Change of Criteria for Medals: Military Connection

Change of Criteria for Medals

By Debbie Gregory.

It is widely known that Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone risked his life to stop an Islamic extremism aboard a train in France. But since the incident occurred in the French countryside, far from any declared combat zones, Stone was not eligible for traditional valor medals, such as the Bronze Star or Silver Star. Those medals are limited to formal combat zones or military operations against a specified enemy.

Ultimately, the Air Force opted to give Stone an Airman’s Medal, which recognizes heroism “under conditions other than those of actual conflict with an enemy.”

Air Force Secretary Deborah James said,”The Airman’s Medal is the highest award in a non-combat situation that we could possibly award to Airman Stone.”

Stone’s honor demonstrates how the military’s medal and awards system has failed to keep pace with the changing reality of today’s threats and the types of valor displayed by some of service members in certain circumstances.

James said that the entire military medals and awards system is “is being looked at right now within the Department of Defense. We’re trying to think that through.”

Defense Secretary Ash Carter is expected to approve major changes to the rules governing awards, some of which have stood for more than 100 years old. Since 9/11, the military has faced an increasing number of nontraditional threats.

Also under consideration is the Distinguished Warfare Medal. Commonly referred to as a drone medal, it is intended to honor drone pilots, cyber warriors and those who may not be forward-deployed and facing imminent personal risk, but still perform extraordinary missions, saving American lives or destroying enemy targets.

Congress recently changed the law governing the Purple Heart to broaden the definition of an attack by a “a foreign terrorist organization” to include what’s become known as “lone-wolf attacks.” That change is allowing the Air Force to award Stone a Purple Heart because the French law enforcement authorities are treating the train shooting as an act of terrorism.

Amputee Triumphs Through Fitness : Military Connection


By Debbie Gregory.

If you’re easily offended, Derek Weida probably isn’t your guy.

Weida’s internet videos on bodybuilding and weight loss are chock full of profanity, burping, and beer consumption.

But the amputee veteran has quite a following (millions of viewers), with tens of thousands of people having reached out to him for diet and exercise advice.

The 29 year old Army veteran credits physical fitness as his impetus to break out of a severe depression after an insurgent’s bullet ended his military career and ultimately cost him his leg.

In June 2007, while on his third Iraq tour with the 82nd Airborne Division, he ran into a burst of gunfire as he led his men into an insurgent-filled house during a nighttime raid on the outskirts of Baghdad.

Weida took a bullet through his right knee. After several months of failed surgeries and physical therapy at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, doctors sent him home to Minnesota for recovery and more operations.

Although they couldn’t get his knee to bend, he was still hopeful. Anticipating his return to active duty kept his spirits up.

“They were confident that they could get my knee to work,” he said.

When he was medically retired, Weida said he wallowed in alcohol-fueled anger, depression and suicidal thoughts. He was jailed several times after bar fights, arrested on drunken driving charges and spent time in psychiatric wards.

After it was evident that his leg was hindering his quality of life, doctors agreed to the amputation.

“The way my leg was before, with it not bending, there was nothing I could do to make my life better,” he said. “I couldn’t improve the state of my leg. But now, with a prosthetic, my success is determined solely on how hard I’m willing to push myself.”

Weida’s motivational videos and his organization, The Next Objective, provide him with an alternate way of serving others.

“The two things that really helped me fall out of that dark period of my life was reconnecting with my veteran friends and purpose-driven fitness,” he said. “We use fitness as an alternative to alcohol and things like that. I think fitness is kind of the universal healer.”

The Next Objective, currently awaiting 501 (c) 3 approval, is sustained by donations and is dedicated to empowering returning service members through a focus on fitness, community, and a teamcentric effort to achieve success and happiness in life outside the military. Grants help veterans pay for gym memberships, personal training and event sponsorships.

Army Boosts Aerial Presence: Military Connection

Aerial Presence

By Debbie Gregory.

In answer to an increase in global threats, the US Army is stepping up to the plate to put more “eyes in the skies.”

The Army is planning to expand its aerial exploitation battalion forces, which fly manned Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions around the world.

According to the Pentagon, the plan is to increase its daily drone flights by 50 percent over the next four years.

The Army’s new units will fly fixed-wing aircraft with special equipment that can detect enemies emitting signals in war zones. The pilots and crew will be taken from excess forces in the Army’s operational support airlift units and from the National Guard and Army Reserve.

