26 November 2010

Mullen Cites North Korea's Unpredictability

By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service

North Korea's artillery assault on South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island is an issue of concern in a region that wants stability, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said recently on ABC's "The View" television show.

Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his wife, Deborah, appeared on the daytime talk show to discuss a range of issues, including the situation on the Korean peninsula.

"There is worrisome leadership in North Korea," Mullen said. "[North Korean President Kim Jong Il is] a very unpredictable guy, a very dangerous guy. This [attack] is also tied, we think, to the succession of his young, 27-year-old [son] who's going to take over at some point in the future, and he continues to generate these kinds of events."

Mullen said Americans should be concerned about North Korea's volatile posture, but he noted that the United States has 28,000 troops in South Korea, where "we are very much aligned with in supporting them."

"They are a strong ally. We need the region to stay very stable," Mullen said. "[Kim Jong Il] is a guy who creates instability routinely. I think it's very important, certainly with the Japanese and the South Koreans, but I also think it's important for China, to lead. The one country that has influence in Pyongyang is China, so their leadership is absolutely critical."

North Korea has worked hard to develop nuclear weapons, Mullen said, calling last week's revelation of the uranium enrichment facility there "a big deal." He said the facility has been described as sophisticated and modern.

"So, [If Kim Jong Il] continues on that path with nuclear weapons, or his son does, it could be a very dangerous outcome in the long term and it will at least destabilize an important part if the world," the chairman said.

On the eve of Thanksgiving, Mullen backed the idea of high-level screenings and pat downs at airports.

"The recent events of the two cargo planes that had bombs on them, and certainly the bomb in Times Square, the Detroit bomber [Christmas Day 2009], were all very real and indicative of the threat that's out there," he said. "[Terrorists] are still trying to kill as many Americans as they can, so it's not going to go away."

Turning to the possible repeal of the military's so-called "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, Mullen said it is difficult to know what the outcome will be.

"For me," Mullen said, "it's been my personal view it is very difficult for an institution that values integrity like the military does to have people show up at work every day and lie about who they are."

Deborah Mullen said she works with families of returning veterans. She's also concerned about military's suicide rate, noting that it is the "most devastating loss to a family."

"Suicide is taboo in the civilian world. Nobody likes to talk about suicide," she said. "There really have been no studies done on suicide, and the military is going to lead the way on this because they began a study on suicide about a year ago on a five-year study." What the military learns about suicide will be shared with the rest of nation and the world, she said.

Wyatt Asks Air Guard Leaders to Look Ahead

Times are tough for the Air National Guard, but Air Force Lt. Gen. Harry "Bud" Wyatt III sees many "great" opportunities for his 106,700-member force to excel in the future.

"We know there is a mismatch right now of demands on the force and resources," said Wyatt, the director of the Air Guard. "I think it will get worse before it gets better, but I don't bring you a message of despair today.

"I bring you a message of hope and courage because I see great opportunity, because we are the most efficient force, the most capable force that we have ever been. The country can afford us before it can afford some other things that [it] is looking at."

Wyatt's question for senior Air Guard leaders from around the country is: "ANG 2025: Are We Ready?"

"Are we willing to make the tough choices that will posture us for the future?" he asked.

The Air Force announced that Stewart Air National Guard Base in New York is the preferred base for eight C-17 Globemaster III aircraft.

"Through the next several months and years, there will many of these announcements," Wyatt said. "The questions will be: Are they the type of announcements that we as an organization can embrace and take forward and excel the way we have excelled in our missions in the past?"

Wyatt said the Air Guard should prepare for future demands now.

"We have got to start shaping that force today, to be ready to provide the force that this country needs in 2025," he said.
Wyatt said the Air Guard has seen "significant change" over the last decade.

Airmen who have been in the Air Guard for 20 years or less, he said, have been focused on the Air Expeditionary Force construct.

"They know nothing else," Wyatt said. "They are used to it."

