After a Long Wait, Translator’s Special Immigrant Visa Finally Approved


By Debbie Gregory.

For Iraqis and Afghans, working with the U.S. military in the Middle East carried great risks. Mahmood, who is going by his first name for his protection, is one of more than 23,000 Iraqi and Afghan people who worked with American Forces, and then immigrated to the United States.

Their work as translators or other supporting roles earned them special immigrant visas for themselves and their families.

Mahmood has been mired in the dangerous process of applying for the visa for more than two years. But on April 6, 2017, Mahmood found out that his application had been approved.

“It was the best day of my life,” said Mahmood, but he is still treading very carefully; his family in Iraq is still at risk.

With his parents’ encouragement, in 2008 Mahmood got a job in the laundry department on a U.S. military base in the Kirkuk province.

As Mahmood’s language skills improved, Army Col. Mark Leahey encouraged him to become a military translator, a job that would allow him to apply for a special immigrant visa.

Mahmood became a tactical translator first in the Kirkuk province, then in Diyala province.  He lived on an American base and translated reports about attacks.

When the United States began drawing down its forces in Iraq, Mahmood moved back to his family home and worked on finishing his degree.

And, he waited. Finally, his application was approved, and within two months, Mahmood landed in Washington, D.C. He stayed with Leahey at his home in New Hampshire, and eventually settled in Portland.

He hopes to become a teacher.

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U.S. Army Has Canceled Enlistment of Hundreds of Immigrant Recruits


By Debbie Gregory.

The United States Army has reportedly canceled the enlistment contracts for hundreds of foreign-born military.

Many of these enlistees have been waiting years to participate in Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI), a special recruiting program designed to attract highly skilled immigrants into the service in exchange for fast-track citizenship.

At this time, the Department of Defense has stopped accepting applications for the MAVNI program.

The Pentagon has denied ordering a mass cancellation of immigrant recruit contracts and said there were no incentives to do so.

But many of the MAVNI recruits are in limbo. About 1,000 recruits have been waiting so long to enlist that their legal status has expired without much time to try to restart the citizenship process through other channels. There are others who find themselves in the United States illegally, but disqualified from going home because of their attempts to enlist in the U.S. military.

The program has rotated 10,400 troops into the military, mostly the Army, since its inception in 2009.

Motivated by financial pressure, a staggering workload, and the current climate on immigration, U.S. Army recruiters are dumping the immigrant recruits.  Although the military has benefited from these recruits, getting them through the system generates a disproportionate amount of work for recruiters. The layered security checks can add months or years to the enlistment process, frustrating recruiters who must meet strictly enforced goals by quickly processing recruits.

According to the Pentagon, there are 2,400 foreign recruits with signed contracts who are drilling in reserve units who have not been naturalized and have not gone to basic training. About 1,600 others are waiting to clear background checks before active duty service.

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Army Develops Pizza MREs with Three Year Shelf Life


By Debbie Gregory.

After working on it for the last five years, scientists have almost perfected a recipe for pizza that doesn’t require any refrigeration or freezing that will remain edible for years.

The biggest hurdle scientists had to overcome was the moisture in tomato sauce, cheese and toppings that migrated to the dough over time, resulting in soggy pizza Soggy pizza provided the perfect conditions for mold and disease-causing bacteria to grow. But through the use of “Hurdle Technology” which creates a kind of barrier that protects the pie from bacteria and mold, the lab was able to stop bacteria from forming. They also tweaked the acidity of the sauce, cheese and dough to make it harder for oxygen and bacteria to thrive, and added iron fillings to the package to absorb any air remaining in the pouch.

In the not-to-distant future, U.S. soldiers will be able to open a meal pouch and pull out a ready-to-eat pizza. Food technologist Lauren Oleksyk, who works at the Army’s Natick Soldier Research, Development, and Engineering Center, says that the meal is a fully-cooked piece of pizza that comes in a package. The lab specializes in creating meals-ready-to-eat for the military. Co-worker Michelle Richardson said, “You can basically take the pizza, leave it on the counter, packaged, for three years and it’d still be edible.”

Soldiers have been asking for pizza since lightweight individual field rations — known as meals ready to eat (MREs) replaced canned food in 1981 for soldiers in combat zones or areas where field kitchens cannot be set up.

While the pizza unsurprisingly won’t be the same as a fresh slice, it’ll taste more like the ones served during lunch time in a school cafeteria. That doesn’t sound bad at all. The pizza has so far been well-received.

According to Jill Bates, who runs the lab, “It pretty much tastes just like a typical pan pizza that you would make at home and take out of the oven or the toaster oven.”

In addition to creating the ready to eat meals, scientists at the Natick labs are also responsible for developing equipment and clothing that improves soldiers’ combat effectiveness and their survival.

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.

Military Connection: Army To See More Cuts in 2015: By Debbie Gregory

Army soldiers

Last Sunday’s ceremony in Kabul marked the end of U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan, and subsequently, the war itself for the U.S. military. But there are no parades to celebrate the end of the war or the American service members who fought in it. Instead, military personnel are facing more draw downs and force reductions, starting with the Army.

Every military branch bulked up their numbers during the height of the War on Terror. After the war in Iraq ended in 2011, the Pentagon began devising strategies for each branch to individually reduce its force size. Initially, the Army was slated to complete its reductions in order to end up with a force of 490,000 by 2018.

Army leadership began a pro-active approach, beginning three years ago, by offering incentives for early retirement to senior enlisted and officers with over 16 years of active duty. The Army also began to involuntarily separate those individuals who would have difficulty being promoted again before their separation time. The bulk of the cuts effect the upper-middle ranks of the officer and non-commissioned officers.

For 2014, the Army offered a one-time screening for involuntary separation and early retirement, which included majors in year groups 1999 through 2003, and captains in year groups 2006 through 2008. The results of those boards determined that 550 majors and 1,144 captains would be separated from active duty. A similar screening is tentatively scheduled for Army captains in fall of 2015.

Using their proactive approach, the Army has been able to cut 62,000 personnel since the draw down began three years ago. The Army finished Fiscal year 2014 with 508,000 active duty personnel, just 18,000 members over their 2018 target force size.

But sequestration and financial pressures on the DOD have pushed up that target to the end of fiscal 2015, while also calling for an additional cut of 40,000 in both 2016 and 2017. There is also the possibility of further cuts of 10,000 to 20,000 by the end of the decade.

Another round of Selective Early Retirement Boards met in November, 2014, to consider separating colonels with dates of rank of August 2, 2008, through November 12, 2010, and lieutenant colonels who have been passed over for promotion to colonel two or more times. The results of the screening are pending approval by the secretary of the Army.

A similar force reduction method, called the Qualitative Service Program (QSP), was also used last year to identify approximately 1,000 enlisted soldiers for separation and early retirement. QSP boards will be used again in 2015 to trim the ranks of military occupational specialties that are over-strength, or that have limited promotion opportunity.

The first of the 2015 QSP boards will occur February 10th through March 6th, in conjunction with annual Regular Army and Active Guard and Reserve (Army Reserve) master sergeant board.

Other QSP boards in 2015:

  • The nominative command sergeant major and key billet sergeant major board that meets June 15-19 will screen command sergeants major and sergeants major for retention.
  • The sergeant first class promotion board that meets June 2ndthrough July 2ndwill screen staff sergeants for retention.
  • The sergeant major training and selection board that meets September 9-25 will screen master sergeants and first sergeants for retention.

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Military Connection: Army To See More Cuts in 2015: By Debbie Gregory