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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

MOVERS and SHAKERS: Tom Kovach, Veteran, Screen Actor, Writer, Inventor, and Military Technical Advisor Our Coverage Sponsored by Hallak Cleaners the Couture Cleaner

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Tom Kovach is a patriotic American veteran, screen actor, writer, inventor, and military technical advisor. He is also the national chairman of Veterans United to Save America. While still in high school, Tom took up two activities that built the foundation for his future. The first was the high school drama guild, where he became an actor, set builder, and stage manager. Profits from ticket sales were used to take the entire drama guild on annual trips to the Manhattan theater district. Many years after high school, Tom visited Manhattan on other occasions. 

The second foundational activity was the all-volunteer Civil Air Patrol, which conducts search-and-rescue (SAR) missions throughout the United States. Tom was a CAP cadet, the honor graduate of the CAP Ranger School 1974 basic course, and a recipient of the Billy Mitchell Award. Besides learning land navigation, survival, and medical first responder skills, cadet Tom Kovach took the controls of aircraft during CAP orientation flights.

Tom's CAP activities continued as a "senior member" during his Air Force career, from August of 1975 until November of 1991. With his SAR training background, Tom's intention was to become a USAF Pararescue commando. These highly-trained men jump into hazardous areas, often behind enemy lines, to rescue downed pilots, extract hostages, and perform other dangerous missions -- often in complete secrecy. Less known than the Navy SEALs, and with the only military school that is longer than the SEALs, Pararescue jumpers (called "PJs", for short) were featured in only one movie: "Air Force One", which starred Harrison Ford. An inner-ear condition prevented Tom from making the cut to become a PJ, because he became disoriented during the difficult "nap of the Earth" flying that is required of Pararescue members.

During his first three Air Force years, Tom served as a mainframe computer operator (the Air Force's choice, not his). Stationed at a B-52 base in Upper Michigan, and feeling like a "bull in a china shop", Tom volunteered for temporary duty assignments in the Snow Control section of the base Civil Engineering squadron. There, for three 89-day assignments, Tom drove heavy equipment and kept runways safe for landing -- even in blinding snowstorms. Tom was also assigned to a response team at a B-52 crash site, where he was selected to recover the "black boxes" that contained highly-classified targeting equipment, etc.

At the earliest opportunity under USAF regulations (three years), Tom cross-trained into another job. Sergeant Tom Kovach became a distinguished graduate of the USAF Law Enforcement Academy, and then a squad leader during his ground combat training -- which started on the same day as the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Tom earned his blue beret, and later became a patrol supervisor. While stationed at Griffiss AFB in central Upstate NY, Tom captured an Iranian citizen that was in a position to disrupt the negotiations for the Tehran embassy hostages. This happened three weeks after Operation Eagle Claw -- the doomed commando rescue raid into Iran. The off-base capture incident did not become public knowledge for 30 years, when Tom was interviewed on a talk-radio show.

After a transfer to Korea, Tom became the team leader of a USAF Security Police Emergency Services Team -- the Air Force's version of a SWAT team. Trained in hostage extraction and resource recovery 
(resource recovery means taking aircraft or facilities back from hijackers)
, team duty was in addition to normal Security Police duties. The normal duty schedule was six days on, and two days off, and Tom was on permanent midnight shifts. Team training was three hours per session, three times per week, in the afternoons. Despite these demanding schedules, Tom also managed to earn ten semester-hours of college credit during his year in Korea, and study Kung-Fu at an off-base school. Tom learned to speak Korean. He also speaks portions of Ukrainian, Russian, and Farsi -- and he is conversant in American Sign Language.

While stationed in Korea, Tom made the first prototype of his invention -- the Kovach Klip military pistol-belt extender. This device allows troops to quickly redon field equipment and weapons, after putting on a chemical suit and flak vest, without the need to readjust the equipment harness. The time saved by using this device could make the difference between life and death on the battlefield. Tom's invention was not put on the market until several years later, because nay-sayers kept telling him that it was "illegal" for a GI to have an invention while serving.

