First Women Finish Army’s Enlisted Infantry Training

first women

By Debbie Gregory.

Integrated training of men and women soldiers has played out at the Maneuver Center of Excellence in a public way since early 2015, when 19 women became the first soldiers to attend Ranger School.

Eighteen women at Fort Benning, GA., just became brand new privates and specialists, graduating from One Station Unit Training. A big deal? Yes, because they are the first women to take the enlisted route to become infantrymen.

The historic Army gender-integration events have played out at the center over the last four years, and this was the final phase.

The graduates will be going to units where women will be in positions of responsibility at platoon, company and battalion level.

Of the 48 women trainees who arrived at Fort Benning in February, 32 of them were deemed ready to attempt basic training without any additional physical training. The 18 graduates were among those 32 soldiers.

There were 148 men who started the class, and 119 of them graduated.

A year ago, the first women to attend the basic officer leadership courses began the integration of the officer ranks in Armor and Infantry. Last October, 10 women graduated the Infantry Basic Officer Leadership Course. Last December, another 10 women graduated the Armor Basic Officer Leadership Course, becoming first lieutenants.

Because the Army is trying to protect the identity of the women who just graduated basic training, the Maneuver Center of Excellence officials only allowed limited access over the last three weeks of the 14-week training.

“These soldiers want to be treated as soldiers,” said Kris Fuhr, a 1985 West Point graduate who has had the opportunity to get to know many of the women who have attended Ranger School, ABOLC and IBOLC over the past two years.. “They are not seeking special attention. They are at Fort Benning to train just like any other soldier. Their accomplishments are no different than their classmates who also meet the standards and graduate. They want to train, head out to their units and contribute to the mission.”

And the training was demanding, said Kendrick.

Currently, there are about 100 women either training or getting ready to do infantry basic training at Fort Benning.

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.

Adam West, Film Actor, TV Actor, and U.S. Army Veteran

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 06:  Actor Adam West attends the Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders Press Room at New York Comic-Con - Day 1 at Jacob Javits Center on October 6, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images)

By Debbie Gregory.

Many who have achieved celebrity and fame have worn our nation’s uniform.  They are veterans who have served and sacrificed. One of those stars was Adam West who gained overnight stardom as “Batman.”

West passed away on June 9th following a short battle with leukemia.

He was born William West Anderson on September 19, 1928, in Seattle, Washington.  West grew up on a farm outside of Walla Walla, WA before his parents divorced and he moved to Seattle to live with his mother and her new husband.

West graduated from Whitman College in Walla Walla, receiving a degree in English literature in 1951.   Later on, he attended Stanford University to do post graduate work in communications.  He dropped out after only six weeks to take a job at a Sacramento radio station.

West was drafted into the U.S. Army in the early 1950’s.   West served as an announcer on American Forces Network television. Later on in his acting career, having a distinctive voice, West built another career doing voice-over work. He also helped to launch a series of military television programs.

West was married three times.  He had six children and homes in Los Angeles and Palm Springs as well as a ranch not far from Sun Valley, Idaho.   He loved the ranch and spent a good part of his time there.

Before his famous iconic role, West made many guest appearances on television shows,  including Cheyenne, Maverick, 77 Sunset Strip, as well as a regular for one season on The Detectives.   He also had roles in movies such as Tammy and the Doctor, Robinson Crusoe on Mars and The Outlaws Is Coming, where he appearing alongside the infamous Three Stooges.

In the mid-1960s, West was appearing in television commercials.  He did several commercials for Nestle Quik chocolate.  They were parodies of the popular James Bond movies, and had an unexpected outcome.

The commercials caught the attention of William Dozier, a television producer at 20th Century Fox studios.  Dozier was looking for an actor to star as Gotham City millionaire Bruce Wayne and his crime-fighting alter ego, Batman.  Dozier’s Batman was to be a new television series for ABC, based on the DC Comic character created by Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger in 1939.  Batman premiered in January of 1966 as a twice-weekly, half-hour television program.  The rest was history, and Adam West’s life was never the same.

A Little About our VA Secretary Shulkin


By Debbie Gregory.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin may be an unlikely choice to overhaul veterans services. Although he is the son of an Army psychiatrist, for the first time, the head of the agency is not a veteran. His family has a history of military service and providing military medical care. Both his grandfathers served in World War I. And maybe most importantly, Dr. Shulkin, has spent a lifetime studying how to make health care organizations deliver better care at lower costs.

