6 American Soldiers Killed in Helo Crash

6 American Soldiers Killed in Helo Crash

By Debbie Gregory.

On December 17, six U.S. Army soldiers were killed in Afghanistan when their Black Hawk UH-60 helicopter crashed. The deceased soldiers were identified as:

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Randy L. Billings, 34, of Heavener, OK.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Joshua B. Silverman, 35, of Scottsdale, AZ.

Staff Sgt. Jesse L. Williams, 30, of Elkhart, IN.

Sgt. 1st Class Omar W. Forde, 28, of Marietta, GA.

Sgt. Peter C. Bohler, 29, of Willow Spring, NC.

Spc. Terry K. D. Gordon, 22, of Shubuta, MS.

Another soldier, whose name has not yet been revealed, survived the crash with serious injuries. The soldiers were believed to have been assigned to the 3rd Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment, 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, out of Fort Riley, Kansas.

The Army has yet to officially reveal any information about the crash because its cause is still under investigation. Two speculative theories have been leaked to the media. One was that the helicopter experienced engine failure just before the crash. The other was that the helicopter crashed due to mechanical problems and then came under fire after the crash. Neither report has been confirmed.

A statement released by NATO said that the crash was under investigation and that there was no insurgent activity in the area at the time of the crash.

109 members of the U.S. military have died in Afghanistan in 2013. Additionally, 30 other coalition members have died. While still high, these numbers are down from the 297 Americans and 97 of our allies killed last year.

But every loss of an American life is one too many. It is the ambition of every soldier, sailor, marine, airman and guardsman who deploys to return home safely. It is the goal of every NCO and Commanding Officer to bring every single one of the men and women who serve under them back alive. And it is the wish of every parent, spouse and child to see their hero come home.

Unfortunately, this is not always possible. There are no words or gestures that can undo the pain caused by the loss of a family member or a comrade. All that is left is to honor our fallen heroes by remembering who they were and what they stood for.

CWO2 Billings, CWO2 Silverman, Staff Sgt. Williams, Sgt. 1st Class Forde, Sgt. Bohler, and Spc. Gordon– MilitaryConnection thanks you for your service and your sacrifice. May you be remembered for the heroes that you are. And may your families and comrades find peace following this tragedy.

My Free Taxes to Focus on Outreach of Veterans: Need Organizations to Volunteer

Free Taxes

By Debbie Gregory.

Since 2009, the MyFreeTaxes.com partnership has helped more than 4.5 million families claim approximately $6 billion in tax refunds and credits. The partnership is aided by collaborative efforts from the National Disability Institute, the United Way, Goodwill Industries International, with sponsorship from the Walmart Foundation.

MyFreeTaxes.com aides low to mid-level income families by providing free preparations and filing of state and federal tax returns for those families who earn less than $58,000 per year. The free tax preparations and filing can be done online utilizing the program’s software partner H&R Block at Home®. The program also provides free in-person preparations, filing and assistance at over 400 tax centers.

Currently, there are 37 million Americans who qualify for VA benefits, either through their service or through the service of a spouse or parent. These patriotic Americans have sacrificed so that others wouldn’t have to. These men and women and their children should receive every break and benefit that we can offer them.

More than 20% of  the more than 23 million Veterans living in the U.S. qualify for MyFreeTaxes.com’s services. That’s why, for the 2014 tax season, MyFreeTaxes.com is focusing on making their services available to eligible Veterans. The My Free Taxes partnership is looking for Veterans groups and organizations that would be willing to volunteer their facilities and/or members to provide self-assistance locations and support in order to make this service more accessible for Veterans.

Veteran organizations who are interested in participating are being asked to register with the National Disability Institute (NDI) in order to receive a free MyFreeTaxes.com URL. Participating Veteran organizations are to promote their URL to their Veterans, staff and community partners in order to expand usage of the service. Participant organizations will receive access to the MyFreeTaxes partner portal, where they can find training, online resources and access to technical help and assistance.

Certain regions and locations will receive assistance in the form of recruitment, funding, and an IRS-certified tax coach. NDI will train tax coaches and volunteers who work at Veteran sites. The NDI will also work with selected American Job Center regions and engage local Disabled Veteran Outreach Programs in order to boost the outreach of free services to include Veterans.