Tom was selected for several specialized assignments, some of which were not even available to his fellow Blue Berets. He designed the physical security for the real facility that was the basis for the 1983 movie "War Games". Staff Sergeant Tom Kovach served on a protection detail for President Ronald Reagan, and he stopped a moving motorcycle from getting near Reagan's moving limousine. Tom has worked with special agents of the Air Force OSI (the equivalent of the better-known NCIS), the US Secret Service, the FBI, and the US Customs Service.

Despite an admirable record of achievements, Tom's military career was cut short after he blew the whistle on an environmental dumping scheme that was supervised by the base commander at Tom's last assignment. A leaking chemical concentrate was being blown over the fence by members of the base fire department, who used a P-3 fire engine as the pump. The foam ran downhill into a creek, and then to a reservoir, which was part of the drinking supply for the city of Newburgh, New York. When government authorities did nothing to discipline the commander, Tom went public. He flew over the reservoir in a news helicopter while being interviewed by long-time Manhattan local reporter Gabe Pressman. During the budget cuts after Operation Desert Storm, that commander made sure that Tom was on the discharge list. When the money ran out, so did Tom's first wife.

After losing his 16-year military career, Tom worked a variety of civilian jobs. He has been a deputy sheriff, a paralegal, a Sign Language interpreter, and even a wrangler on two different trail-riding ranches (much fun, not much pay). Tom moved to the Nashville area in 2001. In 2009, Tom got a brief side job as a background actor in a movie. Tom kept acting as a side job. He has been in six stage plays, five movies, and 17 episodes of the ABC-TV drama series Nashville. Tom has also written two WGA-registered movie "treatments" -- one a historically-accurate Western, the other a spy thriller. Tom is also working on a military/spy/police thriller novel, which is up to 325 pages so far.

In both his military career and his acting career, Tom has met some interesting and well-known people. Tom's jumpmaster in Korea was one of only six Green Berets that fought off a thousand-man North Vietnamese soldiers during three-day mountainside battle. (His name is withheld here, but it is well-known in the Special Operations community.) In 1985, Tom jumped with then-retired Colonel "Jumpin' Joe" Kittinger -- who had jumped from the edge of space, in a specially-designed balloon. Tom has also jumped with Lance McElhiney, who developed the Apache attack helicopter training program. While in a military hospital, recovering from a high-speed parachute malfunction, Tom was introduced to Viktor Belenko -- the former Soviet fighter pilot that stole a MiG-25 "Foxbat" and then sought political asylum in the United States.

In the acting world, Tom was on a movie set with country-music singer Trace Adkins when another actor collapsed in a diabetic shock. Tom and Trace went out into the midnight cold and flagged down the ambulance, which was slowly cruising the street and searching for the location, and then led the crew through the maze of equipment and set rigging. Tom has also become acquainted with several stars of Nashville. There are very few current screen actors that are also military veterans. Tom Kovach did the same USAF job as did Chuck Norris (who also studied martial-arts in Korea). Other actors that are veterans include Tom Selleck and Clint Eastwood.

Besides these activities, Tom Kovach has been involved in politics since the demise of his Air Force career. He has been on the ballot for Congress twice -- once in Upstate NY, and once in Tennessee. Tom Kovach is now the national chairman of Veterans United to Save America -- the military outreach arm of America's Party. Tom's hobbies include riding motorcycles and horses, scuba diving, and being a grandfather to an energetic four-year-old. We are so pleased to present him as our latest Mover and Shaker! Peachy Deegan interviewed Tom for Whom You Know.

Peachy Deegan: How do you define patriotism and what does being an American mean to you?
Tom Kovach: 
Patriotism means loving one's country and not being afraid to prove it. Patriotism does not mean hating everyone else's country. Respect means finding the common ground between my patriotism and the patriotism of someone from another country. Peace is based upon respect. Being an American means walking upright and proud of our freedom, but not using that freedom to purposely offend or injure others.

What do most people not understand about the Air Force that they should?
To this day, many people view the Air Force as only a "rear area" force. They would be surprised to discover how many times the US Air Force is actually at "the tip of the spear", and that includes warriors on the ground. For example, USAF Pararescue is the only military training program that is longer than that of the Navy SEALs (by three weeks). Little known fact: Pararescue Jumpers (called PJs, for short) spend six months of their training in the emergency department at one of three hospitals in Manhattan. Sadly, that's a close parallel to combat.

