Body Armor Testing: What the GAO found

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During Preliminary Design Model testing the Army took significant steps to run a controlled test and maintain consistency throughout the process, but the Army did not always follow established testing protocols and, as a result, did not achieve its intended test objective of determining as a basis for awarding contracts which designs met performance requirements.

In the most consequential of the Army’s deviations from testing protocols, the Army testers incorrectly measured the amount of force absorbed by the plate designs by measuring back-face deformation in the clay backing at the point of aim rather than at the deepest point of depression.

The graphic depicts the difference between the point of aim and the deepest point.

GAO Body Armor Test Explanation

[NB: So, there it is — GAO is telling the Congress that after two and one-half years, Army testing failed, and failed so abysmally that $121 Million in protective plates already produced and in warehouses awaiting distribution were designated unsafe to issue because their qualifying tests were unreliable.]

Army testers recognized the error after completing about a third of the test and then changed the test plan to call for measuring at the point of aim and likewise issued a modification to the contract solicitation. [NB: Yes, you read this sentence correctly. After having the error pointed out to them, Army test officials decided the “fix” was to change the test plan/requirements so that this flaw would be consistent throughout all testing!!]

At least two of the eight designs that passed Preliminary Design Model testing and were awarded contracts would have failed if measurements had been made to the deepest point of depression. The deviations from the testing protocols were the result of Aberdeen Test Center’s incorrectly interpreting the testing protocols. In all these cases of deviations from the testing protocols, the Aberdeen Test Center’s implemented procedures were not reviewed or approved by the Army and Department of Defense officials responsible for approving the testing protocols. After concerns were raised regarding the Preliminary Design Model testing, the decision was made not to field any of the plate designs awarded contracts until after First Article Testing was conducted.

During First Article Testing, the Army addressed some of the problems identified during Preliminary Design Model testing, but GAO observed instances in which Army testers did not follow the established testing protocols and did not maintain internal controls over the integrity and reliability of data, raising questions as to whether the Army met its First Article Test objective of determining whether each of the contracted designs met performance requirements. The following are examples of deviations from testing protocols and other issues that GAO observed:

  • The clay backing placed behind the plates during ballistics testing was not always calibrated in accordance with testing protocols and was exposed to rain on one day, potentially impacting test results.
  • Testers improperly rounded down back-face deformation measurements, which is not authorized in the established testing protocols and which resulted in two designs passing First Article Testing that otherwise would have failed. Army officials said rounding is a common practice; however, one private test facility that rounds told GAO that they round up, not down.

[NB: So, a private test facility rounds BFD up, benefiting the soldier while the U.S. Army rounds BFD down, benefiting whom? If you guessed “contractors,” you got it right. Yet, the Army and the Pentagon continue to chant their mantra: force protection is our number one priorityforce protection is our number one priority. True, combat is inherently dangerous and unpredictable — but adding risks and hazards by issuing sub-standard protective gear grounds this mantra into a hollow and empty phrase.  Especially if you allow this chant to accompany media reports of a fallen warrior’s funeral at Arlington National Cemetery or upon arrival of a flag-draped coffin at Dover AFB — “force protection is our number one priority…”.  It is simply an outrage that in the second decade of the 21st Century, American grunts still get the short straw when it comes to personal protective equipment?]

  • Testers used a new instrument to measure back-face deformation without adequately certifying that the instrument could function correctly and in conformance with established testing protocols. The impact of this issue on test results is uncertain, but it could call into question the reliability and accuracy of the measurements.
  • Testers deviated from the established testing protocols in one instance by improperly scoring a complete penetration as a partial penetration. As a result, one design passed First Article Testing that would have otherwise failed.

With respect to internal control issues, the Army did not consistently maintain adequate internal controls to ensure the integrity and reliability of test data. In one example, during ballistic testing, data were lost, and testing had to be repeated because an official accidentally pressed the delete button and software controls were not in place to protect the integrity of test data. Army officials acknowledged that before GAO’s review they were unaware of the specific internal control problems we identified.

