Chuck Hagel Approved as Next Defense Secretary

Former Sen. Chuck Hagel will lead the U.S. Dept. of Defense.

Former Sen. Chuck Hagel will lead the U.S. Dept. of Defense.

With a vote of 58 to 41, the Senate voted to confirm Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense according to National Public Radio.

The vote was mostly along party lines after an unprecedented filibuster by Republicans, that temporarily blocked the nomination of the two-term Republican senator from Nebraska.

Hagel will become the first Vietnam veteran to led the Department of Defense. The president said in Hagel he had found someone who understood “the consequences of decisions we make in this town.”

Student Vets Invite All to a Free Screening of “The Welcome”

welcomehomeproject

A photo from The Welcome Home Project, basis for the documentary The Welcome.

All are welcome to a free screening of the documentary film, The Welcome, which tracks veterans and their families through a five-day retreat that transforms the experience of war into “the beauty of poetry.”

Air Force veteran and president of the University of South Florida Student Veterans Association, Kiersten Downs, is extending an open invitation to encourage better understanding between veterans, other college students and staff and the general public.

WHEN: Wednesday, February 27 starting at 2 pm

WHERE: University of South Florida Tampa Campus, the Oval Theater in the Marshall Student Center, 4202 E. Fowler Ave.

The special event will include an introduction by Michael Dakduk, Executive Director of Student Veterans of America, Additionally, the SVA and the USF Office of Veteran Services will be launching the Got Your 6 Campus Success Network prior to the film. There will be free food to follow.

 

MacDill Facing Cuts in People, Flight-Time and Facilities

Col.  Scott DeThomas, commander of MacDill Air Force Base and the 6th Air Mobility Wing.

Col. Scott DeThomas, commander of MacDill Air Force Base and the 6th Air Mobility Wing.

The home to U-S Central Command, U-S Special Operations Command and the 6th Air Mobility Wing, MacDill Air Force Base, is readying for mandatory civilian furloughs, reduced flight time and postponed building projects.

If sequestration – Congress’ mandatory budget cuts – goes into effect Friday, no state or facility will escape the shockwave.

Most of the 3,000 civilian workers at MacDill Air Force Base will essentially take a 20 percent cut in pay. Sequestration mandates that they take a weekly, one-day furlough beginning in late April through September.

Col. Scott DeThomas, commander of MacDill and the 6th Air Mobility Wing, employs about 1,000 of those civilians at MacDill.

“The sense of urgency goes up March 1st since the fiscal year is half over,” DeThomas said. “A 10 percent cut over a 12 month period is not so bad, but when you do it in a short time like we’re about to face it has a much more dramatic impact.”

In addition to civilian furloughs, more than $6 million in maintenance and construction projects on base will be postponed and flying hours for the 16 KC-135 refueling tankers and three Gulf Stream jets will be cut 20 percent.

DeThomas was even more certain about the fate of MacDill’s Air Fest scheduled the weekend of April 6th and 7th.

“The Air Fest is pretty close to being canceled. We’re not officially there yet, but actually very close,” DeThomas said late Friday. “The money that we’ve committed already was minimal up to this point. Our next big outlay of funds would be March 5th.”

But prior to that date, DeThomas anticipates the Air Force will cancel all upcoming air shows as part of it’s mandate to cut $20 billion by the end of the current fiscal year.

Taking on Questions About Allowing Women in Combat

Kayla Williams, an Arabic linguist with the 101st Airborne Division, being promoted to SGT/E5 in Tall 'Afar. Photo credit: "Love My Rifle More Than You"/Facebook

Kayla Williams, an Arabic linguist with the 101st Airborne Division, being promoted to SGT/E5 in Tall ‘Afar. Photo credit: “Love My Rifle More Than You”/Facebook

It was January 24th, just a few weeks ago, when Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced he was lifting the ban on women serving in combat.

While many women deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan argue they’ve been in combat for years, they welcomed the news as yet another step in getting rid of gender-based barriers in the military.

But that announcement didn’t automatically open up all roles to women.  Some units, for example the Navy SEALS, can apply for an exemption and  have until 2016 to decide whether or not they want to include women.

Women in Combat: The Changing Roles of Women in the Military” was the online forum sponsored by the Center on National Policy in Washington D.C.

