Hefty Bonuses Await Experienced Drone Pilots Who Re-up

drone pilots

By Debbie Gregory.

As the Air Force tries to retain drone pilots, the service branch is offering critical skills retention bonuses of $125,000 if the pilots agree to serve five more years.

The Air Force said that 18X RPA pilots who have accumulated six years of aviation service, following their undergraduate RPA pilot training, are eligible for the bonuses.

The bonuses will be paid out in five annual installments of $25,000. Pilots also have the option of receiving 50 percent of the bonus up front.

To be eligible, officers also must be active duty lieutenant colonels or below, and must be receiving RPA aviation incentive pay, and they cannot complete 25 years of active duty service before the five-year bonus period ends.

“It is important to ensure RPA pilots receive a bonus that is equitable to other pilots,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said. “Therefore, we worked closely with OSD to implement the CSRB for them and with a commensurate amount this year. These airmen are making extremely important contributions to the fight; we need these professionals to stay with us and we’re committed to retaining them in our force.”

In July, we reported that the Air Force had floated a plan to offer $15,000 retention bonuses for commitments of either five years — for a total of $75,000 — or nine years, for a total of $135,000. At that time, due to the shortage, drone pilots were flying up to 900 hours a year, compared with fighter pilots, who were in the cockpit an average of 250 hours a year, according to Air Force officials.

The Air Force also said it will allow pilots, whose undergraduate flying training active-duty service commitments are due to expire in fiscal 2017, to sign up for an aviator retention pay bonus this year. In the release, Brig. Gen. Brian Kelly, director of military force management policy, said that those pilots would receive their first payment as soon as their contracts are ratified. The remaining payments would be spread out equally through the rest of the contract term.

Airmen applying for the bonuses will likely get their first payments within three weeks of their application’s final approval, and processing by the Defense Finance and Accounting Service.

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.


Penis Transplants Being Planned to Help Wounded Warriors


By Debbie Gregory.

Dr. W.P. Andrew Lee, Dr. Richard J. Redett and Dr. Gerald Brandacher, surgeons at Johns Hopkins, hope that within the next year, a young soldier with a horrific injury from a bomb blast in Afghanistan will be the recipient of the first penis transplant.

The organ should develop urinary function, sensation and, eventually, the ability to have sex.

While missing limbs have become a well-known symbol of these wars, genital damage is a hidden wound, albeit not that rare. Modern warfare in Afghanistan and Iraq has put more troops on the streets with dismounted patrols and increased exposure to improvised explosive devices.

That has led to a new kind of trauma: genitourinary, known as GU trauma, which includes the genitals, bladder, urinary tract and kidney systems. From 2001 to 2013, 1,367 men in military service have suffered wounds to the genitals, according to the Department of Defense Trauma Registry. Nearly all were under 35 and wounded by IEDs.

Only two other penis transplants have been reported in medical journals: a failed one in China in 2006 and a successful one in South Africa last year.

Because only the penis will be transplanted, and not the testes, any sperm produced will be the patient’s own, not the sperm of the donor. Men who have lost testicles completely may still be able to have penis transplants, but they will not be able to have biological children.

Doctors who treat young men wounded in combat say that no matter how bad their other injuries are, the first thing the men ask about when they wake up from surgery is whether their genitals are intact.

Although surgeons can create a penis from tissue taken from other parts of a patient’s own body, erections are not possible without an implant, and that carries its own set of complications.

For now, the operation is being offered only to men injured in combat.

Assisting Veterans in a Number of Ways


By Debbie Gregory.

Part of what we do here at MilitaryConnection.com is connecting our audience with great companies and non-profit organizations that work to make life better for those who serve, veterans, and their loved ones. We are not at all surprised that the vast majority of the organizations we work with are founded and run by veterans or military/veteran family members.

For the Troops is an all-volunteer, non-profit organization dedicated to providing members of the American military with “We Care” packages containing basic necessities, goodies, games and—most of all—a show of support. In 2005, founder Paula Cornell realized that her husband had forgotten to brush his teeth. When she pointed this out to him, he said, “It’s no big deal, I didn’t brush my teeth for a year in Vietnam.” He went on to tell her that he also went without other comforts, such as toilet paper. Paula felt a deep need to help American freedom fighters obtain everyday comforts that civilians take for granted, and For the Troops was born.

