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Protesters march Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014, along a stretch of road where violent protests occurred following the August shooting of unarmed black teenager by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo. Ferguson and the St. Louis region are on edge in anticipation of the announcement by a grand jury whether to criminally charge Officer Darren Wilson in the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Protesters march Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014, along a stretch of road where violent protests occurred following the August shooting of unarmed black teenager by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo. Ferguson and the St. Louis region are on edge in anticipation of the announcement by a grand jury whether to criminally charge Officer Darren Wilson in the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

(Ferguson) (AP) – Several dozen protesters have been marching in Ferguson as the community awaits a decision from a grand jury considering whether to indict the police officer who shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown.

The protesters out Saturday evening were praying, playing music and chanting slogans including, “No justice, no peace” and “Mike Brown means, we’ve got to fight back.” Cars stopped and drivers honked, slowing traffic.

Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, spoke to protesters through a bullhorn and urged people to be careful, saying, “don’t agitate them, and don’t let them agitate y’all.”

The grand jury is deliberating whether charges are warranted against Officer Darren Wilson in the Aug. 9 fatal shooting of Brown. Wilson is white and Brown, who was unarmed, was black. There have been many demonstrations since Brown’s death.

FILE - In this July 6, 2009 file photo, former District of Columbia Mayor Marion Barry attends a news conference in Washington. Barry, who staged comeback after a 1990 crack cocaine arrest, died early Sunday morning Nov. 23, 2014. He was 78. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

FILE – In this July 6, 2009 file photo, former District of Columbia Mayor Marion Barry attends a news conference in Washington. Barry, who staged comeback after a 1990 crack cocaine arrest, died early Sunday morning Nov. 23, 2014. He was 78. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

(Washington) (AP) – Divisive and flamboyant, maddening and beloved, Marion Barry outshone every politician in the 40-year history of District of Columbia self-rule. But for many, his legacy was not defined by the accomplishments and failures of his four terms as mayor and long service on the D.C. Council.

Instead, Barry will be remembered for a single night in a downtown Washington hotel room and the grainy video that showed him lighting a crack pipe in the company of a much-younger woman. When FBI agents burst in, he referred to her with an expletive. She “set me up,” Barry said.

Barry died Sunday at 78. His family said in statement that Barry died shortly after midnight at the United Medical Center, after having been released from Howard University Hospital on Saturday. No cause of death was given, but his spokeswoman LaToya Foster said he collapsed outside his home.

Speaking at a 4 a.m. press conference at United Medical Center, the city’s mayor-elect Muriel Bowser called Barry an “inspiration to so many people and a fighter for people.”

“Mr. Barry, I can say this, lived up until the minute the way he wanted to live,” said Bowser, who had served with Barry on the D.C. Council.

The year was 1990, and crack cocaine had exploded in the district, turning it into the nation’s murder capital. In his third term, the man known as the “Mayor for Life” became a symbol of a foundering city.

Federal authorities had been investigating him for years for his alleged ties to drug suspects, and while he denied using drugs, his late-night partying was taking a toll on his job performance.

The arrest and subsequent conviction – a jury deadlocked on most counts, convicting him of a single count of drug possession – was a turning point for Barry. He had been elected to his first term as mayor in 1978 with broad support from across the city. With his good looks, charisma and background in the civil rights movement, he was embraced the dynamic leader the city’s young government needed. The Washington Post endorsed him in each of his first three mayoral runs, although the 1986 endorsement was unenthusiastic.

Barry’s six-month term in federal prison was hardly the end of his political career. But it forever changed how it was perceived. To some, he was a pariah and an embarrassment. But to many district residents, particularly lower-income blacks, he was still a hero, someone unfairly persecuted for personal failures.

Barry returned to the D.C. Council in 1992, representing the poorest of the city’s eight wards. Two years later, he won his fourth and final term as mayor. The electorate was starkly divided along racial lines, and Barry advised those who had not supported his candidacy to “get over it.”

“Marion Barry changed America with his unmitigated gall to stand up in the ashes of where he had fallen and come back to win,” poet Maya Angelou said in 1999.

