Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Wow, I have let this site sit dormant a long time. So a quick update is in order - I retired from the U.S. Army as a Civilian employee after 32 years. Retirement is great - I highly recommend it. I am still waiting for age 60 to begin drawing my Reserve Retirement and more important - sign up for Tricare Medical which is a much better deal than my current Health Insurance arrangement. My Daughter (E-7 US Army Reserve) has deployed for her fourth tour. This time she left a 2 year old child behind - making this her hardest deployment as one might expect Someone asked me about this site which spurred me to jot a quick note. Happy Thanksgiving - Remember those veterans in your family when you give thanks this season.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Checking in after a long hiatis. Just found a new site I like - This aint hell. This site provides interesting stories about stolen Valor and the dirt birds that try to pull it off. You can find their site at http://thisainthell.us/blog/ I have the occasion to run into some "wannabe Vets" at different places in my travels and they universally discust me. Weather its the claims of glorious service or the Special Ops, Seals, Ranger types...lol. Thank goodness there are some folks that expose these phonies to the light of day.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Call me re-energized - I got news from Afghanistan - from my Daughter who is serving there. As you can see in the picture, she decided that even though she is a Reservist with 5 years service and two deployments (one to Iraq and this one)that she would re-enlist. Of Course I am very proud of her decision. I pray for her safe return in several week. She faces a period of change for the Army Reserve. Will the benefits be better for her? (at least one is, she can retire at 58 due to her deployments) Will the retirement system be a real benefit to her. Will this country honor the committments made to her as she has done in return? I wish her a great career...

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Reserve Drill pay changes

After a considerable period of time I have been nudged to think about posting again to retired Reservist. My issue was that after a couple years departed from the Reserve life, I feel less inclined to weigh in on policies and events. However recently I saw the consideration that is circulating to change the way Reserve soldiers are paid for drill weekends. The DOD panel has proposed:
The QRMC recommended modernizing the reserve compensation system by transitioning the reserve components to a total force pay structure under which a member receives full pay and allowances for each day of duty regardless of the type or purpose of duty. Further, the QRMC recommended transitioning the reserve components to a retirement system that is more closely aligned with the active duty system with guard and reserve members receiving retired pay upon reaching their 30th anniversary of military service, having completed 20 qualifying years
While this will save money for the Army, it ignores several realities for guard and reserve members. The Drills that I participated in were anywhere from 4 hrs to 24 hours in a day (during field training) Training on a drill weekend required considerable prior training, juggling work for MUTA 5s and sacrifice to enable the training to be a valuable event. Many hours were added for unpaid administrative requirements and finally PT was required which was done on my time. Reservists do not get BAS/ housing pay which can add up as a tax free addition to base pay. We did not have health insurance. This effort will radically reduce the pay for a truly demanding job for many reserve soldiers. There is only so much G&C sacrifice that should be asked and salray reduction and retirement point restrictions are counter to attracting the best to the component.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Packing boxes for soldiers

I stumbled across this great list of items to send to soldiers overseas. Having been there myself I have to give a seal of approval to the list that was constructed here…I added a note or two for extra ideas. I can also tell you that it is a big deal for a soldier to get a package from folks back home…reminds them that someone is remembering them and took the time to personally thank them by taking the time to mail. I will tell you it beats any verbal expression of support because it is tangible and genuine. So whether you’re a rookie at putting together care packages or trying to create your first one, this list has some great suggestions for the soldier you care for.
What to include in a care package
- Jelly beans
- Rice Krispie treats
- Altoids/mints
- Beef jerky (can be turkey, etc…)
- Snack mixes (any kind of canned nuts, raisons, etc)
- Sunflower seeds, pistachios
- Chewing gum
- Candy ( non melting – so no chocolate…perhaps licorice, mike and Ike, etc)
- Little Debbie’s or other brand snacks
-Coffee and creamer/sugar…. Small Equal tablets are great too.
- Gatorade (My experience was this was very available in dining facilities so may not be needed)
-Jaw breakers
-Cookies in individual packages
- Pasta and sauce
-Canned food items
- Spices, salt, pepper (small bottles of unique hot sauces are treasured)
-Smoked oysters and sardines
-Squeeze butter (this item surprised me – again usually available via dining facilities)
-Pringles chips
-Individual items – cheap stuff that would appeal to young kids that a typical 20 year old would laugh at here, will be the talk of buddies over there… the more unusual and stupid the better – imagine a group of soldiers playing with little parachutist plastic soldiers if you will.
-Microwave popcorn
-Ramen noodles
-Macaroni & cheese
-Olives, pickles, peppers (careful that plastic containers are used)
-Cereal bars/granola bars
-Hot cocoa mix
-Soup mix
-Koozies to keep water bottles and cans cool

Health/Personal Hygiene
-Body powder
-Foot powder
-Icy/hot patches
-Air activated heat wraps for muscle pain
-Foot massager
-Hand warmers
-Stress relief squeeze balls
-Toothbrushes & toothpaste
-Sewing kit
-Hand & face wipes
-Disposable shower towels

-Disposable camera
-Ink pens
-Word Puzzle books
- Poker game
-Playing cards
- Dice
- Music CD’s
-Poker chips
-Board games
-Paperback books (read them and forward)
- DVD’s
- Newspapers – (weeklies, sports, etc… even a few pages of Wall Street Journal will get read by soldiers)
- Magazines (a great idea is take last month of your subscription magazines and put them in the package after you read them …especially gender oriented to your soldier)
- posters, stuff from gag store, catalogs from gender oriented stores with gift cards (check to see if they will mail to APO, many will)
- Cigars, chewing tobacco, lighters
- Some locations/units have lots of interaction with kids – my group always was looking for pencils, erasers, basic simple school supplies and hard candy to foster a friendship. True story – I gave some kids as a remote site a bunch of beanie babies sent to me (note picture) and they led my group to a cache of hand grenades laying on the ground.

Other Useful Items
-AA batteries
-D batteries
-Shoe laces for gym shoes and boots
-Tan or Brown t-shirts
-Boot socks
-Long-distance phone cards
-Air fresheners
-Canned air
-Inflatable seat cushions
-Microwaveable plates, bowls, paper plates
-Inflatable pillow
-Ziploc bags

Getting a box that is personalized or silly is great… if you have the time, personalize the box for your solider. Cut out clippings from magazines, paint a design or, if you have kids, have them decorate the box with crayons and markers. Not only will this make the receipient smile, it will make their box easier to spot in a sea of brown boxes!

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Guns or butter budgeting for the military

The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment’s Todd Harrison has a new paper out warning that DOD is fast approaching a difficult choice: either fund the people or the weapons they operate, it will soon reach the point where it can’t do both.

Read more:

This article lays out what is the perennial “guns versus butter” debate. The butter includes pay and benefit increases that have what economists call “stickiness”: they are almost impossible to rollback. The increase in pay and benefits that congress allots DOD each year will crowd out investment in research and new weapons.

The issue with the costs that are being felt by the military are exacerbated by the myriad of deployments to non-hostile locations doing the work of other agencies and that which is not born by the United Nations. At the moment we have costly military contingents in Japan, Korea (ok, still not quite settled), Germany, Italy, South America, Haiti, Cuba, and other places. We also still use soldiers to recruit, liaison with congress, at embassies throughout the world, and train at college campuses. The mission workload at these non-critical locations drains manpower and resources from the focal point of our effort. I would suggest that a real serious adjustment of the missions and tasks which are not critical to the effort should be pared down. Congress and the executive branch have become too accustomed to asking the military to do State Department, USAID, UN, contract security, personnel acquisition, humanitarian, disaster relief and other tasks without regard to the costs.

That is not to say that some costly DoD items (healthcare at the top of the list) could not be considered for adjustment. I could see a plan to increase co-pays for senior Officers, Senior Enlisted members reflecting the normal healthcare costs for most Americans. The offset for the increases gradually imposed on service members and with sufficient alternatives. Military healthcare is far better and less costly to military retirees than equivalent civilian healthcare plans. I base this on my own observations as I pay for a civilian healthcare plan because as a grey area reserve Retiree I’m not eligible for military healthcare. Trust me, the Tricare plan costs are very reasonable (absolutely cheap!) and some more costs could be shouldered by those that use it.

Friday, March 26, 2010

5 years ago today

It was 5 years ago that we loaded up our armored vehicles and headed to Baqubah, Iraq. A warm spring day in Iraq and we had the task of going to look at several police stations, District police facilities and a couple potential military facilities. The day was going to be a long one – Easter Weekend in Iraq. We had lived a charmed life so far in the deployment up to that point. On the ground since September 2004 and few exciting incidents other than the daily impersonal bombings, mortar and rocket attacks in the IZ.

That all changed it seems the day I earned the Combat Action Badge. Easter Sunday, 27 March 2005 – 5 years ago. It was that day after an curiously inauspicious day in Baqubah that on our return – someone detonated a large IED aimed at taking us out… suddenly it got to be personal and direct.

