30 October 2009

Murtha is open to raising taxes to fund a troop surge in Aghanistan

Rep. John Murtha on Thursday said he is open to raising taxes if President Barack Obama decides to send more troops to Afghanistan.

Read more: http://www.thehill.com/homenews/house/65553-murtha-is-open-to-raising-taxes-for-afghanistan-war
By Roxana Tiron - 10/30/09 06:00 AM ET

28 October 2009

President Signs Legislation Committing U.S. to Iraq Withdrawal

/PRNewswire/ -- President Barack Obama today signed legislation that that formally recognizes the U.S. obligation to withdraw from Iraq and requires the Pentagon to provide quarterly reports on the progress of that withdrawal.

This is the first time since the invasion of Iraq in 2003 that Congress has passed legislation that affirms that the United States is committed to leaving Iraq by a specific date, two national Quaker organizations, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) said today.

"We congratulate Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin and House Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton for including this important milestone in the 2010 military authorization bill," said Aura Kanegis, Director of Public Policy for the American Friends Service Committee. "The U.S.-Iraq bilateral agreement is so central to public discourse in Iraq, but too often forgotten in the U.S." The United States and Iraq signed a bilateral agreement in November 2008 that commits the United States to withdraw all military forces from Iraq by December 31, 2011.

The legislation signed by President Obama today requires the Pentagon to report to Congress every three months on progress to withdraw all U.S. troops, withdraw or transfer to Iraqi authorities all military equipment, close down or transfer to Iraqi authorities military bases, and release or transfer to Iraqi authorities all Iraqi detainees before the December 31, 2011 deadline.

"The first congressional effort to signal support for complete withdrawal was the ban on establishing permanent bases in Iraq," said Jim Fine, the Legislative Secretary on Foreign Policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation. "Now the Pentagon will issue month by month reports on the progress made to close down bases or transfer them to the Iraqi government, which adds new teeth to this historic provision."

With this law, Congress has established unprecedented oversight of the progress made towards complete withdrawal from Iraq.

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26 October 2009

Secretary of the Army Says Military Ready to Lift Gay Ban

/PRNewswire/ -- The Secretary of the Army, John McHugh, indicated this weekend that the Army is prepared to lift the ban on openly gay service if the Commander-in-Chief and the Congress decide to end the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, a prospect that has gathered steam in recent weeks. McHugh, formerly a Republican congressman from the conservative 23rd district of New York, is the highest official inside the Pentagon to express such support. He told the Army Times on Sunday that there was no reason to fear that major difficulties would result from lifting the ban, and that he would help implement the policy change when the time comes. "The Army has a big history of taking on similar issues," he said, with "predictions of doom and gloom that did not play out." He also suggested that repeal may come in phases, with early action involving, for example, allowing open gays to serve in some occupations and not others.

"What we're seeing is a tipping point in the opinions of both military and civilian leaders on this issue," said Dr. Nathaniel Frank, senior research fellow at the Palm Center. "The Army is the largest of the services and the most heavily involved in our wars abroad, and for Secretary McHugh to state clearly that it can handle repeal sends a strong signal to the other service secretaries that they can do the same."

Dr. Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, said Secretary McHugh's comments were enormously significant. But he pointed out that there is no research to support the idea of letting gay soldiers serve in some units but not others. "The rationale for the ban applies equally across all job categories," he said. "So if it's okay to be an openly gay Arabic interpreter, it's also okay to be openly gay in the infantry or on a submarine. Since conduct rules apply across the board, there's just no basis for applying different standards to different specialties."

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3rd HBCT Soldiers make their mark in Kuwait

The temperature outside is climbing into the mid-nineties as Sgt. John Direny, a water treatment specialist assigned to Company A, 203rd Brigade Support Battalion, meticulously paints the small letters on the mural he is crafting. The mural, painted on one of the hundreds of concrete road barriers that dot Camp Buehring, has been a two day project so far and he still has a long way to go.

“It takes time to get it right,” he explains. “I had someone to help me paint the Marne patches the first day, but the rest I’ve done on my own.”

A few barriers down, Sgt. TJ Forbes and Pfc. Skylar Humburd, both assigned to Headquarters Troop, 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, work on their own mural for their Squadron. Around the corner, two more Soldiers, Sgt. Mario Benjamin III, an MP assigned to the 317th Military Police Battalion, and Pfc. Joe Sudik, an infantryman assigned to Headquarters’ Troop, 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, are painting the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team’s mural.