Barry’s triumph, though, was short-lived. In 1995, with the city flirting with bankruptcy from years of bloated, unaccountable government, much of it under Barry, Congress stripped him of much of his power and installed a financial control board. Barry held authority over little more than the city’s parks, libraries and community access cable TV station. He decided against seeking a fifth term.

Barry spent a few years working as a municipal bond consultant, but he couldn’t stay away from politics. In 2004, he returned to the council, again representing Ward 8, where he remained beloved. Many constituents still referred to him as “Mayor Barry,” and he was re-elected in 2008 and 2012.

Barry was born March 6, 1936, to Marion and Mattie Barry, in the small Mississippi delta town of Itta Bena, and was raised in Memphis, Tenn., after the death of his father, a sharecropper.

While an undergraduate at LeMoyne College (now LeMoyne-Owen College), Barry picked up the nickname “Shep” in reference to Soviet propagandist Dmitri Shepilov for his ardent support of the civil rights movement. Barry began using Shepilov as his middle name.

Barry did graduate work in chemistry at Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., earning a master’s degree. He left school short of a doctorate to work in the civil rights movement.

His political rise began in 1960, when he became the first national chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, which sent young people into the South to register black voters and became known as one of the most militant civil rights groups of that era.

Barry’s work with the committee brought him to Washington, where he became immersed in local issues, joining boycotts of the bus system and leading rallies in support of the city’s fledgling home rule efforts.

In 1970, The Post wrote: “Four years ago widely considered a young Black Power Militant with almost no constituency, (Barry) has become a man who is listened to – if not fully accepted – on all sides.”

Barry’s activism propelled him into local politics, first as a member of the Board of Education and then in 1974 as a member of the first elected city council organized under home rule legislation.

In 1977, he was wounded by a shotgun blast in the Hanafi Muslim takeover of D.C.’s city hall. A young reporter was killed. The shooting was credited with strengthening him politically.

In 1978, he defeated incumbent Mayor Walter Washington – the city’s first home rule mayor – in the Democratic primary and went on to easily win the general election.

Barry’s early years in office were marked by improvement in many city services and a dramatic expansion of the government payroll, creating a thriving black middle class in the nation’s capital. Barry established a summer jobs program that gave many young people their first work experience and earned him political capital.

In his second term, the district’s finances were rockier, and some of his appointees were caught up in corruption scandals.

The city’s drug-fueled decline mirrored Barry’s battles with his personal demons, leading to the infamous hotel room arrest on Jan. 19, 1990. The video of Barry was widely distributed to the media and made him infamous worldwide.

A few months after his arrest, long-time civil rights advocate and educator Roger Wilkins, a past supporter, wrote in The Post: “Marion Barry used the elders and lied to the young. He has manipulated thousands of others with his cynical use of charges of racism to defend his malodorous personal failures.”

Even after his comeback, controversy continued to dog Barry. Several times after his 1990 arrest, Barry sought treatment or counseling for problems with prescription medications or other substances. In 2002, he made an attempt to seek an at-large seat on the D.C. Council but abandoned his bid amid allegations of renewed illegal drug use.

In 2006, Barry was given three years of probation after pleading guilty to misdemeanor charges for failing to file tax returns from 1999 to 2004. As part of a plea bargain, he agreed to file future federal and local tax returns annually, a promise prosecutors later said he had failed to keep.

In 2010, he was censured by the council and stripped of his committee assignments for steering a government contract to a former girlfriend. The council censured him again in 2013 for accepting cash gifts from city contractors.

Barry played the role of elder statesman in his later years on the council, but he sometimes exasperated his colleagues with his wavering attention at meetings and frequent, rambling references to his tenure as mayor.

He suffered numerous health problems over the years. In addition to kidney failure, he survived prostate cancer, undergoing surgery in 1995 and a follow-up procedure in 2000. In late 2011, he underwent minor surgery on his urinary tract. In early 2014, he spent several weeks in hospitals and a rehabilitation center battling infections and related complications.

