Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Marine commander praises Tinian leadership

Marine commander praises Tinian leadership

Sunday, December 16, 2012

FA-18D Hornet pilot/navigator

FA-18D Hornet pilot/navigator by aleksea
FA-18D Hornet pilot/navigator, a photo by aleksea on Flickr.

The pilot acknowledges this reporter's presence as he slows down the runway on Tinian during MAG-12 Forager Fury exercise.

MAG-12 officials at Forager Fury Camp on Tinian.

FF2-trio by aleksea
FF2-trio, a photo by aleksea on Flickr.

Forager Fury 2012

Forager Fury 2012 by aleksea
Forager Fury 2012, a photo by aleksea on Flickr.

LCpl B, Cowin relaxes after finishing the task for the day.


liftoff by aleksea
liftoff, a photo by aleksea on Flickr.

FA-18D takeoff

FA-18D takeoff by aleksea
FA-18D takeoff, a photo by aleksea on Flickr.

Osprey on Tinian

Osprey on Tinian by aleksea
Osprey on Tinian, a photo by aleksea on Flickr.

Photo by lexi villegas zotomayor / mvariety

MV-22 Osprey on Tinian

Friday, December 14, 2012

Marines on Tinian

Marines on Tinian by aleksea
Marines on Tinian, a photo by aleksea on Flickr.

MAG-12 Officials

FF2-trio by aleksea
FF2-trio, a photo by aleksea on Flickr.

MWSS-171 EO Major Thomas Mondoux, MWSS-171 Tinian OIC Major Matthew Halbert, and MAG-12 EO Lt. Col. Thomas E. Frederick on Tinian during Forager Fury 2012 Dec. 7.

An FA-18D Hornet arrives on Tinian West Field runway on Dec. 7.

Suicide Cliff, Tinian

Suicide Cliff, Tinian a video by aleksea on Flickr.

What's it all about, Osprey? :-)

The Ospreys made their historic, maiden visit to Tinian this week for Forager Fury 2012 exercise.

'The Scream.'

'The Scream.' by aleksea
'The Scream.', a photo by aleksea on Flickr.

Forager Fury 2012: Arrested Landings

An FA-18D Hornet arrives on Tinian West Field runway on Dec. 7.

MAG-12 Marines set 13 trappings in under one hour on Tinian during Forager Fury.

An MV-22 Osprey on Tinian's runway

The Osprey rolls on Tinian runway as it heads tona refueling station on Dec. 13.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Judge Robert J. Faris approves fee applications in N. Marianas pension fund chapter 11 case

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert J. Faris approved all fee applications relating to the Northern Mariana Islands Retirement Fund chapter 11 except for the request made by retiree Jack Angello.

Boston-based Brown Rudnick LLP, the fund's bankruptcy counsel, was approved for $488,822 which according to the firm was a 36 percent cut from their first interim fee application of $750K.

Honolulu-based Gelber, Gelber and Ingersoll was approved for its $75K legal fees.

Office of the U.S. Trustee in Hawaii sought reimbursement of $14,950 in costs.

The members of the creditors committee are to be reimbursed of $336.90 in costs.

Gelber's local counterpart, Atty. Colin Thompson gets $2,342.50.

The pension fund agency filed for chapter 11 protection on April 17 but was not allowed to proceed further when U.S. bankruptcy judge Robert J. Faris ruled that it was not eligible for Chapter 11 because it is a "governmental unit."

Prior to petition date, the Fund was seeking ways to resolve its underfunding crisis with the CNMI government owing more than $325 million in judgment obtained in 2009 over its failure to remit contributions.

The Fund, which according to projections, has only until July 2014, was told by local court judge Kenneth L. Govendo that the court would entertain motions for receivership if the parties could not come to an agreed-upon solution by June 15.

Meanwhile, in the federal court, there is a pending receivership case brought by anonymous retirees. Then District Court for the NMI chief judge Alex Munson issued a Colorado river stay that would allow the local court 60 days to exhaust all possible means to resolve the matter.

In Oct. 2011, the Ninth Circuit justices recommended that an Article III judge be assigned on the case to remove any possible conflicts of interest inherent among the local judges.

In the meantime, while the bankruptcy petition has yet to be dismissed, the CNMI governor Benigno R. Fitial issued an executive order on June 7 placing the Fund under a state of emergency.

