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Something special happened in a flood-ravaged South Carolina county

By Tom Mullikin and John Cleveland

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Something very special happened in Marion County. S.C., last month. June 15, the day before Father’s Day, hundreds of volunteers descended on the town of Nichols, S.C. – In fact, as many volunteers as the population of the town itself. They were there to do the dirty and unglamorous work of clearing and cleaning ditches along the roadways and culverts in the flood-ravaged community. It was the first full-fledged demonstration of Gov. Henry McMaster’s S.C. Floodwater Commission in action; and it was a remarkable show of support by South Carolinians from across the state for their fellow citizens.

Over the past three years, Nichols had been flooded twice. First during Hurricane Matthew, then again during Hurricane Florence. In Sept. 2018, approximately four-to-six feet of rainwater from the Lumber and Little Pee Dee rivers spilled over into and blanketed the area, devastating residents who had just managed to rebuild from the flooding of 2016.

The problem in Nichols – as in many flood-impacted communities – is deferred maintenance of existing drainage systems. When debris and detritus is present to the extent it was in Nichols, there is no place for the water to go except out and into the town. Continue reading “Something special happened in a flood-ravaged South Carolina county”

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Celebration of Liberty honors Lott, others

Sheriff Lott and his youngest daughter, McKenzie.

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Richland County Sheriff and S.C. State Guard (SCSG) commander Leon Lott was recognized for his law enforcement and military service during both shows of THE CAROLINA CELEBRATION OF LIBERTY held Sunday afternoon and evening at Columbia’s First Baptist Church. The event – attended by S.C. Governor Henry McMaster, Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette, U.S. Congressman Joe Wilson and a host of other dignitaries and senior military leaders – was emceed by retired WIS-TV personality Joe Pinner and directed by the Rev. Steve Phillips, associate pastor and music minister at First Baptist Church.

“This recognition was a tremendous honor both for myself and my family, and for the men and women of the Richland County Sheriff’s Dept, the S.C. State Guard, and frankly the entire military community and military veterans’ communities throughout the Midlands and across the state,” says Lott, who as SCSG commander holds the rank of brigadier general. “South Carolina is a very military friendly state. We’re home to a lot of key military bases. Consequently, we have a lot of military retirees and veterans who call South Carolina home. And so what makes this annual event so special is that it pays tribute to all of these veterans, their specific branches of service, and the periods in which they served.”

Others recognized included Col. Melinda S. Woodhurst, Sgt. Larry Smalls, Chief Warrant Officer Harold Dalton “Buster” Hatcher, Command Sgt. Maj. Carl M. Lopez, Staff Sgt. Dick Schneider, and Sgt. Lonnie Hosey, today a state representative from Barnwell County. Continue reading “Celebration of Liberty honors Lott, others”

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Governor leads Floodwater Commission in Marion County clean-up

Debris-clearing effort, tree plantings, and meetings held in flood-ravaged areas

MARION COUNTY, S.C. – South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster, Lt. Governor Pamela Evette, U.S. Congressman Tom Rice, nationally syndicated journalist Armstrong Williams, state legislators, members of the South Carolina Floodwater Commission, military veterans, members of the judiciary, university presidents, ROTC cadets, and Boy Scouts joined hands with scores of other volunteers in a collaborative clean-up of highway culverts, ditches and low-lying areas in Marion County, Sat., June 15.

Left to right: Maj. Gen. George Goldsmith, Col. Steve Vitali, Gov. McMaster, Floodwater Commission Chair Tom Mullikin, and Col. Bill Connor in Nichols during the June 15 event.

The day-long series of events – including tree plantings, briefings by state and federal leaders, and visits to the towns of Nichols, Sellers, Marion, and Mullins – were part of an overall flood-fighting effort and a strong message of hope delivered by the Governor and his Floodwater Commissioners with the assistance of the S.C. Dept. of Transportation (SCDOT) to residents in one of the hardest-hit regions of the state in terms of recent flooding.

