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Corps Fires CO, Senior Enlisted Leader at Light Armored Battalion

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The Marines fired two top leaders of a Twentynine Palms unit on Monday.

Maj. Gen. Maj. Gen. Eric Smith, commander of 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, removed Lt. Col. Rafael A. Candelario II and Sgt. Maj. Marcus A. Chestnut of 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion.

Candelario, 47, was the commander of the “Wolfpack” and Chestnut, 45, his senior enlisted Marine.

“All I can say is that the commanding general lost confidence in their ability to lead 3rd LAR,” said division spokesman Capt. Paul Gainey during a telephone interview late Wednesday.

Smith ordered Lt. Col. John Kinitz to Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms to assume command of the battalion until a permanent replacement can be named.

“He’s in Twentynine Palms now and he’s taken command,” said Gainey.

Gainey declined to say why Smith lost confidence in the senior leaders or if an investigation was underway.

The 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion is a fast vehicular unit that conducts reconnaissance-in-force ahead of infantry forces.

In March the unit participated in its Marine Corps Combat Readiness Evaluation at the sprawling San Bernardino County base. The grueling tests are designed to test a unit’s ability to function in battle.

The former battalion sergeant major for 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, Chestnut joined 3rd LAR on March 18, 2016, according to military records.

A South Carolina native who became a canoneer crewman, he had served in Australia as the Marine Air Ground Task Force Sergeant Major in support of Marine Rotational Force Darwin.

“To the Marines and sailors of the ‘Wolf Pack’, you don’t owe me anything, but I owe you a lot,” Chestnut said when he was welcomed to Twentynine Palms. “I’m here to tell you that I am here to serve you.”

He is a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A woman who answered at his home on Wednesday said he could not come to the phone.

The son of a Marine, Candelario graduated in 1994 from Davidson College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in History with a concentration in Gender Studies.

He made multiple deployments overseas, including to Afghanistan, Kuwait, Okinawa and Djibouti.

After graduating early from the Naval Postgraduate School in 2007, he served in the U.S. Embassy in Botswana before becoming the executive officer of 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines.

Assigned as a Recovery Team Leader with the Joint Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Command, he led two missions in Vietnam and Laos.

After serving as the regimental operations officer, regimental executive officer, and the acting regimental commander of 5th Marines at Camp Pendleton, he took command of 3rd LAR on June 15, 2017.

Efforts to reach Candelario by telephone on Wednesday were unsuccessful. He did not answer multiple emails seeking comment.

This article is written by Carl Prine from The San Diego Union-Tribune 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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Japanese Defense Minister Expresses Concern After Osprey Crash Report

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Japan’s defense minister has expressed concerns about the safety of Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft after a report blamed downwash for a crash off Australia that killed three last summer.

In a report dated March 21, investigators said the Aug. 5, 2017, incident was caused by a heavy downwash of air as the Osprey from Okinawa’s Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265 attempted to land on the USS Green Bay.

“There will be a need to deal with the matter after obtaining the relevant information from the United States,” Itsunori Onodera told reporters Tuesday, according to the Asahi newspaper.

The downwash was so heavy that the Osprey didn’t have enough thrust to hold its hover and collided with the ship before falling into the sea, killing three and injuring 23, according to the report.

“The mission was complex, challenging, and included flying into and out of a highly congested operational area. Executing this mission required a detailed plan and superior technical performance,” Maj. Gen. Thomas Weidley, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing commanding general, wrote in an endorsement of the report.

“The Marines manning the mishap aircraft were mission capable, fully-trained, and qualified. The mishap aircraft was mechanically sound,” he said.

Naval Air Systems Command engineers have looked at the effects of downwash and the amount of power an Osprey needs to land safely. They have made adjustments to the amount of weight an Osprey can carry when it’s approaching a ship at sea to make sure it has enough power to land, the U.S. Naval Institute reported Monday.

Twenty-four MV-22B Ospreys fly out of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa, and five CV-22 Ospreys — part of a squadron that will grow to 10 aircraft — began operating out of Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo last month.

