Marine Steals Gear from Marine One and Sells it on Ebay

marine one

By Debbie Gregory.

A former Marine Corps staff sergeant has pleaded guilty to stealing nearly $100,000 worth of gear and equipment from Marine Helicopter Squadron One.

From September 2013 to April 2015, Branden Roy Baker of Stafford, Virginia stole nearly $100,000 in night vision equipment from Marine One, the Quantico, Virginia-based unit that transports the president and other executives.

While most of our servicemembers have the highest integrity, occasionally a bad apple can be found in the barrel. Baker got caught when he tried to sell everything on eBay.

Baker has pleaded guilty and faces up to 10 years in prison. While Baker’s sentence will more than likely be less than the federal maximum, he was ordered by U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema to pay $94,000 in restitution to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service. He will be sentenced on August 11th.

Baker stole “at least fifty-one image intensifier tubes and other night vision parts worth approximately $94,392 from a department and agency of the United States, specifically from Marine Helicopter Squadron-One (HMX-l), a part of the Department of the Navy,” a statement of facts in Baker’s plea agreement reads.

Baker first joined the Marines in 2002. He deployed to Iraq in 2008 and to Afghanistan in 2009 and 2010.

He held three military occupational specialties: aviation quality assurance representative, aviation precision measurement equipment calibration and repair technician, and presidential support specialist.

Public records also indicate that Baker may have been reselling military equipment since 2014 as part of an under-the-table business he called “Covert Customs.” At this point, it’s unclear how much money Baker made selling the stolen equipment.

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 Cyber Geeks Make It Into The Marines and Skip Boot Camp?


By Debbie Gregory.

The Marine Corps is having a hard time getting people with essential IT and information security skill sets as the services struggle to build a force of “cyber-warriors.” In an effort to circumvent this problem, these cyber specialists might be able to skip boot camp altogether.

The proposal, initially proposed last year by then-Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, is one of several ideas being considered to combat concerns about severe cyber warfare readiness.

Carter also suggested the military should consider modifying fitness standards, grooming regulations or rules that make past drug use disqualifying in an effort to make recruiting cyber talent easier.

Marine Corps force planners are discussing the option of “lateral entry” for people with the desired skill sets to join as uniformed Marines.

Commandant of the Marine Corps Robert B. Neller said that having a skilled cyber workforce within the service was critical. “If you don’t have those things, whatever formation you put on the battlefield is not going to be as survivable or combat effective without them.”

The government has tried a number of ways to develop a “cyber-skilled” workforce. Another option would be to treat Marine Forces Cyberspace Command like Marine Corps Special Operations Command, limiting entry to more experienced Marines. Some have even argued for a standalone cyber service, following the same model used to recruit musicians for the Marine Corps Band.

Considering the going pay rate in the civilian world for many information security jobs, the DOD will have to make a significant investment to attract the right people to uniformed service. With that said, offering the prestige of a Marine uniform may be a draw to some young people with high-level cyber skills.

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.

Teen Accepted Into All Five Military Service Academies


By Debbie Gregory.

David Howe is a 2017 Red Wing High School graduate in Minnesota.  As a senior, Howe applied to all five military services academies.  He covered all the bases, and it certainly was successful for him, as he was accepted by all of them!

It is very difficult to obtain acceptance to one service academy, let alone five.

Applicants are first interviewed and nominated by their state Senator or member of the House.  Applicants must show good leadership skills and good grades, and excellence in sports is also highly valued.

Howe graduated with a 4.0 GPA for high school, and was one of the top students in his class.  He is also a three-sport athlete.  He is well liked, and is a very special young man.  He clearly is the type of young person that is service academy material.

After being accepted to all five service academies, it was a difficult choice which one to attend.  Howe chose the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado.  He will report for duty in a few weeks on June 29th.

After college, Howe will enter the U.S. Air Force as a second lieutenant.  He will be required to serve a minimum term of ten years of active duty for our nation.

Howe aspires to become a pilot.  Perhaps this goal helped him to decide which service academy was the best fit for him.  He is very excited about his future. wishes David Howe great 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.

Green Berets Keep Fallen Soldier’s Promise to His Stepdaughter


By Debbie Gregory.

