Remembering Prisoners,Those Who Never Came Home

Source: wikimedia.org

Source: wikimedia.org

Today, September 19, 2014, is National POW/MIA Recognition Day. By the numbers from the Department of Defense:

  • 1,641 personnel are missing and unaccounted-for from the Vietnam War
  • More than 83,000 Americans are missing from World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War, the Vietnam War and the 1991 Gulf War.
So, take a moment to honor those who remain missing and those who suffered starvation, isolation, fear, and uncertainty, during captivity.

MacDill Military Gives President Rousing Welcome

President Obama speaking to 1,200 service members at MacDill Air Force Base, Sept. 17, 2014. Photo credit: USMC Sgt. Frederick Coleman, US Central Command.

President Obama speaking to 1,200 service members at MacDill Air Force Base, Sept. 17, 2014. Photo credit: USMC Sgt. Frederick Coleman, US Central Command.

The pride of “wearing the uniform” was clear and present inside the MacDill Air Force Base sports center Wednesday where 1,200 service members from all branches crowded together to hear President Barack Obama.

Most were dressed in the everyday, camo uniform. They greeted the president with an enthusiasm that belied the rainy, gray skies outside.

President Obama talked directly to the men and women. He said he came to thank them for their sacrifice and for their commitment to the country.

Air Force Tech Sgt. Tanika Belfield appreciated the personal message in his speech.

Tech Sgt. Tanika Belfield liked the personal nature of the president's speech.

Tech Sgt. Tanika Belfield liked the personal nature of the president’s speech.

“The thing that stood out to me most is him making sure to speak of those who were wounded and that he knows that he’s in a room of people who have lost friends,” Belfield said.

The president told the troops he would not send them back to Iraq, but Belfield said she’s ready to go if called to Iraq.

“That has to remain fluid as the threats change and intel changes,” Belfield said. “We’re briefed and we’re prepared and we’re ready.”

Captain Darrell Rievs has served in the Air Force 26 years and has been deployed countless times throughout the U.S. In all that time, this was the first time he’d been in the same room with the president.

Air Force Capt. Darrell Rievs has served 26 years and been deployed numerous times, yet is ready to go again if needed.

Air Force Capt. Darrell Rievs has served 26 years and been deployed numerous times, yet is ready to go again if needed.

“It’s a great honor and very encouraging to the troops that he stopped by,” Rievs said.

He was pleased to hear the president refer to the military’s upcoming role in the fight against Ebola in Africa. And Rievs said he is willing to deploy again if needed.

“It’s just an honor to wear the uniform. If duty calls, I’m there,” Rievs said.

After meeting with the troops, President Obama visited Tinker Elementary School on base. He chatted with first graders and one asked if he fought in the Civil War.

“No, I was born in 1961.”

President Obama speaking to first graders at Tinker Elementary School on MacDill AFB. Photo credit: pool

President Obama speaking to first graders at Tinker Elementary School on MacDill AFB. Photo credit: pool

In Ms. Slagal’s class, the president shook hands with every student and admired the spikey haircut of one boy.

A little boy raised his hand and then, when the president called on him, couldn’t remember what he was going to say.

“That happens to me all the time,” President Obama said. “I think I have a good point, and then…. the press makes fun of me.”

The president spent the morning touring U.S. Central Command and discussing strategy with CENTCOM Commander Gen. Lloyd Austin and his staff. They are responsible for 20 countries in the Middle East, South and Central Asia including Iraq and Syria where the Islamic State group has seized territories.

The U.S. House has passed legislation allowing the president to arm and train Syrian rebels in the fight against Islamic State militants. But some Democrats are concerned that the strategy will backfire. But even without the support of dozens of Democrats, the proposal won House approval Wednesday. The Senate is expected to approve it Thursday.

By the Numbers: 128 US Airstrikes on ISIL

The U.S. Central Command has conducted a total of 123 airstrikes in northern Iraq against the Islamic militants referred to as ISIL, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, centcomlogo

The area near Mosul Dam is the most recent target with three airstrikes over the past two days that destroyed vehicles and a mortar position near the dam.