Never before that day did we feel like anything other than invincible and immune from attack… after all we had led a charmed life…laughing as we drove past IEDs, charging through the streets of Baghdad, Ramadi, Mahmudiah and other towns with the chip on invincibility on our shoulders. We could not be concerned with the danger as we were completing our often overwhelming job of emplacing Iraqi Military Facilities. Afterall, we started our tour using Nissan Patrol SUVs with the windows down, cruising Route Irish when it was really dangerous…now we were armored. We were American Soldiers with all the answers and swagger we could muster…. until that day someone took it personal.

That day was the first of several ever more direct actions for our members in MNSTC-I. We had 5 months left in country and it suddenly became serious in a manner that I marvel at even to this day.

Ours was not a unique story…many had a far more dangerous task, many had it far safer… we all served honorably from our unit that went to Iraq. What I’m sure of, based upon the experience, is that we also were all changed by the trip and events…. 5 years ago.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Gay service in the Military

I was a soldier for 24 years in a variety of assignments. Over the course of my career I came in contact with lots of different military personnel, and I never identified any one by their sexual preference while in the line of duty.

We discuss the concept of allowing gay soldiers to serve “openly”. The word "openly" bothers some people. To my knowledge we've never allowed a heterosexual soldier to practice his/her sexuality "openly." Nor should we allow a gay soldier to practice his/her sexuality “openly”.

When soldiers are off duty, they are allowed to pursue their own lives and interest within reason. And I am a fervent believer that what they do behind closed doors is their business. I don’t see the need to consider such activities as if we will suddenly be faced with some “open” sexuality issue within the ranks. As I have said in previous posts, I really don’t care what religion, hobbies, activities, music, party affiliation, color of underwear, etc… a soldier has or enjoys… it’s a matter of professional competence that determines who shares my foxhole.

It’s time to stop letting the media and special interest groups making soldier service by gays an issue. I’d say welcome all physically and mentally qualified people into the armed forces. I don’t need to know nor do I require you to proclaim your sexual preference. Don’t ask, don’t tell – replace it with doesn’t matter.

Practice your soldier skills, do them well, and we’ll get along just fine.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Alcohol in the Warzone

In the Marine Times this week is an article by Rick Maze – he describes comments by Senator Jim Webb regarding the alcohol policy in the warzone. The policy – known as General Order Number 1 is a policy of no alcohol, pornography, etc… that has been in force for deployed soldiers everywhere since at least 1991. As noted in the article found here

Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., a Vietnam veteran and former war correspondent who now chairs the Senate panel that oversees military personnel policy, seemed to endorse the idea of letting troops in war zones drink alcohol as a way to relieve combat stress.

We know that our soldier are highly stressed. Jim has taken a shot at the military’s sacred cow of moral righteousness – embodied in the general order. As he said

One thing worth investigating, Webb said, is whether a ban on alcohol consumption in the war zones — which he said is primarily a nod to host-nation sensitivities — should be lifted.

Well I agree with Jim to consider lifting the ban, but I believe the ban on alcohol is more an outright effort of the Defense Departments senior leadership to restrict any basic freedom not meeting a highly refined puritanical ideal embodied by a few high ranking members.

Soldiers are men and women - a few drinks in off hours, away from host nation members would go a long way towards reducing the burden they carry

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Guard and Reserve Retirement Conference

The National guard is hosting a conference for its retirement Services Offeicers (The Army Reserve does not have such a person - yet- To jumpstart the flow of information between the National Guard Bureau and the states on retirement services, the Soldier Family Support and Services branch will convene March 1-5 in Savannah, Ga.

Geared toward the full-time program managers and state retirement services officers. The focus of this conference is to distribute information via stats to guard soldiers, notify soldiers of changes in policy, as well as things to think about for the future.

This conference also deals with the Army-wide certifications required of all retirement services personnel.

As noted by the conference organizers there are individuals that work pieces [within the retirement process], but there is not a retirement branch for Reserve components. Considering the gap in retirement or separation from the guard and reserve and the eventual reciept of retirement pay may be 20 years or more that would seem counter intuitive to efficient processing.

The conference isn't only for Soldiers in the Army Guard. The Army Reserve will also participate.

The Army Reserve does not have the structure that the guard has at state level, in fact, the Army Reserve does not even have RSOs in the structure. This conference offers an opportunity to try to get that developed.

You can get an excellent primer on Guard and Reserve retirement from The Army G-1 who has published an Army National Guard information guide regarding non-regular retirement. http://www.arng.army.mil/soldierresources/Documents/ARNG%20Information%20Guide%20for%20non-regular%20retirement%2015%20Apr%202009.pdf

Monday, February 22, 2010

How is your pay, soldier?

From the Stars and Stripes – this news item on the cancellation of the Defense Military integrated personnel transaction system - a system to update soldier records and pay:

After spending $1 billion and 12 years of effort, Defense officials have pulled the plug on a hapless plan to bring the four military branches under a single payroll and personnel records system.

"This program has been a disaster," Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, told the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month. He said he applauded the decision to kill what proponents said would be the largest, fully-integrated human resource system in the world.

Well – interesting in its implications to deploying Reserve and National Guard soldiers. Many of us suffer problems when we deploy – as noted :

More than time and money had been lost, however. Military personnel, particularly Guard and Reserve members, increasingly have been frustrated by pay and personnel record errors. The Commission on the National Guard and Reserves urged two years ago that a single, integrated pay and personnel system was needed "as soon as possible" to rectify inadequacies in fragile legacy systems.

More than 90 percent of Army Reserve and Guard soldiers activated to serve in Afghanistan and Iraq through 2003 reported significant pay errors. Aggressive actions were taken to lower that rate but without the benefit of what was needed — a modern payroll system that no longer treated active and reserve component members differently.

Can you believe that – up to 90 percent pay errors for guard and reserve soldiers… such a dedicated workforce that bears this for years while waiting for a solution…now we are starting all over. Having been at the pay problem window myself, I can tell you it makes it hard on guard and reserve soldiers, but they are not in the service for the money. Lets hope a simple and effective solution can be found soon. You can find the entire stars and stripes article here.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Duke Deluca - formerly of MNSTC-I J7

Saw the General Officer appointments this last week and its with pleasure that I noted the Col Peter "Duke" Deluca (USACE) was promoted to General Officer. Duke was the chief of the MNSTC-I J7 shop in Iraq in 2004-2005. He was a highly respected officer and motivator for his organization and he was amoung those active component members that recieved the 98th Division USAR soldiers and made them excell in their duties.

I have respect for Duke and know he will do well in his assignment at the Corp of Engineers. (I had a two month assignment with them for Hurricane Katrina and can vouch for the organization) Duke - congratulations to you - well deserved.

You can see his bio here

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

LTG Helmly on the 98th Division Deployment

Found an Article about the 98th Division’s deployment to Iraq. (This is the unit I deployed with in Sep 2004) This deployment was discussed as a pivotal and sea state change deployment for the Army Reserve by the USAR Commander at the time LTG James R. Helmly.

As a side note -I had the opportunity to work for General Helmly when he was the 78th Division Commander where I was the senior Civilian for the 1st Brigade at the time. He was a no nonsense commander that worked thru all obstacles. I recall staff meetings where he regularly dammed the bureaucracy and insisted on getting tasks done quickly.

Here is some of the Combat Studies Institutes interview with LTG Helmly as it related to our deployment:

When the 98th Division (Institutional Training) deployed to Iraq in 2004-2005, Major General James R. Helmly was the chief of Army Reserve and commanding general of United States Army Reserve Command. In this interview, focusing on the 98th’s deployment and conduct of its Iraqi Army training and advisory mission and related larger issues, Helmly relates how early on he saw a need to reconstitute the Iraqi forces, a chronic shortage of US Special Forces to train them, and thought to himself, “Why can’t we use our table of distribution and allowances organized institutional training divisions and training support divisions?” The biggest problem he encountered in developing this idea was actually resident in his own staff. “That is, they kept coming back with the schoolbook answer. So we had a ‘Come to Jesus’ meeting one day and I slammed the door and said to them, ‘Goddamn it! Let me make it abundantly clear what we’re going to do….You could sort of see the eyes opening on these guys and they finally understood.” After the concept was briefed and accepted, Helmly states that another group of problems arose from “this bastardized system of request for forces (RFF). Instead of being given
a mission or a task with commander’s intent and then allowing the units to generate the capability,” he explained, “we went to a bastardized thing off the back of some sloppy envelope for an RFF that was frankly just very cumbersome. It really tied our hands in terms of the flexibility of putting together a task organized unit of the 98th.” As the deployment of the 98th to Iraq proceeded, its employment varied considerably from his original concept. According to Helmly, “My original initiative was to use them in a training base capacity inside a foreign army…. What occurred, though, was that many of the 98th became embedded trainers inside Iraqi units.” Even so, he added, “the 98th soldiers did all very well and I admire and respect them greatly for that.” Helmly also notes that Iraq has focused the US Army on details, that the needs of “the long war” have been neglected, that the current method of foreign military sales and assistance is broken, and that an organization dedicated to training foreign militaries needs to exist. What’s more, personal agendas and institutional inertia contribute to these challenges.

