Nineteen New Marines & Naturalized Citizens

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By Debbie Gregory.

They hail from Mexico and the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Brazil, Canada and Vietnam, Ecuador and Guatemala, China and Jamaica, Haiti, Peru and Tanzania. Nineteen young adults, all newly minted Marines, and all brand new U.S. Citizens!

During a July 13 naturalization ceremony at Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, the 16 young men and young women became U.S. citizens.

In order to take that final step of raising their hand to take the Oath of Allegiance to the Constitution, they had to demonstrating their knowledge of the English language and American civics, as well as show good moral character.

The following day, the 19 graduated with 457 of their fellow Marines of Hotel Company, 2nd Recruit Training Battalion, and November Company, 4th Recruit Training Battalion, achieving their dreams of becoming U.S. Marines.

In a statement, Brenda Washington of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services said, “For these Marines, today’s naturalization ceremony represents their final step in their journey to American citizenship.” She added, “Their path to citizenship is especially remarkable because they first pledge themselves to support and defend the United States before choosing to become American citizens.”

The 19 double celebrants are: Pfc. Ambar N. Zaiek Parades, Dominican Republic; Pfc. Dulce F. Manriquez, Mexico; Pvt. Annalice M. Daley, Jamaica; Pvt. Julian R. Torres, Peru; Pfc. Serdjhy Leger, Haiti; Pfc. Dang H. Doung, Vietnam; Pfc. Daniel A. Guzman, Dominican Republic; Pvt. Kervin Stcyr, Haiti; Pvt. Jhonatan A. Velarde, Ecuador; Pvt. Jean Malhado, Brazil; Pvt. Yongchang Gao, China; Pvt. Khalid M. Ngwegwe, Tanzania; Pvt. Daniel Ramirez Rodriguez, Mexico; Pvt. Juan C. Rosales Guerin, Mexico; Pvt. Carlos L. Espana Palencia, Guatemala; Pvt. Waylon F. LaFrance, Canada; Pfc. Rodrigo M. Malpartida, Peru; Pvt. Zetian Ni, China; and Pfc. Ariel Castillo, Cuba.

We congratulate them all on their achievements!

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.

White House Undecided as to the Future of Troops in Afghanistan

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By Debbie Gregory.

Despite his displeasure at the current state of affairs in Afghanistan, President Trump has backed away from an option to pull all remaining U.S. forces from the region, days after reports claimed the administration was seriously considering the move as part of its pending plan of action for the 16-year-old war.

Contrary to recommendations from the Pentagon, the Trump Administration had been considering withdrawing all 8,400 U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, rather than increasing troop presence, the White House had considered scaling back U.S. presence there, exposing a fundamental divide between the Oval Office and top military officials as to how to proceed in the region.

White House officials have found themselves hindered in the effort to forge a new strategy in a conflict where the U.S.-backed Afghan government is struggling to regain the initiative from insurgent groups, and to find the right level of U.S. military commitment.

In April, U.S. military officials said that 1,500 soldiers would be deployed to Afghanistan in response to attacks by the Islamic State militant group (ISIL or ISIS) as well as the Taliban. ISIS has claimed responsibility for a recent attack on the Iraqi Embassy in Kabul that began with a suicide bomber blowing himself up at the main gate, which allowed the terrorists to enter the building.

On August 2nd, the Pentagon confirmed that two American service members were killed after a Taliban suicide bomber struck a NATO convoy traveling through Kandahar province. The two soldiers were the eighth and ninth Americans killed in Afghanistan this year.

The U.S. military personnel currently in the region are there to “advise, train and assist missions, including counter-terrorism and air support” for local security forces, according to the U.S. Naval Institute.

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.

Congressman Seeks Second Chance for Vets Facing Deportation

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By Debbie Gregory.

One path to U.S. citizenship is through military service. In fact, joining the U.S. military has always been one of the fastest ways to become a U.S. citizen. The American Civil Liberties Union reported last year that many servicemembers don’t realize their naturalization is not automatic. And unfortunately, veterans who get in trouble prior to completing the process can be deported.

Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA), who serves on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is seeking a second chance for veterans who were convicted of crimes and face the possibility of deportation.

Takano introduced legislation that would have the Department of Homeland Security consider a veteran’s moral character and honorable service above a criminal conviction when reviewing their application for citizenship.

The Second Chance for Service Act provides the Department of Homeland Security with flexibility to approve a veteran’s naturalization application despite criminal convictions in their record. It excludes veterans convicted of aggravated felonies, such as murder, rape, sexual abuse of a minor, child pornography, human trafficking and treason.

The bill, the “Second Chance for Service Act,” would only apply to honorably discharged veterans.

Veteran and immigration advocates have confirmed more than 3,000 veteran deportation cases.

A 2016 ACLU report, “Discharged, Then Discarded,” found that deported veterans were in the U.S. legally, but had sustained physical wounds and emotional trauma in conflicts as far back as the war in Vietnam. Deportation is a lifetime punishment that never would have happened if the government had ensured their right to be naturalized.

“America is a country that believes in second chances, and few deserve a second chance as much as these veterans,” Takano said on his website. “Treating people who risked their lives for freedom so callously violates the respect and gratitude we owe to all who have served.”

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.

Former Marine Celeb Chef John Besh Gives Back

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By Debbie Gregory.

Before “celebrity chef,” “TV personality,” “philanthropist,” “restaurateur” or “author” appeared before his name, Louisiana native John Besh served his nation as a United States Marine.

The son of a fighter pilot, Besh enlisted in the Marine Corps after graduating from high school, serving with the 1st Marine Division, the 4th Marine Division, and I Marine Expeditionary Force.

