Archive for November, 2012

Say “Thank You” to a Soldier this Holiday Season

Posted by Kelli McKinney

thanks to militaryNovember and the National Military Family Appreciation month have wound down, but a startup company called Evergram has announced an outreach program that will extend the encouragement and gratitude from now until Christmas Day.

Evergram is a “future messaging” platform, which means families and friends can leave messages for recipients to view on special occasions: birthdays, graduations, anniversaries, family gatherings, or living memorials. Think digital wedding guestbook-meets-youtube with a little bit of Facebook mixed in, and you’ve got the idea behind Evergram. Co-founder Duncan Seay envisioned the service in 2010, when he was diagnosed with cancer, and began to think about what he would want to share with his loved ones. Thankfully, his cancer is now in remission, and his idea was the seed of what is now Evergram.

Evergram ‘s military outreach program will collect messages of encouragement and gratitude to deployed troops overseas through ThankOurTroops.Evergram.com. Step-by-step instructions guide you through creating and sending video, audio or text messages to troops. Messages will be delivered on Christmas Day.

If you wish to send messages to a specific soldier, rather than add to a collective message that will go to multiple troops, join Evergram (the beta is free) and follow the steps.

Department of Everything

Posted by Kelli McKinney

department of everythingA more narrow focus within the Department of Defense might free up nearly $68 billion over 10 years – money which would be better spent in more direct support of the military, says Senator Tom Coburn.

His recently released report, titled “Department of Everything” names what he calls duplicative and wasteful programs that he argues have little to do with our nation’s security. However, he also puts two DoD activities on the chopping block that some service members and retirees may take issue with: commissaries and elementary schools. Sen. Coburn says those two programs alone would eat up more than $24 billion in the next decade.

In his report, Sen. Coburn claims some of the more duplicitous among the DoD’s expenditures are:

  • Alternative Energy – $700 million
  • Non-Military Research and Development – $6 billion
  • Commissaries – $9 billion
  • Overhead, Support and Supply Services – $37 billion
  • Stateside DoD Elementary Schools and STEM programs – $15.2 billion

He also calls out some of the more unusual DoD projects funded by taxpayer dollars:

  • 100-year Starship Project  – $1 million
  • “Did Jesus Die for Klingons Too?” workshop – $100,000
  • Pentagon-branded beef jerky
  • Grill it Safe, a reality cooking show featuring two “Grill Sergeants”
  • Pentagon-operated microbreweries
  • Research on social interactions between robots and babies
  • Development of a smartphone app to alert users when to take a coffee break

So if all $67.8 billion was restored to the DoD’s military spending, what would that pay for? According to Sen. Coburn that funding could cover:

  • 1/3 of the cost of the USAF’s planned fleet of new strategic bombers
  • 1/3 of the cost of replacing the Navy’s fleet of Ohio-class nuclear submarines
  • Modernization or purchase of new rifles and light machine guns for every soldier in the Army.

What do you think of the Senator’s report? Would you cut everything he suggests? Is it fair to call commissaries and elementary schools duplicitous? Do you think the DoD is like a Department of Everything? Let us know in the comments.

ACLU Sues Military to Lift Female Combat Exclusion

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

women in combatThe American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit to force the military to allow women to serve in combat units. The ACLU asserts that the policy that bars women from combat billets is “outdated” and discriminatory, and that women are denied promotion opportunities as a result. About 10 percent of the 205,000 servicemembers deployed to Afghanistan are female.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit on behalf of four individual plaintiffs and the Service Women’s Action Network, or SWAN.

The complaint itself, Hegar, et al. v. Panetta, can be downloaded here.

Earlier this year, the Marine Corps opened up its Infantry Officer Basic School to women. Two women volunteered. One failed the initial endurance test, while the other withdrew for medical reasons not disclosed by the Marine Corps.

Highlights from the ACLU’s complaint:

“The DoD adopted a policy in 1994 that categorically excluded women from most combat positions, primarily in the Army and Marine Corps. This policy, with minor changes, remains in effect today. Under this policy, women are barred from being assigned to units below the brigade level whose primary mission is to engage in direct combat on the ground.”

“The combat exclusion policy is based on outdated stereotypes of women and ignores the realities of the modern military and battlefield conditions.”

