Obesity and the Future of the Military: Military Connection

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By Debbie Gregory.

The nation’s obesity epidemic is causing significant recruiting problems for the military, with one in three young adults nationwide too fat to enlist. But in Texas, that statistic is even more appalling.

Army Brigadier General Joe E. Ramirez Jr.(Ret.), the Commandant of Texas A&M University’s Corps of Cadets, said that in Texas, 73 percent of young adults can’t serve due to the shape they’re in. That’s nearly 3 out of 4!

“It’s been a problem for a while,” he said. “Our country is getting bigger and that concerns a lot of us.”

Ramirez has embarked on a statewide speaking tour to discuss obesity’s impact on the military, and ways to improve children’s health in the state. He relied on talking points from a report entitled “Too Fat, Frail and Out-of-Breath to Fight.”

The report was published by Mission: Readiness. The nonprofit, non-partisan group is promoting a healthier lifestyle for children across the nation as a way to combat the problem. Mission Readiness’ 120+ retired Generals, Admirals, and other senior leaders of the United States Armed Forces found that otherwise excellent recruit prospects, some of them with generations of sterling military service in their family history, are being turned away because they are just too overweight.

The report urges city and school district officials to build physical activity into communities; build physical activity into the school day; and continue with healthier school meals. This means increasing the number of children who walk and bike to and from school by improving sidewalks, bicycle paths, intersections, traffic signals and other infrastructure. It also means making sure that there are opportunities to get moving during the school day, all fueled by healthy, nutritious school meals.

“This affects the ability of qualified men and women to defend the country,” Ramirez said. “Being able to rely on our youth is critical.”

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.

Did the VA Know Prudential’s Game? Military Connection

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By Debbie Gregory.

Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Commander John Biedrzychi, Jr. has claimed that the Department of Veterans Affairs was aware that Prudential Insurance encouraged its counselors to keep casualty pay-out monies in-house as a way to boost company profits.

Prudential is under contract to handle Sevicemember Group Life Insurance (SGLI) and Veterans Group Life Insurance (VGLI ) policies. Upon the death of the insured, the SGLI benefit is put into an interest-bearing Prudential Alliance Account in the beneficiary’s name. Beneficiaries may choose a lump-sum payment or 36 equal monthly installments, a feature designed to allow survivors time to grieve and plan their future.

The court-ordered release of internal company documents revealed Prudential’s practices also included training their agents to dissuade surviving family members from taking the traditional lump-sum payment.

VA spokesman James Hutton claimed the VA was unaware of the counselor training scheme, or that Prudential was profiting on the backs of deceased veterans families.

“VA does not know how Prudential trained its employees to communicate with beneficiaries about the advantages of retained asset accounts prior to 2010 or whether the company believed that such accounts would improve its earnings,” Hutton said in a statement.

Hutton said that the VA mandated administrative changes to “ensure that VA beneficiaries receive clear and complete information regarding their life insurance benefits.”

He added that the VA ordered claim forms be modified so that beneficiaries would be able to choose from four clearly defined payment options. The department also required Prudential to contact all beneficiaries whose accounts were still open after six months to make sure they understood the payout options.

So, what do you think? Are you convinced that the VA was in the dark about what Prudential was doing?

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.

Despite Veto, Military Pay Raises Secure

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By Debbie Gregory.

President Obama’s veto of the 2016 defense authorization bill will not sideline next year’s military pay raise.

Last week, Obama sent the $612 billion bill back to Congress, saying it “fails to authorize funding for our national defense in a fiscally responsible manner.

While the veto may jeopardize other compensations, it does not alter plans for a 1.3 percent raise for troops, effective January 1. It does not affect enlistment bonuses, hazard pays, and other specialty compensation for which authorization must be renewed each year.

Obama had pledged to set the military pay raise at 1.3 percent, which falls below expected civilian wage growth. Lawmakers chose to allow that target to stand unchallenged.

At issue was about $38 billion that Republican lawmakers added to the Pentagon’s overseas contingency fund in order to get around mandatory spending caps enacted by Congress for fiscal 2016. Republicans had argued that the issue was better settled in the separate appropriations process, not the authorization process.

The military retirement changes would replace the traditional 20-year, all-or-nothing system for new enlistees with a 401(k)-style blended pension plan. Supporters have said the change would give the vast majority of troops some retirement payout upon leaving the service, while the current system benefits less than twenty percent of troops.