Countless murals like these decorate the 8 foot barriers that surround and protect the roads, living pads and buildings on Camp Buehring. For the Sledgehammer Soldiers working on their unit’s mural, the chance to add to this collection is an opportunity to add to their unit’s reputation and history.

“It is very important that we let the Soldiers that follow us know that we were here,” said Direny. “We got ready to go to war just like them. When they see this, hopefully, they will see that we did our best to represent our unit, the brigade and the 3rd Infantry Division.”

Forbes has deployed with the 3rd HBCT three times and each time he has painted one of these murals for his unit. During his current trip to Buehring, he checked to see how his last mural was holding up against a year and a half of sun, sand and wind.

“It’s still there,” he said. “It still looks good, in my opinion.”

Forbes understands that the mural represents more than his artistic ability on display.

“It’s about unit pride and building up morale,” he said. “I imagine a few of our new scouts saw the old one and realized that they are part of a unit that has done this before. Hopefully, that makes them walk a little taller and prouder.”

He also considers an important part of his unit’s up-coming deployment.

“You have to believe in what you are doing and the unit you are a part of,” he said. “How you view your unit is also the way you view the Army as a whole. We want Soldiers that take pride in who they are, what they are doing and the group they are a part of. I think this is a part of that.”

by Sgt. Ben Hutto
3rd HBCT Public Affairs

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22 October 2009

Pew Applauds Congress for Including Military and Overseas Voting Solutions in Final Defense Authorization Bill

/PRNewswire/ -- Today, Congress enacted the National Defense Authorization Act which includes provisions that will resolve several key voting problems for American military service members and citizens overseas. The bill encompasses the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, which is sponsored by Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), co-sponsored by Senator Robert Bennett (R-UT) and supported by a bipartisan group of senators and representatives. It will expedite the transmission of absentee ballots to military personnel and civilians abroad to provide more time for them to vote in U.S. elections and return their ballots in time to be counted. In the last federal election, it is estimated that as many as one in four ballots requested by these voters was not counted.

"The election system has failed our service members and citizens abroad for decades. The MOVE Act marks significant progress toward making it easier for those who defend and represent democratic ideals around the world to participate in our democracy here at home," said Doug Chapin, director of Election Initiatives for the Pew Center on the States, a division of The Pew Charitable Trusts that has advocated for improvements to the election system. "We applaud Senators Schumer and John Cornyn (R-TX) for their leadership, along with Representatives Robert Brady (D-PA), Susan Davis (D-CA) and Dan Lungren (R-CA) for championing these critical steps forward for military and overseas voters."

In January 2009, the Pew Center on the States issued the report, "No Time to Vote: Challenges Facing America's Overseas Military Voters," the first-ever detailed public analysis of states' voting systems for service members living abroad. The report found that 25 states and the District of Columbia do not provide adequate time for overseas service members to vote and have their ballots counted.

In accordance with Pew's recommendations, the provisions would ensure adequate time to vote by:

-- requiring ballots to be sent to military and overseas voters at least
45 days before an election;
-- expediting the voting process by requiring voter registration
applications, absentee ballot applications and blank ballots to be
made available electronically to them;
-- eliminating the notarization of military and overseas ballots in the
remaining states that currently require it; and
-- expanding the opportunity for Americans abroad to use the Federal
Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB) in all federal elections and using
technology to allow voters to access election information
electronically.


"The MOVE Act is a significant step in the right direction by Congress," said David Becker, project director of Election Initiatives for the Pew Center on the States. "To finish the job, we need to extend these reforms to state elections and modernize the means by which we register and provide information to voters. The changes will not be helpful if ballots are simply sent faster to outdated addresses of those who have been deployed elsewhere. Voter registration updates should be automated to ensure that the records for highly mobile populations, such as military personnel, are accurate."

The Pew Center on the States is working on a full complement of election system reforms for military personnel and civilians abroad. Since January, Pew has supported efforts by the Uniform Law Commission to draft a model law for states, which would extend recommended federal protections to state elections.

In addition, Pew's Voting Information Project (VIP), developed in partnership with Google, Inc. and state and local election officials, makes important voting information available electronically. Using VIP, for example, military and overseas voters could generate customized ballot listings to assist them with casting federal, state or local write-in absentee ballots.

