Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Destroyer Squadron 24 Departs for Joint Warrior 10-1

USS Laboon at Sea March 31, 2010 - Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 24, embarked aboard USS Laboon (DDG 58), departed Naval Station Norfolk March 28 to participate in the multinational exercise Joint Warrior 10-1 off the coast of Scotland.
Destroyers USS Laboon (DDG 58) and USS Barry (DDG 52), cruiser USS Vella Gulf (CG 72), frigate USS Kauffman (FFG 59), and Fleet Replenishment Oiler USNS Leroy Grumman (T-AO 195), based out of Norfolk, Va., along with USS Vicksburg (CG 69), based out of Mayport, Fla., will be working alongside navies from the United Kingdom and other NATO allied partners.
Joint Warrior is a United Kingdom-led, multi-warfare exercise designed to improve interoperability between allied navies and prepare participating crews to conduct combined operations during deployment.
The exercise, which is scheduled from April 10-23, promotes Commander, U.S. 2nd Fleet's three focus areas: conducting safe and effective fleet operations to achieve mission, providing ready maritime forces for global assignment, and teaming with allies and partners in execution of the maritime strategy.
Joint Warrior allows DESRON 24, commanded by Capt. Aaron C. Jacobs, commodore, and British ships to work together with maritime, land and air units from allied nations while providing each other with key services and logistical support.
"We're going to be operating in a multi-warfare, multi-platform coalition environment with a variety of other nations," said Jacobs. "This is a unique opportunity for our Sailors to experience a sophisticated training environment while our Navy strengthens relationships and executes the maritime strategy with our allies."
The participating ships have been divided into units that represent fictional regions that are having territory disputes. Scenarios the ships will participate in include small boat attacks, boarding operations, air defense, anti-submarine warfare and ship maneuverability tasks.
Joint Warrior serves as a certifying event for ships that will deploy with coalition forces in the future. Nations participating in the exercise are Belgium, Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, United Kingdom and the United States.

Last flight of the Nimrod MR2

London March 31, 2010 - Following over 30 years of service, the last flight of the Nimrod MR2 fleet has taken place today, Thursday 31 March 2010.
The Nimrod MR2 marked its last operational flight with a flypast of airfields in the north of Scotland before the fleet is retired.
Over the last few days, MR2s have visited some of the air bases that have helped form its history, such as the former RAF St Mawgan (now Newquay International Airport) and in Guernsey, to mark 201's Squadron's affiliation with the Island.
An ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance) asset, the Nimrod MR2 Force has been tasked to perform a wide variety of roles in support of the UK's defence.
They have had the capability to conduct surveillance over land and sea, anti-submarine attack and search and rescue.
On Friday 26 March 2010, VIPs, RAF personnel, their families and a number of veterans attended an event at RAF Kinloss to mark the last days of the aircraft.
Attendees had the opportunity to look round a Nimrod aircraft and tour some exhibitions covering the operational role of the MR2 over its last 31 years.
A short parade of the Squadron Standards followed, and a valediction which was given by Air Officer Commanding 2 Group, Air Vic Marshal Steve Hillier.
The highlight of the event was the formation flypast of two Nimrods.
RAF Kinloss is part of No 2 Group, Air Command, RAF. The Station has been the permanent main operating base for the RAF Nimrod MR2 Force of 11 aircraft operated by crews from Nos 120 and 201 Squadrons.
The MR2 is due to be replaced by nine MRA4 aircraft, the first of which is expected in spring 2010.
RAF Kinloss Station Commander, Group Captain Robbie Noel, said:
"We are clearly sorry to see the Nimrod MR2 retire but today is an opportunity to reflect on the marvellous contribution to national security made by the Maritime Patrol Force.
"The Nimrod has been involved in every major conflict in the last 40 years as well as protecting the UK's shores and supporting those working at sea through its Search and Rescue role.
"Much of our work has necessarily been shrouded in secrecy, but it is with great pride, affection and confidence that we say farewell to this version of 'The Mighty Hunter'.
"It is essential, also, that we pay tribute to those who have lost their lives while serving on and with this Force; we remember them vividly, and they continue to inspire our efforts.
"Equally, it is important to recognise the endeavours of the great swathes of personnel who have supported the Force: the Servicemen and women, their families, Civil Servants, our partners in Industry, and, of course, our fabulous local community.
"Having amassed over 3,000 flying hours on this aircraft, I will certainly miss the MR2 but look forward, as we all do at Kinloss, to the arrival of MRA4 in the next few months.
"The new version of 'The Mighty Hunter' is a huge leap forward, and I am particularly excited to be introducing it to Kinloss in the very near future."
Yorkshire Air Museum near Elvington is the first museum to buy a Nimrod for its collection and will be taking delivery on 13 April 2010 and thereafter there are plans to put Nimrods in other museums.
From April, Aircrew selected to be MRA4 Instructors will move to number 42 (Reserve) Squadron, the training Squadron.
Those selected as future front line MRA4 aircrew will be posted to 201 Squadron and 120 Squadron where a training package is being developed to deliver a range of MRA4 training and development activities.
Around 50 aircrew who will not be transferring to the MRA4 will be posted to other units around the RAF.
Ground crew not already transferred to the MRA4 Maintenance Section have been canvassed on their preferences for new postings and where possible these aspirations will be met.

Search Efforts Continue for Missing Aviator

MANAMA, Bahrain - Search and rescue effort continue for a missing crewmember of an aircraft that crashed in the North Arabian Sea at approximately 2:00 p.m. (Zulu + 4) March 31.
After radioing USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) of the intent to conduct a

controlled bailout, an E-2C Hawkeye from the Carrier Airborne Early Warning

Squadron (VAW) 121 impacted the water approximately five miles from the ship.

The E-2C was returning from conducting operations in support of Operation

Enduring Freedom (OEF) when the aircraft experienced mechanical malfunctions.

Two of the four crew members were rescued by an H-60 Seahawk helicopter from the Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron 5 at 2:19 and 2:24, and an H-60
helicopter from Helicopter Combat Support Squadron 26 rescued the third crewmember at 2:32. All three are in good condition without significant injuries.

Search and rescue effort for the fourth crew member continue. In addition
to Eisenhower and her embarked aircraft, helicopters from guided missile

destroyer USS Carney (DDG 64) and replenishment ship, USNS Supply (T-AOE 6), along with other air assets that include KC-10 and KC-135 tankers, P-3,
U-2 and RC-135 aircraft are assisting in the search effort.

The identities of the crewmen involved are being withheld pending notification of next-of-kin.
The incident is under investigation.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Toronto-based television production company yap films discovers missing WWII US submarine

