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Marine Found Guilty of Stealing from Toys for Tots Will Serve Almost 3 Years

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A former staff sergeant who used his position as a Toys for Tots program coordinator to make payments to himself and who defrauded the Marine Corps to the tune of more than half a million dollars will serve 33 months in prison, the Department of Justice announced this month.

Christopher Aragon, 32, of Mobile, Alabama, will also have to pay restitution of $534,044.08 to the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, and another $20,044.70 to the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, according to a Sept. 21 DOJ release. After his prison sentence, Aragon must undergo three years of supervised release, receive court-ordered mental health treatment, and undergo credit restrictions, according to the release. He’ll also lose a residence “traceable to criminal proceeds,” officials said.

Aragon, who served as a supply chief for 3rd Force Reconnaissance Company, a Marine Corps Reserve unit in Mobile, was also in charge of coordinating the unit’s Toys for Tots program. It’s not clear from releases when Aragon was discharged from the Marine Corps.

Toys for Tots is a program managed by the Marine Corps Reserve that collects and distributes toys to needy children for Christmas.

Between December 2013 and December 2014, according to the release, Aragon and his wife, Teneshia Aragon, conspired to defraud the program by using an issued credit card to make unauthorized payments to himself. He also forged documents, including invoices, and submitted them to the Toys for Tots foundation. Ultimately, he bilked the charity program for about $23,044.70, officials said. The couple has paid back only $3,000 to date.

For an overlapping period, between October 2014 and August 2016, Aragon also conspired to defraud the Marine Corps as a whole out of a much larger sum of money. According to the Department of Justice, he teamed up with his wife and Dana Davis, the owner of a Mobile restaurant called the Runway Café, to commit credit card fraud. Using his unit-issued travel card, he used his position as authorizing official to approve fake charges from the cafe.

But, according to the release, his greed ended up getting him caught.

“[Aragon] prepared false documents, such as invoices and personnel rosters, and submitted them to the Marine Corps, which later conducted an audit and noticed excessive discrepancies in food expenditures,” it states. “For example, the Marine Corps noticed that, one, many Runway Café invoices did not match official 3d Force Recon activities and, therefore, did not support a legitimate need for food services [and, two], Runway Café’s invoices were for more meals than could be consumed by the number of Marines assigned to 3d Force Recon.”

Aragon’s total haul from the Marine Corps added up to $554,044.08, of which Runway Cafe has refunded only $20,000.

Investigators found personnel rosters submitted for reimbursement contained made-up names of 3rd Force Recon Marines, and unauthorized service fees were tacked on to invoices.

An investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and Defense Criminal Investigative Service ultimately resulted in Aragon’s prosecution.

He was charged in March, along with his wife, with two counts of conspiracy for seeking to defraud the Marine Corps and Toys for Tots. The couple and Davis pleaded guilty in May.

Davis and Teneshia Aragon have already received sentences. According to a release, Davis received six months in prison in August and was ordered to make full restitution. Teneshia Aragon was sentenced earlier this month to five years of probation, the first six months of which will be spent on house arrest. She was also ordered to make full restitution.

Aragon received the steepest sentence by far for his role in the wrongdoing.

— Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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New Regs Mean Marines Will Have a Harder Time Passing Fitness Tests Next Year

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Marines will face several new standards next year that will make it harder to pass their physical and combat fitness tests.

More pull-ups for female Marines, less recovery time between Combat Fitness Test events, and higher minimum passing scores on both fitness tests are coming in 2019, Marine officials announced Monday.

The effort is meant to up the standards for all Marines, who will be pushed to strive for higher scores and better athleticism across the board, said Col. Stephen Armes, director of the Marine Corps‘ Force Fitness Division.

“I think, as with any [physical fitness] program, you have to modify it and adapt it,” Armes told Military.com. “If you continue doing the same thing year in and year out, you’re not going to get any better.”

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The changes are based on data from the last two seasons of fitness test results as well as a push from Commandant Gen. Robert Neller to ensure all fitness requirements are “reasonable, fair and challenging,” Armes said.

Details on the upcoming changes were released Monday in aservice-wide administrative message. Here’s a look at what’s on tap for every Marine.

More Pull-Ups for Women

Starting Jan. 1, almost all female Marines will have to perform at least three pull-ups on their PFT.

Two years after the end of the flexed-arm hang, more women are opting to do pull-ups on their PFT, Armes said. But the number of reps of the upper-body strength exercise they must perform to pass the event is about to increase.

