The United States has a number of holidays meant to honor those members of the armed forces who are serving, who have served, and who have given their last true measure of devotion on the battlefield. There’s an organization now that seeks to make sure we remember everyone in uniform through its mission to “Remember, Honor, and Teach.” And it all starts one day in December, decorating for one of America’s biggest holidays.
Men and women in the U.S. military are putting their lives on the line for Americans back home every day of the year, says Wreaths Across America. The group aims to remember and honor those warfighters while teaching future generations to do the same. Their mission restarts every year on the third Saturday in December (this year, it’s December 15), when volunteers around the United States place a wreath on a veteran’s grave, say their name aloud, and thank them for their courage and sacrifice.
Wreaths Across America began with Morrill Worcester of Harrington, Maine, the owner of Worcester Wreath Company. As a young boy, he was sent on a trip to Washington, D.C. where he saw Arlington National Cemetery for the first time. The experience never left him and, after he became a successful entrepreneur, he decide to give back to the men and women who died so that he could make his fortune.
In 1992, the company saw a surplus in its product and he decided to use them in the older areas of Arlington National Cemetery, the ones that were receiving fewer and fewer visitors every year. When other companies got wind of the plan, they joined in. The local trucking company provided transportation to DC. Members of the local VFW and American Legion posts decorated the wreaths with red bows, all tied by hand.
Volunteers from Maine and in the nation’s capital helped lay the wreaths on the graves in Arlington. It even included a special ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. For 13 years, Worcester quietly and solemnly did the honored dead this service without advertising or announcement.
In 2005, at the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, someone noticed the wreaths on the grave markers in Arlington and posted a photo of its snow-covered majesty on the internet. It quickly went viral and those who couldn’t make the trip to DC wanted to do versions of the same in their own hometowns.
Since the company couldn’t possibly make enough wreaths to give to every grave in every state, they instead send seven wreaths to each state, one for every branch of the military and one for prisoners of war and the missing in action.
The Clarion, Pennsylvania Civil Air Patrol has partnered with Wreaths Across America.
Since Wreaths Across America began in 2006, 150 sites across the United States hold simultaneous wreath-laying ceremonies. By 2008, that number doubled and wreath ceremonies were held in Puerto Rico and 24 cemeteries overseas. In 2014, the number grew to 700,000 memorial wreaths at more than 1,000 sites, including Pearl Harbor, Bunker Hill, and the September 11th sites.
Their volunteers managed to cover every grave in Arlington National Cemetery.
Representatives of each branch of military service salute behind wreaths in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Ivy Green Cemetery in Bremerton during the Wreaths Across America ceremony.
(U.S. Navy Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Charles Gaddis)
Now the ceremonies are held on the third Saturday in December, and the movement of the wreaths bound for Arlington from Harrington, Maine is the world’s largest veteran’s parade. The annual wreath laying goals are surpassed now by education programs and partnership programs with local-level veterans organizations.
To learn more about Wreaths Across America, donate, or volunteer to lay wreaths, visit their website.
In the realm of medicine, what you don’t know can indeed kill you.
Six months have passed since China reported the first coronavirus cases to the World Health Organization. But even now, what experts are still trying to understand sometimes seems to outweigh what they can say for certain.
That is little surprise to any infectious-disease researcher: Highly contagious diseases can move through communities much more quickly than the methodical pace of science can produce vital answers.
What we do know is that the coronavirus seems to have emerged in China as early as mid-November and has now reached 188 countries, infected more than 10.4 million people, and killed around 510,000. Population-level studies using new testing could boost case numbers about 10-fold in the US and perhaps elsewhere as well.
Here are 11 of the biggest questions surrounding the coronavirus and COVID-19, and why answering each one is critically important.
How did the new coronavirus get into people?
The first coronavirus infections was thought to have emerged in a wet market in Wuhan, in China’s Hubei province. But newer research suggests the market may simply have been a major spreading site.
Researchers are fairly certain that the virus — a spiky ball roughly the size of a smoke particle — developed in bats. Lab tests show that it shares roughly 80% of its 30,000-letter genome with SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), a virus that also came from bats and triggered an epidemic in 2002 and 2003. It also shares about 96% of its genome with other coronaviruses in bats.
Still, researchers still aren’t sure how the coronavirus made the jump from bats to humans. In the case of SARS, the weasel-like civet became an intermediate animal host. Researchers have suggested that civets, pigs, snakes, or possibly pangolins — scaly nocturnal mammals often poached for the keratin in their scales — were an intermediary host for the new coronavirus. But it could also be that the virus jumped straight from bats to humans.
A May study suggested that SARS-CoV-2 (the virus’ clinical name) may be a hybrid of bat and pangolin viruses.
Global tallies of cases, deaths, recoveries, and active infections reflect only the confirmed numbers — researchers suspect the actual number of cases is far, far larger.
For every person who tests positive for the novel coronavirus, there may be about 10 undetected cases. This is because testing capacity lags behind the pace of the disease, and many governments, including in the US, failed to implement widespread testing early on.
