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Veterans stump in support of Camp Hale becoming new national monument

Anticipating President Joe Biden’s announcement of a new national monument at Camp Hale and the Tenmile Range, the Vet Voice Foundation gathered 10th Mountain Division veterans and local representatives Thursday to discuss the environmental, educational and ceremonial impacts such a designation would have.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visited the historic World War II training site in August accompanied by Gov. Jared Polis, Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, and Rep. Joe Neguse. During the visit, Vilsack pledged to recommend to Biden that he use his authority granted by the Antiquities act of 1906 to create the Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument.

During a press call on Thursday, Vet Voice Foundation CEO Janessa Goldbeck said the organization joins Colorado representatives in urging the president to ensure Camp Hale’s permanent protection. 

“This action would continue a longstanding tradition of bipartisan support for protecting our nation’s most special places, historic landmarks and objects of historic and scientific interest,” Goldbeck said. 

As a former training site for the U.S. Army, Camp Hale fostered what was originally activated as the Alpine segment of the Army’s 10th Light Division before being redesignated the 10th Mountain Division in 1944. The officers who trained for harsh temperatures and conditions at Camp Hale were responsible for key defeats of German forces in Italy.

The 10th Mountain Division is now located at Fort Drum, New York, and, since 2001, has been the most-deployed division in the U.S. Army. Despite their geographical separation from Camp Hale and the Continental Divide, recent veterans of the 10th Mountain Division spoke on the connections they have to the land and to their predecessors who trained there.

Retired Maj. Gen. Galen Jackman served for three years with the 10th Mountain Division as chief of staff and assistant division commander. Having communicated with descendants of the World War II 10th Mountain Division and having served with the 10th Mountain Division himself, Jackman explained how crucial Camp Hale is to American history and veteran legacy.

“All the soldiers in our army today are following in the historical footsteps of those who have gone before them,” Jackman said. “The 10th Mountain soldiers are no exception. The heritage, legacy, spirit and ethos of today’s 10th Mountain Division springs from its beginnings at Camp Hale.”

Along with recognizing its historical impact, 10th Mountain Division veteran Mike Greenwood directly addressed President Biden in the press call Thursday. He shared a personal account of Camp Hale’s importance. Having served in Afghanistan and Iraq, Greenwood said the wilderness at Camp Hale is a sanctuary from the impacts of war. He explained that Camp Hale and the Continental Divide is not only a historical site of a legendary division’s training ground, but the land is also a place for veterans like himself to recreate, reflect and heal. 

“(Camp Hale) is not just a place to look at and admire,” Greenwood said. “It’s a place to go and heal. So, I urge you, President Biden, to give Camp Hale the distinction that it deserves.”

Aside from the connection 10th Mountain Division veterans have to the history and healing nature of Camp Hale, skiers and locals may also find connections to the history of the proposed national monument. The nation’s modern ski industry finds its roots at Camp Hale. Many 10th Mountain veterans returned from World War II to found the iconic ski resorts — Vail among them — that are at the forefront of the American outdoor recreation economy, which thrives in Colorado today.

Eagle County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry is in support of Camp Hale’s projected national monument distinction and explained why she thinks it is important to recognize the foundation that much of Eagle and Summit counties are built upon. 

“Over the past few years, the outdoor recreation industry has blossomed to a point where we need to put some protections in place to steward this part of our heritage,” Chandler-Henry said. “Heritage is part of our history, our environment and it’s our economy. We’re hopeful that this designation of the national monument status by President Biden will lead to those protections and allow us to recognize that heritage, history and love of nature and the outdoors that all of us in Eagle County have.”

Like many locals, Rep. Julie McCluskie who serves Delta, Gunnison, Lake, Pitkin and Summit counties at the state Capitol, said she and her family have fond memories of recreating in this “pristine and important part of Colorado’s beautiful wilderness.” She explained that protections offered with the national monument distinction would assist in preserving populations of endangered wildlife that live in and migrate through the area, such as bighorn sheep, black bears and moose.

“Particularly in the face of climate change, protecting these corridors and these beautiful mountains is very important to our communities,” McCluskie said. “We have been challenged over this last decade to lift up and help others understand how much we love these great outdoors and why it is so important to protect them.”

Israeli army: ‘High possibility’ soldier killed reporter

JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli army said Monday there was a “high possibility” that a soldier killed a well-known Al Jazeera journalist in the occupied West Bank last May, as it announced the results of its investigation into the killing.

In a briefing to reporters, a senior military official said a soldier opened fire after mistakenly identifying Shireen Abu Akleh as a militant. But he provided no evidence to back up the Israeli claim that Palestinian gunmen were present in the area and said no one would be punished. He also did not address video evidence showing the area to be quiet before Abu Akleh was shot.

The conclusions were the closest Israel has come to taking responsibility for her death and followed a series of investigations by media organizations and the United States that concluded Israel either fired, or most likely had fired, the deadly shot. But they were unlikely to put the matter to rest.

“He misidentified her,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity under military briefing guidelines. “His reports in real time…absolutely point to a misidentification.”

Abu Akleh was wearing a helmet and a vest identifying her as press when she was killed in May while covering Israeli military raids in the occupied West Bank.

The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem accused the army of carrying out a whitewash.

“It was no mistake. It’s policy,” the group said.

Al Jazeera’s local bureau chief, Walid Al-Omari, accused the army of trying to escape responsibility. “This is clearly an attempt to circumvent the opening of a criminal investigation,” he told The Associated Press.

The 51-year-old Palestinian-American had covered the West Bank for two decades and was a well-known face across the Arab world. The Palestinians, and Abu Akleh’s family, have accused Israel of intentionally killing her, and her death remains a major point of contention between the sides.

