Tagged: military overseas

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.

Surprise Family Reunion on the South Carolina Sidelines

Posted by Kelli McKinney

Faile family surpriseI’ve seen so many wonderful military homecoming video clips that it’s a miracle I have any heartstrings left. You may have seen this one, either online or in person (that stadium seats a lot of people). But it’s worth seeing again, so go get your tissue box and turn up the sound.

When Sgt. 1st Class Scott Faile left for South Korea, he had his sights set on his mission and his heart trained on his goal: Coming home.

Before he left, he told his wife Tammy that he had entered the Faile family into a military family appreciation contest through Columbia Metropolitan Airport and the University of South Carolina.

That statement – the one about entering a contest – it was a complete fabrication. As in, pants on fire. But I am pretty sure his wife and family totally forgave him.

After Scott’s deployment, unbeknownst to Tammy, he continued to work with the University of South Carolina, and he arranged a reunion the likes of which would make any reality TV producer proud. I think Ty Pennington himself couldn’t have scripted this better.

The Faile family “won” the contest, and Tammy, 15-year-old Breanna and 10-year-old Cameron received the VIP treatment at Saturday’s sold out game against Georgia. Then it was time for the award presentation, and the family took to the center of the field. As nearly 86,000 fans watched,  the Faile family received a special, pre-recorded message from Scott via the giant video screen.

Scott’s message was full of love and appreciation for his family, and if the “presentation” had stopped here, it still would have been beautiful on its own. But Scott went and upped the ante.

I would really like to be there to see the Gamecocks beat up on Georgia, he finished, Keep in mind my tour will be over soon.

As the video ended, and the fans cheered, he walked out onto the field.

It was a footrace to see which of the Failes would reach him first, but in the end, they all won. (Note to children – do not attempt to outpace your mother when racing to hug dad after a year-long absence.)

Scott had flown in the night before, slept in a hotel, and was hiding in a coach’s office until the big reveal. The effort he made to create this beautiful moment is a testament to the love and devotion he has for his wife and kids. And, on a side note, he has left every regular man in the dust in terms of surprise reunion planning.

But it’s ok. Because he’s home. And along with his lucky family, we are thankful for his service, and his sacrifice, and his safe return.

There are thousands of other families who are praying for the safe and swift return of their beloved servicemember. We wish them all godspeed, and we give them all our heartfelt thanks.

States Report Huge Drops in Military Ballot Requests

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

military ballotsLooks like the LOGPAC with your voting rights on it didn’t show up today.

The Military Voting Rights Project is reporting a gargantuan drop in the number of military absentee ballots that have been requested compared to the last presidential election cycle.

The problem is especially acute in Virginia – a battleground state – which is reporting a 92 percent drop-off in the number of service members who have at this point requested military ballots, compared with the 2008 elections.

The problem is not just limited to Virginia. The Military Voting Rights Project has found that the decline is nationwide:

Compiling data from Virginia, Florida, North Carolina, Illinois, Ohio, Alaska, Colorado and Nevada, Eversole’s organization found that military families have requested 55,510 absentee ballots so far this year. That’s a sharp decline from the 166,252 sought in those states in 2008.

Of these states, Virginia, North Carolina, and Colorado are battleground states, and Florida and Ohio are projected to be especially hard-fought. Military ballots alone have the potential to swing these states – and with it, the entire election.

The drop-off in military absentee ballot requests comes despite the passage of the Military Overseas Voter Empowerment Act of 2009, which was supposed to streamline the registration and voting process to make it easier for military members to cast votes. That law was passed after reports surfaced that only 20 percent of eligible military voters overseas were able to get their ballots counted during the 2008 election.

Among other requirements, the MOVE Act required elections officials to get absentee ballots in the mail to servicemembers at least 45 days prior to the election.

A number of states failed to comply, though, and the U.S. Department of Justice filed suit against the state governments of New Mexico, New York, Wisconsin and Guam to force state governments into compliance with the law. The Department also pressured Alaska, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Kansas, Mississippi, Nevada, North Dakota and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and reached an agreement with these entities out of court. According to Thomas Perez, a U.S. Justice Department attorney, one out of three troops stationed overseas during the 2010 election who wanted to vote were unable to do so.

New York failed to comply with the MOVE Act, and mailed its 2010 overseas ballots well after the deadline, using first class mail. The State of New York then rejected nearly one military overseas ballot out of every three returned because they arrived after the deadline.

