It must be nice being the President. All you have to do is snap your fingers, and money appears to build walls, or even prop up a failing personal property you might own.
By now, I'm sure you've heard about several military flights headed to the Middle East that mysteriously stopped in Scotland for "refueling". Surprisingly enough, that may be legit. Our prime mover these days is the Boeing C-17. Fully loaded, it has an air range of around 2700 miles, which is just about to Scotland from many East-Coast bases.
Of course, the issue is the crews being wined-and-dined at a nearby Trump resort, one that's been bleeding money since it opened. Some top brass is a wee bit concerned.
Politico first reported Friday that the House Committee on Oversight and Reform is investigating the stopovers at Prestwick -- first while en route to Kuwait and then again when returning to the U.S. -- as part of a larger probe into military stays at Trump-owned properties.
The C-17 crew, consisting of seven active-duty and National Guard crew members from Alaska, stayed at Trump's Turnberry resort when en route to Kuwait, "but it doesn't appear the Trump property was used on the return leg," Thomas said Saturday, adding that the stops at Prestwick were not unusual because of how often transport aircraft operate around the world on a daily basis.
Politico reported that the Air Force has spent $11 million on fuel at Prestwick, roughly 20 miles from Turnberry, since October 2017. The crews reportedly could have saved money by refueling at a nearby base such as RAF Lakenheath, United Kingdom.; Ramstein Air Base, Germany; or Naval Station Rota, Spain.
Lawmakers want to know whether U.S. military stays have boosted Turnberry's revenue.
"Even when [Air Force] aircrews follow all directives and guidance, we must still be considerate of perceptions of not being good stewards of taxpayer funds that might be created through the appearance of aircrew staying at such locations," Thomas said.
He added that the review, ordered by Acting Air Force Secretary Matt Donovan and Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, will include all active-duty, Guard and Reserve units.
According to data provided by Air Mobility Command (AMC), there has been an uptick of cargo aircraft, primarily C-17s, stopping at Prestwick between 2015 and 2019.
AMC aircraft have landed at Prestwick 936 times during that time frame, including 659 overnight stays in the area, officials said.
That breaks down to 95 stops at Prestwick with 40 overnight lodging stays in 2015; 145 stops and 75 overnights in 2016; 180 stops and 116 overnights in 2017; 257 stops and 208 overnights in 2018; and 259 stops and 220 overnights through August 2019.
Responding to news reports, the president said via Twitter on Monday that he was unaware of the stops at the airport and his resort.
Of course, that's not the only questionable financial move this week. A few days back now, it was revealed that the Pentagon budget was re-ordered to divert some $3.2b to build a new Berlin Wall. It's easy to dismiss it as re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic, but there is a list out there of projects that will be affected by the loss of funding.
A partial list of 94 of the 127 projects provided by the Pentagon includes 34 in 23 states totaling $1.07 billion; 21 in Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands totaling $687 million; and 39 in 20 foreign countries totaling $1.8 billion.
No family housing projects, barracks or dormitories were affected, the senior official said.
The $3.6 billion taken from the military construction projects was in response to a "lawful order" from President Donald Trump to deal with an emergency on the southern border that requires 11 projects to build about 103 miles of new wall and 72 miles of replacement wall, according to defense officials.
"We've got an emergency on the southwest border we've got to address," the senior official said. "All these projects are important to us, but we also have to respond to an emergency."
The official said the Defense Department still intends to complete the projects that were put on hold and will work with Congress "to try to get an outcome that supports these projects."
The targeted projects include those in in Florida, North Carolina and Puerto Rico that were hit hard by hurricanes last year.
A $17 million fire and rescue station slated for Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, replacing one badly damaged by Hurricane Michael, was on the list; as was a total of $40 million in funding for projects at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, which was hit by Hurricane Florence; and projects worth $400 million for Puerto Rico, which was devastated by Hurricane Maria.
Elsewhere, projects put on hold range from a $50 million machine gun range on Guam and $88.9 million for pier and maintenance facilities in Bangor to a $95 million engineering center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and a $5.2 million weapons maintenance shop at the Anniston Army Depot in Alabama.
Nine school building projects were on the list -- six overseas and three in the U.S., including $62.6 million for the Fort Campbell middle school in Kentucky, home state of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky.
In letters to Congress, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that the funding from the military construction projects would instead go to 11 projects to replace existing wall structures and to build new lengths of wall. Four of the border wall projects are in the Yuma, Arizona, area and others are near San Diego, El Paso, Texas, and Laredo, Texas, the Defense Department said in a statement Wednesday.
The money diverted for wall funding represents only a fraction of total military construction. Overall, the Defense Department has slated a total of $34 billion for more than 11,100 military construction projects, the defense official said.
And changing gears slightly - it's been 10 days since Hurricane Dorian wiped Grand Bahama from the face of the earth. News has been slow to come from that area, maybe because it's completely destroyed. In any case, the Pentagon is maybe thinking about sending a ship or two to help.
Sen. Marco Rubio says sailors and Marines can help relieve the suffering in the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian decimated the island country by sending ships to assist those in need of medical attention.
The Florida Republican sent a letter to the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, on Sunday, urging that the hospital ship Comfort and assets from the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group be dispatched to the Bahamas "as soon as possible."
"I respectfully implore you to strongly consider a formal request for the USNS Comfort to be repositioned to the Bahamas ... as well as any assets needed from the Bataan Amphibious Readiness Group," wrote Rubio, who recently returned from a trip to the storm-ravaged country.
USAID did not immediately respond to questions about Rubio's letter, including whether Administrator Mark Green had received it.
There has not yet been an official request to send the Comfort or ARG to the Bahamas. A USAID official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said only that medical needs on the ground are still being assessed.
In his letter, Rubio stressed that many in the Bahamas are in need of medical treatment, but resources there are limited. Power is scarce, and helicopter evacuations by trained professionals "is the only solution" until debris is moved so medical facilities can be set up on land, he added.
Dorian was the strongest hurricane ever to hit the Bahamas. The slow-moving Category 5 storm hovered over the country for more than a day, killing 45 people and leaving 70,000 without homes.
"The USNS Comfort, and its crew of trained medical staff, flight deck and ability to desalinate water, would be ideal in helping the Bahamian people," Rubio said. "[The Comfort] could ... provide short-term medical treatment as runways and ports come back online."
The Bataan ARG, which is currently training in the Atlantic, can also provide airlift and medical support, he said. The ready group includes about 2,200 members of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
Of course, this remains only a 'request' at this time. I'm sorry Bahamas; we just don't have time to help. We're very busy fixing our hair.