<![CDATA[NBC 7 San Diego - Military]]>Copyright 2017http://www.nbcsandiego.com/feature/military http://media.nbcnewyork.com/designimages/KNSD+RSS+Feed+logo+blue.png NBC 7 San Diego http://www.nbcsandiego.comen-usMon, 25 Sep 2017 19:26:17 -0700Mon, 25 Sep 2017 19:26:17 -0700NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Miramar Air Show Remembers Vietnam Vets With Mobile Wall ]]> Sun, 24 Sep 2017 23:47:39 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/216*120/mobile+wall.PNG

Daniel Flores would have been 70 years old Sunday.

His name, along with thousands of others, was on a mobile Vietnam memorial wall able to be viewed at the Miramar Air Show.

The air show wrapped up on Sunday, and this year there was a special remembrance for Vietnam vets who for many years after they came home did not get the recognition they deserved.

“In a time of upheaval and tension inside the country you were not necessarily welcomed home with open arms,” a speaker told the families of fallen service members in front of the wall Sunday. 

Flores, who came to the U.S. from Mexico when he was 13, graduated from high school in San Diego. He was killed in action in 1970. He was 22 years old.

Nearly five decades later his family still mourns his loss.

“He loved this country,” Flores’ niece, Amanda Shapouri, said. “I feel extremely proud for someone who came in so young, and developed a love for his country, and wanted to serve.”

The Flores family, like the other military families in attendance, hopes to keep Daniel's heroic story alive for generations to come.

Photo Credit: NBC 7]]>
<![CDATA[All-Veteran Jet Team Barrel Rolls Into the Miramar Air Show ]]> Sun, 24 Sep 2017 14:22:27 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/patriots+jet+team.PNG

Stunt flying at the Miramar Air Show is not for the faint of heart, and the members of the Patriots jet team know a little something about courage – they’re all veterans.

Rob "Scratch" Mitchell pilots an L-39 Albatross along with five other retired military fighter pilots for a 26-minute aerobatic show above the clouds.

“It's fun to be here in the midst of all our military brethren,” he said Saturday. “Just the magnitude of the Miramar Show makes it one of our favorite ones.”

The team was formed in 2003 by aviator Randy Howell based in Byron, California. The team has logged more than 105,000 flight miles and more than 1,500 airshows.

“We have airplanes in the aerobatic box more times than any other jet team in the world,” Patriots pilot Michael "Smurf" Temby told NBC 7.

The Patriots Jet Team will perform from 1:25 p.m. Sunday at the Miramar Air Show.

<![CDATA[Blue Angels in Town for MCAS Miramar Air Show]]> Fri, 22 Sep 2017 06:52:05 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/Blue_Angels_in_Town_for_MCAS_Miramar_Air_Show.jpg

NBC 7's Gaby Rodriguez reports on the weekend event that offers free admission.

<![CDATA[MCAS Miramar Air Show Flies the Skies]]> Fri, 22 Sep 2017 12:16:47 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/MiraAS5_1012+copy.jpg

The MCAS Miramar Air Show returns to San Diego’s skies with incredible aircraft performances this weekend, Friday through Sunday.

This air show’s theme this year is "A Salute to Vietnam Veterans" to recognize and honor Vietnam veterans for their service. The world-famous U.S. Navy Blue Angels will perform from 2:05 p.m. to 3:05 p.m., finishing each day with an F-35B demo.

The show launches from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, in San Diego’s Miramar neighborhood, located 15 miles north of downtown San Diego

Gates open at 8 a.m., when the public can catch remote-control flyers and paramotors in the skies. The main high-flying action starts at 9 a.m. Shows end at 4:20 p.m. each day.

General admission is free but, if you're looking for a reserved seat and a prime view of the aircraft action, grandstand tickets start at $12 and box seats at $35, with discounts offered for military and children. You can check out the different paid seating packages here.

To get to the show, motorists are advised to enter MCAS Miramar through the Main (East) Gate from the MCAS Miramar (Miramar Way) exit on Insterstate 15 or the North or West Gates from the Miramar Road exit on I-15 or Interstate 805.

Visitors must have a valid driver’s license, current registration and proof of insurance to bring their vehicle onto the military base. If it’s a rental car, valid driver’s license, proof of insurance and car rental agreement will be required. Security personnel will direct you from the gate to your parking area.

Bicyclists can access the show through the Main Gate via Kearney Villa Road, but the road will be is closed from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. for the Blue Angels performance, so motorists will be directed to the West Gate from Miramar Road or North Gate from Clayton Drive.

Once on base, bicyclists will be routed by traffic control to the Bicycle Parking Pavilion (BPP) near the flight line.

Attendees with certain tickets should be aware of different parking areas:

  • Grandstands & Box Seat ticket holders: use the North, East/Main or West Gates
  • Preferred Parking: requires special passes and can enter from Harris Plant Rd. off of Kearny Villa Rd.
  • Chalet Ticket Holders: enter through South Gate
  • Handicapped Parking: Use the West or North Gate
  • Bus Parking: use the West Gate
  • Bicycle Pavilion (BPP): located near flight line Air Show Entry Gate #2Bicyclist may enter through any gate and follow signs to the BPP

Ride-sharing and taxi pickup drop-off stations are also available to ease traffic and parking.

For further information on directions, parking and an event map click here.

Enjoy the show!

Photo Credit: NBCSanDiego]]>
<![CDATA[US Navy SEAL Pleads Guilty to Child Porn Allegations]]> Wed, 20 Sep 2017 13:58:31 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/Gregory-Kyle-Seerden-050317.jpg

An active-duty, Coronado-based U.S. Navy SEAL accused of possessing dozens of images of child pornography pleaded guilty in Virginia Wednesday.

Petty Officer 1st Class Gregory Kyle Seerden, 31, of San Diego entered a guilty plea to one count of child pornography production.

Seerden's ex-wife previously told NBC 7 that this isn't the first time he's been under investigation for inappropriate contact with a minor. A 2014 case was closed because of insufficient evidence. 

In another case, a woman accused Seerden of sexually assaulting her while she was intoxicated at his hotel on the Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story (JEBLCFS). She reported the incident to a gate sentry on Jan. 17.

During that period, he was on temporary duty in Virgina while assigned to SEAL Team One based in Coronado, California.

Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) agents later seized Seerden's iPhone 7 as part of an investigation into the alleged sexual assault. As they reviewed its contents, they discovered images of child pornography.

The investigation alleged that 78 disturbing images were found on his phone, including some depicting bondage of children, according to legal documents.

Among other sensitive material, investigators came across a video that appeared to show a man masturbating next to a sleeping girl who looked about 5 or 6 years old, according to legal documents.

In his plea agreement, Seerden admitted to using his iPhone to record himself inappropriately touching a sleeping child in January 2017, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Seerden was then extradited to Virginia in April, according to the District Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.

If convicted, he faces a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 15 to 30 years. His sentencing is currently set for Jan. 18 at 2:30 p.m. in Norfolk Courtroom 4 before District Judge Raymond A. Jackson.

