Who Are the Harlem Hellfighters?


By Debbie Gregory.

The 369th Infantry Regiment, formed from the  National Guard’s 15th Regiment in New York, was known for being the first African American regiment to serve with the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I. They served 191 days under enemy fire in Europe, and returned home one of the most decorated American units of that war.

“The French called them the ‘Men of Bronze’ out of respect, and the Germans called them the ‘Harlem Hellfighters’ out of fear,” explains Max Brooks, author of The Harlem Hellfighters, a new graphic novel about the first African-American infantry unit to fight in World War I.

Their training prepared them for combat, but racial segregation in the U.S. Army kept them from marching to the front lines in France. Instead, they, and other African-American soldiers, were put to work unloading ships.

The French army absorbed the Hellfighters to help replenish their own ranks. In France, the 369th was treated as if they were no different from any other French unit. The French did not show prejudice towards them and did not racially segregate them. The French accepted the all black 369th Regiment with open arms and welcomed them to their country

While fighting in Europe, the Hellfighters saw propaganda intended for them. It claimed that the Germans had done nothing wrong to blacks, and that they should instead be fighting against the Americans who had oppressed them for years. These statements only made the Hellfighters more loyal to the U.S.

In 1933 the 369th Regiment Armory was created to honor the 369th regiment for their service. This armory stands at 142nd and Fifth Avenue, in the heart of Harlem.

Today’s Hellfighters specialize in combat logistics in places like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Mali.

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.

Veterans’ Disability Claims Turning Around Faster

disability claim

By Debbie Gregory.

The Veterans Affairs Department says the National Work Queue, an electronic workload management initiative designed to reduce the claims backlog and improve processing wait times, is helping the department turn around veterans’ disability claims more quickly.

The National Work Queue is a national workload approach for processing claims, which, in some cases, may result in a veteran’s claim being processed outside of their home state.

The National Work Queue automatically assigns a veteran’s claim to a Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) regional office that has available employees and expertise to process it. In the past, the department processed a veteran’s claim at the regional office in the state where he or she lived.

The backlog of disability claims is higher now than it was before VA stood up the National Work Queue because more veterans are submitting more claims.

The number of disability claims rose from roughly 76,000 in May 2016 — before VA fully implemented the National Work Queue, to nearly 101,000 as of Feb. 4, 2017, according to Rep. Mike Bost (R-Ill.), chairman of the House VA subcommittee.

“As we get more efficient, more veterans are aware of benefits that are available to them,” said Willie Clark, deputy undersecretary for field operations at VBA. “They come in and submit more claims.”

The backlog of claims waiting for initial review dropped from 56,000 pending cases in May 2016 to 18,000 by the end of January 2017.

In 2015, VA completed 45 percent of veterans’ claims within 125 days. As of January 2017, 66 percent of claims finished within the 125-day standard.

So far in 2017, the average number of days for VBA to make the first developmental action dropped from 25 to 10. The average time for a rating decision fell from 29 to 16 days. Award time dropped from eight to four days, and the authorization time fell from four to two days.

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Status Unclear for Program that Stops Deportations of Troops’ Relatives

parole in place

By Debbie Gregory.

Immigration advocates want to know whether a program blocking deportations of troops’ family members has been shut down as part of the White House’s crackdown on illegal immigration.

In a press release issued on February 23, Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas said, “Our military families are examples of resilience and sacrifice for all of us to follow. Out of respect for their service, and to preserve military readiness, until recently we protected them regardless of immigration status through the Parole in Place program, by giving them a chance to apply for a green card while living in the United States.” He continued, “It’s common decency and common sense: how could a soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine focus on their duty, when their spouse or child could be deported at any time?”

Department of Homeland Security officials haven’t announced whether the Parole in Place program, enacted in November 2013 as a military readiness initiative, will affected by recent executive orders issued by President Trump. The orders don’t specifically mention the Parole in Place program.

At the start of the program, officials called it a critical step towards keeping servicemembers focused and ready to defend America.

White House officials referred all questions on the Parole in Place program to Homeland Security officials.

Cuellar said he wants Trump to give assurances that as president he is committed to protecting the families of immigrants who have volunteered for military service.

“I call on the President to formally clarify that his administration will not take these protections from the families of our troops,” Cuellar said. “If he will not, then just like when he attacked Gold Star parents during his campaign, he has put political showmanship ahead of our servicemembers and their families. That’s against American values and dangerous to our national security.”