A running summary, since CENTCOM began an air campaign to protect U.S. personnel and humanitarian efforts in northern Iraq:

– Defense of Erbil: 24

– Support of Sinjar: 13

– Support of Mosul Dam: 82

– Support of Amirli: 4

Total: 123

 

A Golden Age and New Leader for U.S. Special Operations

TAMPA, Fla. (Aug. 28, 2014) -- Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel attends a Change of Command ceremony for U.S. Special Operations Command at the Tampa Convention Center in Tampa, Fla. August 28, 2014. DoD photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Sean Hurt/Released

TAMPA, Fla. (Aug. 28, 2014) — Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel attends a Change of Command ceremony for U.S. Special Operations Command at the Tampa Convention Center in Tampa, Fla. August 28, 2014. DoD photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Sean Hurt/Released

The significance of the U.S. Special Operations Command, based at MacDill Air Force Base, can be measured by the fact that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel came to Tampa for the change of command ceremony.

“As a testament to the growing demand for special operators, Socom has grown by almost 8,000 people over the last three years,” Hagel told an invited audience of hundreds, most in military uniform. “And its growth will continue even as other parts of our military draw down.”

Navy Adm. William McRaven led Socom through the last three years of growth shaping the joint command into a global force.

“I believe that for the past several years, possibly without even knowing it, we have been and we are in the Golden Age of Special Operations,” McRaven told the packed ballroom at Tampa’s Convention Center. “A time when our unique talents as special operators are in greatest demand, a time when the nation recognizes the strategic value of our services, a time when all that we’ve trained for all that we’ve worked for all that our predecessors have planned for has come together.”

Hagel said McRaven’s most enduring legacy may be his effort to alleviate the strain of the relentless pace of deployments demanded of special forces.

Admiral William McRaven while serving as commander of the US Special Operations Command based at MacDill AFB, Tampa, FL. He has retired after 37 years.

Admiral William McRaven while serving as commander of the US Special Operations Command based at MacDill AFB, Tampa, FL. He has retired after 37 years.

“Bill established initiatives to address the physical and mental wellbeing of his force, offer support to family members and provide more predictability on deployments,” Hagel said. “He modified SOCOM’s definition of readiness to include families, families as a vital part of that equation. Something the entire Department of Defense can learn from.”

McRaven said Socom evolved after the 9-11 terrorism attacks and now has more than 67,000 forces ready in 92 countries. Their mission is to help stabilize areas of conflict, work with the State Department on everything from providing clean water to establishing rule of law and to take the fight to Al Qaida, the Taliban, ISIS and others.

While praising his special operators, McRaven added that they are no different than other service members.

“While our missions are unique – or special – we do not view ourselves as special people,” McRaven said. “We are no more courageous, no more heroic , no more patriotic, no smarter, no harder working than our brothers and sisters in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.”

McRaven is retiring and will take over as chancellor of the Texas University System. His successor is Gen. Joe Votel , an Army Ranger, who vowed that SOCOM will always, always be prepared.

Votel is a West Point graduate, the tenth commander at Socom and now responsible for ensuring the readiness of Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps Special Operations Forces around the globe.

You can listen to a story on the ceremony on WUSF 89.7 FM.

Debt Relief for Military Victims of Predatory Lending

 Holly Petraeus with the CFPB Office of Servicemember Affairs.  Credit Photo by SSG Lorie Jewell, US Army. / Consumer Finance Protection Bureau


Holly Petraeus with the CFPB Office of Servicemember Affairs.Credit Photo by SSG Lorie Jewell, US Army. / Consumer Finance Protection Bureau

Some 17,000 service members nationwide and other consumers who were targeted by Rome Finance through unfair lending practices will not have to payoff their outstanding finance agreements according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and several state attorney generals.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said in a media release that more than 800 Florida service members were targeted by the predatory lending schemes and will receive more than $4 million in debt relief.

The bureau announced action July 29, 2014 against Colfax Capital Corporation and its subsidiary (formerly known as Rome Finance Co. Inc.) for engaging in unlawful lending that financially hurt servicemembers.

The company provided financing at places such as SmartBuy to sell products to military members. But the merchandise cost was inflated to “hide the true finance charges that servicemembers would have to pay, typically by military allotment,” Holly Petraeus wrote on the CFPB blog.

“This trapped servicemembers in contracts that generated millions of dollars for the company and substantial debt for its customers,” Petraeus wrote.

