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Wilkie Pushes for Culture Shift Within the Military

wilkie

By Debbie Gregory.

Robert Wilkie, the Department of Defense’s new undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, is shifting the emphasis of the military culture to create a more stable, family friendly environment.

Wilke is responsible for Total Force Management as it relates to readiness; National Guard and Reserve component affairs; health affairs; training; and personnel requirements and management, including equal opportunity, morale, welfare, recreation, and the quality of life for military families.

Wilkie understands that the constant moves made by servicemembers have a direct effect on their family members, limiting the career options of many military spouses, and prohibiting military children from putting down roots with friends and schools.

Wilkie, himself an Army brat, has walked the walk. He said, “If the families aren’t happy, the soldier walks.” Wilkie also serves in the Air Force Reserve.

Under the current system, troops are pushed out of the military if they don’t constantly advance along their career path. Wilkie said the Pentagon has come to the realization that it may need to change how the military operates in order to meet modern threats.

Wilkie credits growing up near Fort Bragg as great preparation for his new position. But he cites the readiness of the military as one of the issues that keeps him up at night. He said new planes are worthless if there are no people to maintain or fly them.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Celebrating the National Guard’s 381st Anniversary

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By Debbie Gregory.

On December 13, 1636, the Massachusetts General Court in Salem issued an order requiring all able-bodied men between 16 and 60 years old to create a standing Army for protection. With that order, what we now know as the National Guard was born.

Celebrating its 381st anniversary, the National Guard is integrated with the active Army and Air Force to meet the demands of our Nation’s security and our local communities. Our Soldiers and Airmen actively serve at home, and overseas. Since 9/11, Guard members have deployed over 850,000 times, and today we have, on average, over 30,000 Guardsmen mobilized around the world in support of our warfighting commanders.

When the U.S. entered WWI 100 years ago, the bulk of the initial U.S. forces for the first year were comprised of National Guardsmen. The branch’s casualties were high, with more than 100,000 troops killed or wounded.

Traditionally, most National Guard personnel serve “One weekend a month, two weeks a year”, although those in high demand units (pilots, navigators and aircrewmen in active flying assignments) serve far more frequently. But the “One weekend a month, two weeks a year” slogan has lost most of its relevance since the Iraq War, when the country has relied far more on the participation of the National Guard.

What many people are not aware of, Agricultural Development Teams (ADTs) of soldiers and airmen from the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard provide classroom instruction and teachings about farming practices, most recently in Afghanistan.  Agricultural education improves lines of communication and builds trust between the people, the U.S. government, and the Host Nation.

More than just a slogan, “Always Ready …Always There!” is the mantra that has seen the service branch go from defending Massachusetts Bay in 1636 to protecting the U.S., at home and abroad, from harm, threats, and natural disasters.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Troop Size: How Big Should the U.S. Army Be?

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By Debbie Gregory.

The United States has higher military spending than any other country so that we can defend our borders, uphold international order and promote American interests abroad. Congress is taxed with increasing the size of the Army in 2018, but the House and Senate have not been able to agree on how many more soldiers the service should add.

The House has called for the Army to add 17,000 soldiers, 10,000 to the active force and 7,000 to the National Guard and Reserves, but the Senate only wants to add about 6,000 soldiers, 5,000 active-duty soldiers and 1,000 reservists and National Guard members.

The Senate expressed concerns that adding 17,000 more soldiers to the force next year could force the Army to reduce its recruiting and retention standards, a problem the branch has faced in the past during the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“No one wants to see the Army allowing anyone who can’t meet the current standards into the uniform,” one of the officials said. “That is not a place we can afford to go back to.”

Past administrations have increased military spending, but usually in order to fulfill a specific mission, such as Jimmy Carter’s expanded operations in the Persian Gulf, Ronald Reagan’s arms race with the Soviet Union, and George W. Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The White House and Pentagon has said Trump’s promised increases to the military force size, including the Army, would begin with his fiscal year 2019 budget.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Is Colonel “Big Nasty” Too Much of a Hardass?

lambesis

By Debbie Gregory.

The Arizona National Guard is trying to oust one of its top officers, Col. Christopher Lambesis, based on charges that he has been insubordinate, as well as a toxic leader who committed and communicated threats to the state’s military commander, Maj. Gen. Michael McGuire.

Col. Lambesis, nicknamed “Big Nasty,” has been accused by his superiors of being too much of a hardass.

With his 24-year Army career on the line, the combat veteran with two Bronze Stars contends the case against him is really about his complaints of improper promotions, unethical leadership and inaccurate data that could endanger troops scheduled for deployment.

Col. Lambesis said he found evidence that many Guard units, soldiers, and airmen had falsified readiness documentation, calling into question their skill certifications and fitness evaluations.

As recent as February 2016, Lambesis was promoted to O6, running operations and training for Arizona’s 8,300 part- and full-time guardsmen.

But by October, he was being shown the door.

At age 49, Lambesis is an imposing figure with a shaved head and starched uniform — an officer who greets people with direct eye contact and a firm grip.