What motivated your intrinsic passion for acting?
Originally, I got into acting out of curiosity. Several of my high school friends were in the drama guild, and they all suggested that I try it. Back then, I had thought that acting was kinda "sissy", but soon learned that the craft can be as demanding as almost any other job. There are even some parallels to the military – especially the "hurry up and wait" part.

What is the difference between a successful actor and one who is not?
There are probably several answers to that question. In my opinion, a successful actor studies the role, and studies people that perform that role in real life. Then, the actor "catches the vision" for the role, and adds his/her own touches. This is true for even the most minor "background" role. If you don't want to study, then expect to be at best only a mediocre actor.

What have you enjoyed the most about each of your acting ventures and why?
Even though I'm fairly low on the ladder of the acting profession, I already have too many roles under my belt to list something from "each" of them. What I enjoy is conveying a positive, uplifting, inspiring message. Oddly, two of the roles that stand out – for vastly different reasons – were playing a Cossack dancer in two stage productions of "Fiddler on the Roof", and playing the CIA director in a television pilot episode. In both cases, there was intensity, and I believe that the audience came away feeling better.

What do you think of the historic pay discrepancy between men and women in acting?
At my current level in the acting profession, there is not any pay discrepancy. At the higher levels, I think that the situation is correcting itself — partly because of public pressure. I hope that soon the historic pay discrepancy will become just that – "historic".

What directors would you like to work with and what do you think you would learn from them?
There are several directors that I'd like to work with, and all for the same reasons. Clint Eastwood, Tom Selleck, Ron Howard, Jodie Foster, Mel Gibson, and Eric Close all have these following qualities in their productions: research, intensity, and authenticity. In the case of Eric Close, I've worked and chatted with him on the set of the series Nashville, and he has directed several episodes, but he has not directed any of the episodes in which I have worked. I like and respect Eric as a person, and I've seen his professionalism as an actor, and so I'd love to work on a project that Eric directs.

Please tell us about Veterans United to Save America.
Veterans United to Save America (V-USA) is the military outreach arm of America's Party, which is one of only eight political parties recognized by the Federal Election Commission as national political parties. America's Party is a truly conservative party, and V-USA seeks to get veterans active in the political process. I'm the national chairman. It could be a full-time job, but we don't have a budget that could support that. I promote V-USA while also working a day job, my acting job, and managing two online businesses. As the saying goes, "If you want to get something done, ask a busy man." One of my goals is simply to inspire other veterans to read our party's platform and then "go and do likewise" with regard to outreach and activism.

How would you like America to be different in 2016 and how would you effect that change?
Sadly, I think that too many people do not vote their conscience. I'd like to see that change in this election cycle. There is a Russian proverb that is translated, "Listen with your ear, and not your stomach." Currently, too many voters listen with their stomach, and then vote for the guy that promises the biggest piece of pie. Although I disagree vigorously with the positions of The Left, I even encourage liberals to vote their conscience. It then becomes my job to help them realize that government should not be in the pie-baking (or distributing) business.
I'm very disappointed with the current field of purportedly "conservative" candidates. Two of the best-known names are not even eligible under the Constitution, because neither is a natural-born citizen. (As of this interview, Senator Marco Rubio has recently dropped out.) Another "conservative" seems to be in it only for himself, and seems to be only slightly to the right of Jane Fonda.
For the above reasons, and because I believe that military experience should be required for the job of commander-in-chief, I began "testing the waters" for a possible run for president.

How do you practice military technical advising?
One does not so much "practice" being a military technical advisor (MTA); instead, one must "live" being a military technical advisor. Even though I've been out of the military since 1991, I still study and keep current on trends, activities, rules, etc. It is not enough to merely present the rules. One must convey the "culture" of the military. My role model for that job is Dale Dye (captain, USMC, retired —.who has been the MTA for the movies "Platoon", "Firebirds", "Spy Game", "Mission: Impossible" and others).

