Thursday, December 31, 2009

U.S. troops testing British-style camo

Photo courtesy of the British Ministry of Defence
The new Multi Terrain Pattern camouflage uniform to be issued to the British armed forces in certain areas of Afghanistan is similar to the “MultiCam” pattern being tested by U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — British and American soldiers soon could be hard to tell apart if the U.S. Army adopts a camouflage pattern similar to one that the British have already picked out to conceal their troops in Afghanistan.

U.S. soldiers with 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment in eastern Afghanistan are wearing new uniforms featuring the "MultiCam" camouflage pattern as part of a trial conducted by the Army to determine the best way to help troops blend in with their environment.

Last week the British Ministry of Defence announced that its troops would soon start wearing a new uniform with a version of MultiCam dubbed the "Multi-Terrain Pattern."

Uniforms in the new pattern will be issued to troops with 4 Mechanized Brigade deploying to Afghanistan in March. The uniforms will later be introduced across all three services, the ministry said in a statement posted on its Web site.

"This new camouflage will help our troops blend into different environments in Helmand province to stay hidden from the Taliban," British Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth said in the statement. "Patrols take our troops through the Green Zone, scrubland, desert and arid stony environments and it is crucial that the camouflage can work across all of them."

The U.S. Army is testing MultiCam alongside a version of the digital Universal Camouflage Pattern already featured on the Army Combat Uniform.

Sgt. Michael McCormick, 23, of San Diego, said Monday that he’s wearing the new version of the digital uniform, which has "coyote brown" splotches, on patrols with 4th Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division out of Kandahar, Afghanistan.

But he said he prefers the MultiCam pattern that other soldiers are testing because it’s not digital and therefore blends in better with Afghan terrain. He added that any new uniform should do away with the fabric fastener pockets and attachments that are on his ACUs.

"[The fabric fastener] gets dusty or dirty and it doesn’t work anymore. You can’t keep your sleeves or collar down and it’s not tactical. If you have to adjust something during a mission it makes a loud noise," he said.

The prospect of being mistaken for one of his British counterparts doesn’t faze McCormick.

"I’ve worked a lot with the Brits, especially on my last deployment to Afghanistan," he said. "A common [camouflage] scheme wouldn’t be bad in any shape or form. It’s not like the Afghans know the difference between British and American soldiers."

And a common uniform might provide a psychological advantage over the Taliban, who would be unable to use knowledge about a particular nation’s standard operating procedures when planning attacks, he said.

By Seth Robson, Stars and Stripes
European edition, Monday, December 28, 2009

Camouflage And Christmas Lights

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Pregnant Soldiers in War Zone Won't be Punished

The policy that would have punished soldiers who were pregnant in a war zone ignited a storm of protests.

WASHINGTON — A controversial policy that put pregnant soldiers in war zones at risk of discipline will be rescinded under an order from the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

Gen. Raymond Odierno has drafted a broad new policy for the U.S. forces in Iraq that will take effect Jan. 1, and that order will not include a pregnancy provision that one of his subordinate commanders enacted last month, according to the U.S. military command in Iraq.

Odierno's order comes about a week after the pregnancy policy issued by Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo triggered a storm of criticism. Cucolo had issued a policy that would permit the punishment of soldiers who become pregnant and their sexual partners.

The order listed a variety of offenses, and the punishments for them could range from minor discipline to a court-martial. But in a conference call with reporters earlier this week, Cucolo said he would never actually seek to jail someone over the pregnancy provision.

And he said the policy was intended to emphasize the problems created when pregnant soldiers go home and leave behind a weaker unit.

U.S. military leaders in Iraq conducted a full review of all existing orders as part of the ongoing transition in Iraq, and a new general order has been drafted. The order would consolidate several general orders from the U.S. commanders across Iraq. That policy, the military said Thursday, will not include the pregnancy provision.

Previously, the commanders have had the authority to draft their own restrictions.

Scholarship set in name of Wis. Fort Hood victim

Associated Press

KIEL, Wis. - A Baraboo couple has established a scholarship honoring a Wisconsin soldier killed in the Nov. 5 Fort Hood shootings.

Tom and Cheryl Hayes never met Staff Sgt. Amy Krueger or her family. But they felt a special connection when they found out she'd been studying psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

Tom Hayes is a psychologist from UW-Whitewater. He says he'd been meaning to establish a scholarship, and Krueger's death spurred him to action.

The Sheboygan Press says the Amy Krueger Memorial Scholarship will provide $500 each year to a UW-Whitewater psychology major, with preference given to a student in the Armed Forces.

Jeri Krueger says the Hayes are "wonderful, wonderful people" for keeping her daughter's memory alive.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

God Knows Why

Never forget our REAL HEROES!

Terry Bradshaw and the FOX gang in Afghanistan

Get the Top Gift Card Tips

Because distance often separates extended and even immediate families in military life, gift cards are a popular choice for holiday gift-giving. After all, one size fits all, and the recipients can get exactly what they want from a retailer or restaurant.

But the Federal Trade Commission advises servicemembers and their families, as well as Defense Department civilians and contractors to think before they buy holiday gift cards this season, and buy from sources they know and trust.

"Avoid buying gift cards from online auction sites, because the cards may be counterfeit or may have been obtained fraudulently," said Carol A. Kando-Pineda, counsel for the commission's consumer and business education commission. So before you shell out your hard-earned money and buy a stack of gift cards, you should know a few things first.

It's true that shopping for gifts can be a real dilemma. Just what do you get your finicky Aunt Mary, your co-worker, or your child's babysitter? Though a gift card can be the answer, Kando-Pineda said, be sure to know what you're getting.

"Read the fine print before you buy," she said. "If you don't like the terms and conditions, buy elsewhere. Ask about expiration dates and fees when you're buying a card."

This type of information will always appear on the card itself, on the accompanying sleeve or envelope, or on the issuer's Web site. "If you don't see it, ask," Kando-Pineda cautioned. "If the information is separate from the gift card, give it to the recipient with the card to help protect the value of the card."

And buyers may not be aware, she added, that merchants often tack fees on to the gift cards -- for activation, maintenance or transactions, for example -- that may be deducted from the card's value at the recipient's end.