The entire U.S. Senate, all 100 Senators, voted to confirm Dr. Shulkin as President Trump’s VA Secretary. Prior to his confirmation as Secretary, Dr. Shulkin served as VA’s Under Secretary for Health for 18 months, leading the Nation’s largest integrated health care system, with over 1,700 sites of care serving nearly nine million Veterans.

While at the Medical College of Pennsylvania, Shulkin studied how to improve efficiency in health care management. Utilizing best practices resulted in saving money and patients.

Dr. Shulkin rose through top jobs there, at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia, at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York and eventually at Morristown Medical Center, in the affluent suburbs of northern New Jersey.

He is all for increasing reliance on private health care for routine procedures, like hearing aids, so it can focus on its core mission of caring for the wounded.

Shulkin, a board certified internist, has been extremely concerned about veteran suicide after a news report showed high rates among young combat veterans. In a September 2016 op-ed, Shulkin wrote, “Losing even one veteran to suicide is unacceptable, which is why suicide prevention is a top priority at VA.”

Dr. Shulkin has been named as one of the “50 Most Influential Physician Executives in the Country” by Modern Healthcare. He has also previously been named among the “One Hundred Most Influential People in American Healthcare.” He has been married to his wife, Dr. Merle Bari, for 29 years. They are the parents of two grown children.

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.

General Mattis Names Appointees

mattis listens

By Debbie Gregory.

Defense Secretary James Mattis has added three new appointees to his team at the Pentagon.

Mattis has appointed Vayl Oxford to Director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency; Stephen Kitay to Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy; and Sergio de la Peña to Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Western Hemisphere Affairs.

Oxford, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology has five years under his belt as a national security executive policy advisor at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, a Department of Energy-managed research laboratory.

Kitay was a staffer on the House Armed Services Committee. A retired Air Force officer, he served as the national security space expert on policies and programs, and the multibillion dollar space budget Kitay was also responsible for guiding the oversight of Department of Defense intelligence programs.

According to the Pentagon, De la Peña has been the CEO of de la Peña Consulting for five years. The retired Army colonel worked to develop business strategies to strengthen relationships between U.S. businesses and Latin American governments. He previously worked with defense contractor L3.

Mattis also filled three Senior Executive Service positions. He named Elbridge Colby to serve as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Strategy and Force Development. He tapped Pete Giambastiani as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs. And Thomas Goffus was named deputy assistant secretary for Europe and NATO.

Colby was a Robert M. Gates Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a national security think tank.

A Naval Academy alumnus, Giambastiani served as a special assistant to the deputy undersecretary of the Navy and the secretary of the Navy under the George W. Bush administration. Most recently, he worked as Chief of Staff to Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Florida.

Goffus, a retired Air Force colonel, most recently served as a staffer on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

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 $5K bonus for Training Brigade


By Debbie Gregory.

In order to meet the growing demand for advisers, the U.S. Army is authorizing $5,000 bonuses to troops interested in participating in a new training brigade.

The creation of five training and advising brigades signals the Army’s intent to shift away from the conventional units and tactics that yielded a significant number of casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. Joining is strictly voluntary.

Since it’s a new program, Army Gen. Robert Abrams, the head of U.S. Army Forces Command, acknowledged some soldiers may be reluctant to shift away from current career paths by taking a chance on something that doesn’t have a track record as of yet.

The challenge, he said, is getting mid-grade non-commissioned officers to sign up. That’s where the bonus will help.

The new brigades will be specially equipped for the mission of training and building up local security forces (which is also one of the primary missions of the Army Special Forces) to prevent Islamic militants from once again overrunning the countries after U.S. forces depart.

The plan calls for a military assistance training academy to be created at Fort Benning, Georgia. About 90 civilian and military staff members are being recruited. The first class will begin in October.

Members of what is being called the new Security Force Assistance Brigade will go through a training course of six-to-eight weeks. Almost 200 will receive 16 weeks of intensive language instruction. Others will get an eight-week language course.

A colonel chosen by the Army to lead the first Security Force Assistance Brigade is set to visit various military posts to recruit volunteers for the unit. Soldiers for the second brigade will be selected in about a year, and all five brigades will be stood up by 2022.