New estimates from MIT suggest the world had already seen 249 million coronavirus cases and 1.75 million deaths by June 18. That would make the global case total 12 times higher than official reports, and the global death toll 1.5 times higher.
Other similar research estimated that the US alone may have seen 8.7 million coronavirus cases from March 8 to 28. US researchers also suggested in May that the nation’s official death count may “substantially understate” the actual number of coronavirus fatalities.
Why it matters: An accurate assessment is critical in helping researchers better understand the coronavirus’ spread, COVID-19’s mortality rate, the prevalence of asymptomatic carriers, and other factors. It would also give scientists a more accurate picture of the effects of social distancing, lockdowns, contact tracing, and quarantining.
What makes the coronavirus so good at spreading?
Viruses are small, streamlined particles that have evolved to make many, many copies of themselves by hijacking living cells of a host.
The measurement of a virus’ ability to spread from one person to another is called R0, or R-naught. The higher the value, the greater the contagiousness — though it varies by region and setting. The novel coronavirus’ average R0 is roughly 2.2, meaning one infected person, on average, spreads it to 2.2 people. But it had a whopping R0 of 5.7 in some densely populated regions early in the pandemic.
A person’s ability to transmit the virus depends partly on their viral load: the amount of virus particles they release into the environment. Coronavirus patients tend to have high viral loads in the throat, nasal cavity, and upper respiratory tract, which makes the virus highly contagious. Research indicates that there’s little difference in the viral loads between coronavirus patients who show symptoms and those who don’t.
Coughing — a signature symptom of COVID-19 — helps spread viruses in tiny droplets, especially in confined spaces. But the virus can also spread through singing, normal breathing, or even loud conversation.
Why it matters: Knowing how a virus gets around can help everyone better prevent its spread. Getting a handle on its behavior may also spur governments to act sooner to contain future outbreaks of this or other similar diseases.
What drives mortality in people infected by the coronavirus?
First, the virus’ spiky proteins latch onto cell receptors in the lungs called ACE2. Our immune system then senses a threat and responds by activating white blood cells. Among patients who develop severe outcomes, immune systems can overreact by producing a “cytokine storm” — a release of chemical signals that instruct the body to attack its own cells.
The reaction may cause milder coronavirus symptoms like fever, fatigue, muscle aches, or swollen toes. But it can also lead to severe symptoms including blood clots, excessive leaking in the blood vessels, fluid in the lungs, depleted oxygen in the blood, and low blood pressure.
Doctors have linked blood clots to the increased prevalence of strokes among coronavirus patients. An aggressive immune response can also damage the heart, kidneys, intestines, and liver. But most coronavirus deaths are due to respiratory failure, meaning the lungs aren’t supplying enough oxygen to the blood.
Why it matters: Understanding how the coronavirus does so much harm could lead to more effective treatments in hospitals and make for promising drug targets.
What percent of people infected by the coronavirus die?
Death rates for COVID-19 are not one-size-fits-all. Many factors are at work.
Age is a big one. Older people are more likely to die as a result of lung failure, strokes, heart attacks, and other problems triggered by coronavirus infections, while younger individuals are much less likely to do so. However, people of all ages, including children, have experienced severe symptoms and sometimes death.
One hypothesis is that the answer lies in an individual’s genetic code. People whose genes tell their bodies to make more ACE2 receptors — which the coronavirus uses to invade our cells — could get hit harder.
Why it matters: Variations in death rates help researchers expose flaws in government responses, supply chains, patient care, and more, ideally leading to fixes. Being able to identify the people at higher risk of severe symptoms and treati them accordingly could also lower death rates. However, the early data is clear enough: The coronavirus has the capacity to kill millions of people in a relatively short time.
Why do young people face the least risk of dying?
On a per-capita basis, young people are the most resilient to the coronavirus. But they do get infected and suffer from it. Even blood clots and strokes have emerged among some younger patients.
Typically, young kids and older people are in the same risk category for diseases like the flu. But it’s not so with COVID-19: About 70% of US deaths have been people 70 and older. Children, meanwhile, represent less than 2% of confirmed coronavirus infections in China, Spain, Korea, Italy, and the US.
It’s not clear yet whether kids are less likely to contract the virus in the first place, or whether many of their cases are simply being missed because they are often mild or asymptomatic.
Out of more than 2,500 pediatric cases in the CDC study, only three patients died. The study concluded that “most COVID-19 cases in children are not severe.”
One reason for this could be that children have less mature ACE2 receptors — the enzymes that serve as ports of entry for the coronavirus — which could make it more difficult for the virus to infect a child’s cells.
Why it matters: Understanding why kids don’t often show signs of the disease — either because they’re not as prone to infection or because they more often experience very mild, cold-like symptoms — could have huge ramifications for vaccine development and understanding how the disease spreads.
Can you get reinfected?
The body almost certainly develops short-term immunity in the form of antibodies, and immune-system researchers are reasonably confident that the body will recognize and fight the coronavirus in the future.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah in March that he’d be “willing to bet anything that people who recover are really protected against reinfection.”