Those interested in registering for their own URL can do so here. Anyone interested in volunteering for MyFreeTaxes can contact Katie Metz at kmetz@ndi-inc.org

2 New Marine Corps Uniform Changes Affect Females

2 New Marine Corps Uniform Changes Affect Females

By Debbie Gregory.

On December 16, the office of the Commandant of the Marine Corps released Marine Administrative Message 658/13, which revealed the results from Uniform Board 213. The message announced the approval, standards and timeline for the universal dress and service caps, and partial multiple braids for female Marines.

Effective immediately, all female Marines are authorized to wear male dress and service caps. Females who had previously purchased or had been issued female caps may continue to wear them for the time being. Beginning April 1, 2014, male dress and service caps will be issued to all new female recruits and candidates.

The female covers will become obsolete on May 1, 2017. On that day, the a new universal caps will be made a mandatory uniform requirement. The new universal caps are projected to be made available to Marines beginning on May 1, 2015.

Also effective immediately, all female Marines will be allowed to wear their hair in partial braids. Multiple braids that are uniformly between 1/8 -1/4 of an inch in diameter and that show no more than 1/8 of an inch of scalp in between will be authorized. The braids must be tight, neat and professional and continue until the end of the natural hair and can be worn loose from that point. When worn loose, braids must comply with medium-long hair requirements. Braids can also be secured to the head, in straight single lines that run from either the front or the back of the head, not side to side.

Like all military-approved hairstyles, the braids are not allowed to be faddish or extreme. Sculpted styles, spiking, or eccentric flow or texturing of the hair is not permitted. Locks and twists are not authorized, however French rolls and twists are allowed. The Marine Corps does not allow foreign objects, such as beads and other decorative items, to be woven into the braided hairstyles.

VA to Add Additional Ailments to TBI Compensation

VA to add to TBI

By Debbie Gregory.

In each military conflict, we see major innovations made in the weaponry, defensive measures, and even in warfare itself. Advances are also made in the medical arena. Doctors find new ways to treat patients, both on the front lines and back home. These advances also result in improved civilian healthcare.

Recently, the VA has made an improvement in their healthcare network that will positively impact Veterans who suffer from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).  Beginning next year, Veterans who suffer from service-connected TBI will also receive additional disability percentages if they also suffer from one of five additional ailments, which could lead to more additional compensation.

Veterans who suffer from depression, Parkinson’s disease, unprovoked seizures, dementia, or diseases of the pituitary or hypothalamus glands in addition to TBI will be affected by this change. The change will take effect in January, when the additional ailment will also be considered service-connected for the sake of calculation of VA disability compensation.

A recent report from the National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine announced a possible link between TBI and the five additional ailments. The VA, utilizing the most current science available to benefit Veteran healthcare, saw fit to expand its benefits to ensure that Veterans receive the best care available.

Considerations and eligibility for benefits will be evaluated by the VA and will be dependent upon the extent of the TBI and the lapse of time between the incident that caused the service-connected TBI and the appearance of the second ailment.

Veterans who feel they fit this new criteria should file claims to establish service-connection. Even if their second ailment’s time and degree standards do not meet the VA’s requirements, a link between the two conditions might be found.

Veterans who have any questions or concerns should visit the VA’s health benefits portal on the VA’s website.

Army to Separate Up to 2,000 Captains and Majors

Army to Separate Officers

By Debbie Gregory.

With more than twelve years’ worth of war fighting winding down, the Defense Department and its branches of the military may start to see changes in their numbers and ranks. In order to stretch military budgets to their fullest, while having the least effect on benefits and pay, we can expect to see further restrictions placed on military entry and retention.

The Army announced that approximately 9,700 captains and 6,900 majors are to be screened by the Officer Separation Board (OSB). And 700 captains and 1,500 majors will be screened by the Enhanced Selective Early Retirement Board (eSERB) beginning March, 2014.  The Army has announced a goal of separating up to 2,000 officers starting next year.

The groups of officers being considered are captains in the Army Competitive Category’s year groups 2006-2008, and majors in year groups 1999-2003. The boards are projected to select up to 20% (approximately 3,800 officers), but not all of those selected will be eligible for early retirement. The boards will try to determine which officers they will separate from the Army, and how.

Officers who are selected for separation by the OSB will have options. Those with less than 15 years of service will receive separation pay. Those that have more than 15, but less than 18 years in, will be eligible to receive Temporary Early Retirement Authority (TERA) benefits.