As a result of the deviations from testing protocols that GAO observed, four of the five designs that passed First Article Testing and were certified by the Army as ready for full production would have instead failed testing at some point during the process, either during the Preliminary Design Model testing or the subsequent First Article Test. Thus, the overall reliability and repeatability of the test results are uncertain. Although designs passed testing that would not have if the testing protocols were followed, independent ballistics experts have not assessed the impact of the deviations from the testing protocols to determine if the effect of the deviations is sufficient to call into question the ability of those designs to meet requirements.

[NB; This sentence merits VERY close attention. GAO has raised the crucial issue of whether, for this life-or-death equipment, in use by DOD for over ten years, there is a problem with “the ability of those [protective plate] designs to meet requirements,” There is no dispute that in this sample of the five designs tested, four designs actually failed!! Notwithstanding that U.S. Army test officials certified these 4 failed designs as ready for full production.]

Vendors whose designs passed First Article Testing have begun production of plates. The Army has ordered 2,500 sets of plates (at two plates per set) from these vendors to be used for additional ballistics testing and 120,000 sets of plates to be put into inventory to address future requirements. However, to date, none of these designs have been fielded because, according to Army officials, there are adequate numbers of armor plates produced under prior contracts already in the inventory to meet current requirements.

Roger Charles

Editor and Senior Investigative Reporter for SFTT

Review the Report: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d10119.pdf

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Why the GAO Study on Body Armor Testing?

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The Army has issued soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan personal body armor, comprising an outer protective vest and ceramic plate inserts.   The Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) observed Preliminary Design Model testing of new plate designs, which resulted in the Army’s awarding contracts in September 2008 valued at a total of over $8 billion to vendors of the designs that passed that testing.

Between November and December 2008, the Army conducted further testing, called First Article Testing, on these designs. GAO is reporting on the degree to which the Army followed its established testing protocols during these two tests. GAO did not provide an expert ballistics evaluation of the results of testing. GAO, using a structured, GAO-developed data collection instrument, observed both tests at the Army’s Aberdeen Test Center, analyzed data, and interviewed agency and industry officials to evaluate observed deviations from testing protocols. However, independent ballistics testing expertise is needed to determine the full effect of these deviations.

[NB: To this day, we are not aware of any plans Congress has to direct an independent, transparent, “expert ballistics evaluation” of the personal protective plates issued to America’s frontline troops.  A Member or either the House or Senate Armed Services Committee must introduce directive language into the “National Defense Authorization Act for FY  2011” calling for requirements provided in the GAO report that will re-set appropriate testing protocols. For the benefit of congressional staff reading this report, GAO is pointing out that if Congress wants to know the full extent of the flawed testing, DOD and the Army must bring in outside experts to make this determination. Again, this takes legislation.  Stop and think for a minute about the full implications of this seemingly simple statement. GAO is not explicitly stating that the Army and DOD do not have the requisite engineers, or technicians. GAO is saying in classic read-between-the-lines Washington-speak that the Army/DOD consortium cannot be trusted to conduct an honest, scientifically-objective test. That the GAO felt the need to issue this blatant appeal for outside intervention is a sad commentary on the quality of our government’s commitment to ensuring our frontline troops wear only the “best-available” personal protective equipment. For those who have lost count, these frontline troops are approaching their ninth anniversary on the killing fields and the Army/DOD team has yet to demonstrate that it can conduct a reliable, repeatable ballistic test. BTW, GAO understandably did not address the issue of previous tests, but given the significant flaws identified by GAO in this two-and-one-half year investigation, any logical reader can justifiably question the validity of earlier tests. These questions include both the test protocols and the actual conduct of the tests (the competence and integrity of the testers). ]

Roger Charles

Editor and Senior Investigative Reporter for SFTT

Review the Report: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d10119.pdf

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Military Body Armor Supplier Files for Bankruptcy

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Point Blank Solutions Inc.,  who claims to be the leading manufacturer of body armor,  filed for bankruptcy protection on April 14, 2010.   Citing Court filings, Reuters reports that the Florida-based (Pompano Beach) company “supplies more than 80 percent of the U.S. military’s soft body armor vest requirements . . .”  