The Japan Self-Defense Forces plan to acquire 17 of their own Ospreys this fiscal year.

Protesters have questioned the safety of the aircraft, which are capable of taking off like helicopters, then tilting their rotors to fly long distances as fixed-wing planes.

Officials blamed the December 2016 crash-landing of a Futenma-based Osprey off Okinawa on weather and human error.

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Former Marine Found Guilty of 5 California Murders

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SANTA ANA, Calif. — A convicted Illinois killer was found guilty Wednesday of the murders of five women in Southern California more than two decades ago.

Orange County jurors convicted Andrew Urdiales of five counts of murder with enhancements for attacking a volunteer usher after a college piano concert and picking up four prostitutes, driving them to remote or deserted areas, having sex with them and killing them.

The verdict raises to eight the number of women killed by the 53-year-old former Marine.

Urdiales was previously convicted of killing three women in Illinois in 2002 and 2004. He was given a death sentence that was commuted to life without parole after Illinois barred the death penalty.

He was extradited to California in 2011 to stand trial in the murders of five women in Riverside, Orange and San Diego counties between 1986 and 1995. For these killings, California prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

The penalty phase of the trial will begin Thursday for jurors to evaluate whether to recommend a death sentence for Urdiales or life without parole.

Attorneys declined to comment publicly on the verdicts before the trial has concluded.

Authorities said Urdiales, who moved to Southern California in 1984 as a 19-year-old Marine, killed four women while in the military and a fifth while vacationing in Palm Springs in 1995.

He attacked 23-year-old Robbin Brandley after a jazz piano concert in 1986 at an Orange County community college and stabbed her to death in the parking lot. Two years later, he picked up Julie McGhee, a 29-year-old prostitute, and drove her to a remote area, had sex with her, shot her in the head and left her body in the desert, authorities said.

Urdiales went on to attack and kill three more Southern California women and three Illinois women who were working as prostitutes, authorities said.

The California murders went unsolved for more than a decade until Urdiales was arrested after he returned home to Illinois.

Authorities stopped Urdiales in 1996 and found a weapon in his truck that he wasn’t allowed to carry, prosecutors said. The next year, authorities matched the weapon to the one used to kill the Illinois women and arrested him for those murders.

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Air Force Commander Fired After Grenades, Machine Gun Go Missing

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The commander responsible for the Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, unit that lost both a machine gun and a box of grenades in recent weeks has been fired, the Air Force announced Wednesday.

Col. Jason Beers, 91st Security Forces Group commander, was relieved of his duties May 23 due “to a loss of trust and confidence after a series of events under the scope of his leadership, including a recent loss of ammunition and weapons,” Minot officials said in a release.

His firing comes after airmen with the 91st lost a box of 32 40mm high-explosive MK 19 grenades May 1, which fell out of the back of a Humvee. After a quick, unsuccessful search, officials offered a $5,000 reward to anyone who may have picked up the box in Mountrail County. Days later, the 91st discovered it also was missing an M240 machine gun.

Neither the grenades nor the machine gun have been located. The unit’s airmen are tasked with protecting the base’s nuclear sites.

Air Force Global Strike Command, which oversees the base, initiated an immediate command-wide inventory check on all weapons following the two losses.

Beers was responsible for ensuring the 91st SFG was “trained, organized and equipped to secure 150 Minuteman III missiles and launch facilities and 15 missile alert facilities geographically separated throughout 8,500 square miles of the missile complex,” the release said.

The Air Force did not disclose if a replacement for Beers has been named.

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

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Pilots Eject Safely as T-38 Trainer Crashes in Mississippi

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A U.S. Air Force T-38 Talon II trainer jet crashed Wednesday morning near Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi. Both pilots safely ejected from the aircraft.

The incident occurred at 8:30 a.m., the base said in a Facebook post.

“Local law enforcement and first responders are on the scene. First responders have extinguished the fire and are securing the area. The pilots have been transported to a local hospital for evaluation,” officials said, adding there was no immediate threat to the area.

