Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner at the White House?

The table settings in the State Dining Room for the White House dinner Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2005, in honor of the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall. White House photo Shealah Craighead.

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle are hosting a dinner Wednesday to honor Veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation New Dawn and their families.

Most of those invited remain in active duty and represent all ranks and service branches. Service members will come from across America and include National Guard and Reserve.

The invited guests will represent the more than a million Americans and their families who served and sacrificed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey and the chiefs of the five services and National Guard and Reserve will also be there. The Department of Defense released the names of the 78 service members invited to dine at the White House “A Nation’s Gratitude” Dinner.

Alabama:  Staff Sgt. Shawon Tucker; Army.

Alaska:  Maj. Shannon Thompson; Army.

American Samoa:  Chief Warrant Officer 4 John Nikolao; Army.

Arizona:  Capt. Brian D. Hartman; Army.

Arkansas:  Cpl. Aaron Mankin; Marine Corps.

Arkansas:  Staff Sgt. Joseph May; Marine Corps.

California:  Maj. Eldridge R. Singleton; Army.

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Military-Civilian Gap Continues to Grow and Why It Matters

Repairing front line trench after bomb explosion fifty yards from enemy trenches. D. W. Griffith in civilian clothing. During filming of the motion picture "Hearts of the World" in France (1917) Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

“I fear they do not know us. I fear they do not comprehend the full weight of the burden we carry or the price we pay when we return from battle.” – Adm. Mike Mullen addressing the West Point graduating class Spring 2011.

I began this blog with the mission of bridging that gap of understanding between military families, veterans and civilians. As evidenced by Adm. Mullen’s speech to the cadets, there’s a lot that still needs to be done.

It’s a two-way street. Civilians need to understand the sacrifices at home and abroad made by military service members and their families. But, veterans and military also need to understand civilians’ attitudes, be patient sometimes and help educate when needed.

Why does it matter? Because those who have fought in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom will be living with that “burden,” to quote Adm. Mullen again, for decades to come.

Think about it, the last known WWI combat Veteran, Claude Choules, just died this year, but the war ended 93 years ago.

Care for OEF/OIF Veterans will be needed for decades to come. Yet, if the gap continues to grow and fewer civilians have family military connections, providing Veterans care and fulfilling their needs could become challenging if there’s a lack of understanding of their sacrifice.

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center, The Military-Civilian Gap: Fewer Family Connections, found that the gap is growing wider. Some key findings:

  • A smaller share of Americans currently serve in the U.S. Armed Forces than at any time since the peace-time era between World Wars I and II.
  • Afghanistan and Iraq wars are the longest period of sustained conflict in the nation’s history, yet,  just one-half of one percent of American adults has served on active duty at any given time.
  • As the size of the military shrinks, the connections between military personnel and the broader civilian population appear to be growing more distant.
  • Roughly two-thirds of those with family ties to the military say that, since the wars began, they have done something to help someone in the military or a military family. Fewer than half (47%) of those without family ties to the military say they have reached out to help a service person or a military family.
  • Young adults, ages 18-29, are much less likely to have family ties to the military (only 33 percent) compared to adults, ages 50-64, with 79 percent having family military ties.

How the 9/11 Attacks Changed U.S. Central Command

U.S. Central Command's older headquarters building at MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, FL. Photo courtesy of U.S. military website.

This Friday, U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa will hold a small 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony. U.S. Marine Corps General James Mattis, Commander U.S. Central Command, will give brief remarks to honor those lost on that day, first responders, emergency workers and service members who have served since 9-11 and continue to fight in the war against terrorism.

Recently, I talked with a member of CENTCOM about the changes he’s seen since the terrorism attacks 10 years ago.

The day of the Sept. 11 attacks,  Army Col. Jack Dees was with a small CENTCOM delegation in Cairo.

Dees is now a civilian and Deputy Chief with the Security Cooperation Division at CENTCOM. He talked with me about the big changes he’s witnessed at the joint command which is responsible for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He starts with what the headquarters in Tampa was like when he got back from Egypt a few days after the attacks.

JACK DEES: Chaos, it was just chaos. I mean (when) I’d left it was the quietest place on the planet. Getting through the gate was a nightmare. It was just a real mess and people were working 24 hours shifts and everybody was trying to scramble to figure out what was going to happen because nobody really knew where this was going, how it was going to unfold. We just knew we were at war. (It was) a scene of enormous energy, but a nervous anticipation about what was going to happen over the next few months.

BOB: Describe what the essence was like when you see your country under attack and you’re a half-a-world away.

