Archive for October, 2012

Happy Halloween! Best Patriotic Pumpkins

Posted by Kelli McKinney

In honor of this the spookiest of holidays, I made a mad dash with my son to put together his Halloween costume before this morning’s costume parade at school. I can’t believe we put off costume shopping for so long this year, but between work and travel and family stuff, time once again slipped away like a shoplifter from the mall. We only just last night carved our pumpkin.

As I was looking for carving ideas for said pumpkin, I stumbled into some of these military-themed jack-o-lanterns and thought they were worth sharing. I am not what anyone would call particularly skilled with knives or power tools, so whatever we do will have to be fairly simple – that’s why I really like the “Drill Sergeant” pumpkin. We have a no-smoking rule at our house, so we’ll make a minor change and swap the cigarette for a lollipop, though.

saluting pumpkin

flag and eagle pumpkin

Semper Fi pumpkin

Marine Corps pumpkin

Drill Sergeant pumpkin

Here’s wishing you and yours a safe and happy Halloween!

American Red Cross Services for Military Service Members and Families

Posted by Kelli McKinney

militaryYou might know the American Red Cross as “those people who do the blood drives,” but like the military, they have a rich history of service. A national service organization for more than a century, the 700 locally-supported chapters of the American Red Cross has helped more than 15 million people each year people mobilize to help their neighbors. These volunteers learn valuable skills to prepare for and respond to emergencies in homes, communities, and around the world. In addition, almost four million people also donate blood each year through the Red Cross, making it the largest supplier of blood and blood products in the United States.

The American Red Cross also maintains a strong commitment to serving all members of the military, whether active-duty, Guard, and Reserve service members or their immediate family members. They are an important resource for our service members and those they love.

American Red Cross services for military members and their families include:

Emergency communications

Communicating important news with family members is one area the Red Cross supports. Whether it’s to share the birth of a child or the loss of a loved one, the immense worldwide network maintained by the Red Cross  helps keeps military personnel anywhere (including on ships at sea, at embassies, and in isolated military units)linked  with their loved ones.

If you need to send an emergency message, contact the Red Cross and have the following information on hand:

  • service member’s full name, rank, Service branch, Social Security number, and military address
  • information about the deployed unit and the location of the rear detachment unit (for deployed service members only)
  • name, phone number, and relationship of person in the city or town where the emergency occurred (to provide more information if required)
  • name and contact number for hospital or funeral home to verify the emergency

 

Social services and disaster assistance

The Red Cross provides counseling, family support and help with VA appeals for service members and their families. There are some chapters that offer special courses or support groups for military families to help themselves and others deal with the psychological challenges of the deployment cycle.

 

Direct support to service members

Red Cross staff members deploy overseas to provide direct emergency communications. In overseas locations, the Red Cross may offer respite from harsh conditions and bring a little bit of home to the troops by operating a twenty-four-hour canteen service with coffee, cold drinks, snacks, games, videos, and books. Red Cross teams also visit patients in clinics and hospitals.

Military family members who wish to volunteer with the Red Cross can also find opportunities such as:

  • positions as greeters, hospital guides, wheelchair escorts, patient chaperones, and pharmacy aids working at medical facilities in areas such as physical therapy, the emergency room, pediatrics, dermatology, and radiology
  • volunteer caseworker positions at Red Cross locations
  • a Dental Assistant Program (DENTAC) for training as a dental technician
  • pet-therapy volunteer positions to cheer up patients in military hospitals
  • blood donation center positions to assist with blood drives
  • disaster-response positions to provide relief support 

 

The American Red Cross is accessible in a number of ways:

  • Active-duty service members stationed in the US and their immediate family members may call the Red Cross Armed Forces Emergency Service (AFES) Centers for help at any time 877-272-7337.
  • Members of the Guard and Reserve, retirees, and extended family members can access services through their local Red Cross Chapter, listed in local telephone directories and in the chapter directory.
  • Overseas personnel stationed on military installations may call installation operators or the on-installation Red Cross office.

Unflappable Soldiers Stand Guard at Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as Hurricane Sandy Barrels Through

Posted by Kelli McKinney

Tomb of the Unknowns with Sandy

Spc. Brett Hyde, Tomb Sentinel, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), maintains his vigil during Hurricane Sandy while guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery Oct., 29.

U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Jose A. Torres Jr.

 

Neither rain, sleet, snow, nor Hurricane Sandy prevented soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Regiment from standing guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. 

The tomb has been guarded continuously since 1948, through hurricanes, the World Trade Center attacks, and various storms throughout the decades.