Officers with 18 years or more will go before eSERB. These officers are entitled to serve until their 20th year, and then must retire if they are selected by the board. Selected officers with 18 years may also apply for TERA benefits and retire early.

Notices have been sent to all officers who are eligible for OSB and eSERB. Notices have also been sent to those officers’ commanders so that service records can be made readily available, giving these majors and captains the best possible chance for furthering their military careers.

All officers who are selected by either board may also apply for the Army Reserve or Army National Guard.

Give an Hour: Helping Vets Not Fall Through the Cracks

Give-an-Hour-logo

By Debbie Gregory.

With more and more Veterans experiencing difficulties with their mental health, agencies like the VA are finding it increasingly difficult to evaluate, diagnose and treat every Veteran. As a result, many Veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan return home and suffer in silence with mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Without diagnosis and treatment, most Veterans don’t know that there is something clinically wrong with them. Believing that their symptoms are solely a sign of personal weakness, many Veterans fall through the cracks and turn to drugs, alcohol and even suicide to escape their pain.

Give an Hour is a national nonprofit organization that is intent on preventing Veterans from falling through the cracks. They have come up with an ingenious system that provides mental health services to members of the military, Veterans, and their loved ones, at no cost.

Give an Hour employs a volunteer staff of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, nurses, therapists, and various types of licensed and professional counselors. These mental healthcare specialists donate their time to Give an Hour by registering on their website, also indicating what services they can provide and agreeing to the terms and conditions. Once registered, the mental healthcare specialist is referred to as a provider.

Give an Hour reviews and approves all providers before activating their account.

Veterans and service members who use the site are called visitors. Visitors access the site and look up providers. Visitors can search providers by their postal code, distance they want to travel, language spoken and area of practice.  Then the visitor can make an appointment directly with the provider.

After their treatment, the visitor logs back in to their Give an Hour account and provides the site with feedback about their care. The visitor can then search the Give an Hour site to locate a charity in his/her community to donate an hour of their time to. Communities list projects that need volunteers and provide contact information.

MilitaryConnection.com has worked with Give an Hour for a number of years. We applaud Give an Hour for all they do to help Veterans who suffer from mental health concerns.

Marine Corps Tuition Assistance

Marine Corps Tuition Assistance

By Debbie Gregory.

Lately, there has been speculation in regards to the Marine Corps’ Tuition Assistance program. Many Marines aren’t sure if they are eligible, or what the eligibility requirements are. Many people are asking, “How can the government deny their Marines this benefit?”

Let me begin by saying that Tuition Assistance is NOT the Post-9/11 GI Bill. TA is not intended to be used by service members to give themselves a head start on successful civilian careers after the military. Instead, TA is meant to be used as a retention tool for each branch of the military. It is designed to be used by service members who are not separating, and require more education to further their military careers. I have made this distinction so that people don’t believe that our Marines are being mistreated.

There have been a lot of restrictions put on the Tuition Assistance programs for all branches of service. Marine Corps Tuition Assistance is discretionary, meaning that it given at the discretion of the Marine Corps, depending on funds and the user’s eligibility.

Beginning October 1, the Marine Corps TA funding budget is divided into fiscal quarters. Once funding for any fiscal quarter is exhausted, approvals for TA will be deferred until the next quarter. When funding is available, TA will only be approved for eligible Marines, and for courses that begin in that fiscal quarter.

The Marine Corps may soon see further restrictions or cuts, but as of November 18, 2013, here are the latest eligibility requirements for Marine Corps Tuition Assistance:

Marines must have a minimum of 24 months of time in service before they are eligible to use TA.

All Marines wishing to use TA must be eligible for promotion.

Before they are approved for TA, first time users will have to complete the Marine Corps Institute Personal Financial Management Course (course ID 3420G).

All first time TA applicants will be limited to only one course for their first semester/term. This can be waived if there is documentation proving that the user has at least an Associate Degree, or at least 60 academic credits with a GPA of 2.5 or better.

TA will not be approved for classes that begin before the conclusion of any previously approved course.

Funds used for Tuition Assistance for classes that result in approved involuntary withdrawal waivers or failing grades will count toward the individual fiscal year ceilings.

Only one course will be approved for any user who, in the previous term, had their overall GPA fall below 2.5, received a D grade, or withdrew from any course.

