers and rehearsing for events, but I’ve also been fortunate enough to learn trades like leather working and how to take care of the horses by (Mr. Stuck).”
Soldiers selected for the Artillery Half Section serve a one-year tour at Fort Sill, Okla., providing them professional development and enhanced leadership skills, along with the opportunity to serve beside some magnificent horses.
(Photo by Sgt. Dustin D. Biven)
Once soldiers have completed their time at the Half Section, they bring back to their units a years’ worth of unique experiences that could greatly improve upon their professional development and leadership potential as well as the soldiers they may mentor and train.
Soldiers assigned to the Fort Sill Artillery Half Section spend time polishing and preparing the French 75mm field gun in preparation for a ceremony June 25, 2019.
(Photo by Sgt. Dustin D. Biven)
So the next time you find yourself on Fort Sill, be sure to take the time to visit the soldiers and horses of the Fort Sill Artillery Half Section and learn more about the history of the artillery within the Army and how, with help from our four-legged friends, we became the world’s most lethal fighting force.
Seeing the world is just one of the many reasons for joining the military. But what if dreamy vacation living was possible within the continental borders? Taking advantage of what is possible within a day’s drive is one way to save thousands on airfare and explore more of what our country has to offer.
Strategize your next PCS choice with these staycation worthy locations. From the beaches to the mountains, and east to west, settling into ‘home’ at any one of these installations is easy to do.
Mountain Home AFB, Idaho (Air Force)
Nestled at the foot of the Sawtooth Range, and within a half day’s drive to both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park, Mountain Home AFB is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. There’s world-class skiing at Sun Valley in the winter with plenty of roadside accessible hot springs along the way. Idaho isn’t on your radar because she’s everyone’s best-kept secret.
NAS Whidbey Island, Washington (Navy)
Craggy coastlines, tide pools teeming with sea life, and million-dollar views are how to describe this installation just over an hour north of Seattle. The barrier islands of the Puget Sound are home to seductively slow island life, away from traffic, and a ferry away from Olympic National Park or the San Juan Islands. Watch both whales and submarines surface from one of the dozens of state parks by the fire and on the beach.
Fort Carson, Colorado (Army)
Located just outside the Garden of the Gods, this Army Installation is another ruggedly beautiful spot to call home. The state exudes adventure in all terrain types, like sand dunes, snow-capped peaks and breathtaking arch formations. Colorado experiences all four seasons, providing a little something for every preference. Your PT test is sure to stay on point during the winter season with infamous ski resorts like Breckenridge and Telluride to choose from.
Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia (Air Force and Army)
What we love about JBLE is the easy accessibility to all the major east coast metropolitan cities. Washington D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York City are all a connected train ride away. National history, monuments and bustling nightlife make life on this coastline more than noteworthy. In addition to city life, Virginia is home to Shenandoah National Park and fall foliage, which draws crowds year-round. Tapping into history or the political pulse of the country are all possible here.
MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina (Marines)
Life in the low country is slow and sweet. The tidewater region is situated between Charleston, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia, two historic southern towns rich with seafood and charm. A subtropical climate provides beach access year-round, with plenty of sunshine to boost any mood. Another point to love is the affordability of the region compared to other, more high-cost stations, putting more vacation dollars into your pocket.
Sector Key West, Florida (Coast Guard)
The southernmost point in the continental U.S. is as beautiful as you can imagine. Dolphins, coral reefs and sailboats are all at your doorstep, which is likely oceanfront. Lesser known, yet completely noteworthy interests like the Hemingway Home and Dry Tortugas National Park are also found here. Key West also boasts several shipwrecks to explore in turquoise waters, making a dive certification a card you need in your wallet.
It’s all about location, and there’s plenty to choose from during your military career. Europe and Hawaii are not the only prime spots to be had, and this list is proof. Experiencing life in varied climates and states provides a perspective unlike any other when the time comes to settle down after service.
