Navy’s Adm. Howard a Possible Nominee for VA Secretary

michelle howard

By Debbie Gregory.

President-elect Donald Trump is considering Navy Adm. Michelle Howard to head the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Howard, who serves as the commander of U.S. Naval Forces in Europe, is accustomed to being among the first to brave the uncharted waters of diversity. In 1978, she was admitted into the U.S. Naval Academy; only the third academy class that accepted women. In 1999, she was among the group of five women chosen to be the first female combatant commanders in the U.S. Navy. This group included the first female to command a U.S. Navy warship, the late Captain Kathleen A. McGrath, who took command of the USS Jarrett (FFG-33) in December, 1998. A few months later, on March 12, 1999, Howard took command of the USS Rushmore (LSD-47).

In April 2009, Adm. Howard was just three days into her new job as head of a U.S. Navy task force charged with countering piracy in the Arabian Sea, when a cargo ship sailing under a U.S. flag was hijacked by pirates. Richard Phillips, the captain of the Maersk Alabama, was taken hostage in the waters southeast of Eyl, Somalia, and transferred to a small life raft; it was Howard’s job to get him back. She did, and the incident later inspired the 2013 movie Captain Phillips.

Earlier this week, a group of 20 veterans organizations sent a letter to Trump asking him to “strongly consider” keeping Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald.

The groups signing the letter included Got Your 6, AMVETS, Community Solutions, Give An Hour, Institute for Veterans & Military Families, Marine Corps Reserve Association, Military Child Education Coalition, Military Chaplains Association, National Association of Drug Court Professionals/Justice For Vets, National Association of Veteran-Serving Organizations, National Military Family Association, Veterans and Military Programs, Points of Light, Service Women’s Action Network, The Mission Continues, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, Travis Manion Foundation, Veteran Artist Program, Warrior-Scholar Project and Wounded Warrior Project, Inc.

Their letter said, “While you continue your deliberations over who you will select to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, we ask you to strongly consider the proven track record of the current VA Secretary, Bob McDonald, who is leading the largest transformation in the department’s history,” the groups said in the letter.

The groups said in the letter that McDonald led an agency-wide transformation of the VA, which is showing “early signs of success.”

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 Veteran’s Road to Entrepreneurship


By Debbie Gregory.

You may not have heard of professional comic book artist Derek Rodenbeck. His road to entrepreneurship has not been a smooth one, but his attitude is one of perseverance.

The Army sergeant returned home from a year’s deployment with post-traumatic stress disorder. Through no fault of his own, Rodenbeck was homeless for a while, living in his 1998 Subaru with his service dog, Kuma, a 140-pound Akita. He worked as a bouncer and occasionally competed in strongman contests.

In April, 2015, Rodenbeck had been one of 19 participants in St. Joseph’s University’s Veterans Entrepreneurial Jumpstart (VEJ) program, an all-expenses-paid business-development training program for disabled vets.

Participants completed online classes to develop a business plan, then spent seven days on campus with guest lecturers, panel discussions, one-on-one mentoring, and a Shark Tank-style presentation. Post class assistance included website development, tax and accounting assistance, and mentoring.

At the conclusion of his VEJ program, Rodenbeck impressed the panel of judges with his pitch for a line of clothing featuring artists’ designs.

“You are the canvas,” he said of the idea behind his brand. He planned to start with T-shirts, then expand to dresses, swimsuits, and jackets, and to have his own cut-and-sew facility.

Small-business reality interfered with that plan, however. He sold his first batch of 40 T-shirts for $20 each, but “was definitely in the red” and did not have the capital to keep going.

Recently Rodenbeck attended the awards dinner for this year’s VEJ class, where he impressed Ralph Galati, director of the Office of Veterans Services at St. Joe’s and co-creator of the entrepreneurial-training program.

“I noticed a different person that was not the quiet, reserved person” he met last year, Galati said. “I think we drew it out of him. You never know what little nugget you might drop in a class, and someone takes it and that seed germinates.”

“The struggle still exists but I’ve learned it’s how we adapt to the problems we face and utilize them to find solutions,” Rodenbeck said.

How long VEJ continues depends on how effectively Galati, a disabled Air Force vet and former Vietnam POW, meets his current mission: finding a financial backer.

Its seed money – a $1 million endowment by 1968 alum Frank Trainer – will fund the program through 2018, Galati said.

“We would love to have a local sponsor, a local large corporation or two, stand tall with decent money,” he said.

“These programs help disabled veterans realize their goals by providing education and mentorship services free of charge that are too often unaffordable for those who have served our country,” Galati 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.

Tips for Veteran Job Seekers to Ace the Interview

ace the interview

By Debbie Gregory.

