Meet the Army Robot That Can Lift a Box or Pour Your Coffee


By Debbie Gregory.

The future of Army warfare will likely involve robotics deployed to perform an array of functions that Soldiers today perform for themselves. To that end, “RoMan”, a small tracked unmanned vehicle, has been built through a collaboration of the military, industry and academic partners.

Short for “Robotic Manipulation,” RoMan is equipped with mounted cameras that can enable the vehicle to locate an object, as well as articulated arms that can grasp and move the object.

“Anytime there’s a mundane or dangerous task, you could put a robot forward to do that thing,” said Marshal Childers, a team leader with the Unmanned Systems Division of the Army Research Lab. This would include tasks such as lifting a box or pouring coffee.

Future plans include making the robot faster and improving its environmental perception to distinguish between objects.

Dr. Stuart Young, who serves as the chief of the Asset Control and Behavior Branch at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory said his team’s project involves making robots more capable of understanding natural language, so they can function more like members of a team rather than just a tool that has to be controlled by a soldier.

Currently, Army robots are tele-operated and require soldiers to control them directly. This means that a soldier who is operating a robot must stop his/her other duties to focus on directing the robot.  Requiring a soldier to put down a gun to pick up a controller might result in an additional soldier providing security for that soldier, taking two soldiers out of the fight.

But within the next 20 years, scientists hope to have evolved the robot technology so that the “robot-as-teammate” is a reality.

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 USS Kitty Hawk Will Be Dismantled

Kitty Hawk

By Debbie Gregory.

Supercarrier USS Kitty Hawk, the second naval ship named after the North Carolina site of the Wright brothers’ first powered airplane flight, has been scheduled for disposal.

The fate of the first and last active ship of her class has been in limbo for the last eight years after being decommissioned in 2009. The Kitty Hawk has been held in reserve status at the Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility in Bremerton, Washington.

Still to be determined is when the ship will depart its berthing in Bremerton, where the ship will go to be dismantled, or what company will be awarded the contract, according to Naval Sea Systems Command spokesman Colleen O’Rourke.

The ship was laid down by Camden New Jersey’s New York Ship Building Corp. two days after Christmas, 1956, launched in May of 1960, and commissioned in April, 1961 at Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.

During the ship’s 48 years of active service, the Kitty Hawk participated in combat operations in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. The ship did six tours in Vietnam between 1963 and 1976, and was the first aircraft carrier ever to be awarded a Presidential Unit Citation. The award, the unit equivalent of the Navy Cross, was presented by President Lyndon B. Johnson on Dec. 20, 1968, to the ship and Carrier Air Wing 11.

Kitty Hawk was the “floating White House” June 7, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy spent the night aboard the ship near southern California.

The ship was also a participant in the Arabian Sea during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Kitty Hawk nicknames include “Miss Kitty,” “Battlecat” and “Chicken Hawk.”

The Kitty Hawk was the fleet’s only permanently forward-deployed carrier in Yokosuka, Japan, from 1998 to 2008.

At one point, the Navy had once considered the possibility of recommissioning the ship to increase the size of the fleet, but Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer said that the cost of doing so would be prohibitive.

Despite receiving request from numerous groups interested in preserving the ship as a museum , O’Rourke said the Navy will not be accepting any such applications.

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’s Field Manual Focused on Adversaries’ Evolving Capabilities

FM 03

By Debbie Gregory.

The Army has crafted new combat operations doctrine designed to better position the service branch for the prospect of warfare against technologically advanced peer rivals.

The Army’s Field Manual (FM) 3-0 Operations marks the first major overhaul of the manual since 2011, and represents a shift in focus to adapt to fighting future potential enemies who are equipped with 21st century capabilities.

Army Lt. Gen. Michael D. Lundy, the commander of the Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, assisted in writing the eight chapter manual.

“As the Army and the joint force focused on counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism at the expense of other capabilities, our adversaries watched, learned, adapted, modernized and devised strategies that put us at a position of relative disadvantage in places where we may be required to fight,” said Lundy. “This is about thinking differently about warfighting than we have for the last 16 years and filling in our capability gaps,” he added.

