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U.S. troops are still deploying to Iraq, even as Afghan War ends

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U.S. troops are still deploying to Iraq, even as Afghan War ends

FORT CARSON, Colo. — A taut line of soldiers crossed the sprawling Army post’s parade ground in the afternoon, hoisting flags draped with a rainbow of streamers from past deployments: Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam, Korea, Germany, France, Civil War battles and even skirmishes with Plains tribes on horseback.

“Present colors!” a sergeant yelled. The soldiers turned and dipped the flags toward their commanding colonel, who stepped forward and carefully wrapped each one in camouflage sleeves.

At that very moment — 1:29 p.m. Mountain time on Aug. 30 — the last U.S. military plane took off from the Kabul airport in Afghanistan.

American flags across the country had been lowered to half-staff to honor the 13 U.S. troops killed there by a suicide bomber. And at the front gate of Fort Carson, women set out 13 pairs of boots and 13 cold Bud Lights as a memorial.

But the ceremony on the parade ground was not marking the end of America’s war in Afghanistan. The 4th Infantry Division’s 1st Stryker Brigade was wrapping its flags to mark the beginning of its latest deployment. It was going back to Iraq.

Although the mission may have dropped from public attention, the United States still has boots on the ground in the other nation it invaded in the wake of 9/11. About 2,500 U.S. troops are in Iraq now, the embers of what was once a scorching and divisive war, now carefully scattered to protect a few strategic bases. For the next nine months, roughly 2,000 soldiers from 1st Brigade will take over much of that duty.

The deployment is the latest in a long line for the unit, whose ranks are now made up largely of soldiers who were toddlers when the United States invaded. In their view, war in foreign lands is not a finite, momentous event but rather a continuing reality — a task that probably will always be there, in need of volunteers.

The brigade’s first deployment to Iraq in 2003 culminated in the capture of the country’s fugitive dictator, Saddam Hussein, whom soldiers pulled from a spider hole in a small village. The troops came home that time to a raucous welcome, with 70,000 people in attendance and tributes by Lynyrd Skynyrd and Jessica Simpson.

But initial victory in Iraq did not lead to peace. The brigade returned to Iraq 2006 and again in 2008. Scores of brigade soldiers were killed as the country crumbled. The fervor of the initial invasion faded even as the brigade kept deploying, including tours in Afghanistan and Kuwait.

As 1st Brigade’s platoons boarded military jets once again in 2021, there were no banners along the roadside, no bands playing. Only a few dozen family members and an excited orbit of children and dogs showed up for a subdued send-off.

But as the young troops crowded onto the planes, setting off from a nation wearied of war, many of their faces flickered with excitement. They walked across the flight line feeling proud that it was their time to stand watch. The fate of a nation, which the pullout from Afghanistan showed can hinge on just a few thousand troops, would now rest in part on them.

Here is a closer look at six of the soldiers deploying.

Col. Andrew Steadman

Brigade commander, 43Atlanta

Steadman was a lieutenant fresh out of college when the World Trade Center was attacked in 2001, and he soon found himself leading a platoon of paratroopers in Afghanistan. He has seen little rest since.

He commanded a company in Iraq during the 2007 troop surge to quell growing unrest. Then he led a battalion back home. He did a stint in dress uniform at the White House, keeping always a few steps behind President Barack Obama, carrying a briefcase full of launch codes known as the nuclear football. Now he commands a brigade combat team.

Two decades of war have defined his life. So he was surprised a few weeks ago when his 10-year-old daughter asked him, “What is Afghanistan? Why are they fighting there?”

“It made me stop,” he said. “I realized there are so many young people still learning about the world.

“A lot of my soldiers are that way, too. They are young enough that they don’t know why we are there, why we went. Part of my job is to teach them.”

Lt. Col. Joseph Mason

Chaplain, 42Salem, Oregon

The brigade chaplain did not start out as a chaplain. He began as a grunt private who enlisted in 2002, when he and his wife had a baby on the way and Congress was voting to approve the use of force in Iraq. He deployed to Iraq while his first child was still in the hospital. Now he has four.

The intensity of his first deployment in 2003, he said, forced him to seek direction and community in his Christian faith. After seeing how faith had helped him and other soldiers at war, he knew he wanted to become a chaplain.

