Saturday, June 10, 2017

China’s Growing Naval Might Confronts U.S. Supremacy in Asia



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China's Growing Naval Might Confronts U.S. Supremacy in Asia
// gCaptain.com

By David Tweed and Adrian Leung (Bloomberg) — Ship by ship, port by port, China has over the past two decades been assembling one of the essential engines of global power: a modern navy capable of projecting force far from home. China's "blue water" navy — and how to respond to it — will be […]

The post China's Growing Naval Might Confronts U.S. Supremacy in Asia appeared first on gCaptain.


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ANNUAL TRICARE FRAUD REPORT 2016

https://health.mil/Reference-Center/Reports/2017/04/28/2016-Annual-Fraud-and-Abuse-Report


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Epic to continue online scheduling for VA despite new Cerner EHR contract

 



Dive Brief:

  • The U.S. Department of Veterans Services will continue to use Epic Systems for its online medical appointment scheduling program despite the VA this week choosing Cerner to provide its EHR services. 

  • Epic’s five-year $624 million contract will remain in effect, meaning Epic will continue to offer online scheduling for veterans. Epic’s contract will not be affected by the Cerner Corporation EHR announcement. 

  • The VA didn’t solicit bids for the new EHR and it’s not known whether Epic would have even bid on the project. 

Dive Insight:

The Cerner contract is a huge deal in the highly competitive legacy EHR space. It's the second major government contract for Cerner over the past two years. Cerner won a $4.3 billion contract with the Department of Defense in 2015. 

Cerner’s EHR will let the VA move away from its homegrown EHR, VistA, and go with a new program called MHS Genesis that will use the Cerner Millennium EHR product as its core.  Cerner’s EHR will allow the Department of Defense and VA to sync on the same platform, though a lot of work will be necessary to link up the systems. 

Despite Cerner's VA contract, the news that Epic’s VA contract will remain is good news for a health IT company that already had a federal agency sever its ties last year. In April 2016, the U.S. Coast Guard ended its EHR contract with Epic and went back to using paper documentation after the Coast Guard alleged “significant risks and various uncovered irregularities.”

At the time of the Cerner announcement, Epic stated, "As the largest EHR vendor in the United States, covering two-thirds of the nation’s patients, we are proud to serve our veterans both through the VA scheduling project and through our customers that care for millions of veterans across America.” 

There is other good news for Epic. A recent report said the VA will soon announce an expansion of its Epicscheduling software program. 

Cerner recently announced at a shareholder meeting that the company and Epic both hold about one-quarter of the acute EHR market. Cerner said it won contract decisions involving 109 acute care hospitals last year, while Epic picked up 91 hospital contracts. However, if you exclude existing customer add-ons, the gap shrunk to 69-66.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Gallery Talk: Immigrant Voices of the Veterans History Project


This is a guest post by Owen Rogers, liaison specialist for the Veterans History Project. Library of Congress specialists often give presentations about ongoing Library exhibitions. This post relates to a presentation Rogers prepared for the exhibition “Echoes of the Great War: American Experiences of World War I.”

Wedding portrait of Blanche and Stephen Young

My great-grandfather, Stephen Basford Young, served in France with the 26th Infantry Division and celebrated his 18th birthday on November 11, 1918—the day World War I ended. Through stories passed down from my mother and aunts, I learned that our family line is—quite literally—a consequence of the Great War and its intersections. While visiting comrades gassed at the Battle of Belleau Wood, my great-grandfather met one of their sisters. Blanche would be my great-grandmother. Both of my great-grandparents were the children of French-Canadian immigrants to the United States.

During World War I, nearly one-third of American residents were immigrants or children of immigrants. International ancestry is a common theme in the Veterans History Project collections. Altogether, 5 percent of VHP World War I collections indicate foreign birth.

Joseph Rosenblum

My great-grandfather, who spoke French and English, found fortune in the Signal Corps through a common language and ancestry with French soldiers, relaying coordinates from artillery forward observers. But Prussian-born veterans like Rudolph Neumann and Peter Shemonsky no doubt felt conflicted about their overseas service, a tension furthered intensified by nativist fears on the home front. Others like recent Romanian immigrant Joseph Rosenblum were drafted into the U.S. Army and fought for the same cause as their countrymen.

As a result of the Selective Service Act of May 18, 1917, by war’s end, nearly three-quarters of the entire U.S. Army were conscripted soldiers. Half a million were foreign-born. Although immigrants weren’t required to serve in the military, their eventual naturalization required registration for selective service. As further incentive, Congress amended naturalization laws for immigrants who served in the U.S. armed forces, waiving the five-year residence requirement for naturalized citizenship.

A photograph from the Library’s New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection suggests the effects of these incentives. In 1917, F.M. Stefano documented the arrival of an immigrant contingent from New Rochelle, New York, to the Camp Upton induction and training facility on Long Island. More than 30 different languages and dialects were spoken in this training camp alone! More than 120,000 veterans received citizenship as a consequence of their military service and began a tradition of military naturalization that continues to this day.

Immigrants arrive Camp Upton on Long Island for induction into the U.S. Army. Photo by F.M. Stefano.

When Congress created the Veterans History Project in 2000, there were fewer than 4,000 living World War I veterans in the United States. By 2011, there were none. Although VHP is expanding its Great War narratives through posthumous manuscript and media submissions, we have fewer than a hundred WWI veterans’ oral histories—less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the entire archive.

Our stories inform our understanding of the past. VHP is an ongoing effort, and veterans’ voices are accessible only through the voluntary recording of oral histories and the submission of original manuscripts and media. To hear more veterans’ stories and learn how to add your family history to the Library’s permanent collections, visit our website.