JD: I can distinctly remember from that drive from Dover – I kept thinking: Is America changed? I was really nervous to see what people were going to be like. I kind of had the view that people might be hunkered down and everybody be so afraid. But, I got back and I was – in a way I was kind of grateful to see – you know I mean – life had gone on. I mean things were changed but people were still doing what they normally did.

I have to tell you a funny story. The sergeant who was driving with us, she got pulled over outside Fayetteville, NC for doing like 86 in a 70 mile-an-hour zone. A North Carolina state trooper he came up to us and said, “License and registration.” And I leaned over and I said, “Look officer, I’m military, a colonel in the Army, you’ve got a commander in the Navy,  and an NCO. We’re all trying to get back to base, MacDill Air Force Base. I apologize, I won’t let this happen again. I take responsibility.” He said a few words and he said, “Okay, we’ll let this go. Just do me one favor, go kick some butt.” It isn’t exactly the words he used, and ah he said “just go kick some butt for me.” I guess he’d just gotten out of the 82nd Airborne Division.

BOB: What about CENTCOM itself? When did the realization hit that CENTCOM is going to change and never be the same that this is going to end up at your doorstep?

JD: That was clear the next day, I wasn’t here, when people spent three hours getting through the gate. I mean there was – as I understood it – people came into work at 7 and got on the base about 10 o’clock because of increased security. Immediately that was recognizable. And within just a handful of days, all sorts of people started showing up here to help us out because it was obvious that Afghanistan being the center of what was happening – Afghanistan being part of the CENTCOM area of responsibility – it was obvious that we were going to be the central part of all of this.

And of course the headquarters was manned for peacetime, really. We had a small military effort ongoing – you recall the “no fly zone” in Iraq. But, we weren’t on a wartime footing at all. Within about a week, people started flowing in here from everywhere Department of Defense planners, logisticians, intell analysts, as we began to plan for what would be the first bombs dropped in Afghanistan Oct. 7th.

BOB: You remember that day?

JD: I do remember that day. I was here. We watched it on TV.

BOB: Did you feel like that’s when you all started to “kick butt?”

JD: The first bomb didn’t drop without a lot of work that went on before that. And my friends who were doing the planning business were working 20 hours a day and they did that for months on end until probably January or February, March of 2002.

BOB: How has CENTCOM changed?

JD: CENTCOM is nothing like it was before. There’s no comparison today to what it was in those days. The headquarters is huge, much, much, much bigger than it was before. Getting in the gate – you know we just drove through the gate in those days you just had a pass on your car and they waved you through. Today, it’s ID checks and the security is significantly more so.

There’s a lot more civilians at the headquarters. The headquarters those days were largely military. There was probably 20-30 civilians is all that worked in the headquarters and today it’s a much bigger headquarters in that way largely because of continuity, for continuity’s sake and ensuring people kind of understood what happened before. Our facilities have improved. You see we’ve got the new buildings up there. We had to – to accommodate the increased personnel.

An important point to make, most people that are here have been in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most people have done their combat tours over there and then a lot of us have lost friends or know someone who has been lost in combat operations. You know and that always weighs on the back of everybody’s mind. I didn’t know anybody personally, but I’ve had three close friends who have lost sons in Iraq and another real close friend of mine whose son was badly injured in Afghanistan, a couple of people I knew that were badly wounded in Iraq. It’s something always in the back of our minds.

BOB: That obviously changes people. You see your friends change. How have you changed from 9/11?

JD: I don’t know. That’s a good question. I hadn’t even thought about that. I don’t think I’ve changed. The nation has changed, obviously, mostly for good. We’ll never be the same and neither will the military. That’s another piece of this too, the military has changed so much. The Army I grew up in was really a peacetime Army. We had our combat operations, the first war in Iraq, Grenada, but we’ve been at war – the military’s been at war – 10 years now.

And, you don’t run into a soldier who hasn’t been in a combat zone. You don’t run into anybody who hasn’t been under fire. These young guys that I see today, these majors that work for me out there today, a whole different breed of people than it was than we had in the Army when I was a major – a completely different world, a completely different military.

Lessons Learned in Iraq by a Deployed Psychologist

The story below by Robyn Mincher of the Defense Center of Excellence Communications caught my attention because Off the Base contributor, Cheyenne Forsythe, also served with the 85th Medical Detachment, a combat stress control unit during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.

