The NFL take-a-knee protests dropped off dramatically Sunday, with all but a handful of players standing for the national anthem as teams pulled out the stops to honor the military for Veterans Day.
As of Sunday afternoon, only three players — the San Francisco 49ers’ Eric Reid and Marquise Goodwin and the New York Giants’ Olivier Vernon — had refused to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner.” That was down from 15 players the week before, according to the ESPN tally.
The three represented the lowest number of kneelers since Week One of the NFL season, when three players sat or took a knee during the national anthem.
Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, who has refused to stand all season in a protest against racial and social injustice, told reporters that he made an exception for Veterans Day.
“It was to signify that we are all with the military and that we love them,” Bennett told the Tacoma [Washington] News Tribune after Thursday’s game. “There’s been this narrative that we don’t care about the military. Today we were honoring the military.”
The pro-military celebrations came amid calls to boycott the NFL for Veterans Day over the take-a-knee protests.
In a joint statement, the NFL and NFLPA said Saturday that there was “no change” in its national-anthem policy, which says players “should” stand but does not require them to do so.
Still, there was plenty of patriotic feeling at the Week 10 games, which were marked by ceremonies to commemorate the military as part of the NFL’s Salute to Service month.
At least two teams, the Jacksonville Jaguars and Washington Redskins, invited hundreds of new military recruits to take their oath of enlistment on the field.
Players were joined by military personnel as they ran out of their tunnels before the games; coaches and cheerleaders wore camouflage gear, and camouflage Salute to Service ribbons decorated items including footballs, helmets, pylons and goal-post wraps.
Players wore helmet decals honoring military branches. Each player on the Atlanta Falcons wore a helmet decal with the initials of a fallen hero.
Some celebrations were more spontaneous. After a touchdown, Detroit Lions wide receiver Golden Tate gave a four-way salute from the end zone to the fans.
The NFL said it would donate $5 to its military non-profit partners, including the Pat Tillman Foundation, the USO, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, and the Wounded Warrior Project, for every #SalutetoService tweet.
“Honoring the military is part of the fabric of the NFL,” said the league in a statement. “This support takes place both at home and abroad, with NFL players and coaches traveling overseas to salute the troops, as well as with team recognition of our servicemen and women through the NFL’s Salute to Service.”
The Trump administration will keep the US military in Syria and Iraq indefinitely without new congressional authorization, according to the New York Times, citing State Department and Pentagon officials.
This decision will likely extend to the US’ broader fight against terrorism, which is being waged in numerous countries around the world, such as Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia.
The last comprehensive congressional authorization to use military force (AUMF) came in 2001 when the legislative body authorized former President George Bush to “use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”
Another congressional AUMF was also passed in 2002, but it only allowed the use of military force in Iraq.
After Bush, the Obama administration used the 2001 AUMF to justify airstrikes against ISIS, and other terrorist groups, arguing that ISIS was al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq from 2004 to 2014.
“This is a weak argument,” Cornell University Law School professor Jens David Ohlin said in 2014. “Yes, ISIS once had a relationship with al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden, but that prior relationship no longer governs. What matters is the current relationship.”
Many other legal scholars struck a similar tone.
“Congress is supposed to be declaring war, and the president is supposed to be making war,” Jennifer Daskal, a professor at American University and former Justice Department lawyer, told NPR in 2016.
“There appears to be a clear abdication of responsibility on behalf of Congress,” Daskal said, adding that it sets a dangerous precedent and could allow future presidents to use the military at his or her own discretion.
Some members of Congress, however, such as Republican Senator Jeff Flake and Democratic Senator Tim Kaine, have introduced new AUMFs over the years to no avail.
More recently, Kaine voiced his concern over what this means for the US military’s role in Syria, where it will remain even in territories of the country where ISIS fighters have been cleared.
“I am concerned that the United States will soon find itself lacking domestic or international legal standing for operations in Syria based on official statements that our presence, intended for a narrowly-scoped campaign to fight ISIS, might now be used to pressure the Syrian government, target Iran and its proxies, and engage other entities not covered under the 2001 AUMF,” Kaine wrote to US Secretaries Rex Tillerson and James Mattis in December 2017.
“The United States does not seek to fight the government of Syria or Iran or Iranian-supported groups in Iraq or Syria,” Mary K. Waters, the assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs, wrote back. “However, the United States will not hesitate to use necessary and proportionate force to defend U.S., coalition, or partner forces engaged in operations to defeat ISIS and degrade Al Qaeda.”
The CFT has nothing to do with combat, Kuwait isn’t a real deployment, not every Marine is a rifleman, stop piggybacking off the XO—every service member has thought these things in some form at one point or another. You may have even said it aloud to a buddy. Putting a military spin on Dude With a Sign, Veteran With A Sign takes these thoughts that we have all had and actually says them.