The CNMI legislature has 60 days to reject the order. So far, the Senate decided to go reject the order but the House has yet to issue its position.

Now that Judge Faris has considered fee applications, he is now preparing to issue his written order to dismiss the Fund's chapter 11 petition.

The executive order kicks off once the case is dismissed.

WWII veterans Claude Bryan Martin Jr and Jesse Loma visit Saipan

‘Freedom is not free’ (Part I)

‘Freedom is not free’ (Part I)

‘A consciousness of guilt’

‘A consciousness of guilt’

The CNMI's Attorney General's Office said that the 36 percent in discount made by Brown Rudnick was an act to relieve itself of guilt.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Northern Marianas' pension fund bankruptcy case dismissed

Faris dismisses bankruptcy case; he calls treatment of Fund, retirees ‘shameful!’
By Alexie Villegas Zotomayor
Variety News Staff
DESPITE what he thought as the debtor’s counsel’s cogent legal arguments and a retiree’s compelling practical arguments, the bankruptcy judge maintained his inclination to dismiss the Retirement Fund’s bankruptcy petition June 1.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert J. Faris said, “I think this case should be dismissed.”
But Faris clearly pointed out that it was not a victory for anyone but a disaster.
He denounced the treatment of the pension fund and the retirees as “shameful.”
 Citing references made in court filings on employees being allowed to withdraw their contributions, Faris said, “I think that is a shameful proposal.”
He reasoned that this affords the active employees a better position over the retirees.
But arriving at his decision to dismiss the case was not something without “reluctance” and “sadness.”
For Faris, the U.S. Congress set what entities could be eligible to file for bankruptcy; however, he finds that the Fund isn’t one of those entities.
He sees the Fund as “an instrumentality” of the CNMI government because the government outsources its obligation of paying benefits to the Fund which for Faris “is a governmental function.”
He also differentiates municipality from instrumentality for purposes of determining eligibility.
For Faris, there could be a more peaceful way of solving the problems.
In granting the motion to dismiss I do think this could be a more peaceful way of solving the problems.

In granting the motion to dismiss today, Faris also stated he reserved jurisdiction over the compensation and retention of professionals which he said something that should be handled by the court.
As he needs to discuss with his clients their next steps, Fund bankruptcy counsel Jeremy Coffey sought for the court to stay the order or to delay entry of an order to allow us them to talk to their clients on what steps to take.
Faris explained there wouldn’t be a dismissal until a written order is entered.
He also said there will be 14 days stay commencing on the day the written order is entered.
Coffey hinted the debtor may file an appeal.
Faris also allowed the debtor’s bankruptcy counsel to file a motion for the automatic stay and allow other parties to respond.
Margery S. Bronster, counsel for Jane Roe and John Doe, stated clearly favoring Faris’ decision.
She said there is no mechanism for holding the commonwealth accountable other than in the district court.
She asked Faris to clarify his statement in his tentative ruling that the legislature is the only place to go to seek claims.
Faris said he did not mean to preclude any party from seeking “judicial relief” in any place they want to.
She said the Roe-Doe claimants have a pending case in the federal court and she asked Faris to clarify his statement so people won’t misconstrue it to reflect his findings of  their ability to seek relief in federal court.
Faris said, “That is not my intention.”
For Bronster, their case has a mechanism for retirees to pursue their claims.
 Bronster asked Faris to clarify that the Fund and the beneficiaries still have all their rights to pursue claims and they will continue to do so.
Retention of professionals
Debtor asked permission from Faris to retain Brown Rudnick LLC, Braddock Huesman’s firm, and Buck Consultants LLC.
This met no objection from the opposing parties except for what creditors committee counsel’s Don Jeffrey Gelber’s slight objection to Huesman’s firm’s reconciling the amount of pre-petition services against the funds they are holding and pay themselves.
Gelber said, “Those are state funds.”
He said a court order is necessary before state funds could be tapped.
Faris agreed to grant the applications.
In making his decision, Faris commended Coffey for making probably “the best legal arguments” that could be made in support of the debtor’s petition and called Ruth Tighe’s practical arguments “compelling.”
Tighe earlier spoke in support of the bankruptcy petition which she said may not be the best solution but it will help the Fund reorganize itself to continue providing for the retirees and other beneficiaries.
She acknowledged the ramifications of the courts’ decision on the case to the retirees, the CNMI and the other pension funds and their members on the mainland and the U.S. economy.
She asked the court to decide for the “common good.” 
Reacting to Faris’ decision, Commonwealth Ports Authority counsel Robert T. Torres told Variety, "CPA's view remains the same that the bankruptcy petition was ill-advised and detracts from the ultimate remedy of working rehabilitating and replenishing the Funds pension funds.”
Torres alsos aid that upon dismissal this matter should return to the Superior Court where the Court was expecting the parties to confer on payment of the judgment. 
“For its part CPA continues to pay its employer obligations and employee contributions at 30% as directed by the Court," he said,” he said.
Variety asked Torres to clarify some agreements arrived at today by the court and the debtor, he explained to Variety, “Coffey was asking Faris to stay the case so he could pursue an appeal.”
Torres said, “The stay is discretionary and not mandatory.”

