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Retired U.S. Army Col. Steve Miska speaks during an Iraqi press conference with help from an interpreter (courtesy of Steve Miska)

A retired colonel who helped Iraqi interpreters flee Baghdad will be speaking in Arlington a few days after the government said it will evacuate Afghans who helped the U.S.

While on his second of three tours in Iraq, Col. Steve Miska (U.S. Army, Ret.) aided dozens of interpreters trying to flee Baghdad before state militias could kill them for treason. Now retired after a 25-year career, he has written a book about the “underground railroad” he helped to establish, which led interpreters to safety from Baghdad to Amman, Jordan before ending in the U.S.

In retirement, Miska has been vocal about the need to protect interpreters, and now his cause is in the news. This week, the Biden administration announced it will expedite visas for Afghans who, having worked with the U.S. military, could face revenge attacks by the Taliban.

Miska will discuss his book, “Baghdad Underground Railroad: Saving American Allies in Iraq,” and how it relates to current events this Sunday at Clarendon United Methodist Church. The event at 606 N. Irving Street will take place from 7-8:30 p.m. It is free but registration online is required.

National news outlets have recently featured the retired colonel, who calls the current plight of interpreters “one of the most significant human rights issues of the Global War on Terrorism.”

“The mostly young men and women who embraced American idealism risked their lives to support U.S. service members in countries where understanding the language, the people, and the contours of the culture are often a matter of life and death,” his event page reads. “Yet, according to recent estimates, more than 100,000 interpreters and at-risk family members remain in Iraq and 70,000 remain in Afghanistan, each in grave danger.”

He told the Washington Post that leaving interpreters behind would betray both the interpreters and American soldiers.

“We need to evacuate now,” he told CNN in May. “The Taliban have been hunting our interpreters in Afghanistan for 20 years. It’s only intensifying with the withdraw. As we near the end, it’s only going to get worse.”

Proceeds from the book will support the United States Veteran Artists Alliance, a nonprofit that helps veteran writers and artists.

Miska’s visit is something of a reunion, as CUMC’s Pastor Tracy McNeil Wines used to serve at a church he attended.

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For the second year in a row, the pandemic is preventing the annual Easter sunrise service at Arlington National Cemetery from being an in-person event.

This year’s service, hosted by Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, will be live-streamed on Facebook starting at 6:30 a.m. on Sunday, Apr. 4.

The event will be a Protestant service celebrated by Chaplain (Col.) Michael T. Shellman, Command Chaplain for the Joint Force Headquarters and Chaplain (Brig. Gen.) Andrew R. Harewood, Deputy Chief of Chaplains for the Army Reserve.

“The Easter Sunrise Service supports military families and service members by providing spiritual enrichment and supports the joint base command’s mission to provide for the free exercise of religion in the military,” said Chaplain (Maj.) Scott Kennaugh, Deputy Chaplain at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, in a statement.

To comply with COVID-19 guidelines and keep the number of people at the service as low as possible, a brass quartet and four vocalists from the U.S. Army Band will be on-site along with a sign language interpreter.

In case of inclement weather, the service will be live-streamed from the joint base’s Memorial Chapel, also in Arlington. 

A Facebook account is not required to view the event.

Photo by Tim1965

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The D.C. area is a bit on edge, and the sounds of howitzers firing this afternoon probably won’t help. But it’s necessary to prep for next week’s inauguration.

Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall said today (Thursday) that the U.S. Army’s Presidential Salute Battery will be conducting “blank fire drills” this afternoon in preparation for President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday.

The cannon fire at Fort Myer often can, depending on weather conditions, be clearly heard in parts of Arlington and D.C.

The drills are held as practice for “ceremonies in honor of the President of the United States, for visiting foreign dignitaries, during official government ceremonies, regional celebrations… and while rendering honors during the funeral services of our nation’s fallen service members and veterans,” a base spokeswoman previously told ARLnow.