World War I Centennial, 2017–18. With the most comprehensive collection of multiformat World War I holdings in the nation, the Library of Congress is a unique resource for primary source materials, education plans, public programs and on-site visitor experiences about the Great War including exhibits, symposia and book talks.

New Book: “America and the Great War: A Library of Congress Illustrated History”

Design by Elizabeth Van Itallie.

Between August 1914 and November 1918, World War I eradicated empires, ignited the Russian Revolution, reconfigured the world map and marked a turning point for the United States. A new book by Margaret E. Wagner, “America and the Great War: A Library of Congress Illustrated History,” published by Bloomsbury Press in association with the Library of Congress, commemorates the centennial of that decisive moment in American history. Chronicling the United States in neutrality and in conflict, it presents events and arguments, political and military battles, bitter tragedies and epic achievements that marked U.S. involvement in the first modern war.

Extensively illustrated with images and artifacts from the unparalleled Library of Congress collections—including the rich store of WWI material in the Library’s Veterans History Project—the book presents a unique and engaging look at the era that saw the United States emerge as a true world power while addressing questions that Americans are still struggling to answer today.

Filled with the voices of individuals both well-known and previously unsung, “America and the Great War” reveals the explosion of patriotic fervor as the country declared war; the near-miraculous expansion of its tiny army; its military engagements abroad and struggles against the suppression of civil liberties at home; the successful drives for woman suffrage and prohibition; and the largely unsuccessful struggles by African-Americans to secure at home the rights Americans were fighting for overseas.

In his introduction to “America and the Great War,” Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David M. Kennedy praises the book as “a uniquely colorful chronicle of this dramatic and convulsive chapter in American—and world—history.” Publisher’s Weekly commends Wagner for combining “an entertaining coffee-table format with an intellectually rewarding text.”

A senior writer-editor in the Library of Congress Publishing Office, Wagner is the author of “The Library of Congress Illustrated Timeline of the Civil War,” “The American Civil War: 365 Days,”  “World War II: 365 Days” and “Maxfield Parrish and the Illustrators of the Golden Age.” She is also the co-author of “The Library of Congress Civil War Desk Reference” and “The Library of Congress World War II Companion.”

“America and the Great War” complements an array of Library of Congress programming to commemorate the centennial of World War I, including lectures, symposia, digitized collections, war gardens, veterans’ stories, educational tools, film programs and research guides.

“America and the Great War” is 384 pages long and includes more than 250 illustrations in both color and black-and-white. It is available for $35.99 through the Library of Congress Shop. Credit-card orders are also taken at (888) 682-3557.

For those of you in the Washington, D.C., area, Wagner will speak about the book at the Library of Congress at noon on June 8. Part of the Books and Beyond series sponsored by the Library’s Center for the Book, the talk will be in the Mumford Room on the sixth floor of the Library’s James Madison Memorial Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, D.C.  The event is free and open to the public; no tickets are needed.


GAO-17-542, Military Personnel: DOD Needs to Establish Performance Measures for the Armed Forces Sports Program, June 08, 2017

What GAO Found The Department of Defense (DOD) has data on participation in and costs of the Armed Forces Sports Program, but has not taken steps, including developing performance measures and clarifying roles and responsibilities that are needed to help ensure the program is implemented effectively. DOD officials stated that they use sport and competition participation data to measure the performance and effectiveness of the program. According to these data, servicemember participation changed from 968 servicemembers in fiscal year 2012 to 848 servicemembers in fiscal year 2016, and program costs ranged from about $2.1 million to about $2.8 million in fiscal years 2014 through 2016. While these data provide important context about the program's size and reach, they do not exhibit several key attributes, such as linkage, a measurable target, and baseline and trend data that GAO has found are key to successfully measuring a program's performance. First, these data do not exhibit linkage because no relationship has been established to show how the number of servicemember participants contribute to achievement of the program's objectives, such as promoting goodwill among and a positive image of the U.S. Armed Forces through sports. Second, these data were not associated with a measurable target that would enable program officials to determine how far the program has progressed toward a desired outcome or end state. Third, while DOD has program participation data, it does not track baseline and trend data for measures that are able to assess the program's performance and progress over time. Without performance measures that demonstrate these attributes, DOD will be unable to effectively demonstrate that it is achieving the intended benefits of the program, such as improving readiness, recruitment, and retention as well as promoting the goodwill of the U.S. Armed Forces. Officials cited the program as aiding recruiting because it showcased unique opportunities open to those in the U.S. Armed Forces. However, outside of participation and cost data and some anecdotal examples, officials did not have specific measures for or data on the Armed Forces Sports Program's contribution to the services' readiness, recruiting, and retention efforts. The roles and responsibilities that are currently being implemented for the program differ from the program's roles and responsibilities specified in DOD policy. DOD Instruction 1330.04 specifies that the program includes training or national qualifying events in preparation for participation in International Military Sports Council events, the Pan American Games, the Olympic Games, the Paralympic Games, and other international competitions. While this is how the program is defined in key program documents, DOD officials stated that all responsibilities, including costs, associated with servicemember participation in the Pan American, Olympic, and Paralympic Games are handled by the services. DOD officials stated that they plan to review DOD Instruction 1330.04 and make necessary updates, but have not yet determined what specific changes would be made to clarify the program's roles and responsibilities. Why GAO Did This Study For nearly a century, the U.S. Armed Forces (i.e., the Army, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the Air Force, and the Coast Guard) have organized and participated in international and national sporting competitions in part because of the intended benefits for servicemember morale and the unique opportunity that participation provides to foster diplomatic relations. House Report 114-537 accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 included a provision for GAO to review the Armed Forces Sports Program and its impact on the military services' readiness. This report assesses the effectiveness of DOD's implementation of the Armed Forces Sports Program. GAO analyzed participation data for fiscal years 2012 through 2016 and cost data for fiscal years 2014 through 2016, compared DOD data with attributes of successful performance measures, compared roles and responsibilities specified in policy with those being implemented, and interviewed DOD officials. What GAO Recommends GAO recommends that DOD develop and implement performance measures for the Armed Forces Sports Program that, at a minimum, demonstrate linkage to the program's goals or mission, have a measurable target, and include a baseline that can be used to demonstrate program performance. DOD concurred with the recommendation, noting potential limitations on establishing measures. GAO acknowledges these limitations, but continues to believe that measures are important to evaluating the program's effectiveness. For more information, contact Brenda S. Farrell at (202) 512-3604 or farrellb@gao.gov.