With a two-year budget deal in place, the heads of the House and Senate Armed Services committees see a relatively smooth path ahead for the recently-vetoed 2016 defense authorization bill. However, the pay raise certainty did not stop Republican lawmakers from making claims that Obama’s move would take money from servicemembers’ wallets.

“Let’s have a budget that properly funds our national security as well as economic security,” Obama said. “Let’s make sure that we’re able, in a constructive way, to reform our military spending to make it sustainable over the long term.”

The House’s reconsideration of the bill is set for November 5th.

Bridging the Gap from Service to School

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By Debbie Gregory.

The Warrior-Scholar Project (WSP) has been empowering Veterans to realize their full potential as students.

WSP is now accepting applications for its 2016 academic boot camps. These programs are held during the summer at top universities nationwide and aim to facilitate enlisted veterans’ transition from the military to college.

The Warrior-Scholar Project believes that military Veterans not only possess the necessary skills to succeed on the campuses of prestigious universities, but that they are capable of being student leaders among their classmates. Despite the fact that many Veterans are several years removed from any form of academic endeavors, the founders of the Warrior-Scholar Project believe that the motivation to achieve mission accomplishment, honed through their military service, drives Veterans to academic success.

Through the program, participants learn skills like “ninja reading,” how to structure academic papers and the art of self-editing. But more importantly, the program breathes new life into these unconventional students’ academic dreams.

The programs are open to enlisted veterans and transitioning current service members who plan to enroll in or transfer into a four-year undergraduate program. WSP donors cover all program costs for accepted students, except transportation.

Co-founded by Jesse Reising, Chris Howell and Nick Rugoff, the idea for the Warrior-Scholar Project was sparked when Reising, a Marine Corps Officer Candidate, was recuperating from an injury he sustained during a football game between Yale and Harvard. One hit ended Reising’s military career. But the support that he received during his recovery prompted Reising and his co-founders to provide similar support for the men and women who served and are now using their Veteran education benefits.

The intensive two week-long workshop includes:

  • Academic reading and writing
  • Adapting to changed social circumstances
  • Translating skills used and acquired in the military to the college environment

Interested student veterans can start the application process online. Applications are reviewed on a rolling basis, and students may be asked to complete an additional phone interview. Applications will be accepted until March 14, 2016, and all students will receive responses by early April 2016.

 

U.S. Soldier Killed in ISIS Raid

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By Debbie Gregory.

A U.S. service member was fatally wounded during an Iraq mission to rescue about 70 hostages from the Islamic State (known as IS, ISIS, and ISIL) in Iraq and Syria.

Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler is the first U.S. servicemember who has died in Iraq during combat since the United States began its campaign against IS terrorists in 2014

Although there have been nine previous U.S. deaths as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, all of them occurred in non-hostile situations.

Wheeler, of Roland, Oklahoma, was a highly-decorated soldier and father of four. He rushed into action when he heard sounds of gunfire coming from a prison in Iraq, the location where approximately 70 ISIS-held hostages were being kept.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter said that although not part of the rescue plan, Wheeler’s actions were critical to the mission’s success. Carter said the freed hostages explained what they had experienced after the rescue, including the graves that had been dug for them next to the compound.

The Special Operations Forces mission was in support of an Iraqi Peshmerga operation to rescue the hostages, after information was received that the hostages were facing a mass execution. U.S. helicopters provided air support for the operation, as U.S. forces accompanied Peshmerga forces to the compound.

Of the some 70 hostages rescued, more than 20 of them were members of the Iraqi Security Forces. Five ISIS terrorists were detained by the Iraqis, and a number of terrorists were killed. The U.S. also recovered important intelligence about ISIS.

The mission was authorized consistent with counter-ISIS efforts to train, advise and assist Iraqi forces.

During his military career, Wheeler was deployed at least 17 times — most of those in support of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Army.

Our heartfelt condolences go out to the loved ones of Master Sgt. Wheeler.

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.

Army Vet, 75, is Still Serving: Military Connection

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By Debbie Gregory.

A 75 year old Illinois Army veteran is recovering from stab wounds after saving the lives of 16 children when a knife-wielding teen stormed an Illinois public library.

