Monday, January 22, 2018

Government Shutdown Affecting Troops and Families

The Government Shutdown is entering it's third day.

If you were around in 2013, you’ll remember the many ways the two-week government shutdown that October affected military personnel and their families: Everything from doctor’s appointments to planned relocations to death benefits. Operations that are considered essential to national security will continue during the shutdown. Defense Department officials set those ground rules; the current guidelines weren’t immediately available.

But as the Friday night deadline looms for lawmakers to reach an agreement, shutdown preparations are underway in DoD. “DoD’s foremost need is to receive an enacted appropriation for fiscal year 2018 as soon as possible,” DoD spokesman Army Maj. Dave Eastburn said. “We are hopeful that there is enough time for Congress to prevent a lapse in appropriations. However, at this time, prudent management requires planning for the possibility of a shutdown.”

Based on some shutdown history and recent guidelines, we put together some points to consider:

Pay. Active-duty military personnel generally report to work during a shutdown regardless of whether their command is considered “essential,” but military personnel generally wouldn’t be paid until the shutdown ends. This could change if Congress passes a law that requires the military to be paid during the shutdown, as they it in 2013. Personnel are paid on the 1st and 15th of each month. In the past, a number of financial institutions that serve the military community have stepped up to fill the gap, in some cases offering to advance the active-duty pay, then recouping it later, when retroactive pay caught up.

Military relief societies also have helped service members and families fill the gaps during shutdowns. Retired pay is not affected. It comes from a different pot of money.

PCS and TDY. In 2013, permanent change-of-station moves and temporary duty travel were canceled except for service members traveling to activities and operations determined to be essential to national security.

Health care. In 2013, military treatment facilities remained open to care for existing patients and provide emergency services and acute care. Routine appointments and elective surgery were suspended, but pharmacy, laboratory and radiology services continued. All care through off-base civilian Tricare providers was unchanged.

Commissaries. DoD hasn’t notified commissary officials yet about whether they will have to close any stores, Defense Commissary Agency spokesman Kevin Robinson said. Commissaries were closed during the 2013 shutdown, except for overseas stores. If there is a shutdown, the commissaries forced to close will follow an orderly procedure to allow store staffs to reduce stocks of perishables, safeguard equipment and facilities, and make other necessary preparations, he said. In 2013, commissaries in the continental U.S., as well as those in Alaska and Hawaii, were open an extra day after the shutdown took effect. They were packed with customers. “In the event of a shutdown, we will do our best to support our military communities whenever and wherever possible,” Robinson said.

Exchanges. They won’t close, because they don’t rely on taxpayer dollars. But they do try to ease some of the strain on the customers affected by commissary closures. For example, Army and Air Force Exchange Service officials already are working up emergency orders for key items such as diapers, bread, milk and frozen food, and working with distributors to speed up those deliveries for early next week, AAFES spokesman Chris Ward said.

DoD schools. Based on past experience, the Department of Defense Education Activity is planning that their 166 DoD schools overseas and stateside, and eight district offices around the world, would be allowed to continue to operate, DoDEA spokesman Frank O’Gara said. A shutdown would probably curtail operations at regional offices and at headquarters, he said, though DoDEA is awaiting DoD guidance.

Death gratuities. These $100,000 payments might not be made immediately to the designated survivor of a service member who dies on active duty. When those payments went unmade in 2013, the Fisher House Foundation stepped in to fill the gap. After the government reached a deal to reimburse the charity, Congress eventually passed a law that restarted the payments.

Child care. This might be a mixed bag: In 2013, each installation determined whether child development centers continued to operate.

Morale, Welfare and Recreation. Previous guidance has allowed morale, welfare and recreation activities to operate during a shutdown if they are deemed necessary to support essential operations. That covered mess halls, physical training and child care activities required for readiness. More MWR. In the past, MWR activities that are funded entirely by non-appropriated funds (NAF), not by taxpayer dollars, weren’t affected by the shutdown. A bowling center or golf course funded by customers likely would remain open, for example.

DoD civilians. In 2013, about 400,000 DoD civilians, including military spouses, veterans and retirees, were furloughed.

Article from Military Times

Thursday, January 18, 2018

CSM Troxell Tells ISIS to 'Surrender' or Be Shot, Bombed and Beaten to Death

The U.S. military's highest-ranking enlisted officer has given the Islamic State militant group an ultimatum on social media, threatening to not only bomb but bludgeon the jihadis to death if they didn't give up. Army Command Sargeant Major John Troxell, who served as third senior enlisted advisor to the military's joint chiefs of staff, shared the warning on Facebook and Twitter, where it was accompanied by the hashtags #DefeatDaesh, referring to the Arabic-language acronym for ISIS and #ISIS_SurrenderOrDie, the only two choices he said the U.S. military would give the militants.

"ISIS needs to understand that the Joint Force is on orders to annihilate them. So, they have two options should they decide to come up against the United States, our allies and partners: surrender or die!" Troxell wrote on Facebook."If they surrender, we will safeguard them to their detainee facility cell, provide them chow, a cot and due process.

"HOWEVER, if they choose not to surrender, then we will kill them with extreme prejudice, whether that be through security force assistance, by dropping bombs on them, shooting them in the face, or beating them to death with our entrenching tools," he added. "Regardless, they cannot win, so they need to choose how it's going to be."

The post was also accompanied by a U.S. soldier carrying a small shovel or e-tool, one of the "entrenching tools" that Troxell promised his men would kill ISIS with. The senior officer's "surrender or die" threat echoed previous warnings offered by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, both of whom have also waged war on ISIS.

The U.S.-led coalition has been bombing ISIS since 2014 and has assisted the Pentagon-formed Syrian Democratic Forces, a mostly Kurdish alliance of Arabs and ethnic minorities, take down what remains of ISIS's self-styled caliphate that once spanned nearly half of Iraq and Syria.

The Defense Department has regularly published reports detailing the locations and results of its airstrikes. The latest data, released Thursday, included airstrikes last week and late last month in the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor, where both the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces and a separate campaign coordinated by the Syrian military, Russia and Iran have all but defeated the militants.

Last month, the U.S.-led coalition said that there were less than 1,000 ISIS fighters left in Syria and echoed Defense Secretary James Mattis's earlier remarks that the U.S. did not plan on leaving the country despite calls from the Syrian government and its Russia and Iranian allies. Coalition member U.K. Major General Felix Gedney said then the multinational alliance would not target ISIS fighters fleeing towards Syrian military frontlines.

With Syria, Iran and Russia declaring victory over ISIS in November, the three countries have grown frustrated with the U.S.'s refusal to leave. They have accused the U.S. of hampering their own efforts to defeat ISIS and of supporting the jihadis. The U.S. has dismissed these accusations as efforts to distort its campaign, but it has admitted the Syrian Democratic Forces entered into deals to allow ISIS fighters and family members to flee.

In November, the Pentagon released figures detailing the number of U.S. troops and civilian Pentagon employees stationed in the Middle East, showing a 33-percent rise. It also showed individual increases in each country, including Syria, where the amount reported in June went up from 1,251 to 1,723.

