Archive for December, 2012

Unique Gifts for the Military Man Who Has Everything

Posted by Kelli McKinney

There are just a few shopping days left before Christmas, and if you’re still scratching your head wondering what to get your guy this year, we have just the list for you.


Star Wars Severed Arm Wampa Ice Scraper


If you ride a Tauntaun to work, a frosty windshield is the least of your concerns. But for the rest of us, there’s the Wampa arm ice scraper. If you have to scrape your windshield, at least now you can feel like a Wampa while you’re doing it.






Fire Pit


The appeal of fire is primal. Having your own fire pit is even more appealing. Fire good. Make warm. Cook food.

$89 @ Walmart




Tac Bac: Tactical Canned Bacon


If you have canned bacon, you win at everything. Period. Inside this glorious can resides eighteen servings of smoky delicious power. Eat it now, or stash it away for a future camping trip or potential apocalypse. Your call.







Belkin WeMo


With one simple device, you can control any appliance that plugs into an outlet from  your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch. I believe the phrase you’re looking for is  “mwah ha ha.”

$99 for the switch and motion bundle,


Beardo Bendable Mo


The CO prefers clean-shaven soldiers, but facial hair does come in handy when it’s cold outside. Enter the beardo. This soft, knit cap and face-warmer comes with a  bonus seven-inch bendable mustache that the wearer can fashion into any shape he chooses.






These are just a few off-the-beaten-path ideas to make your servicemember smile this holiday season.

Wishing you all the best for a happy 2013!

Pentagon Warns South Carolina Troops of Data Breach

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

identity theftThe Department of Defense has issued a formal notification to all soldiers currently or formerly stationed in South Carolina of a possible large-scale data breach. The breach could cause personally-identifiable information to fall into unauthorized hands, including, potentially, the hands of identity theft rings.

The South Carolina Department of Revenue has reported that hundreds of thousands of credit card numbers and the Social Security Numbers of nearly 4 million people were stolen in a series of hacker intrusions in August and September of this year.

Of those accounts, some 16,000 of them were not protected by encryption, South Carolina officials said. The breach potentially affects anyone who filed income taxes in South Carolina at any time from 1998 on.

South Carolina’s governor, Nikki Haley, has announced that the state will provide up to one year of credit monitoring service, for free, to anyone who might have been affected by the breach and who applies for it.

DOD personnel and their family members who are current or former South Carolina taxpayers, especially those who are living abroad, are urged to visit or contact Experian’s national consumer assistance center at 1-866-578-5422 by January 31, 2013, to enroll in identity theft protection.

The announcement comes at almost the same time that Nationwide Insurance reported some 1.1 million customer records have been stolen by computer hackers in recent months, as well. Nationwide reported that the records included the names, Social Security Numbers, dates of birth, drivers’ license numbers and credit card numbers of people who sought auto insurance quotes online. The network that was compromised also affects users of Alliance Insurance, company officials said.

Nationwide is also offering a year of free credit monitoring and identity theft protection insurance to those who apply.

Brides Across America

Posted by S.E. Davidson Parker

military brideIt’s a common story throughout the services; a couple discovers a deployment in their near future and push their wedding date up, often times having a very small ceremony with a judge or the base chaplain. Meaningful, but not quite the romantic ideal that many couples envision. Then life generally gets in the way, especially in terms of finances, and a formal wedding is forgotten.

Brides Across America wants to help. It provides wedding dresses for military brides with a two basic considerations; deployment and time. Eligible brides must be:

  • Planning a wedding within the next 18 months or have gotten married in the past five years without a formal ceremony,


  • One of you was deployed to qualifying area within the next 18 months (for future weddings) or past five years (if already married).

Qualifying deployment areas are Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Japan, Korea, Qatar, Bahrain, and Libya.

Bridal gowns are new, samples, or gently used, in the most recent of styles and by well known designers. Depending on donations, veils, tiaras, jewelry, and other accessories may also be available. What is not available is alterations; brides must pay for these on their own. Each bride may choose one wedding gown.

Bridal salons across the country are hosting these shows throughout the year; however, not every state is represented (a full list of stores is located on the right side of the home page). Pre-registration is required; there are a limited number of gowns available at each show. If your salon is fully booked, you are put on a notification list for the next give away.

