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Air National Guard Pilot Killed in Ukrainian Fighter Jet Crash

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A U.S. Air National Guardsman and a Ukrainian pilot were killed when an Su-27UB Flanker-C fighter crashed in Ukraine’s Khmelnytskyi region during Exercise Clear Sky, the U.S. Air Force confirmed Wednesday.

The airman involved in the crash was a member of the California Air National Guard’s 144th Fighter Wing, U.S. Air Forces Europe-Africa said in a release.

The airman was with the Ukrainian pilot in the twin-seat Su-27 for a familiarization flight; no other aircraft were involved in the mishap, USAFE said.

The identity of the service member is being withheld until the next of kin has been notified.

“This is a sad day for the United States and Ukraine,” Maj. Gen. Clay Garrison, commander of the California Air National Guard and the exercise director, said in a release. “Our deepest condolences go out to the family, friends and fellow airmen of both the U.S. airman and Ukrainian aviator who were killed in the incident.”

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The crash occurred at approximately 5 p.m. local time Tuesday. The Ukrainian General Staff had issued an online statement indicating that both a Ukrainian pilot and an American pilot were on board and killed in the crash. However, the statement was taken down pending USAFE’s confirmation.

Clear Sky marks the 25th anniversary of the State Partnership Program between the California Guard and Ukraine.

Hundreds of U.S. and Ukrainian airmen are conducting flight operations at Starokostiantyiv, between Lviv and Kiev in Ukraine’s western region, during the two-week exercise, a first of its kind.

U.S. assets participating include six F-15C Eagles from the 144th Fighter Wing; an F-15D from the 48th Fighter Wing, based at RAF Lakenheath, England; and C-130Js from the Guard’s 146th Airlift Wing, operating out of Vinnytsia Air Base.

Pararescue airmen from California’s 129th Rescue Wing are also in Vinnytsia for combat search-and-rescue training with their Ukrainian counterparts. Other airmen and aircraft, such as an MQ-9 Reaper drone, are operating out of Poland for the missions, as well as some refueling aircraft.

Officials told Military.com last week that Clear Sky is the first time F-15s from the California Air National Guard have touched down in Ukraine, and the first time the aircraft has been in Ukraine overall since 1998.

Guardsmen from Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, Alaska, Washington and some active-duty airmen from bases in Europe have also been involved.

The multinational exercise involves approximately 950 personnel from nine nations, including Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the U.S., USAFE said.

The latest accident follows an emergency landing by an Air Force F-15 on Friday.

An F-15D participating in the exercise “had a minor mechanical issue in flight on Friday that caused the sortie to be cut short,” Air Force Maj. Tristan Hinderliter told Military.com in an email. “The aircraft landed without incident back at Starokostiantyiv Air Base and is expected to resume participating in the exercise this week.”

— Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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Here’s How the Air Force Hopes to Train 1,500 New Pilots a Year

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The U.S. Air Force in recent weeks announced plans to ramp up its pilot training to produce 1,500 pilots a year by fiscal 2022. Now, Air Education and Training Command (AETC) has divulged preliminary blueprints on how it anticipates accomplishing the task.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said before a Senate Armed Services readiness and management support subcommittee hearing Oct. 10 that the service will increase its current 1,160 pilot training slots to 1,311 in fiscal 2019, aiming for 1,500 every year shortly thereafter.

The moves come as the service faces a shortage of roughly 2,000 pilots overall.

“AETC has been tasked to produce about 1,500 pilots per year … That number includes active-duty Air Force, Air Force Reserves, Air National Guard and international students,” command spokeswoman Marilyn Holliday told Military.com this week.

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While the undertaking is in its initial stages, the command will use programs such as the experimental Pilot Training Next — paired with Pilot Instructor Training Next — to improve how teachers and incoming students work together.

AETC is also updating its Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) curriculum to streamline how quickly the Air Force can produce new pilots, Holliday said.

“The final touches to the new Undergraduate Pilot Training syllabi were adjudicated and are now in the initial stages of execution,” she said.

Revising pilot training

The curriculum’s redesign gives squadron commanders the ability to refine training to better meet the needs of individual students, AETC said in a recent release.

Previously, students went back and forth between simulators and the flight line. The new syllabus moves “11 simulators that had been previously spread out over a three- to four-month time frame, into a single block of training prior to the first flight in the aircraft,” Holliday said.

It’s also a blended learning model, she said, that incorporates several best practices from “advanced military flight training and civilian flight training.”

Students will cut their training time from 54 to 49 weeks once the changes are fully implemented.

“We are still in the early phase of executing the syllabus redesign, but initial performance from students indicates increased pilot performance,” Holliday said.

Students will advance at their own pace. Previously, they had to wait until the entire class completed stages or assignments before moving on to the next. AETC will now allow for individual students to complete courses faster or slower as needed, officials said.