Army Capt. Dayami Liebenguth (right) during her deployment in Iraq. (Courtesy photo)

The Posted by Robyn Mincher

In March, Army Capt. Dayami Liebenguth returned from her 12-month deployment to Iraq, where she was the officer in charge of the combat stress control behavioral health clinic for an entire forward operating base. Liebenguth is now a clinical psychologist consultant at Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE).

The number one thing Capt. Dayami Liebenguth gained from her recent deployment was respect for her fellow service members.

“Overall, what I learned was how to be an advocate for our service members, while at the same time meeting the needs of the units—a challenge I was always up for,” she said. “It is in my opinion that service members are generally resilient and just need to be encouraged, supported and reminded of their resilience.”

Liebenguth, who completed her postdoctoral training at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, was attached to the 85th combat stress control medical detachment from Fort Hood, Texas. While deployed, she incorporated group classes as an effective tactic in maintaining resilience…

To read the full story, click HERE.

The VA Wants Women Veterans’ Input

Photo courtesy of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Women are the fastest growing group at the VA. Here are just a few statistics from the VA regarding Women Veterans of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF):

  • The largest group of women Veterans today served in the OEF/OIF operations.
  • Women make up nearly 11.5 percent of OEF/OIF Veterans.
  • 52 percent of women OEF/OIF Veterans have received VA health care; of these, 88.2 percent have used VA health care more than once.
  • 47.8 percent of female OEF/OIF Veterans who used VA care during FY 2002-2010 were 30 or younger compared to 43.8 percent of male OEF/OIF Veterans.

So, there’s a major initiative to call women veterans and ask about their experiences with the VA as well as solicit suggestions on how to improve health care service for them. Additionally, the women will be given details on gender specific services available like osteoporosis management, screenings for breast and cervical cancer.

You can learn more about the Women Veterans Health Care program here.

Air Conditioning in Afghanistan and Iraq Costs $20 Billion

This NPR story caught my attention because I just reviewed my own power bill which has increased dramatically due to a hotter than normal May. And the troops spending summer in Afghanistan and Iraq certainly need cooling more than I.

KIRKUK AIR BASE, Iraq -- Master Sgt. Herman Kremkau, 506th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron, hoses down an air conditioner unit in Tent City. Kremkau and the rest of the HVAC team clean more than 300 air conditioners every other week to ensure base residents have a cool environment to sleep in. Kremkau is deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The amount the U.S. military spends annually on air conditioning in Iraq and Afghanistan: $20.2 billion.

That’s more than NASA’s budget. It’s more than BP has paid so far for damage during the Gulf oil spill. It’s what the G-8 has pledged to help foster new democracies in Egypt and Tunisia.

“When you consider the cost to deliver the fuel to some of the most isolated places in the world — escorting, command and control, medevac support — when you throw all that infrastructure in, we’re talking over $20 billion,” Steven Anderson tells weekends on All Things Considered guest host Rachel Martin. Anderson is a retired brigadier general who served as Gen. David Patreaus’ chief logistician in Iraq.

Why does it cost so much?

To read the entire story or listen to in online, click HERE.

Florida Military Receives Additional Property Tax Break

Military families living in Florida who already receive a state homestead exemption could also qualify for additional property tax breaks.

Soldiers with the 101st Airborne Division patrol a small village during an air assault mission in eastern Afghanistan, Nov. 4, 2008. (Photo by Spc. Mary L. Gonzalez, CJTF-101 Public Affairs)

In November, voters passed Amendment 2 to the Florida Constitution creating the additional homestead exemption for active duty military, military reserves, U.S. Coast Guard and its reserves, and the Florida National Guard who deployed for Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, or New Dawn.

This new exemption is not a set dollar amount, instead it is a percentage based on the amount of time the service-member was deployed during the previous year.

The new military service exemption applies to 2011 property taxes, but applications must be received by the June 1, 2011 deadline.

A SUMMARY OF NEW EXEMPTION (courtesy of the Pinellas County Property Appraiser) although it applies statewide:

Who qualifies?

  • A service member who currently receives a homestead exemption; AND
  • Who was deployed during 2010 on active duty outside the US, Alaska or Hawaii; AND
  • Who served in Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, OR New Dawn
  • This exemption is state-wide, so contact the Property Appraiser in your county.

A service member’s spouse or designee, or a representative of his or her estate, may file an application on behalf of an eligible service member.

A PDF copy of the Florida Department of Revenue application form is available here.

In addition, another, separate constitutional amendment will be placed on the ballot in 2012 that would expand the availability of the combat-related disabled veterans discount to veterans who are over 65 and who entered the military while a resident of another state. Currently, the discount is only available to veterans who were residents of Florida when they entered the military.

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