“He has a very rigid picture of what an effective leader looks like, and that picture is Chris Lambesis,” one junior officer told investigators.

In a written statement, the National Guard said Lambesis came under investigation last year when several subordinates lodged complaints alleging the colonel “was a toxic leader and a bully who created a hostile work environment.”

Those charges, and other accusations of hostility, led an administrative tribunal to discharge Lambesis honorably from full-time duty. He is now a “weekend warrior,” being told to drill part-time, or retire his commission.

But Lambesis is not giving up, and he still wants an independent investigation.

“We’re taught to hunker down and take on the charge,” he said. “I’ve been under fire in the fox hole, basically shooting at anything that jingles my wire for the past year. … I believe the institution of the Army is at risk.”

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

 

Deaths in Iraq May Have Links to Ft. Lauderdale Airport Shootings

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By Debbie Gregory.

Could a sense of loss and grief have been at the root of the recent airport shooting in Ft. Lauderdale?

On Jan. 2, 2011, Jose Cintron Rosado and Jose Delgado Arroyo,  members of the Puerto Rican Army National Guard, were in a lead vehicle near Taji, Iraq, that was locating and disarming roadside bombs.

The two were best friends, as well as father figures to the younger soldiers who were members of the 1013th Engineering Company, 103rd Battalion, out of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico.

When Rosado and Arroyo were killed in a roadside blast, their deaths hit the tight-knit unit hard.

Among those in the unit was Esteban Santiago, who has been charged with killing five people during the shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

The shooting came almost six years to the day after their deaths.

Santiago, who was born in New Jersey but raised in Peñuelas, Puerto Rico, flew to South Florida on a one-way ticket from Alaska.

Investigators have been trying to piece together the path that led the 26-year-old former National Guardsman to Fort Lauderdale.

For Bryan Santiago, his brother’s military service led to serious mental-health problems that coincided with his return from the war.

“You could just sense that he’d changed,” said Santiago, who still lives in Peñuelas.

He added that he didn’t know whether his brother knew Rosado or Arroyo, but he said his sibling, who was once “calm and humorous” suddenly becoming bitter and withdrawn.

Esteban Santiago’s tour ended in April 2011, and he remained in the National Guard Reserves until February 2014.

Santiago then moved to Alaska and joined the Alaskan National Guard.

Bryan Santiago said the last time he talked to his brother was on Christmas Day. He gave no indication he would snap 12 days later.

“We were just wishing each other Merry Christmas,” his brother said. “He was completely normal, but people with mental problems can seem completely normal, too.”

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Guard/Reservists to Get Equal Death Benefit

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By Debbie Gregory.

A change to the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) for the families of Guard members and Reservists killed during inactive training will mean an increase in benefits. National Guard and Reserve members would receive the same death benefits as their active-duty counterparts under a bill expected to pass Congress.

Up until now, family members of Guardsmen and Reservists killed during inactive training receive a much smaller monthly payment than those of active-duty members. For example, a survivor receives $1,036 a month if the spouse was killed on inactive training status, yet another receives $3,381 if the spouse was killed on active duty, according to a fact sheet from the Defense Department.

For those on active duty, the amount is based on a simple percentage of what the troop’s retirement payment would be. For those in the Guard or Reserve, the amount is based on a more complicated three-step formula that factors in Reserve points and years of service, among other items.

In addition, survivors of active-duty members qualify for an additional payment designed to get around a rule that blocks them from receiving full death benefit payouts from both the Defense Department and the Veterans Affairs Department. But the allowance doesn’t extend to those of Guardsmen and reservists killed on in-active training.

The legislation includes language championed by Rep. Marc Veasey, a Texas Democrat, to fix this inequity.

“A discrepancy between survivor benefits for fallen service members of differing active duty statuses was finally remedied,” Veasey said in a statement. “This long overdue change will now make available equal survivor benefits for all who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country and will hopefully alleviate some of the financial stress experienced by our military families.”

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

 

Protecting CA National Guard Members from Unfair Bonus Paybacks

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By Debbie Gregory.

From 2005-2010, when the U.S. military was trying to recruit and retain enough troops to fight two wars simultaneously, a number of generous bonus programs were implemented. But apparently due diligence was not done through the proper channels.  This, coupled with the extreme pressure put on recruiters to meet high enlistment and reenlistment quotas resulted in thousands of servicemembers receiving bonuses that they were not entitled to.

In 2011, a whistleblower from within the California Guard exposed fraud within the California National Guard bonus program.

As a result, the Army and the National Guard Bureau directed the California National Guard to audit more than 30,000 bonus and student loan repayment records. Of the 14,000 Soldiers whose records were audited, 9,700 were found to have improperly received bonuses or student loan repayments (or both).

The Soldier Incentive and Assistance Center (SIAC) serves as an advocate for affected soldiers who received these benefits in good faith. The SAIC offers legal and administrative support that has allowed some 4,000 Soldiers to apply to the Army and have their debt forgiven.