"It might be embarrassing to give someone a $50 gift card and find out later that fees gobbled up most of the amount," Kando-Pineda said.

Another note of caution to buyers of gift cards is what to do if the company you purchased the card from goes out of business.

"Well first, before you buy, you may want to consider the financial condition of the business and whether it has filed for bankruptcy," Kando-Pineda advised. "But if you do buy a card from a company that goes out of business or ultimately files for bankruptcy, it's as you might expect: the recipient may end up with a card that's worth less than the face value."

She added that before you decided to buy that gift card for Aunt Mary, you should consider how easy it will be for her to redeem that card. "Let's say the business closes stores near where the recipient lives or works," she said. "They may not be able to get to another location to redeem their card."

Kando-Pineda also recommends that recipients of gift cards shouldn't wait to use them. "Use your card as soon as you can," she said. "It's not unusual to misplace gift cards or forget you have them. Using them early will help you get the full value."

She noted that if a card does expire, the recipient should contact the issuer. "They may still honor the card," she said, "although they may charge a fee to do that."

Anyone who has a problem with use of a gift card should contact the company that issued it as soon as possible, Kando-Pineda said. If you can't resolve the problem at that level, she added, file a complaint with the appropriate authorities. If that doesn't fix the problem, she said, contact the Federal Trade Commission through its Web site or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357) toll-free. Complaints also may be filed with your state's attorney general.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Medevacs for troops get faster in Afghanistan

By Gregg Zoroya, USA TODAY

During the past year, the U.S. military reduced from 100 to 42 minutes the average time it takes for a badly wounded servicemember in Afghanistan to reach a hospital, even as the casualty rate tripled, according to military commanders.

Five new field hospitals were constructed to reduce flight distances, and the number of medical evacuation helicopters was tripled to 36 from 12, says Air Force Col. Warren Dorlac and Army Lt. Col. Kyle Burrow, who supervise medevac duties in Afghanistan.

Last January, Defense Secretary Robert Gates called for improved medevac times in Afghanistan. He complained before Congress that the standard in Iraq was to deliver a wounded soldier within an hour and this was not close to being matched in Afghanistan.

"The secretary didn't understand and wasn't willing to accept there being two different standards for those two theaters," says Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell. "To him, it just made no sense."

Although improved survival rates are the goal of faster patient delivery, field commanders are still calculating whether quicker times have saved lives, says Marine Corps Lt. Col. Joseph Kloppel, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command. A complicating factor, he says, is that survival is determined largely by wound severity, regardless of the travel time.

The military's leading medical advisory panel, the Defense Health Board, noted in August that most of the preventable combat deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan are servicemembers who bled to death, in many cases before reaching surgery.

Currently, 96% of wounded in Afghanistan survive wounds, compared with 95% in Iraq. The average medevac times for urgent cases in Iraq is 55 minutes, Kloppel says. So far, 855 U.S. troops have died serving in or near Afghanistan, according to the Pentagon, and more than 4,600 have been wounded.

President Obama is sending 30,000 additional U.S. servicemembers to Afghanistan, raising troop levels there to about 100,000 by summer. Kloppel says medevac resources will be added to meet the increased need.

The improved medical evacuation rates pertain only to the most dire wound or injury cases requiring "emergency, short-notice evacuation to save life, limb or eyesight, or to prevent complications that could lead to more serious illness or permanent disability," says Air Force Maj. John Redfield, a Central Command spokesman.

These "urgent" cases account for 5% of all medical evacuation missions, Redfield says. The vast majority of medevac missions are for transporting between facilities patients who are in better condition.

January was among the lightest casualty months of 2009, with only 37 urgent-care medical evacuation missions. And yet three out of four of those missions took well over a hour, according to statistics provided by U.S. Central Command. The average time was more than 1½ hours, statistics show.

By November, that average time had been cut to 42 minutes. During the busiest casualty months of July and August, with dozens of medical evacuations, more than 80% finished in less than an hour, the numbers show. As of last month, 90% finished in less than an hour.

Military 'mentor' pay a main factor in review of program

By Tom Vanden Brook and Ken Dilanian, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Robert Gates' decision announced Wednesday to order a review of the Pentagon's payments to retired senior officers for their advice was prompted in part by how much these "mentors" get paid.

A USA TODAY review found:

• The Navy pays its mentors an average of about $330 per hour, including expenses, according to its budget.

• The Marines pay $187 per hour for labor alone. In 2009, retired lieutenant general Robert Blackman made $253,500 in labor costs and was paid $72,260 for expenses.

MILITARY MENTORS: 158 paid well for advice

• The Air Force pays $160 to $486 per hour, not including expenses. The Air Force regards as "fair prices" its payments of nearly $500 an hour to contract with retired high-ranking military officers to work as senior mentors, according to its documents.

• Joint Forces Command, which uses at least 34 senior mentors to help train active-duty officers, pays retired three- and four-star officers about $1,600 a day plus expenses. Retired Marine lieutenant general Emil "Buck" Bedard was paid $216,000 in 2009 for 136 days, records show.

• The Army's rate of pay could not be determined.

Other than the Marines, which contract with mentors directly, the services have declined to release complete data on how much mentors have been paid, arguing that such information is not public because the retired officers were not hired directly by the government. Retired officers who serve as mentors also collect their pension, which in some cases can pay up to $220,000, according to the Pentagon.

A USA TODAY investigation published last month found that 80% of 158 mentors the newspaper could identify had ties to defense contractors. The mentors are not required to disclose those affiliations because they are hired as contractors, not temporary federal employees.

Gates ordered Deputy Secretary William Lynn's review after reading the USA TODAY reports, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said.

Gates believes the goals of the mentor programs are worthwhile, Morrell said. However, he said the Pentagon needs to determine how to use the experience and expertise of retired senior officers "yet pay them in a way that most people would expect government employees and government consultants to be paid."

"The deputy secretary is going to look at it from both perspectives: whether or not the compensation is appropriate and whether or not ... there is too much of a potential for a conflict of interest or the appearance of one," Morrell said.