The move will help prevent Army pilots in the active duty and reserves from being cut, due to pressure from defense budget cuts.

Since the pilots won’t require any new training, the new units will not require any new funding. The pilots will likely get refresher training when they report to their new assignments, which is already required semi-annually.

Although the move comes as the U.S. has drawn down a large-scale troop presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, officials say that often times, that is when the demand for intelligence actually increases.
For now, two units are planned, which will be stood up at the Hunter Army Airfield in Georgia and Fort Bliss in Texas, where the Army has two aerial exploitation battalions.

Also in the works is a restructuring of the Army’s rotary-wing units as part of an initiative called Aviation Restructure Initiative (ARI), which will move the National Guard’s attack helicopters to the active duty.

Underserving Female Veterans: Military Connection

Underserving Female Veterans: Military Connection

By Debbie Gregory.

While official policy mandates that women do not serve in combat roles in the U.S. military, the women who serve still suffer from physical and psychological injury.

Among them is retired Army Sgt. Brenda Reed, who has pleaded with VA officials for “a foot that fits, a female foot,” only to be told repeatedly that the agency doesn’t carry that kind of customized prosthetic. So every morning, for more than two years, she has had the infuriating chore of screwing on what she calls her “man foot.”

After her left leg was amputated in 2013, Reed was given the prosthesis by the Department of Veterans Affairs. But the artificial limb was so bulky and ill-fitting that it kept falling off in public.

Reed has tried to make the best of the situation, putting bright red press-on nails on the wide “man” toes.

The take-away from this is that it is vital for the VA adapt to meet the needs of the increasing numbers of female veterans.

The VA health-care system has catered almost exclusively to men, and has been slow to recognize that the 2.3 million female veterans represent the fastest-growing population turning to the agency.

VA hospitals and clinics don’t offer prenatal care or delivery. As a matter of fact, numerous VA facilities don’t have full-time gynecologistsFor even some of the most basic female wellness services, such as mammograms, there are facilities that have to outsource the services and refer the women elsewhere.

There is also a severe shortage of VA mental health therapists who are women, an especially pressing problem for female veterans trying to come to terms with sexual assaults suffered in the military.

While some VA hospitals have premier women’s clinics, others offer women little privacy, forcing them to share rooms with men and separating them at most with a curtain.

Even recently, as VA Secretary Robert McDonald has acknowledged, some hospitals didn’t have separate restrooms for women.

Breastfeeding in Cammos: Military Connection

Breastfeeding in Cammos

By Debbie Gregory.

In an effort to “normalize” breastfeeding, a group of active duty military posed with their babies at the breast, and the photograph has gone viral. Fort Bliss Public Affairs and Garrison Command approved the shoot, an Army spokesman said.

While breasts have been used to sell everything from cheeseburgers to cars, for some reason the act of nourishing babies the way it has been done for thousands of years strikes a chord.

Photographer and Air Force Veteran Tara Ruby was originally going Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, to help adorn the walls of the newly established nursing room.

Through the Fort Bliss support group for mothers, Pregnancy and Postpartum Physical Training Program (P3T for short) Ruby sought active duty soldiers to model in the photos. While she was hoping she might get two or three volunteers, 10 women showed up for with their children, proudly wearing their boots and camo.

Ruby said, “Breastfeeding their babies doesn’t make them less of a soldier, I believe it makes them a better one. Juggling the tasks and expectations of a soldier, plus providing for their own in the best way they possibly can, makes these ladies even stronger for it.”

Not everyone has been accepting of the photograph, as evidenced by many negative comments left on the Facebook page where it was originally posted.

The conversation about breastfeeding is entangled in social and cultural ideas about human nature, sexuality, and how we think about individual human bodies, forgetting that the primary reason for their existence is nourishing babies. Therefore, the conversation needs to change to overcome the negative connotations of a very simple act.

Ruby and the women who participated in the photograph can take pride as the picture puts the finishing touch on the wall in the breastfeeding room. The image of these beautiful mom soldiers breastfeeding their adorable babies show that women no longer have to choose between starting a family and serving their country.

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 Chance to Dream Again: Military Connection

The Chance to Dream Again

By Debbie Gregory.

In 1993, Thomas Rollerson phoned a wish-granting agency for children and discovered no such place existed to honor the final wishes of adults. One year later, with the support of his community, he created Dream Foundation.

