Gerard Butler Escorting Female Marine to Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Ball

butler

By Debbie Gregory.

When actor Gerard Butler visited Camp Pendleton to promote his movie, London has Fallen, little did he know that the visit wouldn’t be his last.

Butler has accepted an invitation to escort a person that has only been identified as “Cpl. Maclellan” to the Marine Corp Ball in November. But whether or not that will happen remains to be seen.

There has been some push-back on the newly-minted tradition of celebrity ball invites that date back to 2011, when Sgt. Scott Moore made a video while deployed in Afghanistan inviting actress Mila Kunis. Kunis accepted, although she later admitted that at the time, she thought it was part of a Make-A-Wish event.

Since then there have been dozens of copycat videos by Marines, with invitations going out to UFC fighter Ronda Rousey, married celebrities such as Justin Timberlake, and even Michelle Obama.

Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Ronald Green said that after a round-table with Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford and other senior leaders, the Marine Corps planned to release a Marine Administrative Message to specifically ban Marines from making celebrity invitations.

The Marine Corps annual Birthday Ball is an occasion to flaunt the military standard of excellence in celebration of the Corps. The United States Marine Corps Birthday is celebrated every year on 10 November with a traditional ball and cake-cutting ceremony. On that day in 1775, the Continental Marines were established.

The first Marine Corps Birthday Ball took place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1925. Like the Marine Corps itself, the Birthday Ball has evolved over the years, from humble origins in Philadelphia to the polished, world-renowned entity it has become today. Each year, hundreds, if not thousands, of Marine Corps Birthday Balls take place around the world.

The celebrations were formalized in 1952, outlining the cake cutting ceremony, which would enter the Marine Drill Manual in 1956. By tradition, the first slice of cake is given to the oldest Marine present, who in turn hands it off to the youngest Marine present, symbolizing the old and experienced Marines passing their knowledge to the new generation of Marines.

The celebration also includes a banquet and dancing if possible. In many cases, the birthday celebration will also include a pageant of current and historical Marine Corps uniforms, as a reminder of the history of the Corps.

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.

Can Terrorists Detonate a Dirty Bomb?

dirty

By Debbie Gregory.

Radioisotopes are capable of causing radiation poisoning and sickness, making them a potential tool for terrorists seeking to build a “dirty” bomb that could cause widespread contamination.

Belgian authorities believe that a group of Islamic terrorists were trying to figure out a way to collect such materials to build a bomb. They have suspicions that a plot to kidnap an employee of the Belgian Nuclear Research Centre might have been in the works in order to secure the  materials needed.

Didier Vanderhasselt, a spokesman for the Belgian Foreign Ministry, said that the security of their nuclear sites is of the highest concern, and that the country’s counterterrorism experts were “constantly monitoring the situation of all sensitive potential targets, including nuclear sites.”

Vanderhasselt  added that “as far as we know we have been implementing the same measures as the French did the last few years,” and that Belgian security precautions meet the International Atomic Energy Agency’s standards.

So just how worried should we be?

The real threat from dirty bombs lies in their psychological and economic effects, a fact that often sees these devices described as weapons of mass disruption rather than weapons of mass destruction.

A dirty bomb detonated in a major urban center would be sure to cause widespread fear and panic. Additionally, the economic costs associated with a dirty bomb would be considerable. The clean-up after such an attack could figure in the billions of dollars, if detonated in a high-value area such as city center or port.

So while the thought of ISIS using dirty bombs to further its terrorist agenda is unsettling, the threat should not be exaggerated, particularly when it comes to its impact on public health.

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.

Why Younger Vets Are Not Joining Established VSO’s

old folks

By Debbie Gregory.

Why is there a lack of interest from younger veterans when it comes to joining legacy groups like the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the American Legion? Could it be that these organizations are waiting for this younger generation of veterans to just walk in and join like their fathers and grandfathers before them? Or perhaps these veterans are looking for community connections that fit their needs, not the needs of older veterans.