Late last month, Mattis told Pentagon reporters that U.S.-led coalition operations against ISIS would change in 2018, saying the jihadis "will have to be hunted down" as they try to escape and regroup in shrinking pockets of territory between Iraq and Syria where local and international forces were cracking down on the militants. "It’s only a safe haven if people give them one," he said.

Article from Newsweek

Sunday, January 14, 2018

12 Strong: Green Beret Horse Soldiers in Afghanistan

Stand aside 100 movies about SEALS fighting Islamic Extremists, now the true story of Green Berets, called the "Horse Soldiers", who were among the first few American fighting men into Afghanistan avenging the terrorist 9-11 attacks.

Previously known as Doug Stanton's Horse Soldiers, this is the story of the first large American unconventional warfare operation since World War II. Green Berets were launched deep into enemy territory to befriend, recruit, equip, advise, and lead their Afghan counterparts to attack the Taliban. The Horse Soldiers succeeded brilliantly with a highly decentralized campaign, reinforced with modern airpower's precision weapons, forcing the Taliban government's collapse in a few months.

12 Strong the Movie - Opening in theatres across the country

Set in the harrowing days following 9-11, a U.S. Special Forces team, led by their new Captain, Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth), is chosen to be the first U.S. troops sent into Afghanistan for an extremely dangerous mission. There, in the rugged mountains, they must convince Northern Alliance General Dostum (Navid Negahban) to join forces with them to fight their common adversary: the Taliban and their Al Qaeda allies. In addition to overcoming mutual distrust and a vast cultural divide, the Americans—accustomed to state-of-the-art warfare—must adopt the rudimentary tactics of the Afghani horse soldiers. But despite their uneasy bond, the new allies face overwhelming odds: outnumbered and outgunned by a ruthless enemy that does not take prisoners. Directed by Nicolai Fuglsig and based on the acclaimed “Horse Soldiers” book by best-selling author Doug Stanton, 12 STRONG also stars Michael Peña, Navid Negahban, Trevante Rhodes, Geoff Stults, Thad Luckinbill, Austin Stowell, Ben O’Toole, Austin Hebert, Kenneth Miller, Kenny Sheard, Jack Kesy, Laith Nakli, Fahim Fazli, Yousuf Azami, Said Taghmaoui, Elsa Pataky, William Fichtner, and Rob Riggle.

Monday, January 8, 2018

General Mattis Speaks Again

For only the second time since 9/11, America’s defense secretary didn’t visit U.S. troops in a war zone during December, breaking a long-standing tradition. It has been 15 years since a U.S. defense chief didn’t travel to a war zone during the festive season. And the only time a holiday visit was skipped since Americans began fighting in Afghanistan was in December 2002. That year, then-Secretary Donald Rumsfeld went to a command post in Qatar that would be used a few months later to coordinate the launch of the Iraq war. Asked recently why he wasn’t going to Iraq or Afghanistan, Mattis said he didn’t want to discuss his travel. “I carry out my duties to the best of my ability,” said Mattis, who visited Iraq and Afghanistan earlier this year.

Dana White, his chief spokeswoman, said the secretary “wanted the troops to enjoy their holiday uninterrupted. He is keenly aware of the logistical challenges of a senior leader visit, especially in a war zone.” And Secretary Matis is also aware of the costs as well. As he reportedly said he "declines to carry and hand out challenge coins".....as he "is saving money for bombs." That's my kind of defense Secretary!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

TRICARE News


The new year is bringing big changes to military health care. Military officials are trying to streamline and simplify the Tricare health system, which will include fewer Tricare regions and fewer plan options. Eventually that will come with higher fees, but current service members and retirees are grandfathered into the existing structure, avoiding next year’s increases.

Most of the changes will go into effect Jan. 1., when all current Tricare beneficiaries will be enrolled automatically in the new versions of their respective plans. The Tricare Standard and Tricare Extra plans will be combined into one plan called Tricare Select. Tricare Standard Overseas will be called Select Overseas.

Active-duty family members using Tricare Prime or Tricare Select won’t pay an annual enrollment fee, but they may have to pay out-of-pocket for co-pays or cost shares when getting health care outside of a military treatment facility.

Tricare Prime is similar to a health maintenance organization, with lower out-of-pocket costs, but requires patients to use network providers and coordinate care through a primary care manager. Tricare Select is a preferred provider organization-style plan that provides access to both network and non-network Tricare-authorized doctors.

Among the biggest Tricare changes will be a bureaucratic shakeup requiring military families to find out whether their doctors are in the Tricare network. Under Tricare Select, beneficiaries will be eligible for certain extra preventive services without any out-of-pocket costs if they are offered by providers inside the network.

In addition, a 2016 law requires the Defense Department to improve access to health care, including:

• Offering urgent care services without preauthorization

• Keeping urgent care at military hospitals and clinics open until 11 p.m. daily

• Establishing Tricare provider network urgent care clinics in areas where there is no military hospital

• Expanding hours for primary care services at military hospitals and clinics in locations with high volumes of patients

• Establishing a standardized appointment scheduling system for military facilities, allowing patients to schedule appointments online and over the phone.

There are no changes planned for Tricare for Life, the benefit provided for retirees age 65 and older and their dependents.

Article from Military Times

Tricare allotment snafu hits more than 4,000 Prime beneficiaries

More than 4,000 Tricare Prime beneficiaries in the former North region must make a one-time payment to cover their January enrollment fees thanks to mistakes with their allotments during the transition to the new Tricare East region contractor.

Humana Military, the contractor for the new East region, will send a letter to the affected beneficiaries, Defense Health Agency spokesman Kevin Dwyer said. There will be no coverage lapses because of the error, no beneficiaries will be disenrolled, and the allotments will resume in February, Dwyer said.

Only beneficiaries who pay enrollment fees by allotment were affected by the glitch. Active-duty service members and their family members don’t pay enrollment fees in Tricare Prime.

On Jan. 1, Tricare North and Tricare South regions merged to become the new Tricare East region. The contractor for Tricare East is Humana Military, which formerly managed Tricare South.

During the transition process, as the beneficiary data files were transferred from the outgoing Tricare North contractor to Humana Military, all payments by allotment were stopped. However, 4,053 Prime beneficiaries in the former North region were not included in the data file to start new allotments with Humana Military, according to Dwyer.

In the letter from Humana Military, affected beneficiaries are instructed to call Humana Military at 800-444-5445 or visit its website (www.tricare-east.com) to make a payment.

Over the last month, there have been at least two incidents involving Tricare allotments and concerns about continued coverage. A retired Air Force lieutenant colonel in New Mexico told Military Times that he checked his retiree account statement Dec. 20 and discovered his retirement pay didn’t include the usual allotment to pay for his Tricare Prime coverage in Tricare West.

Earlier in December, Humana Military mistakenly sent a letter to an unknown number of military retirees in the then-Tricare North region notifying them that they would have to pay their Tricare Prime premiums electronically from their bank account or credit card, even though many of those retirees were paying by allotment from their retirement pay.