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 Seeks Big Hike in Defense Spending

fighter pilor shortage

By Debbie Gregory.

President Trump said that he is putting “America first” through his proposed budget, which will focus on defense, law enforcement and veterans, using funds previously spent abroad.

According to the White House, President Trump is proposing to increase the defense budget by 10 percent. Trump also will request $30 billion in supplementary military spending for fiscal 2017, an administration official said.

Preliminary budget outlines are usually little-noticed administrative exercises, the first step in negotiations between the White House and federal agencies that usually shave the sharpest edges off the initial request.

But this plan — a product of a collaboration between the Office of Management and Budget director, Mick Mulvaney; the National Economic Council director, Gary Cohn; and the White House chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon — is intended to make a big splash for a president eager to show that he is a man of action.

Defense spending accounts for almost the same proportion of the federal budget as all non-discretionary domestic spending, meaning that the Trump administration’s proposal will result in a roughly 10 percent across-the-board cut in all other federal spending programs.

Resistance from federal agencies could ease some of the deepest cuts in the initial plan before a final budget request is even sent to Congress. And Capitol Hill will have the last word.

The president’s proposed defense spending increase is just part of his full 2018 budget proposal to Congress that won’t be ready until May. At that point Congress will debate what parts should be adopted and what won’t pass muster with a majority of lawmakers in the House or Senate.

To meet Mr. Trump’s defense request, lawmakers in both parties would have to agree to raise or end statutory spending caps on defense and domestic programs that were imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act.

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.

Bilden Withdraws as Navy Secretary Nominee


By Debbie Gregory.

President Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of the Navy withdrew from consideration on Sunday, the second time a Trump nominee to lead one of the armed services bowed out because of government conflict-of-interest rules.

The nominee, Philip Bilden, a former military intelligence officer in the Army Reserve who ran the Hong Kong branch of a private equity firm, said in a statement that he had informed Defense Secretary Jim Mattis that he did not want to continue to seek confirmation a month after he had been named for the post.

“I fully support the President’s agenda and the Secretary’s leadership to modernize and rebuild our Navy and Marine Corps, and I will continue to support their efforts outside of the Department of the Navy,” said Bilden. “However, after an extensive review process, I have determined that I will not be able to satisfy the Office of Government Ethics requirements without undue disruption and materially adverse divestment of my family’s private financial interests.”

Vincent Viola, a billionaire Wall Street trader and Mr. Trump’s choice for secretary of the Army, withdrew because he decided it was too difficult to detach himself from his business interests.

Bilden, the son of a naval officer, attended Georgetown University on an R.O.T.C. scholarship and served from 1986 to 1996 in the Army Reserve as an intelligence officer. He was a board member of the Naval Academy Foundation and the Naval War College Foundation and has two sons who attended the Naval Academy. He was reported to be Mr. Mattis’s choice for the position.

He made his fortune in a 25-year career at HarbourVest Partners, first in Boston and then in Hong Kong.

The development leaves Trump and Mattis without nominees to head both the Navy and Army.

“In the coming days I will make a recommendation to President Trump for a leader who can guide our Navy and Marine Corps team as we execute the president’s vision to rebuild our military,” Mattis 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.

Navy Rolls Out New Suicide Prevention Program

sailors 123

By Debbie Gregory.

The Navy has rolled out a program aimed at providing added support for sailors considered at risk for suicide.

Sailor Assistance and Intercept for Life (SAIL) is an evidence-based approach to intervention that provides rapid assistance, ongoing risk assessment, care coordination and reintegration assistance for service members identified with a suicide related behavior (SRB). Participation in the service-wide program is voluntary and is now available at all Fleet and Family Support Center locations.

The program works by linking sailors who have demonstrated suicidal behavior with Fleet and Family Support Center counselors trained in assessing suicide risk. Those counselors remain in contact with the participant for three months.

SAIL is not designed to replace existing suicide prevention efforts nor replace needed mental health services. It is not a form of treatment.

“A caring contact is all it is,” said Capt. Michael Fisher, director of the Navy Suicide Prevention Branch.

The problem of suicide among troops has plagued military leaders in recent years as numbers spiked. Navy Personnel Command data shows 51 active duty sailors and 10 reservists killed themselves in 2016, according to preliminary numbers. In 2015, the numbers were 43 active duty sailors and 14 reservists.

