Three Cities Sue DoD over Gun Database Reporting

First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs

By Debbie Gregory.

Three cities have filed suit against the Pentagon for lapses that allowed a mass shooter in Texas to buy a gun, even though he carried a conviction in military court that should have barred his purchase.

Air Force veteran Devin P. Kelley murdered 25 people and an unborn child at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas in November. The former logistics specialist had been court-martialed in 2012 and was convicted of two counts of domestic violence against his wife and their child. Kelley was sentenced to 12 months confinement and received a bad conduct discharge in 2014.

In the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., the three cities – New York, San Francisco and Philadelphia, allege that the defendants, which include the military branches and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, have failed to properly submit fingerprint cards, as well as information about the results of a criminal proceeding, to the FBI database if troops are charged with or convicted of certain violent crimes, including domestic violence and child abuse.

According to a report by the Department of Defense Inspector General, the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps did not submit fingerprint cards to the FBI for 24% of the 2,502 convictions handed down in courts-martial in 2015 and 2016. The branches also neglected to submit final disposition reports in 31% of the cases.

Had the Air Force reported Kelley’s criminal record to the FBI, he wouldn’t have been able to legally purchase the gun he used to conduct the mass shooting.

According to the complaint, ““No new laws are required to achieve that goal. Instead, this Court need only grant Plaintiffs’ request to compel Defendants to diligently implement, and consistently apply, the unambiguous laws that have been on the books for decades.”

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.

New Battle Skills Test All Marines Must Pass

basic skills

By Debbie Gregory.

In October 2016, Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Ronald Green said the Corps was considering reviving the common skills test, which some enlisted Marines and officers used to take. But now, beginning in January, 2018, that proposed testing will become a reality.

At the start of 2018, all U.S. Marines, from privates through general officers, will need to be on their toes as the Corps launces the first of what will be an annual Battle Skills Test.

Marines will be tested on 30 of the 178 common skills that recruits learn at boot camp and the School of Infantry or Marine Combat Training. All Marines will have to pass the skills test each year.

The few/ the proud will need to demonstrate a variety of skills that fall in the following categories: basic infantry skills, communications, first aid, history, leadership and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Each section has specific time requirements and parameters that will determine if the Marine has passed or failed the evaluation. It will be up to the discretion of the small unit leader on how the tests are administered.

“This is the commandant directing units to be able to go back and do fundamental, basic Marine skills that they may not have in their training plans,” said Lt. Col. Stuart Glenn of Training and Education Command.

Glenn said all Marines will be tested on “the basic fundamentals of what it means to be a Marine,” which will help Marines prevail in both conventional and irregular warfare.

“The Marine Corps emphasizes the ethos of every Marine a rifleman,” Glenn said. “Getting back to these basic skills, now I know that no matter what a Marine’s MOS is, no matter what his unit is, he knows how to put on a tourniquet; he knows how to treat a cold weather injury; he knows how to operate a radio.”

Information about the required training and the evaluation checklists can be downloaded from Training and Education Command’s SharePoint site and the Marine Corps Training Information Management System.

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 Marines Develop App to turn Emails into Letters


By Debbie Gregory.

Did you know that U.S. Marine recruits aren’t able to make calls or send emails from boot camp? Now there is an app to address that problem.

SANDBOXX is a mobile app that connects the military community with their friends and loved ones by giving them the ability to send physical mail to those in basic training, boot camp or on deployment directly from their cell phones.

The SANDBOXX app allows loved ones to type a note on their smartphone and have it turned into a printed letter, which is then sent the old-fashioned way: snail mail. Recruits can then write a letter in return and have it converted back to email.

Former Marine Ray Smith was supposed to be retired, but instead he has teamed up with fellow former Marine Sam Meek after discussing their mutual interest for connecting the extended military community.

They founded SANDBOXX in 2013 and launched the letters app the following year to assist servicemembers and their spouses, parents, friends, siblings – anyone with a connection to the armed services.

The culture shock of suddenly losing contact to the online world can take a toll on morale and interfere with training, especially for the generations of men and women who have come of age with smartphone in hand.