Also Wednesday, the Senate took up a House-passed defense spending bill that calls for the Defense Department's inspector general to review the mentors programs about which lawmakers expressed "deep concern."

Phone scam targets military

By James Buechele

FAIRFIELD, IA -- Law enforcement in Jefferson County is warning people of an army scam.

A local resident was called recently by a person trying to solicit money for military families. The money would pay for air fare in bringing Iowa Army National Guard member’s home for the holidays.

The local National Guard Armory says there is no such campaign underway and the call is probably a scam. Officials say scams like this are taking advantage of the military.

“This time of year is particularly bad because we're preying on people's emotions,” said chief deputy Gregg Morton. “Family members and friends will give money to organizations if they're legitimate to help bring those folks back for the holiday season.”

Morton is a former Marine himself. The thought of someone taking advantage of the military like this hits close to home.

“To be honest with you it angers me. The servicemen aren’t asking for this. Especially the family members aren’t asking for this scam. So whoever’s taking advantage of people through this scam, I wish they get caught. I wish they get prosecuted.”

Morton added that if you are in doubt whether an organization or fund is real through the phone, there are ways to help yourself. Ask them their names or the organization they belong to.

If you have any questions call the Jefferson County Law Center at 641-472-4146.

U.S. troops admit abusing prescription drugs

Army soldiers joke while they fill out a questionnaire about mental fitness Tuesday at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn, N.Y.

By Chris Hondros, Getty Images

WASHINGTON — About one in four soldiers admit abusing prescription drugs, most of them pain relievers, in a one-year period, according to a Pentagon health survey released Wednesday.

The study, which surveyed more than 28,500 U.S. troops last year, showed that about 20% of Marines had also abused prescription drugs, mostly painkillers, in that same period.

The findings show the continued toll on the military from fighting wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003. Those wars have required troops to serve multiple combat deployments.

"We are aware that more prescription drugs are being used today for pain management and behavioral health issues," Brig. Gen. Colleen McGuire, director of the Army Suicide Prevention Task Force, said Wednesday. "These areas of substance abuse along with increased use of alcohol concern us."

The survey showed that pain relievers were the most abused drug in the military, used illicitly at a rate triple that of marijuana or amphetamines, the next most widely abused drugs.

About 15% of soldiers said they had abused prescription drugs in the 30 days before they were questioned for the survey. About 10% of Marines said the same thing.

Prescription drug abuse is "an issue for American society as well, and we're looking at it from every possible angle," McGuire said.

Painkiller abuse among troops has soared since 2005, the last time a similar study was conducted. The 2005 survey showed that 4% of soldiers had abused painkillers in the previous 30 days, compared with 13% in 2008. Abuse within the previous year was 10% in 2005 compared with 22% in 2008.

The authors of the report released Wednesday said different questions were used in 2008 compared with previous years. That makes an exact comparison difficult.

The 2008 survey asked more specific questions, such as whether troops were engaged in any non-medical use of the drugs they were prescribed.

Prescription drug abuse among the civilian population dropped in 2008 compared with 2007, a federal report released in September shows.

USA TODAY reported last year that narcotic pain-relief prescriptions for injured or wounded U.S. troops jumped from 30,000 a month to 50,000 since the Iraq war began.

Lt. Gen. Eric Schoomaker, the Army surgeon general, created a task force this year to review the service's pain management practices.

In addition, the Army is expanding programs to treat and educate soldiers about drug abuse. But the service struggles to provide enough drug counselors and needs to hire 270 to 300, Gen. Peter Chiarelli, Army vice chief of staff, said last month.

Other survey findings include:

•The percentage of troops showing signs of post-traumatic stress disorder increased during the war years. In a 2005 survey, 7% of the servicemembers described symptoms suggesting PTSD. That increased to 11% in the 2008 study.

The largest increases were within the Army and Marine Corps, the two service branches doing most of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. The rate of soldiers who described problems suggestive of PTSD increased from 9% in 2005 to 13% in 2008, and from 8% to 15% among Marines, the survey results show.

•Nearly 60% of Marines admit engaging in binge drinking. The rate of heavy alcohol use — defined as five or more drinks per occasion once a week — among all service members ages 18 to 35 remained higher than in the civilian population.

•Service members admitting that they had thoughts of suicide during the year prior to being surveyed doubled from 1% in 2005 to 2% in 2008.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Wisconsin soldier describes blast that put him on the cover of Time

The LaCrosse Tribune interviewed Master Sgt. Chet Millard about President Obama's plans to send more troops to Afghanistan.

Millard recalled missions that would last for weeks, with scant opportunities for rest.

"We were constantly being pushed, with very little down time," Millard said Tuesday from his home in Sparta.

Reporter Chris Hubbuch of the Tribune also talked to Millard about the blast the resulted in his appearance on the cover of a national news magazine. He was serving with the 951st Engineer Company with the Wisconsin National Guard, when the truck he was riding in hit a roadside bomb. A photographer from Time came to the scene, and Millard ended up on the cover.
Read the story here.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Economy hits groups helping military families

Military families in need can pick up gifts this year at a "pop up" toy store in Fayetteville, N.C., near Fort Bragg.

By Forrest MacCormack for USA TODAY

Groups that help military families are reporting a drop in cash donations at a time of greater need for those struggling in a down economy while one or more parents fight in Iraq or Afghanistan.

"We're seeing an increase in requests for assistance this year over the same time last year," says Jim Knotts, chief executive of Operation Homefront, a charitable organization that helps military families. Knotts cited an 86% increase in requests for food assistance over last year. "We attribute that to the effects of the economy."

Although active-duty troops can count on a regular paycheck from Uncle Sam, many military families face the same pressures affecting other Americans during this downturn: Spouses are having difficulty finding work, and mounting debts and foreclosures are forcing them out of rental homes, says John Alexander of the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society.

Beginning today, Operation Homefront will team up with Wal-Mart to provide "pop up" toy stores in parking lots near the six bases that have deployed the most troops. Thousands of selected parents will be able to choose holiday gifts provided by Wal-Mart.

"That's going to give my kids at least four gifts a piece, which was no way I could afford," says Nicole Gardner, 26, of Raeford, N.C., whose husband is in Iraq with the 82nd Airborne Division. They have three children.