Photo Credit: NBC 7]]>
<![CDATA[US Navy Commander Sentenced in Navy Bribery Case]]> Tue, 12 Sep 2017 17:25:12 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/court-gavel-generic-law.jpg

A former U.S. Navy Commander and later the civilian Deputy Chief of Staff at Special Operations Command, Pacific was sentenced Tuesday to more than a year in prison for his role in a multi-million dollar Navy bribery scandal.

David Kapaun, 58, pleaded guilty on June 6 of this year to one count of making false statements.

He admitted to lying to investigators of his relationship with Leonard Glenn Francis, or "Fat Leonard," the owner of Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA), which provided husbanding services to the U.S. Navy.

Kapaun received almost $50,000 in illegal goods and services from Francis since 2001, including partying at nightclubs, karaoke bars, fine dining, and prostitutes, according to the government's sentencing memo. 

In return, Kapaun provided classified schedules of U.S. Navy ship port visits. 

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Kapaun hid his relationship with Francis from authorities by using a fake name and email address.

Kapaun was sentenced to 18 months in prison Tuesday and ordered to pay a fine of $25,000, $50,000 of restitution to the U.S. Navy and perform 200 hours of community service after his release.

A total of 28 defendants have been charged in connection with the investigation—19 of whom have pleaded guilty and nine still await trial.

In March of this year, nine high-ranking Seventh Fleet U.S. Navy officers were also indicted for accepting bribes from Francis in exchange for military secrets, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office, including retired U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Bruce Loveless.

In June 2016, Rear Admiral Robert Gilbeau became the first highest-ranking U.S. Navy officer to be charged in the case. He pleaded guilty to one felony charge in connection with the years-long corruption and fraud scheme.

He was sentenced in May of this year to three years of supervision after incarceration and was ordered to pay $150,000 in fines and restitution to the U.S. Navy.

Francis has also pleaded guilty and awaits sentencing.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Marine Combat Veteran: 9/11 Sealed My Destiny]]> Mon, 11 Sep 2017 22:56:35 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/214*120/9-11-17-Povas+Miknaitis.JPG

U.S. Marine Corps combat veteran and Purple Heart recipient Povas Miknaitis was just 11 years old on Sept. 11, 2001. 

Before the deadliest terror attack on American soil, Miknaitis already knew he wanted to do something to serve his country, in some way. 

But Sept. 11, 2001, sealed his destiny, Miknaitis told NBC 7.

"I'd already known that I wanted to join the military just because both my brothers before me did and this kind of solidified that," he said. 

And for those already in the military, 9/11 solidified their mission for years to come.

In October 2001, the U.S. military entered Afghanistan. In 2003, they entered Iraq.

Miknaitis would eventually serve in both countries.

He wanted to be at the tip of the spear no matter the risk.

"I joined the Marine Corps because of that because I was willing to lay down my life to make sure more Americans could be safe," Miknaitis said.

Nearly 7,000 lives have been lost in the war on terror since Sept. 11, 2001. 

Miknatis watched as his fellow Marines and their families sacrificed their personnel lives.

"Roughly a third of the guys from our unit, so when we would come back, their wives would divorce them, engagements would break up, girlfriends would break up with them," he said.

Many service members, including Miknaitis, sacrificed much of themselves in the war.

Miknaitis was awarded a Purple Heart for his actions. His injuries from an IED led to multiple surgeries and care he still deals with to this day.

But he does not regret a thing, especially on days like today, the 16-year anniversary of 9/11.

"I would not second guess anything that I did or hesitate to do anything that I did, ever," Miknaitis said. "I don't have any regrets."

He said that he is one of many Marine veterans he knows: ready, even at 11 years old, to fight for our country.

"We knew the consequence of the actions, of what we were doing, but it was to keep Americans safe -- the world safe," Miknaitis said.

Photo Credit: NBC 7 San Diego]]>
<![CDATA[National Guard Evacuates People Stranded on St. Maarten]]> Mon, 11 Sep 2017 11:24:30 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/STMAARTENEVACUATION.jpg

The U.S. military and national guard members from various states have deployed to the Caribbean to provide aid to survivors and help evacuate people stranded following Hurricane Irma.

Dozens of people were evacuated from the island of St. Maarten via Carolina, Puerto Rico, in video released Friday by the New York Air National Guard's 105th Airlift Wing.

USS Wasp arrived in the U.S. Virgin Islands Thursday and helped evacuate critical care patients from St. Thomas to St. Croix, according to U.S. Northern Command. 

The U.S. Virgin Islands has access to C-130s from the Illinois and North Carolina Air National Guard, two medevac Black Hawks and 20 guard members from Kentucky, read to eat meals from Rhode Island National Guard. As of Saturday, the National Guard Bureau showed 625 members were helping there.

More than 375 members of the Army National Guard were at work in Puerto Rico.

The U.S. Navy has moved the aircraft carrier, USS Abraham Lincoln, into the region, bringing the total of ships in the area to seven. USS Farragut, USS Kearsarge, USS Oak Hill, USS Iwo Jima and USS New York are in the region.

<![CDATA[Marine Dies in Training Exercise at Camp Pendleton]]> Sat, 09 Sep 2017 19:32:54 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/marine16.jpg

A United States Marine died during a training exercise at the Camp Pendleton base north of San Diego County late last month, U.S. Marine Corps officials said.

On Aug. 30, Private First Class Michael P. Giannattasio was found unresponsive during a land navigation training event with the Basic Reconnaissance Course, School of Infantry West, aboard Camp Pendleton, according to a statement released by USMC officials this week.

When medics arrived, they tried to resuscitate the Marine, but it was too late. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The investigation is ongoing by the command and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. No further details were released about the type of training exercise being conducted by the Marine or what led to his death.

The USMC released this statement about Giannattasio’s passing: “The Marine Corps is in mourning and offer our deepest condolences. We continue to support the family during this difficult time. PFC Giannattasio was an outstanding Marine who stepped up to the difficult challenge of earning a spot amongst our distinguished reconnaissance forces. Though he will be deeply missed, he will always remain in our ranks. Once a Marine, always a Marine.”

Photo Credit: USMC]]>
<![CDATA[C-17 Globemasters Await Call to Help Hurricane Irma Survivors]]> Fri, 08 Sep 2017 11:51:29 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/C17-Globemaster-3747573.jpg

Photo Credit: Senior Airman Amber Carter]]>
<![CDATA[Non-Profit Group Offers Free Rides to Vets]]> Wed, 06 Sep 2017 10:45:53 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/219*120/seatbelt1.jpg

San Diego-area veterans can get a free ride through a program launched by the non-profit Facilitating Access to Coordinated Transportation.

FACT started in 2005 to fill gaps in public transportation.

Veterans can reserve one free round trip per week for any purpose now through December 31, 2017.

There's no age or income criteria. However, the ride has to be from suburban San Diego County.

You can request a ride by calling (760) 754-1252 or (888) 924-3228 weekdays between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. You can make a reservation one to seven days in advance.

Companions that are not Veterans may be accommodated on a space available basis.

The program is made possible by funding from San Diego County’s TransNet, USDOT’s New Freedom, and California’s Transportation Development Act grants.