Original Page: http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-17-542?source=ra



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GAO-17-654T, Coast Guard Recapitalization: Matching Needs and Resources Continue to Strain Acquisition Efforts, June 07, 2017

What GAO Found The Coast Guard is currently procuring three new cutter classes that are intended to have more capability than the legacy assets they are replacing. In particular, the National Security Cutter (NSC) and the Fast Response Cutter (FRC) are generally demonstrating improved mission performance (see figure). Both cutters have greater fuel capacity and efficiency and handling/sea-keeping than the legacy assets they replace, all of which increase endurance and effectiveness. Another new asset—the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC)—is also expected to provide increased capabilities compared to the Medium Endurance Cutter it is replacing, such as the ability to conduct longer patrols. The Coast Guard's Fast Response Cutter and National Security Cutter The Coast Guard, however, has not been able to take full advantage of the FRC's and NSC's capabilities because of maintenance and equipment issues limiting their time available for operations. GAO found in March 2017 that while both cutters met their minimum mission capable targets on average over the long-term, more recently—from October 2015 to September 2016—they fell below their minimum targets due to needed increased depot-level maintenance. Both cutters have also been plagued by problems with critical equipment, such as the diesel engines, which have contributed to lost operational days. In June 2014, GAO found gaps between the funding amounts the Coast Guard estimates its major acquisitions need and what it has requested. This has continued. For example, senior Coast Guard officials peg acquisition needs at over $2 billion per year, but the President's budget requested $1.2 billion for fiscal year 2018. In an effort to address funding constraints, the Coast Guard delayed new acquisitions through the annual budget process, but lacks a long-term plan to set forth affordable priorities. As a result of these issues, it is facing a gap in the capability provided by its Medium Endurance Cutters, which are slated to reach the end of their service lives before all the OPCs are operational. GAO recommended in 2014 that the Coast Guard develop a 20-year fleet modernization plan that identifies all acquisitions needed to maintain the current level of service—aviation and surface—and the fiscal resources needed to buy the identified assets. DHS concurred with the recommendation, but it is unclear when the Coast Guard will complete this effort. Why GAO Did This Study In order to meet its missions of maritime safety, security, and environmental stewardship, the Coast Guard, a component within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), employs a variety of surface and air assets, several of which are approaching the end of their intended service lives. As part of its efforts to modernize its surface and air assets (an effort known as recapitalization), the Coast Guard has begun acquiring new vessels, such as the National Security Cutter, Fast Response Cutter, and a number of air assets, and developing the Offshore Patrol Cutter. Despite the addition of new assets, concerns surrounding capability and affordability gaps remain. This statement addresses (1) the capabilities provided by the newer Coast Guard assets, (2) maintainability and equipment challenges for the new cutters, and (3) the overall affordability of the Coast Guard's acquisition portfolio. This statement is based on GAO's extensive body of work examining the Coast Guard's acquisition efforts spanning several years, including the March 2017 report on the NSC and FRC's maintainability. What GAO Recommends GAO is not making recommendations in this statement but has made recommendations to the Coast Guard and DHS in the past regarding recapitalization and the specific assets involved, including that the Coast Guard develop a 20-year fleet modernization plan that identifies all acquisitions needed to maintain the current level of service and the fiscal resources needed to acquire them. DHS agreed with this recommendation. For more information, contact Marie A. Mak at (202) 512-4841 or makm@gao.gov.


Original Page: http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-17-654T?source=ra



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100 Years Ago: 5 June 1917—U.S. Draft Registration Day

The Selective Service Act, signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson on 19 May 1917, required all male U.S. citizens and resident aliens from age 21 to 30 to register for the draft. On the day of registration (5 June 1917) 9,660,000 young men presented themselves at local Selective Service Boards, where they were asked to give their name, address, age, distinguishing physical features, and reason, if any, for claiming exemption. Three additional registrations took place, on 5 June,  24 August, and 12 September of 1918.

New York City, 5 June 1917

By war's end  24,000,000 men had registered for the draft, (about 23 percent of the population in 1918). After the signing of the Armistice of 11 November 1918, the activities of the Selective Service System were rapidly curtailed. On 31 March 1919, all local, district, and medical advisory boards were closed, and on 21 May 1919, the last state headquarters closed operations.



Original Page: http://roadstothegreatwar-ww1.blogspot.com/2017/06/100-years-ago-5-june-1917us-draft.html



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The World War One Memorial the Nazis Deemed Degenerate


Das Magdeburger Ehrenmal

Artist Ernst Barlach was an early enthusiast for the German war effort. He enlisted at age 44 despite coronary disease. After two years service he was was discharged—now a committed pacifist.  After the war he took several commissions for German war memorials.

For the 1929 memorial at Magdeburg, Barlach returned to wood sculpture, a favored medium. A large oak panel featured three German soldiers at top, possibly meant to show a young recruit, a junior officer with bandaged head, and an older reservist. The central figure embraces a large cross inscribed with the dates "1914 1915 1916 1917 1918." At the bottom are the heads of a weeping woman, a rotted corpse wearing a helmet, and a self-portrait of Barlach, hands to his horrified face, gas mask hanging from his neck.

