Navy desertions up along with suicides. Biden, Congress act on baby formula shortage. Russian soldier pleads guilty in Ukraine war crimes trial.
Navy desertions up along with suicides
Earlier this month, the father of a deceased US Navy sailor spoke out about how conditions aboard his son’s ship, the aircraft carrier USS George Washington, and inaction by Navy brass contributed to his son’s suicide. Xavier Hunter Sandor was the third Washington sailor to commit suicide in one week in early April this year. In all, seven sailors from that same ship have committed suicide since 2019. Other Washington sailors who have attempted suicide described the unlivable conditions aboard the carrier, which is undergoing a refit in Virginia, as well as a “toxic leadership” environment on the ship.
Following Sandor’s death, the Navy belatedly assigned additional mental health resources for Washington sailors. But when Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Russell Smith visited the carrier, his remarks illustrated the dismissive attitude towards mental health that others have described. Smith acknowledged to sailors the Navy could have done more to “manage your expectations” about the assignment, but minimized the sailors’ ordeal saying “you’re not in a foxhole”.
According to the latest available figures, Navy suicides rose 16% between 2019 and 2020. The tragic suicides have also drawn attention to a growing number of Navy deserters. In 2021, there were 157 new Navy deserters, compared with 63 in 2019 and 98 in 2020. Of the 152 deserters remaining at large as of May 9, two are from the USS George Washington. Captured deserters can spend years in prison.
Lenore Yarger, a resource counselor with the GI Rights Hotline, explains that sailors in crisis feel “trapped” both by nearly unbreakable 6-year contracts and a lack of help or concern from their superiors.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
White House, Congress act on baby formula shortage
President Biden has invoked the Defense Production Act to address the nationwide shortage of baby formula. Specifically, the order directs suppliers of raw materials used in producing formula to prioritize orders to formula manufacturers. It’s not clear what effect this will have since a shortage of raw materials doesn’t seem to be much of an issue. However the order also authorizes the Department of Defense to use commercial aircraft to import formula from overseas that meets US quality standards. This will have a more immediate effect.
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives has passed two bills to address the current crisis and prevent future ones. The first will allow beneficiaries of the WIC supplemental nutrition program greater flexibility in brands and amounts of formula they can purchase. It also requires formula manufacturers to form contingency plans to meet future supply disruptions. This bill passed with broad bipartisan support at 414 to 9.
The second would grant the FDA an additional $28 million to remove fraudulent formula products from stores and to boost the workforce focused on formula. This bill also passed, but with only 12 Republican votes. Republican critics of the second bill say does too little to address the current crisis.
Russian soldier pleads guilty in Ukraine war crimes trial
A 21-year-old Russian Army sergeant pleaded guilty in the first war crimes trial of the Ukraine conflict. Vadim Shishimarin admitted to shooting 62-year-old male civilian in the early days of the invasion. Shishimarin said that he saw the man talking on a cell phone and shot him, fearing he was calling in their position to Ukrainian resistance fighters. When the judge asked “Do you accept your guilt?”, Shishimarin replied “yes… totally”. The soldier faces a sentence of 10 years to life.
Reporters crowded into a tiny Kyiv courtroom to observe the proceedings. The baby-faced Shishimarin, wearing a blue and grey hoodie, sat in a glass cage just a few feet from the victim’s widow. “I feel very sorry for [Shishimarin],” the widow said. “But for a crime like that – I can’t forgive him”.
Ukrainian officials say they have identified over 11,000 war crimes committed by Russian soldiers that they intend to pursue and prosecute. In general, war crimes trials take place when a conflict is over. However, Ukrainian prosecutors argue it is better to begin prosecutions now since conflicts can last for years, by which time witnesses can be hard to find and evidence may be lost.
The Ukrainian attorney defending Shishimarin has emphasized that the world is watching Ukraine’s actions and that care must be taken to ensure the proceedings are just. There are concerns the trials could complicate the plight of Ukrainian prisoners of war in Russian custody. Displaying prisoners of war publicly is also a violation of the Geneva convention.
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