Fallujah Marine Receives Well-Deserved Silver Star 13 Years Later

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By Debbie Gregory.

On November 15, 2004, 23-year-old Cpl. Eubaldo Lovato led a courageous firefight with the enemy in Iraq to recover the body of a fallen Marine, for which he has been awarded a Silver Star.

Lance Cpl. Travis Desiato had been shot and killed,  his body taken by enemy fighters. Alive, wounded or dead, a Marine is never left behind on the battlefield.

Lovato assembled a team of non-commissioned officers to link up with the squad leader of the fallen Marine. Even with the use of tanks and rockets shot into the room through the window, the team was unsuccessful in their efforts to retrieve the newly-married Desiato.

On their third attempt, the team, led by Lovato, entered the room with grenades and small arms and successfully recovered the body of Desiato.

For his heroic actions, in November 2004, Lovato was awarded the Bronze Star.

In 2016, the Department of Defense Valor Award Review Board looked over 464 valor awards that were given since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“They compared the valor award to those given in the Vietnam and Korean War era, looking for inconsistencies,” said Brig. Gen. Michael Martin. “Lovato was one of 33 service members that was found to be under-awarded.”

For that reason, his Bronze Star was upgraded to a Silver Star.

“To be completely honest, I don’t deserve this,” Lovato said. “I didn’t do anything different than what I was trained to do. But I appreciate it and I am going to wear it proudly because the person who does deserve this wasn’t able to make it home. He was a 19-year-old kid from Massachusetts who had just gotten married. I am going to wear this Silver Star for him. He is the one that made the ultimate sacrifice.”

Lovato now works in Colorado as a Health and Wellness Coach.

“To me, anything is accomplishable,” said Lovato. “You may fail at it a thousand times, but who cares about failing? The accomplishment is worth more than that.”

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.

After 50 Years, Dog Tags of Vietnam MIA Returned To Family

kibbey

By Debbie Gregory.

Rescuing a downed American pilot behind enemy lines in Vietnam proved to be Air Force Capt. Richard “Dick” Kibbey’s first and last mission. His HH-3E helicopter was shot down, and Kibbey was listed as missing in action after the crash.

His wife, Mary Ann Kibbey, never gave up hope that her husband would come home.

Her vigil ended when she died in 1979, still wondering about the fate of her husband.

The couple’s children finally got some closure when Kibbey’s dog tags were returned after being discovered by a Vietnamese farmer near the crash site. They were presented to the family by U.S. Rep. Bill Posey during a ceremony at Patrick Air Force Base.  Kibbey was also posthumously awarded a Purple Heart and a Silver Star for valor in combat.

For the Kibbey children, brothers Rick, Dave, John and sister Terry, the discovery of the dog tags has rekindled hope that their father’s remains will be found and returned home. The children hope to eventually reunite their parents by interring them side-by-side at Arlington National Cemetery.

“Families like the Kibbeys represent American endurance and pride,” said Air Force Col. Kurt Matthews. “Throughout our history, military families have served as the warriors of the home front, sacrificing much.”

Mary Ann maintained a large collection of magazines, hoping that her missing husband could read them and catch up on world events after returning from captivity.

“It always kind of touched me that she was trying to keep him up to date,” John Kibbey said.

Col. Matthews also said that it was appropriate that the ceremony was held at Patrick Air Force Base, home to the 920th Rescue Wing, which is a combat search-and-rescue unit.

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 Study Shows Parasite May be Killing Vietnam Vets

vn war

By Debbie Gregory.

A slow-killing parasite may have been brought home from the jungles of Southeast Asia by many Vietnam veterans. The government posted a warning on its website this year saying veterans who ate raw or undercooked freshwater fish while serving  in Vietnam might be at risk.

Vietnam veterans have faced numerous health challenges, including exposure to Agent Orange.

Of the 50 blood samples examined in a pilot study commissioned by the VA at Seoul National University, more than 20 percent came back positive or bordering positive for liver fluke antibodies.

