Archive for October 2015

Coast Guard Cutter Spencer returns home to Boston after Caribbean Sea deployment

October 30, 2015

300x450_q95Chief Petty Officer John Mincey, a crew member aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Spencer, holds his daughter after the cutter returned to homeport in Boston Friday, Oct. 30, 2015, after a 65-day patrol of the Caribbean Sea. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Cynthia Oldham)

BOSTON — Family welcomed home Coast Guard Cutter Spencer’s crew when the ship returned to its homeport in Boston, Friday at 8 a.m. after a 65-day patrol of the Caribbean Sea.

During the patrol, Spencer conducted several search and rescue cases as well as counter narcotics and migrant interdiction operations.

As part of Operation Martillo, Spencer intercepted four go-fast vessels suspected of trafficking drugs, and directly contributed to the seizure of 1,000 kilograms (2,204 pounds) of marijuana and 1,677 kilograms (3,697 pounds) of cocaine worth approximately $50 million.

Coast Guard Cutter Spencer is a 270-foot medium endurance cutter with a crew compliment of 14 officers and 86 enlisted personnel.

The media release with more details and photos from the patrol is available here: Coast Guard Cutter Spencer returns to Boston after Caribbean Sea deployment

Saving Lives and Guarding America’s Coast Since 1790.
The United States Coast Guard — Proud History. Powerful Future.

October 20, 2015

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October 16, 2015

Army Veteran fights off man threatening children with knives…

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In this Oct. 15, 2015 photo, James Vernon, 75, sits at his home in Morton, Ill. Vernon, an army veteran, is recovering from injuries suffered when he fought off a knife-wielding man who threatened children at a central Illinois library. (Robert Downen / Pekin Daily Times, via AP)

MORTON, Ill. — A 75-year-old Army veteran who fought off a knife-wielding man who was threatening to kill children at an Illinois library says training he received nearly five decades ago helped him in the scuffle.

James Vernon was teaching a chess class with 16 children at Morton Public Library when authorities say 19-year-old Dustin Brown entered the room with two knives. According to a court affidavit, Brown told police afterward that he “failed in his mission to kill everyone.”

“He actually ran into the room yelling, ‘I’m going to kill some people!’ He was holding two knives,” Vernon told the Pekin Daily News. Vernon described the knives as “hunting types” with “fixed blades about 5 inches” long.

Vernon, a retired Caterpillar Inc. employee, told the newspaper he remembered the knife-fight training the Army had given him. Despite his cuts, Vernon contended he won his “90 seconds of combat” with Brown, “but I felt like I lost the war.” He suffered two cut arteries and a tendon in his left hand as he blocked Brown’s knife swipe.

He said he first tried to calm Brown and deflect his attention from the children attending his class.

“I tried to talk to him. I tried to settle him down,” he said. “I didn’t, but I did deflect his attention” from the children “and calmed him a bit. I asked him if he was from Morton, did he go to high school. I asked what his problem was. He said his life sucks.”

Vernon said the man backed away as he got closer to him, but he was able to put himself between Brown and the room’s door, with the children hiding under the tables behind him.

“I gave them the cue to get the heck out of there, and, boy, they did that!” Vernon said. “Quick, like rabbits.”

Vernon said Brown responded by slashing him with a knife.

Vernon, saying he was “bleeding pretty good” at the time, held the suspect until a library employee arrived to remove the knives, and kept the man pinned until police officers and paramedics arrived.

Brown, who was free on child pornography charges, is being held on $800,000 bond on charges of attempted murder, armed violence and aggravated battery. It wasn’t immediately known whether Brown has a lawyer who could comment on his behalf.

October 15, 2015

Obama Announces Halt of U.S. Troop Withdrawal   in Afghanistan

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By MATTHEW ROSENBERG and MICHAEL D. SHEAR the New York Times. American Army soldiers at a base in the Khogyani district of Afghanistan in August. © Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The United States will halt its military withdrawal from Afghanistan and instead keep thousands of troops in the country through the end of his term in 2017, President Obama announced on Thursday, prolonging the American role in a war that has now stretched on for 14 years.

In a brief statement from the Roosevelt Room in the White House, Mr. Obama said he did not support the idea of “endless war” but was convinced that a prolonged American presence in Afghanistan was vital to that country’s future and to the national security of the United States.

“While America’s combat mission may be over, our commitment to Afghanistan and its people continues,” said Mr. Obama, flanked by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his top military leaders. “I will not allow Afghanistan to be used as safe havens to attack America again.”

The current American force in Afghanistan of 9,800 troops will remain in place through most of 2016 under the administration’s revised plans, before dropping to about 5,500 at the end of next year or in early 2017, Mr. Obama said. He called it a “modest but meaningful expansion of our presence” in that country.