Photo by Sgt. Jose A. Torres Jr courtesy of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall

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Morning Notes

BBC Airs Segment on AFAC — The Arlington Food Assistance Center, which is seeing record food need and lines throughout the day, was profiled in a segment that aired on BBC World News this week. [Twitter]

Fares to Return on ART Buses — “ART buses will resume front door boarding and fare collection starting on Sunday, January 3, 2021. Riders will begin boarding buses through the front door and will pay their fare at the fare box using a SmarTrip card or exact change. The regular ART bus fare for a one-way trip is $2.00.” [Arlington Transit]

Teens Launch Hot Cocoa Company — “In July, Wakefield High School rising seniors Farah Bahr and Sithiya Reshmee (who goes by the nickname ‘Resh’) founded F&R Sweets, a line that includes chocolate-dipped strawberries, churro cheesecake (made with croissant dough, cream cheese filling and cinnamon sugar) and hot chocolate bombs… the bombs ($3-$10 each) grabbed my attention. They are bonbon-like orbs filled with mini marshmallows, Swiss Miss cocoa mix (regular, caramel or peppermint) and sometimes other add-ins.” [Arlington Magazine]

AWLA Treats Dog With Skin Condition — “On Sunday, we were very surprised when a brown-eyed dog with a severe skin infection and hair loss came through our doors. He desperately needs us, and together we can start him on the path to healing. Rufus was found all alone on the side of the road and was brought to AWLA for help.” [Animal Welfare League of Arlington, Patch]

Fort Myer Bowling Alley Back Open — “The [Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall] Bowling Center had a small grease fire last week that temporarily shut down operations. Today, the fire department and health inspections were completed and they were given approval to re-open at 2 p.m.” [Twitter]

Arlington is Soldier’s Resting Place, At Last — “An Army sergeant from Panama, Oklahoma who was killed during the Korean War has been identified by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency,” from the 55 boxes containing remains of American service members turned over by North Korea in 2018. “Rodgers will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, at a later date that has yet to be determined.” [Times Record]

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. Monday Properties is proudly featuring Shirlington Gateway. Say hello to the new 2800 Shirlington, which recently delivered a brand-new lobby and upgraded fitness center. Experience a prime location steps from the Village at Shirlington shopping and dining hub. Spec suites with bright open plans and modern finishes will be available soon.

Ballston-based FedTech was chosen to build a virtual technology summit for the United States Army.

Though FedTech specializes in advising startups and developers looking to turn deep tech products into profitable businesses, the company also is working to construct a platform for the Army’s online, three-day xTech Summit.

FedTech will build three virtual stages for xTech that attendees can toggle between to hear speakers, panels and companies discussing novel technologies that the Army could potentially use. The event is being held September 9-11 and is open to the public.

“The mission is [for the xTech summit] to be this awesome advanced technology showcase event that is valuable to non-Army eyeballs and the general public that is interested in the types of technologies that are out there in the U.S., but led by” Army-related technology, FedTech Principal Will Dickson said.

On the summit’s main stage, finalists in an Army-run xTechSearch competition will present their technologies and vie for a $250,000 prize.

The competition identifies startups with products that could “tackle the Army’s most critical modernization challenges,” according to its website. Startups are put into an accelerator to prepare it to handle creating contracts with the Army and becoming a commercial company.

FedTech built and operates this accelerator, which companies spend 5-6 months in receiving entrepreneurial advice and education from FedTech employees. The xTech accelerator is similar to one that FedTech offers to other startups.

“Our accelerator is for deep tech ventures, helping those businesses leverage the resources and customers that are within the U.S. government, primarily the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy, but also helping them be successful out in the real world,” said Dickson, who is the accelerator program’s lead. “This could include access to venture capital, mentorship, demystification [of government contracts] and educational content. Whatever it takes to get these founders from point A to point B.”

Companies that recently completed the FedTech accelerator and are finalists in the Army’s competition have products like a drug therapy meant to treat battlefield hemorrhage, a rapid infection test that looks for up to 100 different diseases, and a high-performance lithium battery.

Photos courtesy FedTech

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The Arlington County Board is set to vote this weekend on a new Memorandum of Agreement with Arlington National Cemetery, ahead of work on a new cemetery expansion project that will bring major changes to the eastern end of Columbia Pike.

The project, which has taken shape over the past four years, would add 70 acres to the southern portion of the cemetery, including 37 acres of additional burial space, intended to help the nation’s most hallowed ground continue burials through at least 2050. The expansion will add another 60,000 burial plots, by converting the former Navy Annex site, as well as current portions of Southgate Road and Columbia Pike, into cemetery space.

The Southern Expansion Project will result in a realignment of Columbia Pike, bringing it south of its current loop toward Southgate Road and reconfiguring both the intersection with S. Joyce Street and the ramp to Washington Blvd. While the reconfiguration may be an improvement for cars and buses, bicycle advocates have worried that the elimination of Southgate Road may make cycling more dangerous on the stretch.

Portions of the land being added to the cemetery are owned by Arlington County. Originally the military proposed a land swap, giving Arlington a chunk of federal land south of Columbia Pike to use for county facilities, but the land swap was called off in 2017. Instead, the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act lets the Army purchase Arlington’s land for fair value, and compel the sale if necessary.