It featured Kayla Williams, a sergeant and Arabic linguist with 101st Airborne, who served almost a year in Iraq. She went on foot patrols with the infantry, yet wasn’t even given the protective plates for her flack vest because as a woman she was not considered in combat.

More than 280,000 women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan where there are no more traditional battle lines and everyone is exposed to combat conditions.

“I know I don’t have the right haircut, but I also went to war,” Williams explained when asked by an audience member if women had a harder time transitioning to civilian life. “Feeling invisible, having people ask me if I was allowed to carry a gun because I’m just a girl, having other people ask me if I was in the infantry when that is still not authorized. It really made it harder for me to transition back into a society that had no conception what so ever of what I’ve been through.” Continue reading

Panetta Memo to Defense Personnel on Sequestration

Leon E. Panetta appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee during confirmation hearings June 9, 2011. (Defense Department photo)

Leon E. Panetta appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee during confirmation hearings June 9, 2011. (Defense Department photo)

The automatic budget cuts – known as sequestration – are set to be implemented March 1, 2013,  just a week away.

With that deadline nearing, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta released the following:

“To All Department of Defense Personnel:

“For more than a year and a half, the president, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and I have repeatedly voiced our deep concerns over the half a trillion dollars in automatic across-the-board cuts that would be imposed under sequestration and the severe damage that would do both to this department and to our national defense.

“The administration continues to work with Congress to reach agreement on a balanced deficit reduction plan to avoid these cuts.  Meanwhile, because another trigger for sequestration is approaching on March 1, the department’s leadership has begun extensive planning on how to implement the required spending reductions.  Those cuts will be magnified because the department has been forced to operate under a six-month continuing resolution that has already compelled us to take steps to reduce spending.

“In the event of sequestration we will do everything we can to be able to continue to perform our core mission of providing for the security of the United States, but there is no mistaking that the rigid nature of the cuts forced upon this department, and their scale, will result in a serious erosion of readiness across the force.

“I have also been deeply concerned about the potential direct impact of sequestration on you and your families.  We are doing everything possible to limit the worst effects on DoD personnel — but I regret that our flexibility within the law is extremely limited.  The president has used his legal authority to exempt military personnel funding from sequestration, but we have no legal authority to exempt civilian personnel funding from reductions.  As a result, should sequestration occur and continue for a substantial period, DoD will be forced to place the vast majority of its civilian workforce on administrative furlough.

“Today, I notified Congress that furloughs could occur under sequestration.  I can assure you that, if we have to implement furloughs, all affected employees will be provided at least 30 days’ notice prior to executing a furlough and your benefits will be protected to the maximum extent possible.  We also will work to ensure that furloughs are executed in a consistent and appropriate manner, and we will also continue to engage in discussions with employee unions as appropriate.

“Working with your component heads and supervisors, the department’s leaders will continue to keep you informed.  As we deal with these difficult issues, I want to thank you for your patience, your hard work, and your continued dedication to our mission of protecting the country.

“Our most important asset at the department is our world-class personnel.  You are fighting every day to keep our country strong and secure, and rest assured that the leaders of this department will continue to fight with you and for you.”

Seven Steps Fort Bliss Took to Reduce Soldier Suicides

Maj. Gen. Dana Pittard, commander of Fort Bliss. Photo credit: army.mil

Maj. Gen. Dana Pittard, commander of Fort Bliss. Photo credit: army.mil

There is no single solution to reverse the rise in soldier suicides.

In fact when Army Maj. Gen. Dana J. H. Pittard took over as commander at Fort Bliss, he came armed with a comprehensive approach reports Donna Miles for American Forces Press Service on military.mil.

Confronted by a spate of suicides among redeploying air defenders when he arrived at Fort Bliss in July 2010, Pittard launched the “No Preventable Soldier Deaths” campaign. The goal, he explained, was to prevent not only suicides, but also high-risk behaviors that can lead to drug overdoses, motorcycle and vehicle accidents, and other preventable fatalities.

