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Green Beret Medic received Medal of Honor

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An Army Special Forces soldier will receive the Medal of Honor for fighting through an enemy ambush and saving his teammates’ lives 10 years ago in Afghanistan, the White House announced in late September.

Former Staff Sgt. Ronald Shurer II, who had already received a Silver Star for his actions, was honored with the nation’s highest award for valor by President Donald Trump during an Oct. 1 ceremony at the White House. Shurer served as a Special Forces medic with 3rd Special Forces Group.

Ronald J. Shurer II was born in Fairbanks, Alaska, on Dec. 7, 1978. The son of airmen, Shurer lived in Illinois and Idaho before his family was stationed at McChord Air Force Base, Washington. Shurer attended Rogers High School in Puyallup, Washington, where he was a member of the swim team and participated in triathlons and cycling.

Following his high school graduation in 1997, Shurer attended Washington State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business economics. Later that year, he enrolled in a master’s degree program at Washington State.

After the events of Sept. 11, 2001, Shurer was inspired to follow in the footsteps of his great-grandfather, grandfather and parents by serving in the U.S. armed forces.

Shurer entered the U.S. Army in 2002 and was assigned to the 601st Area Support Medical Company, 261st Area Medical Battalion, 44th Medical Command, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. In January 2004, he entered Special Forces selection and reported to the Special Forces Qualification Course in June. After donning his green beret, Shurer was assigned to the 3rd Special Forces Group in June 2006. Shurer deployed to Afghanistan from August 2006 to March 2007, and again from October 2007 to May 2008.

On April 6, 2008, Shurer and his team were assigned to take out high-value targets of the Hezeb Islami al Gulbadin in Shok Valley, according to the Army.

In a moment of the above-mentioned action, he was a Senior Medical Sergeant, Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha 3336, Special Operations Task Force-33, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Then-Staff Sergeant Shurer and his team were engaged by enemy machine gun, sniper, and rocket-propelled grenade fire. The lead portion of the assault element sustained several casualties and became pinned down on the mountainside. Then-Staff Sergeant Shurer braved enemy fire to treat an injured Soldier. After stabilizing the Soldier, he fought his way across a barrage of bullets and up the mountain to the lead element.

Once there, he treated and stabilized four more Soldiers. After treating the wounded, then-Staff Sergeant Shurer began evacuating them, carrying and lowering the casualties down the mountainside, using his body to shield them from enemy fire and debris. After he loaded the wounded in the evacuation helicopter, he retook control of his commando squad and rejoined the fight. Then-Staff Sergeant Shurer’s heroic actions saved the lives of his teammates.

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Today, he lives in Burke, Virginia, with his wife and two sons. After Army career, he went on to serve with the Secret Service, working as a special agent assigned to the Phoenix Field Office before being selected for the agency’s Counter Assault Team and assigned to its Special Operations Division.

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Court Document Offers Details in Marine’s Stabbing Death

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The 17-year-old boy who was charged as an adult with second-degree murder in the 2017 stabbing death of a Marine in Waikiki was arraigned Friday in Honolulu District Court.

Nicholas Earl Torres, who was 16 at the time of the Oct. 21, 2017 stabbing, allegedly gave a knife to a 15-year-old boy and urged him to stab the victim, 23-year-old Sgt. William M. Brown, according to a court document filed Friday that showed probable cause to arrest Torres.

The court document reveals details not publicly released previously because Torres was being held as a juvenile.

“Stab this f—r… Stab this f—r,” Torres yelled, according to that document.

When the younger boy failed to do so, Torres allegedly grabbed the knife from him, walked up to Brown and stabbed him once near his left armpit, the court document stated.

Brown was taken in critical condition to The Queen’s Medical Center, where he later died of a stab wound to his chest.

Torres’ preliminary hearing is scheduled for Oct. 9.

Torres was originally arrested at 3:35 a.m. on Oct. 21, 2017, and had been served with a Family Court petition for second-degree murder on Oct. 23, 2017.

Police arrested him Tuesday on suspicion of second-degree murder after Family Court Judge Paul Murakami had the juvenile case waived.

