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MetroNews This Morning 4-19-21

The state School Building Authority decides which projects get funded today. Graduation season is arriving and the state BOE is encouraged about the state’s increasing graduation rate. Vaccinations are over a half-Million in West Virginia now, but there is concern since the rate of people getting the vaccine is slacking off. Congressman Mooney stand firm against any more gun laws and Senator Manchin and UMWA President Cecil Roberts will be talking coal in DC today. In Sports, a big weekend for Marshall Soccer and more. These stories and more in today’s MetroNews This Morning podcast.

Listen to “MetroNews This Morning 4-19-21” on Spreaker.

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Mark Bowden: How Special Ops Became a Solution to Everything

President Biden plans to end the U.S. fight in Afghanistan, bringing home the last of the roughly 2,500 American soldiers by September 11th.  The 20-year-long war begun following the terrorist attacks of 2001 will be over.

What will not end, however, are the less well publicized wars the United States is fighting all over the world.  These battles are being fought not by large conventional forces, but rather by smaller and much more specialized units that now conduct most of this country’s military operations.

Mark Bowden, who has written extensively about the U.S. Military, including the best-selling book Blackhawk Down, writes about these elite forces in a recent edition of The Atlantic: “How Special Ops Became the Solution to Everything.”

Today’s Special Operations Command, or SOCOM as it is known, has grown from a tiny hostage rescue team in 1979 to a force of 75,000 soldiers and civilian contractors.  “Made up of elite soldiers pulled from each of the main military branches—Navy SEALs, the Army’s Delta Force and Green Berets, Air Force Combat Controllers, Marine Raiders—it is active in more than 80 counties,” reports Bowden.

SOCOM operates in the vast space between peace and all-out war, often working in conjunction with in-country military to fight off enemies and kill bad guys.  “Using conventional forces is like wielding a sledgehammer,” Bowden writes.  “Special Ops forces are more like a Swiss Army knife.”

Their operations are usually low profile.  “Much of SOCOM’s actions take place in secret,” Bowden writes.  “Most Americans are unaware that is has been active in a country until the announcement that its forces are being withdrawn…

“…or when something goes wrong—as in Niger in 2017, when four Special Ops soldiers were killed in an ambush.”

SOCOM expanded significantly during President Obama’s term.  He wanted a force to fight terrorism while reducing overall troop levels around the globe. SOCOM’s deployments during the Obama years included the “Middle East, Niger, Chad, Mali, South Korea, the Philippines, Colombia, El Salvador, Peru, and dozens of other countries,” reports Bowden.

One big advantage of SOCOM is that the fight can be conducted on the cheap. The unit’s expenses make up just two percent of the entire Pentagon budget.

Bowden believes Special Ops is now firmly established as the main military solution to our national security problems.   “Barring the outbreak of a catastrophic war between major powers, SOCOM will likely remain a primary way America projects force, one that is well suited to the global, varied and collaborative nature of war in the 21st century.”

So, yes, 2,500 American soldiers are coming home from Afghanistan, but as Bowden reports, our country will be maintaining significant—albeit less well publicized—fighting forces around the world.

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Marshall blanks Charlotte to win Conference USA

— By David Walsh

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Senior Day turned out to be special for Jamil Roberts and Kyle Winquist as No. 9 Marshall scored twice in the second half to blank No. 12 Charlotte, 2-0, Sunday at Hoops Family Field. The win gives Marshall the regular-season title in Conference USA and allows the Herd to claim the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

The Thundering Herd is 9-2-2, 6-0-1 in C-USA. Charlotte (6-3-1, 6-1-0) suffered its first league setback. Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, there is no postseason league tournament.

The Herd learns its destination for the NCAA Tournament Monday at noon and the selection show will be streamed on NCAA.com. 

Jan Erik Leinhos converted a penalty kick in the 64th minute to get the Herd a 1-0 lead. It was the fourth goal of the season for Leinhos. 

Pedro Dolobella tallied a score in the 69th minute with an assist to Milo Yosef. It was Dolobella’s first goal. 

The Herd now has 24 total goals scored this season and has allowed just six.

Charlotte had several scoring chances, but couldn’t get a shot past Herd keeper Oliver Semmle (8-1-2).

In the 28th minute, Alex Willis took a pass from Joe Brito off a corner, but the header went just over the crossbar. In the 61st minute, Preston Popp’s shot from just inside the box hit off the crossbar. Semmle stopped shots by Jonathan Nvandio in the 80th minute and Brito in the 82nd notch the shutout. 

The 49ers finished with nine shots and Marshall 10.

Roberts has appeared in 67 matches with 57 starts. He entered Sunday’s match with 16 goals and is No. 2 in program history in assists with 19. He received credit for seven game-winning goals.

Winquist, senior goalkeeper, has appeared in three matches. He made one start this seaon, going the first half against Ohio Valley and getting the win.

The 49ers lead the all-time series 5-2-3. The Herd has won two in a row with the other win coming 1-0 in double overtime in the C-USA Tournament title game in Norfolk, Va.