What are your top five favorite military planes and why?
Wow, that's quite a question. Every aircraft has its own unique capabilities, and is designed for a certain portion of the overall mission. My favorites? The SR-71 "Blackbird", because it represents so many leading-edge designs. The SR-71 established so many world speed and altitude records. The UH-1 "Iroquois" helicopter, commonly called a "Huey", greatly advanced the role of the helicopter. I've jumped from them at both low (1,500 feet) and high (10,500 feet) altitudes. The OV-10 "Bronco", because it is innovative, maneuverable, and tough. The A-10 "Thunderbolt II" attack jet, nicknamed the "Warthog", and the AH-64 "Apache" attack helicopter, for the same reasons that I like the OV-10 – plus the fact that I've been in the simulator cockpits of both.

Do you own planes yourself and if so can you tell us about them please?
I do not own any aircraft at this time. But, if the Lord wills, then I shall become wealthy enough to own a Velocity TXL-5. It is a very innovative design — both safe and "sporty" at the same time. It has remarkable fuel efficiency, yet it is fast. And, because it has only one engine, it is a great "starter" aircraft — from which I might never need to "graduate" to anything larger. A similar design — but larger, with two engines and a luxury cabin — is the Piaggio Avanti.

What would you like aircraft brands to build that they have not yet?
Several companies are working to produce various designs of the "flying car". That is the ultimate in personal aviation. One class of design is called the "volantor". It takes off and lands vertically, like a helicopter. But, in straight flight, is has the speed of a small jet. And, one can drive it on a street and park it in a garage. (Granted, one would need a two-car garage to fit this one vehicle. But, if one could afford a volantor, then also affording a larger garage should not be a problem.)

What do you think have been the greatest innovations in the technical aspects of aircraft in the last ten years and why?
I'm not an aviation engineer, although I do have a friend that is one. So, I can't comment too much on aviation technical advances. Two that stand out, though, are the "glass cockpit" and the parachute recovery system. The "glass cockpit" has become known in commercial and military aviation for at least 20 years. But, in recent years, it is moving into general aviation personal aircraft. The parachute recovery system actually deploys a parachute that slows down the rate of descent enough for an aircraft's occupants to safely survive an emergency situation. A leader of both the glass cockpit and the parachute recovery system is Cirrus Aviation. If I ever "graduate" beyond my goal of owning a Velocity TL-5, then I could see a Cirrus V-50 "Vision" personal jet on my horizon. I've had the privilege of sitting in the V-50 factory mock-up.

What do you have to do to earn your blue beret and what percentage of candidates are successful in earning it?
The dark-blue beret is the distinctive uniform item of USAF Security Policemen. (Although the name was changed in 1998 from "Security Police" to the "Security Forces", the people in that job are still called Security Policemen — even the women.) We are trained in standard police patrol skills (including some martial-arts skills), military law, some civilian law (especially as it applies to national-security situations), emergency responses, special procedures for nuclear security, and the "customs and courtesies" of the Air Force. We then move from the law enforcement academy to ground-combat training. There, we learn the same skills as the Army's light infantry — both defensive and offensive. (Some SPs later go on to training in heavy weapons, such as mortars and crew-served machine guns.) We train mostly for area defense, but also for convoy security, ambush response, close-quarters battle, etc. Some of us later go on to join an Emergency Services Team (EST), the Air Force's version of SWAT. I led two such teams. Our primary goal was hostage extraction, although we also trained for taking aircraft away from hijackers, etc. Some SPs are Airborne qualified, and some are even Ranger qualified. There are USAF Security Policemen, including women, that are snipers. (One woman in Afghanistan shot a bad guy from 850 meters away, at night, while he was attempting to plant an IED along a roadside near an American base.) Some SPs become assigned to Special Operations units, where they employ other skills that I won't mention here. Many of us work with other agencies. I've worked with special agents of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI, the equivalent of NCIS in the Navy), the FBI, the Secret Service, and the Customs Service. Some members of the other Armed Services still don't realize that the Air Force even has people like us. They ask, "Why do you guys wear berets? The MPs of the Army and the Marine Corps don't wear berets." My answer is, "The MPs, if they get into trouble, can call upon their infantry for backup. In the Air Force, we are the infantry!" I then remind them that actor Chuck Norris was also a USAF Security Policeman (although we were called Air Policemen back when he was in the Air Force). That last point usually ends the discussion.

