To Ink or Not To Ink…

To Ink or Not To Ink…

Contributed by Kris Baydalla-Galasso

Tattoos have been around for a long time. Many historians believe that the first tattoos were inked onto hands and fingers of our Neanderthal ancestors in an effort to ward off illnesses. Tattooed mummified remains have been found and those remains date back to more than 5,000 years ago. Tattoos have been used to mark your skill set, designate your tribe, honor your lineage and more. The perception of tattoos continues to change every day as an increasing number of soccer moms sport full inked sleeves to practice. Public perception has changed and the Navy had to catch up.

For years, the United States Navy limited to the ink that it allowed in its ranks. Rules were in place to limit visible tattoo size and number, so sailors were restricted with what could be on their forearms and lower legs. Additionally, neck tattoos were not permitted. However, with tattoos on the rise in the 17-24 demographic, the Navy found themselves limiting recruits because of this rule.

The most efficient way to handle this barrier was to eliminate it, which is what the US Navy did. Under the revised rules, sailors have no restrictions on tattoos below the neck. Full sleeves are now permitted. Neck tattoos are also permitted, but have a limit on size. This opens up the doors for the young and tattooed who have an interest in serving in the Navy.

Sailors and tattoos have had a long history, so this recent change opens up a level of public acceptance that reflects the personal feelings of many who choose to decorate their personal canvases. Over the past few years, tattoo rules have changed in the Navy, Air Force, Marines and Army. While each branch has changed their code regarding the allowing and acceptance of tattoos, all of the individual rules are different.  

 

Recovery a Long Process at Tyndall Air Force Base

Recovery a Long Process at Tyndall Air Force Base

Contributed by Alan Rohlfing

 

As the recovery from Hurricane Michael continues, many of those who were forced to evacuate from Tyndall Air Force Base – Service members, civilians, family members – are searching for answers about their future. Where they will be able to live, where their military job will post them.

In a briefing with reporters at the Pentagon earlier this week, Air Force officials stressed that recovering from the worst hurricane to hit a base in years, if not decades, will be a long, difficult process. While things are much improved at Tyndall over the last few days, they said it will likely be years before the Florida base will be back to where it was before the storm landed its direct hit. The National Hurricane Center said the storm reached Category 4 status, with 150 mph winds as Hurricane Michael made landfall. Tyndall at one point was in the eye of the storm.

Brig. Gen. John Allen, the Air Force’s director of civil engineers, compared the damage to what Hurricane Katrina did to Mississippi’s Keesler Air Force Base in 2005.  “I’ve been through a hurricane and a hurricane recovery before, but not on the magnitude of this,” Allen said. “You can imagine what kind of an effort lays ahead of us.”

Many decisions have yet to be made, such as how to care for the 11,000 Tyndall AFB evacuees. Some remain local, but others temporarily relocated with friends and family across the country — and it’s still unclear when they might be able to start returning home.

“We’re going to have to make some serious decisions on which families come back to that base or not,” said Air Force spokesman Brig. Gen. Ed Thomas. “There will be families that will be displaced from the base until we make a decision on where they’re going to PCS to, who will come back to the base. And then they will have their household goods picked up from Tyndall and moved to another location.”

Just a few days ago, the Air Force started opening up five-hour windows to allow evacuees to return to their homes, assess the damage, and take out valuables or other household goods.

 

New Campaign Aims to Support Military Spouses

New Campaign by the Second Lady Aims to Support Military Spouses

New Campaign by the Second Lady Aims to Support Military Spouses

By Debbie Gregory

The Second Lady of the United States, Karen Pence, is using her new cachet to call around on behalf of military spouses, looking to help them overcome the challenges that come with being wed to active-duty service members.

The vice president’s wife has announced a new campaign that allows military spouses be reimbursed by the federal government for licensing or certification renewal costs. She sees these spousal challenges as key to military readiness. Unhappy spouses lead to unhappy service members who eventually will quit. Mrs. Pence wants to elevate, encourage and thank military spouses.

“In the Trump administration, we feel it is imperative we support our military spouses and children,” said Mrs. Pence. “Spouses do so much and ask for so little.” She referred to them as the “backbone” of their families.

Mrs. Pence, who has a son in Marine flight school and a daughter-in-law in graduate school, said she wants to be a voice for military spouses.

The effort seems to be a follow-up to Joining Forces, Michelle Obama’s and Jill Biden’s initiative to care for military families. Mrs. Pence wants to apply her influence to try to make a difference.

“Nobody elected me, nobody voted for me,” Mrs. Pence said. “They don’t want me writing policy, and I don’t intend to. But what I do know I could do is I can speak to as many spouses as possible and encourage them and uplift them and connect them.”