Sword & Plough is a socially conscious brand that works with American manufacturers who employ veterans. The company recycles military surplus, incorporates that fabric into stylish bag designs, and donates 10% of profits back to veteran organizations. Founded by Army 1st Lt. Emily Nunez Cavness and her sister, Sword & Plough has grown from a humble Kickstarter campaign to a successful small business.

Prior to being cast as “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” villain Kylo Ren, Marine veteran Adam Driver was bridging the cultural gap between the Armed Forces and the performing arts communities through his nonprofit Arts in the Armed Forces.

Former Army Ranger Nick Watson started VetEx — Veteran Expeditions — because he knew more fellow former troops needed to experience the power of the mountains. “I realized when I was climbing, all I thought about was climbing. That focus is addicting. It’s a like a drug, a very good drug, and I was definitely hooked,” said Watson. Since launching in 2010, VetEx has transformed 1,500 veterans into mountaineers

Volunteers from the Colorado Aviation Business Association, led by Army veteran Mike Straka, team up each year with Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Precision Flight Team to deliver toys and food to veterans’ families in remote reaches of the state.

Navy vet Jack Maxfield is a counselor at the Silicon Valley Chapter of SCORE. They have been offering free workshops and seminars to National Guard and Reserve troops and veterans in the San Francisco Bay area for the past 3 years. Their consultant services are free, and more information can be found on their website at svscore.org.

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.

VA to Change the Procedure for Confirming Veterans’ Deaths


By Debbie Gregory.

Mark Twain wrote, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” And now some veterans are echoing Twain’s words. The federal government is taking responsibility for wrongly declaring more than 100 veterans dead, when they were, indeed, still alive. As a result, the government is changing the way it is confirming veterans’ deaths.

The mistakes caused the suspension of benefit payments, causing many to suffer a temporary financial hardship.

U.S. Rep. David Jolly (R-FL) brought the issue to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ attention in a November letter. Jolly has been a leader in the ongoing fight to protect and provide for our nation’s veterans. He co-sponsored legislation to improve healthcare for veterans by creating more private sector options for care, authorizing additional medical staff, and increasing the number of healthcare facilities.  Jolly also introduced legislation that gives veterans the opportunity to choose if they want to receive care within the Veterans Health Administration, the Department of Defense facilities, or private sector providers

The VA verifies its beneficiaries’ entitlement through an automated match with the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File.

Now, the department is “updating its process to request further confirmation of the beneficiary’s death before it terminates payments,” VA spokesman Randal Noller said. “Although these types of errors are a small percentage, we sincerely regret the inconvenience caused by such errors.”

When VA officials think a veteran has died, a letter will be sent to his or her address, requesting confirmation of the death from a surviving family member. If the VA fails to hear from the family — or from a veteran erroneously believed dead — only then will the department terminate payments.

While the VA attributed blame to both computer and human error, Jolly expressed his gratitude that the department took action.

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.

USS Harry S. Truman Deployed in Fight Against ISIS


By Debbie Gregory.

The Norfolk-based Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group, currently in the Arabian Gulf, is launching airstrikes against Islamic State (IS or ISIS) terrorists, according to the Navy.

The strike group includes guided-missile cruiser USS Anzio and guided-missile destroyers USS Bulkeley, USS Gravely and USS Gonzalez.

The carrier and its crew of approximately 6,000 sailors left Naval Station Norfolk November 16th, on what’s expected to be a seven-month deployment, filling a U.S. carrier absence in the Middle East.

The Truman joins the French nuclear-powered aircraft carrier FS Charles De Gaulle for combined combat operations in Iraq and Syria, the Navy said. France has been an active member of the U.S.-led coalition force since ISIS claimed credit for the attacks in its capital city November 16th.

Originally, the Truman was set to deploy in 2016, but the Navy had it switch deployments with the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (Ike), which needed additional time in the shipyard. Ike had a record-setting, 23-month yard period after back-to-back deployments from June 2012 to December 2012, and from February 2013 to July 2013, causing more maintenance than expected.

The Truman provides a wide range of flexible mission capabilities, including maritime security operations, expeditionary power projection, forward naval presence, crisis response, sea control, deterrence, counter-terrorism, information operations and security cooperation. The ship’s embarked air wing is capable of projecting tactical air power over the sea and inland, as well as providing sea based air, surface and subsurface defense capabilities.