“Those already serving in combat are not only barred from formal assignment to combat arms positions for which they have already proven themselves suited, but they are also denied the official recognition they need to advance their careers. They are prohibited from applying to certain schools, such as infantry schools, further limiting their potential for career advancement. Moreover, even though women are already serving in combat, the policy creates a presumption that women are not serving in combat, which further disadvantages women compared to men.”

“The DoD’s policy is one of the last vestiges of federal de jure discrimination against women. Nearly a century after women first earned the right of suffrage, the combat exclusion policy still denies women a core component of full citizenship — serving on equal footing in the military defense of our nation.”

“The DoD’s official and categorical exclusion of women from assignment to ground combat units harms the individual Plaintiffs, and thousands of servicewomen like them, in a variety of ways, including by denying them opportunities, training, and recognition during active service, and benefits after they have retired from service.”

“For example, over 80% of general officers in the Army came from combat arms positions, from which women are excluded.”

“A woman’s combat experience is not recognized as such, because she is only ‘attached’ but not ‘assigned’ to ground combat units, or she commands teams  that serve ‘in support of’ but are not ‘part of’ ground combat units. For some servicewomen, such as Staff Sergeant Jennifer Hunt, their combat service conducting missions with infantry troops had no formal designation at all. For others, such as Captain Alexandra Zoe Bedell and First Lieutenant Colleen Farrell, their combat service leading FETs took place entirely outside of their official career specialties. Because of the combat exclusion policy, the combat service of these and many other women cannot be given official recognition within their career fields and therefore cannot be considered in the same way it would be for men in promotion decisions.”

“As a result of the policy, women have faced challenges in obtaining benefits and treatment for combat-related stress, among other benefits, because those processing veterans’ claims do not believe that women can be ‘in combat’.”

The ACLU is asking the courts to declare the Pentagon’s ban on women in combat billets to be unconstitutional, citing the right to equal protection under the law arising from the due process clause of the 5th amendment. The ACLU further asks that the courts prohibit the Pentagon from enforcing the ban in the future.

The ACLU filed suit in federal court in the Northern District of California.

The Plaintiffs

Major Mary Hegar, a California Air National Guardsman and helicopter pilot and veteran of hundreds of air medevac missions. She received a Purple Heart when her helicopter was shot down over Afghanistan. She is also a recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross with a “V” device, indicating valor in combat.

Captain Zoe Bedell, USMCR. A logistics officer, Captain Bedell deployed twice to Afghanistan, where she served as an officer in charge of Female Engagement Teams (FETs). Captain Bedell states that she left the active duty Marine Corps because of the combat exclusion policy. She now works for Foros, LLC, a merger and acquisition consultancy based in New York City.

1st Lieutenant Colleen Farrell, USMC, is currently on active duty in the Marine Corps, where she served as a Female Engagement Team section leader. In that billet, she oversaw teams of women who served in direct support of infantry battalions.

 

So what do you think of the lawsuit? Do you think it’s a matter of recognizing the work women are already doing or should the policy remain in place? Tell us in the comments.

Photo Credit: Army Times

Stanford Study Says We’re All Getting Dumber

Posted by Kelli McKinney

dumbing downAnyone who’s ever spent any time watching the evening news has probably thought it: The world and everyone in it seems to be growing progressively dumber. And after a hearty Thanksgiving dinner and subsequent TV-watching coma yesterday, you might feel like you’ve lost a few IQ points yourself.

Well, guess what? At least one person agrees with you (about everyone else, of course!). His name is Dr. Gerald Crabtree, and he is a researcher at Stanford University who is studying the effects of mutation on the genes that are thought to determine intelligence.

Dr. Crabtree’s paper was published in Trends in Genetics, and asserts that civilization has weakened natural selection toward intelligence. In other words, as humans became more verbal and less reliant on hunting, they had less need for a genetic trait that predisposed them to avoid being eaten by mountain lions.

In addition, Crabtree posits that the genes involved with brain function and intelligence are, sadly, particularly vulnerable to mutation. His calculations demonstrate that most people have at least two genetic mutations that make them less emotionally stable and less intelligent.

