Tricare Could Costs Thousands for Troops to Keep


Tricare Could Cost Thousands for Troops to Keep

By Debbie Gregory

As of January 1, 2018, Health Net Federal Services took over the TRICARE contract from United Healthcare for beneficiaries in the West region and former North region..

For those who had previously made TRICARE enrollment payments via an automated method of either electronic funds transfers (EFT) or recurring credit card (RCC) with United Healthcare, the arrangement did not transfer over to Health Net, requiring a new registration.

Beneficiaries who missed paying their monthly Tricare premium payments due to the swap must not only make up the months of missed payments, but they also have to pay one or two months in advance to reinstate coverage. Fixing the issue could cost them thousands of dollars out of pocket all at once.

Tricare officials said all beneficiaries using those plans should check to make sure their payment information is up to date, including those who updated it by late December as instructed in the November notices.

That’s because a separate Tricare system freeze over December caused an unknown number of updates made before the due date to be lost, officials said last month.

Officials with military support organizations that represent Tricare beneficiaries said the system needs to work to make sure no one is dropped.

That’s why they are trying to get the word out: if payment is not received before the last paid-through date, which in many cases was January 1st, coverage will be canceled within 150 days. That means thousands of Tricare users will be dropped from the coverage books by the end of May if the information is not updated.

The TRICARE West Region includes the states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa (except the Rock Island Arsenal area), Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri (except the St. Louis area), Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas (areas of Western Texas only), Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.



The Sad Story of Lance Corporal Brian Easley


The Sad Story of Lance Corporal Brian Easley

By Debbie Gregory

Former Lance Corporal Brian Easley had fallen on hard times. The 33-year-old former Marine was barely getting by on a small monthly disability check from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Back aches, a marriage and child in quick succession, his mother’s death and mental illness started a downward spiral that Easley couldn’t escape. The last thing he needed was an issue with his disability check, but that occurred when the check mysteriously failed to materialize.

Calls to the Veterans Crisis Line and a trip to the VA’s Regional Benefits Office in Atlanta failed to resolve the issue.

Out of desperation, Easley entered a Wells Fargo bank and claimed he was carrying C-4 explosive. He took two employees hostage and alerted the authorities and the media. He had no intention of robbing the bank or hurting the hostages. His goal was to draw attention to his plight.

Diagnosed with PTSD and suffering from schizophrenia and paranoia, Easley was already on the edge. His monthly VA disability check came to $892. When July 1 2017 came and went, and the expected funds were not in the account, Easley began to panic.

That panic led the soft-spoken, shy veteran to snap.

While it turned out that his check had been garnished due to a tuition issue, he was suffering from a severe mental illness, one that should have been recognized by the VA and dealt with accordingly.

Many of the law enforcement officers who responded to the crisis at the bank were former military. Cobb County Police Chief Mike Register served on a mobile reconnaissance team in Afghanistan with the 20th Special Forces Group. Sgt. Andre Bates, the lead hostage negotiator, served in the Marine Corps, as did Joel Preston, the commander of the tactical team, and Officer Dennis Ponte, the sniper who eventually ended the situation when he took Easley’s life.

After a negotiated trade for one of the hostages was made, the logistics of the plan were being worked out. It was during that planning session that Officer Ponte made a fateful decision, and for reasons unknown, took his shot.

The contents of the backpack were a Bible, some papers, and a small machete, among other incidentals. No C-4. No surprise.

What is the Woobie?


What is the Woobie?

By Debbie Gregory

Anyone who has ever served in the military is familiar with the “woobie.”  The woobie is every service member’s all-weather battle buddy.

The woobie is made up of two layers of nylon surrounding a polyester filling. Tie-cords on the corners and side could be tied through matching grommets on rain ponchos. In hot weather, the woobie is just light enough to be the perfect blanket. If the weather is cold, the woobie keeps you toasty warm.

The magical poncho liner has been a staple of deployed life since it was first introduced during the war in Vietnam. The intent was to field an item which was lighter and faster drying than the standard-issue Army Wool Blanket, which had been rendered all but obsolete in the wet and tropical environment of Vietnam. Even when soaking wet, the poncho liner wrapped around a soldier would trap body heat.

The original woobies were fielded by special forces in 1962. Around 1963, the next generation of woobie was created utilizing WWII duck-hunter-patterned parachute fabric. Until the Marine Corps produced their own Digital Woodland Pattern, most poncho liners were produced with the same pattern on both sides. The Marines decided to field one with Woodland Pattern on one side and a solid Coyote Color on the other. The fabric entrusted with soldiers’ lives was recycled and repurposed to continue its contributions to those who serve.