Wyatt said that when he joined the Air Guard, the force was not built for such deployments.

"We have evolved into an air expeditionary force -- an extremely capable air expeditionary force. But what will be the demands of tomorrow?"

Wyatt said he also is proud of the Air Guard's domestic response capability, but there are challenges ahead for that mission too.

"We have 30 percent less airlift now than we did when we responded to Hurricane Katrina," Wyatt said, adding that in fiscal year 2010 more than 100 emergencies across the country generated over 2,250 airlift sorties.

"We are on call 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. If that's not value for America, I don't know what is," he said.

The Air Guard is slated to undergo many mission changes next year, Wyatt said, as a result of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

"We have undergone a lot of change and it has been undertaken in a short time period," he said. "The rate of change is not slowing at all. We need to reflect on the implications of what we have done in the past as we look to the future of the Air National Guard."

The Air Guard has been through trying times before, Wyatt said, noting that when Air Force Maj. Gen. Winston P. "Wimpy" Wilson was the director of the Air National Guard, he lost 50 percent of his aircraft due to resource constrictions. Wilson converted into more modern aircraft and diversified the force into non-flying missions, Wyatt said.

On the other hand, when Air Force Lt. Gen. John B. Conaway was director of the Air National Guard during the Reagan years, he was faced with a flood of resources.

"He took advantage of the landscape and he moved us forward," Wyatt said of Conaway's achievements.

Wyatt said he needs his senior leaders to help him decide how to go forward. He plans to conduct an internal review this year to get an "honest assessment" of the Air Guard.

"We will not lose momentum," he said. "We owe our airmen that effort."

Wyatt said the key to the Air Guard's future is to: "Figure out what we do best, what we do most efficiently, most cost-effectively and grab it!"

By Air Force Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke
National Guard Bureau 

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18 November 2010

'Veterans Paid the Price, Cut Debt Elsewhere,' Says The American Legion

/PRNewswire/ -- "There they go again," said The American Legion's National Commander Jimmie Foster about the recommendations of two debt reduction commissions which would decrease military retirement benefits. "Every time Washington wakes up with a deficit hangover after decades of spending binges, those who study the serious problems of our national debt can't resist the easy but unfair route of trying to balance the budget on the backs of veterans. It is unfair and if these ridiculous proposals are passed into law, it will hurt America's ability to defend itself from our enemies."

One panel, chaired by former Sen. Pete Domenici and Clinton administration Budget Director Alice Rivlin, calls for changing the formula to calculate military retirement pay and delaying payments until the eligible veterans reach age 57. Another panel, chaired by former Sen. Alan Simpson and retired Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, recommends that military retirement checks be delayed until age 60.

"Tell it to the Marines!" was Foster response to the proposals. "I want these commissions to look a 22-year-old Marine in the eye and say that if you retire at age 40, after 20 years of service and three, four or even more tours of being shot at in Afghanistan, that you still have not done enough to receive your retirement. I want these commissions to tell the soldiers in Iraq that the benefits they are receiving are too much. America has a huge debt all right. And it is owed to these men and women who protect our freedoms every day. It is a debt that must be repaid."

The panels have also recommended cuts to military weapons systems that could hurt American efforts to fight the Global War on Terrorism.

The Simpson/Bowles Commission suggested slashing $100 billion from the defense budget in 2015, closing one-third of the U.S. bases overseas and freezing noncombat military pay. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates warned that cutting even 10 percent or $55 billion from his budget would be "catastrophic" for the military.

"Cutting the military's budget while it is engaged in two wars is unconscionable," said Foster. "When you send American troops to war, you must pay the cost of those wars. Freezing pay and cutting benefits, whether in combat or in garrison, will also make young people think twice before volunteering to serve their country. The United States would not exist if not for the sacrifices of the men and women who have served in our military throughout our history. It is only because of their sacrifice, that beancounters have the freedom to argue about how to balance the budget to begin with."

