US Military to Now Serve Under Only American-Made American Flags

US Flag

By Debbie Gregory.

In 1941, the U.S. Congress passed Title 10, section 2533a of the United States Code, which would come to be known as the Berry Amendment. The law requires that the DOD cannot provide articles of food, clothing, textiles, fabrics, metals, tools and equipment to American military personnel unless the item is: “grown, reprocessed, reused, or produced in the United States.” This may come as a shock to some patriotic Americans, including Veterans, but until very recently, this did not include American flags.

The “Stars and Stripes” are the most globally recognized symbol of America and her liberty, power and strength through adversity. Every U.S. service member proudly displays the American flag on nearly all of their uniforms. And “Old Glory” is flown proudly over every military installation, on the mast of every U.S. ship, so that every member of the U.S. armed forces literally serves under the American flag. And every service member that is killed in action has their casket shrouded by the American flag, which is then ceremoniously folded and given to the family of the fallen hero.

Until the passing of the 2014 omnibus appropriations bill, most American flags flown by the U.S. military were made overseas, usually in China. Even flags that came from American companies were known to have used materials, including ink and fabric, that came from foreign markets. But now, going forward, every flag flown, or otherwise used, by our military must be 100% American made, meaning produced by Americans from materials that originated in the U.S.

The legislation was written by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-California), who is himself a Vietnam Veteran and a recipient of the Purple Heart. The law was written to be attached to the Berry Amendment, including flags as the materials needed to be made and produced in the U.S.

Similar legislation was proposed that would require that all flags purchased by the U.S. government be made in the U.S., including flags flown at government buildings. This bill failed, as it has many times before.

Laser Guns: The FUTURE of the US Navy

USS Ponce

By Debbie Gregory.

Back in January, Military Connection told you about the Army’s test of its newest weapon, the High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL MD). We knew it wouldn’t be long before there was another force using high energy lasers. Let’s just be glad that it’s one of our own. Recently, the U.S. Navy announced that it will deploy its own laser system onboard a surface warship by the end of 2014.

The USS Ponce (AFSB(I)-15) is expected to be the first ship to be fitted with the Navy’s new Laser Weapon System (LaWS). The Ponce was originally the last of the Austin Class LPDs, and was almost decommissioned in 2012. Instead, the Ponce, named for the city of Ponce in Puerto Rico, was tapped to be refitted into an interim Afloat Forward Staging Base for mine counter-measure and coastal patrol vessels. The Ponce is expected to carry the LaWS out on its initial tests this summer.

The Navy’s LaWS was designed and built by the Naval Sea Systems Command as a more economical means to destroy Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (also called UAVs or drones), small boats, and other air or surface threats to U.S. Navy ships. The LaWS uses a solid-state laser, which can be operated by a single sailor, most likely a Fire Controlman (FC), the rate who normally maintains and operates the combat weapons systems onboard U.S. Navy ships. The weapon will use the solid-state laser to burn a hole through its target or fry any electronic

Including a laser weapon system to the arsenal on warships has several advantages. The first and foremost is the long-term cost of the weapon system. Missiles that the Navy currently uses can cost up to $1 million apiece- that’s just for each individual projectile. The LaWS was designed to utilize existing detection systems that are already present aboard ships, primarily the detection system for the Close-in Weapon System (CIWS), pronounced “Sea Wiz”.

But there are disadvantages to using laser systems for naval warfare. Lasers tend to lose effectiveness, especially in range and accuracy, in inclement weather. Rain, dust, fog, clouds and turbulence in the atmosphere can interfere with a laser’s effectiveness. Unfortunately, all of these conditions are highly likely at sea. That is why most likely LaWS won’t completely replace all other systems, but will be used in addition to existing combat weapon systems.

The LaWS is not the only futuristic weaponry that the U.S. Navy is currently working on. Within the next two or three years, two more projects should be completed. The Navy is working on a rail gun system that can fire projectile rounds at a velocity of up to seven times the speed of sound. The Navy is also nearing completion of its newest destroyer, the USS Zumwalt. The sight and size of this ship can only be compared to Star Destroyer from George Lucas’ “Star Wars” saga. The Zumwalts construction is on schedule to be completed this year and she is expected to be combat-ready in 2016.

Scholarships for Military Dependents Available Through Folds of Honor

Folds of Honor

By Debbie Gregory.