Female Marines ages 26 to 30 are going to see the toughest increase, with the minimum required jumping from one to four. Most women in the Marine Corps — those ages 21 to 25; 31 to 35; and 36 to 40 — will need to increase the minimum number of pull-ups from one to three.

New 2019 Minimum/Maximum Female PFT Pull-up Requirements, by Age

  • 17-20 (1 minimum, 7 maximum)
  • 21-25 (3 minimum, 11 maximum)
  • 26-30 (4 minimum, 12 maximum)
  • 31-35 (3 minimum, 11 maximum)
  • 36-40 (3 minimum, 10 maximum)
  • 41-45 (2 minimum, 8 maximum)
  • 46-50 (2 minimum, 6 maximum)
  • 51+    (2 minimum, 4 maximum)

Source: Marine administrative message 539/18

Any female Marine age 41 or above will need two pull-ups to pass the minimum standard. The only female Marines whose standards won’t change are the youngest — aged 17 to 20.

That’s by design, Armes said.

“You grow, from a muscular perspective, into your 20s,” he said. “A 25-year-old will be stronger than when you’re 17. They have more time to develop, especially in a structured program like the Marine Corps.”

Most female Marines will also need to perform more pull-ups to earn maximum points on that event of the PFT. In the past, women needed between three and 10 pull-ups to max out, depending on age. Now that will jump from four to 12 pull-ups.

Women ages 26 to 30 will again see the highest rate needed for full marks, at 12 pull-ups. Those ages 21 to 25 or 31 to 35 will need 11, and women over 40 will need between four and eight to max out, depending on age.

The tougher requirements are a direct result of female Marines’ pull-up performance, Armes said.

About 30 percent of female Marines opted for pushups in place of pull-ups on their 2018 PFTs, but that number is on the decline from 35 percent in 2017. More than 1,000 female Marines also cranked out 20 pull-ups when taking their PFTs this year, Armes said, which is on par with the number some men need to earn full marks.

“Once we did away with the flexed-arm hang and introduced pull-ups for the females, they’re just showing that they’re getting stronger overall … and they’re quickly closing that gap,” he said.

Shorter Recovery Times

Marines taking the CFT will no longer get a five-minute reprieve between their movement-to-contact, ammunition-can lifts and maneuver-under-fire events.

Effective July 1, Marines will have only three minutes to recover between those events while taking the CFT.

“Going back to the commandant’s desire to make something reasonable, fair and challenging, five minutes is a long time, and he thought by making it three minutes was definitely going to make it more challenging for the Marines,” Armes said. “That’s ultimately his aim, is to continue to challenge the Marines and continue to raise that bar for what they’re trying to shoot for.”

That change — along with the other PFT and CFT changes Marines will see next year — is likely to cause a dip in scores on both fitness tests, he added. But over time, Marines adapt, and they’ve consistently shown that they rise to meet new physical standards, Armes said.

Since the CFT is meant to ensure Marines are ready for combat, a shorter recovery time is something they could experience downrange too.

“In combat, things happen rapidly,” Armes said. “You don’t get a set time to recover. You might get a Marine across the danger zone and then they might have to do something like lift ammo cans. They’re going to be doing one thing after another in combat.”

Tougher Minimum Combined Scores

No Marine is going to be able to do the bare minimum on all six PFT and CFT events and expect to pass the tests anymore.

Starting Jan. 1, Marines will need a minimum combined score of 150 points to pass the PFT. Similarly, they’ll need 150 points on the CFT to pass that test starting July 1.

“Ideally, Marines will look at the maximums across all events and they’ll go after [those],” Armes said. “If they go after the maximums, they’re not going to have any problems.”

Currently, less than 1 percent of Marines taking the PFT across all age groups score less than a 150, he said. For the CFT, it’s even lower. “But the big takeaway is that they cannot score a minimum on all three events and pass.”

The timing for all of these changes is right, Armes said. It’s been about two years since the last PFT/CFT overhauls, and the Marine Corps now has force fitness instructors developing tailored PT plans for units and squadrons across the service.

No Marine should be training just to pass the PFT or CFT, he said, but to improve their overall fitness and nutrition so they perform as best they can on and off the battlefield.

“Like with any athlete, you continue to put the body through more calculated stress, and those stressors — if given the proper recovery — will make the athlete stronger,” he said. “This is one way to get after that.

“Marines now know that they’re going to have to push themselves harder,” he added.

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

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Former Air Force Chaplain Pleads Not Guilty to Sex Abuse

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A fugitive priest who fled the U.S. decades ago amid allegations of child sex abuse has been returned to New Mexico to face charges after being arrested in Morocco last year, federal officials said Friday.

