Archive for July, 2012

U.S. Service Members on Team USA

Posted by Charlotte Webster

2012 Summer OlympicsRepresenting the United States in the Olympics is an achievement and an honor; being able to represent them while you also represent the United States military is even more remarkable for the time commitment required by both. But that didn’t stop these athletes!

Sixteen active duty and reserve members of the United States Armed Forces help make up the 2012 United States Olympic Team competing in London, England. Comprised of members of the Army (13), Navy (1), Air Force (1), and Marine Corps (1), these service members have honed their talents over the years to near perfection. Some are in their service’s Sports or World Class Athletes Program; others not.

In alphabetical order, they are

  • Army Spc. Dennis Bowsher, pentathalon
  • Army Sgt. 1st Class Dremiel Byers, wrestling 
  • Army Sgt. Glenn Eller, shooting
  • Army Sgt. Vincent Hancock, shooting
  • Marine Corps Sgt. Jamel Herring, boxing
  • Air Force Capt. Seth Kelsey, fencing
  • Army Spc. Justin Lester, wrestling 
  • Army Agt. Spenser Mango, wresting
  • Army Staff Sgt. Michael McPhail, shooting
  • Army Sgt. John Nunn, track and field
  • Army Sgt. 1st Class Jason Parker, shooting
  • Army Staff Sgt. Joshua Richmond, shooting
  • Army Sgt. 1st Class Keith Sanderson, shooting
  • Army Sgt. 1st Class Daryl Szarenski, shooting
  • Army Sgt. 1st Class Eric Uptagrafft, shooting
  • Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Sandra Uptagrafft, shooting

For Army Sgt. 1st Class Daryl Szarenski and Army Sgt. Glenn Eller, this will be their fourth Olympic games each. Marine Corps Sgt Jamel Herring will the first United States Marine represented in Olympic boxing in 20 years. And those last two, Army Sgt. 1st Class Eric Uptagrafft and Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Sandra Uptagrafft? Married, serving in separate branches of the armed forces, and going to the Olympics together.

Hopefully you’ve already tuned in to the NBC broadcasts of the Olympics (from July 27th to August 12th). It’s available both on regular television (check your local listings) and LiveExtra (online through NBC). NBC is also hosting an Olympics website separate from its usual website for viewer convenience.

U-S-A! U-S-A!

A long time ago, at a birthday party far, far away

Posted by Charlotte Webster

LtCol Kiebler jediOne young Star Wars fan had the best surprise in his five years on this planet.

Danny Kiebler’s dad, United States Air Force Col. Rob Kiebler, of Beaverton, Oregon has spent the last 14 months on duty in Afghanistan. Danny wasn’t expecting to see him until the end of the summer. When his fifth birthday came around, like many young boys, he wanted a Star Wars-themed party.

Unbeknownst to Danny, his dad happens to be one stellar party planner. He came home on leave a little early and teamed up with Portland’s Cloud City Garrison, a Star Wars fan club, to give his son a gift that was out of this world.

Kiebler bought a Jedi knight costume, came to the party and blended in with the other costumed characters until the time was right to reveal his identity to his son. What happens next would melt the heart of a Sith Lord.

“I wasn’t sure he was going to let go,” said one member of the Cloud City Garrison.

It’s plain to see Col. Kiebler has a Jedi-worthy knack for strategic planning and tactical maneuvers, whether it’s for an initiative in the desert or managing the intricacies of his son’s party. Planning for the future can be tough, let alone when you’re trying to do it from the other side of the world.

Planning ahead for your kids’ education is no exception. According to an April 2012 study by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, out of all American families with financially dependent children, only 41 percent of them had money set aside for college. But never fear, young padawan. Even though the cost of higher education is increasing, with your military benefits and resources at hand, saving for your kids’ future education doesn’t have to be a galactic mess.