Most businesses and offices were closed Monday in advance of the storm and its estimated 85-miles-per-hour winds, with many remaining closed today to clean up. A spokesman for the Old Guard, the Army unit that patrols the tomb at Arlington cemetery, commented about staying through hurricanes saying, “There’s been severe weather in the past. There will be severe weather in the future. We have contingency plans.”

A significant symbol in military history, Congress authorized the burial of a single soldier from World War I there in 1921. In 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower authorized the unidentified remains of soldiers from WWII and Korea to be interred there. And in 1984, an unidentified service member who died in Vietnam was laid to rest at this now historic site.

Since the end of WWII, at least one soldier has kept watch over the tomb at all times. This means that 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, at least one service member is honoring those who gave their lives in service of their country. 

In inclement weather, a green nylon tent covers the guards, or they move into the Memorial Display Room, a small marble enclosure containing memorial plaques dedicated to the unknown soldiers. This area provides both a clear line of sight of the tomb and shelter from the elements.

As the nation watched and waited for this potentially historic storm to make landfall, it was nice to see much of the nation remembering to include these dedicated soldiers in their thoughts and prayers for safety.

Plane Crash Destroys Unknown Number of Overseas Military Ballots at Shindand Air Base, Afghanistan

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

All Destroyed Mail from APO AE 09382

Now we’ve heard everything.

military ballots lost in plane crashAs if the government’s questionable track record of failing to ensure deployed servicemembers have their votes counted wasn’t embarrassing enough as it is, federal officials are now saying that some 4,700 pounds of mail were destroyed in a plane crash at Shindand Air Base on October 19th, according to an Associated Press report.

It is not known how many ballots were on board. The AP reports that all the mail lost was from a single zip code – apparently not understanding that that zip code, 09382, is actually an APO zip code serving Shindand, Farah, and Camp Stone, or Herat.

That complicates the effort because the potentially destroyed ballots cannot be limited to a single county elections office stateside; the troops deployed would have homes of record from all over the country. If they already voted, they would have no immediate way of ensuring their votes were received and counted in their home counties in time to influence the election.

The deadline under federal law for county commissioners to mail these ballots to overseas military absentee voters was nearly a month prior to the crash, on September 21. So it is very likely that any ballots on board would already have been filled out, and were on their way back to the United States. This further complicates the effort to discover what ballots may have been missing initially, because simply asking troops whether they received their ballots a few weeks ago does no good if they were destroyed on the way back home.

What to Do if Your Ballot May Have Been Destroyed

The Federal Voting Assistance Project advises the following:

All military and overseas voters who have not received requested ballots from their local election official yet are strongly encouraged to fill out the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB) at FVAP.gov and return it as soon as possible. All military and overseas voters who have received a requested ballot from their local election official should complete it and return it as soon as possible.

If you receive your State ballot after submitting the FWAB, vote and return the State ballot as well. You will only receive one vote as the State will only count your FWAB if the State ballot is not received by the deadline. If your State ballot is received by the deadline your State ballot will be counted and the FWAB will be disregarded.

DoD Fails to Comply With Military Overseas Voter Empowerment Act

Perhaps there may have been an additional layer of accountability possible had the Department of Defense fully complied with the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, which directed the Secretary of Defense to ensure that there was a military voter assistance office established on every overseas military installation (outside of an immediate combat zone.)

A military inspector general found in an August 31 report that the Department of Defense had done so on only about half of the bases it was required to by law.

Furthermore, the implementation of the voter assistance program at the DoD was so haphazard and chaotic that the inspector general was unable even to get a comprehensive list of installations that supposedly had voter assistance offices established at all (see page 29 of the IG’s report).

The IG was unable to locate any voter assistance office at Shindand Air Base.

Federal officials have sent an advisory email to the various state secretaries of state and county elections officials. While the total number of ballots lost in the fire is not known, the breakdown in accountability may provide a ready-made source of enough found ballots to swing at least one election in a tight race.

According to a recent survey from Military Times, military voters are expected to support Governor Romney over the president by a margin of 2-1.

Was the Relief of a Navy Admiral Benghazi-Related?

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

Rear Admiral GaouetteThe Navy announced Saturday that Rear Admiral Charles M. Gaouette, commander of the John C. Stennis aircraft carrier task force out of Bremerton, Washington, was relieved of his command. According to the Navy, the Admiral was relieved pending an investigation into matters concerning his professional judgment, rather than his personal conduct.

The story comes on the heels of the news of General Carter Ham’s replacement as AFRICOM commander. There has been some speculation – as yet unconfirmed – that General Ham was relieved of his command because he intended to send a rescue mission to the U.S. consulate facility in Benghazi, where the U.S. Ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed by a terrorist force in a 7-hour firefight on September 11th and 12th.