That comprehensive campaign includes more than 30 different initiatives but all are focused on reducing risky behavior and creating a culture where seeking help is encouraged. Some of the steps taken:

  1. Pittard began assigning accountability for preventable deaths, holding leaders accountable for their soldiers, and soldiers accountable for themselves and their battle buddies.
  2. All new arrivals to Fort Bliss get comprehensive screenings at the Wellness Fusion Center.
  3. Pittard made the Army’s Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training mandatory for all incoming soldiers. Continue reading

Panetta Calls Gen. John Allen Outstanding, Selfless, Brilliant

The following is a statement released by Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta on General John Allen’s Decision to Retire:

Sec. of Defense Leon Panetta. Photo courtesy of the Dept. of Defense website.

Sec. of Defense Leon Panetta. Photo courtesy of the Dept. of Defense website.

“Gen. John Allen has proven himself to be one of the United States military’s most outstanding battlefield leaders, a brilliant strategist, and an exemplary Marine, and I am deeply grateful for his many years of dedicated service to our country.

“I will be forever thankful that the international effort in Afghanistan was in Gen. Allen’s capable hands during much of my tenure as secretary of defense.  His leadership over the last 19 months will long be remembered as pivotal to this campaign.  The strategy he developed and implemented has put us on the right path towards completing this mission, with Afghan forces now on track to step into the lead for security nationwide this spring and to assume full security responsibility by the end of next year.

“Gen. Allen’s selfless dedication to our troops and to their mission was a source of inspiration to those who served with him, as well as to those of us here at home.  He has earned the lasting thanks of this nation for carrying the heavy burden of leadership with utmost professionalism and courage.  I wish him and his entire family all the best in the next chapter of their lives.”

Marine Gen. John Allen to Retire, Turns Down European Post

Gen. John Allen, ISAF Commander. Photo courtesy of the DoD.

Gen. John Allen, former ISAF Commander. Photo courtesy of the DoD.

Citing his wife’s poor health, Marine Gen. John R. Allen asked President Obama to remove him from consideration for supreme allied commander in Europe according to the Washington Post. He plans to retire.

In a statement, Obama said he had granted Allen’s request. “I told General Allen that he has my deep, personal appreciation for his extraordinary service over the last 19 months in Afghanistan, as well as his decades of service in the United States Marine Corps,” the president said.

Allen was the longest-serving leader of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan and directed the shift from counterinsurgency operations to training Afghan and local forces. During his command forces were reduced by some 33,000 U.S. troops.

The four star general told the Post that his decision to retire had nothing to do with the investigation into his email correspondence with Tampa socialite Jill Kelley. However, Allen said that investigation did take a toll on his wife.

Central Florida Veterans Offered Free Help with VA Benefits

Saint Leo University's tribute to 40 years of serving the military. Photo credit St. Leo

Saint Leo University’s tribute to 40 years of serving the military. Photo credit St. Leo

An eight member team from the University of Detroit Mercy Law School that travels the nation offering free help to veterans is due to pull into the Tampa Bay region this week.

The offer of free legal help is called Project Salute and scheduled to arrive at Saint Leo University, 33701 State Road 52, in Pasco County this Friday, Feb. 22, 2013.

Clinic hours are set from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. but will be extended if needed.

Low-income veterans who need help filing disability and pension benefits are welcome. Veterans should bring with them all necessary paperwork such as their Discharge from Active Duty (DD-214) form. any recent VA rating decisions and other pertinent documents.

The clinic will be held in the St. Leo Student Activities Building, room 117. Legal help will also be available aboard the Project Salute bus parked near the Tapia Lakeside Patio at the Student Community Center.

The university has a full calendar of events planned in observation of its 40th anniversary of serving the military.

A Marine’s Voice Being Heard from the Dance Stage

village_voiceThere are many voices of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. One that caught my ear today is from Marine Sergeant Roman Baca.

His story, as told to  Jonathan Wei, is featured in the Village Voice. It’s about Baca’s life as a ballet dancer turned Marine combatant and how ballet brought him back after a tour in Iraq.

Here’s how he described a confrontation with his girlfriend who sat him down six months after he returned from deployment in Fallujah:

And she’s like, “You’re not OK. I don’t like the person you are.” She said I was anxious, I was depressed, I was angry. I was mean. I had some episodes when I was driving on the freeway, and traffic was getting bad. I wanted to ram into other cars.

That was part of the standard operating procedure when you were dealing with other cars in Iraq. You take care of the situation. Continue reading

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