The effects of more than twelve years at war are evident in our country. It can be seen in schools, in the workplace, on TV, in books, in movies, and in our homes. We see flags waiving. We see people praising and denouncing the wars. We see our loved ones who served come home. We sometimes see them injured. We sometimes observe that they have changed. We see statistics of the fallen.

But some of the biggest effects of the war are the things that we don’t see. For instance, we often don’t see the effects caused by loss and hardship. There are nearly 10,000 military families who are currently living without husbands, wives, mommies and daddies. There are another 60,000 military families who are living with a wounded Veteran. And 200,000 families live with a sufferer of traumatic brain injuries and PTSD.

The government provides some relief to these families, but they often require additional support. About 87% of these families don’t qualify for federal scholarship assistance. And with the loss of an income from a deceased or wounded parent/spouse, military dependents can’t always afford the costs of education. This is where Folds of Honor Foundation come in.

The Folds of Honor Foundation was founded by Major Dan Rooney, an F-16 pilot in the Oklahoma Air National Guard. As stated mission on their website, is “rallying a nation to ensure no family is left behind in the fight to preserve American freedom.” Through personal donations from dutiful citizens, the foundation offers relief, in the form of scholarships, to military dependents of service members who were either killed, or wounded with a 90%-100% VA disability rating, while in service to their country.

Scholarships are to be used for colleges or K-12 private schools to subsidize the cost of tuition, approved tutoring, school uniforms, school books, fees, after school educational programs, and approved educational summer camps. The application period for the academic year 2014-2015 runs from Feb 1 through April 30th 2014.

To apply for a Folds of Honor Foundation scholarship, or to read the complete eligibility requirements, restrictions and instructions, please visit the Folds of Honor Foundation’s Scholarship portal.

Military Connection is always happy to spread the word about programs, people and organizations that are going above and beyond to serve the military and Veteran communities. The Folds of Honor Foundation is a wonderful charitable organization that makes an important difference in the lives of military families who have suffered loss or hardship. If you would like to donate to Folds of Honor, please do so on their donations portal.

New School Requirements for Military Tuition Assistance

New School Requirements for Military Tuition Assistance

By Debbie Gregory.

The Defense Department has had its hands full with the Tuition Assistance (TA) program. Due to budgetary restraints, TA was among the first programs to be reduced. Last March, the Army, Air Force and Marine Corps suspended their TA programs completely. After an overwhelming outcry from military advocacy groups and the general public, the programs were hastily reinstated, albeit with a much smaller budget and heavier eligibility restrictions. The continued existence of the Military Tuition Assistance Program has required the DOD to take further steps to ensure that the program is being used appropriately by the Military users/students and the schools that receive money from the program.

Tuition Assistance is NOT the Post-9/11 GI Bill. It is NOT intended to get a head start on civilian education. TA is designed to make education opportunities available to Active duty personnel in their off-time in order to advance their military careers. For this reason, TA is a vital retention tool, ensuring that its career senior enlisted and officers are well educated and properly equipped to lead our armed forces.

The DOD issued new policies that will govern the use of its retention tool. Among the changes are quality control measures for students, and new eligibility requirements for the participating schools. The DOD will now require schools to meet Title IV requirements, which means that they must take part in civilian federal aid programs to be allowed to accept TA students and money.

The requirement can be found in the latest Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), MOU 3, dated February 7, 2014, which states, “As an educational institution with a current DOD Voluntary Education Partnership MOU, you will have 18 months following the publication of the final rule in the Federal Register to successfully meet the Title IV requirement. During this time, you will be allowed to continue participating in the Tuition Assistance program, enrolling new and current students as long as you are actively pursuing Title IV eligibility.”

This MOU is based on the “Principles of Excellence” for military education that was described in an April, 2012 executive order from President Obama. Included in the MOU is a new Postsecondary Education Complaint System, which offers education benefits users a tool to offer feedback or file complaints.  The MOU also requires that schools not use “unfair, deceptive and abusive recruiting practices,” provide academic and student support to troops and their families, and give “meaningful information to students about the financial cost.”

Most public and non-profit schools already meet Title IV requirements and won’t be affected by the new rule. But the new rule could affect several for-profit schools, which are a major source of licensing, certification and military distance learning programs that TA students frequently use. According to the Distance Education and Training Council, 88 of the 102 distance education schools that it accredits would be ineligible to offer TA under the new requirement.