“We are sending a very clear message across the state and frankly the nation that South Carolina under the leadership of Gov. McMaster is preparing to meet any and all challenges from extreme weather and flooding like what we have experienced since 2015,” says Tom Mullikin, chairman of the S.C. Floodwater Commission. “What the people of Marion County have experienced is unimaginable to most folks living and working outside of flood-prone areas. We are letting everyone know that we are not simply talking, but doing something about it, working aggressively to mitigate any future floodwater events.”

Governor McMaster says, “When we work together, we can accomplish great things. And when you have this kind of talent and drive to draw on, all you have to do is come up with an idea and say, ‘let’s get started.’ And that’s what we’ve done.” Continue reading “Governor leads Floodwater Commission in Marion County clean-up”

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Richland County (S.C.) Sheriff’s Dept. receives national recognition

“America’s Law Enforcement Agency” honored for sex-offender registry management

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Major James Stewart of the Richland County Sheriff’s Dept. (RCSD) and RCSD were presented the ‘National Certificate of Recognition for Outstanding Public Service and Sex Offender Registry Management’ by OffenderWatch during the Major County Sheriffs of America’s annual summer conference in Louisville, Kentucky, June 13. The award was accepted by Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott on behalf of Stewart and RCSD.

“This is an honor for both Major Jim Stewart the entire department,” said Lott. “It speaks not only of his [Stewart’s] meticulous attention to detail in the oversight of 908 sex offenders in Richland County, but of our department’s unwavering commitment to protecting all of our county’s citizens.”

OffenderWatch President Mike Cormaci agrees.

RCSD Sheriff Leon Lott (right) accepting the certificate of recognition

“Major Stewart, Sheriff Lott and the entire sheriff’s office go above and beyond what is required in statute to collect comprehensive data on each and every offender in their jurisdiction,” said Cormaci, pictured here presenting the award to Lott. Continue reading “Richland County (S.C.) Sheriff’s Dept. receives national recognition”

Posted in Articles Military

Double-amputee Marine completes brutal Recon Challenge

[Originally published at]

How would you like to volunteer for a 30-mile mountain hike in sunny southern California? What if you also had to carry a rifle and 50-pound rucksack? What if I told you there would also be a 1,000-yard ocean swim, along with marksmanship events, underwater challenges, and plenty of other obstacles along the way?

If you answered “yes,” you must be a Recon Marine. Each year, teams of Marines travel to Camp Pendleton to participate in the grueling Recon Challenge to honor their fallen brothers. One of the Marines that participated in this year’s event was Jonathon Blank, formerly of 3rd Platoon, 1st Reconnaissance Company, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion. In 2010, an improvised explosive device took off both of Sgt. Blank’s legs during an operation in Afghanistan. Nearly ten years later, Blank and several brothers from his former platoon reunited to tackle the event, utilizing a specially made pack to carry Blank. We recently caught up with this highly motivated (now medically retired) Marine who provided some insight into his incredible feat.

Staff Sgt. Jonathon Blank (front row) and fellow Marines. (Photo courtesy of Mr. Blank)

CHRIS CARTER: The Recon Challenge sounds like an Ironman Triathlon on steroids. What inspired you and your teammates to participate?

JONATHON BLANK: As Reconnaissance Marines we thrive on challenges and pushing past limitations set down by others. Members of our platoon have competed in every Recon Challenge since its inception. We had talked about it for many years; it was just a matter of getting the team together, working around everyone’s busy careers and private lives. Plus, many members of my former platoon are still active duty Reconnaissance Marines. We knew it would be brutal considering I weighed around 150lbs with all my gear. It sounded like an awesome challenge that would bring us together in a unique reunion. Nothing brings guys together like mutual pain, suffering, and teamwork. Everyone agreed it would be a great time! Continue reading “Double-amputee Marine completes brutal Recon Challenge”

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Marines honored by ARMY NORTH representative

Colonels Steven B. Vitali (left) and W. Thomas Smith Jr.

By Alex Junes-Ward

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Colonels Steven B. Vitali and W. Thomas Smith Jr. were honored, May 31, by the senior representative of U.S. ARMY NORTH for the Palmetto State, who recognized and commended both men for their service as members of the S.C. Floodwater Commission’s National Security Task Force (NSTF) and for their previous military service.

