How Big Should the Army Be?


By Debbie Gregory.

As the U.S. winds down the Afghan war, the government has been eyeing a much reduced military force, with numbers at the lowest level since World War II. The downsizing is also due to defense cuts mandated by Congress.

The 2011 Budget Control Act required $500 billion in defense cuts over a decade, on top of $487 billion already planned.

The Army had drafted plans to reduce its troop size to 420,000 by 2021. But when the plan to reduce troop levels to that number was drafted, it did not take into account a sizable continuing force in Afghanistan and the need to defend against ISIS.

According to a report by a congressionally appointed commission, the size of the Army should not fall below 450,000 active-duty troops and 530,000 reservists for the foreseeable future.

The commission has also recommended that the Army add an armored brigade in Europe and leave an aviation brigade in South Korea.

“An Army of 980,000 is the minimally sufficient force to meet current and anticipated missions at an acceptable level of national risk,” said an executive summary of the report by the National Commission on the Future of the Army.

Former senior Army and Pentagon leaders who took part in the commission included: retired generals Carter Ham, Larry Ellis, and James D. Thurman, former assistant secretary of the Army Thomas Lamont, retired Sgt. Maj. Raymond Chandler, former Pentagon comptroller Bob Hale, former deputy under-secretary of defense for policy Kathleen Hicks, and retired Lt. Gen. Jack Stultz.

Lawmakers reached a two-year agreement that would reduce the level of cuts for 2016 and 2017, but the cuts are slated to return in 2018. But even if the cuts remain in place, the Army may still reduce to 420,000 personnel.

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DoD’s Proposed 2017 Budget Comes in at $583 Billion


By Debbie Gregory.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter submitted a proposed $583 billion Defense Department budget for 2017 that focuses more on high-tech future conflicts and less on counterterrorism operations against militants such as the Islamic State group. But the budget does include a significant increase in funding for the fight against Islamic State, also known as IS, ISIS, or ISIL.

“The [fiscal year 2017] budget reflects recent strategic threats that have taken place in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe,” the Pentagon said in a statement accompanying the budget documents released on February 9th.

The budget request includes a quadrupling of the funds to support NATO’s effort to counter Russian aggression in Eastern Europe, raising the current amount of $789 million to $3.4 billion. This increase will allow for the rotation of more U.S. units in Europe, additional training, and the pre-positioning of gear.

“All of this together by the end of 2017 will let us rapidly form a highly-capable combined arms ground force that can respond theater-wide if necessary,” Carter said.

Fiscal year 2017 begins on October 1, 2016.

Carter called Russia, along with China, “our most stressing competitors,” which “reflect a return to a great power competition.”

With Russia’s seizing of Crimea from the Ukraine and China’s claims on disputed islands in the South China Sea, Carter said “we cannot blind ourselves to the actions they appear to choose to pursue.”

The Defense Department budget will shift in focus away from one potential enemy to multiple threats.

“We don’t have the luxury of just one opponent, or the choice between current fights and future fights — we have to do both. And that’s what our budget is designed to do,” Carter said.

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A Growing Army of Caregivers


By Debbie Gregory.

Family caregivers provide crucial support in caring for veterans. The Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act was signed into law in May, 2010. The law acknowledges the critical role of caregivers for seriously injured post- 9/11 veterans, and establishes a national program that addresses the wellness and training of family caregivers.

Due to advances in combat medicine and technology, more troops are surviving injuries that would have been fatal in past conflicts. But when they return home, they face life with devastating physical and psychological injuries.

The post-9/11 era produced 1.1 million caregivers, with about 20 percent of them caring for veterans.

The Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act offers caregivers a monthly stipend, as well as healthcare coverage, training, respite care and mental health counseling.

Eligibility for the stipend is evaluated annually and ranges from $650 to $2,300 a month, based on the severity of the injuries and the geographic location of the caregiver and veteran. It is currently only available to those who care for Post 9/11 veterans. About 20 percent of these veterans have traumatic brain injury, and 64 percent struggle with mental health or substance abuse.

The VA has since partnered with Easter Seals to provide caregiver training in several formats: classroom, workbook and online. Overall, about 30,000 caregivers have received training.

The Elizabeth Dole Foundation commissioned the first evidence-based study focused on the needs of military caregivers. Hidden Heroes, conducted by the RAND Corporation, found that almost half of the post-9/11 caregivers are between 18 and 30 years old, without a lot of financial stability and with no previous training in caregiving. And the commitment is taking a toll: More than one-third meet the criteria for probable depression.