Since the app was launched, SANDBOXX has passed some 900,000 letters through its platform, with about 70 percent of the company’s current letter volume coming from the Marine Corps.

But as word of the app spreads, more people are using it to contact deployed Army soldiers and Air Force personnel, with the app available to new Coast Guard members starting in January.

The ultimate goal of the company’s founders is to build a social media platform unique to the military community. They have already created a social media app called “units” based around the military’s organizational structure. Any current or former member of the U.S. military can log in, put in their unit and year, and be connected solely with people from that unit and 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.

Pentagon Plans Changes to Post-9/11 GI Bill Transferability


By Debbie Gregory.

While most people know that the GI Bill is administered and paid for through the Department of Veterans Affairs, what most people probably don’t know is that the Defense Department controls the transferability of the benefit. And the DoD is planning some changes to that transferability.

The transferability option under the Post-9/11 GI Bill allows servicemembers to transfer all or some unused benefits to their spouse or dependent children. Current GI Bill policy allows service members with at least six years of service to transfer their benefits to a dependent, provided they agree to serve four more.

The request to transfer unused GI Bill benefits to eligible dependents must be completed while servicing as an active member of the Armed Forces.

Anthony Kurta, currently the acting deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that the department intends to issue a policy change affecting the transferability of benefits, which will be limited to service members with less than 16 years of total service.

The addition of a cap to one aspect of the GI Bill doesn’t sit well with veterans who recently fought for a provision in the new Forever GI Bill that lifted a 15-year time limit on the benefit.

“As a matter of principle, the American Legion is against anything that would degrade a veteran’s current benefit,” said American Legion spokesman Joe Plenzler.

With that said, as the transferability only applies to active duty servicemembers, this change should have no impact on veterans.

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.

Ex-Army Soldiers Out on Bail after 25 Years in Prison


By Debbie Gregory.

More than 25 years after being locked away for a killing their lawyers say they didn’t commit, three former U.S. Army soldiers convicted of a racially motivated murder have been set free on bail.

Mark Jason Jones, Kenneth Eric Gardiner, and Dominic Brian Lucci will be spending the holidays with their families for the first time in over a quarter of a century.

The men were stationed at Fort Stewart in Georgia. The night before Jones was set to get married, Stanley Jackson was fatally shot

The victim was African American. The three Caucasian soldiers were arrested hours after Jackson’s murder and sentenced to life in prison later that year. Jones was 20, Gardiner was 21 and Lucci was 22 when they were arrested.

Now in their mid- to late 40s, they have spent more than half their lives in jail.

The Georgia Supreme Court last month ruled that state prosecutors improperly withheld evidence that would have helped their defense, and the men were entitled to a new trial. Supporters who have long pointed to a lack of evidence and conflicting witness testimonies as proof that Jones, Gardiner, and Brian were victims of a miscarriage of justice.

Prosecutors haven’t said yet whether they’ll retry the case, but a judge in Savannah on Wednesday set bail at $30,000 apiece. The three men were released with the help of Centurion Ministries, which works to free innocent people.  Centurion Ministries took up their case in 2009.

Jackson was gunned down on a street corner in a high-crime neighborhood of Savannah at around 10 p.m. on Jan. 31, 1992.

Eyewitness James White, who testified at trial, later admitted that he hadn’t gotten a good look at the shooters and was pressured to identify the soldiers at trial.

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 This Be True? Was Russian General Responsible for Ordering Downing of Malaysian Passenger Jet?


By Debbie Gregory.

According to the results of the joint investigation of The Insider and Bellingcat, the identity of a key figure in the case of downed Malaysia Flight 17 was semi-retired Russian general Nikolai Fedorovich Tkachev, who gave the order to launch the Russian-made ground to air rocket that brought the plane down in 2014, killing all aboard.

The plane was shot down over eastern Ukraine at the height of the conflict between Kiev and pro-Russian separatists.

Although there were 298 victims from 17 countries, the vast majority, 196 to be exact, were Dutch citizens. The identification of Tkachev is potentially a breakthrough in a case that has frustrated Dutch and other investigators who have struggled for years to identify voices on a key phone intercept.

