Landt-Thiel Post 470

American Legion News

Five Things to Know, Feb. 6, 2023

1.   China on Monday accused the United States of indiscriminate use of force in shooting down a suspected Chinese spy balloon, saying it "seriously impacted and damaged both sides' efforts and progress in stabilizing Sino-U.S. relations." The U.S. shot down the balloon off the Carolina coast after it traversed sensitive military sites across North America. China insisted the flyover was an accident involving a civilian aircraft.

2.   Russian forces are keeping Ukrainian troops tied down with fighting in the eastern Donbas region as Moscow assembles additional combat power there for an expected offensive in the coming weeks, Ukrainian officials said Monday. Russian President Vladimir Putin is hungry for some battlefield success, especially securing illegally annexed territory in eastern Ukraine, to mark the anniversary of his invasion on Feb. 24.

3.   A former Israeli prime minister who served briefly as a mediator at the start of Russia's war with Ukraine says he drew a promise from the Russian president not to kill his Ukrainian counterpart. Former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett emerged as an unlikely intermediary in the war's first weeks, becoming one of the few Western leaders to meet President Vladimir Putin during the war in a snap trip to Moscow last March.

4.   President Joe Biden will deliver his State of the Union address Tuesday evening on Capitol Hill as congressional committees gear up to begin their work for the new session. House Armed Services Committee members will have their first non-organizational meeting just a few hours before the presidential address. The hearing, on national security threats posed by China, is expected to gain even more attention in the wake of the shooting down of a Chinese surveillance balloon spotted above the United States last week.

5.   Around 50 U.S. service members, veterans, and their families gathered atop a hill on this installation south of Seoul to remember a seasoned combat veteran who helped turn the tide of the 1950-53 Korean War. The ceremony paid respects to the memory of Army Capt. Lewis Millett, who led the soldiers of Easy Company, 27th Infantry Regiment, in what the Army regards as its last major bayonet charge. The charge took place at Osan on Feb. 5, 1951, according to the Army. Millet was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions that day.

Another way to support ‘Be the One'

American Legion posts, districts and departments are focusing efforts on raising awareness about the organization's primary initiative, the Be the One collaboration that aims to reduce the rate of veteran suicide.

There have been successful symposiums, community hikes and other awareness events that have educated Legionnaires, other veterans and the public about how they can support this effort. As these activities have grown, questions have been raised about how to direct funds or donate to Be the One.

Right now, you can make a donation here to Be the One. You can also mail a check made payable to "American Legion Charities, Note: Be the One."

Mail to: 

American Legion Charities

Be the One

P.O. Box 7077

Indianapolis, IN 46207

Another way to support and raise awareness for Be the One is to purchase merchandise from Emblem Sales. Right now, Be the One T-shirts are out of stock. However, they are expected to be available in time for warmer weather this summer. Pre-orders are being accepted for the shirts, which are just $10.95.

Donations supporting Be The One will help fund programs, resources, educational materials and other items related to the initiative. Stay up-to-date as more details about the program, funding, resources and more at the Be the One web page.

Maine Legion Family holding 3rd Legion Luge fundraiser

A year after warm weather forced Legion Family in Maine to cancel the races in the annual Legion Luge, organizers are hoping it's cold enough to run the sleds on Feb. 11 at the Camden Snow Bowl.

Hosted by the Detachment of Maine, the event will raise money for Department Commander Kirk Thurston's project, Operation ReBoot Outdoors, which offers free hunting and fishing trips to veterans.

"Last year due to warmer weather, Hosmer Pond was not safe at the Snow Bowl and prevented us from the races," said former Detachment Commander Ron Marr, who came up with the idea with his wife, Deb, in the fall of 2019 while trying to come up with a fun idea to raise money for the Department of Maine Foundation.

The first Legion Luge in February 2020 drew about 60 Legion Family members to the event at the Camden Snow Bowl, the week after the venue hosted the 2020 U.S. National Toboggan Championships.

