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Legacy Of The Dark Horse Battalion

Cover image for podcast episode

Marcus Chischilly in his home in San Diego. Calif. He lost his left leg to an improvised explosive device on active duty in Afghanistan. July 16, 2021.

STEVE WALSH

The Dark Horse Battalion, a marine unit based at Camp Pendleton, suffered the highest percentage of casualties of any unit in the war in Afghanistan. Now, as the U.S. prepares to leave, they reflect on their legacy. Meanwhile, hemp farms are booming in San Diego County, but some neighbors are unhappy. Plus, Tiki Oasis celebrates its 20th year at a new location.

Good Morning, I’m Annica Colbert….it’s Friday, July 30th.

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The Dark Horse Battlion’s legacy in Afghanistan

More on that next, but first... let’s do the headlines….

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South bay schools are back in session… and some campuses are reporting new covid-19 cases. Bob Mueller (mew-ler) is the assistant incident commander for covid-19 response for the San Diego County Office of education. Mueller emphasized the importance of vaccination for children over 12 years old.

“getting your child vaccinated could keep them in school, could keep them from missing sports competitions and practices, could keep them from missing performances if they’re in the performing arts.”

If students are exposed to a covid-19 infected person, they have an option to quarantine at home… and school districts and charter schools are required to provide independent study opportunities to that student.

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More than a year after a fire that destroyed the USS Bonhomme Richard, the criminal case is moving forward. The navy announced charges are being brought against an unnamed sailor who served aboard the vessel. Bob Schoof is a spokesman for the international association of arson investigators. He says it’s not uncommon for someone from within an organization to commit arson.

“it’s very hard to prevent unless you have some information come out ahead of time that somebody is planning to do something like this. then you can surveil and keep track of them.”

The fire burned for four days in San Diego bay. A separate command investigation will outline what lessons the navy can take away from the fire.

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San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore says he won’t be seeking re-election for a fourth term next year. His current position as sheriff ends in January 2023. Gore joined the agency in 2004, first serving as assistant sheriff. Prior to joining the sheriff’s department, Gore spent 33 years with the FBI where he rose to the level of assistant director and served as special agent in charge of its San Diego and Seattle field divisions.

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From KPBS, you’re listening to San Diego News Now.

Stay with me for more of the local news you need.

U.S. involvement in Afghanistan is coming to an end after 20 years. Of all marine units that served in Afghanistan, The Dark Horse Battalion suffered the highest percentage of casualties
KPBS Military Reporter Steve Walsh says the Camp Pendleton based unit is still trying to reconcile their legacy, a decade after they returned home.

By the time the Dark Horse Battalion left Helmand Province in 2011, they had 184 wounded Marines- 34 of them amputees. And 25 dead. Among them, the son of Four Star Marine General John Kelly. In 2013 - before he retired - Kelly spoke at a ceremony at Camp Pendleton. He urged the Marines to honor those who served their country.
“And in many cases fought and died for it. And never forget your buddies that never made it home.”
A decade after the survivors came home, it’s still difficult to place the legacy of the unit that suffered the highest number of casualties in the war. Logan Stark collected hours of footage shot by his fellow Marines as Dark Horse pushed back against the Taliban during heavy fighting.
“This was right in that sweet zone before the Marines started highly regulating people filming stuff.”
He came back that April and by August he had le--ft the Corps and enrolled as a student at Michigan State. During that whirlwind, he started making a documentary -- interviewing members of Dark Horse. Initially, he thought he was the only one having panic attacks.
“What a lot of people did realize, and me specifically didn’t realize is, it’s OK to be going through all this. There is reasons behind all of it. It just didn’t seem like we were really good at communicating that to our peers.”
His documentary called “For the 25” is still on his YouTube Channel. Even the veterans of the most celebrated units of the war have a tough time describing the War in Afghanistan. Marcus Chischilly lost his left leg to an IED two weeks after he arrived.
“Every day for that first year, back in the United States, it was like reliving that moment. It was a really big struggle to find out what my life was going to be like after that.”
After two years in the hospital, he is now married with small children and walking on a prosthetic.
“We were there to protect each other. We were there to fight, yes for our country and to accomplish our mission, but every single day was about I got you. You remember that. I’m going to make sure you get home.”
Gretchen Catherwood’s son Alec was killed in October 2010.
“It's not an every moment of every day kind of thing I mean it's constantly in my brain and it's always there, there are some days that are horrible and there are some days that are okay”
She was in the audience when Gen. Kelly spoke at the memorial in 2013.
“After the remembrance ceremony and seeing the looks and those guys faces in their eyes, I said there's gotta be something we can do you know, and so we moved down here”
She and her husband moved from Illinois to Tennessee where they’re building a quiet lake retreat for combat veterans in honor of the Dark Horse Battalion.
“You don’t want to tell your wife or your mother or your sister or some of your friends from high school what you experienced or what you had to do, but they can talk to each other and really nobody can help a combat veteran like a combat veteran.”
Each bedroom is named after one of the 25 who died, with plaques for six Dark Horse Marines who have since died by suicide.
“I believe that they are a casualty of war, every single bit as much as those who were killed in action.”
It’s their monument to an ongoing sacrifice in a war that cannot easily be explained.
Steve Walsh KPBS News