The global death toll from the coronavirus is more than 110,000 with almost 1.8 million infections confirmed, causing mass disruptions as governments continue to try to slow the spread of the new respiratory illness.
Here’s a roundup of COVID-19 developments in RFE/RL’s broadcast regions.
Russia on April 12 reported the largest daily increase of coronavirus cases since the start of the outbreak, as the authorities announced restrictions on Easter church services in and around Moscow to contain the spread of the disease.
The Russian Orthodox Church, which will observe Easter this year on April 19, ordered churches to close their doors to large groups during the holy week leading up to the holiday.
Meanwhile, Russia’s coronavirus crisis task force reported 2,186 new coronavirus cases in the country, raising the total number to 15,770.
The number of coronavirus-related deaths rose by 24 to 130, it said.
The official tally has been doubted by critics in Russia and abroad, who suspect the number is being undercounted by health authorities.
Moscow and many other regions have been in lockdown for nearly two weeks, but Russian officials on April 11 warned of a “huge influx” of new coronavirus infections and said that hospitals in the Moscow area were quickly nearing capacity.
“We are seeing hospitals in Moscow working extremely intensely, in heroic, emergency mode,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said during a television interview.
Peskov described the situation in both Moscow and St. Petersburg as “quite tense because the number of sick people is growing.”
Authorities and doctors in Bulgaria are urging citizens to stay home and pray in their homes for traditional Palm Sunday and Easter services.
Churches have remained open in Bulgaria despite the coronavirus outbreak. Services at major churches are due to be broadcast live for worshippers.
Prime Minister Boyko Borisov said on April 11 that churches will remain open, saying many people were desperate and in low spirits. He, however, urged Bulgarians to stay home.
“A difficult decision but I am ready to bear the reproaches,” Borisov told reporters.
“The bishops told me that there are many people who are in low spirits, desperate. So I just cannot issue such an order [to close churches],” he added.
Thousands attend Easter church services in the Balkan country.
Bulgaria has been in a state of emergency since March 13. Schools and most shops are closed and there are restrictions on intercity travel and access to parks. All domestic and foreign vacation trips are banned.
The country has so far reported 669 confirmed COVID-19 cases, and 28 deaths.
Iran’s death toll from COVID-19 has risen by 117 in the past day to 4,474, Health Ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur said on April 12.
The country has recorded 71,686 cases of the coronavirus that causes the disease, Jahanpur added. Some 1,657 new cases of coronavirus were confirmed in the past 24 hours, he said.
Iran has been the country hardest hit by the pandemic in the Middle East. Many Iranian and international experts think Iran’s government, which has been criticized for a slow initial response, is intentionally reducing its tally of the pandemic.
Ten thousand graves have been dug in a new section of the Behesht Zahra cemetery south of the Iranian capital to deal with coronavirus deaths, an official with Tehran’s municipality was quoted as saying by the official government news agency IRNA on April 12.
Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rohani said that restrictions on travel between cities within each province in the country have been lifted.
He said restrictions on travel between provinces will be lifted on April 20.
In the past days, Tehran has reopened some “low-risk” businesses in most parts of the country with the exception of the capital, Tehran, where they will reopen from April 18, official media have reported.
Iranian authorities have called on citizens to respect health protocols and social-distancing measures as the country struggles to curb the deadly outbreak.
The government is concerned that measures to shut down businesses and halt economic activities to contain the outbreak could wreck an already sanctions-battered economy.
The United States has offered humanitarian aid to Iran, but the country’s leaders have rejected it and demanded that sanctions be lifted.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has appealed to international stakeholders for urgent debt relief for Pakistan and other developing countries to help them deal more effectively with the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
In a video message released by the Foreign Ministry on April 12, Khan said that “highly indebted countries” lack “fiscal space” to spend both on the fight against the virus and on health and social support.
He said he appealed to world leaders, the heads of financial institutions, and the secretary-general of the United Nations to get together to announce a debt relief initiative for developing countries.
Pakistan has recorded 5,232 coronavirus cases, with 91 deaths.