Investigators say that on September 28, 2016 the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT) appealed to witnesses to help identify those individuals suspected of involvement in the shooting down of the airliner. One individual was known by the call sign ‘Dolphin’ (Delfin), who was identified in recorded telephone conversations, who was also referred to as ‘Nikolai Fedorovich.’

The voice sample collected by The Insider was analyzed to firmly establish the link between Delfin and Tkachev.The National Center for Media Forensics at the University of Colorado, Denver conducted a forensic speaker comparison based on the industry-standard Likelihood Ratio (LR) analysis. Additionally, the Forensic Science Centre of Lithuania conducted analysis on the calls individually to match them with the calls.

Tkachev has denied giving the order or even being in the area. Russia initially claimed that a Ukrainian fighter jet had been tailing the Boeing 777-200 ER, and later said its simulations show a missile was fired from Ukrainian — held territory. Russia insists its military and proxies had nothing to do with downing the passenger plane.

Bellingcat identified the actual launcher as BUK 332, and said it belonged to the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Rocket Brigade from Kursk, Russia. Bellingcat also reported that Russian satellite images provided to dispute the Dutch claims had been altered — a conclusion shared by German news organizations.

Bellingcat’s report with The Insider used open source data and forensic voice analysis to identify Tkachev.

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 Faces Challenges to Implement “Forever” GI Bill

forever gi bill snip

By Debbie Gregory.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has said it is facing problems implementing some parts of the Harry J Colmery GI Bill, better known as the “Forever GI Bill”.

Recently separated veterans may be getting inaccurate information about their education benefits in the mail, potentially causing “mass confusion” among veterans about their eligibility due to outdated IT systems, Veterans Affairs officials admitted.

The Forever GI Bill, which was signed into law in August, not only removes the 15 year time limitation that newer veterans have to use their GI Bill, but it also gives back GI Bill entitlement to some veterans who were in schools that closed mid-term. The new regulation gives back any GI Bill that was used to take classes that resulted in no academic credit due to no fault of the veteran. This part of the law is retroactive to 2015 and affects over 8,000 veterans.

Although the VA has reached out to veterans eligible for this benefit, only about 250 of the affected veterans have applied for the restoration of their GI Bill.

Additionally, it extends benefit eligibility to more guard and reserve members, and it creates a new program for STEM students in addition to 30 other changes.

To meet the goals of launching the program, the VA will and spend some $70 million and hire 200 temporary workers to manually process claims until they can get their software changes implemented.

The VA is trying to avoid encountering problems like those that occurred back when the Post-9/11 GI Bill began in 2009. At that time, the VA got so backlogged in making payments they were forced to issue emergency checks of up to $3,000 to veterans who had waited months for their GI Bill payments.

The Forever GI Bill contains the most sweeping expansion of veterans education benefits in a decade. Most of the bill’s provisions go into effect Aug. 1, 2018.

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.

Bah, Humbug! How Telemarketing Firms Took Millions from Veteran Charities


By Debbie Gregory.

Although it is a sad commentary on society, charitable people are finding themselves forced to do their due diligence before making a contribution to any charity.

Case in point: Circle of Friends for American Veterans.

CEO and retired Army Maj. Brian Arthur Hampton retained telemarketers and freelance fundraisers to grow contribution from a few hundred thousands dollars to millions. But an investigation has revealed that the only ones to truly benefit from the massive increase in donations were Hampton and his fundraisers.

The Center for Public Integrity’s report has revealed that telemarketing company Outreach Calling kept $7.9 million of the $8.7 million it raised on behalf of the non-profit Circle of Friends for American Veterans between 2011 and 2015! Another telemarketing group, Charitable Resource Foundation, retained $6.4 million of the $7.5 million they raised during the same four-year period!

The Center for American Homeless Veterans, another nonprofit run by Hampton received just $35,000 of the $350,000 raised by telemarketers.

According to IRS documents, the remaining funds raised for Circle of Friends for American Veterans was spent on “overhead”, Hampton’s generous salary, which amounted to just over $340,000 between Circle of Friends for American Veterans and another nonprofit.