There have been a small number of cases in which people tested positive for the coronavirus, were later found to be free of the virus, then tested positive again after that. But these cases are mostly the result of false positives and misinterpretations of test results, since some diagnostic tests can detect leftover pieces of dead virus in the body.
Still, no one is certain about the prospects for long-term immunity. For other coronaviruses like SARS and MERS, antibodies seemed to peak within months of an infection and last for a year or more. But a June study found that SARS-CoV-2 antibodies may only last two to three months after infection. Asymptomatic individuals also demonstrated a weaker immune response to the virus, meaning they could be less likely to test positive for antibodies.
Researchers also don’t know the specific levels of antibodies required for a person to be fully immune.
A May study from Mount Sinai Hospital in New York showed that most people with confirmed coronavirus cases tested positive for antibodies — but longer or more severe cases didn’t necessarily produce more antibodies than mild ones. Instead, the amount of antibodies a person produces may be related to innate differences in people’s immune responses.
Why it matters: Understanding whether long-term immunity is the norm would have major ramifications for controlling the pandemic and could enable officials to lift social-distancing restrictions for people who have already gotten sick.
How seasonal is the coronavirus?
Warmer temperatures and lower humidity may hinder the virus’ spread, according to research published in June. That could explain why New York City had a higher growth rate of new infections compared to Singapore in March, though other factors like testing and contact tracing likely played a role as well.
An April study found a similar link between the virus’ lifespan and the surrounding temperature. At 4 degrees Celsius (39 degrees Fahrenheit), the coronavirus lasted up to two weeks in a test tube. When the temperature was turned up to 37 degrees Celsius (99 degrees Fahrenheit), that lifespan dropped to one day.
But warmer temperatures haven’t done much to quell the US outbreak. The nation’s surge in new daily cases has surpassed its prior peak in April.
Why it matters: Knowing how much — if at all — the coronavirus is affected by changing seasons would help governments around the world better deploy resources to stop its spread.
Are there any safe and effective drugs to treat COVID-19?
There is, as of yet, no slam-dunk treatment for the coronavirus or its symptoms. However, 17 leading treatments are being tested.
Clinical trials have also shown that dexamethasone, a common, cheap, steroid, can reduce deaths in severely ill COVID-19 patients.
Why it matters: Having tools to slow infections or perhaps even stop the coronavirus from harming people could curtail its spread, reduce suffering, ease the burdens on healthcare systems, and save lives.
Will there be a vaccine for the coronavirus, and when?
Arguably the most promising vaccine is a messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine developed by biotech company Moderna. The company was the first to publish early results in humans after starting its first trial on March 16. It aims to start a late-stage efficacy trial with 30,000 people in July.
Other promising candidates include “vector vaccines” — which use live viruses to teach the immune system how to fight off pathogens — developed by the University of Oxford and Johnson Johnson. The Oxford vaccine is spearheaded by British pharma company AstraZeneca, which will start its own efficacy trial in August. Johnson Johnson aims to enroll more than 1,000 healthy volunteers in a clinical trial in July.
The US government hopes to have hundreds of millions doses of a vaccine ready by January 2021 — a record timeline. But some vaccinologists and industry analysts doubt a vaccine will be ready before 2022 or 2023.
Why it matters: Developing a vaccine would help the world put an end to the pandemic.
What are the long-term consequences for those who survive COVID-19?
It’s not yet clear what the long-term consequences of weathering a severe bout of COVID-19 might be. In severe cases, the virus may cause permanent damage to the lungs and other organs, resulting in chronic, lifelong issues.
Patients who experience blood clots also face a risk of longer-term damage, pain, and loss of function, especially in organs.
While some people’s symptoms seem to clear up after two weeks, even those with milder cases have reported symptoms lasting for several months — including fatigue, chest pain, difficulty breathing, and loss of taste and smell. These symptoms may be the result of lingering inflammation rather than an active infection.
“The symptoms are probably coming from an immune reaction,” Dr. Ramzi Asfour, an infectious-disease doctor in the San Francisco Bay Area, told Business Insider.
“You have to separate the damage from the disease,” he added. “It’s going to be difficult to tell for now what subset is active, ongoing infection and what subset is really just pure immune dysfunction.”
Why it matters: Knowing the extent of lasting damage due to the coronavirus can help governments prepare for long-term strain on healthcare systems, impacts to the workforce, and slower economic recoveries. Governments can also push for more research into the underlying causes of lingering symptoms and effective treatments for them.
U-505 was a near absolute failure as a killer, failing to sink a single ship for multiple combat tours in a row, suffering the only suicide of a commanding officer in the German undersea service until the final days of the war, and becoming the first submarine captured in the war despite failed attempts to scuttle the ship.
Yeah, the crew couldn’t even sink the sub properly.
The “unluckiest” U-boat, U-505, after its capture by sailors of Task Group 22.3.
Kapitänleutnant Axel-Olaf Loewe commissioned the boat in August 1941 and led it on three tours, sinking seven ships. (Kapitänleutnant is roughly equal to a U.S. Navy lieutenant, the O-3 grade.) Loewe did have one black spot on his record, though.