Mrs. Pence has participated in numerous round table discussions with spouses from all branches of the U.S. military in the nearly two years since she assumed her new role, both around the U.S. and in other parts of the world. She and the vice president have lived in 14 homes during their 33-year marriage, so she gets it.

Mrs. Pence also highlighted another issue Thursday: helping kids cope with having a deployed parent.

She was handing out “comfort kits” to children that include an animated video, a guided journal and a teddy bear. She and the spouses of nearly 30 members of Congress assembled 500 of the kits last week.

Tricare Coverage Changes for the National Guard and Military Reserve

Tricare Coverage Changes for the National Guard and Military Reserve

Tricare Coverage Changes for the National Guard and Military Reserve

 

Contributed by Kris Baydalla-Galasso

TRICARE, the health care program for uniformed service members, retirees, and their families in the U.S. and around the world, has been expanded for Reserve Component members in transition. Active duty servicemembers and their families receive TRICARE coverage without any annual or monthly fee, but that’s not the case for National Guard and Reserve personnel.

Prior to now, traditional Guardsmen and Reservists coming off more than 30 days of active duty were limited to 180 days of fee-free TRICARE coverage only if they were activated in support of war or overseas efforts. While this was helpful in times of conflict or contingency operations, it didn’t help Reservists and Guardsmen assigned to stateside efforts such as hurricane relief. When not activated, Guardsmen and reservists qualify for Tricare Reserve Select, a purchased care option which carries a monthly premium, deductibles, and out-of-pocket costs.

Congress signed the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act into law in 2017, but the changes went into effect just last month. Now, Guardsmen and Reservists can enjoy 180 days of TRICARE coverage after any 30-day activation.

Not addressed by this legislation was the problem specific to dual-service technicians in the National Guard. As federal civilian employees, they are ineligible for TRICARE benefits. Legislative alterations to this rule have been tabled in the past due to cost factors.

GPS Devices Banned for Troops on Deployment

GPS Devices Banned for Troops on Deployment

GPS Devices Banned for Troops on Deployment

Contributed by Debbie Gregory

Deployed service members will no longer be allowed to use fitness tracking apps or other wearable technology such as Fitbits and iWatches that rely on geolocation, according to a new Pentagon policy.

“The rapidly evolving market of devices, applications, and services with geolocation capabilities presents a significant risk to the Department of Defense (DoD) personnel on and off duty, and to our military operations globally,” according to an August 3rd  memo written by the  Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan.

The discovery that geolocation capabilities can expose locations of bases and important facilities based on where the geo-tracking stops prompted the policy change. Data firm Strava’s January release of a heat map revealed the locations and pathways of military installations around the globe due to user data on fitness apps such as Polar Flow. The global map reflected more than 1 billion paths that the Strava app tracked, but patterns and locations of U.S. service members could be garnered from zooming in on sensitive or secured areas.

The new policy does not require a total ban and only affects service members at operational bases or locations. Personnel working at the Pentagon will still be allowed to use the devices. Additionally, it doesn’t prohibit service members from having the devices with them when they deploy, as long as the geolocation services are disabled. With that said, each on-site commander will have final say as to what gadgets they will allow.

“These geolocation capabilities can expose personal information, locations, routines, and numbers of DoD personnel,” Shanahan wrote, “and potentially create unintended security consequences and increased risk to the joint force and mission.”

In some cases, the geolocation services will be allowed to be turned on after a security review, according to the new policy.

Financial Protection for Service Members May Be Weakened by Administration

Financial Protection for Service Members May Be Weakened by Administration

 

Financial Protection for Service Members May Be Weakened by Administration

Contributed by Debbie Gregory

Senate Democrats have called on Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Acting Director Mick Mulvaney to commit to upholding servicemember protections under the Military Lending Act (MLA) after rumors circulated that the Trump administration is trying to get rid of the decade-old act.

In their letter to Mulvaney, the 49 senators wrote, “The CFPB should not be abandoning its duty to protect our servicemembers and their families, and we seek your commitment that you will utilize all of the authorities available to the CFPB to ensure that servicemembers and their families continue to receive all of their MLA protections.”

The MLA was established in 2006 and was designed to protect service members and their spouses, children, and certain other dependents from financial fraud, predatory loans, and credit gouging. Under the law, the annual interest rate for an extension of consumer credit to a servicemember or his or her dependents is capped at 36%.

The letter continued, “In addition, for our servicemembers, especially those who are deployed overseas facing hostile fire, it is unreasonable to place the burden of detecting and reporting MLA abuses on servicemembers, especially when they should be given every opportunity to focus squarely on their missions. What the CFPB is reported to be contemplating is equivalent to forcing our armed forces to stop using radar, sonar, and other early warning technologies and instead react to threats as they occur. No one would force our armed forces to do so, and the CFPB should not similarly force any of its examiners to turn a blind eye.”