The first brigade could be ready to deploy by the end of 2018, Abrams said, but there has been no decision on where they will go. Iraq and Afghanistan are the most likely locations, he 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.

Army Chief of Staff Recommends More Troops In Afghanistan

in afghan

By Debbie Gregory.

General Mark Milley, the Army Chief of Staff, said he supports additional troops in Afghanistan.  He also supports a residual force in Iraq.   General Milley has not yet decided on whether or not to send more troops to South Korea.

General Milley was asked these questions by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) during a Senate Appropriations hearing on defense this week

The Army has requested $166.1 billion for 2018 for a total force of 1,018,000, including 476,000 active duty soldiers.  The focus is on combat readiness.

The Army also has a $12.7 billion wish list that was sent to Congress, asking for 17,000 additional troops.  There is $3.1 billion to pay for training, sustaining, housing and equipment for these extra troops.

Milley believes that the Army should be a force of 550,000 strong, the Army National Guard should be an end strength of 355,00,  and 209,000 soldiers in the Army Reserve.

What do you think?

Ranger Sniper Serves as Technical Advisor for “The Wall”


By Debbie Gregory.

A former Army Ranger played a big role on the set of the recently released film “The Wall.”

Nicholas “The Reaper” Irving  was responsible for making sure the film’s stars, John Cena and Aaron Taylor-Johnson  stayed technically true to their roles as Army snipers.

“Having Irving on set really helped make sure that we were tactically in place do we didn’t do injustice to our service men and woman,” Cena said.

Irving is well qualified for his role as a technical advisor. He served as a direct-action sniper with the 3rd Ranger Battalion for most of his Army career, from 2004 to 2009, deploying multiple times to Iraq and Afghanistan

“The Wall,” follows two American soldiers, U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Shane Matthews (Cena) and his spotter,  Sergeant Allen Isaac (Taylor-Johnson) who have been dispatched on a mission into the desert to investigate the killing of a group of contractors who had been working on a pipeline construction site.

Both of them are shot and trapped by Juba, an Iraqi sniper. Isaac takes cover behind an unsteady wall and tends to his wounds. Juba had previously taken a radio from one of his victims, and now uses it to communicate with Isaac under the pretense of being a high ranking allied soldier at another site. The deception allows Juba to get other useful information from Isaac.

Irving earned his nickname due to his 33 kills. He’s written two books about his experiences at war, “The Reaper,” and “Way of the Reaper.” NBC is currently developing a miniseries based on his battlefield exploits.

As for weapons training, Cena says he’s had the privilege of training with elite soldiers in the past.

“I’ve been lucky over the course of my career to be in some pretty wonderful situations with some high-skilled tacticians, and I’ve been able to go through some skills training and some range training with the U.S. military’s finest.”

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.

VA Takes Back Compensation Benefits From Disabled Vets


By Debbie Gregory.

From 2010 to 2015, the Department of Veteran Affairs has taken almost half a billion dollars in military separation pay back from disabled veterans. Why? Two words- double dipping.

Close to 25,000 veterans were penalized as a result of a decades old federal law that bans the “double dipping” of government benefits.

Years after the military ramped up its force size for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, as those conflicts wound down and budget sequestration kicked in, many service members were forced out of the military due to downsizing, and they got a nasty shock when they received a disability rating from the VA.

Servicemembers who accepted military separation pay will have to pay that money back to the VA if they later apply for disability compensation. Once their severance is fully repaid, usually through monthly withholdings, they can collect full disability payments.

In a letter, the VA’s Office of General Counsel offered little defense of that long-standing practice:

“Neither the statutory text nor the legislative history… provides clear insight into the ‘why’ behind the requirement that separation pay must be recouped from VA disability benefits.”

There are some veterans who have succeeded in appealing their recoupment rates by contacting their elected representatives. Often times, if you take your problem to your local congressperson, they can help you navigate the government red tape.

“There is a promise between the American public, the American taxpayer, and military service members, when they go in, when they serve and when they get out, they’ll have this support, and in my view, the federal government and the Congress are violating this contractual obligation,” said Democratic Rep. Mark DeSaulnier of California.

DeSaulnier would like to pass legislation to stop the recoupments, but finding funds to pay for it has stalled those plans in Congress.

