SunShot Initiative Creates Jobs for Military Veterans

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By Debbie Gregory.

In the first workforce training partnership between a civilian federal agency, the Department of Defense and individual military branches, the SunShot Initiative’s Solar Ready Vets program is training our nation’s transitioning servicemembers for careers in the solar energy industry. Upon completion of the program, these veterans are ready for careers as solar photovoltaic (PV) system installers, sales representatives, system inspectors, and other solar-related occupations, great jobs for military veterans.

In the U.S., employment in the solar industry has steadily increased 123% over the past five years. Veterans are strong candidates to fill these positions because they are disciplined, motivated, and technically savvy.

Solar energy is one of the fastest growing industries in the United States and a major source of new jobs. Employment in the solar industry is expected to grow by nearly 15% in 2016, continuing into 2020 – with rising demand for more highly-trained, skilled workers. With at least 190,000 veterans leaving the U.S. military each year for the next several years, the Solar Ready Vets program matches highly qualified individuals with growing industry demand.

The Energy Department has secured commitments from some of the largest U.S. solar companies to interview graduating military trainees for employment, a step that will help place qualified trainees in the high-paying jobs for which they received training. So far, the program has been hugely successful, with, every graduate of the program having received at least one job offer from a solar company.

During the pilot phase, the program has been tested and designed  at three military installations: Camp Pendleton in California, Fort Carson in Colorado, and Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia.  The Energy Department is working with the Department of Defense to expand the program to a total of ten military bases by late spring 2016.

Future locations will be evaluated based on the number of exiting military personnel, the strength of the surrounding solar market, and the training capacity of nearby DOE-supported training institutions.

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.

On-The-Job Training and Apprenticeship Opportunities for Veterans

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In today’s competitive job market, those seeking employment must create their own career paths by seeking out opportunities to develop skills and experience.

Both on-the-job (OJT) and apprenticeship training programs are available for Veterans using their VA education benefits, including the Post-9/11 GI Bill. These programs allow Veterans to learn a trade or skill through training on the job participation rather than attending formal classroom instruction.

The programs offered typically include a training contract for a specific period of time with an employer or union. At the end of the training, a job certification is issued or journeyman status achieved.

While most Veterans receive a salary from the training employer or union during training veterans can expect that as their skills increase, so may their salaries. GI Bill payments are issued monthly after VA receives certification of hours worked from the employer or union.

There are a wide variety of on-the-job and apprenticeship opportunities available to veterans. Unfortunately, these programs are not available to active duty service members or spouses using a transferred benefit.

Although the participation requirements are the same for all GI Bill programs, the payment amount varies depending on the program. View the payment rates for your GI Bill program.

Post-9/11 GI Bill recipients. The payment rates are as follows:

  • You will receive 100 percent of your applicable MHA during the first six months of training in these increments: •80 percent of your applicable MHA during the second six months of training
  • 60 percent of your applicable MHA during the third six months of training
  • 40 percent of your applicable MHA during the fourth six months of training
  • 20 percent of your applicable MHA during the remainder of the training
  • Post-9/11 GI Bill recipients will also receive up to $83 per month for books and supplies.

All other GI Bill programs. For all other GI Bill programs, the payment rates are as follows:

  • 75 percent of the full-time GI Bill rate for the first six months of training
  • 55 percent of the full-time GI Bill rate for the second six months of training
  • 35 percent of the full-time GI Bill rate for the remainder of the training program

Employers interested in participating in this program should review the Understanding On-The-Job Training & Apprenticeship Approval Guide. Employers can also contact their local State Approving Agency to determine which programs Veterans should enroll in to maximize their VA educational benefits.

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.

Attorney Generals Demand Veteran Education Restored to Defrauded Veterans

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By Debbie Gregory.

Numerous state attorney generals are speaking out on behalf of veterans who were defrauded of their veteran education by for-profit colleges.

The attorney generals (AGs) in eight states sent Secretary Bob McDonald a letter demanding restoration of GI Bill benefits. They allege that the for-profit colleges used deceptive tactics in recruiting veterans that slipped by the VA, denying them the quality veteran education that they would have received by attending non-predatory veteran schools.

