Local News

Former Fort Bragg commander now serves in Africa

09 Stephen TownsendArmy Gen. Stephen Townsend’s No. 1 concern as commander of U.S. Africa Command is that another deadly attack like the one in Manda Bay, Kenya, will occur on his watch. That’s why AFRICOM is now examining the security at Manda Bay and other U.S. installations throughout the entire continent. On Jan. 5, al-Shabab militants attacked U.S. and Kenyan forces at Manda Bay Airfield, which led to the deaths of Army Spc. Henry Mayfield Jr., 23, and two U.S. Department of Defense contractors, Dustin Harrison, 47, and Bruce Triplett, 64.

Townsend, 60, is a four-star general who has served as Commander of U.S. Africa Command since July 26, 2019. He previously commanded Fort Bragg’s 18th Airborne Corps from May 2015 until January 2018. Townsend also served with the 82nd Airborne Division. He fought in Operation Urgent Fury, Operation Just Cause and Operation Uphold Democracy. Townsend commanded the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, leading it in the Battle of Baqubah during the Iraq War, and later commanded the 10th Mountain Division during the War in Afghanistan.

While serving as Fort Bragg’s commanding general, Townsend, in late August of 2016, took command of the Combined Joint Task Force — Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq —where he served until 2017, after which he returned to Fort Bragg. Raised in an Army family, Townsend was commissioned as an infantry officer upon graduating from North Georgia College in 1982. He has led and commanded troops at every echelon from platoon to corps and combined joint task force, to include leading all U.S. and multinational forces fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

“I think it’s self-obvious we were not as prepared there at Manda Bay as we needed to be,” Townsend told lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services Committee last month. “Al-Shabab managed to penetrate onto that airfield. They killed … three Americans and destroyed six aircraft there,” he said. “We weren’t as prepared, and we’re digging into that to find out why that’s the case.”  The command has launched a senior-leader-led investigation examining the circumstances surrounding the attack, and Townsend said approximately 120 infantrymen are now working to secure the area and install proper measures of defense.

The incident has prompted AFRICOM to evaluate security at other areas across the continent as well, especially since Manda Bay was considered a safe area, Townsend said. “Al-Shabab has shown their reach, and the danger that they pose, and I think that we need to take that seriously,” the general said. “So, I’m looking with a clear eye at every location in Africa now.” 

In 2019, AFRICOM conducted 63 airstrikes against violent extremist organizations in East Africa. So far, this year AFRICOM has already conducted four airstrikes against al-Shabab militants in Somalia. “What we do is we keep an eye on al-Shabab every day, and we’re looking for ways to reduce their capacity wherever we can,” said Townsend.
The U.S. has approximately 6,000 Department of Defense personnel on the African continent.

Fatal vision

08 jeffreymacdonald then and nowFifty years ago this month, U.S. Army Captain Jeffrey MacDonald slaughtered his pregnant wife and two young daughters in their apartment on Castle Drive in Fort Bragg’s Corregidor Court housing area. MacDonald, now 76, has adamantly maintained his innocence. Federal prosecutors alleged that MacDonald killed his wife, 26-year-old Colette McDonald, and their daughters Kimberley, 5, and Kristen, 2, with a knife and an ice pick, then stabbed himself to make it look like he was attacked while defending his family. Up & Coming Weekly Reporter Jeff Thompson was a local radio journalist for more than 40 years before joining U&CW four years ago. He covered the sensational event as a young reporter and has a vivid memory of the morning the MacDonald murders occurred. This is his report:

Feb. 17, 1970, was a miserable day in more ways than one. During the predawn hours, it was cold and wet. It had been raining for several hours. In those days, I got up early and went to work at 3 a.m. My routine was to check on overnight crime by driving downtown to the police station on Bow Street and the sheriff’s office in the basement of the old courthouse. It was so cold that day that my car wouldn’t start, so I called the sheriff’s office Capt. Don Wade. I asked him if he would have Deputy Leroy Graddy come by my house in Arran Hills to jump-start my car. I knew Leroy worked in the 71st area.