The woobie can be a blanket, a pillow, a shelter, a hammock, a concealment…the possibilities are endless. Most transitioning service members will gladly pay the $42.95 reimbursement fee to keep their woobies.

The woobie provides comfort and a feeling of safety and security. It’s a staple of any infantryman’s loadout, and though it may follow the poncho on gear lists, the woobie follows nothing in the hearts of warriors.

Names Released of Nine Guard Members Killed in WC-130 Crash


Names Released of Nine Guard Members Killed in WC-130 Crash

By Debbie Gregory

As military investigators seek the cause of  the May 2nd  crash of a WC-130 cargo plane in Savannah, Georgia, the Puerto Rico Air National Guard has released the names of the nine Guard members who lost their lives.

The pilot, Maj. José R. Román Rosado  had served 18 years and leaves behind a wife and two sons.

The co-pilot, 1st Lt. David Albandoz, had served 16 years and is survived by a wife and a daughter.

The navigator, Maj. Carlos Pérez Serra, had served 23 years and leaves behind a wife, two sons and a daughter.

The flight engineer, Master Sgt. Mario Braña, had served 17 years and leaves behind his mother and daughter.

The loadmaster, Master Sgt. Eric Circuns, had served 31 years and is survived by a wife, two step-daughters and a son.

The mechanic, Senior Master Sgt. Jan Paravisini, had 21 years of service and is survived by two daughters and a son.

Crew member Master Sgt. Jean Audriffred had served 16 years and is survived by a wife and two sons.

Crew member Master Sgt. Víctor Colón had 22 years of service and is survived by his wife and two daughters.

Crew member Senior Airman Roberto Espada had three years of service and is survived by his grandmother.

All nine crew members had helped with hurricane recovery efforts as part of the 198th Fighter Squadron. The plane was part of Puerto Rico’s Air National Guard’s fleet, and had been used to rescue Americans from the British Virgin Islands after Hurricane Irma, and later supplied food and water to Puerto Ricans after Hurricane Maria.

The debris field stretched 600 feet in diameter, and the only part of the plane that was still intact was its tail section.

The May 2nd flight had been scheduled to be the last one for this transport.

We extend our sincerest sympathy to the families dealing with this tragic loss, and thank these nine brave men for their service and sacrifice.

Arlington National Cemetery Is Running Out of Land


Arlington National Cemetery Is Running Out of Land

By Debbie Gregory

Arlington National Cemetery has a finite amount of land, and it will reach burial capacity in less than 25 years unless changes are made.

Some options being considered to avoid reaching capacity include redefining eligibility criteria and availing alternative approaches such as new burial techniques or increased use of above-ground interment.

Since it was established during the Civil War, 400,000 people have been buried at the cemetery from every major American conflict. The Department of the Army controls the 624-acre cemetery.

There are only two variables that affect the future of Arlington National Cemetery: available land and the rate at which burials are requested.

Currently, the cemetery conducts up to 40 burials a week.

Based on the amount of land available, the cemetery will close for new burials in 23 years if nothing changes.

There is a possibility of expansion south of the cemetery, which will add some 40 acres and 10-15 years of accommodation.

“We continue our promise to publicly discuss this challenge in order to make the correct decision, but we cannot expand our way out of this problem,” said Arlington National Cemetery Superintendent Katharine Kelley.

Following the publication of the Report to Congress on the Capacity at Arlington National Cemetery, respondents provided their opinions on the future of Arlington National Cemetery.

The overall response revealed that in order to keep Arlington open for as long as possible, many of them would be in favor of tightening up the eligibility to limit interment to those killed in action, Medal of Honor and other high award recipients, former POWs, and those active duty service members who die on operational missions.

Respondents said that the cemetery, a symbol of military service and sacrifice, would need to undergo an overhaul of eligibility requirements in order to extend the future of active burials beyond 2055.

The leadership at Arlington has launched a more in-depth survey regarding eligibility for interment at Arlington Cemetery. If you would like to share your opinion, you can participate in the survey at .


Should Exchanges and Commissaries Merge?


Should Exchanges and Commissaries Merge?

By Debbie Gregory

If John H. Gibson II, the Defense Department’s new chief management officer has his way, the three military exchange services and the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) would be merged into a single resale enterprise. But executives of the Army & Air Force Exchange Service, Navy Exchange Command and the Marine Corps exchange systems are resisting the effort

The new venture, which would be called the Defense Resale Enterprise, would rely on the success of the Exchanges to reverse the failures of the commissary system.

While the commissaries, which are federally subsidized, are military grocery stores, for-profit base exchanges sell consumer goods and services to active duty, Reserve, National Guard, military retirees, totally and permanently disabled veterans and Medal of Honor recipients.