The incident marks the second crash of a T-38 trainer in six months.

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In November, Capt. Paul J. Barbour, 32, died in a T-38 crash about 15 miles northwest of Laughlin Air Force Base in Del Rio, Texas.

Barbour, a native of Van Nuys, California, was the aircrew flight equipment flight commander with the 47th Operations Support Squadron and an instructor pilot with the 87th Flying Training Squadron.

Capt. Joshua Hammervold, an instructor pilot for the 87th FTS, was injured in the accident.

The latest crash comes three weeks after a WC-130 crashed in Georgia. All nine aboard were killed.

The Air Force has lost 18 service members since November to aviation mishaps.

As of May 2, manned aviation Class-A mishaps — defined as involving fatalities, severe damage totaling $2 million or more, or a complete loss of the aircraft — have increased 48 percent in fiscal 2018, officials said recently.

The latest accident comes as the service is conducting a staggered one-day stand-down ordered by Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein on May 7 to give units “the chance to identify issues that they can work and elevate up to the [major command level] … and the Air Staff if necessary,” said Maj. Gen. John T. Rauch, chief of safety for the service and commander of the Air Force Safety Center.

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

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Mattis Tells Air Force Graduates to Be Ready for War

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Security Troops on US Nuclear Missile Base Took LSD

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WASHINGTON — One airman said he felt paranoia. Another marveled at the vibrant colors. A third admitted, “I absolutely just loved altering my mind.”

Meet service members entrusted with guarding nuclear missiles that are among the most powerful in America’s arsenal. Air Force records obtained by The Associated Press show they bought, distributed and used the hallucinogen LSD and other mind-altering illegal drugs as part of a ring that operated undetected for months on a highly secure military base in Wyoming. After investigators closed in, one airman deserted to Mexico.

“Although this sounds like something from a movie, it isn’t,” said Capt. Charles Grimsley, the lead prosecutor of one of several courts martial.

A slipup on social media by one airman enabled investigators to crack the drug ring at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in March 2016, details of which are reported here for the first time. Fourteen airmen were disciplined. Six of them were convicted in courts martial of LSD use or distribution or both.

None of the airmen was accused of using drugs on duty. Yet it’s another blow to the reputation of the Air Force’s nuclear missile corps, which is capable of unleashing hell in the form of Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs. The corps has struggled at times with misbehavior, mismanagement and low morale.

Although seen by some as a backwater of the U.S. military, the missile force has returned to the spotlight as President Donald Trump has called for strengthening U.S. nuclear firepower and exchanged threats last year with North Korea. The administration’s nuclear strategy calls for hundreds of billions of dollars in new spending in coming decades.

The service members accused of involvement in the LSD ring were from the 90th Missile Wing, which operates one-third of the 400 Minuteman 3 missiles that stand “on alert” 24/7 in underground silos scattered across the northern Great Plains.

Documents obtained by the AP over the past two years through the Freedom of Information Act tell a sordid tale of off-duty use of LSD, cocaine and other drugs in 2015 and 2016 by airmen who were supposed to be held to strict behavioral standards because of their role in securing the weapons.

“It’s another black eye for the Air Force — for the ICBM force in particular,” says Stephen Schwartz, an independent consultant and nuclear expert.

In response to AP inquiries, an Air Force spokesman, Lt. Col. Uriah L. Orland, said the drug activity took place during off-duty hours. “There are multiple checks to ensure airmen who report for duty are not under the influence of alcohol or drugs and are able to execute the mission safely, securely and effectively,” he said.

Airman 1st Class Tommy N. Ashworth was among those who used LSD supplied by colleagues with connections to civilian drug dealers.

“I felt paranoia, panic” for hours after taking a hit of acid, Ashworth said under oath at his court martial. He confessed to using LSD three times while off duty. The first time, in the summer of 2015, shook him up. “I didn’t know if I was going to die that night or not,” he said as a witness at another airman’s drug trial. Recalling another episode with LSD, he said it felt “almost as if I was going to have like a heart attack or a heat stroke.”