The land south of the Pike will now be used to house a cemetery maintenance and operations facility, and a parking garage that will serve visitors to the cemetery and the Air Force Memorial, which will become part of the cemetery.

More from an Air Force Magazine article this past summer:

The plan would turn the Air Force Memorial into the centerpiece of a new southern entrance to the facility, potentially bringing thousands more people to the memorial each year.

The change will alter the landscape, traffic flow, and even the way people experience the memorial, which today is accessible 24 hours a day, but under the new plan, it would be contained within the cemetery’s perimeter and only accessible during daylight hours. The memorial entrance would have a multilevel parking facility and an anticipated five-fold increase in visitors, said Maj. Gen. James A. Jacobson, commander of the Air Force District of Washington.

“This will further enshrine the Air Force Memorial as the history and heroism location for our service,” he said. “Tying it in with the cemetery does what it can’t do standing alone.”

Last March, a House Appropriations subcommittee was told that the Army was hoping to break ground on the first phase of the project in 2020, with a second phase starting in 2022 and work completing in 2025. Nearly $300 million of the project cost has already been appropriated.

The Memorandum of Agreement among the cemetery, the county and other stakeholders, under consideration by the County Board this weekend, outlines proposed “mitigation of cultural resources” as part of the project. The agreement calls for repair and reuse of the cemetery’s blue granite Boundary Wall, in the project site; a new historic marker commemorating Freedman’s Village, a village of freed slaves that was built during the Civil War on current cemetery grounds; and some alterations to the grounds around the Air Force Memorial.

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The annual Army Ten-Miler race returns this weekend for the 35th year in a row, prompting several road closures.

Runners will hit the pavement to compete in this 10-mile race on Sunday, October 13, following a route that starts and ends at the Pentagon and takes runners into D.C. via the Key Bridge, and back to Virginia via the 14th Street Bridge.

The race course is set to avoid the Memorial Bridge again this year, after detouring from the under-construction bridge for the first time last year.

Participants will be released in waves, with athletes in the Wounded Warrior division kicking off the day at 7:50 a.m.

The Arlington County Police Department announced a long list of road closures in a press release earlier this week.

The department said it’s planning to coordinate closures the day of the race together with the Virginia State Police, U.S. Park Police, and the Pentagon Force Protection Agency.

The closures include:

  • Route 110, between Rosslyn and Crystal City, will be closed in both directions from 5:00 a.m. to approximately 2:00 p.m. Motorists may use the George Washington Memorial Parkway as an alternative.
    • There will be no access to southbound Route 110 from N. Marshall Drive
    • The public may access Arlington National Cemetery from N. Marshall Drive
  • I-66 westbound will be closed from Washington, D.C. to N. Scott Street from 5:00 a.m. to approximately 10:00 a.m. Motorists may use the George Washington Memorial Parkway or Route 50 as an alternative route.
    • To access I-66 westbound, enter from N. Scott Street in Rosslyn.
  • I-66 eastbound, Exit 75 will be closed from 5:00 a.m. to approximately 10:00 a.m.
  • North Lynn Street, from Gateway Park to the Francis Scott Key Memorial Bridge will be closed from 5:00 a.m. to approximately 10:00 a.m.
  • The exit for Route 29 North/Key Bridge from the George Washington Memorial Parkway will be closed from 5:00 a.m. to approximately 10:00 a.m.
  • The Francis Scott Key Memorial Bridge will be closed in both directions, with no vehicular access from 4:00 a.m. to approximately 10:00 a.m.
  • I-395 HOV northbound from Crystal City to the 14th Street Bridge will be closed from 6:00 a.m. to approximately 12:30 p.m.
  • Eads Street from Army Navy Drive into the Pentagon/ northbound I-395 HOV lanes will be closed from 5:00 a.m. to approximately 12:30 p.m.
  • I-395 southbound HOV exit to S. Eads Street / Pentagon South Parking lot will be closed from 5:00 a.m. to approximately 12:30 p.m.
  • Route 27 in both directions from George Washington Memorial Parkway to I-395 will be closed from 7:00 a.m. to approximately 10:00 a.m.
  • Army Navy Drive from S. Eads Street to 12th Street S. from approximately 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
  • 12th Street S. from S. Eads Street to Long Bridge Drive from 8:00 a.m. to approximately 12:00 p.m.
  • Long Bridge Drive will be closed from 12th Street S. to Boundary Channel Drive from 8:00 a.m. to approximately 12:00 p.m.
  • Boundary Channel Drive will be closed from 8:00 a.m. to approximately 12:00 p.m.