Humana Military subsequently sent letters to affected beneficiaries apologizing and notifying them of the mistake. The letter clarified that the affected beneficiaries were not required to take any action to continue their Tricare Prime benefit. Now, 4,053 Tricare Prime beneficiaries who were formerly part of Tricare North will indeed have to make those one-time payments.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Chaplain’s Corner - December 2017

Jesus Is the Reason for the Season

For some of you this is a time to experience the wonderful joy of being with your family and friends to celebrate the fantastic love of God. The birth of Jesus Christ shows us the way to know God through the life and teachings of Jesus in a direct and personal way. Jesus was sent by God to restore the loving and intimate relationship He had with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. God continued to love them as he continues to love us. God invites us to use our freedom to choose to accept Jesus as our personal Savior and Lord. In so doing, we receive God’s forgiveness of the sins committed while living in a broken relationship with God.

For some of us, this Christmas can be the time to use our freedom to decide to accept God’s love, accepting Jesus as our personal Savior and Lord. Should you do this, God will give you His Holy Spirit, and give you His promise of eternal life with Him in Heaven. This is just the beginning of the wonder of God’s love that will guide and strengthen us as we walk in the footsteps of Jesus, becoming more like Jesus each day of our time on earth. This Christmas, God may be offering you the gift of His love revealed perfectly in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

My Christmas Prayer for you is that you have accepted His loving gift of Jesus, bringing the joy of His love and solace into your life.

Love you all,
Chaplain Szilvasy

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Bataan Death March survivor dies at 100

A San Francisco Bay Area man who survived the infamous 1942 Bataan Death March and symbolized the thousands of unheralded Filipinos who fought alongside American forces during World War II has died. He was 100. Ramon Regalado died Dec. 16 in El Cerrito, California, said Cecilia I. Gaerlan, executive director of the Bataan Legacy Historical Society, which has fought to honor Regalado and others. She did not have a cause of death. “He really embodied the qualities of the greatest generation and love for country,” she said.

Regalado was born in 1917 in the Philippines. He was a machine gun operator with the Philippine Scouts under U.S. Army Forces when troops were forced to surrender in 1942 to the Japanese after a grueling three-month battle. The prisoners were forced to march some 65 miles (105 kilometer) to a camp. Many died during the Bataan Death March, killed by Japanese soldiers or simply unable to make the trek. The majority of the troops were Filipino.

Regalado survived and slipped away with two others — all of them sick with malaria. They encountered a farmer who cared for them, but only Regalado lived. Afterward, he joined a guerrilla resistance movement against the Japanese and later moved to the San Francisco Bay Area to work as a civilian for the U.S. military. In his later years, he gave countless interviews to promote the wartime heroics of Filipinos, who were promised benefits and U.S. citizenship but saw those promises disappear after the war ended.

Philippine Scouts. The Philippine Scouts (PS) was a military organization of the United States Army from 1901 until the end of World War II and disbanded in 1948 by the Philippines Government. The first Scout companies were organized by the US in 1901 to combat the Philippine revolutionary forces. In 1919–20, the PS companies were grouped into regiments as part of the US Army and redesignated the 43d, 44th, 45th, and 57th Infantry Regiments, plus the 24th and 25th Field Artillery Regiments, the 26th Cavalry Regiment (PS) and the 91st and 92nd Coast Artillery Regiments. The infantry and field artillery regiments were grouped together with the U.S. 31st Infantry Regiment to form the U.S. Army’s Philippine Division. At this point, the Scouts became the U.S. Army’s front line troops in the Pacific. The Philippine Department assigned the Scouts to subdue the Moro tribes on the island of Mindanao, and to establish tranquility throughout the islands. In the 1930s, Philippine Scouts, along with the 31st Infantry Regiment, saw action at Jolo, Palawan. Philippine Scout regiments became some of the first United States Army units to be in combat during World War II, until the surrender in May 1942. Even after that some individual soldiers and units refused to surrender and become beginning elements of the resistance to the Japanese occupation. Later paroled POWs would also join the resistance.

More than 250,000 Filipino soldiers served with U.S. troops in World War II, including more than 57,000 who died. The veterans have won back some concessions, including lump-sum payments as part of the 2009 economic stimulus package. In an October ceremony in Washington, D.C., remaining Filipino veterans of World War II were awarded the coveted Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian award.

Gaerlan said Regalado did not make the trip due to poor health, but he got his medal in December in an intensive care unit in Richmond, California. He is survived by his wife Marcelina, five children and many grandchildren.

Article from the Military Times

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Chapter Meeting Notes - 18 November 2017

Wreaths Across America: The Chapter paid for 39 wreaths of fallen Special Forces buried at Fort Bliss National Cemetery - those were placed on 16 December 2017.

Sick Call: Considering OPSEC, we'll only post an occasional sick call report. In this reporting period Brian Kanof cut 4 fingers of his left hand with a saw. His fingers were reportedly all mangled up and not suitable for re-attachment, so the Doctors used toes from a cadaver, named Bob, to give Brian some digits.

SFA Dues are coming up: Life membership is still a good deal at $440 (current Member) $475 (Not current). It is $320 for members age 65 and over. Annual renewal = $40, New Member dues = $50. Reinstatement = $45.

SFA 2108 National Convention: The HQ Hotel for the 2018 Convention was changed to the Airport Wyndham. The original hotel is just not going to be finished before the convention – they originally promised it would, but there are complications. Nothing else in the downtown was large enough for our needs so we go to the Wyndham which is within walking distance from the airport AND various hotels nearby will honor the $98 per night. This 2018 Committee will be meeting at 1200 hours on normal Chapter meeting days, prior to the main Chapter meeting where somebody always steals Bill Snider's sign in pen.

The 22nd Annual Jerry Montoya/Ralph Dominguez Food Drive: Tom Melgares Chaired this initiative. 104 boxes, each including 40-45 pounds of dry goods and a 6 pound ham were packed and distributed. Arrangements were made to check Bill Snider's house in case some of these boxes made their way there like last year.

SFA Annual Christmas Party: Was held on Saturday 16 December at VFW 812. We hope to have pictures to post soon.

VFW Post 812 News: Commander Gilbert Duran. Meeting is held the 1st Saturday’s 1000 hrs. 1st Sunday of every month is a fish fry from 1100-1400. Bar is open every evening. Fun Food Friday is held each Friday evening.

82nd News: Benavidez-Patterson All Airborne Chapter: www.bp82eptx.org Chairman Jesus Bravo. Meeting is the 4th Saturday of each month, lunch 1200 hours and meeting at 1300 hours. Bar is open every Friday and Saturday from 1700 till whenever. Saturday, 23 December – Christmas Party, 6 pm.

Chapter President's Message:

Short and sweet; need to plan for the 2018 golf tournament, expo and most importantly is the 2018 SFA National convention. Brian is the lead for the convention and we need all the help that we can get. There’s too many Chapter 9 members to thanks because all of you have stepped up to the plate BUT there are a few that deserve special recognition for 2017. Steve Franzoni for leading the pack when I was out, Gus, Ike and Al for the golf tournament, Tom Melgares for the food drive and Christmas party and Phil Sloniger for all the rest. Thanks for a great 2017 and I look forward to 2018.