<![CDATA[USS Sterett Arrives in San Diego]]> Mon, 28 Aug 2017 11:54:46 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/USS-Sterett-Arrives-082817.jpg

The guided-missile destroyer USS Sterett returned home to San Diego Monday following a five-month deployment. The Sterett deployed March 31 with the destroyer USS Dewey. The Dewey came home on time at the end of July but the Sterett's mission was extended by one month.

<![CDATA[US Navy to Take an Operational Pause to Review Training]]> Mon, 28 Aug 2017 00:03:22 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/US_Navy_to_Take_an_Operational_Pause_to_Review_Training.jpg

After the second serious naval incident in a matter of months, NBC 7's Bridget Naso speaks with Navy personnel to see how an operational pause will affect the military overseas and in San Diego.

<![CDATA[Troop Levels in Afghanistan Higher than Originally Reported]]> Mon, 28 Aug 2017 00:02:44 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/Troop_Level_in_Afghanistan_Higher_than_Pentagon_Said.jpg

NBC 7's Bridget Naso reports on the fluctuating numbers of military troops deployed in Afghanistan.

<![CDATA[Enemy Drones Pose Threat to USS Nimitz]]> Fri, 25 Aug 2017 15:15:54 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/USS-Nimitz-Homecoming1-1212.jpg
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Photo Credit: NBC 7 San Diego]]>
<![CDATA[USO San Diego Hosts Baby Shower for 150+ Military Moms]]> Thu, 24 Aug 2017 14:12:11 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/USO-Baby-Shower.jpg

With flowers, gifts, and games, more than 150 military mothers-to-be enjoyed a baby shower at Camp Pendleton Thursday, a chance to bond with other moms and feel support during a challenging time.

USO San Diego and the What to Expect Foundation partnered to host the party as a way to give thanks to military families for their service and sacrifice. Heidi Murkoff, the author of the best-selling book, "What to Expect When You’re Expecting," was in attendance, answering questions from military moms about birth and motherhood.

Alexandra Volp, a senior programs manager for USO, said the organization hosts baby showers for military moms throughout the year through its “Special Delivery” program. The events are a way for moms to mingle and make connections amongst themselves.

"It’s tough whether it’s their first child or fourth child," said Volp.

Volp said the program helps more than 2,100 military moms each year.

At Thursday’s shower, this included Brittney Roach, a military wife who is 17 weeks pregnant with her second child. Roach’s husband is currently deployed aboard USS Nimitz.

She said not having him home during her pregnancy has been difficult.

"It’s been pretty hard," she said, holding back tears.

She communicates with her husband via email and tries to keep him updated on her pregnancy and their family. Still, she said he feels bad that he’s not home to help.

Roach said the baby shower at the base made her feel excited about her pregnancy. She enjoyed speaking with other military moms going through similar experiences.

Roach will give birth soon after her husband returns from deployment.

"He’s really excited," she added.

To learn more about USO San Diego, events in support of our military and how you can help military service members and their families, click here.

Photo Credit: NBC 7 San Diego]]>
<![CDATA[Family Members ID 5 Sailors Missing in Collision]]> Wed, 23 Aug 2017 10:45:41 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/AP_17234274693256.jpg
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Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Veterans, Families React to President Trump's Address]]> Mon, 21 Aug 2017 23:15:43 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/08-21-17+Trump+speech+reaction.jpg

Veterans and their families listened carefully and attentively Monday to President Donald Trump's address when he announced more troops will be sent to Afghanistan--some in support but still left with unanswered questions.

"I am here tonight to lay out our path forward in Afghanistan and South Asia," explained President Trump during his address. "One way or another, these problems will be solved. I'm a problem-solver. In the end, we will win."

Trump did not say how many more troops would be deployed nor when but did say the threat from terrorists is still very real.

Jean Jensen, the mother of a Sergeant once deployed in Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan, said she agreed terrorism was a threat. 

"We still have to protect and fight ISIS because it's obvious what's happening with Barcelona and Finland, and everything else that's been going on in the last few days--they're not going to give up," Jensen said.

Jensen's whole family has served, including her husband and two sons.

She told NBC 7 she knows firsthand the sacrifices families make and uncertainty during deployment.

"Very scared, because I knew my son was out in the field. He was a combat medic.  He had to shoot, defend and bring in wounded soldiers on both sides," she said.

Trump has flip-flopped on the decision to send more troops to Afghanistan over recent years.

In 2013, he tweeted out, "we should leave Afghanistan immediately."

The war in Afghanistan will near 16 years come October, making it by far the longest war our nation has fought.  

Photo Credit: NBC 7]]>
<![CDATA[Sailors' Remains Found in Ship Collision]]> Tue, 22 Aug 2017 06:31:05 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/Sailors__Remains_Found_in_Ship_Collision.jpg

NBC 7 Greg Bledsoe and Marianne Kushi report

<![CDATA[US Navy Captain Pleads Guilty in 'Fat Leonard' Bribery Case]]> Tue, 12 Sep 2017 17:24:57 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/gavel-generic-stock_prgenerica.jpg

Another U.S. Navy official has pleaded guilty in a multi-million dollar Navy bribery scheme involved 28 defendants, including 21 current and former Navy officials.

U.S. Navy Captain Jesus Vasquez Cantu, 59, admitted Friday in federal court that he accepted bribes from Leonard Glenn Francis, owner Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA), also known as "Fat Leonard."

He pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery.

According to his plea agreement, Cantu accepted bribes in the form of parties, hotel rooms, and the services of prostitutes on several occasions in 2012 and 2013. In return, he provided Francis with proprietary U.S. Navy information to Francis which was used to help his with his company's business.

Cantu also admitted that he was involved in a bribery conspiracy with Francis during his time as the Assistant Chief of Staff for Logistics for the Commander of the U.S. Navy's Seventh Fleet aboard USS Blue Ridge in 2007.

In March of this year, nine high-ranking Seventh Fleet U.S. Navy officers were also indicted for accepting bribes from Francis in exchange for military secrets, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office, including retired U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Bruce Loveless.

The Seventh Fleet is the largest numbered fleet in the U.S. Navy, with 60-70 ships, 200-300 aircraft and approximately 40,000 Sailors and Marines. It is responsible for Navy ships and subordinate commands that operate in the Western Pacific.

A total of 28 defendants have been charged in connection to the investigation—19 of whom have pleaded guilty and nine still await trial.

"The number of U.S. Navy officials who participated in this conspiracy is astounding," said Acting U.S. Attorney Alana W. Robinson. "Like so many others, this defendant sold out the Navy and his country for cocktails and karaoke. We are pressing forward in this investigation until we are certain that all involved have been held accountable."

In June 2016, Rear Admiral Robert Gilbeau became the first highest-ranking U.S. Navy officer to be charged in the case. He pleaded guilty to one felony charge in connection to the years-long corruption and fraud scheme.

He was sentenced in May of this year to three years of supervision after incarceration and was ordered to pay $150,000 in fines and restitution to the U.S. Navy.

Francis has also pleaded guilty and awaits sentencing.

Cantu will be sentenced on Nov. 9.

<![CDATA[USS Fitzgerald Sailors Posthumously Promoted]]> Wed, 16 Aug 2017 20:48:08 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/6-21-17-Carlos+Sibayan+Alexander+Douglass.jpg

The U.S. Navy posthumously promoted the seven Sailors who died aboard USS Fitzgerald. 