VWAS is an Instagram page that started in March 2020 as a writing project by a f̶o̶r̶m̶e̶r̶ Marine named Zach. He served two tours in Afghanistan as an infantryman and held every position in a Marine infantry squad up to squad leader. “GWOT was hot and COIN was cool,” Zach said as he recalled the intensity of combat operations over a decade ago. After separating from the Marine Corps, Zach continued to support his brothers and sisters in arms working for Centerstone, a nonprofit national network that offers essential behavioral healthcare to veterans. Like most veterans, Zach started following military memes as a way to connect with the community. However, he found that most of the memes were the same; heavy handed, punching down, and generally negative in nature. He decided to try something different.
As quarantines went into place across the country and people went internal both literally and on the internet, Zach saw an opportunity to test out his idea and seized it. His first sign read, “Take motrin Drink water Change your socks.” This military cure-all was followed by other popular sayings like “Hurry up and wait” and “Standby to standby.” VWAS’s posts are meant to help veterans with a type of humor that serves as a common language across the services. “Everything’s with a wink and a smile,” Zach said. However, the community was slow to catch on. The number of followers was low and Zach found that people just weren’t getting the joke. “It was annoying,” he recalled. By May, he wondered if he shouldn’t just shut the whole thing down. However, seemingly overnight, the community got the joke.
Early on, Zach began consulting with his Marine Corps buddy Jay. The two served together in Afghanistan with Zach becoming Jay’s squad leader on their last deployment. “We stayed in touch after the Marines,” Jay said, “but we went from good friends to best friends with VWAS.” While working toward a business degree, Jay helped to direct the social media strategy of the page and grow its followership by tagging friends, sharing posts, and trying to line up just the right hashtag. When Zach considered shutting it down, the page was hovering around 600-800 followers. The next day, it had jumped to 1,200. In a week, it more than doubled to 2,500. After a week and a half, VWAS had over 10,000 followers. “We found a common unified voice for the page,” Jay said.
Zach (left) and Jay (right) hold signs written by the other (veteranwithasign)
As the page grew, so did its message. Zach and Jay realized the social responsibility that had been placed on them and crafted their posts accordingly. While they still made humorous signs like “Mortarmen Are Infantry That Can Do Math”, they also used their platform to bring attention to serious topics with signs like “Text Your Buddies…It Could Save A Life” and “Where Is Vanessa Guillén??” The two also carefully crafted the identity of the page with the character of the Warfighter. Wearing OD green skivvies, black sunglasses, and a hat, the Warfighter persona aims to focus attention on the message of the sign while also representing all types of veterans. “Anyone who puts on the uniform is fighting the war,” Jay said. From S1 and supply to mechanics and logisticians, “everybody is the warfighter in their own way.” Zach says that the concept was inspired by the 2006 film V for Vendetta, in which a masked man fights against a fascist tyrannical government. V’s face, hidden by a Guy Fawkes mask, is never seen in the film and the mask becomes a symbol of freedom and rebellion against the oppressive regime. Jay reinforced this idea when he talked about donning the skivvies, hat, and shades to hold up a sign. “In that moment, I’m the Warfighter.”
Expanding the VWAS community, Zach and Jay started taking suggestions from followers who had a message that they wanted to share. Working with Zach and Jay to craft and home the message, the follower would then don the Warfighter outfit, assume the identity, and hold up their sign for the world to read. One such collaboration was with a veteran and former law enforcement officer who goes by the Instagram name donutoperator—the sign read, “Military Experience Doesn’t Equal Law Enforcement Experience.” Another major expansion for VWAS came when Tim Kennedy shared a post in which Zach held up a sign reading, “No One Hates Successful Veterans Like Veterans” while his friend held one reading, “He Sucks”.
“Wives aren’t the only ones wanting to be called by rank” (veteranwithasign)
“There’s a current cultural problem with the veteran community. It feels as if we eat our own,” Kennedy said in his sharing of the post. “We need to be supporting each other. We need to back each other.” While Zach and Jay hope to continue to grow the page as a forum of free speech, there’s no room on VWAS for negativity. The page receives dozens of DMs and comments on a daily basis, and while Zach and Jay like to respond to all of them, they simply ignore the constant suggestions to do signs bashing on veteran-owned apparel or coffee companies.
“That’s just being a bully,” Jay said, “and no one likes a bully.”
On the other hand, many DMs to the page come from concerned friends looking for resources to provide to battle buddies who they think might be suicide risks. Zach and Jay take the time to identify the most appropriate and effective resources and pass the information on with best wishes. “That’s what this is all about,” Zach said, “helping veterans laugh more and hurt themselves less.” While veteran suicides have gone up since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, VWAS wants to do more than just acknowledge the problem or point fingers at the VA. “That doesn’t solve anything,” Zach said. “Instead, I look at it like, ‘They’re doing what they can do and we’re doing what we can do.'”