As their membership ages and declines, these organizations need young bloods to maintain the political clout they have built up, and they need to be able to “pass the torch” in order to maintain the ground they have gained.

The VFW and American Legion report that only about 15 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who are eligible to join have done so. Don’t these veterans want to be around other veterans?

Of course they do.

But these service members are the Facebook/Twitter/Snapchat/Instagram generation, and are gravitating toward groups such as Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, The Mission Continues, and Team Rubicon.

Younger veterans say the traditional organizations differ in many ways from groups that appeal to them.

To attract younger veterans, these organizations can take a few simple steps that will yield great results. First of all, they can communicate via email, vs. snail mail. They can make sure that they are as welcoming to female veterans as they are to male veterans.

Perhaps an updated look with a few flat screen televisions and a fresh coat of paint is in order. They can host events that will attract the younger crowd; out with the Bingo night and in with college fairs, career days, and veteran service officer Q&As.

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 Word Stands Between Guard and Reserves Veteran Status

what is a veteran

By Debbie Gregory.

As the number of reserve component members of the National Guard and Reserves who have served in support of the war on terrorism nears the one million mark, it is shocking and unacceptable to learn that they are not considered “veterans” when they complete their service.

This inequity was written into antiquated law, in a time when the Guard and Reserves were called upon, for the most part, one weekend per month and two weeks in the summer.

The Reserve units of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard are now considered “operational,” used continually,  the same as our active forces.

To be considered a veteran, service members need 180 or more consecutive days on active duty, not including active duty while training. Getting nearly six consecutive months on active duty isn’t as easy as it sounds; the armed forces intentionally limit orders to 179 or fewer days because anyone on active duty 180 or more days is reflected on active duty manning documents, which counts against the service’s personnel ceiling.

It would seem reasonable that we would express our appreciation to these service members by giving them the same “veteran benefits” allotted to those who served in the “regular” forces.  And doing so would be pretty easy, just by changing one word in the current law: “consecutive” to “cumulative.”

The Reserve Officers Association has worked with Congress to try to get this change approved. And it appears that no one is opposed to making the change.

While many argue the semantics of who is a veteran, perhaps we can all agree that when a person dons the uniform of our country, and signs up to serve and sacrifice, we can repay that debt by honoring what they have done. It isn’t necessary to make a divide when unity makes us not only better, but also stronger.

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.

Wounded Warrior Project Fires Top Executives

wwp

By Debbie Gregory.

The board of directors of the Wounded Warrior Project has fired two of its top executives.

Former CEO Steven Nardizzi and former COO Al Giordano were relieved of their duties following criticisms from more than 40 employees on how donated funds raised by the organization were spent.

The Board had hired forensic accountants to conduct an independent review of financial and other records. Additionally, they will interview former and existing employees and directors.

The board chairman, Army captain Anthony Odierno (Ret) will act as the Interim Chief Executive.

“It is now time to put the organization’s focus directly back on the men and women who have so bravely fought for our country and who need our support,” Odierno said in a statement.

John Melia, who founded the non-profit and  left following a 2009 dispute with Nardizzi and Giordano, has expressed interest in returning.

The non-profit veteran organization appeals to the American public’s generosity and desire to reward those who have served, and it works. In 2014, the group received more than $300 million in donations.

According to the charity’s tax filings, spending on conferences and meetings went from $1.7 million in 2010, to $26 million in 2014. That’s almost the same amount spent on its top program, combat stress recovery.

The all hands meetings would take place in great vacation locales, with first class accommodations and all expenses paid. And while the meetings were used to promote team building, many were left wondering if such extremes were warranted.

Many smaller non-profits depend on grants given out by the Wounded Warrior Foundation, and so, moving forward, the new leadership will be focusing on restoring the public’s trust in the good works WWF does.

From 2010 to 2015, participation across WWP’s many programs increased from approximately 1,850 wounded warriors to more than 144,000 wounded warriors.

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.