You already know your resume set you apart as a veteran job seeker because you have secured an interview. Perhaps your status as a military veteran aided you in this first step, because employers recognize the value of your military experience.

The one thing your military experience may not have prepared you for is the interview process when seeking post-service veteran employment. Polishing your interviewing skills can mean the difference between getting the job and being a runner-up.

Here are some great tips to guide veteran job seekers before, during and after the interview:

Before the interview do’s: Preparation is key. Know your strengths and weaknesses, your interests, and your career goals. Gear your resume to the particular job you’re applying for. Research the people interviewing you, the company, and the job itself. Know what does the company does, how they compare culturally and financially to their competitors, the company’s history, the requirements for the job, and how your experience matches those requirements. Practice interviewing with friends.

During the interview do’s: Arrive early. Offer a confident, firm handshake. Remember that you are, first and foremost, having a conversation. It’s nerve-wracking and highly formalized, but avoid stock responses. Communicate effectively with your interviewer. Mirror his or her communication style. Allow your interviewer to set the tone of the conversation. For example, if the interviewer seems all business, don’t attempt to loosen him or her up with a joke or story.  If the interviewer is personable, try discussing his or her interests. Often personal items on display in the office can be a clue.  If asked a direct question, answer directly. Maintain good posture, eye contact, as steady a voice as you can muster, even if you’re nervous, and a positive attitude.

After the interview do’s: Make sure the interviewer knows that you’re interested in the position, you know you can do the job, and that you will put forth 100% effort. Thank the interviewer for his/her time, and inquire what the next step is. Be sure to get the interviewer’s business card and send a thank-you letter.

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.

Ninety-one Year-old Gay Veteran Seeks Honorable Discharge Status


By Debbie Gregory.

Long before “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” H. Edward Spires served as a chaplain’s assistant in the Air Force.

When his supervisors discovered Spires was gay, they interrogated him, threatened him, and ordered him to see a psychiatrist. Ultimately, they gave him an “undesirable” discharge and showed him the door.

Now the frail 91 year-old, assisted by a group of lawyers at the Yale Veterans Legal Services Clinic, is seeking to upgrade his discharge status to honorable, allowing Spires to have a funeral with military honors.

Spires’ husband, David Rosenberg, spoke on his spouse’s behalf.

“The idea that this man of faith who served dutifully as a chaplain’s assistant in the armed forces, who built a life and a career that has brought joy to those around him, would leave this earth considered undesirable in the eyes of his country, it’s unthinkable.”

The couple has been together for nearly six decades, marrying in 2009.

Spires recently suffered a bout of pneumonia and spent three weeks in the hospital. His declining health adds an undertone of urgency to the legal mission.

Spires joined the U.S. Army Air Force in 1946, at the age of 20. After completing basic training, he was assigned to be a chaplain’s assistant at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. Within 18 months, he reached the rank of sergeant.

Spires built a large group of civilian friends in San Antonio, many of whom were gay. But there were ominous signs: In October of 1947, the commander called a meeting to “clean up the base of homosexuals,” the lawsuit states.

According to Spires, shortly after a 1947 off-base Halloween party, he was summoned to the judge advocate’s office and asked if he was a “homosexual.” When Spires did not initially answer, the master sergeant threatened to throw him into the stockade.

As word of his interrogation spread across the base, he was taunted and verbally abused by his fellow soldiers. Only his direct supervisor, Father Major John Habitz, stood up for him.

“We hope the Air Force will remedy this injustice promptly,” said Erin Baldwin, a law student intern who is working on Spires’ case. “By granting Mr. Spires justice, the Air Force will finally send a message to Mr. Spires and to all veterans who received undesirable discharges for homosexuality, despite their faithful service to our country, that the honor of their service does not depend upon their sexual orientation.”

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.

The Ingenuity of Our Military-Airman Fixes F-22 Mechanical Issue for $250


By Debbie Gregory.

When a mechanical issue compromised the stealth of the F-22 Raptor, it was a big problem. Luckily, a small team of Airmen were able to develop an innovative solution.

The team’s problem solving is a testament to the amount of responsibility and confidence the Air Force puts in its Airmen, regardless of age or experience.

“During roll call, our expediter (an experienced crew chief responsible for coordinating required maintenance taskings) gave out the tasks for the day. My task was to figure out why we were having this re-occurring problem with one of the jets,” said 23 year-old Senior Airman Samuel Privett, a 43rd Aircraft Maintenance Unit weapons load crew member.

Privett spent a lot of time working with his team and interpreting the engineering diagrams to trace the problem the jet had.