Doing 22 push-ups for 30 days on Facebook can be a good way to bring awareness to the problem of veteran suicide, but there is a simpler course of action that addresses the problem directly. Call your buddies. Take the time to talk, catch up, and ask how they’re doing. Let them know that you care about them and are always there for them. The feeling of loneliness and hopelessness that tragically brings so many veterans to take their own lives can be combated with a phone call from a friend.
Be that friend.
Here are some resources designed to prevent veteran suicide:
Veterans Crisis Line—1-800-273-8255 and press 1
Veterans Crisis Line for deaf or hard of hearing—1-800-799-4889
On Friday, Vice President Mike Pence announced that members of America’s newest military branch, the Space Force, will be called Guardians. Pence made the announcement during an event celebrating the first anniversary of the branch’s establishment.
“It is my honor, on behalf of the President of the United States, to announce that, henceforth, the men and women of the United States Space Force will be known as ‘Guardians,’” Pence said during the ceremonies.
While the vast majority of the new Space Force is comprised of Air Force personnel, the branch has been transferring volunteers from other services into the new Space Force throughout the past year. To date, the branch now boasts roughly 4,0000 members. Now, with the announcement that these new members of the Space Force are called Guardians, America’s space-based branch is finally reaching some level of cultural parity with its sister branches.
Other service branch monikers include Soldiers (U.S. Army), Marines (Marine Corps), Sailors (U.S. Navy) and Airmen (Air Force).
Despite the popular sentiment about Space Force troops fighting a future conflict in orbit, the branch’s most essential work is done from right here on Earth. With hundreds of thousands of pieces of space junk and satellites to keep tabs on, the Space Force is tasked with keeping America’s orbital assets safe and functional, and when necessary, ensuring the rapid replacement of compromised platforms.
The United States has been accused of militarizing space with the establishment of this new branch by some of its foreign competitors, but the establishment of this new branch is actually a step toward military parity with China and Russia. Both of those nations established space-specific military branches in 2015.
The military of today looks very different from the military of parents or grandparents. Many of us veterans will go into high-tech training on things like satellites, avionics, or even automated weapons. Military careers with a technical background are a great starting point for a post-military career.
“Veterans and transitioning service members are an amazing talent pool,” says General (Ret.) Chris Cortez, Vice President of Military Affairs at Microsoft. “You have a group of amazing young men and women who have served their country, put their organization above themselves, and come with unique skills and sense of discipline.”
“From a great career in the military, we want them to have the opportunity to go into another great career in the technology industry,” Cortez says.
But what if you didn’t happen to work in a technical field?
Much of the warfighting capability of U.S. armed forces still depend on door-kickers and trigger-pullers. A noble job, but it doesn’t always have a civilian equivalent. And then there are the military careers we take for granted: the plumbers, boatswain’s mates, and undesignated airmen (and others) that may not want to continue those careers after serving.
We live in the information age, in a digital word, where tech jobs are the holy grail of well-paying careers. Sometimes it seems like getting to work in tech after the military means coding your own app and moving to Silicon Valley.
Or maybe check out what Microsoft is doing for the military-veteran community.
Edgar Sanchez joined the Army at 32 and while he was at the base education office, he learned about Microsoft Software Systems Academy, or MSSA. The program is an intense 18-week training course that gives aspiring vets a background in Information Technology systems.
In a world full of shady dealers who will tell you anything to get a piece of your GI Bill benefits, isn’t the idea of Microsoft directly teaching you things like cloud application development, server cloud administration, cybersecurity administration, and database business intelligence administration a bit comforting?
Best of all, finishing the course gets you a job interview at Microsoft. But don’t worry if you don’t get that job. More than 240 companies have hired MSSA graduates. The program has a 94 percent employment rate.
“Why not bring the technology industry’s skills gap and thousands of transitioning service members together?” Cortez asks. “Why not fill this need in technology by training people that are interested, that are leaving active duty, and preparing them for those jobs?”
A thought that would be comforting when it’s time to think about leaving the military.
VA strives to provide Veterans with seamless care and encourages community providers to support these efforts by the timely submission of medical documentation within 30 days of providing services.
One of the best ways for community providers to submit medical documentation is to use HealthShare Referral Manager (HSRM), the main system VA uses for managing referrals, authorizations and medical documentation exchange.
Dr. Megan Stauffer, a community provider at In-Home Care Connection in Sterling, Ill., shares her positive experience with HSRM. “It has drastically cut down phone calls and faxes that I’m having to receive daily, because now all the information I need is there at my fingertips.”
In addition to HSRM, VA offers more options for community providers to submit Veteran medical documentation. Community providers can:
Send an e-fax by sending email to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) fax machine. For an e-fax number, contact the referring VAMC or consult this directory: VA Facility Care Coordination Contacts.