Bring with you your military identification or driver’s license and deployment papers that list time and location of deployment. Entrance to the show is $20 per bride, which is fully tax deductable. This fee goes toward fundraising for another military assistance group, Patriot Rovers, matching formerly abandoned dogs that are now trained for ADA assistance to veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder or a traumatic brain injury, free of charge.

There are a few general rules of thumb when attending a bridal event, especially a non-profit bridal event.

  • Don’t bring everybody. One, possibly two people, but not the entire entourage. It’s going to be a bit crowded.
  • Get there when it first starts. It’s a first come, first serve environment. You’ll have a larger selection.
  • Wear comfortable, easy-on, easy-off clothes. Sweats are good, as are leggings.
  • Have patience. These stores are doing this for free. Granted, many hope to make side sales, but they are donating their employees, time, and square footage for a good cause. They may be a bit slower than they usually are because of the sheer number of brides.
  • If you don’t find something you like, don’t feel guilty. Walking away empty handed is better than having a dress you loathe. Another bride will love it.

Brides Across America is a 2012 Joining Forces Community Challenge Finalist, White House initiative to help support programs that support the military and their families. Financial donations to Brides Across America, as well as donations of lightly used bridal gowns and accessories, may be made here.

TRICARE Prime Users Take Another Hit

Posted by S.E. Davidson Parker

TRICARE Prime gets cutIn another cost-cutting effort, those who are on TRICARE Prime will see another big change on April 1st, 2013, starting in parts of the Western Region. Retirees and their dependents who live more than 40 miles from a military medical treatment facility will be forced off TRICARE Prime and moved to TRICARE Standard. It’s estimated that approximately 30,000 veterans and their families will be affected in Iowa; Minnesota; Oregon; Reno, Nevada; and Springfield, MO. (Patients within 100 miles of a primary care provider may stay on it providing they sign an access waiver and there is network capability.)

Three problems are at the heart of the manner: an increase of out-of-pocket cost for our veterans; the distance that many veterans will have to drive in predominately rural areas to access medical services; and the lack and timing of public announcements made to inform beneficiaries of the changes.

TRICARE Prime is based on a health maintenance organization (HMO) model. Beneficiaries pay an enrollment fee but have a set (low) cost out-of-pocket per medical service (doctor visit, prescription, x-rays, etc.). TRICARE Standard is an indemnity, or straight fee-for-services, program. While there is no enrollment fee, beneficiaries pay a percentage of their doctor’s charges. (TRICARE Prime Remote is not available to retirees.) The concern comes from retirees living on a fixed income who will end paying a higher percentage (and higher dollar amount) of their overall income for their medical needs on Standard than they would on Prime.

Retiree living in largely rural states with few active-duty military bases will take the brunt of the change. Those beneficiaries who cannot find doctors who take Standard or pay the higher fees associated with this change or may find themselves driving longer distances to find health care. This could mean several hours in many instances; not appealing in a wellness check scenario, and definitely not when one is ill.

Communication from the Pentagon regarding this issue has been rather sparse. Although plans for revamping TRICARE Prime have been in the works since 2007, no formal announcements have been made. Neither will the Pentagon confirm the number of retirees affected, answer letters from Congressional members asking the Department of Defense to detail the new plans as well as projected outcomes, or respond to inquiries from the press regarding this matter.

The five areas of the Western region will not be alone for long. TRICARE’s Northern and Southern Regions (and is guessed, the rest of the Western region) will switch its Prime members to Standard as of October 1st, 2013. This brings the grand total to 171,000 beneficiaries affected in the United States.

Greg Walden (D-OR), Mark Amondei (R-NV), and Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) have sponsored H.R. 6635, also known as the TRICARE Protection Act. This bipartisan bill seeks to allow affected beneficiaries to switch to TRICARE Prime Remote for two years giving them access to the same benefits and additional time to prepare for the switch to Standard, to have the military spearhead the efforts to help find retirees new doctors, and to study and report the economic and service affects on the beneficiaries. It went to the House Armed Service Committee December 5th, 2012. Unfortunately, it is not expected to pass. In this time of “going off the fiscal cliff,” finding additional savings to offset the bill for a program that seemingly has already been “fixed” does not hold much sway in Washington.