“Our nation has a clear responsibility to better support America’s military and veteran caregivers,” said former Sen. Elizabeth Dole. “This is not a short-term problem in need of a quick solution. . . . Our nation cannot let these caregivers take on this role alone.”

If you think you fit the criteria for these services, please follow the link to answer some preliminary questions and download an application at

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AF Space Command Colonel Facing Numerous Sexual Charges


By Debbie Gregory.

Col. Eugene Caughey, currently assigned to Air Force Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base, has been charged with rape, assault and adultery, dating back to 2013, according to court documents.

Caughey is accused of raping a woman at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado, in late 2014 or early 2015 while “holding her against the wall and floor using physical strength or violence.” If found guilty, he could be sentenced to life in prison.

The 23-year Air Force veteran is also charged with six counts of committing adultery, taking obscene “selfies” of his exposed genitals while in uniform, and groping women on two occasions.

Caughey was formerly second in charge of the 50th Space Wing at Schriever. The unit oversees navigation and communication satellites. He was responsible for running a 22-nation missile defense wargame in 2014 for U.S. Strategic Command.

Caughey has been in the Air Force for 23 years, and is one of the 9/11 Pentagon survivors. “I was a captain inside the Pentagon that morning when a plane crashed into the west side of the building,” Caughey wrote on the Schriever Air Force Base website.

He is currently assigned to Air Force Space Command.

Of course, this is not the first time a military officer has been accused of sexual misconduct. In another high profile case, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair, the Army general at the center of a sexual misconduct case that put the military justice system itself on trial, was spared prison and sentenced to a reprimand and a $20,000 fine, a shockingly light punishment. If Sinclair had not announced his retirement, an Army disciplinary board would have almost certainly forced him into it.

Caughey’s hearing is scheduled for a March 17th, at which time it will be determined if there is sufficient evidence for a court-martial.

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Green Beret-UFC Fighter Tim Kennedy on ISIS Threat List


By Debbie Gregory.

Following credible threats against him by followers of the Islamic State, Special Forces soldier and UFC fighter Tim Kennedy responded with four words: “Let those cowards come.”

Kennedy served in 7th Special Forces Group, and is now a sergeant first class with the Texas National Guard.

Threats are nothing new to Kennedy. He says that the majority of them come from what he calls “military trolls” who target high-profile military figures.

The FBI reached out to Kennedy, asking him if he was aware of the threats. Kennedy said he was. According to the mixed martial artist, the reason nobody has tried to kill him is simple.

“That’s because they are nothing but cowardly and impotent murderers who prey on the weak. They look for soft targets who don’t know how to defend themselves. They seek out the most defenseless in order to make themselves appear stronger than they really are. I’m not a soft target and they hate that.”

When Kennedy isn’t taunting terrorists into trying to kill him he can usually be found training for MMA, where he holds an impressive 18-5 record.

Kennedy enlisted in 2003 under the 18X (Special Forces candidate) program. He attended basic training and Airborne school at Fort Benning GA as an 11B (Infantry), before he continued Special Forces training at Fort Bragg North Carolina.

“What’s the definition of terrorism?” Kennedy said. “It’s to achieve an objective through the use of force and fear. These are just nasty, evil, disgusting human beings who disrespect human life. I teach people how to live with threats like this. Who would I be to be cowering to a bunch of gutless cowards acting like a bunch of tough guys online?”

Kennedy is currently assigned to Special Operations Detachment (A) as a Senior Special Forces Weapons Sgt.

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US Weighs Ramifications of Targeting ISIS Hackers


By Debbie Gregory.

The killing of two Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) hackers is raising new questions about whether the Pentagon is targeting the group’s tech-savvy members.

In August, a U.S. drone strike killed ISIS hacker Junaid Hussain, who was tied to a number of hacking incidents over the past few years. Hussain was believed to be the head of the so-called CyberCaliphate, one of several informal ISIS hacking groups, and was linked to the release of personal information on over 1,300 U.S. military and government employees.

Hussain was also known as a prominent online recruiter, encouraging western sympathizers to carry out “lone-wolf” attacks.

Then, in early December, another U.S. drone strike took out a lesser-known ISIS hacker, Siful Haque Sujan.

Army Col. Steve Warren described Sujan as a Bangladesh-born, British-educated computer systems engineer who worked on hacking efforts and anti-surveillance technology.

“Sujan was an external operations planner and a United Kingdom-educated computer systems engineer. Sujan supported ISIS hacking efforts, anti-surveillance technology and weapons development. Now that he is dead, ISIL has lost a key link between networks.”