"I was talking about canceling Christmas or giving them one little thing apiece and that's it," Gardner says.

MILITARY FAMILIES: Help comes in creative ways

The $1.1 million holiday giving effort will provide toys to 10,000 children at temporary toy stores outside military installations at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Fort Hood and Fort Bliss in Texas, Fort Campbell in Kentucky, Fort Stewart in Georgia and Camp Pendleton in California, says Margaret McKenna, president of the Wal-Mart Foundation.

Wal-Mart will also give $1,000 shopping sprees to 50 families chosen by Operation Homefront and 1,000 gift baskets to caregivers of wounded servicemembers.

Other groups that send gifts to troops or their families say the holiday season is complicated this year because they also have seen a drop in monetary contributions.

Marty Horn, founder of Any Soldier, which has sent care packages and supplies to 1.5 million deployed servicemembers since 2003, says cash donations are down 50% from last year. In 2008, they were down 70% from 2007.

Operation Gratitude, which sends about 100,000 care packages to deployed troops each year, has seen monetary donations drop about 30% compared with last year.

"This year is going to be a bit of a challenge," founder Carolyn Blashek says.

Alexander says 2008 saw a 70% jump in Marines and sailors needing financial assistance, compared with the previous year, and this year is projected to see an additional 18% increase.

Until Operation Homefront chose her family for the toy store at Fort Bragg, Nicole Farley and her Army mechanic husband were worried about providing their six children with a decent Christmas.

Farley, 28, is a full-time student and has been looking for work since 2007 without success. Everywhere she applies, she says, 10 others have applied for the same job. "We're on a very tight budget."

She plans all meals and snacks before grocery shopping, making it easier to buy only what's on her list. She and husband Jeremy have ditched their house phone, cable and nights out. She tries to get all her errands done in one trip to save gas. "And we're juggling bills just to provide a Christmas. … Now it looks like we're going to give them a decent Christmas this year."

Iwo Jima flag raiser's body 'was never sent to rest'

Ira Hayes
Flag Raising at Iwo Jima

When Ira Hayes was alive, his image was captured in one of the most famous war photographs ever taken — the World War II image of U.S. military personnel raising the flag over Iwo Jima.

Last month, 54 years since his death, his family learned that another image of Hayes, a face mask, had been cast in plaster while he lay in a Phoenix mortuary. The mask of Hayes, a Pima Indian from Bapchule, Ariz., was made without the family's knowledge and ended up on display at the Gilbert Ortega Museum Gallery of Scottsdale.

"In Pima culture, when you pass on, everything you own is supposed to go with you," says Sharon Cook, a Hayes family member. "They say because of this, Ira's body was never sent to rest."

Kenneth Hayes, 78, received his brother's mask in November from the gallery. Hours later, relatives returned it to the Gila River Indian Reservation where Ira Hayes was born and died, according to Larry Cook, Hayes' grand-nephew.

The mask was broken to bits and buried near the graves of his parents, Sharon Cook says.

The discovery of the mask adds one more chapter to the odyssey of Hayes, who has been depicted in books, films (including Clint Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers) and music.

Amid the final battles of World War II, Cpl. Ira Hamilton Hayes, four Marines and a Navy corpsman were captured by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal as they raised the Stars and Stripes.

The 1945 picture, which came to symbolize American courage and patriotism, transformed a troubled Indian kid into an unwilling national celebrity. Hayes was one of only 27 of the company of 250 to survive the battle on Mount Suribachi, according to historical reports.

President Harry Truman declared Hayes a hero and ordered him back to the states to join a tour raising money through the sale of war bonds.

According to S.D. Nelson, who wrote, Quiet Hero: The Ira Hayes Story, the 23-year-old corporal considered his fallen comrades the true heroes. After his discharge from the Marine Corps, Nelson wrote, Hayes returned to his home in the poverty-stricken Gila River Indian Community, seeking solitude — and often turning to alcohol. Hayes died of exposure in 1955 at the age of 32 after getting into a drunken fight during a poker game. His body was found lying in a creek, Larry Cook said.

Gilbert Ortega Jr., the gallery president, says the history of the mask can be found in a one-page document written in 1986 by Shirley Nelson of Yuma: A Phoenix artist named Hortense Johnson went to the funeral parlor and made a cast of Hayes' face. It was her intent to make a bust of Ira.

After Johnson's death, her husband gave the mask to Nelson and her mother. "My mom and I were the only people who knew what it was, so he gave it to us," she says.

In the early 1980s, artist Robert Yellowhair expressed an interest in making a sculpture of Hayes. Nelson says she gave the mask to Yellowhair.

Yellowhair never created the sculpture and in 1995 gave the mask to Gilbert Ortega Sr., owner of Native American art and jewelry stores.

"My dad always prided himself on the mask," Ortega Jr. says. "There's no way to put a value on something like that."

Larry Cook and his great uncle, Kenneth approached Ortega Jr. about donating the mask to Ira's descendants. "I believe it still has the spirit in there, and that's what led the family here," Ortega Jr. says.

Fort Bragg wives react to Afghanistan decision

FORT BRAGG (WTVD) -- Military families in Fort Bragg are keeping close tabs on President Barack Obama's decision on Afghanistan.

While many families will be impacted, others already have loved ones in harm's way. However, they say they think the president is making the right decision.

"Our overall goal remains the same --to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan and to prevent Al-Qaeda from threatening American and her allies in the future," Obama said.

Just about three-fourths of the Army 82nd Airborne Division is deployed to either Iraq or Afghanistan.

Tarita Harris, whose husband is a part of the 82nd Airborne, said she liked what her husband's commander and chief said Tuesday night.

"I like that he is able to come together, listen to the generals, listen to everyone else, concerns along with our allies, and then come to a really great end result," she said.

Harris' husband is currently deployed to Afghanistan. The president's speech has a direct impact on her husband and their family.

"I feel that it will hopefully bring him home safely, along with his other comrades that are over there," she said.