Das Magdeburger Ehrenmal  (aka the Magdeburg Cenotaph) was declared to be degenerate art due to the "deformity" and emaciation of the figures. It was also attacked by Nazi ideologue Julius Rosenberg who claimed that the soldier on the right was a Russian. (Strangely,  this concept has persisted with some people still believing that the figures are German, French, and Russian, respectively.) The attempt to link Barlach with Russia was part of a campaign to paint him as a non-German. Barlach was also called a Jew and a Communist.

Current Location, Magdeburg Cathedral

Friends spirited away the Magdeburg carving before it was seized by the authorities. After the Second World War ended, Barlach's work was brought out of hiding. The Magdeburg panel was remounted at the Magdeburg Cathedral. Today it is a launching point for local protest demonstrations.


Source:  Shrine of Dreams Blog


Original Page: http://roadstothegreatwar-ww1.blogspot.com/2017/06/the-world-war-one-memorial-nazis-deemed.html



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Inside a U-boat

If you have ever toured the U-505 at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry or seen the movie Das Boot, you have gained an appreciation of the claustrophobic feeling of submarine service. These 1915 illustrations from Tony Langley's collection are two of the best I've seen from the Great War at capturing that. Felix Schwormstädt (work shown above) was a German painter who created dramatic illustrations during the First World War for the magazine Illustrierte Zeitung.  Below is  Johann Bahr's drawing from the satirical magazine  Lustige Blätter, which is amusing, but makes the same point.



Original Page: http://roadstothegreatwar-ww1.blogspot.com/2017/06/inside-u-boat.html



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The Great War's 101 Defining Events: Numbers 11–20


(click on image to enlarge)

This series will run every Friday on Roads to the Great War through its completion.



Original Page: http://roadstothegreatwar-ww1.blogspot.com/2017/06/the-great-wars-101-defining-events.html



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The Centennial at the Grass Roots: Restoring Los Angeles' Victory Memorial Grove


By Courtland Jindra

Until a few years ago I hadn't really thought too much about how those who served and died in World War One were remembered. But when I read about Mark Levitch's WWI Inventory Project my interest was piqued. I quickly realized I wasn't alone. Citizens from across the U.S. were rediscovering our history through the thousands of WWI memorials that dot our country. And documenting wasn't always enough. Some communities began plans to refurbish their monuments. Needless to say, I caught the bug.

My first stop was the Internet. It led me to old newspapers and the library. Those newspapers were full of references, and I quickly found over two dozen memorials in Los Angeles County. My next step was to visit them and take pictures. That's when the urge hit me. I knew had to find a way to rehabilitate what I could.

My  first challenge was focusing on just one memorial. I won't bore readers with all with the fits and starts I had in trying to pull groups together to restore this or that monument, but suffice it to say I ran into difficulties and had to abandon more than one project. It was definitely an eye-opening education.


Walking Path in Victory Memorial Grove
But my Eureka moment came a little over a year ago. I went to check out a memorial that I had read about in the archives of the Los Angeles Times from 12 November 1920. The place was called "Victory Memorial Grove" and was in Elysian Park (the park that surrounds Dodger Stadium). The article included a rough explanation of where the grove was, as well as a reference to a ceremony to unveil a bronze tablet made by sculptor Julia Bracken Wendt. Intrigued by the article, I asked a new acquaintance (who would  eventually become my sweetheart) if she wanted to try to find it with me. After some fruitless driving we eventually found the grove and began searching for the bronze tablet. The park-within-a-park was not very well kept, but we did find a monument, though not the one we were expecting. The plaque described in the article, if it was ever completed, no longer resides in Victory Memorial Grove. But what we found was a five-foot-high California granite monument. It honors 21 young men and women who gave their lives "in the interest of humanity." It was erected in 1921 by the Daughters of the American Revolution of Southern California to honor all those relatives of state DAR members who were lost in the war.
Overhead View of the Memorial

Now I was excited, because my mother is a member of the Los Angeles — Eschscholtzia Chapter of DAR (LAE-DAR). I figured if I could get them behind the memorial restoration I might have a group that could really help take the lead in getting it done.  

I informed my mom and while she started planning how to pitch the project,  I began to research the site and the monument. The information I discovered is too lengthy to discuss here. However, I have included some of the most interesting factoids below.

* A preliminary Victory Memorial Grove was dedicated on a hilltop in Elysian Park on Memorial Day, 30 May 1919 (where Radio Hill is now), but accessibility to the site was poor and abandoned a year later

* Poppies from Flanders were planted on Armistice Day, 11 November 1920, by members of the American Legion and civilians with plans to add trees shortly thereafter

* The memorial rock and tablet were dedicated on Flag Day, 14 June 1921 in a ceremony attended by several local notable figures

* The ceremony honored 22 individuals, one more than the 21 on the plaque itself (We are still unsure the reason behind that omission—trees could also be dedicated to individuals according to the charter of the park, so it is possible that one was supposed to be his memorial.)

* Not everyone listed on the plaque was from California, as we originally assumed. Some individuals were from out of state and one, a navy surgeon who served with Admiral Beatty at Jutland, was from Great Britain. This  makes the Victory Memorial Grove Tablet not only a local World War One memorial but also an international one—which I believe is fairly unusual.

The condition of the monument was pretty sad. Graffiti and paint covered the surface. I knew Rosa Lowinger and Associates (RLA)—a firm that focuses on conservation of art and architecture—from a failed attempt on restoration of a different memorial. They quickly agreed to do an assessment on the monument at VMG. And my mom got Jan Gordon, regent of the LAE-DAR, interested in restoring the piece. Everyone's  initial reaction was that the park needed saving too. 