In a statement Sunday, current Mayor Vincent C. Gray expressed deep sadness after learning about Barry’s death. Gray spoke with Barry’s wife, Cora Masters Barry, late Saturday and shared his condolences and sympathies with her. The couple was long estranged but never divorced.

“Marion was not just a colleague but also was a friend with whom I shared many fond moments about governing the city,” Gray said. “He loved the District of Columbia and so many Washingtonians loved him.”

Mayor Gray said that he would work with Barry’s family and the Council to plan official ceremonies “worthy of a true statesman of the District of Columbia.”

Barry was married four times and is survived by his wife, Cora, and one son, Marion Christopher Barry.

(Willow Springs) – Route Y in Shannon County will be reduced to one lane while Missouri Department of Transportation crews cut brush and trim trees.

This section of road is located from Route 99 to the end of state maintenance.

Weather permitting, work will take place Monday, November 24 from 7:30 AM to 3 PM.

The work zone will be marked with signs and motorists are urged to use extreme caution while traveling near the area.

For additional information, contact MoDOT’s Customer Service Center toll-free at 1-888-ASK-MODOT (1-888-275-6636) or visit www.modot.org/southeast.

(Little Rock) – Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe has released his newest radio column, in which he talks about giving thanks this holiday season:

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Reflections from the Road

by Rick Mansfield

The boy was probably not yet a teen, his willingness to still be led by his mother’s hand as much of a clue as his slight stature. They approached the grave together, and only upon standing before the sunken plaque did they unclasp hands. The woman bowed her head, appearing to be in silent prayer. The boy took a small object from a coat pocket, the wind making the November day even more chilling than was seasonal. Kneeling, he placed it beside a somewhat leaning flag. A U S flag stuck months before into the soil beside the cast nameplate.

After several moments of silence, and then a brief exchange swallowed by the northern wind; they resumed their walk. Again she took the child’s hand, again he seemed to welcome the contact. Their exit path drew them closer to me than I had planned, my intent at such times to be as least intrusive as possible.

“Sir, do you work here?” she asked.

“No mam.” If one is not paid, then I believe there is truth to such a reply. “I volunteer at times with friends. May I be of help?” An attempt at anonymity could not harbor discourteous behavior.

“I wondered who placed the flags? Do they do it yearly?” she continued.

“Memorial Day. A group places them beside the military graves. I understand they are volunteers, such as myself.” I did not wish to say too much; to too specifically describe the process. I knew firsthand that those doing so did it not for recognition nor reward.

“My husbands’ was a bit tilted. Still looked pretty new, though.”

“I straightened it” the young man announced, a bit of pride, perhaps; but not in the act but for the man below it. “My father would want it straight.”

He’d looked up as he spoke. Now silent, his head turned back down. I saw his fingers tighten on his mother’s hand. He looked back towards the place of honor they had just visited; then his gaze was towards their car.

“Please thank them for us.” She bravely mustered a smile as she turned. The wind was now even sharper; perhaps that is what drew the moisture to her eyes. Together they walked away.

Their row was one to which I had not yet gone, having only entered this cemetery minutes before. I had straightened or replaced the little wooden dowels and pieces of cloth that mean so very much to those who love this country; much more to those that have had or now have loved ones in uniform that give us the freedom we all enjoy and too few appreciate. This was the third of what would be nearly a dozen stops today.

In 1954 Armistice Day became Veteran’s Day, in recognition of the Second World War and then the Korean Conflict that had added to the sacrifice of Americans in the Great War. More than one hundred thousand American soldiers died in that carnage. More than a half million additional have died since.

Placing a flag, saying a prayer, lifting and leveling a headstone. Little enough to do for those that served, that too often gave that last “great measure of devotion.” Canadian Artillery Major John McRae warned of the consequences “If ye break faith with us who die………” The sleep of those now gone might just be the least of our worries.

When a people no longer honor the honorable, I fear they will become lost—regardless of what flowers are growing where.