Now, researchers figure that there are somewhere between 2,000 and 5,000 genes that play a role in human brain function, so there’s no cause for huge alarm. But still – it appears that our default state of intelligence will decline over time.

Crabtree concludes that – in spite of the genetic dumbing down of humankind – there’s no reason to resign ourselves to becoming a species full of cavemen. He predicts that emerging and future technology will help us fine-tune our genetic pool. Which would be reassuring if it didn’t sound a tad bit icky. We’ve all seen what happens to cloned sheep and genetically modified chicken.

Plus, it stands to reason that Dr. Crabtree’s own genetic makeup could fall prey to the mutations and stupefication of the human species. So what does that say about the report? All these things remain to be seen.

At any rate, one sure-fire way for mankind to avoid a reversion to single syllables is an education. Service members have an advantage over most other people in that military education benefits can take a lot if not all of the financial pressure off of pursuing higher education. If there’s anyone I’d trust to reverse the dumbing-down trend in the human species, it would be our brothers and sisters in uniform.

SHOCK: First Women Fail to Complete Marine Infantry Officer School

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

Women training in USMCThe U.S. Marine Corps prides itself on its tough, physically fit light infantry.

And so I take it as a good sign that the first two women who volunteered to attend the Marine Infantry Officers’ Course, failed to complete the program. One wasn’t able to complete the endurance test at the beginning of the course. The other couldn’t do it because of “medical reasons.” The Marine Corps isn’t saying what her medical condition is, only that she’s “receiving treatment.“

I wish the two women lieutenants well. But if the injuries are career-threatening, then whoever allowed this ill-advised opening of the Marine Infantry School to women should be held accountable for poor judgment.

The physiological differences between men and women are undeniable – and no amount of wishful thinking and politically correct unicorn dust can bridge the gap.

  • Women have only a fraction of the upper body strength that men do.
  • Women can only fireman–carry a fraction of the weight that a man can be expected to.
  • Women have a smaller heart and lung capacity than men.
  • Women therefore have a much lower VO^2 max than men.

Some of these differences become small or vanish when you adjust for size. But you cannot adjust for size.

Now, you can select your way around the differences above, to an extent, perhaps, by screening for athletic performance. If a woman can demonstrate she can fireman-carry the average Marine infantryman across 100m in the required time (no adjusting for her size, because Lord knows combat won’t), and she can demonstrate she can hump a rucksack with the boys, and she’s in the top 1 percent for physical fitness and achievement for women, rather than the top 30 percent for men, then fine. More power to her.

But there are other factors as well, that are even more important:

You cannot identify in advance which women will succumb to stress fractures.

This is no joke: In an era in which the military is trying to cut costs, stress fractures cost the military up to $100 million per year in medical costs and lost duty time, according to reporting by the American Forces Press Service.

The perverseness is this: Undoubtedly, the Marine Corps sent two of its very best, most physically fit female lieutenants to attempt the course. If the Marine Corps continues to integrate its infantry school by gender, it would only be the very best women attending. And therefore, it will be our very best women getting injured by the relentless pounding and stress of a demanding light infantry course.

That is not fair to these officers, it’s not fair to marine infantry, and it’s not fair to the good marines they can be leading in other branches.

 

Photo: NBC News

Women Veterans Services

Posted by S.E. Davidson Parker

female veteransFrom the WACs, WAVEs, SPARs, WASPs, BAMs of World War II to the modern citizen soldier serving next to service men in combat situations, women play an important part in America’s modern military. Consisting of approximately 15-percent of 2012’s active duty armed forces and 20-percent of reserve forces, these women come out of military service with distinctive and unique needs that may not be met with current Veterans Affairs (VA) services, particularly in the medical arena.

Historically, the military service has been part-and-parcel a male endeavor, and the services available to veterans have reflected this. However, with women entering the armed services in increasing percentages, there are currently about two million women veterans, the fastest growing group tract by the VA.

Issues regarding VA medical care and female veterans include inequalities in services between male and female patients; lack of consistency in services to those who have experienced a sexual assault;  lack of provider knowledge in gender-specific medical and psychological care; and  lack of awareness of services  and service advocacy for female veterans, just to name a few. Additionally, female veterans access other VA benefits such as employment training and education in far fewer numbers than male veterans.