With regard to the 98th Division deployment – LTG Helmly was asked what happened after the unit was deployed:

General Helmly: I visualized the FA-TRAC deploying and establishing a deployed version of an institutional training base. I saw us establishing a Fort Benning, Georgia or a Fort Knox, Kentucky inside Iraq and training civilians to become soldiers. What occurred, though, was that many of the 98th became embedded trainers inside Iraqi units. When I was a young private, when my unit was completing basic combat training it was announced that one of the drill sergeants I had was going to deploy as a platoon sergeant to Vietnam. A couple years later, I learned he had been killed – and he had been a very fine noncommissioned officer (NCO). The point of this is: everyone knows that the ultimate objective of any soldier is to engage in ground combat, but I thought the 98th would essentially do a training base kind of thing. But what actually happened was that many of these outstanding soldiers found themselves embedded inside Iraqi units. As a result, there were several who were killed or wounded in action who were operating more or less as advisors rather than trainers in a training base capacity. Had I known that, I wouldn’t have argued against using the 98th, but I would have understood things better from the beginning. My original initiative was to use them in a training base capacity inside a foreign army. After all, one of the things we’ve learned in this war is that clerks, cooks and truck drivers all have to be prepared to fight as infantrymen. I have to say, though, that the 98th soldiers did it all very well and I admire and respect them greatly for that.

The entire interview is fascinating reading – anyone with an interest in the workings at the Department of Army Level in 2004 and the revolutionary deployment of a training unit to the warzone to train and support the Iraqi Army under LTG Petraeus will want to scan the document found here. http://cgsc.cdmhost.com/cdm4/item_viewer.php?CISOROOT=/p4013coll13&CISOPTR=333&CISOBOX=1&REC=7

And – thanks LTG Helmly – for the compliment to our unit at the end… and for the confidence in our 98th Division soldiers –

Interviewer: The first part was your assessment of the 98th’s experience and performance over there.

LTG Helmly: I think due to the ability, willingness and courage of the individual soldier and small groups of soldiers, it was a success. That is the cornerstone of success. It proved we could take an organization that was not designed to deploy, put it into a significantly different set of conditions, and the small units and lower-ranking leaders would cause it to succeed. I think they added great capability and I was extremely impressed with them. It’s a tremendous group of soldiers. I saw many of them off before they left and they were positive. There wasn’t any talk of why they had to go do this mission. Of course they harbored their own personal fears as individual soldiers, but they were very proud. By the way, people tend to put stereotypes on things. A lot of people said we were just weekend warriors and things like that. Well, a lot of that first group of the 98th that deployed were drill sergeants and officers who had a lot of active duty time and commanded MTOE formations. They were really a high-speed group of capable and professional leaders. They were excited about the ability to buy into training and building up the Iraqi Army. Nobody was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor but there were a lot of heroes out there who didn’t get accorded that honor but who were nonetheless heroes in their own right. They suffered some pretty serious casualties. It was some really significant and outstanding history.

Friday, January 22, 2010

MNSTC-I cases its colors

My unit in Iraq has ceased operations – this information from Army describes the inactivation which occurred on New Year’s Day;

Lt. Gen. Michael D. Barbero, commander of Multi-National Security and Transition Command-Iraq commander rendered final honors and cased MNSTC-I’s colors, signifying the commands’ official inactivation.

“Though we are activating a new headquarters today,” said Odierno, USF-I commanding general, “the support we give our Iraqi partners will be no different than they received under MNF-I.”

MNF-I was established May 15, 2004, taking over command for Combined Joint Task Force 7 to handle all strategic-level operations for coalition forces contributing to OIF.

“Troops from 30 different countries served in the Multi-National Force-Iraq,” Air Force Maj. Dennis Kruse, master of ceremonies, said at the ceremony. The major subordinate commands included MNC-I, MNSTC-I, the Joint Contracting Command-Iraq, and TF 38, he added.

Along with MNF-I, MNC-I was also activated May 15, 2004, as the operational-level headquarters overseeing multi-national divisions and forces in Iraq, which included Multi-National Divisions North, South, and Baghdad, Multi- National Force-West, 13th Expeditionary Support Command and Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force, as well as 13 separate task forces, brigades and battalion-sized organizations.

To organize, train and equip Iraq’s military and police forces, MNSTC-I was established on June 28, 2004. Working closely with the Iraqi Ministries of Defense and Interior, MNSTC-I assisted in forming more than 250 Army and police battalions throughout the country.

“We’ve made tremendous strides together since the dark days of 2006, 2007,” Petraeus said. “The number of attacks per day, including Iraqi data, has been reduced from well over 200 per day in 2007, to fewer than 15 per day in recent months.”

I guess that means the mission of those organizations is done. From the time we in the 98th Divisioin (USAR) arrived as the first staff and soldiers in MNSTC-I in September 2004 through inactivation in 2010 MNSTC-I accomplished a lot. A great share of the organization was staffed by Reserve soldiers throughout its history. I hope that the success of a bunch of individuals from the Army Reserve deploying to a wartime command and completing mission is not lost to time.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Gray Area Army Retired

I am approaching 25 years service as an Army Civilian employee and my career as an Army Reserve soldier is occasionally referenced at the military facility where I work. With regard to that service, just 11 more years until I will be able to draw a retirement check for my 24 years of active and reserve service. There has been little movement in efforts to reduce the retirement age for those of us that answered the call to active service before 2008… with impending budget constraints; I doubt the momentum to consider such a reduction is very strong.

Someone asked me the other day what a gray area retiree was (I used the term to describe myself) so an explanation -

Members of the Retired Reserve under age 60 (not entitled to reserve retired pay until reaching age 60) are often referred to as Gray Area Retirees. These Gray Area Retirees are entitled to unlimited use of Military exchanges and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) facilities and commissaries.

Gray Area Retirees must have a valid military Reserve Identification Card. Eligible family members must have a Reserve Family Member ID Card. These cards are available at all military facilities that issue identification cards.

At age 60 and upon receiving retired pay, individuals must complete an application to receive the Retired (blue) ID Card. At that time we and our family members can become eligible for medical and dental care at military facilities (as provided by the installation); TRICARE programs; unlimited use of commissaries and exchanges; and unlimited space "A" travel.

Between the time of Reserve retirement and age 60 we essentially must fend for ourselves in medical insurance, etc…typically handled through our civilian employers. This includes any treatment for un-documented or uncharacterized service connected treatments. I.e. treatment for illness or injury which at time of treatment cannot be directly tied to service. So, for example if you were a Reserve soldier poisoned by KBR water treatment in Iraq and incur illness later on…hopefully your civilian health insurance and your wallet can cover the bill…

Is it time to reconsider this in light of National Health Care discussions?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Don’t give up hope of resolving MIA cases

It all began on February 20, 1967 when a plane went down. Now more than 40 years later a piece of bone is discovered during an excavation in Vietnam. On January 8th 2010 Nellis Air Force pilot remains are found and identified. "This is the four inch bone fragment that was found," pilot's daughter, Christine Stonebraker says.

While it would take more than two years for DNA results to be confirmed, Christine Stonebraker now knows what happened to her father, Nellis based Air Force pilot and Thunderbird announcer, Russell Goodman.

"Don't give up hope, don't give up hope, there's always a chance you'll see your loved one's remains as well," Christine says.

Goodman was on a bombing mission in North Vietnam when his plane, an F-4 Phantom was hit with a surface to air missile. Goodman was presumed dead but no one knew for sure.

At our American Legion as well as most others we have a special table for POW/MIAs. It is represented by a place setting which is never used. From the Legion guide for the symbolism represented by the table:

The Tablecloth is white, symbolic of the purity of their intentions to respond to their Country’s call to arms.

The table is being set for One, symbolizing the frailty of one prisoner, alone against his or her oppressors.

The Yellow Ribbon on the Vase represents the yellow ribbons worn on the lapels of thousands who demand, with unyielding determination, a proper account of our comrades who are not among us.

The Single Rose in the vase signifies the blood they may have shed in sacrifice to ensure the freedom of our beloved United States of America. This rose reminds us of the family and friends of our missing comrades who keep faith, while awaiting their return.

A Slice of Lemon on the bread plate is to remind us of their bitter fate, those captured and missing in a foreign land.

The Salt being sprinkled on the plate is to remind us of the countless tears of those who have never come home and of the tears of their families and friends, whose grief knows no end.

The Bible serves to remind us of the comfort of faith offered to those who face seemingly insurmountable challenges, and it also reminds us of our country being founded on the principle of One Nation Under God.

The Glass is inverted; they cannot toast with us this day/night.

The Candle is reminiscent of the light of hope, which lives in our hearts to illuminate their way home, away from their captors, to the open arms of a grateful nation.