Toronto March 30, 2010 - Elliott Halpern and Pauline Duffy, principals of Anglo-Canadian television production company yap films, are proud to announce that the company has discovered a US Navy submarine, missing since 1944.
The sunken vessel has been identified as the World War II submarine USS Flier (SS 25) and was found by the Canadian film crew in the Balabac Straight area of the Philippines last Spring during filming of Submarine Graveyard, an episode of the upcoming television documentary adventure series DIVE DETECTIVES, which airs on History Television in Canada and around the world on National Geographic.
Submarine Graveyard, telling the story of the discovery of the USS Flier, will air on History Television in Canada on Wednesday, April 7 at 6:00 pm ET/PT (repeated at 11:00 pm ET/PT). It is directed by Michael Morrow.
“We’re obviously both excited and honoured to have found this missing sub,” says Halpern, “and we hope this discovery will provide some closure to the families of the 78 crewmen lost when Flier struck a mine in 1944.”
The discovery was confirmed by US Navy Commander, Submarine Forces Pacific Fleet (COMSUBPAC), Rear Adm. Douglas McAneny. “With video evidence and information from yap films and assistance from the US Naval History and Heritage Command, USS Flier has been located,” said McAneny.
USS Flier, a 1525-ton Gato class submarine built at Groton, Connecticut, was commissioned in mid-October 1943. In early August 1944 Flier left Fremantle, Australia, for her second war patrol. On 13 August, while transiting shallow water to enter the South China Sea, she struck a mine and quickly sank. Fourteen of 86 crewmen escaped, but only eight survived the subsequent long swim to reach shore. After making their way by raft to Palawan and being protected by local people and a group of guerrillas, at the end of the month they were evacuated by the submarine USS Redfin (SS-272).
The last surviving crew member of Flier, Ens. Al Jacobson, never gave up the search for his lost shipmates. Sadly, Jacobson passed away in 2008, but his family was determined to continue the search. The family provided notes and research to yap films, which was investigating the nautical mystery as part of its new TV documentary series DIVE DETECTIVES and Jacobson’s son Steve and grandson Nelson participated in the search. 
“After my father retired in 1990, he became very active in the quest to understand more of what happened,” said Steve Jacobson. “He put together as much information as he could from naval records of the investigation and put together charts of where he believed Flier was. We provided yap films with everything my father had collected.”
In the spring of 2009, with the aid of the Jacobson family, the team from yap films located wreckage of a submarine in the area that USS Flier was lost. Father-and-son divers Mike and Warren Fletcher, who star in the TV series, captured the first views of the sunken submarine in more than 64 years. Yap provided the Naval History and Heritage Command with footage taken in the Balabac Strait to aid in the identification.
"The Flier discovery presented us with one of our most challenging dives,” said DIVE DETECTIVES’ underwater explorer Warren Fletcher. “At a depth of 330 feet there is little margin for error. As my father and I descended into the dark blue water, the unmistakable shape of a Gato-class submarine came into view. That moment made all of the hard work and danger pale in comparison with the feeling of pride it gave me to know that the Flier and her crew would not be forgotten."
With the information provided by yap films, COMSUBPAC and the Naval History and Heritage Command examined the evidence and historical records and determined that the submarine found at the reported position could only be USS Flier. The gun mount and radar antenna clearly identifiable in the video matched historical photographs of USS Flier. Additional identifiable characteristics of the hull indicated that the wreck is indeed a Gato-class submarine. These factors taken together led COMSUBPAC and the Naval History and Heritage Center to conclude that the wreck found by yap could only be that of USS Flier.
"The Flier was found because all the right people came together for all the right reasons,” said Mike Fletcher. “But mostly the Flier was found because of the love a family has for their dad."
“It was a pretty emotional experience,” said Jacobson. “Although I was really confident of the position, you still don’t know. Literally, it was exactly at the coordinates he said it would be. It is tremendous closure and I wish that my dad could have experienced this.”
By the end of World War II, US submarines had made more than 1,600 war patrols. Pacific Fleet submarines like Flier accounted for more than half of all enemy shipping sunk during the war. The cost of this success was heavy: 52 U.S. Pacific Fleet submarines were lost, and more than 3,500 submariners remain on “eternal patrol.”
The exciting new yap films television series DIVE DETECTIVES launches on History Television in Canada on Wednesday, March 31 at 6:00 pm ET/PT (repeated at 11:00 pm ET/PT) with the episode The Edmund Fitzgerald. The premiere episode reveals new evidence that dramatically changes the accepted version of events relating to the sinking of the US freighter on Lake Superior in 1975 – a saga made famous in Gordon Lightfoot’s iconic song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald."
In DIVE DETECTIVES father-and-son professional divers and explorers Mike and Warren Fletcher are on a quest to unravel mysteries that lie beneath the waves, from missing ships to missing treasure…
In the series, shot in stunning HD, the Fletchers scour the world’s oceans and seas. They investigate the iconic sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald (immortalized in song by Gordon Lightfoot) on Lake Superior; hunt for missing American submarines lost in the Balabac Strait area of the Philippines; and search the deadly Mekong River in Laos for looted royal treasure. They seek the identity of a mysterious modern “Ghost Ship” in a part of the Caribbean famous for smuggling; dive the South Pacific for discarded WWII atom bombs; and join a major expedition to get inside two of the best preserved wooden ship wrecks in the world for the first time since they sank.
In DIVE DETECTIVES, cold cases are re-opened, ships found, and loved ones finally laid to rest, in a dramatic, action-packed series.
Mike and Warren Fletcher have located previously undiscovered shipwrecks around the world. Their travels have taken them to more than 30 different countries and many remote locations. Diving as deep as 330 feet, they have worked closely with the Canadian, U.S. and Chilean navies and have collaborated with marine archaeologists in Canada, the U.S., Germany, Estonia, Poland, Bermuda, Finland and Japan. They have performed many of their dives on highly sensitive and archeologically significant wreck sites.
Executive producers of DIVE DETECTIVES are Pauline Duffy and Elliott Halpern. The Dive Detectives are Michael and Warren Fletcher. Series director is Jeff Vanderwal. Directors are Michael Morrow (episodes Submarine Graveyard, Lost A-Bombs, and River Buddha), Victor Kushmaniuk (episodes The Edmund Fitzgerald and Ghost Ship), and Jeff Vanderwal (episode Warships Down); Editors are Jason Gatt, Michael Matheson, Mark Stokes and Mike Fuller; Narrator is Hamish McEwan; Production Manager is Mary Petryshyn; Directors of Photography are Russell Gienapp and Ken Ng; Underwater Photography by Warren and Michael Fletcher; Sound by Peter Sawade, Stuart French and Mike Kennedy; Composers are Alex Khaskin and David Krystal; Titles and Graphics are by Acme Pictures Inc. For Canwest: Production Executive Nick Crowe and V-P, Factual Content, Michael Kot.
DIVE DETECTIVES is produced by yap films in association with Canwest and National Geographic Channel, with the participation of the Canadian Television Fund created by the Government of Canada and the Canadian Cable Industry, the Rogers Cable Network Fund, and with the assistance of the Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit.

Freedom Concludes Final C4F Port Visit In Panama City

PANAMA CITY, Panama (March 26, 2010) Lt. Cmdr. Matt Weber, executive officer of the littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1), describes the ship's Mk 110 57mm gun to Chilean Navy Cmdr. Cristian Galvez, Chile's defense attaché in Panama. Freedom is conducting a theater security cooperation (TSC) port visit as part of operations in the U.S. 4th Fleet area of focus. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Ed Early/Released)

By Lt. Ed Early, USS Freedom (LCS 1) Public Affairs

PANAMA CITY, Panama (NNS) -- USS Freedom (LCS 1) left Vasco Nunez de Balboa Naval Base in Panama City, Panama, March 29 after concluding the second and final theater security cooperation (TSC) port visit of its deployment to the U.S. 4th Fleet Area of Responsibility (AOR).
"From the unique experience of transiting the Panama Canal, to the interesting liberty spots in Panama City, the crew thoroughly enjoyed our visit," said Cmdr. Randy Garner, Freedom's commanding officer. "We had several opportunities to interact with our Panamanian counterparts and discuss how our two countries have and can work together on many fronts. Our countries have many goals in common. We would love to come back to Panama City."
Freedom is scheduled to resume counter-illicit trafficking operations in the Eastern Pacific before entering the U.S. 3rd Fleet AOR. After another TSC port visit in Mexico, Freedom will finally arrive at its homeport of San Diego in spring 2010.
Following its first transit through the Panama Canal March 25, Freedom arrived in Panama City and immediately went to work. Freedom Sailors presented two pallets of medical and hygiene supplies, donated by Project Handclasp, to Patronato del Servicio Nacional de Nutricion, a local non-governmental organization which assists with disaster relief, March 26.

Freedom also hosted two days of tours by distinguished visitors and members of the U.S. Embassy staff and their families.

The first ship of the revolutionary littoral combat ship program, Freedom is a fast, agile, mission-focused ship that demonstrates the latest in naval technology.
Embarked aboard Freedom are Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 22, Detachment 2, based in Norfolk; the first tailored LCS Surface Warfare Mission Package, based in San Diego; and a U.S. Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment.

Essex Completes Spring Patrol

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class (SW) Matthew Ebarb, USS Essex (LHD 2) Public Affairs

SASEBO, Japan (NNS) -- The forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) returned to its homeport of Sasebo, Japan, March 29 after completing its annual spring patrol.

During the patrol, the ship made three port visits and completed two multinational exercises with the Philippines and Thailand.

The exercises were designed to improve interoperability between the U.S. Navy and its allies in the Pacific region.

The ship completed exercise Cobra Gold 2010 (CG 10) Feb. 1-11, operating in the Gulf of Thailand and surrounding waters. Throughout the exercise, Essex Sailors and embarked Marines of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) worked alongside their counterparts from Thailand, South Korea, Indonesia, Singapore and Japan.

