How one bank is investing heavily in vet-owned business - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

How one bank is investing heavily in vet-owned business

The hardest part about starting a business is finding the seed capital to get the ball rolling. Like the first step of a thousand-mile journey, it’s the hardest and most important. For many veterans, owning their own business is the way to financial freedom. There’s a reason entrepreneurs call seed capital “friends and family money.” Now veterans don’t need to go around asking loved ones for the money – one bank is willing to jump start your idea.


To find out why, just take a look a the PenFed Foundation’s Veteran Entrepreneur Investment Program. Besides the fact that PenFed serves the military-veteran community as a consumer base, it just makes sense for the PenFed Foundation to support veterans who are looking to start their own businesses. The numbers speak for themselves. While the number of vets who actually pursue entrepreneurship is relatively small compared to the number of separating military members, that doesn’t mean there’s a lack of interest, it might just mean there’s a lack of capital to get started.

Simply put, veterans need money and knowhow. They already have the work ethic. The numbers back that fact up too.

Medal of Honor Recipient Florent Groberg will speak at the 2019 Military Influencer Conference.

Entrepreneurs who are business owners tend to out-earn entrepreneurs who are not veterans. Vets are also a much more diverse subgroup of Americans in terms of age, ethnicity, disability, and experience. There’s nothing a vet can’t do when faced with a big job full of hard work. But like many entrepreneurs, veterans or not, many lack the startup funds to get the ball rolling. That’s where the PenFed Foundation’s VEIP comes in.

The VEIP aims to develop and grow vet-owned startups with seed capital for all the reasons listed above but the most important reason to support these entrepreneurs is because vets become knowledge bases for other vets looking to start their own businesses. Not only that, veterans who own businesses are 30 percent more likely to hire veterans themselves.

Charlynda Scales, vet and founder of Mutt’s Sauce is speaking at the 2019 Military Influencer Conference.

The PenFed Foundation is a national nonprofit organization founded in 2001 that is committed to helping members of our military community secure their financial future. Its mission is to provide service members, veterans, and their families and support networks with the skills and resources they need to build a strong financial future.The Foundation changes lives through financial education.

If you’re interested in starting your own business and don’t know where to begin, the Military Influencer Conferences are the perfect place to start. There, you can network with other veteran entrepreneurs while listening to the best speakers and panels the military-veteran community of entrepreneurs can muster. Visit the Military Influencer Conference website for more information.

MIGHTY SURVIVAL

COVID-19: Putin tells officials to ‘get ready’ for fight; Iran urges IMF to move on emergency loan

The global death toll from the coronavirus is more than 87,000 with over 1.4 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

Russian President Vladimir Putin has told cabinet ministers and regional heads to prepare to battle the coronavirus as he outlined steps being taken to counter the outbreak.

“Right now we need to get ready to fight for the life of each individual in every region,” Putin said during a video conference from his residence outside Moscow on April 8 during which he outlined measures being implemented to counter the growing outbreak in the country.

Russia has more than 8,670 officially confirmed coronavirus infections and at least 63 fatalities.

However, critics have cast doubt over the veracity of the figures, saying the actual toll could be much higher.

Among the steps publicized by Putin during his address was extra pay for medical personnel and the freeing up of 10 billion rubles (3 million) from the federal budget to be disbursed among the country’s more than 80 administrative regions.

In addition, he said that medical personnel who are in direct contact with coronavirus patients would be in line for an additional bonus.

Addressing the economy, Putin said that there was “practically no such thing as a total shutdown of business,” despite the obstacles and restrictions being faced.

“We must realize what kind of damage and destructive consequences this can bring about,” he said.

Putin also told the nation that he realized it is difficult to “remain inside four walls all the time.”

“But there is no choice,” he said. “One has to make it through self-isolation,” he told chiefs of Russia’s regions, which are mostly under strict lockdown.

Iran

Iranian President Hassan Rohani has urged the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to provide Tehran a multibillion-dollar emergency loan it had requested to combat the coronavirus outbreak.

The epidemic has further damaged Iran’s economy, already battered by U.S. sanctions that were reimposed after Washington in 2018 withdrew from a landmark deal between Tehran and world powers to curb the country’s nuclear program.

Tehran, as well as several countries, the United Nations, some U.S. lawmakers, and human rights groups have urged the United States to ease the sanctions to help Iran respond more effectively to the virus.

The outbreak has officially infected more than 62,500 people and killed over 3,800 in the country. Iranian officials have been criticized for their slow initial response to the pandemic, and experts have been skeptical about the veracity of official figures released by the authorities, who keep a tight lid on the media.

“We are a member of the IMF…. There should be no discrimination in giving loans,” Rohani said in a televised cabinet meeting on April 8.

“If they do not act on their duties in this difficult situation, the world will judge them in a different way,” he added.

Last month, the Central Bank of Iran asked the IMF for billion from its Rapid Financing Initiative to help to fight the pandemic in one of the hardest-hit countries in the world.