What should everyone know about the Air Force that they might not know?
Each branch of our Armed Forces has a unique role in the overall defense of our country. The Air Force performs a wide variety of missions, some of which are quite dangerous — on the ground, in the sky, and in space. One mission that was declassified a few years ago had the code name Rivet Joint. Those guys fly into an enemy country's detection and fire-control radar fields, just to test the boundaries! They then report the intelligence gathered, so that mission planners can know exactly where to expect trouble. And, of course, there is the ongoing mission of Pararescue — the commandos whose school is nicknamed "Superman University". All of the Air Force's missions, high-profile or otherwise, are summed up in the motto, "Fly. Fight. Win."

What or who has had the most influence on your pursuit of excellence?
The person that I most try to emulate is Jesus Christ, followed by King David. But, because I'm a sinner by nature, my emulation of Jesus often falls short. I thank God daily for His forgiveness. In the military world, I learned from two rather influential Security Police NCOs: Senior Master Sergeant Clyde "Bear" Cochrane, and Chief Master Sergeant Willie Vaughn. Both men were Vietnam veterans with experience in operations such as Safeside and Tough Tiger. They were both very impressive men, who would've risen to the top in any field. They were educated, articulate, witty, and ... dangerous.

What are you proudest of and why?
I'm proudest of the fact that, regardless of any other accomplishments, I am a Christian.

What would you like to do professionally that you have not yet had the opportunity to do?
Well, a highly-paid speaking role would be nice.... (grin)

What honors and awards have you received in your profession?
I've been blessed to receive several honors. The things that made the most difference, though, did not result in any medal, ribbon, or certificate. The stories are too long for this venue.

What one word best describes you and why?
Outspoken. That one word covers my military career, my acting, and my Christian faith.

What do you take your sense of identity from?
My identity comes mostly from my faith in Jesus, the Christ. From that come the values that made me successful in life. And, in the end, those other endeavors do not matter. The Holy Bible says that all believers will one day "cast their crowns" at the feet of Jesus.

What is your favorite place to be in Manhattan? And in Nashville?
My favorite place to be is with my any city. In Manhattan, I like the large field in Central Park, because the surrounding trees block out the city noise, thus making it peaceful. In Nashville, we like to go for strolls in the garden atrium of the Opryland Hotel. The roof is eleven acres of glass! Even on a cold winter day, one can walk among tropical plants.

What is your favorite shop in Manhattan? In Nashville?
In Manhattan, I like places with an authentic ethnic atmosphere — such as the Ukrainian National Home in Greenwich Village. A few miles south of Nashville, there used to a place that was simply called The Cowboy Store. As soon as I would walk in, the look, the feel, and even the smell took me away to a ranch somewhere between Texas and California. There are a lot of similarities between Cossacks and cowboys....

If you could hire anybody who would it be and why?
If I could afford it, then I would hire Tom Selleck to produce, direct, and act in a historically-accurate Western movie that I began writing years ago. Why? It would be a very good movie, it would have a positive message, and it would earn us a lot of money.

What is your favorite drink?
I'm partial to a drink called the "Tom Kovach", because I invented it. Two parts Drambuie, and one part Limoncello, on the rocks — "shaken, not stirred", of course.

What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you at a cocktail party?
I'm not the kind of guy that gets invited to "cocktail parties". Some funny things have happened over beers after a day of jumping out of helicopters. I once watched a Ranger eat an entire slice of large Pizza Hut Supreme in fewer than four seconds.

What is your favorite restaurant in Manhattan? In Nashville?
My favorite restaurant in Manhattan was Mama Leone's, in the theater district. We went there after a Broadway play, and it was almost surreal. They have a trio — accordion, violin, and vocalist — that walks among the tables. In Nashville, I'm partial to two places — Maggiano's, and Bella Napoli Pizzeria — and for a similar reason. Good food, coupled with relaxing music.

What is your favorite Manhattan book or favorite character in Manhattan literature? In Nashville?
My favorite Manhattan literary character is Oscar Madison, from the play/movie/series "The Odd Couple". Most of the time, he could be a brute. But, then, when you'd least expect it, out comes charm, wit, and grace. That's kinda like real people — at least, the ones that I've spent time with on patrol. (Besides, one time I was in a hurry to catch a train that was about to leave Grand Central Station. A guy came around the corner the other way. He was apparently also in a hurry to catch a train. We dodged each other, and kept going, so quickly that it was not until after he was behind me that I realized it was actor Jack Klugman, who had played Oscar Madison in the highly-successful 1970s TV series, The Odd Couple.)
My favorite Nashville character is Mayor Teddy Conrad, from the TV series Nashville. Teddy was a great father, and a pretty good husband (well... until a past affair came to light), but a flawed leader. He's a three-dimensional character. Besides, he is portrayed by Eric Close, whom I have come to like as a person and respect as an actor.

