30 June 2010

Afghanistan Visit Gives Mullen Reassurance, Concern

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said yesterday that he returned from Afghanistan this week reassured that U.S. and NATO forces remain on track there, but also concerned about the synergy among terrorist groups in the region.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen made the comments yesterday as part of an interview with David Sanger, New York Times chief Washington correspondent, at the inaugural Aspen Security Forum, part of the Aspen Institute, in Colorado.

Mullen said his trip to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Israel was scheduled before the fallout from a magazine article on Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal that led to the general's resignation as commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

"Because of what happened," Mullen said, referring to McChrystal's removal, "it was a trip of reassurance. We'll have a new leader out there very quickly, and we also have a very able deputy there now" in British Lt. Gen. Nicholas Parker. "The strategy hasn't changed, nor has our focus," he said.

Mullen met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who he said was reassured that the leadership transition will be smooth. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. Central Command, is in the confirmation process to replace McChrystal.

"I wanted to make sure we are staying focused on the mission, and I report back that clearly all the people I saw were," Mullen said of his trip.

Mullen said McChrystal's resignation is different from removals of military leaders under Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Dwight D. Eisenhower, and even the 2008 resignation of Navy Adm. William J. Fallon as head of Central Command, because it was not based on policy differences. Although he never heard McChrystal speak negatively of civilian leaders, Mullen said, his resignation was important in light of the article, which included passages in which McChrystal and members of his staff were portrayed as dismissive of some civilian administration officials.

"This goes back to the 1770s," Mullen said. "It's such a fundamental principle. We have enormous challenges now, but that's not an excuse in any way, shape or form for any of us to not recognize the importance of the civilian control of our military."

As for operations in Afghanistan, the chairman said he returned with increasing concerns that terrorist groups are operating more closely with one another, not just in Southwest Asia, but also with men charged in recent attempted terrorist attacks in Detroit and New York.

"I'm increasingly concerned about the synergy among terrorist groups in that region and their expanding desire to kill as many Americans – and not just Americans – as they can," he said.

Mullen acknowledged the length of the nearly decade-long war, but emphasized its importance.

"There aren't any of us who don't want to see this end as soon as we can," he said. "But, coming back from this trip, I am increasingly concerned about the terrorist threat in the region. The war in Afghanistan was something very badly resourced – under-resourced -- for a number of years. We're just getting to a point where it is resourced, and the government and corruption issue [in Afghanistan], as well as security, is comprehensively being addressed."

In the long term, Mullen said, the solution to terrorism is more about the global economy than military operations.

"You can't kill them all," he said of the issue of dealing with extremists and terrorists. "We've got to get to a point where 15-year-old boys pursue a more positive way of life than putting on a suicide vest." That's a long way off, Mullen said, adding that a long-term solution needs leadership from the Muslim community to stand up against the desecration of their religion by terrorists.

In the short term, Mullen said, operations in Kandahar are ongoing, and results won't be apparent until the end of the year. Operations there will ramp up after the remaining one-third of the U.S. surge troops are in place later this summer, he added.

The NATO campaign that took Marja in Helmand province from the Taliban earlier this year underestimated the ability to set up a new local government there, the chairman said. But while security remains a challenge in Marja, he added, "steady progress" has continued, and schools and bazaars are open. Mullen said he has supported from the beginning Obama's stated timeline of July 2011 to begin drawing down in Afghanistan, because it creates a sense of urgency in the Afghan government to take control. "A lot is going to happen between now and July 2011," he said.
By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service 

Petraeus Calls Afghanistan a Test of Wills

Afghanistan is a test of wills, and the enemy has to know the United States and its allies have the will to prevail, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus said before the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday.

The testimony was part of the confirmation process for Petraeus, President Barack Obama's nominee to replace Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal as commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

The general also has been nominated to succeed McChrystal as commander of NATO's International Security Assistance Force, a position that requires a separate confirmation process through NATO channels. Petraeus currently is commander of U.S. Central Command.