Captain Wade said he had no one available to help because his officers were tied up at roadblocks at Fort Bragg. He said military authorities told him a woman and two children had been murdered on post and that an Army officer had been hospitalized at Womack Army Medical Center. I had been in the broadcast news business for two years in what turned out to be one of the biggest stories of my career — and my car wouldn’t start!

I called a friend who lived down the street and asked to borrow his car. I drove downtown and asked Wade if he had any additional details about the murders on post. He said he’d been told that the word “PIG” had been scrawled on the headboard of the woman’s bed to mimic the Charles Manson murders six months earlier and that the surviving officer was a Green Beret doctor who had been clubbed and stabbed with an ice pick.

I hurriedly drove to the WFNC radio studios to prepare the 6:30 a.m. newscast. Instead of airing the news live, I decided to record it for playback so I could drive to Fort Bragg. It was an open post in those days, and I had no difficulty finding the housing area where the triple murder investigation was unfolding. Responding media representatives were able to park on Castle Drive in front of the apartment and walk to within 30 feet of the building. I observed an Associated Press photographer walking along the side of the apartment, unrestrained, snapping pictures through the windows.

The area was muddy. I saw military police officers casually traipsing in and out of the MacDonald apartment. Suffice it to say, law enforcement crime scene methods have changed a lot in 50 years. Having confirmed reports of what happened, I returned to the radio station to update the news. I called the United Press International office in Charlotte, North Carolina, to report the story. It went nationwide because of its similarity to the Tate-LaBianca murders perpetrated by the Manson “family” in August of 1969. Before hanging up, the UPI correspondent had a final question: “Is there any suspicion that the husband and father had committed the murders?”

The crime scene was gruesome: 5-year-old Kimberly was found in her bed, having been clubbed in the head and stabbed in the neck between eight and 10 times. Two-year-old Kristen was in her bed and had been stabbed 33 times with a knife and 15 times with an ice pick. Colette, who was pregnant with her first son, was lying on the floor of her bedroom. She had been repeatedly clubbed and stabbed 21 times with an ice pick and 16 times with a knife. MacDonald’s torn pajama top was draped across her chest.
M.P.s found MacDonald next to his wife, alive but wounded. His wounds were not as severe nor as numerous as those his family had suffered. He was taken to the nearby army hospital. MacDonald suffered cuts and bruises on his face and chest, along with a mild concussion. He also had a stab wound on his left torso that a staff surgeon described as a “clean, small, sharp” incision that caused his left lung to partially collapse. He was released from the hospital after one week.

MacDonald was placed on military house arrest pending the outcome of the initial investigation. A military Article 32 hearing was held in July of 1970 to determine whether there was sufficient evidence to charge him with the murders. He was exonerated in a matter of days and left the Army. MacDonald became an emergency room physician in southern California. But in 1979, he was indicted in federal court in North Carolina and sent to Raleigh to stand trial. The rest is history.

New Hope Mills interstate bridge now open

07 01 NC59 BridgeA new bridge that carries N.C. 59 over I-95 Business in Hope Mills has been opened by the state Division of Highways. Traffic was also shifted onto a rebuilt ramp from I-95 Business southbound to N.C. 59 at the new bridge. Two northbound lanes were closed to allow improvements at the interchange.

A detour has been marked. The ramps will be elevated to match the new bridge, and the drainage systems will be improved. The new bridge currently is in a two-lane pattern until the contractor can finishing widening portions of N.C. 59 on either side of it by this fall. When that work is completed, all five lanes of the new bridge will be opened. DOT
says the northbound ramps will reopen in two-to-three months.

07 02 Cape Fear Lock DamRiver Locks and dams ownership changing

The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality is providing the federal government notice that it wishes to obtain ownership of three locks and dams on the Cape Fear River between Fayetteville and Wilmington. The state plans to send an official letter of intent by Feb. 28. The decision recognizes there is no federal interest in maintaining and operating the locks and dams and allows the state to acquire them. The three locks and dams were originally built in the early 1900s for commercial navigation but have not been used for that purpose since 1995.