Yulexi Plata, 14, speaks about her hopes for immigration policy during an interview in Birmingham, Ala., on Monday, Nov. 17, 2014. While the high school freshman was born in the United States and is a U.S. citizen, both of her parents are from Mexico and are living in Alabama without proper documentation. Plata hopes a new policy will allow her parents to remain in the United States and ease her fears that they will be deported. (AP Photo/Jay Reeves)

Yulexi Plata, 14, speaks about her hopes for immigration policy during an interview in Birmingham, Ala., on Monday, Nov. 17, 2014. While the high school freshman was born in the United States and is a U.S. citizen, both of her parents are from Mexico and are living in Alabama without proper documentation. Plata hopes a new policy will allow her parents to remain in the United States and ease her fears that they will be deported. (AP Photo/Jay Reeves)

(San Diego) (AP) – President Barack Obama unveiled one of the most sweeping changes to the U.S. immigration system in decades, shielding millions from deportation.

Among those breathing easier: a Mexican woman in Birmingham, Alabama, who barely missed qualifying for a reprieve in 2012 but can apply now because she has three U.S.-born children; a pair of 9- and 11-year-old brothers in Tucson, Arizona, who can stay under more generous guidelines for immigrants who arrived as children.

About 5 million people are expected to qualify under the measures outlined Thursday. But about 6 million who are in the country illegally will be left out.

Many who were recently deported also miss out.

The Associated Press interviewed immigrants around the country – and in Mexico – for examples of who wins and who loses.

WINNER: Reyna Garcia, 32, almost qualified for Obama’s 2012 reprieve that allowed hundreds of thousands who came to the country as young children to remain. Her mistake was going to work for a cleaning crew instead of enrolling in high school. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program requires applicants to be attending high school or graduated.

The Mexican native has lived in Alabama for most of the last 17 years and gave birth to three children in the U.S. Parents of U.S. citizens or legal residents who have been in the country for more than five years are eligible.

Her oldest daughter, Yulexi Plata, 14, says it will be a relief for her parents to live without fear of deportation.

“If they’ve been here so long, why not more?” she asks.

But after having missed out once, Garcia worries.

“I have this fear that I may be missing something again. What might be the problem this time?”

LOSER: Liana Ghica, 49, was a lawyer in Romania who came to the U.S. in 2001. She has unsteady work cleaning houses and managing bookkeeping in the Los Angeles area.

Ghica’s son studies at University of California, Los Angeles and is allowed to stay under the DACA program for immigrants who came to the country when they were young. However, their parents are ineligible under Obama’s plans.

“It is a slap in our faces,” Ghica says. “Personally I think (Obama) damaged us even more with this.”

Ghica came to the U.S. with a visa and job offer that fell through. She stayed, she said, to give her son a chance at the American dream.

Her son, Vlad Stoicescu-Ghica, 21, said DACA has enabled him to get campus jobs, put household bills in his name and get a credit card.

“It just makes a tremendous difference in terms of humanizing people and giving them the ability to stand on their own and not having to rely on others for their day-to-day activities,” he said.

Ghica questioned why parents whose children were born in the U.S. are allowed to stay and she isn’t.

“What is the difference? We all had the same dream.”

WINNER: Rosa Robles Loreto’s 9- and 11-year-old sons were born in Mexico but have lived in Arizona for years. They didn’t qualify for a reprieve under the DACA, but Obama is expanding it to lift age restrictions and make anyone eligible who arrived before January 1, 2010.

“It feels good my kids are in. They’re the reason I’m here fighting,” she said after watching Obama’s speech at the Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, where she has been taking sanctuary for more than 100 days.

But she was sad that, after a summer of living in a small room with bunk beds, a TV, books and little more, she will not be able to go home. She faces a deportation order after being stopped for a traffic infraction years ago.

She has been living in the U.S. illegally since the early 1990s and returned to Mexico to give birth to each of her sons because she couldn’t afford health care.

LOSER: Eduardo Vidal, 36, was deported to Mexico less than three weeks before Obama’s announcement, separated from his Salvadoran wife and five U.S.-born children after police in the Los Angeles suburb of Palmdale stopped him for a broken tail light and discovered he had three DUI convictions.

