Troop Size: How Big Should the U.S. Army Be?

army a go go

By Debbie Gregory.

The United States has higher military spending than any other country so that we can defend our borders, uphold international order and promote American interests abroad. Congress is taxed with increasing the size of the Army in 2018, but the House and Senate have not been able to agree on how many more soldiers the service should add.

The House has called for the Army to add 17,000 soldiers, 10,000 to the active force and 7,000 to the National Guard and Reserves, but the Senate only wants to add about 6,000 soldiers, 5,000 active-duty soldiers and 1,000 reservists and National Guard members.

The Senate expressed concerns that adding 17,000 more soldiers to the force next year could force the Army to reduce its recruiting and retention standards, a problem the branch has faced in the past during the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“No one wants to see the Army allowing anyone who can’t meet the current standards into the uniform,” one of the officials said. “That is not a place we can afford to go back to.”

Past administrations have increased military spending, but usually in order to fulfill a specific mission, such as Jimmy Carter’s expanded operations in the Persian Gulf, Ronald Reagan’s arms race with the Soviet Union, and George W. Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The White House and Pentagon has said Trump’s promised increases to the military force size, including the Army, would begin with his fiscal year 2019 budget.

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 App That Helps Soldiers Survive Active-Shooter Situations

active shooter

By Debbie Gregory.

Soldiers and civilians alike will soon have a tool to aid in their survival during an active shooter situation, thanks to a team of civilian employees from the Aviation Center of Excellence at Fort Rucker, Alabama.

Army Training and Doctrine Command and TRADOC Capability Manager-Mobile (TCM Mobile) announced the winner from a competition held to develop an app that allows for quick response. Once the app is opened, a single tap of a button will access the emergency dialer. The app then instructs users on what to do as they wait for help to arrive.

The Army says it will double as both an educational tool and a means of quickly connecting users to emergency response personnel

“If adrenaline kicks in and they forget what to do in the moment, all of that information is right there in front of them,” said Matt MacLaughlin of the TRADOC Senior Mobile Training Development center. “We’re going to try to think for you. Because there’s situations where you won’t have time to think.”

The judges evaluated the shooter app entries based on content, functionality, design and overall user experience. There was also a competition for best logo design, won by the team from Fort Gordon, Georgia.

Active shooter situations against U.S. military include the 2015 attack at the Armed Forces Career Center in Chattanooga where the shooter then attacked a Navy Reserve center, claiming five lives, a 2013 attack at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington D.C. that took the lives of 12 people, and the  2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood that left 13 people dead.

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.

What Makes a School Truly Veteran Friendly?


By Debbie Gregory.

Veterans who have transitioned out of the military do so with rich veteran education benefits, especially those who have the Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits. In addition to tuition, the benefit covers housing, books and supplies. It’s no wonder that schools want to recruit these potential students.

But because veterans can only spend these veteran education benefits once, finding the right institution to help guarantee success is of great importance. This is achieved by finding an institution that fosters a culture which is supportive, appreciative, respectful, embracing, and inclusive of the veterans it educates. Schools that genuinely value diversity will make an active, sustained effort to attract veterans, because they recognize the value of their presence in the classroom.

Being veteran friendly also means being responsive to the unique needs of their student-veteran population.

Here are some characteristics a veteran education program should provide:

  • A veterans lounge as a designated space for the veterans to gather, study, and socialize
  • Department of Veterans Affairs resources directly on campus
  • A chapter of Student Veterans of America
  • Fully covered tuition through the G.I. Bill, and a commitment to meet any shortfalls through institutional aid
  • Exemption from standard residential housing policies since veterans are older and may have families
  • Credit for military service
  • A quality education

Military bases maintain an education office, and conduct transition assistance workshops for servicemen and women preparing to reenter civilian life.