Today’s operational environment presents threats to the U.S. Armed Forces that are significantly more dangerous in terms of capability and magnitude than those previously faced in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Adversaries such as China, Iran, North Korea and Russia continue to use all means available to gain strategic positional advantages. The manual emphasizes the need to adjust training at home and at regional combat training centers.

Lundy said that we must be ready to win with the forces we have, and having the right doctrine is a critical part of that readiness. The updated FM 3-0 provides the doctrinal approach for the U.S. military to address the challenges of shaping operational environments, preventing conflict, and prevailing during large-scale ground combat.

But also of great importance is leadership development. Building leaders and units that can prevail in the environment of large-scale combat operations requires tough, realistic, and repetitive training. FM 3-0 provides a roadmap to that end.

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.

Is TRICARE Fee Restructuring a Good Thing?


By Debbie Gregory.

The three region TRICARE system will soon be history as TRICARE divides into two regions: Tricare East and West, with East being managed by Humana Military and West falling under Health Net Federal Service. But there are other, bigger changes in store for the new year.

The Defense Health Agency (DHA) has announced a fee restructuring in 2018 that will impact all plans except Tricare for Life, the military’s supplemental insurance to Medicare for those over 65 or disabled retirees.

TRICARE Standard, the fee-for-service insurance option, and TRICARE Extra, the preferred provider option, are being replaced with TRICARE Select. Select is supposed to combine features of both. Meanwhile, the managed care option, TRICARE Prime, will not change.

The size of the new fixed fees unveiled for TRICARE Select did come as a bit of a surprise, as they are higher than appointment fees planned for new enrollees.

Last year when the DHA proposed new TRICARE copayments, Congress voted to insert a grandfather provision for existing TRICARE participants, and a separate fee schedule for new entrants in 2018 and after. Defense health officials urged the repeal of the grandfather provision so that TRICARE wouldn’t have two sets of fees, as well as an inequity in the cost. Further complicating the situation, the new method of calculating appointment fees has resulted in the copayments for the grandfathered group coming in higher than for the non-grandfathered group.

This means that many new entrants who join after Jan. 1, 2018, will be paying less than current beneficiaries, who should be paying less. For example, a grandfathered active duty family member’s cost for an in-network primary care physician visit will be $27, and a specialist visit will cost $34, while a new entrant family member will pay $15 for the primary care visit, and $25 for the specialist.

Since this is having the opposite affect than was intended, it seems as though someone needs to go back over the plan and make adjustment so that those who are already relying on their health benefits aren’t penalized.

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.

Was This A Hate Crime or PTSD?


By Debbie Gregory.

There was a perfect storm brewing in Portland, Oregon’s DarSalam Iraqi restaurant.

Suffering from unsuccessfully treated PTSD, Marine Sgt. Major Damien Rodriguez was allegedly inebriated, a common self-treatment for PTSD, when he and his companion, a retired Marine, took a corner table in the restaurant. He sat where his back could be against the wall, typical behavior of a veteran with PTSD.

His four deployments to war zones had taken a heavy toll.

According to witnesses, after several minutes of not ordering, Rodriguez said that he had to get out of the restaurant. He tried to go through a side door but found it locked, so he stood, wringing his hands. Rodriguez began slinging racial slurs and profanity. Then suddenly, he picked up a chair and hurled it at a waiter.

Ghaith Sahib, the owner of the restaurant, said the incident left him and his staff deeply shaken, especially the employee injured by the chair.

Authorities came down hard on Rodriguez. While this would have normally been a misdemeanor, prosecutors charged Rodriguez with both assault and a hate crime, felony charges that carry a mandatory prison sentence.

Rodriguez was forced to retire following his arrest.

And while special veterans courts have been set up throughout the country to offer therapy instead of jail time to veterans who commit minor crimes most of them bar veterans who have committed a violent crime. This means Rodriguez now faces years in prison.

