Former Marine Drill Instructor Pleads Guilty to Charges in Recruit’s Death

Kissoon

By Debbie Gregory.

Lt. Col. Joshua Kissoon, the highest-ranking Marine implicated in the recruit abuse and hazing scandal following the death of a Muslim recruit, has pleaded guilty to charges of dereliction of duty, making a false statement and conduct unbecoming an officer. Kissoon has chosen to take an early retirement.

Raheel Siddiqui died at Parris Island after a fall that the Marine Corps characterized as a suicide. Siddiqui, in his second week on the island, was reported to have been trying to request permission to go to medical for a sore throat on the day of his death. He was refused medical attention, instead being forced to run laps in his barracks. When he collapsed on the floor, he was allegedly slapped by his senior drill instructor, Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Felix. It was then that Siddiqui supposedly ran through a door in the barracks and leaped over an exterior stairwell, falling three stories.

Kissoon’s was the final court-martial in connection with the 20-year-old’s death.

Siddiqui’s parents have maintained that their son, as both a faithful Muslim and son, was morally incapable of purposely killing himself. In Islam, suicide is a mortal sin.  They also claim that Siddiqui never had any mental health issues or threatened suicide. He had spent months training with his recruiter before boot camp in order to succeed. The family has filed a $100 million lawsuit against the federal government claiming negligence led to their son’s death.

Felix was convicted by a military court of abusing Siddiqui, as well as two additional Muslim recruits on separate occasions.

Felix received a dishonorable discharge, and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Following Siddiqui’s death, the Marine Corps instituted a zero-tolerance policy for abusing and hazing recruits.

In total, five Marines, including Felix and Kissoon, were either convicted or pleaded guilty at courts-martial.

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.

Medic Disciplined after Snapchat Posting of a Fellow Soldier’s Severed Body Part

Landstuhl Regional Medical

By Debbie Gregory.

An Army medic has been temporarily removed from patient care after posting a photo on Snapchat of a patient’s severed body part in an operating room at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC ) in Germany

The indiscretion has prompted military officials to impose social media guidelines in order to prevent this from happening again.

After the medic posted a photo of unrecognizable body tissue, a fellow staff member saw the picture and alerted officials, who demanded the image be deleted.

“This type of behavior is unprofessional and violates the trust of those we serve, and the tenets of our profession,” said Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Nadja West in an email to medical staff.

No protected health or personal information was captured in the photo, and the patient, whose privacy was not compromised, was not notified of the incident

The medic was motivated to post the image out of a sense of pride in taking part in the procedure.

“Health care and the military are among the most trusted professions, and we work hard to maintain and deserve that trust … but it can be easily lost,” said LRMC commander Col. Timothy Hudson. “As professionals and as human beings, we must hold ourselves and each other accountable. It’s not only about doing the right thing, protecting patient privacy is the law.”

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.

Female Marines Make History at Camp Pendleton

female marines

By Debbie Gregory.

It seems fitting that during National Women’s History Month, on March 6th the first wave of female Marines arrived at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton to begin combat training course that, on the West Coast, was previously open only to males.

The women will be the first enlisted female students to learn basic battlefield skills at the Marine Combat Training Course (MCT-West,) part of Camp Pendleton’s School of Infantry.

The MCT-West program is for non-infantry Marines, with training that includes learning the basics of combat marksmanship, how to react to roadside bombs, lifesaving medical care and other skills. MCT is a condensed replica of the School of Infantry that produces 0311 riflemen. After completion of recruit training, Marines not holding an infantry job attend MCT to maintain the Corps’ mantra of “every Marine a rifleman.”

About 1,700 female Marines are expected to go through combat training each year at Camp Pendleton. Female boot camp graduates recruited from states west of the Mississippi River will be sent to Camp Pendleton, while the others will continue to be sent to Camp Lejeune.

The women are assigned to Golf Company, Marine Combat Training Battalion and will be fully integrated with male Marines for the duration of the 29-day course.

