American Legion News Clips 4.17.20

Good morning, fellow quarantiners, it’s Friday, April 17, 2020.
Gee, I wonder if there’s anything in the news that doesn’t relate to the coronavirus? (NARRATOR: There wasn’t).

Anyway, here’s a “dad joke” to brighten your day. Have a good weekend.

A bear walks into a bar and says, “Give me a whiskey . . . . . . . and Coke.”
“Why the big pause?” asks the bartender.
The bear shrugged. “I’m not sure. I was born with them.”

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

  • Military Times: mseavey with “Remove” in the subject line. If you have received this from someone who forwarded it and would like to be added, email mseavey.

    Military Times: Lawmakers blast White House for blocking oversight of coronavirus equipment shortages at VA hospitals

    Leo Shane III | 20 hours ago

    Democratic members of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee on Thursday accused administration officials of trying to stonewall their efforts to monitor shortages in personal protective equipment and other key supplies at VA hospitals during the coronavirus crisis.

    In a letter Thursday to Vice President Mike Pence, who is leading the White House’s task force on coronavirus response, committee Chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif., and seven other panel lawmakers said the Office of Management and Budget have blocked their requests for copies of memos related to hospital operations at numerous sites across the country.

    “We have found that the information reported to the Committees through VA’s daily and weekly briefings — especially with regard to availability of personal protective equipment — stands in stark contrast to what we have heard from VA employees and read in the media regarding PPE shortages at VA medical facilities,” the group wrote.

    “The lack of specificity in VA’s ongoing briefings for the committee not only poses risks of potential harm to veterans, but also leads us to a simple conclusion — your administration has hamstrung VA’s ability to ensure Congress is fully informed of the full extent to which it is prepared to care for veterans.”

    The complaints center on new reports of mask rationing and other critical equipment shortages at several VA medical sites, even ones not currently seeing a large number of coronavirus cases.

    VA press secretary Christina Noel said in response to the letter that both the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees are receiving daily status updates from the department, and weekly calls with top officials.

    “All VA facilities are equipped with essential items and supplies to handle coronavirus cases, and all VA employees have the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment, as per CDC guidelines,” she said. “VA is monitoring the supply levels at every facility every day to make sure facilities have adequate PPE for the number and types of patients they are seeing. And if a facility were to fall below stock levels, the facility could be cross-leveled by another VA facility or region.”

    As of Wednesday, 119 VA hospitals had recorded at least one case of the fast-spreading virus, and 272 patients had died from the illness.

    Officially, VA leadership has told lawmakers that the department has enough protective equipment to last two weeks without any shortfalls. Union leaders have repeatedly disputed that assertion and called on the White House to provide better protection for front-line workers.

    Committee officials said they “don’t need to waste any more of (VA) Secretary (Robert) Wilkie’s and (Veteran Health Administration acting executive Richard) Stone’s valuable time with further requests for these documents when it is clear that the White House and OMB are holding up their release.”

    White House officials did not respond to requests for comment.

    Army Times: First COVID case among US troops is virus-free after a 49-day isolation

    Kyle Rempfer | 20 hours ago

    The first U.S. service member to test positive for the novel coronavirus on Feb. 26 has been declared virus-free by military medical doctors after spending 49 days in isolation, according to U.S. officials in South Korea, where the soldier is stationed.

    The American was cleared from isolation after having no symptoms for a full week, being fever-free without the use of medications and successfully passing two consecutive COVID-19 tests with negative results at least 24 hours apart, according to a U.S. Forces Korea statement on Thursday.

    The soldier was previously identified as a 23-year-old male stationed at Camp Carroll, about 15 miles from the city of Daegu. Prior to testing positive, the soldier visited nearby Camp Walker on Feb. 24. He had also been on Camp Carroll between Feb. 21-25.

    The soldier is now out of isolation and has returned to his off-base residence outside Camp Carroll. The soldier’s chain of command has not authorized him to return to duty yet, however, U.S. Forces Korea said.

    Ten more American dependents and Korean nationals working for U.S. Forces Korea have also been declared COVID-19 virus-free since March 15. Only two active duty service members have tested positive for COVID-19 on the Korean peninsula so far.

    An off-limits order for the city of Daegu was lifted Wednesday. The urban area is no longer considered a hot spot for the virus, according to a Twitter announcement by U.S. Forces Korea.

    South Korea has been praised for its ability to contain the new coronavirus by instituting drive-through test sites, temperature checks and sanitation measures early on in the pandemic. After reaching a peak of about 900 new COVID-19 cases per day in late February, the rates have now dropped to roughly 22 per day this week.

    U.S. Forces Korea has also been largely praised for its aggressive handling of the pandemic, which mirrored the efforts of South Korean officials. U.S. and Korean troops were frequently photographed during joint disinfecting operations, gearing up with one another to sanitize public areas in Daegu during the peak of the virus’ spread.

    The Pentagon’s latest tally reported more than 5,000 total COVID-19 cases among personnel, about 2,800 of which are service members. Of those, 85 were hospitalized as of Wednesday and about 446 have recovered.

