- Associated Press - Friday, November 21, 2014
Combat aviation unit deactivated at Fort Campbell

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - A 2,400-soldier combat aviation unit that recently returned from a deployment to Afghanistan will be deactivated at Fort Campbell and its members sent elsewhere, the Army announced Thursday, as overseas wars wind down and the military continues to reorganize and downsize.

Army spokesman Matthew Bourke said the 159th Combat Aviation Brigade is the only deactivation being announced Thursday.

Army spokesman Lt. Col Donald Peters told The Associated Press the decision stemmed from “the need to organize aviation assets to best support operational requirements under significant fiscal constraints.”

The unit’s shutdown will leave the military post on the Kentucky-Tennessee state line with a total population of 26,500 soldiers by the end of Fiscal Year 2015 next October.

Most of the soldiers in the brigade will be reassigned to new units, some within the 101st Airborne Division.

Peters said the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, also stationed at Fort Campbell, will continue to support operational and training requirements of the 101st Airborne Division and its subordinate units.


Ky. colleges graduate more as financial aid dips

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - More students have graduated from Kentucky’s public colleges and universities, but not as many as there could have been.

A new report from the Council on Postsecondary Education shows state colleges and universities conferred more than 62,400 degrees and certificates in the 2012-13 school year, a 13 percent increase from four years ago. But more than 107,500 students who qualified for financial aid that year were denied because the state did not have enough money to give it to them - a 57 percent increase from four years ago.

The annual accountability report comes as state lawmakers are debating the future of education funding in a state that is grappling with budget shortfalls. The state ended the 2013-14 fiscal year with a $90 million shortfall, and state officials have predicted a $135 million shortfall next year if tax collections do not improve.

Earlier this year, lawmakers approved a budget that diverted about $80 million from college financial aid programs to other government purposes.

“We’re we are seeing significant improvements in the number of students that are completing, which is very good news,” council President Robert King said. “But for many students who do not complete, money becomes the problem.”

The report showed fewer Kentucky high school graduates are going to college in state, with 55.2 percent of graduates enrolling in any Kentucky college, down from 56.7 percent in 2011. The state goal for 2014 was 72 percent. And while more students are graduating overall, fewer low-income students are graduating with associate’s degrees. And fewer underprepared students, as defined by ACT scores coming out of high school, are graduating with bachelor’s degrees.


Ex-coal exec pleads not guilty in W.Va. mine blast

BECKLEY, W.Va. (AP) - Ex-coal company chief executive Don Blankenship pleaded not guilty Thursday to conspiracy and other charges in the deadliest U.S. mine accident in four decades.

It was the first appearance in federal court for the former Massey Energy CEO since he was indicted last week. He is accused of ignoring safety and health regulations to make more money at the Upper Big Branch mine and lying to investigators about his company’s safety practices. In April 2010, an explosion at the mine in Montcoal killed 29 men, and the indictment said Blankenship could have prevented most of the violations the mine was committing.

Blankenship, 64, could face up to 31 years in prison if convicted. He was released on a $5 million bond and his travel was restricted to Washington, D.C., and parts of West Virginia and Kentucky. He was ordered not to speak with family members of the victims.

Blankenship, wearing a navy blue pinstriped suit and red tie, looked at ease in the courtroom. He gave the media a quick, cordial greeting before the hearing and put his right arm behind his chair, leaned back and laughed a couple of times with his attorney. Otherwise, the executive once dubbed by Rolling Stone magazine as “The Dark Lord of Coal Country,” was calm and his answers to the judge were short.

Some relatives of the men killed in the blast attended the hearing, and at least one family cried and hugged one another when it was over.

Bobby Sanger, whose brother-in-law, Benny Willingham, died at Upper Big Branch, was one of several victims who spoke to reporters despite a judge’s gag order that they, along with lawyers and investigators, not to talk to the media.


Kentucky’s jobless rate falls to 6.2 percent

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky officials say the state’s unemployment rate dropped again in October to its lowest rate in more than six years.

The Kentucky Office of Employment and Training said Thursday that last month’s seasonally adjusted jobless rate fell to 6.2 percent, down from 6.7 percent in September. The statewide jobless rate was 8.2 percent in October 2013.

Officials say last month’s decline was the biggest one-month drop in Kentucky’s jobless rate since 1976. It surpasses last month’s record-breaking drop of 0.4 percent. The state’s 0.9 percent decline in the jobless rate since August is the largest reduction measured in a two-month period.

Officials say Kentucky’s professional and business services sector added 6,100 jobs in October 2014 from a month earlier. The educational and health services sector gained 2,100 jobs during that same period.

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