“The state of North Carolina recognizes the importance of maintaining the locks and dams for flood control and resiliency, to protect water quality, water supply, fish passage, aquatic habitat and recreational opportunities in the Cape Fear River,” said Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Michael S. Regan. “State ownership ensures that all stakeholder interests are represented moving forward.”

DEQ staff held several meetings with federal, state and local officials since April of 2019 to ensure all interests and concerns were addressed should the state take over the locks and dams. When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers receives the letter of intent, Congress must decide whether to de-authorize the locks and dams. State officials estimate the real estate transaction process will take two to five years.

Pone elevated

07 03 Ed Pone 3 2Cumberland County Judge Ed Pone is the county’s first African American Chief District Court judge. N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley announced Pone’s appointment last month. He succeeds Chief Judge Robert Stiehl, who retired Feb. 1. The chief judge administrates court functions and assigns the county’s 10 district court judges to the various courts. Pone is a certified juvenile court judge and has presided in family court for many years. He also is the presiding judge of Cumberland County’s Family Drug Treatment Court and the Misdemeanor Diversion Program. Pone was appointed to the bench by Gov. Jim Hunt in 1996 and has won election every four years since then. He is unopposed this year. Chief Justice Beasley is a former colleague of Pone’s, having served on the Cumberland County District Court before being appointed to the state court of appeals and eventually elevated to the supreme court. Cumberland County has 10 District Court judges.

New school principal

07 04 Corine WarrenFollowing the recommendation of Superintendent Dr. Marvin Connelly, Jr., the Cumberland County Board of Education has approved a new elementary school principal. Corine O. B. Warren, who is currently an assistant principal at Spring Lake Middle School, will serve as principal of Benjamin Martin Elementary School.
“It is with a strong commitment that I am joining the Benjamin J. Martin Elementary School family,” said the long-time educator. “I am looking forward to leading and learning — academically, socially and emotionally — together as a community.” Warren has served as an assistant principal in the Cumberland, Robeson and Gwinnett (Georgia) County schools since 2014. Her career in education spans nearly 25 years and includes work as an elementary teacher, a trainer for the North Carolina Teacher Academy and  media coordinator.

D.S.S. employment opportunities

07 05 Job FairEmployers are invited to participate in the 21st Annual Cumberland County Department of Social Services March to Work Job Fair Mar. 18 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Charlie Rose Agri-Expo Center. Businesses with job openings are invited to register to participate at no charge. Employers will be provided with booths at the fair that include tables and chairs. The job fair attracts thousands of job seekers with a wide range of skill levels from those who are professional or highly technical, to those who are unskilled.

“This is a great opportunity for businesses to find qualified employees,” said Toni Wright-Harris, job fair coordinator. Business representatives will be able to talk about employment opportunities for potential employees. Information is available online at Cumberland County DSS March to Work. If you have questions, call or email Toni Wright-Harris at 910-677-2151 by March 10.

Meet this year’s Fayetteville Ladies Power Lunch speakers

09 20191114 Fayetteville Ladies Power Lunch 208The Fayetteville Ladies Power Lunch  is a quarterly networking event held at Cape Fear Botanical Garden focused on inspiring and empowering the women in our community. Each event opens with an exclusive Shopportunity Expo with local vendors and a wine tasting event at 10 a.m. The catered luncheon with entertainment, a keynote speaker and raffle take place from 11:45 a.m.-2 p.m., and lastly, the Shopportunity Expo continues with more door prizes from 2-3 p.m. The dates for the 2020 FLPL events are Feb. 13, May 14, Aug.13 and Nov. 12. The FLPL keynote speakers for 2020 are Donna Clayton Lloyd, Mary Kate Burke, Julie Russo and Dr. DeSandra Washington, respectively.

February 13, Donna Clayton Lloyd
Realtor and Broker in Charge of ANYTHING REAL ESTATE, an affiliate of Townsend Real Estate in Fayetteville
To be chosen as a speaker for the 2020 FLPL, I face a perfect opportunity to live out my life mission of telling the stories from my life and lessons learned that I hope will inspire, educate and celebrate women as other women and leaders have done for me. I believe in passing on every secret to success and acknowledging the lessons learned from the broken places. With God’s help and that of others, I want to be a part of the team of women that spreads that word.

