12 December, 2018 06:31

Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Wednesday, December 12, 2018 which is Festival of Unmentionable Thoughts*, Gingerbread House Day, National Ambrosia Day, and National Poinsettia Day.
*According to what I found, “There is scant information as to what this holiday is about, apparently because whoever created it thought its details were unmentionable. Some people probably celebrate it, likely inside their own heads, without mentioning it. They probably think about taboo subjects and unmentionable thoughts.”

This Day in History:

  • 1913: Two years after it was stolen from the Louvre Museum in Paris, Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece The Mona Lisa is recovered inside Italian waiter Vincenzo Peruggia’s hotel room in Florence. Peruggia had previously worked at the Louvre and had participated in the heist with a group of accomplices dressed as Louvre janitors on the morning of August 21, 1911.
  • 1937: During the battle for Nanking in the Sino-Japanese War, the U.S. gunboat Panay is attacked and sunk by Japanese warplanes in Chinese waters. The American vessel, neutral in the Chinese-Japanese conflict, was escorting U.S. evacuees and three Standard Oil barges away from Nanking, the war-torn Chinese capital on the Yangtze River. After the Panay was sunk, the Japanese fighters machine-gunned lifeboats and survivors huddling on the shore of the Yangtze. Two U.S. sailors and a civilian passenger were killed and 11 personnel seriously wounded, setting off a major crisis in U.S.-Japanese relations.
  • 1901: Italian physicist and radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi succeeds in sending the first radio transmission across the Atlantic Ocean, disproving detractors who told him that the curvature of the earth would limit transmission to 200 miles or less. The message–simply the Morse-code signal for the letter “s”–traveled more than 2,000 miles from Poldhu in Cornwall, England, to Newfoundland, Canada.


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Defense News: Pentagon claims nearly $4.4 billion in savings last year. Can it top it for FY19?
By: Aaron Mehta   15 hours ago
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WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s hunt for efficiencies found $4.372 billion in savings during fiscal 2018, and has already found nearly $2 billion in savings for FY19, according to new figures revealed Tuesday.
Lisa Hershman, acting chief management officer for the Defense Department, told reporters that the FY18 savings were the result of 114 potential projects identified by the CMO’s office as areas where work could net fiscal savings. While those figures are still being vetted officially by the comptroller’s office, Hershman expressed confidence they would be confirmed.
The Pentagon has been charged by the Office of Management and Budget to find $46 billion in savings between FY19 and FY23; the department had previously tacked on the more specific goals of finding $4 billion in savings in FY18 and $6 billion in FY19.
In many cases, the money came from small projects able to collectively provide big savings, Hershman said.
“We were purchasing things like batteries and light bulbs that we would buy and we would store. So we looked at: Do we really need to do that, is there something we can move to the open market and not have to worry about inventory levels because things are readily available?”
Ending the storage of those kind of items, along with a large collection of maps, freed up inventory space five times the size of the Pentagon’s central courtyard, which led directly to savings, she said.
Those savings are then handed over to the Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation as well as the comptroller’s office, and then redistributed to the department as part of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ drive to increase funds for the Pentagon’s war-fighting mission.
That the department was able to hit its FY18 target meant Hershman’s team was “jumping up and high-fiving,” she said, before adding that she hopes “to exceed” the $6 billion target for FY19, thanks to having hit $1.7 billion in savings through just the first eight weeks of the fiscal year.
Those early FY19 savings come in part from initiatives started in FY18, such as a look at the defense business systems — IT operations, essentially — that exist within the department. Of the 300 or so systems that exist, Hershman said, a recent review found that 45 are redundant and could be eliminated for $900 million in savings.
Her office is broadly focused on four key areas for FY19: information technology, health care, the supply chain and the “fourth estate,” a term covering the headquarters staff in the department. Helping on that front are the findings of the Pentagon’s first-ever audit, which has laid out some areas to target in the coming year.
The savings were initially the project of Jay Gibson, who came in as the Pentagon’s chief management officer in February 2018. But by September, Gibson had been told he was fired and shortly afterward was told to no longer report to the Pentagon; however, he was not relieved of duty until November, creating an awkward absence for staff in the CMO office.
Asked if she was set to be nominated to officially replace Gibson, Hershman declined to comment other than to say she serves at the pleasure of the president.