His bail, set at $500,000, was confirmed today. His attorney, Michael Green, asked the court to have him held at a juvenile facility rather than at Oahu Community Correctional Facility, but said he did not know where he was being held. A Department of Public Safety official said he was not in its custody.

Torres was one of three teenagers identified by witnesses as fighting with Brown during a large brawl at about 1 a.m. at the corner of Kalakaua and Royal Hawaiian avenues, police said in the court document. The other two were 13 and 15 at the time. A verbal exchange between two groups escalated into the confrontation, police had previously said.

Brown, a Tennessee native, served as an 81mm mortarman in Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, on Marine Corps Base Hawaii.

The Facebook page of his mother, Betty Reese-Luster, contained the following post on Oct. 2: “Today is one day that I have waited on for almost a year. Finally, my son’s killer will go to trial for his death.”

Reese-Luster’s Facebook page identifies her as a former police officer with the West Memphis Police Department and a former sheriff’s deputy. She did not respond to requests from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser for an interview.

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Tyndall Evacuates Personnel as Bases Brace for Hurricane Michael

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U.S. Air Force bases located in Florida’s panhandle are readying for Hurricane Michael, with some installations ordering mandatory personnel evacuations ahead of the Category 2 storm.

Tyndall Air Force Base on Monday ordered the evacuation of all on-and-off-base personnel ahead of the hurricane, which is set to make landfall Wednesday afternoon, according to the National Hurricane Center.

“It’s important to know that this order applies to all Tyndall assigned military personnel regardless if they live on base or not,” Col. Jefferson Hawkins, vice commander of the 325th Fighter Wing, said in a release. “People are our most important resource, and we’re committed to protecting them.”

Wind gusts could reach between 90 and 110 miles per hour, and the storm has the potential to increase to a Category 3, NHC officials have said. Water levels are also expected to rise.

Tyndall airmen and civilians, including those in base housing, must be off the installation by 3 p.m. Tuesday, officials said. Personnel may use their government-issued credit cards “for any expenses incurred during this evacuation,” the release said, adding they will be reimbursed for any travel expenses of at least 100 miles, but no more than 500 miles, from the base.

Aircraft have been moved from Tyndall to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, as a precaution. The base houses F-22 RaptorsT-38 Talons and QF-16sF-16 Fighting Falcons converted into unmanned aircraft. Officials did not specify how many aircraft had been moved.

F-35AJoint Strike Fighters will also be moved from Eglin Air Force Base ahead of the storm, according to the Pensacola News Journal. ABC News reported that the F-35s were moved to Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, and that F-16s and F-15 Eagles belonging to test wings at the base were also being evacuated.

The majority of Eglin’s facilities, such as the child development center, base gym, eateries and commissary, are expected to close Tuesday.

The 96th Test Wing commander “will decide about the return to normal base operations Oct. 10,” according to a release.

“Reporting times for base personnel will be posted on Facebook and the base website when finalized,” the release states. Only “mission-essential” service members were selected to report for normal duty hours Tuesday to finish base preparations, officials said.

Hurlburt Field, home of the Air Force’s special tactics airmen, will close at 6 p.m. Tuesday, the base said. Any military or civilian employees in non-essential roles will be dismissed until further notice.

AC-130J Ghostrider and AC-130U Spooky gunships, MC-130H Combat Talon IIs and PC-12s — known as the U-28 reconnaissance aircraft — have been evacuated to Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas. It was not immediately clear whether other aircraft at the base, such as the CV-22 Osprey, were moved or if they will remain at the base, stowed in hangars.

Meanwhile, special operations airmen are on standby if called upon for rescue missions during the storm.

“We stand ready to support relief operations in support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, state and local authorities, and international partners,” a 1st Special Operations Wing release states. “Airmen are prepared to assist those in need by providing capabilities such as search and rescue and personnel recovery, airlift of humanitarian supplies, medical care and aeromedical evacuation.”

Naval Air Station Pensacola said it would close facilities across the base Tuesday, including Corry Station, Saufley Field and the National Naval Aviation Museum. The base’s child development and youth centers, as well as the exchange and commissary, will close by 6 p.m., NAS Pensacola said in a Facebook post.

