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The US’s First Combat Loss Of 2018 May Be A Sign Of More To Come

Posted: 02 Jan 2018 11:22 AM PST

The U.S. military Tuesday morning announced the death of a service member in a firefight that injured four more American troops in Afghanistan's Nangarhar Province on Jan. 1 — the first U.S. combat fatality of 2018, and a stark reminder of the challenges facing U.S. troops in the year ahead.

Details are scant on the engagement that killed the service member, who remains unidentified pending notification of his family. A press release from U.S. Forces-Afghanistan said the attack occurred in Achin, a Pashtun district identified by some local observers as a "headquarters" for ISIS activity in the country.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of one of our own," Gen. John Nicholson, the commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, said in the statement.

Saddened, but not surprised: As ISIS was routed out of its strongholds in Syria and Iraq last year, the crippled organization has shifted back to a franchising-and-insurgency strategy — one that's made its ragtag Afghan offshoot, ISIS-Khorasan, a serious player in Nangarhar and a serious threat to the U.S. forces hunting its fighters there.

Renewed U.S. engagement in Nangarhar literally began with a bang in 2017. Last April, defense planners made global headlines with their first real-world strike using the "Mother of all Bombs" — the massive ordnance air blast, aka "the mother of all bombs" — one of the largest conventional munitions in the U.S. arsenal. The target: a network of ISIS fighter tunnels in Nangarhar's Achin district.

Authorities claimed the MOAB killed nearly 100 enemy fighters, but for all the fanfare, it didn't take ISIS out of the fight: Just two weeks later, two U.S. Army Rangers died in fighting with ISIS combatants near the blast site (reports conflicted on how they perished in the three-hour engagement).

Nor has ISIS been the only threat to U.S. troops in Achin. Last June, three American troops were killed in an apparent insider attack by an Afghan soldier; Taliban forces later took responsibility for that ambush. Of the 11 service members confirmed by the Pentagon as killed in action in Afghanistan last year, at least 7 — all Rangers, Green Berets, or Air Assault soldiers — gave their lives in Nangarhar.

What is the way forward? For now, much of the same. In Nangarhar — as in Syria, Iraq, Niger, and elsewhere — overwhelming U.S. firepower is targeting Islamist fighters; accumulated U.S. know-how is guiding local forces to stand up for themselves; and increasingly elite U.S. troops are putting themselves in danger to make it all work.

Maybe, eventually, it will work. But the payoff of America's 17-year-old war posture remains unclear, even if the price is obvious — and unchanging.

The post The US's First Combat Loss Of 2018 May Be A Sign Of More To Come appeared first on Task & Purpose.

If You’re A Vet In California, Here’s How The New Marijuana Laws May Affect You

Posted: 02 Jan 2018 10:28 AM PST

Well, it's official, the sale and use of recreational marijuana is now legal in the Golden State.

With the 2016 passage of Prop. 64, Californians voted to legalize the sale of marijuana to anyone over the age of 21, small-scale personal grow operations, and the possession of up to one ounce of pot. As of 2018, the state's recreational pot market is now open for business, but for the 1.7 million veterans who call California home, this raises some questions.

Though veterans overwhelmingly support medical marijuana research, the drug remains illegal at the federal level — and considering that the Veterans Health Administration provides medical care to some 9 million veterans, this can place those patients in the middle of the state versus federal debate over pot use.

With an eye toward how to safely, and legally, blaze now that California's gone green, here's what you need to know:

Where and when can I buy legal weed?

While recreational pot is legal across the Golden State, would-be pot purveyors can't set up shop just anywhere, as a number of cities — such as Bakersfield, Fresno, and Riverside — have banned the sale of recreational cannabis, according to USA Today. However, you can still travel out of town to buy your weed, or grow up to six plants at home for personal use.

Roughly 90 retailers have received licenses so far to begin selling recreational cannabis — though not all of them will start right away, due to hang-ups getting city ordinances passed in time, USA Today reports. Currently, the majority of licensed weed retailers are concentrated in San Diego, Santa Cruz, the larger San Francisco Bay Area, and Palm Springs.