Holliday said this will not alter the official course length, but the time a given student spends in the course could change. The first UPT students to use the adjusted curriculum will graduate in spring 2019, she said.

Pilot Training Next

Thirteen students graduated from the first, experimental Pilot Training Next (PTN) class in August after six months of learning to fly in virtual-reality simulators. The program ran 24 weeks and “included 184 academic hours, with approximately 70 to 80 flight hours in the T-6 Texan II, as well as approximately 80 to 90 hours of formal flight training in the simulator,” Holliday said. Students also trained on their own time in the simulators.

“We want to learn as fast as possible,” said 2nd Lt. Christofer Ahn, a student pilot, in an interview before graduating. “Being able to use the simulators is a huge step in allowing us to accelerate through our training.”

The service recently announced there will be a second class to test Pilot Training Next before the results are briefed to Wilson and Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, who will decide whether the program will be incorporated into formal pilot training. The second class will begin training in January.

Holliday said that lessons learned from PTN have already been incorporated into traditional Undergraduate Pilot Training, as well as Pilot Instructor Training.

Instructors are also refining the ways they connect with students through innovation and simulation training. With a program called Pilot Instructor Next, they are looking for ways to develop what AETC calls the “Mach-21” airman, or the next generation of 21st century pilots.

Lt. Gen. Steven Kwast, the AETC commander, coined the term to describe what the Air Force wants in its new pilots.

“This is an airman who can learn faster than their competition, can adapt when things are not working, and they can innovate faster than any opposition to create an advantage as a kind of lethality that allows our nation to defend its freedoms,” he said in May after taking the helm of AETC.

In a news release, he expanded on his vision.

“A Mach-21 Air Force essentially is comprised of airmen who learn faster, adapt faster and strategically out-think the enemy, because they are moving at Mach-21 speed,” he said.

To produce such high-quality and sought-after pilots, instructors need to up their game.

“Through Pilot Instructor Training Next, AETC flying squadrons have been equipped with virtual-reality simulators and 360-degree video headsets to integrate into syllabi,” Holliday said. “Since implemented, there have been measurable benefits from the addition of technology, and 10 instructor pilots are slated to graduate from the PIT Next program each month.”

The program applies to members of the 560th Flying Training Squadron and the 99th Flying Training Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas.

Its biggest advantage, AETC says, is the ability to test students in high-stress environments in the safe space of a simulator.

“Virtually, instructors can put students in any situation to determine if they would recognize the danger and whether or not they take the right course of action,” Holliday said. “Students also have the opportunity to take home mobile-video headsets, which connect to the pilot’s smartphone and allow for on-command and on-demand training, which has also been helpful.”

She added, “Incorporating this level of technology and deep-repetition learning allows these students to see the flight environment so many more times than they would have in the past.”

Aircrew Crisis Task Force

AETC is also coordinating with the Aircrew Crisis Task Force — set up in 2016 by the Pentagon — building on its “holistic plan to ensure the Air Force’s pilot requirements are met through retention of currently trained pilots as well as through the production pipeline.”

At the Oct. 10 hearing, Wilson said the Air Force is placing an emphasis on addressing the national aircrew shortage by focusing on pilot quality of service and quality-of-life issues.

The task force has looked at ways of giving fighter pilots and aircrew the ability to stay in rotations longer at select commands and bases in an effort to create stability for airmen affected by the service’s growing pilot shortage.

It has also included increasing financial incentives such as bonuses and providing more control over assignments and career paths, Wilson said.

“We continue to work with the Aircrew Crisis Task Force to ensure our pilot production planning encompasses an airman from commissioning through training and then to their operational flying units,” Holliday said.

— Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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Michigan Warns of PFAS Levels in Deer Around Air Force Base

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OSCODA, Mich. — The state of Michigan has issued a “Do Not Eat” advisory for deer meat taken within a five-mile radius of a wetland area contaminated by some of the highest levels of toxic PFAS chemicals found in Michigan’s environment.

The advisory — a first of its kind related to PFAS in Michigan land animals — was issued in conjunction with a violation letter to the U.S. Air Force, which state regulators say is polluting Michigan surface waters with PFAS levels above enforceable limits.

The violation notice is the second one sent to the Air Force this year related to PFAS contamination caused by past use of AFFF firefighting foam at Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda. It occurs amid an ongoing dispute between the Air Force and the state about the pace and adequacy of cleanup efforts in the area.

“The slow response by the Air Force to the Wurtsmith contamination is having an increasingly negative impact on the people, wildlife, and environment in Oscoda,” said Carol Isaacs, director of the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART).

According to the state, a deer shot near Clark’s Marsh had 547 parts-per-billion (ppb) of the individual compound PFOS in its blood. The state health department and natural resources department say “action” is recommended at a 300-ppb level.