Although it was too warm to race in 2021, Legion Family still met — at Rockland's Post 1 — and awards were presented for best costume, most post attendance and most team spirit.

"Donations kept coming in even though we could not race," Marr said. "Without even racing, we made almost the same amount of money, $1,500.

"My feelings are that this event brought the whole Department of Maine Legion Family together," Marr added.

This year's Legion Luge begins on Feb. 10 with a spaghetti dinner from 5-7 p.m. at Post 1; cost is $10 per person. Registration at Camden Snow Bowl begins at 8 a.m. Feb. 11, with races from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Cost is $25 per person and toboggans are provided by the Snow Bowl.

"Teams can have two, three or four riders (and) costumes are encouraged," Marr said.

 

Florida Squadron 189 dedicating POW/MIA memorial

A new POW/MIA monument, spearheaded by Sons of The American Legion Squadron 189, will be unveiled in a Feb. 26 ceremony at Sebastian, Fla.'s Riverview Park.

Detachment of Florida Eastern Area Vice Commander Peter Puzzo came up with the idea for the POW/MIA monument, which will be placed in the park's Veterans Memorial Circle. Squadron 189 quickly set out to raise the money to buy the stone, cut it and etch it.

"Through the generosity of our community, we raised the $7,000-plus needed for the project," Puzzo said.

The black granite monument includes stars made from the brass grommets retrieved from retired flags. Six stars represent the six branches of the armed forces while two other stars represent the missing.

Puzzo said the 1 p.m. ceremony, which is open to the public, will include colors from the organizations in attendance, including the local honor guard, police, fire, VFW, Rolling Thunder, Boy Scouts and more; singing of the national anthem; the POW/MIA chair ceremony; a prayer for the missing; a speech about the monument; and military honors.

ALWS Road to Hope 5K moving to April

In an effort to draw more runners in the annual Road to Hope 5K, organizers have moved the race — annually the opening event of the 7th Inning Stretch Festival before the American Legion World Series — from August to April.

This year's Road to Hope 5K will take place April 29 in Shelby, N.C., the permanent home of the ALWS.

"The heat and humidity in August are oppressive and can be dangerous," said Kim Davis, media director for the festival, related events and the ALWS. "We're hoping the April date will draw more runners and therefore, more contributions to Road to Hope Shelby."

Proceeds from race registration and related sponsorships go to Road to Hope Shelby, a 529-mile bike ride from Shelby to Washington, D.C., held annually each May. The ride ends at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, which lists the names of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.

This year's 5K will be the 10th annual race affiliated with the 7th Inning Stretch Festival and the ALWS.

The 7th Inning Stretch Festival will take place Aug. 5, the Saturday before the 96th American Legion World Series, Aug. 10-15.

Xi's vision for the 21st century

It seems everything we buy includes those three ubiquitous words: "Made in China." PRC strongman Xi Jinping wants his regime to make more than just our TVs and PCs, phones and fridges, toys and toiletries; he wants the 21st century to be made in China. It's quite literally his plan.

In 2015, Xi unveiled his "Made in China 2025" initiative. The plan is focused on positioning the PRC, by 2049, to dominate the rest of the world in high-tech manufacturing, information technology, robotics, aerospace systems, shipping and transportation, "new energy vehicles," bio-medicine, agricultural machinery and other areas. In doing so, Beijing aims to consolidate its existing advantages, dislodge its rivals from their positions of primacy in other areas, and reap the lion's share of the benefits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

This is more than industrial policy. Made in China 2025 embodies Beijing's overarching vision and goal for every field, sector, domain and theater.

If the free world wants to know what a made-in-China future will look like, all we need to do is look at the policies, actions and the realities on the ground in the PRC. It's not a pretty picture.

Inside the PRC 

To be sure, the PRC has adopted limited elements of the free market, but recall that Xi is the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and remains a committed Marxist.