The bodies of the Navy Sailors were found by Navy divers June 18 in a flooded berthing compartment after the destroyer crashed with a Philippine merchant ship off the coast of Japan.

San Diego natives Yeoman 3rd Class Shingo Alexander Douglass, 25, and Fire Controlman 2nd Class Carlos Sibayan were, 23, were among the seven to be posthumously promoted. 

Douglass was advanced to Yeoman Petty Officer 2nd Class and Sibayan was advanced to Fire Controlman Petty Officer 1st Class, according to the U.S. Navy.

Douglass was born at the U.S. Naval Hospital on Okinawa and went back to Japan every year. He learned to speak Japanese fluently. His father, a decorated U.S. Marine, was proud to have his son report for duty aboard the USS Fitzgerald.

He was described by loved ones as a caring brother, grandson, and friend who loved the U.S. Navy.

Sibayan was less than a month from returning home when he died. He had served in the U.S. Navy for four years and had spent three of those years in Japan. His mother told NBC 7 her son was a hero and she was proud of him.

“If you never met my son, you missed a whole lot,” she said. “In every sense of the word, he is my hero.”

The other Sailors were also promoted:

  • Gunner's Mate Seaman Dakota Rigsby, 19, of Palmyra, Va., was posthumously advanced to Petty Officer 3rd Class
  • Sonar Technician 3rd Class Ngoc Huynh, 25, of Oakville Conn., was advanced to Petty Officer 2nd Class
  • Gunner's Mate 2nd Class Noe Hernandez, 26, of Weslaco, Tex., was advanced to Petty Officer 1st Class
  • Personnel Specialst 1st Class Xavier Alec Martin, 24, of Halethorpe, Md., was advanced to Chief Petty Officer
  • Fire Controlman 1st Class Gary Rehm, 37, of Elyria, Ohio, was advanced to Chief Petty Officer. 

Photo Credit: U.S. Navy
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<![CDATA[US Navy Official Pleads Guilty in 'Fat Leonard' Bribery Case]]> Tue, 15 Aug 2017 17:15:42 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/judge+gavel+generic.jpg

A U.S. Navy commander pleaded guilty Tuesday in connection with an investigation of a multi-million dollar Navy bribery scheme involving Singapore-based defense contractor Leonard Glenn Francis, also known as “Fat Leonard.”

Bobby Pitts, 48, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. by attempting to protect Francis, who owns Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA).

Pitts served as the officer in charge of the Navy’s Fleet Industrial Supply Command (FISC) in Singapore from August 2009 to May 2001. During that time, he learned the Naval Criminal Investigative Service was investigating whether Francis’ company was overbilling the Navy on ship husbanding contracts.

According to his plea agreement, Pitts had access to internal documents from the U.S. Navy regarding the investigation and shared that information with Francis.

In 2015, he also pleaded guilty to bribery and fraud charges in a decade long conspiracy involving a number of U.S. Navy officials.

NBC 7 has been following this investigation since September 2013.

"Fat Leonard" plead guilty in January 2015 to bribing senior Navy officials in exchange for specific U.S. Navy warship movements so his company could overbill the Pentagon.

A total of 27 defendants have been charged in connection to the investigation—18 of whom have pleaded guilty.

Last Friday, two former executives for GDMA, Neil Peterson and Linda Raja, were sentenced.

In June 2016, Rear Admiral Robert Gilbeau became the first highest-ranking U.S. Navy officer to be charged in the case. He pleaded guilty to one felony charge in connection to the years-long corruption and fraud scheme.

He was sentenced in May of this year to three years of supervision after incarceration and was ordered to pay $150,000 in fines and restitution to the U.S. Navy.

Pitts is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 1.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Tetra images RF]]>
<![CDATA[Family of Man Who Died in Navy SEAL Training Wants Answers]]> Mon, 14 Aug 2017 21:01:36 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/Seaman+James+Derek+Lovelace.jpg

The attorney for the family of a former U.S. Navy SEAL trainee has sent the Navy a letter demanding an answer to whether their loved one died in the line of duty within ten days.

James Derek Lovelace, 21, died May 6, 2016, at Naval Base Coronado while undergoing training regimens.

Read the full letter here.

Lovelace had enlisted in the U.S. Navy boot camp in November 2015. In January of the following year, he began an intense physical conditioning program training to prep for the Navy SEAL program.

He finished the program in April and was in his first week of basic underwater demolition/SEAL training when the accident occurred.

A Navy spokesman said the young seaman was doing an exercise where students tread water and swim in a pool while wearing diving masks and a camouflage utility uniform.

During that training, Lovelace went to the side of the pool and passed out.

Training instructors immediately began resuscitation efforts, but Lovelace never regained consciousness. He was taken to Sharp-Coronado Hospital and later pronounced dead.

The Medical Examiner ruled the death a homicide after finding that Lovelace had been dunked at least twice by an instructor while struggling to tread water in full gear.

Lovelace had an enlarged heart that contributed to his death, according to the autopsy. The autopsy also discovered Lovelace had an abnormal coronary artery, that has been associated with sudden cardiac death, especially in athletes.

But in April of this year, authorities said the U.S. Navy would not pursue criminal charges in Lovelace's death, the family's attorney said.

In the letter sent to the Navy, the family's attorney stated that two Navy Commanders visited Lovelace’s home in Florida and told his father that Navy investigators found no criminal wrongdoing. They also said to him that a determination of whether Lovelace died in the line of duty could be expected any day.

But four months later, the letter stated the family is still waiting for that answer -- something the lawyer calls "both offensive and regrettable."

The attorney is asking that a line of duty determination be made within ten days. If that cannot be completed, the letter asks for the cause and reason for the delay.

"What happened to this family is tragic enough," the letter reads. "Setting aside the findings and decision not to prosecute the accused SEAL or SEALs, the Lovelace family is at the very least entitled to the dignity and respect of a determination as to whether Derek died in the line of duty."

Photo Credit: U.S. Navy]]>
<![CDATA[Coast Guard Rescues Pilot Off Florida Coast]]> Mon, 14 Aug 2017 11:52:13 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/CoastGuardRescue_1200x675_1024331331938.jpg

 A Navy pilot ejected from his F-5N Tiger II tactical fighter aircraft August 9th, southeast of Naval Air Station Key West.
The pilot, assigned to Fighter Squadron Composite 111, was quickly recovered by a Coast Guard helicopter.
The Tiger II aircraft crashed while conducting training operations off the Florida coast.
The incident is currently under investigation.

<![CDATA[Military Families, New to San Diego, Get Back-to-School Help]]> Sat, 12 Aug 2017 19:07:11 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/Military-BacktoSchool-0812.jpg

Preparing the back-to-school punch list can be challenging for any family, but for military moms and dads arriving in a new city, this time of year can be downright stressful.

The San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) hosted its annual Military Appreciation Open House Saturday at Tierrasanta's Deportola Middle School to help hundreds of military families who are new to San Diego get up to speed.

Parents enrolled students into their new schools.

Students also received required vaccinations and gathered helpful information about community military support groups including everything from study groups to soccer team sign-ups.