The state says PFAS was either not found or at low levels in muscle samples from 19 other local deer tested. The state released little specific data about the deer testing, nor did it say whether different parts of the animals tested at higher concentration levels. PFAS are known to accumulate in certain organs such as kidneys.

The state plans to test more deer in the area.

The DNR says deer sampled from PFAS investigation sites in Alpena, Rockford and Grayling showed low to no levels of contamination.

High blood levels in Oscoda deer indicate that underground PFAS plumes are impacting surface waters, which are regulated by enforceable state rules. The state’s enforceable standard for PFOS in rivers, lakes or streams is 12 parts-per-trillion (ppt).

The Michigan DEQ says that monitoring well and surface water samples from Clark’s Marsh show high PFOS levels. Groundwater beneath the marsh test as high as 42,000-ppt for PFOS, and surface water contamination as a high as 1,410-ppt.

The state says it’s requiring the Air Force to increase its pumping and treatment of contaminated groundwater at the former base grounds from 250 gallons-per-minute (gpm) to 1,040-gpm, and increase the plume capture zones.

In January, the DEQ issued the Air Force a violation notice for failing to meet a 2017 deadline to start up a second groundwater filtration system at the base. The new system only became operational this summer.

Isaacs said that Michigan has “sought to work cooperatively with the Air Force,” but that “slow response to PFAS contamination is not acceptable and the state is prepared to use every regulatory and legal means necessary to force the Air Force to address this contamination.”

Clark’s Marsh and the Au Sable River south of the base is already under a “Do Not Eat” advisory for fish species due to the contamination.

Karla Wellman, co-owner of Wellman’s Sport Center in Oscoda, was upset to learn about the additional wildlife consumption advisory for the area. The PFAS contamination has already cast a shadow over a beautiful area.

“People hunt there all the time,” she said.

Wellman’s processes deer meat in addition to operating as a local bait shop near the Au Sable River mouth at Lake Huron. She said the shop hasn’t been cleaning as much fish as it once did, and thinks it’s due to the advisories and large amounts of unsightly PFAS foam showing up on the surface and beaches of Van Etten Lake, adjacent to the base.

Photos of the foam “look like snow on the river,” Wellman said.

“I’m not happy about it,” she said. “It’s a good thing we wear all these hats in northern Michigan. Otherwise, we’d never survive. We’d be a damn ghost town.”

Despite the advisories, there’s still some who eat fish from contaminated waters and will continue to do so, she said.

“I’ve got a 76-year-old guy who catches all kinds of fish and eats them on a regular basis,” she said. “He doesn’t care. He’s going to live his life the way he wants.”

Whether that attitude will translate to deer hunters, she couldn’t say.

“I don’t know,” Wellman said. “We haven’t crossed that bridge yet.”

___

This article is written by Garret Ellison from MLive.com, Walker, Mich. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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Trump Awards John Canley Medal of Honor for ‘Unmatched Bravery’ in Vietnam

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President Donald Trump placed the Medal of Honor around the neck of retired Sgt. Maj. John Canley on Wednesday. But, for the Vietnam War hero, it has always been about his Marines.

On Jan. 31, 1968, Canley and about 140 members of Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, were charged with taking back Hue City at the start of the Tet Offensive. When their commanding officer was seriously injured, Canley, the company gunnery sergeant at the time, took control and led his men through what would become one of the bloodiest battles during the Vietnam War.

Their actions would serve as an important turning point in the conflict.

As Canley, now 80, and his men made their way into the city, enemy fighters “attacked them with machine guns, mortars, rockets and everything else they had,” Trump said.

“By the end of the day, John and his company of less than 150 Marines had pushed into the city held by at least 6,000 communist fighters,” he continued. “In the days that followed, John led his company through the fog and rain and in house-to-house, very vicious, very hard combat.

“He assaulted enemy strongholds, killed enemy fighters and, with deadly accuracy, did everything he had to do.”

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That included braving machine-gun fire multiple times in order to reach and move wounded Marines to safety, all while ignoring injuries of his own.

After five long days of fighting, Canley joined Sgt. Alfredo Gonzalez in charging a schoolhouse that had become a strategic stronghold for the communist fighters. The pair faced heavy machine-gun fire, but forged ahead with rocket launchers, driving the enemy from their position.

“The enemy didn’t know what the hell happened,” Trump said.

Gonzalez, who was killed, would be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. Canley continued leading his Marines into the schoolhouse, where room-by-room they faced close-quarters combat until they were able to take it back from enemy control.

“John raced straight into enemy fire over and over again, saving numerous American lives and defeating a large group of enemy fighters,” Trump said. “But John wasn’t done yet.”