On July 22, 1942, a misunderstood command led to the ship shooting off the mast of a sailing boat with no flag and then sinking it. The ship belonged to a Columbian diplomat, and Columbia declared war after the incident. Berlin wasn’t exactly worried about Columbia, but that still ended up being Loewe’s last patrol.
Loewe then relinquished command to Kapitänleutnant Peter Zschech who had a much rougher time on the boat.
Zschech had been a successful officer before his command, and he held two Iron Crosses when he arrived on the U-505. He was expected to be a star. But his first two patrols had resulted in only one sinking. Before he could leave for his third patrol, French dockworkers sabotaged the U-505. They were executed, but their sabotage had the desired effect.
The U-505 struggled on its sixth patrol and sank no ships. Its seventh, eighth, and ninth patrols were cut short as the crew kept hearing strange noises that likely represented ongoing problems from the sabotage, and the boat turned back from each tour.
Zschech was professionally embarrassed. He was supposed to be a star of the submarine service but had sank one ship over the course of six patrols. On Oct. 9, 1943, Zschech took the crew on its 10th overall patrol, his seventh. Fifteen days later, the U-505 was spotted and came under heavy, determined depth charge attack.
The Oberleutnant zur See Paul Meyer got his crew out of the depth charge attack and led them back to port. The ship received a new commanding officer, Oberleutnant zur See Harald Lange. His first patrol on the boat lasted only nine days with little effect. But his next patrol, launched March 16, 1944, would go for 81 days. But it would end horribly.
It wasn’t entirely Lange’s or the crew’s fault. The U.S. Navy Task Group 22.3 had successfully sunk U-515 on its previous tour, and the task group commander had gotten an idea for a greater coup. U-515 had, after suffering extreme damage, come to the surface in the middle of the task group. The task group quickly sank it with all the guns it had, but the commander wanted to try using only machine guns next time, hoping to save the sub and capture it.
Survivors of the U-505 await their transportation to POW camps in 1944.
The USS Chatelain was the first to attack after Wildcat fighters from the USS Guadalcanal spotted the U-505, and it’s depth charges quickly forced the sub to surface. U-505 began circling to the right, and the gunners of the task group began laying into it out of fear it was lining up for a torpedo attack. This quickly proved false as submariners started leaping into the ocean, and the group commander ordered the larger caliber weapons to cease fire.
It was the first capture of an enemy ship by a U.S. Navy vessel since 1815. The boarding parties quickly got classified materials and the enigma machine out, and then set about trying to save the boat. This required closing the scuttling vents, disabling the charges, and then pumping water out of the boat.
And the U-505, in either a final slap in the face of its German crew or a final act of supporting sailors, depending on who you ask, the boat’s pumps successfully cleared the water, and it was towed to the Caribbean for study. The surviving crew members sat out the rest of the war in a POW camp.
In its journey to improve the lives of veterans through health care research and innovation, VA recently reached a major milestone with enrollment of its 750,000th veteran partner in the Million Veteran Program (MVP) — a national, voluntary research initiative that helps VA study how genes affect the health of veterans.
The milestone, which was reached April 18, 2019, is the result of years of outreach, recruitment and enrollment efforts to help to bring precision medicine to the forefront of VA health care.
“While having 750,000 Veteran partners is a momentous achievement, there is still much work to be done,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “MVP is on track to continue the march to 1 million veteran partners and beyond in the next few years.”
From its first enrollees in 2011, the program has successfully expanded into one of the largest, most robust research cohorts of its kind in the world. MVP was designed to help researchers understand how genes affect health and illness. Having a better knowledge of a person’s genetic makeup may help to prevent illness and improve treatment of disease.
The enrollment milestone is significant because as more participants enroll, researchers have a more representative sample of the entire veteran population to help improve health care for everyone. Enrollees in the program include veterans from all 50 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and Guam. MVP also has the largest representation of minorities of any genomic cohort in the U.S.
Research using MVP data is already underway with several studies, including efforts focused on understanding the genetics of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), diabetes, heart disease, suicide prevention and other topics. Several significant research findings have already been published in high-impact scientific journals. The knowledge gained from research can eventually lead to better treatments and preventive measures for many common illnesses, especially those common among combat veterans, such as PTSD.
MVP will continue to grow its informatics infrastructure and expand its partner base, to include veterans beyond those enrolled in VA care. VA is also working on a collaboration with the Department of Defense (DoD) to make MVP enrollment available to DoD beneficiaries, including active-duty service members.
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
The U.S. wields the world’s biggest, most powerful Navy, but recent developments in China and Russia’s missile inventory severely threaten the surface fleet with superior range and often velocity.
But the U.S. Navy and Lockheed Martin have a variety of solutions in the works to tip the scales in the United State’s favor by going hard on offense.
For years, the Navy has focused on a concept called “distributed lethality,” which calls for arming even the Navy’s smallest ships with powerful weapons that can hit targets hundreds of miles out.
Yet Russian and Chinese ships and missile forces already field long-range precision missiles that can hit U.S. ships before the forces are even close.