Alyssa Speaker's husband is in the U.S. Navy and recently transferred to Naval Amphibious Base Coronado. Speaker and her family have more four times over the past few years.

For her, the back-to-school event was a huge relief.

She and her soon-to-be second-grader, Dominic, arrived in San Diego less than a week ago.

"I was really worried this time around because it's the first time we've had to transfer him from one school to another," she told NBC 7.

The program helped Speaker and her son feel more settled in.

"It helps so much; it takes away some of the stress," Speaker added. "Just to get the kids enrolled and to get them where they need to be."

Dominic was all smiles, saying he was excited to start second grade.

The SDUSD estimates it serves more than 9,000 military-connected students each year.

The district hosted the event with help from active-duty military personnel from local U.S. Marine Corps, Navy, and U.S. Coast Guard bases.

Mia Funk, director of reconnection for SDUSD, said the annual enrollment fair is a way for the district to support military families and help them navigate the school system.

Funk estimated about 200 military families attended Saturday's event. 

SDUSD starts the new school year on Monday, Aug. 28.

Photo Credit: NBC 7 San Diego]]>
<![CDATA[2 Former Executives Sentenced in Navy Bribery Scandal]]> Fri, 11 Aug 2017 21:23:52 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/gavel-generic-stock.jpg

Two former Singapore executives for foreign defense contractor Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA) were sentenced Friday for their involvement in a multi-million dollar Navy bribery scheme.

Neil Peterson, 39, and Linda Raja, 44, pleaded guilty on May 9 of this year to conspiring to submit bogus bids, claims and invoices to the U.S. Navy. 

Peterson served as the Vice President for Malaysian businessman Leonard Glenn Francis, known by his nickname “Fat Leonard." Raja was as General Manager for Singapore, Australia and the Pacific Isles.

Both were arrested in Singapore last year and extradited to the U.S. on Oct. 28.

Friday, Raja was sentenced to three years and 10 months in prison. Peterson was sentenced to five years and 10 months behind bars Friday.

Peterson worked for Francis's company for 20 years, starting after his high school graduation.

His lawyer acknowledged in court that Peterson was "part of the conspiracy, no doubt", and that he "crossed the lines knowingly, willingly, and did things he knew hurt the United States Navy and the U.S. government."

Prosecutors said Peterson had a significant role in the $35 million fraud.

But his lawyer argued that Peterson "tried to redeem himself by readily admitting his guilt" when confronted by investigators.

Prosecutors confirmed that Peterson has cooperated with investigators by sharing information about how the contracting scam worked. Peterson also spent three months in jail in Singapore--which his lawyer described as a horrific, torturous experience that makes U.S. federal prison seem comfortable in comparison.

Evidence in the case revealed that Francis kept Peterson loyal and involved in the fraud by giving him regular pay raises and rewarding him for helping with the scheme.

Raja was a flight attendant before joining GDMA.

According to her lawyer, Raja "knew it was wrong" to defraud U.S. tax payers. He claimed his client suffers from "shame and remorse" for her actions.

In court, Raja, like Peterson, apologized tearfully to the judge and said she takes responsibility for her actions.

Back in May, Peterson and Raja admitted to submitting fraudulent claims and invoices to the U.S. Navy which contained false prices and information from actual businesses. The fraud was done to ensure GDMA's quote would be chosen as the lowest bidder by the U.S. Navy.

In their plea agreement, Raja and Peterson also admitted to inflating prices set by the Port Authorities so Francis' company could charge more to the Navy.


NBC 7 has been following this investigation since September 2013.

A total of 27 defendants have been charged in connection to the investigation against "Fat Leonard" and his company. Seventeen of the defendants, including Peterson and Raja, have plead guilty.

In January 2015, “Fat Leonard” plead guilty to bribing senior Navy officials in exchange for specific U.S. Navy warship movements so his company could overbill the Pentagon.

Rear Admiral Robert Gilbeau became the first highest-ranking U.S. Navy officer to be charged in the case in June, 2016. He pleaded guilty to one felony charge in connection to the years-long corruption and fraud scheme. 

Former civilian Defense Department Officer Paul Simpkins also entered a guilty plea in a federal court in San Diego.

Judge Janis L. Sammartino called the scheme "a cancer on the American public" and noted that the defendants as a group will be responsible for paying back the stolen taxpayer money.

But Sammartino acknowledged that Peterson and Raja will never have the means to repay millions of dollars.

Both were ordered to start by paying $25 every three months while in prison, and $100 a month when they are released from custody.

"Fat Leonard" and other defendants who have more assets could be ordered to pay significantly more when they are sentenced.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto]]>
<![CDATA[USMC Orders 'Operational Reset' After Osprey Crash Off Australia]]> Fri, 11 Aug 2017 11:34:50 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/Marines-Generic-3648289.jpg

The commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps has ordered a 24-hour stand-down of all flight operations, or "an operational reset," USMC officials confirmed Friday.

The pause in flight operations will not happen immediately but at some point within the next two weeks, according to a statement.

General Robert. B. Neller directed all aviation units to perform the operational reset, where no flights will take place but no operational commitments would be impacted, USMC officials said. 

An American MV-22 Osprey was conducting regularly scheduled operations on Saturday when it crashed into the water near a Navy transport dock off the coast of Australia. The wreckage was found two days later. Three Marines died in the crash. 

A Camp Pendleton-based Marine was one of the victims.

Pfc. Ruben Velasco, 19, was assigned to the Battery G, Battalion Landing Team for the third Battalion, fifth Marines based out of Camp Pendleton, according to the Marine Corps.

The other victims were identified as first Lt. Benjamin Cross, 26, from Oxford, Maine and Cpl. Nathaniel Ordway, 21, from Kansas.

Twenty-three other personnel who were on board the Osprey when it crashed were rescued. 

The Osprey is a tilt-rotor aircraft that takes off and lands like a helicopter but flies like an airplane. The aircraft has been involved in a series of high-profile crashes in recent years.

Photo Credit: Photo by Lance Cpl. Breanna Weisenberger ]]>
<![CDATA[US Marine Awarded for Saving Man Near Camp Pendleton]]> Thu, 10 Aug 2017 11:41:43 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/Marine+Awarded+0810.JPG

A U.S. Marine was honored for pulling a man from a burning vehicle and saving his life on his way to Camp Pendleton in Oceanside.

On Tuesday, Sgt. Kevin Peach, an infantryman with the First Battalion, Eighth Marine Regiment, was awarded a Navy and Marine Corps Medal, according to the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD).

Peach received his award during a battalion formation at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. DoD officials said he was recognized for pulling a man out of a flaming, overturned car on his way back to Camp Pendleton in Oceanside back in 2015.

“We were driving down I-5 in California heading back to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, and a car pulled out in front of us, swerved, hit a wall going about 65 mph and then rolled a couple of times,” Peach told the DoD.

When faced with an emergency, Peach didn't hesitate. He pulled his car in front of the burning vehicle and rushed to the man's aid, said DoD officials.

“I was scared the entire time, but I saw a lifeless body sitting in the car, and I wasn’t just going to turn my head and do nothing about it,” said Peach. “Then I saw the smoke and knew I only had a certain amount of time before the car caught on fire.”