Arthur J. Perrault, 80, a former Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and a former Air Force chaplain, has been charged in a federal indictment with seven counts of aggravated sexual abuse and abusive sexual contact between 1991 and 1992 at Kirtland Air Force Base and Santa Fe National Cemetery.

Perrault, a one-time pastor at St. Bernadette parish in Albuquerque, is one of many priests who were sent to New Mexico in the 1960s from around the country for treatment involving pedophilia.

Victims, lawyers and church documents show the priests were later assigned to parishes and schools across New Mexico — especially in small Native American and Hispanic communities.

At a court appearance Friday, Perrault pleaded not guilty to all seven counts against him. His attorney couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

“The FBI and our partners were determined to make sure he faced justice — no matter how long it took and how far we had to go to get him,” said James Langenberg, FBI special agent in charge of the Albuquerque office.

Perrault vanished in 1992, just days before an attorney filed two lawsuits against the archdiocese alleging Perrault had sexually assaulted seven children at his parish.

The FBI said Perrault first fled to Canada and then to Tangier, Morocco, where he worked until last year at an English-language school for children.

The FBI did not provide further details on how he was located and arrested by Moroccan authorities.

Church records released last year by a New Mexico judge show Perrault is also accused in state lawsuits of sexually abusing at least 38 boys in other incidents.

The federal charges involve a boy who was younger than 12 at the time of the alleged abuse on the air base and at the cemetery — both federal jurisdictions.

“This is a great day for survivors of clergy abuse everywhere,” said Brad Hall, an attorney who has represented more than 100 victims of Catholic clergy abuse in New Mexico.

Records show Perrault was sent in 1965 to Servants of the Paraclete — a religious order that ran a treatment center for pedophile priests in Jemez Springs, New Mexico — after he was accused of molesting young men while serving in Connecticut.

A year later, he was recommended for a teaching post at St. Pius X High School in Albuquerque by a psychologist under contract with Servants of the Paraclete.

Langenberg said the FBI’s investigation began in 2016 and led to the indictment last year.

“There were some people who doubted Mr. Perrault would ever be back to New Mexico after being away for so long,” Langenberg said. “It was important to prove them wrong for one reason — the victim in this case.”

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US Military Air Squadron Expansion Promises Billions in New Costs

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Senior US Air Force leaders said this week 74 new squadrons and some 40,000 personnel are needed to address what they called future threats.

When asked by lawmakers,”What attain you need to execute the National Defense Strategy,” US Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said Monday that the service will need a lot more money, without diving into specifics. The Air Force plans to expand from 312 operating squadrons up to 386, she said, implying approximately 25 percent growth in the force structure.

US taxpayers may pay approximately $37.5 to $39.1 billion more annually to fund the squadron expansion, according to John Pike, a leading expert on defense, space and intelligence policy. Pike worked at the Federation of American Scientists for nearly 20 years and has frequently been asked to testify before Congress.

By comparison, Pike’s calculations dwarf rosier estimates from the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Todd Harris, a budget expert at CSIS, told the Washington Examiner Tuesday his back-of-the-envelope cost estimate came out to about $13 billion for operations and maintenance (O&M) costs. These are only a fraction of what it will purchase to finance the squadron expansion, Pike told Sputnik News.

In addition to aircraft O&M costs, “all these squadrons will require aircraft, which need research and development and military construction and so forth,” Pike noted.

The costs are unlikely to hit American taxpayers all at once, since the expansion was proposed in the context of the vision the Air Force seeks to achieve by 2030. The US Air Force’s budget for fiscal year 2019 is approximately $156 billion, according to official records. Therefore, the novel expansion could area the Department of the Air Force’s budget near $195 billion per year.
Even in the case of Harrison’s $13 billion cost increase estimate, the contemplate tank analyst told the Washington Examiner the “challenge” for the Air Force will be to simultaneously finance operational growth while modernizing its capabilities.

According to Air Force officials’ reasoning, the financial section of the equation is secondary to answering the question of what’s required to execute the national defense strategy. “We’re not naive about the financial constraints within which you build decisions,” Wilson said.

“But we also should know what is required from the perspective of those who procedure and develop military forces to execute that strategy. That’s where the 386 squadrons arrive from,” the Air Force secretary said.

Air Force leaders did not speak to the costs of the procedure: Determining costs for the squadron expansion is section of the “follow-up work,” according to US Air Force Gen. David Goldfein. “That’s work that is still to be done,” the general noted.