Pew also aims to improve the nation's outdated voter registration system by examining options for building a system that is more efficient and accurate, while reducing costs and administrative burdens. Pew continues to gather data, analyze research and work with election officials to diagnose performance issues in the current voter registration system and propose fact-based, practical solutions to guide the modernization process.

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AFGE Thanks Congress, President Obama for Advance Funding for Department of Veterans Affairs

/PRNewswire/ -- The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), today, praised President Barack Obama for signing the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act which will provide advance funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

"This victory comes after years of advocating by AFGE and numerous veterans' organizations," said AFGE National President John Gage. "AFGE thanks President Obama for keeping his campaign promise to us and -- more importantly to America's veterans -- to guarantee advance funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs."

Present at the historic signing were AFGE National Secretary-Treasurer J. David Cox and Women's and Fair Practices National Vice President Augusta Thomas.

The Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act authorizes Congress to approve veterans medical care funding one year in advance to better meet the anticipated demand for veterans health care services.

"The advanced funding will give the Department of Veterans Affairs up to a full year to plan for the most effective and efficient way of delivering medical care," said National Secretary Treasurer and retired VA nurse J. David Cox. "America's veterans deserve this. This is a step in the right direction for the agency."

"Congress also included a requirement that the GAO audit VA's budget projections," explained Women's and Fair Practices National Vice President Augusta Thomas. "This move will further stabilize an agency where the current system of politics-driven funding clearly was not working."

"We are happy to move onward into a new era for the VA," said NVAC President Alma Lee. "And we look forward to VA health care dollars being used for patient needs and adequate front line staffing, not for excessive executive bonuses and new layers of management."

AFGE represents 90 percent (185,000) of the VA employees in more than 170 locals with 40 percent of its overall members being veterans. AFGE understands the dedication and work veterans have put in for this country; it should not go unnoticed. This is a milestone victory that will ensure medical attention to those who have served this country. It also stops the delay on the purchase of medical equipment or the hiring of doctors and nurses.

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Collaboration Drives Afghan Strategy Review, Gates Says

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates praised a close collaboration between the military and the White House in examining the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan yesterday, dismissing news reports of a rift.

"These stories may make good reading, but they are not a reflection of reality," Gates said here in response to a question during a joint news conference with Japanese Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa.

Gates cited a "very close, collaborative effort" between military officers, including commanders in the field, and civilian government leaders who meet on an almost daily basis as part of President Barack Obama's strategic review.

The national security team is working closely together to work through what Gates called "this very complicated situation in Afghanistan." He cited "complicated issues" associated with the Afghan presidential elections, but also the challenges Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. commander there, identified in his assessment.

Gates called the runoff election slated for Nov. 7 an important step toward moving forward in Afghanistan. "Getting that behind us and moving forward is very important," he said.

But while the run-off election will resolve outstanding issues regarding the presidency, Gates emphasized, the larger issue of establishing legitimacy of the Afghan government is a longer-term proposition.

"This is going to be a work in progress, an evolutionary effort, and we need to be realistic about that," he said.

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
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20 October 2009

Port Operations Keep 3rd HBCT Moving

Camp Buehring, Kuwait – Offloading nearly 650 vehicles and pieces of military equipment from a cargo ship is easier said than done for the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division.

Capt. Kenna Trice-James is the movement officer for the 203rd Brigade Support Battalion and the officer in charge of ensuring the equipment is offloaded from the ship properly, and that no Soldier gets hurt in the process.

“Safety is 100%. No incidents. No accidents,” James said.

The most critical part of the operation is accountability of equipment, according to James. All the serial and tracking numbers must match exactly, and if just one item comes up unaccounted for it could mean a big delay in operations.

It took a team of approximately 60 Soldiers and 20 hours to download all the vehicles and equipment.

Before a vehicle can move there must be three ground guides. In addition, all personnel must wear their helmet, and eye protection during operations and have water on them at all times.
After the initial download Soldiers begin work in shifts, and get between seven and eight hours of sleep a day. James said if someone needs time off, she ensures they get it.

Approximately 70 tracked vehicles were offloaded from the ship along with other the vehicles used by the 3rd HBCT. In addition to the vehicles, large pieces of equipment such as MILVANs, large metal containers used to transport equipment necessary for the unit’s mission, are also unloaded and readied for transport.