The official said the military could not conclusively determine where the fire emanated from, saying there may have been Palestinian gunmen in the same area as the Israeli soldier. But he said the soldier shot the journalist “with very high likelihood” and did so by mistake.

The official did not explain why witness accounts and videos showed no militant activity in the area, as well as no gunfire in the vicinity until the barrage that struck Abu Akleh and wounded another reporter.

He also did not say why the investigation had taken some four months, though he said the Israeli military chief asked for more information after an initial probe. The official said the investigation had been shared with the military’s independent prosecutor, who had decided not to launch a criminal probe. That means no one will be charged in the shooting.

Abu Akleh’s family criticized the investigation, saying the army “tried to obscure the truth and avoid responsibility” for the killing.

“Our family is not surprised by this outcome since it’s obvious to anyone that Israeli war criminals cannot investigate their own crimes. However, we remain deeply hurt, frustrated and disappointed,” they said in a statement. The family also reiterated its call for an independent U.S. investigation and a probe by the International Criminal Court.

Rights groups say Israeli investigations of the shooting deaths of Palestinians often languish for months or years before being quietly closed and that soldiers are rarely held accountable.

Israel has said she was killed during a complex battle with Palestinian militants and that only a forensic analysis of the bullet could confirm whether it was fired by an Israeli soldier or a Palestinian militant. However, a U.S.-led analysis of the bullet last July was inconclusive as investigators said the bullet had been badly damaged.

An Associated Press reconstruction of her killing lent support to witness accounts that she was killed by Israeli forces. Subsequent investigations by CNN, the New York Times and the Washington Post reached similar conclusions, as did monitoring by the office of the U.N. human rights chief.

Abu Akleh rose to fame two decades ago during the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, against Israeli rule. She documented the harsh realities of life under Israeli military rule — now well into its sixth decade with no end in sight — for viewers across the Arab world.

Israeli police drew widespread criticism from around the world when they beat mourners and pallbearers at her funeral in Jerusalem on May 14. An Israeli newspaper reported that a police investigation found wrongdoing by some of its officers, but said those who supervised the event will not be seriously punished.

Jenin has long been a bastion of Palestinian militants, and several recent deadly attacks inside Israel have been carried out by young men from in and around the town. Israel frequently carries out military raids in Jenin, which it says are aimed at arresting militants and preventing more attacks.

Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war and has built settlements where nearly 500,000 Israelis live alongside nearly 3 million Palestinians. The Palestinians want the territory to form the main part of a future state.

UN agency to inspect Ukraine nuclear plant in urgent mission

KYIV (AP) — A U.N. nuclear watchdog team set off on an urgent mission Monday to safeguard the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia atomic power plant at the heart of fighting in Ukraine, a long-awaited trip that the world hopes will help avoid a radioactive catastrophe.

The stakes couldn’t be higher for the International Atomic Energy Agency experts who will visit the plant in a country where the 1986 Chernobyl disaster spewed radiation throughout the region, shocking the world and intensifying a global push away from nuclear energy.

“Without an exaggeration, this mission will be the hardest in the history of IAEA,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said.

Underscoring the urgency, Ukraine and Russia again accused each other of shelling the wider region around the nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest, which was briefly knocked offline last week. The dangers are so high that officials have begun handing out anti-radiation iodine tablets to nearby residents.

To avoid a disaster, IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi has sought access for months to the Zaporizhzhia plant, which Russian forces have occupied since the early days of the six-month-old war. Ukrainian nuclear workers have operated the plant the whole time.

“The day has come,” Grossi tweeted Monday, adding that the Vienna-based IAEA’s “Support and Assistance Mission … is now on its way.”

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said the team, which Grossi heads, is scheduled to arrive in Kyiv on Monday. In April, Grossi had headed an IAEA mission to Chernobyl, which Russian forces occupied earlier in the war.

The IAEA said that its team will “undertake urgent safeguards activities,” assess damage, determine the functionality of the plant’s safety and security systems and evaluate the control room staff’s working conditions.

Ukraine’s nuclear energy agency, Energoatom, warned Monday of Russian attempts to cover up their military use of the plant.

“The occupiers, preparing for the arrival of the IAEA mission, increased pressure on the personnel … to prevent them from disclosing evidence of the occupiers’ crimes at the plant and its use as a military base,” Energoatom said, adding that four plant workers were wounded in Russian shelling of the city where they live.

Ukraine accused Russia of new rocket and artillery strikes at or near the plant, intensifying fears that the fighting could cause a massive radiation leak. So far, radiation levels at the facility, which has six reactors, have been reported to be normal.

Ukraine has alleged that Russia is essentially holding the plant hostage, storing weapons there and launching attacks from around it, while Moscow accuses Ukraine of recklessly firing on the facility.

World leaders have called on the Russians to demilitarize the plant. Satellite images provided by Maxar Technologies on Monday showed armored personnel carriers on a road near the reactors, damage to a building’s roof also near the reactors, and brushfires burning nearby.

Ukraine reported more Russian shelling in Nikopol, the city across the Dnieper River from the nuclear power plant, with one person killed and five wounded. The city has been hit by relentless shelling for weeks. In Enerhodar, just a few kilometers from the plant, the city’s Ukrainian mayor, Dmytro Orlov, blamed Russian shelling for wounding at least 10 residents.

Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, said in Stockholm that he expects the IAEA mission to produce “a clear statement of facts, of violation of all nuclear, of nuclear safety protocols.” He added, “We know that Russia is putting not only Ukraine, but also the entire world at threat at the risk of nuclear accident.”

In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia will ensure security of the IAEA mission and called on other countries to “raise pressure on the Ukrainian side to force it to stop threatening the European continent by shelling the territory of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and surrounding areas.”