James Vernon, a retired Caterpillar technology worker and Army vet, has been released from the hospital following surgery to repair two slashed arteries in his hand and damage to a tendon in his finger.

Vernon was leading a chess club meeting when 19 year old Dustin Brown burst into the room, wielding a knife in each hand and threatening to murder the children.

Vernon said the two knives were hunting types, with “fixed blades about 5 inches” long.

The children, who ranged in age from 7 to 13, took shelter under tables in the library’s conference room while Vernon stood in front of Brown. Vernon maneuvered himself between Brown and the conference room door, allowing the children to escape.

After all the children fled, the knife training Vernon learned in the Army five decades earlier kicked in. When Brown slashed from the right, Vernon instinctively blocked the blade with his left hand.

“I should have hit his wrist. That’s how you’re trained, but it’s been half a century,” Vernon recalled. “First rule of combat: Be fast and vigorous.”

Vernon was able to restrain Brown until a library employee removed the knives. Then the two together continued to restrain the attacker until police and paramedics arrived.

Brown, who at the time of the attack was free on bond awaiting prosecution on unrelated charges, was ordered held on $800,000 bond pending a court appearance on November 5th. He’s charged with attempted murder, armed violence, aggravated battery to a person over age 60, and burglary for entering the library with intent to commit a crime.

Vernon’s wife, Hanna, was proud of her husband’s heroic actions, but not surprised: “You need to take some responsibility for your community and your 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.

Trump, McCain on What’s Next for Bowe Bergdahl: Military Connection

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By Debbie Gregory.

Although Bowe Bergdahl’s fate lies in the hands of Gen. Robert Abrams, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said that Bergdahl should have been executed. Having previously called Bergdahl a “dirty, rotten traitor,” Trump has often railed against the prisoner swap that returned Bergdahl to U.S. custody.

In March, Bergdahl was charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. Bergdahl has been accused of leaving his post in southeastern Afghanistan in June 2009. He was held prisoner by the Taliban for five years, then exchanged for five Taliban commanders being held by the U.S.

Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain, a Navy pilot who was tortured and held captive for five years during the Vietnam War, said that Bergdahl is “clearly a deserter,” and threatened to hold a congressional hearing into the case “if it comes out that he has no punishment.” McCain serves as the chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

The preliminary hearing officer on the case, Army Lt. Col. Mark A. Visger, recommended the charges be referred to a special court-martial and that Bergdahl receive no jail time.

Eugene Fidell, Bergdahl’s attorney, said that McCain is wrong for threatening a congressional hearing over his client’s actions.

“Sen. McCain’s comments are deeply disturbing and constitute unlawful congressional influence in a sensitive military justice matter,” he said.

The preliminary hearing officer on the case, Army Lt. Col. Mark A. Visger, last week recommended the charges be referred to a special court-martial and that Bergdahl receive no jail time.

Fidell said the defense has asked that the charges “be disposed of not by court-martial, but by nonjudicial punishment” — such as loss of rank, a drop in pay, extra work, etc. He has also urged Visger to make his report public

General Abrams is expected to decide soon whether the case should go before a court-martial now that the military equivalent of a grand jury proceeding has concluded.

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.

Defense Bill Vetoed, Heads Back to Congress

U.S. President Barack Obama vetoes H.R. 1735 "National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016" in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington October 22, 2015. Obama officially vetoed the $612 billion defense bill on Thursday, sending the legislation back to Congress because of the way it uses money meant for war spending to avoid automatic budget cuts to military programs. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTS5PM2

By Debbie Gregory.

President Barack Obama vetoed a $612 billion defense policy bill, insisting congressional Republicans send him a better version, one that doesn’t tie his hands on some of his top priorities.

Obama praised the bill for ensuring the military stays funded and making improvements on armed forces retirement and cybersecurity. Yet, at the same time, he accused Republicans of resorting to “gimmicks,” objecting to the way the bill purposes using money meant for war spending to avoid automatic budget cuts to military programs.

“Unfortunately, it falls woefully short,” Obama said. “I’m going to be sending it back to Congress, and my message to them is very simple: Let’s do this right.”

Previously, Obama has vetoed only a handful of bills. And those vetoes were done in private. But in an effort to call attention to Obama’s concerns, the White House invited reporters and photographers to witness him veto this bill.

The veto marked the latest wrinkle in the ongoing fight between Obama and the Republican-controlled Congress over whether to increase federal spending, and how.