He attempted to break the windows off the car without success, said DoD officials.

“One of my best friends and I ripped off the back hatch, and I just barreled right in there,” said Peach. “The whole time I was feeling around for other people because I couldn’t see anything. Once I found him, he was tangled up in his seat belt, and I couldn’t get him loose.”

Then Peach received a flare from another driver who had pulled over to help, said DoD officials. This allowed him to cut the seat belt and carry the man out.

Peach helped the injured man, staying by his side until paramedics arrived. Dod officials said Peach was hospitalized for smoke inhalation after the heroic incident.

“Sgt. Peach is the embodiment of what we look for in our [non-commissioned officers],” said Lt. Col. Reginald McClam, commanding officer of the First Battalion, Eighth Marine Regiment, in a statement. “I’m proud of him, and I know the family that he brought into the Marine Corps by saving their family, is happy he was there.”

DoD officials added that Peach gained a lot more than a new medal after he risked his life to save a stranger.

“I talk to the family every other day,” said Peach. “It feels good being able to help somebody out. It’s not about the awards. I never thought when this happened that I’d get this [award]. I’m just glad I was there and able to help.”

Photo Credit: U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Sgt. Brandon Thomas
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<![CDATA[NAS North Island Names New Building After 102-Year-Old Veteran]]> Thu, 10 Aug 2017 14:37:12 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/210*120/nasbuilding.jpg

The Navy recognized a 102-year-old World War II veteran Thursday by inaugurating a new barracks in his name, a rare honor for a living recipient.

From his wheelchair, retired Chief Steward Andy Mills waved to the sailors attending the ceremony Thursday at the naval base, in Coronado, California, near San Diego. Mills told reporters softly before the ceremony that he was overjoyed by the honor.

"Oh beautiful," he told reporters when asked to describe how he felt seeing the barracks in his name, shaking his head side to side. "That's one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen so far."

He added moments later: "I think I have a lot of friends."

One of the maritime branch's first black chiefs, Mills risked his life for the service despite facing discrimination in a then-segregated Navy.

In 1942, Mills volunteered to board the USS Yorktown after it was attacked by the Japanese during the Battle of Midway. He cracked open a safe containing documents and bills on the heavily damaged ship. He and a paymaster stuffed them in a suitcase, got a rope and lowered it down off the ship before the Japanese attacked again, destroying the Yorktown and the USS Hammann next to it.

Capt. Stephen Barnett met Mills two years ago at an event in San Diego and said he was so moved by the man and what he had done that he wanted to honor him and have young sailors learn about the inspiring chief.

"He wasn't treated like his shipmates but it never stopped him from his duty -- a duty he carried out with courage, honor, and commitment -- and that remains a cornerstone of his character now," Barnett told the crowd at the ceremony.

Mills vividly recalled to reporters one of the officers saying "but I need one of those black boys over there" to go back on board the ship after it had been attacked by the Japanese. Mills, one of two African American sailors on the ship, agreed to go.

When the paymaster accompanying him could not open the safe on the USS Yorktown, Mills asked if he could have a go at it.

"Click. I went up there and turned it. Click," he said, grinning. "Money fell all out of it."

Family friend Deborah Thompson, of San Diego, said it meant so much to his family to see him finally honored for his bravery.

"It brought tears to our eyes," she said as she held on to the back of Mills' wheelchair.

The barracks will house 934 sailors. Carrying their seabags on their backs, some of the sailors gathered around Mills for a photo in front of Andrew Mills Hall.

<![CDATA[Camp Pendleton Marine Killed in Crash off Australia]]> Tue, 08 Aug 2017 13:19:46 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/aeronave-australia-rescate-3423.jpg

A Camp Pendleton-based U.S. Marine was identified Tuesday as one of the victims in the fatal military aircraft crash off the east coast of Australia.

Pfc. Ruben Velasco, 19, was assigned to the Battery G, Battalion Landing Team for the third Battalion, fifth Marines based out of Camp Pendleton, according to the U.S. Marine Corps.

Velasco was among three U.S. Marines presumed dead after the submerged wreckage of a military aircraft was found two days after it crashed into the sea near Australia.

“The loss of every Marine is felt across our entire Marine Corps family. To the families of the brave Marines we lost – there is no way for us to understand what you are going through,” said Col. Tye R. Wallace, Commanding Officer, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, in a statement.

His decorations included the National Defense Service Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.

The other victims were identified as first Lt. Benjamin Cross, 26, from Oxford, Maine and Cpl. Nathaniel Ordway, 21, from Kansas, according to the U.S. Marine Corps.

"They will live on forever in our thoughts and our hearts. You will always be a part of the Marine Corps family, and you will remain in our prayers," added Wallace.

Governor Jerry Brown honored Velasco by ordering that flags be flown at half-staff over the State Capitol. Brown is sending his condolences to the Velasco family in a letter.

An Australian navy ship arrived in Shoalwater Bay in Queensland state Sunday night to help the U.S. military hunt for the MV-22 Osprey, which the Marines said was conducting regularly scheduled operations on Saturday when it crashed into the water. The wreckage was found shortly thereafter, Australian Defense Minister Marise Payne said, in a statement.

Twenty-three other personnel who were on board the Osprey when it crashed were rescued. Three Marines went missing and were later presumed dead.

The Osprey is a tilt-rotor aircraft that takes off and lands like a helicopter but flies like an airplane. The aircraft has been involved in a series of high-profile crashes in recent years.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Tree Kills US Marine During Morning PT]]> Mon, 07 Aug 2017 08:44:57 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/Marine_Killed_in_Camp_Pendleton_Accident.jpg

A falling tree killed a U.S. Marine based at Camp Pendleton Friday. 

Lance Cpl. Cody J. Haley, 20, of Iowa was assigned to the 1st Marine Division.

USMC Capt. Sarah Burns said Haley was doing routine morning physical training when the tree fell.

Haley had deployed with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit last year. He has been awarded the National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and the Sea Service Deployment ribbon.

A statement released by Camp Pendleton reads in part:

“We are heartbroken at the tragic loss of a member of the Marine Corps family, and we will do all we can to comfort the family, friends and colleagues of the deceased.”

Officials are investigating the circumstances surrounding the incident. 

<![CDATA['Character and Virtue': USS Rafael Peralta Commissioned]]> Sat, 29 Jul 2017 18:40:52 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/USS-Peralta-Commissioning.jpg

The U.S. Navy’s newest guided-missile destroyer, USS Rafael Peralta (DDG 115), named for a fallen U.S. Marine Corps sergeant, was commissioned in San Diego Saturday.


The ship’s namesake, Sgt. Rafael Peralta grew up in San Diego and died in combat in Iraq on Nov. 15, 2004.

General Robert B. Neller, 37th Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, was one of the speakers at the ceremony, which took place at Naval Air Station North Island.

He said the ship carries the “spirit of Sgt. Peralta” who was, in his words, “a man of character and virtue.”

“We need more people like him in our world,” Neller said, thanking the Peralta family.

Peralta, 25, was a scout team leader assigned to the “Lava Dogs” of Company A, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment.

