Tom Bowman

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.

In his current role, Bowman has traveled to Iraq and Afghanistan often for month-long visits and embedded with U.S. Marines and soldiers.

Before coming to NPR in April 2006, Bowman spent nine years as a Pentagon reporter at The Baltimore Sun. Altogether he was at The Sun for nearly two decades, covering the Maryland Statehouse, the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Naval Academy, and the National Security Agency (NSA). His coverage of racial and gender discrimination at NSA led to a Pentagon investigation in 1994.

Initially Bowman imagined his career path would take him into academia as a history, government, or journalism professor. During college Bowman worked as a stringer at The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, Mass. He also worked for the Daily Transcript in Dedham, Mass., and then as a reporter at States News Service, writing for the Miami Herald and the Anniston (Ala.) Star.

Bowman is a co-winner of a 2006 National Headliners' Award for stories on the lack of advanced tourniquets for U.S. troops in Iraq. In 2010, he received an Edward R. Murrow Award for his coverage of a Taliban roadside bomb attack on an Army unit.

Bowman earned a Bachelor of Arts in history from St. Michael's College in Winooski, Vermont, and a master's degree in American Studies from Boston College.

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The Two-Way
4:17 pm
Fri February 8, 2013

Review Of Deadly Attack On Base In Afghanistan Finds Troops Let Guard Down

A Marine Corps review of the deadly Taliban attack on an allied base in Afghanistan last September found that some guard towers were unattended, and the insurgents "got lucky" by cutting through the fence at a remote area of the base in Helmand Province, Capitol Hill sources tell NPR.

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The Two-Way
2:09 pm
Mon February 4, 2013

Pentagon Will Brief Congress On Deadly Sept. 14 Camp Bastion Attack

More than four months after a deadly attack at a sprawling allied base in Afghanistan that killed two U.S. Marines, there are lingering questions about how it happened.

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Economy
4:02 pm
Fri February 1, 2013

Pentagon Remains Big Target In Likely Budget Cuts

The winding down of the war in Afghanistan and efforts to slice the budget deficit will likely mean more spending cuts for the Pentagon.
AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Fri February 1, 2013 5:17 pm

The economy shrunk in the fourth quarter — for the first time in three years — and one of the critical reasons was a drop in defense spending. Apparently, contractors took precautionary steps and held onto money in case the federal government failed to avert the fiscal and tax crisis known as the fiscal cliff.

But there's now a new deadline — automatic budget cuts, known as sequestration, which may hit at the beginning of March.

The Effect On Contractors

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World
2:28 pm
Wed January 23, 2013

U.S. Military Seeks Its Role In Troubled North Africa

Gen. Carter Ham, who heads the U.S. Africa Command, meets with Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika last September. Amid upheaval in the region, AFRICOM is still attempting to define its mission.
Farouk Batiche Getty Images

Originally published on Wed January 23, 2013 6:53 pm

The recent crises in northern Africa, from Libya to Mali to Algeria, have raised a host of questions about the role of the American military command responsible for the entire continent.

Founded in 2007, the United States Africa Command, or AFRICOM, was created to train African militaries so U.S. troops would not be called upon in times of crisis.

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Africa
2:41 am
Tue December 25, 2012

U.S. Military Builds Up Its Presence In Africa

Gen. Carter Ham is head of the U.S. African command. An Army brigade from Fort Riley, Kan., will begin helping train African militaries beat back a growing terrorist threat posed by al-Qaida.
AP

Originally published on Wed December 26, 2012 5:22 am

An Army brigade from Fort Riley, Kan., some 4,000, soldiers, will begin helping to train African militaries. The idea is to help African troops beat back a growing terrorist threat posed by al-Qaida.

The American troops will head over in small teams over the course of the next year. The Dagger Brigade returned to Kansas last year from a deployment to Iraq, where it trained and advised that country's security forces.

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National Security
2:27 pm
Mon December 24, 2012

Hagel Would Be First Former Enlisted Soldier To Run Pentagon

Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., and then-presidential candidate Barack Obama in Amman, Jordan, in 2008.
Paul J. Richards AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Sun December 30, 2012 9:20 am

Former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska is said to be on President Obama's short list to be the next defense secretary. But even the possibility of his nomination has stirred up opposition — particularly from members of his own political party.