He has seen the Army change over the years, from a force focused on quick victory to one girded for long, grinding fights. During that time, a garden of social services has sprung up around the war fighters to give them a better chance at happy family lives, stable finances and healthy lifestyles that can sustain them.

“One thing is for sure: After all this time, the Army has learned how to go to war,” Mason said. “It’s learned how to support soldiers, how to build strength not just physically, but through spiritual practices and supportive relationships. We know that soldiers can’t deploy if they don’t have the support of loved ones at home.”

1st Lt. Olivia Albright

Intelligence platoon leader, 24

Okoboji, Iowa

Quiet, confident, with a blond ponytail trailing out from her patrol cap, Albright lifted her rucksack and told the 20 soldiers in her intelligence platoon to line up to deploy.

She graduated from Iowa State University summa cum laude in 2018 with a degree in animal science, but instead of becoming a veterinarian, she decided that she needed, like her father and her brother, to join the Army and try to give back to her nation.

In her rucksack was a book of meditations on how Christians can find delight in their duties and joy in purpose. “That’s how I was raised, and you feel an obligation to others,” she said. “I feel called to serve.”

The platoon she leads is mostly men. Only about 15% of the Army is female — a proportion that has barely budged since 2001, even though all combat jobs are now open to women. But the story is different among young officers: About one-third of all first lieutenants now are women, suggesting that the Army leadership in the future could look a lot more like Albright.

Being a woman in uniform “is not a big deal,” she said. “I’ve gotten nothing but support, people pushing me to succeed.”

Sgt. Richard Blomer

Infantry, 28San Diego

His great-grandfather was in the Army. So was his grandfather. So was his father, who came home from Operation Desert Storm shortly before he was born. So Blomer never had many questions about what he would do for a living.

As 1st Brigade soldiers prepared to fly to Iraq, some stuffed their rucksacks with good-luck charms, extra pillows and blankets or books for college courses they are taking while deployed.

Not Blomer. He is not seeking comfort, distraction or an exit plan. He said he plans to make a career of the Army. He enlisted nine years ago and has already deployed once, to Egypt for the peacekeeping mission in Sinai.

The night before deploying to Iraq, he went out with Army buddies to celebrate with a big steak. He welcomed the idea of serving where there was a chance for action and a little danger.

“This is why I signed up,” he said. “I love the Army. It’s fun.”

1st Lt. Caroline Tran

Medical logistics, 31Dallas

Before she was an officer in a medical logistics team, Tran was an enlisted military police officer, then a drill sergeant. She has seen the Army from all sides and has already served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

She is the daughter of Vietnamese refugees who fled the fall of Saigon in 1975. Her father fought on the side of the Americans. Her mother escaped by boat. They never really talked about that war at home, and she never really asked. Her parents were not very happy when she enlisted.

Why is her brigade being sent to Iraq now, 10 years after U.S. combat operations there formally ended? That is just how it goes, she said, pointing out that U.S. soldiers are still deploying to South Korea and Germany, where the fighting stopped generations ago. Regardless of the place or mission, her work remains the same.

“It’s just part of our job,” she said. “We go where the nation needs us.”

Pfc. Carlos Pabon

Cavalry scout, 22Huntsville, Alabama

Pabon walked into a recruiting station Sept. 11, 2020, to sign his enlistment papers, oblivious to the significance of the date. He finished training only a few weeks before he learned that he would be deploying to Iraq.

Pabon wears the patch of the 4th Infantry Division on his left sleeve. Like the majority of the brigade, his right sleeve is bare. That spot is reserved for a combat patch for troops who have deployed to a conflict zone. He will get his when he returns to Fort Carson.

“We are excited,” he said as he waited to board an airplane at a military air terminal near Fort Carson. “A lot of the guys who didn’t get a chance to deploy wish they had.”

Asked if he was troubled about deploying to a country where many Americans felt that U.S. troops should never have been sent in the first place, he shook his head. He pointed to a postersize photo hanging on the wall of the terminal, showing a soldier kneeling down to shake the hand of smiling Iraqi boy.