Current Condition of the Monument

Sometimes it is strange how things come together. About this time, Lester Probst, a member of Hollywood Post 43 of the American Legion, contacted me. He had just attended a program by Theo Mayer (the technology guru of the Centennial Commission, who actually lives in Southern California) which discussed the centennial commemorations. It was also about the time the WWICC launched their 100 Cities/100 Memorials initiative.  Les asked if I knew of any memorials that could be restored. He figured he could grab the interest of his Legion mates with the likely press that we'd get if selected. Obviously I knew of many monuments, but I saw the potential to gain a lot of muscle behind the VMG project, so that was the one I highlighted. My mom and I met him out there a few weeks later, and fortunately he was not daunted by the challenge.  

However, in discussions with the LAE-DAR, Lester, and myself we quickly figured we could not reclaim the whole of the grove, at least not for some time. It was decided that the LAE-DAR would restore the monument and Post 43 would attempt to fix up the grounds on the upper terrace of the park—which is where the monument itself is located.

Now the bureaucracy. It took me a bit of time to track down the right people to talk to and the right meetings to attend, but we eventually got approval from the Recreation and Parks Department. Finally  we could really begin in earnest.

My original plan was to shoot for a Flag Day 2018 re-dedication. LAE-DAR was quickly fundraising money and wanted to shoot for a whole year earlier. Things were not running as fast at Post 43 due to numerous  fundraising  projects. However, one member of Post 43 was a member of Disney SALUTE (the organization within Disney comprised of veterans) and through him we also were able to garner the interest of The Mission Continues (a nationwide program with more than 11,000 veteran members) to work on fixing up the grove. The cleanup/planting day is set for 3 June, with RLA set to beginning work on the monument on the 5th. Fingers crossed that everything goes according to plan.

So, now we sit less than a month away from our proposed re-dedication day of Flag Day (14 June).  It all seems to be coming together, yet I will be very nervous until the restored monument is unveiled and the grove has been saved from obscurity.

Editor's Note: Later in June we will have a report from Courtland as to how the project and re-dedication went.



Original Page: http://roadstothegreatwar-ww1.blogspot.com/2017/06/the-centennial-at-grass-roots-restoring.html



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Florida’s Chief Fraud Fighter Moves On: Atwater Recalls Successes, Frustrations With Industry

Lifelong Florida resident, long-time Florida politician, and head of the Florida Department of Financial Services (DFS), Jeff Atwater shocked the state when he announced in February he would step down as chief financial officer at the end of the 2017 legislative session to become vice president of strategic initiatives and CFO for Florida Atlantic University (FAU). 

As Florida’s CFO, a position he has held since 2011, Atwater has worked closely with the insurance industry. DFS oversees the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR), as well as the office of the Florida Insurance Consumer Advocate, who assists Florida residents with insurance-related questions or concerns. 

DFS is also home to the Division of Investigative and Forensic Services (DIFS), which handles all insurance fraud-related investi­gations. One of Atwater’s biggest priorities since he took office, and no doubt one of his legacies after he leaves, has been his commitment to rooting out fraud that he says drives up the cost of insurance for all Floridians. 

Before he departed DFS, Atwater was adamant about completing a mission he began three years ago: passing legislation to put a comprehensive system in place to track and prosecute insurance fraud. 

What has surprised me is the magnitude of fraud that exists in the marketplace

And this past session, his work paid off when HB 1007 and HB 1009 were passed by state legislators. The passed bills (still awaiting the governor’s signature) will require state attorneys’ offices that receive money for prosecuting fraud to report their progress to DIFS, which will file annual reports with the legislature.

The bill also expands requirements for insurers’ anti-fraud efforts and reporting. Beginning Dec. 1, each insurer must file annual reports with DIFS that contain a detailed description of their insurance fraud investigative unit or a copy of the contract with the investigation firm, and a copy of the anti-fraud plan.

Atwater said he worked first-hand with the insurance industry during his 25 years working in the banking industry, though on a much smaller scale than over the last six years as CFO. But he said he has always understood the impor­tance of insurance and the role that it plays in economic development. 

“For a growing economy, you need invest­ment. For investment, you need risk takers. Risk takers must mit­igate that risk, and insurance is what mitigates that risk,” he said. 

Shortly before departing from DFS, Atwater spoke with Insurance Journal to discuss his experienc­es with the insurance industry as CFO, including what about the industry has sur­prised him and frus­trated him through the years, and how he thinks the industry could improve its cus­tomer relationships and gain support in its fight against insurance abuse. The following interview has been edited for brevity. 

IJ: Did you have any personal opinions on the industry before you began this position?

Jeff Atwater

Atwater: I certainly did. I would say that from the standpoint of being a banker, and when you have a portfolio the size of port­folios that we would hold in the banking institutions that I was a part of, there is going to be events that would ultimately require that the insurance policy itself might well have been a source of repayment — a fire; a hurricane; a tragic accident. I saw players per­form and I saw players that did not perform well. …

Regrettably, I think we acknowledge that almost in any indus­try — and insurance might well be at the top of that list — the poor performance of the few is going to create a perception and a narrative that could be detrimental to the perception of the entire industry … that occurs in all industries. The insurance industry has not been immune from that fact [and] when local television and local media gets a hold of a story where a player has underperformed, there is no sympathy for an insurance company that has accept­ed premiums, made promises and then, for whatever reason, has not fulfilled those promises.

Sometimes, it may be a real legitimate dispute. But that narrative is rarely covered equally in the communication that the media will bring to the story.

IJ: What have you learned about the indus­try that you didn’t know before? What has surprised you the most?

Atwater: What has surprised me … is the magnitude of the fraud that exists in the marketplace across virtually every line of insurance that is available to Floridians, personally and in a commer­cial nature. That has been an eye opener.