Military Times: Military units to reunite for mental health support in new VA pilot to prevent suicide
By: Leo Shane III   16 hours ago
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WASHINGTON — Mental health professionals in the past have touted the benefits of veterans meeting with peers for counseling sessions to discuss trauma and prevent suicide.
Now, Veterans Affairs officials are readying to take that idea one step further: Bringing whole military units back together for treatment.
The Veterans Health Administration this week announced a new pilot program with the advocacy group The Independence Fund which will reunite troops who experienced some of the toughest combat conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan for group therapy sessions, with the hopes of using those common bonds to better work through individual post-military struggles.
“I had one guy tell me, ‘I literally went to hell with these men, so I can go on a yoga retreat or whatever you want if you think it will help them,’” said Sarah Verardo, chief executive officer of The Independence Fund. “They still want to support each other. And building on that trust is key to getting some of these veterans the help they need.”
The effort comes at a time when progress on preventing veterans suicide nationwide has remained stalled. About 20 veterans a day take their own lives, a figure that has held steady in recent years.
Most of those veterans have little or no contact with official VA programs, making outreach a key component of VA’s suicide prevention programs. Dr. Keita Franklin, executive director of the department’s suicide prevention efforts, said in a statement that programs like the new pilot dubbed Operation Resilience can help reach those who need it.
The first retreat will take place in April with members of Bravo Company, 2-508 Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division — the unit where Verardo’s husband, Mike, was serving when he was severely wounded by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan eight years ago.

Since his return, the couple has attended numerous funerals of his fellow soldiers. Some were combat deaths. Several others were suicides after the unit returned home.
“It got to the point where the only time they saw each other was funerals,” she said. “We needed to change these guys’ perspective on what it means to return home.”
Details of the first event are still being worked out, but Independence Fund officials have already heard from more than a dozen more units who want to participate in future retreats. The program will focus on groups who saw heavy casualties overseas or a significant number of suicides after they returned home.
Defense Department officials are working with VA to identify unit members and issue invites. VHA officials will handle mental health counseling presentations and interventions, and use the event as an opportunity to look for ways to better connect with all veterans.
A second event is already being planned for early summer, with another hard-hit unit. Verardo hopes to expand the program in years to come.
“These are men and women who went to war together, survived Iraq and Afghanistan,” she said. “We need to help them survive at home.”
More information on the program will be available on the Independence Fund site.
Veterans who are experiencing distress may contact the Veteran Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and select option 1 for a VA staffer. Veterans, troops or their families members can also text 838255 or visit VeteransCrisisLine.net for support assistance.
Army Times: 3rd Cavalry Regiment soldiers are firing intense artillery missions into Syria with Iraqi, French allies
By: Todd South   14 hours ago
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By most official accounts, the bulk of the close fighting with ISIS militants in Iraq has been led by the Iraqis themselves.
But one place where U.S. troops get a piece of combat beyond training their partners is in providing fire support. And nowhere is that more relevant than in artillery.
Soldiers with Bravo Battery, 3rd Cavalry Regiment, part of Task Force Rifles, have been lobbing 155mm rounds across the Iraqi border at a steady pace for about three months now.
They’re sharing the firing line with their Iraqi artillery counterparts and French Army soldiers, said Col. Jonathan Byrom, task force commander and deputy director of Joint Operations Command–Iraq.
He would not disclose how many rounds the units had fired in support of the months-long mission to take out Islamic State remnants holed up in the small Syria-Iraq border town of Hajin. But he said the fire missions were “fairly intense.”
“More intense than others I’ve seen in the past,” Byrom told reporters during a videoconference call from Iraq on Tuesday. “And they’re directly contributing to the protection of the Iraqi border.”
Hajin is seen as one of the last holdouts for ISIS fighters and some leadership, which is why some officials have pointed to the three-month long battle that is still ongoing.
These missions mirror in some ways the intense artillery fire support that Marines provided for coalition fights in Raqqa, Syria, in 2017.
During a five-month period, a single Marine artillery battalion fired more rounds than any such battalion since the Vietnam War.
“They fired more rounds in five months in Raqqa, Syria, than any other Marine artillery battalion, or any Marine or Army battalion, since the Vietnam war,” Army Command Sgt. Major. John Wayne Troxell, then the senior enlisted adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Military Times in a January media discussion.