"Marx's and Engels' analysis of the basic contradiction of capitalist society is not outdated, nor is the historical materialist view that capitalism will inevitably perish and socialism will inevitably triumph outdated," Xi recently declared. "This is the irreversible overall trend of social and historical development, but the road is winding. The ultimate demise of capitalism, and ultimate triumph of socialism, will inevitably be a long historical process. Just like Marx, we must struggle for communism our entire lives … To dismiss Lenin and Stalin, and to dismiss everything else is to engage in historic nihilism, and it confuses our thoughts and undermines the party's organizations on all levels."

All of Xi's brutal policies at home – and aggressive polices abroad –  flow from his ends-justify-the-means communist core.

Thus, Xi's China is a place where bishops and Nobel Peace Prize laureates die in prison; where Christian churches are smashed and Christians are sent to re-education camps; where Buddhist temples are bulldozed; where Uighur Muslim men are packed into freight trains, Uighur women are forcibly sterilized and Uighur babies are forcibly aborted. Under Xi, religious persecution has increased, Freedom House reports. Amnesty International adds that hundreds of thousands of people are subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention in China, many of them for "peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of belief."

The Uighur Muslim region, according to a U.N. human-rights agency, "resembles a massive internment camp … a no-rights zone." More accurately, all of China is a no-rights zone.

Xi has erected an Orwellian surveillance state, and his capacity to control is growing ever more insidious. Xi's new "social credit system" is using mega-databases to monitor and catalogue every aspect of life of China's 1.3 billion people – financial transactions, civil infractions, social-media postings, online activity – and then reward or sanction Xi's subjects by feeding all that information to the National Development and Reform Commission, banking system and judicial system. PRC subjects with good social credit scores enjoy waived fees, lower utility bills, promotions and expedited overseas-travel approval, while those with poor social credit scores are fired from their jobs, expelled from school, blocked from universities or barred from accessing transportation.

It is because of its claimed omnipotence that the world can rightly blame the Xi regime for its mishandling of COVID-19. A local public-health problem metastasized into a global pandemic due to the Xi regime's incompetent mishandling of a virus or intentional genetic manipulation of a virus (either cause is reason not to entrust the future to Xi). Further, his regime lied about human-to-human transmission, carried out a premeditated plan to hoard 2.5 billion pieces of protective equipment as the virus swept the globe, blocked scientists from sharing findings about genome sequencing for several precious weeks, continues to refuse to cooperate with international health agencies and turned entire cities into quarantine camps in a hopeless, heartless effort to control a virus via government coercion.

All of this explains why experts in policy analysis, academia and military-security affairs conclude that Xi's response to COVID-19 "was in breach of international law."

This should come as no surprise. As dissident leader Xu Zhangrun observed in the wake of Beijing's criminal mishandling of COVID-19, "A polity that is blatantly incapable of treating its own people properly can hardly be expected to treat the rest of the world well."

Taking aim 

That brings us to Xi's vision for the world. Xi's regime has built and militarized illegal islands in the South China Sea; claims waters and territories of Vietnam, the Philippines and Japan; has territorial disputes with 16 nations; violated international treaties to absorb once-free Hong Kong; interferes in the elections, political systems and processes of the free world; has increased its menacing pressure on Taiwan; unleashes swarms of fishing vessels to plunder and despoil the waters of other nations; litters space with vast debris fields that threaten commercial satellite activity; alternately fetters and unfetters its Frankenstein monster in Pyongyang to game the free world; and uses cyberspace to wage a hack-and-harvest siege of the free world's innovations and wealth.

The PRC's cybersiege of U.S. industry costs Americans as much as $600 billion annually. Xi's cyber-soldiers have targeted U.S. military programs such as the F-35 and C-17, financial data on 21.5 million Americans stored by the Office of Personnel Management, networks at NASA and the Department of Defense, and vaccine research at U.S. biopharmaceutical firms.

These acts of aggression are fueling – and being fueled by – Beijing's massive military modernization and expansion. The PRC's annual military expenditure has mushroomed by 517% since 2000. This has enabled Xi to expand his nuclear arsenal and nuclear-strike capabilities, build the world's largest navy, field expansive space and counter-space capabilities, and transform the PLA into a modern, high-tech military.