We are not speculating on whether General Ham was temporarily relieved under those circumstances or not. I can find no reliable confirmation of that account and I will not link to it until I do.

Based on press releases and other information from AFRICOM’s web site, General Ham is still in command, performing duties.

However, Rear Admiral Gauoette’s dismissal does not appear to us to be related to Benghazi.

The timeline and geography simply do not support any circumstantial assertion that Gauoette was involved in any way with Benghazi. The Stennis group is in the Persian Gulf area. The most direct route to the Persian Gulf area from Bremerton, WA does not take the group through the Mediterranean. The Stennis operates with the Navy’s 5th fleet. It’s the 6th Fleet that normally stations in the Mediterranean. Further, the Stennis group did not arrive on station in the Persian Gulf region until October. It was not anywhere near Libya on the 11th of September. Gauoette would not have been in a position to have any influence on the Benghazi attack. Indeed, concurrent reporting indicates that Carrier Strike Force Three, with the USS John C. Stennis, was actually participating in the Operation Valiant Shield exercises near Guam in September.

According to Wikipedia, the Stennis Battlegroup consists of the following ships:

  • USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74)
  • USS Dewey (DDG-105)
  • USS Kidd (DDG-100)
  • USS Milius (DDG-69)
  • USS Wayne E. Meyer (DDG-108)
  • USS Mobile Bay (CG-53)
  • USNS Bridge (T-AOE-10)

Rear Adm. Gauoette is being transferred back to Bremerton for shore duties until the results of an investigation are complete. His Chief of Staff, Capt. Captain William C. Minter, will take over as the acting strike force commander until the arrival of Rear Admiral Troy M. (“Mike”) Shoemaker, who has been named the permanent commander of Carrier Strike Force Three.

Captain William C. Minter, will lead the strike group until the arrival of Rear Admiral Troy M. (“Mike”) Shoemaker.

General David Rodriguez, the current head of FORSCOM, was nominated to succeed General Ham as the AFRICOM commander. He must still be confirmed by the Senate.

General Ham, incidentally, is not a West Point graduate. Rather, he is the senior ROTC graduate in the Army on duty today.

DoD Putting Off Announcement of TRICARE Cuts until After the Election

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

TRICARE Prime cutsMilitary Times is reporting that an unnamed source has said that the Department of Defense is deliberately delaying announcing broad cuts in TRICARE Prime benefits for some military members, retirees and their families until after “a certain date in November.”

The Presidential elections, with a lot of down-ticket races at stake as well, are scheduled for Tuesday, November 6th.

The planned changes would eliminate access to TRICARE Prime in five areas in the West and Midwest, including Iowa; Minnesota; Oregon; Reno, Nevada and Springfield, Missouri, effective April 1 of next year. As we reported last week, these changes have been contemplated by members of both parties since at least 2007, as a way to contain military health care costs. TRICARE Prime enrollees will have to enroll in TRICARE Standard, which provides less in the way of benefits.

The changes will affect perhaps as many as 170,000 participants, who would have to switch to Prime or drive farther to see a doctor.

The Administration is locked in a fierce battle to win the 2012 presidential contest – and health care and the economy are major issues.

At least one Congressman, Representative Greg Walden (R-OR) wants to know why the Pentagon is delaying the formal announcement.

The delay comes on the heels of another parallel controversy: The Obama Administration pressured the defense industry to delay issuing layoff notices legally required under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notice Act (the “WARN Act”),  until after the election – a move that Senator Lindsey Graham argues is “patently illegal.”

Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) has also written to TRICARE’s chief doctor, asking for clarification – and pushing for a formal announcement of any cuts prior to the election.

At issue: A contract change between two providers. While the Pentagon is not confirming anything at this time, the incoming contractor for the TRICARE West region, United Healthcare, does not plan on providing TRICARE Prime services beyond 40 miles from major treatment facilities. This could cause around 30,000 plan participants to lose their access to the Prime plan, requiring them to pay more out of pocket.

G.I. Film Festival Hollywood — Reel Stories about Real Heroes

Posted by S.E. Davidson Parker

GIFF 2012 Header Banner 650px resized 600

The G.I. Film Festival Hollywood was held over Veterans Day weekend, from November 9th through November 11th, at the Los Angeles Film School. Proceeds from the opening event benefited the Semper Fi Fund and the G.I. Film Festival.