He told Variety that Faris asked Coffey to file a motion to stay so the other parties could respond and the June 15 deadline set by Superior Court Associate Judge Kenneth L. Govendo could only come to play once the stay is denied.
During the pendency of the bankruptcy petition, the case Fund vs. CNMI government was removed to the district court.
Attorney Michael Dotts shared the same opinion that “the decision to dismiss the bankruptcy was also expected because it is pretty clear the Fund is a ‘governmental unit.’”
“The Fund's counsels did their best to argue otherwise but the facts are the facts. The dismissal was proper,” he said.
Stating further his opinion on Coffey’s appealing for a stay on the ruling, he said, “The reason that Mr. Coffey asked Judge Faris to sit on his ruling was so that the Fund can prepare an appeal of the decision dismissing the bankruptcy. There is talk going around that the CNMI might be about to dissolve the Fund Board by Executive Order and move its functions under the Department of Finance and the Office of Personnel. If the order dismissing the bankruptcy came out today and if today the Board was also dissolved by Executive Order then there would be no Board to authorize Coffey to file an appeal.”
Retired Superior Court judge Juan T. Lizama, representing his client Steven King, said, “I believe should not have been filed in the first place. I agree with the decision.”
For Assistant Attorney General Gilbert  Birnbrich, “We are not surprised obviously by the tentative ruling.”
Agreeing with Faris’ reluctance and sadness in arriving at a decision to dismiss,  he said, “The Commonwealth does share the concerns of the judge. “
He said the CNMI government has a plan and is also concerned with the retirees and all people in the system.
With the petition dismissed, Birnbirch said it allows the commonwealth to come out with a solution and “now we have the opportunity to do that.”
CNMI-based counsel for Roe-Doe claimants Stephen Woodruff said, “It was a ruling I expected.”
 For Woodruff, it has always been his position that the Fund isn’t eligible for Chapter 11, “my immediate thought is they can’t; they are a governmental unit.”
He added, “They tried it, but it didn’t succeed. They did argue as well as they could have possibly argued but the law is pretty clear.”
Woodruff also said it is important that actions continue to go forward to deal with the situation of the Fund. “That is where the Roe-Doe litigation comes in.”
 He said that is the only way the powers of the federal court can be used to address the situation.
“Bankrupty is the wrong form but it does not mean the federal court is the wrong form,” he said.
 For Woodruff, the federal court has all the powers to address all of concerns that Coffey raised. He also said this would also address Tighe’s concerns.
Creditors Committee member Roman Tudela reiterated his understanding that Faris stuck to his tentative ruling and that decision will only take effect once the written order is entered.
Another creditors committee member and Commonwealth Retirement Association director Sapuro Rayphand said, “I think that his ruling is good because it is based on the applicable rule of law.”
He, however, disagrees with Faris that "there are no real winners and losers". 