The United States has vital national interests in Afghanistan, Petraeus told the panel, noting that Obama has said the United States will not tolerate a safe haven for terrorists who want to destroy Afghan security from within and launch attacks against innocent men, women and children around the world.

"In short, we cannot allow al-Qaida or other transnational extremist elements to once again establish sanctuaries from which they can launch attacks on our homeland or on our allies," the general said. "Achieving that objective, however, requires that we not only counter the resurgent Taliban elements who allowed such sanctuaries in the past. We must also help our Afghan partners develop their security forces and governance capacity so that they can, over time, take on the tasks of securing their country and seeing to the needs of their people."

If confirmed, Petraeus will command almost 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and more than 50,000 servicemembers from 45 other nations.

The general said he will work closely with civilian agencies to implement a whole-of-government approach to the situation on the ground, as the campaign strategy in Afghanistan calls for a fully integrated civil-military effort. Further, he added, the plan calls for international cooperation and crucial contributions from the Afghan government and Afghan national security forces.

As Centcom commander, Petraeus participated in forming the president's strategy in Afghanistan.

"I support and agree with his new policy," the general said. "During its development, I offered my forthright military advice, and I have assured the president that I will do the same as we conduct assessments over the course of the months ahead. He, in turn, assured me that he expects and wants me to provide that character of advice."

The general said he supports the need to inspire greater urgency on the Afghan government's part, noting the policy's intent to begin transitioning security responsibilities to Afghan national security forces in July 2011.

"It is important to note the president's reminder in recent days that July 2011 will mark the beginning of a process, not the date when the U.S. heads for the exits and turns out the lights," Petraeus said. "As he explained this past Sunday in fact, we'll need to provide assistance to Afghanistan for a long time to come."

The general said notable progress has taken place in Afghanistan already. The number of civilian deaths due to coalition military operations has dropped, and areas in Helmand province have been freed from the Taliban. He acknowledged that more remains to be done to secure the progress.

A basic tenet of the counterinsurgency strategy is to secure the population. "Focusing on securing the people does not, however, mean that we don't go after the enemy," Petraeus said. "In fact, protecting the population inevitably requires killing, capturing or turning the insurgents. Our forces have been doing that, and we will continue to do that. In fact, our troopers and our Afghan partners have been very much taking the fight to the enemy in recent months."

The Taliban and their terrorist allies have paid a grave price since April, with more than 130 middle- and senior-level operatives being captured or killed, and thousands of rank-and-file members taken off the battlefield.

The general noted that those gains have come at a cost for U.S. and allied forces. "I want to assure the mothers and fathers of those fighting in Afghanistan that I see it as a moral imperative to bring all assets to bear to protect our men and women in uniform and the Afghan security forces with whom ISAF troopers are fighting shoulder to shoulder," he said. "Those on the ground must have all the support they need when they are in a tough situation."

This is so important, he added, that he has discussed it with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Wardak, and Afghan Interior Minister Bismullah Khan. "And they are in full agreement with me on this," Petraeus told the senators.

The general said he is "keenly aware of concerns" servicemembers have raised about the application of rules of engagement and a tactical directive designed to minimize the possibility of inflicting civilian casualties. "They should know that I will look very hard at this issue," he said.

Developing the Afghan security forces so they can take responsibility for their country and produce sustained success is "hugely important and hugely challenging," Petraeus said.

"Indeed, helping to train and equip host-nation forces in the midst of an insurgency is akin to building an advanced aircraft while it is in flight, while it is being designed, and while it is being shot at," he said. "There is nothing easy about it." Progress in that regard has picked up since the training effort in the country has been overhauled, he added, but more must be done for the trend to continue.

"Further progress will take even greater partnering, additional training improvements, fuller manning of the training and mentoring missions, and expanded professional education opportunities," he said, "and initiatives are being pursued in each of these areas."

Petraeus said tough fighting will continue in Afghanistan, noting that June has seen many NATO casualties.