De Oppresso Liber!

Pete Peral
President SFA Chapter IX

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

A-1 Skyraider - Low, Slow but earned it's place

Three and a half months after the first American combat troops, two battalions of Marines, waded ashore without resistance at Da Nang, U.S. Air Force jet pilots learned they wouldn’t have it so easy. On June 20, 1965, a McDonnell F-4C Phantom II was hit by a Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17 near Ta Chan in northwest North Vietnam and became the first Phantom shot down in the war. The pilots of two MiG-17s from the North Vietnamese 921st Fighter Regiment thought a force of America’s most advanced combat aircraft would arrive to rescue the downed plane’s crew. Instead, they met ghosts out of the past: four gleaming white, straight-winged, single-seated propeller planes, Douglas A-1H Skyraiders of U.S. Navy attack squadron VA-25, “The Fist of the Fleet,” off the carrier USS Midway in the Gulf of Tonkin.

“At 12,000 feet and 170 knots we looked like Tweety bird to Sylvester the Cat,” remembered Lt. Clinton B. Johnson, who was leading the second pair of Skyraiders when they spotted the enemy jets. “Our only hope was to get down low and try to out turn the MiGs.” Following Johnson into the weeds to escape, wingman Lt. j.g. Charlie Hartman worried, “The familiar story of the No. 4 man being the first to be downed raced through my mind.” At the rear of the formation, he was defenseless against a tail attack.

“A silver MiG-17 with red marking on wings and tail streaked by Charlie and me,” Johnson stated. “Tracers from behind and a jet intake growing larger in my mirror were a signal to start pulling and turning….[The second MiG] was unable to stay inside our turn and overshot.” The first MiG, however, had gone after the other pair of Skyraiders. “I caught a glimpse of the leader and his wingman and headed for them,” Johnson recalled. “As we had been flying at treetop level in and out of small valleys, we had to fly around a small hill to get to them. Coming around the hill we saw … the MiG lined up behind them. … He turned hard into us to make a head-on pass.”

But that gave Johnson and Hartman a head-on shot, too. “We both fired our cannons,” Hartman said. Eight 20 mm guns — about 140 explosive shells all told — were fired at the North Vietnamese plane. “I saw the MiG’s canopy shatter,” Hartman said. The MiG had passed so close, Johnson recalled, “that Charlie thought that I had hit his vertical stabilizer with the tip of my tail hook and Charlie flew through his wake. … He never returned our fire, rolled inverted and hit a small hill exploding and burning in a farm field.” The venerable Skyraider had its first “kill” of the Vietnam War. One of the Phantom crewmen was taken prisoner, and the other was rescued by helicopter the next day.

The North Vietnamese pilots called the bare-metal, swept-wing MiG the “Silver Swallow.” U.S. pilots nicknamed the A-1 Skyraider “Spad” after a wood-and-wire World War I fighter. By June 1965, the Skyraider was a 20-year-old design. In those two decades, fighter planes had gone from pistons to turbines, from a few hundred miles per hour to over Mach 2.

The Skyraider was conceived in June 1944 when Navy planners rejected Douglas Aircraft Co. chief engineer Ed Heinemann’s concept for a dive/torpedo bomber. They wanted a single-seater designed around the huge twin-bank, 18-cylinder, 2,500-horsepower Wright R-3350 Duplex-Cyclone radial engine used in the Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber. Up against deadline, Heinemann and his staff famously pulled an all-nighter and put drawings on Navy desks in the morning.

Too late for World War II, their A-1 Skyraider — the last tail-wheeled airplane in the Navy inventory — was the world’s biggest, most powerful prop-driven, single-seat combat aircraft, able to lift truly freakish weapons loads, greater than that of a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. (In May 1953 a Skyraider in Dallas took off with fuel and ordnance totaling almost 27,000 pounds, comparable to a twin-engine Douglas C-47 transport plane packing two dozen troops.)

Former B-52 Stratofortress pilot Capt. Richard Drury called his A-1 “a time machine. … It carried nearly 40 gallons of oil, most of which wound up on the aircraft surfaces and on the pilots. It also burned about 100 gallons an hour of fuel. For all that, it barely went three miles a minute with an ordnance load. But speed was a relative thing and had lost all its importance in the sort of war we would be in.” Agility, not speed, would be the Skyraider’s best defense over Vietnam.

In September 1960, the Eisenhower administration saw the A-1 as the ideal combat aircraft — front-line, but no longer state-of-the-art — to bolster South Vietnam’s fledging air force. That November, South Vietnamese air force Skyraiders helped put down an attempted coup. In February 1962, however, two mutinous A-1 pilots bombed and strafed the presidential palace in Saigon.

The future South Vietnamese prime minister and vice president, Nguyen Cao Ky, began his rise to power as a flamboyant Spad pilot. “Never had I flown such a powerful aircraft!” he remembered of his first flight in 1964. “As I raced down the runway, the Skyraider was a tiger leaping into the sky. … It took all the strength of both arms and both legs to establish control. By the time I had stabilized aircraft altitude, I was at 12,000 feet. …The next time I took off in an A-1, I would carry a full load of bombs to drop on the enemy.”

When the U.S. Navy joined the war, Skyraiders led the way. On Aug. 5, 1964, carriers Ticonderoga and Constellation launched the first air raids into North Vietnam during Operation Pierce Arrow, in retaliation for reported torpedo boat attacks on U.S. destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin. Lt. j.g. Richard Sather was in an A-1H, making his third pass against patrol boats of the North Vietnamese navy, when he was hit by anti-aircraft fire and crashed in the shallows of Loc Chou Harbor. Sather, who had recently written home that he would “go into battle because this was the thing to do, the thing I’ve been trained for,” was naval aviation’s first casualty in Vietnam.

As the fighting intensified, the U.S. Air Force needed Spads to deliver the slow, accurate, close air support its fleeting jets could not provide. At first, bush-hatted U.S. air commando advisers shared cockpits with Vietnamese pilots in two-seat “fat face” A-1E Skyraiders with South Vietnamese air force insignia. Richard Foreman, a U.S. Air Force first lieutenant at the time, hitched a ride with a Vietnamese pilot from Tan Son Nhut Air Base in Saigon to Nha Trang, 200 miles to the northeast. “I was in the right seat,” Foreman remembered, “and in the back were five or six Vietnamese with their belongings, including a few chickens.”

In February 1965, responding to Viet Cong attacks on American bases, U.S. and South Vietnamese Spads crossed the Demilitarized Zone to hit North Vietnamese Army bases near Don Hoi. Ky, by then an air vice marshal, led his A-1s against anti-aircraft emplacements. “Their return fire was ferocious,” according to Ky. “Every one of the 24 planes I was leading was hit. My own plane was struck by four bullets, one of which grazed my body as I lifted my arm in reflex to protect my face. I found that bullet and saved it for my wife. Two of my pilots were forced to bail out into the sea.”