With a current membership of 2.4-million wartime veterans, The American Legion was founded in 1919 on the four pillars of a strong national security, veterans affairs, Americanism, and youth programs. Legionnaires work for the betterment of their communities through more than 14,000 posts across the nation.

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17 November 2010

VA Pilots Expedite Payments to Disabled Veterans

(BUSINESS WIRE)--VA has launched two pilot programs to test new procedures that will speed the payment of Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) compensation benefits to Veterans with disabilities connected to their military service. These new programs are part of Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki’s effort to “break the back” of the disability claims backlog.

“A fundamental goal in the transformation of VA’s claims processing is to make sure that Veterans receive in a timely manner the benefits they earned through their service to our Nation,” Shinseki said. “VA’s ambitious tests of numerous innovations reflect our commitment to constantly improving how we meet our mission of responsiveness to Veterans, their families and survivors.”

The “Quick Pay” Disability Program at the St. Petersburg, Fla., Regional Office and the “Express Lane” Pilot, based at the Seattle, Wash., Regional Office, are among a number of new initiatives using reengineered and streamlined claims processes to provide Veterans with faster claims decisions and benefit payments.

Secretary Shinseki established as one of VA’s highest priority goals the elimination of the disability claims backlog by 2015, so that all Veterans receive a quality decision on their claim in no more than 125 days.

The “Quick Pay” Disability initiative is designed to speed disability compensation to Veterans who provide sufficient evidence at the time of claim submission to decide all or part of their claim. Since program launch, “Quick Pay” has paid more than $2 million in benefits to 1,656 Florida Veterans. These payments averaged $1,236 monthly and were made three months faster than the department’s 125-day goal.

Under the “Express Lane” Pilot program based in the Seattle Regional Office, staff members are realigned to address disability claims based on claim complexity.

Like a supermarket check-out “express lane,” small employee teams focus on rapidly processing numerous less complex claims that typically involve only one disability, thus freeing their co-workers to process the more complex and multiple-disability claims that demand the greatest level of unilateral effort.

The “Express Lane” Pilot, while managed from Seattle, is also being tested at three additional VA regional offices: Nashville, Tenn.; St. Paul, Minn.; and Muskogee, Okla.

The St. Petersburg and Seattle pilots are among more than three dozen VA initiatives exploring optimal ways to organize and deliver benefits and improve service to Veterans.

For additional information on VA’s claims transformation activities, visit http://www.vba.va.gov/transformation. Questions about benefits for Veterans may be directed to VA’s toll free benefits number at 1-800-827-1000.

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15 November 2010

Death of Georgia Soldier: Spc. Shannon Chihuahua

Spc. Shannon Chihuahua, 25, of Thomasville, Ga., died Nov. 12 in Kunar province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit using small arms fire and rocket propelled grenades.  He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Ky.

11 November 2010

On Veterans Day, VA Secretary Shinseki Recognizes, Thanks Veterans

(BUSINESS WIRE)--This Veterans Day, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki calls on America to honor its 23 million Veterans by reaching out to them and their families with heartfelt thanks and to encourage them to seek the benefits and services they have earned from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

“As we observe Veterans Day, I look to everyone – families, friends and acquaintances in communities, large and small – to turn out and thank all our Veterans, from earlier eras and those who are just returning home”

“As we observe Veterans Day, I look to everyone – families, friends and acquaintances in communities, large and small – to turn out and thank all our Veterans, from earlier eras and those who are just returning home,” said VA Secretary Shinseki.

Shinseki noted that America has made significant investments in Veterans benefits and services over the past 19 months: a 16 percent VA budget increase last year and a 10 percent increase in the 2011 budget request. He said this is making it possible to increase Veterans’ access to benefits and health care services, help end the disability claims backlog, and eliminate Veterans’ homelessness by 2015. The Post 9/11 GI Bill has already sent more than 400,000 Veterans to college, and care and benefits will be extended to more Veterans who have illnesses related to exposure to Agent Orange and service during the first Persian Gulf War.