Staff Sgt. Mark De Alencar of the Army’s 7th Special Forces Group made a promise to his stepdaughter, Octavia Osborne.

“He told me he’d be back in time for my graduation from Niceville High School,” Osborne said with a slight smile. “He promised.”

Unfortunately,  on April 8, the 37-year-old Green Beret died of injuries from enemy small arms fire while his unit was conducting counter-ISIS operations in Nangarhar Province.

Octavia’s mother, Natasha, and De Alencar had a “yours, mine and ours” situation, with both of them having children from previous relationships, as well as having two children together.

Natasha was contacted by a member of an Army care team shortly after De Alencar’s death to make arrangement for some of her late husband’s brothers-in-arms to attend Octavia’s graduation ceremony

“They asked me if I would ask the school administration if there would be enough room for some of the Green Berets from the 7th Group to attend,” Natasha recalled. “I asked how many, and he said ‘about 80.’ I was like, ’80? Really?’ ”

On May 25th, the contingent from the 7th Group included not only the Green Berets in their dress uniforms, but many of their spouses and children as well.

“When my name was called and you heard this uproar from the stadium, it caught me off guard,” said Octavia. “I didn’t know if I should be embarrassed, starstruck or what. But it was really like an exciting rush.”

“When her feet touched those steps on the way to the stage, those men began to rise,” said Yolanda Thornton, Octavia’s grandmother. “And then they let out this roar, like she’d scored the winning touchdown. My grandbaby had scored the winning touchdown!”

Thornton added that she shared a silent thought with her son-in-law. “I thought, ‘Mark, you gotta be looking down and smiling down on this one.’ ”

In addition to his wife Natasha and step-daughter Octavia, De Alencar is survived by his sons Rodrigo and Marcos, daughter Tatiyana, and , stepson Deshaun.

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 and Hearing Loss


By Debbie Gregory.

Hearing loss affects more than 28 million Americans, including more than half of those over age 75. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), hearing problems are by far the most prevalent service-connected disability among American Veterans.

The most likely reason that veterans have higher rates of hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing, buzzing, or other type of noise that originates in the head) than the general public is due to the noise levels encountered while in the military.

Many veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan have been exposed to blasts during their service. A blast can compromise not only the ear itself, but also the connection between the ear and the brain.

Additionally, sensory problems are common among veterans who have had traumatic brain injury.

Last year alone, more than 293,000 veterans were awarded service-connected disability for tinnitus and hearing loss.  In total, more than 2.7 million Veterans currently receive disability benefits for hearing loss and/or tinnitus.

The only percentage rating available for tinnitus is a maximum of 10%, regardless of whether you have ringing in one ear or in both ears.  But if you also have hearing loss, you are entitled to one rating for hearing loss and another for tinnitus.

The VA provides comprehensive hearing health care services to veterans as part of their medical benefits, with direct access to audiology clinics for evaluation and treatment of hearing loss. Hearing health services includes ever aspect from prevention to diagnostics to treatment.

VA researchers, engineers, and clinicians are looking for ways to prevent, diagnose, and treat hearing loss. They are also addressing a wide range of technological, medical, rehabilitative, and social issues associated with tinnitus and blast exposure.

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.

Vet Groups Not Happy with Proposed 2018 Budget for Veteran Affairs


By Debbie Gregory.

Many veterans are up in arms about the plan to cut financial support for aging and disabled veterans in the proposed federal budget. Joining them are numerous veterans organizations that slammed the budget proposals as soon as they were issued.

“We are very concerned the administration’s request to make the Veterans Choice Program a permanent, mandatory program could lead to a gradual erosion of the VA health care system,” the Veterans of Foreign Wars said in written testimony to a hearing of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

“We’re extremely alarmed by this budget proposal, because this is the opposite of what President Trump promised veterans,” said John Rowan, the national president of Vietnam Veterans of America.

The White House budget plan includes cuts to the Individual Unemployability (IU) benefit, in part to pay for changing the Choice program to the Veterans Coordinated Access and Rewarding Experiences (CARE) program, which could impact an estimated 225,000 veterans.