I was aware of fraud, just not aware of how many really organized crime rings there were designed specifically to exploit opportunity. …

I think it was learning the depths of both the true fraud that is taking place within the market and where individuals who have developed — again, I would call it organized crime, without question — who have developed business practic­es that while yet might not be identified as illegal should be because they are clearly exploiting portions of Florida law to make money. Some might call it overutilization, but I think that’s awfully generous and I think they’ve created their own cottage industries.

IJ: Do you think that the abuse of assignment of benefits (AOB) and per­sonal injury protection (PIP) is making consumers more aware of how fraud impacts their insurance rates and cov­erage?

Atwater: I think that consumers are becoming aware, but I still think there is a significant void from consumers understanding the magnitude of that fraud. Therefore, I would say that there is still tremendous rate sensitivity by the consumer market in Florida that is unfa­miliar with the magnitude of what fraud might be loading into those rates.

IJ: How could the industry help consum­ers better understand?

Atwater: I think that the industry could go a long way by communicating the actual evidence that it has in its databas­es that could show the magnitude of the losses that are occurring that are being built right back into the rate formula. It’s not coming from disputes over attor­ney’s fees, etc., it’s coming from these claims. These are the losses that we are now experiencing from these claims and we want the public to see this and really focus on communicating that this is an issue. [Saying] we want to work with you on developing the policies that could, and should, be able to still offer a fair product with a very rapid response to a consumer when there’s a legitimate claim filed, but does not allow a collec­tion of individuals to exploit the oppor­tunity to make money. Let’s work at this hand-in-hand.

Instead, it becomes a number of lob­byists that take on the challenge. … The conversation takes place in the halls of the state capitals and the consumers are just seeing rates go up, rates go up, rates go up. …

I think consumers believe that the rates that come [are because the] insur­ance company just wants more rates and the government just keeps giving it to them. I don’t think that, again, most consumers, without the right public communication, understand that these losses are required to be built into the rate filing. And they’re going to be grant­ed.

When the public does understand it then they turn back and they say, “What is the insurance company doing to help me fight this fraud? They know the data. They know the bad actors. They know the trends before everybody else does. Why aren’t they fighting this target?” I think that’s a question for the industry to answer.

Atwater said the industry came together more than ever this session to encourage legislation against AOB abuse, though that didn’t turn out to be enough as no AOB bills were passed. Atwater said the industry’s pushback in sharing informa­tion that would help consumers to under­stand the magnitude of fraud taking place in Florida is partly to blame, and hasn’t just occurred with recent AOB legislation. 

Atwater: There are some players in the industry that believe any bit of data that they hold is proprietary and it’s a trade secret, and they’re not going to help … [but] my fraud investigators can only begin to act when a referral is made. … I do believe there is more that the industry could do in the development of strategic initiatives, the sharing of data in trend lines, the identification of the [abusers], seeing where the abuses are taking place, and acting faster; than for us to be trying to collect that from refer­rals of neighbors who saw somebody get a whole new roof or possibly a referral from someone who heard someone say that that guy got a big water claim and got a new kitchen out of it.

That’s hardly the trend line in data that the insurance industry itself holds. I would hope that they would be excited and desiring to work together and to work with our division in helping pro­vide data on trends and narrowing our search to go after the bad actors. That would be very helpful.

IJ: Let’s talk about the anti-fraud leg­islation that just passed. Why did the industry fight this legislation?

Atwater: There have been, over the last three years, players within the industry that just said, “No. We don’t want to have to provide more information to you all. We don’t want to have to be held in any kind of account of sharing that data. This is our proprietary data. This is our business model. Everything we do is a trade secret.” There are others within the industry who said, “We are not concerned in the least.” Regrettably, the industry itself was not altogether onboard.

IJ: Looking back at your time as CFO and your experiences specifically with the insurance indus­try, what has really stood out to you?

Atwater: We just had a hurricane season last year, where we had two named storms, both that caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. I was impressed with the reaction time that I saw from most of the industry, how quickly they were onsite, calling upon those who had reported a claim, as well as those who were in the same general vicinity who had not reported a claim, to try to be on their game and trying to serve their client.

I was impressed and glad to see that kind of self-motivated initiative to quickly get in there and address those claims. I would say that was a really pleasant experience.

There’s always going to be a case, no matter what industry you’re a part of, where someone makes a mistake on a loan file, on an application or on a claim. It happens in every industry. Our responsibility is to see that nothing systemic begins to take place by any par­ticular carrier. We did not see any of that during these past two storms that hit Florida. We really believe people were trying to do their best and, knowing that if they did their best, they could prob­ably take care of the claim in a fast and efficient way, which is what the expecta­tion of their client would be.

IJ: What advice would you give your successor in working with the industry?

Atwater: When I look back on what we have done working with the indus­try, I’m incredibly proud and happy. … We haven’t always been on the same page, but I would tell the individual that would step into this role to work to build the relationships with these players in the industry; that the industry has the first sense of what’s going right and what’s going wrong and to be able to work with them to try, even though sometimes it’s difficult.

Get your hands upon the best data that can help you make the case for public policy change. That’s important. And to stay mindful that the insurance industry is pro­viding one of the most key ingredients into the economic success of the state of Florida. Again, without insurance, people don’t buy a home; the bank is not going to take that risk. Without insurance, they’re not going to make the loan for the small business. Without insurance, the developer isn’t going to build the building.

It is incredibly important to be able to build these relationships, to be able to speak frankly and know that inside that frank conversation is tremendous respect. It’s not built in a day, but it’s built over time and it’ll serve both the people of Florida well and this process of public policy making.