The VA has been and continues to actively try to remedy this situation. In 2012, the Women’s Health Care Services Office became the “go to” point for female veterans, bringing together primary care, specialty care, and mental health under one umbrella for better collaboration, communication, and service delivery. (This reorganization builds on the blocks set in place by the 1988 Women’s Veterans Health Care Program.)

The 2012 Women Veterans Task Force Report outlined several areas the VA has improved on, including but not limited to:

  • More women accessing services;
  • A higher percentage of patients, compared to their civilian counterparts, that receiving regular breast and cervical cancer screenings;
  • The development of the Military Sexual Trauma Support Team; and
  • The creation of Women Veteran’s Coordinators to provide outreach and advocacy.

However, they report there are still multiple issues needing to be resolved.

  • Continuing gender-based gaps in service and care;
  • Significant lack of female veterans applying headstone or marker burial benefits;
  • Homeless outreach, programs, and resources are almost all male-oriented;
  • The need to develop access to child-care services; and
  • There is still a disparity between the percentages of male veterans that access overall services versus female veterans.

 

 

If you are a female veteran, first and foremost you must become your own best advocate. After enrolling for your veterans’ benefits, find your region’s Women’s Veterans Coordinator (WVC) to answer any questions and to help guide you through the medical system. (Find your region here; from that link you can discover where medical services are provided and from there which center and/or clinic have a WVC.) Don’t forget that the VA goes beyond medical care and administering G.I. Bill benefits; check here to discover more about life insurance, home loans, vocational rehabilitation, and other programs available to eligible veterans.

Improvements in the VA benefits system for female veterans, medical and otherwise, will improve the VA system for all veterans. The need for childcare access and resources, while stereotypically considered to be a woman’s issue, is needed by both parents, male and female. Improved public relations and communications, while targeting women, will also make more men to be aware of and use their benefits. A healthier, better trained, and better educated veteran demographic will help improve the economy.

Most of all, they’ve earned it. Men and women alike.

Military Postal Service Agency Announces Christmas Mailing Deadlines

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

Christmas shippingHave a loved one stationed overseas? If you want to send a Christmas package, be sure to meet the Military Postal Service Agency time hacks. That’s the deadline to send your mail to have a reasonable assurance that your soldier, sailor, marine, airman, coastie, or supporting DoD civilian or contractor has something to open by Christmas.

The Parcel Post deadline is already passed. If you want to send something by parcel post, the deadline was 13 November – though you still may get lucky, especially if your loved one works at one of the major logistical nodes. It takes longer to get mail to more remote stations.

Additional deadlines are as follows:

  • 26 November – The deadline to send mail via SAM. Per the MPSA, “SAM parcels are paid at Parcel Post postage rate of postage with maximum weight and size limits of 15 pounds and 60 inches in length and girth combined. SAM parcels are first transported domestically by surface and then to overseas destinations by air on a space-available basis.”
  • 30 November – The date to send mail via PAL to APO, FPO or DPO codes starting with 093. Per the MPSA, “PAL is a service that provides air transportation for parcels on a space-available basis. It is available for Parcel Post items not exceeding 30 pounds in weight or 60 inches in length and girth combined. The applicable PAL fee must be paid in addition to the regular surface rate of postage for each addressed piece sent by PAL service.”
  • 03 December – The date to send mail via PAL to all other APO, FPO or DPO codes.
  • 03 December – The deadline to send packages via First Class or Priority Mail to postal codes starting with 093.
  • 10 December – The deadline to send First Class or Priority Mail to all other APO, FPO or DPO codes.
  • 17 December – The deadline to send packages by Express Mail Military Service to overseas postal codes.

Note that no Express delivery service is generally available to APO, FPO or DPO codes starting with 093. Express service is only available to select postal codes. Check with your military post office to see if you can send Express mail to your desired destination.

For more information, visit the Military Postal Service Agency’s Web site.

November is Military Family Month

Posted by Kelli McKinney

military familyIn an address last week, President Obama declared the month of November “Military Family Month,” a month in which every American should pay tribute to military families for their sacrifices and contributions they make to support our soldiers and our nation.

