Lawmaker Calls for Mabus’ Resignation : Military Connection

Mabus

By Debbie Gregory.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, a member of the House Armed Services Committee and Marine Corps veteran, is demanding the resignation of the Navy’s secretary for his plans to open Marine Corps infantry positions to women.

A lengthy Marine Corps experiment involving about 300 men and 100 women who volunteered as research subjects found that all-male units performed significantly better than mixed-gender ones on 69 percent of tactical tests. The task force on gender integration also found that women were injured more than twice as often as men, according to a brief summary of results released by the Corps.

Regardless, Secretary Ray Mabus announced he intends to open Marine infantry, Navy SEALs, and all other combat jobs in the Navy to the new gender-neutral employment policy in the Defense Department.

The Marine Corps is expected to ask that women not be allowed to compete for several front-line combat jobs, military officials said.

The report acknowledged that “female Marines have performed superbly in the combat environments of Iraq and Afghanistan and are fully part of the fabric of a combat-hardened Marine Corps after the longest period of continuous combat operations in the Corps’ history.”

Gen. Joseph Dunford, the Marine commandant, is weighing the task-force findings as well as related research on entry-level training courses, the opening of 12 occupations to women and the addition of female support staff to some ground-combat units.

Military women who support the end of all gender restrictions for employment praised Mabus for what they described as his leadership and acumen at gauging weaknesses in the Marine Corps research.

The services have been slowly integrating women into previously male-only roles, including as Army artillery officers and sailors on Navy submarines. Adding to the debate was the groundbreaking graduation last month of Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver, the first two women to female soldiers to complete their courses at the Army’s exhausting Ranger School.

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.

Up, Up and Away for the First Female Blue Angel : Military Connection

Female Blue Angel higgins

By Debbie Gregory.

Marine aviator Capt. Katie Higgins has earned the honor of donning the famous blue and gold flight suit of the Blue Angels. Higgins has the groundbreaking distinction of being the first woman to perform as a pilot in the 69 year history of the Blue Angels.

“I wouldn’t say I’m a celebrity. No way. I’m a Marine,” Higgins said.

“I definitely appreciate the support from the American people, and if I can bring attention to opportunities people have in life, girls included — that they can join the military, be a Marine, even be a Blue Angel pilot, then that’s cool.”

Higgins, 29, is a third-generation military aviator. Both of her grandfathers flew in the military, as well as her two uncles and father, Bill Johnson, a 1981 Naval Academy graduate. Her brother graduated from the Naval Academy in 2010. “I grew up with a love for flying because of my family,” she said.

The Navy estimates that each year 11 million people watch Blue Angels air shows, which happen weekly, around the country, March to November. The best part about being a C-130 pilot is working together as a crew, Higgins said. “We have two pilots on the plane, a navigator, a flight engineer and a loadmaster. So there’s five of us that it takes to fly this aircraft.”

The selection process to join the Blue Angels is intense. It includes a long application, essays, and a microscopic look at personal and professional lives by Blue Angels officers.

In Higgins’ case, it came down to her and one male competitor.

She was told that she was selected because she was the best person for the job, not the best woman,

Only 7 percent of the Marine Corps is female to begin with, and pilots are subject to height and weight restrictions that sideline many women. Out of 5,223 flight officers in the Marine Corps, 197 are female.

“I didn’t come to the team to break any barriers or smash any glass ceilings,” Higgins said. “They don’t want to fill any quotas. They want to fit the right person, ensuring you’re the right puzzle piece for that next year’s team.”

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.

 

Navy Ups Retention Incentives: Military Connection

Navy Ups Retention Incentives for sailors

By Debbie Gregory.

The U.S. Navy has announced a series of initiatives aimed to retain its best of its brightest young sailors.

In an effort to avoid a recruiting problem similar to the one the Army is facing, Navy brass has concentrated on improving benefits, including programs for maternity leave, child care and education and mid-career internships with industry. In a healthy economy, junior and mid-grade officers and enlisted can take their skills to the private sector for more pay.

Currently, the economy is on an uptick, so the Navy must work harder to compete with the private sector to bring in new sailors and keep them when their service obligations end. For many sailors, incentives that would benefit their careers or personal lives, like preferable assignments or favored bases, could be as important, or more so, than money.