Liver fluke is a collective name of a polyphyletic group of parasitic trematodes under the phylum Platyhelminthes. They are principally parasites of the liver of various mammals, including humans. Though rarely found in Americans, the parasites infect an estimated 25 million people worldwide.

Liver fluke can lay dormant in a person for up to fifty years before swelling and inflammation of the bile duct occurs. This can lead to, intense pain, jaundice, itchy skin, weight loss, cancer and other symptoms. The symptoms generally appear only when the disease is in its final stages. The ironic thing about this is that liver fluke parasites can be easily removed from the body if the condition is treated early on. Untreated, the inevitable will happen over time but there are no early symptoms to warn a potential victim.

America’s involvement in Vietnam lasted from 1957 until 1975. Approximately 2,700,000 American men and women served.  It was the first war in which the US failed to meet its objectives. It was also the first time America failed to welcome its veterans back as heroes. Many veterans were attacked personally by their fellow countrymen, who opposed the war.

The VA has treated approximately 700 veterans with cholangiocarcinoma over the past 15 years.

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 Military Dependents be Forced to Repay Their Parents’ GI Bill

old gibill

Debbie Gregory.

While the Post-9/11 GI Bill offers a very generous post-service education benefit, a special provision allows career service members the opportunity to share their education benefits with immediate family members. The Post 9/11 GI Bill is the only one which allows transferring education benefits.

Transferring GI Bill benefits to a dependent can be done once they’ve served at least six years in the military, with the caveat that they agree to serve a further four years.

But what happens when someone is involuntarily separated from the military before they’ve satisfied that requirement?

If a servicemember fails to complete that obligation, it’s as if the entire eligibility was wiped out, and the VA has to recoup all the benefits that have been paid out.

The Government Accountability Office reported that in fiscal year 2014, one in four GI Bill beneficiaries was hit with a bill for overpayments.

This amounted to $416 million owed by beneficiaries.

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.

Defense Contractor Gets Prison Time for Stealing $15 Million from the Government

global

By Debbie Gregory.

As the result of a plea deal, Defense Contractor Philip A. Mearing, the former president of Global Services Corporation, will serve prison time for bilking the government out of more than $15.4 million.

In 2004, Mearing, along with his co-conspirators Kenneth Bricker and Ken Deines, made an agreement where fraudulent payments were made to Global Services Corporation to Bricker’s two corporations, Tempo and BPM, regarding hundreds of invoices for work and services done by Global that were never done by Tempo and BPM.

In a separate conspiracy, Mearing, Deines, and William Hutsenpiller, the former Comptroller for Norfolk Ship Support Activity, conspired to submit false claims to the government via false invoices that resulted in a loss of approximately $1.8 million.

Deines was sentenced to 18 months in prison. Bricker was sentenced to four years. Hutsenpiller, a former high-ranking civilian employee of the Navy, was sentenced to three years and four months in prison for his role in the case.

The combined loss amount to the government from the two separate conspiracies is $15,413,029.76.

Mearing pleaded guilty last June to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

According to Mearing’s defense team, Global Services, which was started Mearing’s uncle, was on the brink of failure when Mearing was hired, and it was Mearing who turned the company fortunes around, securing over $450 million in government contracts prior to his resignation.

A hearing has been scheduled for December 12th to determine the total amount of restitution that should be paid back. So far, $870,304.20 has been recovered. Under the plea deal arrangements, the maximum time Mearing will serve is five years.

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.

World War II Codebreaker Tells His Story

codebreaker

By Debbie Gregory.

At 97, John Bergmann is the last surviving member of the 25-man codebreaking unit that was featured in 2014’s “The Imitation Game.”  The Allied codebreaking operation helped turn the tide of World War II.

Bergmann’s service put him in the room with President Franklin D. Roosevelt , Prime Minister Winston Churchill, General Dwight D. Eisenhower and noted mathematician Alan Turing.

The Chicago native had planned to be a certified public accountant, given his love of numbers. But his talents proved more useful elsewhere.