“What he needs is help. That is what he has needed all these years,” said his mother, Roberta Bello. “But they just want to put him away.”

Raised by a Nigerian stepfather and married to a Guatemalan native, Rodriguez will tell you he is not prejudiced.

“How can they say I hate Iraqis? I gave my soul for Iraq,” he said.

Rodriguez said he did not know what caused him to hit the waiter. It is a blank. “All I can remember, honestly, is being handcuffed by the police,” he said.

After his arrest, Rodriguez entered an intensive program for substance abuse and PTSD. He is saddened that after years of service, he could be conviction for a hate crime.

“I’m sorry about what happened,” he said. “But no one tries to understand what we went through.”

The trial is scheduled to begin December.

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.

Sacrifices Made by Military Spouses

military spouse sacrifices

By Debbie Gregory.

It takes an extremely strong and selfless person to be a military spouse. While the sacrifices made by our military personnel are often acknowledged, military spouses are usually unrecognized and underappreciated.

Probably the biggest challenge military spouses face are their frequent moves, which makes it difficult for them to build their own careers. In fact, military families are far more likely to be living on a single income than civilian families. The financial impact of military nomadism is substantial.

Although the traditional narrative persists of the spouse who keeps the home fires burning, the reality is that many of the military spouses who work are underemployed, and most of those who don’t work are reluctantly unemployed.

If the military spouse does work, chances are it’s a job rather than a career, settling for jobs for which they are either overqualified or underpaid. And while it is good news that with the advances in technology, telecommuting and portable jobs are becoming more common, the bad news is that most portable work-from-home jobs that can be done remotely only page minimum wage or a little better.

Beyond the financial impact, military spouses who sacrifice their careers are also often suffering with self-esteem issues which can affect their identity and overall well-being.

The Department of Defense’s Military Spouse Employment Partnership is a federal program looking to improve the employment opportunities for military spouses.

The program seeks to strengthen the education and career opportunities of military spouses. This is accomplished in part by providing helping them understand their skills, interests, and goals.

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.

How Veterans & Their Doctors Are Getting Around VA’s Medical Marijuana Policy

medical maryjane

By Debbie Gregory.

Whether medicinal cannabis is legal varies depending on what state you’re in, what medical issue you have, and what form you’re using.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, medicinal marijuana is a Schedule One substance, a drug that has no “accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

As long as the Food and Drug Administration classifies marijuana as a Schedule One, Veterans Affairs (VA) health care providers may not recommend it or assist veterans in obtaining it. With that said, while its use is not permitted on VA grounds, veterans on federal property in a federal rehab program are able to test positive for its use without penalty.  This is an unusual loophole in the VA’s approach to medical marijuana.

Currently, VA doctors cannot prescribe medical cannabis, but in states where medical marijuana is legal, but VA providers can and do discuss marijuana use with veterans as part of comprehensive care planning, and adjust treatment plans as necessary.

Advocates of medicinal marijuana use for veterans believe in its effectiveness in treating chronic pain. And with President Trump declaring the U.S. war on opioids, it makes perfect sense for it to be an alternative. In fact, the president campaigned in support of medical marijuana.

But his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, is asking congressional leaders to undo the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment,  the federal medical-marijuana protections that have been in place since 2014.

Veterans groups say the fastest and most effective way to help veterans get access to treatment is to simply reschedule the drug. That would automatically lift the most onerous barriers to research and allow VA health care providers to immediately prescribe marijuana in states where it is legal.

“We’ve got young men and women with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries coming to us and saying that cannabis works,” said Joe Plenzler, a spokesman for the American Legion.

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.

Elon Musk Special Speaker to Elite Marines


By Debbie Gregory.

By all accounts, billionaire inventor Elon Musk appeared to be nervous when he took elite Marines by surprise.

Musk was warmly welcomed at the 1st Marine Raider Battalion Ball where he rubbed shoulders with elite Marines under the command of Marine Corps Special Operations Command (MARSOC), the Marine Corps’ expeditionary force.