Additionally, recreational cannabis cannot be sold between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. — which may put a damper on those late-night plans of a post-bar bong hit.

How much pot can I buy?

Depends, how much cash do you have in your bank account? That's the major limit — well, that and how much you can walk around with: One ounce of marijuana, or 8 grams of cannabis concentrates.

But the cost is a big prohibitor, considering that state and city sales taxes are expected to raise the price of cannabis by more than one third, the Los Angeles Times reports. (While those who buy from medical cannabis dispensaries will get a break on sales taxes, they can still expect to see a price increase by as much as 25% in some cities.)

Okay, but what about my guns?

While weed may be legal in California, cannabis remains a Schedule 1 substance under federal law —  "drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. So, when it comes to owning a firearm, "California's recreational market makes absolutely no difference on the restrictions on gun ownership," David Mangone, a legislative analyst with Americans for Safe Access, told Task & Purpose in an email. "When there is a federally licensed firearms sale (which includes sales at gun shows) a dealer can't sell to anyone using a controlled substance."

This dates back to a 2016 ruling from the California-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Court, which upheld that a Nevada gun store owner had the right to prohibit a medical cannabis card-holder from buying a firearm, according to LA Weekly. Because of cannabis' classification as Schedule 1, users are federally prohibited from purchasing a firearm.

"Language appearing on [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives] forms indicates 'the use or possession of marijuana remains unlawful under federal law regardless of whether it has been legalized or decriminalized for medicinal or recreational purposes in the state where you reside,'" Mangone told T&P.

In short, if you're looking to buy a new firearm and there's a box on a federal form that reads "Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana?” and you check, "yes," then you won't be able to purchase that gun.

Will smoking pot recreationally cause problems at the VA?

It's unclear…

On Dec. 8, the Department of Veterans Affairs passed new guidance designed to encourage an open and honest discussion between doctors and patients who use state-legal medical cannabis.

Related: VA Doctors Are Now Cleared To Talk About Medical Marijuana With Patients »

The new policy still bars physicians with the Veterans Health Administration — the VA's medical arm — from recommending or prescribing cannabis, but it gives doctors the all-clear to take a veteran's pot use into account when it comes to mapping out a treatment plan. (Task & Purpose previously detailed the new policy, as well as the series of loopholes and grey areas it shored up.)

"By encouraging doctors to bring it up in discussions both from a medical and recreational standpoint it will at the very least give patients an opportunity to discuss their use without some of the existing apprehension," Mangone said.

One major aspect of this policy is that care providers can take a patient’s weed use into account when it comes to a narcotics agreement — a contract which mandates that a patient submit to a urinalysis in order to receive a narcotics prescription. Under the new policy — VHA Directive 1315 — veterans and their care providers can account for their pot use, meaning, on a case-by-case basis, doctors and patients can reach an agreement so that screening positive for medical pot won't result in having their other prescriptions cut off or curtailed.

However VHA Directive 1315 only applies to patients in state-run medical marijuana programs, and at this point, it’s unclear how recreational pot use will figure in to those conversations with care providers — and whether recreational smokers will be granted the same flexibility, say in the case of a patient self-medicating with recreational weed to help with sleep or pain. California was also the first of 29 states, not including the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico, to legalize medical cannabis.

"Now, the guidance specifically states that VHA benefits won't be denied for an individual's participation in a state medical cannabis program but remains silent about recreational use," Mangone told Task & Purpose. "Currently, I think you're going to see recreational users continue to be denied benefits particularly for anyone in narcotic agreements which obviously creates issues for vets."

If you're a veteran in California and have talked to your VA doctor about using marijuana recreationally, I'd love to hear about it. Email me at James@taskandpurpose.com.

WATCH NEXT:

The post If You’re A Vet In California, Here’s How The New Marijuana Laws May Affect You appeared first on Task & Purpose.

You Can Now Buy The Glock Pistol The Army Didn’t Pick For Its Modular Handgun System

Posted: 02 Jan 2018 10:09 AM PST

The Army may have chosen Sig Sauer's P320 for its Modular Handgun System program over Glock's offerings, but that doesn't mean you have to: Glock plans on releasing a civilian variant of its 9mm Glock 19 pistol to civilian buyers this month, the company announced today.