The choice to push more tax dollars into military spending generally, and US Air Force squadrons specifically, is among of the defining “political and moral questions of our time,” said Daniel Sankey, a financial policy analyst.

“What are our values as a nation? Is it education? Healthcare? Employment? Or it is war? What we spend our money on will reply those questions regardless of what politicians say,” Sankey told Sputnik News.

Military leaders couch defense spending as a necessary means to acquire ahead in powerful power competition — a phrased popularized by the US Department of Defense — with China and Russia. Sankey dismissed this notion on the grounds of mutually assured destruction, which hedges against a large-scale clash between the world’s nuclear powers.

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Test your fitness with this SOF Tier 1 PT test

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USMC Force Fitness Instructor Course

The Upper Body Round Robin AKA the UBRR is a commonly used physical fitness test among many Tier I and Tier II Special Operations Units. This pt test goes well beyond the typical scoring of pushups, sit-ups and a run.

UPPER BODY ROUND ROBIN (UBRR)

  • Bench Press
  • Pushups
  • Situps
  • Pull-ups
  • Dips
  • Rope Climb
  • Kipp Up
  • Shuttle Run
  • 5 Mile Run/Ruck

UBRR SCORING SYSTEM

Special Instruction:

As soon as an individual finishes one exercise, he must start the next exercise in no more than 10 minutes. There is only one common standard for all age groups. Only one attempt is allowed per participant at each station

In order to pass the UBRR, participants must achieve the following:

Pass all events with at least the minimum score, and Receive at least 1100 total points from all the events combined.

Bench press:

Time: No time limit.

Minimum: 6 repetitions with the individual’s body weight minus 20 percent of the individual’s body weight is the minimum

Score: The minimum is 100 points. Each additional repetition above the minimum is worth 3 points

The correct position is: The individual will lay flat (supine) on the bench, feet flat on the floor, shoulder blades, head, and buttocks in contact with the bench. Hands are approximately shoulder width apart.

A correct repetition is: On the command, “Go”, the bar is pushed off the supports (first repetition only), and arms are extended fully to the locked position. Then the bar is lowered until it touches the chest and then raised until the arms are fully extended, elbows locked.

Grader position: The grader must be located to one side of the individual doing the exercise to ensure the feet stay flat on the floor, the buttocks, shoulder blades and head stay in contact with the bench, and the arms fully extended. The grader will notify the individual doing the exercise if the feet, buttocks, shoulder blades, or head lift do not maintain contact, or the arms don’t fully extend. The repetition will not be counted after the second notification.

Example: Individual weighs 180 pounds.

Minimum weight: 180lbs-36lbs (20% of 180) = 144 lbs

Individual presses 144 lbs 15 times.

Score = 100 points for minimum (6repetitions)

9 repetitions over minimum x 3 points per repetition for a total of 27 additional points (9 x 3 = 27). Total score is 127 (100 points minimum and 27 points for additional points).

Push-ups:

Time: 1 minute

Minimum: 40 pushups is the minimum

Score: The minimum is 100 points. Each additional repetition above the minimum is worth 2 points

The correct position is: The back is generally straight, feet are up to 12 inches apart, hands are placed should width apart with arms extended and locked on a generally flat surface

A correct repetition is: On the command, “Go”, the body is lowered from the front leaning rest position until the chest (sternum area) touches a flat hand on the floor, then the body is raised until the arms are fully extended (locked).

Grader position: The grader will have one hand on the floor and the other on one elbow of the individual doing the exercise. The grader will notify the individual doing the exercise if he needs to go lower or extend the arms fully, and will not count the repetition after the second notification

Sit-ups:

Time: 1 minute

Minimum: 40 sit-ups is the minimum

Score: The minimum is 100 points. Each additional repetition above the minimum is worth 3 points

The correct position is: The individual lies flat (supine) on his back on a generally flat surface. The legs should have a 90 degree bend at the knees. Feet should be flat on the floor with no more than 12 inches in between them, and at the same level as the upper body. Fingers should be interlaced (one or more and at any part of the finger) and placed behind the head.

A correct repetition is: On the command “Go” the individual raises his upper body by bending at the pelvis until the spine (base of the neck) breaks or equals the vertical plane (lower spine). Then he lowers his body until the shoulder blades touch the floor. The person holding the feet may secure them by any means, but will not be in the way or assist in the repetition.

Grader position: The grader will be positioned perpendicular to the individual doing the exercise. The grader will notify the individual doing the exercise if he needs to go higher or interlace the fingers and will not count the repetition after the second notification.