Marshall coaches and players will gather in Cam Henderson Center for a watch party. The 49ers, who have been to the NCAAs 14 times, will learned if they get an at-large bid at that time. MU last appeared in the NCAA Tournament in 2019, losing at No. 6 Washington in the third round. The Herd defeated in-state rival West Virginia in the second round.

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Mooney opposes changing gun laws

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Despite a string of mass shootings in the United States, U.S. Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., remains opposed to changing federal gun laws.

“I think the worst thing we can do is try to infringe on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens by passing any more kind of gun control laws,” Mooney said on Friday’s “MetroNews Talkline.”

“Criminals don’t obey laws anyway; it just infringes on law-abiding citizens.”

U.S. Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va. (File)

Mooney’s comments Friday came hours after a former FedEx employee shot and killed eight people at an Indianapolis facility. According to the Associated Press, FBI agents interviewed the suspect last year after his mother warned police that her son may commit “suicide by cop.”

The Indianapolis Police Department identified the person as 19-year-old Brandon Scott Hole.

Mooney instead suggested fully prosecuting violent criminals and preventing these people from owning firearms.

“But that don’t mean these crooks won’t steal a gun or fake the paperwork or something like that, but we have enough laws,” he added. “We should enforce the existing laws.”

President Joe Biden on Friday urged legislative action to address gun violence, calling the issue “an epidemic.”

“Today’s briefing is just the latest in a string of tragedies, following closely after gunmen firing bullets in broad daylight at spas in and around Atlanta, Georgia, a grocery store in Boulder, Colorado, a home in Rock Hill, South Carolina, and so many other shootings,” he also said.

Biden ordered flags to be at half-staff until Tuesday at sunset to honor the victims.

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Emmitt Matthews returns to the west coast at University of Washington

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Former WVU forward Emmitt Matthews is headed back to his home state. The Tacoma, Wash. native announced Sunday afternoon he will be playing at the University of Washington next winter.

“Think I walk on water but I never let them bridges burn” 💜💛 pic.twitter.com/YFY1Hu6ZyC

— Emmitt Matthews Jr. (@THEDOOSKIE) April 18, 2021

Matthews announced his intention to transfer from WVU shortly after the Mountaineers’ second round loss in the NCAA Tournament. He started 25 of 29 games in his junior season at West Virginia, averaging 7.7 points per game. Matthews played in 92 games during his WVU career while averaging 6.4 points per game. He became an every-game starter in his sophomore season.

Matthews will have two seasons of eligibility remaining at Washington. The Huskies went 5-21 this past season. Fellow junior Jordan McCabe recently committed to UNLV.

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School Building Authority has more money for Monday’s decisions on school projects

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state School Building Authority will decide Monday which school construction projects from across the state will get part of the funding in this year’s “needs grants” program.

Ben Ashley

The SBA is coming to the table with more money that originally thought. When 30 county school superintendents appeared before the authority with their projects last month it was believed there was approximately $51.4 million available for funding but now that’s been bumped up to approximately $75 million.

SBA Director of Architectural Services Ben Ashley said SBA Executive Director David Roach, the authority’s finance staff and finance committee were able to sweep accounts, take money left over from other projects and make some other moves to increase the amount available.

“We know that the need coming out of the first year of the CEFP (Comprehensive Education Facilities Plan) is tremendous and we’ve worked really hard to make sure we have as much money to address that as we can,” Ashley said.

Every 10 years each county school district is required to submit new CEFPs, which lays out their priorities for facility projects for the next decade. The counties have completed and submitted their plans during the past year and this is the first time projects associated with those new plans are before the SBA for funding.

“So everybody that’s brought a project has brought their best project,” Ashley said. “Authority members have some really, really tough decisions to make.”

The agenda is set for Monday’s School Building Authority meeting at the WVDE Board Room. On the agenda is the selection of 2021 Needs Projects – a big day for many county school systems. https://t.co/zEk6C99jRz

— Ben Ashley (@BenAshleyWV) April 16, 2021

Ashley said there seems to be the desire this year to fund some larger projects.

Monday’s meeting will include detailed discussion about each project and possible scenarios for funding before the decisions are made, Ashley said.

“We’re go through the merits of every project, give them some choices and options, and then they’ll choose exactly how to spend that available money,” he said.

County school superintendents travel to Charleston last month to make their pitches.

Roane County is seeking funding for a new Spencer Middle School. Superintendent Richard Duncan has requested $15 million from the SBA.

“We won’t be building an entirely new stand-alone facility. We’ll be building an adjacent facility that makes use of that shared space (with Roane County High School),” Duncan said last month.

Ritchie County is seeking $17 million for a new Harrisville Elementary School and a new Creed Collins Elementary School located in Pennsboro.

“We are willing to consider any funding option, if it’s multi-year, whatever would work best for the Authority,” Ritchie County Superintendent Jim Brown told the SBA during his March presentation.

The funding requests from all 30 counties add up to $248 million.

Ashley said authority members will consider how the project helps health and safety, improves curriculum, creates educational innovations, meets space needs and impacts maintenance. He said ultimately the funding decisions come down to a couple of basic questions.

“How bad the current situation is and how good their proposed solution is,” he said.

The School Building Authority meeting begins at 10 a.m. Monday in Charleston.