Despite sustaining serious injuries, he continued facing down the enemy in the days to come, the president added, personally saving the lives of 20 Marines in a display of “unmatched bravery.”

For his actions and leadership, he received the Navy Cross, his service’s second-highest award for bravery. But Canley’s Marines didn’t think that was enough.

They spent the past 13 years gathering interviews, first-person accounts and other materials needed to see their company gunny’s award upgraded to the only one they thought he deserved: the Medal of Honor. It was denied 10 times, but they persisted.

“For me personally, it was an act of love,” said former Pfc. John Ligato, one of Canley’s Marines and a retired FBI agent who led the fight to see the medal upgraded. Ligato attended Wednesday’s Medal of Honor ceremony and said all he could do was sit back and smile.

The event brought dozens more Marines who fought alongside Canley and Gold Star family members who lost loved ones in the fight to Washington, D.C. Ligato said it gave the Marines and their families a chance to reconnect — including several who don’t typically attend reunions due to their injuries or post-traumatic stress.

Throughout the festivities meant to honor one man, Canley continues giving all the credit to his Marines, Ligato said. It’s “all he wants to talk about.”

“You have one of the most heroic people in our nation’s history who’s not only courageous and humble,” Ligato said, “but understands that the Marine Corps is not ‘I.’ It’s ‘we.’ “

Canley is the 300th Marine to receive the nation’s highest valor award for heroism on the battlefield. Seeing the retired sergeant major receive the Medal of Honor in his dress blues is something that should make every Vietnam veteran and every Marine proud, Ligato said.

— Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @ginaaharkins.

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Air National Guard Identifies Pilots Killed in Ukraine Crash

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The U.S. Air National Guard on Wednesday identified its fighter pilot and the Ukrainian pilot killed when an Su-27UB Flanker-C fighter crashed during Exercise Clear Sky.

Lt. Col. Seth “Jethro” Nehring, a fighter pilot with the California Air National Guard’s 194th Fighter Squadron, out of the 144th Fighter Wing, and Col. Ivan Petrenko, deputy commander of the East Air, Chief of Aviation from Ozern Air Base, Zhytomer, Ukraine, were killed in the crash, the 144th Fighter Wing said in a release.

“The incident occurred in the Khmelnytskyi region of western Ukraine, approximately 175 miles southwest of Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine,” the release said.

Nehring was with Petrenko in the twin-seat Su-27 for a familiarization flight; no other aircraft were involved in the mishap, U.S. Air Forces Europe-Africa said earlier Wednesday.

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The incident is under investigation.

Nehring had been a member of the 144th for more than 20 years, officials said. He began his career as an enlisted crew chief before being selected for a pilot slot, flying the F-16 Fighting Falcon for more than 15 years before converting to the F-15 Eagle, Guard officials said.

“We are a close-knit family and when a tragedy like this occurs, every member of the 144th Fighter Wing feels it,” said Air Force Col. Daniel Kelly, commander of the 144th. “We share in the sorrow felt by Jethro’s loved ones and our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends as well as those of the Ukrainian aviator.”

Nehring, serving as the operations officer in the joint operations center during Clear Sky, was handpicked for the assignment because of his flight background.

“This is a sad day for the United States and Ukraine,” Maj. Gen. Clay Garrison, commander of the California Air National Guard and the exercise director, said in a separate release. “Our deepest condolences go out to the family, friends and fellow airmen of both the U.S. airman and Ukrainian aviator who were killed in the incident.”

Garrison, a pilot with nearly 4,000 hours in both the F-16 and F-15, spoke with Military.com last week before the crash.

“The Ukrainian air force would like to increase their ability to operate with the regional partners,” he said in a telephone interview. “Their country’s at war, and the[ir] air force is an important part of [their] capabilities.”

Garrison explained that due to their geographic location — next door to Russia, but also close to NATO allies — “they would like to do more, and be a better regional partner.”

He continued, “NATO is the gold standard of military defense agreements, and the way we train is very useful.”

The general said the purpose of the entire exercise was to inform and equip the Ukrainian air force with similar training techniques so they too would understand the practices and procedures NATO partner nations adhere to when they fly.

The last time the Air Force participated so extensively in a Ukrainian exercise was in 2011 during Exercise Safe Skies, focused on air-sovereignty rules of engagement, Garrison said.

Meanwhile, Clear Sky — which marks the 25th anniversary of the longstanding State Partnership Program between the California Guard and Ukraine — is intended to become a stepping stone to understanding higher task flight operations. Once the U.S. leaves, Ukraine could integrate with the Romanians, Poles or whichever partner would be willing to practice as needed to keep up with their slow but steady military flight achievements, Garrison said.

This time around, the Ukrainians would not be learning how to advance against Russia in the electronic warfare domain or the realm of hybrid threats, nor would they be flying in ways designed to circumvent or evade surface-to-air threats to include bomb-laden drones.