Vidal spent much of his 22 years in the United States cleaning offices in Las Vegas and Southern California. He has no idea what to do next.

“I don’t know my way around. I have no money,” Vidal said as he waited with hundreds of others for a free meal of ground beef, squash, rice and beans at Tijuana’s Padre Chava breakfast hall.

Many at the breakfast hall are fluent in English and products of American schools. They have parents, spouses and children living in the U.S., often legally.

Sonia Vidal wants her husband to rejoin her in California. She is in the U.S. legally but doesn’t have permission to live in Mexico.

“The easiest thing would be for him to come here,” she said.

An administrator saw shock and fear in Vidal’s eyes as he waited in line. She offered him a free bed.

WINNER: Jorge Romero-Morales and his wife, Clara, both 40, came to Oregon in 1996 and had two children – their ticket to remain in the U.S.

“We came to this country to work, not to ask for handouts,” he said.

Romero-Morales worked two shifts at restaurants and later joined a construction company. Clara was a community health worker and volunteered at her children’s school.

The couple bought a small home in Aloha, a Portland suburb. They take English classes.

Romero-Morales said he was always paid less than his American colleagues. He kept silent, he said, because he lacks a work permit and was afraid someone would call authorities.

“I feel happy that my parents might qualify,” said their youngest son, Naethan, 12, while wiping tears at their dining table. “They have worked so hard, and I don’t want to get separated from them.”

Associated Press writers contributing to this story were: Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama; Amy Taxin in Santa Ana, California; Astrid Galvan in Tucson, Arizona; and Gosia Wozniacka in Aloha, Oregon.

FILE - In this Feb. 10, 2011, file photo, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch speaks in St. Louis. Not much is normal about the Missouri grand jury responsible for deciding whether to charge a suburban St. Louis police officer for fatally shooting Michael Brown. Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, who is white, shot the black unarmed 18-year-old shortly after noon on Aug. 9 in the center of a street, after some sort of scuffle occurred between them.  McCulloch hasn't publicly suggested any particular charge against Wilson. (AP Photo/Tom Gannam, File)

FILE – In this Feb. 10, 2011, file photo, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch speaks in St. Louis. Not much is normal about the Missouri grand jury responsible for deciding whether to charge a suburban St. Louis police officer for fatally shooting Michael Brown. Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, who is white, shot the black unarmed 18-year-old shortly after noon on Aug. 9 in the center of a street, after some sort of scuffle occurred between them. McCulloch hasn’t publicly suggested any particular charge against Wilson. (AP Photo/Tom Gannam, File)

(Jefferson City) (AP) – Not much is normal about the Missouri grand jury responsible for deciding whether to charge a suburban St. Louis police officer for fatally shooting Michael Brown.

Not the length of deliberations, not the manner in which it has heard evidence, not the way in which its work could be made public. Then again, the case itself is unusual.

Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, who is white, shot the black unarmed 18-year-old shortly after noon on Aug. 9 in the center of a street, after some sort of scuffle occurred between them. As Brown’s body lay there for hours, an angry crowd gathered. Riots and looting occurred the next night. In the following days, police responded with tear gas and smoke canisters as some protesters threw rocks and Molotov cocktails.

The Associated Press spoke with a veteran prosecutor and criminal defense attorney in Missouri about the typical grand jury process – and the ways the Brown case is far from the norm.

EXTRA TIME

At the time of Brown’s shooting, a St. Louis County grand jury already had been hearing cases and was scheduled to disband Sept. 10. In one of the first indications that Brown’s case would be different, a judge extended the jurors’ service until January, the maximum amount of time allowed.

Whereas a typical case might be presented to a grand jury in a single day, this case has stretched over three months.

NO SPECIFIC CHARGE

It’s fairly common in Missouri for a prosecutor to first file a complaint charging an individual with a crime, then go later to a grand jury asking it to indict the person for that offense. In this case, St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch hasn’t publicly suggested any particular charge against Wilson.