Musk shared some lessons from Silicon Valley, among them was to question authority…which perhaps was a lesson that didn’t resonate with this particular crowd.

“You’re in the wrong room for that, sir,” one Marine in attendance joked.

The SpaceX  and Tesla founder was honored with the first piece of birthday cake, which reportedly was served to Musk from the end of the commanding officer’s sword.

As the guest of honor, Musk delivered the opening statement.

“I wanted to come and speak to this group because whenever there’s danger in the world, you all are the first to go and die.”

Musk’s companies are very involved in the veteran community, and have veteran hiring initiatives, as well as great support for their veteran employees.

MARSOC, a relatively new command compared to other special operations groups, was founded in 2006 to integrate Marines into the special operations community. MARSOC’S stated mission is to recruit, train, sustain, and deploy scalable, expeditionary forces worldwide to accomplish special operations missions assigned by U.S. Special Operations Command.

MARSOC equips and trains Marines to succeed in austere conditions against a wide range of adversaries, and executes complex, distributed operations in uncertain environments, achieving silent success and strategic impact.

MARSOC Raiders are a proven special operations force.  Approximately 120 applicants graduate from its individual training course each year.

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.

Alarming Rate of Suicide Among Servicewomen and Female Vets

female veteran

By Debbie Gregory.

Female military veterans run a 250% higher risk than civilian women for suicide, a startling finding that experts say poses disturbing questions about the backgrounds and experiences of women who serve in the armed forces.

Though suicide has become a major issue for the military over the last decade, most research by the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs has been focused on men.

Research regarding women in the military, especially in combat roles, is still a new and emerging area. Though the U.S. military has long provided camaraderie and a sense of purpose to men, it has been a harsher place for women.

Risk factors for female servicemember/veteran suicide may include: deployments in hostile environments, exposure to extreme stress, physical or sexual assault while in the service and service related injuries. In addition, there are also general risk factors such as alcohol or substance abuse, homelessness, financial problems, relationship issues.

The VA’s currently has the following suicide prevention initiatives and resources for women veterans in place:

  • Regional and national residential inpatient programs that either provide treatment to women only or have separate tracks for women and men.
  • Outpatient mental health services through VA medical centers, Vet Centers, community-based outreach clinics and partnerships with other local treatment providers across the country.
  • Evidence-based therapies for PTSD that have been shown to decrease suicidal ideation, available at every VA medical center.
  • Support for treating the effects of military sexual trauma.

Establishing mental health programs that are effective for women veterans will go a long way in ensuring they are receiving the best care possible, hopefully turning this issue around.

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.

The Long Road Home, a Must-See Miniseries

long road

By Debbie Gregory.

The National Geographic miniseries “The Long Road Home,” based on a book of the same name by ABC News Correspondent Martha Raddatz, is the true story of the 2004 deployment of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment out of Fort Hood, Texas to Sadr City, Iraq.

This is the story of the eight-hour battle in Sadr City on April 4, 2004, that followed the ambush of the newly-arrived American platoon. The soldiers, many of them young and inexperienced, were on a peacekeeping mission and weren’t expected to face heavy combat. Told in real time through the eyes of untested soldiers in combat for the first time, the series gives viewers an intimate and unforgettable portrait of what it’s really like to go to war.

The eight part mini-series tells the story of the ambush and the three heroic rescue missions launched to save the platoon. It also focuses on the home front, as wives and mothers waited anxiously for word and drew support from one another.

Instead of it being the low-key peacekeeping mission they were expecting, the deployment ended up being a series of a deadly ambushes and brave rescues, spread out over 80 days of fighting.

The day that came to be known in military annals as “Black Sunday” claimed the lives of eight troop members and injured 60 others.

“The courage I witnessed, the heartache and the survival of spirit both on the battlefield and the homefront, is something I wanted to share with as many people as possible,” said Raddatz.

The series was shot at Fort Hood. Aaron Fowler and Eric Bourquin, who had both been part of the deployments, served as technical advisers.

“The Long Road Home” premiered on November 7th on the National Geographic Channel.

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.