Electronic warfare is a popular method being used in Eastern Ukraine. For months, Russian-backed separatists have been using jamming technology to misdirect or take out the commercial drones Ukrainian soldiers use to conduct aerial surveillance. The move, first observed in 2014, put U.S. troops on alert as they trained Ukrainian guardsmen on the western side of the country. There’s also an offensive front: Russian drones carrying grenades or other types of ammunition have thwarted Ukrainian air space or have taken out facilities in country.

“We’ve [first] got to establish a common language and common set of rules [with] which we can operate,” Garrison said. “This will set us up as we go further; but the Ukrainians are interested in getting there.”

He continued, “[But] the Ukrainian ground base defense forces are participating as well, so as we progress with each training sortie…there’s going to be some integration of forces that includes [surface-to-air] threat reactions.”

U.S. assets participating in the exercise at Ukraine’s Starokostiantyiv Air Base included six F-15C Eagles from the 144th Fighter Wing; an F-15D from the 48th Fighter Wing, based at RAF Lakenheath, England; and C-130Js from the Guard’s 146th Airlift Wing, operating out of Vinnytsia Air Base roughly 80 miles away.

Clear Sky is the first time F-15s from the California Air National Guard have touched down in Ukraine, and the first time the aircraft has been in Ukraine overall since 1998, Garrison said.

Pararescue airmen from California’s 129th Rescue Wing have also been in Vinnytsia for combat search-and-rescue training with their Ukrainian counterparts, including some Ukrainian helicopters. Other U.S. airmen and aircraft such as an MQ-9 Reaper drone have been operating out of Poland for the missions. Some refueling aircraft, operating out of Powidz, have also participated.

Guardsmen in intelligence ops and air weapons control from Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, Alaska and Washington, and some active-duty airmen from bases in Europe, have also been involved.

On the Ukrainian side, Su-27 Flankers, Su-25 Grachs, Su-24 Fencers and MiG 29 Fulcrums have been participating out of Starokostiantyiv. An Antonov An-26 twin-engined turboprop civilian and military transport aircraft has also been used in aeromedical evacuation training.

Joint terminal attack controllers from various countries including the U.S. were working about an hour north of Starokostiantyiv to call in strikes for the MQ-9 from the 163rd Attack wing operating out of Miroslawiec Air Base in Poland, Garrison said.

Poland also participated in the JTAC operations with its F-16s, as well as air-to-air simulated runs with Ukrainian fighter jets, he said.

The Su-25s were being used primarily for close air support during the same drills. The tactical airlift C-130s and An-26 together were trying out low-level flight training, airdrops and assault landing to “share tactics, techniques and procedures,” Garrison said.

Last but not least, cyber defenses have been in play: California Guardsmen from the 195th Wing out of Beale, as well as Guardsmen from the 175th Wing in Warfield Base, Maryland, have been helping the Ukrainians to understand basic “network management, instruction … and tools to ensure that your network is properly defended … and connected,” he said.

In all, the multinational exercise has involved approximately 950 personnel from nine nations, including Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the U.S.

The hope is, “when we come back, we’ll be able to start where we left off so the training scenarios will be more complex,” Garrison said. “We’ve introduced the process that allows us to train together, so next time … we’re going to start to add on. That’s the ultimate goal.”

— Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @oriana0214.

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‘Substandard’ Maxwell, Gunter Base Housing Has Military Families Up in Arms

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Last summer, the air conditioning unit in David Karvwnaris’ Maxwell Air Force Base home failed five times. This summer, after failing another three times and Karvwnaris becoming “outright combative and furious,” his family, who rents their home, received a new unit.

Sticky days in the Alabama heat, however, have been just one of the issues he and his family have endured while living on base. And their experience is not unique.

Hunt Companies, which has owned and maintained the near 750 homes on Maxwell and Gunter Annex since 2007, came under scrutiny more than two years ago after then-Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey wrote a letter to the secretary of the Air Force, explaining she was concerned “that unacceptable housing conditions may impact the morale and readiness of our mission and the ability to recruit, train and educate airmen to deliver air-power for America.”

In the first house the Karvwnaris’ occupied on Maxwell, this tour, the dining room ceiling collapsed after the upstairs bathroom water valve failed, causing the dining room and the mud room to flood.

In response, Hunt advised the family to avoid the rooms, despite needing to go through the dining room to get to the kitchen, he said. After one week of protest, Hunt relented and put the family in a hotel while the damage was repaired.

Then, the condensation pan in the attic AC unit plugged, leading to his bedroom ceiling collapsing. After that, the family was moved to a different unit.

In their current home, electrical wires in the mechanical room crisscross and dangle freely. With a background in electrical work, Kwarvarnis said if you brought a city of Montgomery inspector in, “there’s no way” it would pass code.