NUMEROUS WITNESSES

Often, a grand jury hears testimony from just one or a few people, such as police investigators who summarize physical evidence and statements they’ve gathered from witnesses. In this case, McCulloch has said “all witnesses with any relevant evidence” were being summoned to testify.

TYPES OF WITNESSES

Typically, a prosecutor presents only witnesses who would aid his quest for an indictment. The target of the inquiry does not typically testify. But Wilson testified to the grand jury considering charges against him. Grand jurors also heard from a forensic expert hired by Brown’s family – unusual because such testimony typically comes only from government sources.

RECORD KEEPING

There often is no record of exactly what’s said in Missouri grand juries. That’s because only the jurors, witness and prosecutor are in the room. In this case, however, McCulloch’s office has said the proceedings are being recorded and transcribed.

SECRETS MADE PUBLIC

What’s said in a grand jury typically remains secret under Missouri law, though when an indictment is issued, the evidence can be aired at a trial. If Wilson is not indicted, McCulloch says he will ask a judge for permission to publicly release the grand jury evidence as soon as possible.

FOR BETTER OR WORSE

Opinion is divided about whether the unusual aspects of this grand jury will inspire trust or skepticism.

Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd, a past president of the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, believes the differences are beneficial.

“At the end of the day, whether Officer Wilson is indicted or not, it’s important that the public have confidence that the system worked as it should,” Zahnd said. “For that reason, the grand jury going above and beyond the norm is very, very appropriate.”

Susan McGraugh, supervisor of the Criminal Defense Clinic at the Saint Louis University School of Law, said all the exceptions to the norm appear to be heightening tensions among residents, particularly among racial minorities who believe they’re treated differently by police.

The police officer is “getting a whole special grand jury process,” McGraugh said. “I think it really adds to the consternation – you know, the frustration – that people are feeling.”

FILE - In this Saturday, Sept. 10, 2011, file photo, U.S. Army Pfc. Garrick Carlton, center, of Sacramento, Calif., hikes past burning rubbish to man a hilltop observation post along with fellow Pfc. Michael Tompkins, of Wadsworth, Ohio, left, and Pfc. Austin D'Amica, of San Diego, at Combat Outpost Monti in Kunar province, Afghanistan. U.S. officials say President Barack Obama has quietly approved guidelines in recent weeks to allow the Pentagon to target Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, broadening previous plans that had limited the military to counterterrorism missions against al-Qaida after 2014. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

FILE – In this Saturday, Sept. 10, 2011, file photo, U.S. Army Pfc. Garrick Carlton, center, of Sacramento, Calif., hikes past burning rubbish to man a hilltop observation post along with fellow Pfc. Michael Tompkins, of Wadsworth, Ohio, left, and Pfc. Austin D’Amica, of San Diego, at Combat Outpost Monti in Kunar province, Afghanistan. U.S. officials say President Barack Obama has quietly approved guidelines in recent weeks to allow the Pentagon to target Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, broadening previous plans that had limited the military to counterterrorism missions against al-Qaida after 2014. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

(Washington) (AP) – President Barack Obama has quietly approved guidelines in recent weeks to allow the Pentagon to target Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, broadening previous plans that had limited the military to counterterrorism missions against al-Qaida after this year, U.S. officials said late Friday.

The president’s decisions also allow the military to conduct air support for Afghan operations when needed. Obama issued the guidelines in recent weeks, as the American combat mission in Afghanistan draws to a close, thousands of troops return home, and the military prepares for narrower counterterrorism and training mission for the next two years.

Obama’s moves expand on what had been previously planned for next year. One U.S. official said the military could only go after the Taliban if it posed a threat to American forces or provided direct support to al-Qaida, while the latter could be targeted more indiscriminately.

“To the extent that Taliban members directly threaten the United States and coalition forces in Afghanistan or provide direct support to al-Qaida, however, we will take appropriate measures to keep Americans safe,” the official said.