The G.I. Film Festival, a non-profit organization, began in response to a lack of accurate portrayal of military life in movies. Co-founder Laura Law-Millett, a United States Military Academy graduate with 18 years of active duty experience, began this program with her husband Brandon Millett, a communication consultant, to honor the experience and stories of our service men and women. The mission is “preserving the success and sacrifices of the service member through the medium of film and television.”

Films represent multiple categories, from historical fiction to documentary and from gritty combat to the return home. Many are full length, others are shorts. Some films of note in 2012 include:

  • Patriot Guard Riders: Soldier Down, Kickstands Up, a documentary regarding the civilian motorcycle organization that honors fallen soldiers by providing a motorcade that shields the soldiers’ families from hate groups that attend funerals;
  • No Wine Left Behind, chronicling the story of veteran owned and operated Lavish Laines Winery, started when U.S. Marine Sergeant Josh Laine could not find a civilian job upon returning home from the Iraqi War; and
  • 8:46, which follows several characters and story lines to an intersection at that fateful time on September 11th, 2001.

First premiering in 2007, this festival has rapidly gained praise and acclaim from both the military and film communities. Many of these films are also featured at other notable film festivals across the world, including but not limited to DOC NYC, DocUtah, and the International Historical and Military Films Festival (Poland). Several films also make it to the small screen, notably the Military Channel and the Pentagon Channel in the United States and PRIME in the Commonwealth countries.

I encourage everyone who has the chance to attend the event at least once. If you can’t attend, though, you can still support the organization and its filmmakers in several ways. Some films are available for purchase or in video-on-demand format. Donate directly to the G.I.F.F. and support its continuing mission of honoring our service members.

Pentagon Gutting TRICARE Prime for 30,000 People

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

TRICARE cutsAccording to reporting by Military Times, some 20,000 TRICARE Prime beneficiaries will lose access to their plan, as of April 1, according to Pentagon sources familiar with the matter.

From the article:

The Pentagon is moving ahead with plans to slash its network of Tricare Prime providers, starting by eliminating the Prime option in three states and two cities in the Tricare West region.

As of April 1, as many as 30,000 Prime beneficiaries — retirees, Active Guard and Reserve troops, and family members — in Iowa; Minnesota; Oregon; Reno, Nev.; and Springfield, Mo., will have to switch to Tricare Standard, a traditional fee-for-service health plan, according to a source with knowledge of the reorganization.

Pentagon officials would not confirm that the five areas will lose Prime in April.

The areas lie outside Prime service areas covered under new Tricare regional contracts awarded by the Pentagon.

More details on precisely who is affected and how are available at the link.

The cuts aren’t exactly a surprise: They were first proposed in 2007, as a way to preserve scarce medical resources for active duty families when the military medical system was getting overstressed by deployments.

The cuts aren’t purely a Democratic initiative, either: While the Democrats held both the House and Senate in 2007, it is Republicans who hold the House now. And while Democrat Barack Obama is the Commander in Chief, GOP Senator John McCain, the former presidential candidate from Arizona, also went on record last year advocating similar cuts as a way to preserve training and operations budgets from the ravages of sequestration.

Romney’s Formula of Defense Increases + Tax Cuts Puts Supply-Side Economics to the Test

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

Romney military budgetAccording to reporting by Military Times, Governor Mitt Romney would act to set the base Defense Department budget to the level recommended by Secretary Robert Gates in 2012. Romney’s would effectively raise the current spending level for defense from 3.2 percent of GDP to 4 percent, according to the report by Times staff writer Marcus Weisgerber.

Congress slashed that baseline by some $259 billion. Full story is here.

Romney’s planned level of defense expenditure rivals the level of defense spending during the Cold War, as a percentage of the gross domestic product – a statistic that measures the total value of goods and services produced within the United States during one year.

At the same time, the Romney campaign is advocating a reduction in a variety of tax rates – including both income tax rates, tax rates on dividends and on capital gains. He is also advocating a cap on federal spending of 20 percent of GDP.

Combining both measures, the Defense Department would effectively comprise 25 percent of the overall federal budget under Romney’s proposal.

At the heart of Romney’s argument is a belief in supply side economics – and with it the assumption that revenue streams to the Treasury react dynamically to reductions in the tax rate. The idea is that if you lower the tax rate, then the additional revenue retained by the private sector would be reinvested in the economy, allowing economic growth to compound exponentially – hopefully at a rate that will outpace the interest rate on treasury debt.

In other words, Romney – and conservatives in general – argue that reductions in tax rates actually have the effect of increasing net revenues to the government, thanks to economic growth. They sometimes point to the Reagan Administration. Ronald Reagan lowered tax rates substantially, but also presided over the longest period of sustained economic growth at that time. Revenues to the treasury doubled during the Reagan Administration as the economy grew substantially.