The California National Guard, a state agency, cannot waive the debts, as that authority rests at the federal level. Defense Secretary Ash Carter ordered the Pentagon to suspend efforts to recover enlistment bonuses. The demand would have affected some 9,700 California Guard members.

Soldiers argued that it was unfair to require them to repay the money — often $15,000 or more per soldier — when their only mistake was to take financial incentives that recruiters offered. Many served multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and some were badly wounded.

“Ultimately, we will provide for a process that puts as little burden as possible on any soldier who received an improper payment through no fault of his or her own,” Carter said. “At the same time, it will respect our important obligation to the taxpayer.”

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

 

Carter Orders Pentagon to Halt CA National Guard Bonus Paybacks

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By Debbie Gregory.

Calling the situation “unacceptable,” Defense Secretary Ash Carter ordered the Pentagon to suspend efforts to recover enlistment bonuses improperly given to thousands of California National Guard members during the height of the Iraq war.

The demand would have affected some 9,700 California Guard members who had received enlistment bonuses, student loans or other payments, mostly between 2006 and 2008.

Soldiers argued that it was unfair to require them to repay the money — often $15,000 or more per soldier — when their only mistake was to take financial incentives that recruiters offered. Many served multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and some were badly wounded.

Carter gave senior officials in his department until the end of 2016 to set up a new and streamlined process that can ensure “the fair and equitable treatment of our service members and the rapid resolution of these cases,” with a deadline of July 1, 2017 for all cases to be decided. He said the suspension would continue until he was “satisfied that our process is working effectively.”

“Ultimately, we will provide for a process that puts as little burden as possible on any soldier who received an improper payment through no fault of his or her own,” Carter said. “At the same time, it will respect our important obligation to the taxpayer.”

Carter said “hundreds of affected Guard members in California had sought and been granted relief” after filing appeals with the Pentagon.

“But that process has simply moved too slowly and in some cases imposed unreasonable burdens on service members,” he said. “That is unacceptable.”

The Pentagon says thousands of soldiers who received re-enlistment money weren’t eligible for the program — and years after paying out the money, it wants it back.

Some veterans have been sending hundreds of dollars a month to repay their bonuses; others have faced wage garnishment, interest accrual and a long appeals process. Soldiers say the appeals process is slow and nerve-wracking for their families.

“I want to be clear: This process has dragged on too long, for too many service members. Too many cases have languished without action,” Carter said. “That’s unfair to service members and to taxpayers.”

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

The National Guard Is Vital

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By Debbie Gregory.

While most of us are aware of the National Guard’s rapid response to civil unrest, hurricanes, wildfires and floods here at home, perhaps the most significant contribution the National Guard has made in recent years is on the battlefield.

After 9/11 and the start of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Department of Defense began relying on the Guard to supplement operations. By 2005, the Army National Guard made up half of all combat brigades in Iraq.

Made up of two main forces, the Air National Guard and the Army National Guard, the Guard is a unique and essential element of the U.S. military.

Founded in 1636 as a citizen force organized to protect families and towns from hostile attacks, today’s National Guard Soldiers hold civilian jobs or attend college while maintaining their military training part time, always ready to defend the American way of life in the event of an emergency.

The Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) is a Department of Defense program established in 1972 to promote cooperation and understanding between Guard and Reserve Component Service members and their civilian employers and to assist in the resolution of conflicts arising from an employee’s military commitment.

I am proud to serve as the Director of Employer Engagement for California’s Employer Support of Guard and Reserve.

Some 2.8 million citizen soldiers have deployed since 9/11. There are over 150 different jobs available in the Guard. Infantry, Air Defense, Medical and Military Police are examples of Guard career fields. Opportunities are also available in intelligence, technology, engineering, aviation, and many other fields.

Being prepared to respond quickly is what the National Guard is all about. The motto “Always Ready, Always There” is more than just a slogan; it’s a call to action for the men and women of the National Guard.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

ESGR Week Celebrates Our Nation’s Guard and Reserve Troops

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By Debbie Gregory.

August 21st through August 27th has been proclaimed by President Obama as National Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Week.

The president said, “For more than two centuries, brave patriots have given of themselves to secure our fundamental rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — and in times of both war and peace, members of the National Guard and Reserve have stood ready to don our uniform, answer our Nation’s call, and protect our way of life. This week, we recognize the important role played by the families, employers, and communities of these men and women in ensuring they can step forward and serve our country when they are needed most.”

As the Director of Employer Engagement for California’s ESGR, I see the sacrifices these servicemembers and their families make in order to balance their civilian lives with their commitment to our country’s safety and well-being. I also am privileged to liaise with their outstanding employers, who give their employees the flexibility that enables them to honor this commitment.

The employers who hire our National Guard troops and our Reservists give their employees the support which has been vital to the success, stability, and security of our Nation.

While the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) gives certain rights to uniformed servicemembers and their civilian employers, I have the pleasure of working with the employers who voluntarily sign a statement of support that they will do the right thing by their employees. Their employees do not need to worry about being discriminated against in their employment based on past, present, or future military service.

And that is something we should all honor and celebrate!

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.