Airman Basic Kyle S. Morrison acknowledged at his court martial that under the influence of LSD he could not have responded if recalled to duty in a nuclear security emergency.

In prosecuting the cases at F.E. Warren, the Air Force asserted that LSD users can experience “profound effects” from even small amounts. It said common psychological effects include “paranoia, fear and panic, unwanted and overwhelming feelings, unwanted life-changing spiritual experiences, and flashbacks.”

It’s unclear how long before being on duty any of the airmen had taken LSD, which stands for lysergic acid diethylamide. The drug became popularized as “acid” in the 1960s, and views since then have been widely split on its mental health risks. Although illegal in the U.S., it had been showing up so infrequently in drug tests across the military that in December 2006 the Pentagon eliminated LSD screening from standard drug-testing procedures. An internal Pentagon memo at the time said that over the previous three years only four positive specimens had been identified in 2.1 million specimens screened for LSD.

Yet Air Force investigators found those implicated in the F.E. Warren drug ring used LSD on base and off, at least twice at outdoor gatherings. Some also snorted cocaine and used ecstasy. Civilians joined them in the LSD use, including some who had recently left Air Force service, according to two officials with knowledge of the investigation. The Air Force declined to discuss this.

Airman 1st Class Nickolos A. Harris, said to be the leader of the drug ring, testified that he had no trouble getting LSD and other drugs from civilian sources. He pleaded guilty to using and distributing LSD and using ecstasy, cocaine and marijuana.

He acknowledged using LSD eight times and distributing LSD multiple times to fellow airmen at parties in Denver and other locations from spring 2015 to early 2016.

“I absolutely just loved altering my mind,” he told the military judge, blaming his decisions to use hallucinogens and other drugs on his addictive personality.

Other airmen testified that it was easy to obtain LSD in a liquid form spread on small tabs of perforated white paper. Airmen ingested at least one tab by placing it on their tongue. In one episode summarized by a military judge at Harris’ court martial, he and other airmen watched YouTube videos and “then went longboarding on the streets of Denver while high on LSD.”

Harris was sentenced to 12 months in jail and other penalties, but under a pretrial agreement he avoided a punitive discharge. The lead prosecutor in that case, Air Force Capt. C. Rhodes Berry, had argued Harris should be locked up for 42 months, including nine months for the “aggravating circumstance” of undercutting public trust by using hallucinogens and other drugs on a nuclear weapons base.

“I cannot think of anything more aggravating than being the ringleader of a drug ring on F.E. Warren Air Force Base,” Berry said at the courts martial.

In all, the AP obtained transcripts of seven courts martial proceedings, plus related documents. They provide vivid descriptions of LSD trips.

“I’m dying!” one airman is quoted as exclaiming, followed by “When is this going to end?” during a “bad trip” on LSD in February 2016 at Curt Gowdy State Park, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) west of Cheyenne, where F.E. Warren is located. A portion of that episode was video-recorded by one member of the group; a transcript of the audio was included in court records.

Others said they enjoyed the drug.

“Minutes felt like hours, colors seemed more vibrant and clear,” Morrison testified. “In general, I felt more alive.” He said he had used LSD in high school, which could have disqualified him from Air Force service; he said that his recruiter told him he should lie about it and that lying about prior drug use was “normal” in the Air Force.

At his court-martial, Morrison acknowledged distributing LSD on the missile base in February 2016. A month later, when summoned for questioning by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, Morrison confessed and became an informant for the agency, an arrangement the Air Force said yielded legally admissible evidence against 10 other airmen. Under a pretrial agreement, he agreed to testify against other airmen and avoided a punitive discharge. He was sentenced to five months’ confinement, 15 days of hard labor and loss of $5,200 in pay.

Most of the airmen involved were members of two related security units at F.E. Warren — the 790th Missile Security Forces Squadron and the 90th Security Forces Squadron. Together, they are responsible for the security and defense of the nuclear weapons there as well as the missile complex.