“It took us about two days and several people overall to finally nail it down,” said Privett, who used the in-house fabrication machine to forge a $250 dollar solution that salvaged the $140 million plane, also saving 200 hours of maintenance and valuable flight time for the jet. Replacing the entire affected system would have cost approximately $40,000 to $50,000

This in-flight weapons system maintenance issue affected the radar cross section of the F-22 and persisted over a period of a few months. This reduced the effectiveness of the F-22’s low observability, which meant enemy aircraft and radars — operational or simulated — would have a better chance of identifying the aircraft.

Thanks to Privett and his team, who he says were instrumental in the task, the F-22 now joins only 186 others in service.

“Senior Airman Privett plays a key role in fostering teamwork and ensuring accurate communication from shift to shift,” said Master Sgt. David A. Riddle, the 43rd AMU weapons flight chief. “In conjunction with other members of the mighty 43rd Hornet Weapons Flight, we were able to isolate the malfunction that had been eluding us for quite some time.”

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.

Destroyer Will Bear the Name of Marines’ First African-American Aviator


By Debbie Gregory.

A U.S. Navy destroyer warship that is under construction has been named in honor of a Topeka three-star general who became the first African-American aviator, general and base commander in the Marine Corps.

The Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, DDG 121, will be named for Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen Jr.

Petersen enlisted in the Navy in June, 1950.  In October 1952, he completed flight training and accepted a commission as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps. Petersen served a combat tour in the Korean War (1953) and in the Vietnam War (1968).

Petersen’s first tactical assignment was with Marine Fighter Squadron 212 during the Korean War. He would fly over 350 combat missions, and had over 4,000 hours in various fighter/attack aircraft. He held command positions at all levels of Marine Corps aviation, commanding a Marine Fighter Squadron, a Marine Aircraft Group and a Marine Aircraft Wing.

“The courage and perseverance of Lt. Gen. Petersen throughout his distinguished and groundbreaking career make him especially deserving of this honor,” said Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus. “Those who serve aboard DDG 121 will, for decades, carry on the storied legacy of this Marine Corps hero.”

Petersen retired after 38 years of service in 1988 as the senior aviator on active duty in the U.S. military. Highly decorated, Petersen received multiple awards for his service including the Purple Heart, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, the Defense Superior Service Medal and the Legion of Merit with Valor Device.

In 2010, President Barack Obama appointed Petersen to the Board of Visitors to the U.S. Naval Academy. The board monitors morale and instruction.

Petersen died in 2015 at the age of 83.

Construction of the USS Frank E. Petersen Jr. began April 27 at the Huntington Ingalls Industries shipyard in Pascagoula,Mississippi. The ship will be 509 feet long, have a beam length of 59 feet and be capable of operating at speeds in excess of 30 knots. It is expected to enter the Navy fleet in 2020.

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.

Trump Taps Retired Navy Seal for Secretary of the Interior

Digital Communications Director

By Debbie Gregory.

President-elect Donald Trump has officially nominated Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke the job of interior secretary.

Zinke, 55, a retired Navy SEAL, was an early supporter of Trump. He’s been mentioned as a possible challenger to Montana’s Democratic Sen. Jon Tester in 2018.

Zinke said he is honored by the nomination, describing himself “as someone who grew up in a logging and rail town and hiking in Glacier National Park.”

The Montana congressman pledged to “faithfully uphold Teddy Roosevelt’s belief that our treasured public lands are ‘for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.’ I will work tirelessly to ensure our public lands are managed and preserved in a way that benefits everyone for generations to come.”

The U.S. Department of the Interior is responsible for the management and conservation of most federal land and natural resources. The Secretary is a member of the President’s Cabinet.

The department oversees such agencies as the Bureau of Land Management, the United States Geological Survey, and the National Park Service. The Secretary also serves on and appoints the private citizens on the National Park Foundation board.

Because the policies and activities of the Department of the Interior and many of its agencies have a substantial impact in the western United States,  the Secretary of the Interior has typically come from a western state (a state lying west of the Mississippi River.)

While Zinke’s nomination drew praise from  business groups, environmentalists blasted it.

Independent Petroleum Association of America President and CEO Barry Russell said in a statement. “As a conservationist hailing from the energy-producing state of Montana, Congressman Zinke understands the critical role that the Interior Department plays in balancing the effective management of our nation’s lands and waters with multiple use policies that open access to the public for conservation, recreational opportunities, job-creating economic activities, and safe, responsible energy development.”

Rhea Suh, President of the Natural Resources Defense Council said that “without a doubt, Rep. Zinke adds another fossil fuel champ to Trump’s a pro-polluter Cabinet. While Zinke has opposed selling off our public lands, his record falls way short of being able to meet the full mission of the Interior Department. That is to manage and protect our wildlife, our public lands and waters, and our cultural heritage for the benefit of all Americans, today and tomorrow. It is also to uphold and honor our responsibilities to indigenous people in America. That is the job and Zinke is the wrong person for the role.”