Using convenient electronic options to send medical documents to VA enables you to comply with the 30-day requirement for medical documentation submission.
Army Spc. Charles Choi, 32, originally from South Korea, has a bachelor’s degree and a master’s in statistics from Cornell University. He has education and skills that make him a highly valued prospect for the military, but he hasn’t made it to Basic Combat Training after signing up with the Army Reserve.
He has been waiting for two years.
Yes, I’m in limbo,” Choi said in an interview with Military.com. “I’m still waiting for the security clearance to be completed.”
Choi is one of several non-citizen enlistees who joined the military through the Military Accessions Vital To National Interest program, and spoke with Military.com about how they’ve been stuck waiting months or years for clearances and security screenings to process.
The program, created to attract those with highly sought skills for military service, has been essentially suspended amid political battles over immigration policy. Of the estimated 10,400 troops who have signed up to serve through MAVNI since 2008, more than 1,000 now face uncertain futures. Some can’t risk the wait.
For Choi, that’s especially true.
“Delays are so long and we have a finite length to our visas and that’s where the real problem comes in,” he said.
His visa will expire in less than a year.
“So if they just keep us in limbo and if we run out of visa status, then we cannot work or drive,” he said. “It’s a very screwed-up situation.”
The complex history of MAVNI
In 2012, well before MAVNI fell victim to the nation’s ever-shifting immigration policies, then-Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno invited Sgt. Saral Shrestha to his Pentagon office for a photo op and a congratulatory grip-and-greet. Shrestha, who was born in Nepal, had just won the Army’s “Best Warrior” competition.
Shrestha, who earned citizenship through MAVNI, was honored later that year at the annual Association of the U.S. Army’s convention as the “Soldier of the Year.”
(U.S. Army photo by Teddy Wade)
Shrestha’s motto is “Mission first, soldiers always.” He said that “MAVNI was a blessing” in his progress from student visa to the Army and then to taking the oath as a citizen.
In March 2018, Army Sgt. Santosh Kachhepati, a combat medic with the 62nd Medical Brigade with two tours in Afghanistan, was selected for the Enlisted to Medical Degree Preparatory Program, or EMDP2. He will begin his studies to become a doctor at George Mason University in Virginia in the fall.
“I consider this opportunity to be an Army physician an honor and a privilege to serve the medical needs of our soldiers who risk their lives protecting this nation,” Kachhepati said, according to a release from Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
JBLM said that Kachhepati, also from Nepal, “came to the United States to attend college at the University of Texas at Arlington. He graduated U.T.’s Nursing Program with Honors in 2013.”
“He enlisted in Army in 2014 through the Military Accessions Vital to National Interest program, which allows certain qualified non-citizens to enlist in the U.S. military and thereby gain eligibility for U.S. citizenship,” JBLM said.
MAVNI began in 2008 as a one-year pilot program with the goal with the goal of bringing in non-citizen recruits with language or medical skills for the nation’s counterinsurgency wars and giving them a fast track to citizenship in return.
Adm. Eric Olson, then-commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, said at the time that MAVNI recruits were “operationally critical” to the military’s needs. But the program from the onset was caught up in political immigration debates and the high command’s security concerns.
The program was suspended in 2009 over fears of insider threats in the ranks when Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hassan, a psychiatrist born in the U.S., shot and killed 13 people and wounded more than 30 others in a rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, on Nov. 5 of that year.
The restrictions were lifted again in 2012, shortly after Shrestha won the “Soldier of the Year” award. Since then, MAVNI recruits have performed higher on entrance tests and had lower attrition rates than native-born troops, according to military data. But the program reached a turning point in September 2016.
(U.S. Army photo by Cain Claxton)
The beginning of the end for MAVNI came in the form of a September 2016 memo to the service secretaries from Peter Levine, then the acting under secretary for personnel and readiness.
Levine said that the MAVNI pilot program “is currently set to expire on Sept. 30, 2016.”
As it turned out, that wasn’t quite so.
In the same memo, Levine said that “changes in the enclosed guidance will strengthen and improve the execution of the MAVNI program.”
He said that for MAVNI in the coming year, “the maximum number of accessions will be: Army — 1,200; Navy — 65; Marine Corps — 65; and Air Force — 70.”
Despite the language suggesting the program’s continuation, Pentagon spokespeople said the program was effectively allowed to end October 2017, when tighter screening procedures were put in place for MAVNI recruits who had already signed up.
Mattis looks to save MAVNI
In a memo in July 2017, to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Pentagon personnel and intelligence officials warned of the “espionage potential” from foreign-born recruits.
“While the Department recognizes the value of expedited U.S. citizenship achieved through military service, it is in the national interest to ensure all current and prospective service members complete security and suitability screening prior to naturalization,” the memo said.