“You see in that photo?” he said. “The boy has a book bag. That’s why I don’t mind going. I want to make sure those kids keep having those opportunities.”This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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Alec Baldwin was told gun was ‘cold’ before movie set shooting

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Alec Baldwin was told gun was ‘cold’ before movie set shooting

SANTA FE, N.M. — As a film crew and actors in Western garb prepared to rehearse a scene inside a wooden, chapel-like building on a desert movie ranch outside Santa Fe, assistant director Dave Halls stepped outside and grabbed a prop gun off a cart.

He walked back in and handed it to the film’s star, Alec Baldwin, assuring him it was safe to use because it didn’t have live ammo.

“Cold gun,” Halls yelled.

It wasn’t, according to court records made public Friday. Instead, when Baldwin pulled the trigger Thursday, he killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounded director Joel Souza, who was standing behind her.

The tragedy came nearly three decades after Brandon Lee, the son of martial arts legend Bruce Lee, died in a similar case, and it prompted horrified questions about how it could have happened again. The executive producer of ABC’s police drama “The Rookie” announced Friday the show would no longer use “live” weapons because the “safety of our cast and crew is too important.”

Details of the shooting at the ranch on Bonanza Creek Road were included in a search warrant application filed by the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office. Investigators were seeking to examine Baldwin’s blood-stained costume for the film “Rust,” as well as the weapon that was fired, other prop guns and ammunition, and any footage that might exist.

The gun was one of three that the film’s armorer, Hannah Gutierrez, had set on a cart outside the building where a scene was being acted, according to the records. Halls grabbed the gun from the cart and brought it inside to Baldwin, unaware that it was loaded with live rounds, a detective wrote in the search warrant application.

It was unclear how many rounds were fired. Gutierrez removed a shell casing from the gun after the shooting, and she turned the weapon over to police when they arrived, the court records say.

Halls did not immediately return phone and email messages seeking comment. The Associated Press was unable to contact Gutierrez, and several messages sent to production companies affiliated with the film were not immediately returned Friday.

The film’s script supervisor, Mamie Mitchell, said she was standing next to Hutchins when she was shot.

“I ran out and called 911 and said ‘Bring everybody, send everybody,’ ” Mitchell told The Associated Press. “This woman is gone at the beginning of her career. She was an extraordinary, rare, very rare woman.”

Mitchell said she and other crew members were attending a private memorial service Friday night in Santa Fe.

Baldwin described the killing as a “tragic accident.”

“There are no words to convey my shock and sadness regarding the tragic accident that took the life of Halyna Hutchins, a wife, mother and deeply admired colleague of ours. I’m fully cooperating with the police investigation,” Baldwin wrote on Twitter. “My heart is broken for her husband, their son, and all who knew and loved Halyna.”

No immediate charges were filed, and sheriff’s spokesman Juan Rios said Baldwin was permitted to travel.

“He’s a free man,” Rios said.

Images of the 63-year-old actor — known for his roles in “30 Rock” and “The Hunt for Red October” and his impression of former President Donald Trump on “Saturday Night Live” — showed him distraught outside the sheriff’s office on Thursday.

A distraught Alec Baldwin lingers in the parking lot outside the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office in Santa Fe, N.M., after he was questioned about a shooting on the set of the film “Rust” on the outskirts of Santa Fe, Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021. Baldwin fired a prop gun on the set, killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounding director Joel Souza, officials said. (Jim Weber/Santa Fe New Mexican via AP)

Guns used in making movies are sometimes real weapons that can fire either bullets or blanks, which are gunpowder charges that produce a flash and a bang but no deadly projectile. Even blanks can eject hot gases and paper or plastic wadding from the barrel that can be lethal at close range. That proved to be the case in the death of an actor in 1984.

In another on-set accident in 1993, Lee was killed after a bullet was left in a prop gun, and similar shootings have occurred involving stage weapons that were loaded with live rounds during historical re-enactments.

Gun-safety protocol on sets in the United States has improved since then, said Steven Hall, a veteran director of photography in Britain. But he said one of the riskiest positions to be in is behind the camera because that person is in the line of fire in scenes where an actor appears to point a gun at the audience.