Over the weekend, Energoatom painted an ominous picture of the threats at the plant by issuing a map forecasting where radiation could spread.

Elsewhere on the battlefield, the Ukraine military claimed it had breached Russia’s first line of defense near Kherson just north of the Crimea, the peninsula that Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014. Such an advance would represent a strategic breakthrough — if confirmed. Kherson is the biggest Ukrainian city that the Russians now occupy, and reports about Ukrainian forces preparing for a counteroffensive in the region have circulated for weeks.

For its part, Russia’s Defense Ministry said its forces had inflicted heavy personnel and military equipment losses on Ukrainian troops trying to attack in three directions in Ukraine’s southern Kherson and Mykoaiv regions, the state news agency Tass reported.

Residents reported explosions Monday at a Kherson-area bridge over the Dnieper River that is a critical Russian supply line, and Russian news reports spoke of air defense systems activating repeatedly in the city, with nighttime explosions in the sky Monday night.

Russian-installed officials, citing Ukrainian rocket strikes, announced the evacuation of residents of nearby Nova Kakhovka — a city that Kyiv’s forces frequently target — from their workplaces to bomb shelters on Monday. In another Kherson region city, Berislav, Russian news agencies reported that Ukrainian shelling had damaged a church, a school and other buildings.

But in a war rife with claims and counterclaims that are hard to verify independently, the Moscow-appointed regional leader of Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, dismissed the Ukrainian assertion of an offensive in the Kherson region as false. He said Ukrainian forces have suffered heavy losses in the area. And Ukraine’s presidential adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, cautioned against “super-sensational announcements” about a counteroffensive.

In the eastern Donetsk region, eight civilians were reported killed and seven wounded. Russian forces struck the cities of Sloviansk and Kostyantynivka overnight and the region’s Ukrainian governor, Pavlo Kyrylenko, urged residents to evacuate immediately.

___

Andrew Katell contributed to this report from New York.

‘Tape or chewing gum:’ Twitter’s lapses echo worldwide

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — From fire departments to governments, from school districts to corporations, from local utilities to grassroots organizers around the world, Twitter at its best is a tool to get a message out quickly, efficiently, directly.

It’s also a constant risk-and-reward calculation.

A recent bombshell whistleblower report from Twitter’s former head of security alleges that the social media company has been negligently lax on cybersecurity and privacy protections for its users for years. While worrisome for anyone on Twitter, the revelations could be especially concerning for those who use it to reach constituencies, get news out about emergencies and for political dissidents and activists in the crosshairs of hackers or their own governments.

“We tend to look at these companies as large, well-resourced entities who know what they’re doing — but you realize that a lot of their actions are ad hoc and reactive, driven by crises,” said Prateek Waghre, policy director at the Internet Freedom Foundation, a digital rights nonprofit in India. “Essentially, they’re often held together by cello tape or chewing gum.”

Peiter “Mudge” Zatko, who served as Twitter’s security chief until he was fired early this year, filed the complaints last month with federal U.S. authorities, alleging that the company misled regulators about its poor cybersecurity defenses and its negligence in attempting to root out fake accounts that spread disinformation. Among Zatko’s most serious accusations is that Twitter violated the terms of a 2011 FTC settlement by falsely claiming that it had put stronger measures in place to protect the security and privacy of its users.

Waghre said the allegations in the complaint about India — that Twitter knowingly allowed the Indian government to place its agents on the company payroll where they had “direct unsupervised access to the company’s systems and user data” — were particularly worrisome. He also pointed to an incident earlier this month where a former Twitter employee was found guilty of passing along sensitive user data to royal family members in Saudi Arabia in exchange for bribes.

The consequences of privacy and security lapses can range from inconvenience and embarrassment — such as when an Indiana State Police account was hacked and tweeted “poo-poo head” earlier this year — to much worse. In October 2021, a Saudi humanitarian aid worker was sentenced to 20 years in prison because of an anonymous, satirical Twitter account that the kingdom says he ran. It’s possible that the case is linked with the men accused of spying on behalf of the kingdom while working at Twitter.

As an advocate for dissidents and others detained in Saudi Arabia, Bethany Al-Haidari has been concerned for years about Twitter’s user privacy safeguards. The new whistleblower allegations make her all the more worried.

“Given what we know about how social media is used around the world, that is incredibly problematic,” said Al-Haidari, who works for The Freedom Initiative, a U.S.-based human rights group. The possibility of hackers or governments exploiting the alleged cybersecurity lapses at Twitter to get users’ identities, private messages or other personal information “is quite disturbing to me,” she said.

Chinese-Australian artist and activist Badiucao, who regularly publishes art that criticizes the Chinese Communist Party, expressed concern about the whistleblower’s allegations, noting that many users provide their phone numbers and emails to Twitter.

“Once that personal information is leaked, it could be used to trace your identity,” he said. Badiucao said he regularly receives death threats and propaganda from what appears to be bot or spam accounts.

But the artist plans to keep using Twitter, saying it’s probably the best option Chinese-speaking activists and artists have for a “shelter for free speech.”

Twitter says the whistleblower claims present a “false narrative” about the company and its privacy and data security practices, and that the claims lack context. “Security and privacy have long been company-wide priorities at Twitter and will continue to be,” the company said in a statement.

Despite the heightened concerns sparked by Zatko’s claims, none of the groups The Associated Press spoke to this week plan to stop using Twitter. Security experts say while the whistleblower’s claims are alarming, there’s no reason for individual users to delete their accounts.

High-profile Twitter users and world governments may be at greater risk than average users, experts say. In 2020, for instance, Twitter suffered an embarrassing hack by a teenager who accessed the accounts of then-President Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Mike Bloomberg and a number of tech billionaires including Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Musk is currently embroiled in a battle with Twitter as he tries to back out of a $44 billion deal to buy the company.