With officials scouring universities for top math students,  Bergmann was offered a special assignment with the U.S. Army.

Right after receiving his degree, Bergmann was given aa one-way ticket to Fort Meade, Maryland, where he joined two dozen men who would become part of the Army’s World War II codebreaking operations.

Most of their training came from the British, who had maintained a large interception and codebreaking operation for a number of years in an ultra-secret operation headquartered in one building at Bletchley Park, England – 50 miles north of London.

The service men and women involved in the top secret operation couldn’t share any details of their work with family or friends, and were even given cover stories to prevent disclosure.

“We were very incognito,” Bergmann said. He told friends and family, “I was an accountant doing payrolls in Washington. I’d be living in Fort Meade, but I’d be doing payrolls.”

Most of Bergmann’s time in the military was spent at the Army based in Maryland.

But shortly after completing his initial six weeks of training, which was solely focused on codebreaking, he accompanied a codebreaking team to Pearl Harbor, where he joined a group of Army rangers for a mission near the border of Burma and China.

But one of the Kachin Indians guiding the group set off an explosion that hit Bergmann in the face, costing him an eye. But he continued his valuable work, which he wasn’t allowed to talk about until 1983, when the government lifted the secrecy requirements.

The codebreakers were deciphering messages from the German electro-mechanical rotor cipher machine, called Enigma, and the Japanese version, the Purple Machine. These machines dated back prior to WWI and were used by commercial banks, businesses, and diplomatic organizations who wished to keep their communications coded from competitors’ eyes. Once a code was entered, a roller containing sets of letters rotated, and with three such rollers (later models had many more rollers) there were 17,000 code combinations available. Each letter was entered manually on a keyboard similar to an old manual typewriter. The message was sent, and the receiving unit would automatically decode it when its rollers had been set using the same code.

Sounds daunting, unless, like Bergmann, you’re a math genius.

Allegations of Skimming Impacts VA’s Private Healthcare Providers

gypped

By Debbie Gregory.

TriWest Healthcare Alliance and Health Net Federal Services, the companies charged with administering private health care options for veterans, are both under investigation for over-billing the government by tens of millions of dollars.

The Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act, expected to cost taxpayers $10 billion has come in closer to $12 billion to date, and that between the two companies, they have collected at least $89 million more than what they were supposed to.

The VA Choice program was launched during a very rough time for the VA Health System, when allegations of misuse, misconduct, claim backlogs and long wait times for veterans seeking treatment at its facilities were every day occurrences. It was created as an emergency stopgap to serve patients who were waiting weeks or months to see doctors in a backlogged VA healthcare system.

To alleviate part of the problem,  if the VA is unable to schedule an appointment for a veteran within a month, or if a veteran lives more than 40 miles from one of its clinics, they can access a network of private clinicians and hospitals managed by TriWest and Health Net.

An audit revealed that both companies billed the VA for more than what they paid medical providers, charged different rates other than what was contractually set up, submitted duplicate bills for the same services, and billed for medical services already covered by private health insurance.

TriWest maintains they have done no wrong, blaming the VA’s billing system for the overpayments. But this isn’t the first time TriWest has been investigated for mismanaging government funds. In 2011, the company paid the Justice Department $10 million to settle a lawsuit that the company systematically defrauded the government.

Inspector General Michael Missal estimated that, in duplicate payments alone, Health Net and TriWest overbilled taxpayers by $89.7 million.

Health Net was instructed to reimburse $50.8 million; TriWest allegedly owed $38.9 million.

Both TriWest and Health Net’s current contracts will run for the next 10 months.

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.

High-Tech Arsenal Upgrades for the Army?

sig

By Debbie Gregory.

The M16 has been standard issue in the U.S. Army since the Vietnam War. Since then, the design has been updated and a shorter version, called the M4, entered Army service in 1997. The Army has been looking to swap out the M4/M16 rifle platform, especially given its sensitivity to dust and sand, and its tendency to malfunction when used in rugged conditions.