Glock's commercial pistol, dubbed the 19X, is the company's first stab at a crossover model, combining the Glock 17 frame with a Glock 19 barrel. With a "marksman barrel" and ambidextrous slide-stop levers, the pistol is designed to be as versatile as it is powerful, "almost like a [1911] Commander-style situation where you've got the shorter barrel with the full-sized grip frame," as national sales manager Bob Radecki told Army Times on Jan. 2.

glock 19x army modular handgun systemGlock

The new 9mm Glock 19X from Glock

Back in June, the Austrian gunmaker released photos of the 9mm Glock 19 and .40 caliber Glock 23 pistols offered up to the Army as part of the MHS program. But the company has now given the Internet a belated Christmas present of fresh new 19X photos:

glock 19x modular handgun systemGlock

The new 9mm Glock 19X from Glock

We haven't had the chance to review the Glock 19X ourselves, but the pistol is "likely to be most talked about firearm for 2018," according to our (extremely knowledgeable) friends at The Firearm Blog, who had a chance to test-shoot the weapon prior to the public announcement. "This aberration of a Gen5," reviewer Adam Scepaniak wrote, "allows for the capacity of their full size G17 magazines, more dexterity and positive handling, and accuracy in a smaller package." Translation: Shut up and take our money.

Glock is certainly going hard with the hype around its MHS runner-up. "Our goal was to meet the demanding needs of the military while maintaining our standard of perfection," Glock vice president Josh Dorsey said in the company's Jan. 2 statement. "With proven testing results and fewer parts than our competitors' pistols, the G19X has maximum efficiency, reliability and is easy to maintain."

Related: Here's Why Glock's Protest Against The Army's Handgun Award Was Thrown Out »

That statement is a clear dig at Sig Sauer's P320, adopted by the Army as the M17/M18 and first fielded (and praised) by 25 soldiers with the 101st Airborne's 1st Brigade Combat Team at the end of November 2017. After the Army announced the MHS award for Sig in January, Glock protested in a federal complaint that a shortened testing timeline put the Glock 19 at a disadvantage; though the complaint was thrown out in May, Sig's P320 has been plagued by reports of safety defects from civilian law enforcement agencies.

Glock's 19X pistol will arrive at select firearms dealers on Jan. 22nd, accompanied by a 17-round magazine, two 19-round magazines, and a case in the same plain coyote hue as the sidearm (the second time in the company's history they've shipped a colored box, per TFB… which is cool, I guess). A Glock spokesman told Task & Purpose that while additional specifications of the pistol will be made available after the official launch, the suggested retail price of the Glock 19X is $749 with blue label pricing at $455.40.

WATCH NEXT:

The post You Can Now Buy The Glock Pistol The Army Didn't Pick For Its Modular Handgun System appeared first on Task & Purpose.

Navy Missed Signs Of ‘Clear Instability’ In Days Before Shiloh Sailor Went MIA

Posted: 02 Jan 2018 07:46 AM PST

The sailor who went missing aboard the guided-missile cruiser USS Shiloh in June 2017 was "troubled" by personal and financial crises and displayed signs of instability days before he disappeared, triggering a sprawling man-overboard search in the Pacific before he was discovered hiding in an escape passage, Navy Times reports.

Petty Officer Third Class Peter Mims, a gas turbine systems technician aboard the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser, had shouldered a failed marriage and nearly $7,000 in debt to the Navy in 2016, according to a branch investigation obtained by Navy Times under the Freedom of Information Act. According to the investigation, Mims reportedly sought out mental health counseling but never actually received support.

These stresses culminated in a "clear instability" in Mims' behavior days before disappearance, including paranoid delusions — he told one crew member that "he could stop running engineering department engines by pulsating electricity with his body, that he could shoot fireballs out of his hands," according to the investigation — and an unexplained absence from watch on June 5 after which Mims quipped to his fellow crew members, "If you are looking for me and can't find me, then you are looking too hard." From the investigation:

Mims became increasingly paranoid and delusional, later telling investigators he believed "that people had been ordered to follow him and that they were observing him in berthing and around the ship."

