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Marine bugler gives comrades their final salute

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SILVER SPRING, Md., Jan. 4, 2018 — Sorrow, sadness and grief are among the most common feelings associated with funeral services. But for Marines, a service honoring the life of a fellow leatherneck may also invoke feelings of pride, commitment and honor.

Military funeral honors are the final ceremonial demonstration of gratitude to those who, in times of war and peace, have faithfully defended their nation.

Traditionally, participation in a funeral detail gives a great deal of pride and honor to any Marine. The Marine Corps Reserve undertakes the solemn duty of supporting funeral honors for the vast majority of Marine Corps veterans. In 2016, Marine Corps Reserve units and personnel performed more than 19,000 military funeral honors, representing 91 percent of all funeral honors rendered by the Marine Corps that year.

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Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Brian P. Spittler stands out for his devotion and dedication to giving his fellow Marines one final salute.

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Spittler, a team chief with Marine Forces Reserve’s 4th Civil Affairs Group in New Orleans, has participated in nearly 200 funeral details during the past seven years.

‘It is an Emotional Experience’

“Funeral ceremonies mean a lot to me, to the family and to the community,” Spittler said. “It is an emotional experience and it never really gets old to me.”

Part of his motivation and incentive to perform to the very best of his ability is driven by the fact that quite often, the families of the Marines being honored don’t have a lot of involvement with the Marine Corps or the military, he said. Sometimes, the families have never had the opportunity to see a military ceremony before.

With Marine Corps Reserve units located across the country, Reserve Marines are uniquely positioned to interact with veteran families. The funeral ceremony is an opportunity to develop the relationship between the Marine Corps, families and the community. Spittler said he wants to make it meaningful and give the families a good impression.

“It feels good to know that you are doing something good for those families,” he said. “I am definitely proud to be a part of it, but at the same time I am humbled and I am there to serve the Marine and their family. For me that means a lot.”

Spittler explains that Marines are committed to paying tribute to their fallen brothers- and sisters-in-arms.

“I am proud to be a part of the ceremony in which we are finally laying a Marine to rest,” he said.

Military funeral honors can include, but are not limited to, a military chaplain to address family members and friends of the fallen service member, an American flag draped over the casket, and a funeral detail serving as honor guards to execute the ceremony. Traditionally, the funeral detail will act as pallbearers, fold the flag, present it to the next of kin, fire a three-volley salute and play taps, while rendering a last salute of respect to the deceased.

Assigned to Funeral Detail

Spittler was a lance corporal when he participated in his first funeral detail in 2010.

“I was ‘voluntold’ for it,” he said. “They needed a Marine for the detail, and I just so happened to have my dress blue uniform on hand, so my sergeant told me: ‘Hey Marine, get ready, you will be in a funeral detail.’ All I could say was ‘Aye aye, sergeant!’”

During his first funeral detail, Spittler was one of the riflemen to execute the three-shot volley. At first, the duty didn’t hold any special significance for him and he wasn’t interested in participating in future funeral details.

“I was away from the ceremony and I couldn’t really see the family or what was going on,” he said.

But Spittler continued to be assigned to funeral ceremonies. His disinterest in the ceremonies endured until he was assigned to be one of the Marines who would fold the flag. For the very first time, he would be up and close to the ceremony, the family and the fallen Marine. That day, Spittler said, his view and opinions on funeral details drastically changed.

“It was the first time I folded the flag in front of the family,” he said. “I was so moved by that experience that when they asked for someone to participate in a detail, I volunteered for it; and I did it again, and again and again.”

From that point forward, the young Marine became increasingly involved in funeral details.

He recollects that as a corporal, being in charge of certain aspects of funeral details and having to meet such a high level of proficiency and discipline allowed him to exercise and hone his leadership skills.

Keeping Tradition Alive

Spittler said he values the numerous encounters he’s had with Marine veterans.