Additional resources include:

  • The Warrior Scholar Program empowers enlisted military veterans by providing them with a skill bridge that enables a successful transition from the battlefield to the classroom. The program works to maximize their education opportunities by making them informed consumers of education, and increases the confidence they will need to successfully complete a rigorous four-year undergraduate program at a top-tier school.
  • Service to School, a 501(c)(3) non-profit that provides free application counseling to military veterans. Their goal is to help veterans win admission to the best universities possible and to help them maximize their education benefits.
  • The Posse Foundation, which forms groups of 10 veterans who all are admitted to the same college at once, and form a ready-made squad of peers who can support each other throughout their college experience and succeed as a team.

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.


Grand Jury Report on $5 Million Program for Homeless Veterans

homeless vet in la

By Debbie Gregory.

You would think that $5-million would go a long way to end veteran homelessness in Los Angeles. But despite the funding, a program to get homeless veterans off the streets has only helped 268 veterans over an 18 month period, according to a recent Los Angeles County grand jury report.

In Los Angeles, veterans comprise a little over 3% of the general population, but make up about 11% of the homeless population.  Transition from military to civilian life, sometimes complicated by service related disabilities, may make it difficult for veterans to find housing.

Homes for Heroes, a county program funded by the federal government, provides interim shelter to veterans and pays for move-in costs and minor repairs for landlords who agree to rent to ex-service members. But the grand jury’s report expressed concern about Homes for Heroes’ administrative costs. And the report also found that in the 18 months from January 2016 to June 2017, the program helped more property owners (363) than it did veterans.

Phil Ansell, the director of L.A. County’s homeless initiative said the grand jury’s information was out of date, and that further progress has been made, although “more certainly remains to be done,” he said.

While Southern California has made progress over the years, the area continues to lead the nation in veteran homelessness, with 4,800 living on streets and riverbed, according to the report.

Mayor Eric Garcetti had made a pledge to end veteran homelessness a signature of his administration.

Another impediment is that much of the housing that accepts veteran rent vouchers is for men only. This leaves their family members and female veterans to find shelter elsewhere.

However, Los Angeles is making progress in cutting into veteran homelessness, said Nan Roman, president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, a Washington nonprofit.

“It cut unsheltered homelessness 43% and veteran homelessness overall 41% in a year, which is unheard of,” she 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.

Blackwater Founder Wants Contractors Instead of American Troops in Afghanistan


By Debbie Gregory.

Blackwater Worldwide founder Erik D. Prince and Stephen A. Feinberg, a billionaire financier who owns the giant military contractor DynCorp International, want to rely on hired contractors instead of American troops to fight in Afghanistan.

Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s chief strategist, and Jared Kushner, his senior adviser and son-in-law, are pushing this idea, suggesting that the president and his top advisers have been dissatisfied with the military’s thinking on the conflict, the subject of an intense series of a consultations between senior military officers and Trump’s national security team over the last several months.

Prince called on the White House to appoint a viceroy to oversee the country and to use “private military units” to fill the gaps left by departed American soldiers. Modeled after General Douglas MacArthur, who ruled Japan after World War II, the viceroy would consolidate all American power in a single person.

Blackwater has become synonymous with one of the most notorious episodes of the Iraq war, when its employees opened fire in a Baghdad square, killing 17 civilians.

Prince has close ties to the Trump administration through his sister, Betsy DeVos, who is the education secretary.

The Pentagon has options to send 3,000 – 5,000 more American troops, including hundreds of Special Operations forces, with a consensus settling on about 4,000 additional troops. NATO countries would contribute a few thousand additional forces.

But the proposal has shocked the handful of senior Pentagon and CIA officials familiar with it, who point out the difficulty the United States has had in controlling private armies—and those who run them.

The decision, ultimately, will be Trump’s. He will decide whether America’s wars should continue to be fought by Americans or whether they will be contracted out to an out-of-uniform army of guns for hire who will be allowed to kill in the name of America.

What do you think?

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.

Thousands Respond to Terminally Ill Veteran’s Dying Request

lee hernandez

By Debbie Gregory.

An Army veteran with a terminal illness has a final wish that we can all help with.

Lee Hernandez suffers from a debilitating condition that was deemed terminal after three brain surgeries failed to identify the cause.

