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Congress votes to ban Confederate flags from national cemeteries

Congress passed a proposal to limit the presence of Confederate flags in national cemeteries Thursday.

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The 265-159 vote effectively bans the display of the battle flags at cemeteries that the Department of Veterans Affairs oversees.

The amendment makes it illegal to display the bars and stars, even if the soldier being honored fought for the Confederate States Army.

Rep. Jared Huffman, from California, introduced the proposal as an amendment to a VA spending bill. 

"Over 150 years ago, slavery was abolished. Why in the year 2016 are we still condoning displays of this hateful symbol on our sacred national cemeteries?" Huffman said.

Almost every Democrat and 84 members of the GOP supported the new restriction, while 158 Republicans voted against the amendment.

No one spoke to oppose the restriction during floor debate.

But The Hill reported a top staffer for Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, from Georgia, was disciplined after sending out a mass email comparing efforts to ban the flag to the Islamic State group's "cultural cleansing."

The vote comes nearly one year after the church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, renewed the national debate about displaying the flag.

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WATCH: Marine surprises teacher mom for emotional reunion in front of third-grade class

A third-grade class got a huge surprise last week that moved some students and their teacher to tears.

Paula Riggs, who was teaching her class at Schrader Elementary School in New Port Richey, Florida, had no idea that her son, Marine Sgt. Paul Riggs, was home from overseas. He had spent the past two years in Okinawa, Japan.

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When he suddenly showed up at her door, she immediately gasped and burst into tears.

In a video of the heartwarming moment, you can hear her students start to chatter amongst themselves, explaining to each other what was going on.

Toward the end of the video, students run across the room to comfort their classmate, Jordan, who started crying at the surprise reunion.

Meanwhile, Paula Riggs hugs her son, telling him, “I love you!”

>> Click here to watch the video

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Marine Surprises His Mom

Sergeant Paul Riggs returned home today and surprised his mother, Paula Riggs, a Schrader Elementary 3rd grade teacher at school.

Posted by Pasco County Schools on Thursday, May 19, 2016

Armed Forces Day: 14 facts you may not know about the U.S. military

On August 31, 1949, the Secretary of Defense, Louis Johnson, had an announcement to make.

Following World War II, the U.S. military hierarchy was being reorganized and redundancies, at least some of them, were being eliminated. The departments of War and of the Navy had been combined in 1947 and called the National Military Establishment. In 1949, the name was changed to the Department of Defense. 

To build morale and to put a new focus on the combined forces, Johnson would announce the creation of a single-day celebration to honor all the members of the military no matter the branch. It was known as Armed Forces Day.

On Saturday we'll celebrate Armed Forces Day, 66 years and one day after the first one was celebrated in 1950.  In honor of and to celebrate U.S. service members today, here are a few things you may not know about the American military.

1. Thirty American presidents served in the U.S. Army, 24 during time of war. Of  the 30, two became 5-star generals – George  Washington and Dwight  Eisenhower. Teddy Roosevelt was awarded the Medal of Honor. -- military.com

2.  1,760 PlayStation 3s were used  to build a supercomputer for the Department of Defense. -- escapistmagazine.com

3. There are 1.8 million people on active duty, according to the Department of Defense. -- DOD

4. The Department of Defense owns 29,819,492 acres of land worldwide. -- DOD

5. The United States has 737 military installations overseas. -- DOD

6. According to Military.com, the Navy’s bell-bottom trousers are believed to have been introduced in 1817 to permit men to roll them above the knee when washing down the decks. In addition, the trousers can be used as a life preserver if  you knot the legs.

7.  The Marine Corps motto is "Semper Fidelis,” Latin for “Always Faithful.”

8. The last time the United States "declared war" was in 1942. -- Wikipedia

9. The U.S. Department of Defense is the world's largest employer. -- DOD

10. The Department of Defense uses 4,600,000,000 US gallons of fuel annually -- DOD

11. Stores on U.S. military bases outside of America will not accept pennies as currency. It’s too expensive to ship them there and back. -- Los  Angeles Times

12. The U.S. military uses a nearly silent type of Velcro which reduces the ripping noise by over 95 percent. -- Reddit

13. A service member in a designated combat zone or hazardous duty area, generally does not have to pay federal income tax on the military pay and reimbursements during his or her service there.   -- Internal Revenue

14. In 1949, a U.S. Army Private First Class – known to the payroll department as an “E-3”  -- took home a monthly check of $99.55 in “basic pay.” That $99.55 came after he had been in the service for 2 years and had  no dependents.