Women comprise about 15 percent of the entire active-duty force in the military.

At only about 6.8 percent, the Marine Corps has the fewest number of women in the Armed Forces. The percentage in the Navy is 16.4 percent, the Army has 13.6 percent, the Air Force has 19.1 percent, the Coast Guard has 15.7 percent, and the National Guard and Reserve forces have a combined 35 percent.

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.

ISIS Releases Video of Deadly Ambush on U.S. Soldiers in Niger

niger

By Debbie Gregory.

Last October, some 50 militants affiliated with the Islamic State launched an ambush in Niger against a U.S.-Nigerien patrol, comprised of 12 Americans and 30 Nigeriens, as they were en route to their base. The militants were armed with machine guns, small arms and rockets.

Now a propaganda video believed to have been shot from the helmet of one of the soldiers who was killed has been released by the terrorist group.

Army staff sergeants Bryan Black, Jeremiah Johnson, La David Johnson and Dustin Wright and five Nigerien soldiers were killed in the fight.

The video reveals heartbreaking details about the courageous last moments of the four soldiers, although it is edited with multiple cuts that make the full context of the firefight unclear.

The helmet cam portion of the video began with the U.S. forces being pinned down under gunfire next to a tactical truck and a Toyota Landcruiser. Together with a few Nigerien allies, the U.S. soldiers began to move with each vehicle toward colored smoke grenades that had been deployed for cover and to alert air support. Unfortunately, it would be two hours before French jets arrived to provide air support, too late to save these brave men.

As the video ends, the clip cuts to a scene of several ISIS members on motorbikes and other vehicles.

President Trump’s condolence call to the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson dominated the news for the better part of a week, opening up a rift between the president and the fallen soldier’s family. The family’s congresswoman, Frederica Wilson, jumped into the fray as well, questioning Trump’s treatment of Gold Star families.

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.

Tom Hanks Teaming up with Dale Dye on D-Day Blockbuster

hanks dye

By Debbie Gregory.

The landing on June 6, 1944, of Allied forces on the beaches of Normandy has been powerfully re-created in films over the ensuing decades. The massive assault that helped end the Nazi domination of Europe inspired a host of directors, screenwriters and actors.

Having previously covered the boots-on-the-ground perspective of the landing, Tom Hanks has signed on to both act in and executive-produce “No Better Place To Die” that covers the airborne perspective.

Written and directed by Marine Corps veteran Dale Dye, the film will follow a band of pre-D-Day airborne soldiers scattered across Normandy.

Although they were from different units, the troops melded together to form a single rifle company. Their mission, seizing and holding La Fière bridge against German reinforcements headed for Omaha and Utah beaches prevented a catastrophic failure. The fight over the bridge and nearby causeway contained some of the most intense small-unit combat of the invasion, as well as a rarely used method of reinforcement by U.S. forces: gliders.

Dye, a decorated Marine combat veteran and a three-time Purple Heart recipient who became an iconic Hollywood military adviser, will take his first turn in the director’s chair.

Dye has worked as a technical adviser on some of the biggest and most successful war films, including Saving Private Ryan with Hanks, as well as Band of Brothers and Platoon.

This is such an important and dramatic story that I’ve always wondered why no one has made a movie about it,” said Dye. “It’s a thrilling and inspiring look at how our American soldiers … can overcome long odds with guts and determination.”

Dye hopes to begin filming this summer. The planned release date in 2019, which coincides with  the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

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.

Legislation Aims to Help Working Military Spouses

milspouseemploy

By Debbie Gregory.

Military spouses who want to work suffer from an unemployment rate five times greater than the national average, and they are looking for help from the government to solve the problem.

To that end, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) has introduced legislation that would expand a federal military spouse hiring authority and broaden the Pentagon’s transition program to include spouses. The legislation would also order the Pentagon to develop a plan to allow military spouse small businesses to operate on military bases.