The American Flag reminds us that many may never return and have paid the supreme sacrifice to insure our freedom.

The Chair is empty, our Comrades are missing.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Zackery Bowen - Iraq vet -murder suicide

Saw there is a book out – seen here on Amazon – about an Iraqi Vet that served and returned home to New Orleans in time for Hurricane Katrina. Intrigued that his path somewhat matched my own as I returned home from Iraq and was deployed to Hurricane Katrina cleanup, I thought I’d take a look.

The story review from Publishers weekly

On October 17, 2006, 28-year-old Iraq war veteran Zackery Bowen leapt to his death from a New Orleans hotel roof, leaving a suicide note directing police to the dismembered body of his girlfriend, Addie Hall. In journalist Brown's (Snitch) account of Bowen's life, the deterioration of the vet suffering from PTSD parallels that of Katrina-whipped New Orleans, its residents left as stranded as unsupported veterans like Bowen. A high school dropout, New Orleans bartender and a father at age 18, Bowen was determined to improve himself and do well by his child and Lana, his wife, and enlisted in the army, serving as an MP in Kosovo and Iraq. Granted what Brown says was an unfair general (under honorable conditions) discharge, Bowen returned to New Orleans in late 2004, where, abandoned by Lana, he began a turbulent relationship with Hall, culminating in Bowen methodically dismembering and cooking her remains. After covering the murder-suicide for Penthouse in 2007, Brown moved to New Orleans, and his detailed reconstruction of both Bowen's life and the city's deterioration make heartbreaking reading. Perhaps most poignant is the message painted on Bowen's apartment wall: please help me stop the pain.

While I know first hand that the services for returning veterans are pathetic, I’m not convinced that the symptoms of PTSD lead you to become an individual as demented and or tortured as Zackery Bowen. The review of the book leads me to believe that the story may be worth a read…if not a little uncomfortable perhaps.

What bugs me a little bit is the constant blame given to PTSD for Veterans…are we becoming suspect more than other groups. They depicted Vietnam Vets in a socially unacceptable manner for years in the media and the stigma is pervasive in depictions of those that served. Are Iraq and Afghanistan Vets heading for the same treatment?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Food for thought today

Stumbled accross this sentiment... and I found it compelling

Author Unknown

Sometimes people come into your life
and you know right away that they were meant to be there,
they serve some sort of purpose,
teach you a lesson
or help figure out who you are
and who you want to become.

You never know who these people may be:
your neighbor, child, long lost friend, lover, or even a complete
who, when you lock eyes with them,
you know at that very moment that they will affect your life
in some profound way.

And sometimes things happen to you
and at the time they seem painful and unfair,
but in reflection you realize
that without overcoming those obstacles
you would have never realized
your potential strength, will power, or heart.

Everything happens for a reason.
Nothing happens by chance
or by means of good or bad luck.
Illness, injury, love, lost moments of true greatness and sheer
all occur to test the limits of your soul.

Without these small tests,
whether they be events, illnesses or relationships,
life would be like a smoothly paved straight flat road to nowhere,
safe and comfortable,
but dull and utterly pointless.

The people you meet who affect your life
and the successes and downfalls you experience
create who you are,
and even the bad experiences can be learned from,
In fact, they are probably the poignant and important ones.

If someone hurts you, betrays you or breaks your heart,
forgive them,
for they have helped you learn about trust
and the importance of being cautious to
whom you open your heart...

If someone loves you,
love them back unconditionally,
not only because they love you,
but because they are teaching you to love
and opening your heart and eyes to things
you would have never seen or felt without them.

Make every day count.
Appreciate every moment
and take from it everything that you possibly can,
for you may never be able to experience it again...

Talk to people you have never talked to before,
and actually listen,
let yourself fall in love,
break free and set your sights high...

Hold your head up because you have every right too.
Tell yourself you are a great individual and believe in yourself...
for if you don't believe in yourself,
no one else will believe in you either.

Create your own life
and then go out and live in it!
"Live Each Day As If It Were Your Last...
Tomorrow is Not Promised"

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Interesting Photos of Army Reserve

Ran across this interesting picture show from Time Magazine that covers the 100 Years of the Army Reserve. The 16 pictures provided are a very brief look into the history of the Reserves.

From my own perspective is the stuff inbetween the pictures… the years of less than adequate funding and few training resources that were somehow overcome in our nation’s moment of need to provide the Ready force we have today. There are lots of unsung Reserve soldiers that toiled for years in unappreciated efforts to get the Army Reserve to where it is today.

Here is the site – take a look – its worth the time

Also found at Time’s site is an interesting piece on how one town copes with PTSD… It’s a bit of a anti-war, crazed soldiers fluffery, but it does communicate the potential issues soldiers face and the trials their families endure. Also worth reading here

And to everyone of my readers (or the one reader)... have a happy Thanksgiving - heres hoping your chow is not a turkey menu MRE and you have pause to be thankful for something out there.

Monday, November 09, 2009

VA charging my insurance

I spent 24 years on Active and Reserve duty in the Army. After my tour in Iraq ended in Dec 2005, I decided to go to the VA to get checked out, after all I never recieved an exit physical from the Army upon my discharge (Honorable). Several attempts later and after restarting the process this past couple months I finally got the physical and blood work. You can read about my first attempt in earlier posts...

Imagine my suprise at recieving a notice from my Health Insurance that the VA charged the insurance (for which I must pay a deductable) for the physical. I was taken a bit by suprise. Yes indeed, the VA goes to my insurance carrier to get reimbursed for the blood work completed as part of my physical. According to the statement I recieved from my insurance carrier I will owe the VA $161 dollars for the tests.

The Veteran's Administration - what a great system.

I'm a little cloudy on what transpired...but, I guess that as a Reserve Soldier and a combat Veteran that I don't get health care or even the courtesy of a health screening after serving. I'm just a little bit discouraged at the system.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Lt Watada - Officer that refused to go to Iraq

The Army is allowing the resignation of the first commissioned officer to be court-martialed for refusing to go to Iraq. The Associated press reports that officer, First Lt. Ehren Watada, will be granted a discharge on Oct. 2, “under other-than-honorable conditions,”

The Army attempted to court Marshal this officer for other charges related to his missing his unit’s deployment and with conduct unbecoming an officer for denouncing President George W. Bush and the war — statements he made while explaining his actions. The trial on conduct unbecoming ended in a mistrial.

Well, I'm glad this former Officer is now going to be discharged. I think the Army bungled the charges in an ill fated attempt to muzzle the officer when he was speaking his mind (as disagreeable as it was). Lt Watada will likely go on to write a book about his experience with the army that he truly was not suited to serve. I'm glad that the Army decided to just separate him and end his employment. Think of the bully pulpit that could have been reduced had the Army simply took action on the missing movement with a subsequent discharge.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

I have been Delinquent

I haven’t written a post in a while dear readers, it has been actually pretty slow in the news department with regard to the Army Reserve community. I have often thought of branching out subject matter for this blog site… but that would not necessarily encourage more readers and would be a little dangerous if I discussed anything about my current position with the Army as a civilian employee.

That second piece is a token recognition of the fact that Army Civilian employees also lose the right of free speech to a degree as we must observe all the same PAO approval, message filtering, content approval if we want to express ourselves in the media in any way…. I’ve written about the Orwellian oversight of bloggers within the military before…little has really changed.

At any rate…I just turned 49 the other day… just 11 more years until I will be able to draw a retirement check for my 24 years of active and reserve service. There has been little movement in efforts to reduce the retirement age for those of us that answered the call to active service before 2008… with impending budget constraints; I doubt the momentum to consider such a reduction is very strong.

I received a counterpoint comment to my experience at the VA the other day. I do believe the VA is a great thing and apparently does serve many pretty well. I have been having issues with them and I can’t argue that I have a different perspective than many…but… I won’t just lie down and let certain personnel in that system run over people when they are in a position of public service… Thanks to songdoglady for widening my perspective.

On to other topics – if you have an interesting topic related to retired or Active Army Reserve status…send me a comment and I’ll try to take it on.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Still messing with the VA

I continue my saga with the VA...I decided to involve my congressman Charlie Dent... I sent him this note in my attempt to get a physical completed...

Mr. Dent,

I am writing to you to ask your assistance.

I am a retired Army Reserve Soldier. I served in Iraq from Sep 2004 to August 2005. I retired from the Army Reserve in July 2006 after 24 years active and Reserve Service.

I recived no physical upon my departure from Iraq nor when I retired from the Army Reserve. Within the first year back I attempted to get a physical at the Veteran's Administration Clinic in Allentown, PA. During the course of my initial physical I was scheduled for a blood draw. During that appointment I was manhandles by a phlebotomist and shoved to the front desk for rescheduling of blood work. Embarrased, I did not return.

In January 2009 having a change of heart I requested assistance from the veteran's administration to start process once again. I inquired what I needed to do to the Veteran's administration's Inquiry Routing & Information System (IRIS). That request was forwarded to Philadelphia office in Feb 2009 without resolve.