“If you want to be retaining and recruiting the best and brightest, you’ve got to offer them a career model that is competitive to what they’re being offered on outside,” said Todd Harrison, a military budget expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

While many of the initiatives pertain to both male and female members of the Navy, a handful of the emphasized proposals, such as extending maternity leave and childcare hours, were aimed at appealing to women and families in the Navy.

The Navy’s Career Intermission Program (CIP) is an effort to allow members of the Navy to spend time away from the service, and then return, without damaging long-term advancement. CIP  allows Navy members to spend time in academia or the private sector as part of their overall career path in the service.

Along similar lines is the Navy’s internship program with private industry. The Navy is partnering with Fortune 500 CEOs to create what’s called the “Secretary of the Navy Industry Tour.” This program will allow commanders to send their officers to work at U.S. companies for a period of time before returning to the Navy. The internships last nine months, paid for by the Navy, and allow sailors to learn business practices, techniques and technologies.

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.

Banks Forced to Do the Right Thing: Military Connection

forclosed

By Debbie Gregory.

JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citi, GMAC Mortgage and Bank of America will be paying out more than $311 million to over 2,400 servicemembers as compensation for wrongful foreclosures on those servicemembers’ homes.

The payments are a result of the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act portion of the 2012 settlement known as the National Mortgage Settlement.

Servicemembers will receive $125,000, plus any lost equity in their property and interest on that equity.

The violations occurred between January 2006, and April 2012.

Servicers were in violation due to the fact that they either foreclosed on homes without a judicial proceeding of servicemembers who originated their mortgages before their period of military service, or they obtained a default foreclosure judgment without filing a proper affidavit with the court stating whether the homeowner was in the military.

The settlement also provides compensation for troops who notified their mortgage servicers that they had entered active military service, but were denied the full benefit of the SCRA provision that caps interest rates on pre-service mortgages at 6 percent. Those servicemembers will be identified in the coming months, Justice officials said.

Borrowers should use the following contact information for questions about SCRA payments under the National Mortgage Settlement:

  • Bank of America borrowers: Call Rust Consulting Inc. toll-free at 855-793-1370 or write to BAC Home Loans Servicing Settlement Administrator, c/o Rust Consulting Inc., P.O. Box 1948, Faribault, MN 55021-6091.
  • Citi borrowers: Call Citi toll-free at 888-326-1166.
  • GMAC Mortgage borrowers: Call Rust Consulting Inc. toll-free at 866-708-0915 or write to P.O. Box 3061, Faribault, Minnesota 55021-2661.
  • JPMorgan Chase borrowers: Call Chase toll-free at 877-469-0110 or write to P.O. Box 183224, OH-7160/DOJ, Columbus, OH 43219-6009.
  • Wells Fargo borrowers: Call the Wells Fargo Home Mortgage Military Customer Service Center toll free at 877-839-2359.

Payments made to servicemembers and co-borrowers for foreclosure violations will be reported to the IRS.  But just because a payment is reported to the IRS does not mean that it is taxable.  Your tax treatment will depend on your particular facts and circumstances.  Payees should contact a professional tax advisor or other qualified financial counselor with any questions concerning taxes.

Officials expect more servicemembers who were victimized will be identified in the coming months. Servicemembers and family members who believe their SCRA rights have been violated may contact an Armed Forces Legal Assistance office.

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.

Troops to Remain in Afghanistan: Military Connection

president obama saying Troops to Remain in Afghanistan

By Debbie Gregory.

In a stark reversal from earlier pledges to end the war on his watch, President Obama halted the withdrawal of American military forces from Afghanistan. The announcement that the United States will keep thousands of troops in the country indefinitely will prolong the American role in the 14-year war.

While Mr. Obama said he continued to oppose the idea of “endless war,” the decision follows months of appeals from military leaders to extend the draw down timeline. And it marks an acknowledgement that, despite claims Al Qaeda is on the run, militants continue to pose a serious threat to the country.

“While America’s combat mission in Afghanistan may be over, our commitment to Afghanistan and its people endures,” said Mr. Obama.

Under the new plan, the administration will keep the current force of 9,800 troops in Afghanistan through most of next year, then draw down to 5,500 troops in 2017, at a pace still to be determined by commanders.

The decision, which was reached after a lengthy review leaves the “how” and “when” of ending the war in Afghanistan to Obama’s successor.

The current American force in Afghanistan of 9,800 troops will remain in place through most of 2016 under the administration’s revised plans, before dropping to about 5,500 at the end of next year or in early 2017, Mr. Obama said. He called it a “modest but meaningful expansion of our presence” in that country.

