Press Club

A dog that served in Afghanistan is receiving a lot of special attention this week as his family prepares for a loving send-off after discovering he has an aggressive tumor.

A Nextdoor post about K9 Rony, the purebred Belgian Malinois living in Arlington, has garnered more than 500 reactions and 140 comments — and prompted Arlington County Police Department to honor him with a vehicle procession Tuesday.

Arlington County police decided to honor Rony “to show our respect and gratitude for his years of service,” a tweet from the department reads. “We are thankful for the time we got to spend with him and ask that you join us in keeping his family in our thoughts during this difficult time.”

Rony served alongside U.S. troops in Afghanistan for many years, his owners wrote in the Nextdoor post. He retired from the U.S. military where his service included over 380 combat missions, they wrote on the social network.

“A few days ago, Rony had to go to an emergency vet hospital where surgeons found an aggressive fast-growing tumor in his abdomen,” the post reads. “They do not believe he will survive the surgery. Together, we all realized that the kindest gift we could give to him is to allow him to pass away peacefully through euthanasia.”

The family invited users to send notes that will be read aloud to Rony during an “honorable and loving sendoff surrounded by those who love him” this Saturday. The messages will then be shared with other military working dogs and their handlers training for a future deployment, the post says.

The family also hopes to include the letters in a children’s book about the life of a military working dog.

“Military working dogs like Rony have helped protect our country alongside our men and women who serve,” the post reads. “Even after serving, they continue to love and inspire others.”

The full post is below.

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Morning Notes

Kayakers on the Potomac near Key Bridge (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Driver Crashes into Trooper’s Cruiser — A Virginia State Police trooper was radioing in a license plate during a traffic stop on I-395 near Shirlington when his cruiser was rear-ended. The trooper finished giving the tag number before telling the dispatcher about the crash. [Twitter]

Circulator Strike Continues — “The first day’s negotiations between a bus drivers union and the operator of D.C. Circulator since workers began striking were unsuccessful through Wednesday evening, increasing the prospects of a potentially lengthy outage of the city’s only public bus service.” [Washington Post]

Marymount Planning Child Care Center — “Marymount University is setting up a new child care center on campus in a renovation project that it said is designed to fill a critical, and deepening, local workforce need as those with young children return to the office. The Marymount Early Learning Academy for children aged 3 to 5 will open in the summer or fall of 2023, reviving the idea of an on-campus preschool that the university used to run in the 1990s before it closed down.” [Washington Business Journal]

Sexual Battery Incident in Pentagon City — “500 block of 12th Road S…. at approximately 11:40 p.m. on April 29th the male victim had entered into the elevator of a secure residential building when the unknown suspect followed behind him. The victim exited the elevator and walked down the hallway, during which the suspect grabbed his buttocks. The suspect then fled the scene.” [ACPD]

Air Force Colonel on Trial — “An official with the California National Guard charged with indecent exposure in Arlington in March is scheduled to go to trial in Arlington on July 18… the suspect entered the business and exposed himself to female victims, according to the ACPD.” [Patch]

Falls Church Lowers Property Tax Rate — “On Monday night, the Falls Church City Council approved a $112.8 million Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23) that invests in public schools, core government services, walkability and traffic calming, environmental sustainability, and more, all while reducing the real estate tax rate by 9 cents… To mitigate the 11 percent overall increase in real estate assessments, the adopted budget includes a decrease in the real estate tax to $1.23 per $100 of assessed value.” [City of Falls Church]

It’s Cinco de Mayo — Mostly cloudy, with a high of 67 and low of 56. Sunrise at 6:07 am and sunset at 8:06 pm. [Weather.gov]

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A bunny, improbably inside the Pentagon courtyard

If you thought the Pentagon chicken was impressive, wait until you hear about the Pentagon courtyard bunny.

In what might be the world’s fluffiest and most adorable infiltration of a secure military installation, a bunny was recently spotted hopping around in the 5.1 acre outdoor courtyard at the center of the headquarters of the U.S. Dept. of Defense, ARLnow has learned.