An IMF official was quoted as saying the Washington-based lender was in dialogue with Iranian officials over the request.

Iran has not received assistance from the IMF since a “standby credit” issued between 1960 and 1962, according to the fund’s data.

U.S. President Donald Trump has offered some humanitarian assistance, but Iranian officials have rejected the offer, saying Washington should instead lift the sanctions, which Rohani on April 8 equated to “economic and medical terrorism.”

Medicines and medical equipment are technically exempt from the U.S. sanctions but purchases are frequently blocked by the unwillingness of banks to process transactions for fear of incurring large penalties in the United States.

In one of the few instances of aid, Britain, France, and Germany used a special trading mechanism for the first time on March 31 to send medical supplies to Iran in a way that does not violate the sanctions.

The three countries sent supplies via Instex, the mechanism set up more than a year ago to allow legitimate humanitarian trade with Iran.

On April 7, Iran’s parliament reconvened for the first time since the coronavirus outbreak forced it to close, and rejected an emergency bill calling for a one-month nationwide lockdown.

More than two-thirds of the legislature’s 290 members gathered in the absence of speaker Ali Larijani, who tested positive for the virus last week.

During the session, deputy speaker Massud Pezeshkian criticized the Rohani administration for “not taking the outbreak seriously.”

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on April 7 condemned the detention of journalist and workers’ rights defender Amir Chamani in the northwestern city of Tabriz after he posted tweets about the health situation in Iran’s prisons and protests by inmates.

The Paris-based media freedom watchdog quoted Chamani’s family as saying he was detained on April 2 after being summoned by the cyberpolice.

The authorities have given no reason for the arrest of Chamani, who was transferred to a detention center run by the intelligence department of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, according to RSF.

Romania

Romania has confirmed another 344 cases of COVID-19 to reach 4,761, with 18 more fatalities that brought the toll to 215, the country’s coronavirus task force said on April 7, amid renewed calls for a sustained increase in the number of tests.

More than 700 of those infected are health-care workers.

The first fatality among medical staff was reported on April 8 — an ambulance paramedic from the northeastern city of Suceava who had reportedly kept working without being tested for days, although his health was deteriorating rapidly.

Suceava is the epicenter of the outbreak in Romania and has been under lockdown since last week.

The first coronavirus death was registered in Romania on March 22.

An additional 631 Romanians tested positive for COVID-19 abroad, most of them — 412 — in Italy, the world’s hardest-hit country. Some 37 Romanians have died so far in Italy, Britain, France, Spain, and Germany.

The country has been under a state of emergency since March 16, and President Klaus Iohannis on April 6 announced his intention to extend it by one month, while the government decided to postpone local elections that should have been held in early summer.

The Suceava paramedic’s death adds to worries about how Romania’s system is coping with the epidemic. Doctors and nurses have spoken out in recent weeks over insufficient equipment for those treating COVID-19 cases, and many medical staff have resigned over the shortages as well as mismanagement and fatigue.

Romanian platform for online activism DeClic has launched an Internet campaign urging the authorities to speed up the testing under the slogan “Mr. [Prime Minister Ludovic] Orban, don’t toy with our lives.”

Romania, a country of 19.5 million, has tested 47,207 people for coronavirus. By comparison, fellow EU member the Czech Republic has tested almost 99,000 people out of a total of 10.5 million. The Czech death toll stands at 99, less than half of Romania’s.

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Romanian Service, digi24.ro, g4.ro, Reuters, and hotnews.ro

North Caucasus

A former top official of the independent Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, Akhmed Zakayev, has been hospitalized in London with coronavirus symptoms.

Zakayev’s relatives told RFE/RL that the exiled former member of the Chechen separatist government was hospitalized on April 6 after he experienced difficulties breathing.

The relatives added that three days prior to his hospitalization, other family members were experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, such as fever and cough, as well.

Medical officials asked Zakayev’s relatives to sign a consent paper to use artificial respiration during his treatment.

Zakayev, 60, served as culture minister, deputy prime minister, prime minister, and foreign minister in Chechnya’s separatist government.

He and his immediate family members have been residing in exile in London since 2002.

He is wanted in Russia for alleged terrorism, which he and his supporters deny.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This Navy mom is taking on veteran health care

Women veterans make up 8% of Oregon’s veteran population. However, that growing population requires answers to the unique challenges facing women veterans.

The Women Veterans Program at the Roseburg VA Health Care System is designed to identify those challenges. It also works with women veterans to find those answers, according to Jessica Burnett, social worker and interim Women Veterans Program manager. Burnett is pictured above with her daughter Emily.


“How can we serve them best?”

For Burnett, the mission is personal

“I am a true Oregonian. After visiting many places, I knew Oregon is where my heart is,” said Burnett. “I spent nearly 15 years providing rural social services in Coos and Curry Counties. I decided it was time to move to a warmer climate and relocated to Roseburg, where my daughter attended college.