“I have met Marines of all generations,” he said. “Before I started doing these funerals, I had only worked with Marines within my generation. But when I started doing these funerals, I started working with a lot of other organizations, such as the American Legion and the American Veterans Organizations. I have even met veterans from Korea, Vietnam and World War II — of which there aren’t many left.”

Spittler explains that throughout his career as a Reserve Marine, he has always been ready and willing to help his command. Participating in funeral details and other volunteer-based programs, such as Toys for Tots, is the best way he has found to do it.

Sometimes, Reserve Marines have the opportunity to participate in Marine Corps events and ceremonies outside their scheduled drill periods. Marines can earn points towards retirement when they are involved in official events requested by their command. Their actions are also noted and considered favorably by their command for promotions and awards.

Spittler is now a staff sergeant with a bright and promising future in the Marine Corps. The motivated Marine continues to volunteer his time participating in Marine Corps events and ceremonies and mentoring junior Marines to do the same.

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Exiled Turkish Journalist Warns: Authoritarian Leaders like Erdogan Use Guise of Populism to Destroy Democracy

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The exiled former Editor-in-Chief of Turkey’s now-defunct daily Zaman newspaper Abdulhamit Bilci explained how Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan fooled Turkey and the world as he strategically destroyed the secular model that was put in place by his predecessor and implemented an Islamic form of government which is changing the face of the nation.

Now, Bilci devotes his time to warning other people about the early signs of the destruction of democracy. He is currently living in exile in the United States.

In a stunning tell-all with The Investigative Journal, Bilci detailed Erdogan’s path from local-level politics to his rise as one of the world’s most notorious authoritarian rulers.

Bilci started his career as a reporter in the 1990s covering political rallies and events for then-candidate Erdogan who ran a successful campaign to become the mayor of Istanbul. He said he developed a familiarity with Erodgan through years of his political coverage of him as a reporter and leading up to his time as editor-in-chief of Zaman — a role he held until he fled the county in March 2016, four months before the failed coup attempt.

In the 1990s, before Erdogan was imprisoned for being seen as a threat to Turkey’s secularism – a model that was instated by the late Mustafa Kemal Ataturk – Erdogan had stated “Democracy is like a train: when you reach your destination, you get off.” That quote can be sourced to a newspaper, “Milliyet Gazete Arsivi.”

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“He was jailed in the 1990s, for four months, for reciting a poem because the secular establishment did not like his ideas and they were trying to stop him. But he was a successful mayor with his crazy ideology,” Bilci said. Erdogan was imprisoned between March to July of 199. During his conviction, he was forced to forfeit his mayoral position. “When he was mayor of Istanbul he was from the Islamist Party,” Bilci said.

Bilci said it was unfortunate that the secular establishment by jailing him made him more popular because then he became a victim; a tool of manipulation Erodgan used to his political advantage.

“When Erdogan got out of prison, he told the powers that be that he had changed his mind and that he was no longer an Islamist and had become democratic. And when he founded the AK Party he said we are not Islamists. We are conservative democrats; we are like Christian democrats in Europe. He then pushed for Turkey to become a member of the EU.”

However, prior to this, Erdogan had vehemently been opposed to having Turkey join the European Union. According to Bilci, “Erodgan saw the EU as a Christian club and believed Turkey has no place in that according to his Islamist vision.”

With his cosmetic change away from Islamism, Erdogan began receiving the support of democracies throughout the world. He was seen as the rising example and model of a Muslim leader who was trying to democratize his country. In fact, Turkey became a model for the Muslim world for democracy.

“I believed in him and I supported him in those years. But things started to change in his third term in 2011,” he said. “There were some signals of change and he gradually stopped the policy of Turkey becoming a better democracy and part of the EU. Instead, he turned increasingly to the Middle East. These were the Arab spring years.”

For a period of about 8-9 years, Zaman Daily supported Erdogan. The publication had approximately 1 million daily subscribers at its peak.

“The newspaper was supporting him during his first eight years as prime minister,” Bilci said. “And the whole world was supporting him; the international media, the New York Times.” He continued, “but that was during the Obama years. He was trying to make reforms in democracy and improve the economy and make Turkey a member of the European Union. All of these policies were in line with our newspaper’s interior line as well.”