“All facilities onboard the base will remain closed through Wednesday,” it said. “Pending significant changes in weather forecast, the base and all facilities will reopen and resume normal operations on Thursday.”

The Navy evacuated some of its trainers ahead of the storm, ABC News said. NAS Pensacola keeps T-45 Goshawk and T-6 Texan II trainer aircraft. Some of the trainers will be secured or hangared at the base, ABC said, while others will be moved to NAS Whiting Field near Milton, Florida.

The Navy’s Blue Angels, normally housed at the base, recently wrapped flying during San Francisco’s Fleet Week and head next to Nevada.

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

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Few Marines Face the Parris Island ‘Mind Game’ This Recruit Endured

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James Tucker McConnell limps across the old airfield’s cracked tarmac, his knees aching, his heels raw from dozens of miles hiked and run in military-issue boots.

Like his fellow trainees in Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island‘s Platoon 3072, he’s caked with dirt and wet sand, and the muck on their camouflage blouses often obscures the patches bearing their names.

The recruits are almost indistinguishable from each other on this morning, Friday, Sept. 21, at the depot’s Page Field. They are yet another batch of trainees united in fatigue, nearing — hopefully — graduation.

They are almost home.

At the most basic level, “Tucker” and his comrades are standardized components facing final scrutiny at the end of a process designed to forge uniformity, conformity — selflessness. Collectively, they are enduring the Corps’ final boot-camp test and rite of passage: The Crucible.

Individually, at this moment, their backstories matter little, if at all — even though Tucker’s is intimately tied to Parris Island.

On July 24, near the beginning of the 12-week recruit training cycle, he’d written to his family.

“Dear Mom, Dad, & Molly,” the letter began, addressed to mother Joy McConnell, father Rick and sister Molly. “While the days for you may drag, God has blessed me with time flying past me. … However I have not been blessed with the ignorance of unfamiliarity.”

During training, Tucker didn’t tell many platoon mates he’s from Beaufort, that his house is about four miles from Parris Island’s main gate, that he’d graduated from Beaufort High School in June.

He didn’t broadcast his familiarity with the area, the kind that enables him to know rain’s coming, to orient himself geographically on the island — true feats considering the disorienting-by-design blur that is boot camp.

He didn’t boast his family’s deep ties to the depot.

He’d kept his head down and tried not to stand out, a strategy his dad advised, knew to be effective.

He’d suffered homesickness in his hometown.

Boot camp is a “mind game,” he says, and the one he’s faced had a unique twist.

He and his family have endured the same recruit training as thousands of other would-be Marines and their loved ones, yet the McConnells’ experience is inherently different: It is so proximate, glimpsed from commutes over the Russell Bell Bridge and trips to the Parris Island post office, echoed in a chance encounter with a Platoon 3072 drill instructor’s wife out in town.

And in some ways, their story is that of many families, military or not: children trying to figure out their life paths and make their loved ones proud, parents doing their best to help them.

Now, on this September morning, Tucker is focusing on putting one foot in front of the other.

“Their bodies have never been pushed to anything like this,” says Staff Sgt. Brandon Keziah, a drill instructor running Tucker’s platoon through The Crucible, the 54-hour endurance test, the final obstacle to graduation. “They’re dead, and that’s good.”

Tucker needs to hang on for 20 more hours.

Then, he can call himself a Marine.

‘Tweak’

Of the some 20,000 recruits from states east of the Mississippi River who come to Parris Island each year, only a handful are from Beaufort.

Over the past three years, an average of 21 trainees — men and women combined — have hailed from the city and “a few fringe areas on the outskirts of town,” according to Capt. Adam Flores, spokesman for Marine Corps Recruiting Command’s 6th Marine Corps District.

Keziah, who’s been in the Corps almost a decade, doesn’t know if he’s ever trained a Beaufort recruit during his year and a half on the island.

“Honestly, I couldn’t tell you, and they probably keep it secret for a reason,” Keziah says. He’s sitting in a shaded hut pierced by the noise of recorded machine-gun fire and screamed orders, the standard Crucible soundtrack that echoes through the pines surrounding Page Field.