Don’t Underestimate the Impact of Concussions

concussion suicide

By Debbie Gregory.

After any type of brain injury, there are a number of challenges during the recovery process. Scientists have known for a long time that suicide and brain injury are linked, but the actual number of people who have had a brain injury that have committed suicide wasn’t explored.

A new study conducted by a team of Canadian researchers, headed up by Dr. Donald Redelmeier, has found that the long term risk of suicide increases three-fold among adults who have had concussions.

Recently published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, the results reflect a study that concentrated on ordinary people who had concussions but did not sustain severe brain injury. The researchers explored official death certificates that listed suicide as the cause of death, and then examined the person’s medical history over 20 years.

Their research revealed a suicide rate of 31 deaths per 100,000, which is three times the norm. Each additional concussion raised the suicide risk.

“Multiple concussions can be cumulative, and that’s where the more significant deficits occur,” according to Gary Pace, the director of the May Center for Education and Neuro-rehabilitation. “We do know now that as a result of multiple concussions, the brain becomes more vulnerable to more long-term kinds of brain injuries, which results in some of the depression we see in individuals.”

“The magnitude of the increased risk surprised me,” said Dr. Redelmeier, a practicing physician and professor of medicine.

Although research often focuses on traumatic brain injuries rather than smaller, milder concussions, concussions can lead to depression and anxiety.

Redelmeier feels that people who have sustained concussions should give themselves time to recover, and remember that their head injury, no matter how mild, is an important part of their medical history.

Additionally, it is very important for anyone who has experienced a concussion to be immediately informed about all potential problems associated with concussions — which include possible depression and suicidal thoughts — and to be encouraged to speak up immediately when he or she experiences a problem.

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.

West Point Graduate, Taylor Force, Killed During Trip to Israel

taylor

By Debbie Gregory.

Members of the Vanderbilt community will gather Friday, March 18, to remember Taylor Force, a graduate student who was killed March 8th  in a terrorist attack in Tel Aviv, Israel.

“Innocent of any wrongdoing, Taylor was taken cruelly from his family, his friends, fellow students at Vanderbilt University, and his community, in an act of terror which we condemn with all of our strength,” said William Gaunt, the deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in Tel Aviv, on behalf of US Ambassador Dan Shapiro.

Ten other people were wounded in the attack in Jaffa, an ancient port city that is now part of Tel Aviv. The attacker, who was identified as a Palestinian, was shot and killed during the knife rampage.

Force, 28, was a first-year MBA student and a 2009 graduate of West Point. He was part of a group of 28 Owen Graduate School of Management students who traveled to Israel to learn about global entrepreneurship.

The business student was an avid skier and guitar player who loved horses and ranch life, following a childhood spent in Texas.

His attendance at West Point had Force following his grandfather’s footsteps.

Force served in the Army from 2009 to 2014, with tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and then took about a year off after active duty. He lived in Lexington, Kentucky, before moving to Nashville to attend Vanderbilt. He was due to complete his studies in 2017.

The Vanderbuilt service is closed to the public, and priority will be given to members of the Owen School community, as well as those who knew Force well.

We at MilitaryConnection.com would like to offer our sincerest condolences to the family, friends and schoolmates of this fine young man.

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 Pays Out $820,000 to Settle Sexual Harassment Case

harrassment

By Debbie Gregory.

The Army has paid out a $820,000 settlement to a former military police trainee who was allegedly fired after filing a sexual harassment complaint against a supervisor.

Luydmila Starkey received one of the largest settlements ever made by a military branch in a sexual harassment case shortly before going to trial.

Starkey sued Army Secretary John McHugh in Federal Court  for discrimination and civil rights and employment violations. Starkey said that her then-supervisor, Sgt. Wayne Lord, sent her sexually explicit text messages and photos of his penis when she was employed at the Presidio of Monterey

She believes she was fired because Lord was popular, and she dared to report him. Lord was allowed to resign without an investigation of any magnitude.