According to the United Nations, the Taliban are now more widespread throughout Afghanistan than at any point since 2001. Just last month, the Taliban scored their biggest victory to date, seizing Kunduz and holding it for more than two weeks before pulling back.

President Obama conceded that despite our best efforts, and years of building the Afghan Army and police force, the Afghan forces are still not fully up to the task of protecting 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.

Tarnishing His Record With Adultery: Military Connection

Tarnishing His Record With Adultery

By Debbie Gregory.

There’s a reason why military law treats adultery as a criminal offense in cases where it brings discredit to the armed forces or undermines military order and discipline.

Brigadier General Anthony J. Tata, also known as Tony Tata served in the United States Army for twenty-eight years before retiring in 2009. Army inspectors concluded the retired general who headed North Carolina’s largest school district and the state transportation agency had adulterous affairs before retiring from the military.

The Army’s Office of Inspector General concluded that Tata had “at least two” extramarital affairs in 1985 and 1992.

Tata used his military credentials to secure the job of Wake County school superintendent and state transportation secretary. Tata is also an author of action thrillers, commonly referred to as the “Threat” series. Titles include Sudden Threat, Rogue Threat, Hidden Threat and Mortal Threat. He writes under the name A.J. Tata and promotes his books with frequent commentary on Fox News, CNN and other media outlets.

Citing the stresses of his day job, the success of his side career as a writer of military action thrillers and the demands of his family, Tata resigned abruptly as head of the state transportation department in July, saying he wanted to focus on his family and book career.

Tata says he retired honorably with the highest noncombat award, the Army’s Distinguished Service Medal, that the Army can award. He stated that the award wouldn’t have happened if his record included marks against his character.

The 55 year old Tata has a daughter and a son. He lives in Cary, North Carolina with his third wife, Jodi.

Army leaders chose not to penalize Tata for adultery, a charge that he has not denied.

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.

Soldiers’ Careers Took Very Different Paths: Military Connection

Christopher Lee Mintz

By Debbie Gregory.

The gunman who killed nine people and injured several others at a community college in Oregon was discharged from the Army for “failing to meet the minimum administrative standards.”

But according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, in 2008 the shooter had been discharged from Army basic training at Fort Jackson, SC, after just one month, following an attempted suicide. Since he did not receive a dishonorable discharge, he wasn’t precluded from buying guns under federal law. The Army said it couldn’t confirm details of his discharge, nor the nature of his administrative separation, citing privacy regulations.

Also serving in the Army was Christopher Lee Mintz, the heroic victim who tried to stop the shooter. Mintz served as an infantryman for almost three years, from 2004 until 2007. He advanced from the rank of private E-1 to specialist E-4Meanwhile.

Although Mintz never deployed to a war zone, he received multiple awards and decorations, including the National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and the Army Service Ribbon.

Mintz’s heroic actions continued when gunfire erupted on the campus of Umpqua Community College, as he tried to block the door to keep the gunman out.

Both of Mintz’s legs were broken during the shooting. His family, friends and acquaintances describe Mintz as a devoted father to his 6-year-old son, Tyrik, and a fitness nut who never missed a workout. They also said his courageous act wasn’t surprising.

Mike Gwaltney, a friend and swim coach at the YMCA, initially bonded with Mintz over University of Florida football, but he also worked closely with his Mintz’s young son. Wanda Mintz, Christopher’s aunt, said Tyrik has autism. “He keeps this schedule,” she said of the boy. “This will throw him off. This has affected so many people.”

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.

Overhaul of VA Healthcare System Needed: Military Connection

 VA Healthcare

By Debbie Gregory.

In an attempt to get veterans the treatment they have earned, a September 1st report calls for a complete overhaul of the Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare system.

The report, led by Mitre Corporation, included analysts from the Rand Corporation, McKinsey and Company, the Institute of Medicine, and Grant Thorton, Analysts concluded that the system is plagued by bureaucracy and leadership challenges. It also found that the quality of care can vary significantly, depending on where veterans receive treatment.

The report examined 12 segments of VA health care, including access to care, staffing, workflow, capabilities, business practices and more. It found that in addition to a leadership crisis, there are staffing shortages and a demoralized workforce.

Recommendations for improvement include cultivating a culture of service excellence among employees; holding employees accountable; instituting system-wide changes in administration, support and services; fostering respect through performance; and creating an office to oversee and implement change, with the fortitude to request funding to accomplish its goals.