The ship’s crew keeps up a lively presence on social media, posting pictures on their Facebook page to keep loved ones up to date with their activities. While it must have been difficult to have them gone for the holidays, there were somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 holiday pictures featuring hundreds of crew members in the “Happy Holidays” photo album.

“America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand. ”
-President Harry S. Truman

Give ‘Em Hell!

U.S. Troops See the Latest Installment in the Star Wars Franchise


By Debbie Gregory.

Just because you’re serving overseas doesn’t mean you can’t have access to first-rate entertainment.

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” headed to Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, where troops were able to see the movie just a few days after its U.S. release.

The list of locations where the movie was screened was not made available for force protection reasons. But local commanders were able to get the word out through normal channels.

This latest installment in the Star Wars franchise was directed, co-produced, and co-written by J. J. Abrams. It is set approximately 30 years after Return of the Jedi, and follows Rey, Finn, and Poe Dameron’s fight with the Resistance, led by veterans of the Rebel Alliance, against Kylo Ren and the First Order, descended from the Galactic Empire.

The first film in the series, Star Wars (later subtitled Episode IV: A New Hope), was released on May 25, 1977 by 20th Century Fox, and became a worldwide pop culture phenomenon. It was followed by the similarly successful sequels The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983). These three films constitute the original Star Wars trilogy. A prequel trilogy was later released between 1999 and 2005, which received a more mixed reaction from critics and fans, compared to the original trilogy. All six films were nominated for or won Academy Awards, and were commercial successes

The screenings were part of AAFES’ longstanding policy of bringing first-run movies to troops deployed overseas.

“Providing service members with first-class entertainment plays a key role in maintaining the morale of our deployed forces,” said Trinidad Saucedo, AAFES’ senior vice president of services, food and fuel, in a statement.

Ken Caldwell, senior vice president of North American sales and distribution for The Walt Disney Studios, released a statement saying, “Our men and women in uniform represent the best and bravest, and it’s an honor to do something special as a thank you for their service.”

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.

North Korea Claims Hydrogen Bomb Test Success


By Debbie Gregory.

In a move that has drawn worldwide skepticism and condemnation, North Korea claims “spectacular success” of its first hydrogen bomb test, a defiant act that leader Kim Jong Un said would “make the world … look up to our strong nuclear country.”

“Let’s begin 2016…with the thrilling explosion of our first hydrogen bomb, so that the whole world will look up to our socialist, nuclear-armed republic and the great Workers’ Party of Korea!” some of the text written by Mr. Kim read.

What most North Koreans don’t know is the amount of skepticism outside the country.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest has expressed doubt that the claim is valid, saying, “The initial analysis is not consistent with the North Korean claims.”

Norway-based Norsar, a group that monitors nuclear tests, confirmed a blast equivalent to less than 10,000 tons of TNT, smaller than those of the atomic bombs used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Along with the United States, South Korea Japan and China are testing the area for airborne or ground radiation. So far, the South Korean and Japanese attempts have not found any evidence of radiation.

According to experts, the proclamation of a successful test of a hydrogen bomb is a boost of loyalty to the leadership among officials and citizens, strengthening the dictatorship. North Koreans are told that they are under a constant threat of attack, which is why the idea of a successful nuclear bomb gets them behind their leader.

That is important as Kim Jong Un prepares for a ruling party conference in May, the first one in 36 years.

Mr. Kim, the young leader, came to power in 2011 after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il. He has had little time to amass the power and influence his father enjoyed. But it appears that he is looking for ways to do so.

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.

Medal of Honor Recipient Kyle Carpenter Charged in Hit and Run

kyle carpenter

By Debbie Gregory.

On December 31st, Medal of Honor recipient Kyle Carpenter was charged with hit-and-run and making an improper left turn in connection with a December 8th incident. Both charges are misdemeanors.

Carpenter, 26, the youngest living Medal of Honor recipient, turned himself in to Columbia, SC police. He was later released on bond.

According to the Columbia Police Department, Carpenter struck an 18-year-old pedestrian who was making a legal street crossing just after 8:30 p.m.

While Carpenter did pull over and turn on his hazard lights, he did not exit the vehicle to exchange information or render aid, according to police officials.

As the pedestrian stood up and approached the vehicle, Carpenter left the scene.

According to the police incident report, “The suspect then left the location without notifying the proper authorities. The driver of the vehicle involved in the accident did not return to the scene to give his name, address and the registration number of the vehicle nor made available his driver’s license or render reasonable aide or assistance to the victim.”