TA will not be approved retroactively. Marines must submit their TA requests and receive approval prior to the course’s start date.
Members cannot use TA to obtain duplicate degrees, such as second Associate degree or a degree with double majors.

All issues, including incomplete courses, unpaid reimbursements and waivers, must be resolved in a Marine’s TA account before further requests will be considered.

TA cannot be used for fees related to certifications, license exams or credentials.

Reserve component officers who are on active duty orders or mobilization must have an EAS date of at least two years beyond the completion date of the requested course.

Enlisted marines must have an EAS of 60 days beyond the completion date of the requested course.

TA cannot be used for non-credit courses, training programs, continuing education/workforce development programs.

Marines who attend technical/vocation programs that involve more than one course will only be allowed to take two courses at a time.

Sentence Given in Ohio to Convicted Founder of Fake Veterans Charity

Sentence Given in Ohio to Convicted Founder of Fake Veterans Charity

By Debbie Gregory.

On October 9th, MilitaryConnection.com posted an article about John Donald Cody, the mastermind behind a fake military charity, the US Navy Veterans Association (USNVA). Cody contends that he is retired Navy Lieutenant Commander Bobby Thompson. But fingerprints prove that he is in fact, a former Army Captain, Harvard trained lawyer, and fugitive John Donald Cody. It is only fitting that we now share the conclusion of this bizarre and unfortunate story, a scheme that conned donors out of $100 million.

Cody was accused of committing fraud in 41 states. Ohio took the lead in the case, and indicted Cody in 2010. Cody disappeared for nearly two years, and was arrested last year in Portland, Oregon. The trial began on September 30th.

On November 14th , a jury in Cleveland found Cody guilty of racketeering, theft, money laundering and 12 counts of identity theft. At the end of the trial, Cody arrived in court with an extremely unkempt appearance. Cody’s shirt was unbuttoned, exposing his bare chest and stomach, and his hair was uncombed. Judge Steven Gall ordered him to appear in court clean and groomed for sentencing.

Immediately after the guilty verdict, members of the jury told attorneys on both sides that they were disappointed that Cody hadn’t testified. Defense Attorney Joseph Patituce used their statements to claim that the jury showed bias against his client and requested a new trial. The request was denied.

On December 16th, Cody went before Judge Gall, and his appearance was much more tidy. He complained to the judge about mistreatment and abuse from his jailors. Guards responsible for Cody had already reported that he had been displaying erratic behavior, including smashing his own head against his cell walls to the point where blood was visible.

Judge Gall decided that he had heard enough lies from John Donald Cody. Cody stole money that was intended for Veterans and his crime has negatively impacted legitimate charities. He has been sentenced to 28 years in prison. The Ohio attorney general’s office requested a sentence of 41 years. But Gall said that the length of the sentence reflected the length of the “charade” that Cody perpetrated, in regards to the fake USNVA.

Gall also said that Cody’s crimes had harmed Veterans and had hurt other charities, causing donors to become skeptical. “Everyone’s afraid to give,” Gall said.

After the sentencing, Attorney Patitce again made remarks that he intended to appeal the courts decision, claiming that ineffective legal representation issues stemming from limited preparation time might be a basis for an appeal. Patituce says that his client denies committing the crimes. This supports Cody’s earlier defense that his USNVA ties were a CIA cover.

Of the $100 million, only a small portion of the money was found, including a suitcase that contained fake ID’s and $980,000 cash. Most of the lost money was already spent by USNVA to fund political campaigns, including campaigns for former president Bush and former presidential contenders Mitt Romney, John McCain and Rudolph Giuliani.

A portion of the recovered money is being petitioned to cover the cost of the trial and investigation. More than half of it is being petitioned to go for its originally intended purpose. $650,871.30 will most likely go to Veterans charities.

A Different Christmas Poem

Reprinted with the kind permission of the author, Mike Marks.

The embers glowed softly, and in their dim light,
I gazed round the room and I cherished the sight.
My wife was asleep, her head on my chest,
My daughter beside me, angelic in rest.
Outside the snow fell, a blanket of white,
Transforming the yard to a winter delight.
The sparkling lights in the tree I believe,
Completed the magic that was Christmas Eve.
My eyelids were heavy, my breathing was deep,
Secure and surrounded by love I would sleep.
In perfect contentment, or so it would seem,
So I slumbered, perhaps I started to dream.

