Speilberg Directs & Bradley Cooper To Star in American Sniper

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By Debbie Gregory.

Director Steven Spielberg is using his talents to pay tribute to an American Hero, directing a movie about Navy Seal sniper Chris Kyle.  The film will star Bradley Cooper in the adaptation of “American Sniper”, Kyle’s best- selling book.

The Odessa, TX born Navy Seal was killed earlier this year, along with his friend and fellow Veteran, Chad Littlefied, at a North Texas shooting range.

Kyle was considered to be the deadliest sniper in U.S. Military history.  He was known for his record number sniper killings in Iraq.  Kyle served four combat tours in Iraq with the SEALS.  He also worked with Army and Marine units,  receiving two Silver Stars and other commendations.  He left the Navy in 2009.

Kyle made statements in an interview with Time Magazine saying he had no regrets on any of his many kills.  He said he was comfortable with the possibility that this part of his life might be over, and felt that he was a better husband and father than a killer.  Kyle was survived by his wife and two children.

The book “American Sniper” was released in 2012 and made the New York Times Best Seller List.  Kyle became a celebrity.  After he left the military, Kyle founded Craft International, a military training company.  He also established FITCO Cares Foundation, a non-profit that helps veterans struggling with PTSD, and assists them in gaining access to exercise equipment.

Kyle and Chad were gunned down on the grounds of the Rough Creek Lodge , a resort in Glen Rose, TX, near Fort Worth.  Hunting and shooting sports are some of the many recreational options available on its grounds.

Eddie Ray Routh, 25, was arrested for the shootings.  Routh spent four years in the Marines. He is believed to have left the service in 2010. Public records show Routh previously lived at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, though his latest address was in Lancaster, TX.

Bomb in Afghanistan Kills Five

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By Debbie Gregory.

Saturday was one of the deadliest days for Americans and other foreign troops in Afghanistan in recent months, as the Taliban continued their attacks, part of their spring offensive. In the second deadly attack since the insurgency announced their new offensive on April 27th, five U.S. soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb on May 4th. All five Americans were serving as part of the NATO forces.

The deaths come after three British troops were killed by a roadside bomb this week in southern Helmand province. With these deaths, 47 members of the coalition have been killed so far this year — including 37 Americans.

Although the exact location of the blast was not revealed, Javeed Faisal, a spokesman for the governor of Kandahar province, said the coalition patrol hit the roadside bomb in Maiwand district of the province, which is considered to be the spiritual birthplace of the Taliban. Maiwand borders Helmand province to the west, and is considered one of the most volatile of Kandahar’s districts. The US-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) released a statement saying simply Saturday’s bomb was an “improvised explosive”. Currently, there are just over 100,000 soldiers are still serving with ISAF; they are due to be withdrawn by the end of 2014.

The renewed violence came as Afghan President Hamid Karzai acknowledged that his government has been receiving funds from CIA “for more than a decade” as part of regular monthly assistance from the U.S. government. Karzai said the payments were “government-to-government” assistance.  Without disclosing how much the CIA gave to the National Directorate of Security (NDS), which is the Afghan intelligence service, Karzai said the financial aid was used to care for wounded employees of the NDS, and operational expenses.

We at MilitaryConnection.com would like to express our sincere condolences to the families and friends of those who lost their lives. We appreciate the sacrifices made by those who serve, and we know that their families sacrifice as well.

VA To Process Older Claims

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By Debbie Gregory.

Have you been waiting at least a year for the Department of Veterans Affairs to process your compensation claim? If so, then there is good new; the VA has an aggressive new plan that organizers hope will award benefits to those veterans who have waited the longest. They are hoping this will clear out the backlog of cases by 2015.

Currently, it takes an average of 286 days to complete a claim. “Too many veterans wait too long for a decision and this has never been acceptable,” said VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.

Claims that have been sitting in the department’s backlog for longer than a year will begin receiving provisional decisions. Once that decision is submitted, the veteran will begin receiving their monthly compensation. Those decisions will be based on the medical information provided by the veteran or gathered by the VA. If more information is needed, in the form of a medical examination, the VA will order the exam.  The veteran then has a full year after the provisional rating is made to submit additional evidence about their medical condition, and have their benefits increased, if applicable. The increase will be paid retroactively to the date the claim was first filed.

After that year, the provisional decision will be deemed the final rating.  Veterans will have to follow the standard appeals process if they feel that they have new information that could increase their benefit amount. Veterans have one year to appeal the decision.

Eligible veterans can utilize healthcare and other VA benefits while their claims are pending. Veterans of recent conflicts are eligible for five years of free VA healthcare benefits. Officials said more than 55 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans use VA healthcare, more than any previous generation of warfighters.

