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Friday, Dec 09th

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Keep COVID Military Vaccine Mandate, U.S. Defense Chief Says

Sec. of Defense AustinDefense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he wants to keep the military’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate in place to protect the health of the troops, as Republican governors and lawmakers press to rescind it.

This past week more than 20 Republican governors sent a letter to President Joe Biden asking that the administration remove the mandate, saying it has hurt the U.S. National Guard’s ability to recruit troops. Those troops are activated by governors to respond to natural disasters or unrest.

Austin said he would not comment on pressure from the Hill.

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Pentagon debuts its new stealth bomber, the B-21 Raider

Pentagon's new stealth bomberAmerica's newest nuclear stealth bomber is making its public debut after years of secret development and as part of the Pentagon's answer to rising concerns over a future conflict with China.

The B-21 Raider is the first new American bomber aircraft in more than 30 years. Almost every aspect of the program is classified. Ahead of its unveiling Friday at an Air Force facility in Palmdale, California, only artists' renderings of the warplane have been released. Those few images reveal that the Raider resembles the black nuclear stealth bomber it will eventually replace, the B-2 Spirit.

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Defense & National Security — Navy faces mental health crisis after suicides

Navy suicidesThe Navy is investigating the suspected suicide deaths of four sailors all assigned to the same ship maintenance center in Virginia in the span of less than a month — a development that comes on the heels of an earlier spate of sailor suicides in April in the same state.

We’ll share the details of the investigation and the circumstances leading up to the suicides, plus the Pentagon’s consideration of expanding training of Ukrainian troops in Europe and the newest regional headquarters for the Space Force.

The most recently deceased of the four, Janelle Holder, was found dead on Nov. 26, according to Lt. Cmdr. Rochelle Rieger, a public affairs officer with MARMC.

The three other sailors, Kody Lee Decker, 22, of Virginia; Cameron Armstrong; and Deonte Autry, 22, of Monroe, N.C., died on Oct. 29, Nov. 5 and Nov. 14, respectively.

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Four soldiers in Alaska died by suicide in one month despite surge in mental health help

Fort WainwrightFour soldiers in Alaska died by suicide in the past month, an alarming spike that came despite a surge in mental health resources to the Army posts there.

In May, the Army sent more than 40 counselors and chaplains to Alaska after USA TODAY reported a month earlier that soldiers with suicidal issues had waited weeks for appointments with mental health providers. In 2021, 17 soldiers died by suicide, including eight over four months late in the year as winter descended on the state, daylight shortened and despair deepened.

The Army's efforts this year, which include mandatory annual counseling sessions for each of its 11,500 soldiers in Alaska, appeared to be paying off. Wait times to see counselors had been reduced. Through September, Army officials in Alaska reported that there had been one confirmed suicide.

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Six feared dead after military planes collide at Dallas airshow

Military planes collide at air show

Two historical military planes collided and crashed to the ground Saturday during a Dallas airshow, federal officials said, sending plumes of black smoke billowing into the sky.

Officials didn’t immediately make clear how many people were on board the aircraft or if anyone on the ground was hurt. Nonetheless, an ABC News producer – citing reporting from a colleague – said on Twitter that at least six people, all crew members, were feared dead after the crash.

Anthony Montoya saw the two planes collide.

“I just stood there. I was in complete shock and disbelief,” said Montoya, 27, who attended the airshow with a friend. “Everybody around was gasping. Everybody was bursting into tears. Everybody was in shock.”

Emergency crews raced to the crash scene at the Dallas Executive airport, about 10 miles from the city’s downtown.

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Defense & National Security — VA to tackle benefits claims from burn pit victims

VA to tackle claims from burn pit victims

The Department of Veterans Affairs will give priority to veterans with cancer when it begins processing benefits claims under the landmark toxic exposure law signed this summer.

We’ll share the details of that effort and what this means for veterans seeking such benefits, plus another American was killed while fighting in Ukraine, and Kyiv prepares for blackouts across the country as Russia expected to continue missile bombardment.

“I’m proud to announce for the first time today, on National Cancer Awareness Day, that we’re expediting benefits delivery for veterans with cancer conditions covered by law,” McDonough said during an appearance at the National Press Club.

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US releases oldest detainee from Guantanamo Bay after 17 years

Oldest detainee released from Gitmo

The Department of Defense announced on Saturday that it had released Saifullah Paracha from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility after 17 years.

He was successfully repatriated and moved back to Pakistan after a nearly seven week-long process to fulfill transfer requirements.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told Congress Sept. 12 that Paracha would be repatriated after a review committee determined last year that his detention was “no longer necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”

Two additional detainees were determined in March 2021 to be held unnecessarily at Guantanamo, one of whom was also from Pakistan and one who was from Yemen.

None of the three detainees had been charged with a crime against the U.S.

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