    Military Times: Latest Guard coronavirus update: Troop count at 31,800 as some states warily eye looming hurricane season

    Howard Altman | 17 hours ago

    The number of Guard troops mobilized in the effort to cope with the coronavirus pandemic continues to increase even as some states are casting a wary eye toward the looming hurricane season. It begins June 1 and is expected to be more active than usual.

    There are 31,800 Air and Army National Guard professionals supporting the COVID-19 crisis response at the direction of their governors as of Wednesday afternoon.

    In addition, 40 states, three territories and the District of Columbia have now been approved for use of federal funds for state missions under Title 32.

    As of Wednesday afternoon, 573 Guard troops had tested positive for COVID-19, according to the latest figures provided by the Pentagon.

    The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is predicted to be more active than usual, according to an outlook released Thursday by the Colorado State University Tropical Meteorology Project.

    The group led by Dr. Phil Klotzbach calls for 16 named storms, eight hurricanes and four major hurricanes, according to weather.com. A major hurricane is one that is Category 3 or higher (115-plus-mph winds) on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.

    This forecast is above the 30-year average (1981 to 2010) of 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes.

    For states like Florida, which gets hit hard by hurricanes and tropical storms, that means finding and addressing capability gaps.

    “We are still figuring out how to respond to hurricanes in a COVID environment,” said Air Force Maj. Caitlin Brown, a Florida National Guard spokeswoman. “We have been thinking about this since (the pandemic) started and realized it will bleed over into hurricane season, which starts in a little more than six weeks.”

    Once the gaps are identified, the FLNG will find ways to fill them, she said.

    “We may not be able to reach out to the typical channels and we might have to partner more with state, federal and local agencies and Title 10 assets," Brown said.

    Using Title 10 active duty troops is "not typically the first place we go,” for hurricane duty, she said.

    Typical hurricane missions put Guard troops in close contact with residents and Brown said that FLNG is anticipating having to do that in a COVID-19 environment.

    “We are planning on how to rescue someone while still maintaining social distance and making sure there is enough personal protective equipment on hand, what the burn rate is and how to train people who have maybe never done this particular type of mission wearing the particular type of PPE required for COVID,” Brown said. “We are getting people trained in advance.”

    The bottom line, she said, “is that when it comes down to it, our priority is saving lives. We will do absolutely everything we can to keep our soldiers and airmen (and citizens) safe, and that’s where the training and proper PPE comes into play.”

    Meanwhile, another issue raised at a media briefing Thursday afternoon was that personal protective equipment has been an issue in Illinois, according to an official there, who said that soldiers and airmen are making their own facemasks and coverings. The protective gear is currently are going to those who are showing symptoms and to those who come in contact with potential COVID-19 patients.

    While there are concerns over whether Guard units have adequate testing capabilities, a Maryland National Guard official said troops are able to get tested with a doctor’s referral while the Texas National Guard offers temperature checks, plus antibody and blood tests.

    About two-thirds of the more than 31,800 Guard troops activated in the COVID-19 response are currently under orders authorized for up to 31 days in Title 32 502(f) status, said Army Master Sgt. W. Michael Houk, a spokesman for the National Guard Bureau.

    “As states amend orders and issue new ones based on their needs this number will keep moving,” he told Military Times. “Also based on response needs, as determined at the state level, some orders may remain under state active duty.”

    The status, ordered by Trump, means the federal government is picking up 100 percent of the cost, with control remaining in the hands of governors. It also means that those troops — risking their health and that of their families by being on the front lines of the coronavirus fight — receive healthcare and increased housing allowance equal to active duty and reserve troops doing the same work.

    There was an initial catch. Only troops on 31-day orders were eligible for the increased benefits. That problem, however, was since fixed by Trump and now states are going through the process of either initiating or amending those orders to meet the 31-day requirement for increased troop benefits.

    Navy Times: ‘Regardless of the impact to my career’ — Crozier’s email revealed, Navy won’t rule out reinstatement

    J.D. Simkins | 11 hours ago

    The leaked letter penned by the former commanding officer of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt landed on nearly every news outlet within 24 hours of it being first published by the San Francisco Chronicle.

    “We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die,” Capt. Brett Crozier wrote in the letter, which was attached to an email addressed to numerous recipients. “If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our Sailors.”

    In his message, the captain proposed that Navy officials order the evacuation of the majority of the ship’s sailors, save for approximately 10 percent of the crew who would remain onboard to operate critical systems like its nuclear reactor.

    Crozier was fired days later, on April 2, by former Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly, who informed reporters at the Pentagon of his decision due to the wide distribution of the communication over a “non-secure, unclassified” email that included “20 or 30” additional recipients.

    “It was a betrayal,” Modly told Roosevelt sailors over the ship’s 1MC intercom during a visit to Guam days later. “If he didn’t think, in my opinion, that this information wasn’t going to get out to the public, in this day and information age that we live in, then he was either A, too naïve or too stupid to be a commanding officer of a ship like this.”

    According to a Washington Post report Thursday, however, Modly characterized the dissemination of Crozier’s email as significantly more careless than the distribution list actually implied.

