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August 28, 2015

Jackson State University Has Housed All Students on Wait List

By adreher

Jackson State University has announced that all students who were on the waiting list for housing this semester have been placed, after an initial scramble. The incoming freshmen class is the largest the university has ever seen.

There are a few spaces available to accommodate late arrivals or those who might still need to complete their registration or resolve financial matters, according to JSU's news release. “We appreciate the students, their families and the public’s patience and help in resolving this issue that was caused by record enrollment at JSU this year,” said university president Carolyn W. Meyers.

The university has enrolled almost 10,000 students this year, and according to James C. Renick, provost and senior vice president of Academic and Student Affairs, this year the university placed nearly 3,000 students in campus housing compared to 2,400 students last year.

August 26, 2015

$14.6 Million Tax-Forfeited Property Sale Starts Aug. 27

By R.L. Nave

Bidding on 360 parcels of tax-forfeited property will begin tomorrow, city and state officials said today.

The Mississippi Secretary of State holds properties when owners fail to pay ad valorem property taxes, which provides funding to city and county governments as well as local schools. Of the approximately $75 million in forfeited land the SOS holds, almost $15 million of it lies with in Hinds County, according to a Jackson city press release.

“Our goal is to get this property back on the tax rolls to benefit the capital city and the State of Mississippi,” said Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann through a news release. “By partnering with the City of Jackson, we are taking an aggressive step to return these dilapidated and abandoned properties to productive use.”

The available properties will be advertised for public bidding beginning, Thursday, Aug. 27 on the Secretary of State's website: http://www.sos.ms.gov/PublicLands/Jackson.

Shortly after taking office last year, Mayor Tony Yarber's administration tackled problem properties.

"Our Community Improvement Division has made great strides over the past year ridding areas of dilapidated structures that mar our neighborhoods. Now, this auction will give citizens the opportunity to purchase property and play a vital role in Jackson's revitalization," Yarber said in the press release.

August 25, 2015

Mississippi Colleges Ranked by 'Best Value'

By adreher

It's back to school time which means time to figure out financial aid, student loans and other expenses for most college students. Smart Asset, a financial advising website, has created a Student Loan Calculator for students to estimate how much they will owe monthly and in total by the time they walk across the stage. The website also ranks each state's colleges and universities by their best monetary value (think starting salaries for graduates, retention rates, tuition costs, etc.).

Here are Mississippi's Top Colleges and Universities ranked by 'Best Value':

  • Mississippi University for Women
  • University of Mississippi
  • Mississippi State University
  • Jackson State University
  • Delta State Universitiy
  • University of Southern Mississippi
  • Mississippi College

See how your college or university stacks up here.

http://jacksonfreepress.com/users/photos/2015/aug/25/22668/

August 20, 2015

City Council Offers $7 Million in Cuts to Avoid Furlough, Tax Hikes

By R.L. Nave

The Jackson City Council outlined more than $7 million in savings in order to avoid Mayor Tony Yarber's proposal to furlough city workers and raise local property taxes to fill a budget hole.

Yarber proposed a one-day-per-month furlough for full-time employees and a property tax increase of 8 percent to shore up a projected $15 million deficit.

Council President Melvin Priester Jr. presented an alternative, a 10-point plan consisting mostly of freezing job vacancies that are budgeted for but currently unfilled in addition to making other staffing cuts.

Council members say they're double-checking the numbers, and will provide final totals later. The plan, the details of which were outlined in a public meeting this afternoon at city hall, includes:

• Reducing the Jackson Zoo's requested allocation in half, from $1.2 million to $600,000

• Reducing certain reserve expenses, including $1.5 million for an expense related to the Jackson Redevelopment Authority that Priester said would not require assistance from the city.

• Freeze more than $2 million slotted for the police, fire, and public works departments.

• Cutting about $494,000 from city hall salaries, including: $200,000 from the city clerk's office, which the council oversees; $200,000 in constituent services, which the mayor's office oversees, $86,000 from the chief-administrative officer's office; and 5 percent from the salaries of city council members. (City council members earn $25,000 per year; the council president receives an extra $2,000.)

• Freeze $120,000 in unfilled positions at municipal court.