Yet another security incident raised alarms for Jennifer Grygiel, a Syracuse University communications professor who follows Twitter closely. In 2017, a Twitter customer support worker deactivated then-President Donald Trump’s account for a few minutes during their last day on the job. While the account was restored quickly, Grygiel said, the incident showed how vulnerable Twitter was when it comes to governments, heads of state and military branches that use the platform.

“Am I surprised and shocked by the whistleblower’s allegations? I’m not,” said Trav Robertson, chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party, which uses Twitter to communicate with about 18,700 followers. But he argues that it’s especially important for people not to assume that “the constant attacks on our emails, our databases, our Twitter accounts, our Facebooks” are the new normal. “When we become desensitized to it, we fail to be proactive,” he said.

At the City of Denver’s fire department, public information officer JD Chism acknowledges concern over security issues. But the department has to weight that risk against the way Twitter has become integral to communicating emergencies to the public. The department’s Twitter feed hosts real-time updates on fires and consequent road closures and injuries, alongside retweets from other agencies warning of dangers such as flash floods.

For now, the department will keep using Twitter as it always has, Chism said, “It’s good for taking care of people, and that’s what we are here for.”

Associated Press Writers Krutika Pathi in New Delhi; Jesse Bedayn in Denver; Jennifer Peltz in New York; James Pollard in South Carolina; Zen Soo in Hong Kong; Margaret Stafford in Kansas City; Russ Bynum in Savannah, Georgia; Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama; Amy Taxin in Orange County, California; Rebecca Santana in New Orleans; Jonathan Mattise in Nashville, Tennessee; and Michael Goldberg in Jackson, Mississippi, contributed to this story.

Polio in US, UK and Israel reveals rare risk of oral vaccine

LONDON (AP) — For years, global health officials have used billions of drops of an oral vaccine in a remarkably effective campaign aimed at wiping out polio in its last remaining strongholds — typically, poor, politically unstable corners of the world.

Now, in a surprising twist in the decades-long effort to eradicate the virus, authorities in Jerusalem, New York and London have discovered evidence that polio is spreading there.

The original source of the virus? The oral vaccine itself.

Scientists have long known about this extremely rare phenomenon. That is why some countries have switched to other polio vaccines. But these incidental infections from the oral formula are becoming more glaring as the world inches closer to eradication of the disease and the number of polio cases caused by the wild, or naturally circulating, virus plummets.

Since 2017, there have been 396 cases of polio caused by the wild virus, versus more than 2,600 linked to the oral vaccine, according to figures from the World Health Organization and its partners.

“We are basically replacing the wild virus with the virus in the vaccine, which is now leading to new outbreaks,” said Scott Barrett, a Columbia University professor who has studied polio eradication. “I would assume that countries like the U.K. and the U.S. will be able to stop transmission quite quickly, but we also thought that about monkeypox.”

The latest incidents represent the first time in several years that vaccine-connected polio virus has turned up in rich countries.

Earlier this year, officials in Israel detected polio in an unvaccinated 3-year-old, who suffered paralysis. Several other children, nearly all of them unvaccinated, were found to have the virus but no symptoms.

In June, British authorities reported finding evidence in sewage that the virus was spreading, though no infections in people were identified. Last week, the government said all children in London ages 1 to 9 would be offered a booster shot.

In the U.S., an unvaccinated young adult suffered paralysis in his legs after being infected with polio, New York officials revealed last month. The virus has also shown up in New York sewers, suggesting it is spreading. But officials said they are not planning a booster campaign because they believe the state’s high vaccination rate should offer enough protection.

Genetic analyses showed that the viruses in the three countries were all “vaccine-derived,” meaning that they were mutated versions of a virus that originated in the oral vaccine.

The oral vaccine at issue has been used since 1988 because it is cheap, easy to administer — two drops are put directly into children’s mouths — and better at protecting entire populations where polio is spreading. It contains a weakened form of the live virus.

But it can also cause polio in about two to four children per 2 million doses. (Four doses are required to be fully immunized.) In extremely rare cases, the weakened virus can also sometimes mutate into a more dangerous form and spark outbreaks, especially in places with poor sanitation and low vaccination levels.

These outbreaks typically begin when people who are vaccinated shed live virus from the vaccine in their feces. From there, the virus can spread within the community and, over time, turn into a form that can paralyze people and start new epidemics.

Many countries that eliminated polio switched to injectable vaccines containing a killed virus decades ago to avoid such risks; the Nordic countries and the Netherlands never used the oral vaccine. The ultimate goal is to move the entire world to the shots once wild polio is eradicated, but some scientists argue that the switch should happen sooner.

“We probably could never have gotten on top of polio in the developing world without the (oral polio vaccine), but this is the price we’re now paying,” said Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “The only way we are going to eliminate polio is to eliminate the use of the oral vaccine.”

Aidan O’Leary, director of WHO’s polio department, described the discovery of polio spreading in London and New York as “a major surprise,” saying that officials have been focused on eradicating the disease in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where health workers have been killed for immunizing children and where conflict has made access to some areas impossible.

Still, O’Leary said he is confident Israel, Britain and the U.S. will shut down their newly identified outbreaks quickly.

The oral vaccine is credited with dramatically reducing the number of children paralyzed by polio. When the global eradication effort began in 1988, there were about 350,000 cases of wild polio a year. So far this year, there have been 19 cases of wild polio, all in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Mozambique.

In 2020, the number of polio cases linked to the vaccine hit a peak of more than 1,100 spread out across dozens of countries. It has since declined to around 200 this year so far.

Last year, WHO and partners also began using a newer oral polio vaccine, which contains a live but weakened virus that scientists believe is less likely to mutate into a dangerous form. But supplies are limited.