Additionally, both Russia and China are working on hypersonic weapons that could travel more than five times as fast as the speed of sound. These weapons would fly faster than current U.S. ships could hope to defend against.
Lockheed Martin’s Chris Mang, vice president of tactical missiles and combat maneuver systems, told reporters at its Arlington, Virginia, office that “defense is good,” but “offense is better.
“People don’t shoot back when they go away,” he said.
Mang said that promising new missiles like the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile for ships and planes could hit the field by 2020, which would bolster the Navy’s strategy of “see first, understand first, shoot first.”
The LRASM boasts a range of well over 200 nautical miles, a payload of 1,000 pounds, and the ability to strike at nearly the speed of sound.
An anti-ship missile LRASM in front of a F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet. (U.S. Navy)
It also has a huge advantage that neither Russia nor China have come close to cracking: naval aviation. Lockheed Martin officials said U.S. Navy F-18s and long-range B-1B bombers could carry the LRASM as early as next year.
While the U.S. has been surpassed in missile technology in some areas, the Navy still has a considerable edge in radar technology and command-and-control that can provide intelligence to ship captains faster than its adversaries.
As for the hypersonic weapons meant to redefine naval warfare, Mang said they’re still a long way out. (The U.S. Air Force and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency are working on their own versions, though.)
An artist’s concept of an X-51A hypersonic aircraft during flight. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
“How far do they go?” Mang said of the hypervelocity weapons. “They tend to be fuel-consumption-heavy and thermally limited, so they go really fast for a very short distance. If you can shoot them before they get in range of you, that is a tactic.”
The Navy continues to improve and spread its Aegis missile-defense capabilities so the long-range missiles Russia and China have can be knocked out and the short-range hypersonic missiles they’re developing can be out-ranged.
Though adversaries out-range the U.S. Navy on paper, the U.S. military has and will never be defeated by figures on paper.
Instead, the U.S. and Lockheed Martin seem to be pushing forward with proven technologies that would bolster the United State’s ability to protect its shores.
Roughly four years ago, ISIS shocked the world when it took over a large swath of territory across Iraq and Syria, declaring the establishment of a new Islamic caliphate in the process.
Fast forward to 2018 and the terrorist group is a shadow of what it was even a year ago. It has lost the vast majority of the territory it previously held and the number of fighters it counted among its ranks has dwindled exponentially to below 3,000.
Nevertheless, ISIS remains a threat in the Middle East, and a new report from the Soufan Center warns it’s attempting to make a comeback by resorting to a tactic it employed back in 2013 when it was still known as Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) — the targeted assassinations of Iraqi security personnel.
“To get back to its heyday of 2014, the Islamic State first needs to get back to 2013, a year in which the terrorist group concluded one very successful campaign to free thousands of its detained members from Iraqi jails and started another campaign to assassinate and intimidate Iraqi security personnel, particularly local police officers,” the report stated.
In late June 2018, Iraq executed 12 ISIS members, which the Soufan Center says was in response to the “high-profile assassination” of eight Iraqi security personnel.
‘A weakened Islamic State is now trying to recreate that past’
With fewer numbers, ISIS will be less inclined to focus on regaining territory and more likely to ramp up attacks on Iraqi police to sow the same brand of chaos it did back in 2013, according to the Soufan Center.
A masked man in a video that Islamic State militants released in September 2014.
“A weakened Islamic State is now trying to recreate that past,” the report noted.”Targeted attacks on police and government officials have risen in several provinces as the group has stopped its military collapse and refocused on what is possible for the group now.”
The report added, “Assassinations require few people and are perfectly suited as a force multiplier for a group that has seen its forces decimated.”
‘The social fabric of Iraq remains severely frayed’
Peter Mandaville, a professor of international affairs at George Mason University who previously served as a top adviser to the State Department on ISIS, backed up the Soufan Center report.
“I think it would be difficult for ISIS to retake significant territory given the ongoing presence and vigilance of [US-led] coalition forces,” Mandaville told Business Insider, adding, “They certainly have the capacity to engage in an extended insurgency campaign using the kinds of tactics highlighted in the Soufan Center report.”
Mandaville said the situation on the ground in Iraq — that led to the rise of ISIS in the first place — has not changed significantly even though ISIS has more or less been defeated militarily.
“The social fabric of Iraq remains severely frayed, with high levels of political polarization,” Mandaville said. “Until the central government succeeds in advancing key political and security reforms, many areas of Iraq will continue to provide a permissive environment for low intensity ISIS operations.”
David Sterman of the New America Foundation, an expert on terrorism and violent extremism, expressed similar sentiments.
David Sterman, Senior Policy Analyst, New America International Security Program; Co-Author, All Jihad is Local, Volume II: ISIS in North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula
Sterman told Business Insider that the threat of ISIS returning to the strategy of breeding chaos on the local level by targeting Iraq security personal is “very serious.”
“ISIS continues to show capability to conduct attacks in liberated areas, an issue seen also during the surge,” Sterman added. “Bombings in Baghdad in January 2018 illustrate this as well as the assassinations and smaller attacks discussed” in the Soufan Center report.