Worryingly, Xi's rhetoric matches the PRC's bellicose behavior and buildup. "We must insist on using battle-ready standards in undertaking combat preparations, constantly enhancing officers' and troops' thinking about serving in battle, and leading troops into battle and training troops for battle," he declares. "And we must insist on rigorous military training based on the needs of actual combat." Note his focus on "battle" and "combat," not "defense."

Near the end of his tenure commanding U.S. Army-Pacific, Gen. Robert Brown noticed that his PRC counterparts "don't fear us anymore." That's regrettable but understandable. As America's defense budget limps away from sequestration and struggles to keep pace with inflation, the calculus is rapidly shifting in Beijing.

The U.S. defense budget is around 3.1% of GDP. (The average during Cold War I was twice that.) As a consequence, America's Navy deploys just 297 ships – and those ships are dispersed around the world, while China's 355 warships are concentrated in the Indo-Pacific. At the height of President Ronald Reagan's rebuild, by comparison, America's Navy boasted 594 ships. Today's Navy may be more ambidextrous than yesterday's, but deterrence is usually about presence; it simply lacks the ships to be present in all the places it's needed. According to CNO Adm. Mike Gilday, the United States needs a naval force of over 500 ships.

Ugly picture 

Add it all up, and Xi's China has the intent and the capability – military, technological, industrial, economic – to challenge America and its free world allies across every domain.

Yet Xi's vision for a made-in-China future is nothing close to what the free world offers. Consider these global measures of national health:

·         On political freedom Xi's China has one of the lowest scores and is labeled "not free."

·         On economic freedom Xi's China is ranked 116th.

·         On personal liberty Xi's China is ranked 150th.

·         On per capita GDP Xi's China is ranked 77th (just $17,192 per year per person).

·         On environmental performance Xi's China is ranked 160th.

·         On the rule of law Xi's China is ranked 84th.

·         On women's empowerment Xi's China is ranked 89th.

Not surprisingly, America and its free world allies all rank at the opposite end of the spectrum.

What is surprising is that, despite the ugly ends and uglier means of Xi's brand of business-suit authoritarianism, several regimes in Africa, Eastern Europe, Asia and the Americas are opening their borders to Beijing.

Glimmers 

The glimmer of good news amidst all this worrisome news is that the PRC's aggression abroad and brutality at home have awakened the free world to the Xi regime's true nature – and spurred the emergence of a counterbalancing coalition.

Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, India, Thailand and Singapore are working with the United States to repurpose old alliances and build new partnerships.

Japan, for instance, is almost-doubling defense spending and is on track to become the world's third-highest defense-spending power. Japan vows to "closely cooperate" with America in the event of a PRC attack on Taiwan and is deepening its security ties with the United States. Tokyo has stood up island-defense units; is fielding high-tech stealth fighter-bombers, attack submarines, networked missile defenses and air defenses, and Tomahawk cruise missiles; is deploying aircraft carriers laden with F-35Bs; and is providing arms and training to Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Australia is increasing defense spending by 40% over the next decade; expanding its combat force by a third; hosting U.S. B-52s and F-22s; acquiring F-35s; and fielding new submarines, anti-ship missiles, anti-submarine systems and cyber-defenses.

India has increased defense spending by 49% the past decade, just commissioned its second aircraft carrier, has boosted its defense budget 10% for the coming year, and is expanding joint training with the United States, Japan and Australia.

South Korea is increasing defense spending by 7% annually, boosting its F-35 fleet, building an aircraft carrier and fortifying its missile defenses.

NATO is strengthening its ties to, and involvement in, the Indo-Pacific. And key NATO members are flexing their muscles in this vital region: Britain is permanently stationing warships in the region. Japan and Britain have signed military-deployment agreements. France has 7,000 troops, 20 warships and dozens of warplanes based in the Indo-Pacific.