“We have building codes for a reason, and I’m just waiting for one of these houses to burn down for them to realize it,” he said.

“I can’t fault where Hunt was brought into because the houses were in really bad shape, but where they are now and the excuses they are still using is not OK,” he said.

“My wife is an officer — she’s senior leadership — so for them to pull this crap with us, I know they are doing worse to the enlisted kids that don’t know better or don’t stick up for themselves,” he added.

At the time of Ivey’s letter, Hunt cited a shrinking staff and high turnover as the root of residents’ problems.

Since then, Hunt Companies Community Director Joe Johnson said staffing has increased by 25 percent. Additionally, the company’s ranking, done quarterly by the Air Force moved from zero to three out of five points and annual resident surveys moved up nearly 12 percentage points.

Despite the improvements, however, many families living on base are dissatisfied with their housing situations, calling the homes “substandard.” To complicate matters even more, many families feel forced to live in the homes in order to avoid sending their children to Montgomery’s public school system.

For the Scott family, the $1,200 in rent paid for their 1,600-square-foot home would pay for a larger, nicer home with a smaller mortgage off-base, Rachel Scott said.

In the six years they have lived in their home on Gunter, the pipes above their dining room ceiling have frozen and burst during three separate winters, causing the ceiling to collapse. When that area of the home was added on to the original structure, insulation wasn’t installed around the pipes, Scott said, which is why they have continued to freeze.

Rather than treating the root of the problem, she said, Hunt has instead simply patched the hole and repainted. After the last incident, maintenance workers chose to cut the line, so water wouldn’t enter those pipes.

The issues residents on the bases deal with regularly, Scott said, range from poor water quality, mold, the base pool not working, trash not being picked up, lawn care workers failing to show up at designated times, sharp metal sticking out on the playground and costly utility bills because of inefficient fittings and equipment.

She’s a member of the Maxwell Gunter Residents United Facebook page, which was started a year ago as a space to share frustrations related to housing. Currently, there is an online petition to end Hunt’s 50-year property lease.

Scott made it clear that by talking about her issues with her home, she is “not bashing the military, I’m bashing Hunt Housing. We have folks that are being deployed and fighting for our country, and these are the living conditions we are forced into.”

While Hunt owns the homes, the Air Force is ultimately responsible for the well-being and security of the airmen. In a request to questions regarding about residents concerns, the Air Force deferred to Hunt.

Allison Bennett, currently a resident on Gunter Annex who has also lived on Maxwell during different assignments, said her biggest issue with her home is the tree in her backyard.

One of the branches is hanging so low, Bennett, at 5-foot-4, has to duck to get into her kitchen door, she said. Every time it storms, branches fall off and since it covers part of her home and carport, she’s worried about the damage it might do.

She’s called a work order in to Hunt five times in the past year, requesting it be trimmed, but to no avail.

Not long ago, a tree branch that was nearly 50 feet long fell in the middle of a road on Maxwell, covering sidewalks that kids use to walk home from school, she and Karvwnaris said. Last month, a similar incident happened on Gunter.

Laurie Pritchard and her husband, James, created the Facebook group of which Scott, Bennett and Karvwnaris are members. They started it after James became a Gunter community resident representative. He attends meetings and shares the concerns of other residents, although Laurie said there is rarely action taken.

Hunt’s approach to repairs is a “lot of Band-Aid fixes,” she said.

“It shouldn’t be done that way,” she said. “It’s their investment. They should be taking care of it for the long run. We shouldn’t have to be fighting them for what is essentially their investment.”

In her home, the issues included “clearly worn” carpet with multiple stains on it upon arrival, paint on the walls not matching — with patch jobs sometimes done in flat paint and others glossy, cheap linoleum, cheap electrical fittings and consistent plumbing issues.

“It’s substandard for what we pay,” she said, with the cost based on the rank of the service member.

“Clearly, Maxwell residents, the officers, get priority over everyone else. Which is still a concern, the enlisted — we are the workforce, we have the numbers here, we are still as important and vital as anyone else here,” she added.

When it comes to utilities, with each family given a rate not to exceed based on its size, Pritchard said they always go over and are forced to pay the difference.

This isn’t from over-consumption, though, she believes, but rather wiring that doesn’t match up and poor infrastructure.

“Our unit always seems to go over and speaking to other units, they always seem to get a refund. It doesn’t make sense because we’re running everything the same,” she said, adding that several families have experienced issues with their utility bills, such as finding out one family’s bill was actually reading another’s meter.

For her, and Scott’s family, the reason they chose to live on base, and remain despite the issues, is so their children could attend the base school on Maxwell.

Although they both sent their children to public schools before being assigned to Montgomery, neither felt Montgomery Public Schools were an option.