An excerpt from the President’s statement reads:

“In our military families, we see the best our country has to offer. They demonstrate the virtues that have made America great for more than two centuries and the values that will preserve our greatness for centuries to come.

With loved ones serving far from home, military spouses take on the work of two. Their children show courage and resilience as they move from base to base, school to school, home to home. And even through the strain of deployment, military families strengthen the fabric of each community they touch and enrich our national life as shining examples of patriotism.”

The President’s proclamation kicks off the Department of Defense and our country’s month-long celebration of the military family.  Throughout this month, military families are honored in a number of ways in ceremonies across the country. Recognition and respects are being paid by community leaders, businesses, military installations and posts at family fun nights, special dinners, local sporting events and other community activities this month.

Contact your base family activities unit or chamber of commerce to find out if there are any special activities near you, and be sure to show your support for military families this month.

Veterans COLA Adjustment Clears Senate

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

describe the imageThe Senate passed a 1.7 percent cost of living increase for veterans benefits this week. The bill, HR 4114, has now passed both houses of Congress and heads to the President’s desk for his signature.

Assuming the President signs the bill into law, the benefit would go to about 3.9 million armed services veterans currently collecting benefits. The benefits affected include disability compensation and dependency and indemnity compensation for surviving spouses and children.

The law’s passage could mean as much as $500 per year to some benefit recipients, according to the bill’s sponsor.

The bill actually passed the House of Representatives last summer, but was blocked in the Senate by a “secret hold” put in place by an anonymous Republican. The hold was cleared, however, and the Senate passed the bill in time for the Veterans Administration to update its pay mechanisms to account for the change, according to VA officials.

Postal Authorities Lift Ban on Overseas Mailing Electronic Devices, Lithium Batteries

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

ElectronicsGood news for overseas troops and the people who love them: The U.S. Postal Service has announced that they are lifting the prohibition on mailing lithium batteries and electronic devices that contain them to overseas addresses. This means you can send laptops, cell phones and other similar devices to your deployed or otherwise stationed overseas loved one.

The U.S. Postal Service originally prohibited shipping these items last May, citing international aviation regulations. Some aviation regulators were concerned that lithium batteries may catch fire or combust in transit, putting aircraft and crews at risk. Originally, the USPS anticipated getting clearance to resume transportation of lithium batteries. Regulators were able to come to an agreement earlier than anticipated, however, and the Post Office will once again begin transporting lithium batteries to overseas locations as of 15 November.

This also means that military members stationed overseas can once again freely buy electronic items via mail order, without having to pay extra for FedEx or UPS service, and without running afoul of postal regulations.

The lifting of the ban is also welcome news, because it comes in time for families and loved ones to meet Christmas mailing deadlines.

Mailing Deadlines

To ensure your deployed loved one receives his or her Christmas package on time, be sure to adhere to the mailing deadlines:

  • 26 November – The deadline to send mail via SAM. Per the MPSA, “SAM parcels are paid at Parcel Post postage rate of postage with maximum weight and size limits of 15 pounds and 60 inches in length and girth combined. SAM parcels are first transported domestically by surface and then to overseas destinations by air on a space-available basis.”
  • 30 November – The date to send mail via PAL to APO, FPO or DPO codes starting with 093. Per the MPSA, “PAL is a service that provides air transportation for parcels on a space-available basis. It is available for Parcel Post items not exceeding 30 pounds in weight or 60 inches in length and girth combined. The applicable PAL fee must be paid in addition to the regular surface rate of postage for each addressed piece sent by PAL service.”
  • 03 December – The date to send mail via PAL to all other APO, FPO or DPO codes.
  • 03 December – The deadline to send packages via First Class or Priority Mail to postal codes starting with 093.
  • 10 December – The deadline to send First Class or Priority Mail to all other APO, FPO or DPO codes.
  • 17 December – The deadline to send packages by Express Mail Military Service to overseas postal codes.

Note: The deadline for mailing by Parcel Post has already passed. It was 13 November.

Note also that no Express Mail Military Service is generally available to APO, FPO or DPO codes starting with 093. Express service is only available to select postal codes. Check with your military post office to see if you can send Express mail to your desired destination.

For more information, visit the Military Postal Service Agency’s Web site.

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