“Vehicles must be fully mission-capable before they can leave, and the equipment must be fitted to the unit’s mission,” James said.

Once ready, vehicles and equipment need to be transported over land to their follow on destination. James said it is important to remain flexible during this phase of the mission, and allow up to two weeks for its accomplishment. A lot of last minute changes can occur, and the unit has to allow itself enough time to reschedule major movements in the operation.

To ensure she was ready, James attended meetings twice a week for four months prior to the actual download of equipment at the Kuwaiti port.

In addition, several reconnaissance missions to the port were conducted to allow everyone involved a chance to rehearse their part of the operation. Drivers also conducted reconnaissance missions of the routes they would be taking in order to get the equipment to its next destination.
According to James, planning is extremely important. Without it, the operations would not have run as smoothly as they have.

Equipment is critical to mission success and no one understands that better than James. She tells her Soldiers, “Remain flexible, and stay positive.”

Story by Capt. Charles Barrett, 3rd HBCT Public Affairs
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19 October 2009

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to Open First of Three Recovery Act-Funded Veterans Curation Project Laboratories

/PRNewswire/ -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will open the first Veterans Curation Project laboratory, funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, in Augusta, Ga., on Tuesday, October 20.

The Augusta site is the first of three Veterans Curation Project laboratories that the Corps will open with $3.5 million in funding from the $4.6 billion appropriated for the Army's Civil Works program in the Recovery Act. The other two sites will be located in Washington, D.C., and St. Louis, Mo., and will be operating before the end of fiscal 2010.

The three sites were selected because they are home to high populations of wounded and returning veterans.

"The three Veterans Curation Project laboratories funded by the Recovery Act are unique opportunities for the nation's Armed Forces and the Corps of Engineers," said the Honorable Jo-Ellen Darcy, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works.

"The labs are an innovative approach to supporting returning veterans of all services with jobs and training in a variety of technical skills," said Darcy. "At the same time, the labs will advance the curation of archeological and historic properties that have come into the Corps' possession over the years as a result of construction at its water project sites around the country."

In 1995, the Corps created the Center of Expertise for Curation and Management of Archeological Collections in its St. Louis District to provide protocols and best management practices for maintaining heritage assets. The Corps has an extensive collection and has not been able to fully keep up with proper curation requirements under the National Historic Preservation Act and the Native American Graves Preservation and Repatriation Act.

The St. Louis District's Center of Expertise designed and is managing the implementation of the Veterans Curation Project. The Corps has hired Brockington and Associates of Atlanta, Ga., to establish and manage the project's three laboratories.

Corps specialists and the contractor are also working closely with the Department of Veterans Affairs and non-governmental Wounded Warrior groups to fill many jobs at the laboratories with veterans and disabled veterans. Jobs are being tailored and rotated to fit the medical needs of those disabled veterans who are unable to work a full day and to offer on-the-job training and work to more veterans.

Veterans working at the three labs will be trained in computer, photographic and scanning technologies that will be applied to the rehabilitation of Corps archeological collections and their associated records. The technical skills learned at the labs will be transferrable to potential future jobs outside the labs.

"It is especially fitting that the opening of the first Veterans Curation Project laboratory is taking place during National Disability Employment Awareness Month," said Darcy. "As President Obama recently stated in his proclamation to recognize the month, 'Each day, Americans with disabilities play a critical role in forging and shaping the identity of our Nation.'"

"No group of people has done more to forge our national identity throughout history than the veterans who have served and sacrificed for the nation," added Darcy. "It is our privilege to now be able to give disabled veterans an opportunity to continue shaping the nation through the work and training they will do at this important new facility."

The Honorable Jo-Ellen Darcy, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, will speak at Tuesday's ceremony to open the Veterans Curation Project laboratory. The ceremony will take place at noon at 3830 Washington Road, Suite 27, Martinez, Ga., 30907.

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17 October 2009

Mullen Asks Celebrities to Keep Supporting Troops

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen drew quite the laughs at the expense of political elites here last night at the annual Alfred E. Smith Foundation dinner, but still managed acclaim for the 2.2 million military members in his charge.