Focusing on ISIS hackers could be one way to counteract the extremist group’s online recruitment.

But the U.S. could be on a slippery slope going after these “hackers,” who some describe as more digital pranksters than actual cyber threats, according to Robert Lee, a former cyber officer in the Air Force and co-founder of Dragos Security

“The fact that someone’s involved in hacking or cyber anything should never be the justification for the strike,” Lee said. “But if they’ve made the kill list, applying some sort of prioritization based on that [skill] absolutely could be a very good consideration.”

CyberCaliphate has vowed to take revenge for Hussain’s killing, posting a picture that features several ISIS fighters holding rocket launchers with the words “Revenge,” “Gazwa” and “Abu Hussein” superimposed over the top.

While experts agree that ISIS’s hacking skills remain rudimentary, the group’s digital vandalism has boosted the terrorist organization’s robust online propaganda and recruitment efforts.

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.

Human Hug Project Allows Marine Veterans To Pay it Forward

human hug

By Debbie Gregory.

“It’s always a good time to hug a veteran. After all a hug is love wrapped up in arms.”

So says the Human Hug Project, the vet-hugging team of veterans and volunteers, offering hugs to any fellow Veteran they see.

On their mission to spread awareness of PTSD, the vet-hugging team founded by Marine veterans Ian Michael and Gino Greganti has visited more than 20 VA medical centers across the country.

Kicking off 2016, the team has already made a stop at the VA Medical Center’s Leestown Road campus in Lexington, KY. They have upcoming stops at VA medical centers in Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Richmond, VA.

The long-term goal is to visit every VA medical center to share their message. Both Michael and Greganti suffer from PTSD from serving on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan. In an effort to cope with the effects, Michael stumbled upon an article regarding the psychological benefits of hugs.

So with his dog and a “free hug” sign in tow, Michael began traveling, giving out hugs.

Greganti was on the same path after a hug from a VA employee helped him. Teaming up with Michael, the two Marines are paying it forward.

The Human Hug Project may help fill the gap left by the recent passing of Elizabeth Laird, lovingly known as the Fort Hood Hug Lady. For the last 12 years, Laird physically embraced hundreds of thousands of Fort Hood soldiers.

The 83-year-old great-grandmother had been battling cancer for some ten years. But in spite of her illness, she regularly made her way to Fort Hood and hugged those being deployed. She reassured those who were afraid, and provided company to those who felt alone. She encouraged and prayed for them all. And then she was there again, when they returned, to give a warm welcome home hug.

Adding a new dimension to the Human Hug Project are letters from the children at Knoxville’s East Tennesse Children’s Hospital, who wrote heartwarming expressions of love and gratitude to the veterans.

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Dramatic Rescue Earns Navy SEAL the Medal of Honor


By Debbie Gregory.

As his SEAL Team Six unit raided a Taliban hide-out where an American doctor was being held hostage, Chief Special Warfare Operator Edward Byers displayed actions that have earned him the Medal of Honor. Tragically, one member of the team was killed.

Byers will be the first sailor in a decade to receive the award. Although his actions in Afghanistan in 2012 have been deemed heroic and self-sacrificing, few details about the rescue or Byers’ actions have been made public.

“There’s no margin of doubt or possibility of error in awarding this honor,” a defense official said. “His actions were so conspicuous in terms of bravery and self-sacrifice that they clearly distinguished him to be worthy of the award, including risk of his own life.”

While the White House usually gives a detailed account of what a service member has done to be awarded the Medal of Honor, Byers commendation cites only “his courageous actions while serving as part of a team that rescued an American civilian being held hostage in Afghanistan, December 8-9, 2012.”

Dr. Dilip Joseph, the medical director for Colorado faith-based nonprofit Morningstar Development, had been held captive in a shack by ransom-seeking Taliban fighters in the mountains east of Kabul.

On December 9th, just after midnight, the SEALs burst in to the shack. The forward-most SEAL, Petty Officer 1st Class Nicolas Checque, was shot in the forehead. “Is Dilip Joseph here?” shouted another member of the SEAL team, wearing night-vision goggles and speaking English. When Joseph identified himself, Byers immediately laid down on top of him to protect him from the fighting. As they waited for a helicopter 12 minutes out, the SEALs protected Joseph by “sandwiching” him between two team members.

Byers and other medics performed CPR on Checque during the ride to Bagram Airfield, but Checque, 28, was pronounced dead.