Disabled Servicemembers Recognized by DoD for Outstanding Performance

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

prosthetic legThe Department of Defense has formally singled out 17 wounded or disabled servicemembers or DoD employees for outstanding achievement. The 32nd Annual Department of Defense Disability Awards Ceremony was hosted December 4th by Frederick E. Vollrath, performing the duties of assistant secretary of defense for readiness and force management, in the Pentagon Auditorium.

Among those recognized:

SSG Alexander Shaw, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). SSGT lost his left leg below the knee to an improvised explosive device in Ramadi, Iraq in 2006. A devoted runner, he despaired of being able to run again. But he worked closely with Bulow BioTech Prosthetics, which helped him develop a suitable prosthetic leg at no charge to the soldier. Eventually, Shaw was also able to run again, using a prosthetic foot developed by Össur. With the help of these two prosthetic devices, Shaw was able to remain on active duty. He is currently still assigned to a non-deployable section of the 101st Airborne at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where he plans to do a full 20-year career in the Army.

SSG Donald G. Sistrunk, Warrior Transition Brigade, Fort Hood, Texas. SSG Sistrunk was selected for the award for his tremendous and selfless dedication to helping every veteran he meets, wounded or otherwise, on duty or off. Sistrunk is the post commander of his local VFW chapter, near Ft. Hood, Texas.

Sgt. Julian P. Torres, USMC. Sgt. Torres was wounded in Afghanistan early in his deployment, on July 15, 2010, when he lost both of his legs. His wife and journey through the Navy medical system is detailed here.

Capt. Ryan Maguire, USAF. Ryan’s leg had to be amputated after a boating accident over Labor Day weekend in 2009. Capt. Maguire completed a 26-mile walk just three months after strapping on his prosthetic for the first time. Despite the injury, Capt. Maguire was able to complete his training as a U.S. Air Force pilot, and graduated from his undergraduate pilot school last year. He is the first amputee to earn USAF pilot wings.

Those were the uniformed service members honored at the ceremony. The Department of Defense also honored a number of civilian employees who themselves had overcome the obstacle of a physical disability to excel at their jobs. Their names and agencies are:

  • David L. Miller, Department of the Army
  • Bruce Baraw, Department of the Navy
  • LaVonne Rosenthal, National Guard Bureau
  • Grayson J. Colegrove, Army and Air Force Exchange Service
  • Billy W. Bowens, Defense Commissary Agency
  • Thomas G. Pisoni, Defense Contract Audit Agency
  • Samson Isaacs, Defense Contract Management Agency
  • Edward L. Bright, Defense Finance and Accounting Service
  • Sarah E. Gunn, Defense Intelligence Agency
  • John A. Clark Jr., Defense Logistics Agency
  • Carl Doeler, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency
  • Julia G. Orth, National Security Agency 

The Fifth Dentist Hands Out Slushees

Posted by Kelli McKinney

dental examThe first time I took our son to the dentist, he was three years old. We’d showed him how to use a toothbrush as soon as that first little chicklet of a tooth appeared, and we’d talked up his first dentist trip. You’d have thought the boy was going to meet Santa himself, the way we hyped it up.

We have been very fortunate to have good dental care – there are about 17 million kids in our country who don’t, which means that more than 50 million school hours are missed because of dental problems and accompanying infections. We wanted our son to grow up being familiar with his dentist and medical care providers, to be confident enough to ask questions of them, and – most importantly – to learn good self-care habits.

Dentists are, in my opinion, some pretty brave people. These are people who put their (gloved) hands into what is essentially a giant pool of bacteria and utensils (teeth). Not my cup of tea. They aren’t our nation’s first line of defense, or anything like that, but I do still have an enormous amount of respect for them.

Back to the bacteria, or as we call it, “cavity bugs” or my other favorite “tooth dirt.”  The big bad bacteria of the mouth – the one that causes cavities – is streptococcus mutans. That’s right, it’s in the same family of bugaboos that causes strep throat. When this strep is introduced to sugar, it produces an acid that is mostly neutralized by saliva. But if a person, say, drinks a couple of sugary juice boxes or eats a handful of candy corn, the saliva is overwhelmed by acid. Ultimately, exposure to that acid damages your teeth’s protective enamel and causes cavities. If you have cavities, you get fillings, which means drills, which nobody wants, and that brings us back to my son’s first visit to the dentist at age three.