During CG 10, Essex participated in a multinational, simulated amphibious assault, featuring combined U.S., Thai and Korean forces, including more than 30 landing craft and hundreds of Marines from all three countries.

"Our Sailors performed magnificently," said Capt. Troy Hart, Essex's commanding officer. "The exercise was very complex and challenging, and it required a lot of flexibility and professionalism from everyone, but we overcame some challenges and met every mission requirement. Team Essex had a great exercise that we can be proud of."

Following the exercise, the ship made a four-day port visit to Laem Chabang, Thailand. During the visit, more than 50 Essex Sailors and Marines volunteered to help refurbish the Wat Sakeaw School in Sumnakthon, Thailand. Projects included facility repairs and lunch with the students and staff.

"From the time we got there until the time we left, we were busy working and playing with the kids," said Lt. Jason Rochester, Essex staff chaplain. "I think doing things like this says that we care about the people of our host nation. We're not just coming here to have a good time on liberty, but we also want to invest in the people that we've come to see and share some things with them."

After the port visit, the ship proceeded to a second port call in Singapore for three days. While there, 80 Sailors participated in a sports day at U.S. Navy Region Center Singapore and the Singapore American School.

Essex joined Sailors assigned to the dock landing ship USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49) and the amphibious transport dock USS Denver (LPD 9) in soccer, baseball and basketball games against each other, as well as local Singaporean teams.

"Even though it had been a while since we played a game, we pulled together and gave it everything we had. In the end, it paid off," said Yeoman 2nd Class Kyle Parker, who scored the game-winning goal. "Soccer is a passion for me. To be able to share that with both shipmates and our host nationals makes it that much better."

Following the Singapore visit, Essex proceeded to the Philippines to participate in exercise Balikatan 2010. During the exercise, Essex Sailors again worked with the 31st MEU to conduct humanitarian and civic assistance events, including multiple medical, dental, veterinary and engineering projects ashore. Marines also worked with their Filipino counterparts to conduct field-training exercises and various cross-training events.

"It has always been a pleasure and privilege working alongside the friendly and accommodating U.S. Sailors and Marines," said Philippine Navy Capt. Virme P. Torralba. "They are very professional and willing to share their knowledge and expertise."

Departing the Philippines, Essex offloaded the 31st MEU at White Beach Naval Facility, Okinawa, Japan, March 25. The ship and its crew then returned to Sasebo to begin preparations for an upcoming inspection in June 2010.

Patriot Arrives in Lumut, Malaysia

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Richard Doolin, Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet Public Affairs

LUMUT, Malaysia (NNS) -- The mine countermeasures ship USS Patriot (MCM 7) arrived in Lumut, Malaysia, for a port visit March 30.

During the visit Patriot will train with the Malaysian Navy.

Patriot Sailors expect to conduct classroom training on mine warfare, demonstrations of U.S. Navy damage control equipment and techniques, presentations of mine sweeping gear, ship's tours to show how a minesweeper works and a day patrol in which Patriot will conduct an exercise with two Malaysian minesweepers.

Patriot Sailors will also participate in a community service project at an orphanage during the visit and there will be a sports day on which Patriot Sailors will play basketball, volleyball and soccer with the Malaysian military.
A reception will be held aboard Patriot for Malaysian Navy guests.

For Ensign Kevin Lewman this will be his first visit to Malaysia.

"In a lot of ways, this is exactly why I joined the Navy, so I could go to new places and see new things, just, always a surprise. That's what I really like about it," said Lewman.
Patriot is one of four mine countermeasures ships forward deployed to Sasebo, Japan. The crew reports to Rear Adm. Richard Landolt, commander, Amphibious Force 7th Fleet, who is headquartered in Okinawa, Japan.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Halifax International Fleet Review

Ship List Below is the list of ships that will be participating in the International Fleet Review. We will be posting more details on these ships as they become available.

  • HDMS ABSALON Denmark
  • HMS ARK ROYAL United Kingdom
  • HMS LIVERPOOL United Kingdom
  • HMS SUTHERLAND United Kingdom
  • HNLMS AMSTERDAM The Netherlands
  • RFA FORT VICTORIA United Kingdom
  • USCG DEPENDABLE United States
  • USS BARRY United States
  • USS BOONE United States
  • USS CARR United States
  • USS GETTYSBURG United States
  • USS ROBERT G. BRADLEY United States
  • USS WASP United States
  • FGS SPESSART Germany

S. Korean Divers Search For Survivors

SEOUL March 28, 2010 - South Korean divers searched the chilly waters of the Yellow Sea Sunday for 46 sailors missing since a navy ship exploded and sank near the North Korea border.
Authorities held out little hope any of the sailors could have survived the low water temperatures since the South Korean Navy ship "Cheonan," carrying 104 crew members, went down late Friday, the Yonhap News Agency reported.

Rescuers pulled out 58 survivors after the 1,200-ton ship sank in what South Korea called officials called one of the country's worst naval disasters ever.

The cause of the explosion remains unknown. A North Korean attack had been suspected at first but authorities now say that's unlikely.

Yonhap said three bloody skirmishes, the most recent last year, had occurred between the navies of the two Koreas in the waters near the explosion.

Won Tae-jae, the South Korean defense ministry spokesman, said divers had not determined the exact location of the sunken ship because of strong tides.

"We are hopeful, as the weather is relatively good compared to the previous day," Won told reporters.

The explosion apparently tore a hole in the rear of the ship, shutting down its engine, and it sank in less than three hours, Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

Defense Minister Kim Tae-young said Saturday the vessel appeared to have split in half.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

ICGS Vivek Sunk in Harbor Accident

March 27, 2010 - A Indian Coast Guard ship sank after a privately-owned merchant vessel rammed into it in Mumbai Tuesday 23rd March 2010 evening, an official said. No casualties were reported.

The collision took place at the commercial Indira Dockyard in Mumbai. Over 40 sailors and technicians on the ship — identified as Indian Coast Guard Ship Vivek — were rescued, the official said. The defence ministry, the Mumbai Port authorities and the Directorate General of Shipping have ordered separate inquiries.
into the accident. The accident took place around 1830hrs when ICGS Vivek was undergoing repairs and refit at Berth No 10 of Indira Docks. The private merchant vessel MV Global Purity rammed into Vivek, creating a deep hole in the Coast Guard ship. It sank within an hour, the official said on condition of anonymity. Top Coast Guard, defence and port authorities rushed to the site for preliminary investigations into the incident.

Indian Coast Guard file photo

Friday, March 26, 2010

Independence Begins Maiden Voyage

Mobile March 26, 2010 - MOBILE, Ala. (NNS) -- The Navy's newest littoral combat ship, USS Independence (LCS 2), sailed away from Mobile, Ala. for the first time March 26.
The milestone marks the commencement of initial testing and evaluation of the aluminum vessel.
"We are excited to set sail, and remain grateful for the incredible support offered by the city of Mobile in helping us reach this milestone," said Cmdr. Curt Renshaw, Independence Blue Crew commanding officer. "This transit will allow us to gain valuable operational experience and is another large step toward bringing our unique and versatile capabilities to the fleet."
Independence's maiden voyage will include stops in Key West and Mayport, Fla., before pulling into Naval Station Norfolk, Va. for additional testing and specialized crew training.
"This is an exciting time for all of us," said Fire Controlman 1st Class Jeffry Gibson. "To be a part of bringing the Navy's newest, most advanced ship to the Fleet is something we all take a great deal of pride in."
The littoral combat ship (LCS) is a fast, agile, mission-focused ship that demonstrates the latest in naval technology. The ship is specifically designed to defeat "anti-access" threats in shallow, coastal water regions, including surface craft, diesel submarines and mines. LCS features an interchangeable modular design that allows the ship to be reconfigured to meet mission requirements.
Independence, the Navy's second LCS ship and the first Independence Class LCS, was commissioned Jan. 16 in Mobile, Ala. It spans 419 feet, has a displacement of 2,800 metric tons and can operate in water less than 20 feet deep. Propelled by four water jets, along with two diesel and two gas turbine engines, Independence is capable of speeds in excess of 45 knots and boasts a range of over 3,500 nautical miles.
Independence will be homeported in San Diego.