Pull-ups:

Time: No time limit

Minimum: 6 pull-ups is the minimum

Score: The minimum is 100 points. Each additional repetition above the minimum is worth 3.5 points

The correct position is: The bar will be grasped with hands shoulder width apart, knuckles facing the individual. The individual will hang from the bar so that the arms are fully extended (starting position).

A correct position is: On the command “Go”, pull with the arms, raising the body until the chin is higher than the bar (head can be level or tilted back). Then the individual will lower his body until he is hanging with arms fully extended. The knees may be bent so the feet are behind the body, but the knees cannot come up in the front or kip in any way that would assist in the repetition.

Grader position: The grader will stand 18 inches in front of the person doing the exercise and will count out loud. If the individual touches the grader with any part of this body, that repetition will not count. The grader will notify the individual doing the exercise if he needs to go higher or lock the arms, and will not count the repetition after the first notification.

Dips:

Time: No time limit.

Minimum: 10 dips is the minimum

Score: The minimum is 100 points. Each additional repetition above the minimum is worth 2.5 points

The correct position is: The body will be fully supported on the dip bar, arms fully extended and locked. Legs may be bent or straight, and feet may be crossed.

A correct repetition is: On the command “Go”, lower the body until the upper arms are parallel with the dip bar, and then press upwards with the arms until the arms are fully extended, elbows locked.

Grader position: The grader will be positioned to one side of the individual to ensure the upper arms are at least parallel with the dip bar in the lower position, and the arms become fully locked in the up position. The grader will notify the individual if he fails the go low enough, or if the elbows don’t lock. He will not count the repetition after the second notification.

Rope climb:

Time: No time limit

Minimum: Individual must climb the rope (using any technique) until he can touch the designated height (the green tape at 20 feet) on the rope. The individual will wear a 20 lb vest during this exercise.

Score: This is a GO/NO GO event, and no points will be awarded.

Kipp-up

Time: One-minute time limit

Minimum: Six Kipp ups is the minimum.

Score: The minimum is 100 points. Each additional repetition above the minimum is worth 3.5 points

The correct position is: The individual will position himself underneath the pull-up bar as if he were doing a regular pull-up. Do a left or right facing movement so the pull-up bar is now perpendicular to the individual. Grasp the bar with palms facing each other, no more than 5″ apart, arms fully extended and body hanging without touching the ground.

The correct repetition is: On the command, “Go”, pull up with the arms and torso, raising the feet and legs, one leg on either side of the bar, until the heels touch above the bar, with the bar between the legs. Then lower the legs until the arms and legs are fully extended in the starting position. This is one repetition.

Grader position: The grader will be located to one side or the other of the individual to ensure the arms and legs are fully extended to start each repetition. The grader will also ensure that the heels touch above the bar on each repetition. The grader will notify the individual if the individual fails to fully extend the arms or legs or fails to touch the heels above the bar. He will not count the repetition after the second notification.

Shuttle Run:

Time: 24 seconds is the maximum time

Score: The maximum is worth 100 points. Each full 0.1 second under the maximum is worth 2 points.

A correct course is: The course will be a pre-marked 25-meter running lane that is flat and without obstructions. Easily visible lines on the ground will indicate the starting point and the 25 meter point.

A correct shuttle run is: On the command “Go”, the individual doing the exercise will leave the start point and run down to the far end of the course, pick up a block, return to the start point and put that block down behind the line. Then he will pick up a different block, return to the far end, put that block down behind the line, pick up a different block and return to the starting line. The blocks must be placed behind the lines and carried by hand.

Grader position: The grader will be positioned behind the starting line, and must use a watch that measures tenths of a second.

Example: Individual’s time = 22.4 seconds

Time is 24 seconds or less (maximum) = 100 points

Total time under 24 seconds is sixteen 1/10th second increments

Score = 100 (maximum time) + (16 x 2) for tenths of a second

under the maximum for a total score of 132 points

Five Mile Run:

Time: Maximum time is 40 minutes

Score: The maximum is worth 100 points. Every full 5 second increment under the maximum time is worth 2 points

A correct course is: The course will be 5 miles in distance, with a paved (or similar) surface, generally flat and without obstacles. The start and finish line will be the same.

A correct five-mile run is: On the command “Go”, the individual will begin to run at his own pace, and continue through the course until he crosses the finish line. This exercise must be completed

Grader position: The grader will be located at the start/finish line, and will begin the time at the command “Go”. He will call off the finish times as runners cross the finish line, and he will not stop his watch until the last runner has completed the run.