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Soldier reunites with dog who kept him company in Iraq

Former Army Specialist Ken Wrysch was with a Kurdish military outfit in Iraq until last month.

While on patrol, Wrysch met Ollie, a dog he met as a puppy and eventually adopted, becoming a comforter to the camp.

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“He was there when we left on our missions, he was there when we got back," Wrysch told KPIX Thursday.

KPIX reported that Wrysch was worried when he learned his camp was shutting down and the unit was being disbanded. He was concerned that Ollie would suffer if he was left in Iraq.

"I don’t know, some Iraqi would use it for target practice or something," he said. "That's just my guess."

Wrysch was able to contact SPCA International and coordinate a reunion with Ollie, sending the dog across the world from Iraq to San Francisco.

"And this right here was thousands and thousands of dollars of donations that went into this dog," Wyrsch said. "He’s a good boy. He’s worth it."

KPIX reported that Wyrsch was able to meet Ollie at San Francisco International Airport where the two reunited.

7 things to know now: EgyptAir crash; Trump over Clinton in poll; mom convicted in 25-year-old case

 Here's a roundup of news trending across the nation and world today.

What to know now:

1. EgyptAir crash: An EgyptAir flight en route from Paris to Cairo crashed Thursday into the Mediterranean Sea with 66 passengers and crew members on board. Egyptian aviation officials are saying it’s too early to determine whether the plane was shot  down in an act of terrorism or if a technical issue was the cause of the crash. “We cannot rule anything out,” said Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif. The plane,  an Airbus A320, fell off the  radar at 2:45 a.m. Cairo time (8:45 p.m. EDT) when it was flying at 37,000 feet 175 miles north of the Egyptian coast, the airline said. Airbus confirmed in a statement the “loss of an EgyptAir A320.”  One report says the captain of a merchant ship reported seeing a “flame in the sky” at about the time the plane disappeared from radar.

2. Donald trumps Hillary: A new national poll released by Fox News Wednesday shows Donald Trump defeating Hillary Clinton 45 percent to 42 percent in a general election. However, Trump’s lead is within the poll’s margin of error. Trump’s strength comes in male voters where he beats Clinton 55-33 percent, and independents where he leads by 16 percent. Clinton leads Trump 90 percent to 7 percent among blacks.

3. Chinese fighters: A pair of Chinese fighter jets intercepted a U.S. spy plane over the South China Sea, the Pentagon said Wednesday. The jets made “unsafe” contact, Department of Defense spokesman Major Jamie Davis said in a statement. "The Department of Defense is reviewing a May 17 intercept of a US maritime patrol reconnaissance aircraft by two tactical aircraft from the People's Republic of China," Davis said. Tensions between the two countries have been high as China continues to construct military installations on islands in the South China Sea.

4. Mom convicted: Twenty-five years after a 5-year-old went missing, allegedly from a carnival, the boy's mother has been convicted of his murder. Michelle Lodzinski, 48, was found guilty of the murder of her son, Timothy Wiltsey. According to Lodzinski, Timothy disappeared as she went to buy a drink at a carnival she had taken him to. Timothy’s body was found a year later in a marsh.

5. Still counting: The results from Kentucky’s Democratic primary should be finalized by Thursday, according to officials there. According to the Kentucky secretary of state,  Hillary Clinton beat Bernie Sanders by a little more  than 1,900  votes. The total number of votes cast in the state was 454,573.

And one more

Closing arguments in the trial of one  of the Baltimore police officers accused of causing the death of Freddie Gray are set for Thursday. Edward  Nero is  the second  officer  to stand trial  in  Gray’s death. Officer William Porter’s trail  ended in a hung jury.

In case you missed it

These guys are crazy good.

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Navy reprimands man in charge of U.S. sailors detained in Iran

The commander in charge of 10 U.S. sailors who were detained in Iran earlier this year has been publicly disciplined.

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Cmdr. Eric Rasch was relieved of his duties after U.S. Navy officials say he "failed to provide effective leadership."