Claiming mounting legal bills in the trial of former CEO David Brooks – currently on trial in New York for securities fraud and other related crimes – Point Blank Inc. and three affiliates  filed for Chapter 11  protection in US Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Delaware.  Tom Hals reports that  “former CEO, David Brooks, was listed as the company’s largest shareholder with a 22.6 percent stake. The company has also been investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission, is the subject of a shareholder lawsuit, and spends about $600,000 a month on legal fees, according to court documents.”

The South Florida Business Journal reports that Point Blank CEO and Chairman of the Board, James Henderson issued a news release stating that “We have won several key contracts, paid down a substantial amount of our debt and realigned our business to return to profitability.  Without a financing facility and with mounting legacy expenses, however, we had to take this step to reorganize.”

The South Florida Business Journal goes on to report that “in 2007, Point Blank sued its former CEO  (Brooks)  for the return of more than $4 million and other company assets.  Also, in 2008, the company settled a class action lawsuit and a shareholder derivative suit for $34.9 million in cash and 3.18 million shares of its common stock.”

Formerly known as DHB Industries, Point Blank was also cited for supplying body armor to the Marines in 2004 that didn’t meet specifications.  As reported by Nathanial Helms for Defense Watch, “as early as July 19, 2004, according to memos obtained by the Army Times newspaper, the Marine Corps found ‘major quality assurance deficiencies within Point Blank.’ One month later, on August 24, 2004, the military rejected two orders from Point Blank after tests revealed that the vests did not meet safety requirements.   Faced with a severe shortage of body armor the Army decided that nine Point Blank orders that did not meet safety requirements would be sent to troops overseas anyway, according to court records. On May 4, 2005, the U.S. Marine Corps recalled 5,277 Interceptor vests manufactured by Point Blank Body Armor.”   Despite the fact that Point Blank had been consistently supplying the U.S. Marines with substandard equipment, on July 20 Point Blank received an additional $10.1 million contract from the U.S. government.”  Go figure. 

It does seem grossly negligent that the US Army and Defense Department continues to employ contractors whose very public financial problems, questionable integrity and lax quality standards should be allowed to bid upon body armor contracts let alone supply our troops with critical protective gear.   SFTT, families of troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and the media have been questioning US military body armor procurement practices for years.   At every step of the way, we have been stonewalled. 

The October 2009 GAO report recommending independent body armor testingconfirms what everyone knows:  there is something rotten in the State of our military procurement process.   Why should our frontline troops and their families continue to suffer because our military leadership has for so long turned a blind eye to this situation?  Will the bankruptcy of Point Blank finally bring about needed changes? 

If past history is any indication, our military leadership will coddle Point Blank through their bankruptcy reorganization.   Our military leadership needs to make a clean break with Point Blank and get our troops the body armor they deserve.  Let’s hope they do, but we will be vigilant.

Richard W. May

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Is Secretary Rumsfeld responsible for the lack of military leadership?

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As an Army 2nd Lt stationed at the Pentagon during the Viet Nam war, I still vividly recall the military brass scrambling to deal with one crisis after another while pretending that they were in control of a war that had already been largely lost. With Robert McNamara at the helm, competent military leaders were replaced by faceless  bureaucrats who were more adept at tabulating body counts than combat itself. Working at the Pentagon during that period was a surreal experience and one that has no doubt contributed to a somewhat cynical attitude toward our military leadership.

The emergence of Secretary Rumsfeld as spokesperson for the Iraq War reignited this cynicism as evidenced by his response to an young enlisted man requesting better protective gear: “You go to war with the Army you have – not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”  Many consider this to be a public admission that Rumsfeld was far more interested in military tech toys and hardware than the troops that were fielding this equipment.  Human resources – our frontline troops – were seen as little more than just another military asset to be deployed in  a way to support the overall mission as defined by our military leadership. In other words, how much firepower or protective gear does a soldier need to accomplish the mission the military leadership has set forth for them? With this vague philosophy and “value judgement”, our military leadership can justify providing our young men and women with  “adequate” equipment rather than the “best” equipment to have a chance to survive combat.