"I accept this kind of invitation for, and only, on behalf of the 2.2 million men and women serving in uniform today," the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in his keynote address. "As we dine here tonight in comfort and fine company, more than 250,000 of them are deployed around the world, keeping peace and keeping watch over our freedom and our national interests.

"They are the finest military this or any nation has yet produced, and they are, after eight long years of war, still defending us magnificently."

Mullen, the services' senior officer and military advisor to the president and defense secretary, is in the forefront of the Afghanistan strategy debate. Despite increased violence there and waning American support for the war, he urged the gathering of business people, celebrity journalists and politicians to stand by their soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen.

"Please continue standing up for them," the admiral said. "It is right that we do so. War is an ugly, messy, bloody business, and no one in uniform, no matter high or low in the chain of command, welcomes the task of waging it."

The chairman, who has spent 41 years in uniform, reflected on his early years of service as a Vietnam War veteran. He said he never wants another servicemember to experience humility and disgrace when wearing their uniform.

"As a Vietnam vet, I have lived and served in a time when America walked away from her military, when wearing the uniform was the last thing you wanted to do in public," he said. "No returning warrior should ever feel that scorn again.

"The men and women of your armed forces are the best we have ever had, and they believe in what they are doing for you," he continued. "All I ask is that you continue to believe in them."

While Mullen expressed much appreciation and gratitude for servicemembers, he also offered a bit of good-natured humor -- a trademark of the annual dinner.

He poked fun at the similarities in his haircut and that of CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric, and at the confusion most people have when he tries to explain his role at the Pentagon.

"To be fair, the position of chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is often misunderstood and more than a little confusing," Mullen said. "I am the nation's most senior military officer, but I do not command any troops ... and I am not responsible for any particular region of the world."

Mullen went on to say that his job is simply to give advice to the nation's leaders. "I make suggestions. I prod, and I poke. I advocate. I'm like a Fox News analyst," he joked.

Roman Catholic Archbishop Timothy Dolan hosted the 64th annual dinner at Manhattan's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. It honors Smith, the former four-term New York governor and the first Catholic presidential candidate selected by a major party.

Smith was the Democratic candidate who lost the 1928 election to Herbert Hoover. Smith died in 1944, and the foundation was established the next year. The dinner has raised millions of dollars for children's health care in New York.

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service

16 October 2009

Humana Military Healthcare Services Promotes Flu Vaccinations for South Region TRICARE Beneficiaries

(BUSINESS WIRE)--Humana Military Healthcare Services, a wholly owned subsidiary of Humana Inc. (NYSE: HUM), encourages TRICARE South Region beneficiaries to get their influenza vaccination in an effort to reduce the spread of flu this season. Beneficiaries may receive the flu vaccination at no cost from their local Military Treatment Facility (MTF), Primary Care Manager (PCM) or a MinuteClinic located in select CVS Pharmacies.

“The flu affects an estimated 25-50 million people annually across the country, yet nearly two-thirds of adults choose not to receive their flu vaccination each year,” said John Crum, MD, chief medical officer of Humana Military. “While practicing healthy habits will help stop spreading the illness, the best way to prevent the flu is by receiving a vaccination. We want to make sure our beneficiaries know where they can go to receive this shot,” said Crum.

Along with getting shots at a PCM office or MTF, the addition of select MinuteClinic locations to the Humana Military provider network offers beneficiaries a convenient alternative for preventive services, including flu shots. MinuteClinics are open seven-days-a-week and there is no appointment necessary. Active duty and reserve personnel should check with their MTF on where to receive their vaccinations.

To find the MinuteClinic location nearest you, please visit Humana Military’s web-based provider locator at www.humana-military.com and choose “Limited Services Medical Clinic,” or call 1-800-444-5445.

TRICARE covers the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) approved immunizations and vaccines according to age and frequency guidelines from birth through adulthood. For more information from the CDC regarding the seasonal flu, please visit http://www.cdc.gov/flu/flu_vaccine_updates.htm.

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15 October 2009

VA Funding Reform Bill Clears Congress

/PRNewswire/ -- The American Federation of Government Employees, today, lauded the efforts of Congress in passing historic legislation to reform the way it funds health care provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs. For more than 20 years, AFGE has advocated for substantial reform in the VA funding process. AFGE applauds these members of Congress for their commitment to the VA, its patients, and its employees.