“When no one knows your name, you’re doing your job well,” he says.

Tucker’s nickname, one he picked up in a nearby Fat Patties’ kitchen before recruit training, is “Tweak.”

“The whole [backstory] is things would pick up, and I’d be all over the place … bobbing and weaving between people,” Tucker says, describing the dinner rush at the burger joint, where he worked the grill.

“And then when things would slow down, I’d just kind of be there, tapping my foot, like I couldn’t really sit still,” he continues. “And so my kitchen manager would always call me ‘Tweak,’ because I had that high-strung energy.”

He’s exhausted now, during a break in The Crucible. He and his platoon have just finished a series of runs and an obstacle course, one that required them to crawl face-down, blindly, through dense sand, feeling for phantom booby traps with gloved hands, flipping onto their backs to negotiate low-hanging barbwire.

They’d awakened before sunrise, after four hours of sleep.

When he was 15, Tucker spent a few nights on Parris Island as part of a JROTC high-school field trip, a taste of recruit training, according to his mother.

He’d “cried a little bit” when he returned home, she said; he’d almost felt like he’d never see his family again.

He’d always gravitated toward the military, but he didn’t like yelling.

He’d always liked structure — trips started on time with detailed itineraries — but his room was messy.

He ran races and lifted weights. He played video games.

He grappled with what to do with his life.

He read and researched histories of wars and battles and combatants.

He wrote short stories and essays crafted with metaphor and rhythmic prose.

During boot camp, he received a letter — drafted in his parents’ typical format — that made him realize how close home was, and how far.

‘Grand Tradition’

The Parris Island post office receives about 250,000 pieces of mail a year, the vast majority addressed to recruits, according to depot spokesperson Warrant Officer Bobby Yarbrough.

Before their son shipped to Parris Island — a process that first required stops in Jacksonville, Florida, and Savannah — on July 9, the McConnells learned that if they mailed a note to Tucker from an area post office, it would first have to travel to Burton, then Charleston, before finding its way to the depot.

So, Joy and Rick McConnell hand-delivered their stamped letters to Parris Island’s post office, and the postmaster put them directly in 3rd Recruit Training Battalion’s box.

“My mom wrote to me about it in a letter once,” Tucker says during a break from The Crucible. “And that just kind of — that was, like, probably the first, like, time I got emotional with a letter,” he says, his voice faltering, his eyes watering.

It was “surreal,” he says, knowing his family would have to come and go without being able to see him.

Joy would close her eyes if she saw a training platoon cross the street in front of her; seeing Tucker would be a cruel tease.

She and Rick took the most direct route to and from the post office; they didn’t drive around looking for their son. They didn’t want to be a distraction.

His parents’ letters followed a typical format. His mother wrote the second half of the letter, offering encouragement and support. His father wrote the first half, explaining, in Tucker’s words “the science” of recruit training: what to expect during gas-chamber exposure; reminders about marksmanship principles; nudges to go to church on Sundays, if only to get out of the barracks for a bit, and away from the drill instructors.

“I love the parents that would come up to me … after graduation and say, ‘What have you done with my son?’ ” said Rick, who served as a Parris Island 3rd Recruit Training Battalion drill instructor in the mid-1990s. He finished recruit training at the depot in 1980 and served 20 years in the Corps. Now, he’s a civilian contractor at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. His father, Bob McConnell, is a Korean War-era Marine.

” ‘Half of him is gone,’ ” Rick said, mimicking parents’ observations after a graduation ceremony. ” ‘Well, he’s lost 30 pounds,’ ” he’d reply.

” ‘He called me ‘ma’am’ — he’s never said ‘ma’am,’ ” he continued. ” ‘It’s just what we do,’ ” he’d say.

Rick married Joy after his stint as a drill instructor.

She’s a Beaufort native.

Her grandfather, Don Everett, a U.S. Navy veteran, was the fire department chief at the air station.

Her dad, Mike Everett, was a civilian worker in Parris Island’s public works department for more than three decades.