And according to one report by AMVETS and the Military Voting Rights Project, only 4.6 percent of military voters were able to get ballots counted in that election cycle. While 41 percent of eligible voters turned out nationwide for the 2010 mid-term elections, when you factor in military voters who voted in person, the overall military participation rate in 2010 was about 11.6 percent, according to Eric Eversole, the author of the study and the head of the Military Voting Rights Project. [i]

The voting problems in 2010 were exacerbated by a failure of the Department of Justice’s Voting Rights project to update its website with details of the new law for nine months after its passage. The Justice Department also drew criticism from Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), one of the law’s sponsors, who also had reservations about the timeline. From a letter Cornyn wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder and the Justice Department:

States will have less than 17 days after the Democratic National Convention, which is scheduled for the week of Sept. 3, 2012, to prepare, print, and send ballots to our troops before the 45-day deadline for the general election. This short time period gives me significant cause for concern that some jurisdictions may not make the deadline.

A certain decline in the number of overseas ballots is to be expected: In 2008, there were over 100,000 troops deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Those troops are home now, though we have increased our troop commitment to Afghanistan. 

The drop-off comes despite a detailed 2011 IG-inspection report that monitored DoD voter assistance programs in all four uniformed services and found them to be broadly in compliance.

Military voters broke for Bush over Kerry by 16 points in 2004, and for McCain over Obama by 10 points in 2008, according to the New York Times.

If you are a U.S. citizen residing overseas and you need to make arrangements to vote, visit the Federal Voting Assistance Program (www.FVAP.org). Or contact your unit voting rights officer or NCO.

[i] Military Voting in 2010: A Step Forward, But A Long Way to Go, Military Voter Protection Project & AMVETS Clinic at the Chapman University School of Law

Absentee Ballot Deadline Passes – But You May Still Be Able to Vote

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

describe the imageThe critical 45-day deadline for mailing absentee ballots to military voters overseas has arrived. To comply with the provisions of the Military Overseas Voting and Empowerment Act of 2009 (The MOVE Act), county elections officials must be licking stamps and putting absentee ballots in the mail by today, the 22nd of September.

The law imposed four new provisions on elections officials:

  • The usual requirement for a witnessing signature on military absentee ballots was relaxed.
  • The law requires absentee ballots to be mailed not less than 45 days ahead of time.
  • Electronic ballots must be made available for download.
  • Acceptance of federal write-in ballots was expanded.

However, according to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, 22 states are still not in full compliance with all four provisions of the MOVE Act.

It’s Not Necessarily Too Late

Just because the mailing deadline for paper ballots is here does not necessarily mean overseas voters won’t be able to get a ballot. Many states and counties make their ballots available online for download, which saves quite a bit of time in transit.

To find out more information specific to your jurisdiction, register to vote, and obtain a ballot, visit the Website for the Federal Voting Assistance Program. (Civilians click here.)

History of Military Absentee Ballot Disputes

Military absentee ballots were a hotly contested issue in the 2000 presidential election, during which lawyers for the Democratic candidates for President and Vice President, Al Gore and Joe Lieberman, filed suit to block elections officials from counting certain military absentee ballots that were mailed prior to the election, but which were received after the deadline through no fault of the servicemember. The Democrats also fought to disqualify ballots that arrived prior to the deadline, but without a postmark.

It was not uncommon for military mail from overseas to lack a postmark at that time.

As the fight over Florida’s 25 electoral votes heated up in 2000, the Presidential election hung in the balance. With only hundreds of votes separating the two candidates, Democrats were concerned that overseas military ballots still arriving in Florida would tilt the scales in favor of George W. Bush, since military voters historically trend Republican.

A five page memo, authored by Mark Herron, an attorney for the Gore Campaign, surfaced, in which a series of strategies for local county level attorneys to disqualify military votes on various technicalities. The full memo is available here.

The memo was never intended to become public. However, a local Democratic attorney sent a copy to the county courthouse, where it became a public record.

Call Me, Maybe: Military Style

Posted by Debi Teter

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!

Your Military ID is Your Passport to Summer Fun

Posted by Debi Teter

family vacationSummer is winding down and that means many families are gearing up for a final vacation or weekend trip before school routines set in. Below are a few tips to make your vacation budget stretch even farther by using your military ID.

Military lodges, temporary housing or recreation centers:

Rather than spend your budget on $100/night hotel room, check nearby military installations to find out if they have rooms available. Most of the rooms have convenient kitchen and recreation facilities.

Armed Forces Recreation Centers (AFRC) are affordable joint service hotels/resorts in Hawaii, Florida, Germany and Korea. They’re managed by the U.S. Army to provide vacation opportunities to service members and their families. For information, visit www.armymwr.com/portal/travel/recreationcenters.

Each service branch maintains local recreation areas for military personnel. You can find information on your installation website or ITT office.

ITT (Information, Tickets and Tours) office

Before you pay full price for tickets to local zoos, museums, concerts, movies or amusement parks, pay a visit to the ITT office on your installation. They are usually located near the exchange or recreation center. You’ll find discounts on admission tickets to local attractions and events. You’ll also be able to check the calendar for military appreciation days or special days for deep discounts that are only offered to military.