The M17, to be used by the Army,  Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps, is made by Sig Sauer, and was picked to improve  accuracy and ergonomics. It’s compatible with a silencer, has interchangeable grips, and standard or extended-capacity magazines.

The Army is also looking at a number of upgrades to the weapons and ammunition currently carried by its soldiers. Army researchers are evaluating new designs for bullets and casings. They are also looking at new materials for rounds and propellants.

New sighting technology on the horizon includes thermal imaging and range finders that evaluate wind, distance, and ballistics. Current programs in development include optics systems that can track targets, analyze environmental conditions, and improve firing speed.

Currently, Soldiers conduct combat operations from tanks such as the Stryker, the Bradley and the Abrams. But the Army is trying to figure out what will take Soldiers to the fight of the future.

The Maneuver Center of Excellence out of Fort Benning provisionally stood up a cross-functional team focused on the development of the Army’s Next Generation of Combat Vehicles (NGCV).

The NGCV is expected to increase overall lethality, tactical mobility, strategic deployability and protection for Soldiers. It is also expected to reduce logistical demands on the Army.

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.

Next Generation Combat Vehicle May Feature Active Protection, Laser Weapons

tank

By Debbie Gregory.

The Maneuver Center of Excellence out of Fort Benning is focused on the development of the Army’s Next Generation of Combat Vehicles (NGCV) that will be the successors to the M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank and Bradley Fighting Vehicle.

The NGCV is expected to increase overall lethality, tactical mobility, strategic deployability and protection for Soldiers. It is also expected to reduce logistical demands on the Army. The Army plans to have a blueprint for the vehicle by 2022.

Maj. Gen. Eric Wesley, the Commanding General, Maneuver Center of Excellence said the Army expects that the new vehicle will be innovative in design and technology. This includes modular active protection systems which would allow the Army to add the updated technology to its existing vehicles. Additional goals of the NGCV will be to utilize lighter material that will increase maneuverability.

Laser weapons may also play a part in the update.

“We know that lasers are up and coming; we also know they have limitations. But we have to have an ability to incorporate that tool and that weapon system against threats,” Wesley said.

“If you get sufficient energy … you don’t even have to worry about the supply chain of ammunition,” he said. “Now you’ve got increased capability with reduced weight.”

The Army is set to start fielding the futuristic new vehicle by the mid-2030s. The Bradley and Abrams will continue to be in service until the late 2040s.

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.

Woman Raises over $394K for Homeless Veteran who Came to Her Aid

bobbitt

By Debbie Gregory.

The night that Kate McClure ran out of gas could have been a really awful night. Instead, it became a lesson is generosity, kindness, and selflessness.

“My heart was beating out of my chest. I didn’t know what the heck to do,” said McClure.

She called her boyfriend, Mark D’Amico, who told her that he would come and get her.

Johnny Bobbitt, a 34-year-old homeless veteran witnessed Kate’s misfortune. He told her to get back in the car and lock the doors. A few minutes later, the former Marine returned with a red gas can, paid for with his last $20.

Wanting to repay him for his kindness, she provided Bobbitt with a few things to help keep him warm. She also started a GoFundMe page to share the story and raise funds for him. Hoping to raise $10,000 to help Bobbitt get into an apartment, as of this writing, the GoFundMe account stands at over $394K, with more than 14,000 contributors.

Change of plans: instead of an apartment, Bobbitt will get a home of his own. He will also purchase the truck he’s always wanted… a 1999 Ford Ranger.

In order to protect the funds, two trusts will be set up in his name, one that will pay him a living allowance for each year, and a retirement trust that will be carefully invested by a financial planner. Bobbitt will also have a bank account for every day needs.

Bobbitt wants to pay this good fortune forward, and will be donating to a few organizations and people who have helped him get through this rough patch in his life.

On the GoFundMe page, McClure wrote, “I wish that I could do more for this selfless man, who went out of his way just to help me that day. He is such a great guy, and talking to him each time I see him makes me want to help him more and more.”

If you have a story of helping a veteran, we invite you to share it with us. If you don’t, it’s never too late to write one.

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.