So at his monumental first dental visit, my preschooler got to look around the dentists’ office, look at the big chair and the lights and the tray of shiny instruments. He giggled when the hygienist counted his teeth and talked to him about “tooth dirt” and showed him how to brush and floss waaaay back in the back of his little mouth. He was happy. I felt like an awesome, proactive mom.

When it was time to go, I was riding a happy wave of attentive motherhood, until the dentist said, “Okay buddy, you’ve done such a great job today that you get to pick two treats.”  Two treats?  This is amazing. Little guy is going to look forward to coming to the dentist, and we’re going to avoid hours of nasty arguments and complaining and tears. Huzzah.

“First, you have to tell me what flavor you like, raspberry or green apple?”  He walked us over to a countertop where there was a giant slushy machine, churning up great troughs of blue and green frothy syrup. My son’s eyes widened and he looked at me for permission. I laughed and said “Setting yourself up for repeat business, eh?  Quite a deal.”   Then a rather obnoxiously  large serving of frozen blue goodness was passed down to my son’s eager hands, who received the treasure as though it were, well, actual treasure.

The dentist was a good sport and he laughed, then he reached behind a counter and pulled out a giant white plastic tub with a smiling tooth outlined on the front. He plunked the plasticware down on the countertop with a huge thunk. The tub was filled with packets of Trident gum in all flavors imaginable.

* Insert record scratch sound effect here.*

“Um, gum?  Am I in the right place?  Isn’t this a dentist’s office?”  I asked. I felt like looking around for the camera crew, because surely this was some kind of reality tv show or prank on unsuspecting overcautious mothers.

Thankfully, the dentist was a good-humored man and laughed with me. He explained that yes, he is actually handing out gum. He said that, especially for younger children, gum that contains xylitol is beneficial. It has been proven to prevent cavities in children by inhibiting the growth of bacteria – strep bacteria, in particular, are unable to metabolize xylitol.

In fact, the United States Army’s Public Health Command recommends that soldiers and their families chew xylitol-sweetened chewing gum.

So, it would appear that much in the world of tooth health has changed since I was a kid. I’m working hard to embrace the change, and as a result, I am now fully immersed in a bubble-blowing contest with my son. I can’t help but wonder, though, why – if sugar-free gum is good for us – gum is still banned in schools across the country. Even a few minutes chew-time after lunch would probably help kids who don’t get regular dental care. As long as the kids and teachers follow the “he who sticks it, picks it” rule, the desk and carpet scraping could be minimal.

Were you aware of the Army’s gum-chewing recommendation? Are there other health-related tips you’ve received in the military that you’d like to share? Comment below!

Free IT Training Opportunity Puts Vets in Jobs Market Sweet Spot

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

veterans to workSAP, a major German software development company with over 55,000 employees, has committed to offering free IT training to qualified American veterans, the company announced last week. The new program, called Veterans to Work, will provide scholarships for veterans to pursue training and certification programs on SAP software, including analytics, data management and mobility solutions, the company said.

The first group of veterans started class this week in Texas. Within 12 months, SAP aims to train and certify 1,000 veterans in California, Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia. Eventually the program will expand nationally through its online accessibility.

The goal, ultimately, is to have up to 20,000 transitioning veterans trained up to manage SAP’s business software solutions.

Veterans selected for the program can choose from a variety of offered courses and certification programs:

  • Analytics
    • SAP Business Intelligence Platform
    • SAP Crystal Reports
    • SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence
  • Database & Technology
    • SAP Sybase Adaptive Server Enterprise
    • SAP HANA, In-Memory Computing
    • SAP Sybase PowerBuilder
    • SAP Sybase PowerDesigner
  • Mobility
    • Sybase Unwired Platform – Developers

A Growth Field

Even as the overall economy is mired in growth that is tepid at best, the software development, data management and IT fields continue to grow – and will need a steady inflow of fresh talent for the next several years. The SAP opportunity dovetails nicely with the economy of the 20-teens.