Foreign-born recruits would have to “complete a background investigation and receive a favorable military security suitability determination prior to entry in the active, reserve, or Guard service,” the memo said. “Those in the MAVNI program and other foreign-born recruits may have a higher risk of connections to Foreign Intelligence Services.”
(DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jette Carr)
However, Mattis, in a session with defense reporters in October 2017, said he was looking for ways to keep MAVNI alive despite the 2016 Levine memo that had again suspended the program.
“We are taking the steps obviously to save the program, if it can be saved,” Mattis said. “And I believe it can.”
In January 2018, on board his plane en route to Vietnam, Mattis held out the possibility that MAVNI could be renewed once enhanced vetting procedures were ironed out.
Mattis said that an internal examination had found that procedures were lax in screening MAVNI recruits.
“We were not keeping pace with our usual standard,” he said.
“We’ve got to look people’s backgrounds, and if you have a lot of family members in certain countries, then you come under additional scrutiny,” he added. “Until we can get them screened, we can’t bring in more.
“You’ve got to be able to screen them as they come in, rather than get them in and then you send them off to a unit and they say, ‘By the way, they don’t have security clearance yet.’ And then they say, ‘Well, thanks very much, but I can’t use them.’
“So it’s simply a matter of aligning the process, the recruiting process with the usual screening process,” Mattis continued. “There’s nothing more to it.”
Don’t go climbing Mount Kilimanjaro
The changes in the rules since 2016 have left more than 1,000 recruits already accepted into the military in a state of bureaucratic limbo with time running out on their visas while they await security clearances.
Choi, the Korean Army specialist, described filling out a form that required him to list his travel to foreign countries over the last seven years. He didn’t list a trip to Tanzania to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, which had occurred more than seven years before he filled out the form.
Six months later, an Army investigator gave him a call. They had found out about the trip to Tanzania and needed some “points of clarification,” Choi said. “The way they do it is just really not organized at all. It’s kind of clear this was made up on the fly.”
Choi said his battalion commander has urged him to look at the possibility of attending Officer Candidate School.
Army Reserve Pfc. Alan Huanyu Liang, 24, is also caught up in the same screening logjam while waiting to report to BCT. He was born in China, has been living in the U.S. for six years and has a bachelor’s degree from University of California, Los Angeles.
He signed his contract under the MAVNI program in May 2016.
“Since then, my life has been drastically changed by this program,” he told Military.com. “From the day I signed my contract, I have been eagerly waiting for my ship day [to BCT].”
(U.S. Navy photo by Scott Thornbloom)
Now, he said, it has been almost two years and no progress has been made since he signed his contract.
“I have been drilling every month since I was in-processed into my unit, and I witnessed people coming later to the unit than I did get shipped and came back with a uniform,” he said. “I really, really envy them. I wish one day I can be in that uniform and serve like a real soldier. I keep asking my recruiter and all I am told is to wait.”
Another MAVNI recruit, who didn’t want her name used, told Military.com that she has been at a training base for two years after completing BCT while awaiting additional screening that would let her go to AIT, or Advanced Individual Training.
In the meantime, she does paperwork.
“You need the favorable adjudication [Military Service Suitability Determination] to go to AIT,” she said. “I’m between a rock and a hard place. It’s kind of ridiculous, but I am still motivated by the idea of serving.”
Lawyer who built MAVNI pushes to save it
“There’s an epic bureaucratic fight going on,” said Margaret Stock, a lawyer and former Army lieutenant colonel who was instrumental in planning and initiating the MAVNI program while still in the service.
“It’s an appalling example of bureaucratic incompetence,” she said of the efforts to kill the MAVNI program and subject those who have already signed up to endless screening.
“They’re saying the MAVNIs are some kind of security threat,” Stock told Military.com, but “there is no specific threat” that justify strictures that would kill a program that has already proven its worth.
“They pose the same threat that U.S. citizens would,” said Stock, the recipient of a MacArthur “Genius Grant” fellowship.
To meet a range of emerging threats, “we need these people,” she said. “What we don’t need is people sitting on a base for 18 months doing nothing because of background checks.”
The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan revealed July 12 he’s been using new rules of engagement that allow his command to deploy American and NATO forces to aid Afghan troops who are on the attack.
The new policy marks a sharp departure from previous authorities for the use of force that restricted U.S. and allied combat power to last ditch efforts to save Afghan troops from defeat.
Afghan mission commander U.S. Army Gen. John Nicholson said in a press briefing in Kabul that now U.S. and NATO forces can use airpower and other troops “so that the Afghan Army can assume the offensive against the enemy.”
“As we focused on it this year, we used our in-extremis authorities that we had at the time to help prevent a strategic defeat. … It was in a defensive, reactive kind of manner,” Nicholson said. “With the new authorities that we have now, as of June, we’re able to then provide combat enablers to assist the Afghans … taking the initiative against the enemy and their staging areas.”