SAIL is patterned after the Marine Corps’ Marine Intercept Program, which began in 2014.

According to Fisher, some 40 percent of sailors who commit suicide had a previous attempt or impulse. Removing stigmas that prevent sailors from seeking mental health treatment or from helping those who appear to be in danger has been an ongoing challenge. The Navy has promoted intervention programs to help sailors recognize and respond to suicidal or risky behavior among their peers.

“We want people to be willing to step forward if they’re having challenges,” Fisher said.

The Military Crisis Line offers confidential support for active duty and reserve service members and their families 24 hours a day at 800-273-8255 or online at www.militarycrisisline.net. Text messages can also be sent to 838255. Questions regarding the program should be directed to Navy Suicide Prevention Branch at 901-874-6613.

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’s Comments on Nuclear Treaty Raise Concerns


By Debbie Gregory.

Last week, President Trump made comments about the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty ) Treaty, calling it “a one-sided deal” and a “bad deal,” and pledged that “if countries are going to have nukes, we’re going to be at the top of the pack.”

The treaty, with the formal name Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms, was signed between Russia and the United States in April 2010 in Prague, and entered into force on February 5, 2011. The Treaty’s duration is ten years — until 2021, unless superseded by a subsequent agreement.

Under the Treaty, the U.S. and Russia agreed to limit their deployed forces to 1,550 warheads over 700 delivery systems, including intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and bombers by February 5, 2018.

According to a Reuters report on February 9, 2017, in Trump’s first telephone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump denounced the treaty claiming that it favored Russia and was “one of several bad deals negotiated by the Obama administration.”

The independent non-profit Arms Control criticized the president’s remarks, saying “Mr. Trump’s comments suggest, once again, that he is ill-informed about nuclear weapons and has a poor understanding of the unique dangers of nuclear weapons. The history of the Cold War shows us that no one comes out on ‘top of the pack’ of an arms race and nuclear brinksmanship.”

“Any effort to undo the agreement or suggest the administration is not interested in an extension or negotiating a new agreement to replace New START when it expires in 2021 would negatively impact U.S. security and negatively impact an already shaky global nuclear order,” said Kingston Reif, a member of the Arms Control Association.

Expanding the US arsenal with new or additional nuclear weapons could cost approximately $400 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Other estimates put the overall nuclear modernization closer to $1 trillion.

The New START allows the United States to keep enough nuclear weapons to destroy the planet several times over. Without the New START and INF effective, America will be compelled to waste enormous military and financial resources.

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 Offering a Variety of Perks to Attract New Recruits

sgtmaj dailey

By Debbie Gregory.

In order to meet the targeted active force end strength of 476,000 by October 1st, the U.S. Army is developing programs to attract new recruits. In addition to the active force increasing by 16,000, the Army National Guard will grow by 4,000 and the Army Reserve by 8,000.

The proposed benefits include bonuses and other monetary incentives as well as training that will into translate into future civilian employment credentials and college credits.

The Army’s Noncommissioned Officer Education System will also give soldiers an advantage that will directly transfer to universities the Army has partnered with to ensure courses transfer for college credit, according to Sgt. Major of the Army Daniel Dailey.

Coming into the job in January 2015 at age 42 — making him the youngest Sgt. Major in Army history — Dailey already had a long to-do list, focusing on professional military education, readiness, robust training, physical fitness, and helping soldiers transition smoothly into civilian life. The educational benefits the Army offers will be a key part of its effort to attract additional soldiers, Dailey said.

“The number one reason men and women join the military today is because of sacrifice and service, and the second one is because of our education benefits,” Daily said. He went on to say, “And we will fight to sustain those benefits. … We cannot erode benefits to our soldiers and their families or we will put the all-volunteer force at risk … we have to continue to invest in the soldier because that is an investment in the future.”

As soldiers advance through the ranks and attend the Advanced Leader Course and the Senior Leader Course, they will earn many of the requirements for an undergraduate degree, he said.

“That way, in the future, a senior noncommissioned officer should have an undergraduate degree before they go to the Sergeant Major Academy,” Dailey said.

“So I think that we have got tell America: One, we need your sons and daughters to continue to sacrifice and serve because it is the right thing to do for their nation, but two — when we send them home, they are going to be better than when we received them, and that’s our commitment to the American soldier.”

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.