“Nobody would live on base if it was open,” Pritchard said of the Maxwell school.

“At six years in, my frustrations are if you can’t fix it yourself, call housing and deal with it the best you can because we have to be here because our kids have to be at Maxwell,” she said.

When asked to respond to the complaints residents expressed, Hunt Community Director Joe Johnson, pointed to the survey rating increases and said: “We are proud of the team’s improvement and accomplishment of the past two years. With the trust and support of our Air Force partner we are confident this trend will continue.”

___

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Pentagon Cancels Large-Scale Vigilant Ace Exercise with South Korea

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The Defense Department suspended one of its largest annual aviation exercises with South Korea in light of ongoing discussions between the two Koreas.

Officials on Friday said Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and his South Korean counterpart agreed “to give the diplomatic process every opportunity to continue” and canceled Exercise Vigilant Ace, which had been scheduled for December.

Vigilant Ace has been held for the last nine years to “enhance interoperability between U.S. and [Republic of Korea] forces and ensure local peace and security,” according to the U.S. Air Force.

Last year, the U.S. sent its most advanced stealth fighters — the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter — to the Pacific for the exercise.

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A massive force totaling 230 aircraft participated in the U.S.-led drills at Osan Air Base, focusing on interoperability, security and combat air power, the Air Force said at the time.

Two dozen stealth fighters, including six F-22 twin-engine jets, six F-35A single-engine jets and a dozen F-35B vertical takeoff versions, were present for the aerial training last year. The aircraft flew with F-16 Fighting Falcons, F-15 Eagles, F-18 Hornets, A-10 Thunderbolt IIs and EA-18G Growlers, as well as Republic of Korea F-15K Slam Eagles and F-4 Phantom IIs, according to the service.

The exercise was about training with allies and coordinating with fourth-generation aircraft, but it was also about messaging, a source told Military.com on background at the time.

That message was for North Korea, which last November said it had launched its biggest intercontinental ballistic missile to date — the Hwasong 15 — in a test that reportedly marked the highest and longest duration flight of any North Korean ballistic missile.

Relations between the U.S. and North Korea have appeared to be on the mend in recent months, with President Donald Trump noting his newly blossoming relationship with North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un.

“I was really being tough and so was he. And we would go back and forth. And then we fell in love, OK?” Trump said at a campaign rally Sept. 29. “No really. He wrote me beautiful letters. And they’re great letters. And then we fell in love.”

The Defense Department announced in June, following the Singapore summit between Trump and Kim, that the U.S. had suspended larger exercises, notably Ulchi Freedom Guardian — which Trump at the time characterized as “war games” — but said smaller training efforts with South Korean counterparts would remain on the calendar.

The latest news comes after Mattis told reporters in August that the Pentagon wasn’t planning to cancel additional exercises with South Korea.

“As you know, we took the step to suspend several of the largest exercises as a good-faith measure coming out of the Singapore summit,” he said Aug. 28. “We have no plans at this time to suspend any more exercises. We will work very closely with [Secretary of State Mike Pompeo] and what he needs done, we will certainly do to reinforce his effort. But at this time, there is no discussion about further suspensions.”

It is unclear if Vigilant Ace will be rescheduled for a later date, or if it will resume next year.

— Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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More Charges Filed Against Navy Veteran in Ricin-Letter Case

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SALT LAKE CITY — Authorities have found two additional letters a Navy veteran in Utah sent to members of President Donald Trump’s administration containing the substance from which the poison ricin is derived, federal prosecutors said in an indictment unsealed Thursday.

William Clyde Allen III, 39, was charged with mailing envelopes to the CIA director and the Air Force secretary as well as Trump and other top officials, according to court documents.

Allen pleaded not guilty to the seven charges, including threatening to use a biological toxin as a weapon. His attorney did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

The additional letters containing ground castor beans were intercepted shortly after authorities found four similar envelopes mailed to Trump, the FBI director, secretary of defense and the Navy’s top officer, authorities said.

All the letters had only the phrase “Jack and the Missile Bean Stock Powder,” said David Backman, criminal chief for the U.S. Attorney for Utah.

They were all mailed the same day and had Allen’s return address, prosecutors said. Allen told investigators he wanted to “send a message,” but did not elaborate on his motivations.

A judge decided Monday to keep Allen in jail ahead of trial, despite a request that he’s needed at home to care for his wife, who suffers from a spinal condition and uses a wheelchair.

He faces up to life in prison if convicted on the biological-toxin charge. A count of mailing a threat against the president carries up to five years in prison, and five counts of mailing a threat to a U.S. officer are each punishable by up to 10 years.

Authorities said the envelopes were mailed to the president, FBI Director Christopher Wray, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the Navy’s top officer, Adm. John Richardson, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and CIA Director Gina Haspel.