Veterans who are homeless, terminally ill, are former Prisoners of War, Medal of Honor recipients or who claim financial hardship will continue to have their claims prioritized through the new process.

VA claims for active duty service members leaving the military through the medical board process will be processed separately, through the Integrated Disability Evaluation System with the Department of Defense.

The VA’s fast track program, known as Fully Developed Claims, will continue to receive priority. Veterans who file their claims under this program are responsible for gathering all the information, documents and records to prove their disability claim. The VA will obtain service treatment records and federal treatment records only if the veteran identifies them. Since the VA does not have to track down the paperwork, the claim can be processed quicker.

Army Amputee Completes Air Assault School

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By Debbie Gregory.

Sgt. 1st Class Greg Robinson is proof that “you can’t keep a good man down”. Sgt. Robinson is the first Soldier with a prosthetic limb to complete Air Assault School at Fort Campbel.  This is no easy task for someone with two legs let alone an amputee.  Sgt. Robinson personifies the spirit of courage and determination.

Sgt. Robinson was wounded while deployed to Afghanistan in 2006. Robinson was determined that his traumatic injury wasn’t going to prevent him from meeting some of the Army’s toughest standards.  He was not going to allow it to finish his Army career. The 34 year-old noncommissioned officer from Elizabethtown, Illinois is a platoon sergeant. He wanted to lead by example for his men, and he did just that.

The Sabalauski Air Assault School at Fort Campbell trains soldiers to perform skills required to make the maximum use of helicopter assets in both training and combat in support of their unit operations. The Army’s Assault School is a ten-day course that qualifies Soldiers to conduct air-assault helicopter operations, sling-load missions, fast roping and rappelling and aircraft orientation, ending with a fast-paced, heavy load, 12-mile ruck-march. The training is designed to push a service member’s limits mentally and physically. The school did not cut Sgt. Robinson any slack.  He finished the march on one leg.

Sgt. Robinson has become the “Poster Man” for all amputees. He affirmed that life is not over when you lose a limb, although a lot of hard work lies ahead.

Fifteen or more people lost limbs at the Boston Marathon bombings. Many more amputees lost their limbs in war. Hopefully, Sgt. 1st Class Greg Robinson’s accomplishments will inspire them to do great things.

Sharing life experiences with other who have faced similar challenges is comforting and helps them to adjust.  Amputation does not have to be a disability.  Those who have gone through this challenge are able to help others on their journey.  Our wounded warriors are an inspiration to all.

Female Deserter Pleads guilty

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By Debbie Gregory.

A voluntary military has proven to be more effective and professional than a drafted military, and it made the matter of deserters a slam-dunk case.  On April 29, 2013, Pfc. Kimberly Rivera, a female soldier in the U.S. Army, pleaded guilty to two counts of desertion.  Rivera fled to Canada to avoid a second tour of duty in the Iraq War. She was sentenced to 10 months in prison, and a bad-conduct discharge after entering her plea at the court-martial.

During the Vietnam War thousands fled to Canada to avoid the draft. Canadians welcomed them. Today Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) has not been as welcoming.

Pfc. Kimberly Rivera was on leave in 2007 when she crossed the Canadian border, after she received her orders for a second tour in Iraq. Rivera, a wife and mother of four, professed that she could no longer support the U. S. mission in Iraq. Rivera’s application for permanent residency in Canada was denied, and Canadian immigration officials ordered her and her family to leave Canada or face deportation. She appealed the decision.

In 2012, she again received a deportation order. Canada’s Parliament has voted twice to stop deporting Iraq War resisters and to let them stay—reaffirming Canada’s proud tradition of welcoming conscientious objectors. But the minority Conservative government refused to respect the traditions and democratic decisions of Canadians, and instead has deported war resisters. Rivera surrendered to U.S. authorities and was taken into custody in September, 2012.

Rivera’s civilian defense attorney, James Matthew Branum, argued on Rivera’s behalf that she never filed for status as a conscientious objector because she didn’t know the option was available to her.

On March 29, 1975, President Ford signed Proclamation 4360, Terminating Registration Procedures Under Military Service Act, eliminating the registration requirement. The end of the U.S. draft in 1973 and the conversion to an all-volunteer force didn’t put an end to conscientious objectors – individuals who, due to deeply held religious, moral or ethical beliefs, resist military service. It did, however, force a shift – from trying to stay out to trying to get out.

Most people associate Conscientious Objector (CO) status with a draft, since that involves forced induction into the military. Perhaps that’s because the number of CO applications exploded during the Vietnam War—the last time Americans faced a draft. But even in today’s all-volunteer force, it’s still possible to request and be granted CO status, even if you’ve served for many years. It is possible, but extremely uncommon.

Iraq Vet Loses Struggle With PTSD

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By Debbie Gregory.