Besh credits the Marines Corps for his culinary expertise. In fact, many veteran entrepreneurs cite the military as a source of the qualities that make them successful in business: a sense of leadership, mission, focus, organization skills, and selfless service.

These attributes have served Besh well, and have become the hallmark of the Besh Restaurant Group. Combat also gave him perspective, allowing him to keep kitchen disasters in context by not sweating the small stuff.

Each November, Besh’s restaurant group hosts a free social gathering celebrating the Marine Corps birthday, and the brotherhood for which the military branch has become famous.

From the battlefield to the kitchen, this award-winning chef has dedicated his life to the service of others. Besh has been active with the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation, the oldest and biggest donor of need-based scholarships for military students. He has also served the UDT-Seal Association, a Veterans Support Organization that offers scholarships to the children of fallen warriors.

Additionally, Besh has worked with the Delta Veterans Foundation, which helps wounded warriors transition back to civilian life. He has also worked with the Wounded Warrior Project and the USO’s Operation SAFE Return campaign to create family centers for the loved ones of wounded warriors as they get medical care.

Lastly, Besh is proud to have partnered with Baton Rouge-based emergency reconstruction specialists Arkel International, for which he creates high quality, ready-to-eat meals for distribution to thousands of emergency response teams and sustained strategic operations in the U.S. and around the world.

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.

Homeless 84-year- old Veteran Twins Receive Much Needed Help

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By Debbie Gregory.

Born in the Netherlands under Nazi rule, 84-year-old twins Clifford and Gary Koekoek came to the U.S. as they have done most all things in life: together.

The twins served their adoptive country during the Vietnam War. They eventually bought a home that had belonged to their mother. The brothers took out what they thought was a conventional loan to fix the roof on the house, but unfortunately, they fell victim to a predatory lender and lost the house in foreclosure.

The brothers were left to sleep in their car.

They spent a lot of their time just walking. Both logged many hours at the Sacramento Public Library in Orangevale, Gary poring over deed records, trying to find a way to get their house back.

In an act that Gary said makes him proud to be an American citizen, the brothers saw their story spread through local media and by word of mouth, thanks to family friend Aaron Hoemer . Then, it went national.

The brothers have received an outpouring of support, including more than $121,000 through a GoFundMe account that has now closed. A local estate planning attorney has also volunteered to open a trust for the brothers to handle all the money that’s been donated.

Additionally, multiple homeless advocate organizations and Veterans Affairs have reached out to assist them.

“These two gentlemen spent a lot of time out on the street struggling before we were able to make that connection, but we’re glad we were able to make it today,” said Sacramento Steps Forward’s Ben Avey. The nonprofit agency works to end homelessness in the region.

In an interview with Fox news, Clifford said, “It made me proud to be an American citizen, that there are so many good people.”

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 Wins $170,000 Judgement Over USERRA Violations

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By Debbie Gregory.

A former Jamestown, NY police officer has been awarded a settlement of $170,000 in damages from the city after a judge found he was discriminated against by the police department because of spending time away from the force due to his service in the Army Reserve.

Timothy Wright was deployed to Iraq in 2004 and served two six-month deployments to Afghanistan, beginning in 2009.

In 2007, Wright, who is now the chief of police in the Town of Carroll, filed a claim under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), saying the department did not include his terms of military service when calculating his vacation time. He claimed he was also denied a promotion. USERRA exists to protect military reservists against such discrimination.

In 2014, a Supreme Court jury in Chautauqua County ruled in Wright’s favor regarding the vacation time that was unfairly calculated, but ruled against him re: the missed promotion. The city and police department moved to appeal the decision but then dropped the action.

On July 17, State Supreme Court Justice Frank A. Sedita awarded Wright $44,656 in compensation, an additional $44,656 in damages and more than $83,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs.

In 1994, when Congress enacted USERRA, it stated explicitly that veterans and service members cannot waive any of their rights under USERRA, that they have a right to enforce their rights in federal court, and that they cannot be required to arbitrate their USERRA claims. USERRA is part of the U.S. government’s effort to ensure that military personnel are not penalized for serving their country.

The ruling is a victory for all veterans who may experience discrimination when they return to their jobs after their military service.

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.

Experts Raise Capability of North Korean Missiles

north korea test

By Debbie Gregory.

One year: that’s the current estimate that American intelligence agencies have given before North Korea has the ability to launch a missile that can reach the continental United States.

Just a few weeks ago, the official estimate stood at about four years. But recent test launches have intelligence experts updating the narrative. Pyongyang has carried out 12 missile tests since February and conducted its first test of an ICBM on July 4 — which it says could reach “anywhere in the world.”

Most recently, on July 28th, North Korea’s leader Kim Jung-un tested an intercontinental ballistic missile that appears to have the range to hit major U.S. cities, according to the experts.

The missile launch from Mupyong-ni flew about 45 minutes, going 3,700 kilometers (2,300 miles) high and for a distance of 1,000 kilometers (621 miles).

If the missile trajectory had been flattened, it could have reached Los Angeles, Denver and Chicago, depending on how heavy a payload the missile was carrying in its warhead; the heavier the payload, the shorter the range.

In a recent statement, Scott Bray, a spokesperson for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said, “North Korea’s recent test of an intercontinental range ballistic missile — which was not a surprise to the Intelligence Community — is one of the milestones that we have expected would help refine our timeline and judgments on the threats that Kim Jong Un poses to the continental United States.”

Condemning the missile launch, President Trump said the United States would act to ensure its security.

“Threatening the world, these weapons and tests further isolate North Korea, weaken its economy and deprive its people,” Trump said in a written statement. “The United States will take all necessary steps to ensure the security of the American homeland and protect our allies in the region.”

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.