According to reports, the majority of troops in the president's plan will come from Fort Drum, New York and Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

But military sources tell ABC11 Eyewitness News that the 82nd 2nd Brigade Combat Team may also be included in those plans.

An 82nd spokesman says there are no official deployment or mobilization orders issued for the 2nd Brigade Combat Team.

Sources tell ABC11 those orders could come in the next several days.

In January 2007, the 2nd Brigade was the first Army unit President George W. Bush sent to Iraq to quell growing violence and insurgents there.

The Army says that surge reduced violence in Iraq by 95 percent.

Now back at Fort Bragg, the 2nd Brigade Combat Team is part of the military's Rapid Deployment Forces, able to deploy anywhere in the world in 18 hours.

Marva Moore, whose husband is deployed to Iraq, says for the first time since the war began, military families around Fort Bragg and the country finally see an end in sight.

"I like that now we know by 2011 all the troops will be out of Iraq," Moore said.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Military divorces edge up as war takes its toll

Divorce rates among Army enlisted soldiers continued a gradual and steady increase for the seventh straight year with nearly 10,000 married G.I.s ending marriages during fiscal 2009, according Pentagon figures released Friday.

Four percent of marriages among enlisted soldiers failed. The trend mirrors findings by Army battlefield researchers earlier this month that revealed a similar year-by-year increase in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq who complain of failing marriages.

The evidence shows that long and multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan are damaging military marriages, says Lt. Col. Paul Bliese, a research psychologist.

"The pressures are most evident for the younger soldiers," says Army Lt. Col. Paul Bliese, a research psychologist. "(But) we are starting to detect some of the affect on (senior enlisted soldiers), particularly in terms of marital satisfaction."

The divorce rate within the Army is not the highest among the services — Air Force enlisted airmen registered a 4.3% divorce rate this year. But the Army is the largest service, with 100,000 more married troops than the Air Force, and is the only service that has shown a steady increase in divorce among enlisted service members for several years.

Air Force and Navy enlisted rates have fluctuated. And the rate among enlisted Marines stayed steady at 4% from 2008 to 2009, numbers show.

Soldiers and Marines have done most of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The overall divorce rate in the U.S. military increased from 3.4% to 3.6% this year. The civilian divorce rate in the USA for the 12 months ending in January 2009 was 3.4%, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Army researchers have focused special attention on the marriages of troops at war, completing six field studies and surveys in Iraq and three in Afghanistan since 2003.

They found evidence that soldiers with more electronic access to their families are having more marital problems.

In Afghanistan, one in four married soldiers working support or logistic jobs and confined to combat installations, where there is greater access to telephones and the Internet, reported marital problems. By contrast, 16.4% of married soldiers who regularly leave installations to engage in combat, convoys or other missions said their relationships were failing.

Army Maj. Jeffrey Thomas, a research psychologist, says this may be due to some soldiers becoming too involved in their family lives via the Internet or telephone.

"It's a great thing to have that set up there and the ability to reach out and talk to family and be involved," Thomas says. "But you can also get dragged into minor squabbles and things that are probably best resolved by the spouse."

You … get dragged into minor squabbles and things that are probably best resolved by the spouse," Thomas says.

Researchers also found a strong link between multiple deployments and failing marriages among soldiers fighting in Afghanistan this year, Bliese says. Some 14.3% of married soldiers on their first deployment and 12.6% of those on their second deployment complained of marital problems. But nearly one in three married soldiers on their third deployment said their marriages were in trouble.

In Iraq in 2003, 12.4% of married soldiers surveyed in 2003 in Iraq said they planned to divorce or separate after returning home. This year, nearly 23% of soldiers fighting in Iraq made those claims, according to Army data.

The percentage of soldiers in Iraq who say they have a good marriage has declined from about 80% in 2003 to about 60% in 2008.

All military services offer programs aimed at strengthening marriages in order mitigate deployment stresses, says Air Force Lt. Col. April Cunningham, a Pentagon spokeswoman.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Holiday Mail for Heroes

Holiday Mail For Heroes is here again! This year, we are teaming up with our friends at Pitney Bowes for the third time to send holiday cards to service members, veterans, and their families. This is a great way to give back this holiday season - by sharing your kind words and thanks with those who have given a great deal to their country.

We will begin accepting cards on November 2nd. Send in your cards to the address below, and please read the guidelines carefully!

Holiday Mail For Heroes
P.O. Box 5456
Capitol Heights, MD 20791-5456

All cards must be received no later than Monday, December 7th. Cards received after this date will unfortunately be returned to the sender. This deadline ensures enough time to sort and distribute cards before the holidays.

After the mailbox closes, the cards we received will be screened for hazardous materials by Pitney Bowes and then reviewed by Red Cross volunteers working around the country. Then, the cards are sent out to recipients in time for the holidays.

This year, we are excited to partner with the talented Amy Grant. Amy is also a member of our celebrity cabinet. In her words,

“I am honored and thrilled to be a part of the Holiday Mail for Heroes program. […] The service that our military men and women provide this country year-round is invaluable and I feel it is especially important to give thanks for their sacrifices during the holiday season.”

Amy will be joining us for our special kick-off event on November 11th, Veteran’s Day- watch this blog for updates.

We’ve had great turnouts the past two years, and look forward to another great year!

You can also do more than send in cards. Our holiday gift catalog lists several different contributions you can make to provide much-needed items for service members, such as phone cards and “comfort kits”.

If you are a blogger or website owner who is interested in showing your support this year, below are some resources you can use and follow. There is also a Holiday Mail for Heroes resource page up on our website that will contain more news and information as it happens.

Watch the #holidaymail hashtag on Twitter, and use the hashtag when you talk about the program!

Contact us at @RedCross and Pitney Bowes at @Mail4Heroes with questions or comments! We will be posting information and news on Twitter.

We will be updating our Youtube channel regularly. Check out our Services to the Armed Forces playlist in particular for videos from our Holiday Mail for Heroes events!

Our Holiday Mail 2009 set on Flickr will also be continuously updated as we gather more photos from our chapters and official events. Click here to see last year’s photos. All Flickr photos are available for you to use for personal (not commercial) purposes - just make sure to link back to our Flickr page!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Vets get aid with legal problems

Marshall Callahan had $300 in his pocket and a powerful craving for booze when he got stranded in Lee's Summit, Mo., on a cross-country drive two years ago.