Like the jawa traders, we have plenty of droids – I mean, articles – for you to choose from that can help you craft a workable plan for the future. Whether you want to plan for your own continued training on Dagobah in college, find scholarship opportunities for your college-age children, or both, you can find relevant information on And may the Force be with you in your search.

Happy 222nd Birthday, U.S. Coast Guard! August 4th, 1790

Posted by S.E. Davidson Parker

Coast Guard“The Blue Book says we’ve got to go out and it doesn’t say a damn thing about having to come back.”

— Keeper Patrick Etheridge, Cape Hatteras Life-Saving Service, concerning a rescue off the coast of North Carolina

Such is the ethos and commitment of the United States Coast Guard even to this day. Founded on August 4th, 1790 by the Revenue Act and known as the Revenue Cutters for the next 125 years, the job of the these brave men was to enforce trade and tariff laws and to prevent smuggling. In 1915 Congress merged the Revenue Cutters with the United States Life-Saving Service and changed the name to the United States Coast Guard. In 1939 then-President Franklin Delano Roosevelt merged the Lighthouse Services into the Coast Guard, rounding its mission to the maritime protection and enforcement service we know (and love!) today. It’s been under transferred to multiple governmental departments over time (Commerce and Navy among others) and argued over in Congress whether or not it should continue to exist. With all these trials and tribulations, the U. S. Coast Guard has always maintained and upheld its motto with the utmost integrity: Semper Paratus, Always Ready.

The U.S. Coast Guard has been integral in many innovations and historical events throughout the history of the United States. These include, but are not limited to:

  • developing and testing laser-assisted light houses to improve modern maritime safety;
  • allowing women to officially join the Lighthouse Service in the1830s;
  • developing one of the world’s first effective desalinization processes; and
  • providing radio assistance (through the U.S.C.G.C. Itasca) for Amelia Earhart’s ill-fated circumnavigation attempt.

More recently, the U.S. Coast Guard is featured in the reality television series Coast Guard Alaska on The Weather Channel. With the tag line “When weather is at its worst, they’re at their best,“ this series follows the men and women stationed in Kodiak, Alaska as they perform search and rescue missions in one of the harshest marine environments in the world.

Today, the U.S. Coast Guard serves under the Department of Homeland Security. It maintains the highest qualifications to enter of all the services (including ASVAB scores, physical fitness ability, and security history). Through all of its trials and tribulations, this service is continues to perform admirably. Its history and present are best summed up by Rear Admiral R.R. Waesche, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard from 1936-1945;

“The cat with nine lives is a piker compared to the Coast Guard. You can kick this old service around, tear it to pieces, scream from the house-tops that it is worthless, ought to be abolished or transferred to the Navy, have the people in it fighting among themselves and working at cross purposes and it bobs up serenely bigger and stronger than ever.”

Happy Birthday, US Coast Guard!

Veterans Administration Health Care – Creaking Under the Strain

Posted by Charlotte Webster

medical files xs“This is disgraceful!” thundered Representative Bob Filner, a Democrat representing California’s 51st district, immediately before a hearing on the tremendous delays American veterans face in receiving health care through the VA system. “This is an insult to our veterans. And you guys just recycle old programs and put new names on them!”

The VA health care system has never been a model of user-friendly efficiency. But the current backlog problems are getting insane, even by federal bureaucratic standards.


Last month, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, there were 870,000 disability cases pending. Of those, two out of three had been pending more than 125 days. The percentage of cases taking longer than 125 days to resolve had actually increased over the previous year. In some offices, such as Oakland, California, the average claims resolution time drags on for a year.

The VA’s stated goal is to resolve all disability cases within 125 days.

Jim Strickland, the manager of a website called, isn’t very impressed.

“A delay to process a claim in 125 days or less is a system failure,” he wrote on his site. “No other business on the planet would be applauding itself to set a goal of only 60% of it’s [sic] work to be a failure.”

It’s not going to be easy.

As the military draws down in strength over the coming years, hundreds of thousands of servicemembers are going to transition from the military health care system to the VA. Meanwhile, the aging baby-boomers of the Viet Nam generation are now entering their retirement years, detaching from their employer plans and entering their peak years of health care consumption.