No where is this more evident than the US Army’s blatant disregard for the safety of our frontline troops in its testing and procurement practices for body armor. In October 2009, the Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) issued a 110 page report entitled “Independent Expert Assessment of Army Body Armor Test Results and Procedures Needed before Fielding.” This devastating report proved conclusively what many had been saying for years: Army and DOD test procedures were flawed and overwhelmingly skewed in favor of contractors rather than our brave young men and women serving in combat areas. Read senior investigative reporter Roger Charles’ insightful analysis of the GAO report on body armor on the Soldiers for The Truth.

The Soldiers for the Truth Foundation (“SFTT”) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit Educational Foundation established by the late Col. David H. Hackworth and his wife Eilhys England to insure that our frontline troops have the best available leadership, equipment and training. In the past four-plus years SFTT’S active campaign has focused on ensuring America’s frontline troops get the best available individual protective equipment and combat gear.

Thanks to the persistent efforts of organizations like SFTT and concerned Americans, our military may soon get the leadership our troops deserve.

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Does New War Doctrine Expose US Troops to greater danger?

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With a 2,600 page Health Reform Package, one doesn’t have time to read the fine print.  At other times, US government policy statements are often so broad in scope that one has difficulty piecing together the implications.

In a recent address that was not picked up by the press,  Admiral Michael G. Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, articulated what some consider to be a change in US War Doctrine.  In a fascinating article picked up by Fred Edwards in Crosshairs – Miltary Matters in Review, Mr. Edwards notes that Admiral Mullen may be laying out a new War Doctrine for the United States.  Mr. Edwards  notes that Admiral Mullen is suggesting/proposing the following:

  • In future wars, the United States must use measured and precise military strikes, and not overwhelming force. 
  • Policymakers should consider the use of military force not as a last resort solution in a crisis, but as part of an early response to a conflict or a natural disaster.
  • Military forces are some of the most flexible and adaptable tools available to policymakers. Before a shot is even fired, we can bolster a diplomatic argument, support a friend or deter an enemy.”

I certainly agree with Mr. Edwards, that under this doctrine, military commanders (and political leaders) certainly have a lot more leeway in determining what a “precise” rather than an “overwhelming” strike might be.   With military leaders now asking our troops to leave their protective gear behind to befriend civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, it certainly appears that Admiral Mullen’s new War Doctrine is already in practice.

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Pat Tillman Foundation Annual Run April 17

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On April 17, 2010 join over 20,000 runners and walkers as they come together at Sun Devil Stadium (Tempe, AZ) to celebrate the life and legacy of former ASU and Arizona Cardinals football star and Army Ranger, Pat Tillman.

Pat’s Run is the signature annual fundraising event for the Pat Tillman Foundation. Created in April 2004 following Pat’s death, the Foundation carries forward Pat’s legacy of leadership and civic action by supporting future generations of leaders through educational scholarships.

Inspired by the distinguished life and legacy of Pat Tillman – professional athlete, military hero and a man of strong character and kindness – the Pat Tillman Foundation is building a community of scholars dedicated to improving their own lives, the lives of their families and their country by creating a spirit of service.

The Pat Tillman Foundation is a national leader in providing resources and educational support to veterans, active servicemembers and their dependants. The Tillman Military Scholars program aids all veterans and specifically the ever-growing population of veterans and dependents of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

To view a printable version of the entry form click here or register online now.

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Unreliable Body Armor Tests Place US Troops at Risk

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For those who have been following my summary for SFTT of the October 2009 110-page report on the GAO report to Congress entitled Independent Expert Assessment of Army Body Armor Test Results and Procedures Needed Before Fielding, (http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d10119.pdf) I salute you. While one tries to remain as objective as possible, this damning report by the GAO proves conclusively that our military leadership has not been candid with the American public.