To stop polio in Britain, the U.S. and Israel, what is needed is more vaccination, experts say. That is something Columbia University’s Barrett worries could be challenging in the COVID-19 era.

“What’s different now is a reduction in trust of authorities and the political polarization in countries like the U.S. and the U.K.,” Barrett said. “The presumption that we can quickly get vaccination numbers up quickly may be more challenging now.”

Oyewale Tomori, a virologist who helped direct Nigeria’s effort to eliminate polio, said that in the past, he and colleagues balked at describing outbreaks as “vaccine-derived,” wary it would make people fearful of the vaccine.

“All we can do is explain how the vaccine works and hope that people understand that immunization is the best protection, but it’s complicated,” Tomori said. “In hindsight, maybe it would have been better not to use this vaccine, but at that time, nobody knew it would turn out like this.”

Avon man’s Ukraine aid trip creates another mission

Tyler Schmidt went to Ukraine in April hoping to help in that war-torn country. He returned with an even deeper devotion to that mission.

Schmidt, of Avon, is a nurse practitioner and a veteran of the U.S. Army’s Green Berets. He and fellow veteran Greg Miller, a physician’s assistant, self-funded a spring mission with a desire to help in any way they could.

Schmidt is a combat veteran, so he’s seen a lot. But even staying west of the heaviest fighting, he wasn’t prepared for what he saw in Ukraine.

“One of the things that really touched me was the kids,” Schmidt said. “It was… heartbreaking.”

Schmidt noted it’s hard to see anyone with a blown-off limb. But kids? “It’s a crusher,” he said. “When you see a 6-year-old, he should be playing in a playground, not looking forward to getting a prosthetic leg.”

There was a lot of heartbreak in the trip, especially as Schmidt got closer to combat areas, as far as the Ukraine capital of Kyiv.

Lviv, Ukraine is hundreds of miles from the heaviest fighting, but the city’s train station was still hit in a rocket attack.
Tyler Schmidt/Courtesy photo

But, he added, he saw a lot that was remarkable, particularly in the spirit of Ukrainians.

“They’re so strong, and they don’t give up,” Schmidt said. “They will fight to the last breath.”

Schmidt asked any number of people why they didn’t just pack up and evacuate. The answer was always the same: “This is our home. This is our family. We’re staying.”

And not many men stay out of the action.

A popular poster in Ukraine shows a badger attacking a Russian bear.
Tyler Schmidt/Courtesy photo

Everybody to the front

In addition to helping in medical clinics, Schmidt and Miller also helped train Ukrainian military units in U.S. special forces tactics.

“Every soldier we trained went to the front,” Schmidt said. Given the information manipulation of both the Ukrainian and Russian governments, there is no way to know for certain how many casualties each side is taking. But Schmidt said he’s certain that losses are high on both sides.

Given Schmidt’s previous combat experience, it’s natural to ask how he’s holding up these days.

Schmidt acknowledges he has post-traumatic stress disorder from his time in Iraq. But rather than triggering, Schmidt’s trip to Ukraine was a healing experience.

“You’d think it would be traumatic, but I’d just try to do something good every day,” he said.

That’s something Schmidt is still trying to do, in part due to a dream he had just before coming home. That dream was about amputees, and it led to the creation of a Limbs for Liberty, a nonprofit dedicated to helping provide prosthetics for at least some of the injured.

The fledgling group has already had some success, helping bring five patients to a hospital in Minneapolis.

The efforts to start Limbs for Liberty led to an unexpected connection. Through a Russian woman who first wanted to bring homeless cats to the U.S. — an effort that didn’t pan out — Schmidt was connected with local resident Kelly Rohrig. It turns out Rohrig went to high school with Schmidt’s brother.

An expensive goal

Limbs for Liberty’s goal is an expensive one. Schmidt said a basic prosthetic can cost $15,000 or more. A complex device can easily cost $100,000, and growing children can require several as they grow to adulthood.

Putting together a nonprofit to serve needs in the U.S. requires jumping through any number of bureaucratic hoops. It’s even more difficult to try to help people in another country. The fact that a lot of nonprofit money intended to help Ukraine doesn’t get to those in need is a further complication.

“It’s not perfect,” Schmidt said. But, he added, wounded civilians, particularly kids, don’t deserve any of the damage that’s been done to them.

Life looks almost normal in the city center of Lviv, Ukraine.
Tyler Schmidt/Courtesy photo

Ukraine is a beautiful country, he said, and the cities are similar to those you’ll find elsewhere in Europe.

“Think about (another country) bombing Toronto, and that’s what it’s like, he said.

And the people are remarkable. Schmidt said. Many of the people he met were slow to open up. Once they do, “If they have a bowl of borscht, and that’s all they have, they’ll split it with you.”

Deadline looms for drought-stricken states to cut water use

Banks along parts of the Colorado River where water once streamed are now just caked mud and rock as climate change makes the Western U.S. hotter and drier.

More than two decades of drought have done little to deter the region from diverting more water than flows through it, depleting key reservoirs to levels that now jeopardize water delivery and hydropower production.

Cities and farms in seven U.S. states are bracing for cuts this week as officials stare down a deadline to propose unprecedented reductions to their use of the water, setting up what’s expected to be the most consequential week for Colorado River policy in years.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in June told the states — Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — to determine how to use at least 15% less water next year, or have restrictions imposed on them. The bureau is also expected to publish hydrology projections that will trigger additional cuts already agreed to.

“The challenges we are seeing today are unlike anything we have seen in our history,” Camille Touton, the bureau’s commissioner, said at a U.S. Senate hearing.