It is now 4 years since my return and today I called the listed number for the Allentown Clinic. I was told today that I should wait for a letter from the Allentown Clinic with an appointment - scheduling would be done by them without input from me.

This brings up two issues for me:
1. I have never been able to address or express dis-satisfaction with the employee at the VA that caused the disruption to my health care to start. The VA has never responded to my inquiry via their system with assistance.
2. As a working individual, I must coordinate my schedule for appointments thus a mailed appointment letter is an inefficent vehicle to plan care

All that I'm seeking at this point is the opportunity to speak with someone at the VA to schedule the appropriate physical events.
Thanks in advance for whatever assistance you may provide,

We'll see if he can assist

'The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.' -G. K. Chesterton

Monday, July 06, 2009

50 Years ago - first Vietnam Combat Casualties

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first two American combat casualties of the Vietnam War with a special ceremony and wreath laying at The Wall on Wednesday, July 8, beginning at 10:30 a.m., said Jan C. Scruggs, founder and president of the Memorial Fund.

U.S. Army Master Sgt. Chester Ovnand and Maj. Dale Buis died on July 8, 1959, when their compound was attacked by North Vietnamese communists. Theirs are the first two names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, occupying panel 1E, Row 1, at the apex of The Wall.

Lest we forget

Here is the Link

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Unique Army Summer Hire

It’s that time of year again when the summer hire programs are in progress. Many aspiring students are given the opportunity to experience the workplace at Military Installations or organizations working temporartily as Army civilian employees. The Summer Hire program or more correctly Student Temporary Employment Program (STEP) is a temporary employment program for student employment during the summer months.

Recently this program at my installation had a new first. For the first time a combat Veteran has been accepted into the program. A soldier serving as a Reserve Specialist with a local Army Reserve MP Battalion is currently working as a STEP employee with one organization's Human Capital Management Office.

For this soldier, the transition since high school has been a little different than many of her peers in the STEP Program. She graduated High School in June 2007. Following graduation she went through the Army’s basic training and advanced individual training at Ft. Leonard Wood, MO as a military policeman. Upon completion of her training she returned to home in preparation to attend spring 2008 College courses. Those plans were changed in January 2008 when she was called up to deploy with her unit to serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom. She trained with her Reserve unit at Ft Dix, deployed to Baghdad, Iraq and worked at Camp Cropper which is a high security detainment facility. Kim returned home in Dec 2008 and was finally able to start her College education in January 2009.

“Having experienced military deployment and living the soldier’s life immediately after high school was a real change to me”, the soldier said of her experience. “I’m excited about getting my education underway and participating in the STEP program will help me grow. “

The soldier recently was able to apply some of her unique experience to the Tactics, Weapons Employment Course (TWEC) conducted by her organization. She participated as an assistant instructor in several courses within the POI and contributed to student understanding of what being a soldier is all about. She notes that she has been working a number of other assignments within the Summer hire program that have challenged her capabilities, but have also given her new insight into the work done by Army Civilians.

That soldier is my daughter... I could tell you of the trials getting her into the program... unfortunately the Army does not yet have really effective means of offering internships to soldiers that are in her situation. In fact after her summer hire program is over she will go back to the ranks of un-employed... but it is a start.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

MNSTC-I is 5 years old

To think I was there nearly at the beginning … today I read that MNSTC-I “Minsticky” is 5 years old. I arrived at MNSTC-I in September 2004 just months after the LTG Petraeus took over the reins of the training effort for Iraq’s Military and Police forces. It was a tall order then and remains just as difficult as new requirements are born from the agreements with the Iraqi National Leadership. The article from MNSTC-I.

PHOENIX BASE, BAGHDAD - Coalition forces and NATO training mission military personnel gathered to celebrate the 234th birthday of the U. S. Army, established in June 1775; and the fifth anniversary of Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq, established this month in 2004.

The Command also pinned a streamer to its flag representing award by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, of the Joint Meritorious Unit Award. The JMU was presented to MNSTC-I for "exceptionally meritorious achievement" from May 1, 2007 to April 30, 2008.

MNSTC-I is the direct outgrowth of the need to create a new Iraqi Army. Subordinate to Multi-National Force - Iraq, the Command is responsible for assisting the Government of Iraq in providing for Iraq's internal security and external defense through the development of competent security ministries and professional, self-sufficient security forces that adhere to the rule of law.

I wish to congratulate MNSTC-I on 5 years, but don’t wish them many more…I’d love to hear the news that the mission is complete and the command’s flags are cased. So far the command has raised to the challenge, lets hope they are shortly successful in their task.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Memorial Day Activities

I belong to an American Legion Post that has essentially abandoned its community role in participating in Memorial day activities in the local community…that is until this year. The post had not participated in services or marked the occasion of Memorial Day in at least 20 years that I’m aware of…leaving the void to be filled by other posts and veteran’s organizations in the area.

Fortunately, that changed this year and our post fielded its Legion Riders to the communities Memorial Day services with good effect.

During the Services I was fortunate enough to hear Captain Edward Smith provide a speech on the importance of Memorial Day and he tied it nicely to his personal experience in Iraq where he served with distinction with the Navy. His story tied in the human connection to the services when he visited the story of two soldiers caskets making the final journey.

I reflected that the services and Parade were well provided – not for the soldiers – nor their families – but for the young kids, community members and others so that they see the respect and reverence offered for our service member’s sacrifice. Hopefully our Legion will offer the lesson in subsequent years…I believe it’s valuable for our democracy to take the time to observe the tradition.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Armor Warfighter Conference

Just returned last week from the Armor Warfighter Conference. This conference is hosted each year at Ft. Knox for the Armor community to foster communication and educate on developments within the Heavy Force. It is always very informative and provides an opportunity to get updated on what is happening in my basic branch.

This year was a little quieter in terms of future plans with the FCS being recently de-tuned with regard to vehicle platforms. The future of the Armor force will include a varient of the M1 and M2 platforms well into the future. It was discussed that these platforms began development in the 70s and will likely still be part of the force into 2030 and beyond.

I guess that what we tankers knew when we recieved the M1 in the early 80s has proven itself. The M1 platform was an evolutionary step for the force. I'm sure the development of better systems to improve the M1 will be coming for some time.

Friday, May 01, 2009

FCS versus heavy force equipment

The big news in some Army circles is the decision by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to submit a budget that kills Army plans for the FCS program combat vehicles. Reading the news it looks like the Army has spent about $14 billion in research and development costs for the FCS vehicle fleet and, yes there is little in the way of actual vehicles to show for the effort. What we have seen and should have inherently known was that these vehicles were thinned skinned due to light force proponents setting requirements for FCS in the past.

The Army has been down this path before…a shift of priorities based upon the influence of a few …In the Army, there has been a gradual but decided push prior to OIF for a light force. M1s and Bradley’s where considered too heavy and hard to support for future conflicts…after all, the Army would need to quickly deploy to a hot spot and get out with minimum effort. Planning for vehicles and structures reflected this mindset.

Fast Forward to today… what we Tankers have been expressing in vain for years is now looking more like reality. We still need platforms that are reasonably durable in sustained operations, capable of protecting the crews inside and able to complete the mission. The M1 tank platform developed in the last Heavy Force era of the 70s remains the battlefield equipment in use 40 years later. (The B-52 Bomber comes to mind as a parallel piece of equipment with the Air Force)

I anticipate that the M1 in its several variants (M1IP, M1A1, M1A2 SEP &SA) will enjoy something of a renaissance…perhaps now the current force can get some development funding for long sought needs to further improve the platform we have until we sort out the force we want. I suggest some sort of crew compartment auxiliary power and air conditioning (heating and cooling) package. An electronics Fire Control package that is smaller (nano tech) and provides more capability. GPS, FBCB2 next generation, and improved comms gear should round out the vehicle nicely.

Gates' action reflects a bold initiative to take pause in designing weapons systems. He has shown a strong capability to challenge the failure to incorporate knowledge about improvised explosive devices — which have accounted for at least half of troop deaths in Iraq and are a growing menace in Afghanistan. I wish his efforts success for future programs.

Friday, April 17, 2009

DHS Assessment on Veterans

There is a slight furor from several Veterans and Right Wing groups over the recent Department of Homeland Security assessment which was sent to law enforcement on extremists. The federal Homeland Security Department document entitled “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Environment Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment” contains such targets as veterans, folks anticipating additional restrictions to their Second Amendment rights, and those concerned about the loss of U.S. sovereignty.

This report implies that one harboring passionate opinions on these topics may be a potential terrorism suspect. Some of the comments and gist of what is being said on the right

The agency’s intelligence assessment, sent to law enforcement officials last week, warns that right-wing extremists could use the bad state of the U.S. economy and the election of the country’s first black president to recruit members.

The assessment also said that returning military veterans who have difficulties assimilating back into their home communities could be susceptible to extremist recruiters or might engage in lone acts of violence.