These and other allies will be crucial to keeping Cold War II from turning hot – and ensuring that the 21st century is not made in the PRC.

VA to provide $30 million in grants to prevent, end veteran homelessness

The Department of Veterans Affairs announced today that it will award $30 million in grants to organizations that help formerly homeless veterans maintain housing and independent stability. The funding supports VA's initiative to prevent and end veteran homelessness.

The grants will provide organizations the ability to hire case managers that help veterans search for, obtain and successfully transition to permanent housing; overcome challenges and barriers to maintaining permanent housing; connect with services to address issues such as poor credit history, late rent and legal issues; and more.

According to the release, VA anticipates awarding 100 Case Management Grants for up to $300,000 each to support approximately 150 case manager positions nationwide. Awards granted will fund two years of operations, starting Oct. 1, 2023, and ending Sept. 30, 2025. The funds are available through VA's Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem Program.

Organizations eligible for a Case Management Grant are described in the Notice of Funding Opportunity. Grant applications must be received by the GPD Program Office by 4 p.m. ET on Thursday, May 4, 2023. Learn more about GPD or email GPDGrants@va.gov.  

"For many veterans experiencing homelessness, moving into permanent housing is the first step toward the stability and independence they deserve," said VA Secretary Denis McDonough in the release. "But our work doesn't stop there — these case managers help ensure that once Veterans become housed, they get the resources they need to stay housed."

The release states that the number of veterans experiencing homelessness has fallen by 11% since early 2020 and 55.3% since 2010; and in 2022, VA placed more than 40,000 homeless veterans into permanent housing — exceeding its goal by more than 6%.

If you are a veteran or know a veteran who is experiencing homelessness or at risk for homelessness, call the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at 877-4AID-VET (877-424-3838). Or visit the VA Homeless Programs website to learn about housing initiatives and other programs for veterans exiting homelessness.

VA offers advice to help PACT Act benefits filers avoid scams

During a Feb. 1 virtual event, veterans were provided tips on keeping their identity secure. Included in the event was information on how veterans now eligible for benefits through the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2022 can also stay safe from scammers.

The Department of Veterans Affairs Privacy Service's "Protecting the PACT Act Benefits from Identity Theft Scammers" featured two specialists in the field: Carol Kando-Pineda, counsel, Division of Consumer and Business Education, Federal Trade Commission; and Monica Rivera, chief stakeholder and Organizational Change Management, Benefits Delivery Protection and Remediation, Office of Financial Management, Veterans Benefits Administration

While going over tips that veterans and other consumers can follow to stay safe from identity theft, Rivera closed with advice for PACT Act benefits filers.

"First of all, we want to urge veterans and their dependents to try, as much as possible, to try to apply for these benefits using our online platform," Rivera said. "In the event veterans are not able to file their claim (online), I would remind veterans and their dependents that they can go to one of our (Regional Offices) … in person if they want to do that. Or they can call us via phone at 1-800-827-1000."

Rivera warned veterans of companies attempting to file on behalf of them. "I want to remind veterans that they need to be very cautious of companies advertising that only with their help can they get the benefits they deserve," she said. "In addition to that, please make sure that you pay a lot of attention to those aggressive companies that are trying to put a lot of pressure on the veteran to rush in and sign a contract. I would remind veterans to be careful of any companies … that might be contacting them claiming to be a call on behalf of the VA or claiming to have any affiliation with the VA."

Rivera urged veterans to work with a service organization or representative with proper accreditation. An American Legion-accredited service officer can file PACT Act benefits on behalf of a veteran or dependent at no charge. Find an American Legion service officer here.

Rivera said veterans should never provide their Social Security number, medical records or any other identifiable information "to anyone who's offering claims assistance if it's not someone you have been working with or a VA employee or an accredited representative. Do not sign a contract agreeing to pay a percentage of your benefits in exchange for assistance with your VA claim.