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Fairmont State University holding in-person commencement ceremonies starting Saturday

FAIRMONT, W.Va. — Fairmont State University will hold in-person commencement exercises next weekend after officials developed a safety plan with Marion County leaders.

The two days of ceremonies will begin Saturday. Each graduate will receive two guest tickets for family members, and the ceremonies will also be streamed online.

Matt Swain, the institution’s chief of police and director of emergency management, said the safety plan was developed in collaboration with Marion County Health Officer Lloyd White and the university’s leadership team.

“We’re trying to do everything we can to give these students a send-off in the safest way possible that still resembles some sense of normalcy for the institution,” Swain said.

Swain said each graduation area will be sanitized before the ceremonies. Each event will also be shorter than previous years’ ceremonies.

“Something that the institution is doing and it’s very difficult on the staff and faculty of the institution is having five graduations, so we can lower the numbers to be as safe as possible,” Swain added.

The ceremonies will take place at Duvall-Rosier Field:

— School of Nursing; Saturday at 9 a.m.
— School of Education, Health and Human Performance and Regents Bachelor of Arts; Saturday at noon.
— College of Science and Technology; Saturday at 3 p.m.
— College of Liberal Arts; Sunday at noon.
— School of Business and Aviation; Sunday at 3 p.m.

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West Virginia’s graduation rate increases for third straight year

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s high school graduation rate has increased for a third straight year, in which 92.1% of four-year high school seniors in the 2019-2020 school year graduated.

The West Virginia Board of Education discussed the findings last week, which also focused on the graduation rates between male and female students, as well as rates between ethnic groups.

The graduation rates in the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 school years were 90.2% and 91.3% respectively.

The state Department of Education also provided information on an online dashboard about graduation rates in each county; Doddridge County has the highest graduation rate in West Virginia at 100%, while McDowell County Schools has the lowest graduation rate at 82.5%.

“Thirty-two counties actually have a graduation rate higher than the state average,” State Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch said. “I thought that was really, really impressive.”

Burch said the information also allows local and state education officials to understand differences in academic performance between various groups; the Department of Education reports a 92.4% graduation rate among white students, a 98.7% rate among Asian Americans, a 92.8% rate among Hispanic students and an 86.1% rate among Black students.

Regarding female and male students, the department reports a 93.5% graduation rate among females and a 90.7% rate among males.

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More than half a million West Virginians fully vaccinated

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — More than half a million West Virginians are fully vaccinated for the coronavirus, but the trend of vaccines administered continues decreasing.

The state Department of Health and Human Resources updated its coronavirus dashboard on Sunday, in which officials report 506,965 people who are fully vaccinated. More than 680,000 West Virginians have received at least one vaccine dose.

Officials during Friday’s coronavirus briefing shared concerns about declining interest in getting vaccinated as well as a rise in variant cases.

According to the department, there are 7,390 current active cases in the state, in which officials received 370 new cases since the release of the Saturday report.

Health officials also confirmed the deaths of a 63-year-old female from Kanawha County, an 81-year-old male from Kanawha County, a 92-year-old female from Harrison County, a 63-year-old female from Berkeley County and an 88-year-old from Mineral County. The number of deaths statewide for the pandemic is 2,785.

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Justice to consider restaurant bill born out of pandemic

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A restaurant industry spokesman says a bill Gov. Jim Justice will soon consider should help with the bounce back after the pandemic.

Richie Heath

House Bill 2025 was approved by state lawmakers on the final day of the regular legislative session. Supporters say it will make West Virginia one of the most progressive states in the country for alcohol laws and permitting.

West Virginia Hospitality & Travel Association Executive Director Richie Heath said the bill codifies things like outdoor dining and the delivery of alcohol that was allowed when indoor dining was prohibited during the pandemic.

“It tries to help streamline some of West Virginia’s more archaic provisions and be more business friendly in terms of how the state’s alcohol regulations are in place,” Heath said.

It’s anticipated Gov. Justice will sign the bill when he gets it. It’s yet to arrive on his desk. He’s mentioned the bill favorably in his post-session comments.

Heath tells MetroNews the restaurant industry in West Virginia had approximately 53,000 employees before COVID-19 hit which dipped to 31,000 a few weeks into the pandemic. He said the governor allowed the relaxing of regulations for outdoor dining and allowed some license holders to deliver alcohol to customers. Heath said the bill codifies those provisions.

“I think this is really about sort of getting out of the way and allowing restaurants and other establishments to have all of the tools needed to attract customers back in and really succeed,” Heath said.

If signed, West Virginia would allow the following as Kanawha County Delegate Kayla Young pointed out on Twitter:

•Carryout & curbside cocktails
•Sunday 6 am alcohol sales
•Drive thru purchases
•BYOB Restaurants
•Home delivery of alcohol
•Intrastate shipping
•Easier patio permitting
•Home brewer festival permits
•Wine, Cider, Cocktail growlers

“This makes the state much more progressive on this front and makes West Virginia even more attractive for tourists and those who are coming here regularly to visit and have a good time,” Heath said.

If signed by Gov. Justice, the provisions of the bill would take effect May 10.

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