For Rayphand, “I believe the real losers are the CNMI Government, the Retirement Fund Administration and most especially the retirees, their loved ones and economy of the CNMI as long as the effects of the outrageous expensive legal battle continues.  The biggest winners are the lawyers whose excessive fees, with or without court's approval, will wreak havoc on every one of us after the legal battles are over. And so, there are MORE losers in this nasty game than winners.”
Active government employee Paul Joyce also welcomed the decision.  “I think the decision is everything we expected.”
He said it all came down to whether the Fund is a governmental unit.
“Now we are a in a position where we have all our eggs in one basket. It is now the governor and the Legislature that will solve the problem,” he said.
He told Variety today, “I think Brown Rudnick will file an appeal which will cost us more money.”
And for Joyce, this money  paid to the attorneys is coming right out of the Fund.
“That is our money,” he said.
In the aftermath of the dismissal, Joyce said they will continue to discuss their options.
He said a meeting with the lieutenant governor is in the offing.
For Joyce, the ball is in the Legislature’s court now.
He disclosed that the with the Fund’s bankruptcy petition dismissed, it could open the floodgates for lawsuits.
“I think there are some members who would like to file suits,” he said.
Fund counsel Braddock Huesman was asked on what’s the next step for the Fund with the government’s state of emergency declaration in the offing, and clarify that even with the declaration, it won’t take effect in the next two weeks. Huesman said that he could only clarify in so far as once the judge issues a dismissal order, “it stays in place.”
He, however, declined to comment further.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

WWII Marine officer remembers Iwo Jima, Saipan battles

By Alexie Villegas Zotomayor

NOTHING compares to the battle on Iwo Jima according to visiting World War II veteran retired Lt. Gen. Lawrence Snowden.

Having seen action in the Pacific during World War II, and in the subsequent wars in Korea that ended in a stalemate in 1953 and in Vietnam that dealt America its first loss, the Battle of Iwo Jima, for Snowden, “is the bloodiest battle of our history.”

“There is no question that Iwo Jima stands out,” said Snowden.

He recalled, “We were fighting, hand to hand combat.”

Although he acknowledged the subsequent wars in Korea and Vietnam were intense, for Snowden, it was nothing like what they had on Iwo Jima.

He told Variety he was a 23-year-old captain when they landed on Iwo Jima on Feb. 19, 1945.

“My company was an assault company. We were the first and second troop waves,” he said.

He narrated that once they reached the shore, the battle intensified.

“It was a terrible, terrible event,” described Snowden of their first day on Iwo Jima.

He said the Japanese were trying to obey garrison commander Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi to let the American soldiers get beyond the shores and open fire at the oncoming Americans.

“They just unloaded everything,” said Snowden describing the heavy artillery and mortar rounds.

He said, “The real problem was we were ON Iwo Jima, the Japanese were IN it.”

For Snowden, that spelled a tremendous difference for aerial bombing and naval gun fire.

He told Variety, “Some Japanese bunkers were protected by 10 feet of reinforced steel with heavy earth formations on top of that.”

He said at that time, American aerial bombs were all point detonating, “as soon as the nodule of the bomb touched the earth, it exploded.”

He said with the Japanese 25 feet below the surface, “that didn’t bother them very much.”

“Despite the tremendous shelling from the battleships and aerial bombardment, we didn’t do much to damage the heavy emplacements that they had so cleverly placed and conceived,” explained Snowden.

For 36 days, the Americans endured violent warfare to capture the island and declare that secure which up to this day is best captured in a photo of American soldiers planting the American flag on Mt. Suribachi.

“It certainly occupies a unique place in the Marine Corps and United States history,” said Snowden.

Last week, the WWII veteran visited Iwo Jima prior to coming to Saipan.

Snowden was on Saipan in 2004, along with Ret. Col. Paul Tibbets, attending the 60th commemoration of WWII.

“I fought here,” Snowden told Variety over lunch at the VFW Saipan Post last Thursday.

“We landed here on the 15th of June 1944, on the beach where the Pacific Islands Club is now located,” he said.

For Snowden, they landed on a “relatively quiet beach.”

“I lost some of my young Marines here. Some were badly wounded and carry those scars up to today,” said Snowden.

He said, “That was the price of going to war.”

Speaking before students last Thursday at the VFW Saipan Post, Snowden reminded them how freedom was bought for a high price — in human lives.

“The young people need to be reminded of that... My only suggestion is they read history and understand that they are free because of what others did,” he told Variety.

He said he enjoyed his 2004 visit on Saipan along with Col. Paul Tibbets whom he described as “a great man, a great leader.”

He also recognized President Harry Truman for his “political courage to drop the bomb,” which he said had saved over a million lives.

Addressing the students, he said, “To you young people who haven’t served yet, I think you have an opportunity to do so. We are going to need generations after generations to serve in the armed forces.”

He continued to talk about the benefits of freedom enjoyed by the present generation.

He said, “I sit in relative freedom…and having some comfort in my mind that I helped bring that about.”