So it seems incredulous that the 74-year-old Hampton could profess to having started these non-profits because he was “steamed about veterans getting left behind.”

Even if it is true that, as Hampton claimed, the increase in his salary reflected back pay from the non-profits’ less financially stable years, how can he pay himself for a job so poorly done?

So in the spirit of the holiday, we would like to award Outreach Calling and Maj. Hampton the “BAH! Humbug Award” for their despicable rip-off of those who were trying to do the right thing for our nation’s veterans. Perhaps you will get a visit from the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come.

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.

Forged By the Sea – New Navy Tagline


By Debbie Gregory.

The U.S. Navy is launching a new recruitment campaign with a new tagline: “Forged by the Sea.”

“For more than 200 years, our sailors have been tested and shaped by the sea, becoming better versions of themselves,” said Rear Adm. Pete Garvin, head of Navy Recruiting Command.  “Our new tagline perfectly captures the transformative impact the Navy and the sea has on our sailors,” he added.

The campaign made its debut during the Army/Navy game on December 9th, with the rollout of  the fully integrated marketing campaign launching in March 2018.

“The Army-Navy game is one of the most revered and watched contests in college sports and we wanted to take advantage of this unique opportunity to introduce the new brand and tagline on an occasion where the spirit of competition and military service are being celebrated,” said Garvin. “We’re proud and excited to be a part of such a great event.”

The tagline has been under development since 2016 by the marketing agency Young & Rubicam, utilizing focus group feedback of 17-21 year olds.

This idea behind this new tagline, which is part of a larger branding effort being launched, is to represent the aspirational outcome of every sailor’s journey in uniform.

The previous motto, “A Global Force for Good,” hung around for five years after its 2009 debut, even though it never became popular in the rank and file.

In 2013, there was some discussion about promoting “Semper Fortis” — always strong or always courageous — as the Navy’s tagline, echoing the Marine Corps’ “Semper Fidelis” motto and the Coast Guard’s “Semper Paratus.” However, this effort never gained steam.

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 Medic Shifted into “Hero Mode” Following Amtrak Train Derailment


By Debbie Gregory.

When an Amtrak train derailed in Dupont, Washington on December 18th, Second Lt. Robert McCoy hit the brakes on his pickup truck just in time to avoid impact.

The 23-year-old Army officer from Oklahoma had only been at Joint Base Lewis-McChord for weeks, and was heading home when the tragedy occurred.

Assigned to the 56th Multifunctional Medical Battalion, McCoy knew he needed to help.

“I remembered I had a tourniquet and a CPR mask in my truck and I grabbed those and I took off toward the accident.”

McCoy carried many of the ejected passengers out of the road to safety and then turned his attention to the people trapped inside the dangling train car.

One elderly woman was partially dangling outside the train car.

“She was kind at the end here, dangling out, but another downed rail car was right here,” McCoy said. “Her daughter kind of pulled her out backwards and I just reached under her and picked her up and put her down on some form of safe structure.”

McCoy also assisted a woman with a severely broken leg.

McCoy’s heroics inspired praise from his platoon sergeant, Hunter Williams.

Williams posted the following on his Facebook page:

“By now, many of you are aware that an Amtrak train derailed in DuPont (the city I live in), just outside the gate of Joint Base Lewis Mcchord. What you don’t know, yet anyway, is that my incoming Platoon Leader was the first bystander on scene… Without thinking twice, he immediately began pulling injured civilians out of the vehicles and the train itself…This young 2LT isn’t an experienced leader in the Army. He didn’t graduate from West Point and hasn’t been to combat. He is literally as green as they come and is fresh out of the Basic Officer Leader Course. Hell, he hasn’t even finished in-processing JBLM and our battalion yet. However, when adversity hit… he acted. THIS is the type of leader we need in the Army. These are the men (and women) you want leading your sons and daughters into combat. The ones whose fight instinct overcomes their flight instinct, regardless of the situation, and they act to ensure that people live…  he’s told me over and over how excited he is for me to be his first Platoon Sergeant. What he doesn’t know though, is how proud I am for him to be my Platoon Leader. Great job, sir.”

The crash claimed the lives of three people and wounded at least 100 others.

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.