“My daughter came home one day and said, ‘Hey Mom. I’ve decided to take a different path in life and I signed up for the Navy.’ I didn’t see that coming. She said, ‘This is something I felt called to do and this is what I’m going to do.’ My role at that point was to be a support person. I felt if my daughter is feeling called to do this, I’m going to see what I can do to support veterans, and I came to VA.”

Burnett hopes to expand services available for all veterans – primary care, mental health, housing assistance. She also wants to localize it specifically for women veterans. She fosters a program that is open, accessible, welcoming and veteran-centric.

“From my perspective, we should be taking a patient-centered approach. Hearing their feedback, what is it that they need? Let them tell us what they need so we can best support them. It is their journey, their life. We don’t know unless we ask the question, ‘How can we can serve them best?'”

For Burnett, the best way to serve women veterans is to expand on the understanding of women veteran needs and the availability of health care specific to women: yearly exams, such as pap smears and mammograms.

And support for those recovering from post-traumatic stress disorder and military sexual trauma.

“When she comes home, I want her to have top-notch health care.”

Women veterans, the fastest growing minority population

“Women veterans served alongside men. They are a minority within the VA, but they’re the fastest growing minority population,” said Burnett. Her daughter serves aboard the USS Gerald R. Ford, which is stationed in Norfolk, Virginia.

“Women tell me all the time they get addressed as ‘Mister’ instead of ‘Miss.’ It’s just assumed that they are a spouse or if it’s just a last name, that they are male.

“I feel we really need to put a lot of effort and work into women’s health care in VA because it is an area that, previously and historically, hasn’t been part of VA.

“My daughter is active duty right now, but when she comes home, I want her to have a health care system that is top-notch.

“I want it to be better than what she can find in the community.”

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Pompeo says U.S. will ‘do everything’ to stop Nord Stream 2 Project

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has told lawmakers that the United States intends to impose sanctions on firms that continue to help Russia build a natural-gas pipeline to Europe as he sought to dispel concerns about Washington’s commitment to halt the controversial project.

“We will do everything we can to make sure that that pipeline doesn’t threaten Europe,” Pompeo told a senate hearing on July 30, adding: “We want Europe to have real, secure, stable, safe energy resources that cannot be turned off in the event Russia wants to.”


Pompeo told the panel that the United States has already been in touch with some companies working on Nord Stream 2 about the risks they face if they don’t halt their activities.

The State Department and Treasury Department “have made very clear in our conversations with those who have equipment there the expressed threat that is posed to them for continuing to work on completion of the pipeline,” he said.

The United States opposes the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which would run under the Baltic Sea and double Russia’s direct natural gas exports to Germany while bypassing Ukraine.

Washington claims the pipeline would increase Europe’s dependence on Russian gas while also hurting Ukraine, which stands to lose billions of dollars in gas-transit fees.

‘Frustrations’ With Germany

Work on the nearly billion project, which is more than 90 percent complete, was halted in December after the United States passed a law that imposed sanctions on vessels laying the pipeline, forcing Swiss-based AllSeas to pull out.

Russian vessels are now seeking to finish the project, but they require help from international companies such as insurers and ports, which Pompeo has now threatened to sanction.

Pompeo earlier in the month announced that he was removing guidelines from a 2017 Congressional bill that exempted the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from sanctions amid signs that Russia was taking steps to complete the project.

During the July 30 hearing, Senator Ted Cruz (Republican-Texas) said he had discussed Nord Stream 2 in “considerable depth” with President Donald Trump a day earlier during their trip to Western Texas, a major energy producing region.

Texas potentially benefits from the continued delay of Nord Stream 2 as it opens the possibility of more U.S. liquefied-natural-gas exports to Europe. Russia has accused the United States of using energy sanctions as a “weapon” to open up new markets for its oil and gas industry.

Cruz said Trump expressed “frustrations” with the leadership of Germany, which continues to support the Nord Stream 2 project.

U.S.-German relations have suffered under Trump, who recently announced he would be pulling about 12,500 troops from the country.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY MOVIES

Why Owen from ‘Jurassic World’ is one of the most accurate movie vets

Hollywood seems to have a skewed idea of veterans who return to the civilian world. They’re either over-the-top action junkies, like John Rambo (in movies outside of First Blood), or they’re a broken-down husk of who they once were, like, well, basically any character in any drama set after a war’s end.


In real life, veterans are cut from the same cloth as everyone else. You’ve got your outstanding, Captain America-types, your aggressive Punisher-types, and just about everyone in between. But all of the characteristics of your everyday veteran can be seen clearly in Chris Pratt’s character, Owen Grady, in 2015’s Jurassic World.