“Rather than support me as the trainee officer that had been continuously harassed, the Army chose to set me up for termination while at the same time finding my harasser a new job without any repercussions for him,” Starkey said in the statement.

Lord, who was not a party to the lawsuit, went to work in a police position for the Department of Defense after the Army was presented with evidence from Starkey’s case.

A spokesman said the Army regrets what happened.

Starkey said she will never be able to work in law enforcement again because of the case.

“I only hope that my coming forward helps other women and the culture at the Army of silence and retaliation will change,” Starkey said.

Thousands of veterans have claimed that the Army blew off their complaints of military sexual harassment and rape, and denied or delayed treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder because of it.

Until those who perpetrate this behavior are held accountable, the problem will continue.

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.

Congratulations to DoD’s Military Spouse Employment Partnership

working mil spouse

By Debbie Gregory.

The Defense Department has announced a milestone for the Military Spouse Employment Partnership program. In just under five years, the program, launched by second lady Jill Biden, has now partnered with more than 300 employers.

The Military Spouse Employment Partnership program is an employment and career partnership that connects military spouses to partner organizations and companies who have made a commitment to recruit, hire, promote and retain military spouses in portable careers.

While military spouses are well educated and highly qualified for a range of careers, they face a 25 percent unemployment rate and a 25 percent wage gap compared to their civilian counterparts. This program aims to close that gap.

Rosemary Williams, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for military community and family policy said, “This is such an exciting and important milestone for the program and for the thousands of military spouses around the world who search for meaningful employment and career opportunities.”

For many military spouses, frequent moves are often a barrier to finding and maintaining a rewarding career.

“The Military Spouse Employment Partnership addresses the employment challenges facing military spouses while providing partner employers with access to a pool of highly qualified military spouses,” Williams said.

Hiring military spouses is good business. Spouses bring hard-to-find values and skills to a wide range of fields, including education and training, health care and financial services. They are tech-savvy, adaptable, resilient, strong leaders, team players and effective under pressure.

The partnership includes corporations, small businesses and other organizations that post job openings on the Military Spouse Employment Partnership Career Portal, mentor military spouses and other employers, and provide employment data on military spouses hired.

 

The partnership is part of DoD’s Spouse Education and Career Opportunities Program, which seeks to reduce the significant unemployment rate and wage gap currently experienced by military spouses.

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.

Lawmakers Want Permanent Link for COLA and Social Security Increases

cola

By Debbie Gregory.

In an effort to ensure that veterans continue to receive the same annual cost-of-living increase as Social Security recipients, lawmakers are pushing for legislation that would permanently tie the two rate increases together.

The house has already adopted the “American Heroes COLA Act,” which provides an automatic cost-of-living adjust for benefits such as disability compensation and living allowances.

The purpose of COLA is to ensure that the purchasing power of Social Security and SSI benefits is not eroded by inflation.

COLA is determined each year by the Social Security Administration based on inflation over the previous year. In particular, SSA looks at uses a measure called the CPI-W, the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers, which looks at price changes of a “basket” of goods and services to determine the rate of inflation. The CPI-W is calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and measures the prices of food, clothing, housing, transportation, medical care, recreation, education, and many other goods and services.

There are those who argue that the CPI-W is not an accurate measure of inflation’s impact on seniors, and that the Consumer Price Index – Elderly (CPI-E) should be used instead. The CPI-E is a measure that gives greater weight to goods and services, such as medical care, used disproportionately by seniors.

Under the current law, annual increases are automatic for Social Security benefits. But veterans benefits fall into a different category, requiring lawmaker intervention each year.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Ralph Abraham (R-LA). He and other lawmakers cite congressional infighting in recent years as justification for the law, discord which has resulted in the sidelining of other legislation that was assumed routine. Making the veteran benefits increases automatic avoids that pitfall.

Last year, because of a drop in consumer prices, neither veterans nor Social Security recipients saw an increase in their payouts

The bill would not affect adjustments for military retirement pay, which are calculated through other methods.

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.