The former Marine Corps aviation mechanic says he drank until he was broke, blacked out and woke up in jail. It wasn't the first time. Callahan, 47, has been homeless on and off for 15 years.

"I've been in all the jails here. I've been in all the detoxes. Any life I had that I could ruin, I ruined," says Callahan, who served in the Marines from 1981 to 1985 in Cherry Point, N.C.

Now Callahan, sober since Oct. 15 and living in a Salvation Army shelter, is eagerly awaiting Dec. 9, his day in a Kansas City, Mo., veterans court, where a volunteer lawyer will assist him with his thicket of nuisance citations, such as sleeping in public.

"This is a big deal for someone used to living on the street and not having any money," Callahan says. "This is a golden opportunity."

Special courts aimed at helping veterans with legal problems are emerging around the country as servicemembers return from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, spurring efforts to help them and others who served in the military.

In the past two years, 22 cities and counties, such as Buffalo, Chicago, Tulsa and Pittsburgh, have opened courts with dockets reserved for veterans. Kansas City held its first session in August. At least 39 others are planned for next year, Department of Veterans Affairs records show.

The courts coordinate with the VA and other service providers so veterans such as Callahan charged with minor infractions can opt into services such as drug treatment or job training to avoid jail or fines and ultimately have their cases dismissed. The VA estimates that veterans account for 10% of the people who have criminal records.

"In most instances, the folks in need of this special service are people who are suffering or have had legal issues as a result of their military service," says Brian Christensen, a former Navy lawyer who helped organize the Kansas City court and will represent Callahan for free at the once-a-month veterans docket. "They deserve a little bit extra from society."

The special courts began after judges and lawyers saw a growing number of veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with signs of post-traumatic stress disorder or substance-abuse problems, says Paul Freese, a Los Angeles attorney who advises the American Bar Association's Commission on Homelessness and Poverty.

Many veterans who come to the courts are homeless and have amassed citations for minor, non-violent offenses, such as sleeping in public or loitering. They could not pay the fines or get to court, so judges issued warrants that prevent them from getting jobs, housing and benefits, Freese says. Neither the ABA nor the VA tracks how many of these veterans successfully completed their programs.

"Communities want to help these soldiers come back without the outcomes we saw after the Vietnam War," such as homelessness, unemployment and substance abuse, Freese says. "I think we're at a critical juncture where these courts can exponentially increase."

This month, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki announced a five-year goal to end homelessness among veterans. The VA estimates 131,000 veterans are homeless, but Shinseki said homelessness could increase by 10% to 15% over the next five years without aggressive steps to help veterans.

In May, he directed every veterans center to designate a staff member to work with the courts to ensure veterans in the criminal justice system can tap into VA services, says Jim McGuire, who manages the agency's Health Care for Reentry Veterans program.

"The VA in the past hasn't been as aggressive about reaching out to the courts. We want to ramp that up," says Sean Clark, national coordinator for Veterans Justice Outreach at the VA.

Callahan, after eight months sober, went on a drinking binge two days before his first scheduled court date in October and missed it. He returned to the Salvation Army shelter to detox. Then, "in through the Federal Express mail comes a letter saying the lawyer went to court and got a continuance," giving him a second chance to show up at court. "I couldn't believe it," he says.

Callahan vows not to miss his December hearing. He wants to finish cosmetology school, get a job in a salon and learn to play the cello.

"I have a chance," he says.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Eight Fort Hood wounded will still deploy

Pool photo by Rodolfo Gonzalez

WASHINGTON — Many more mental health specialists were wounded in the Nov. 5 shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, than previously reported, decimating the two units deploying to Afghanistan and Iraq, a commanding general says.

Despite their wounds, however, eight of the specialists were still willing to deploy, says Army Reserve Maj. Gen. Lie-Ping Chang.

The units are rebuilding quickly, Chang says. Eight of the wounded have returned to duty, and 14 other mental health reservists have volunteered to fill vacancies and go to Iraq or Afghanistan, he says.

Two reservists have volunteered to immediately deploy with the units in December. Another 12 said they will be ready by early January, Chang says. "I think we can do it," Chang says, referring to replenishing his ranks. "The response was so overwhelming, and the people wanted to do the right thing."

Two vacancies remain, says Chang, who is a family physician and commands the 807th Medical Command, under which the two combat stress control units are assigned.

Five mental health workers were among 13 people shot to death when Army Maj. Nidal Hasan allegedly opened fire at a Soldier Readiness Center at Fort Hood. Another 19 behavioral health specialists were wounded, Chang says. Members of the 467th and 1908th Army Reserve Combat Stress Control detachments were at the center preparing for deployment.

"They happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time," Chang says.

Hasan was charged last week with 13 counts of murder.

He was one of three regular Army soldiers who had been assigned to the 467th Combat Stress Control Detachment deploying to Afghanistan next month, Chang says. The unit is slotted for 46 soldiers.

The Army last week said there was a dire need for more mental health workers in Afghanistan, where the terrain and distances make it difficult to provide behavioral health support to soldiers in far-flung outposts. With the surge in troops to Afghanistan this year, mental health support was lagging, Army Surgeon General Eric Schoomaker said last week.

The Army typically strives to provide one mental health clinician for every 700 deployed soldiers. That ratio slipped to 1-to-1,123 last spring.

The 467th Combat Stress Control Detachment was to help fix that problem by December, Army Lt. Col. Ed Brusher says.

Chang had each mental health worker undergo a psychological assessment to determine whether they are fit for combat. "I want to make sure when we deploy this unit they have been thoroughly vetted and checked," he says.

"I told the soldiers, 'I understand how stressful being in that room (where the shooting occurred) was. You see people get killed.' You think of 13 killed and 30 injured, that's 43 people laying there (wounded and dead)," Chang says. "That's a pretty strong psychological shock."

He says one mental health worker suffering psychological problems from the attack was excused from deployment, and he anticipates there may be a few other such cases.