The memorandum has been received with mixed reviews. Many military advocacy groups are in favor of the changes and applaud the DOD’s efforts. But many school officials, even those at public schools unaffected by the new rule, believe that the changes are unnecessary, and detrimental to the education process.

For more information about Tuition Assistance and the changes in eligibility for schools and students, it is recommended that you visit the DOD’s webpage for Voluntary Education Partnerships.

VA to Launch New Veteran Health Identification Cards

VA to Launch New Veteran Health Identification Cards

By Debbie Gregory.

On February 20th , the VA announced the launch of their newly designed Veteran Health Identification Cards. The new cards are being dubbed the Veterans Health Identification Card (VHIC). They will distinguish themselves from older cards by including additional security features and a new look.

For starters, the new cards will be more personalized, as they will display the emblem of the service branch that the Veteran served in. The new cards will also include VA phone numbers, emergency care instructions and “VA” in Braille to assist visually impaired Veterans.

VHICs will function more like civilian health insurance cards than the predecessor. The new cards purpose, as stated on VA’s website, says, ‘The VHIC is for identification and check-in at VA appointments. It cannot be used as a credit card or an insurance card, and it does not authorize or pay for care at non-VA facilities.” The new cards will display the Veteran’s member identification number, and identify which plan type the member is enrolled in. The new VHICs will be more secure by not containing any personal information in the barcode or magnetic strip.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki said, “VA is committed to providing high quality health care while ensuring the personal security of Veterans. These new identification cards are an important step forward in protecting our nation’s heroes from identity theft and other personal crimes.”

The Veteran Identification Cards (VIC), first introduced in 2004, will be phased out. The plan to phase out the older VICs will start this month. The new VHIC will be given to all newly enrolled Veterans who have not been issued a VIC. Beginning in early April, the VA will start the three month process of issuing VHIC to existing members to replace their VICs. When this happens, the VA recommends that Veterans dispose of their VIC as they would a credit card: by shredding or cutting up the old card.

VHICs are not required in order to receive VA healthcare. But the VA requests and recommends that all Veterans enrolled in VA healthcare possess and maintain a VHIC.

If you have questions or would like to find out more about the new Veteran Health Identification Cards, please visit the VHIC portal on the VA’s website,

Enrolled Veterans can also get more information about the VHIC by visiting their VA medical facility enrollment coordinator or by calling 1-877-222-VETS (8387) or visiting their local VA health care facility.

Veteran Students on Campus


By Military Connection Staff Writer Joe Silva.

Part 6 of 8 of Veteran Education Series

Nearly all Veteran students are older than traditional students and live off campus. In fact, most are married, have children, and are paying rent or a mortgage on a home several miles from their educational institution. Depending on the size of your school, you might not see Veterans in the halls, on the quads or in the various student resource centers on campus. You also won’t see many Veterans at campus activities and events. But as a former Veteran student and as a university graduate, thanks to the Post-9/11 GI Bill, I highly recommend that Veteran students participate in school events as much as possible.

For most of my time as a student, I would try to minimize my on-campus time as much as possible. Like many other Veteran students, I was married and had a night job. So my study time, my family time and my sleep time were precious to me. I went my first two semesters without attending a single event on campus, and I felt that I hadn’t missed a thing.

Finally, in my third semester, one of my professors made it mandatory that his entire class attend a reading on campus. The guest reader was author Junot Diaz. Those of you who know his name realize that this was a big deal. Since it affected my grade, I made plans to attend. I heard that there was a Q&A group meeting two hours before the reading, so I decided to attend that too.

The Q&A session was pushed back due to a late arrival of Mr. Diaz’ plane, and there ended up being only 10 students there. As a writer, having that amount of face time with a Pulitzer Prize winner and MacArthur Fellow was an experience that will stay with me the rest of my life. And to think that if my professor hadn’t made me go, I wouldn’t have gone.

After that night, I began attending more events and activities on campus. I attended more readings and saw a few plays. I eventually went on to join an honor society, and during my last few weeks on campus, I helped plan and host a reading of student writers. Looking back, those events make up some my fondest memories of my days as a Veteran student.