By coincidence, the No. 2 Pentagon official at the time, Robert Work, visited F.E. Warren one month before the drug investigation became public. Accompanied by an AP reporter, he watched as airmen of the 790th Missile Security Forces Squadron — whose members at the time included Harris, the accused leader of the drug ring — demonstrated how they would force their way into and regain control of a captured missile silo.

Work, the deputy defense secretary, was there to assess progress in fixing problems in the ICBM force identified by then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who ordered an investigation after the AP reported on personnel, resource, training and leadership problems in 2013-14. Those problems included the firing of the general in charge of the entire ICBM force for inappropriate behavior the Air Force said was linked to alcohol abuse. A month later the AP revealed that an unpublished study prepared for the Air Force found “burnout” among nuclear missile launch officers and evidence of broader behavioral problems, including sexual assaults and domestic violence. Air Force officials say the force has since rebounded.

In an interview, Work said he was not aware during his visit that anything was amiss. Nor was he briefed later on the investigation. He said he wouldn’t have expected to be briefed unless the Air Force found that LSD or other illegal drugs were a “systemic problem” for the nuclear force, beyond the security forces group at F.E. Warren.

Work said he had never heard of LSD use anywhere in the nuclear workforce.

For the inexperienced members of the drug ring, Harris, the ringleader, had set out several “rules” for LSD use at a gathering of several airmen in a Cheyenne apartment in late 2015 that was recorded on video. Rule No. 1: “No social media at all.” He added: “No bad trips. Everybody’s happy right now. Let’s keep it that way.”

But social media proved their undoing. In March 2016, one member posted a Snapchat video of himself smoking marijuana, setting Air Force investigators on their trail.

As the investigators closed in, one of the accused, Airman 1st Class Devin R. Hagarty, grabbed a backpack and cash, text-messaged his mother that he loved her, turned off his cellphone and fled to Mexico. “I started panicking,” he told a military judge after giving himself up and being charged with desertion.

The Air Force said Hagarty was the first convicted deserter from an ICBM base since January 2013. In court, he admitted using LSD four times in 2015-16 and distributing it once, and he said he had deserted with the intention of never returning. He also admitted to using cocaine, ecstasy and marijuana multiple times. He was sentenced to 13 months in a military jail.

In all, disciplinary action was taken against 14 airmen. In addition, two accused airmen were acquitted at courts martial, and three other suspects were not charged.

This article was written by Robert Burns from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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Marine Reservist, Off-Duty New Jersey Trooper Killed in Crash

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Reading Eagle, Pa. 22 May 2018

An off-duty New Jersey state trooper was killed Sunday night in a fiery crash on Interstate 78 in northeastern Berks County, Pennsylvania State Police said.

Brian McNally, 30, of Bedminster, N.J., a Marine veteran and active reservist, was on his way home from weekend military duty when he was killed.

McNally worked out of the Washington Station with the New Jersey State Police.

Troopers said he was traveling in the left eastbound lane of I-78 near the Krumsville interchange in Greenwich Township when he encountered slow-moving traffic due to a backup from an active construction zone over the county line in Lehigh County.

According to troopers, McNally switched from the left lane into the right lane and crashed into the rear of a tractor-trailer driven by Nuritdin Juraev, 33, of Windsor Mill, Md.

McNally was pronounced dead at the scene by personnel from the Berks County coroner’s office.

Juraev was taken by ambulance to Lehigh Valley Hospital, where he was treated for minor injuries.

After impact, the car McNally was driving burst into flames.

Firefighters from surrounding municipalities put out the fire.

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Marine Corps Tells LIDS to Quit Using its Name to Sell Baseball Jerseys

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A popular retail chain surrendered to the Marines on Tuesday, following a warning from the Corps to quit using its name to sell Memorial Day merchandise.

By late afternoon, Lids.com – part of the larger Indianapolis-based Hats Inc. that includes LIDS Sports Group and Locker Room outlets – had abandoned a recently-unveiled online ad campaign.