    The email, which was copied to seven other Navy captains, was primarily addressed to Crozier’s commanding officer, Rear Adm. Stuart Baker, U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Adm. John Aquilino, and Naval Air Forces commander Vice Adm. DeWolfe Miller.

    “I fully realize that I bear responsibility for not demanding more decisive action the moment we pulled in, but at this point my only priority is the continued well-being of the crew and embarked staff,” Crozier wrote in the email, which was first obtained by the Post.

    “I believe if there is ever a time to ask for help it is now regardless of the impact on my career.”

    Less than a week before sending the email that would cost him his job, Crozier wrote family members of sailors to inform them that the first confirmed cases of COVID-19 onboard TR had been discovered, according to the Washington Post.

    “Yesterday evening, a few sailors did the right and brave thing, reporting to medical they were experiencing flu-like symptoms,” Crozier wrote in a message obtained by the Post. “These sailors were tested . . . and this morning the results of the tests indicated positive results for coronavirus.”

    On March 24, the first three cases of COVID-19 onboard the carrier were announced by the Pentagon. Within 24 hours, the number of infected more than doubled, prompting Navy leadership in Washington to order Crozier to sideline the 4,800-person ship in Guam.

    Each subsequent day yielded more confirmed cases. As of Thursday, 655 sailors have tested positive, a number that includes the ship’s fired skipper, who is now isolated in quarantine.

    Prior to sending the email, Crozier reportedly contacted an unnamed admiral in Washington as Roosevelt sat pierside in Guam. The following day, March 29, the captain emphasized the urgency of the rapidly evolving situation in a conversation with Modly’s chief of staff, Robert Love.

    Unwilling to stall any longer, Crozier fired off his email just as Modly and Navy leadership were debating which course of action would expedite the safe removal of the carrier’s crew.

    “While I understand that there are political concerns with requesting the use of hotels on Guam to truly isolate the remaining 4,500 Sailors 14+ days, the hotels are empty, and I believe it is the only way to quickly combat the problem,” Crozier wrote in the email obtained by the Post.

    A senior defense official, meanwhile, suggested that Crozier’s plan of immediate evacuation was unrealistic.

    “The problem was there was no place to put them at that time,” the senior defense official told the Washington Post. “The governor of Guam had started working with the hotel industry to get the hotels reopened. But that doesn’t happen overnight.”

    Crozier, who was dismissed as commanding officer of Theodore Roosevelt within 48 hours of sending the email, departed the ship to rousing applause and chants of his name as he walked along the carrier’s gangway for perhaps the final time.

    Modly’s last-minute trip to Guam to offer Roosevelt sailors a profanity-laced explanation for their captain’s hasty dismissal reportedly came with an airfare tab of $243,151.65, according to estimates obtained by the Washington Post.

    Modly expensed the trip before formally submitting a waiver to side-step a policy that limits “senior officials to one air crew per trip to curb the cost of travel by military aircraft,” USA Today reported Tuesday. The former Navy secretary took the trip while only informing the “Pentagon orally that he intended to use more than one crew.”

    The Navy’s top civilian resigned amid pressure by lawmakers on Capitol Hill following his infamous speech, the audio of which was obtained by Military Times. Now, in the aftermath of his ill-advised trip and potential exposure to COVID-19, Modly, too, is in quarantine.

    Crozier, meanwhile, is not being ruled out for potential reinstatement as the skipper of his former crew.

    According to a New York Times report Wednesday, Modly’s rapid dismissal of Crozier in advance of the completion of an investigation was poorly received by Pentagon leadership, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday.

    Modly reportedly ignored the opposition of Milley and Gilday due to a belief that President Donald Trump wanted Crozier fired.

    Gilday, who is currently reviewing the results of the Navy’s investigation, is expected to make a decision this week regarding Crozier’s future.

    Speaking Thursday to NBC’s Today show, Defense Secretary Mark Esper would not rule out the possibility of restoring Crozier to his previous role, one currently held on an interim basis by the ship’s former commanding officer, Rear Adm. Select Carlos Sardiello.

    “I’ve got to keep an open mind with regard to everything,” Esper told NBC’s Today. “We’ve got to take this one step at a time, let the investigation within the Navy conclude … and we’ll take things as they can, and we’ll make very reasoned opinions and judgments as this progresses.”

    Gilday echoed those sentiments last week in a call with reporters, saying, “I am taking no options off the table as I review that investigation. I think that’s my responsibility — to approach it in a way that’s with due diligence to make sure that it’s completely fair and as unbiased as I can possibly make it.”

    On Thursday, Navy officials identified the first Roosevelt sailor to succumb to COVID-19.

    Aviation Ordnanceman Chief Petty Officer Charles Robert Thacker Jr., 41, died April 13 at U.S. Naval Hospital Guam, the service announced.

    Thacker, a native of Fort Smith, Arkansas, tested positive for COVID-19 on March 30. He was subsequently removed from the ship and placed in quarantine. On April 9, he was found unresponsive and moved to the hospital’s intensive care unit.

    Thacker’s spouse, who is an active-duty service member stationed in San Diego, was flown to Guam on April 11 and was by his side when he passed.