Freedom Joins Pacific Fleet

   PANAMA CANAL (March 25, 2010) Lt. John Hill, navigator for the littoral    combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1), verifies Freedom's range to the Gatun Locks of the Panama Canal. Freedom is conducting counter-illicit trafficking operations and theater security cooperation in the U.S. 4th Fleet area of focus. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Ed Early/Released)

USS Freedom arrives in Panama for engagement visit

Posted On: Mar 26 2010 9:36AM

By Lt. Ed Early, USS Freedom Public Affairs
PANAMA CITY, Panama (NNS) – Following its first transit through the Panama Canal, the littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1) arrived in Panama City on March 25, beginning the second theater security cooperation (TSC) port visit of its maiden deployment.
While in Panama City, Freedom’s embarked Sailors and Coast Guardsmen will have another opportunity to work with the Panamanian Public Forces. The PPF teamed with Freedom in February and March during counter-illicit trafficking (CIT) operations, resulting in two drug seizures in the Caribbean Sea.
In addition, Freedom’s crew is scheduled to turn over two pallets of medical and hygiene materials donated by Project Handclasp to a local organization.
Freedom, which will be homeported in San Diego, is currently on its initial deployment to the Caribbean Sea and the coasts of Central and South America under the operational control of U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command (NAVSO)/U.S. 4th Fleet.
During late February and early March, Freedom operated out of Colon, Panama, and embarked members of the PPF during a series of CIT operations known as Operation Conjuntos. This partnership resulted in two major drug seizures in a span of eight days, with Freedom capturing a “go-fast” small boat and five suspected drug smugglers and recovering 123 bales of cocaine weighing more than 3½ tons.
The first ship of the revolutionary LCS program, Freedom is a fast, agile, mission-focused ship that demonstrates the latest in naval technology.
Freedom’s embarked units are Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 22, Detachment 2, based in Norfolk, Va.; the first tailored LCS Surface Warfare Mission Package (SUW MP), based in San Diego; and a U.S. Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment (LEDET).

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Big Business: Who Owns the Freedom Concerts? How Sean Hannity’s Private Jets, Luxe SUVs, Suites Were Paid

March 25, 2010, - 2:47 pm

By Debbie Schlussel
Last week, I told you about Sean Hannity’s Freedom Concert scam and how the ultimate recipient of some of the proceeds, Freedom Alliance, spent millions on cronies and expenses, very little on severely wounded soldiers and scholarships for America’s fallen. In fact, it’s far worse than I originally reported. The scam is far bigger. And it’s big business. . . . for cronies and friends of Sean Hannity and Oliver North. I’ll be writing more in the coming days about the Freedom Alliance, itself, and where the money the charity receives is really going.

Duane Ward & Sean Hannity: Freedom Concerts are Big Business for Them

In fact, despite North’s dishonest denials–along with Freedom Alliance chief Thomas Kilgannon–Sean Hannity did NOT pay for his own private jet flights to the various Freedom Concerts. In fact, the money for his expensive travel came right from the revenue of the Freedom Concerts, a big, profitable business, which isn’t owned or operated by Freedom Alliance. While the charity is technically correct that Freedom Alliance didn’t pay for it in recent years, in fact Freedom Concert revenue, which is controlled by Hannity’s speaking engagement agents, did. The operant question here is, who owns the Freedom Concerts?

The answer, according to an insider, is apparently Premiere Speakers Bureau, owned by Duane Ward, Oliver North’s longtime PR man, and the speaking engagement agent for both North and Hannity, as well as many FOX News and other conservative personalities. Premiere runs the Freedom Concerts and owns the domain name, sells the Freedom Concerts merchandise, etc. While only a $4 surcharge on Freedom Concert tickets goes to Freedom Alliance, the rest is controlled by Ward and his various companies. I contacted Duane Ward via e-mail ( and telephone. He did not respond to questions, which included a request for Freedom Concerts’ financial records and an accounting of Freedom Concert revenues and Premiere travel arrangements for Hannity to fly in high-style to the events. And the inside source–who asked to remain anonymous because of legitimate fears of retaliation by Ward and Hannity–says it’s a huge profit center for Ward and Premiere.

So huge that in May 3, 2008, Hannity hosted a Freedom Concert in Las Vegas, under the name, “Sean Hannity & Friends Freedom Concert,” but the concert was apparently not even connected to the Freedom Alliance. A disabled retired Marine whom I know said:

I called Freedom Alliance and asked them about it and was told that they–Freedom Alliance–weren’t affiliated with this particular event,even though North would be there.

So where did the money go? Ask Duane Ward. The man needs to release a full accounting and all the financial records for these concerts.

While those buying tickets think all of the proceeds of the concerts go to the Freedom Alliance, in fact, none of the proceeds go to the charity, only the $4 surcharge. The source confirmed that Premiere paid for Hannity (out of Freedom Concerts revenue) to fly to many of the concerts on private jets, along with his entourage, and the source confirms the conversation I described in my report last week, in which North scolded Hannity for wasting so much of the Freedom Concert money on private jets, swanky suites, and luxe SUVs. The source is the second source to confirm the conversation. The particular conversation cited took place in 2008, and there were several witnesses to it, including one of Hannity’s radio producers, who is married to Oliver North’s former personal assistant. Don’t look for her to tell the truth . . . if either of them ever wants to work again.

The source said that North scolded Hannity about this on several occasions, and is, again, the second such witness to confirm that. North won’t publicly admit to this–and knowingly signed a false letter claiming that Hannity plays for his travel and accommodations for the Freedom Concerts–because North makes big bucks from Premiere Speakers Bureau. Premiere books North for several speaking engagements a month, at $30,000-$40,000 a pop. That’s where he makes his money, and is extremely wealthy because of Premiere and Ward. He can’t afford to kill the golden goose.

The source said, however, that I got two tiny details wrong: that Hannity didn’t only fly on Gulfstream 4 or 5 jets, but often times flew on Embraer Legacy 600 private jets. (Hannity usually flies these private planes out of Atlantic Aviation on Long Island.) Also, that Hannity didn’t always use Cadillac Escalades to ferry around his posse. Sometimes, it was the comparable Yukons, Tahoes, or Suburbans. My bad. The costs add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars, and according to the source, Hannity pays for none of it.

In fact, the source said, frequently Premiere asks those who book Hannity for speaking engagements to pay a set amount of money for travel up-front. Since Hannity almost always insists on a private jet, Premiere tries to increase the set travel fee, then save money on the travel and someone–Premiere or Hannity–pockets the rest. It’s not returned to the sponsor of the speaking engagement.

So, who is Duane Ward, exactly?

Duane Ward was, for many years, Oliver North’s paid PR person. During the Iran-Contra hearings, Rev. Jerry Falwell told North that he did not have good public relations to counter negative media coverage. He suggested that North hire Falwell’s assistant, Ward. Ward worked for North for several years as his personal assistant and press flack. But after the dust settled, North needed a new line of work and income source. So, Ward began setting up speaking engagements for North, and became his first client in what is now Ward’s Tennessee-based Premiere Speakers Bureau. North began to bring in his FOX News colleagues, including Sean Hannity and (recently) Mike Huckabee, as clients. (Other Premiere clients include Laura Ingraham, Mark Levin, Glenn Beck, Dick Morris, Neil Cavuto, Curtis Sliwa, and many others, many of whom are FOX News contributors or employees.)

Ward has several companies under the Premiere banner, including Premiere Transportation, which provided campaign buses for nearly every major Presidential campaign in 2008, including those of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and Mitt Romney. And it provides the buses–shocker!–for the Freedom Concerts, when, for example, it’s a short ride from Hannity’s New York location to the Freedom Concert that took place in New Jersey.

And Ward owns something called “Premiere Collectibles,” which includes all of the licensed “Freedom Concert” t-shirts, rain ponchos, etc. sold at the concerts (note Oliver North’s book, “American Heroes,” for sale on the site . . . and click on it to see his phony video pimping it). The source says it’s big money, and that it’s also big money for the conservative personalities who appear at the concerts and are provided booths where their books are also sold at the concerts.