Tensions over the extent of the cuts and how to spread them equitably have flared, with states pointing fingers and stubbornly clinging to their water rights despite the looming crisis.

“It’s not fun sitting around a table figuring out who is going to sacrifice and how much,” said Bill Hasencamp, the Colorado River resources manager at Metropolitan Water District, which provides water to most of Southern California.

Representatives from the seven states convened in Denver last week for last minute negotiations behind closed doors. Officials party to discussions said the most likely targets for cuts are Arizona and California farmers. Agricultural districts in those states are asking to be paid generously to bear that burden.

But the tentative agreements fall short of what the Bureau of Reclamation has demanded and state officials say they hope for more time to negotiate details.

The Colorado River cascades from the Rocky Mountains into the arid deserts of the Southwest. It’s the primary water supply for 40 million people. About 70% of its water goes toward irrigation, sustaining a $15 billion-a-year agricultural industry that supplies 90% of the United States’ winter vegetables.

Water from the river is divided among Mexico and the seven U.S. states under a series of agreements that date back a century, to a time when more flowed.

But climate change has transformed the river’s hydrology, providing less snowmelt and causing hotter temperatures and more evaporation. As the river yielded less water, the states agreed to cuts tied to the levels of reservoirs that store its water.

Last year, federal officials for the first time declared a water shortage, triggering cuts to Nevada, Arizona and Mexico’s share of the river to help prevent the two largest reservoirs — Lake Powell and Lake Mead — from dropping low enough to threaten hydropower production and stop water from flowing through their dams.

The proposals for supplemental cuts due this week have inflamed disagreement between upper basin states — Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — and lower basin states — Arizona, California and Nevada — over how to spread the pain.

The lower basin states use most of the water and have thus far shouldered most of the cuts. The upper basin states have historically not used their full allocations but want to maintain water rights to plan for population growth.

Gene Shawcroft, the chairman of Utah’s Colorado River Authority, believes the lower basin states should take most of the cuts because they use most of the water and their full allocations.

He said it was his job to protect Utah’s allocation for growth projected for decades ahead: “The direction we’ve been given as water purveyors is to make sure we have water for the future.”

In a letter last month, representatives from the upper basin states proposed a five-point conservation plan they said would save water, but argued most cuts needed to come from the lower basin. The plan didn’t commit to any numbers.

“The focus is getting the tools in place and working with water users to get as much as we can rather than projecting a water number,” Chuck Cullom, the executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission, told The Associated Press.

That position, however, is unsatisfactory to many in lower basin states already facing cuts.

“It’s going to come to a head particularly if the upper basin states continue their negotiating position, saying, ‘We’re not making any cuts,’” said Bruce Babbitt, who served as Interior secretary from 2003-2011.

Lower basin states have yet to go public with plans to contribute, but officials said last week that the states’ tentative proposal under discussion fell slightly short of the federal government’s request to cut 2 to 4 million acre-feet.

An acre-foot of water is enough to serve 2-3 households annually.

Hasencamp, the Metropolitan Water District’s Colorado River resource manager, said all the districts in California that draw from the river had agreed to contribute water or money to the plan, pending approval by their respective boards. Water districts, in particular Imperial Irrigation District, have been adamant that any voluntary cut must not curtail their high priority water rights.

Southern California cities will likely provide money that could fund fallowing farmland in places like Imperial County and water managers are considering leaving water they’ve stored in Lake Mead as part of their contribution.

Arizona will probably be hit hard with reductions. The state over the past few years shouldered many of the cuts. With its growing population and robust agricultural industry, it has less wiggle room than its neighbors to take on more, said Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke. Some Native American tribes in Arizona have also contributed to propping up Lake Mead in the past, and could play an outsized role in any new proposal.

Irrigators around Yuma, Arizona, have proposed taking 925,000 acre-feet less of Colorado River water in 2023 and leaving it in Lake Mead if they’re paid $1.4 billion, or $1,500 per acre-foot. The cost is far above the going rate, but irrigators defended their proposal as fair considering the cost to grow crops and get them to market.

Wade Noble, the coordinator for a coalition that represents Yuma water rights holders, said it was the only proposal put forth publicly that includes actual cuts, rather than theoretical cuts to what users are allocated on paper.

Some of the compensation-for-conservation funds could come from a $4 billion in drought funding included in the Inflation Reduction Act under consideration in Washington, U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona told the AP.

Sinema acknowledged that paying farmers to conserve is not a long-term solution: “In the short-term, however, in order to meet our day-to-day needs and year-to-year needs, ensuring that we’re creating financial incentives for non-use will help us get through,” she said.

Babbitt agreed that money in the legislation will not “miraculously solve the problem” and said prices for water must be reasonable to avoid gouging because most water users will take be impacted.

“There’s no way that these cuts can all be paid for at a premium price for years and years,” he said.

No reported monkeypox cases yet in Eagle County, but state health officials warn that the virus could be spreading without detection

Confirmed cases of monkeypox continue to climb in Colorado, with 109 total infections recorded in the state one week after federal health officials declared the virus a public health emergency in the United States. While no residents of Eagle county have tested positive thus far in the outbreak, as the spread continues, the virus could be closing in on the valley. 

Colorado’s first confirmed case presented in May in Denver where (like many major U.S. cities currently facing the brunt of the virus) in-state transmission has been concentrated. According to the state dashboard, as of Monday, Aug. 8, Denver has recorded 45 cases of monkeypox, accounting for just under half of the state’s total infections. Increasingly, however, the virus is popping up in counties outside of the capital’s metro area, including several counties surrounding Eagle. Garfield, Routt and Summit counties, all announced their first confirmed monkeypox cases last week.

Rebecca Larson, the deputy public health director for Eagle County, confirmed that her office and local health care providers are doing what they can to be ready for potential cases in the community. 