One day, Lee asked his wife and caregiver, Ernestine Hernandez, to hold onto his phone “in case someone calls.” After nearly two hours with no calls, Lee told her, “I guess no one wants to talk to me.”

Ernestine contacted the advocacy groups Caregivers of Wounded Warriors and the Arizona Veterans Forum with a request for phone calls and texts of good wishes that she could pass on to her husband.

Currently on Hospice care, the 47 year-old’s dying wish is to hear from you.

The July 11th Facebook post on the Arizona Veterans Forum page went viral. In just a matter of days, Lee received more than 100,000 texts and calls from well-wishers.

Family friend Susan Frawley, also a veteran caregiver to her Marine veteran husband, started the Facebook page Team Lee!!! American Hero Support Group, to assist the couple.

Because the multiple strokes have left Lee blind, Ernestine reads the messages to him.

In addition to the Facebook page, Frawley created a GoFundMe campaign on July 16 to raise money for Lee and Ernestine to travel and enjoy the time he has left, and the campaign has nearly reached its $3,000 goal.

People who want to call or text Lee should reach out in the evening hours, ideally between 2pm and 6pm Arizona time. Ernestine said that is when Lee is the most alert, despite heavy pain medication. The phone number is 210-632-6778.

“Thank you everyone for your calls and support. I am trying to give him the best life I am able to with the help of my mom,” Ernestine 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 Spouse Serves as State Senator While Husband is on Reserve Training


By Debbie Gregory.

The wife of State Senator John Braun has probably pulled a lot of double duty as a military spouse during the course of her marriage. But now, Marlo Braun has taken this to a whole new level: she was sworn in as a temporary senator in order to fill in for the Centralia Republican while he’s participating in required military training with the Navy Reserve.

Marlo took the oath of office on July 18th after John invoked a rarely-used law that allows for a district fill-in if a representative is called up to active service or training.

John will serve as the commanding officer of a Navy Reserve detachment based out of U.S. Pacific Command at Camp Smith in Hawaii.

The move received majority approval by county officials in District 20.  John wanted a fill-in so his district didn’t go unrepresented during the final days of the third special session. Lawmakers are still working to try and reach a deal on both a two-year capital budget and a water rights bill before they adjourn.

John’s first choice to fill in for him was former lawmaker J. Vander Stoep, but when he was unavailable, John’s next choice was his wife.

Marlo, a registered nurse at Providence Hospital in Centralia, was sworn in by Lewis County District Court Judge Wade Samuelson on the Senate floor. Marlo said that serving in the Senate was never a job she intended to hold, but one she will be happy to do until John can take back the reins.

The fill-in spot is a short-term assignment.

This is not the first time a military spouse has served under this state provision. In 1990, Sen. Mike Kreidler’s wife Lela held his seat while he served on reserve duty during Operation Desert Storm.

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.

Mark Esper to be President’s Army Secretary Nominee

mark esper

By Debbie Gregory.

After two failed attempts at appointing an Army Secretary, President Trump has selected Raytheon executive Mark Esper as his third and hopefully final nomination.

The first pick, Wall Street trader and businessman Vincent Viola, dropped out due to financial entanglements involving federal contracts. Viola is a West Point graduate and former major in the Army Reserves.

The second pick, TN State Senator and former Army flight surgeon Mark Green, withdrew his name after criticism from activists and Democrats for past statements he made on LGBT issues.

Esper has an impressive resume; a West Point grad, he served in the Gulf War, and rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Army.

After leaving the Army, Esper worked as a Pentagon civilian, a Hill staffer, serving as an aide to both Senator Bill Frist (R-TN) and Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NB). He was director of National Security Affairs for Senate Majority Leader Frist, and served as the legislative director and senior policy adviser for Hagel, who went on to become secretary of defense.

Esper was the deputy assistant secretary of defense for negotiations policy, responsible for arms control, nonproliferation, international agreements and matters with the United Nations.