Peralta’s team was clearing houses as part of Operation Phantom Fury during the second battle of Fallujah in Iraq. Though not personally assigned to enter the buildings, the sergeant chose to do so anyway. While going into a room inside one of those homes, Peralta was hit several times with gunfire from an AK-47 and was critically wounded.

According to the U.S. Navy, two fellow Marines on Peralta’s team rushed into the room and returned fire. The insurgents threw a grenade at the Marines. The Marines with Peralta tried to escape from the room but couldn’t.

“Still conscious on the floor, reports indicate that [Peralta] was able to smother the grenade under his body, absorbing the majority of the lethal blast and shrapnel, killing him instantly, but saving the lives of his fellow Marines,” the Navy said in a press release.

Peralta was an immigrant from Mexico who came to San Diego with his family as a teenager. He was a 1997 graduate of Morse High School; he joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 2000, immediately after qualifying for a green card. He was naturalized as an American citizen while serving in the Marine Corps.


"Sgt. Peralta’s legacy and the stories that have been told will forever be part of this ship. All he ever wanted was to be an American – to serve his country," Neller said.

Earlier this week, 10 service members from nine countries became U.S. citizens aboard USS Peralta.

Peralta's sister, Icela,  was at that naturalization ceremony and said seeing the service members follow in her brother's footsteps aboard his namesake ship was deeply moving. 

"It’s a beautiful place; there couldn’t be no better place because they’re all serving members," she said. "It's just a great example for all immigrants from all countries, that you just have to focus and do what you want to do, there’s no limits."

Icela said seeing USS Peralta morph from only parts into a completed Navy ship has been an honor. The vessel will forever carry her brother's memory.

"Now seeing my brother – he never came back – but whenever I got to see this ship coming to San Diego, I know he came back to San Diego in spirit, and he’s protecting our country," she told NBC 7.

USS Peralta is an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer. It will be homeported at Naval Base San Diego and will operate with a crew of more than 300 sailors.

Saturday’s event marked the ship’s formal acceptance into the U.S. Navy’s fleet. Neller said the commissioning was more than just another ceremony.

“It marks the commemoration of a life and, I say, the immortality of a hero,” he told the crowd.

Neller said Peralta will be forever remembered for his service and for his enormous heart.

“The love in his heart so great, that those that had the privilege of knowing him felt it. It was powerful; it was infectious,” he added.

Neller said Peralta was an integral part of the U.S. Marine Corps and, now, this ship will also fulfill an integral role.

In addition to the Navy's ship, Peralta received another honor this week: on Tuesday, the San Diego City Council declared July 25 "Sgt. Rafael Peralta Day."


Photo Credit: Liberty Zabala/NBC 7
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<![CDATA[Service Members Naturalized Aboard USS Rafael Peralta]]> Thu, 27 Jul 2017 19:57:52 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/212*120/7-27-17-Naturalized+Citizens+USS+Rafael+Peralta.JPG

Ten service members from nine countries became U.S. citizens aboard the U.S. Navy's newly minted guided-missile destroyer. 

USS Rafael Peralta (DDG 115), the Navy's newest Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, will be commissioned after a week of events on Saturday. The ship will be homeported at Naval Base San Diego. 

The destroyer is named after Sergeant Peralta, a naturalized immigrant killed in Iraq in 2004. 

Peralta's sister, Icela, said seeing the service members naturalized aboard the destroyer was moving. 

"It’s a beautiful place, there couldn’t be no better place, because they’re all serving members," she said. "It's just a great example for all immigrants from all countries, that you just have to focus and do what you want to do, there’s no limits."

James McCament, who helped conduct he naturalization ceremony, said Thursday's ceremony was a special honor. 

"It's always special to conduct a military naturalization ceremony, but to do so here, on the deck of the soon-to-be commissioned USS Rafael Peralta, which is an honor of course, of an immigrant who gave his life to our country on the field of battle, is particularly moving to do so," he explained. 

Icela said it has been an honor to see the ship from when it was all parts and pieces through to completion. 

"Now seeing my brother – he never came back – but whenever I got to see this ship coming to San Diego, I know he came back to San Diego in spirit, and he’s protecting our country," she said.

The destroyer will have a crew of more than 300 sailors. The boat will be commissioned on Saturday. 

Photo Credit: NBC 7 San Diego]]>
<![CDATA[Naturalization Ceremony Honors Navy Cross Recipient]]> Thu, 27 Jul 2017 08:18:56 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/Naturalization_Ceremony_for_10_Servicemembers.jpg

NBC 7's Liberty Zabala reports on the event scheduled for Thursday in honor of fallen U.S. Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta. The Navy Cross recipient  was not born in this country but dedicated his life to serving and defending it. 

<![CDATA[Transgender Marine Vet Vows to Keep Fighting Amid Ban]]> Wed, 26 Jul 2017 19:54:02 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/214*120/7-26-17-Kiaya+Bender.JPG

A transgender Marine veteran was angered to learn about President Donald Trump tweeted banning transgender individuals from the military.

"Years of service could mean nothing," said Kiaya Bender, who transitioned after leaving the military. 

Bender presented as a female when he joined the Marine Corps in 2009. At that time, the policy was "don't ask, don't tell." 

Transgender people have been able to serve openly in the military since June 2016, when then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter ended a ban. Trump had tweeted at the time, during the presidential campaign, that he would fight for the LGBT community. 

Trump's announcement did not say what would happen to transgender people already in the military.

Bender, now married, said things have been changing over the past few years in the military - and it's worrisome to think progress may be reversing. 

"It's scary that people who have spent years of their life serving their country who happened to be transgender who require medical attention are potentially going to get kicked out," Bender said.

But others with military ties, like Marine Vet Chet Derascavage, had differing opinions on the announcement. 

"That's great," said Derascavage, a veteran who served in Vietnam. "Couldn't be better."

Derascavage said when it comes to fighting for our country, having transgender individuals in the armed forces takes away from the U.S.' strength. 

"Not good for the morale of the guys, you know," he said. 

There are as many as 250 service members in the process of transitioning to their preferred genders or who have been approved to formally change gender within the Pentagon's personnel system, according to several defense officials. 

The Pentagon has refused to release any data on the number of transgender troops. A RAND study found that there are between 2,500 and 7,000 transgender service members in the active duty military, and another 1,500 to 4,000 in the reserves. 

Two studies — including RAND's — have found that health-care cost for transgender service members to be low in the context of the military’s health care budget. 

Bender argues that those against having transgender individuals in the military do not understand the changing times. 

"A lot of the military is made up of people who fear what they don't understand, a lot of the times it's not accepted, but I felt like we were moving in a direction where it was becoming understood and accepted," Bender said.

Transgender individuals in the armed forces just want to serve their country, like everyone else in the armed forces, Bender said. He has another take on what it means to be a courageous fighter. 

"Just the ability to be who you are in the face of adversity makes a warrior," Bender said.

In addition to fighting for Americans' freedoms around the globe, transgender individuals in the armed forces have a new battle on their hands: the fight for their right to exist. 

"Makes me angry, it makes me really angry, but this is the war that we have to fight right here in our homeland," Bender said.