Related: Some veterans went balls out and made a ‘Jurassic Park’ fan film

Grady’s service is barely hinted at in the movie. In the scene where Owen and Claire are trying to find her nephews, Claire implies that Owen could, simply, just track them down by their scent or footprints. Owen quickly (and hilariously) responds with, “I was with the Navy, not the Navajo.

This one line gives a whole new meaning to everything that he does throughout the film.

Owen is reclusive, professional, mission-oriented, and reasonable — much like a real-life veteran. They don’t have him claim some overly badass job description — he just says that he was in the Navy. He, like 97% of the military, wasn’t a special operator.

In fact, his role in the military is never explicitly stated, but when you look at his skills in leading Blue and the raptors, he shows talents very similar to those of a dolphin and marine animal trainer — which makes sense since it explains why the film’s antagonist, Vic Hoskins, hired him directly out of the Navy. Vic also mentions Owen’s military service and refers him as a “dog of war,” which Owen shrugs off.

But what really defines Owen as a character is he demeanor. He’s smart enough to know the ins-and-outs of the island while also being jaded enough to only speak up once. This usually involves him telling people that raptors aren’t able to be controlled right before the raptors rips someone to shreds. Hey, at least he tried to tell ya.

It’s unclear if they will further elaborate on Owen’s backstory in the upcoming Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom but, so far, Owen Grady’s character is an excellent, authentic representation of veterans that doesn’t make us look like heroes or broken men — but rather just like any other guy who’s good at surviving bad situations.

MIGHTY MONEY

Army reports lack of training as biggest setback to readiness

Earlier this month, the Army’s top general in charge of supplying units with troops blamed a lack of readiness on limited time for training, adding that lack of funding isn’t the biggest challenge.


Head of Army Forces Command Gen. Robert Abrams said the lack of training stems from lawmakers making policy that commits the service to engagements around the world without an eye toward keeping the force healthy and trained up.

U.S. Soldiers of Rider Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade record information while conducting a brief during exercise Combined Resolve VII at the U.S. Army’s Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels Germany, Sept. 11, 2016. The exercise is designed to train the Army’s regionally allocated forces to the U.S. European Command. Combined Resolve VII includes more than 3,500 participants from 16 NATO and European partner nations. (U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Caleb Foreman)

Abrams explained that soldiers were expected to deploy more and have less time home because of downsizing.

“Our goal has always been … one month gone, two months back,” Abrams said, adding that the Army is currently experiencing a ratio of “deploy-to-dwell” that trends closer to one month gone, one month back.

“Our commitments worldwide across the globe in support of our combatant commanders remains at a very high level while we continue to simultaneously downsize the total force,” Abrams told an audience at the annual Association of the U.S. Army conference in Washington.

“Our number one constraint for training is time available.”

Recent budget cuts have forced the Army to reduce its total active duty soldiers to 450,000 while still meeting its obligations worldwide. As a result, the operational tempo for soldiers is higher and more demanding — ultimately requiring soldiers to train more, for longer periods of time, in addition to more and longer deployments, Army officials say.

“The impact of non-standard missions continues to have a degrading effect across our force in being able to sustain proficiency in combined arms maneuver,” Abrams said.

Because soldiers are experiencing a minimal deploy-to-dwell time, there isn’t enough time for soldiers to maintain the training the Army requires.

“We struggle today to maintain and meet Department of the Army standards in our critical combat fleets,” Abrams explained before highlighting unmet requirements within the Army’s aviation and ground fleets. He was quick to explain that in aviation in particular, the problems do not lie with the aviators. The problem stems, instead, with plans to restructure the way the Army finances those fleets, impacting training requirements, upkeep on aircraft, and overall readiness of aviators.

While Abrams was very careful not to blame funding shortfalls for the readiness issues facing the Army, he did not hesitate to blame the readiness of the National Guard in particular on lack of money.

“We’ve dug ourselves this hole because of funding,” Abrams said.

Despite the tough times, Abrams said the Army has made tremendous strides in the last year in terms of readiness and overall capabilities.

“Last year at this exact forum, one of underlying themes was that as an army in terms of our joint war-fighting capabilities, we were pretty rusty,” he said. “I’m happy to report today that we have made progress in our ability.”

MIGHTY CULTURE

Support for Veterans facing homelessness

Having to stay home for your health is challenging enough. Imagine being told to stay home when you had no home or were worried about losing it. What would you do? Where would you turn?

Tens of thousands of Veterans in the United States live that reality. In January 2019, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) counted more than 37,000 Veterans living in emergency shelters, in transitional housing, or without any housing at all. Many more Veterans are at imminent risk for losing their housing in the coming months. Precise data is nearly impossible to collect because the population is transient by definition.

We do know that too many Veterans experience homelessness.


Any effort to help these Veterans must address not only their housing but also their mental health. The relationship between homelessness and mental health challenges is complicated, with each potentially impacting the other. For example, mental health issues might prevent a Veteran from holding a job that would allow them to afford stable housing. Similarly, homelessness is considered a traumatic event that can worsen mental health; it’s associated with issues such as increased alcohol use and lower recovery rates from mental illness.