"Indeed, it may get more intense in the next few months," he said. "As we take away the enemy's safe havens and reduce the enemy's freedom of action, the insurgents will fight back."

The general praised the commitment of American troops in the country. "I'd like to once again note the extraordinary work being done by our troopers on the ground in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere around the world," he said. "Our young men and women truly deserve the recognition they have earned as America's new greatest generation. There is no question that they comprise the finest, most combat-hardened military in our nation's history.
by Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service 

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Sailor Missing From Korean War Identified

The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office announced today that the remains of a U.S. serviceman, missing in action from the Korean War, have been identified and are being returned to his family for burial with full military honors.

U.S. Navy Ensign Robert W. Langwell, of Columbus, Ind., will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery on July 12. On Oct. 1, 1950, Langwell was serving on the minesweeper USS Magpie when it sank after striking an enemy mine off the coast of Chuksan-ri, South Korea. Twelve crewmen were rescued, but Langwell was one of 20 men lost at sea.

In June 2008, personnel from the Republic of South Korea's Ministry of National Defense Agency for Killed in Action Recovery and Identification (MAKRI) canvassed towns in South Korea in an effort to gather information regarding South Korean soldiers unaccounted-for from the Korean War. An elderly fisherman, interviewed in the village of Chuksan-ri, reported that he and other villagers had buried an American serviceman in 1950 when his body was caught in the man's fishing net.

The MAKRI located the burial site on April 28, 2009, where they excavated human remains and military artifacts. The burial site was approximately three miles west of where the USS Magpie sank in 1950. The team turned the remains and artifacts over to U.S. Forces Korea, which sent them to Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command for analysis.

Among other forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence, JPAC scientists used dental comparisons in the identification of Langwell's remains.

With Langwell's accounting, 8,025 service members still remain missing from the Korean War.

For additional information on the Defense Department's mission to account for missing Americans, visit the DPMO Web site at http://www.dtic.mil/dpmo/ or call 703-699-1169.

23 June 2010

VA, Congress Need to Grant New Agent Orange Claims Without Delay

/PRNewswire/ -- The American Legion is calling upon Congress and the Dept. of Veterans Affairs to move quickly in granting benefit claims for three diseases recently declared to have presumptive connections with exposure to Agent Orange defoliant.

For several months, The American Legion has been pressing VA to publish its final regulations for the three new presumptive diseases: ischemic heart disease, Parkinson's disease, and B-cell leukemia.

"Veterans can't collect their earned disability benefits until VA publishes final regulations on these diseases," said Barry Searle, director of the Legion's veterans affairs and rehabilitation division. "And that's a process that has been dragging through the bureaucratic mire since last October."

While veterans across the country are still waiting for those regulations to be published - so they can start to collect earned disability benefits - Congress is on the verge of creating another delay.

The House of Representatives may soon consider a Senate-approved amendment that would add a 60-day period of limited spending on the new benefits while Congress reviews the underlying scientific data that led VA to link the three diseases to herbicide exposure.

VA estimates it will spend more than $42 billion over the next decade on Agent Orange claims stemming from the new regulations.

"We can certainly understand why Congress wants to be fiscally responsible in this matter," Searle said. "But the scientific studies that support these new claims - that link these three diseases to Agent Orange exposure - are thorough in their research and unequivocal in their findings."

Searle said The American Legion wants Congress and VA to work together quickly in resolving any lingering doubts about the three new presumptive conditions.

"Thousands of veterans who suffer from these diseases have waited too long already. The findings are valid. The connections to Agent Orange exposure are real. Let VA and Congress hash it out together, but we urgently recommend that they do it without further delay," Searle said.

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More than 14,000 veterans to benefit from more than $24 million in job training grants

/PRNewswire/ -- At a White House forum of the U.S. Interagency Council of Homelessness today, Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis announced 97 grants, totaling more than $24 million, to provide approximately 14,000 veterans with job training to help them succeed in civilian careers. The grants are being awarded under the U.S. Department of Labor's Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program.