The new authority comes on the heels of a stinging Pentagon report that showed special operations forces trying to help Afghan troops fight off a Taliban takeover of Kunduz in 2015 were hamstrung over rules of engagement that left them confused over when they could fight.
According to the report obtained by Reuters, commandos who radioed back for clarification of the ROEs were left hanging by superiors in the rear.
“Sadly, the only sounds audible were the sounds of crickets … though those were hard to hear over the gunfire,” one special operator said in the Pentagon report, according to Reuters.
Nicholson launched a reassessment of the Afghanistan operation, dubbed “Resolute Support Mission,” when he assumed command in February. And in June he was given new authority to help Afghan troops on offense.
In one battle, Nicholson explained he was able to sortie F-16s to strike Taliban positions outside Tarin Kowt to help Afghan forces clear roads cut off by insurgents.
“Since that operation … we’re using our new authorities so that the Afghan army can assume the offensive against the enemy in Maiwand District, Band-e-Timor area, which is a well-known staging area. So it’s offensive,” Nicholson said.
President Obama announced last week he would keep about 8,500 American troops assigned to Afghanistan to fight the continued Taliban insurgency and fight terrorist groups.
Nicholson said during his press conference that about 3,000 U.S. troops would be assigned to continue training and advising Afghan troops, with another 3,300 “enablers,” including helicopter and fixed wing aircraft crews, assigned to give the Afghans a little extra combat punch.
The force also includes about 2,150 troops dedicated to the counterterrorism mission and about 400 troops based in other countries but helping with the Resolute Support mission.
The Navy announced updates to uniform policy, grooming standards, uniform item availability and mandatory possession dates for new uniform items in NAVADMIN 075/19, released March 25, 2019.
A command/unit logo shoulder patch is now an option for wear on the left shoulder pocket of the Navy Working Uniform (NWU) Type II and III in place of the Don’t Tread On Me shoulder patch.
Black leather and non-leather gloves can be worn with the black NWU parka fleece liner.
NWU Type III O-6 rank insignia will be available for purchase and optional wear in silver thread starting June 1, 2019, for easier visual recognition and distinction from the E-4 insignia.
Effective June 1, 2019, all enlisted sailors with 12 years of cumulative service in active or drilling reserve time in the Navy or Marine Corps may wear gold rating badges and gold service stripes on dress uniforms in lieu of red rating badges and stripes.
The gold rank insignia of a Boatswain Mate Chief Petty Officer.
Women have the option to wear smooth or synthetic leather flat shoes (flats) in service and service dress uniforms.
Nursing T-shirts may be worn with service uniforms, NWU Type I, II and III and flight suits.
The message provides clarification on the definition and manner of wear for ponytail hairstyles.
Effective immediately, sailors who are assigned to Joint/Unified Commands are authorized to wear the command’s identification badge only during the period of assignment.
Navy Exchange (NEXCOM) uniform stores will provide a free replacement collar if needed to improve the fit of the officer and chief petty officer (CPO) service dress white coat (choker) effective March 1, 2019.
The NAVADMIN announces the completion of the testing and evaluation of the improved female officer and CPO slacks and skirts.
It also provides the schedule for when the NEXCOM Customer Contact Center and Uniform Centers will have slacks and skirts, the Improved Safety Boot (I-Boot 4) and the optional physical training uniform available for purchase.
The dates for when sailors must possess new uniforms and uniform components are listed in the NAVADMIN.
Sailors can ask questions and provide feedback and recommendations on Navy uniforms via the “Ask the Chiefs” email, on the Navy Uniform Matters Office (UMO) website, through MyNavy Portal at https://www.mnp.navy.mil/. Select Professional Resources, U.S. Navy Uniforms and “Ask the Chiefs”. Sailors can also contact UMO via the Navy Uniform App that can be downloaded at the Navy App Locker https://www.applocker.navy.mil/ and the Apple iTunes and Google Play stores.
Read NAVADMIN 075/19 in its entirety for details and complete information on all of the announced uniform changes, updates and guidelines at www.npc.navy.mil.
Air Force Col. Leo K. Thorsness, an F-105 pilot awarded the Medal of Honor for multiple feats of bravery in an aerial engagement who was later shot down and held as a prisoner of war in the Hanoi Hilton for six years, died May 2 at the age of 85.
His death was announced by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, which did not disclose the cause of death.
The two-man crew was able to eject, but the pair was descending into hostile territory. Thorsness flew circles so that he could pinpoint where they landed to facilitate a rescue, but spotted an enemy MiG as he maneuvered.
Thorsness and his EWO were on their own when they initiated the attack against the four MiGs. Thorsness quickly downed one and engaged the other three in aerial combat for 50 minutes, outnumbered and low on ammo but flying fiercely enough to drive them off.