Mike is married to Johnnie Everett — Tucker’s “Granny” — who hosts Sunday family meals at her home, and whose taco soup Tucker could almost taste one day in the Parris Island chow hall: a concoction of beans, corn and hot sauce was on the menu, and he’d filled his entire tray with the stuff. Meanwhile, the McConnells found themselves almost avoiding Johnnie’s Sunday gatherings, because there was an empty seat at the table.

“If you think we’re expecting you to carry on this ‘grand tradition,’ don’t think that,” Joy remembers telling then 15-year-old Tucker after he returned from his JROTC stay on Parris Island, when she wondered if her son was having second thoughts about one day joining the Corps.

“I wanted him to be sure that it wasn’t expected, you know,” Joy continued, “that if this is not what you want to do, as long as you’re a good person, we’re going to be proud of you.”

‘Teeter-Totter’

On this September morning, Tucker limps across Page Field’s cracked tarmac and rejoins his platoon.

He carries with him the unknowns.

What will the next 20 hours of The Crucible bring?

What will he do after Parris Island?

“Recruit training has really, kind of, put me on a seesaw, a teeter-totter,” he says moments earlier, explaining he’s still weighing college, whether he’ll pursue a Marine Corps career as an officer or use a degree for something else. He’s also considering police work.

Next up is Marine Combat Training at Camp Geiger in Jacksonville, N.C., then his military occupational specialty (MOS) school.

Tucker will train as a landing support specialist — a “Red Patcher” — a Marine who, according to the Corps, helps “coordinate ship-to-shore movement of troops, vehicles and supplies,” making sure “everything goes quickly and safely to where it is needed.”

He’ll be based out of Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah.

And he will be a Marine Corps reservist, a route he chose in hopes of staying close to home.

“[My parents] always told me that you don’t have to do this; we’ll always be proud of you no matter what,” Tucker says. “But I knew that if I came here, I would feel proud of myself, which would make them even more proud of me.”

The next morning, Tucker completes a nine-mile hike to Parris Island’s Peatross Parade Deck and the nearby statue commemorating the Iwo Jima flag-raising. He finishes The Crucible.

He receives his Eagle, Globe and Anchor pin, the Corps’ symbol, at a ceremony where pain, pride, joy, relief and fatigue rain from the eyes of, now, former recruits.

He graduated recruit training Oct. 5, according to depot officials.

James Tucker McConnell is a Marine.

Like his father and grandfather, he’s called by his middle name. The trio share the same first name — “James.” Now, they share something more.

“For a majority of my life, [Parris Island] was just kind of this place that I never went,” Tucker says on this September morning.

“The fact that it’s been this close this whole time and I didn’t realize how important it was just kind of … sets it in my mind that this place is part of home … ,” he continues.

“And it’s really special to me that a town that means so much to me, and an island that means so much to me, can both be in the exact same place.”

Editor’s note: James Tucker McConnell successfully completed boot camp after this story was reported and written; he graduated Friday, Oct. 5, 2018, from Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island.

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US Marine Leader in Australia Replaced over Alcohol Charge

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In a First, SpaceX Launches and Lands a Rocket at California Base

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LOS ANGELES — In a move that could cut its costs to launch space hardware even further, SpaceX landed a first-stage booster on a pad at California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base on Sunday night.

It marked the first time the company has pulled off its now-signature rocket recovery method on land on the West Coast.

Hawthorne, Calif.-based SpaceX has been landing rocket boosters regularly at its Florida launch sites, but the California landing pad could allow the company to refurbish rockets at Vandenberg. First-stage boosters that landed on SpaceX’s floating platform in the Pacific Ocean returned to the Port of Los Angeles and were then trucked to Hawthorne for refurbishment.

The landing came after SpaceX launched the SAOCOM 1A Earth observation satellite for Argentina’s national commission on space activities at 7:21 p.m. Pacific time. The launch was delayed one day for “pre-flight vehicle checkouts,” SpaceX tweeted last week.

The launch illuminated the sky, prompting a flood of social media messages from those caught off guard by the eerie display in California.