In looking through the report highlights I’d have to say the assessment kind of unfairly characterizes military veterans as right-wing extremists. I am conservative, but not an extremist (at least I don’t think so) BUT it also renders an assessment of other potential threats in its own clumsy manner. To me, the report reflects poorly on the agency. The fact that it is out reflects a security concern. It does not bode well for the effectiveness of this agency run by Janet Napolitano.

Napolitano defended the assessment and others issued by the agency.

“Let me be very clear — we monitor the risks of violent extremism taking root here in the United States,” Napolitano said in a statement. “We don’t have the luxury of focusing our efforts on one group; we must protect the country from terrorism whether foreign or homegrown, and regardless of the ideology that motivates its violence.”

Well, Janet – if by some really freaky chance your reading this blog as part of your agencies monitoring effort…I want the 2nd amendment preserved and I am watching my government. I’m a proud veteran that has not forgotten my vow to defend the country despite the fact that I may be watched as a potential radical by that same government.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Reserve retirement age reduction pending again

Army Times provides information on the renewed attempt by Congress to lower the Reserve Retirement age for Mobilized soldiers this week.

On the table: Early reservist retirement pay

By Rick Maze - Staff writer
Posted : Monday Mar 23, 2009 17:34:54 EDT

Retirement benefits for National Guard and reserve members, especially those mobilized for extended periods since Sept. 11, 2001, will be part of the focus of a Tuesday hearing when members of the Senate Armed Services Committee review reserve personnel issues.
Drawing attention will be House and Senate bills that would expand on a 2008 law by making retroactive a formula that allows a Guard or reserve member to receive a military retirement check 90 days earlier for every 90 days of active-duty service.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., is the chief sponsor of the Senate bill, S 644. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., is the chief sponsor of the House bill, HR 208.

This effort should be supported…it reflects a consideration for the increased reliance and sacrifice of reserve soldiers since the Global War on Terror (now called Overseas Contingency Operation by our current administration) began. The bill in its current form would make it possible for an earlier retirement pay date for Retired Reserve soldiers that have been mobilized since September 11th, 2001.

This is a reasonable accommodation for Reserve component soldiers that have sacrificed along side active component soldiers. The incentive in this is to offer Reserve soldiers something for the time away from civilian jobs, families, and pursuits. It has no immediate equal program for Active duty soldiers it is true, however Active component soldiers receive full retirement and Medical starting the day they retire rather than Grey area benefits given to Reserve Soldiers.

Grey Area Benefits are few…ability to shop at PX/Commissary, use Military facilities for Reserve Soldiers that are often no where near such facilities. No pay, medical benefits are provided.

I urge Reserve Soldiers past and present to drop a note to your Senators and Representative and ask them to support this bill. This effort is still being fought by the Pentagon (composed of Active Duty Soldiers) and we need to overcome that resistance.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Army’s efforts to prevent suicide

Recently in my civilian job I have seen the Army’s Suicide prevention training effort. This effort has been directed by the Secretary of the Army as a first phase of a campaign to reduce the number of suicides within the Army community.

As is my usual custom I offer some observations;

1. The training is good. For a change the training has decent production values and presents well to the audience. Although the training is centered to soldiers, the lessons translate effectively to civilians.

2. The issue of suicide prevention has always been of concern to Army Leadership. The matter of the reasons and causes of suicide are not clear to anyone…many under care of the expert’s still commit suicide reflecting our not complete understanding of the problem.

3. There are resources out there that are not performing screening, mental health service proactively to returning soldiers. In addition, soldiers that separate, retire after combat service are stuck with a dysfunctional and understaffed VA process. Those former soldiers are not counted in the statistics that are the catalyst for this effort by the Army.

Suicide prevention is being taken seriously by the Army. Now if treatment and support services by the VA could catch up.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

My Army Reserve Blogspot

Just discovered My Army Reserve Blog

This site provides Reserve Soldiers some inside information on the Partnering Effort the Army Reserve is doing.

The Army Reserve has signed partnership agreements with more than 200 employers in nearly every state. Opportunities exist with Fortune 500 companies, healthcare centers, law enforcement agencies, transportation companies, state and federal agencies and many more.

The Army Reserve has developed an EPI job bank Web site for Soldiers. career advisers are also available to help Soldiers achieve their career goals. Additionally, EPI field representatives are deployed across the country to connect Soldiers with employers who are eager to hire them.

Sounds good... every effort to employ our soldiers and recognize the partnership that Civilian and Military organizations must have is forward progress.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Army publishes first Reserve Retirement Guide

This article just hit my desk... looks like a pretty good guide to procedures and process for Retired Reserve soldiers. Covers about all major area and has actual links to useful sites related to Veteran's administration, etc... worth a browse...

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, March 4, 2009) -- The Army has created a Retirement Guide just for Army Reserve Soldiers and their families.

The 26-page Army Reserve Non-regular Retirement Information Guide was written specifically to cover the unique circumstances of Reserve retirement.

Publishing this guide will make it much easier for reserve-component Soldiers to understand the chronological steps they need to take before their actual retirement.

The Guide is in the process of being distributed through the Reserve. In the meantime, it's available online on both the Army G-1 Retirement Services homepage at http://www.armyg1.army.mil/retire, under the "What's New" tab and on the special Army Knowledge Online site for Army Retirees at https://www.us.army.mil/suite/page/559734

Who says this site cannot provide some useful information at times...

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Lisa Pagan VS the Army

Sometimes my Army gets it wrong… They are roughly treating a former Active Component soldier that has been ordered back to active Duty 4 years after departing the army. Lisa Pagan has been told that she will be discharged from the Army and the discharge may be something other than Honorable. This woman reported for Army duty with her two young children will be separated - The reason - is that she doesn't have, and cannot have, an adequate family care for her two young children.

She entered active duty in 2002, served three years on Active Duty and received an Honorable discharge upon her release in 2005. This soldier was put in the IRR after her service and in 2007 she was asked to come back on active duty. The Army called her up, she appealed, was denied, and she reported as ordered. She brought her children…. She couldn’t leave them alone at home. The Army has started screening and processing of her, then decided to provide a discharge.

I have to ask a couple questions at this point
1. How did the Army not use some common sense in dealing with this issue which required the former soldier to obtain legal counsel to resolve?
2. Is the potential of any soldier worth the poor PR that this fairly clear cut case will do for IRR program. Recruiting?
3. When does the Army permit a soldiers obligation to end…is IRR really useful with less than 50% returning to the ranks?
4. She is on duty as ordered…is there a stateside assignment in need of her skills with daycare available?

I have to say… sometimes the Army poorly handles its former employees… in this case, not recognizing that former soldiers are entitled to get on with their lives. This individual served… something 98% of this country’s youth does not do.

Time to let common sense prevail… She gets kudos for answering the call, now twice, rather than running to Canada. She reported as ordered in 2002 and again in 2008. She has filed her appeals which are well within her rights and still the Army insisted on her return to duty. It is time for the Army to resolve the issue and cut the Honorable discharge document.

Lisa – thanks for serving in the past and please don’t think the worse of my Army…I suspect it’s a few knotheads that allowed this to progress to this stage…we don’t all think the response is appropriate.

Monday, February 23, 2009

AER - We are watching

The Associated Press has found some interesting news – AER – Army Emergency Relief is a well know charity to most soldiers. They are the biggest charity inside the US Military and apparently they have been taking in more than they disburse.

Associated Press - February 22, 2009 1:15 PM ET An Associated Press investigation shows that between 2003 and 2007, the Army Emergency Relief grew into a $345 million behemoth. During those years, the charity packed away $117 million into its own reserves while spending just $64 million on direct aid.

That's at a time when many military families were struggling with long war deployments and increased numbers of home foreclosures.

The news is a little disturbing…so I went to AER’s site to see what they had to say about this large growth…

AER is the Army's own emergency financial assistance organization and is dedicated to "Helping the Army Take Care of Its Own". AER provides commanders a valuable asset in accomplishing their basic command responsibility for the morale and welfare of soldiers. AER funds are made available to commanders having AER Sections to provide emergency financial assistance to soldiers - active & retired - and their dependents when there is a valid need.

AER funds made available to commanders are not limited and are constrained only by the requirement of valid need. For these reasons, the AER assistance program is conducted within the Army structure by major commanders and their installation/organization commanders through AER sections and other related organizations.

OK – Hmmm wonder what commander retired applicants go through…so I looked at eligibility – seems to definitely favor active duty – Reserve soldiers are not normally eligible for AER unless they are on active duty… Retired Reservists are not eligible until they are age 60……OK so I guess Reserve soldiers are not really soldiers eligible for relief if they just do their normal weekend a month, 2 weeks during the summer.

Again I have to pull out the soapbox… Why would this agency treat 50% of the force with such disparity…perhaps to assist the gathering of 345 million dollars…much of it contributed by soldiers active and reserve?