The president, who has long sought to end America’s two wars before he leaves office, said he was not disappointed by the decision. He said the administration had always understood the potential for adjustments in troop levels even as the miltary sought to withdraw troops from battle.

But the announcement underscores the difficulty Mr. Obama has had in achieving one of the central promises of his presidency in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Mr. Obama conceded that despite more than a decade of fighting and training, Afghan forces are not fully up to the task of protecting their country.

The Taliban are now spread through more parts of the country than at any point since 2001, according to the United Nations, and last month they scored their biggest victory of the war, seizing the northern city of Kunduz and holding it for more than two weeks before pulling back on Tuesday.

Mr. Obama noted the dangers, saying, “In key areas of the country, the security situation is still very fragile, and in some areas, there is risk of deterioration.” After 2017, he said, American forces will remain in several bases in the country to “give us the presence and the reach our forces require to achieve our mission.”

He did not specifically mention Iraq, where a full troop withdrawal has been followed by a surge in violence from the Islamic State. But he said the mission in Afghanistan had the benefit of a clear objective, a supportive government and legal agreements that protect American forces — three factors not present in Iraq.

“Every single day, Afghan forces are fighting and dying to protect their country. They are not asking us to do it for them,” Mr. Obama said. “If they were to fail, it would endanger the security of us all.”

Some of the troops will continue to train and advise Afghan forces, while others will carry on the search for Qaeda fighters and militants from the Islamic State and other groups who have found a haven in Afghanistan, he said.

Even before Kunduz fell to the Taliban, the administration had been under growing pressure from the military and others in Washington, including Congress, to abandon plans that would have cut by about half the number of troops in Afghanistan next year, and then drop the American force to about 1,000 troops based only at the embassy in Kabul by the start of 2017.

Now, instead of falling back to the American Embassy — a heavily fortified compound in the center of Kabul — Mr. Obama said that the military would be able to maintain its operations at Bagram Air Field to the north of Kabul, the main American hub in Afghanistan, and at bases outside Kandahar in the country’s south and Jalalabad in the east.

All three bases are crucial for counterterrorism operations and for flying drones that are used by the military and the C.I.A., which had also argued for keeping troops in Afghanistan to help protect its own assets.

There was no set date for the military to decrease the number of troops in Afghanistan to 5,500. The pace of that troop reduction would be determined largely by commanders on the ground, and the timing would also most likely provide flexibility to whoever succeeds Mr. Obama.

President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan had also pressed for Mr. Obama to keep more troops, and many in Washington who have worked closely with the Afghans over the past several years were loath for the United States to pull back just when it had an Afghan leader who has proved to be a willing partner, unlike his predecessor, Hamid Karzai.

Mr. Ghani is acutely aware of his country’s need for help from the United States and its NATO allies. The American military has repeatedly stepped in this year to aid Afghan forces battling the Taliban, launching airstrikes and at times sending Special Operations troops to join the fight, despite Mr. Obama’s declaration that the American war in Afghanistan had ended.

But the recent fighting in Kunduz also exposed the limits of foreign forces now in Afghanistan, which total 17,000, including American and NATO troops. It took only a few hundred Taliban members to chase thousands of Afghan soldiers and police officers from Kunduz, and the Afghans struggled to take back the city even with help from American airstrikes and Special Operations forces.

During the fighting, an American AC-130 gunship badly damaged a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders, killing at least 22 patients and staff members — and not a single insurgent.

Mr. Obama apologized for the attack, which may have violated guidelines laid down by the administration for the use of force by the military after the American combat mission ended last year. Under the rules, airstrikes are authorized to kill terrorists, protect American troops and help Afghans who request support in battles — like those in Kunduz, recently taken over by the Taliban — that can change the military landscape.

The idea behind the guidelines was to give troops leeway and to keep Americans out of daily, open-ended combat. But how much latitude Mr. Obama would allow the military moving forward was unclear.

It is not the first time the administration has revised the withdrawal plans. During Mr. Ghani’s visit in March, Mr. Obama announced that the United States would keep 9,800 troops in Afghanistan through 2015, instead of cutting the force in half, as had been originally planned. At the time, the White House still maintained that almost all the troops would be pulled out by 2017.

But with the situation in Afghanistan continuing to deteriorate, the military presented the administration with new options this summer. The plan that has been decided on for 2017 and beyond hewed closely to a proposal made by Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Mr. Obama said that 5,500 troops, along with contributions from NATO allies, which have yet to be agreed upon, would provide enough power to protect the force and continue the advisory and counterterrorism missions.

Finances were also a consideration. Keeping 5,500 troops in Afghanistan would cost about $14.6 billion a year. It would have cost about $10 billion a year to maintain the much smaller force based at the American Embassy.