The South Asian nation’s already struggling economy has been hit hard by nationwide lockdowns that have brought economic activity to a halt.
Pakistan is more than 0 billion in debt to foreign lenders and spends the largest chunk of its budget on servicing its debt.
In his Easter sermon, the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholicos Garegin II, urged Armenians to display “national unity” in the face of the coronavirus crisis.
Leading the Mass at an empty St. Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral in Yerevan on April 12, Garegin called on “the sons and daughters of our nation in the homeland and in the diaspora to give a helping hand to our government authorities in their efforts to overcome the difficult situation created by the pandemic.”
He also called for global solidarity to contain the spread of the virus and what he described as even greater “evils,” including “materialism,” poverty, and armed conflicts.
The Mass, broadcast live on national television, was attended by only two dozen clergymen and a smaller-than-usual choir.
After the service, Garegin blessed a small group of believers who had gathered outside Armenia’s largest cathedral.
Sunday services in all churches across Armenia have been held behind closed doors since the government on March 16 declared a state of emergency over the coronavirus outbreak, which has officially infected 1,013 people in the South Caucasus country and killed 13.
The Armenian Apostolic Church has restricted church attendance on weekdays and instructed parish churches to live-stream liturgies online, when possible.
A U.S. judge has denied a request by a Russian woman accused of working as a foreign agent who sought to be released on bail pending her next hearing.
Prosecutors have charged that Maria Butina had worked for years to cultivate relationships with U.S. political organizations and conservative activists.
They have charged that her work was directed by a former Russian lawmaker who allegedly has ties to Russian organized crime and who was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department in early 2018.
Butina’s defense lawyers sought to persuade a Washington judge to release Butina to house arrest pending her November 2018 hearing.
But Judge Tanya Chutkan rejected that request, agreeing with prosecutors who said Butina might flee the country.
Maria Butina’s mugshot after being booked into the Alexandria detention center.
Federal prosecutors said in court filings that they had mistakenly accused Butina of trading sex for access. They said they misinterpreted one of Butina’s text-message exchanges but said there was other evidence supporting keeping her in custody.
Butina, 29, has pleaded not guilty to the charges, which include conspiracy and acting as an unregistered foreign agent.
California National Guard CH-47 Chinook involved in Creek Fire rescue operations (YouTube)
The situation in California has worsened as 25 separate wildfires are currently burning across the state torching property and stranding fleeing citizens. Overwhelmed, California firefighters summoned National Guard and USN helicopters to aid in the extraction of hundreds of individuals trapped by the flames.
Over the holiday weekend, many people went to the Sierra National Forest, staying at the Mammoth Pool Reservoir, a popular camping spot. The “Creek Fire,” which reportedly started Friday night, quickly began spreading and trapped over 200 people. The fire was aided by record-breaking temperatures and accompanying dry air and winds.
Massive “Creek Fire” Threatens Town of Auberry – RAW Footage
Raw footage from ON SCENE TV on September 8, 2020.
Ch-47 Chinooks and UH-60 Black Hawks began responding to the area to evacuate the trapped campers. The rescues began Saturday night and went into Sunday morning. In total, helicopter crews rescued 214 people, several of whom were severely injured. It was reported that the helos were within 50 feet of the flames while loading people on.
Outside of Fresno, wildfires trapped more people as they were trying to escape the burning forest, in the areas of Lake Edison and Chinese Peak.
On Monday night, National Guard and U.S. Navy helicopter crews were dispatched to the area to conduct rescue operations. Heavy smoke thwarted rescue attempts and helicopters were kept at bay until flight conditions improved.
Helicopters were able to access the area by Monday night and began extracting those trapped by the flames. Equipped with night vision, helicopter crews flew through the darkness, rescuing 35 more people, some of whom were reported to have had injuries. Rescue flights continued throughout the day on Tuesday, rescuing another 148 people as the inferno ripped through the California forests.