AER’s mission - To collect and hold funds and to relieve distress of personnel of the Army of the United States and their dependents” - Certificate of Incorporation, 3 March 1942 … Could this count Reserve Soldiers? Should it?

Keep in mind that most of the assistance is Interest Free loans … Money that returns to AER so the AP figures don’t reflect that much of the money allocated in 2008 (70.9M) will be paid back. Loan repayments comprise 73% of income from year to year.

I don’t want to see AER’s mission stop…its needed…but hey - consider the Reserve Component a little more seriously.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Army Reserve Job Site

Stumbled accross an Army Reserve site that espouses the job opportunities with partners and supporting employers. The site is another Blogsite like this one it seems... Unfortunately the site is corporate eyewash and has all the individual personality that a PR person can impart...they need some personallity in these sites..liven it up a little... - perhaps they can get some contributors that have lived the life as Reserve Soldiers that have walked the talk.

They do have a piece on LTG Stultz - I like the touch as stated

This is no longer, the Army Reserve that I came into way back in '79

all good so far but then he candy coats Army Reserve Service with

that said, 'One weekend a month, two weeks in the summer; that's all we ask.' -

what??!? come on now ... count schooling, admin drill assemblies, G&C time, Correspondence courses etc...tell it like it is - Its work, but like any work where you are part of a team its not the time you spend but the satisfaction in the result.

Read it for yourself... try not to nod off - its at Http://myarmyreserve.blogspot.com/2009/02/start-your-job-search-today.html

Friday, February 06, 2009

Veteran Primer

I recieved this from a Veteran Friend in the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association (of which I am a proud member) It speaks of the bond that veterans have and serves as a primer about why we are the way we are...

When a Veteran leaves the 'job' and retires to a better life, many are jealous, some are pleased, and others, who may have already retired, wonder if he knows what he is leaving behind, because we already know.

1. We know, for example, that after a lifetime of camaraderie that few experience, it will remain as a longing for those past times.

2. We know in the Military life there is a fellowship which lasts long after the uniforms are hung up in the back of the closet.

3. We know even if he throws them away, they will be on him with every step and breath that remains in his life. We also know how the very bearing of the man speaks of what he was and in his heart still is.

These are the burdens of the job. You will still look at people suspiciously, still see what others do not see or choose to ignore and always will look at the rest of the Military world with a respect for what they do; only grown in a lifetime of knowing.

Never think for one moment you are escaping from that life. You are only escaping the 'job' and merely being allowed to leave 'active' duty.

So what I wish for you is that whenever you ease into retirement, in your heart you never forget for one moment that you are still a member of the greatest fraternity the world has ever known.

NOW! Civilian Friends vs. Veteran Friends Comparisons

CIVILIAN FRIENDS: Get upset if you're too busy to talk to them for a week.

VETERAN FRIENDS: Are glad to see you after years, and will happily carry on the same conversation you were having the last time you met.

CIVILIAN FRIENDS: Know a few things about you.
VETERAN FRIENDS: Could write a book with direct quotes from you.

CIVILIAN FRIENDS: Will leave you behind if that's what the crowd is doing.
VETERAN FRIENDS: Will kick the crowd's ass that left you behind.

CIVILIAN FRIENDS: Are for a while.
VETERAN FRIENDS: Are for life.

CIVILIAN FRIENDS: Have shared a few experiences...
VETERAN FRIENDS: Have shared a lifetime of experiences no citizen could ever dream of...

CIVILIAN FRIENDS: Will take you r drink away when they think you've had enough.
VETERAN FRIENDS: Will look at you stumbling all over the place and say, 'You better drink the rest of that before you spill it!' Then carry you home safely and put you
to bed...

CIVILIAN FRIENDS: Will ignore this.
VETERAN FRIENDS: Will forward this.

A veteran - whether active duty, retired, or reserve- is someone who, at one point in their life, wrote a blank check made payable to 'The Government of the United States of America' for an amount of 'up to and including my life'. . . and military wives are as much veterans as their spouses.

From one Veteran to another, it's an honor to be in your company. Thank you Veterans.

Monday, January 26, 2009

They do the training differently these days

I just read the Stand-to article about the train up of the 56th Division for their deployment to Iraq. The thing that strikes me as the single most significant difference from the old school method is the significant active component support to the training effort. Gone for the moment are the days in which the Active Component did little to assist the training needs of a reserve component unit. Here we see the complete effort as it should always be to provide resources (Funding, scheduling, trainers, knowledge and training areas) for efficient training.

First Army prepares the 56th SBCT for Combat -What is it?

The 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team (SBCT), Pennsylvania Army National Guard, is the Army’s only reserve-component Stryker Brigade. It was mobilized in September 2008 to conduct full-spectrum operations in Iraq. Currently, Reserve units can only be mobilized up to 12 months, making the 56th maximized at their training time with the assistance of First Army at multiple sites across the country, including Camp Shelby, Miss., and the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) at Fort Polk, La.
How did the Army prepare the 56th?

The complexity and scope of the training required by the 56th was beyond the capability of any single training support brigade. The 56th was assisted by a "team of teams" of active, reserve and civilian organizations assembled by First Army and led by the 157th Infantry Brigade. The 157th is one of First Army's 16 training support brigades (TSBs) that trains and validates Army National Guard and reserve units for deployment. To successfully prepare them for their historic mission, the training team incorporated five brigade-level units, four installations, a division staff and numerous contractors.

A critical element of this effort was the partnership and support provided by the 4th SBCT, 2nd Infantry Division, Fort Lewis, Wash., who provided numerous combat counterparts from battalion commanders and command sergeants major to squad leaders. These Soldiers and leaders recently returned from Iraq and had current combat experience that reinforced the expertise unique to First Army units which was established specifically for the 56th - the 1-307th Training Support Battalion (Stryker). The 1-307th, located in Pennsylvania, has been providing assistance since the 56th was reorganized in 2004.

The 157th received additional augmentation from many other TSBs, particularly the 177th Armored Brigade, Camp Shelby, Miss., and the 72nd Field Artillery Brigade, Fort Dix, N.J., and the First Army Division East staff. Other support came from 15 different agencies for intelligence specific training; the 4th Brigade, 75th Training Division that supported a progressive series of staff training exercises; and numerous contractors with expertise in the cutting-edge technology available to all of the Army's Stryker brigades.
Why is this important to the Army?

Such combined training teams routinely assembled by First Army ensures every reserve-component unit, such as the 56th, has the essential skills and procedures needed to successfully conduct operations on today's complex battlefield.

First Army has evolved to participating in Reserve Component Training as a credible training team member instead of spectator…I applaud the improvement.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Gay members in the Military

Read the piece in Newsweek titled Don’t Ask Too Fast
In that article it discusses the President –elect’s stated goal to allow openly Gay men and women into the Military Ranks. In the article I found interesting the passage

In the next year, Mullen might have to ask troops to do something many will find even more uncomfortable: welcome openly gay men and women into their ranks. Such was the promise made by President-elect Obama in the 2008 campaign—gay-rights groups will hold him to it. To many civilians, the shift might seem natural. American attitudes toward homosexuality have evolved since 1993, the year Congress mandated that gays could serve so long as they hid their sexual orientation. The law, known as Don't Ask, Don't Tell, predates "Will & Grace," and for most Americans, even the Internet. A 2008 Washington Post–ABC News poll put public support for gays serving openly at 75 percent.

But the military has its own culture, more insular and more conservative than the broader population's. In a survey of active-duty service members released last week, 58 percent said they oppose any change in the military's policy toward gays. Up to 23 percent of troops might not re-enlist if the law is repealed, according to a Military Times poll. Mullen will have to act as kind of cultural mediator between his new boss and the old institution he has managed for more than a year. That will mean advising Obama on what changes the military can (and cannot) withstand and then obliging troops to accept them.

In my mind, most military members really don’t care what sexual orientation, gender, religion or background you have any more than we want to know what is the color of your underwear. What is important is your ability to do your job in context of the overall mission. Military people are aware that Gay men and women already serve with distinction…its not going to really change things if a gay man or women does not hide that fact in the future if they can perform as part of the team completing the mission (and they can). Don’t ask, Don’t tell did not prevent Gay members from serving, it became an exit strategy for some (gay or not) and a rallying call for others (most of whom do not serve). The answer to the issue is probably to drop Don’t Ask, Don’t tell and allow members from throughout the community to serve with Honor and without unnecessary scrutiny into sexual orientation.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

2009 - the year of the NCO

Happy New Year to all – 2009 – the Year of the Non Commissioned Officer

The news about what the Army has done for this year

In October 2008, Secretary of the Army Pete Geren announced that 2009 would be designated as "the Year of the Noncommissioned Officer."