“This is not an issue that should be partisan at all,” said Sen. Kaine. “Having been on the Armed Services Committee for five years now, I know the issues where there tends to be partisan difference and I also know the issues where there’s not,” Kaine said.

Frequent moves and unpredictable military deployment and training schedules make it difficult for spouses to hold jobs long enough to establish long-term, successful careers. The bill could also lead to the expansion of the former My Career Advancement Accounts (MyCAA) program. The program was done away with in 2010, and a scaled-back version was brought back eight months later, but with a reduction in the benefit from $6,000 to $4,000.

Another issue Kaine would like to see addressed is license reciprocity. When spouses work in credentialed fields like therapy, teaching or real estate they often must get new licenses in the state they live in. Kaine and other members of Congress want to make it easier for military spouses to move to a new state without having to get a new license with different standards.

Kaine said he anticipates this bill will ultimately be rolled into the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act.

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.

 

Sexual Assaults Doubled At West Point

 

West Point assault

By Debbie Gregory.

For the fourth year in a row,  sexual assault reports increased at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York. The 50 cases reported during the school year nearly doubled from the prior year, up from 26.

Both the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Air Force Academy saw only slight increases.

The Defense Department did try to put a positive spin on the latest numbers, saying that more people were feeling emboldened to report sexual abuse and that students are aware of treatment programs, showing confidence in the system.

Reporting a sexual assault is difficult for any victim, under any circumstance.  For those at military academies or serving in the military, the difficulty is compounded by the close living conditions inherent in there. Also, sexual assaults are sometimes accompanied by collateral misconduct (e.g. fraternization, sex in the barracks, breaking curfew, or underage drinking) on the part of the victim; issues which are either minor violations or non-existent rules at civilian schools but carry severe sanctions at the Academies.

The reports will rekindle a problem that has plagued the military as increasing numbers of women join the armed services. The increase in sexual assault reports in the service academies is similar to what is happening in the military as a whole.

“We are absolutely committed to making the Academies safe,” Robert Wilkie, Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, said in a press release. “It is imperative that these future officers understand how eliminating sexual harassment and assault advances our ability to protect the nation.”

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 Veteran Facing Deportation on Suicide Watch

Miguel Perez Jr

By Debbie Gregory.

Miguel Perez Jr. discovered the hard way that two tours of duty in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army, a green card and PTSD are no shield from U.S. immigration laws.

Because of a 2010 felony drug conviction, Perez has been placed in a Kenosha, Wisconsin detention center, awaiting a possible deportation. Military service is no guarantee of citizenship, and although he has a green card, Perez never applied for citizenship, despite being eligible to.

Perez though he had become a U.S. citizen when he took the military’s oath to protect the nation, a misconception he discovered after he was released from prison and was called to immigration court. A native of Mexico, Perez hasn’t lived there since the age of 8.

Perez has been placed on a suicide watch as he has gone on a hunger strike to protest his situation.

“I’ve been talking to him for over a year now and I haven’t heard him sound like this,” said supporter Sara Walker. “He sounds anxious, depressed and confused.”

Perez has said that he fears deportation would do more than separate him from his family in the United States, including his two children who were both born here and are U.S. citizens. He thinks it could kill him.

In Mexico, he would not have access to substance abuse counseling or mental health resources to help him deal with his PTSD. He also fears being recruited by the drug cartels since he has combat experience.

According to his attorney, Chris Bergin, Perez served in Afghanistan in 2002 and 2003, and he left the Army in 2004 with a general discharge after he was caught smoking marijuana on base.

“If you’re going to put your hand on your hearts every time at a game, you’re going to say thank you for your service and wear American flag lapel pins and you’re going to criticize football players for taking a knee during the national anthem, it seems that’s all superficial and false patriotism if you’re not caring about an actual military veteran,” said Bergin.

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.

Take Advantage of No Cost Tax Assistance and Preparation

taxes

By Debbie Gregory.