As part of its commitments to improve Veterans’ mental health and relieve housing instability, VHA has developed a guidebook to provide Veterans facing homelessness with information about local resources and options.

“Connecting Veterans With VHA Homeless Programs: A Patient-Centered Booklet to Help Veterans Navigate VHA Resources” isn’t your typical informational resource. It’s a “graphic medicine” booklet, with information presented in graphic novel style, using stories and illustrations to convey important messages that makes the guidance easy to follow.

Because VA facilities vary in scope and size, the printable, 10-page booklet is designed to be customizable. Each facility can include local contact information for asking questions about program eligibility and how to access VHA and community-based services for Veterans who are homeless.

A VHA homelessness program manager said the booklet “gives providers another way to put a tangible reminder in a Veteran’s hand,” showing that VA has something for them.

One Veteran described the booklet as “in-depth and helpful” and noted that “everything is useful if you need the services.”

Why a graphic booklet?

The use of comics in graphic medicine guides has been around for decades. Today’s versions are in the graphic novel style, which gives room for the content writers to tackle more-serious-than-traditional comic books in both their topics and tone.

The combination of storytelling and expressive art can convey complex, layered ideas and information that neither writing nor pictures can achieve alone. With graphic medicine, the comic style can give even bland clinical data a familiar, approachable feel. Plus, its unique appearance stands out among VA waiting room pamphlets and may attract those who either need housing support or know a Veteran who does.

This patient-centered form of communication is gaining wider acceptance in the medical community, in part because it works. A study found that in one hospital’s emergency room, 98% of patients who received their discharge instructions in comic form read them, while only 79% read their traditional discharge instructions.

Experts also say graphic medicine books can have an emotional impact on readers because they often include authors’ personal experience with the issue at hand. In the case of “Connecting Veterans,” members of the book’s advisory committee at the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System included Veterans — some with firsthand experience of housing challenges — and professionals from VA’s homelessness programs.

Ray Facundo, a social worker, researcher and Army Veteran, played an integral, hands-on role in developing the booklet. He explained that it was important to include input from other Veterans: “We should never do something for them without them.”

Integrating a range of resources

VHA took the lead in creating the guide because homelessness is associated with health concerns — some that one might expect, such as exposure, untreated injuries or being subjected to violence, as well as a suicide risk that’s 10 times that of the general population.

Even though “Connecting Veterans” is distributed by VHA providers, the booklet combines resources from VA offices that are often viewed as separate entities. The booklet takes a team approach in working toward improving stability and mental well-being through a range of programs and services, including:

Independently and in collaboration with federal and community partners, VA programs provide Veterans with housing solutions, employment opportunities, health care and justice- and reentry-related services.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

Articles

300 Marines will deploy to help counter Taliban insurgents

Afghan officials appear confident a planned deployment of about 300 U.S. Marines will help local forces reverse insurgent gains in the embattled southern province of Helmand.


Backed by airpower, the Afghan National Army has intensified offensive operations in the largest Afghan poppy-growing province, after the Taliban captured the strategically important district center of Sangin in late March, although government officials continue to dispute the claim.

Afghan forces in overnight operations are reported to have killed dozens of insurgents and destroyed several narcotics-producing factories in Helmand.

Lance Cpl. Mike Carro holds security for Marines in South Central Afghanistan. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Jemssy Alvarez Jr.)

The provincial governor, Hayatullah Hayat, says national security forces are prepared and better placed this year to beat back the Taliban. They already have cleared areas around the provincial capital of Lashkargah and nearby districts.

“We have [also] started clearing pockets of [insurgents] in Garmsir district, in Marjah district, and also this will be done in Sangin district,” Hayat told Voice of America.

Marine backup

Hayat sounded upbeat about a planned deployment of Marines in Helmand, saying it will boost local efforts to evict the Taliban, which is currently in control of most of the province.

“I am quite sure they will have definitely lots of positives to bring in the frontline and also changing the security situation down in Helmand,” Hayat noted. He emphasized that Afghans will continue to lead the security operations, and U.S. Marines will serve in an “advise-and-assist” role.

The Pentagon announced in January it will send a task forces of about 300 Marines back to Helmand in the wake of rapid insurgent advances and heavy casualties inflicted on Afghan forces during the 2016 fighting season.

Marines will be returning to an area where they have engaged for years in intense deadly battles with the Taliban. This will be the first deployment since 2014 when the U.S.-led international forces combat forces withdrew from Afghanistan.

Peace talks offered

Governor Hayat again urged the insurgents to quit fighting and join the Afghan government-led peace process.

“I think the only solution [to the conflict] in Afghanistan is negotiations. It’s the land of jirgas (tribal dispute resolution councils) and it’s the land of talks. Any problems, even if they were big or small, can be resolved through negotiations and dialogue,” he said.