The result is a “perfect storm” that threatens to swamp the ability of Veterans Affairs officials to process claims.

Indeed, the storm is already upon us: Allison Hickey, the VA’s undersecretary for benefits, notified Congress that there had been a huge 48 percent surge in applications at the VA over the last three years. The VA has barely been able to tread water, despite bringing new computer systems online to speed claims.

What’s behind the increase? Three factors:

A decision made two years ago to expand benefits to Viet Nam veterans who may have been affected by exposure to Agent Orange. This had a particularly profound effect on the VA’s claims processing capacity, because documenting these 40 year old claims – some 230,000 of them — was so difficult. A substantial number of VA administrators had to be assigned to process these cases – at the expense of newer claims. The VA states that it is nearing the end of processing those claims.

Second, a weak economy is driving some people to file claims for benefits who might otherwise have just toughed it out. A mild hearing loss due to military service is not devastating if you have secure employment. If you’re unemployed, it becomes tempting to file that claim for 10 to 30 percent disability. And you have time on your hands to file a claim (you’re gonna need it!).

Third, increased awareness of PTSD and traumatic brain injury, combined with aggressive post-deployment screening, increased the number of referrals to the VA system from Afghanistan and Iraq War veterans. While U.S. direct involvement in the Iraq War has come to an end, these veterans are now getting discharged and coming to VA offices in the tens of thousands for treatment of physical and psychological problems.

What has your experience with the VA been like in the last few years? Let us know in the comments below.

Call Me, Maybe: Military Style

Posted by Charlotte Webster

Callmemaybe danceAttention Hollywood: Call them, maybe.

We tripped across this just in time for the weekend and it totally made us want to pick up the phone.

What I love about it is that — even though everybody and their brother is “remaking” this song online — the humor and versatility of the individuals serving in our armed forces shines through. Many times people think our servicemen and women are dehumanized, war machines. This proves otherwise.

My favorite part is how they worked real military situations into the video (2:16-2:32 seem familiar to anyone, maybe?).

And the dancing is pretty good for a group who only had 30 minutes to learn the moves and 30 minutes for filming over a lunch hour. (You can read the back story on it here.)

Now I don’t want to call anyone out on their free-form dance moves, especially since they are sacrificing so much serving in Afghanistan right now, but a career in dance might not be in the cards for a couple of those guys once they get out of the military. Some were pretty good, but a couple might want to consider going back to school and getting a nice, sit-down desk job. A business or finance degree could land them in one of the highest-paying industries as a financial planner or business manager for a music mogul. Just a thought.

I don’t know you, and this might be crazy, but … just, you know, think about it. Call a school, maybe.

Happy weekend, everyone!

Cookie Monster Wants YOU

Posted by Kelli McKinney

GU0 AdditionalResourcesForget generation X, Y, Z – I’m a proud part of generation Sesame Street. I grew up singing along with Big Bird, thought Super Grover was an underappreciated superhero, and was one of Mister Snuffalupagus’s most ardent believers.

Those moppy-headed critters were a huge part of my childhood. They taught me to read and count before I was out of preschool. When I couldn’t stomach the thought of sharing my after school snack with my little brother, it was Bert who showed me the error of my ways. Suffice it to say that I love the show with a passion, and couldn’t wait until my son was old enough and I could watch it again through his eyes.

My passion for Sesame Street and the educators behind the show grew tenfold when I learned that the amazing people at Sesame Street Workshop produced a series: Just. For. Military. Families.

As part of their mission to use educational media to help children reach their fullest potential, they’ve created an outreach program called Talk, Listen, Connect. TLC is designed to guide children through the murky emotional waters of deployments, combat-related injuries, distance, homecomings and even the death of a parent or loved one. As you would expect, their material does a brilliant job of speaking about tough topics in plain language, comforting and reassuring an often forgotten group.