Example: Individuals time = 36:17

Time is 40 minutes or less (maximum) = 100 points

Total time under 40 minutes is 223 seconds

44 full 5 second increments x 2 points per increment = 88 points

(22 x 3 = 88)

Score = 100 (maximum time) + 88 (points for 5 second increments) for a total

Score of 188 points.

5 Mile Run OR Five Mile Rucksack March:

Time: The maximum time is 75 minutes for the ruck, 40 minutes for the run.

Score: The maximum score is worth 100 points. Every full time increment of 15 seconds under the maximum is worth 2 points.

Equipment: The rucksack must weigh no less than 40 pounds dry. Uniform can be pants or shorts with boots.

A correct course is: The course will be 5 miles in distance, with a hard, solid surface, generally flat without obstacles. The start and finish line will be the same.

A correct five-mile rucksack march is: Individual will begin at the start line, and at the command “Go”, will begin the ruck march at his own pace and continue through the course until he crosses the finish line. This entire exercise must be completed with the rucksack, and unaided. Running is authorized.

Grader position: The grader will be located at the start/finish line, and will start the time at the command “Go”. He will call off the times as participants cross the finish line, and he will not stop the time until the last individual completes the rucksack march.

Example: Individuals time is 52 minutes 35 seconds.

Time is 75 minutes or less (maximum) = 100 points

Total time under 75 minutes is 22 minutes and two 15 full seconds

22 minutes x 4 (15 second increments) = 88 + 1 (15 full second)

89 x 2 = 178

A score of 178 points

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3 Marines Killed in Vietnam War to Be Buried at Arlington

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arlington-national-cemetery-flags-1500
Members of the Old Guard, placed flags in front of every headstone at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Thursday, May 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana) — The Associated Press

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The Associated Press 21 Sep 2018

WASHINGTON  — The Pentagon says the remains of three U.S. Marines killed when their helicopter was shot down during the Vietnam War will be buried next week at Arlington National Cemetery.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced Friday that the remains of the three men will be buried as a group with full military honors next Thursday. The three men are: Capt. John A. House II, of Pelham, New York; Lance Cpl. John D. Killen III, of Davenport, Iowa; and Cpl. Glyn L. Runnels Jr., of Birmingham, Alabama.

The Pentagon says their remains were identified in March 2017.

Military officials say House, the oldest at 28, was the pilot of the Sea Knight helicopter that crashed after being hit by enemy fire on June 30, 1967. Four others also were killed, including 18-year-old Killen and 21-year-old Runnels.

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Marine Who Rushed Into Burning Building: We Came to Help Our Neighbors

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Capt. Trey Gregory was one of the first 10 Marines to race toward a burning senior-living facility in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday — and the teamwork he saw there is enough to get him choked up.

From junior enlisted Marines to the base commanding officer, the response was a display of level-headed professionalism and duty for the neighbors of Marine Barracks Washington, he told Military.com.

“Nobody was worried about ranks,” said Gregory, an aviation logistics officer by trade who’s currently serving as the Barracks’ security forces company executive officer. “The level of maturity, accountability and staying calm in the face of a very hectic and somewhat dangerous situation showed me that the training we do, day-in and day-out, plays a huge role.”

The three-alarm fireerupted in the Arthur Capper Senior Apartments at about 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, just behind the Barracks where Gregory’s team is based. Within minutes, the security force Marines were equipped with radios as they headed into the building to alert their neighbors, many of whom are elderly and can’t walk on their own.

“We knew we had people in there who needed help,” Gregory said. “The bottom floors weren’t too bad when we got in there, but that top floor got dicey.”

The Marines paired off and stayed in communication on the radios, he said, especially on the top floor, where the smoke was much thicker. They steered clear of any doorways that were hot to the touch as they went room-to-room, clearing every unit they checked and helping those who needed it to safety.

“Some of the residents are bedridden or paralyzed, so we picked them up and threw them over our shoulders,” he said. “I remember carrying a paralyzed guy down the stairs with the colonel, a lieutenant and a gunnery sergeant. Everybody was just there to help.”

Gregory estimates the Marines made 30 or 40 trips in and out of the building. There were no deaths or life-threatening injuries reported in the 162-unit complex. D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Chief Gregory Dean said Thursday that they’re looking into whether all of the fire alarms were functioning.

About 100 Marines from the Barracks eventually pitched in, some racing over with wheelchairs and stretchers. Marine logisticians also brought over food and water, so those moved out of smoke-filled units immediately had something to drink.