When life is in the end stages due to terminal illness, the Dream Foundation allows people to reconnect with meaningful aspects of their past, and honor a life full of love, service and community.

Eighty-two-year-old Navy veteran Gerald was diagnosed with end-stage coronary artery disease. His dream? To revisit the USS Laffey at Patriot’s Point, South Carolina, the ship he had served on from 1950-1954. He had traveled the world on that ship and saw three tours in Korea during the war. His final dream was to grace the decks one last time.

Gerald and his daughter had that reunion experience, thanks to Dreams for Veterans. They received a special tour, catered luncheon, and the opportunity to share his stories in an oral history interview. Father and daughter then spent the weekend touring Patriot’s Point, where Gerald became an instant  celebrity.

Founded in 1994, Dream Foundation is the only national dream-granting organization for adults and their families battling life-threatening illness. This year, the foundation launched Dreams For Veterans sub-program.

Final dreams range from basic needs items (scooters, lift chairs, laptops) to bedside reunions, final vacations with family, meeting a personal hero, or reconnecting with aspects of their former military service.

Granting these dreams shows appreciation for each veteran, acknowledging their service and sacrifices. Dreams for Veterans effectively tailors each dream experience for each individual veteran, providing the invaluable opportunity to honor a Veteran’s service while engaging, honoring and appreciating their families and communities.

To qualify for a dream to be fulfilled, you must be a U.S. military veteran, 18 years or older, with a life expectancy of 12 months or less, who lack the means to manifest his or her dream unassisted.

The Dream Foundation’s 14th Annual Celebration of Dreams Gala will be held at the Bacara Resort & Spa on November 7, 2015. This event, which features sumptuous cuisine, high profile guests and spectacular entertainment, is considered Santa Barbara’s premier philanthropic celebration

The Dream Foundation relies solely on donations for corporations and individuals. To learn more about how you can participate in honoring and acknowledging a veteran dream recipient, or how you can help spread the word in your community, visit or call (888) 4DREAMS/(888) 437-3267.

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.

Nearly One Third of Vets in VA Backlog Already Dead: Military Connection

Nearly One Third of Vets in VA Backlog Already Dead: Military Connection

By Debbie Gregory.

With close to 900,000 military veterans waiting to access health care from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the department’s inspector general said that a major overhaul of the record-keeping system processing the applications was needed.

Sadly, approximately 28% of those veterans are thought to be deceased, but the VA has said it has no way to purge the list of dead applicants.

Linda Halliday, the VA’s acting inspector general, told the AP that the agency’s Health Eligibility Center “has not effectively managed its business processes to ensure the consistent creation and maintenance of essential data.”

According to a scathing report by the inspector general, VA workers incorrectly marked thousands of unprocessed health-care applications as completed. They may have deleted 10,000 or more electronic “transactions” over the past five years.

Whistleblowers have been warning that more than 200,000 veterans with pending applications for VA health care were likely deceased. The inspector general’s report substantiated those claims.

Last year, the VA publicly acknowledged that the enrollment system management and data integrity and quality “are in need of significant improvement. VA realizes the issues surrounding the enrollment process are confusing to Veterans and our stakeholders.”

The VA has contacted 302,045 veterans by mail, asking them to submit required documents to establish eligibility. To date, the VA has received 36,749 responses and enrolled 34,517 veterans, with outreach efforts continuing.

“As we continue our work to contact veterans, our focus remains on improving the enrollment system to better serve veterans,” said VA spokeswoman Walinda West “We will work diligently to address the issues their report raised to continue to improve the enrollment system to better serve Veterans.”

Meeting their healthcare needs provides us the opportunity to express our pride and appreciation to and for the many who have served and sacrificed to make our country free. It’s the very least we can do.

Celebrating 108 Years! Military Connection

Celebrating 108 Years!

By Debbie Gregory.

World War II Veteran Alyce Dixon just turned 108-years young! She is now the oldest living female World War II veteran, according to VA records.

With a tiara on top of her head for the occasion, Dixon’s milestone was celebrated on September 11th with fellow Veterans, volunteers, staff and family at the D.C. VA Medical Center.

Cpl. Dixon has quite a story and quite a personality. She joined the military in 1943 and was stationed in both England and France with the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion.

During the war, warehouses in Birmingham, England, were filled with millions of pieces of mail intended for members of the U.S. military, U.S. Government personnel, and Red Cross workers serving in the European Theater. Airplane hangars held undelivered Christmas packages, and a constant stream of incoming mail added to the already massive backlog of letters and packages.