Under Shinseki, VA is taking unprecedented steps to reach out to Veterans and their families with a television ad campaign, a new VA blog, and other social media initiatives, and outreach teams traveling throughout rural communities. The goal is to let Veterans and their families know what services they are eligible for and how to access them. The emphasis is on meeting emergent transitional needs such as treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which affects many Veterans, including those returning from the Middle East, as well as those who served in Vietnam four decades ago.

VA recently launched its first official blog, “VAntage Point,” at http://www.blogs.va.gov to improve the way VA and Veterans engage online. The blog expands VA’s social media presence, adding to its Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/VeteransAffairs), Twitter (http://twitter.com/DeptVetAffairs/), Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/photos/VeteransAffairs/), and YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/user/DeptVetAffairs) postings. With more than 70,000 subscribers, VA has the largest Facebook subscriber base among cabinet-level agencies.

On Veterans Day, Shinseki will join White House and military officials, and leaders of major Veterans organizations, at the traditional Veterans Day wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery at 11 a.m. Following the ceremony, VA will host an observance program in Arlington’s Memorial Amphitheater.

Across the country, from the rousing notes of the “Star Spangled Banner” to the poignant bugle solo of “Taps,” Americans will celebrate U.S. Veterans with music, ceremonies and speeches. Nearly 100 VA-sponsored activities are scheduled, highlighted by Birmingham’s 63rd annual Veterans Day parade and parades in Lexington and Denver; recognition ceremonies in Anchorage, Alaska, Chillicothe, Ohio, and Tomah, Wis.; concerts in Durham, N.C., Bath, N.Y., and Tucson, Ariz.; and the third annual Veterans Run/Walk in West Haven, Conn. The oath of citizenship will be administered to 25 Veterans at the Fort Sam Houston Cemetery in Texas as they become official citizens of the nation they served.

The Veterans Day National Committee has designated regional observance site status to Veterans Day programs at 54 sites in 29 states. Sites were selected on the basis of community involvement, regional impact and continuity. They are also eligible for support from the Department of Defense.

A guide to these sites and other information about Veterans Day is available on VA's Veterans Day Web page at http://www.va.gov/opa/vetsday/ under "Regional Observances." The page includes a variety of resources, including a teacher’s guide, a poster gallery and links to information about the Arlington National Cemetery ceremony.

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08 November 2010

Outback Gives Free Bloomin' Onion and Beverage to Vets on Veterans Day

At Outback, we appreciate our Veterans service to our country and we are proud to serve them. This Veterans Day all Veterans and Active Military will receive a Free Bloomin' Onion® and a beverage with valid military ID.

We are honoring your heroes on our Facebook Page. Join the conversation and share your hero with us.

To learn more visit www.outback.com/troops

05 November 2010

Lowe’s Offers Veterans Day Discount

(BUSINESS WIRE)--Lowe’s Companies, Inc. announced today it will offer all active, reserve, honorably discharged, and retired military personnel and their immediate family members a 10 percent discount on in-store U.S. purchases made during the Veterans Day holiday. The discount is available November 11 – November 15.

The discount is available on in-stock and Special Order purchases up to $5,000. To qualify, individuals must present a valid military ID or other proof of service. Excluded from the discount are sales via Lowes.com, previous sales, and purchases of services or gift cards.

To further honor our armed forces, Lowe’s will be providing customers with complimentary bumper stickers that offer a simple “Thank You” to our troops. A limited quantity of “Thank You” stickers, with an image of the American flag, will be available in-store during the Veterans Day weekend.

In addition to offering military discounts at specific times during the year, Lowe’s has extended benefits for its employees serving in the military and offers employment opportunities to military personnel after their military service has ended. Currently, more than 14,000 Lowe’s employees are military veterans or reservists.

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