They’ve produced two award-winning television specials, developed an educational kit (available on their website) and have held live performances on bases. The program helps kids manage difficult emotions by modeling how other parents, children, and familiar furry critters deal with similar circumstances. The program has so far distributed more than two and a half million kits to military families and Sesame reports nearly 3/4 of the families say they feel the program helped their child cope.

Check out this clip about the TLC program.

And if that weren’t enough, they also travel across the country with a FREE Sesame Street USO show.  *insert huge hug here.*  Our child is older now, but I’m hoping I can persuade him to go see the USO Sesame Street show for old times’ sake. They still have tour dates in Washington, California, Nevada, Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma and Alabama left this year.

Sesame is casting for their next project, which focuses on resilience, and they’re looking for military families to help. The episode they’re casting now is going to tackle the very challenging topic of divorce. Details are on their Facebook page, but it’s worth mentioning that their requirements are very specific.

If you’re a parent or family member of a preschooler or young elementary child, you know how important it is to have resources you trust and a community that supports you. For a lot of us, the Sesame Street characters became fixtures in our household and offered consistency and certainty through some very uncertain times. If there’s anyone who deserves the TLC (pun intended) that the Sesame Workshop is providing through their efforts, it’s the young children of our service members.

If you’re looking for more family life or parenting resources, visit the Military Authority Parenting & Family Life discussion page.

Have you or someone you love seen the Sesame Street show already? We’d love for you to share your thoughts about it with us here.

House Passes 2013 COLA for Veterans

Posted by Charlotte Webster

describe the imageThe House has passed H.R. 4114, the Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2012. If it is signed into law by also passing the Senate vote, H.R. 4114 will increase the annual cost-of-living rate for veterans beginning on December 1, 2012. This year’s estimated COLA increase will be approximately 1.9 percent.

For many, passage of the COLA each year is merely a formality. But it has typically been pushed to the end of the year, and after there were a few last-minute votes in 2011 for military pay, it is a relief to many to have it passing through Congress at such an early date. According to the press release issued by the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, taking care of the COLA now ensures that veterans will be given the benefits they have been promised without falling victim to political fighting.

Visit our website for more information about veterans’ benefits and military veterans’ pay.

Three steps to civilian transition

Posted by Charlotte Webster

military to civilian smLife is full of change. If you’ve been serving your country in the armed forces, you know that better than anyone.

First of all, thank you. Thank you for what you’ve done, and for what you’re about to do. Not only have you served your country in your military role, you’re bringing a higher level of skills and life experience to the job marketplace.

Deciding to leave the military is a big step in and of itself. So you’ve determined civilian life is where you want to go. Now what? Here are a few tips to help you sail smoothly into the next part of your journey:

1) Learn how to translate your military skills into civilian-speak. You worked hard to gain the expertise you have. Don’t let your abilities get lost in a cloud of miscommunication. Make sure your experience comes through great article loud and clear on your resume and in interviews.

2) Know how to access your retired/veterans military benefits. You worked hard to earn them, don’t lose them.From Thrift Savings Plans to commissary privileges to medical insurance coverage and recreation opportunities, your service affords you a wide variety of benefits even as you move on to a new chapter of your life. Make sure you have copies of your policy documentation, important phone numbers and contact information in a secure place.

3) Explore your options. Not sure about diving into a career right away? Or maybe you’re ready to pursue a lifelong dream in a different field? Perhaps a certification program will help you gain entrance to an industry you’re curious about, but tuition expenses are, well, less than appealing. As a veteran, your military experience may count toward education at many military-friendly colleges. This gets you closer to the degree you want without the cost.

If this all sounds overwhelming to you, you’re not alone. It sounds overwhelming to most people. But with a little planning, a lot of deep breathing and plenty of discussion boards to surf, a brand new chapter in your story is right around the corner.

Tell us how you’re navigating your transition from the service to civilian life? What are your plans? Or if you’ve already made the transition, what advice do you have for others?