Still, Vandenberg Air Force Base had warned residents last week in nearby Lompoc and other Central California cities that they could hear “one or more” sonic booms associated with the landing of the first-stage booster.

Landing and refurbishing first-stage boosters is key to SpaceX’s plans to decrease launch costs. The company, led by Elon Musk, sells launches on used Falcon 9 first-stage boosters at a discount to the $62 million price of a launch on a new Falcon 9 rocket.

Since landing its first booster back on Earth in 2015, SpaceX has fine-tuned the inspection and refurbishment process. Its fastest turnaround time so far is a little more than two months. Including Sunday’s successful landing, SpaceX has returned 30 total boosters back to land or to a floating sea platform.

The SAOCOM launch marks SpaceX’s 17th launch of the year.

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Air Force Academy Adds Charges Against Cadet Already Facing Court-Martial

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An Air Force Academy cadet already awaiting court-martial for sexual assault will face additional sexual misconduct charges at an evidence hearing Tuesday.

Prosecutors will add four counts against Armis Sunday, a junior at the school, alleging he sexually assaulted a intoxicated woman and took and distributed a cellphone photograph of her genitals.

“It must be emphasized that charges are merely accusations, and the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty,” the academy said in a statement.

The initial charges against Sunday alleged he sexually assaulted a woman on the campus in April 2017 by groping her genitals without consent.

The new charges are tied to a Nov. 24, 2016, incident when he allegedly had sex with and photographed the intoxicated woman in Colorado Springs. Military law deems that drunken people can be found incapable of giving consent to sexual acts.

Prosecutors will lay out their evidence in the new case Tuesday in a courtroom at the academy’s Harmon Hall. A hearing officer will weigh the evidence and issue a recommendation on whether there’s sufficient proof to send the case to a court-martial.

Brig. Gen. Kristin Goodwin, the school’s commandant of cadets, will decide whether the case moves ahead.

The first charge against Sunday, a Texas native, carried a maximum prison term of five years. The new charges, combined, bring a maximum punishment of 40 years.

Sunday’s initial case was heard in July and sent to court-martial.

The new charges, if deemed sufficient, would be added to Sunday’s trial scheduled for January, academy officials said.

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US Drone Spotted Flying Near Russian Border Second Time in Two Days

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Late last week, a US Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk flew around Russia’s northwestern borders for eleven hours.

The latest drone flight, spotted by PlaneRadar, a Russian aviation resource, spotted the US drone taking off from the US airbase at Sigonella, Italy, flying over Greece, through Turkey, through Romania, and into Ukraine, making a loop in the country’s east, and then heading southwest around the western and southern coast of Crimea toward Krasnodar, southern Russia.

Taking off at 7 am Moscow time, the drone made it to Ukrainian airspace shortly after 9 am, spending close to twelve hours in Ukraine and the Black Sea, wrapping up its mission shortly before 10 pm Moscow time. 

Additionally, at 18:29 Moscow time, the portal picked up a Boeing P-8A Poseidon spy plane, also flying near Crimea, and occasionally intersecting with the drone’s flight path.

The US has stepped up its aerial recon along Russia’s borders considerably in recent years, together with the buildup of NATO forces in the region. On Friday, an RQ-4, also taking off from Sigonella, flew through to the Baltic states, making several loops around the exclave of Kaliningrad, and then spending over three hours looping near the border next to Russia’s Leningrad and Pskov regions.

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Giant Teddy Bear Rushes US Air Force Base Gates in Safety Drill (VIDEO)

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Late last week, a US Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk flew around Russia’s northwestern borders for eleven hours.

The latest drone flight, spotted by PlaneRadar, a Russian aviation resource, spotted the US drone taking off from the US airbase at Sigonella, Italy, flying over Greece, through Turkey, through Romania, and into Ukraine, making a loop in the country’s east, and then heading southwest around the western and southern coast of Crimea toward Krasnodar, southern Russia.

Taking off at 7 am Moscow time, the drone made it to Ukrainian airspace shortly after 9 am, spending close to twelve hours in Ukraine and the Black Sea, wrapping up its mission shortly before 10 pm Moscow time. 