Less than two weeks later, Ky and his A-1s proved decisive in stopping yet another coup attempt when he threatened to bomb rebels in the capital. The coup plotters decided to negotiate. “I agreed but launched two flights of Skyraiders — eight aircraft carrying 32 tons of rockets — to fly over Saigon,” Ky remembered. “Those planes could remain aloft for four or five hours. With this move, I both controlled the air over the capital and would be able to quash further hostile troop movements into the city.” Ky’s Spads flew cover as loyalist troops and tanks retook control. He soon became prime minister, thanks in no small part to the Skyraider.

When Ky got wind of the Navy Spads’ aerial victory over Ta Chan that June, Johnson wrote, he “demanded our appearance for Vietnamese awards.” Ky told Johnson and Hartman that their MiG kill “had boosted morale tremendously” in South Vietnamese Skyraider squadrons. U.S. Navy and Air Force Skyraiders hunted truck convoys up and down the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos and Cambodia. “We went in at night — usually in flights of four,” according to then-Cmdr. George Carlton of attack squadron VA-215 off USS Hancock. They chose routes with minimal threats of anti-aircraft artillery. The standard combat load was four high-intensity parachute flares, 800 rounds of 20 mm ammunition, two 19-shot 2.75-inch rocket packs and a mix of four 250- and 500-pound bombs. But the Skyraiders had no onboard radar, infrared or night-vision aids.

“We were limited to our ‘Mark One’ eyeballs [naked eyes] for searching and tracking,” said Carlton, who later became a Navy captain. “It was a difficult cat and mouse game at best, for at the first indication of our presence, the trucks cut their lights and headed for cover in ditches and under trees. … We jokingly referred to these missions as making toothpicks the hard way.”

In March 1966, more than 2,000 troops of the NVA 95th Regiment, 325th Division, came down the trail to besiege a platoon of Green Berets and several hundred South Vietnamese in the A Shau Valley, near the Laotian border. Diving into the mountains surrounding the base, one pilot said, “was like flying inside Yankee Stadium with the people in the bleachers firing at you with machine guns.” During a March 10 attack on the NVA, Skyraider pilot Maj. Dafford W. “Jump” Myers of the 602nd Fighter Squadron (Commando) radioed, “I’ve been hit and hit hard.” He crash-landed his blazing Spad on the base airstrip. With enemy troops within 20 yards of Myers’ position and the nearest rescue chopper 30 minutes out, Maj. Bernard F. “Bernie” Fisher, an A-1E pilot of the 1st Air Commando Squadron out of Pleiku, told everyone, “I’m going in.”

The runway was so littered with battle trash that Fisher had to abort his first approach. On his second try he stopped at the end of the strip and rolled back to Myers, peppered with small-arms fire all the way. “The enemy was so close,” Fisher noted, “I was afraid a couple of them might jump aboard my Skyraider before Myers could make it.” The prop wash from Fisher’s Spad blew Myers off the plane’s wing. Fisher throttled back to idle, dragged Myers headfirst into the side seat, then revved up and rolled, dodging debris to get airborne. They landed at Pleiku with 19 holes in the Skyraider. Fisher received the Medal of Honor for his heroics. His Skyraider is at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.

Rescue missions sometimes turned into aerial combat. On Oct. 9, 1966, when a Navy Phantom went down 20 miles southwest of Hanoi, four Skyraiders of attack squadron VA-176 flew from USS Intrepid to provide cover for the rescue attempt. Four MiG-17s intervened. In the ensuing dogfight, the lead Spads scored one MiG damaged and another probable.

Then Lt. j.g. Tom Patton, flying the No. 4 slot, saw that “a MiG darting along above the trees was heading in my direction, but its pilot didn’t see me.” Definitely seeing 20 mm tracers zipping past from Patton’s guns, the MiG pilot pulled up. “This was a fatal mistake on his part,” Patton recalled. “He was climbing, losing speed, while I still had plenty. Maybe his reversal would have worked against another MiG-17, but … I ended up at his six o’clock.”

Patton stayed on the MiG’s tail, firing continuously. When his guns quit, he launched his 5-inch Zuni rockets. The MiG nosed over and plunged into the cloud deck. Patton saw the pilot eject. That was the last victory by a prop-driven fighter over a jet. Patton was awarded the Silver Star for his actions that day.

In the end it wasn’t enemy MiGs but American jets that put an end to the Skyraider’s days as an attack aircraft. An expanding inventory of turbine-powered birds, including the Grumman A-6 Intruder and LTV A-7 Corsair II — both intended to replace the Spad — meant U.S. carriers needed tanks just for kerosene-based jet fuel and no longer had capacity for the aviation gasoline burned by the Skyraider.

On Feb. 20, 1968, Lt. j.g. Ted Hill of VA-25 flew the Navy’s last A-1 attack mission, in support of U.S. Marines besieged at Khe Sanh. In April, Hill flew that Spad from Naval Air Station Lemoore in California to the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida, where it resides today. The Navy handed the rest of its Skyraiders over to the U.S. and South Vietnamese air forces.

Meanwhile in August 1967, the U.S. Air Force redesignated its air commando Skyraider units as special operations squadrons: the 1st SOS (call sign: Hobo); 602nd SOS (Firefly); and the 22nd SOS (Zorro), the Air Force’s last A-1unit. They flew from Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Airbase in eastern Thailand and covered all of North and South Vietnam as guardian angels. One of the most reassuring sounds a downed American pilot could hear, besides the throb of a Sikorsky HH-3E “Jolly Green Giant” rescue chopper, was the radio call sign “Sandy” from an escort of weapons-laden, long-loitering Skyraiders flying rescue combat air patrol, or RESCAP. (All Skyraider pilots were designated “Sandy” when covering rescues.)

Capt. John Flinn of the 1st SOS declared, “This rescue business is the best, most rewarding operation in the entire war. And if nothing else does, getting a man out makes sense. It’s really great to actually pluck a guy from the enemy after he’s been shot down.” In July 1969 Flinn, in Patton’s ex-Navy A-1H, was shot down over Laos and killed.

Skyraider pilots took a lot of ribbing from their fast-jet compatriots. A Spad jockey, it was said, could be recognized by his right leg, overdeveloped from standing on the rudder pedal against all that engine torque, and he had a greater chance of dying from slipping in an oil puddle than from an enemy bullet—but as one F-105 Thunderchief jock put it, “If a Sandy pilot walked into the bar, he would have a hard time paying for a drink.”

On Sept. 1, 1968, the 602nd’s Lt. Col. William A. Jones III took charge of a rescue at Dong Hoi on the North Vietnamese coast. The downed Phantom’s backseater had already been captured. The aircraft of the rescue force were seeking the injured pilot in the wrong place. Jones found him 8 miles away, covered by enemy 37 mm flak sites. “Trolling for fire” — going low and slow, daring enemy gunners to shoot and reveal themselves — was standard Spad procedure .Jones dueled with his 20 mm cannon and CBU-38 cluster bombs until his A-1H took a hit in the seat extractor. (Designed in the days before ejection seats, the Skyraider used the “Yankee” extractor system, a cockpit rocket that dragged the pilot out on a pair of straps.) Jones’ wingman called, “Get out! You’re on fire! Bail out now!”