"This administration is committed to ending homelessness. Achieving that goal is crucial to restoring the strength of our economy and the right thing to do for our nation as a whole," said Secretary Solis. "These grants will help more than 14,000 homeless veterans across the country find meaningful employment, and they will help ensure that these remarkable individuals never face homelessness again."

Funds are being awarded on a competitive basis to state and local workforce investment boards, local public agencies and nonprofit organizations, including faith-based and community organizations. These agencies are familiar with the areas and populations to be served and have demonstrated that they can administer effective programs.

"Homelessness is a tragedy that affects far too many of America's veterans, both women and men," said Sara Manzano-Diaz, director of the Labor Department's Women's Bureau. "There are barriers unique to women veterans that leave them vulnerable to homelessness. The grants announced today, combined with available social services, will provide the holistic assistance necessary to help reintegrate these women into the labor force."

To assist homeless veterans with reintegration into America's workforce, the Labor Department is distributing these funds nationwide through 33 newly selected grantees and 64 current grantees receiving second-and third-year funding. Homeless veterans may receive occupational, classroom and on-the-job training, as well as job search and placement assistance, including follow-up services. The Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program is the only federal program that focuses exclusively on employment of veterans who are homeless.

Grantees under the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program coordinate their efforts with various local, state and federal social service providers. A list of grantees and general information on the Department of Labor's unemployment and re-employment programs for veterans can be found at http://www.dol.gov/vets.

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21 June 2010

Fox News Sunday Interview with Secretary Gates

CHRIS WALLACE, ANCHOR: But first, amid recent reports of tough going in Afghanistan, the top man of the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Mr. Secretary, welcome back to "Fox News Sunday."


WALLACE: You said this week that the narrative in this town about the war in Afghanistan has become too negative. So let's discuss some of the issues that have people worried.

The U.S. commander, General Stanley McChrystal, says that the first operation in Marjah has become a, quote, "bleeding ulcer," and the major offensive in Kandahar has now been delayed, in both cases, largely because the Afghans have been too slow in providing civilian support. Isn't that a concern?

GATES: Sure, it's a concern. But I think that the narrative is perhaps overly negative in part because it's incomplete.

I was just at the NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels. General McChrystal briefed in detail on the Marjah operation as well as on Kandahar. And the bottom line was progress is being made. It's somewhat slower than anticipated.

The Kandahar operation has actually been under way for a number of weeks, and so what is taking more time is the shaping of the environment before we actually engage with troops and so on. So I think that, you know, it is a — it is a tough pull, and we are suffering significant casualties. We expected that.

We warned everybody that would be the case last winter, that as we went into areas that the Taliban had controlled for two or three years that our casualties would grow, especially this summer.

But I think General McChrystal's message to the defense ministers was he is confident he will be able to demonstrate by December that we not only have the right strategy but that we are making progress.

WALLACE:The key to begin pulling U.S. troops out by next July is to begin to be able to turn operations over to the Afghan army. But here's what Time magazine says about the army, and let's put it up on the screen: "Nine out of 10 Afghan recruits can't read a rifle manual. Commanders routinely steal enlisted men's salaries. Recruits tend to go AWOL after their first leave."

Question: Do you really believe that the Afghan army will be ready to start taking over next July?

GATES:I think that they will be ready to assume primary responsibility for security in certain areas of Afghanistan, certainly by a year from this coming July. We're still looking at 13 months from now.

The reality is the Afghan national army is meeting expectations and above that in terms of recruiting to the larger numbers and toward the goal of 134,000 by this — by this fall. Their attrition and retention rates are both above expectations and above the...

WALLACE: But are those reports about...

GATES:... above the goals.

WALLACE:... about recruits going AWOL, about commanders stealing enlistees' salaries — is that true?

GATES: There are — there are some, and there are instances of that, but there are also significant instances where we are — and a large number of examples where we are partnering with the Afghan army and where those operations are working, and that was what General McChrystal was briefing to the defense ministers.