The battalion fired 35,000 artillery rounds on ISIS targets, Troxell said.
As a reference point, for the entirety of Operation Desert Storm, all Marine and Army units combined fired an estimated 60,000 artillery rounds. A little more than half of that was fired during the 2003 Iraq invasion.
Byrom was asked if units were also using missile systems such as the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System. He sidestepped that direct question and referenced only the Army’s use of M777, the towed howitzer.
The French soldiers are using an artillery system that’s decades-old for them but which has inspired a new piece of firepower for U.S. artillery officials.
The French fire the CAESAR, a mobile 155mm howitzer mounted on a six-wheeled truck. It’s a self-propelled artillery piece that’s been in their arsenal since the 1990s. The U.S. Army has stuck with towed artillery systems and armored self-propelled artillery such as the Paladin system, also a 155mm.
That’s been the case for decades, until recent experimentation at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, this past year revealed some new designs potentially up for consideration to make arty more mobile.
One such piece, the aptly named “Brutus,” is a truck-mounted 155mm Howitzer cannon build by AM General, makers of the Humvee, using the Mandus Group’s “soft recoil” technology to keep the force of the blast from destroying the truck frame.
Another, shorter-range artillery system that’s been showcased multiple times to Army artillery is “The Hawkeye,” a 105mm artillery cannon mounted on the back of a Humvee. It is also made by AM General and uses the same “soft recoil” technology.
AP: US military returns 3 disputed bells taken from Philippines as spoils of war
By: Jim Gomez, The Associated Press   19 hours ago
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MANILA, Philippines — For over a century, the Bells of Balangiga have not rung in the Philippines, a silence that the president last year called “painful.” Now, the revered bells will once again be heard in the country.
Hundreds of Filipino villagers in 1901, armed with bolos and disguised as women, used one of Balangiga town’s church bells to signal the start of a massive attack that wrought one of the bloodiest single-battle losses of American occupation forces in the Philippines.
The U.S. Army brutally retaliated, reportedly killing thousands of villagers, as the Philippine-American War raged.
After the violence, the Americans took three church bells as spoils of war that Filipinos would demand for decades to be handed back.
On Tuesday, a giant U.S. Air Force cargo aircraft brought the Bells of Balangiga back to the Philippine capital in a poignant ceremony that saw U.S. defense officials and the American ambassador to Manila return the war relics 117 years after they were seized. A military brass band played the Philippine national anthem, followed by "The Star Spangled Banner."
The treaty allies then swept aside a dark episode in their long relationship with joint photographs and handshakes.
"It is my great honor to be here at this closing of a painful chapter in our history," U.S. Ambassador Sung Kim said. "Our relationship has withstood the tests of history and flourishes today."
U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis has said the handover is an important gesture of friendship and is in America’s national security interest. Some U.S. veterans and officials had opposed the return of the bells, calling them memorials to American war dead.
At Tuesday’s handover ceremony at a Philippine air force base, the bronze bells stood atop a red platform like silent symbols of a bygone era of hostilities, as American and Philippine flags flapped in the wind. Officials from both sides called for a minute of silence for the war dead.
The bells are revered by Filipinos as symbols of national pride, and their arrival on a U.S. C-130 plane and the ceremony were shown live on national TV. Two of the bells had been displayed for decades at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and the third was with the U.S. Army in South Korea.
After being colonized by Spain for more than three centuries, the Philippines became a U.S. possession in 1898 in a new colonial era that began with the outbreak of the Philippine-American War.
American occupation troops seized the bells from a Catholic church following an attack by machete-wielding Filipino villagers, who killed 48 U.S. soldiers in Balangiga, on central Samar island off Leyte Gulf, according to Filipino historian Rolando Borrinaga.
The Americans retaliated, with a general, Jacob Smith, ordering troops to shoot villagers older than 10 and turn the island into a "howling wilderness," Borrinaga said. Thousands of villagers were reported to have been killed.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has had an antagonistic attitude toward the U.S. and has revitalized ties with China and Russia, asked Washington in his state of the nation address last year to "return them to us, this is painful for us."