But the extractor wouldn’t launch. Beating down the flames, suffering second- and third-degree burns, Jones pulled the Spad skyward to transmit the downed pilot’s location until his radio burned out. “Col. Jones successfully landed his heavily damaged aircraft and passed the [downed pilot’s location] information to a debriefing officer while on the operating table,” reads his Medal of Honor citation. The Phantom pilot was saved. That November Jones died stateside in the crash of a private plane in Virginia. His Spad, The Proud American, was repaired, but on Sept. 22, 1972, it too went down over Laos, the last Skyraider combat loss of the war.

By then, the U.S. was drawing down all forces in Vietnam. Air Force Spads flew their last mission on Nov. 7, keeping the enemy soldiers from the crash site of an Army UH-1 Iroquois “Huey” chopper near Quang Tri until seven survivors were rescued. In 1973 the Air Force handed its remaining Spads over to the South Vietnamese. They would take part in the last-ditch fighting during the North’s 1975 Spring Offensive, which ended in the Communist capture of Saigon.

On April 5, 1975, Nguyen Lanh, a first lieutenant in the 518th Fighter Squadron at Da Nang, was briefed that the NVA had crossed the DMZ in division strength, headed for a bridge over the Thach Han River to invade South Vietnam. Each Skyraider carried 12 500-pound bombs. Shooting up the tank columns and blowing the bridge, they forced the invaders to seek another crossing further inland. Over the course of the next week, Lanh was credited with knocking out 17 North Vietnamese tanks.

Although Skyraider pilots near the DMZ were having some success, they were far removed from their headquarters in Saigon and didn’t “know the whole story on how bad the war was going for us,” recalled Maj. Ho Van Hien of the 514th Fighter Squadron. On a 150-mile flight from Phan Rang Air Base southwest to the capital, his Spad hauled more refugees than bombs. “I flew back to Bien Hoa [Air Base outside Saigon] with 25 people in the back of my A-1E,” he said.

As the fighting closed in, the 514th withdrew from Bien Hoa across the city to Tan Son Nhut and, when that became untenable, to Bien Thuy in the far south. “Columns of smoke were rising up from various parts of Saigon following indiscriminate NVA mortar attacks,” noted Lt. Thai Ngoc Van, who flew a Spad in South Vietnam’s last stand on April 29. “We spent quite a long time over the target area, working with ARVN troops that were trying to hold their positions against a considerably larger NVA force that was advancing on Saigon. We spent all the remaining bombs and cannon rounds before heading back to Bien Thuy.”

Like many other South Vietnamese pilots, Hien escaped to U-Tapao, Thailand, with another two dozen refugees stuffed into the A-1E. “We were disappointed to see American soldiers with their guns leveled meeting us on the ramp,” he recalled. The Americans quickly applied U.S. insignia on the Skyraiders to cover South Vietnamese air force markings. “They took our weapons and all of our flying gear,” Hien said. “We were devastated.”

More than 40 years later, an A-1 painted in a semblance of U.S. Air Force colors is on display at the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, and two others are at a military history museum in Hanoi. In all, 144 Skyraider pilots and 266 planes were lost in Vietnam, most from ground fire, but five were downed by surface-to-air missiles and three fell in air-to-air combat, including two struck by MiGs. Today only about 50 Skyraiders survive.

“We were flying anachronisms,” said former B-52 and A-1 aviator Drury, “piloting Spads through a supersonic world, tasting the thunderstorms at 8,000 feet when an SR-71 [supersonic spy plane] was hitting three times the speed of sound above 70,000 feet. It was a ludicrous situation but one I applauded. … Some of the greatest and most dangerous and heroic flying ever done was right there … in old A-1 Skyraiders.”

This article was originally published in Military History Magazine

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

This Immigrant Gets It!

This is old, but certainly worth repeating, especially in light of NFL Football players refusing to stand for the National Anthem and other bottom feeders burning the U.S. Flag and demanding open borders. On Saturday, July 24th, 2010 the town of Prescott Valley, AZ, hosted a Freedom Rally. Quang Nguyen was asked to speak on his experience of coming to America and what it means. He spoke the following in dedication to all Vietnam Veterans. Thought you might enjoy hearing what he had to say:

Start Quote:

35 years ago, if you were to tell me that I am going to stand up here speaking to a couple thousand patriots, in English, I'd laugh at you. Man, every morning I wake up thanking God for putting me and my family in the greatest country on earth. I just want you all to know that the American dream does exist and I am living the American dream. I was asked to speak to you about my experience as a first generation Vietnamese-American, but I'd rather speak to you as an American.

If you hadn’t noticed, I am not white and I feel pretty comfortable with my people. I am a proud U.S citizen and here is my proof It took me 8 years to get it, waiting in endless lines, but I got it, and I am very proud of it.

I still remember the images of the Tet offensive in 1968, I was six years old. Now you might want to question how a 6-year-old boy could remember anything. Trust me, those images can never be erased. I can't even imagine what it was like for young American soldiers, 10,000 miles away from home, fighting on my behalf.

35 years ago, I left South Vietnam for political asylum. The war had ended At the age of 13, I left with the understanding that I may or may not ever get to see my siblings or parents again. I was one of the first lucky 100,000 Vietnamese allowed to come to the U.S. Somehow, my family and I were reunited 5 months later, amazingly, in California. It was a miracle from God.

If you haven't heard lately that this is the greatest country on earth, I am telling you that right now. It was the freedom and the opportunities presented to me that put me here with all of you tonight. I also remember the barriers that I had to overcome every step of the way. My high school counselor told me that I cannot make it to college due to my poor communication skills. I proved him wrong. I finished college. You see, all you have to do is to give this little boy an opportunity and encourage him to take and run with it. Well, I took the opportunity and here I am.

This person standing tonight in front of you could not exist under a socialist/communist environment. By the way, if you think socialism is the way to go, I am sure many people here will chip in to get you a one-way ticket out of here. And if you didn't know, the only difference between socialism and communism is an AK-47 aimed at your head. That was my experience.

In 1982, I stood with a thousand new immigrants, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and listening to the National Anthem for the first time as an American. To this day, I can't remember anything sweeter and more patriotic than that moment in my life.

Fast forwarding, somehow I finished high school, finished college, and like any other goofball 21 year old kid, I was having a great time with my life I had a nice job and a nice apartment in Southern California. In some way and somehow, I had forgotten how I got here and why I was here.

One day I was at a gas station, I saw a veteran pumping gas on the other side of the island. I don't know what made me do it, but I walked over and asked if he had served in Vietnam. He smiled and said yes. I shook and held his hand. This grown man's eyes began to well up. I walked away as fast as I could and at that very moment, I was emotionally rocked. This was a profound moment in my life. I knew something had to change in my life. It was time for me to learn how to be a good citizen. It was time for me to give back.

You see, America is not just a place on the map, it isn't just a physical location. It is an ideal, a concept. And if you are an American, you must understand the concept, you must accept this concept, and most importantly, you have to fight and defend this concept This is about Freedom and not free stuff. And that is why I am standing up here.