African-American women were drawn from the WAC, the Army Service Forces, and the Army Air Forces, and eventually designated as the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, nicknamed “Six Triple Eight.”

One of the most prominent public events honoring the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion took place on 25 February 2009, at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. Dixon was joined by surviving unit members Mary Ragland and Gladys Shuster Carter for a 90-minute ceremony held by U.S. Army Freedom Team Salute, an official U.S. Army Commendation Program, to honor the 6888th.

Dixon was also  interviewed for a documentary film “Invisible Warriors: African American Women in World War II” by Gregory S. Cooke, an English Department professor at Drexel University.

Of her birthday celebration, Dixon said, “This has been a marvelous day. I feel real special.” She added, “God has been so good. He left me here with all these lovely people and all these nice things they’re saying. I hope they mean it.”

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.

Avoiding a Government Shutdown: Military Connection

Avoiding a Government Shutdown

By Debbie Gregory.

As the September 30th deadline to fund the federal government approaches and Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill are locked in a stalemate over a budget agreement to keep the government open, the White House and Senate Democratic leadership signaled that they would be open to a short-term spending bill to avoid a government shutdown.

Press secretary Josh Earnest said a stopgap measure would not conflict with President Obama’s pledge to veto any budget resolution that locks in limits on defense and domestic spending, known as sequestration.

“I think we would perceive an internal contradiction between the word ‘short term’ and ‘lock in,’ Earnest told reporters.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said that any short-term bill must be “clean.”

“That means, no riders, nothing with Planned Parenthood. Nothing with repealing what the Environmental Protection Agency has done. No repealing what the Dodd-Frank bill put into effect to stop us from having another Wall Street meltdown,” Reid said. “No riders dealing with immigration. Just a clean continuing resolution for a short period of time to allow us to do a more full, more complete deal in the very near future.”

Complicating the negotiations, a group of conservative lawmakers in the House of Representatives has pledged to oppose any spending bills that fund Planned Parenthood.

Any short-term Continuing Resolution (CR) that materializes in the near term, whether before October 1 or within a short time after a government shutdown, will likely fund federal programs at current levels until later this calendar year. This will allow a few months for budget negotiations. With a short-term CR, agencies would continue operating, albeit with caution about funding programs until final budget numbers are clear, knowing that additional cuts may be coming.

With that said, Congress must begin budget negotiations, both short- and long-term, in earnest. Neither defense nor non-defense agencies can plan with the uncertainties that continue to surround the federal 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.

CA Governor Appoints New CALVET Secretary: Military Connection


By Debbie Gregory.

On September 18th, California Governor Jerry Brown announced the appointment of the new secretary of the California Department of Veterans Affairs (CalVet). Colonel Vito Imbasciani, a 69-year-old Los Angeles urologic surgeon and Kaiser Permanente executive, is poised to fill the position left vacant by the previous acting secretary, Debbie Endsley.

Endsley was appointed acting secretary of CalVet in January, 2015. Endsley had replaced Peter J. Gravett upon his retirement.

Colonel Imbasciani is president-elect of the Los Angeles County Medical Association, and a member of the California Medical Association Board of Trustees and the California Association of Physician Groups Board of Directors. He has also served as the director of government relations at Southern California Kaiser Permanente Medical Group since 2004.

He was the state surgeon for the California Army National Guard from 2006 to 2014, and also served as a surgeon in the U.S. Army Medical Corps from 1986 to 2014.

Colonel Imbasciani earned his Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Vermont. In addition, he holds a Doctor of Philosophy and a Master of Arts degree in musicology from Cornell University. He also speaks multiple languages, including Spanish, French, German and Italian.

A long time LGBT supporter, Colonel Imbasciani served under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, but he was always working as an activist to repeal the policy. He badgered the staff of Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “to stand up to the generals who didn’t want any part of ending ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’” He also approached every member of Congress on the House and Senate Armed Services Committee, through their staff members, “giving them my story and sort of tantalizing them with the willingness to appear before Congress under my constitutional right as a solider to redress grievances. And to let them know the difficulties of being a gay man in uniform and the terrible loss of talent and the terrible expense that the military has to go through in replacing these highly qualified [experts].”

Colonel Imbasciani’s appointment to the position requires confirmation by the state Senate.

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.