If Hagel can survive a political ambush in Washington, he would be the first Pentagon chief who saw combat as an enlisted soldier.

The blunt-spoken Hagel favors deeper cuts in military spending and is wary of entangling America in long overseas missions.

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The Two-Way
12:41 pm
Fri December 14, 2012

U.S. Officials: Syria Has Prepared Several Dozen Chemical Bombs

President Obama has warned Syrian President Bashar Assad, shown here in 2009, against using chemical weapons.
Louai Beshara AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Fri December 14, 2012 1:06 pm

U.S. and allied officials say the forces of embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad have prepared several dozen bombs and shells loaded with the lethal chemical sarin.

The number is a larger estimate than has previously been reported. The Syrians loaded the weapons with the chemical agents in the past several weeks, the officials say.

Those preparations raise fears that the fighting against rebel forces could enter a new and more troubling phase, according to the officials, who requested anonymity.

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National Security
3:43 am
Sat December 1, 2012

Farewell: USS Enterprise Starred In History And Film

Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael Joseph carries his 1-year-old daughter, Maleah, to his re-enlistment ceremony aboard the USS Enterprise at the Norfolk Naval Station on March 8. The ship began its final deployment on March 11.
Steve Helber AP

Originally published on Sun December 2, 2012 11:17 am

Sailors, veterans and their families are saying goodbye in Norfolk, Va., on Saturday to the USS Enterprise, which was the largest ship in the world and the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier when it was commissioned in 1961.

In its illustrious history, the Enterprise served at the center of international events for a half-century — from the Cuban missile crisis to Vietnam to the Iraq War.

And it had a distinguished Hollywood career as well, playing a leading role in the 1986 film Top Gun, which starred Tom Cruise as a young naval aviator.

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The Two-Way
1:31 am
Fri November 2, 2012

U.S. Offers New Details Of Deadly Libya Attack

A Libyan military guard stands in front of one of the U.S. Consulate's burned out buildings on Sept. 14. The U.S. is offering new details of the attack on the consulate that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
Mohammad Hannon AP

Originally published on Fri November 2, 2012 9:43 am

Once a mob began attacking the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on the night of Sept. 11, officials in Washington, D.C., watched with alarm. Now, new details are emerging about their response to the deadly attack.

President Obama and his entire national security team monitored what was going on half a world away. Army Gen. Carter Ham, who was the regional commander for Africa, happened to be in Washington that day.

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Afghanistan
3:04 am
Wed October 24, 2012

U.S. Eager To Step Aside; Are Afghan Forces Ready?

Afghan soldiers stand at attention during a ceremony transferring authority from NATO-led troops to Afghan security forces in Afghanistan's Kunar province. The transfer of responsibility for security from NATO-led ISAF forces to Afghan troops is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2014.
Rahmat Gul AP

Originally published on Wed October 24, 2012 5:30 am

America's exit strategy in Afghanistan is to have Afghan forces take the lead in fighting for their country. But too often these days, the job still falls to U.S. troops.

A senior officer in Afghanistan tells NPR that Americans continue to coddle Afghan forces and that this must stop. Tough love is in, the officer says. He says the Afghan forces are far more capable than the U.S. estimates and have simply grown accustomed to the U.S. doing everything for them.

That pretty much sums up the situation in southern Afghanistan earlier this year.

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It's All Politics
1:40 pm
Tue October 23, 2012

Horses, Bayonets And The Modern Military

U.S. Army Special Forces ride horseback as they work with members of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan in 2001.
AP

Originally published on Tue October 23, 2012 1:58 pm

President Obama said during Monday night's debate that the U.S. Army has fewer horses and bayonets than in the past.

That's true. Although Army Special Forces were on horseback in Afghanistan when they helped defeat the Taliban in 2001, the Army's horses are now used only for ceremonial occasions.

As for bayonets? The last bayonet charge was during the Korean War in 1951.

The bayonet has somewhat gone the way of the horse cavalry, as far as the Army is concerned (although Marines still use bayonets in training).

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The Two-Way
10:10 am
Tue October 16, 2012

Second Female Marine Fails Grueling Infantry Officer Course

Female Marines unload their rifles after a patrol with Afghan soldiers in Helmand province in June. The Marine Corps leadership has started an experiment to determine whether female Marine lieutenants have what it takes to become infantry officers and lead on the battlefield.
Adek Berry AFP/Getty Images

The second of two female Marines who tried to make it through the grueling Infantry Officer Course has failed due to medical reasons. The female volunteers are part of a study by the Marines to see if women can become ground combat leaders.