Race attendees are encouraged to use Metro to get to the race via the Pentagon or Pentagon City Metro stations.

Those traveling by ride hailing services like Lyft, Uber, or Via are asked to use the drop-off point for runners at Army Navy Drive and S. Hayes Street.

Photo via Flickr Pool/Rob Cannon

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Morning Notes

Labor Action Planned at DCA — Presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is among those expected to participate in a rally and picket at Reagan National Airport this evening, in support of airline catering workers who are seeking better wages and healthcare options. [Unite Here]

Restaurant Coming to Apartment BuildingUpdate at 9:35 a.m. — Permit applications have been filed for a new restaurant that’s planned for the grounds of the recently-renovated Dominion Apartments at 333 S. Glebe Road. [Twitter]

Green Presidential Hopeful Visits Arlington — “The Arlington Greens recently welcomed one of their party’s presidential aspirants to the community. Dario Hunter, a member of the Youngstown (Ohio) School Board, participated in a roundtable discussion with Green Party members on July 16 at Central Library.” [InsideNova]

Author to Talk Hockey at Local Bookstore — “We’re bringing Sportsnet contributor and YouTube sensation Steve Dangle down to Washington, D.C. on Saturday, August 24, to sign copies of his hit book This Team is Ruining My Life (But I Love Them): How I Became a Professional Hockey Fan… One More Page Books, an independent bookstore in Arlington, Va. (which is run by Caps fans), will be hosting the signing from 2-4 p.m.” [Russian Machine Never Breaks]

Army Flying Secret Missions Over Region — “The Pentagon has revealed a few details about a secret Army mission that has Black Hawk helicopters flying missions over the Washington, D.C., area backed by active-duty and reserve soldiers. The mysterious classified operation was disclosed when the Army asked Congress for approval to shift funds to provide an extra $1.55 million for aircraft maintenance, air crews and travel in support of an ’emerging classified flight mission.'” [Bloomberg, PoPville]

Photo courtesy Clarendon Alliance/Instagram

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Arlington residents can expect a special morning wake-up this week as a U.S. Army regiment begins its annual cannon fire training.

Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall announced that the Presidential Salute Battery Guns Platoon of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, a.k.a. the “Old Guard,” will begin firing off blank rounds in the Arlington National Cemetery between 7-8 a.m. on Thursday.

Joint Base community relations officer Leah Rubalcaba told ARLnow that the training will continue on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7-8 a.m. “going forward” but that there isn’t a scheduled end date because it depends on how long it takes to train the platoon.

Residents in Radnor-Fort Myer Heights, Foxcroft Heights, Columbia Heights, Aurora Heights and Pentagon City have previously reported being able to hearing the sounds, which they described as “pounding,” “banging,” “booming,” or “explosion.” The booming sound has been reported in neighborhoods even farther away, depending on weather conditions.

During the training, teams work together to fire howitzers and 21-gun volleys. The goal is to time the shots with a ceremony or song, but the guns were not always ceremonial, according to the platoon’s website.

The platoon is equipped with ten M5, 75mm antitank cannons mounted on the M6 howitzer carriage. Each gun weighs 5,775 pounds. The M5 cannon saw service in North Africa, Italy, and Northwest Europe from 1943 until the end of World War II. Today, the Presidential Salute Battery fires the 75mm blank ceremonial shell with 1.5 pounds of powder….

Ceremonies require a five-man staff and a two-man team for each gun. The staff consists of the Battery Commander, who initiates fire commands and ensures the proper number of rounds is fired; the Sergeant of the Watch, who marches the battery into position, controls the firing of the backup gun, and monitors the watchman and his assistant; the Watchman controls the timing between rounds and gives the command to fire; the more experienced Assistant Watchman ensures the Watchman stays in time; and the Counter, counts the rounds and signals the last round to the battery.

Rubalcaba wrote in email Monday that the Presidential Salute Battery Guns Platoon conducts the training in preparation for firing the cannons “at ceremonies in honor of the President of the United States, for visiting foreign dignitaries, during official government ceremonies, regional celebrations… and while rendering honors during the funeral services of our nation’s fallen service members and veterans.”

Rubalcaba said the training sessions will each end prior to the cemetery’s visiting hours.

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The Army is now set to build a two-mile-long, eight-foot-high security fence along the border of the Arlington National Cemetery and Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall.