And then there is Premiere’s scamming of the artists who appear at the Concerts. Premiere signs the artists to appear at the concerts. The source says that some of the talent, like at least one artist I know of who’ve appeared at the concerts, are told by Ward’s Premiere employees that since the proceeds are “going to charity,” they are expected to pay their own travel and perform for free. At the same time, other artists, like Montgomery Gentry–according to the source, are paid an appearance fee and luxe travel and accomodations are provided. The source estimates that Genty was paid $50,000 to perform at one Freedom Concert, while the source believes that Michael W. Smith performed for free.
The scams are so deep and so large that Freedom Alliance, the charity that benefits (and also wastes a good deal of the money on expenses and spending on cronies) did not allow media coverage of the Freedom Concerts at one point.

When I was a teen working in Washington during the summers, I helped organize a giant rally in support of Oliver North during the Iran-Contra hearings. It was a huge success and made Newsweek and Nightline–then big media outlets because cable wasn’t that powerful yet and there was no internet. I thought North was an honorable and decent man who cared about his country.
But his signature on a letter from Freedom Alliance denying what he knows to be true–what he scolded Sean Hannity about in front of witnesses–tells me what I should have realized long ago: that I was naive about Oliver North, that he’s dishonest, and that he’ll go out of his way to protect his friends and cronies and cover up their wrong-doing. And that continuing to make big bucks is more important to him than telling the truth.
Regardless, both Freedom Alliance and Premiere/Duane Ward need to release a full accounting of all revenue taken in and spent in connection with the Freedom Concerts. Where is the money . . . and where did it go?

We’ll probably never know. But I have a pretty good idea. And I know for sure most of it is going to line pockets, not help severely wounded troops or children of the fallen troops.

More to come. Stay tuned.

Reprinted with permission. Copyright remains with the

The corvette Soobrazitelny

Coast Guard medevacs man from Russian research vessel

CLEARWATER, Fla. - The Coast Guard medically evacuated a U.K. citizen, Wednesday, at 7:30 a.m., approximately 200-miles west of St. Petersburg, Fla.Watchstanders at the Coast Guard 7th District Command Center in Miami received notification at approximately 10:00 p.m., Tuesday, from the Geo Arctic, a Russian-flagged seismic survey vessel, that a crewmember onboard was suffering from hernia-like symptoms, 250-miles west of St. Petersburg, Fla., in the Gulf of Mexico. After maintaining communication with the Geo Arctic throughout the night, and monitoring 44-year-old Sean Kennedy's condition onboard, the command center directed the launch of an HC-130 Hercules aircraft, and an H-60 Jayhawk rescue Helicopter from Air Station Clearwater, Fla., at 4:40 a.m., Wednesday.

After the aircrews arrived onscene at 7:00 a.m., crewmembers aboard the Hercules provided support and cover while the Jayhawk crew lowered a rescue swimmer and basket to the deck of the Geo Arctic. After safely transferring Kennedy to the Jayhawk, the aircrews returned to Air Station Clearwater at approximately 9:15 a.m. Upon landing, emergency medical personnel from Pinellas Park Fire Department Rescue 37, and Sunstar Paramedics transferred Kennedy to Largo Medical Center for treatment.

Kennedy's current condition is unknown.

"We went out about 250-miles to get to him." said Petty Officer 2nd Class Craig Drew, the flight mechanic aboard the Jayhawk, "We hoisted down the swimmer and basket and were able to get him into the helicopter pretty quickly. We were lucky that it was pretty smooth flying out there, and the patient seemed to be doing well."

USS Orleck will come to Lake Charles

Updated: Mar 25, 2010 9:16 AM PDT
By Adam Hooper
LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - The Lake Charles city council unanimously voted to allow the World War Two destroyer to dock in Lake Charles.
After a year of discussions, the city and supporters of the USS Orleck have reached an agreement. The ship will arrive on April 2, 2010. It will dock in a temporary location for a year, on the Calcasieu river, for maintenance. Veterans in the area believe this is a good thing for southwest Louisiana.
"This means a lot for us and the city. There is going to be some groups that come here as soon as the Orleck is in shape. There's going to be some reunions, some boy scouts come and spend the night on the ship," said Albert Duplantis.
But, before they said yes, the city wanted to make sure they were covered in the event the ship was damaged. The Orleck group has secured wreck insurance that will cover up to 1- million dollars to remove the ship.
"There was a lot of going back and forth, behind the scenes, to make sure everyone's concern was included in the agreement," said Orleck Board Vice Chairman, Ronald Williams.
Despite their victory, it is not all smooth sailing for the Orleck. Eventually, they would like to move the ship to the lake front, and if it is to become a permanent floating fixture in Lake Charles, the people of Lake Charles will have to vote on it.
"I am optimistic, because there is so much people don't know about the boat. I know that, when they find out about the boat, they are really going get excited about it," said Williams.
The Orleck board hopes to have the ship ready for occupants in six months. This would allow them to begin raising money and awareness about the World War Two destroyer, in hopes city residents will approve.
If the residents vote to keep Orleck around, the Orleck board will have three years to get the lake front ready for it. If voters decide it is not a benefit for the area, then the board will have one year to have the ship towed to a scrap yard.
Copyright 2010 KPLC. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Submarine New Mexico Commissioning Streamed Live Online

Norfolk March 24, 2010 - The Navy will commission the newest Virginia-class attack submarine New Mexico (SSN 779) during an 11 a.m. EDT ceremony at Naval Station Norfolk March 27.

The event will be streamed live online on .

New Mexico is named in recognition of the people of the 'Land of Enchantment'. The battleship New Mexico (BB-40) (1918-1946), the only other ship named after the 47th state, earned six battle stars for World War II service, which included providing shore bombardment support for landings in the Gilbert and Marshall Islands, and at Guam, Tinian, Saipan, the Philippines, and Okinawa.
Adm. Kirkland Donald, director, Naval Nuclear Propulsion, will deliver the ceremony's principal address. Cindy Giambastiani, wife of former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff retired Adm. Edmund Giambastiani, will serve as the ship's sponsor. In the time-honored Navy tradition, she will give the first order to "man our ship and bring her to life!"

The sixth Virginia Class submarine, New Mexico is built to excel in anti-submarine warfare; anti-ship warfare; strike warfare; special operations; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; irregular warfare; battle group support; and mine warfare missions. By doing so, New Mexico will directly enable five of the six Navy Maritime Strategy Core Capabilities - sea control, power projection, forward presence, maritime security, and deterrence.

Cmdr. Mark A. Prokopius, a native of Seven Hills, Ohio, is the prospective commanding officer and will lead a crew of approximately 134 officers and enlisted personnel.

The 7,800-ton New Mexico was built under a unique teaming arrangement between Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding and General Dynamics Electric Boat. She is 377-feet long, has a 34-foot beam, and will be able to dive to depths of greater than 800 feet and operate at speeds in excess of 25 knots submerged. New Mexico is designed with a reactor plant that will not require refueling during the planned life of the ship - reducing lifecycle costs while increase underway time.

Blue Ridge Pulls into Hong Kong

HONG KONG (NNS) -- USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) will anchor in Victoria Harbour March 25, beginning the crew's five-day port visit in Hong Kong.
Blue Ridge Sailors will get the opportunity to experience Hong Kong through a variety of Morale, Welfare and Recreation tours. Sailors will see the cultural sites of Po Lin Monastery and the nearby Tian Tan Buddha; the world's tallest seated Buddha statue, as well as popular tourist attractions Happy Valley race course and the nearby city of Macau.

Sailors will enjoy the hospitality of the locals as they venture out into the international city with community sponsors through the "Meals in the Home" program coordinated through the ship's chaplain.

Several local families and businesses have offered to host Blue Ridge and 7th Fleet Sailors for lunch or dinner during their stay to show their support for U.S. military service members overseas.

"I've been to Hong Kong six times and this is the first time I've had a chance to have a meal in a home," said Lt. Cmdr. Chris Rutland of Wheaton, Ill. "I think it fosters good relations with the locals and it gives Sailors a chance to meet people and see things they normally wouldn't on their own."

Blue Ridge and 7th Fleet Sailors will also get to work in Hong Kong through three community outreach projects to strengthen established ties and create new friendships.

"These projects permit our Sailors to interact with the community, allowing them to get to know the people and their culture," said Capt. S. R. Lupton, commanding officer of USS Blue Ridge.