There is no official confirmation of the bunny’s existence — the DoD said it does not keep tabs on small, harmless animals in the courtyard — but we have obtained photographic evidence, above, and an eyewitness account.

“I just wanted to highlight that while the Pentagon Chicken is receiving its 15 minutes of fame, the Pentagon Bunny actually successfully infiltrated the Pentagon,” a tipster tells ARLnow. “It is currently living peacefully somewhere in the Pentagon’s courtyard, a location that is likely the most heavily guarded rabbit burrow on the planet… that is until the restaurant in the Courtyard decides to have an extremely locally sourced courtyard-to-table special.”

Given that it is outdoors and has plenty of trees and people eating meals, the courtyard is naturally a hangout spot for birds, which can simply fly in. It’s unclear how a bunny would have hopped into a place surrounded by five rings of some of the most secure office space on earth, though there are some theories.

“Aside from birds I have not seen any other wildlife. That is why I thought the rabbit was so notable,” the tipster said. “A bunch of us were trying to figure out how the rabbit made it into the courtyard since there are no obvious points of entry. The current hypothesis is that the bunny was carried into the courtyard by the hawks that were nesting in one of the trees and dropped before it was fed to the offspring.”

Aerial view of the Pentagon (Flickr pool photo by Michael Coffman)

A Pentagon spokesperson sent an appropriately non-specific response to ARLnow’s inquiry about the small mammal that’s apparently living inside the courtyard’s five walls.

“From time to time there may be various species of animals on the reservation that make it to the Center Courtyard,” said Sue Gough, Department of Defense spokesperson. “We normally do not intervene unless the animals create a hazard to building occupants, or the animal is at risk from our activities. In those situations, we will try to have it leave on its own accord, or capture it and release it to the environment where it is distanced from our activities (e.g., land adjacent to Boundary Channel).”

Pressed about this particular bunny, the official word from the DoD — which is a bit busy at the moment — is that they’re not sure.

“We don’t track individual wildlife unless there is a safety hazard to building occupants or the animal,” Gough said.

The Pentagon chicken, on the other hand, attracted national media attention after the Animal Welfare League of Arlington revealed that it had taken custody of the rogue poultry at the request of the DoD, after it was found wandering around a secure area outside of the building.

The chicken went viral on social media, now has its own t-shirt line, and even earned a Jimmy Fallon-sung ballad on the Tonight Show.

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Officer Brooke Chaco with Chief Andy Penn at her police academy graduation on Dec. 10 (courtesy of ACPD)

December 21, 2015 was the day that led Brooke Chaco to becoming an Arlington County police officer.

It was that day six years ago when her stepfather, New York Police Department detective Joseph Lemm, and five others were killed in action while serving in Afghanistan.

“It changed my whole life,” Chaco tells ARLnow. “It made me appreciate what law enforcement does even more.”

Chaco grew up in a family full of police and military veterans, but the profession didn’t much appeal to her until Lemm came into her life as a stepfather when she was about ten years old.

“I was a brat, for a lack of a better word, and didn’t want to give him the time of day,” she admits.

Lemm was a long-time New York police officer, serving for nearly 15 years, mostly in the Bronx. He was also staff sergeant in the Air National Guard and had been deployed multiple times. His stature may have been intimidating, but his demeanor was anything but.

In fact, his nickname among friends was “Superman,” due in part to sorta looking like the superhero’s alter ego Clark Kent and that Lemm could be all things to everyone he loved.

“He was just this big, gentle giant,” Chaco says. “He had a way with his words that gained people’s trust and got them to talk to him.”

In early 2015, Lemm was deployed again to Afghanistan and was looking forward to speaking with his family on Christmas with the hope he’d be home soon.

Four days before Christmas, however, a suicide bomber on a motorbike carried out an attack on his convoy during a patrol. Lemm was only 45 years old when he was killed and left behind his wife, then-16-year-old Chaco, and her four-year-old brother Ryan.

“I had to help raise [Ryan] after my stepfather passed,” she says. “He’s a very big part of my life and a big reason as to why I’m doing what I’m doing.”