DeCA has relied on taxpayer dollars, to the tune of $1.3 billion in annual subsidies, in order to offer a wide array of brand products to military families and retirees at cost.

A draft legislative proposal for creating the new enterprise contends that the merge will “increase the enterprise’s agility to respond to dynamic mission, industry and patron requirements and trends; and ensure the long-term viability of these services.”

The priorities for families who use the commissaries and exchanges are to sustain shopper savings, improve the in-store experience and ensure proper funding of MWR programs, according to Eileen Huck, deputy director of government relations for National Military Family Association.

Many are of the opinion that defense officials should first focus on reversing the decreasing sales at the commissaries before launching a merger with exchanges to try to float the leaking ship.

The draft legislative also suggests that perhaps the exchanges and commissaries should combine into single stores.

Considering that many of the military shoppers are millennials (ages 22-36) who use technology to shop, the move to consolidate the locations may make the most sense.


Special Forces Legend, “Iron Mike” Dies


Special Forces Legend, “Iron Mike” Dies

By Debbie Gregory

Last month, the Army lost a special ops legend.

Maj. Gen. Michael D. Healy, 91, spent 35 years serving in the military, completing tours in Korea and Vietnam. Healy began his career with parachute training followed by attendance at a number of Army Colleges, including Ranger School.

Maj. Gen. Healy earned the nickname “Iron Mike” while serving as a young officer leading Army Rangers on combat patrols deep behind enemy lines in Korea in the early 1950s. The nickname, which stuck with him throughout his life, was a testament to his stamina and ability to take heavy loads, as well as helping others with their loads.

The Chicago native enlisted in the Army at the age of 19.

He entered the Korean War as a Company Commander with the Airborne Rangers, which at the time was a newly formed unit of the Army. Most of his career was spent in Vietnam, where he served five and a half tours, leading the 5th Special Forces group for almost 20 months, and earning him his first Distinguished Service Medal.

When he retired in 1981, Maj. Gen. Healy was the nation’s most senior Special Forces soldier.

Iron Mike’s legend made it to the big screen as the inspiration for John Wayne’s character, “Col. Iron Mike Kirby,” in the 1968 film “The Green Berets.”

Maj. Gen. Healy’s legacy would not be forgotten in the close-knit Special Forces community, according to Retired Sgt. 1st Class Cliff Newman, executive director of the Special Forces Association.

“He was one of the first Americans to go into Vietnam and one of the last to leave,” he said.

Maj. Gen. Healy was the recipient of the Distinguished Service Medal, two Silver Star Medals, a Legion of Merit with three oak-leaf clusters, a Distinguished Flying Cross, a Bronze Star Medal with valor device, an Air Medal with Valor device, a Navy Commendation Medal with valor device and two Purple Heart Medals. He is also a member of the Officer Candidate School Hall of Fame.

In 2016, Maj. Gen. Healy was inducted as a Distingished Member of the Special Forces Regiment. He had a special bond with the men he lead, and was a beloved hero of the Green Berets. He always credited his success to the men he lead.

In an interview, Maj. Gen. Healy said: “I would like to walk in the back gate at Fort Sheridan like I first did and say, ‘Yes, sir, I’ll go.’ But today, I’m in civilian clothes. My uniform is packed away.”

Maj. Gen. Healy will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery near his mentor, the late Gen. Creighton Abrams.



VA TO Host Baby Showers for Veterans Welcoming New Babies


VA TO Host Baby Showers for Veterans Welcoming New Babies

by Debbie Gregory

In conjunction with a number of national organizations, the Department of Veterans Affairs is hosting the first nationwide baby shower for veterans and caregivers welcoming new babies in 2018.

Partners who provided valuable and generous contributions to the success of the baby showers include:
• The Elizabeth Dole Foundation
• Philips
• Veterans Canteen Service
• The American Legion
• The Carrying On Project
• Burt’s Bees Baby
• The Red Cross
• The Veterans of Foreign Wars
• Halo
• First Quality Enterprises

Sixty VA medical centers across the U.S. will host the event, which run from May 5th to the 16th, which will celebrate the joyous occasion with more than 2,400 new parents and parents-to- be. While open to both male and female veterans welcoming babies this year, the idea is to put a spotlight on the key services that the VA offers women.
Attendees will receive two new baby packages with useful gifts for parents-to-be. Besides providing helpful resources for veteran caregivers provided by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, kits will include baby products from Philips, as well as a diaper bag, hair brush and comb set, bib, layette, blanket, hat, and toiletries.
A number of bigger ticket items, including car seats and cribs, will be given out at each shower. If you would like to sponsor a kit for a deserving veteran family, just $50 will allow you to purchase a new baby kit to be distributed at a local Baby Shower. The sweet and sensible new baby package contains a variety of useful baby products. The kit includes:

A Peekaboo diaper bag
Johnson & Johnson Baby Shampoo, lotion, and baby powder
Mint color 30″x 40″ waffle cotton receiving blanket, white 2 ply 100% cotton infant beanie
Four pack of baby wash cloths
Silicone bib

100% cotton infant layette

Baby brush and comb set

Go to to purchase a gift that says,
“Thank you for your service” and congratulations from a grateful nation.