Sheriff’s deputies responded about 2 p.m. to the movie set at the Bonanza Creek Ranch after 911 calls described a person being shot there, Rios said. The ranch has been used in dozens of films, including the recent Tom Hanks Western “News of the World.”

Hutchins, 42, worked as director of photography on the 2020 action film “Archenemy” starring Joe Manganiello. She was a 2015 graduate of the American Film Institute and was named a “rising star” by American Cinematographer in 2019.

“I’m so sad about losing Halyna. And so infuriated that this could happen on a set,” said “Archenemy” director Adam Egypt Mortimer on Twitter. “She was a brilliant talent who was absolutely committed to art and to film.”

Manganiello called Hutchins “an incredible talent” and “a great person” on his Instagram account. He said he was lucky to have worked with her.

After the shooting, production was halted on “Rust.” The movie is about a 13-year-old boy who is left to fend for himself and his younger brother following the death of their parents in 1880s Kansas, according to the Internet Movie Database website. The teen goes on the run with his long-estranged grandfather (played by Baldwin) after the boy is sentenced to hang for the accidental killing of a local rancher.

___

Associated Press writers Jake Coyle and Jocelyn Noveck in New York; Lizzie Knight in London; Yuras Karmanau in Kyiv, Ukraine; Ryan Pearson in Los Angeles; Walter Berry in Phoenix; and Gene Johnson in Seattle contributed to this report.

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Ammunition shortage drags on for second hunting season

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Ammunition shortage drags on for second hunting season

DULUTH — The American hunting ammunition shortage that started during the early months of pandemic in 2020 is showing no signs of letting up, and hunters who don’t have ammo for their favorite deer rifle by now may be out of luck for the upcoming season.

An informal Duluth News Tribune survey of both brick-and-mortar and online sporting goods stores found almost no popular loads in 12-gauge shotgun shells or .30-caliber rifle cartridges, either for birds or big game.

A recent online check of Cabelas found only 1 of 10 calibers of Winchester Super-X deer rifle ammunition in stock (.350 Legend) and no calibers available in Federal Power Shok; “out of stock’’ was listed next to every load.

L&M Fleet Supply in Cloquet had some .223 cartridges available, but no other rifle or shotgun loads on hand. Fleet Farm in Duluth had some turkey hunting loads, but little else.

Some stores report that it’s been nearly two years since they’ve seen any .30-30 ammo at all.

THE COVID IMPACT

Pat Kukull, owner of Superior Shooters Supply in Superior, said the ammunition shortage hit with COVID-19, as plants initially slowed or shut down due to the pandemic’s impact on their employees and as supplies from overseas stopped coming into the country. Then the political and social unrest of 2020 sent gun sales soaring, she said.

In 2020, there were a record 39.7 million federal background checks conducted for firearms sales, up 44 percent from the previous record of 27.5 million in 2016. Of the new guns sold in 2020, 8.4 million were to first-time gun buyers, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade group for the U.S. firearms industry. (Not every check is a sale, but not all sales require checks, either. Sales between private parties or at gun shows don’t require background checks.)

“We have 8 million new gun owners now that we didn’t have before the pandemic and they all need ammunition. There’s just been this huge increase in demand while the supply has been really slow to catch up because of the pandemic,” Kukull said.

Another problem was the bankruptcy and shutdown of Remington Arms, a major ammunition manufacturer, in mid-2020. Minnesota-based Vista Outdoor Inc. eventually purchased the Remington ammunition factories in September 2020, and now has them running again, but the delay helped widen the gap between ammo supply and demand.

CALLING AHEAD

This fall, instead of getting hundreds of cases of shotgun and rifle cartridges as hunting seasons approached, stores like Superior Shooters Supply have been getting a few here, a few there. Kukull says it’s best to call ahead to see if a specific caliber or gauge shell is available. But even if it is, don’t plan on stocking up. Most stores have signs posted limiting sales to two boxes.

“I’m the ammo Nazi right now. No one is getting more than one box, maybe two,” Kukull said.

Kukull said hunters should call in often to see if the caliber they need is available. Both wholesalers and manufacturers are shipping product to her store erratically.