The loss made headlines nationally and especially in the New York City area, where the New York Post wrote about how Brooke, a singer, paid a musical tribute to her fallen-hero dad at a memorial benefit for the family. (Earlier this year, the Post also wrote about a bridge in Westchester County being dedicated to Lemm.)

New York Post article highlighting Brooke Chaco’s tribute to her fallen stepfather

The tragedy helped Chaco find her calling.

She was hired into the ACPD — a force in much need of additional officers — this past April, even prior to graduating from James Madison University. Despite having a family full of officers, she’s the first woman in her family to join the police force. She loves New York and her family, but is looking to forge her own identity in Arlington.

“I didn’t want my peers to look at me any differently or my supervisors to look at me differently because of the sacrifice that my stepfather made,” Chaco says. “I wanted to make my own path.”

Chaco remains an officer in training. She graduated from the academy earlier this year and is now in the midst of field training, where she’s being paired with a more experienced officer. All in all, training to become a full time solo officer can take a little over a year. When that’s completed, and after a few years of patrol work, Chaco hopes to end up in the special victims unit.

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(Updated at 11:25 a.m.) The annual wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery is set to take place this weekend.

The event is taking place on Saturday, Dec. 18. It will look a little different due to the pandemic, according to Wreaths Across America, the organization that puts it on. 

Volunteers who wish to help place wreaths on the gravestones of fallen military servicemembers are required to register in advance. They will then show their email confirmation and a photo ID to participate, the event’s website says. Face coverings are required in any indoor part of the cemetery. 

“We are committed to ensuring the safety of all those that want to participate, and as such, will have designated entry gates and times for a limited number of registered volunteers to enter,” Wreaths Across America said. 

COVID-19 almost halted the event last year, as it was initially canceled but later reinstated — as former President Donald Trump rushed to take credit for the reversal. Last year, 1.7 million wreaths from Maine were placed on gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery and more than 2,800 other locations nationwide. 

“As one of the largest veteran cemeteries in the United States, the goal of placing a wreath on every marker is lofty,” the nonprofit said. “Our volunteers are committed to Remembering and Honoring our nation’s veterans through the laying of wreaths on the graves of our country’s fallen heroes and the act of saying the name of each veteran aloud.” 

This past Sunday, family pass holders had the opportunity to lay wreaths at their loved ones’ graves prior to public access.

Wreaths Across America is also accepting individual wreath sponsorships. In the past, the nonprofit has been the subject of scrutiny for its close ties to a Maine wreath manufacturer, both of which are run by the same family.

Arlington County police are planning a number of road closures in the area, associated with the wreath-laying event. More from ACPD:

The annual Wreaths Across America escort of handmade, balsam wreaths destined for Arlington National Cemetery will begin arriving in Arlington County on Friday, December 17th. The annual convoy of wreaths, originating in Maine and ending at Arlington National Cemetery, includes over 75 tractor trailers and numerous support vehicles that will reach the Cemetery at various times throughout the day.

On Saturday, December 18th, several thousand volunteers will descend upon the Cemetery and help lay wreaths on every gravesite throughout the property beginning at 8:00 a.m. The public can anticipate large crowds and heavy pedestrian traffic related to the event. Traffic is expected to be impacted in and around the immediate area and motorists are advised to allow for extended travel times and seek alternate routes to reduce road congestion.

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First Lady Jill Biden is planning to visit Arlington on Friday afternoon.

Biden will “travel to Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Arlington, Virginia to participate in a Toys for Tots event with military families,” according to the White House.

The event is scheduled for 3 p.m. It’s not open to the general public.

Locals should expect some rolling road closures in the area for Biden’s motorcade.

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring 1812 N. Moore Street in Rosslyn.

(Updated on 11/16/21 at 6 p.m.) Shift5, a Rosslyn-based cybersecurity company, has raised $20 million in Series A funding to help protect the world’s transportation infrastructure and weapons systems from cyberattacks.

The money will allow Shift5 to expand its Arlington office, adding secured facilities and labs, and add to its 50-person team, according to its announcement.

