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Still no replacement for US Navy’s toughest warships

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Powerful warships, once the pride of the US Navy, now face retirement and replacements have not been identified.

Of the remaining 22 Ticonderoga-class US guided-missile cruisers still afloat, the USS Bunker Hill is slated to be decommissioned in 2019, and while her sister ships are expected to hang on until 2045, there are no specific replacements for the aging boats.

Launched in March 1985, the 567-foot Bunker Hill, like all of its sister ships, is 55 feet wide and draws 34 feet fully loaded. Carrying some 340 enlisted men guided by 60 officers, the floating missile launcher can travel up to 38 mph over smooth water.

After 33 years of service, the Bunker Hill will be among only a few Ticonderoga-class warships to be decommissioned. These so-called Ticos were originally intended to be replaced by a bleeding-edge high-tech CG(X)-class warship, until top Navy brass got wind of the $3.5-$6 billion price tag per boat, and scrapped the program.

Although the last Tico, the Port Royal, is slated to end its service life in 2045, the remaining cruisers will nonetheless receive high-tech upgrades, including advanced radar and sonar, improved launchers and a more powerful missile interceptor system costing hundreds of millions of dollars, according to Stripes.com.

Ballooning crew costs, alongside the Tico warship’s aging infrastructure, are said to be what doomed the class, as the recently downsized Zumwalt-class destroyer fleet, although a larger boat, uses robotics and software to accomplish a similar mission with a crew less than one half the size of the Bunker Hill.

But the expected 32-boat Zumwalt-class fleet, intended to partially replace the aging Ticos, now boasts just two boats in the water, and those have been beset by problems, including the failure of several of its highly touted weapon systems, and the seizure of both propellers, resulting in one of the boats being embarrassingly towed out of the Panama Canal.

As the cost of the Zumwalts rose, the original 32-boat order was continually reduced until it now stands at just three of the destroyers — an ineffective replacement for the Ticonderoga-class fleet now facing the end of its maritime service.

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Training Accident Leaves 15 US Marines Injured at Camp Pendleton

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A total of 15 US Marines were injured Wednesday during a training exercise that involved an amphibious landing vehicle at the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, according to the Marine Corps.

Though the vehicle was engulfed in flames, all of the Marines involved were able to escape, the marines said in a statement. The landing-accident took place at approximately 9:33 a.m. local time when troops were in the middle of a scheduled battalion training.

The Marines are currently being treated for injuries.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Marines and their families as they receive medical care,” the statement added.

This is the latest in a string of accidents for the US military. Back in July the US Marine Corps canceled all flights for the KC-130T Hercules Transport planes after a crash killed one sailor and 15 Marines in Mississippi.

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Combat vets say tattoo policy is big barrier to re-enlistment to Marine Corps

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Time may be the biggest factor causing combat veterans to leave the Marine Corps, but there’s another reason that should not be underestimated, some vets say: the Corps’ tattoo policy. Jeff Schogol wrote an article on Marine Corps which describes problems that combat vets have with Marine Corps tattoo policy.

Brian Davenport was barred from re-enlistment in 2015 because two of his tattoos were so close together that they were considered to be one tattoo that was too big under the Marine Corps’ tattoo policy at the time, he said. He and other Marines have a similar story: When the Marine Corps stopped deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan in large numbers, tattoos became a career killer for them, even if they had ­combat experience.

“As soon as we got back from Afghanistan and we found out we weren’t going to be going back, everything just did a complete 180,” Davenport told Marine Corps Times. “It was more stressing the little things: your uniform, appearances.”

Where have all the combat vets gone?

The Marine Corps is facing a drain of battle-tested Marines. Davenport deployed to Afghanistan in 2012 as a machine gunner, but he felt the Marine Corps did not value his combat experience after he returned, he said.

“You had leaders saying, ‘We don’t care that you’re a combat veteran,’” he said. “I had a second lieutenant, he was brand new and he’s like: ‘No one cares about Afghanistan. That’s over. We’re moving on. There’s a new Marine Corps.’”

Davenport’s return from Afghanistan coincided with the Marine Corps’ drawdown from 202,000 to 182,000 ­active-duty Marines that was driven by cuts to defense spending. On the day that Davenport found out that he could not re-enlist because of his tattoos, he went straight to an Army ­recruiter, who was able to get him into the Army two days after he left the Corps, he said.

During the drawdown from 202,000 Marines a few years ago, the Corps ratcheted up its enforcement of tattoo policies. Starting in 2014, Marines were required to submit photographs of their tattoos for re-enlistment.

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. ­Robert Neller has explained the reason for the Corps’ tattoo policy: “We are not in a rock and roll band. We are ­Marines. We have a brand. People expect a ­certain thing from us,” he told Marine Corps Times in February 2016.

Marine veterans often look to get jobs as police officers, but local, state and federal law enforcement agencies are very strict on whether applicants can have visible tattoos, Neller added.

In June 2016, the Marine Corps announced an updated tattoo policy, which allows visible tattoos to extend further on Marines’ upper arms and thighs. Although some Marines would have ­preferred a more lax policy, Neller certainly listened to their opinions on the matter, Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Ronald Green said at the time.

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