• Reducing expenditures on outside consultants by at least $115,000

• Reducing expenses on software and equipment

• Reducing travel, dues and memberships by $95,000

• Reducing expenditures on emergency contracts

• Reducing the Department of Parks and Recreation budget, including for maintenance at the city's golf courses.

In addition, the council plans to introduce plans to increase revenue, including for $20 million in outstanding water and sewer bills.

Ward 1 Councilman Ashby Foote has proposed using JPD to collect delinquent water bills and splitting the revenue with the department. Foote also suggested turning over management of the golf courses to the Jackson State golf program and letting an organization take over running the Russell C. Davis Planetarium.

Budget Committee Chairman and Ward 4 Councilman De'Keither Stamps said he wants the city to get into the asphalt manufacturing and water bottling businesses. He added that the city should charge the state for providing JPD security to the state fair in October. The city has unsuccessfully made the same request of the state over the years.

Yarber's office released a statement this evening: “The Administration will review the City Council’s budget recommendations and consider the proposals going forward. Council members have verbally proposed measures that will ultimately result in mass layoffs, which the Administration had hoped to avoid. I am deeply concerned about the impact on public safety, mainly because council members have proposed significant reductions in the Police Department and the Fire Department. The council has also proposed drastic cuts to the Department of ...

August 19, 2015

Mississippi Cities That Have Taken Down the State Flag

By adreher

On Tuesday, Oxford and Greenwood joined several other Mississippi counties and cities that have removed the state flag from city property. Mississippi is the only (and the last) state with the Confederate symbol on its state flag. An ad that ran this week in the Clarion-Ledger listed over 60 prominent Mississippians including Morgan Freeman, John Grisham, Archie Manning and Kathryn Stockett calling for the state to bring the flag down according to a Washington Post story.

Here is the list of Mississippi cities and local governments that have stopped flying the state flag on city property (so far):

  • Oxford
  • Greenwood
  • Jackson
  • Clarksdale
  • Columbus
  • Hattiesburg
  • Grenada
  • Leflore County
  • Starkville
  • Magnolia
August 17, 2015

Blue Bell Ice Cream is Back But Not to Mississippi Just Yet

By R.L. Nave

Southerners (and my mom) rejoice: After halting production for what seemed to many like an eternity, Blue Bell is back.

Here's the announcement from the Texas-based company:

Brenham, TX, August 17, 2015 – Blue Bell Creameries announced today it will begin distributing ice cream to select markets on Monday, August 31.

Blue Bell has notified the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and state health officials in Alabama and Texas of its plan to re-enter select markets on a limited basis.

“Over the past several months we have been working to make our facilities even better, and to ensure that everything we produce is safe, wholesome and of the highest quality for you to enjoy,” said Ricky Dickson, vice president of sales and marketing for Blue Bell. “This is an exciting time for us as we are back to doing what we love…making ice cream!”

The Blue Bell production facility in Sylacauga, Ala., began producing ice cream in late July. Additional production facilities in Brenham, Texas, and Broken Arrow, Okla., are still undergoing facility and production process upgrades similar to those made at the Alabama plant.

Due to the limited production capacity while producing in one facility, Blue Bell will re-enter parts of 15 states in five phases. The first of the five phases will be similar to how Blue Bell began and include the Brenham, Houston and Austin, Texas, areas, as well as parts of Alabama, (Birmingham and Montgomery) where the product is being made. The next phases include:

Phase Two: North central Texas and southern Oklahoma Phase Three: Southwest Texas and central Oklahoma Phase Four: The majority of Texas and southern Louisiana. Phase Five: Complete the states of Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas and begin distribution in Arkansas, Florida, northern Louisiana and Mississippi. This phase will also include only parts of the following states: Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. Blue Bell will move on to each phase based on product availability and when it can properly service the customers in an area. With the exception of phase one, no other dates have been determined for when each expansion will take place.

For more information and to follow the company’s progress visit bluebell.com.

You can view the announcement from our vice president of sales and marketing here https://vimeo.com/136514867

http://jacksonfreepress.com/users/photos/2015/aug/17/22573/

August 14, 2015

Over 11,000 Mississippi Residents Signed Up for Healthcare.gov in 4-Month Period

By adreher

11,466 Mississippi residents signed up for health insurance through healthcare.gov during the special enrollment period from February 23 to June 30. According to a new report released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, 46 percent of Mississippi residents enrolled because they had lost coverage. Other reasons for enrollment include: denial of Medicaid, tax season or missing other special enrollment periods.