Gaming Technology Replacing Army’s Simulators


Gaming Technology Replacing Army’s Stimulators
By Debbie Gregory.
The Synthetic Training Environment (STE) initiative is being hailed as the new and improved
way to train Army troops.
The technology relies on virtual reality to deliver state-of- the-art training that can simulate
different parts of the world and their unique terrains, as well as vehicle and arms training for all
Army component formations. A major goal of STE is overcoming the limitations of the previous
old-school simulator technologies.
To train the boots on the ground, who need to perform physical feats like running, climbing, and
diving for cover, augmented reality is a better option than virtual reality. The technology
superimposes a computer-generated image on a user's view of the real world and allows soldiers
to still see the physical environment around them, but with the option to add obstacles.
The program is being run by Maj. Gen. Maria Gervais.
“We are creating promising technology, demonstrating it whenever possible, and finding what
works and doesn’t on a timeline that is very aggressive,” Gervais said. “We’ve seen great
progress on extremely impressive training technology, and we are working hard to put in the
hands of our Soldiers.”
One of the main outcomes of STE is the creation of scalable training scenarios that can be run
across and shared with all echelons. The Army is emphasizing the use of common software
protocols to ensure that all participating soldiers will have a common experience in a given
exercise, Gervais said.
With 57 terrain formats, the new simulators will use a single common standard, called One
World Terrain. The goal is to help establish a next-generation government/industry terrain
dataset for modeling and simulation hardware and software for training and operational use.
Through One World Terrain, geospatial data will be rapidly created, accurate, updatable and of
sufficient resolution to be delivered to meet the training needs of the Army.

Army Chaplain Completes Ranger School at Age 41

U.S. Army Chaplain, Capt. Ryan Mortensen, assigned to 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 2nd BCT, 25th Infantry Division, meets with local school children to learn about the difference in American and Thai culture during a humanitarian aid mission in Lopburi province, Thailand, Feb. 16, 2015. The mission was carried out as a part of the joint-training operation Cobra Gold 2015. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Steven Hitchcock/Released) Cobra Gold 2015 150216-A-SE706-168

Army Chaplain Completes Ranger School at Age 41
By Debbie Gregory.

Army Chaplain Completes Ranger School at Age 41

By Debbie Gregory.

Capt. Ryan Mortensen is the kind of person who loves a challenge. The 41-year-old is one of only 1,600 chaplains in the U.S. Army, and he is now one of only 20 chaplains who have completed the rigors of Army Ranger School at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Mortensen called his accomplishment “a small miracle.”

He joined the Army Reserves while serving as a school teacher in Saipan, 120 miles north of Guam. He earned his master of divinity degree from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.

When Mortensen and his family, wife Erin, sons Elijah and Micah, and daughter Isabella were stationed at the Army’s Schofield Barracks, he came into contact with soldiers wearing the Ranger tab, and he started asking questions.

They told him to forget attempting Ranger School at his age.

“Any time somebody tells me I can’t do something, I get a little bug in my head thinking I can do it. Once I learned the Rangers were the elite of the elite, it really got my attention.”

Mortensen had to fight for permission to carry a weapon, which chaplains aren’t normally allowed to do. But he prevailed and was allowed to enroll in the school.

Ranger school is challenging to hopefuls half Mortensen’s age. Asked if he ever wanted to quit, Mortensen said:

“No, but did I ever pray that God would let me have an accident, break a foot and go home honorably? Yeah.”

Fast forward two years, when Mortensen got the word that he needed to head to Fort Benning. He had a graduation ceremony to attend. His own!

His first call, late at night, was to his family in Hawaii.

Firstborn son Elijah answered the phone.

“He asked if that was me, then asked what was going on,” Mortensen said. “I told him, ‘Daddy got a go; Daddy is a Ranger.’ He screamed, ‘Daddy is a Ranger!’ I heard my other two kids screaming, and Erin ran over and grabbed the phone. That was so special.”

“This is an amazing, eclectic life I have lived,” he said. “Can you believe it? I earned the Ranger tab.”

Now, Mortensen must put his new distinction and the experiences it took to earn it to use.

“If I have the opportunity to use this tab to show the love of Christ and his mercy and giving people hope,” Mortensen said, “I am excited about that.”