Brothers and sisters, to be a real American, the very least you must do is to learn English and understand it well. In my humble opinion, you cannot be a faithful patriotic citizen if you can't speak the language of the country you live in. Take this document of 46 pages - last I looked on the Internet, there wasn't a Vietnamese translation of the U.S. Constitution. It took me a long time to get to the point of being able to converse and until this day, I still struggle to come up with the right words. It's not easy, but if it's too easy, it's not worth doing.

Before I knew this 46-page document, I learned of the 500,000 Americans who fought for this little boy. I learned of the 58,000 names inscribed on the black wall at the Vietnam Memorial. You are my heroes. You are my founders.

At this time, I would like to ask all the Vietnam veterans to please stand. I thank you for my life. I thank you for your sacrifices, and I thank you for giving me the freedom and liberty I have today. I now ask all veterans, firefighters, and police officers, to please stand. On behalf of all first generation immigrants, I thank you for your services and may God bless you all.

Quang Nguyen
Creative Director/Founder
Caddis Advertising, LLC
"God Bless America"
“One Flag, One Language, One Nation Under God”

Monday, December 18, 2017

Special Forces in Afghanistan - Update

American special operations forces have been busy over the last six months in Afghanistan, enabling or advising more than 2,000 ground operations in support of Afghan partner forces. The figures were published in a semiannual report to Congress titled “Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan.”

The report provides a small glimpse into the operations tempo of American commandos advising and embedding with elite Afghan forces as part of America’s counterterrorism mission in Afghanistan. And they highlight the strain and burden placed on a relatively small group of special operations forces deployed to the region.

The numbers provided in the report about kinetic missions of American and Afghan commando forces have not been disclosed in other versions of the semiannual report.

From June 1 to Nov. 24, troops assigned to Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan enabled or advised 2,175 ground operations and 261 kinetic strikes in support of the Afghan Special Security Forces.

“These operations included 420 ground operations and 214 air strikes against ISIS-K [the Islamic State’s branch in Afghanistan], resulting in more than 174 ISIS-K killed-in-action; 1644 ground operations and 181 air strikes against the Taliban, resulting in 220 Taliban KIA; 68 ground operations and 28 air strikes against members of the Haqqani Network, resulting in 34 Haqqani KIA; and 43 ground operations against other insurgent networks, resulting in 36 enemy KIA,” the report reads.

American special operations forces advise and train Afghan commandos and, at times, accompany them on operations. In total, the Afghan Special Security Forces conducted 2,628 operations, but only 453 of these missions were conducted independently, and 456 were airstrikes, according to the report. That means Afghan forces were only able to carry out 17 percent of their missions independently. “In addition, these operations contributed to 450 insurgent and terrorist KIA and the apprehension of 313 detainees,” the report reads.

Article from the Military Times

Thursday, December 14, 2017

SFA 2018 National Convention Changes

Change 1

Because of rehab construction delays at our planned anchor hotel, we have moved the 2018 Convention to the Wyndham El Paso Airport Hotel and it's co-located partner, the Microtel Inn and Suites. This two hotel campus will provide over 350 rooms plus overview accommodations of an additional 100 rooms at the Marriott, one block away. Other hotels at the airport location will also adhere to the $98 per night contract rate.

The plusses in this change of hotels offers the closet location to the Airport, adjacent to the short term parking - right across the street as a matter of fact. The Wyndham El Paso Airport Hotel offers large meting area/room for the hospitality room; free breakfast; pool and water slide; and is 10 minutes to the downtown venues of the banquet, Green Berets Movie and Green Beret night at the El Paso Chihuahuas baseball.

Those who have already committed to the Paso Del Norte Hotel are being re-registered on a first come, first served basis at the new Hotel HQ. You will be contacted and registered by Debbie Lowrance (915) 778-4241. If you don't want to wait on Debbie, then feel free to her directly. 

The hotel map below can be clicked on to enlarge it a bit. See below the maps for phone numbers to the hotels in the immediate area that are our over flow hotels.

 
Wyndham El Paso Airport Hotel and Water Park
Address: 2027 Airway Blvd, El Paso, TX 79925
Phone: (915) 778-4241

Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham El Paso Airport
Address: 2001 Airway Blvd, El Paso, TX 79925
Phone: (915) 519-1164

El Paso Marriott
Address: 1600 Airway Blvd, El Paso, TX 79925
Phone: (915) 779-3300

Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham El Paso Airport
Address: 6789 Boeing Dr, El Paso, TX 79925
Phone: (915) 613-3798

Comfort Suites El Paso Airport
Address: 1940 Airway Blvd, El Paso, TX 79925
Phone: (520) 257-3113

Radisson Hotel El Paso Airport
Address: 1770 Airway Blvd, El Paso, TX 79925
Phone: (915) 772-3333

Chase Suite Hotel El Paso
Address: 6791 Montana Ave, El Paso, TX 79925
Phone: (915) 772-8000

Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott El Paso Airport
Address: 6611 Edgemere Blvd, El Paso, TX 79925
Phone: (915) 772-2202

TownePlace Suites by Marriott El Paso Airport
Address: 6601 Edgemere Blvd, El Paso, TX 79925
Phone: (915) 493-6781


Change 2

The events previously scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday have mostly flip flopped - the new schedule is below. The Golf Outing remains unchanged for Wednesday.



Change 3

The annual picnic is now at the War Eagles Museum on Wednesday. The event will now be named the "Whole Enchilada Picnic" and will be organized by Robert Phillipson and our brothers from SFA Chapter 80 from nearby Las Cruces, NM. This takes the place of the previously scheduled "Mexican Fiesta Lunch" picnic originally scheduled for Friday.

 
 









Monday, December 11, 2017

Navajo Code Talker George B. Willie Sr. dies in Arizona

A Navajo Code Talker who used his native language to outsmart the Japanese in World War II has died in Arizona. Navajo Nation officials say George B. Willie Sr. died Tuesday at age 92. Tribal officials say Willie lived in the community of Leupp, Arizona.

He served in the Marine Corps with the Second Marine Division from 1943 to 1946. According to his family, Willie served in the Battle of Okinawa, delivering and receiving coded messages using the Navajo language. He and other Navajos followed in the footsteps of the original 29 who developed the code and received the Congressional Silver Medal in 2001. Willie is survived by his wife Emma, 10 children and several grandchildren. A celebration of life is scheduled Dec. 8 at the Presbyterian Church in Leupp.

There were approximately 400–500 Native Americans in the United States Marine Corps whose primary job was the transmission of secret tactical messages. Code talkers transmitted these messages over military telephone or radio communications nets using formal or informally developed codes built upon their native languages. Their service improved the speed of encryption of communications at both ends in front line operations during World War II.

While the name "Code Talkers" is associated with the Navajo, code talking, however, was pioneered by the Cherokee and Choctaw peoples during World War I, and other Native American code talkers were deployed by the United States Army during World War II, including Lakota (Sioux), Comanche and Seminole soldiers.