Nationally, the primary reason for enrollment was a loss of coverage. Almost 65 percent of Americans who enrolled in the four-month period were between the ages of 18 and 54. The report's authors said that this enrollment cycle drew higher numbers of young consumers than previous enrollment periods. 31 percent of the 943,934 U.S. residents enrolled were between the ages of 18 and 34.

August 14, 2015

City of Jackson Calls for Emergency Water Conservation

By Donna Ladd

This release came from the City this morning, verbatim:

Effective immediately, The City of Jackson has issued an emergency water conservation request for all customers served by the City’s Water System. The city’s Department of Public Works has determined that system-wide water conservation measures are needed at this time to allow the system to recharge and to improve areas of low water pressure. The city's water system is experiencing issues with high service pumps so there may be widespread water pressure loss.

While the emergency conservation notice is in effect, all water system customers are strongly urged to eliminate nonessential uses of water, which include the following:

· The use of hoses, sprinklers or other means for sprinkling or watering of shrubbery, trees, lawns, grass, plants, vines, gardens, vegetables, flowers or other vegetation.

· The use of water for washing automobiles, trucks, trailers, trailer houses or other type of mobile equipment.

· The washing of streets, driveways, parking lots, service station aprons, office buildings, exterior of homes, sidewalks, apartments or other outdoor surfaces.

· The operation of an ornamental fountain or other structures making a similar use of water.

· The use of water for filling swimming or wading pools.

The city greatly appreciates your assistance in ensuring that all customers will continue to receive safe, adequate and reliable water service.

If you have any questions or concerns, please call 601.960.2723 or 601.960.1777.

August 12, 2015

Mississippi's Same-Sex Couple Adoption Ban Challenged in Federal Court

By adreher

A lawsuit to challenge Mississippi's same-sex couple adoption ban was filed in federal court by the Campaign for Southern Equality today. Mississippi is the only state in the nation that still bans gay couples from adopting children. The case, Campaign for Southern Equality v. Mississippi Department of Human Services, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi on behalf of four same-sex couples. Mississippi has the highest proportion of same-sex couples raising biological, adopted or step children according to a Williams Institute study from 2013.

Roberta Kaplan is the lead counsel in the case. Kaplan also represented the plaintiffs in the Campaign for Southern Equality v. Bryant case that began the push to legalize same-sex marriage in Mississippi. The Campaign for Southern Equality and Family Equality Council are representing the plaintiffs. According to a New York Times article, the offices of the attorney general and the governor did not return calls for comment by Tuesday afternoon.

August 11, 2015

West Point Historian Answers the Question: Was the Civil War About Slavery?

By Donna Ladd

Of course it was. Watch:

Was the Civil War About Slavery?

New Video! "Was the Civil War About Slavery?"What caused the Civil War? Did the North care about abolishing slavery? Did the South secede because of slavery? Or was it about something else entirely...perhaps states' rights? Colonel Ty Seidule, Professor of History at the United States Military Academy at West Point, settles the debate once and for all.

Posted by Prager University on Monday, August 10, 2015
August 11, 2015

Madison Not for Rent: Only “High Quality” People Need Apply

By ZOS

Hysteria grows in the land of brick and honey as the City of Madison do what they can to keep renters out.

August 11, 2015

Republican Pickering's Robo-Calls Target Pritchett for being 'LGBT'

By adreher

Stacey Pickering, the incumbent Republican candidate for auditor, is targeting his opponent, Joce Pritchett, for being an "LGBT Candidate" in his campaign's automated calls.

One robocall that ran before the primary states:

"The liberal left-wing media has their own agenda in the state auditor's race...They want to see their LGBT candidate for auditor, Jocelyn Pepper Pritchett, have a chance in the general election. They know they can't defeat Pickering, but they know they can defeat Mary Hawkins-Butler...Let's stand up for Mississippi values; let's stand up for Mississippi's Conservative leadership. Let's stand up for the traditional Mississippi family."