"Do not be fooled by law firms and companies advertising that they have special relationships with VA medical professionals. This is not true, because VA has the necessary tools and procedures in place that will ensure your claim is processed timely in a legal manner."

The American Legion already has expressed concern about veterans being taken advantage of by predatory law firms attempting to collect higher-than-normal fees for representing them in toxic exposure cases resulting from being stationed at Camp Lejeune. The Camp Lejeune Justice Act became law as part of the PACT Act. In October 2022, The American Legion and the law firm Bergmann & Moore entered into a memorandum of understanding which the firm that provides veterans benefits consultation for accredited Legion service officers can help potential plaintiffs understand the Camp Lejeune Justice Act.

That same month, the Legion's National Executive Committee passed Resolution 15: Oversight of Camp Lejeune Justice Act, which reads in part, "Whereas, predatory law firms charging exorbitant fees have engaged in aggressive marketing campaigns …  The American Legion urges Congress to provide the necessary oversight during the implementation of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act to ensure veterans receive fair consideration of their lawsuits and protections against predatory law firms."

Minnesota Legion post approaching goal of restoring three community veterans memorials

In summer of 2021, American Legion Post 150 in Waconia, Minn., set for itself a lofty goal of raising $199,000 to renovate two monuments and a Civil War cannon in its community over a period of three years. But thanks to a successful fundraising effort, Post 150 is ahead of schedule and has plans on finishing up every renovation in just over two years.

Post 150 First Vice Commander Joe Gifford, the project team leader, said more than $202,000 has been raised so far. Because of how quickly the money was able to be raised, the restoration of Waconia's World War I Veterans Monument was completed in May of 2022, while the cannon is expected to be completed by this May. The city's Civil War Soldiers Monument is the final leg of the project and is expected to have its renovation completed by November of this year.

"The project started in about the July, August timeframe of 2021," Gifford said. "The objective for the project was to do one monument a year for three years, and our expectations have been greatly exceeded. We're way ahead of schedule."

Gifford said the idea to launch the restoration project came about when a member of Post 150 who lives across from City Square Park, where the monuments reside, would walk through the park daily. "His great-grandfather's name is actually on the monument," Gifford said. "He thought it was starting to look a little weathered. He brought it to my attention (and) we took it to (the post's) executive committee. When we took a hard look at everything, we realized the Civil War cannon was in bad shape, the Civil War Soldiers Monument was in really bad shape, and they needed a lot of love. So, we decided if we were going to do a fundraising project, that we would try to tackle all three monuments at the same time."

All three of the objects have undergone restorations over the years, but the age of each required more effort this time. The 32-pounder chambered Navy cannon was built in 1846 and acquired by Waconia in 1897, while the Civil War Soldier Soldiers Monument was dedicated in 1892. Meanwhile, the World War I Veterans Monument was dedicated in 1929.

Knowing it would need a substantial amount of money, Post 150 first reached out to other American Legion posts in Carver County, as well as other service organizations, fire departments and Chambers of Commerce. "We met with all of them," Gifford said. "Through the course of those actions, that effort raised around $125,000 to $130,000."

The post also was able to obtain multiple grants, as well as a donation from Waconia city officials. There also were donations from individuals.

With its successful effort, Post 150 already is planning rededication ceremonies for all three monuments. The current goal is to hold a ceremony for the World War I Veterans Monument and the cannon during this year's Memorial Day service in City Square Park. Plans for the rededication ceremony of the Civil War Soldiers Monument have yet to be finalized.

To educate the public even more about the monuments, the restoration project includes placing interpretative signs around each of them to provide some context.

Gifford said Post 150's successful effort was a team effort. "We're extremely proud of the effort. We're proud of our community as a whole supporting this," he said. "It speaks to the Americanism of it. Our view of it is that these monuments are extremely important to remind people of the cost of freedom and what it takes to have the country that we have today.

"We see that as one of our missions to make sure that things that help our community remember what it means to have a free country and what it takes to actually achieve that, it's very, very important. Now, when people look at these monuments, they'll have more information in their hands than they ever have before. It's not going to just be a monument. It's also going to also teach some of the history behind them."  