While, in the latest outbreak, monkeypox has predominantly affected gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, the disease is not exclusively spread through sexual contact and all citizens are susceptible. The virus can be transmitted through any type of close contact, or through shared fabric, clothing and bedding.  

According to Larson, local practitioners are equipped to perform medical evaluations, administer tests, and provide care for residents who demonstrate symptoms. The infection typically presents with a rash and painful lesions, often, but not exclusively, in combination with flu-like symptoms that last around four weeks. Larson added that county public health has secured “additional testing resources” to confirm suspected cases should they present locally.

Vaccines, however, are not in such ready supply. Larson reported that there are no vaccines available in Eagle County. If a confirmed case arises locally, there is a process of special authorization to transport a dose to treat the infected individual.

According to Carrie Godes, a public information officer with public health in Garfield county, the state employed this response to address the county’s singular case. 

Monkeypox vaccine eligibility in Colorado remains limited to at-risk demographics, including individuals who have been exposed to the virus within the last two weeks or men who have sex with men who have had multiple sexual partners in that time period. All recipients of the vaccine must be over the age of 18. 

Even with criteria in place to curb demand, Colorado is struggling to vaccinate all interested, eligible citizens. Amid federal shortages of Jynneos (the primary vaccine approved by the U.S. for use against monkeypox) vaccine clinics in the state are fully booked through Aug. 13 — those who are newly eligible or have only recently sought out an appointment to receive the vaccine are now being added to waitlists until the state is issued more doses.

Colorado requested an additional 5,080 doses from the federal government on Aug. 1. 

According to Paul Galloway, a spokesperson with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Division of Disease Control and Public Health Response, the latest shipment of vaccines arrived in Colorado on Aug. 3. The state can place its next order for vaccines on Aug. 15.

“With last week’s federal declaration of monkeypox now classified as a public health emergency, we are optimistic that our vaccine supply from the federal government will continue to increase, and we are working to enroll providers to ensure access throughout the state,” Galloway shared in a written statement.

Gov. Jared Polis also announced that 30 additional providers enrolled for vaccine administration on Aug. 3 in an effort to facilitate distribution once an additional supply of the vaccine is acquired.

With book bans surging nationwide, Eagle County is not untouched

Correction: An earlier version of this story included a photo from the Vail Public Library that featured the book “Lawn Boy” by Gary Paulsen. Paulsen’s book is the story of a 12-year-0ld boy who starts a lawn mowing business. The “Lawn Boy” currently gaining traction on banned book lists is the semi-autobiographical novel by Jonathen Evison that is an entirely different book.

The start of the academic year is less than a week away for Eagle County Schools, which, for many students cues the end-of-summer scramble to finish up summer reading. But while students anxiously cram in what they’re required to read, school districts and legislatures across the country may be more concerned with the titles that are prohibited.

In recent years, book banning has been steadily on the rise nationwide, with 2021 marking a dramatic resurgence in the practice. The American Library Association tracked 729 challenges to library, school, and university materials last year — an all-time high in the organization’s 20 years of data, and more than double the 273 books challenged or banned in 2020.

Overwhelmingly, books targeted in the recent wave of bans engage with topics of race and LGBTQ content. According to the American Library Association, “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe was the single most-challenged book in 2021. “The Hate U Give,” by Angie Thomas, Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” and “This Book is Gay,” by Juno Dawson also make the top 10

Currently, there are no school districts with active book bans in Colorado. 

Katie Jarnot, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for Eagle County Schools, confirmed that there have been no challenges to books or educational materials since she took on her current position four years ago. 

“I am not aware of any challenges that we have had in the 12 years I’ve been in the district,” she added in an email to the Vail Daily. 

The school district’s current policy requires administrators to review curricula (including books and other materials that will be taught) every five years. Its text specifically calls for considerations of “curriculum breadth,” “all student populations,” and “educational equity” in this process.

“It is important for school districts to have policies like these in place, so that there is a basis for the selection of curriculum and educational resources and so that any challenge can be addressed in an objective and fair manner,” Jarnot wrote.

In Eagle County, the culture war on book banning has not made classrooms a battleground. But according to Linda Tillson, director of Eagle Valley Library District, book challenges are not unheard of in the county. She reported that the library district typically receives one to two completed reconsideration request forms each year, usually reflecting concern about “sexual content, LGBTQ+ topics, and age-appropriateness.”

Tillson reported that the only challenge that has been approved in recent years removed a children’s book about Thanksgiving that contained an “outdated and inaccurate” portrayal of Native Americans.

Reconsideration forms are standard procedure in libraries across the U.S. as a means to gather input from a concerned patron about a particular resource. Forms generally request information about the contested item, including if the objector has examined the entire resource, what specific concerns the objector holds, and what action the objector suggests the library staff should take (e.g., a reclassification, restriction, or removal of the resource). 

Completed forms are reviewed by the library director who, with the counsel of other staff members, makes the ultimate decision on how to address the request. Decisions may be appealed and put to the citizen Board of Trustees for reconsideration.

While book bans are historically rare in the state (especially compared to bordering Kansas with 30 active bans, Oklahoma with 43, and Utah with 11), challenges and controversy are not. In 2001, the Denver Post reported on one parent’s crusade to ban Lois Lowry’s “The Giver” from school classrooms and curricula, arguing that the book’s discussion of suicide and euthanasia were unsuitable for young readers and promoted a disregard for human life that could motivate tragedies like the Columbine shooting. 

James LaRue, who worked as the director of the Douglas County Library from 1990-2014, reported that in that time he received 250 challenges to library materials — more than in any other library he’d heard of. The experience motivated him to write “The New Inquisition,” a book exploring modern challenges to intellectual freedom. 