To watch video interviews of Navajo Code Talkers as well as read more on Navajo Code Talker history, go to this site, Navajo Code Talkers

Article from the Associated Press

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Recent Veteran's Affairs News

Applications for new VA ID cards are open

The Department of Veterans Affairs is accepting applications for new Veteran ID cards as of today, but questions surrounding the program’s costs and private sector involvement remain unclear. The cards — designed to be an easy way for veterans to prove their military service for a host of nongovernment services — will be delivered within 60 days of applying with digital copies available next month.

Veterans can start the application process now through the main VA website at www.vets.gov. The link to the ID application is on the bottom left of the page, labeled “Apply for printed Veteran ID Card.” The cards were mandated by Congress in July 2015, with the expectation of distribution sometime in 2017. In a release announcing the official start of the program Wednesday, VA officials said their moves are “fulfilling a promise that has been unfulfilled since 2015.”

“The new Veterans Identification Card provides a safer and more convenient and efficient way for most veterans to show proof of service,” VA Secretary David Shulkin said in a statement. “With the card, veterans with honorable service to our nation will no longer need to carry around their paper DD-214s to obtain veteran discounts and other services.” Cards will be printed and shipped by Office Depot, an arrangement that VA officials said will allow veterans to receive the IDs free of charge. VA officials declined to release the cost of the printing and shipping arrangement with Office Depot.

The final design of the cards has not been finalized yet. Previous versions had the Office Depot logo on the back with the veteran’s information on the front. Under rules developed by VA, individuals who served in the armed forces, including the reserve components, and have a character of discharge of honorable or general under honorable conditions are eligible for the new IDs. Veterans with other than honorable status are not eligible.

Late Breaking Update:  The VA's on-line process is currently down due to a "high volume of traffic". 

VA promises fixes after report blasts mistakes with reporting of problem physicians

Veterans Affairs officials are promising swift fixes to their physician monitoring practices after a scathing report this week accusing department staffers of failing to report potentially dangerous doctors to appropriate authorities. “We need to do much better,” Gerard Cox, VA’s acting deputy under secretary for health for organizational excellence, told members of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee on Wednesday. “I can’t excuse that in the past adequate oversight has not been provided.”

Earlier in the week, a Government Accountability Office report blasted Veterans Health Administration officials for what they see as systemic failures in the agency’s documentation and investigation of complaints against clinical care providers. Of five sites studied, researchers found proper documentation for nearly half of the 148 complaints at five VA sites. At least 47 cases were ignored until investigators raised concerns. Of those that were addressed, some took months or years to move forward.

In addition, of nine physicians with documented problems that should have been reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank from the five sites, only one was. None of those complaints were forwarded to state licensing boards. Randall Williamson, director of health care for the U.S. Government Accountability Office, called the findings unsettling because the lack of reporting could allow physicians with poor or negligent work histories to continue in VA or private-sector care without interruption.

Lawmakers agreed, calling it the latest oversight misstep at the veterans bureaucracy. “Refusing or failing to adhere to reporting requirements puts not just veterans, but all patients across the country, at risk of receiving substandard health care,” said Rep. Jack Bergman, R-Mich., chairman of the committee’s oversight panel.

Senate committee advances its plan for VA health care overhaul

The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee approved its version of a VA health care overhaul on Wednesday, including easier access for veterans to meet with private-sector doctors and a massive expansion of the department’s caregivers assistance programs. But the cost of the measure — estimated initially at $54 billion over five years by the Congressional Budget Office — could prove problematic as the proposal winds through Congress.

The measure passed with a 13-1 vote, with only Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., opposing the idea. He voiced concerns that the measure didn’t go far enough to open up community care programs to more veterans, leaving most of them stuck in VA-managed care still. The Caring for Our Veterans Act closely follows legislation proposed by VA officials earlier this fall. It would gradually sunset disparate outside care programs within the VA and replace them with a single community care program with fewer restrictions on which veterans can seek private-sector care.

VA physicians would remain the coordinator of veterans care, but individuals who face significant wait times, travel distances or hardships to reach VA facilities would be eligible to seek care outside the department’s system. VA officials would also more easily be able to enter into partnerships with community health care providers to create a broader network of options for veterans. Veterans who have used VA care within the previous two years would also have two walk-in visits at any private-sector practice without a co-pay, even without prior approval from the department.

It includes language “removing barriers” for telemedicine and hiring of health care professionals within the bureaucracy. And it also includes $3 billion in bridge funding for the existing VA Choice program — which allows outside care options for veterans who live 40 miles from a department medical center or face a 30-day wait for appointments — and another $1 billion for improvements to existing VA health care programs.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

New Army Physical Fitness Test Undergoing Assessment

The Soldier Readiness Test (SRT) is a new three-phase, seven-event test that Army Forces Command is developing to measure unit combat readiness that will replace the current three event Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT). The age-old old trifecta of run, pushups and sit-ups — as tested in the Army Physical Fitness Test — is on its way out as a measurement of combat readiness. It only measures aerobic endurance and one type of muscular endurance, experts say.

Meanwhile, factors like agility, explosive power and strength give a more complete picture of physical fitness. The Army also wants to reduce overuse injuries among soldiers, so it is working to create a PT program that looks more like the physically demanding tasks related to soldiers’ jobs. This way, soldiers are strong enough and aware enough of their movements to prevent costly injuries that keep them out of the fight.

FORSCOM has not made any decisions about how the SRT would be graded, but officials told Army Times earlier this year that it would likely be administered for a commander’s awareness, and not as a test of record with possible career repercussions, like the Army Physical Fitness Test. The Army Combat Readiness Test, however, is still in development by Army Training and Doctrine Command, and that test, if approved, would be individually graded like the APFT.

That six-event test starts with a two-mile run and then goes into five more activities that measure strength, muscular endurance and explosive power. Maj. Gen. Malcolm Frost, commander of the Center for Initial Military Training, told Army Times earlier this year that the Army Combat Readiness Test, if approved, could eventually replace the APFT altogether.

The SRT, on the other hand, would be a bonus. The SRT breaks new ground for Army fitness tests not only because it requires equipment, but because it has no gender or age standards. There also are four variations based on the type of brigade a soldier belongs to.

The multi-functional brigade version of the test includes:

  • Flipping a 225-pound tire six times, in a straight line, in 30 seconds.

  • An agility test where soldiers shuffled 40 meters in a T shape in 30 seconds.

  • Dragging a 240-pound dummy 15 meters.

  • Tossing a 40-pound sandbag over a 7-foot barrier 10 times.

  • A 1.5-mile run, with four obstacles at the .75-mile mark, to be completed in 18 minutes.

Again, there are different version pending based on the type of Brigade. For instance, An armored brigade soldier will have to carry two 45-pound water cans 200 meters. Infantry brigade soldiers have to carry seven 40-pound sandbags five meters, then stack them. Stryker soldiers have to do a step-up drill with a 40-pound sandbag, doing 30 repetitions onto a 16-inch platform. And multi-functional brigade soldiers have to lift 10 40-pound sandbags three feet onto the back of a vehicle, stack them, and stack them on the ground again.

Coupled with the sandbag toss, soldiers have just three minutes to handle the heavy stuff. Of the soldiers who spoke to Army Times after the test, there were mixed responses about whether the sandbag toss or the run was the most brutal.