Currently, veterans eligible for IU have a 60-100 percent disability rating but are paid at the 100 percent rate because a service-connected disability makes them unable to work. The budget proposal would cut off IU payments upon reaching the minimum age for Social Security and according to VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin, some 7,000 veterans on IU are over the age of 80.

Had a veteran become disabled at a young age, he or she wouldn’t have been able to pay for Social Security or put money into a 401(k) or other retirement savings account.

Shulkin said that the VA is “sensitive to the issue” but had to find savings to pay for other programs. The change in eligibility for IU would save an estimated $3.2 billion in fiscal 2018 and $40.8 billion over 10 years.

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.

Supreme Court Decision May Seriously Impact Ex-Military Spouses


By Debbie Gregory.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision that may have serious implications for the former spouses of veterans.

In Howell v. Howell , the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a veteran who believed he did not owe his ex-wife 20% of his disability pay, and ruled that state courts cannot order veterans to pay divorced spouses for the loss of his or her retirement pay caused by service-related disability benefits.

Former Airman John Howell believed that he did not have to consider his disability pay as part of divisible assets in his 1991 divorce from wife Sarah. At the time of the divorce, John’s upcoming pension was considered a “marital asset” under Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act (USFSPA) and split 50-50 with his former spouse

At issue was whether the USFSPA pre-empted a state court’s order directing a veteran to indemnify a former spouse for a reduction in the former spouse’s portion of the veteran’s military retirement pay, when that reduction results from the veteran’s post-divorce waiver of retirement pay in order to receive compensation for a service-connected disability.

When John received a 20 percent disability rating in 2005 from the Department of Veterans Affairs for a service-connected degenerative joint disease in his shoulder, he elected to waive a portion of his monthly retirement pay under pension offset rules, about $250, in order to receive his full monthly VA award. The result, however, was that Sandra’s portion of the pension went down by about $125 a month.

John gave up $250 of his $1,500 a month in retirement pay so that he could receive the same amount in disability benefits. His decision cost Sandra $125 a month, so she sued him in 2013.

While a series of state courts agreed that even if John’s retirement pay had been reduced, Sandra still deserved half of what his retirement pay would have been without the disability benefits, the Supreme Court did not, citing Mansell v. Mansell.

In Mansell v. Mansell, the Court found that the federal USFSPA exempts disability pay as a portion of the retirement pay that a service member waived in order to receive disability benefits from the amount divisible upon divorce.

This ruling could have serious implications for ex-spouses, most affecting those who were married to veterans with 50% disability ratings or less.

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.

Will VA Choice be Replaced with CARE Plan?

CARE Program

By Debbie Gregory.

Key senators were bolstered by veterans groups to conditionally endorse a plan from VA Secretary David J. Shulkin to replace the current VA Choice program with the Veterans Coordinated Access and Rewarding Experiences (CARE) Program.

Representatives of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans and Paralyzed Veterans of America endorsed Shulkin’s vision to drop Choice and its metrics of wait times and geographic distance, and use clinical need instead to determine whether to refer patients to community care.

Dr. Shulkin’s CARE program would resemble a managed care program, with VA healthcare providers assigned to see their patients, and then deciding whether to treat them inside the VA or refer them to an outside network of private sector care providers under contract to VA.

“When I treat patients,” said Dr. Shulkin, an internist who still sees patients as a VA physician, “I listen to my patients and I understand what their needs are…I think what good doctors and providers do is they recognize it is a joint decision.”

But these same groups adamantly oppose the VA’s plan to fund the new plan by cutting disability compensation, paid through the Individual Unemployability (IU) program,  to more than 200,000 severely disabled veterans, ages 62 and older, who also are eligible for minimum social security benefits.

The Choice program, which allowed veterans to seek private sector healthcare if they reside more than 40 miles from a VA hospital or had to wait longer than 30 days for access to VA care after seeking an appointment, has generally been called a failure.

Ranking Democratic Senator. Jon Tester (MT), called the current Choice plan “a train wreck” that “hasn’t improved access. In fact, it’s made it worse. And in the process, it’s caused a lot of veterans and community [healthcare] providers to lose faith in the VA.”

But the veteran groups have urged Congress and the VA not to fund any of  new program by cutting IU compensation or other benefits.