The bad news is that the tax filing deadline will be here before we know it. But the good news is that you have until Tuesday, April 17, 2018, to file your 2017 returns and pay any taxes due. The filing tax deadline is later this year due to several factors.

The usual April 15 deadline falls on Sunday this year, which would normally give taxpayers until at least the following Monday. However, Emancipation Day, a Washington, D.C., holiday, is observed on Monday, April 16, giving taxpayers nationwide an additional day to file. By law, Washington holidays impact tax deadlines for everyone in the same way federal holidays do.

And here’s some more good news: there is free tax preparation assistance available to veterans, seniors, and low-income earners.

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) grant program is an IRS initiative designed to support free tax preparation service for the underserved through various partner organizations. This service helps low- to moderate-income individuals, persons with disabilities, the elderly, and limited English speakers file their taxes each year.

In addition to VITA, the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program offers free tax help for all taxpayers, particularly those who are 60 years of age and older, specializing in questions about pensions and retirement-related issues unique to seniors.

Military OneSource provides free tax preparation and filing services and tax consultations. MilTax, Military OneSource’s free tax services, provides easy-to-use software that is designed specifically for the military community that can be used from mid-January to mid-October. MilTax consultants are also available to help military members and their families for free. You need to be an eligible Military OneSource user to be able to access the free e-filing software, and will need to log in to your Military OneSource account to get started.

Another free service is MyFreeTaxes, managed by the United Way. MyFreeTaxes operates the only free online tax preparation and filing assistance platform available in all 50 states and Washington D.C. The services are available to those who earned $66,000 or less in 2017, and allows qualified Veterans, active-duty military, their families and all other qualifying taxpayers to file both a federal and state tax return, absolutely free.

The IRS.gov/FreeFile allows taxpayers to choose from a variety of industry-leading tax software options in order to prepare and e-file their federal tax returns at no cost. If you earned $66,000 or less last year, you are eligible to choose from among 13 software products. If you earned more, you are still eligible for Free File Fillable Forms, the electronic version of IRS paper forms.

Important tips to remember for those who serve:

  • Identify the types of pay and allowances you receive that are not included as part of your gross income
  • You may receive a deduction for moving expenses when you have a permanent change of station
  • You may be able to deduct the cost of work-related education

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.

Proposed Legislation Would Increase Pay for Guard and Reserve Units

guard and reserve

By Debbie Gregory.

U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) have introduced legislation to close the benefits gap for members of the National Guard and Reserve forces deployed on certain pre-planned missions overseas.

The National Guard and Reserves Benefit Parity Act, “addresses gaps in early retirement eligibility, high-deployment allowance, and pay reductions for mobilized federal civilian employees

Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., and Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., introduced the bill in the House, H.R. 5038.

“I’m proud to introduce this important piece of legislation with Senator Wicker that will fix the benefits parity gap that disadvantage the National Guard and Reserves,” said Senator Coons. “I will continue to work with my Republican counterparts to pass this bill into law this year to ensure that our nation’s Guardsmen and Reservists are given the benefits they have earned.”

The 2012 version of the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) established a new mobilization authority allowing the Department of Defense to deploy Guard and Reserve forces for pre-planned missions, known as “12304b” missions,  in support of combatant commanders. Although these Reserve Component members perform the same duties as their active-duty counterparts, they were not eligible to receive the same benefits.

The National Guard and Reserves Benefit Parity Act closes the gap by:

  • Reducing the age at which a Guardsman or Reservist is eligible to receive military retirement pay by three months for every 90 days mobilized under 12304b authority within a single fiscal year;
  • Providing officers and enlisted Guardsmen and Reservists with a monthly allowance for each month during which they are deployed, if they meet criteria already defined under other mobilization authorities; and
  • Protecting federal civilian employees who are members of the Reserve or National Guard from a reduction in pay when activated by providing a “reservist differential” payment, which already exists under other mobilization authorities.

The National Guard Bureau expects the Army and the Air Force to increase their use of the new authority, mobilizing more than 13,000 Guardsmen total over the next two 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.