The VA said their policy regarding transgender service members has not changed. 

"We provide care, benefits and other VA services to all Veterans, including transgender Veterans," said Curt Cashour, Press Secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs, in a statement.

Photo Credit: NBC 7 San Diego
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<![CDATA[Locals Speak Out on President Trump's Trans Ban]]> Wed, 26 Jul 2017 19:33:11 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/212*120/060809+military+generic+p1+.jpg

San Diegans shared their thoughts Wednesday about President Donald Trump's Twitter announcement that transgender people will be banned from U.S. military service in "any capacity." 

Trump tweeted Wednesday morning that after consulting with "Generals and military experts," the government "will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military."

The surprise announcement drew immediate support and criticism from across the region.

The San Diego Pride organization released the following statement denouncing the decision:

"Military service members have enough to manage without the fear of a witch hunt. Transgender military personnel deserve the same respect, dignity and fair treatment as all other military personnel."

"Instead, they are now being threatened on the basis of something that has absolutely no bearing on their fitness to serve," stated the message.

"We stand with our transgender community members, and with all those who reject this attempt to marginalize an entire community," continued the statement.

U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, a member of the House Armed Service Committee, approved of the president's message. 

“National security should trump social experimentation, always. It’s about time that a decision is made to restore the warrior culture and allow the U.S. military to get back to business,” Hunter said.

State Assemblymember Todd Gloria (D-78th District) shared this on Twitter: "His excuses are B.S. but if disruptive & costly are disqualifying for military service then he certainly can't serve as Commander in Chief." 

U.S. Rep. Susan Davis (D-53rd District) posted this message: "15K trans servicemembers are currently fighting for their country & deserve our gratitude. Trump's tweets demean their service & sacrifice."

Her colleague U.S. Rep. Juan Vargas (D – 51st District) chimed in: “Shameful and discriminatory. Trans service members are patriots who deserve our respect & should be allowed to serve the country they love.” 

Other critics included LGBTQ advocates, like actor George Takei, and the organizers of the women's march.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-California) called the president's messages "discrimination, plain and simple."  

"I stand with the brave transgender Americans who selflessly serve our military," Harris shared on Twitter. 

However, the announcement was supported by many on the NBC 7 San Diego Facebook page. 

Cory Olsen posted, "Anyone who has served understands that the military isn't about individualism. The military has one mission and that's to protect America and America's interests abroad. Personally I couldn't care how people swing or tuck, but when you interrupt the cohesion of a unit, that interferes with the mission."

Kevin Monzon added his thoughts saying, "Transgender people are already serving... now we just wont [sic] for the transition."

Not all locals were supportive of the president's message. 

Erin Cude had this to say: "This policy will hurt our military's readiness, & I highly doubt it will stand up to court scrutiny."

Join the conversation by going to NBC 7 San Diego's Facebook page.

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<![CDATA[Local Marine Killed in Iraq Honored With Special Day]]> Tue, 25 Jul 2017 19:10:15 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/Local_Marine_Killed_in_Iraq_Honored_With_Special_Day.jpg

From now on, July 25 will be Sgt. Peralta Day in the City of San Diego to honor the fallen marine. Rafael Peralta was posthumously awarded the purple heart and and other medals, after he was killed by a grenade in Fallujah 13 years ago.

<![CDATA['Joggin' for Frogmen' 5K Race Benefits Navy Seal Foundation]]> Tue, 25 Jul 2017 17:52:21 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/214*120/Joggin_for_Frogmen_Run_Walk_Benefits_Navy_Seal_Foundation.jpg

A 5K race will be held at the Naval Training Center Park at Liberty Station. The run will benefit the Navy Seal Foundation and support our military families.

<![CDATA[San Diego to Proclaim July 25 to be Sgt Peralta Day]]> Tue, 25 Jul 2017 19:10:44 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/sgtperalta.jpg

The San Diego City Council has proclaimed Tuesday to be Sgt. Rafael Peralta Day.

At the San Diego City Council meeting on Tuesday, Peralta’s sister stated, “We are grateful to have the city recognize my brother and to have a special day for him in San Diego, which is our home town.”

The U.S. Marine was killed in combat on November 15, 2004.

Peralta fell on a grenade to protect his fellow Marines during close combat with insurgents in Fallujah, Iraq.

He received the Navy Cross, the military's second highest honor for his actions. 

He has also been awarded the Purple Heart, Combat Action Ribbon, Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal with one bronze campaign star, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon.

On Saturday, the Navy's newest Arleigh Burke-class-guided-missile destroyer will be named after him.

The ship will be commissioned at Naval Air Station North Island.

USS Peralta will be homeported in San Diego.

Peralta graduated from Morse High School in 1997, and became a U.S. citizen while serving in the Corps.

He was laid to rest at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery.

<![CDATA[Wounded Warrior Climbs Mountains to Raise Funds]]> Mon, 24 Jul 2017 10:19:27 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/214*120/Wounded_Warrior_Climbs_Mountains_to_Raise_Funds.jpg

NBC 7 Bridget Naso reports.

<![CDATA[Marine Veteran Who Lost Leg Climbs to Help Others ]]> Mon, 24 Jul 2017 10:23:43 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/marine+veteran+climber.PNG

Kionte Storey is on a journey to change lives after his life was forever changed seven years ago.

The Marine veteran was serving in Afghanistan when he lost his right leg below the knee to an improvised explosive device. He says he can handle the physical adjustment pretty well, but "it's more of a mental struggle. That's really the hardest battle of all."

He attempted to make the U.S. Paralympics team twice as a sprinter, but after he came up short, Storey found a new passion during a trip to Antarctica: mountain climbing.

“That was that mental breakthrough, at least for me, being on that mountain was just [an] incredible experience overall,” he said.

Storey is now in Ecuador preparing to make a 19,000-foot climb to the top of Cayambe volcano with an organization called Range of Motion Project (ROMP). The non-profit organization provides prosthetics and orthopedic care for people in underserved countries.

NBC 7 caught up with Storey on Cowles Mountain before he left for his healing journey. He was carrying a 40-pound backpack to help him cope with the effects of altitude during his South American climb.

But it’s not the only weight Kionte Storey carries with him, a weight he says he used to propel him up the mountain. “The way I got to the summit was just thinking about my friends we lost overseas during our deployment," he explains. “Knowing why you're out there is really going to get you to the top." 

Storey has raised $4,200 for the Ecuador climb, which will help 10 people get prosthetic care. But his trek is just the beginning.

The Marine veteran’s next quest will be to climb Mount Kilimanjaro to benefit veterans with traumatic brain injuries through the Bob Woodruff Foundation. His attitude about his newfound purpose is as inspiring as his determination to overcome his challenges.

"For me, it's just… providing as much happiness to others as I can," he said.

Photo Credit: NBC 7]]>
<![CDATA[Volunteer Talks About Need for Stand Down]]> Fri, 21 Jul 2017 07:25:30 -0700 http://media.nbcsandiego.com/images/213*120/Volunteer_Talks_About_Need_for_Stand_Down.jpg

NBC 7 Gaby Rodriguez talks with longtime volunteer Bill Glover at the 30th annual Stand Down for Veterans event in San Diego.