The sound wasn’t loud, and it wasn’t too near,
But I opened my eyes when it tickled my ear.
Perhaps just a cough, I didn’t quite know,
Then the sure sound of footsteps outside in the snow.
My soul gave a tremble, I struggled to hear,
And I crept to the door just to see who was near.
Standing out in the cold and the dark of the night,
A lone figure stood, his face weary and tight.

A soldier, I puzzled, some twenty years old,
Perhaps a Marine, huddled here in the cold..
Alone in the dark, he looked up and smiled,
Standing watch over me, and my wife and my child.
“What are you doing?” I asked without fear,
“Come in this moment, it’s freezing out here!
Put down your pack, brush the snow from your sleeve,
You should be at home on a cold Christmas Eve!”

For barely a moment I saw his eyes shift,
Away from the cold and the snow blown in drifts..
To the window that danced with a warm fire’s light
Then he sighed and he said “Its really all right,

I’m out here by choice. I’m here every night.”
“It’s my duty to stand at the front of the line,
That separates you from the darkest of times.
No one had to ask or beg or implore me,
I’m proud to stand here like my fathers before me.
My Gramps died at ‘ Pearl on a day in December,”
Then he sighed, “That’s a Christmas ‘Gram always remembers.
“My dad stood his watch in the jungles of ‘ Nam ‘,
And now it is my turn and so, here I am.
I’ve not seen my own son in more than a while,
But my wife sends me pictures, he’s sure got her smile.

Then he bent and he carefully pulled from his bag,
The red, white, and blue… an American flag.
I can live through the cold and the being alone,
Away from my family, my house and my home.
I can stand at my post through the rain and the sleet,
I can sleep in a foxhole with little to eat.
I can carry the weight of killing another,
Or lay down my life with my sister and brother..
Who stand at the front against any and all,
To ensure for all time that this flag will not fall.”

“So go back inside,” he said, “harbor no fright,
Your family is waiting and I’ll be all right.”
“But isn’t there something I can do, at the least,
“Give you money,” I asked, “or prepare you a feast?
It seems all too little for all that you’ve done,
For being away from your wife and your son.

“Then his eye welled a tear that held no regret,
“Just tell us you love us, and never forget…
To fight for our rights back at home while we’re gone,
To stand your own watch, no matter how long.
For when we come home, either standing or dead,
To know you remember we fought and we bled.
Is payment enough, and with that we will trust,
That we mattered to you as you mattered to us.”

New Army MOS: 25D, Cyber Network Defender

army cyber command

By Debbie Gregory.

The first group of soldiers to complete their training for the Army’s new Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) were awarded MOS 25D, cyber network defender. The 15 Fort Gordon, GA. soldiers graduated on November 27, following a 14 week military training course.

Soldiers designated with the new occupational specialty will perform duties that include protecting, monitoring, detecting, analyzing, and responding to unauthorized cyberspace domain actions. They will also be responsible for the deployment and administration of computer network defense infrastructures, to include firewalls and intrusion detection systems. Designated 25D Soldiers are also tasked with modifying information systems and computer network configurations in response to or in the prevention of computer network threats. They also collect cyber data used to analyze events in an attempt to pre-warn the system about attacks. Cyber network defenders are also trained to perform assessments of threats and vulnerabilities within the network, as well as conduct network damage assessments, and develop optimum actions in response of threats and attacks.

By establishing the 25D occupational specialty, the Army needed to adjust the entire 25 career management field that includes changes to 25B- information technology specialist, 25C- radio operator-maintainer, and 25W- telecommunications operator chief. The implementation of MOS 25D will redistribute certain cyber network defense duties from other MOS’s to fall under the responsibility of 25D soldiers.

The addition of the new occupational specialty is just one of many steps that the Army is taking to increase its operations in the realm of cyberspace. The Army contends that a safe and protected cyberspace is crucial to the country’s economy and national security.

Requirements for 25D eligibility include: possessing the military rank of Staff Sergeant (E-6) and having a minimum of four years of experience in information technology. Cyber Network Defenders must also have scored a 105 in both the General Technical (GT) and Skilled Technical (ST) portions of their Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test. Eligibility also requires U.S. citizenship, and an in-service screening which identifies soldiers who possess strong ethical standards and intellectual abilities. Applicants are also required to have a recommendation from their battalion.