Byers joined the Navy in 1998, serving as a hospital corpsman before attending Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training in 2002.

A Toledo, Ohio native, 36 year old Byers will be the 11th living service member to receive the medal for actions in Afghanistan and the third sailor to earn the distinction since Sept. 11, 2001.

His awards and decorations include five Bronze Stars with combat “V” device, two Purple Hearts, a Joint Service Commendation with “V,” three  Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals — one with “V”— and two Combat Action Ribbons.

President Obama will present Byers with the nation’s highest award for valor in a February 29th ceremony at the White House.

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.

FACT Act (H.R. 1927) Will Delay Justice, Compensation, for Asbestos Victims


By Debbie Gregory.

The House of Representatives has just passed a bill that will bring unnecessary and unjustified financial hardship to thousands of veterans and their families. The FACT Act (H.R. 1927) will make it harder for Americans who are sick and dying from asbestos-triggered disease to obtain compensation from the corporations responsible for their exposure.

More than 150,000 Americans have been killed by asbestos diseases, many of them veterans who were exposed to asbestos while they were in uniform. Almost one-third of the victims of mesothelioma, a rare and incurable cancer caused by asbestos exposure, are veterans.

The dangers of asbestos have been known since the early 1900s, but asbestos is still legal and lethal in the U.S., causing devastating illnesses and death for those exposed.

This bill, if passed, would force veterans and others who are sick and dying from asbestos-triggered diseases to

  • Lists the last four digits of their Social Security numbers on a public website
  • Be subjected to new barriers and delays for receiving compensation and justice
  • Reveal their financial information
  • Subject themselves to possible blacklisting and discrimination
  • Publicly list “the name and exposure history of the claimant and the basis for any payment from the trust made to such claimant

Forcing veterans to publicize their work histories, medical conditions, social security numbers, and information about their children and families is an insult to the men and women who have honorably served.

If the bill becomes law, it will add significant time and delay in paying claims to our veterans and their families by putting burdensome and costly reporting requirements on trusts.

At a time when sick and dying veterans desperately need compensation, this bill presents a huge hurdle to prevent them from being able to pay medical bills, cover end-of-life care expenses, and provide for their families.

Members of the House who voted for Rep. Farenthold’s (R-Texas) bill should be ashamed of themselves for their blatant disregard of America’s heroes.

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.

Military Medals Reviewed for Possible Upgrades


By Debbie Gregory.

The Defense Department will review more than 1,100 medals issued since the 9/11 terror attacks for possible upgrade to the Medal of Honor, the country’s highest award issued for valor in combat

The decision follows a review of the entire military awards process that was started by then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in 2014. The goal is to make the military award system more consistent in its treatment.

The review was ordered by Defense Secretary Ash Carter following “curious” trends in the awarding of Medals of Honor following Sept. 11, 2001.

The first seven military medals were all awarded to military heroes posthumously, prompting the Defense Department to clarify that the award criteria included “risk of life,” but did not require loss of life. Since 2010, all ten Medal of Honor recipients have been living.

Additionally, three of the seven most recent Medals of Honor were actually upgraded from lesser award recommendations, while none of the earlier ones were.

The secretaries from each branch of the military must meet the Sept. 30, 2017 deadline to review the next-highest awards to the Medal of Honor (approximately 1,000 Silver Stars and nearly 100 service crosses) to determine if they warrant higher awards. Officials said it’s up to the individual services to determine how to conduct that review.

The Pentagon is now implementing changes to ensure that Medal of Honor and other valor medal recommendations are submitted and reviewed within 45 days of the valorous action, and must be processed up the chain of command and reach the defense secretary within a year of the initial recommendation.

Additionally, the appropriate geographic combatant commander will now review Medal of Honor nominations following a recommendation. This to avoid a repeat of Army Capt. William Swenson’s 19-month delay in receiving his award due to lost awards paperwork.

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), a Marine veteran and member of the House Armed Services Committee, saluted the Pentagon’s medal review but called it overdue. He blamed military red tape and too many layers of approval required for all military medals awarded for valor.

Another significant change will be the introduction of a new medal device: a “C” device for meritorious service under combat conditions, and an “R” device for troops who use remote technology, such as drones.

The “C” device will be affixed to awards earned while serving under combat conditions with “significant risk of hostile action,” but outside of direct combat.

The “R” device reflects the changing nature of combat and the necessity of ensuring that remote actions with a direct impact on combat are recognized.

The Bronze Star be limited to individuals meeting the definition of “Meritorious Service under Combat Conditions,” officials 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.