The percentage of those partnered relationships, of those partnered operations, has gone from somewhere around 40 percent six or eight months ago to about 75 or 80 percent now.

WALLACE: You keep saying that the July 2011 date to begin pulling troops out is a starting point, and that the pace of withdrawals will be based on conditions on the ground.

But let's take a look at what Vice President Biden said recently. "In July of 2011," Biden said, "you're going to see a whole lot of people moving out. Bet on it." Who's speaking for the administration, you or the vice president?

GATES: Well, first of all, that's in a book. I don't recall ever hearing the vice president say that. And whether he said it or not, we clearly understand that in July of 2011 we begin to draw down our forces.

The pace in — with which we draw down and how many we draw down is going to be conditions-based. And there is general agreement that those conditions will be determined by General McChrystal, the NATO senior civilian representative, Ambassador Sedwill, and the Afghan government together in terms of making their recommendations.

WALLACE: So if Vice President Biden is telling the reporter — and there's been no statement by the White House that he didn't say it — there are going to be a whole lot of people moving out next July, you're saying that's not been decided?

GATES: That absolutely has not been decided.

WALLACE: Your feeling is that it all will be decided...

GATES: But I also haven't heard Vice President Biden say that, so I'm not accepting at face value that those — that he said those words.

WALLACE: You know, it's interesting, because one of the reasons that you made such a strong statement up on Capitol Hill and why you're talking to us today — are you worried that the narrative is getting away and that there may be a rush to judgment on Afghanistan?

GATES: I think it's more a sense of frustration. I've been here before three years ago with Iraq. And we were just getting to the point where the surge forces had gone into Iraq. There was a lot of concern. There was a lot of anecdotal information that things weren't going well, casualties were very high, American casualties were very high in Iraq.

And what I'm — what I'm saying is people are losing context. This policy, this strategy, has been in place and working for only about four or five months. We have yet to put yet a third of the surge forces into Afghanistan. The president has said we'll wait until December to evaluate how we're doing.

So I think there's a rush to judgment, frankly, that loses sight of the fact we are still in the middle of getting all of the right components into place and giving us a little time to have this — have this work.

WALLACE:Let's turn to the gulf oil spill. Is there anything more the Pentagon could be doing either to help stop the spill or to prevent those millions of gallons of oil from washing up on the gulf coast?

GATES: Not to my knowledge. We have offered whatever capabilities we have. We don't have the kinds of equipment or particular expertise. I have authorized the mobilization of up to 17,500 National Guard troops in the four states that are — that are most affected.

We have a standing offer. If there's anything people think we can do, we absolutely will do it.

WALLACE: The U.N. Security Council has passed another round of sanctions against Iran. And following up on that, the United States and the European Union have imposed a set of unilateral sanctions.

For all that, honestly, do you see any sign that these sanctions, these efforts, have caused any weakening of the will of the regime in Tehran to develop a nuclear weapon?

GATES: Actually, what we've seen is a change in the nature of the regime in Tehran over the past 18 months or so. You have — you have a much narrower based government in Tehran now. Many of the religious figures are being set aside. As Secretary Clinton has said, they appear to be moving more in the direction of a military dictatorship. Khamenei is leaning on a smaller and smaller group of advisors.

In the meantime, you have an illegitimate election that has divided the country. So I think adding economic pressures on top of that, and particularly targeted economic pressures, has real potential.

WALLACE: Do you think it could weaken the will of the regime in Tehran?

GATES: I think that it could add to the pressures on the regime, that if you add the things we're doing to help our allies in the gulf area improve their defenses, improve their military capabilities, you put that together with sanctions, you put that together with diplomatic pressures and a variety of other things that are going on — and I think — I think you have a reasonable chance of getting the Iranian regime finally to come to their senses and realize their security is probably more endangered by going forward, thereby...

WALLACE: A reasonable chance?

GATES:... stopping them. Yeah, I think so.

WALLACE: Can we contain a nuclear Iran?

