Overnight Defense: Seventh US service member dies from COVID-19 | Trump reportedly called American war dead in French cemetery 'losers' | Trump expected to name new ambassador to Afghanistan

Overnight Defense: Seventh US service member dies from COVID-19 | Trump reportedly called American war dead in French cemetery 'losers' | Trump expected to name new ambassador to Afghanistan
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Happy Thursday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Ellen Mitchell, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

THE TOPLINE: A seventh U.S. service member has been killed by the coronavirus, according to the latest Pentagon data.

The death was first noted in Wednesday’s update of the chart the Pentagon keeps on its website of numbers of COVID-19 cases connected to the department.

On Thursday, the Army Reserve identified the service member as Sgt. 1st Class Clifford R. Gooding, 58, of Gulfport, Fla.

More details: Gooding died Friday after first testing positive for the virus June 23, Army Reserve spokesman Lt. Col. Simon Flake said in a statement.

After he tested positive, Gooding was admitted to a hospital in St. Petersburg, Fla. As his conditioned worsened, Gooding was transferred to the Largo Medical Center in Largo, Fla., where he stayed until he died, Flake said.

Gooding was in the Army for 27 years, 24 of which were in the Army Reserve, according to Flake. His last assignment was as the maintenance supervisor for the 301st Field Hospital in St. Petersburg, Fla.

A growing number: Gooding is the fourth member of the Army Reserve to die from COVID-19.

His death follows the Aug. 20 death of a 36-year-old staff sergeant in the California National Guard.

The military’s first COVID-19 death in March also came from the National Guard: a 57-year-old New Jersey Guardsman.

So far, one of the military’s coronavirus deaths has come from someone on active duty. Navy Chief Petty Officer Charles Robert Thacker Jr., a 41-year-old aviation ordinanceman, died in April after being one of more than 1,000 sailors from the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier who contracted the virus.

Total cases so far: In total, the Pentagon has reported 55,705 cases of COVID-19 connected to the department, according to Wednesday’s figures.

That includes 38,424 cases among service members, 23,011 of whom have recovered and 575 of whom have been hospitalized over the course of the pandemic.

There have also been 8,509 cases among civilians, 5,133 cases among dependents and 3,639 cases among contractors. There have been 50 civilian deaths, seven dependent deaths and 20 contractor deaths, according to Wednesday’s chart.

TRUMP REPORTEDLY CALLED AMERICAN WAR DEAD IN FRENCH CEMETERY 'LOSERS' : Before a planned visit to honor the American dead at a French cemetery just outside Paris in 2018, President TrumpDonald TrumpCIA chief threatened to resign over push to install Trump loyalist as deputy: report Azar in departure letter says Capitol riot threatens to 'tarnish' administration's accomplishments Justice Dept. argues Trump should get immunity from rape accuser's lawsuit MORE called the U.S. service members who were buried there during World War I “losers," sources told The Atlantic.

At the time, Trump was expected to arrive at Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, but he canceled last minute, stating that due to the rain, the helicopter could not fly to the location noting that the Secret Service could not drive him. 

However, according to four sources with knowledge of the incident, Trump was reluctant to travel to the cemetery because he was concerned that the rain would dishevel his hair, the Atlantic reported. 

Other reasons: He also did not think it was important to honor the dead there, according to the sources. 

“Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers,” Trump reportedly told aides before canceling the trip to Belleau, France.

In another conversation Trump reportedly said that the 1,800 marines who lost their lives in the battle of Belleau Wood were “suckers” for getting killed. The president reportedly asked aides about historic details about WWI, including “Who were the good guys in this war?”

Background on the battle: Belleau Wood was a significant battle for the Allies during the First World War. There, they held off Germany advancing into France. The American Marine Corps fought there to beat back German forces. 

Prior controversial comments: Trump has previously made controversial comments about veterans. In 2015, before his presidential tenure, Trump said that Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainThe best way to handle veterans, active-duty military that participated in Capitol riot Cindy McCain on possible GOP censure: 'I think I'm going to make T-shirts' Arizona state GOP moves to censure Cindy McCain, Jeff Flake MORE (R-Ariz.), a Vietnam veteran who was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, wasn’t a war hero “because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

The White House's response: White House spokesperson Alyssa Farah told The Hill the report is false. 

“President Trump holds the military in the highest regard,” Farah added. “He’s demonstrated his commitment to them at every turn: delivering on his promise to give our troops a much needed pay raise, increasing military spending, signing critical veterans reforms, and supporting military spouses. This has no basis in fact.”

TRUMP EXPECTED TO NAME NEW AMBASSADOR TO AFGHANISTAN: Trump is expected to name the new ambassador to Afghanistan as soon as this month.

Trump is expected to nominate William Ruger, a foreign-policy expert and proponent of the president's agenda to withdraw a substantial portion of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, sources familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal.

A person familiar with the decision said the State Department alerted the Afghan government earlier this week about the forthcoming decision.

Ruger has reportedly undergone vetting for the position for the past three months, another person familiar with the matter said.

Administrative officials see Ruger's selection as the president's signal of intent to reduce the U.S. military presence in the region drastically.

Who was in the role prior: In January, Ambassador John Bass announced it was time for him to leave Afghanistan after serving in the role since December 2017.

Ambassador Ross Wilson, who served in Azerbaijan and Turkey under former Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush, stepped in for Bass while a permanent holder of the position was deliberated throughout the year.


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