What is your favorite movie and why?
I have a whole list of favorite movies — in various genres, and for various reasons. My all-time favorite, though, is "The Ten Commandments". It's one of the greatest stories in history, well-researched, skillfully portrayed by one of the greatest movie casts ever assembled, with thousands of background actors, and with special-effects that were far advanced for that time. And, the good guys win in the end. What's to not like?

Who would you like to be for a day and why?
I've lived a blessed life, and so I don't really desire to be anyone else.

If you could have anything in Manhattan named after you what would it be and why? In Nashville?
That is a question for historians. I'm kinda fond of the tradition that no structure should be named after a person while he is still alive. I already have a piece of military field equipment named after me, because I invented it. That should suffice for now. There is a building at Fort Campbell that is named after a former Green Beret that I jumped with in Korea.

What has been your best Manhattan athletic experience? In Nashville?
My best Manhattan athletic experience actually took place in the sky over the United States Military Academy at West Point, which is 50 miles up the Hudson River from Manhattan. But, it was a clear day, and the helicopter was up high enough that we could see the World Trade Center and ships in New York Harbor before we jumped out.
My best "athletic" experience in Nashville came while I was working as a wrangler on a trail-riding ranch. I was leading a ride of about seven people, including a couple with two young children. A bee spooked the horse that a six-year-old girl was riding, and the horse immediately began a wild gallop through the forest. The girl was screaming. And, unfortunately, she thought that she could stop the horse by kicking it. Thank God, I was riding the fastest horse in the herd. I rode up beside her, told her to hang onto the saddle horn, and then reached over, grabbed her horse's bridle, and gradually slowed them down. When horses get spooked, they often put their heads down and don't watch where they're going. The just run. We were in a forest. If the horse had run into a tree, or knocked the first-time rider against a tree, then that little girl could've been killed. At the end of that ride, I was sweaty and breathing hard. That's why I call it an "athletic" experience.

What is your favorite thing to do in Manhattan that you can do nowhere else? In Nashville?
My favorite thing to do in Manhattan is to have dinner with my daughter, who works in Manhattan and lives in Brooklyn. Same in Nashville, when she comes to visit.

If you could have dinner with any person living or passed, who would it be and why?
Someday, I will get to sit down at a dinner with Jesus. 

What has been your best Manhattan art or music experience? In Nashville?
Oddly, I once had a very memorable music experience at a Manhattan subway platform. A guy was playing "Somewhere, My Love" on a steel drum. He was very talented, and working for only tips. My best music experience in Nashville occurs often, when I have dinner at the Maggiano's piano bar and listen to my friend and fellow actor, Jeff Alfiero. He is so talented that the well-known Nashville music stars book him for their house parties.

What do you personally do or what have you done to give back to the world?
I try to do several good deeds in that regard. One that I'm most proud of is search-and-rescue work with the all-volunteer Civil Air Patrol. I've also tutored and mentored troubled teens, including one that was completely deaf.

What do you think is most underrated and overrated in Manhattan? In Nashville?
Parking spaces ... in both cities. (wink, grin)

Other than Movers and Shakers of course, what is your favorite WhomYouKnow
​.com​ column and what do you like about it?
I like the emphasis on "Made in America" products, for reasons that should be obvious at this point. (grin) I applaud Peachy Deegan for letting her patriotism ring loud and clear throughout the WhomYouKnow site, especially in that section.

What else should Whom You Know readers know about you?
Whew! People are probably tired of reading about me by now! But, I'll say the same thing here that I used to say as the official storyteller of the Cowboy Campfire Cookouts on weekends at the trail-riding ranch: "I have a million stories, and they're all true. And, if you have a million dollars, then you can hear them all."

How would you like to be contacted by Whom You Know readers?
Readers may contact me via my Web site, TomKovach.US. At the bottom of the main page, click the button to "e-mail Tom".

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