Shift5 also plans to educate fleet operators, regulators and legislators on the risks that unsecured computerized infrastructure present and show them how the data collected by these digitized planes and trains can be used to improve their efficiency, the announcement said.

The round was led by 645 Ventures, with participation from Squadra Ventures, General Advance and First In.

The company, founded by two veterans of the U.S. Army’s Cyber Branch, closed its seed funding round in 2019. Since then, Shift5 has grown through a series of contracts with several large, national passenger rail systems and more recently, with the U.S. Army and Air Force to beef up security on their combat vehicles and planes, respectively.

With the news of the second funding round and new contracts, ARLnow asked Shift5’s CEO and co-founder Josh Lospinoso to reflect on the entrepreneurial process and on what it takes to raise money as a startup. The following Q&A has been slightly condensed and edited for clarity.

ARLnow: How long have you been actively working on raising Series A funding? Did the numbers meet or exceed expectations?

Lospinoso: Shift5 closed seed funding in 2019, and in the aftermath, won a series of contracts, including work with the US Air Force, which allowed us to grow organically through this year. Our Series A was very competitive, and ultimately our new partners at 645 represented a huge addition to the team that we couldn’t pass up.

ARLnow: When you started the company, were you someone who got energized by the idea of talking to investors, or was that intimidating? Do you think your product is an easy sell, given the immediate and debilitating threats cyberattacks pose?

Lospinoso: The Shift5 founding team is very passionate about the risk to national security posed by insecure transportation infrastructure. The idea of spreading awareness about the problem was more exciting and energizing than intimidating. We live in an era in which the cyber physical effects of cyberattacks are rapidly becoming a national menace. We’re seeing the US government act here — for example, the TSA is mandating rail and air operators tighten cybersecurity. Our customers are just glad there are folks out there solving the problem for them.

Shift5 founders deploy their product on a train (courtesy of Shift5)

ARLnow: Was there a steep learning curve to starting a company after leaving the military? Or do you think that it imparted some entrepreneurial skills?

Lospinoso: There was a pretty steep learning curve. The military prepared Mike and me for this. You’re used to jumping into high-tempo environments, having to learn the ropes quickly under a lot of pressure.

ARLnow: Which was harder, raising Seed or Series A funding?

Lospinoso: Both have difficulties in their own way. Seed Series funding is really team- and mission-focused. The Series A is much more about product/market fit. It’s about showing how your thesis at the Seed Series is playing out. By numbers, relatively few companies raise a Series A successfully. We were fortunate that we faced a problem in uniform that gave us a unique perspective on a very large opportunity. And we see that playing out.

ARLnow: What does it take to raise $20 million?

  1. Knowing something about the world that few people know to be true. Go after a big problem facing lots of people. The best kinds of problems are those that people don’t know they have.
  2. Having a risk appetite to eschew a steady paycheck and work/life balance to throw every ounce you have at a single problem.
  3. Being stubborn enough not to be deterred by short-term setbacks but nimble enough to accept feedback from customers, investors, and employees.
  4. Telling the story effectively and rallying others to your cause.
  5. Having a maniacal focus on solving customer problems.
  6. Having the maturity to give up responsibilities and control to empower those around you. Remember about rallying others to your cause.
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Thirteen Miller Lites for the 13 U.S. servicemen and women who died in a suicide bombing near the Kabul airport last week (courtesy photo)

On Sunday, 13 pints of Miller Lite stood vigil at an empty, but reserved, table at The Celtic House Irish Pub & Restaurant on Columbia Pike.

The beers represented the 13 U.S. servicemen and women who died in suicide bombings at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul that also killed 170 Afghan civilians. Terrorist group ISIS-K claimed responsibility for the attacks conducted during the evacuation.

A woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, had purchased the beers after seeing posts on Facebook of similar scenes at other bars and thinking to herself, “This is good. This is something to do.”

Similar scenes played out in Courthouse at Ireland’s Four Courts and across the country, as individuals and bars have poured out beers and placed them at reserved tables to pay tribute to the fallen troops.