October 14, 2015

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Great American Artist Terry Redlin’s “Autumn Traditions“. http://www.redlinart.com

Artist Bio and Career Timeline

Few artists can rival the standards of excellence achieved by Master Artist Terry Redlin over the past 30 years. He is truly one of the country’s most widely collected painters of wildlife and Americana. For eight consecutive years, 1991 through 1998, Redlin has been named America’s Most Popular Artist in annual gallery surveys conducted by U.S.ART magazine. His induction into U.S.ART’s Hall of Fame in 1992 followed the magazine’s poll of 900 galleries nationwide which, that year, placed five of Redlin’s limited editions in the top 11 in popularity. Over the life of the poll, 30 prints have been included in that list. His use of earthy colors, blazing sunrises and sunsets and nostalgic themes are often cited as the reasons for his immense popularity.

Redlin’s interest in out-of-doors themes can be traced to his childhood in Watertown, South Dakota. At the age of 15, a brief ride on a motorcycle resulted in a life-changing accident that ended his dream of becoming a forest ranger. Through a state-sponsored scholarship program for students with disabilities, Redlin opted to pursue a career in the graphic arts. He earned a degree from the St. Paul School of Associated Arts and spent 25 years working in commercial art as a layout artist, graphic designer, illustrator and art director. In his leisure time, he researched wildlife subjects and settings.

In 1977, at the age of 40, Redlin burst onto the wildlife scene when his painting “Winter Snows” appeared on the cover of The Farmer magazine. By 1979, demand for his work had become so great that he left his art directing career to concentrate on painting wildlife.

Since then, Redlin’s meteoric rise has been unparalleled in the field of contemporary wildlife art. In 1981 and 1985, he won the Minnesota Duck Stamp competition, and in 1982, the Minnesota Trout Stamp contest. He also placed second that year in the Federal Duck Stamp Competition. He has been honored as Artist of the Year for Ducks Unlimited (National and Minnesota), and as Conservationist of the Year-Magnum Donor by the Minnesota Waterfowl Association for his gifts of entire print collections. The National Association of Limited Edition dealers has three times presented him with the “Lithograph of the Year” award for excellence in the medium.

In 1987, Redlin began exploring his interest in Americana subjects and nostalgic scenes of yesteryear, painting several images for his American Memories and Country Doctor Collections. Since then, his annual Christmas prints have attracted thousands of collectors from coast to coast.

In 1992, he completed his most ambitious work to date, painting each line in the first stanza of “America the Beautiful”. All eight, which depict American life from the settling of the west to the present day, were released as limited edition prints over a three-year period, ending in January, 1995. The series has been showcased in art and consumer magazines nationwide, and it has been acclaimed by thousands of collectors. “Terry Redlin Paints America the Beautiful”, a video presentation produced by Hadley House, earned a coveted Telly Award in the 1993 national competition.

Redlin’s immense popularity can also be measured in the success of his book, “Opening Windows to the Wild, The Art of Terry Redlin.” In its sixth printing, the book details his paintings, pencil sketches and biography. Always the perfectionist, he personally supervised the printing and production of this important project. A critical as well as a commercial success, the book was a Certificate of merit winner at the prestigious Printing Industries of America competition in 1988. His second book, “Terry Redlin, Master of Memories,” was released in 1997 and was recently voted Best Art Book by those galleries polled for the U.S.ART survey.

terry redlinTerry Redlin derives the most satisfaction from his conservation work. Over the 17 year period from 1981 to 1997, his donations to Ducks Unlimited raised more than $28 million, setting an all-time record in art sales for wetland conservation projects. By his own estimate, he has donated several million dollars of art to other nonprofit conservation organizations.

Redlin’s most compelling project is the construction of the museum to house his original art in Watertown, South Dakota, where he now resides. The Redlin Art Center features 160 original oil paintings by Terry Redlin as well as many prints, sketches and childhood drawings. Since opening in the summer of 1997, the Redlin Art Center has welcomed more than 3 million visitors from all over the world. The Redlin Art Center is Terry Redlin’s gift back to the State of South Dakota in appreciation of the scholarship he was awarded after high school. He never forgot the gift – to him, it was a “grubstake”, and he never would have been able to go on to continue his education without it.  The Redlin Art Center is open year-round and admission is free.

He was honored in 1998 by the City of Sioux Falls, South Dakota by having an elementary school named in his honor. Terry Redlin Elementary School opened in the Fall of 1998.

In 2004, Redlin unveiled his most emotional collection entitled, “An American Portrait”. Considered by Redlin to be the most technically demanding project of his career, the series of 7 paintings tell the life story of a young American boy. The story was built around Redlin’s personal experiences and is his tribute to America.  