In short, ISIS is still in a position to create havoc, albeit in a more limited capacity, in an already troubled country that really hasn’t even begun to recover from years of conflict.
ISIS continues to operate underground across the world
From a broader standpoint, this does not necessarily mean ISIS poses a significant threat to the US.
“Even at its height, ISIS did not demonstrate a capability to direct a strike on the US homeland (as opposed to Europe),” Sterman said. “So the threat [in the US] predominantly remains homegrown and inspired. Of course that doesn’t mean the US should take its eye off of what is happening in Iraq and Syria. ISIS’s bursting onto the global scene is proof of that.”
Moreover, ISIS is also turning to Bitcoin and encrypted communications as a means of rallying its followers worldwide.
“If you look across the globe, the cohesive nature of the enterprise for ISIS has been maintained,” Russell Travers, the acting head of the National Counterterrorism Center, recently told The New York Times. “The message continues to resonate with way too many people.”
The Trump administration says there’s ‘still hard fighting ahead’ against ISIS
Speaking with reporters in late June 2018, Defense Secretary James Mattis lauded the success the US-led coalition has had against ISIS in Iraq and Syria but added that “there’s still hard fighting ahead.”
“Bear with us; there’s still hard fighting ahead,” Mattis said. “It’s been hard fighting, and again, we win every time our forces go up against them. We’ve lost no terrain to them once it’s been taken.”
Meanwhile, US troops stationed near the Iraq-Syria border have been hammering ISIS in Syria with artillery in recent weeks.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Student Veterans will continue to receive their GI Bill benefits under S. 3503, which President Trump signed into law March 21.
The law enables VA to continue providing the same level of education benefits to students having to take courses online due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
The law gives VA temporary authority to continue GI Bill payments uninterrupted in the event of national emergencies. This allows for continued payment of benefits even if the program has changed from resident training to online training.
Thanks to the law, GI Bill students will continue receiving the same monthly housing allowance (MHA) payments they received for resident training until Dec. 21, or until the school resumes in-person classes.
In the wake of COVID-19, thousands of students nationwide have been converted to distance learning as many educational institutions are transitioning to technology-based lesson delivery.
“I commend President Trump and Congress for their work on this important law,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “It will give Veteran students certainty as they continue their education.”
Students receiving GI Bill benefits are not required to take any action. Benefits will continue automatically. VA will work closely with schools to ensure accurately certified enrollments and timely processing. Updates will be provided to students via direct email campaigns and social media regarding VA’s effort to implement these new changes.
Students with specific questions can contact the Education Call Center at: 888-442-4551 between 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday-Friday.
This is not the armor, but it is made of spiderweb.
Ten years from now, you might be on patrol with new super lightweight body armor. If you feel something tingling, cool it – you aren’t Spider-Man, but your vest might be made from spider silk – and you probably just need to drink more water. The latest armor under consideration by the U.S. Army isn’t a new kind of porcelain or chemical composition over kevlar. It’s spider stuff.
Making clothing from spider stuff isn’t necessarily new, but mass-producing it might be. The photo above is of a vest made of silk from the Golden Orb Spider, native to Madagascar. It took the designers eight years and a million spiders to make the vest, but the designers of the new body armor aren’t going for anything so intricate.
Ballistic spider silk panels.
Spider silk is a protein-rich liquid that dries into a solid filament that can vary in composition depending on what the spider is doing with the web, such as weaving a web for food or creating an egg sac. It’s flexible, able to stretch well beyond its original length, stronger than steel, and most importantly, can create a mesh able to stop a bullet. But until recently, no one has been able to create enough of the stuff to actually make and test viable options for stopping bullets.
Researchers from Utah State University were able to program the DNA of silkworms to integrate spider proteins into their own silk. Silkworms even spin the silk into threads on their own. The result is twice as strong and elastic as silkworm silk and can be created on an industrial scale. The result was able to stop a slow-moving .22-caliber round with only four layers. Standard Kevlar armor uses 33 layers.
A bullet can penetrate 29 layers of kevlar.
In 2018 Kraig Biocraft Laboratories announced it was creating panels like those shown above in large quantities for the United States Army. The fabric, called “Dragon Silk,” was also created without using entire colonies of spiders, who were more likely to eat one another than live in peace and create fabric. Kraig Biocraft created silkworms similar to those created at Utah State, using patented genetic proteins. Beyond standard body armor, the company may be the first to create real, popular protection for the groin area.
“After years of research and investment, developing this ground-breaking technology, we are very excited to now see it in the hands of the U.S. Army,” stated Jon Rice, COO. “For me, personally, and for the Company, the opportunity to help protect the brave men and women whom dedicate themselves to our protection is a great honor.”
Henry Hughes deployed twice to Afghanistan as an airborne infantry officer and is now hoping his debut short film, “Day One” will bring home an Oscar on February 28.
Day One, which follows a female Afghan-American interpreter named Feda on her first day of patrols in Afghanistan, is Hughes’ first movie.
“I didn’t think it would happen this quickly,” Hughes told WATM about being nominated for an Oscar for his first film. “It’s a wonderful, serendipitous, golden ticket-type thing.”