Listen to the full interview with CFO Atwater below:


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The battle for Okinawa: one Marine’s story - WWII - BBC History

American soldier. (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

April 1, 1945 – April Fool’s Day, Easter Sunday, and ‘L-Day’ for the invasion of Okinawa, Japan. In the deep blue waters around the island were more than 1,457 ships and landing craft, crammed with more than half a million men, and including a joint US Army and Marine Corps landing force of around 182,000 troops.  

Among those taking part in the landings and bracing himself for his first taste of action was 20-year-old Bill Pierce, a New Yorker and part of the US 6th Marine Division. He had waited nearly two years for this moment; two years of training, first in the United States, and then, for the past ten months, on the island of Guadalcanal in the Pacific. Pierce reckoned he was as ready as he was ever going to be, but that didn't stop the nerves. Part of a five-man, 37mm anti-tank gun crew, he was in the Weapons Company of the 29th Marine Regiment and by mid-morning he and his crew were heading towards the shore. Overhead, naval shells whistled through the sky. He and his buddies stood up on the side of the boat, their arms on the railings so they could see where they were heading. The shoreline itself was shrouded in smoke from exploding shells, but along the landing beaches it seemed calmer, with hundreds of landing craft already moored at the water’s edge. None of them had much idea what to expect, however. All Pierce knew about Okinawa was what they’d been told in the briefing: that it was an island some 70 miles long, and because of its relative proximity to mainland Japan itself, it would be an important staging post for the ongoing aerial assault of the last of the Axis powers.

The Americans had assembled a task force of astonishing fire-power – the largest of the entire war – but previous form suggested they would need it. Over the long Pacific campaign, the Americans had prised one island from the Japanese after another and with every step nearer to Japan itself, so the fanatical viciousness of the defenders had increased.
 


A marine gun crew fire on Japanese pillboxes on Okinawa. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
 

When Pierce finally landed, there seemed to be a fair amount of confusion on the beaches, but little sign of the enemy. Small-arms fire was only sporadic and so Pierce and his crew were ordered to dig in for the night. As dusk began to fall, so the sky was lit up with tracers fired without let-up from the vast naval armada sitting off shore. Shells screamed over, aeroplanes rumbled through the night air, and the men now ashore looked up and watched a firework display more spectacular than any Fourth of July celebration.

It was only a temporary calm, however, as for the next 81 days, Okinawa was to witness the biggest single land-air-sea battle of all time, a brutal campaign which would see savagery and brutality that surpassed anything that had come before in the Pacific War. At sea, naval casualties were higher than at any point in the war, with Japan unleashing almost its entire kamikaze effort against the joint American and British task force around the islands. On land, the scale of killing was even worse. Okinawa was to witness a blood bath of barbaric savagery, in which more than a quarter of a million people were killed. Okinawa was to be the last, and one of the costliest battles of the Second World War.


Okinawa was to witness a blood bath of barbaric savagery, says historian James Holland. (Photo by PFC Lewis Giffin/FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

 

Memories of Okinawa

I met Bill Pierce at his home in Charleston, South Carolina, to where he had retired.  Spry, and with a memory that was sharp as a tack, he talked about Okinawa with an extraordinarily frank honesty. “We went in with 3,500 men,” he said, “and after 82 days of combat, more than 2,800 were gone. We had casualties of more than 80 per cent.” On Sugar Loaf Hill, he said, the 29th Marines lost 500 men killed in a week of bitter and bloody battle. No Marine regiment in the history of the Corps has ever suffered such high casualties in a single battle as the 29th Marines did on Okinawa. He also freely admitted that at the time he hated the Japanese with a vengeance. “They were animals. They’d cut off guys’ penises and stuff them in their mouths. They’d behead people, cut off arms, gouge eyes out. Put it this way,” he said, “we didn’t take many prisoners.”

Pierce then told me about his first action. The invasion force had landed roughly in the middle of the island on the west coast. From there, the army units had headed south, while the marines had been sent into the more mountainous north. They eventually ran into some Japanese dug in at the foot of the steep, rocky, and wooded slopes of a series of hills known as Yae Take on the Motobu Peninsula. But after taking some hits from sniper fire, the marines spread out across the valley beneath the hills, their 37mm guns spaced out in a line. In front, they also set up a number of trip flares. Sure enough, that night the flares were triggered, hissing into the night and lighting up the valley with an eerie phosphorescence. “We could see about 100 people advancing,” Bill recalled, ‘so we asked what we should do. “Mow them down,” came the reply. So we let go with the canister, and in the morning there were 80 women and children lying there and just a few Japs. The Japanese pushed the civilians out in front of them. They used them to try and get away.”


Soldiers of the 77th Infantry Division in Okinawa listen to news of Nazi Germany's surrender. (Photo by ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
 

A day didn’t pass when Pierce didn’t see a dead civilian. At least 150,000 Okinawans were killed during the battle, more than a third of the indigenous population. Okinawa had been a beautiful island, but in the south, especially, where most of the fighting took place, the landscape soon became more akin to the desolate and poisoned battlefields of the Western Front in the First World War. Pierce became hardened to such scenes. “We could be sitting there eating a C ration can or a Hershey bar,” he said, “and right there where Quincy’s lying, there’s a dead Jap, with an arm sticking up or a mangled leg. It didn’t mean a thing. We’d become completely immune to it. You became hardened to it immediately.”

Operations in the north of the island had been wrapped up by the third week of April, 1945, and the 6th Marine Division were left to carry out mopping-up patrols and to pick up a few souvenirs of their 20-day battle, silk kimonos being a favourite. But while operations had gone to plan in the north, the same could not be said of the fighting in the south. The majority of the 100,000-strong Japanese 32nd army were dug in along a series of defensive lines that crossed the south end of the island and which were linked in typical Japanese fashion by 60 miles of tunnels and carefully hidden gun and mortar positions. There were also a large number of caves in the south, ancient tombs that made effective dug-outs. Although US army units breached the outer Japanese lines of defence, they soon become bogged down in a highly costly battle of attrition, and so on 4 May, the 6th Marines were sent south, taking the place of the embattled and much-depleted 27th Infantry Division, along what had become known as the Shuri Line.