Bilci said Erodgan played a very clever game.

“He was showing himself as being democratic for 8-9 years during the time we were supporting him in an attempt to control all the power because he needed that support since the secular establishment in Turkey hated him. So, to counterbalance the secular establishment, he needed the support of democrats and to show up as a democrat.”

But around 2012-2013, things started to change and Erdogan took on an authoritarian approach which Bilci says the world is seeing to this day.

“Obama and the Europeans continued to legitimize Erdogan in 2013 and beyond. They were not candid in criticizing him and it is a pity they did not stop him,” he said. “We were telling them that Erdogan is destroying democracy and the rule of law and you should be candid to protest that and not appease the guy because it will be bad for the Turkish people and the entire democratic world.” However, despite these warnings, many western, democratic leaders, including Obama continued to appease Erdogan who continued to get closer to Russia and jail journalists even going so far as attacking America’s allies, the Kurds, and procuring negative policies in Libya and Syria that benefited jihadists.

“Once his authoritarianism and corruption were revealed, we exposed it and that made him the enemy,” Bilci said of Erdogan. He said the Turkish government was providing the crux of the publication’s funding and the newspaper fell on hard times between 2015 and 2016 because Erdogan “was calling companies and telling them not to purchase advertisements from our media and there were financial and legal pressures applied.” Similar attempts to crush opposition media were made against conservative publications like Breitbart News by progressives in the United States.

“Our reporters were not able to attend press conferences. He revoked our press cards. In those three years, there were crazy things occurring but we continued our critical editorial line. We did not fall down,” Bilci said. “Finally, he used the nuclear option. He used appointees that he controlled and sent police forces to come to our offices and fired me.” He said in his place, “Erdogan’s thugs” hired a mouthpiece journalist from the pro-government daily paper (Akit), which he described as “a hardline Islamist newspaper,” to be the new editor. “Within 24 hours, Zaman newspaper became a propaganda mouthpiece for the Erdogan regime.”

The move by Erdogan to strangle press freedom had dire consequences for the publication.

“Our readers did not approve of that change,” Bilci said. “At the time of occupation, our circulation was around 700,000 people a day, which had come down from 1 million people per day due to the government takeover of it.” He continued, “our readers did not approve that change and they protested by stopping to buy it. So, within one week the circulation decreased to 5,000 people per day. This was the total and complete and total destruction of a private media company.”

Once the coup took place, Zaman was shut down altogether. In addition to this, Erdogan’s government shut down around 200 critical media outlets. They raided the homes of journalists and columnists from media outlets critical of Erdogan and arrested them. “Luckily, I was not home. But colleagues of mine who were arrested in July 2016 are still in jail. Some of them received life sentences, others 10 years, and others still 6 years.”

Academics, teachers, lawyers, doctors, are among those who have been locked up unjustly.

“I feel lucky that I got out and I am free but I feel so sad that I left my friends behind,” Bilci said. “The only thing I can do is continue speaking out to tell this story.” Despite having over 200,000 followers on Twitter, Bilci’s message does not reach those inside of Turkey. “A court order in Turkey has blocked my Twitter from being visible to the Turkish people. Unfortunately, Twitter cooperated with the Turkish court’s decision.”

“When he grabbed power, he showed his real identity. He used Islamism but I don’t think that he is a sincere Muslim. I think he is using Islam to fool people; specifically –Turkey’s conservative people which are his constituency — to cover up his authoritarianism and corruption.” Bilci added, “Democracies are fragile and anyone living in democracy today should be careful about the ways and methods that are being used to destroy democracy using democratic mechanisms.”

He concluded, “Turkey should be studied more by the democratic world, by the media, and by academics so that we don’t repeat the same mistakes again. Erdogan is one of the prime examples of populism gone wrong. He should become an example of what not to let happen. So, in that regard, Turkey is a prime example for learning lessons in history.”

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