Four years after Congress passed and Obama signed into law strict, across-the-board spending limits, both parties are eager to bust through defense spending caps. Obama and many Democrats want a broader budget deal that would address mandatory cuts in domestic spending rather than only providing more funds for the Pentagon.

Republicans argue that the military should be spared many of the so-called sequestration budget cuts to ensure national security. They accuse Democrats of using the issue to camouflage a desire for irresponsible domestic spending.

Obama also said he disagreed with provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act that would limit his ability to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center before he leaves office.

“It’s time for us to close it. It’s outdated, it’s expensive, it’s been there for years. We can do better in terms of keeping Americans safe while making sure that we are consistent with our values,” he said.

A Tragic Ending for a Military Canine: Military Connection

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By Debbie Gregory.

A bomb-sniffing combat dog who earned two Bronze Stars during two tours in Iraq in a Special Operations Forces unit was shot to death by a bicyclist who felt the hero canine was a threat.

Now his owner, Army veteran Matthew Bessler, is asking for a burial with military honors for his dog.

Mike, a 10-year-old Belgian Malinois, was killed in Wyoming by a bicyclist who says the dog attacked him. There were no witnesses, but the man told police he used his bike as a shield from the attacking dog.

Mike served with Bessler in Iraq in the U.S. Army acting as a combat dog and in bomb detection. When the pair returned from their deployment, Bessler adopted the military canine. Mike helped Bessler transition back to civilian life.

But Mike was more than just a companion.

Bessler shared, “I raised him and trained him as a puppy, and the ability he has to sense some of the issues that I have with seizures, with my PTSD, my TBI (traumatic brain injury) and severe anxiety disorders, how he can calm me down just by him being in my presence.  He can help take the focus and help change the focus of what’s going on with me and help me calm down or relax me.”

The unnamed bicyclist who shot Mike told law enforcement that he felt threatened by a pack of dogs that he encountered while on the road.

Bessler, who was out of town at the time of the shooting, does not believe the cyclist’s claims that Mike was acting aggressively enough to warrant the shooting.

“If the guy was actually fending the dogs off with a bicycle, (Mike) would have really been barking, and there was no barking,” Bessler said. “The guests who were at the house, they said the same thing. There was no barking. It was just a gunshot.”

A GoFundMe account for Mike was created, and has already surpassed its initial goal to raise $10,000. The additional donations will be distributed to a program that honors and supports military war veterans.

“We are a community coming together to mourn the loss of a brave military service dog, who deserves the honor to be laid to rest with a military funeral and burial,” according to the account.
The 59-year-old bicyclist has not been cited for any wrongdoing.

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.

French Train Attack Hero Released From Hospital: Military Connection

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By Debbie Gregory.

Spencer Stone, the U.S. Air Force Airman who thwarted a terrorist attack on a French train in August, was released from the hospital following a violent stabbing attack in Sacramento CA.

The 23 year old Stone suffered multiple stab wounds, including one to his heart, during an early morning fight. He was rushed to UC Davis Medical Center, where he underwent open heart surgery.

Stone issued a written statement thanking the emergency responders and the team at UC Davis Medical Center for caring for him.

He also thanked all the well-wishers, and said, “I’m focused now on healing and recovering and look forward to the next part of my journey.”

According to a GoFundMe account set up by Spencer’s brother, Everett, Spencer Stone’s medical costs are covered by the military. The money they are raising on the crowdfunding platform is going to assist family members who have needed to take time off to care for Spencer at this critical time.

Stone’s mother, Joyce Eskel, released a written statement: “Our family wishes to express our deepest gratitude to the staff and providers at UC Davis Medical Center. I’m especially grateful to (trauma surgeons) Dr. Ellie Curtis, Dr. Garth Utter, the entire trauma team and the ICU nurses who treated Spencer so well. We’ve been overwhelmed by the support from our family and friends, the Sacramento area, the Air Force and people around the world. Thank you all.”

Stone and his traveling companions Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler, thwarted a terrorist attack when they tackled and subdued a would-be terrorist on a Paris-bound train. Stone suffered cuts to the neck and a deep wound on a thumb in that incident.

Police have described the assailants in this recent incident as two Asian men, wearing white shirts and blue jeans. They are believed to have fled in a dark-colored Toyota Camry.

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.