The marines were thrown against Sugar Loaf Hill, the main western anchorage of the Shuri Line. It was a tiny, insignificant landmark – 300 yards long and no more than 60 feet high. “You could run up it in no time at all,” Pierce told me. But it was of vital importance and there was only one way of taking it: a yard at a time by the unfortunate men on the ground. With the enemy well dug in, whole companies of marines were decimated as they repeatedly assaulted the feature.  


Major General Lemuel Sheperd, commander of the 6th US Marine Division, reading a map on Okinawa. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)
 

This was a fight with rifle, machine-guns and mortars. “If a mortar shell landed beside you,” said Pierce, “the guy was blown to bits and his body was nothing but a black hulk.” Pierce was once ten yards away from a Marine who was blown up by a mortar.  “You look at it but you keep going,” he said. “You don’t stop because he’s dead.” Adding to the misery was the rain, which fell annually on Okinawa throughout May, and usually in the form of a deluge of as much as ten inches a day. May 1945, however, was worse than usual, and combined with the massive amount of shell and mortar fire, soon turned the battlefield into a thick quagmire.

 

“The stench of death”

Pierce and his buddies were wet all the time. “You never dried off. We landed with what we were wearing and one extra set of clothing, and if they were wet or worn out, it was tough shit. We were filthy.” They were also riddled with lice and fleas, irritants they were powerless to do anything about. The rain and the close nature of the fighting meant that no fires could be lit at the front, so there was no hot water for coffee, and no hot food. They ate mainly C rations, tins of pre-cooked food, usually bully beef. Everyone had diarrhoea. “Loads of people shat in their pants, believe me,” added Pierce, “even if you didn’t have diarrhoea.”

The stench was appalling. “The stench of death was all over,” said Pierce. “It stank no matter where you were. Horrible, horrible.” Bodies would be left where they had fallen. There were also millions of flies and maggots, feeding on ever-mounting numbers of corpses strewn across the battlefield. Eating became a hazardous and difficult operation. “When you ate, you opened a can and the flies would be all over it in seconds,” said Bill. “You had to try and cover the can up.”

Unsurprisingly, in such conditions many soldiers went around the bend. Over 26,000 casualties were caused by battle fatigue, illness and non-battlefield injuries. “I’ve seen guys sitting there sobbing,” Pierce told me. “Others refused to go up the line.” He never suffered combat fatigue himself, but unknown levels of exhaustion which he likened to a hundred nights of no sleep. “You’re sleeping in a hole every night and anything you do could get you killed, including absolutely nothing. That’s what it felt like.”

Incredibly, Bill’s gun survived the entire battle. The protective apron was badly dented from shrapnel marks, but it never received a direct hit. Their technique was to fire a number of rounds then as soon as the Japanese began to get their range with their mortars, Bill and his crew would clear out for half an hour or so. But like the vast majority of those on Okinawa, Bill did not survive the battle unscathed. Sugar Loaf and the nearby Shuri Castle had finally been captured and the Americans were pressing south into the largest of the island’s towns, the port of Naha. A reconnaissance team were going to the waterfront to reconnoitre the island in the middle of the harbour and wanted two 37mm guns to accompany them in case they ran into any Japanese.  The city had been largely destroyed. It was, Bill remembered, “a shambles.” The island in the harbour, they soon discovered, was still full of Japanese, so the marines took cover in a disused building while they directed shell-fire onto the island.


Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector who served as a medic in the 77th, earned the Medal of Honour for rescuing wounded men from the battlefield. (Bettmann/Getty Images)
 

“They shelled the shit out of that island,” Bill told me, but he and the two-reconnaissance party were still camped out in the building the following morning when they saw Japanese troops trying to get off the island across a badly damaged bridge. Bill had a BAR light machine gun with him and firing from a window, let off a number of rounds. “The adrenalin was pumping, but I should never have done it,” he admitted. “I’d been in enough action to know better.” Suddenly, the BAR jammed, and just as he turned to try and clear the breech, he felt something smack his neck as though he had been belted with a baseball bat. “I just dropped to the floor,” he said.  “There was a lot of blood and a couple of the guys were sitting there and I’ll never forget the look on their faces – they looked kind of wild and horrified.” Bullets were pinging all across the building and Pierce saw a corpsman trying to reach him. “No, stay there,” Pierce told him, as he tried to pull a bandage from his own first aid kit. “I’m all right.”

Three other men were wounded, but all four were still able to walk and managed to get out the back of the building. After being bandaged at the aid station, Pierce was put in a truck and taken to the hospital. He had been lucky - the bullet that hit him had missed his spinal cord by an inch, and incredibly, after a couple of days, he simply walked out and went back to his gun crew.

On 22 June, the American flag was finally raised on the southern-most tip and ten days later, it was announced that the entire island was secure. Of the 100,000 Japanese troops on the island, only 7,000 ever surrendered. Pierce could scarcely believe he'd survived, although it was not until February 1946 that he eventually got back home, battered by his experiences in that terrible battle, but not beaten.     

 

Much of the destruction, mass weapons and bloodshed of Okinawa are captured in the film Hacksaw RidgeDirected by Mel Gibson, the film tells the true story of army medic and conscientious objector Desmond Doss (played by Andrew Garfield), who, during one of the bloodiest battles of World War II, saved 75 men without firing a gun. Hacksaw Ridge is out on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Download from 22 May.

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