In 2016, he left Douglas County to work for the Office of Intellectual Freedom for the American Library Association, where he addressed about one challenge a day. He believes that in this point in his career he’s dealt with over 1,000 challenges. 

LaRue, who returned to Colorado to serve as executive director of Garfield County Library District in May, has observed a “shift in the wind” with the practice of book banning: challenges that were once isolated events, brought forward by concerned parents, have been interspersed with more concerted, sometimes political, efforts. 

“It’s not just individual people complaining about one book, it’s somebody showing up with 380 books and so it’s far more coordinated and less individual,” he said, “Most of these challenges, you would have to describe as partisan.”

LaRue cited groups like Moms4Liberty and CatholicVote, which have launched campaigns to remove books of controversial subject matter. But the politicization of the issue has also been presented on a legislative scale.

In 2021, 54 bills in 24 states were introduced to ban books on controversial issues such as race, gender, and sexuality. The Colorado House of Representatives considered the “Public Education Curriculum And Professional Development Information” bill last year, sponsored by Tim Geitner, an El Paso County Republican. The bill called for local education providers and school districts to publish a comprehensive list of educational materials used in classrooms PK-12, including the title, internet address, publisher, publication date, and international standard business number for each item. It also stipulated that education providers must provide a copy of any book or resource used in the classroom to parents upon request. The bill was introduced and did not pass.

“New legislation … represents a very concerted attack, not just on a couple books that people are upset about, but trying to suppress whole topics from a public institution,” LaRue said, “it’s a fight for the soul of the institution.”

LaRue reported that he has already received four challenges to Garfield County Library materials since taking on his post with the district in the spring.

“I think that the best route to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is literacy,” LaRue added. “This is an issue worth talking about.”

Limbs for Liberty launches new ‘Adopt a Family’ program to support internally displaced Ukrainians

Limbs for Liberty, a local charity organization dedicated to crisis relief in Ukraine, is offering a new opportunity for residents and businesses in Eagle County to support those affected by the conflict with Russia. The “Adopt a Family” program, which launched Monday, allows private sponsors to financially back an internally displaced family, funding their housing, food, and other costs of living.

Since its founding in May, Limbs for Liberty has worked to aid Ukrainian amputees in acquiring and adjusting to medical prosthetics — the organization’s first five recipients arrived in the U.S. last weekend to be fitted with assistive artificial limbs.

Now, with the amputee program officially in operation, the young organization is taking on a broader definition of what it means to be harmed by war: Limbs for Liberty is now developing a new “Adopt a Family” effort to support families living in Ukraine amid ongoing conflict.

“I think it’s easy for Americans to wonder ‘Why don’t the people in the East just leave?’” said Kelli Rohrig, an Eagle County resident and co-owner of Mountain Organic Landscaping and Irrigation. Rohrig helped to found Limbs for Liberty after returning from Poland, where she traveled earlier this year to aid in the relief effort.

“For some people, they don’t have the financial resources to get out,” she said.

Yet, according to Rohrig, proper support for those who remain in Ukraine is not as simple as a fundraiser for flight tickets. What, on its face, appears to be a monetary issue is complicated by national pride and an unwillingness to abandon a country long called home.

“They don’t want handouts. They want their country back. A lot of these people, they don’t want to come to the United States,” Rohrig continued.

Rohrig brought up a recent Zoom forum, which connected activists in the U.S. (including organizers affiliated with Limbs for Liberty) with individuals currently living in Ukraine. Speaking on the topic of fleeing, those present on the call expressed sentiments of reluctance, even refusal.

“We made the decision not to leave the country. My daughters absolutely refused to leave,” said Iryna Prudkova, one of the speakers from Ukraine, in a statement translated by activist Ellen Bedenko. “They said, ‘If we are leaving then who is going to support Donbas?’ So we are here to support Donbas.”

Prudkova’s family, including her husband and two daughters, will be one of the first families supported through the “Adopt a Family” program.

According to Sviatlana Masenzhuk, an employee of the Vail Health Foundation and co-founder of Limbs for Liberty, situations like Prudkova’s — in which certain family members’ inability or unwillingness to leave prevents the entire unit from travel — are common. Differences in family structure and dynamics are often insurmountable barriers to seeking refuge across borders. 

“From very little ones to the elderly, everyone lives together. Two people can’t just flee the country and leave everyone else behind,” she explained. “You have multiple generations in one household and not everyone is equally able to travel.”

Masenzhuk spoke from a personal perspective: While she first moved to Eagle County in 2003, she is ethnically Ukrainian and spent some time living in the country.

While many families have decided not to seek refuge across borders, for many, travel within the country has been unavoidable. Many living in “hot zones” in eastern Ukraine, where conflict and bombings are most concentrated, have been forced to migrate westward, abandoning their homes in favor of makeshift shelters in schools and theaters. Additionally, in moving away from home and employment, these families are often foregoing their source of income.

Limbs for Liberty’s new “Adopt a Family” program aims to harness community support to help, matching Eagle County sponsors with a Ukrainian family in need.

“Our goal is to get 50 businesses to sponsor a family, be that a one-time or a monthly (donation). A hundred dollars or $400, it helps more than you might think because a small apartment in Lviv can be around $200 a month,” Rohrig said.

Limbs for Liberty has already identified several families in need of financial support, to be listed on the organization’s website once the program is officially launched. The organization will also assist families in the process of securing housing that is affordable, but comfortable enough to restore basic amenities such as a private bathroom and kitchen, which are not accessible in shelters.

“We really hope to provide families with households where they can live a decent life, be safe, and overcome this traumatizing situation,” Masenzhuk said, “I hope ‘Adopt a Family’ will bring awareness to people that we can’t get used to this conflict, our community really can help.”