Blue Ridge is commanded by Capt. S. R. Lupton and serves under commander, Expeditionary Strike Group 7/Task Force 76, the Navy's only forward deployed amphibious force. Blue Ridge is the flagship for commander, U.S. 7th Fleet. Task Force 76 is headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility, Okinawa, Japan, with an operating detachment in Sasebo, Japan.

Henson Arrives in Fortaleza for Oceanographic-Southern Partnership Station 2010

FORTALEZA, Brazil (NNS) -- Military Sealift Command oceanographic survey ship USNS Henson (T-AGS 63) arrived in Fortaleza, Brazil to begin the second portion of Oceanographic-Southern Partnership Station (O-SPS) 2010 with the Brazilian Navy March 23.
Henson stopped briefly at the Port of Fortaleza to pick up nine Brazilian sailors before setting sail to begin at-sea bilateral exercises. Nine U.S. Navy civilians from Naval Oceanographic Office (NAVOCEANO) and four Sailors from Fleet Survey Team (FST) will demonstrate elements from different types of surveys for the Brazilian sailors while out to sea.
"We will be demonstrating elements from three different surveys in the areas of physical oceanography, bathymetry and hydrography," said Danielle Bryant, oceanographer for NAVOCEANO. "Fleet Survey Team will be demonstrating expeditionary techniques."
Henson is one of seven oceanographic survey ships belonging to the U.S. Navy's Military Sealift Command and operated for the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command. The 329-foot ship is equipped with two hydrographic survey launches and expeditionary survey vehicles (ESV). Their equipment includes multi-beam sounders, sidescan sonar and GPS systems.
The ship will survey about 130 nautical miles from the Port of Fortaleza. It will return to the port later in the week to process and present the information at workshops.
The workshops feature subject matter expert exchanges from members of the U.S. Fleet Numerical Meteorology Oceanography Center, NAVOCEANO, FST and Brazil's Directorate of Hydrograph and Navigation. The topics will range from remote sensing, fleet support and numerical modeling, ocean and coastal modeling, bathymetry, magnetometry to geodesy and tides.
"The workshops allow us to engage in discussions with a broader audience including university students," said Bruce Stier, senior NAVOCEANO representative.
This engagement provides a framework demonstrating how both navies perform their oceanographic and hydrographic surveys while sharing expertise and information regarding techniques. During the process, the scientists and Sailors gain a better understanding for each other's military and cultural customs.
Henson recently completed the first portion of O-SPS with the Colombian Navy.
Southern Partnership Station is a recurring deployment conducted by Commander U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command (COMUSNAVSO) and U.S. 4th Fleet with a variety of different objectives.
COMUSNAVSO is the naval component command for U.S. Southern Command and is responsible for all Naval personnel and assets in the area of responsibility. COMUSNAVSO conducts a variety of missions in support of the Maritime Strategy, including Theater Security Cooperation, relationship building, humanitarian assistance and disaster response, community relations, and counter-illicit trafficking operations.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Patriot Arrives in Port Blair

PORT BLAIR, India (NNS) -- USS Patriot (MCM 7) arrived in Port Blair, India, March 23.

During the visit, Patriot Sailors will train with the Indian Navy, and special emphasis will be put on damage control and mine countermeasure training.

The crew will also participate in a community service project in which Patriot Sailors will visit an orphanage and plant tree saplings.

Mineman 2nd Class Douglas Woods, Patriot's field and games coordinator, said sporting activities had also been lined up with the Indian Navy.

"In Port Blair we have a couple of things going on. First day we pull in we have a flag football game with the Indian Navy and a soccer game with the Indian Navy. We also have cricket lessons for all personnel that want to go out and participate. Indian Navy personnel will provide the lessons," said Woods.

Command Senior Chief Brent Tidwell is looking forward to the visit.

"The crew's real excited about the opportunity to go to Port Blair. We're the first minesweeper to get into Port Blair, and the first U.S. warship, I guess in a few years, to go to Port Blair. It's a big honor to be chosen for a theater security cooperation visit. It's an opportunity too, for the two navies to get together, and build and foster a stronger relationship, a more cooperative relationship," said Tidwell.

Three Was Magic Number For Mersey And Her Sisters

As the old song goes... ‘Three is the magic number’. Well it was as far as Fishery Protection was concerned when, earlier this year, soon after the excitement of Christmas leave, it was back to work for the River Class Offshore Patrol Vessels of the Fishery Protection Squadron.
However, instead of conducting their normal day-to-day role of EU inspections of fishing vessels, in a rare occurrence, all three ships of the Squadron met up to conduct a Squadron Exercise (SQUADEX)
HMS Severn and HMS Tyne came off Fishery Protection to meet with HMS Mersey, who was at the time conducting a Recovery Trials Period after her annual maintenance period at the Spit Head anchorages off Portsmouth.

After embarking Captain Mine Warfare, Fishery Protection and Diving, FOST and Squadron staff members, all three ships then proceeded to the Portsmouth Exercise areas to start the day’s events. The SQUADEX kicked off with a coordinated gunnery exercise against the deadliest of enemies, a giant killer tomato.

The killer tomato is actually a huge inflatable launched from the stern of a ship (in this case Mersey) to be used as a free floating target for the ship’s gunners to aim at. Each ship was then ordered onto the gun line via tactical manoeuvring from lead ship Mersey and then proceeded to take turns to fire at the killer tomato, firing off over 200 rounds from the 20mm gun and between 500-1000 GPMG rounds after each ship had been around twice, the Killer Tomato was well and truly burst!

Once completed, all three ships formed up to conduct Officer of the Watch manoeuvres and a PHOTEX. This stage saw a Lynx helicopter from 702 Squadron getting with the Mk 8 Lynx used to winch transfer the Commander in Chief Fleet and his Flag Lieutenant from the helicopter onto the cargo deck of Severn. Having completed OOW Manoeuvres, all three ships returned to the Solent, with Severn and Mersey heading into Portsmouth together closely followed by Tyne.

Lt Chris Wood, Mersey’s Navigator said: “Weeks of planning has been involved to ensure these three ships, which normally operate independent of other naval units, were in the same place at the same time to make the most of the opportunity to practice skills we seldom use, whether that be co-ordinated gunnery, tactical communications, helicopter transfers or close in manoeuvring.

“Every one involved, from all three ship’s companies has benefited from the exercise and honed skills familiar to all naval sailors. This was a great opportunity and hopefully will become a regular fixture in the life of the Fishery Protection Squadron.”

The following morning saw the Annual RN Fishery Protection Squadron Conference take place onboard HMS Severn. This conference provided an opportunity for all three ships command teams to discuss on-going Fishery Protection issues before later meeting up with their counterparts form the Marine Fisheries Agency (MFA). The annual Fishery Protection conference took place over consecutive afternoon and morning at the Marriott Hotel, Portsmouth and involved key personnel from MFA and FPS.

Whilst the command teams were busy with MFA on the Friday morning, the ship’s companies and squadron staff were involved in far more serious pursuits. Namely the noble pursuits of Bucket Ball and Swedish Long ball in a round robin competition. Attended by Captain Mark Durkin (Captain MFP), overall honours went to Severn.
Results aside, it allowed the crew’s to integrate and catch up with old ship mates. The Fishery Protection Squadron is a very small community with the crews regularly rotating from one ship to HMS Clyde in the Falkland Islands then back to another ship in the squadron. The evening saw the ship’s companies, Squadron personnel and staff of MFA and BAE come together in a more formal surrounding; namely the Marriott Hotel for an all ranks and rates dinner dance.
This prestigious event was significantly sponsored by BAE Systems Surface Ships which owns the River Class Vessels. Entertainment included two live sets from the Royal Marines Jazz Band, which was agreed by all to be a highlight of the evening. Festivities over with and formal meetings completed the squadron resumed its normal tempo with all ships returning to operational tasking.