The letters were intercepted and no one was hurt. They all tested positive for ricin.

Allen was arrested Oct. 2 at his house in the small city of Logan, north of Salt Lake City. He told investigators he bought hundreds of castor beans on eBay to “defend our nation” if “World War III broke out.”

Allen served in the Navy from 1998 to 2002. He has a criminal record in Utah including child abuse and attempted aggravated assault.

He also has a history of sending threatening emails to then-President Barack Obama, the Air Force and the state of Utah, investigators said.

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Marines OK Hurricane Reimbursements After Commander Declined to Evacuate

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Marines and their families who opted to head off base when Hurricane Florence struck the East Coast last month — despite their commander’s controversial choice to decline an evacuation — could now see some of their expenses reimbursed.

Marine officials announced Wednesday that the service has been given the authority to reimburse troops, civilian employees and dependents who departed the area to escape the storm, which made landfall as a Category 1.

The move is likely to come as a financial relief for those who opted to leave Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, when troops were given special liberty status Sept. 11 for what they thought was a long weekend. They were later told not to return as planned, driving up the costs of their voluntary evacuation.

Claims for reimbursements are expected to begin Monday, leaders at Lejeune wrote in a Facebook post. Marines and other personnel are encouraged to contact their unit’s administrative section or human resources department for details.

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Nat Fahy, a spokesman for Marine Corps Installations East, said the service estimates that about 27,000 troops assigned to II Marine Expeditionary Force left during the storm. But they won’t know for certain until all of the claims have been processed.

“We are anticipating [reimbursements totaling] about $40 to $50 million,” he added, “but ultimately it will depend on the number of claims received.”

Brig. Gen. Julian Alford, who until recently served as Lejeune’s commanding general, caused a stir on social media when he decided against issuing a mandatory evacuation of the base ahead of the storm. He told Marines and their families that many of the buildings on base were built to withstand storms like Florence, and said putting thousands on the roads in and out of base could be more hazardous than staying put.

Some complained on social media that the decision disregarded the safety of Marine families, and that it was unfair that other military families whose commanders issued mandatory evacuations were more likely to be reimbursed for their expenses if they opted to leave.

But on Sept. 15, Alford told them not to return as planned, allowing state, local and base officials to deal with flooding and downed debris in the aftermath of the storm.

That’s why the reimbursement period covers only Sept. 15 to Sept. 23, Fahy said.

“On Sept. 11, Marines were given the option to voluntarily evacuate before the storm,” he said. “On Sept. 15, those who had voluntarily evacuated were given an order not to return by the base commanding general. Thus, they are being reimbursed for the period from Sept. 15, when the order was issued, to the date of their return or Sept. 23 — whichever occurred first.”

As Florence hovered over the Carolinas for days last month, sections of Camp Lejeune were damaged in the storm. Families returned to find mold, standing water and collapsed ceilings in their base housing, Reuters reported. Mold was also found in a school, and a roof was ripped from a headquarters building aboard the sprawling base, Commandant Gen. Robert Neller told reporters this month.

The most common types of expenses service members and their families face during hurricane evacuations — whether mandatory or voluntary — include lodging and meals. Those applying for reimbursements will need to provide receipts for both, and will be paid the per-diem rates based on their locations, Fahy said.

“Claimants are advised to bring any receipts or credit card statements with them when they file,” he added.

Marines, civilian employees and family members who left the area during the storm and plan to apply for reimbursements can learn more about the Joint-Travel Regulations here.

— Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @ginaaharkins.

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Smoke Forces First Lady’s Plane to Return to Andrews Air Force Base

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Smoke due to a “minor mechanical issue” forced first lady Melania Trump’s airplane to return to Andrews Air Force Base Wednesday morning while en route to an event in Philadelphia.

No injuries were reported and the plane landed safely at Andrews. The first lady then took another plane, arriving later in Philadelphia to meet at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital with families of children who were affected by exposure to opioids while in the womb.

“Minor mechanical issue, ” Stephanie Grisham, the first lady’s communications director, said in a statement about the first plane. “Everything is fine and everyone is safe.”

The press pool on the flight reported that a “thin haze of smoke” appeared in the plane along with the smell of something burning.

Passengers were given wet towels to breathe through, the pool reported.

The first lady is expected to be accompanied by U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar during the visit to the hospital, which has provided care to mothers with opioid use disorder and their newborn children for more than 45 years.

She also plans to tour a neonatal intensive care nursery and speak at a U.S. health department conference on a new system that tracks infants suffering from opiate withdrawal.

The first lady’s visit is one of the stops she’s making to promote her “Be Best” campaign, which focuses on major issues affecting children, including the importance of healthy pregnancies.

This story contains information from the Associated Press.

This article is written by Joseph A. Gambardello from The Philadelphia Inquirer and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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