The National Capital Planning Commission, a regional planning body focused on projects on federally owned land, unanimously signed off on designs for the new fence at a meeting last month. The project, commissioned to replace a four-foot-high fence currently separating the base from the cemetery, will also include a five-foot-wide walking trail along the perimeter of the burial ground and a new parking lot to replace some spaces to be eliminated by the construction.

The Army proposed the new fence in the first place over concerns that the existing wall is “no longer adequate to protect the employees on the installation,” according to a report prepared by the commission’s staff. The fence will include four gates to allow access between the base and the cemetery — the fence itself will be “anti-climb and the gates will be both anti-climb and anti-ram,” according to staff.

The gates were a particular point of concern for some members of the commission, who pressed the Army to to reconsider designs at the Selfridge and Memorial Chapel gates, in particular. However, the fence’s designers said they couldn’t quite manage to find a design that would simultaneously meet the Army’s design concerns and the aesthetic issues the commission identified.

“[At] Selfridge, I think we’ve proven that beauty and elegance is gone from our minds,” Commission Vice Chairman Thomas Gallas said during the Oct. 4 meeting. “And I guess I’m disappointed, because I know everybody, everybody, all the stakeholders appreciate what that gate feels like as you approach it. It really is something powerful, as we went there to see it, it moves you. And it won’t move you anymore. Nothing’s going to move there. It’s constipated, I guess you could say.”

The Army does plan to add more shrubs and landscaping at the gates to help address some of those concerns, according to the staff report.

The project will also include a trail, which “follows the path of countless runners and walkers” and “will be made from permeable pavement.” The Army also hopes to add “small seating areas with benches and detailed planting along the trail,” the report says.

The cemetery is set to see a bevy of other changes in the coming years, with plans for a massive expansion of the burial ground and a realignment of many nearby roads.

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Bicycling advocates are blasting newly revealed plans to simultaneously expand Arlington National Cemetery and realign Columbia Pike, arguing that the proposed changes could make cycling along the roadway more dangerous.

The advocacy group “Sustainable Mobility for Arlington County” claims the cemetery’s current expansion plans, designed to someday add 70 acres to the burial ground, “will squander a major opportunity to improve the bike connection between Columbia Pike and Pentagon City and arguably make cycling less pleasant and less safe.”

In a message to its mailing list, the group urged concerned cyclists to speak in opposition to the cemetery’s plans at a public meeting on the subject in Pentagon City tonight (Wednesday).

The organization, founded by county transportation commission chair Chris Slatt, is primarily concerned that the cemetery only plans to add a 10-foot-wide sidewalk along the pike’s north side when it realigns the road. Army officials are currently hoping to add space for as many as 60,000 new interments to the cemetery’s south, absorbing the former Navy annex site and several other acres of land controlled by the county near S. Joyce Street and Washington Blvd, prompting some changes to the pike in the area.

The project also calls for the removal of Southgate Road in its entirety as it runs through area, which Slatt’s group describes as “a relatively quiet street that cyclists currently use to avoid that stretch of Columbia Pike.” The organization has made improving conditions for cyclists on the pike a central part of its mission, and it’s warning that eliminating an alternative to biking along the road would be a major step backward for the area.

“By replacing Southgate Road with just a sidewalk, this project is arguably a downgrade in cycling infrastructure,” the group wrote. “This portion of Columbia Pike has no reasonable nearby alternative. It needs great bike infrastructure.”

Spokespeople for the cemetery did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the organization’s criticisms. But a draft environmental assessment of the project prepared by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suggests that the changes represent “the upgrade of Columbia Pike into a multimodal facility.”

“The alignment for the future Columbia Pike has the necessary geometry for a high capacity regional multimodal transportation corridor,” the corps wrote.

The corps wrote that planners also considered building the “wall trail” along the cemetery’s eastern boundary as part of this work, a bit of cycling infrastructure long hoped for by county officials to link the Foxcroft Heights neighborhood to Memorial Avenue. Yet the corps said it determined that it “appears to have severe space constraints due to aboveground utilities along the proposed route,” and didn’t consider it any further.

Instead, Slatt’s group would rather see the Army build a “bidirectional bike lane” on the north side of the pike to connect with additional improvements to the west of the area. If that’s not feasible, the organization would also accept a widening of the planned sidewalk into a trail “providing demarcated areas for pedestrians and cyclists marked with paint, signage or differentiated materials.”

Tonight’s meeting on the project is scheduled for the Sheraton Pentagon City hotel (900 S. Orme Street) from 5-8 p.m. The Army expects roadway construction associated with the expansion could start as soon as 2021.

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