In the Duluth area, Federal Cartridge ammunition, made in Anoka, has always been popular. Owned by Vista, Federal has been unable to keep up with demand, in part because the great pandemic supply problem kept them from getting all the components they need — much like the U.S. auto industry can’t get enough computer chips to build new cars.

“We continue to produce and ship hunting ammunition for deer, waterfowl and upland game birds every day,’’ Jason Nash, Federal’s vice president of marketing, told the News Tribune. “Like many other companies during the pandemic we face some supply chain hurdles but have increased our production overall and are committed to providing ammo to our customers for the hunting season.”

DISPELLING RUMORS

Jason Vanderbrink — president of the Federal, CCI, Speer and Remington divisions of Vista — even went as far as posting a video on YouTube to defend his company, trying to squash rumors that Vista is stockpiling ammunition in “secret warehouses,” or has shut down plants to drive prices up. He said all of the company’s ammunition factories are running at full capacity.

“I am tired of all the hate mail … about us not trying to service the demand that we are experiencing,” Vanderbrink said in the video. “We’re making more hunting ammo, more than we ever have.”

In addition to being hard to get, prices for what shells are available have gone up 25-40 percent on average, industry experts say, when just two seasons ago manufacturers were offering sale prices and rebates to move their products.

Even people who reload their own shells can’t get components. Gunpowder, primer, brass and copper all are in short supply.

“We used to be able to order 1,000 pounds of powder. Now we’re lucky to get an order for 30 pounds,” Kukull said.

HOPE FOR NEXT YEAR

Kukull said industry insiders predicted in 2020 that it would take two years for the ammunition shortage to end.

“At first I thought that was crazy. But now I’m thinking that’s right. … Maybe by next hunting season,” she said.

Background checks for new gun purchases slowed some over summer, down 5 percent in July from 2020. But Kukull said her customers are still gobbling up guns as fast as she gets them in. The hardest part, she said, is keeping a box of shells around for each new gun sold.

“My gun sales haven’t dropped off at all,” she said. “People are still buying more guns, and new people are buying guns. And they all need ammunition.”

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You Paid For It: Mother of six with bug infestation now moving into new home

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You Paid For It: Mother of six with bug infestation now moving into new home

ST. LOUIS – Fox 2’s You Paid For It Team is getting results for a mother of six who has been living in an apartment on Missouri Avenue in South St Louis with a horrific bug infestation. She’s now going to move to a new home.

It’s a situation that agencies, including the St. Louis Housing Authority, have known about for months.

The Housing Authority pays $1,200 a month of tax dollars for the family to live in an apartment where there’s a colony of dozens of bugs clustered in the ceiling, and many of them scamper across the floor.

Latoya Dixon called You Paid For It after she said she got nowhere getting action from officials including the Housing Authority.

Fox 2’s Elliott Davis got on the case and showed the horrible conditions in which she lived in a report that aired on Monday.

The head of the St. Louis Housing Authority Alana Green said her agency gave Dixon a voucher to move elsewhere. Trouble was that Dixon could not find a place that would take her and her kids.

Elliott Davis called HUD for help on this deal. He got an email from the Biden Administration’s HUD Spokeswoman in Washington D.C.

”HUD’s number one priority is the safety and health of those who live in HUD-assisted housing. Our Department is concerned any time we learn of reports of unsafe conditions. We are in the process of investigating these reports,” the statement reads.

Dixon said she just got the call that the apartment she’s moving to has had the final inspection and that she may be able to move as soon as tomorrow.

The irony is that this was the same apartment she was told she couldn’t have something that changed after the You Paid For It Team got involved and turned up the heat on the Housing Authority.

Below is a statement from St. Louis Housing Authority Executive Director Alana Green:

“The St. Louis Housing Authority has been working with Ms. Dixon since she reported the issue with bugs in her apartment in late September. As you know, the unit in question is neither owned nor managed by the St. Louis Housing Authority. The SLHA made the landlord aware of the bug problem and it is their responsibility to resolve it.  Ms. Dixon was originally given a voucher by the SLHA in August that allowed her to move to a different unit of her choosing. We understand that Ms. Dixon has found a new unit and she is working with the landlord to finalize her move. We continue to work with her to help her expedite her move and resolve this problem.”

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