The Taliban has extended its control of influence across Afghanistan since the withdrawal of U.S.-led international combat forces two years ago, and efforts aimed at encouraging the insurgents to come to the table for peace talks with Kabul have not yet succeeded.

Russia plans to host a multi-nation conference of Afghanistan’s immediate and far neighbors on April 14 to try to jump-start peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

Representatives of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, India, China, and several former Soviet Central Asian states have been invited to the talks in Moscow.

The United States also was invited to attend the meeting, but turned down the invitation, questioning Russian objectives and intentions for initiating the process.

A Taliban spokesman said late March it was not in a position to comment, and would not consider whether to attend the Moscow talks until the group received an invitation.

MIGHTY TRENDING

These are the responses to Trump’s DC military parade

President Donald Trump has directed the Pentagon to prepare a grand military parade in Washington, DC, and the initial response has been largely negative.


Democratic lawmakers quickly came out against it Feb. 6, with Rep. Jackie Speier of California telling CNN, “we have a Napoleon in the making here” and saying, “everyone should be offended” by the idea.

“Oh my god… he wants to be Kim Jong Un,” the MSNBC personality Joy Reid remarked on Twitter in response to the news.

The Pentagon is said to be exploring dates for such a parade. But if it does happen, Trump wouldn’t be the first U.S. president, or even the first modern one, to hold a military parade in Washington, DC.

There’s a long history of military parades in the U.S., but its recent history is anchored in the Cold War when the U.S. showed off nuclear missiles long before North Korea’s Kim dynasty even had the capability.

Kim Jong Un waves at North Korean soldiers. (Image KCNA)

Recent history of U.S. military parades — and their nukes

In 1953 and 1957, Dwight Eisenhower’s inaugurations included nuclear-capable missiles rolling down Pennsylvania Avenue.

In 1961, John F. Kennedy’s inaugural parade included four types of nuclear missiles, the nuclear historian Stephen Schwartz pointed out on Twitter.

Both Kennedy and Eisenhower presided over some of the tensest days of the Cold War-era nuclear-arms race with the Soviet Union.

In Kennedy’s case, a frightened U.S. had just watched the Soviets’ Sputnik satellite, mankind’s first, passing through the skies. American schoolchildren were drilled on how to hide under desks in the event of a nuclear attack. After all, if the Soviets could put a satellite in space and fly it around the world, they could also put up the bomb.

On the other end of the Cold War, when the U.S. emerged victorious from the Gulf War, President George H.W. Bush brought back the military for another parade.

The U.S. victory had been decisive, with Saddam Hussein’s army, the world’s third-largest at the time, decimated by superior U.S. military power. Though 20,000 to 30,000 U.S. casualties were forecast in the conflict, where chemical weapons had killed scores of civilians, fewer than 300 U.S. troops died.

Also Read: North Korea wants to scare the US with a huge military parade

The U.S. brought its troops home for a parade in June 1991, when Bush’s approval rating was soaring.

Later that year, the Kremlin lowered the Communist hammer-and-sickle flag for the last time. The Soviet Union imploded, and the Cold War ended.

The Cold War is back on, parades and all

Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. has withdrawn troops from Europe and taken measures to reduce its military footprint and nuclear stockpiles. The Obama administration increasingly treated Russia like a partner and less like a competitor.

But late in Obama’s presidency, the tide started to turn. Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014 to a muted U.S. and NATO response.

Russia intervened in Syria’s civil war the next year and immediately started bombing U.S.-backed forces. Additionally, Russia stands accused of violating arms-control agreements with the U.S. and placing nuclear weapons in Europe, much as it did in the Cold War.

China, over the same period, embarked on a massive, ambitious campaign to rebuild its military and dominate the South China Sea, a shipping lane where annual commerce worth trillions of dollars passes through, and where China has ignored international law in building artificial islands in contested territory.

The return to Cold War footing for Eastern powers isn’t Trump’s doing and didn’t happen on his watch, but the U.S.’s embrace of a new Cold War definitely is.

China and North Korea used to be friends. Now, China won’t even take their calls.

Trump takes aim at China and Russia, looking to fight fire with fire

The Trump administration recently released a series of documents outlining the U.S.’s foreign policy and military bearings. In the National Defense Strategy, the National Security Strategy, and the Nuclear Posture Review, the Trump administration has consistently named its biggest challenges as taming the rises of Russia and China.

Trump’s new nuclear posture looks past arms control and toward an arms race.

Russia regularly holds military parades. So does North Korea. So do many U.S. allies, including many democracies.

Trump’s military parade may be costly, and it may tax an already stretched military, but in context, it marks a return to Cold War-era great-power competition.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Watch the Ukroboronprom ‘Fantom’ take its first step toward world domination

A new fighting robot called the Phantom might be deployed on the battlefield in eastern Ukraine next year, according to Defense One.