“For generations, Americans have set partisanship aside and have made every effort to provide servicemembers and their families with all the resources and protections they deserve. We ask no less of you and, as such, seek your commitment that you will continue the CFPB’s tradition of ensuring that servicemembers and their families receive all of their MLA protections by utilizing all of the authorities available to the CFPB.”

Senate Democrats created the Office of Servicemember Affairs at the CFPB to serve as an independent watchdog for military personnel. Since its inception, the office has handled more than 90,000 consumer complaints from servicemembers and their families and taken action to help return hundreds of millions into the pockets of servicemembers affected by harmful practices.

Military Embracing Healthier Chow in Fight Against Obesity

Military Embracing Healthier Chow in Fight Against Obesity

Military Embracing Healthier Chow in Fight Against Obesity

Contributed by Debbie Gregory.

In order to combat the number of overweight or obese troops in the ranks, the military is changing up the meal/snack options to help troops make better, healthier decisions.

Taking a page out of the athlete’s playbook, the service branches are doing what they can to provide nutrition-rich foods to fuel their troops. Knowing that the right fuel can not only help someone take their physical talents to the next level with limited recovery time and  lower their risk of injury and help them excel mentally, higher quality nutrition is imperative to mission readiness.

The physical and mental demands troops face require strength, endurance and mental agility, and  incorporating basic nutrition principles, lays a foundation for mission readiness, cognitive performance and endurance performance.

The Navy SEALs’ “Fuel to Fight” program increases the availability of lean-proteins, vegetables, and complex carbohydrates to fuel, rather than feed, the warfighter.  In fact, the Navy stopped frying foods and selling soda aboard ships in 2014.

“Go for Green,” a Department of Defense nutrition program, teaches sailors to recognize and select healthier foods based on the traffic light colors.

Green represents “premium fuel,” defined as whole foods and beverages that are the least processed, low in calories, nutrient dense, and aid in muscle recovery and development. This includes fresh vegetables and fruit, leafy green salads, brown or wild rice, oats, quinoa, baked sweet potato fries, whole-grain pasta, nuts, fish, and chicken or turkey breast without the skin.

Yellow represents food and drink with some processing as well as healthy and unhealthy nutrients. These are higher in calories, and lower in vitamins and minerals. This includes salads made with iceberg lettuce, fruit with added sugar or syrups, dried fruit, white rice, pasta, baked French fries, pretzels, baked chips, crackers, whole eggs, chicken or turkey breast with the skin, ham, roast beef, processed deli meats, flavored yogurt, reduced-fat cheese, sports drinks and 2-percent milk

Red represents foods and beverages with the most processing and calories, while lowest in vitamins and minerals. They slow muscle recovery and hinder performance and include fried foods, cream sauces and dressings, pastries, red meat, pork sausage and bacon, hot dogs, salami, bologna, cheese, ice cream, energy drinks, coffee, whole milk, and sweetened beverages to include juices and sodas.

 

Highlights of the $717 Billion Defense Bill, Including 2.6% Troop Pay Raise

Highlights of the $717 Billion Defense Bill

Highlights of the $717 Billion Defense Bill, Including 2.6% Troop Pay Raise

Contributed by Debbie Gregory

During the signing at Fort Drum, the president invited members of the 10th Mountain’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team to gather round him for a photo opportunity.

Like most prior NDAAs, this year’s authorization is the product of a relatively bipartisan legislative process and received overwhelming bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.

The 2.6 percent pay increase would be the biggest for the military in nine years. Estimates are that the pay raise will translate into about $670 more annually for junior enlisted troops and about $1,300 more for senior enlisted and junior officers.

It also funds new purchases of aircraft, ships and weapons. And it increases the size of our service branches: the Army’s end strength will grow by about 4,000, the Navy’s by 7,500, the Air Force by 4,000, and the Marine Corps by about 100. It also increases funding for training and readiness.

The NDAA also requires the DoD to carry out an annual education campaign to inform those who may be eligible to enroll in the VA’s Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry. And it requires a study on the feasibility of phasing out the use of open burn pits.

Other allowances include:

  • $7.6B for 77 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.
  • $85M for UH-60M Black Hawk utility helicopters.
  • Funds the U.S. Air Force’s new long-range stealth B-21 bomber.
  • Funds 13 new Navy ships to include $1.56B for three littoral combat ships, the fourth Ford-class aircraft carrier, six icebreakers, and a Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine.
  • $225.3M for Stryker A1 combat vehicles and supports efforts to modernize the Army’s armored combat vehicles.
  • Additional assistance to military spouses seeking employment by enhancing the My Career Advancement program.
  • Improvements to the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) to provide training tailored to servicemembers’ post-separation plans.
  • Resources for victims of military sexual trauma as part of pre-separation counseling.
  • Providing active duty and reserve personnel an “authoritative assessment of their earned GI Bill benefits” prior to separation, retirement, or release from active duty or demobilization.