Recruiters, who were more like heavy-handed salespeople,  used proven psychotherapy techniques to manipulate veterans into enrolling. Veterans used up their benefits on a worthless “education.”

“Veterans earn educational benefits through their heroic service to our country… They should not return home and become targets of predatory, bogus colleges whose only interest in our veterans is to profit off them,” said Illinois AG Lisa Madigan. “It’s critical that our tax dollars allow student veterans to get a true education and the opportunities it provides.”

The aforementioned colleges provided such low quality educations that other colleges would not accept them for transfer credits. Graduates were promised jobs that never materialized.

To protect veterans education moving forward, the AGs are suggesting the VA adopt four strategies.

Exercise current federal statutory authority to provide relief to these veterans

Trigger Automatic Reviews

Take Proactive Steps To Provide Full and Accurate Information

Increase Cooperation.

For-profit colleges can receive up to 90 percent of their revenue from taxpayer dollars, with the additional revenue frequently coming from veterans’ benefits and private student loans.

These students—including veterans—enrolled to become equipped for the workforce, but often they didn’t get what they need. Instead, they found confusing or misleading information, excessive costs, poor quality, low completion rates, and programs that provide training for low-wage occupations or, in some cases, where there simply are no jobs.

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.

CENTCOM Senior Enlisted Leader Open About Personal Mental Health

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By Debbie Gregory.

When Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Greca posted on Facebook that he was taking time off to deal with physical, mental and emotional issues, he did so with the hopes of helping others. Perhaps if someone in his position could reach out for professional help, it could go a long way in de-stigmatizing asking for and receiving treatment.

Greca wrote, ““I was struggling a bit over the past few years and more so in the past 6 months — physically (knee/neck surgeries, balance issues, vision), mentally (lack of sleep, memory and concentration), and emotionally (withdrawing, losing interest in what were formerly fun activities). All these things made me realize I needed some professional help.”

He ended the post by saying, “I share my story as an example of a Soldier/Service Member who needed help, recognized this with the assistance of family/friends, and got it! Now I am ready to better resume my duties as the Central Command CSEL, and am in a much better place physically, mentally, and emotionally to serve all throughout the AOR! Please share as this Senior Leader was not afraid to ask for help when he needed it — AND NEITHER SHOULD YOU!”

The post has been shared over 400 times and has over 1,000 likes.

Greca’s message echoes that of Give An Hour (GAH). Their providers are working to reduce the stigma associated with mental health by participating in and leading education, training, and outreach efforts in schools and communities and around military bases.

GAH’s Campaign to Change Direction encourages everyone to learn the five signs that may indicate someone in emotional pain. By knowing what to look for, we can all recognize the symptoms and encourage those who are suffering to get help.

Military Connection is a proud partner and supporter of both Give an Hour and the Campaign to Change Direction. We salute them for the great work they are 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.

Do We Have A Fighter Pilot Shortage?

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By Debbie Gregory.

Several Air Force officials have reported that the U.S. Air Force is facing a shortage of more than 500 fighter pilots. The divide is expected to widen to more than 800 by 2022.

The shortage stems from a reduction in the number of active duty fighter squadrons.

In a written statement, Air Force officials stated that “without these fighter pilots, the Air Force will be very challenged to continue to provide the air supremacy upon which all our other forces depend.,” The statement said the shortage would affect air operations expertise and lead to a “gradual erosion of fighter pilot experience in test and training.”

Lieutenant General James Holmes, the deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and requirements for the Air Force, said only about four experienced fighter pilots are being produced each year.

In the early ‘90s, the Air Force had 100+ squadrons, compared to the current 54.

Holmes said to make up the deficit, the Air Force would likely put new active duty pilots into guard and reserve squadrons to gain experience.

“But ultimately we’re going to have to increase production and we’re going to have to increase absorption so we can fix the problem,” he said.

The current goal is to try to retain as many pilots as possible in the short term, but there is a lot of completion from commercial airlines who are hiring thousands of fighter pilots.