The news wasn’t all bad; the report found that on many quality measures for outpatient care, the VA outperformed other health care systems. VA hospitals also performed equally or better than non-VA hospitals on some effective measures, such as inpatient mortality measures, but significantly worse on other measures like readmission standards.

The independent assessment comes as debate continues over whether VA should outsource or privatize veterans care.

Concerned Veterans For America (CVA) has called for a complete overhaul of the system, to include partially privatizing services. Under that plan, VA medical facilities would be reorganized under a nonprofit governmental organization and more veterans would be shifted to private health insurance programs.

VA Secretary Bob McDonald has denounced calls to increase privatization of services and says the VA mission to care for veterans is a “sacred trust” that the department will not relinquish.

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.

Plagued by Suicide: Military Connection

clay

By Debbie Gregory.

The deaths started a few months after the Marines returned from the war in Afghanistan.

In 2008, the Second Battalion, Seventh Marine Regiment deployed to Helmand Province. The battalion regularly ran low on water and ammunition, all the while under fire, almost daily. During eight months of combat, the unit killed hundreds of enemy fighters and suffered more casualties than any other Marine battalion.

In the post-deployment years that have followed, the unit has been plagued by suicides. Out of the 1,200 Marines who deployed together, at least 13 have committed suicide. Veterans of the unit, tightly connected through social media, would sometimes learn of the deaths nearly as soon as they happened.

The surviving veterans of the battalion have their own survival strategy; they depend on one another. Using free software and social media, they have created a quick-response system that allows them to track, monitor and intervene with some of their most troubled comrades.

Their system has made a few saves, but there are still failures.

The Marines of the 2/7, calling themselves “the Forgotten Battalion,” were spread out in sandbag outposts, hours from reinforcements, and often outnumbered. There was no dedicated air support, few mine-sweeping trucks.

They see a tie between combat and their suicide problem. Not only were all of the men who committed suicide young infantrymen those who had a hard time with the experience of killing and loss, but also had experienced at least one devastatingly traumatic moment.

The one death that really shook the battalion was that of Clay Hunt.

Cpl. Clay Hunt had been a sniper in the battalion. After he got out of the Marine Corps in 2009, he sought treatment from Veterans Affairs for depression and PTSD.

He began speaking openly about his problems and lobbying for better care for veterans. In 2010, he was featured in a public service message urging veterans to seek support from their comrades.

Hunt was desperately trying to get care at the V.A.

According to his mother, Susan Selke, Hunt encountered long delays and inconsistent treatment. In March, 2011, the 28 year old veteran shot and killed himself.

Following years of lobbying by his family and veterans’ groups, Congress passed the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, which provides additional suicide prevention resources for Veterans Affairs.

“When he died, all the guys, we couldn’t understand it,” said Danny Kwan of San Gabriel, CA, who served two tours with Hunt. “He had done exactly what he had been fighting against.”

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.

Helicopter Crash Claims Two US Service Members: Military Connection

kuh

By Debbie Gregory.

Two U.S. service members, two British service members and a French civilian contractor died when a British helicopter crashed in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, on October 11, 2015.

The American service members were identified as Master Sgt. Gregory Kuhse, 38, of Kalamazoo, MI and Maj. Phyllis Pelky, 45, of Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Pelky served as the aide-de-camp to the Air Force Academy superintendent. Kuhse was assigned to the 3rd Manpower Requirements Squadron at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois.

All five on board were members of the a NATO-led effort to train and support Afghan military troops, Resolute Support Mission. This is the third mass-casualty event involving transport aircraft in the war-torn country in three months, according to coalition forces in Afghanistan.

The crash of the British Puma Mk 2 helicopter is under investigation, but it was confirmed that it was an accident, and not the result of insurgent activity. An Afghan security guard who witnessed Sunday’s crash said that the helicopter struck a monitoring balloon as it was landing. Then the helicopter went down and black smoke rose from the area.

A second helicopter circled the area three or four times and then landed at a nearby airport, he said.

U.S. Brig. Gen. Wilson Shoffner, military communications chief in Afghanistan, said, “Our heartfelt condolences go out to the families and friends of those affected in this tragic incident and we pray for the full recovery of the injured.”

At Military Connection, we acknowledge the service and sacrifices made by those who serve. We extend our sincerest condolences to the families and loved ones of these brave souls.

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.