Esper is Raytheon’s vice-president for government relations. Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain (R-AZ) as well as other senators, including Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Corey Booker (D-NJ) has expressed opposition to placing industry executives in top defense postings.

McCain was absent for former Boeing executive Patrick Shanahan’s confirmation vote for Deputy Secretary of Defense due to surgery. McCain’s recent cancer diagnosis makes his role in Esper’s confirmation uncertain.

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.

Smooth Move- Taking the Stress Out of Your PCS


By Debbie Gregory.

It’s that time again. You’ve received your orders and it’s time to get ready for a permanent change of duty station (PCS).

The thought of having to pack up and move to a new location every few years is not something that the average person looks forward to. But a military move is the reality faced by many military service members and their families.

You have the option of either letting the military take care of the arrangements, or you can handle a Personally Procured Move (PPM) yourself. A PPM used to be called a DITY move for “Do It Yourself”. If authorization and approval for this program is granted, the service member will be paid 95% of the amount of money the government would have paid for the move, regardless of the actual cost.

When PCS orders come, there are steps you can take to take the stress out of what potentially can be a very stressful situation.

Be prepared! Knowledge is power, and you should know what transportation allowances you are eligible for. Whether your PCS orders are for the same geographic area, a change of a ship’s homeport or unit’s location, accompanied or unaccompanied PCS overseas or PCS with temporary duty en route, there are basic allowances you can expect to receive.

The government will pay most costs associated with your move, and many of these expenses can be paid to you in advance or via a travel. These expenses include personal and dependent travel and a per diem for meals and lodging. You are also able to move household goods and vehicle storage/shipment.

If you require temporary lodging, you will partially be reimbursed for the additional costs you may incur while living in temporary quarters.

To aid your move, a personal moving calendar can be a great help. Fill it with the information that you will need based on your moving timeframe. If your move will take place during the busy summer months, allow extra time for pick-ups and deliveries, as schedules may be tight.

When you have figured out when you want to move, contact your Transportation Office (TO) or Personal Property Shipping Office (PPSO.)

Try to get a close estimate of what your personal property weighs. To lighten your load, consider purging unwanted/unneeded items. The items you decide to move should be photographed before packing so that you can document any damages. Keep important documents, valuables and irreplaceable items on your person.

Lastly, work closely with your moving company to arrange delivery and avoid your personal property being placed in temporary storage.

Eastwood Taps Real-Life Heroes to Play Themselves in Film


By Debbie Gregory.

The 15:17 to Paris, a new film directed by Clint Eastwood, will have three unlikely stars: the three California men who famously thwarted the terror attack on the Paris-bound train.

Anthony Sadler, Alex Skarlatos, and Spencer Stone, who were vacationing in Europe at the time of the attack on August 21, 2015, will play themselves in their acting debuts.

The film is based on a book of the same name, which the men co-wrote. In an eleventh hour decision, Eastwood called off the prior casting decisions in favor of casting the real-life emergency responders. The casting move is similar to Eastwood’s “Gran Torino,” which featured an almost-unknown cast (outside of Eastwood, who also starred in the movie.)

The film will tell the story of the three men, from their childhood in Sacramento, CA to the fateful evening they faced a heavily armed Moroccan terrorist bent on a mass killing spree.

All three men received the Legion of Honor, the highest French order of merit, for their actions.

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Stone also received the Airman’s Medal and the Purple Heart. Skarlatos, an Oregon Army National Guardsman and Afghan War veteran, received the Soldier’s Medal, the U.S. Army’s highest award for peacetime valor. Sadler, a civilian, was bestowed the Secretary of Defense Medal for Valor.

Eastwood recently directed two other films based on the true stories: American Sniper, the story of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, and Sully, about celebrated pilot Chesley Sullenberger.

Jenna Fischer, Judy Greer, and Ray Corasani will also join the real-life heroes in the film. Paul-Mikel Williams, Max Ivutin, Bryce Gheisar, Cole Eichenberger, and William Jennings will play younger versions of the Sadler, Skarlatos and Stone.

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.