There is also a shortage of drone operators. In Capitol Hill testimony, Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle said that the Air Force needs approximately 200 more drone pilots in order to adequately carry out current missions. He added that the “remote piloted aircraft enterprise is one that’s in high demand, we are in high demand for fighters as well, we don’t have enough of either.”

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 Spouse Among Those Killed in Brussels Terror Attack

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By Debbie Gregory.

A U.S. official has confirmed that one, and possibly two Americans killed in the terrorist attacks in Brussels were the spouses of U.S. personnel. While their names have not yet been released, it has been confirmed that one of the victims was the wife of an Air Force lieutenant, and that the lieutenant and other family members were injured..

Due to privacy concerns, U.S. European Command would not release details of the service member’s injuries or the number of family members involved. But U.S. officials have confirmed the officer was a lieutenant colonel.

European Command is continuing to confirm the safety of U.S. military personnel and families in the region, including those who may be there on vacation or official travel.

The injuries bring the total to at least four Americans who were hurt in the explosions that ripped through the Brussels Airport and a metro station Tuesday. Mormon Church officials said three missionaries from Utah were seriously injured in the airport attack and have been hospitalized.

Secretary of State John Kerry vowed that the U.S. will “provide any assistance necessary” to Belgium in their shared fight against terrorism.

“We will not be intimidated, we will not be deterred, and we will come back with greater resolve, with greater strength,” Kerry said. “And we will not rest until we have eliminated your nihilistic beliefs and cowardice from the face of this Earth.”

The Islamic State terror group has claimed credit for the attacks, which were carried out by as many as five bombers, three of which are believed to have died and two who are being sought. Authorities believe the bombers used suitcases packed with explosives and nails, producing blasts so devastating that identifying bodies has been difficult, and sending deadly shrapnel hurtling through the airport terminal and metro station.

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.

Oscar Nod for Army Veteran’s Film

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By Debbie Gregory.

It’s not every day that a budding filmmaker gets a hand up from George Lucas. But that’s exactly what happened to Army Capt. Henry Hughes, who was mentored by Lucas on his documentary short film “Day One.”

If that wasn’t enough of a dream come true, the film was nominated for an Oscar at the 88th Academy Awards.

“He’s one of the greatest storytellers of our time,” Hughes said of Lucas. “How could you not aspire to be like that, or to meet that person and glean as much as you can?”

The two teamed up as a part of the American Corporate Partner’s National Mentoring Program. Hughes earned a MFA in Directing at the American Film Institute.

“Day One” was inspired by a true story, and depicts a new translator’s first day accompanying a U.S. Army unit as it searches for a local terrorist.

Feda, a 30-year-old Afghan American woman pushed aside by her conservative community for being divorced with no kids, uses her one marketable skill as a bilingual immigrant, and returns to her birthplace as an interpreter for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. On her first day on the job, she must help the pregnant wife of an IED maker deliver a baby. As she quickly discovers, her job will bring up brutal complexities as gender and religious barriers emerge with lives hanging in the balance.

Although Day One lost the Short Film (Live Action) category to Stutterer, the film has  won the BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) U.S. Student Film Award, a college Emmy and a Student Oscar.

Of his muse and main character, Hughes said, “Her strength provided a light strong enough to cut through the fog of war. She is so many things: American, Muslim, female, combat veteran.”

Lucas was grateful for the opportunity to mentor.

“These guys are heroes, we need to help them,” said Lucas, who taught Hughes how to write the script, and his team at Lucasfilm taught him how to make the movie. “Your training in the military is exactly the training you need.”

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.

In Solidarity With Belgium, Obama Wants ISIS Defeated by End of His Term

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By Debbie Gregory.

Even before the horrendous terrorist attacks on Brussels which killed at least 34 people and injured about 170, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said that President Obama wants the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) defeated by the end of his term.

Carter said that the president called for the process to be accelerated last fall — about a year after the U.S. first began its counter-ISIS campaign.

President Obama does not want to leave the defeat of ISIS to his successor, and Carter said he’s optimistic.

“I’m confident that we’ll do it. And we have an operational plan now,” Carter said.