Ukroboronprom, the Ukrainian defense contractor developing the robot, displayed the robot at the Association of the US Army show in Washington DC on October 9th, Defense One reported.

The Phantom can be fitted with tracks or wheels, as well as a wide variety of weapons, including a coaxial 23 mm machine gun, antitank missiles, and grenade launchers, according to Ukroboronprom.

It runs on a 30 kilowatt hybrid engine that can hit speeds of up to 37 mph, and it can cover a maximum distance of about 81 miles, Ukroboronprom said. It is even capable of evacuating wounded soldiers from the field.

The Phantom also has a backup microwave-communication link that allows it to function even if its receiver is jammed or hacked, Defense One reported. This feature was specifically designed to counter Russian electronic-warfare attacks that have plagued Ukrainian forces, especially in the early days of the war.

The US is developing fighting robots as well, and Russia already “has a wide array of ground bots” but has not deployed them to the Donbas, according to Defense One.

Ukroboronprom is looking to sell the Phantom and form partnerships in general with other nations, especially the US, according to Foreign Policy.

“We came [to the AUSA in DC] to show our expertise and potential — to show that we can be partners,” Roksolana Sheiko, director of communications policy for UkrOboronProm, told Foreign Policy.

In recent months, the US and Ukraine have agreed to or discussed a number of weapons-and military-equipment sales and joint ventures.

In June, two deals were made to facilitate sale of military equipment and promote joint research and development between the two countries.

In late July, the Pentagon said it was considering arming Kyiv with lethal weapons, including the Javelin antitank missile, to deter Russia.

In late August, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis announced during his visit to Kyiv that the US had just approved supplying Ukraine with $175 million in military equipment.

The US, however, is still weighing whether to supply Ukraine with lethal weapons, as some believe it might actually provoke, instead of deter, Russia.

Watch the Phantom in action below.

Articles

Here’s why the F-35 could thrive in the South China Sea

As tensions mount in the troubled waters of the South China Sea, US might is considered crucial, and a weapon considered well suited for the region is almost ready for deployment: the F-35 Lightning II.


“It will absolutely thrive in that environment,” retired Air Force Col. John “JV” Venable told Business Insider.

At a cool $100 million per jet, Lockheed Martin’s “jack-of-all-trades” aircraft is America’s priciest weapons system, and its development has become one of the most challenged programs in the history of the Department of Defense.

An F-35C Lightning II on USS George Washington during F-35C Development Test III. | Lockheed Martin

Since its inception, in 2001, the F-35 has experienced setbacks that include faulty ejection seats, software delays, and helmet display issues.

In July 2015, after cost overruns, design modifications, and serious testing, the Marine Corps became the first of the sister-service branches to declare the tri-service fighter ready for war.

A year and change later, the Air Force also declared their version of the fifth generation jet initial operational capability (IOC). Currently the US Navy variant, the F-35C, is slated to reach IOC by February 2019.

An F-35C Lightning II comes in for a landing on USS George Washington during F-35C Development Test III. | Lockheed Martin

“Having three different types of fighters working for you in that environment [South China Sea] is also an extraordinary advantage,” Venable, a fighter pilot and former commander of the celebrated Air Force Thunderbirds, told Business Insider.

With rival territorial claims by Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, the Philippines, Taiwan, and China, the South China Sea — rich in natural resources and crisscrossed by shipping routes — is one of the most militarized areas on the planet.

Overlapping claims in the South China Sea | Voice of America

Currently the US, with the world’s largest navy, dominates the region; however, that is poised to change as Beijing dramatically expands its naval capabilities.

“At some point, China is likely to, in effect, be able to deny the US Navy unimpeded access to parts of the South China Sea,” Robert Kaplan, senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and author of  “Asia’s Cauldron,” wrote.

“The withdrawal of even one US aircraft carrier strike group from the Western Pacific is a game changer.”

According to Venable, the F-35, designed to marry stealth and avionics, would thrive in the armed camp that has become the South China Sea.

“The Chinese would be right to fear the United States Air Force, United States Navy, and the United States Marine Corps armed with those jets.”

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Marines hold rifle and pistol competition on Okinawa

The competition allowed Marines stationed in Japan to test and enhance their shooting abilities.

“The concept of every Marine a rifleman goes back to our basics,” said Sgt. Christian Lee Burdette, an ordinance maintenance chief with Marine Corps Installations Pacific. “We learn basic infantry skills before we learn our military occupational specialty. Every Marine in general has the capabilities to engage any threat with a weapon. With this training, it provides that confidence for a Marine to engage effectively.”


The first day of the competition included a brief morning class to brush the competitors up on their marksmanship knowledge followed by competitors zeroing their rifles. Zeroing is the process of calibrating the rifle combat optic, so the weapon is accurate to where the shooter is aiming. The shooters’ zero is essential, as a faulty zero can disrupt a shooters’ ability to hit their target.