In the film, the interpreter and the infantry platoon she works with go to the home of a suspected insurgent. At the house, the mission quickly gets complicated as the insurgent’s pregnant wife goes into labor. The interpreter, the platoon leader, and the insurgent all have to navigate the needs of the mother, the child, and the social and religious customs of Afghanistan.
It’s complicated stuff and very intense.
The story is inspired by real events, and most of the details come from Hughes’ experiences in Afghanistan with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team. He decided to focus on the interpreter instead of the platoon leader so the movie would feel fresh to audiences used to seeing things from a soldier’s point of view.
“On my second tour I had a female interpreter,” he said. “She is an American, an Afghan-American. And I kind of just realized that if I was going to tell a story about our community, about our experiences, we needed a new way to get into it.”
Following this woman who was new to the war gave him a chance to show the dual nature of combat.
“I thought, maybe we hadn’t seen something that was as enlightening as some of the moments in combat felt to me,” Hughes said. “Very sublime, hyperbolic. Where things are beatiful and kind of harsh at the same time. And I thought a way to do that would be to go through this woman who has to deal with both these gender issues and the culture issues.”
Learn more about the movie at its website and check out the trailer below. “Day One” will be available as a streaming movie for rental or purchase March 15th on Vimeo.
The British Army has had many iconic recruitment ad campaigns over the years. From Lord Kitchener’s, “Your Country Needs You” that became the basis of nearly every other recruitment poster to WWI’s famous, “Your chums are fighting. Why aren’t you?”
Today, the Armed Forces of the United Kingdom are at some of the lowest numbers in centuries. Now, they’re trying out a new recruitment strategy:
On the surface, it might seem belittling to potential recruits and, to be fair, that’s how most people are interpreting it. But if you take a step back and read the full poster and evaluated the entire campaign as a whole, it’s actually brilliant.
The poster above is a part of the British Army’s “This is Belonging” campaign, which also includes TV ads that showcases young people who feel undervalued in their jobs. Other posters also call for “me me me millennials” and their self-belief, “binge gamers” and their drive, “selfie addicts” and their confidence, “class clowns” and their spirit, and “phone zombies” and their focus.
It’s a call to action to a younger generation that may not believe they’re right for anywhere. The TV ad for the binge gamer shows the person being scolded for playing too many games, but he keeps pushing himself after every “Game Over.” Next, the commercial cuts to this same gamer as a soldier, and he’s pushing himself further and further. At its core, that’s what this campaign is really about.
I don’t want to be the guy to point it out, but… the oldest millennials are now 37 and the youngest are 25. Let’s not get them confused with Gen-Z, the 17 to 24 year olds that are more commonly associated with these stereotypes. Just sayin’…
British Army recruiters have long labelled service as a means to better one’s self. Sure, it’s patronizing to call a potential recruit a “me me me millennial,” but it’s also breaking conventional by attributing a positive quality, “self-belief,” to that same person — a quality desired by the military.
The reception has been, let’s say, highly polarizing. One side is complaining that it’s demeaning and desperate while the other is complaining that the British Army doesn’t need snowflakes. The bigger picture is that it’s a marketing strategy geared towards getting the attention of disenfranchised youth who just happen to be the perfect age for military service.
Since it was just released, only time will tell whether it’s effective in bringing in young Brits. But it has certainly gone viral and everyone is talking about it, which was definitely the objective.
The infamous Romanian hacker known as “Guccifer” has been sentenced to 52 months in prison for a string of high-profile hacks he carried out against people including former Secretary of State Colin Powell to family and friends of former President George W. Bush.
He also exposed Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state, after he gained access to the email account of Sidney Blumenthal, a Clinton confidant.
The hacker, whose real name is Marcel Lehel Lazar, gained unauthorized access to personal email and social media accounts of roughly 100 Americans over a two-year period, according to the Department of Justice.
Many of those hacks led to the release of financial information, embarrassing correspondence, or personal photographs. For example, an email break-in of a Bush family member led to the release of artwork created by the president, and leaked emails between Secretary of State Colin Powell and a European Parliament member led Powell to deny an affair.
Lazar was extradited from Romania after being arrested in January 2014. He pleaded guilty to charges of accessing a protected computer without authorization and aggravated identity theft.
As The New York Times has noted, Lazar was not a computer expert. He operated on a cheap laptop and a cellphone, and used tools readily available on the web. Many of his “hacks” were the result of social engineering skill and months of guessing security questions until he got in.
“He was not really a hacker but just a smart guy who was very patient and persistent,” Viorel Badea, the Romanian prosecutor who directed the case against him, told The Times.
He claimed in May that he accessed Clinton’s private email server twice — a charge the Clinton campaign has denied and that has not been verified by the FBI, which investigated the use of the server — but found the contents “not interesting” at the time.
One wounded warrior wanted to amble around the hotel pool during his honeymoon without strapping on prosthetic legs. Another wanted ice skates to fit snugly onto his prosthetic feet so he’d receive the sensory feedback he’d come to expect when engaging in his favorite pastime. And yet another wanted to hold a fishing rod while enjoying full use of the hook where his hand used to be.