Unfortunately, for Snowden, the fight to preserve freedom continues. “Where are we today, we are still engaged in the long and protracted war with international terrorists.”

He added, “We are going to keep our push to maintain our defenses against international terrorism. The job isn’t finished.”

Snowden, who lives in Florida, is a retired lieutenant general of the U.S. Marine Corps and one of the remaining elite WWII veterans still around to share his experiences with the young generation about enjoying the benefits of freedom.

Lt. Gen. Lawrence Snowden: Freedom is never free

WWII veteran: Freedom is never free
By Alexie Villegas Zotomayor - Reporter

FOR visiting Ret. Lt. Gen. Lawrence Snowden of the U.S. Marines, freedom costs something.

In an interview with Variety at the Veterans of Foreign Wars’ Saipan Post on Beach Road last week, the 91-year-old WWII, Korean War, and Vietnam War veteran said, “Freedom is never free.”

He said the younger generations should look at Iwo Jima, the Korean War and the war in Afghanistan and recognize that freedom costs something.

Snowden, who arrived on Saipan Thursday fresh from a trip to Iwo Jima, advises the younger generations to be always on guard “against the bad guy who would do us in.”

“What I know to be true is God continues to bless America in providing young men and women who are stepping up to volunteer, who are serving and serving well,” he said.

Asked to comment on the U.S.’s role in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said, “It is hard to talk about that without having a mix of personal feelings.”

For Snowden, at the height of the U.S. involvement in Iraq, “I wasn’t convinced that the weapons of mass destruction were in the hands of the bad guys. I felt we went into Iraq in the wrong basis.”

Despite his opposition to going to war in Iraq, Snowden said, “Having done that, once you’re there, then we have to do whatever we could do to complete the mission.”

As for Afghanistan, Snowden believes that it is turning out to be a much longer and more troublesome process.

He noted the dominance of tribal chiefs who are opposed to a strong central government, which impacts the ways they raise their money.

Of the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, he said, “Ultimately, we have to say we have done our job here and we are going home.”

However, for Snowden, whether the U.S. wants to or not may take years to find out.

Curbing post traumatic stress

For those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, he said, “I don’t have any answers to that.”

But he said he knows that PTSD doesn’t surface for years.

He also said that going to war and killing people creates troublesome memories.

“Over time, either your mind handles that or it doesn’t,” said Snowden.

He remembers a friend who took part in intense fighting in Vietnam, who up to this day continues to seek psychiatric help “to help him understand the pressures of what he did.”

Describing PTSD as a “dreadful issue,” Snowden also anticipates that this may exact its toll on the country by way of rehabilitation costs for many years to come.

Universal conscription

Looking forward, Snowden told Variety he proposes the concept of universal conscription.

“I think any young man or woman ought to give some service to the nation, “ he said.

He said he believes that young men and women to be registered for service at the age of 17. However, he said, they should be given choices.

He suggested that they can serve in the Peace Corps, or as volunteers in hospitals where they are needed by various organizations, among other services to the nation.

He said, “I think everybody ought to do something for the security of the country.”

Latest visit to Iwo Jima

Snowden, who arrived on Saipan accompanied by WWII veteran Lee Marvin’s widow Pam, described his recent visit to Iwo Jima as “great.”

“We had a large delegation of Japanese come down from Tokyo,” he said.

Snowden told Variety that there were survivors of the 1944 battle that made it to the ceremony.

He said the trip brought back haunting memories of the battle.

For them, he said, it was an “emotional experience” to come back for the first time, to stand on the black sand of Iwo Jima.

He said the veterans could not contain the rush of memories. “I have had the good fortune to be there a number of times. I am kind of past that.”

Snowden said the other survivors, when the day was over, sat and thought about what they had done, where they were and what they remember. They cried, he said.

Snowden, who was a 23-year-old captain when the Americans stormed the beaches of Iwo Jima 67 years ago, last visited Saipan in 2004.

He was also part of the invasion of Saipan on June 15, 1944.

At the time they landed on the beach on what is now the location of the Pacific Islands Club, Snowden said, they didn’t see the beauty of it. “The beach had been scarred by bombs and all kinds of junk let lying around.”

“The beach is beautiful now and can be appreciated for what it is,” he said.

Having fought in several significant battles, Snowden believes he is just lucky to have survived.

He told Variety with a smile, “I supposed I am an experienced warrior.”