"Give us back those Balangiga bells. … They are part of our national heritage," Duterte said in the speech, attended by the U.S. ambassador and other diplomats.
Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said at Tuesday’s ceremony that with the resolution of the issue, "It’s time for healing, it is time for closure, it is time to look ahead as two nations should with a shared history as allies."
Duterte has referred to violence by Americans in Balangiga and on southern Jolo island in the early 1900s in public criticism of the U.S. government after it raised concerns about his brutal crackdown on illegal drugs in which thousands have died.
A breakthrough on the bells issue came with an amendment to a U.S. law banning the return of war relics and memorials to foreign countries. That allowed the homecoming of the Balanggiga bells, said Lorenzana, who saw the bells last year in Wyoming, where he was notified by Mattis of the U.S. decision.
Philippine officials led by Duterte are to turn over the bells on Saturday to officials and the church in Balangiga, a small coastal town where villagers, some in tears, applauded while watching troops on TV screens pry open the wooden crates containing the bells.
"The Bells of Balangiga will once again peal, it will still remind the people of Balangiga of what happened in the town square more than a century ago," Lorenzana said. "But we would also look at that history with more understanding and acceptance."

Military.com: Military Pay Not Likely to Be Affected Under Threat of Partial Government Shutdown
11 Dec 2018
Military.com | By Richard Sisk
President Donald Trump got nowhere Tuesday with Democratic leadership on funding for what he called the "Great Wall" and threatened a partial government shutdown on Dec. 21 that — as it now stands — would not likely affect the Defense Department or military pay.
In previous budget impasses, Congress has passed emergency bills to guarantee that troops would be paid in the event of a shutdown, but there has been no movement thus far in Congress on such a measure.
Currently, a partial government shutdown could occur at midnight on Dec. 21 over the failure of Congress to pass spending bills to fund the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Homeland Security, Interior, State, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development.
The Defense Department was not in the mix, but there was no guarantee there wouldn’t be side effects for the military if negotiations on a solution continue to deteriorate.
The prospect for a quick compromise dissolved Tuesday in a testy, finger-pointing White House meeting between Trump, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat.
Vice President Mike Pence sat silently between the two sides, his head swiveling as the sides argued back and forth. Trump allowed cameras into the opening round of the meeting and it was televised on C-Span.
"If we don’t get what we want one way or the other, I am proud to shut down the government for border security. I will take the mantle, I will take the mantle of shutting down the government" to get funding for the border wall, Trump said.
The president has been demanding at least $5 billion as a downpayment on extending existing segments of the wall, but Democrats have suggested they would allot $1.3 billion.
Earlier on Tuesday, Trump suggested on Twitter that the military could build the wall if Congress failed to come up with the funding, although there was no money in the existing Defense Department budget for wall construction.
At the Pentagon, spokesman Army Lt. Col. Jamie Davis said there were no plans to date to have the military build sections of the wall. "However, Congress has provided options under Title 10 U.S. Code that could permit the Department of Defense to fund border barrier projects, such as in support of counter-drug operations or national emergencies" if the military were directed to do so, he said.
Trump said the active duty troops who deployed to the border just before the mid-term elections to reinforce Customs and Border Protection have done an "incredible" job at turning back the so-called "caravans" of asylum seekers. An expanded border wall would build on their accomplishments, he said.
Pelosi accused Trump of making arguments that were "frankly, devoid of fact." She challenged him to put border wall funding to a vote in the House. "There are no votes in the House a majority vote, for the wall," Pelosi said.
Trump countered that a House vote was pointless, since there would still be a lack of votes from Democrats in the Senate to get the 60 votes needed for passage.
Schumer told Trump that "we have solutions that will pass the House and the Senate," but Trump was resisting "because you can’t have your way" on the wall. "We can do border security without a wall, which is wasteful and doesn’t solve the problem," Schumer said.
"If we got $5 billion, we could do a tremendous chunk of wall," Trump responded, but he added that "it’s a tough issue because we are on very opposite sides."
There have been two brief government shutdowns previously this year. On Jan. 20, the government shut down for a weekend over immigration issues but re-opened on Jan. 23. Trump told Pelosi and Schumer "you got killed on that one," a reference to the political fallout.
There also was a second brief shutdown that began at midnight on Feb. 9 on budget matters but lasted only five hours.