Army psychologist Capt. Peter Linnerooth helped many soldiers deal with the demons of PTSD, depression and anger.  Unfortunately, after returning home to Minnesota, he wrestled with the same  PTSD demons as those he counseled, and lost. The wonderful man and officer who helped so many others, was not able to save himself.  Peter Linnerooth  died by his own hand in January, 2013. A fight with his wife, alcohol and a loaded gun proved a tragic combination.

Linnerooth had the magic touch. He was genuinely empathetic. He listened to the soldiers’ stories and comforted them. He was their counselor and their friend. He knew how to sooth soldiers returning from the battlefield, after losing their buddies who were killed by bombs. He comforted medics reliving the horrors of death all around them.

Linnerooth helped soldiers who suffered from nightmares, reliving the horrors they had witnessed. He soothed the heavy hearts of soldiers with insomnia.   He was there for soldiers suffering from PTSD and depression.  When the Iraq war was at it bloodiest, Linnerooth easily put in 60 to 70 hours a week. He carried the pain of those around him on his shoulders. He had the right stuff to help others.

After leaving the military, Linnerooth became a college professor in Minnesota. He continued to counsel veterans in California and Nevada. He always felt that he could have done more to help the troops. At the same time, he struggled with his own demons. He struggled with PTSD, depression and anger.

Linnerooth was always there for others, but in the end, he gave up on himself.  Peter Linnerooth was a devoted father and an admired Army captain. He was 42, but in reality, he was much older.  Working to help others, no matter how much he accomplished , he never felt it was enough. But to the many soldiers who are alive today because of his counsel, it was.  Our sincere condolences to the loved ones of Captain Peter Linnerooth who made a huge difference for so many.  Rest In Peace.

Naval Academy Is All in the Family

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By Debbie Gregory.

When Alison Disher attended the Naval Academy, she tackled the challenges with the support of not just her family, but her fellow midshipmen. That support was earned on the back of her mother, Sharon Hanley Disher, a decade earlier. Sharon was among the first females admitted to the school by a Congressional mandate in 1976.

Legally, they may have been allowed to go, but they were certainly not welcome. Upon her arrival, Sharon’s platoon leader said, “I don’t want women in my school, and it will be my mission, for the next year, to make sure you are gone before I graduate.” In 1980, she became one of the first women to graduate.

Sharon’s husband, Tim Disher, is an Annapolis graduate. Now, their twins, Alison and Brett, and son Matthew have all attended the school as well. They are the first family in American history to send every member to Annapolis.

The family’s journey tells the story of women at Annapolis. When Sharon attended, she had to fight her way to the top with every step she took. That was perhaps most obvious during a freshmen rite of passage. The plebes work together to climb to the top of a greased, 20-foot-tall obelisk: Herndon Monument.

When Sharon headed for the top, a male student below her pulled her off. As she fell, she heard him say, “‘No girls on Herndon.” When Alison made the same climb a generation later, males students reached down from the top to pull her skyward. Alison said, “There were boys who said, ‘Ally, give me your hand. Get up here!’”

The story brings Sharon to tears. Now, her daughter is a company commander. The sacrifices and pain endured by Sharon and her female classmates changed an entire institution. “What we did is worth it,” she said.

Moms Walking and Running For Deployed Soldiers

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By Debbie Gregory.

On the frontlines of Iraq, Brian White doesn’t get a day off. So when Vivian White doesn’t feel like running, all she has to remember is that her son is still marching. She ties on her sneakers and heads out the door.

So far, her determination to run 6,500 miles, the distance between her front door and her son’s bunk in the combat zone, has helped her log over 1,000 miles. Since news of her quest spread, friends and strangers have begun running as well, adding their miles to her total. Now, 300 people in 42 states are walking and running to help Vivian meet her goal. Together they have logged 14,867 miles. The amount is staggering.

Army mom Tammy Utley drove half a day to cheer on Vivian, a woman she didn’t know at the time, but whom she understood. “There’s nothing you can do for them,” Tammy said. “You can’t be there with them. Mothers understand that helplessness you feel.” Tammy’s son, Nick, is a New York National Guard driver in Afghanistan.

The women both worry when they see news reports of new blasts or attacks.  They worry about the prospect of coming home to find a chaplain at their door. They worry if they will ever see their sons again. “At those times,” Tammy sighs, “when there’s nothing else you can do, you start walking or running. We are protecting our emotions, protecting how we feel, because we can’t protect our kids over there.”

In one letter home, Nick described the rocket propelled grenades that hit the side of his truck. Tammy laced up her shoes. When the women walk, they are able to physically flush out the fear that has built up inside. “Those were the bloody-shoes days,” she said. “You walk and you walk and you walk.”