Air Force Col. Pat Ryder, the spokesman for U.S. Central Command gave a more cautious assessment as to when the coalition could take back Mosul and Raqqa, ISIS’s respective strongholds in Iraq and Syria.

“I’m not going to put a timeline on it other than to say, you know, we are going to work with our partners on the ground, and the coalition to move as fast as possible,” Ryder said.

The president said that the U.S. will do whatever it can to assist Belgium in bringing to justice those responsible for the attacks, and he urged international unity in defeating ISIS.

The attacks followed the capture in Brussels of Salah Abdeslam, an organizer of the November terror attacks in Paris that targeted cafes, restaurants, a concert hall and stadium, killing 130 people and injuring more than 350.

Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders told the media that at the time of his capture, Abdeslam was “ready to restart something in Brussels,” and that he’d established a new network of people around him, and that a large weapons cache had been found.

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 Half of Non-deployed Marine Corps Units Aren’t Combat-ready

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By Debbie Gregory.

The assistant commandant of the Marine Corps has warned Congress that their mission is threatened by budget cuts, which has led to a dangerous lack of readiness and training.

Assistant Commandant Gen. John Paxton has said that nearly half of non-deployed Marine units do not have all of the personnel, equipment or training they need.

“I think it’s 46 percent [of units that] have some degree of personnel, training or equipment degradation,” Paxton told reporters after testifying before the House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee.

“I worry about the capability and the capacity to win in a major fight somewhere else right now,” Paxton added.

Paxton warned about the drastically reduced ability of aviation, communications and intelligence units.

“In the event of a crisis, these degraded units could either be called upon to deploy immediately at increased risk to the force and the mission, or require additional time to prepare thus incurring increased risk to mission by surrendering the initiative to our adversaries,” Paxton said. “This does not mean we will not be able to respond to the call … It does mean that executing our defense strategy or responding to an emergent crisis may require more time, more risk, and incur greater costs and casualties.”

To remedy troop readiness issues, the Marine Corps plans to ask Congress for $460 million as part of the service’s unfunded priority list. That money would go toward training, exercises, facility sustainment and spare parts.

Buying new aircraft while maintaining older models has made it challenging to get aviation units the spare parts they need, Paxton said.

“A lot of times, it is the parts that [are] the key limiting factor,” he said. “You have to get them out there. That takes money to do it. It also takes time to get them there.”

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 Explores Alternative Medicine

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By Debbie Gregory.

In a sign of the times, the Navy held its first-ever “resiliency medicine” summit, which included exploration of healing methods outside of Western medicine, including meditation and yoga.

Guest headliner Deepak Chopra told the audience, “Stop thinking of your body as a thing. If you think of your body as a structure, you can only use mechanical means, like surgery or drugs. … Understand that your gene expression is influenced by your thoughts, your emotions, your social relationships.”

Since 2013, Cmdr. Jeff Millegan, a doctor stationed at the Navy hospital in Balboa Park, has put about 500 Navy personnel around San Diego through a seven-session “mind-body” curriculum. The curriculum includes discussion of sleep, meditation, social connections, diet and exercise.

The core issue is stress and the way it causes illness or magnifies existing health problems.

“We have a lot of sailors who go on ships that deploy by themselves, without a mental health provider, for seven months. These guys are trying to manage stress as best they can,” Millegan said during a break. “If we give them skills, tools to regulate their emotions, they are less likely to be overwhelmed.”

This is not news to the David Lynch Foundation, whose Operation Warrior Wellness (OWW) program uses transcendental meditation (TM) to build resilience and heal the
hidden wounds of war.

Since its initial launch in 2010, the OWW initiative has partnered with leading veterans service organizations, Army and Marine bases and VA medical centers across the country to deliver the Resilient Warrior Program to veterans, active-duty personnel and military families in need. The initiative also partners with military colleges to create a new generation of more resilient officers.

Over 340 published studies document the effectiveness of TM.

Another technique is tai chi,  a graceful form of exercise that’s now used for stress reduction and a variety of other health conditions. Often described as meditation in motion, tai chi promotes serenity through gentle, flowing movements.

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.