Additionally, at 18:29 Moscow time, the portal picked up a Boeing P-8A Poseidon spy plane, also flying near Crimea, and occasionally intersecting with the drone’s flight path.

The US has stepped up its aerial recon along Russia’s borders considerably in recent years, together with the buildup of NATO forces in the region. On Friday, an RQ-4, also taking off from Sigonella, flew through to the Baltic states, making several loops around the exclave of Kaliningrad, and then spending over three hours looping near the border next to Russia’s Leningrad and Pskov regions.

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Hammond Leads Air Force Over Navy 35-7 in First Career Start

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AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — Once quarterback D.J. Hammond got back in the game, he turned his first career start into a tour de force.

Hammond, sidelined early on after a helmet-to-helmet collision, returned to run for three touchdowns and throw for another, leading Air Force past Navy 35-7 on Saturday.

Joseph Saucier also scored on a 48-yard run for Air Force (2-3), which took the first leg in the competition among the service academies for the Commander in Chief’s trophy. Air Force will play at Army on Nov. 3 while Navy (2-3) plays Army on Dec. 8 in its final regular-season game.

Hammond was injured on a third-down run in the opening minutes of the game. He returned to throw a 61-yard touchdown pass to Ronald Cleveland and run for touchdowns of 1, 2 and 5 yards.

During Air Force’s second offensive series, Hammond absorbed successive hits to his head by two Navy defenders. Shaken, Hammond lay on the ground for several moments while being tended to by team trainers and medical staff. He sat up and was helped to his feet before being led off the field for further examination.

“When I was down on the ground, it hurt. That’s why I was down there for so long,” said Hammond, who learned at the pregame morning walkthrough that he would start. “When I got up, I felt fine, but I had to go through the concussion protocol.”

Officials, after reviewing the hit, penalized linebacker Taylor Heflin for targeting. Heflin was disqualified from playing in the remainder of the game.

Isaiah Sanders played in place of Hammond for most of the first quarter and part of the second before the starter was cleared to return.

Up by seven at halftime, Air Force added two touchdowns in the third quarter with Hammond leading a pair of 75-yard drives that he finished with 5- and 1-yard scoring runs, respectively. He added the 2-yarder early in the fourth quarter on a quarterback draw.

“We got our butts whupped,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “It’s hard to put into words. We’ve been playing these guys for a long time and this was one of the worst whuppings we’ve gotten in a long time.”

Navy struck first on a 2-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter by Garret Lewis, his first play in relief of starter Malcom Perry.

But the Falcons came back to score a pair of touchdowns less than two minutes apart in the second quarter to move in front 14-7 at the half, triggering a run of 35 consecutive points by the Falcons.

“We had to make a statement saying that we’re still here,” Hammond said after the Falcons snapped a three-game losing streak. “Air Force wasn’t going anywhere. We made that statement today.”

Hammond, in his second series since returning to the field, connected in the flat with Cleveland who turned a short reception into a 61-yard catch and run for a touchdown midway through the second quarter.

Saucier was able to turn the corner after taking a pitch from Hammond, outrunning defenders along the sideline to go in for the score.

“I think beating Navy is great but that game is over and we’ve got to use this energy and everything that we’ve got moving forward and just ride the wave,” Air Force linebacker Brody Bagnall said.

The Takeaway

Navy: After opening with an early score, Navy’s offense, which entered averaging 36 points per game, could get no traction. In particular, the Midshipmen’s running attack struggled against the Falcons’ defense, gaining 129 yards, down from its average of 355.6 yards entering the game.

Air Force: Hammond appears to have settled questions over Air Force’s quarterback position. The sophomore saw his first extensive action a week ago in relief of an ineffective Arion Worthman, playing well in the final 1½ quarters in a loss to Nevada. He was rewarded with his first career start against Navy and showed grit and poise while firming up his hold on the job.

Up Next

Navy: Hosts Temple on Saturday.

Air Force: Returns to Mountain West Conference play by traveling to San Diego State on Saturday.

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More AP college football: https://apnews.com/tag/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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This article was written by Dennis Georgatos 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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