But both women said they will keep walking until every service member is home. For Vivian, the dream of homecoming means running her last mile with her son by her side.  “He told me once, ‘Mom, it’s not me that determines the outcome of your race. It’s you.’”

Hiring Veterans and Military Spouses

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By Debbie Gregory.

The Iraq war is over and the war in Afghanistan is drawing down.  One million more service members will be coming home over the next several years. Veteran employment makes a big difference for service members transitioning into the civilian workforce. Hiring veterans is a great way to thank them for their contributions in defense of our freedom, and to ensure that when they return home, they are welcomed, respected and employed.

For the past two years President Obama has challenged the private sector to hire or train 100,000 unemployed veterans and their spouses by the end of 2013. The private sector has already hired or trained 290,000 veterans and military spouses. American companies have committed to hire or train another 435,000 veterans and military spouses over the next five years.

Yet, there are still 207,000 unemployed veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The unemployment rate for returning veterans is double that of other Americans. Various jobs for veterans are available but require licensing or certification.

In recent years, the Department of Defense and military services have increasingly incorporated civilian credentialing into their training for military programs. Some jobs for veterans require civilian certifications and/or licenses related to their military occupational specialties. Certification plays a key role in obtaining jobs for veterans such as mechanics, installers, medical technicians, therapists, computer network engineers, web site developers, and many, many others.

Hiring veterans is simply smart business. Veterans make great employees. Veterans possess invaluable job skills required by industry. Additionally, companies can receive tax credits for hiring Veterans.

  • The Returning Heroes Tax Credit is a new hiring tax credit that will provide an incentive for businesses to hire unemployed veterans.

Short-term unemployed: A new credit of 40 percent of the first $6,000 of wages (up to $2,400) for employers who hire veterans who have been unemployed at least 4 weeks.

Long-term unemployed: A new credit of 40 percent of the first $14,000 of wages (up to $5,600) for employers who hire veterans who have been unemployed longer than 6 months.

  • The Wounded Warrior Tax Credit doubles the existing tax credit for long-term unemployed veterans with service-connected disabilities.

Maintain the existing Work Opportunity Tax Credit for veterans with service-connected disabilities (currently the maximum is $4,800).

A new credit is offered, 40 percent of the first $24,000 of wages (up to $9,600) for firms that hire veterans with service-connected disabilities who have been unemployed longer than 6 months.

The President is asking businesses to step to the plate and hire veterans and military, because it is the right thing to do.

General Petraeus Joins USC

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By Debbie Gregory.

Retired four-star General David Petraeus has traveled the world in defense of the United States. His 37 years of military service and knowledge will now shift to the classroom.

General Petraeus will now hold the title of Judge Widney Professor when he joins the faculty at USC this fall. Judge Robert Maclay Widney was USC’s founder, and the title is an honor reserved for eminent individuals from the arts, sciences, professions, business, community and national leadership.

Petraeus, the architect of the counterinsurgency doctrine that stabilized Iraq under U.S. and allied forces, also served as the director of the CIA. In addition to his teaching duties, he will be mentoring student veterans and ROTC members.

“I am very grateful to have an opportunity to be part of a great university that prizes academic excellence, that is doing cutting-edge research in areas of enormous importance to our country, and that is known for steadfast support of its veterans and ROTC programs,” Petraeus said.

In a press release, USC President C. L. Max Nikias said of Petraeus,  “He embodies all the noble qualities of our founder along with a fearless commitment to excellence. His presence will have a profound impact on our students across many disciplines.”

This is not the first teaching position held by Petraeus.  After earning a PhD in international relations from Princeton University, Petraeus taught international relations at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, his alma mater. In addition to his teaching and mentoring duties at USC, Petraeus will participate in seminars, panels, and working sessions with students and faculty.

The Petraeus family has a long history of service to this country. Holly Petraeus, the wife of General Petraeus, is the daughter of Army Gen. William A. Knowlton. Her son, brother, grandfather, and great-grandfather all served in our armed forces. A military spouse for more than 35 years, Mrs. Petraeus led the creation of the Office of Servicemember Affairs at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Previously, she served as the director of the Better Business Bureau’s Military Line program, providing consumer education to active and retired servicemembers and their families.

Gen. Petraeus’ appointment includes affiliations with the USC School of Social Work, including the program in military social work; the USC Price School of Public Policy; the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, including the program in public diplomacy; the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, including the Department of International Relations; the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, including the Information Sciences Institute; the USC Institute for Creative Technologies; and the USC Libraries, including the USC Sidney Harman Academy for Polymathic Study.

USC faculty and students will greatly benefit from the experience and wisdom that Gen. Petraeus brings to the university.   We at MilitaryConnection.com feel that Southern California is fortunate to gain this wonderful military family.   General Petraeus and his family have served our nation for decades and we are in their debt.