For the Celtic House patron, the little tribute and the now-complete withdrawal effort, were personal.

“Just by way of background, my husband died from suicide last year,” she told ARLnow. “He had several tours in Afghanistan. This is the kind of thing, that if he were still here — well, first of all, he would’ve been super upset — but this is something he would’ve done. It was a way to honor those who were lost and honor him, in a way.”

The woman said the last few weeks have been hard on her, and she had to stop watching the news coming from Afghanistan. Going to the bar, which she said is her local watering hole, was also a way of distracting herself from the news of Hurricane Ida that devastated her hometown of New Orleans (the remnants of which are now bound for the D.C. area).

The reaction to her beer purchase was positive, she said.

“I didn’t have my phone yesterday,” she said. “I got the guys to take a picture, and send it to me. I did post it on Facebook, and got positive reactions there, and I sent the pictures to a bunch of my husband’s friends.”

The Celtic House didn’t charge her for half of the beers, she said — but she would’ve still done it if they had. The bar posted the picture on Twitter on Sunday.

A similar tribute could be seen at Ireland’s Four Courts. On Saturday, a group of Marines who were regulars four years ago and have since moved back to the area, ordered 13 beers, General Manager Dave Cahill said.

They were placed on a table reserved all weekend with a napkin note that read “reserved for our fallen heroes.”

Cahill connected the tribute to the “Missing Man Table” tradition of setting a table for fallen or missing soldiers with a number of symbolic pieces. People with loved ones buried in Arlington National Cemetery regularly come to the pub and place a mug on the table in memory of the deceased friend or family member, he said.

“We have a lot of Marines who come in here,” he said. “A lot of Marines would be deployed here for a number of years, and people who are visiting Arlington Cemetery come in as well.”

The Celtic House patron said hers was a “trite little gesture,” but she encouraged people to reach out to the veterans in their lives, support organizations and get involved in other ways.

“The idea should be that, all the people who were with them — and not even the people wounded — they’re all going to suffer unimaginable trauma from seeing their friends blown to pieces, and trying to rescue them. One hundred seventy civilians were also killed,” she said. “Just get involved. See what you can do.”

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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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Don’t be surprised if you see helicopters and some small planes flying around the D.C. area this morning — it’s all part of a military training exercise.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) says the air defense exercise will be conducted between 11 a.m. and noon. It will involve Coast Guard helicopters and general aviation aircraft — often smaller prop planes.

“Portions of the exercise may… be visible from the ground,” NORAD said in a social media post.

Flickr pool photo by J. Sonder

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The Penrose Square Starbucks was officially dedicated as the company’s 77th “Military Family Store” yesterday (April 14).

The coffee chain’s Military Family Stores are located across the country and are placed near military bases; in this case the store is only about a mile from Joint Base Myer-Henderson and the Pentagon. The Starbucks at 2413 Columbia Pike is currently the only such store in Arlington, though there’s another one in Fairfax County near Fort Belvoir.

Starbucks Military Family Stores emphasize helping military families with connections and support by holding events and programs. They also play a larger role in the company’s commitment of hiring 5,000 veterans and military spouses annually.

A Starbucks representative tells ARLnow that three of the employees at the Penrose Square store are veterans or military spouses.

As part of the dedication, Starbucks, in partnership with Operation Gratitude, hosted a service project outside the cafe to assemble 500 care packages for military families in Arlington and at other local bases. The care package included handwritten letters of support, handmade paracord bracelets, snacks, candy, and personal care items.

“Military service members and their families across Arlington County can look at this store right here in their own community and know that they are better understood and appreciated,” said Paul Cucinotta, Chief Operating Officer of Operation Gratitude, in the press release.

Arlington police officers and firefighters were among those volunteering to assemble the care packages.

“The Arlington County Police Department has previously been the recipient of Operation Gratitude and are honored to now have the opportunity to pay it forward through service that supports veterans and military families,” ACPD spokesperson Ashley Savage told ARLnow. “By filling these care packages, we hope to show our appreciation for the men and women who bravely served our country and the sacrifices of military families.”

Photo courtesy of Starbucks

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