The following week allowed the shooters to practice the various courses of fire. To complete certain courses, the shooters were forced to shoot with their off-hand and eye.

U.S. Marines competing in the Far East Marksmanship Competition engage targets at Range 18 on Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan Dec. 13, 2018.

(Photo by Pfc. Brennan Beauton)

“It puts you into unknown situations, instead of just shooting on a flat range and known distances,” said Sgt. Shane Holum, an emergency service crew chief with MCIPAC. “You have multiple targets and you are shooting and moving. You have to work through problems and malfunctions.”

The final week was for score. All of the shooters’ shots were marked and recorded. Marines were able to compete as an individual, a team, or both. Each shooter had to complete the standard Marine Corps rifle and pistol qualification course along with other courses. The additional courses required shooters to fire and maneuver obstacles, and switch weapons while engaging targets at different distances.

Sixteen teams competed on Dec. 13, 2018, in a rifle and pistol competition. To enter and compete as a team, each team must include four shooters. A team must have an officer and a first time shooter. The first time shooter must be at least a noncommissioned officer.

A U.S. Marine shooter and spotters assess the target in the Team Pistol Match finals at Range 1 on Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan Dec. 13, 2018.

(Photo by Pfc. Brennan Beauton)

“Any command that is stationed on Okinawa or mainland Japan can come out to the competition,” said Staff Sgt. Stephen Ferguson, an instructor and competitor for the Marine Corps Shooting Team. “You can bring as large as a team as you want, or bring a single shooter. Either way, you can come out and compete.”

The Marine Corps Base Camp Butler’s team won the team rifle competition. The Communication Strategy and Operations Company on Camp Hansen won the team pistol competition, the same day the unit became officially activated. On Dec. 14, 2018, the MCB rifle team was presented with the Calvin A. Lloyd Memorial Trophy, and the CommStrat pistol team was presented with the Shively Trophy.

“Annual qualification is once a year,” said Sgt. Cameron Patrick, an instructor and competitor for the Marine Corps Shooting Team. “Shooting is a very perishable skill so we want you to not just do the qualification, but to try and get out and practice on your own time. Actually refine your skills by yourself. Don’t wait for that one year to come around.”

The top 10 percent of shooters are invited to participate in the United States Marine Corps Marksmanship Championship Competition in Quantico, Virginia, in April 2019. From there they will be evaluated to see if the individual has the qualities of becoming a member of the Marine Corps Shooting Team, according to Patrick.

The Far East Competition is held annually on Okinawa. Marines that want to participate are encouraged to sign up early as slots fill up quickly.

This article originally appeared on the United States Marine Corps. Follow @USMC on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This church fell on 9/11, but Greek grit built it back better

A small Greek Orthodox church decimated by the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack will reopen next year as a national shrine, in grander size and form.


The south tower of the World Trade Center demolished the modest 35 ft tall St. Nicholas church when it fell on 9/11, but architect Santiago Calatrava is bringing it back with a unique design, according to the Associated Press.

St. Nicholas was the only other building besides the twin towers completely destroyed during the 9/11 terrorist attack. Now the church, being rebuilt as a national Orthodox shrine according to Calatrava’s design, will begin offering services in 2018 as The St. Nicholas National Shrine.

“What I’m trying to do as an architect is give a sense of hope,” Calatrava told AP.

The St. Nicholas National Shrine, which stands where the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church stood before 9/11, is set to open for services in 2018. (Associated Press photo via News Edge)

The church’s design is inspired by the Hagia Sophia and the Church of the Holy Savior in Chora, two Byzantine-era shrines in Istanbul. The structure will sport an outer layer of marble mined from the same quarry that supplied the marble for the Parthenon in Athens, with the permission of Greece’s government, and will be lit up from the inside to give the appearance of a glow at night.

The Greek government, various Greek Orthodox church members, and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston provided funding for the church’s $50 million construction, as did the Italian town of Bari, as St. Nicholas is their patron saint.

“You’ll see that the dome is glowing and the front is glowing, said Jerry Dimitriou, executive director of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. “The dome area will all be illuminated like a candle.

The dome of the St. Nicholas National Shrine, which stands where the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church stood before 9/11, will glow from the inside. (Associated Press photo via News Edge)

“On one side you have water and memory, and on the other side, in the church, you have the idea of the light of the candle and the flame and the sense of hope,” Calatrava added.

The Greek Orthodox church established the original building as a church in 1919, and stubbornly refused to move during the construction of the twin towers.

“All of the buildings around it were sold,” said Olga Pavlakos, member of the parish board and descendant of some of the church’s founders. “We stood our ground. Greeks are tough people.”

The church building could not stand against the terroristic destruction of 9/11, but the church itself will continue on, intended as an icon of reflection and hope for all who wish to enter.

“It’s not only for Greek people, it’s a place for everybody,” Pavlakos said. “And that’s what we stood for before, so this is a continuation.”