In 2007, Terry Redlin retired from painting and print signing due to his personal struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. 

For more information on Terry Redin’s art and to visit the Terry Redlin Art Center visit their website http://www.redlinart.com.

October 8, 2015

Defense Secretary Ash Carter Addresses Syria, Afghanistan, Modern NATO Mission

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By Cheryl Pellerin DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON October 8, 2015 —

During a busy meeting today at NATO headquarters in Brussels, defense ministers discussed Afghanistan, Russian activities in Syria, and how NATO is adapting to meet future threats, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said during a scheduled press conference.

Carter is in Belgium to attend the NATO Defense Ministerial as part of a five-day trip to Europe featuring meetings with counterparts in Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom.

Carter said, “We had, as we always do, direct, substantive conversations about how we can better address the common challenges we face and to reaffirm the enduring principles and great strength we share as members of the alliance and as individual partners.”

On the sidelines of the meetings held in Brussels today, Carter met with French Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian, according to a Defense Department news release.

Carter and Le Drian reaffirmed the importance of the enduring defense partnership between the United States and France, and the two leaders discussed a range of security issues, including Russian activities in Syria, and the need to maintain the pace of counter-ISIL coalition operations, the release said.

Carter thanked Le Drian for his leadership role in countering terrorism worldwide, the release said.

Ripple Effects

Earlier this week, Carter visited Defense Minister Pedro Morenes in Spain and Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti in Italy.

In both nations, he said, “I witnessed U.S. troops working and training with their counterparts to meet the challenges facing NATO’s southern flank, including the ripple effects of [the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant] and state instability in North Africa and the Middle East.”

Two weeks ago he met with Norwegian Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide to discuss challenges in the north and east, and tomorrow he’ll visit British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon in the United Kingdom.

There, he noted, the government recently announced it will meet the pledge all NATO allies made last year to invest no less than 2 percent of gross domestic product in defense.

Actions in Afghanistan

On Afghanistan, Carter said the United States is taking three actions.

The first is President Barack Obama’s March decision to maintain 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan through the end of this year, and the second is to formulate options for 2016 and beyond, and adjust the planned U.S. presence in Afghanistan based on current circumstances.

“I was pleased, very pleased, to hear ministers of defense from our NATO allies reaffirm their commitment — discussing not whether but how to continue the mission in Afghanistan. And of course, that is also the view of the United States,” Carter said.

The third action involves the fiscal year 2017 defense budget, in which the secretary said he would include “critical financial support to the Afghan national defense and security forces” to help it sustain its current force levels of 352,000 troops in 2017 and beyond.

“I think it’s widely understood that we need to do an assessment. It’s widely understood that the United States is doing an assessment and, as other countries have, a number of countries today indicated a willingness to change their own plans and posture,” the secretary added.

Russia in Syria

On Russia’s actions in Syria, Carter said that, rather than engaging in a Syrian political transition, Russia has chosen to continue its longstanding relationship with the Assad regime by committing more military hardware capabilities and personnel to the fight there.

Instead of targeting ISIL, al-Nusra and other terrorist organizations, Carter said that the Russians began striking other kinds of targets within days of deploying their forces.

“I have said repeatedly over the last week that we, the United States, believe this is a fundamental strategic mistake and that it will inflame and prolong the Syrian civil war,” the secretary said.

He added, “We have not and will not agree to cooperate with Russia so long as they continue to pursue this misguided strategy.”

Russian forces also have violated Turkish airspace, shot cruise missiles without warning from a ship in the Caspian Sea, flown within a few miles of U.S. unmanned aerial vehicles, and initiated a joint ground offensive with the Syrian regime, Carter said.

“This will have consequences for Russia itself, which is rightfully fearful of attack upon Russia. And I also expect that in coming days the Russians will begin to suffer casualties in Syria,” he added.

Open Door

Going forward in Syria, Carter said, the United States will prosecute the counter-ISIL air campaign in Syria at the same pace and in the same battle space as it has since the campaign began.

“We will continue to support the moderate Syrian opposition. We will seek an agreement with the Russians on professional safety procedures for coalition pilots. And we will leave the door open for Russia to rejoin the track toward a political transition in Damascus,” he said.

If Russia wants to end its international isolation, it must stop its aggression in eastern Ukraine, end its occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea, and live up to its commitments under the Minsk agreements, Carter said.

There’s a reason why the NATO alliance is stronger than ever while Russia acts alone, he added.

“Our member nations share common values reflected in the way we conduct ourselves. … We treat each other as equals and take each other’s interests into account. … That is the core of the NATO alliance and the community of nations it brings together, and that is what we shall all continue to do,” Carter said.