GATES:I don't think we're prepared to even talk about containing a nuclear Iran. I think we're — we — our view still is we do not accept the idea of Iran having nuclear weapons. And our policies and our efforts are all aimed at preventing that from happening.

WALLACE: When you say that a — we would not accept a nuclear Iran, does that mean that a military strike either by the U.S. or Israel is preferable to a nuclear Iran?

GATES:I — we obviously leave all options on the table. I think we have some time to continue working this problem.

WALLACE:In the time we have left, let's do a lightning round of quick questions and quick answers. I know you always enjoy this so much, Mr. Secretary.

GATES:The ones that always get you in trouble.

WALLACE:The House and a Senate committee have voted to repeal "don't ask, don't tell" over your objections that the Pentagon review should be completed first. Is a repeal inevitable?

GATES: Well, I think you'd have to ask the members of Congress that. I haven't done any head counts. We are — the president has made his decision.

Our review is about how to implement this and what are the obstacles, what are the problems, what are the challenges, what are the issues. How do we mitigate the negative consequences if we identify negative consequences? What are the questions we have to address? Those are the things this review is all about.

And I feel it's very important for the military to have the opportunity to weigh in, to register their views on these issues, and to give us help on how to do this smart should the legislation pass.

WALLACE: As part of your new drive to try to cut the budget for non- combat operations, has the president agreed to veto any bill that would include continued funding for the C-17 cargo plane or an alternative engine for the Joint Strike Fighter, even if that legislation also included repeal of "don't ask, don't tell?"

GATES: Well, as I told the Senate Appropriations Committee, the defense subcommittee, this week, it would be a very serious mistake to believe that the president would not veto a bill that has the C-17 or the alternative engine in it just because it had other provisions that the president and the administration want.

WALLACE: Have you been given an assurance by the president that he will enforce his feelings, your feelings, about the budget even at the expense of social policy?

GATES: Well, I think the White House has put out a very strong statement in support. I would also just say that I don't go way out on a limb without looking back to make sure nobody's back there with a saw.

WALLACE: So you think that they veto the bill even with repeal of "don't ask, don't tell?"

GATES: I think so.

WALLACE: You set a deadline for Congress to pass a war supplemental bill by Memorial Day. I don't have to tell you that marker has come and gone, and Democrats are still trying to put money for social programs into the supplemental bill.

At what point delay in passing this bill do we begin to hurt the troops?

GATES:Well, first of all, I didn't set a deadline. I wish I could set deadlines for the Congress, but that's just not the way the Constitution is written.

But as I told the Congress this week, this past week, we will have to start doing stupid things after the 4th of July recess in terms of planning for major disruptions if we don't have the supplemental by the 4th of July recess.

We actually begin to have to take really serious negative actions that impact our troops as well as our civilians in mid to — in early to mid August.

WALLACE: Finally, how long are you committed to staying in this job?

GATES: Well, we just said that we'll see.

WALLACE: Well, at one point — the reason I ask is you talked about till the end of the year, till December of 2010. But now you seem to have taken on a new fight over the budget which gets you into 2011.

GATES: Well, we'll just see.

WALLACE: But would you have started this fight if you weren't going to see it through, sir?

GATES: Well, I didn't want to get bored.

WALLACE:Well, there's very little opportunity for that. Mr. Secretary, I want to thank you so much for coming in. It's always a pleasure to talk to you. Please come back, sir.

GATES: Thanks a lot.

14 June 2010

Air Force MIAS from Vietnam War are Identified

The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) announced today that the remains of four U.S. servicemen, missing in action from the Vietnam War, have been identified and returned to their families for burial with full military honors.

They are Capt. Peter H. Chapman, II, Centerburg, Ohio; Tech. Sgt. Allen J. Avery, Auburn, Mass.; Tech. Sgt. Roy D. Prater, Tiffin, Ohio; and Sgt. James H. Alley, Plantation, Fla., all U.S. Air Force.

Prater is to be buried in Columbia City, Ind., on June 19. Other burials are being scheduled individually by the families of the airmen.