This was not the first tragedy for the 1908th unit heading for Iraq, Chang says. One of that unit's psychiatrists, Matthew Houseal, 54, volunteered this year to deploy to Iraq with another Reserve unit, the 55th Combat Stress Control Team. Houseal was working at a clinic on an installation outside Baghdad on May 11 when Army Sgt. John Russell allegedly opened fire, killing Houseal.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Female Troops Gets Unique Care Package

Army News Service

WASHINGTON -- The United Services Organization has sent out a lot of care packages over the years, but they've never put together a "for women only" kit -- until now.

Congressional staffers and members of Congress participated in a USO-sponsored event Nov. 18 on Capitol Hill to build some 2,000 care packages that contain items specifically targeted at female servicemembers.

"We're going to do something different today, something that's never been done before," said USO President Sloan D. Gibson. "We're going to assemble USO care packages explicitly for our women -- for servicewomen that are serving in forward-deployed locations around the world."

Sloan said as many as 15 percent of servicemembers in the active component and 18 percent in the reserve component are women.

"They have needs and interests that are very unique and we are going to meet many of those needs with these new care packages that we have designed just for women," Sloan said.

Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, said when Americans perform small acts like assembling a care package, that kindness does not go unnoticed by servicemembers.

"As a military mom, I have seen first-hand how acts of kindness and service, like today's effort, can improve the life of a servicemember," she said. "These are small acts, but like the veterans and volunteers who greeted my son when he touched base on U.S. soil after a year's deployment in Iraq -- they mean so much to our servicemembers."

Biden also said that women serving today are continuing in a long tradition of women supporting the armed forces.

"Women have always played a critical role in supporting our nation's defense and security and their role will only continue to evolve and grow in the future," she said. "I want to salute all the women around this country and the world who are doing their part to keep our country safe."

The care packages contained many items typical in care packages for servicemembers: hand wipes, sanitizer and food products for instance. But the packages also contained some items specifically targeted at female servicemembers, including two cosmetic products courtesy of Maybelline and a copy of the November issue of Cosmopolitan Magazine.

Deborah Marquardt, vice president of integrated marketing communications for Maybelline New York & Garnier, said even in a war zone, women like to be themselves.

"We want to support the brave women in uniform and we know how important the little things in life are -- beauty," she said. "Women intrinsically understand beauty and it can change their whole outlook to get a new lipstick or a mascara. Women like to feel like women no matter where they are and what context. I think anything that helps you feel like yourself and reminds you of back home and gives you confidence ... is important, no matter what the context."

Donna Kalajian-Lagani, publisher of Cosmopolitan Magazine, said female servicemembers epitomize the magazine's credo.

"We're so thrilled to be here for the female troops," she said. "Cosmo's whole credo is about being fun, fearless and female, and I can't think of a better word to use for our troops around the world than to say they are the most fearless and most brave."

Kalajian-Lagani also said she doesn't think female servicemembers will have a problem finding time to enjoy the little slice of home being sent abroad specifically for them.

"There's always time for Cosmo, and there's always time for being fun, fearless and female and giving yourself a little treat," she said. "Whether that little treat is putting on a lipstick or opening up your favorite magazine, like Cosmo."

Muggers Show Respect for Army ID

Associated Press

MILWAUKEE - A Milwaukee Army reservist's military identification earned him some street cred Tuesday, when he says four men who mugged him at gunpoint returned his belongings and thanked him for his service after finding the ID.

The 21-year-old University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee student said he was walking home from work about 1:15 a.m. Tuesday when he was pulled into an alley and told to lay face down and with a gun to his neck. Four men took his wallet, $16, keys, his cell phone and even a PowerBar wrapper from his pants pockets, he said.

But the hostile tone quickly changed when one of the robbers, whom the reservist presumed was the leader, saw an Army ID in the wallet. The robber told the others to return the items and they put most of his belongings on the ground next to him, including the wrapper, the reservist said.

"The guy continued to say throughout the situation that he respects what I do and at one point he actually thanked me and he actually apologized," said the reservist, who asked not to be identified Tuesday because the robbers still had his keys.

The reservist said he asked the men, who all had hoods or hats covering their faces, if he could get up and they said he could before starting to walk away.

"The leader of the group actually walked back, gave me a quick fist bump, which was very strange," he said.

Milwaukee police spokeswoman Anne E. Schwartz said the reservist is credible and that officers still were looking for the suspects Tuesday.

The reservist didn't realize until later that his keys were not with him and he doesn't know if the robbers intended to keep those, he said. Still, he said he feels lucky.

"I'm just kind of awe struck that everything was given back to me due to just being in the military, " he said. "I realize in pretty much every other situation that wouldn't happen."

He said he's never been deployed, only having signed up for the Army Reserves about a year ago. He said he is the first person in his immediate family to join the military.

Schwartz said there were two other incidents within 40 minutes in the same area and police suspect the four men were involved in all of them. The robbers were unsuccessful at 12:35 a.m., when the 39-year-old man they approached ran into the street and started screaming.

Schwartz said within 10 minutes of that they approached a 47-year-old man - a convicted burglar who had a Department of Corrections inmate ID in his wallet - ordered him to the ground and pointed a gun at him. They took his wallet, apparently unfazed by that ID.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Oprah Winfrey to greet returning Fort Bragg soldiers via satellite

Oprah Winfrey on Wednesday is scheduled to speak via satellite with Fort Bragg soldiers recently returned from deployment.

Winfrey will address the soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team, who will be gathered at the York Theater on post.

About 700 people including soldiers and their families are expected to attend the broadcast, said Maj. Brian Fickel, spokesman for the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg.

Crews from Winfrey's talk show started setting up for the broadcast today. Winfrey's address is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. Wednesday and is open only to members of the 3rd brigade and their families.

Winfrey is expected to thank the soldiers for their service and welcome them home. The segment is scheduled to air on Winfrey's television show Nov. 24.

A representative with Winfrey's Harpo Productions couldn't be reached immediately for comment.

The soldiers for the 3rd brigade have been returning from Iraq since the start of the month.

About 3,500 paratroopers are coming back from the overseas deployment.