Making a Difference- Profiles of Some Immigrant Service Members

Making a Difference- Profiles of Some Immigrant Service Members

Contributed by Debbie Gregory

As a nation founded by immigrants, the U.S. has long drawn its strength through the diversity of its citizens. Many of these immigrants have served this country as part of the one percent in the military. Here are just a few:

After fleeing war-torn Nicaragua, 1st Lt. Lizamara Bedolla now serves as an Army nurse at the William Beaumont Army Medical Center’s Surgical Ward at Fort Bliss. “The Army has taught me a lot about tolerance, self-awareness, patience and has opened my eyes to the different people that are all over this country and abroad.”

Although Staff Sgt. Tamba Benjamin wanted to join the Army or Marines, he joined the Air Force to appease his mother. He came to the U.S. from Monrovia, Liberia, via Freetown, Sierra Leone, when he was nine, escaping civil war. Currently assigned to the 407th Expeditionary Comptroller Squadron, Benjamin said, “Living in another country is like sleeping in someone else’s home — you take care of the home.”

It took Pfc. Fortytwo Chotper seven years to make it to the United States from Sudan via a Kenyan refugee camp. He joined the Iowa Army National Guard’s 1168th Transportation Company, not to get his citizenship. “I was just doing it to give thanks to the United States for bringing me here from the refugee camp.” Chotper’s 1168 TC team and Iowa Air National Guard Chief of Staff Brig. Gen. Randy Greenwood joined Chotper at the U.S. District Courthouse in Des Moines in their dress uniforms to watch their brother take the oath of citizenship.

Already a citizen, Staff Sgt. Fadi Chreim, a 386th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron vehicle operations dispatch chief, joined the Air Force reserve to give back to his adoptive homeland.  “ Part of me wanted to put on that uniform just to say ‘thank you.’”

In March 2017, Pvt. Maria Daume, originally from  Siberia, Russia became the first female Marine to join the infantry through its traditional training pipeline at the age of 18, joining the Fleet Marine Force as a mortarman.

Senior Airman Mina Fawzi of the 407th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron was born in Cairo, Egypt, and joined the Air Force to support his family.

Mohammad Nadir worked as an interpreter for U.S. servicemembers in Afghanistan, and is now a Marine. “I told my family I was going to come to America and become a Marine, so I did,” Nadir said.

Staff Sgt. Eric Piime, a boom operator in 121 Air Refueling Wing, Ohio Air National Guard. Piime, a native of Ghana, enlisted in the Air Force as “the ultimate way of giving back” to his adopted country.

 

Active-Duty End Strength Above 500,000 Top Priority for Army

Active-Duty End Strength Above 500,000 Top Priority for Army

Active-Duty End Strength Above 500,000 Top Priority for Army

 

Contributed by Debbie Gregory

Major modernization reforms are underway in the Army to create leaner and faster processes. In fact, modernization and adding more active-duty, Guard and Reserve soldiers are among the Army’s top priorities for 2020, according to Army Secretary Mark Esper.

Although Secretary Esper is the civilian head of the Army, he has considerable experience on the ground. A graduate of West Point, he deployed to Operation Desert Storm, and was part of the Army Reserve and Army National Guard.

“For me, the big picture is continued support from Congress in regard to our modernizations initiatives, particularly the stand-up of Army Futures Command,” Esper said. “The second is improving the capacity and capability of the Army, and that means continuing to grow end strength.”

Secretary Esper’s objectives, in his own words:

“We must grow the regular Army above 500,000 soldiers with associated growth in the Guard and Reserve. And we must recruit and retain the very best.”

“We must ensure adequate quantities of Infantry, Armor, Engineers, Air Defense, Field Artillery…Our units from Brigade through Corps must also be able to conduct sustained ground and air intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, electronic warfare, and cyber operations. And we must have aviation combat support and robust logistics available to all formations.”

“We must be focused on high-intensity conflict, again, in urban terrain, under persistent surveillance, and in electronically degraded environments. It must incorporate battlefield innovation and continuous movement to frustrate enemy observation and intelligence collection. And it must include combined arms maneuver with the joint force, as well as our allies and partners.”

“We have identified six modernization priorities; I am sure you’ve heard of them. They are in order: First, long-range precision fires, next generation combat vehicles, Future Vertical Lift, the network, air and missile defense, and the one closest to my heart, soldier lethality.”

“We must reform our outdated personnel system to one that develops smart, thoughtful, innovative leaders of character who are comfortable with complexity and are capable of operating from the tactical up to the strategic level.”