On April 6, 1972, six airmen were flying a combat search and rescue mission in their HH-53C Super Jolly Green Giant helicopter over Quang Tri Province in South Vietnam when they were hit by enemy ground fire and crashed. Joint U.S. – Socialist Republic of Vietnam (S.R.V.) field investigations from 1989 to 1992, led by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), yielded evidence leading to an excavation at the crash site in 1994 as well as two reported burial sites. Team members recovered human remains and personal effects as well as aircraft debris. As a result of these recoveries, all six men on the aircraft were accounted-for in 1997 and buried as a group at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C. Three were individually identified at that time. Recent technical advances enabled JPAC to identify additional remains to be those of Prater.

Previously, in 1988, the S.R.V. turned over remains they attributed to an American serviceman, however, the name did not match anyone lost or missing from the Vietnam War. The remains were held by JPAC pending improved technology which might have facilitated an identification later.

In the mid-2000s, JPAC's laboratory gained increased scientific capability to associate the 1988 remains to the correct loss. The Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL) tested these remains against all those servicemembers who were MIA from the Vietnam War with negative results. In 2009, AFDIL expanded its search to make comparisons with previously- resolved individuals. As a result of AFDIL's mitochondrial DNA testing, JPAC scientists determined that these remains were associated with four of the six airmen from the 1972 crash.

03 June 2010

American Legion Welcomes New Measure to Improve GI Bill Benefits

/PRNewswire/ -- The American Legion welcomed the introduction of a Senate bill last week that would substantially improve and expand education benefits for veterans.

Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, is sponsoring the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act of 2010, which he introduced in the Senate on May 27.

"This new legislation would realize some of the changes we've been suggesting to Congress for the past couple of years," said Clarence Hill, national commander of The American Legion. "We're especially happy to see that Senator Akaka's bill would extend benefits to those veterans attending vocational schools, on-the-job training and apprenticeships."

Hill said the original 1944 GI Bill - authored and championed by The American Legion - paid for the education of about 16 million veterans. "And half of them went to some type of vocational institution after World War II, so it's most appropriate to expand today's benefits beyond traditional colleges and universities."

Robert Madden, assistant director of The American Legion's economic division, said that if Akaka's bill (S. 3447) becomes law, "every veteran would be free to choose any type of education and employment path that he or she happens to desire.

"Veterans have served America with pride and dedication. With bipartisan support, Congress can show its gratitude to them and their families by creating a GI Bill that is much more equitable," Madden said.

If passed, Akaka's legislation would upgrade veterans education benefits with several new provisions, including:

-- Veterans attending vocational schools would receive the national
yearly average for tuition/fee payments, plus housing stipend based
upon regular rate of the military's BHA (basic housing allowance).
-- On-the-job training and apprenticeships will be paid for on a prorated
schedule: 75 percent of costs for the first six months, 55 percent for
the next six months, and 35 percent for each subsequent month up to 24
additional months; benefits also include housing stipend and $1,000
annual book stipend.
-- 60 percent of charges for flight training and 55 percent for
correspondence courses will be covered, based on the national average
of established cost at all institutions of higher learning.
-- Servicemembers who retired after Sept. 11, 2001 but before the
Post-9/11 GI Bill went into effect would be able to transfer current
veterans education benefits to their family members (this provision
would be paid for by DoD and other federal agencies).
-- Housing allowance: distance-learning students and those attending
schools overseas will receive 50 percent of the established rate
(which would become prorated, based on a veteran's actual course
-- Instead of paying up to $2,000 for a one-time test for licensure or
certification, an unlimited number of tests will be allowed, with
charges being deducted from a veteran's monthly benefits.

During a hearing before the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee on April 21, Madden urged Congress to cover non-degree education programs with GI Bill benefits, saying that such a disparity "has caused much concern."

At that same hearing, Akaka promised to introduce legislation before Memorial Day to help improve veterans education benefits. He delivered on that promise last week.

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