The Marines have not released the names of either woman, citing privacy concerns.

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The Two-Way
12:52 pm
Tue October 9, 2012

Marine General Expected To Be Next Commander In Afghanistan

Gen. Joseph Dunford.
Marines.mil

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is expected to announce during a meeting of NATO defense leaders in Brussels Wednesday that Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford will be nominated to succeed Gen. John Allen as the top commander in Afghanistan, according to a defense official familiar with the decision.

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Solve This
4:06 am
Sun October 7, 2012

Afghanistan Deadline Awaits Next U.S. President

Afghan children run to school on Sept. 24. Whoever takes over as the next U.S. president will have to determine how many troops will remain after the December 2014 deadline to help with long-term security.
Jeff Pachoud AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Tue October 9, 2012 11:24 am

How does a president bring the war in Afghanistan to an end? There are 68,000 American troops serving in the country as the war enters its 12th year.

The war hasn't been a major issue in the presidential campaign, and polls show American voters are tiring of the war. But the next commander in chief will find the Afghan war among the most difficult of many foreign policy challenges.

Both President Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney appear to agree on a date: the last day of December 2014. That's when the Afghan security forces are scheduled to takeover.

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National Security
1:49 am
Thu October 4, 2012

First Female Marines Take Combat Leadership Test

Female Marines unload their rifles after a patrol with Afghan soldiers in Helmand province in June. The Marine Corps leadership has started an experiment to determine whether female Marine lieutenants have what it takes to become infantry officers and lead on the battlefield.
Adek Berry AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Thu October 4, 2012 8:19 am

Women in the U.S. military have been flying warplanes for years, and recently began serving in artillery and tank units. But they're still barred from direct ground combat.

Now, for the first time in the course's 35-year history, the Marine Corps is putting the first women through its grueling Infantry Officer Course: 86 days crawling through obstacle courses, lugging heavy machine guns, navigating the woods at night.

Col. Todd Desgrosseilliers, the top trainer at Marine Base Quantico in Virginia, says there's a good reason the course is so tough that 1 in 5 Marines fail.

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History
1:45 am
Mon September 17, 2012

Antietam: A Savage Day In American History

Between two farm fields in Sharpsburg, Md., there was a sunken road, which Confederates used as a rifle pit until they were overrun by federal troops. The road has since been known as "Bloody Lane."
Library of Congress

Originally published on Tue September 18, 2012 7:51 am

On this morning 150 years ago, Union and Confederate troops clashed at the crossroads town of Sharpsburg, Md. The Battle of Antietam remains the bloodiest single day in American history.

The battle left 23,000 men killed or wounded in the fields, woods and dirt roads, and it changed the course of the Civil War.

It is called simply the Cornfield, and it was here, in the first light of dawn that Union troops — more than 1,000 — crept toward the Confederate lines. The stalks were at head level and shielded their movements.

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Afghanistan
3:31 pm
Thu August 23, 2012

U.S. Faces Growing 'Insider Attacks' In Afghanistan

Spc. Ben Purvis (center) helps train Afghan troops on how to use mortars in the eastern province of Kunar in June. The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, points to several factors in the rise of "insider attacks" on American forces. He says relations between U.S. and Afghan troops are good overall.
Lucas Jackson Reuters/Landov

Originally published on Thu August 23, 2012 3:55 pm

Gunmen wearing Afghan police and army uniforms have killed 40 U.S. and NATO troops so far this year, and the top American commander in Afghanistan says there is no single reason — and no simple solution.

Taliban infiltrators, disputes between NATO and Afghan security forces, and even the timing of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, are all factors, according to Gen. John Allen.

"We think the reasons for these attacks are complex," says Allen, who spoke by video link from Kabul on Thursday. Ten of the American deaths have come in just the past two weeks.

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National Security
1:19 am
Fri August 10, 2012

Air Force Chief Leaves Legacy In The Sky: Drones

Gen. Norton Schwartz (shown here in October 2010) is stepping down as the top U.S. Air Force officer.
Tim Sloan AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Fri August 10, 2012 4:28 am

The top officer in the U.S. Air Force, Gen. Norton Schwartz, is stepping down Friday after four years on the job.