Thorsness spent six years in the prison, three of them under nearly constant and brutal torture before international pressure relieved the conditions somewhat. His Medal of Honor was approved during that time, but it wasn’t announced until after his 1973 release for fear that the North Vietnamese would torture him worse if they knew about the medal.
Senior Veterans Health Administration (VHA) employees recently demonstrated to the public how innovations are advancing clinical care and outcomes for veterans. Innovations included a virtual reality application used as a revolutionary PTSD treatment and 3D printing used for everything from orthotics to pre-surgery procedures.
The innovations were presented at the 2nd Annual Tech Day on May 16, 2019, in Washington, DC, by Dr. Beth Ripley, Senior Innovator Fellow, and Joshua Patterson, Acting Director of Strategic Initiatives with VHA Innovation Ecosystem (IE). Tech Day is a way for federal agencies to share their cutting-edge, mission-enabling technologies with leaders, fellow federal workers, and the public.
VHA IE made a big impression with its virtual reality and 3D printing demonstrations as attendees experienced how these ever-expanding technologies are helping veterans every day.
Beth Ripley demonstrates 3D printing.
Patterson demonstrated StrongMind, VHA’s innovative PTSD treatment that offers patients therapeutic experiences that wouldn’t be possible without the use of virtual reality. By donning a virtual reality headset, attendees experienced how StrongMind works and why it’s appealing to a younger generation of veterans. They also experienced the personalized, forward-thinking care VA is delivering to veterans using innovative technology.
Ripley described how VHA’s 3D Printing Network is an integrated national effort that allows VA health care staff to share ideas and best practices, solve problems, and pool resources to improve veteran care.
These programs aren’t just on the showroom floor, however.
Veterans in the Puget Sound area have been the beneficiaries of 3D printing as VHA medical staff make model kidneys for veteran patients with renal cancer to aid in pre-surgical planning. At many other VHA facilities, veterans suffering from diabetes who lose feeling in their feet now have access to custom orthotics at the time of their visit, instead of waiting weeks to have them manufactured.
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
President Trump recently signed an executive order that will defer payroll taxes for all employees, including service members, from Sept. 1, 2020 to Dec. 31, 2020. The move was made to increase the funds federal employees have over the next few months so they will be able to help stimulate the economy, and to help with any financial burdens caused by COVID-19, according to the memorandum.
“This modest, targeted action will put money directly in the pockets of American workers and generate additional incentives for work and employment, right when the money is needed most,” Trump stated in the August guidance to the Secretary of the Treasury.
The payroll tax deferment only applies to those who make $4,000 or less per paycheck, or less than $104,000 per year. In military terms, this applies to the ranks of E-1 up to O-4 if no additional income is applicable.
The complicated nature of payroll taxes and the lack of guidance on implementation has created confusion for many. The memorandum put out by the president does not address if the deferment is mandatory for federal employees, and some tax experts believe that businesses may continue withholding the taxes from employees simply because it will be too complicated — and expensive — to change payrolls for just a portion of their employees.
As of Sept. 1, Defense Finance Accounting Services had not sent any notification to service members or DOD civilians in regard to payroll taxes being withheld over the next few months. DFAS confirmed in an email response they would begin deferring payroll taxes on Sept. 12 and continue to defer those taxes until the end of the year. Defense Department Federal employees, including service members, do not have the option to opt-out of the deferment program.
It is unclear if non-DOD employees themselves can opt-out of the deferment, or if they can pay the deferred taxes back ahead of tax season to avoid a hefty tax bill in the new year.
It has to be repaid
It is important to think of the payroll tax deferment as simply a “tax loan.” Although Trump said in an earlier press conference that he would like to make this deferment permanent, which would require an act of Congressional approval, it currently stands that any payroll tax funds that go into a federal employee’s pocket for the next few months will have to be repaid by Apr. 30, 2021, according to IRS Notice 2020-65.
For service members, this means any money withheld on a LES under the “social security” tab would compound and has to be paid back using tax form 1040 when filing taxes.
This can lead to a hefty tax bill for service members, right after Christmas, especially if they do not set that money aside to be repaid during tax season.
The purpose of the payroll tax deferment is to provide relief for those in need, Lacey Langford, The Military Money Expert®, stated in an email.
“If you need the money to pay your bills, then yes, spend it on your bills. Do not spend in on wants like trips or new clothes. If you don’t need the money, it’s best to put it aside in a savings account,” Langford said.
DFAS will participate in the tax deferral program
The offices of Management and Budget (OMB) and Personnel Management (OPM) also confirmed via email DFAS will start the deferment of payroll taxes this month.