Social media was filled with videos and images of the Marines assisting, but Gregory said none of them is concerned with the fanfare or recognition for what they did.

“We have wonderful neighbors at all of our facilities all over the world,” he said. “We’re just super thankful that everyone could escape this tragedy.

The real credit, he added, goes to the D.C. firefighters and other emergency responders.

“They were in the fight for sure,” Gregory said. “The D.C. fire department has a tough, tough job, and we were just there to assist.”

The Marines are looking forward to reconnecting with the neighbors they helped move to safety. The community members have always been supportive of Marine Barracks Washington, he said, and the leathernecks were glad to pay it back.

“We just hope that people understand that when Marines see a crisis, we respond,” Gregory said. “It’s what we do whether we are overseas or here in D.C. Geographic location doesn’t matter.”

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

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Texas Church Shooting Lawsuits Against Air Force Combined

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SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas — All federal lawsuits against the U.S. Air Force over a Texas church shooting last year that left more than two dozen worshippers dead will be consolidated into one case, a judge says.

Senior U.S. District Judge David Ezra announced Wednesday that the lawsuits will be combined and handled by U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez, the San Antonio Express-News reported. Four lawsuits have been filed so far by victims or their relatives. More are expected.

The lawsuits allege that the Air Force was negligent for failing to report the convictions of gunman Devin Kelley, who opened fire Nov. 5 at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs. Kelley later killed himself.

The Air Force admitted shortly after the massacre that the agency failed to report Kelley’s past crimes to a federal database, which allowed him to pass a background check and obtain the guns he used in the slaying.

Kelley, an Air Force veteran, had a history of violence. He was discharged in 2014 for bad conduct after he was convicted of beating his first wife and injuring his stepson.

“This court has great sympathy for the victims and their families,” Ezra said. “It makes no sense to have these cases spread out.”

The lawsuits likely face multiple hurdles, including the doctrine of sovereign immunity that makes it nearly impossible to sue the federal government. But the Federal Tort Claims Act allows individuals to seek damages in limited cases if they can prove direct negligence by the government.

Attorney Jamal Alsaffar is handling three separate lawsuits filed by survivors or their relatives.

“It’s been almost a year since this horrible thing happened, and the government has done very little to move this case. In fact, they’ve done nothing,” Alsaffar said. “The quicker we can get the cases together and move forward so that these families’ cases can be addressed openly and transparently … the better.”

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Air Force Couple Investigated for Child’s Death

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An Air Force couple who reportedly had financial issues and concerns about child care costs is being investigated for the death of their infant son in 2016 and for serious injuries to a second young child, a daughter, in 2017, according to court records.

Technical Sgt. Caleb W. Humphrey, with the 792nd Intelligence Support Squadron, and his wife, Staff Sgt. Natasha C. Beyer, part of the Joint Intelligence Center, unsuccessfully fought the release of financial records sought by the Pentagon’s Inspector General.

The Kapolei couple is being investigated for involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, intentionally inflicted grievous harm and child endangerment, according to U.S. District Court filings.

“I don’t have anything to say to you, sir,” an individual who answered Humphrey’s cellphone number said Wednesday.

Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam referred questions to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations in Quantico, Va., which couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.

On July 18, 2017, Child Welfare Services notified the Air Force that Humphrey and Beyer’s daughter, Avaline Noel Beyer, had been admitted to Tripler Army Medical Center for seizures.

A medical exam revealed the girl, who was born that year, suffered from “numerous” brain bleeds, a skull fracture, bruising on the top of her head and face, and four rib fractures, court filings said.

Humphrey said he had tripped while holding the child, and while grappling with her accidentally slammed her face against his shoulder, according to a declaration filed by Roberto Flores-Rendon, a special agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

But Lt. Col. Shelly Martin, a child abuse pediatrician at Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas, said the injuries were consistent with “non-accidental trauma,” with the rib fractures possible from squeezing, while the others could have occurred from a “single shaking/blunt force trauma type event,” Flores-Rendon noted.

Dr. Kayal Natarajan, a Honolulu-based medical consultant, subsequently reported that the girl’s injuries could not be explained by Humphrey’s description of what happened, according to Flores-Rendon.

The investigation of the girl’s injuries “revealed additional possible issues” relating to the 2016 death of the couple’s son, Grayson Caleb Beyer, who was born that same year and treated at Tripler, Flores-Rendon said.

The investigator’s declaration said the manner of death was ruled “natural” and consistent with suspected herpes simplex virus infection.

A postmortem scan revealed multiple healing rib fractures, but law enforcement was not deemed necessary at the time, Flores-Rendon reported.