“Honor the U.S. Marine Corps brave men and women with this authentic New York Yankees Giancarlo Stanton Majestic MLB Men’s USMC Cool Base Jersey,” read one ad. “This camouflage-themed jersey will be worn by the New York Yankees during 2018 Memorial Day weekend games.”

Shortly after The San Diego Union-Tribune showed copies of the ads to Marine officials, Major League Baseball launched a probe into the campaign, too.

By early evening on the East Coast, Lids had removed all online references to the Corps.

Marine spokesman Maj. Brian T. Block told the Union-Tribune by email that the service “should not have been used in the promotional language on the website.”

“We do not have a license relationship with either the company selling that product, nor the MLB,” he added. “The USMC Trademark Office will contact the parties involved to relay our position that USMC trademarks may not be used in the promotion of an unlicensed product.”

The Lids campaign mentioned the Marine Corps in selling jerseys priced between $100 and $120 each that would be worn over the Memorial Day weekend by the Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Mets, San Francisco Giants, Texas Rangers, Colorado Rockies, Houston Astros, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers, Cleveland Indians, Seattle Mariners and Detroit Tigers.

The jerseys featured stars such as Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw, Giants catcher Buster Posey and Robinson Canoe, the Mariners second baseman serving an 80-day suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

None of these players served in the Marines although Hall of Famers such as Ted Williams, Rod Carew, Roberto Clemente, Eddie Collins and Ted Lyons did.

A baseball fan, Marine commandant Gen. Robert B. Neller last year tossed ceremonial first pitches for both the Detroit Tigers and Washington Nationals.

Jeff Pearson, senior vice president of e-commerce and marketing at Lids, called the Union-Tribune to say that the online ad campaign might have been launched in error and he was investigating.

As a reseller, the company often receives the right to vend trademarked merchandise from licensed companies, he added.

LIDS Sports Group operates more than 1,350 mall-based, airport, street level and factory outlet locations in the U.S. and Canada.

LIDS and its affiliates are subsidiaries of Genesco Inc., a publicly-traded apparel and licensed-merchandising firm headquartered in Nashville with nearly $3 billion in annual revenues.

Major League Baseball officials in New York told the Union-Tribune that they also were investigating the ad campaign but insisted teams had no prior knowledge of the Lids sales.

Club caps made by New Era for the weekend games don’t bear any military insignia and MLB’s online promotional materials don’t mention any of the armed forces by name.

Franchises plan to hold special pre-game ceremonies at stadiums nationwide throughout the weekend and also participate in a moment of silent rememberance on Memorial Day to honor troops lost at home and abroad.

The Toronto Blue Jays will wear four maple leafs on the right side of their caps to honor the four branches of Canada’s military, too.

Like the Coast Guard, Navy, Air Force and Army, the Marine Corps runs a trademark licensing office so that it can control how its logos, slogans and marks are used.

Headquartered in Virginia, the Marine Corps Trademark Office owns the eagle, globe and anchor device, “USMC” and other iconographic elements of the service. Even the digital camouflage pattern on Marine uniforms – called “MARPAT” – is trademarked.

Those trademarks also allow the Marines to generate licensing revenues to boost morale, welfare and recreation programs worldwide, officials say.

Lids also is running a promotion offering for $28 two “NCAA teamwork” caps emblazoned with bulldogs wearing the Corps’ famous eagle, globe and anchor insignia.

The Corps doesn’t participate directly in National Collegiate Athletic Association events, although the U.S. Naval Academy commissions some midshipmen as Marine officers.

Block asked Lids to look into that product and Pearson told the Union-Tribune that he would investigate it, too.

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Visit The San Diego Union-Tribune at www.sandiegouniontribune.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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This article is written by By Carl Prine from The San Diego Union-Tribune 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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Former Marine Fighter Pilot Wins Democratic Congressional Primary

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Former fighter pilot Amy McGrath vanquished Lexington’s mayor in Tuesday’s Democratic primary for a congressional seat in Kentucky, setting up a tougher mission against a Republican incumbent in a district seen as a pickup opportunity for her party.