May 14, Mary Kate Burke
Artistic Director of Cape Fear Regional Theatre
At CFRT, 86% of our mainstage directors are women. The national average is closer to 35%. The incredible Bo Thorp founded CFRT. For 53 out of its 59 years, the theater has been woman-led. It is important to create opportunities for other deserving women and to mentor them. At CFRT, we make it easy for people to have a family and still work, which is rare in this field. Small accommodations and flexibility allow us to retain incredible employees and provides them a better quality of life.
 
August 13, Julie Russo
Director at McKee Homes, LLC
One of the ways I hope to inspire women is by helping them connect with other women. The hardest thing about trying or learning something new is the initial discomfort associated with it. I encourage all women to embrace that discomfort because there is no such thing as a wasted education. I like to celebrate the unique talents women bring to the workforce while supporting their efforts to find work-life balance is vital to our success.

November 12, Dr. Desandra Washington
Associate Vice President for Academic Support at Fayetteville Technical Community College
As a young girl growing up in Fayetteville, I had the honor, privilege, and blessing to have mentors that encouraged and motivated me to excel in life. These phenomenal women molded me into the God-fearing, driven, service-oriented woman I am today. It was a given that I would continue the legacy to inspire, educate, empower and celebrate our local women.

Learn more from these visionary women in this year’s 2020 quarterly FLPL series. Visit https://www.fayettevilleladiespowerlunch.com/ for tickets and information.
 
Pictured from L-R: Dr. Desandra Washington, Julie Russo, Mary Kate Burke, Donna Clayton Lloyd
 

Commissary savings up slightly

06 Fort Bragg Commissary InteriorThe military commissary agency has been required to track customer savings since fiscal 2016, to help defense officials and Congress monitor the commissary benefit. Commissary customers save 25% more than in civilian grocery stores. The upward trend in fiscal 2019 averaged 25.6%, according to a report from the Defense Commissary Agency. Overall, the savings are up from 23.9% for fiscal 2018. But savings in overseas stores declined from the 2018 level. Officials attribute the drop overseas to the lower cost-of-living allowance in fiscal 2019.

The overall savings level for U.S. stores was 22.3% for fiscal 2019. DeCA compares prices with up to three commercial grocers, including one supercenter, in the local area of each commissary in the U.S. Fort Bragg is the largest Army post in the country and has two full-size commissaries. The comparison looks at 38,000 items at a regional level and local prices on about 1,000 products that are representative of a shopper’s typical market basket, officials say.

For years, commissary savings were touted as an overall 30%. But, in 2016, as mandated by law, DeCA established a baseline of savings using a more thorough methodology. Congress now requires the agency to maintain savings levels that are reasonably consistent with the 2016 baseline, since the agency can now use variable pricing — lowering or raising prices on items, rather than selling them at cost, as they did for decades.

Commissary officials have had the authority to do this for several years, as a means of being competitive with local stores, and to allow commissaries to use some of the profit made to reduce the amount of taxpayer dollars — over $1 billion a year — that’s used to run the stores. Taxpayer dollars have been a target of people in DoD in efforts to save money. One retiree contacted Military Times to say he’s been shopping at commissaries for more than 50 years, “and from what I can see, prices are noticeably going up!”

Savings depend on the items, as well as the region. For example, there are more than 900 items in the commissary’s Your Everyday Savings, or “YES!” program, which lowers prices year-round on items that commissary customers purchase the most. That has contributed to the increase in savings, said Robert Bianchi, a retired Navy rear admiral who is a Defense Department special assistant for commissary operations.

The YES! program is designed to help commissaries level the playing field when it comes to the perceived value of the benefit, Bianchi added.

Too many consumers get a false impression about the value of the overall savings of a civilian grocery store based on a few loss leaders. These are items that stores are willing to accept revenue losses on so they can attract consumers. Bianchi said a commissary’s grocery department — for example, packaged foods — is the main driver of savings for commissaries in the South Atlantic region. The 30 stores in the region showed Fiscal Year 2019 savings of 20.4%.

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