Col. Bill Connor – a U.S. Army infantry officer, the emergency preparedness liaison officer (EPLO) for South Carolina, and chairman of the NSTF – presented plaques to Vitali and Smith during ceremonies at the S.C. State House, May 31.

Vitali, who serves as NSTF’s operations officer, is a retired Marine infantry and logistics officer, and a veteran of both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Iraq, he was assistant chief of staff for the II Marine Expeditionary Force. In Afghanistan, he was senior adviser to the 201st Afghan National Army Corps, commanding officer of the 201st Afghan Regional Corps Advisory Group, and the sole Marine Corps maneuver commander in that country during the period of his deployment. Vitali, who holds a black belt in Karate, is also a member of the South Carolina Black Belt Hall of Fame.

Smith, who serves as NSTF’s executive secretary, is a former U.S. Marine Infantry leader, counterterrorism instructor, and a SWAT team officer in the nuclear industry. As a war correspondent he twice-traveled to Iraq, venturing across much of that country with British contract security forces, U.S. Army cavalry, and a Marine expeditionary unit during the war from Basra to Fallujah to Al Qaim on the Syrian border. He also served as an officer in the S.C. Military Dept. where among his many responsibilities he was founding director of the Counterterrorism Task Force before retiring. Smith is a military technical consultant and a New York Times bestselling editor. Continue reading “Marines honored by ARMY NORTH representative”

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S.C. attorney and global adventurer honored for military service

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Thomas S. Mullikin, a career attorney, military officer, and global expedition leader was presented a hand-made quilt from the Quilts of Valor Foundation for his singularly unique and distinguished military service during a ceremony at the Mullikin Law Offices in Camden, Thurs., May 30.

Joined by members of his family, friends, and law firm staff, Mullikin received the quilt from Anne Mixon, South Carolina’s state coordinator for the national Quilts of Valor Foundation.

Mullikin was recognized for his service to both the state and the nation as a military officer both in-and-out of uniform for close to three decades beginning with his service as a JAG officer and a certified Army Master Fitness Trainer in the U.S. Army and culminating in his retirement as the two-star commander of the S.C. State Guard (SCSG) in Dec. 2018. It was during his time in the SCSG that Mullikin also served in a civilian capacity as special assistant to the Chief Prosecutor, Military Commissions, U.S. Department of Defense.

Mullikin has traveled to the veritable ends of the earth, climbing four of the world’s seven great summits and having led expeditions on all. He has also logged SCUBA dives in all the world’s oceans, including ice dives in the Arctic and Antarctic oceans. Continue reading “S.C. attorney and global adventurer honored for military service”

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The “Man Killer” that is Everest

One of South Carolina’s top mountaineers discusses climbing perils

South Carolina’s own Tom Mullikin is intimately familiar with Mount Everest. No, the Camden-based global expedition leader has yet to achieve the summit of the 29,000-plus-ft. “man killer.” But he has worked the mountain during a conditioning push, spending time earlier this year at-and-around Everest’s high-altitude base camp. And he has successful climbs up four of the world’s seven great summits, having several times negotiated daunting portions of all.

Mullikin’s experience as a mountaineer – dubbed a “National Geographic Expert” by NatGeo – is matched only by his SCUBA dives in all of the earth’s oceans including dangerous ice dives in the Arctic and Antarctic Oceans: Unforgiving environs all where years of training, physical conditioning, proper equipment, and attention to every single detail can be the difference between surviving and not.

Like other adventurers with his level of mountain-climbing experience, Mullikin knows first-hand what the onset of altitude sickness feels like and what extreme cold and altitude can do to both the body and the mind.

We sat down with Mullikin to discuss some of the perils of climbing, particularly Everest, in the wake of at least 11 lives lost there this year.

W. THOMAS SMITH JR: British mountaineer Robin Haynes Fisher, an experienced climber died while he was descending Everest. He was literally on the way down, but still in the so-called death zone. What exactly is this death zone? Continue reading “The “Man Killer” that is Everest”