Also you might want to read and follow HMS Mersey in the ships diary section which started today HMS Mersey Diary

Monday, March 22, 2010


Reprinted with permission of the author. Views contained herein are those of the author and are republished for information purposes. For more inforamtion see
March 19, 2010
By Debbie Schlussel
****03/19/10: SCROLL DOWN FOR UPDATE: My Response to Freedom Alliance’s/Oliver North’s Weak “Non-Response” & New Lies ****
For the last several years, Sean Hannity and the Freedom Alliance “charity” have conducted “Freedom Concerts” across America. They’ve told you that they are raising money to pay for the college tuition of the children of fallen soldiers and to pay severely wounded war vets. And on Friday Night, Hannity will be honored with an award for this “Outstanding Community Service by a Radio Talk Show Host” at Talkers Magazine’s convention.

But it’s all a huge scam.

In fact, less than 20%–and in two recent years, less than 7% and 4%, respectively–of the money raised by Freedom Alliance went to these causes, while millions of dollars went to expenses, including consultants and apparently to ferry the Hannity posse of family and friends in high style. And, despite Hannity’s statements to the contrary on his nationally syndicated radio show, few of the children of fallen soldiers got more than $1,000-$2,000, with apparently none getting more than $6,000, while Freedom Alliance appears to have spent tens of thousands of dollars for private planes. Moreover, despite written assurances to donors that all money raised would go directly to scholarships for kids of the fallen heroes and not to expenses, has begun charging expenses of nearly $500,000 to give out just over $800,000 in scholarships.

In February 2009, a well-known conservative writer sent me this, about a friend at FOX News:

The guy went on to tell me about Hannity’s “Freedom Concerts,” which are staged across the country with the proceeds going to children of slain soldiers. Of course, as the guy tells it, there’d be a lot more money every concert to go to the cause if Hannity didn’t demand–and get–use of a Gulfstream 5 plane to fly him and his family/entourage to the concerts; a “fleet” (that’s the word the guy used) of either Cadillac or Lincoln SUVs for him and his family/entourage; and several suites at really expensive hotels for him and his family/entourage. The promoter apparently values Hannity’s star demands at well over $200,000 per event. The source says he heard that Oliver North pulled Hannity aside at one of the concerts and told him that this had to stop. But that may mean that, from now on, Hannity has to fly on a G4 instead of a G5, gets only a few luxury SUVs, and two or three suites.

North is the founder and honorary chairman of Freedom Alliance.

I began investigating these claims, and lo and behold, I discovered that Freedom Alliance gives very little money to the children of slain troops to pay for college and even less to wounded troops. The stories of injuries to troops and how much Freedom Alliance gives them–$200 for a soldier from a poor neighborhood who lost three limbs–is heartbreaking. Soldiers with traumatic brain injuries, severe wounds to the face from disfiguring burns and explosions, and multiple amputations got $1,000 or less, with only a handful of exceptions.

The tax forms available to the public for the Freedom Alliance–for the years 2006-2008–paint a tragic story, a story of a charity that makes gazillions and spends very little for the purposes it claims, a charity that spends millions more on its small staff and crony consultants than it ever gives in scholarships to the children of the fallen or severely injured troops or in aid to the injured troops themselves. While Hannity’s Freedom Concerts take in millions, only a few hundred thousand go to the claimed intended recipients.

Over a year ago, when I began looking into this story, I contacted both Sean Hannity and the Freedom Alliance seeking comment and an accounting for where the money went. Both declined to answer any of my questions. Hannity refused to respond to an inquiry I sent to his personal private e-mail address asking him about the lavish expenses described in the e-mail above.

Freedom Alliance press secretary Alan Moore scheduled an interview for me with Freedom Alliance president Thomas Kilgannon, who in the past used Freedom Alliance resources to promote a book he wrote on the United Nations. But when Moore asked me what the interview would be about and I answered truthfully, the interview was not granted, and my calls to him were never returned thereafter. I told him I’d be asking Mr. Kilgannon about the expenses paid for Hannity and about the paltry percentage of Freedom Alliance funds actually going to the kids of fallen troops, to severely injured troops, and to anything other than expenses, consultants, and printing. I wanted to know why Freedom Alliance had spent $60,000 for “aviation services” in 2006.

Keep in mind that a charity is considered reputable if no more than 25% of its revenue goes to expenses and no less than 75% of it goes to the intended charity recipients. Given that, Freedom Alliance’s balance sheets are embarrassing in their shamelessness.

According to its 2006 tax returns, Freedom Alliance reported revenue of $10, 822, 785, but only $397,900–or a beyond-measly 3.68%–of that was given to the children of fallen troops as scholarships or as aid to severely injured soldiers.

On the other hand, 62% of the money went to “expenses,” including $979,485 for “consultants” and an “advisor.” Yes, consultant/advisors got more than double what injured troops and the kids of fallen troops got. The tax forms show that “New World Aviation” got paid $60,601 for “air travel.” Was that for Hannity’s G5? Like I said, neither the charity nor Hannity is talking. And finally, that year, Freedom Alliance spent $1,730,816 on postage and shipping and $1,414,215 on printing, for a total of $3,145,031, nearly half the revenue the charity spent that year and about eight times what the injured troops and the children of fallen ones received.

That’s especially heartbreaking when you compare the hundreds of thousands consultants got and the millions spent on printing and postage to the outrageously small amounts given to wounded soldiers. In 2006, Freedom Alliance gave only $1,000 to a soldier from Bay City, Michigan, whom the charity says was in the following condition:

Face was blown up and lost sight in one eye.

And that $1,000 was relatively generous, when you consider this soldier from Romulus, Michigan, whom Freedom Alliance only gave $200:

SM [serviceman] was involved in roadside bomb incident in Iraq, which caused loss of both legs and left arm.

Romulus is a mostly Black Detroit suburb, which is one of the poorest cities in Michigan and in America. Freedom Alliance gave this brave soldier roughly $67 per limb. That’s sickening.

So is the fact that this soldier, from Alexandria, Virginia, also only got $200 from Freedom Alliance:

SM was wounded in Iraq by an IED explosion. Lost right arm and severe shrapnel wounds to upper body and face.

Also appalling is the fact that in each year’s tax returns soldiers described as having brain trauma injuries, multiple amputated limbs, and severe burns over most of their bodies get a few hundred bucks each from Freedom Alliance and in almost every case, no more than $1,000.

That year, while fat-cat consultants and expenses took millions of Freedom Alliance’s money, seriously wounded troops to whom Freedom Alliance donated received a pathetic average of $785 each and the college student kids of the fallen got a paltry average of $2,943 toward tuition. Yes, out of millions raised that year by Sean Hannity at his Freedom Concerts, only $309,000 was given out in scholarships to 105 students, and only $110,703.82 was given to the wounded soldiers.

Freedom Alliance’s 2007 tax returns aren’t much better. Out of $12,459,317 it raised that year, only $895,347–or just 7%–went to seriously wounded troops and scholarships for fallen troops. 53% went to expenses, including $1,464,627 in postage and $1,151,428 in printing. $604,995 went to “professional fees” and “consultants.” Out of millions paid for Freedom Concert tickets and raised in fundraisers by Hannity listeners, only $596,500 went to college scholarships for soldiers who died in battle, and only $299,897 went to horribly injured troops. 208 student children of the fallen got an average of $2,868 apiece for tuition, though many got only $1,000 or less. 382 soldiers with serious injuries got an average of $785 each.

And, again, that year, the amounts given to soldiers with such grave injuries is despicably tiny. This soldier, from Killeen, Texas, got only $500 from Freedom Alliance:

SM was wounded in Iraq on June 18, 2007 in Digula Province, Baquba, Iraq. An IED exploded on the truck, he took shrapnel to the face, which cut off a piece of his nose. Also had shrapnel in throat and cheeks, which cut open his face and the inside of his throat.

This soldier, from Brady, Texas, also received just $500 from Freedom Alliance:

While serving in Baghdad Iraq, SM was hit with an IED blast. Sustained disfigurement, blindness, and superficial burns on face, hearing loss to right ear, TBI, peppered shrapnel to the face and right upper extremity.

And then, there are the 2008 Freedom Alliance tax forms, which were signed in November 2009 and filed only recently. That year, Freedom Alliance took in $8,781,431 in revenue and gave $1,060,275.57 total–or just 12%–to seriously wounded soldiers and for scholarships to kids of the fallen. Remember, this is well below the 75% required to be considered a legitimate charity. And after claiming in written letters to donors that 100% of the money donated, via the Freedom Concerts or otherwise, to the scholarships would go directly to the scholarships and not to expenses, the Freedom Alliance decided to do the contrary and charge expenses anyway–charging a whopping $436,386 to give out $802,250 in scholarships. That means that 35% of the $1,238,636–all of which was supposed to go to scholarships for these kids of the fallen–went to Freedom Alliance.