Mims showed another sailor how he had placed tape on his rack and vents of his locker to prevent anyone from sticking items in his area to "frame him," according to the investigation.

The day before he went missing, Mims met with his chain of command to discuss options for leaving the Navy early, then went and cleared out his workspace locker, telling shipmates he was spring cleaning.

Mims disappeared on June 8. He was finally discovered on June 15 squirreled away in an engineering-space escape passage "covered in urine and feces" and equipped "with a camelback, a multi-tool, Peeps candy and an empty peanut butter jar with him," according to the investigation.

In its report on the military investigation, Navy Times says the service also explicitly acknowledged its own role in allowing the strange Shiloh saga to occur in the first place. Despite the warning signs in the days before his disappearance, the investigation concludes that Shiloh's CO, Capt. Adam Aycock, and his subordinates failed "to adequately assess (Mims) was not fit for full duty," even as the troubled sailor actively displayed erratic behavior in front of the chain of command.

Related: It's A 'Floating Prison': USS Shiloh Sailor Surveys Reveal A Totally Demoralized Crew »

Why were the signs missed? Because everyone was really busy, with "significant and dynamic" pressures facing the 7th Fleet after the twin collisions of Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain over the summer, Navy Times quotes the investigation as saying. In September, the Senate Armed Services Committee grilled Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer over readiness in the wake of those crashes, chief among them the silent, pervasive threat of sleep deprivation.

Those problems may have been magnified under Aycock's command. Sailor comments from Shiloh command climate surveys, obtained by Navy Times in October, captured a crew on the brink of disaster: "It feels like a race to see which will break down first, the ship or it's [sic] crew."

WATCH NEXT:

The post Navy Missed Signs Of 'Clear Instability' In Days Before Shiloh Sailor Went MIA appeared first on Task & Purpose.

Arrests Made In Fatal Stabbing Of Marine In San Diego

Posted: 02 Jan 2018 05:02 AM PST

Two men have been arrested on suspicion of fatally stabbing a 21-year-old Camp Pendleton Marine during a fight in the Gaslamp Quarter, police said Sunday.

Officers arrested Jose Oscar Esqueda, 30, and Jeff Shai Holliday, 24, about 11 p.m. Saturday, said San Diego police Lt. Todd Griffin.

The men are suspected of murdering Ryan Evan Harris, an Oceanside resident, during a fight that broke out on Island Avenue near J Street early Friday.

The victim's brother-in-law, Koert Spears, said Harris was with several friends, some of whom were also Marines, when the melee erupted. Police told the family that Harris was trying to break up the fight when he was stabbed, Spears said.

"That was who he was, and really speaks to the overall nature of someone who would join military," Spears said. "He wanted to help."

Officers sent to investigate found Harris on the sidewalk with serious injuries to his upper torso, Griffin said. Good Samaritans, officers and paramedics tried to save Harris, but he died before being taken to a hospital.

Soon after, police were informed of a second stabbing victim about a block away on J Street While tending to the first victim, police received a report of a second stabbing victim about a block south on J Street, Griffin said.

Investigators determined that man, who was not believed to be a Marine, was also injured in the brawl. He was taken to the hospital with serious but not life-threatening stab wounds to his back and chest, Griffin said.

Spears said one of the men Harris was with was an old friend from his hometown of Elverta, Calif.

Esqueda was booked in to jail on suspicion of murder, attempted murder, and two counts of assault with a deadly weapon. Holliday was booked in to jail on suspicion of murder, assault with a deadly weapon, battery, and a probation violation.

Harris' family has started a GoFundMe page to help support the young man's widow. The couple had just married in March.

Spears said his sister was in Sacramento County visiting family when her husband was killed. She expected to him to meet him there Friday evening, but instead got a call from police that morning, Spears said.

Detectives were hoping to speak with the individuals who helped treat Harris' injuries. The Good Samaritans and anyone else with information about the fight were asked to call police at (619) 531-2293 or Crime Stoppers anonymously at (888) 580-8477.

———

©2018 The San Diego Union-Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

The post Arrests Made In Fatal Stabbing Of Marine In San Diego appeared first on Task & Purpose.