This announcement comes months after two riverine boats drifted into Iranian water due to a navigational error. The sailors were detained for about 15 hours before being released. 

Rasch was the executive officer of that squadron and was expected to prepare those sailors, as well as hundreds of others, in training and readiness.

A video allegedly showing one of the U.S. sailors apologizing quickly became Iranian propaganda and was seen around the world.

This marks the first punishing action the Navy has taken since the incident. According to CNN, several other sailors could still be reprimanded. An internal Navy investigation into the incident is ongoing.

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'Top Gun' turns 30: Why fighter pilots might soon exist only in movies

It is hard to believe that it has been 30 years since “Top Gun” hit theaters and young men with dreams of the fighter pilot life  signed up for the military in droves.

As fans remember the movie starring Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis and Val Kilmer, it’s news of a sequel that has hearts racing.

Recently, fans of the ‘80s hit got the confirmation that Cruise and Kilmer have both agreed to be a part of “Top Gun 2.”  According to The Vine, the movie was to feature Cruise in a minor part with his character “Maverick” making an appearance in the film, but plans changed when Cruise said he wanted a bigger role.

The plot  for the sequel is said to mirror the real-life shift in air combat which the last 30 years of technology has produced.  According to reports, the film will see Cruise’s character “Maverick” not focusing on flying airplanes that cost millions of dollars, but, instead, hunting down people who use drones to attack.

"It is very much a world we live in today where it's drone technology, and fifth-generation fighters are really what the United States Navy is calling the last man-made fighter that we're actually going to produce, so it's really [about] exploring the 'end of an era' of dogfighting and fighter pilots and what that culture is today," Skydance Productions CEO David Ellison said last year when talking about the film.  

The idea for a sequel that  focused on drones is one that has been in the works. Producer Tony Scott was interviewed in 2011 about a possible sequel to the movie that grossed $356 million worldwide. He told Hitfix that it would focus on the U.S.  military’s evolving technology.

"It's a whole different world now," Scott said. "These computer geeks – these kids play war games in a trailer in Fallon, Nevada and if we ever went to war or were in the Middle East or the Far East or wherever it is, these guys can actually fly drones."

While Scott had planned for a sequel and had worked on the concept for the movie, he will not be a part of the next “Top Gun.” Scott died in 2012.

Scott’s opinion of the future of warfare was more on  the mark then he may have known. In August of last  year, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced that the new F-35 Lightning II “should be, and almost certainly will be, the last manned strike fighter aircraft the Department of the Navy will ever buy or fly.”

>> Read more trending stories  

At last year’s Sea-Air-Space 2015 conference, Mabus talked about the future of warfare and about a new  deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for wnmanned Systems who would help take the Navy into the next generation of drone weapons.

“With  unmanned technology, removing a human from these machines can open up room to experiment with more risk, improve systems faster and get them to the fleet quicker,”  Mabus said at Sea-Air-Space. “While unmanned technology itself is not new, the potential impact these systems will have on the way we operate is almost incalculable... .”

Screenwriter Justin Marks is writing the screenplay that revolves around drone technology and fifth-generation fighters. “It's really exploring the end of an era of dogfighting and fighter pilots and what that culture is today,” he  said.

In April, Marks told Creative Screenwriting that, "Just researching the Joint Strike Fighters, the F-35, the different notions of where the Navy is today was a very interesting insight and it started to give me ideas of what Top Gun would represent in a current era."

Sterling Anderson, deputy chief of Air Combat Command’s air superiority team, told National Defense that the Air Force is studying the viability of a “sixth-generation” fighter that would likely be needed by 2030. Anderson’s  team is researching much of the requirements for the  next fighter and will be reviewing the information beginning early next year.

“They’re taking a comprehensive look … at air, space and cyber and how we want to do air superiority out there in the far term in the 2030s,” Anderson told National Defense.  “How we do this sixth-gen thing, or if we do it, all depends on the outcome of that study and the chief’s direction.”

Drone warfare

Here are some facts on drone warfare around the world.