Columbia police were notified by several citizens and responded to the scene. The victim suffered abrasions and a leg injury. He was treated by EMS personnel at the scene but declined transportation to the hospital. Fortunately, the accident did not result in any serious injuries.

Police said they have no evidence that either Carpenter or the victim were under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the incident.

Carpenter received the Medal of Honor for saving a fellow Marine from a grenade lobbed by a Taliban fighter. Carpenter took most of the impact, suffering a shattered jaw, shattered right arm, the loss of his right eye and most of his teeth. He spent five weeks in a coma, underwent dozens of surgeries and spent two years in the hospital for rehabilitation.

Carpenter has fully cooperated with the investigation, authorities said.

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.

One U.S. Service Member Killed, Two Wounded in Afghanistan

An HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter taxis before a mission Oct. 1, 2010, at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. Airmen of the 26th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron conduct combat search and rescue missions as well as transporting injured military members and civilians for medical treatment. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Chad Chisholm)

By Debbie Gregory.

On Tuesday, January 5th, one U.S. service member was killed and two others were wounded in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province.

Military spokesman U.S. Army Col. Mike Lawhorn said that “all casualties have been evacuated” following Tuesday’s fighting. The evacuation was delayed when one helicopter took fire and was unable to land, and another was unable to take off.

The fighting was part of intensified efforts by the U.S. and its Afghan partners to push back against Taliban gains, and took place near the city of Marja.

The U.S. troops came under fire while accompanying Afghan special operations forces, according to Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook.

Cook said two U.S. helicopters were dispatched to the scene to provide medical evacuation for the U.S. casualties but could not complete the mission. One was waved off after taking fire and returned safely to its base. The other, an Air Force HH-60 Pave Hawk, landed safely but was unable to take off because its rotor struck a wall.

Cook said that U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter has been updated by U.S. commanders in Kabul on the situation via video-conference.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said President Barack Obama had been briefed on the incident.

For more than six months, Helmand has been the scene of battles between insurgents and security forces that have complained of being abandoned by the U.S.-backed Afghan government. In December, the deputy governor of the volatile southern province said that Helmand could fall to the Taliban after months of heavy fighting.

“We are deeply saddened by this loss,” said Brig. Gen. Wilson A. Shoffner, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Shoffner added, “Our heartfelt sympathies go out to the families and friends of those involved.”

We at Military Connection add our condolences to the family and friends of the lost service member, and hope for a full and swift recovery for the two injured service members.

A Very Meaningful Hashtag- #IWillProtectYou


By Debbie Gregory.

#IWillProtectYou is a promise from the social media community to a frightened 8-year old that she will not be persecuted for her religious beliefs.

In reaction to presidential front-runner Donald Trump calling for a ban all Muslim immigration into the United States, Sofia Yassini lived in fear, despite her mother Melissa’s reassurances.

Melissa Yassini said her daughter began “collecting all her favorite things in a bag in case the army “came to remove the family from their home.”

After reading a story about how Muslim parents across the United States are grappling with frightened children amid rising anti-Islam sentiment, Army veteran Kerri Peek wrote about Sofia on her Facebook page, and called on soldiers to reassure her.

“Post a picture of you in uniform with the hashtag‪#‎IWillProtectYou to let these children know that we will not hurt them,” Peek wrote in a December 17th Facebook post. “That they are safe here in America. That we will protect innocents as we always have.”

Chris Henricksen posted, “Sofia, I have not been in the Navy for over 20 years, but, as a proud veteran, I promise that #iwillprotectyou.”

Mediocre Jedi posted, “Sofia, there are far more good people than bad in this world. We’ve got your back. #iwillprotectyou.”

Vickie Gallup posted, “Sofia, I may be old now but as a veteran of the United States Army and a grandma, #iwillprotectyou. Hugs and kisses.”

On December 30th, Peek posted that there is still more to be done, with the planned launch of the website iwillprotectyou.net, which is currently under construction.

Melissa Yassini said she and her daughter are overwhelmed by the support.

“Christians, atheists, Jews, every walk of life, every stage, have reached out to Sofia and I with overwhelming support and love.”

It is perhaps best summed up by Billy Griffin, who posted, “Thank you to my fellow service members & vets, showing the very best of our country. #iwillprotectyou.”

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.