And that was KPBS Military reporter Steve Walsh. This story was produced by the American Homefront Project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans. Funding comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting

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Today marks a year since eight Marines and one sailor were killed when their Amphibious Assault Vehicle sank off of San Clemente Island.

KPBS North County reporter Tania Thorne was with their families when they announced a lawsuit against the manufacturer of the vehicle.

“He was my only son, my only child…. He was my whole world…”
Aleta Bath’s son, Evan, was a 19-year-old Marine private. He was one of the 9 service members on board the sunken AAV.
Today, the families of those service members announced a lawsuit against BAE Systems, the vehicle manufacturer.
“I just want all of our boys to be safe going forward and I miss my kid, I would give anything to bring him back…”
Annee Della Donna is the attorney representing the families.
She says the 9 men could be alive today, if it wasn’t for a manufacturing defect.
“They got a few people out, then tragically a wave came and swept away all 4 of those marines into the ocean and once again that door clasped shut and they were trapped in a dark coffin and no way to get out.”
Della Donna says according to BAE Systems, it should have taken 18 seconds per person to get out of the vehicle. That’s less than three minutes for all 9 men.
She says they had 45 minutes to get out… but couldn’t make it.
“The estimated egress time, according to the manufacturer BAE systems, who were suing for the design defect, said they should've been able to get out in 18 seconds per person. So if you do the math, there were 9 people trapped, 18 seconds, that's less than 3 minutes. And they had 45 minutes
and they still couldn't get out.
Its because the weight of the water, the weight of the cargo hatch door was too heavy, and there was no way to lock it in an open position so it kept coming back down with each wave and finally they were trapped in and they sank to the bottom of the ocean floor.”
Della Donna says a 4,000 page military report cited leaks and transmission problems with the AAV, but didn’t mention anything about the exit being a defect.
“they’re death traps. They cannot go in the water until these changes are made, period. And that's what we're here to do today.”
A statement provided by the Marine Corps said it “is committed to identifying the issues that led to this tragedy and to preventing future occurrences. A comprehensive review of amphibious operations is underway, being conducted by senior Marine Corps and Navy personnel.
The investigation will look into the equipment, procedures, and training used in waterborne operations with AAVs.
BAE Systems also provided a written statement, saying it cannot comment on the lawsuit. But the company did offer sympathies to the families.
TT KPBS News

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Hemp farms are booming across San Diego county but some nearby residents say the crop — which looks and smells like marijuana but is not psychoactive — is causing major health problems and should not be allowed near homes. inewsource investigative reporter Kate Sequeira has this story.

Susan Pignataro lives about 500 feet from a hemp farm in Encinitas. She says her family has dealt with dizziness and respiratory problems since October. And there’s been almost nowhere to turn.
It has been maddening. All you want is help. And all we were doing was getting brushed off
Pignataro says for months neighbors have begged city and county officials for help – only to have both say it’s the other’s responsibility.
The farmers chalk up the tensions to a distaste for the odor. Josh Schneider runs the hemp farm in Encinitas next door to Pignataro.
I think it’s complete garbage what they’re accusing us of, based on zero evidence.
Hemp production at the farm in Encinitas is shutting down and relocating to Vista.
But the issues haven’t ended. Following pressure from neighbors, the state and federal EPA are sampling the neighborhood and the county is investigating the farm for pesticide exposure.
For KPBS, I’m inewsource investigative reporter Kate Sequeira.

That was inewsource investigative reporter Kate Sequeira. inewsource is an independently funded, nonprofit partner of KPBS.

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UC San Diego will receive a 20 million dollar grant from The National Science Foundation for research into artificial intelligence. KPBS Environment Reporter Erik Anderson has details.

U-C San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering will host one of 11 artificial intelligence institutes. Each institute got a five-year grant with the goal of improving various aspects of A-I. In San Diego, researchers hope artificial intelligence will help them optimize the way specialized computer architecture is built.
“It’s the scale and complexity that’s blocking us today and we want to break through these barriers.”
U-C San Diego’s Andrew Kahng says artificial intelligence could help sift through mountains of data to uncover efficiencies. Working with local companies is part of the process.
“We have very natural tight collaborations or deep relationships with industry. Especially in what we have proposed as our focus areas or use domains, in chip design, robotics and communication networks.”
The NSF funding is the second round of funding for artificial intelligence. The effort has now grown to include the work of several hundred researchers looking at different aspects of machine learning. Erik Anderson KPBS News

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Coming up.... it’s time to escape…

"Welcome to Tiki Oasis…"

The self-described biggest Tiki weekender on the planet celebrates its 20th year and returns at a new location at the recently renovated Town and Country Resort. That’s next, just after the break.