These requests for custom prosthetic attachments were fulfilled by the 3-D Medical Applications Center, or 3DMAC, at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. There, a small staff of engineers and technicians use advanced digital technology and additive manufacturing, also known as 3-D printing, to design and produce personalized devices quickly and cost-efficiently.
“We’ve made more than 100 unique devices to enable activities that able-bodied people often take for granted,” said Peter Liacouras, the center’s director of services who holds a doctorate in biomedical engineering.
The devices make it easier for amputees to engage in leisure activities they enjoy, Liacouras said, as well as routine things such as drinking a glass of wine or brushing teeth. Returning to their everyday lives helps wounded warriors overcome the physical and emotional trauma of limb loss, health care experts say.
Part of Walter Reed Bethesda’s radiology department, 3DMAC is located in a small suite of offices and computer rooms tucked behind double doors at the end of a long hallway. Although it’s an unassuming-looking place, what’s happening inside is state-of-the-art. Among the center’s many projects are surgical models to produce custom implants used in dentistry and oral surgery; skull plates for blast injuries; and other models to help surgeons prepare to perform intricate procedures, and to train the next generation of dental and medical professionals.
“We also have several research projects going on,” Liacouras said. They include 3-D surveying and mapping of the human face to create a digital archive of facial anatomy. This archive could be used to fabricate implants for reconstruction if a service member became disfigured in a blast injury. “The face is the most complicated region to reconstruct and, of course, it’s what everyone sees every day,” Liacouras said.
So 3-D printed cellphone and cup holders that attach to wheelchairs or other assistive devices “may sound like they’re on the lower scale of what we do, in terms of importance,” Liacouras said. “But they’re not, because they mean a lot to wounded warriors.”
The center fabricates by request from the Defense Department and Department of Veterans Affairs health care providers. When a request is received, Liacouras usually searches the web to see if the item already exists and can be purchased and adapted. If not, 3-D printing “enables us to create custom devices, making them patient-specific,” he said. The items are made from plastic or titanium.
The center’s first assistive technology project was “shorty feet” for the honeymoon-bound bilateral amputee, in 2002. “Wearing full prosthetic legs can be cumbersome and also, the full prosthesis for pool wear are very expensive and not necessarily 100 percent waterproof,” Liacouras said.
He and his team used computer-assisted design to plan the shorty feet, then printed a plastic prototype for a fit test. They made the permanent pair in titanium alloy.
“They attach to sockets that attach to the stumps,” Liacouras said. “Think of it like walking on your knees.”
And though Liacouras admits “we didn’t fully understand the need at first,” the center has produced more than 70 pairs to date.
“They’ve really taken off,” he said, noting wounded warriors like to use them instead of full prosthetic legs if they need to get up after going to bed, and also to play with young children at the little ones’ level. Physical therapists use them to help new patients feel more comfortable and confident about getting up and moving again.
“Whatever our wounded warriors need, we’ll create,” Liacouras said.
The Marine veteran is a gold mine of experience and practicality. Marines are realists who call it like it is — and that can be a major advantage if you have a thick skin and a sense of humor.
Just ask us about the Legend of Wagner and the thing he loves.
Note: The Marine Infantryman is a particularly elusive breed. Companionship with outsiders is rare but does occur more often in post-service life. Their namesake is “03,” which is derived from the first two numbers of their MOS. They are fiercely loyal and take care of their own.
1. You won’t find a better drinking buddy
All Marines can trace their lineage back to a common birthplace of Tun Tavern. Our cultural traditions involve copious amounts of alcohol and an occasionally shaky moral compass. When you’re the tip of the spear, party like it.
2. They’re prepared for anything
Marines have a plan for zombies, the apocalypse, and natural disasters. Personally, I have a first aid kit and a fire extinguisher in my car. It’s better to have than have-not in an emergency, even if it’s basic.
3. They pay attention to detail, all the time
Marines are very good at cleaning. It’s almost like it was drilled into them or something…
4. They are unparalleled travel companions
Marines like to show off how savvy they can be while off the grid. They have the innate ability to find the best food, lodging, and parties. Actual survival techniques may vary.
5. They want you to succeed
Veterans are a cut from a different cloth of society. Marines are honest — albeit indelicate — when stating the facts, but it comes from a good place. When people want to see you fail, they’ll do it in silence. If you need a kick in the ass to get your sh*t together, Marine buddies will provide it.
6. Marines love comedy
When life gets rough, all you can do is laugh. So, Marines laugh a lot. Rest assured that if you tell a Marine a dark joke, no judgment will be passed. However, prepare yourself for one of our own, because it’s going to change your life.
[Slays in Marine humor]
7. They’re great with animals
Our pets have better healthcare than we do. We’ll do anything to keep our little buddies healthy and happy. When shown compassion or leadership, animals have been known to join a wild pack of patrolling Marines.
8. Marines are romantic
Marines excel at two things: fighting wars and making babies. Anyone who has deployed can testify to a newfound appreciation for the opposite sex. They’re going to make the most out of every opportunity to get lost in the throes of passion.