Schwartz got the job after his predecessor was fired for — among other things — clashing with his Pentagon bosses over how many fighter jets the military needs.

Schwartz is most likely to be remembered for pushing another kind of aircraft: drones.

At this moment, dozens of these unmanned aircraft are flying high above Afghanistan.

Just don't call them drones when speaking with Schwartz.

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The Two-Way
2:20 pm
Thu July 19, 2012

As Fighting In Syria Intensifies, U.S. Worries About Chemical Weapons

Syrian President Bashar Assad waves at supporters during a rare public appearance in Damascus on Jan. 11.
AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Thu July 19, 2012 2:49 pm

"Deathly afraid."

That's what one U.S. official says about the prospect that Syria's vast stockpile of chemical weapons might be used against rebel forces. From a U.S. national security standpoint, an even worse outcome would be for those weapons to fall into the hands of terrorists.

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Those Who Serve
1:29 am
Wed July 4, 2012

Grandfathers' Stories Inspire Military Service

Capt. Jared Larpenteur plans a combat mission at the 82nd Airborne's Delta Company command center in Ghazni province, Afghanistan, earlier this year.
Amy Walters NPR

Originally published on Wed July 4, 2012 8:04 am

A very small percentage of Americans are now serving in the military — fewer than 1 percent. Some are looking for direction. Others are inspired by a sense of patriotism or by a family member who served in an earlier war. On this Independence Day, we continue with an occasional series, Those Who Serve, a look at the men and women wearing their country's uniform during a time of war.

Capt. Jared Larpenteur is from Cajun Country in Louisiana. His family never expected he'd make the military his career.

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The Two-Way
11:30 am
Wed May 30, 2012

No. 2 U.S. Commander In Afghanistan Would Like 68,000 Troops Into Next Year

Marines with Echo Company of the Second Battalion, Ninth Marines out of Camp Lejeune, guide their M-ATV, a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle in to the district government compound in Marjah, Afghanistan.
David Gilkey NPR

(NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman has been embedded with U.S. troops in Afghanistan this month. On Morning Edition, he reported from the eastern province of Ghazni about what's being called "the last major combat offensive of the Afghan War." Now, he tells us about his interview with the No. 2 U.S. officer in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti.)

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Afghanistan
1:33 am
Wed May 30, 2012

For U.S. Troops, One More Big Push In Afghanistan

Bagi Kheyl, in the eastern province of Ghazni, is one of the villages where the 82nd Airborne has been operating as part of a broader effort to drive away the Taliban.
Amy Walters NPR

Originally published on Thu May 31, 2012 3:48 pm

Several thousand soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division are taking part in what is being called the last major combat offensive of the Afghan War.

Their task is to clear Ghazni province in eastern Afghanistan, a Taliban stronghold and a key prize because it straddles the major roads to Kabul and the insurgent supply routes into Pakistan.

But the American troops are challenged by a stubborn enemy and a short time to finish the job.

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Afghanistan
1:38 pm
Tue May 22, 2012

Former Taliban Stronghold Faces The Post-U.S. Future

Afghan local police officers wait outside a classroom at a training facility in Marjah. U.S. Marines are training local security forces how to maintain calm in the region.
David Gilkey NPR

Originally published on Thu May 24, 2012 9:15 am

If there was a place in Afghanistan synonymous with the Taliban, it was the district of Marjah in Afghanistan's southern province of Helmand.

Two years ago, thousands of U.S. Marines and British and Afghan forces descended on this checkerboard of villages, canals and fields. They pushed out the insurgents — but at a heavy cost.

Now, with U.S. combat forces on track to depart in the coming months, many are asking whether Marjah's relative peace will last after the Marines are gone.

'We Have Good Security Here'

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All Tech Considered
11:50 am
Mon May 21, 2012

Military Addresses Double-Edged Sword Of Troops On Social Media

At Forward Operating Base Payne in Afghanistan's Helmand province, Marine Cpl. Jonathan Odriscoll looks at pictures of his sister on Facebook. Troop access to social media has been both a blessing and curse for the military.
Bay Ismoyo AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Mon May 21, 2012 6:21 pm

Inside a plywood shack at a combat outpost in Marjah, in Afghanistan's Helmand province, three Marines sit before a bank of computers provided by the military to help keep up morale. The dingy outpost is made up of a collection of tents where troops live among swarms of flies and the constant hum of generators.