Shulkin said he heard their “strong concerns” about the IU cuts and would take them “very seriously. Nobody wants to be taking away unnecessary benefits from veterans, and certainly not putting them into poverty,” he said.

But, he added that mandatory VA benefits have climbed by $12 billion in the past two years.

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.

Veteran Sought Mental Health Care Before Murder- Suicide


A few days before 30-year-old Army veteran Joshua Stiles fatally shot his wife and took his own life, he had tried to get help, but he was turned away.

Stiles, who had been suffering with PTSD, depression and anxiety for years, shot his 22-year-old wife, Brittney Stiles, and then fled the scene. He committed suicide after a police chase.

According to Stiles’ sister, Jennifer Johnson, her brother had contacted a mental health treatment facility, but was told he needed to make an appointment.

He was willing to voluntarily commit himself for psychiatric treatment, but there wasn’t a bed available at Decatur Morgan Hospital. His sister said he then tried Veterans Affairs.

“They said they would send him some paperwork to fill out,” Johnson said. “They said if he was feeling suicidal he should go to the emergency room. At that moment, he wasn’t feeling suicidal. He just knew he was struggling with PTSD and depression.”

Johnson said her brother had been suffering with PTSD long before his military service.

Both Josh and Jennifer had spent time in foster care before going to live with their grandparents.

Josh and his wife had an ongoing domestic dispute the weeks leading up to the tragedy. The two reportedly were arguing at their home and the woman left. Brittney Stiles returned to the home after Joshua called her and threatened their two-year-old daughter if she wouldn’t come home.

Once Brittney returned home with the child, Joshua shot her. Their daughter, who was in the backseat of the mother’s car, was not harmed.

Authorities used a spike strip to deflate tires on the truck. Joshua Stiles reportedly lost control of the truck, hit a tree and then went in a ditch. Authorities surrounded him and used tear gas because they didn’t see any movement.

But as they got closer to the pickup, they realized he had shot himself.

“He wasn’t this person,” Johnson said. “My brother would’ve never done this if he was in his right mind. I wish I could’ve saved him, and I tried. But, the mental health system just makes it too hard.”

There are numerous resources for veterans who are struggling with mental issues, among them, Give an Hour, a non-profit that provides free and confidential mental health resources for those who serve, past and present, and their loved ones; the David Lynch Foundation’s Operation Warrior Wellness (OWW) program, which offers the Transcendental Meditation-based Resilient Warrior Program, a simple, easy-to-learn, evidence-based approach to relieving symptoms of PTSD and major depression and developing greater resilience to stress; and the Veterans Crisis Line  (800-273-8255) which connects veterans in crisis and their families and friends with qualified, caring Department of Veterans Affairs responders through a confidential toll-free hotline.

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.

Fort Gordon Colonel Accused in Bribery Scheme


By Debbie Gregory.

Army Colonel Anthony Roper, along with his wife and others, has been accused of participating in what federal prosecutors are calling a bribery and kickback scheme. They allegedly conspired to seek and accept bribes in order to rig more than $20 million in Army contracts to individuals and companies.

It is alleged that the activities go back to 2008, lasting close to a decade.

Colonel Roper was stationed at Fort Gordon near Augusta, Georgia.  Oversight of the Army’s efforts to build and modernize its information and communications networks was part of Colonel Roper’s duties.

Charged with bribery, obstruction and making false statements, the 55-year-old Roper could face a maximum sentence of eighty-five years and a fine of $1.75 million if convicted.

His wife, Audra Roper, was also charged with conspiracy, false statements and obstruction and could face a maximum sentence of twenty-five years  and a $750,000 fine.

Mrs. Roper operated Quadar Group, which prosecutors allege was a shell company that was used to funnel bribes to her husband, Colonel Roper.   Prosecutors allege that Quadar Group was one of a number of shell companies used to defraud the government.

Dwayne Oswald Fulton, 58, is charged with conspiracy and obstruction.   Mr. Fulton was an officer for a large defense contracting company.  His firm is not identified in the court records.

The indictment also alleges that in trying to hide the schemes, the three accused attempted to obstruct an official investigation looking into their conduct.

Fort Gordon has not commented on these allegations.  According to court records filed this week, attorneys representing the defendants are not listed.

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.