Space-A travel

Space-A stands for “Space Available,” and it’s a very inexpensive way to travel for certain military personnel and family. The catch is that you have to be flexible on your travel dates, which is challenging for many, and you have to be comfortable on military aircraft. For information on Space-A travel, visit the Air Mobility Command’s website or get a copy of Military Living’s Military Space-A Air Travel Guide.

Armed Forces Vacation Club

This group arranges low military-only rates worldwide. They have negotiated these rates at more than 3,500 hotels, resorts and campgrounds; five cruise lines; airfare and rental cars. Visit its website at www.afvclub.com.

Have you ever traveled Space-A? Where’s your favorite AFRC? Tell us about it below.

The Focus Project: Help When a Military Family Member Deploys

Posted by S.E. Davidson Parker

It’s part and parcel with the package; you are a military family. Deployment is part of the job. In these troubled times, deployment (for active duty) and mobilization (for reservists) is almost inevitable. Fortunately, the armed services are providing more and better support for not only their service members but for those left behind; their spouses and children.

The FOCUS Project, Families OverComing Under Stress, is a family wellness program accessible to the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps (it is currently unavailable to the Coast Guard). Available at approximately 20 bases in six states, three bases in Japan, and attached to multiple Wounded Warrior Regiments, this program is designed to incorporate the whole family; service member, spouse, and child(ren) all take an active part in developing effective and positive coping mechanisms in order to enhance family strength and prepare them for the myriad of challenges that comes with deployment.

FOCUS: Family Resiliency Training™ for Military Families speaks to issues unique to military families through education, counseling, workshops, and intervention. They do so by addressing what they call Five Key Skills; emotional regulation, communication, problem-solving, goal setting, and managing deployment reminders. Each family member (service member, spouse, and child) learns not only how to deal with their own concerns and anxieties but how to empathize, listen, and work together to come through whole and healthy on the other side of deployment. Skills building and maintaining family integrity are central to the FOCUS Project mission.

It also discusses what it calls the Deployment Spiral, breaking down deployment into five stages of emotional responses, much like the Kuebler-Ross five stages of grief that many people are familiar with. Like the Kuebler-Ross model, simply by having the knowledge that what you are experiencing is normal can be half the battle. By understanding these stages, which includes reintegration, the FOCUS Project hopes to alleviate many of the stressors that families like yours go through on a regular basis.

Visit the FOCUS Project Contact page to see if this program is available at your duty station. FOCUS headquarters can be reached by email at info@focusproject.org or via phone at 310-794-2482. FOCUS World provides on-line training and assistance for families unable to participate in person.

No more electronic goodies for military serving overseas

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

A recent law, signed by President Barack Obama, directs the Department of Transportation to bring its own regulations concerning lithium batteries in line with those of the International Civil Aviation Organization. The Department of Transportation in turn, directed the U.S. Postal Service to enforce the directive against lithium batteries, which are designated as a Class 9 hazard, and banned from international mail.

What does that mean to servicemembers deployed the world over in service to our nation? Well, the U.S. Postal Service now prohibits shipment of laptop computers or anything else that contains a lithium battery to any APO, FPO or DPO addresses.

The rule went into effect on May 16th. However, according to a release by the U.S. Postal Service, they Service anticipates that by the beginning of next year you will once again be able to mail “specific quantities” of these batteries overseas. At that time, you can also send lithium batteries when they are properly installed in the electronic devise or equipment.

Is this “supporting our troops”? The U.S. Postal Service could not have been more forthcoming with their response. ““In order to be in compliance with [international] requirements, we had to put this prohibition into effect,” spokesperson Susan McGowan told two reporters from Military Times, helpfully. “I cannot answer the why question. Once they say there’s a new regulation, we have to follow it.”

Postal regulators are concerned that lithium batteries may overheat in transit, in the event of a fire, and cause a chain reaction as they combust, potentially spreading a fire. Lithium batteries have been implicated the destruction of one U.S. cargo jet every other year. Naturally, though, they are A-OK, certified Kosher for domestic air mail. It is only international traffic that poses the problem.

Part of the problem is that international mail routinely travels as cargo on passenger jets, and officials are concerned about fires on these passenger-carrying planes.

One is left to assume, however, that come January 1st, the laws of physics will change so that lithium batteries installed in electronics equipment won’t pose a threat.

Meanwhile, we can fly bulk fuel, mortar rounds, C-4, grenades, claymore mines and trip flairs into Afghanistan on military transports. But we can’t fly in Private Snuffy’s laptop.

Want to more about what’s included in the ban and some alternatives you have? Read the full article and then let us know what you think about this ban in the comments.