Trump’ pick will replace former REI CEO & former Mobil Oil engineer Sally Jewell, who was appointed by Barack Obama.

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.

Nevada Provides Pro Bono Legal Aid to Troops, Veterans

legal aid

By Debbie Gregory.

Nevada’s public-private partnership to help meet the legal needs of the state’s active duty military personnel, reservists, National Guard soldiers and veterans has assisted more than 900 individual in its first year, according to the state’s Attorney General.

Nevada’s @EASE program provides access to pro bono civil legal services for qualified service members, veterans and their families.. In practice, the program pairs military servicemembers in need of legal assistance with pro bono private legal counsel for civil matters including consumer fraud, military rights, immigration, landlord/tenant, predatory lending and creditor/debtor issues.

The program also provides monthly workshops dedicated to drafting free wills and powers of attorney for Nevada veterans across the state.

@EASE  was launched just over one year ago, and is led by the state’s attorney general, Adam Laxalt, with public and private participation.

Laxalt said many soldiers don’t qualify for traditional legal aid programs because they live just above the poverty line.

A Judge Advocate General Corps officer can make calls and send letters on a service member’s behalf, but they can’t take the matter to a civilian court. That means even a seemingly minor legal squabble, such as a landlord dispute, can be a big deal.

Earlier this year, the Department of Defense named the Office a “Best Practice Program,” and recommended that the program be duplicated in states throughout the country.

The @EASE program strives to bolster military readiness by providing servicemembers with the knowledge that the program has the capacity to manage legal affairs in their absence—putting them “@EASE.”

We encourage you to contact your state’s attorney general to initiate a similar program. For more information, visit .

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.


Traveling with Kids? Helpful Tips to Ease the Stress!


Traveling with kids, traveling to the other side of the world – what’s the difference? Packing the suitcases, appeasing grumpy passengers and TRYING to keep a schedule all take a lot of effort and coordination. But fear not, Armed Forces Vacation Club is here to help! Here are a few ideas to ensure a great travel experience.

Be strategic with time

Especially with young children, it could benefit you greatly to try and plan your travel time around their nap schedule. Traveling during a scheduled nap can help fill some time and give you the best chance at arriving with a happy camper!

Create a car playlist

Before you get in the car, create a special play list just for your drive. Try to fill it with a few of each child’s favorite songs. You could even bring a few books on CD!

 Have special travel toys

Try to reserve a few special toys that can live only in the car. The excitement of playing with a favorite toy can help the time move quickly. You can even take it one step further and buy a new toy for the trip – even something small can be a big hit

 Photograph it!

Give your kids a disposable camera to take photos of different things they see on the drive. This can help keep them engaged while driving, and provide a souvenir from the trip

For additional tips, check out AFVC’s 10 Tips For Traveling With Kids.

Safe travels and great adventures!

P.S. Don’t forget that Armed Forces Vacation Club offers free membership for all active duty, guard, reserve and retired members of the Armed Forces, as well as civilian employees of the DOD. Join today!

VA to Go Live With Online Scheduling System

va health

By Debbie Gregory.

Beginning next month, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs plans to begin online scheduling of medical appointments nationwide.

The technological advance will allow the scheduling of primary-care appointments for more than 6 million patients via an app on their phones, tablets or computers.

“Do I think this is a huge step forward for the VA? Absolutely,” said Dr. Neil Evans, chief of the office of connected care for the Veterans Health Administration. “I think this is really, really, really important for us to be able to offer.”

Kathleen Frisbee, executive director for connected health at the VA’s office of connected care, added that the new software will open up in the agency’s health system for more public inspection as patients view open appointments and choose which times are best for them with the click of a computer mouse.

“I mean, we are exposing our availability to the world,” Frisbee said.

VA developers had first planned to offer online requests for appointments rather than actual scheduling, but veterans who use the VA’s online portal, called MyHealtheVet, advocated for actual do-it-yourself online scheduling. In fact, online scheduling was the most requested item of vets using the VA’s online portal.

The move comes after the VA scandal in 2014 when a whistleblower in Phoenix revealed that VA schedulers were pressured to fake records to make appointment wait times appear shorter. The new app software promises to remove the VA scheduler from the equation.

The portal software cost $3.2 million, and runs on technology infrastructure from Agilex Technologies, now Accenture Federal Services, and the VA’s internal development.

In the future, VA officials plan to add online appointment scheduling capabilities for optometry, audiology and mental-healthcare.

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.