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Afghanistan
2:17 pm
Thu May 17, 2012

An Afghan Shoots, A Marine Dies, Mistrust Grows

A Marine Corps team carries the remains of Marine Sgt. J.P. Huling, 25, of West Chester, Ohio, at Dover Air Force Base, Del., on May 9. Huling was killed three days earlier by an Afghan soldier in southern Afghanistan, one of a growing number of such shootings.
Cliff Owen AP

Originally published on Thu May 17, 2012 5:16 pm

Sgt. J.P. Huling, a Marine from Ohio, was killed this month in southern Afghanistan.

It wasn't a roadside bomb or a Taliban sniper that killed him. It was another sergeant — an Afghan soldier known as Sgt. Zabitollah, who like many Afghans went by one name.

It was a grim coincidence that brought these two sergeants together on May 6, a Sunday afternoon, at a mud-walled compound along a desolate stretch of road in a remote corner of Afghanistan.

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Afghanistan
3:03 am
Sat May 12, 2012

U.S. Military Mission: Pushing Afghans To Take Lead

In Afghanistan, American troops are pushing Afghans to take charge.
David Gilkey NPR

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 8:48 am

The American military has two main jobs now in Afghanistan: sweeping the remaining Taliban from safe havens and getting Afghan security forces to take charge in the fight.

On a recent day, the Afghan National Army, or ANA, is to be out front on a joint Afghan-U.S. patrol in the countryside outside Kandahar in southern Afghanistan. It may seem like a small thing, but it's actually a big deal.

Sgt. Matthew McMurray lets his platoon know.

"ANA is going to lead, too. If they don't want to lead, just stop and make them walk ahead of you," he says.

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Afghanistan
2:12 pm
Tue May 8, 2012

As The Clock Ticks, Americans Train Afghan Troops

U.S. troops are training Afghan soldiers to take more responsibility in the war against the Taliban. But the Afghans still depend heavily on the Americans. Here, an Afghan solider fills up gas cans with diesel fuel from a U.S. Army tanker in southern Afghanistan.
David Gilkey NPR

Originally published on Wed May 9, 2012 5:07 pm

Just outside Kandahar, the main city in southern Afghanistan, the U.S. military is starting a new program it hopes will wean Afghan troops off American assistance.

A dozen or so American soldiers make up one of the Security Force Assistance Teams, and the goal is to help the Afghan army plan for operations and supply itself in the field.

But the mission is still a work in progress.

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The Two-Way
9:48 am
Wed May 2, 2012

About 25,000 Troops May Be Needed In Afghanistan After 2014, Planners Say

When President Obama on Tuesday signed a 10-year security agreement with Afghan President Karzai, it wasn't announced how many U.S. troops would remain in Afghanistan past 2014 — the year Afghans are supposed to take over full responsibilty for security there.

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National Security
1:36 am
Tue April 24, 2012

U.S. Military Wages Battle Against Misconduct

The Marines' most senior officers — including top commander Gen. James Amos (shown here in 2011 in Afghanistan's Helmand province) — are weighing in on recent incidents involving misconduct by troops serving in Afghanistan.
Bay Ismoyo AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Tue April 24, 2012 3:18 am

There's some soul-searching going on in the military these days.

The latest scandal to hit U.S. troops fighting in Afghanistan surfaced last week when The Los Angeles Times published photographs showing smiling American soldiers holding up body parts of a Taliban suicide bomber.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta addressed the latest incident during a trip to Brussels.

"That behavior that was depicted in those photos absolutely violates both our regulations and, more importantly, our core values," he said last week after a NATO meeting.

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Afghanistan
6:00 am
Sat March 24, 2012

Line Of Defense: Arguments In Afghan Attack Case

Originally published on Sat March 24, 2012 8:41 am

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News, I'm Scott Simon. Murder charges have been filed against the U.S. Army Sergeant accused of killing 17 Afghan men, women and children. Now, an investigative officer will decide whether there's enough evidence to go forward with a court martial. NPR's Pentagon correspondent, Tom Bowman, walks us through the legal challenges ahead for the defense and the prosecution.

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