But Democrats also point out that despite the growth, deficits increased substantially as well. The increases in tax revenue were not sufficient to overcome Reagan’s substantial increases in defense spending – plus the effects of a sharp recession in 1981-82 thanks to the Volker Fed raising interest rates and restricting the money supply to clamp down on the runaway inflation of the 70s.

Nevertheless, the argument that lower tax rates can stimulate economic growth and result in a net increase in revenue to the government is not unheard of on the Democrat side of the aisle. President John F. Kennedy raised precisely this argument in a 1962 speech.

But at the time, the top marginal income tax rate was 91 percent – the same as it was during World War Two. According to Kennedy’s close associate, Robert Schlesinger, who knew Kennedy well, the late president was advocating a reduction in the marginal income tax rate for those in the highest bracket to 65 percent.

It is now 35 percent, as is the maximum tax rate on short-term capital gains.

Schlesinger argues that Kennedy was not advocating a blanket argument that tax reductions paid for themselves in economic stimulus, but was discussing a specific circumstance: The desirability of taking the tax code off of the war footing, when the U.S. economy was essentially fully mobilized to defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.

During WWII, the U.S. was spending its full production capacity – and all the credit it could obtain and bonds it could sell – on war. It was not concerned with reinvesting private sector proceeds back into the economy to grow to fund future consumption. This was a fundamental difference between the WWII era and Kennedy’s term, as it is for Obama and, if he wins the election, for Romney.

Will Romney’s supply-side economics bear out? That depends on which side of the Laffer Curve you think we’re on right now: If you set the tax rate at zero, revenues to the government will be zero. If you set the rate at 100 percent, that would also likely drive Treasury revenues to close to nil, since there is no incentive for production. All profitable activity would be driven underground, out of reach of the tax man. The economy would contract, not grow.

It follows then, if you believe in the Laffer Curve, that the sweet spot is somewhere in between: There is a point on the curve that maximizes federal revenue.

If Romney is right as a supply sider, the increase in the defense budget is probably sustainable – if he has the political courage and political capital to get cuts in other areas of the government.

If he is wrong, or if he cannot get his other cuts in spending passed – just as Reagan failed to get his proposed spending cuts through Congress when his budget was declared “dead on arrival” on Capitol Hill – then Romney’s proposed defense spending will be a budget buster.

The Presidential Candidates on Veterans Issues

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

Obama Romney on veteransBarack Obama and Mitt Romney went head to head this month on opposing pages in VFW Magazine – the official print magazine of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

The editors of VFW posed the same set of questions to both candidates. Most of the responses from both sides were pretty bland, consisting of nice language but few specifics. However, there were a few salient points, where both men distinguished themselves from one another. Here is a ‘hot wash’ of the candidates’ positions on important issues concerning veterans. You can read the piece in its entirety here.

On partial privatization and vouchers

Obama

“There are instances where the targeted use of fee-basis care can be a tool for extending VA’s ability to care for veterans, in remote rural or in hard-to-fill specialties. But our first responsibility should be strengthening VA, and as long as I’m President, I will not allow VA health care to be turned into a voucher system, subject to the whims of the insurance market.”

Romney

“Private care may have a role in that the existing network of private providers in the military’s TRICARE system can be an excellent optional supplement to VA, but it cannot be a replacement for the VA program…

…With veteran suicide rates and mental stress soaring, we must consider offering veterans optional access to private providers already available through the TRICARE system to supplement the VA system of care.”

On Increases and Cuts in the Defense Budget

Obama

“We need a military that is more agile, with cutting-edge technology and capabilities and we need to focus more on emerging regions like Asia. And my proposed budget grows defense spending every year after 2013 – albeit at a slower rate as we wind down the wars. My balanced plan to get our fiscal house in order over the long run includes less in defense reductions than recommended by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles Commission.”

Romney

“I would increase the naval shipbuilding rate from 9 to 15 per year, improve force structure throughout the services and increase the number of active-duty troops by 100,000… there are savings to be found in the Pentagon’s civilian workforce that can be put toward our fighting men and women and the equipment they need.”

On protecting Retirement Benefits

Obama

“I am committed to providing sustainable retiree benefits to our military personnel, and I strongly support protecting the retirement benefits of those who currently serve by grandfathering their benefits.”

Romney

“I will not propose TRICARE fee increases or cuts to military benefits especially while the size of the federal budget is exploding. Time and again, we have seen that efforts to balance the budget on the backs of the military end up costing more, not just in treasure, but in blood.”

 

What do you think? Are they blowing smoke? Sound off in the comment section!

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