Pritchett's campaign has responded to the call on their website saying, "This type of message is unacceptable in the 21st century. The Republicans know they can't attack Joce's qualifications, so they have to attack her orientation and her family. We can't let this happen."

August 6, 2015

Jackson Among First Bloomberg Philanthropies’ “What Works Cities”

By ellington_support

Full release from the office of Mayor Tony Yarber:

Jackson, Miss., Selected as One of First Cities to Participate in Bloomberg Philanthropies’ “What Works Cities”Initiative

Jackson to use data and evidence to advance strategic goals

Jackson, Miss.–August 5, 2015 –Mayor Tony T. Yarber announced today that Jackson is one of the first cities selected to participate in Bloomberg Philanthropies’ What Works Cities - a $42 million initiative to help 100 mid-sized American cities enhance their use of data and evidence to improve the lives of residents.

Jackson is one of eight cities that will receive expert on-the-ground support and peer-to-peer learning opportunities to make local government more effective. Since the launch of the What Works Cities initiative in April 2015, mayors from every region of the country have expressed their desire for assistance to address local challenges using data and evidence and within the first six weeks alone, 112 U.S. cities across 41 states applied.

"Making better use of data is one of the best opportunities cities have to solve problems and deliver better results for their citizens. The first group of cities in the What Works Cities program represent the range of local leaders across the country who are committed to using data and evidence to improve people's everyday lives," said Michael R. Bloomberg.

What Works Cities collaborates with participating municipalities to review their current use of data and evidence, understand where they are utilizing best practices and identify areas for growth. Through its expert partners, What Works Cities then designs a customized approach to help mayors apply tools to address a variety of local issues including economic development, public health, job creation, and blight.

“We are honored that Jackson was selected to participate in What Works Cities, funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies,” said Mayor Yarber.“This initiative will give us access to experts who can help us in our drive toward transparent, data-driven governance – empowering us to make decisions necessary for our city’s future based on the facts instead of just our feelings. In this economic climate, we must do more with less. This initiative will help us dramatically improve the lives of our citizens.”

Working with the What Works Cities world-class partners, we will implement open data practices for the first time and launch a citywide, mayoral-led performance management program using data and evidence to track progress on key priorities and improve day-to-day operations.

In addition to Jackson, the other inaugural cities selected to participate are Chattanooga, Tennessee; Kansas City, Missouri; Louisville, Kentucky; Mesa, Arizona; New Orleans, Louisiana; Seattle, Washington; and Tulsa, Oklahoma.

One hundred cities will be admitted to the program on a rolling basis through 2017, adding momentum to the national movement among cities to use data and evidence to improve the delivery of government services and advance cities’ strategic goals.The What Works Cities initiative capitalizes on Bloomberg Philanthropies’ belief in the importance of data and evidence to improve people’s lives and make government more effective.

The consortium of leading organizations that has been assembled ...

August 3, 2015

Don't Forget to Vote on Tuesday

By adreher

If you are planning to vote on Tuesday, don’t forget to bring a photo ID. In the 2011 November election 62 percent of Mississippi voters approved a Constitutional Amendment that requires voters to present photo IDs before casting in-person ballots at polls or circuit clerk offices.

The only exemptions to the voter ID law are those who have a religious objection to being photographed and don’t have an ID as a result or registered absentee voters. The Secretary of State’s Office lists 10 types of IDs acceptable:

  1. A driver's license
  2. A photo ID card issued by a branch, department, or entity of the State of Mississippi
  3. A United States passport
  4. A government employee ID card
  5. A firearms license
  6. A student photo ID issued by an accredited Mississippi university, college, or community/junior college
  7. A United States military ID
  8. A tribal photo ID
  9. Any other photo ID issued by any branch, department, agency or entity of the United States government or any State government
  10. A Mississippi Voter Identification Card

If you have not registered to vote, it is too late to do so for the August election, but there is still time to register before November. In order to register to vote, you must be a resident of Mississippi for 30 days, at least 18 years old, not declared “mentally incompetent” by a court and not convicted in court of a crime (crimes listed here). You can register to vote at a circuit or municipal clerk’s office and must be registered for 30 days prior to an election for your vote to count.

Read candidate profiles and more JFP Election Coverage here .