I want to encourage all Veteran students to participate on campus as much as you can. Get involved! You can start with your schools Veteran Resource center, but don’t make that your only form of student involvement. Participate in student government; as leaders, you can show your younger classmates how to excel and succeed. Join or start a student organization. There are fraternities and sororities and honor societies that are not only beneficial to your mental health, but also look great on résumés and grad school applications. You may also find yourself with a once in a lifetime experience, like mine, at academic events like readings, lectures and seminars. Veterans should also attend the fun activities that they hold on campus, like concerts and free parties.

Be sure to keep your head up and your eyes and ears alert on campus. There is a lot more to college life than just classes and homework. Take advantage of all that your school experience has to offer… you’ve earned it.

Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center Provides Education as well as Treatment for TBIs


By Debbie Gregory.

Since 2000, more than 287,000 U.S. military personnel have sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Reported injuries have occurred both in training and combat settings. According to the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC), 83% of TBIs are considered mild TBIs (mTBI), which include concussions. With their high percentages of occurrence, mTBIs are the most common form of brain injury for military personnel.

The DVBIC, founded in 1992, is headquartered in Silver Spring, MD, and operates as part of the U.S. military health system.  Their stated mission is to “serve active duty military, their beneficiaries, and Veterans with traumatic brain injuries through state-of-the-art clinical care, innovative clinical research initiatives and educational programs, and support for force health protection services.”

The original goal of the DVBIC was to “integrate specialized TBI care, research and education across military and Veteran medical care systems.” Today, the DVBIC is a network of 16 centers, which operate out of 11 military treatment facilities and five from VA poly-trauma facilities.

The DVBIC website also provides a free electronic library of educational materials that include research, medical publications and educational information about TBI and similar and related ailments. Service members and Veterans who have suffered through the effects of TBIs, as well as family members and healthcare providers who care for these heroes are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the information the site provides.

Back in January, the DVBIC released clinical recommendations for rehabilitating service members who have sustained mTBIs. The report is titled “Progressive Return to Activity Following Acute Concussion/ Mild Traumatic Brain Injury: Guidance for the Rehabilitation Provider in Deployed and Non-deployed Settings.”

Included in the report is general information about TBIs and mTBIs, case studies, learning objectives, a knowledge test with answers, and key points for rehabilitating TBIs. The information in the report is an attempt to standardize  treatment for mTBIs in a way that is conducive to optimum recovery.

The recommendations provided in the report are intended for military and civilian health care professionals, but also offers service members, Veterans and family members an abundance of facts about TBI, as well as advice for how to rehabilitate brain injuries.

VA Joins Forces with Kaiser Permanente

VA Partners with Kaiser Permanente

By Debbie Gregory.

On February 19, 2014, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced that it will be join forces with Kaiser Permanente. In an effort to solve some of the toughest challenges that plague VA healthcare,  this partnership between two of the most used health care systems will result in a way to bridge their concepts and resources.

The joint effort will help promote more effective biomedical and patient treatment research for both partners. The VA and Kaiser Permanente will combine to create recommendations for how to structure healthcare. This is not the first time that these two organizations allied together.

Back in 2010, the two launched a program that was designed to exchange medical data using the Nationwide Health Information Network. This innovation in medical networking allows personnel from both organizations to gather a more complete view of a patient’s health record. The Nationwide Health Information Network allows for the electronic transfer of health record information, including information about health issues, medications and allergies, while ensuring that patient privacy and confidentiality are protected.

With over 8 million Veterans, spouses, widows and dependents enrolled in the VA Healthcare system, the VA operates as the largest integrated health care delivery system in the United States. The VA has a stated a mission to honor America’s Veterans by providing exceptional health care that improves their health and well-being. The VA’s healthcare system provides a multitude of services including primary care, specialized care, and related medical and social support services.

In addition to healthcare, the VA is also the nation’s largest provider of healthcare education and training for physician residents and other healthcare professionals in training. The VA improves medical research and development in areas that most directly address the diseases, afflictions and conditions that affect Veterans and their families.

“VA is always on the lookout for opportunities for partnerships with the private sector and other federal agencies to enhance care for Veterans,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “We are proud to partner with Kaiser Permanente for the health and wellbeing of our nation’s Veterans.”

VA Researchers and Veteran Volunteers Partner to Cure the World

VA Researchers and Veteran Volunteers Partner to Cure the World

By Debbie Gregory.