“Partnering with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), DFAS will implement the guidance according to the expectation that all Federal Civilian Payroll Providers will act in unison. As such, no Payroll Providers, Departments/Agencies, nor employees will be able to opt-in/opt-out of the deferral. The elimination of the withholding of employee deductions for the applicable employees will be effective the second paycheck in September, pay period ending September 12, 2020. DFAS will defer the Social Security (Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance or OASDI) employee deductions for all employees whose gross social security wages that are less than ,000 in any given pay period through the end of 2020. The deferrals will apply to all federal employees making less than 4,000 per year, or ,000 per pay period. In the short term, federal workers will see an increase in take-home pay, but absent action by Congress to forgive the debt that is effectively incurred on employees, workers will likely be expected to pay that money back sometime next year.”
Service members should check their LES bimonthly to see if social security is deferred and plan appropriately to pay those taxes back in the new year.
The Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), closed out 2018 on a high note with the acceptance of the ship’s first advanced weapons elevator (AWE), setting the tone for more positive developments in the year ahead.
AWE Upper Stage #1 was turned over to the ship on Dec. 21, 2018, following testing and certification by engineers at Huntington Ingalls Industries-Newport News Shipbuilding, where the ship is currently working through its post-shakedown availability (PSA). The acceptance marks a major milestone for the ship and the Ford-class of aircraft carriers to follow.
USS Gerald R. Ford is the first Ford-class aircraft carrier and is the first new carrier design in over 40 years. Unlike Nimitz-class carrier elevators that utilize cables for movement, the Ford class elevators are commanded via electromagnetic, linear synchronous motors allowing for greater capacities and a faster movement of weapons.
The new design will allow the ship to be able to move up to 24,000 pounds of ordnance at 150 feet-per-minute. This is in contrast to the 10,500 pounds at up to 100 feet-per-minute on a Nimitz-class carrier.
Chief Machinist’s Mate Franklin Pollydore, second from left, from Georgetown, Guyana, goes over safety procedures for the Upper Stage 1 advanced weapons elevator with sailors from USS Gerald R. Ford’s (CVN 78) weapons department.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jeff Troutman)
“This will allow us to load more aircraft faster, and in the long run, increase our overall sortie generation rates,” said Lt. Cmdr. Chabonnie Alexander, Ford’s ordnance handling officer.
But aside from the advantages of the new AWE, the new ship design also offered a chance to streamline the overall movement and assembly of weapons to allow for even greater efficiencies. Ford features three upper stage elevators that move ordnance between the main deck and flight deck, and seven lower stage elevators that move ordnance between the main deck and the lower levels of the ship. Ford also features a dedicated weapons handling area between the hangar bay and the flight deck, on the 02 level, that eliminates several horizontal and vertical movements to various staging and build-up locations. This ultimately offers a 75% reduction in distance traveled from magazine to aircraft.
An additional benefit of the ship’s design is a separate utility elevator that can serve as a dedicated elevator to move both ordnance and supplies, and also serve as a means to medically evacuate (MEDEVAC) injured personnel from the flight deck to the hangar bay. This allows the 10 main AWEs and Ford’s three aircraft elevators to be dedicated to their primary missions of ordnance and aircraft movement during real-world operations.
To keep up with the new technologies and radical changes that the AWEs offer, Ford sailors recently completed newly developed familiarization, operations and maintenance training in Newport News to become better educated on how to work with and maintain the elevators. The crew is now conducting hands-on training where they will validate technical manuals and maintenance requirements cards against the elevator’s actual operation. Their feedback and observations will ultimately inform future sailors how to properly and safely operate the elevators.
Chief Machinist’s Mate Franklin Pollydore, second from left, from Georgetown, Guyana, goes over safety procedures for the Upper Stage 1 advanced weapons elevator with sailors from USS Gerald R. Ford’s (CVN 78) weapons department.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jeff Troutman)
Alexander said sailors are now training with the elevator which will complement the classroom instruction they have received to this point.
“Getting this elevator turned over to the ship and allowing our sailors to get hands-on training on the elevator will help in two ways,” said Alexander. “One, it will help in the training and understanding of the system itself, and two, to work out any bugs that remain with the system during our PSA.”
Though the first elevator has been accepted, work still remains on the remaining 10. Currently, all shipboard installation and testing activities of the AWEs are due to be completed prior to the end of Ford’s PSA, scheduled for July 2019. However, some remaining certification documentation will be performed for five of the 11 elevators after PSA completion.
According to Alexander, while there was sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in having the first elevator turned over, the team working on the elevators can’t rest on this single event.
“We’re all 100 percent invested in this, but there’s still work left to do,” Alexander explained. “We’re all one big team with the same goal in mind: to get these systems operational and turned over to the ship.
“I think it was a greater sense of accomplishment to my sailors that have been working on these systems for the last 4-to-5 years,” he said. “To be able to finally push the buttons and watch it operate like it’s designed to do was a great feeling. Once these systems are proven, they are going to pay huge dividends for naval strike capability.”