Tiki Oasis returns from quarantine to celebrate its 20th year at the new location of the recently renovated Town and Country Resort. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando has this preview of the event that runs through Sunday.

REETER: Welcome to Tiki Oasis.
PHOENIX ABLAZE: When you come to Tiki Oasis, you are instantly greeted by warm, loving people who are just dressed to the nines.
As Miss Tiki Oasis 2019, Phoenix Ablaze proves or the equally fashion conscious Gregorio.
GREGORIO: The idea of Tiki and it's roots was the idea of adventure and beachcombing and so very comfortable light clothing in general.
Like the Aloha shirt Gregorio wears or anything...
GREGORIO: That evokes the island feel.
Longtime attendee Jim Moore says…
JIM MOORE: It's just a bunch of just crazy, kooky, mid-century fun, tropical, fake, tropical Polynesian wackiness, and it's just it's just a it's just a blast.
But there’s one thing Tiki Oasis is not, and that’s about the real world. It's about fashion, cocktails, kitschy fun, and, most of all, escape. For two decades Tiki Oasis has boasted that it’s the biggest Tiki Weekender on the planet and will quell your wanderlust and quench your thirst.
PHOENIX ABLAZE: It is just five days full of fun, music, drinks.
But maintaining an oasis in a world still dealing with COVID-19 and mounting social justice issues can be a challenge says Phoenix Ablaze.
PHOENIX: Like life, it's a balance of just knowing the escapism, but know that there are real world problems that are out there.
In an attempt to address that balance Tiki Oasis created the Diversity and Inclusion Council. Both Gregorio and Phoenix Ablaze serve on the council.
PHOENIX ABLAZE: So the Diversity Inclusion Council was created last year, and, you know, we as a group came together and we felt like we wanted the the event to be safe and inclusive and just for all attendees to feel like they belong here.
GREGORIO: So one of the things that’s been said is vintage aesthetic not vintage values. And with the Diversity Inclusion Council is how do we help those who really don’t know what Tiki Oasis is or what Tiki itself is to see this as a welcoming, inviting environment for everybody.
Phoenix adds that over the past year the council has done a number of virtual events.
PHOENIX ABLAZE: Just talking about various subjects is like Chinese influence in Tiki, talking about the history of the hula girl and what that means in unpacking as much as we can to move away from the cultural appropriation and really just understand the history of Tiki as how it evolved.
Tiki Oasis hopes that it too can evolve and in a way that allows it to balance escapism with cultural sensitivity. But at its core it is about escaping reality, and the allure of something that just seems exotic says Gregorio.
GREGORIO As a child, I used to see the bars that were hidden within Chinese restaurants, and they always they're always dark but ominous. They had colored lighting and, you know, tropical plants, some of them real, some of them fake. But as a as a child and about seven years old, I noticed these cool little tiki mugs that they were drinking out of. And I as a child was so fascinated with that. And that's really where it started for me.
Artist Jim Moore has been attending Tiki Oasis for years but decided this year to finally come as a vender.
JIM MOORE This is some ceramic monster art that I make. This one is a lamp, for example. It's all based on existing monster movie monsters for the most part.
The Tiki Oasis marketplace where Moore will be selling his art is open to the public through Sunday. Also free to the public is the Art Show. The main event, which is being held for the first time at the renovated Town and Country Resort, has been sold out for weeks but you can still get tickets for events on Sunday featuring local bands.
Last night Tiki Oasis ushered in a new era for the Miss Tiki competition, which for the first time not only allowed men to enter but picked a man to wear the sash and be the organization’s brand ambassador for the next year.
That was KPBS Arts Reporter Beth Accomando. Tiki Oasis continues through Sunday at the Town and Country Resort.

That’s it for the podcast today. Be sure to catch KPBS Midday Edition At Noon on KPBS radio, or check out the Midday podcast. You can also watch KPBS Evening Edition at 5 O’clock on KPBS Television, and as always you can find more San Diego news online at KPBS dot org. I’m Annica Colbert. Thanks for listening and have a great day.

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San Diego News Now

San Diego news; when you want it, where you want it. Get local stories on politics, education, health, environment, the border and more. New episodes are ready weekday mornings. Hosted by Anica Colbert and produced by KPBS, San Diego and the Imperial County's NPR and PBS station.