IAVA Veternas Day

Third Annual Heroes Gala

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Post Office Deadlines For Holiday Packages to Troops

The U. S. Postal Service today issued a table of deadlines for mailing holiday gifts to troops stationed overseas.

The recommended mailing date for the most economical postage to overseas military installations, including Iraq and Afghanistan, is November 13. Mail sent to overseas military addresses is charged only domestic mail prices. The domestic mail price for the Priority Mail Large Flat Rate Box is $13.95, but for packages to APO/FPO addresses overseas the price is reduced to $11.95.

Additional discounts are available for customers printing their Priority Mail postage labels online at Click-N-Ship. Flat-Rate boxes are free at any Post Office, or can be ordered online at Postage, labels and customs forms can be printed online any time using Click-N-Ship.

The Postal Service continues to show support to those serving in the armed forces by offering free Military Care Kits, designed specifically for military families sending packages overseas. The mailing kits can be ordered by phone by calling 1-800-610-8734 and asking for the Care Kit. Each kit includes two “America Supports You” large Priority Mail Flat-Rate boxes, four medium-sized Priority Mail Flat-Rate boxes, six Priority Mail labels, one roll of Priority Mail tape and six customs forms with envelopes.

To ensure delivery of holiday cards and packages by Dec. 25 to military APO/FPO addresses overseas, the Postal Service recommends that mail for service members be entered no later than the mailing dates listed below. Mail addressed to military post offices overseas is subject to certain conditions or restrictions regarding content, preparation and handling.

Maine Troop Greeters See Service Members Off and Welcome Them Home

10 November 2009

Wednesday, Nov. 11 is Veterans Day in America. It's a day set aside to honor those who

These three
These three "Maine Troop Greeters" are profiled in the "The Way We Get By" documentary
have served in the armed forces, especially in wartime.In that spirit, a small group of senior citizens in the northeastern U.S. city of Bangor, Maine, has been working around the clock at the local airport to say thank you to troops leaving for, and returning from, Iraq and Afghanistan. A new documentary film profiles three of these elderly greeters and examines how their tributes have enriched not only the troops' lives, but also their own.

Group has been greeting troops at airport since 2003

Filmmaker Aron Gaudet's new nationally broadcast documentary, "The Way We Get By," shows a common scene at Bangor Maine's international airport, as members of a group called Maine Troop Greeters and other local citizens gather to cheer the troops. They come to Bangor International because this easternmost major U.S. airfield, with its 3.5 kilometer long runway and isolated security, is the preferred stop for military planes transporting troops to and from Iraq and Afghanistan.

A core group of about 25 mostly elderly volunteers has received and sent off nearly one million service members since May 2003, shortly after the start of the Iraq war.

The documentary reveals that delivering this simple kindness gives the greeters a sense of purpose. Many say that prior to volunteering they felt they had outlived their usefulness.

World War Two veteran Bil Knight is one of a dedicated core of about 25 Maine Troop Greeters
World War Two veteran Bill Knight is one of a dedicated core of about 25 Maine Troop Greeters
Bill Knight, 87, is a World War Two veteran with prostate cancer. His wife died several years ago and he is facing financial hard times.

"Life is pretty strange when you're alone. You never know what it's gonna drive you to. My life don't mean a hell of a lot to me, but if I can make it mean something to someone else, well, that's my endeavor," Knight says.

A welcome by Knight and his fellow volunteers certainly meant a lot to two servicemen who expressed appreciation for the display of support and appreciation.

Joy is not the only emotion returning troops feel

Greeter Jerry Mundy, 74, a burly ex-Marine who faces health challenges, encourages arriving troops to use available free cell phones at the airport to call their loved ones.

Greeter Jerry Mundy, a jovial ex-Marine, loves to welcome home the troops, especially with free mobile phones with which to call their loved ones
Greeter Jerry Mundy, a jovial ex-Marine, loves to welcome home the troops, especially with free mobile phones with which to call their loved ones
"I come home, I feel good. I feel better. That's the best part of the whole deal is handing them the phones. It's so rewarding for us to give them the chance to make the calls. It's just amazing to see it," Mundy says, recalling joyful phone exchanges he often overhears.

But the film also shows that happiness is not the only emotion returning troops experience as they deplane. Many are still grieving for their fallen buddies.

"I mean you can't get somebody to feel what it's like when you are sound asleep and the whole world explodes. I mean, how do you explain that to somebody? I mean it's over. We're home," one soldier says. He tells the filmmakers the nightmare of war is still with him.

Seniors and soldiers grapple with mortality and isolation

It may seem at first that these troops and their elderly greeters have little in common. But director Aron Gaudet finds poignant parallels.

Director Aron Gaudet found powerful similarities between the challenges faced by the troops and the older greeters
Director Aron Gaudet found powerful similarities between the challenges faced by the troops and the older greeters
"Like the troops that were heading over to war, they were really thinking about their own mortality and what they were heading into. And when you are 87 years old and have prostate cancer, you're thinking about a lot of those same things. And then the troops that were coming back, they were kind of going through that same thing. When they were over there, they were providing this great service, and when they come back a lot of times they were worried they are going to get pushed aside or marginalized and forgotten about. That's another thing those greeters were going through as well," Gaudet says.

The film inspires audiences as it pays tribute to those who serve

The documentary's producer, Gita Pullapilly, who is also filmmaker Gaudet's wife, says she was inspired by the combination of vulnerability and strength shown by the elderly greeters.

Greeter Joan Gaudet (the director's mother) had her own personal goodbyes to make; her granddaughter and grandson were both being deployed during the making of the film
Greeter Joan Gaudet (the director's mother) had her own personal goodbyes to make; her granddaughter and grandson were both being deployed during the making of the film
"They'd go through enormous obstacles and find their way out and talk about how everybody has to go through life in their own way. You push through and you find your way through it and when Aron and I would go home and we would be struggling through these intense issues, it would actually help us," Pullapilly says.

As greeter Bill Knight knows well there will be more casualties and more veterans before the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are over. Aaron Gaudet's "The Way We Get By" is a timely reminder of the sacrifices made by those who serve, and the value of honoring that service with public and personal tribute.