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.

Deported US Veterans in Mexico Pressed Into Service by Drug Cartels


By Debbie Gregory.

There are very few options for an immigrant veteran who’s been deported following a conviction for an aggravated felony to legally return to the U.S. It doesn’t help that many of these veterans have settled in dangerous border towns in Mexico, where jobs are scarce and crime pays.

Here, they run the risk of being pressed into service by the drug cartels, forced into a criminal lifestyle they would not choose of given the choice.

One option is for a deported veteran to return to the U.S. is to secure a presidential pardon, or one from the governor of the state they were convicted in. Although not a re-entry guarantee, it is a necessary step before re-applying for legal resident status.

And getting a pardon is the exception, rather than the rule. In other words, it’s nearly impossible.

The other option is to die. While not a feasible option for most, all veterans discharged under conditions other than dishonorable, even if they’ve been deported, are entitled to a military funeral and burial with full honors.

“The cartels are waiting for you,” said deported Army veteran Ivan Ocon. “They know you’re desperate. They know you’ve spent time in prison. … if they pick you up, there’s three ways it can go. They’ll kill you, recruit you, or kidnap you and hold you for ransom.”

Deported veterans wanting to return to the United States legally face the up-hill battle of persuading people to view them as former U.S. servicemembers who made mistakes, and did their time for those mistakes.

Deported Veterans Support House, a Tijuana-based nonprofit founded by Army veteran Hector Barajas, advocates for deported U.S. military veterans worldwide.

While the Department of Homeland Security doesn’t keep track of how many U.S. veterans have been deported, estimates put the number in the thousands. Barajas says his organization has helped 300 deported veterans scattered across 36 different countries.

Barajas has a small network of nonprofit groups, veterans organizations and individual volunteers that advocate for deported veterans and help them secure military pensions and benefits. But the main goal is to one day return them to the United States.

According to a 2016 report by the American Civil Liberties Union entitled “Discharged, Then Discarded,” the federal government’s failure to help naturalize immigrants serving in the U.S. military has led to the large number of deportations, all of whom were entitled to become citizens because of their service.

“Deported veterans were in the United States legally and sustained physical wounds and emotional trauma in conflicts as far back as the war in Vietnam,” the statement continued. “Once they returned from service, however, they were subject to draconian immigration laws that reclassified many minor offenses as deportable crimes, and were effectively banished from the country.”

Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona introduced a bill, The Veterans Visa and Protection Act of 2017, that would prevent non-citizen service members and veterans from being removed from the United States unless they were convicted of a violent crime.

“They made a mistake, and many citizen veterans have made those same mistakes upon their return,” said Grijalva.

To date, the bill has been co-sponsored by 48 members of the House, all Democrats.

AF Vet Charged With Leaking Classified Material on Russian Election Hacking

reality winner

By Debbie Gregory.

A 25-year-old Air Force veteran and federal contractor has been accused of leaking classified information regarding a 2016 Russian military intelligence cyberattack to an online news outlet.

Reality Leigh Winner was arrested on June 3 and charged with leaking classified material to a digital news outlet, the Department of Justice announced yesterday. She is now being held at a facility in Lincolnton, GA, her attorney said

Arrested at her home in Augusta, GA, Winner allegedly “printed and improperly removed classified intelligence reporting, which contained classified national defense information from an intelligence community agency, and unlawfully retained it.”

Winner enlisted in the Air Force in 2013, serving as an airman first class with the 94th Intelligence Squadron at Fort Meade, Maryland, until earlier this year when she separated. She maintained a top secret clearance after separating from the military.

Winner allegedly mailed the classified documents to online news outlet The Intercept. The documents, characterized the documents as “the most detailed U.S. government account of Russian interference in the election that has yet come to light,” alleged that Russia’s military intelligence agency, the GRU, hacked “at least one U.S. voting software supplier and sent phishing emails to more than 100 local election officials just days before last November’s presidential election.”

Winner admitted to printing out the classified information, leaving her office with it, and intentionally mailing it to The Intercept, despite knowing the consequences, according to the arrest warrant.

“Releasing classified material without authorization threatens our nation’s security and undermines public faith in government,” said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. “People who are trusted with classified information and pledge to protect it must be held accountable when they violate that obligation.”

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.