Freedom Alliance spent $5,375,654–or 61% of its total revenue earned in 2008–on expenses, but actually 80% of the total revenue spent and given out for that year. That includes $1,055,791 spent on postage and $925,392 on printing. It spent $157,041 on travel. Is this the item that includes the money for the alleged Sean Hannity Gulfstream flights? Like I said, neither the charity nor Hannity will answer questions.
Meanwhile, 167 students got an average of just $4,803.89 each in tuition. With the amount this charity raises, these kids should all be getting a free ride paid for by Freedom Alliance.
And 299 very seriously injured soldiers got an average of just $805.21 each for very grave injuries. And the heartbreak of their stories and the disgustingly low amount donated to them continues. This soldier, from Laurel, MD, got just $1,000:
SM lost both legs and one arm, below elbow, due to IED blast. SM also lost hearing in both ears on April 21, 2008.
Wow, while Sean Hannity and his friends at Freedom Alliance are paying their crony consultants hundreds of thousands of dollars, they’re giving this soldier $200 per limb lost or rendered useless.
This soldier, from Fort Sam Houston, Texas (where my own father was first sent when he was drafted during Vietnam), fared even worse in Freedom Alliance’s “generosity,” receiving only $165:
SM is a bilateral amputee with 30% facial burns sustained during IED blast, 31 May 2008, OEF.
Just $165 for that? Pathetic. And so very tragic.
Since Sean Hannity is always bragging about his phony “investigations” (stuff he just rips off from others) and “investigative” skills, you’d think he could figure out how to read a tax return and bother to look at Freedom Alliance’s. But you would be wrong. He has neither the skills nor the desire. He knows better and is well aware that they waste money on him and his luxe accommodations and travel. But this isn’t about that or truly about helping the troops and the kids of our war dead. It’s about promoting himself, the same way Angelina Jolie and Madonna get the press to film them in Africa.
To make matters worse, Hannity deliberately lied to his radio audience about how much money was going to the kids of the fallen American soldiers. On May 28th of last year, Hannity told his listeners, “Our new sponsor, Boca Java, just pledged $30,000 to the Freedom Concerts. That will provide a full one-year college scholarship for a kid of a fallen soldier.” In fact, Freedom Alliance’s tax forms indicate it has never given any student more than $6,000 in a school year, and usually it’s been far less. Many students only get $1,000, which will barely cover anything at most colleges, today. A Boca Java spokeswoman told me that last year was the coffee purveyor’s last one sponsoring the Freedom Concerts, as it now donates directly to the troops, sending them free coffee and through sales of its Brew of Bravery.
A friend of mine was one of the artists who performed in Hannity’s Freedom Concerts and was shocked when I showed him the tax forms and the expenses. He no longer performs at the concerts because he was tired of the egomania. Now, he’s just angry. “We paid our own way and for all of our costs and expenses to perform because we thought we were helping the troops and their families and that all the money was going to them.”
In investigating Freedom Alliance and its tax forms, I learned that the organizations which evaluate charities are entirely worthless. Freedom Alliance is certified as “Best in America” by the “Independent Charities of America.” It is also rated a “Four Star Charity” by “Charity Navigator.” Both of these “ratings” are posted prominently on Freedom Alliance’s website, misleading donors into believing they are donating to a worthy cause, when in fact they are mostly donating to a black hole of expenses. Even Charity Navigator notes in its strange, illogical, and mostly inaccurate Four Star rating that Freedom Alliance has a fund-raising “efficiency” of only nine cents on the dollar. And, in fact, Charity Navigator’s ridiculous rating formula robotically crunches numbers in a way that considers the money spent mostly on consultants, postage, and printing as having gone to the wounded soldiers and kids of fallen soldiers, when in fact that’s not where it went at all. It simply can’t be taken seriously.
And I’m not the only one who noticed. The comments on Charity Navigator’s Freedom Alliance page are indicative that those who checked this charity’s tax forms also note the scam.
“Wonkling” wrote:
If you look at the actual 990, it breaks down its program expenses. They actually spent more money this past year on postage than they did over the past 4 years on scholarships. They paid 60k to an air company, millions to consultants, marketing, fundraising. Their actual expenditures on funds for children of killed/disabled veterans is far less than what they paid themselves or their consultants. Having a large capacity (4 stars) should not overshadow a cumbersome efficiency rating (2 stars).
“Chickenbone” wrote:
Since 2003 Freedom Alliance has collected in cash $48,241,571! Since 2003 they have spent on the Wounded and Dead Veterans and their Families $1,781,782 or .036 cents on the dollar, according to their own IRS 990’s!
Yes, Sean Hannity’s Freedom Concerts are just a giant con. His gushing lumpenconservatariat fans and listeners actually believe he’s doing good, while he travels in style around the country feeding his ego. It’s a win-win for him. But it’s a lose-lose for the donors (who are mostly hard-working, Middle Americans who want to help our troops and their families and bought concert tickets and held other fundraisers) and mostly a loser for the kids of the fallen troops and the troops, themselves, who survived with very serious injuries.
You’ve heard the saying, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” I love patriotism, but in this case, Sean Hannity’s “Freedom Concerts” and the Freedom Alliance are Exhibit A of that saying. But they’re not really patriots. Not even close. Their only patriotism is to the faces they see in their mirrors. Hey, Sean, you’re a “Great American.”
Sadly, the real great Americans–the ones who gave their lives and the ones who survived but gave their limbs and their skin for this country–are getting ripped off.
**** UPDATE, 03/18/10: Just as I expected, the liars and frauds at Freedom Alliance want to keep the gravy train going for them and their cronies. So they’ve issued a “response,” which doesn’t refute a single fact in here and frankly provides no hard evidence of anything . . . because they don’t have any. One of the “prominent bloggers” who posted the phony response is Erick Erickson, a guy who supports Rand Paul and the other 9/11 Truther Paul, and who defended Emily, Zanotti, the lunatic who has been stalking me for four years and who praised Muslim death, rape, and torture threats against me and my family. Yes, sadly, there are a growing number of anti-Semites on the right, and Erick Erickson is one of them. And the anti-Semites are now the defenders of this rip off of our seriously wounded troops and the kids of our fallen heroes.
Here is my response to their extremely weak PR attempt at CYA:
In fact, the Freedom Alliance “response” doesn’t answer any of the questions I raised and goes on to lie more. They don’t address why they gave a triple amputee only $200—and in fact there are many of these examples provided in their tax return addendum, but I only cited a few for brevity’s sake. They also lie and claim that they gave a lot more money to charity b/c they categorize it as “program expenses.” But I’m sorry—calling $3 million in consulting fees, printing, and postage “program expenses” doesn’t change the fact that it still went to their cronies, not to a fund and not the soldiers who only got on average less than $900 apiece. It also doesn’t change the fact that out of the money spent (I didn’t use the money they claim they raised for their scholarship fund) the vast majority goes to those kinds of expenses.
Also, the “scholarship fund” is really a war chest for something else. We’ve been at war since 2001, when we went into Afghanistan, and we’re winding down in Iraq. Unless the kids were born in 2001 or thereafter, many of these kids are in college now and Freedom Alliance is giving them a pittance toward their college tuition, while they continue to build this massive war chest. With a giant multi-million dollar fund, why aren’t they giving the kids a free, complete ride to college? And how many kids of deceased troops will there be in the future? Enough to exhaust a multi-million dollar fund? Doubtful.
Moreover, because they hoarded millions of dollars, their returns show the fund shrunk by several million dollars with bad investments and market losses. That money could have put these kids through college for the entire time. What’s their excuse for the soldiers with no limbs and with severe burns? Are they waiting for two decades from now when technology is better? $165 for a soldier who is blind and his face blew (SIC) up? No excuse for that. Their “response” is simply a non-response and an attempt to cover up the fraud. I will be posting more on this and on more fraud at Freedom Alliance, in the coming days. Stay tuned.