As a retired military officer, I wish I could take for granted that our military leadership will do everything possible to insure that our frontline troops have the best possible combat equipment to accomplish their mission and return from combat safely and in one piece. But, based on my previous investigative reporting, now confirmed by the October, 2009 GAO body armor report, there is no question in my mind that our brave young men and women do not have properly tested body armor. I fear for their safety and well-being.

The GAO report and my persistent inquiries to get to the bottom of this disgraceful body armor testing process should rock every citizen’s core belief in the integrity of the military chain of command.  This uneasy feeling in my stomach has now been compounded by the DOD and US Army “spin” on the GAO findings.

The GAO has now documented (with empirical data backing up their claims) what the Army, with Secretary of Defense concurrence, actually did to test body armor: They consistently failed to follow established test procedures and gave a “pass” to protective gear that would have failed normal testing procedures!

The DOD seems to be invoking the “bigger picture” argument to cover-up their blatantly flawed test procedures. Make no mistake, our front-line troops is simply a “low-threshold asset” to the DOD as it considers its military procurement priorities.  Specifically, GAO has documented how the DOD and the US Army collaborated to control test protocols and tests that weaken, degrade and gut “factors of safety” to levels demonstrably below the “threshold operational requirement” that they claim define their own standards.

And, if after reading the GAO report and SFTT’s previously posted analyses, the reader has any lingering doubt about the Army/DOD clear bias in favor of contractors, here’s one more GAO quote dealing with the specific issue of whether to measure Back Face Deformation (BFD) at deepest point or at point of aim: The DOD stated that “this decision was made by Army leadership in consultation with the office of the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, because this would not disadvantage any vendor.”

There you have it. The “smoking-gun” admission that the default-driver for Army acquisition decisions regarding body armor is not what’s best for our frontline troops; it’s “not disadvantaging any vendor.”

Why would the Army leadership overrule its technical experts and it’s direct line-supervisor on such an issue? The GAO comments only that it “did not independently assess all factors being considered” by the Army leadership when it made this stupefying decision. (Might Congress want to make just such an independent assessment?)

The DOD and the US Army, trying to defend the indefensible make this incredulous statement about their joint commitment to providing the best personal protective equipment to America’s frontline troops: “Inherent in this process was consideration by the DOD to incorporate into the contractual requirements, where appropriate, factors of safety above the threshold operation requirement.”

Please note the “where appropriate.” Behind this seemingly innocuous admission lies the Army’s startling acknowledgement that military procurement practices take precedence over the lives and safety of the brave men and women serving in harm’s way!! I can’t imagine that this callous disdain for our brave heroes will go down to well with the American public.

Now, folks, in 46 years of watching spin and a wide variety of world-class mendacity from the Department of Defense, this statement about “factors of safety above the threshold operation requirement” just may qualify as their all-time twisting of the truth. The in-your-face falsity would be farcically funny, were it not for the tragic reality that young Americans, the best our great nation can produce, have died and continue to die wearing sub-standard, inferior body armor.

Please consider these Body Armor Facts:

  • The DOD has $121 million of body armor plates sitting in warehouses, plates that GAO identified as having been wrongly designated as “passed” following flawed, unreliable DOD testing, and
  • These flawed plates will not be issued to US military forces.

In the three specific instances from the GAO report cited in previous articles on the SFTT, where the choice involved a trade off between increasing risk to the Soldier or increasing risk to the contractors, the Army (fully supported by the Department of Defense) selected the option that increased risk to the Soldier, while decreasing risk/cost to the contractors!

The critical unanswered question is: Will Congress follow up on the GAO report and demand accountability from our military leadership?

If you feel as strongly about this issue as I do, you might want to ask your own congressional representatives how they stand on this issue. I have attached links below to help you contact your US Senator and US Congressional Representative.

Mailing Address, Phone Numbers and other information for US Senators

Mailing Address, Phone Numbers and other information for US Congressional Representatives

This is a matter of life and death. We owe it to our heroes to Sound Off!