Earlier this year, AFGE stood with veterans' service organizations and House and Senate VA Committee members in staunch support as Rep. Filner and Sen. Akaka introduced the legislation. "We applaud the members of Congress for their commitment to veterans' care," said J. David Cox, AFGE national secretary treasurer and retired VA nurse. "It is the right thing to do for VA employees and for our nation's veterans."

The advanced appropriations bill, which was supported by the president when he was a Senator, will end the unpredictability and inadequacy of the VA's discretionary funding process, by allowing Congress to provide health care dollars to the VA in advance. The president is expected to sign the legislation.

AFGE and its National VA Council have been longtime advocates for mandatory funding of the VA, an approach widely supported by the veterans' community. AFGE with the nine veterans' groups comprising the Partnership for Veterans Health Care Budget Reform endorsed advanced appropriations as an alternative funding approach that is achievable in the short term. As detailed in the bill, advanced appropriations would authorize Congress to approve funding for VA health care a year in advance of the next fiscal year. The Partnership has also advocated that the Government Accountability Office study and provide a report to Congress annually for the next three years on the VA's budget forecasting model and estimates.

"The current VA funding process is broken. The delays in funding drive up costs, threaten patient care, and weaken the VA as a whole," said Cox.

The VA has received its appropriation from Congress on time only three times in the last 23 years. This reliance on discretionary budget dollars has taken a heavy toll on both the timeliness and the adequacy of VA health care. Medical center directors forced to rely on discretionary funding must delay hiring nurses and other clinicians, repairs to their facilities, and new medical equipment purchases. The delays that result adversely impact medical care and increase costs by forcing understaffed hospitals to turn to private agency nurses for fee-basis care and delaying diagnostic testing for patients.

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14 October 2009

New Vehicle Concept would Protect Crews from Roadside Bombs

A new crew survivability concept that would build military vehicles around a protected personnel compartment and use a sacrificial “blast wedge” to absorb energy from improvised explosive devices could improve safety for the occupants of future light armored patrol vehicles.

Researchers from the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) have designed and tested the concept, dubbed ULTRA II, for the U.S. Office of Naval Research (ONR). The crew-protection concept builds on an earlier GTRI development for the ONR that evaluated new concepts for light armored vehicles. A blast test conducted with the ULTRA II full-sized crew compartment test article at the Aberdeen Test Center showed that the new concept could protect the vehicle crew from improvised explosions.

“Instead of up-armoring a standard vehicle or modifying an existing drive train, we built a bubble of force protection first and then addressed vehicle mobility,” explained Vince Camp, a GTRI senior research engineer and the project’s principal investigator. “The idea was to emphasize warfighter protection first by starting with design of an improved crew compartment, as opposed to starting with an existing vehicle and trying to add armor.”

The ULTRA II crew compartment was designed to house six persons: a driver and commander facing forward, and two pairs of crew members behind them, each pair facing opposite sides of the vehicle. By putting their backs toward the center of the crew compartment, the concept moves the crew away from the outside walls to reduce the likelihood of injury from side blasts, provides better visibility for the crew to monitor their surroundings, allows blast-resistant seats to be frame-mounted—and facilitates faster egress from the vehicle.

The crew compartment envisioned by GTRI uses a “space frame” constructed of tubular steel—similar to civilian off-road racing vehicles. An armored steel “skin” provides added structure and moderate ballistic and blast protection. Additional armor is bolted onto the frame in a modular way, allowing varying levels of protection that could be easily modified in the field and changed as new high-performance armor concepts are developed.

An integral part of the protection is provided by a sacrificial “blast wedge” bolted onto the bottom of the vehicle. Constructed of welded steel armor, the wedge both deflects energy away from the vehicle and absorbs energy from a blast, performing a function similar to “crumple zones” in modern civilian vehicles.

The design and fabrication of the test article was conducted by personnel in the Aerospace, Transportation and Advanced Systems Laboratory of GTRI. Tests using a heavily-instrumented test article with instrumented dummies simulating the crew showed that the wedge deflected or absorbed nearly 70 percent of the energy from an explosion beneath it. Damage from the blast was primarily confined to the sacrificial blast wedge and there was no structural damage and no blast penetration to the crew compartment.