  • According to the New America Foundation,  seven countries have used armed drones in combat -- the US, Israel, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Nigeria and the United Kingdom.
  • 19 countries have armed drones or are acquiring armed drone technology
  • Eight-six other  states are known to have some sort of drone capability  
  • There were nearly 700 active drone development programs run by governments, companies and research institutes around the world. In 2010, there were 195.
  • In 2012, the Pentagon asked Congress for nearly $5 billion for new drone systems
  • The United States only exports armed drones to the United Kingdom 
  • Some drones are light enough to be launched by hand, some are the size of planes
  • They are known  as UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) or RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aerial Systems) to the military

Nation's oldest WWII veteran turns 110

Richard Overton, the nation’s oldest World War II veteran, turns 110 Wednesday.

He plans to mark the occasion with a neighborhood party near his home in Austin, Texas -- where he will likely celebrate his birth surrounded by loved ones and smoke from his favorite cigars.

Overton earned the title of America’s oldest World War II veteran after the death of 110-year-old Frank Levingston, of Louisiana, on May 3.

Levingston, who for two weeks this year was also America’s oldest man, had enlisted in the Army in October 1942 and participated in the Allied invasion of Italy against the Nazis in 1943.

Overton, who joined the U.S. Army in September 1942 and fought the Japanese in the South Pacific, left the Army as a sergeant in October 1945, a month after the war with Japan ended.

Overton has photos with presidents and governors lining the walls of his dining room, the American-Statesman reported in a profile on Overton last year. A table in his house was said to be littered with correspondence and photos from people all over who want to share their experiences, get an autograph or learn the secret to his longevity.

"God give it to me," he said. "They tried to kill me in the Army, but God wouldn’t let 'em. I stayed for nearly five years and I didn’t get a scratch on me."

He offered one bit of advice about his longevity:

"Sometimes I’ll get up and put a little whiskey in my coffee," he said. "And at night when I go to bed, I put two tablespoons in my 7 Up. It makes you sleep soundly."

Wounded veterans ask Congress to pay for fertility treatments

A group of wounded veterans and their spouses visited Capitol Hill on Tuesday with dreams of having a family, something they can't do naturally due to combat injuries.

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Veterans benefits do not include payments for in vitro fertilization. Congress barred the Department of Veterans Affairs from paying for IVF back in 1992.

"I felt betrayed and maybe forgotten," said Army veteran Matt Keil.  

Keil was shot in the spine during a tour of duty in Iraq and left paralyzed from the neck down. He and his wife Tracy paid $32,000 out of pocket to conceive their 5-and-a-half-year old twins through in vitro fertilization.

"I feel like I'm begging my country to provide a service to me that I lost (while) fighting for this country," Keil said. 

The Keils and other military couples want to urge Congress to make changes so that other veterans who can't conceive naturally due to combat injuries don't have to self-fund their families. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, is championing a plan that would allow the VA to cover IVF procedures.

"This is the cost of war," Murray said."We treat every other injury. It is part of the promise that we make men and women who serve this country."

The Defense Department covers in vitro fertilization for active duty service members. Many troops have to medically retire because their injuries are so severe.

Kevin Jaye stepped on a roadside bomb. After two rounds of IVF, he and his wife, Lauren Jaye, are expecting a baby girl in August.

"In the end we will have a baby in our arms," Lauren said. "It means everything. It means normal life."  

Lauren's health benefits from being a teacher helped cover the cost. 

U.S. Army shrinks to its lowest numbers since before World War II

The U.S. Army now has the lowest number of active-duty members since 1940. 

The Army Times reported  that March's total was 479,172 soldiers, the lowest number since before World War II, when there were nearly 270,000 troops.

Roughly 2,600 soldiers left active-duty status in March, and there are more cuts to come.

The shrinking numbers are part of the Army's plan, announced last July, to reduce the number of soldiers by 40,000 and civilian jobs by 17,000 by 2018

"We've been decreasing the size of the Army starting in about 2011,"  Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling told CNN. "But now it's gathering attention because it's affecting employment and the civilians' communities around these bases."

The reductions come after U.S. conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have died down.

The U.S. has also been reluctant to put boots on the ground for other conflicts in Syria and in the fight against ISIS. 

At roughly 1.3 million active personnel, the U.S. military remains one of the largest in the world behind China's nearly 2.3 million members.

U.S. military spending outdoes China's by nearly 3 to 1

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This video includes clips from the U.S. Army and U.S. Department of Defense

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