She called the enforcement action “the last gasp of a chameleon-like company with a long and deplorable record of preying on servicemembers.”

Whether they borrowed to buy computers or gaming systems military members and other consumers who used Rome Finance to make their purchases were victims of “predatory lending schemes.” While the servicemembers will no longer have to pay off their unfair loans, Colfax is in bankruptcy and does not have assets to repay consumers.

Florida consumers who suspect scams or fraud can file a complaint by calling 1(866)-9-NO-SCAM or by visit MyFloridaLegal.com.

Complaints about financial services or products also can be filed with the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau.

Marine Commandant: We sanctified the ground in Iraq

The new MARCENT commander Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie just after the change of command ceremony, Hangar One, MacDill Air Force Base.

The new MARCENT commander Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie just after the change of command ceremony, Hangar One, MacDill Air Force Base.

Top U.S. military leaders responsible for Afghanistan and Iraq were in Tampa today for a change of command ceremony.

Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie took over as commander of the Marines Forces U.S. Central Command (MARCENT) which means he now is responsible for all the Marines serving in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Presiding over the ceremony, held inside Hangar One at MacDill Air Force Base, was Marine Corps Commandant General James Amos who praised the success of the recent elections in Afghanistan.

The front row of dignitaries at the MARCENT change of command included US Central Command Commander Army Gen. Lloyd Austin III and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos.

The front row of dignitaries at the MARCENT change of command included US Central Command Commander Army Gen. Lloyd Austin III and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos.

“We’ve got every reason to feel good about what’s been accomplished in that country and it was the same way in Iraq,” Amos told the audience of more than 300, mostly military personnel. “Iraq is going to play out however it’s going to play out. But we as nations, we as the coalition and the joint forces, sanctified the ground. We sanctified the ground in Iraq.”

Amos said in his opinion that the joint forces also have sanctified the ground in Afghanistan.

Both Gen. Amos and new CENTCOM Marine Commander Lt. Gen. McKenzie declined to give specifics about Iraq and the recent surge of fighting by Islamic militants.

But McKenzie who is now responsible for about 6,000 Marines serving in the CENTCOM “Area of Responsibility” offered a perspective through the lens of the Afghan elections.

Silhouettes of Marines awaiting the ceremony frame the aircraft that brought top military leaders to the ceremony in Tampa, FL.

Silhouettes of Marines awaiting the ceremony frame the aircraft that brought top military leaders to the ceremony in Tampa, FL.

“What you see in Afghanistan is you’re seeing the Afghan National Security Force actually being able to stand up to the Taliban. A lot of people a year ago didn’t think it was going to happen,” McKenzie said.”There may be some lessons there that we can apply in Iraq. Don’t know. Two different countries, two vastly different problem sets.”

As commander of MARCENT, McKenzie will work for CENTCOM Commander Army Gen. Lloyd Austin III. It’s similar to 10 years ago when McKenzie was led the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit in southern Afghanistan in 2004 and Austin was his commander.

The Taliban Release Captured American Soldier

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

After nearly five years in captivity, Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was released by the Taliban Saturday in a deal that sent five captives from the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to Qatar, according to the Washington Post.

The deal was brokered by the government of Qatar, which has agreed to host the five Taliban inmates in the Gulf emirate for at least one year. The men were en route to Qatar aboard a U.S. military aircraft as of early Saturday afternoon, a defense official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. They were being accompanied by representatives of the Qatari government.

This is how a military official described Bergdahl’s first moments after being released:

After the soldier was aboard a helicopter, he grabbed a paper plate and wrote the letters “SF?” to inquire whether the troops he was with were Special Forces, a senior Defense Department official said.

“Yes,” one of the members of the team responded. “We’ve been looking for you for a long time.”

Bergdahl broke down in tears.

Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, U.S. Central Command commander, released the following statement:

“Earlier today Army Sgt. Bowe M. Bergdahl was returned to U.S. forces in Afghanistan. His safe recovery has been a focus and priority for me and this command since his capture five years ago. I am grateful to our partners in Qatar for their efforts, and proud of the many dedicated U.S. service members, civilians, and federal agents who have worked tirelessly to bring Bowe home. We look forward to reuniting him with his family.”

You can read the full Washington Post story and for perspective, listen to the father of Bowe Bergdahl in a plea to the Taliban more than two years ago:

 

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