McGrath, a political newcomer who spent 20 years in the Marine Corps, defeated Lexington’s mayor, Jim Gray, along with state Sen. Reggie Thomas and three other opponents.

“Six months ago, political pundits and establishment insiders didn’t think we could pull this off,” McGrath said in her victory speech. “Did you ever show them!”

McGrath joined a surge of women and military veteran candidates running as part of a Democratic strategy for challenging Republican control of Congress this year. Her win sets up a high-profile fall campaign against U.S. Rep. Andy Barr in the 6th District, which Republican Donald Trump carried in 2016. Democrats see it as their best chance to gain a seat in the Bluegrass State.

The district stretches from the Appalachian foothills to bluegrass country in and around Lexington, and has swung between Democratic and Republican representation for decades. Barr, a supporter of Trump’s agenda now seeking a fourth term, easily defeated challenger Chuck Eddy in Tuesday’s Republican primary.

McGrath and Barr quickly set their sights Tuesday night on what looms as a bruising fall campaign.

Since his election to Congress in 2012, Barr has joined the GOP push to dismantle much of Obama’s legacy, including the health-care law known as Obamacare. McGrath supports the Affordable Care Act, but says she would try to improve it by creating a public health insurance option. She also supports expanded access to Medicare to people 55 and older.

McGrath portrayed Barr as being part of a “broken Congress.”

“Like so many in Congress today, he puts his political party and his big-dollar special interest donors first,” she said. “That is the problem. I think Kentucky and our country should come first.”

Barr linked McGrath to former President Barack Obama’s agenda and touted the tax cuts and regulatory rollbacks pushed by the GOP Congress.

“The country is moving in a positive, more prosperous, more safe … direction,” the congressman said in a phone interview Tuesday night. “What we don’t want to do is go backwards.”

Meanwhile, in Kentucky’s most urban congressional district, the state’s former top-ranking health official, Vickie Yates Brown Glisson, won a three-way Republican primary. Glisson led the state’s effort to impose the nation’s first work requirements on Medicaid recipients. Now she’ll challenge U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, the only Democrat in Kentucky’s congressional delegation, in the Louisville-area 3rd District.

Elsewhere across Kentucky, Democrats were nominating candidates who will be prohibitive underdogs against four Republican congressmen in November.

U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, dean of the state’s congressional delegation, cruised past a challenger in Tuesday’s Republican primary; the other GOP incumbents — U.S. Reps. James Comer, Brett Guthrie and Thomas Massie — were unopposed.

The state’s biggest political splash this spring was in the 6th District, where McGrath had to overcome Gray’s early advantages in name recognition and political connections as both of them reached out to voters with a series of TV ads.

McGrath played up her military career, which ended in 2017 when she retired from the Marines as a lieutenant colonel who had flown 89 combat missions, including bombings targeting al-Qaida and the Taliban. Gray, Lexington’s first openly gay mayor, touted his successes in business and in running the district’s largest city.

The tame primary campaign turned negative when Gray ran a late ad noting McGrath was a relative newcomer to the district. McGrath, who grew up in northern Kentucky, took up residency in the 6th District last year after ending her military career.

Gray’s bid to make residency an issue didn’t sway voters like Dixie Klier of Versailles, who backed McGrath.

“The fact that she came back to her state to support it when we really need a national change, I admire her for that,” Klier said. “She didn’t have to do that. That was a choice.”

Two years ago, Gray narrowly won the 6th District in his losing campaign against Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul. McGrath had criticized Gray as being recruited by establishment Democrats.

Teresa Newman of Versailles struggled to decide, but chose McGrath in the end.

“It was very hard because I like Jim Gray, too,” she said. “It was a last-minute decision. … I think we need young energy in there. I know she cares about the health care issue. She wants Kentuckians to have heath care.”

This article was written by Bruce Schreiner from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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