In noting his gratitude and support for noncommissioned officers (NCO), Secretary Geren remarked that NCOs have provided invaluable service and continually proven their dedication and willingness to sacrifice. With our nation at war for seven years in Afghanistan and then Iraq, and the security environment more ambiguous than ever, our military is stretched thin and out of balance. We have a plan to restore balance by 2011 and to set the conditions for the future-- the NCO Corps is the key enabler to attain those objectives. The Year of the NCO is a time to enhance the education, fitness, leadership and pride in service of our NCOs through programs that sustain and grow our NCO Corps, to recognize their leadership, commitment and courage, and to inform key audiences about the responsibilities and quality of service of our NCOs.

I certainly don’t have the credentials of the Secretary of the Army, but I echo his sentiment with regard to the capabilities, contribution and commitment of the NCO Corp. I was privileged to serve with many within the NCO ranks over the span of my career. Starting with SSG Ward – my first Platoon Sergeant in 7th Cavalry in 1982. That guy tolerated me as a newly minted butter bar and taught me the best methods, gave guidance and advise that served me throughout my career.

Many other great NCOs worked (tolerated or endured) with me – more than I could ever thank here…a few names that really stand out – SFC Jan Quinlan, CSM Ron Lamb, MSG Joe Federinic, MSG Ed Mutter, MSG Jack Mutter, CSM Maynard, SFC Chris Coffin (killed in Iraq) because of longer associations or their infinite patience when I was essentially learning a new job. All of these and many others were certainly key enablers to achieving the mission in their organizations. Most were never adequately recognized for their sacrifice and commitment leaving the praise to fall on me for their efforts.

I Think its great that 2009 is the year of the NCO and in my smaller way, I thought I would echo the sentiment to some great NCOs that made the difference in my career.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Another Update on Kim

Kim (the B) made it home today safely after her year in Iraq with her unit the 744th MP Battalion. She arrive home in time for the holidays thanks to the efforts of the Team at Ft Bragg and the persistence of the unit leadership.

To Kim and all members of the 744th MP Battalion in Bethlehem, PA - Welcome Home and thanks!!!!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Reading History

I found this account of the 98th Division Action in support of MNSTC-I in 2004-2005. Its interesting to see how Historians have begun to record our actions in that period as well as see the perspective of what we knew was a significant challenge...I think we can take a sense of pride in the effort.

In the late summer and fall of 2004, the first group of advisors drawn from a US Army unit (as opposed to advisors drawn from individual volunteers or selectees) began to arrive in Iraq. Most of them were from the 98th Division (Institutional Training) or DIVIT, nicknamed the “Iroquois Warriors.”154 These Army Reserve Soldiers were cadres of senior NCOs and officers who in peacetime ran training schools and individual training programs for USAR and National Guard Soldiers. Major General James Helmly, chief of the USAR in 2003 and 2004, had begun studying the idea of deploying elements of a DIVIT in the late fall of 2003. Initially, the USAR, the Army G3, and the 98th Division discussed creating an organization known as the Foreign Army-Training Assistance Command (FA-TRAC) to conduct the mission. This organization would deploy to Iraq and provide the permanent command and control structure for other units and Soldiers involved in the ISF training program. Other Soldiers would form the ASTs that would conduct the training of Iraqi soldiers and mentoring of Iraqi units.

The training of foreign forces was not the designated mission for USAR institutional training divisions, and the Army never implemented the FA-TRAC concept because the establishment of MNSTC-I made it unnecessary. But Helmly tried hard to convince leaders on his own staff as well as those in the Department of the Army that the USAR could conduct the mission.155 The Army National Guard had assumed the mission of providing trainers for the Afghan Army training program in the summer of 2003, and Helmly admitted some institutional rivalry affected the process.156 To move the USAR closer to the point where it could play a major role in training the ISF, in May 2004 Helmly told Major General Bruce E. Robinson, commanding general of the 98th Division, to begin preparing for the mission.

The USAR proposed the concept of employing its units to man much of the new MNSTC-I organization to Lieutenant General Petraeus in the Pentagon on 2 June 2004, just days before he took command in Iraq. Petraeus approved the concept for further study. After a mission analysis by the 98th’s staff, a more complete plan was briefed to Major General Helmly on 15 June, and then to the Army G3, Lieutenant General Richard Cody, who approved it on 18 June 2004. Brigadier General Richard Sherlock, the assistant division commander of the 98th Division, and others in the USAR and 98th Division understood the mission to involve the establishment of training academies and individual training programs for the NIA at several locations. They also understood that the 98th would deploy a task-organized piece of the division that would be attached to MNSTC-I for the mission.157 The leaders of the 98th Division, however, found that more specific information about the details of the program was hard to come by in the Pentagon, especially because the inauguration of MNSTC-I focused attention and resources elsewhere.

Without a complete understanding of their mission, senior members of the division left for Iraq hoping to begin preparations for the arrival of their Soldiers. Colonel Frank Cipolla, a commander for an engineer basic training brigade in the division, led a three-man team to Iraq a week later as the advance party. Sherlock and nine others joined them for a reconnaissance and analysis of the mission from mid-July to early August. During their trip, the 98th’s leaders discovered that MNSTC-I already had a command and control structure in place and needed individuals, not units, to man that structure. They also learned that the 98th’s mission would begin with training new recruits and units, but that the division’s Soldiers assigned to the ASTs would stay with their Iraqi units after they graduated and became operational. This was a surprise and represented a dramatic increase in the scope of the mission for the 98th because it expanded their role from simply preparing new soldiers during their initial training to advising them in combat.158

Between late 2004 and late 2005 approximately 900 Soldiers of the 98th Division served in MNSTC-I as members of the command’s staff, as school instructors, and as advisors to Iraqi units. Iroquois Soldiers manned 31 of the first 39 ASTs envisioned for the initial three divisions of the Iraqi Army, the others were manned by the Marines and some by Coalition nations.159 Before deploying, these Reservists attended stateside training at Camp Atterbury, Indiana, to prepare for the mission. Many of them considered the training to be of limited value as the Army and the Atterbury trainers themselves were unfamiliar with the mission for which they were preparing the Iroquois Soldiers to perform. On arrival in Kuwait, they completed some theater-specific training before moving into Iraq; this training was more focused and useful.160 Once part of MNSTC-I, the members of the 98th Division worked through the growing pains of becoming comfortable with the enlarged scope of their mission. Some of them also endured open skepticism from Active Duty counterparts about their ability to do the advisory mission.161 The AST members met their new Iraqi recruits in basic training, trained with them to develop individual and unit skills, and then accompanied them after graduation on operational missions in 2005.

While they lacked the tactical experience of Soldiers from Active and National Guard combat units, Petraeus credited the Soldiers of the 98th Division with providing a much needed boost to MNSTC-I due to their expertise with building and operating the institutional training systems of a modern army. Although their experience was in training individual soldiers in a school setting, most Soldiers of the 98th Division made the transition to combat advisors successfully. They steadily developed tactical competence as they trained with their Iraqi units and then deployed with them into combat.162 For some in the division, it was obvious they had accepted a mission for which their previous experience had not prepared them, and a few had difficulty transitioning to the demands of advising units in combat. Still, the great majority adapted and felt they had shown how the USAR Soldier could meet the complex challenges posed by the Iraqi operational environment. Indeed, a large number of advisors from the 98th Division went into combat with their Iraqi units in major operations like AL FAJR in the city of Fallujah in November 2004.163 Command Sergeant Major Milt Newsome, who served in Iraq with the division in 2004–2005, expressed the pride felt by the Iroquois Warriors on their return, stating, “I’m very proud to be a member of the 98th Division because history will realize what the 98th Division and all those who supported us had to do, and did. . . . When all the ashes settle, you’ll see the silhouette of the 98th Division and you can say it was a job well done.164

As a result of the lessons learned in the fall of 2004, MNF-I and MNSTC-I began making major improvements to the advisor training and support programs. These changes took place outside the timeframe of this book, but they help highlight the challenges faced by the 98th Division and other Soldiers who were part of this initial wave of advisors. One of the first steps was to improve stateside mobilization training in early 2005. MNSTC-I also established the Phoenix Academy at Taji in early 2005 to provide a 10-day course conducted by members of the 98th Division focused on the latest tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) used by existing advisor teams. In the spring of 2005 the Coalition also changed its term for unit advisor teams from AST to Military Transition Teams (MiTT) to better reflect their mission. Finally, MNSTC-I established the Iraqi Assistance Group in April 2005 to provide better command, control, and logistical support to US advisors working with Iraqi units after they transitioned from training under MNSTC-I control to the operational control of units in the MNC-I, the Coalition’s tactical command.

Soldiers in the next wave of advisors, for which the USAR’s 80th DIVIT formed the core, benefited from these improvements. But they too faced new challenges. The first wave of advisors had linked up with and trained their Iraqi units when they were first formed; thus, they were able to develop personal relationships with their Iraqi counterparts before conducting operations. Many advisors in the next wave reported to Iraqi units already in combat. Their learning curve was steep and time to build cohesion and trust was almost nonexistent. The Army continued in 2005 to find the right mix of training, personnel, techniques, and processes for advising the ISF.