July 28, 2015

See if Your Jackson-Area State Candidate Supports Initiative 42

By adreher

The League of Women Voters of the Jackson Area released the results of a legislative candidate poll that asked candidates if they support Amendment (Initiative) 42 with the options: Yes, No or Undecided. So far, seven Senate candidates and eight House candidates have responded. See your candidate's stance below.

Senate Candidates

John Horhn (D): Yes
Hillman Frazier (D): Yes
Sollie Norwood (D): Yes
David Blount (D): Yes
Josh Harkins (R): No
William Billingsley (R): No
Kathryn Perry (D): Undecided

House Candidates

Ray Rogers (R): Yes
Brad Oberhousen (D): Yes
Machelle Shelby Kyles (D): Yes
Kenneth Shearrill (D): Yes
Sam Begley (D): Yes
Tammy Cotton (D): Yes
Kathy Sykes (D): Yes
Adrienne Wooten (D): Yes
Cory Wilson (R): No
Jarvis Dortch (D): Yes

(Senate candidates who did not respond with "Yes, No or Undecided" answer: Barbara Blackmon (D), Kenneth Jones (D), Stephen Thompson (D), Eclecius Franklin (D), Will Longwitz (R), Ponto Downing (R), James Broadwater (R) and Dean Kirby (R). House candidates who did not respond with "Yes, No or Undecided" answer: Philip Gunn (R), Bruce Bartley (R), Joel Bomgar (R), Brent Powell (R), John Moore(R), Paul Buisson (R), Randall Stephens (R), Tom Weathersby (R), Wesley Wilson (R), Bill Denny (R), James Perry (R), Ed Blackmon (D), Debora Dixon (D), Earl Banks (D), Credell Calhoun (D), Alyce Clark (D), Plavise Patterson (D), Kimberly Campbell (D) and Corinthian Sanders (D).)

This post has been updated to reflect that Sam Begley, Democratic candidate for House District 70, Jarvis Dortch, Democratic candidate for House District 66 both support Initiative 42.

July 24, 2015

City Going on Well Water After South Jackson Water Line Break

By R.L. Nave

The mayor's office just sent out the following the release about the situation in south Jackson:

The City of Jackson will temporarily switch to the well water system in south Jackson as crews work to locate a 42-inch water line break.

The transition to the well system begins immediately to allow the city’s water system to recharge and alleviate low-water pressure in areas of south Jackson and the City of Byram.

As a result of the switch to the well water system, customers may experience discoloration and changes in taste and odor due to the well water mixing with surface water. This mix of well and surface water is safe to drink and use. City crews have already begun flushing hydrants to remove any discolored water from the lines.

Effective immediately, The City of Jackson is strongly urging voluntary water conservation measures for all customers served by the City’s Water System. The city’s Department of Public Works has determined that system-wide voluntary water conservation measures are needed at this time to allow the system to recharge and to improve areas of low water pressure as the city’s crews work to determine the location of a critical water line failure.

While the voluntary water conservation notice is in effect, all water system customers are strongly urged to eliminate nonessential uses of water, which include the following:

· The use of hoses, sprinklers or other means for sprinkling or watering of shrubbery, trees, lawns, grass, plants, vines, gardens, vegetables, flowers or other vegetation.

· The use of water for washing automobiles, trucks, trailers, trailer houses or other type of mobile equipment.

· The washing of streets, driveways, parking lots, service station aprons, office buildings, exterior of homes, sidewalks, apartments or other outdoor surfaces.

· The operation of an ornamental fountain or other structures making a similar use of water.

· The use of water for filling swimming or wading pools.

The city greatly appreciates your assistance in ensuring that all customers will continue to receive safe, adequate and reliable water service.

If you have any questions or concerns, please call 601.960.2723 or 601.960.1777.

July 23, 2015

City: New Water Billing System to Come Online

By R.L. Nave

The city's new water billing system, part of the controversial $91 million Siemens contract, is scheduled to go live at the end of August.

According to a city press release: "Residents will soon experience updates to their water billing as part of comprehensive upgrades the City of Jackson has initiated with Siemens through its water infrastructure improvement project. The Customer Care and Billing System (CC&B) implementation will provide the City with a modern software platform and enhanced management tools that will greatly improve the customer experience."