Philippine leaders ‘accelerate' military cooperation with US, grant more base access

U.S. troops will have access to four more military sites in the Philippines under plans announced by the two countries on Thursday.

The agreement marks a turn in the allies' relationship under a new Philippine president after slow progress during the administration of former leader Rodrigo Duterte, who had sought closer relations with China.

The U.S. and the Philippines agreed Thursday to "accelerate the full implementation of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement" by completing projects at five locations named in the agreement and adding the four new sites, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Defense.

Work has been underway, since the defense agreement was announced in 2014, to build facilities for U.S. forces at several previously announced sites in the Philippines. Those five locations are Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan; Basa Air Base in Pampanga; Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija; Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu and Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro City.

The four new sites will not be revealed before a consultation process is completed, Philippines Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. told reporters during a press conference Thursday alongside U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

"We are not seeking permanent basing in the Philippines," Austin said. The agreement is about rotational activities, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, he added.

Forces using the sites could assist in other crises, not just for the Philippines but for the region, according to Austin.

The defense secretaries reaffirmed their alliance, Austin said, noting that it applies to attacks on either nation in the South China or the West Philippine seas.

"These efforts are especially important as [China] continues to advance its illegitimate claims in the West Philippine Sea," he said.

The EDCA agreement is a key pillar of the U.S.-Philippine alliance, which supports combined training and exercises and helps forces from the two countries work together, according to the DOD statement.

"Expansion of the EDCA will make our alliance stronger and more resilient, and will accelerate modernization of our combined military capabilities," the statement said.

Adding bases to the agreement will allow more rapid support for humanitarian and climate-related disasters in the Philippines, and allow forces to respond to other shared challenges, according to the statement.

Under the defense cooperation agreement, the U.S. has allocated over $82 million toward infrastructure at the existing five sites, according to the DOD.

The U.S. and the Philippines have committed to move quickly in agreeing to the necessary plans and investments for the new and existing locations, the statement said.

The U.S. in 2015 requested access to eight bases in the Philippines, including Subic Bay and Clark Air Base, Carlyle Thayer, an emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales and lecturer at the Australian Defence Force Academy, told Stars and Stripes for a Sept. 9 report.

Subic and Clark formed America's largest overseas military community before both were damaged in the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo and soon after returned to the Philippines.

Duterte, whose six-year term ended in June, had excluded Clark and Subic from the EDCA and threatened to withdraw from it, Thayer said.

U.S. military planners focus on the Philippines as they consider dispersing their forces among small islands in the Western Pacific and size up the prospect of a conflict over Taiwan.

For example, members of the Marine Corps' newly formed 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment practiced the tactics of expeditionary advanced base operations during the annual Balikatan drills in the Philippines in April.

The Philippines' new president, Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., son of the country's late dictator who ruled from 1965 to 1986, "doesn't have the anti-American chip on his shoulder that Duterte had," Thayer said. "It is difficult to imagine the Philippines refusing a request from the U.S. for access if a major conflict broke out between China and the US over Taiwan."

Having more points to preposition equipment and to operate from gives the US more flexibility and options in the event of a contingency in East Asia … around Taiwan, the South China Sea, East China Sea, or the Yellow Sea and Korean Peninsula," Ian Chong, an associate professor of political science at the National University of Singapore, said in an email Thursday.

The new sites can provide support to the Philippines if it faces a crisis in the South China Sea or internal unrest, which it experiences from time to time, he said.

"Some of this thinking on the part of Manila may be informed by ongoing [Chinese] pressure on disputed areas of the South China Sea and [Chinese] military activity targeting Taiwan, but near the Philippines," he said. "Manila has been trying to navigate these concerns along with the attractiveness of economic cooperation with Beijing. This move seems be the latest in the effort to calibrate."

However, the arrangement involves risks, Chong said.

"Bases or positions in the Philippines could become targets in the event of a confrontation," he said.