Hunting the Headhunter: A Task for Transitioning Servicemembers

Posted by Kelli McKinney

headhuntersWhen you think about it, finding a job is kind of like selling a house. When you sell a house, you’ve got to make sure you have curb appeal and a solid foundation. You’ve got to have up-to-date fixtures and the perfect combination of storage and open space. And you’ve got to have a rockstar seller’s agent to make sure your home’s selling points are seen by the right buyer.

It’s not really that different when you’re looking for a job. You have to make sure your resume is up to date and features your most competitive qualities for the job you’re after. You have to have the right mixture of skills, abilities, and “fit” for the company you’re interested in. And it doesn’t hurt to have a few strategically-selected headhunters looking out for you, either.

Working with a headhunter isn’t as violent as it might sound. A civilian headhunter is very much like a military recruiter in that they screen potential employees. The difference is that unlike the military, a civilian headhunter is usually an independant agent, who has several client companies.  

Finding headhunters isn’t hard. Finding the right headhunter can be a bit tricky at first, but it’s worth it for one reason alone: Headhunters often know about the unposted opportunities. Those are the ones you want. Here are a few tips to help you connect with the headhunter that’s right for you.

1) Get specific. Whether you’re just starting your quest for the perfect civilian job, or if you’ve been looking for a while, it’s a lot easier to find what you’re looking for if, well, you know what you’re looking for. If you haven’t written it down, write it down: the industry/ies, titles, experience, growth path, everything you’re targeting. Include “finding a headhunter with contacts at Dream Company, HQ” as part of your list. 

2) Use your network. Now that you know what you want, enlist help from people you trust. Use your Military Authority discussion boards, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn to reach out to people and let them know what you’re looking for. Chances are, you have a few trusted people in your contact files who have connections to the goals you seek. If people you trust recommend a specific headhunter, ask for an introduction. 

3) Be courteous. When looking for or working with a headhunter, it’s important to remember that you are one of many people they interact with. It’s not that your job search isn’t important – it is. But yours is one of many, and your connections/friends/headhunters also have their own lives to live outside of working hard on your behalf. Respect their time, communicate clearly and routinely (unless they establish other ground rules, checking in once bi-weekly is plenty – they will let you know when they find a good fit for you) and let them do their job. When you get an interview, no matter how well or poorly it goes, be sure to thank the person who helped you get the interview. A little kindness and courtesy goes a long way, and you just never know – in a few years, you might be reaching out to that same headhunter to help you fill a vacancy at your new company.  

There are plenty of resources out there to help guide you through your next job search. Headhunters are only one of many options. We’d like to hear from you – what’s your story?  Have you/did you use a headhunter or other search assistance? Tell us about it below.

Better times ahead for veterans seeking employment

Posted by Kelli McKinney

successful interviewingStars and Stripes reported last week that the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans dropped from 12.7 in May to 9.5 percent in June. 

This is encouraging for a couple of reasons: One is that in the 24 months between January 2010 to December 2011, the unemployment rate has dipped below 10 percent only twice. In 2012 alone, it has seen single digits four times. 

It’s definitely too soon to stake any claims of recovery, but there could be a positive trend in veteran hiring, even while national employment remains in a holding pattern. And I don’t know about anyone else, but while I’m looking for a job, even the suggestion of positive news is good news.

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, there are nearly 800,000 veterans seeking work. About 200,000 of these are post-9/11 era vets. In recent months, both the White House and Congress have encouraged private and government agencies to hire veterans. The Department of Labor’s Veteran Retraining Assitance Program reports that within less than two months of kickoff, they’ve already had 25,000 applicants. 

If you are or if you know a veteran who is looking for work, know that there are people out there who appreciate your knowledge and skills and want to help you put them to continued good use. And we have resources to help you in your transition – whether your next steps include the pursuit of additional training and education, or if you are ready to launch a civilian career. Plus, there is a community of people just like you on our discussion boards, so you know that you’re in good company.