Quick Quotes

“And then there was a small voice that just asked, ‘Is this Santa Claus?'”

Pam Farrell, whose father Col. Harry Shoup was manning a top secret Air Force hotline Christmas Eve when a child called in 1955 looking for Santa. Sears mistakenly printed the number and, in turn, helped create NORAD's Santa Tracker 63 years ago. Now, the military, supported by 1,500+ volunteers receive phone calls & emails from children worldwide looking for Santa.
Quick Quotes

“We moved off of the five and we hope they move up from their 1.3.”

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney's status update on the White House's position on the gov't shutdown. The Senate passed a bill with approx. $1.3B for border security; the House passed a bill with $5.7B. With no agreement, a partial gov't shutdown closed agencies like the IRS and forced hundreds of thousands off the job. Mulvaney said the shutdown could extend into 2019.
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“Consumer spending remains solid and clearly provides evidence that the economy is healthy as we head into 2019.”

Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist for the National Retail Federation, which projects that retail sales will increase about 4.5% over last year. Lower gas prices may have helped sales. However, the volatile stock market, rising interest rates & the trade war with China remain a top concern for analysts in 2019.
Quick Quotes

“…I’ve already seen a Christmas miracle.”

Royal Caribbean's chief meteorologist James Van Fleet addressing the rescue of two men on an adrift fishing boat by the mega cruise liner. The cruise ship, by chance, had to change its course due to bad weather and "by luck" crossed paths with the two men who had been drifting for 20 days, running precariously low on water.
Quick Quotes

“…the honest answer is I have no idea.”

Gen. Robert Neller, the Marine Corps commandant, when asked how Pres. Trump's sudden withdrawal of troops from Syria, and now reportedly from Afghanistan, impacts combat deployments. Maj. Richard Bates, who is currently stationed in Afghanistan, says Sec. Mattis' resignation is "more devastating than the troop drawdown." Patrick Shanahan will become Acting Defense Sec. on January 1st, 2 months ahead of Mattis' planned end date.
Quick Quotes

The new acting Sec of Def will be Patrick Shanahan, former Deputy Defense Sec. under Mattis with an engineering background & 3 decades experience at Boeing. Before serving in the Pentagon in 2017, he had no legislative or military experience.

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BOST AIRFIELD, Afghanistan—On a holiday visit to American troops overseas, Gen. Robert Neller, the Marine Corps commandant, was asked by a Marine about President Trump’s orders to withdraw troops from Syria and Afghanistan.

What, the Marine wanted to know, did the orders mean for those on combat deployments?

“That’s a really good question,” the commandant said. “And the honest answer is I have no idea.”

At every stop on his tour, Gen. Neller has faced questions about what the recent drawdown orders and the resignation of Defense SecretaryJim Mattis mean for Marines and for the broader U.S. military strategy in the Middle East.

The questions have come from Marines bundled in parkas while training in Norway as well as those sweating in the heat of Afghanistan, who are eager to know how the turmoil in Washington affects them.

“Are your families asking if you’re leaving?” he questioned a group of Marines in Helmand province. Many nodded yes.

“You’re not leaving,” he deadpanned, to laughs from troops midway through a months-long deployment.

At this point, commanders regardless of their rank have few details on Mr. Trump’s plans—with no timelines, hard numbers or orders to Pentagon brass about the matter.  During the trip, Gen. Neller has worked to quash scuttlebutt and motivate troops, warning them to avoid complacency and homesickness.

The Marines have laughed with their leader and his honesty, but it belied a frustration among officers and personnel about the lack of details from Washington: If Gen. Neller, one of the highest-ranking officers in the American military doesn’t know what’s happening, who does?

Navy Secretary Richard Spencer joined Gen. Neller in Afghanistan for a leg of the holiday visit and in an interview said he had received no order from the White House or Pentagon on drawing down troops.

“Nothing formal, just tweets,” he said Saturday, adding that he might be in the dark because he’s been on the road for three days.

The head of U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Austin Miller, hadn’t been issued orders about the drawdown, according to multiple officers familiar with the matter. Morning intelligence briefings for days had focused on publicly available news stories because no official information was available internally.

“I don’t think anybody really knows exactly what’s going to happen,” Gen. Neller told one gathering of Marines, on Friday. “I’ve read the same stuff in the newspaper you did, I have a little more knowledge than that, but not a whole lot more.”

Mr. Trump last week tweeted that Islamic State in Syria had been defeated and ordered the withdrawal of U.S. troops there. A day later, officials said he also had ordered the start of a withdrawal of approximately 7,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, about half the U.S. troops in the country.

In an interview Friday, the Marine Corps’ top officer said he wasn’t in a position to comment on the announced plans for troop withdrawals but said “the best military advice was offered and a decision was made.”

“I don’t make policy, I execute orders,” he added, not specifying what advice was given.

He likewise had little to say about Mr. Mattis’ resignation.

“He wrote a letter, I’m not going to comment on it,” Gen. Neller said. “I understand and respect his decision.”

Gen. Neller said the defense secretary isn’t scheduled to step down until late February, which can allow time for a successor to be appointed and confirmed by the Senate, and for adequate continuity at the top of the department.

At Bagram Air Field in northern Afghanistan, Gen. Neller spoke to a relatively small contingent of approximately 60 U.S. Marines, a fraction of the estimated 14,000 U.S. troops in the country. The Marines here advise, train and support hundreds of soldiers from the country of Georgia, who provide base security.

They also illustrate the complexity of troop withdrawals. While the few dozen Marines here seem like they might be able to be sent home with relative ease, the reality is more complicated.

The more than 500 Georgians here don’t just stand guard, but conduct routine patrols around the base, and need Marines or other U.S. troops to call in air support if they find themselves under attack. The U.S. relationship with the Georgian forces is part of a broader bilateral relationship. An abrupt U.S. pullout could sour an alliance with strategic repercussions as the U.S. faces down an ever-more aggressive Russia.

Maj. Richard Bates, the Marine contingent’s officer in charge, said that all they have heard about the drawdown has come from media reports.

“It was a surprise, but I’m sure it was a surprise for the guys who withdrew from OIF,” he said referring to the abrupt announcement by then-President Barack Obama in 2011 that most U.S. troops would leave Iraq and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The Georgian troops have likewise had no word on what to expect, according to a person familiar with the matter.

For many, a withdrawal could mean a welcome end of a long overseas deployment. Marines across Afghanistan said family members have asked them when they’re coming home.

Maj. Bates said the word of Mr. Mattis’ resignation was the bigger news to him, seeing that the defense secretary, a retired Marine general, is held in high esteem by his fellow service members.

“His resignation is more devastating than the troop drawdown,” Maj. Bates said. “It’s going to be hard to fill those shoes.”