“Energy used up in crushing and tearing the metal in the blast wedge is energy that wouldn’t go into injuring the crew,” said Kevin Massey, a GTRI senior research engineer who was part of the project team. “Data from the instrumented dummies shows that had this test been conducted with real warfighters in a real vehicle, we wouldn’t have seen any spinal injuries, head trauma, neck trauma or leg injuries.”

Because the wedge is removable, it could be replaced if damaged. Making the blast wedge removable also allows for an overall reduction of the vehicle’s height for shipping, an important issue for rapid deployment.

The research team, which also included Burt Jennings, Cal Jameson, Jake Leverett and Mark Entrekin, combined non-linear dynamic blast simulations and neural networks to study how blast forces would affect the vehicle. Conventional finite element analysis also provided valuable design feedback in development of the ULTRA II test article.

There were many tradeoffs to consider in designing the new concept, including vehicle height and resistance to blast forces that may come from many different angles.

“To survive the blast, you want to get as high off the ground as possible,” Massey noted. “But the higher you are off the ground, the more likely you are to roll over. This is an example of the tradeoffs that have to be balanced.”

In addition to crew protection, the researchers also designed a translating door that would provide a large side opening similar to that of existing civilian minivans. Such a door system would provide improved ingress/egress for the crew and could remain open when the vehicle is moving.

GTRI has presented data from the test to the Office of Naval Research, and hopes to pursue additional refinements to the blast wedge and overall vehicle concept. Among the goals would be to improve energy absorption from the blast wedge, and to evaluate whether the crew compartment should separate from the drive train in certain types of blasts.

“We think that the concept of a space-frame design is a very viable one, and we want to take the lessons we’ve learned so far to improve on it,” Massey added. “We’d also like to see if the concept of the energy-absorbing wedge can be applied to existing vehicles that are already out there. The bottom line is saving people’s lives and protecting them from injury.”

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13 October 2009

VA Extends 'Agent Orange' Benefits to More Veterans

/PRNewswire/ -- Relying on an independent study by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki decided to establish a service-connection for Vietnam Veterans with three specific illnesses based on the latest evidence of an association with the herbicides referred to as Agent Orange.

The illnesses affected by the recent decision are B cell leukemias, such as hairy cell leukemia; Parkinson's disease; and ischemic heart disease.

Used in Vietnam to defoliate trees and remove concealment for the enemy, Agent Orange left a legacy of suffering and disability that continues to the present. Between January 1965 and April 1970, an estimated 2.6 million military personnel who served in Vietnam were potentially exposed to sprayed Agent Orange.

In practical terms, Veterans who served in Vietnam during the war and who have a "presumed" illness don't have to prove an association between their illnesses and their military service. This "presumption" simplifies and speeds up the application process for benefits.

The Secretary's decision brings to 15 the number of presumed illnesses recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

"We must do better reviews of illnesses that may be connected to service, and we will," Shinseki added. "Veterans who endure health problems deserve timely decisions based on solid evidence."

Other illnesses previously recognized under VA's "presumption" rule as being caused by exposure to herbicides during the Vietnam War are:

-- Acute and Subacute Transient Peripheral Neuropathy
-- AL Amyloidosis
-- Chloracne
-- Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia
-- Diabetes Mellitus (Type 2)
-- Hodgkin's Disease
-- Multiple Myeloma
-- Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma
-- Porphyria Cutanea Tarda
-- Prostate Cancer
-- Respiratory Cancers, and
-- Soft Tissue Sarcoma (other than Osteosarcoma, Chondrosarcoma, Kaposi's
sarcoma, or Mesothelioma)

Additional information about Agent Orange and VA's services and programs for Veterans exposed to the chemical are available at www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange.

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06 October 2009

92% of Americans Say 'Don't Tear Me Down,' Favor Keeping Veterans Memorial at Center of Supreme Court Case

/PRNewswire/ -- In a poll conducted by Barna Group and commissioned by Liberty Legal Institute that was released today, 92 percent of Americans agree that the forbidden Mojave Desert War Memorial should be allowed to stand.

The poll, which surveyed 1,000 adults nationwide, finds that only 5 percent of Americans would favor removing the memorial located in the 1.6 million acre Mojave Desert. Additionally, 65 percent of political liberals believe that the Memorial should stay.

In a more general question, 90 percent of Americans believe that military-related memorials with religious symbols should remain standing, 77 percent of which strongly believe the memorials should stay.