The Taliban’s presence in Afghanistan far exceeds that of al-Qaida, adding significance to Obama’s authorization. The president’s decision came in response to requests from military commanders who wanted troops to be allowed to continue to battle the Taliban, the U.S. officials said.

The New York Times first reported the new guidelines. Officials confirmed details to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss Obama’s decisions by name.

The decision to expand the military’s authority does not impact the overall number of U.S. troops that will remain in Afghanistan. Earlier this year. Obama ordered the American force presence to be cut to 9,800 by the end of this year, a figure expected to be cut in half by the end of 2015.

The president wants all U.S. troops to be out of Afghanistan a year later, as his presidency draws to a close.

Some of the Obama administration’s planning for the post-2014 mission was slowed by a political stalemate in Afghanistan earlier this year. It took months for the winner of the country’s presidential election to be certified, delaying the signing of a bilateral security agreement that was necessary in order to keep U.S. forces in the country after December.

In Kabul, officials with the Afghan Defense Ministry declined to comment Saturday, while officials with the presidency could not be reached.

However, Afghan military analyst Jawed Kohistani said the move likely would be welcomed as President Ashraf Ghani’s new administration upon taking office immediately signed a deal with the U.S. to allow a residual force of 12,000 foreign troops in the country.

“We have heard from many military officers who are involved in direct fighting with the Taliban and other insurgents that still there is a need for more cooperation, there is need for an ongoing U.S. combat mission and there is need for U.S. air support for the Afghan security forces to help them in their fight against the insurgents,” Kohistani said.

This image provided by the U.S. Navy shows Navy Vice Adm. Tim Giardina in a Nov. 11, 2011, photo. Giardina, fired last year as No. 2 commander of U.S. nuclear forces may have made his own counterfeit $500 poker chips with paint and stickers to feed a gambling habit that eventually saw him banned from an entire network of casinos, according to a criminal investigative report obtained by The Associated Press.   (AP Photo/U.S. Navy)

This image provided by the U.S. Navy shows Navy Vice Adm. Tim Giardina in a Nov. 11, 2011, photo. Giardina, fired last year as No. 2 commander of U.S. nuclear forces may have made his own counterfeit $500 poker chips with paint and stickers to feed a gambling habit that eventually saw him banned from an entire network of casinos, according to a criminal investigative report obtained by The Associated Press. (AP Photo/U.S. Navy)

(Washington) (AP) – The admiral fired last year as No. 2 commander of U.S. nuclear forces may have made his own counterfeit $500 poker chips with paint and stickers to feed a gambling habit that eventually saw him banned from an entire network of casinos, according to a criminal investigative report obtained by The Associated Press.

Although Rear Adm. Timothy M. Giardina’s removal as deputy head of U.S. Strategic Command was announced last year, evidence of his possible role in manufacturing the counterfeit chips has not previously been revealed. Investigators said they found his DNA on the underside of an adhesive sticker used to alter genuine $1 poker chips to make them look like $500 chips.

Nor had the Navy disclosed how extensively he gambled.

The case is among numerous embarrassing setbacks for the nuclear force. Disciplinary problems, security flaws, weak morale and leadership lapses documented by The Associated Press over the past two years prompted Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Nov. 14 to announce top-to-bottom changes in how the nuclear force is managed that will cost up to $10 billion.

The records obtained by the AP under the Freedom of Information Act show Giardina was a habitual poker player, spending a total of 1,096 hours – or an average of 15 hours per week – at the tables at the Horseshoe casino in Council Bluffs, Iowa, in the 18 months before being caught using three phony chips in June 2013.

He was such a familiar figure at the casino, across the Missouri River from his office near Omaha, Nebraska, that some there knew him as “Navy Tim.” But they may not have known he was a three-star admiral and second-in-charge at Strategic Command, the military’s nuclear war-fighting headquarters. Strategic Command also plays key roles in missile defense, cyberdefense, space operations and other functions.

A career submarine officer, Giardina is a 1979 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy.