Since 1925, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) has conducted hospital-based research as part of its Office of Research and Development (ORD).  In 1946, directly after WWII, the ORD developed methods for treating tuberculosis, and began studies that would eventually develop treatments for diseases and conditions including schizophrenia, diabetes, depression, heart disease and stroke. Since that time, the ORD has accomplished a diverse collection of achievements, innovations and breakthroughs. They have even had three of their researchers awarded the Nobel Prize. The VA’s research team has evolved to become leading edge. To see a full timeline of the historical accomplishments made by the VA’s ORD, dating back to 1925, click here.

Today, there are the more than 3,400 ORD researchers conducting vital medical inquiries in the office’s four divisions: biomedical research, clinical studies, rehabilitation and health services research. The ORD’s collective research plays a crucial role in improving healthcare for Veterans, as well as for advancing medical science.

VA researchers conduct thousands of studies at VA medical centers, outpatient clinics and convalescent homes. Through collaborative work with academic institutions, nonprofits, and other federal agencies, the ORD is able to further their scope of knowledge. But it is through Veteran volunteers that they are able to conduct their research.

Veterans volunteer to participate in the various research projects. Veterans who volunteer are informed of the risks involved with the study, and realize that they might not see a direct benefit to their health. But many Veterans volunteer anyway, hoping that their sacrifice could benefit others in the future. Veterans have the right to opt out of a program or treatment at any time. For more information about participating in research through the VA Cooperative Studies Program, please visit the CSP portal from

Because of the 90 year partnership between Veteran volunteers and the doctors, scientists and researchers from the VA’s ORD, the quality of medical care is constantly improving. Detecting, treating and preventing diseases and afflictions have been made possible. And living with the use of prosthetics has jumped into the space age.

How Ethnically Diverse is the US Military?


By Debbie Gregory.

The U.S. Navy will soon be promoting Michelle Howard to the rank of 4-star Admiral. Along with her new rank, she is also getting promoted to Vice-Chief of Naval Operations. This means that Admiral Howard, an African American woman, will become the second in command of the World’s Finest Navy.

Her elevated rank will make Admiral Howard a member of a few very exclusive clubs. Admiral Howard will be the first female African American to hold a 4-star rank in any branch of the U.S.  military. She is only one of seven African Americans to hold the 4-star rank. And she is only the third female to ever put on a fourth star; joining retired Army General Ann Dunwoody, who put on her rank in 2008, and Air Force General Janet Wolfenbarger, who was promoted in 2012. In terms of diversifying the U.S.  Armed Forces, this is a huge deal.

Admiral Howard is accustomed to being among the first to brave the uncharted waters of diversity. In 1978, she was admitted into the U.S.  Naval Academy; only the third academy class that accepted women. In 1999, she was among the group of five women chosen to be the first female combatant commanders in the U.S.  Navy. This group included the first female to command a U.S. Navy warship, the late Captain Kathleen A. McGrath, who took command of the USS Jarrett (FFG-33) in December, 1998. A few months later, on March 12, 1999, Howard took command of the USS Rushmore (LSD-47).

Admiral Howard still remembers her early days as junior officer, when she was often the only female and the only African American officer present at her duty stations.

“You look around the room, and there’s nobody who looks or sounds like you,” Howard recalls. “It can make you take your breath in.”

While taking nothing away from the extraordinary individual achievements and societal strides made by Admiral Howard, the small populations of women and African Americans in the leadership of our nation’s leading employer makes one question the diversity of our military.

President Harry S. Truman desegregated the U.S.  military by signing Executive Order 9981 on July 26, 1948. Since then, African Americans and other minority groups have served in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq (twice), Afghanistan, and several other skirmishes and operations.

The percentage of African Americans who would meet enlistment eligibility is approximately 17% of the U.S.  population. Percentages of African American military personnel have been as high as 27% in the Army. Currently, African Americans make up about 20% of Army personnel, 17% of Navy, 17% in the Air Force and 10% in the Marine Corps.

Currently, only 6% of the cadets in all of the military branches’ respective Academies are African American. While not every officer come from an academy, this statistic draws into question of diversity of military leadership in the future.

Women, African Americans, and especially African American women should triumph in Admiral Howard’s appointment, and see it as step in the direction of diversity. Diversity is what makes our nation and its military strong. Let’s hope that Admiral Howard’s steps will be among the first in what will become a trodden path of diversity in the U.S.  military.