Roger Charles

SFTT Editor

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Should US Troops Wear Body Armor?

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There appears to be a bit of a backlash within military circles and families of men and women currently deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan over the “suggestion” that our troops should leave their body armor behind to ingratiate themselves with local civilians.   This “new” strategy to win the “hearts and minds” of the local populace first came to my attention during an airing of a 60 minute special on General McChrystal some months ago.

I recall similar “hearts and mind” arguments in other engagements by the US military and I have always reacted the same way:  Send in the Peace Corps.   It is one thing for General McChrystal and other US military and civilian dignitaries to walk into a village without their protective gear when surrounded by a heavily armed security detail with air cover and quite another to for military personnel to doff their body armor and helmet to play a game of cards and drink tea with the Afghans.

Befriending the local population has always been a welcome characteristic of US troops serving in harm’s way, but it is quite another mission altogether when the military brass “asks” our frontline troops to become social workers at the expense of their own safety.  Unfortunately, military “suggestions” and leaders acting in ways to encourage this behavior encourages a chain reaction of idiocy right down the military chain of command. 

Witness this bizarre military “spin” on the appropriate use of body armor that was reported in the Honolulu Advisor

QUOTE

Col. Walter Piatt, who commanded the approximately 3,500 soldiers in 3rd Brigade in Iraq and now back at Schofield, said there was no order to not wear body armor.  “My guidance was that commanders at every level would determine the force protection equipment required to accomplish the mission,” he said.

That guidance went to high-level government meetings “inside a very well-furnished office with a mayor or a provincial representative who was wearing a thousand-dollar suit or a very nice dress and the furniture is very expensive,” Piatt said. “I told our soldiers we should not be wearing our kit (body armor) in those rooms because we’ll destroy the furniture.”  Commanders could decide to keep body armor on, leave it in vehicles, or take it off in an antechamber at a meeting, he said.

Piatt also said it was “key leaders” only who would leave their body armor in a vehicle. Even without body armor, the soldiers retained their weapons. There also always was a security element wearing all protective gear that accompanied those soldiers.  Bland said “guidance” is the same as an order. When a commander gives guidance or a suggestion, “it’s exactly the same as giving an order. It’s just more politely phrased.”

UNQUOTE

Nuance aside, I would be hard-pressed to determine how to act if I were currently deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan.  Even Farmer McGregor would not leave behind his overalls and gloves to work in the Brier patch, but it seems to me that we are asking our soldiers to take on additional risk to win some pyrrhic victory for General McChrystal.   Mind you, this is the same military leadership that barred troops from wearing any other body armor other than official “Army Issue” at the risk of losing their medical coverage if wounded.    As Alice in Wonderland said:  This is getting “curiouser and curiouser.”

Richard W. May

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Free Cruise for Medal of Honor Recipient

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We, the Armed Forces Service Center, a Military Hospitality Lounge in Miami ( formerly operated by the USO) are seeking a Medal of Honor recipient for a free 7 day cruise November 7th, to the Western Caribbean out of Fort Launderdale (“FLL”). This is a fund raising cruise and we will have an announcement available soon and a press release. Hopefully, this Medal of Honor recipient lives in Florida or we will fly this person to Florida. We plan a ceremony on Veterans Day, November 11th, on board the Celebrity Solstice, one of the newest and most beautiful ships at sea.

The Armed Force Service Center is the old USO of south Florida and our 501(c)(3) is the Armed Forces Service Center. We operate the Military Hospitality Lounge in Miami and soon in FLL. Please see our website at: www.militaryloungemiami.com This will be free cruise for the recipient of the Medal of Honor and we will have a ceremony on board on Veterans Day, 11 November, as well as other socials ( champagne).

Please contact Keith Whitbeck at k2563439@bellsouth.net or 305-968-4399 for additional information.

SFTT Editor’s Note:  This message and proposal seems genuine, but readers are recommended to take reasonable precautions to verify it’s authenticity.

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