Such was Giardina’s affection for poker that even after he was caught he “continued to come in and gamble on a regular basis” at Harrah’s casino, also located in Council Bluffs, according to an account by an Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation agent that was turned over to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service after NCIS took over the case in August 2013.

On July 18 Giardina was banned from both the Horseshoe and Harrah’s for 90 days, but he returned at least twice to play poker at the Horseshoe before the ban expired. The second time, in October, he was given a lifetime ban from all gambling establishments run by the Horseshoe’s owner, Caesar’s Entertainment Corp.

The report included Giardina’s remarks to a casino security agent about the polygraphs given at Strategic Command to officers holding security clearances.

“(What) they’re really trying to do is find out if you got, you know, if you’re having sex with animals or something really crazy or you’ve got this wild life that you could be blackmailed into giving military secrets out,” he was quoted as saying.

At Strategic Command, Giardina was privy to highly sensitive national security secrets. Legal gambling by Strategic Command officers with security clearances is not prohibited or limited by policy, although if they incur excessive debt they are required to report it, according to the command’s chief spokeswoman, Navy Capt. Pamela Kunze.

Six days after he received the lifetime Caesar’s ban, Giardina was kicked out of the Hollywood Casino at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kansas, according to the NCIS records that gave no reason for that expulsion. That casino is not a Caesar’s property.

The state investigator’s report also said a review of surveillance footage revealed “odd behaviors” by Giardina at the Horseshoe.

“Giardina was observed taking cigarette butts out of public ash trays and smoking them,” it said.

Giardina, who remains on the Navy payroll as a staff officer in Washington, was never charged with counterfeiting. Instead he was found guilty in May 2014 of two counts of conduct unbecoming an officer – lying to an investigator and passing fake gambling chips. He was given a written reprimand and ordered to forfeit $4,000 in pay.

The Navy chose not to pursue a court martial because they were uncertain they could get a conviction with the evidence they had, officials said.

In early September 2013 Giardina was quietly suspended from his post at Strategic Command, which he had assumed in December 2011. One month later he was fired and reduced in rank from three-star to two-star admiral.

Giardina did not respond to an AP email request Friday for comment on the investigation report. In May, after the Navy announced his punishment, Giardina told the AP he had no comment.

NCIS denied AP’s original request for the investigation records but released them this month after granting an AP appeal.

Thanksgiving

Each fall, as our homes fill with the sights, smells and sounds of the impending holiday season, we also find ourselves counting our blessings.

Thanksgiving brings friends and family together again to join in a feast. While our blessings are abundantly clear during these events, it also reminds us to be thankful daily.

Although many of our day-to-day activities can be the source of frustration, we should realize that many are in fact blessings in disguise and should be viewed as such. Consider the following:

The farmer on his tractor that inches his way along the twisty and narrow two-lane highway may have caused you to be late for work, but his hard work and the years of back breaking labor on that old rusty tractor has allowed for the feast on your table to be as plentiful this year as it was last.

After a hectic day of work, you run to the corner store, but they are out of nearly all of the items on your list. Be thankful for the small town corner store, the jobs it provides and the history it holds. Many have been forced to close their doors the past few years turning the “quick trip to the store” into a 30 minute drive to the nearest gas station/convenience store, hoping they have the items you need.

The frustration of another busier than average day at work, causing you to work later than anticipated. Be thankful and count your blessings. In the past few years, many people have lost their jobs, and too many of them are still looking for work. There are those who would call you blessed to have the very job that is sometimes so frustrating.

For those of us who are older, it is easy to caution our children to have patience with their own young ones. The loud noises, doors slamming, cries in the middle of the night and what seems like an endless list of needs and wants, from our children, no matter their age, are blessings and moments to cherish.

Our families are truly the most divine blessing any of us could have. I hope you take the time this holiday season to count your blessings and spend time making more memories. Next year, those memories will be additional blessings for which to be thankful.

As always, I appreciate it when groups from around Missouri and from our community back home come to visit me at the Capitol, however during interim I may be in district. If you would like to arrange a time to come and visit me in Jefferson City, or if you ever have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact my Capitol office at (573) 751-1882.