Martin, the child abuse pediatrician, later found no indication of an active herpes infection and concluded that “non-accidental trauma should have been more thoroughly considered,” the declaration states.

Dr. Christopher Happy, Honolulu’s chief medical examiner, reviewed the case and in December determined the cause of death to be blunt force injuries to the head and ruled it a homicide.

According to the declaration, an Air Force civilian who knew the couple said Beyer talked about problems with debt prior to the boy’s birth, and “they talked in general about the costs of a child.”

“They had expensive tastes and could not really afford their lifestyle,” the statement said. An insurance payout of $10,006 was made after the boy’s death, Flores-Rendon said.

The couple’s military lawyers, in trying to stop the financial records search, said the couple did not live in an overpriced home, with their combined $4,275 a month housing allowance covering their $2,916 mortgage.

“Just because two new working parents talked about possible expenses related to their child’s care does not warrant that they want to hurt their children in order to get some insurance money,” the lawyers said.

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Troops May Face Higher Risk of Sex Assault at These Duty Stations

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Men and women on Navy ships faced the highest rates of sexual assaults in the military, according to newly released data, with as many as one in four male sailors aboard one ship experiencing abuse in 2014.

Navy ships “dominate the highest-risk installations” for sexual assault, according to a long-awaited breakdown of the threat by military installation released Friday by Rand Corp. Overseas installations, large bases and those with a “more prominent combat unit presence” were also reported as high-risk locations, according to the report.

The study, based on data from fiscal 2014, was prepared for the Defense Department’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office. It’s based on responses from more than 170,000 service members who completed a survey on the military workplace.

While the 118-page study offers a glimpse into the troubling trend of sexual assaults in the military, it also raises several questions about whether the patterns are still relevant.

The collected information is nearly five years old, for example; accounts only for those on active duty; and excludes troops who served less than six months — along with midshipmen and cadets at the academies. The report also doesn’t explain why risks are higher or lower at different installations.

Officials addressed some of those limitations in the report.

“The one-year rates of sexual assault estimated for each installation should be interpreted descriptively, not as evidence that something about the installation or command is causing or preventing sexual assault,” the report states. “… The differences may result from differences in command climate, alcohol availability and price, crime rates in the surrounding civilian community, or the transitory presence of one or more sexual predators.”

Some of the lowest-risk locations for sexual assault based on the 2014 data include bases in and around Washington, D.C.; small support installations; and medical centers.

Here’s a look at how the risks broke down by service

Army

Per the 2014 data, the highest-risk bases identified in the report where women experienced sexual assault included: Fort Huachuca, Arizona; Fort Drum, New York; Okinawa, Japan; and Fort Riley, Kansas.

Men faced higher risks at bases in Italy; Fort Myer, Virginia; Fort Drum, New York; Fort Benning, Georgia; and Rose Barracks, Germany.

Several large and overseas bases were considered high risk for both Army men and women. Men faced higher risks at “installations with a more prominent combat-unit presence.”

Several of the bases considered lower-risk were in the National Capital Region, which could be because of the “seniority or profession of soldiers assigned to Washington-area jobs,” according to the report.

Marine Corps

As with some of the other services, the bases with the highest concentration of Marines had the highest rates of sexual assault for the Corps.

For female Marines, several air stations, including Yuma in Arizona, Beaufort in South Carolina and New River in North Carolina, were among the highest-risk locations. Marine Corps Ground-Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California, and Okinawa, Japan were also on the high-risk list.

For men, Japan, South Korea, Twentynine Palms and Afghanistan were labeled high-risk, per the 2014 data.

Navy

Ships, or clusters of ships, presented some of the highest risks for both Navy men and women. Of the 15 highest-risk locations for women, 13 were ships. For men, 14 of the 15 riskiest locations were ships.

Some of the ships, including the one where one in four male sailors reported being sexually abused, are not named in order to protect the victims. Several aircraft carriers, including the George Washington, George H.W. Bush, Theodore Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, were high-risk locations for both genders.

Male and female sailors also reported sexual assault risks in Japan.

Air Force

The Air Force saw some of the lowest rates of sexual assaults, according to the 2014 data in the report. Pilot training bases were listed as high-risk for both genders, however.

Women reported the highest risks at Vance and Altus Air Force Bases in Oklahoma; Laughlin and Goodfellow in Texas; and Columbus in Mississippi.

Altus, Laughlin and Columbus were also rated risky for men, along with Luke Air Force Base in Arizona and Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, D.C.

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

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