According to the IT and HR consulting firm Gartner, Inc., the data architecture industry is going to need to find an additional 4.4 million workers, worldwide, to service the exploding demand for data management – all in the next three years.

There simply aren’t enough qualified workers to meet the project demand, notes Gartner. In fact, Gartner anticipates that two thirds of those jobs will never be filled. SAP’s move is potentially a shrewd way of ensuring itself market share in the data services and business software and analytics field going forward; after all, they will not be able to sell much software to companies if the companies can’t find qualified IT staff to run them. The Veterans to Work program gets SAP ahead of that hiring curve.

One of SAP’s disciplines is mobile technology – a field that continues to grow in leaps and bounds. Gartner projects 1.6 billion new smart mobile devices will be sold in 2016. Two out of three workers will own a smartphone, and 40 percent of workers will be mobile.

This program puts the selected veterans in one of the ‘sweet spots’ of the 21st century economy. And SAP will benefit from the veteran talent pool.

For more information, and to apply for the program, visit

Courts to MAJ Hasan: Ok, Keep Your Beard

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

Hasan beard rulingThe U.S. Appeals Court for the Armed Services has thrown the original judge in the trial of MAJ Nidal Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 soldiers, off the case.

The original judge, COL Gregory Gross, had ordered guards to forcibly shave Hasan’s beard for court appearances. Hasan is still technically an officer in the U.S. Army, and is legally entitled to the presumption of innocence until he is found guilty. Under Army uniform regulations, Hasan is required to shave. But Hasan counters that shaving is a violation of his conscience as a Muslim, and has asserted a first amendment right to keep his beard.

The appeals court removed Gross from the case, saying that his decision to order Hasan’s guards to forcibly shave him created an appearance of impartiality.

Gross’s ruling had been upheld by an Army appeals court, but their reasoning was overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals, which ruled that the enforcement of uniform standards was the responsibility of the command, not the judge. The court also vacated six contempt of court rulings, which occurred when Hasan showed up to hearings unshaven.

The trial has been delayed for three months while Army officials and lawyers wrangled over the beard issue.

VFW Continues to Accept Donations for Military and Veteran Hurricane Sandy Victims

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

hurricane sandy damageThe Veterans of Foreign Wars continues to seek donations to assist members of the military and veterans who were affected by the ravages of Hurricane Sandy at the beginning of this month.

Any surpluses collected will be held in reserve against the next natural disaster severely affecting the veteran or military population.

You can donate online here, or donate by mail to the following address:

Quartermaster General

c/o VFW

406 W 34th St.

Kansas City, MO 64111


You can obtain further information or donate via telephone by dialing (800) 963-3180.

Shooting the Wounded: Army to Involuntarily Separate E-6s in 58 MOSs

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

army drawdownIt’s drawdown time!

Veteran E-6s in 58 different military occupational specialties are slated for involuntary separation from the military, the Army announced this month. The soldiers affected will be named by a board that meets in February 2013.

The cuts will apply to those who were promoted to the rank of staff sergeant on February 4, 2009 or earlier, and who entered active service on February 5, 1992 or later.

The Army has not announced a precise number of how many of these staff sergeants will be cut. However, it is possible – even probable – that a number of them will not make 20 years. Those affected with at least 15 years of service will receive an early retirement offer with a reduced pension.

The According to the Army Times, the Department of the Army estimates that about 251,000 soldiers will be involuntarily let go between 2014 and 2017, as the force structure resets to a (hopefully) peacetime footing.

The Army identified the targeted MOS’s based on those specialties that were projected to be overstrength, or those in which E-6s and below had poor prospects for promotion.

Soldiers selected for involuntary separation may be entitled to compensation by federal law. Servicemembers with at least 18 years but less than 20 may also be entitled to retention on active duty until they qualify for the full 20 year retirement.

Soldiers in overstrength MOSs may be able to reclassify into MOS’s with more opportunities for advancement. One possibility: A new cryptological intelligence MOS, designated 35Q, has just been authorized by the Department of the Army, and is open to E-3s through E-6s. The Army anticipates an initial need for about 500 to 600 of them – and they aren’t going to be letting them go any time soon.