Tomorrow, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case regarding the Mojave Desert War Memorial, a seven-foot-tall cross erected in 1934 by World War I veterans and maintained for the last 25 years by Henry and Wanda Sandoz. Liberty Legal Institute, which represents the Sandozes and over four million veterans though the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. (VFW), The American Legion, Military Order of the Purple Heart, and American Ex-Prisoners of War, launched www.DontTearMeDown.com just before Memorial Day in order to bring attention to the case. To date, more than 170,000 people have signed the online petition of support at the site, and there have been nearly 1.9 million views of the video on YouTube.

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World War II Rangers to Hold National Reunion in Columbus, Georgia

Veterans of the World War II Ranger units — who inspired such movies as “Darby’s Rangers,” “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Great Raid” — will be in Columbus, Georgia from October 21st to the 25th for their annual reunion. The location is particularly appropriate because nearby Fort Benning is home to current Ranger units and the opportunity to associate is important to both past and present Rangers.

At a previous reunion in Iowa, one young Ranger described the experience of meeting Rangers of an earlier war as “walking among giants,” while an old Ranger, surveying the unlined faces of present-day Rangers, mused, “Were we ever really that young?”

Indeed, they were. Mike Kness was only 17 when his father signed for him to join Iowa's National Guard, which was mobilized in 1941, assigned to the 34th Division and later sent to Ireland for additional training. When the Rangers came calling for volunteers for an American commando unit, Mike, then a 20-year-old corporal, and his brother Les, a sergeant, were quick to volunteer for training in Scotland with the unit that became known as Darby's Rangers although he frankly admits, “We had no idea what we were getting into.”

The brothers first experienced combat when the Rangers spearheaded the invasion of North Africa. “Everyone was scared,” Mike Kness admits, “but you are more scared the second time because you know what can happen. We just wanted to stay alive.”

Assigned to the same battalion — the 4th — both brothers saw action in the invasions of Sicily, Salerno and Anzio and much hard fighting after those invasions. “Anzio was particularly difficult because the ground was flat and there was no cover.”

Anzio also ended Darby's Rangers after the 1st and 3rd Rangers were surrounded by an overwhelming number of Nazis at Cisterna. Only eight men of those battalions escaped death or capture. The 4th Battalion fought furiously to rescue the 1st and 3rd Battalions and had more casualties that day than the surrounded battalions combined. Amazingly, with all the action he saw, Mike Kness was never wounded. “I was one of the lucky ones,” he comments.

After the disaster at Cisterna, Kness' 4th Battalion fought on Anzio Beachhead until the Darby's Rangers were disbanded. He was sent home where he married his sweetheart and entered the family business manufacturing Ketch-all mousetraps with his father and brother.

Carl Lehmann, a sergeant in the 3rd Ranger Battalion, was one of those captured in Cisterna. He was a pre-law student when drafted and sent to Fort Dix where he joined the 34th Division and was later shipped to Ireland. He was 21 when he volunteered for the Rangers but, unlike the Kness brothers, Lehmann had a good idea of what he was getting into. “I knew what commandos were.”

Lehmann saw action in Africa and in Italy where he received two minor injuries. His e-mail address is reminiscent of his memorable view from Italy's Chiunzi Pass — where he had his picture taken — overlooking the plains of Naples and affording a dramatic view of Vesuvius which was erupting in September 1944.

The Nazis shot several captured and unarmed Rangers at Cisterna and Lehmann nearly became one of them when a young soldier found his cache of “scalps,” the small eagle insignia German military wore on their right chests. “I took a couple of them off soldiers,” Lehmann admits, “but most of them I found in a bunker."

“The young soldaten who found the patches took me from the group and placed me against a wall away from the others and begged the feldwebel [sergeant] several times for permission to shoot me. Each time, the feldwebel said “Nein,” and each time I blessed his sainted mother. When we were about to leave, the feldwebel smiled and said, ‘You haff a Churman name, Carl!’”
Lehmann escaped from prison camp three times and was recaptured twice before making it to the safety of British lines on April 14, 1945, which he remembers as “the day I learned President Roosevelt had died.”

Lehmann returned home after the war, finished his education and practiced law in private practice and as a lawyer for the State of Maryland. He is one of the WW II Rangers who plans to be exchanging stories with both old and young Rangers at the Columbus reunion.
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