The new system should increase "efficiency of meter reading and water billing, eventual elimination of the need for estimated bills, and a reduced need for personnel to enter property" and "will also be able to track usage patterns, allowing the city to potentially detect leaks on a property through abnormal usage patterns. Implementation of the new system will occur in two phases."

Three key changes become effective Monday, August 31:

· Water bills will be sent MONTHLY (instead of every other month) for more timely information and more efficient budget management. Payments will be due on a monthly basis and bills paid through an automatic bank draft will be drafted every month.

· Customers will have a NEW ACCOUNT NUMBER that will need to be used for payment to be processed.

· The new bill format will be EASIER TO READ and provide more detailed account information. During the initial installation period for the CC&B, the City may need to estimate bills every other month as it verifies the system upgrade. The estimated bills will be based on an average of actual consumption from prior billing periods, and will be identified on the bill with the abbreviation (EST) immediately after the reading. Once implementation is complete, bills will begin moving to the monthly cycle and eventually will be based on actual meter reads/consumption each month.

The city continued: "Phase Two of the CC&B implementation is expected in late 2015, and will involve rolling out the system’s full capabilities so customers can experience the complete benefits of the system. This includes the ability to view water usage online, online payment options, and the ability to consolidate irrigation and residential water bills. Customers will be notified when these features are activated."

For more information on the CC&B implementation and the water infrastructure improvement project, please visit: www.jacksonms.gov/water. Customers with specific concerns about their bill should contact the City’s Water and Sewer Business Administration Office at 601-960-2000.

July 21, 2015

Sandra Bland Traffic Stop Video Hits YouTube

By Todd Stauffer

The Texas Department of Safety has posted a 52-minute video of the Sandra Bland traffic stop, showing the state trooper threaten Bland with a Taser, a detail that he didn't put in his arrest report.

July 21, 2015

Foster Care Overhaul Coming to Mississippi?

By adreher

The state admitted that it has not met court-order requirements in a 7-year-old lawsuit, Olivia Y v. Bryant, intended to change the state's foster care system. Gov. Bryant has agreed to hire an Executive Director of the Department of Family and Children's Services, which will soon become a cabinet-level position. Additionally, a group will be hired to consult with the state over the next four months and recommend changes necessary to protect Mississippi children going forward. Bryant has also agreed to call a special session of the legislature if the recommendations require legislative changes.

The press release from A Better Childhood, an advocacy organization that works on behalf of abused and neglected children, has been re-printed below in full:

Facing an evidentiary hearing for contempt scheduled to begin in federal court on August 10, the state has conceded that it has not met court-ordered requirements in the 7-year-old lawsuit, Olivia Y v. Bryant, intended to reform the state’s foster care system.

In an Agreed Order submitted to Judge Tom Lee on July 21, the state agreed with factual charges made against it in reports submitted by the court-appointed monitor. In the Order, the parties also agreed on steps that will determine whether the plaintiffs will continue to seek a receivership, this time based on specific recommendations from a neutral consulting group, or whether the state can and will make the changes necessary to finally reform the Mississippi foster care system.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, who are all of the children in foster care in the state, had asked the court to find the state in contempt of the court orders for reform, and to appoint a receiver to take over the administration of the state’s foster care system. The state’s admission of non-compliance resolves the first part of the contempt motion. The order submitted to the court today directs the employment of an expert group to make recommendations to achieve compliance, and leaves open the question whether a receiver will be required to administer the state’s foster care system.

The lawsuit was filed in 2004, asserting widespread violations of children’s constitutional rights in the foster care system. Although the case was settled in 2008, the state has never been in compliance with the terms of the settlement.

This is the second contempt motion filed in the case. After the first motion, a new settlement agreement was approved by the Court, but failed to produce necessary results.

“It was clear to us, given the state’s history in implementing these court orders, that the state simply lacks the capacity or the will to run a child welfare system that protects the children of Mississippi,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director of A Better Childhood, a national advocacy organization that works on behalf of abused and neglected children. “We have asked the federal court to appoint a receiver to take over the system. However, we think the appointment of a well-qualified expert group to make specific recommendations is an important step ...

July 21, 2015

Gov. Bryant Arms the Guard

By ZOS

Bryant arms the National Guard in response to concerns for soldier safety.

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