At the time of this report, some 385 people and 27 animals have been saved from the wildfires by the helicopter crews. It is unknown how many people are still trapped.
Cal Fire’s firefighters have been fighting these aggressive wildfires non-stop since Saturday. One firefighter has already been killed. Three others were injured when their remote fire station was overtaken by the fire. Fourteen firefighters were at the location and were forced to deploy their emergency shelters. The three firefighters injured suffered smoke inhalation and burns. They were airlifted to Fresno; two are stable and one is in critical condition.
According to the National Interagency Fire Center, this year so far 87 wildfires have burned, resulting in 4.7 million acres burned; 2.2 million of those acres have been in California. This is a new worrisome record for California, as experts say that peak wildfire season has not yet arrived.
Whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. For retired commander Jack Schwartz, that seems to be the case.
The 22-year navy Veteran spent 1,367 days in captivity as a prisoner of war during World War II. He turned 103 years old April 28, 2018.
For Schwartz, it all started just three days after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. On Dec. 10, 1941, he was a navy lieutenant junior grade stationed in Guam as a civil engineer responsible for the water supply, roads, the breakwater and some construction.
“We only had 100 marines on the island – about 400 of us total, to include those who worked at the naval hospital,” Schwartz said. “And there were about 4 or 5,000 Japanese soldiers. They sank one of our ships, a mine sweeper, and nine sailors were killed.”
“We didn’t put up much of a fight.”
Schwartz said he was held by the Japanese there in Guam for about 30 days.
“There was plenty of food on Guam, but they deliberately starved us to make us weak,” he said.
After 30 days, they were transported by ship – all 400 U.S. POWs to include Schwartz – to Shikoku Island in Japan. They stayed there for about eight months, in some old barracks left over from the Japanese war with Russia, before being moved again.
The next place Schwartz was sent to was Kawasaki, between Tokyo and Yokohama. There were already POW camps and prisoners there when Schwartz including U.S. service members captured in the Philippines and from U.S. ships.
More than 300 prisoners were there, but just a few were officers, he said.
“I was the senior U.S. officer there so they put me in charge of the camp,” Schwartz said. “As a prisoner, I had absolutely no authority to do anything, but if anything went wrong it was my fault.”
“Every month or two I got a beating by the Japanese guards – nothing too serious – just to show me they’re in charge.”
After two years, Schwartz said he was sent back to Shikoku Island to the same POW camp he was at previously.
“This was a camp for officers – not just U.S. but English and Dutch. This was where the Japanese would invite the Red Cross to show how nice the conditions were,” Schwartz said. Schwartz would be separated, segregated and moved several times before the Japanese finally surrendered to the Allies on Aug. 14, 1945.
“The day the war with Japan was over, a Japanese officer lined us up outside and told us hostilities have ceased,” Schwartz said. He and the other Japanese officers and guards just walked away.
They made a big sign in white paint on the roof that read POW. After a couple of weeks, a U.S. B-29 bomber spotted us, and a few hours later they started dropping parachutes full of food. “Naturally we all started stuffing ourselves and got sick.”
Upon release – after being held POW for 3.75 years – Schwartz made the decision he would not end his career with the Navy and instead, he continued serve for another 18 years.
The Caltech graduate – who was born in San Francisco but moved to Hollywood with his parents at an early age – would eventually retire from the Navy with honors and distinction and move to Hanford, Calif., in 1962. He then worked for 18 years as Hanford’s Public Works Director and city Engineer before retiring a second time.
Schwartz said he now receives his medical care from the VA Central California Health Care System and is treated very well. “I still remember my first doctor there at the VA, Dr. Ron Naggar. And Dr. Ivance Pugoy is one of my current doctors,” Schwartz said. “You get a feeling they actually care. They make you feel like you are not just a name. You are a person. They do an excellent job for all the POWs,” he said.
Schwartz and several of his fellow POWs from the Central Valley were honored April 9 at VA Central California as part of National Former Prisoners of War Recognition Day.